Sunday, August 30, 2009

Changgo: Korean double-headed hourglass drum

Changgo or changgu is a double-headed drum with a body shaped like an hourglass.  It is used to accompany almost all genre of Korean music from court music to shaman ceremonies. Its body is usually made of paulownia wood, although there some may be made of ceramics, metal, as well as pottery.  Its heads are made of animal skin; the left head is made of cowhide or deer hide, which produces a low tone; and the right head has a thinner skin and is made from either doghide or horsehide, and usually produces a higher tone.  Both heads are held together with rope cords that crosses between them and can be adjusted for tuning.
To use the changgo, a bamboo stick called ch'ae strikes the right side of the drum making a tak sound and the palm of the left hand strikes the left head making a kung sound.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Danyang and Damyang

Funny how in some instances one letter in a word can spell a whole lot of difference in your search, I was looking for some info on DaNyang which I thought was Korea’s bamboo center but I accidentally typed in DaMyang in the search bar. Much to my surprise, there is a county in Korea named Damyang and while reading thru the search results, it is actually Damyang which is considered as the center for bamboo cultivation and craftsmanship in Korea and not Danyang, as I initially presumed. Danyang is located in North Chungcheong Province (Chungcheongbuk-do) while Damyang is located in Jeollanam-do.

Here are some info I got to know of the similar sounding counties in Korea:

Damyang-gun, Jeollanam-do is located around 22 kms north of Gwangju. A picturesque lush green county, thanks to the bamboo forests and gardens that abound the area. Its Bamboo Museum is the only one of its kind in the world. For those wanting to commune with nature and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday living, Damyang is the place for you. Spectacular Soswaewon garden complex offers a sanctuary for the tired individual offering a serene atmosphere where only the music created by nature are the only sounds you can hear. Jukhyang-ri village right beside Jungnogwon bamboo forest is the perfect place to experience Korean-style lodging. A climb atop Mt. Sanseong-san will reward you with a view of a mountain fortress which is believed to be built during Korea’s Three Kingdoms period. After the climb, you can enjoy yourself with some pampering at the luxurious spa at the Damyang Resort. And since your in Korea’s bamboo land, a representative food of the region is daetongbap, rice cooked in bamboo. It is made by filling a bamboo stalk with rice, dates and other ingredients and covered with hanji paper and steamed for approximately four hours. After eating the dish, you can keep the vessel as a souvenir.

Danyang-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do, is about a 2.5-hour drive from Seoul. Resting next to the Chungjuho Lake and surrounded by three national parks, namely, Sobaeksan National Park; Chiaksan National Park; and Odaesan National Park, it also has numerous caves (Gosu, Nodong, Ondol, Cheongdong) scattered throughout the area, Danyang is considered as North Chungcheong’s top attraction. Danyang is touted as a complete tourist destination since it not only offers cultural and natural sites, it is also a haven for the active individual, one can actually do paragliding, motorized hang-gliding, rafting, boating, and clay shooting there.

If Damyang is known for its bamboo, Danyang’s major products are cement and garlic.

A simple case of typographical error with a happy ending.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Soju is probably the best known liquor from Korea, with its distinctive green bottle, it is said to be a favorite dinner accompaniment of Koreans. Soju is distilled liquor traditionally made from rice but is now being combined with other ingredients such as potato, wheat, barley, sweet potato, or tapioca. Soju is a clear-colored drink and typically varies in alcohol content from 20% to 45% alcohol by volume. My friends say its taste is comparable to vodka although a bit sweeter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Jeollanamdo’s Newest Attraction: The Formula One Grand Prix of South Korea

I've always considered Formula One as the pinnacle of motorsport and as an avid fan, I follow all races live on TV, even if it means waking up at 2 AM just to catch the Brazilian Grand Prix and Canadian Grand Prix live. And while watching the just concluded Telefonica Formula One European Grand Prix the other night, it came to my mind that Korea will be playing host to one of the races in 2010. The Korean International Circuit will be the newest leg to be included in the 2010 F1 calendar and the 5th circuit in Asia after Japan, Malaysia, China, and Singapore.

About the circuit
The Jeonnam Circuit features a lot of pioneer features in race circuit design: First, it has been conceived as a dual-structure track, it has 2 inter-changeable tracks or two tracks in one venue. The 5.6 km track is intended for international motorsports events such as F1 Grand Prix, while the permanent track which is 3.04 kms in length will be used for domestic races for automobile and motorcycle races. Second, it is the only track in Asia which will run counterclockwise. Of the 17 races in the F1 calendar this year, the tracks in Turkey and Brazil are the only circuits which were designed as such. Third, the Jeonnam Circuit will have 2 separate sets of pits and paddocks for the F1 and the local events, the very first circuit to ever have different facilities within the same circuit. And finally, the Korean circuit will be the only track to have the ocean in the background. A lot of first in formula one.
Of course, lest I forget, the track was designed by no other than Hermann Tilke, the person responsible for designing majority of the F1 tracks.

A glimpse of the track 

The host
Yeongam County in Jeollanam Province will be the newest host of Formula One starting 2010. It is near the town of Mokpo and roughly about 240 miles south of Seoul. Home to various attractions of Korea such as Mount Wolchul otherwise known as Soguemgang or Little Geumgang; Dogapsa Temple; and Gurim Traditional Village the birthplace of loess pottery.

With its numerous tourist attractions and the addition of the Formula One race, Korea is definitely proving itself as a destination of choice for international travelers; a major player in the tourism industry.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Korean rice cake

Rice is a common agricultural product of Asian countries. Asians are known as rice eating people. It is a staple food that is a mainstay in almost all meals in the region. It is also a versatile produce being served not only as the traditional boiled rice and porridge, but it is also used in wine making, desserts, snacks as well as specialty food for particular occasions. Rice in any form has been part of the rich culture and tradition of Asians.

In Korea, they have the traditional rice cake which is called “tteok”. Koreans prepare them for various occasions such as birthdays, weddings, special holidays, as well as ancestral offerings. It is also served as a healthy snack.

Different types of rice cakes are prepared for specific occasions, and here are some of them:

Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day)
songpyeon (crescent-shaped rice cake) is the representative food during this holiday. It is rice cake filled with jujube, red bean, chestnut or sweetened sesame seeds steamed over pine needles.

Seollal (Lunar New Year)
tteokguk (white rice cake soup) a favorite food served during this time of year. It is believed that the first day of a year is supposed to be holy and clean like the white color of the rice cake. And tradition has it that you can not grow a year older without eating tteokguk on Lunar New Year’s Day.

Honryae (Wedding ceremony)
bongchae tteok(steamed glutinous rice sprinkled with red beans) made from 7 jujubes, red beans and sticky rice. The ingredients used to make this cake have their own significant meaning: the sticky rice signifies the inseperable love of the couple; 7 jujubes represents a hope for 7 sons; and red beans are for dispelling evil spirits Other rice cakes served are moon rice cake (symbolizes the moon shining over each one’s life) and 2-color rice cake (representing 2 chickens which symbolizes a couple).

Tol (1st year birthday)
There are many types of rice cakes prepared during a child’s first birthday and one of them is paekseolgi (white steamed rice cakes) which symbolizes a pure and divine clean spirit and long life.

Tteok has become a favorite recipe for the korean palate. It plays a special part in every stage of Korean life.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Korean Tea Ceremony

Tea has evolved to become one of the more popular beverages worldwide. More and more people are becoming tea drinkers because of the health benefits derived from tea and it has also become a way of relaxation for many.

Tea is called “cha” in Korean. It is said that “cha” was introduced to Korea from China sometime in the 6th or 7th century by Buddhist monks or Korean scholars who traveled to China, they eventually brought home with them tea, and that’s how tea made its way to Korea. Buddhist monks drank tea to avoid sleeplessness and purify their minds. With Buddhism flourishing in Korea, tea has gained more popularity but when it was replaced by Confucianism, tea culture was repressed. It was only in the early 19th century when the Korean Way of Tea Life was revived.

Korean tea ceremony is called “Dado”. The focus of Korean tea ceremony is the enjoyment of tea in an easy, formal and natural setting. Its simplicity is what differentiates it from the complexity of the Japanese tea ceremony, were it is bound by formal rituals.

Green tea is most often served in tea ceremonies. In order to prepare green tea the Korean way, a tea set is recommended (if I’m not mistaken, they call it cha-kee). A tea set is basically a small tea pot for brewing; a small tea bowl for water cooling; and tea cup/s. Now that you have the tea set, this is how the actual ceremony is done:

1. Boiled water is poured into the tea set (tea pot, tea bowl and tea cup/s) to warm the utensils. The water is then discarded.

2. The right amount of dried tea leaves are placed in the pot.

3. Hot water is allowed to cool in the tea bowl.

4. Warmed water is gently poured into the pot with the tea leaves and allowed to brew for about 2-3 minutes.

5. Water from the teapot is then poured back to the tea bowl to mix it evenly and is poured into the cups.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Taekwondo: An international sport made in Korea

I’m not much of a martial arts fanatic, I do love watching sports, but the sports in my menu are basketball, formula one, tennis, golf, a bit of soccer and baseball (a bit seasonal though, only during world cup season and world baseball league period). But after writing about the Taekwondo Peace Corps (you might want to read my blog dated August 18, it talks about the group, the concept of which was espoused by a Korean, the president of the World Taekwondo Federation, Dr. Chungwon Choue), I guess writing about the sport would be a nice sequel, so to speak.

Taekwondo is a form of Korean martial art and at the same time the national sport of South Korea. Considered as one of the most systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial arts, taekwondo is a method of self-defense that uses both the hands and feet. Taekwondo goes beyond punching, jumping, kicking, and breaking boards. More than developing physical fighting skills, it develops the character and personality of an individual through physical, mental and spiritual discipline.

Taekwondo is deeply rooted in Korean history, starting out as a defensive martial art and later developed as a recreational activity, it was then transformed into a way of training the body and mind. Even its name has undergone different changes, from Taekkyon or Subak, Sunbae, Tae Soo Do, and eventually Taekwondo.

Taekwondo has three basic components: pumsae; gyeokpa; and gyeorugi. Pumsae is consistency of defensive and attacking movements against an imaginary opponent or opponents. It is a practice which is devised to be performed in following the Lines of Movement in a systematic and consecutive way against an imaginary opponent or mulit-opponents by using various Taekwondo techniques of hand and foot. Gyeokpa is the so called power test - breaking of tiles, bricks, boards etc. by different parts of the body and specific techniques. Gyeorugi or sparring, is when two people gain attacking and defensive skills through close combat.

Taekwondo has undeniably evolved from being an ordinary form of martial art to a popular international sport. As evidently shown with the results of Taekwondo in the Beijing Olympic Games, of the 32 medals up for grabs, 22 countries won at least one medal. As expected, Korea took home 4 golds out of the 8 up for grabs, to reaffirm its supremacy in the sport. Surprisingly, there were some winners whom you might not have expected to excel in taekwondo, countries such as Iran (a female athlete at that) won a gold; Dominican Republic went home with a silver, and so did Thailand, Greece; Italy, and Norway; while Brazil; Cuba; Kazakhstan; Nigeria; Venezuela; and even the war-torn country of Afghanistan were just some of the winners of a bronze medal. These results are a living testament to the popularity and universal appeal of taekwondo.

Now-a-days, taekwondo is used as a medium to spread peace, thru the Taekwondo Peace Corps.

Taekwondo, more than a sport, it is a way of life.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Korean Festivals: An Excellent Way of Experiencing the Many Faces of Korea

To understand the culture of a particular country, one must see and experience its festivals. Festivals mirror the rich culture of a country. Through these events, one can appreciate the uniqueness of its people, culture and heritage. Festivals are also conducted to promote almost everything, not only culture and arts but they are celebrated to promote agricultural products, food, crafts, and a lot more. And Korea is no different from the rest, for festivals are aplenty in Korea. To maximize your visit to the country, it would be a good idea to plan your visit to coincide with some of the festivals. With this kind of arrangement, you will not only enjoy the sights and sounds of the country, as any regular tourist does in any trip, but you will experience and be mesmerized in the unique festivities which will take place.

Since the last quarter of the year is just around the bend, I’ll be featuring some of the festivals of Korea starting with those to be held in the month of October. Aside from the festivals, they say that Korea during this time of year is lovely with the sparkling scenery created by the vivid colors of autumn.

Andong Intenational Mask Dance Festival
This festival not only showcases the different mask dance of Korea but also the mask dance of invited international mask dance troupes. Aside from the performances, visitors will have a great time taking part in the various mask dance lessons offered during the festival which will be held from September 25 till October 4.

Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival
A festival which will be held from October 1 till the 12th commemorates the anniversary of the Jinjuseong battles. The significance of the lanterns during that time in Korean history takes center stage, as activities all zero in on lanterns, from wishing lanterns being floated in the water after sunset, which creates a spectacular night scenery; to the exhibition of traditional lanterns and hanging of wishing lanterns. The lanterns hold a special place in Korean history since it was used by General Kim Si-min to delay the crossing of Japanese soldiers at the Namgang River during the Japanese Invasion. The lanterns were also used as a means of communication by the soldiers with their families during those dark days in Korean history.

Pusan International Film Festival
The foremost film festival in Korea will be held from October 8 till the 16th. This is Korea’s largest film festival and is considered as the “film festival” of Asia. Numerous movies from all over the world will be screened during the festival giving visitors a chance to enjoy various movie genres.

Baekje Cultural Festival
The Baekje Cultural Festival will be held from October 9 till the 18th. Among the many events during the celebration is the re-enactment of various royal court ceremonies as well as a memorial ceremony for the 4 kings that reigned over the Baekje Dynasty and also other cultural events that will surely captivate all visitors.

Youngju Punggi Ginseng Festival
Ginseng is known as a natural medicine and ginseng from Korea is considered to be the best in the world. Yeongju is a major ginseng producing area in the country and it will hold its Ginseng Festival from October 13 – 18th to showcase the local food made from ginseng. Visitors will be treated to a variety of activities focusing on ginseng.

Jarasum International Jazz Festival
This international jazz festival will be graced by 30 jazz groups from 12 different countries and will be held on October 15 – 18. Every year, this festival is visited by more than 100,000 people.

Busan Jagalchi Festival
Jagalchi Market is one of Busan’s most famous tourist attraction as well as the largest seafood market in Korea. During the festival, unusual types of fish as well as excellent sashimi at bargain prices are in store for visitors. The festival will run from October 21 -25.

Icheon Rice Cultural Festival
Icheon is said to be the producer of the best rice in Korea, thus, to celebrate not only their famous rice produce but also their various agricultural practices, the Icheon Rice Cultural Festival is held annually, and this year it will be conducted from October 22 – 25.

Gwangju Kimchi Festival
What will Korea be without kimchi? The Gwangju Kimchi Festival which will be held from October 23 – November 1, celebrates the most popular dish associated with Korea. Visitors will be able to learn how to make kimchi and will also be given the chance to sample the different types of kimchi as well as other dishes. For people who are interested in Korea’s traditional food, this is a must festival for you to attend.

Ceramics Festival of Gimhae
To be held in Korea’s most famous ceramic village, Gimhae, the festival will be held from October 23 – November 1. For ceramic lovers, not only will you have the chance to join programs that will allow you to make your own ceramics or execute your own artistic designs but you can also buy special ceramic wares which will be on sale at discounted prices.

October seems to be a jam-packed month of activities in Korea and it is a perfect time to explore, experience and enjoy the many facets of the country, from its natural wonders to its colorful festivals as well as its delicious delicacies. Indeed, limitless possibilities awaits everyone in Korea.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Yang Yong-eun: Bolting From the Blue to Become Golf's Newest Sensation

As a golfing fan, I try to follow the games live on TV as much as I can, especially the Majors, and, whenever my favorite players are in the tournament. Like many golf aficionados, I was more or less expecting Tiger Woods to win the just concluded Major tournament, the US PGA. He has been playing one heck of a game since his return to the golfing world this year after more than 10-months of hiatus due to his surgery. And he returned as a better version of the old Tiger, I should say. Every time he plays, the feeling is like no amount of lead is safe as long as Tiger is around and lurking behind the leaders.

Another reason why I expected Tiger to win is that he has a perfect record on US soil of winning every tournament where he enters the final round on top of the leaderboard. So, when his game collapsed on the final round of tournament, the record was broken and it was really a huge surprise. So who tamed the most formidable golf player in the world? Well, the guy is virtually unknown as he is ranked 110th in the world. The lucky guy is a 37-year old Korean who goes by the name Yong-eon Yang.

With Y.E. Yang’s win, he not only moves in the world golf ranking from 110 to 33 (what a win in the Majors can do to your ranking; and of course the win is worth US$ 1.35M) but he also became an instant superstar, catapulted to the limelight of the golfing world. Furthermore, he set the record as being the very first Asian born player to ever win a Major.

Looking through his golf resume, in 2006 he won the Korean Open and in 2009, he won the Honda Classic and of course the just concluded US PGA .

Golf is a learning curve, whenever you play with the best players; your game also develops and improves. The earlier wins of Yong-Eon were baby steps that have prepared him to win a Major. His focus on the game during the last round was something that is evident, scoring eagles and birdies especially in the back nine. And he never showed any signs that he was intimidated at the sight of Tiger, more so being paired with the World’s Number 1. As in the case of even the seasoned players in the league, whenever they are paired with Tiger on the final round, their game more often than not goes south. But not in the case of this overnight sensation, while he was making birdies and eagle, Tiger was making bogeys in the last round that will leave you dumbfounded and in total disbelief.

With this win, Yeong Eon has restored not only Korea’s, but Asia’s place as well, in the world of men’s golf. He is now ranked 33rd in the world, and if he sustains his winning form, climbing the ranks would be no problem. KJ Choi has made it to as high as 6th in the World Golf Ranking, proof that Koreans have what it takes to slug it out with the best golfers in the world. This win also meant, he has booked himself a place in the President's Cup this coming October in San Francisco.

I do hope that Yong-Eon wins more tournaments particularly in the US and European circuits to prove that his winning the PGA Masters is no fluke. But for now, I’m just happy that finally an Asian has won a Majors, and that Tiger is human afterall.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Korean Celadon: Pottery of the Royals

Korean celadon is well known for its beauty and its artistic tradition.

The word celadon usually means green but it has been widely accepted as the term used for Korean pottery. Korean pottery is known as Korean celadon or Cheong-ja. Korean celadon is an art form that is rich in history. To distinguish it from the other types of pottery, they actually name it after the color of the pottery. Cheong-ja is of course the jade green pottery, it is called either celadon or green celadon. Bun-cheong is brown or light brown pottery and is sometimes called brown celadon. Baek-ja is white porcelain and is sometimes called white celadon just.

In the past, the color of the pottery was used exclusively by people of certain class. Cheong-ja was used by royalty, aristocrats and Buddhist monks during the Goryeo Dynasty. Bun-Cheong or brown porcelain emerged during the middle of the 15th century and was used by all classes of society. Needless to say, because it was used by almost everybody, it did not possess the delicate beauty nor the elegance that was associated with the Cheong-ja. The Baek-Ja or white porcelain appeared during the early part of the 16th century, and, like the Bun-Cheong, it was also used by the common people.

Korean pottery as an art was almost lost during the Japanese colonial period. Yes, pottery was still produced but it was of lower quality and was only meant for daily use and not as an art as it was known during the earlier days. During the Japanese colonial period, it was said that the Korean artisans were forcibly moved to Japan. These relocated artisans were partly responsible for the development of the art form in Japan. It was only during the mid-1950’s that the lost art of the Goryeo celadon was rediscovered by a group of Korean artisans.

Korean celadon will always remain as one of the best pottery or maybe the best in the world. Thanks to the revival of this once lost art, the world can still enjoy the beauty and magnificent craftsmanship and artistic designs enjoyed by the royals in history.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taekwondo Peace Corps

I first heard of the Taekwondo Peace Corps (TPC) while watching a special feature on cable TV a few days ago. Out of curiosity, I tried to find out a little bit about the organization and as I expected the concept was espoused by a Korean, as Taekwondo is very much Korean.

The idea of a Taekwondo Peace Corps was first raised by World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) President Chungwon Choue at an international workshop on sports and peace in Leuven, Belgium on September 2007. Then again, in another international forum on sport and peace held in Monaco in December of that same year, WTF President Choue again raised the same concept, but these time expanding it to involve all the summer Olympic sports, and called it “Sports Peace Corps”.

Launched by the World Taekwondo Federation in Suwon, South Korea on July 5, 2008, the Taekwondo Peace Corps is promoted by the World Taekwondo Federation and organized by the Goodwill, Cooperation and Service (GCS) International, a United Nations-recognized non-governmental organization, both organizations headed by Dr. Chungwon Choue. TPC’s goal is to bring peace through sports. Not only will TPC provide technical enhancement of Taekwondo to WTF member associations but it will also enhance the over-all image of the sport in the international sport community.

The TPC initially dispatched 27 members to five countries, namely, Russia, Paraguay, India, Pakistan and China, during the summer of 2008. The second dispatch was made during the winter of 2008 where 32 members were sent to eight countries: China, Russia, Pakistan, Paraguay, India, Egypt, Morocco, Bolivia, Greece, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. This year, the following are the dispatched countries: El Salvador, India, Isle of Man, Samoa, Bhutan, Nigeria, Mongolia, Angola, Philippines, Poland, Azerbaijan, and Mexico.

If TPC will be carried out successfully, Dr. Choue envisions of expanding the program to involve all Olympic sports into a “Sport Peace Corps”, in cooperation with the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee.

Spreading peace thru Taekwondo, that’s the Taekwondo Peace Corps.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Daegeum: Korean Bamboo Flute

Daegeum is a Korean bamboo flute and is the largest in a family of three-bamboo flutes known as samjuk (three transverse bamboo flutes), the other two being the junggeum (medium-sized flute) and the sogeum (small flute).

The daegeum is made from yellow bamboo and has eight holes; one blowing hole, six finger holes and an extra hole covered with a thin membrane called “cheong”, which is located between the blowing hole and finger hole. An additional hole, a tuning hole at the end of the instrument is also present.

There are two types of daegum, depending on what type of music it is played; the jeong-ak daegeum is used for classical or court music and usually is the larger instrument (around 85-90 cm); and, the sanjo daegum which is used for folk music and measures about 75 cms.

One of the Korean businessman in our place has a bamboo flute conspicuously displayed in his office. The flute was displayed in a glass casing and is the first thing that you will see when you enter the room. Out of curiosity, I asked what they call the instrument in Korean, and he said that they call it daegum, that was how I was introduced to this Korean instrument.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Grand Palaces in Seoul

More than six centuries ago, Seoul was made Korea’s capital by King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty. Becoming the capital meant being transformed into the country’s hub for politics, economy and culture. In short, Seoul became the soul of Korea, a role it still retains to this day. With the passing of time, Seoul has undergone so much development and transformation attributed to the success of its economy. But amidst the glitter of its skyscrapers, high tech and modern structures, the legacy of its previous era has been well preserved. Numerous mega buildings towering above elegant and opulent Korean architecture of palaces and temples are a testament to the perfect blend of the old and new that makes the city enthralling.

The palaces in Seoul are incomparable; nothing comes close to their majestic and magnificent designs. Steeped in history these grand palaces namely, Changdeokgung; Changgyeonggung; Deoksugung; Gyeongbokgung; and Gyeonghuigung, were all built during the Joseon Dynasty. These palaces were built as monuments of the greatness of the various kings during their reign. Although some have been rebuilt and undergone a few renovations, the unique charm and beauty of Korean architecture as well as its rich heritage is still very much evident in these structures.

Changdeokgung or Changdeok Palace (gung in Korean means palace) which literally means “Palace of Prospering Virtue”, covers an area of 58 hectares and is the largest of the five royal palaces. It is also referred to as the East Palace because it lies east of another main palace, Gyeongbok Palace. Considered as the most Korean among the palaces, this is the only palace that preserves the architectural style of the Joseon Dynasty. A distinctive feature of Changdeokgung is that it was built to harmonize with nature as completely as possible and with minimum effect on the natural environment. Built in 1405 and was completed in 1412, the palace was burned down during the Japanese invasions and was partly rebuilt in 1611. Changdeokgung was inscribed in the Unesco World Heritage List 1997.

Changgyeonggung or Changgyeong Palace was originally the Summer residence of the Goryeo Emperor and later included as one of the Grand Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty. Originally built as a “Suganggung” by King Sejong for his father Taejong, it was renovated in 1483 by King Seongjong, and was also renamed Changgyeonggung, a name it carried from then on. During the Japanese colonial period, the once royal palace was demoted to a mere garden and became part of a zoo. Moreover, the Japanese also decorated the ridge’s roof of the Injeongjeon (the royal audience chamber) with flower patterns; a very unusual pattern which they say was included by the Japanese to disgrace the royal family. The palace underwent renovation in 1987 to remove any traces of the Japanese colonial rule and to restore the old glory of the palace.

Also known as Gyeonggungung, Deoksugung, or Deoksu Palace, was originally the residence of Prince Wolsan and became a royal residence during the Seven Year War, when the Japanese burnt all the other palaces to the ground in 1592. Deoksugung is a compound of palaces and is famous for its elegant stone-wall road. Its name, Deoksugung, literally means “The Palace of Virtuous Long Life”.


Gyeongbokgung or Gyeongbok Palace was first constructed in 1394, and served as the primary residence of the royal family. It is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty. Also referred to as the Northern Palace because it is located in the northern part of the city, its name, Gyeongbokgung, literally means “Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven”. Because all of the palaces were burnt to the ground during the Japanese invasion at the end of the 16th century, Gyeongbok was left neglected for the next 250 years and was only rebuilt in 1867, only to be destroyed again by the next Japanese invasion, of the 330 original buildings, only 10 were left intact. Since 1990, efforts to fully restore Gyeongbok to its former beauty and glory have been on-going.

Gyeonghui Palace or the “Palace of Serene Harmony”, is situated on the west side of Seoul, thus it was called Seogwol (a palace of the west) and served as the secondary palace for the king. A secondary palace usually serves as the King’s residence in troubled times or in time of emergency. Like many of the palaces in the past, Gyeonghui was also destroyed during the Japanese invasion and was rebuilt in the early 1990s.

Palaces may just be a boring structure for some, but, for most, just having the chance to experience and have a glimpse of the glorious past of the country is reason enough to trek to these places.

So, if you have the chance to go to Korea, aside from visiting the must see sites, why not include a stop-over to these palaces and be overwhelmed by the charm that bestows this Sparkling City, truly... Limitless Possibilities... that's Infinitely yours, SEOUL!!!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nurimaru APEC House

Next to Seoul, Busan or Pusan is Korea’s second largest city. Home to close to four million people, it is also the country’s largest seaport. It takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes by KTX (Korean speed train) to reach Busan from Seoul and 5 hours and 30 minutes by bus. To think that Busan is roughly 450 kilometers away from Seoul, (you might want to look at the map of Korea to see that Seoul to Busan is like traveling from almost the northern tip to the southern tip of the country) the traveling time speaks highly of the present state of Korea’s highway and railway system, extensive and in tip top shape.

I remember Busan as the host of the 2005 Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC). And aside from having the heads of states of the 21 member economies in attendance, there was also one structure that shared the limelight with these leaders, the Nurimaru APEC House.

Built on Dongbaek Island in Busan, this 2,994.52 square meter building was constructed at a cost of 19.4 billion won. It is a modern style building perfectly blending with traditional Korean “arbor” style. The name Nurimaru comes from the Korean words “nuri” meaning the world and “maru” meaning summit. Nurimaru APEC House literally means “the house where world leaders gathered and held the APEC Leaders’ Meeting”, a most fitting name for a structure that was specifically built for the said event.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hanji: Traditional Korean Paper

Hanji is traditional Korean paper made from the bark of mulberry tree. It is made of natural materials making it a neutral paper. And because it is all natural, its properties do not change through time as compared to paper which uses chemicals in its production process. Hanji uses natural dye for its coloring thus it does not fade and retains its color as time passes by. However, due to its complicated natural process of production, the quantity produced is limited.

Hanji is a very versatile material and it has many great uses. In the past, aside from being used in books, it was also used to cover windows and doors. Of the Korean publications that were designated by UNESCO as Memory of the World Heritage, all were made from hanji, a living proof of how durable this material is.

Now-a-days, hanji is still used in various ways such as in doll-making, wrapping material, letter paper, umbrellas as well as in handicrafts and other souvenir items such as fans, as well as in clothes (talk about the green revolution).

To promote the excellence of hanji, the Hanji Culture Festival is held in Jeonju, South Jeolla Province every year. And if you are interested in learning the traditional art of Korean paper, the Traditional Hanji Center offers such a program.

A perfect way of spending your visit to Jeonju, not only will you have the chance to enjoy, explore and experience the beauty of the place but you will also be learning a new skill which may come in handy when you go back home.

Light, durable and beautiful, that's the Hanji.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jindo Island: Home of Korea's Moses Miracle

Jindo Island is an island located on the southwestern part of Korea, specifically in South Jeolla province. Located about 120 kilometers south of Mokpo, Jindo is the third largest island in Korea next to Jeju and Geoje islands. By bus, it takes about 6 hours to reach Mokpo from Seoul and another hour to finally reach Jindo from Mokpo. By plane, it only takes 50 minutes to travel from Seoul to Mokpo. Jindo Island is separated from the mainland by the Myeongyang Strait, but the strait is now spanned by the Jindo Bridge, South Korea’s longest suspension bridge.

Jindo Island is famous not only for its Jindo breed dogs nor the Baekjodoraeji or the seasonal home of swans coming across the sea from foreign countries, but is also known for its Jindo-arirang (traditional folk song Arirang originated from Jindo). But most of all, Jindo Island’s most impressive attraction is the Yeongdeungsal or what is more popularly known as Korean’s version of the “Moses Miracle”.

What is the “Moses Miracle”? Well, it is a natural occurrence wherein twice a year, during the end of February and the middle of June, the water recedes and a land path about 2.8 kilometers long and 40 meters wide is revealed, uniting the islands of Jindo and Modo for about an hour and then submerges again. I actually saw some photos of the said event in various promotional materials for Jindo, and it does leave one wondering, how such a phenomenon happens, a secret of nature that remains unanswered and a complete mystery.

To coincide with the Yeongdeungsal, the Yeongdeung Festival is held which lasts for three to four days. Various traditional Korean folk culture performances are conducted during the said festival and is also attended by people from all around the world.

So, if you would like to experience the so called “Moses Miracle”, you better start planning your trip to Korea’s Jindo Island for next year’s event.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Gayageum: Korean stringed instrument

The Gayageum is considered as the most well-known traditional Korean instrument. Similar to the table harp, this Korean board zither has 12 strings which were traditionally made from silk strings, although there are gayageum with 17 or 21 stings. Moreover, aside from silk other materials used for the strings are nylon, steel or even copper.

I was accidentally introduced to the Gayageum when I caught the last part of a traditional Korean musical performance in the activity center of one of the more popular malls in our place a few years back. And since then, it has been a part of my mp3 playlist. My mp3 player contains the piano version as well as the gayageum version of the Arirang. It also has some of Byungki Hwang’s work, such as Spring (봄) and Fall (가을) both from his CD침향무. Byungki Hwang is of course the foremost South Korean gayageum maestro.

On my wishlist is a string musical performance by Byungki Hwang on gayageum, Yoyo Ma on cello and Lucia Micarelli on violin. That would be a musical coup for me, but then again it’s just a wishlist.

So the next time you log in to youtube or imeem or to any of your favorite video sharing network, why not try to surf for some of Byungki Hwang's work or some gayageum performances and enjoy the beautiful sound of this korean instrument.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving Day

Chuseok or Thanksgiving Day is one of the two most important traditional holidays in Korea, the other being Seollal or Lunar New Year’s Day. It is during this time of year when Koreans, en masse, head back to their hometowns to pay respect to their ancestors and celebrate holidays with the family.

Chuseok which is also called Hangawi, is a harvest festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th Lunar Month. This year Chuseok falls on October 3.

A traditional food during Chuseok is Songpyeon, a crescent-shaped rice cake filled with sesame seeds, red beans, chestnuts, jujube and other grains which is steamed upon pine needles and is prepared on the eve of Chuseok.

On the morning of Chuseok, songpyeon and other food such as fruits, are arranged to give thanks to their ancestors through Charye (ancestor memorial service). After Charye, Koreans perform the Seongmyo (visiting the ancestral grave) and during the visit they do the Beolcho (remove the weeds around the burial ground).

Under the light of the full moon, the Gaggangsulle (Korean circle dance) is performed by the female family members, dressed in hanbok, they gather around in a circle holding hands and they sing together.

Because Chuseok is such an important occasion, most department stores, restaurants and establishments are closed during this 3-day holiday (the day before Chuseok, Chuseok day itself, and the day after).

If you would like to enjoy the major cities in Korea sans the regular hustle and bustle, traffic jams and the like, this would be a perfect time for you to visit the country. Although most establishments are closed, the museums and other places of interests are still open, a perfect time to immerse yourself in the rich treasures of Korea, without the usual crowd. If you enjoy just simply strolling and feasting your senses with the beauty of the place, which you would not usually have the chance to catch when there are too many people around, you can do all of these during the Chuseok holiday.

However if you are planning to go to places outside the major cities, make sure not to travel during Chuseok, for roads during this time are extremely crowded. So make sure to arrange your travel way in advance to avoid any inconveniences.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gyeongju: The Living Museum of Korea

Gyeongju is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Korea. It is a favorite destination not only of foreign visitors but also to local Koreans. Known as the “Museum without Walls” or the Living Museum of Korea because of the vast number of historical buildings, ruins and archaeological sites found all over the area. It is located on the far southeastern corner of North Gyeongsang Province on the coast of the East Sea, and is near the metropolitan city of Ulsan. From Incheon International Airport, it only takes about 3 hours by fast rail to reach Gyeongju; and approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes if you’re coming from Seoul.

Gyeongju was once the capital of Korea, this was during the Silla Dynasty. It is from this period were the enormous archaeological sites found in the area belongs.

Of the nine sites in Korea which are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, two (2) can be found in Gyeongju, namely Bulguksa together with the Seokguram and the Gyeongju Historic Sites. Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto have the distinction of being the very first Korean sites to be included in the list, they were inscribed in 1995.

Bulguksa Temple is regarded as a masterpiece in Buddhist Art. Built in 535, this is one of the best known temples in Korea.

On the other hand, Seokguram Grotto, an artificial grotto made of granite contains a dome-like room with a large stone Buddha seating at the center. The grotto is carved on the side of the mountain.

Other places of interest which you should not miss when visiting Gyeongju are:
Yangdong Folk Village; Gyerim; Tumuli Park; Namsan Mountain; Wolseong Park where the Cheomeseongde Observatory is located; Anapji Pond; Gyeongju Folk Craft Village and the Gyeongju National Museum.

Yangdong Folk Village

Comprising of about 150 houses, this village demonstrates the fundamental Korean architecture principle which is to harmonize with nature. This village is a perfect example of a banchon, a community where yangban (aristocrastic class in early Korea) scholars gathered.


Located within the Gyeongju National Park, this “rooster forest”, as its literal meaning, contains petrified trees. You might want to ask the locals how it got its name.

Tumuli Park

The park contains earthen and mound-shaped tombs of varying sizes from the Silla period. The tombs are said to be where the kings and court officials were buried. The tombs are open for viewing to give the visitors a chance to see how the tombs are constructed and how things are arranged inside it.

Namsan Mountain

This historically important mountain was worshipped as one of the five sacred mountains before Buddhism was introduced in Korea in the early Silla Dynasty. Covering an area of 2650 hectares, the area is home to numerous Buddhist monuments such as temples, stone statues, pagodas and store lanterns.

Wolseong Park

Home to the Cheomeseongde Observatory, this 7th century structure is the oldest of its kind in Asia. The park is also a favorite strolling site of the locals.

Anapji Pond

Located just a few minutes walk from the Cheomseongdae, this is rest and recreation place of the royal family of the Silla era.

Gyeoungju Folk Craft Village

A craft and exhibition village composed of about 45 traditional houses, where they produce filigree, wooden and stone pottery, handicraft items, embroidered items and jewelry. Visitors can actually see an actual demonstration of how they make their products and at the same time purchase items for souvenirs.

Gyeongju National Museum

Much of the Silla treasures are kept in this museum. Also housed in the museum is the Divine Bell of King Seongdeok the Great, or what is more commonly known as the Emille Bell, one of the largest and most resonant bells in Asia, the bell measures 11 feet high and weighs 19 tons.

People who’ve been to Korea say that your visit to the country is never complete if you don’t visit Gyeongju. So, for everyone planning to go visit Korea, mark your planners to make sure that Gyeongju is part of your itinerary.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Sparkling Lady Golfers of Korea

Aside from taekwondo, name one sport that is dominated by Koreans. Clock is ticking…1,2,3…. Okay, how about ladies golf. For the past year or so, the women of Korea have really been capturing the golf world by storm. Ever since Se Ri Pak catapulted Korea to the golfing world in 1998, Korean golfers have become byword in the sport. Every LPGA game I get to watch on TV, more often than not, there’s a Korean name, or Korean sounding name in the leaderboard. Just look at the following statistics:

- According to the latest Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking (the ranking is updated every week and is considered the official ranking in world women’s golf), as of July 27, 2009, there are 2 Koreans in the top 10: Jiyai Shin in #4 and In Kyung Kim in #8; moreover, there are 17 Koreans in the top 50, the most of any nationality, followed by the USA which has 13 and Japan with 7.

- Of the 17 tournaments already played this year, starting from the HSBC LPGA Brasil Cup last January to the Evian Masters Presented by Societe Generale held last July 23 - 26, six (6) were won by Koreans.

- Again, of the 17 concluded tournaments, there are only 2 players who have won 2 events, and one is Korean, Jiyai Shin, the other is world # 1 player, Lorena Ochoa. The rest of the 13 tournaments were won by 13 different players, 4 of which are Koreans.

- In terms of the Masters, Eun Hee Ji won the U.S. Women’s Open.

Such an ensemble of talented golfers, and I can only say WOW!!!

Out of curiosity, I started finding out how many golf courses are there in Korea. And, here is what I found out. There are at least 66 golf courses scattered from Seoul to Jeju. Here’s how the 66 golf courses are distributed:

Chungcheongnamdo – 2
Chungcheong - 2
Gangwondo – 5
Gyeonggido – 34
Gyeongsang – 9
Jejudo – 9
Jeolla – 1
Busan – 2
Seoul - 2

No wonder Korea is beaming with so many talented golfers, golf courses are aplenty in the country. Korea is a golfer’s paradise. So, when visiting Korea, aside from enjoying its sights and sounds, you can also enjoy its many excellent golf courses. If you’re the golfing enthusiast, you won’t be missing your game since you can tee-off in any of the numerous courses in Korea, you just have to make your reservations in advance.

Enjoy your round of golf and happy tee-off!!!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Happy Suwon

Located about 30 kilometers south of Seoul is Suwon, the provincial capital of Gyeonggi province. It is also the largest city in the province and is home to more than a million people, making it one of the most populated cities outside of Seoul.

Home to one of Korea’s leading brands, Samsung Electronics, Suwon is also the hometown of Manchester United’s Park Ji Sung, Korea’s most popular footballer. They actually named a street after him. One of only two athletes worldwide who I can remember of being given the distinction of having a street named after them while they are still alive, the other athlete is Michael Schumacher, who has a street named after him in his hometown in Germany.

Suwon is also known for its Galbi. It is said that the best Korean galbi is served in Suwon.

But most of all, Suwon is well known for its Hwaseong Fortress, its most notable attraction. You can see the fortress in almost all promotional materials of Suwon. Whether it be in print, TV or in the internet, it is almost impossible not to see Hwaseong. Hwaseong Fortress is a fortified wall which used to encircle the entire city. It was built by Joseon emperor Jeongjo to honor his deceased father, Sado Seja, in 1794. It has four gates Paldalnum Gate; Hwaseomun Gate; Janganmun Gate and Changnyongmun Gate.

Paldalnum Gate is positioned in the southern part of the fortress. The existing Paldalnum Gate is just a reconstruction of the original gate which was burnt down during the Korean War. On the right wall of the gate is a nameplate bearing all the names of the people who were associated in building the gate. Of the four gates, Paldalnum is the only gate located in the middle of the busy streets of Suwon. Hwaseomun Gate on the other hand is located at the western side of the fortress. Janganmun Gate is on the north side while Changnyongmun is located on the east side.

Hwaseong Fortress was declared Historical Site Number 3 by the Korean government and was inscribed in the Unesco World Heritage List in 1997.

Another must not to be missed site in Suwon is the Haenggung Palace within Hwaesong Fortress. Haenggung was a temporary retreat place for the kings, way back then. It was considered the king’s R & R (rest and recreation) area. The largest shelter built in all the palaces, it is located at the foot of the Hwaseong fortress.

Hope you have a great time in Suwon. As they say…. Happy Suwon!!!