History Museums Around the World

9 03 2010

After our first round of traveling around Asia (Beijing, Hong Kong, Korea, Vietnam and Japan) I have to say that my three favorite museums are the War Memorial of Korea, War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

These three museums are an amazing asset to the local community and to the world. In my experience, some of the best museums charge less than $2 USD. All three of these museums are unique in many ways, sharing destruction and death.

One of the most rugged and in your face museums that I have visited is the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. As soon as you pay (less than a buck) you are directly faced with military aircraft such as big fighter jets, helicopters and military tanks that were used during the Vietnam War (the locals call it the American War). There are hundreds of bullet holes and dents in these amazing machines. It’s great that they have everything in your face and you have an opportunity to see it from Vietnam’s point of view. The memorabilia, photos and artifacts will blow your mind. I kept thinking that in 50 years from now this museum will not be standing because of the poor quality of the glass and security of the items. The glass that separates items from the public is extremely thin and can be easily broken. I wish that the government or some organization would do a better job to protect this museum so that future generations can see a part of history. The pictures in this museum are very real and gruesome, showing you a version of the war that we don’t see back in America. Nonetheless, it’s definitely an impressive museum.

If you’re ever in Seoul, a must see is the War Memorial of Korea.  As soon as you are in front of the museum you will notice the Statue of Brothers, the elder, a South Korean soldier and the younger, a North Korean soldier, which symbolizes the situation of Korea’s division. The Korean peninsula has seen many wars from neighboring powers. The War Memorial was built to commemorate actors and victims in the wars which led to the modern nation state. The museum also has the purpose of educating future generations by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting various historical relics and records related to the many wars fought in the country from a South Korean perspective. If you truly want to see evidence of how Japan invaded Korea and destroyed priceless art and buildings, travel around the peninsula and see with your own eyes. If you get a chance to go to Gyeongju, which use to be the capital you will see the destruction that was left. I have been told by countless Koreans that Japan doesn’t even acknowledge that amount of damage that they did to Korea. Click here to find out more about the Korean War.

Display of the nations' flags that participated with the U.N. during the Korean War

8:15am was the precise time that the bomb was dropped.

One of my favorite museums of all, is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It’s a funny feeling that you get once you step foot into this historical city. It’s like time stopped here (8:15 am on August 6, 1945 was the precise time the bomb was dropped over Hiroshima). I guess this museum is truly unique because how many other places had an atomic bomb destroy their city. This museum does a great job showing you how it was minutes after the A-bomb was dropped. If you’re ever in Japan, do yourself a favor and visit this part of history. After viewing the whole museum we had an opportunity to walk around this new vibrant city. Everyone says the people have moved on and as well as the city. But, you can’t help to think that one bomb so powerful, that people evaporated into thin air or burned into ashes at the drop of the bomb. Later on that evening as we were walking to our hostel, we had to walk pass the existing A-Bomb Dome. In 1966, the city decided to keep this structure in its original condition as a landmark from the war. The dome was registered on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list in December 1996 as a monument that reminds us of the tragedy of the bombing, according to wikpedia. The city stood quiet as we walked toward our hostel, it was a really beautiful sight but I couldn’t help that the feeling was very eerie. I mean if you think about it, one bomb killed more than 80,000 people instantly. Does the soul ever find peace?

A-Bomb Dome

They said that plants and grass weren't going to grow in Hiroshima for another 75 years - this tree is in the preservation fence of the A-Bomb Dome.

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Chuc Mung Nam Moui!

6 03 2010

It was hard to top our first anniversary celebrations, which was in Ireland. But Randy pulled it off. We didn’t get to go to a different country, but we spent the weekend in Seoul. Our anniversary falls on the day before Valentine’s Day and apparently this year, the day before Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year or Tet [in Vietnam] or Seollal [in Korea]). Chinese New Year is on a different day each year. But this year, we were lucky to have three full days to celebrate these holidays and a very special occasion.

During Chinese New Year or Seollal, which is what the Koreans call it, Koreans spend time with their families. The holiday is similar to Chuseok. Families get together, cook traditional foods and pay respects to their ancestors and elders. Chuseok and Seollal are similar to our Thanksgiving and Christmas. But, it’s also similar to one childhood memory, Tet, which is what the Vietnamese call Chinese New Year. We did all of these things, but would also receive “pockets,” or red envelopes with money inside for good luck from our elders. Although I didn’t receive any “pockets” this year, I received a great weekend with my favorite person in the world and good friends.

Because our anniversary was in between two major trips this year (Vietnam and Japan), we needed to save money. It’s somewhat hard to do in Seoul, but I think we accomplished it and also had star treatment. We arrived on a Friday night as usual and stayed in a jjimjilbang or sauna. Although the overnight jjimjilbangs are nothing like Spa Land in Busan where you cannot stay overnight (click here to see the entry about Spa Land). In Seoul, we stayed at the Hamilton Spa, which is located in the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon. It costs about 10,000 won ($8 USD) per person per night, which is a lot cheaper than even the love motels, which costs around 35,000 to 80,000 won ($70 USD) per night. You get a shirt and shorts and a blanket to sleep on the heated floors. It’s definitely an experience to try once. We’ve slept at a jjimjilbang several times though, mostly in Busan at Vesta Spa.

After a refreshing early morning spa and sauna, we checked into the star treatment hotel that Randy picked out. Hotel Elle Inn, although tucked away from the main street and standing out from all of the other buildings, was a little treasure. The room wasn’t massive, but the details and Jacuzzi were amazing. For a really nice hotel, the price tag wasn’t too terrible. It would probably be around $200 in the states, but this hotel was only about $100 USD per night. He also surprised me by picking out a place with a beautiful night view of Seoul. We had dinner in the Jongno Building on the 33rd floor at a restaurant called “Top Cloud.” But the most surprising event was that Randy had his first steak! I was so proud of him. Of course, from working at the American Meat Institute, I know how to enjoy a good steak, and I’m glad that Randy and I could enjoy the same entree that night. It’s really great to get to see each other grow as a person while in a foreign country, whether it’s with trying different types of food, interacting with people or learning both from each other.

As we keep learning from each other and seeing each other grow as a person, we continue to learn about Korea as a country. The War Memorial of Korea is a place we need to revisit. It’s a museum that shows the 5,000-year-old history of how Korea has with stood many foreign invasions. There is also a magnificent display of how the world came together to help South Korea during one of the most tragic wars in history, the Korean War. What’s best about this museum is that it’s free. It’s a five minute walk from Samgakji Subway station, near Itaewon.





Korean Fashion

30 11 2009

Fashion. As far as fashion goes in Korea, we now know why Korea doesn’t have a fashion capital like New York City, Tokyo, Milan or Paris. Although they might dress well in Seoul, the rest of Korea has a distinct fashion. Members of ShineeLet’s start with the men. Korean men love shiny suits and sparkling ties. The men here are so slim anyway that their skinny jeans and tight-fitted suits make them look thinner than the girls. Men also wear the high-top Reebok shoes with the skinniest pair of jeans.

Another fashion statement is the ‘Konglish’ and Mickey Mouse shirts. Randy bought a shirt that says “Slow Life.” Some shirts just don’t make sense. Sometimes kids will wear shirts that they have no idea of the meaning, even though it may have a curse word. I think they buy the shirt because it has English. Both men and women wear baggy Mickey Mouse t-shirts. I’m not sure what the obsession about the Disney character is, but they love it. And of course, they love anything with Hello Kitty or any other Sanrio character.

As for the women, looks are very important. There are two types of looks that women go for. Some women dress to the tee every time they go out, whether it is to work, school or the grocery store. They wear short skirts, high heels and ruffle blouses. They always carry a mirror and make up with them. As in some parts of the states, some women here must have the latest designer bag or shoes.

The other type of style that women wear is the baggy t-shirt and stirrup tights. I’m not sure if they think it is flattering or if they think they should be as conservative as possible and cover their whole body with a large piece of cloth. In addition to the garbage bag look, they wear converse shoes with tights or skinny jeans.

My take on the fashion. Some of the fashion has grown on me. I’ve always liked ruffle shirts and high heels. It’s taking me more courage to wear the short skirts though. And surprisingly, I like the skinny jeans and tights (not stirrups, these still make me feel like I’m in the early 90s) and the long shirts (not the huge garbage bags). But, I will not be caught wearing Converse shoes with skinny jeans. But, one unique item for shopping in Korea are their shoes. Korea is shoe heaven! There are so many shoe stores and each store has a huge variety of the cutest shoes. And they are for reasonable prices! For my first month here, I bought four pairs of shoes (two flats, tennis shoes and heels) for under 50,000 won, which is equivalent to about $45 USD. Unfortunately, for some westerners, it’s hard to find shoes here because the shoe size here doesn’t go past size nine.