South Korea

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When I was a little girl, I used to look up at the sky and see airplanes flying away. I waved to them while I dreamed of being aboard, going off alone on an adventure into the big world.

For an Egyptian girl born to a conservative family, traveling solo wasn’t a very realistic option, but my desire to try it continued to grow stronger as I got older, and led to the hardest challenge I would ever face.

My parents wanted me to get married and have children after I got my degree, but I had a different dream that I wasn’t going to give up on. I worked while in college and saved as much money as I could, keeping my dream alive while family members, neighbors and friends of my mother tried to arrange marriage for me.

I turned down all of the proposals and continued saving, always looking ahead to achieve my goal. The pressure my parents put me through only made me more determined to reach my goals and live my life my way. Some people mocked my plans, saying: “You will never travel.” , but their attitude only acted as a further push forward to me.

One day I watched a travel show about South Korea. As I saw the green hills, ancient Buddhist temples and modern streets I knew I wanted to be there. I read about Korean history, took language lessons, and wrote an article for a Korean newspaper, which won me a week-long trip to Seoul! Even though I was the only winner from Egypt, my parents didn’t want to let me travel there. While they were proud of me, they were worried about the outside world.

I fought for my right and I challenged them. My mom kept saying, “How can a girl travel alone?” “You’re just a weak girl, you need a man to protect you.” She was wrong about that. I needed no one. Finally, they allowed me to go.

After years of dreaming I was actually on a flight, flying off the ground into the high sky and open air. I’ll never forget the way I felt when I landed in Korea and stepped out of the airport. I was happy and proud. And for the first time in my whole life, I was absolutely free. Free of faded traditions that somehow still haunt our society. I was free to be who I am without anyone telling me “you can’t” simply because I’m a girl. I toured the historic palaces, ate Korean spicy food, and walked in the modern city of Seoul. A week was too short for me.

I went back to Egypt with a bigger dream. After having a taste of what the world had to offer, my heart ached to have another adventure. I worked two jobs, day and night. I didn’t wait for permission; I booked my ticket and told my family that I was going on a long trip. Of course, they didn’t like it but nothing could have stopped me.

For six months I traveled around Korea on my own. I saw the red and orange leaves of autumn taking over the greens. I climbed a high mountain, stood on the summit with open arms embracing the cold winter wind. That day I saw my first white snow, flakes fell down on me, the snow was as magical as I’ve always imagined it would be. I walked through small villages in the countryside. I saw the first spring flowers blooming. I couch surfed with locals and foreigners and made friends. I’m a free, independent and confident woman.

 

My passion for traveling and love for Korea made me brave and gave me strength. Now I’m living my dream. I’m an expat in Korea and I travel.

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Sheer excitement and the thrill of the unknown were quickly replaced with panic and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness when my jet lagged feet hit the tarmac. Landing in Seoul, South Korea, marked my second trip via commercial flight and my first trip to a foreign country. I was 20 years old, did not speak the language, traveling alone, and an ocean and a lifetime away from home. It was November 2001 and the tragedy of 911 was still very much a fresh wound. I somehow fumbled my way through customs toting several heavy costume filled bags. I was the USA delegate for the World Miss University pageant and packing light was not exactly realistic. Out of breath and nearing tears, I scanned the airport for my taxi. I willingly went with the unknown man dressed in a black suit holding a sign that read, “Ms. USA.” He carried my luggage to the car and we rode in silence to the hotel – my home for the next couple of weeks. My concern grew with each mile – or kilometer I should say. When we arrived at the hotel, I was wholeheartedly regretting my wild and brazen decision to take a 3 week hiatus from my junior year of college and travel across the world.

 

Once in the hotel lobby and waiting for a pageant coordinator, I finally yielded to my anxiety and let the tears flood from my eyes as uncontrollable sobs escaped my lips. I was a mess. I was scared, alone, and could no longer suppress my emotions. It was certainly not the look expected of a composed and proper beauty queen, but I really didn’t care anymore. I was downright terrified and consumed with my vulnerability. We were provided sashes with our titles and suddenly, a woman in the lobby noticed mine. A beautiful blond woman, with large blue eyes and an infectious smile, unexpectedly and warmly hugged me tightly. She was wearing an “I love the USA” flag shirt and her embrace was genuine. Others took notice and immediately flocked to my direction. I was concerned that my lack of composure was causing a scene. Instead, women from the around the globe, began hugging me, nodding my direction, squeezing my hand, and offering words of encouragement. One of the pageant body guards asked where in the USA I was from. As I explained I was from Washington everyone gasped. The guard exclaimed in limited English, “terror, terror.” I tried to explain that I was from Washington State and not Washington, D.C., but it didn’t matter, I had an entire group of strangers from all walks of life, from all corners of world, rallying around me, willing to offer comfort to someone they’d never met. I was already stunned with emotion, but experiencing such a beautiful outpouring of true humanity touched me in a way that has never left. Even as tragedy continues to plague the world, I maintain faith and hope because I have witnessed genuine compassion and unity at a global level.

 

I met many amazing women on that trip, women from all over the world. I met women with vastly differently life experiences, of diverse backgrounds and cultures. I was honored to share my room with the delegate from Poland and I adored her and her stories about her country. I delighted in the conversation of Ms. Lebanon and Ms. Finland. Ms. Germany made everyone smile. Ms. Sweden was wonderfully sweet and Ms. Vietnam was incredibly soft spoken and strong at the same time. I learned so much in such a short amount of time. I was privileged to observe so much of South Korea as we took a road trip from Seoul to Busan. My host country was very welcoming and experiencing the culture firsthand was priceless. I learned a lot from my first exhilarating, yet terrifying trip abroad. I learned how connected we as people really are. I learned how no matter how different our lifestyles and backgrounds are, we can all find a common ground. Finally, I learned by pushing through fear and casting out doubt, we can find the kind of bravery in ourselves necessary for growth and responsible for lifelong inspiration. Many years later, I’m still inspired by the 20 year old version of myself, the one that took a 20 hour journey to a new place where I met some endearing people with lasting impressions. When I’m reluctant or hesitant to embark on something new, I remember the fear that once consumed me as I scanned that airport for a stranger in an unknown country, which was later replaced with admiration and comfort through unexpected acceptance. Although I was solo in Seoul, I was never really alone.

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One breath at a time. Mt Seorak, South Korea

From the moment we began travelling together several years ago my partner and I  have encountered places, environments and people that consistently challenge us to meet them, at least halfway. Each time we rose to that challenge, some dormant part of us awoke; sometimes a part we never knew existed at other times a part we’d always suspected was there but lacked the courage or faith to acknowledge let alone embrace. Whatever the case, we’ve learned these parts, once ignited, can never be fully extinguished. And whether we choose to use the experiences to foster further travel or not, they exist now as parts of us that can be tapped into anytime, anywhere … if only as a reminder of what we’re capable of.

 

One such place was in South Korea’s Mount Seoraksan National Park, about a three hour car or bus drive from Seoul and a long way from Tasmania, Australia. Our goal – a hike to the ruins of Gwongeumseong Castle, above the Cheongbuldong Valley.

 

Korea had already challenged us in other ways … eating the traditional fermented cabbage dish kimchee (a gauntlet to my dread of getting sick from eating unfamiliar food) and accepting a military presence in Seoul as part of the political landscape.

 

But the Gwongeumseong climb took us further out of our comfort zone on more personal levels. My partner’s bypass heart surgery was still at the forefront of our memories and his asthma an ongoing consideration. My new hip had settled in and my fear of heights subdued to wariness over the years. While these elements could turn into obstacles if we let them, they also provided the impetus for our lifestyle choice, to spend as much time travelling where we could while we could.

 

In the jam-packed cable car my partner takes photographs while I concentrate on breathing my way through another testing ground; small spaces and crowds.

When we alight the car, a short walk takes us to the base of the castle ruins. Looking up we see the Korean national flag waving at an altitude of 1,200 meters.

 

We are initially comforted by sighting a number of elderly hikers and small children.

How hard can it be? On the park’s online tourist site the climb has a difficulty star rating of only one. But we soon remember fear is fear. Courage is courage.

Despite it being spring, one of the most temperate and prettiest times to visit the park, we were in a minority of Western tourists. We’re taller and heavier than most of the other visitors, we move more cautiously, and my partner’s shock of curly hair is a bobbing white cap in a sea of black heads. We’re fish out of water and that’s the point.

 

The first thing we notice before commencing our ascent is the level of steepness, then the lack of climbing aids. With the exception of a rope in some parts and a guide who appears at a particularly tricky bit to lend a helping hand if needed, we are just two more creatures in a line of creatures swarming across a rock face.

The hike turns out to be part climb, part scrabble. We use the rope when it appears and keep an eye out for hand and footholds along the rocky outcrops. A sheer drop to one side is at times unnerving. The exposed environment means a level of unavoidable wind. We occasionally get wobbly and have to steady ourselves, knowing the climb down will pose its own challenges. Our hearts thump and our fingers tingle with each reach for a handhold. Look ahead. One step, one breath at a time.

A mere thirty intense minutes later we reach the pinnacle. Some climbers whoop, share rice wine, purchase official gold medals of achievement from the mountain vendor.

We sit in silence for a few minutes taking in the view that stretches before us, across mountain peaks, the coastal cityscape of Sokcho and the coastline itself. We did it! we finally say to each other. The question of Where next? already forming another tentative chain in the link between us and the rest of the world.

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A Decade of Departures

I left home as soon as I was able. It had never been a happy place and the often violent streets of Belfast offered little respite. I therefore spent much of my childhood in my room, longing for elsewhere, learning to spell the names of countries as I leafed through my father’s well-worn hard-backed atlas.

When I was eighteen I enrolled at university and took the boat to Scotland. I was reasonably happy there, but every night before bed I would sit and gaze at the maps I had pinned on my wall. After graduation my friends all started settling into careers and communities, marriages and mortgages. I, however, made preparations for departure: crossing the sea had failed to cure me of my lust for leaving. So I divested myself of almost everything I owned, packed the remainder into a backpack, and took a train to the airport and a plane to Paris.

But even the city of light soon lost its lustre, and six months later I was standing on the platform of the Gare de Lyon waiting for a train to Geneva. Every morning for the next year I spent staring out of my chalet windows at the seven peaks of Les Dents Du Midi. At first, I found comfort in their permanence but eventually I began to resent them for hemming me in. Once again, it was time to leave. As the primroses and buttercups were starting to fade, I got on a plane bound for the New World.

New York City thrilled me. On my first evening, I walked from my lodgings on 79th St. all the way to Battery Park and back. Everything I’d heard was truer and more real than I’d ever imagined: the streets were straighter, the towers were taller, the crosswalks more crowded. But I grew restive in the restless city and once again packed my bag and boarded a westbound bus.

Some three thousand miles later and I had swum and shivered in Lake Michigan, hiked through the snow to Yellowstone hot-springs, and marvelled at Seattle’s sleepless skyline. But in no place and at no time did I consider stopping, settling.

My momentum impelled me across the Pacific to New Zealand. ‘The land of the long white cloud’ was as beautiful as everyone had said, but its beauty was wasted on me. When I wasn’t at work or out hiking the Hobbited hills, I was at the library poring over travel books and magazines – dreaming once again of elsewhere. Once I’d saved up enough, I bought a ticket to Seoul.

Maybe in Asia I would find the solace I sought.

I hated it at first, this jumble of a city with enough neon to put Vegas to shame. But eventually, I fell in love with its energy, chaos and confusion. Not to mention its food. If I think too much about it, I sometimes wonder why I left, but in the moment, restlessness was reason enough.

Within weeks, I found myself on a ferry from Vancouver to a small island with an entire population comparable to that of my apartment building in Seoul. I tended chickens and ate home-grown, home-cooked food. And even though I was actually quite content I would still wander down to the shore from time to time to think about the world beyond. And soon enough, those thoughts became too powerful to ignore.

As I packed, I took a picture of my belongings laid out on the bed: a few clothes, toothbrush and razor, water-bottle, pencil-case and notebooks. During the months and years that I had been travelling, I hadn’t taken a single photograph of the sights I had seen or the places I had been. It was in this moment that I realised, as Hermann Hesse had once written, that “a magic dwells in every new beginning”. It was not the places that had brought me solace, but the spaces between the places. It was these in-between moments – packing my possessions, closing my bag, hoisting it onto my back – which thrilled me.

And it was in such moments that I was able to hope, breathe and dream.

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Aviary Photo_130368083940981037I was once told that I could never be where I am now. Now I am being told that I can never go to where I want to be. To breathe air from a different part of this earth and feel foreign soil before my feet, to interact with others who are not quite like myself and who have lived experiences that one could only dream. This is the lure that attracts me, the reasoning behind all my thoughts, my reveries, and this particular ambition. Barriers have restricted the human race for the entirety of our existence, but in return we have requited these obstructions with creations of our own. Trains, planes, automobiles, these are the oeuvres humanity has left for later generations in the attempts of never allowing impediments from slowing the advancement or greatness that we aspire to. How many times have I wished that I could iron away the blunders that destiny has fabricated. However, I’ve come to realize that destiny has made these blunders so that I could unravel the reality of the situation and the amount of perseverance it takes to iron them. I will not allow a language barrier to conquer me and distract me from visiting a land I have always wanted to see, after all I am part of the human race and have been born with the acute stubbornness all have. I will not bow before my barrier, I will not be conquered but conquer, nor allow myself to admit defeat but instead perceive the temptation of defeat as intangible, and project my thoughts as incorrigible.

I have grown many years in a short time, it sometimes scares me to have known the length of what I’ve grown. The thought of visiting this country has contributed to my growth, because I now want to grow more in order for me to be ready to explore the delights ahead and overcome the barriers put in my path, so in turn I will prove myself to myself that I am able to iron creases that even destiny has fabricated. To be able to come across new traditions and speak this language that is strange to my ears but delightful to my lips and realize that it will forever be strange and forever hold beauty, but will no longer be foreign.

Somehow I believe that I have found my true love in things that are foreign to me. Of an alien land whose represents balance and the elements and emits charm through its traditions and culture. In four years I hope to visit South Korea with the ability to speak its citizen’s language, lay on Simhak Mountain in the sea of poppies and look up at a different but same sky. I have been told that I can never go to where to I want to be, however, these words fall upon death ears because this is the place that rouses me, inspires me, and where I will spend my time wisely with no regrets for as long as my destiny has given me.

About the Author: Luisa Rincon grew up in Elizabeth, NJ and was born in Colombia. I hope to visit South Korea in three years after I master the language before I start freshman year in college.

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patsy-7457I was at a party with a selection of great-looking mini-desserts. Having a sweet tooth, I got one of each. Meanwhile, my friend filled her saucer with her favorite cream puffs. I wondered why she didn’t try the other variants and I learned the answer as I forced myself to finish the ones on my plate. The cream puffs were splendid – perhaps the only good thing on the table. Unsatisfied by my selection, I got up to replace mine with more cream puffs, but the tray was already empty.

When I planned my trip to Seoul, I vowed I would have the best time of my life. Months prior to my trip, I read travel books at the library, logged-in to different travel apps, and listed all that I wanted to see and do. In my list I included the time shrines and museums would open, and if there were attractions like the changing of the guards, I’d be there to see it. I knew it would be long before I return to Seoul, so I have to make memories worth sharing.

When we travel for a weekend getaway, our effort to try and make the most out of that trip is to cram so many activities in our itinerary. While it is a surefire way to see all that the place has to offer, in the end we are overwhelmed by memories of exhaustion rather than the quality of how we spent the time.

In Seoul, time will never be on your side. The bustling metropolitan will leave you in awe. There are so many things to see that the day may end without coming to a decision. I spent five days in Seoul, and during the first day, I roamed around the neighborhood where I stayed to familiarize myself with the nearest convenience store, train station, and information center.

The next two days, I hopped from one historic site to another – my itinerary for the day more detailed than any travel agency. Honestly, the shrines and palaces all look alike, hence I spent no more than 1 hour at each place and rounded up all major shrines in Seoul within 2 days. On the fourth day I filled my SD card with photos of Korea’s autumn colors at Jongmyo Shrine. I was lost in the moment of photography – everything from the architectural details, the serene lake, and the people coming together to savor the last warm rays – until I felt my stomach complain.

Due to the time spent in Jongmyo, I skipped going to Insadong, Dongdaemun, COEX, Lotte World, and other areas commonly included in the “Must-see in Seoul” list much to the chagrin of my friends back home. I don’t understand why they feel disappointed about my trip when I was extremely satisfied. I was excited to go back, not to cover the ground I skipped, but to take photos of the same place in a different perspective and season. I want to see what kind of feeling it will give me when I experience it during winter or under the rain.

The abundance of nature in Jongmyo is something easily seen in most conservatories yet there is something magical about it. The road less traveled compelled me to explore the area rather than follow the concrete main path leading to the exit.

Cheesy as it sounds I thought, “Ah, this must be how it feels to be alive.” Ironically, I felt it at the place built to honor the deceased royalties of Joseon.  It was as if their spirits were handing wisdom from the world beyond, telling me to live to the fullest without regrets. It is not the kind of YOLO that justifies dangerous activies, but the kind of YOLO that should make your heart beat through the endless possibilities of learning and new experiences. It should make your inner being hunger for more, push forward without looking back.

Like the dessert table, life offers us many choices resulting to two types of hunger: unsatisfaction and craving. Which one’s yours?

About the author: Patricia is a mermaid who enjoys the world of humans.She likes dark chocolates and warm hugs.

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DSC00388nI have never been celebrated Winter in my life. I am from Indonesia, a very tropical country with never ending summer. Truthfully the idea of having winter is always on my mind. I always want to go to Iceland or even Greenland just to feel some winter euphoria. Then, I decided to go to South Korea this winter. South Korea is the closest place to feel the winter from Indonesia.

I arrived at Busan, I planned to took a bus to Seoul from Busan. When the flight attendant opened the airplane gate, all i felt was “This is no joke” I said that to my friend. I kept wow-ing wherever I go because that was totally different from my country. The weather, the people, the technology was completely insane. A that time, the weather is really cold, about -12 celsius degree tops.

At Day 5, I had the opportunity to visit Nami Island, located at Gangwon Province, not so far from Seoul. I always enjoyed scenery wherever I go. Nami Island and its neighborhood is really breathtaking. The place is also colder than Seoul. There was so many tourist back then. But, believe or not, they are local tourist from so many province in South Korea. I managed my self to ask one local tourist who speak English about Nami. He said, “I’ve been to Nami like 5 times, but I never get bored. This is my country’s asset, how can I miss?”. I don’t know but at that time while hear his answer, at that perfect scenery of Nami, all I think about is my home, Indonesia.

South Korea has so many great places such as Jeju, Nami, Mount Sorak, etc. South Korea also has “hallyu wave” for korean pop and korean drama which led so many tourists to visit this country. There’s so many westernization things also, but the people are very nationalist about their country. They love their country so much.
I looked up into myself. Indonesia also has so so so so many place to be explore. But I always wanted to go overseas because of many reason. Other than Bali, Indonesia has Raja Ampat Island, Borneo with their rich culture, and the beauty of beaches since we are “Island Nation”. When I was in Nami,all I think about is, “After this, I will go to the Gili, West Nusa Tenggara and walking through the sand while carry my sandals and wear my thin shirt”. I realized that I went away too much. I realized that there is so many things in Indonesia that you can actually do. And somehow, I feel lucky to have summer all the time. Because feeling cold is the last thing that I want after I felt all that coldness in South Korea. But yes, still I want to go to Iceland.

Then I went home, to where I belong. Thank God that I had the chance to go to South Korea. Because the people made me realize that I should explore my own land before I go abroad.

South Korea is giving me this idea. For my next trip, I already plan to discover Java, Bali and West Nusa Tenggara in a month. Wish me luck!

By Naresawari Notoprodjo

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south koreaBanks of neon from street to stars seared my retinas. Seoul at night. I was in South Korea for a specific reason. To find work. But not just any old work, acting work. Being cooped up in London, too poor for acting school, no real experience of note, meant I was just another face in the crowd. I had heard Seoul was looking for foreign faces. Internationalizing their ever growing media industry.

The streets of Seoul shopping central, Myeongdong were overwhelming. I knew nobody, spoke none of the language, understood nothing of the customs. I had arrived earlier in the day, and struggled to recollect how I had ended up there.

With what little money I had in my pocket, in most countries I would have possibly failed. But Korea, the people and the timing saved me. There is an invisible aura of possibility that hangs over the city. People go about their business, not scrambling over one another, but teaming together to bring Korea in line with other leading nations.
Staying at a youth hostel, I became friends with one of the staff there, a guy from Brazil, and soon got to spending time with the owner. Knowing about my foolhardy goal of kick starting my acting career in Seoul, possibly more out of pity than anything else, he offered me a free bed in exchange for four hours per day volunteering in the hostel. This was my lifeline. Winter was setting in and I spent the remaining money I had on a winter coat from the sprawling market at Dongdaemun. There are numerous large buildings stretching over a mile, each one packed with market stalls over ten floors high. For such a small country, often the scale of Seoul can be impressive.

It was enough to buy me the time to make contacts and get the right visa to start me off on a three year span that would see me featuring in Korean movies with the stars. By the time I left Korea, I was a minor celebrity appearing weekly in television shows. I learned Korean and started to get better roles. But without that help from the hostel owner Danny, and from everybody who would buy me a meal, keep me alive, offer me a chance to perform, I could not have done it.

I think what I am really thankful for is the goodness of people. That we live in a multicultural world that certainly has its ignorance and its disagreements, but that allows a stranger to feel welcome. Eager to give something back, I have helped as many people as have needed it ever since. Korea taught me to be a better person. At the heart of travel is enlightenment. To learn and understand another culture so far away and to assimilate, to see that people really are the same worldwide, is the essence of travel. It is why travel is an addiction, and it is one I hope I will never be cured of.

About the Author: Paul Stafford works in the film industry and as a writer. He spent three years working in Seoul, South Korea in lieu of going to acting school. He currently lives in London and studies a masters in screenwriting.

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DSC00171I soaked in the sights as we whizzed by, mostly dazzled by the half-melted snow on the ground. I exhaled out a breath of cold air which fogged up the chilled window of the bus and doodled the word ‘Korea’. I was finally here! The homeland of Korean pop music and Korean food. It was day 1 in Seoul and there was much that came across as strange or unfamiliar to me, namely their winter season. No matter how prepared I thought I was, I was not.

Arriving at the Changdeokgung Palace, our tour group eagerly hopped off the bus. My nose, startled by the sudden attack of coldness, began to water like a leaking faucet. Chills raced up and down my spine, and at that moment I wanted to return to the warm embrace of the heater in the bus. However, I grudgingly followed our tour group as we approached the towering pillars of the palace gates.

We stood at the entrance of the Changdeokgung Palace listening to the enthusiastic dialogue of our equally animated tour guide, recounting the palace’s remarkable history. I was losing interest fast. I was no history buff and had zero interest in attending a history lesson. Time was of the essence here! I wanted to leave and explore famous shopping hotspots. While attempting to distract a grouchy stray cat, I gathered that the Changdeokgung Palace was the most favoured palace of the past Joseon kings. A treasured monument, it was designated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. With that the tour group trooped in and I trailed unwillingly behind, bracing myself for the inevitable.

Stepping in, it was like I just entered a winter wonderland. Powdery snow from a few days ago was sprinkled on the ground like fairy dust. Except the walkways which were cleared of snow for the tourists, the ground was mostly covered in snow. With the massive architecture as the background, I felt as though as I have been transported 600 years back to the Joseon Dynasty during its winter season.

It was mesmerizing.

So magical.

It was a sudden 180 degree attitude change. Craving to know about the history of the palace, I followed closely behind, hanging on to every word. We stopped at the Injeongjeon Throne Hall, it was used to discuss major state affairs between the past kings and the state ministers as well as to receive foreign diplomats. Peering inside, a lone throne remained, surrounded by the dark and drabby interior of the hall. All at once, my imagination started to work its magic. The thin film of dust that covered the throne disappeared; the bright colours that adorned the walls were restored. I saw a bevy of ladies-in-waiting and eunuchs waiting expectantly by the side, silent but alert. The state ministers kneel by the sides in two neat rows, heads bowed in reverence, each slightly jittery. The atmosphere tingled with tension, a frown or a single gesture could mean getting exiled to some godforsaken land or even, decapitation!

I turned to face the large expanse of courtyard, this time I was loyalty. Dreamily, I pictured the large crowd of subjects kneeling before me with utmost deference and slight apprehension, as I descended the stairs like a fairy floating down from Heaven. What an ego boost it gave me! Our next stop was the Seonjeongjeon Hall, it was the Government office for the state ministers where they held daily meetings. Among all the buildings which stood on its own, the Seonjeongjeon Hall stood out exceedingly well, its structure and exterior design was a portrait of brilliance, its vibrant colours and intricate patterns brought life to a seemingly sombre palace environment.

We strode on, often pausing to hurl fresh snow at each other. Our tour group passed the royal family’s private living quarters, each more massive than the previous. Finally stopping in front of a nondescript looking house, its lack of size and colour made it seem like a misfit in the overall majestic grandeur of the palace. With further explanation, it was known to be reserved for the King’s favourite concubine, in an attempt to give her some resemblance of a normal lifestyle. The only irony was the several servants’ quarters surrounding the main house.

Regretfully, our 45 minutes tour in Changdeokgung Palace concluded. As I stood at the entrance from where I entered moments ago, I gazed wistfully around the palace grounds, saddened that the time spent was so fleetingly short. Yet, I was relieved that I could experience this ancient beauty personally, it was beautiful not because of its majestic structure and dynamic colours but it was the beauty of the passing of time that enabled this precious monument to exist today. For this, I felt blessed beyond words.

About the Author: Amanda Jane Yap from Singapore, a student studying for a Diploma in Tourism & Resort Management in a local tertiary institution. Her interests include reading, writing and travelling. She hopes to explore the world before she dies.

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wierd koreaThank you to Chris Backe for sharing one of his Seoul Itineraries with us from his book, Weird and Wonderful Korea

Welcome to Korea! An introduction: South Korea – home of soju, kimchi, and love motels. Presented here are the weird and wonderful parts of Korea – the places that tourists rarely reach and even locals don’t know much about. Read this for the real stories and histories behind some of Korea’s most unusual and fascinating destinations.

Itinerary #1: Northern Seoul – “Rice wine, Monks, and Sheep”

Baedari Brewery – the museum of rice wine Stars: ***

Baedari Brewery has been brewing makgeolli (rice wine), jukyoju (a clearer and more potent rice wine) and soju (Korean fire-water) since 1915. In 1974, Goyang makgeolli was sent to Pyeongyang for the first inter-Korean summit. This museum, dedicated to the brewery’s history, was founded in 2004, and today the fifth generation continues the legacy. Although Baedari continues to produce alcohol, you won’t see it at every corner store. While this particular museum / brewery doesn’t offer taste tests or samples, plenty of offerings exist in the restaurant. Start by entering the main building and appreciating the first few simple exhibits – the majority of the collection is upstairs on the second floor.

A dim light seems appropriate for the dated items that once assisted in the manufacturing of fermented rice wine (known as

막걸리, or makgeolli) and soju. The technology these days is much better of course, but looking at over 90 years of history has its merits as well. They have the wear and tear expected of items used in an industrial setting on a daily basis. Some are simply displays, while other exhibits are models describing the different processes of making rice wine – unfortunately, nothing is in English for the foreign visitor or tourist. Try reading the descriptions if your Korean is good or a Korean friend is with you.

Once you’re finished with the museum, there’s Korean food

(including 김치전, kim-chi jeon, kimchi pancakes, 12,000 won) and locally-brewed makgeolli (3,000-6,000 won per

glass) downstairs. While the typical makgeolli is fine, give the 천년초 막거리 (cheon- nyeon-cho mak-keo-li, or cactus makgeolli) a try. It’s a little pinker and sweeter. There is some irony that you’ll only get by reading the bottle’s labels – Baedari’s cheap but ‘traditional’ makgeolli contains wheat from the US, as well as aspartame. The premium- labeled glass bottles, meanwhile, use organic rice.

Name: Baedari Brewery (배다리 박물관) Address: Gyeonggi-do, Goyang-si, Deokyang-gu, Seongsa-dong, 470-1

Korean address: 경기도 고양시 덕양구 성사 1 동 470-1 Directions: Use the Seoul subway system to get to Wondang station, line 3, exit 6. Cross the street and walk about 500 meters. Look to the right – the building is fairly easy to spot. Hours: 10am-6pm (weekdays) 10am-7pm (weekends) Admission: free (food and drinks are comparably priced to local restaurants) Phone: 031-967-8052 Website: http://www.baedari.co.kr

About the Author: Chris Backe blogs about travel and life at Chris in South Korea and Chris in Thailand. He’s been published numerous times across Korea, including Groove Magazine, 10 Magazine, Busan Haps, The East (based in England), and visitseoul.netWeird and Wonderful Korea is his fourth book –Octopus Formality, a book full of Konglish, was his third, while Korean Made Easy was his second. He doesn’t talk about his first book. He’s currently living in Thailand researching the most unusual destinations in the country.