Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My way back to Daejeon

I was waiting for an appropriate time to write a blog about my trip back to South Korea, since there are still rescuing and busy with helping each other out after the horrifying disaster, so I say, Ondoy totally stole my Korea trip’s thunder! Haha.

So it has been around 7 years since I have been back to Korea. I lived there for about a year in 2002-2003. I was an exchange student from De La Salle University to Hannam University in Daejeon, Korea. I was youngest in university, having been only 18 at that time. I was in a cultural exchange when I was there... that means, I was just there to have fun.

Now looking back, a year is such a short time. Now that I am older, there are a lot of shoulda woulda coulda’s; I don’t regret anything that I did, more like the things I did not get to do; like ski, travel, or stayed during winter break. I came back to Manila during winter break, I remember saying that I was afraid of the cold, but in fact I think, I was more afraid of loneliness. If were to have stayed in Korea, I would have spent Christmas alone and probably didn’t even want think what that would be like. I was 18, naive and innocent, did not know how to have (enough) fun (yet). Haha

I anxiously counted down the kilometres when the bus would arrive to Daejeon; I made plans to meet my old teachers to catch up and just to see the old alma mater, to show my sisters my alma mater. I rang the phone of my teacher, whom I lovingly call, Hwang Oppa, Oppa is “brother” in Korean. I told him that I was at our classroom beside the International Office, and he said he will be there in a few moments.

While I was waiting for him, I was telling my sisters about how we used to have those fun International Students’ Day every semester where we would have a booth to decorate for each country and the exhibit will be open to public to showcase where we are from. My first time was with Kuya Celzo or Celzo Oppa, he’s a Filipino Navy officer that I was with during that time; he was there to study Korean language at our school and later on will be enrolled in the Korean War College to study tactics and such (in Korean). We had brochures and stuffs Made in Philippines displayed on our table; I wore Filipino traditional wear, the baro’t saya and he wore the barong tagalog and sang the ridiculously popular Filipino song in Korea, Anak (by Freddie Aguilar) in both Filipino and Korean.

My other classmates were from Mexico, Uzbekistan, China, Japan and Venezuela. Next to Celzo Oppa, I was closest to Jesus, a Venezuelan, I also met his beautiful wife, Ainisis, and their 2 kids, Jesus and Ainisis! Haha cute!

I recall the second time around, I was the only Filipino there and so I had a booth all to myself, the International Office asked us all to call back home and have them send some traditional stuff that we could sell and they would shoulder the freight cost! My mom bought me abaca slippers and bags, carved carabaos and jeepneys, Filipino style ref magnets, weaved coin purses and strawberry key chains! It was so fun and I even called my booth Candie’s Sari Sari Store (The Candie Shop!) Haha

So then showed my sister the room called, Little World. This room is used by foreign exchange students to study or just hang out. This room was christened “Little World” from an idea of mine of creating a club within the university so that all the foreign exchange students would know each other. On a typical lazy afternoon at the International Office, I doodled a logo on the white board, a globe with “Little World” written across it with 3 small subtext of translation in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. So one day, all foreign students were all summoned at the office and told us that there was going to be a surprise for all of us, especially me; then, they unveiled a signage right outside the room, it was my logo! Computerized and immortalized. Here is a photo of me on that day and the day I went back in September 21, 2009 :) (P.S. I think this is where my logo making career started, visit Graphics Genie, LOL)

I met Hwang Oppa, I think he hasn’t aged at all, he’s a bit thinner but none the less, young looking. I was so excited to see him but when I saw him, I got... well... a handshake. It was a bit odd for me, because I travelled 4 hrs by air, and 2.5 hrs by bus just to see him and all I got was a handshake, I thought I should have deserved a hug or something; so anyway, I introduced him to my sisters and I was a bit disappointed, because I think I built up so much expectation on this event and somehow everything was just...normal. In my mind there were more laughter and more chatting but this was nothing like it. After the stiff handshake, he brought me to see the old department head, Mr. Lee, who was like a father to me when I was there, whom I absolutely adore; I was so excited to see him that I gave him a hug; Same as Hwang Oppa, he was stiff and professional-like, I felt like I was hugging a tree. Then I realized, oh... it’s office hours, they’re probably stiff during work and would not show much emotions... I hoped I was right or else I would be so disappointed. Then after that, we said we’d meet at 6 for dinner so as to give me time to look around school.

I went up to the old library where my Japanese best friend Ayako and I would act like Koreans and study on our free time (crazy eh?!). Here's a photo of us on the way to the library haha

Went up the hill to the dormitory where I was reminded of my Korean dorm friends, whom I all gave English names so it would be easier for me to remember them (which is stupid because I can’t even contact them now because I don’t know their Korean names! LOL).

I also saw the window of the room that I and my American friend, Alyson used to share, and all the memories of us drinking together with those other Japanese girls(not studying). Haha.

We went back down and passed by the garden where the leaves are slowly turning into red, autumn was in the air, which reminded me of the time that we were having a photo shoot with the university president and the famous HNU student/Korean actor Kwon Sang Woo for the university catalogue, which I later on learned that our photo is still up in the Hannam University website!

We went out into the streets and went to the mall across the school, went to my favourite Korean restaurant, which turned out to be closed too. While crossing the street, I remember I was there during the World Cup and the streets were crazy full with crazy Koreans celebrating around the streets when the Be The Reds Korea Team won! It was 2002, I made sure I watched the World Cup, twice! Once with Ayako and Aly, for the South Africa VS Spain and the next was Aly’s gift for my birthday, America VS Poland. These are just some of our photos:

It was 6 and it was time to meet Hwang Oppa, he introduced me to his current boss and said he will be joining us for dinner as well. He was a nice guy, reminded me of Mr. Lee, he had a friendly and welcoming face. Once we got to Hwang Oppa’s car, I felt it, there it was... emotions! He changed! Ahh... it was like ice breaking, that coat of professionalism out the window, and now I was talking to him how 2 long lost friends should talk! Although we’ve met a few hours before, but this, was like the first time I met him again. We talked and chatted, caught up on things with each other. We talked about my other teacher-friend, Kim Jeong Won, the English coordinator during my time, whom I also adore. He used his cellphone to call her and so we could catch up since she couldn’t come and see me and vice versa. It was difficult for me to hold a conversation in Korean when I have almost forgotten half of the vocabulary that I used to know, but then the feeling of familiarity was there, which was all that mattered.

Done with the past and into the present, we were at the restaurant and boy how much they’ve prepared. I felt so honoured to have been welcomed with a big spread of colossus, expensive Korean food: live octopus cut in front of you, killed only when dipped into boiling water. They were changing seats constantly after the end of the meal so that they would get to know me and my sisters. Amazing. Night does not end if it is not accompanied by alcohol and no-re bang (karaoke)!

The graciousness did not even end at dinner, when I told my teacher to drop me off where we checked in, he got confused, we had a miscommunication and apparently he and his new boss, had reserved us 2 rooms in a 4-star hotel in Daejeon! I was so speechless and could not express my gratitude with the limited Korean that I speak, so I could only thank, bow, and repeat as needed. If I were to say it in English, I would have said that we did not expect this kind of treatment and we feel unworthy of their overwhelming hospitality!

It was a fun day spent in retrospect. It would be so much more fun if I were with an old friend and we would remember all of this together; but this was still one of the most incredible experience I have travelling!

This is an old photo of me with Mr. Lee, Hwang Oppa, and Ms. Kim


  1. hey, i've a note about this trip too... check it out STOP OVER: DAEJEON

  2. Nice story.. It reminds me of my terrible but beautiful days in London, as well. ;)

  3. oh i know what you mean Eunice, its one of the best days of my life :)

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