A Trip To South Korea

If it isn’t on your bucket list, you may want to rethink it.

‘No, no,’ I go again, “I want this country food! Local food, where best?” I frantically wave my hands all over the place, making all kinds of gestures. Little do I realise that talking slowly will help them realise what I’m asking only as much as singing to them will. The lady stares apologetically and I flash her a wide smile to show her it was alright. So there I was, in Myeongdong. Unprepared when it came to my knowledge of the Korean language, but nevertheless prepared for my week-long stay in South Korea. People rushed past me in lively chatters, and through a maze of heads, I finally caught a glimpse of a promising-looking poster, “SPECIALS: DONKAS AND KALGUKSU!!”

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Almost rubbing my tummy, I walked out of the Myeongdong Gyoja clenching the little packets of Lotte xylitol gum – the ones they served before the meal – in my hand. Inside, I’d found a man of very few (English) words, who had directed me to the N Seoul Tower N Seoul Tower. As I stood in Itaewon Station in line for Bus 3, unknown faces smiled and nodded at me—something very rare almost everywhere I’d been.

I’d been told that Korea was a good place to visit, but each and every one of those people were wrong. Korea was splendid, breathtaking, but nevertheless underrated. Nowhere had I seen so much authenticity and modernism together. From atop the Tower, people were like needle pins, trees, mere shrubbery. As the dark set in, Seoul was suddenly wide awake. Lights were turned on, and daylight merged into the clouds and dove in behind the mountains. Seoul at night has an intoxicating effect I can’t begin to describe.

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The next morning, I found myself dozing off on a bus ride to a folk village whose name I couldn’t remember. Partly cloudy, the Seoul sky melted into the Han River on whose banks, just yesterday, I’d had a good, old-fashioned picnic with a family from the city. Besides the extraordinary view and the sumptuous chicken, bonus points to South Korea for their willingness to deliver food anywhere without sneakily hinting at you to tip them.

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I learnt from a child, who had been keeping passengers awake with his excited screams, that we were going to Yangdong Folk Village. When the bus got there, signboards beamed with pride, announcing the village as a UNESCO site. The landscape was dotted with little houses – hanok style, they were called. A man walked up to me and assured us that because Prince Charles of Wales visited here in 1993, ‘we was in best place!’ And I couldn’t agree more.

At Yangdong, we spent our days learning and talking to the locals, who showed us their traditional way of life. On some days we even saw the elders smashing rice with a wooden mallet and making ‘ddeok’. I think they might have seen me squinting at them in curiosity and confusion because they let me have a swing or two at it.

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You know that inexplicable pleasure that they say is intertwined with travel? Not only have I read this an endless number of times, I had only read about that pleasure before but now, I can scream it out of the Biryong, drowned as it may get in the relentless roar of the mighty waterfall. Towering almost protectively over the valley, these serene mountains draped in an emerald veil could take my enthusiastic screams to places where someone, somewhere, sipping tea in delicate crockery, would know—even if they don’t understand my exact words—that there was someone out there who was thrilled to be in South Korea.

Edited by Yashasvi Arunkumar (UG 2020)