Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The more things change...

A few things I've found while researching the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War:
“The situation here is a little more serious today, as the Corean newspaper yesterday came out with a very inflammatory article, calling on the people to murder all the foreigners, and mentioning us first. On account of the street railroad having killed one or two children, they have a special hatred for Americans.

Lieutenant E. T. Witherspoon, U.S. Legation, Seoul, Corea, January 14, 1904
(From this page)

So as you see, having "a special hatred for Americans" due to (or brought to the surface by) running over children isn't really anything new. On the bright side, newspapers don't call for the murder of foreigners anymore, and I, for one, am thankful for that.

In Frederick McKenzie's 1905 book From Tokyo to Tiflis, he describes the corruption of the Korean bureaucracy, of how a person could buy their way into a position such as magistrate, and then to recoup his initial bribe - and pay bribes to those above him - he would squeeze everyone below him, with the peasants getting the worst of it all.
The people can do very little. The clever rich man makes friends in the royal palace, gets the ear of some favorite of the king, and then can live in safety, for none dares touch him. Villagers form local guids and arrive at some understanding with the authorities, an understanding of course always shattered by a new accession of official greed. Then the people murder some yamen runners or a magistrate, or send one of themselves down to Seoul to make extraordinary efforts to bring their grievances before the Emperor. Thus, the winter I was in Seoul a man from Puk-chan went there and lit a great fire on the hills outside to show everyone that he had a grievance.
It appears that hasn't gone out of style:


Now, I haven't a clue if this was rare 100 years ago, and is just a coincidence, or if it happened often enough that there's a precedent for this kind of thing. If there is, then it might point one in the direction of understanding the popularity of self-immolation in Korea.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Foreign correspondents in Korea during the Russo-Japanese War - Part 1

[Update: I mixed up Robert Lee Dunn's biography with that of Robert Steed Dunn. This has been corrected, and what I wrote about the latter has been moved to the bottom of the post.]


Back in December 2006, I wrote about the occupation of Korea after the Battle of Chemulpo (Incheon) at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). It had been my intention to write about some of the foreign correspondents who covered the war, and now I'm finally getting around to it. This will be the first of several posts looking at, primarily, the adventures and observations of the only three foreign correspondents to get to Korea before the war broke out (and before the Japanese prevented any others from going to Korea): Jack London, Robert Dunn, and Frederick McKenzie.

Part 1: From Japan to Korea

After it became apparent that war between Japan and Russia was inevitable, the first war correspondents to leave the United States for Japan were those who sailed from San Francisco on the steamship Siberia on January 7, 1904. Among those on board this ship was writer Frederick Palmer and photographers James H. Hare and Robert L. Dunn, who were all working for Collier's Weekly, Captain Lionel James, writing for the London Times, and Jack London, who was writing for the San Francisco Examiner.

Robert L. Dunn, second from left, Jack London, center,
Frederick Palmer, third from right.

Jack London, who turned 28 during the trip to Japan, is probably the best known of these correspondents. He had worked in factories from the age of 13, and by 17 he had been an oyster pirate and had sailed on a sealing ship which had stopped in the Bonin Islands and Yokohama. Upon his return, he became a tramp and traveled across the U.S. and Canada. He then finished high school and briefly attended the University of California before a lack of funds forced him to quit. In 1897 he sailed north to take part in the Klondike gold rush, where he suffered from scurvy and lost several teeth. Upon his return he started writing short stories. His first attempt at war journalism was during the Boer War, but it ended by the time he arrived in England; he instead spent several weeks living in the slums of London's east end, which led to the book, "People of the Abyss." This book was published in 1903, as was his most famous book, "Call of the Wild."

As he wrote on January 7, 1904, "Sail today for Yokohama. Am going for Hearst. Could have gone for Harper's, Collier's, and N. Y. Herald—but Hearst made the best offer." London wrote many letters home to his future wife, and so we know that he quickly came down with a flu. On January 13 the Siberia stopped in Honolulu, and departed the next day. As he described things the on the 15th,
Am still miserable with my Grippe, but getting better. Had a swim in the surf at Waikiki. Took in the concert at the Hawaiian Hotel, and had a general nice time. The war correspondents, the 'Vultures,' are a jolly crowd. We are bunched up at the Captain's table, now that the passenger list has been reduced by the lot who left at Honolulu. In fact, the trip to Honolulu had three bridal couples which sat at the upper end of the table. This is a funny letter - the correspondents are cutting up all around me; and just now I am being joshed good and plenty.
His next letter, dated January 20, was not as cheerful, as he sprained, and nearly broke, one of his ankles:
Now I have two weak ankles. I fear me I am getting old. Both my knees have been smashed, and now both my ankles. It might be worse, however. What bothers me just now is that I don't know just how bad this last ankle is. Absolute rest, in a rigid bandage, has been the treatment, so not even the surgeon will know till I try to walk on it.
There was a good side to the accident, however:
The smashed ankle is the misfortune; the fortune . . . is the crowd of friends I seem to have collected. From six o'clock in the morning till eleven at night, there was never a moment that my stateroom did not have at least one visitor. As a rule there were three or four, and very often twice as many. I had thought, when the accident happened, that I should have plenty of time for reading; but I was not left alone long enough to read a line.
The next day, he described himself as “Quite the cripple, hobbling around on a pair of crutches,” and on the 24th wrote that he was “walking (very slowly, and limpingly, and carefully) without crutches.” The ship landed at Yokohama on January 25.

Already in Japan was another correspondent, 34 year-old Frederick Arthur McKenzie, a Canadian working for the London Daily Mail, who had sailed to Japan from Australia. McKenzie was born in Quebec in 1869 (he described himself as "Scots-Canadian) and by 1893 was living in London, England, and working for the Pall Mall Gazette, before joining the staff of the recently established London Daily Mail in 1896 - the same year he published a book about how different countries had dealt with temperance and prohibition, titled Sober by Act of Parliament. In 1900 he covered the Boer War, contributing an article to a book published that year; in 1901 he published an article about the "the worst street in london," and in 1902 published The American Invaders, described as a "lurid expose[...] about the American economic onslaught and its baleful consequences."

McKenzie in October, 1904

In his 1905 book From Tokyo to Tiflis: Uncensored Letters from the War, he described his passage to Japan:
Only a few days before I had been traveling in a Japanese ship. As we were some days out at sea we had no means of knowing whether war had broken out or not. In case of war we knew there was at least the possibility of our being intercepted by a Russian cruiser. “If we do meet with a Russian ship,” the captain told me, “we must escape or go down. If I talked of lowering the flag, the very coolies in the engine-room would kill me. You don’t surrender a Japanese ship.”
He also described the situation of the press in Japan at the time:
The press was already under strict censorship, and was compelled to deal in generalities. Freedom of speech was severely limited, for Japan, despite its attempts to pose as a country with representative government, is almost as much a bureaucracy as Russia. The twenty-odd daily papers in Tokyo were subject to rigid discipline. Even the correspondents of the foreign press to the police quarters at Yokohama and warned in the most solemn manner of the penalties they would incur should they disseminate information which the authorities wished kept back. English newspapers were as much restricted as were the native. In olden times the Anglo-Japanese journal had absolute freedom of expression. With the abolition of extra-territoriality, it came under the same rule as they purely Japanese papers.
After being in Japan for a week or two, McKenzie headed for Korea:
I found myself at Moji, the Gibraltar of Japan. Whether you arrive by land or sea, the place gives an immediate impression of culminating majesty. Great hills tower up in every direction and behind them lie snow-clad mountain peaks proudly topping them. Here and there you spy openings on the rocky shore, artfully concealed natural harbours. A well-protected channel takes you into the bay of Shimonoseki itself, and here, after a short journey, you come on the twin towns, Moji and Shimonoseki, on either side of the bay.
It was from there, one presumes, that McKenzie caught a ship bound for Busan. During the last days of January, he arrived in Korea, which he noted was “now in transformation, transformation proceeding so rapidly that those who knew the land even three or four years ago can scarce credit the change.” He noted that Busan, where he first landed, was “probably bound to be, within a generation, one of the great ports of Eastern Asia.”
Today Fusan consists mainly of a neat and clean Japanese settlement, with a Korean town across the hill forming a somewhat startling contrast, and on the heights a few American missionary houses. […] Fusan was busy at that moment pushing on the great railway to Seoul, which was intended to play so large a part in the Japanese domination of the peninsula. [...]

Now the magistrate was carried through the narrow roadways in state on his palanquin by human bearers. Now the child slave, borne to the ground by a heavy burden, passed along. The shops displayed nothing but the meanest goods, for this is the land of small manufactures. The people, curious yet good natured, crowded around me. [...]

I did not remain in Fusan many hours. Now that war was practically certain I knew that the first fighting must come around Chemulpo and Seoul, and that was my destination. A few days later, in the closing hours of January, 1904, we made our way slowly on the Santo Maru up through the floating ice of Chemulpo harbour and landed at that port. Chemulpo harbour was full of men-of-war, all assembled ostensibly to protect foreigners from a feared native uprising at the Korean capital.

I gazed with particular interest at the Russian cruiser, the Variag, and at her little consort, the Korietz. Few of us thought that, within a few days, both would be trapped and sunk.

The Korietz and the Variag, February 8, 1904

Here was a pleasurable surprise. A well-laid broad gauge railway was ready to take us to Seoul. The cars were comfortable, spacious, well-cushioned, and steam-heated, brought direct from America. The freight trucks standing on the sidings were bigger and better than any I know on the English railways. The track was smooth, and I made the journey from the little port of Chemulpo to the capital of Korea in greater comfort than one travels as a rule from London to Dover.
Meanwhile, by this time back in Japan, Colliers photographer Robert Dunn had been dispatched to Chemulpo, leaving soon after the Siberia reached Yokohama (though he was originally, according to this article, assigned to the Japanese Fleet). Dunn, who was 29 at the time, was born on October 15, 1874 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Robert Lee Dunn in Seoul, February 1904

He became a photographer and correspondent for Harper’s and Collier’s Weekly, covering Theodore Roosevelt when he was Governor of New York, President McKinley's visit to San Francisco in May 1901, and Prince Henry of Prussia's visit to the U.S. in 1902. He also photographed Theodore Roosevelt taking the oath of office after the assassination of President McKinley in Buffalo in September 1901:


As Frederick McKenzie wrote of him,
Dunn is American every inch. A Tennessee man, trained in New York, he will do anything, bear anything, go anywhere, to get a beat. He is capable of asking a General to delay a bombardment until the light grows better for picture taking.
The qualities that McKenzie describes are what helped make Dunn one of the only three correspondents to slip out of the Japanese military's grasp and sneak into Korea before the war started, and would serve him well on the arduous journey ahead.

As for London, according to this site,
When Siberia docked in Yokohama, London made the rounds of the bars he had visited 10 years earlier when he was a seaman on a sealing vessel. After fulfilling his vow of imbibing a drink at each of his old watering holes, he joined his fellow correspondents in Tokyo. [...]

Among the most distinguished of the correspondents was Richard Harding Davis. The polished, aristocratic Davis was the walking image of the 19th-century gentleman, lending an air of class and style to the grim business of war reporting. In contrast to London, who reflected the rugged experiences of seaman, laborer and vagabond, Davis was comfortable socializing with admirals, generals and statesmen. Despite their very different backgrounds, however, a strong friendship developed between the two Americans that would prove to be very helpful to London in the coming weeks.
He didn’t remain in Tokyo long. Noting that Dunn had left, on January 28 he took a rather unheated train to Kobe, hoping to catch a ship bound for Korea. As the next ship wouldn't depart until February 3, he decided to head for Nagasaki, “twenty-two hours' ride on the train and no sleeping car.” Failing to find a ship to Korea in Nagasaki, he “made an all-day ride back from Nagasaki to Moji to catch a steamer” on February 1, buying a ticket that morning for an afternoon departure.

Before continuing with London’s tale, it might be worth noting how McKenzie had described Moji:
It was hard to realize that around here was one of the most strongly fortified spots on earth. Every trace of the gigantic naval and military preparations proceeding in the neighbourhood was as carefully covered as possible.
As London wrote in the article, “How Jack London got in and out of Jail in Japan,”
Having bought my ticket at the Osaka Schosen Kaisha office, I tucked it into my pocket and stepped out the door. Came four coolies carrying a bale of cotton. Snap went my camera. Five little boys at play—snap again. A line of coolies carrying coal—and again snap, and last snap. For a middle-aged Japanese man, in European clothes and great perturbation, fluttered his hands prohibitively before my camera. Having performed this function, he promptly disappeared.
“Ah, it is not allowed,” I thought, and, calling my rickshawman, I strolled along the street.
His path led him to the middle-aged man – and a police station.
Great excitement ensued. Captains, Lieutenants, and ordinary policemen all talked at once and ran hither and thither. I had run into a hive of blue uniforms, brass buttons, and cutlasses. The populace clustered like flies at doors and windows to gape at the “Russian spy.” At first it was all very ludicrous – “Capital to while away some of the time ere my steamer departs,” was my judgement; but when I was taken to an upper room and the hours began to slip by, I decided that it was serious.
Though this photo was taken in Korea, it may suffice to illustrate the scene:

I explained that I was going to Chemulpo. “In a moment,” said the interpreter. I showed my ticket, my passport, my card, my credentials; and always and invariably came the answer, “In a moment.” Also the interpreter stated that he was very sorry. He stated this many times. He made special trips upstairs to tell me that he was very sorry.
They scrutinized his movements in Japan:
“Why did you go to Kobe?”
“To go to Chemulpo,” was my answer. And in this fashion I explained my presence in the various cities of Japan. I made manifest that my only reason for existence was to go to Chemulpo; but their conclusion from my week’s wandering was that I had no fixed place of abode. I began to shy. The last time my state of existence had been so designated it had been followed by a thirty-day imprisonment in a vagrant’s cell! Chemulpo suddenly grew dim and distant, and began to fade beyond the horizon of my mind. [...]

“What is your rank?” was the initial question of the next stage of examination.
“Traveling to Chemulpo,” I said was my business; and when they looked puzzled I meekly added that I was only a correspondent. [...]

And then they threshed through the details of the three exposures, up and down, back and forth, and crossways, till I wished that the coal coolies, cotton coolies, and small boys had never been born. I have dreamed about them ever since, and I know I shall dream about them until I die. [...]

Now concerning my family, were my sisters older than I or younger? The change in the line of questioning was refreshing, even though it was perplexing. But ascertained truth is safer than metaphysics, and I answered blithely. Had I a pension from the government? A salary? Had I a medal of service? Of merit? Was it an American camera? Was it instantaneous? Was it mine?
The three photos on the film were developed, and he was told he could pack his trunks, but was soon back at the police station. As he wrote in a letter two days later,
Of course, I missed steamer. Very sorry. Carted me down country Monday night to town of Kokura. Examined me again. Committed. Tried Tuesday. Found guilty. Fined five yen, and camera confiscated. [...] All of which was eminently distasteful to me, but I managed to extract a grain of satisfaction from the fact that they quite forgot to mulct me of the five yen. There is trouble brewing for somebody because of those five yen.
London quickly wired Richard Harding Davis, who was still in Tokyo, and requested his aid in retrieving his camera from the Japanese. Davis contacted his old friend Lloyd Griscom, the U.S. minister to Japan. Griscom met directly with the foreign minister, Baron Komura, and requested the return of London's camera. As this site describes it,
[Komura] explained to Minister Griscom that the camera was "a weapon involved in a crime" and thus became the property of the state. London had been convicted of espionage and his "weapon"—the Kodak folding camera—was thus forfeit.

Griscom, apparently a man of nimble wit, recorded in his memoirs that he asked, "Does this apply to every crime?" The legal counselor to the Japanese Foreign Minister intoned, "Yes, to every crime of every description."
"If I can name a crime to which it does not apply, will you release the camera?" Griscom asked. Baron Komura, the Foreign Minister agreed.
"What about rape?"
According to Griscom, Komura's "Oriental stolidity dissolved in a shout of laughter," and Jack London got his camera back.
London explained what happened next in a letter written on February 9:
I was to sail Monday, Feb. 8th, on the Keigo Maru for Chemulpo. Saturday, Feb. 6th, returning in the afternoon from Kokura (where my camera had been returned to me)—returning to Shimonoseki, I learned the Keigo Maru had been taken off its run by the Jap Government. Learned also that many Jap warships had passed the straits bound out, and that soldiers had been called from their homes to join their regiments in the middle of the night.

And I made a dash right away. Caught, just as it was getting under way, a small steamer for Fusan. Had to take a third class passage—and it was a native steamer—no white man's chow (food) even first class, and I had to sleep on deck. Dashing aboard in steam launch, got one trunk overboard but saved it. Got wet myself, and my rugs and baggage, crossing the Japan Sea. At Fusan, caught a little 120-ton steamer loaded with Koreans and Japs, and deck load piled to the sky, for Chemulpo. Made Mokpo with a list to starboard of fully thirty degrees. It would take a couple of hundred of such steamers to make a Siberia. But this morning all passengers and freight were fired ashore, willy nilly, for Jap. Government had taken the steamer to use. We had traveled the preceding night convoyed by two torpedo boats.
Dunn and McKenzie were now in Chemulpo and Seoul, and London was stranded in Mokpo. The reason for the torpedo boat escort, and he and his fellow passengers' ejection at Mokpo, was because the day before Japanese ships had forced the Russian ships to seek shelter in Chemulpo harbor, while another Japanese squadron had carried out a sneak attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur at midnight. The Russo-Japanese War had begun.

[Continue to Part 2]

[Below is what I had written about Robert Dunn before discovering that I had written about the wrong person. The description below is of Robert Steed Dunn.]

Dunn, who was 27 at the time, was born in Rhode Island, and attended Harvard. Like London, Dunn went to the Yukon and Alaska during the gold rush, as he describes in this 1902 article in Outing Magazine. Referring to his college friend Jack, he wrote:
In June, 1898, while in college, we heard that the last herd of bison roamed the Arctic Basin of North America; that it was a country full of gold; that a thousand Argonauts were dying off and going mad up there on the way from the Hudson’s Bay slope to the Yukon. We left college. By November we had covered 1500 miles of the Mackenzie River Valley. We hadn’t found any gold or bison – had shot only seven bears and a lynx – but we had crossed the Rocky Mountains up underneath the Arctic Circle by a trail which men said all who had taken had died upon […] That sort of thing changes a man queerly. After we reached civilization we wanted to go right back north again. We didn’t care for gold or game now. We simply wanted to travel in the North, beyond all horizons, among unexplored mountains. Our friends couldn’t understand it – and we didn’t altogether either. But we had to suffer civilization for two years. In 1900, we were free again, and got out our maps of the north. […] Simply, the whole region inspired us; it was our country, God’s country, no matter what the scurvied gold-seekers said.
Robert Steed Dunn in 1903

As the article above details, in 1900 they returned to Alaska and confirmed that Mount Wrangell was a volcano and that Mount Tillman did not exist, writing "One thing is certain, we have wiped at 16,600-foot mountain from the position where it has been accepted to lie for fifteen years." Upon his return from the Klondike Dunn became a journalist. He was a correspondent for the Commercial Advertiser under Lincoln Steffens, and was assigned to accompany the relief expedition of the USS Dixie to Martinique after the devastating Mount Pelée eruption - the deadliest of the twentieth century - in May 1902, where he gave this description of the village of Morne Rouge:
It’s huts were roofless, its villas wrecked, its tropic gardens mashed to earth ; Morne Rouge was crusted gray with ash and mold ; it was a corpses’ town ; it seemed wrong to meet live beings there.
In the summer of 1903, he returned to Alaska again to accompany Frederick Cook in his ultimately unsuccessful attempt to climb Mount McKinley. Dunn wrote five articles for Outing Magazine (published between January and May, 1904) about the trip, which, unlike every other exploration narrative to that point, detailed all the squabbling and arguments that took place between the members of the expedition. When fellow explorer 'Hiram' threw a punch at Dunn, "In ten seconds he was lying on his face, chewing silt and gravel [...]" Later that day, he wrote:
Here in camp we’re holding a post-mortem of the day. The Doctor and Hiram seem tuckered out, and are asleep in the sun with their mouths open; not beautiful sights, with Alaskan crops of whiskers. Miller is cooking green wild currants. They use up lots of sugar, which I don’t care for, and I take a sadistic delight in seeing our sugar hogs—we won’t mention names—suffer from its lack. Jack observes that Hiram has been washing gravel out of his hair.

As the photo above should demonstrate, Dunn's experiences in Alaska prepared him for the rigors of travel during a northern Korean winter.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Century-old books about Korea update

Awhile ago I linked to archive.org's scanned century-old books about Korea. More have been added since then.

Korea and her neighbors; a narrative of travel, with an account of the recent vicissitudes and present position of the country - Bird, Isabella, 1898.

Every-day life in Korea - Gifford, Daniel L, 1898.

A chronological index; some of the chief events in the foreign intercourse of Korea from the beginning of the Christian era to the twentieth century
- Allen, Horace Newton, 1901.

Korea - Hamilton, A. (Angus), 1904.

The history of Korea (Volume 1) (Volume 2) - Hulbert, Homer B., 1905.

The Tragedy of Korea - McKenzie, Frederick Arthur, 1908

Korea : its history, its people, and its commerce - Hamilton, A. (Angus), Austin, Herbert H. ; Terauchi, Masatake, Count, 1910

The Korean conspiracy trial; full report of the proceedings
1912

Seoul, Capital of Korea, Japan- the country, Japan- the cities - Holmes, Burton, 1917.

Economic outlines of Chosen and Manchuria - Choson Ginko 1918

My voyage in Korea
- Eissler, M, 1918.

The mastery of the Far East; the story of Korea's transformation and Japan's rise to supremacy in the Orient - Brown, Arthur Judson, 1919.

The rebirth of Korea : the reawakening of the people, its causes, and the outlook - Cynn, Hugh Heung-wo, 1921

First fruits in Korea; a story of church beginnings in the Far East - Clark, Charles Allen, 1921.

China, Japan and Korea - Bland, J. O. P. (John Otway Percy), 1921.


One of the prizes there is Frederick Mckenzie's The Tragedy of Korea, which details, especially, post-Russo-Japanese War Korea, specifically the Uibyeong uprising and the suppression of the press. Excerpts of his previous book, The Unveiled East, about Japan's postwar policy towards Korea and Manchuria, can be found here. You'll be hearing more about McKenzie in the coming weeks.

Also of interest are Angus Hamilton's books about Korea (the man himself did not long outlive the last book, published in 1910) and the book about the 1912 Korean conspiracy trial.

Inhaling Dokdo

The Korea Times had an article back in February about a new player in the tobacco industry:
Woori Tobacco ― the first local licensed cigarette maker funded with private capital ― kicked off business last month, claiming it has what it takes to challenge the overwhelming lead of the market's No. 1 player, KT&G. The manufacturer, which won last year a government license to produce and sell cigarettes, rolled out two flagship brands, Wigo and Swing, in mid-January for domestic and overseas sales.

"Advanced filters, customized production and localized marketing are three standout characters that differentiate us from our competitors,'' Hong Won-kie, the company president, said in a Korea Times interview Tuesday.
And if those characters don't sell, why not shamelessly appeal to cheap nationalism?

Wigo Dokdo, Our Country, Our Territory
"Our" Country, We will defend our Dokdo

It's nice to know there's at least one more accessory available when you go out dressed to the nines in your Dokdo wardrobe.

I was on a bus the other day and noticed, among the warnings to not touch the doors and watch out for motorcycles, a new warning I'd not noticed before:


In English it says, "Dokdo belongs to Korea," but in Korean it says, "Dokdo, our morning." I'm not sure why the bus company felt compelled to equate Korea's morning with Dokdo (Land of the morning Dokdo?). Perhaps it encourages more repeat business? At any rate, let's hope it doesn't cause 'Japan' to retaliate and start putting stickers on its buses reading, "Takeshima, our evening," because then you just know things will start to get ugly.

Still, things aren't as wild and wacky as 2005; there are no bee men, childrens' drawings, or video games featuring monkeys that look like former Japanese prime minister Koizumi.


"Dokdo is whose land?" "Ko..rea's... land"

Leave it to a child to get to the heart of the matter. After all, there's only one way to correct a wayward foreigner's opinions, right? On a lighter note, I do think the above photo would make a cute t-shirt, or would be great for stationery.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Technical Difficulties

[Update]

Things seem to be better. Maybe. Hopefully some new posts will be up soon!


My computer is not working so well (for a week now), and a new hard-drive (goodbye unsaved information!) and windows re-installation is not having the desired effects. Hopefully things will get sorted out sooner than later and I can finish all the unfinished posts sitting around as drafts...

Weddings and confetti spray

Back in October of 2001, I went to a wedding in Korea for the first time. I've been to many since then, but it still rates as perhaps the oddest. It took place in eastern Incheon.


When the bride was brought down the aisle, two female wedding hall staffers dressed in quasi-military (think 18th-century Britain) uniforms crossed swords overhead and the bride passed underneath them. The ceremony that followed was fairly typical - as everyone who has been to a wedding at a Korean wedding hall knows, the guests chatted with each other as the wedding took place, the service was over fairly quickly, and a dull roar came from the lobby due to the people waiting for the next wedding service talking to each other or on their cell phones.

One thing I'd never seen before or since was the use of hand-held streamer 'blasters', which were kind of like larger versions of the cone-shaped crackers that come with store-bought cakes here, but looked like a cross between a trumpet and a sawed-off shotgun. They blasted streamers a good forty feet down the aisle:


At far right above you can see one of the employees in quasi-military uniform holding the 'gun' from which the streamers were fired. Next, as the couple walked up the aisle, the groom's friends rushed at him with spray cans.


The cans sprayed a confetti-like substance all over the groom.


I haven't seen anything like that since either (nor have I had another chance to try fried grasshoppers, which were included in the buffet lunch, and which were actually pretty good) . My first thought was a pretty typical one, being that this style of wedding in Korea seemed to approximate the form of a western wedding, without, as Bruce Lee described it, "emotional content." Or perhaps that isn't fair at all - perhaps it would be better to describe it as a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all style of wedding that lacks the personal touches that I've seen in weddings in Canada (A friend of mine got married in Seoul last fall and was quite annoyed that they had to choose 50 photos for the photo album provided by the wedding hall, because only 30 or so were really good. He and his wife's desire for only 30 photos was met with insistent replies
that 20 more be chosen, and they had no choice but to give in to this, as they had more pressing concerns).

Of course, this kind of 'form without content' wedding doesn't only exist for western-style weddings; the next wedding I went to was a traditional wedding - at Lotte World. Lotte World has a folk village, and that's were it took place, complete with a pooping, squawking chicken, samulnori drummers, and a gama to carry the bride and groom (a gama is a sedan chair or palanquin, from which Paris Hilton can be seen exiting here). I was actually asked by the groom to help carry the gama (it was the first and last time we ever spoke). We carried the couple about 100 feet towards the dining area, turned around and came back. The posts which we held to carry it were not rounded (as in, cylindrical) but square, and considering how heavy it was, the edges quickly began to dig into my skin. Needless to say, being a sedan chair carrier would not be my first choice for a job.

I think the longest wedding I ever went to was a Catholic service at a Catholic Church (about an hour, including photo-taking), while the shortest was 5 minutes (after I showed up 5 minutes late). I've never been able to decide if a 10 minute wedding is a good thing or a bad thing...

Note: I should add that these were city weddings; weddings held in the countryside tend to be more traditional and perhaps a bit wilder (or so I've heard). One tradition out east that a student told me about was tying the groom's hands to the bumper of a car (with enough slack so he could stand up) and driving away at a speed that forced him to run behind. This was eventually banned by local police, but continued despite this (unsurprisingly enough).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Beer near here

Several weeks ago Andrei Lankov wrote an article about the history of beer in Korea:
It seems that we relish accurately pinpointing the first time a Korean tasted this beverage. This historical event of great significance took place in 1884, when Korean and American representatives celebrated the signing of a treaty between the two states.

The surviving pictures of the banquet clearly show that beer bottles were present on the table. Perhaps, some Koreans tasted the strange liquid, even if it remains unknown what they thought of its peculiar taste, so different was it from the beverages they were accustomed to.
To be certain, Koreans tasted beer almost 10 years earlier, as reported by Cyprian Bridge when the Audacious, the flagship of Britain's China Fleet, visited Geomundo in 1875.

HMS Audacious

Some of the Korean officials on the island boarded the ship:
Hospitality was thrust upon them in the English manner by the offer of the national beverage. They expected their hosts to taste first, and then they themselves took long sips of the ale. The glasses were put down, and no sign of pleasure or of disgust appeared upon the face of either; but, after a decent interval, the tall Korean called again for paper and pencil, and this time wrote a request that the pale-ale — not, it is true, improved by a voyage half round the world — might be given to his low-born countrymen who worked the boat in which he came on board. After this he was tried with a sweet, highly-flavoured liqueur. Of this both he and his companion altogether approved, and no pressure was needed to induce them to accept a second glass.
It may be possible that a Korean tried beer during the American expedition to Korea in 1871 (which I first wrote about at the end of this post). Below is a Felice Beato photo of a Korean man holding empty bottles. Of course, I can't be certain either that they are beer bottles, or that any Koreans would have tried any of the beer in them if they were.


Lankov's article continues:
The rise in beer consumption began in the 1970s, following both urbanization and an increase in income levels. The new city dwellers wanted to drink something more sophisticated than old good makgeolli or other common beverages.

They also had money to afford this pleasure. This was also when beer halls began to proliferate across the country (yes, until the 1970s there were no "hoffs" in Korea).
I was reminded of "Cool Hof," a bar that used to exist near where I live.


Behind the disembodied sax player you can almost see inside.


A friend of mine told me that the interior was very much like an 80's style hof, but unfortunately I don't have any interior photos. I'm sure there are many such places still around. Not this one, though. As I mentioned here, it was replaced by a Cheongjin-dong Haejangguk.


This is a chain named after the fact that Cheongjin-dong, north of Jongno and next to the Kyobo building, is well known for several haejangguk restaurants, such as Cheongjinok, pictured below, which has been around since 1937.


Whoops, wrong tense. It had been around since 1937.


Much like 'Podo Maeul' or Boksagol cultural center in Bucheon, (named after the grapes and peaches that used to grow in the area), you now have a chain of restaurants named after a soon-to-be demolished dong (or neighborhood) that was, up until a month or so ago, famous for haejangguk.

But that's a post for another day. Man, I need a beer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Symmetry in The Host

I watched The Host again a few weeks ago before reading Gord Sellar's posts which examine the film in a number of contexts. If you haven't read them, and are interested in the film (or in Korean monster movies in general) then they're well worth your time, and can be found here and here.

On watching the film again, I'd noticed a bit of symmetry I that I hadn't picked up on before:


The first time we see Gang-du (played by Song Kang-ho), he is asleep at the snack booth. The first time he is seen with another character in the same shot, it's a little boy trying to steal some food.


The boy's brother then whisks him away before he gets into trouble. The next time we see the little boy and his brother, they are sneaking around a riverside park at night and breaking into a snack bar. Then they encounter the monster.


The boy is saved by Hyun-seo, and in the final scene of the movie, and the last shot in which we see Gang-du, he is again with the boy (and again, food is involved).


The other thing I noticed was that, again at the beginning, after his encounter with the boy, Gang-du is sleeping and his father is watching him and shaking his head in disbelief when suddenly a girl calls out to her father. Gang-du awakes with a start, thinking it's his daughter Hyun-seo, but he has mistaken another girl for her.


It won't be the last time he mistakes this girl for his daughter...


Unsurprisingly, he makes the same mistake twice.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Seoul in 1975, through film.

I picked up a few classic Korean films recently, among them Petty Middle Manager, a comedy released after the April 19, 1960 uprising (and which is almost worth it for the packaging - not bad for $10), the 1979 film version of Sonagi (which gets no points for packaging - it doesn't even say what year it was made, nor are there subtitles, which is pretty lame). I haven't watched those yet, but have watched two films in the Kim Ki-young box set, one of them being the 1975 film Promise of the Flesh. Though it becomes rather melodramatic by the end, the route it follows is pretty entertaining, and the first half hour, which views through a surrealist lens the events which turn the main character into a man-hating killer (and sets them to menacing psychedelic music) is worth the price of admission. But this post isn't about that. Instead, I'm going to look at Seoul as presented in two films. Here are three photos of the Daewoo Building across from Seoul Station under construction (in 1974 or 75) taken from Promise of the Flesh.


Visible there is Namdaemun Presbyterian Church, which is also seen in this scene, from behind:


The Daewo0 Building is also barely visible above. I rather like this photo too:


According to this article, the building is supposed to be remodeled. It also says that it was finished in June 1977.

Another movie I found on dvd last year was another film from 1975, Youngja's Heydays, about a girl who comes to Seoul from the country and falls into prostitution. Though it heads into melodrama territory by the end, the first half of the movie makes it well worth watching. Unlike in the film A Single Spark (about the life of Jeon Tae-il, and released 20 years later) no one needed to recreate the sweatshops that appear in the movie (well, if they were recreated - it's likely they still exist today, though things are getting better for some of the more skilled workers).


Note the dosiraks on the stove. There are scenes in many locations in the film - here's one in a bar.


There are also city scenes in the film, such as those below (which may be of the Cheonggye expressway, but I'm not sure).



One of the more interesting scenes is in a desolate area with makeshift houses and apartments visible in the background.


What became interesting was seeing the scene below. Notice the building on the right?


I thought Yeouido would have been more developed in 1975 (the scenes were likely shot in 1974), and wondered if this could have been taken near Dangsan-dong, or across the river, but I soon realized that if you looked at the orientation the apartment buildings in the background above, they looked quite similar to the Yeouido Sibeum apartments, seen here in what is said to be 1971, but must be later. Notice the unfinished National Assembly at top center (click to enlarge). You can seen two other buildings to its right.


Those buildings also appear below, at top center, while the edge of the National Assembly as at far left:


A close up of the buildings from an earlier scene...


... reveals them to be the Chowon Apartment, right, and behind it is the Yoido Full Gospel Church, which Wikipedia tells us was completed in 1973. Who knew? Again, it's visible in the black and white photo above. Below we see construction going on next to those makeshift houses.
Again, the only apartments on Yeouido that correspond to that layout is are the Sambu Apartments, which were finished in 1975. If you could see beyond the apartment at the left, you could also see the Hanyang Apartments (1975) and, next to the Sibeum Apartments, the Samik and Eunha Apartments (1974). Really though, there was next to nothing on Yeouido at the time.



Were these people squatters? Were they running restaurants to provide food for the construction workers? To be sure, I had no idea people lived like this on Yeouido while it was being built.


It would be a few more years before the Island's most famous landmark would be built:


Of course, the 63 building will have some competition in the near future, as long as there are no more cave-ins.

Monday, September 01, 2008

How Noblian of you

I realized the other day that I'd taken the final photo of this development, seeing as tenants had started moving in to the finished product. I went through and re-did a few of the panoramas, and then realized that they could all stand some tweaking. Perhaps another day. For now, here's the progression from an abandoned neighborhood block in January 2007, to a brand new 12 story apartment building in July 2008.

Jan. 30


Feb. 3


Feb. 15



Feb. 18


April 4


April 21


April 29


May 5


May 10


May 25


June 10


June 30


July 9


July 15


July 21


July 30


Aug. 8


Aug. 15


Aug. 31


Sept. 9



Sept. 22


Oct. 6


Oct. 12


Oct. 23


Nov. 8


April 19


July 18

As you can see in the final shot, the name of the apartment is Seungyun Noblian, hence the (oh so clever) title.