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Monday, January 23, 2017

The Garden of Morning Calm in Gapyeong, South Korea

The Garden of Morning Calm

One place to go sightseeing in South Korea that is well-known among Koreans but not very known among people that travel to South Korea is The Garden of Morning Calm in Gapyeong, South Korea. Koreans don't know the English name, so you can click on the link and find the Korean name in case you want to go with some Korean friends or if you want to search for it on Naver or Daum to locate where it is exactly.

Me with my wife trying to keep warm

The garden (translated as arboretum in Korean) is located in one of my favorite regions of South Korea: Gangwondo (Gangwon Province). Specifically, it's in the city of Gapyeong, which is home to Nami Island. Nami Island is a small island that couples like to go to to escape the big city, where the very Korean drama Winter Sonata was filmed at.

The Garden of Morning Calm is home to 5,000 plants, and 300 that come from Baedu Mountain (Baekdusan). Since the garden is open all-year round, you can get beautiful perspectives of the garden depending on the season. My wife and I went during the end of summer and saw different trees where the colors of the leaves were beginning to change. It was really beautiful and I took at least 50 pictures of the scenery.

Then we found out that all of these trees had lights on them during the winter time, so our goal was to come again. Fortunately, we were able to make it back using my wife's brother-in-law's car. We ate dinner at 8:00pm and then headed up to the garden. The parking was free and the GPS worked like a charm. During the winter the garden closes at 9:00pm on weekdays, 11:00pm on Saturdays, and 9:00pm on Sundays until March 26th, 2017. The lights turn on at 5:10pm everyday during the winter. Just beware that it gets cold! I wore a long coat, gloves, and ear muffs, and I was still shivering sometimes. When you take pictures with your phone, there will be times you need to just put your hands in your pockets so your hands don't get frozen. BUT, it was worth it! Since we went later, there were fewer people. I would say between 6:00pm and 8:00pm were the peak hours when a lot of people would be there. Going late actually worked to our advantage. And since my wife's brother-in-law drove us there and back, we didn't have to worry about leaving too early.

Not only will you see trees with lights on them, but you will be amazed at the creativity of displays and how the lights were used. You can see in the pictures below:

My wife is peeking out of the window on the left and her sister and brother-in-law are peeking out of the window on the right

Kids and couples seemed to love this display

The trek out here without a car is a bit difficult if you don't plan accordingly. When we came the last time, so many people were there because it was the end of their summer vacation season. My wife and I thought we could go to Jara Island (Jaraseom) and then go to the garden afterwards.  We took a bus from Dongseoul Bus Terminal to Gapyeong Station, which took about 3 hours. We ate dalkgalbi for lunch and then took a 30-minute walk to Jara Island. There wasn't much going on there, since we found out that it was mainly for camping.  Then we thought that we should check out the garden and tried to get a bus from Jaraseom in order to make our way there. We had a hard time finding a bus, so we ended up taking a taxi instead. It cost us W15,000 due to the heavy traffic.

If we had just picked the garden only, we could have gotten off at the Changpeyong Bus Terminal Station and then taken the 31-7 bus there. The garden closed at 5:00pm and we pretty much stayed until the end. Due to that, we missed the last bus. That cost us another W15,000 won, which is the taxi fare from the garden to Changpyeong Station. If you can take the bus to the garden and the taxi back to the station, then it's not as costly. Or if you get there early, you can take the bus to and from the bus terminal to the garden. Just remember these tips, and you will be fine.

This place amazed me so much during the summer, but even more so in the winter. I don't know how they manage to put all of these lights up every year and then take them all down. It's a lot of work. You can see in the next picture how well lined up each strand of lights are:

Dolphins in the middle of the ocean

Then we got to the main area of the garden. It looked like I was walking through the game of Candy Land or through Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. The lights were absolutely stunning:

Candy Land?

The Garden of Morning Calm has a cafe, which is a bit expensive but when very useful when you're freezing and you just need a break from the cold. My cafe mocha was W7,000 but they also have traditional Korean drinks and tea. Here's a pic with me, my wife, her sister, and her brother-in-law.

Near the cafe there's a Korean pagoda that is very colorful during the winter. The lake was also frozen over. It was very pretty.

At the end of your journey you'll see a bridge that moves as you walk along it. My wife freaked out when I jumped on it, which was pretty funny. Even the bridge looks attractive with the lights lined up along side of it.

The bridge at the end of the arboretum
If you are wondering about the cost of the arboretum, it's W9,000 on weekends (W7,000 on weekdays) and public holidays for adults. On weekends and public holidays it's W6,500 for teenagers and W5,500 for children. Since it made an appearance on the National Geographic website, I don't think the cost will go down any time soon. But I would definitely go back. It's a peaceful place and very beautiful. It's definitely a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of Seoul!

Scott Worden (The L.A./Seoul Guy)
Instagram: laseoulguy
Twitter: laseoulguy

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sermon: "The Meaning of Life" by Pastor Douglas Park (January 8, 2017)

Genesis 1:26-31

What is the meaning of life? Does every human being have equal value? Does a sick 85-year old woman have the same value as a healthy 20-year old man? We twist the meaning of life by the basis on how people make us happy. We also reverse the roles to wherever we see fit. Do humans have intrinsic value or is it subjective and it only depends on how we "evolved"?

Our value is not based on our pedigree, race, wealth, etc. We are created in the image of God. God said "Let us make man in our own image." This is a good explanation of the Trinity and it also explains how human kind is to represent who God is. Humankind is the sculpture of his image. We are to hold each other accountable and respect each other. But we don't because we follow a fallen standard.

God doesn't need anything from us so why did he create us? To love, know, to enjoy God, to love each other, and to enjoy others. What was the meaning of Jesus's life? See Matthew 22: 34-40.

Love without truth is powerless (Ravi Zacharias). Our goal is not to change someone but to love them. If the meaning of life is to get what you want or when you want it, you'll always be disappointed. However, if it is the love of God and you love others, you'll always be satisfied because you can always choose to do that.

The meaning of life also comes from John 3:16-17. Jesus gave his life so that we can get our lives back. We were not only created by God but we were purchased at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

When we give more value to celebrities based on their looks, we put a faulty price tag on them. Some of us are preoccupied with getting married, getting promoted, etc. We are called to be children of God. Then we can get the most out of life.

Scott Worden (The L.A./Seoul Guy)
Instagram: laseoulguy
Twitter: laseoulguy

Monday, January 9, 2017

Seodaemun Prison and History Hall- Seoul, South Korea

Front of Seodaemun Prison and History Hall
One of the most underrated places in Seoul is the Seodaemun Prison and History Hall. When you walk in on the first floor, you'll get a great history lesson of what led up to the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1910 from Japan's war with Russia to Japan's war with China. Then you'll see how the Japanese occupation began.

Next, you'll see how Seodaemun Prison was made and you can see an interactive model of the prison and each function of the prison. It's really intriguing especially after you get out of the history hall and see the real prison before your eyes. As you make your way around the first floor, you'll come to a room with a lot of pictures and identifications of the thousands of prisoners that occupied Seodaemun Prison. This wasn't there last time. The Korean government made it legal for their pictures to be released. It was pretty sad seeing real faces of innocent victims of people that wanted to fight against the oppression of invaders in their country:

You'll also get familiar with Yoo Gwan Sun, who was a brave woman that was a martyr. She wasn't afraid to express her anger and displeasure of what was happening to her country. Later, you'll see a picture of the women that were put into this prison. There was a separate cell only for women.

Then you'll be led downstairs into the basement where the torture chambers used to be. There were two things that stuck out in my mind most. One is that the Japanese used sharp sticks to insert under the prisoner's fingernails to get them to either pledge their allegiance to Japan or to reveal important information. The other was a special box that people were put into that prisoners could not stand or sit properly. Thinking about how much pain the prisoners had to endure was difficult to ponder and just purely unimaginable. In the following picture, here's a mock interrogation room of Japanese soldiers questioning a prisoner:

You'll notice how cold it is during the winter since the basement is made mostly out of stone. Imagine how it would be without the doors and heating system. It must have been pretty unbearable.

Once you finish up in the basement, this will lead you to the main part of the prison. You'll see the flag of South Korea on one side. They used to have two flags (one on each side), but the other flag was moved and hung on another building.

You'll see the prisoner's exercise facility. Each prisoner was separated by a wall so that they couldn't talk to each other. One guard would stand at the end while the prisoner exercised in his limited amount of space.

Gyeokbekjang Exercise Facility
You'll also be able see the actual prison cells where the prisoners were held. You'll even get a description of many of the people that were held there including pastors, politicians, or just ordinary people that wanted to stand up for their country. Various things are on display: things that they owned, a letter that one prisoner wrote, and a biography of the people that were held captive.

Finally, my wife and I made it to the women's prisoner's cell. This was also sad because there were also pictures of the female prisoners on display.

 The whole experience made me thankful that I had a life of freedom and didn't have to worry about each word I say or each action that I do. I pray for the people in North Korea that go through these kinds of situations on a daily basis. I also pray for those that are going through difficult circumstances in life that they can't control (people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, etc.).

Cost: W3,000
Location: Dongnimmun Station (Line 3), Exit 5.
Length of Time Needed: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Operating Hours:
From March until October: 9:00am-6:00pm
From November until February: 9:00am-5:30pm

Scott Worden (The L.A./Seoul Guy)
Instagram: laseoulguy
Twitter: laseoulguy

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 5 Challenges of Living in Seoul

In August, I wrote a post about the top 10 reasons why I love living in South Korea. I thought I would balance that in this post with 5 things that annoy me or irritate me about living in Seoul. The reason that I only choose 5 is that I truly love living in Korea. And the reason that I pinpoint Seoul instead of South Korea is that there are things that annoy me more often in Seoul that you wouldn't see in the suburbs or in the countryside. Seoul is like New York City, although I like Seoul a lot more. I want to be as objective as possible, not disrespect Koreans, and just give you an honest review of the things that I annoy me. So onto the list we go. They are ranked from the least worst to the worst.

5. There is little regard for strangers. There is an exception to this rule which I will mention later. However, if you fall down, people might look at you and will probably walk away. They don't want to shame you supposedly. If you're behind someone going into a shopping mall and someone opens the door, people will rarely open the door for you. The older generation are especially guilty of this. They will open the door just enough for them to get through and not care who's behind them. Thankfully this is not as bad as it used to be.

If you see an open seat on the subway, you better go fast or someone else will take it. Ajummas (middle-aged women are especially guilty of this). They'll rumble through you to get that seat. It can be a free-for-all.

Another example is when people are walking on the sidewalk. People are not aware of people behind them and they'll walk slow without realizing someone is trying to get past them. Sometimes young ladies will block half of the sidewalk while talking to each other.

The exception to the rule is when you're asking for directions. Most people are more than willing to help you and Koreans speak English better than they think they do. In Tokyo, Japan people will try to help you and will go to great lengths but they can't speak English well at all, generally.

4. ATM transactions are done slowly in Seoul. Koreans are generally fast when it comes to delivering a product, making kimbap, or fixing merchandise. However, for some reason, when 6 ATM machines are being used at the same time, it takes a long time for each person to finish. People use their bank books, check their balances, double check the amounts, deposit or withdraw cash, and do whatever else they can do on the ATM machine. For me, I go to the ATM to withdraw some cash, and I'm done. You rarely see people get done at the ATM within a minute.

3. When people sneeze, some people cover their mouths, many don't. Even the Korean media criticized Koreans for their poor etiquette when it comes to sneezing and coughing in public. You can see the article here. Just yesterday I saw one guy sneeze 5 times inside Gangnam Station while he was walking towards Exit 11. Not once did he cover his mouth. Those kinds of situations just help spread germs and they're really inexcusable.

2. Customer service pales in comparison to back in the U.S. There are many times where there is good customer service (e.g. Starbucks, Olive Young, and convenience stores). However, on the whole, customer service is a lot worse than in my hometown of Los Angeles. I'll give you some examples. Ironically, I usually don't complain about service but there have been incidents that you'll see below that forced my hand to complain. The biggest difference is that people don't tip in Korea and in the US, you do. But I don't mind paying a tip if it means good service.

Incident #1: I went to a seollung tang (soup made from ox bones, brisket, and other cuts of meat) restaurant where I was a frequent customer. To complement your W6,000 soup, you are usually given kimchi and a jar of chopped green onions. There were only two customers in the restaurant: me and another one. I never liked this particular server, since she was never that friendly to me (On the other hand the owner who was there at night, was very kind). She gave the kimchi and chopped green onions to another customer but not me. After that, she was busy playing with her phone. I should have just asked, but I didn't want to interact with her and I was curious to see if she would eventually realize that she had forgotten. I had been there many times before and she should treat a frequent customer well. I told her at the end in Korean that she didn't use common sense and I left.

Incident #2: Once again, I went to a restaurant where I was a frequent customer at. We went to a traditional Korean restaurant which served various dishes at reasonable prices (between W4,500 and W6,000). This time I brought NINE of my friends from church. The server would not serve side dishes unless ALL nine of us ordered something. One of us wasn't feeling that well and not very hungry. But he ended up ordering to appease her. Then at the end as we were paying, she tried to rush us out, which was the last straw for me. I told her in Korean that she was rude and walked out.

Incident #3: Five years ago, I went to a cheap Korean restaurant. Notice the pattern here. The cheap Korean restaurants that serve good food have the worst service. Anyway, I can't remember what I ordered but I found a piece of GLASS in my food. My Korean friend said she was going to treat me and she still paid despite the glass in my food. I was pretty annoyed with my Korean friend that she paid because I could have really had a serious problem if I ate the food with glass in it. Korean restaurants don't usually offer refunds if you find hair in your food. It's common to replace the dish but that's all. However, this was a bit more serious than that.

Incident #4: I went to Latte King near Nakseongdae Station about two months ago. My friend found a LONG strand of hair in it. Normally, I wouldn't complain about hair in my food. When I started cooking, I realized how easy it was to get hair in it. But this was a really long one, so I told my friend that he should get some sort of reimbursement. He didn't want to take it back, so I did. I told her in Korean that my friend should get a discount because he found hair in his food. Fortunately, she gave him a 20% discount. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. A couple of months later, I thought I would give this place a chance again. I ordered a sandwich from the older woman that worked there. I told her in Korean "No mayonnaise please." She understood. Five minutes later, the younger women (in her 30s) served me the sandwich. I opened my sandwich to find out that there was white stuff all over it. I took it back and the woman in her 30s said that it wasn't mayonnaise, it was ranch dressing. But common sense would tell you that ranch dressing is made mostly from mayonnaise.....I took it back to my table, but I just couldn't eat it. The older woman realized that I didn't seem to pleased and she probably heard from the younger woman that I complained that there was mayonnaise on it. She came back and asked what kind of sauce I wanted on it originally. I told her that I preferred mustard. In Korean, she said she could do that for me. I assumed that she would give me a new sandwich. She brought half a sandwich over to me and was working on the second half, so I was pretty sure that was what she was going to do. When she brought the first half over, the ranch dressing was still on it and she just added mustard to it. She did the same for the other half. She was more worried about losing a profit of a sandwich than she was at pleasing her customer. I ate half of it reluctantly but had to throw the other half away. I've stopped going there and I'll just go to Subway near my workplace if I want a sandwich from now on.

Incident #5: I walked into a Hi-Mart. No customers were in the store and the sales staff looked bored. I wanted to buy a rice cooker but instead of anyone asking me if I needed help. They just focused on their phones and said nothing to me. Maybe they were afraid to approach the "foreigner" but there was no "hello" or "welcome", so I just walked out.

1. Seoul drivers are selfish. You'll see that I mentioned this in a previous blog post. Drivers constantly break traffic laws. People run red lights, people are impatient and love to use their horn even if the car in front of them is waiting for pedestrians to cross the street. Cars will try to make a right turn and get around pedestrians that just stepped off the curb to cross the street. Bus drivers are hit and miss. Sometimes they're friendly and sometimes they won't let you on after they already closed the door, yet are waiting at a traffic light. Or they drive like they're in a NASCAR race. Taxi drivers sometimes drive like speed demons and won't let you in especially if you use your blinkers. When you use your turn signal indicators, people will inch up and NOT let you in. People with black Chairman or black Equus cars (usually middle-aged men) with tinted windows speed down narrow streets with a lot of pedestrians almost hitting them. If they're not doing that, they might park illegally or be driving the wrong way on a one-way street. All that is supposedly forgiven if they have their hazard lights on. Translation: "I'm being an idiot but since I have my hazard lights on, you'll let it slide." I could go on and on and as you can see, this drives me nuts. It's obviously not as bad as China, but com'on. This is a developed country. Get some patrol cars or motorcyle cops out there to do their jobs.

Overall, Korea is a great place to live in. Thankfully the positive experiences outweigh the negatives. No place is perfect, but can you imagine how amazing Korea would be if these things could be fixed?

Scott Worden (The L.A./Seoul Guy)
Instagram: laseoulguy
Twitter: laseoulguy