bookmark_borderPost-45: Looking Back on My Arrival in Korea, Four Years On

People ask me why I came to Korea. I ask myself. The reasons are complicated, but I hinted at the original (general) impetus way back in post-13.

An easier question is “when”:
I arrived, for the first time, almost exactly four years ago, in late April of 2009.

I lacked even basic knowledge about the place in April of 2009. I lacked experience teaching. I lacked experience with East-Asians, besides a few acquaintances here-and-there. And I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.


Four years on, the memories of my first night in Korea are vivid. They are more vivid than many of the things I did just this past weekend! In the coming posts, I will write down my memories of that first night.

bookmark_borderPost-44: One Month of This

I created this weblog (a term I like more than “blog”, which sounds like the word “blah“) just about one month ago.

This is the 44th post. I aimed for 10 posts per week, or 1.43 per day. I have just about kept that pace.

Ten posts per week is an achievable goal, and I’m glad I set it. Still, I may consider significantly slowing that pace in the future, or maybe even increasing it. There will be a period in the fall of this year (2013) when I will probably not post at all for a few weeks, being away from a computer for an extended period as I will be. I will make a post about this plan later.

bookmark_borderPost-43: Tea-Time at Gloster Hill

In post-40, I wrote about what General Paik Sun-Yup [백선엽] had to say about the British serving in Korea in the Korean War. In his war-memoir (chapter five), I found this:

                The British [in the Korean War] were absolutely devoted to the ritual observance of tea-time.
                They dropped everything at 4 P.M. to consume tea and cookies, even during combat. British
                artillery ceased firing for tea-time and then picked up the tempo afterward.

He made those comments shortly after mentioning the battle at Gloster Hill, in which an entire British battalion (800 men) was encircled for three days and compelled to surrender in April of 1951. This led me to wonder if the Gloucester Battalion also found a way to stop everything for tea, at the appointed times, on those three days of encirclement. Gen. Paik implies that they would have.


Caption: Soldiers of the English Gloucestershire Regiment battalion
stop for afternoon tea. In April, 1951, this battalion was overrun
by a massive Chinese attack and only a few of its members
reached UN lines. (Defense Department photo.) [Source]

A short-story or movie (or short-film), based around this surreal premise, really yells out to be created. I’d entitle it:
Tea-Time at Gloster Hill
I imagine it to be a dark-comedy, set in the British positions at Gloster Hill, April 23rd, 24th, and 25th, 1951.

Maybe the story would have three acts, each act depicting tea-time on one of above-mentioned each days.

            Act I: Day-1 Tea-Time — High Spirits — Maybe they can repulse the attack?
             Act II: Day-2 Tea-Time — Defeat Looming — No escape
             Act III: POW Tea-Time [As I understand it, the Englishmen all surrendered before noon on the 25th.
             Maybe the third act we have them on the march north, bound for POW camps. Maybe the Chinese
             commander would have allowed them drink tea on that first afternoon as POWs, as a show of good-will].

I like this premise. Why not?

bookmark_borderPost-42: Unification Tomorrow Through Security Today

Outside a major commuter-train station in Bucheon, I saw this:

Sign seen in front of Songnae Train Station [송내역] in Bucheon / Late April 2013

                       통일 내일이면 안보는 오늘  …is what it says
I recognized three of the four words (among which is ‘unification’, which surprised me) and I looked up the fourth. As I waited to cross the street, I toyed with possible translations. I think this one may be best:
Unification Tomorrow Through Security Today
I don’t really “get it”. What manner of “security”? I also don’t remember seeing this sign before. Is it new, since the recent “tensions” began? Has it been introduced by the new government? What does the placid picture of a manmade pond in Bucheon have to with unification or this undefined “security”?

bookmark_borderPost-41: The USA Circa 1930

A patriotic assembly of some sort, circa 1930, featuring U.S. Civil War veterans.

I am struck by the positive and optimistic Weltanschauung on display. There is a purity, a distinct non-cynicism. (Is there a word for non-cynicism?). / Their descendants today are more cynical and pessimistic. / There are many kids in the audience: If the kids of today were teleported back and attended this event, they’d roll their eyes and think “that high-pitched yelling is so gay“, no doubt.

I will do the best I know how, to get that [Rebel] Yell up for ya.
What few of us old “cornfeds” are left, we do all we can.
We can’t give you much, but we’ll give you what we’ve got left.

bookmark_borderPost-40: The Fall of Gloster Hill, April 25th


Possible photo of the “Gloucestershire Battalion”
from 1951 / Found on the Internet

             “Though minor in scale, the battle’s ferocity caught the
             imagination of the world”, especially the fate of the 1st
             Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment, which was
             outnumbered and eventually surrounded by Chinese
             forces on “Hill 235”, a feature which became known as
             Gloster Hill. The stand of the Gloucestershire Battalion
             together with other actions of 29th Brigade in the Battle
             of the Imjin River have become an important part of
             British military history and tradition. [Wiki]

April 25th was the day the Battle of Gloster Hill ended in 1951.

There were 700-800 men in the Gloucester [Gloster] Battaltion on April 22nd. By noon April 25th, all but 40-60 (pictured below) were dead or en-route to NK/Chinese POW camps.


The several dozen men of the Gloucester Battalion
who escaped from Gloster Hill [from here]

In total, it seems that sixty-eight ‘Glosters’ died in the battle, and thirty more died in the POW camps, for a total of 98 dead as a result of the Gloster Hill action. In total, 1,109 UK soldiers died in Korea, so the small Gloster Hill action alone accounted for 8.8% of UK military deaths in the war.

There is a good write up on the battle here, and a series of posts about its commander, Lt. Col. Carne, here, written at the ROK-Drop blog.

I visited the site of this battle last year. Today, it is a leafy picnic area, with a few memorial stones and British flags. I wrote about this trip way back in post-3.

Gloster Hill is near Jeokseong village (적성면) in the Paju region, and is neither easy to find nor easy to get to. The village of Jeokseong [pronounced “Juhk-Suhng”, formerly written as Choksong in English] is a short way north. We got a bus to Jeokseong and walked southeastward to find Gloster Hill. (It is also near a temple and a mountain, and supposedly a waterfall, which I don’t remember seeing).

Here is a Google-map, zeroed-in on the precise spot of today’s ROK/UN/UK flag display that anchors the memorial:


British Veterans marching in
Gloster Hill Memorial Park, 2007 [Wiki]

Standing directly in the path of the main Chinese attack towards Seoul in the First Corps sector was the 29th British Brigade. The brigade’s stand on the Imjin River held off two Chinese divisions for two days and ultimately helped prevent the capture of Seoul, but resulted in heavy casualties in one of the bloodiest British engagements of the war. During the fighting, most of the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment were killed or captured during a stubborn resistance during the Battle of the Imjin River that saw the commanding officer—Lieutenant Colonel James Carne—awarded the Victoria Cross after his battalion was surrounded. Ultimately the 29th Brigade suffered 1,091 casualties in their defence of the Kansas Line, and although they destroyed a large portion of the Chinese 63rd Army and inflicted nearly 10,000 casualties, the loss of the Glosters caused a controversy in Britain and within the United Nations Command.”  [Wiki]

Last year, I read the war-memoir of General Paik Sun-Yup [백선엽]. He had this to say in chapter 5:

                Another prong of the Chinese offensive caught the British 29th Brigade, attached U.S. I Corps,
                by surprise east of Munsan. The Chinese forces isolated Lt. Col. James Carne’s Gloucester
                Battalion on a hill near Choksong [Jeokseong], whereupon the British fought like wildcats
                for sixty straight hours to defend their perimeter, forging a Korean War legend in the process.

                Some 760 of the Gloucester Battalion’s complement of 800 officers and men were killed, wounded,
                of captured. Had it not been for the sacrifice of the Gloucesters, the enemy surely would have won
                a position from which to threaten the approaches to Uijongbu.

Gen. Paik spent several paragraphs praising the British for their professionalism, also noting that the British were absolutely devoted to the ritual observance of tea-time. They dropped everything at 4 P.M. to consume tea and cookies, even during combat. British artillery ceased firing for tea-time and then picked up the tempo afterward.”

Idea for a short-story or movie: “Tea-time at Gloster Hill. A dark-comedy. Setting: British positions on Gloster Hill, April 23rd or April 24th, 1951. Why not?

bookmark_borderPost-39: Let’s Compete With Korea’s Best Students!!

부천을 넘어 대한민국 1등과 겨루자!!
The above text is displayed on a banner (in bold white letters, on a blue background) at the language institute at which I work. It is displayed in the main lobby area, as well as above the white-board of many classrooms.

The city in which I live and work is Bucheon. “Bucheon is the Best in Korea  is what I’d always guessed that slogan meant, which is wrong. (I recognized three of the five words. My Korean skill is not good enough to understand it fully). This kind of bragging is not uncharacteristic for Korea. The city itself uses these kinds of self-promoting slogans. Anyway, this translation is definitely wrong.

Thursday, I had a class of one, a very low-level 9th grade girl. Seeing the banner again, I decided to solve the mystery once and for all. I asked her. Aided by the limited efforts of this 9th grader, my first real translation effort was this: “Beyond Korea’s Best Competition is Bucheon“. This sounds awkward, so I knew I hadn’t gotten it yet.

My second effort was “Beyond Bucheon, Korea’s Best Level of Competition”. There should be an implied [We have] inserted, as in “Beyond Bucheon, [Our Language-Institute has] Korea’s Best Level of Compeition”. This seems like needless boasting, I thought, although I was satisfied with the translation. Again, this kind of ‘boasting’ is not uncommon here. (This language-institute has had a reputation for ‘poaching’ elite students from elsewhere, and offering them highly-discounted tuition, so the claim is true: Many top students are certainly here).

I was still unsatisfied with the translation, though. What was I missing?

Finally, a Korean friend told me: The last word carries a “let’s”. The best translation (rearranging word-order) may be:

Beyond Bucheon: Let’s Compete With Korea’s Best Students!!
This is a much more positive attitude than the crude bragging of my original translations. The message is: “Don’t just aim for being a big fish in a small pond [Bucheon, a single city], but aim to be a big fish in a big lake [all of Korea]”.

bookmark_borderPost-38: Apples in the Summertime

It is now late April. I continue to be able to see my breath at night. This confuses and bothers me.

I dream of summer.

Rocky Island (“Ho, Honey, Ho”)
(Traditional, sung by the Osborne Brothers)

Apples in the summertime
Peaches in the fall
If I don’t get the girl I love
I won’t have none at all

Going to Rocky Island
Going where I’m gone
See my Candy darling
Ho honey ho

Get up on the mountain
Sow a little cane
Make a barrel of sorghum
Sweetin’ ole Liza Jane

Black clouds a-rising
Sure sign of rain
Get your old gray bonnet
See little Liza Jane

bookmark_borderPost-37: Boy Scouts at 2.7 million and falling


Painting by Norman Rockwell

I’m told that Boy Scout numbers have been on a steady decline for years.

This was true in my own experience:
I was in the Boy Scouts in the 1990s. I witnessed my own troop’s decline as an institution. The troop actually folded, for lack of members, in the mid or late 2000s. The reasons were various. The biggest reason, or so was my conclusion at the time, can be seen in the thousand-words spoken by the paintbrush of Norman Rockwell, over there —->

The typical kid born into the 2000s-USA will not identify with that image. It is an “America” that Whites associate with the 1950s. That was (and I guess still is) its appeal.
I tried to find numbers. The best I can come up with:

2.7 million : 2011’s tally for number of boys in the Boy Scouts. [Official, pdf]
3.5 million : The 1990s tally, when I was involved. [Apparently official / excluding “Learning for Life” members]

In South-Korea, there would be an obvious explanation: A much lower fertility rate in the 1990s and especially 2000s, than in the ’80s, i.e. fewer boys available to join. Not in the USA, where the fertility rate has been stable.

bookmark_borderPost-36: Substitute Holidays are Coming (to Korea)

This year, we were all disappointed to see Lunar New Year’s Day (a.k.a. “Chinese New Year”) fall on a Sunday. Last year, Chuseok (a fall harvest festival) also fell on a Sunday.

Those are three-day-block holidays, on the sacrosanct side of Korean social life. No regular employer would dare intrude upon them.  Well, this year the Lunar New Year “three-day block” ended up being Saturday-Sunday-Monday. We got a single day off (above normal). It was out the door on Friday evening, and back at the desk, as normal, on Tuesday morning! (Well, “morning” used loosely — office hours for us officially begin at 2 PM and end at 10 PM).

The USA, has [I think] a legal mandate to give ‘substitute’ days off (e.g., Monday July 5th off, in lieu of Sunday July 4th). As of 2013, South-Korea has nothing like this. This is one of the many small blemishes on work-life in South Korea. Yes, it may be one of the richest nations in the world, but so often it doesn’t…act like it.

Now, though, the government is proposing adopting U.S.-style ‘substitute holidays’:

Beginning next year [2014], the nation is most likely to have a substitute holiday when a national holiday falls on a Sunday. […..]

Under the bill awaiting its passage, each of the three-day Lunar New Year and Chuseok holidays would be extended to four-day holidays when Lunar New Year’s Day or Chuseok falls on a Saturday or a Sunday. For instance, when Chuseok falls on a Saturday, the nation would take the preceding Thursday off, and it would take the coming Tuesday off when it falls on a Sunday.

An editorial in the Korea Herald pointed out that South-Koreans work 25% more hours/year than the rich-world’s average. One reason is the lack of holidays and lack of vacation time.