November 2, 2017

Just like that, my friend and I wrapped up our South Korean adventure as we spend our last full travel day here in the land of K-Dramas, KPop and Oppas. *Deep breath*. How time flies, FAST. It was just like yesterday when we landed in Incheon, brimming with enthusiasm. Who’d have thought that 12 days would pass by in a constant stream of fond memories, of tons of pictures, of majestic sights and landmarks, and of amazing experiences.

Oh well, if only I can extend my stay here, I will but reality is waiting for me somewhere over the horizon. As the airport announcer calls for us to board our plane, I can’t help but feel sad that my South Korean autumn adventures is officially drawing to a close. Sigh. *Too much melodrama tsk*. I can’t help but look back on the past 12 days that still feels very surreal to me.

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Going Beyond Boundaries, Conquering Fears

Our journey to South Korea spanned nearly a year. It all commenced when an idea sprouted. This idea grew and then my and friends started planning, seriously planning. For months, we looked out for airfare promos, booked flights, prepared itinerary and went through the tediousness of visa application. Man, no words can describe the elation we felt when we simultaneously opened our passports and found out that, yes, our visa applications were approved!

But that was just the commencement of something even bigger. In spite of my euphoria at learning about my approved visa application, my doubts began unnerving me. I have never been comfortable inside a pressurized metal tube with wings soaring at an altitude of rougly 23,000 feet. It was a miracle I was able to survive some 10 nervy airplane flights before, including a turbulent flight to Coron (and it was my first solo travel).

Yes, my anxieties were taking over me. The only calming agent I had for the four-hour trip is the knowledge that I wasn’t alone. Thankfully I survived my four-hour plight. I was even prouder of myself on my flight back. I don’t know how I was able to manage it but during my return flight, I was uncharacteristically calm, in stark contrast to our flight to South Korea. To think that I was flying solo as Joy flew ahead of me. It was small personal but transcendent victory.

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Kindness beyond Barriers

When we landed in Incheon airport one breezy autumn evening, we barely had an iota on what is in store for us. We were nervous, especially Voltaire and I because it is our first trip outside of the country. The biggest question at the back of my mind didn’t dwell on us surviving our trip. I am confident that we’ll adapt. Rather, the question at the back of my mind concerns more on the locals view of us. We’ve spent majority of our lives looking at foreigners travelling around the Philippines but this is the first time that the roles are reversed.

But my worries are unfounded. At first, most locals seemed stoic, indifferent to our presence. Oh well, South Korea is fervently promoting tourism in their country. The influx of different nationalities no longer surprises the locals. To be honest, I used to have a prejudice towards Koreans (and Japanese for that matter). On a subconscious level, I believe Koreans view themselves as a superior race, hence, they’re inapproachable, cold, or, worse, snobbish.

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To reiterate, my worries were all unfounded. In countless circumstances, we have been the beneficiaries of the kindness of the Koreans, especially me. There was that Korean guy, who, despite being in a rush, returned to the subway turnstile to assist me passing through. I inadvertently used my turn. I was yet again the beneficiary of the Korean hospitality during our Jingwansa temple stay. A Korean ahjumma (I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to ask her name) expressed her concern for me when she noticed my discomfort in the cold. You can read more about my encounter with the Korean ahjumma here.

Ah, I was lying when I stated that my only concern is the Koreans’ views of us. I was also concerned about how we are going to bridge the language barriers. However, in the instances I have cited above, I was able to dispel two of my prejudices. Koreans, like Filipinos, are very warmhearted and hospitable. But there was something more important, more profound, that I have learned. Kindness is the world’s universal language; it bridges all kinds of gaps.

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A Treasure Trove of Memories

To say that South Korea is wonderful and amazing is an understatement. It is one of the most idyllic places I have ever been to. An adventure is in store everyday, wherever you are, may it be in Seoul, in Sokcho, in Busan, or in Gyeongju. I can’t keep myself from snapping one picture after another. The landscapes, the autumn foliage, the historical landmarks all converge to form a visual feast.

More importantly, everywhere we went, there was a story, a history that has fascinated and enlightened us. Every where we went was a learning experience. Every day was a chance to create wonderful memories. And that, we did. But it wasn’t all about the memories. Through this trip, I got to grow and mature, even just for a bit. Each travel, after all, is an opportunity to learn about a place’s culture and history but more importantly, it is a chance to learn more about one’s self.

There is more to South Korea beyond the Korean dramas, the KPop culture, and the KPop idols. It is a beautiful and amazing country that is worth one’s time. This trip and this experience will forever stay in my heart; I will cherish it. Kamsahamnida, South Korea! Saranghae! I love everything about you!

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P.S. A Healing Trip

This is something that I have admitted to only one friend.

It was late in June, as the days were approaching my birthday that I can began feeling it, that familiar sense of foreboding and emptiness. I suited up for it, distracting my mind so that it won’t trudge that dark, cold alley. I willed myself but I knew that try as I might, I will inevitably walk towards it. In spite of my best preparations, I still fell into the crevice. My motivation was running so low that even getting up to greet the day was a challenge. Unlike the previous encounters with my personal monsters, this was milder but lasted longer and was a recurring theme for nearly three months. It was usually shorter.

I kept on struggling against myself. There were times I questioned myself, is it all worth it. I struggled coping with everything around me because my vision blurred. In time, I was able to pick up the pieces; as always, I survived. I was already on my way towards recovery before our trip. However, it was this South Korea trip that provided me that break that I never thought I badly needed. In ways more than one, my South Korea adventure is more than just about the adventures and the memories, it is more of a healing trip for me. And that is why South Korea is one of my favorite places.

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