Foreign Perspectives – South Korea

South Korea – “Land of the Morning Calm”

This is an apt description of this beautiful country, based on my recent visit in September 2016. My brother Tim and I traveled to South Korea for a two-week visit with my daughter, Erin.

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The canal below Erin’s apartment building in Incheon, South Korea – a tranquil place to walk, exercise, bike, rest…my favorite place!

Erin has been working as a foreign teacher of English to Korean children since February 2016.  Introduced to the culture through K-pop and drama, she had started learning the language via the internet/social media during her first year after college graduation.  After several months of study, she was hired as a teacher at a private school (hagwon) in Incheon. Erin spent her very first day in the country finding her way by bus and subway into Seoul without a guide- what an intrepid girl! She just wanted to see the sights and experience the culture!

After having lived in New York City, I found the area of Seoul and Incheon to be very similar to NYC, with two exceptions: the language barrier, and the fact that 99% of the people in Korea are actually Korean. It was very hard for me to NOT be able to read anything when walking around! Tim was more dismayed that he couldn’t converse very well with any one. We hardly saw any Caucasians, and I don’t remember seeing many other people besides Asians. In NYC, even Chinatown, there is a large percentage of Caucasians and ethnicities on every street.  Here in South Korea, there are few non-Asians, at least in the areas we traveled. I was fine with that, but Tim was a little unsettled!  However, I am a New Yorker and Tim is a rural Western cowboy type -he was  out of his comfort zone just being in a large metropolitan area!  But he enjoyed himself and had a good time.

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Tim (brother) and I shopping in Seoul, land of “cute”!!

Our first great experience was to go with Erin’s class on a school field trip.  The children arrived at school in their traditional Hanbok clothing – so adorable!  We rode in a plush purple velvet school bus (with curtains, seat doilies, fringe and all) to an historical site where the children played traditional Korean games. “Erin Teacher” was busy keeping 12 kindergartners on task, while Tim and I took pictures and enjoyed the morning. Four- and five-year old children are pretty much the same all over the world…an adorable handful who make you smile! Their antics were exactly as my grandkids in America would be, and their grins were just as wonderful.  The kids really loved Tim’s cowboy hat, as did the pretty young teachers…he just smiled, and took more pictures!

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Erin Teacher’s kindergarten class, dressed in tradition Korean clothing for a field trip
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A “receiving room” in the Korean palace area

That first weekend we flew to Jeju Island, the Korean “Hawaii”, for two days. A beautiful hour-long drive along the coast brought us to the area where we would stay in a guesthouse next to the beach, and we also enjoyed a special art exhibit.  “Inside Van Gogh” (who is one of my favorite artists) was a delightful presentation of Van Gogh’s paintings in 3-D with various lighting and technical displays.

The beach was black lava rocks and sand (Jeju is an inactive volcanic island).  Beautiful! The sound of the surf, maybe 500 feet from our open bedroom window, lulled us to sleep on the three hard beds of our guestroom – none were very soft.  I happen to like sleeping on a hard bed, and Erin has gotten used to it over the last six months, but Tim’s poor bones were the subject of just a bit of complaining! LOL

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A panoramic view of the coast on Jeju Island, an inactive volcanic island

Our next special event was the Korean holiday of Chuseok, rather like our Thanksgiving as it is a time of family and food and ancestral history.  We went into Seoul with Erin’s friend, Joon, who is Korean but spent his high school and college years in America, so we communicated easily. He was able to show us around some pretty amazing sights, including a beautiful palace and grounds, a museum, and a Buddhist temple.  We happened upon several traditional events due to the holiday, which was pretty cool!  Thanks, Joon, for opening doors for us to experience South Korea more fully!

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Changing of the guard at the Korean palace grounds during the holiday
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Buddhist temple grounds, Seoul
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Erin and Joon, on palace grounds, Seoul

I can easily see living in a place like South Korea if I learned the language. Like Erin, I would not want to live where all the ex-pats live; I would rather experience their culture and language than be “comfortable” with English speakers.  The area where Erin lives and works is a new development and has a beautiful canal running through it, with patios and places to rest, exercise, play games, and eat(!!!) all along the length.  While there are minor differences in culture that one must accept, people are people, everywhere.  We all want safety and happiness for our families, and a good education for our children.

While there are drawbacks to such a high priority on education as the Koreans have (teen and childhood educational pressures are very high, and suicide is not unknown), I did see happy families everywhere, treating one another with respect and gentle kindness.  South Korea is a high-tech society that is respectful of people and soooooo calm (serenity permeates the canal area where Erin lives and works) – hey, the police don’t even carry guns!  There is little crime or violence, and the elderly are especially honored, and education is highly valued.  We watched families walking and biking along the canal parks…so sweet!  Tim was a bit bothered by the lack of eye contact/smiles by strangers, but once we were introduced they were very friendly and kind (see – just a cultural difference!)  I can see why Erin is enjoying her time in South Korea!

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Beautiful pool on the palace grounds, Seoul
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The black sands of Jeju Island
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Receiving rooms at palace grounds, Seoul

Thanks for taking a little tour with me – it was an amazing vacation!

Scout – out!

What book are you reading now?

From my bookshelf:

“Lucy, every marriage is a dance; complicated at times, lovely at times, most [of] the time very uneventful.  But with Mickey [diagnosis of bipolar disorder], there will be times when your dance will be on broken glass.  There will be pain.  And you will either flee that pain or hold tighter and dance through it to the next smooth place….You can’t fix him.”

–Dancing on Broken Glass   by Ka Hancock, 2012

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