After New Year's Day, I headed into the mountains with a group of hikers I met by chance a few weeks before. We met up in the north part of Seoul, and made our way towards Bukhansan Park,
where we found all sorts of critter-shaped rocks.
Atop one of these rocks (the way up was not obvious from afar) sits a monument celebrating victory in a famous Korean battle of old. This strikes me as a very Korean response - namely, climb the tallest mountain around...
Then we headed to a nearby restaurant to chow down.
Following the eating theme, I went to Garak Market, a huge indoor/outdoor market in south-east Seoul where each section (seafood, fruit, vegetables, meat) is itself about the size of a Costco in the US. The scale boggles your mind and your stomach. I struck out in search of seafood, wandering down fluorescent-lit aisles, ducking under strings of fish hung to dry, and dodging semi-stray cats.
After picking my favorite fish, I watched as the shopkeeper stabbed it with a vicious pike-like instrument then gave it a whack over the head, for good measure. The fish became sashimi before my eyes, and with my two bonus crabs in tow, I went up one floor to the attached restaurant level of the market to feast on the spoils.
In mid-January, I headed to my first, and hopefully rainiest, snow-sculpture festival. Taebaeksan lies to the east of Seoul, in the mountainous province of Gangwon-do, and the nearby village holds a celebration in honor of the usually abundant snow for which the mountain is named. This year, though, we arrived to rainy lukewarm weather, from which the festival organizers were valiantly trying to protect the sculptures.
The more vertically-inclined among us headed up Taebaeksan, along with hordes of other weekenders. The trail was packed shoulder-to-shoulder both up and down the mountain, and people were standing in line to take pictures with the summit-marker.
Surprisingly, even after returning to the trailhead and the festival, some of the sculptures were still intact. My personal favorite:
Lastly, here's a view of Namdaemun (Great Southern Gate), which has been beautifully restored after an arsonist lit it off in 2008. Unfortunately, that fire consumed the entire wooden structure, including parts of the original gate dating from 1398.