South Korea 2 - 14 April 2001

Kim Chi and Soju

Sangju

During my stay in Korea I had the honour and the pleasure of being guest in the home of mr. Kang Bum Ku. He had warned me that it was a bit 'untidy', but for a bacheclor and collegue kite maker like me this was not the case at all!

Mr. Kang is a retired teacher of mathematics and has his livingroom set up to a wonderful kite workshop, where even the floor is used for displaying large kite plans under a transparent cover.

I had arrived at Seoul late Tuesday evening, and early Wednesday morning mr. Kang and I started a 4-hour car ride to Sangju, a small city some 180 km. south-east of Seoul. This was the day for performing the annual rituals in commemoration of two important ancestors:

  • The 17th ancestor, who brought the kin to Sangju some 500 years ago, and who was Minister of Justice.
  • The 13th ancestor, who also was a Minister of Justice.
The rituals took place at the respective shrines of the ancestors, and were carried out by members of the kin, some wearing traditional Korean clothes made of hamp, with hat made of horsehair. Before the rituals started I was treated with a small buffet, including Kim Chi, a dish of fermented cabbage that comes in numreous variants, and that must not be missed on any table. Here I also got my first introduction to variants of Soju, a pretty strong rice wine, destilled to 22+%.

After a short rest at a local hotel we had a deliciuos hoae,'live fish' (=sushi) dinner in the pleasant company of an old schoolfriend of mr. Kang. Ms. Chang then took us to a karaoke parlour, where we rented a room with a karaoke machine, 4 TV screens and a set of microphones with built in tremolo for half an hour. Though the city of Sangju is rather small there are more then 15 karaoke parlours there, so karaoke is still a popular thing. I pulled off a reasonable 'King of the Road' (which felt sort of appropriate) but my voice cracked in the smoky room trying 'Oh Carol'.

The last of all experiences this very first day was the temperature of the floor in the hotel: It was warm, or rather hot! At some spots you could'n keep the hand. The heated floor is a common thing in all Korean houses, and since you sleep on a rather thin mattress directly on the floor you have a nicely warmed up bed. Nowadays hot water runs in the slings in the floor, but in the olden days it was hot air: the slings in the floor worked as part of the chimney.

Mr. Kang's studio

Ritual for 17th Ancestor

Seoul

I woke up rather hot and with a slight stiff in my hips after all that sitting on the floor, and also a slight stiff in my right hand due to my unexperience to use chop sticks. This day was a holiday; the Planting holiday when you plant new trees and bushes in your garden and visit the family grave.

After a breakfast of He Chang Ku (which is a 'broth to chase hangover' according to mr. Kang's electronic translator) we returned to Seoul. We made a short visit to mr. Roe Sung Kyu, maker of traditional kites and had dinner with him: A lot of Kim Chi and thin slices of beef and pork grilled directly on the table. In the center of the table a charcoal grill was countersunk, where you as a guest took care of the grilling. The meat was so tender and juicy it just melted in my mouth. Must have been marinated. Mr. Roe teached me to take a slice of meat and put it on a lettuce leaf, add som garlic an d som hot sauce, fold the lettuce leaf around the the contents and put the whole parcel in your mouth. Of course there was a lot of Tongdong Ju, which is as I understood it soju which is not yet destilled.

At the Korea Tourist Centre we met an an old friend of mr. Kang: mr. Sungil Lee. He fetched from his desk an old picture from the kite festival '95 in Jakarta, and lo and behold! There was mr. Kang, mr. Lee, mr. Roe and yours truly with arms around each others shoulders! So also mr. Lee and I were old friends.

We spent the afternoon at National Folkmuseum and at Insadong, a street where you can find practically everything.

Nanmung village in the old part of Seoul is a heritage place with old, traditional houses of well-to-do families. In some houses traditional handicraft is shown, such as silkpaint and kites.

To eat and drink is very important. The Korean cuisine is mostly delicious and sometimes a bit spicy, but never too hot (at least to my taste). I am pleased to state that during my stay in Korea I ate everything that was offered to me (even if I seldom knew what it was), and also drank everything that was offered to me. Concerning drinking (especially Soju) a few things must be observed:
If you are drinking in a company where you not are old buddies, you should always lift your glass towards the bottle when you are beeing served. If the one who pours your glass uses both his hands when pouring, you should also use both your hand when lifting the glass. And sometimes you can 'release your glass', which means that you give your empty glass to someone and pour him a drink. After a while he will return the gesture and give you your glass back and then fill it up for you.

Pilgrim in Nanmung

Kite exhibition in Nanmung

Kite Festival

The 1st Korean Art Kite Festival was held on the beach of river Han on 7th and 8th April. It was organized by Korean Art Kite Association, and though it primarily was an 'Art' kite festival, there was also a kite fighting competition. Unfortunately the wind was very soft and unreliable, so there were many kites on the ground.

The Korean Art Kite is often based on a delta kite where a wide tail has been attached, and this tail is used as canvas for a painted picture.

Long, extremely long, kite trains are quite popular, and when the wind is unreliable this inavitably sooner or later leads to great tangles.

A former collegue of mr. Kang had had his pupils make big delta kite, so on the field were som 30 deltas who sometimes had a somewhat unpredictable way of flying.

And in the end I was made Honorary Member of Korea Art Kite Association, which I appreciated very much!

Opening ceremony

Dragon kite

Korean kite fighting

Delta with rooster painting

Delta kites from school

Fighting kites waiting for wind

Train tangle

Mr. Kang buggying

Mountaineering

Korea is very mountainous; more than 70% of the land is mountains. Thus mountaineering is quite popular, and there are numerous groups that each week climb a new mountain. Mr Kang invited me to an excursion with the group 'The Four Seasons'. We first went to a mountain near the border to North Korea, in fact Sintan-ri, the last railway station before North Korea, was at the foot of the mountain. Unfortunately, due to risk of forest fire, the mountain was closed, but the leaders instead took us to Soyo National Park, which has 7 peaks. Everybody hasted out of the bus and started the climb on the rather steep footpath to the nearest 520m high peak. At the peak we had a picnic lunch with a breathtaking view. Beautiful young ladies from the group hand-fed with me with delicious little foodpackages...

For some reason mr. Kang and I took a different route when descending, and this was not quite as adapted as the main route was, so we stumbled a bit, but came down fast. So we waited more than an hour at the beautiful Chajaeam Temple for the others.

Peak picnic

Four Seasons Mountaineering group

East Coast

The next morning I woke up with my thigh muscles a bit stiff, but not as much as I had feared. After a lucnh with mr. Lee from the Tourist department mr. Roe, mr Kang and I set out for en excursion to the east coast, towards Yang Yang. We went through the Soraksan National Park with very dramatic mountains, such as you see in eastern painting. As it begun to snow lightly when we ascended the high passes (more than 900 m.) between peaks of 1700 m., it increased the dramatic experience.

Juat at sunset we arrived at Chumunjin-eup where had a nice dinner with lots of soju in the home of mr. Hong, an old friend of mr. Roe's. Mr. Hong some 30 years ago saved the life of mr. Roe after he had fallen 30 m. in a mountain. Since the evening was still quite early when mr. Kang and I later had checked in at a motel, we felt like round it off with some more soju. This was only a little village, but we soon found an open restaurant and got a bottle of soju and a plate of cuttle fish. We were the only guests in the restaurant, so the proprietress sat down at our table and shared the conversation and the soju. When we left the restaurant the proprietress accompanied us to a karaoke bar upstairs next door. This was also an empty place, save for the two waitresses there, who looked like female sovjet prison wardens usually look like in americans movies; a bit sturdy.

All five of us sang karaoke, danced and drank soju. Most of the conversation was of course in Korean, and half an hour past midnight there was a hasty break up. Down in the staircase I heard a voice "...I think we'll have some love tonight...", and obviously something had been arranged, because there was a taxi outside waiting. The taxi set off with all five of us out in the dark night, and I thought: "Well, the only way to see where a road leads is to follow it". This particular road was narrow and winding and ended at a beach. This obviously was quite a popular place, for even in this late hour there were a lot of people here, stalls with hot snacks and couples walking on the beach. But it was very cold with a strong breeze from the sea, so the idea of having a romantic moment with a 'russian prisoner warden' on the cold sand was rather repellent.

The next morning there was time for another He Chang Ku in the city of Chumunjin. Chumunjin is a fishing port, and a walk along the port market is an experience; so many different kinds of sea fish, some of them you didn't even know they existed!

The sight seeing this day included Naksana temple (first built in the 7th century), which also has the biggest Buddha statue in Asia, and a visit to the Kosong Unification Observation Tower which is situated as close to the demarcation zone as you can get. From the tower you can see into North Korea, and after the war, when many families had been split up, people used to come here to try to get a glimpse of their beloved.

Chumunjin fishing port

Naksana Temple

Naksana Temple - roof wood work

Naksana Temple

South of Seoul

On my last day in Korea mr. Kim Yoon Sik and mr. Shin Kun-Soo took me for a sight seeing tour in the southern neighbourhood of Seoul. We first visited the Traditional Korean Village, a vast area with traditional buildings from different parts of Korea; ranging from simple fisherman houses to the complex courtyard of a district judge.

We had a late lunch with mr. Lee, retired from a telecom company and now a dedicated kitemaker. Again this was a delicious meal with slices of duck grilled on table.

Late in the afternoon we visited the Namhan Sanseong fortress, a fortress built around the mountain peaks (the highest is 497 m.) of Namhan Sanseong during the period of the three kingdoms (57 BC - 66 8 AD). The wall of the fortress is several kilometers. From one of the peaks there is a magificant view over the city of Seoul.

We ended the sight seeing tour in mr. Kim's restaurant where several other members of KAKA turned up. Three of them, including the chairman mr. Oh, were also going to the same kite festivals in China that I was heading for.

This last evening ended, like all other Seoul evenings, in the next-door bar Lang de bue, situated in the ground floor of mr. Kangs house. I had stopped counting soju glasses...

Next-door bar

Black smith in Traditional Village

View over Seoul

At the restaurant of mr. Kim