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[Herald Interview] Explorer highlights importance of Eurasia for Korea

South Korean explorer Kim Hyeon-gug (left) poses with a bystander in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany during his fourth Eurasia trip on August 28 2019. (Courtesy of Kim Hyeon-gug)
South Korean explorer Kim Hyeon-gug (left) poses with a bystander in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany during his fourth Eurasia trip on August 28 2019. (Courtesy of Kim Hyeon-gug)
 
Exploring unchartered territories is a daunting path for anyone, but fear of the unknown has not held back South Korean explorer Kim Hyeon-gug, 52, from traversing Eurasia four times.

In his latest voyage from May-October, Kim, a law graduate-turned-explorer, ventured over 20,000 kilometers on his motorcycle, going from Busan to Siberia before heading to Amsterdam. He also traveled the area in 1996, 2014 and 2017.

“It is vital for export-dependent South Korea to secure various logistics routes. … Also I thought someone has to obtain data on Eurasia in preparation for a unified Korea,” Kim said during a phone interview with The Korea Herald on April 23.

“Through my 2019 journey I was able to confirm the competitive edge the trans-Eurasia trail has over the trans-Siberian railway network, ships, airplanes and other transportation,” Kim said.

Through the four journeys, he said he has obtained firsthand information on crossing Eurasia, including “12 basecamps” at intersections between feeder roads and expressways.

Asked why he chose the same route four times, he said “It’s that important. Think of it as how you would repeatedly study important parts when studying.”

Eurasia is a massive market with a population of 4.5 billion and abundant natural treasures and the US, Russia and China are expanding their presence in the area. And the Korean Peninsula is the starting point, he explained.

“For me, the unification of the two Koreas means the encounter of the Korean peninsula and the rest of Eurasia.”

In 1996, he took off for Siberia with his 125 cubic centimeter motorbike on the day of his graduation from college, and traveled some 12,000 kilometers to Moscow in eight months.

But the beginning of Kim’s adventures dates back to 1991, when he went to Japan and then to India after completing his compulsory military service.

“Three years of traveling in India sparked my interest in ‘borders.’… Seeing travelers create their own stories while crossing borders without constraint led me to dream of a unified Korea,” Kim said.

Kim’s adventures came at a cost, both financially and personally.

“Being an explorer is not an official profession in Korea. This means the job is alienated from the public eye. It is sort of like being in a remote and anxious wilderness,” Kim said.

“Nights spent on the plains of Siberia are of fear. But in facing my fear and limits, I learn what it means to be humble in front of nature and God.”

With the fruits of his decades of hard work, he became the first South Korean to join The Explorers Club in New York last year. The World Exploration Culture Institute, which he founded here in 2000 and now chairs, was recently registered with the Korean government as a non-profit organization.

Kim is currently working to establish a “Eurasia complex,” which he described as a space for travelers seeking to experience the area.

In 2021, Kim plans to finish his “digital silk road journey.” The project aims to encourage the younger generation around the world to engage in discussions about outstanding global challenges, such as climate change, poverty, diseases among others, to contribute to creating a better world as they travel across the silk road.

By Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)
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