“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ―Herman Melville
It’s Saturday and I’m in a taxi bound for Yeosu Expo Station. My concerns lie less with the day ahead the early morning train that’s on the horizon, because why? Because I’m a grown-up kid and because trains rule! That’s why. Oh, and there’s peaceful bit of time before a neighbor joins me and we engage in a nervous battle between Korean and English. We make connections until my customary walk to the train café not just to have a breather, but for a coffee and a stretch. That’s when I think towards the destination awaiting at point B.
After a four-hour ITX ride and some time to write following my neighbor’s departure in Daejeon, the anxiety kicks in that I’m going to meet some new people. Talking with strangers on trains is easy enough, but meeting new people always creates tension that I’ll never overcome. The nervous moments are forgotten as I walk through Suwon station, surrounded by sights and smells of familiar western things that my current home lacks.
Trying not to look like too much of a tourist is impossible when one neglects proper research. I underestimated the waiting times of Suwon’s somewhat complex bus system, and spend the next 10 minutes walking around staring at numbers and over examining routes. A taxi solves the problem and heads towards a destination I’ve hoped to visit for quite a while.
Mr. Choi, Media Highlights
The taxi stops near Hwaseong Fortress in time and I meet up with the group, an organized trip headed by Choi Ha-kyung. I hear his amplified voice introducing everyone to Hwaseong Fortress and remember meeting him before, in Seoul. Always very kind and gracious, Mr. Choi, the head of the Senior Public Diplomacy Group of the Foreign Ministry, is the kind of person you want to greet and shake hands with, because he’s always got time to talk. I still didn’t have a business card to give him or anyone, like before, and make a mental note to get some as soon as possible.
Tae Hoon – Mr. Korea Observer and a true investigative news reporter – notes that the fortress is usually packed with tourists on the weekends. MERS hysteria is sweeping the country and popular tourist destinations like this will face an extended low season this year, even though CARS kill more people. I hate the term “mainstream media” but in Korea, they have the upper hand and will always win as long as there’s an audience to follow along. The sun is too shy today and hides behind some clouds for the most part, creating an interesting light for afternoon shooting. This is always the hardest time of day for me because the sun’s position is just too high.
Hwaseong Fortress, Listen and Learn
I take advantage of the overcast while listening to the words of the various speakers and veterans of this peninsula. Mr. Choi describes the history behind the fortress, and details the life and death of Prince Sado. Eventual King Jeongjo (Sado’s son) possessed a visionary spirit and desire to move away from the memory of his father’s execution by rice box. We begin our walk around parts of the massive fortress wall as the clouds remain and eventually darken. I love the contrast between this place and the city that surrounds it.
Colorful flags indicate our location inside, while tall buildings and car parks remind me of the date. The clouds open and spill out some rain as we walk but I don’t care, because I’m listening and learning from all these wonderful people. I feel free enough to talk about writing and travel in a crowd, simultaneously, for the first time in forever. Korea resident and respected author David Mason gives his commentary on the site. The words “white elephant” confuse me, thinking that to only be a modern problem.
Hwaseong’s Place, Travel to Connect
Though technically obsolete at its time of construction, the fortress is not a complete waste of resources. Hwaseong influenced Korean urban planners and landscapers for many generations and is essentially a living museum. I try to evaluate its place in history as I board a Yeosu-bound train that night. Thinking back to the first train and my conversation with a middle-aged lady, I realize that this was a day full of connections. From the moment she passed me a snack and initiated conversation to meeting Mr. Choi and everyone, I’d met some fantastic and friendly people.
Today is yet another reason to leave my familiar little bubble in an effort to meet like-minded folks. This is why I keep traveling and moving around, even while witnessing somewhat familiar places. I like to think of travel as always about the places but forget about people met along the way. I travel to find something but end up meeting someone. Regardless of how memorable the encounter will turn out, I’ll always look back and think about the bonds and relationships created. I travel to connect with others and will always be grateful to the people, and for the moments we shared that day in Suwon.
“Thank you, everyone. It was a wonderful day.” I mumble to myself as the train approaches Yeosu-Expo Station and the end of the line.
The article first appeared on Duke Stewart’s blog, Duke Stewart Writes . http://dukestewartwrites.com/korea-suwon-travel-to-connect/