Monday, June 6, 2011

Gangnam to the World

If you're in a foreign country and you know that your time is limited, it is a big shame to spend a weekend in a swivel chair and facebook the day away. It wasn't the case for me, amid the weather being overcast telling me not to go out. I had to set out on a familiar subway route boarding the train from Yeokgok Station and getting off at Gangnam-guchong Station (강남구청역, dark green line), for the district tour organized by Gangnam-gu (강남구). Seoul has 25 districts (구) but it is only Gangnam, as far as my email is concerned, that has sent me an invitation to become an honorary publicity ambassador. It is also only in this district where you will feel an air of sophistication, much like when I visited Manhattan, with the district being dotted with huge business buildings, museums, and commercial establishments. The thing is, I did not feel detached at all from the cultural face that Korea is projecting to foreigners. The culture and tradition was there, intermingled with modernity and much more.

So we arrived at the city municipal office and waited for about an hour for the other participants. There was a bus parked just in front of the building and we rightly suspected that it's for the trip. Sure enough, it was. We were welcomed on board by a very nice tourist guide, a friendly bus driver, and a bag of snacks and a water bottle. Small as the snacks were, they made me feel that the organizers took our needs to heart. The water bottle saved my day.

There were a lot of destinations in the trip but I liked Kukkiwon the most. I thought, gosh, we're going to Korea's top Taekwondo academy, and Taekwondo being Korea's national sport, I must be able to get a glimpse of how jins train hard and execute to perfection Taekwondo routines. The well-built jins started to do Taekwondo moves to a tune, as if it were easy kicking almost to a split and doing the spins and still landing with great balance and composure. The choreography was excellent. But I wanted to see the apples juiced and ply boards splintered. Well, those came right after a sparring, which still was done to a very upbeat tune. Surprisingly, it wasn't just apples and boards, there were swords and bells, too. I was privileged to see such a performance done in a place where Taekwondo was originally founded (Kukki). The exhibitions include jins somersaulting and crushing the apples pierced by the tip of a sword 12 feet up in the air. You can say that that's accuracy. I guess they'd feel awful if their feet touches the sword. And there was this jin who was blindfolded and was just listening to the sound of the bell, using it as his cue as to how distant he is from the apples. With a sharp, powerful somersault, he brought the apples down, and so was the crowd of spectators. At the end of the performance, we were allowed to step in the court and take photos with the jins. I also picked a splinter of wood not as a souvenir but in order to test whether I can break it into two at home, and how painful it is to try.

There were other highlights in the trip like the Garden Restaurant and Samsung D'light. All in all, it was a rewarding Saturday. I got the chance to watch the jins and meet the honorable Mayor of Gangnam Shin Yeon-hee. The freebie didn't stop with the water bottle; everyone also got a USB.