Aussie In Seoul

Well here is the deal. I am Australian and just moved to Seoul with my wife to work in a 5 star hotel. I hope to share some of my thoughts and comments over the Years I am here!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

"I ate dog".... But let me tell the story first!

This is going to be interesting. If you read the headline then already I can feel the comments coming in saying how could I, so bad etc.. so just let me tell you the story and then maybe you will understand.

About 6 months ago our hotel got involved with a vary small rural village in the North / East of South Korea who produce everything from rice, corn, potatoes, peppers, cabbage, cattle, and more. The area is called Gonggeunri, which has a population of 400 people, with the average age around 57 years old.

The reason our company has got involved with this wonderful rural community is two fold. Firstly, they have lived for generations under the wealth and prosperity of the products they produce, but in modern times they are losing a battle against the giant rural corporations not only in Korea, but all over the world. They do produce fine products, all completely naturally produced without any chemicals, but sadly they cannot compete with the technology and mass production of the big boys. Secondly, they are an aging community as I mentioned the average age is 57. Most of the 20's & 30's generation moved to the big city to provide additional income for the families, and also basically to get away from this rural lifestyle like so many younger generation are doing. So as you can only imagine they are faced with such trying times and sadly you can see it in their eyes.

So where do we come in. We have created a win-win situation by purchasing a lot of our products from the community directly, as well as sell products to our staff directly. For example three weeks ago a letter went out to all the staff that we have been requested by the Gonggeunri community to purchase potatoes from them. 10,000 won (US$10) for a 10kg box of potatoes. Now I am not shopping everyday, so not sure the market price but I was told by the staff that this was a great deal and much better than the shops they buy from. Gonggeunri community needed to sell at least 250 boxes and in the end between our two hotels with more than 1000 staff we purchased an amazing 580 boxes of potatoes. Our staff was happy, and most of all the community of Gonggeunri were happy. As the year goes on this type of selling will happen on a regular basis to the delight of all parties concerned.

So let me get to the actual story. Last Monday, around 930am I got a call from the President of our company requesting that I join him and a group of senior managers from our owning company and our staff committee to go to the Gonggeunri Community. At this stage all I knew about this deal was that we bought potatoes from them a few weeks before. So I jumped onto the hotel bus with about 20 others and we began our two hour drive to our destination.

Along the wat our President explained the story of the relationship and its importance. I knew this was no bull shit PR exercise, rather a fully open armed gesture to assist this community. Already my enthusiasm was growing, and as we left Seoul behind I had my first looks of country side South Korea. It is not what most would expect, with sweeping mountain ranges covered in the thickest if tress and vegetation. As we drew closer to the Gonggeunri community we passed some amazing scenery including the photos below.

As we came to the end of the valley we were greeted by several cars who escorted us into the village area. We got out of the bus and did an extensive tour of the facilities, including seeing all the storage area, the vegetables they produce, how they produce them, their own packaging plant for some dried goods etc. It was so fascinating, and just a wonderful place.

After our walk around in the blazing heat, we then went to the main village office where we did an unveiling ceremony of a large stone with the inscription of our new found community friendship. As you can see by the photos is was a fun occasion, but I could see it in their eyes and emotion that this was far more important than a stone unveiling or a shake of a hand. I was at this moment very proud to be a part of this.

we then moved over to the the community recreation area where they had set up a rows of tables for a great big feast. We were all placed at specific seats (Note - we our outside in 35 degree heat, wearing suits, sitting on stools, with not a hint of a breeze!) and then the formalities began. There were several speeches, all in Korean of course, and then the eating and drinking began! Placed in front of all of us was endless amounts of food, from the vegetables they grow, to the beef, pork, and dog! Now let me put this situation into perspective. I am in the middle part of the table where the governor of the town is, vice governor, our President, etc.. No food was explained to me, and of course there were no labels all menus! There was a hot pot of boiling meat in dark sauces for every four people along each table, along with plates of other meats and vegetables and soups of course. Now by this time in my Korean two month stint I knew that Dog was a meat eaten here, but is seldom seen, almost never by a tourist, and is only eaten by the Koreans in times of particular celebration. It is not a staple food by any means and is supposed to be very expensive. The dogs used are not your household pet, rather dogs raised as if they were cattle, fed a particular way etc. Anyway I am making no excuse for it, but just to put the facts on the table.

So I wondered if any of the meats in front of me were dog, but I was afraid to ask, and new my questions would end up "lost in translation" so I did not ask and began to try everything. It was the hot pot that drew my attention and this was what they were telling me to try. Was it dog I thought to myself? So I did it, I took a tiny piece of this meat from the hotpot, about as big as my thumb nail and tried it......................... The President then asked me so how does it taste? Do you know what you just ate? I swallowed quickly, trying not to think of my dogs back home, and told him it tasted like beef in a stew...which it did. I am not proud that I can say it didn't taste so bad, but I know that will be the last time I eat dog.

Anyway off that subject, we then continued to eat and drink for the next two hours including lots of Soju, and locally made rice wine that was as dark as the colour milk (does that make sense?), and the highlight was eating the freshest and sweetest white corn I have ever eaten. Finally and sadly it was time to go. I was actually sad to leave, and I think we were all sad to part ways. We were given fresh bags of corn as parting gifts, hand shakes of goodbyes. My last piece of enjoyment I will mention was a big hug goodbye from a farmer about 65 years old. I thought he was going to plant a big wet kiss on my face but he just gave me a great big hug. In his broken english and translation from some others earlier in the lunch he explained how hard his life was. He lost two brothers in the Korean War and had lived his entire life on the land. You could see it in his face and his rock hard hands. He had not spoken any english to a foreigner since we was young in the war and had never visited Seoul!

So we left for our ride back to Seoul. Our President announced to everyone that I had eaten dog and I received a round of a applause! We all then sunk into our seats and did our best to sleep and sober up before returning to work.

It was the most unexpected of days, but really a highlight of the stay in Korea so far! I will try to add photos for this page when I figure out how to reduce their size!

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Random Photos

Hi there,

You know, over the last week I have been looking through a lot of other blogs on the net and I tell you some of them put me to shame in terms of look, content, and character. So with this in mind I am going to try and mix my stuff up, so that it isn't some soap opera about our lives, rather a heap of anything and everything. Make sense?? Well if it doesn't, at the top of the page where it says next blog, click on that and do it for a while and check out a few random blogs. If you get to a page where it doesn't have this at the top just go back to the previous page and then click it again as it will bring up a new random page. Have fun! There are some really fantastic blogs out there. I will make sure I set up a blog favourite section for your comfort and pleasure.

So as the headline says I am going to put some random shots on this blog just to spice up my blog a little. Enjoy!

Golf Course Along the DMZ. Bring a lot of balls! I should play this course more often. Might actually teach me to keep my balls in the fairways!

Anyone for the beach?! This is Haeundae Beach in South Korea. It's hot hear now, and everyone heads to the beach. Sux's to be a lifeguard!

Who said laundry had to be boring! Yes it is a real sign!

"Holy Sandstorm Batman" This is a South Korean army base in Iraq that is about to be hit by one hell of a sandstorm. Reminds me of my days in Al Ain, UAE!

Well nothing like a bit of inspiration! I thought this was really cool, and I don't think I have heard this one before. My last shot for the blog. Bye for now!


Saturday, July 23, 2005

Personal Update

Well I am coming up to two months in Seoul on the 28th. How time really goes so fast. I have avoided to much conversation about work these days as work is work, and there is no need to put everyone to sleep. Anyway 2 months of living in the hotel will soon come to an end as Clariza and I will move into our apartment on August 1st and we are so excited about it.

By the way Clariza is back in the Philippines taking care of some personal and business stuff for us, so again I am missing her, but I am glad she is there and I guess actually working! She will be back on the 31st of July just in time for the move and all the unpacking! Lucky her.

Wet season apparently continues in Seoul, but besides being somewhat overcast and the occassional shower it has not been so bad. This past week though has been extremely humid, with temperatures hovering around 33 degress.

I have a great story for something I did this past Monday but it needs an exclusive post so stay tuned for that.

Well family and friends, and those that have taken an interest in the life and times of Clariza and Simon Morley, we love to hear from you so anytime drop us a note ok.

Bye for now...................


Our trip to the DMZ

Photo United Nations Checkpoint in DMZ
Great Wall of China, Opera House, Angkor Wat, Eiffel Tower, Berlin Wall as some of the many places you would put in your list of places to see, and I guess when I knew that South Korea was going to be our home for some time the DMZ was then high on the agenda to see, discover, and most importantly better understand.
Since arriving in Korea I have read daily the press reports of the growing tension in this part of the world, in particular, North Korea's reported nuclear programme, and the roller coaster of a possible re-unification process. This
continued to arouse my eagerness to visit the DMZ and finally get a grasp of what this all means. Leading up to the trip I had mentioned to a few of the staff we were going to do this trip and they all have their opinions on the DMZ and how it has affected them or their families in some way. Most though fear that the poor people of the North would not create any benefit to the savvy intellectuals of the south. I see how this stand-off could last this long.
As with the last tour we did, the concierge made the reservation and dead on 7.00am to tour guide showed up and escorted us onto a tour bus with approximately 25 like -minded tourists from Japan and USA, who were as curious as us to see for themselves the DMZ.

As we picked up the last of the anxious tourists we started out 80 minute drive to the DMZ in the North of Seoul or South Korea. As we started to encroach on the farming lands I could not help myself start to think about all those "MASH" episodes. I think it was long after watching those episodes as a kid did I realize this was not a ww2 series but a Korean War series.
Anyway, ss we got closer to the DMZ, the highway skirted the edge of the Han River. What could have been any waterway in rural Asia is distinguished by the barbwire topped fencing and regular military guard stations that runs for miles between the road and the river's edge. The reason for this is that there is a large river in North Korea that runs into the Han River and North Korean spy's have been know in the past to use the Han River as a way of infiltrating South Korea.

Before entering the DMZ, our first stop was at the "Freedom Bridge" a simple wooden structure, no more than 15 feet wide that was the access to freedom for the thousands of North Koreans who poured over this bridge at the end of the war. Many prisoners from both sides were actually given a choice weather to cross the bridge or not. I am sure little did most know that still some 50 + years later they could never see their loved ones on the other side! It has been said that an estimated 5 million Korean families are dived by the DMZ. With no method of communication available for South Koreans with family in the North, this simple gate at the end of the bridge represents their only avenue to reach out to loved ones that they have not seen or heard from for over 50 years. It is this gate that is filled with hundreds of messages on everything from paper to bed sheets from loved ones, expressing their feelings of helpliness. With no chance of these messages being read by the intended recipients, this act is more symbolic than practical.
After changing buses, we drove to a checkpoint where our passports are viewed by armed South Korean Military, and then we are taken into the DMZ. Our first stop was the brand new and almost never used Dorasan Station, the northern most train station in South Korea. This modern, spacious station has been constructed in preparation for the day that trains can run freely from Seoul in the South to Pyeongyang in the North. The platform signs already direct passengers to the "Track for Seoul or Pyeongyang". With only 3 trains a day from Seoul, the South Korean soldiers on duty have little but stand around for photos with visiting tourists and watch over the concrete slab signed by President Bush at the opening in May 2002.

Our 2nd stop in the DMZ was to the 3rd infiltration tunnel. Our Korean guide told us that this is one of 4 tunnels found in the 1970's on evidence provided by a North Korean engineer who defected to the South. According to her explanation, up to 20 tunnels were constructed by the North through the DMZ as part of an invasion strategy. This 1.6km tunnel would apparently allow 30,000 invading soldiers to pass through per hour into South Korea.
To get into the tunnel we walked down this steep declining tunnel over400 metres long with construction hard hats and only a thin rail to grab if we were to get a little our of balance. We then walked another 250 metres at the bottom of the tunnel through another tunnel that was built by the North Koreans. At the end of the 250 metres we reached the point of no return we barbed why and heavily fortified doors stop you from going in further. Not surprisingly, a dispute still exists between the two sides over who built the tunnels! But as we walk along, our attention is drawn to the "evidence" of the North's construction of the tunnels. drill marks on the walls facing the South. "Who to believe"!

Forgot to mention, before entering the tunnel, we are taken through a detailed history display of the Korean conflict. Included in the museum is an elaborate 3 screened display on the past present and future of the DMZ. In this 6 minute multi-media presentation are heart wrenching scenes of the two family reunion events of North and South Korean families.My guide told us with considerable bitterness that those chosen to participate in these events were from the wealthy, well-connected or academic elite. The images on the screens of the reunions showed such raw emotion that many visitors walk away wiping tears from their eyes.
Unification Observatory
Our final stop on our bizarre DMZ tour was the Unification Observatory on Mt Odu. After coming so far we were only able to see a little of North Korea as it was such a cloudy day. But through binoculars we could see in the distance several North Korean Military posts on the other side of the DMZ. Looking into the DMZ I could see how this un-touched environment could be filled with such an abundance of flaura and fauna. We filled in our time at this stop by taking in the displays in the Unification Exhibition Hall, a collection of exhibits featuring North Korean produced electronic goods, clothing, food and school books. The products by western standards were simple, cheap looking and everything from the paper of the textbooks to the material of the mismatched business suit was of poor quality.

Our visit to the DMZ greatly enhanced our knowledge of Korea's tragic history and fragile present. We "saw" North Korea (or at least the view the North was willing to provide and the South wanted me to see). Our drive back to Seoul was solemn with most of the Americans asking the guide a million more questions, but really I could see in her eyes that some questions should not be answered. This was no Disneyland Tour and no fireworks or Dancing Shows. It was a reality check, reminding us that the DMZ is the last place on earth where walls still separate two nations, yet one peoples. It also reminds you that the Korean War is still not over, as only a truce was made over 50 years ago, and still no treaty has been signed.

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DMZ - Words from me and courtesy of a CNN article and Wikipedia Online

Since 1953, the Demilitarized Zone or the DMZ has split the Korean peninsula in half, separating the Communist, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south. The DMZ was formed after the 3 year Korean War which ended on July 27, 1953. The war ravaged the peninsula, killing tens of thousands, and splitting an otherwise homogenous people between the communist supported north and the American, capitalist supported south. Geographically, the DMZ is situated on the 38th parallel and is split by 2 kilometres on either side. This is where the original borders for North and South Korea were defined, when they were split by the allied powers after World War II. After being liberated from Japanese imperialism at the end of WW II, the Soviet Union and the United States split the peninsula into two spheres of influence based in the North and South respectively. Once statehood was declared independently, each of the two states remained dependent on their super power sponsors for defense, building up governmental institutions and rebuilding the local economies. As one of the active positions of the cold war, North Korea aggressively marched over the 38th parallel in 1950. This sparked off the 3 year long Korean War, in which the United States coupled with the United Nations supported South Korea to invade the North.
It was then in 1953 that only a ceasfire was made and the DMZ continues to exist as a fragile land heavily controlled by military on either side.

Except in the area around the truce village of Panmunjeom and more recently on the Donghae Bukbu Line on the east coast, humans, for the most part, have not entered the DMZ for the last fifty years. This isolation has created, vast untouched land along the DMZ which has now become an important refuge for two of the world's most endangered birds: the white-naped and the red-crowned crane. Also other rare species include Asiatic black bears, Chinese gorhals, shell ducks, swan geese, deers and egrets all co-exist in this untouched area. There are also accounts of Korean tigers in the DMZ -- a sub-species of the Siberian tiger, one of the rarest tigers on the planet. Another fact is that more than 20,000 migratory fowl utilize the border area. The 4-kilometer-wide by 250-kilometer long (2.5 miles by 155 miles) DMZ stretches across the entire width of the Korean Peninsula, encompassing a cross section of ecosystems and landscapes.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Tourist for a day

Working in hotels has it's perks and last Saturday we took advantage of this and joined a full day Ancient Korea Tour. Grace Travel Service are one of several companies that offer tours in Seoul, and as my department sells a lot of tours to guests I thought it is important to experience what the guest is paying for and is the tour good value. So at 8am we were met at the hotel by our escort for the day, Mr. Louis Lee. We then jumped into a very modern mini-van that sat around 8 people and we headed off to a few more hotels to pick up some other guests.

After picking up the remaining guests on the tour; a couple from Siberia on business, two Indonesian Americans, and a Korean Swiss lady, we headed to the area where the Presidential Blue House is. This area is extremely fortified with hundreds of security around guarding the Presidential Palace and the offices that surround. It is referred to as the blue house because the enormous rooftop has tiles that are blue. Kind of looked green to me! Once we drove out we drove through a small town near the blue house that is one of the remaining low level housing areas with the traditional lane ways between the houses. This area was once what all of Seoul looked like, but urbanisation has taken its toll!

We then had a short drive to the Gyeongbok Palace where we left the van and had a really interesting one hour tour. I will not go on about what was said in the tour as you really need to experience for yourself, but really it is so interesting how the Korean royalty lived in the past. The buildings gave such a great feel of how the royal family lived, and also struggled to keep themselves alive in times of so many wars and anarchy from inside and outside the palace.

We then had a short walk over to the National Folk Museum which is housed in a beautiful building that was built in 1972. It is representative of several hundreds of years of Korean design styles and also has a towering five-storey pagoda as it centerpiece. On the site of the Folk Museum there once stood a beautiful large Korean building that once housed many of the ancient treasures, but were all destroyed by the Japanese during the Japanese occupation. We toured the museum for around an hour and really on saw about 1/5 of it before it was time to leave. We will be sure to return there as it looked like there was just so much to see. What we did see gave a great insight into the living of the common people and also how they lived and survived based on the classes of the people. By the way there is no entry charge to get in! First time I have seen this in a city.

We then drove to the Jogye Temple which is one of the most ancient Buddhist temples in Seoul. It has for the most part remained intact through all the wars and occupations, and has some very interesting historical drawings on the walls of the temple. We also climbed the bell tower where we saw the various bells and drums used to signify certain events to the community in the surrounding area. The large bell for instance is only used during funerals!

We then did a quick stop to the Amethyst Factory where we were told about this famous rock and shown how it has been turned into various jewelry. Of course they tried to sell their works but we declined.

Next was to lunch finally where we enjoyed a nice Korean BBQ lunch at a very normal restaurant in Ieteawon. Food was great, but rather a boring place to eat. Was hoping for something more traditional.

We then set off on a 90 minute drive through the typical Seoul traffic to our next destination, the Korean Folk Village. Finally after arriving we jumped out of the van to be welcomed by some rain which kindly stayed with us for the next two hours. In any case we had a great walk around the Folk Village which is set up to depict the ancient times of the rural people. As it says in the brochure, it is an all natural environment set on 243 acres with more than 260 houses from the different regions of Korea. There is also set ups done throughout the villages depicting the living culture of the people in the late Joseon Dynasty. There us a nobleman's Mansion (99 rooms), a commoners house, and even a provincial Government office with a jail!

Sadly because of the rain they had cancelled the performance of the village people. What we would have seen was the traditional music and dance of the farmers, the games they played, as well as a wedding. Oh well, I guess another time.

We then jumped back into the van and headed back to Seoul. We returned to the hotel around 5.00pm! We were so tired, but a great day of learning and understanding of the Korean culture.

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Two weeks of catch up

Sorry dedicated fans! It has been more than two weeks since I wrote, but what can I say! It has been very busy and have really settled down to work and thankfully Clariza has arrived and life is that much better now.

So where to start? The hotel is in the midst of a wonderful room refurbishment at the moment so occupancy has been relatively low. This has of course been advantageous for me as I am able to spend more time with the teams, and really sinking my teeth into the job. We had a lot of fears of noise in the hotel but overall there have been few complaints and the work is progressing well.

With Clariza's arrival I have been able to enjoy the restaurants in the hotel more, and actually not feel like that "nigel no friends" in the restaurant all the time. We have had some great meals and now we will try to conquer several of the dishes on the menus in time! Clariza has got herself on a fitness program in the gym and it seems the instructors are taking great pleasure in inflicting great pain on her in her work out sessions. This past week has kept me quiet amused watching Clariza adjust to the stiff muscles and aches in the body she has never felt before!
(Sorry Clariza!)

I think I forget to mention that I also choose our new apartment we will be living in. Several weeks ago I had narrowed down to two apartments I thought Clariza would like, and we were going to look at them when Clariza arrived. But unfortunately thanks to the pathetic bureaucracy of the Philippines government, Clariza arrived 5 days later than planned, and I had to make the final decision on the apartment before it was rented. So I choose a nice three bedroom apartment in a 4 storey building on the top floor. It is an old building, but I feel once it is done up, it will have great character. What I am most pleased about is that we have the private access to the roof top which is a great area to put a BBQ and a few chairs to relax! We will move in at the end of July.

Besides this, last Saturday we went to the Namdaemun Markets. We took the subway there and entered streets and streets of endless small shops that sold everything from leather boots, shampoos, to DVD players. After a while it all became a blur, but we enjoyed walking around and looking at all the stalls. I am sure we missed a few streets, but overall worth the walk around, but don't expect anything flash! We had a late lunch there in a chicken and fries restaurant, then spent the evening watching a movie.

Sunday we went with one of the band members in the hotels Hunters Tavern to an area called Hyehwa. Here we stepped into Filipino heaven! Located in Hyehwa is the main Roman Catholic Church of Seoul, and it also home to the main Filipino Catholic Community, with every Sunday afternoon having a Tagalog service. As we stepped out of the subway, we were met with a street lined with hundreds of filipino's hanging out around dozens of stalls selling everything you could buy in downtown Manila! It was very interesting and I could see the excitement in Clariza's eyes. I was very happy for this as I knew now at least once a week Clariza could get that Filipino fill in her which she really likes and wants. So we walked around, then attended the filipino mass. Of course I did not understand much at all, but I knew Clariza enjoyed it. Towards the end of the service Clariza spotted her causing whom she has not seen in over 10 years, and also a high school class mate, so after the service we grabbed then and all hung out for the afternoon. After a long lunch of catching up, as well as watching a filipino basketball tournament, we went home by taxi to the hotel at around 730pm in the evening exhausted.

That's all for now. Will try to write one more blog today so I am caught up. I will also attacha photo of clariza and I if I can find one!

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