A trip to hometown after living aboard for decades is an exciting experience and can bring nostalgia memories. Bob Mok recently embarked on an East Asian tour that included Hong Kong, his hometown where he hasn’t returned to for 38 years! But the first stop of his trip was Korea, the country where the fashion wave is taking the world by storm.
During the months of October and November, I embarked on a tour to four Asian countries and regions. They were: Korea, Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong. I last visited China in 2008, Hong Kong in 1978 ( 38 years ago!) and I have never been to Korea and Taiwan.
This has been a very long and busy journey. There were plenty to see, much to absorb and digest. Above all, it has been a very hectic 5 weeks completed with swollen legs for sitting for long periods on coaches. There were many occasions to try and talk to the people, not just within the tour group but also local residents. I'd like to share these experiences with my readers over the next few articles.
Each location should be focused and remembered in a word or two. My first stop (Korea) can be summarized as “Fashion Heaven”.
Arriving at the Incheon International Airport located 30 miles west of the Capital City of Seoul, we settled down in a modest hotel. At that time, the Canadian dollar is worth 817 won (Korean dollar). Our minds keep going through the conversion to Canadian Dollars to assure ourselves that thing price tags in “thousand” units are not really out of this world.
In general, Koreans have poor command of the English language and the posters do not have adequate English and/or Chinese translations. It is clear that attempts are made to cater to Chinese tourists with Chinese (simplified) characters embedded in some restaurant menus and signs, more so than in English. We certainly had a tough time with the ordering of food!
The temperature was only in the teens for days during our visit. We were not sure if it was because of the cold weather or if it is served year-round, we went to different types of Hot-pot meals (seafood, ginseng, lamb, etc) everyday for lunch and dinner. Lots of small dishes of hot Kim chi served along with dried minnow fishes and preserved vegetables.
I am not going to bore you with a description the various tourist attractions. Enough to say that it starts early everyday at 6 am and finished at 8 pm at different hotels after each day of extensive tours. I will, however, expound on two memorable events:
1) While awaiting the Ferry to Naminara Republic located 63 Km from Seoul in the middle of the Han River, we were confronted by a Chinese guide from another tour group. He badgered us for speaking Cantonese to one of the elders in our group and chastised us for not speaking “Putonghau” as people of Chinese origin. It was his presumption that all overseas Chinese know and therefore must speak in the official Chinese language at all times. He was so wrong! All of us were people from Hong Kong who emigrated to Canada decades ago and Cantonese is our mother tongue. His rude intrusion and nationalistic expressions received a rebuttal from us in English and he retreated and stayed silent after that. To a large degree, the intrusion of large number of visitors from China will have a long term impact to the Korean economy and their society.
2) With a bit of spare time on the schedule, a majority of the women in the group wanted to “shop”! Korean fashion and selections are out of this world. They are not only eye-catching but also economical. We ended up at Doota Mall (should I call it “Fashion Heaven?”). The variety of clothing and different styles and materials are beyond one's imagination and belief. Most items starting at W10,000 or 10 US dollars. There were hundreds of little shops with simplisticdesigns in both men and women fashions and wonderful workmanship. All of the items were “Made in Korea”. I wonder why they are not sold in Canada! Now we know why Asians have organized “shop till they drop” tour group to visit Korea.Never let your girlfriend or wife go there for shopping without you and don't leave them your credit cards!
Overall, I find Koreans very patriotic (when it comes to buying Korean products). The young ladies start using make-up early and dress well. They are polite and law-abiding when it comes to public behaviour. Since a large part of the population is concentrated within the Capital City of Seoul, the country side is still under developed with little transit and few modern buildings. The future for Korean tourism development will need to be focused on its natural parks and pristine lakes to the south of the peninsula.
Next stop – Taiwan!
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