by Gerry Krzic (K-41; 1977-80)
September is a month of transition as we bid goodbye to the green leaves of summer and welcome the multi-colored foliage of fall. Warm hot days give way to the crisp days of autumn. In Korea, the season is known as the 천고마비의계절 (season of “high skies and fat horses")... a time of abundance and movement.
Our friends in Korea are now beginning to prepare for their wonderful national holiday "Chuseok" (추석). From September 18-20 -- a good percentage of the population will be traveling to their hometowns or these days abroad as they stretch the holiday into a week-long celebration.
At the same time, in the U.S., fifty-five former Korea Peace Corps Volunteers are making preparations to visit Korea in mid-October on a Korean government sponsored Revisit. This will be the 8th visit to take place.
While in Korea, they will attend festivities in Seoul, journey to their former service sites, and re-connect with old friends. If they have not been back to Korea since their service, they will be astounded by Korea of the 21st century.
This summer, I was fortunate to experience a "pre-visit" to this revisit as I spent three weeks in Jeonju (전주시) in Chollabukdo (전라북도), a part of Korea where I had not spent much time before. Since I had not been to Korea in a while, I had six impressions.
1. Incheon Airport is Amazing
A marvelous facility. Not only are you whisked off the plane efficiently (compared to 30 years ago, when you boarded the bus from the plane to the terminal at old Kimpo airport), but also your visa is processed smoothly, luggage is delivered promptly, and you’re in the main terminal lobby before you know it.
With a variety of shops, eateries, and even a sauna (찜질방) on the lower floor, it's not the kind of airport that you want to rush out of...witness the concert in the picture on the left on the day I arrived. Waiting was very pleasurable.
Once I reached Jeonju and settled into my daily routine, I was struck at how I seemed to be leading a very healthy lifestyle. Thus -- my second impression.
2. Living Healthy in Korea is Possible Even for Me (Four Observations)
3. Buddhist Temples Are Still Great Places
Taking a bus outside the city to a rural temple is still a great way to spend the day. The serene feeling one has when entering the temple grounds melts away any stress from city life.
Anecdote: I met two 아주머니 in the temple and chatted a little in Korean. They asked, "How did you learn Korean?" I told them I couldn’t speak Korean before entering the temple. But once inside, I prayed really hard, and then suddenly Korean words came tumbling out of my mouth. They asked if it would work for their English. I told them to try. If it does, Geum San temple is going to make a lot of money!
4. Volunteerism Is Alive and Well in Korea
A building at Chonbuk University in Jeonju proudly displayed a banner announcing a solar project in Morocco under the auspices of the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA - 한국국제협력단) - the Korean counterpart to the American Peace Corps. Korea, once a recipient of Peace Corps Volunteers, now sends its own volunteers to countries around the world. Additionally, the university was hosting the 6th National Volunteer Conference (제6회 전국자원봉사컨퍼런스).
5. Korean Entrepreneurism Advances On
The phrase "making lemonade out of lemons" seems apt here. We all know about the tragic division of Korea. But, some enterprising business folks have now figured out a way to make the best of the situation. Now, you can buy water from Paek Du San (백산수) and the DMZ (청정수), both purported to be the purest of the pure.
6. Always Go Left When Leaving the Hospital
On my daily wanderings around the community, I was able to observe the updated facilities and see the changes in Korea. As with public transportation, arranged to be very convenient, hospitals also offer a variety of services and specialties to the community for all eventualities. Here is one sign attesting to those services Still, when I leave that hospital I sure hope I can turn left..at least for the foreseeable future!
Finally, if you have been on one of the Revisits or have visited Korea recently, leave a comment on your impressions...and remember on your journey in life, take it
FOK blog post by Gerry Krzic (K-41)