Sunday, May 30, 2010

Going to Gwangju

Thursday, May 27th

Today we are driving from Seoul to Gwangju. It was sad leaving our new friends last night. After seeing mostly a concrete jungle for a week straight, it is great to finally see the countryside. Beautiful mountains haven’t stopped rolling through the window frame of our bus since we left, it almost reminds me of our excursions on my study abroad trip to the Dominican Republic last summer. Korea is the size of Ohio, and 70 percent of Korea is mountains. That leaves 30 percent of Ohio to house 50 Million people. Can you say dense development?

We even stopped at a water park on our way to Gwangju! We happened to be half of the attendance that day considering in was a Thursday afternoon during school. It was all a large breath of fresh air after leaving the city. We arrived at Gwangju and checked into our hotel, which had quite impressive accommodations. While exploring the city our first night we heard music in the distance. We followed the opera sounding music and found what seemed to be a community concert. With a massive stage set up directly next to the city’s Metropolitan Council building, an opera singer, acoustic guitar player, and hard rock band performed for hundreds of citizens. All of this on a Thursday night! Apparently they feel the same way as Jane Jacobs, that songs and cities are the best things about us, and combined the two.

Saturday, May 29th

Today was the most beautiful day we have had yet, and we ought to be thankful that the sun was shining. Our activities today would not have been quite the same experience without the weather. We left Gwangju this morning for a Buddhist temple deep in the mountains. A local professor accompanied us on our tour and would later buy us a wonderful lunch at a western style restaurant. We definitely ate our fill. We were given an in depth tour of the temple and all of its symbols, with a short introduction to Buddhism in a nutshell. On our peaceful walk to the top of the temple light shone through the leaves of the trees calming even more. The views from the temple were breathtaking.

The breathtaking views didn’t end as we left the temple and departed to green tea fields where we would pick our own leaves that would be roasted, then take part in a traditional green tea drinking ceremony with the owner and his friends. I now have a much deeper appreciation for the drinking of tea as well as the production that it takes to get it from the fields to the little green Lipton boxes in our cupboard.

We are now on our way to another complimentary meal for our dinner with a congressman from the region we are traveling in today. Irene Shim our trip leader has connected us with many important people on this trip, not to mention the city planner of Seoul. We have begun to wonder if we should be calling her “the Almighty Shim” as even congressmen ask her what time they should be at dinner and city planners bow to her as they enter the room.

Sunday May 30th

I only knew one thing about today, we were going to take a ride on a cable car. What I didn’t know was that this cable car would take us to one of the highest mountain peaks in South Korea. So high the air gets thin when you run the steps to the highest pavilion. The view was breathtaking(even more so than the thin air), you could see for miles, all the way to the ocean.

As we were driving through the rural areas to each of our destinations today, I noticed that not only were the mountains reminiscent of the Dominican Republic’s countryside, but so were the villages built around them. Despite grandiose development in Seoul and other central Korean cities, many of the regions seem to be neglected and some of their shacks are to the point of dilapidation. This disparity was just as apparent and even greater than in the DR considering the quality of development of Korea’s urban areas. Smaller regional town business districts in Korea seem to be experiencing many of the same vacancy issues that we see in many of our American cities, maybe this economic downturn has hit just as hard in some areas on the other side of the world.

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