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:
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.
Since the Armistice Agreement was signed on 27 July 1953, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) running for 160 miles roughly along the 38th parallel from the East Sea to the Yellow Sea, has been one of the most unusual places on earth. Less than 35 miles from Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), the 2 1/2 mile wide DMZ is centered on the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), the political border, the violation of which could get you shot.
Despite the name which seems to indicate a lesser degree of militarization, the DMZ is extremely militarized with the North and South facing off eyeball to eyeball as though the war which preceded the armistice is just paused. The agreement, however, prevents either side from introducing large weapons or large numbers of troops within the DMZ, which acts as a buffer zone between the two belligerent nations, who, ironically, do not recognize each other as legitimate governments.
My visit to the DMZ was to the area known as the Joint Security Area which originally was jointly governed by North and South Korea, but after soldiers from North Korea killed 2 American officers and 4 South Korean Soldiers with axes the U.N. Soldiers were using to remove limbs from a tree which was blocking visibility between guard posts in August 1976, the MDL was established, separating the two and leaving the only area of responsibility that overlap being Panmunjeom. Panmunjeom is an 800 meter area which is most famously home to the building where the armistice was signed.
The battalion tasked with security of the area around the JSA, formally known as the United Nations Command Security Battalion, operates under the Armistice Agreement, reporting directly to United Nations Command. the UNCSB is one of the few purely joint-nation battalions composed of approximately 10% U.S. Soldiers and 90% ROK Soldiers. Together, they are responsible for monitoring the area around the JSA, protecting visitors to the area and those who work in the zone, and executing the education mission (which includes tours of the significant sites around the DMZ).
North Korea has always been antaginistic toward the South and countries allied to them. For years, plans have been in the works to re-invade the South. In 1978, as a result of information received from a North Korean defector, a third infiltration tunnel was discovered. This tunnel is about a mile long and about 6 1/2 feet in diameter. Had this tunnel been used by the North for an invasion, 30,000 soldiers per hour could have traveled through it. It is said that there still could be 20 tunnels running under the DMZ which are yet to be discovered.
Near the DMZ in Peju on Mt. Dora is the Dora Observatory where onlookers can view several sites in North Korea. There are tourist binaculars available, but to take a photograph toward the North, you have to stand behind a line well behind those binaculars. Without recording what you see, you get a great view of North Korea from this observatory, though I did take a few pictures before I was told we couldn’t.
In 1953, following the signing of the Armistice Agreement, prisoners of war (POW) were exchanged over what became know as the “Bridge of No Return,” so named because once a POW returned to the North, they would not be permitted to come back to the South.
In 1976, a group of United Nations Soldiers were trimming limbs from a large tree in the DMZ which was blocking the line of site between two guard posts when they were attacked by a group of North Korean soldiers. 2 U.S. officers and 4 South Korean Soldiers were killed. Today, there is a monument near where the attack took place which was near the Bridge of No Return.
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”!
The chaplains and assistants in the brigade run a command-emphasized program for Soldiers just arriving to the brigade to learn how to use the public transportation system, order and eat at a Korean restaurant and visit a Korean cultural site. You can read more about these trips here.
We usually run these trips twice a month with little fanfare or excitement, but this day, because Suwon was preparing for a big festival on the weekend, the mayor was in the area and asked to talk to us. This is pretty significant, realizing that Suwon is a city with a population of over 1 million.
Mayor Yeom Tae-Young talked about his appreciation for our presence and told us some of the history of Suwon and the fortress we were there to visit. He also asked to have a picture taken with us (which we also wanted with him), then encouraged us to have a great visit and to come back for the festival.
In my post about religion in South Korea, I talk more about Christianity and other non-Buddhist traditions but since Buddhism is so ingrained in Korean life and culture I wanted to spend a bit more time on it … and … I have several pictures of Buddhist temples and statues that I’ve taken that I want to share!
Buddhism came to Korea from China in 372, about 800 years after the death of the original Buddha. It has grown to nearly 11 million adherents. These 11 million worship at tens of thousands of Buddhist temples located in cities and countrysides all over South Korea. For example, the small area of Suwon that I visit with Soldiers and spend about an hour walking on each trip, have 3 Buddhist temples within about a 20-minute walk of each other.
Korean thinkers developed their version of Buddhism into a more distinct version, correcting what they saw as inconsistencies in Chinese-Buddhist traditions, though is derived primarily from Seon Buddhism with other variations followed to a lesser extent.
At least early in Buddhism in Korea, many temples were located in the mountains, as a result of a practical mixture of Buddhism with Shamanism that was present in Korea before 372. Shamanism taught that the mountains were home to the spirits, so it was natural to combine Buddhist and Shaman thought in the placement of Buddhist temples. In fact, the 3 primary spirits of Shamanism remained in most Korean-Buddhist teaching and hold a place of honor and many Buddhist shrines have a place for them.
During the 500+ years of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), Buddhism was forced to give way to a neo-Confucianism which grew in dominance until Buddhist monks were significant players in repelling a Japanese invasion during the 7-year war in the late 16th century which caused Buddhist persecution to come to an end. Adherents to Buddhism increased until following World War Two when Christianity’s influence increased starting a rapid decline of Buddhism in South Korea to its present place of only about 20% of the population.
As mentioned above, you don’t need to drive long before you see a Buddhist temple or statue. Much of my walking and site-seeing has been in the Suwon area, however, so the pictures I have are of 3 Buddhist temples in that area.
South Korea has a long history of religious observance. Buddhism was introduced in 372 and currently has nearly 11 million adherents worshiping in tens of thousands of temples. Confucianism became the state ideology during the Joseon Dynasty which lasted from 1392 to 1910 but while listed as a religion, is more of an ethical way of thinking and living (but has had profound influence on Korean society).
Roman Catholicism came to Korea in the late 18th century following the baptism of one of the “elite” on a visit to China. Catholics faced significant persecution during the Joseon Dynasty (making Korea the 4th largest contributor of saints) but grew rapidly following the end of the Korean War and now claims over 5 million members.
Protestant Christianity came to Korea with Christian missionaries from North America in the late 19th century. Much of the appeal of the Protestant Church in Korea came from significant investment in schools and hospitals. Today, Protestants comprise about 18% of the population of South Korea, nearly 9 million members.
Combining members of Protestantism and Catholicism nets a total of nearly 15 million members or over half of the population claiming religious adherence, making Christianity the largest faith group in South Korea.
A short trip through nearly any part of Korea will reveal evidence of South Korea’s religious nature. Driving through most any town you’ll often see a steeple or gold Buddha. Here are a few pictures of some of the churches and temples I have seen in my travels:
A Buddhist Temple in Suwon.
The Buddha at a Buddhist Temple in Suwon.
The religious preference chart and some of the information in this post came from http://www.korea.net/AboutKorea/Korean-Life/Religion.
Some other information came from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/why-catholicism-important-korea-201481717037383818.html.
Sometimes driving in other countries is easy, sometimes not so much. One of the most difficult aspects are the road signs and sometimes the signs are so different from what we’re accustomed to that they’re difficult to understand. If you don’t know the language, you have to do your best to understand them based on the diagrams or pictures on the sign, context of their placement and what other cars are doing; but sometimes those translations can be pretty comical.
Do you have a better caption for any of these? Leave it in a comment!
The U.S. forces in Korea have a large number of KATUSA (Korean Augmentation to U.S. Army) Soldiers working with us. The chaplain’s offices often have a KATUSA assigned to them. In my brigade, we have a KATUSA as part of the BDE UMT and one of our battalions also has a KATUSA. These KATUSAs are doing a 2-year tour of duty with about 18 months of it on assignment with us. They receive their rank based on time-in-service. My KATUSA was recently promoted to corporal and the battalion KATUSA was just promoted to sergeant. To help him celebrate his promotion, we went to Dino Prime Meat Bar in Pyeongtaek, a great meat buffet. Here’s some pictures: