Back on the Trail – Korea

To be totally honest, Korea was not high on my list of must see places in Asia, let alone the world. And I don’t think it has been high on the lists of folks I’ve talked to either. But I have a friend who moved here last year (hey Cat!), so I took the opportunity to visit and I am SO GLAD I DID.

Korea is freaking beautiful, y’all. This small peninsula country is blessed with tons of gorgeous coastline, hundreds of islands, rolling green fields, and ragged mountains. It’s quite a stunning landscape. And Seoul is one ballin’ city. Since I’ve been here, I have done so many wonderful things! I:

  • played dress-up at a Korean palace,
  • crouch-walked through tunnels at the DMZ and peered into North Korea,
  • went to two museums that could NOT be about more different topics (toilets and Korean independence)
  • strolled through perfectly manicured tea fields
  • got a taste of K-culture at the Suncheon Film Site
  • ate, and ate….and ate. Korean food is fab. If you like grilled meats, flavorful spice (not just heat), and all.the.garlic, then Korean food is for you
  • spent some quality time with some quality people, learning to never get involved in a land war in Asia.

That’s a lot in a week! But of course, the best part of traveling is learning about the history and the culture while on the ground. My knowledge of Korea pre-1950 was pretty much zero before this. But now I have learned a lot about the seemingly forever enduring Joseon dynasty (ruling some 600 years, from 1392-1897) and the years of domination by the Japanese empire that has left a really bitter taste in the collective mouth of Korea.

 

I have also got to experience the highs and lows of Hangul, aka the Korean alphabet. The lows are very personal. I, of course, have no idea how to read Korean. This leaves me feeling lost and confused much of the time… a strange feeling since it has been awhile since I have been out on the road, alone, in a place where I have absolutely NO IDEA what is going on, and unable to speak to anybody. But that is part of the adventure of travel: finding out that you can get by AND share sweet moments with people as you go.

The history of Hangul is the history of Korea in many ways. It was invented by King Sejong the Great in the 1400s as a way for the lower classes to learn to read and write (the royalty used Chinese script during this time). It was both embraced and opposed off and on until downright banned during the Japanese occupation years only to resurge after WWII as the official script of Korean. It struck me, as we wandered around the Korean Independence Hall, that their Constitution had to be transcribed into Hangul suggesting that most Koreans nowadays might not be able to read the original version.

As always, it is the history that really speaks to me. I don’t consider myself much of an outdoorsy girl, but the roaming around the Korean countryside has been wonderful as well. For now, I’m sticking around here to continue enjoying the fabulous scenery, cities, and wonderful surprises Korea throws my way.