Why Korea

Last month, I took a ten-day trip to Korea.

Seoul’s a fantastic city to visit. It’s easy to navigate, welcoming, and relatively clean and safe. It was definitely one of the most enjoyable and restful trips I’ve taken in a while.

In the run-up to the trip, however, as I announced my plans, I was faced with an almost universal question: “Why?”

Why the Why?

I’ve traveled internationally a bit. Most places I go, nobody asks why.

The last few years took me to Scotland, New Zealand, England, and France. People invariably told me to have fun seeing the castles, say hi to the Hobbits, pack an umbrella, enjoy the cheese, and take lots of pictures.

“You’re going to have so much fun,” they told me, and “That sounds amazing.”

I did, and it was.

Practically no one spoke this way about my trip to Korea. Instead, they asked why I was going.

Beneath the Question

As to what’s driving the why question, I have a theory.

As a member of Generation X, I came of age in a school system teaching a version of World History that was basically Euro-centric with a few global frills. Our curriculum did reference Asian or African countries, but only as their timelines intersected with the overarching Western narrative. Most of the mentions were war-related and negative.

Until I started traveling the world, I had no sense of the gaps in my education.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve been playing catch-up. I read where I travel and travel where I read.  Sometimes I forget how wide my gap used to be.

Until I’m asked repeatedly why I’m going to Korea.

There’s More

Someone actually articulated it to me like this, “The only thing I know about Korea is the Korean War.”

If war is all you know about a place, then sure. The why question makes sense.

But Korea’s more than a place where a war happened.

Most places are.


My next post will be a series of vignettes from the Korea trip. Things we did, what we saw, and what happened along the way. I just want to clear everything with my travel partner first. Though she’s responsible for zero of the truly embarrassing incidents, she deserves a say in what goes public.


For now, please enjoy a few snippets from my daily travelogue.

Friday, September 6, 2019

4-hour flight, then 14-hour flight, then 1-hour bus ride.

Whole day was a blur. More like a smear.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

We only got lost(ish) twice!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

We walked the route down to the main road correctly for the first time, but because we’d done it wrong so many times, we thought we were lost because nothing looked familiar.

Monday, September 9, 2019

My overconfidence got us lost.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

There’s a Popeye’s near the DMZ! Didn’t get to check if they have the sandwich.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ramyun, sweet fried chicken, dumplings, hotteok, bindaetteok, knife-cut noodles. Perfect broth, sublimely chewy! I forgot everything else about today except that I have a huge blister.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A woman in a public restroom at the park gave us paper towels from her purse to wipe our hands with.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Wasted a bunch of time because I thought we were locked out of a building when really the door was push instead of pull. Still want to die as I think about this.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

We sucessfully hiked Bukhansan! Well, I bit it pretty early.  But I didn’t hurt myself. So that’s a success.


The whole trip was a success, really. Other than the push/pull situation. And all the times we got lost.

Plus two incidents with umbrellas.

But that’s for next time.

5 thoughts on “Why Korea

  1. I so agree! Korea is absolutely beautiful and the people are gracious, respectful of their elders (I really enjoyed that part!) and honest (my purse was “lost” in the airport for about 12 hours, and when it was located, nothing in it had been touched or compromised in any way). I also enjoyed the cleanliness of public places – I wish we had more of that kind of pride here. I look forward to your next blog on the subject!

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  2. When I was about 10 my parents spent 2 weeks in Seoul for a prayer retreat. It sounded like such a mysterious place, and while I didn’t go with them I thoroughly enjoyed the pictures and hearing the stories when they returned.

    One of my sister-in-laws spent at least one college semester in Korea some 15 years ago, and she still talks about the cultural differences and culinary things she misses. The stories never get old.

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    1. I can understand why visiting left such an impression on them. And I can totally see missing the food. Fortunately, my friend and I found a good local Korean restaurant, and I’ve visited several times since coming home.

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