Friday, September 20, 2013

Early Autumn-Late Summer Vacation with Joyful Spring - Part 2, The Day We Learned Korean History (Seoul Downtown - Historical & Traditional Places, Gwanghwamun Square, Cheonggye Stream, Insa-dong)


So, in this post I will tell about the second day of my previous trip to Seoul. Although I had visited Seoul a couple times before this trip, there were still several places yet to be discovered. As a result of the tiring trip in the previous day, we agreed to start late in the second day, around 9.30. Our destinations that day were 2 of 5 Grand Palaces (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung), Secret Garden (Huwon), Jongmyo Shrine, Bukchon Hanok Village, Gwanghwamun Square, Cheonggye Stream, and Insa-dong. After writing the list of places in this post, soon I realized those were many places we visited in a single day. Moreover, we decided to reach the places by walking since those places were within walking distance from TravelersA.

Integrated Admission Ticket of Royal Palaces

For your information, there is a special policy of admission ticket of royal palaces in Seoul. They provided an integrated admission ticket and it is available for using until one month after the purchasing date. This integrated ticket costs KRW 10000, and you can use it for entering Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Huwon, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, Jongmyo Shrine. In my opinion this special offer is a really a good deal if in your trip you plan to visit Huwon and other palaces as well. For comparison:

1st Case: All places
Gyeongbokgung: KRW 3000
Changdeokgung: KRW 3000
Huwon: KRW 5000
Changyeonggung: KRW 1000
Deoksugung: KRW 1000
Jongmyo Shrine: KRW 1000
Total = KRW 14000

2nd Case: Gyeongbokgung+Huwon Only
Gyeongbokgung: KRW 3000
Huwon* (including Changdeokgung): KRW 5000 + KRW 3000 = KRW 8000
Total = KRW 11000
*Huwon is located inside Changdeokgung area. Admission ticket for Huwon itself is KRW 5000, but we can't buy this KRW 5000 Huwon ticket only. We should buy it together with Changdeokgung ticket, because we need to enter Huwon from Changdeokgung and will in total cost us KRW 8000.

3rd Case: Our Plan (Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Huwon, Jongmyo Shrine)
Gyeongbokgung: KRW 3000
Changdeokgung: KRW 3000
Huwon: KRW 5000
Jongmyo Shrine: KRW 1000
Total = KRW 12000

So, in conclusion if you will visit Huwon and other palaces as well, it is good to buy the integrated ticket. If you will not visit Huwon, you don't need to buy integrated ticket. In our trip we misunderstood about Huwon ticket price and decided not to buy integrated ticket. It's later proved to be a wrong choice as explained in 3rd case above. I should have convinced them to buy the integrated ticket from the beginning, and I felt bad that I fell into a wrong decision that time because I was less aware about the ticketing price in each places.

1st Destination - Jongmyo Shrine

General information:
Operating Hours: Mar.–Sep. 09:00-18:00 / Oct.-Feb. 09:00-17:30
Last Admission: 1 hour prior to closing
Closing Day: Tuesdays
English Guided Tour: 10:00, 12:00, 14:00, 16:00 (tour duration is about 1 hour)
Cost: KRW 1000
Special Notice: Unguided tour only available on Saturdays

So, from TravelersA we walked to the closest destination which was Jongmyo Shrine. The weather was so good that time. Clear sky and cool temperature, so it was a perfect day for walking. If you want to take subway to go there instead of walking like us, go to Jongno-3-ga station. After arriving, go to exit 11 (subway line 1) or exit 8 (subway line 3/5), and then walk to the Jongmyo Shrine which approximately take 10 minutes from the subway station exit. At that time we arrived at Jongmyo Shrine exactly at 10.00 and we rushed to join the English tour service. We were so fortunate that our tour guide in Jongmyo was very fluent in English and our tour group wasn't that crowded. So we enjoyed the tour guiding through the shrine complex and learned many things there.

Shrine's pavilion which is consisted of 19 rooms for each generation of royal family during Joseon Dynasty
Jongmyo Shrine itself is listed in UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. This shrine is a Confucian shrine which is dedicated for commemorating for the deceased royal family of Joseon Dynasty. In total, there are 19 rooms to honor each King who had reigned during the period of Joseon Dynasty. Each room is containing the spirit tablet of one generation of royal family. The spirit tablet is a rectangular wooden box with a certain dimension and has a hole in the center of each surface. These holes are believed to be the way for spirit to enter and stay in the tablet. What a spooky story to be honest. For your information, this spirit tablets are the original tablets which are well-preserved since the 14th century. There is also an annual memorial service performed in Jongmyo Shrine every first Sunday of May. At this time, we can have the opportunity to see this 600 years old ceremony and the interior inside of each room in Jongmyo Shrine. Except on this day, the rooms are always closed for the reason to keep the spirit rest in peace in the complete darkness inside the room, as was told by the our tour guide. For showing the visitors, there is one small museum which is representing the exact same interior of the 19 rooms in Jongmyo Shrine. During the course of the tour, this small museum is usually shown first. Don't be confused to assume this shrine as a royal tomb. As I mentioned earlier, this shrine is built for commemoration purpose. That's why this shrine only contains the spirit tablet. The real tomb of each royal family, which is in total 40 tombs are spread across Korean Peninsula (including two sites in North Korea). Each tomb's location was chosen according to feng shui calculation when each family member was interred. In my opinion, this place is the most important place in the ancient time to learn about the royal family's linage and history. I'm glad that this place is still well-preserved until today.

Replica of the interior inside each room
There is one special thing here, which is different from the similar thing that you can find in other palaces. It is the main road of the Jongmyo Shrine. This main road is composed of there parallel paths made from rocks. This three paths have different height, indicating the different level of people who may walk on each path. The center path which is slightly higher than the other two is dedicated for the spirit, a kind of horror when you first hear of it. Since this is the shrine for commemorating the past kings, it is totally reasonable that the main path is reserved for their spirit. The tour guide told us that in order to respect the Korean culture and history, no alive men are allowed to walk on the central path nowadays. The other two paths of the main road are dedicated for the living king and crown prince at that moment.

2nd Destinantion - Huwon (Secret Garden)

General information:
Operating Hours: Feb.–May & Sep.-Oct. 10:00-18:00/Jun.-Aug. 10:00-18:30/Nov.-Jan. 10:00-17:30
Last Admission: 2 hour prior to closing
Closing Day: Mondays
English Guided Tour: 11:30, 15:30 (tour duration is about 1.5 hour)
Cost: KRW 8000 (look the explanation related to the admission ticket above)
Special Notice: Only available in guided tour system.

We finished at Jongmyo Shrine around 11.00 and directly walked to our next destination which was located not so far from Jongmyo Shrine, Huwon the famous secret garden. If you want to take subway to go there, go to Anguk Station. After arriving, go to exit 3 of subway line 3 and then walk to the Changdeokgung entrance which will approximately take 5 minutes from the subway station exit. To enter Huwon, you need to buy ticket of both Huwon (KRW 5000) and Changdeokgung (KRW 3000) because it is located inside the Changdeokgung area. We arrived there exactly at 11.30 in front of ticket counter. After buying the ticket, we were told to hurry since the tour was already started. We rushed to the group tour's meeting point which was quite far from the main enterace/ticketing counter. The way to reach Huwon wasn't very convenient because of the hilly contour of the location itself. We were lucky to find the meeting point even before the tour leaving. We missed some of the introduction I guessed, but it was better than to be left behind.

One of the ponds inside the secret garden
After we caught up with the group tour and listened to some remaining preliminary information, we started to explore the secret garden. The condition of our group tour in Huwon was very different from the condition in Jongmyo Shrine previously. Due to limited slot for English guided tour which is only two times a day, in contrast with Jongmyo Shrine's English guided tour which is four times a day, the number of participants in this tour group is way much bigger. When we joined the group tour in Jongmyo Shrine, the total participant was around 20 people. Here in Huwon the total number of participant was about 50-60 people. This big size of group tour made the tour was less enjoyable compare to Jongmyo Shrine's tour. Moreover, as the results of this crowd we couldn't clearly hear the explanation of the tour guide.

This Huwon is basically the place for ancient royal family of Joseon dynasty to spend their leisure time. There are several ponds, gazebos, pavilions, and landscaped gardens inside this whole complex. This place gives the impression as if you are in the middle of a forest considering many trees and flowers enhancing the natural sensation. This secret garden term is derived from one area inside the garden complex which is private for the king only. No other men could enter the king's private area in the past time, which later popularized the secrecy of this garden. As told by the tour guide, the ancient royal family spent their time here for resting, reading some books, enjoying the nature, or even throwing a feast. The environment inside the Huwon is very beautiful and comforting. As we explored more inside the garden, we would be able to imagine how perfect was the life of ancient royal family. It is renowned that this secret garden usually reveals its most beautiful scenery during the autumn season. As I quoted from this link: The most beautiful time to see the garden is during the fall when the autumn foliage is at its peak and the leaves have just started to fall. In addition, it is one of the historic attractions that represent the beauty of Korea. I decided to come back again here sometimes during autumn season while I'm still staying in Korea.

Small rice filed inside the secret garden
For your information, the hilly contour is still can be found inside the garden. Several spots inside the garden sometimes physically challenges you to climb down or climb up to reach them. But I assure you those spots are worth a visit. There were some interesting facts we learned from our tour guide. There was a small rice field located inside the garden. This rice field in the ancient time was used by the king to observe the farming condition of his people throughout the country. The king believed that by knowing the farming condition from inside the palace area, he could identify the welfare condition of his people and later determine the most appropriate policy to improve his nation. What a wise method in my opinion. The other interesting facts was the decoration of gazebos inside the garden. Each corner of gazebos were decorated with an illustration of an animal which was believed to bring good fortune. Can you guess what animal it is? I couldn't believe when the first time I heard the answer from our tour guide that it was a BAT. Yes, you read it right. I repeat once more, it was a bat. Bat in western culture is always connected to a bad luck sign. I believe it is originated from he vampire/Dracula related story. However, in this eastern culture the (Chinese) language pronunciation of bat (蝠/) is similar to good luck/fortune/happiness (福/) eve though they have different character. In Korean language, both words are pronounced exactly the same in Hangeul system as 복 (bok). That's why the bat patterns dominated the decoration in the corner of the gazebos as they believed to bring a good luck.

Lunch Break

We finished our tour at Huwon around 13.00. We went to have lunch nearbay the Changdeokgung entrance. I found using Naver Map that located on a small street in front of Changdeokgung namely 율곡로6길 (yulgongno-yuk-gil) there were many small restaurants. We ended up with the first restaurant we found. We ordered two famous Korean dishes, 부대찌개 (Budae Jjigae) and 삼계탕 (Samgyetang). The first one was some Korean stew with using ham, sausages, cheese, rice cake, kimchi, and gochujang paste. This dish was started to get famous after the Korean war in 1950s. At that time Korean people creatively created this dish from the left over of American troops food stock to fit the Korean people's taste. This dish cost KRW 8000 per person and served in the minimum amount for two persons. The second dish we had was the Korean food delicacy, the chicken ginseng soup. This dish was made from the whole chicken stuffed with sticky rice, ginseng, and other supporting ingredients, and boiled in a stone pot with some water to produce the chicken-ginseng broth. This was a very nutritious food, especially consumed during hot summer season in Korea where we could suffer from an excessively sweating due to hot and humid weather condition. It cost KRW 12000 per one dish as it contained a whole chicken. Considering there were 5 of us, we ordered 4 portion of budae jjigae and 1 portion of samgyetang. It was quite a big feast and I was glad to see that Spring and her friends enjoyed our lunch that time. Comparing to our previous day meals, that lunch time was really way much better in taste and quantity. We felt so full and didn't feel hungry at all for several hours later. We finished our lunch nearly at 14.30.

3rd Destination - Changdeokgung

General information:
Operating Hours: Apr.-Sep. 9:00-18:30/Oct. 09:00-18:00/Dec.-Feb. 09:00-17:00/Mar. & Nov. 09:00-17:30
Last Admission: 1 hour prior to closing
Closing Day: Mondays
English Guided Tour: 10:30, 14:30 (tour duration is about 1 hour)
Cost: KRW 3000
Special Notice: -

One building inside Changdeokgung on a sunny day
After we finished our lunch, we decided to have a quick visit to Changdeokgung as we had already purchased the ticket (included when we bought Huwon's ticket). This palace is also known as Eastern Palace, due to its location on the east side of the main royal palace (Gyeongbokgung). We didn't intend to join the English guided tour in order to leave early from Changdeokgung to catch up English guided tour in Gyeongbokgung in 15.30 which we considered as a better palace to be explored. We just captured a couple of photos from this place and finished it around 40 minutes. Knowing that we're gonna be late unless we hurried, we rushed back to the main entrance of Changdeokgung and tried to find a bus to go to Gyeongbokgung. The best bus to take according to Naver Map was bus no 272. It wasn't stop exactly at the main gate of Gyeongbokgung, but that was much faster than travel on foot to Gyeongbokgung. One little tips to catch up this bus after exiting Changdeokgung, go to bus stop located on the right side of the entrance gate. Don't go to the bus stop located on the left side of Changdeokgung entrance gate as it was a bus stop for Seoul city tour bus, not a public bus.

4th Destination - Gyeongbokgung

General information:
Operating Hours: Mar.–May & Sep.-Oct. 09:00-18:00 / Jan.-Feb. & Nov.-Dec. 09:00-17:00/Jun.-Aug. 09:00-18:30
Last Admission: 1 hour prior to closing
Closing Day: Tuesdays
English Guided Tour: 11:00, 13:30, 15:30 (tour duration is about 1.5 hour)
Cost: KRW 3000
Special Notice: Tours depart in front of the Information Center at Heungnyemun Gate (흥례문). Tickets for Gyeongbokgung Palace are also valid at the National Palace Museum and the National Folk Museum of Korea. Royal guard changing procession at Gwanghwamun gate every one hour from 10.00-15.00.

Gwanghwamun Gate on a clear sunny day
If you want to take subway to go here, there are two options. The first one is go to Gyeongbokgung station. After arriving, go to exit 5 of subway line 3 and then walk to the Gwanghwamun gate which will approximately take 5 minutes from the subway station exit. The second and recommended option is go to Gwanghwamun station. After arriving, go to exit 2 of subway line 5 and then walk to the Gwanghwamun gate through Gwanghwamun square, which will approximately take 5 minutes from the subway station exit. Gwanghwamun gate is the main entrance for Gyeongbokgung. The name of Gwanghwamun (광화문 / 光化門) literally means as the light transforming gate. From the name origin, this gate is believed to make the one who passes through it becomes enlightened. If you enter Gyeongbokgung from this main gate, you'll be able to watch the royal guard changing procession which is regularly held everyday on every hour between 10.00-15.00, except Tuesdays. You can watch this procession only at Gwanghwamun gate or at Daehanmun gate of Deoksugung palace. At Daehanmun gate it has different schedule, which is performed at 11.00, 14.00, 15.30 everyday except Mondays. In addition, there is a free stand for traditional Korean cloth (Hanbok) wearing experience at Daehanmun gate only during the royal guard changing procession period.

Changing of royal guard procession at Gwanghwamun Gate
So, back to our story, we arrived at the Gyeongbokgung ticketing office exactly at 15.30. We entered from Gyeongbokgung's east parking gate, not Gwanghwamun gate, since we came from the east side (Changdeokgung). Due to our arrival time and entrance direction, we weren't able to watch the royal guard changing procession. I knew this procession because I had watched them several times at both places (Gwanghwamun and Daehanmun gate). However, I wasn't aware of the time schedule of this procession at each location. If I had remembered and checked this procession schedule during our lunch time, I would have recommended them to go directly to Gyeongbokgung instead of exploring Changdeokgung. I suddenly remembered about this whole procession thing when I was already at Changdeokgung, but it was too late.

Main pavilion in Gyeongbokgung
Soon after purchasing the ticket, we then looked for the group tour meeting point. Unlike the previous places, Gyeongbokgung was way much bigger and crowded. Many people walked across the palace area, made it more difficult to spot the group tour. We managed to find English guided tour group. Unlike our Huwon and Jongmyo Shrine tour guide, our tour guide in Gyeongbokgung wasn't so fluent in English. I didn't say that she couldn't speak English well, but her English pronunciation wasn't good enough and made us hard to understand what she said. Furthermore, during the 1.5 hours course of our tour we drew more attention to her anti-Japanese sentiment than the history of the palace itself. I understood that her anti-Japanese sentiment was arisen due to Japan colonialism in Korea in early 20th century, where the Japanese colonial destroyed most part of palace. However, since the palace was already rebuilt to its original construction, I thought it would be better to focus on explaining more about the palace history during the Joseon Dynasty like we learned in Huwon and Jongmyo Shrine. At last as the result of many stop we made to hear her talk, we were only able to explore 1/3 of the palace complex. Yep, I know that the palace was big enough. But, if she had talked less about the anti-Japanese sentiment, we would have explored and learned more about the palace itself and Joseon Dynasty history.

Another small pavilion inside the Gyeongbokgung complex
So, here are some information I extracted during the course of our tour. The original Gwanghwamun gate was completely destroyed by Japanese colonial in early 20th century. The current gate was a restored gate made by concrete, obviously not the exactly the same as the original one. Then, the Japanese built their main colonial government building at the destroyed Gwanghwamun gate location. They made the building bigger and taller than Gyeongbokgung main throne. However, after the end of World War II, this building was destroyed and the restoration program of the palace was started. The other things changed by Japanese colonials was the Sejeong-no street in front of Gwanghwamun gate. This street was supposed to be a straight line out of the Gwanghwamun gate. By Japanese colonial, this street was modified to connect the Japanese colonial government building to point Japanese Shinto temple at mount Nam (Namsan). After World War II, there were many buildings built on the side of this Sejong-no street and made it difficult to restore the street to its initial condition. As the results, nowadays you can see that the Gwanghwamun gate is slightly tilted to the end point of this street. You will be able to see this when you face the Gwanghwamun gate from the area of Gwanghwamun square. In addition to the cruel history during Japanese colonialism era, we also learned a short story of Empress Myeongseong who was assassinated by Japanese secret agent as she was considered as a threat for Japanese plan to invade Korea and China. After assassination, her body was burnt inside the Gyeongbokgung complex area to remove the evidence. You can read her detail history in the provided link.

A replica of classical imperial building at the National Folk Museum of Korea inside the complex of Gyeongbokgung
There was actually a short Joseon Dynasty history that I remembered during the tour in Gyeongbokgung. It was the question asked by the one king of Jeseon Dynasty when he was selecting her queen. There were two questions to test the intelligence of the queen candidates. The first one was: What is the most beautiful flower in the world? Can you guess the answer? It was the Cotton Flower. Why? Because this flower can produce cotton which can be used for textile and later provided the sufficient cloth for the people. The second one was: What is the deepest thing in the world? Again, can you guess the answer? The perfect answer was The Human Mind. Yep, it is undoubtedly the deepest thing off all kind. We can't measure how deep a human can think. What a philosophical questions. After finishing group tour, we moved to our next destination, Bukchon Hanok Village. Since we're already far from the main entrance, we exited Gyeongbokgung complex through the National Folk Museum of Korea. When we passed this museum, we captured some pictures, including the replica of classical imperial building.

5th Destination - Bukchon Hanok Village

General information:
Operating Hours: All year round
Last Admission: -
Closing Day:-
English Guided Tour: -
Cost: -
Special Notice: Please be quiet at the village area.

Around 17.15 we exited the Gyeongbokgung area through the main gate of National Folk Museum of Korea where was located on the east part of Gyeongbokgung complex. From there we walked across the street to a small street namely 북촌로5길 (Bukchonro-o-gil). We walked down this small street for 15 minutes until we found main 북촌로 (Bukchon-ro). We spotted a Bukchon Hanok Village information center at the street intersection. We asked for direction and information of Bukchon Hanok Village. We also got some map and brochure of the entire Bukchon Hanok Village area. If you want to take subway to go there, go to Anguk Station. After arriving, go to exit 2 of subway line 3 and then walk to the north side about 300 m until you find Bukchon Hanok Village information center.

A view of Bukchon Hanok Village
According to the brochure, the best view of Bukchon Hanok Village is located at the spot number 5 and 6 on the map. Unfortunately I don't have the map to show you here. Make sure you visit the information center before going here to get some maps. There are also some volunteers who are willingly to help the foreigners in some favorite tourist destinations around Seoul. They usually wear red color t-shirt, and you can ask them some question related to the tourist destination. We asked one volunteers the way to reach spot number 5 and 6 on the maps along our way. We finally made it to those spots as depicted in the picture above. For your information, this area is hilly and you need to climb up a little bit to reach those spots. The name of Bukchon Hanok Village literally means the north village (Bukchon) of Korean traditional house (Hanok). This village maintains the original Korean traditional architecture in most of their houses which is rarely found nowadays. Please notice that it is a real village where people actually live. Please be quiet around this place, so you will not disturb the people who live here. We made two mistakes there. We talked to each other and laughed aloud while we were taking some pictures in these area. As the result, we got admonition twice from the people who live there. It was so embarrassing honestly, but we had a lot of fun at that time and captured a lot of beautiful photos.

6th Destination - Gwanghwamun Square

General information:
Operating Hours: All year round
Last Admission: -
Closing Day:-
English Guided Tour: -
Cost: -
Special Notice: -

Gwanghwamun gate view from Gwanghwamun square in a clear sunny day
We finished our 5th destination at Bukchon Hanok Village and went to our 6th destination, Gwanghwamun square. There were two more destinations to go after Gwanghwamun square, so we chose to take bus from Bukchon Hanok Village to Gwanghwamun square to save some energy. We took Jongno public bus no 2 and transferred to Seoul public bus no. 109 at Anguk intersection. We stopped in front of KT main office in Gwanghwamun square. If you want to reach here by subway, make your way to Gwanghwamun station. After arriving, go to exit 2 of subway line 5 and you can find the square easily. This square was finished in 2009, and became public square since then. From the Gwanghwamun square, you may overlook the Gwanghwamun gate and see the tilted view of the gate according to the end point of the Sejong-no. From this spot also you will able to spot a blue-roofed building in a distance behind the Gwanghwamun Gate. The blue-roof building is the famous Blue House, the main executive office and official residence of the President of Rep. of Korea.

(Left) Statue of King Sejong The Great. (Right) Statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin
There are two main statues in this square, the statue of King Sejeong The Great (세종대왕) and the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin (이순신). This two figures are most important persons throughout Korean history. King Sejeong The Great is famous of all his important achievements in science, technology, literature, and also politics. From all his achievements the most important one is the invention of Hangeul, the original Korean phonetic alphabet and the only alphabet system in the world that is invented and all history of behind it is well recorded. The Hangeul was made in the past time to help the people of Korean who struggled to understand the complicated Chinese character writing system at that time. This Korean alphabet simplified the language writing system which was previously only accessible to only bright scholars. Because of this invention, King Sejong is crowned as the great king and to honor him his picture nowadays can be easily found in KRW 10000 Korean bill. The second one is the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. He is well respected for his maritime war strategic planning at the 16th century. He successfully managed to defeat the Japanese invasion trial by improving the Turtle Ships mainly used at his war. Below this two statues there are small museums connected to each other. These two small museums tell the story of each figure. The admission to this museum is free.

The best time to visit this square is at clear sunny day or around sunset time. Near sunset time there will be an additional attraction of colorful water fountains in front of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin statue where will be a great spot to capture some photos. We arrived there almost at 19.00, took some pictures around the square area. We also took a little rest while listening to some live orchestra performance at the square area. We fortunately came at the perfect time when the orchestra played my favorite movie soundtrack of all time, Pirates of the Caribbean.

7th Destination - Cheonggye Stream

General information:
Operating Hours: All year round
Last Admission: -
Closing Day:-
English Guided Tour: -
Cost: -
Special Notice: -

A view at Cheonggye Plaza and along the stream

So, this 7th destination of our trip that day was located not so far from the Gwanghwamun square. We walked to here from Gwanghwamun square. We arrived first at the Cheonggye Plaza, the starting point of this stream. To reach the plaza by subway is similar to reach the Gwanghwamun square. Make your way to Gwanghwamun station. After arriving, go to exit 8 (instead of 2) of subway line 5 and you can find the plaza easily. We arrived there after sunset and the colorful lights truly colored the small waterfall at the plaza. We took most of our pictures near the plaza as it was the best spot along the stream. This plaza is famous because of several Korean dramas and movies shooting at this stream. Usually this place is used by couples to hangout together, since it provides romantic atmosphere especially in the evening. There is also an annual lantern festival held along this stream on November. It is actually hard to believe that several years earlier, this place wasn't beautiful like nowadays. It is the constant work of the Major and people of Seoul to improve the condition of this poor stream several years ago.

Dinner Break

We walked from the Cheonggye plaza along the stream to reach our next destination, Insa-dong. While going there, we found a small restaurant called Gyudon. This place sells the similar thing with its name, gyudon. The price of the foods offered here wasn't that expensive, around KRW 5000-7000. That was not Korean dish, but rather a Japanese style dish. The taste of the food was acceptable and it was served quickly so we didn't lose too many time for having dinner.

8th Destination - Insa-dong

General information:
Operating Hours: Some stores opens until 22.00
Last Admission: -
Closing Day:-
English Guided Tour: -
Cost: -
Special Notice: -

Finally we arrived at Insa-dong around 21.00 after dinner. Most of the stores were already closed. But, there were some stores that still opened until 22.00. Spring and her friends managed to buy the souvenirs in Insa-dong within those last hour of operation. They bought some Korean souvenirs such as bookmarks, key chains, nail clippers, etc. The price wasn't that high. It cost around KRW 1000 for each piece of the souvenir. This place is only famous for selling those kind of souvenirs, so we didn't do many things there except shopping. I guess it will be better to visit this place before dinner time, so you can have many store options to visit. To go here by subway you can take subway line 3 and go Anguk Station. After arriving, go to exit 6 of and then walk directly to Insa-dong street.

To close this part

Insa-dong was our last destination on the second day. I thought it was a tiring trip, because most of the destinations were reached by walking from one place to another. As their guide that day, I also felt I still made many mistakes even though I've been familiar with the neighborhood area itself. Hopefully, next time when I guide my other friend I will be able to reflect to this trip and plan better trip. I felt sorry for Spring and her friends for our trip at the second day didn't work as smooth as our plan. There were many extended time duration in each place. It is always better to give some extra time credit whenever you plan a trip. This will close the second day of my trip, and I will continue to the part 3 soon, shopping time.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Early Autumn-Late Summer Vacation with Joyful Spring - Part 1, Where it all started (Gapyeong Area & 63 Building Sea World)

Introduction to this post series

Hi, welcome to my post. This time I will review about my trip in Seoul vicinity with my old friend last week. For simplicity I'll regard her as Spring throughout this post, and also to make my post title eye-catching :). This review will be divided into three parts, each describes my complete journey in one day I made during the whole trip. This review will serve as my travel journal as well as trip's tips for you who plan to travel to Seoul and Gapyeong area, and luckily read my post before you start your journey.

Accommodation in Seoul

So, the first day of the trip I met Spring and her friends in their guest house, TravelersA. I would like to recommend you this guest house if you visit Seoul next time, since it has a perfect location. Located in the heart of Seoul downtown, from the nearest subway station to the guest house  (Euljiro-4-ga station) you may travel to the rest of Seoul easily by the subway line 2, subway line 5 (pass the Euljiro-4-ga station), and subway line 3 (pass the Euljiro-3-ga station, which is not so far from Euljiro-4-ga station and can be reached by walking through an underground tunnel). Those three lines are the most important lines in Seoul subway. In addition to strategic subway location, this guest house also provides direct easy access by walking to Dongdaemun shooping complex, Insa-dong, Chonggye stream, Jongmyo Shrine, and Chungmuro station (bus stop to Namsan Tower). Moreover, the room price and facilities offered by TravelersA are quite decent, make it a recommended place to stay.

Transportation in South Korea

For better transportation accessibility during your travel in South Korea, it is preferred to use T-Money. This T-Money is basically a transportation card that can widely used for any public transportation in South Korea. You just need to put some amount of money, and whenever you take public transportation just tap it on the designated pad. It will automatically calculate the total amount of fare for each transportation you take. The advantage of this T-Money is that you can transfer between buses or between bus and subway free of charge within 30 minutes since the last tap you make. This means when you exit subway and continue your travel with bus, you will not be charged at all. This T-Money is rechargeable and you can recharge it in the multiple of KRW 1000 from GS25 minimart, CU minimart, or subway station. Please note that to recharge T-Money you need to pay it in cash. They don't accept card payment for recharging T-Money.

Nami Island

How to get there

From TravelersA we started our trip to go to Nami Island, it is a small half-moon-shaped island located near Gapyeong area. This island becomes famous of the 2002 Korean drama namely Winter Sonata. From Seoul you can go to nami island by either shuttle bus, subway, or train. The shuttle bus departs from a bus stop in Jamsil station exit 4 and Jonggak station exit 3 everyday at 9.30 and returns from Nami Island at 16.00. The shuttle bus costs KRW 7500 for one way trip. Because it has limited number of seats, reservation prior to departure is required. Shuttle bus is actually the most convenient way to reach Nami Island. However, since it has a fix schedule you won't have time flexibility in your trip. The second way is by intercity train express (ITX Cheongchun). It is the second fastest train in Korea after Korean train express (KTX). It is also the second most convenient way to reach Nami Island and costs around KRW 4000 from Cheongyangni station to Gapyeong station (the closest station to Nami Island). To take ITX, first make your way to Cheongyangni station by subway line 1 or Jungang line, then after take off from the subway find the ITX transit station without exiting the subway gate. After you find the ITX station, don't forget to tap your T-Money to indicate that you will transfer to ITX. The ITX ticket can be self-purchased from the machine available at the station, buy from Korail web or Korail smartphone app. After purchasing the ticket you will get cart and seat number. The ITX runs every 30 minutes and the it will take approximately 40 minutes from Cheongyangni station to Gapyeong station. The last and cheapest way to get Nami island is by subway from Seoul. First you need to make your way to Sangbong station by either subway line 7 or Jungang line. From here you transfer to Gyeongchun line and stop at Gapyeong station. The subway to Gapyeong station runs every 20 minutes. It will cost around KRW 2000 from Seoul downtown to Gapyeong station and travel time will take approximately between 90 minutes to 2 hours depends on your starting point, transfer time and waiting subway time. For reference, from Sangbong station itself to go to Gapyeong station takes around 50 minutes.

Arriving at Gapyeong station

Gapyeong station on a wonderful day

In my previous trip with Spring and her friends, since we started early in the morning (08.05) we decided to take the subway to get Nami Island. We arrived at Gapyeong station around 09.50 and made our way to the tourist information center outside Gapyeong station. Here we waited for shuttle bus to take us to Nami Island. For your information, this shuttle bus is different from the shuttle bus I explained earlier in the How to get Nami Island section. This shuttle bus is the special Gapyeong tour shuttle bus which visits the famous tourist destinations in Gapyeong area, including Nami Island, Petite France, and The Garden of Morning Calm. To take this bus you need to purchase the bus ticket from the bus driver. It costs KRW 5000 for single ticket and you will be able to take unlimited bus ride in one day without need to pay extra fare. Just show the bus ticket that you have purchased earlier to the bus driver whenever you take the shuttle bus. The important thing is don't lose the bus ticket. The shuttle bus has schedule as depicted in the picture below. Please remember the bus arrival and departure schedule at each place so you will not miss the bus. If you miss the bus and decide to take the taxi to travel between each bus stop, it will costs around KRW 20000 because the distance between each bus stops are quite far.

Gapyeong tour shuttle bus schedule

On Nami Island

We finally took the 10.10 bus from Gapyeong station and rode the bus to the Nami Island's ferry wharf. We arrived there around 10.15 and tried to look the "visa" counter. Yep, you read it right. The Naminara Republic is an imaginary nation where its territory is located over the Nami Island. Of course the visa you will buy is actually the admission ticket for Nami Island. After bought the ticket we waited for the ferry to take us to the island. It took 5 minutes by ferry to reach the island. The ferry runs every 20 minutes within 09.00-18.00. There is also another exciting way to reach Nami Island which is via Zip Wire. This zip wire spans over 940 m from Nami Island's wharf to the Nami Island. You will start at the height of 80 m and enjoy the zipping to Nami Island for about 1-2 minutes. However, this exciting experience costs almost five times the price of ferry ticket.

Rock with Nami Island name written in Hangeul

After arriving on Nami Island we took some pictures near the wharf. If you want to remember the place you visited, don't forget to capture the photo of rock with the Nami Island name is written in Hangeul (Korean alphabet). You can find the rock easily just after you step out the ferry on the island. Most of our activity on Nami Island were capturing photos, either group photos or individual photos, and while also enjoying the beauty of nature. Nami Island has many great photo spots, which are previously shown in Winter Sonata drama. There are also some spots to commemorate the Winter sonata drama, like the statue of Bae Yong-Joon and Choi Ji-Woo and their first kiss spot. There are also several art galleries there which exhibit sculptures made from clay. We planned to be on Nami Island around 3 hours. However, as I said even though it was small just a small island, it had a lot of beautiful photo spots those should not be missed and it took us more than 3 hours to enjoy the island and capturing all those spots.

Photo spots on Nami Island. (Left) Statue of one Winter Sonata scene. (Right) The famous Gingko tress path on Nami Island.

Tips for taking pictures of yourself or your group without any of the group member is left, are bringing a camera tripod or learning to ask local residents to take a picture for you. If you don't want to bother other people, bringing tripod is a good alternative. However, since in our trip we didn't bring a tripod we ended up by asking help from local residents to take our pictures. Luckily, Koreans are kind. All of the Koreans we asked for help were willingly to help us to take our photos. Although they didn't seem to care at first, when we asked them politely they never hesitated to help us. It was one great fact I just recently found during my trip. So, if you face the similar situation, you can practice to say this phrase: "죄송한데요, 혹시 사진 찍어 주시겠어요?" (Joesonghandeyo, hogsi sajin jjig-eo jusigess-eoyo?) which literally means "Excuse me, would you mind to help us to take a picture?"

Since we visited Nami Island during summer, the photos we captured were slightly less stunning compare to the photos captured by professionals who visited this island during autumn or winter season. During the autumn season, the gingko tree leaves change its color into bright yellow, meanwhile during the winter season you may see the leafless trees covered by snow. But, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't go there in spring or summer season. The environment itself in Nami Island is really wonderful. If you come from crowded and densely populated big city, this natural and country side situation in the island can give you another great feeling and also help you to refresh your mind from all the stress you have. On the island you can also see wild animals hang around, such as squirrels and ostriches, which enables closer-to-nature sensation. Other thing that you can do in Nami Island is riding a bicycle. There is bicycle rent in the island, which offers different kinds of bicycle and of course it is not free.

We spent our time during lunch time on the island and we decided to have lunch there as well. There were around 4/5 restaurants on the islands, but not so many variety of food. As I remembered, there were Italian, Chinese, and Korean foods there. We compared all the menus and price and ended up by choosing Korean foods. At first I saw the Korean food were quite pricey, but I thought it might be delicious. We ordered Korean chicken and pork BBQ, or well known in its local language as 닭갈비 (dak galbi) and 삼겹살 (samgyeopsal). The dak galbi we ordered was a non-Chuncheon dak galbi, it was literally only grilled chicken ribs without other additional accompanying stuffs like in Chuncheon dak galbi. To be honest, for the one who has been living in Korea for some time like me, those food we ordered on Nami Island didn't taste good enough. It had less seasoning and tasted somehow bitter. I felt really terrible to my friends because of that. Later when I came back to my lab and told my experience to my senior in lab, he replied to me with the exactly same thing. He experienced it just a few weeks before I went there. Sigh.. if only I had had the conversation before I actually went there, I definitely wouldn't have eaten our lunch there.

Petite France

How to get there

After finishing on Nami Island, we went back to the shuttle bus stop where we took the 15.15 bus to our next destination, Petite France. It took 25 minutes by shuttle bus to get there. If you want to go here directly from Seoul, make sure that you stop at Cheongpyeong station instead of Gapyeong station, since Cheongpyeong station is closer to Petite France. If you stop at Cheongpyeong station, you can take the Gapyeong tour shuttle bus, but with different route (red route). There are two routes with its detail you can find in the previous photo.

At Petite France

Petite France gate
After arriving at Petite France, we bought the entrance ticket. It cost KRW 8000 per person, but by printing some discount voucher from the internet we only needed to pay KRW 6000 per person. The name of this place has a meaning of Small France (village), and the term small (petite) in this case is really literal because the land occupied by this place is not so spacious. The colorful buildings here are built on a small hill and we need to climb stairs to visit each building. First time you've been here, it reminds you of the French country side village. Since this place is not so big, you can finish exploring this place in the quickest one hour. In our case, we spent our time here by capturing photos, eating some snacks and enjoying the view of Cheongpyeong lake across this place. There are two or three mini store in this places where they sell churros and ice cream. This place is well known as the shooting location for several Korean dramas (Beethoven Virus, Secret Garden) and also reality show (Running Man). We took a shuttle bus ride (17.40) to get Cheongpyeong station. From there we went back to Seoul by using subway.

The view inside Petite France (left) and outside (right)

63 Building Sea World

How to get there

From Cheongpyeong station we started at 18.13 and took the subway to get the center of Seoul for our next destination, 63 Building Sea World. The journey we took from Cheongpyeong station by subway was around 2 hours. We stopped at Yeouinaru station, the closest subway station to 63 Building using subway line 5, the only subway line which passed this station. From Yeouinaru station exit 1 we waited for either city bus no 5534, 5633, or 261 to take us to 63 Building. If you decide to walk from the Yeouinaru station, it will take around 15 minutes.

At the 63 Building

63 Building is the tallest building in Korea and located on the Han Gang (river) side. The sea world is located on the B1 floor of this building, but first you need to buy the admission ticket in the ticket counter on the first floor. The entrance door to the sea world is also located on the first floor. It opens until 22.00 and the last admission is 21.00. The ticket cost us KRW 15000 per person, a little bit pricey in my opinion. Because we arrived there at 20.20 and hadn't had dinner yet, we directly went to the food court located on the first floor of the building. There are several food booths here which serve Bibimbab (비빔밥), cold noodles (냉면), and fast food (Lotteria). In my experience, this food court's food prices were acceptable. Not to high for the standard of food court located at the main centers building like 63 Building. For your information, the food court opens until 21.00. After finishing our dinner, we entered the sea world exactly at 21.00. This sea world wasn't so big, and we finished exploring it in the last hour of admission.But there were two memorable things happened during our trip here. The first one was when we entered a special room in the sea world. This room had a transparent floor where we could see sharks swam several meters under our foot. When we walked deeper inside the room, suddenly we heard a noise similar with breaking glass sound. We were shocked that time, thought that the floor was breaking apart. That was a nice prank and we all laughed after realizing it was only a prank. The second surprise was located near the exit door of the sea world. Here we were startled by a romantic candle light dinner set between two aquariums, and three crews who were readily in charge of slide show, camera, and video recorder respectively. We guessed that probably someone would propose her girlfriend here. Not so long after we got there, the targeted girl, who was also surprised at first, sat the designated chair while watching a slide show on the screen. A few minutes later, from the behind the man came with a bouquet of flower in his hand and sang a love song. His voice wasn't so good, but I was impressed by his confident in arranging the whole things. It was really romantic that night. Unfortunately, the security guard approached us and told us that we couldn't be around anymore because the sea world had close at 22.00. But I guessed, the security guard also didn't want us to disturb the whole romantic things which was still ongoing there. So, we went out without knowing the results of the romantic proposal. The extra romantic features really concluded our day perfectly in the sea world.

From 63 Building we went back to our place with one little stop in Han Gang side near Yeouinaru station to take some night pictures of Han Gang. From this place we could also saw the 63 Building towering to the sky. I will talk about our second day trip in Seoul in the next post.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Animated Film: The Blending of Art with Science (By Gene S. Lee)

In this post I will review about a seminar I attended last this week. Yep, I still have many things to write from my previous blog post series. However, this issue is still fresh in my mind and to prevent the possibility that it may evaporate from my memories quickly, I will review this issue first instead and postpone the previous blog post series.

So, in the beginning of previous week I read a seminar notice posted in KAIST Portal. This portal is basically an internal web that provides information to KAIST student and staff. Coincidentally, I checked the notice in seminar tab which in the top of it I saw a seminar organized by KAIST Graduate School of Culture Technology. I carefully read the notice and what made me surprise was the speaker of the seminar. The seminar would be presented by Gene S. Lee, Ph.D. according to that notice.

Who is he? Why it surprised me? What made me wanted to attend this seminar at first place?

It all because I saw where he came from. He is currently a Senior Software Engineer for Walt Disney Animation Studios. That's why dude. Because he is from DISNEY.

Walt Disney Animation Studio's Logo

Who doesn't know Disney? Disney, founded by Walt Disney is a leading diversified international family entertainment and media enterprise (as stated in the company overview in its company website). Since its foundation in 1923 Disney has always been creatively finding its way in the show business and living the children dream. As an important division of the whole Disney company, the Walt Disney Animation Studios since 1937 have been producing more than 50 animation motion pictures which have been proved not only profitable, but also featured high quality story indicated by many awards won by the movies, including the most prestigious one the Academy Awards. List of animated movie produced by Disney since 1937 can be viewed here or in the short video below which was released on the celebration of Disney 50th Animated movie, Tangled (this video however hasn't include the most recent movies, Winnie The Pooh and Wreck-It Ralph). Because of these many years of experiences, the Disney's products are well known across the generations. I believe in their childhood our grandparents also watched Disney's movies. The key of success of Disney animated movie is not only limited to the rich story that can be enjoyed by all people, but also the basic principle of Disney that always improve their movie production, so every new movie will have better (graphical) quality than the previous one. This principle was later explained more in the seminar. The merger of Pixar into Disney in 2004, undoubtedly makes The Walt Disney Studio to be a giant in the field of animated movies.

50th Celebration Trailer of Walt Disney Animation Studios Movies (2010)

So, come back to the seminar. I was the first person to enter the seminar room last week. I saw the speaker's MacBook already set and the title slide of his presentation featuring various characters from Disney's animated movie appeared on the screen. I took a bold chance to capture the title's slide. Later, in the beginning of the seminar the speaker kindly asked the audience not to capture or record his talk due to the copyright matter and also one of the content of his presentation (Frozen) is still confidential because the movie hasn't been released yet. This was a lucky chance for us to learn about that new movie, so to pay some respect to his wish I decided to move away my iPhone and just listened to his talk carefully. So, the content that I used here, i.e. photos, videos, were obtained by employing the almighty Google search. Later during the presentation I learned that his presentation was actually prepared for a conference in Korea namely BIEN 2013, as he was invited to be one of the plenary speaker. You can view the official summary of his talk here.

Gene S. Lee
He opened the seminar by introducing us to Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS). Located in Burbank, the same location with the Walt Disney Company headquarters, WDAS employs around 850 people. Why so many people? Because the task of making an animated movie is not simple. It takes around 300 people for one movie for the course of 2-3 years. After that he talked about animated movie production in general. How he collaborated with a lot of people with different expertise, i.e. artists, software engineers, computer engineers, etc. He also mentioned that, the key to Disney Animated Movie's success is not only the strong background story created for the particular movie, but also the capability of the company to consistently improve the quality, mostly graphical, of the new movie by employing the latest technology, including both software and hardware breakthrough. One sad things is the hardware of previous movie production will no longer be able to use since for new production the "big boss" often demands better result and faster production time for the next product, so they need to renew the resources. On the other side, the requirement of latest software is not always come with cheap price. The community for this animation movie making is not so large, most of the time they are forced to create their own software to be able to fulfill their movie targets. After learning all this thing in introduction, I have no doubt why a MIT graduate like Gene S. Lee is interested to work for Disney. It is all because the challenges faced in making a such beautiful Disney animated movie is not that easy to be solved, and it will definitely intrigue the bright minds to come and participate. In addition, he also mentioned that the company regularly conducts a global talent search to recruit the whether employ or intern from all around the world. They are willing to bring in a promising candidate to work with the other employees in the headquarter. Some of the talents are including the expert of Finite Element Method (FEM), Machine Learning, etc. At first I confused what are these people do with making an animated movie? I always thought they mainly hire graphical designer, animator, etc. But later, after he explained about the specific requirements of his three latest production (Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph & Frozen), I began to realize the importance of these experts.

WDAS Employees
Three movies discussed during the seminar. From left to right: Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen.
He began to discuss about the challenges and breakthrough in Tangled. This movie's main character is Rapunzel, whose hair is 70 feet long. The first challenge was of course the long hair. They struggled to simulate Rapunzel's long hair. The simulation here means the dynamic of the hair while the character is moving. This is where the FEM takes places. Yep... They simulated the hair by using FEM. How incredible it was. I couldn't show the detail of the simulation, because I didn't record or take picture during the seminar, but I found some papers, yep they published a paper related to this movie, which discussed the hair simulation and how they control it. This hair challenges however seems to be unrealistic in the physical world, because in the real physical world imagine how much the weight of 70 feet long hair? It will make the character almost impossible to move around. But since this is movie is a story about the girl with 70 feet hair, they have to find solution for that. They improvised by creating creative physics tool, which allowed their artists (animator) to control the hair while the character is moving. I saw the original motion of the Rapunzel, and I was amazed by the role of FEM to solve the dynamic motion of the hair. He added that the blonde color of the hair was also difficult, since the blonde color behavior is strongly related with the light that struck onto it. This hair's color related problem and the light illumination of the hair (sometimes the artists want to make Rapunzel's hair to glow) were further explained in this paper. The next challenge was related to the light tracing and designing the background inside the movie to make the animated movie a little bit more realistic. Why they focused so much into the detail? As explained by the speaker, the audience will not notice any defect if they make the movie as detail and as realistic as possible. In contrast, when you make the movie without paying attention to the detail, the audiences will easily notice and complain about the quality of the movie. Yep, that's a lot of hard work to satisfy the consumer taste. The last challenge in this movie was the dynamic of multilayer cloth worn by Rapunzel. Luckily, in this movie only Rapunzel that used multilayer cloth, the other supporting characters only used single layer cloth.

Finished with the Tangled, the speaker explained about the challenges faced during the production of Wreck-It Ralph. The first one was many characters generation. This is the only Disney animated movie to have the most number of characters in one movie. The movie's story was about the adventure of a video game character into the realm of the other video game. That's why they need to generate a lot of characters. To create a character together with their (facial) expression was also a serious challenge. To overcome this problem they made their own programming language namely as dRig. This program also known as an artist-friendly object oriented programing, which allowed the artist to easily create the characters for the movie. As I also remembered, the second challenge was related to controlling the characters created. This is where the machine learning takes place. By employing machine learning, they wouldn't have difficulty even they had so many characters during production.

The last one, the speaker talked about the most recent project soon to be released during Thanksgiving holiday. This movie called Frozen used the most sophisticated technology applied in animated movie production and became the most graphically beautiful movie ever created so far by Disney. He discussed three challenges of these movies, the first one was visual effects. These movies included many visual effects since the theme of the movie is related to magic and sorcery. I'm not really understand how they solved the visual effect problem, since it was not conceptually explained as previous movie, but rather technologically approach was discussed. The second challenge was the multilayer cloth. Unlike Tangled, in this movie this problem was way much complicated since the background story told all of characters to live in freezing environment, then all characters must be equipped with multilayer cloth. The last challenge was snow behavior. He explained how they simulated the snow so the environment would seemed to be realistic. They also specifically invited the snow expert to give lectures about snow to the artist, software engineer and some other staffs participated in this movie. As one of the results they simulated the behavior of four types of snows (I didn't really recall all the types). He said, if you see the movie later, you will have the feeling that the character of the movie will experience real snow.

Souvenir from the seminar
Before closing the seminar the speaker distributed us a sticker of his company as you can see above. He claimed that we couldn't find this sticker sold elsewhere, since it was exclusively distributed by the company only on special occasions. Finally, the seminar was officially closed by watching a teaser trailer of Frozen as you can view in the following video.

Disney's Frozen Teaser Trailer

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Amazing Race Summary Part 2 - Season 22

Okay, in this post I will discuss about The Amazing Race Season 22. Again, this post is based on my perspective, for the unbiased summary please click the following Wikipedia or Wikia page.

The Amazing Race 22
The Amazing Race 22 Route
In this season I started to favor some teams, and the route of this race is also one of my favorite routes in this show. My first favorite team is Pam & Winnie who are best friends from L.A., they are both pretty, smart and considered as one of strong and competitive woman teams, and also representing the Asian-American in this race (I'm truly Asian, of course this matters hehe...). My second favorite team is Max and Katie who are newlyweds from Buffalo, they are highly competitive & intelligent (esp. Katie) and newlyweds who dream to have a memorable honeymoon experience by joining this race, what an unforgettable one in a lifetime honeymoon isn't it?

First challenge in Bora-Bora

The route of this race is also somehow fascinating for me. Starting from U.S. (L.A.)-French Polynesia (Bora-Bora)-New Zealand-Indonesia-Vietnam-Botswana-Switzerland-Germany-Scotland-Northern Ireland-U.S. (Washington D.C.). This was the first time race to visit Bora-Bora, an exotic tropical paradise located in the south Pacific Ocean, made this spot listed as one of my favorite destinations for honeymoon. In this leg of the race teams were challenged to do tandem skydive from helicopter at the height of 3000 m above the ground. This was a fantastic challenge, encountering an expensive experience by overlooking the lagoon of Bora-Bora. The following task was looking for your next clue inside one of 400 sandcastles at the beach. This task relied on luck and passion. Performed at noon, looking for the clue while digging the hot sand not only tested your physical, but also your mental strength. In this leg, the smart Katie made her move by persuading the last three teams including her to give up the challenge and receive the four hours penalty in order to save their time in the following leg from painstakingly digging the sandcastles. This proved as good decision where in the following leg the race was slightly reset due to hour of operation of the water taxi in Bora-Bora. Further, Katie proved again her intelligence in Bora-Bora by choosing the easier detour challenges to perform and save their position. Her suggestion for choosing the later detours also help her team to move up in the later legs.

Contrary results. (Left) Dave & Connor were able to race even with crutches after receiving express pass from Jessica & John. (Right) Jessica & John got eliminated without cleverly used their express pass to help them during the detour/roadblock challenge
In the second leg in Bora-Bora one team (Dave & Connor), father and son who are both cancer survivors, got some accident of tearing his (Dave) achilles tendon while racing the other team (Bates & Anthony) to the pit stop in order to secure the first place in that leg. Fortunately, because the already made some alliance and pact with the other team (Jessica & John), they received an express pass which won by Jessica & John in the first leg and needed to be given to the other team. By using this express pass Dave and Connor were still able to continue the race while Dave using crutches to help him move. Moreover, they are greatly benefited from the express pass which help them to secure the first position (together with some prizes) in the next two legs in New Zealand and Indonesia, before finally withdrawing their participation from the race to get some surgery for Dave. However, the opposite thing happened to Jessica & John, while they struggled to perform a detour during the leg in Bali, Indonesia, John insisted not to use their express pass to save it for the later leg if somehow they get U-Turned by other teams. This decision proved to prevent them from winning US$ 1 million after they got eliminated in the 4th leg, and marked the history of The Amazing Race as the first team who have express pass but not able to escape from elimination.

Talking about intelligence, luck and patience in this race, I thought they all have same proportion for this race. Let me get some examples. During the leg in New Zealand, only Max and Katie team who reserved the flight from New Zealand to Bali before going to the airport, helped them to secure their seat for the first flight scheduled to arrive at Bali. In the leg in Vietnam, they were also the team who initiated to look over an internet for help them to solve the clue before going to the travel agent (actually they are second in chronological order after Pam & Winnie who departed first). This leg showed me that both team were the smartest one among others. However, both teams met their bad luck in Botswana and resulted the elimination of Pam and Winnie in Botswana. During the leg in Botswana, Pam and Winnie already chosen the appropriate detour challenge but their donkey couldn't moved at all, pushed them to switch easier detour but required high accuracy. They were doing the both detour challenges inaccurately and made them to come in last position for elimination. For Max & Katie, during the road trip in Botswana Katie already noticed the speed limit but unfortunately Max still drove to fast and made them caught in speed trap by local police. This speed ticket consumed their valuable time and almost cost their position (however they were saved by Pam & Winnie struggling with detours). Talking about luck, the other team (Chuck & Wynona) were the luckiest team in this race. As one of the weakest teams and came as the last team to check in the pit stop twice in New Zealand and Vietnam, they were still saved by their good luck, where in New Zealand they encountered a double-length leg and in Vietnam Dave & Connor withdrawal from the race made them the actual second last team and saved their position. Their luck made them able to race until third-quarter of the total journey, before getting eliminated in 8th leg.

Tidal Basin where Max & Katie got stuck
The race continued from Botswana to Germany, and here I found a new twist about The Amazing Race namely the curse of three consecutive first positions. It stated by Bates & Anthony who won the three consecutive legs, but got some bump in the following leg. Since that I observed the behavior of the winner of each pit stop. Later I found that in season 16 Louie & Michael, season 13 Ken & Tina were two teams I found encountered this curse. Due to their competitive and intelligence skill, Max & Katie succeeded to climb from the underdog team to top three teams who race for the final. It was shown clearly that in the 4 last legs, their intelligence helped them to solved the challenges faster than the other teams and made them won 3 consecutive prizes by finishing first in 4 last legs. However, the curse stated by Bates & Anthony came to reality. In the 4th leg after three consecutive wins, which was now the final leg in D.C., Max & Katie still surpassed the other teams by going to the right places referred by the clues. But, when they encountered the roadblock in the Tidal Basin Max met his bad luck without finding the right "secret service" among hundreds of secret services spread around107 acres of Tidal Basin. This was only luck matter, because Anthony quickly met his secret service only after meeting several secret services. This hampered Max & Katie which later turned out they were placed 2nd after Bates & Anthony in the finish line. This was really disappointing because it was well known that Max & Katie were superior team  until luck took place in the race. I hope they will get some second chance, something like The Amazing Race 18: Unfinished Business.