Thursday, May 21, 2015

More Seoul pics

Once again I am typing this post during a layover at Tokyo Narita - but this time I am enroute back to Chicago! One last post about the visit to Seoul with more pictures.

I was lucky enough to be in Seoul when the annual Lotus Lantern Festival took place. Here are some snapshots from the festival's parade:

After the parade, we went to the Jogyesa Temple. The temple housed an absolutely stunning display of lanterns. This picture definitely does not do it justice:

It's hard to go hungry in Seoul. There are so many food offerings available everywhere. Here is a sampling of some local eats:
Upper left: Bibimbap
Upper right: Late-night mandu (dumplings)
Lower left: Adorable animal-themed bakery rolls
Lower right: A kimchee selection for the ages
Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics. The Olympic stadium and surrounding areas have been converted into a beautiful park with sports facilities, trails, and monuments. It is a haven of greenery in the middle of the metropolis. I got in a really nice 10-miler while exploring the park.

This is the World Peace Gate at one of the Olympic Park entrances:
It is purely a coincidence that I'm wearing a shirt that says "Chicago" on it. Way to represent, eh?
The flags are displayed for all 160 nations that participated in the 1988 Olympics:

In an amazing coincidence, my friend Haiying happened to be in Seoul the same time I was there! It was awesome getting to catch up with her - I hadn't seen her in several years. Here are some snapshots in Hongdae Park from one of the nights we got together:
Left: Haiying and me
Right: Helen and me (both trying to look tough)
The three of us went to dinner at a restaurant called The Beastro. Check out how one of the Beastro's chefs photobombed us. =D
From L to R: Helen, me, and Haiying

Helen and I had a little fun with a K-Pop display in the Apgujeong neighborhood (we picked a Gangnam one, of course):

Speaking of Gangnam, this display was right near Helen's apartment. If anyone was in the dancing mood, it was complete with flashing lights and music. (I found this out by accident when I hit one of the display buttons and "Gangnam Style" started blaring from the loudspeakers. All of the people passing by on the street turned their heads to see what crazy person had caused the ruckus (i.e., me)).

Here is Helen's street. The array of lights throughout the entire city was always amazing.

More stunning architecture and cityscapes:

My huge thanks go out to Helen for being such a wonderful hostess during my time in Seoul!!!

And now, back to reality for me in Chicago. I have a lot of catching up to do with all of your blogs. I hope to get back on track with everything over the next few days. Thank goodness for Memorial Day Weekend coming up!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A glimpse of North Korea

When preparing to visit Helen in Seoul, I learned about the Korean Demilitarized Zone (the "DMZ"). This is a strip of land running across the Korean peninsula which serves as a buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea. It is about 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. It is also the most heavily militarized border in the world.
Surprisingly, there are a number of tours that visit the DMZ. I jumped at the opportunity, of course. Helen had already been on a DMZ tour, so I went by myself on a day that she had to work. I was required to bring my passport and adhere to a dress code (no shorts, sandals, etc.).

The DMZ is about an hour's driving distance north of Seoul. Enroute, our local tour guide gave us several precautions including taking photographs only in approved spots, being careful not to point or gesture at anything, and avoiding communication or contact with any North Korean or United Nations military (!!!).

Our first stop was Camp Bonifas. This is a military post located within the Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom. This is the only place where North Korean and South Korean forces stand face-to-face, and it is nicknamed "Truce Village." When we arrived, it was clear how heavily guarded the premises were. There were military personnel everywhere. We were not allowed to take pictures.

At this point, American military took over the tour. They did a very thorough check of all of our passports. Then, they gave us each one of these visitor badges:
UNCMAC stands for United Nations Command, Military Armistice Commission
We each had to sign one of these waivers (which was not at ALL terrifying):

We were asked to attest that we were not intoxicated or under the influence of controlled substances; that we were not carrying any weapons; and that we were not planning to defect into North Korea. This drew some laughter from several folks - but I fully realized that this was no joke.

Another tour group arrived with a large group of media representatives wielding video cameras and microphones. Military personnel sternly apprehended them, saying that media visits required a special permit and escort. Again, this was obviously not a joke.

We watched a slide show explaining the history of the DMZ:

After the slide show, we were shown the Freedom House. It is intended for possible use to host reunions of families separated by the Korean War. (Note that "possible" is the operative word; my understanding is that no such reunions have ever occurred there.) No pictures allowed.

We were then shown the Military Demarcation Line marking the border between North Korea and South Korea. In this picture, the blue buildings are the JSA where negotiations are held. The blue buildings straddle the border and anything beyond them is North Korean soil.

Our guide warned us that North Korean snipers were in the building carefully monitoring our every move. We were reminded again not to point or make any gestures, as this would risk endangering ourselves and everyone around us. This made me nervous about even pushing my hair out of my eyes or adjusting my glasses!

Here's a closer shot of some of the military guards on the South Korean side. The cement line in the middle of the picture is the official demarcation line.

We were told that sometimes North Korean soldiers will guard right at the line, so the two sides could literally be standing facing each other. (Awkward?)

We then went inside one of the conference rooms where the negotiations take place. The blue flag on the conference table represents the demarkation line. The right of the flag is North Korean territory, and left of the flag is South Korean. Note the Republic of Korea soldier standing guard right along the flag, as well as the American soldier on the left.

In case you were wondering, the guy in the white shirt was trying to take a picture with the Korean soldier.

Here are some closer views of the Korean soldier. Check out the armband.

We were permitted and encouraged to step into the North Korean side of the room - so we all did. Given the controlled environment, it didn't feel dangerous to me.

We were heavily warned that we should NOT attempt to exit the conference room on the North Korean side. I believe the exact words used were, "Don't even think about it. Just don't." You got it, buddy.

At this point, the tour was turned back over to our local tour guide and we departed Camp Bonifas.

We then drove past the Dorasan Observatory, where North Korea's landscape is visible. On clear days, you are able to see mountains that are in North Korean territory. Unfortunately it was very overcast when I was there, so visibility was quite poor. But here is what I got:

Next, we saw the Bridge of No Return. The bridge crosses the Military Demarcation Line and was used for prisoner exchanges at the end of the Korean War.
We were not allowed to step outside by the bridge. Therefore, I took this picture from inside the bus.
(Hence, the poor picture quality.)
The bridge's name is based on claims that many war prisoners did not wish to return home. They were taken to the bridge and given the choice to remain in the country of their captivity, or cross over to the other country. However, if they chose to cross, they could never return. The bridge was last used in 1968.

Our last stop was Injimgak, which is a park built in Paju (South Korea's northernmost city). The park was built to console those who were impacted by the division of Korea. The area is filled with statues and monuments from the Korean War.

This is the Bridge of Freedom, which is a former railroad bridge for repatriated soldiers returning from North Korea:

Throughout the park, various walls are filled with peace-wishing ribbons, flags, and other personal notes:

There is a lot more detail on the DMZ and JSA that I am not including here for sake of brevity. However, the more I reflect on the experience, the more I am realizing the magnitude of the area and all of its history.

I am usually not big on guided tours, but seeing the DMZ is most definitely NOT something that you can do on your own. In summary, I think the tour was well worth it. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to go.

In case you missed it, check out some of my other pictures from Seoul here.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

NHL Round 3 playoff predictions, Seoul pics

Greetings from Seoul!

I am having an amazing time seeing the city with Helen. The atmosphere here is incredibly energetic and vibrant. I have already taken a gazillion pictures and will share a few today.

But first - I wanted to publish my NHL Round 3 playoff predictions before the games get underway. In case you are keeping track, so far I am 10-2 this year on overall picks. Adam is 12-0! Not too shabby, eh?

I do have plenty to say about both of these series. But for sake of time, we will keep things very cursory today.

Eastern Conference
New York Rangers vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Prediction: Rangers in 7

Western Conference
Chicago Blackhawks vs Anaheim Ducks
Prediction: Hawks in 6
I absolutely love this snapshot of the Hawks breathtaking pre-game ice show.
As always, GO BLACKHAWKS!!! (Even from 6,500+ miles and 14 time zones away!)

OK, on that note - time for some pictures from Seoul.

Here are two snapshots from the Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was built in 1395. It is the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty, and it has 7,700 rooms (!!!).

This is the Myeong-dong outdoor marketplace. It was jam-packed with shops, sidewalk vendors, and food:

Here is the Gwangjang market, which is Korea's oldest traditional marketplace. It is enormous. Lots of locals were having meals at communal tables with the food being cooked up literally right in front of them. Helen and I joined in!

The city's architecture is visually spectacular. It is even more stunning when lit up at night:

Finally, here is the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. It is currently filled with over 21,000 white roses lit up with LED lights:

More to come!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

While in transit

Just a real quick post today. As I type this, I am currently in Tokyo Narita on a layover enroute to Seoul Incheon. Jetlag hasn't hit yet - but we will see how long this lasts...!

Travel Gangnam style
When I land in Seoul, I'll be taking the bus to the Gangnam Station. Helen gave me detailed arrival instructions along with sending this picture:

Of course the first thought that came to mind was the Psy song/video/dance! When Helen first mentioned the "Gangnam Station" to me, my first response was, "Gangnam as in Gangnam Style?" (She probably didn't think it was as funny as I did.)

It turns out that Gangnam means "south of the river" and that it is one of the largest districts in Seoul. Ahhh, the things you learn.

Needless to say, I am thrilled to be traveling to a station with such an easy-to-remember name!

Lace locks
I've historically never used the last shoelace holes in my running shoes. However, my new Saucony Rides are a little on the loose side. For the first time ever, I was using the extra holes via the traditional lacing method.

Talk about timing. This past week, several folks posted this video describing another way to use that last shoelace hole:

Is this how it was really designed to be used? I am going to try this loopty-loop trick and see how it feels. To be continued...

Cinco pics
If last weekend's Cinco de Miler wasn't already awesome enough (recap here), I just found out that the race photos are free to download! Here are two of me that came out semi-decent:

Cut-off version of the race photo body spasm 
Finish line!
Linking up with Amanda's Thinking Out Loud Thursdays.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Disney Parades

Happy Wednesday! I'm departing today to visit Helen in Korea and I am super excited!

In the meantime, I am linking up with Deb's Wordless Wednesday Disney photo hop.
Focused on the Magic
The theme for this week is "Disney Parades."

One of my favorites is the Main Street Electrical Parade at the Magic Kingdom. It's a stunning display of music, dancing, and lights in every color imaginable.

Tinker Bell leads the way!!!
The grand marshal himself!
Mickey needs no introduction!

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." 
- Walt Disney

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Running hacks

Linking up with AprilPatty, and Erika for Tuesdays on the Run.

This week's topic is Running hacks!

I have to admit, when I first saw the word "hacks" my first thoughts were that of severe coughing (e.g. hacking up a lung) or gaining unauthorized entry to some kind of data (hacking into a computer). But then, I realized the topic was probably more geared towards "tips or tricks" hacks. That makes a lot more sense. =)

Goodness, there are probably thousands of running hacks out there. The great thing is that it's a neverending learning process with discovering new hacks. =)

Here are ten hacks that are sacred to me:
  1. I study a race's course map in advance. I familiarize myself with the aid station placements, frequency, and offerings. I also look at loops/turns/end points and hills so I can plan accordingly and run the tangents, etc. Even if the race claims to offer GU or similar on the course, I always bring my own just in case.
  2. I keep a prepacked pouch with things like GU, Bodyglide, hair ties, bobby pins, safety pins, sunscreen, lip balm, band-aids, salt capsules, pretzels, etc. Then I just toss the entire pouch into my gear check bag along with whatever else I might need for that specific day. It saves a lot of time not having to repack everything each time. Also, if possible, I don't use the race-issued bag for gear check - I use something unique to make my bag more identifiable.
    This might be the ugliest bag I've ever seen... but it would be really easy to identify if it ever got lost!
  3. When I get bored of running the usual course around my neighborhood, I try running the same route in reverse. Alternatively, I'll find a way to change things up midway. E.g. do part outside, part on the treadmill; change my shoes midway; vary up the fueling options.
  4. I enjoy listening to music while I'm running, but these days I don't listen to it the whole time, if at all. Instead, I'll reserve it for when I need a motivational boost to help myself get through those tough final miles.
  5. I lay out and prep ALL my gear the night before. This could even include loosening my running shoelaces, laying out the utensils and ingredients for breakfast, and pinning my bib in advance. (I've learned the hard way how tough it can be to pin your bib on straight when you're rushed or nervous, LOL.)
  6. Negative splits are always my goal. It's better to start out slow and speed up in the end than it is to start out fast and then die in the second half.
  7. I work on hydrating well throughout the entire day before a run, not just right before. For important races, I'll try to work on staying well hydrated starting several days in advance.
  8. Strength train (core and hips/glutes), stretch/foam roll, and cross-train.
  9. Bodyglide, Bodyglide, Bodyglide - and never try anything new on race day. I always do several practice runs in my entire race outfit and with my fueling strategy before race day.
  10. Lung capacity improves more quickly than your joints/muscles do. Easy/rest days are really, really important. This is another lesson that I've learned the hard way.
Your turn! Please share with me your most sacred running hacks!