Frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians


Saturday brought horrendous rainy weather and the necessity to try to engineer a situation whereby my valuable free time did not evaporate into the ether. I was meeting Mr. Frank (Oh Bok) Young at 9:30 am, South of the Han River in Dangjeong, a boring Seoul suburb. From there we would head off to the Korea National Museum at Ichon station (Line 4).

On Sunday Frank was to meet members of his Korean lineage in Incheon. Franks family is of a clan that originates from the ancestor, O Ch’ŏm, who migrated to Korea from China during the reign of Shilla’s King Chijŭng (500–514 AD). There are 210 clans using the name Oh but only 16 can be directly documented as being descended from O Ch’ŏm.  Frank is deemed to be head of the most important clan since his father passed away, he is the 26th generation descended from the first Mr. Oh. His direct line is from In-You Oh who was a respectable scholar from the Song dynasty in China. He is recorded as living in Haeju, Hwanghae province area in 984 AD ( in the time of Seongjong 3). This link takes you to the groups Internet Cafe (its in Korean).

As the rain pelted down I remembered poor Carissa and Michelle who had headed down to Busan for the Halloween firework display (that was cancelled due to the inclement weather). Arriving at Ichon station, the rain continued to pour down and by the time we made the 800m trek to the door of the museum our feet were wet through.  Frank had the foresight to bring a proper umbrella. Dipstick, yours truly, was less suitably equipped. In saying that at least I had dry socks, the imperious Mr. Oh did not!

I had visited this place in the summer but hadn’t spent too long inside as the fantastic Seoul summer weather had encouraged me to explore the surrounding landscaped gardens and Yongsan People’s Park, the site of a former US military golf course. Behind the museum is the huge walled American military base. It is totally inappropriate that in the centre of one of Asia’s most forward-looking city’s this base still exists. The decade-long process of turning the largest U.S. military installation in South Korea into a Central Park-like oasis in the middle of Seoul will begin in 2017, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs.

The start of the transformation is timed to coincide with U.S. Forces Korea’s move from Yongsan Garrison as part of a long-planned consolidation of U.S. troops to the Pyeongtaek-Osan area and to Daegu, shrinking the military footprint in South Korea from 107 bases to 48. A new master plan has been formulated for the area between the National Museum (South), the War Memorial of Korea (North), Itaewon (East) and Yongsan Mall (West). Check this link to see the plan. In this plan more than 30 of the Japanese buildings will be incorporated into the design of the future park as art galleries, museums and exhibition centers, some exploring the base’s history this is because few buildings from the first half of the 20th century remain standing in South Korea. A greenway will connect the park to Namsan Mountain and a land bridge will connect the park to the Han River area.

On entering the museum complex the visitor is greeted by a convenience store and adjacent restaurant with the worst Korean food ever, give it a miss.  Unless that is your visit coincides with the heat of summer when a Turkish pair conjure up tasty kebab on an outdoor grill.

The scale of the National Museum is in itself impressive; plus it’s free (except for special exhibitions), check out my earlier post for details of the most impressive exhibits. On this visit I was particularly impressed by a display of Korean Buddha’s from the Silla Dynasty and a Gilt Bronze Figure from the Gureyeo Dynasty, the Pensive Bodhisattva Maitreya (National Treasure 78).

The only criticism I have, once again, is for an international city the labeling of artifacts was again mostly limited to Korean. The alternative those monstrous multinational headsets that destroy social interaction, annihilate spatial awareness and incarcerate the user in a transcendental, inconsiderate zombie like state. The gormless grins that end users exhibit are akin to those of Christian leaflet distributors or Mormon missionaries meithering prospective victims into G.O.D submission. I don’t like them! Another observation I love how the cleaners drive “shop on wheels” vehicles as they keep the place pristine. Finally, my ubiquitous complaint, Korean parenting or lack of it. One kid thumping his mother as she tried to take away his mobile, others ran amok among the exhibits, fingering, smudging, shouting, screaming, I need not say any more.

The gardens outside were beautiful even in the rain, the kaleidoscope of coloured leaves near to the end of their autumn splendour. Autumn in Korea has thrown up some wonderful trips and scenery but the predicted “fall” weather has not consistently materialised which has been a minor disappointment.

From Ichon station we headed into central Seoul with the weather more suited to frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians.  Before dinner we looked, without success, for a recommended bar on Jongno; left a bar which said we couldn’t drink without eating; drank at a bar were we did not need to eat and then found Little India in Insadong. The restaurant is about 2/3rds of the way down the main Insadong artery (from the Anguk Station end), right side, second and third floor. You go up one flight of stairs make a left and the door is immediately on the left.

It is also easy to find to the left of Topgol Park, around 3 mins walk from the opposite and of the main Insadong shopping street. We ordered chicken and prawn masala’s, chicken curry, dhal, yoghurt raita, and a vanilla lassi. It came with rice, naan and a samosa. Good gear but a little expensive at 23,000 won each. Good job it was Frank’s treat!

Next door, second floor, was a great little bar/restaurant, devoid of mobile phone addiction. Cell phone addiction has a name, and yes, there is formal treatment for it. Apparently nomophobia has its first recovery centre in southern California.  Nomophobia is the term created by British researchers in 2008 to identify people who experience anxiety when they have no access to mobile technology. Korea cannot be far behind! It was a pleasure to enjoy a beer overlooking the main Insadong thoroughfare in adult company were conversation seemed more important than repetitive strain injury and social incontinence. Knackered we retired early, Frank had an early start to his genealogy friends in Incheon and I had a date with the former Seonyudo sewage treatment plant.

Seonyudo (meaning “an island where Taoist hermits play”) Island is in a tranquil setting and lies in the Hangang River, which runs through the centre of Seoul. Once upon a time, the Island (also known as Seonyubong) had a small peak and picturesque, jagged cliffs. This beautiful setting inspired wandering Confucian gentleman scholars, who came here during the Joseon Dynasty to paint and compose poetry. Seonyudo (not to be confused with the island of the same name in North Jeolla Province) had its mountain and cliffs removed during the Japanese occupation of Korea.

Now the island is accessible from the city’s central neighbourhoods by motor bridge, a pedestrian footbridge and water taxis (ferries). Formerly the site of a sewage treatment plant (1978), the island was transformed into a gorgeous, eco-conscious park in 2002 (at a cost of16.4 billion won) after two years of planning and restoration.

In 1998, a concept known as “New Seoul” had been unveiled with the goal of making Korea’s 600-year-old capital a more habitable place for its 10 million inhabitants. The initiative’s major goals were:

1) To create easily accessible parks,

2) To restore the Han River’s fragile ecosystem, and,

3) To offer more public cultural events.

Described by the Seoul Metropolitan Government as a “postmodern space,” the award-winning park harmoniously combines the organic with the industrial by preserving the former treatment plant’s structures and integrating them into a series of gardens. Water is the island’s principle theme. For example, settling basins for water treatment chemicals are now home to small fish and many species of aquatic plants that naturally purify water.

On my visit to the park it had a varied clientage; groups taking in the educational displays, young couples enjoying some quiet time in the gardens, amateur performers with Blue and Yellow hair doing live performances of their favourite anime, acrobats, concrete and grass picnicking families, old folk meditating, GET’s engaged in proper literal pursuits, photographers honing their craft and the usual army of comatose or tented Korean’s. I also had another Medusa moment; I so wish I had her ability to turn the gawking Koreans into stone, this was central Seoul not the Borneo Rainforest!

At the centre of the island is a water play area for children. In addition to the botanical gardens, the Hangang History Museum, a 200-seat amphitheater and Naru Café are also located on Seonyudo. The café offers simple snacks and a great place to relax and take in the river views. You can get some great views of Seoul city, the National Assembly Building and the World Cup Stadium from the island.

At the far end of the Island visitors can cross the footbridge called “Seonyugyo” (Seonyu Bridge) to get to Hanang River Park. This bridge, which was the first footbridge ever built to connect an islet on the river to the land, was constructed as a joint project with the French. In the evening, lights projected onto the bridge produce beautiful reflections on the river’s surface.

On leaving the park I mistakenly decided to run for a bus, “pop” went the knee! 35 minutes and 2 strong painkillers later, fearing a damaged cruciate, I hobbled to the subway and headed for the Express Bus Terminal.  I purchased a neoprene knee brace and a 6 pm Chungju Express Bus ticket. After a rather restless night, I took more painkillers and strapped up for the journey to Eomjeong.  My kind co-workers organised an excursion to the fantastic new Chungju Hospital situated on the mountains outside the city.  In this fabulous new centre, I was processed, diagnosed, x-rayed and dispensed within an hour, very, very impressive. NHS eat your heart out.  It transpires there is no serious damage just some spasm and inflammation.  I have to say it felt more serious and just put on record I have not been to a hospital for treatment in over 30 years. Hopefully I will not need to again, I just have to realise that I have tenderness in my ligaments and that needs to be managed carefully. In layman’s terms I’m just an ageing old git!