By M. Chandran
Tradition, Technology and Cartoons
Big surprises come in small packages and that's definitely true when you're talking about South Korea.
This is an amazingly exciting country to visit considering its 38,691 square miles of land mass could easily fit inside the State of Illinois (57,915 sq mi) with room to spare.
From its bustling cities, such as Seoul, to its many island territories, Korea offers everyone an adventure of a lifetime, particularly if you like spicy cuisine, scuba diving, nightlife, historic temples, shopping and mountains - which, by the way, the latter makes up about 70 percent of the country.
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Speaking of islands, Korea's Ulleungdo Island, or Mysterious Island, is about 100 miles off its east coast shore in the Sea of Japan, or East Sea, and is a most unique destination to visit - a speed ferry will get you there. This historic island is as gorgeous as it is mountainous and the locals have done well to preserve its rich historical heritage. The early settlers of this island had to build their towns into the mountains and one visiting would be hard-pressed to find a level surface anywhere - related story here.
Korea is by no means achromatic - they love color and lots of it too. Unlike Europe, vivid colors are used everywhere and on everything. In Korea, from Seoul to the smallest village, bright colors embellish buildings, signs, bridges and anything that moves - you name it, they'll color it. It's more fun being in a place with lots of colors. Although not by secular design, even the rice fields in the fall are a beautiful yellowish-gold color contrasting against dark green mountainous backgrounds. Amidst all this color, you feel healthier, more alert and generally, you just feel happier.
"The people in this homogeneous society are very welcoming and warm to each other and foreigners."
Koreans are heavily traditional and nationalistic people. Most all Koreans exhibit fidelity to country before self. Even the current generation, as much as they imitate the latest western vogue, they still possess that underlying reverence for each other and their elders. At the other end of the spectrum, parents will sacrifice a great deal for their children, ensuring their well-being and future success.
Koreans are very connected people and I think life for them would be impossible without a smartphone in hand - at all times. As such, the country's technical infrastructure supports this need. Connectivity is available in just about everyplace imaginable in the country to include subways, mountains, elevators, etc.
The younger generation is enamored with the English language. Many can speak it too. But it's the minority who can carrying on a conversation effortlessly. Those who have learned English in school have some ability to speak it, even if it's broken English. Many Koreans are shy to converse with a westerner in English for fear of making grammatical errors. Because of this, many Koreans will avoid speaking English altogether.
Those who aren't acquainted or versed in English still sport apparel with American logos, catch phrases, city names (i.e. New York is a popular one) or single English words. I saw quit a few Koreans promoting the United States by wearing a shirt or hat with the American flag on it. I only noticed one person in the five weeks I was there who wore a T-shirt with Korean lettering on it.
Korea is a country with no breakfast - I say that figuratively. We Americans are accustomed to eggs, hot cereal, hash browns, grits, toast with butter, bacon, sausage, etc., in the morning to kick start our day. In Korea, they start their day with fish, rice, spicy kimchi, lettuce, soups and fruits afterward. Soup is popular for lunch then dinner is pretty much a rehash of breakfast with some additional dishes, meats and, in many cases, alcohol. Now, in their defense, I will say this, their dietary habits are a hell of a lot healthier than ours and dinner is a lot more fun.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 34 percent of adults in the U.S., are considered obese. In Korea, about four to five percent of adults are considered obese - and I believe it too. I rarely saw an overweight Korean.
According to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development in June 2014, the U.S. had the largest obese population in the world. Well, I'm not here to draw out this subject - this is a different story entirely - but with economic expansion occurring in Korea over the last few decades, they work harder and still are able to avoid the temptation of fast and fatty foods (and it's available everywhere). They believe 'you are what you eat' - hey, I think they may have something here.
Since we brought up the subject of food, eating out is just as fashionable there as it is here - maybe more so. A night out on the town can mean spending a few hours eating Korean cuisine at one of the local pojangmachas (Soju Tent). It's quite common to find a soju tent parked off the side of a main street, ready to serve up various street foods along with - you guessed it - soju. If you're not familiar with soju, think of white lightning and double it.
Each soju tent will specialize in a particular dish - much like our food trucks - except you literally eat inside a tent. Some are very elaborate portable facilities capable of providing service to a couple dozen people at a time, while others are very small tent frames with old tarp thrown over the top and only able to cater to a few people at a time. The small tents provide a more intimate setting and it's much the same as having your own private caterer in a shanty shack at a fraction of the price. Some cities will block off an entire street to traffic in the evenings and allow venders to set up their tents. This helps remove the eyesore of tents strewn about the city and help control effective sanitary practices at the same time.
I don't know why, but Koreans love cute little characters and cartoons. You see them everywhere and on apparel. They love Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Simpsons, superheroes, etc. Cute little police officer cartoon characters provide safety warnings and instruction on street signs and structures. As an example, elevator instructions can be seen via a video display screen built into the elevator car with instructions given by cartoon characters. A lot of products are marketed involving cute little characters.
Korea is a great place to visit and explore - and a very safe place too - even if you’re out and about at 2 a.m.
Every mode of travel is available to include the KTX - high-speed train. The KTX is the way to go if you're traveling the distance between Seoul and cities down south. The KTX can reach speeds of 190 MPH and it only takes a couple hours to span the length of the country. Two types of seats are available - standard and first class for $44 and $60 respectively in 2015. First class is well worth the few extra dollars.
Putting this into perspective, the distance between Seoul to Pusan is about 202 miles as the crow flies - if it's a strong crow. It takes the KTX about 2 hours and 18 minutes, with four stops, to make this trip. Compare that with the distance between St. Louis and Kansas City - about 216 miles - and by car around 70 MPH, it roughly takes about three and a half hours.
If you're exploring where to go on your next vacation, check out Korea - it's an adventure and will not disappoint even the most discerning traveler.
ABOUT THE PHOTOS: The photos displayed here are a collection of some of my favorite situational photos taken at various locations in South Korea during our visit September and October 2015. (ENTRUSTPR photos)
Posted: December 10, 2015