Gwangju (광주) is located in the southwestern Korea, smack in the middle of the Jeollanamdo Province, although it is not technically considered part of it. Instead, it is an independent metropolitan city. This province is known for agriculture, the beautiful countryside, strong women, and the diverse fresh foods. There are also plenty of islands dotting the ocean for a quick escape from the mainland.
Literally meaning City of Light, Gwangju is the sixth largest city with a population of 1.4 million (As of 2010), all packed within 500 square kilometers. As most cities in Korea, Gwangju is densely packed, as one can observe from the top of the Sajik Park observatory, Mudeungsan, or Geumdang Mountain.
People of Gwangju, so I’ve heard, have a distinct accent from the standard Korean dialect. It sounds harsh and more “sing-song-like”, as described by Koreans. My language skills are not quite high enough to distinguish who is from what region, but I do generally notice a change in tone between Gwangjuvians and Seoulites, but it is especially distinct from people in Daegu.
People from the shiny city of Seoul sometimes consider Gwangju to be the countryside, but I beg to differ. It has a vibrant and active community that can be busy, but still has a comforting small-town feel. There are still so many neighborhoods I have not yet explored, but it is doable. There are plenty of outdoor activities if you want to escape into nature within city boundaries. Seoul, on the other hand, can be overwhelmingly huge and crowded. There are pros and cons to living in a giant city, but personally I find Gwangju charming and of the perfect size.
Gwangju is also known for the democratic uprising that began on May 18, 1980. It started when Chonnam National University students were peacefully protesting the Chun Doo-hwan government. Things violently escalated among demonstrators and soldiers for the next week. Civilians were brutally beaten by the military and as many as 606 people, including police, soldiers and students, died. This is a complex topic that I am not fully equipped to write about, but I recommend you do some internet searches and visit the 5-18 Cemetery and museum to learn more about this horrific incident.
Gwangju is often overlooked by tourists who usually opt to visit Seoul, Busan, and Jeju, but the city attracts its fair share of tourists. Some noteworthy events in Gwangju are being one of the hosts for the 2002 World Cup, holding the annual Kimchi Festival, the Biennale art event twice a year, World Music Festival, Gwangju International Community Day, Honam International Marathon, World Human Rights City Forum, 7080 Chungjang Recollection Festival, the Gwangju International Film Festival, and many more! Another sporting event, the Universiade, will attract tourists for two weeks in July 2015.
I will admit that the city is more of a wonderful place to live and get to know. Some locals complain that there aren’t as many tourist attractions as say, Seoul and Busan, but I think there are some noteworthy things to see. Still, Gwangju should not be overlooked if you have the time!
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