Thirty-one year old Warner Patterson has a cushy job at a top firm as an electrical engineer. But he has dreamed of the trip of a lifetime since he was a young boy growing up in Calera, Alabama, and his dream recently carried him across thirteen different time zones to South Korea. Fascinated by its rich history and culture steeped in tradition, Warner took that trip – a multi-city, guided tour over seventeen days. He has since returned home to Atlanta and has offered to sit down with us to share some of his takeaways.
This interview was conducted on May 10, 2019.
South Korea is known as the Land of the Morning Calm. Let’s start there. Did you feel that way when you first arrived in Seoul?
Your eyes – describe to me what they saw when you first stepped off the plane.
I just remember there being mountains in the background and that everything was in Korean. And then of course, that there was really no one there that looked like the people where I’m from.
Were you surprised by the scenery?
Not really, but it was something different from what I’m used to seeing back home.
You shared some pretty cool photos of Busan and Seoul. How do these cities compare to other major cities you’ve been to in the U.S.?
Seoul is huge. It’s gigantic, and they decorate their city with lots of lights. Everything is just lit up, the city shines. [With] the neon lights everywhere and in different colors – they purposely set out to make it look pretty. Buildings have, like, projected photos of people dancing and walking around. It’s just a fun, beautiful place.
How does it compare to Denver or Vegas or L.A.?
I’d say that the only comparable American city is Vegas, since they also dedicate their time and spaces to great lighting and making [everything] look visually enticing.
You mentioned that you were part of a tour group. Did you find that having a tour guide was helpful in… bridging any gaps?
Yes. It helped prevent language barriers.
Overall, how do you feel you were received?
I felt like everywhere I went, people treated me nicely, and they didn’t make me feel like an outsider.
Do you speak Korean? Did you have trouble communicating in English?
I do not speak Korean besides a few polite phrases, but it seemed like, probably about two-thirds of the people I met spoke fluent English. The rest knew just enough to say that they didn’t speak English.
Tell me about some of your most memorable interactions with locals.
I didn’t interact with locals all that much, being part of a tour group. I had tea with a monk. Little kids would tell me ‘hey’ when they saw me – in English. They were happy to see someone they could speak English to.
That’s adorable! It’s said that America’s pastime is baseball. Did you learn about any Korean traditions or popular hobbies?
They like archery. And apparently dominate when it comes to the Olympics.
Tell me more about the Lady Divers.
Only women dive, but recently they started letting men do it. They start at age twelve and continue doing it until they die. They dive for seafood.
Wow, it sounds like the Night’s Watch.
Yeah, they even create their own tools and stuff. But the younger generation isn’t participating as much as older ones did.
Switching gears, what’s this I hear about couples wearing matching outfits…? Is that true?
True! Not all couples, it seemed like new couples.
Aww, I think that’s kind of cute!
There were lots of young couples. People are still getting married, but they’re not having kids. Birth rates are really low because their citizens are more focused on education and making money, leaving little time to raise kids or making it difficult. Plus, the cost of living continues to rise.
Yikes. Sounds a lot like what’s happening here in the States. Let’s talk about some more fun stuff. Are Koreans into wheels?
Yeah, they like Hyandai and Kia. And Samsung has a car over there. They keep their cars clean, and they’re relatively new. You don’t see old, raggedy cars in [South] Korea. You don’t see a lot of foreign vehicles, but you see Chevy, BMW, Mercedes and occasionally Audi.
I like their taste! Speaking of which, did you see any American restaurants?
Gross! Were there any Korean dishes that stood out?
Of course, you’ve got the kimchi. They serve it with every meal. I really liked the sweet potato noodles, and the bulgogi was good. The whole Korean barbecue thing is fun to do. Authentic bibimbap was nice. The abalone was good, but it was interesting since it was alive.
Well, that’s intense. How did you handle your long haul flight?
What should people know about visiting South Korea?
They don’t believe in trash cans because they don’t believe in collecting waste. [The logic is] that if they provide trash cans, people will become more wasteful. But since there are no trash cans, people tend to think more about the waste they create.
And it seems pretty effective to me. From the countryside to its skyscraper-dominated urban sprawl, South Korea is absolutely stunning in photos.
Warner is still residing in Atlanta where he enjoys avoiding the heavy traffic, renovating his home and spending time with family.
Have you been to South Korea? What was your experience?