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Sojourn over Chuseok holiday

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By Kim Ji-soo

This Chuseok, also known as Korea's Thanksgiving holiday, in late September, was one of the longest, six days in total. For working Koreans such as me, at the tail end of the Korean baby boomer generation, six days amounted to a full summer holiday. Suddenly with time on my hands and fatigued from work, after searching numerous online travel platforms, I walked into an old-fashioned travel agency with my hair wet after a workout. "Do you have any slots where people have canceled?" The agent there kindly provided me with some last-minute options. "You can fly to Vietnam, or opt for the small cities with hot springs in Japan," ― major and popular destinations were all sold out at that point.

Witnessing the climate-related disasters around the world, numerous scenarios of concern rather than happy rest days sprang to mind. But after more than three years of the pandemic and intermittent travel restrictions, I opted for the cities in Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures in the southernmost part of Kyushu Island, which is already the southernmost part of Japan, while the air routes and the countries were open. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown there may be more down the road.The relative cheapness of the yen and the proximity of the destination added to the attractiveness of the travel package. The entire tour group consisted of about 20 people, along with a guide and driver. Located even further south than Korea's subtropical island of Jeju, Miyazaki International Airport was just an hour away with its palm trees, scorching humidity and hot springs.The tour group encompassed all ages with the youngest aged just seven years old and the oldest in their 70s. Families and solo travelers like myself were escaping their homeland during one of the biggest traditional holidays in Korea.

To my utter surprise, a news crew with their cameras and local officials, some of whom were dressed in yukata, were greeting Korean travelers on a certain national air carrier at the airport. They welcomed the Korean tourists arriving directly at the airport after the more-than three-year-long pandemic, giving out regional tangerine drinks and processed sweet potato snacks. I hoped that Korean regional tourist places, mainly the seven international airports in Korea including Jeju International Airport, were doing the same thing.

I returned to discover that such a welcoming ceremony was held on Jeju Island on Sept. 27. Wearing the traditional Korean attire of hanbok, Jeju's officials welcomed the Chinese tourist groups returning after years of travel restrictions. On Aug. 10, the Chinese government allowed its citizens to partake in overseas tour groups. In regard to Korea, it was the first arrival of a Chinese tourist group in six years and five months, since the sales ban on tours to Korea went into force because of the conflict over Seoul's hosting of a U.S. missile defense system: the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.

With precious little time, our group rushed to Kagoshima, another well-known famous tourist city; the main attraction being the dominant presence of Sakurajima. The tour guide was good at her job, constantly telling the group how Sakurajima was still an active volcano and we were brave to travel to it. Initially zombied out from the daily stress of living and working in Korea, I was numb to the warning but realized as hours passed the brewing threat of Sakurajima, should it ever erupt as it did in 1914. The residents of Sakurajima, however, lived alongside the volcano with the Japanese spirit of "shoganai," which roughly translates as "it can't be helped" and "gaman" or "patience."Travel agencies around the world must all be grappling with such contingencies as they plan travel itineraries. Then we hurried back to view sites in Miyazaki including Aoshima.

Industriously, our group boarded and then alighted from the bus, legs heavy in accordance with our ages, as we scoured the sights. Families and solo travelers alike, we all felt fortunate to travel post-COVID and at a time that traditionally involved family duties of paying respects to ancestors and cooking for the entire family. The long holiday allowed us to allot those traditional duties so as not to overlap with the tour; perhaps the human fragility that the pandemic revealed to us allowed for some flexibility as well. The group members had various reasons for wanting to travel: "I had to get out of Korea (even for a short time);" "I have been working so hard my whole life. I am over 60, and I intend to travel at least twice a year;" "The memories of travel will remain with you when you reach old age. They will keep you going."

The youngest members in the group, the adolescents, just relished being outdoors, with family and with new, friendly people and wearing big smiles and frolicking around as kids do. Goodness in all forms.

The writer is a member of the Editorial Board.

Kim Ji-soo


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