Why I Love Korea
The cool breeze is sweeping in off of the water. The symphony of the sea`s waves lap up to the shore, coupled with the various sea birds` singing to greet the morning`s light is a truly peaceful time. The climax of the sun breaking the horizon is both haunting and empowering. Land of the Morning Calm you say? I for one concur.
I love to travel. When I first came to Korea, one of the first things I did was buy a camera. I wanted to document the history and culture of Korea during this wonderful chance that I had. When the time came, I realized that one year was not long enough. I needed more time. After all, I hadn`t even been outside of Seoul`s city limits. I couldn`t believe how big a city Seoul was, and how easy it was to spend an entire year in the city, until I realized I had spent 2 full years without having ventured outside the green #2 subway loop.
Yet, I was hooked. The amount of history, culture, and wonderful welcoming people that one can experience within walking distance of any line #2 subway station is amazing. Something was missing. I didn`t want my entire Korean experience to be a Seoul experience. I knew there was more to the country. So I garnered up enough courage to leave the comfortable English confines of the big city and explore. At the same time, I was attempting to teach myself a new set of skills, in photography.
My quest of learning the craft of photography has since taken me all over the country, exploring, trying to find those once in a lifetime shots. In my travels, I have met a lot of great people. It`s the people that make a country great. It`s the people that you remember about a place. It`s the people that make you remember events like they were yesterday. I remember my first day in Korea like it happened last week, it really happened just over 8 years ago. It`s the people that make me want to photograph this wonderful country in all its wonder and grandeur to show off to the world, and to prove to myself that Seoul alone is not Korea, and Korea is not only Seoul. It was suggested that with all of my travels around the country that I could write about and share my favourite places that I have photographed. I thought to myself, "Well, that`s going to be easy. I have such great memories of so many of my trips that I could easily fill a book`s worth of material." Oops, how wrong I was.
For this article, I wanted to choose one place and give to it what it deserves: a well thought out, detailed story and explanation of why I love this area of Korea. When I started to think about which place it could be, there were just too many...
Gyeongju. Check. Busan`s Haeundae. Check. Seoraksan. Check. Gangneung`s Gyeongpodae and Jeongdongjin. Check and check. There have been a lot of festivals, too. I could fill an entire article listing the festivals alone.
The green tea festival in Boseong... It was raining and foggy, and underestimating the popularity of the event, my accommodations were far from pristine, so for me, it was a perfect recipe to be a disaster, and make me miserable. I did manage to accomplish two things. First, I was lucky enough to capture, one of my all time favourite photographs.
Second, Boseong managed to become one of my favourite places in all of Korea. It was refreshing just to be there. I felt healthier just being there. I wanted to come here every chance I got. I still do.
Boseong is one of those places that is popular all year round except maybe in winter, (luckily for me) with Koreans and foreigners alike.
One of my goals is to share the lesser known areas of the country.
This brings me to Gangwondo. After 4 years of living and working in Seoul, I felt it time for a change. That need for change led me to remember a time when I had visited Sokcho and how relaxing the morning was, as I sat on the boardwalk in Daepo, with my coffee, watching the fishing boats return with their catches. Earlier that morning, I had been watching the sunrise from Sokcho Beach, and the power of that first blast of orange light was intoxicating.
I had to land a job on the east coast. It really didn`t matter where, it just had to be on the east coast. I love it here. This is my home. This is why I love Korea.
I live in a city called Samcheok. Samcheok, is known for 2 things, really. One... the caves. Hwaseon Cave is the largest limestone cave in Asia. Considering the size of Asia, and the number of mountains and caves in Asia, it is an impressive title to have. All in all, there are about 55 caves located within Samcheok`s city limits, giving it the nickname "Cave City". The second thing that Samcheok is known for is Haesindang, or as it`s lovingly known in some foreigner circles as "Penis Park". Haesindang really has become quite popular, not only with tourists but with travel and lifestyle magazines all over the world, as 2 European magazines have contacted me personally about using my photos of the park, and I`m sure there are a lot of other photographers who have come and had their photographs published as well. Those are great places, and very much worth a 3 - 4 day vacation, to come to see.
For me, they were the selling points, they got me out here, those two and remembering the strange looking trees that lined the main street. That was 4 years ago. It`s the little things that has kept me here, and has secured my desire to stay and share Samcheok with the world. Samcheok has probably one of the widest varieties of scenery and weather in the world all within a 20km radius. You can experience spring, summer, autumn, winter, sun, snow, rain, typhoons, thunderstorms, rainbows. There are sandy beaches between rocky shores on one side, and mountains, streams, waterfalls, caves, and farmland on the other side. Deer, boars, and the occasional cow running around free, not to mention the sheer number of birds that call this area home, as well as the number of birds that stop here for a break while migrating.
Living here coupled with my enjoyment of photography has given me a much greater appreciation for nature. I can`t think of many other places where if I turn left going out of my front door I could be at the seashore in 5 minutes, or if I decide to turn right, I`d be in the mountain forests looking at a waterfall in those same 5 minutes. This is why I love Korea.
This brings me to the people. As I stated earlier, it is the people that make the biggest impressions in our daily lives. The people here have been unbelievable. There have been many times that I have forgotten that I`m a foreigner and a visible minority. Even though I can, after 8 years, barely string a sentence together in Korean, I am treated like family. This is why I love Korea. One day last year, there was a rather amazing rainbow in the sky as the local baseball team that I play with was having practice. One of my teammates asked me what I was looking at.
I said while pointing to the sky "That rainbow."
He looked up for about 2 seconds and said "Oh."
I said, excitedly waving my hands in an arching motion, "Look at that, it`s huge!"
He said nonchalantly, "This is Samcheok. We get rainbows all the time."
This is why I love Korea. He`s right. Because of all of the geographical features, and weather patterns, Samcheok does seem to get an abnormal amount of rainbows.
Every single one, that I`ve seen, has blown me away. Personally, I have always associated rainbows with special places. This is definitely one of those special places.
This is why I love Korea.
About the author:
Originally from Bowmanville, Canada, Leigh has been teaching English in Korea since 2003. In his spare time he has been teaching himself photography. He is currently living in Samcheok with his wife where he has been teaching and practising his photography for the last 4 years. He has been fortunate enough to have won international awards and recognition for some of his photographs of the Korean landscape and culture as well as being published in Korean and international magazines. He is also a proud member of the Seoul Metropolitan Government`s circle of citizen photographers. To see some of his photographs please visit: http://web.me.com/polargrape