News Flash

July 28, 2015, Tuesday
  • Pres. Aquino’s SONA took about 2 hours and 10 minutes. 15 hours ago |
  • Some congressmen inside the session hall booed & raised anti-Aquino banners right after Pres. Aquino delivered his last SONA. 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino: “Our country’s transformation has just begun. Our direction depends on the Filipino people.” 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino says the 2016 election will be a referendum for ‘Daang Matuwid.’ 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino cites survey that says 8 out of 10 Filipinos believe PH will soon become a developed country. 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino to the Filipino people: It gives me great honor to serve you. 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino says his job is like that of a punching bag. 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino tells his siblings that only a few days remain & he will soon stop dragging them to the sacrifices he makes for the country. 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino says the late DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo continues to give him inspiration. 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino says Mar Roxas’ resilience vs. criticisms is proof that ‘you can’t put a good man down.’ 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino praises the members of his cabinet for their work. 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino thanks Congress for passing meaningful laws. 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino: “It’s time to pass an Anti-Dynasty Law.” 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino laments the views of those who are anti-BBL but can’t give a better alternative on how to achieve peace in Mindanao. 15 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino says it doesn’t matter if he is not present at groundbreaking ceremonies so long as projects are properly built. 16 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino says party affiliation is not a basis in implementing government projects. 16 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino gives updates on government’s flood control projects. 16 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino: "The time is avoid responsibility has ended." 16 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino boasts of PNP’s 1:1 police-to-pistol ratio. 16 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino identifies programs to enhance capabilities of the AFP and PNP. 16 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino says gov’t is moving to buy-out the MRT. 16 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino praises the supposed benefits of Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) & K-12 programs. 16 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino says only one labor strike was recorded in 2013. 16 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino says Philippines is now ‘Asia’s Rising Tiger.’ 17 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino hails the huge number of cases filed by BIR Commissioner Kim Henares vs. tax evaders. 17 hours ago |
  • Aquino cites the detention of 3 senators & hospital arrest of a fmr. president as proof of his fight vs. corruption. 17 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino hits previous justice system that looked away from corruption. 17 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino seeks apologies for not doing the traditional SONA walk saying he does not feel well. 17 hours ago |
  • Pres. Aquino now walking towards session hall in Batasang Pambansa for his last SONA. 18 hours ago |
  • 3 helicopters currently flying over Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. 18 hours ago |
  • Long convoy of vehicles from PSG compound now traversing Marikina area. 18 hours ago |
  • Sen. Grace Poe arrives at Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City to listen to Pres. Aquino’s last SONA. 18 hours ago |
  • Tesda Chief Joel Villanueva says he is now 90% certain he will run for senate. 18 hours ago |
  • Long convoy of vehicles leaves PSG Compound in Malacanang heading to the area of San Juan. 18 hours ago |
  • NBI admits its probers weren’t able to enter the Manalo Compound in QC to probe abduction and hostage-taking claims. 18 hours ago |
  • NBI says there is no evidence that proves some INC members were abducted or taken hostage. 18 hours ago |
  • NBI considers reports of abduction & hostage-taking involving INC members a closed case. 18 hours ago |
  • 5 cops injured so far during commotion in the midst of anti-gov’t rallies along Commonwealth Avenue in QC. 19 hours ago |
  • Belmonte asks House members to explore the possibility of resuming peace negotiations with CPP/NDF. 19 hours ago |
  • Belmonte urges colleagues to pass the proposed BBL & “have the courage to finally come to peace with one another.” 19 hours ago |
  • Belmonte says the passage of economic chacha will reverse the trend of the economy’s “de-industrialization & de-agriculturalization.” 19 hours ago |
  • Belmonte seeks the passage of economic charter change & BBL in his speech at the opening of Congress’ 3rd regular session. 19 hours ago |
  • Traffic from Zuzuarregue St. to Philcoa along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City still light. 19 hours ago |
  • Philcoa going to Fairview along Commonwealth Avenue temporarily closed to motorists in view of SONA. 19 hours ago |
  • Traffic flow slow moving from Fairview to Elliptical Road along Commonwealth Ave. in QC as the bulk of anti-gov’t protesters arrive. 19 hours ago |
  • Anti-gov't protesters march from Elliptical Road heading to area nearest to Batasan Complex in QC. 22 hours ago |
  • Motorists experiencing heavy traffic congestion along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. 23 hours ago |
  • PCCO Sec. Sonny Coloma urges the Filipino people to listen to Pres. Aquino's 6th & last SONA. 23 hours ago |
  • Western Samar Rep. & LP Sec. Gen. Mel Sarmiento says Speaker Belmonte maintains leadership of the House. 23 hours ago |
  • Sen. Drilon says Pres. Aquino's last SONA is not an LP event hence no announcement on a presidential bet. 23 hours ago |
  • Sen. Drilon says Pres. Aquino's last SONA is about his report to the people on government's performance. 23 hours ago |
  • Sen. Drilon says Pres. Aquino will not name his annointed presidential candidate during his last SONA. 23 hours ago |
  • Motorists who use Commonwealth Avenue in QC may use MMDA's 'Zipper Lane' or any alternate route. 23 hours ago |
  • Northbound lane of Commonwealth Ave. from Ever Gotesco to St. Peter's Church in QC closed to traffic. 23 hours ago |
  • Joint Session of Congress to be opened at 4 pm Monday to receive Pres. Aquino. 23 hours ago |
  • Third Regular Session of 16th Congress to open at 10 am Monday. 23 hours ago |

Seoul searching in s. Korea (Part One)

By Gianna G. Maniego | Apr. 25, 2013 at 06:02pm
It’s entirely possible that you may not have heard of hallyu, that surge of interest in Korean entertainment that’s been sweeping the world for the past 15 years or so. (You might have been living under a rock all this time, what do I know?)

Doing the Joseon Jump. Taking a leap of faith in front of Changdeokgung’s Donhwamun gate.

But if you’ve been living anywhere above ground for the past decade, chances are you’d have heard of this “wave” that has sparked a global fascination for all things Korean.

The thing about this preoccupation for South Korea—and that includes not just its celebrities, but the country and culture as well—is that it doesn’t matter whether your interest is longstanding or newly-acquired, when you’re hooked, you’re hooked for life.

If you’re like me, who first got hooked on this infectious craze a decade ago, it can take on the quality of a guilty pleasure, like a secret love affair that waxes and wanes but never really fades. Just when you think you’re done with it, something happens to reel you back in.

It could be a drama series, like Playful Kiss or Missing You, or a Kpop band, like 2pm. It could even be that unquenched urge to join the drinkers at random pochang machas (soju tents) on the streets of Seoul that does it. Once infected, the fascination never grows old.

Something old, something new, always ‘sparkling’

The secret passageway that  the Joseon King  goes through when he visits the Queen.

In much the same way, visitors to Seoul always find something new (or old, it depends on your perspective really) to pique their interest and entice them to discover (and rediscover) the city.

On a recent trip organized by Cebu Pacific and the Korean Tourism Organization for example, we were surprised to see the transformation of Insadong, from a tranquil neighborhood known for its collection of traditional antique shops and art galleries to a bustling emporium of souvenir shops.

But such changes are par for the course in a country whose catch phrase “Korea Sparkling” embodies the lively energy and dynamic quality of its people and culture. After all, it is the leading purveyor of Asian pop culture.

The trip is part of KTO’s campaign to open its doors and showcase its culture to the world—a leap of faith from a country once known for its mystery and penchant for privacy.

 Attractions, distractions

 We’re all hungry for samgyetang (right)

The thing to remember when on a visit to Seoul is that the city holds so many interesting attractions, they sometimes turn into distractions when you have a schedule to follow. Fortunately, Seoul denizens are masters at multitasking and can combine many things into one.

For instance, our visit, which got off to a late start because of a slight diversion to Busan, began with lunch and a promise by our tour guide Eun Hee Choi (whom we fondly call Joey, “the best English-speaking tour guide in Seoul”) to “fill us up with energy.” Lunch, at a restaurant called Hwang Hu turned out to be a sumptuous meal of samgyetang (an energizing broth of rice-filled ginseng chicken) and a lively discussion on the merits of ginseng and the dish’s similarity to arroz caldo. Interestingly enough, we WERE filled with energy after that and felt better able to tackle the long hike through Changdeokgung Palace.

The Seoul searchers, from left: (standing) Michelle de Guzman, Cebu Pacific Air; Belle Bondoc, Philippine Daily Inquirer; Felix Suerte, Philippine Star; Aida delos Reyes, Malaya; Mark Parlade, Stratworks; Viveca Singson, JG Summit Holdings; Gerard Ramos, Business Mirror; Deni Rose Afinidad, Daily Tribune; Tessa Mauricio-Arriola, Manila Times; (seated) Isabel De Leon, Manila Bulletin; Doo Jo Kim, Korean Tourism Organization director for Asia and Middle East; Moonjoon Kim, KTO assistant director for Asia and Middle East; and the author.

If you like palace-hopping, you’ll find plenty of opportunities in the city. Seoul is home to no less than five grand palaces constructed during the Joseon era—Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Gyeonghuigung. But if you think one day is enough to cover all the palaces, you have another think coming. While the palaces are pretty similar in construction and design, the inside stories of each are interesting enough to keep you preoccupied for the better part of the day.

Having covered Gyeongbokgung—the biggest and main palace— in a previous visit, we opted for Changdeokgung Palace this time. Changdeokgung, or East Palace, was built during a period of bloody political strife, and was considered the secondary (and more favored) palace, after Gyeongbokgung. It’s set within a park, and is known for its beautiful gardens. A Unesco World Heritage site, Changdeokgung Palace is cited as an exceptional “example of Far Eastern palace architecture and garden design.”

The most interesting parts for us, however, are the Huijeongdang and Daejojeon areas, which were the king’s and queen’s quarters, respectively. According to our guide, the king would pass through a “secret” covered walkway to cross to the other side whenever he “visited” the queen’s chambers (read: matrimonial bed) in order to keep their nocturnal activities away from prying eyes.

Interestingly, this passageway was the site of the last cabinet meeting which decided the annexation of the Joseon Kingdom to Japan.

Souk city

Traditional hanboks are a staple at Insadong

After the visit to Changdeokgung Palace, which I have to say was relatively short and less tiring than I expected, we decided to check out the shopping.

Kwang Jang Market, in nearby Yeji dong, is the city’s oldest covered market. A massive collection of stalls that offer everything from mosquito nets to wedding foodstuff, Kwang Jang market calls to mind one of those Middle Eastern souks that stretch far as the eye can see—colorful, noisy and full of aromatic possibilities. The merchandise is as colorful and varied as it is, erm, debatable in terms of value. But if you’re willing to take the time to sort through them, you might be able to find something you like. T-shirts go from 5,000 to 10,000 won (roughly P140 to P370), while blankets and quilts can go for 25,000 won (less than P1,000).

As earlier mentioned, Insadong, which is closer to our hotel, Center Mark Hotel, is no longer just the treasure trove of antiques, hanboks and traditional artwork it once was. Nowadays, visitors can find kitschy tourist souvenirs like hand carved wooden doorbells (10,000 krw), half-sized wooden fans (8,000 krw), and delicate metal bookmarks (100 krw). You’ll have to be prepared to walk further into the sidestreets, however, to get really good art finds.

Queen Elizabeth reportedly paid the place a visit way back when. I just don’t know if this was in search of a hanbok.

101 flavors and spices

For dinner, the Korean Tourism Organization, represented by Doo Jo Kim, director for Asia and Middle East and Moonjoon Kim, assistant director for Asia and Middle East, treated  the group to a “feast fit for a king” at the Hanmiri restaurant. Located in the Gangnam area, Hanmiri, whose name means “one dragon” prides itself on serving “royal court food” that hearken back to the Joseon era.

Its claim to serve a hundred and one flavors is no idle boast. Various edibles from leafy green vegetables to tasty minced meat and various herbs in between are served in small bowls and little trays. Customers can then mix and match, wrap and unwrap these ingredients according to the palate’s desire and season them with the restaurant’s homegrown concoctions.

Think Jewel in the Palace set to modern times and you might be able to wrap your mind around it. At one point, there were so many bowls and plates on the table, our eyes bugged out just looking at the amount of food. It was almost too overwhelming to take in. Almost. Somehow we managed to cope.

 A whole lotta hair-flicking going on

Sweetmeats fit for a wedding can be had for a song at Kwang Jang Market.

After dinner, we walked to nearby Myungbo Art Hall to watch Drumcat, an all-female percussion group (translated: Hot Chicks on Drums), do all manner of hair-flicking and drum thumping while throwing sexy, come-hither glances at the audience. Needless to say, the audience loved it.

One thing beauty mavens can marvel at is that no matter how much sweat dripped down their faces, the makeup stayed intact. How’s that for beauty that lasts, huh?

The performance, though, is probably better told through video (check them out here: Suffice to say, it was hot enough to keep us warm in the middle of 10-degree weather.

(Next week: Animal kingdom meets drama fever in Seoul Searching Part Two)


*The Philippines’ largest carrier, Cebu Pacific Air offers up to 29 weekly flights from Manila and Cebu to Incheon (Seoul) and Pusan, for the lowest year-round fare of PHP3,999. For the latest seat sales and bookings, go to, call the reservation hotlines (02)7020-888 or (032)230-8888 or follow us on Cebu Pacific Air’s official Facebook and Twitter pages.

**For more information on traveling to Korea, visit the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) website or like KTO Manila’s official Facebook and Twitter pages. The KTO Manila Office is located at the 26F Tower 2 Enterprise Center, Makati City.

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