Sunday, May 30, 2010

Going to Gwangju

Thursday, May 27th

Today we are driving from Seoul to Gwangju. It was sad leaving our new friends last night. After seeing mostly a concrete jungle for a week straight, it is great to finally see the countryside. Beautiful mountains haven’t stopped rolling through the window frame of our bus since we left, it almost reminds me of our excursions on my study abroad trip to the Dominican Republic last summer. Korea is the size of Ohio, and 70 percent of Korea is mountains. That leaves 30 percent of Ohio to house 50 Million people. Can you say dense development?

We even stopped at a water park on our way to Gwangju! We happened to be half of the attendance that day considering in was a Thursday afternoon during school. It was all a large breath of fresh air after leaving the city. We arrived at Gwangju and checked into our hotel, which had quite impressive accommodations. While exploring the city our first night we heard music in the distance. We followed the opera sounding music and found what seemed to be a community concert. With a massive stage set up directly next to the city’s Metropolitan Council building, an opera singer, acoustic guitar player, and hard rock band performed for hundreds of citizens. All of this on a Thursday night! Apparently they feel the same way as Jane Jacobs, that songs and cities are the best things about us, and combined the two.

Saturday, May 29th

Today was the most beautiful day we have had yet, and we ought to be thankful that the sun was shining. Our activities today would not have been quite the same experience without the weather. We left Gwangju this morning for a Buddhist temple deep in the mountains. A local professor accompanied us on our tour and would later buy us a wonderful lunch at a western style restaurant. We definitely ate our fill. We were given an in depth tour of the temple and all of its symbols, with a short introduction to Buddhism in a nutshell. On our peaceful walk to the top of the temple light shone through the leaves of the trees calming even more. The views from the temple were breathtaking.

The breathtaking views didn’t end as we left the temple and departed to green tea fields where we would pick our own leaves that would be roasted, then take part in a traditional green tea drinking ceremony with the owner and his friends. I now have a much deeper appreciation for the drinking of tea as well as the production that it takes to get it from the fields to the little green Lipton boxes in our cupboard.

We are now on our way to another complimentary meal for our dinner with a congressman from the region we are traveling in today. Irene Shim our trip leader has connected us with many important people on this trip, not to mention the city planner of Seoul. We have begun to wonder if we should be calling her “the Almighty Shim” as even congressmen ask her what time they should be at dinner and city planners bow to her as they enter the room.

Sunday May 30th

I only knew one thing about today, we were going to take a ride on a cable car. What I didn’t know was that this cable car would take us to one of the highest mountain peaks in South Korea. So high the air gets thin when you run the steps to the highest pavilion. The view was breathtaking(even more so than the thin air), you could see for miles, all the way to the ocean.

As we were driving through the rural areas to each of our destinations today, I noticed that not only were the mountains reminiscent of the Dominican Republic’s countryside, but so were the villages built around them. Despite grandiose development in Seoul and other central Korean cities, many of the regions seem to be neglected and some of their shacks are to the point of dilapidation. This disparity was just as apparent and even greater than in the DR considering the quality of development of Korea’s urban areas. Smaller regional town business districts in Korea seem to be experiencing many of the same vacancy issues that we see in many of our American cities, maybe this economic downturn has hit just as hard in some areas on the other side of the world.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Honyong Asayo!

Means "hello" to everyone not up to speed on their Korean. So like I said, honyong asayo everyone! It is my third day in Seoul and I feel like this is my first chance I've had to sit down and make a post. We have been incredibly busy!
We began our first day at the University, with an orientation on how things would go while we were here. Then we were introduced to our Korean "Buddies" that we would be spending the majority of our time with here at Honyang University. They have been such a blessing for us, showing us around Seoul and taking us to must see places.

Our "urban field research" consists of a list of sites to see and things to do in Seoul that can be completed for points which will go towards our grade, tough work huh? After the first day we had already visited an ancient palace, a traditional Korean village, and the cultural center of the city called Insadong. We even got to visit a Buddhist temple ON Buddha's birthday! The amount of people at the birthday festival was incredible, we were invited into a smaller Buddhist center for a tour later in the day. We couldn't stay for tea but were blessed with snacks for the road. We were all very tired by the end of the day but managed to find energy to take part in the university's spring festival later that night, it was quite a party.

On the second day, I left my group because my friend Kevin and I had a little urban field research to do of our own. Kevin is part of the MSU Breakdance Club and has been studying in Seoul for the past 9 months. I got in touch with him earlier in the week and found out he was studying at a university not too far from my own. As it turned out, there was a B-boy(Breakdance) Battle (Competition) in Seoul that Saturday, so we thought, when will we ever get a chance to represent MSU in a battle in South Korea? So we hopped on the subway in search of our destinies. Wouldn't you know it we even made it past prelims! Video footage coming soon.
After a long day of riding public transit and catching up with an old friend, I once again rejoined my buddy group to continue sight seeing. We actually navigated the subway and met our Korean friends in a commercial center called Samseong. "Coex Mall, Everlasting Pleasure" adorned the great entrance to the mall that could be considered a small city where we spent most of our day. This city has continued to amaze me whether it is their ancient buildings or modern architecture. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here in Seoul before I have to say goodbye to Seoul and hello to Shanghai, or should I say Honyong Asayo!

Hanyang University overlooking just a small portion of Seoul

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Breaking Ground

It's almost 2:30 and I finally got around to creating my new blog. I've been thinking about it for some time now, but just never made time for it amidst the business of school life. Which leads me to my introduction that I've been contemplating in my head, trying to find the right words to portay myself with, this is my first post after all! Anyhow, I'm 20 going on 21 and I'll be a Senior this fall at Michigan State University. My chosen major is Urban Planning, and as you may be able to tell by my blog entitled "Cities Come, Cities Go", this will be my outlet to all things urban that are bouncing around in my head.

Just as we travel from city to city, sometimes staying longer or shorter than we planned on, cities have come and gone throughout the grand history that has been written by the human race. From the rise and fall of a metropolis in an ancient civilization, to the more familiar decline of Detroit, along with the recession of many other American urban centers, cities have grown and changed in unmistakable ways, and we must figure out why. The amount of life and culture that exist in our central cities is too great to forsake to poor, closed minded, short viewed decision making. I only hope that it is not to late for our cities already, I think that it is not, and I hope that any one of my thoughts might provoke someone else to open their mind to the vast world of planning.

As my UniverCity of East Lansing will go in my near future, other cities will come, specifically those of Seoul, Shanghai, and Osaka. In five days I will be leaving for a month long tour of Asia. I am lucky enough to be a part of the MSU Urban Planning study abroad trip to Asia this summer, where I'll get the once in a lifetime chance to attend the 2010 WORLD EXPO in Shanghai, themed "Better City, Better Life". It seems that this study abroad was all too fitting to pass up, and thanks to alittle push of my academic advisor, I will be on my way once I step on that aeroplane to the Orient. I have no idea what to expect for a culture so different from my own, but I am ready to find out as I walk the streets of Megacities that can even dwarf Manhattan. The World Expo will be a whole nother story. I look forward to sharing these experiences with you and think this will be a great start to my blog. I will leave you with a quote from a woman who has provoked my own urban thinking, Mother Jacobs.

Our songs and cities are the best things about us. Songs and cities are so indispensable. Even if we go into darkness, the time will come when people will want to know how these ruins were made—the essence of the life we made. It sounds very conceited to say it, but I hope that what I wrote will help people start back.
-Jane Jacobs