HGC East Asia Tour: Summing Up Korea

Unfortunately, I’ve gotten  bit behind on the daily blog posts, so instead of being perpetually three days behind and trying to remember what happened, I’m going to do one by summation of the rest of my time in Korea, and will then resume daily updates from Japan.

First though, I’ll finish up the draft of the next day I started writing:

On the ensuing morning, we packed in a frenzy because we had an appointment for sightseeing at 9:30 AM. Our hostess provided us with Shin Ramyun (spicy cup of noodle ramen), toast, and clementines for breakfast, and also gave us a whole box of it as a parting gift. In return, I gave her a Harvard pin, and a couple of the other guys also gave her gifts. Finally, we took a couple of photos together to commemorate our stay. We made it to the bus pickup area five minutes after the scheduled time, but before the bus arrived.

The bus took us a short distance to the Gunsan History Museum, which gave us a brief overview of Gunsan’s role as a port city and its experiences under Japanese occupation. Unfortunately, we showed up late for the tour, and the tour guide had to have a translator, so it was difficult for us to linger over the artifacts in the museum. We then walked across the street to a tiny art gallery, where there was an exhibit on a Korean painter, whose signature looked like “C. Yetse.” In an adjacent room, there was more information about the atrocities committed by the Japanese occupation, and some pretty graphic photographs. It was a bit of a strange juxtaposition for a museum.

After we saw some of the cultural highlights of Gunsan, we drove to city hall for a small performance for the mayor. He was a big part of bringing the Glee Club to Gunsan, so we thought this would be a good way to thank him. We performed some American folksongs which we had dropped from our repertoire for the joint concert with the Civic Chorale, and those were well received by the mayor and the rest of the city hall employees. At the end, we gave the mayor a Glee Club CD as a parting gift, and took a photo with him and some important higher-ups on the steps of city hall.

From there, we went to a former elementary school, where we were fed a sumptuous lunch of beef and special soybean soups, all paid for by the mayor. One of my favorite parts was the plum tea, which they served as a dessert.

I fell asleep on the bus back to Seoul, and woke up as we wound through downtown and to Yonsei University, where the Yonsei Glee Club greeted us and we sang and rehearsed together for a bit.

That evening, one of the Glee Club members invited us over to his family’s restaurant, where he served an amazing buffet of Korean food. You can see some of it on my plate below:

img_2868 img_2869We finished off the dinner with some karaoke, and then it was off to the spa, also run by his family. I enjoyed the different temperature pools and rooms, but skipped the massage. Still, I understand now why people enjoy going to the spa. They do an excellent job of isolating one from the outside world, and focusing one’s attention on relaxing.

Quite at peace after coming back from the spa, I quickly feel asleep in our housing at the Sangnam School of Management.

Now, some highlights:

January 7th

We had an early evening concert with the Yonsei Glee Club the next day, and I got to see one of my blockmates at the concert because he was home in Korea. The concert was another abbreviated set from us, so we were able to focus on refining some of our pieces, and we also sang all of our rep off book! It was liberating, but also a bit nerve wracking, to stand on stage without the comfort blanket of a black folder. After the concert, my blockmate gave me some snacks as a gift, and we sang in the lobby, which had a nice echo.

The post-concert dinner consisted of grilled pork and rice. It was delicious, and we also got to know one of the Yonsei singers, who is the same year as me but currently doing his mandated military service. As a parting gift, they gave us Yonsei Glee Club pins!

January 8th

The Glee Club visited the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea) courtesy of KIS. We saw the Freedom Bridge, the 3rd tunnel, the Dora Observatory, and Dorasan Station.

img_2889Freedom Bridge: Bridge people from the North crossed on the way to the South before official closure of the border. An interesting juxtaposition of the intact bridge, and the destroyed railroad bridge and locomotive.

img_2883The 3rd tunnel: The third tunnel found by South Korea, dug by the North to try and attack Seoul. We took a monorail down 73 meters underground to walk through a tunnel so short even I had to bend over to walk through it. Mildly claustrophobic, but also surprisingly spacious. In retrospect, it is rather odd that a site of conflict in an ongoing antagonistic political relationship has been turned into such a tourist destination.

The Dora Observatory: I paid 50 cents to look through a telescope at North Korea. It seemed deserted, with very little movement. I saw one person and one car in the time I had to look through the scope. The town across the way used to be the site of a cooperative factory between North and South Korean workers, but recent economic sanctions shuttered the factory. The smaller groups of houses on my right also seemed strangely quiet. The most prominent part of North Korea was the enormous flag pole they erected at the border, and the South Korean music being piped over speakers at the North Koreans. I also bought some pins as gifts for people here.

img_2895Dorasan Station: The last stop on the South Korean railroad as of now, and the closest stop to North Korea. People hope that one day it will be part of a trans-Korean railroad, once reunification happens. I got some stamps in my tour book here.img_2906

After the DMZ, we returned to Seoul, I took a nap, got dinner in Sunae, and played League of Legends with 200-3000 ping with a couple of other guys in the Glee Club.

January 9th

We left Seoul for Osaka! Korean Air was once again very nice; we got onigiri, pineapple, and water on the 1.5 hour flight. I did some reading and played a game of reversi.

img_2912After dropping our stuff at the hotel, we went out for dinner, and got some okonomiyaki at the Shin-Osaka train station, which was delicious.

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