05 November 2008

Daejeon: National Science Museum

Time to move on, while the fate of gay marriage in California gets sorted out. This is finally the time for my absentee No vote to be counted (unless the pollworkers illegally switched it to a Yes, anyway).

These are photos from my trip to Daejeon, 100 miles south of Seoul, yesterday. Daejeon hosted the 1993 World Expo, but the exposition area looked quite cut-rate, so I didn't bother going in. However, there is a nice science/natural history museum across the street, named the National Science Museum (www.science.go.kr), which I did check out. Children on field trips made it quite chaotic, but I enjoyed my trip anyway.

One of the first displays was this Triceratops skeleton. 70% of it is actual fossilized bones from Wyoming. Glad to meet this fellow American - though an ancient one at that - on a momentous day like this.

Some human skulls. The left one is a Neanderthal, while the right is a Cro-Magnon.

Sure, there are lots of Christians in South Korea, many of them quite conservative and fundamentalist, but anyone who argues for Creationism to be taught in public school science classes is still considered way nuts. Beyond the Neanderthal, there indeed are Australopithecus and Homo Erectus skulls.

The dancheong is this multicolored motif found on royal and religious Korean buildings. Christy Cole, of Christy's Art Blog, loves this - and certainly wants to apply it to our proposed villa in Nova Scotia. :)

The colors have meanings, as follows:
  • Blue: east
  • White: west
  • Red: south
  • Black: north
  • Yellow: center

Some traditional Korean percussion instruments. I'd love to see these actually being played someday; they look like they will make great sounds.

I also saw the 12-string Gayageums. There also are modernized versions of the Gayageum, with 18 or 25 strings.

This is Korean-style rocket artillery, named Hwacha. This particular model is named Shingijeon. For those who have played Age of Empires II: The Conquerors or Rise of Nations or any other real-time strategy war game that features Korea as a civilization choice, the Hwacha is a familiar concept.

Speaking of The Conquerors, its Korean civilization was extremely nice; its navy could build the slow, expensive, but powerful Turtle Ship as well. However, its religious power was quite weak, which I consider to be grossly inaccurate; South Korea doesn't fuck up America with its military, it does with its Christian extremists.

Mockups of fetal development. Life at conception is a wonderful thing - both for the child to be born, and for the mother. I loved the top right model, which shows the fully developed fetus about to be born, squeezing through the mother's pelvis. This display certainly reminded me of the wonders of womanhood - and its ability to start a new life.

The periodic table of elements is here in an interactive form. I certainly noted seeing UC Berkeley making its mark on the table, as follows:
  • Berkelium, Element 97 (duh)
  • Californium, Element 98 (duh)
  • Seaborgium, Element 106 (named after UC Berkeley professor, the late Glenn Seaborg, whose lecture I once attended during college)

There is an automotive section, with two early 1990s vehicles donated by Hyundai. This is a Scoupe, which features a 12-valve 4-cylinder engine with turbocharger; the engine was Hyundai's first one designed in-house, as well as the company's first turbocharger application.

Behind me is the other vehicle, the original Elantra, which uses another technology, dual overhead cams (DOHC), to boost output; the Mitsubishi-designed engine on the Elantra was the first Hyundai engine to use DOHC. All subsequent Elantras, from 1996 on (renamed the Avante in the South Korean domestic market), have switched over to Hyundai's own DOHC engine designs.

It's lunchtime, and I can't find a restaurant on the grounds. I took a look at the garden while waiting for a movie about South Korea's first astronaut (a woman who flew on a Russian Soyuz to the International Space Station this past April).

This is a water well. Its shape, which resembles the pound sign (#), is notable. In fact, the Chinese character for a well looks exactly like the pound sign (δΊ•), and the official Korean name for the pound sign on a numeric keypad is, indeed, the "well character."

One of Asia's oldest astronomical observatories is the Cheomseongdae, located in the historic capital of Gyeongju, another 2 1/2 hours away by car or train from Daejeon (4 hours from Seoul). This is a full-scale replica.

Speaking of Gyeongju, my road trip there, in 2 1/2 weeks, is pretty much set in stone, and won't be derailed unless a freak snowstorm shuts down mountain passes (unlikely), or I am forced to return to the US again (again, unlikely). I look forward to making that drive. Now that I am really PO'd with my BMW, I'll carefully evaluate my rental Hyundai to see if it can be a worthy replacement. Hyundai ergonomics are already vastly superior to BMW, and the simpler Hyundais are more reliable and easier to service too; all I need will be acceptable performance and handling.

Parting shot. These robots portray the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, in robotic form. Pretty weird to see a snake character with full arms and legs, however!

Back to the train station for a quick Chinese lunch, before getting the news of the Obama victory back in the US. It's vindication time for me.

This KTX bullet train will take me back to Seoul. As I mentioned in my Busan posts, it's just a regular TGV trainset with extra cars. Most KTX trainsets were built by Hyundai Rotem locally, but this is an early example, built by Alstom in France, and tested on the French TGV network. I love traveling on the KTX, as it is a reminder of my past TGV runs in Europe. I look forward to the day when I'll be able to take this train all the way back to Europe, just as the animated announcement video on board features the train on a fictional Seoul - Beijing - Moscow - Paris run with the Eiffel Tower as the final stop.

I also managed to spot the KTX-2 train on a nearby rail yard; it's a native Korean train, designed with technology transferred from the TGV program, and will be even faster than the original KTX. It will start running next year.

On the other track is a Mugunghwa (normal) train on a run from Seoul to Busan. While the bullet train makes the trip in less than 3 hours, the normal train, on conventional tracks, takes 5 1/2 hours. However, it's the cheapest way to make the trip - even cheaper than buses - and I believe it to be reasonably comfortable (at least it's air conditioned!). The 4 1/2-hour Saemaul express train, which also uses conventional tracks, fits between the Mugunghwa and the KTX, in duration and price.

I am back in Seoul. More news coverage of the US presidential race. Obama has 338 electoral votes versus 160 for McCain. History has been made; a black man has risen from the shadows of slavery and segregation to become America's newest President. It's very tempting for me to sing some patriotic American tunes, from "God Bless America" to "America the Beautiful," out loud, right here in Seoul. Under W's cowboy diplomacy, being an American was a liability. Not anymore - though here in South Korea, the reactionary politics of Korean-Americans on both sides of the Pacific remains a major liability.

A look at today's Chosun Ilbo was even more telling. Even that right-wing mouthpiece was generally positive in its portrayal of Obama. And a survey among South Koreans also revealed that while supporters of right-wing political parties, including the ruling majority Grand Nationals, barely preferred Obama to McCain, supporters of left-wing parties, such as the Democrats and the Democratic Labors, nearly unanimously preferred Obama.