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A quick recap from my last column: My fiancé, Richard, and I traveled to Incheon, South Korea, in August to visit my friend, Jessica, who is spending two years teaching there.
While riding the subway between Incheon and Seoul, I noticed that many Koreans dress fashionably and they’re big on brand names.
During the trip, Jessica, Richard and I went clothes shopping at a department store in Incheon. Department stores are divided up by brand of clothing, with salespeople working in each section. The salespeople were friendly and eager to help.
While Richard was trying on a shirt, I chatted with a saleswoman who was in her early 20s. She spoke good English and was curious as to why Americans would be visiting South Korea. I told her about Jessica’s teaching position and that Richard and I were visiting her and exploring the country. I asked her about her life. She said she works part-time at the department store to help pay for college. I could relate to that.
Korean couples in their teens to late-20s sometimes wear couple sets. These are matching shirts and shorts or pants, cut for men and women. Some couples even wear matching shoes and hats! Richard and I bought matching olive green shirts, probably to the amusement of the salespeople.
Bright colors, flashy jewelry and purses as big as briefcases are popular among women of all ages. Most of the women wore two- or three-inch high-heeled shoes. Some of the men wore shoes with one-inch heels so the women wouldn’t tower over them. Makes sense, but it’s kind of funny.
We also saw lots of people wearing shirts covered in English text that didn’t make much, if any, sense.
Those shirts made me wonder about the Asian characters that some Americans wear on shirts and necklaces. We probably look just as silly to those who understand the language.
Another oddity was that some Korean children wear shirts displaying curse words. My friend, Jessica, said some kids think the “F-word” means “Shut up,” perhaps because American films are subtitled in Korean and the bad words aren’t bleeped.
In five days we saw many sights, including: Insa-dong Market, Dongdaemun Market, Jogye-sa Temple, Hwaseong Fortress, Dongdaemun Gate, Changdeokgung Palace and its secret garden, Chinatown in Incheon, Wolmido Island, The War Memorial of Korea, a traditional Korean folk village in Suwon, Jayu (Freedom) Park in Incheon, and Jakyak Island. We took 1,250 photos!
While visiting the temple, we admired the colorful paintings on the outside of the building and peaked inside at the giant golden Buddha statues and the dozens of praying Buddhist monks.
The palace’s rooftops were similar to the temple’s roof, but the palace buildings were more expansive. We took a tour of Changdeokgung Palace, along with some Europeans, Japanese and Koreans.
During the tour, we walked through the palace grounds, stopping for photos and to admire and ponder Korea’s architecture and history. The afternoon sun shined down on us, making the humidity almost unbearable.
While standing in a breezeway, our English-speaking tour guide, a friendly Korean woman dressed in a formal blue and white dress, explained how the men and women of ancient times had separate living quarters, and the king and queen were only allowed to meet in a hallway that connected the two areas. She said this was because women were thought to be less intelligent than men, but today we know better. It seemed strange to me that she thought it was necessary to explain that women were no longer considered second-class citizens. Perhaps she wanted it to be clear that South Korea is a forward-thinking country that has moved out of the past.
South Korea is a forward-thinking, modern country in more ways than one.
Spend a day in South Korea and you’ll see cell phones everywhere, in the hands of the young and the old alike. Heck, even the monks had cell phones. Electronic entertainment was ubiquitous. Most cars had TVs on the dashboards. Koreans can drive and watch TV at the same time! Funny, especially considering that in California you’ll get a ticket if you’re caught holding a cell phone while driving.
Anyway, the tour guide also showed us the king’s secret garden. The shady garden featured a huge pond peppered with water lilies. It’s now home to a little shop where a couple of vendors sell bottled water, soda and snacks. Considering the extreme heat and humidity, we needed the liquids.
Despite the heat, I loved seeing the beautifully painted temple, the lengthy fortress wall and the expansive palace.
However, I felt most captivated by the war memorial museum and outdoor statues. They spoke of history. They spoke of freedom. They spoke of friendship.
I’ll share more about that in my next column.
Journalist Lauren Brooks lives in Chico. She is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record’s weekly entertainment guide, The Buzz. She is a CSU, Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at email@example.com.