Saturday, September 20, 2008

Chaing Kai Shek Memorial Hall

This is Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. It was constructed after the death of Taiwan's president, Chiang Kai-shek in 1975, in his honor. The building is enormous. It is surrounded by a park on one side, and the National Concert Hall and the National Theater on another side. Inside the hall there is an imense statue of Chiang Kai-shek, but downstairs there is a museum with several exhibit halls including a temporary exhibit hall which was showing a mammoth exhibit while I was there. Admission to most of the halls is free.

A view of the gate at the far end of the park

Chaing Kai-shek in all his glory
Chaing Kai-shek Memorial Hall Station on the MRT is on the red line, one stop from Taipei Main Station.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

To the top of the tallest building in the world: Taipei 101

What's a trip to Taipei without seeing the world's tallest building (for the moment). I suppose it's a good thing I went to Taipei when I did... in another year it will not be able to hold the title of the worlds tallest building. The Burj Dubai, in Dubai, has already reached 160 floors, but it is still not completed, so it has not yet been declared the world's largest building. If you want to read a crazy article, check out the Wikipedia article for the Burj Dubai. But... I digress.

Taipei 101 is located in the Taipei's new financial district. You can reach it from about a 10 minute walk from City Hall Station or Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall Station.

The architects tried, pretty effectivly, I think, to combine traditional chinese archetecture with a modern design. This photo explains how the building was modeled after bamboo. You can kind of see that, can't you?

This is a damper ball. I'm no physicist, but it basically keeps the building from moving too much in the wind or in the event of an earthquake. This is the biggest damper ball on public display, although most tall buildings have damper balls, though not quite this big.

Well, I am in Asia. Everything has to be cute. So, I guess in order to hype up the damper ball, they created damper babies! This is me with a damper baby. (When I first read it, I though it said diaper baby... its not a diaper baby, its a damper baby. Completely different). They are kind of cute though, huh?

Here is the entrance down at the first floor. The first 5 floors or so is a large shopping area.

Yes, that's Prada and Dior. No I did not do any shopping in this mall. This was just the tip of the iceberg... there was Armani, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana... etc etc etc... for five floors. Why bother even looking? You know the cheapest thing is going to be $500.

Here is a nice aireal view of the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. You kind of feel like you're in an airplane... everything starts to take on that toy-like quality when you're up so high.

A view of Taipei and the mountains in the distance. The two white bridges in the photo are McArthrur 1 and McArthur 2. Yup, really.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Longshan Temple, Taipei City, Taiwan

Longshan Temple is the oldest temple in Taipei. It was constructed in 1738 by settlers from Fujian, China. The temple is an excelent example of traditionl Chinese archetecture, although it has been rebuilt many times over the past three centuries due to earthquakes, fires and bombings. It's surprising how little information I could find out about this temple on the web. Everyone and their brother has posted pictures from their visit, like I have here, but the only other information I was able to find about the temple was that it worships a mixture of Buddhist, Taoist and folk deities. If anyone has more information about this temple, I'd love to know more. The temple has a website, but it's all in Chinese, so I can't read it.

I love all the dragons on the roofs here....

Quick stop by Taipei, Taiwan for the long weekend...

This past weekend was a holiday weekend in Korea. This holiday is Chuseok, basically the Korean thanksgiving. The most important part of the holiday, it seems, is the tradition of bowing to your ancestors. Then of course they is partying and eating and all the rest.

Since I am not Korean, and have no family, I saw no reason not to take the four-day weekend to get out of the country and do some traveling... Me and two friends hopped over to Taipei for the weekend. I'll have to admit, Taiwan was never on my life's must-see list, but it was perfect for a long weekend.

... Or at least would have been... had mother nature not had her say in the matter...

I had jokingly suggested that we might arrive just in time for a nice typhoon, when we booked our tickets right during typhoon season. (Remember... a typhoon is the same as a hurricane, just in the Pacific ocean, instead of the Atlantic). But... I didn't really think it would happen. I figured that if there were a typhoon, all flights would be canceled... but... well... airplanes are surprisingly tough...

Taipei welcomed us with the driving winds and torrential rains of typhoon Sinlaku. It was pretty intimidating, but we did manage to venture out for a little while our first day there. We found the best dumpling place in the city (in my humble opinion) and wondered over to a night market, though not much was open because of the typhoon.

We stayed at the Eight Elephant's Hostel, near Guting Station. This hostel was easily one of the best I've ever stayed in. It was extremely clean, had three individual showers, and two individual bathrooms, and the sinks were outside all the bathrooms (so there's no one waiting in line to use the bathroom while someone is in the shower... if you've ever done hostaling... you know how that works..). The hostel was in a great area, it was a very quiet neighborhood, but we were able to get anywhere on the metro (MRT) in less than half an hour. The only problem was finding the hostal. It's very non-descript, and the only sign someone who wrote the name of the hostal in small letters with a sharpie on the front door. Not really what you keep your eyes out looking for. Especially when you're in torrential rains trying to find your hostel as quickly as possible.

Taipei's metro, which is called the MRT, is quick, efficient, easy to use, and cheap. While they base the fares on distance (like Seoul), it's easy to purchace individual tokens that have the correctt fare programed into them (they are small plastic tokens that must have a computer chip inside). Each token machine has a map of the subway with the price to get to each station from the station you are in. Just throw in your money, it will spit out a token, and you're good to go.

The money was a little difficult to use at first, because it's not easy to caculate the value in USD, which is how I'm used to thinking of prices, of course. $1.00 USD= 32 TWD. So we figured that $100 TWD was about $3 USD. What a headache. But you get used to it fast enough.

Taiwan was very affordable. We ate out three meals a day, bought a few souvenirs, and paid for our entire hostal stay (three nights), for under $200 USD. Our hostal was about $16.00 USD a night (well worth it), and I don't think we ever paid more than $4 USD per person/ per meal. A plate of fried rice was about 90-100 TWD, a plate of 10 pot stickers was about 30 TWD, beef soup was about 120 TWD. Not bad at all.

Anyway, Soon I'll be posting pictures and information about some of the things I did while in Taipei! See you soon!

Monday, September 8, 2008

신기전: Shingijeon or The Divine Weapon, and seeing Korean movies with English subtitles in Seoul

Tonight I headed over to Yongsan Station to see a movie with English subtitles. As far as I know, this is the only theater in the city that shows English subtitled movies. We didn't really know what we were going to see, or any movie times, but we just showed up and hoped for the best. We picked the first movie we saw, and it was called The Divine Weapon. It sounded interesting at least. Well we made a good choice. It was an action movie, which is always fun, but the real reason why I loved it so much was that it took place in the 1400's under the rule of King Sejong who is the most well renown of all the Korean kings. Without spoiling the plot, it is about the development of a powerful weapon that saw no parallel in Europe for another 300 years.

Oh, another great thing about this movie is the fact that you can see Gyeongbokgung palace... which I recognized right away. It's so interesting to see what the palace might have looked like with soldiers and royalty instead of tourists milling around all over the place. And I loved all the traditional Korean costumes and seeing traditional Korean houses. I mean, it's only a movie, but it's interesting to think about.

Anyway.. The movie is awsome... Long.. around 3 hours... but well worth it. Action, comedy, romance basically everything you could want in a film. For more info, check out the Han Cinema website.

Here is the trailer for the movie... sorry, no English subs though....

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What you need to know about Korea

Since my mom and friend are coming to visit me at the end of the month, I thought I'd put together a collection of useful/ not so useful information to know before they come. This, of course, can go for anyone coming to Seoul for work or play to get an idea of what to expect.

Things to be careful of:

Sidewalk hazards:
Umbrellas if its raining (yes, this is a hazard in a city of 11 million people)
Parasols if its sunny

Street Hazards:
ALWAYS use a crosswalk and green light to cross. Unless there is none of course... Fairly certain jaywalking is illegal since the Koreans don't do it.
Beware of motorcycles... again. They don't seem to believe that they need to follow traffic laws.
Side streets here don't have sidewalks... so.. just keep your wits about you. Walking down the middle of the street is normal.. of course until a car comes and beeps at you.

What not to wear:
Only one rule: Don't show off shoulders or cleavage. Clearly shoulders showing makes you a whore.
Mini-skirts and hooker heels? Show off your butt, strut around all you want, no problem. (Korean women all have fantastic legs.. maybe if I had legs like that I'd be wearing tiny miniskirts too...)

Do NOT sit in the seats labeled for handicapped/elderly/pregnant women, even if there are none around. More often than not an angry ajumma that you don't see coming will give you a lecture in Korean about how rude it is that you're sitting there, then proceed to kick you out of your seat. If that doesn't happen, you'll certainly get nasty looks from other passengers. Maybe this rule may become more lax around 11:00 PM.

Know the direction of your train.. aka the next stop and the last stop of the line. This will help immensly in finding the correct platform/ train to get on. The subway is easy, but it did take a few weeks to catch on...

Don't accept anything from anyone. They probably want something.

Don't sit next to someone sleeping.. or looking sleepy. If they fall asleep, they will probably use your shoulder as a pillow. Unless you like old Korean men sleeping on you.

What to bring:

Comfy shoes... walking in Seoul is the best way to get around locally. Oh, and get ready for stairs.... you'll understand when you are here.

An umbrella. During the summer months it rains 4-5 days a week.

What to eat:

(forgive me if I butcher the spellings here)


Galbi- Usually pork ribs that you grill on your own personal grill at your table. You eat this wrapped in a lettuce leaf with any assortment of vegetables or sauces added on top.

Bulgogi- Same as Galbi, but usually beef.

Dongasu- Breaded pork served with a brown sauce and white rice. The Koreans stole it from the Japanese. Not spicy, very safe food when in doubt.

Curry- This is my favorite thing to cook, but you can get it in restaurants too. The Koreans probably also stole this idea from the Japanese, but I'm fairly certain the Japanese stole it from India. Meh. Whatever. It's awsome.

Chicken and Beer- Yup, its Chicken and Beer. This one doesn't take much imagination.

Bi Bim Bap- Rice mixed with spicy sauce and seaweed, egg and other things. Usually vegetarian.

Kim Chi Bokumbap- Kim Chi fried rice, sometimes with an egg on top. Yummy!

Kim chi jjigae- Kim chi soup with tofu. See photo to the Right.

Dwengdong jjigae- Seafood soup, but sometimes there isn't much seafood to be found.. which is just the way I like it. Don't be surprised though to find a whole prawn or a whole crab in it though... see picture to the left.

Dugbokibulgogi- bulgogi soup.

Mandu guk- Dumpling soup.


Dukbokki- There are many variations on dukbokki, but the basic ingredient is a chewy cake made of rice that is smothered in spicy sauce. This is a good snack, but I don't suggest making a meal out of it... I get sick of it after about 10 bites or so. See photo to the left.

Mandu- Dumplings... of many sorts. Gogi mandu is meat filled dumplings and Kim chi mandu.. is well, i think you can guess. I highly recoment kim chi mandu.


Naengmyon- buckwheat noodle dish

Mul Naengmyon- Buckwheat noodles in a liquid with ice. This is to cool down in the summer. I've never been able to finish a Mul Naenmyon.

Ramyon- If you've had ramen.. you've had ramyon. Though it comes in many forms here. There is cheese ramyon (chizu ramyon... if you're pronouncing it like a Korean), and any other flavor you can imagine. Cheap meal, pick up a ramyon pack at the FamilyMart and pay 800 won.. or be classy and pay 2500 won at your local restaurant.

Jjajangmyon- Black bean noodles with onions. Good cheap food... this is like the Korean's version of Chinese food.

Side Dishes:

All Korean meals come with many side dishes that are included in the cost of your meal. Every restaurant has thier own specialties. Kim chi is a staple, I don't think I've ever been to a restaurant where they didn't give me kim chi. Pickled radishes are common, as are kim chi radishes. You will see various vegetables, possibly fish (mmm.. oden), octopus, and many many others. They all come in small dishes, as you can see from the photo to the right.

That's all I can think of right now... but I'll update when I get some more ideas.