South Korea an eye-opening trip for Milwaukie resident
Even as tensions rise on the Korean peninsula, preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, continue at full speed, as observed by Saira Bradner.
Bradner, a Milwaukie resident, traveled to South Korea in mid-October, and saw ads on the subway featuring the Olympic mascot Soohorang, a white tiger that is a symbol of trust, strength and protection. Also on display were images of Bandabi, the 2018 Winter Paralympics mascot, an Asiatic black bear that symbolizes strong will and courage.
Bradner was in South Korea visiting students she has tutored in English online, some for more than a year. None of them will be going to the Olympics, she said, as it "will be too crowded, with too many people."
Bradner graduated in 2015 from the Art Institute of Portland with a bachelor's degree in computer science, focusing on web design. On the day she graduated, she was hired as a website developer for Pamplin Communications, the company that owns the Clackamas Review/Oregon City News and dozens of other local news outlets.
Bradner has always wanted to meet her Korean students, and this fall she and Lisa Clemens, a longtime friend, decided the time was right.
The pair visited two cities, Seoul and Busan, staying in hostels in both cities.
Early in the trip, she met Min Jungi, who has been her student for two-and-a-half years.
"He was trying to teach me Korean, so I was able to get by pretty well," Bradner said.
On day six of their journey, the two women had culinary culture shock when another of Bradner's students took them to a seafood restaurant.
"We ate raw octopus, and the tentacles were still moving. It was fantastic; they tasted delicious, but they stuck to your tongue," she said.
One of the first places that Bradner and Clemens visited near Seoul was Gyeongbokgung Palace, which they found fascinating.
It was the previous emperor's palace during two different time periods, but after the Japanese occupation it fell into disrepair, Bradner said.
"It's stunning and massive. It's a tourist attraction and a national area, and you feel a little back in time," she said.
If people dress in traditional Korean clothes, they get in for free, Bradner said, noting she saw women in the flowing national dress wearing sensible tennis shoes.
Another interesting site was Gwangmyeong Cave, about an hour's journey from Seoul.
"It started out as a slave mining camp during the Japanese occupation, then was a safe haven during the Korean War," Bradner said.
"Then it became an actual mining camp, with miners looking for gold, copper and zinc, and then was used as a storage area for fermenting shrimp."
In 2010, it was decided to preserve the cave and turn it into a tourist attraction.
"They turned it into an art-meets-cave site. There are colored lights, an aquarium, big sculptures, panels showing the history of the cave and a winery," Bradner said.
People interested in traveling to South Korea should "look at the history" and go to see the temples, palaces and old, traditional villages, she said.
For people who like more contemporary Korean influences, there is always music.
Bradner added, "K Pop or Korean pop music is luring people to South Korea. There are photos of cute boy bands and girl bands everywhere; there is music everywhere."
She and Clemens also traveled to Busan, which is "really a working city with tall buildings."
The pair had heard about the city, located on the Sea of Japan, and they were not disappointed.
"We were hoping to hop a ferry to Japan, but there was no time," Bradner said.
It was in Busan that she and Clemens were treated like tourists for the first time.
"In Seoul, people didn't care that we were American. But Busan has a big U.S. Navy base, and because of that beggars saw us tourists as someone to beg to. It was interesting to see that shift."
One thing that surprised Bradner was that the people of South Korea do not feel threatened by Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.
While on the trip, Bradner and Clemens were "freaking out for South Korea" after reading about remarks exchanged by President Trump and Kim Jong-un.
"We did not detect any fear of North Korea. People said that they would get worried when he throws something," Bradner said.
She did notice that every subway has hazmat equipment on the wall and an explanation of where to go if bombs fall.
The two women observed a large sit-in demonstration taking place outside the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
"The general sentiment is that the opinion of Trump is quite low, but the view of the United States is quite high," Bradner said.
Currently, there is some discussion about the safety of the U.S. Olympics team, and even talk about not letting Americans compete.
But Bradner said she "never once felt threatened or in fear."
She added, "Lisa and I would sometimes stay out until 2 or 3 a.m. and walk/take the subways back to the hostel. It was never a place I felt worry in. And the people of South Korea seem to really like Americans; I think pulling out of the Olympics could ruin that relationship."