Korea 2015: return to the motherland
by Pauline Park
In June 2015, I returned to Korea for the first time since I left at the age of seven and-a-half months old; it was a momentous trip. These are some photos from the month I spent in the Land of the Morning Calm.
I flew out of La Guardia to Dallas and spent the night in a mini hotel at DFW.
I flew out of DFW to Incheon, Korea’s largest airport.
I arrived at Incheon international airport, only to be confronted with bilingual posters in English and Korean warning of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) ‘epidemic,’ which turned out to be a hyped non-epidemic.
I took the AREX train into Seoul, arriving at Seoul Station around dusk.
I took a taxicab to the Ramada Hotel Namdaemun.
I awoke the next morning to a spectacular panorama of Seoul as seen through the window of my room at the Ramada Hotel Namdaemun, with Seoul Station on the left.
I met two other participants in the Mosaic 2015 adult tour organized by Me & Korea which ran from June 17-28; we went out to lunch at Seoul Station and on the way back passed Namdaemun, the Great South Gate.
I visited Soedaemun Prison Museum with a friend; Korean nationalists were held here during the Japanese occupation and tortured and murdered. But the postwar Korean dictatorship continued to use Soedaemun to detain, torture and murder political dissidents for decades after the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945.
On Sunday, June 21, Mosaic tour participants attended a service at the Jesus’ Love Church, featuring a rather extraordinary sermon by the Elder Pastor Kim, who told us that we shouldn’t think of ourselves as Korean adoptees but rather as warriors for Christ whose mission is to take over the United States so that it can convert the entire world to Christianity. Thankfully, the sermon was only half an hour long (even if it seemed much longer), and after the service, some of us were paired with ‘host families,’ others with ‘host buddies.’
I met my two host buddies, the wonderful Tae Kyung Ahn and Sinhae Lee, and we saw much of Seoul together, including Changyecheon stream, one of the most delightful places in the city.
Mosaic tour participants served lunch to elderly Koreans at a soup kitchen near Seoul station. Afterwards, we took a bus down to Gyeongju (Kyongju) in the southeast.
Cheomseongdae Observatory 첨성대 (瞻星臺) is one of the oldest surviving structures in KoreaCheomseongdae. Built in 647 during the reign of Queen Seondeok of the Silla kingdom, Cheomseongdae was used as an astronomical observatory.
Gyeongju (Kyongju) was the capital of the ancient Silla kingdom during the Three Kingdoms period and it was fascinating to visit.
Mosaic participants took a group shot at Cheomseongdae Observatory.
Dongung Palace & Anapji Pond.
Hanhwa Resort in Gyeongju was a nice place to stay overnight, but surprisingly lacked wi-fi in the rooms and non-Korean TV stations.
The Mosaic tour wended its way to Pohang, where we dipped our feet into the waters of the East Sea (Dong Hae) — Koreans don’t call it the ‘Sea of Japan’~!
The waters off Pohang are so clear you can see the sea floor and all of the flora and fauna in the ocean.
Jukdo market in Pohang was huge and fascinating.
Jukdo market in Pohang had live octopus and fish of every kind.
Live octopus on display in Judo market made for a visual feast.
Mosaic tour participants were instructed in traditional tea service and taught how to sing “Arirang,” the most famous of all Korean folk songs — though I had already learned the song before going to Korea.
We had Korean archery lessons as well.
On the morning of the last full day of the Mosaic tour, participants scaled Naksan fortress wall.
In the afternoon, I took the Seoul subway with Sina Lee and Jacob Bowman to Insadong, a popular shopping area that is known for offering more traditional items than Myeongdong.
Insadong is a popular shopping district in Seoul.
I had a small but perfectly serviceable room at the Itaewon Inn for 10 days and nights.
The Queer Korea Festival drew a crowd estimated at 35,000, making it the largest event in the history of the LGBT community of Korea.
Christian fundamentalists tried to block the event from going forward and then tried to drown it out with loud noise but abjectly failed in that goal.
This was the first Queer Korea festival in Seoul City Hall Plaza in the heart of the city.
At the festival, a young man confronted a Christian fundamentalist.
I was invited to keynote the Queer Korea Festival (퀴어문화축제 & 퍼레이드).
Chogakbo is a new transgender advocacy project and had a float in the Seoul Pride Parade.
Seoul Pride 2015 was the most exciting pride parade I’ve ever been in; there were no pandering politicians and no corporate sponsorship, just ordinary LGBT people marching for their rights.
The mayor of Seoul put 3,000 police officers on the ground to guard participants in the Queer Korea Festival and Seoul Pride Parade.
Seoul Pride drew thousands of LGBT Koreans and allies to march for LGBT rights.
On Monday, June 29, Larry Tung and I met with two researchers at the As an Institute who had written a briefing paper on LGBT rights and discrimination in Korea. In the afternoon, we met with a Korean transgender activist.
Larry Tung and I explored the popular shopping district of Myeongdong on June 30 and I commented on how very ‘metrosexual’ young Korean men were, especially in the promotional posters in Myeongdong, in which the young men are very boyish, some even quite girlish to an American eye.
Larry and I were amused by the cute products on the shelves in stores in Myeongdong.
Myeongdong cut-outs of a Korean boy band with a K-Pop look, which seems to be a dominant influence among young Koreans in Seoul.
At Daeksugong palace, Larry and I watched the changing of the guard; I was absolutely enchanted by the bright yellow garb of some of the guardsmen, with the feathers on their Joseon (Choson) dynasty era style hats and their traditional Korean flute playing.
In the evening, we passed by Gwanghwamun, the great entrance gate to Gyeongbokkung, the main royal palace and the largest of the five royal palaces in Seoul.
King Sejong commissioned the creation of the Korean alphabet and is the most revered of all Korea’s kings.
I was invited to speak at a press conference at the Turkish consulate in Seoul protesting the Istanbul police violence against participants in the Istanbul Pride Parade.
In the morning, Larry Tung and I went to the Social Welfare Services office to film in front of the rock outside the SWS office.
In the evening, I spoke at a meeting of Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea (Haeng Seong In) attended by over 50 people.
I was invited to give a presentation to members of Palestine Peace & Solidarity in South Korea 팔레스타인평화연대 at their July 7 meeting.