Landing in Korea was a surreal experience. After an 18-hour journey of airplanes and layovers (during which I did not sleep because I wanted to minimize jet lag), Korea welcomed me with sights of a blue sky and clear day.
Our first meal was Korean BBQ and it was delicious 🙂
current news context
The question of the DPRK and its developing relationship with the rest of the world currently enamors the news. After Kim Jong-un expressed interest in bettering relations with South Korea, South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in opened his arms and received the North Korean dictator happily. The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics proved to be a momentous occasion for the DPRK-ROK’s slowly blossoming friendship, where athletes from both Koreas walked under a united flag. A series of summit meetings amongst global leaders and promises of denuclearization followed, and it is during this fascinating time period that we came to learn about Korea.
institute for unification education
After an initial day of just exploring Korea, we made a trip to the Institute for Unification Education. The IUE is a government-sponsored center that focuses on teaching about North Korea and its relationship with the south. At this institute, we attended classes teaching us about North Korea, its current economic and political status, and desires for reunification/reasons for why reunification is the best option.
Since we attended a class the semester before that concentrated on migrants and North Korean refugees, I believe most of us already had a solid base of knowledge about many of the issues that the institute’s professors discussed. However, it’s nice to get the South Korean government’s perspective on this subject. Part of the lectures were informative, but they also threw in arguments for why reunification is so important, as if they were trying to convince us of its necessity. Though they acknowledged the possibility of having two separate politically cordial states, the end goal was always to “reunify”. Several Korean singers even participated in a song called “One Dream, One Korea” that highlighted such desires.
Last year, one professor said that reunification was just a distant fantasy; only a year later, reunification seems closer than ever. Perhaps the dreams of the government will finally be fulfilled, and the Korean people can be united once again.
A part of our time at the IUE consisted to traveling to significant gateways connecting the north and the south. We visited the Odusan Observatory, which is a building overlooking the river that separates North and South Korea. One striking exhibit from the observatory was a wall covered with tiles made by Koreans to their families in the North. These letters poured out their love for someone that they hadn’t seen in years, even decades. They still had hope that they could perhaps meet again someday, and that sentiment touched my heart.
From the rooftop, we could view North Korea from binoculars and saw people working in the fields and moving from house to house. Our tour guide told us that all the people that we saw were paid actors, and that North Korea constructed the buildings simply for the purpose of showing off. Everything we looked at was just a show. It was a strange experience for sure. The tour guide talked as if we were observing a zoo, and it felt like watching a staged puppet performance. It felt artificial, but the emotions of the North Koreans who left behind their lands and families were very real.
Other stops included a defunct transit station that used to be a point of transit between the North and the South and a train station that was very close to the border.
word vomit: thoughts
-Korean food is delicioussss! Sometimes I feel like I’m gaining weight, but at the same time we walk a lot so…I’m not sure? Also the food at the IUE was simple and light, so hopefully I’ll ward off those pounds.
-Stores BLAST kpop everywhere, it’s so loud but somehow comforting. Noise and commotion is nice, and sometimes I just really want to live in a city.
-Night life in Hongdae is bright and vibrant! The area we live in is filled with young people (and couples, so many couples), so there are always plenty of things going on.
-I got lost a lot. Directions are not my fortitude.
-Skin care and clothes shopping = goodbye money
-There was this adorable tiny little girl in Gangnam at the outdoor movie event. She kept coming up to me and staring and then running away. I don’t know Korean so all I could say was “annyeonghaseyo!”. She brought us some pillows to sit on and called me “unnie” and ٩(^ᴗ^)۶!!! I love kids
Looking down at Incheon from the plane
Sunset streets (it’s so beautiful)
Korean streets (because I love street photos!)
North Korea through binoculars (from Odusan Observatory)
Northernmost Train Station
Tile Display of Letters by Koreans to their friends and family in the North