Begin Again

Begin Again

Written By: Susie Colombo

I finally came to visit for the first time as an adult this April of 2019. I felt drawn to see the country of my Korean heritage to honor my mother’s life. She passed away in 2013 before getting a chance to see it again. Korea is the first travel destination in the new chapter of my life . . . Back to my beginning.

I had no interest to visit until a friend of mine, adopted from Korea at the age of two, asked me to share her experience to revisit the land where we were born. I accepted.

We arrived in Seoul on April 14th. Seoul Special City, is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. Day one, and 11 miles of walking later, we discovered various nooks and crannies through the busy streets of the Inch eon metropolis and Gyeonggi province.

Our first site was the Cheonggyecheon Stream, which runs through a public square in downtown Seoul. Newly renovated and well-groomed with plants and flowers, the pathway is filled with casual walkers or an occasional jogger.

Next we came across the Gyeonghuigung Palace. All around us young girls and women were dressed in a Hanbok; a traditional Korean dress. Access into the palace was free if anyone wanted to rent a Hanbok, which was available in many stores nearby the palace. My friend and I were very tempted but instead enjoyed watching the multitude of women who chose to rent them.

Further along our stroll through Seoul, we came across the Bukchon Hanok village, comprising of traditional Korean houses called hanoks. It’s a depiction of Korean life about 600 years ago during the Joseon Dynasty. Visitors to this village are asked to keep the noise level down to respect the residence that currently live in these traditional homes.

Later in the afternoon, we visited the busy streets of the Insa-dong neighborhood to find a little hole in the wall restaurant that served Kalbi, a delicious Korean BBQ beef short rib dish. Along with the main course comes Banchan, side dishes like Kimchi, which is fermented cabbage, radish, or cucumber. While eating this famous Korean dish, I was reminded of my mothers cooking back when I was a child.

We start our second day at the Namdaemun market. This is the oldest and largest traditional Korean market in Seoul with something close to 10,000 stores. The market is open all day and every day of the year. There is a saying in Korea: “if you can’t find what you are looking for at Namdaemun market then you will never find it!” You can find clothes, shoes, accessories, street food, packaged food, and live seafood. And there seems to be an abundance of shops that sell socks for 1,000 won a pair (about $1.00 U.S.). I got four!

After our stroll through the market, we visited the Changdeokgung Palace or Eastern Palace, one of five grand palaces dating back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). The architecture was built on the principles of Fung Shui. Here we saw an exquisite cherry blossom tree that stood alone on a grassy lawn in front of the palace. The delicate petals were beginning to rain down upon the lawn sprinkling the green grass with light pink petals that looked like snow.

Later in the evening we took a cab ride to Namsan Park. The park is located on Mount Namsan (South Mountain) and is the site of Seoul Tower. This is Seoul’s largest park that offers panoramic views across the city. Mount Namsan was Sacred back in the reign of King Taejo, the first king of the Joseon Dynasty. We took a gondola up to the top to enjoy the view of Seoul. As the sun went down, we enjoyed watching the city light up in all its lit splendour. The Palgakjeong Pavilion is home to hundreds, maybe thousands of love-locks attached here by lovers who throw away the key so their love can never be undone.

Last we head down Myeongdong Street which is known for Korean skin care products. Facials anyone? My friend and I stocked up. I really enjoyed using the hydrating mask.

On day four, we headed to Deagu, the city where my mother was born. The farmland where she was born and lived had no longer existed as the city of Deagu expanded. However, I was happy to see the area where she came from and the streets she may have walked. With only two days in this city, we made the best of it. We walked down a few streets and came across Daegu’s herbal medicine market (Yangnyeongsi herb market) and museum (Yangnyeongsi Oriental Medicine Cultural Center). The market itself dates back to 1658, making it the oldest, and still the largest in South Korea. The market contains various roots, herbs, spices, bugs, animal parts and more to create remedies for dozens of ailments.

After the medicine market, we headed out in search of a restaurant for dinner. We stumbled across a restaurant that served several courses of traditional dishes. The food seemed to come out non-stop! I never felt so full. We drank the Korean liquor called Soju with our meal. We were definitely a little more giddy leaving the restaurant than when we arrived. We continued to walk down various streets until we came to a karaoke place. Unlike the U.S. where karaoke can be found in a bar, in Korea the karaoke place is split up into private rooms with the option to pick a variety of songs to sing. My friend and I stayed for 20 min to experience noraebang, Korean style karaoke. Unfortunately every song was in Korean. But it didn’t stop us from enjoying music, dancing, and one more bottle of Soju.

Our last day in Daegu was a bit cloudy and cold. We hired a cab to take us up to the Donghwasa Temple and Big Buddha. Donghwasa is a Buddhist temple which means "Temple of Paulownia Blossoms." I wanted to find a way to honor my mom while I was in Daegu. I consulted a friend who told me what I could do, and so I did as he advised. I wrote out a poem for my mom on a little piece of paper. It was the same poem I wrote for her the year she died and the poem I had engraved on her headstone. I bought a candle from the little gift shop at the temple. Once I was at the altar, I rolled the poem up tight like a straw and lit the candle. As I said a little prayer, I burned the poem to release the words. I felt a peacefulness that I can’t explain and tears came spilling down my cheeks. It was a chance to say I love her as well as a way to say goodbye.

On to Jeju Island! We arrive in Jeju to spend two amazing days on this island of volcanic landscape and beautiful coast line. On our first full day we hire a private driver to take us too many of the popular sites like The Manjanggul Lava Tube and the Cheonjeyeon waterfalls. We also got to witness the women divers called haenyo in Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak. They dive for seaweed, octopus, abalone, clams, and squid without any breathing apparatus. The average age of these women divers is 65 and the oldest is said to be in her 80’s! I hope I will be that active when I’m 80.

The next day was all about relaxing. A massage at the spa, a swim in the ocean a walk along the beach, and a stroll around the area was a great way to recharge after all the walking and site seeing. We were then ready for the finale of our trip.

There was no better place to end an amazing Korean experience than in Busan. We had the city aspect, with its tall sky scraping buildings like in Seoul, and an ocean view, like on Jeju Island, all rolled into one. Busan, known as the San Francisco of South Korea, is a port city with rolling hilltops and windy streets. Throughout this port city are multiple bridges that have a familiar design to that of the golden gate bridge. The entire city lights up at night with colorful signs and lighting fixtures over bridges and on top of rooftops of the highest buildings.

After seeing the magnificent view of the ocean from our hotel room, we head out to see Busan. First on our list, was the Gamcheon Culture Village. Here we saw colorful houses, storefronts, cafes and painted murals and sculptures through twisted streets and rolling hilltops.

Before the sun set, we got to ride a cable car from Amnam Park to an observatory station. From the cable car we got a view of the city surrounding us, and the blue waters of the ocean below us. On our return cable ride across the water, the city was lit up with brilliance and color.

The next day we visited two temples; the Haedong Yonggunsa Temple along the coast and the Beomeosa Temple on the slopes of Geumjeongsan. Of the two, I was in awe of the Beomeosa Temple, which means Temple of the Nirvana Fish. It is said that magical waters of a well resides at the top of the mountain caused by a golden fish that descended from heaven. This temple is one of the country’s most known Buddhist temples and one of the most beautiful I have seen. Heading back to our hotel, we had the chance to drive over the Gwangandaegyo Bridge with lights that changed from blue to purple to red and green. It was more splendid than a firework show.

That evening we enjoyed a wine bar called Bar Di Lan. Much to our surprise, they had great wine! Korea, due to import costs, doesn’t offer a great supply of wine nor are they known for vineyards like Napa, Burgandy, or Tuscany, but we were able to find a great bar that had wine, and good wine! It definitely was more expensive than soju or beer (which is more popular and available) but worth the cost to be in this lovely bar/restaurant. Not only was the wine and food great, but the ambiance was chic. The dining room was decorated with bird caged light fixtures, rustic window shutters, and plush decorative pillows on all the chairs and couches. We even got special attention from the owner Sam, who sent us off with a bottle of wine as a gift.

On our last day in Busan, we headed to the Haeundae Market a block away from Haeundae beach. We discovered a wonderful array of street food, traditional Korean restaurants and a variety of fresh fish, and vegetables.

My favorite of the day was the Geumjeong-gu botanical Gardens. There was an endless array of colors. The abundant trees species ranging from conifers to evergreens had various shades of green. We walked past a soft flowing stream, and mini waterfall. On the opposite side of the garden was a pond surrounding a quant tea house. The sights, scents and sounds was like walking through the mystical forest. It was breathtaking. 

Related Links
Countries: South Korea
Cities: Busan, Seoul
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