The drive started in Pohang near the Southeast Coast on Korea’s National Highway #7, towards point B in Goseong and the DMZ. We’re looking for a brief pitstop along the way to grill up some breakfast, which means finding a beach. Thankfully, Korea’s beautiful East coast offers a huge bank of opportunities but something else catches our eyes. It’s a traditional village and being a traditional holiday (Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving), Christina and I say Why not? Of course, this is a pretty big day for Koreans and instead of taking a left for the beach, we head right towards this beautiful-looking little town.
Travel for the Random Meetings
Holidays can become depressing when away from home. Understandably, Korea doesn’t celebrate our holidays and there’s always a thought back to that Christmas in Jinju when the streets were lined with.. nothing. Korea has lots of one-off holidays where public workers (and some private companies) can take a day and relax or catch up with family. Mostly, they do the latter because family is held up as a very important thing in Korea.
Arriving at the small and empty-looking village doesn’t look too promising, on second thought. That’s how it always happens in this country. Don’t expect greatness from a day and it will become one of the most heartwarming and enriching experiences one can find. But we don’t know yet. We walk down a quiet and seemingly empty path lined with walls that would take any visitor back to a time before the drama took place. This is just a small little town on the outskirts of nowhere.
An older gentleman is walking towards his house’s gate and notices us approaching. Keeping to ourselves and noting this as a busy holiday, we expect the man to walk inside and get back to work. Probably got lots on his min… and he shouts “Come in!” Speaking English, he guides us into the family home. Korea has a huge percentage of people with the same names and reasons for this exist. The man informs us that everyone in this particular village held the Nam surname. Perhaps not blood related but maybe somewhere way back – kin.
The grandsons come in and cause a ruckus, much like kids tend to do on a holiday. There’s no school and definitely no academy afterwards because after all, they are all from Seoul and driving back tomorrow. Today is about family and these kids are making the most of their free time. The daughter-in-law brings out a bowl of fruit and hard-boiled eggs to give some much-needed energy to us and the kids. The kids likely don’t need it but grab some food anyways. They’re wired and so much fun to watch. One little guy makes a game out of cracking eggs on his forehead and handing them to someone before saying “Hey! Eat this!”
After chatting for a while about our lives and travels, it’s time to go. But not before pictures. We need to keep these people inside so the memory of this day is never forgotten. How could one forget this stranger who offered us a place on his floor to sit with him, like equals? His wife and daughter-in-law gave us plentiful amounts of food that erased the need for finding a beach. The kids provided laughs and brief exchanges in English and Korean until they ran off to play and enjoy the holiday. These random meetings make travel more meaningful than staying at home. They give this time a reason to explain why we travel. I travel for the random meetings like this and hope they keep coming!
Note: All of this took place at the Goesi-ri Traditional Folk Village, in Korea’s North Gyeongsang Province.
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