Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cool it off in Seoul!

The Ice Gallery is a cool little place tucked quietly off a quaint street close to the Anguk station. Perfect for little kids on a hot summer day, this place is a mini refrigerator maintained at a bone chilling 5 degrees below zero for retaining the ice sculptures. It has the typical rooms as in a home all made in ice- kitchen, bed room, a study room with computer, even a bar and bathroom with an ice potty! It also has a few famous Korean structures too. It also has an ice sculpture of the leaning tower of Pisa, Eiffel tower and the Statue of Liberty. All the things to touch and feel, an igloo to go and huddle into and a tiny slide makes it a perfect place for the kids!

Since we went on a weekday (though the school is out), we were the only ones there in the tiny little place and we had the whole place to us. But still, the whole tour around the ice gallery did not take more than 10minutes. As an added experience, we signed up for the ice carving and ended up making fairly cool wine goblets! We were then treated to a drink of fanta in our own goblets.

The study room with the computer with the kitchen counter right next to it!
The study room with the computer with the kitchen counter right next to it!
The igloo to play in and pose, of course!
The igloo to play in and pose, of course!

igloo ice sculpture in Seoul
Igloo in a different color!

Lots of ice sculptures in Seoul
Lots of photo ops :)
Riding the ice polar bear
Riding the ice polar bear
Serene next to the ice Buddha
Serene next to the Ice Buddha 
Ice slide in Seoul
Ice slide 
Trying the ice slide

The ice goblets!
The ice goblets!
The tools that made our goblets possible and the ice goblet itself
The tools that made our goblets possible and the ice goblet itself
Ice wine glass in Seoul
I made this one!
Pretty streets, with no traffic. Just good food and beautiful flowers and plants around!
Pretty streets, with no traffic. Just good food and beautiful flowers and plants around!
Entrance to the ice gallery
Entrance to the Ice gallery was not easy to find.
Is this Korea or Paris?
Am I still in the crowded Seoul?
How to reach the Ice gallery?

Take Anguk station exit one. Get out of the station, take a right into the small paved street. Continue walking until you reach a church. Turn left on the T junction. This place is right opposite a restaurant. They do provide jackets for free when you buy the tickets.

Pricing for the Ice gallery
Adults: 7,000 won
Children: 5,000 won

Pricing for the Ice Carving Experience
Adults: 5,000 won
Children: 5,000 won

MinHwa Art- Korean Folk Paintings

Paintings in India are generally done on the walls of Temples which tells stories about the Gods and their ways of expunging evil. In the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, India, in the Meenakshi Amman shrine,  the walls are adorned with the depiction of Goddess Meenakshi from her birth, growing up to be a mighty ruler, her conquests and the story of her wedding with Lord Sundareshwarar. In the Lord's Shrine, there are amazing paintings of the Thiruvilaiyadal (God's games with the common people) by which he delivers them from evil.

Contrastingly, MinHwa Paintings are Korean folk paintings that is done on the folded screens, furniture or on walls of the rooms of the homes of aristocrats to bring happiness, luck, prosperity, wealth, fame, offsprings and even to ward off evil spirits and way to express their wishes. Symbols denoting these from nature like the bamboo, turtle, lotus, pine tree, water, peonies and mountains are used in these paintings.  Obang or 5 main colours are generally used for these depictions. It was prevalent custom to get a painting done for important celebrations like the first birthday, wedding and the 60th birthday.

These are pictures of the MinHwa paintings from an art gallery i visited.

Peonies in pink, minhwa painting
Pretty MinHwa Peonies in pink
Minhwa paintings of furniture
Min Hwa paintings of furniture
Minhwa flower and butterfly
Butterflies also form an important subject in these paintings.  Makes the seating so much beautiful!

Min hwa lotus.
Pretty lotus painting. My lotus drawing here.
Minhwa art on porcelein
MinHwa lotus on Porcelein too!
silly tiger Min hwa painting
Tiger is another frequent character depicting Government officials. Usually, the tiger is portrayed as a silly creature! 
The silly tiger
Tiger is never drawn as a ferocious creature in Min hwa.
The mountain or san Min hwa painting
Love those vivid colours in this painting of the san or mountains! Notice the storks, white and red peaches, deers, waterfall and mushrooms, symbolising longevity of life. 

Furniture with Minhwa
Min Hwa looks good on furniture too!
Patterns used in Buddhist symbols Min hwa
The artists portrays the sacred Buddhist symbols and patterns with this one!

Furniture painting on a bookshelf
Furniture, painted on furniture

Pine trees Minhwa
I loved this one!

The tiger and the magpie Minhwa
The artist's depiction of the famous "Tiger and the Magpie" painting where the silly tiger portraying the Government official is advised by the experienced elder which is depicted by the magpie.

Mountains, sun and moon, Yin and yan
Mountains, Rocks, water, trees.  Sun, Moon. Yin and Yan.

Just pretty peonies in Korea
I loved this cute Korean couple!

Night lights and butterfly in Minhwa
Night lights on Hanji  with Butterflies in MinHwa. How sweet is that!

Lamp shade in Minhwa
Beautiful lamp shade with flowers and butterflies

oh! The butterflies
Butterflies on the lamp shade. Oh so cute!

Chest with Minhwa chrysanthamum and peonies
Min hwa Flowers on a chest
Paint brushes that we used to try on the Min Hwa painting

My version of the Silly tiger
My rendering of the Min Hwa silly tiger!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A walk under the mines

The 3rd infiltration tunnel into South Korea

The most fun part in the DMZ tour was the descent into one of the 4 infiltration tunnels that the South Koreans have discovered so far. Our guide said that there could be as much as 20 tunnels leading into the South!

3rd infiltration tunnel

This is third tunnel that was discovered after a North Korean defector gave information about the existence of the tunnel in 1974 and it is just around 50kms from Seoul. Unfortunately, photography is strictly not allowed inside this tunnel. We were guided in English by a guide when we took the DMZ tour into Paju.

It was cool and easy to walk down into the claustrophobic walkway leading to the tunnel because of its 11 degree slope. Climbing up was another matter altogether as we were competing against the people who are hikers by birth! It is not an easy climb and people with respirator, heart conditions and people suffering from claustrophobia are generally not advised to enter in. The walkway was well-lit, covered with rubber mats and had railings throughout and small rest areas for people to rest. There is no rest place in the actual tunnel.

Walkway leading to the 3rd tunnel

  • The actual tunnel itself is 2m wide and 2m high and runs for a total length of 1635m.
  • Of the total length of the tunnel, 1200m lies to the North of the Military Demarcation Line (the actual border) in North Korea and the remainder 435m runs into South Korea, just 50km short of Seoul.
  • The tunnel is dug 73m under the ground through tough granite rocks. The sides of the tunnels was wet, cool and remains painted in black to corroborate the story of that the North Koreans used that this tunnel was dug to mine for coal. The tunnel is surprisingly built almost straight with 0.03degree slope towards the North to drain the water. We were able to see the places where the dynamite sticks were used to blow up to make the tunnel.  
  • The tunnel was very low in many places and it was tough to walk bending low and even with the bright yellow helmets that are mandatory, got a lot of bumps to the heads.
  • We walked up-to the 3rd blockade which is a solid, metal and concrete wall with a tiny opening through which we could see the 2nd Blockade. At that point, were just 170m from the MDL right under the million mines :) Exhilarating!
  • The North Korean side of the tunnel is said to be blown up and that there is no big threat of an army walking this way! 

Map of the 3rd tunnel which runs from North Korea to South Korea
The three blockades of the third interception tunnel

Friday, June 14, 2013

The 38th Parallel- DMZ

One major attraction around Seoul is the trip to the DMZ - the De Militarized Zone, which is one of a kind in the world! The DMZ separates the North and South Korea and it runs 250kms long ending in the Yellow sea on the West to the Sea of Japan on the East. And is considered the most fortified and heavily guarded border in the world. The 4km wide buffer zone between the Koreas is populated with more than a million land mines. The DMZ trip that we took, does not actually take one into the DMZ. It merely takes us to the tip of the DMZ, lets one have a peek from the Dora Tower Observatory in the South at the North Korea, walk into one of the infiltration tunnels and visit the Dorasan Train station.

North and South Korea have not yet signed a peace treaty since the war in 1950 when the North Koreans attacked Soul on a Sunday. They have signed an armistice agreement, which means that both the sides have decided to stop fighting and they have agreed to have their forces moved 2kms on either sides from the Military Demarcation Line. The Joint Security Area is an area in the DMZ where tourists are allowed in but after extensive checks and reservation. But the JSA primarily still remains a place where the talks between the Koreas take place.

Seoul is just around 50kms away from the DMZ. It seems that the South Korean Government had given it a serious thought and even tried to move the capital further down South because of the constant threats from the North Koreans. But now, the South Koreans are so used to the North Korean threats that it doesn't even pop up in their Sunday morning chit chats.

Check posts on the way to the DMZ
Check posts on the way to the DMZ

Barbed and electric wire fence
Barbed and electric wire fence on the way to the DMZ

Check posts with barbed wire fence
Lot of check posts were unmanned. And we are banned from taking pictures of the soldiers. 

Electric wire fence
There is a village very close to the DMZ (see the pic below for the exact location of the village)
Our first stop was the Imjingak. It is a park which is close to the DMZ with complete with an Amusement park, restaurants, souvenir shops and what not! It is also home to the Freedom Bridge and the Liberty Bell. Good place to buy the souvenirs of soybean chocolates and the only place to buy the North Korean liquor.

The Liberty Bell, the Freedom Bridge is housed inside a park called the Imjingak.
Train tracks and the train that was blasted
The railroad running between the Koreas which was blasted during the war.
The train that was blasted
The engine of the train and the Freedom bridge where the POWs were exchanged

The pretty little brook near the Freedom Bridge
The pretty little brook close to the Freedom bridge
The Freedom bridge between the Koreas
The Freedom Bridge which is the way to cross the Imjin river

The railroad bridge with crosses the Imjin river
The bridge over the Imjingak river which runs from the North Korea.
The Liberty bell
This structure houses the Liberty bell which can be rung for the Fallen soldiers for a fee
The Liberty Bell in Imgikgak in South Korea
The Liberty bell in South Korea

DMZ :)
This place houses a museum about, well, the DMZ and the 3rd infiltration tunnel dug by the North Koreans to the South.
Koreas are divided on the 38th Parallel and the 2kms on both the sides forms the DMZ. The DMZ tour doesnot take us into the actual DMZ but very close to it.

The DMZ upclose
Notice the villages close to the DMZ! The Red line denotes the Military Delimitation Line (MDL)
Place to view North Korea
Binoculars to view in North Korea from the South.  We were able to see the North Korean Flag pole (which is the tallest flag tower in the world), the Gaseong Industrial complex buildings. Taking pictures is strictly forbidden except from this place 
The DMZ until the glass
Yay! I was there at the DMZ :)

The Dorasan Train station was once opened as a symbol of peace between the Koreas and to transport people to the Gaseong Industrial complex in the North. But this station has been closed now.

The Dorasan railway station
The station at Dorasan is just a tourist place now!

The tracks are ready, the station really cool. But it remains a tourist attraction until the Koreas are unified
The trip down the 3rd Infiltration tunnel was the highlight of the trip for me. To actually walk through a tunnel which is big enough to transport 30,000 North Korean soldiers to the South in just an hour!

The DMZ tour costs around 60,000 won (~ $60) per person and it took around 5 hours to go and come back to Itaewon on a weekday. It also included a trip into the Amethyst factory which offers 50% discount on the National gem of Korea (Amethyst- a violet color stone)

Skywatch Friday
Thursday Challenge- Outdoors

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