Having spent five days in the bustling streets of Tokyo, I thought I would be well prepared for the chaos that Seoul would present. Navigating Tokyo’s two subway systems and 13 disparate lines had become a relatively achievable task in spite of significant language barriers, and some friendly people at my hostel assured me that Seoul’s transport system was much more straightforward. Whilst this proved to be true, they neglected to tell of the city’s labyrinthine layout. Instead of the grid-like predictability of Tokyo’s roads, Seoul’s streets feel like a series of tree branches sprouting innumerable quantities of twigs. The distance from Hongik University Station to the guesthouse I had booked was nominally 350 metres and though the directions I possessed were lacking in detail, I wasn’t worried about finding the place when I hopped off the train. 75 minutes and three helpful shopkeepers later I arrived at the desired guesthouse and, in a state of confusion and general dishevelment, vowed to never underestimate Seoul again.
After a mostly sleepless night spent fending off nettlesome and persistent mosquitoes, I spent my first day in Seoul becoming acquainted with the city’s trendiest and most traditional elements. A visit to the picturesque Gyeongbokgung Palace provided a glimpse into Seoul’s feudal history. One of the Joseon Dynasty’s Five Grand Palaces, Gyeongbokgung was built in 1395 and was used by kings for coronation ceremonies, entertaining foreign visitors, and conducted state business. Though it has unfortunately been destroyed multiple times by Japanese occupants, the palace is undergoing a restoration project scheduled to be completed by 2029 and remains a place of elegant beauty.
With a few days remaining before my internship was due to start, I decided to book a three-day trip to Jeju-do, an island off the south coast of the Republic of Korea and home to some of the country’s most beautiful natural environments. Despite never having climbed anything higher than a few sets of stairs before, I went to Jeju-do with the goal of ascending Mount Hallasan, the Republic of Korea’s largest mountain. Standing 1,950 metres tall, Mount Hallasan appeared to be an easy climb — even Mount Kosciuszko’s peak is higher! Four hours of arduous and sweat-drenched climbing later, I had reached the summit and concluded that what I had reduced to a molehill was indeed a mountain.
The view from Mount Hallasan — impeded by extensive cloud cover. Photo by Brendan Day
On Sunday I flew back to Seoul and welcomed Nick Gowland, my travelling companion and International Fellow at The Korea Herald, to the city. The following day we went into the Australian Embassy to meet with Hyo-Jin (Jinny) Lee, Director of the Australia–Korea Foundation (Korea); Brendan Berne, Deputy Head of Mission to Korea; Peter Truswell, Political Counsellor; and Jie Son Kim, Executive Director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Korea. Brendan and Peter provided us with an invaluable rundown of the history of Australia and Korea’s relationship, whilst Jinny and Jie answered our queries and assuaged our fears and anxieties over a delicious Korean lunch.
I have been following the local news and current affairs fervently in preparation for my internship at tbs. One of the biggest and most devastating stories has been the report of a soldier from the Republic of Korea killing five of his fellow soldiers at the Demilitarised Zone. The terrible incident has instigated a thoughtful debate regarding the mandatory military duty in place in this country, which requires men between the ages of 18 and 35 to complete 22 months of service. This Morning, the show I will be working with, produced a engrossing discussion of domestic military culture that focused on its endemic problems rather than the soldiers' personal issues — if you have 17 minutes to spare, have a listen.
Though nervous, I am definitely looking forward to the impending internship. I have already been scheduled by This Morning’s producer Christina to report on R16, the World B-Boy Masters Championship. The event is held annually in Seoul and brings together graffiti artists, hip-hop dancers, and various other alternative performance artists for a festival that embraces youth culture. I’m not an expert on the vagaries of popping and locking just yet, but am willing to immerse myself in this world to make the best and most informed piece that I can.