Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ewha Women's University and Edae

Ewha Womans University is a private women's university in central Seoul. It is one of the city's largest universities and currently the world's second-largest female college. It is also, one of the best-known universities in SK, known for its beautiful campus and prestigousness. The school was established by a U.S. missionary in the late 1800s. Obviously the attendants are all women. The university itself is beautifully maintained and doesn't look at all like a school in Korea, The architecture is positively Western, probably due to the fact that it was indeed, established by a Westerner. Yet the air here is definitely more serous due to the fact that it is a Korean university. While the campus itself doesn't offer too much more than some pretty picture taking opportunities, there lies an area referred to as Edae directly in front of it. 
Now personally, Edae is one of my favorite places in Seoul and I'll tell you why. Edae is mostly another shopping district, like Korea's three million other areas that are all basically the same. But yet this area feels way more set aside and different. It feels less (Pardon my terminology) mainstream. More indie and underground. Although there are still impressive crowds of people. There is no such thing as underground in Seoul. There's too many dang people. But there are a lot more small boutiques and unique stores in Edae that the other shopping areas lack. The big problem I have with Korea and it's shopping is that everything is so branded. Stores like Forever 21 and Zara are slowly taking over these areas and running the small businesses into the ground. Now it seems like you go into any store anywhere and can find the exact same clothes in every other store on the block. While Edae does have some of this repetition, it has way less than any other area I've seen in Korea so far. There are still a lot of stores that you can walk into and finds reasonably priced, unique clothes. Shoes and accessories are also big here. Most everything is well priced as well. Well, some of the higher end boutiques will have higher prices, but that's to be expected.Mostly though, its just a colorful and playful little area that feels really energized and a lot of fun. The amount of people was a little tricky in the side streets, where it got a little crowded, but we also went on a Saturday. I'd say to go on any of the week days and your chances of having a leisurely shopping experience increase ten fold. This place also has some really cool cafes on the side streets. The area is kind of split into two sections, one for food and one for shopping. Most of the cafes and food places are on the high side of the area, while the shopping dominates the lower half. They even have a fortune reading cafe, which was advertised as English speaking, but when we went, we found no English speaker in sight. Disappointing. But go with your Korean friends and see what the Korean future holds for you. Most people say that these people are pretty good. But that's up for you to decide. Be careful though because the reading is an additional fee. Unfortunately some services are pretty expensive too, getting up to around 30,00 won (30$). Yikes. A bit much for a fortune after paying for a seven dollar coffee if you ask me. I'm not too sad that they couldn't speak English after all. While this is certainly a wonderful area, it's not a place that I want to go back to all the time. In some cases I feel like shopping areas serve one purpose, shopping. And once you've been there once, you kinda get the picture. The initial wonder fades as things become more familiar and boring. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. (Literally)


Itaewon!!!! Also known as the foreigner district for its abundance of foreigners. Both expats and tourists. This is one of the only places in Korea that you can go without getting stinky face from any old Koreans. Itaewon is also the only place where you can get some really good foreign food. At least foreign food that hasn't been koreanized up the wazoo. Like tacos. Thank the Lord for there being a real taco place somewhere in Korea. I would die without it. Itaewon also has a Taco Bell. Which so far is one of only three locations that I've ever heard of in Seoul and the surrounding areas. I have no idea about Busan and that area, but that is waaay to far to go for a taco. However sadly, the menu they offer at Taco Bell is pretty sad. Almost none of the menu is as good as it is in America, but at least they didn't put gochujang in the tacos. The taste was pretty similar to the taste they have in America. I don't know if this is simply because of the location or if the other two locations taste as authentically fake Mexican as it does in the U.S. Because McDonald's in Itaewon tastes way more like American Mickey D's than anywhere else in Korea. Excepting Myeongdong. Korea, I love you, but sweet and sour sauce doesn't belong on hamburgers. This area has a lot of U.S. military dudes in Itaewon, and you occasionally see the military police drive by. Itaewon is actually a pretty grungy looking area compared to the rest of Korea, in my opinion. Not too dingy, but there is a different feeling here. The area is dubbed, "Western Town" Because of all the foreigners and the food. If you want Korean food, this is definitely not the place to go. Good luck even finding a Korean place here. They have a lot of leather stores here and a lot of knock off goods being sold by street vendors. Most of these goods are reasonably priced if you can speak a little Korean, but they'll definitely try to get as much money off you as possible for a knock off Chicago Bulls hat. These vendors also will only take cash, and bartering is acceptable, but there's no saying for if they'll cut the price at all.
Itaewon also features the Seoul Central Mosque. While this mosque's official location is in Hannam-dong, you can see it easily in Itaewon. This is subsequently, the ONLY mosque in all of Seoul. I have also been approached here by Koreans wanting us to take a survey about Korean foods. They were very nice and even gave us 5,000 won as a thank you for completing it. (5$) Itaewon features several English speaking Doctors, so it is the best place to go if you need a serious medical problem checked out. Itaewon also has the infamous "hooker hill." This is a dingy side street in Itaweon that is famous for, well, hookers. The intensity of this area has died down since the 90s and early 00s. However you can tell immediately once you find yourself on hooker hill. That immediate feeling in the pit of you stomach that says, "Okay wait a minute, this isn't right. Better turn around." This area has long been said to be frequented most commonly  by members of the nearby U.S Army base, however this is a generalization as apparently many other men visit his area as well.

Itaewon also holds the taboo underground gay community. Here is the one of only three places that you will find gay or transgender bars in Seoul. The other places being Jongno and Edae. This acceptance of the LGBT community probably stems from the abundance of foreigners who have no problem with LGBT people. Whereas the rest of Korea still has a very close minded opinion towards them. Among all of the LGBT clubs and bars are plenty of foreigner clubs and bars as well, lending to the fact that once again, Itaewon is the foreigner district. However it is quite rare to find any foreigners in Korea who are under the age of 21. So the attitude of this area is very centered around all sorts of "adult entertainment." Bars, clubs and hookers. Not much for a high school exchange student to do except enjoy the amazing food.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Gyeongbokgung Palace and King Sejon Monument

Gyeongbokgung Palace is a massive and magnificent palace that sits about dead in the middle of Seoul. It was built three years after the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, and many kings have walked the winding passage ways and maze like interior of the Palace. Here I am pictured on the inside of the outer gate, which defends it from the normal streets.Outside the first set of gates, which cut it off from the more urban area, guards stand in traditional costume.
 However the structure behind me is basically the entrance into the actual palace itself. Gyeongbokgung is more like a village than a Palace. It contains multiple structures throughout the Palace, with Mount Bugaksan serving as the background. When you're inside the ancient walls, its really hard to remember that you are in fact, in the middle of the biggest city in all of Korea. The palace has been restored over the years, so the paint is still vibrant and alive. There are also two different museums accessible at Gyeongbokgung. One of which is free, you don't need to even buy entrance to Gyeongbokgung to go in. You can find this museum on your way to the ticket selling area from the subway station designated for Gyeongbokgung, which can be found on line 3 (the orange line). The other museum is more like a modern art type of museum. There was a little bit about Korean history but not much, we received free entry to this museum by showing the guard our Gyeongbokgung tickets. We did this also to get back in. We spent about three hours at the Palace before moving outside the main gates to Gwanghwamun Plaza

 Gwanghwamun Plaza is the part of Korea where I have felt the most like I'm in Chicago or something. To me this area really gives off a Michigan Avenue kind of vibe. This area has a large amount of industrial looking buildings, such as the Kyobo headquarters. (Korean Bookstore). They commonly use the middle space to use for rallies and demonstrations. We went there once when they were having a demonstration about Dokdo and had to squeeze through a massive crowd to get to the other side of the strip. There is a massive strip in the center that houses several monuments, such as The King Sejong Monument and Museum. This strip separates the directions on the road and is quite large. In this picture you can only see half of the walking space. The picture above is not my image but shows a better view of the wideness of the strip. The monument in the image is the statue of the Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. This strip begins ( or ends) with the white outer wall of Gyeongbokgung Palace on one side, and just merges into regular road on the other end.
The King Sejong Monument and Museum are pictured to the side. Photo Cred goes to my beautiful friend Jenny who is a fellow exchanger with me in Korea. Also from America. Looking at  this monument certainly is cool, but you may be asking yourself, where is the museum? The answer to that question is, within the monument itself. If you walk around to the back of King Sejong, you will find some doors which lead to a stairwell that goes about two stories underground. This is the King Sejong Museum. Here you can learn all about why King Sejong is so important to Korean culture and even visit the slightly reasonably priced gift shop! **Spoiler Alert** King Sejong invented Hangul, the Korean writing system. As well as making many other scientific discoveries that I won't go too heavily into detail here. Basically, he was a pretty cool guy, really smart, and a good King. It makes sense that they have a big statue for him. I mean, we have Mount Rushmore don't we?

Foreigners can often get approached here by locals who are making projects for university or their jobs. On both occasions that I have  been here with my foreigner friends we have been asked to take part in either a short video interview or have our picture taken for a project. To the left is a picture of us being filmed in a video interview about why we were in Korea and what we liked about it. Don't worry if you can't speak much Korean and get approached by one of these people. Usually they are doing these projects for an English class so they can speak English pretty well. At the very least communicate. Another important landmark in this area, for Americans at least, is the U.S. Embassy. It's literally almost parallel to the Sejong Monument. Just look for the ugly building with the American flag and a bunch of police outside. We weren't actually allowed into the building from the front entrance, later finding out you have to use a side entrance if you lose your passport or something. Yet nevertheless we wanted a picture with our American flag by the embassy, so we took this one angled so that the building you see in the background is the embassy. Behind the security wall. Our friend took this picture for us, but as he was doing so, an old homeless man came after us with his cane. He clearly wasn't one of the Koreans that appreciates the foreigners. Which is why we all look slightly panicked in this picture. We had to take it fast before we had to mortal combat Grandpa-with-a-stick. All in all this is a really beautiful area, which feels strange to me, because looking one way, you see Gyeongbokgung and the country's landscape and say, "Yep, Korea." However if you look the other way might find yourself saying, "Wait...Chicago?"

Friday, September 27, 2013

South Korea for 1 month!

Here's my first video! Check it out and make sure to subsribe for more!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In the Event That I Am Leaving

Hello fellow humans. My name is Anna Whisenant and this post is made in the event that I am leaving. Maybe you've heard the old song, "I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again." ? This short snippet of a song my mother used to sing to me, very much entails my life's current events. You see, in approximately one month, I will step onto a plane and get off in Seoul South Korea. I am an exchange student with Rotary Youth Exchange. This means that I will be spending my Junior year in High School in Uiwang South Korea.
I plan on keeping this blog to share my experiences in South Korea with whoever cares to read them. I hope that you, dear reader, enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy living it. I am lucky in many respects. The first being that my family is willing to support me in my decision to be a foreign exchange student. The second that I am going through such an amazing organization, Rotary. The third, that I have met many inbounds and outbounds who have come to be my family and my closest friends.
My sponsoring club is Mount Horeb's Rotary club. I am the first student that they are sponsoring to go out on foreign exchange. I am honored to be standing in that position. I hope that through my travel in South Korea, I make them want to send more students. I'd like to thank them by showing them that they have made a good decision in sending me to go.
At this point I am Ready To Go

Thanks for reading!