Jeju Island

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

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

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

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!


September 26th, 2019

Our drive to Casablanca was along the coast part of the way.  Beautiful.

We had one full day in Casablanca.   Casablanca is one of the largest and most important cities in Africa.  It is Morocco’s chief port and one of the largest financial centers on the continent (according to Wikipedia).  It is an economic and business center.  Industry (automobile) and phosphate is very important.

The main attraction is the Hassan II Mosque designed by a French architect.  It is situated on a promontory on the Atlantic Ocean.  The mosque has room for 25,000 worshipers inside, and a further 80,0000 can be accommodated in the mosque’s courtyard.  The minaret is the world’s tallest at 690 feet.  The mosque is the third-largest in the world.  The work started in 1989 and was completed in 1993 at an estimated cost of $800 million.  Photos really don’t do justice to the building complex.

Notre-Dame de Lourdes Church is a modernist Catholic church that was built between 1953-56. The main attraction of the church is the glasswork of world-famous stained glass artist Gabriel Loire.  The glass windows cover the entire two side walls.  It is impossible in photos to convey the beauty.  There is a grotto in the courtyard to Bernadette Soubirous who had multiple visions of the Virgin Mary on the outskirts of Lourdes in 1858.

We did a brief stop in the souk and also drove by colonial and modern buildings of the city.  (It does not look like Chefchaouen!!)

We took a tram to the cornice, ate lunch, and returned to the hotel.

In the evening the six of us who had spent the entire three weeks together went out for dinner at an unusual restaurant—NKOA.  Fusion meals of Asian and Moroccan.  Interesting.  And one last photo out our hotel bedroom window.

It was a good trip!



Essaouira area

September 25th, 2019

While staying in Essaouira, we spent one day in the surrounding area.  We started by stopping at French horse stable.  Beautiful horses!

The area south of Essaouira to Agadir is the special area for argon trees.  Argon trees apparently only grow in two places in the world—southern Morocco and some place in Mexico.  However, the trees in Mexico do not provide fruit.  We have seen argon oil sold in several places in Morocco but this is the REAL place—where the trees grow!  One classic image is that goats like to eat the argon leaves.  There are many photos of goats climbing trees but we were told that many of those photos have goats tied in the tree.  The ones we saw were not tied since as we watched them, they jumped from branch to branch and from tree to ground.  We suspect there were so many goats in one tree because it seemed to be the only green tree around.

We stopped at a women’s cooperative for argon oil and saw again how it is made.  The women sang and danced for us also.  We tasted bread with argon oil, argon oil and honey, and argon oil and ground almonds.

In the rural areas, markets are often held on only one day of the week.  We found a Berber market on our day.  It was different than the souks since everything was outside.

Our last stop was at a vineyard started by a French man in 1994.  We enjoyed lunch there, tasting three types of wine—white, rose, and red.


September 24th, 2019

Essaouira has been occupied since prehistoric times.  It is considered one of the best harbors of the Moroccan coast, partly because it is sheltered by the island of Mogador, making it a peaceful harbor protected against strong ocean winds.  The Carthaginians established a trading post in 5th century BC; early 1st century a Berber king established a Tyrian purple factory processing the shells of a nearby island.  (Tyrian purple is an imperial purple produced by the secretaion of several species of predatory sea snails.)  The dye was used in the togas worn by the Senators of Rome.  The Portuguese built a fort in the 16th century.  The present day city was built in the mid-18th century by the Berber king, Mohammed III.

Mohammed III encouraged Jews to settle in Essaouira.  At one point they represented 40% of the population.  We visited the old Jewish synagogue and the large Jewish cemetery.  There was the annual international commemoration of the death of Rabbi Haim Pinto (1748-1845) during the few days that we were in Essaouira.  Our hotel must have hosted several hundred.

In the early 1950s Orson Welles stayed at a hotel just south of the town walls during the filming of his 1952 classic version of “Othello” which contains several scenes shot in the streets and alleyways of the medina. Legend has it that during Welles’ sojourn in the town he met Winston Churchill, another guest at the hotel. A bas-relief of Orson Welles was located in a small square just outside the medina walls close to the sea but recently it has been destroyed by weather.  Beginning in the late 1960s, Essaouira became something of a hippie hangout.

We visited the fish market early in the day as fresh fish were being sold.  A local fisherman guided us, pointing out the various species and how to tell if the fish was fresh.  Sardines are very popular and abundant.  The sardine boats go out at 2 or 3 in the morning and return about 10 am.  Other boats may go out for several days.  It was hard to image being in one of those small boats for several days in the ocean!  From the port we also had a good view of Mogador Island, used as a slave hold and a jail, and Iles Purpuraires, having the purple shells.

We picked out some fresh fish.  It was cleaned at the port and taken to an interesting restaurant where we had lunch.  We bought food at the market and also took it to this restaurant where they then prepared our whole meal from items we had bought.

We visited the fort of the city, likely from the mid-18th century.   The ramparts still hold a number of Dutch cannons.

We walked through the medina and saw many similar scenes to the many other medinas we have visited but each one seems to have some unique sites.  We saw an older man making beautiful lutes.  He cut fine narrow strips of aluminum and then pounded the strips into the base of the lute.

Essaouira is known for its wood-working activities, using mostly Thuya wood.  We stopped in one workshop and saw beautiful pieces.

We stopped for coffee mid-morning and listened to a busker singing Beatles’ songs.  We met our guide’s mother and nephew.  The fisherman from the port also came to say goodby after delivering the fish we had chosen to the restaurant.

Various scenes in the medina.

Our last evening we walked along the beach and watched a beautiful sunset.  Essaouira is known for its wind—and it lived up to its reputation.  There were several windsurfers.  The islands made for a beautiful background for the sunset and it was hard to choose just one photo!!!!


Marrakesh to Essaouira

September 23rd, 2019

It was a day’s drive between the two cities but we made only three main stops along the way.  We stopped in a small town that is known for its melons.  (A red mark on the melon means it is from this particular town.)  We sampled and then bought several.

Our next stop was at a woman’s house for lunch.  It  was a woman that OAT has chosen to help.  (As we understand it, a local OAT representative finds people in particular need.  OAT provides them with some money and they in return do something for us travelers—meal, activity, culture instruction, etc.  After a year or two, contacts change so that OAT can help more families.)  This woman was a cook for festivals and had used some of her money to buy a chest freezer.  She told us that she sometimes needs to cook thirty chickens for a wedding!

Our next short stop was with a farmer.  He is renting land and doing various types of farming.

Our last stop was an overlook of Essaouira.  It was hot and hazy so not a very good photo.


September 21st, 2019

Marrakesh is the fourth largest city in Morocco.  We have therefore visited all four of the largest cities – Casablanca, Fes, Tangier.  It was inhabited by the Berbers in ancient times but the city was founded in 1062.  Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading center for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.

We stayed in a lovely Riad.

We had a brief introduction to the Souk and The Square the first night.  “The Jemaa el-Fnaa is one of the best-known squares in Africa and is the centre of city activity and trade. … It has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985. The name roughly means “the assembly of trespassers” or malefactors. … Historically this square was used for public decapitations by rulers who sought to maintain their power by frightening the public. The square attracted dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here, and stalls were raised in the square from early in its history. … Today the square attracts people from a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. Snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers, story-tellers, dentists, pickpockets, and entertainers in medieval garb still populate the square.”  (Wikipedia)  We saw some of this but very difficult to take photos.

Our two days in Marrakesh were packed with seeing many places.  We started with the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in the city.  It was built 1184-1199.  The Kasbah Mosque was originally built by the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansour in 1185-1190. It is located in the old kasbah of Marrakech. Along with the Koutoubia Mosque, it is one of the most important historical mosques in Marrakech.

The Bahia Palace, set in extensive gardens, was built in the late 19th century by the Grand Vizier of Marrakesh, Si Ahmed ben Musa. Bou Ahmed resided here with his four wives, 24 concubines and many children.  It is a beautiful place with extensive rooms.

We visited the beautiful “Museum of Confluences.”  It had been a majestic palace built in 1910 and used as a residence.  It is now brings together many of the influences of Moroccan culture and architecture.  When we visited they had a special exhibit of the influence of Yves Saint Laurent.  (Later we visited a special museum of Yves Saint Laurent’s work but no photos inside were allowed.)

Of course we visited the souk!.  It is always the heart and soul of the town.

We took a carriage ride to the Majorelle Garden.  It had been the home of landscape painter Jacues Majorelle.  Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent bought and restored the property and has a memorial to him.  The garden has a large collection of plants from five continents including many cacti, palms and bamboo.  It was a welcomed cool relief in the heat of Marrakesh.

We visited the old Jewish Quarter (Mellah).  During the 16th century, the Mellah had its own fountains, gardens, synagogues and souks. Until the arrival of the French in 1912, Jews could not own property outside of the Mellah; all growth was consequently contained within the limits of the neighborhood, resulting in narrow streets, small shops and higher residential buildings.  The Alzama Synagogue is located in the area.

Our last afternoon we went to The Secret Garden to relax and enjoy a lovely lunch.  It is a quiet spot with examples of Islamic art and architecture.

In the evening we had a Farewell Meal at a luxury restaurant.  We said good-by to most of the other travelers.  Only six of us are continuing on the post-trip to Essaouira and Casablanca.

Ouarzazate to Marrakesh

September 21st, 2019

This is a very short blog with only scenery photos.  We traveled through lovely mountainous scenery along winding roads.  We reached our highest altitude of 7,415 feet.