This is a short piece that I wrote as a competition entry for…? Well, the title isn’t exactly clear, but something like ‘weird things that happen whilst travelling in Korea’. Kinda rolls off your tongue, no?
I guess it’s more about the chase than the kill (not the story, but the winning part) , but I thought it would be a challenge to get something down in the required 500 words, and a set amount of time.
It’s a true story…read on…
If you were one of those who started your Korean working lives in a ‘hagwon’ (a private academy), the opportunity to take a vacation was somewhat limited.
I’d been planning my first trip in the country to Gangwon-do, (Seoraksan National Park in particular), and had spent many an evening in a PC room planning with an almost militaristic detail on how I was going to spend my inestimable week away from work.
For many of us, coming to a new country to live and work can be a daunting and somewhat intimidating prospect. So many barriers. The language (or in most cases – the distinct lack of), the food, the smells and the seemingly endless list of cultural differences. On the other hand, there’s also room for a certain unbridled enthusiasm to get out there and see what your new host has to offer. It has the potential for being the biggest adventure that you’re willing to make it.
Gangwon province had everything that I was looking for in a Korean vacation. Only a few hours from Seoul. Plenty of golden beaches. A stunning National Park, resplendent in the natural surroundings of the Taebek mountains. The sleepy, seaside town of Sokcho was only about thirty minutes away where one could walk down by the harbour and sample the wide array of excellent (if at times indeterminable) seafood that was on offer.
However, the highlight of the trip for me was Seoraksan National Park. Once inside, there were several trails to choose from, numerous waterfalls, temples, and the hugely impressive “Unification Buddha” (or통일대불). All highly recommended.
Before returning to Seoul, Gangwon-do still had one surprise left in store for me.
As I was enjoying my last night over some drinks with my travel companion, I began to feel a bit unwell. My condition worsened at a seemingly breakneck pace after returning to my room. Thoughts of all the weird and wonderful things I’d been gorging on over the past few days flashed by me. The excrutiating, intense pains in my stomach soon had me reminiscing of ‘that’ scene from the movie Alien. I thought I was going to burst, but I didn’t know at what end. Something was very, very wrong.
I somehow managed get through the night without splitting in two and found my way to a doctor’s surgery the next morning. My worst fears were confirmed when the doctor asked me if it hurt when he pushed down on my lower abdomen. The squealing like a pig probably answered the question for him.Yes, it hurt.
He diagnosed appendicitis, gave me an injection of something strong and told me to get home ASAP and to get it removed.
This happened back in 2000, but within my first six months of arriving in Korea. I guess it didn’t deter me from staying?
One last piece of advice – just remember to keep an open mind, but still leave some room to expect the unexpected on your travels.