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

Looking Back

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

We have left South Korea but before we blog about that final week, we want to look back to the beginning of our time in Korea.  During our first week there, we traveled to Seoul for some orientation sightseeing.  We did not post much about it because we always thought we would return.  Little did we know the future.

When we visited Seoul that Saturday (middle of January), it was very cold and we were still very much in jet-lag mode.  We had other things to blog about at the time and just assumed we would return to Seoul and then combine our activities into one post.  It didn’t happen.

We rode the train to Seoul that day – about 1 hour ride.  Our MCC service worker met us at the station and showed us how to get to the subway which we rode.  We ate lunch at an Indian restaurant.

We walked to Gyeongbok Palace, the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty.  It was built in 1395, reduced to ashes during the Japanese invasion of 1592, rebuilt in 1867, and again extensively damaged during the Japanese occupation of the early 20th century.  Restoration efforts have been ongoing since 1990.  We took a tour and visited a number of the buildings on the nearly 100-acre piece of land.  It is a beautiful place with beautiful/ornate buildings.  We did not write down the name of the places we visited so we can’t tell you.  Just know that is was a remarkably interesting area.

We had wanted to see various other places in the vicinity, but the main street was packed.  Apparently, it is a custom in recent years to hold huge rallies/protests on Saturday on this street.  Some groups were wanting a former president released from prison; another group were demanding that the government investigate the Sewol Ferry tragedy; another group were advocating for recognition of the “Comfort Women” from the war.  And many other issues.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was our only significant time spent in Seoul.

House of Sharing

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

On May 8, which is “Parents Day” in Korea, the MCC NEA “family” had their first and last team outing with all of the team together.  Because of Covid-19 it has been difficult to all be together at one time.

The time was both celebratory but also disturbing as we visited House of Sharing in Seoul. This is a shelter for victims of Japanese military sexual slavery in World War II commonly referred to as “comfort women.”  The collection of buildings includes “The Museum of Sexual Slavery by Japanese Military” which tries to tell the truth about the Japanese military’s brutal abuse of women during the War.  The present buildings were opened in 1998.  The victims continue their struggle for a formal apology and legal compensation from the Japanese government.  Every Wednesday they participate in a protest in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

As of December 2016, 239 women have registered as victims of Japanese military sexual slavery to South Korean government.  As of 2001, there were 211 registered survivors in North Korea.  It is estimated that there were 50,000 to 200,000 in 13 Asian-Pacific countries.  This dark history was hidden for decades until the 1990’s when some women began to speak out. 

The museum tells many of their stories. Maps are shown as to where they were recruited, taken, and returned. We could listen to some of their stories. We read of their histories and what they want from the Japanese government.

The residents here at House of Sharing each have their own rooms but share time in a common living area.  They often meet visitors and give their stories but because of Covid-19 they were not able to do so with us.

The House of Sharing offers art therapy programs for its residents. In 2017, a memorial and exhibition hall opened on the grounds of the House of Sharing. It includes a space to showcase the artwork surviving comfort women have made. There is a replica of a room in a comfort station where women lived.

We have some photos but more of their stories can be seen on their official website. “We must record these things that were forced upon us.”

Bonacom

Friday, May 8th, 2020

We recently visited a possible SALT/YAMEN placement.  It is located about 170 miles south of us and was an all-day adventure by car with our MCC Connecting Peoples person.  Bonacom (“bon”=good; com=community) is a religious intentional community located in a small village.  There are 5 families in this location, each having their own home but sharing things in common. 

They are located in a very rural beautiful mountainous region and focus on organic farming.  They raise chickens on organic feed which they make themselves, using rice bran as its base.  They raise rice so have much bran available.  (We were sad to see the chickens kept in pens, however.)  They get about 1000 eggs a day!

They are raising vegetables by hydroponic methods.  Interesting to see all the delicious-looking greens.  They send their produce all over the country.

The community was 12 families but recently 7 have moved to a different area so there are many empty buildings.  They hope that others will join them.  They have improved the village since they started, planting many flowers, building a community building.

We had lunch in a local restaurant – tofu in a chili broth with condiments.

April 30 & May 1

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

We celebrated Buddha’s birthday April 30 and Labor Day on May 1.  On Buddha’s birthday, we hiked up our nearby hill where we had discovered a small Buddhist temple.  The temple was colorfully decorated with lanterns which had wishes/hopes attached.  Since the temple was open, we were able to go inside the temple and look around the grounds.

On May 1 SeongHan (MCC staff) took us to Seoraksan Mountain National Park and the coast. 

Seoraksan is the highest mountain in our province in eastern South Korea.  It is the third highest mountain in South Korea. We hiked about 4.5 miles round trip – down and then up.  The scenery was stunning.  Our local meal in the middle of the hike was delicious.

From there we went to Yangyang, located on the coast and visited Naksansa Temple which is a Korean Buddhist temple complex.  It also had the lanterns strung for Buddha’s birthday.  Naksansa was founded in 671. The temple mount is crowned by the Buddhist statue of Haesugwaneumsang ( Bodhisattva of Mercy), standing 49 feet high on a 9.2 ft high pedestal and  was dedicated in 1977. It is the largest Buddhist statue of its kind in the Asia

Buksanmeyeon

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

The last week of April we made our first venture outside of Chuncheon by ourselves by car.  (about 50 miles round trip)  One of our staff members had recommended a rural area where the cherry blossoms would be beautiful.  We had planned to go the previous weekend, when the trees would be at their fullest, but it rained.  The trees were still lovely but we could see they were past their prime. 

We stopped at a small road, parked and walk down the road a mile or so.  It was wonderful to be out in the rural area.  It happened to be a Mountain Eco Village but was incredibly quiet, except for bird songs.  We had some beautiful views of the hills and lakes/rivers.  Enjoyable!

Various activities

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

We have explored more of the city on foot.  (Photos are in no particular order.)

We have a sculpture park that we often walk through on our way to the lake.  Interesting sculptures! We also find it interesting that people here like to bring a tent to the park (supposedly not allowed) for a picnic and afternoon.

We have eaten out several times, having a variety of food.

During the two weeks in March that we were all in the office, we did have a wonderful meal at SeongHan’s (MCC staff) house with all staff and family.  On Easter those of us in Chuncheon also gathered at his house for a lovely Easter dinner.

We have had a couple of office visitors.  And when more than one of us is in the office, we try to have 3:00 tea together.

And at home we have played games and put puzzles together. At one point we kept getting colder and colder. We realized that there seemed to be no heat. (We cannot control the heat; the heat is by hot water through the floor.) We finally asked one of our staff to contact our landlord, and yes, there had been no heat since April 1. (Outside temperatures were in the low 40’s at night.) There is no heat because the water pipes are corroded and there is a plan to redo them–but not this spring!

Our Environment

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

We realize that we have not posted any blog since we returned from Chiang Mai, Thailand at the end of February—and this is the end of April!  What has happened during those two months?  Sure not what we expected.  Looking back at that blog, feels like years ago!

At the end of that trip, we noted that the MCC team had decided, in the best interests of health, to work from home for two weeks.  We did so.  We all returned to the office for about 2 weeks.  Then the South Korean government called for more “social distancing” and the cancellation of large group gatherings, including closing schools and church services.  Two of our MCC staff live in Seoul, about a 1-hour train ride from Chuncheon.  They also both travel on crowded subways in Seoul in order to get to the train.  So, it was decided that it was an individual choice as to whether to come to the office or to work from home.  We would follow this until schools were open.  It now seems that most things will open after May 5—though not the schools.

Thus, our March and April have been quite different.  We have both worked at home but also gone to the office some days.  We have spent lots of time exploring the various trails along the rivers and lakes and the hill near us.  (Photos are in no particular order.)

The photos above are along the rivers and lake. We also have a hill near us that we sometimes hike.

As the weather became warmer, our walks became longer.  The bikes were finally tuned and we did several bike rides—one around the lake, about 20 miles.

Since non-essential travel is discouraged, we have only been out of the city once – to attend a meeting in Seoul.  We have not been able to see many of the historical and beautiful sites we had hoped.  But we have seen Spring arrive in Chuncheon – with all the beautiful color of spring flowers.  cherry tree blossoms, forsythia, magnolia, lilacs, azaleas, tulips, hyacinth, spiraea, red bud, plum tree blossoms, dandelions, violets, and others we cannot identify.

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.