My parents came to visit! Together, we hiked, shopped, ate, and traveled to Japan. With them, I hiked Gwanaksan for the first time to find a major military communications/surveillance installation peeking through the fog on the summit. NO PHOTOS ALLOWED. We had a similar experience while hiking Bugaksan, the peak/ridge-line behind the Blue House. This area has only recently opened to tourists, and military personnel with automatic rifles still patrol the wall, augmented by motion sensors and CCTV, among other probably invisible defenses. The security is justified by attempts by North Korean commandos to infiltrate the Blue House and assassinate South Korean leaders, including one very-nearly successful episode that left bullet-holes in the trees behind the House.
This sign reads: "Watch your head."
We also visited Hwaseong Fortress in the beautiful city of Suwon, to the south of Seoul.
One of the most memorable experiences in Japan was visiting Yasukuni Shrine, where those who have died in the service of Japan during conflicts are enshrined. Dating from approximately 1850 to 1950, those enshrined include potential war criminals. The Japanese government argues that separation of church and state isolates this Shinto memorial from political matters. Japan's neighbors, especially South Korea and China, view this shrine as a major sticking point in diplomatic relations.
The shrine also operates a war history museum, which takes a strongly nationalistic position on Japan's role leading up to and including World War II, notably denying any wrongdoing during the invasion of Nanjing. The day we visited, a rally was taking place in support of the shrine. Some of the assembly wore military fatigues. Most were male. After marching in two lines into the shrine, they dispersed with buckets of water and mops, and spent nearly an hour cleaning the site.
I also went to Jarasum Jazz Festival and a Killers concert in Seoul. Jarasum brings in international jazz talents for a weekend of music in a beautiful setting. The Killers concert was incredible - but Koreans don't seem to have caught on to the rock concert crowd idea yet. I was quite close to the stage, as the standing area was only about 2/3 full. It was easy to spot the foreigners or Koreans who had lived abroad. They were the ones bouncing up and down and screaming their heads off.