Korea: Travelogue (Part I) / by Deborah Clague

"What do you do if you encounter a North Korean soldier?"

"We kill them."

The young male soldier, his face still riddled with adolescent acne, answered my query with not an iota of hesitation. It was a striking response. One that would be edited and refined in North America until the wording was deemed befitting for consumption by the general, non-military populace. I knew my travels to South Korea would be eye-opening for a number of reasons, however, this glimpse into life in a region still technically at war was definitely the most powerful. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. 


I travelled to South Korea for a number of reasons. Visiting the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) only one of them. As a designer, part of my job is to keep up with trends in consumption, marketing, style, and technology. As one of the world's fastest-growing economies - and a nation that is actively funding and promoting its own creative industries - South Korea was an ideal destination to immerse myself in for a few weeks. I find that getting an education through travel is much more insightful than traditional means; it is the ultimate hands-on education in life. 

The second reason is that I love Asia. I love the people. I love the culture. I love the food.  I have never been disappointed with this part of the world. 

The third reason was ignited last summer after my father lost his short battle with cancer. I had always been fascinated by the Korean peninsula and wanted to travel there with him. He refused and warned against it with his usual subtlety: "you don't want to go up there as long as that nut job is in power". The nut jobs, unfortunately, are plentiful in positions of power but seem to be especially bounteous in this particular geographic location north of the 38th parallel.

After his passing, my father's words rang through my head … but I also couldn't help think about opportunities that may be missed by failing to seize the day. By regrets later in life from not being true to oneself. By the sheer and absolute boredom of remaining stationary. 

By the sheer and absolute boredom of remaining stationary in the middle of nowhere. 

So I booked a ticket to Seoul. And now here I am. One week in and just returned from a military camp where I observed through binoculars North Korean soldiers monitoring me through binoculars. This is easily one of the most memorable times of my life. 

To be continued...