Church + Prison

Seoul Anglican Church

Oh yes you read that right.

Church? Prison? Home in time for dinner?

Hell yes I did!

I can’t really get on with this while cursing and feel right about it, so I’ll have to rein it in a bit.

Today, I visited the Seoul Anglican Church.

Touted as a “harmonious blend of traditional Korean and Romanesque features” (according to the free pamphlet), the building is really beautiful and definitely stands out from surrounding architecture.

However. I hate to say this, but, the inside just doesn’t live up to expectations. Actually, it’s really boring with water stains from ceiling leaks.

lovely nun

The flip side to that is that the people are just so nice! I mean, there was a, well, I don’t really know what she was. A greeter? Anyway, she smiled and treated me like a guest in her own home. Super nice. Also, she was really eager to show me around, and insisted that I see the chapel. I don’t completely understand why, because it didn’t seem that out of the ordinary, but then again, I guess I’m more used to Anglican churches than many of the Korean visitors.

Best part: I MET A NUN, which I’m very excited about!

Seoul Anglican Church

Line 1, City Hall Station


As she let me out the front gate, the nun asked me where I was headed next. I felt awkward telling her I was now off in search of a prison, like those two places should be next to each other on a traveler’s itinerary, so I just kind of laughed it off and now she either thinks I’m crazy or hard of hearing.

Sigh. I knew this friendship-with-a-nun thing was too good to be true.

prison museum

So, prison. Or more lengthy, Seodaemun Prison History Hall.

The structure is a little over 100 years old, and was originally built during the years when Korea was basically ruled by Japan. The prison housed mostly Korean patriots fighting off their Japanese captors both inside and outside the prison walls.

What’s kind of freaky is that the museum is actually inside the buildings where hundreds of nationalists died by starvation, disease, contagion, and torture. I’m not sure if this makes me really sensitive or just the history nerd that I am, but stuff like this really gets to me. It’s like visiting a cemetery; people actually lived and died there, and not even that long ago. I was very reserved and respectful. My eyes must have gone huge as I watched all the Korean visitors racing around the building, pushing each other to look into the jail cells. There was even a wife + husband team that were laughingly shoving each other into the solitary confinement cells and snapping pictures on their camera phones. I guess I’m just a stick in the mud about torture and death, and I felt kind of awkward being both the only person getting upset and being the only foreigner.

In my defense, they really went out of their way to try and portray scenes that actually happened using mannequins and, in some rooms, recordings of people being interrogated and screaming in pain. I mean, look at these!


Do you see that mannequin on the left? The one CONSOLING ANOTHER MANNEQUIN?!?!

Oh, that didn’t weird you out?

Then how about….THIS!

women's torture cell

Yeah, I thought that one might get ya.


The other thing that kind of struck me as bizarre was this little tiny area kind of “out back”. It was this walled-off square where people were executed. Right in front of it is a single tree, a “wailing tree” I think they called it, because prisoners would run to it and try to hold on before the guards snatched them up and dragged them through the doors. Here, they didn’t want you to take pictures inside in order to respect the dead. However, it’s completely negated by the fact that a monstrous set of apartment buildings pretty much sits right on top of it.

I don’t really get it. Why would people want to live there?

Not only is it right next to a prison. It’s right next to a very historical prison where tons of people have met a horrible death, execution probably being the most merciful.

Not only that, but the apartments are placed atop probably the most horrific corner of the entire plot.

Not only that, but, did I mention? It’s all under construction.


Seodaemun Prison History Museum

Line 3, Dongnimmun Station, Exits 4 + 5



Jogyesa Temple + Cheonggye Stream


I’m completely cheating. I know this is poor blogger etiquette or something, but frankly, too much was crammed into Sunday and it would make for a very long, long post.

So here it is. A SEQUEL.

I’m sorry it had to come to this.




Part Deux

I missed Buddha’s birthday at the end of April/beginning of May. I was SO upset about it…I really wanted to go to Jogyesa Temple in the heart of Seoul and watch the Lantern Parade and the whole deal. Unfortunately, I had my dates all switched up and therefore missed it entirely. I can’t remember what I did instead; maybe I went to a Chili’s? (That in and of itself would be exciting as it means I would have been at the army base with Josh.)

Ok, so the personal reflection out of the way, the point is I never actually went to see the Buddhist temple right in the middle of the city and I really should have at this stage in my relationship with Korea. As the chief temple of a large Buddhist order, with foundations dating from the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, it’s kind of a big deal. I was expecting something more of a museum, a revered place unsullied with the day-to-day of the common folk.

Jogyesa Temple

Wow. I was way off the mark.

As it’s right around the corner from Insadong, I started sniffing out the area and followed my nose to find shop after shop selling Buddhism paraphernalia. Little Buddha statues? Of course. Jade jewelry and wooden bracelets? Naturally. Monk robes? In multiple colors. It was looking pretty secular to me, but then, I’m just boldly stating opinions based on almost no knowledge of Buddhism, so you know. It would most likely be wise to ignore me.

And then I actually saw the temple. They were in the middle of  a service, and this place was hopping. Not kidding, it was standing room only (which is probably good, since they have to bow in prayer pretty frequently, it looks like.) It was to the point where people were sitting outside on the ledges, or out under a tent someone had set up with lawn chairs.

Definitely not what I was expecting.

I checked my shoes at the door and stepped inside for a few minutes and listened to the monks before slipping back into my flips (sandals) and back out onto the street.

(This is about the time I wandered my way through Insadong and finally onto the shrine, so you already know that part.)

At sunset I found myself walking along he Cheonggye Stream in the center of the city. I remember last year they usually had something going on for the Hi Seoul Festival right in the plaza between City Hall and Gyeongbuk Palace, and I thought I’d go investigate.

Korea + America

And they did. And it was reason 2,408,293,508 I really wish Josh was with me. He would have loved it.

They had this big exhibit going on with lined posters chronicling the history of Korea and the strength of their nation. Included were many posters of the relationship shared between America and Korea during and after the Korean War. One poster, tucked in the corner of the photo here, is of General McArthur and the first president, Syngman Rhee, embracing one another towards the end of the “conflict”.

It was so striking to be standing there, me as an American, and look over at this Korean woman reading the same poster with both our flags in the background. We had all this national history right in front of us, with pictures proving the tough times faced by most Koreans only 60 years agO, and then all around us was proof of how hard they have worked in such a short time to completely revolutionize their country. It’s amazing. Literally and completely inspiring. It was one of those moments you’re just happy to be in.

It was a really, really good day (despite ominous clouds).


Changgyeong Palace + Jongmyo Shrine

Today was eventful! My neighbor has mentioned Jongmyo Shrine a few times before, heavily hinting that I should really get myself there to visit it sometime, and that sometime was today.

Of course, I got lost.

face-painted hangover?

Typically on setting out for any madcap adventure, I only have a very limited idea about the general direction I might want to walk towards. Other than that, the details get sketchy. Which usually means I get lost. Which usually means I meet up with something like this guy.

Is he a resting circus performer? A colorful and vibrant homeless man? Is he dead? I had no idea when I found him at an incredibly busy intersection in Insadong, but all the passersby seemed just as stunned as I was, so at least it can’t be blamed on some culture difference.

And, movingrightalong.

Now, it’s probably a little surprising that I was in Insadong seeing as I was aiming for the shrine. Let me say first: you are not crazy. I just wander around and get distracted a lot.

So after playing around in Insadong, I got started in earnest really looking for that shrine, problem being, I really didn’t know what I was looking for, exactly.

After a while of not seeing any signs written in Hangeul with the English translation of “Shrine This Way!” I gave up right around the time I was out front of the Changgyeong Palace.

I know this is REALLY bad to say, but…after seeing one palace, every other palace feels….exactly the same. I think I would get into it more if I knew anything about these places. I mean, once I get the historical significance, I’m into it. Prior to that…maybe it’s just me, but one heavily stylized roofing design looks just like the next. I should try to find guides, maybe. That’d probably help.

Anyway, Changgyeong. Originally it was built as a summer palace, but with a few additions  it became one of the Five Grand Palaces during the Joseon Dynasty. It’s gotten itself a rep among the other palaces because when the Japanese came in they turned the place into a zoo (literally) and made a mockery of it. All that nonsense has since been removed, but it’s still interesting to note.

I really liked the crowd that day. There weren’t a lot of us, but for the scanty selection, everyone was so photogenic!


So the great news…the PALACE is connected to the SHRINE! And I didn’t even know it. Sometimes, I really do think you’re put in the exact place you need to be. (Thank you up there!)

Well, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Forested, yes. A creepy cemetery vibe, not really. Jongmyo was built before 1400 BC as a Confucian shrine to honor the kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty. Basically, there are a few long buildings equipped with many rooms side by side, or “spirit chambers”, which divide the families. The original buildings were burnt down by (you already guessed, I know) those Japanese again. However, the original memorial tablets were saved when they were secreted away with just some random citizen. Like, stuffed in kimchi pots or buried in the yard or something. I mean that last part is plain conjecture, but where the H could you hide those things?


Anyway, glad I went but I don’t feel really compelled to revisit. Oh, but one more fun fact! In the shrine area, they built 3 exits from each building; two are for mortals, and one is for spirits.

I LOVED that.

Changgyeong Palace & Jongmyo Shrine


Line 1 Jongno 3-ga Station, Exit 11

Line 3 or 5 Jongno 3-ga Station, Exit 8

Tailor Made

Exciting news…

Over the past couple weekends I’ve been heading down to a tailor in Songtan to have….a dress, *cough*, custom made. Not only are the custom tailored clothes in Korea cheap, but  they’re really well-stitched (which is much harder to find in other parts of Asia, specifically China I’ve been told.)

And compared with home, the price difference is staggering. And this is a dress of my own design while the dressmaker made suggestions based on my body shape and personal style. I won’t lie, it was occasionally difficult trying to figure out how to say, “I’d really rather not have a fleur-de-lys gemstone pattern,” when I don’t speak Korean and they didn’t speak any English.

They did a fantastic job and the seamstress was incredible. And also very personal. I understand that they need the right measurements, but it was a little jarring. When they first pantomimed that I should undress and try on the garment, I didn’t understand that they wanted EVERYTHING off. With deft hands one had my tank top over my head and the other had unsnapped my bra with one hand, ONE HAND, leaving me now with the strange experience of being almost completely undressed in front of Korean women who talked rapidly to one another while smoothing the dress onto me and reaching under the garment to tuck something, pin something, or tape-measure my chest.  Not that I really minded. I just placed my trust in their experience and let them do all the decision-making beyond the original design we discussed.

And I love it!

Dress: $350 (America: $1000-1200)

Veil: $40 (America: $100-200)

ADRIA Custom Tailoring Co.

Owner: Y.T. Shin & Mrs. Shin (wife)

#298-157 Shinjang-dong Peyongtak City


Sex Ed

After work the other night, my co-worker Kate and I decided to go downstairs and get a drink. She told me that she had a curfew, as her husband was NOT excited to pick her up at 2am the last time we had drinks. I’m slightly concerned he thinks I’m a bad influence, especially since the only time he sees me I’m pretty well-liquored up. (In a completely unrelated note, I teach one of their kids as well. Fantastic.)

Honestly, I want this guy to like me because I like him. We may not really speak to one another because of the language barrier thing, but I know a LOT about him. A lot more than I’m sure he knows I know.

When Kate and I get together, EVERYTHING is up for an open table discussion. So when we got to talking this time around over a pitcher of cocktail soju, which I’m proud to have introduced her to, and the bar snack you’re required to order, we talked about sex. In depth.

Kate came from a fairly average background, living on her parents farm and helping out with her brothers and sisters. She went to school and studied hard, where children fought to sit close to the furnace in winter and bartered for pieces of ham and wheat during lunch time. Growing up, she worked and studied hard but always had a lot of friends to play with, so she remembers a happy childhood.

She didn’t really enter the dating scene until college, where she met her husband. Before him, she had never seen a man naked, “not even a picture,” and he was her first and only. Both sets of parents urged them to marry as, due to events, it looked like they were going to suddenly have a lot of time together unchaperoned. They got married and now have two kids, and now she enjoys teasing our co-worker, who is about to get married, about her wedding night since it will be her first time. (The woman about to be married is 30 and has been dating her husband-to-be for 3-4 years.)

Whoa. Then I get on a roll and tell her that most girls I know became sexually active somewhere around 15-17 years old, whether they really wanted to or not, because there’s a lot of pressure. But once it’s done, every single girl talks about it with each other and madly reads women’s magazines so that you can pick up tricks before word gets out that you’re a novice and erotically uneducated. My God, the horror.

So I said to her, “Really, if you don’t have sex in high school, people pressure you and maybe wonder if something’s wrong with you,” which I know is not the case for everyone, as I know a handful of people that waited and there’s nothing wrong with them, but that’s the fear in high school.

red panties

She said, “Oh, it’s same in Korea.” I paused. “Wait wait wait. Same? If you DON”T have sex?” She gaped at me. “No, if a girl has sex in high school and people know, they will have to leave that school. Some girls commit suicide.” My turn to gape. “What?!”

She asked me what it was like to have Sex Ed, and what they actually taught. Kate thinks it would be good to have in Korea, but can’t see that happening really soon. I told her that my Sex Ed was a joke, we learned everything from Cosmo. She was interested to learn some of the tricks. I think I’m going to get her a subscription right before I leave so her husband can really think I’m a bad influence. But by then, it’ll be from afar. She also just ordered her first pair of red panties online, and I swear I had nothing to do with that.

Just Plain Uncomfortable


Today. Class 6B, from the “Paris” storybook, Lesson 5.  A seemingly innocent unscramble activity goes awry.

And also against my moral compass.

#1. The answer is “associate”.

The pictured example suggesting, “When I see black people, I associate them with monkeys!”


Eurwang-ni Beach

The weather’s been a little strange lately. I’ve been told by various cab drivers that we’ve hit the rainy or “monsoon” season, but mostly it’s just a weird mix of erratic rain showers and overall gray cloudiness. I prefer extremes and would like either bright sunshine or dramatic thunder storms, so it’s been throwing me off. Basically, I’ve been watching a lot of old movies and spent a lot of quality time being completely lazy.

bathing suits= not socially acceptable. However, there was a bit of sun last weekend, so in my fever I committed myself to finding a beach. I’ve been wanting to explore Incheon a little more, so I got on the (multiple) train(s) and got off at the airport. I knew the beach wasn’t that far away and there had to be a way to get there.After finding out that a cab was W40,000, I wandered around and eventually asked Information about the buses that run to the most touristy beach, Eurwang-ni. The bus only cost W1,000, so I was psyched.

After passing through what is basically still countryside, my bus driver signaled that I should get off since he’d been looking out for me. (What a nice guy!) I followed the crowd onto the beach and plunked myself down on a towel and people-watched while listening to my I-Pod. I was lazily conjecturing why everyone was fully dressed with not a bathing suit in sight when a teenage girl came up to me. She roughly explained that she had lost a bet and could she listen to my I-Pod with me for 10 seconds? I said, “Sure,” and she and I enjoyed a little of The Format until she put her thumb up, said, “Good song,” and thanked me before running away again.

hermaphrodite sand(wo)man

The Koreans nearby were a little curious about me, with one small boy standing directly in front of me and yelling “hello!” like I might be slightly deaf while I contented myself watching the group of teens in front of me. They had chosen one sacrificial lamb to bury in the sand until he couldn’t move. They began sculpting him a new sand body, and I have to admit, he can’t be wanting now. He’s got….well, everything anybody could ever need, anatomically. When I asked to take a  picture they laughed hysterically and said, “Yes, yes!” while their friend reclined miserably in the dirt. I told him to say “kimchi!” which caused his friends to fall back into more laughter, and he cringed in embarassment. Awwww, cute.

I walked through the surf for a little bit and followed the shoreline over to a rocky jetty where people were picking through the shells and mussels or whatever it is that attaches itself to ocean rocks. (I’ve never entertained the idea of becoming a marine biologist. Shocking, I know.)

After a while of maneovering through the high edges to find footing, I looked up to find myself on a completely different beach which was much quieter and smaller than the one I had left. A Korean woman started yelling to me, which led me to believe I may have been trespassing on private property, which seemed to be even more the case when I had to step through a gated fence to get back out.


What I like about Incheon is that it is actually an island of extremes. On one side of the road is the beach, and the other side is farmland which looks like it hasn’t changed in the past 100 years. It’s really beautiful and sparsely populated once you get away from the tourist section. The farmers stopped to watch me walk past, mouths hanging open as I stopped here and there to take pictures of their rice paddies or goat farms.

In a somewhat related note, one of the girls in my school is originally from Thailand. Her English name is Pam, but her younger sister is named Incheon. My co-workers think it’s the best thing they’ve ever heard.