Mystical mountain top temples. Muraling mimes. Sex museums.
Before EF Nanjing flew us internationally, these were not the preconceptions I had of South Korea. Now, my mind forever associates these multifarious elements to the land of kimchi, skin care, and K-pop. Of course, South Korea was not without these features. Half of our trip was mainly characterized by shopping. Together, in a big charter bus, our office was taken from mall to mall in a sort of shopping tour that was almost as endless as the duty-free discounts. With both local and foreign staff spending these days together, it revealed to me a big aspect of Chinese culture: a love of shopping as big as a proclivity of informed traveling. Throughout the tour, we were educated on the customs of Korean culture, taken to key sights like Gyeongbokgung Palace and Namsan Seoul Tower, and were spoken to about everything South Korea that we didn’t even know we had questions about.
The next day we tasted over 20 flavors of crispy seaweed at a mini factory, which also held a dress-up museum upstairs where we tried on traditional Hanbok clothing. With the evening came a tour highlight: the Painters HERO Group. It was a Charlie Chaplin like comedic performance with no dialogue and mimes that aimlessly drew on wall-sized canvases. They gradually came together like puzzle pieces with the end result leaving us jaw-dropped.
In the second half of the trip we had free reign.
With a love of the outdoors, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that South Korea’s mountainous terrain took up 70% of the country. In order to have an authentic Korean experience, some of us took the subway to the end of the northern line to hike Suraksan Mountain. Following the Seoul Trail path to the top in the dead of winter, the creeks were frozen in a serene stillness as a preface of what was to come later in the hike. At the top of the mountain was Yongguram temple – a previous sanctuary for a past queen during a time for war. The temple hung off of the cliff side overlooking the city of Seoul. Walking around, we discovered that there were more paths to take and soon discovered that Suraksan wasn’t just mountain, but a ridge of mountains with a trail that we were inclined to follow. The way down was quite thrilling as the path was completely overtaken by an icy creek overflown with layer upon layer of frozen rivulets. We were forced to ice skate with our shoes and cautiously treat every pile of leaves as an enemy hiding the slippery threat of concussion. After every precarious step and slip, we eventually made it down the mountain with our lives. At the bottom, we were greeted with a pack of curious puppies and a dinner of kimchi, tofu, seafood pancake and a beer – a quintessential Korean dinner to wrap up our day.
On our last day of freedom, a few of us headed up towards the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Walking through the 3rd Infiltration tunnel, viewing North Korea from Dora observatory and visiting the Dorasan Station were a few special parts of the tour. Flying back to Nanjing from Seoul we all slept, knowing on arrival it was back to teaching classes for the evening. We all knew we would enjoy Seoul, but going together created stronger bonds between our departments and teams in our school with laughs and memories that will remain with us until our next international voyage.
By Paige and Diane - NJ 2