Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Episode 7: In Which DFM Visits The War Memorial Museum And Goes Climbing Some More

Today was another big day.  I set off early today so that I could get some nice pictures of the War Memorial Museum in the afternoon light.  And boy was it worth it.

I saw this crazy sight along the way.  The side roads by my place are so steep that the driver of this SUV had to put bricks underneath his tires in order to park.

The Korean government gives a lot of money each year to homeless people and especially to  Korean War vets.  But, they drink it all away and go begging for more or searching for bottles.  You will see a lot of beggars wearing army clothing, but I'm pretty sure they just bought it from Namdaemun market since there was a huge supply of army surplus clothes there when I visited, and the people wearing them and begging aren't even old enough to have been in the Korean War.  (Maybe the Vietnam War though...)  This garbage can had a strip of metal covering the opening to prevent people from sticking their hands inside and searching around.

I had to cross the craziest 6 way intersection I've ever seen when I got to the end of the street.  My light clearly had a walking signal shining, but that didn't seem to matter to the 8 or so drivers who just raced past me on their red light.

When I finally crossed the street I was walking by a military base of some kind (perhaps the American Military base).  There were a lot of police officers patrolling the street in front of it but they weren't very friendly.  I said "hello" to at least five of them (in Korean too), but only one responded.  I thought that perhaps I had broken some Korean cultural taboo by addressing a superior, but I later heard from Koreans that they just aren't friendly to anyone.  I wouldn't be happy either if I had to spend my day guarding an American Military base.  It was a bit shocking to see them so unfriendly though, since there was a police bus parked alongside with a banner which tried to promote the police force as friendly by showing a motorcycle cop stopping to help a young child.

I was walking along an extra wide bike path when I came to a rest area.  I'm not sure if this bench is for dwarfs to sit on or just to use for tying your shoe, but it is the lowest bench I've ever seen.  Compare the height of the bench to that of the curb beside it.

After about a 12 to 15 minute walk I finally came to the most amazing place I've seen so far.  This is the front of the museum and I could only get about a third of the building in this shot.  There are two giant wings off to each side.  It was the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War, and there was a military procession out front (I think they were just practicing though).  Admission was less than $3.00, which means that it was less than a dollar per floor.  Incredible!

The first exhibit as you enter the door is this gigantic Peace Drum.  I'd estimate that this drum is well in excess of 10 feet high.

There is more than just Korean War memorabilia though, it a museum of everything that has to do with war.  Pictured here are an ancient horse bit and crossbow firing mechanism from the Early Iron Age.

I was very displeased to see that some Korean had vandalized an exhibit.  That's the downside of trying to be like the West I suppose: You lose your respect for yourself and others.

One of the neatest displays I saw was this ancient rocket launcher.  The arrows have gunpowder and a fuse attached to their ends.

Although there were many heart-rending monuments at the Museum, I think these two were the most touching.  The first is a tear drop wrapped in barbed wire that is composed entirely of ID tags from fallen UN soldiers who gave their life for peace in Korea.  The second is a torn dome with two brothers (one is a soldier for the North and one for the South) clutching each other.  One brother is on each side of the divide, and it represents the splitting of a nation, or people... of families, because of politics and war.


Outside the museum was a massive collection of military weaponry and machinery, just an example of which includes this US Naval Gun Turret (which you can climb inside of and touch the controls) and this Soviet tank with a gun so long it wouldn't fit in the picture.

Of course the real sight was the B-52 Bomber.  For this shot I was standing roughly 100 meters away, with the camera lens as wide as I could get it.  However, you can see that I still was not able to get even half of the plane in the shot.  Words or pictures cannot even begin to describe the size of this behemoth.

There were a lot more sights to see at this museum and I took over 300 pictures (and that was just of the things I found especially interesting!)  However, I don't want to run out of my allotted storage space on the blog before the end of my trip so I did not include everything.  For one of the best tourist sites you'll likely ever see, fly to Seoul and visit this Museum.

On my way back home I took a picture of this store on Itaewanno (the major street by my place).  Calvin Klein underwear and clothing is incredibly popular in Seoul.  Every single street I visit has someone with a stand selling real or knock-off versions of Calvin Klein underwear.

After waiting for the rice to steam (I was shocked to find it drowning in a lake of water inside of the steamer when I got home), and finding a climbing gym that was open late and had advertised day pass prices, I finally set off to Summit Climbing Complex for another climbing session.  (In the future I'll have to get a Korean speaking friend to phone and enquire about rates and hours for some of them.)

I thought I would take some pictures of my street at night, since it is quite pretty with all the neon signs.  In the first picture you can see all the pubs along the left, and the second picture contains a nice picture of the neon signs for the restaurants you see on the right in the first shot.

These are two of the friends I met at The Summit Climbing Center.  On the left is Jenny, and the guy standing is Hyun-Dai (yup, Hyundai is making people now too).  Hyun-Dai lived in Montreal for a year and has a daughter who stayed there and is going to University now.  Both Hyun-Dai and Jenny spoke very good English, in fact almost everyone at The Summit Climbing Center seemed to speak at least some English.  I also met Yu-Suk but he left before I thought to take a picture.  Hyun-Dai liked to make jokes and call him "You Suck."  Hyun-Dai was also quite pleased to see that I was so short since it meant he wouldn't be alone anymore.  He called us "The Two Hobbits."  Little did he know that my University nickname used to be Frodo when I played on the football team.  Everyone was very friendly and practically fell over themselves to help me.  I will definitely come back again.

Summit Climbing Complex was a very nice gym.  The routes were much different than most gyms in that they were all long circuits.  The shortest circuit I could find was 29 moves, and some of them were 70 moves or more.  I did not have the endurance for these routes, so I spent most of my time making my own hard boulder problems.  Mr. Chang, the owner said that I had a good bouldering style.  I told him that I ought to have a good bouldering style because it's all I ever do.  Mr. Chang also said that I was very strong, which is a huge compliment from a guy who has led groups of Korean climbers on climbs in Yosemite Valley.

Hyun-Dai was very impressed with my Korean pronunciation and told me that I spoke "perfect Korean."  I think he was just being nice though, because Jenny did not agree and was quick to inform me whenever I messed up.  (Note:  Hongik University is not pronounced like "honky," it is more like "own" with an "eek" on the end, and an h at the front.)  I appreciated her help though, because sometimes the locals cannot understand what I am saying when I pronounce the words wrong.

When I left, Mr. Chang presented me with a gift from the gym of a free guide book to Korean mountains and a sheet of large stickers advertising the gym.  I was blown away, and I could tell that it was a big honour to receive this present because Jenny gasped when Mr. Chang presented it to me.

This was by far the best day of my trip.  Tomorrow I will attempt to find a mountain on the outskirts of Seoul to hike.

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