It’s finally down to my last week and a half in Seoul. I’ve had such a great time here but I really do miss the family. One day I’ll come back with the whole family and show them everything I’ve been able to see. I spent most of the week relaxing, studying, and staying around the Yonsei University/ Sinchon area. On Thursday night, Chris and I did venture out to the Yongsan Electronics Market. My mom asked me to buy here $100 worth of Korean movies and I had also heard that Nintendo DS games were cheap (my niece wanted some for Christmas). I had no clue just how large this market would be, but I should not have been surprised. The Yongsan electronics market is a about four large buildings, all about the size of a Smithsonian museum full of electronics vendors. There are also more vendors working out of carts on the streets and all of the alleys and cross streets sell electronics as well. We are talking about computers, computer components, software, DVD’s, video games, cameras, mp3 players, etc etc etc.
Our first stop was the game market. Most of the markets here tend to be separated by item. The game market was an indoor aisle about 75 meters long. I had heard that they had a special card for the Nintendo DS that they could load tons of games onto. My first stop I asked about DS games and he pulled out the magical card. For $200, I could buy the two game cards of 2GB each holding over 75 games. It was such a good deal that I bought both and decided to buy myself a DS too. The games are interchangeable using a computer so I’ll load 2GB worth of games suitable for my niece as her Christmas present (I’m sure she will not be reading this blog before Christmas).
We them made our way to the movies. I went right to work negotiating a fair price of five movies for 11 dollars (10,000 won actually) and bought 40. I thought I was done, but another guy offered me a great deal and I ended up buying $110 worth of movies and Korean dramas from him. In all, I ended up with about 100 DVDs for 121 dollars.
Friday night I hopped on a train and headed south to Changwon, near Busan on the southeastern coast of Korea. There I met Sang-gyeong and her brother and we had a late meal of steamed chicken before heading to their house. I talked with their mom (my great aunt) for about an hour and a half. She spends a lot of time doing Chinese character calligraphy and I thought she would be the perfect person to help me with something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. Since I started learning Korean, I wanted to have a good Korean name. My mom’s family name is Song, but some time ago, my great grandfather had actually given my father a Korean name. Korean names are almost always based on a Chinese character (Hanja). My grandfather named my dad Bang Gu-Mi. Korean names are almost always three syllables with the first syllable being the family name or surname and the second and third being their ‘first’ name. So I decided I would definitely keep the family name my great-grandfather made “Bang.” My mom gave me the middle name Lee with in Korean is actually pronounced as a hard E sound ‘ee’ so I wanted that to be the first syllable of my ‘first’ name. So I asked my great aunt to help me with the final syllable. Both she and Sang-gyoeng thought about it for a bit and after some thought decided that Jong would be best as Bangijong is a good sounding Korean name. In English, I will write it as Lee-jong Bong or Bong Lee-jong. It means “One who does good onto others.”
Saturday morning, Sang-gyeong, her father and I drove up to Gyeongju (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyeongju), the ancient capital of the Shila Dynasty from 57 – 935 AD. Gyeongju is just north of Busan on the Sea of Japan (which Koreans call the “East Sea”) and is often referred to as the “Museum Without Walls.” It contains relics of the Shila Dynasty including the royal tombs, palaces and Buddhist shrines. We visited five of the city’s main attractions. We started downtown and visited the Royal Tombs where Shila kings were laid to rest under large mounds. In other parts of Korea, royalty were buried under tombs made of wood or dirt. Grave robbers would occasionally enter these tombs to steal the jewelry that was often buried along with the corpse. In Gyeongju, the tombs were covered with a concrete covering making grave-robbing nearly impossible. One of these tombs was excavated by the Korean government in the 1960s or 70s and has been turned into a small museum of Shila artifacts and the royal tomb is displayed behind protective glass. Afterwards, we moved east and visited Anapji Pond, a manmade pond created in the 600’s for a small resort-like palace. We spent a little bit of time at the National Museum of Gyeongju and then took a break for lunch. We sampled a famous dessert of Gyeongju called Chal-Bori Bang which is simply bread with sweet bean paste between them. Then we drove further east to one of the most famous sites in Gyeongju, the Seokguram Grotto. This is a large Buddha statue built into the mountain side facing east. It is very well preserved as can be seen by the pictures on Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seokguram . The Seokguram grotto is part of the large Shila temple called Bulguksa (or literally, “Buddhist Land Temple”) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulguksa. We finished our day at Bulguksa which is too magnificent to describe. Please view the previous links and see the photo album section of the pictures I took.
I decided to call it a day and traveled via S. Korea’s high speed train (KTX) back to Seoul. Sunday I spent with my friends starting with a great Samgyoksal lunch and shopping in Itaewon (the large area near Yongsan Garrison that is full of foreigners) topped off with a great Italian dinner.
My last few days in Korea I spent with my family in Amsa and doing some last minute shopping. It’s amazing how much I have accumulated in such a short time. I had to buy another large suitcase just to fit it all! It’s currently 5am in Korea and my flight leaves in 4 hours. I’m staying at the Dragon Hill Lodge at Yongsan Garrison and decided to stay up most of the night in an attempt to combat jet-lag when I get home (it is 2pm in Texas right now!). After I hit the plane, I’m sure I will be out until we land in Dallas. It’s been such a fun and exciting 5 weeks and to top it all off, I think I actually learned a lot of Korean!!! However, I think the most important part of this trip was that I was able to forget the past few years of Army life concentrating so hard on the middle east and Iraq. It’s time to let that go and concentrate on my actual job… Korea.