Italiano | Deutsch | Français | Român | Nederlands | Русский | 한국어 | 中文 | 日本語 | ภาษาไทย | Việt

Madison Morrison’s Web / Sentence of the Gods / Life / Korea

Korea

Madison Morrison

South of Seoul

1  Cheongju: Ms. Woo and Ms. Sim

We have landed at Incheon, taken a bus onto the ring road that skirts Seoul’s southern precincts, through rush hour traffic glimpsed the capital’s urban agglomeration and then abruptly exited onto Highway 1, the Gyeongbu Expressway. In the gathering dusk we head southward toward Cheongju, at the heart of Chungcheongnam Province, well known for its vineyards, its ginseng fields and hot springs, its beaches and shrines [quotations in italic bold adapted from the Insight Guide; bold quotations, from the Lonely Planet Guide; italics within quotation marks taken from the Korea National Tourism Organization Travel Guide].

 

MM: Here we are, first thing in the morning, with three lovely members of the Cheongju branch of the KNTO. Please, if you will, tell me your names.

Ms. Woo: [Rises to stand before seated author] My name is Woo.

MM: And your name?

Ms. Sim: [Rises to take her station too] Sim.

MM: I understand that your colleague, who just stepped out for a moment, speaks Chinese. Tell me, what do you do when Japanese tourists arrive?

Ms. Woo: I speak a little Japanese.

MM: Ms. Woo, I’m sure that you speak more than “a little” Japanese. Ms. Sim, you speak wonderful English. Have you studied this language in school?

Ms. Sim: Yes, and on TV. We have veered west and southwest on Highway 21 into the lush terraced valleys and rolling hills of the province.

MM: You should both relax now and have a seat, for we are going to talk about what is fun to do in Cheongju. We have not, however, stopped at The Independence Hall of Korea.

Ms. Woo and Ms. Sim: [Silence.] With its “gargantuan statues” and “full-scale museum” and its “plaza that can hold 100,000 people.”

MM: Surely you can think of something that’s fun. Nor have we visited Dragon Rooster Mountain. At my hotel, on TV, I have noticed that in Korea you have break dancing, rap stars and daily highlights of the previous night’s NBA games. Yesterday evening I watched a documentary about Bon Jovi. Ms. Woo, what kind of music do you like?

Ms. Woo: I like the classic. Nor have we paused to pay our respects at The Hyeonchung-sa Shrine, “dedicated to Admiral Yi Sun-sin, Korea’s great 16th-century naval hero.”

MM: What kind of “classic”? Do you mean, perhaps, classical Korean music?

Ms. Woo: No, I like the western opera!

MM: Italian opera? Nor have we paid a visit to The Onyang Folk Museum in Gongokni, with its “best collection” of Korean folk art “in the world.”

Ms. Woo: Yes. Nor have we paused to enjoy Onyang’s hot springs.

MM: Italian opera! “Which feed their soothing mineral waters.” How romantic! “To several hotels and baths in the area.”

Ms. Woo: Thank you. If you have not experienced a Korean public bath.

MM: Ms. Sim, what do you like? Then take your time and immerse yourself slowly in its almost unbearably hot tub.

Ms. Sim: I prefer the popular song. Afterwards you may hop into its invigorating cold tub.

MM: Do you like Korean or Japanese or western songs? After you have done this a few times, you’ll be ready for anything.

Ms. Sim: I prefer the American! Primed by a stimulating hot bath.

MM: Like Bon Jovi? Cheongju. (By now he is probably too old.) Steeped in the gentle scent of scholarly culture (“Chungcheongkuk-do Tourism”). Which singers do you like?

Ms. Sim: I like . . . I like . . . [In Korean Ms. Sim confers with Ms. Woo before responding.] I like Backstreet Boys. Is home to the “jikji,” the first moveable metal type.

MM: And what about Westlife? Nor have we headed westward to the coast.

Ms. Sim: Oh, good! To Mallipo beach.

Ms. Woo: I love too! Or to Korea’s largest arboretum.

MM: You know, one trouble with these boy bands is that they quickly grow up. I read in the paper recently that a member of Westlife, for example, has left the band: he said he wanted to spend more time with his wife and children. Where the whole maple family is represented. Tell me, Ms. Sim, are you married? With its more than 800 members.

Ms. Sim: [Laughter.] No. And 400 hollies, many of which have been hybridized.

MM: Ms. Sim, you are very beautiful. Korea’s convoluted west coast.

Ms. Woo: She has a boyfriend. Cut by the shallow waters of the Yellow Sea.

MM: I am not surprised. Is dotted with myriad peninsulas.And you, Ms. Woo?

Ms. Woo: I am not so beautiful. And small islands.But I have one daughter.

MM: You are both very beautiful. Bordered by sandy beaches. But tell me, when you have a day off from your jobs here, what do you do for fun? Where do you go?

Ms. Woo and Ms. Sim:[Silence.] And overlooking the quiet pine glens.

MM: Do you, for example, go see a movie? (Here in Cheongju, next to the department store, I notice a big theater complex called “Cine Ville.”) Along this coast.

Ms. Woo:Yes, last weekend I saw “Korea Flag.” In certain areas at low tide.

MM: This must be a Korean film. Tell me, what is it about? Offshore the Yellow Sea exposes great mud flats half a dozen meters beneath the high tide’s surface.

Ms. Woo: It is about the Korean War. And is second in tidal extremes only to Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy.It is about the fighting of our country against North Korea.

MM:Yes, I am sure that it must be a very serious work about a tragic period of your history. Tell me, do you yourselves recall the Korean War?

Ms. Sim: [Laughter.] No, we are too young! We have passed up “Early Printing Museum.”

MM: Have you ever seen M*A*S*H, the American movie?

Ms. Woo: No. [Laughter.] We have never seen this movie. For happy Cheongju itself.

MM: But to be more serious, for a moment: tell me about your clients, the Chinese and the Japanese and the western tourists, for they must inquire about traditional Korean culture, since it is unlikely that most who come to your office are devoted to M*A*S*H or to Westlife. Where do you recommend they go? What is important that we know about Korea? We have passed by Taean Haean National Park, which for some 70 km extends north-south along the Chungcheongnam coast, its waters punctuated by a string of popular beaches.

Ms. Woo and Ms. Sim: [Long silence.] Such as Mallipo and Cheollipo.

MM: If I may ask, Are you Buddhist in belief? Here one finds a variety of marine life.

Ms. Woo: No, I am nothing. And controlled fishing is permitted.

Ms. Sim: Me too. The area is renowned for its seafood.

MM: So neither of you is religious. Here is a much more difficult question, which either of you may answer, if you like: The 200-acre Cheollipo sanctuary.What is the relation between present-day Korea and ancient Korea? Serves to protect 7000 varieties of plants.

Ms. Woo: Korean family is very important. The Cheollipo Arboretum. Is father and mother, and son and daughter, and cousins. Is in fact nurtured and owned by Ferris Miller.

MM: Yes, in Korea your philosophy of the family is based upon the teachings of Confucius. A naturalized Korean, originally from Pennsylvania.

Ms. Woo: But American family: Is just father and mother and son and daughter. Who has lived here for over four decades. You call it “nuclear family.”

MM:Or “single mother”! Some of the plants in Miller’s arboretum are indigenous.

Ms. Woo:[Laughter.] Yes. Whereas others were imported from around the world.

MM: Ms. Sim, two questions: How old are you, and do you still live with your parents?

Ms. Sim: I am 26, and, yes, I still live with my parents.

MM: And you, Ms. Woo, you must instead by now be living with your husband and your daughter, but where are your mother and father?

Ms. Woo: I have left my mother and father behind in Gyeongju and have taken a job here.

Ms. Sim: If I get married, I too will live with my husband.

MM: This seems to me a good idea: to live with your husband, when you get married.

Ms. Sim and Ms. Woo: [Laughter.]

MM: Now which, Ms. Sim, will you choose for your husband, a Korean or a foreigner? Veteran westerners have long favored Daecheon Beach as a seaside resort.

Ms. Sim: [Silence.] For this attractive stretch of sand.

MM: Have you any friends who have married foreigners (from Japan, say, or America)? Can easily be reached from Seoul by bus, train or car.

Ms. Sim and Ms. Woo: [Confer in Korean.] As you near Daecheon town, fields of yellow barleythe staple added to rice or boiled into a drinkcut bright yellow swaths across the summer terraces filled with the waving stalks of rice.

Ms. Sim: I am going to marry a good friend in elementary school.

MM:So young!

Ms. Sim: [Laughter.] No, he and I are same age. Daecheon is in the middle of a lush agricultural area.

MM: Well this is wonderful, to marry an old friend! But it is also known in Korea for its coalmines, situated in the surrounding hills. And where is your friend now?

Ms. Sim: He is in Chojeong. Contributing the base fuel.

MM: And where is Chojeong? From which yondan. Please show me on the map. Or charcoal heating briquettes, are made.

Ms. Sim: Here. Actually Daecheon Beach has unofficially been divided into two sections:

MM: I see, his town is only a few kilometers away. A northern section, called “KB”’ or Korean Beach. When he comes to see you, does he take you to a movie?

Ms. Sim: Yes, of course! And a southern stretch, called “Foreigner’s Beach.”

MM: Now what else must I understand about Korea? I want to know what is most important, for my time is so short. Originally it was a resort for Christian missionaries.

Ms. Sim and Ms. Woo: [Silence.] Missionaries still occupy many Daecheon homes.

MM:Well, then, what about politics? Or their descendents. To speak of a much more serious “nuclear” problem, do you think that North and South Korea can be friends again?

Ms. Woo: Is very difficult question.

MM: Yes. Or they are occupied by.

Ms. Woo:We are the one. Members of Seoul’s banking and diplomatic corps.

MM: You are telling me, if I understand correctly, that the two Koreas are unified by culture.

Ms. Woo: Yes. Or by a more nouveau group of wealthy Korean businessmen. We are equal blood. And government leaders.We think important blood.

MM: Do you feel that China and Japan, Russia and America can help North and South Korea solve this current problem, so that we do not end up having another war? Korean Beach, where discos and wine houses co-exist with sleepy fishermen’s huts.

Ms. Sim: [Laughter.] This very difficult question. Is a non-stop boogie scene.

MM: Politics, Ms. Sim, is of no great interest to you, is it? During the peak summer season. Nor traditional culture either.

Ms. Sim: [Laughter.] You are right.

MM: Tell me, what is important in life? While attractive Foreigners’ Beach.

Ms. Woo: For me . . . family: my daughter’s health and her education.

Ms. Sim: For me . . . relationships.

MM: Yes, I agree. Family and relationships are important. Maintains a residential dignity. And thank you so much for your help with planning my trip!

2  On the Road to Jeonju

Yesterday the National Police Agency took action against organizers of candlelight vigils. Coiled beneath a hedge: Protesting the National Assembly’s impeachment of President Roh. A purple watering hose. “The organizers maintain that the protest was a cultural event.” Yuseong. “But the songs sung and slogans shouted suggested it was not.” “Bang Bang,” reads a shop’s sign. Said NPA spokesman. A traditional stone bungalow. Han Jin-hee. Its roof tiled in sea green. “Accordingly,” he added:

On the bus at 10:19 am. “From now on we will crack down on similar rallies.” Thoreau was one of the Transcendentalists, that body of quasi-mystical progressive thinkers who in the 1830s began another revolution in Concord, in American social and religious thought. The smell of liquor wafting through the air. “And will bring criminal charges.” He became a courageous opponent of federal government policies, such as the expansionist war against Mexico and the refusal of Congress to legislate against slavery.

A container truck. Also yesterday at the Korea Air Force Academy. “UNIGLORY” stenciled on its orange sides. Prime Minister Goh. Late model autos: Was honored with a salute. Contra. By 200 cadets. Carnival. The wording of the command. And trucks: That prefaced their gesture. Rhino. Drew keen attention. Granbird. Because this was the first official event that the Prime Minister has attended. A blue-tiled roof in the distance seen over a field. Since he became acting president last week. Trimmed in carmine.

The Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Home Affairs and Air Force Academy. Three half-cylindrical sheds, sheathed in plastic. Conducted a heated discussion. For the cultivation of hydroponic vegetables. Regarding the title “honor.” A green wheelbarrow. Used to address the interim leader. Trimmed in carmine. The solution they finally agreed upon was to replace the title “President.” “JESUS LOVES YOU.” With the title “Acting President,” while omitting the honorific “Sir.” In yellow on a blue background.

The salute to Goh ran: “Driving Emotion.” “To the Acting President.” An all red truck. “Present arms!” His essay, “Civil Disobedience” (1849) was to become an inspiration to twentieth- and twentieth-first century non-violent protesters. An Optima. From British Fabian Socialists. A Sonata. To Mahatma Gandhi. An Eclipse. And Martin Luther King, Jr. An Insight. Dismayed at the rapid commercialization of life, Thoreau preferred to subsist on odd jobs, helping out in the family pencil factory and working as a surveyor.  

3  Cosmic Interlude

“The universe is both chaotic and homogeneous, expansive and stationary.” In black jacket and white gloves a workman steadies a silver ladder. “The cosmos grows.” Diagonally cutting across a glass door. “Fluctuates.” Onto whose surface red letters have been affixed. “And eternally reproduces itself in all possible forms.” Behind him, at the curb, a yellow crane rises from the bed of a blue truck. “As if adjusting itself.” In black sweater and blue jeans, black, white-striped running shoes. “To all possible types of life.” A teenage girl steps to the silver counter to place her order. (Andre Linde.) Behind the counter a teenage boy in a red cap with a blue bill responds. (“The Self-Reproducing, Inflationary Universe.”) Behind them both, on the other side of the window, a red light turns to green. (In Understanding Cosmology.) A girl wearing a purple parka strides across the white, zebra-striped black asphalt toward “Pizza Hut.” (From the editors of Scientific American.) Whose white letters are outlined in black. (Warner Books.) Underlined with a yellow dash. (New York.) The “i” of the “Pizza.” (2002.) Has been “dotted” with a green acute accent.

As you scale the stone steps of the Banya hillside to Gwanchok-sa. To bring about the rapid expansion. All the superlative descriptions you’ve ever heard regarding the 1,000-year-old Unjin Miruk. Inflationary theory adds. (The largest stone Buddha in Korea.) A new element to cosmology. Stir you with anticipation (Insight Guide). Drawn from particle physics: Your curiosity is piqued, when. The “inflaton” field. At the top of the flight of stairs. In modern physics. You first glimpse the monolith. The elementary particle, such as the proton or electron. Through a clear horizontal window of the temple. Is represented by a quantum field. Its face all you can see. Which resembles the familiar electric, magnetic and gravitational fields. Of this “Buddha of the Future.” The inflaton field imparts an ‘antigravity’ that stretches space. “Its eyes peer back at you through the holy sanctum.” (Martin A. Bucher.) “In its awesome totality.” (And David N. Spergel.) “Its disproportionate massiveness.” (“Inflation in a Low-Density Universe.”) “Its crown, oversized hands and extended earlobes.” (In Understanding Cosmology.) “The Gwanseum Maitreya represents a more highly evolved spirituality.”

But what happened before inflation? Korea has such a large population of azaleas that it is quite often impossible to cross forest clearings without trampling them. How did the universe actually begin? You will also see wild weigela, spiraea, viburnums, hydrangeas, boxwood, Daphne and a host of other plants (Insight Guide).

The universe appears to have emerged from a singularity, a region of infinite curvature and energy density at which the known laws of physics break down. Korean roadsides in the autumn are iced. And may be superceded by some bigger, better, more powerful theory. With a beautiful floral froth of lavender, pink, white and deep red cosmos. What is this theory? They sway in the wind, these blossoms of the cosmos. A consideration of scale yields a clue. I count 26: Near a singularity, space-time becomes highly curved. Nine have white petals and golden aureoles. Its volume shrinks to very small dimensions. Behind them, six, in pink. Under such circumstances. (Three beside another three.) One must appeal to the theory of the very small. Their heads bobbing harmonically.

Oddly enough, the azalea, which covers every hillside and fills every untilled field, is not the national flower. The long cosmos stems are deeply rooted and will not yield. That official honor was bestowed instead upon the Rose of Sharon. Out of the near ground expands a field reaching toward, and beyond, the horizon. Known in Korean as the mugunghwa. Sunlight pours down upon it. Symbolizing the people’s resilient spirit.

Two red blooms stand between the nine in the near ground and their six more distant cousins. “According to the picture afforded by quantum cosmology.” Two more reds recede from the six pink blossoms. “The universe appeared from a quantum fuzz.” In the distance, full-moon-like. “It tunneled into existence.” Blooms a white cosmos. “And then evolved classically.” Alongside another, now a faintly brilliant red. “The most compelling aspect of the picture is this:” Beyond: colorful galaxies of efflorescence. “The assumptions required of an inflationary universe scenario.” Expanding into the multiverse of all nature. “May be compressed into a single simple boundary condition.” The cosmic dimension. (Jonathan J. Halliwell.) Five green poplars sway before a lake. (“Quantum Cosmology and the Creation of the Universe.”) Framed by the notch between two breast-like foothills. “For the wave function of the universe.” Shadowy mountains beyond.

4  Arrival in Kwangju

Kwangju arrival/arrival of spring, late morning goldfish pool observation, municipal plaza. The art of paper making in ancient Korea. The water is in motion. Developed to such a high level. Swirling about with golden, white and brindled carp. That Korean paper was considered superior to Japanese as well as to Chinese paper.

A small orange fish with white markings ventures toward author, seated on the marble rim of the pool. Like Buddhism, the art spread from China to Korea and from there leapt to Japan. Two boys in blue jackets lean over the edge to fish the pool’s surface with white plastic cups. In Korea the principal ingredients were water and wood pulp.

To the southeast, from elsewhere in Korea, were brought the ttang tree’s trunk and branches. On the opposite side of the pool have arrived. Mulberry stems. Two middle-aged men in black shiny loafers and black leather jackets. And bamboo stalks. In desultory fashion, liquor on their breath, they comment upon the fish beneath their gaze.

The products of the art included: A longer dominant yellow fish, a smaller fish with black markings. Wrapping paper. A schoolgirl, in official uniform (brown jacket and rust-colored skirt) opens her cell phone and talks to a friend for a moment. Paper for brush painting. Then turns and, using her phone as a camera, takes author’s picture.

At the corner of the pool decorous topiary shrubs partly conceal the statue of a man and a much smaller woman. Paper of 1000 years. Four military police stride past in lock step wearing freshly laundered camouflage. Paper for calligraphy. A white, an orange and a golden fish swerve toward author, then swerve away. Paper for ondal floors.

A little girl in bright red hooded parka, its arms striped in white-bordered black, takes a seat on the pool’s rim. On her back in pale blue is a Mickey Mouse school bag. Her brother, in goldfish orange jacket and gold-rimmed glasses, takes a seat next to her, nestling his black schoolbag in his lap. He turns his back on his sister to peer into the pond. 

Author closes notebook. Bamboo paper. “The Meaning of Life Collections,” read the letters embossed on its golden cover. Algae paper. “Let it be,” read other letters in silver. Bark chip paper. “Good life, good feeling, good communication.” Recycled paper. “Enjoy your youthful days.”  Preparing to depart, he puts away his pen.

5  Departure from Kwangju

Sunday stroll. “Around 32 AD.” Through streets of Chungjangno. “Hecataeus, a Greek historian, traveled to Alexandria.” The city’s lively shopping district. “Capital of the Ptolemaic kingdom.” Filled this afternoon with promenading teenies. “To codify at the behest of Ptolemy I an historical past for the newly founded Egyptian state.” Its shops denominated in English: “So as to create a Hellenistic-Egyptian pharaohship.”

World Language Institute. “The resulting four-volume work.” “Your English Paradise!!” “Was also designed.” A globe has been turned to its western hemisphere. “To edify and instruct Ptolemy I.” North and South America represented in silver. “By providing him with a model.” Australia has been squeezed into the picture. “Of enlightened monarchy.” Spelled out in a grey red on a milky blue banner: “WORLD.”

SK Telekom. “In line with the ecumenical spirit of Hellenism.” Inside, someone is seated before a computer. “Hecataeus set about dismantling cultural boundaries.” Next to her sits a fax machine. “Which had emerged in Egypt.” Perched atop a hard drive. “As response to the Assyrian.” Across the street, in small caps: Fashion. In large caps: Time Zone (II). “And Persian empires.” Bags, Beauty, Under Wear.

“The gist of his argument was:” Saera Since 1978. “That the world’s cultures are interrelated.” (A store for women’s shoes.) “And that Egypt was the source of them all.” Across the alley: Time-Hof. “For it was from Egypt.” (A coffee shop.) “That colonizers had set out to the ends of the earth.” Chinese Restaurant. “Greece itself owed its origins to Egyptian immigrants.” Its freestanding gold characters above a brown ground.

“Ptolemy I.” Uno & Uno. “Was doubtless delighted with this historical construct.” (A shop for leather goods, its tiled floor being mopped by a 30-year-old woman in red shirt, cream sweater and green Levis.) “After all, it was nothing.” Across the street: “But the proclamation of the cultural supremacy of his territory.” A Pharmacy. “Over all other areas of the Hellenistic world.” Its products labeled half in Korean, half in English.

“And it provided him with the legitimization that comes from a return to origins.” Its principal sign spelled out in Hangeul. “But above all.” Board.Game Café, reads a sign high overhead. “Hecataeus made an invaluable contribution to cultural continuity.” PlayStation, the advertisement continues. “He urged the Ptolemies to see themselves as inheritors of this most ancient culture.”  (Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt.)

6  Scholars and Monks

Busan calendar, yeogwan wall: Confucianism. Sun Day. Buddhism. Moon Day. The art of war. Fire Day. A written language. Water Day. Bureaucratic organization. Wood Day. Painting, sculpture and architecture. Gold Day. And various social practices. Earth Day. Were all introduced from China during the Three Kingdoms period (Lonely Planet).

On the main avenue of Busan. Under the unified Silla rule. A handsome emporium. Buddhism flourished. Stocked with the fabrics required to produce hanbok. As rulers lavished funds on temples and images. (Plus many beautiful examples of the traditional garments themselves.) And dispatched monks to China and India to study the religion.

After most of the stores along the busy boulevard have already closed their doors. The epitome of Silla Buddhist art can still be seen. This elegant store remains open. In the Seokkuram grotto, for example, near the former capital of Gyeongju. Its interior ablaze with color. Which was begun, along with the nearby temple of Bulguk-sa, in 751.

Above, in a window lit by modern inset ceiling lamps. Silla maintained a tributary relationship with the T’ang, thereby preventing Chinese domination. Against the wooden background of an ancient Korean house. The T’ang administrative system became the model. Whose windows imitate the use of translucent paper. For the Silla’s state structure.

Five outfits: By the late 8th century. An embroidered chogori (blouse) in white. The growth of the royal clan. And a chima (skirt) in watery magenta. Led to intense internal rivalries. An all-white hanbok embroidered with floral designs. As the aristocracy came under attack from the lower echelons, who felt they were being excluded from power.

The shoulders of the second garment have been covered with plaquettes. Large landowners refused to pay taxes. Shaped like silken, embroidered armor. Some farmers turned to banditry for survival. Its skirt has been layered with several diagonal folds of fabric. While wealthy merchants added a further disaffected element to the opposition.

At 7:00 pm the street is cold and already dark. Under the strain of these conflicts, the Silla government grew weaker and weaker. Author has placed his notebook atop the granite ledge of the subway entrance. Major revolts broke out as early as 768. Busan’s rush hour traffic has finally abated. In 780 the king, Hyegong, was assassinated.

Three remaining headless models. From this chaos. Are all adorned with chima. Rebel chieftains rose up and struggled for position. The color of venous blood. Until the appearance of Wang Kon. Their chogori in cream (with a black bow); emerald (with an eight-sided piece of embroidery); white (with a shawl in maroon, lemon and green).

7  Busan as a Global City

Busan National Ferry Terminal, 12:01 pm, March 23, author seated beneath enormous electronic board displaying: “Vessel Name” (in orange), “Departure Time” (in red). Ever since human residency began here in the Neolithic era, Busan has been a center for logistics. “Destination” (in orange), “Arrival Time” (in red). The Port was opened in 1407, and the International Harbor was established in 1876 (Busan Guide). “Remarks” (in green). First-floor view of the sea blocked by surveillance apparatus, locked door.

Author to fourth-floor observation deck for a broader view. A stronghold of global exchange. The near shore is edged with high-rise apartments. An oceanic city. Before which barges have tied up. And a cultural destination. Their hulls black, their water lines red. Located at the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. A skiff with a crane on board makes its way out from the dock into the larger expanse. It is 428 kilometers from Seoul. A Coast Guard boat in grey hull and white superstructure glides in for landfall.

The day is misty and cool. Two hours by plane from Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo. The sun has just begun to cast shadows. Busan’s yearly mean temperature is 15 degrees centigrade. Under author’s immediate purview a dark green plastic canopied staircase leads from the terminal to the water’s edge for New Arcadia, Gold Coast, Perestroika departures and arrivals. The city is blessed by nature. For boarding the Royal Ferry and the Seolbong. And by its harmonious relationships with sea, river and mountain.

The actual “Seolbong” has tied up beside our dock. “Harbor Logistics Industry.” Which is piled randomly with small containers in orange, in yellow, in blue. Busan is the central harbor. Above the far shore rises a grey mountain. That connects Northeast Asia with Europe and North America. Culminating in two peaks, surmounted by signal towers. It is the third largest Asian harbor after Hong Kong and Singapore. Two gulls fly out over the water’s surface, followed quickly by a dark, more hesitant pigeon.

All three veer and return to shore, as a tug, lying low in the water, heads towards us, its wake a gauzy white froth upon the smooth grey-green surface of the bay. The sun has grown slightly warmer again, though a breeze has also picked up pace, causing author’s notebook page to lift itself, flap against his writing hand and fall back once more into place. The largest ferries moored in the harbor have been painted white, their smokestacks blue, their names and ports of origin lettered in black. A solitary gull squawks.

8  Fresh, Inquisitive and Capricious

If you’ve ever taught English at a private institute, you probably know some fifteen-year-olds like Harry, Melissa and Kain. Fresh, inquisitive and capricious, they are irrepressible. Depending on the day, they may charm you or drive you to the edge of sanity. It is their youthful voices that I hoped to capture, when I arranged to interview them. On a Saturday afternoon in their hagwon classroom, we sat down over a box of fried chicken and a bottle of warm cola. I tried every trick I know to get them to tell me what was on their minds.

This is what they had to say (M. R. Bradie, “Heads of the Class,” in The Beat):

 

MRB: What’s your daily schedule like? Neighborhood scene, Jongang-dong District, Busan, author seated atop a low wall, observing street corner traffic.

Melissa: I usually get up at 7:00. The sound of a jackhammer interrupts the relative quiet. At 7:50 I take the school bus. A FamilyMart truck arrives to make a delivery, its motor idling. I arrive at school by 8:00. A silver van revs three times before starting off. My first class begins at 9:30. Clumpity-clumping over the new cobblestone speed bump.

MRB: So what do you do for your first hour and a half at school? The intersection, in disarray, is being reconstructed: new tile sidewalks, new curbs, new paving stones.

Melissa: Sleep. The undercourse of cement, laid yesterday, having dried by this morning, now allows for traffic to pass along the main thoroughfare.

MRB: You sleep at school? An unmarked white van passes, followed by a black Lexus.

Melissa: Yes. A girl in a baggy lavender sweater, jeans splayed over the tops of her shoes.

MRB: So what is your nightly study routine like? Encounters her boyfriend.

Harry: I usually study or watch TV. In the middle of the street. And play games at night. He on his cell phone to her, she on her cell phone to him.

MRB: How long do you study for? Workmen are struggling to lay underground electrical and telephone cables, one of them feeding line through a square portal left in the dry cement.

Harry: About one hour. Another peering with frustration into a second square portal.

MRB: Where do you study? Businessmen in black suits, black topcoats, with or without briefcases. In front of the TV or in your room? Are returning to the office from lunch.

Harry: I study anywhere. Four girls, all friends, all seventeen years old.

HRB: Which are your favorite subjects to study? Three with their hands in their hooded-sweatshirt pockets, also returning from lunch break.

Kain: My favorite subject is English. Pause on their stroll and step inside the FamilyMart.

HRB: Why? A siren ululates up the boulevard behind us.

Kain: It’s interesting. Past the basement McDonald’s on the corner. I love learning new things. Past the first floor Lexus show room. New words.

Melissa: Math. Huge, fat red-white-and-blue electric barber poles. It makes me feel good when I get the answers right after working hard on the problems. Slowly rotating.

Harry: I like all the subjects. Advertise an innocuous coffee shop.

MRB: How are your parents involved in your studies? A white taxi lets off a passenger.

Harry: My parents never stop thinking about my grades. Two twenty-somethings with long, thin black hair click past on their high heels.

Melissa: When I get home from hagwons, my mom asks me stuff like if I studied or what kind of things I learned and all. A red, a green and a blue ball on a sign overhead.

Kain: My parents talk about education with me. Advertise a billiards parlor.

MRB: How often? The straw-hatted worker finally desists.

Kain: Usually every day. His jackhammer silenced for the time being.

9 Gyeongju: MM’s First Encounter with Choson

Choson. Park Hotel Coffee Shop. The earliest name for Korea. Before a highly polished wooden table. Established by a legendary founder. Author has taken a seat. Tan’gun. To await the expensive coffee and toast that he ordered upon entering the shop. About 4000 years ago. The music is western, the décor Korean. It denotes “morning freshness and calm.” A gauzy “tree” stands next to his table, constructed of white fabric, gold paper and real sticks painted silver and sprayed with glitter.

Behind a large coffee-making apparatus two uniformed waitresses in identical hairdos are having a tête-à-tête. Author. (Edward B. Adams.) Sits beneath a one-story-high overhang in a two-story atrium. (In his Korea Guide.) Where the hotel’s Korean guests lounge in sofas. (Seoul International Publishing Company.) Among a group of three businessmen one dressed entirely in black talks too loudly on his cell phone. (1976.) His repartee concluded, he turns to address his three colleagues yet more vociferously.

From a semi-recumbent position on a divan a 35-year-old in short haircut smirks at author. Early records present Ung. Having for fifteen minutes awaited the arrival of a woman and her husband. A god who visited earth. He now arises from his sofa and gesticulates with both hands. In the regions of the Ever White Mountain. Speaking even more demonstratively, he badgers the husband. Along the Yalu River banks. Holding in the air, by its other extremity, at a nearly 90-degree angle, a lighted cigarette.

 

Ung is said to have transformed a bear into a woman. The husband scowls at his wife, who had momentarily threatened to enter the “conversation.” Later he married her. Now the loudmouth, lowering his cigarette to 75 degrees, takes a puff, spreading all four fingers across his face as he does so. Their offspring was Tan’gun.

Removing his hand, he proceeds to hold the erect cig in his teeth, again at nearly 90 degrees. After the son assumed leadership of the primitive clans. Behind this threesome. In 2333 BC. Silhouetted against a red ground. He established a capital at Pyongyang. An amorous western man and woman in dishabille fondly regard one another.

Above, in the hall’s second register, illuminated by a large window, hangs a modern Korean painting. “Koryeo” means “high and clear.” Showing two long-limbed, seated girls. It symbolizes the country’s towering peaks. Facing us, the nearer girl has raised one knee, as the other girl gazes off into the distance. Clear blue skies and rushing streams.

Both sensuous creatures have lifted to their lips black serpentine flutes. This landscape has earned for Korea. Despite the traditional costumes that they wear, the artist has contrived to show us all four bare, mountainous, pink-nippled breasts. The nickname of Switzerland. In a blackened earthenware pot sit two fat ears of corn.

10  What is a Buddhist Temple?

“Chiness [sic] Restaurant,” menu in English and Korean, with emphasis upon native cuisine. After the martyrdom of the official Yi Ch’a-don in 527, who prophesied that after he died his blood would run white as milk to illustrate the truth of the Buddha, the faith prospered throughout the Silla kingdom. The interior has been organized into two parts: The golden age of Buddhist art glittered and waned in the eighth century. An elevated parterre. Silla succumbed to Goryeo in 936. With low tables for diners seated on the floor. And Buddhism became an influential faction at the royal court. Plus an ordinary parterre.

During the next several centuries. With five tables for four. Then, in 1392, the famed General Yi (Taejo) wrested the throne from a corrupt monarchy to establish the Yi dynasty. Only the lower parterre is currently being occupied. Subsequently, Buddhism fell into disfavor with the rising popularity of Confucianism. Author takes a seat at one of the five tables. As a result, many temples were destroyed. At the only other occupied table. Japanese armies under Hideyoshi later marched across the peninsula. Three Korean men in their early forties have finished their meal and are well into their cups. To complete the destruction.

The threesome stares at author. Before entering a larger temple the visitor will pass through a gate called Four Heavenly Kings. Author stares back. The images on this gate represent mythical rulers in the four corners of the universe. The Korean men are drinking rice wine from a brown bottle. Usually they are depicted as crushing the enemies of Buddhism. One has been topping off his rice wine with a bottle of beer. On one side a ferocious figure holds a dragon. Setting the green bottle back on the table, he stares at author again. On the other, a fierce figure holds a pagoda.

His milder companions await his judgment of the foreigner. Across the aisle a third figure holds a sword aloft. A waitress arrives to take author’s order. Occasionally at the larger temples you might find a gate in honor of the Bodhisattvas. Author continues to contemplate the laminated menu. One is called munsu posal. Having decided, he points at the entry for fried rice with pork ribs. The other is called pohyon posal. Waitress counters by pointing at another entry, thereby giving author to understand that pork ribs are not available. The munsu rides a tiger, whereas the pohyon rides an elephant.

Having exhausted their curiosity with regard to this blond, business-suited customer, the alcohol-dazed trio returns to earlier activity. Including recent renovations, there have been 23 reconstructions of Bulguk-sa. Which include TV viewing, drunken reverie and occasional outbursts. Bulguk-sa is today but one tenth the size that the original temple had attained during the height of the Silla Empire. The orange-capped man nearest author turns about to view again the virtual drama in historical period dress unfolding at its boringly predictable emotional pace on a tiny out-of-focus screen.

The balance and symmetry of its former glory are still to be discerned, however, in its walls, bridges, pillars and pagodas. The restaurant interior has been decorated in the by-now-familiar haphazard Korean mélange of incongruous elements. It is no exaggeration to say that Silla was responsible for the most beautiful works of classical art in East Asia, ones that differed both from the ornate, often fantastic concoctions of China and from the sentimental, pattern-ridden products so common to Japan. Drunkenly the two lesser companions bob and weave as slurred statement meets with slurred riposte.

So cluttered is the table in front of it that the water cooler is no longer accessible. Though Bulguk-sa is not typical of most Korean Buddhist temples. Old clothes, cooking utensils, condiment jars, a week’s worth of newspapers, all have been piled above and below the bottle. Which still maintain an aura of calm serenity. Nor is the large refrigerator standing behind it accessible either. Nevertheless, to visit Gyeongju and not tour the famed temple of Silla’s “Golden Age” would be unthinkable. A huge watch made of wood, its hands stopped, hangs beside the ice box, whose contents can only be guessed at.

The grotto known as Seokkuram was built by Kim Dae-song, who is also credited with building Bulguk-sa. On the wall opposite have been arranged without decorum: The relief image of the eleven-headed Goddess of Mercy. A Hangeul menu of dishes in black on orange, their prices listed in red on white. It holds one spellbound. The numerals reading vertically from top to bottom. Considered the most beautiful figure in all Korean art. A tall mirror reflects the front window and door. This kwanseum posal is slender. Of the restaurant itself. Its astonishingly realistic details elegantly organized.

A calendar next to the mirror depicts a traditional Korean courtyard with its grand entranceway. Its fluid garments and adornments are arranged in loops, cross folds and knots. Resting on the floor, leaned against the wall. Its supple feminine form contrasts abruptly with the fear-evoking guardians positioned on either side of the grotto’s portal. Is an elegant group portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Eight heavenly Palbu-ing. In a gilt frame. And two scowling Inwang. Epitomizing the civilized pastoral imagery of European Neoclassicism. Threaten to strike or at least terrify intruding evil spirits.

11  Dialogues

Twice Kim Sang-oon, a schoolteacher, invites author to dinner and, beforehand, to visit his studio at the middle school. In the same time frame MM undertakes a brief study of Bulguk-sa and visits the great Buddhist temple. A graduate of the local college of fine arts, Mr. Kim works in watercolors, pastels and crayons to produce landscapes, still lifes and portraits.

 

MM: We are on our way, now, to the middle school and are talking about the glorious Silla Dynasty, the period in Korean history roughly contemporary with China’s T’ang Dynasty. Departure by Bus #10 from Gyeongju, 11:30 am, March 26.

Mr. Kim: In this period Gyeongju was the capital of Korea. We are traveling down a cherry-lined boulevard, the branches beginning to bud.

MM: And when did the Silla come to an end? Sprays of forsythia, bordering the sidewalk, are also blooming.

Mr. Kim: A thousand years ago. We have reached the silted riverbed.

MM: The dynasty lasted for a very long time, didn’t it? A farmer works at cultivating an ancient field with his red roto-tiller.

Mr. Kim: Yes, for over nine hundred years. As women in red headscarves plant petunias at the base of the cherry trees already planted in the sidewalk. Over there is a tomb. We have reached a sign that reads Cheonduk / Bulguk-sa and take the road for Cheonduk.

MM: Tell me about this city street that we are traveling along. We are passing the Golf Practice Range, the Club Habana; suddenly the Hotel Concorde looms into view.

Mr. Kim: Long ago the important person passed here. Our bus driver is causing his vehicle to move very swiftly. But the common person was not allowed to travel along this road. Off to the right a pink pyramid makes its appearance.

MM: So, the road that preceded this modern highway was an exclusive route for the king and his royal retinue. We have been noticing many luxury hotels, including the Hotel Hyundai, the Gyeongju Hilton and the Wellich Choson Hotel.

Mr. Kim: Yes. At last we have exited the touristic zone.

MM: We are skirting a major group of mounded tombs where the kings of the Silla were buried. As we begin our ascent into the mountains we unaccountably pick up speed.

Mr. Kim: Yes: Blocking both lanes of the highway. Left, a king. Are identical silver Hondas. Right, a king. Moving at a more leisurely pace than our bus.

MM: I see. A Buddhist swastika points us toward Bulguk-sa. In the single mound that we are looking at two kings, you say, were buried, side-by-side. We have reached a “T” in the road. Let me ask you, do you find these tombs beautiful? We descend from the bus.

Mr. Kim: Very beautiful. Some tombs have mathematical lines, x and y, curving like the shape of life. At last we are ready for the steeper ascent on foot to the Buddha Land.

MM: How interesting. As we arrive at the renowned temple complex we enter through the Heavenly King Portal. In many respects, then, the design of the Silla tombs was comparable in complexity to the design of the great Egyptian tombs. Presided over by the Four Guardians carved in wood, whom author has been reading about.

Mr. Kim: Over there is stone-built tower for searching the stars. Nothing has prepared one, however, for the enormous size of these wooden figures.

MM: Yes, this is the famed observatory, isn’t it? (Incidentally, the one with the sword is merely grasping it by the hilt, not holding it aloft.)

Mr. Kim: Now we arrive at my house, the second my house [sic]. The clear day could not possibly be more bracing.

MM: So you have two houses! Sunlight is glittering on the sands of the pathway before us.

Mr. Kim: Yes, but another person is living in this house. Puffy white-and-grey cumulus clouds float overhead. He is my student. Pine and fruit trees intermingle.

MM: You are renting out this house and living in another. The steady wind is audible in the upper branches of deciduous trees that have just begun to leaf out.

Mr. Kim: Yes, my new house ten minutes by car to the west. Whose pale green exudes an aura of natural but unearthly elegance. Let us get out of the car.

MM: Yes, by all means. We have paused before three soft drink machines. I would love to see this traditional Korean house. One is labeled “Pocari Sweat.” [Mr. Kim opens the gate to his house, allowing us to enter its courtyard.] Another reads “Chilsung Cider.”

Mr. Kim: My student is a Buddhist painter. A third machine bears but the trademark “Samsung,” a faded color photo of the temple framed above its offerings of coffee and cocoa.

MM: What kind of paintings do you paint? The stairs to the temple have been blocked.

Mr. Kim: I am only still life and landscape. Accordingly we must skirt its facade and enter its courtyard by a side door, so as to face the great pagoda called “Bulguk-sa Dabotap.”

MM: Do you paint in the western style or in the traditional Korean style? The green-painted overhang protects us from the bright sun and affords us a clear view of the temple.

Mr. Kim: Western and Korean. Its complex iconography (of the four directions; four lions; four lotuses) is described on a plaque.

MM: I very much look forward to seeing some of your work.

Mr. Kim: Next we will go to my school.

MM: Author takes seat on the interior ledge of Ja-Ha-Moon (Golden Purple Gate). You say that from the window of your office here we are looking out upon an area that, during the Silla Dynasty, was the king’s forest.

Mr. Kim: As two pretty Korean girls in magenta and yellow sweaters photograph themselves and their boyfriends. A famous poet describes it as a “half moon.”

MM: A little girl in brown velvet winter dress, pink slippers, a pink “Hello Kitty” in her hair is holding her father’s hand. What level are the students in your school?

Mr. Kim: The “Ja-Ha-Moon,” it is said, was constructed about 750 AD. The students are from the middle school on one side and the high school on the other.

MM: One must climb the Chong-Un-Gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge) to enter the Ja-Ha-Moon, the middle gate leading to the Buddha Land. From the window I also see a statue. Including the Dae-Ung-Jon. Can you tell me whom this represents? (Great Enlightenment/Virtue Hall.)

Mr. Kim: This is Subong, nickname of the founder of the school. In which is enshrined a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha.

MM: And the plaque next to him, I suppose, commemorates his founding of the school. (The historical Buddha who lived in India over 2,500 years ago.)

Mr. Kim: In 1937. That time very difficult, time of Japanese occupation. “Ja-Ha” denotes the golden-purple splendor shining from the Buddha, which hangs mist-like about him.

MM: But now you have a very beautiful new school building to replace the older building in the Japanese style, and I notice that its grounds are elegantly landscaped.

Mr. Kim: I am cultivating these plants myself.

We have entered the school’s marble lobby and are looking at a very large ink-brush painting. On the opposite side of the courtyard stands the pure “three-storied stone pagoda,” based on the belief that Dabo Yeorna.

 

Mr. Kim: This is the Buddhist temple called Bulguk-sa. (Prabhutaratna-Tathagata.)

MM: It is a very famous temple. And Seokga Yeorna. Here it is represented during the wintertime. (Sakyamuni.)

Mr. Kim: Have you ever been? (Saddharma-Pundarika.)

MM: No, I have not yet had a chance to visit it. Are preaching side by side. (Perhaps some time in the next two days.) And verifying their doctrines. Now we have arrived at your studio, which is very large and handsome. Behind the great hall, at the far end of an austere courtyard, stands the Moo-Sul-Jon.

Mr. Kim: [No comment.] (“No-Word-Hall.”)

MM: And in front of your school you have a baseball field, where I see that your very skilful high school team is practicing, never dropping a fly ball. A “Hall for Lecturing.”

Mr. Kim: [No comment.] And this is Namsam Mount. Though a place to give lectures on the Sutras. Very important in Silla dynasty. It is called “Moo-Sul,” because we find it impossible to express and reach the essence of the Buddha’s teachings.

MM: From here you can see history. Or the depth of Truth through the means of language.

Mr. Kim: Yes, it is like a museum.

MM: Speaking of museums, it would be very nice to see some of your work. To either end of the cool wood-pillared, wood-floored hall are paintings of the Buddhist Heaven.

Mr. Kim: Thank you. The first embodying an image of Sakyamuni. Here is a painting of a landscape and over there, on the other side [of the horizon in the painting], is another city. The second serving as backdrop to a statue of what appears to be Kwan Yin.

MM: Where the golden light, you say, is coming from another city, is that right? Five Korean ladies in their mid sixties enter together.

Mr. Kim: Yes. In lavender, red and white. Here is a winter view. In rust and blue jackets.

MM: With no foliage on the trees. Side by side they begin to perform their obeisance.

Mr. Kim: And here is a pine tree. Behind two pink-parkaed, brown-silk-skirted ladies, the cuffs of their pantaloons showing, author mounts to Gwon-Eum-Jon (the Shrine of Avalokitesvara, or Perfect Compassion).

MM: Yes, a pine tree in the foreground and the sea in the background. ("The one who listens to the cries of the world.”) This is a marvelous work. She stands in three gold dimensions. So beautiful. Before a two-dimensional representation of herself. It seems to me that you are a very accomplished artist. The latter centered within an enormous mandala. More Korean, perhaps, than western, for you employ such bright colors, even in the sky: Author takes seat on the porch of the temple. Yellow, red, green, blue. To face backwards toward the entrance.

Mr. Kim: Yes. To either side of which blossoming trees have been arranged. My work of art is from nature. Above the fruit trees rise flat-topped pines. But color from my heart. Surmounted by the pure blue sky.

MM: You have also been showing me many studies of flowers. We descend a steep stair to the Bi-Ron-Jon (The Vairocana Buddha Hall).

Mr. Kim: Yes. This one not finished. (In which the Buddha Sitting Statue has been enshrined.) Maybe in summer. (National Treasure No. 20.) The Bi-Ron is said to embody.

MM: These are all such wonderful works. The virtues of Truth.

Mr. Kim: Many paintings is locate [sic] at my house. Wisdom. My paintings very big.

MM: I understand: And Cosmic Power. We have seen but a small selection of your work.

MM: You have mentioned North Korea and the problem of its reunification with South Korea. How can we solve this problem?

Mr. Kim: North Korea economic system very bad.

MM: But now North Korea has nuclear weapons. So this is no longer merely an economic problem, is that correct? Do you feel that China and Japan, Russia and America can help North and South Korea solve their mutual problems?

Mr. Kim: Is very difficult. Six countries.

MM: So many countries meeting at once!

Mr. Kim: Yes.

MM: Why do you think it is that North Korea and South Korea cannot solve these problems by themselves?

Mr. Kim: Problems?

MM: Yes, the problem of reunification, the problem of economic aid, the political problem of reconciling communist and capitalist systems, the problem of nuclear proliferation, the threat of military action by the North against the South?

Mr. Kim: The problems? Ha-ha. Is very difficult. I want. Generally, most Korean people want reunification. First of all, we do not have same economy. As you know, South and North Korea very difficult.

MM: Under these circumstances, do you think that other countries might be able to help North and South Korea solve their problems?

Mr. Kim: No, no . . . Yeah. Mmmm . . . I don’t know.

MM: During the Korean War, for example, the Americans helped the South Koreans solve a problem, didn’t they?

Mr. Kim: Most [South] Korean people like the Americans.

 

MM: I notice that you have just received a call on your cell phone.

Mr. Kim: Yes, my wife is calling me.

MM: And you have been telling her about your plans for this evening.

Mr. Kim: Yes, is very nice. Come back home. Is very midnight [sic]. She understand.

MM: Your wife understands when you come home late, that you have been working, right?

Mr. Kim: Yes. So I likes her.

MM: Did your wife also attend the university?

Mr. Kim: Yes, Korean Language University.

MM: And is she also a teacher?

Mr. Kim: No, she only teach her children. My wife’s hobby is reading. She don’t like outside. Only keeps house. Children and her husband. Sometime she write essay.

MM: Does she publish her essays?

Mr. Kim: Yes, her essays is for the broadcasting.

MM: Because your city is a cultural center, not only for Korea but for Asia in general, you have many tourists coming from around the world to visit its monuments: In the obscurity of the temple’s interior its lower folds are gleaming with the sunlight streaming through its portal. From Italy, from Kazakhstan (you tell me), from America. As are the silver vessels situated in the foreground before the altar.

Mr. Kim: Yes. It is 1:30 pm.

MM: So it should not be surprising that your point of view is international, that you are so tolerant of the foreigner’s misunderstandings of Korean culture and politics. I am very glad to have made your acquaintance and most grateful for the hospitality that you have shown me here in Gyeongju.

Mr. Kim: Thank you.

 

As author is passing the final shrine, on his way toward the exit from Bulguk-sa, its attendant receives a call on her cell phone. Incense pervades the hall’s interior and drifts through the portal into the courtyard. The attendant arises to pad about in her black slippers and grey nun’s habit, all the while continuing her conversation. As we are leaving the grounds we pass the Sarira Pagoda with its nine lotus petals. Here the first nun’s conversational partner becomes identifiable by the cell phone pressed to her ear. The second nun smiles at author. 

12  Pohang and the Rising Sun

Mid-afternoon view of Hyeonsan River from the foot of Seoman Big Bridge. During the reign of Adalla, the eighth king of the Silla Dynasty, a couple named Yun-Oh and Sae-Oh lived on the shore of the East Sea. Our view down-river of Yeongil Bay is obscured. When Yun-Oh was gathering seaweed one day. By the new Sport Center and new Culture & Art Hall and on the far bank. The rock he stood on began to move. By Pohang Iron and Steel (POSCO). (Samguk-Yusa, Historic Record for the Three Kingdoms of Korea.)

The rock itself carried him across the sea to Japan. POSCO is one of the world’s top class iron companies. The Japanese recognized Yun-Oh as a man of extraordinary power. Since 2000 it has annually produced 27,730,000 tons of steel. So they caused him to ascend the throne of their country. Supplying low-priced, good quality steel to Korea’s ship building industry. Ten brick smokestacks, striped red and white (not counting another freestanding stack farther off), rise from the base of the production site.

Meanwhile, Sae-Oh wondered why her husband had not returned. To her automobile makers. Cottony smoke is emerging from half a dozen smaller stacks. To her machine and electromagnetic industries. “POSCO” read the letters on a large tank. The firm is equipped with a smelting furnace and a production line for steel manufacture. “INI” (Incheon Steel) reads a nearby tank. Heated steel, thick steel panel, cooled steel, electric steel panel. All she found were his shoes, sitting on top of the rock. Stainless steel.

When she too climbed upon the rock, she too floated to Japan. A long blue-grey shed parallels the far bank of the river. The Japanese people took Sae-Oh to their new king and pronounced her Queen. Tall yellow A-cranes span the roadway alongside the blue-grey building. The Sun and the Moon ceased to shine on Silla. Author sits on the bridge’s chilly pylon. Because Yun-Oh and Sae-Oh, a court diviner revealed. His notebook open, his pen bobbing. Had taken the spirit of the Sun and the Moon with them to Japan.

King Adalla sent an envoy entreating the Japanese to return the couple. Author considers turning back from the chill. King Yun-Oh refused: “The will of heaven brought me here.” Instead he continues to write. Instead he offered a gorgeous piece of silk woven by the queen. “I will finish this notebook page.” The envoy asked that King Adalla offer the piece of silk to Heaven. He says to himself. King Adalla followed Yun-Oh’s wishes, and once again the Sun and the Moon commenced to shine as they had before.

A man-made revetment shelters the near bank. The piece of silk was cherished as a national treasure. Paved at its flattened crest in gravel. The palace vault where they stored it became known as the Queen’s Vault. Three fishermen’s dories have been pulled up on shore. The place where King Adalla had held the ceremony became known as Do-Ki-Ya, the Field of the Great Ceremony. A fisherman patiently mends a net suspended from sticks stuck in the sand. Or Young-Il-Hyun, the Province Where the Sun Was Welcome.

13  Where Men and Mountains Meet

Today we continue our journey onward from Pohang to Gangneung. When a Korean is fraught with wanderlust or feels like hiking into the beauty that has inspired classical paintings. By way of Heunghae, Jangsa, Yeongdoek, Hupo, Pyeonghae. He heads northeast to the land “where men and mountains meet.” Jukpyeon and Inweonin, Samcheok, Donghae and Jeongdongjin. It is good for the soul to escape into nature’s purity.

As we leave Pohang in the direction of Heunghae a convoy of eight tanks rumbles past with their lights on, heading south. The situation remains stable despite the nation’s first presidential impeachment. It is 8:00 am. Prime Minister Goh Kun, who took over state affairs after President Roh Moo-hyun was suspended from office. Within another ten kilometers. Also confirmed that the government would maintain its current foreign policy in accord with the Seoul-Washington alliance. We encounter another convoy of troops. Within two kilometers another dozen troop-transporters stream past. “I have reviewed reports concerning security on the Korean Peninsula,” Goh told senior officials. Led by a jeep with red and green lights flashing. Defense Minister Cho Yung-kil and General Kim Jong-hwan, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On the modern highway, bounded by guardrails. Told Goh that they have stepped up anti-terrorism measures at major facilities. Our fellow travelers are driving white, silver, grey, dark blue and black sedans. “The Foreign Ministry will implement its diplomatic plans as scheduled and strengthen efforts to resolve pending security issues.” Daewoo, Hyundai and Kia, Honda and SsangYong. “Such as the North Korean nuclear standoff,” Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon reported.

At Jangsa our first view of the sea: This is the northeast province of Gangwon. The bay gracefully opening up, as we descend upon the coast. Where a happy wanderer can bask on a lake or a seaside beach. Only to rise with the cliffs and look down upon terraced fields. Or hike through wispy mountain mists to a 15th-century Buddhist shrine scooped out of granite. Or survey stands of pine upon a rocky coast dotted with fishing villages.

Above Yeongdeok we exit the expressway, still under construction, to parallel its course on a much older road. Of old Korea was called “sam chon li gum su gang san,” or the land of “3,000 li of rivers and mountains embroidered on silk.” We observe as the mountainside along the new highway is graded and terraced. In Gangwon from the North Han River to the Demilitarized Zone and the East Sea. High above, two backhoes work together. This adage rings true. Meanwhile, below, three old women labor to plant the spring crop in a freshly tilled field. You will find a superb scenic tapestry delicately shaded with silken green rice paddies. We travel through a hinterland of agricultural activity. Swaths of amber grain. On the road we encounter eighteen-wheelers. And pointillist vegetable patches, winding hither and thither along cold blue rivers and craggy ravines.

As we approach Pyeonghae we return to the coast. Orange roof alternates with blue. Pausing at Hupo, we take a coastal by-pass to Jukpyeon, Inweonin, Samcheok and our final destination, Gangneung. The grassy grounds of a high school are still sere with winter cold and drought. Pink, white and yellow blossoms, however, flourish in the forest. A dark green truck approaches, heading south. In white on emerald an official highway sign reads:

SAMCHEOK 98

DONGHAE 106

Shamanistic spirits are a remnant of the time when Korea’s rivers, trees and mountains were alive. We race down a mountain into a village. Since mountains dominate the peninsula. Traverse its length in the blink of an eye. The Mountain Spirit was regarded as the most important of the shamanistic deities. Only to reascend its rocky slope. People in Gangneung and Young Dong have always believed in Guksasonangsin. Author fastens his seatbelt as the bus begins to swerve around hairpin curves. This shamanist god defends those who live in such high and holy places. The views down onto the coastline of the East Sea have suddenly become much more dramatic. While most young people look upon shamanism as an irrelevant superstition, still a core of rural, older, traditional Koreans maintains a deep respect (if not a deep-seated belief) in the Mountain Spirit. According to the Chugangjip tales, in Young Dong a sacrificial ritual for the Mountain God was held each spring. (Quotations in bold.) People drank and danced for three consecutive days. (From History and Background of Gangneung Danoje Festival.) In addition, the History of Goryeo relates that a sacrificial rite was held on Daegwallyeong when Wang Sun-sik conquered Sin Kom during the reign of the first king.

According to a more detailed topography, our route along the eastern extremity of Gangwon Province has also taken us through Uljin, Junjeong and Wondeok, Jangho, Maeweon and Gyeoga, Dongmak and Objun. In Haksan have been found traces of Kulsana Temple. But we have yet to reach Samcheok, the “City of Caves.” Along with the Sokchon Well, where Bomil’s mother conceived him, after she swallowed the Sun that was floating in her water bowl. What the map and the guidebook describe less accurately are the intervals of landscape and activity in between the toponyms: Bomil, a fatherless son, had survived his ordeal with the help of a crane. The flat yellow fields, whose soil has been turned but not yet planted. When he grew up, Bomil left home to study in T’ang Dynasty China. The ribbon of newly laid expressway concrete not yet traveled upon. After he had returned home, he was highly reputed and respected as a venerable monk. The solitary middle-aged woman in mauve silk jacket, red-billed visor and baggy black pants trudging homeward. It is said that, after he passed away, he became Sonangsin guarding the Gangeung and Young Dong areas. A sign reading (red)“AutoOasis”(green). And assuming a permanent seat on Daegwallyeong Mountain.

At most Buddhist temples in Korea a small shrine commemorates the Mountain Recluse, who sits on a hill behind the main temple (Insight Guide). Samcheok’s cherry blossoms have fully opened, attracting a swarm of bees. Look inside and you’ll see a brightly colored painting. The Bike Plaza is open for business. Of an old, bearded, white-haired man with a mountain tiger. “OPEN,” reads a sign across from the National University.

Donghae quickly follows, its urban signage even more fully Romanized and Englished: “Car Audio System,” “GM Daewoo,” “Tires and Auto Parts,” “Food,” “Room,” along with other universal modern necessities. An entire row of twenty vehicles, backed up for a traffic light, does not diverge from the present-day automakers’ black-silver-grey-white palette. “Pizza City,” “Police Enforcement,” “Super Clean +.”

14  A Happy Price for You

“Combo!” Lunar Landscape or. (Lotteria.) Raspberry Jam Stain (The Korea Herald)? “Burger/barbecue/fish filet + Pepsi = 3,200.” Random Landscapes, at PKM Gallery: Secom professional security car departing Dongincheon’s “shopping street.” There’s More Than Meets the Eye. In fashionable sea green and pale blue stripes: Moon Beom’s paintings conjure anything from Chinese landscapes to jelly. Departs, revealing a sign. Oscillating between abstraction and representation. For “Dream of Spring.” Moon’s conceptual pieces change, depending on which word in his exhibition’s title you choose to emphasize. A shop called “Indian” is displaying T-shirts out front, in peach, grey, mauve and cream. If you choose “random,” his paintings are nothing more than the slightly cleaned up, haphazard marks of an oil stick. In the restaurant’s window: a Plexiglas box with artificial grass, real spring blossoms. A compact bar of oil paint, smeared on a wood panel.

Salesperson nervous about author activity. Some of these shellacked “paintings.” “30% Sale.” Look like accidents. Next door. “Sorrento” (an Italian restaurant). For example: Tiny spruce trees in white planters have been strung with tiny white bulbs. “Slow, same #7124.” A window display of “Italian” ingredients: Could either be raspberry jam smudges. “Kraft” Parmesan cheese, “Figaro” green olives, “Publix” linguine, “Badia” pimenta negra. Or smeared lipstick. Tilted toward the sidewalk viewer. While “slow, same #2024.” Two plates of: Monochrome acrylic and polyurethane. Spaghetti and clams, spaghetti and ham (prosciutto). Where metallic blue paint puddles up on the surface. Interior view of lavender tablecloths under glass, white ceramic salt-and-pepper shakers atop them: Resemble a sloppy paint job for a Cadillac. White wooden chairs in ruffled rung-length dusters; a white-clad chef at work, glimpsed over/past the white counter.

Likewise under the “random” interpretation. Across-street view of “ASK” (blue) “enquired” (gold), which is showing British flag sportswear: The spray can, fish and ping-pong ball. White blazers with wide blue stripes. In his C-print photographs (check out the basement). Next door: “[windmill logo] NOTO / rest in classic.” Are found little more than a random sampling of objects. We move along to “F Sharp,” which has gone out of business; across the street: “1492 Miles” and “FNC Kolon / Fashion and Culture.” You have a much richer variety of meaning, if you choose to put the accent on “landscapes.” “KIKI” (black with red diamonds dotting the “I”s). The paintings on the first floor. “Hair & Make Up” (in red). Morph from the decorative paisley motifs of Toile de Jouy fabric into lush, elusive. “http://www.kiki.co.kr” (in black). Landscapes with waterfalls, trees and clouds. “Beauty parlor” (in Korean), repeated (in Chinese).

The swirls and smudges of mint green and raspberry red in “slow, same #7126.” “EZIO Collezione.” Resemble a far-off galaxy in an Isaac Asimov novel. “40% SALE.” All the while suggesting traditional Chinese scroll painting. (The sale also announced in Hangeul.) The objects found in his photographs. Bald, almost featureless manikins (shoeless too, with incompletely articulated toes). Start to form relationships with each other. Before the three shops are parked three sedans. Creating visual games. In white, in metallic beige, in olive green. In his C-prints. Rich girls gaze down from Sorrento’s second floor tables onto the street below. Titled “An Anarchist.” Venus has risen high in a smoky black, cold sky. A mackerel seems to be swimming in a sea of blood. Kiki hair is using “L’Oréal Professionel Paris” products. Calling to mind the political “red herring” syndrome. Pastel dyes and Diacolor tints. Of the Cold War era.

Yet as soon as you start to get carried away with flexing your descriptive muscles. A “Nuancelle Fruit Acid Hair Manicure” display of Apricot, Soft Vanilla, Milk Tea, Smoky Ice, Sweet Grape . . . Moon’s paintings seem to turn back into nothing but cold, unmoving pools of color. The “Diacolor” display of hair samples in “Mahogany, Mahogany Copper, Praline Chestnut, Chocolate, Copper . . .” However suggestive his show’s title may be, his works seem to restrict viewers’ random interpretations. A pretty stylist, in black zip-up top, wedgy black shoes, looks at author/looks away, her lips in bright pink. Moon said at the preview of his show that he didn’t intend his paintings to be landscapes. Her pale face otherwise free of makeup. They just happened to end up looking that way. Now the manager of the shop, in chestnut bouffant, copper blusher, cherry lipstick, steps toward the window to evaluate author’s activity/intentions.

Exactly what Moon’s work is depends upon your point of view — “Chaste” (Jewelers) is showing delicate (and expensive) necklace-earring sets, a silver chameleon, diamond encrusted double heart pins. Whether you think his paintings are just oil stick marks on a piece of wood. Across the street another two-story restaurant (this one Japanese), next door to which “PAT” is offering pastel jackets over horizontally striped shirts (for thin girls), its logo a cute tan rhinoceros. Or lush, inventive landscapes. Two Korean businessmen hustle past, topcoatless, each wearing a tie with gold designs. As an artist who has worked since the 1980s. Author stands to regard “Fila,” which is showing its line of athletic wear. Moon seems remarkably adept at reinventing his media. The block concludes with “NII” (“New York Ivy League Institute”); “Harris Tone”; and opposite: “Rapa Club,” which, like “Plus One” (a former restaurant) has closed. Whether it’s photography or painting.

Followed by “TBJ,” whose Hanguel-less sign advertises “Knit,” “Shirt/T-Shirt,” “Jumper,” all in white prices/black names on a seasonally appropriate light green ground. He oscillates between using controlled and chance processes. “TBJ shoes” are displayed in a vertical rack: little slippers in pink, chartreuse, orange and ’50s black-and-white, all except the last with floral interiors. Suggesting that he’s moved beyond. “Sieg,” next door, is showing pinstriped suits. The confines of purely abstract or purely representational art. Across the intersection “KOOLHAAS,” whose two A’s are inner-lit red. Both seem incapable of creating new images. Has displayed on the side of the building. For abstract art isn’t really exciting anymore. The flags of Iceland, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden. And representational art has simply become a ruse. All labeled in English. Painting an object doesn’t make the depicted reality any more real.

Author, forced to retreat by this chilly March 30 evening, takes refuge in a coffee shop. It’s the ambiguous area in between that he highlights in such an exciting way. Another café across the way, called “Shai,” advertises its offerings with a neon sign, whose “coffee” (carmine), “&” (pale yellow), “drink” (green) are joined as one word. Moon puts viewers in the impossible position of making up their own meanings. The café’s black glass reveals nothing inside. Reminding us that reality is just a blink away. The manager of our own coffee shop crosses the street and disappears into “Shai.” His paintings suggest a motley of visual scenarios. “Head,” “Bunbuster,” “EXR.” So next time you see an iridescent puddle of oil at the gas station. A dark green car reading as black; a black car reflecting the red, yellow and green neon. You’ll be sure to do a double take. In this coffee shop real white-painted branches in a bronzed wicker basket bloom with pink fabric roses.

Jeju-do

1  Revolutions and Their Aftermath

Sea view, 6:00 am, Jeju City. From a crack betwixt heaven and earth the mountains arose and water flowed. Six-lane lightly trafficked highway leading to industrial port, vehicles descending toward three-ampoule flashing yellow light, pausing to continue in the chilly sun-not-yet-arisen breezy ambiance, past crane activity, the hum of unloading/loading blue and orange containers. Thus was the new world order established.

But others say that the goddess Seolmundae Halmang created Jeju Island. A white-jacketed red-capped cyclist, his bike strapped with double black rayon long-distance packs. So the story goes: Labors uphill past roadside-seated author. When this giantess looked at the island. Whose head must swivel 180 degrees. In the midst of the ocean that she had just created. To describe him. She decided that it was altogether too flat.

The harbor view is broad. The heaven-sent dew was blue. Illuminated increasingly by in-drenching light. The earth-originating dew was black. The sun has still not appeared over the hilly, cloud-encumbered horizon. Together, in this version, they combined to form all living and non-living things. “S-Oil,” reads the only English sign, bent around the surface of a white two-story cylinder. But others say a star was the first thing created.

One of a dozen oil tanks seen through the dark green roadside pines. Many stories have been handed down on Jeju regarding such matters. In a stiff breeze the flag of Korea flies. But I prefer the one about Seolmundae Halmang. (Or rather flaps.) The earth goddess. Atop a Maritime Authority building. Because the island was too flat, they say, she decided to make a mountain in its middle, which they call Halla.

Its green window shades uniformly half drawn down. A holy mountain high enough to pull down the Milky Way. Its courtyard sparsely occupied by silver, white and black sedans. She made this mountain, they say, by transporting dirt in the folds of her skirt. Contained within the white parking spaces. For so long that she wore a hole in it. Painted on its asphalt surface. Till the dirt leaked out to create 360 volcanoes.

A wider view takes in a golden patch reflected onto the sea from sun-lit cumulus. If this goddess were to lie down, with Halla as her pillow. Its wispy underbelly shaded grey. Her legs would reach Gwantal Island. Like fibrous homemade paper. If she were to stand, she could set one foot down on Gwantal and the other on Marado, to wash her clothes in Daejeong-eup Sea and hang them out to dry on Wudo Island.

Day has arrived but with no diminution of the chill, the wind, if anything, picking up, not dying down. In Gojiletdo by the Hannae River, which runs through Ora-dong of Jeju City. Light glimmers off the slick green painted surface. There’s a rock shaped like a hat, imbedded in a big hole in the ground. Of a tennis/basketball court. According to legend, this was the very hat that Seolmundae Halmang used to wear.

How do revolutions occur? We concluded the previous chapter by describing the transition from normal science to crisis. In Kuhn’s story large-scale change usually requires both a crisis and the appearance of a new candidate paradigm. A crisis alone will not induce scientists to regard a large-scale theory as “falsified.” We do not find the categorical rejection of one paradigm without the acceptance of a new one.

At the entrance to the stacked cargo container portion of the port stands a small guardhouse in Silla style. Ninety-nine sharp stone protrusions shaped like a crown surround the summit of the Sungsan sunrise peak. Its tiled, peaked roof from any single perspective does not allow us to see how many sections it has. One of these protrusions looks like a candlestick, and some say the Goddess used it while she was sewing.

Seolmundae Halmang had a single wish. In his own Preface to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn qualified his claims about the role of crisis. She always wore cotton clothes and worked very hard. He here maintains that crises are the “usual prelude” to revolutions. However, she told the people of Jeju that she wanted to wear proper underwear at least. But even that claim is controversial.

She told them that if they would make her the garments that she needed out of silk. Kuhn’s emphasis on crises seems driven more by the demands of his hypothesized mechanism for scientific change than by historical data. Then she would build a bridge, so that everyone could walk to the mainland. Now suddenly the sun breaks forth—its orb still not visible—to illuminate in yellow light the long reinforced breakwater.

Along with the tops of two white ships and a fishing boat passing behind them, its brown and yellow sides emerging into view. To make such underwear for this massive goddess 100 rolls of silk were required. Kuhn’s story demands crisis, because only a crisis can loosen the grip of a paradigm and make people receptive to alternatives. Though the people needed the bridge, they were only able to collect 99 rolls of silk.

The direct sunlight has ceased for the moment. Since the underwear could not be completed, neither could the building of the bridge. “S E Chang,” read white letters on the black hull of a ship moored along a concrete apron crowded with smaller ships, in orange, in green, in white. To this day the traces of the bridge remain at Jocheon-ri and Sincheon-ri. A green cargo truck drags green cargo up the hill, as an orange ship departs the port.

The Goddess was proud of how tall she was, and she liked to test her height against the ponds on Jeju. The sun has returned, but a chilly wind persists. However, no body of water was found as deep as she was tall. Author prepares for descent to the harbor, both to exercise and to reduce his exposure. Finally, having heard that a pond at the summit of Mulgangolorum never went dry, she tested its mist-covered depth.

A white tanker, “S K” in red on its side, passes along the harbor road. At once it swallowed the goddess. Notebook pocketed. She never returned. He follows the sidewalk down past umbrella pines. Some say that she drowned in a pond connected to the bottom of the sea. A little white lighthouse on the edge of the cliff receives the direct rays of a yellow sun still not visible. Others, that the goddess returned to her underwater home.

People in different paradigms cannot fully communicate with one another, for they use key terms in different ways and therefore speak slightly different languages. Moreover, when they do communicate, they use different standards of evidence and argument. Accordingly, they cannot agree upon what a theory is supposed to accomplish. No one has yet had much success in developing a good model for scientific language.

2  Incommensurability and Relativism

At the base of the lighthouse two arms of a radar antenna are scanning the sea. Should a scientific theory be required to make causal sense of why things happen? As heavier trucks, in black, white and orange descend toward the harbor. Should we always hope to understand the mechanism’s underlying events? At the end of the six-lane highway lies the white-capped sea, its dark blue roiling beneath a lighter sky.

Or can a theory be acceptable, if it merely offers the mathematics to describe phenomena without making causal sense of them? Having reached the foot of the hill author takes a seat in a brand new pocket park, sheltered from the wind; brown-painted concrete imitation logs, their bark only half convincing, support the pavilion’s roof. A famous example of this problem concerns Newton’s theory of gravity.

The great physicist offered a mathematical description—his famous inverse square law—but not a mechanism for how gravitational attraction works. Around a pole circles a concrete bench, its surface painted in imitation of sawn planks, scored to indicate the tree’s growth rings. Indeed, Newton’s view that gravity acts instantaneously and at a distance seemed to be hard to supplement with a mathematical formulation.

The floor of the pavilion’s concrete has also been scored, in imitation of individual paving tiles. Was this a problem of Newton’s theory? Round about have been planted many trees. Or should we drop the demand for a causal mechanism and be content with a mathematical formalism? Both coniferous and deciduous. Would it be scientifically acceptable to regard gravity as simply an “innate” power of matter?

Each freshly planted tree has been braced with three pieces of freshly cut lumber. The early eighteenth century argued about this a good deal. Thereby attesting to the great labor of the gardeners. Kuhn’s view is that no general answer is possible. And the landscape architect. To the question of whether scientific theories should provide causal mechanisms for phenomena. Who have designed and executed the park.

During the earliest part of the twentieth century there occurred a similar, though smaller-scale debate within English biology. In the latter part of the nineteenth century a group called the “Biometricians” had formulated a mathematical law that they thought described inheritance. They had no mechanism for how inheritance works, and their law did not lend itself to supplementation with such a mechanism.

In 1900 the pioneering work done by Mendel was rediscovered, and the science of genetics was launched. For about six years, though, the Biometricians and the Mendelians conducted an intense debate about which approach to understanding inheritance was superior. Cherry trees are blossoming as though it were spring. One of the issues at stake was what kind of a theory of inheritance should be the goal.

The Biometricians thought that a mathematically formulated law was the right goal, whereas William Bateson argued that understanding the mechanism of inheritance was the goal. In the short term, the Mendelians won the battle. In time the two approaches were married; modern biology now has both the math and the mechanism. But during the battle considerable disagreement arose as to what constituted a good theory.

As we reach “Jeju Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre.” Kuhn’s discussion of incommensurability is the main reason why his view of science is often referred to as “relativist.” The sun at last emerges over the top of the hill to begin thawing author’s numb fingers. Kuhn himself was shocked to have his work interpreted as relativist. A guard at the gate stands immobile, half his body in light, half in shade.

What is relativism? The sun passes behind a cloud. This is a chaotic area of discussion. Illuminating its edges. Roughly speaking, relativists hold that the justification of a claim, or the applicability of a standard, depends upon one’s point of view. Author takes up a position before a bulletin board, pretending to read the notices in Korean posted by the “National Police Agency,” the only three words in English.

Such a claim might be made either generally. We have reached the “Hangman Fire Station Branch.” (“All truth is relative.”) On the other side of the green-painted tennis/basketball court. Or in a more restricted way, about art, morality, good manners, or some other domain. Its sign has been fashioned in the shape of Jeju-do itself. The “point of view” might be that of an individual, a society or some other group.

In its glass-enclosed bulletin board is a poster. If people differ about the proper standards of some domain, this itself does not imply that relativism is true for that domain. In one, red-shirted—not firemen but—marathon runners. Some people might be just wrong. Are making their way up a pathless grassy course. It is also important to realize that someone who argues that morality “depends on the context” need not be a relativist.

Though he might be. “Jeju 119 Orum Marathon,” reads the caption. This is because a single set of moral rules (or rules of reasoning) might have had built into them some sensitivity to circumstances. The lead runner, #13 on his black shorts, wears a floppy-brimmed camo cap and a red shirt reading “Giant” on its arms. A set of moral rules might say, “If you are in circumstance X, you should do Y.”

Other runners follow in his wake against a hilly green background. This is not relativism, even though not everyone might be in circumstance X. Another poster shows a blue-clad, blue-capped, blue-shod boy extinguishing a white fire. In this case we are mostly concerned with relativism as it applies to standards. He is using the blue fluid that issues from a white fire extinguisher.

More specifically, we are concerned with standards governing reasoning, evidence, and the justification of belief. The poster has been chalked in blue, white and black by a child. And the “point of view” here is that of the users of a paradigm. One who perhaps had only blue, white and black chalk. Is Kuhn a relativist with regard to these matters? Anther poster shows two dedicated firemen clad in faded red uniforms.

The answer is that it’s complicated. This poster is followed by another, at the bottom of the case, that represents missing children. Kuhn had a subtle view that is hard to categorize. Followed by a notice for the “Foreign Workers Centre.” And is also bound up with the question of how to understand scientific progress. “Medical Care,” “Learning Korean,” “Working Problem,” “Domestic Problem,” “Individual Problem.”

3  Progress

Kuhn said a few, rather different, things in the final, somewhat puzzling pages of Structure.

MM: Tell me, what are the differences that you have noticed between Seoul, where you say that you lived for some time, and Jeju City? He said, for instance, that our present paradigms have more problem-solving power than did earlier paradigms.

Young-jay Lee: In Seoul are very many people living, and the roads are always in traffic jam, but in Jeju you can get clean air and nice landscapes and the pure water. This claim Kuhn made when confronted by the question of how to understand progress in science.

MM: But I can’t help noticing that at the moment we are stuck in a Jeju City traffic jam, and there is a big bus in front of us coughing out noxious fumes. Kuhn gave two very different kinds of explanation for the apparent large-scale progress that we see in science.

YJL: [Laughter.] We are in the rush hour now, but normally traffic is good. And these two explanations are intertwined with each other in complex ways.

MM: Do you prefer a city that has a lot of culture and heavy traffic, or a city that has light traffic and less culture? Kuhn’s first explanation was an “eye of the beholder” explanation.

YJL: That depends. Science will inevitably appear to exhibit progress, because each field is based on only one paradigm at a time. Everything has its strength and its own drawback. The victors after each revolution will naturally view their victory as progressive. Here, it is true, there is not much access to culture, but the many natural views are good. And science is insulated from any outside criticism. By comparison Seoul is better in cultural affairs. Happy celebrations of progress on the part of the victors will not be met with any serious objection. You can meet many great and gorgeous people in the capital. This deflationary explanation of the appearance of progress is consistent with a relativist view of the changes between paradigms. But here the artists, the philosophers, their way of thinking is more narrow, and this means that you are isolated, if you are coming from the outside world.

MM: To change the subject slightly: Kuhn also developed a second, very different account of the appearance of progress in science. Which do you think is more important, art or reality?

YJL: In my view, both are important. This one seems to conflict with a relativist reading. But for me I can’t choose between them. Here Kuhn argued that science has a special kind of efficiency. Anyway, as for myself, probably some mysterious force, as it is called, led me to come here. And this efficiency results in a real form of progress across revolutions. I didn’t come here on purpose. The progress is involved in problem-solving power. Something just happened. The number and precision of solutions to problems in a scientific field tend to grow over time. I was unemployed in Seoul, and suddenly there was a job open. It is hard to reconcile this claim with his discussion of incommensurability in earlier chapters.

MM: Before we get too personal about your life or too specific about your current position, let’s consider the street scene about us. There he said that revolutions always involve losses as well as gains. At 7:00 pm it is after dusk, the street is filled with colorful traffic, and along the sidewalk the neon signs have been turned on. He also said the standards that might be used to classify some problems as important and others as unimportant. Let us, for a moment, consider this as a work of art. Tend to change when revolutions occur. Can we regard reality as art? So we should be skeptical about whether the measurement of problem-solving power that Kuhn envisages in his final pages is compatible with the rest of the book.

YJL: That depends upon what you think about art. For example, the American philosopher John Dewey said that reality may be considered art if the relation of all its parts is perfect. If our later paradigms have more overall problem-solving power than our earlier ones. Take for example, the Japanese tea ceremony; if everything is perfect, it can be regarded as art.

MM: Dewey, then, was emphasizing the principle that Aristotle calls harmonia as opposed to the principle that Aristotle calls mimesis, the representation or imitation of reality. Then it seems that we are entitled to regard the later paradigms as superior.

YJL: Yes, I think so. And this takes us in the opposite direction from relativism.

MM: Do you feel that you could make a work of art out of our present experience, a drive this evening down this main boulevard of Jeju City? Clearly Kuhn’s aim was to work out an intermediate or moderate position, balancing the claims of both extremes.

YJL: Yes, if I can feel something perfect in the experience, then it may be considered as a work of art. People will be arguing about this for a while to come.

MM: Well, as I look out the window, right across the street—we are stalled in traffic again—I see a sign that reads “Daimant Wedding.” So far I have been mostly discussing the comparison of different paradigms within science. Would this represent what is “perfect” for you? What about the comparison of science with entirely different approaches to knowledge? A well-cut diamond, after all, is a perfect thing, isn’t it? Here Kuhn is sometimes read as a relativist, but this is clearly a mistake. And some people think of weddings as very beautiful. Kuhn thought that the overall structure of modern scientific investigation gives us a uniquely efficient way of studying the world.

YJL: Yes, as the greatest art of one’s life! So if we want to compare scientific procedures of investigation with nonscientific ones. In fact, it’s great performance art! It is clear that Kuhn thought science was superior.

MM: So, in your view, life, then, is performance art. He was not a relativist about this issue.

YJL: Yes, our life is a performance. And this is perhaps the most important issue.

MM: Let me ask you something else: What do you think of the democratic idea that every man is an artist? This concludes my discussion of incommensurability and relativism.

YJL: In the modern age, every person can be an artist, whereas earlier people felt that only a genius could be an artist, and it was impossible for ordinary people. There is, however, one more issue that is often grouped with the problem of incommensurability:

MM: Now, let’s bring the question closer to home. You by profession are an art critic. May we say that every man is also a critic? And that is the “theory-ladenness” of observation.

YJL: I agree with this too.

MM: Oh, you do?!?

YJL: Yes, it is easy to complain. So we may say that everyone is a critic.

MM and YJL: [Laughter.]

MM: Then to be a critic, for you, is to complain! Kuhn argued that we cannot think of observation as a neutral source of information for choosing between theories.

YJL: Yes, we might say that.

MM: You mean you wouldn’t complain if I said that.

YJL: [Laughter.] No.

MM: But to be more serious, for a moment . . . Because what people see is influenced by their paradigm. We know of course that the word behind the modern English word “criticism” is the Greek word for “judging.” About the same time Kuhn, along with others, developed radical views concerning observation itself.

YJL: Well, criticism means several things. This is an important topic. It has the function of judging, and of complaining, and also of description or evaluation, and interpretation. As it challenges empiricism in a fundamental way.

MM: So what, may I ask, in your own criticism do you strive to accomplish? This topic will be taken up again in Chapter 10.

YJL: I mostly . . . compliment the artist.

MM: Well, thank you!

YJL: [Laughter.]

4  Theory and Reality

Clouds surround Halla most days. From ancient times people hesitated to climb her slopes, because they regarded the site as a holy place. They would also predict a good harvest and the coming of storms by looking at the shapes of the clouds coiled around the mountain as well as the ones on top of the mountain. We arrive at Jungman Resort by car and decide to stop for coffee at the Silla Garden Hotel.

There is a ceremonial platform used to give religious services to the heavens on the north side of Baeklokdam, which is the summit. In the mountains were many different animals, such as wild boar and deer, badgers and various kinds of fowl, such as pheasants and five-colored woodpeckers, finches and eight-colored birds. First, however, we take a walk in the beautiful gardens, mounting to Honeymoon Lane.

It is said that Bulrucho, the herb of eternal life, grew there. One leaf of this plant alone will enable a person to live forever, and Yeongi mushrooms also grew here. The gods would ride white deer and eat these plants. Also, in every valley there grew flowers and herbs with mysterious hidden fragrances. After posing for many photographs, we return to Badang Lounge to take seats in the rattan chairs of its lobby.

It has been said that if woodcutters, herbalists or hikers who are in the mountains shout too loud or do something wrong, then a thick mist will envelope them, causing their way to be obscured, because, they say, Halla Mountain is a place where the gods live and play tricks with the clouds and the wind, so that mere mortals cannot approach easily. We order cake for Hari, black coffee for Madame Moon and YJL, iced coffee for MM.

In summer the gods would take strolls to look at beautiful flowers and send out white cumulus clouds from the deep caves in the mountain. If the deer that they had been riding grew thirsty, they would take them to Baeklodam and allow them to drink the clear sky-blue water. The lobby floor is paved in beige marble; tan chairs have been set on beautiful brown rugs, rectangular tables in blond wood arranged before them.

This is why the name Baeklokdam came to be, because it means a lake where white deer come to drink. In olden times, when Seolmundae Halmang created Halla Mountain, the uppermost part was a sharp peak. And here is the reason why Baeklokdam became a round sunken lake. Holes have been made in the floors to accommodate the trunks of slender trees, stationary in this, our own luxurious, breezeless, climate-controlled ambiance.

One day a hunter climbed Halla Mountain to catch a deer. When he spotted his prey, he ran after it with his bow and arrow held high. Meanwhile the frantic deer escaped, managing to hide in the robes of the Lord of Heaven, who had come down to Halla Mountain so as to enjoy a nap. Expensive grey and blue cushions adorn grey fabric sofas, situated under the glow of inset ceiling lamps high above.

Unaware of the great god’s presence, the hunter had shot an arrow at the deer. Unfortunately, the arrow flicked the buttocks of the Lord of Heaven. So enraged did he become that he grabbed the peak of Halla Mountain and threw it westwards, where it landed and became Sanbang Mountain. Bordered by regular rows of reddish-orange plants, eight little fountains, each with a ring of twenty pipes, are musically gurgling.

5  After Structure: Lakatos and Research Programs

We now reach Lakatos’s principles of scientific change. Restaurant interior, sparse clientele, the last client departing to leave author alone for uninterrupted program of research. To Lakatos a research program is roughly analogous to a Kuhnian paradigm. Available equipment: TV; a ten meter long, one meter high menu extending between exterior wall and inset kitchen; a horizontal photographic mural of the misty blue lake in the crater of Halla Mountain; restaurant paraphernalia. The big difference is that there is usually more than one research program per field at any given time.

What we actually find in science, according to Lakatos, is competition between research programs. Cooking utensils visible within the kitchen: a huge silver whisk hanging on a cream tiled wall; a large aluminum pot sitting on the floor; another, balanced on the stove, blue and orange flames bathing its underside. This is essential to rationality and progress. Eating utensils, stacked on shelves in an open pantry to one side of the kitchen: sectioned plates in blue molded plastic; white bowls turned upside down. He applies this rule to everything from physics to the social sciences.

Red rubberized handles of scissors protrude from a white container fashioned from a cut-off plastic bottle. Imre Lakatos had a remarkable life. A dispenser of cleaning fluid for tabletops, counters and walls. Born in Hungary, he joined the resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II. In the dining area: a white touch-tone phone; a stainless steel case for cups; a symmetrically designed refrigerator for kimchi. After the war he worked in politics and was jailed for over three years by the Stalinist regime. It is 6:56 am, says the upper-left-hand corner of the TV screen.

Lakatos left Hungary, made his way to England, and eventually ended up at the London School of Economics. But the TV itself. Working with Karl Popper. Is showing midday scenes from Sudan, as a reporter brings to a close a background piece on the Sudanese life style, its quick montage overlaid with a generalized commentary: He often claimed that his main ideas were implicit in Popper. A charcoal stove; sacks of rice being downloaded; two donkeys harnessed to a cart; a man shoveling wind-blown sand away from a wall. It is better to consider Lakatos’s ideas in their own terms.

As the sands begin to swirl again, the camera pulls back, the narrator’s voice ceases, the tones of drum, flute and gong commencing. Let us look at his conception of change within research programs. We cut to a three-shot of the news anchors, each ready to introduce a new story, thence to the introducer of the next segment: The first rule is that changes should only be made to the protective belt, never to the hard core. Three Korean girls bow their heads and cover their faces as policemen conduct a KTV raid. The second rule is that changes to the protective belt should be progressive.

It is 7:02 am. A progressive research program constantly expands its application to a larger and larger set of cases. A digital calendar for October has its “18” highlighted in red, then rotated up and out of the frame. Or strives for a more precise treatment of the cases it currently covers. A still photo of students at their school desks is palely superimposed over statistics: 11.1% emphasized. A progressive research program is one that succeeds in increasing its predictive power. More hallway, more classroom imagery; the principal responds to a question; then back to the anchor. It is 7:04

A girl and her boyfriend have entered the restaurant. In contrast, a research program is degenerating if the changes that are being made to it. (Having taken a seat in front of author, they unaccountably move to sit at the table next to him.) Only serve to cover existing problems. On the coral and dirty pink checkerboard floor tiles beneath their table two cigarettes have been crushed and lie desultorily, their ashes scattered between them. If they do not extend the research programs to new cases. The morning news cuts to a story concerning the presence of Korean troops in Iraq.

Lakatos assumed that all research programs are faced with anomalies. In her red plastic-coated apron, diagonally striped brown-and-yellow blouse the restaurateuse lifts a piece of meat from the boiling oil of her wok. A degenerating research program is one that is falling behind. Using a pair of large wooden chopsticks. Or only barely keeping up its attempt to deal with anomalies. The TV screen shows (from the pitcher’s perspective) a Korean baseball player getting a base hit. A progressive research program fends off refutation and also extends itself to cover new phenomena. It is 7:09.

Now let us look at the higher level of change in Lakatos’s system. The young couple chows down: The change, that is, at the level of the research programs in any given scientific field. The white-athletic-suited guy, on a stainless-steel bowl of glutinous dumplings floating in broth; the black-jacketed girl, on a cutlet immersed in gravy, accompanied by a multitude of condiments and side dishes. For Lakatos thought that, in principle, we could measure how quickly a research program is progressing. In the guy’s right hand are both a pair of idle chopsticks and the spoon that he’s using.

Meanwhile, on TV, two robots are being caused to wrestle on the floor by a man seated in a chair, a radio control in his hand. Each field will have some programs that are progressing rapidly. A thin plant in a rather elegant vase upstages the volcanic lake mural. Some that are progressing slowly. A white two-liter plastic jug of “Gold” [red] “Mayonnaise” [black].” And others that are degenerating. Behind a rank of containers with handles, including a rice cooker and a large soup tureen, an air conditioner sits also idle. So you might think the next rule for Lakatos would be obvious:

“Choose the most progressive research program.” On the wall, above author’s head and to his right, in a gold frame with maroon mat, is a three-dimensional fish. To do so would establish a decision procedure for scientists looking at their whole field. The girl, without saying a word to her boyfriend, pushes back from the table, stands up, and prepares to leave the restaurant. It would give us a way of deciding who is making rational or irrational decisions. Which causes the guy in the training suit to take a long look at his girlfriend and, finally, to decide that he should do likewise.

But that is not what Lakatos said. Author orders a second cup of coffee, which arrives in the same small green cup. For Lakatos, it is acceptable to protect a research program for a while, even if it is degenerating. An ink brush drawing of a branch of fruit with leaves, labeled “Jabtku,” has been inset in sepia on a beige ground. It might recover. The cup of coffee has been prepared with a minimum of coffee, no sugar and no cream. This is even the case when another research program has overtaken it. Eager to finish his task, and lacking the language to complain, author decides not to.

The history of science contains instances of research programs recovering from temporary bad periods. Within a refrigerated case, its side accessible through sliding glass doors. So a reasonable person can wait around and hope for recovery. Are visible plastic bags of frozen French fries, zip-locked bags of other food, two Teflon containers. How long is it reasonable to wait? None of the latter reveals its contents from this perspective. Lakatos does not say. “Hite,” says the green lettering beneath a Hangeul inscription at the refrigerator’s white, diagonally green-striped base.

Feyerabend swooped on this point. Atop the case sits an upside-down black motor scooter helmet, its straps dusted with white flour. For it proves to be the Achilles’ heel in Lakatos’ whole story. Surrounding it is a clutter of objects, consisting of a large square calculator stuck into another cut-off plastic bottle. If Lakatos does not give us a rule for when a rational scientist should give up on one research program. A bunch of desk calendars stuffed into an openwork plastic container. And switch to another program. A half-eaten plate of dumplings. Then his theory of rational choice is empty.

Is there, then, a third rule that tells us how to handle decisions? Piled account ledgers. Not really. A turquoise plastic tray. Lakatos did say that the decision to stay with a degenerating research program is high-risk. Whose contents from this angle are also unidentifiable. Nonetheless he still might advise the rational scientist to stay with a degenerating research program. Behind author’s back the morning’s first municipal bus, having stopped before the restaurant to take on a passenger, shifts gears, accelerates and groans up the rather steep hill toward a major intersection.

But only if he or she is willing to tolerate high risk. On TV, at 7:38, we are being treated to the antics of a group of orange-suited soldiers. Lakatos is right that different people can reasonably have very different attitudes toward risk. Who have somehow been induced to take part in a jump rope competition. But he did not follow up on this suggestion so as to close the gap in his theory. Overly energetic, they are collectively exhibiting a lack of decorum, encouraged by the program’s announcer, who corrals several soldiers into jumping over a single rope like school kids.

The appearance of order and methodological strictness in Lakatos’s philosophy is much undermined by his failure to say something definite about this crucial point. The TV news broadcast concludes with a pullback shot that reveals the word “WIDE,” its “W” in orange, its “I” in black, its “D” in green, its “E” in blue. Feyerabend saw a mismatch between the rhetoric and the reality of Lakatos’s views. The next segment, a news magazine, begins exactly at 7:50 with a very brief documentary of Korean vacationers setting out on a leisurely climb up the 2000-foot “Halla San.”

This is a good place to emphasize the vast difference between Lakatos and Kuhn with regard to underlying attitudes. Author for the first time glances over his shoulder at the traffic descending the hill (a silver off road vehicle) and mounting it (a white truck). Kuhn has confidence in the shared standards implicit in paradigms. “Samsung,” say blue letters almost included in a white ellipse against a uniformly blue ground. And the ability of science to find a way forward after crises. A black van descends, passing an ascending red truck, whose driver glances through the window at author.

6  Anything Goes: Feyerabend

For Kuhn, once we rid our scientific picture of several myths, the picture we are left with is fundamentally healthy. Once upon a time, in the land of Ju-nyeon, there lived an old couple. They had a lot of land, money and servants and nothing to complain of. There was, however, one problem. Kuhn trusts science left in the hands of implicitly shared values. They had no children. Lakatos wants to have the whole enterprise guided by methodological rules. Even though they were close to the age of fifty.

So, they donated rice to a begging monk, prayed for 100 days at a temple and begot a daughter. Let us not worry further about the oddities in Lakatos’s view. They called her Jacheongbi. Instead, let us ask: Because they had prayed and asked for a child. Does his picture of the structure of science have any useful elements? Years passed, and when Jacheongbi turned fifteen she met Mun Wang-sung, the son of the Lord of Heaven, who had come down to study the mortal world at the public clothes-washing site.

Once we ask this question, I think it is clear that the basic idea of competing research programs is a useful one. They fell in love at first sight. Jacheongbi asked Mun Wang-sung to take her older brother with him to pursue his studies. But she also wanted to tag along herself. Her parents tried to dissuade her, saying that a woman’s life would be hard if she had an education (like modern Korean women), but Jacheongbi disguised herself as a man and followed Master Mun anyway, posing as her older brother.

From that day on, the two of them ate from the same pot, slept in the same bed and read together at school. Before long Master Mun grew suspicious of Jacheongbi’s reading voice, but there was no way that he could tell whether Jacheongbi was a man or a woman. Furthermore, he could not even begin to compete with her excellence in her studies. Certainly there are some fields where this seems a far more accurate description of what goes on than Kuhn’s paradigm-based view.

One day, Master Mun thought of an excellent plan to determine the gender of Jacheongbi. Psychology is an obvious example. He made a bet with her: that he could pee further than she could. Jacheongbi was worried about what might be the outcome, but she gave her consent nonchalantly, as if there were nothing wrong. Current work in “evolutionary psychology” looks a lot like a research program in Lakatos’s sense. So one moonlit night the two of them agreed to have their contest.

When Master Mun wasn’t looking, Jacheongbi cut a stick from a bamboo tree, inserted it in her pants and pushed with all her might. Master Mun, though he happened to win the context, was still very impressed by his opponent’s virility and at once gave up all his suspicions as to Jacheongbi’s gender. Instead, the two friends returned to their studies and redoubled their efforts to succeed. We might also consider the possibility that there may be mixtures of Kuhn-like and Lakatos-like stories.

Then one day, Master Mun received a letter from his father, the Lord of Heaven. His son’s bride, it said, had been selected for him, and he was to stop studying, return home and prepare to get married. For Jacheongbi, who had spent three years developing a deep affection for Master Mun, this was shocking news, so she decided to put a stop to her studies too and follow him home. In biology what we often find is a consensus about basic principles but competition between research programs at a slightly lower level.

On their way back, stopping by a stream, Jacheongbi suggested to Master Mun that they take a bath together so as to wash away their three-year toil of study. From a higher place upstream, Jacheongbi thought of a way to convey her feelings for Master Mun by sending downstream a willow leaf with these words written upon it: “You’re a stupid fool, who cannot even distinguish between a man and a woman.” Then, without even bidding him farewell, she continued the homeward journey alone.

Looked at very broadly, evolutionary biology might contain something close to a single paradigm: the “synthetic theory,” a combination of Darwinism and genetics. Master Mun, who belatedly realized that Jacheonbgi was a woman after all, raced after her. But Jacheongbi reached home first, put on her best clothes and prepared to introduce the Master to her parents over dinner, when he arrived. The cuisine was fit for a king’s table, but neither he nor Jacheongbi was able to eat a single spoonful.

Instead, they left the table, retired to a small bedroom, pulled out the quilts and pillows and proceeded to fulfill their love of the past three years. However, at a lower level of generality we still seem to find competing research programs. Nonetheless, they could not put a stop to the flow of time, and as the rooster crowed to signal morning the two of them could only express their regret with sighs that they must part. Master Mun broke his comb in half and, giving half to Jacheongbi, kept the other for himself.

So we now have the tools for describing large-scale processes in science. Some fields have dominant paradigms and Kuhnian normal science. Others have competing research programs. Some have very general paradigms plus research programs budding off. As for Jacheongbi and Master Mun, needless to say, the latter eventually spurned his immortal bride for a mortal, and they were reunited on earth, though it took a while to overcome the usual difficulties attendant upon relations between humans and gods.

And what of Feyerabend? you might ask. What were his notorious ideas, and what influence did they have on the dominant paradigms of Kuhnian normal science? Simply put, Feyerabend’s deepest conviction was that science is an aspect of human creativity. Predictably he has been dismissed as a marginal lunatic by those who insist that rules and procedures are the key to human progress. (Admittedly his thinking is problematic.) In the end, however, everyone, gods and mortals alike, lived happily ever after.

Seoul Train

1 The Soul of the Embryo and the Embryo of Seoul

In his work On the Soul Aristotle surveyed the many, divergent theories of the soul that various philosophers of the past had put forward. Seoul dates from the establishment in 1392 AD of the Yi dynasty, which ruled Korea until 1910. Some had thought of the soul as a kind of body, composed perhaps of very subtle atoms, which caused the living creature to move about. During these centuries, when the hermit kingdom was largely closed to the outside world. The supposed explanatory force of such theories was thought to have accounted for the self-movement of living things. Many shrines, palaces and fortresses still standing today were constructed.

This might have explained why an animal moved; it could not, however, explain why the same animal stopped or came to rest, for what characterizes animal movement is the appearance of choice and some sort of deliberative process; hence the animal rests when it gets what it wants, and so on. Modern-day Seoul, it is generally agreed, is the political, economic and educational hub of the country (and to a dangerous degree). Deliberate movement cannot be explained by the presence of “smooth spherical atoms” (as in Democritus) nor anything of that sort, for whatever the soul is (spirit or design), it does not appear to be made of material stuff.

Northwest Airlines flight #0007 from Tokyo-Narita touches down, as author, returning from New York City, prepares to make his first visit to Seoul.

2  Plato, Aristotle and the Guidebook’s “Orientation”

The Hangang River flows from east to west, bisecting the city (Lonely Planet). Whereas Plato emphasizes the priority and separate existence of the soul. Seoul consists of 25 urban districts (gu) and 527 neighborhoods (dong). Aristotle emphasizes the unity of body and soul as one being. Jung-gu is the central district around City Hall and Myeong-dong, the area extending south to Namsam Park. The soul is not just the motive force of the body but the actuality of a particular living form.

 

Jongno-gu stretches from Jongno north to the Gyeongbokgung area. The soul of this particular plant or animal, in his view, has existence only as the principle of life of the particular plant or animal. This district incorporates Tapgol Park and Gwanghwamun. It is possible to portray Plato and Aristotle as polar opposites. Jongno-gu has the city’s best sights. One could even attempt to categorize all subsequent philosophers as followers of Plato (dualists) or of Aristotle (monists).

Another important point of similarity is that both philosophers accepted the ordinary meaning of soul (psyche) as “the principle of life,” in other words, whatever it is that makes living things alive. Further to the west on Subway Line Number 2 are Sinchon and adjacent Honk-ik University. This definition provided Plato with the starting-points for one of his arguments that the soul is immortal. Itaewon is a famous neighborhood in Yongsan-gu to the south of Namsam Park.

If the soul brings life, then by definition it cannot coexist with its opposite, that is, with death. Gangnam-gu, the district to the south side of the Hangang, is considered the most prestigious residential area by most Koreans. Therefore the soul, of itself, cannot die and is immortal. But the district’s sterile modernism leaves many foreigners cold. Whatever the merits of this argument, it is clear that we must start with a definition of the soul not as mind but as life.

—“Soul Talk” in David Albert Jones, The Soul of the Embryo and “Orientation,” in Robert Storey and Euk-yong Park, Korea

3 “Ban Steals Show on Roh Trip”

Author seated in the sun at soulless urban intersection, spring-like ambiance. All eyes are on the U.N. chief hopeful during the Africa tour. (The Korea Herald.) In certain writings of the Talmud there are clear references to the real pre-existence of souls waiting to be born. A flower stall is showing yellow, pink, magenta, rust and lavender blooms, arranged in wicker baskets under a green umbrella. Sitting loyally across from President Roh Moo-hyun Tuesday during his news conference at the presidential palace in Egypt was Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon. (Friday, March 10, 2006.) One such passage describes Arabot, the last of the seven heavens, as holding “the spirits and the souls that are yet to be born.” The flower vendor adjusts her black translucent eye shade.

Although the spotlight during the tour this week is on the president, eyes and ears are constantly monitoring the minister, who recently threw his hat into the ring for U.N. Secretary-General. At curbside: The highest international post for a Korean ever to aspire to. In another passage it is said that the Messiah would not appear till all the souls in the guf (“the body”) had been born on earth. A baby blue trash receptacle sports the logo of Seoul (the sun in red, the air in blue, the earth in green). Ban, a veteran diplomat, took time to meet with the traveling press on Tuesday night. These passages imply that all the souls who will ever be born are created at the beginning of time and are kept safe in a treasury called Arabot or the guf. Traffic is moving briskly today in Seoul

When all the souls that will be born have been born, the Messiah will arrive to bring the world to an end. Beside the curbside trash receptacle is a dark blue truck, its parking lights flashing as it idles behind a white taxi. He discussed with them the transformation of Korea and its diplomatic footing in the world, the key agenda for the presidential tour. In another Talmudic passage it is stated explicitly that all souls were created during the first six days of creation. In the truck’s bed are stacked empty plastic crates for bottled beverages in a lighter blue than the dark sides of the truck. He was careful not to mention anything about his U.N. bid. And that God calls each soul to enter into a body at conception: Atop the taxi in white letters on a blue ground, rests a sign reading “TAXI.”

4  “Mayor Leaves for U.S. Tomorrow”

Each and every soul which shall be from Adam until the end of the world, was formed during the six days of Creation and existed in Paradise . . . At the time of conception God commanded the angel who is the guardian of the spirits, saying: “Bring Me such a spirit which is in Paradise and hath such name and form.” God then said to the soul, “The world into which you enter is more beautiful than this one; and when I make you I intend you only for this one drop of seed.”

Large vanilla buses marked on their sides “Airport Limousine” streak past in either direction. Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak leaves for the United States tomorrow, a visit likely to boost his international profile in the run-up to the 2007 presidential race. Similarities exists between this passage and a fragment appended to the works of Clement of Alexandria, from an earlier Christian writer: Lee is scheduled to finish his four-year tenure in June, and he is expected to run in the next presidential election, which will decide Roh Moo-hyun’s successor. Another bus pauses for the light, its destinations lettered on its side in Hangeul, seven in all, separated from one another by yellow bi-directional arrows.

“The soul entering into the womb after cleansing for conception is introduced by one of the angels who had presided over its generation.” Within nine days Lee is to visit Washington, New York and Los Angeles on his last official overseas trip as Seoul’s Mayor. On a fluted silver stanchion next to an aluminum light pole are suspended from armatures signs for “Happy Kids School,” “Gyeonghyang Presbyterian Church” and “Home Plus.” Mayor Lee plans to convey his opinions on the North Korean nuclear issue, the South Korea-United States alliance and other international issues,” said a city official on condition of anonymity. From a much larger silver stanchion hang green traffic signs.

“Gangseo District Office,” “Gimpo Airport,” “Gayanggyo Bridge,” they read, each indicating the particular route to be taken. It is improbable that belief in the pre-existence of the soul was universal among Jews. Reportedly Lee is aiming to set up talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Senator Richard Lugar, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Buses continue to arrive at the intersection, continuing on thorough it or stopping for a red light. Josephus and the New Testament bear witness that not even on the question of life after death was there universal agreement (since the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes held divergent opinions).

Lee is publicly recognized as the next potential president. The buses have been painted avocado green, cerulean blue, tangerine orange. Nevertheless, the Books of Wisdom, Enoch, the Apocalypse of Abraham and passages from the Talmud do comprise a coherent strand of thought that favors a form of pre-existence for the soul. His dramatic rise to fame has been largely achieved by his having restored Cheonggyecheon Stream, once abandoned in the rapid development of the city. As the buses pause they obscure from view a yellow gas station across the avenue, whose brand reads “S-” (green) “O” (blue) “i” (red), “L” (blue).  According to this perspective, souls were created before bodies.

His other great accomplishment was to institute the bus-only traffic lane. A man arrives in a black jumpsuit, helmet and gloves. Later God united them to their bodies in what was a single, unified plan. Which has eased the capital’s traffic congestion. Seated atop a black motorcycle, he carefully slows for the intersection, veers left and enters the drive leading to a mall. Indeed, within ancient Judaism it was precisely God’s eternal plan that encouraged the notion of the pre-existence of souls. The mayor, however, must face GNP Chairwoman Park Geun-hye in order to become his party’s candidate for next year’s presidential election. Abruptly he turns to continue along the sidewalk.

Pedestrians are also passing over its interconnected bricks: a middle-aged woman in brown corduroy pants, orange sleeves and sleeveless black parka, her black hair cut short, then uniformly curled; a man in a narrow plaid black-grey-and-white jacket, its black velveteen collar turned up in the breeze, his shoulders hunched against the chill, his hands in his pockets. Three women in their late 20s scurry past together, one wearing dusty pink pants, another, a parka in the same dusty pink. The third strides forward between them in black sweater, slacks and pumps, a black knotted belt tied below her waist. All three women, doubtless good friends, are gesticulating and laughing. 

—“Whence the Soul?” in David Albert Jones, The Soul of the Embryo

5  The Dark Night of the Seoul

Seoul Bar District, 3:00 am neon signs: “OK,” its letters flickering in green-outlined black, an arrow, alternating black and red, pointing downward to the pub’s underground location, the whole bordered with pink-and-blue flashing rods of neon. The store next door, long closed for the night, is a bakery named “Tous les Jours.” Upstreet, along this major thoroughfare, green Hangeul letters flash off to strengthen the red signal of elliptical bulls’ eyes, they too alternating with black holes, the sign’s background of green stripes, at intervals, moving horizontally underneath the screed atop them. Below sit four stationary, pale blue Korean characters in neon.

As we move from Enoch and the Talmud to Philo and the Essenes, at least according to the account of them that Josephus has provided us with, we see a quite different view of the soul’s pre-existence. Philo regarded the entrance of the soul into the body as a fall, due to some failure on the part of the particular soul. The soul, according to his view, was not called by God into a particular body for its own good, nor in accordance with any divine plan (as symbolized, for example, by the involvement of a ministering angel). Instead it was imprisoned in an individual body as the result of its own morbid desires. Philo’s conception of the pre-existence of the soul was thus at once much more Platonic and, from a theological point of view, far more problematic than the view envisioned by the Talmud.

“Hof” “X” “Club” reads a tripartite, vertically descending sign above a dark sidewalk littered with refuse. The self-contained “Hof” is black-lettered against a yellow inner-illuminated ground. It is followed by an enormous red “X,” followed in turn by the “Club,” styled like the “Hof” above. Jamaican rap music issues from the portal leading to the “Hof” on the second story and to business establishments situated below. Along the dark sidewalk: an advertisement for a KTV (a black-hatted woman drawn in yellow silhouette); “GS 25,” a convenience store; “MZ Marzo,” a sports gear outlet; its darkened interior cluttered with boxes indicating that it is going out of business.

Gregory of Nyassa, an admirer of Origen, nonetheless rejected his theory of the pre-existence of the soul, which seemed to him too close to the “fabulous doctrines of the heathen” concerning reincarnation. If the soul is originally separate from the body and falls on account of its desires, then why can it not transmigrate from body to body, as Plato had thought? Origen did not espouse reincarnation. To the contrary, in a work written many years after the First Principles, he explicitly repudiated reincarnation (see the Commentary on Matthew). “At the same time, the idea of a pre-existent fall of souls into bodies naturally tends toward reincarnation, toward cycles of ascending and descending states without limit.” “Thus,” says Gregory, “Origen’s doctrine has neither beginning nor conclusion.”

In the secretive entryway to a love motel, where no attendant is visible, a wall has been covered with tiny white lights, hanging from their wires in a mesh. We turn the corner into a more active side street. Taxis are cruising in search of prospective passengers as they exit singly or as couples from the basement clubs. On the first cross street’s corner stands a convenience store called “Buy the Way,” a track of small bulbs scrolling across its spacious window, in green, ochre and red characters. A small white delivery truck is parked on the sidewalk, up against the store. On the corner, half in the street, half on the sidewalk, have congregated four short-skirted bar girls.

An account of the soul’s pre-existence (implying its fall into a body) was thus widely rejected by subsequent Christian tradition. This rejection culminated, in the sixth century, at the Second Council of Constantinople. Though the Council was primarily concerned with the nature of Christ and not with the pre-existence of souls, it explicitly condemned Origen and his “impious writings.” Previously a list of erroneous statements attributed to Origen had been drawn up by Justinian, the Emperor who convoked the Council, and a slightly longer list was later promulgated, perhaps (though this is not clear) by the Council itself. The first of the fifteen condemned propositions concerns the pre-existence of the soul: “If anyone,” it reads, “should assert the fabulous pre-existence of souls, let him be anathema.”

On the opposite corner an old woman with a small broom sweeps refuse in the direction of already filled, white plastic garbage sacks. Now she stoops to gather up the largely paper trash with a hand-held red plastic dustpan. Meanwhile, three bar girls pass between author and the circulating taxis, the pudgiest of the three girls brushing author’s belly with her elbow. Behind us a street stand is serving red beans, soup and dried fish, its blue plastic chairs shielded behind a clear plastic curtain. Revelers, dressed in woolen suits and black glasses, their short hair waxed, gather before it. Taxis alternately cross the intersection, to no apparent purpose.

In his preface to On First Principles Origen mentions two possible sources of the soul: (1) from the parents, (2) from other “outside sources.” However, he only discusses the latter possibility. The former view was developed by another Christian theologian writing in Latin North Africa a generation earlier than Origen. Tertullian, in his treatise On the Soul, endorsed a qualified Stoic view according to which the soul is corporeal. Tertullian saw this confirmed by the gospel story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the soul is described in physical terms, since the rich man asks for a drop of water to cool his tongue. Nonetheless, Tertullian strongly opposed the Stoic (and Platonic) ideas that the soul is received from outside with man’s first breath and departs the body with his last breath.

The view across the street parallel to the main avenue includes more, mostly static, neon signs, mostly in red and green. “Notting Hill Club & Bar” reads a rare English text; another, “Western Hof & Bar No. 10.” In black silhouette a gunslinger crouches at the edge of the sign, which appears above the third story of a boxy curtain-wall construction housing several entertainment establishments. On the opposite corner “Luz,” in red neon, dominates the rounded convergence of the building’s two sides. Above, an inner-illuminated sign reads “Club Gangster,” its letters superimposed over the horse of a cowboy who rests a rifle on his right shoulder as his left hand holds the reins.

6  Korea’s Globalization: A Broader Conception

Non-touristic walking tour, streets of Seoul, mid-morning skies in foggy mist, temperatures moderate. Much of the globalization debate dominated by the hyperglobalization and globaloney schools has been marred by tenuous on-the-fly conceptualization. Author takes an outdoor seat on a low circle of marble surrounding a tree situated in a bricked extension of the sidewalk. By ideological polemics, by inattention to the full range of available empirical evidence. Before the entrance to a grey institutional building, perhaps a religious school, rises an enormous digital reproduction in tiny tiles of a sentimental western-style painting of Jesus Christ. And above all by overgeneralization based on the experiences, politics and economics of western industrial democracies.

The painter has placed the Savior, a lamb cradled in one arm, the other hand steadied on his shepherd’s crook, near the head of a realistic flock of sheep. Tertullian maintained that the soul was generated from the parents, and that the seed of the soul was infused simultaneously with the seed of the body. Christ’s face has been drained of all emotion. As evidence he cited the way that not only physical but also intellectual and spiritual features could be transmitted from parent to child. Only a Korean ridge of low-lying mountains, rising behind the pastoral meadow, holds any pictorial interest for the non-Christian, western viewer. The dominant metaphor in Tertullian was the seed, the seed that contained the plant within it and so contained any and all future plants that would spring therefrom.

It is time to move beyond chant or castigation, between globalization dynamics and Korean performance. We continue along the avenue. To a more specific analysis of the complex interplay. Past a fifteen-story building covered in mauve, coral and cream ceramics on to “Home Plus,” a branch of Tesco. Of the forces determining this nation-state’s role on the international stage. Not as though the plants were actually in existence already, but because of the power that was in it. Before the entrance, in a semicircular park bordered with wooden benches, is a stone sculpture consisting of two identical figures standing on differently shaped rolls of clay. “In the seed lie the promise and earnest of the crop,” he said. The two nude women, comically fat, stride forward energetically.

Before formulating an alternative notion of globalization for this country-specific case study, however, it seems useful that we clear away major misconceptions underlying the recent globalization debates in the West. As their bellies bulge, large flowers sprout from their navels, their streaming locks painted green at the extremities. Particularly in the U.S.A. Aloft they hold two sticks for red, blue, yellow and green petalled pinwheels, which today, in the absence of any wind, are motionless. For this reason it could be said that the whole human race was produced from that one human being, or that every soul was produced from a single soul. Globalization is not a singular condition, let alone an ideal end. In this scheme the woman was reduced to the “appointed seed-plot.”

7  Korea’s Globalization: A Specific Instance

It is neither a linear, irreversible nor necessarily homogenizing process. Turning left inside the front door, we enter the home appliance center, its cavernous space filled with the strains of romantic popular Korean ballad, to survey its offerings. Globalization can foster more globalization, to be sure. Winna “pure comfort systems,” tall and skinny, like their Carrier counterparts (the Heuzen and Samsung models, like the expensive Daewoo, wider). But it can also foster deglobalization (localization). We continue past refrigerator-freezers, by Zipel, Dios, GE and Klasse. In various backlash formations. Within the three-sided enclosure so defined are washers and dryers, by Haler, Electrolux, LG, Magic, Dimchae and Tromm (who is offering a steam cleaner for home consumption).

Fertilized by the male, the seed of the soul was thus drawn from the soul of its (male) parent. A wide, white aisle separates us from automated toilet seats, moisturizers, space heaters (by Sharp, Heuzen, SaintWell, Elextrolux, Venta and Mugu); from hot and chilled water dispensers. As the seed of the body was drawn from the body. We turn the corner to view multiple LCD screens (by Sharp, Summus, Canvas and Samsung), all projecting the same image. As Sachs has aptly put it, “Globalization, in short, is pulling decision making in two directions.” The next aisle displays vacuum cleaners, its second section, gas ranges; the next, microwave ovens; and the next, Cuckoo rice cookers, Braun coffee makers; hand-held mixers, blenders (by Oscar, Nug and Philips), irons and hair dryers.

We progress to acoustical equipment. “Toward the local (sometimes dangerously parochial).” Telephones, by Duke, Eform, Daemyoung, Nextel, Hans. “And the global (sometimes dangerously distant from the citizenry).” Fax machines, tape decks, CD players, radios, DVDs, a Hello Kitty ghetto blaster in the shape of an American football helmet. “The soul-producing seed arises at once from the out-drip of the soul.” There follow computers and computer-related items. “Just as that fluid is the body-producing seed that proceeds from the drainage of the flesh.” Intel’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Digital Media Pro Keyboard, a super woofer system, a DVD WriteMaster, a Genius Pixels PC Camera, a wide variety of optical mouses, printers (by Epson, HP, Samsung and Cannon).

To understand the multiple cascading ramifications. (Tertullian, On the Soul). Of globalization. Smaller, bubble-wrapped computer paraphernalia. For the current Korean state and society. Printer cables, plugs and wiring. Requires careful examination of the differential patterns. Lan network connections. And the intensity of current global interconnectedness. USBs, card readers, a “Multistand.” Tertullian’s rejection of Platonic ideas of pre-existence and reincarnation, like his own reading of the Scriptures, led him to regard the soul as immortal and a gift of God, but at the same time to see this gift as originally bestowed upon Adam and subsequently passed on to mankind by propagation. Globalization and regionalization need not be seen in mutually conflictive terms.

8  Korea’s Localization: A Specific Instance

For one thing, regionalization and globalization often occur at the same time. 6:00 am, March 12, 2006. Given lower communication and transport costs associated with geographic proximity. Hwagangno Avenue, a 20-minute, very chilly walk from author’s hotel. The following chapters reveal many dimensions of modern-day Korea’s understanding or misunderstanding of globalization as a double-edged sword. View out broad restaurant window into this purely Korean neighborhood. One that poses both dangers and opportunities.

Author orders noodles with egg and vegetables by pointing at a picture and nodding at the dish’s name. “The soul, then, we define to be sprung from the breath of God, immortal, rational, supreme, endued with an instinct of presentiment, evolved out of one (archetypal) soul.” He takes a seat in a black chair at a small black-rimmed white plastic table. Gregory of Nyassa, having criticized Origen’s account, followed Tertullian in tracing the soul back to the generating seed. Inset in the table’s surface is a plastic-lidded container for stainless steel chopsticks and spoons.

Not unlike Putnam’s “two-level-games” approach, a successful execution of the segyehwa drive requires more than policy or rhetorical pronouncements. As yet there is no sign of light in the morning sky. By analogy, he appealed to the potential found in the seed of a plant, “in wheat, or in any other grain, the whole form of the plant is potentially included” (see On the Making of a Man). The noodles arrive in a bowl, the egg scrambled (not raw as in the picture), along with side dishes of pickled vegetables (instead of leafy vegetables in with the noodles).

Similarly, he applied this paradigm to the case of human generation: Indeed, it requires an effective ongoing negotiating process of choosing among various competing strategic options in right-sequencing. “The human germ,” he wrote, “possesses the potentiality of its nature, sown with it at the inception of its existence.” A male foursome in their late 20s enters, it not clear whether they be early risers or late revelers. Not a finalized decision for self-execution. Having ordered food, they continue their quiet, emphatically punctuated conversation.

Again, like Tertullian, Gregory considered that the (male) seed potentially contained both the body and the soul of the new human being. Through the window are visible a scattering of automotive and pedestrian traffic, coming and going. “Of the part which belongs to the soul,” he elaborates, “the elements of rationality, and desire, and anger, and all the powers of the soul that are not yet visible [in the seed].” In this local ambiance the only significant details are a street light illuminating a tree; a white car parked facing an unopened door; the reflection of barber poles.

“Yet we assert,” he concludes, “that they all have their places in it.” The South Korean state, situated strategically between domestic and international politics, is constrained simultaneously by what globalization agents, the United States and global markets will accept and what domestic constituencies (chaebol and labor unions) will ratify. Beneath the long window, inside the restaurant, extends a long counter, part of which serves as a work bench for a woman, seated before it in a headscarf, who is combining cooked vegetables into specialty dishes.

In pursuit of this line of inquiry. On the counter sit: The following chapters pose and address several—and these enduring—questions. Pots of pink flowers; a square vase of mother-in-law’s tongue. About the major challenges. A circular container of paper-enveloped chopsticks. Dangers. A small toaster oven with a frayed cord. Opportunities. Two boxes of metal chopsticks, their bottoms inserted into their inverted tops. And consequences. Two pads of restaurant checks. Of Korea’s segyehwa drive. The first glimmer of blue imbues the horizon.

The restaurant’s décor is Korean, in part universal but by no means altogether international: Paintings are biologically grounded. A black wall clock indicates 6:30. And at the same time culturally deflected through the epistemic organization of reality. Atop a cabinet sits a radio, a telephone and a credit card machine. Particular to various cultural traditions. Atop the refrigerator, a clutter of calendars, utility bills and a telephone directory; a calculator, a roll of toilet paper, a scraggly plant in a red pot. Kim U-chung’s approach, in Landscape and Mind, is comparative.

Before a mirror on the opposite wall bamboo leaves sprout from a wooden holder. As he reflects upon the habits of perception and representation in Asian and western traditions. On the wall hangs a moderately accomplished oil painting, a western-style landscape but with a typically Korean subject. In East Asian tradition landscape represents an elevation of earthly space to the level of a regulative totality. The painting is not western, either in its descriptive details or its feeling. In place of heroic tales, history or eschatology, as in more diegetically oriented traditions.

9  Korea’s Localization: A Broader Conception

Prevented from recording in situ on a long bone-chilling walk up a new avenue, author enters the Green Hotel in search of refuge and further information. Like many of his peers, Lee Young-sok, a sixteen-year-old school student in Seoul, experienced culture shock after returning to Korea from Australia last year. At the front desk he purchases the Saturday-Sunday edition of The Korea Times, difficult to find elsewhere. Having lived in Australia since 1999 (after his father’s employer had transferred him there), it wasn’t easy for Young-sok to become reacclimated to Korean society. At the concierge’s desk he gathers up several brochures for local tours. In particular it was difficult to catch up with a different school curriculum.

Having passed through the lobby and the antechamber to the hotel’s coffee shop, author takes a seat to peruse the plastic-laminated “Lunch & Dinner” menu. “Although I am a Korean whose parents are Korean, my way of thinking is more Australian.” Appetizers: Smoked Salmon with Capers, Pink Shrimp Cocktail. “So most of my friends don’t hang around with me.” Seafood: Baked Lobster with Victoria Gratine, Fried King Prawn, Fillet of Halibut. Lee told The Korean Times. Salads, Rice Dishes, Desserts. “Except for English, it’s really hard to catch up with other classes.” Fresh Fruits, An Assortment of Ice-Cream. “That’s why I’ve considered going back to Australia to finish high school and enter university,” he said.

Korean Dishes: The experience that Lee has encountered is called reverse culture shock. Bulko-gi, Bibim Bab, Wooguji Galvitang. The ambiance consists of easy-listening piano music, blond varnished tables, several floral displays. Ox-Tail Soup, Dried Yellow Polack Soup, Ginseng with Chicken Soup. The marble-floored entrance hall gives way to a practical green carpet. Yesterday the head of a Korea-U.S. friendship group bestowed Alexander Vershbow, Ambassador to South Korea, with a Korean name. Author lays out his tourist literature atop the English-language paper. To symbolize the importance of the two countries’ military alliance. An antique polished wood divider separates the entrance hall from the dining room.

During an alliance forum at the Lotte Hotel in Central Seoul Su Jin-sup, chairman of the Korea-U.S. Alliance Friendship Society, gave Vershbow the name “Park Bo-woo.” Three crystal candelabra atop it ascend in height by stages, each bearing a fat orange candle. The Chinese character for “bo” means “treasure,” the character for “woo” means “friend.” A wooden caddy with wooden wheels is parked beside the divider to display empty bottles of the various beers available. “Just like a true friend, we need to maintain this precious alliance of ours forever,” said Su, in a congratulatory speech. From a solicitous waitress author orders the Chef Special Salad and Shrimp Fried Rice at prices more appropriate to a jet-setter.

Daily Tours (Mercury Travel Co. Ltd.): He peruses the remaining literature. (“Free pick-up service is available at most hotels.”) Meanwhile inhabiting alone the space defined by the Hotel Green World Coffee Shop’s green carpet. Morning Tours: (1) Blue House, Gyeongbokgung Palace, National Folklore Museum, Ginseng Center, Jogyesa Buddhist Temple. The waitress refills his blue water glass. (2) National Museum of Korea, Cheonggyecheon Stream, Amethyst Factory. She arrives again, with a blue fabric table mat, upon which she carefully aligns a fork and a spoon. (3) Seoul Tower, Hanok Village. At last the salad itself appears. (“Korea’s original style of upper class houses will make you feel comfortable like your home.”)

Chef salad finished, the blue place mat is replaced with a green. (4) Lotte World Theme Park. The glass again refilled. This huge shopping and entertainment complex offers visitors the chance to experience a folk village. At last the shrimp fried rice appears. Plus an adventure and sports center. Chopsticks and a spoon are provided. A hotel and a department store. A paper napkin with the hotel’s name in green. Afternoon Tours: (1) Changdoekgung Palace, etc., (2) Korean Folk Village, etc., (3) Han River Cruise, etc. For some time now, huge electronic advertisements for the Korean chaebol have adorned the billboards of New York City’s Times Square. Full Day Tours: Combinations of the preceding, along with a few new attractions:

Visitors to major international airports throughout the world are greeted by luggage carts with advertisements sponsored by the South Korean chaebol. Among which: Seoul World Cup Stadium, Sauna & Massage. These ads are for the chaebol’s export products. (“Pure Gold Bathroom,” for gold health; “Platinum Bathroom”; “Gorya Ginseng Bathroom.”) Not only the chaebol’s products, however, but the chaebol themselves have “gone global,” as they say. Suwonhwaseong Fortress, Icheon Pottery Village. At the center of author’s blond wooden table, which is bordered in a slightly darker wood, a dark wooden diamond has been inlaid. Thus the South Korean chaebol have become globetrotting enterprises.

Atop the table rests a plastic stand for a bilingual drink menu, the Korean names facing inward, the English, outward. No longer simply exporting cheap products into the global market, the chaebol have set up subsidiaries and joint ventures all over the world. A green match box sits in a white porcelain ashtray. Their presence has been noted with fanfare by various host governments. Night Tours: Korea House, Walkerhill Show, Myeong-dong Shopping Tour, Jeongdong and Wanta Theater. For example, hosting the dedication ceremony for Uzbekistan Daewoo Motors was none other than the president of Uzbekistan, who decorated Kim Wu-chung, the president of Daewoo, with Uzbekistan’s highest honor.

To one side of author’s table sits a lower, smaller, square table covered in a heavy pinkish-red fabric. In Jakarta the president of Indonesia attended the opening of LG’s television-monitor factory. Atop it, next to a large pillar faced with wood veneer, rises a white, ornamented ceramic vase. Overnight Tours: Gyeongju History, Jeju Island, Mt. Seorak. In the vase have been arranged stalks of brilliant red, broom-like buds, sprigs of a delicate, light green foliage, an almost translucent flowering of leafy petals, brown near the stem, green near the tips. Nor is it only in developing countries that the Korean chaebol have received such royal treatment. (Designated in 1982 by UNESCO “a biosphere preservation district.”)

Opposite this floral arrangement is another one, similar but not identical, resting on the symmetrically placed second table, also covered in pinkish-red fabric. At the ceremony of Samsung’s new electrical-appliance factory in England the queen herself was present. Drama Tours: Within the line defined by these two tables have been placed two porcelain tubs, equal in height but different in design. Winter Sonata Tour 1 (Chuncheon Course). From the nearer rises a broad-leafed tree. Winter Sonata Tour 2 (Yong Pyong Course). From the farther, airy palm stalks. Daejonggeum Tour (Full Day). To one side of these the green-carpeted area terminates and another marble-floored area commences. Daejonggeum Tour (Half Day).

This chapter focuses on the South Korean chaebol’s “globalization,” and in particular, outward foreign direct investment (OFDI). In the marble-floor space are tables, two of which accommodate three Korean men each, they all dressed (at least partly) in black. The chaebol have dominated the Korean economy since the 1960s. Their hair and shoes are also black. DMZ Tours (English, Japanese and Chinese). At the first table, one man is smoking. Ski Tours (“for various skiing levels”). Holding his cigarette discreetly beneath the table. They are well known for having spearheaded Korea’s development of OFDI. Across the antechamber: a private, pink dining space, obscured by beige, semi-translucent silk curtains.

The globalization practices of the chaebol include inward foreign direct investment (IFDI). Back and forth across the intervening marble floor click the black heels of a middle-aged waitress. Technology transfer from various multinational corporations to the chaebol. Creating an awkward counter rhythm to the strains of a Classical western string quartet. OFDI from the chaebol. Many panes of glass have been combined to form the hotel’s outer wall. Global competitiveness. Through which, in the gathering dusk, are visible new cars in its lot. And new global management practices. Within a hedge illuminated by the gleam of spotlights are tall, carefully trimmed conifers, whose branches extend in all directions.

10  Strategic Choice and the Timing of Ensoulment

Monday, 10:00 am, author stumbles upon immense indoor sports emporium: Broadly speaking there are four moments when a human being may be said to acquire a rational soul. Bowling, swimming, exercise and weight lifting. Or, to put the matter another way. “Strategic Choice and Globalization in Korea:” Four possibilities as to when the life of a human being may be said to begin. “Labor Practice and Economic Reform.” Amidst the fragrance of chlorine and against the background beat of disco music. A human being may acquire a soul: (1) at the moment of conception, (2) some time between conception and birth, (3) at the moment of birth, or (4) some time after birth. “Conclusion.” Each of these possibilities found some support among the philosophers of the ancient world.

Having purchased a “Welch’s Sparkling Strawberry Soda,” author sets it down, takes out his “Eye Soft Morning Glory” note pad and with black ballpoint pen begins to describe the scene that is transpiring behind a long window. Globalization is an uncharted sea, one that requires great skill to navigate successfully. Six bright girls, already sweating, three in baseball caps, are running in place on computerized treadmills. Some of these ancient authors had argued that the human being begins at conception. Two black-clad policemen enter on break to purchase small bottles of tomato juice. Segyehwa policy had originally been designed to create innovative economic structures. Thought to be the moment when the seed-mixture “set” to produce the embryo, a few days after insemination.

“KBS Health,” reads the sign on the door to the exercise room, through whose window is visible a woman being attended to by a physical therapist. Conforming to liberal norms and capable of sustaining international growth and competitiveness. This position is associated with the Pythagoreans, but it may well have also been the view of Aristotle. Who is supervising her side bends. This implied economic liberalization not only in terms of trade but also of finance and foreign investment. Through another interval in the line of six exercising women is visible the circular belt of an anti-flab machine. Another view was that the human being began sometime between conception and birth, either when the form was complete (“formation”) or when the fetus had begun to move (“quickening”).

In leisurely fashion. The developmental state gave way to a liberal regulatory state. After much light conversation. This position is associated with Aristotelians in particular. The two policemen. (It seems also to have been the view of Philo of Alexandria.) Consummate their tomato juice purchase (three bottles in all). The chaebol were to be down-sized and prepared for competition on a level playing field, both domestic and international. To which are added three black straws. There were many who argued that the human being began immediately after birth, when the fetus was physically separate from his or her mother and began to breathe air. Everything is efficiently inserted into a black plastic bag. It was necessary that society be democratized for more citizen participation.

This fourth view is associated with the Stoics and Platonists, though what Plato himself thought is unclear. Each policeman, in addition to black pants, black shoes and black gloves, has a black police phone. It was necessary that welfare and social spending be expanded, so as to broaden the social safety net and enhance human development. In a black sweater over a plaid shirt a man who has finished his exercise exits the locker room door, takes a seat and informs author that he should give up his place to four ladies who wish to sit together at his table. There were also attitudes and practices common in the ancient world (most notably the toleration of infanticide) that might seem to imply that even long after birth a child was not considered to have full status as a human being.

However. On the pillars of the exercise room. Nevertheless. Have been hung pictures of athletes: a female long distance runner raising her arms at the finish line, male weight lifters displaying their bulk. Achieving these aims required a clear understanding. Ancient writers seem not to have understood. The sequentialization and prioritization of reforms. The importance that this had in delaying the propagation of the soul. And the consequences of such choices. Author changes venue to swimming stadium, mounting steep steps to a seat, removing his jacket against the heat and humidity, defogging his glasses and turning his attention to recording this lively scene, in which full-tank-suited swimmers, many of them older women, are being tended by black navy-seal-suited young men.

They believed that young children, like women, slaves and barbarians, simply did not have full legal or ethical status, which depended on free citizenship. A prodigious stream of swimmers, all with flippers (in chartreuse, pink or aquamarine) file past, doing the butterfly, the backstroke, the crawl. The response of South Korea to globalization challenges some present ideas about globalization based on European experience. They seem to belong to teams, or at least to regular groups, for a dozen in each lane wear identically colored swim suits and caps. In the case of the western European economies there has been a tendency to question the welfare state and turn to neo-liberal market ideology. Behind this display, the walls of the stadium are adorned with brightly colored tiles:

This has created conditions that demand not only an increased reliance on the market. The tiles have been distributed with lively imagination: But at the same time an expansion of the welfare state and the social safety net. Descending ranks of peach, burnt sienna, purple, pale green, dark blue, lavender and pale blue. Recent trends in the politics of Western Europe indicate that the response to globalization involves a conflict between the attempt to preserve social democracy with its welfare state. The lap swimming has ceased. And yet to insure that market forces sustain competitiveness. By fours the swimmers hold hands, forming circles, leaping together off the shallow floor of the pool, finally disengaging to thrust their hands in the air and, smiling, clap in unison.

At the far end of the pool, high on a wall above it, is a very large painting of a tree, pristine white doves emerging from its abstract branches.

11  The Embryonic Christ

We continue on along the avenue and eventually cross it. When Jesus was poorly received in his own village, he said of himself: Sighting a church, we approach. “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and their own houses.” If a red-frocked cardinal depicted on a banner in amidst Korean text high above be any reliable indication, this is a Catholic parish. Whatever else may be said of him, in his own time Jesus was widely recognized as a prophet. A brief encounter with an amiable nun in a black habit would seem to confirm our conclusion. Christians understand Jesus to be “the one who is to come,” A booth off the large lobby into which we have entered is offering for sale plaster statues of the Holy Family and metal crucifixes.

He is the archetypal prophet. Author takes seat on a red chair at a circular white table. The fulfillment of the Law. The off-key sounds of practicing choristers reach the lobby, but otherwise, except for a group of discussants, only the top of their heads visible above a breed on a glass door, the church is empty. What was true of the prophets will be true a fortiori of Jesus. There is absolutely no English in use, spoken or written, neither on sign nor schedule, neither in book nor devotional pamphlet. It is also very cool. This will have implications, when we come to consider the conception of Jesus and his life as an embryo. In the case of South Korea globalization opens up the prospect for the social inclusion, rather than marginalization, of labor.

Stained glass windows, colored in the Korean quaternion of red, blue, yellow and green, faintly illuminate stairs descending to somewhere. For, as the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah were called and set apart during the time that they were in the womb, so Jesus from the first moment of his existence was set apart. The location of the sanctuary is obscure. Sustaining a competitive and stable economy may not be possible without further democratization. Out the window, and still presumably on the church’s property, sits a giant playtoy at the center of a park, but no children are using it. In the plan of God, the call of the prophets preceded their conception. Another nun attempts to engage author but encountering at once the linguistic impasse retreats.

Via social and political rectification of labor and the expansion of welfare. A compressor noisily starts up on its own, though no ostensible machine is serviced by it. Likewise, from the beginning God ordained the mission of the Chosen One. The heater is off, its red digital thermostat indicating a room temperature of 14 degrees centigrade. In the gospels of Matthew and Luke the identity of Jesus is expressed. Only a mirror standing near the center of the room is relatively active, at least aesthetically, at least in its pleasingly ornate design. Through their narratives of his conception, birth and early infancy. From this perspective, however, the only thing reflected in its glass is a water dispenser, beneath whose tap for cold sits a single metal cup.

Author resituates himself for a better view of the shop that is selling religious icons and other devotional equipment (including rosaries). Just as in the Hebrew Scriptures the identity of Isaac as the child of the Promised Land had been expressed in the story of his conception by Sarah. Cautiously he approaches. So the pattern therein established, of a barren woman who is blessed by the Lord with a child, is repeated in the stories of Rachel and the wife of Manoah. On the top shelf of several glass shelves, wrapped in clear plastic, are images of Mary, Joseph and Jesus molded together. The miraculous conception is taken as a sign that God has a special role in store for each child. Spontaneous feminine giggles erupt from within the Bible study room.

For this reason the naming of John the Baptist led people to say, “What then will this child become? The shelf below this one includes single figures of Jesus and Mary, one of the latter a sleek, if not especially attractive, moderne plaster sculpture. Thus globalization combines two contradictory tendencies. Beneath it, on the bottom shelf, stand crucifixes, along with polychrome figures of Christ as King of the World, an orbis mundi in his hand. On the one hand it fosters competition, fragmentation and destabilization. The largest figures, however, all at one end of the shelf, have been reserved for representations either of Christ or his mother alone, both images pious but of dubious iconography, for Christ is  robed in red and blue, Mary’s colors.

Luke juxtaposes the conceptions of John the Baptist and Jesus to bring out both the continuity of the two figures and Christ’s originality. On the other hand these very forces may stimulate a sociopolitical response that emphasizes social stability and cohesion. The births of both John and Jesus had been announced by an angel (as had those of Isaac and Samson). Globalization tends to weaken organized labor. Both pregnancies are miraculous and signify the surprising, life-giving power of God. While paradoxically strengthening resistance to it. The conception of John to Elizabeth fits into the pattern of Isaac and Sarah, of a barren woman, that is, who, having given up on becoming a mother, yet is granted a child in her old age.

The conception of Jesus, however, is also something utterly new, for Mary is not an old but a young woman. The outcome of democratization will depend on how these two forces are balanced in the spheres of economics and politics. The new miracle is not only to make the barren fruitful but also to create life through the power of the Holy Spirit without the requirement of a human father.

12 After the Seoul Train: An Interview with Father and Son

Having spent a week in the capital but without having had a chance to learn of the city through English conversation, author departs from Seoul at Yeoungdong Po, one of its two central stations, for the much more ancient capital of Gyeongju. He must change trains in Dongdaegu, the eastern part of a city that he has yet to visit. At shortly half past 9:00 am we are under way, on a journey whose first leg lasts almost four hours. In the connecting station, despite its elegant modernity and professional efficiency, author has difficulty finding information in English about our new train’s destination, track number and time of departure. In the event, however, we manage to make the transition so as to arrive on time at Gyeongju’s Hanjin Hostel, which author had visited on his first trip to Korea. Here he is granted an interview by the son of the hostel’s owner. The father will be joining us presently.

MM: Would you be kind enough to tell me your name?

OGK: Oh-guk Kwon.

MM: I’m so happy to meet you, and I’m especially pleased that you’re willing to help me to understand Seoul from a Korean point of view. Here in Gyeongju, where you and your father are living, I’d been hoping to find what I couldn’t find in the capital, an English-speaking native with a broad international perspective. You’ve told me of your own American experience, and I already know about the international activity of your father, who’d contributed to a collection of essays about my work in 20 languages. I’m interested in learning more about his life, as well as yours, and most of all about Korea’s ancient capital in relation to Seoul, its more recent modern capital. If I may, I’d like to begin by asking you about your view of the latter. By the late fourth century it was possible to delineate at least five theories as to the origin of the soul.

OGK: I am happy to give you my views. These are listed in one of Jerome’s letters:

MM: Afterwards I’d also like to ask you about Seoul’s position in Korea, in East Asia and then in the world at large. With regard to the soul’s origin: (1) Does it descend from heaven, as the philosopher Pythagoras, the Platonists and Origen think it does?

OGK: I feel that Seoul is really the heart of the Korea.

MM: I’ve heard it said that Seoul is to Korea as Paris is to France. (2) Or is it part of the essence of the Deity, as the Stoics and the Manichees of Spain imagine? That all the best Koreans go to Seoul, just as the best Frenchmen all end up in Paris.

OGK: Yes, a lot of things are going on in there. European capital was same like Seoul before, but in these days Seoul is growing very quickly and they are bringing out the key items. Compare with other city, Seoul, especially in this Eastern Asia, the modern reality is coming out of the capital.

MM: So you are emphasizing the technological aspect of modern Korean production and its role in the region. (3) Or are souls kept in a divine treasure house wherein they were of old stored as some ecclesiastics, foolishly misled, think? How do you feel about Korea’s technology in relation to its own traditional culture and in the world at large?

OGK: Oh, yes. Korea is making the new culture for the worldwide, because to find the new technology and then to accept and make the new ideas I think that they are also making the new cultures. Lots of students, especially young mans, are educated in the U.K., France, from all over the world and coming back to Seoul and making the new, better, cultures than what they learned from the Seoul. Then Seoul makes its role in the world.

MM: Perhaps you’re speaking about yourself, for you’ve had such extraordinary success in the world, as a businessman working on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

OGK: [Laughter.] I am talking about the young generation people, because in the high school [the university], long times ago, Korea was so hard to go out of, but today is a different world. That is why, after they are finished the school, they are coming back, attractive and challengeable, for then the old aged people . . . I think timing, the investment of the old parents, the new generations, new ideas and new cultures, new technologies very quickly developing many things worldwidely from the Seoul.

MM: In other words, you’re very happy with Korea and with what’s happening in Seoul. (4) Or are they daily created by God and sent into bodies, according to what is written in the gospel (“My Father is working still, and I am working”)?

OGK: I am happy, and I am emphasizing their making the new things, but because of this I found many many problems in Seoul. That is why I am living now in Gyeongju.

MM: In fact you have, then, a triple perspective, for you grew up here in the ancient capital, which is still a cultural city in the traditional sense, have been to the United States, where you succeeded in business, both as a representative of Daewoo and as an independent real estate developer, and then you returned to Seoul. (5) Or are souls really produced, as Tertullian, Apollinarius and the majority of the western divines conjecture, by propagation, so that as the body is the offspring of body, the soul is the offspring of soul? Afterwards, as you say, you left Seoul and returned to Gyeongju.

OGK: In my case, I am so many, you know, new worlds, which I never learned and never seen before. But in these days Seoul’s problem is from too much competition, first of all, and then, too many people are living in there, and too many cars, and the air pollution is bad, and new things are not good things all the time, because to be a new man and new society there is many many problems in behind. So detailedly I cannot read everything, but lots of bad things are going on there too. That is why I like old style Gyeongju. Then, over here, you know, there is many parks, fresh air, less population, so it is better than Seoul, I guess, in my opinion. The young man, maybe they want to be challenge in the Seoul, to find out themselves, to get the identification. So the young man will be better to go to the Seoul or the Paris, but the old man they should come back to relax in a nice place. [Laughter.] Of these five possibilities, Christians found it easiest to reject the second, for a proposition such as this contradicts the fundamental distinction between God and His creatures.

MM: Now you speak of yourself as an old man, but you’re considerably younger than I and of course much younger than your father, who, at 78, still has black hair! With regard to the other four theories, each had its defenders.

OGK: Yes, I am already 50 years old [laughter]. My kids (my daughter is 22, my son is 20), they like New York life, Seoul life, they like Paris, but maybe they will be changed 20 years later, they too would like to be in the peaceful area. Jerome was convinced, however, that the views of both Origen and Tertullian should be rejected.

MM: Paradoxically, the youngest member of your family seems to be your father.

OGK: [Laughter.] Yes, he stayed here more than 40 years. Maybe he is same. He lived in the Seoul and did great business, but after 20, 30 years’ Seoul life, he changed. “Maybe I should go back to peaceful area,” he said. So he come back to Gyeongju. Gyeongju has been called a “museum without walls.” [The father opens the door and enters the room.]

MM: Since he has now returned to join our conversation, perhaps I should ask your father directly about his own view of Seoul and Gyeongju. Gyeongju is a city of a millennium history of Silla Dynasty from 57 BC to 935 AD. Presently it has 300,000 population. Please tell us, Mr. Kwon, how you view the modern capital.

Young-joung Kwon: [Laughter.] I am so no good. Seoul very very man, car. Many people. I am quiet here in Gyeongju. It is called “a museum without a roof.”

MM: As I understand it, you also had a very active life in Busan, the principal port of Korea not far from here, and a great manufacturing city. Because almost everywhere in the city the tourists can see the excavating.

YJK: [Laughter.] Busan too. That is still going on in and around the city.

MM: And what is your feeling about Seoul today?

YJK: I’m don’t like. The excavated relics and those under the ground can be called the true main stream of Korea’s racial culture.

MM: Can you tell me more precisely what it is that you don’t like about Seoul?

YJK: It is crowded. Eh . . . many people. [Laughter.] Uh . . . I’m don’t like. Gyeongju is comprised of various Asian cultures that have given to the city the unique heritage that it has today. Thus Gyeongju is a place with world cultural heritage sites.

MM: I’d prefer myself not to emphasize the negative aspects of Seoul, where I’ve enjoyed my visit, but someone has told me that life in Seoul is “superficial.”

YJK:Yeah, yeah, yeah. Young man likes Seoul. I am old man. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Thirty years ago in Seoul, very busy. Very dirty. Air fresh no good. Thus I come down in Gyeongju. About 30 years ago, now ten times more . . . ah . . . more, more, many car. Every year more than nine million tourists from home and abroad visit Gyeongju.

MM: Is it possible, do you think, that culture itself may be changing? Could we be yearning for a world of traditional Korean culture that no longer exists, all the while that a new culture is rising and flourishing about us? Could it be that we must face the fact that modern life is technological and commercial, not agricultural and religious, and that we must get along in the modern city, with its large population, its many automobiles, its pollution?

YJK: [Speaking Korean, as a simultaneous translation is provided by his son.] I think basically that Korean’s life [sic] was much improved in comfortable ways.

MM: Within the last generation or two?

YJK: Yes, the last 20 years, because of the economic booming. First-a-thing, the real estate price went up a lot. During their progress, lots of million was made. And then the culturewise they are trying to keep the old style, but because of the many reasons they have been changed. Also, it has been changed in our traditional ways. Among the historical relic. So mostly young people, they are just copying the western style: Temples in various areas, statues, metal artifacts. Many girlfriends, you know, never marry [laughter], just, uh, spending and not saving money. Ceramic works from the tombs of Golden Crown and Flying Horse are every day appreciated worldwide.

MM: Do you think that people in the countryside are more traditional, more virtuous?

OGK: [Resuming his own voice, as he ceases to translate for his father] Still, the people who likes the traditional styles, they are not living in Seoul. They are staying in the side of the big city and enjoying their old styles. Gyeongju is also called “Sorabol” or “Sebol” and both mean that it is a holy land where the sun shines first.

MM: But I understand that there is another problem: that many people don’t want to stay, as we say in the USA, “down on the farm.”

OGK: Yes, that is the biggest problem these days, because the farming labor is almost costless. Because of too much import from other countries, then the habits of their food style is changed. So farmers are getting bigger problems on and on, because of the free trading, and in technology the cheaper basic labor is killing the trading things.

MM: Could it be that in Gyeongju you have, then, the best of all possible worlds?

OGK: In my opinion Gyeongju is the best of the world, but still people who lives in this town they have problem generating incomes; they cannot catch up the Seoul people. Origen seemed to make the union of body and soul a punishment, and to open the door to reincarnation. But the living way is better, because the house price is around quarters of Seoul’s. Whereas Tertullian seemed guilty of the opposite mistake. It is good for the living.

MM: You’re telling me that the cost of living is much lower in Gyeongju.

OGK: Yes, and this make everyone jealous of Seoul. They want to be equally treated in the income basis. Over here is very low, that is the problem. Of making the origin of the soul too much like the origin of the body. For the livingwise, this is the perfect place. Of thus endangering the spiritual and immortal character of the human soul.

MM: Now, you’ve told me that you are an old man, but at 50 you have perhaps half your life ahead of you (should you live to be a hundred years old). Where do you think that you and your own family will be living during the next 50 years?

OGK: Uh, I change my life around 25 years’ base. I lived in Korea 25 years, went over to America 25 years. Then I never felt that time is going on or not. I just worked hard, and I enjoyed hard. Twenty-five years has flied like the first birds. Having also excluded the “foolish” belief that souls were kept in a treasure house (the doctrine of the Talmud and perhaps also of Clement of Alexandria). If I am saying that I lived around half my life. Another 25 years I would like to challenge in Japan, but right now I am living in Gyeongju with my parents. Jerome’s choice became clear: Because of, you know, to learn more from them. Human souls were created individually by God, when the body was formed in the womb. But in the future I would like to do business in the Japan.

MM: But in 25 years the younger generation may well be returning to learn from you!

OGK: Specially my childrens, they raised in America around 25 years! Once in the vacation they like Korea. They can practice Korean language, they can see many enjoying, but for the living purpose they can survive in Korea, I do not know. I was survived in America, but they cannot survive in Seoul, I think. And there is also the danger from north. Yesterday unification minister Lee Jong-seok said that the U.S. is trying to “prevent” North Korea from counterfeiting U.S. bills in the future, rather than trying to “punish” Pyongyang for its financial illegalities.

MM: Perhaps the world in general is changing: many accomplished people do not spend their lives nowadays in one country alone. “I personally think that Washington’s policies,” he told lawmakers at a breakfast meeting of the National Assembly, “are focused on prevention rather than punishment.”

OGK: Yeah, that’s true. Wherever it is, if they can find out some challengeable things, maybe they will do their best and they can do well.

MM: [OGK and MM having now been rejoined by YJK, author address the latter.] When you look at your life and at your son’s life, do you think that the son is following the father’s example? Or is he doing something different?

YJK: [Again, speaking in Korean, his thoughts translated and paraphrased by his son] Maybe [ha-ha-ha] it’s the same job.

MM: Yes, the same pattern, the same “career plan,” as they say. At any rate, you and your son would appear to have a very strong relationship.

YJK: [Laughter.] Yeah, now OK.

MM: [Addressing the son] And perhaps it’s because your father had acquired such an international point of view, through his business dealings with foreigners in Seoul and Busan, that you yourself have felt comfortable living between the two civilizations, so to speak, and comfortable doing business in a truly international fashion.

OGK: Yes, that is true.

MM: What about your children? Lee said that Seoul has “serious” concerns. Do they feel as comfortable as you do, both in America and here in Korea? Over North Korea’s alleged involvement in counterfeiting U.S. bills.

OGK: My childrens likes my father and what he has been getting and accomplished. And laundering them at a bank in Macao, which was blacklisted by the United States.

MM: [Addressing the father again] And how do you feel about your grandchildren living in another country? “We delivered our stance to the North Koreans, underlining that Pyongyang should come up with appropriate measures,” he said.

YJK: Mmm. Yeah. I am . . . grandson, daughter . . . anyway.

MM: Meaning you are happy to see your grandchildren living anywhere in the world?

YJK: Yes, ha-ha-ha. “Seoul wants this issue resolved according to international norms.”

MM: [Addressing father and son together] It seems, then, to me that you both represent models for modern Koreans.

YJK: I am in Korean, ha-ha-ha, people, specialty.

MM: Well, I think that your whole family’s very special.

YJK: Yeah. [Laughter.] Depend, depend upon other people.

MM: You know, it’s a privilege for me to be here and to have the benefit of learning about your life and the lives of your family members. Let me introduce myself.

OGK: Let me explain about my father. I was born in Andong.

MM: Yes, please do. At the university I studied law.

OGK: I think he is different. Then for three years I worked as a government official. All other people, when Korea opened to the worldwide, tried to make the products and to sell other worlds. I have also worked as a pharmacist for twenty years and imported heavy industrial equipment from the United States. But in his case he was to sell himself; to show off to the worldwide people, he sold his own cultures, not the product. I had my own construction company, which built roads and bridges and helped construct the large iron works in Pohang. That is the difference, so. (My company employed from 50 to 500 people.)

MM: We might say that, though your father was a successful businessman, his success went beyond the commercial realm.

OGK: Yeah, exactly. The other Korean people invested lots of money and made lots of money, but in his case he invested his time in perfecting his calligraphy, which he will show off, maybe 100 years more. Afterward I came to Gyeongju to open this small hostel.

MM: So, like you, his son, who I’ve predicted will still be active 50 years from now at the age of 100, your father, who’s now 78, will still be active at the age of 178! It has now been sixteen years.

OGK: Yes. [Hearty laughter from both father and son.]

MM: Recently I’ve been in Shanghai and New York City, and I’ve found that neither in China nor in the United States do people appreciate Korean culture. At my hostel I prefer to have foreign guests. I’ve been trying to sell Korean paintings by very skillful artists, and I’ve been finding that to do so is very difficult. I think they are more polite and responsible than many Korean travelers. So perhaps your father is offering us a solution to the problem of “selling” Korean culture, that is, to open Korea to foreign travelers, instead of always trying to export Korean culture abroad. If you’ll translate what I have just said, perhaps we can see if your father agrees with my idea.

YJK: [His response in Korean, paraphrased by his son] He never try to make a lot of money. He never wants to fight with anybody. He does not have any big anxious [sic].

MM: I have several hobbies. Perhaps this is why his guests in the hostel here in Gyeongju are so comfortable. Including music, calligraphy and writing history.

YJK: [Again, in his son’s paraphrase] And then some customer, who does not have enough money, and he is giving lots of discount. Some people never paid at all. [Heavy laughter from father as well as son.]

MM: Well, your father’s a very generous man! I also collect coins, stamps, small cups and bells and other things from around the world.

YJK: And then he is eating less food and more of vegetables, and then he is doing lots of exercise. Every day for more than three hours I jog, practice yoga, taekwondo and Silla hwarang sports [martial arts].

MM: Yes, he showed us today in the courtyard that he can still defend himself like a Silla dynasty warrior, and also that he can stand on his head. Doubtless he is capable of handling any problems that might arise with his foreign guests. Perhaps by practicing these traditional martial arts he’s also becoming younger rather than older.

YJK: [In paraphrase] Yes, he is caring a lot about those traditional sports and eating traditional foods. My wife used to be a teacher. Eat less beef, less pork meat. We have two sons and three daughters.

MM: Might we say, perhaps, that your father, then, is single-handedly wresting from Seoul the position of Korea’s cultural capital and returning it to Gyeongju? My eldest son works with KBS in Seoul.

YJK: [In paraphrase] He says that this is a very difficult thing to compare Gyeongju economywise with Seoul. His wife is a top Korean singer named Kim Ji Ae. Thirty years ago, he says, after Seoul grew up rich, there were too much air pollution and too many cars, and too many peoples, and so he moved out to Gyeongju. My second son is a manager for Daewoo Company in New York City. At that time there were only a few cars in Gyeongju. [Laughter.] His wife is a designer. Now lots of cars and lots of peoples too. So now he is looking for the more quiet place.

MM: And where does he hope to find his ultimate retreat or hermitage? My eldest daughter is a painter in Michigan.

YJK: [In paraphrase] On the mountainside, where he can look at the river every day. And her husband is a famous novelist and instructor at the University of Michigan. He is hoping to build a house for himself on the mountainside.

MM: Let us ask your father, who has accumulated so much wisdom in his lifetime, one final question: My second daughter studied architecture in Paris and is now living there. Can he tell us, what are the most important things in life? Her husband is also in Paris, studying for his Ph.D. in architecture.

YJK: [In paraphrase] He is saying that you have to be comfortable. My third daughter is studying for her Ph.D. at the University of Hawaii. In the deep mountain where he is bought place he is trying to build a house where his mind will be comfortable. While my health lasts, I will continue with this hostel. And all his guests, he says, can go over there, and that they will be free to stay.

MM: Well, please tell your father that I look forward to free accommodations, and that I’d like to reciprocate when I can, in the countries where I myself have places to stay. I’ve been to America once and in the future I plan a world trip.

YJK: [In paraphrase] He is planning those things, because it is his opinion that the comfortable mind is number 1. When I travel, I would like to visit your home. So he will invite you to the mountain that he owns, because, if he lives alone in the deep mountain, that will be dangerous. Sincerely. So he has told you his plan, and he wants to show how to live, and you should follow him. Mr. Kwon. Everything, he says, will be comfortable, and mind will be perfect.

MM: An excellent plan indeed. “A sound mind and a sound body,” as we westerners are taught to say. I hope some day to see this mountain myself. And please remember that when you and your father come to visit me, you too may live on a mountain, or perhaps even better relax by the sea.

OGK: [Laughter] Ah, so you too like to live on the mountain! [Laughter.] Quiet place!

MM: And by the sea as well, for I too enjoy the best of both possible worlds.

Mickey Mouse Visits the Silla Dynasty

1  The Unusual Shape of Korea

Arrived once more in the ancient capital, author purchases a new guidebook, titled The Millennium Year Old Spirit of Silla Gyeongju, a “MonAmi PlusPen” and a Mickey Mouse © Disney notebook in which to record his impressions of the city that had once served as the capital of Korea’s most long-lived dynasty. A contemporary messianic couple, called the Two Incarnations, teaches that Korea has a providential mission to heal mankind’s spirit and revive its original vitality orki. He takes a seat in a FamilyMart matte-blue-finished, chrome-bordered plastic chair, setting his guidebook, notebook and pen on the green-plastic-topped table to enjoy a Lotte “Let’s Be” mild coffee. Korea was chosen for this mission, because the country is located in “the best place on earth.” (“Captures the signature essence of taste and aroma.”) From the point of view of global geomancy. “Of selected coffee beans.”) They teach that the shape of Korea. As Mickey Mouse. Is also extremely significant. Turns the pages of the guide book. “It resembles a rabbit with large ears.” To consider his itinerary. “Good for listening to the voice of the creator,” they explain. From present-day Korea back into the ancient/medieval dynasty.

Having finished one fourteen-line prose sonnet. “It also resembles a penis hanging out of Asia.” Mickey opens L’Esprit de la dynastie millénaire de Silla. “Its female equivalent is rabbit-shaped Paraguay.” (Or Die 1000 jährige aura von der Silla dynastie.) “Which lies snuggled between its Latin neighbors.” To the “Tourist Map.” “Like the pubic region of a woman.” Also known as “Carte touristique” and “Übersichtskarte.” (The couple has held healing sessions in Paraguay.) So as to review what he has seen before and written about, seen before but not written about and not yet seen and not yet written about. They teach that the Korean people have kept their blood pure by not marrying foreigners. Since he is out on foot today. Traditional forms of work. Mickey decides against another trip to Bulguksa Temple. Such as carrying jars of water on their heads. With its Seokgatap and Dabotap Pagodas. And recreation. Or to the famously inspiring Seokkuram Grotto (which will be last). Such as jumping on seesaws. Or to Mt. Namsan (later) or Poseokjeong or Samneung-Gol. Have, they say, been heaven’s “secret methods” to keep the people’s ki strong. Or Yongjangsa temple or even western Gyeongju.

Instead, coffee finished, he is up and out to the Tourist Information kiosk, but a few blocks away. There are many contradictory aspects to the Korean people. Here he decides upon a trip to the National Museum, in search of its three-dimensional representation of the Silla dynasty capital. They combine great flaming emotion with an extremely fine sense of etiquette. Onto the bus at the second stop ascend two girls, one in a large Minnie Mouse shirt that bears a vivid cartoon representation of Mickey’s wife. They devote themselves to work and to the family. Author reveals his identity to them by pointing out his Mickey Mouse notebook cover with its picture of MM in a state of surprise. They often appear incompetent. At first the girls do not know what to say. And yet they achieve much. However, convivial discussion soon follows, all in Korean. They ascribe to collective values and yet are probably the most individualistic of all Asians. Descending at the National Museum, author heads at once for “Archaeological Building,” where neither the book shop nor the information desk can direct him to the model of the Silla capital. (Michael Breen, The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where their Future Lies.)

An English-speaking attendant is summoned. As Confucianists, they have an instinct for relationships. Studying author’s notebook sketch of the representation, visited two years earlier, the attendant pronounces: They can be quite aggressive. “Wrong building.” But extremely hospitable. “Go Art Building.” They can be very sacrificial but realistic about their needs. Author thanks him profusely. They are materialists. Mickey’s spiritual quest for the Silla dynasty is succeeding, he thinks. They pursue status and titles. Having reached the proper building, however, he finds instead a model of the Hwangrongsa temple precinct. Yet these often function merely as a guide for behavior, not as a source of ultimate worth. Whose buttons eight-year-old school kids are pressing so as to illuminate in turn the various structures in the complex. Koreans of high status can be very somber and serious and self-important, but then with their mates they become as free as little boys and girls. A huge mural photo behind the display shows the temple’s present condition of ruination, caused by a disastrous fire. Grandmothers hire touring coaches with their pals and get drunk on outings. Nearby on the wall hangs an information placard.

“Hwangrongsa,” it reads, “was a representative temple for the defense of the nation.” They can be puritanical about sexual relations and yet more uninhibited than lap-dancers. “According to Samguksagi and Samgukyusa a yellow dragon appeared while the palace was being constructed.” As author is recording this information many more eight-year-old students arrive, most in green athletic suits, interrupting his activity to ask him, “Where do you come from?” “And so they constructed a temple instead of a palace.” “Disneyland,” he replies. “It was completed in the 30th year (569) of the king Jinheung.” “What is your name?” the kids clamor to know. “Seventeen years after construction began.” “Mickey Mouse,” says author, pointing again to the cover of his notebook. The stereotypical Korean is shaman-Confucian-Buddhist-Christian. “Hwangrongsa maintained its original form till the Goryeo dynasty.” They are fascinating for an outsider to work alongside, since they have telescoped a development that took several generations in western countries into the span of a working lifetime. Finally, a bright-eyed boy says to author, “Your name is not Mickey Mouse!” “It was burnt down by the Mongols in 1238.”

Through more persistent inquiry author manages to locate the full-scale restoration of the Silla capital that he had recalled. A video with Chinese voice-over is explaining how the city was reconstructed. Within the display are visible the high walls of a fortress atop a hill. Covered bridges arch the flood. Museum placards link past with present. Another video recounts the recent recovery of artifacts from daily life: eating utensils, scissors, cooking vessels. From the late fourteenth century onwards neo-Confucian scholar-bureaucrats eclipsed Buddhism. Other sites are shown along with their dates of discovery. Through education Confucian ceremony and values reached all levels of society. A preschooler arrives to turn off the video that author is watching. This influence went deeper than it ever did in Japan and China, and it remains today. Soon his parents catch up with him and apologize. Koreans today, however, are not what you might expect pure Confucians to be. More school kids appear, romping about the site. They are not restrained, mannered, contemplative moralists. Beneath Plexiglas panels set into the floor are depicted archaeologists at work. These sage-like gentlemen belch and fart in public.

2  Mickey Visits a Choson Village

Yangdong, on the outskirts of Gyeongju, with its abundant cultural assets, including several National Treasures and over twenty historic buildings including a seowon (private school of the Choson Dynasty), hyanggyo (public school of the Choson Dynasty), jeongja (pavilion) and yeongdong (portrait hall), all attest to Gyeongju’s Confucian heritage. All are extremely well preserved, making it possible for Koreans and foreigners alike to experience Korea’s Confucian culture as it really was.

Winding out of Silla Gyeongju by bus, Mickey finds himself heading for Yangdong village, purported to represent life in the Choson dynasty. Another description of the ancient capital is contained in an account of Ibn Khurdadhbah, director of the post office in Media. Which brings us forward from ancient/medieval to modern Gyeongju. “No one knows what country lies beyond China, except a high mountain range soaring in front of Kantu.” Modern Gyeongju itself is an unprepossessing, slightly run-down, oversized village (or six villages). “The mountains indicate the country of Silla, which abounds with gold.” At least the scenery surrounding it—hills, river, lake—is attractive. Though some of the Persian’s account is inaccurate, that “Silla abounded with gold” cannot be considered incorrect. Gyeongju’s major boulevards, one might at least say, are pleasantly planted with flowering bushes. For Silla exported gold to T’ang China every year. We exit the city streets onto a highway leading to Andang and Pohang. The Muslim Erasi, who persisted in his belief that Silla had a large amount of gold, said absurdly, “Gold is so abundant that the people there make dog chains out of it.”

Goofy barks, as he and Mickey, deposited at the Yangdong stop by the public bus, set out for a considerable walk down the road. Residence of Islamic merchants in Silla for the pursuit of commercial gains, however, is not unbelievable. Reaching a little low-lying shop, MM buys a black Coca Cola “Zero” and takes a seat at a round “Coca Cola” table in a red “Coca Cola” chair. The Hwanggum ui Mokchang (Golden Pastures), for example, reports that “it is usual that Iraqis and other foreigners who visit Silla forget to return home, because the air is fresh and good for health, the water is clear, the soil is fertile, and all are abundant there.” (“Stop thinking. Feel it!” says the back of the Coca Cola chair.) Gyeongju, the capital of Silla, showed aspects of an international city. The white “Coca Cola” letters on the table top have turned a little pink from weathering. Where Chinese, Japanese, Arabians, Persians and Iraqis swaggered and strolled on the boulevards. Mickey opens another new guide book, turns to “Andang Area” and reads: “Here you can meet the Choson dynasty and modern Gyeongju as well as the Silla dynasty and can explore holy places of Buddhism, Cheondogyo and Confucian culture.”

In the village Mickey finds it difficult to distinguish between the houses that are being lived in and the ones that have been mummified as museums. The lineage group organized society at the top in such a way that most of the Choson elite came from a relative handful of eminent families, tracing their line back to a prominent male (Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun). The old houses are handsome if the ambience rather ordinary. Many Korean villages had but one clan. Mickey also finds it difficult to distinguish between the kids who have just been dismissed from the yellow school house and those who have arrived in tour buses on class visits. Some 15,000 “single-lineage villages” remained in 1930s Korea. All are young. At the top were the yangban, literally the two ranks (military and civilian) that staffed the Choson dynasty. And all are very lively. But designating a potent aristocratic fusion of landed wealth and political power. Author, perched atop a place marker, cannot enter two sentences, before half a dozen kids surround him to peer into his notebook. Historians still debate the precise definition of the yangban, but it clearly represented an elite different from that in China or Japan.

The sky has cleared to a light diffusion of cloud. Elite status in Korea, unlike that in China, was hereditary: An electric train careens past through the landscape. You had to demonstrate that at least one ancestor within the previous four generations had been a yangban. The wind picks up, rustling the strawberry plants. To be a “distinguished ancestor” against whom your progeny could make their subsequent claims, it was good to be a landowner, an official and a scholar: in short, a literatus or Mandarin or “scholar-official.” The plants’ roots sit swathed in plastic, which keeps the water about them from evaporating. Best was to combine all three in one person. The school kids half fill the playground. Running close behind was the virtue of marrying well, that is, of finding a daughter from another prominent family. Some sit on the asphalt in a circle. Silla society had a caste system known as the bone-rank system. The boys of nine or ten engage in a free-for-all of kicking a soccer ball about. Since only male offspring names registered in the genealogical tables, the birth of a son was greeted with great fanfare. Suddenly two gorgeous nine-year-old girls arrive to engage Mickey and Goofy in conversation.

3  Except for an Ice House

The most important characteristic of Korea’s colonial experience may have been the manner in which it ended: From the three-dimensional representation of the ancient Silla palace within the hilltop fortress. A pressure cooker, building up tensions that exploded in the postwar period. We have arrived at its actual site. The colonial situation built to a climax. Except for an ice house. Abruptly exploded. At some distance from where the royal quarters had once stood. And left the Korean people and two great powers to deal with the results. Nothing whatsoever remains of the Silla palace.

In the mid-1930s Japan entered a phase of heavy industrialization that embraced all Northeast Asia (Bruce Cumings again). An information plaque reads: Unlike most colonial powers. “Gyeongju Wolseong / Historic Site No. 16.” Japan located heavy industry in its colonies. “During the Silla period a palace once stood here.” Bringing the means of production to the available labor and raw materials. “The palace was called Sinwolseong.” Manchuria and North Korea got steel mills. “Because its shape.” Auto plants. “Looks like the crescent moon.” And petrochemical complexes.

Tumuli (the royal burial mounds), the foundation stones of public buildings and an ice house are all that remain. The region was held exclusively by Japan and tied together with the home market to such a degree that national boundaries became less important than the new transnational, integrated productions. The palace precinct has become a park. These changes were externally induced and served Japanese, not Korean, interests. Even the park is deserted. Thus they represented a kind of overdevelopment. The pine trees sway in the wind, which wafts toward us its pleasant resinous aroma.

The same changes fostered underdevelopment in Korean society as a whole. Author, who has been balancing his Mickey Mouse notebook atop Gyeongju: City of Millennial History, takes the book underneath it and reads, at the end of a chapter titled, “Gyeongju as an International City”: Since the changes were exogenous, the managerial class did not blossom. “Gyeongju has shown signs of developing into an international tourist center recently.” Instead, their development was retarded, or it ballooned up suddenly at Japanese behest. Mickey copies the sentence into his notebook and continues.

“It will never become an international city in the creative sense that it was during the Silla period.” Among the majority peasant class change was greatly accelerated. “That is to say.” In the 1930s the combined effect of the depression and the industrialization of the peninsula shifted large populations off the farms and into new cities and industries. “The political, diplomatic, economic center of the region.” When Japanese imperialism expanded dramatically after 1937 and mobilized everyone in its sphere, the Korean population movement turned into a hemorrhage of mobile human capital.

4  A Pond for Geese and Ducks

We have reached Anapji, “an adjunct building to the separate palace during the Unified Silla period.” Within one of its three reconstructed pavilions we are studying a three-dimensional representation of the site, which has been enclosed in glass. “Within the palace were the Imhaejeon Hall, other buildings attached to the palace, and a garden.” A freight train with alternating orange and green cars rumbles behind us. In 674 Silla King Munmu constructed a lake as well as an artificial hill to plant rare flowers and trees and to raise uncommon birds and animals in the palace. (Gyeongju Guide.)

Despite a slackened social structure coupled with a crumbling political situation (Gyeongju: City of Millennial History again). Across the pavilion, through the two walls of glass, out over the grey-painted plywood pond with its tiny porcelain geese and ducks. Luxury and elegance were well maintained in Gyeongju. Over fabricated trees resembling stalks of broccoli. Aristocrats used sumptuous tableware of gold and silver. A group of Korean tourists has assembled before an official guide. Lavish Buddhist ceremonies were held frequently. (In the chapter, “Politics and Economy.”)

The women are more attentive than the men, who drift off from the tour by themselves, smelling of liquor. The spiritual appreciation of simplicity had lost meaning. That Gyeongsunwang, the last king of Silla, hosted a banquet here for Goryeo Taejo Wanggeon is recorded. Construction of temples feverishly increased. The guide and the group of women now walk half-way round the display to take their places for more lecturing/listening, very close to author. It is believed that Imhaejeon had been used as a banquet hall for kings’ dignitaries and noble subjects.

As the men in the party hang back the women crowd closer, forcing the guide to bump against scribbling author. The outward appearance of Gyeongju had become even more brilliant. This causes Gyeongju: City of Millennial History to fall on the floor. The pond was originally called Wolji but renamed Anapji, meaning a pond for geese and ducks, during the Choson dynasty. “Sully,” says guide, turning to author, who, replies, “No matter,” picks it up and continues reading at mid sentence: “It shone with even greater prosperity.” In 1975 an excavation team confirmed the original base.

Younger, more attractive Korean tourists arrive. Gyeongju sang a pompous song of prosperity to people of all circumstances. Who treat the pavilion as less the educational than the recreational opportunity that was originally intended. The poorest among them, the people of the lowest social strata, were only impoverished by the Silla system. All have digital cameras, with which they take turns photographing one another. Many were forced into abbreviated lives of slavery. A pretty girl, tall and shapely, in a long pony tail, steps aside from her friends, opens her compact mirror and regards her own elegance.

5  Family Outing

In the long history of the kingdom of Silla, from beginning to end, Gyeongju remained its capital (City of Millennial History). We depart by bus from Gyeongju to Andong, a central location, for the Kwon Reunion, an annual event. In this it resembles the Chang-an of the T’ang. Where, one is told, we will soon be joined by other Kwons from Seoul, Kwangju, Busan and elsewhere. During its 1000 years Silla was identified with its capital. In the same time frame other reunions are taking place, in New York, in Los Angeles. The dynasty rose and fell in Gyeongju. “This is the source of our strength,” says, Clint Kwon, Young-joung Kwon’s son. Not only was Gyeongju the center of Silla. Who is taking Mickey with him today as an honorary member of the clan. Silla was an extension of Gyeongju. The mother is also accompanying us, while the father tends the hostel.

In Andong we will participate in a general convocation at the municipal stadium, visit the countryside tomb of the family’s original ancestor and return to view the conclusion of the day’s athletic events. During the period when it consisted of villages Gyeongju was a relatively confined society of six clans. At three hours we arrive at the modern athletic field where the family branches have begun to assemble. The population of the capital in this period was rather small. The day is brisk and clear. It began to increase, however, in the fourth century. Two huge balloons, striped in crescents of yellow, blue, red and white, float high above the green infield. As Silla subjugated small states around the periphery. A young, well landscaped forest rises from low hills beyond the stadium’s fashionable concrete rim. Then the capital absorbed the former leaders of those subjugated states.

Sections of plastic seats have been arranged in bright orange, burnt sienna, lemony yellow, pale blue and light green. Thus Silla successfully supplanted the administration of the subjugated states by dislodging their ruling classes. A blue-jacketed high school band in white slacks regales the reviewing stand with patriotic classics, as a narrative voice maintains a constant commentary. Silla feared that the conquered might stage rebellions. The son introduces Mickey to the editor of the Kwon family paper, and the three of us cross the grass and track to take our seats in the reviewing stand, alongside national and local politicians, businessmen and other leaders of Family Kwon. Several notable measures were enforced in the latter half of the fifth century to cope with the increase in the Silla population and to readjust the state institutions. The ceremony is about to start.

The pagni system (Chinese: fang-li) was adopted in the year 469, a Mandarin system of administrative units. Entering through the gate in troupes are standard bearers for all 28 cities to be represented this year. In 487 Gyeongju gave birth to yet another system of administrative units. One by one the contingents straggle past the reviewing stand, smiling and waving. Liaisons and exchanges between Gyeongju and local districts were essential. Finally Andong City itself brings up the rear with a much larger, more formal representation than those of the other cities: A public market was opened for goods from the conquered local areas. A colorfully dressed corps of dancers (female), a white-clad group of masked shamans (male), perform. The population increase of Gyeongju was further accelerated in the seventh century with yet wider Silla conquests.

Everything that is happening is being recorded by digital photo and video. After 660 Silla accomplished unification of the three kingdoms. At the end of the stadium a live television feed is displayed on the scoreboard. A great number of people rapidly crowded into Gyeongju at this time. The ranks of the paraders swelling, they must stand city by city on the playing field itself. Some in Paekche and Koguryo and even in Mohe, subordinate to Koguryo. Finally the former premier of Korea tells them to sit on the field. Resettled in Gyeongju for fixed periods under the title of sangsuri (officials taken hostage). The singing of the national anthem is followed by a prayer, all heads bowed in the direction of the original Kwon ancestor’s tomb, after which are released displays of mauve, yellow, aquamarine and cream fireworks, a spray of glittery banners, colorful balloons.

In the eighth century Silla enjoyed the zenith of prosperity. After many speeches and much patience the political formalities conclude. The same can be said of Gyeongju. After which the spectators all disperse, returning to individual city tents distributed about the periphery of the stadium floor. Silla had expanded according to the Chinese style of urban planning. Where low tables have been set up, food uncrated from large Styrofoam containers and a midday feast laid out amidst much toasting and drinking. In the eighth century Gyeongju was about the size of the Japanese capital Heijokyo. We sit down cross-legged to raw fish, raw beef and raw squid, to roast pork, steamed crabs and traditional desserts. Gyeongju’s population has been quoted as 190,000, an incredible number. Each city sends a truck around the track to present to each of the 27 other cities gifts of food.

The contemporary population of Heijokyo is said to have been about 200,000. As the revelers are indulging themselves, two dancers, costumed and made up as beggars. A useful figure for comparison. Cavort about on a large stage, tiled in huge black-and-white checkerboard squares, to the beat of disco music issuing from nine large speakers. Modern scholars tell us, however, that Gyeongju’s exact population at this time was 178,936 and that it consisted of carefully defined social classes. As the feast is brought to conclusion we prepare for the next stage of the day’s events. The kolp’um system consisted of the kol (bone) system, which covered the members of the royal family. To begin with a ride in new tour buses out from the city of Andong to the rural site of the original ancestor’s tomb. The tup’um system, a different system altogether, was composed of aristocrats.

At last all the clan members descend the buses together, engulfing the hillside tomb site reached by gorgeous piney pathways along a mountainside. Early in the sixth century the two systems merged, so that the new kolp’um system came to comprise eight ranks. Mickey is led to a place before the tomb, where he imitates the family’s obeisances. These included the two kolsonggol (sacred bone) and chin’gol (true bones) with tup’um ranging from the sixth yuk tup’um to the first il tup’um. Author separates from Mickey, taking a seat on the low stone ledge in front of the grassy tumulus to record what the rest of the clan is doing. The songgol was the highest grade and could be held only by those royal family members entitled to ascend to the throne. A yuppie man and his wife, Korean residents of New York, step forward to question how he can be at the present event.

The chin’gol was held only by members of the royal family who had no claims to the throne. Mickey steps up to defend author, pointing to the “Kwon-Morrison” in Chinese characters on his name tag. Beginning with King T’aesong Muyol (r.654-661) subsequent kings came from the chin’gol. Author takes out a name card and inscribes on its back his web address (http://www.madisonmorrison.com), handing it to the yuppie couple in response to their persistent inquiries as to who he is and where he comes from. The reasons for dividing members of the same royal family into songol and chin’gol are not known. More or less satisfied, they at last leave him to continue his writing. (Mickey had suspected as much.) The ceremony has not been overly solemn, and the crowd, quickly finishing its business in favor of further adventure, returns to the parking lot to re-board the buses.

It is recorded that Gyeongju contained 39 luxurious residences trimmed in gold. From the tomb we continue on to view the famous village of Hwahae. Most belonged to the chin’gol estate. We do not have time to enter this rather large district and so instead climb an adjacent hill of 250 meters to view its many residences from on high. Some were used as royal villas. Maintained since ancient times within the ox-bow of a river, encircled by low mountains, it is a rather magnificent affair. In the ninth century the Silla imported gold from Japan to meet the large domestic demand. Like a three-dimensional museum model it spreads out before us. Gold remained in insufficient supply. Many famous men, for example Yu Song-young (who invited Ming dynasty generals to protect Korea against an invasion from Japan), were born here and later distinguished themselves elsewhere.

The government issued an order prohibiting the gilding of upper class residences and temples. A large agricultural plain, extending across the valley, provided the means for economic independence. The order, however, was not strictly observed. The encircling mountains gave the basis for military protection. (The gilded houses of other aristocrats were invidiously luxurious.) After we have descended to the level of the village again, we visit an ancient school organized on Confucian principles. In the ninth year of King Hundok (834) the government again promulgated a decree aimed at regulating the growing excessive luxury among aristocrats. One of its rooms, the central hall off a spacious courtyard, is designated in Chinese characters as reserved for religious instruction, presumably Buddhist. The chin’gol were constrained from using T’ang tiles.

On the stone steps before it author takes a seat, displacing three other Kwons, to have his picture taken. They were prohibited too from gilding the tips of their rafters. After he has run his hand through his hair and adjusted his gold-rimmed glasses. And the frames of their gates with either gold, silver or good quality copper. The photographer discovers that his digital camera’s battery has run out of current. The decree again was not enforced. Instead, we exit to visit two monuments, one ancient, one new, both in the form of tall steles balanced on the backs of tortoises. After King Hundok died, vehement deadly squabbles followed over succession to the throne. Both, the inscriptions inform us, are dedicated to Yu Song-yeong. State power had proven too weak to control the gilded aristocrats. The new, larger monument, if anything, is more attractive than the older.

6  The Buddha Displays an Iron Will

Voulez-vous connaître la Corée dans ce qu’elle a de plus authentique? Faites comme les gens du pays, qui, même lorsqu’ils ne sont pas bouddhistes, choisissent souvent un monastère comme but d’excursion. Plongez-vous dans cet univers sobre et haut en couleur, où l’ascétisme s’allie à la bonhomie. Sortez des circuits balisés, parcourez la campagne, flânez dans les ruelles. Accordez la Corée le temps de vous séduire. 

“Located at the Golgulsa Rock Cave Hermitage, this Buddha is typical of the late Silla. His face displays an iron will.” (Gyeongju: Museum without Walls)

A l’heure où l’avion abolit les distances, partir pour la Corée c’est encore un peu partir pour le bout du monde. Ce vieux pays, souvent agressé, jamais agresseur, étouffé par cinq siècles d’un confucianisme si rigide que les contacts avec l’extérieur, jugées pernicieux, furent réduits à leur minimum, annexé, mutilé, puis brutalement projeté sous les feux de l’actualité par l’effroyable guerre civile, reste en effet assez peu connu. 

We make our way out of Gyeongju by city bus, this time along Route 4, past the Bomun Lake Resort vicinity, with its five-star international hotels, past Gyeongju World, out into Nature Itself: gorgeous spring mountainside foliage, the flawless waters of Deokdong Lake, on up a highway rising between low mountains, till suddenly we must tunnel through one of them, emerging near the turn-off for Bulguksa temple, already visited.

Les informations transmises par les médias sont surtout d’ordres politique et économique: démarrage industriel spectaculaire, gigantesques chantiers navals, exportations qui inondent les marchés, toute-puissance de l’armée, fragilité d’un armistice souvent violé et constamment menacé, plus de cinquante universités, une capitale qui compte parmi les plus grandes cités du globe et qui a accueilli les Jeux Olympiques de 1988. 

Throughout this exercise in progressive ruralization — a man knee-deep in a rice field, two women in broad hats cultivating cabbages — the bus’s onboard TV, within the driver’s view, has been turned to a soap opera set in Seoul. As autos along the rural highway become less frequent, the urban heroine makes her way through increasingly dense rush hour traffic toward an amorous rendezvous at a night club called “Once in a Blue Moon.”

A ce portrait-robot d’une nation entièrement tournée ver l’avenir viennent se greffer des images rapportées par certains photographes: palais de bois polychrome aux charpentes élaborées, petits pavillons en bordure des rivières, pagodes au sein des rizières, monastères bouddhiques perdus au fond de vallon boisés, gardiens de pierre des mausolées royaux, bouddhas rupestres cachés dans les montagnes.

At last we arrive at our stop, some distance from the temple.  Author pauses at a small store, buys a can of coffee and takes a seat at a low circular pine-topped table to enjoy the cool breeze, the awning overhead striped in red, green, yellow and blue, and to write these paragraphs before ascending the mountain. Setting out with no markings in any language to go by, he asks a peasant, “Golgulsa?” To which he responds, “Golgulsa.”

At a fork in the path upward, both directions are indicated in Korean only. We take the option to the left, encouraged by the little red, pink, green, yellow and blue lanterns hanging from the branches of roadside saplings. Soon we pass other pilgrim-tourists, lending probity to his decision. Before a stone mi-lo-fuo (a fat smiling Buddha) we pause to write another paragraph. For five minutes there has been no other sign of humanity.

Visions apparemment contradictoires qui donnent à penser que la Corée traditionnelle ne subsiste qu’en marge du pays moderne; impression que les premiers contacts à l’arrivée sembleront d’ailleurs confirmer: banlieues-dortoirs, tours de béton dressées de long de grandes artères impersonnelles envahies par d’interminables cohortes d’autobus, banalité des constructions, foule pressée vêtues à l’occidentale, pollution, etcetera . . .

At last a glass-enclosed bulletin board details the course of our initiation:

  1. Il-ju Gate

  2. Inwang Statue

  3. Wild flower field

  4. Ecology pond

  5. Traditional tea house

  6. Toilet

  7. Traditional foods market

  8. Gumgang Yucksa statue

  9. Five-level pagoda

  10. Sunmudo guest house

  11. Presentation stage

  12. Sunmudo discipline center

  13. Outdoor training ground

  14. The way to Samadhi

  15. Sunmudo souvenir store

  16. Sesimdang (dormitory)

  17. Suseondang (temple office)

  18. Chongpungryo (dining room)

  19. Whajaengryo

  20. Main shrine

  21. A sculptured Maya Tathagata Buddha

  22. Five-chakra pagoda

  23. Zen house

  24. Small parking lot

  25. Large parking lot

  26. Bulletin board

Où donc est cet Extrême-Orient vanté par les dépliants touristiques? Vous n’aurez pas à aller loin. Il est là, sous vos yeux, au coin de la rue, partout. Si le décor est standardisé, c’est que la guerre est passée par là, que les demeures de jadis, en bois, ont brûlé, que leurs propriétaires, ruinés, n’ont pu les reconstruire, et que les palais et les temples protégés par leur cadre de verdure ont seuls réussi à échapper aux flammes.

We have reached the near summit, a modern park, from which to view engrottoed, stone-cut icons that ornament the upper shrine, culminating in the cliff-side Buddha relief, now enveloped in and sheltered beneath a semi-circular sleeve of glass supported by steel pillars. Within the park, on whose wooden benches weary pilgrims recline, stands a complex modern monument constructed of marble pieces atop one another:

  1. A round base ornamented with stylized lotus petals

  2. A square block carved with traditional Buddhist figures

  3. A perfectly smooth stone globe 

  4. A six-sided truncated obelisk, its sides in-cut to form double trapezoids

  5. A bowl, within which a spherical lotus

We view the scene from a bench and between two framing pines. The air is cool and clear, the setting idyllic. Mais la Corée est loin d’avoir renié son passé. We begin the final ascent by climbing 24 irregular steps of granite, as another pilgrim backs down the same steps one by one. Au contraire. Above, along the railings that restrain them, a group of Korean tourists noisily commentates itself, the monuments, its experience of them.

Rares sans doute sont les peuples qui connaissent aussi bien leur histoire et qui ont fait un tel bond en avant sans pour autant renoncer à des traditions qui continuent à colorer en contrepoint tous les actes de la vie quotidienne. We mount eight more steps and continue on a winding rock-paved path. Passé et présent restent donc très proches, parfois juxtaposés, souvent superposés comme dans ces mariages modern qui se déroulent en deux temps:

Premier Acte: robe blanche, voile, œillet et costume sombre pour la photographie; Deuxième Acte: réservé aux intimes, vêtements traditionnels et renouvellement du serment de piété filiale symbolisé par les prosternations du jeune couple devant la famille de l’époux. C’est un autre monde, un monde où vous vous sentirez à la fois l’aise et subtilement dépaysé. Pas de misère extrême ni de choc culturel déconcertant. (En Corée [Guides Visa].)

We turn off the path to arrive at an altar backed by a multi-figure relief, continue up sixteen more rock-cut steps to a small temple contained entirely within a cave. On its wooden altar sits an alarm clock. An electric fan, not in use, is nonetheless plugged into a four-outlet power strip. We back down the sixteen steps to mount an incline to another altar, where a stone Buddha preaches, his disciples in attendance, 24 to his left, 29 to his right.

Les enfants sont bien nourris et bien vêtus, la population accueillante. Vous ne serez jamais importuné par une curiosité déplacée: ici, l’exotisme est bon enfant. Les montagnes ne sont pas très hautes, la flore et la faune proches de celles que vous connaissez et les monuments à la mesure de l’homme. Le dépaysement se vit à petites doses, au hasard des flâneries, dans les gestes quotidiens, sur le visage de ce peuple si différent de ses voisines.

Leaving this scene author turns to encounter a cave inhabited by a single Buddha, in front of whom, on a platform are seated a Korean man and his wife in postures of devotion. Before the limestone image, on a marble ledge, burn two fat white candles in bronze holders. After a brief descent along irregular steps we turn once more to begin our last climb, up a rocky stairway bordered with a guide rope to the ultimate image above.

Vous vous apercevrez rapidement que les clichés habituels n’ont pas cours et que les Coréens sont aussi éloignés des Chinois et des Japonais que les Latins le sont éloignés des Germaniques. L’ « exquise délicatesse orientale » fait place à une chaleur humaine étonnamment démonstrative, les « visages impénétrable » sont devenus expressifs, le rire spontané. Bon vivants, expansifs et volontiers grégaires, d’abord facile . . .

This Buddha, if smiling, is severe, the folds of his garment left unaccomplished. Rudimentary ornamentation has been added to either side of the human figure. The cliff face of Moon-Swallowing Mountain, onto which he has been carved, is pitted and pocked beneath him, at which point his garments (and presumably his body), not fully articulated, dissolve into nothingness. We exit by a hole in the cliff, as if in imitation of birth, or rebirth.

7  Gyeongju Municipal Athletic Meet

One western consumer goods company was for years frustrated and perplexed by its Korean partner’s apparent lack of concern about is lackluster performance (“Mismanaging,” in Michael Breen, The Koreans). The various districts of the city are set to compete this bright spring afternoon. Every time the western partner proposed assistance. The first event is a mixed relay 100m x 4. The Korean company resisted. The stadium clock reads 14:14. As the proposals. Much waving of inflatable plastic batons. Were coming from the foreign managers assigned to Seoul. Beating of drums painted with the red, yellow and green circular swirl of tradition. The Korean partner just sucked his teeth and waited till they were rotated out. Much cheering by the teams’ supporters.

All the spectators in the sections of seats reserved for the city districts are dressed in their appropriate colors. “You’ll be here four years.” Red jackets and yellow caps for one, green shirts and white caps for another. “We’ve been here four thousands years,” one western manager was told. At the far end of the stadium burns a flame, in imitation of the eternal flame of the Olympics, whose five colored rings have also been appropriated as a symbol for these provincial, local, municipal games. The source of the difficulty lay in the Korean company being an affiliate of a chaebol; he was not striving to achieve individual efficiency. Another mixed relay ensues, men passing the baton to women and vice versa, and when it is finished another ensues, and another . . . ad infinitum.

Its profits were being transferred, in ways that were obscured from the partner, to help out other affiliates in the chaebol. De rigueur among spectator couture: (1) black suits, white shirts and patterned silk ties (among the official class). Eventually the foreign company decided to buy out its Korean partner. (2) Plaid shirts, black undershirts or black sleeveless parkas (among the middle class). When foreign auditors, however, assessed the value of the Korean company. (3) Jeans, running shoes, bright long-sleeved shirts and colorful visors (among the middle-aged women). They were astounded to find a vault with US$5 million dollars’ worth of Korean won that was off the books. (4) Plaid jackets, striped shirts and ties for the elderly gents, and (6) mixed colors for the elderly women.

The money was used for under-the-table payments. The women young and old are wearing bright lipstick and eyebrow pencil. All suppliers were paid in cash, and fictitious amounts were entered into the books. Spelt out, through the disposition of plastic stadium seats, in orange letters on a blue ground, is the enormous word “G Y E O N G J U.” The new foreign manager who took over found a warehouse full of chairs. We now depart the cool shady side of the stadium. Which had been bought from a company owned by the previous chairman’s uncle. To seek out our district’s section and the family members who have already situated themselves in it. There was a yard with thousands of pieces of equipment lying around. All have gathered under the banner “Jongbu-dong.”

This was testimony to the tendency of Korean companies to replace, rather than repair, damaged parts. We arrive just in time to see “Central District East” finish last in one of the mixed relays. “We refurbished them.” Not to be fazed by its weak athletic showing, it seems. “Wrapped them in plastic.” The district’s partisans are mounting a major propaganda offensive. “And sold them to dealers.” Their display of enthusiasm is just short of orgiastic. Said the manager. Each district, we have learned, competes for the best cheerleading prize as well. The former company president had a huge, luxurious office at one plant, which he visited only once a month. Our district has come prepared: While workers on the shop floor operated in semi-darkness to save electricity.

Every elderly lady raises a pastel umbrella rhythmically aloft on cue from the district’s cheerleader corps. These kinds of inefficiencies appear to be normal with affiliates of large conglomerates. Mauve, lemon, aquamarine, cherry parasols bob in unison. Which are only half as productive as American companies. A disco beat reinforces other activity, inspired and directed by two 28-year-old women in fashionable, stylized beggar costumes. Chaebol,” says James Harting, the Coca-Cola Korea Company President, “are involved in a range of different business activities and by nature lack focus.” Another half dozen cheerleaders in white gloves and skirts contribute to the effort. Coca-Cola long made its own concentrates in Korea and sold them to local companies.

Chief among them all, however, is a pert, pretty girl of 22, ankle-booted, bare- midriffed and bare-legged, who leads the others. These companies bottled and distributed the drinks under license in four separate regions of the country. Black-haired and black-visored, her tight white-armed silk jacket is baby blue on front and back, the latter, in old English letters, reading, “Again.” The bottling firms were publicly listed companies and affiliates of chaebol. In imitation of her infectious example and leadership Jungbu-dong’s enthusiasm spreads to the other district’s contingents, until the whole stadium is engaged in party frolic. As a simple example of the problems associated with such partnerships, the bottling firms bought their bottles and cans from their own affiliates.

With two hands spectators wave large flags, rhythmically sway, clap, sing and dance in the aisles. This came at a high price. Their activity seems less dependent upon alcohol (though there is plenty) than upon simple civic pride. This was a common practice used both to rescue profit and to help out a sister company. As we pass 3:30 pm and move on into the later afternoon, the formality of closing ceremonies commences. In 1997, out of frustration at this practice, the parent company restructured its business in Korea. “Again” returns again, this time, however, in a more restrained mode, taking a seat to observe as awards are ceremonially dispensed: Jongbu-dong, #2 in athletics, in cheerleading, #1. It set up its own bottling company and bought the assets of its Korean bottlers.

8  Springtime at Walden Pond and Tumuli Park

The phenomena of the year take place every day in a pond on a small scale. Every morning, generally speaking, the shallow water is being warmed more rapidly than the deep, though it may not be made so warm after all, and every evening it is being cooled more rapidly until the morning. The day is an epitome of the year. The night is the winter, the morning and evening are the spring and fall, and the noon is the summer. The cracking and booming of the ice indicate a change of temperature.

Tumuli Park, Hwanam-dong, Gyeongju, ancient Silla site of 23 royal tombs. Author takes seat on a marble-topped bench made of brown bricks, their interstices painted white. Before him is a single burial mound, its occupant unidentified. The grounds of this bare park are immaculately clean and perfectly landscaped. The weeds have been picked by hand, the cement-tile-paved, marble-curbed sidewalks swept clean of every speck of detritus, the fallen leaves beneath its small, carefully spaced trees, raked and gathered up.

One pleasant morning after a cold night, having gone to Flints’ Pond to spend the day, I noticed with surprise, that when I struck the ice with the head of my axe, it resounded like a gong for many rods around, or as if I had struck on a tight drum-head. The pond began to boom about an hour after sunrise, when it felt the influence of the sun’s rays slanted upon it from over the hills; it stretched itself and yawned like a waking man with a gradually increasing tumult, which kept up three or four hours.

It is early May. The sun at mid-morning is bathing the scene in a mild warmth. One seeks the shade. Two large black ants work tirelessly but unsuccessfully to dislodge dried blades of grass from the edge of the lawn. Atop the marble curb they face one another to contest their territory. A third arrives but avoids them by heading down the side of the curb. Another, below on the sidewalk, meaninglessly reconnoiters its immaculate paving tiles. A black fly arrives to hover over the ants, causing them prudently to play dead.

It took a short siesta at noon, and boomed once more toward night as the sun was withdrawing his influence. In the right stage of the weather a pond fires its evening gun with great regularity. But in the middle of the day, being full of cracks, and the air also being less elastic, it had completely lost its resonance, and probably fishes and muskrats could not then have been stunned by a blow on it. The fishermen say that the “thundering of the pond” scares the fishes and prevents their biting.

Through this scene pass, at a five minute interval, two high school classes, one of students aged sixteen, one of students aged seventeen. Each member of each class is wearing at least one piece of black apparel. Three women, having mounted the other side of the tumulus, make their appearance, white headscarves first, red, yellow-armed parkas next, then baggy blue pants. A talkative man in khaki jacket, green hood, cap and pants, arrives to order them about, as they pull grass along with tiny yellow wild flowers from the tombside.

The pond does not thunder every evening, and I cannot tell surely when to expect its thundering but, though I may perceive no difference in the weather, it does. Who would have suspected so large and cold and thick-skinned a thing to be so sensitive? Yet it has its law to which it thunders obedience when it should as surely as the buds expand in the spring. The earth is alive and covered with papillae. The largest pond is as sensitive to atmospheric changes as the globule of mercury in its tube.

For the moment all three weeders disappear behind the hill’s crest, as they kneel and begin to work their way back down the other side. But their voices are still audible, the foreman badgering the women, the women giving back his rant. From time to time one woman stands up to move to the next weeding patch, thereby revealing her white-kerchiefed head. A blue Kia maintenance truck pulls up, stops and honks once. Now it drives down the sidewalk past author. A “Bongo III,” its bed is already half full of grass and weeds.

One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the spring come in. The ice in the pond at length begins to be honey-combed, and I can set my heel in it as I walk. Fogs and rains and warmer suns are gradually melting the snow; the days have grown sensibly longer; and I see how I shall get through the winter without adding to my wood-pile, for large fires are no longer necessary. I am on the alert for the first signs of spring:

The two large black ants continue to scour their sterile terrain. The black fly relocates. From author’s vantage point no other insect or animal life is visible. The black ants’ meaningless activity continues. Now two of the weeders move nearer the crest of the hill, so as to loom above, one with a sickle in her left hand, the other, in her right hand. Each by turns stands up, bends, squats and kneels to perform her task. When they have accumulated large handfuls of vegetation, another groundswoman arrives to relieve them of it.

To hear the chance note of some arriving bird, or the striped squirrel’s chirp, for his stores must be exhausted, or see the woodchuck venture out of his winter quarters. On the 13th of March, after I had heard the bluebird, song-sparrow, and red-wing, the ice was still nearly a foot thick. As the weather grew warmer, it was not sensibly worn away by the water, nor broken up and floated off as in rivers, but, though it was melted for half a rod in width about the shore, the middle was merely honey-combed and saturated with water.

Having accumulated a large armful of verdure, the agent of relief cautiously descends the slope of the tomb to deposit her load at its base. Now the two working weeders descend as well, where all three join the foreman, who vociferously answers a cell phone call. The women relax and chat. Off in the distance, seated on another curb, three sweepers are reclining. One holds a long broom in her lap, occasionally grasping it, taking a swipe at the already swept pavement before her, then returning it to her lap and reclining again.

9  Namsan and the Nation of the Sun King

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea evolved into a puzzling nation that resists easy description. The whole area of Namsam (World Heritage Plaque). Because its leadership is so unyielding to foreign attention, many facts about the country are unknown. Comprises Mt. Gellmo (468m high), located to the south of Seorabeol, the ancient capital of the Silla kingdom. Onto this inkblot pundits are therefore able to project equally unyielding stereotypes. And Mt. Gowi (494m high). (A Stalinist attempt at recreating “1984,” a renegade state, a socialist basket case.) It stretches 4km from the South to the North and 8km from the East to the West. (A Confucian/communist monarchy, an economic miracle, Che Guevara’s idea of what Cuba should eventually look like.) Thus Namsan is often referred to as “an open air museum.” In the night of our ignorance North Korea confirms all stereotypes. Here the breath of the Silla kingdom is most profoundly felt. But closer familiarity confounds simple expectations.

Recent research reveals that Mt. Namsan has 122 temple sites. During a visit in 1987, as I was traveling with members of a British film crew. 64 stone pagodas. I learned that the crew expected Pyongyang to be like Tehran in the 1980s. And nineteen stone lamps. Where they had also filmed a documentary. These Buddhist relics. The U.S. State Department had called North Korea a “terrorist” nation like Iran, so the Brits assumed that cars filled with “revolutionary guards” would be careening through the streets, machine guns dangling out the windows. Born of a marriage between Buddhist faith and the natural environment. Or they had imagined that it would be a poorer version of China, workers pedaling to their factories on bicycles, clad in drab blue work clothes. Epitomize Bulguko. They dreaded that creature comforts could only be harder to find than in Moscow. The ideal Buddhist land of the Silla people. Where they had recently suffered deprivation as they filmed another documentary for British TV.

The climb begins gently, up slopes of sandy earth and flat outcrop. The filmmakers were ill prepared for the wide tree-lined boulevards of Pyongyang. Over the roots of umbrella pines. Swept squeaky clean and traversed by determined urban commuters. Whose trunks twist upward. Held in close check by tight-uniformed traffic women. To one side or the other. Pirouetting with military discipline and a smile. In almost any direction but straight up. Standing on platforms at each intersection. The floor of the forest is lightly scattered with russet needles and sere pine cones. They had not expected a population living in modern high-rise buildings, hustling out in the morning to a waiting subway or electric bus. Occasional pieces of bark, a small branch broken into sections. They fell in love with polite waitresses at their hotel serving ample portions of tasty Korean and western food. It is overcast and cool. In the 1980s Pyongyang was one of the most efficient cities in Asia, a mixture of Singapore’s fastidiousness and Alma-Ata’s bucolic quiet.

Author arises from his perch atop a boulder to continue higher. Older Soviet-style apartment houses and state office buildings mingled with grand new monumental architecture, lavishly clad in marble and topped with traditional curved roofs. Having climbed a long stretch of rocky, stair-like pathway, we arrive at a huge boulder. About two million people lived in the capital, ten per cent of the population. Atop it is a headless seated Buddha. If the pickings among consumer goods were predictably slim, daily necessities were nonetheless available, and the traveler observed few queues (though resident diplomats said there were many for services). Before it stands an aluminum, glass-doored altar. Well-tended parks graced the city, through which two rivers flowed along well-lined banks. On which have been set Buddhist vessels. Smaller cities were less pleasing, many unrelievedly ugly in their mimicry of Soviet architecture. Along with offerings of convenience store provender: fruit flavored milk and potato chips.

We continue on up toward what the trail markers call Sanseong, now, we are told, 250m above us. North Korean villages were plain and clean, and they evoked the rustic atmosphere of the Korean past so lacking in Pyongyang. Author takes advantage of a natural stone chair to rest and write. They were linked by a network of hard-pack dirt roads, whereas cities are connected by extensive railways. Raindrops begin to spot his page. On every square meter of land residents planted little gardens full of vegetables, raised for home consumption or sale at private markets. We are near enough to hear the waters of a brook. As in the South, thatched roofs had given way to tile, signifying modernity. Its gurgling overridden by the chanting of a Buddhist monk. So did the rice paddies, which no longer gave off the odor of human manure. The chirping of small birds provides a universal background noise. Signs emphasized self-reliance (“regeneration through one’s own efforts”), heavy industry and national military preparedness.

Author pauses again to describe a spectacular passage of landscape: In city, town and village Kim Il-sung was ubiquitous: Dong Qi-chang fingers of stone course down a striated cliff at a 30-degree angle. Staring out from a billboard or a subway car or an apartment complex wall. Followed, a hundred meters farther. Offering here a maxim for industry, there another for agriculture (“rice is communism”). By a passage of large shale shelves piled atop one another. Or simply averring that “Koreans can hardly be Korean if they don’t eat toenjang (fermented bean paste).” We reach a clearing. The regime announced that the orchid Kimilsungia was blossoming around the country. Surrounded by new deciduous growth. No leader in the twentieth century stamped his image on a nation more than did Kim. Tiny shrubs. Born on the day that the Titanic sank (April 15, 1912), in power for nearly five decades, he died of a heart attack on July 8, 1994—sending his kingdom into a state of shock. And thin pine trees of moderate height.

Few military were visible to the traveler, in this, the most militarized country on the face of the earth. The wind picks up. The one-won note was a tip-off, however, showing on its face a woman in bright traditional dress leaping forward with pistol in hand. Fluttering the tiny leaves of the bushes, the slightly larger leaves of the new trees. This is a garrison state, where one in twenty citizens serves in the army. The pines, however, are not much affected by this mere breeze. With compulsory military service for everyone. It appears as though it has not rained here for some time. Armed forces a million strong, millions more in militias, enormous military bases with arsenals built deep underground. If Mt. Namsam is “a Buddhist mountain,” as it has been called. Round-the clock vigils for trouble along the DMZ, a dictator who sleeps in a different place every night for security reasons. Nature itself by and large appears to be oblivions to the fact. Twenty-two million citizens each with a personal reliability rating.

Above all this is a postcolonial state still fighting the Japanese. Within 50 meters of the summit the ascent becomes so steep. Hardly a day goes by when the controlled press does not hash over a fifty-year-old Japanese atrocity, or warn about the imminent revanche of Japan’s militarism. As to require the construction of a staircase. One would think that the war had just ended. With railings and broad wooden stairs. Signs exhort citizens to “live in the way of the anti-Japanese guerillas.” From here we can see into the Buddhist temple. Young people go on camping trips that retrace their struggles. Multicolored lanterns have been strung before it. Kim’s Korean guerrilla comrades structured the commanding heights of the regime. Far more imposing is the cliff-face beyond. And when they pass on, their images remain for the ages in a stunning cemetery atop T’aesong Mountain, overlooking Pyongyang, each person’s exploits memorialized. It is possible to transcend the temple and mount to the summit pure and simple.

The unique logo of the Korean Workers Party places a writing brush across the hammer and sickle. Author instead pokes his head into the temple to study its iconography. Indicating an inclusive policy toward the educated and the expert. Then sidles over to a nearby annex with a broad porch for daytime resting. Kim rarely if ever denigrated them. The sky has slightly cleared of its heavy cloud cover. In contrast to Maoist China. So that a band of white lies atop the mountains now visible beyond the valley. And authorized their wide-spread introduction into positions of authority—scholar-officials, communist-style. In the nearer distance rises a symmetrical cone covered in greenery. The Koreans also established a vague category, samuwon, meaning clerks, small traders, bureaucrats and professors. Like a would-be volcano. It served two purposes: for the regime, retaining educated people and experts who might otherwise have fled south; for large numbers of Koreans, a category within which to hide “bad” class background.

Thus the Korean revolution pursued an all-encompassing mass politics that envisioned society as the gathered-together “people” rather than as class-based and class-divided. On the walls of the annex are images of the Buddha and the Avalokiteshvara. Explanations might lie in the industrialized character of the North, in the inheritance from heavy Japanese investment, and in chronic labor shortages. Around the corner is a Samsung soft drink dispenser. The North also adapted postcolonial Third World policies to their indigenous culture and to Soviet-style socialism. Offering coffee for 500 won. And combining Lenin’s program of national liberation and Stalin’s autarky in one country. Beneath the words “Hot & Cold Drinks.” Autarky fit Korea’s Hermit Kingdom past. Two black NBA players contest a rebound. Answering the need for closure from the world economy. Author inserts a coin and is rewarded with a cup. After decades of economic “opening” under Japan. (Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun.)

10  Oksan Neo-Confucians, Angels of God and others

From provincial highway #28 we turn off towards Oksan. To restore the defiled land God encouraged mankind’s salvation by way of the angels. (Peace Women, Spring 2007.) A sign in Chinese reads Jade Mountain (Ok San = Yu [jade] Shan [mountain]). He carries out providence by dealing once again with human beings, who betrayed God through the Fall and fell so miserably. We traverse a plain leading toward the mountains. To govern mankind, dominated and accused by Satan, God has been working to build a bridge. Once descended, we pass by on foot stores selling pots, other ceramics, potted plants. This work has lasted from the Old Testament Age till now. Her walking stick in hand, a very old lady approaches, regarding author with curiosity, her eyes almost shut with senility.

The most fiendish monarch was Yonsan the Obscene (1476-1506). Author searches the signs, in Korean, trying to guess in which direction he must head to reach the Confucian Academy. Separated from his mother at the age of three, he grew up as a dark prince who loved dark deeds. A butterfly flutters before a rusty gate. Originally God worked directly with man, but His Providence could not be completed because of the Fall. As a young boy he developed a close relationship with a young noblewoman. The road forks. He poisoned her and only later discovered her to have been his real mother, the deposed queen, banished after having scratched the king’s face in a jealous rage, when she had caught him with a concubine. One branch leads in the direction of Doklakdang and a pagoda.

Therefore, in sorrow, He pioneered an alternative way. The other, in the direction of the Choson dynasty academy. By appealing to people through angels God established a method whereby He could work through the angels. Given such a trauma-filled childhood, Yonsan not surprisingly became a sex maniac. Before long the roadway reverts to dirt. Since angels are also divine beings, they appeared to people like God and served temporarily as mediators till the coming of Jesus. He ordered a court woman to strip naked and pretend to be a mare by kneeling down on all fours. We turn into a parking lot to confront a gateway labeled “Tai-ji Men,” a faded, Korean, tricolor tai-ji symbol painted on its wooden doors. He made her eat horse food as he came at her from behind. The doors are locked.

As king he trawled the provinces for beautiful women and did not discriminate between the married and unmarried. If we look at the Old Testament Age, we see that God has used angels as messengers for building God’s garden of freedom and the heavenly kingdom of liberation. We are entering the Confucian academy by a side gate. It is said that if a married woman in his harem continued to look dejected he would have the decapitated head of her husband brought to her, so that she would really have something to complain about. We navigate among its small buildings by scampering along the stone ledges that surround them. If you want to enter the realm of grace and be liberated from the servant’s position as God’s son, you should feel joyful even while losing your life.

At last we reach the principal courtyard. Other married women were more willing and in fact exchanged their favors to secure promotions for their husbands. Only those who have such a free heart can go beyond the servant’s position to the son’s position. The walls of the buildings about it have been scarred with graffiti. At least one victim who proposed to go back for more was murdered by her husband. From the sandy courtyard rises a single five-foot pillar surmounted by a stone capital. How do we know all this? At mid-afternoon it is sunny and hot. The palace was crawling with historians. Though a breeze is rippling through the tall trees behind the academy. Who took notes of all official transactions and even royal conversation. Look at the Bible. A sign in Chinese reads “Qiu Ren Tang.”

Eunuchs and concubines were also sources for the juicier stories. Which might be rendered, “The Hall in which One Searches for What It Is to Be Human.” In the spirit world God has been working through the archangels, through His son and through the Holy Spirit. Author is joined by two other visitors, both Korean, a man and his wife. We may assume that there are distortions in the stories of kings considered at the time of the writing to have been bad. God could not directly connect to this work in His heart. (And cover-ups in the case of the good kings.) In the Old Testament He worked through the angels, in the New Testament, through His son. Author heads around the principal hall to a placard describing a smaller building, the “Monument in Memory of Munwongong.”

From the heavenly viewpoint, in the Old Testament Age he regained the people, and in the New Testament Age, the children. The fact that we have the dirt on Yonsan is because he was deposed, and the stories were written up by the new court while they were still fresh. “Eon-jeok (1491-1553),” it reads, “whose posthumous title and pen name are Munwongong and Hoejae, was a high ranking government official.” Consider this: Yonsan’s lust was his eventual undoing. “One of the most representative Sung Neo-Confucians during the reign of the Choson kings, from Jongjong to Myeongjong.” His last assault was the rape of his own widowed aunt. So that God might restore the people of Israel, he sent angels from the heavenly world who came and worked, and the servants came and worked.

“He was one of five scholars known as The Five Wise Men of the East.” Thereafter the Son of God came and worked. After this assault the desecrated woman “slashed her unmentionable parts with a dagger and fell dead with the blade thrust in her body. Now the father is coming to work. “On the basis of the doctrines of Zhu Xi, one of the most famous Sung Neo-Confucians, he had arguments with Jo Hanbo.” Unfortunately for Yonsan, the aunt’s brother was the commanding general of the royal Tiger Brigade unit. “I Hwang, a very prominent Korean Confucian scholar of the Choson dynasty, whose pen name is Toegye, succeeded him and further developed his theory. The future Lord will be coming as the True Parent, to raise true children and give them love. Then what will happen?

He led a lightning coup of government officials, soldiers and ordinary citizens, who rushed the palace, drove the king out, executed several loyalists and emptied the jails. “In 1571 this monument was built by his junior scholars to commemorate his achievements.” You will clutch hold of this person and stay up through the night. In 1573 it was granted the calligraphic board by the king. God loved one man, Abraham, more than the people of the fallen world. Yonsan was sent into eternal exile. He loved Moses, one person, more than all humankind, and He loved Jesus more than all humankind. We exit by the same side gate, where a tabby cat emerges cautiously to inquire who we might be. The God Jehovah, who appeared to Abraham, was also an angel. We return to the fork in the road.

Another nasty character was King Kwanghae. Originally God was invisible, but in Genesis he appeared as three beings, two as judges of Sodom and Gomorrah, the other talking to Abraham as God. On our right we look down along the roadside into a nearly waterless river bed, shaded by deciduous trees. He is believed to have slipped poison to his father so as to avoid losing his position as crown prince. As we continue the dirt road reverts once more to asphalt. After 21 years of spiritual training, Jacob went back toward his hometown in Seir, where his elder brother lived. He then murdered two of his brothers. We cross over the river bed and head for the Oksan Hotel on its opposite bank. Instead of giving him a joyful send-off, God sent an angel and had him wrestle with Jacob.

A burly man in a red shirt passes us on his tractor, as he is returning to his farm. If Jacob had lost to the angel, his past hardships would have been in vain. This king preferred partying with his concubines to running the country. We take a seat in the hotel’s semi-circular coffee shop, at a table with a view of Mt. Dedoksan, its foothills and the fields leading up to them. But the ghosts bothered him. So Jacob held on to the angel, saying that he would not let go till his hands were pulled off or his arms broken. And he had his father’s tomb dug up. He was deadly serious! And the bones buried on another hillside. In a black velvet folder the menu arrives. He invited shamans to the palace, upsetting the Confucian orthodoxy. Its listings for “Coffee” in English, for “Food” in Korean.

God had advised him to abandon everything and return to his home town. At last an army of six thousand rebels staged a coup and subsequently placed a royal nephew on the throne. Author orders a cappuccino and a dish that the waiter names in Korean but cannot describe in English. Why, then, did God not guide Jacob and make his path smooth? Syrupy American ballads fill the room. When Jacob was pleading with God all night, his heart anxious, why did God deal with him so heartlessly by sending an angel to strike him, instead of giving him encouragement and advice? Kwanghae fled and took refuge in the house of a citizen, who turned him in. The table cloth, however, is a Korean brocade in cream and burgundy, atop it a house plant set in a vase filled with white pebbles.

What kind of people were our ancestors who lived in the Old Testament Age? The new king spared Kwanghae’s life and exiled him to an island with a few concubines and slaves. “Put your head on my shoulder . . . Squeeze me so tight,” say the song’s lyrics.  One crown prince was tormented by his father’s abuse, until he became a psychopath, beating his favorite mistresses to death and cutting off the heads of his eunuchs. The named but unexplained dish is preceded by plates of kimchi and pickled turnip. Confucian precepts, with their emphasis on vertically ordered human relationships, have informed Korean thinking and social organization for centuries (Michael Breen, The Koreans). “Some people say that love is a game, a game that you cannot win. . . . Put your head on my shoulder.”

As we have seen, however, the Koreans are not exactly what you would expect pure Confucians to be. As author is meditating on the gorgeous landscape—white flowering trees interspersed among the still light spring green of taller trees—the main dish arrives: fried rice with onions, mushrooms and tiny shrimp, along with a side dish: a bowl of lukewarm egg drop soup. God sent the ancestors of faith to reproduce His work and to help the people forge a connection with Him. Alongside the river the flat fields, divided by low burrows, are covered already in vegetation. By the road to the mountain and the pagoda have been strung electric and telephone lines. A sidewalk, doubtless built by the hotel, parallels the country road but gives out just as it reaches the limit of the Oksan Hotel’s precinct.

They are not highly-educated, thoughtful moral engineers, seeking through self-cultivation to change themselves and their society. As the universal American balladry continues. To rise to the position of God’s adopted son, we must connect with the historical deeds and retribution of many peoples. The landscape settles into a mild late afternoon mistiness, the mountains turning grayish green, the shadows of roadside foliage lengthening. This is because the deeper sentiment in the Korean soul is shamanistic. Author finishes the last of his fried rice and turns to his cappuccino. We must become representatives of the world’s people as individuals, family and tribe. “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, / but the fire inside is delightful.” Author drains his coffee and calls for the bill.

And bind them together as one, thereby representing the final destiny of mankind. Between the hotel coffee shop and the sidewalk have been piled large granite boulders as architectural landscaping. Within the coffee shop have been disposed several small trees, their pots hidden by meter-high circular straw baffles. Meanwhile, on the walls, between the large curved pieces of plate glass looking out into the landscape as “picture windows,” light fixtures have been mounted on brackets, their bulbs hidden in semi-translucent half-shades, hand-fashioned of glass, which curve out from the wall through 180 degrees. Below they are supported by carved wooden angels. (“Women’s Federation for World Peace International in general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN”).

11  Bomun Lake and Literature in the Chinese Script

Past Hanhwa Hotel, Seorabeol Square, Hotel Hyundai and Hanguk Condominium, all on our right as we view them from our moving window. Writings in Chinese script were essential for the conduct of state affairs. On our left, Ilseong Condominium and Gyeongju Tourist Hotel. With the enormous growth of national strength and the expansion of national territory. Author alights from bus in time to stop at the Gyeongju Chosun Hotel. Silla had to solidify its ideological foundation. For a cup of coffee and a slice of mocha cake. And so adopted writing in Chinese. It is 11:00 o’clock. In 544 King Chinhung ordered the national history compiled. We have arrived at Bomun Lake Resort.

He also had four monuments—which are still extant—built. “Designed for your well-being with Korean traditional culture.” In sites that Silla had conquered from 562 to 568. Three Korean businessmen arise and move from one table to another. Inscribed on these monuments are writings in a naïve yet magnificent style. Next to a wall. Offering corroboration that Silla’s great achievements. So that two of them may connect their laptops to an electrical socket. In the expansion of its territory, in the settling of wars and in the accommodation of people newly arrived, corresponded to the heavenly sign. Western symphonic “program” music, at a decorous decibel level, fills the lobby café.

At the time of Silla Unification. Bulbs behind the bar backlight bottles of whiskey, gin, brandy. To facilitate diplomacy with China. And other hard liquors. An embellished style for diplomatic documents was developed. Horizontal racks throughout the room. Matching in verse and prose the standard and taste of the T’ang dynasty. Display the new Beaujolais Villages. Examples include the T’aep’youngson (Song in Praise of Peace), dated 650, and state messages sent to the T’ang court. “Well Being Juice Specials” are being advertised both on wall posters and on standards atop each table. In 669 Silla issued the Taesagyoso (Message of Grand Amnesty) to consolidate internal unity.

Wild Strawberry Juice With persuasive power

Maximowiczia Chinese Juice King Munmu’s will stressed

Wild Grape Juice  that the war had been successfully concluded,

Codonopsis Lanceolata Juice  that the realm could be restored to peace.

Red Ginsing Juice The epitaphs on the tombs of Kings Munmu and Kim In-mun

also represent refined expression, and

with the widespread adoption of Buddhism

philosophical writing of depth begins to appear.

Over author’s shoulder, beyond the flare of a traditional cornice, is a carefully kept landscape. Wonhyo understood clearly the pivotal meaning of the Buddhist scriptures. Topiary shrubs, two small sandstone pagodas. He was able to express what he discovered in elaborate and colorful prose. Perfectly swept walkways, a glimpse of the lake. Not only did he produce masterpieces in the Chinese style, he also gave vivid expression to his thought in kesong (popular songs in praise of the Buddha’s virtuous deeds). Nature’s own modestly scaled hills rise in the distance. The spiritual achievement of Silla in adopting Chinese script as its own was unmistakably due to Wonhyo.

The two men at their laptops have taken off their jackets to reveal striped shirts. Wonch’uk and Uisnag, both from the chin’gol, or royal family, were also instrumental in the development. Se dressant contre la toute-puissance des brahmanes. Of Buddhism, a culture alien to Korea. Sakyamuni voulut mettre fin aux privilèges des castes en donnant sa chance de salut à chacun. The third man, apparently the boss. L’homme, seul maître de son destin, renaît selon ses actes: Has kept his jacket on as the two other men continue to key in data. Prêtres intermédiaires, sacrifices et rites seront désormais inutiles. All three are wearing ties. Lors de son premier sermon, Sakyamuni définira la voie moyenne:

King Sinmun established the Kukhak (National University) in 682, after Silla had achieved unification. Celui qui poursuit une quête spirituelle fuira les deux extrêmes. We have entered the lobby of the multi-story Tourist Development Center. Car si les plaisirs et les jouissances sont indignes de l’esprit. Where multiple versions of the Lake Resort are on display. Les macérations et les privations (allusion à sa période brahmanique) sont tout aussi néfastes. Solch’ong, the son of Wonhyo, took active part in its establishment. Le chemin qui dessille les yeux et ouvre l’esprit passe par le milieu: In two- and in three-dimensional representations. C’est le seul qui mène à la libération, à la connaissance, au nirvâna.

While he explained the nine Confucian classics in Korean. (1) A back-lit map of the Resort, such as we have in our printed Bomun brochure. He submitted to the throne a memorial entitled Hwawanggye. (2) A three-dimensional representation under glass. (Remonstrances to the King of the Flower Kingdom). Including the golf course, the amusement park’s Ferris wheel and the Disney-like castle (Mickey’s ears pick up). He advised the monarch to provide political justice by making friends with wise people. (3) Another case showing the whole area on a scale of 1:1400. The memorial remains. A woman is wet-toweling the top of the case, overtop its painted lake and tiny hotels.

La philosophie de Confucius peut schématiquement se résumer à quelques principes fondamentaux: As author writes in his notebook her pink soap-scented towel approaches, the moist glass now obscuring what he is describing beneath it. The writing is significant. (a) L’homme idéal est vertueux et cultivé. Because it proves that priests and ordinary literati engaged in moral activity. (b) La perfection personnelle ne saurait être atteinte que dans une société ordonné. Without limiting themselves to the form of writing that they were daily required to use. (c) En conséquence, les relations humaines doivent être régies par des règles strictes. (4) A romantic photo of the mauve lake with purple hills beyond.

A poet like Wang Ko-in, who was persecuted for his denunciation of Queen Chinsong’s administration. (d) Ces règles varient selon cinq types de relations: (5) A map more schematic and realistic in scale (unlike the back-lit version) but too freely drawn to place local details accurately. Would emerge in the late Silla. Relations du souverain avec son sujet, du père avec son fils, de l’aîné avec son cadet, du mari avec son épouse, et des amis entre eux. Talented people coming from the sixth yuktup’um class, but who could not realize their aspirations in Silla, went to T’ang China with the ambition of making their mark. The black clad cleaning lady in pink rubber gloves continues to work.

C’oe Ch’i-won is representative of such people who passed the state examination for guest-students. We exit this building and face the pink Hilton Hotel, some distance off, its windows outlined in salmon. He was unable, however, to become a naturalized citizen of China. Le Tao, c’est la force de la nature infinie et éternelle en laquelle les opposés se rejoignent, les contraires s’harmonisent. Consequently, he returned home to Silla and retreated into the mountains. C’est l’élan qui permet de prolonger la vie à condition de ne pas l’entraver par l’artifice de lois morales ou d’institutions imaginées par l’homme. Where he composed many poems complaining of his solitude. A rather old hotel.

Later he became famous under Taejo of Koryeo. Today it is offering fun for old and young: Alors que les confucéens s’appliquaient à réorganiser la société. For the young, a display of teddy bears, for the old, a gambling casino. Les taoïstes quittaient villes et cités pour vivre en harmonie avec les rythmes naturels. Author heads for the latter, down a wide staircase. Ils étudiaient les plantes, recherchaient même l’élixir d’immortalité. Whose walls are covered with an immense abstract-expressionist painting (1991). «Le Vieux Maître» (comme on s’appelle) était contemporain de Confucius. To a lighted sign for C (blue) A (red) S (yellow) I (green) N (orange) O (pink), its colors changing one by one to other colors.

With the fall of Silla. At high noon the casino is empty. Gyeongju lost its position as the cultural center of Korea. “Welcome to Benistar,” reads its brochure. “You can play big wheel, slot machines, roulette, blackjack, tai-sai and baccarat 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.” Many of its aristocrats moved to Songdo (now Kaesong) to serve in Koryeo government positions. “They are being served well [sic], and you can enjoy an oriental atmosphere.” Those among them who failed to do so had to tread a path to downfall. Suddenly a bevy of at least a dozen pretty 20-somethings, all in purple vests and long black skirts, their black hair tied up in buns, clatters across a lobby to enter the casino.

Koryeo literature grew in the new capital with Gyeongju now becoming a half-forgotten city. It is 12:15, but as author approaches the casino’s doors again, a manager steps up to inform him that it does not “start” until 12:30, taking this opportunity to request his passport so that he may make a copy. Nevertheless, songs and stories, among the genres of literature that during the Silla had prospered in Gyeongju, continued to be handed down from father to son, and new creations were added. Accordingly author repairs for lunch to the first floor’s airy Lakeside Café, only one of the Hilton’s many restaurants, which also include Da Vinci, Stars, Genji, Silkroad, Shilla Court and Le Gourmet.

Among the materials to which Ilyon referred when he wrote Samgukyusa, many had been collected in Gyeongju. Through the panoramic glass panels of the present venue are visible three bronze statues on the lawn. It was common in the case of legends and stories that recollections of bygone days declined and new adaptations took their place. Two polychrome seated ladies and a squat monochrome rhinoceros. An example is the legend of Kim Yu-sin, another, the legend of Ch’oe Ch’i-won. As author is describing the scene four of the panels’ curtains are lowered mechanically to occlude the brightening sky, stopping precisely on the sight line at the tops of gnarled pines in the near distance.

The anthologists transformed both legends, when they entered them into Suijon (The Book of Extraordinary Stories), compiled during the Koryeo period. As author is having lunch, the room gradually half fills to accommodate half a dozen other tables of diners, all Asian. Other manuscripts extant in the Gyeongju district during the Choson period were included in books such as Tonggyong chapki (Miscellaneous Notes of the East Capital). (The tourist literature at the Gyeongju Chosun had been available only in Japanese and Chinese, in neither western languages nor in Korean.) Many were concerned with generals who, despite being well endowed, could not realize their aspirations.

Finished with the buffet, author decides to make a post-prandial return to the casino. It seems that these legends retain the traces of the several popular revolts that erupted during the Koryeo period with the hopes of reviving Silla. Entering past a bank of slot machines named “Western Train,” “Dream Classic,” “Cherry Time,” “Progressive Jackpot,” “Super Lady Bugs” and “Gold Bonus.” In the 18th century Cohong Man-so, reputed as a humorist, provided the subjects for many such stories. And continuing past “Big Wheel,” on the wall behind which are flat metal sculptures of hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs, plus the letters “A,” “K,” “Q” and “J,” all back-lit with green, red, white or yellow light.

The Gyeongju district even today has a more abundant supply of them than any other district in Korea. At the cashier’s counter exchange rates are listed in red for American and Hong Kong dollars, for Japanese yen and Chinese renminbi. The number of materials collected and catalogued at the hall for elderly people in the city of Gyeongju is notably large. No person other than author and the pretty girls is to be found in the entire casino. Men of letters after the Koryeo period especially loved the nostalgic sensations of poems composed in the spirit of recollection stimulated by visiting Gyeongju. Where half of the bevy has taken stations behind roulette wheels, black jack and poker tables.

The trend of regarding Gyeongju as their spiritual home continued, especially among people born in the Yongnam district. It remains to visit the teddy bear collection, but instead of searching for it author settles into a comfortable first floor lobby chair to record the flags above the fountain at the hotel’s entrance: Kim Chong-jik, who in the 15th century composed Tongdo akpu (Folk Songs of the East Capital), typifies this trend of introducing the institutions of Silla in an affectionate poetic style. Japanese, Italian, German, French and Chinese are flying. Kim Si-sup, leading the life of a hermit on Mt. Kumosan, left a novel entitled Kumo sinhwa (New Stories of the Golden Turtle).

Plus Canadian, British, American, South Korean and Hilton Hotel. Yi On-chok, who solidified the basis of neo-Confucianism, was another such writer. Within the lobby itself has been set up a realistic bus stop with an inner-lit ad for “Teddy & Friends,” subtitled, “Around the World in a Day.” All shared a philosophical depth. On the bus stop bench are seated six bears, fashionably attired. Their achievements in literature were recorded in Chinese characters. From out the Lakeside Café stroll three guests bearing aloft chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream cones. Though their songs were written in Hangeul. Each in turn pauses to snuggle with one of the bears and to be photographed in the act.

12  Facing the East Sea

Changing buses at Bul-guk-sa (Buddha-Land-Temple) we head for the summit of the mountain. The Seokkuram Grotto was constructed on the basis of a geometrically flawless conception. And its late Silla shrine. The base is a circle twelve T’ang ch’ok in radius. So remote that it was not rediscovered till 1909. (One ch’ok equals one foot.) Né en 563 avant notre ère dans un petit royaume himalayen, le prince Siddharta Gautama appartenait au clan des Sakya. In ancient times the circle was divided into 365 units, to correspond to the number of days in the year. Descended from the second bus. Likewise, the day was divided into twelve units. We look out over Yongai Pond, over Joyand Pond, all the way to Mt. Namsan. The radius of Seokkuram was adapted to the length of one day and the plane circle of Seokkuram was adapted to the length of one year.

Devenu Sakyamuni, saint des Sakya, l’anniversaire de sa naissance, est officiellement férié et donne lieu à de grandes réjouissances. It has been a dangerous ride to the summit. The number twelve, the length of one day, is present in the twelve T’ang ch’ok that make up the width of the entrance to the cave temple. A single mistake would have sent us plummeting to sure death in a Hollywood torrent of flames. Vous aurez l’occasion de voir de nombreuses références ayant trait aux légendes qui entourent la vie du grand sage, qui retracent les grands moments de cette destinée. The breeze and high elevation are welcome, for the sun is reigning high overhead in a clear blue dome. The dome of the Seokkuram starts from the twelve ch’ok radius. (1) La conception. Sa mère, la reine Maya, voit en songe un éléphant blanc qui lui perce le flanc de l’une de ses défenses.

We mount three tiers of a dozen steps each to reach a pavilion within which the noontime bell, four meters high, is being struck by a wooden ram suspended from chains. Geometrical patterns harmonize and unite the shrine’s circles, spheres, triangles, squares, hexagons and octagons on the basis of the twelve ch’ok system. (2) La naissance. Dans un jardin, Maya, lasse, prend appui contre un arbre, tandis que l’enfant, sorti de son flanc, apparaît dans l’ampleur de sa manche droit. The wind has become quite brisk. This presents a climax of architectural beauty in the Seokkuram. (3) L’enfance. Le bébé se dresse immédiatement sur ses pieds et fait sept pas dans chacune des quatre directions cardinales, prenant ansi possession du monde. The path to the grotto leads along a slightly descending course, its edge, to a precipitous drop-off far too horrific to contemplate.

The length of twelve ch’ok is the width of the entrance and the radius of the plane circle on which the Seokkuram stands. (4) Les quatre rencontres décisives. Marié, devenu adulte, Siddharta rencontre un vieillard, un malade, un cortège funèbre, enfin un sage. Before too long we ascend gently to a sandy plaza. These measurements correspond to the sides of the regular hexagon that touch the circle internally. Where signs read “Seokkuram Up Road,” “Water” and “Wash Hand [sic].” The center of the circle becomes the apex of an equilateral triangle. (5) La fuite. La nuit qui suit la naissance de son fils, Siddharta juge qu’ayant donné un héritier au royaume il peu quitter la Cour. Declining the latter two invitations, we mount ten steps made of rough blocks to stand beneath rows of paper lanterns in red, blue, green, pink and yellow, colors repeated in five more rows.

(6) La période brahmanique. Siddharta étudie auprès d’un célèbre brahmane et au bout de sept ans, comprenant qu’il s’est trompé de voie, il renonce à l’austérité. Each side of this triangle corresponds to the width of the entrance. We come upon another sign reading “Seokkuram Up Road.” The triangle’s sides coincide with the center of the frontal side of the octagon-shaped pedestal. We climb eight steps, then thirteen more. The main Buddha sits on this pedestal. Followed by stairs of 20, 5, 1 and 7 steps. Such geometrical harmony appears throughout the structure of the Seokkuram. A final three steps, at the temple’s base, lead to a floor from which to view the main Buddha. The height from the bottom to the level above is the same for all the walls. The sightlines to the stone sculpture are framed, first by two guardians, then, at the end of a vaulted arch, by two pillars.

This measurement coincides with the distance from the tip of the Buddha’s head to the center of the dome. Illuminated, the sacred point on the Buddha’s forehead gleams, his face and body serene. Various Buddhist deities including the Goddess of Mercy are represented on these walls. Having reached the high point of our quest, we exit the grotto to stand before a sign reading “Down Road,” in Korean, English and Chinese. The diagonal line of a regular square was drawn vertically on the circumference of a plane circle. We descend by stages, first to a plaza with a Buddhist temple. A globe of the same radius was constructed above the first circle. Where a little girl in a white shirt, its arms striped longitudinally pink. Its center corresponding to the center of the first plane circle. In pink athletic pants and in pink-and-white running shoes (now removed).

This determined the shape of the dome. Deposits her parents’ cash in an offering box before and beneath a golden image of the Buddha. Other geometric designs found in the Seokkuram are three concentric circles. The statue is enclosed in a glass structure of three sides, the first reflecting the doorway of the temple, through which are visible sky, treetops, a pagoda and a row of seven red paper lanterns swaying in the breeze. One such formation is a belt of seven concentric circles that create the dome. The electric temple clock reads 12:40. The other two formations consist of four concentric circles. Inside the threshold, beside the door, have been stacked thirteen monkish-brown prayer cushions. They appear on the main Buddha and its pedestal. We descend another set of rough-cut steps to reach a series of large, inviting rectangular bocks of granite, all roped off.

Another four appear on the front of the main Buddha. A sign behind them reads, “Do Not Sit Down.” (7) La mort. Farther below, at the base of the irregular stairway, rest dedicatory tiles. Devenu «l’Éveillé» (c'est-à-dire, devenu bouddha). From Thai, Australian, Vietnamese and Dominican, Mongolian, German, Malaysian and Senegalese. Après son premier sermon devant ses condisciples à Sarnath, près de Bénarès. Kurdistani, Russian, Burmese and Greek, Chinese, South African, Indian and Nepalese. Il parcourt l’Inde du Nord et consacre ses quarante-cinq dernières années à la prédication. Iranian, Omani, Argentinian and Peruvian. A quatre-vingts ans, il entre en nirvâna. Cambodian, Ecuadorian, Kazakhstani and Somalian, Tanzanian, Lao, Uzbekistani and Congolese visitors, among many others, after which we enter upon a final broad plaza strung with rows of paper lanterns above it.

Son corps sera incinéré. Author, in beige jacket, pink button-down shirt, charcoal slacks and brown lace-up boots. Et les princes de la région feront élever. At the end of the plaza.Les premiers stupa. Resumes the path that he had followed upward. Chacun d’entre eux contenant un peu de ses cendres.Heading on down past a flourishing red tree.

Korea

Madison Morrison

Front cover photograph by Simon Bond

Back cover caligraphy by Young-joung Kwon

Copyright © 2007   Madison Morrison

The Working Week Press

Gyeongju