The Reality of Korea

The world across the computer screen always seemed perfect. The bustling city and bright lights, the cozy cramped restaurants, the high school students in their adorable uniforms.

And we would visit this fantasy world this summer? It seemed unreal when Mom confirmed that we were going to Korea. Last time we went to Korea was nine years ago and I only remembered the public bath house (shudder), Chris popping out my teddy bear’s eye, and going to the market with Grandma. But this time would be different simply because I was older.

Even as we waited to board the plane, I was imagining how perfect everything would be. I expected a huge culture shock and beautiful people everywhere, like in the dramas. Maybe I’d feel a difference as soon as we landed. Maybe we’d see a celebrity!

When we arrived, though, Korea was just…Korea. There wasn’t a drastic change in the air or someone unrealistically gorgeous to greet us. Well of course, right? But in my confectioned image of Korea, this image didn’t fit. Maybe it was my lack of zeal, I thought. So I tried harder to bounce on my heels and look at everything with fresh eyes.

But what I saw didn’t match the perfect world in my mind. In the subway, the pretty girls still had to reapply their makeup and didn’t have permanent smiles. The students did have typical uniforms but as they were talking with each other, they weren’t in picturesque scenery, they were in grubby rural streets. The working people were smiling as they walked to lunch with their friends but the comfortable way that they walked wasn’t scripted; it was natural.

And even on the bus tour, nothing completely matched my dream Korea. Standing by the famous temple was a family enjoying a day out. Over by the traditional village were some girls by the hanbok photo booth. In the dining room next to us was a large group of friends having a high school reunion.

This was their life, not their vacation. They were so lucky! I thought immediately, but then stopped myself. They were used to it; Seoul was their Peoria or Montreal. Just as tourists fawn over the King Sejong statue in downtown Seoul, city people pass by it daily on their way to work. And this is the reality that I left out: that Korea is not made of picture perfect celebrities or catchy dance tunes but of average people, just like me.

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