Korea: Day Thirteen

This report was written by Louise, Brett and myself on the bus from the Sydney International Airport to Canberra.

Brett came to help me with the Day Twelve report because I wanted to upload it to the web before we left the Hyundae Residence hotel. We wouldn’t have access to the internet now till we were back in Canberra.

While we were writing, a lot of anxious choristers and staff were checking the weight of their suitcases in the front lobby. Several were over the 20 kg limit so there was much negotiation to find someone with sufficient space and who was under the weight limit to share the load. Mi Kyung had been taken to the Dongdaemun markets by Mr Hong where they’d purchased the multiple copies of the yute game that everyone wanted to take home so these had to be fitted in at the last minute. When everything was packed, we loaded the bus and headed out for the last exciting day in Korea.

Believe it or not, even with all the worries about the weight of our luggage, we went shopping! Go figure! Sarah had done research on the internet and knew about Korean pearls. She wanted some pearl studs and I’d said that a department store was probably the best place to look, so with Mi Kyung’s help, Sarah tried on a pair and the purchase was sealed. Everyone else managed to have room in their backpacks for that last present, so all were happy.

Because I was familiar with the area, I’d made the decision to take the choir to the shopping mall near Yongsan Station. Tauri and Steph live in an apartment overlooking the Han River just a short walk from the iPark Mall and so I felt comfortable in the area and felt we could manage it. Maddie actually said that it was more of a worry looking after choristers in a shopping mall than it was in the Namdaemun markets. It was easier to get lost and harder to keep track of the younger members. Thank heavens for the lime green hats. Once again they proved their worth. The population of Seoul is equivalent to the population of Australia but it is all contained in an area the size of Canberra, so you can only begin to imagine the number of people one has to deal with on the streets and in the shops. Mi Kyun says that “Sorry” is really not a commonly used word in the Korean vocabulary because you’d be using it incessantly when out in the street.

I wanted the group to have an idea of the size of the iPark shopping complex and was hoping that we could be dropped off at the front of the building. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Mr Hong wasn’t sure what I meant and he dropped us off in the area where electrical goods are sold in small shops at the back of the complex. Luckily Tadryn and I had visited this area on one of our trips to Seoul so I knew we were within walking distance of our goal. With Mi Kyung’s help we were successful in finding our way and then the group was dispersed in family groups to explore the immense electrical outlet area on one side of the entry area and the department store, wedding venue floor, restaurants, cinemas, huge performance arena and so on that are all part of this complex. I must just tell you that on one of my trips, we were approaching the mall on foot when we heard singing and I made my family run so that we could see what was happening. Apparently there was a protest march being held and the steps at the front of the complex were jam-packed with men in full vocal chorus. Imagine that!

I’d described a special ice cream shop in the mall so most groups went in search of this, but the shop was no longer there to everyone’s disappointment. Instead everyone sat down to lunch in a pasta shop. Amanda’s group came with me downstairs (7 levels) to the supermarket where we bought grapes, strawberries, biscuits and water for the afternoon.

We were driven to the area on the Han River just in front of the 63 Building which was the landing dock for the ferry. Here you could rent bicycles and paddle boats. The paddle boats were in the shape of swans and Maddie was heard to say “The choristers will be swanning about on the lake!” One group went paddling in the swans and another group of sixteen hired bikes. There were three tandems hired and the people pedaling were changed from time to time. Georgia wasn’t feeling 100% so she opted for the river bank and a few people chose to stay and chat with her. Everyone enjoyed the afternoon. The boys in particular thought it was awesome. Kylie, Louise and I spent a lovely hour cruising on the river. We chose to take a trip on the ferry and that enabled us to have a different perspective of the city. I was very excited to pass by the apartment block where Tauri and Steph lived and I was snapping pictures furiously. The Korean couple beside me must have thought I’d gone mad because there was nothing special in the area from their point of view! Because of the spring cherry blossom festival, the ferry was decked out in blossoms of all sorts. Inside, there were cages of birds, and a man was helping children to hold them on their fingers. There was a crush to get on and off the ferry and we had our first real experience of pushing in a crowd.

We gathered together to say goodbye and thank you to Mr Hong, our bus driver. He lived half an hour out of Seoul near the domestic air terminal so he had to be up very early each day to collect us. He and I often only had four hours of sleep so we commiserated each morning. He was very tired like the rest of us and run down, and he was battling a cold. He has a young son of four and his wife operates a hairdressing salon. He arrived one morning with a brand new hair cut which his wife had given him. We had gifts galore for him to show our appreciation. A bus driver can make or break a tour and he had definitely helped to make our trip a happy success.

We traveled back to Incheon with mixed feelings. It was lovely to be going home to tell our families of our adventures and of friends made, but it was sad to be leaving a city that had been home to us for the past few days. Misty commented that the tour had helped to create a strong bond amongst all the choristers. This tour was certainly an experience they won’t easily forget. Some of the friendships made will last a life time.

Brett had an uneasy day today. He discovered that his phone was missing and knew that if it wasn’t found we’d have to pay 285,000 won. The rest of the staff weren’t unduly worried. The peace of mind we have had with the rental of those phones has been invaluable. It meant that there was no need for a physical check-in every hour, so that give the choristers greater freedom to explore and they valued that. It meant that the staff had peace of mind knowing that they could contact any group at any time so it was a great relief to all of us. We’d like to thank Alison for making the arrangements for us. Louise and Brett would like to thank her and all on the WVYC committee for the decision to rent the ten phones. Realistically, however, they say that we only needed nine since one of our team (moi!) never worked out how to use her phone, never heard it when it was ringing and had no need of calling anyone herself. The truth of the matter is that Brett and Louise are so on top of everything that there was never any need for me to use the phone! Mi Kyung did all the phoning with Dae Young and the others so I don’t think I used my phone once! Brett’s phone turned up under the bus. It had dropped out of his pocket while he was helping to load the suitcases in the morning.

At the airport, while waiting for Mi Kyung and I to return the phones, Louise video- recorded each chorister’s highlight of the tour. It was very difficult for them to choose just one. Many choristers commented on performing ‘Arrirang’ in Bundang when the back row all held hands, WVYC and Bundang all together….a special moment! Others told of time spent with their host families as the moment they’d never forget.

We said farewell Mi Kyung. She was going to visit her mother before returning to Canberra. We made the formal speech of farewell and then, just as she was turning to leave, she was confronted by twenty-nine singers all wanting to have their last hug from her! That was a special moment in itself!

There were many options for dinner at the airport, but every single chorister chose to go to MacDonalds. Perhaps the amount of money left in their pockets had something to do with that decision but maybe it was the link between East to West slowly being broken.

We were back on the plane for an uneventful flight for all except for Brendan K who was ill. He suffered air sickness in the turbulence that we experienced. Kylie said that someone had opened the blind on their window and she could see spectacular orange and yellow flashes as we passed through a storm.

We began the process of clearing customs. As usual, our uniform attracted attention and the quarantine people separated us from the herd of people entering Australia. It made the business much quicker and easier especially as we were all declaring similar items. The choristers were delighted to have our own very, very cute sniffer-dog. From touchdown at 7:30am it was only one hour till we were outside walking to the bus.

Kylie was staying in Sydney for a couple of days, so we said thank you again and goodbye to her. Georgina’s aunt and uncle had come to the airport to welcome her home so Brett and I had a brief chat with them and they mentioned how much they enjoyed the reports and photos.

I thanked the choristers for a fabulous tour and reminded them of rehearsal on Tuesday. We have gifts for those non-touring members of the Performing Choir and they’ll want to hear all about the trip. Louise had a special request. She has asked the Touring Choir to sing at her wedding and when she made the request, you should have heard the noise from the singers! They are thrilled to bits with that invitation and it helped to reduce the sadness of the end of the trip.

Thus ends two weeks of fabulous time together. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it. The intent was to keep those left at home in the loop with regard to our every day activities and the comments that we’ve received have justified the late nights involved.

Already I miss Dae Young’s smiling face. I miss Mi Kyung’s cheerful presence. I miss the joyous teasing of Brett and Louise, and Kylie’s gentle smiles. I miss the excited chatter and laughter of 29 delighted choristers. I miss paper bags filled with wads of Korean bills. I miss the busy-ness of the big city with its 10-lane streets. I miss the beautiful cherry blossoms. I miss the shades of blue in the distant hills. I miss the glorious shapes and colours of the roof-tops of the palaces. I miss the amazed looks on the faces of the locals when they were suddenly invaded by heaps of Western people all dressed the same and wearing those wonderful stand-out-in-any-crowd lime-green hats! I miss the delicious smells and the delectable taste of Korean food. Those memories will be very precious, not just to me, but to everyone. We are so lucky to have had this experience.

Thank you to our hosts in Korea, the World Vision Korea Children's Choir. In particular our thanks to Dae Young who made the tour so special for everyone involved. Without Hee Churl's permission and backing, the tour would not have taken place so a big thank you to him. I'd also like to thank Hyun Chul who began the tour preparation at his end before passing it over to Dae Young.

Thank you to all parents for your support of this tour to Korea. It has been invaluable in many different ways and on several different levels. Some choristers will not appreciate the gift they have been given till much later in their life, but they will all have changed from their experiences of the past fortnight. I’m positive that these changes will stand them in good stead in the future. Connections have been made at many levels - all of them good.

From a very happy and satisfied touring staff team,

Alpha, Brett, Mi Kyung, Kylie and Louise

Photos for Day 13 can be found at http://gallery.me.com/alphagregory/100371

Please note that Brett’s photos are not included as yet. I’ll re-publish the site when I have his shots, so the number at the end of the link will change. It will be printed here, as usual, at the bottom of the report.