I am leaving today, this far off land of kimchi and hospitality, of bustling roads and spiritual temples, of green mountains and polluted cities, this remarkable land of South Korea.
Mark Twain, (1835-1910) famously said; “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”. I hope before I boarded the plane that I exhibited none of those vices, but certainly it is true that I had not really considered that what divides us is so very much less than what unites us. I think Maya Angelou (1928-) said it best when she wrote; “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends”.
I cannot claim that a few days in Asia has transformed my view of the world, I hope that before the trip I was open to new ideas, different cultures and more importantly I hope that others recognized that I was open to them. What has changed and what is interesting about travelling to a country as different as Korea is that it is easy to see those differences, it is easy to recognize that the language is completely foreign, the writing beautiful but unintelligible, the food unrecognizable, (at times I wasn’t sure if I was eating fish, pork or vegetable). I revelled in those differences, not comparing to back home just excited that this is different.
Seoul is very much a globalised city; Starbucks not on every corner but on every other corner, McDonalds and Domino’s Pizza as well as all the designer brands, but the country and its people retains its unique character. I hope what I have learnt is that when I travel again to countries closer to home that I spot the differences that perhaps I have ignored in the past. Sitting on a Spanish beach is easy to ignore Spanish culture when all around are holiday making Brits, it’s easy to ignore Spanish food when all around us are international restaurants, and it is easy to ignore Spanish music when I am listening to the downloads on my IPod.
Travel does open the body and soul (especially in Seoul), but only if the traveler takes that first deep breath and, as Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) said, “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it”.
Look forward to seeing you all soon…