Friday, May 5, 2017

Hiking Seoul City Wall, the Hanyang Do-seong

May 3 - Buddha's Birthday, May 4 a sandwich day, May 5 - Children's Day = If classes cancelled on May 4 (TH) and made up at an alternate time, then a 5-day weekend is formed. Done!

Hyehwamun - Malbawi Information Center

The weather was gorgeous and I had to be outside, so started walking ... and ended up walking along the Seoul City Wall from Hyehwamun, the northeastern gate and one of the 8 gates of the Seoul City Wall, to Malbawi Information Center on the way to Sukjeongmun, the gate north of the Cheongwandae (the Blue House). Read a book there for a few hours and then walked back home, thinking I would return the next day and hike further the trail behind the Blue House.

Waryong Park / Malbawi Information Center - Site of Donguimun/Seodaemun Gate

The next day I was back with ID card in hand to sign in at the Information Center so I could hike from the trail behind the Blue House and end up at the Changuimun Gate, about a 2 hour hike. While hiking the incredible scenic trail, I conceived the idea that I might as well just keep going and hike the whole Seoul City Wall. Two hours later, after handing in my ID hiking pass at the Changuimun Gate, I crossed the busy street that bisected the wall and started climbing the trail that went up Inwangsan. Wow, this was the most scenic part of the whole 18-kilometer trail! It was also the part where the wall was newly reconstructed in new white cement-stone, and evidence of an older wall totally eluded me. That said, despite history being recreated and looking white-washed and pure, the walk was quiet and ethereal. And I pretty much hiked by myself as it was the "sandwich day" between two national holidays. 

Just before passing beyond the Malbawi Information Center with walking ID in hand and entering the "no picture zone". Facing south, in the distance Namsan Tower stands on Namsan where the southern wall bands the city.
Since the Seoul City government is promoting people to walk the wall and offers a small badge for people who accumulate stamps from 4 areas (Sukjeongmun, Donuimun, Sungnyemun/Namdaemun, Heunginjimun/Dongdaemun) and I had received the stamp at Sukjeongmun, I thought I'd just collect all 4 stamps. Well, couldn't find the booth/office/place for receiving the stamp at Sungyemun. Not finding the booth was pretty consistent too as once the wall dipped down and was severed by modernism and development, the trail disappeared into urban bedlam. Construction, traffic madness, people chasing elusive ideas or narrow timetables ... couldn't find the stamp location. And the next morning when continuing the walk, couldn't find the location of the booth/office/place for receiving the stamp at Sungnyemun/Namdaemun Gate. I did find in the vicinity an adamantly closed Information Center kiosk with the dirtiest windows imagination ... like they hadn't been opened in weeks. Gave up the stamp idea. What good would come of getting a badge anyway? Humph.

A comment though on the wall and the semantics about the great fortress wall of Seoul. Eight years ago people talked about the 10 existing kilometers of the original 18 kilometer-long wall. Now, however, the marketing for the wall has radically changed. The wall is referred to as being 18 kilometers long, while in fact it is not. Yes, the extensive segment on Inwangsan has been built and other places radically rebuilt and/or repaired, but the wall certainly is not 18 kilometers long. The urban swell requires many roads to pass in and out of the city and major gaps in the walls exist to allow the city to be permeable with the rest of the country. In fact, most people on the roads aren't even aware of the wall on the higher slopes that "completely encircle the city". And, on the proposal submitted 2012 Nov 23 to UNESCO for the wall to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage (which it now is), the proposal clearly stated that 10.8 of the original 18.6 kilometers had been restored or well maintained. 
[Signs liberally posted along the wall walking path: Hanyang Doseong (Seoul City Wall) runs 18.6 km along Baegaksan, Naksan, Namsan and Inwangsan ... and passes through many historic sites including the four large gates, Sungnyemun, Heunginjimun, Sukjeongmun and the site of Donuimun.]
Anyway, the largest gap takes, according to the hiking map, 40 minutes to link the wall from the site of Donguimun Gate with Sungnyemun/Namdaemun Gate. I skipped this traffic hopscotch and still claim I hiked the whole wall in three days, which I did. 

The following statue is located at the end of the Bugaksan hike, after returning the security ID. Opposite the statue and across the street begins the next segment, the climb up Inwangsan.

Statue of Superintendent General Choi Gyu-sik and Assistant Inspector Officer Jung Jong-su

Choi Gyu-sik, born in Chuncheon Gangwon-do in 1931, entered the police service in 1961. As a chief officer of Jongno Police Station, he received classified information on January 21, 1968 detailing a North Korean commando unit composed of 31 troopers which included Kim Sin-jo was moving southward from the Paju area in a surprise attack on the South Korean Presidential Office, Cheongwadae (the Blue House). Choi Gyu-sik deployed police officers under his command to block the attack. The unit almost reached the Cheongwandae (currently, in front of the Cheongun Silver Center), but were stopped by armed commandos to inspect them, whereupon the North Korean troopers opened fire with machine guns and hand grenades. In the battle, Choi Gyu-sik was wounded in the heart and abdomen but ordered his men protect Cheongwadae before dying, which they succeeded in doing. In fulfilling his duties and giving his life in the line of duty of his government, Choi Gyu-sik was posthumously promoted to Superintendent General and awarded the Order of Taegeuk Military Merit

Assistant Inspector Officer Jung Jong-su, born in Sangju Gyeogsanbuk-do in 1935 and entering the police service in 1960, also died in the battle. He was posthumously promoted to Assistant Inspector Officer and awarded the Hwarang Order of Military Merit. The tombstone a few meters from Choi Gyu-sik's commemorative statue has been erected on the site where the two officers died while resisting the North Korean troopers infiltration. The bronze statue overlooks the road to Cheongwadae as in a symbolic showing that their spirits live on to protect Cheongwadae.

Climbing up Inwangsan ....

High up on Inwangsan looking back toward the wall already hiked (north).
Looking toward Namsan (south).
Continuing down ... heading south.
... southward ... it's quite a meander ...
A favorite shot on the Inwangsan descent. Namsan in the distance.
Getting lower and the mountain starting to level out.
Wow, I wouldn't like to hike this segment clockwise! Power thighs definitely needed!

Sungnyemun/Namdaemun Gate - Heunginjimun/Dongdaemun Gate

The rebuilt Namdaemun. It's only been open a couple years since it was burned by an arsonist in 2008. Quite an amazing shot at 9:24am on Children's Day ... virtually no traffic! A true miracle!!!
Climbing Namsan, looking westward.
On Namsan, a direct view to the north and the mountains I was on yesterday.

This section of the wall is the most popular. Here the wall is linked by large parks and culture trails to village areas, very crowded village areas, and to market to the continual flow of traffic, shops, street vendors,  and cultural interests (street artists, vendors selling locks for couples to "lock their love" on a gate, cultural performances like pansori or the guards reenactments). There are even several buses (all of them packed!) and a cable car to expedite the lazy to get to the top of Namsan with little effort. Yes, it is Children's Day, but wow, after the quiet of the other segments of the city wall, the thriving mass of people flocking to the Namsan section was a bit of a surprise.

"Locking Love" on a gate near the peak of Namsan. There used to be just one gate for proclaiming eternal love and now there are several sections. The cheapest padlock sold by a vendor in this area is W8,000, and they're plastic-like. The guy has enough to send his kids and grandkids to Harvard!
Namsan Tower from the first "Locking Love" gate.  The 5 pillars are actually part of an advanced ancient lookout system for alerting citizens of an invasion. 
Arrived just in time to see the 11am mini re-enactment of the defense soldiers coming on duty to serve on the lookout for the enemy invaders.
Sentinels standing guard ... My question, but shouldn't they be facing the other way in order to carry out their protection duties?
Descending Namsan and looking back ...
This whole section of the wall had frequent gaps in it to expedite traffic and urban life, and while the brown culture-referencing signs point walkers where to go to pick up the next severed segment, the signs are not always present. The most clearly marked gap was from Jangchung Gymnasium to Gwanghuimun Gate, a 15-minute walk through snaking back alleys. The two worst areas are from the moment the Inwangsan trail hit the urban area (utter madness and huge amounts of construction aiding the madness) and the gap from the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park to Dongdaemun itself. Too many ultra-tall buildings and a mad network of urban streets and no signs directing the way. I was very dependent on naver maps to figure out these urban yarn ravels. 

Heunginjimun/Dongdaemun Gate - Hyehwamun Gate

This is also a pleasant popular place to stroll, very popular for dating. Some little coffee shops and restaurants are speckled along the wall, and if the hiker doesn't exit from "inside" the wall to the "outside" on the steep descent, he/she will end up not at Hyehwamun Gate but suddenly find him/herself in the vibrant, pulsing Hyehwa area filled with shops of cutesies, culture restaurants and unique coffee shops. If you're seeing the beautiful wall and scenery in the shot below, then you've gone too far ... but why not get some great food in Hyehwa?

Hiking the 18 km Seoul City Wall in ... 1 day!

Though I hiked the city wall in three days, technically I hiked all but 40 minutes (Hyehwamun to Waryong Park) in two days, and I think the whole wall could could be totally done in just one day. The full one-day hike would probably take 10-12 hours, not rushing but steadily walking, allow for two 30-minute meals, and of course be walked counter-clockwise. (To walk in the clockwise route, a person would need power thighs!) I did a lot of back-tracking and a fair amount of asking directions and wandering in the gap areas, but if I hike the trail again, I could certainly know a lot of little "tricks" to make the hike smoother and faster ... and testing my theory that it could be comfortably done in a single day.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Wawoojeongsa, Yongin

Wawoojongsa Temple was established in 1970 by Kim Hae-Geun, a monk displaced by the Korean War. The temple is not only a reflection of the monk’s sincere hope for the reunification of the North and South, but is also the birthplace of the Korean Buddhist Nirvana Order.
Korea Buddhist Nirvana Order is a religious order established by the highest priest Bodeuk around A.D. 623~650 in the time of Kokuryo dynasty from now on approximately 1400 years ago. In the dynasty of Shilla, a great priest, Saint Wonhyo, Saint Uisang, Saint Kyungheung, and saint Daehyun also pursued knowledge in Korea Buddhist Nirvana Order are the initial religious order in our nation. 
There were 5(five) orders in the dynasty of the United Shilla such as Nirvana order of the highest priest Bodeuk, Yul Order of Jajangyulsa, Bubseong order of Saint Wonhyo, Hwaeum Order of Saint Uisang, Bubsang Order of Jinpyoyulsa, etc. Since then, priests practiced Zen Meditation in temples of 9(nine) mountains which is called "a literature practiced Zen in hill and mountain" : and, being in a dynasty of Korea, the Most Reverend Priest attained a divine enlightenment created Cheonta Order ; Saint Bowoo created Chokye Order ; and, in the end of the Dynastry of Korea, there were 12(twelve) religious orders. 
But coming into the dynastry of Chosun, the number of religious orders was reduced to 7(seven) orders by a King of Taejong and nirvana order as a representative one continued to exist. In the times of a King Seajong, the titles of religious orders were instructed to be eliminated, and Chosun Buddhist Missionary Yang Order without the names of religious order was instructed to be called. Therefore, religious orders without the title of order came into existence. 
From then on, religious orders were forced to be disappeared through suppression and religious order were called : Zen Order and Kyo Order. In 1910, Japan invaded Korea and all the more they were suppressed. The era without religious orders continued on and on. After the Korean War June 25. due to the disputs in Buddhism on Feb. 14, 1962 the integrated religious order as Chokye Order was created. In 1970, Korea Buddhist Taego Order and since then various religious orders were created and in evidence of the greatest priest as a representative one in our nation on Sept. 1, 1970, Korea Buddhist Nirvana Order has been again restored since Chosun Dynasty by Haeam Haegok, TRI-PITAKA MASTER.
Korea Buddhist Nirvana Order is the traditional buddhist order of learning the Scripture with the Scripture of a large dinner-table Nirvana Order preached the buddhist sermons finally when Sakyamuni, Buddha practiced nirvana and at buddhist sermons finally when Sakyamuni, Buddha practiced nirvana and at present there are a number of temples of Nirvana Order founded starting from the Dynasty of Korea across the country. Kyungpok temple, the general head temple of Buddhist of Nirvana Order founded in the dynasty of Paikjae is being restored of the buddhist temple, In 1970, the Korea Buddhist Nirvana Order founded the buddhist temple of Wawoo Temple of the general head temple of buddhist since its restoration. At present, preaching and accomplishments of the religious founder are being performed in purity in buddhist temple of Nirvana Order across the country. Like this Korea Buddhist Nirvana Order makes a great contribution to buddhistic development in the midst of difficulties of a long history which is a religious order with 1370 of history and tradition succeeded to in continuity. The Order has been ceaselessly developed as a representative order in our country in an exchange with religious orders in the nations all over the world. Nirvana Order is carrying out the education and pure mission of the founder for a number of priests. Namu Sukamuni bul.
There are over 3,000 Buddhist statues on the temple grounds, the most famous of which are the Buldu (Buddha heads) placed at the entrance and the Wabul (reclining Buddha statue) stationed in the middle of the mountain. The 8m-high Buldu is the largest of its kind and the Wabul, which is made from a juniper tree from Indonesia, is 3m in height and 12m in length. As the world’s biggest wooden Buddhist sculpture, the Buldu has been registered in the Guinness Book of Records.

The temple is also home to a 5-Dhyani Buddha made of 30 tons of brass (taking decades to complete) as well as the 12-ton Bell of Unification (struck during the Seoul Olympics in 1988). Other attractions include a bronze statue of Buddha sitting with his legs half-crossed (the largest of its kind in the nation) and the nation’s only Sakyamuni Bulgohangsang statue.

One of the other unique things about the temple is the Pagoda of Unification, located besides the stairs of the Hall of Nirvana. The pagoda is comprised of stones brought by visitors from various holy sites all over the world. Hence, the construction of the Pagoda is a never-ending progress. And in fact, several pagodas constructed from the stones from world holy sites have been erected, the first one in the line-up (pictured) is several meters in height and much wider in girth than the others.

As a symbol of the pervading hope for world peace, a wide range of Buddhist statues from many countries including India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, China and Thailand are on display around the temple, allowing visitors to glimpse Buddhist cultures from all over the world.

No expense has been spared in the construction of this relatively modern, eclectic temple of Buddhism. Artistic design and artists employed to render the collection of 3,000 Buddha images is quite impressive, as are the manicured inclines upon which they sit. And unlike other temples which have cheap "paper" lanterns strewn everywhere to celebrate the upcoming birthday of Buddha, the lanterns here are, for the most part, hung away from the edifices and Buddhas letting the blooming azaleas and other spring flowers decorate the holy relics and buildings.

Tourism is expected here. A very ancient monk in an unusual (Southeast Asian?) monk garb approached my friend and I and exchanged a few words, mostly telling us to post pictures and invite friends - LOL. Obviously, the temple caters to the foreign crowd and tourism as their website provides information in not only Korean but also English, Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese and Russian.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bring Them Home: Remains of Korean War Heroes

The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History put on a special exhibition of the soldiers who died giving their lives for their families and countries but unfortunately because of the war were buried in the nameless place. The special exhibition is a tribute to these soldiers and to the efforts made to repatriate them to their families … “until the very last [soldier] is found”. (The following commentary is taken from the museum placards and displays.)

Section 1: In memory of those who could not return from the battlefields

Countless young Koreans participated in fighting against North Korea in the Korean War. The Korean War broke out when North Korea launched a surprise attack in the wee hours of June 1950. Around 163,000 Koreans lost their lives. During the war, 29,000 remains were recovered and returned to their families. However, there are 133,000 remains yet to be recovered. The pain of war is not limited to the front lines; it ricochets all the way back home to the family members. Discovering that their loved one had been killed in combat via a single casualty notification letter, the families were forced to live with their loss. The MND Agency for KIA Recovery & Identification (MAKRI, activated in 2007) launched a project to recover and identify the remains of the fallen heroes who are still waiting on the battlefields to be returned to their families. As of 2017, MAKRI has recovered 9,500 remains and has confirmed the identity of 121 remains. MAKRI spares no effort in fulfilling the noble promise and the duty to bring all the heroes back home.

Lives sacrificed for the country

When the Korean War broke out, the ROK Armed Forces had 103,827 soldiers and there were 48,283 police forces. Overwhelmed by the North Korean Army juggernaut, the ROK Armed Forces lost Seoul in three days and was cornered into the defense line at the Nakdong River. The United Nations came to the aid of Korea. Together with the UN Forces, the ROK Armed Forces assault continued north to the Aprok (Yalu or Amnok) River until the intervention of the People’s Republic of China in the war. A series of fierce battles took place all over the peninsula. More than 700,000 people answered the call to serve the country and student soldiers as well as the Civil Defense Corps soldiers were mobilized. Countless young soldiers lost their lives during the course of the war and 130,000 remains are still left behind on the battlefields.

Called to serve the country

At the beginning of the Korean War, there were already 21,478 casualties. The battle of Nakdong River itself caused 14,125 casualties. The number of casualties continued to rise and there was a great need for new soldiers. During the early stages of the war, not only was the ROK Armed Forces unprepared, but it was also ill-trained and ill-equipped to face a surprise attack. It was impossible to properly train new soldiers, including student soldiers, due to the rapidly evolving battlefield situations. In some cases, new soldiers were placed in battlefields only after a few hours of basic shooting training. It was not until August 1950 that the first recruit training center was established in Daegu. The newly recruited soldiers were posted to respective divisions after receiving basic military training for 4-16 weeks. Upon the completion of the basic military training, the soldiers were allowed to spend some time with their families before heading to the battlefields, leaving all the memories behind.

Number of deaths of civilians by province
Damage status to schools
On the front line

As the battles were fought all across the Korean peninsula, the last footprints of the soldiers are spread all over the country [sic]. Fierce battles took the lives of countless young soldiers. One of the war veterans said he lost two comrades in the Battle of Angang in September 1950, burying one comrade across Hyeongsan River and the other one at the 300 height [sic] towards Gyeongju. Another war veteran said he had to continue to fight against the enemy forces right after burying eight squad members in the Inje and Gimhwa in Gangwon-do in the summer of 1953. The ROK Armed Forces fought against the North Korean Army and the Chinese forces. More than half of a century has passed since the last soldier was buried on the battlefields.

Casualty notice

While there were already countless casualties during the early stages of the war and in the defensive battle around Nakdong river, there were more casualties from deadlocked battles on the front after 1951 as well. There were 50,000 casualties during the deadlock period. Both parties kept snatching back hilltops. In October 1952, there was the Battle of White Horse in Cheolwon, Gyeonggi-do. In the battle, the 9th Infantry Division of Korea fought against two divisions from the Chinese forces. The Korean Army had to give up the dominant hilltop position six times, but eventually managed to take and keep the hill after the seventh attempt. While the ownership of the hill continuously changed, it was impossible to collect dead bodies from the battlefield. In the summer of 1953, when the long war had finally ended, families awaited their sons but to no avail. All they received in the end was a casualty notice letter and an MIA (missing in action) confirmation letter.

Section 2: Unforgettable people

How can you forget a comrade left alone in a bullet-riddled trench? When can you fulfill the promised that you would at least take his remains to his family? From right after the war until the 1960s, there were efforts to find the remains of those who had lost their lives in the war. In fact, some of them were found and collected in the Pohang region in 1967. After that, there was no KIA (killed in action) recovery and identification project for a long time. However, the hope and the desire to find those who must not be forgotten has always been there and it led to a new KIA recovery and identification project in 2000. Thinking of the comrades they fought alongside during the war, we have been determined to deliver the promise that is long overdue.

Warfare is ugly ... Remains of cartridges recovered along with remains of some soldiers.
In pursuit of finding those who lost their lives in war

A project on compiling the history of the Korea War was carried out until the 1990s, and information of the battlefields was gathered. It was also suggested that a proactive approach on KIA recovery be introduced as the war generations who were able to provide information on the possible locations of the remains of the fallen soldiers were getting older. Against this backdrop, the Armed Forces commenced a KIA recovery project in Dabu-dong, Chilgok-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do, and the MND Agency for KIA Recovery & Identification was established in 2007. The agency analyzed the memorial tablets and gravestones at the National Cemetery in Seoul and put together a list of main battlefields based on information and advice provided by war veterans and war history documents. At the same time, the agency collected DNA information from the families of the missing soldiers to help in the identification of bodies recovered.

Nameless remains

The KIA recovery process is done as follows. The first thing is the preparation for the KIA recovery. The battle records are analyzed based on the testimonies from war veterans and information offered by local residents, and then the possible recovery sites are surveyed. After looking at traces of battles, such as foxholes, trenches and battle ruins, the specific locations are selected where the recovery mission will take place. After that, recovery and collection begins. An opening ceremony is held before excavating the site to recover the remains of the fallen soldiers. The recovery remains are temporarily placed and kept in paulownia caskets. Now it is all down to identifying the nameless soldiers.

Talking about the day

Along with the remains of around 10,000 soldiers, a few hundred thousand personal artifacts were recovered. There were helmets, rifles, ammunition, casings, bayonet, bayonet cases, belt buckles, raincoats, combat soles, shovels, and whistles. They were worn and eroded as many years have passed. In some cases only the buttons have survived the years as military uniforms with names tags have disappeared. There were traces of everyday items as well. Water bottles. Spoons, plastic combs, toothbrushes, soap cases, bowls, lighters, shoe cream cases, hand mirrors and wrist watches were recovered. Some artifacts conveyed the pain of going separate ways from loved ones. Fountain pens used to write letters to family members, harmonicas that would have made those in the battlefields feel sad and emotional, and necklaces that must have been carried by the owners at all times while they were alive. These bring us back to that day, more than 60 years ago.

Pictured in upper left: small glass bottles with antidotes for illnesses and the ubiquitous mosquitoes. Combat soles, bullets, and plastic spoons were some of the commonly recovered items ... they could withstand the weathering toils of 60+ years in acid soil which has high moisture content.
Section 3: Coming back to long-lost homes and families

The person who has been yearning to be returned to his family is finally returning. There is a welcoming placard in the neighborhood and a soldier knocks on the door of the departed one’s family house. Hearing the trembling voice of the messenger mentioning the name of the fallen hero who has returned to his family in a small box, the family cannot help but cry and caress the box. This is one of the very lucky cases. Around 10,000 remains recovered from all over the country are yet to be identified, by the following process. First, we determine whether the remains belong to the ROK or enemy forces. Thorough identification procedures, which involve equipment such as 3D scanners, take place; then DNA sample is compared with the families’ DNA information saved in our database.

Identifying the names of the fallen

At the discovery sites, friends from foes cannot be distinguished. Remains of the ROK, the UN, the North Korean and Chinese soldiers are often found together at the sites where fierce battles took place. It is likely that all of them have families somewhere far away from the battlefields. It is challenging to tell the difference between the North and South Korean soldiers by simply looking at the remains. The rifles and ammunition found together with the remains are carefully examined. The battle history is thoroughly studied to understand the attack and defense tactics used at the time. For some of the remains reaching the final conclusion, to determine whether it belongs to friends or foe, is sometimes postponed despite careful steps. It is a long journey to find the names of each and every soldier.

Recovered munitions of North Korean and Chinese forces.
Recovered munitions of South Korean forces.
With the power of advanced technology

Once the remains initially are identified to belong to a ROK soldier, they are transferred to the Central Identification Laboratory of the MND Agency for KIA Recovery & Identification for further analysis. Artifacts recovered with the remains are also transferred to the laboratory. When there is an artifact with an identification marker, photo or name, the DNA of the appropriate family is compared to confirm the identity. If there is no artifact found with the recovered remains, the DNA remains is compared with that of all families in the database. As DNA identification technology is highly advanced these days, the technology is used to a great extent. When performing DNA procedures, mt-DNA for material family members is used first and then hn-DNA of paternal family members is used. The mt-DNA method is used to compare the DNA information of the recovered remains with that of a living family member. The success or failure of this identification process depends on collecting DNA samples from family members.

Family members getting back together

Nobody foresaw that their father, older brother or baby brother would return to them. Waiting for 60 years has done that. Was it the lucky dream? Was it the food they served for the ancestors without skipping a year? Now they have the artifacts returned with the remains in front of them. Families share their stories. They show the photos the departed family member had given them before the final battle. They talk about the times passed holding on to the letters and postcards from them. They remember the farewell song their father had sung. They say they finally feel relieved from the lifelong grief of living without their father’s presence. Some remains found in the North were returned to the families after traveling halfway around the world. Each of these stories is heart-wrenching.

The notice of one's family member who was known to have died or gone missing in the war. This box of information was delivered to a family ... the only remains that most would ever get of their family member perhaps forever buried in an unknown nameless site.
Heading to a far-away country

As the armistice agreement was signed in 1953, the remains of the KIAs were recovered and exchanged between both parties. Around 4,000 remains from the UN forces and around 130,000 remains from the Red Army were exchanged during that time. However, there was no full-scale recovery project for the remains of the UN forces, the Chinese forces and the North Korean forces until 2000. Since the MND Agency for KIA Recovery & Identification commenced recovery work, they have found over 10,000 remains, some of which were found to belong to the UN, the Chinese and the North Korean forces. The agency held a mutual repatriation ceremony in 2016 and returned 10 American soldiers to their motherland. They have been repatriating the remains of Chinese soldiers every year since 2014. With the remains belonging to the North Korean forces, they have not been able to return them to North Korea, but they have set up a single cemetery for them in Paju, Gyeonggi-do.

Waiting for decades

The pain of waiting for family members who never returned after the war has been a shared grievance in the country. The ache of waiting, the sadness and the consolation are found in Korean literature, popular songs and films. Many literary works describe the memories of the war through stories and emotions about parting with loved ones, horror and conflicts. Sang Gu’s poem ‘The Poem of Burnt Land’ is one of them. Recording artist In Hyeon’s song ‘Farewell to My Comrade’ had a strong appeal for the affected families. The war has been covered by many films as well. Bongchun Yoon made a film called ‘On the Western Front’, which was about the Allied Forces’ Seoul recovery operation and advance towards the North.

Until the very last person is found

The main building MAKRI is located on the east side of the National Cemetery in Seoul. Elderly people relying on walking sticks who have not been able to find any remains of their family members visit the building. They visit with the shred of hope that the newly recovered remains belong to their lost family members. They do not have many more years left, but they are still hoping to hear the good news before it is too late. To the right of the building is Kuksunjae, a storage place for unidentified remains. The carefully kept 10,000 containers that are stacked together up to the ceiling have numbers instead of names on them. In continuous pursuit of recovering 124,000 soldiers who lost their lives in the war, members of MAKRI walk the valleys and ridges even today.

Monday, April 17, 2017

7th Korean Archery Competition by Jongno-gu Office

The Royal Asiatic Society (and friends) were given a personal invitation to attend the 7th Traditional Korean Archery Competition sponsored by the Jongno-gu office. The competition was to be held at the Hwanghak-jeong, literally "archery" plus "club" or "pavilion", which was the king's archery range in former times. Hwanghakjeong is, by reputation, the strictest among the ranges, which means rules of etiquette and silence while shooting and the ethics of shooting are rather formally conducted here. Its reputation is high and the respect given and received is also high. So attending this competition has a bit more impetus than attending others.

As I understand it, almost every archery range in Seoul (there are 7 or 8, and about 360 overall in Korea) hold annual competitions. I don't know about the other competitions, but this one lasted all day. Koreans love ceremony, and because this range has the perhaps the richest history, its ceremony is also a big deal. High-statused very elderly men who were instrumental in building the Korean society gave well-wishing remarks, read ceremonial lines, introduced key players. The initial ceremony of course began in the pavilion, the Hwanghakjeong from which the range derives its name and which was built by King Kojong near the end of the Joseon Dynasty and transferred to this site in 1923.

The prize was visually presented to the participants at the beginning of the ceremony. No gold cup here. Just a large heavy acrylic placard that read of achieving success and was presented by the mayor of Jongro-gu and head of the 39th steering committee of Hwanghakjeong Korean Archery Range in Seoul. 

All players, after having been properly greeted, welcomed, heard explanations of the rules, and seen the ultimate prize, lined up in the field whereupon everyone in the compound stood and sang (listened to a broadcast, actually) the national anthem while facing the Korean flag. 

Pictures were taken. And the deep mahogany velvet-like flag that had been presented to the winning guild last year was returned to await the competition outcome of this year to see who would take the trophy flag home. [The mahogany flag is in the foreground of the picture below.]

The preliminaries ... coming to a close. Notice the distance to the target! More than twice that of a western archery range, which averages 70 meters!

The weather was perfect, one of the best days we've had to far! About 21C with cherry blossoms occasionally fluttering along the far edge of the field, warm rays touching cheeks, and the grass greening beneath the archers' feet. Just glorious!

All archers know their own arrows. They are never notched but might have markers or fingernail polish painted on them to give them distinguishing marks.

Fiberglass arrows. Traditional arrows tend to be of one length and a bit shorter than these. Since traditional arrows are handmade and are pricey (to the tune of W30,000 or more each), synthetic arrows are the preferred. I was told, however, that when someone reaches 4th-dan (or level), it's kind of expected that the person use the traditional arrows. The drawback of that is traditional arrows tend to be of one size (bamboo of the ideal diameter is typically short), while the arrows below fluctuate in length as these arrows were chosen based on one's personal arm-reach. Someone who's quite tall and learns on the arrow that suits his/her arm-reach but then tries to use the shorter traditional arrows would feel a bit cramped as he/she would have to adjust to a different range of pull.

Cho In-souk, RAS member and the new 부사두 or rather the "vice-president + archery + ?" of the archery range, swept all non-Koreans to the prized archery gallery for a special guided tour -- the Norwegian ambassador and his wife, two Japanese and one of whom is a kendo master and who also enjoys archery, and then myself and another RAS member. Cho In-souk was assisted by the director of the archery range Mr. Shin Dong-sul and an equestrian-nursing professor of Seoul National University. Quite the interesting mix of people all coming together to talk about archery!

The equestrian-nursing professor of Seoul National University gracefully posing beside the Korean-made battle devise for discharging 100 arrows at one time. Ah the irony (grace mixed with martial arts) of this picture!

Back at the archery range the competition was picking up speed. Archery participants were grouped in groups of 7, and the announcer via the microphone would set the pace of the archers shooting. He would announce the groups, and then each archer with 5 arrows to shoot, would take his/her turn to shoot the five arrows. No calling, congratulating, exulting, etc was to be done doing this time (Hwanghakjeong is, remember, very strict on proper rules of sportsmanship conduct). The archers would pull back their bowstrings, hold the position while confirming in their minds (remember, traditional archery is a meditation sport) that their minds and bodies were in harmony with their intention to hit the target, and, whiiiiiish, the arrow was shot. For those striking the target board, a flag was waved. No signal was given if the arrow missed the target.

Turn by turn, the archers shot. There are three groups simultaneously shooting, so potentially three people could be shooting at one time. The pace was still slow and unhurried. Traditional archery is, remember, a meditation sport.

While western archery aims for targets of about 70 meters, Korean traditional archers aim for targets at more than 140 meters away ... and they hit them!

Another RAS member and I left at 3pm as the individual competition was coming to a close but the group/guild competition had yet to be fought out. We didn't see the prize distribution or ceremony, but we did network with other guild members and I am sure we will both be back!