My mum would always nag at me whenever I have the intention to travel to South Korea. She never stops saying that I go too often. But that’s a matter of perspective. Thankfully, I did not pay for this trip! #cheapthrills With great gratitude to National Youth Council, I signed up for the 19th ASEAN-Korea Future-Oriented Youth Exchange Programme held in Seoul and Gangwon in South Korea and got selected as a delegate to represent Singapore to attend this event.
The programme was held during the 1st and 2nd week of school. Obviously, as someone that doesn’t say no to free trips, what is missing a few lessons anyway? On hindsight, I came back and attended 3 continuous make-up seminars for the seminars I missed. Almost died that day after 9 hours of lesson straight.
Took a night flight and next morning we arrived in Seoul. We were transported from the airport to the National Council of Youth Organisation in Korea, in Banghwa. If you have no idea where is that (well, I didn’t know too), it is the very last/first station on the purple line of the subway. I have never been to a more inhabited place than Banghwa. It is such a quiet neighbourhood. It was its very solitude that I fell in love with, as I have self-diagnosed claustrophobia.
It was my first winter anywhere, and I am so elated to have spent it in my favorite country, South Korea. Everything was magical, the first glimpse of frosty snow on the ground, the white and pristine build-ups of snow. The first few days of this trip was spent on conducting presentations on our country’s youth activities, exchange programmes and breaking the ice among the delegates from various ASEAN countries and South Korea. I must admit I was dreading for it to be over and had been anticipating for the outdoor activities in the snow. I caught myself dozing off during others’ presentation, but I can’t help it after travelling everywhere for the past months. For that night, at least we made a trip to Hongdae just to have Chicken Ribs (Yoogane’s Dakgalbi) because we have no time left to shop after eating and had to go back to the hostel straight.
I was looking forward to some snow shower as soon as we arrived. but it didn’t come. At least not for the first day. Then comes the second day morning, I woke up and looked out of the window. It was snowing!
After the first two days, things slowly got a little more exciting. We moved to the Oak Valley in Gangwon-do and spent two days there. Gangwon-do is also the region where the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018 will be held. After we arrived, we had to prepare our traditional dishes of our own country. It was pretty hard for us to decide on what to cook back then during our pre-trip discussion. After all, we do not have an official dish and it might overlap with our neighbour, Malaysia. For video footages, you might want to look at the highlights on my Instagram profile. Basically, I decided to cook all 60 rice balls with fillings, using the rice cooker and boil it all at once in the pressure cooker. Guess what happened? Terrorism. The fillings in the glutinous rice balls started oozing out of the pressure outlet. It was a disaster, everything just splashed everywhere like a water fountain. Of course, the balls in the cooker had all been destroyed.
In the event hall, every country had a booth and we took turns visiting other country’s booth to try their food. Above everything else, hands down to my Thailand friends for having the tastiest food!!! I loved their chicken salad and tom yum soup, even though Indonesia’s Nasi Goreng and IndoMee were so good too. Team Singapore prepared Kaya toast, Rojak and the hideous-looking destroyed glutinous rice balls prepared by yours truly. Ultimately, Thailand won the food festival. Cleaned up the explosion in the kitchen of the room and in the evening, we performed our traditional performance that we prepared a week back in Singapore — a mash-up of songs along with self-choreographed dance simple moves while putting on my Malay costume, the Baju Kurung.
Halfway through the trip, finally there is something that sounds fun. Snow sledding! As the programme was organised by the Korean organisation, they had to ensure our safety, which I guessed was why we did sledding instead of anything else. Initially, it didn’t seem like it was going to be fun but after sliding down the first time, we went back for more. It was entirely different from the artificial indoor sledding we had in Snow City, Singapore. Of course, I would definitely want to try skiing, but I save my first in the future.
You know they say good times fly. Shortly after the sledding session, we had to prepare another cultural presentation. This time we had to prepare a booth of cultural items and games. We brought some traditional games from Singapore and displayed them. I tasted a biscuit snack from Brunei that was really delicious and I am also in love with playing with the coconuts shells which they used as a prop cum instrument, dancing while clapping the coconuts. Later in the night, we chilled at the recreation room in the ski resort and played darts and pool. Little did I know I have a hidden talent, I am actually the god of bulls’ eyes.
The next day was filled with recreational activities and cultural experiences. Early in the morning, we went to the Ganeung cultural experience center to enjoy a traditional musical performance on farmer’s music (“nong-ak”). The only thing that really got my eyes fixated on was the kid rotating his head with a long ribbon attached to his head. That was something therapeutic to see. Not the mention, the boy is only that young and he’s so talented!
We then went to the Winter Olympics Experience Centre for a tour. The center is designed to promote the Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, Gangwon-do, South Korea during 9th to 25th February 2018. Prior to this I already knew all about the Olympics due to content I have to post leading to the Olympics for the Korean Tourism Organisation, and because of that, I was asked to do an interview for a kids programme, telling them about what to expect for the olympics. (HAHA the interview was such a mess. First I spoke in English and then did another interview in Korean. However, the disaster was that I mentioned there’s snowsledding in the winter olympics.) I must be intoxicated with too much snow sledding that I couldn’t think straight anymore.
The day does not just end there. We went to the Naksansa Temple (낙산사), which is also in the region of Gangwon-do. The amazing thing about the temple is that it has a 1,300 years history. Perhaps apes were still roaming around back then.
It took us around 15 minutes to walk over to the side opposite side where the statue is. That is the largest Bodhisttava of Mercy statue I have ever seen. It is way bigger than the Merlion in Singapore. What I am also saying is, the temple is huge and it is also the perfect place to get a serene view of the Eastern sea. We reached the beach just before the sunset hour, shadows were cast on the ocean, that splendid moment.
Our very last stop — Jumunjin Beach. Remember the much-raved drama, <<Goblin, The Guardian>>, the site where Gong Yoo gave the lead actress those buckwheat flowers? It was filmed at Jumunjin breakwaters. We didn’t go to the breakwaters but we were able to see it from the beach. Right before the sun goes down, we were presented with the very beauty of Jumunjin beach, with a very broad coastline. I was really looking forward to visiting Juminjin and this location was not included in the itinerary initially. I supposed the Jumunjin area is really known for buckwheat. For dinner, we had buckwheat noodles after the visit to the beach. Cold noodles were never my thing, but I devoured the entire bowl of buckwheat noodles (plus some buckwheat pancakes). Oh, and the shop sells amazing buckwheat crackers too!
We went back to our accommodation at the youth hostel to spend the rest of our trip there. For the remaining days, we had some spare time to do our Korea shopping, while tasked to do a photo challenge. There were three places to be given away and they gave away the prizes in ascending order and thought we would have lost the first place because the other submissions were IMPRESSIVE. (WE WON ANYWAY, that is all you need to know). We went Myeongdong for the usual ‘cosmetic shopping’ and stock up on Korean snacks. Bought the Buldak instant noodles in Carbonara flavour, it comes in a pink packaging. I tried it in the cup version and the taste of it is out of this world. SO GOOD! We bought a bag of five for 7,2000 won but I came back and saw on Instagram, another supermarket was selling it for only 2,800 won. Another story of fools getting conned. During the night we went to the Noraebang (Karaoke) in the Banghwa neighbourhood. I could remember how shady the place looks, but it gives off the similar vibes as to the karaoke rooms on ‘Happy Together’, the segment where the karaoke guests have to sing the artist song in order for the artists on the show to go home (Lowkey hoping it happens to us, but didn’t).
Then it came the time to bid goodbye and fly back to school to catch-up on the one week for studies that I had missed out on. Felt really lucky to be selected for this trip and really happy to have met these people — Singapore youths, Korean participants whom I’ve known from the previous trip, and of course Thailand friends! Now I have the strong urge to go Thailand. I only wish this trip was longer, instead of the short span of 7 days. Missing everyone; see you fun people soon! x