Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Terry Anderson, reporter who covered the Gwangju Uprising, passes away

I was saddened today to learn of the passing of journalist Terry Anderson. I certainly didn't know him well at all, but I corresponded with him a few times, most recently in December. 

Anderson is best known for having been held hostage in Lebanon for seven years until being freed in 1991. But I've always known of him for his coverage for the Associated Press of the Gwangju Uprising. His account of that experience can be read here. In it, despite the years spent as a hostage, he wrote:

Covering the Kwangju rebellion in 1980 was one of the most difficult, exhausting and emotionally demanding assignments I have ever had. Though a professional triumph for the Associated Press and for me personally, it left me with emotional and psychological scars that took years to heal.

He noted in an interview done for an MBC documentary in 2004 something not apparent in the photos of the time - the fact that it was May, it was hot, and the smell of death was everywhere, something he said "will never leave me." 

He also faced danger during the retaking of the Provincial Capital:

As the light grew, I saw two paratroopers on top of the building, just 15 or 20 yards away. Taking my camera, I cautiously crouched at the window, trying to take a picture. Both men spotted me, then opened up with their M16s. The first bullet struck inches from my ear, and I threw myself into a corner, where Ahn and another correspondent were already crouched. When the soldiers began shooting through the thin, lathe-and-plaster wall, we dove frantically out of the room into the hallway. We had believed the government knew this hotel was occupied by foreign press, but either no one had told the soldiers or they didn't care.

A number of journalists were in the Tourist Hotel with him, including CBS's Bruce Dunning, who wrote in the book Korea Witness

I also remember spending one night on the floor of a yogwan near the city center as small arms fire echoed sporadically. Apparently I remarked dryly, "This is a hell of a way for a grown man to make a living." I didn't really remember saying that until years later when the AP's Terry Anderson, who shared the yogwan floor that night, told me that many times during his years as a hostage in Lebanon he had thought of that remark.

When I was working on the book Called By Another Name with David Dolinger, David had wanted a section of the book to focus on his fellow PCV Tim Warnberg, so we reached out to a number of people who knew him, including his sister, Roxanne, who we did a lengthy interview with. One other person I was able to contact was Terry Anderson, who wrote of Tim,

I remember him well. He was generous with his time and his knowledge, and helped us any way he could to tell the story of the Kwangju uprising. I remember he put me in touch with a Korean pastor who generously allowed us to use his car - our only means other than bicycle to get around. The pastor, by the way, was appalled at the way we abused the vehicle, but the AP paid for the repairs. Tim was a kind young man who was justly angry at what he saw. We all liked him. 

Tim's sister shared with us a letter Tim had written to Terry on March 20, 1992, three months after his release from captivity in Lebanon:

Dear Terry, 

My name is Tim Warnberg and I met you in Kwangju, South Korea nearly twelve years ago when I was a Peace Corp volunteer and you were reporting on the massacre in that city. My co-worker was Judi Chamberlin and you interviewed me for the Associated Press and taped the interview as well. Robin Moyer, a photographer for Time magazine was also there. I am so happy that after all these years I now at long last have the opportunity to recontact you. I have kept your business card on my desk and thought about you each time there was some snippet of news about the hostages, hoping for your safe release soon. Before going any further, I want to warmly welcome you back to your freedom and your family. Your recent article about your captivity and subsequent release was very moving. Both before and after your forced confinement I have thought about your compassion and kindness when you were reporting on the horror which we witnessed in Kwangju. Your recent poetry and writing reveal that you still have not become jaded and have not been consumed by anger and bitterness but, even in the most depressing of circumstances, have tried to maintain your objectivity and your obvious understanding of and affection for people.

After my Peace Corps experience, I stayed in Korea, studying and working until 1985. I returned to the U.S. in 1986 and became a graduate student in Korean literature and language at the University of Hawaii. In 1987 I wrote an article, enclosed with this letter, titled The Kwangiu Uprising: An Inside View, which was published in the Journal of Korean Studies. I received my Master’s and was working on my PhD when I got the devastating news that I have AIDS. I returned home to my family in Minnesota and have somewhat improved but the disease is slowly taking its toll. I have thought back to the events in my life which have profoundly affected me and I think of those chaotic days in Kwangju. Not only was I affected by the horror of the massacre and shocked at what humans can do to each other, but, in the midst of catastrophe, I was also impressed with your courage and determination. As a reporter you endeavored to get the truth out, yet you never lost sight of the fact that the stories you were writing were about real people with real emotions. Although people may think that all reporters have these qualities, I realized then that this is definitely not the case. 

I hesitate to intrude further on the precious time to on you are spending with your family but my own situation forces me to be bold: I am wondering if the tape you made of my interview in Kwangju in May 1980 still exists. I don’t know what your policy is concerning the tapes you made when you were covering stories but, if possible, I would like to get a copy so that I can listen to my first-hand account of the massacre. If you have taped over the interview or lost the tape I will certainly understand. If that is the case, please accept this letter as a welcome back to “the world” and a wish for much good fortune in your future endeavors.

Sincerely, 

Tim Warnberg

I sent this on to Anderson, who replied, "thanks so much for preserving it and sending it to me. It brought his memory back so clearly." 

Anderson was also involved, along with LA Times reporter Sam Jameson, in an anonymous interview with USFK head General Wickham in August 1980 in which Wickham conceded that the US would likely support Chun if he came to power "legitimately." Chun, in an interview with Henry Scott-Stokes a couple days later, outed Wickham as the unnamed official, and Wickham was recalled to the US. You can almost hear the glee in Chun's voice after outing Wickham in the NYT article:

''That's very flattering,'' General Chon said of the reported remarks of the American. ''I can use support any time. It could also mean that I'm a little more liked, more popular, that's pleasing, but now rules will have to be obeyed.''

More on that interview and its fallout can be read in this post. (I should note that I've heard today through the grapevine the memory of someone present at the Chun interview who stated that Anderson gave Henry Scott-Stokes a copy of the tape with the recording of Wickham's interview on it, so that post may have to be amended.) Of the interview, Sam Jameson wrote that 

I felt that Wickham in the interview was merely predicting what Washington would do when it realized it had no choice but to accept Chun, not that he was acting as a "patron" of Chun. To the contrary, I thought Wickham's remarks showed that he was disgusted with Chun and upset with the political situation that Chun had created with his mutiny of December 12, 1979, and the palace coup of May 1980.

In December last year I wrote to Terry Anderson to ask him what he remembered of Wickham's demeanor during the interview in regard to his feelings about Chun. He replied,

It has been more than 40 years since that interview, but given the controversy around it, I remember it well. I think you are correct in your analysis. It was clear that Wickham did not like Chun or the situation Chun had put him in. [...] The fact that his distaste was even noticeable showed its strength. Good catch. Rgds. Terry Anderson

I'm glad I wrote to him when I did. 

Rest in Peace.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Traces of the Independence Movement and echoes of development in Seodaemun

Next weekend, on Saturday, April 20, I will be leading a cultural excursion for RAS Korea titled "Traces of the Independence Movement and Echoes of Development in Seodaemun," during which we will visit preserved houses and museums connected to the independence movement, as well as Donuimun Museum Village. 

For more information, and to register, see here.

Excursion summary:

In the Seodaemun area stand a number of preserved houses connected to the independence movement that have been converted to museums. As well, the area has been the site of redevelopment projects in recent years, which led to the preservation of one neighborhood which was renamed Donuimun Museum Village. We will visit these museums and learn about independence movement figures and Seodaemun’s history while also examining the ways in which the past has been preserved in the area.

We will set off from Dongnimun Station and visit the recently-opened National Memorial of the Korean Provisional Government, which overlooks Seodaemun Prison. After learning about overseas attempts to gain Korea’s independence, we will walk past the Independence gate to Dilkusha, the former home of Albert and Mary Taylor. Albert Taylor was involved in mining in northern Korea, but it was his work as a journalist that led him to document aspects of the 1919 March 1 independence movement. After years of being subdivided into apartments, the city bought the house and restored it, converting it into a museum which displays mementos donated by the Taylors’ descendants.

After passing by the home of musician Hong Nan-pa, a western-style ‘Culture House’ which was built in the 1930s, we will walk along the restored city wall to Gyeonggyojang, which was built in 1938 and served as the home of independence activist Kim Ku from 1945 until his assassination in 1949 – which took place in the house. Today it has been converted into a museum, which we will visit. 

We will end our walk in Donuimun Museum Village, a restored neighborhood which features a local history museum, a memorial hall dedicated to Francis Schofield, a Canadian missionary and supporter of Korean Independence, and numerous buildings in which theaters, photo shops, and comic book reading rooms of the past have been recreated. A current trend is for museums in restored buildings to document the preservation process, so we will be offered the opportunity to think about how the local government preserved older aspects of the city in this neighborhood rather than redeveloping it – a fate suffered by the rest of the Gyonam-dong area to the northwest. 

This walking excursion will set off at 1:00 pm from exit 5 of Dongnimun Station (독립문역) #326 (subway line number 3). The excursion will last until about 5:00 and end between Gwanghwamun Station and Seodaemun Station (Subway Line 5). Participants may join Matt afterwards for a coffee or an early dinner (not included in the excursion fee) nearby. The walk is mostly flat, but comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

Video of my lecture "Experimental Artists Confront Conformity in Seoul, 1968-70"

On January 16, 2024, I gave a lecture for the Royal Asiatic Society titled “'We feel like we’re suffocating’: Experimental Artists Confront Conformity in Seoul, 1968-70,” which was previewed in an article I wrote for the Korea Times, "Experimental artists challenge 'suffocating' conformity in 1960s Seoul." Below is a video of the lecture.

I was pressed for time when preparing the lecture and only managed to watch the beginning of this (subtitled) interview with Kim Kulim. When I finished it after the lecture, I wished I'd been able to include a few revelations from it: Kim noted that the weekly magazine Sunday Seoul realized they sold more copies when the Fourth Group was covered, so they offered to fund their activities in exchange for access. This is where the body painting images and 'naked bodies entwined' photo shoot came from (visible below). Also, when Kim and the others were arrested on August 15, 1970, during their 'funeral march' in central Seoul, he was interrogated and asked how much North Korea had paid him to do it. He expected the worst, but found out later the editor of Sunday Seoul had contacted the police, and so the police, not wanting media exposure, let them off with warnings.


Sunday, January 14, 2024

Experimental artists challenge 'suffocating' conformity in 1960s Seoul

Update: The lecture can be watched here.

This Tuesday, January 16, I will give a lecture for the Royal Asiatic Society titled “'We feel like we’re suffocating’: Experimental Artists Confront Conformity in Seoul, 1968-70.” My latest Korea Times article, "Experimental artists challenge 'suffocating' conformity in 1960s Seoul," gives a preview of the lecture. For more information about the lecture see here (note that the lecture will be given at a new venue).

I’ll be leading a follow-up excursion to Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art to view the Kim Ku-rim Exhibition on Saturday, January 20, at 2:00. (The exhibition has a 2,000 won admission fee.)


This lecture is based on years of digging through the weekly magazines that began proliferating in the 1968. The first few years saw some of them publishing risque material, including nudity, but the government's crackdown on the artists featured in the lecture also affected the weeklies, and they become less interesting after 1970 (though, to be clear, they still had lots of interesting material, just less so than before). 

Two sources I recently discovered were the websites of Gang Guk-jin and Kim Kulim, which have digitized a lot of newspaper and magazine articles from that time.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Running with the Devils in Itaewon, 1968-70

Larry Tressler performing with the Devils (and the girl group Happy Dolls) at Seoul Citizens' Hall, June 1970. (Courtesy of Larry Tressler.)

A decade or more ago, I bought CD reissues of the first two LPs by the Devils, a Korean rock band active in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and was surprised to see, in the accompanying booklet, photos of the band with an American. “Who in the world is he?” I wondered. In 2022, I found out it was Larry Tressler, and conversations with him (on Facebook, email, and in person during his visit to Korea in October) provided the basis for my latest Korea Times article.

Not included in the article is this list of songs (covers) that the band used to play:

From what I remember, some of the songs in our normal set included:

Proud Mary – Ike and Tina Turner

Soul Man – Sam & Dave

Security – Otis Redding

I’ve Been Loving You Too Long – Otis Redding

Na Na Hey Hey, Kiss Him Good bye – Steam 

Land of a Thousand Dances – Wilson Pickett

96 Tears – Question Mark & the Mysterians

Born To Be Wild - Steppenwolf

Everyday People – Sly & the Family Stone

Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Get Back – The Beatles

Evil Ways - Santana

Dock of The Bay – Otis Redding

My Girl – The Temptations

I Got That Feeling – James Brown

Arirang (Sung by me, the American, in Korean)

하얀집 / White House [based on the 1968 song ‘Casa Bianca’ by Marisa Sannia, and sung by the Pearl Sisters] - it was classic back then - with a rock beat.  

Nima – Pearl Sisters

Released in late 1968, the latter song was the first rock(ish) song to become a hit in Korea, making the Pearl Sisters and songwriter/guitarist Shin Joong-hyun hugely popular and ushering in the age of Americanized pop music in Korea.

Many thanks to Larry for sharing so many of his memories.

[Note: The Devils were unique due to their focus on soul music, though covers of such music are absent from their LPs (their first album only features a cover of 'Proud Mary'). A number of the rock bands that had come out of the US Eighth Army stage (미군무대) scene recorded English-language covers of rock songs such as the Key Boys (Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild") and Shin Joong-hyun and the Questions (Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"), or devoted entire sides of their LPs to covers, such as He6 ("Proud Mary," Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," The Archie's "Feeling So Good", Fifth Dimension's "Aquarius Let The Sunshine In," and Santana's "Evil Ways"), Trippers (Santana's "Evil Ways," CCR's "Molina," Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Knock Three Times," the Archie's "Feeling so good," and Glen Campbell's "By the Time I get to Phoenix"), and the Pearl Sisters (though they sang their covers of songs like Scott McKenzie's "If you're going to San Francisco" or the Temptations' "Get Ready" in Korean).]

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Tim Hortons betrays Korea!


So, Tim Hortons (aka the Church of Canada) opened up a franchise or two in Korea in 2023, with plans to expand to 150 stores within... a time frame... in the future. You might be able to guess how much I care about this.

Now, don't get me wrong - Timmies was a staple of the Canadian (or Ontarian) experience by the 1990s. If you're not from there, I'd explain it by saying it was an omnipresent experience, unless you lived in a rural area like I did and didn't get one until...sometime in the mid 2000s (by which I mean 2005 or so). But there was one or two in Peterborough, a city 45 minutes from home, and I learned to stomach developed a taste for coffee drinking Tim's double doubles (double cream, double sugar), but the real draw was the donuts. 

To be honest though, I preferred Country Style Donuts' donuts to Tim's... their cherry crullers were to die for (though a friend who worked there later told me how many eggs went into a batch of those donuts - I think it was 48 eggs per dozen... those things were heavy... but delicious). At any rate, Tim Hortons and their drive throughs were all over the place on highways in Ontario, so they served as a good way to refuel with caffeine on hours-long drives across wide-open Ontario spaces, as bathroom stops, or, as time went on and their menus broadened, a place to grab a slightly-wider range of sandwich and soup options, in addition to donuts and coffee. But my memories of working in Guelph, Ontario, in the late 1990s, feature runs to Tims to grab a cardboard flat that would hold 4 or 5 coffees to bring back to work for your coworkers, and in that way Tims contributed to fuel the office and retail grind of suburban Ontario (I can't speak for the rest of Canada). 

But now, Timmies has opened up franchises in Gangnam, the 'Beverly Hills' of Korea, or whatever. And while the the company and its Korean partners are clearly banking on a "premium" image to propel sales in Korea ("Canada's greatest most popular coffee and donuts!"), this is being undone by Korean media outlets keen to question things foreign and - more importantly - the throngs of Koreans who have studied in Canada, which can't help but make me chuckle, considering the effort the Canadian embassy was putting into promoting university or English language study in Canada a decade ago (when I had contacts there), which I'm sure continues now. 

The Korea Times reports on the woes of someone who studied in Canada years ago:

Stepping inside Korea's first Tim Hortons that opened last month, however, he scanned the menu and was disheartened to see that everything was way more expensive than he remembered. A medium-size cup of black coffee was 3,900 won ($3.97 Canadian). The same is sold in Canada for $1.83. 

"I was hugely disappointed," said Kim who expected prices similar to Canada's. "If Tim Hortons in Canada sold their double-double and French Vanilla at the same prices as here in Seoul, I would have never gone there and neither would local patrons there."

Similar woes are reported by a former language student in Canada who "couldn't accept the fact that the brand's prices are almost on par with those of other high-end coffee brands here. 'I don't get why they raised the prices to the levels of other coffee brands here. Is this some kind of localization?'"

Um... yes? Obviously? The only way to feel you're at some place on the cutting edge of hip in Korea is to feel a bit (or a lot) sore in your wallet at the cash register. If you want cheap, you can go to campus cafeterias, but you're not going to find the Instagram influencers businesses are increasingly spending their advertising budgets on there. Thinking Timmies could expand here by undercutting local budget places would be a good way to guarantee they close up shop within a few months. 

Mostly, though, I'm surprised at the focus on coffee and the lack of mention of anything about the cost of their old fashioned glazed or their timbits. What of their sandwiches? Do these coffee drinking philistines care nothing about Canadian cuisine?!? 

Postscript

I don't remember Timmies having anything like Country Style's cherry crullers, but apparently last year, for a limited time, Tim's brought back "cherry sticks", which I don't remember from back in the day (trust me, I would have noticed if they had something like a cherry cruller), but which is very similar. Those things were heavy bars which could likely take out someone's eye if you aimed just right. 

The second thing to note is that, whatever fun I may poke at Tims, whenever I've gone home and eaten one of their donuts (an obvious choice since Tims is rather ubiquitous at this point), I've thought they were delicious, but when this prompted me to have a Dunkin' Donuts donut in Korea, I'd remember that Koreans like their sugar spread throughout their food, and not concentrated into a singular point like the bottom of a gravity well the way Canadians do, and I'd wrinkle my nose at the local donuts' blandness and avoid them thereafter.