Cold! That was my first impression of South Korea. Actually, my first impression was, ďwhat a nice, clean and shiny airport!Ē This was the new Incheon airport west of Seoul. I have this theory that when arriving at any destination, the airport will generally set the tone of how much I will like the country. I was also excited about coming to Korea because it was a country Iíve never been to. South Korea makes the 12th country Iíve visited on my list of countries Iíve traveled to. The purpose of my trip wasnít purely to travel but to visit two of my friends from high school, Annie and Mog. One I havenít seen or really talked to in about 6 years and one Iíve seen too much of back in LA and talk to practically everyday! Both of them have the same job as I do but they do it in Korea. Itís really cool to compare my experiences with Mog because we almost have identical experiences with teaching and our students. However, he does get more marriage proposals from his female students than I do, Iíll have to give him that!! In term of lifestyle, itís pretty similar I guess. The only major difference is probably cuisine and language but thatís a given. I often tell people my friend Mog is just in another state from me. Weíre in the same time zone and heís only about a 2 hr. plane ride from Narita airport(Japan) to Incheon airport(Korea).
Korea is very different and similar in some ways to Japan and Taiwan. Due to the geographical proximity of Japan and Korea, there tend to be many influences on each other. From my short stay in Korea, I gathered that although history and culture are very different between Japan and Korea, I find that the customs are very similar, and when I say customs, I donít mean the people that check your passport at the airport! I didnít do very much sightseeing but I did do a lot of traveling around Korea. Mog lives in Andong, east of Korea, and Annie lives in Gwanju, south of Korea. I spent a lot of time sitting on buses just traveling between Andong, Gwanju, and Seoul. Apparently they do have trains as well but they take about the same time as the buses, if not longer. I have a feeling that Koreans tend to get around Korea more so by buses than trains, which is the opposite in Japan. The Japanese rely heavily on trains and theyíre everywhere even stretching to countrysides of Japan. I have not taken a bus in Japan yet, knock on wood!
Both Andong and Gwanju are cities much bigger than ďOgawa.Ē They have some modern convenience of a city that I donít have in Ogawa. Although, they are 3 to 5 hours away from Seoul, Iím only about an hour or so from Tokyo! Woohoo! Nothing to woohoo about really. Going into Tokyo just means costing me $$. Food and things in Korea are much cheaper than what they are in Japan. Korean BBQ was delicious and cheap, makes my mouth water just thinking about it! Koreans also eat a lot of spicy food and me and spicy food just donít go together at all. I guess I probably missed out on a lot of traditional Korean entrees but Iím sorry, I canít help it!! I felt bad when my friend Annie wanted to take me to one of her favorite restaurant but it was place known for spicy kimchi =( ÖIf I lived in Korea, I think my diet would be very different. I wonder if there are any Koreans in Korea that canít eat spicy food? While we were walking in the bustling streets of downtown Gwanju, we saw a UCLA store!! They are everywhere! They didnítí sell items that looked anything like the stuff back in LA so I question their authenticity a little. Nevertheless, itís nice that my alma mater is recognized even in Korea! What is also interesting in Korea are places where you can go play board games?! and go watch dvds in your own private little theater. I think they are pretty cool ideas that donít exist in Japan. Then again, I heard those places where you can go watch dvds called dvd ďbangĒ in korean, people or couples arenít really watching dvds, wink wink =)
I spent New Years and my last few days in Seoul but nothing much to talk about because itís a big city just like Tokyo. I went to a castle and the Seoul tower and that was about it. I was showing my friend Mog around Seoul instead of the other way around! Korea was cool but itís not a place I want to go back during the winter time! It was nice to be in a country that drives on the ďRIGHTĒ side of the road! It was great seeing Mog and Annie outside of LA. It was refreshing to see and talk to Annie once again. I flew back home to Tokyo on United Airlines. I thought it was an irony in itself. Coming back to Japan, I had the same reaction when I first arrived in Korea, Cold!
Pictures from Korea