Greetings from Pusan!
I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time outside Seoul during my trip here. I spent a couple days in the countryside, a couple hours outside of Seoul, with cows and rice paddies. I also spent a couple days in the mountainous areas in the south. Now I’m at the oceanside! I hadn’t known that Korea is such a geographically diverse country. Not quite as impressively so as the US, but to be fair it’s a lot smaller. (As a plus, this also means that one doesn’t have to travel quite as much to visit all these places.) Some universal truths across Korea in the summertime: humidity, summer rains, and mosquitos. None of which I am a particular fan. Still, it’s been a good experience to see parts of the country that I haven’t seen on previous trips.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve also been to a lot of the shopping streets, markets, and malls in Seoul. Some of them are endearingly eccentric, such as the shopping street of Insadong, which is a roughly half-mile long street lined with all sorts of stores selling things from Korean-themed trinkets to calligraphy brushes to tea to clothes. Some of them are trendy, like Garosu Gil, which has many modern cafes, eateries, and clothing stores. Some of them are old-fashioned, like Namdaemun, which has lots of outdoor stalls selling food and clothes and is reminiscent of the markets of old. (Or so says my mom.)
But some of them, like the Lotte Department Store, or the Myeongdong shopping area, are so materialistic that it is hard to bear. South Korea became a capitalist nation around the time of the Korean War, while her sibling to the north became communist. Capitalism has been good for South Korea, bringing technology to her people and to the world, and raising per capita income. But with this fondness for western ideals has also come a love for material possessions. I visited both the aforementioned locations this past Sunday and they were very, very crowded. The Lotte Department store is typical of any baekwhajeom, carrying expensive products such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton for the upper class of Korea. (If you’ve seen the Korean drama “Secret Garden,” it’s kind of like what Hyun Bin’s character’s family owns.) Myeongdong is certainly of a lower class, but it is still host to stores such as H&M, Nike, and Adidas. In these stores the clothes are bright and the music is heavy, all to attract young people to buy. Further, there is no shortage of make up and skin care stores, such as “Skin Food” and “Nature Republic.” I hope that there is as much a concern for the inner soul as there is for the outer shell and the physical possession.
On a positive note, a friend from GOC checked in with me via Facebook a couple of days ago to see how I’m doing. I responded that although there are times when I am ready to come home and see people whom I have not seen for so long, God has not ordained that it be so and so I submit to His will. I’ve written before that one of the blessings of this trip has been that I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with my mom. This joy has increased to the point where I count that this entire trip has been worth it just to see her joy in being here. I’ve witnessed her privilege in being able to talk to her sisters, all three of whom live here; I’ve seen her visit her old elementary school and her undergraduate college; and I’ve seen her meet with friends from her school days. How it humbles me to see that the place from which I want to leave is the same place that brings her such joy! And what joy it brings me to see her joy in seeing people she has not seen in six years! Some of the moments I have witnessed are memories I will treasure. I do count this long trip of five weeks worth it for the sake of seeing my mom so happy.
But this trip draws fast to a close. The next few days will pass quickly—they do all the more when I’m out of my grandparents’ house on some overnight adventure. I’ll spend today and tomorrow here in Pusan, rest a couple of days at home, and spend the weekend with my mom, my younger brother, and our family friends at a mountain outside the city. I fly out on the 27th, so at that point I’ll only have four full days here in Korea. Boy, time is going to fly… I’ll post updates and pictures as much as I can!