I feel like the Republic of Korea (ROK), or South Korea as most of us know it, is not on a lot of folks’ travel lists. It certainly wasn’t on my list of places to go, and I really only went because I ended up having a friend living there during my nomadic years. And now that I’ve been, I feel that I can really assess who should go to ROK.
You should go to Korea:
- if you consider yourself a fashionista. I am using the term “fashionista” very loosely. If you are into the k-pop scene and think crazy haircuts and boys wearing lipstick is “de mode,” then you’ll fit right in! If you prefer a more “classic” style involving socks with sandals (or socks with anything, the sock game is strong here), then you’ll be good to go. If beige is your favorite color and wearing outfits totally stripped of the ROYGBIV spectrum, you’ll also find ROK works for you.
- if you like efficiency served with a side of whimsy. Korea has the perfect blending of high-tech and cutesy, like Kakao friends. Take the metro for example. Super efficient. Trains run frequently, and on time. Everything is numbered, from metro stations to exits. This is really handy if you want to know where to go (to get to the museum take exit 8), or how many stops you have left (well we are at 103 and need to go to 112, so…). The train arrives with a jaunty tune and a little animation to accompany it.
- if you don’t want to visit a city that smells like a dumpster. Korean cities are impeccable, spotless. I don’t think I ever saw a piece of litter. I certainly never saw a rat. I couldn’t even find a trash can, that’s how prodigious they are at keeping trash out of site. Don’t believe me? A South Korean mayor had to dump litter on his beach so that volunteers (who were participating in a worldwide beach clean-up day) would have something to clean up!
- if you love history, whether it be ancient or modern. Korean history is full of exciting sagas of warring empires, peaceful Buddhists, nation building, and perpetual war with Japan. For 600 years Korea was existing peacefully it seems, developing art and their own language, during the Joseon dynasty, until 1910 when things took a turn for the worse. The last hundred years have been rough, as war and domination swept through the peninsula leaving marks that are visible today (I mean literally, just look at a map).
- if you eat food. Korean food is the bomb diggity, and it’s more than bulgogi and kimchi (although, you will be served kimchi with everything). They eat #allthemeat, they could even put Argentina and Chile to shame. Between Korean BBQ and Korean fried chicken, I was eating a lot of meat. Fortunately, they like their meat with a little spice. And garlic goes in everything. Spice and garlic are two of my favorite things in this world…
- if you are a living, breathing person. Because really, everyone should go! (Although, real talk, if you don’t breathe you might even do better because pollution in Korea can get wild, which is why people wear masks often. Fortunately for me, air quality was good – I hear it tends to be best in September and October).
And there you have it! Book a flight! Get on it!
On a more serious note, and related to bullet 4 above, something super memorable from my last few days in Korea was going to the War Memorial Museum (for like…5 hours. *cough* nerd *cough*). For me, Korea arrives on the scene in 1950 with the outbreak of the war (unfair, I know) and I have a personal connection to this one. My grandfather served in the U.S. Army in Korea. But I learned more from this museum than I ever did from him.
Why? Because I never asked him. I never asked him where he fought, what operations he was in, or what he did. I never asked him who he met, who he lost, or how he got his purple heart. I never asked him what he saw. I never asked him what it was like to finally come home. And it’s too late now. Going to the memorial was a great history lesson for me, but also a powerful reminder of how history lives on through the people that were there and that we should ask those questions before those stories are gone forever.