Words by Elizabeth Kaye Corpuz
Photos by Joe Wabe
Whenever I file for leave, my colleagues instantly ask me where I am going, and when I tell them South Korea, they are always like “Again?!” Then I retort, “Yes!” with conviction. They might wonder why I always go back to the same country. They might not understand, as well, my reasons, so I always simply add that it will be a different city anyway. Every city has something different to offer.
So, six months have passed, and we are back again. Annyeong, Daegu and Gwangju!
On November 4, 2016, my sister and I were back in Korea, and this time, we had more time to explore. True to its tagline, Daegu was indeed a colorful place, thanks to its abundant foliage and parks worthy of boasting. Nonetheless, Daegu was intimidating at first, since I associated it with its wide roads. I had this feeling that the roads were not built to be a connection but rather to be a passage of increasing industrialization.
The quietness and calmness I had felt during my first trip in Daegu did not change as we continued our trip. To better enjoy this calm, my sister and I decided to climb Mt. Apsan. Although the climb was exhausting, the peak offered a relaxing view. When I was sitting at the top, I thought that if I were a writer, I would go to this place every day. I might be able to produce a collection of poems there since beautiful sceneries never fail to stir up our creative juices. Also, it gives a good view of the city.
Daegu is like a reserved person who is not easy to warm up to, and you might, at first glance, find him a bit snobbish. However, once you get to know him, you will definitely love him, and see how warm he can be.
Next up, Gwangju, baby!
At first glance, despite the cold weather, you can feel the warm reception of Gwangju people towards each other and towards foreigners. What struck me the most when we arrived in the city was the bright smile of the man who was holding the door for us at the bus terminal. When we were waiting for Bus 9 at the U-Square Bus Terminal platform, I was wondering what we would see in this city, and I told my sister that since Gwangju was relatively small compared to other cities we had been to, we could definitely see everything in four days. In the end, I was wrong.
I praise Gwangju for its simplicity. Like Daegu, Gwangju gives off a calming vibe. The difference in their calmness is that in Gwangju’s, it is like a lively calmness: the peacefulness of seeing people go about their day. Whilst in Daegu, it is more like a toned-down calmness: the feeling of wanting to relax, to appreciate the scenery, to reconnect with yourself.
I thought it was unfair because four days is not enough to know much about the city. However, since it is a lively and culturally active city, we were able to get the gist of Gwangju.
We enjoyed roaming around the area of Dong-gu. We also went to the Gwangju Museum of Art and the Folk Museum that exemplifies how Gwangju citizens dearly uphold their past and make it something useful for the present. Gwangju has definitely intertwined the past with the present for the future. The persistent desire to uphold the historical 5.18 memory was quite evident to the eye. These memories will surely help future generations treasure their importance.
The arts and culture of the city were very much alive throughout the city. Hopefully, as time progresses, people will not abandon or take for granted these art pieces nor different activities.
The distance of the guesthouse from the Asia Cultural Center (ACC) was only a stone’s throw. Most of our days were spent in the ACC, and I must say that it was an enjoyable treat for me. Every night, after buying bread at Somac Bakery, we dropped by the ACC and played the outdoor piano even though we did not know how to make decent music. One night, just to appease me, we went to the ACC, and we enjoyed the flea market. We bought some food and ate it while listening to the soothing voice of a singer. I said to myself, “Ah, this is how a Friday night should be spent.” It was also at the ACC where I personally experienced the intermingling of the past and present because of the Fringe Festival, a gathering of families to pass on traditions to the young ones. We were able to witness how Koreans exude the communal spirit through gossaum-nori (a folk game). I felt blessed to hear live pansori (folk music) and a performance of “Arirang” played on the violin.
The best asset of the city is its people. I was happy to know that the oppa who was selling the curry in the Flea Market remembered us from our second visit. It gave me joy knowing that he still remembered us and gave us his big and bright smile.
Before we set out to go home, our host shared an interesting fact. There was a time when Daegu and Gwangju were not on good terms. I asked if those terms were still applicable today. Our host said that it is more toned down nowadays. We realized that this trip was extra special, then, for we had had the opportunity to visit what had once been considered rival cities. Upon learning this, I felt that Gwangju is your good friend. Though meek, he is loyal and will fight for you in times of need.
Our trip ended, but our curiosity continues. So, I am ready to return to South Korea, and I am ready to learn more lessons in the future.
Back to the original question: How is South Korea?
Importance of family. Elderly left in the provinces. A production team filming. People gathering to protest. A Korean family. A Korean student. Korean mass. Groups of elderly people hiking. Small-sized businesses. Promotion of an active lifestyle. My craving for jjajangmyeon (black bean noodles). These are some of the things I have experienced and learned during my trips to Korea, for the time being. What will I learn next?
“The world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page.”
— St. Augustine of Hippo