A Look at Suwon (수원)

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
One of the gates of 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:

 Hwaseong Haenggung Palace
Main entrance to the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace
 Hwaseong Haenggung Palace
A view of the Seo Jandae (command post) on the hill over Hwaseong Haenggung Palace.
Hwaseong Haenggung Palace tree
This Zelkova tree in front of the Hwaseong Palace was designated a Protected Tree in 1982. It is said to be 350 years old and represents the meaning that the prime minister and two other ministers greet a benignant person under this tree so as to be engaged in right politics.
Hwaseong Haenggung Palace
A warrior demonstration in front of the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace

Suwon
One of the busy side-streets of Suwon

Suwon

Suwon

Suwon

 

Suwon
An American collectibles shop in Suwon

Suwon

Suwon

Suwon

Suwon

Suwon

Suwon
There’s a toy museum on the 2nd floor.

Suwon

Suwon

Suwon
A small traditional village museum
Suwon
A small traditional village museum
Suwon
A small traditional village museum
Suwon
A local artist who I bought some hand-painted magnets from
Suwon
One of the Buddhist temples on the weekend of Buddha’s birthday (thus, the paper lanterns).

Suwon

Suwon

Suwon

Suwon
The swastika was used before the Nazis adopted it. Here, it’s used as a symbol for Buddhism.
Suwon
In Buddhism, people eat a meal with their ancestors, rather in the “presence” of ancestors. This is a statue in Suwon where I noticed a man eating his lunch.

Suwon

Suwon
Notice the heads still on the chickens. Yum.

Suwon

Suwon

 

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1 http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_4_10_13.jsp

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Yeon Deung Hoe (Lotus Lantern Festival)

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.

There were large crowds everywhere. The smaller streets were more crowded.
There were large crowds everywhere. The smaller streets were more crowded.

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.

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There was a main stage area in the center of the festivities where traditional Korean and, I assume, Buddhist performances were staged.

A Korean woman singing, with what resembled a conga line, though was probably supposed to be a dragon.
A Korean woman singing, with what resembled a conga line, though was probably supposed to be a dragon.

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Along the street, there were various ceremonies going on; some for people to watch, others for people to participate in.

Yeon Deung Hoe

Yeon Deung Hoe

Yeon Deung Hoe

And then there were street performers…

Yeon Deung Hoe
A couple of expats playing bluegrass.
Yeon Deung Hoe
This guy stands statute-still until someone puts money in his hat or approaches him.

There were also artists…

Yeon Deung Hoe

…and others needing assistance.

Yeon Deung Hoe

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.

Yeon Deung Hoe
Decorations made of paper on the temple grounds
Jogye-sa temple
The Jogye-sa Temple
The Jogye-sa Temple
Inside the Jogye-sa Temple

The Jogye-sa Temple
Inside The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple

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.”

Jogye-sa Temple
A Buddhist adherent participating in the Ceremony of Bathing Buddha
Jogye-sa Temple
There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of lanterns hanging all over the temple grounds with prayer requests from Buddhist adherents (and they’re pretty…)
Yeon Deung Hoe
Some of the floats from the parade the night before, on the temple grounds.
Yeon Deung Hoe
Some of the floats from the parade the night before, on the temple grounds.

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.

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All along the streets and booths were varied and plenteous food offerings.

Yeon Deung Hoe
We passed several Turkish Ice Cream stands.
Yeon Deung Hoe
The dipping and serving was very entertaining.
Yeon Deung Hoe
And it was good ice cream
Yeon Deung Hoe
I did NOT try the octopus on a stick!
Yeon Deung Hoe
I did try a hot dog on a stick…covered in potatoes.
Yeon Deung Hoe
Hot Dog and French Fries in one hand. A convenient walking food!

We ate lunch at a small Korean seafood restaurant where we had a good sampling of fish and pancakes.

I'm not sure of the name of the restaurant we ate at, it may say it here...
I’m not sure of the name of the restaurant we ate at, it may say it here…
... or here.
… or here.
Jamie and Robyn and their two children, a family I got to know at Ft. Leonard Wood who recently arrived at USAG Yongsan. We ate at a little restaurant down a few side streets near the festival.
Jamie and Robyn and their two children, a family I got to know at Ft. Leonard Wood who recently arrived at USAG Yongsan. We ate at a little restaurant down a few side streets near the festival.
We ordered 2 or 3 different fish and a seafood pancake which turned out to be octopus.
We ordered 2 or 3 different fish and a seafood pancake which turned out to be octopus.
Our meal also came with the usual variety of side dishes.
Our meal also came with the usual variety of side dishes.

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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:

Korean art on rice paper
A painting of a traditional Korean village scene painted on rice paper.
Korean Mother of Pearl Box
I picked up this box at the Temple Gift Shop. “Mother-of-Pearl (najeon or jagae in native Korean) is a highly intricate decorative technique whose tradition in Korea has been kept alive for more than a thousand years. Pearl oyster, conch, and abalone shells are filed to reveal the iridescent inner layers. Thin strips are then inlaid into a black lacquered surface. The whole thing is pained again, and then the excess lacquer is carefully filed away to reveal the brillian and translucent colors of different patterns. Thus the common expression ‘najeon chilgi,’ where ‘chil’ means ‘painting.’
          Najeon chilgi is not just about shiny shells. Shell’s brillian colors come alive because of the pitch-black lacquer. Its true beauty is revealed not under bright lights, but under dim candle light or delicate sunlight seepin through Korean traditional windows covered in Korean paper ‘Light etched into darkness.’ Najeon chilgi is a thousand-year-old light of nature, the most intricate and beautiful of traditional lacquer-ware, and an applied art that represents Korea’s beautiful traditional aesthetics.”
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.
Four Heavenly Kings Jogye-sa Temple
A near life size stand up of one of The Four Heavenly Kings on the complex of Jogye-sa Temple.
Two of the Four Heavenly Kings at the Jogye-sa Temple complex.

 

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DMZ Visit

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.

DMZ Guard Tower
There are guard towers all along sections of the DMZ.

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.

Panmunjeom
Panmunjeom. The blue building on the left is where the Armistice Agreement was signed in July 1953. The large building in the back is Panmungak, in North Korea, used as a waiting are for North Korean visitors and guards. If you look closely, you can see a North Korean Soldier just left of center of Panmungak.
Panmunjeom Conference Building
Inside the Panmunjeom conference building. The center table sits on the line between North and South Korea and is where the military leaders signed the Armistice Agreement ending hostilities during the Korean War.

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).

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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.

Tunnel #3
The entrance to Tunnel #3. There are no photographs permitted within the tunnel.

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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.

Dora Observatory
Dora Observatory in Peju
Dora Observatory
A view of North Korea from the Dora Observatory
Dora Observatory
There is a small Buddhist shrine next to the Dora Observatory. On top is a traditional Buddhist bell
Dora Observatory
Inside the Buddhist shrine next to Dora Observatory.

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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.

Bridge of No Return
Bridge of No Return within the DMZ

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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.

DMZ Ax Murder Monument
The monument honoring the deaths of U.N. Soldiers killed with their axes by North Korean soldiers. The round base of the monument is the size of the tree the U.N. Soldiers were trimming.
DMZ Ax Murder Stump
The stump of the tree involved in the 1976 ax murders located in the museum at the JSA Visitor’s Center

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Gijeong-dong Village
A view of North Korea from an observation post near Panmunjeom. In the center of the picture is Gijeong-dong Village, built by the North for propaganda, but there are many things that indicated it is not lived in but rather a “fake” city housing only some soldiers. The tower holding the North Korean flag is said to be the world’s tallest flag tower.

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For several miles along Highway 77, between Seoul and Peju, there are double fences with barbed wire and guard posts every few hundred feet. A vivid reminder how close Korea is to war.
For several miles along Highway 77, between Seoul and Peju, there are double fences with barbed wire and guard towers every few hundred feet. A vivid reminder how close the people of Korea are to war.

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Additional References:

National Geographic website, Korea’s DMZ: Dangerous Divide.

Life in Korea website, Joint Security Area (Panmunjeom).

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Food Critic Korea: Braai Republic

Braai Republic

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
The Braai Republic in Pyeongtaek is on the 2nd floor of a building a couple of blocks from Camp Humphreys (“Visions” is another establishment on the 1st floor).

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.

Braai Republic

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.

Braai Republic

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.

Our group enjoying lunch at Braai Republic in "The Ville."

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.

Braai Republic

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.

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Interesting People & Curious Things

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”!

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I see a lot of Koreans sleeping on the subway. This woman kept going to sleep and would lean on me.
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This elderly Korean noticed a tattoo on my Chaplain Assistant and started talking to him. He was all smiles and seemed very happy.
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I thought the rolling bag seemed more Western than would be expected here (and thought that my wife would like it…since it has flowers).
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This gentleman was eating lunch with a statue. It didn’t seem unusual to anyone else passing by.
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Koreans do like their Spam! It seems like they have an unusual attraction to it, even giving it as gifts.
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Another Korean falling asleep on the Subway…my Soldier took it like a trooper!
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I was surprised to find a Goodwill Store in Suwon.
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I found this sign funny. Koreans don’t strike me as being bowlers.
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Asleep again on the subway!
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A Korean cutting up fish on the street.
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An elderly Korean woman selling her wares on the street. It seems odd to me how many booths, kiosks and carts line the roads, often with many of the same things for sale.
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Many Koreans still move thins with manpower.
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Many of the foods Koreans eat I just don’t find palatable.
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My kids used to make sandwiches like these when they were little. I can’t believe they sell them here!
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And then there’s the strawberry sandwich…
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Instead of liquid soap dispensers in the public restrooms, many of them have bar soap, on a stick.
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Sorry, I found this mannequin creepy!
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On the way out-of-town on the train, I saw this woman sitting on a cardboard box. When she started looking through the garbage at the restaurant next store, I went to a convenience store and bought her a sandwich. I didn’t see her eat it, but she walked away with it.
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You can’t tell as well in the picture, but these fixtures are all miniature for children. It’s was in the Men’s room in the Yongsan Station.
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One of the Korean lunches I had. I really don’t like my fish looking at me when I eat it!
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At the district assembly of a Christian church, they used a locked ballot box for one of the elections. Is there really that kind of lack of trust among Christians?
Pyeongtaek-Hooters
This happens in a lot of countries. I’m sure many Americans are fooled by this “Hooters Snack Bar”!
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Nearly every convenience store sells squid in various forms. Yuck!
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A woman with her baby on her back at a Suwon bus stop. Seems like that baby is a bit big for that kind of carry…
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This one isn’t so unusual, but after I bought some of her art work, I asked if I could take a picture of her. She wanted it  in a good place in her shop, and posed appropriately.
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I found this amusing. This old couple was at the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, with a beautiful scene right in front of them, but they were painting from photographs.
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Just a couple of puppies on the back of a scooter.
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I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like this in the U.S. but I’ve seen them a lot here. It gives you the ideal location to take a photograph.

8 May 2016 Update

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Many motorcycles have these racks on the back. Some have things stacked way over their heads.
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The way the ROK Soldiers at the JSA stood struck me as funny. It’s like a combination of “attention” and “parade rest” with clinched fists.
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Koreans have unusual candy flavor mixtures.
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Very unusual mixtures. This one is “chili nut” M&Ms!
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American Indians in Korea
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A group of Buddhist women taking a break between “performances” at the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul.
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A group of Koreans in traditional dress at the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul.
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A disabled man was pulling himself through town, while pushing a box. You can’t say that he just sat around waiting for a donation. I gave him a few thousand won but it never seems like enough.
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This scene struck me as funny. Two girls in traditional Korean dress tied to their cell phones.

14 May 2016 Update

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There are a lot of ethnic restaurants in Seoul. It seems like an extremely large amount…Here’s a Turkish restaurant with a Turkish man in traditional Turkish dress.
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Compared to American trucks, I find Korean trucks very unusual (their cows look the same, though).
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Riding on the subway is always interesting. As a large American, I have to squeeze into the smaller Korean-size seats. It’s also funny how so many people sit on the subway on their phones.
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A little Thai boy came and sat down on the subway and started talking to one of my Soldiers, asking all kinds of questions, with just a little occasional help from his mother. I was surprised at how well he spoke English, and how he knew to speak it to my Soldier.
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The escalators get packed after a subway opens its doors (the “down” side). Koreans don’t seem to mind being packed together like sardines.
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A large selection of snack foods, most of which I haven’t and likely won’t try. Sorry.
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These ladies struck me as interesting. When I think of “Roman Catholic” I think “Western.” It was unusual to see Korean women in dress I perceive as from a Western institution. I also found it intriguing to see them in very conservative dress surrounded by a woman with dark red lipstick on one side and short-shorts on the other…cultures colliding…

21 May 2016 Update

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There are homeless everyone (any country you go). This man was right outside the subway station in Suwon. It seems like giving a few dollars (or won) isn’t doing enough to help!
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It’s funny how job sites provide slippers for workers to wear inside a near-complete building so as not to damage the flooring. I don’t remember seeing this in the U.S. when I worked on construction sites.

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Suwon Mayor Addresses Our Group

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.

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress
One of the battalion chaplains talking about the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress we were visiting.

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.

Suwon Mayor
The mayor of Suwon (in the blue jacket) speaks to our group.

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Suwon Mayor
One of the BN chaplains greeting the Suwon mayor.

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Suwon Mayor
Me with the Suwon mayor after he talked to our group.

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Buddhism in South Korea

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!

Laughing Buddha Suwon
A traditional “laughing” Buddha statue at a shop in Suwon.

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.

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Suwon Buddhism
This picture was taken from the parking lot of the palace in Suwon and shows the prominence of some of the Buddhist statues.
Suwon Buddhist temple
This is the entrance to the temple that is home to the statue in the above picture. It’s above a number of small side-streets.
Suwon Buddhist temple
One of the buildings in the temple complex.
Suwon Buddhist temple
The statue in the center of the temple complex
Suwon Buddhist temple
Below the statue is a shrine for worshipers.
Suwon Buddhist temple
Like many Korean sites, there are slippers for you to change into before entering.
Suwon Buddhist temple
A view inside the shrine below the statue. Notice the banners hanging on the ceiling on the right and left which contain what looks like Nazi swastikas. “In Buddhism, the swastika signifies auspiciousness and good fortune as well as the Buddha’s footprints and the Buddha’s heart.”(1) This symbol was used in art and religion long before the Nazis used it.
Suwon Buddhist temple
Notice to the right of the statue are notes left by worshipers.
Suwon Buddhist temple pagoda
A pagoda on the temple grounds
Suwon Buddhist temple
A number of small monuments on the hill above the temple complex
Suwon Buddhist temple
Some type of oven on the temple grounds with small statues on it.
Suwon Buddhist temple
The entrance/exit to the temple complex. Notice the bell on the tower. “Beomjong, as Buddhist bells are called in Korean, are one of the four Buddhist instruments…” (2)
Suwon Hwaseong Fortress bell
Here’s is a better picture of a Korean Buddhist bell though this one isn’t at a Buddhist temple but on top of the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress (you can ring it 3 times for ₩1000).

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Suwon Buddhist temple
The entrance to another Buddhist temple complex in Suwon
Suwon Buddhist Temple
This temple complex has more of an appearance of a vihara, or Buddhist monastery, with living and working areas.
Suwon Buddhist temple
Some of the temple complex was undergoing renovations so we couldn’t see it all. The sign on the structure above the steps is about praying for children’s testing for university attendance (a big deal in Korea).
Suwon Buddhist temple
The building housing a shrine in the temple complex.
Suwon Buddhist temple
Notice shoes sitting outside of the shrine. Shoes are always removed before entering.
Suwon Buddhist temple
A view of the inside of the shrine in the temple complex
Suwon Buddhist temple
The inside of the entrance/exit gate of the temple complex.

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Suwon Buddhist Temple
Another Buddhist temple on the other side of the Suwon River from the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.
Suwon Buddhist temple
This temple is larger and uses modern architectural design in contrast to the ones above which use more traditional Korean architecture. However, there is an elaborate pagoda on top of the building.
Suwon Buddhist temple
A sign on the temple building
Suwon Buddhist temple
A look inside the temple complex
Suwon Buddhist temple
A sign describing the temple complex

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(1) http://www.religionfacts.com/swastika/buddhism

(2) http://eng.templestay.com/upload/board/2013121810273680997.pdf

Some of the information for this post came from the online New World Encyclopedia.

All photos were taken by the author.

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Religion in South Korea

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.

South Korea religious preference
This graphs shows percentages of South Koreans who identify with a particular faith group. It does not include the nearly half of the population who say they are “non-religious.” Thus, percentages are of those who identify with some religion, not of the population as a whole.

 

 

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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:

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A large modern-Gothic church beside I-1 just inside the Seoul toll gate
A large modern-Gothic church beside I-1 just inside the Seoul toll gate.
A Christian church in Seoul near Yongsan-gu
A Christian church in Seoul near Yongsan-gu.
A Buddhist Temple in Suwon.
A Buddhist Temple in Suwon.
A Church of the Nazarene in Pyeongtaek
A Church of the Nazarene in Pyeongtaek.
A large Presbyterian church in Suwon
A large Presbyterian church in Suwon.

 

A Christian church in Pyeongtaek.
A Christian church in Pyeongtaek.
A Buddhist Temple in Suwon.
A Buddhist Temple between businesses down a small street in Suwon.

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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.

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Lost in Translation (오역) or Korean Signs (한국어 표지판)

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.

There many sign "banks" like these at intersections. The traffic lights just aren't long enough to read them all (even if I could read the language!).
There are many sign “banks” like these at intersections. The traffic lights just aren’t long enough to read them all (even if I could read the language!).
I assume this is a maximum and minimum speed limit sign, thinking wight has something to do with it...
I assume this is a maximum and minimum speed limit sign, thinking weight has something to do with it…
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Highway direction signs are pretty clear-cut, at least when they also have English.
...though those directions can get more complicated...
…though those directions can get more complicated…
...and sometimes, really complicated!
…and sometimes, really complicated (especially without English).
Others you can kind of figure out. While this seems to be each of the lanes, what each lane designation means is unknown to me.
Others you can kind of figure out. While this seems to be each of the lanes, what each lane designation means is unknown to me. That green arrow must mean something.
There's that green arrow again. It seems to correspond with lighted green arrows in the right lane, which sometimes have a red "X." Pretty clear that lane is sometimes usable, sometimes not.
There’s that green arrow again. It seems to correspond with lighted green arrows in the right lane, which sometimes have a red “X.” Pretty clear that lane is sometimes usable, sometimes not.
You need to be careful here. If you eat while you get gas you may need First Aid!
You need to be careful here. If you eat while you fuel your car, you may need First Aid!
Or worse, here, if you eat while you get gas, you'll get really bad gas!
Or worse, if you eat while you fuel your car here, you’ll get really bad gas which could distract other drivers!
This must be a popular site, the police enforce photography.
This must be a popular site, the police enforce photography.
I guess some of the policeman aren't that good. This area just has "average" speed enforcement.
I guess all Korean policeman aren’t stellar. In this area, their enforcement is just “average”!
This picture isn't very good, but it's a sad commentary on melting snowmen becoming rain.
This picture isn’t very good, but it’s a sad commentary on melting snowmen becoming rain.
It appears that you are required to unplug your car before traveling on this road.
It appears that you are required to unplug your car before traveling on this road.
Yellow cars are headed for the most excitement!
Yellow cars are headed for the most excitement!
Do not dress alike and smile...or you travelers are required to dress alike and be happy?
Do not dress alike and smile…or travelers are required to dress alike and be happy? Or it applies only if you wear green seat belts…
Not a sign, but I'd sure hate this job!
Not a sign, but I’d sure hate this job!
Wait, huh?
Wait, huh?
Oh, these guys aren't real...
Oh, these guys aren’t real…
Or are they?
Or are they?

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Do you have a better caption for any of these? Leave it in a comment!

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KATUSA Promotion Recognition

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:

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Dino Prime Meat Bar
Dino Prime Meat Bar in Pyeongtaek.

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Dino Prime Meat Bar
A large assortment of meats are in a refrigerated case where you select what you want then take to your table to cook.

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Dino Prime Meat BAr
A variety of raw cuts of beef and pork, some marinated (no dinosaur, though). All of it looks good (at least if you’re a carnivore)!

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Dino Prime Meat Bar
Each table has it’s own grill (and exhaust flue) and you’re brought a variety of “sides” to eat with your meat.

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Dino Prime Meat Bar
This particular Dino only has seating on the floor…not very comfortable for old guys like me! This is some of my chaplains and assistants.

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Dino Prime Meat Bar
Here’s another of my chaplains and 3 KATUSAs (also on the floor!).

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KATUSA Promotion
I gave the newly-promoted KATUSA a choice of a cross to wear around his neck or a cross on a key chain (both made and donated by my nephew).

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KATUSA Promotion
He chose the one with the leather string to wear so I “officially” presented it to him as congratulations for his promotion.

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Pyeongtaek street
Here’s a very Korean-looking street of Pyeongtaek on the way to Dino Prime Meat Bar

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