Korea Foundation Diplomacy Programme 2019
I imagined it would be difficult to write this post because I forged such closed relationships with the program participants this time round and it was truly painful to say goodbye. Even though this what not the first program I went, this was the shortest but also one of the most memorable visits to South Korea.
The program lasted for a short 6-days (18 - 23 August) and we went to Busan during the trip as well. I missed Busan so much, I was planning to go there soon, even before this. There were 1-2 participants representing each of the ASEAN countries and each delegate has a dedicated Korean buddy, and I had to say my buddy was the best.
The program was hosted by the Korea Foundation, one of the leading public diplomacy organisation in Korea and the world, and I am thankful that I got to be part of this international exchange programme.
18 AUGUST - D1
Made my way to the Somerset Palace Hotel, South Korea from my very economical Airbnb guesthouse which I stayed the past few days before the program, by a taxi. Then, I got to check into my room and it was way beyond my expectation, because the room was huge. I was expecting other countries delegates to be staying together with me in the same room since there was 1 Queen and 1 Single Bed. What do you think? Wishful me was hoping nobody comes in. Heh.
I also did a room tour on an IGTV, do watch it here!
After a short while, some guy came in and I didn’t know who he was and later he told me he is my buddy. I thought he was another participant at first. It was just so funny.
On hindsight, he is the best person I’ve met in a while now. You’ll see how we became best friends.
Later we did a group level introduction and formalities, then went on for some ice-breaking games. We played Charades and our theme was K-drama (what a though one), but we nailed it. Weoow, I mean I don’t even watch much drama but I guess my team members are quite well-versed in K-drama.
19 & 20 AUGUST - D2 & D3
The next morning we were heading off somewhere fun. BUSAN!!! I have been wanting to go Busan, because it just different from what you get to see in Seoul.
First thing of the day, we went to the Korea Foundation office in Seoul for a lecture on “What is Public Diplomacy” to learn about the different areas of diplomacy.
Cultural diplomacy is the best tool in my opinion. I feel it is the most personal? Culture can be influenced and absorbed in many ways. Films, drama, food, etc. I mean just look at the Hallyu wave. At the same building, there is KF gallery, showcasing all the works submitted for the Weltformat International Poster Festival Exhibition which is awesome, you know how much I love appreciating art.
Lunch was something different and special. We cooked our own lunch! Made some Japchae (stir-fried vermicelli noodles) and Bibimbap. The Japchae was amazing though, I think it was the chef’s secret formula. It smells way too aromatic and tastes too delicious. I haven’t had a Japchae that good, for real. I heard that the owner is a celebrity chef, pretty cool you know. You know what, my Dad’s a chef too. 🤫
It was a long ride to Busan after that, on the limousine bus (normally people only get the express bus, the one with 4 seats a row, but we got the fancy one with 3 seats a row). What a life, what a life, what a life... The seats resembles a massage chair, spacious and comfortable, just what we need to endure through a 6-hour long journey.
When we reached Busan, we had to do our missions, so we became scavengers for Hotteok (fried pancake with honey and nuts fillings) around the Busan International Film Festival street. Initially we had to find somewhere that provided an e-receipt so it could be claimed, but after that they realised that it was almost impossible (which street food stall gives you a printed receipt?). After that was done, we went into a Ddokbokki shop just to film our ASMR video for the Ddokbokki. And, it wasn’t very good.
Later we got to our hotel, The Ramada Encore Hotel at the Haeundae Beach. We had to check out the beach which was only down the street. The super famous, Haeundae Beach. I had one dying wish in Busan though. It was to have San-nakji (raw baby octopus). I really wanted to try it because this is about my 10th time in Korean and I have not tried this famous (tourist) dish! I am ashamed. When we went to this street that was filled with seafood restaurants, I had to.
You can watch me eat that nasty San-nakji in the video I posted on Instagram. If you ask me how was it, I would say that it’s alright. There was no taste, just the taste of the sesame oil seasoning. The texture is…very chewy. Better chew well when you eat or it is going to choke you to death…
21 AUGUST - D4
The next morning, thankfully still in Busan, we went to the ASEAN Culture House, which was established in 2014, to enhance Korean’s understanding of the diverse culture of ASEAN countries. The center itself serves as a gallery to showcase different cultural exhibitions from ASEAN countries. This year one of the themed exhibition is “SPLASH ASEAN! Water, A Celebration of Life” - all things inspired by water, as interpreted in the different ASEAN countries.
Then it was another long and painful ride back to Seoul. Sadly, it was only one night in Busan. I am still very foreign in Busan. I could tell you all the hot places in Seoul, but I am clueless about Busan, and I hope to visit again. At one of the rest stops, we were hoping to redo our Ddokbokki ASMR content, but it wasn’t logical to buy a cup just for that few seconds of content. So… Mingyu just told the Ajumma that I was a foreigner and wanted to try Ddokbokki for the first time (though its probably my 343rd time eating it). Surprisingly, she was super cool and nice about it! HUMANITY HAS HOPE! She even gave us an entire cup, when we were just hoping to just get one nibble!
My buddy Mingyu and I, both hustlers, were working on our team projects while commuting on our fancy tour bus, which took around 6 hours to get to Seoul. Madness. I actually like long bus rides overseas. It gives me some breathing time, from the jam-packed sightseeing.
We arrived about 9pm and we had some time to hang around (curfew is at 11:30pm). We went to check out Insadong which is really near the hotel. I didn't know Gwanghwamun, where our hotel is, was that close to Insadong. Although we were there at 10pm, there were still some souvenir shops and accessories shops open. I managed to haggle a 16,000 won Korea bag for 11,000 won (as a gift for my mom). I also did a ‘Wassup Man’ short parody (in Korean of course), which I am not sure if I should publicise it anywhere at all.
As part of the mission, we had to get some Makgeoli (for the first time my foreign exchange group has no Muslims haha, no guilt about it). Mingyu searched for some late night Makgeoli store and we really found one which is hidden within the narrow alleyways. I taught my group mates how to do the Singaporean cheers - “Yummmmmmmmseng” ; basically say “YUM” until you are about to get a seizure then say “SENG”. #singaporean
21 AUGUST - D5
The most memorable day of the trip - a visit to DMZ. DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) was one of the attractions in South Korea that I have not been to. That is a rare thing, my friends who know me would know. Usually, it costs about $70 to get a tour package to visit the DMZ because only tour visits (by bus) are allowed. DMZ is near the Paju, in the Gyeongi Province and it is the nearest city to the Panmujeom, the Joint Security Area (JSA) that separates the two countries.
I have so much emotions about this place after I watched the ‘Ode to my Father’ movie last summer during my summer exchange at Sungkyungkwan. Please do watch it.
As part of the tour, we visited the Dorasan Station, Dora Observatory, The 3rd Tunnel, the Imjingak Park and the Odusan Unification Tower.
Also on that day, renowned news channel, Arirang, visited us and followed us the entire day for a special content under their “NOW” segment. Everyone was so excited, okay maybe not everyone… but I was. Mingyu said he watches Arirang TV everyday, so I guess he is the one dying for it.
DMZ is truly an eye-opening experience. Just being present at where thousands of families were separated, just sends gush of emotions rushing in. The 3rd Tunnel was also something unique, but I am afraid you can’t bring your phone or camera down. It was also quite a workout, a fun one.
After spending half of the day at the DMZ, we went back to the hotel for a little rest and during that short break, Mingyu, Agam and I was doing an interview in our room with the Tony from Arirang. We talked about how much fun and insightful the program was and also shared our local snacks. Agam has some ‘lazy man’ instant rice, I am loving how convenient it is. Imagining myself having that while snuggling at home everyday.
The second part of the day was a visit to N Seoul Tower. Every tourist’s favourite place. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it if you are hoping to catch a spectacular view of the Seoul city, because it just never happens, due to the weather and air conditions.
At N Seoul Tower, there is also a Hanbok costume store, so Korea Foundation arranged us a Korean “Hanbok” experience - my all time favourite. You should have seen me dance in Hanbok for a couple of times now. You know whenever you wear a Hanbok, it is like someone is declaring that they are going to start a photoshoot. How true.
After a long photoshoot, we went up to the N Seoul Tower Observatory (which there is nothing to see really), the fog clouds the entire skyline It is worst in winter, in the fine dust season, you can’t even see anything beyond 1km.
Watch us in the Episode 61 of Arirang NOW
22 AUGUST - D6
The official last day, which was also the day to submit all our missions and projects. Thankfully they were already done.
We visited the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History which was just beside our hotel. I guess everything was too well-planned. I have never heard of this museum but after visiting, I would like to recommend everyone to come because it is super interesting! You will learn a lot about the Korean history. I didn't really like museum of National Treasure in the Gyungbukgung Palace during my previous visits, but glad I visited here. There were exhibitions about the Korean independence and also how to Korean flag “taegukgi” involved through the years.
Touristy things aside, we went for lunch at the Crystal Jade restaurant in the hotel. I was shocked to see Crystal Jade. Wasn't it a Singapore thing and why is it here, and at our hotel?!?! And we are eating it in Seoul?!? Suddenly, I felt like I am very proud to be a Singaporean, although I don’t own the restaurant. Wish I did though. It was also one of those moments you get confused as to where on Earth you are.
The meal made me feel right back at home. They serve Chinese food but also Korean Chinese food, like Jjangmyun and Jambong. Surprisingly, they have quite a crowd at lunch time, despite hidden within the hotel. I guess Koreans have an undying love for ‘Xiao Long Bao's (Steamed Pork Dumplings) too.
There my buddy, the new ambassador for Crystal Jade Seoul. Damn Mingyu, this is your INSAENG (life) shot. You are welcome.
Then it was time for the serious stuff, our projects. I presented my diplomacy project, which was a mobile application that focused on Korean culture but explained in different ASEAN language by youths that are interested in content creation. Mingyu then showed his awesome ASMR video. Every team got an award title at the closing ceremony and ahhh haa.. we got the “Best Friends Forever Award”. Hmm, I would say it is quite apt. (Bottom from left to right: Pamela, Astha, Jungsoo, Hyeji)
After dinner, it was party time. It was time to visit my hood, Hongdae. Okay but, somehow we abandoned the rest of the groups while waiting for Agam to join us and we went to Sinchon instead. LOL. I am so sorry for the rest who were waiting for us to have a group gathering. It was the final night to hang out which my foreign friends before we all return to home, and it is going to be months or even years before we see each other again.
The day after was the time to bid farewell for real. I got last few hours to hang out with my buddy, Mingyu, a friend that I met for 5 days, but I felt like we’ve known each other for 5 years. Thanks for the crazy nights and the fun memories I will never forget. Each time I visit, I get more attached the South Korea because of the people and bonds. Lastly, thanks to Korea Foundation for this opportunity and the memorable photos! Till we meet again guys!
Thanks for reading, Mel.