Wednesday, March 30, 2011

KOCIS hosts welcoming ceremony for the first batchbloggers of "The Korea Blog"

The opening ceremony kick off yesterday at the office of KOCIS for the Korea Blog, unfortunately I was unable to attend the ceremony as I am away from Korea now but I am so excited to see the picture of the bloggers who have attended the ceremony and able to interact with the bloggers as well as to received the cerficates.(Inside I also felt I wish I could have been there then I must be part of it for sure hehhehe)


The Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS) held a welcoming ceremony for the Worldwide Korea Bloggers on March 29 that is yesterday at Seoul.

The Worldwide Korea Bloggers are the writers from around the world who have been chosen to contribute to THE KOREA BLOG.

After receiving certificates of appointment at a ceremony in KOCIS headquarters before taking a a tour of Cheong Wa Dae ( The Blue House). (The tour was followed by a meeting to discuss content for the blog.

KOCIS Director Seo Kang-su said, "We are happy to have excellent writers with different backgrounds from all over the world. We'll host and support many events to help the writers to create better contents for the blog."

Including me there are 42 writers from Korea and overseas were recruited by KOCIS in February to create content and write for THE KOREA BLOG.

Well I love Korea, Korean Culture, Tradition, food, style,nature as well as the people on top of these I am a student of Korean studies so I love to promote the Korea and its related subjects .

'Koreans overreact over Dokdo issue'

“If Koreans connect the Japanese textbook issues to the dispute over the Dokdo islets, it may destroy their pure goodwill and friendly gesture with regards to the Japanese natural disasters.

“Due to the national crisis in Japan, the results of the review of middle school textbooks is of no importance,” said Katsuhiro Kuroda, the Seoul bureau chief of the Sankei Shimbun Wednesday. “I am especially worried that the Koreans are reacting too sensitively about this. I believe it best to let the issue rest.”

During a radio interview with the PBC (Pyeonghwa Broadcasting Corporation) Kuroda said, “Japan’s fiscal year starts in April and the review was already scheduled to happen. It doesn’t make sense to reschedule just because of Koreans.”

When the interviewer pointed out that many Japanese people were against the textbook issues for it may bring even more tension between the two countries, the bureau chief replied, “I believe that’s an excessive interpretation.”

“We are not including the territory disputes because we want something out of it. Actually, it’s because we want to talk about the issues we have with Russia and China. If we add those issues in, we have to talk about Dokdo, too. However, we have erased texts that talk about Japan’s imperialism and militarism in order to reflect on our past mistakes.

“It’s only natural for countries to use textbooks to educate students on national matters. We have to acknowledge this fact,” Kuroda claimed.

“Japan can’t really do anything about the island because Korea has been governing the area for more than half a century. Even if the textbooks do get published, it’s nothing to get overly excited about.”

Source: The Korea Times /

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Human treasures connect past and present

BUCHEON — Manufacturing traditional drums for 50 years is not easy but without hearing the sound, it seems impossible. Im Seon-bin, a traditional drum maker (Intangible Cultural Property No. 30), uses his sense of touch and feeling, instead of his ears, to detect the subtle vibrations a drum produces. It is the final phase for the artisan in finishing a drum.

He lost his sense of hearing in his right ear at 11 after being seriously beaten at an orphanage. Over the following years, he has been bent on his work of making traditional drums, led by his mentor into the profession. Now he has almost lost his hearing in his left ear and he needs a hearing aid, which is only used for communicating with others not during his work because of the distortion of the sound.

Born with a limb defect as a result of polio, he has lived quite a dramatic life from literal rags to becoming a master artisan.

The 61-year-old began making drums at an early age to make a living and was not originally attempting to keep the job for such a long time.

Im demonstrates his craft at the Bucheon World Intangible Cultural Heritage Expo now taking place through Oct. 12 at his workshop for visitors, along with other traditional artisans.

He has his own space and the honorable title as a master of drum making and his passion has remained the same for 50 years, but his eyes and high-pitched tone of voice reveal how hard his life has been in the past, and he still struggles in the present.

The artisan said many of the people with heritage distinction face poor conditions with little support from the government. Before the designation, he could sell his instruments but now he cannot do so anymore as he has to keep his honorable reputation as a manufacturer of only masterpieces.

In addition, he needs to hold two regular exhibitions a year but after the exhibitions, he has to tear his drums apart with his own hands as he cannot afford to keep all of them in his small workshop.

“My drums are like my children. But I have to destroy them because nobody or no institution wants to buy and keep them. I can give the drums to any museum or anyone who wants to keep them for free,” he said.

His voice trembled when he talked about the low recognition people have for the special artisans that make the traditional crafts. Im said that there is no change from the past to the present day in the awareness of his profession as he couldn’t help but deal with butchering cows and other animals to obtain good leather.

“In the past, this kind of job was regarded as a vulgar and lowly job. Do you think it has changed? No. Nobody wants to learn how to make traditional drums because it’s a hard job and it’s hard to make money from it,” he said.

But Im has never doubted his destiny as a drum maker who feels like all his woes are washed away once he listens to the sound from a drum he has made. “Because of that sound, which pierces my heart, I cannot give up my job however hard it is.”

These days, most of the drums are made by machines or imported from China at cheaper prices. Worse, it is becoming more difficult to procure good materials such as high quality leather or lumber, which are essential for drum making. According to the type of leather or kind of wood used — pine or Paulownia, the drums make different sounds.

“Leather is like the father while lumber is like the mother. The sound produced between the leather and the wood is like a child. I don’t forget the sound from my drums,” he said.

Even though his life is still tough, Im has a wish to restore the ancient drums from Silla and Goryeo to Joseon Kingdoms. “I have the resources that document the ancient drums. I can make those traditional instruments. Until I die, I want to restore the exceptional drums that show the historical changes of the instruments,” he said.

Fan maker: reinventing traditional craft into modern artwork

Jo Chung-ik, a fan-making artisan (Intangible Cultural Property No. 10), views his craftsmanship differently and considers it for ornamental artwork.

He is displaying two gigantic fans with some 260 centimeters in width at the ongoing exhibition at the expo.

“The concept of traditional fans has changed. People don’t use fans any more due to air conditioners. So I changed my perception of traditional fans. Now I am trying to create more decorative and artistic fans that can be hung on the wall,” Jo said.

The 63-year-old said that in ancient times, the main function of the fans were to make wind but now their roles have shifted to become artistic and modern creations.

He has made traditional fans for the last 30 years in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province renowned for producing high quality “hanji” (traditional Korean paper handmade from mulberry trees). Hanji is a basic component for making a fan, along with bamboo.

The artisan said that Jeonju has produced a lot of the most luxurious and highest quality fans in the past.

“We traditional craftsmen can contribute to fostering the image of the globalization of Korean culture. I hope many people appreciate our values not just as antiques but as beautiful Korean artifacts,” he said.

Source: The Korea Times

Monday, March 21, 2011

Oegyujanggak books heading to its own real home

On Thursday/March 17/2011, Korea signed an agreement with France to transfer the Korean royal archives, Oegyujanggak, which were looted during an 1866 French incursion, from Paris to Seoul before the end of May. The books will be returned under a five-year renewable lease, and it will be the first time in 144 years that the volumes will be seen in their homeland. The National Museum of Korea will hold a ceremony and exhibition to celebrate the return of the archives.

The National Museum of Korea and the National Library of France (BNF) sign an agreement in Paris on March 16 for the transfer of the Oegyujanggak archives. (Photo: Yonhap News)

On September 18, 1866, French forces invaded Ganghwado Island, west of Seoul (then, Hanseong, the capital of the Joseon Dynasty). The invasion is known as Byeong-in yango, which means “Western disturbance during the byeong-in year.” France invaded the country to retaliate for the execution of French missionaries by the Joseon government. The encounter was the first armed conflict between Korea and a Western power. The overall result was a French retreat and a check on its influence in the region. However, historically important books and documents on political and cultural events of the period were looted during the invasion. The 5,607 books kept in the royal library, Oegyujanggak – an annex of Kyujanggak royal library in Hanseong, known as the safest library in the Joseon Dynasty – were set on fire or stolen. The books recorded and illustrated all of the rituals, formalities and daily routines of the royal court during the Joseon Dynasty.

The Oegyujanggak royal archives (Photo: Yonhap News)

The records taken by the French include 297 texts, with dates ranging from the 14th to the 19th centuries. These books would go onto become the core of the Korea collection in the National Library of France. It was not until 1975 that a Korean librarian, Park Byeong-seon, who worked at the National Library of France, discovered that the Oegyujanggak books still existed. “When the French army came to Oegyujanggak on Ganghwado Island where these palace records were kept, they burned most of the books as well as the building itself, except for the uigwe,” Shin Byung-ju, a history professor at Konkuk University, told the JoongAng Daily in 2008. Uigwe are ancient documents that dictate the protocols of royal ceremonies and events of the Joseon Dynasty. “It was because even foreigners recognized the value of these documents with their silk covers, elegant binding, quality paper and sumptuous illustrations.”

Uigwe have important historical value because they describe how official government and royal events were held during the Joseon era. Uigwe were
developed as a reference for government and court officials planning these events, and include details such as the proper procedure and cost of various ceremonies. The records cover everything from coronation and royal marriage ceremonies to state funerals. There were two types of uigwe, one for the king and royal family and another for general purposes. The uigwe covering royal ceremonies were made with high-quality silk covers and are valued for their artistic and documentary value. The records were stored in Oegyujanggak on Ganghwado Island, since that library was considered safer than the those in the capital. When the French looted the island, they stole many of the royal uigwe, denying Koreans a precious historical asset. Korean historians who have examined the uigwe at the National Library of France found that 30 of the 297 records are the only existing copies in the world. This uniqueness has excited historians, who hope the uigwe will give them greater insight into important events that occurred in the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty. For a long time, it looked as if researchers in Korea would be unable to see the uigwe stolen by the French firsthand. The Korean government argued that the books should belong to Korea since they were looted during the war. It took ten years of meetings before the French government agreed to send the books back to Korea.

The Oegyujanggak royal archives (Courtesy the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea)

The battle to retrieve the ancient books

Korea was met with fierce opposition from France when it began lobbying for the uigwe to be returned in 1991. It wasn’t for two years that the country saw any progress on the matter. In September 1993, French President Francois Mitterand gave Korean President Kim Young-sam one of the 297 books and promised to return the complete collection in coming years at the Korea-France summit in Seoul. Mitterand used the book as leverage in his bid to export technology for France’s high-speed train TGV to Korea.

While France won the bid, the president reneged on his promise to return the uigwe records to Korea. France suggested that instead of returning the books, they could permanently “loan” the uigwe to Korea in exchange for other ancient Korean documents. Koreans rejected this proposal, saying that it amounted to sacrificing more cultural properties in order to have what was stolen from them. Koreans were becoming more aware of the importance of cultural heritage during this period and pressed the government to be firm with France on the uigwe matter.

In January 2002, a five-member Korean delegation – which included historian Kim Mun-sik, now a history professor at Dankook University – headed to France to examine the books in the National Library. Because the Korean historians were allowed to check out only one book at a time, they could examine only 100 out of the 297 books. A Seoul-based civic group filed a lawsuit against the library in France in 2008 to get the stolen books returned to Korea. But the Paris court turned down the demand in the following year, saying the Korean books were French national property. Eight years passed since the historic on-site inspection, and Korea’s royal documents remained in France. Korean historians continued their lobbying work during that time and finally saw their efforts payoff last year.

An exhibition hall for the Oegyujanggak on Ganghwado Island (Photo: Korea Magazine)

The long-running dispute reached a turning point when French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged in November last year in Seoul to return the centuries-old Oegyujanggak books during the G20 Seoul Summit meeting. His promise helped begin negotiations that would resolve the thorny diplomatic feud between the two countries. After months of discussions, the two sides reached a formal agreement in Paris. The French government will return the Korean royal books taken by France this spring. In accordance with the agreement between the two parties, all 297 volumes will be relocated to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul by May 31 on a renewable five-year lease. While the lease format is not ideal, historians are excited to finally be able to access the important records in Korea.

The uigwe deal is a hard-earned victory for Korean historians, after 20 years of lobbying. Yet, Korea still has hundreds of thousands of cultural assets that were stolen during the 1950-53 Korean War and Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the peninsula. Experts say that more than 760,000 ancient books, documents, craftworks and other forms of cultural assets are now in about 20 different countries around the world.

Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon Stream symbolizes Korea’s past, present and tomorrow

Cheonggyecheon Stream served as a political center for the monarchy as well as a place where people made their livelihoods and celebrated special events during the Joseon Dynasty. After being covered by a highway overpass, the stream found new life through a 2005 renovation project. Today, Cheonggyecheon Stream is flowing in the heart of Seoul and once again breathing life into the city.

Situated on the border of the Jongno-gu and Jung-gu districts, Cheonggyecheon Stream is a tourist attraction and a resting place for citizens. Nearly every week of the year, people gather along the stream for various cultural festivities and events. The stream’s modern form is the result of the Cheonggyecheon Stream Renovation Project that took place between September 2005 and July 2007. The project was led by then-mayor of Seoul, Lee Myung-bak. The 6km-long, newly renovated stream begins at the Dong-a Ilbo building in Gwanghwamun and flows to the Sindap railway bridge in Seongdong-gu District.

Cheonggyecheon Stream was called Gaecheon during the Joseon Dynasty. Gaecheon means to "dig a stream," indicating that the stream was modified to meet the requirements of everyday life. The stream was originally a natural watercourse that formed where water gathered in the center of Seoul from the mountains surrounding the city. Consequently, heavy rains would cause flooding in the area, damaging surrounding houses. Due to continuous damage in the area, King Taejong, the third king of the Joseon Dynasty, started to structurally maintain Gaecheon.

While Taejong confined his renovations to the stream’s main channel, his successor, King Sejong the Great, worked to control the stream's sub-branches. All the small tributaries that flowed into Gaecheon were renovated and supyo, or pillar with gradations to measure water levels, was installed in Gaecheon to prevent flooding. King Yeongjo renovated the stream further by piling rocks on the banks and altering its flow so that it went in a straight path.

The name Cheonggyecheon Stream, which means "clear flowing stream," first appeared during the Japanese colonial rule. Presumably, the stream got its name in 1914 when Japan renamed all the streams. Following the 1945 liberation from Japanese rule and the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Cheonggyecheon Stream area became the slums of Seoul. The government decided that the only solution to the economic blight in the area was to completely cover the stream.

Construction began in 1958, and by 1970 Cheonggyecheon Stream was hidden under an overpass. In the 1990s, the area was a hotbed of noise, automobile exhaust fumes and traffic congestion with the gathering of large and small shopping districts specializing in tools, printing and lighting. Finally, in 2003, the Cheonggyecheon Stream Renovation Project was implemented to create a green center, leaving behind the area’s polluted past.

New paradigm for eco cities

The Cheonggyecheon Stream Renovation Project helped spark an interest in the environment in Seoul and was the city’s first step toward becoming an eco city. Since the renovation project, other waterways in the Seoul metropolitan area have seen revitalization projects including the Seongbukcheon, Jeongneungcheon and Hongjecheon streams. Such streambased urban environment renovation projects have become models for other cities like Tokyo and Osaka, who are interested in making their metropolises more eco-friendly.

Cheonggyecheon Stream is a leading tourist destination in Seoul today. The banks are filled with plazas and parks that feature landscape architecture, fountains and special lights that give the stream a different feel at night. The trails on each bank of Cheonggyecheon Stream are perfect for tourists, because they connect popular sites such as Gwanghwamun, Jongno, Insadong, Myeongdong and Dongdaemun. Visitors to the stream can eat at a variety of nearby restaurants or immerse themselves in one of Seoul’s oldest and most famous traditional markets, Gwangjang Market.

The Cheonggyecheon Stream of Korea’s past, where children would swim and nobles would gather, no longer exists. But the stream is slowly collecting new memories from its visitors. Five years have passed since the renovation project and the future of the Cheonggyecheon Stream area is bright.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Exploring Seoul's traditional markets

Seoul is a city of tremendous contrasts, where 600-year old palaces sit minutes away from major business centers and traditional houses can be found right next to modern high-rise apartments. In Seoul, the past and present co-exist in harmony.

Korea’s traditional markets have the weight of history behind them, even as they sit at the heart of a bustling metropolis. They also offer a unique chance to meet and interact with vendors, giving shopping a warm, personal touch that no department store or chain can offer.

Gwangjang Market

Gwangjang Market is more than 100 years old, and specializes in agricultural products, food, clothing, fabric, bedding and second-hand items. Shoppers here can find everything from old army blankets to kimchi to curtains. It’s one of the best places in Seoul to look for a custom-made Hanbok or enjoy a delicious savory slice of bindaetteok.

Although one of the oldest markets in Seoul, Gwangjang Market has recently made a name for itself among the trendiest young people, thanks to its vintage clothing market. With everything from sunglasses to sneakers to clothes, there’s something here for any fashionista with an eye for the unique. A quest for authentic jeans from the 1970s or sunglasses from the 80s is sure to turn up something, and fans of vintage will find everything from shoes to fur coats to army uniforms. There are many rare and expensive finds, alongside some great bargains.

Refunds and exchanges are not common practice, and individual stores can be difficult to locate. Visitors are advised to write down the store number and check all items carefully and note their condition before buying. Despite the need for caution, Gwangjang Market is one of the best places in Seoul to find vintage and used clothing, and can add a much welcome dose of nostalgia to any wardrobe.

Hours for different stores in the market vary considerably, but most of the vintage stores close at 7 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday, and are closed on Sundays. The market is located between Jongno 5-ga Station on Line 5 and Euljiro 4-ga Station on Line 2. For more information, please visit

Gyeongdong Market

Gyeongdong Market is the largest herb market in Korea, dealing in 70 percent of the medicinal herbs sold in Korea. The almost unimaginable array of herbs and medicines are sold at wholesale prices, offering substantial discounts and savings to people looking for traditional Asian medical treatments. The market also offers tea, dried fish and fruit.

Everything from ginseng to licorice to mugwort can be found at the market, and the vendors are very knowledgeable about the herbs they sell, providing advice on how to prepare and use them for different maladies. Other stores in the market specialize in processing the herbs into medicine based on the needs of each customer. Many Asian medical doctors take advantage of the market and locate their clinics nearby, making it one of the best places to seek out treatment.

The market is open Monday through Saturday until 7 p.m., and is located near Jegi-dong Station on Line 1. For more information, please visit

Namdaemun Market

Namdaemun Market is the largest traditional market in Korea, as well as one of the oldest. Thousands of vendors gather here to sell everything from clothes, food and electronics to souvenirs, bedding and kitchen goods.

Tourists from all over the world come to visit the market, which is one of Seoul’s must-see tourist spots. International visitors can soak in the traditional atmosphere and try their hand at bargaining for their items.

Because it receives visitors from around the world, many of Namdaemun Market’s vendors are multilingual and can help visitors in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese. Although the opening hours for stores vary considerably, most of the market shuts down by 8 p.m. each day. Namdaemun Market can be reached from Hoehyeon Station on Line 4. A map of the market can be found at

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Increasing Korean book exports

Korea's book exports continue to rise due to the spread of the Korean wave. According to the Korean Publishers Association, 1,477 Korean books were published overseas in 2010 and 1,427 in 2009. This is a tremendous increase compared to 2001, when only 20 Korean books were published outside Korea.

China and Asia are the biggest markets for Korean books abroad. Over the last two years, China has accounted for 41 percent of the trade, followed by Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Children’s books are the most popular genre, accounting for 62 percent of the total, followed by literature, comics, language books, social science books and books on technology.

According to the Korean Publishers Association, America and England have also seen rising in the publication of Korean-authored books, boding well for the future of Korean works in the international market.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When the Bell of Spring Season start Ringing...!

After a long and brutal winter, the weather is finally starting to warm up and show the signs of approaching spring. While chilling winds still blow across much of the country, balmier days and sunny weather ahead promise new buds and blooms.

◆Namsan Park
Namsan is a 262-meter peak in central Seoul that offers some of the best views of the capital. The park is home to more than 60 species of plants and animals. It offers a variety of easy hiking courses up the mountain, most taking about two hours to reach N Seoul Tower at the top. Along the way, visitors can enjoy the many outdoor exercise areas, an aquarium and a fountain. For more information about Namsan Park, please visit

◆Seoul Forest

Seoul Forest opened in June 2005 as an eco-friendly park for families. It consists of several sections, including the Cultural Art Park, Ecological Forest, Nature Experiencing Study Field, Wetlands Ecological Field and Han River Waterside Park. The forest connects the Han River and Jungnang Stream, and is home to deer, elk, chipmunks, ducks and other wildlife. In a modern twist, the park also offers wireless internet access. For more information, please visit the official website at

◆Asian plum flowers
The Asian plum blossom (although more closely related to the apricot family) is celebrated across Asia both for the beauty of its blossoms and its small green fruit. This year, despite the cancellation of associated festivals, there are plenty of opportunities to go view these early spring blooms. The most famous spot in Korea for plum blossom viewing is the Maehwa Village in South Jeolla Province, which boasts more than 430,000 plum trees. Haenam, also in South Jeolla Province, is also famous for its profuse blossoming trees.

Camellias bloom from late November until April, making this the perfect time to go view the elegant trees. Dongbaek Forest in South Jeolla Province has more than 1500 camellia trees, creating a magical landscape. Odong Island, near Yeosu in South Jeolla Province, is also famous for its camellias, with visitors arriving to see the bright pink flowers in the early spring. Goeje Island in South Gyeongsang Province is also famous for their many camellia trees. For more information, please visit the provincial website for South Gyeongsang at and the official site for South Jeolla Province at

◆Korean dogwood

The Korean dogwood is a small tree or bush that produces beautiful yellow flowers in the spring, followed by small red fruit in the fall. Sandong in South Jeolla Province in is one of the best places to catch these showy blooms, but their spectacular colors can be found all over the peninsula. For more information, please visit,


Jeju Island is famous for its fields of canola flowers. Located off the southern coast, Jeju Island is the first place in Korea to feel the warmth of spring. Starting in February and peaking in March, the small yellow canola flowers blanket Jeju’s fields in color, enhancing some of the islands most famous sites, like Sunrise Peak.

Jeju Island is among the 28 finalists for the New7Wonders of Nature campaign, run by the New7Wonders Foundation in Switzerland to raise environmental awareness. Voting is open to the public until November 10.

For more information about travelling in Korea, please visit, or call +82-1330 for 24-hour assistance in Chinese, Japanese and Korean.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Mr. Lee Jong-Duck to lead Chungmu Art Hall as cultural hub

Chungmu Art Hall (CMAH) in central Seoul is seeking to become one of the nation’s most prestigious theaters under the new leadership of CEO Lee Jong-duck.

Lee, 76, was tapped as the new head of CMAH in mid-January. He began his career at the Ministry of Culture in 1963 and has led major venues in Korea including Seoul Arts Center from 1995, Sejong Center for the Performing Arts from 1999 and Seongnam Art Center from 2004.

"It feels a little tight to be in a smaller place, compared to my previous workplace," he said. "But my view of life is that where I am is the best place and I will come up with performances to suit this theater."

"I think planning performances is a long-term job, looking at least five years ahead. What would be the best thing for CMAH?" he said.

CMAH is composed of the Grand Theater (1,231 seats), Theater Black (327 seats), Theater Blue (258 seats) and Chungmu Gallery.

"Since CMAH is under the Jung-gu Cultural Foundation and Jung-gu District Office, we should provide performances for local residents for their emotional and intellectual development," he said.
To this end, Lee plans to attract more high art such as classical concerts, ballet and operas. The Grand Theater mostly houses big musical productions and this year has put on "Take Care of My Mom," "Scandal Makers" and "The Last Empress."

"I plan to stage musicals for 50 percent of the time and other art performances for 30 percent at the Grand Theater. The remaining 20 percent would be filled by other events promoting the Art Hall," he said.

For the medium-sized Theater Black, Lee wants to house more plays and pansori, or Korean traditional vocal music. “It is a rare round auditorium and plays and gukak would be good for the theater as the distance between the performer and the audience is small.”

Lee’s goal is to make the CMAH the representative performing hall in Seoul, not just in Jung-gu. “Once we upgrade CMAH to a prestigious art center, local residents will be proud of it.”

While working for other top theaters in Korea, Lee was a man who brought major changes.

He made Seongnam Art Center an icon of the satellite city located south of Seoul.

“Seongnam is a city with a population of 900,000, but there was a sense of difference among old habitants and new town residents. I tried to achieve harmony among them through culture,” he said. “So I held a local art club competition at the concert hall of Seongnam Art Center, closing the cultural gap between the two groups.”

He also introduced shuttle buses and a nursery at the Seoul Arts Center and played a major role in the foundation of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.

Lee produced the musical “Namhan Fortress” and the opera “Ariadne auf Naxos” at Seongnam Art Center. He thinks theaters should also participate in producing performances. “I’m considering making CMAH create long-term performances based on our unique ideas. The theater is only half-used when it only rents the space.”

Lee is also taking the initiative in supporting the art hall.

"I will organize an aid association for CMAH and become the first member. Now I am the CEO, but I will be a member of the support society when I leave the position," he said. "Before doing so, we have to make the place worth patronizing."

He and the staff expect a busy year at CMAH. “I want all my employees to have their hands full by providing services to all guests of the theater. I encourage them to meet as many people as possible and widen their personal connections.”

Ultimately, he wants people to come to the art center to see CMAH’s exclusive performances.

"Though CMAH is relatively small is size, I will make this place a plaza of artists, like Montmartre Hill in Paris," said Lee.

Dream of Unification (South plus North) Korea

Student defector spurs reunification dialogue:

Growing up in North Korea, Choi Jae-chan (an alias), now a student at Seoul’s prestigious Yonsei University, never aspired to a higher education, let alone to become a leader working for reunification of the two Koreas.

“We were living hand-to-mouth,” he recalled in a recent interview. “Under those conditions, attending university was not something you thought about.”

That has all changed for the young man who fled the North at the age of 16 due to poverty.

Choi, now 28, is president of Unification Hanmadang, a Yonsei-based club that seeks to create better conditions for reunification by fostering interaction between South Korean students and their peers who have defected from the North.

“It’s a place where South and North Koreans can figure out their differences,” he said. “That can’t happen when we’re isolated from each other.”

Defectors and activists say that greater interaction with the some 20,000 North Korean defectors in the South ― who often battle negative stereotypes ― is a key to preparing for eventual reunification as they can help the North adjust when the sides unite.

Club activities include lectures by guest speakers, discussion groups and team-building exercises, as well as outreach to the community.

The students’ activism not only goes against the grain of their peers, perceived as ambivalent to reunification, but also puts them at the forefront of efforts to broaden dialogue on an issue seen as increasingly urgent.

The issue took the spotlight once again when President Lee Myung-bak, in his March 1 address to the nation, pledged to build consensus on the need for reunification and ways to boost the nation’s capacity to handle it.

But Choi, whose journey has often been solitary and treacherous, tends not to think of reunification as a grand political event. He says it exists in small interactions between people. And it has already begun.

Education of a leader

It would be easy to mistake Choi, relaxed in manner as well as dress, for one of the thousands of South Korean students roving through Sinchon, a busting college area in western Seoul.

But his refusal to be photographed and use his real name for this article, for fear of retribution by North Korean authorities, underscores the burden he carries.

Much of that weight is Choi’s own sense of responsibility. As the eldest son, he left for China in 1999, alone, in a bid to eventually help his family back home.

In doing so he became one of the many North Koreans forced to live in hiding due to Beijing’s repatriation policy.

Choi managed to enroll at a boarding school in the country’s northeast, where he studied for five years. But faced with a choice between living in constant fear and making the dangerous journey to the South, he opted for freedom.

After three semesters of high school in Seoul, he was admitted to Yonsei through a program for students educated outside the country and began classes as a 23-year-old freshman.

After his Chinese schooling, Choi had forgotten much of the Korean language ― and that was just the beginning of his difficulties.

“My environment had changed so completely that I found it hard to understand what was happening around me. Because I was dealing with this inner tension, I must have seemed like a closed person,” he said.

Choi was even hesitant to visit the club, which at the time was a support group comprised only of defectors. “I thought it’d be kind of a navel-gazing club, just for North Korean defectors,” he said. He joined, though, after cajoling from friends.

Due to interest from South Korean students, the society later expanded to its present form and now boasts a membership of some 35 members from both sides of the border as well as non-Koreans.

Club members say that Choi, now in his second semester as president, has come a long way from being that introverted freshman.

“He’s a smooth leader,” said Kim Hyun-min, a South Korean student and secretary of the club. “He’s always smiling. He’s always listening to other people’s opinions.”

When it came time for Choi to select a major, he chose Korean Literature, perhaps a bid to reclaim the language he could have lost. “I’ve learned from my travels how important language really is,” he said.

Widening gap?

The Lee administration’s call for greater attention to reunification underscores growing concern over the financial burden those from the South would have to bear.

Improving the North’s infrastructure and living conditions to anything close to what is enjoyed here is expected to cost the South some $1 trillion, the brunt of which would fall on younger generations.

In the case of the North suddenly collapsing, the bill is expected to more than double.

It is not an issue easily discussed by policymakers. Lee’s proposal of a “unification tax” was slammed by the North, which accused him of envisioning an end of the Kim Jong-il regime and opposition lawmakers panned the idea as too provocative.

This year, among other moves, the government has launched a series of public lectures and surveys in a bid to increase dialogue. It has also launched new programs to help defectors, which activists have called a step in the right direction.

Still, most of the nation’s youth remains ambivalent to reunification, as the generation that experienced the division of the peninsula slowly fades. Many say the attitude shift is due in large part to a widening cultural gap between the communist North and increasingly cosmopolitan South.

Kim, a communications major, used to share the sentiment. “I thought of North Koreans and defectors here as foreigners,” she said, adding that the club has changed her perception.

Choi said South Korean youths simply don’t have the time to think deeply about the issue.

“Preparing for TOEIC, graduating, getting a job; military service, getting married. To put these things on the back burner and think about unification as one of your top priorities? That’s not easy,” he said.

Both agreed that interest in reunification should be nurtured from a young age. And with 20,000 defectors already living in the South, there is plenty of opportunity for North and South Koreans to build bridges among them, they said.

Small steps, big vision

Kim said many in the club approach reunification largely from a political angle, focusing on the governments’ role, or on the brutality of the Kim Jong-il regime.

While Choi listens intently to his peers’ viewpoints, he chooses to employ what Kim called a “microscopic” approach.

“Reunification is already happening. That’s why North and South Koreans are able to live here together now,” he said.

Despite the pain of being separated from his parents and siblings, Choi cherishes the academic life and says his days have become rather ordinary.

“I study, hang out, enjoy a drink now and then. When things are not so smooth, I try to stay positive,” said the aspiring writer who plans to travel and experience more of the world before settling into a career.

In the end, Choi believes that the issue of reunification is much bigger than the two Koreas.

“It’s about suffering people, children having a hard time, unable to go to school. We need to take an interest in their lives, rather than simply framing the matter as reunification,” he said.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Selling Korean ‘Jeong’ (정) to the world

Korean corporations, which have been key players in the Korean economy, are now taking a prominent role in nongovernmental diplomacy. The works vary from eradication of poverty and hunger to establishment of schools and libraries. These projects are not the one-off event, but very substantial and specific aid since they involve the interaction with local people and keep providing them with services, which are urgent. Here are some aspects of ‘Affectionate Korea’ in the world.

‘Springtime of my hometown’, a Korean children’s song echoed in Indonesia

A familiar song is heard from Elementary School Menteng in Jakarta, Indonesia. Indonesian students sing a Korean children’s song ‘Springtime of my hometown’ to the piano accompaniment. It sounds strange to hear a song sung in Korean at a local school of Indonesia not at Korean schools.

It is because Booyoung Co., Ltd., a construction company of Korea, donated 10,000 digital pianos and 30,000 blackboards to the ministry of education in Indonesia last month. Moreover, Korean ‘Graduation song’ (Lyrics: Yoon Suk-joong, Song: Jeong Soon-chul) is translated into Indonesian and saved in all of the digital piano for the Indonesian students since there is no song for graduation ceremony in some countries of the South East Asia. The song will be played during the graduation ceremony in this June.

In addition, there are popular Korean folksongs and children‘s songs contained in the digital piano. They are recorded in Korean, not in the local languages, and thus the students of Elementary School Menteng could learn not only the songs but also Korean, which contributes to making the music class more interesting.

Booyoung Co., Ltd. has established approximately 600 elementary schools in the South East Asia such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, East Timor, Malaysia and Sri Lanka so far and plans to expand the support into the Philippines, Myanmar, even Australia and New Zealand. Lee Joong-keun, the chairman of Booyoung said “we hope the donation of digital piano could encourage cultural exchanges and promote amity between Korean and Indonesia” and “we will strive to support the educational environment in addition to cultural exchanges so that students could keep pursuing their studies”, he added. The kind-hearted contribution of a company enables children to keep studying and dreaming.

1.5-ton truck conveying ‘Ghanaian children’s dream’

On 11th November 2010 the school of Oduponkpehe in Awutu Senya district, which is approximately 25 km away from Accra, the capital city of Ghana, was in a festive mood from the morning. It was the day when the inaugural ceremony of the children’s library and mobile library for children in rural areas was held.

The library of the school of Oduponkpehe renovated from the 82.5㎡ interior has about 3,500 books including children’s books, reference books for English, mathematics, and computer.

In the urban areas of Ghana the standard of living is generally good and the accessibility to library is quite easy while in the rural areas the book distribution rate is very low due to the poor condition of road and transportation on top of a small number of libraries. The mobile library system is introduced to resolve this problem and the library of the school of Oduponkpehe will take a pivotal role in the system. The mobile library remodelled from a 1.5-ton truck will visit 24 schools in the rural areas including Koforidua and Kumasi as well as the capital city, Accra and provide service for 27,000 children from low-income families. Not only does it lend books but also organises various programmes such as book report contest.

Establishment of the children’s library and mobile library in Ghana is a part of the global contribution projects carried out by a Korean company, STX Corporation. STX Corporation is leading to cultivate talented international students through establishing libraries for children from multi-cultural families in Korea, and awarding a scholarship of 3 million Chinese yuan to honour students from 5 universities in 3 provinces of Northeast China. STX Corporation hopes to contribute to the long-term advancement of Korea by means of education.

Have you heard of ‘Lotte School’?

Lotte Department Store has transformed Son Ky middle school in the remote area of Vietnam after the 15-month renovation work. That is why the villagers call it ‘Lotte School’.

Hyundai Motor is promoting an environmental project, ‘Hyundai Green Zone’, which aims for reforestation of desert areas in China. The first target is Chakanor area within the Kunshantag desert in Inner Mongolia, China. The area is gradually losing pasture and turning into the salt desert due to desertification and strong alkaline soil. To prevent this process, Hyundai Motor plans to create a large scale of grassland by 2012, seeding indigenous plants that grow well on the alkaline soil.

Korean corporations would like to be a sincere friend to the world, delivering heart-warming ‘Jeong’ through their international Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.