Not very long ago, a few of my closest friends decided to take a little trip together for an early Christmas celebration. Our destinations were
Baekyangsan (백양산) and Gwangju (광주), both cities contained two of my friends family homes. Our trip started at Yongsan Station (용산역) where we took a 3ish hour long train down to Baekyangsan. We took a train that was slower than the KTX, but almost 1/4 of the price.
Sadly, almost the entire trip was rainy and gloomy, so we didn’t spend much time outside. Anyways, we arrived in Baekyangsan and met our friend Seungwon with a gleaming smile. Then, we all crammed into his car and drove about 20 minutes into this middle of his rural village to his beautiful house, which his father and uncle impressively designed and built themselves. The air was so fresh in this city, I couldn’t contain myself from taking annoying low breathes. We walk around the area, which consisted mainly of homes and farms, and that was it. However, the quaintness of the area gave it it’s charm and worth, and was a immense refresher from the populated Seoul. Here are some photos of the area:
During our visit, it was Seungwon’s father’s birthday, and due to that we ate an immense amount of food. We also bought him a cake for the family to all enjoy. It was amazing, we all ate until our stomachs exploded. Through out our stay, many of his relatives also stopped by to wish his father a happy
birthday, and it was really fascinating to see his family through the generations. Its extremely apparent to see how Korea developed through time, as the general size from his grandparents to him almost doubled. Also, I thought it was such a shame that my Korean level isn’t efficient enough to conduct full conversations with his grandparents. I really wished I could have heard stories about their lives growing up. Also, in the morning, we ate the most appetizing rice cakes and dumpling soup (떡만두국) in the world. I don’t think I will ever eat another one that is that good. I sincerely miss it. After this, we made our way to a bus station to take a 40 minute bus from Baekyangsan to Gwangju, the hometown of Seungwon and the other two who we were traveling with. The bus station was in the so-called city center of the little village, which consisted of still almost nothing.
Nevertheless, the lack of severe capitalism through chains and chains of stores was really satisfying to see for once. We waited at the bus station and then went off on the bus to Gwangju.
To my surprise, Gwangju was a fairly large city. Before arriving, I had no idea that it was the sixth largest city in South Korea. We were picked up by Seungeun’s father (Seungeun being one of the closest friends that I have made in Seoul), in which upon witnessing him I could instantly see all of the similarities between the two. On the car ride to their home, he was going on a rant on his pride for being hereditary Han Chinese, which was both confusing and slightly adorable. He had so much pride. We arrived at his home, and respectively look through all of his baby pictures, which was extremely entertaining. Within the stacks and stacks of photos, I found one in particular that really caught my attention. According to Seungeun, it was an old photo of his aunt (maybe). It was only taken in the 1970s, however I would have guessed it was taken 20 or even more years earlier than that. Based on what I have learned from college, this photo
reminds me of elements of Japanese occupation, with the style of school uniform the students are wearing. Either way, I grabbed a shot of the photo to keep a commemoration of it.
Seungeun and Seungwon shared stories about their time in high school together. Basically, it was all typical stories about the popular kid and less popular kid. With those stories, we ended up visiting their old high school. They both attended Jin Heung High School (진흥고등학교), which according to them, was a high school the had a very strong baseball team. While visiting the halls of the school, students were doing their after school studies and classes, and when
we walked passed, the student’s heads in the classrooms all turned to see what was going on. Mainly because there were 3 young females at an all boys high school. Seungeun and Seungwon both greeted their old teachers and introduced us. One quick little encounter was with one of their homeroom teachers, and he wanted photos of all of us. During the time I was wearing a hat, and being the only non-Korean in the group, he wanted me to take off my hat to see if my hair really was blonde, and when I did he said in Korean “oh wow, there really isn’t black hair.” As well, their old teachers shared some funny stories about the two, and even showed us their old high school photos. They both seems to be very loved at the school. We ended up spending a most of our time with the English teacher, who was a Korean man that had most of his training done in Korea. For some inexpliable reason, after meeting him, who loved his job, I
decided that if I were to come back to Korea to teach English, I wanted to teach in a city outside of Seoul. There was so much to be discovered outside of Seoul. Also, at the end of the school tour, Seungeun showed us a small boarding house that was behind the school. He told us that only the top students were able to live there, so they could live on the school campus and have optimal study time. That baffled me. I thought that schools had only boarding for all the students or none. As well, I have posted some photos of the school, a classroom, which all have the South Korean flag at the front, the gym and a hall. Also, a photo that was on the wall of the entrance. There were two other stone art pieces that consisted of men and an inspiring message. This one says 힘 – strength and 실력배양 – skill cultivation. I found these works quite compelling.
The following day, we set out into the city of Gwangju for an eerie, yet necessary, experience. We went to the site that the infamous Gwangju Uprising in 1980 happened. As we were walking to the sight, I started to get a perplexing tingle in my body, almost as if the area looked familiar, and before our tour guides (still just our friends), I knew that we were in the area that many of innocent civilians were killed by the Korean government. Walking through the area had me at a loss for words. There was still building that was left that had bullet holes and damage from a helicopter that was too close to the structure. Granted, in that same location, there was a protest going on that was anti-Park Guen Hye. I highly respect everyone who is participating in them, however, its quite an odd juxtaposition when a child is singing on a stage surrounded by posters demanding for the president to step down. Not only that, because it was Christmas eve,
there was a group of protesters in Christmas get-ups with signs asserting first for the president to step down, and then wishing a Merry Christmas. As well, there was a photo commemoration for the event in front of the memorial hall, which was closed. All of us spent a good amount of time reading about the tragic event. What struck me as strange was the English translation. Instead of translating the Korean word for soldiers into soldiers, the English translation used the word animals. I won’t say my opinion of this, because it is quite controversial, but I found it a captivating way to translate
something that is for the public. After exploring this area of Gwangju, it was time to leave. I am ecstatic that I was able to see a part of Korea that I had researched about extensively. I am so thankful for the families that let us stay in their homes and my friends for revealing to us a part of their lives. There is nothing more meaningful than when a friend of mine shows me where they grew up. Those have been the most significant moments on my trip to South Korea.