Monday 25 September 2017
Landing at Incheon International Airport we were met by a driver to take us the 60-plus kms into Seoul. Well over an hour later we arrived at the Grand Intercontinental Hotel, where we showered and changed before Sylvia and her team headed off to a meeting. I took a wander down the street, tasked with drawing some local cash from a money machine.
By the hands I found an entrance to a huge shopping mall running for blocks below street level. With very wide corridors and plain shops, it looked quite sterile. After several attempts at an ATM, a friendly security guard stepped in and told me which buttons to push.
At noon I headed back to the Royal Canin office to meet Sylvia and the Korean team; from there we were driven to Suseo Station.
Soon we were speeding south through the world’s fourth longest rail tunnel. Only recently opened, this 50.3 kilometre tunnel heads south allowing the high speed train to reach speeds of 240kph in the tunnel. I don’t think they are up to full speed yet as it was thirty minutes later that we surfaced. I activated the speed app on my phone once above ground as the train accelerated to 297kph. We sped south through a combination of flat farm land and bush covered hills.
We stopped at once at a city that had been purpose-built to move some of the many government departments out of Seoul.
In just under an hour we arrived at our destination, 170k south of Seoul. A van drove us to our hotel in Jeonju. As in Seoul, the air is thick with pollution. Apparently it is a combination of a dust that blows in from the Gobi Desert mixed with the local factory and vehicle fumes. Jeonju is a combination of the old and new; dozens of fifteen-plus storey apartment blocks have sprung up in clumps around the town.
A short stroll up the street revealed a tidy produce market operating on the footpath.
Small shops contained everything from workshops to washing machines – if the signage was removed these shops could be in any part of Asia or South America.
Several streets were covered over with a dome roof and traded as a huge supermarket-come shopping mall.
In the evening I was invited to join the team for a Korean BBQ dinner at a local restaurant. The meat is cooked on coals at the table and accompanied with lots of varied dishes including spices and vegetables – very very tasty it all is.
Tuesday 26 September 2017
A van picked us up and drove us to the site of the new Royal Canin factory, currently under construction at Gimgie. I was privileged to be invited to go on the tour with the team. After the safety training, Steven the Australian project manager lead us around the site. The building is 42 meters high with a vertical production process. The whole construction project is being done under the LEED Gold standard rules for sustainability, so everything coming onto and leaving the site is checked, weighed and separated for recycling. When manufacturing starts next year the plant will be zero waste to landfill.
After the tour Jimmy, the Korean General manager, had organised a guide to take me to the old village. Keven, originally from Idaho in the US, now lives nearby and with his wife runs an English language school.
Joenju Hanok Village is the old city of this area, consisting of largely restored old style buildings. Visitors flock here from all over South Korea, many hiring old style costumes and dressing up for the day.
The village also contains the restored 1392 Chosun Dynasty Palace. This Dynasty kicked off in 1392 when Chosun, an army general, overthrew the previous bosses. His family reign lasted until 1910 when the Japanese took over. In 1492 his grandson, King Sejong, changed the written language, which had previously been in Chinese, apparently making it easier for people to learn. The palace grounds have been well restored giving one a good feel for how the royalty lived.
There is also a small museum dedicated to royalty.
After the palace we headed to a restaurant for a lite lunch. I was glad I had skipped breakfast when suddenly the table was filled with very tasty food to go with the grilled beef. I bet there are few people in Korea lacking iron.
After a rather long “lite” lunch we strolled the streets looking at a variety of interesting places including pickle-making, beer-brewing and wine-making.
Too soon the day was over and we were on the train speeding back to Seoul.
Wednesday 27 September 2017
Last night I had tried to book a trip to the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) and the JSA (Joint Services Area). For the JSA I discovered one needs to book at least 3 days in advance. Hence I set off this morning on a trip to the DMZ only.
A van picked me up at 0710 taking 45 minutes to cover the 15km to the museum, where I joined a bus tour. The 15 year veteran tour guide gave us a non-stop run down on the north-south war etc. She also kept telling us how dangerous it was to go to the DMZ. That sort of talk annoys me as they are just trying to hype things up. If it was dangerous they wouldn’t have stuck us on the bus in the first place. It does appear that tourist numbers are down two thirds since the war of words started between Trump and Kim.
Soon we were traveling alongside the Hangang River, which the first part of the border runs up the centre of. A high barbed wire fence runs along the bank with concrete pillboxes ever few hundred meters, some manned, some not.
The north apparently have some show-towns on the opposite bank where no one lives.
A bit of history….
Korea, for a thousand years or more, had been run under dynasties, and from 1392 under one dynasty until Japan took control in 1910. For the next twenty or so years factions, particularly in the north, fought the Japs and were successful in a number of battles. When the Japs surrendered in 1945, the Soviets occupied the north and the US, Brits etc., the south. Victorious nations envisaged an independent, united post-war Korea. By 1949, the United States and the Soviet Union had removed their forces from Korea. In an attempt to reunify the peninsula under communist rule, on June 25, 1950, with Soviet approval, North Korea launched an assault on South Korea. The United Nations Security Council, without the participation of the Soviet Union, which had withdrawn its delegate to protest the exclusion of communist China from the organization, formally condemned the attack. In July 1950, a U.N. coalition consisting mostly of American forces but including around 20 other countries entered the conflict on the side of South Korea. The Forces from the north were driven back, almost to the Chinese border. Then China threw in a few hundred thousand troops to assist them and in turn the UN forces were driven back.
An armistice was signed with all sides back where they started. 3 million Koreans had died along with 50 thousand UN troops. Over forty percent of all industrial buildings were destroyed along with millions of homes. In the end, the peninsula wound up divided into two ideologically distinct countries that have been hostile to each other ever since.
(Thanks Wikipedia and the Seoul war museum)
Our first stop was the Freedom Bridge with a large freedom bell on top of the hill near the bridge head. This is where the rail line linked the two states prior to the split.
There is a newer bridge rail bridge that is waiting to be used some day. This is also the boundary of the civilian access control area. This is an area prior to the DMZ where in places mines still lie. Only people with permits, such as farmers, can enter this area and the odd tourist that pays money to walk onto the bridge.
From here we headed to a small museum and the entrance to the third tunnel, discovered in 1978 after a tunnel engineer defected from the north. The south has dug an incline tunnel down to meet it. The guide wanted us to note the direction of the drill marks so we could see it was drilled from the north. 1.6 kms long one had to stoop to go through it. After about 400m it had been blocked off 170m short of the boarder. No cameras allowed. One claim by the north was that they were looking for coal!! Four tunnels have been discovered so far.
Back on the bus we drove a short distance to the DMZ boundary and check point. A young soldier boarded the bus taking less than a glance at our passports. No photos allowed here.
We headed up a hill to the Dora Observation point. From here we could see across the boarder into North Korea. Speakers blasted out rather bad music – apparently the north does the same thing.
Unfortunatly the smog was pretty bad so it was hard to see clearly.
A few kms down the hill we arrived at a relatively new train station. This place is pretty flash and is basically in place in the hope that the two states will reunite at some point. George Bush came to the opening and trains ran freight across the border in 2007/8. In 2002 the south had built a big joint manufacturing plant in the north, employing around two hundred thousand people, with about 600 managers from the south working there. In 2016 that was closed and the South Koreans sent home. The north hung onto the plant and stock.
Arriving back in the city I was just in time to see the changing of the guard at the palace entrance. This colourful process included horn blowing and the banging of a big drum.
In the evening we were taken to a very nice restaurant for another very tasty Korean BBQ, I really enjoy this food an especially the spices that go with it.
After dinner we headed to the Lotte World Tower. At 555 meters and 123 floors this place is impressive. There is even a glass floor on the 120th floor one can stand on and look through to the ground, good fun.
By night the views across the city were spectacular.
Thursday 28th September 2017
I decided to take a stroll over to the War Museum. Heading down Teheran-ro I soon worked out why everyone around Seoul seemed to have shiny shoes. Every few hundred meters down the street in this business district is a shoe shine/repair kiosk.
In places I had to use an underpass to cross the road, each underpass contains shops and cafes.
Tracking the Hangang River, one side of the Banpo bridge had been turned into a fountain. There are lots of nice buildings around here.
Across the river I strolled past the US embassy grounds surrounded by a high wall that seemed to go on forever.
The War Memorial Museum turned out to be fantastic. I had intended to go on and look at some palaces but they will have to wait as the museum took up the rest of the day. Outside is a large display of many Guns tanks and aircraft used over the past 50 years by both sides.
Inside the museum gives one a great walk through the history of the dynasties, the Jap occupation, modern weapons and a brilliantly done, very large section on the Korean War.
Each of the many countries that came to help out with the UN have a display dedicated to them.
There is lots more to see in Seoul and South Korea. I feel I have only scratched the surface. As we fly back to Singapore tomorrow I am looking forward to returning.