Victory over Japan day has never been a big celebration for me during my life time, but it takes on new significance being in Korea. I have only seriously talked to a very few people here about their feeling towards Japan, but most still hold an animosity toward them lingering from the Japanese occupation during most of the first half of the 20th century-even some who weren’t even living at the time. It was our victory over Japan that won South Korea’s freedom from a very brutal and oppressive occupation that lasted most recently for over 35 years.
These feelings were prolonged by the lack of U.S. sensitivity to the Korean’s attitudes toward the Japanese occupation as the U.S. military leaders enlisted the help of some of the Japanese officials who had been in control in Korea, as well as Korean’s who were viewed as Japanese “puppets” or sympathizers, during U.S. assistance in Korea following the end of the war. It took several years following the defeat of Japan to really cleanse the Korean government of the last vestiges of the occupation.
Remnants of the Japanese occupation remain here on USAG Yongsan where I am stationed. Many of the older buildings were built by the Japanese to house their military and government infrastructure. While the insides have been sufficiently remodeled and updated, the exteriors remain pretty much as they were during the first half of the 20th century though most symbols and references to Japan, if ever prominent, have long since been removed from view. (A pretty good article about the remaining structures can be found here.)
So for most Americans 14 August will come and go without much thought to our Victory over Japan 70 years ago, but for many Koreans it represents liberation and freedom from decades of oppression.
One of the commander’s programs that I run as the chaplain is an orientation for newcomers to the brigade which gives newly-arrived Soldiers guided experience using public transportation, visiting a cultural site and eating at a Korean restaurant. Not wanting my first time there to be when I lead my first group, today my chaplain assistant took me, along with my incoming assistant and our KATUSA, on the trip to “recon” the site and “rehearse” our movement.
We started by meeting on post near the dining facility then taking the post shuttle to the gate. Exiting the gate, we walked to the train/subway station and got on the #4 southbound train (toward Samgakji) at the Sookmyung Women’s University stop. After changing trains in Geumjeong onto the #1 southbound (toward Gunpo), we arrived at the Suwon station. Making our way to ground level, we caught a bus (can take either the #11 or #13) to the fortress. After visiting the fortress then walking to the restaurant for lunch, we made our way back to the bus stop (again, either #11 or #13 in the same direction) for our return trip to Yongsan via the #1 northbound back to Geumjeong then the #4 northbound. On the return trip, however, we got off at the Samgakji stop which was a bit shorter of a walk onto post (and out of the now falling rain).
The Suwan Hwaseong Fortress was an interesting site to see, and we just saw part of it. According to the visitor’s map:
Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, Historic Sites No. 3, was built over two years and nine months, from January 1794 to September 1796, by King Jeongjo, the 22nd king of the Joseon Dynasty, to move the tomb of his father Crown Prince Jangheon, also known as Crown Prince Sado, because of his filial duty to his father.
The wall is approximately 5.7 kilometers long (varies between 4 to 6 meters at different points) and was designed by the silhak scholars Yu, Hyeong-won and Jeong, Yak-yong. It is known as a unique structure in the history of architecture because of its use of stones and bricks together in a modern fortress structure to deflect arrows, spears, swords, guns, and cannons; its use of standardized materials; and its use of new scientific and practical mechanic apparatuses such as Geojunggi.
For 200 years, the walls and structures had been collapsing, particularly during the Korean War. The restoration and repair of the fortress began in 1975, based on books that recorded in detail the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress Construction called Hwaseong Seongyeokigwe.
Suwon Hwaseong Fortress was registered as a World Heritage Site in the 21st Assembly of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Napoli, Italy on the 6th day of December 1997.
Here are some more pictures from our trip. In some of them, it may appear as though we are having a good time, but in reality we were working…hard!
Alright, I finally found that elusive McDonald’s in Itaewon! I got a Double Bulgogi Burger meal for just ￦5500 (about $5) and it was delicious! Not only that, my Coke came in a hard plastic (not-disposable) glass!
I know that this isn’t “real” Korean food, but it is unique to Korean McDonald’s and “bulgogi” is a Korean-seasoned beef (and…I like McDonald’s).
Staying at the hotel, then once moved into my quarters and not having time to get to the commissary I’ve been having to eat out every meal. This is getting old! Finally today after work I had time to get to the commissary to get some food. I was limited on how much I could get since I had to take a taxi to my quarters, but at least I got a start.
I was surprised at how large and well-stocked the commissary is. I could find just about anything I was looking for, with the exception of turkey lunch meat, which I thought was odd. It could just be that they were out, but the only packaged lunch meat I found was roast beef and salami. Curious.
At any rate, I was able to get some food in the frig and cupboards so I can eat at home more.
I guess when I was setting my alarm last night (half asleep) I set the time an hour ahead too. I didn’t notice until I went to an office wondering why they weren’t open yet! I didn’t think that I was bothered by jet-lag, but I was up early and it didn’t feel odd, so I guess maybe I’m not adjusted yet!
I didn’t want to be stuck in the hotel or on base all weekend, so I just went a little off post on Saturday, but walked for about 4 hours. I saw just a small part of Seoul, Yongsan-Gu. It was really hot and frankly, the walk wore me out but it was nice to see this side of Seoul and experience the culture just a little bit. My one interaction was buying a bottle of water. I don’t know what he said, but gave him a large enough bill that I knew it was enough. I counted it up later and I think that bottle of water was just about a quarter!
Here are some pictures from my walk with descriptions below them (coming soon):
After seeing the apartment where they wanted to put me and feeling so down and wanting even more to go home, I got to thinking about other possibilities and looked up AR 210-50, “Housing Management” where at 3-6, n. it states, “Unmarried chaplains and unaccompanied married chaplains will compete equally for AFH [Accompanied Family Housing] with sponsors within the appropriate grade category.” Could it be? Dare I hope?
This provision has been used primarily for Roman Catholic chaplains who seldom have family and shouldn’t be stuck in single-Soldier housing just because their faith demands they remain single, but the provision “unaccompanied married chaplains” opens it up to any chaplain, regardless of marital or religious status, to be eligible for family housing. There is a variety of reasons for this, to include the need for study space away from the commotion of the office, accommodations to meet with Soldiers when they can’t meet at the chaplain’s office, Bible Studies or “presence” social gatherings. Essentially, often the chaplain needs additional space for the performance of his duties much like a commander does, so this provision in Army regulations allows for it.
I went in to talk to the housing office about it and referenced the regulation but the representative I met with didn’t know anything about it so referred me to her supervisor. When I sat down with the supervisor, she looked at my cross (I was in uniform) and said, “Oh, you’re a chaplain! Let’s see what we can do.” She then gave me two duplexes to look at and told me to let her know if either would be acceptable. I looked at the first and it was in a great location with an abundance of trees and seclusion. It seemed to also be a two-bedroom, with the 2nd bedroom used as an office. But it was older and worse for the wear but the size and location made it leaps and bounds better than the 1st apartment they showed me.
The 2nd duplex looked newly remodeled from the outside. When I got inside it looked as though nobody had stayed in it since it had been remodeled. It had all new appliances, cabinets, shelving and bathroom fixtures. I couldn’t believe it! It didn’t take me long to decide on this one. I rushed back to housing, afraid she would give it to someone else before I confirmed that I wanted it. We set an appointment for Monday for the inspection and to sign for it.
I feel much better!
Here are a few pictures of my new -better- home for the next year (a little askew, sorry…I like them straight and in order too):