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|Volume 11 |Issue 38| September 28, 2012 ||
From Korea, With Love
Representing Bangladesh on reality television in South Korea was the last thing I had in mind, after I took part in a quiz competition held by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Dhaka last July. The embassy organised this event with an aim to propagate knowledge about Korea and Korean culture. What they did not mention much, was that the winner would be a finalist on “Quiz on Korea” a reality show to take place on Korea Broadcasting System (KBS) World TV. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) co-organised the event sponsored by Gyeongsangbuk-do. I could not fathom what was in store for me, all I knew was I was flying to Korea in a month's time.
When the embassy issued me a visa, and KBS issued an air ticket for me, did I finally realise how real it actually was. The Korean Embassy in Dhaka was extremely helpful and cordial with me, they even gave me books on K-pop and K-drama to read and prepare for the final quiz. The quiz was based on all facts about Korea, ranging from the Korean lifestyle to its history, society, economy, sports, music, drama, food, culture, world heritages and Korean art.
After a few hours of transit at the Subarnavumi airport in Bangkok, I boarded the Korean Air flight to Incheon International Airport. Incheon is about 2 hours' drive from Seoul. KBS cameramen greeted me along with fellow participant Landa from Vietnam as we came out of the airport, and we were chauffeured to our hotel Somerset Palace Seoul in no time. Then and there even just a little; it felt like I was a celebrity.
The first few days I got to know the other finalists. MaJo from El Salvador, Tamar from USA, Lilith from Austria, Maryam from Saudi Arabia, Nancy from Egypt and Rachida from Morocco; we became really good friends. Other countries that took part were: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Kazakhstan, Paraguay, Panama, Switzerland, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Our guide, Min Sem told us about all the places we visited. It was essential because the knowledge that we gathered over our tours would eventually be tested in the quiz show.
During our stay in Seoul, we visited Gyeongbuk Palace, the Namsan Seoul Tower and watched the famous “Nanta”, a world renowned non-verbal Korean musical. We had official visits to the Korean Foundation (KF) one of the organisers of the event and to the KBS TV station too. It was at the rehearsal of "Music Bank" a musical variety show were I saw BoA perform, along with Tiny G, Teen Top and several other K-pop artists. K-pop has a phenomenal international audience and fan base, and these were some idols of music entertainment that I was just a few feet away from. It was sensational to watch the fans in the audience cheer their stars. They were mostly adolescent girls, waving light sticks and colourful balloons and singing in chorus; teary eyed with joy.
The rest of our visits were to Insadong, Myeongdong and the Dongdaemun clothes market; some of the most happening shopping areas in Seoul. One thing I noticed and really appreciate is how neat and tidy Koreans keep their city. Another thing I was very impressed with was the digital toilet seats in almost every public place!
As part of the reality show, KBS arranged for us a tour of two more cities; Gyeongju and Andong. With a camera crew of about 9 or 10 cameramen, the official photographer, the producer, the director and our show's anchor, our guide Min Sem, the volunteers the 23 of us boarded the Korean fast train KTX 113 from Singyeongju Station. The filming of the show began. Our destination Gyeongju was 2 hours away at 350 km per hour.
At Gyeongju, the first stop was the traditional archery range. Koreans are expert archerers; it is in their blood for centuries. We all had a go; I realized that archery isn't as easy as it looks.
Later, after lunch we were attending a traditional Korean wedding. Only, the bride was Rachida, and the groom was Nir; from Israel. They volunteered to be part of the ceremony. We all took part in setting the stage and preparing the food. The menu included Tteok; rice cakes covered in bean powder; fresh fruits; cookies and sweetened chestnuts.
The next and final stop for the day would be Golgulsa; the “Stone Buddha Temple” located 20 km east of Gyeongju on top of Mt Hamwol.
We reached Golgulsa for temple-stay just as the evening set to dusk. After a quick vegetarian meal at the temple's dining area; it was time for Sunmundo which is a kind of martial arts practice and meditation. We changed quickly into temple suits and headed for the Sunmundo practice. The serene quietness of the mountain, a cool breeze and the sound of crickets felt mystical and surreal.
Sunmudo training is part of the traditions of Korean Seon (Zen) Buddhism. It is composed of still training which includes sitting meditation, yoga-like exercises as well as active trainings which includes gymnastics and martial arts.
Resident Zen masters of the temple performed martial arts for us to see. It was like being inside one Jackie Chang movie. We climbed down the mountain path slowly and silently in walking meditation. We had breakfast with the head monk which is called Balwoo Gongyang. The purpose of this four bowl ritualistic meal is to promote mindfulness while eating. The bowls come stacked within one another like Russian nesting dolls and each has a particular use. The simple meal consists of rice, vegetables and soup; and water. The ritual includes eating everything you serve yourself and washing all the bowls as such that not even a flake of chili or even a sesame seed does not remain. The meal teaches mindful eating without wasting any food.
During our stay in Gyeongju for the next few days, we visited the Anapji pond, Chumsungdae Observatory, Bulguksa and Seokgurram Grotto temple complex; all of which are listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. We stayed at the Geongju Hilton and also had a night's stay in a Hanok, the traditional Korean wooden houses. During our visit to Andong we went to the Hahoe Folk village which is another one of Korea's UNESCO world heritages sites. It is a village which is being preserved since ancient times. The Dosanseowon Confusion Academy, the Hwarang Training Institute for Taek- Wondo, the Andong Mask drama and traditional Korean wrestling Ssierum; we whizzed past so many places and did so many things within such a short time, everything felt unreal. At the end of our tour, we were back in KBS's studio for the final take of the quiz show. KBS World TV is going to air “Quiz on Korea” Chuseok Special on September 30, 2012; 10 AM South Korean time, that's 7AM Bangladeshi time. If you want to find out who won the quiz competition then don't forget to tune in!