Commentary Travel Destinations

Korea, Suwon – Travel to Connect

Written by Carl Hedinger

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ― Herman Melville

It’s Saturday and I’m in a taxi bound for Yeosu Expo Station. My concerns lie less with the day ahead the early morning train that’s on the horizon, because why? Because I’m a grown-up kid and because trains rule! That’s why. Oh, and there’s peaceful bit of time before a neighbor joins me and we engage in a nervous battle between Korean and English. We make connections until my customary walk to the train café not just to have a breather, but for a coffee and a stretch. That’s when I think towards the destination awaiting at point B.

Suwon, Nerves

After a four-hour ITX ride and some time to write following my neighbor’s departure in Daejeon, the anxiety kicks in that I’m going to meet some new people. Talking with strangers on trains is easy enough, but meeting new people always creates tension that I’ll never overcome. The nervous moments are forgotten as I walk through Suwon station, surrounded by sights and smells of familiar western things that my current home lacks.

Trying not to look like too much of a tourist is impossible when one neglects proper research. I underestimated the waiting times of Suwon’s somewhat complex bus system, and spend the next 10 minutes walking around staring at numbers and over examining routes. A taxi solves the problem and heads towards a destination I’ve hoped to visit for quite a while.

Mr. Choi, Media Highlights

The taxi stops near Hwaseong Fortress in time and I meet up with the group, an organized trip headed by Choi Ha-kyung. I hear his amplified voice introducing everyone to Hwaseong Fortress and remember meeting him before, in Seoul. Always very kind and gracious, Mr. Choi is the kind of person you want to greet and shake hands with, because he’s always got time to talk. I still didn’t have a business card to give him or anyone, like before, and make a mental note to get some as soon as possible.

Tae Hoon – Mr. Korea Observer and a true investigative news reporter – notes that the fortress is usually packed with tourists on weekends. MERS hysteria is sweeping the country and popular tourist destinations like this will face an extended low season this year, even though CARS kill more people. I hate the term “mainstream media” but in Korea, they have the upper hand and will always win as long as there’s an audience to follow along. The sun is too shy today and hides behind some clouds for the most part, creating an interesting light for afternoon shooting. This is always the hardest time of day for me because the sun’s position is just too high.

Hwaseong Fortress, Listen and Learn

I take advantage of the overcast while listening to the words of the various speakers and veterans of this peninsula. Mr. Choi describes the history behind the fortress, and details the life and death of Prince Sado. Eventual King Jeongjo (Sado’s son) possessed a visionary spirit and desire to move away from the memory of his father’s execution by rice box. We begin our walk around parts of the massive fortress wall as the clouds remain and eventually darken. I love the contrast between this place and the city that surrounds it.

Colorful flags indicate our location inside the while tall buildings and car parks remind me of the date. The clouds open and spill out some rain as we walk but I don’t care, because I’m listening and learning from all these wonderful people. I feel free enough to talk about writing and travel in a crowd, simultaneously, for the first time in forever. Korea resident and respected author David Mason gives his commentary on the site. The words “white elephant” confuse me, thinking that to only be a modern problem.

Hwaseong’s Place, Travel to Connect 

Though technically obsolete at its time of construction, the fortress is not a complete waste of resources. Hwaseong influenced Korean urban planners and landscapers for many generations and is essentially a living museum. I try to evaluate its place in history as I board a Yeosu-bound train that night. Thinking back to the first train and my conversation with a middle-aged lady, I realize that this was a day full of connections. From the moment she passed me a snack and initiated conversation to meeting Mr. Choi and everyone, I’d met some fantastic and friendly people.

Today is yet another reason to leave my familiar little bubble in an effort to meet like-minded folks. This is why I keep traveling and moving around, even while witnessing somewhat familiar places. I like to think of travel as always about the places but forget about people met along the way. I travel to find something but end up meeting someone. Regardless of how memorable the encounter will turn out, I’ll always look back and think about the bonds and relationships created. I travel to connect with others and will always be grateful to the people, and for the moments we shared that day in Suwon.

“Thank you, everyone. It was a wonderful day.” I mumble to myself as the train approaches Yeosu-Expo Station and the end of the line.

Do you travel for people or places, or both? 


If you attended this event and wrote about it, leave a link in the comments section and I’ll add it to this post. Want to read more about Korea? Click here.

About the author

Carl Hedinger

I’m a writer and recovering American expat who shares my family’s travels through life. Follow our adventures here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

27 Comments

  • Interesting post. So you spent 4 hours on the ITX JUST to see the fortress and meet new people…I’d never do that 😛 I also get social anxiety when meeting new people when it’s a big group. Despite being outgoing I’m shy in big groups of people I don’t know.

    • Hey Rafiqua! Yeah, 4 hours wasn’t too bad for a train ride, honestly. I’ve had longer and less interesting in the U.S. Spent 12 hours on an Amtrak once and I kinda liked it. I guess I don’t mind long trips, haha.

      Anyway, I appreciate you sharing that about your own social anxiety. It’s tough to get over, I’m sure.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • This is very nice. A very good read, as your posts always are. I saw this Hwaseong Fortress trip announcement and was interested to join, too. But, I guess, that’s the limitation of having small kids still…. So I’m just glad reading about that trip. Keep going with your travel posts. It’s very engaging.

    • Thank you for commenting and for your nice compliments, Wendy! They have those events every now and then so I’m sure you can make the next one. Lots of great people involved so I hope you can join them! Take Care Wendy.

  • Traveling is such a great way to meet interesting people and strike up engaging conversations. Glad you had a day filled with such encounters. I really like how you structured this post around those encounters; it really made it apparent how much of an influence those encounters had on your day as a whole.

    Love the pictures as well; the overcast sky really gives the photos a brooding feel. Good stuff, as always 🙂

    • Hey Nathan, thanks for picking up on and commenting on the way I set this post up. The visuals usually take over and I’m happy that you took notice of the words and how they told the story. On the photo note, I’m not a big fan of bright lights and was happy that the sun was hiding on this day. It works with the types of photos that I like to take.

      Take care man, and I look forward to reading up on your site as well:)

  • We were also invited to join this trip, but unfortunately the date overlapped with my birthday. The Hwaseong Fortress is one of Ryan’s favorite places and the walk around the wall is so nice. Even though the day was super overcast with a bit of rain, I think it made your pictures all the more dramatic!

    We also travel to connect. We have said it so many time these past couple of weeks, but the like minded people we have met while living in Korea has really made this whole experience something truly special. I’m glad that even though you felt a little nervous about getting out there and meeting new people, that you did it! That’s what this whole experience is all about, right? Getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

    • Totally agree with you on the traveling to connect bit. Having like minded people is always awesome! I’m sure you’ll get to meet up on another trip. I can understand birthdays trumping those types of things. Hope you had a good one! Thanks for commenting:)

  • One of our favorite things about traveling is meeting new people. What’s strange is we had a more difficult time meeting people in Korea than we did when we started backpacking. I feel like people get in their bubble and are comfortable, therefore they don’t get out too much, we were guilty of this from time to time too. I am a huge people person so I love meeting new people and just talking in general, even though sometimes it’s super awkward or feels a bit forced at the beginning! If we make our way back to Korea for another year we should make a point to cross paths 🙂 Thanks for the great read!

    • I agree with you, Megan. I’ve had lots of wonderful conversations with people here but do find it easier to connect with expats elsewhere, honestly. Though we might not be in Korea when you come back, we’ll be in SE Asia in a couple of months so hopefully you two will be there then!

      Thanks for commenting!

  • I always get SUPER nervous when meeting with a new group of people, glad I’m not the only one! Although I don’t usually plan to meet people on my travels, the accidental ones along the way always seem to be the best!

  • I really enjoy your writing style. This is a great, postive experience in Korea and looks like you had a fun day. I get a bit of anxiety before I meet new people, but I’m happy it turned out for the best in the end for you! When I feel a bit of anxiety coming on before meeting or conversing with someone new, I always try to imagine that the other person feels the same way. While it’s not always true, I’d like to think others also get nervous when put in new situations like that. Thanks for the engaging read!

    • Good to see another person’s view on the anxiety part, Laura. I’m happy that you shared your thoughts on it too. It can be hard to cope, when I get used to this online world that we live in. I hope that you too can get over your own anxious moments but it seems like you’ve found a pretty effective cure.

      Thanks for sharing. I’ll be trying that out myself:)

      P.S. Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing this post! I also travel to connect with others, but it is always difficult for me to strike up conversations with new people! It is nice to see other like-minded travelers who regularly force themselves to overcome their anxieties! I hope to get involved in more outings where I can meet other travel writers–someday, I hope our paths cross as well!

    • I agree with you Lindsay. It’s hard to find people who share the same interests, especially in a smaller town like mine! This event was a total bonus because it was full of people who like talking about the things they create as well as the place we’d visited that day. It’d be great if we could meet up sometime. We’re here for a little while longer so maybe something can be worked out. If not, it’s a small world after all so surely our paths will cross.

      Take Care Lindsay and thanks for your comment!

  • It was a great day and good to meet you! I used to have anxiety upon meeting new people, but it has dissipated a lot as I’ve grown older. Maybe that will happen to you too. Something good to look forward to with aging!

    Best,

    Elizabeth

    • Thank you so much for those kind words, Elizabeth! I’m happy to have met you as well. The nerves sometimes lead me to have a drink or two and I’m hoping to combat that a bit. I appreciate your tip that age will help, though you’re still young (25 right?) and don’t have to worry about that.

      It was great to meet and I hope to stay in touch.

      Take Care Elizabeth.

    • Hi Jackie, David mentioned that it was a white elephant because Hwaseong was “technically obsolete” at its completion. Basically it’s because the fortress was completed when militaries were moving on to stronger weapons and defense systems than Hwaseong could handle. It was interesting to hear about that because honestly, I didn’t really think of that as a problem back then.

      Thanks for commenting! I hope you enjoyed the read:)

      • How interesting! Yea I didn’t think it would be a problem!
        Yea I enjoyed your post, but was actually expecting more pictures of the people at the event. But sounds like it was an experience to remember. Hope to see more events like this in the future!

        • Ah, sorry about that Jackie! My photographer (honorable Wife) didn’t tag along so unfortunately, I didn’t get many good shots of the people involved. Thanks for commenting! There should be events throughout the year. Let me know if you need anymore info.

          • How cool is that, I wish my husband would help me with my blogging lol. No problem, and sure I’ll ask you again then, but hopefully I’m even in the country when another one comes up. Thanks in advance! 🙂

  • Very cool Duke. I too have that anxiety a little bit; just felt it last week when I met someone new.

    I do chill quickly though and get super relaxed after breaking the ice.

    I travel for both but mainly, for places. I look soaking up new, or familiar and fun locations.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

    • Thanks Ryan! Breaking the ice is always the tricky part. I mean I teach adults and have few problems when getting them to talk but with native speakers, I guess I struggle. Happy to see that it affects other people too.

      Take Care Man.