Monday, 29 June 2015

Seoul's Banpo Fountain Bridge: Rainbow No More

                 (The bridge, the bank and the bulbs)

Years ago, when it was finally completed, the Banpo Fountain Bridge attracted thousands every night. The nozzles on the bridge's sides would spray water out into the river and when the darkness falls, the colored lights next to the nozzles bathed the water with different colors that fascinated the crowds standing on the Han River bank.

On one of my visits to the Banpo Park, I took a photograph and submitted it to a local magazine and earned me a prize. I still have the magazine copy; I already ate the prize. Ha-ha-ha! It was a restaurant coupon.

                (From afar, it's only yellow and white lights)
               (I no longer see the reds, blues and purples)

But last week, when I went on my night walks along the Han River from my Hannam-dong neighborhood with the goal of reaching the Banpo Bridge, I noticed that, from afar, the colored lights didn't look colorful anymore. 

Years ago, when my friend Alfa and I traversed the distance from the Hannam Bridge to the Banpo Bridge, we could see from hundreds of meters away the fountain changing its colors from yellow to red, to blue and purple, and other hues in between.

                           (Up close and electrical)

                 (A tourist ferry about to go 
                   under the Jamsu Bridge)

But now, the fountains seemed to have lost its other colors, or I have turned colorblind? Or, perhaps the fountain lights need repairing. Did they change the other colored bulbs into yellow and white?

As I wanted to make sure whether the other colors were indeed missing from the bridge's spectrum, I crossed the lower Jamsu Bridge and observed the water spouts up close.

     (Crossing Jamsu Bridge with my frappucino) 

So with my frappucino, I stood on the bridge and took photos of the waters streaming from the fountain, which from the lower deck, looked like they were coming from a platoon of ajussis above urinating in unison and with the motion of the pee following the cadenza of the K-pop music playing on the background. Ha-ha-ha!

Although there were faint blue and red lights, these were not the strong colors I used to see years ago. Something definitely happened; Banpo's fountain bridge is no longer a rainbow fountain bridge.

I later joined the crowd on the Banpo side of the bridge, and just like me, they also seemed to have been disappointed with the lackluster spectacle. 

Years ago, you would hear people exclaiming "waah"  when the fountain changed colors from yellow to red, to blue and purple in sync with its flow trajectory. Tonight, people were just busy chatting and the sight of the fountain was just ordinary.

If you're at the Banpo Park next time, do observe and compare the colors of the fountain bridge with the ones you remember years ago. And let me know if I am just colorblind, or the bulbs really need changing. 

Friday, 26 June 2015

The Real Summer Sale In Seoul!

I remember there was a Korea Grand Sale campaign a couple of years back when shoppers had fun crowding the shops, especially those in Myeongdong, and getting their shopping fix for the season.

But these days, since the MERS virus scared most of the tourists, the shopping areas in Seoul, specifically Namdaemun Market, Myeongdong, and Dongdaemun Market, have all suffered from the lack of shoppers.

                  (These 50% sale sign boards 
                   are all over Myeongdong!)

So, it wasn't a surprise for me when, one night last week, I walked through the Myeongdong area and saw the sign boards that would make any shopaholic jump up and down the street: 50% SALE!

The shops and vendors have to resort to these 'sale' events in order to lure the local customers, if not tourists, into their stores.  

As I said in my blog last week, this is the bright side of the MERS crisis. Since the numbers of Chinese and Japanese tourists have dwindled, you have all the attention of the store clerks and salespeople, and they would lavish you with free samples and freebies as long as you shop at their store.

If those cosmetic shops gave away free samples even during the height of the shopping season last summer, just imagine how much freebies you'd get now that there are no other customers but you! 
        (An unusual sight: crowd-less Myeongdong 
                             on a weeknight)

So, you think last year's summer sale was fun? This year's even better!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Remembering June 25 @ The War Memorial of Korea

On June 25, 1950, the Korean War broke out, exactly 65 years ago. Although there were numerous armed conflicts in the peninsula caused by invaders and neighbors over the centuries, THE Korean War is the most vivid in memory.

And as a tribute to the heroes and the efforts during these conflicts, the War Memorial of Korea was built in the Yongsan District of Seoul. Aside from the engraved names of the fallen during the Korean War, the Memorial also has indoor exhibition rooms that display the artifacts, records, replicas and weaponry used in war over the centuries.

In the Memorial, the engraved names of the fallen included the 112 soldiers from the Philippines. The Philippine Expeditionary Force to the Korean War sent a total of 7,420 soldiers over the course of the war, and the first batch of 1,367 soldiers left Manila in September 1950 to help South Korea win the war against the invaders from the North.

Outside the building, there are sea and air crafts on display, and the huge monuments to commemorate peace and the casualties of war.

But aside from these displays, there is a regular performance of the Korean Military Band and the Honor Guard Ceremony. This event is usually held on Fridays and Saturdays during spring and early summer. It's 2PM on Fridays and 3PM on Saturdays. (Click this link, or call the number therein to check schedule of performances).

On one occasion, I was able to watch the performance under the afternoon spring sun, along with the hundreds of local and foreign visitors. I think this is the only place in Seoul where Korean soldiers on active duty regularly perform for a crowd. Yes, the participants are actually made up of professional soldiers and Korean men fulfilling their mandatory military service.

The performance lasts for about 30 minutes, and I suggest you get to the Memorial early so you can pick a spot under the shade right in front of the open grounds. Also do watch out for the band's rendition of 'Amazing Grace' with matching choreography with the soldiers swaying with the wind. 

But my favorite part of the performance is their precision marching and drills where the honor guards turn, drop on a knee, and throw their rifles up in the air and catch them with one hand in rapid succession without inadvertently shooting any spectator. Kidding! They execute these moves with perfect alignment and cadence. I guess they must have practiced this for weeks.

And the fun part? You can pose for photos with the performers in their colorful traditional costumes, and in their neat, spotless military uniforms. I posted below some photos of crowds having fun posing with them.

So, if you're visiting Seoul and would like to learn more about Korea's war history, its war heroes, and other past military conflicts in Korea, make the War Memorial of Korea a part of your itinerary.

                                          *  *  *  *  *
The War Memorial of Korea is a few meters from Exit 12 of Samgakji Station (Lines 4 and 6). Just follow the sidewalk towards Namsan. With its huge structure and open space, you won't miss it. They also hold open-air concerts in the Memorial every now and then.

(Bravo to these performers from the Korean military! 
It's always fun to watch them perform!)

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Cool Snack of Summer: Patpingsu!

Patpingsu should be available all year-round, and not just only in summer. Last year, I went back to a cafe in Hannam-dong during autumn and asked for patpingsu, which I ordered just a couple of weeks before. The cafe staff told me that they stopped serving patpingsu was already autumn. Waaaah!
                  (We ordered two bowls; one for me 
                      and one for them. Ha-ha-ha!)

But this summer, I don't need to go back to that cafe. I can almost go anywhere and enjoy the milky crushed iced topped with a mound of sweetened red bean paste. Patpingsu is the Korean version of the Philippine icy snack, halo-halo, some variations of which have about a dozen ingredients mostly consisting of sweetened tropical fruits, flan and ice cream. Maybe this is why I like drowning myself in patpingsu; I miss my halo-halo back home. :-(

And last week, I introduced my colleagues to one of the best patpingsu cafes in town, Dongbinggo!  Of course, they enjoyed it!  Although some coffee shops in the building's arcade serve patpingsu, they are all copycat patpingsu. Once you've tasted one, you've tasted all. They all look the same, and are priced the same.

Dongbinggo boasts that it only uses locally grown red beans and that they make their own paste. Although their main shop is in Ichon-dong in the Yongsan District here in Seoul, they have a stall at a food court in a Myeongdong department store.

It will be nasty hot in the coming weeks. So, I will have to go back to Dongbinggo for some patpingsu every now and then if I need to survive this summer. And by the way, sharing a bowl is a no-no for me; I want the whole bowl all to myself. Ha-ha-ha! You might want to do the same. :-)

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Namdaemun's Flee Market

When you can practically lie down on the main Namdaemun Market alley and not worry about getting stepped on, it means that it's really bad.
And when you see a car making its way through the same alley, it means it's actually worse.

I dropped by Namdaemun Market the other day and found it so strange that the place wasn't swarming with tourists and shoppers. 
    (A car passing through the main alley, which
    was impossible during the pre-MERS days)

I was there to get some mandu and red bean bread for lunch and snacks from the mandu shop near Gate 2 of Namdaemun Market. After I left the place, I bumped into the Red Angels, the roving tourist guides wearing red uniforms, and asked them how bad the whole situation was.

Due to MERS and its scary virus, Chinese and other foreign tourists, who used to crowd the Namdaemun Market, are staying away from Korea for weeks now, leaving the vendors with poor sales, or no sales at all.

The Red Angels told me that there were only a handful Chinese tourists that day. And without any tourist asking them for directions and information, these guides must have been bored. I might have been only one of the few people who actually approached them that day; but instead of asking for direction, I asked for some circumspection. 

I hope this MERS crisis blows over soon as Namdaemun, bereft with tourists and shoppers, has become a flea, er, flee market. :-(

Monday, 15 June 2015

K-Pop War: Mamamoo 마마무 vs. MERS

I think we have an idea who'd win hands-down.

Not even this MERS scare in Seoul can stop a K-pop concert. On the news, I saw that the TVXQ concert went on at the Olympic Park. The organizers just had to take a lot of precautions in order to prevent the spread of the most notorious virus in Korea right now.

But as I was passing through the Daehangno area in Hyewha-dong yesterday en route to get the banana-cues I ordered from Junila, everyone's favorite vendor at the Filipino market, I was distracted by the cheering and screaming coming from an alley.
I had to make a detour to find out. 

It was a flash concert  of a K-pop girl group, Mamamoo, whose members were busy entertaining their fans right in under the afternoon summer sun and in the middle of the scariest viral crisis since the SARS years ago.

Although I noticed a few fans wearing masks, I was impressed that they didn't let anything prevent them from watching and lending support to their favorite K-pop group. It just shows that if there's a war between MERS and K-pop, we all know who'd win. Ha-ha-ha!
As I wrote last week, it's actually the best time to come to Korea, and those TVXQ fans and these Mamamoo 마마무 fans must have realized that life goes on in Korea just as long as you take precautions.  They weren't just letting any virus scare to come between them and the thing they enjoy most: K-pop!