Week 4: Touring Gwangju

Gwangju Travel Blog

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The new face of Korean Currency.

Originally our plan was to visit the coastal city of Mokpo roughly one hour from Gwangju.  However, the weather took a turn for the worst (which isn't common since it's monsoon season in Southeast Asia) so instead Dr. Huh and Dr. Lee gave us a little tour around Gwangju.  Our first stop was the Gwangju Art Museum.  Two floors were open to the public and we were able to view paintings from many Korean and foreign artists.   One section of the gallery was devoted to traditional folk art.  There was a rather large painting of a man and a dog with the words, "Ke Ke Ke Paseyo" written on it.  Roughly translated this means "dog (meat) for sale."  So far we have not seen any dog meat vendors in Gwangju but we've heard they're out there.

Don't be fooled by the lower denomination, in Korea the 5000 Won bill is treasured above any other.... at least it should be :)
  I think I'll just stick to eating rice and tofu.


 Another wing of the Art Museum was devoted to paint splatters on canvas labeled Untitled 1, Untitled 1a-c, Untitled 2….etc.  I’m not a connoisseur of modern art by any means so those pieces didn't do much for me.  Justin and Dr Huh had a good natured argument about which paintings most resembled certain cells in the human body.  According to Dr Huh the paintings were not splatters but rather  magnified images of blood cells, lymphatic cells, etc.   It's funny how many of our conversations revolve around biochemistry- Dr. Trotter, you'd be so proud.  During one of the car rides Dr Huh asked Justin to name all of the amino acids.  At that point I took a nap :) 


Our next stop was the Gwangju National Museum.

A relinquary containing the sarira, or cremated remains of a Buddhist monk.
  One exhibit displayed prehistoric tools, tombs and other artifacts recovered from numerous shell mounds located in the Gwangju area.  The next exhibit focused on Buddhist art .  Many of the  paintings we saw demonstrated a significant degree of Chinese influence. In fact, many words used in the Korean language have been integrated from Chinese over the last 2000 years due to an extended presence of Chinese speakers on the Korean peninsula. 


Displayed alongside the  traditional Korean paintings were various Buddhist statues and relics.  One of the most interesting displays was a stupa or spiritual monument in which the remains of Buddhist teachers are often kept.  The stupa itself symbolizes "the enlightened mind" or the state of being completely free of pain and desire (i.

A piece of Celadon porcelain made in Korea approximately 800 years ago.
e. nirvana).  Within the stupa is a relinquary (a small ornately decorated box) which contains the sarira--the  cremated remains of a monk.


Perhaps one of the most well-known aspects of Korean art is that of ancient  porcelain.  Until the end of the 11th century Korean porcelain (celadon) was characterized by dark brown and greenish brown hues.    At the end of the 11th century celadon began to assume a beautiful jade green color.  The advancement of glaze and inlay techniques distinguished Korean porcelain from Chinese  porcelain.  To this day the production of jade green celadon has remained elusive.  For this reason original celadon pieces created at the end of the 11th century are worth millions of dollars.

A Jangseung or "Village Guardian" at the Damyang Bamboo Park.
  Even passable replicas may sell for thousands of dollars.  I was hoping to purchase some celadon pieces of our own but it looks like the only dishware we can afford is made by Rubbermaid :)


(*Here's an interesting celadon anecdote:  Dr Lee told  us that several years ago a fisherman was pulling in his nets in the Yellow Sea and found a piece of porcelain.  He knew nothing about its origins so he took it home with him and found a use for it.  It wasn't until a historian happened to be walking past the man's home that the porcelain bowl was discovered- the fisherman had been using the multi-million dollar piece of pottery as a food bowl for his dog!)


Once we finished the museum circuit we headed up Mudeung Mountain for a delicious seafood lunch.  Among the entrees were two plates of raw soft shell crabs.  One plate contained little unseasoned crabs on the half shell that we simply sucked the juicy brains and other organs out of.  We also stuffed the crab with rice to soak up more of the delectable innards :)  The other plate contained little crabs with their shells completely intact and smothered in red chili paste.  We bit down on the  crab and tried to suck out the innards without ingesting half of the shell too.  It was a spicy, difficult task but it was ta-sty!


After lunch we drove to the nearby town of Damyang to visit the Bamboo Park.  We hiked through the lush bamboo and pine forests while we snacked on several kinds of delicious ice cream.  Throughout the park were signs marking the places where several famous Korean movies were filmed.  At the very end of the trail was a replica of a traditional Korean home which had been used 10 years ago in the filming of a horror movie.  After a few hours of enjoying the scenery we were a little pooped so we headed to a restaurant to relax… and eat some more :)


For dinner the doctors treated us to calvi, a meat entrée that looks a lot like a hamburger but tastes much better.  They showed us how to break the calvi patty into chunks, dip the chunks in a red chili pepper paste, add some pickled radish and roll it all up in a sesame leaf.  We have noticed that rather than using some type of bread, Koreans often enjoy using lettuce, sesame, or various other types of leaves to make a refreshing meat-filled wrap.  It's a delicious and low-calorie alternative to a pita or tortilla.  I think we'll have to incorporate this into our diets when we get home.  As Justin says, there isn't much I could do to mess this recipe up :)


For more information on Buddhist symbols you can visit:  


carlydc1985 says:
What a lucky dog! haha
Posted on: Apr 14, 2012
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The new face of Korean Currency.
The new face of Korean Currency.
Dont be fooled by the lower denom…
Don't be fooled by the lower deno…
A relinquary containing the sarira…
A relinquary containing the sarir…
A piece of Celadon porcelain made …
A piece of Celadon porcelain made…
A Jangseung or Village Guardian …
A Jangseung or "Village Guardian"…
photo by: khartl731