Monday, December 05, 2005

Some reading material

I discovered an e-book titled "The Seed Of Joy", by William Amos, which is a novel based on his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chollanam-do during the Kwangju Uprising. Do take a look at the Photos and Reviews sections; the former has photos of Mokpo and Seoul from the late '70s, and the latter has a comment by David Dolinger, who writes "I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in south Korea from 1978 until May 1980, at which time I was forced to resign from the Peace Corps because of my activities in Kwangju." After mentioning that he and Amos were volunteers together, he says, "We had been ordered to leave by the Embassy and the Peace Corps Country Director, but we could not leave our friends, those people who were willing to lose their lives if it meant that other people's children could grow up in a democracy."

Dolinger is mentioned briefly in "Contentious Kwangju", in a piece by Jean W. Underwood, who was one of several missionaries in Kwangju during the uprising. Her essay, along with Linda Lewis's book "Laying Claim to the Memory of May", give one the idea of what it was like to be a foreigner in Kwangju at that time; they also paint the US embassy as being out of touch with what was going on. Underwood mentions the fact that the Peace Corps volunteers were often standing between students and the paratroopers who were trying to attack them, saying, "The courage of these young people was unbelievable!" Volunteer Tim Warnberg wrote "The Kwangju Uprising: An Inside View" in Korean Studies, v.11, back in 1987 - something I'd love to find a copy of.

Zinester and cultural critic Scott Burgeson's "Korea Bug", which compiles numerous interviews and articles from his Bug zine published over the past 8 years, is worth the price alone (even if you own many of the original zines) for an introductory essay which examines the history of expat publications and zines in Korea. Among them were several publications by the members of the Peace Corps (who made good use of their access to a mimeograph machine) which appeared intermittently during the 15 years the Peace Corps were in Korea (1966-81) like "Yobosayo", "The Noodle", and "Jam Pong". Burgeson's interview with Ken Kaliher, a longtime resident (and former soldier and Peace Corps volunteer), also offers fascinating insight into how Korea has changed since 1969, with commentary on life in the Peace Corps, the social scene in Seoul in the 70s, Seoul's development, and the Kwangju Uprising. The book also has lots of other fascinating interviews (with people like mudang, artists, directors, and even Korea's last kisaeng), and prompted me (just this minute) to dig through my email and find the article he wrote about the 2002 Pifan festival, where we had a blast hanging out together with a lot of great people. Anyways, the book is well worth a read.

Just in case anyone wants to read about the exploits of a reporter who covered the Kwangju uprising (albeit briefly), the 1987 democracy protests and the election campaign they led to, you can download some scans of Jame's Fenton's "Kwangju and After", from Granta 24, here (scroll down to the bottom and click 'free', then scroll down again and wait for the 20 second countdown to finish and download away - they're in a zip file).

Speaking of the 1987 election, a friend of mine told me he was in the army during that election, and when it came time to vote, his superiors called him into an office and handed him a ballot.
"Can I, uh, vote for whoever I want?"
"What do you think?"
And that's how, he figures, Roh Tae-woo got a guaranteed 7-800,000 votes.

Not that anyone is shocked by that, of course.

Update: Another student who was in the army at that time said he himself wasn't watched when he voted, but he knew of other units where this occurred, so the figure above is exaggerated, but by how much I have no idea.

Also, the aforementioned Scott Burgeson has a feature article in the Korea Times about his trip to Pyongyang to see the Arirang Festival - do give it a read.

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