Friday, January 15, 2016

A New Year's Trip to Ganghwa(강화) County in Incheon

Let’s go to Ganghwa!

I was taken aback when our Pastor said that during our late breakfast on New Year’s day.

I thought it was way too-spur-of-the-moment but it didn’t take me 48 years to say…. OK!

Some other 8 members of our church congregation also decided to go with us. When we were preparing to go, it dawned on me that we had roughly 4 hours of sleep. We tried to rejuvenate some energy that we lost last night to the parlor games we played in celebration of the New Year’s day. Thanks to the delicious food we prepared, we feasted on the left over from last night’s celebration and it somehow perks us up. Pastor said that Ganghwa County is just about an hour drive from the Vision Center in Seoul where we stayed overnight to celebrate 2016. I was so excited because it was my first trip of the year. I have no idea about the place, I haven’t read anything about it too, so I thought discovering new places is such an exciting thing to do.

Since it was holiday, traffic was pretty horrible, and it was foggy too. I was hoping for a better weather on New Year’s day but the odd was against us. Plus it was windy and cold, like it’s below zero I guess.

After about one and a half hour, we finally arrived at Ganghwa County. I didn’t know that it’s located in Incheon. All I know about Incheon is that the airport of Korea is located there plus it’s a home of several other tourist spots such as the Wolmidong and Chinatown. I never heard of Ganghwa before.
We went directly to Ganghwa Peace Observatory (강화평화전망대), the only place in the island where you can get a glimpse of North Korea. I suddenly remembered our trip to DMZ last year, in fact the topic about DMZ inspired this particular trip.

At Ganghwa Peace Observatory
(c) JC Cerico

The observatory is located inside the Civilian Control Zone which is just 1.8 kilometer away from North Korea. It used to be a military lookout and eventually turned into a tourist spot. Apparently, the observatory starts accepting visitor since 2008, before that, entry to the area was strictly prohibited.

On the first floor of the observatory building, there are some lookout points where we can see the North Korean village. As I’ve said, it was foggy that day, so we can’t see much of that village. Through the help of the binoculars which are readily available in the lookout point, our eyes tried to brave the fogs. We only saw the nearby village of North Korea but not the mountains.

View from the lookout point at the first floor of Ganghwa Peace Obervatory

On the second floor, we enjoyed the photo and video exhibition about Korean War. Not that we enjoyed the war scenes, we liked how they preserved these important pictures and videos for educational purposes. Foreigners like us and Korean visitors too can just imagine the war that had transpired through the exhibits.

I also liked the idea of putting up a paper tree made of memos. These memos contain the messages of hope for reunification. I also saw this during our trip to DMZ. Koreans have a way of expressing their thoughts in a very creative manner.

Reading the messages of peace and unity at Ganghwa Peace Observatory
(c) JC Cerico

On the third floor, there are more telescopes available so people can view North Korea in detailed. We tried to get a glimpse of North Korea through these telescopes but it was really too foggy. Thankfully, they have posted photos of what you supposed to see in a particular angle, at least we were able to check out North Korea through the high definition photos they posted.

More telescopes at the third floor of Ganghwa Peace Observatory

Outside the observatory, you can see the Shrine where people remember their families in North Korea.

Shrine outside the Ganghwa Peace Observatory

Aside from the Peace Observatory, Ganghwa has more to offer to its visitors. There’s a museum nearby which shows the history of Ganghwa and the comparison of its past and present status. However, we were amazed by the number of boulders that have been raised up in the area near the Ganghwa History Museum. These uncut boulders are called dolmens. It is believed that these dolmens were used as a tomb during the 1st millennium BC.

The Dolmen Site at Ganghwa

The place is called Ganghwa Dolmen Sites, one of the most important treasures of South Korea, in fact this place was designated as a World Heritage by UNESCO. After looking at the hundreds of stone dolmens in the site, I realized the weight of the site to the country, or rather the world. These boulders are actually sacred because accordingly, during the Megalithic Culture era, they used these as grave markers and for ritual purposes.

One of the many dolmens in the site

We just actually witnessed a parcel of history right at that moment. As we looked at every dolmen in the site, we have somehow connected to the social and political systems, beliefs and rituals, arts and ceremonies of the prehistoric people.

A type of house in the prehistoric era

There are a lot more to visit in Ganghwa, but we had already consumed the whole day to tour around the area. We were already tired coming from the New Year’s celebration, so we decided to go home after we had a sumptuous dinner in one of the restaurants in the area. We were all sleepy on our way home but our first day of the year worth that memorable trip.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Most Filipinos In South Korea Support Mayor Rodrigo Duterte for President

Election day in the Philippines is fast approaching. Even the Filipinos abroad have a say in choosing the right leader in the country via the overseas absentee voting. That is why election is such a hot topic nowadays especially here in Korea where there’s always a big chance to meet a fellow Filipino at random places. Politics is always one of the meatiest topics in the conversation and it always boils down to the question of who should we vote for the next President of the Philippines.

I don’t need to conduct a survey to know who among our Presidentiables is favored by the Filipinos in South Korea. Judging from what the people are doing here to campaign this candidate and from random conversation I had with some kababayan here, if there’s an election right now, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte will surely win the votes of Filipinos in South Korea.

Campaigning for Duterte at random place in South Korea

I am new to being an Overseas worker so I didn’t know what exactly Filipinos abroad are usually doing during campaign period. But if I may say, Filipinos in South Korea are more than passionate for campaigning for Duterte. They showed their support even before he decided to run for President. You can see the banners and other campaign paraphernalia that have been created using their own money to show that Filipinos in South Korea are united for Duterte.

Campaigning for Duterte at random Filipino events in South Korea
(c) Jojo Calamaan

At any random Filipino meet ups and events, you can spot avid supporters of Duterte campaigning for him. Some are subtle in their way of support by pointing out what Duterte have so far done to Davao City.

Like most of the people, the Filipinos in South Korea are desperate for a change. It is our desire to go home, stay with our respective family in the Philippines and live a happy and contented life in our own country. But with the issue of corruption in the government , lack of jobs and security, we have no choice but to work in other country. As much as we believe that the fate of Philippines does not fully rely on its President, whoever will win in the election will definitely play a vital role in the change that we always wanted. The change that will bring us back home without any uncertainties. The change that will give us hope for a better country. The change that we think only Duterte can spearhead.

To those who are taking extra effort to campaign for Duterte, shelling personal money to pay for those campaign paraphernalia and reaching out to every Filipino voters in South Korea, I salute you because you are definitely doing your part for achieving that change that we want.

I guess Duterte’s promise of “Tunay na Pagbabago” (real change) gives us a beaming hope of a beautiful future for Philippines.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

What is Korean BJ? (Looking into the Mukbang Culture of Korea)

BJ-ing is the current trend in Korea right now. Every Korean wants to do BJ nowadays, not only it is such a fun thing to do, they can actually earn money from it. They can BJ all they want in front of the camera and money will just come easily.

But wait, do you have actually any idea what I am talking about? Before you think wild, let me explain this first.

If there’s a DJ (Disc Jockey) and a VJ (Video Jockey), in Korea, they have this thing called BJ or Broadcast Jockey.

Who are they? What is Korean BJ?

Well apparently, BJs are porn stars, I mean foodporn stars. BJs are just ordinary Koreans with extra ordinary way of eating. When you see them eat, you will not only influenced by their appetite but you will also find them entertaining. To showcase this kind of talent, Afreeca TV in Korea opened the way to let these BJs broadcast themselves while eating and they call this trend MUKBANG. The word Mukbang is a combination of two Korean words 먹(meok) which means eating and  방 (bang) which means broadcast, so basically, you broadcast yourself while eating, then you can call yourself a BJ or Broadcast Jockey.

If you think this is just some kind of a nonsense idea, then probably you are wrong. Apparently, Mukbang is such a hit in Korea right now. More and more Koreans love the idea of being a BJ because people are actually earning a handsome amount from doing it. BJs are also gaining a celebrity status on their own right because their respective fans are also growing. As a BJ, you have to entertain your so called fans by not only eating in front of the camera but also doing some funny antics and some extra talents. The fans who are watching you on their respective devices will give you balloons that cost 100 won each, the more balloons you receive, the more money you can get. The biggest earning I know so far is that of a BJ named Diva, one of the most popular BJs in Korea  to date. At one point, she earned a handsome amount of 9,000 dollars coming from the donations of her fans. In fact, BJ-ing became her full time job.

Now, let’s talk about the fans. Who are they and why are they participating in this so called Mukbang?

In Korea, eating is such a communal thing to do. It is not something you should do alone. However, as time goes by, people in Korea get busy and some learn how to live independently to the point of them facing the fact that they have to eat alone. They find it lonely to have nobody to talk to during mealtime, so for those who would like to have a companion while eating, they subscribe to this Mukbang and through the personality of the BJs, they get virtual companion in their meal time. Happy fans can in turn donate money to the BJ.

The BJs either order their food or cook their own food and entertain their fans by eating the food in the most interesting way possible. Needless to say that BJs must be good eater, somebody who could stimulate the appetite of the viewer.

With the highest recorded views of 3 Million and more than 650,000 fans of a particular BJ, Mukbang is undeniably a big thing in Korea. I think the positive thing about this aside from it entices people to eat deliciously, it is also became the venue to create community. Although it’s just a virtual activity, people get to talk to other people with same interest in eating and food.

Here is a sample video of how Mukbang looks like and how the BJ performs in front of the camera to eat it.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Getting Lost at Changdong Art Village (창동예술촌) and Parlyeongsan Stone Pagodas in Masan

In Changdong Art Village of the City of Masan
In Changdong Art Village of the City of Masan

I have the privilege to visit another city in South Korea, a place called Masan. I’ve heard about Masan before, but I never got the chance to visit the city because 1) There are no tourist spots attributed to it and 2) I feel like it’s not an interesting place to visit. I may sound harsh, but yeah, I think I prefer to visit Busan and Daegu because I heard a lot of good things about these places.


Sangsang Gil in Masan
Sangsang Gil in Masan

I went to Masan because of only one reason, to see my name engraved on the road of Sangsang Gil in Changwon. This is part of the campaign of Korea Tourism Organization called “write your name in Korea”. It’s like the “Walk of Fame” in Hollywood, but instead of famous people, anybody can have their name engrave on the road of Korea in Changwon and it will stay there forever. There are about 23,000 names engraved on Sangsang Gil and somewhere in the middle of the road, you will see my name.

Stepping on Sangsang gil road where the names are engraved
Stepping on Sangsang gil road where the names are engraved
(c) Anny Martinez

I traveled about 4 hours to Masan and I maximized my stay there by exploring what more the city could offer aside from engraving my name on their road. My two other wanderlust friends were already there a day before I arrived, so I joined them in discovering the wonders of Masan.


The giant bell in one of the streets in Masan
(c) Arman Carinan

We explored the city of Masan by walking around at every possible corner of the street where our feet can take us and some taxi rides. I must say that taxi drivers in Masan are extra friendly. We have this light chat with one of the taxi drivers as he brought us to a buffet restaurant and we discussed a little bit of the culture of people in Masan and about… guess what…. the best place to get sexy and beautiful ladies of Masan.

Since Masan is not a place where tourists would go to travel, some of them are extra xenophobic. If they find out you are a foreigner, they tend to shy away and pretend they could not understand you. But of course, I am just stereotyping, some of them are pleasant to the foreigners too. Because they seldom see tourists in the area, we got the respect of some of the locals there as they smile and greeted us which we translated as their subtle way of appreciation for coming to their place.
If there’s one thing that the three of us as travelers agreed upon, it was the generic look of the city. Just like any other cities in Korea, Masan has the same feel and ambiance. It has no special or unique style to set it apart from other cities. What you see in Busan or in Seoul or in any other major cities in Korea, you can also see in Masan.

The Imaginary Road called Sangsang-gil (상상길) or Buljonggeori-ro (불종거리로)

Entrance to Sangsang gil
(c) Anny Martinez

The “Write your name in Korea” campaign of  KTO is a smart way to introduce Masan to the public and to the tourists. For those who have their names engraved at Sangsang gil, at least you have one good reason to go there. The Sangsang gil is actually an imaginary road where the names of 23,000 foreigners including the names of famous Korean idols are engraved. When you come from Masan Bus Terminal or Masan Station through a taxi, the taxi drivers may not know about Sangsang gil because it is an imaginary road. From my experience, I have to say “Buljonggeori-ro” instead of Sangsang gil because they don’t know about this road yet.

Changdong Art Village

Another interesting place to visit when you’re in Masan is this place called Changdong Art Village. It’s a village located next to Sangsang gil, you can just walk one block away and you will find yourself lost in the alleys of the village.

While walking along the Changdong Art village, we can’t help but to be amazed with the different kind of arts in the area. A friend commented that we were just like walking in a maze. Except that it’s a maze you never mind getting lost into.

A maze like alley of Changdong Art village

What I noticed about the village was there are a lot of art studios and schools in the area. There are also businesses with the touch of art in their shops. Either their walls are painted with murals or their gates are decorated with whatever artsy stuff.

What to do in Changdong Art Village
(c) Anny Martinez

Everything in this village is all about art. You can see it on the walls, the gates and windows and even their parking area. There’s always a touch of art into it.

One of the many small corners with a touch of art at Changdong

I guess Art Village is an understatement because aside from the murals and paintings, there are pottery academy, chalk art store and a lot of very interesting open galleries and museums. Artists are performing everywhere. Either you see them singing, playing instrument or painting. I was actually overwhelmed as I walked through the village.

Artist waiting for clients at Changdong art village
(c) Anny Martinez

However, the place is not that neat. I saw garbage on the road and some junks in the area. Maybe they could make an art out of it, but for time being, it’s somehow discouraging.

Parlyeongsan Stone Pagodas

After the tour at the art village, we still had time to explore more, so we decided to visit the Parlyeongsan Stone Pagodas. It was about 10 minutes away from Changdong Art Village via the taxi. This place is one unique place to visit.  It has its own story and interesting features to offer to visitors. Most of the people we met there were Korean ahjussis and ahjummas geared up with their hiking equipment. It is actually a mountain and a perfect place for people who love to go hiking.

The stone pagodas

We went to the Paryongsan mountain not to hike but to visit the Stone Pagodas. Aparently, a Korean guy by the name of Yi Sam-yong started the construction of Paryongsan Stone Pagodas in year 1993 as a tribute to the families divided by the Korean war. This was his way of hoping and praying that the divided families will soon reunite. Interestingly, people started talking about his work and became a major tourist attraction in the area.

Some of the thousands pagodas at the Parlyeongsan
(c) Arman Carinan

The stone pagodas are indeed an interesting piece of art to see at Paryongsan. We just imagined how hard it was to pile those stones and made it appear that way. Everyone who hike that mountain are surely inspired by the view of these stone pagodas.

Dream Bay Masan

The Masan bay is something you should not miss to see when you go there. We have a few glimpse of it when we were on our way back to Sangsang Gil. It was a dreamy view, which is why it’s called Dream Bay Masan. Maybe in some other time, when it’s not too cold and if time permits, walking along the bay of Masan could be an interesting thing to do.

Masan may not really a drop dead beautiful tourist destination in South Korea, but if you want some diversion and new place to discover, going to Masan maybe a good option for you.