"Annyeonghaseyo!" All around me the unfamiliar greeting rings out as I step off into sweltering heat I've never felt before, and instantly I know I'm in for an abrupt culture shock. It's hard to breathe because of the dense, overpowering moisture surrounding me and my skin feels like its burning off, but I can't take my eyes off of my new surroundings. I've been up for more than 24 hours and am now in a strange land being told to board a bus after an exhausting day. I can't read any signs, I've just been handed "won" which apparently is very abundant (1,000 won is roughly equal to $1 US dollar), and suddenly it hits me that I'm not in America anymore. Not in the slightest. Not even if I closed my eyes could I pretend that this land was familiar. South Korea has a wild, magnificent spirit all of its own.
At least once a day, I thought about my friends at the Dojang and wished they could have been there sharing the experience with Sabonim, Kendra, my dad, and me. I can honestly say that everyone was missed on many occasions. That being said, I hope to provide some brief insight on some of the things we experienced while traveling. I cannot hope to cover everything here if I wish to maintain an entertaining and semi-brief article, but I will mention some of the more memorable things for those who are curious as to what exactly happened while we were overseas.
Nanta - Five actors played music with kitchen supplies in this live action interactive comedy drum show. Three members of our tour group even got pulled on stage to participate! Even though it was all in Korean, it was very entertaining to watch as the actors were highly skilled and provided a memorable show.
HwaSeong Fortress - We were lucky enough to train with the men who put on the demonstration here. They are professionals in mixed martial arts and various weapons. Training was held outside in the pouring rain, surrounded by natural beauty that was truly spectacular.
[Background on Grandmaster Kim Song Ki: He is the 312th person to receive a black belt from the late Kwang Jang Nim Hwang Kee, founder of the Moo Duk Kwan. He opened the school in 1957 and proceeded to open the Songtan Moo Duk Kwan Dojang in 1960. His students are widely known and universally influential. They include: GM Mariano Estioko (#757), 2nd American to achieve a Black Belt in Tang Soo Do; GM Kim Chun Sik (#915), President ITF; GM Kim Tong Moon, President Global TSD Association; GM Min Young Ee, President Asia TSD Federation; GM Kim Chong Su (#8308), President Pan-Am TSD Federation; Master Jino Kim (#19025), President Continental TSD Federation. Also training at Osan Airforce base and Songtan Dojang was Jae Chul Shin (#698), founder of the World Tang Soo Do Assocation; and Chuck Norris (#2918), international karate champion, actor and founder of National Tang Soo Do Congress and United Fighting Arts Federation. To put these numbers in perspective, Sa Bom Nim Gilliland is #30776.]
Demonstration Day - OC Kicks had been preparing a musical team form for quite some time prior to arriving in South Korea for the purposes of demonstrating in front of other schools and the Grand Masters. We performed a 4-person choreographed version of Chil Sung Sam Lo to music by the great Hans Zimmer. Everyone had something to share, and it was entertaining to watch. The local demonstration team, Demon Stration, showcased high flying acrobatics and board breaking combined with incredible martial arts skills. I believe I made some international friends, as they all mobbed me after the demonstration day had come to an end. They did not speak any English, but they insisted we take pictures and I saw them on another occasion where more pictures were wanted. Very talented and nice guys! (I think I looked “exotic” to them with the red hair and all).
Busan - A spectacular city nestled into the Southern Mountains of South Korea; Busan is up against the beach and boasts one of the largest cities in the country. It was an amazing city that I would have loved to spend more than one night in.
Ja Gal Chi Fish Market - One of the largest fish markets in the world and teeming with all sorts of sea life, Ja Gal Chi was a rare experience unlike anything I’ve seen before. I was forced to hold a live baby octopus by a local worker and almost dropped the slippery creature multiple times. There were incalculable fish, eels, slugs, turtles, and things I have no name for as no one working there could tell me what exactly they were.
Bulguksa Temple - Lastly, my favorite, the Bulguksa Temple, located in the North Gyeongsang province of South Korea. This magnificent Buddhist Temple was started by Prime Minister Kim Dae-seong in the year 751 and completed in 774. Burning down in 1593 by Japanese invaders, it was not until 1973 that it was fully restored. Here more than anywhere else I was overwhelmed by an immense feeling of history and importance. It was absolutely gorgeous, spectacular, and awe-inspiring. As I was meditating in one of the historic prayer rooms, a final feeling summating my travels came over me. I was simply here to appreciate a culture different from my own, regardless of religion, beliefs, the past, politics, or the future. I couldn’t speak the language, had a vague understanding at best of the customs, and no experience of international travel. I simply sat, absorbing and appreciating everything South Korea had generously offered me in a grand flourish of ancient culture, forever enduring into the modern age with grace and poise.
10 Things that are different in South Korea:
- Trashcans are VERY rare
- Napkins are extremely small
- Some bathrooms have a distinct “camping” vibe
- Desserts are scarce
- Fish are served completely whole
- The summer time weather is brutally hot and impossibly humid
- Every man is required to serve 2 years in the military
- McDonald’s has delivery bikes
- If your food is too big to bite, you must cut it with scissors
- There are almost no tattoos or graffiti