I was afraid, I was petrified, I kept thinking that there was no way I could do this without someone by my side.. Everytime I've tried to do this before, I ended up being with someone else. But then after many days of thinking and realising that either I stood up and did this, or I failed, yet again.......so I grew strong and I learned how to get along......with myself.
Two or three weeks after arriving in Korea, my co-teacher and I sat down and figured out when I would be on holiday (or as they call it here, vacation). I knew that my holidays would start the night of the 10th and end on the 22nd of August. Excited, I approached a few of my friends to see when their hols started only to be dismayed to realise no one's really conincided with mine. What on earth, could I do? For someone who travels frequently you would think that this wouldn't have been a problem.....unfortunately it was.
What can I say...I am someone who has NEVER gone to a movie by myself. I have never gone to the beach by myself. I rarely go for a long walk by myself and travel by myself........ Well, that is ok as long as it just the plane, train or bus. Once, I arrive at my destination I need to be around people I know. Whenever I wanted to visit a foreign country I always brought a sibling with me. After all, what is the fun of travelling and having experiences if you can't share them with anyone?
So, now you can see my dilemma. Here, I was in a foreign country, with a language I don't know and 7 days (excluding weekends) that needed to be filled.
Even though, I was terrified, petrified of doing everything by myself, I knew that I would have to do it. Afterall, I didn't want to spend the entire time in my apartment watching TV. So, with that in mind, I went on two practice sessions. One was in early July. I was in Seoul and unexpectedly had spare time, so without further ado, I travelled from Itaewon to Gyeongbokgung Palace. When I was walking up the steps at Gwanghwamun subway station, I started to have a mini panic attack and could barely climb those few steps. I took a few deep breaths, berated myself and got to the top. Once I stood and looked at the huge statute of King Sejong and at the palace beyond, I knew I could do. Putting my fear behind me I proceeded to the palace and paying the small entry fee walked inside and spent about 35 minutes walking around. I liked it so much that I agreed with my brother we would visit it a few weeks later.
That day, I was on the early train arriving in around 10 am. My brother wouldn't arrive until 1pm. What to do, what to do? So, reminding myself that when Life gives us Lemons we have to make lemonade....I made my way to the history museum of Korea with absolutely no panic attacks. What a fantastic morning I had wandering around the gardens and then the exhibits. By the time I met my brother, I knew that even though I would struggle being so much by myself, I would be able to manage wandering around Korea without any familiar companionship.
I, also, knew I wouldn't survive 12 days without a little familiarity so, my brother and I agreed to meet in the afternoons of his three last days in Korea. I would spend the morning doing some sightseeing and in the afternoon we would hangout together. Additionally, an old family friend is also teaching in Korea so I went to visit her for a couple of days as well. After that, I was on my own.
I spent 5 days in Gyeongju a town on the East coast of Korea. It's a beautiful town and I would love to go back again someday. I didn't visit too many of the sights but instead I relaxed, took naps, read "Clear and Present Danger" and altogether enjoyed wandering around the town and spending some alone time with myself.. There were other people in the hostel who I was able to chat to in the evening, which was a welcome relief from my own company - there are only so many times that you can say "Smile" and take a picture of yourself without getting bored!
So, you might think I'm mad to have never traveled alone and spent time by myself anywhere whilst on holiday. And....you might think I'm mad when I say that when even when I did travel by myself, I wouldn't want to do this again unless I had no other choice. Why? Well, I discovered I CAN survive - I didn't crumble or lay down and die: I can do museums, palaces and parks by myself but that I feel awkward doing the one arm photograph or asking strangers to take my picture every time I want one. Furthermore, at the end of the day it's nice to share your experiences with someone else....especially those involving food!
PS This post was inspired by Gloria Gaynor's "I will survive"
PPS the top picture is from Gyeongbokgung palace on the day that I went there by myself. The next set of pictures are from the History Museum of Korea and it's gardens. The vessels you see were completely filled with jewels, etc when they were excavated. The next set are my brother and I at Gyeongbokgung palace later that day. The remaining pictures are from Gyeongju.