07 December 2008

Seoul: Private Museums

My laptop and Internet connection are getting worse and worse. It took me well over 30 minutes (and a lot of error messages) to upload my 19 photos for today. I will never forgive the supporters of the 2MB colonial government. Sure, in a week, I'll be back in California. However, I must continue to deal with the treasonous Korean-Americans and all the menace they've inflicted on California (including the gay marriage ban). I hope they don't take me out, like the way the Vietnamese-Americans and Taiwan's government took out courageous pro-democracy Vietnamese and Chinese activists in the past.

I made a few private museums in northern downtown Seoul the main destinations for today. They are located east of Gyeongbokgung, and can best be accessed from Anguk Station, which is on Line 3. Yes, that's a Seoul Metro line. Sure, I could take Line 5 to Jongno 3-ga, with a longer walk, but given the continuing chilly weather, and the added complication of substantial snow today, I decided not to risk it. Moreover, even though Bundang Line and Line 3 are built with different voltages, and through service is therefore impossible, the two are logical extensions of each other, so Line 3 made the most sense today.

I took Line 3 from its southern terminus at Suseo, and have just arrived at Anguk. As mentioned before, Line 3 is a joint Korail-Seoul Metro Line (the Korail portion is in the suburb of Ilsan to the northwest, and was built in the 1990s), but all technical specifications for the line and the rolling stock are those of Seoul Metro, and Seoul Metro dispatchers control all trains.

Here's the proof. The train above belongs to Korail, but will terminate at Gupabal, therefore making its entire run solely on Seoul Metro tracks. The train is built to Seoul Metro specs, and is identical to Seoul Metro's 1990s-vintage rolling stock currently serving Lines 1 and 4. However, as it is a Korail train, it does feature the nicer Korail-style interior as well as the Korail livery of the common dark blue and the Line 3-specific orange. It also means that it has less propaganda inside than Seoul Metro's trains, and I appreciated it. (Besides, Seoul Metro's own Line 3 trains are aging British models nearing mandatory retirement age - and they need to be put out of the misery, fast.)

The Korail ownership also means that the train features Korail-style audible announcements, which uniquely use a male voice for the English portion. It's also noteworthy in that it refers to the Bundang Line by its destinations, rather than by line name, the same treatment given to the Jungang Line by all operators. I also liked the fact that the train operator was a woman; Korail is now hiring and deploying women as train operators in the subway. (Now, I need to see women driving city buses - while smaller neighborhood buses do feature women drivers, all full-size buses are driven by men only, many of them suffering from massive road rage.)

Lines 1, 3, and 4 are being fitted with new information monitor sets. Each set includes two monitors on each side; one shows the final destination of the next two trains as well as any trains in the two previous stations, while the other shows some public announcements and short subjects. At Anguk, as I disembarked, the short subject featured Angelina Jolie. What a homewrecking whore! This lifelong card-carrying member of Team Aniston will never forget.

Line 2, the other Seoul Metro line, is not getting these improvements. Its destination status boards remain mechanical flip types. It's actually fine for Line 2, as almost all its trains are in continuous Circle Line service without termination, therefore not many destination changes occur. (However, the destinations are in Korean only.) Line 2 trains do display final destinations, when (1) a few of them leave the Circle Line at the end of rush hours, or (2) it's the end of the day and the line starts to shut down. Even midday, some trains do leave service for operator change and minor maintenance check; new operators and trains then take their place.

Anguk Station has another corridor vendor, but this one looks pretty interesting. He's a calligraphy artist, and here are samples of the writings he can do for his customers. He will write anything in Korean or in Chinese characters as requested by the customer. Popular subjects include short phrases using Chinese characters, Bible verses in Korean, or a short family motto (가훈) in either script. Family mottos are a popular way for members of a Korean family to promote unity, morality, and a common value.

I am heading north, into my destinations. There are a number of small, privately owned museums ahead. All do enjoy some support from the authorities, however.

But nevertheless, these are private museums, which means they tend to be smaller and cost more. I visited two of the museums today - the Tibet Museum and the World Jewellery Museum - and both cost me 5,000 won, steeper than government museums, and a much poorer value considering that they are in buildings the size of an average two-story residence.

The Tibet Museum has a number of objects collected by a private curator. There isn't much to see, but it is enough to give the visitor an idea about Tibetan culture.

Tibet's political status has been in flux for a while. The government is a Lama Buddhist one, headed by the Dalai Lama; the title was used from the 5th Dalai Lama, and retroactively applied to the previous four leaders. Some Dalai Lama were quite powerful, while others had trouble getting their legitimacy recognized. The current Dalai Lama is the 14th. Tibet has been administered by China as the region of Xizang since 1959, and the Dalai Lama must rule from India in exile today.

Many South Koreans have recently organized protests in favor of Tibetan rights and self-determination, and China has been very unhappy about that.

Here's a Buddha statue. All statues accept monetary offerings as seen in front of the statue.

Close-up of another statue's offering. While it's mostly South Korean currency, I can spot a 5-jiao (USD 8 cents or so) banknote from China. It's my first look at a Chinese banknote in six years (outside my collection of leftover Beijing pocket change, anyway). At yet another statue, I saw a USD $1 bill.

Here's a Buddhist praying talisman, made of human bone.

Some Tibetan masks and outfits. Tibet is very high-altitude, so it can get very cold. Overcoats tend to be made of animal hair, and are very thick and oversized.

Some everyday Tibetan outfits.

Not much else to see, aside from a set of religious bells. I moved on to the World Jewellery Museum.

This museum is in three floors, and is quite interesting, though still very small and expensive. Photography is prohibited, but the sign was small and obscure, and I missed it; moreover, nobody was stopping me anyway. Here, I am looking at some golden Colombian statues from about the 11th Century, collectively referred to as El Dorado.

Most crosses worldwide follow either the Latin or the Greek school of styling. However, Ethiopian Christians have created their own unique, extremely ornate cross designs. Here, I have a rare chance to take a look at some examples. With every museum I visit, I end up learning something new, and now, I am learning Ethiopian Christianity in the unlikely place of Seoul.

A special exhibit explores handbags and their evolution from 1800 through today. Here are 1950s Lucite purses from the US. Purses didn't get too interesting until about 1950 or so, due to the widespread availability of many new materials. And of course, purses bring the very public and the very private of a woman's life together, as they are seen in public, but their interior contents include very private stuff like makeup and else.

I must say that very few of the purses looked practical enough for me to even envy, much less possess.

Some colorful necklaces, though I don't remember their era or origins.

From the top floor exhibit hall, I am looking out the window to the north, with a look at the scenic Bugak Mountain. The traditional roofs belong to the Blue House, home of the President.

2MB, you suck!

I'm heading back to downtown. At a local boutique, I see this robot made of paper bag and boxes. Quite an interesting sight. Nearby stores are now featuring Christmas decorations and that's a nice thing too.

A look back onto the alleyway. To the left is the Tibet Museum. To the right is a shamanism museum/gallery, but it's locked today and I can't enter it. The gallery claims to have hosted Queen Elizabeth II at its London branch, and to have branches in other major world cities, including Las Vegas and Los Angeles; I don't believe it, as the extremist Christian orthodoxy of the Korean-American community in both Vegas and LA will never leave such galleries alive.

Despite the social conservatism of the Latino community in Southern California, I still have an affinity for them, as they are THE majority in Los Angeles now, and their Spanish-language culture is the mainstream. And seeing a Spanish-language message like this, especially here in faraway Seoul where virtually nobody speaks Spanish, is always a nice reminder of Los Angeles.

This message graces the glass fence of a local coffee shop terrace.

About to return to the thoroughfare. Here's yet another Hyundai Genesis, in the typical gray. I love spotting the Genesis, now becoming increasingly common on the streets of Seoul; not only is it a superb car in and of itself, but I'll have one in my own garage before Christmas if my plans hold.

This specific example doesn't have adaptive cruise control, but it does have a front parking camera, a very helpful feature here in South Korea. It's overkill over in the US, however, and cannot be found on the US-market Genesis, though I can still get the rear parking camera for it.

Another domestic-market only feature is Mozen, Hyundai's telematics service similar to GM's OnStar, Mercedes-Benz's TeleAid, and the BMW Assist. Some Mozen services require a modest per-use fee, while others are free for the duration of subscription. Mozen is not available in the US, and I don't need it anyway.

Two domestic-market features unavailable in the US, but I would like, are the cooled passenger seat (US market model only cools the driver's side) and the free maintenance program for a given number of years/kilometers. On the other hand, I do get XM Satellite Radio with traffic updates, so I won't complain.

As it's a bit warm, and snow has stopped for now (as evidenced by earlier photos), I decided to walk through Insa-dong Antiques District to reach Jongno 3-ga Station. Not much to see today, as I had been to Insa-dong a number of times previously. But this banner definitely caught my attention.

Apparently, the Republicans are looking to pay for their massive tax cuts for the rich, by extending the nationwide 10% value-added tax (sales tax) to artwork. This also has the side effect of killing artistic creativity, which is desirable to the Republicans due to the artists' tendency to portray controversial, taboo subjects. Yet another reminder that they shall never be forgiven.

A quick-and-dirty rule of political party names in South Korea: a "Liberal" party is right-wing, while a "Democratic" party is left-wing. Some "Liberals" over the years include the Liberals (1950s), the Democratic Liberals (1990s), and the Liberal Advanced (today). Some "Democratics" include the Democratic Party (1960, and an unrelated one today), the Democratic Labors (2000 through today), and Party for Peace and Democracy (1980s). To complicate things, however, there have been some right-wing "Democratic" parties, including the Democratic Republicans (1960s-1970s, simply called Republicans usually), the Democratic Justice (1980s), the Unification Democrats (1980s, pro-democracy), and the aforementioned Democratic Liberals. The Democratic Republicans, the Democratic Justice, and the Democratic Liberals are all the same party, with only name changes; its later names included the New Korea Party (1990s) and the current Grand National Party. (I simply refer to all of them as the Republicans - as a reference to both the original Democratic Republican name, and to the US Republican masters.)

My favorite political party name, however, belongs to a new, minor left-wing party: Creative Korea Party.

While I was out and about in Insa-dong, there was another demonstration, asking for some donations to feed the North Korean children. I decided to give in this time, and pitched in with a lowly 1,000-won banknote - still enough to keep a child fed for a week. I do hope that this child will live to see the death of Kim Jong-il, the rise of a new regime in North Korea that can't rely on personality cults anymore (and therefore must face reality), and a better future for all of Korea, the region, and the world. At least this beats giving to the Salvation Army, whose bells and donation jars are everywhere now, and represent the South Korean Christian establishment (and the Korean-Americans) who are proving to be so destructive in the US. I wanted to photograph the demonstration, but chose not to, as my US passport (which I did have with me today) could've mistakenly identified me as a pro-government informant, and that could've turned nasty.

This BMW 523i is another reminder of the Republicans, the Korean-Americans, the Christian extremist establishment, and a hostile Pope that supports all of them. BMW is, of course, a proud corporate sponsor of all of them. While returning to California is not a happy prospect for me, I certainly look forward to retiring my 3-series and getting the Genesis!

When I got out of my meditation yesterday, a few fellow practitioners were being picked up by an acquaintance, and they offered to take me to the nearest bus stop to spare me from walking in the bitter cold. I declined, partly because I wanted to walk even in the cold, but primarily because the car was a BMW 5-series just like the one above.

My next stop was COEX Mall - again. At Jongno 3-ga, I entered through Line 5 (SMRT) turnstiles, and stayed on Line 5 as long as I could, before having to switch to Line 2 for the final stretch. At least Line 2 used a new trainset, which I appreciated. However, Line 2 now has an annoying feature; audible station announcements often include ads from businesses located at each station, and they often overshadow the actual announcement, especially English portions.

Once at COEX Mall, I used my passport to enter the foreigners-only casino, where I played blackjack at 5,000-won minimum and 300,000-won maximum. There also was a sucker side bet that paid 11 to 1 for a pair. I got ahead of the house nicely, but decided to get carried away, started making impulsive, stupid decisions and big bets, and ended up losing my entire 100,000-won bankroll. My blackjack winning streak, which lasted for over 14 months, now has ended, but I could certainly afford tonight's losses, and I intended to lose anyway. I had a great time. At least the dealers here had better English accents than the ones back in Gyeongju. I'll probably return one more time before my US return, with probably a 200,000-won bankroll, though I'd definitely play with more discipline. (One side note: South Korean blackjack rules include the dealer standing on all 17s, an improvement over Las Vegas where dealers now will always hit soft 17s. Also, I may double down or surrender any hand. Most importantly, the dealer will orally verify all decisions I make, as well as the current hand count.)

Some signs indicated various game names in Chinese as well as English, and they were quite interesting. Baccarat was phonetic (百家樂), while blackjack was simply twenty-one (二十一點). In addition, house rules and game overviews were provided in Chinese (simplified and traditional, my pick), Japanese, English, and Korean.

I wrapped up with a bowl of pho, before heading back outside, where the snow was now quite substantial, and taking the Bundang Line back to Seongnam.