Korea is an another Asian powerhouse that sprang from poverty after the Korean War. At the first glance at its clean cities and suburbans, one could appreciate how Korean people have worked hard to bring the country into the admirable status. Companies like Samsung and Hyundai have evolved from minors into household brands along site with well-known Japanese names like Toyota, Panasonic, Sony and etc.
Our journey started from Seoul (首尔) moving east towards Danyang (丹阳), Odaesan (五台山), until the East Coast. They have nice countryside and scenic riverside paths decorated by the Sakura. It was really a pleasant experience to have nice company of a small group touring Gyeongbok Palace (景福宫), Odeason National Park (五台山国立公园）, Hwaam Cave（画岩窟), hot spring bath at Danyang, and pedalling along the coast on the Samcheok Ocean Railbike.
After spending a few days around, we headed back to the capital for a flight to Jeju Island (济州岛).Jeju Island is a big attraction to the people from Asia, especially those who are the fans of the popular Korean TV dramas. The dramas have been very popular in many parts of Asia, including China, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia. In fact, it was the TV dramas that make Jeju Island into a popular tourist destination. Despite its past as a place where women were badly discriminated, Jeju is now the “Loveland” of Korea, where couples go there for their weddings and honeymoons.
As the island is exposed to strong wind from the Asian continents and the Pacific, it is very windy compare to places in the Korean Peninsular. In fact, due to the wind chill factor, we felt colder when we were at Jeju, even though it was supposed to be two degrees warmer as compared to Seoul. Because of the wind, Jeju has a large wind farm. Wind turbines can be found in many place around the island. The Koreans have cleverly used the natural wind resource at Jeju to their advantage. In fact, credit must go to the people of Korea for being so conscious about preserving the environment. Here are few wind turbines that I have managed to capture.
Respect for the elderly is one interesting lesson I have leant from the Korean in this trip. The incidence happened when we were at the airport on our way to Jeju Island. We were casually sitting on the benches near the gate, waiting for the arrival of our plane. Suddenly a group of elderly approaches us, one of the elderly women sat on the coffee table beside me, and the others moved closer around us. Before realizing what was going on, our tour guide signaled us to stand up and move to another benches further from the gate. Only when our tour guide explained, I realized that it was an act of respect to elderly. Young people will immediately give way to the elderly whenever they are approached without any verbal communication. Speaking about culture shock, this was a big one for me. However, I have high regards for their ability to bring the Confucius teaching about “respects for elderly” ( 孝亲敬老) to that level for every Korean.
Although English is getting popular in Korea, most of the people we met on the street did not speak English. I discovered that some of them speak Chinese as well. Hence that was the second language that that we used in case communication in English failed, and before resolving to sign language. Our tour guide told us jokingly that, just like Malaysia and Singapore, they also have their own version of English called “Konglish”. An example given by our tour guide, they pronounce “good morning” and “goodoh morning”. We may not be able to understand every words in “Konglish”, but at least with some efforts, communication can get through. I guess this is a part of English evolution branch that will lead us into our global language known as the “Globish”.
Beside electronics, automotive and constructions, another booming industry in Korea is the cosmetic surgery. The streets of Korea are full of beautiful people. Many Koreans have gone through some cosmetic surgery to improve their appearances at some stage of their lives. Cosmetic products are also selling well due to the people who are very conscious about their appearances. In fact, it is considered as a custom for women to make-up before leaving the house. Whether this is good or bad, it is up to our own interpretation. Nevertheless, it did help in making our sightseeing more delightful.
There are a lot of things that we can learn from the Koreans who have come a long way from poverty to become one of the Asian rich nations. They are indeed role models for the developing nations especially the people in Asia. To summarize my Korean impression in one sentence, the “spirit of pursuing perfection” is what I have learnt from this trip.
Date visited: April 2011.