June 20, 2003

Taking a wrong bus in the Korean South

About one hour before the check-in in for my flight to Korea, I decided to learn Hangul. Blame the airport bookshop. The book was titled Learn Hangul in 24 hours”. I had but 3 hours. Don Mueang is an exciting airport to spend late night hours. I had an exciting experience at the airport barber shop, but that is another story.

I reached Inchon (Seoul) airport early next morning. I went to the bus booking office at the airport, pointed Gyeongju on their chart, and feeling happy about my recently acquired Hangul, bought the ticket. I fell asleep on the bus. It was still afternoon when I reached the city. I noticed a tourist office at the bus terminal. I went to the tourist office and asked them about this temple called Girimsa. The girl at the counter laughed. She explained that I had come to the wrong city. I had come to Gwangju instead of Gyeongju. So much for my Hangul expertise.

The girl, her name was Yun, said Gwangju itself is not a dull place, she took out a map and pointed out some areas to me. I decided to stay for a day. She then helped me procure a bus ticket to Gyeongju and suggested a place where I could stay for the night.

I bumped into Yun again later that evening. I was buying a newspaper, and she was heading home. She asked me about my plans for the evening. I replied that I had no plans, but I would like to visit Chungjangro — the downtown area. Gwangju downtown is the place where all the fashion shops are and where the hip youngsters hang out. Yun said she would take me to that place. We talked about her city, Korean politics, student protests etc. Kwangju is famous for a student protest way back in May 1980 - several students died in the protest. Many consider this event as the real bringer of democracy in South Korea. We walked past the Art street — the place the locals come to buy art supplies. Yun bought a Korean mask” keychain for me. It still hangs from my bag. Later in the night, she invited me home for dinner. We took the bus past the town to the part where the farms started appearing - Yun’s father was a farmer. Yun’s mother had prepared so many dishes. We had a big pot of ramen. More than the main dish, I love all the little condiments and kimchi they have in Korea. Plus, home food always tastes so good.

The next evening, I was leaving for Gyeongju. Yun was there to see me off. She talked about her future - like many young Koreans, she too wanted to go outside her country. I said I was impressed by her kindness to me. I recalled another Korean friend in Singapore advising me to avoid travelling to Korea as according to her people are prejudiced against darker” travellers. It was a good thing that I disregarded my friend’s suggestion.

There are still so many farms in Korea.
The farms outside Gwangju city

The art street in Gwangju downtown The art street in Gwangju

After meeting the kind Yun and her mother, I wanted to take more wrong busses in Korea. Dinner at Yun’s home

The place I stayed at advertised itself as an Internet Motel. They had a PC and high-speed internet in every room. An internet motel in Gwangju

Korea People

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