So I thought I would take some time out to write a little bit about the city that has become my home.
Just under a year ago, I left the United States, my home, my family, and all my friends. I was looking to start new in a brand new country, in Korea. The land of KPOP and kimchi. I had my eyes set on Busan, Korea’s second largest city, although that ended up not working out. Instead, I was sent to Gwangju. A city I had never heard of. Surrounded by mountains and lacking much wildlife, Gwangju was Korea’s capital in revolutions and baseball. A city that breathed politics, which was evident to me from the minute I set foot inside its borders.
I arrived just in time to witness Korea’s 2016 revolution – a massive uprising against the president of the republic at that time: Park Geun-hye. President Park was the daughter of a former Korean military dictator, and seeing that Gwangju was a city that revolted against military rule in 1980, she was unpopular before ever being sworn in. But a revolution against her corruption ensued, and the president of the Korean Republic was impeached. Impressed as I was, I was a little depressed over the results of the US election. It was my first time voting from abroad, and I fully expected my candidate of preference, Hillary Clinton, to win the presidency. I’m still upset with the fact that my country elected Donald Trump, I’m not sure the world will ever see us the same again.
But back to Gwangju. Gwangju is a quiet city. When it isn’t revolting, it’s eagerly awaiting the results of their baseball team, the KIA Tigers. The Tigers are crazy popular in Gwangju, and seeing their famous T insignia is common in this city, Tigers jerseys abundant and visible. Despite not being much of a baseball fan myself, Gwangju had me become a baseball fan. Gwangju made me a Tiger. What have you done to me Gwangju?
This city is truly silently beautiful. With a population of 1.5 million, this city is two times bigger than Baltimore, where my university was. But you would never guess that. While Baltimore is always busy, loud, radiant with smells and noises, Gwangju was the opposite. It was quiet, with plenty of walking space. Not many smells, not many noises. It was clean, unusually clean for a big city, and it was a bit unnerving at first. It wasn’t what I was expecting. My experience with big cities was noise. Loads of noises and smells. Unusual characters, and beautiful street art. Gwangju had…safe streets and quiet people. Buses where you could hear yourself breathe, and around the same amount of Arab restaurants as the Arab population in Siberia.
I love it. I loved it right away. It was so different. Not in Korea, this is, apparently, the norm. It was different to what I was used to. It wasn’t what I was expecting. And somehow, that surprise, made it more enjoyable.
A lot of this comes down to the culture of this country. Because I’ve been told that Gwangju is more open than most Korean cities, although I’ll have to take their words for it. Gwangju reflects the Korean values of silent dignity, respect and honor. Don’t embarrass yourself or your family. You won’t see many people acting out in public. You won’t see many crazy outfits. That’s not Gwangju. And while this obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, its clear that Korean traditions and culture play a big role in how this city and its citizens view themselves.
This city has become my home. I’ve fallen in love with Gwangju, and the people of Gwangju. They have a silent dignity to them. People who earn your respect. Their pride of heritage is evident, as their national flag hangs everywhere. You aren’t likely to forget where you are anytime soon. They are a curious bunch, often throwing question after question your way. You’re an open textbook to them, although there are days when I hate this. And I’ve loved them. And yes, while there has been a lot of stuff that’s annoyed me about Gwangju, there’s been many things that annoyed me when I was in Baltimore, and Egypt. But reflecting on what I’ve been through, I can safely say that my love for Gwangju easily outweighs anything negative.
Every city has what makes it special, and for me, Gwangju is special because of its political history. On most days I find myself downtown by the famous Asia Cultural Center, built on the site of the historic uprising of 1980. Koreans from all over the country make their way to the city for historical tourism. A massive amount of streets and parks in Gwangju pay tribute to the uprising, allowing you to always be aware of the city’s history. Old and young alike, Gwangju’s citizens are aware, and proud of their city’s history. And nothing matches the swagger of Gwangju when the anniversary of the uprising roars around.
I love Gwangju, and all I have to say to the city is this: thank you. Thank you for being my home. I hope what’s to come is better than what we’ve experienced. You’re a real gem of a city.