Suwon is one of the Korean cities that I have visited most. It is the capital of Gyeonggi-do, which is South Korea’s most populous province. Suwon is located about 30 kilometers south of Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and has a population of over 1 million. Traditionally it was known as “The City of Filial Piety” and is home to the Hwaseong Fortress.
Hwaseong Fortress was built as part of a planned city constructed by King Jeongjo, the 22nd monarch of the Joseon Dynasty. It served as the southern gate of the capital city of Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty. Located in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do, the area of Hwaseong Fortress served as a strategic site for military security as well as key site for commerce.
Today, Hwaseong Fortress is surrounded by many roads both small and large, in addition to the Gyeonggi Provincial Government Building, giving all the opportunity to view the scenic juxtaposition of old and modern architecture. For a quick and convenient way to visit a variety of attractions during your stay in Suwon, take a ride on the Suwon City Tour, operated by the city Government. Accompanied by guides who are proficient in English and Japanese, you’ll be able to ride in comfort as you discover some of the most celebrated treasures of the city.1
But there is much more to Suwon besides the fortress, including the Haenggung Palaces. Here are a few pictures of my walks around Suwon:
I recently reviewed a Turkish restaurant in Pyeongtaek, Nazar Kebab. Today I went with a couple of chaplain friends to a Turkish place in Itaewon, Mr. Kebab. It’s just a few blocks up the main road in Itaewon, on the right. On the way there, we passed 3 or 4 other Turkish restaurants that looked good, but we continued on to Mr. Kebab. It’s a small restaurant, with enough seats for about 25, though when we were there, there was plenty of room.
Outside of the restaurant is a Turkish Ice Cream stand, similar to the one I got ice cream from on Sunday, and wrote about in my post about Yeon Deung Hoe. I didn’t get ice cream today, though I was tempted with the baklava, but I passed on it too (for now). They also had chocolate baklava, which doesn’t appeal to me, but I’m sure my wife would have chosen it.
I ordered the Turkish Lamb Kebab on tortilla bread. It came with the roasted lamb, lettuce, tomato, onion and the special sauce (don’t think McDonald’s). I’ve got to say, I didn’t think I’d find a better one than what I get at Nazar Kebab in Pyeongtaek but Mr. Kebab came through. I think it may be that there was more sauce on this one, which gave it a bit more flavor without loosing the taste of the lamb.
The menu includes a number of items that look really good. You can choose from fish, chicken or lamb options; choices of breads (tortilla, baguette), rice, falafels with many different combinations. For sides, you can order potato fries, onion rings or cheese sticks. For desert, you can choose baklava, as I already mentioned, but also Turkish Delight (which I’ll go back for after my weigh-in in a couple of weeks!), Turkish Ice Cream or yogurt. There’s also the normal selection of drinks, teas and coffees.
As it turns out, Mr. Kebab has two locations in Itaewon and apparently is affiliated with Kervan Turkish Restaurant (which seems to be more “upscale” than Mr. Kebab), with 3 locations; Kervan Bakery and Dessert Bar and Sultan Turkish Kebab House which looks to have a different variety of Turkish dishes than Mr. Kebab.
Friends from the service I worked in at Fort Leonard Wood showed up at my service in Yongsan (which was a nice surprise!) and invited me to go downtown with them to the Yeon Deung Hoe or Lotus Lantern Festival. This was the main weekend of a month-long celebration of the Buddha’s coming into the world (birthday). Attending the festival, at least for me, wasn’t an act of honoring or worshiping Buddha but rather of observing the cultural significance of Buddhism in Korea.
There were several downtown streets closed to vehicle traffic and lined with booths sponsored by different Buddhist orders. Much like many festivals in the U.S. there were crafts for children to make, teas to taste, temple foods to sample, and various causes to support.
The businesses and kiosks that normally line the streets were also open, providing a variety of Korean foods, arts and crafts, souvenirs and other special and routine products for sale.
There was a main stage area in the center of the festivities where traditional Korean and, I assume, Buddhist performances were staged.
Along the street, there were various ceremonies going on; some for people to watch, others for people to participate in.
And then there were street performers…
There were also artists…
…and others needing assistance.
The festival was in the neighborhood of the large Jogye-sa Temple, which seemed to be a focal point of the festivities where people gathered in the temple to pray, participate in the Ceremony of Bathing Buddha and have their prayer requests attached to paper lanterns and hung over the Temple Square.
According to Buddhist, The Ceremony of Bathing Buddha is a ritual to improve happiness and peace of mind. The sign outside of the temple states the proper way of bathing Buddha is to fill the ladle and pour water over the small Buddha statue three times. While pouring the water, the participant is to say during the 1st wash, “May I eliminate all evil thoughts.” During the 2nd wash, “May I cultivate good deeds.” And during the 3rd wash, “May I help save all living beings.”
All over the festival area there were lanterns made of hanji, which is a traditional handmade Korean paper made from mulberry bark. Most were very unique and detailed, beautiful works of art which reminded me of the variety of kites in the U.S.
All along the streets and booths were varied and plenteous food offerings.
We ate lunch at a small Korean seafood restaurant where we had a good sampling of fish and pancakes.
Part of the fun of going to a festival is what you bring home. Here are a few things I picked up while walking around the area:
The Temple Gift Shop had these paper models of the Four Heavenly Kings for sale and one of the booths in the festival were giving them away. I got the free ones, though I came home with just 2 of the Four Heavenly Kings. According to Buddhism, The Four Heavenly Kings are “gods” who watch over the four cardinal directions of the world. They are said to be the protectors of the world who fight evil and able to command a legion of supernatural creatures to protect the Dharma.
Two of the Four Heavenly Kings at the Jogye-sa Temple complex.
Hail and Farewell gatherings are a long-standing tradition in the military to welcome Soldiers just coming into the unit and say “farewell” to those who are leaving. The Army doesn’t have a prescribed ceremony or format for Hail and Farewells, it is up to each unit to decide how often to have them and what they will be composed of.
The brigade I am leaving tried to have them every other month or so, so there was never too many being hailed or farewelled. Coming up on PCS season, however, there are a lot more changes, so they started farewelling people farther away from their actual departure than normally would be done. I was farewelled a full three months before I was scheduled to leave!
This Hail and Farewell was held at a massive buffet that had a variety of Korean, Chinese, Western and all sorts of types of food to include breads, fruits and desserts. There was too much to chose from, but it all looked good. Of course, one of the criteria for picking the location is that they have a meeting room so that we can be separated from the rest of the restaurant guests.
On a recent visit to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, I went with one of my battalion chaplains and a visiting chaplain into “The Ville” to eat lunch at a restaurant called Braai Republic (down the main road of “The Ville” a couple of blocks, on the left then go to the 2nd floor). The battalion chaplain who was our guide said that it appeals to Americans because it’s a “meat and potatoes” restaurant (which appeals to me!) though the entrees are prepared a special way.
Braai Republic advertises itself as “A Taste of Africa,” serving “Traditional South African Food.” I’ve never been to any country in Africa or eaten at a fully African-themed restaurant, so I don’t have those comparisons to draw from, but can evaluate the food on its own merits. Walking into the restaurant, it looks very African in color and decor. There are a variety of stuffed animal heads lending to the African feel.
The menu has a good variety of meats: beef, lamb, chicken and pork. Many of the names are European in origin as well as uniquely South African and Zimbabwean. There are Lamb & Pork Chops, Pork Ribs, Bangers, Boerewors, Pap and Wors, Oxtail Stew and Potjie, Prawns, Biltong, Droewors and a variety of pies: Lamb, Chicken, Pork, Mixed Meat and Spinich & Potato. Also on the menu is Peri-Peri chicken, wholly roasted, in a sandwich and livers.
The sides are mainly common ones, though some with an ethnic twist: Potato Fries, Green Salad, Slaw, Creamy Spinach, Curried Green Beans, Garlic Potatoes, and carrots.
Our group ordered a variety of entrees from the menu, realizing that each meat dish is prepared and cooked when it’s ordered. The first to order asked for the Chicken Pie, which was the last they had. Another ordered Lamb Chops which looked very good. Someone else ordered Peri-Peri Chicken (a marinated half-chicken). I ordered the Peri-Peri Chicken Sandwich with Potato Fries and the battalion chaplain, not having much time because of an appointment, just ordered Garlic Bread, which came with a number of toppings making it almost a meal on its own.
Everyone spoke of their meals being good, but I can only speak to mine. First, the iced sweet tea came in a handled mason jar. It’s brewed fresh (with the tea bag still in the glass when it arrived). The taste was a bit different from “American” sweet tea, apparently being sweetened with honey.
I ordered my Peri-Peri Chicken Sandwich with Potato Fries instead of the Green Salad, not knowing what may be in the salad or what the dressings may be like. I wondered, with a name like “Potato Fries,” if they would be any different than American “French Fries” and discovered they weren’t, but they were very good, certainly better that fast-food French Fries.
I’ve had Peri-Peri Chicken before, but at an Afro-Portuguese restaurant in Qatar, called Nando’s Peri-Peri. I assumed it would be similar, which it was. The sandwich came on a hoagie-type bun with shredded chicken marinated in the Peri-Peri spice. It had a thin white sauce along the top, though I’m not certain what that sauce was. While the type of bun was more bread than I would prefer, the taste of the sandwich -with the seasoning and sauces- was very, very good. It did remind me of the Peri-Peri chicken that I ate at Nando’s, which is a pleasant memory. There wasn’t a choice of levels of spicy (at Nando’s, I’d get “mild”) so had to take what I received. It was what I would label as medium-spicy. Spicy enough that I needed to get an additional glass of water but not so spicy that I couldn’t enjoy the flavor. The Peri-Peri Chicken Sandwich was a great choice, and one that I will make again…after I sample the other items on the menu which all also look great.
I would highly recommend Braai Republic if you’re looking for “meat and potatoes” with a bit of spice and good side dishes. And, I found out while writing this review that not only is there a Braai Republic near Camp Humphreys (where I ate), there is also one in Itaewon near USAG Yongsan (their website is here), so I’m looking forward to eating at Braai Republic again soon!
Additionally, I discovered that the same owners of the restaurant have a shop where a variety of sausages and cured and dried meats can be purchased. Here is a link to the store’s website, which also has good descriptions of the types of meat they sell at the store as well as serve in the restaurants: The Biltong Guy Shop.
One of the things that I find most interesting when I visit other countries is the differences that exist between my culture and theirs. Often times what a Westerner thinks is odd or peculiar in another culture is completely normal or natural for them. I can just imagine the thoughts that must go through the minds of visitors to the United States when they see some of the things unique to us.
Since this interests me so much, I take a lot of pictures of those things that turn my head. Most just wind up in a file on my computer, but some of the most unusual ones I like to share. Understand that in posting these pictures I’m not making fun of, or ridiculing, Koreans in any way. Like I said, what seems odd to a Westerner is often very normal for them. I post them here just to show what I find to be unusual, through my Western eyes and the differences that exist between our cultures.
By the way, if you find this post interesting, keep coming back. I’ll add the odd and unusual here as I encounter it, acknowledging the fact that admitting what I view as “odd and unusual” may label me as “odd and unusual”!
I took a trip out to Itaewon to find the antique district I heard about and passed by McDonald’s, whose advertisement of new sandwiches drew me in. The highlighted Golden Egg Cheeseburger reminded me of European hamburgers I have had in my travels. The first time I had a hamburger with an egg on it, I was in Basrah, Iraq which at the time, the post was run by the British so one of the restaurants on post was European. At the time, I thought it was really odd-putting an egg on a hamburger, but now I find it to be delicious.
Now, onto my McDonald’s experience (which, it seems, is always different). Ordering at this McDonald’s is never a problem. Partly because of the younger people they employ, who learn English in school, and partly because they have picture menus I can just point to! I pointed to the sandwich that enticed me in and was given a pager to put on my table, though the cashier told me my meal would be brought out to me when it was finished.
It wasn’t too busy when I was there so I was able to get one of the comfy seats, which I think are there as part of the McCafe appeal. The wait was a bit longer than other sandwiches would have been, but since I ordered a specialty burger it’s to be expected…and guarantees a fresh, hot sandwich.
I was surprised at the meal presentation. It looked like they went all out to magnify the special-ness of the burger. The meal came on a cutting board with the sandwich partially wrapped with the “get busy” side facing me. The french fries were served in a miniature deep-fryer basket. A fork was provided, wrapped in a napkin, which is always a pleasant surprise when eating at a Korean restaurant. Also on the cutting board were pickles and onions on the side along with 1 ketchup packet.
Unlike most wrapped fast-food sandwiches, this one came out looking as good as (or better than) the advertisements. The little toothpick flag holding the sandwich together boasted the fact that the burger was made from Australian Angus Beef, which proved to be very tasty.
All of the ingredients, the lettuce, bacon, hamburger, cheese, egg, ketchup and mustard combined to make a delicious-tasting sandwich. Each ingredient stood out as distinctly good tasting. I’m not sure if it was the egg, or the combination of other ingredients, but it had a distinctive taste from the other McDonald’s burgers and, influenced both by flavor and quality, was much better than any of them.
As always, the french fries were customary McDonald’s French Fries, which in my opinion are very good. Also, McDonald’s has an advantage over Lotteria in that they serve Coke products.
While the advertising brought me in, the taste and quality of the Golden Egg Cheeseburger will bring me back. It makes me hope the McDonald’s in the U.S. will have them when I get back!