Many of my previous journeys during the 18 years of marriage were either related to my job or my vacation. As part of my previous employment with the Indian Navy, I have been to all over India; saw many scenic places, places of pilgrimage, tourist spots and what not. I also have been to picturesque spots in countries like Russia, Cyprus, Seychelles, Israel, Philippines and Indonesia among others. So when I was selected by Samsung to work in their Geoje Shipyard, I was waiting see and explore a new country about which I knew so little. Typically our exposure to Korea in India is limited to the some of the global Korean brands like Daewoo and Hyundai (in automobiles), Samsung and LG (in mobile phones, consumer electronics etc). These companies have substantial presence in India and have manufacturing facilities. However, what was found lacking was the people to people interaction probably because of the vast geographic separation between the two great lands separated by the huge land mass of China . Though ancient scriptures tell us about the marriage of an Indian Princess into the Shilla dynasty and a number of Buddhist monks making their way to the far east to spread the teachings of the Buddha, somehow the countries never seemed to connect after that brief period of engagement.
Panoramic view of majestic Geresan mountain
Our plan during the Korean summer holiday when the whole country takes a week off in the month of September was to visit the two main cities in Korea. Our itinerary included a three days stay in Seoul in Ramada Seoul and three days in Busan. So my journey of discovery continued as we started by the Express bus for Geoje, Seoul. I was amazed by the smooth and pleasant journey from Geoje to Seoul with regular halts. I was further surprised by the clean and well maintained rest rooms provided all along the tourist paths. It is such a blessing to have rest rooms in plenty along the highways.
Once we checked into Ramada Seoul in the afternoon, we had enough time to wander around the KOEX ( Korea Exhibition) centre with its massive shopping malls and the 16 screen multiplex. Of course the COEX Aquarium was a real surprise with a huge collection of marine creatures of all shapes, sizes , hues and shades. We also got an opportunity to visit the Bongeunsa temple close by where we spent close to 2 hours in the surreal surroundings with thousands of Buddha statues in various sizes. We also lit candles and burned incense sticks after praying inside the very holy temple. The memories of the huge temple complex, the massive statue of Buddha, thousands of golden colored Buddha?s and the peace and tranquility made us feel one with the God. The temple architecture, the antiquity and the fabulous surroundings indeed make it a place worth spending one full day.
Holiness personified – Bongeunsa temple
Thousands of golden Buddhas!
The next day we kept aside the better half of the day for a visit to the DMZ (De militarized Zone). DMZ is the boundary line demarcating the two Koreas. We started the tour as part of a tour package with tourists from China, Japan, Canada, Philippines, France, India and others. Our guide explained the history of the DMZ, the reasons for its creation, the Korean War and of course the famous tunnels through which the North Korans wanted to infiltrate into Seoul. Though the walk down the access tunnel and walk through 3rd Infiltration tunnel with the heads bent was physically challenging, I enjoyed every moment of it and also marveled at man?s ingenuity spending so much money and manpower recklessly to bore a tunnel 70 meters below the earth in solid rock on what can be called famously as the "Mission Impossible". The story of how this tunnel was accidentally discovered by South Korean Soldiers has already become folklore.
Nevertheless the 3D movie which we saw before entering the tunnel and later visit to the Dora Observatory, Freedom Bridge and also the Dorasan Railway station all made the visit a memorable and pleasant one. It was a hilarious sight to look at the "Propaganda village" built on the other side of border since our guide had mentioned that this village was constructed purely for propaganda purposes to fool the South Korean people looking at it from this side of the border that the life on the other side is also as good if not better than in South Korea! He had mentioned that the ruse was discovered when it was observed that all the lights in the propaganda village used to be switched on and off at a fixed time in the day and night! The peace bell on this side of the border was of course made a huge impression on me and reminded me of the agonies of fighting a war which causes so much of human tragedy and misery. The highlight of the visit for me apart from others was the photograph of my wife with two huge Korean Military Police guards as you can very well see.
The third day was spent in the vast expanses of the Changdeokugung Palace where we spent the better part of the afternoon. There was a huge crowd of Koreans dressed in the traditional finery visiting the Palace that day and made the whole experience a colorful one. Our guide patiently walked us through the palace and its surroundings and spoke in detail about the history, the Palace intrigue, the Korean Society of those times, the nobles, the Kings and the warriors of those times. It seemed like every pillar every corner of the place is replete with history because everywhere we went there seemed to he history emerging out. Listening to the stories it stuck me suddenly, how strange, we heard similar stories about Maharajas in India too. Though time, place and occasions were different, all the stories seem to tell the same thing.
On the same evening, we opted for a cruise down the river Han for what seemed to be about 3 hour spent pleasantly cruising up and down the river, passing all the 28 bridges and gazing at the growing skyline of Seoul. I realized that time that Seoul must be only second to New York in the sky scrapers. It can be aptly called as the "Skyscraper capital of Asia". They seemed to be everywhere, whichever street you turn into, wherever you go, you cant escape the scrapers. I was fascinated by some of them which were pure joy to see, modern architectural wonders like the Seoul Tower. Very heady experience, indeed. After a wonderful cruise with live music and dancing, we settled for the night.
The next day we checked out and headed for Seoul Central for our Express journey to Busan by KTX, which runs in excess of 300 km/hr, something in the lines of Bullet trains in Japan and TGV in Europe. We were not disappointed by the experience. As the train gathered speed, the vast Korean countryside, the green tapestry, the lovely mountains and hills all seemed to just whiz past us. In some stretches of the track, we saw the Speedo meter going beyond 300 km/hr. I had the satisfaction of undertaking my fastest train journey so far.
After Seoul, Busan was a slight disappointment?.and I was wondering why. I realized that I have already started missing those tall sky scrapers. Probably I fell in love with them. Jokes apart, Busan was also a bustling city, the main harbor and lovely sea front houses, the UN memorial and so many things to see. Our visit to the Hyundae beach, the aquarium with the huge sharks passing just inches away from us, the UN memorial and lovely seafront restaurants made the whole visit a memorable one as one can see in the enclosed photographs.
Bongeunsa Buddhist temple – Abode of harmony
As the journey ended and we headed back to Okpo where we reside, by the ferry "Perestroika" for an hour long ride I kept reminiscing about those lovely days. The time has passed quickly; I have met many Korean people, learnt about the culture, food and the language and also took part in the office sports meet.
I was fascinated by the underlying principle of Korean nation: that of togetherness, unity and teamwork. It is probably what made Korea tick, change around its fortune within a generation time to become 11th richest country in the world with brands like LG, Samsung, Doosan, Hyundai, Daewoo spread all over the world and build a country for themselves with excellent infrastructure.
As I see the approaching winter, and the green leaves of the trees turning into yellow, red , pink and many other hues and colors, I start wondering whether my journey of discovery has ever ended? It seemed to be endless. I keep making new discoveries. Like the other day I attended a Korean marriage which was so colorful and full of life though it is short and sweet keeping with modern times. The beautifully dressed bride, the handsome groom, the best man the priest and a detail of Korean sailors to welcome the bride and groom (who was a Naval officer earlier)all of it sounded magical. All I have seen and experienced can also be seen by the readers of the Mangalorean.com through the eyes of my camera!
About The Author
Commander GP Mallya(retd) was born and brought up in Kinnigoli, Mangalore. After completing his high school and PUC from Pompeii Junior College, Talipady, he obtained a BE(Mechanical) degree from NIE Mysore and joined Indian Navy in 1985. During his 22 years of service with the Indian Navy he has been the Engineer Officer of Indian Naval Ships Charag, Akshay, Nirdeshak and Godavari and served in various capacities in Naval Dockyard Mumbai, Naval headquarters, and INS Shivaji Lonavala. He also obtained his M.E. from Pune University during his Naval service. He has traveled to several countries in Europe, Africa and Asia as part of goodwill missions. His interests include photography and writing, travelling, Master of ceremonies etc. After retiring from the Indian Navy, Cdr (retd) Mallya joined Samsung Heavy Industries, Geoje Shipyard in South Korea. He is married for 18 years with a 17 year old son studying in BITS Pilani, Goa campus.
Author: Cdr GP Mallya(Retd)- South Korea