Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Did that lady just slap someone?


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   I am aware that in Korea there are different cultural norms about touching people. For instance when people greet one another they bow instead of shaking hands. However, in the midst of such a conservative society I have discovered that there is more physical contact between Koreans than you would think.

    Many tourists and expats in Korea may feel strange the first few days of their visit. Yes, that's because everyone is staring right at you! They are obsessed with your every move and may even chase after you to find out your nationality. Trust me, after a while you simply have to learn to get used to the attention. Otherwise you will have a pack of hungry cubs following you around Seoul.

    During my first week in Korea I was shocked when several older men literally grabbed or touched my arm while I was walking down the street. Since when did I become a local celebrity? In order to fight off the daily encounters with awkward touches, I quickly learned how to ignore these people. Yelling the word "A-nee-yo" or "no" at the top of my lungs helps too!

     To my surprise, expats and foreigners in Korea are not the only ones being harassed on a daily basis. I was warned by one of my co-workers to stay away from a homeless woman who sits in the middle of the sidewalk close to my office in Jongno. This woman has been dubbed "the slapping lady" by the general public. You can usually spot her every day of the week somewhere between the Jongno 3 sam-ga subway stop and Jongno tower.

     This woman sits in a small, tight ball and looks like she is keeping to herself. But this is just her cover, because before you know it she has reached out and slapped you across the legs! Luckily this women does not slap foreigners, probably because she is too afraid to test their limits. But she knows that if she slaps another Korean they will just give her a strange look and keep walking! By watching her closely I discovered that her average slapping rate is 2.5 Koreans every five minutes.

     There are not many homeless people in Korea in comparison to America, due to the much lower rates of violence and drug use. So this woman really stands out because she sits in the middle of the sidewalk. Right after she smacks someone, she gets this weird little smile across her face. You might be wondering why police don't put her in jail, and this is because her harassment is considered of little importance here in Korea. The police men have much better things to worry about like catching men that spit on the street, and people who drop their cigarette butts. 

 

If you have encountered "The slapping lady" in Jongno, or have any other questions or comments for me feel free to state your thoughts by clicking on the link below. 





Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hiking at Bukhansan Mountain

Stu and I at the top of Baegundae Peak

A view of Bukhansan National Park
Hiking Bukhansan Mountain is one of the best ways to experience the beauty that Seoul has to offer. Leaving the pollution and crowded streets behind makes this national park seem like an oasis inside of a concrete jungle. The mountain is just North of Seoul about 45 minutes by bus or subway. A steep 836.5 meters or 2,744 feet above sea level will give you a completely different view of Seoul and its surrounding areas. On a clear day you can see outstanding views as far as Incheon airport and the mountains of North Korea.

The coolest part about the hike is that there are numerous temples and historical sites along the trails. The Bukhansan seong Fortress can be seen up close from many parts of the mountain and the Sasngungsa temple lies about twenty minutes into the hike. There are several peaks on the mountain, but the most popular is the top of Baegundae where you can see all of Seoul and the famous Insubong peak. Take a close look at Insubong peak and you will see tiny bodies climbing up the face of the massive granite rock.

The hike takes anywhere between two and six hours depending on your speed, weather conditions, and traffic with other hikers. For average hikers it takes a total of four hours round trip. The trails are very rocky and steep, so be prepared to do a lot of physical activity especially towards the top of the mountain. Avoid going to Bukhansan during a holiday because Koreans are avid hikers and the trails will be flooded with locals. Trust me, I learned this the hard way when I went the day after Chuseok.
However, the other hikers can be well worth the annoyance if the weather is outstanding. If its crowded at least you can make fun of the standard hiking equipment used by most Koreans such as poles, space blankets, neon hiking outfits, special hiking shoes, and anything with a North Face label. You will be completely under dressed (by Korean standards) in your running shoes and yoga pants and might get some unusual stares!

The gear is a little much for a day hike, but the one thing the locals definitely do right, is packing an amazing lunch. My friend Milly in the picture below made sure to bring along extra snacks for our group. I also learned that most hikers bring along gimbap (Korean style sushi) and a few bottles of makgeoli (Korean rice wine) to celebrate reaching the top of the mountain! There are plenty of restaurants towards the bottom on the mountain to stock up on snacks for a meal during the hike.

 To see live video footage of the mountain click on the videos below. Someone got hurt during my hiking trip and I took footage of the rescue helicopter as it flew in to drop off 3 paramedics. For directions on how to get to Bukhansan Mountain from Seoul or surrounding areas visit The Official Site of Korea Tourism or click on the following link Bukhansan Mountain.




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A Korean Flag on top of the mountain.

I thought this rock was awesome, it looks like a persons head!
One of the many streams that flows through the mountain.










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Gone Seoul Searching by Marie Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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