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Word Travels - Behind the Scenes in South Korea by Robin Esrock
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Behind the Scenes in South Korea
by Robin Esrock / Published October 24 2008
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We film a lot for a half hour show, and so much ends up on the cutting room floor (or more accurately, the bin system in the edit suite).    We had found a young Canadian ESL teacher named Matthew James and it was his class that I got to pounce on with my makeshift geography lesson.  Matthew and the school were terrific about my invasion, but unfortunately there was no space to throw in more info, or even Matthew and I chilling in the relaxation caverns at the spa.    As for the kids, well, it truly was terrifying to go up and entertain a class of 11-year olds.   There was no rehearsal or setup (there never is on our show), we arrived, I plugged into their very modern projector system, and away we went.   Having finally placated my mother by getting a TV show (being a travel bum was never going to cut it), she’s now on my case that I should become a teacher.  

I tried to meditate, I really did.   But the mosquitoes were insane.   In the ear, chomping away on my legs.  I asked the monk if it’s OK to swat mosquitoes, and he replied, serenely: “Monks do not harm mosquitoes.”   I guess the monkhood is safe from me.  
As for the 108 prostrations, by number 63 my knees were creaking, I was sweating, and an auspicious wet spot was on the mat where my head touched every time.  I’ve found that it takes a couple days to adjust to being outside your comfort zone, be it in a monastery, an ashram, a kibbutz or a jungle.   Once you do find that new routine, it can be very peaceful, and very chill.   Naturally, we crammed in as much as we could into the two days we had, and were back to Seoul before our souls could acclimatize.

Seoul was in the midst of a full-scale riot.  The people were protesting the fact that the government were relaxing the ban on US beef imports.   Koreans take their meat seriously.  The ban came after cases of Mad Cow were reported in the US, and Korea is a major US beef importer.  The already unpopular government unleashed the fury of the people, and well over 100,000 protestors gathered downtown every night.  The riot police were out in force, and our hotel was right in the thick of it.  We’d go down every night and speak to the masses, pull a rope or two, get water cannoned.  It didn’t make sense to include much of it in the show because we’re not a news show, and demonstrations fall outside the travel sections.  Plus the gear would have been destroyed.   But it was interesting to see a mobilized, passionate population get behind something they thought was wrong.  Considering how many people were involved, it’s amazing nobody was seriously injured or killed in the clashes. South Koreans are passionate, but wonderfully civilized too.  


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