Friday, July 31, 2009

Destination: Incheon

Incheon is the gateway to South Korea, it is where majority of international flights coming to Korea land as it is home to Incheon International Airport, one of the best airports in the world. It is also a major seaport city and lies closest to the West Sea giving it a strategic location in terms of sea routes connecting Korea with the rest of the world.

Incheon is also loaded with places of interest that are must-see for every visitor, from islets to islands; from temples to stone statues; from dolmen sites to other historic and cultural treasures, Incheon is a place one should not miss when visiting Korea.

Wolmido Island
Getting its name due to its shape like the tail of a half moon, Wolmido Island is located about 1 kilometer away from the coast of Incheon, this once separate island is now part and connected to mainland Incheon, thanks to the construction of a new highway. A favorite weekend get-a-way for Seoulites due to its proximity to the capital, this place is beaming with cafes and seafood restaurants where you can dine while viewing the sea.

Baengnyeongdo Island
Baengnyeongdo literally means “white crane wings”. The island got its name from a legend that tells of a young man who died of love and numerous white cranes flew in and covered his body. This island is the fourteenth biggest island of Korea and is a mere 14 kilometers away from North Korea. The second oldest church in Korea, Junghwa-dong Church is located in the island. Also, the island is home to many rocks with interesting names such as, Candle Rock, Brother Rock, Elephant Rock, General Rock, and others which resembles the shapes they are named after.

Ganghwado island

The fifth largest island in Korea, the island contains many ancient artifacts, the most famous of which is the Goindol Rocks which is designated as a World’s Cultural Treasure. The Goindol graves are burial sites for the rulers of the Ganghwa Island in the Bronze Age.

Chamseongdan Altar is believed to be where Dangun (founder of Korea) is said to have offered sacrifices to the heavens. It is located on top of Mount Mani.

Jeondeungsa Temple
Originally called Jinjong-sa, the name Jeondeungsa which means “Inherited Lamp”, came about when Princess Jeonghwa donated a rare lamp to Buddha during the Goryeo Dynasty. There are ten (10) buildings inside the complex and includes a huge bell which is said to be cast in China in the 11th century.

Bomunsa Temple

Located in Seokmodo Island, it is said that this temple was built by Queen Seondok during the Silla Dynasty. The first thing that will catch your attention when you enter the site is an old Chinese juniper tree, which is said to be more than 600 years old.

China Town Palau
This is the only Chinatown in the whole of Korea and has been a popular tourist destination.

Hwadojin Park
A military camp constructed during King Kojong’s reign it is also a historical site where the Treaty on Amity and Commerce between the United States and Korea was entered into in 1882.

Have a great time in Incheon!!!

Hanok: Traditional Korean House

Hanok is a term used to describe Korean traditional houses. The common structure of the Hanok follows the principle called Baesanimsu wherein the ideal house is built with a mountain in the back and a river in front with a wide front porch for keeping the house cool during the hot summers and the ondol or the underlying heating system during cold winters.

The structure of the Hanok differs regionally as well as with the social class. In regions where it is warmer, such as in the south, the hanok is built in a straight line and has many windows in order to allow good wind circulation. Hanoks in the northern region, where it is colder, is box shaped and clustered rooms so that the wind flow can be blocked. In the central region of the country, a blend of the two types of hanok is observed. In terms of social class, they roof material of the hanok distinguishes the social class. Tiled roof tiles were for the upper class or the nobles while rice straws are for the commoners or the lower class.

If Hanoks were still constructed these days, then this industry, I guess would very well fit the administration’s Green Korea program. Why? Because the raw materials used in making the hanok are all natural, recyclable and environment-friendly.

Hanok Stay is offered to tourists in various parts of Korea. This gives the international tourists a good opportunity to experience the old Korean lifestyle. Places which offer this type of program are Samcheonggak, Seoul Guest House, Rakgojae in Seoul; Saechwagwan and Yangsajae in Jeonju; and Suaedang in Andong. Rates vary in every location but would usually start at about US$ 100 per room. Not bad when you consider that in some facilities, the rate is already inclusive of breakfast.

So the next time you go to Korea, why not consider a Hanok stay as an alternative to your regular hotel accommodation, a cultural experience worth trying.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Must-See Landmarks in Seoul

Seoul is not only the capital of South Korea, it is the largest city in the country and is also considered as the soul of Korea. A befitting moniker for a place which is considered as the center of Korea’s activities, may it be in politics, culture or economy. Seoul has earned this major role for over six centuries now, ever since King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty made it the capital of the country.

Seoul is not only considered as the 5th largest city in the world but also the 2nd largest mega city; it is home to more than 10 million people; and the host of the 1988 Summer Games, and, together with Japan co-hosted the 2002 World Cup.

But when you come to Korea, you land at the Incheon International Airport, the gateway of Korea. You still have to travel an extra 52 kilometers, or about an hour to reach Seoul. You can either take a taxi or bus that will transport you to Seoul via the airport’s expressway.

Seoul offers the perfect blend of a modern city of glitzy skyscrapers and a place rich in history, cultural sights, historical landmarks and impressive monuments. Seoul offers limitless possibilities to do and see for every type of tourist. The following are the must-see landmarks of Seoul which proves that it is fast becoming a major international tourist destination.

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Built in 1394, and one of the five grand palaces built in Seoul by the Joseon Dynasty, Gyeongbok is considered as the crown jewel although it is the oldest, it is the most beautiful and grandest of all the palaces. The palace served as home to the ruling family when Seoul became the capital of Korea.
Within the palace complex is the National Folk Museum of Korea. The museum showcases the lifestyle of the Korean people from the prehistoric age to the Joseon Dynasty. Items on display are those for everyday use, major works of art and replicas.

Changdeokgung Palace Complex
Also known as Changdeok Palace, Changdeokgung Palace which literally means the “Palace of Prospering Virtue” was inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1997. The palace was built in 1405, and together with Gyeongbokgung Palace is part of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. Considered as the most Korean of all the palaces, it covers a total area of 58 hectares, comprising of 13 buildings and 28 pavilions, and was built pleasingly blending with the surrounding landscape and with minimum effect on the natural environment.

Bongeunsa Temple
Built in 794 during the reign of King Wonseong of the Silla Dynasty, the temple sits on Sudo Mountain in the Gangnam-gu district of Seoul. Bongeunsa is one of Korea’s major temples and is a popular tourist attraction because of the temple stay program, where visitors are allowed to “live” like a monk within the temple grounds.

Jongmyo Shrine
One of the two World Heritage Sites in Seoul, the Jongmyo Shrine is the first and most genuine Confucian royal shrine in Korea. It is dedicated to the memorial services of the kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty and is considered as the longest Korean building of traditional design.

National Museum of Korea
First established in 1945, but re-opened in a new building in Yongsan-dong, Seoul on October 2005, it is considered not only as one of the best national museums in the world but also the largest museum in Asia and the 6th largest museum in the world in terms of floor space.

Namdaemun Gate
Also called Sungreymun or the “Great Southern Gate”, this historic structure was once part of an ancient city wall. Considered as National Treasure #1 and is currently undergoing repair and reconstruction due to the major damages it incurred in a fire in 2008.

N Seoul Tower

Built on top of Mt. Namsan, this 236.7-meter communication tower features four (4) observation decks, the 4th and highest deck is a revolving restaurant which makes a complete rotation every 48 minutes. Visitors must take a cable car to enable them to climb the tower. Because of its elevation, a panoramic view of Seoul awaits the visitors of the tower. The tower can be seen from almost any point in the city.

63 Building
The third tallest building in Korea stands at a commanding height of 249-meters. 63 refers to the total number of floors: 60 are above-ground while 3 are devoted to basement levels. It houses as IMAX theater, convention center, aquarium, banquet hall, an observation deck known as the 63 Golden Tower, and a lot of stores and boutiques.

Admiral Yi Sun Shin Statue
A major landmark in Seoul, this monument commemorates the 16th century admiral and Korean maritime hero who designed the metal-clad turtle boat known as geobukseon. This warships were used in combating Japanese naval vessels during his time. To have a glimpse of how Admiral Yi Sun Shin looks like, you just have to look at a 100 Won coin, his face is immortalized in the Korean coin.

Mount Pukhansan
Located near Seoul, this mass of granite is a favorite nature trail for Koreans who would like to have a respite from the rigors and stresses of urban living. Its tallest peak is called Baekundae, and for those who can conquer this peak, the reward is a 360-degree view of Seoul.

Dongdaemun Market
Considered by Koreans as “world’s extraordinarily large shopping town” – this is probably the world’s largest wholesale shopping district. Popular destination not only to local residents but as well as tourists, this area offers almost every unimaginable product one can ever think of at really very cheap prices. A shopping district that never sleeps, it is practically open 24 hours a day. A must stop for all bargain hunters.

Seoul is truly sparkling and offers countless possibilities to all its visitors. This is an open invitation for everyone to come explore, experience and enjoy its sites and sounds and have an experience of a lifetime in the Land of the Morning Calm.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pansori: Korean Opera

Have you ever watched a Korean show whether it be a documentary, movie or a drama where you see a person singing and accompanied only by a drummer? Well, that particular form of Korean music is called the pansori. The pansori is a traditional narrative song type which has been classified as a Natural Cultural Intangible Property by the Korean government in 1964 and has been designated as a UNESCO Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in November 7, 2003. The pansori is also considered as the Korean Opera.

“Pan” meaning a place where many people gather to do something special and “Sori” which is short for “Moksori” means human voice. Thus, pansori is a vocal art form performed in a public place.

There are two performers in a pansori: the gosu or the drummer and the sorrikun or the singer. The singer, usually holding a fan and a handkerchief, tells a folktale with a combination of a sori (singing), aniri (recitation), and pallim (body expressions). The fan is waved to emphasize the singer’s motions and is unfolded to announce changes of scene. While the drummer uses a stick to strike the wooden barrel of the drum with his right hand while pounding the drum head with his left palm, gives the rhythm as well as verbal sounds or chuimsae (this may be simple sounds of encouragement). The audience is also an important part of the pansori as they are expected to respond with their own chuimsae at various points in the performance.

Pansori performances are usually long with a full madang (story) lasting for hours, main reason why modern pansori are often done in sections so as not to get the audiences restless. One such example is that of the “Song of Chunhyang” which is performed for more than eight hours without a break (whew… talk of endurance).

So if you would like to experience a new music genre, why not try the pansori.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I’ve always admired the beauty of the Korean traditional dress, the Hanbok. It’s simple, yet very elegant. And it is very versatile that you can use it as a semi-formal or formal attire during celebrations and festivals. And, recently, new designs have been created to transform the hanbok to a more suitable and comfortable everyday wear, the more it has contributed to its versatility. The beauty of the hanbok lies in the harmonious blend of its color and design as well as the straight and curved lines.

The woman’s outfit consists of a jogori, which is a short blouse with a long sleeve and a chima or a wrap around long skirt . It also has a dongjeong, or a white collar attachéd along the rim of the neckline and an otgoreum, or a cloth string, which is an ornamental piece which hangs vertically across the front of the chima.

While for men, the hanbok comprises of a baji, a baggy pants tied at the ankle, and also a jogori, but in a shape of a vest. Both hanboks can be topped by an overcoat called durumagi.

In the past, only the nobles are allowed to use brightly colored hanboks which were made of plain and patterned silk, while the commoners were restricted to using white, pale pink, light grey colored hanboks made of hemp and cotton. Now-a-days, white colored hanboks are used only by people who are in a state of mourning.

When it comes to price, hanboks are quite expensive though, it can start at around US$175 and cost more depending on the design, quality of the silk used, embroidery and decorations.

If in Korea, and your budget allows it, the hanbok would be a very good souvenir item from the Land of the Morning Calm.

Just like kimch, hanbok is an indelible symbol of Korea.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

10 Must Try Korean Snacks

Before I went to attend to some work-related travels two weeks ago (main reason why my blog was not updated from July 4 – 14, and again I’m currently out for another week and a half, but at least I have more spare time, I hope) I had dinner with my friends, and while waiting for our meal to be served, we were talking about exotic delicacies, street food we’ve each tried in our travels whether domestic or international. It crossed my mind that this would be an interesting topic for my blog but just have to give it some Korean color. Luckily, someone from the group mentioned some Korean street foods he had tried while visiting Korea sometime ago. So I just have to do some research about those he mentioned so I can put some meat into my blog and add a few more to make my list of 10 Must Try Korean Snacks.

As always, street food is not one for the faint-of-heart but it is for someone who is more of the adventurous type, one who is not scared to try something new. Why? because more often than not, street food offers exotic delicacies enjoyed by the locals in any area. Exotic in the sense that, things that you can’t ever imagine eating like worms, bugs, insects, and the like, actually finds its way in the menu of street vendors, and these are eaten with gusto.

In Korea, they call a street food vendor pojangmacha, which literally means “covered wagon”. Among the most popular Korean street food are:

Hobbang – a hot snack made of pre-cooked ball of rice flour filled with red bean paste, steamed in a warmer and sold in small shops and small convenient stores.

Hotteok – Korean filled pancakes usually eaten during the winter months. Handful-sized ball of stiff dough made from wheat, flour, water, milk, sugar and yeast which is allowed to rise for several hours, is stuffed with a mix of brown sugar, honey, chopped peanuts, and cinnamon, placed on a greased griddle, then pressed into a flat circle with a special tool with a stainless steel circle and wooden handle as it cooks. For those who don’t have the time to make the recipe at home or don’t have the time to buy them at their nearby pojangmacha, ready-to-cook hotteok is readily available in Korean supermarkets, together with its filling.

Beondegi – literally meaning chrysalis or pupa, are steamed or boiled silkworm pupae which are seasoned and eaten as a snack. Served not only by pojangmacha, this snack is also served in restaurants, drinking establishments, as well as in grocery stores.

Eomuk – boiled fish paste that commonly accompanies soju or other beverages. The eomuk is skewered before boiling in a broth and dipped first in soy sauce before eating. A soft snack with a fishy smell to it, the broth is sometimes given to the customer for dipping and drinking. During the colder months or in winter, it is actually sold as “Hotbar”, this is eomuk which is deep fried instead of boiled.

Twibap – literally means “popped rice” is a puffy cookie made from rice or corn.

Tteokbokki – made by broiling meat, vegetables, eggs, and seasonings in water, then topped with gingko nuts and walnuts before serving.

Bungeoppang are fish-shaped pastry normally filled with sweet red bean paste. The snack is made by pouring batter into a special appliance similar to a waffle-maker, that are shaped like fish, then adding the sweet the red bean paste and closed off with more batter. Another version of this snack is called Gukwappang which is floral in shape. A healthy and delicious snack or dessert, this comes in different fillings such as custard cream or ice cream but the traditional filling is the sweet red bean paste.

Gimbap – steamed white rice with meat and vegetables rolled in sheets of dried seaweed served in bite size portions and is usually served cold.

Oksusu cha which literally means corn tea, is a drink made from boiled roasted corn kernels and does not contain any tea leaves. It is prepared by thoroughly drying corn kernels and then roasted until it turns golden brown. The roasted corn is then brewed with boiling water until it turns pale yellow. The tea is then drained and the boiled corn discarded. This drink is also available in prepared tea bags.

Gyeongju bread – also known as Hwangnam bread, is pancake stuffed with sweet red bean paste, and is a local specialty of Gyeongju City.

Trying these snacks would seem to be a fun thing to do while in Korea.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Talk of Korean food and I’m pretty sure that the first thing that will come to your mind is kimchi. Kimchi is the most popular food associated with Korea. Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish which comes in different varieties, more than 160 varieties to be exact, and is prepared differently depending on the ingredients used, the time of year it was made, and, what region it came from. It is a regular mainstay in every Korean meal and is the most common pancham or side dish. However, kimchi is more than a side dish as it is combined with other ingredients to make other popular Korean dishes, such as kimchi jjigae, kimchi pancakes and kimchi fried rice.

Accordingly, the name kimchi is believed to have evolved from the word ji, which then became chimchae, literally meaning soaked vegetables, then dimchae, timchae, jimchi, and finally kimchi.

During the ancient times, kimchi was made of only cabbage and beef stock, a far cry from what it has evolved into these days, it was only during the 12th century that people begun adding several spices and seasoning. And in the 18th century, the red chili pepper finally became a major ingredient in kimchi.

A lot of vegetable can be made into kimchi, but the most popular variety is that made of cabbage or what they call baechu. Standard seasoning for kimchi include brine, scallions and seasonings. Other seasonings such as ginger, onions, fish sauce and fresh seafood are the most commonly used.

Although kimchi can be found in the entire Korean peninsula, its taste and appearance differs from region to region. Kimchi from the northern part tends to have less salt, less red chilli and usually no brined seafood for seasoning, and its consistency is more watery as compared to that of the other regions. While kimchi from the southern part is usually the opposite of how they prepare it in the north, it uses more salt, chili peppers and brined seafood (it may be brined anchovy or brined shrimp which is allowed to ferment).

Chungcheong is said to have the greatest varieties of kimchi while the saltiest and spiciest kimchi comes from Gyeongsan.

During the early parts of winter, Koreans celebrate what they call Gimjang, an age-old tradition of making kimchi for the coldest winter months. Usually done during the latter part of October or early November, it is considered a big event that close relatives, several neighbor housewives, and men help in this activity.

A Kimchi Festival is also held annually in Gwangju. Started in 1994, the festival highlights Korea’s kimchi culture and is usually conducted every October or November. During the festival, which lasts for several days, visitors are given the opportunity to make, taste, and buy kimchi products. Cultural presentations are also part of this festival.

Due to its health benefits, the popularity of kimchi has been steadily growing worldwide. Since it is made of various vegetables, kimchi is low in calorie yet rich in dietary fiber. It is also rich in Vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), C, calcium and iron, and also contains lactic acid.

Kimchi, definitely a Korean dish.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Korea's World Heritage Sites

Bearing the designation as a World Heritage Site is reason enough for a particular site to attract both local and foreign tourist to come and visit the area. These sites offer visitors a chance to be amazed at the magnificence of the structures while giving the local residents a source of pride with their care and effort in preserving their heritage which they can share with the rest of the world.

There are three types of World Heritage sites which the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes, cultural, natural and mixed. Cultural heritage sites are masterpiece of creative genius; have exerted great architectural influence; be associated with ideas or beliefs of universal significance; or it may be an outstanding example of a traditional way of life that represents a certain culture. Natural heritage sites on the other hand may exemplify major stages of the earth’s history; represent significant ongoing ecological and biological processes; contain the natural habitats of threatened species; or it may be a setting of exceptional beauty.

According to the UNESCO, there are 890 properties in the World heritage List which forms part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having “outstanding universal value”

Of the 890 properties in the list, 689 are cultural, 176 natural and 25 are mixed properties. These properties are located in 148 state properties.

But what exactly is a World Heritage site and how are they selected?

To begin with, I think it is important to note that it was only in 1972 that the World Heritage Convention established the World Heritage List which attempts to identify, protect and preserve some of the world’s greatest cultural and natural sites considered to be of outstanding value.

To be included on the elite World Heritage, aside from being of outstanding universal value, a site must meet at least one of the ten criteria set forth by the World Heritage Committee. The first six (6) criteria relate to cultural sites, while the remaining four (4) relate to natural sites. The following are the criteria:

i. “to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius”;

ii. “to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design”;

iii. “to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared”;

iv. “to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history”;

v. “to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change”;

vi. “to directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic literary works of outstanding universal significance.

vii. “to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”;

viii. “to be outstanding examples representing major stages of Earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features”;

ix. “to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals”;

x. “to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.” [source: UNESCO]

Having mentioned all of these, it is now time to present the properties of South Korea inscribed in the World Heritage List.

Changdeokgung Palace Complex

Also known as Changdeok Palace, Changdeokgung Palace which literally means the “Palace of Prospering Virtue” is located in the nation’s capital, Seoul. Built in 1405, it is one of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty. Considered as the most Korean of all the palaces, it covers a total area of 58 hectares and it was built pleasingly blending with the surrounding landscape and with minimum effect on the natural environment. It was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1997 and according to UNESCO, the palace compound is an “outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design, exceptional for the way in which the buildings are integrated into and harmonized with the natural setting, adapting to the topography and retaining indigenous tree cover.” This cultural property meets criteria numbers ii, iii, and iv.

Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites

Dolmens are stone tomb markers from the 1st millennium BC constructed of large stone slabs. The largest concentration of dolmen in the world are found in Maeshan Village in Gochang, Jeolllanbukdo Province; Hwasun, Jeollanam-do Province; and on the foot of Mt. Goryeosan in Ganghwa, Incheon. Included in the World Heritage List in 2000, the Dolmen in these areas meets criterion iii. UNESCO considers these sites as the most vivid illustration of a “global prehistoric technological and social phenomenon that resulted in the appearance in the 2nd and 3rd millennia BCE of funerary and ritual monuments constructed of large stones (the “Megalithic Culture”).”

Gyeongju Historic Areas

Inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2000, on the basis of criteria ii and iii. The historic areas include temple and palace ruins, royal tumuli, pagodas and Buddhist art and statuary dating between the 7th and 10th centuries. Because of these historic areas, Gyeongju is referred to as the living museum of Korea.

Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories of the Triptaka Koreana Woodblocks

The Temple of Haeinsa, on Mount Kaya in South Gyeongsang Province, houses the Triptaka Koreana, the world’s most complete collection of Buddhist scriptures in Chinese script carved onto 81,258 wooden printing blocks in the 13th century. Each block is made of birch wood and was treated in seawater to prevent decay. The storage halls are known as Janggyeong Panjeon complex. The property was included in the World Heritage List in 1995 and meets criteria iv and vi.

Hwaseong Fortress

Located in Suwon, one of the principal cities of Gyeonggi-do Province, this massive eighteenth century military fortifications complete with towers and gates was built by the Joseon emperor Jeongjo to honor his deceased father, Sado Seja. Inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1997 on the basis of criteria ii and iii, UNESCO considers the property “an outstanding example of early modern military architecture, incorporating the most highly developed features of that science from both east and west.”

Jongmyo Shrine

The Jongmyo Shrine earned its spot in the World Heritage List in 1995, located in Seoul, it is the oldest and most authentic Confucian royal shrines to have been preserved. The shrine in its present form dates back from the 16th century after the previous building which was constructed in 1394 was destroyed by an invading Japanese army. The shrine houses sacred tablets bearing the teachings of members of the former Choson ruling family. Ritual ceremonies of music, song and dance still take place at the shrine to this day, a tradition that has been started since the 14th century. Inscribed on the List on the basis of criteria iv.

Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty

Inscribed in the World Heritage List only this year (2009), the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty is South Korea’s ninth UNESCO-designated treasure. Scattered over 18 locations throughout Seoul, Gyeonggido, and Gangwondo, this group of 40 royal tombs were built over five centuries and houses 27 generations of the kingdom’s kings, queens and other rulers. This property meets criteria iii, iv, and vi.

Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple

Located in Gyeongju, the Seokguram Grotto is a hermitage and part of the Bulguksa Temple complex. It was built in the 8th century and epitomizes some of the best Buddhist sculptures in the world. It features a huge, white statue of the seated Buddha overlooking the Sea of Japan. Inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1995 on the basis of criteria i and iv.

Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes

Inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2007 on the basis of criteria vii and viii, this property includes three components, the Gaemunoreum, which is regarded as the finest lava tube system of caves in the world; the fortress-like Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, a tuff cone which rose out of the sea and was formed from a volcanic eruption about 100,000 years ago; and Mount Halla, the highest mountain in South Korea.

Remarkable sites indeed. But the story does not end with the site being inscribed in the World Heritage List. If it is to stay in the List, the characteristics, qualities and requirements that justified its being included in the list must be preserved.

These are valuable heritage sites that koreans are very proud to share to the world. Their heritage which is their inheritance from their rich past and which will be passed on to future generations not only of koreans but of the entire world as well. THANK YOU KOREA!!!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Korean Food 101

I always consider eating in a Korean restaurant a gastronomic delight. You leave the restaurant very much satisfied although your wallet becomes a bit lighter. But choosing what to eat is quite a challenge if you are not familiar with the menu. So, from my regular dining at a Korean restaurant, here’s my beginners guide to Korean cuisine.

Most if not all Korean restaurants serve panchan, a variety of side dishes which comes in small, white-colored plates. The panchan can be anywhere from 2 to 12 varieties (my favorite Korean restaurant usually serves 6 but can go up to 10 depending on the number of people in the group). The most common panchan is kimchi, a fermented vegetable dish. The most popular variety is cabbage kimchi, but they say that there are more than 160 kimchi varieties. Kimchi is also the most popular food identified/associated with Korea. Other side dishes which I usually find in a Korean restaurant are fried zucchini; potato salad; steamed egg or rolled egg omellete, pickled radish, sweetened young potato; sweetened anchovies, and a lot more. Koreans actually make so many side dishes from almost everything.

For meat lovers, barbequed beef or bulgogi is highly recommended. Bulgogi literally means “fire beef” but is generally called “Korean barbeque”. Thin, tender strips of tenderloin or sirloin are marinated in a sauce (usually with soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and garlic) and cooked over hot charcoal grill or a portable gas grill.

Galbi is marinated beef ribs. Like bulgogi, it is also grilled. Galbi could either be pork ribs (dwaeji galbi) or beef ribs (sogalbi or just galbi).

Samgyeopsal is not a beef dish but a pork dish. It is thick, fatty slices of pork belly which is not seasoned nor marinated, cooked in a grill right at the table on the diner’s table. It is then consumed by dipping it in a sauce consisting of sesame oil, black pepper, and salt. It can also be eaten by placing a slice of meat inside a lettuce or any other green leaf with some cooked rice and a paste made up of chili paste and soy bean paste.

For chicken fanatics, you can try samgyetang, which literally means “ginseng chicken soup”, whole chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and boiled in a broth of Korean ginseng, dried jujube fruits, garlic and ginger.

Dak galbi or spicy chicken dish is made by stir-frying marinated diced chicken in gochujang (chilly pepper paste) and sliced vegetables together on a hot plate.

For stews ( jjiggae) you might want to try Kimchi jjiggae, a soup made with mainly kimchi, pork and tofu.

Doenjang jjiggae or soy bean paste stew, is made with fermented soybean paste and tofu.

Yukkae jang kuk, or beef stew.

Other food that you might want to try:

Japchae, one of the most popular Korean noodle dish, made from glass noodles stir fried in sesame oil with various vegetables, such as thinly-sliced carrots, onions, spinach, and mushrooms, served with beef, and flavorued with soy sauce and sweetened sugar.

Mandu, or dumplings.

Gimbap, steamed rice with various ingredients rolled in sheets of dried seaweed, similar to sushi.

Bibimbap, rice with mixed vegetables

I guess that’s about it. HAPPY EATING!!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cheonggyecheon Stream

What would you expect to see when you have a stream flowing right smack in the heart of not only the 2nd largest mega city in the world but also one of the world’s largest and busiest city. I guess you would say, a filthy, polluted, trash-laden and stinking waterway. This may hold true for some, but not in the case of Seoul’s present-day Cheonggyecheon stream. The stream boast of sparkling clean waters and a major public recreation place for everyone. Thanks to the vision and political will of then Seoul Mayor and now President Lee Myung Bak. Cheonggyecheon has been lauded as a major success in urban renewal and revitalization. But this was not always the case for this culturally and historically significant waterway.

Cheonggyecheon is a 5.6 km stream that runs from west to east traversing through downtown Seoul before connecting to the Han River via the Jungnangcheon which eventually empties into the Yellow Sea.

Originally called Gaecheon during the Joseon Dynasty, it was only during the Japanese colonial period that the stream got its name Chonggyecheon .

In the years following the Korean War, migration to Seoul increased tremendously and the Cheonggyecheon area was not spared from becoming a slum area, a place called home to the less fortunate.

From the 1960s till the 70s, the stream was covered. Economic activity flourished and soon, elevated expressways were constructed leading to more and more commercial facilities sprouting in the area, and of course traffic became busier. With continuous economic growth in the 80s and 90s, the area had grown into the most prosperous economic district not just in Seoul but in the entire country as well, the more Chonggyecheon was buried into oblivion.

Cheonggyecheon’s renaissance started in 2003, when a project that would bring back the old glory and beauty of this once neglected stream got underway. Then Seoul Mayor Lee Myung Bak, amidst all the opposition, started the Cheongyecheon Restoration Project. A project that would eventually cost US$ 281 million in taxpayers money.

The project called for the removal of the elevated highway and for the restoration of the stream, which almost dried up due to years of neglect. Almost 120,000 tons of water was pumped daily into the stream for a period of time.

Finally in 2005, the Cheonggyecheon stream was opened to the public – a stunning 5.6 kilometer-long greenway and sparkling stream right in the heart of Seoul.