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.


Sights, Sounds and Smells

15 10 2009

by Shauna Vo

Sights. Korea has a distinct smell to it. I don’t mean to complain or give Korea generalizations. These observations have been from my time so far here in Ulsan. Everyday Randy and I have a 20 minute walk to school. We walk about half way together and then part ways. On our way to school, we pass several interesting sights and smells. whaleWe see a map of the neighborhood with a cartoon character of a whale. Then, we see a huge whale restaurant with a humpback whale on the sign. Ulsan is known for their rich whaling history. The whale is, of course, the city’s symbol. We were quite weary of this when we discovered it and still are. When we asked our co-teachers why there are so many whale restaurants in the city, considering the fact that hunting whale is illegal, they said that whales die naturally and that is why there are so many restaurants that serve whale meat. But, I don’t know how long you can keep whale meat until it is no longer fresh. Our friends who have tried whale meat say that it tastes very beefy and some parts, they say, taste like roast beef. I hope we are not encountered with having to try whale meat.

Riding the bus in Korea is no joke! As soon as you pay your 1,000 won (less than $1) you better grab a hold of something because the drivers here don’t care. As you can imagine even the city buses are Hyundai and the bus drivers think that they’re in a street race. They make very sharp and frequent stops. I am waiting for the day to see a flying Korean Superman in the air. When you ride the city bus, think of it as getting a serious ab workout.

Sounds. Like any city, there is always construction going on in Ulsan. But, what is different from any city or country, Korea completes construction projects in no time! During our fourth week of school, they were drilling a hole in half of the alley way that we walk through to get to school. I’m not quite sure what they were doing. But, it only took them a week to drill the hole, move the concrete, take out the pipes and re-pave the road.

Next to the holes, they were building a new convenience store. They started it when I got to Ulsan and finished it within two or three weeks! At first, I couldn’t tell that it was supposed to be a store, I thought it was just a place that was torn down. But, two weeks later, they had a brightly colored sign above the store and tons of food and snacks to purchase.

Smells. There are some parts of Korea that are so beautiful, such as the huge mountains behind the city full of skyscrapers. But, when you step into the city and in the alley ways, you see a Ulsandifferent part of Korea. Taxis are rushing to find the next customer and bikers are speeding down the street, making the loudest sounds. Every day we walk through an alley way that has such a potent smell. We have discovered that Korea doesn’t have the greatest sewage system. Instead of using a garbage disposal, we have to separate our compost into a different dumpster. Thank goodness we live on the 11th floor of our apartment building because the smell of sewage and compost here is disgusting! We have to hold our breath when we pass by sewage holes on the way to school. Although Korea is not a third world country by any means, this is one area where they could improve.

Are we still in Korea?

9 10 2009

Happy Chuseok, Korea! Chuseok is Korea’s thanksgiving holiday. It is a time when families gather to remember and pay respects to their ancestors. They spend many days preparing food and offerings and then go to their ancestors’ graves, which is sometimes on the sides of mountains, to pray and give the offerings. But, because we got two and a half days off of work, we made a trip to Jeju Island (Jeju-do)!

The first thing we noticed about Jeju Island is how clean and fresh the air is. Once we stepped off of the plane, it felt like we were in a different country. Jeju is comparable to Hawaii. Couples from all over Asia travel to Jeju for their honey moon. It is Korea’s largest island and is pretty much a huge dormant volcano surrounded by the most beautiful beaches. Mount Halla stands tall in the center of the island while black volcanic rocks line the clear blue ocean shore. It is the most beautiful sight, with sparkling water, lush trees, tropical fruit and enormous mountains surrounding you. Hyeopjae beachThe first and only beach we went to (because of time restraints) was Hyeopjae Beach. They say that it is one the most beautiful beaches. It felt secluded, as there weren’t very many people there. It is a small beach, not for the waves or even for sunbathing, but just to enjoy the beauty. The water was shallow, just to the ankles or calves. Kids were playing in the water, fully clothed. A few girls were lying out, but not in bikinis. And couples took pictures together along the coast and drew hearts in the sand. In Korea, people go to beaches fully clothed. I think it is because they do not want to get sunburned or darker. It seems that Koreans think that pale white skin is ideal. There might be other reasons why Koreans swim fully clothed, but I haven’t found out why.

Near Hyeopjae Beach is a spectacular botanical garden called Hallim Park. A lot of the parks in Jeju are not free because the island makes its money from tourism. Hallim Park cost 7,000 KRW, which is about 6 USD. It was totally worth it. It took us about three hours to get through the park. It is filled with all kinds of plant families, cacti, palm trees, bonsai trees, hibiscus and iris flowers and much, much more. We also went through three different lava caves that were made from limestone and had stalactites dripping from the ceiling and stalagmites forming from the floor. Click here for more pictures of Hyeopjae Beach and Hallim Park.

Another well-known site for couples is a park called Loveland. It’s a park of its own kind. Among Korea’s traditional and conservative culture, this park stands out. Public displays of affection are frowned upon, living with your boyfriend before marriage is forbidden and being single after 30 means that you will never marry. But, Loveland is a place where these things do not matter. “Loveland is a place where love oriented art and eroticism meet,” according to their Web site. It was created by 20 artists from Hongik University in Seoul. Their liberal views have made a unique stamp on one of Korea’s most traversed places. Because of the vulgarity of the pictures we took, we cannot post them on our blog. Please contact us if you would like to see these very erotic photos (18 years and older, sorry Sean and Kaveeta).

On our last day in Jeju, we climbed an oreum in Sarabong Park, which is part of the Mount Halla, but they are much smaller. It takes about eight to nine hours to hike Mount Halla. We didn’t have time to do it this time, but we will next time! Hiking the oreums was a workout anyway. It took about two hours to hike one oreum, one hour up and one hour down. Every park or mountain in Korea has workout stations. I eat these up because a gym membership is so expensive!

Jeju is a beautiful place and we will return. Next time, we will climb Mount Halla and try our feet at surfing! We have to thank our friend Daphne for letting us stay with her in Shin-Jeju. Thanks Daphne!

Our First Meal in Our New Hometown

18 09 2009

As we explored our neighborhood in the new downtown area of Ulsan, we were overwhelmed with the number of family restaurants. The smell of kimchi filled the streets of Korea as we walked to find a place to eat.

We found a restaurant that seemed like a “mom and pop” restaurant because two older women were cooking and two younger women, in their mid 30s, were eating and watching their toddlers play in the restaurant. bbulgogi-mom-popLike most Korean restaurants, we were required to take off our shoes. The tables were low to the ground and had a built-in grill. This was definitely a bulgogi restaurant. Bulgogi is thinly sliced beef and is traditionally grilled. In bulgogi restaurants, the server takes your order and brings back a serving of meat that you are expected to cook. As newcomers, we didn’t realize that we needed to cook our food and didn’t even know how to order our food because everything was written in Hangul. One of the mothers approached us and helped us order our food. Even though we didn’t speak Korean, you could immediately see the genuine interest of these two ladies because they wanted to help us. The older women brought the raw meat and banchan to our table. Banchan is what the Koreans call the side dishes, which include kimchi, peppers, pickled radish, spinach, pickled cucumbers, pickled bean sprouts, etc. bbulgogiWe just sat there for a moment because we didn’t know that we had to cook our own food, so one of the younger women came to our table and helped us cook. I told her that she was like our omoney, which means mother in Korean. Next, she took my metal chopsticks and reached over for some tofu and fed it to both of us! We realize that we have a lot to learn and we are very excited about learning more about the Korean culture.

We would walk 3,000 Miles…

16 08 2009

…but, we have the mini cooper! After leaving a place where we made great friends in Washington, D.C., we moved on to the next chapter in life and began the transition process of moving to South Korea.

3,000 milesIt was imperative that we see our families in Arkansas and Florida before we left. So, we drove 18 hours to Van Buren, Ark. and stopped in Memphis to pay our respects to the King of Rock (Elivs Presley). We spent precious time with the Vo family and friends in Van Buren and Fayetteville. Thanks everyone for the wonderful times in Arkansas until next year! Good luck Sean on your first year in junior high school! We are very proud of you. Go Razorbacks!

Next stop, Atlanta, Ga.!! We got to spend time with Helen and her boyfriend Daniel, who showed us a glimpse of Atlanta. Thank you!

Last stop before Korea, Orlando, Fla.!! We made more memories with the Pulayya family and made one last road trip to Miami. Thanks Gina and Joel for the long and overdue visit! And thanks to the Pulayya family for the wonderful times. Good luck Brian on being the last part of the Gator dynasty. We are very proud of you. Go Gators!

Next stop, Korea!  Anyung! (which in Korea means “see you later!”)