The Tourist


 Its hard being co-writer of a blog with Aneesa the slave driver… I mean… editor. In addition to the perfectionism (and mild OCD) that goes with being a media major, I wrote so much that she edited my post into two. So here is my first post- and also, my first attempt at writing something that won’t be graded (Except by The Editor).

WOW. Today I will have been in Korea for exactly a week. And of that week most of it has felt like an interesting holiday. Aneesa might say I am numb or overwhelmed but screw the psychological analysis; I’m just enjoying this extended holiday (and first time out of South Africa). As always with Aneesa, there’s never a moment to waste. Although I landed on Thursday, we hit the ground running last Friday by heading to see some festivities going on in Asan that included a big Korean pop concert (no clue who the singers were or what they sang about), Baskin Robbins ice cream and a fireworks display worthy of Diwali. It was called the Great Admiral Yi Sun Shin Festival and honours Admiral Yi Sun Shin for his maritime feats against the Japanese 460 years ago. It didn’t seem like a festival honouring a war hero with all the singing and dancing in the street going on but since I’m new in Korea, what the hell do I know? The streets were closed and decked with lanterns in addition to the street vendors selling everything from waffles to pork on sticks. It was a lot to take in. After an impressive fireworks display, we headed home. I wasn’t as jet lagged as I expected to be but just being in Korea seemed exhausting with all the train and bus rides just to get somewhere 15 minutes away by car.

Fireworks at the Yi Sun Shin festival

More fireworks

On Saturday we woke up early and headed to the train station to meet Aneesa’s friend Landi. The three of us hopped on a KTX train heading southwards. KTX trains are super high-speed trains, operating at speeds of 300km per hour (Yes I liked this part of the journey). For 2 hours and 20 minutes, we alternatively napped or admired the scenic route from the windows as Korea unfolded before our eyes. This map shows you our route from Cheonan/Asan Station to Gwangju Station across two provinces.

KTX route map

KTX train

We reached our destination- Gwangju in Jeollanam-Do province and after finding a place to stay, caught a bus headed to Hampyeong. Hampyeong was quite rural and far out into the countryside. Acres of land with trees, flowers and streams replaced the concrete jungle that Korea seems to be. The air was fresher, the people smiled more, and there was an overall sense of calm and peace. Not to put down SA or anything but the Korean countryside is beautiful, to say the least. Its traditional farmland, with hints of modern technology, all merged into one. We spent the day walking around, snapping pictures of butterflies, climbing through tall flowers and trying to avoid bees. I just soaked up this crazy Korean experience. In a way, all of this felt surreal- Am I really here, in Korea? Anyway it was exhausting, with all the traveling we had done in one day so when we got back to Gwangju, we all collapsed and slept soundly. I clearly had left behind my days of insomnia behind in South Africa.

On Sunday we caught another bus to a place called Jeomam to see Aneesa’s favourite flowers, tulips, in bloom. It’s hard to keep track of names and places since this language is so unfamiliar to me but from what I understood, the Tulip festival is held at Daegwang Beach on Imja Island, an island in Shinan county, one of the three counties in Jeollanam-do comprised entirely of islands. This bus ride was two and a half hours long and I spent most of it dozing off or watching Aneesa doze off. From Jeomam, we caught a ferry heading to Imja Island and then a shuttle bus to Daegwang Beach. Finally we had arrived and after buying some (overcooked) mielies from the side of the road, we walked into fields of full-bloomed tulips, in all different colors and arrangements. I’m not a big flower fan but I was a bit overwhelmed at the sheer number of flowers and the work that must have gone into nurturing them. We spent some time roaming the flowers and taking pictures (and getting our pictures taken, everyone wanted to take pictures of the foreigners!). It was a small festival and despite the hours traveling to see it, we only spent an hour there before deciding to head back.

Purple tulips

A mix of tulips

I encountered my first mishap in Korea when we had to wait 40 minutes for a bus to take us back, endure the bus driver stopping unnecessarily thus delaying our journey and then missing our KTX train back to Asan. I was somewhat confused by what we would do now, short of buying another ticket and waiting for a 21:20 train back. But Aneesa and Landi did some research, and off we went to another train station where we made it in time for another train back without a wait. With some theatrics and Landi playing the, “We’re foreign- we haven’t a clue” card, we didn’t have to buy another ticket and made it back to Asan at around 20:30. It was a fun, interesting but oh so looooong weekend.

So as you can see, my first weekend in Korea was busy, exciting, and very eventful. I snapped more pictures last weekend than I’ve ever taken in my life! I felt very much like a tourist, because the gravity of the change had not really hit me. Korea welcomed me with lots of sight seeing and fun experiences, which so far, has helped my move to this new country. In addition, having a familiar face here was blessing. In the next post I’ll give some insight into seeing my new place for the first time and meeting Korean colleagues. What actually happens on the first day of ‘work’… all will be revealed.

P.S. For more pictures, check out Aneesa’s facebook album here:


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