Spirit of ANZAC blog #1: South Korea & ANZAC Day
Spirit of ANZAC Study Tour participants James and Hana share some of their impressions and experiences of the first three days of the tour.
Day 1: 23 April, 2009
After waking up extremely early, we all made our way to Melbourne Airport, excited about what was coming. After saying our goodbyes to our families, we boarded the Korean Airlines plane bound for Seoul, South Korea. Seeing South Korea for the first time in the air, made us think about the opportunities that we were about to encounter.
There was a short bout of anxiety, when we weren't met on arrival as planned by our guide and tour bus. There was a mismatch in the schedules - we arrived earlier than they expected - and the one mobile phone with the all-important contact details had a flat battery!! Fortunately, just as the tour leaders had arranged an alternative our tour guide arrived and lead us straight on to the bus.
Our drive to the Lotte Hotel was an eye-opener, as we saw the difference between South Korea and Australia immediately. Seoul is so much bigger than Melbourne - 10 million people. When we saw the hotel we were staying in, none of us could believe it. Being on level 26 and in the middle of the city, the views of Seoul from our rooms were amazing. The hotel has stunning facilities.
For dinner, we went downstairs to hotel's Italian restaurant and after eating familiar meals on our first night in an unfamiliar country, we all went to bed after a very long day.
Day 2: April 24, 2009
We first visited the National Folk Museum, which had lots of information on Korea and its culture. After passing through the gates, we were met by hundreds of smiley and friendly school children who were fascinated by us. It's not everyday that they see redheads and blondes!
The fact that we were different made us celebrities. We signed autographs, had pictures taken with many children and they were excited about interacting with us. It was a really special experience - I had never felt so admired. We felt famous!
After our high of feeling so important, we went to Gyeongbokgung Palace where we walked around the magnificent buildings of the palace, greeted by the stone guards. The architecture of the palace was elaborate - beautiful, interesting and unique. Then it was on to the bus to drive down town to Seoul where we had a traditional Korean lunch - our first taste of Korean food in a Korean city. Nice, but different. After lunch we had a quick tour of the Insadong market, where we spent half an hour or so looking for gifts and souvenirs.
We then moved on to the Korean War Memorial, which is bigger than the Australian War Memorial. It had many life-sized and lifelike models of wars that South Korea had taken part in. There were some very insightful video clips on the war, which helped improve our understanding of the Korean War.
Day 3: April 25, 2009
Today was the day we had been waiting for - ANZAC Day. We had to leave the hotel very early to be at the Korean War Memorial for the ANZAC Day service by 6.30am. The service was held in a foyer of the War Memorial, beside plaques where Australian and New Zealand Korean War dead are memorialised. There were about 200 people there, most of them Australian and New Zealand expats, but also tourists, defence force personnel and the Australian and New Zealand ambassadors.
The service was very moving because there were so many different nationalities gathered together for the same reason. Especially when there were citizens from countries that were not involved in the Gallipoli Campaign at all, but were still willing to acknowledge the ANZACS and their sacrifices. Some of us were given the opportunity to be a part of the service by laying wreaths. This made us feel nervous, but very much special as this opportunity does not come around often.
We then drove to the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) where we felt intimidated by the North Korean presence. Seeing the actual line in which North and South forcefully come together within the Demilitarised Zone was something we won't forget. As we stepped over the line that divides North and South we literally were in two places at once. Seeing how close the opposing guards were and how they stared at each other, made it surreal.
The South Koreans stood in a locked taekwondo pose behind their aviator RayBans - it was scary at times. The atmosphere was tense and it made us feel uneasy. We learnt so many things and we truly felt privileged to have been able to visit the Joint Security Area within the DMZ as few are given this opportunity, which was arranged by the Australian Embassy.
More Spirit of ANZAC Study Tour 2009 blogs:
- Blog #2 - Day 4: A visit to the DMZ
- Blog #3 - Day 5: Pusan Cemetary
- Blog #4 - Day 6: Live on stage!
- Blog #5 - Day 7: Seoul to Istanbul
- Blog #6 - Day 8: Touring Istanbul
- Blog #7 - Day 9: Izmir, Selcuk and Ephesus
- Blog #8 - Day 10: A slight delay
- Blog #9 - Day 11: Arriving at Gallipoli
- Blog #10 - Day 12: Exploring Gallipoli
- Blog #11 - Day 13: Gallipoli ceremonies
- Blog #12 - Day 14: Farewell and homecoming
For more about the Spirit of ANZAC Prize, check out our Spirit of ANZAC page.
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