My Sweet Memories in Korea
Professor, Dankook Univ.
On the 27th of July, 1953, the Korean Armistice was signed, and I was born two days later. My generation of Americans were very aware of Korea and knew many who were involved in its war. Growing up, I always watched the war satire, “M.A.S.H.” This did not give me a negative view of Korea but rather illustrated for me the trials the country had undergone.
In 1970, I watched the “M.A.S.H.” movie with my grandfather and a few weeks later, at the age of 17, I joined the Army. I did a one year tour in Thailand and then, I was assigned to go to South Korea.
The 727 landed at Kimpo Air Base on a hot July day. A jeep was waiting, and I was taken to a holding company while waiting for my assignment. A few days later I was assigned to B Company of the 51st Signal Battalion located at Camp Red Cloud in Uijungbu.
This was significant because it was located a half mile from the M.A.S.H. unit that the movie “M.A.S.H.” was based on. Also, the football game from that movie occurred at Camp Red Cloud. It was about a 45 minute ride through the countryside.
The windows were down and you could smell the night soil used to fertilize the farms and paddies. One thing that really struck me was the lack of trees. It reminded me of parts of California that I had lived in. Up ahead was Uijungbu.
I remember that the tallest building was a hotel that had 5 floors. Getting near the base, you could see the road lined with small businesses and women wearing their hanboks. Up ahead was the gate for Camp Red Cloud. It was quite a transition, as the post had manicured lawns, wide streets and modern barracks.
I spent 13 months in Uijungbu. It was a small village at that time. Much of the time I lived off base in a small room within a courtyard. The bathroom was outside and to wash you had a big clay jar full of water and a bucket to scoop the water up and clean yourself.
This was not much fun in the winter, so I would usually go to the local bathhouse for a good thorough cleaning. The bathhouse seemed to act like a community center where much of the neighborhood congregated. I always enjoyed the bathhouse visits.
There were a lot of bars situated by the main gate. Most of the bars had Korean waitresses from the countryside who spoke varying levels of English. Fortunately, I found other things to do that will always remain special in my memories.
As you know, Korea is a very hilly country and it has been a national past time to climb those hills. On the weekends, some friends and I climbed many hills. It was great then because you could collect a different badge from each hill that you climbed. Those hills really revealed to me the beauty and friendliness of Korea.
My favorite hill climbing experience was when we stayed in a monastery that was situated near the summit of one of these hills. Early in the morning we woke and watched as the sun rose over the valley below. I can still see it today. It defined for me that Korea certainly was the Land of the Morning Calm.
Uijungbu was rustic and quaint. I loved walking down the alleys and venturing into the shops. Sometimes, I would join friends in a traditional makoli house where you drank it out of wooden bowls. I loved the taste, but not always the affect it had on me once I stood up. Also, I loved going to a small restaurant where they served ramen with spam and always put a fried egg on top. That ramen was my favorite dish.
During that time, Park Chung Hee was president and the north of Seoul appeared to be one big military complex bordered by farms and paddies
I always knew why I was in Korea. It was my duty to my country and to our friend South Korea. I was there as part of a commitment to maintain peace on the peninsula, and I was proud of that duty.
At that time it would have been very difficult to predict that South Korea would progress economically and socially in the way that it did. I would have the opportunity of witnessing the results of that progress first hand. It would have one of the most competitive educational systems and highly skilled and motivated workforces in the world,
It would become one of the “Four Asian Tigers” along with Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. International competitive companies like Hyundae, Samsung, SK, and LG changed the economic landscape of South Korea and are still going strong today.
I remember leaving Uijungbu. The jeep taking me to the airport, slowly negotiated the streets and I tried hard to fix the shop lined streets in my mind. I wondered if I would ever see this place again.
In 2000, I left Hong Kong where I was a volunteer for a charity. I had been there 15 years. I went to San Jose, California and decided to do a Master degree in TESOL. In my program there were many students from South Korea.
I remember in a “language Structure” class that they South Koreans all got “A’s”; whereas, us Americans had to struggle through it and were lucky to get a “B”. There are more South Korean exchange students coming to the U.S. than any other country.
It is amazing that they have mastered English well enough to compete in American graduate schools. This is no easy task. One reason for this is to consider that not all Professors are American and do not speak standard English. In my department, we had two Professors from India and it was hard even for me to understand them those first weeks.
I completed the degree in 2 years and decided to return to South Korea. Shortly after my return, I got on Line 1 and returned to Uijungbu. Going to Uijungbu, I noticed a lot less countryside because the cities had expanded, I couldn’t help but notice that there were trees everywhere. South Korea had gotten green and picturesque. I took a taxi to the main gate of Camp Red Cloud.
The first thing I noticed were the wide streets. I tried to find the courtyard where I use to live, but in its place were condominiums. There were some reminders of the place I had left decades before. My favorite dish was still popular in restaurants. In some places, the narrow alleys between courtyards still existed. Some bars were still there but their names were changed.
Though Korea had modernized dramatically, I still sensed a wonderful stubbornness that would not give into the homogenous demands of globalization. Korea was clinging to its culture and I found that to be an attribute of the country. I loved much of what I had learned about the culture and did not want to see it absorbed by Western ways.
I have taught in Korean universities for over 7 years now and see the need to educate the younger people about the importance of the Korean/American relationship.
Young people have no first hand knowledge of the great progress that South Korea has undergone. They often do not understand the poverty, sacrifice and strides made in this country by their parents and grandparents.
As a Lecturer, I realize the need for me to communicate and demonstrate my respect and admiration for this country. I have seen both sides and can bring to the classroom my perspective of . I do not preach to them, but share my views and experiences when appropriate.
I love South Korea and hope the best for its future. It has been a great experience to have seen the Korea of the 70’s as well as the 2000’s.
It is in the interest of both South Korea and the United States to continue and expand our friendship. Not just for strategic and economic reasons, though that is important, but because the U.S. has been there since South Korea’s infancy and has supported it in its great strides to become a democracy and to enjoy a capitalistic society.
Today South Korea is both a thriving economic power and a land that embraces and practices a democratic government.
It has found its place in a globalized world and its young people are committed to learning English, so as to better compete in a globalized world,
I am very proud of South Korea and always want my homeland to be one of its most trusted friends.
1953. 7. 27. 휴전협정서명 이틀 후에 태어난 나는 할아버지와 함께 유명했던 TV 연속극 매쉬(M.A.S.H)를 보면서 한국인들이 전쟁 중에 겪은 시련에 대해 알게 된 뒤 17세에 군에 입대해 태국에서 1년 근무 후 한국으로 전보되었다.
의정부 Red Cloud캠프에 도착해서는 거기에 매쉬 부대가 있었던 것을 알았다. 그때는 산에 나무가 별로 없는 것이 특징이었다. 의정부에서 제일 높은 건물은 5층이었고, 미군부대 주변에는 어려운 한국인들의 생활모습이 들어나 있었다.
13개월 의정부에 거주하면서 큰 질그릇에 물을 담아 세수를 했는데 겨울에는 쉬운 일이 아니어서 자주 공중목욕탕에 가서 이웃 한국인들과 자주 만나서 즐겁게 지낸 것이 추억으로 남아 있다.
주말마다 친구들과 등산을 하면서 한국의 수많은 산을 찾아다니고 산꼭대기 절에 묵으면서 새벽에 떠오르는 해를 바라볼 때는 한국은 진정으로 “조용한 아침의 나라”라고 느끼고 그 산들은 아름다운 한국 풍경과 한국인의 따뜻한 마음을 들어 내 보여주는 것처럼 느꼈다.
친구들과 주점에서 막걸리도 마시고 라면도 먹었는데 라면을 제일 좋아하게 됐다.
그때 나는 한반도 평화유지를 위해 한국에 파견된 것을 자랑스러운 임무라고 믿었지만 한국이 그 후에 엄청난 경제사회발전을 이룰 것은 예측하지 못하고 한국을 떠났다.
그 후 15년간 홍콩에서 근무하고 나서 미국 싼 호세대학에서 석사과정을 밟았는데 한국 학생들 모두가 영어문법과목은 미국인보다 더 잘해 “A”학점을 받고, 한국교환학생들도 단기간에 영어를 익혀 대학원에 진학하는 것을 보고 크게 놀랐다.
석사학위를 받은 후 7년 전 한국에 다시 와보니 의정부시가 엄청나게 커졌고, 벌거숭이였던 산들은 나무로 뒤덮여 사진처럼 아름다워진 것을 보고 놀라지 않을 수 없었다.
또 세계화물결속에서도 한국인들이 고집스럽게 자기문화를 지킨 것도 다행스러운 일이었다.
한국대학에서 7년간 강의를 하면서 한국의 과거 발전과정을 잘 모르는 젊은이들에게 한미관계의 중요성을 가르칠 필요가 있다고 느끼고 있다.
젊은이들은 조부모, 부모들이 겪은 가난, 희생 그리고 그들이 이루어낸 엄청난 업적을 잘 이해하지 못하고 있다.
1970년대와 지금의 한국을 직접 목격한 나로서는 내가 아는 것을 학생들에게 소개하고 나의 한국에 대한 존경과 사랑을 전하려고 한다.
한미양국은 현금의 전략적경제적 이해관계 때문만 아니라, 미국이 대한민국 건국초기부터는 한국의 민주화 대장정과 경제발전 기적을 미국이 늘 지원해왔기 때문이다.
한국은 이제 경제대국이고, 민주제도도 잘 정착시킨 나라다.
또 세계화시대에 걸 맞는 중요한 역할도 한국이 맡게 되었는데 젊은이들의 강한 영어교육 열기는 앞으로 한국경쟁력을 더욱 높여줄 것이다.
한국은 나에게도 자랑스러운 나라이고, 내 조국 미국은 한국이 제일 믿는 영원한 친구이길 바란다.