Korea was never really on my “must go” list. While many people I know (or many people period) are all caught up in the Koreanovela/K-Pop craze, I find myself unaffected and frankly, uninterested. Still, when my sister–a veritable fan of Girls Generation, etc–asked if I was game to go there for Holy Week, I said, “Why not?”. We booked our trip more than half a year early, taking advantage of Cebu Pacific’s seat sale.
I barely did research prior to our departure except to check on the attractions in Gyeongju, a UNESCO World Heritage Town that my sister’s Korean colleague, Sue, recommended. So I was able to formulate my own impressions when we arrived in Seoul last April.
Korea’s a land of contradictions. The biggest is the long-lived and ongoing schism between North and South, with the North making like a totally separate and isolated island, and the South continuously fostering globalization. There are the youths, flocking over to distant places (ahem, the Philippines) to learn the English language, and then there are the more seasoned ones, the seemingly majority of the population who can only understand the most token English words, it any at all.
The country looks so barren and brown in the winter, then comes to a glorious bloom in spring. Sadly, spring came a little later this year. The cherry trees should have blossomed by the time we got there, but we were disappointed to find that the weather was still a bit too cold for the plants to flourish.
I would marvel at the ultramodern architecture of commercial buildings, all sleek metal and sharp/curved glass, then walk a few steps to be greeted by a traditional changing of the guards ceremony in front of a gated palace that looks like it came right out of a movie. Then there’s the huge spread of food at every meal…and the realization that most of it are actually greens and other healthy stuff.
Due to work obligations, I was only able to stay in Korea for five days. My siblings and I were in Seoul for most of that time, but had a weekend jaunt over to Gyeongju and a day trip to DMZ (the Demilitarized Zone). After I left, my brother and sister went on to visit Jeju Island, where they finally encountered cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Read on for some of my stories about my experiences in South Korea!