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Silk Road Trip Impresses S. Korean Students

Kim Ju-hyung is a shy, good-looking young man, an ordinary university sophomore in South Korea. He plays soccer, once thought of The Beatles as heroes - and as well as the normal things one would expect from any young student, he loves China.

He considers the vast, ancient but rapidly developing neighboring country as exotic as western countries - yet it "always brings him the feeling of cordiality," he says.

"Geographically we are close to each other, but we are different in so many ways - for example history, language, literature and thought," he said.

The athlete in him wanted to hike miles on the Great Wall; the artist in him wanted to visit the Mogao Grottoes of Dunhuang; the warrior in him wanted to see Emperor Qin's life-size terracotta army; and the photographer in him wanted to see places where he could position his camera in any direction and take pictures of the landscape.

Kim managed to accomplish all during his 10-day summer tour of China along with 99 other university students from South Korea. Kim and his friends were selected from more than 30,000 students who signed up for the tour.

Setting off to re-experience the Silk Road, they started from Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, travelled eastward into Gansu Province and then to Xi'an, the eastern end of the road. Their final destination was Beijing, the Chinese capital.

Kim said the tour was tough as they were always on the road, by plane, train, bus, or even on foot; but he said they were all energetic and keen.

"We were touring historical sites in this vast land and learning about Chinese culture, and that's what kept us eager," Kim said. "I learned more about Chinese lifestyle in the past 10 days than I could have learned in a year of study," he said.

For Jeon Byong-ho, a junior from Pukyong National University, his favorite experience was shopping in a bazaar in Urumqi, which he considered the best place to buy Uygur ethnic goods.

"The bazaar offered a different type of adventure the opportunity to sample exotic multi-ethnic fare," he said. He said he had negotiated with the shopkeepers for good prices and bought some "really weird" stuff.

He also enjoyed watching acrobats tight-rope walking in the market.

He said they were stared at a lot. "It's because we were such a big group all wearing the same clothes, but I didn't feel any animosity."

For most of the male students, the most impressive part of the tour was the city of Xi'an, where one of the world's greatest archaeological discoveries came to light in 1974.

The soldiers, horses and weapons representing the imperial guard of China's first emperor Qinshihuang (259-211BC) were discovered nearby.

"It's hard to imagine how much engineering knowledge they had thousands of years ago," said Hwang Jun-ha, an engineering major at Seoul National University, who admires the wisdom of the ancient Chinese.

He said the trip was too short and he did not have the time to study the warriors in a detailed way.
As some of the students head into their senior year, they say their experience here has affected their perceptions of their world and their dreams for the future.

"People should visit other parts of the world as much as they can and be open to everything," said Seo Bo-ra, who wants to be a primary school teacher.

Seo said that unlike his country, China is so vast that it has numerous different landscapes. In Dunhuang she walked through the desert for the first time.

"I will tell my students what I have experienced in China and I hope one day I can take them to western China to taste it for themselves."

University freshman Kim Jae-hoon said China has great potential and will be the economic centre of Asia. "I hope China's emergence will give impetus to the development of the economy of Asia as a whole and I want to take home this good development tendency."

As the students were eating their last dinner of the trip many of them spoke of their desire to study Chinese when they got back. Some said they would consider working here.

The students spent most of the time in western China. They had only one day to share with 55 Chinese peers from more than 10 universities in Beijing.

The young people held a friendly football match, explored Wangfujing Street in Beijing's commercial area and enjoyed a campfire party the day before their departure.

"We had a lot to talk about," said Wang Shuo, a senior from the University of International Economics and Business. "The topics were so wide-ranging - from popular movie stars to the politics of northeast Asia."

All the students took notebooks with them. "This was a way of communication that helped us conquer the language barrier," said Guo Shiqiang, a graduate from Peking University.

Guo said that because of the long history of cultural exchanges between the countries, the cultures of China, the Korean Peninsula and Japan have a lot in common yet are still different.

Kanji (Chinese characters), for instance, are used in Chinese, Korean and Japanese. On the Korean Peninsula, people mainly use their own characters, Hangul, with Korean syllables.

But "a lot of vocabulary, including our names, can be written in Chinese characters," Guo said. "And we can understand each other through written kanji."

Sponsored by Kyobo Life, a life insurance company in South Korea, the tour to China has been carried out four times since 2001.

Kumjoo Huh, the chief representative of Kyobo's Beijing office, said the significance of the trip was to help visiting students discover themselves and their place as global citizens, especially in the Northeast Asia region.

"China is playing a more and more important role in Northeast Asia, and Korean students should gain a better knowledge of its giant neighbor and see how China develops," she said, adding the two countries have a lot to learn from each other.

Peking University Professor Han Zhenqian said it is essential to carry on exchanges between young people, saying that at Peking University alone, there were about 500 South Korean students.

The two countries are complementary with their economies and with their long-term friendship - and a better understanding can only aid future co-operation for common development.

Jaeik Jung, the team leader who took care of the students, said the trip will continue to take place each year and the sponsor is considering including Chinese students on the whole trip instead of just spending one or two days with their overseas peers.

Waving goodbye to Beijing on August 19, Kim said he would return some day and would carry these little bits of China in his memory for the rest of his life.

(China Daily August 20, 2005)


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