Monday, July 14, 2008

Travelogue: June 08: Day 05-07

Travelogue: June 08: Day 05-07

Day 05

Sunday. What did we do on Sunday. Oh! We went to a museum dealing with nobility. You know, what they wore (beautiful ceremonial stuff), how they got around (palanquins until the early part of the 20th century, then a couple of really nice cars with painted & lacquered wooden bodies), what their education was like; they even had a copy of the site where one of the kings had his placenta kept.

We also went to what Kim said was the largest bookstore in Seoul, Kyobo. Sorry Sarah & Michelle, she got schoolbooks for you. I got a couple of DVDs, including a couple of "manhwa," anime. It was actually very difficult to find anime with English subtitles.

Kim's family -- 2 of her brother-in-law's, her sister, and her mother -- brought us out to dinner Sunday night. Apparently, it's a very famous restaurant. Their specialty (I think it's the only thing they serve) is chicken soup: they boil young chickens until the meat is literally falling off the bone. There is some rice tossed in right at the end, Chinese dates & ginseng. You pull the meat off with your chopsticks and put a very small bits of salt & pepper on it to eat it, and put the bonds to the side. And you have a spoon for the actual soup.

A little rough getting in; since the sidewalk outside sloped, I had to go when one door which was relatively level with the sidewalk, then drop about 6 inches to the floor of the restaurant. Then I had to do the same from the other door to the sidewalk to get out. But, since they had those plastic trays like you see on bread racks at the grocery store or bakery, we took those upside down and it was only two 3 inch drops... the chicken soup was delicious, and I wasn't able to finish the whole thing.

Day 06

Was a cooler day, temperature wise. At least where we were. Which was near the northeast portion of Seoul at a folk village. Think of, oh, Sturbridge Village or Plymouth Plantation. Lots of "Do Not Enter" replica houses from different time periods and regions of Korea. Some interesting examples of roofs, for example: thatched, oak bark, slabbed wood, slate, and tile. There were a handful of craftsmen, showing their craft: woven straw sandals, a fan maker, etc.

Kim & I spent a while in one of the museums located on the site. We didn't go into the Museum of Korean Drama, as we didn't realize it was there until we were leaving, but the Museum of Folk Life was very interesting. I sent some postcards to the handful of children that I had addresses for which depicted scenes that were discussed at this museum.

It was a gorgeous site. It reminded me so much of when the Renaissance Faire was at Black Point Forest -- you know, before the mundanes were allowed in. Except cleaner, and better taken care of.

Of course, it is a permanent site. And, it's open year-round. The food court has a poured cement floor, although most of the rest of the site is dirt. Of course, the insurance companies would have a field day. The site had examples of different types of bridges, crossing a stream. What they call "a traditional single log bridge" consisted of just that -- a single log, flattened on the top, crossing the stream. There was a "stepping stone" bridge, one paved with stone (but without railings), one paved with stone with railings, and a couple of others. And all were open to the public -- in fact, you needed to use them to get to the other side of the stream...

That was all we did yesterday, since the site was an hour and a half away. Well, we also stopped at the gift shop there...

(There were a handful of amusement park rides there, as well, that we did not partake of. One thing that we did do, mostly because it's been a really really long time, was stop at one of those air gun target booths. You know the ones I mean: hit the target enough times and you win a prize. I won a prize! For those of you keeping track: a seated position, the barrel resting, someone holding the butt to my shoulder/chest/above the belly, my left index finger on the trigger, and pulling with my left hand/arm AND trying to pull the fingertip with my right hand. A picture of this will definitely be posted after I get home.)

Day 07

Which brings us up to today. We started off with a leisurely cruise on the river. Seriously. And yes, another first: my first time on a boat in the past 11 years. Granted, it was a tour boat, and only lasted an hour or so, but it was nice. No salt air, though.

Then came a surprise. This was something that Kim's brother-in-law was able to set up for us: a behind the scenes tour at KBS Studios. KBS, for those of you who don't watch Korean dramas or television, is one of the big TV stations in Korea. They do a lot of what is normally called "Korean drama," what most of us in America would call a cross between a soap opera & a miniseries, in that they are soap operas that range in length from 10-15 episodes all the way up to close to 80 episodes (the historical ones tend to be longer). One of the most famous in the states is "Winter Sonata," which was the first one that I watched. Between me having that (and a whole bunch of foreign movies which require an all region DVD player) and some other dramas that I got, and Truc watching a lot of them on the Internet, we managed to get Jalia hooked on them during this past year. So much so that, when we went by a place later this afternoon that had celebrity
souvenirs (you know, stuff with the celebrities picture on them) she got a calendar, socks, a wallet, a clock, a coffee cup, a keychain, a coin holder... all with the picture of her favorite drama star on them (in case you were wondering, it was the star from "Winter Sonata")...

It was a very nice for Kim, Jalia & Truc, because none of them had seen the workings from backstage before. We saw the prop area for some talk shows, and then they went downstairs to see what wardrobe looks like (5500 different costumes). That was down some stairs, so I waited up top. Then we saw a couple of soundstages, and a few minutes of rehearsal for a music program that was being taped this evening. Upstairs to the newsroom, we saw where they report the news. Until recently, apparently, the newsroom & news studio were in two different buildings. Now if you look through the wall behind the studio, you see all of the reporters & researchers. Mark, they use two cameras that make what we used for "Fairyland Tonight" look almost preindustrial!

Anyway, after we left there, we went shopping in the "tourism" zone. Well, one of them. This one is located just outside the American Army Base. Very busy area, with what appeared to see higher prices than anywhere else that we've been. Not just to get the Americans, although there were a lot of us there; they were lots of other nationalities wandering around that area.

Then, back here so that I could catch up on the travelogue and sort goodies.

Don't worry, lots of pictures were taken over the past week.

A slight commentary on things out here:

There have been a lot of "candlelight protests" going on, something every night. Basically, a lot of the population feels that South Korea is getting taken advantage of in a recent trade agreement with the United States concerning the importation of beef. Most of the other Asian countries that have beef trade agreements with the US won't allow any beef from cattle that are older than 30 months, because the older they are the more likely they are to have "Mad Cow" disease. Somehow, South Korea didn't get that clause in the agreement that they made, and the people there don't like that.

People are also using the protests to protest against other things that they don't like about the current government (basically, they just held elections, and the party that didn't win are trying to tell the ones that did win what problems need being worked on. Please note: this is a great oversimplification).

None of this has bothered me, as in: it has not affected my enjoyment of the trip.

Now, since it's 11 p.m., I'm posting this and going to bed.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Travelogue: June 08: Day 03-04

Travelogue: June 08: Day 03-04

We seem to be taking our time getting up in the morning. Mostly, me. Actually, I'm waking up about the same time it normally do -- between nine & 10 a.m. By the time I'm dressed, in the chair, have had a bite of breakfast, we are leaving the hotel around 11:30.

Yesterday, Friday, we visited another palace. Of course, I don't remember the name and I don't have any maps... hold on just a moment. Changdeokgung Palace. Huge place. It was the last palace of the Josun era, and was the home of the last Empress. Most of the site is wooded, and was absolutely gorgeous. You can only visit by taking a guided tour, which lasts about 1 1/2 hours.

After that, we walked some more until we decided to visit the Myeongdong marketplace. Yes, around 5 p.m., and the place was packed!

But first, getting there.

To get to the palace, we had taken a taxi (handicapped accessible! Joy!). Then, like I said, lots of walking. Then the subway... Depending on the station is whether it is handicapped accessible. Most of them -- probably around 95% -- are. Generally, with elevators. But a lot of them also have these lifts that the wheelchair goes on that then creeps up the railings to the next floor. A little bit disconcerting the first couple of times that you try it. Now, some of these lifts are great. Heavy duty, almost. Then there are the ones that... aren't. They are a bit older and feel a little more flimsy.

Myeongdong Marketplace was across the street from where the main lifts were. What I had to do was to come up from the subway to street level from one line, go down one level to a different line, cross under the street, and then come back up to street level at the market. The first part went very well. Heavy-duty lifts, all three of them including the one that went around a corner. The second part... didn't. Less than a foot into the descent, it stopped. Kind of a crunch sound, then no more.

So I'm sitting on the lift, which won't go up or down. Looking in front of me, many steps. I can't see what's going on behind me, but I'm told that the lift is about a foot from solid pavement. I'm a heavy person (I'm a little over 200, now), and my wheelchair is close to 400. The subway had a mechanic working on the lift, a couple of the security guards standing around trying to figure out what to do, and my staff... It took about half an hour before I was off the lift; there had to have been a couple of very sore backs that night. They lifted the wheelchair enough to clear the gap and get me back to solid pavement.

And we were still on the wrong side of the street!

So, with no crosswalks in eyesight, I jaywalked. Rush-hour traffic was stop and go in both directions, so it wasn't quite as dangerous as it sounds. We looked at the street later that evening, and the traffic was much much faster.

The Market was one of the densest places I've ever seen, population wise. Stores on both sides of the street, vendors between the stores and going down the middle... and this is a region, not a single street. Think of, in San Francisco, Market Street from the Embarcadero to Van Ness, and three streets on either side. East Coast people, maybe Times Square and three blocks all the way around it? Stores, vendors, and people. And motorcycles. Kim was telling me yesterday that you don't need a driver's license to drive a motorcycle. Helmets? Only if you want, which means it's about 50% with and the same without. And motorcycles aren't just for people, either. If there was a motorcycle near a market, the odds are it had been modified to carry boxes and merchandise.

I saw a Pennyfarthing! Not being ridden around, although I would've liked to have seen that. It had a frame to hold the big front wheel off the ground an inch or two. It was a "get your picture taken in front of" opportunity. And, yes. I got my picture taken in front of.

The big reason that I wanted to go to this particular marketplace, though, was not the (mostly) female fashions, but was instead Myeongdong Cathedral. They're doing some type of renovation or cleaning on the outside, so we don't have pictures of the steeple, but the inside is absolutely gorgeous.

Then came the joy of getting home. Taxis, at that time of night (around 9 p.m.), were telling us it would take between one & two hours to be able to pick us up. So we walked down to a subway station that had an elevator, and managed to get back to the hotel around 10:15 p.m.

I was asleep almost as fast as my head pillow...

Today Truc & I went across the river to see some tombs. A very large memorial park was built around the burial site of six people who, back in the 14th century I believe, were killed trying to reclaim the throne for the rightful King (they failed).

Getting there was extremely easy. We went into the subways, found the office, and asked for help. Not only did we get directions, we managed to get an escort the entire way there! Remember the lifts that I was mentioning earlier? Going there was all heavy-duty lifts and elevators. Coming back, there were two of the lighter weight lifts. I was a little nervous getting on them, after yesterday's misadventure, but these to worked like they were supposed to. We were back at the hotel in less than 45 minutes.

Now, I'm not going to post any pictures this time, for a couple of reasons. First, most of the people that are getting this e-mail are on my normal mailing list, which doesn't allow attachments. And I'm too tired right now to deal with that. The second reason is that they are all on a camera memory stick that I don't have a reader for with me. So, maybe tomorrow or the next day.

Elizabeth, thinking of you (smile). The temperature has been in the upper 70s & low 80s, Fahrenheit. Kim & Jay are saying that it's very humid, but I'm finding it less humid than southeastern Massachusetts. Not your type of weather, I know, although I think I've gotten more vitamin D sunshine this week than in the past three months.

Postcards (Elizabeth's "Postcard Project TM") will hopefully be going out on Monday for some of you...

Travelogue: June 08: Day 00-02

I went on vacation June 10, 2008. I tried to keep a travel log for the 10 days. Here was the first entry:

Well, as I'm writing this, it is apparently about 3:30 on Thursday morning. In actuality, I'm guessing about 6:30 Thursday evening. For those of you trying to figure it out, I'm in Korea.

South Korea. I don't want to try North Korea for a while yet.

We left my house about 20 minutes past nine Tuesday morning, headed for San Francisco Airport. No traffic, which was quite nice, got us to the airport in plenty of time. For those of you who are curious, upgrading your ticket is definitely the way to travel. You get lounge privileges, wider seats, more legroom... I learned a few things on the trip, too. 40,000 feet +500 mph = -70°F, for one. 12 hours sitting in an airplane seat, even if it is upgraded, is majorly boring. I ended up watching six movies, I believe: a couple of American (spider wick Chronicles, and something called "Vantage Point," I believe. It had Dennis Quaid and Forest Whitaker, if that rings any bells), and four Korean movies (with subtitles). A couple of them were very good, but I didn't catch the titles.

We arrived at Inchon Airport at about 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday -- love that International Date Line, and headwinds that slowed us down by an hour. Getting through customs was a piece of cake. The only thing that they wanted to look at was the hardshell case that I keep the portable patient lift in (I can't call it a Hoyer lift, because it's made by a company called Molift, but it's basically the same thing), just because it was oversized. A quick run through the x-ray machine and we were done. Oh yeah, I got to go to the head of the immigration line, because of the wheelchair.

We finally got to the hotel -- a Ramada Inn & Suites -- about nine o'clock. Jalia and gotten some sleep on the plane, as did Truc, but Neither Kim or I Did. Add to that nobody really sleeping well the night before, and you get a quartet of very tired people.

While Kim was handling checking in, the rest of us headed up to the room. Nice room. King-size, with a handicapped bathroom (which I haven't been in yet). So we got the luggage in (forgot to tip the bell hop, but then again he didn't show us where anything was, either), opened up the hardshell case, started pulling everything out (we had packed most of the medical supplies I enjoy traveling with) and...

Some things are very important. Having my chair, very important. Having a battery charger for my chair that can be plugged into a different outlet than the American Standard, also very important. Nice not having someone have to push me all over the place. Means to get me from the wheelchair to the bed, much easier on everyone's backs. Having the battery that powers that lift...

Marivic, I'm sorry for waking you up this morning. Remember to give me the receipt for FedEx-ing the battery and recharger over here.

So, that was Day 00 and Day 01.

Day 02, today, Thursday, was relatively relaxed. We left here around 11 o'clock. Just a light day, kind of recovering from the actual travel.

Wheelchair travel in Seoul doesn't seem, so far, completely horrendous. There is a distinct, uhm, "second- thought-ed-ness" towards sidewalk cutouts so a wheelchair can get on & off sidewalks. Sometimes it might be just the sidewalk dipping within a couple of inches of the street pavement...

I'm glad I had not taken the shoulder straps off of the wheelchair, too. Some of these sidewalks will be tipped one way and then all of a sudden be tipped the other. Traffic itself -- well, it's traffic. But at least they stop where they are supposed to add an intersection, instead of blocking the crosswalk.

We stopped by one of the castles for a couple of hours. Remember, Asian castles are generally nothing like European castles. This particular one was being used in the late 1800s, with Western influences creeping in great about the turn of that century. There was a Russian Embassy and a British embassy, as well as some American influences during that time. And this is in the middle of Seoul, and there are a couple more scattered around the city!

After our time there, Kim got ahold of her brother-in-law, who works at the national Bank, to arrange for us to be able to get into the Currency Museum. Yes, a museum of money. Kind of cool. They don't really want you taking pictures in there, though.

Then we went to Namdeamun Market (we think that's how it's spelled), just to see what it was like. Think of a flea market. Set in the middle of the street, with vendors on both sides, and the stores still open. Put a couple thousand people in it.

Then allow two-way motor vehicle traffic.

Then we headed back to the hotel, because Kim was getting very tired. I was getting very tired. I was down to somewhere between 30 and 40% charge left on my batteries. And we had somehow turned off the power to the room.

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