Last fall, I asked my mom to take a trip with me to Korea. I haven’t been there in over 15 years, and wanted to experience my birth country as an adult. Earlier this month, it seemed I couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing about Kim Jong-Un’s latest threats to bomb everyone. Really put a damper on our well laid plans.
A few days before our trip, my mom called. The conversation went something like this:
- Mom: Have you seen the news?
- Me: Yes.
- Mom: So what do you think?
- Me: What do you think?
- Mom: Well, it’s probably OK.
- Me: What do your friends who live in Korea think? Are they worried?
- Mom: (kind of scoffing) No. They’re more worried about the weather. Like storms.
So two days later, we boarded Korean Airlines Flight 062 for Seoul/Incheon.
Many of my friends questioned my judgment. “Interesting time to be visiting Korea…” they’d say. My boyfriend was even a little worried — “I kind of feel like I’m never going to see you again.”
But of course, everything was fine and I’m so glad we went. Not to diminish the seriousness of current political tensions, but I figure there will always be reasons to not do something. And frankly, I did suspect US news media was being a little alarmist. Case in point – the top news stories on KBC when we first arrived in Korea had to do with a pig that got free in a shopping mall, and Psy’s latest single, “Gentleman.” Seriously, I saw Psy on the news almost every day I was in Korea.
And then of course, the Boston Marathon happened. And that was all we saw on the news for a while. I won’t delve into the irony of going to a possible nuclear target, just to have a terrorist attack happen so much closer to home – but suffice it to say it makes one think.
In any case, not what I want to focus on here. What I want to focus on is how much I loved Seoul. Unexpectedly so. What I remembered was a city that was too big, crowded, congested, dirty, and loud. The city I met last month is still impossibly large (the second largest metropolitan area in the world, after Tokyo). But it’s clean, modern, vibrant and has a whole new energy. It’s a mash-up of things old and new – ancient palaces and Buddhist temples next to ultra modern high rises. People are everywhere – locals and tourists – and they’re all on their way somewhere.
I could go on and on. I haven’t even begun to process all the other places I visited in Korea, from Jeju Island to Pyeongchang (Winter Olympics 2018). For now, I’ll end with two contrasting images of Seoul.