Sophie Thomas in year 11 is spending 2 weeks in South Korea for her work experience. She will be updating her blog throughout her visit – Miss Bunce.
Are we there yet? It’s amazing isn’t it? However often we travel and however exciting the journey may be it is the destination that we yearn for. This time however, I was determined to enjoy and experience, I mean really experience the journey. I’m travelling to South Korea, a country that we all seem to know little of, but a country that creates images in our mind of alien traditions and far-away people. Amazingly, I am not sure I’ve ever met a Korean person. I probably have without realizing it, but certainly, I haven’t been to a Korean restaurant, or seen a Korean film…it just too exciting, it’s all going to be new.
The day of the trip started like any other adventure, those last minute; “have I gots”; have I got my passport? And do I have my camera? I think I checked, or rather my mum asked me about 20 times.
Heathrow, terminal 3: it’s hard to imagine how it could be more unpleasant. No luxury, no glamour, how I yearn to be a 1950’s traveller. The headscarf, the bright red lipstick and the brown suitcase with stickers affixed from far off lands. Today it’s all gone. No glamour, just queues.
The plane, an Emirates airbus A380, what a revelation! Even in the back of the jet the seats are wide the leg room a-plenty and the service so very different from the Easy Jet offerings on the flight to Sunny Spain. Entertainment system plugged in, we were off on the first leg to Dubai. Dubai airport is reminiscent of a bazaar…. full of intermingling cultures and the omnipresent sounds of hustle and bustle. I thought Heathrow was a melting pot, but it has nothing on Dubai. So many people from so many lands, and all so wonderfully foreign.
After yet more security checks we’re onboard again for the 7 hour flight to South Korea. All international flights to Seoul arrive at the new Incheon airport. I read on the plane, that the airport was built in preparation for the World Cup and is often voted as one of the top 3 in the world. It didn’t disappoint. Huge, clean and efficient, even the immigration official smiled as he stamped my passport. So exciting to have a stamp, (in all my trips to Europe it would be so good to have a record in my passport).
We were met at the airport by a colleague of my Dad’s, we bowed. He bowed, we bowed again and he bowed again. What’s the etiquette? I know that I’m supposed to bow lower than my elders but how low? And how many times? It didn’t seem to matter but I think my efforts were appreciated.
So, I’m in Asia. Was there to be poverty on the streets, starving children begging for food, was this to be like India? NO! As we drove to Seoul, it soon became apparent that this is a very 21st century country. Let me give you a little of South Korea’s history: Until relatively recently, Korea was an insular place, existing under dynastic rule for centuries, with hundreds, some say thousands, of invasions over the centuries. However, the 35-year Japanese occupation from 1910, the split of the peninsula after WWII and the subsequent Korean War shattered all that. Difficult times have however made the Koreans a resilient lot, succeeding economically whilst still holding onto their unique traditions and fascinating culture.
The demilitarised zone, the border between North and South Korea is an eerie place – the tension is so trumped up it seems it should be a Hollywood film set, yet there is no denying the barbed wire or the potential attack by the North. In the rest of the country, Korea is littered with fortresses, temples and palaces, many of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, making a trip here rich with discovery.
We checked in to the Olympic Park Hotel. Really funny place. The décor seventies, eighties and ninetiues, a hotch potch of influences, but its clean its homely.
The tiredness disappeared as the realization continued to grow that this was all new: the food, my first Korean meal. I suppose we all know about eating dogs. Was I to have my first Labrador? Or was dalmatian the delegacy on offer? Predictably no. Whilst dog is served in some restaurants, it’s rare. We had kalbi, which is barbecued beef, served with lots and lots of side dishes, many of which were impossible to determine the origin… the big difference was sitting on the floor, and using thin metal chopsticks but no one seemed to care as I struggled with my chopstick control.
Lots more to see and do, and will update again soon!