Archive for the ‘ROK – Rep of South Korea’ Category

Chiang Mai (2)

Sunday, March 1st, 2020

Saturday morning was spent at Seven Fountains Jesuit Spirituality Center for a silent retreat.  One of the Fathers introduced us to the practice of meditation and explained the various areas around the center.  We then spent 2 ½ hours in silence and our own thoughts.  There was a labyrinth, several chapels, open gardens with birds chirping, water.  It was a welcomed time by all of us.  We ended our time there with a silent lunch.

We were then thrust out into the “real/loud” world!  We went to Wat Umong built in 1297.  It is famous for its tunnels and large stupa.  The tunnels have many Buddhist images in carved nooks of the walls.  There also are larger statues.  The “naga” represents rebirth, death, and mortality. There is an area of broken statues. There are “talking trees” which have words of wisdom in Thai and English.  These proverbs hang from trees on footpaths leading to the small lake where we fed the fish and saw many pigeons and turtles.

We were joined in our afternoon activities by Min, the administrative assistant for the MCC office, and the Area Directors for Southeastern Asia.  We went to a craft market for a cold Thai milk tea and for shopping.

In the evening we went to the Night Market, stopping on the way to see a championship game of Sepak Takraw, or kick volleyball. a sport native to southeast asia. A rattan ball is used and players are only allowed to use their feet, knee, chest and head to touch the ball. It also happened to be the night for a gay pride parade in Chiang Mai.

Sunday we had a short worship and sharing time in the morning followed by a relaxing afternoon.  We all went out for one last meal of khao soi gai – and it was the best!  Also cold Thai milk tea was refreshing. We began our travels back to Chuncheon, leaving Chiang Mai at 11 p.m. and arriving at our apartment 1 p.m. the next day! Because of coronavirus and because our travels included being in close proximity with many people (planes and buses), the MCC team has chosen to work from home for two weeks.

Jeju Island

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

We spent last weekend on Jeju Island attending an MCSK (Mennonite Church South Korea) Conference.  Two-hour bus ride to airport, one-hour air flight, and 45 min taxi drive to Myungsung Academy Center.  Since the conference was all in Korean, we attended some of the meetings (with a translator) but also had time for a bit of sightseeing.

The Retreat Center is owned by Presbyterian Church and has nice grounds.  Jeju Island itself is a lovely island.  It has a warmer climate than Chuncheon but also has the highest mountain (volcanic-over 6,000 feet) in South Korea.  There was snow on the mountain in the middle of the island and sandy or rocky beaches with palm trees along the coast!

There were several observations from the conference.  This is a small conference with only 4 churches; the largest church is Jesus Heart Church with about 30 attendees.  Since the conference is small and new, there are many decisions to make.  How does a church join the conference? What are the requirements for ordination? Should there be a website? Each church described their activities during the year. Etc. etc.  Most people were engaged and not afraid to speak out.  During the business meeting there was some use of timers to limit a single person in speaking.  Voting was by show of cards: blue (proceed), yellow (may need more discussion), red (no).  On one vote there was a red card held.  That person needed to explain her vote.

There were various reports given, including MCC.  The women were enthused about a Sister Care event that was held in November. There was also a fair amount of singing.  They use songs from the Mennonite hymnal; so we knew them.  The last activity that we observed was an auction.  They hold one each year to raise money – and to have fun. 

Oh yes, and as is the custom here, we needed to take off our shoes whenever we entered the room.  Slippers were provided.  (This sometimes happens in restaurants also!)

The first afternoon after attending the opening session, we visited the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park by ourselves.  “Jeju 4.3 Peace Park is a memorial park and museum … to commemorate the losses suffered during the Jeju uprising. The Peace Park opened on March 28, 2008 as part of reparations for victims based on the findings from the Jeju 4.3 Committee which was commissioned in 2000. The Jeju uprising was a series of incidents where 25,000 to 30,000 Jeju residents were killed as a result of clashes between armed civilians and military forces.” Wikipedia.

The Jeju uprising occurred from April 1948 to May 1949; it is a story in history that very few Americans (or most of the world) have heard about.  In fact it was censored and repressed in South Korea for decades.  It is notable for the violence and atrocities that occurred (10% of the residents were killed and more than 10% fled) were committed on both sides—residents (who opposed the division of Korea) and pro-South Korea government (including US military). Some say it really was the beginning of the Korean War.

“After World War II, Korea was divided between an American-backed government in the South and a Soviet-backed one in the North. Starting in the spring of 1947, a group of Jeju islanders rose up against police brutality and called for a unified Korean government. The police and soldiers, joined by a right-wing paramilitary group from the mainland, responded with an extermination campaign, branding the insurgents as Communist agitators. The rebels fought back, raiding police stations, but vastly outnumbered and outgunned, the peasant army was eventually crushed. The 1948 U.S. military occupation of Korea supported plans for the systematic killing of what was named as a ‘Red Island’ population that needed to be violently suppressed, regardless of who was killed.” (New York Times article published in May 2019)

It was a disturbing but beautiful place to visit.  We watched a short video, had a 45-minute tour in English, and spent another hour touring the memorial hall again.  We then spent an hour walking through the gardens. The nettle tree* is considered sacred, representing the communal reunion and consolation of the suffering. The symbol of April 3 is the camellia*, a flower that represents the Jeju residents who fell silently to the cold earth like red petals on that day.

Our second afternoon was spent in happier spots.  We visited Cheonjiyeon Waterfall – 72 feet tall.  We walked along a landscaped trail with many subtropical plants.  There were a number of signs explaining the fauna and relating Korean legends. Here we saw several “stone grandfather” which are large black volcanic rock statues up to 3 feet tall found on Jeju Island. They are considered to be gods offering both protection and fertility and were placed outside of gates for protection against demons traveling between realities. “The statues’ faces feature grinning expressions, bulging eyes without pupils, a long, broad nose, and slight smile, and their hands rest on their bellies, one slightly above the other. In sets of two, one has a higher left hand, and the other a higher right hand.” Wikipedia.

We then stopped to see Oedolgae rock (about 65 ft tall) and walk along the cliffs. Oedolgae (“lonely”) is carved by wave erosion and is called a sea stack.  At the peak of the stack, there are pine trees that are regenerating.

Legend: There is a legend that says that the rock is actually a grandmother who transformed into a rock after waiting for a grandfather to return from fishing, and so it is also called Grandma Rock. At the top of the rock, grass grows like human hair, and to the left you may see something that resembles facial features, including something that is shaped exactly like the grandmother who kept on calling out to the grandfather. Right underneath Oedolgae Rock there is a rock that looks as if it is floating on the water. According to legend, this rock is the grandfather, who died and was transformed into a rock. Behind the rock there is Seonnyeo Rock, which translates to Angel Rock and looks as if it is hugging the old couple.

Another legend: According to a different legend, at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty when General Choi Young fought against the people of Mokho, who had conquered Jeju Island at the time, Bumsum Island right behind Oedolgae Rock was the place of the last battle. As part of his military strategy, General Choi dressed Oedolgae Rock to look like an enormous soldier. Upon seeing the rock from a distance, the people of Mokho mistook the rock to be the general, concluded that they had completely lost the battle, and killed themselves. Therefore, this rock is also referred to as General Rock.

Chuncheon – nature

Saturday, February 1st, 2020

We are beginning to explore the immediate environs of Chuncheon, mostly places to which we can walk.  From our apartment its about ½ mile to the MCC office and just beyond the office is a river. This river flows into a large lake formed by a dam.  We also can walk about ¾ mile a different direction from our apartment and reach this lake.  Therefore, we can make a round trip.  There are walking/biking trails everywhere and we are discovering them.  We imagine that during the next six months we will post many photos of this area as we watch the seasons change.  Now the trees are bare and brown and there is a thin sheet of ice in places.

It seems that South Koreans like to exercise.  There are always people walking along the paths—some at a leisurely pace but many at a fast pace.  And many bicyclists. There are a number of exercise machines located along the paths also.

We are hoping when the weather gets warm that we can ride bikes around the lake. (There are several routes but we can do a loop for about 30km.)  For now, we took our first exploratory drive last weekend.  The mountains are wonderful.  And the stop for coffee, cheesecake and tiramisu wasn’t bad either!  We hope to do some hiking in mountains when it gets warmer.


First Activities

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

During our first week we were introduced to our MCC staff and various other people.  The first photo includes (starting on the left); HaeYoung (SeongHan’s wife), Jiwon (MCC office manager, logistics, our “go-to” person), R, SJ, Jenny (MCC service worker who oversees our work in DPRK), Blaine and Rebecca Burkholder Derstine (our “bosses” located in Chiangmai, Thailand), SeongHan (MCC staff overseeing MCC peace activities-with many connections to Goshen), Aaron (here for our first week auditing MCC books), Solga (MCC staff who oversees our Global Service Learning Program).  We had chicken galbi for which Chuncheon is famous.  Delicious!!

We have tea nearly every afternoon in the office.  The pictures included here are not all that great, but we were celebrating Ron’s birthday with some delicious cheesecake and Korean steamed buns (filled with mung bean paste or with meat).  SunJu Moon directs the KAC which shares the office floor with MCC.  She also has connections to Goshen!

Our first Saturday in Korea we took the train to Seoul and met the other MCC service worker who showed us a tiny bit of Seoul.  That will be another blog sometime.

The following Saturday we again took the train to Seoul and attended the annual Anabaptist Conference.  There were 80-100 participants – not just Mennonites, but people who are interested in what it means to be Anabaptist.  There were four main speakers (only the first one was Mennonite):

  • History of Anabaptists in 17th century
  • History of the church in Korea
  • Pastor of a social activist church
  • Environmental activist

It was four hours of Korean with translation!

We attended Jesus Village Church one Sunday.  We discovered that we knew – or at least had acquaintance – with a number of people at the church.  Two women we had met in Laos three years ago when we were there; a man who attended Goshen College in the physics department and knew Ron and who knew Sally Jo from the library; many who knew our good friends Erv and Marian Wiens (from Kenya days) who had ministered here for six years.

One day we visited Peace Building and met our MCC SALTer who is living and working there for this year.  The name of the building has a double meaning in that it also describes the purpose of the activities – peace conferences, forums, education, etc. – that are created and held there.  They also run a coffee shop.  A group of items in the director’s office are arranged symbolically.  They are lined up on a break in the wall.  The top is the North & South Korean presidents shaking hands across the divide; the second is the famous painting of Dirk Willems helping his pursuer.

And during our first two weeks here we had 1 ½ hr language lesson 5 days a week.  The language seems very organized with most symbols having only one sound.  Trying to remember those symbols is difficult for us!  However, we do feel that we can “read” many signs—we just don’t know what they mean!

Chuncheon – Welcome

Monday, January 27th, 2020

We want to briefly introduce you to our home for the next six months.  As you know, we are Interim MCC Reps for Northeast Asia.  Our home is in Chuncheon which is about an hour’s train ride from Seoul.

We have a lovely 3-bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor of a 14-storey building.  It is located amongst several similarly tall buildings on a hillside.  Because of the tall buildings we only get direct sun light in our living room about 1 hour a day.  The heating is in the floor and is controlled by “others.”  Most of the time it is warm enough.  But once in a while, we need our “fireplace!”

We walk the ½ mile to the MCC office every day.  We walk under the railroad and through a market which is held every day that ends in “2” or “7”.  There are several different routes/streets that we can take.  Sometimes we go past Lotte (our main grocery store) and past a construction area.  Sometimes we take the route where we head towards the “rubber ducky!”

Our office is on the third floor of a VW dealer.  As the signs indicate, we (MCC) share space with KAC (Korea Anabaptist Center) and Jesus Heart Church.  On our way home from the office our final stretch goes up a significant hill which climbs about 130 feet in about 1 city block.  We will eventually get used to the climb, but for now we are still winded by the time we get home!