Day by Day in South Korea
Jeju Island Travel Tale
Friday: Going through customs and immigration in Seoul was smooth enough; although they did ask if I had any
drugs, and I did notice a lot of soldiers hanging around. Mrs. Yun from KNTO explained that security at Korea's
has always been tight, which is ok by me.
The check-in at the Shilla Hotel in one word: gracious. Moreover, the bellboy refused my tip!
Saturday: Mr. Kyung-Ha Lee, director for KNTO, cordially invited Canadians to come to Korea -- a modern,
growing country, rich in yesterday's culture and tradition: At the reconstructed Korean Folk Village just 40 kilometers
his high-tech office, potters, millers, and weavers continue to create and sell their wares as their ancestors did.
We toured the village and watched them as they worked. Then we were entertained by a group of dancers that
perform regularly in the amphitheater.
Sunday: It's a sad note that nearly all of Korea's temples and palaces have been destroyed in wars. Kyongbok
Palace, a restored palace in downtown Seoul, was burned during the Japanese invasion of 1592. It was left in ruins
1868. Today, it's a vital link to the past.
I left this spacious home of nobility to explore one of Korea's largest's open-air markets. The shops weren't bigger
than closets, but the variety of goods was staggering. On an upper floor, silk booths were separated by narrow
and bolts of silk in every color imaginable.
Monday: I and a guide set off by train for Kyongju, a historical city that is known as the Museum without Walls.
After a warm greeting by Mr. Seung-Duck, Choi, the manager of the Kolon Hotel in Kyongju, we began our first
lesson. In a hired car we climbed a winding mountain road to Sokkuram Grotto. This grotto was deserted and
all but the local populace for many centuries. When it was rediscovered in the 20th century, its great granite Buddha
proclaimed as the finest of east Asian Buddhist art. I was impressed by the Buddha's serene composure.
Tuesday: Today we toured Pulguksa Temple, one of the most famous temples in all of Korea not because of size
or age but because it has been flawlessly restored to its original splendor. Build in 514, it too had been burnt to ashes
the Japanese invasion.
By now, I was becoming acquainted with the gentle-sloped tiled roofs and sturdy wooden pillars of ancient Korea's
architecture; however, I was still amazed at the many poses and facial expressions of Buddha.
Next to explore was Tumulus Park, the site of more than 20 burial tombs. Gold crowns, gold and silver ornaments,
horses riding gear and numerous weapons have been excavated from these tombs. An unusual bauble in the shape of a
was used to decorate almost all the artifacts. It represented the king's wish for the people to be fruitful.
Wednesday: We left by car for Pusan, stopping at historical sites on the way. Many of Korea's temples are active,
therefore, we were often submerged in an atmosphere of chanting monks.
Despite the fascinating diversions, I was glad when we finally arrived in Pusan: Our driver never stopped at stop
signs, jumped red lights and passed cars recklessly.
Driving is a real problem in Korea. According to the National Police Headquarters, in 1989, there were 47 deaths
per 10,000 cars, compared with two in Japan, 2.3 in Italy, and 2.6 in the United States. To combat this serious
defensive driving is being taught on national television every evening.
Shortly after our arrival in Pusan it was off to the tower to get a bird's eye view of the sprawling port city, and then
to the world famous fish market.
Much of the food was arranged neatly in trays, ready to be eaten. Raw, not in bits surrounded by rice as in shushi,
but in slices and chunks and directly from shells. Sea urchins, starfish, mollusks, clams and other strange creatures
the ocean were piled precariously high on boxes, on makeshift counters, in wagons -- it was as if the sea exploded and
everything that ever lived in the ocean landed on the docks of Pusan. The hawkers laughed at my wide-eyed look and
me with wiggling squid.
This was the real Korea; messy yet clean, vibrant yet ordinary, crowded yet individual -- full of life and action. In
direct opposite to the image represented by the hundreds of grey head stones planted neatly in rows at the United
Memorial Cemetery a few kilometers away.
From my window at Westin Chosun Hotel I could see the curve of the beach below. The setting sun cast a silvery
shadow on the ocean. People strolled and children played as if it was in the middle of July not cool December. A
of portable stalls served drinks, seafood, and offered Karaoka fun.
Thursday: Our next stop was Jeju Island, Asia's honeymoon island, also known as Chejudo or Cheju Island. We
stayed until Saturday. There was so much to see and do, the time went by much too quickly. A feature on the island
appears here: Jeju Island
Saturday: We flew from Chejudo, the most tourist oriented place in Korea, to Andong, the least prepared. Our
hotel was cold and dismal. However, Andong has a resort in the works. They expect tourists will flock to Andong
Village where people live in primitive thatched-roof stone houses the way they did during the Chosun Period.
Sunday: Back in Seoul and to It'aewon, a shopping district strictly for the tourist. I shopped till I was ready to
drop. I bought luggage, leather jackets, a handbag, wallets ... .
Monday: By now I'm somewhat familiar with temples, wild drivers and open-air markets. I'm a pro at sitting
crossed-legged on the floor and I'm used to the nodding and the smiling. In fact, by now, I'm nodding and smiling.
Perhaps if tourism keeps increasing as it has these past few years, the sincere welcoming demeanor that is part of
Korea's culture will spread to the rest of the world. I hope so. I know I'm going to miss it.
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