For Golden Week, I went to South Korea. Originally I wanted to go to Singapore or Malaysia, but I didn’t have the money, so I settled on Korea instead. I didn’t know anything about Korea and went on my trip with very few expectations. As a result, everything was way more than I could ever have imagined or hoped for. My trip began in Seoul, where I stayed with Ursula and her boyfriend for a few days. From there I went to Seoraksan National Park, Hwanseondonggul near Samcheok, Gyeongju and Pusan.
I was surprised at how alike Japan and Korea are. Korean convenience stores carry essentially the same products as Japanese ones, and much of the scenery and architecture is similar. Even the grammar is almost identical. Of course, there were differences – kimchi onigiri and much spicier food, for one. Also, the people seemed bigger. I was on the petite side in Korea, whereas in Japan I’m taller and bigger than a lot of the men I know. Even the children seemed larger (or perhaps I was just seeing a lot of older children in Korea) and when I came back to work on Monday, I couldn’t figure out why the heads of my students barely came up to my ribs.
I stayed in motels the entire time – not the cheapest option, but I was happy with them. The pricing on motels is surprisingly consistent. At the W40,000 motel, I had towels, toiletries, a TV, refrigerator and air-conditioning. As I paid less for rooms the number of amenities also decreased. By the time I got to the W20,000 motel, my room only had a TV and no view.
With the exception of the first few days in Seoul, I was on my own for this trip. I was a little nervous at first, knowing that I would have no one to rely on but myself in a country where I didn’t speak even one word of the language. In the end though, I welcomed the solitude and the time it gave me to think. Traveling alone does have its benefits – you have no one to try to please and accommodate but yourself. No one will complain if you wake up late and don’t get to see something and you can spend as much time as you want doing and seeing things you enjoy and skipping over the ones you don’t (I didn’t set foot in a single museum while in Korea). Sometimes I thought it would be better to stay in one place and explore it in detail, but looking back, I don’t think there are any experiences I would have given up, fleeting and superficial though they might have been.