Coming to Republic of Korea was with a mixed feeling of fear and anxiety. Fear on the escalating tension between South Korea and North Korea over the border dispute, and anxiety over the fact that this was my very first trip to this part of the world.
I started viewing the country with a negative eye with 20 minutes to land at Incheon International Airport aboard Qatar Airways. We were handed two questionnaires by the airline crews to fill. One, on personal data and the reason for visiting Korea, your contact person and your departure date. The other, a medical declaration form, which contained all the common and uncommon sicknesses of this earth and to tick the ones one had suffered or still suffering from in the past two weeks.
It warned every passenger to be honest while filling the form as any false declaration would make the person liable for prosecution which attracted the penalty of at least 2 years jail term. The jail term jolted me, and I held the medical declaration form unsure of which sickness to tick or not to tick as the long list included headache and fever that I had just suffered from barely two weeks before the trip.
The classification of Incheon International Airport as a world class type with award of the best airport for eight consecutive times is far from being a fluke and a well-deserved one.
At the arrival hall while being interviewed by an immigration official about my mission to Korea, I could equally overhear a fellow Nigerian at the opposite counter engaging it out with the immigration official. ‘I am here on a business trip’, the bulky looking young man ceaselessly asserted. ‘I am not spending more than a week in Korea’.
After I was cleared by the immigration official, I opted to wait and accost the interrogated young man based on the fact he might be a regular visitor to Korea and so would be of help in directing me on how to get to my destination in Seoul. However, after about forty minutes at a spot, and the young man was not yet done with interrogation; I reluctantly started making my way towards the exit hall.
Though I was fleeced by the cabbie who I believed rigged his meter on the way from Incheon Airport to my destination in Seodaemoon-gu, I had no one to blame because I had earlier been advised by my host to board the airport limousine bus which cost about 10000 KRW instead of the 170000 KRW the cabbie collected from me.
But this was not the first time of falling such a victim, and I am beginning to think if it was a global phenomenon. It once happened to me in 2010 in Italy from Fiumicino Airport Rome to Bari, and ever since, I had sworn never to take airport taxi unless… Seoul, the capital of Korea, was welcoming.
From her greenery nature that reminded me of the biblical tree of life as against my country’s knack of cutting down trees in order not to attract the attention of so called witches often nestling on treetops as birds, to her surrounding hills that reminded me of the Swiss Alps. And the beautiful ladies with long silky hair and young men with clipped hair and tiny eyes that reminded me of those characters seen in Chinese movies during my teenage days; they were a wonderful set of race with still a firm grip of their culture in the midst of western influence.
The city of Seoul is alluring, and exudes orderliness and sophistication not to mention its relatively crime free environment. So to speak, I am pretty taken aback at the multi-racial nature of the city, most especially, the common sight of Westerners who live in the city and engage in various walks of life.
As a matter of fact, the embrace of the country and of course, its homogeneity has inevitably united all resident foreigners who ordinarily as a kind of norm are often graded based on their citizenship thus breeding racial contempt all over.
This homogeneous nature of Korea has helped in no small measure in shutting out the western feeling of superiority that it is never strange to find expats group having as its name ‘Brothers and Sisters of South Korea’, and encompassing in form.
Significantly, the Republic of Korea is a case proof that the world would be much more accommodating and interesting if we have more homogeneous countries that can adequately cater for a wide range of races, and at the same time, willing to learn from the diverse human nature.
However, I am yet to see how much an average Korean knows about the continent of Africa outside assuming every black person who speaks a word of English language is an American citizen.
Walter Osadebe, a Nigerian citizen, is currently a foreign resident writer at Yeonhui Arts Space of Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture(SFAC), Seodaemoon-gu, Seoul. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org