Showing posts from June, 2010

SK Solidarity Trip Finakpo': Final Thoughts on My Solidarity Trip

I’ve been back in Guam now for more than a week since my South Korea trip. I’ll still be back-posting for the new few weeks as there is still so much more to say and blog about. Remember that you can easily access the posts for certain days of my trip by clicking on the appropriate tag.
Day 1: Seoul
Day 2: Pyeongtaek
Day 3: Gangjeong
Day 4: Seoul
Day 5: Mugeon-ri

As I think back on my trip I met so many fantastic people and heard so many tragic and inspiring stories. But when I was thinking back on what part of the trip stayed with me the most, or what is sort of that haunting excess, that sticks out and determines far more meaning now than it probably did then, one exchange constantly pops into my mind. It could be so many things: the beauty of Jeju, and the tinaiprisu of the fight of the villagers of Gangjeong, the tragic marks on the soul and skin of political prisoners, the way a people struggle with the division of their nation and its past history of colonization (and current history …

SK Solidarity Trip Day 5: Worst History Lesson...Ever

On my last full day in South Korea, after traveling north to hear about the struggles against the expansion of the Mugeon-ri training areas, I had a few hours to myself, to do whatever I wanted with. After five days of tightly scheduled trips, visits, meals and transportation adventure, I really appreciated being able to explore on my own for a bit, the area I was staying in Seoul.

I did not know my way around Seoul at the start of the trip and I still don’t know much about its geography, except for the little area near downtown that I was staying in. In my little area I could tell you where almost anything was (so long as its signage contained some English letters or images which indicated what was inside). I could tell you how many Dunkin Donuts were in the area and lead you to all of them, and could show you were the three music stores that I had found were, and even the chick place, which has a sign where a friendly looking chicken invites you to come in and partake of the flesh of…

SK Solidarity Trip Day 4: PSPD Report

There were a number of things which overshadowed my trip to South Korea, and when I say overshadowed, I mean things which would constantly appear, be brought up or dictate the conversation regardless of where I went. For instance, the World Cup was huge while I was in South Korea and so everywhere I went, people were talking about it or sporting their pride in their national sport's team. Another issue was reunification and how recent elections this month have helped diminish so many hopes for progress on the re-uniting of the two Koreas.

One issue however, especially in conversations with South Korea activists, whether in Seoul, Paju, Pyeongtaek or Jeju, which was always very prominent and had so many people angry, frustrated or on edge was the sinking of the South Korean military ship, the Cheonan in March. The ship was participating in joint training exercises with US military forces, when it ran aground and split in two 58 of those aboard survived while 46 died. The South Korea…

SK Solidarity Trip Day 4: Activists of the Soil

One of the problems in their fight is that while most of Jeju may know about their resistance, news of this fight has barely reached the mainland of South Korea. This was something which I had heard two days earlier from Mr. Kang Sang-won in Pyeongtaek when he was talking about the difficulties in trying to get people outside of the immediate vicinity to care.

One of the problems with the rural struggles in South Korea against US base expansion is that the news of their fight barely reaches the large population centers of South Korea. For instance, while most of Jeju Island may know about the resistance of the villagers of Gangjeong or the city of Pyeongtaek may know about the resistance by local farmers, or even the citizens of Paju might know about the displacement of villagers in order to expand the Mugeon-ri training fields, but this news doesn't travel very far otherwise. I heard this most specifically from Mr. Kang Sang-won in Pyeongtaek when he was talking about the difficul…

SK Solidarity Trip Day 4: My Life as a Korean Soap Star

As I've regularly said over the course of these posts, being in South Korea for a week and not speaking any Korean at all was very frustrating. I had the help of a few guides and interpreters, but wandering around areas of Seoul on my own was a very strange experience. Most people in Korea knew some English, usually enough terms in order to conduct a brief greeting or manage an exchange of currency for goods. What made it a very weird experience is that so many people weren't sure who I was or what I was. Many people actually assumed that I was Korean, a bit odd looking, odd dressing, the facial hair was a bit strange, even for young people, and the clothes. The tattoos on my arms marked as a rough type, or a privileged kid trying to pretend to be rough. They were just English characters, not long stretches of skin like canvas and so I wasn't in the mafia or something.
Most people spoke to me in Korean and would smile and be very friendly, and then change the moment they re…

SK Soldarity Trip Day 3: Gambling With Governors

Our first visit in Gangjeong village took us to the Mayor’s office. There were spent more than an hour meeting with the Mayor, discussing the latest news in Gangjeong’s fight to prevent the building of a Navy port along their coast. Members of his staff and people from the village later took us around the southern part of the island to give us a history lesson and also show us some of the other sites of militarization on Jeju.

On our walk to the Mayor’s office, I was intrigued to see dozens of houses with tall bamboo poles and small yellow flags. I asked Sung-Hee what the meaning of the yellow flags was, and she said that those houses belong to people who are against the military buildup to in the village. As I walked around, I realized that the majority of the houses had them, some even had several banners, I guess to really really emphasize their disagreement with the construction of the Navy base.

Meeting with the Mayor and his staff was good in terms of giving us a brief history of …

SK Solidarity Trip Quotes: Militarism vs. Eco-Tourism

"The [Jeju] government only thinks of economy in terms of military money. But they do not see the economic potential of this beautiful place. If Gangjeong is to be developed it should be through eco-tourism not militarization…

We, the people of this island should determine what our fate should be. The geography of this island puts us at a very important crossroads between nations. We should make the choice to develop this island because of its beauty through eco-tourism and not through militarization, which would only make us a target…If we all fight, who will win? No one. We would be gone in three seconds. To survive we must pursue dialogue and seek co-existence, not seek to force one another."

Kang Dong-Kyun
Mayor of Gangjeong Village
Jeju Island, South Korea
(via an interpreter)

SK Solidarity Trip Day 3: Militarization on an Island of Peace

Our delegation arrived in Jeju late last night and there wasn't much to see in the middle of the night riding on a bus to the hotel. Today, we have a packed schedule of meeting with some of the villagers of Gangjeong, their mayor, a tour of different military facilities on Jeju Island, and finally a presentation this evening to the villager on our work and what is happening in other communities affecting by similar problems of militarization.

For those who may not know much about Jeju or Gangjeong, I'm pasted an article below which puts the local struggle here on this island into a wider global strategic context very well. From the little I know so far about what the South Korean and US militarys have planned for this island and this tiny village, it is clear that every large grand plan depends upon small, local places. Often times the most valuable asset that these small, tiny place provide to those big grand plans, is that they are small, and outside of the vision of most peo…

SK Solidarity Trip Day 2: Strategic Flexibility

We took a train south from Seoul to reach the city of Pyeongtaek. At the train station we were met by Mr. Kang Sang-Won, the director of the Pyeongtaek Peace Center, who took us to his office. We spent some time in his office, learning the history of the problems that they have had with the always expanding military bases in the area, and later were taken on a tour around the area to see the bases themselves.

To give you a little background, in 2006 Pyeongtaek became a central struggle in the anti-base movement in South Korea. In the areas around Pyeongtaek, there are two US military bases, Osan which is an Air Force base and Camp Humphrey’s which is an Army base. In anticipating of moving US forces from Yonsang in Seoul down to Camp Humphreys, the South Korea government announced plans (three years earlier) to take huge pieces of land from farmers and small villages around the two bases.

In an effort to stop the taking of these lands, local farmers and peace activists from around Korea…

SK Solidarity Trip Day 2: Art in Daechuri

While at the Pyeongtaek Peace Center, I had the chance to meet with Yongdong Yang, an artist and one of the main photographers who captured the resistance of the people of Daechuri village, which was almost completely demolished in order to make way for the expansion of Camp Humphreys. He published a book a few years ago chronicling the fight of the villagers, and I was lucky enough to purchase a copy while I was at the Center.

Unfortunately the book is entirely in Korean and the only thing I can read in it are the dates on which the photos were taken. Nonetheless, many of the pictures are very powerful and a few very brutal. We see in some the simple but direct resistance of people who are fighting for their land, fighting to not lose the land or homes some held in their families for generations, and be forced to live in high-rise apartments like the majority of South Koreans today. But in other images we see the overcompensation of the state, the vast army of riot police that it sent…

SK Solidarity Trip Day 2: K-Pop and Computer Games

I asked a few people before I left Guam what, if anything, they would want me to try and get for them while I was in South Korea. Most people, thankfully said nothing, since I knew I wouldn't have alot of time for commercial exploring or shopping on this trip.

My brother Jeremy (Kuri), is helping my stubstitues with the AV equipment for my classes while I'm gone and so when he said that he didn't want anything from South Korea, I pushed him further to come up with something I could get for him, to pay him back for helping me out. Put i tiningo'-hu put i che'l-hu, ya hafa ya-na, siempre guaha minalago-na.
Last year in one of my Guam History classes a friend of my brothers outed him as a closet K-Pop fan. Apparently a few weeks before, a K-Pop group had been on island for a vacation, and so when Kuri and his friends heard about this and found out what hotel they were staying at, they rushed down their to try and meet them. As they wandered around the hotel, like all t…

SK Solidarity Trip Day 2: Swords vs. Plowshares

The highlight of today's trip is a visit to the city of Pyeongtaek to visit the Pyeongtaek Peace Center and also hear the latest news of that community's struggle against the expanding US military bases nearby. In 2006 there was a very big conflict between the residents of two villages who were to be displaced to expand the size of two bases, Osan and Humphreys. Over the years I have heard small snippets of information about what has happened there, seen images of violent repression by police, different tactics of resistance employed by the villagers, and the tragic faces of those who eventually lost their fight and their land.

I looked forward to learning more about this area and its history.

A note on the title of this post. The first image above is the logo for the Pyeongtaek Peace Center, and I find it a very creative variation on the famous Bible verse, now world peace and UN slogan:

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will…