09.06.2008 Feature Article

From Accra To Seoul - My Experience

From Accra To Seoul - My Experience
09.06.2008 LISTEN

Last year, President John Agyekum Kufuor, on an official visit to Korea, described the peninsula as an eye-opener. It was not until I saw the peninsula that I believed his statement was not just a political speech but a factual one.

I had been invited by the Korean Foundation, with seven other Africans from South Africa, Sudan, Algeria, Tanzania, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe for a seven-day visit to South Korea to tour the place and learn from the Korean experience.

When I arrived on May 15, 2007 at the Incheon International Airport, which is one of the eight international airports in Korea, I could not believe my eyes. After going round the place with my mouth opened, I asked myself, “Will my country's Kotoka International Airport ever be like this?”

Perhaps you would be wondering why, but that was my first time out of West Africa and I was grateful to the Korean Foundation.

Unlike any other airport I had used, including the Kotoka International Airport of my own country, Ghana, which is almost surrounded with residential apartments, hotels and office buildings, the Incheon Airport was about an hour's drive from the city!

As I was transiting through Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, I was impressed……………….. but when I got to the Incheon International Airport in Seoul I realised that the former pales into insignificance as compared to the latter.

For the seven days I stayed in Seoul, I had my memory filled with unforgettable experiences.

The Korean Peninsula, roughly 1,000km long and 216km wide, at its narrowest point extends southward from the eastern end of the Asian continent with 70 per cent of the land mass covered with mountains.

With a population of over 48.3 million as at 2006, a GDP of $1.18 trillion and a GDP per capita of $24,200, South Korea, unlike my country Ghana, has no natural resource but is the 9th economic power in the world, according to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report released in 2006.

I was impressed by how westernised the cities and the local people were. I learnt however that this process of westernisation had taken place very rapidly, yet many traditional values and attitudes remained firmly in place.

Before my trip, I had taken pains to know more about South Korea by surfing the internet to get all the information I would need about the country; more so, it was all because I did not know which form my encounter with the Koreans was going to take.

Koreans have developed their system into a paperless and cashless one. Currently, Visa, American Express, Diner's Club, Master card and JCB credit cards are accepted at major hotels, departmental stores and larger restaurants.

At a hall called the Ubiquitous Dream Hall, one would realise how amazingly the Korean dream of transforming the country into a more technologically-advanced system by 2015 would materialise. When that happens, one could manage the home from his office with a click.

I had the privilege of seeing royal tombs, preserved palaces, preserves of Dynasties, amusement parks, the Seoul tower, museums, large departmental stores, cultural artifacts and ancient temples.

When the tour bus on which I was travelling passed by the Cheong Wa Dae - the blue house - which is the presidential residence, I only wished that one day our presidents in Africa would also live in such palatial residences.

I experienced extraordinary hospitality from the Koreans; traditional meals and visits to Buddhist shrines and temples, which are usually visited by tourists from mostly Asian countries. We were all impressed with the hospitality of the Koreans.

Interestingly, young Koreans kept approaching us, with some wanting to know our names and nationality - others were too afraid to come close - with some taking to their heels when we approached them. Yet, many more young people asked us to pose with them for pictures.

From the dazzlingly uniform automobile colours on the streets to the magnificent buildings of Seoul, I could not help but look on in amazement.

The strained relationship between North Korea and South Korea had taken the peninsula off most African Tourists' itinerary.
To experience the traditional culture of Korea while in the heart of the country, I had the opportunity of visiting the Chongdong Theater, where as part of a live performance by a resident group, I heard the Pansori, the traditional narrative solo song and the fan dance.

At this theatre, modernity is blended with tradition in the course of the performance: English and Japanese subtitles are provided to help foreigners better understand the performances and foreign tourists are given the chance to take pictures with performers wearing traditional Korean clothes. A short distance away from Seoul lies many attractions which are easily accessible by bus, train or car.

I had the opportunity of seeing the Bukcheon traditional Korean Arts and Culture Centre, the Daegu City, Gyeongju, Ulsan and Kyungju Cultural Sites.

As a lover of sea food, I enjoyed delicious daily meals, and the friendliness of the people would forever be on my mind. Tipping is not a custom in Korea and so waiters and waitresses do not accept it at all.

The country's legacy winds through its labyrinthine allays, with a global landmark of modernity and must-see attractions. South Korea has all the amenities and entertainment that makes it a tourist destination where tourists can find all they want.

At Ulsan, the home of Hyundai Motor Company and Hyundai Heavy Industries, I had insight into the development of one of Korea's major conglomerates. We were surprised when the tour guide told us about the proposed site of Hundai which is anticipated to be on sea.

The site, when completed, would have buildings on the sea and under the sea, where over 25,000 people would be expected to work and reside.

I realised also that greeting and saying thank was very important to Koreans, as they did so with a bow of the head.

There are many clean washrooms throughout the country and the peninsula is marked also with excellent subways, efficient train systems and a well developed domestic flight network served by Korean AIR and Asiana Airlines.

Apart from the contact I have established with the seven other Africans, I will not forget the friendliness of Giyon, and Sul, the two dynamic interpreters who made our stay in the country unforgettable.

By Emelia Ennin