Movie Madness or Map to Self-esteem?
Sunday, July 29, 2001
South Korea rich in history, culture
By AUDREY PARENTE | News-Journal Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH — Beneath the aqua, orange, purple and yellow hand-painted cornices of an Oriental pavilion in Namwon, South Korea, I watched several Port Orange children giggle as they dressed in traditional taffeta Korean wedding clothes.
The children and I were among a group of 19 Volusia County residents visiting a shrine that commemorates the legendary love story of the faithful maiden Chunhyang at Gwanghalluwon Garden.
The shrine and garden is South Korea's national historic site No. 303, just one stop on our 10-day trip crisscrossing the small, peninsular East Asian country, which has 38,000 square miles compared to Florida's 54,000.
South Korea is a contemporary country with excellent roads, transportation, telecommunication services and hotels. It offers a smorgasbord of national sites, most numbered to help pinpoint their location, where travelers can browse through museums and galleries, feed koi fish in Oriental gardens, visit folk villages reminiscent of ancient lifestyles, climb a mountainside stairway to a Buddhist temple and shop in a metropolitan city by day and an open-air market at night, all within a day's ride of each other.
At Gwanghalluwon Garden, the children in their wedding costumes, which cost a dollar to rent, finally bowed and posed for pictures.
Then all 19 of us wandered off through Chunhyang Hall, a gallery of nine impressive room-size oil paintings that depict the romance of Chunhyang with a young nobleman, Mongryong Lee.
The paintings are scenes of the lovers meeting and parting because young Lee is called off in service to his government. Meanwhile, the local magistrate demands the young maiden become his lover. When she refuses, she is imprisoned, but her lover returns to save the day. Despite the ordeal, the two marry and live happily ever after.
All the sightseeing stops on this trip were planned in conjunction with our stops at area martial arts schools, which is what brought us all to Korea in the first place. We are students of the International Tae Kwon Do Academy in Ormond Beach.
Our colleagues at one sister school in Kwangju, for example, brought us to visit City Monument No. 3, the tomb of Gen. Chon Sang-ui. The site, which is free of souvenir stands, is encompassed by manicured grounds, beautifully kept memorial halls and shrines with curved tile roofs and ornate cornices. An hour's stroll, through a museum, up stairways, through gates and grottos, led us to the final resting place of the 16th century warrior who fought off Chinese invaders.
Another stop was a mountainous area in Jinan, located in the southwest, where Mai Mountains tower above a Buddhist temple. We hiked past a pavilion with a mammoth ceremonial drum and gong. We climbed stairs past a colossal, chiseled Buddha where we lit incense, placed rocks on a wishing pile created over decades, and made our way to a high pavilion where it was appropriate to kick off our shoes and kneel before golden Buddhas surrounded by pink lotus flowers and pots of incense.
On another day, along the southwest coast, in the city of Mokpo, we were treated by a body guard academy to tours of an outdoor sculpture garden, a folk village, an agricultural museum and a maritime museum. The sculpture garden fills a hillside overlooking the city below.
The Nagan Folk Village at Sunchon City, Historic Site No. 302, is similar to many folk villages sprinkled throughout South Korea. The buildings include traditional residences designated as important folklore material, and residents are designated to carry on traditional customs and manners. The sites are popular with modern Koreans who bring their children to see what life was like before the onset of modern technology.
The agricultural museum is crammed with exhibits depicting rural life and displays of farming tools both historic and modern.
The National Maritime Museum overlooks the South Sea and is rich with exhibits of ancient sailing ships, merchant ships and fishing ships. One room chronicles the history of traditional Korean shipping and shipbuilding, with rigged scale models of diplomatic ships, war ships, cargo ships, early battleships and vessels from ancient dynasties.
Our group traveled mostly by express bus, available for tours and transportation between cities. Each bus has matching curtains and seat covers and a karaoke machine. An extensive train network covers the nation, advertised to be reliable and moderately priced, but we did not ride the train.
In the cities, we also traveled by courtesy van, taxi and on the subway, all inexpensive. Especially surprising, we discovered in Seoul that shiny black luxury taxis were only slightly more expensive than the more mundane silver taxis.
After traversing the country, we spent two days shopping in Seoul, before heading to the sprawling new international airport that opened recently at Inchon.
In rural areas, the hotels were inexpensive, clean, simple and adequate, although skimpy on towels and toilet paper. In cosmopolitan areas, the hotels were upscale, and in Seoul, the New Manhattan Hotel had a computer with free Internet access in each room.
In Seoul, shopping by day at the Itae Won district is not unlike any metropolitan experience, but be sure to ask for a "discount" and negotiate the prices. But the real cross-cultural experience is night shopping, between 10:30 p.m. and midnight, in the open-air market in Southgate shopping district, where the smell of fresh frying fish and pickled cabbage, and the clatter of merchandise, mingled with traffic noises and hawkers is a sensual spectacle.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is responsible for the quality of life in Korea, and promoting the culture and tourism industries. Contact the public information officer at (011) 063 704-9040, fax (011) 063 704 9049, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact your travel agent for help arranging a trip.