What do you know about South Korea?

University City Daejeon

Of course you know the everywhere present consumer electronic products, the smartphones and the various car brands with their incredibly long warranties. But what else?

Kimchi, the spicy fermented cabbage? Korean BBQ?

Every time I tell friends or customers, that I am doing business with Korea, the first response is “North Korea?” and if I deny the second response is “????”.

It seems that in general we know little about this country, which fought a great war in the early 50’s with the help of the American, Australian and other troops against the communist invasion from the north.
We may have heard about the bloody democratic uprisings in Gwangju in the 80’s. These uprisings feature in a Korean movie “A taxi driver”.

But I guess few have ever been to Korea, except for the Olympics or Winter Olympics. But why not?

Because we know so little about this country and it seems that it has little allure to us Westerner as a holiday country, while it has been flooded, when allowed, by Chinese tourists for great shopping.

South Korea, a country with close to 50 mil. inhabitants has much to offer. Many innovations, we could love to see in our own countries.

Of course when you arrive in Incheon, the most common gateway into South Korea, you will be greeted by a ultramodern airport. On the way into the about 50km away city, you will see an increasing density of high rise apartment buildings, which may trigger questions, such as “what am I doing here?”

But once you settle into your hotel and take the first walk around the corner and investigate how to get around, you will find that South Korea is a fantastic mix of old and new. Old fashion and ultramodern.

There are the back alleyways in which you can find workshops and manufacturers, which seem to operate, like we have seen in our country in the 60’ + 70’s last.

We may find ‘industrial’ buildings and city blocks, where you can purchase anything thinkable in LED and beyond.

You find palaces and historic sites, intermixed with modern department buildings.

And you will find coffee shops, over coffee shops plus eateries left, right and centre. Eating in the street, with cooking in a way, we usually do not see in Sydney, Frankfurt or Paris. Right on the footpath, with smells which can assault your senses. Opposite to this, there is fine dining and everything in between.

Here we come across the first and biggest hurdle for travelling in Korea. Language. Nothing written reminds us about our own alphabet. Nothing spoken resembles anything written.

The common issue for Western Tourist travelling in Asia. WYSE is not WYSP. What you see is not what you speak.
An A in English is still an A in French or German or Spanish.
We can decipher the words easily and get the meaning by using our smart translators or the more conventional dictionary.

But in Korea, that is not so easy. Not even the on-line translators get it right all the time and you may not even have roaming access on your phone.

Of course, you can hire a translator or better interpreter, and I know a great one (just send me a note for her details), who will show you around. No, this is not one of the tour guide-into-the-more-expensive-bargain -shop, you may find in Bangkok and other places. She is a fully professional interpreter who works at conventions and conferences and takes delight and some money of course, in showing people around and introducing them to Korean sights, culture and foods.

Having said all this, You will see many inventions, you do not see in our countries. For example, the lift buttons have an antibacterial overlay, since Covid struck.

You may find LED strips at the pedestrian crossing showing red and green in line with the normal walking lights.

Next to a bus station you may find a resting cabin. Similar to the smoker’s places on German airports. But this is not for smoking. In fact you will see few people smoking in public and non in restaurants, public transport, etc.
These cabins are for cooling down on hot days. Europeans would have cramped them in recent weeks. Or warming up in winter.

You may see plenty of local walking maps, even in the less touristy areas and if you are worried, through Korea is essentially a safe travel country, ‘Alarm’ points where you can call help.

20 years ago, when I first came to Korea getting cash was an issue, but nowadays, you can use many of the ATM’s, with instructions in foreign languages.

Getting around is easy. From 3 subway lines 20 years ago, the network has swollen to 15+ lines. Some going really long distances and they are cheap. Get a T-Money card at the machine at the station, load it up, tap and go. This T-Money card can be used for the plentiful blue and green busses as well.
While the subways have usually English directional information, this is, similar to Japan, not always the case at the busses.
But you can ask. Try school children. Around 2004 the government had decreed that Koreans should learn English, so to better connect to the work. Now English classes at school are common. While many may be to shy trying to communicate in English with you, if you ask, slowly and with as little accent as possible, they may point you in the right direction.
That is, if you can unglue them from their screens, an issue we have in our countries as well.

But Korea is more than Seoul, even that you can spend years here and still have not discovered everything. Seoul is, half the population of Korea. Seoul is the population of Australia.
Seoul is simply big.
But lets get out of here. Travel into the country. For longer distances, the the KTX and SRS, Koreas TGV, ICE, Shinkansen or whatever the systems are called and it will woshhhh you in less then three hours to the 400km awayport city of Busan (Pusan).
Or take a long distance bus.

The centre of Korea is very mountenous and offers great hiking possibilities. If you get to the cost, there are beaches and fishing opportunities.

If you really want to get touristy, take a plane from Gimpo, the old Seoul airport and hop down to Jeju Island in one hour. Jeju was really overrun by Chinese tourists a few years ago, but now it is, thanks to Mr. Covid, back into the hands of Koreans again.

Korea has much to offer, such as the German Village and the American village, the DMZ, lots of museums and palaces and historic villages.

A look into North Korea

Skying in winter and swimming and diving in summer.
If you love to drive, there are motorways everywhere. Of course with it, the long traffic jams.

But be beware, if you venture outside Seoul, Busan, Jeju, take your dictionary and a great deal of patience with you, because out here, english or any other western language is much less common and these often older folks still eye foreigners with some caution.

But even if it may not be reciprocated, keep smiling and get everyone with a Anneyeog haseo (speak as you read it) and thank with a bright Gasmanida. (Thank you) and it will open you doors. Joh-eun yeohaeng = Good travel, according to Mr. Google.

Couples on Jeju Island

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