A Travellerspoint blog

Chosun University Rose Festival 23. May. 15


To Alexis' family, and whoever else it may concern; I never promised her a rose garden... But, I did take her to one!


The annual Rose Festival takes place at the beautiful Chosun University. For the majority of the year the rose garden is a quiet place for students to study, rest, or meet up with friends. However, for a couple weeks every summer, families and couples come out in droves to see the roses. The garden contains over 150 different varieties of roses. We wanted to share a few pictures of our favorites.


Alexis taking time to smell the roses, with the university visible behind her.




A rose amongst the roses!


Another shot with the university in the background.


On our way out, we noticed a tree perfect for a photo.


We spent the rest of the day walking around downtown Gwangju. We got dinner, then were headed home when we noticed lotus lanterns still decorating a temple. The decorations remained after the celebration of Buddha's birthday.



Posted by Jason Willis 04:05 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Seoul. Buddha's Birthday Weekend May 2015


We made the four hour trek to Seoul, primarily, for the Lotus Lantern Festival. It's an annual event held in honor of Buddha's birth. In the weeks leading up to the event, lotus-shaped lanterns are hung throughout the city.

Still, our plan for Seoul involved more than simply attending the festivities. After dropping off our luggage, we took the subway to Itaewon, a unique place in Seoul where one can meet people from every corner of the world. Unique flavors, exotic interiors, and diverse nationalities help to make Itaewon ‘the global village in Seoul.’




After getting reacquainted with the neighborhood, we made our way toward some lunch. But, first, we always have time for a couple photos in front of this mass of kimchi pots. The family that owns the little shop is extremely friendly. They have a wide assortment of functional and decorative pottery. We're sure that they move some product, but they've got so much inventory it's impossible to notice.



We heard tale of one of the best burger joints in Seoul; 'Jacoby's Burger.' It's located just outside Itaewon, and is home to some awesome burgers! We couldn't resist...


The beast of the bunch is the 'Double Gut Buster.' We were eager to see what this thing was made of... Looking at the menu, we see that the burger is priced at ‎₩45,000, which is almost $40. That's a bit pricy, and a lot to eat, for the two of us. But, we agreed that we may not get another chance, so we elected to get it. I called the waiter over, and told him what we wanted. He replied, "No." He told me that the 'Double' is typically consumed by four to five people, that what we wanted was the original 'Gut Buster.' He let us talk it over, while he attended to other guests. Well, we had already set our minds on it, so we called him back over and re-ordered it. He said, "Okay," and walked away leaving us to game-plan.... Then it came!


There are two sides to every story. In this case they are very different accounts. If you ask me, you might hear that someone wasn't pulling their weight. Maybe this person filled up on water, before and after dinner, 'cause "I was thirsty." I may tell you that my wife wasn't fully committed to the challenge at hand... On the flip side, you may hear Alexis tell you that I was acting like an "embarrassing, spaz-tastic, lunatic that had never seen food before."

Regardless of whose story you hear, or believe, Alexis and I will both tell you that we crushed the 'Double Gut Buster!' We devoured that skewered tower of a burger that included: a rosemary & garlic beef patty, a red bean patty, a grilled chicken breast, a fried fish fillet, three sausages, a fried egg, bacon, hash browns, pineapple, salami, chili, four cheeses, lettuce/tomato/onion, honey mustard, tarter sauce, & Jacoby's sauce, with cheese fries & cheese sticks on the side.


...And, to be honest, I didn't feel as disgusted as I thought I would.

After lunch we took a long walk, and a short subway ride, toward the Seoul Tower. It was our intention to see Seoul from the observation deck located at top of the tower. However, after paying the ₩17,000 (almost $15) for the round-trip cable car to the base of the tower, we opted to save the ₩40,000 ($34) it would have cost to reach the observatory. Our research had led us to believe that it was more affordable, but, for whatever reason, tickets were ₩20,000 a piece. So, we were content with the view from the base of the tower.


They sell "locks of love" on site. But, like us, many bring their own. We hung our lock - with our names & wedding date, took some pictures, and started to make our way to the parade.



We posted up near the Jongno Tower, not too far from our hostel. It's a great landmark, and helps us keep our bearing. Below are a just a few pictures from the parade. *Later on, the lantern floats were on display, and made for better pictures.





"Hey, I want in on the action!"


The lanterns are meticulously crafted using hanji, traditional handmade Korean paper. Each lantern tells its own story with its warm, cheerful light. The most significant of all is the Jangeumdang, this large pagoda lantern, that symbolizes Buddhism and Buddha's birth, stationed at the Seoul Plaza.


Now, here are our favorite lantern floats from the parade.











Another great location to view the lanterns is along Cheonggyecheon stream, which runs through downtown. There are several displays set up along both sides of the stream, making it ideal for a late-night, hand-holding stroll. And, that's exactly how we wrapped up our Saturday night. Or, more accurately, early Sunday morning.








We started Sunday with a walk around downtown. It gave me time to take some photos of a few of my favorite things; urban art & manhole covers!






I also like funny shirts involving English. I don't know if this girl is an artist, or the manufacturers simply spelled 'college' wrong. Either way, it made me smile.


We enjoyed some sightseeing prior to Sunday's closing ceremonies. We spent a good portion of the afternoon at Gyeongbokgung, the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty. The palace was built in the 14th century. It was almost fully destroyed by fire in the following centuries, most recently during the Japanese occupation. As of today, a fraction of the original palace has been rebuilt, and the restoration continues. Below are our favorite photos of the day.












We made our way back toward Jogyesa, the most famous temple inside the city of Seoul. The festival was to conclude here, and it's right around the corner from our place. We took some pictures with the 500 year old Locust tree and the lotus lanterns strung around.




As it got dark, we photographed a few more decorations and lanterns.



Yeondeungnori, the grand finale of the festival, features a mini lantern parade around Insa-dong, accompanied by the Lotus Lantern Performance Groups. A joyful conclusion to a festival full of energy and harmony. *Insa-dong is an old neighborhood consisting of a network of alleyways. Within its maze are art galleries, traditional restaurants, traditional teahouses, and cafes.

Hoehyang Hanmadang, or the Post-Parade Celebration, was scheduled to happen Saturday, following the main parade. However, resulting in a lot of confusion, it was rescheduled for Sunday night. Immediately after the mini lantern parade, Buddhist entertainers put on a show and the audience got into the act, dancing hand in hand. Typically called the ‘Flower Party’ by foreigners, it's a joyful scene with confetti flower petals raining from the sky.




  • **Incidentally, since you've made it to the end of this blog entry, if you want to know the truth... I absolutely acted like a fiend, while feasting on the 'Double Gut Buster!' Nevertheless, I did what had to be done. I didn't want the waiter to give me an I-told-you-so look.

Posted by Jason Willis 05:59 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Bamboo, Sosaewon Garden, & Temples 10.May.15

Alexis and I were told, by multiple people, that if we wanted to enjoy a peaceful, tranquil, natural spot we should visit Sosaewon. We were excited to head out to Damyang, which is a neighboring county known for its bamboo, nature, and history... We had an interesting bus ride, failing to get off at the correct stop. Yet, we were so close to the end of the line we decided to ride it out, since we'd be waiting on the same bus to return for us anyway. The driver was cool, he didn't charge us another fare. And, after smoking a cigarette, he made sure we knew when to get off the bus. Surely he thought "stupid foreigners".


Sosaewon is a public garden, built in the 16th century, where the beauty of traditional Korea is maintained. It was built by Yang San-Bo, after he gave up his ambition for fame and power when his mentor Jo Gwang-Jo was killed. Sosaewon means "clean and transparent garden between the bamboo grove", and it was meant to gather together righteous men of Anbinnakdo (being content amid poverty and taking pleasure in acting honestly).



As far as Sosaewon goes we were a bit unimpressed. However beautiful, it's relatively small, and was swarming with families and adolescents trying to be heard over the crowd. We were planning a quiet stroll through a park more than four centuries old. Instead, we were trying to escape the hubbub relocated from the city. *Maybe a Saturday visit was our fault.


It looks as though "Billy loves Suzy" the world over!


We did enjoy a more inactive creek side area. We loved how the wall was built to allow water to flow through it.



We pushed farther and further from the crowd, and continued on a less traveled path, 'cause we enjoyed the peace. It ended in a cemetery with a beautiful view of the mountains. We decided to have our picnic lunch, cut short our visit, and see what else we could get into.


On the way to Sosaewon we had passed a sign for Wonhyo Temple. We decided that, for the remainder of the day, we'd search for and explore the temple. We hopped back on the bus and returned to the sign. From there we had to walk. We didn’t know how far it was, but we knew we were headed in the right direction. The road was pretty dangerous to walk along. For the most part, there was no shoulder to speak of. We pounded the pavement for too long, it ended up being about two miles. Alexis thought that every curve would be our last. Not because we'd reach the temple, but because we'd be flattened by the next Hyundai or Kia that rounded the bend.


Our walk took us past this massive boulder, with Chinese characters chiseled into the side.


Korean Buddhist temples are often nestled deep in mountainous regions, and set near the natural beauty of rivers, valleys, or the sea. Their locations offer a great refuge for those seeking peace of mind or a quiet place to meditate. Gwaneumsa is such a temple erected at one of the coolest locations I've seen. It's built on a rocky mountainside with many Buddhas carved, or etched, directly into the rock. Below are a few pictures of the temple surroundings.





Wonhyosa is one of the favorite temples, and points of interest, in Mudeungsan National Park. With the remaining pictures, I'll try to relay the scene on that particular day. *The Lotus lanterns are on display in preparation for Buddha's birthday.










The walk was worth it, and we were glad that we didn't know where Wonhyosa was located. As a result, we discovered the more charming site encompassing Gwaneumsa.

Posted by Jason Willis 05:23 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Japan May 2015

View Tennessee to Gwangju on Jason Willis's travel map.

Alexis and I took advantage of our close proximity to Japan, and we traveled to Kyushu - the southernmost island. We have many pictures of our excursion around the island. So, I'll leave the majority of the story to be told via the snapshots. However, for a brief overview, our trek started on a ferry ride from Busan, South Korea to Fukuoka, Japan. From there we set off to the Takachiho Gorge, meandered around Mount Aso, visited a 300 year old Wisteria garden, and toured Nagasaki. It didn't leave too much time to rest. But, there'll be plenty of time for that when we're older and grayer. We hope you enjoy the photographic documentation!


Old meets new.



Below is the setting sun behind the Fukuoka Tower.



Foldin' money!



Alexis with Kumamon - Kumamoto's mascot!

My Japanese wish list consisted of one location; Takachiho. Takachiho is not the most convenient locale to reach, especially if you don't speak the language. *We did learn basic phrases and made an effort. We traveled by rail to Kumamoto, then took a bus the remaining 50 miles. The Takachiho Gorge is definitely a must see for nature lovers. Not easy to reach, still worth the journey. It actually may help preserve the ambiance of the destination. Even though Takachiho is a popular tourist spot, it's not your typical "tourist trap". It has a warm and mystical feel to it.




Located a short hike or cab ride away, we opted for the former, is the Takachiho Shrine. It is nestled in an old growth Cedar grove. I don't care what continent I'm on, I love me some big @** trees!




Above is an awesome little guy we met at the shrine! Below are some random photos near the shrine, and in Takachiho.






Shown above is a property that Alexis loved. And, below, are a couple of my favorite things to photograph!



On the bus ride to Takachiho we met a lovely couple, on vacation themselves. We talked on the bus, shared a cab to the gorge, and ended up staying at their hotel that night. Every evening there is a performance at the shrine, guess who Alexis and I went with! Below is a picture of our gang, followed by some images of our hotel. *Long story short; we ended up sharing the bath house with them later. But, that's another story.






Following Takachiho, Alexis and I took the scenic train around Mount Aso - the largest active volcano in Japan. And, among the largest in the world. Due to the cloudy weather - we couldn't see much, but we enjoyed the train ride.



During a pit-stop to change trains, we took some pictures near the station and photographed some delicious ramen. I'm partial to Korean ramen, but this was the tastiest I had during our trip to Japan!



My wife is so funny. She said this guy had the 'Sad Cow Disease'.


Now, on to the high-speed Shinkansen!


Atop Alexis' wish list was the 300 year-old Kawachi Wisteria Garden. The rain meant that the place wasn't teeming with tourists. It was a mud pit, and we had only one umbrella. However, Alexis was a trooper, took one for the team, and got muddy! The Wisteria definitely gives the Cherry blossoms a run for their money.








Nagasaki, Japan was another of Alexis' must-sees. And, I must admit, I'm very glad she's the boss.

We visited The Peace Park, which was built almost on top of 'ground zero'.



Below are some random Nagasaki stills.



Probably the eeriest site we viewed in Nagasaki was the Urakami Cathedral. Located just a half-kilometer from the blast, the cathedral was devastated. Below are a couple photos of the ruins, with the rebuilt cathedral in the background.




Hashima or Gunkanjima is a small island located about 20 kilometers from Nagasaki Port. Until 1974, the island served as a coal mine, and more than 5000 residents called the 480 meter long, 150 meter wide island home, resulting in the highest population density in recorded history.

To accommodate so many people in such a small area, every piece of land was built up so that the island came to resemble a massive battleship. In fact, "Gunkanjima" is a nickname that means "battleship island" in Japanese.

Managers, workers and their families all called the little island home. The residents of the island led pretty typical lives. Half of the island was devoted to the workings of the mine, the other to residential space, schools, restaurants, shops, a public bath, and a hospital.

Alexis and I took the 45 minute boat ride out to Hashima. Normally, I enjoy sunny skies when on the water, but the ominous weather added to the spooky feel of the long deserted island. *You may recognize it from the 2012 James Bond film 'Skyfall'.




I love these fish, wind sock, thingy-majiggers!


To round out our time in Nagasaki, we took the cable car up to the top of Mount Inasa. Touted as one of the best night-time city views in the world, our pictures do it no justice.





Back aboard the high-speed train to end our trip where it started, in Fukuoka. Kushida Shrine was built in 757AD. It was destroyed by fire, and rebuilt in 1587.


...and what else?!..


Before ferrying back across the Korea Strait we took a final 20 minute train ride to Sasaguri. There, we checked off my final sight-seeing wish for our trip to Japan, Nanzoin Temple. There you will find, possibly, the world's biggest bronze statue. It is certainly the biggest bronze Reclining Buddha statue.

Its dimensions are impressive, 41 meters (135 feet) in length, 11 meters (36 feet) in height, and weighing in at 300 tons (about the weight of a jumbo jet).






I even got Alexis to lie down and pose for me!


We hope you enjoyed the excessive amount of photographs. Maybe it will inspire you to visit Japan. On the other hand, if you don't make the journey, maybe seeing it through our eyes is enough!

Posted by Jason Willis 21:43 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Mudeungsan Overnight Trip 25.Apr.15

Camping at Seoseokdae



After spending forty years as a Provincial Park, Mudeungsan was designated Korea's 21st National Park on March 4, 2013.

Mountains are regarded very highly by Koreans, including many people who believe them to be sacred. Mudeungsan Mountain is no exception. Locals once worshiped Cheonwangbong Peak as it was considered a mountain of God. Fittingly, two of the "Jewels of Mudeungsan" are found here. Seoseokdae and Ipseokdae formed about 70 million years ago, as a result of rapidly cooling lava. The duo is part of the Jusangjeolli Cliffs, rock pillars of various hexagonal shapes that seem as if they were hand carved. Ipseokdae is a distinct pillar shape as it has been heavily weathered, and Seoseokdae, which has been less weathered, looks like a folding screen. The pair have been designated Natural Monuments due to their rarity and uniqueness.

Our first round-trip to Seoseokdae

As a result of our snowed out attempt at an early morning, mountain-peak, New Year's, sunrise hike - we decided on an overnight trip near Cheonwangbong Peak. The weather had finally turned warm. Temperatures in the city had been reaching the eighties. Also, this specific night, the low was only forecasted to dip to forty-eight degrees.

We returned and purchased the surprisingly affordable, colorful, teepee style tent we had previously seen at Lotte Mart. We made a few peanut butter & jellies, grabbed some oranges, and packed extremely light. I didn't want to overload our pack, we already had the not-so-hiking-friendly-tent in tow. Two liters of water, a camera, plus Alexis' iPhone & selfie stick should be all we need. I also, reluctantly, packed a fleece throw blanket, that my princess had to have. I convinced her that too many extra clothes were unnecessary, and that mine would double as pillows. After all, we were going to be hot from the 3,500 foot climb to Seoseokdae. The plan was to enjoy the climb, view the sunset, sleep peacefully, then witness the beautiful sunrise.

The ascent to Seoseokdae can be done with relative quickness, two to three hours. However, we zigged where we should've zagged, took breathers, and soaked up the vistas along the way. The trek totaled five hours for us. And, from the beginning, we had to ration the water we brought with us. But, the views were amazing and worth it!




Seoseokdae, shown below




We set up our tent on the Seoseokdae observatory deck, surely we would be the only two on the mountain overnight. While setting up, we realize that the tent flaps don't zip along the bottom. This is one of the shade tents that Koreans use for park picnics! Oh well, we really didn't even need the tent. We could sleep under the stars, if we had sleeping bags.


As soon as the sun went down the temperature plummeted. During my haste and excitement while planning, I failed to think about the impact of the 3,500 foot elevation difference. Forty-eight degrees in the city meant a great deal colder on the mountain. Especially, coupled with the breeze flowing through the open tent flaps. We wore every stitch of clothing we brought, meaning we had no pillows. We even wore our extra socks, in the place of mittens, on our hands. Sleeping was going to be a hard task.

One of us managed to fall asleep for ten minutes, or so... About that time, Alexis woke me with a startle. In my groggy state, I heard someone and waited to be evicted from our campsite in Korean. However, as I gained clarity, I realized there were no footsteps. It sounded like a medium to large sized animal walking about, directly under the observatory deck! I made a quick, mental note of potential weapons in our tent. A near empty water bottle and a selfie stick were all that I came up with. So, after removing Alexis' iPhone from her selfie stick, I started making my way outside. Luckily, the creature, whatever it may have been, was just as scared as I was and fled before I had to encounter it. I'm glad it didn't want to fight me for Alexis or the uneaten peanut butter & jellies. I have a feeling the selfie stick would not have held up!

The rest of the night was spent trying to maintain our core body temperatures and listening for sounds of a return visit. It was an uncomfortable and sleepless night. If the party planner had brought a flashlight we probably would have hiked off the mountain.


We've survived the cold, the wildlife, and my ignorance!


Waitin' on the warmth of the sunrise.



Alexis was glad she made me pack the throw blanket!


Ipseokdae, shown above. Thirty pillars (30 - 60 ft. in height) spread to the east and west. Also seen here, at the base of the rocks you may notice a mounded tomb. Must have been pretty important to be carried up and buried at this site.


On the way back down to Gwangju we enjoyed the daylight, took pictures of the city, and enjoyed a big ol' tree.





At the base of the mountain are several famous temples including Jeungsimsa, with the main hall pictured below.





We enjoyed the adventure and the scenery. Next time I think I'll err on the side of caution, rather than comfort.

Posted by Jason Willis 07:12 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival 4.Apr.15

rain 56 °F

Jinhae, South Korea hosts the largest annual Cherry Blossom festival in Korea. The festival lasts for ten days, and during that time, up to two million people visit the city. We decided to go and add two more people to the mix.


Jinhae is home to the only US naval base in South Korea. For similar reasons, throughout the Japanese occupation it was home to the Imperial Navy. It was during that time that numerous Cherry trees were planted across the city. It is estimated that there are roughly 340,000 trees lining the city streets and the surrounding mountains.

Our Saturday started super early. We purchased bus tickets in advance, ‘cause seats were sellin’ out fast. Luckily, we planned ahead. We heard, later on, that people were turned away with no seats. We had to travel to Masan, then catch another bus into Jinhae. The trip should have taken four and a half hours, but with the heavy festival traffic it took over five… We entered Jinhae and immediately saw the festivities goin’ on. We wanted to hop off the bus and start doing our own thing. Alas, we had to wait through the grid-locked traffic, until our arrival at the Jinhae bus station.

We knew, with the forecasted rain, that we had limited time to see as much as possible. We made the right call to immediately visit the hilltop Jaehwangsan Park. At the center of the park sits the nine-story Jinhae Tower. Since that is the best view of the city and the sea, we wanted to make it there before the clouds rolled in. There are exactly 365 steps leading up to the base of the tower.


The stairs allow people time to reflect on the past year, take selfies, or pose with the decorations set-up along the way.

For those not in the mood for stairs, there is also a monorail leading to the top of the park.

Once you make it to the tower there are nine more flights of stairs to ascend. Or, you can wait in another long line for the elevator. After the 365 steps up to the tower, we opted for the time-saving, additional short climb to the top. What a beautiful view! It’s hard to beat a city view that includes the sea, mountains, and Cherry blossoms at their peak.



Heading back down there is a not-so-politically-correct monorail instruction marked on the walkway. IMG_7278_2.jpg

Again, trying to maximize our viewing splendor, before the ensuing rainstorm, we hastily made our way toward the Gyeonghwa Station. It’s one of the most photographed locations during the short-lived Cherry blossoms.


After a brief, yet informative, conversation with a nice older lady, we realized that, logistically, it made more sense to first see the nearby Yeojwacheon Stream. Then, head to the famous train station. So, we made a u-turn and went to the stream. Again, that was the right call.


The Yeojwacheon Stream is lined with Cherry trees and boardwalks on both sides, with little footbridges crossing every hundred meters, or so. Vendors lined the boardwalks selling all different types of food and art.



These areas were very crowded and full of tourtists, so we went down to the stream. There were still plenty of festival goers, but we didn’t have to fight our way through the hordes of people.






Everywhere you looked there were couples taking selfies. We took our share…



There were different decorations along the length of the stream. Our favorite was the umbrella display. *The photograph can be found above, as it's the entry's main photo.


…Now, on to the famous Gyeonghwa Station. From our previous conversation, with the nice older Korean gal, we knew what bus would take us to the station. We arrived at the bus stop to see that the #307 bus was due to arrive in eight minutes. We waited ten, then twenty, then thirty minutes for the traffic to creep by… No bus. That’s when “the bottom fell out”. It started raining "cats and dogs"! Alexis used our sole umbrella, while I tested my cheap, new, 'Extreme Team' rain jacket. (Epic fail, by the way.) We opted to scratch the station and head back to the festival center. There, we found shelter at a food vendor and enjoyed some delicious barbecue.



During full bloom, every small gust of wind makes the petals rain down and swirl in the streets like dancing snowflakes. Or, during heavy rain, falling raindrops make the petals fall rapidly and cover everything in sight!

The clouds darkened the sky and it continued to rain. We decided we’d seen enough, and made our way to the bus station. There was a humongous amount of people that had done the same. Like us, they were all trying to get home. We waited in line at the ticket counter for thirty minutes just to get our tickets. Directly after, we spent five minutes just locating the end of the line. We were shell shocked. We’d never seen such an epic line in our lives. It snaked this way, and that way, around two large parking lots. It was amazing. The video below captures the scene. We ended up standing in this line for two and a half hours, in the rain! I said to Alexis, “We may get old and suffer from dementia, but we ain’t forgettin’ this!”

We finally got on the bus around 9:30pm. We made the hour long trip to Busan to try and make our way home. No dice. The only bus heading to Gwangju had only one seat available. After being rained on for hours, I told Alexis to take it. I would be on the first bus in the morning, six hours behind her. She refused.

Onward, we went in search of a place to shed our wet clothes and get warm. We found a string of motels near the bus terminal. They all shared similar décor including hearts, roses, and neon lights. We got the last vacancy at one of these establishments. It was a really easy transaction, no paperwork, just cash for key. We were also given a welcome package. What a fancy joint… The elevator doors opened to a wall-sized photo of a naked woman. Okay. Then, we open the door to our room and there’s another photo of a couple being intimate!... We’ve checked into a sex motel!

Don’t panic, Jason, we’ll sleep and leave. Don’t touch anything, especially not the ergonomic “love” seat!.. At this point, I was completely soaked. I shed my clothes, took out all our cash, and spread it across the desk to dry. We inspected the contents of the welcome package, and found that it contained condoms. This place just keeps getting better. Alexis was having difficulties accessing the wifi, so she went in search of some assistance. While she was gone I played with the different lighting in our room. I turned off the main light and illuminated the room with the ambient blue and green lighting. I thought it would be funny when Alexis returned. What I didn’t know was that the cleaning lady was coming in to show her how to work the internet. They entered the room, while I hid in the bathroom. Money was spread out all over, lit up with the green lighting. It was hilarious! We’re pretty sure that the woman, who spoke no English, thought Alexis was a “lady of the night.”

We slept great, our clothes dried, and we made it home with a bundle of memories. The only thing I’d do differently, next time, would be take a snorkel and floaties!


*Disclaimer - It turns out that most motels in Korea are exactly the same.

Posted by Jason Willis 11:52 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Gwangju Spring Flower Show 3.Apr.15


We’ve been excited for Spring to bloom since we arrived here, last November. In addition to the Cherry blossoms and the upcoming Azaleas, we enjoy flowers of all colors, shapes, and sizes. (Even when they’re on display inside a huge convention center.)


The Gwangju Spring Flower Show was held at the Kimdaejung Convention Center. The festival displayed 20 different themed gardens including a rose garden, tulip garden, and medicinal herb garden, exhibiting some 20,000 flowers and artworks.


Miniature garden


Traditional Korean dance moves


Alexis purchased a totally cute, traditional Korean shirt from one of the vendors at the show. However, what we really loved was this handmade, natural flower-dyed dress. The material felt almost like burlap, but it’s constructed in a way that enables it to breathe very well. I was getting ready to put on my “poker face”, and start bartering, when the women told us that the sale price was $450. It was marked down from $1,000 for the Flower Show. We carefully took it off, and purchased the previously mentioned shirt.

This particular garden reflects a studio apartment, complete with the car parked in the driveway.



Roses for sale

After the show, I seized a couple more opportunities to take some pictures of my beautiful wife.


Posted by Jason Willis 21:43 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

A Walk In The Park & Chonnam University 1.Apr.15

semi-overcast 63 °F

As the ten day window was opening, Alexis and I were welcoming the Cherry blossoms. They wouldn't peak for a couple more days, but we wanted to lay eyes on as many as possible. We started our walking tour at Sajik Park, then wrapped it up at Chonnam University. The day was a bit overcast, but beautiful, still.







Above: Sajik Park

Below: Chonnam University







Posted by Jason Willis 02:01 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

5.18 Liberty Place 30.Mar.15

'The Gwangju Democratic Movement' ... 'The Gwangju Massacre'

sunny 68 °F

The people of Gwangju are very patriotic, and proud of their history. Alexis and I went in search of some understanding, and we found it here, at 5.18 Liberty Park. The grounds were empty, it was just the two of us. As we entered buildings, motion sensors activated gruesome audio recordings. Our discovery of the events that took place, coupled with Korean recordings (including bone chilling, torture screams), “creeped us out”.

*I like to keep my posts short. However, as this was a huge national and human rights movement, I feel I must elaborate.


This is one of the Korean national flags which covered the corpses, who were sacrificed, in the Gwangju Uprising in May, 1980.

Tens of thousands of students, and other protestors, poured into the streets of Gwangju, in the spring of 1980. They were protesting the state of martial law that had been in force since a coup that previous year, which had brought down the dictator Park Chung-hee and replaced him with military strongman General Chun Doo-hwan.

As the protests spread to other cities, and the protestors raided army depots for weapons, the new president expanded his earlier declaration of martial law. Universities and newspaper offices were shut down, and political activity was banned. In response, the protestors seized control of Gwangju. On May 17, President Chun sent additional army troops to Gwangju, armed with riot gear and live ammunition...


-May 18, 1980:
A deaf, dumb 29-year-old, Kim Gyeong-cheol, became the first fatality. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the soldiers beat him to death.

-May 20:
By this morning, there were more than 10,000 people protesting downtown. That day, the army sent in an additional 3,000 paratroopers. The special forces beat people with clubs, stabbed and mutilated them with bayonets, and threw at least twenty to their deaths from high buildings. The soldiers used tear gas and live ammunition indiscriminately, shooting into the crowds, which included women and children.

Troops shot dead twenty girls at Gwangju's Central High School. Ambulance and cab drivers who tried to take the wounded to hospitals were shot. One-hundred students who sought shelter in the Catholic Center were slaughtered. Captured high school and university students had their hands tied behind them with barbed wire, many were then arbitrarily executed.


-May 21:
The violence in Gwangju escalated to its height. As the soldiers fired round after round into the crowds, protestors broke into police stations and armories, taking rifles, carbines and even two machine guns. Students mounted one of the machine guns on the roof of the university's medical school.

The local police refused further aid to the army. Troops beat some police officers unconscious for attempting to help the injured. It was all-out urban warfare. By 5:30 that evening, the army was forced to retreat from downtown Gwangju, in the face of the furious citizens… The people ruled Gwangju for five days.

-May 27:
At 4:00 in the morning, five divisions of paratroopers moved into Gwangju's downtown. After an hour and a half of desperate fighting, the army seized control of the city, once more.

Census figures reveal that almost 2,000 citizens of Gwangju disappeared during this time period. Eyewitnesses tell of seeing hundreds of bodies dumped in several mass graves on the outskirts of the city. There were also many students buried, in unmarked graves, on Chonnam University.


During the May 18th Democratic Uprising this area was a military police compound. Citizens who stood up against the new military dictatorship, to protect their right to democracy, were brought here for detention and trial. This park gives the citizens a tangible place to praise those who defied a dictatorship that pilfered political power from the people. It is also a symbol of Korea’s struggle for human rights, peace, and unity. It is a place where generations to come will remember the determination and sacrifice of those who fought for democracy in Korea.




Investigators inflicted brutal beatings on the detainees to induce feelings of helplessness and vulnerability. The captives made coerced and false confessions in fear that they also would be beaten like those in adjoining rooms. Groans and screams emanated from other chambers terrifying those imprisoned. Pickaxes, ice picks, and other sharp objects were placed on the table during the investigations to threaten those under interrogation.


The mess hall was used, following the May 18th Democratic Uprising, as a temporary interrogation room, where those arrested were investigated and tortured.



Cells were jam-packed, 150 men to a bay, where detainees were forced to sit still and upright, from 6am – 10pm. If they moved slightly, or disobeyed, they were tied to iron bars and beaten with clubs. Such brutality was inflicted for hours with no regard for age. Often, victims were hung upside down during the beatings.


The military court was built in August, 1980 to hold trials for those arrested during the May 18th Democratic Uprising. Fearing that the facts of the uprising would become known to the public, the military dictatorship built its own venue. Trials for 421 people were held here. No one received a fair trial because the judges and prosecutors were all soldiers. Armed military police were present in the court, terrifying citizens. Those arrested strongly and defiantly protested against the military trials by singing the national anthem. All defendants were sentenced to death, or life imprisonment, following indictment.


In the aftermath of the horrific Gwangju Massacre, the administration of General Chun lost most of its legitimacy in the eyes of the Korean people. Pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the 1980s cited the Gwangju Massacre, and demanded that the perpetrators face punishment.

General Chun held on as president until 1988, when under intense pressure, he allowed democratic elections. Kim Dae-Jung, the politician from Gwangju who had been sentenced to death on charges of inciting the rebellion, received a pardon and ran for president. He did not win, but would later serve as president from 1998 to 2003, and went on to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.

Former President Chun himself was sentenced to death in 1996 for corruption, and for his role in the Gwangju Massacre. With the tables turned, President Kim Dae-jung commuted his sentence when he assumed office in 1998. *I assume he did so in the name of peace.

Recent history has proven that The Gwangju Democratic Uprising was a victory, not a defeat, and that the people who lost their lives in Gwangju did not give their lives in vain. Now, they are heroes. Although the Gwangju Democratic Uprising seemed to end in failure, that failure became an inspiration for The Democratic Consciousness that fueled opposition to the dictatorship of the 1980s.

In 1993, on May 13th, with the start of a civilian government, President Kim Young-Sam made clear his position on The Gwangju Democratic Uprising in a speech: “The bloodshed of Gwangju in May, 1980 is the cornerstone of this country's democracy. Its victims dedicated their lives to democracy.”

The Gwangju people rose against a military government, which had originally appeared on the scene through a military coup on May 16, 1961. That coup denied the spirit of the April 19th Democratic Revolution of 1960, and established an oppressive system of government.

The Gwangju Democratic Uprising should not be considered a painful, frustrated chapter of an age, but should be placed in the modern history of this country as the starting point of Democratization. It should go down in Korea's national history, and national consciousness, as an inspiring stand for human freedom and dignity.

Posted by Jason Willis 08:49 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Sunday In The Park 29.Mar.15

sunny 67 °F

Jungoe Park may be the largest city park in Gwangju. We are very lucky that it’s just a short bicycle ride from our apartment, less than five minutes. It contains a large walking loop, hiking trails, two sizable ponds, tennis courts, badminton, basketball, and an amusement park. Plus, it is also the location of The Gwangju Folk Museum and the Biennale Museum, which hosts the international contemporary art exhibition that takes place once every two years. Families flock to the park on beautiful days to play, picnic, hike, and fly kites. Alexis and I spent our first visit exploring every little bit of it.











A view from the twisty and tumbly ride.



That ain't comin' out!

Posted by Jason Willis 18:33 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

An Evening At The Daein Art Night Market 28.Mar.15

60 °F

The Daein Market is a large, traditional, open-air market (complete with awning) containing hundreds of stores.

The Daein Art Night Market is held one weekend a month, on Friday and Saturday from 7:30 to midnight. *And, twice a month during the summer. There are art exhibits from artists residing in the market, where visitors can purchase unique works of art. In the center of the market, citizens of Gwangju set up and sell hand-made products, food, and second-hand goods. Market-goers browse the crafts and artworks, sample the good food, enjoy live music, and take part in various cultural programs. The night market is like a small festival in the city.









The little ones may get tired, but the show must go on!






Alexis wanted to craft one of these little nut creatures. Which was fine with me, 'cause I got to eat his insides during creation!

Posted by Jason Willis 03:48 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Traditional Korean Music 28.Mar.15

Alexis and I attended a traditional Korean music recital. It was our favorite cultural experience to date. The musical instruments included a Janggu (double-headed hourglass-shaped drum), a Daegeum (large bamboo flute), and centered around women playing Gayageums (multi-stringed zithers). *[The word zither is a German rendering of the Latin word cithara, from which the modern word guitar is also derived.] The ladies wore Hanbok, and their vocals accompanied the play of the Gayageum.

Below are five photos, followed by two short videos. It was a packed house, and the seating was on the floor. So, I did my best. Enjoy!






Posted by Jason Willis 03:01 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

A Walk Around Our Neighborhood 20.Mar.15

sunny 68 °F

Last Friday was a beautiful day, here in Maegok-dong, Gwangju. Alexis and I went for a walk around town, before she had to be at work that afternoon. We wanted to capture some of the typical sights seen on our streets.


The tailgating you see here is one of the many “mobile” fry shacks serving up delicious on-the-go snacks around our neighborhood, and all over Gwangju, too. Most don’t move, and some couldn’t with a rollback! All of the produce, clothing, flowers, and seafood seen here were located along what we’ve termed “restaurant road”. It’s the main thoroughfare in our small little community.




9C9EAE25DA569D078DF3D08FB6A25F5B.jpg IMG_5410_2.jpg

IMG_5397_2.jpg IMG_5396_2.jpg





And, you may notice that Alexis isn’t browsing through a designer boutique, but a series of E-Z UPs on the sidewalk. That’s one way to increase foot traffic in your shop.


As spring is here, we also snapped some photos of the bright, emerging color. And, the honey bees already hard at work.





For those that have heard us describe our humble abode, we wanted to share a photo of our "villa overlooking an ancient vineyard”. Now, you know the reason for the chuckles, all 184 sq.ft. of them!


Posted by Jason Willis 11:20 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Spring Has Sprung! 8.Mar.15

sunny 72 °F

It had been too chilly to mosey around without a destination. So, with the beautiful weather, we decided to check out the river walk and anything else that caught our fancy.


I’ll do almost anything for a good picture!



I’m a huge fan of graffiti and murals.


I think Alexis wanted to prove that I’m getting old, and need a nose trimmer.

In the middle of a commercial and residential area we came across a one hundred year old Buddhist temple.




The swastika is an ancient symbol found worldwide. It’s been used by (but not limited to) Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Native Americans, Hindus, and Buddhists. The swastika's name comes from the Sanskrit word svasti, meaning good fortune, luck, and well being. We, in the west, see it differently, after it was adopted by the Nazi party in 1935.


How cool is this storefront?



More graffiti.




We made it down to the river walk. What a beautiful day!




I guess this fella was waitin’ on lunch.


“What are we lookin’ at, you fowl creatures?”


This is great... Hydroelectricity powers the lights in this stepping stone bridge.


I think I got a good picture.

Alexis and her friend think so, too.



Sometimes I like taking pictures of other people taking pictures.

Back to the street.


One of my favorite things to photograph is a unique manhole cover.



Christianity and Buddhism are the two big religions here in South Korea.


This monument was created to honor the students that started the Gwangju Student Independence Movement in 1929. Students in Gwangju went on strike and marched through the city demanding national independence.



Hanbok – Ancestral Korean clothes, worn as semi-formal or formal wear during traditional festivals and celebrations.



I’m a big fan of the street food here in Korea, especially when it’s a Belgian waffle with Nutella, chocolate, or ice cream sandwiched inside!



Selfies are the thing here. Bong means stick, so this is a telescoping “smart stick”, made for smart phones, to aid in taking the perfect selfie.


… We bought one!

Posted by Jason Willis 20:57 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

Mudeungsan National Park 7.Mar.15

Hiking with Hye-Rim

sunny 63 °F

After the wedding I got us lost.

We were supposed to, quickly and easily, swing by Kahve Hane coffee shop, and pick up our friend before heading to Mudeungsan Mountain. It didn't play out exactly that way.

Short story long, getting into a taxi when you don't speak the language, you don't have a destination address, and the one landmark you know is, unbeknownst to you, one of two - and you're at the wrong one - is not the way to be punctual in a city of 1.2 million people. (Okay, maybe not too long a story, but definitely a run-on sentence!) I should also mention that Alexis was cryin' laughin' as the taxi driver drove the opposite direction from where we thought we were headed.

So, following the taxi ride, two separate bus rides, and a lot of pavement under our feet we arrived at the coffee shop an hour and a half late. After explaining to our good friend Hye-Rim why we were late we made our way to the park.

Map of Mudeungsan National Park

Map of Mudeungsan National Park

Making our way up to the trailheads we passed a restroom and a boot cleaning station. The latter is the oddest, but most sensical thing I've seen near a heavily traveled hiking locale.


Now, in typical Korean fashion hikers wear the latest gear, matching outfits from the hat to the boots. They normally carry hiking poles and packs, also. But, we, on the other hand, came straight from a wedding and kidnapped Hye-Rim from her coffee shop. We were gettin' some funny looks, not to mention we're foreigners.


Our good friend Hye-Rim

Our good friend Hye-Rim

We took some pictures here and there, at a cute little bridge. Then, noticed some steep, stone steps ascending the mountain. We had no real intention of trekking too far, but we started to climb, nonetheless.


Decked out hikers were comin' down the trail in hordes, wearing bewildered smiles on their faces at the sight of our group. So, I took some pictures. After all, I'm just some crazy white guy, right?

The point of no return was a sign indicating that we were 1/3 of the way to this particular vista. So, we pushed on. Secretly, I was just getting a kick out of thinking what was going through everyone's head as they witnessed us hiking!


Some of us are mature, while some of us are not...


We spent some time soaking in the scenery, catching our breath, and makin' plans to come back.


We made our way back down toward the park entrance.


Alexis and I then find out that Hye-Rim has only eaten a smoothie all day. She's famished! On to the "temple food" buffet. *Monks eat vegetarian. And, I don't know if this buffet is operated by monks, but people call it temple food.


Paper lantern pagoda on the way to the buffet.


Finally, Hye-Rim can eat.

After dinner we made our way back to the coffee shop. It was a good day. Excellent weather, wonderful company, and delicious food. I capped the day off with a tasty and beautiful iced café mocha. Thanks, Hye-Rim!


Posted by Jason Willis 08:01 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 15 of 17) Page [1] 2 »