2012/06/09 | 2775 views | Permalink |
(Above picture was taken from english.chosun.com, as Korean models pose with this this years beach fashion)
Korea may not be on most people's radar when it comes to a beach holiday, and there are a few good reasons for that. Besides Korea's flagship tourist getaway of Jeju Island, the Korean peninsula is littered with an array of underwhelming beaches that even the most skilled photographer would have a hard time glamourizing on the average day there. While there are still a few notable expectations to this, one's enjoyment of them can be dampened by the beach culture that exists here in Korea, be prepared to feel like a true alien!.
High heels on the beach, get real! (source)
I have been to a number of beaches in Korea and there is sometime that quickly becomes blaringly obvious as a westerner when attempting to enjoy a beach here. But first, let me paint you a brief picture of what I expect when planning a day out at the beach. When I get to any beach, one of the first things I want to do is feel the sand underfoot. There is nothing like the feeling of grains of sand between your toes and soft give of the sand under my heals. Imagine my surprise when I see people wearing, not just shoes on the beach, but high heels and hiking boots! It was as if they considered the sand to be unclean or dirty, which I am not saying it isn't - it is the beach after all, but to deny oneself of this enjoyment was just the first of many surprises I've witnessed at a Korean beach.
Avoiding the Sun
A packed beach with everyone fully clothed, what planet is this?
I heard one girl say that high heels make her legs look longer in a swimsuit, and that kind of comment points to the role of image and how Koreans enjoy the beach. Still, the sight of anyone walking around a beach with anything but sandals is as strange a sight as I've seen in Korea. Until you get about 5 minutes into your beach day, then another bizarre observation will strike you – everybody has his or her shirts on!
The Korean image of beauty requires one to have very light and white skin. Many women spend large amounts of money on expensive, high brand cosmetics that promise a whitener and brighter complexion. To have tanned skinned is seen as undesirable and is generally reserved for labours and farmworkers. That all makes perfect sense culturally, but it doesn't reduce any of the awkwardness when you and your friends are the only ones with your shirts off. There are also probably reasons for this linked to Korea's conservatism, and the beach has long been a place where people both show off their bodies as well as avoid in shame of them. For whatever reasons that might exist, the fact remains that a beach with clothed people on it just seems odd to me, even a little sad.
Haeundae beach in the south city of Busan is the most popular beach in Korea. Here the numbers of visitors can reach a million during peek season. Umbrellas, so many umbrellas are jammed together to create one unified roof over the sands. Under which people cram together to avoid the deadly tanning rays of the sun. It's not my idea of beach day, but many locals seem content as the lay within the safety of their shadowy shelter.
Aliens doing what they do. (source)
So after setting up my beach station, it's off to throw a Frisbee or something around the sand with friends. Can you image trying to throw anything around a crowded beach such as Haeundae? Impossible, unless you are comfortable taking a dive onto a family of five in the process, which I am not. Playing sports and games on the beach is my favourite thing to do on the beach, and while the odd game or two can be seen to be enjoyed by the locals, it just wan't as apparent as I would have thought it would be. While my friends and I were throwing around our freebie Frisbee from VIPS, many onlookers watched in amazement, as if experiencing the wonder of the little piece of plastic for the first time.
Swimming in the Ocean
Fun with tubes or safety first? (source)
Hot and toasty after a throw around, the ocean's cooling properties suddenly becomes apparent. Some might wad in, others storm in like a lifeguard, but from what I saw Koreans seems to be impassive about swimming in the sea. Again, I might offer a culture explanation for this, as their exposure to swimming pools, and just swimming in general, is strongly limited. Growing up I was lucky enough to pretty much always have access to a private swimming pool, be it on my parent's property, or at a nearby friend's house. In Korea, the idea of owning your own swimming pool is absurd, with many having to pay for the pleasure of using a public swimming pool or splashing around at a waterpark. That said the swimming culture seems to restrict, or at least set strong barriers to, their enjoyment of the ocean. Some brave few venture out where the water might reach their necks, but most are content to get their ankles or stomach wet. It's not so much swimming as it is standing in water. And even though there are those who enjoy the ocean, they still find it necessary to be almost fully clothed when doing it!
Beware of the Masses
Frisbee anyone? (source)
Koreans work hard, I mean really hard. So when there is a public holiday coming up or school is out, the roads are jammed with cars and travellers looking to get away for a couple days. This is definitely something to consider if you are planning a trip in Korea as the traffic, both of cars and people, can seriously cripple the whole experience. Planning a trip to Busan or the East coast? Think twice about when you go because although it looks like the trip will be relatively short, the traffic sometimes more than doubles the expect length of the trip. Hours are lost sitting in traffic that painfully drain your holiday time, so if possible avoid those peak times like the plague or risk the wrath of mass migration.
I find it hard to image that foreigners coming to Korea would come here exclusively for the beaches. Many who are here see them as natural holiday destination and venture out when their schedules allows. I myself had never really thought about spending time on a beach in Korea until I was here feeling the blistering heat of the Korean summer, but since I was here I thought it was worth giving it a shot. It's probably more curiosity than anything, with a lot of foreigners choosing to visit other Southeast Asian countries, perhaps ones more famous for their beach and beach cultures. The differences in how Korean's enjoy the beach is startling, but not as startling as I think foreigners are to locals. If you think you felt uncomfortable on a beach back home, you'll feel like a true alien in Korea. Everybody observes you closely as they look on in amusement and curiosity. Just last week I heard a group of boys say to each other "that's what foreigners do on the beach", when he was watching us lying in the sun with our shirts off. Everything I did felt like it was being observed and studied, and I am sure that they where thinking the same thing about me as I was about them..."What are you doing? You're doing it all wrong!"
- C.J Wheeler ([email protected])
Older : Today's Photo: June 9, 2012
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