Do you know what’s scary? Answer:- the way I procrastinate. If you look back over the years, readers will find that I will be making New Year Resolutions and wishing every one a Happy New Year sometime towards the end of January. Likewise, I tend to leave my Christmas decorations up and try to disguise them to make it look like I put them up specially for Chinese New Year a few months later. So just yesterday, I finally got to watch the movie that I had set aside for Halloween.
It’s a Korean movie titled, “Train to Busan”. As if train journeys are often not horrific enough, they throw in large numbers of evil, undead zombies. It is a big hit in Korea and you know what? In my humble squirrel opinion, it deserves every good review it has received. As with any zombie movie, it is not so much a spine chilling horror experience but more of an adrenaline racing, heart pounding action movie. But the human element is well crafted into the story and the acting surprisingly good; especially the young girl in the story. I recommend it.
You know what else is scary? The real world! Starting with Korea where the Korean President is alleged to have been unduly influenced by the daughter of a cult leader (BBC story); to Indonesia where thousands took part in violent and fatal protests in the capital Jakarta because they do not want a popular (and generally held to be an effective) non-Muslim governor overseeing a majority Muslim city; and finally the insane circus of the current U.S. Presidential elections. Hilary or Trump? The squirrel shakes his head at both but trembles in fear at the thought of President Trump.
And so, we squirrels have decided to intervene for the sake of the world.
The first time I was asked, “What’s your poison?” was at a British pub. As a young, non-native English speaker, I was wondering what I did to offend my host so that he would offer me poison. Since then, I have learned that it is just a way of asking what drink I would like.
Err….that is a way of asking what drink I would like, right?
But some of you gentle readers may be surprised to learn that one man’s poison is another man’s cure. And so, here is a post on drink and poison.
I refer to the Korean practice of having the notoriously deadly and venomous Asian Giant Hornets and other stingers in their alcohol or soju. I came across this in a market in the city of Sokcho which is in the northeast of South Korea and not too far from the border with the North.
It is said to give a richer flavor profile to the soju as well as a characteristic bitter after taste. More importantly, like most such medicinal alcohols, it is supposed to give a boost to “male stamina”. And so, for those of you gentle readers who may be interested in alcoholic drinks or traditional medicines or need help with “male stamina” or are poison wielding murderers in training or are just interested in the bizarre ……. try this poison!
I could only find one video in English that covers this beverage. So here it is….
The cartoon kinda sums up my confused state of mind. When I was a wee lad, I grew up on a diet of television series like “Combat”, movies like Chuck Norris’ “Missing in Action” and Commando War Comics. All of which tended to give a glorified and sanitized portrayal of war, in that, the bad guys are usually clearly viciously bad and deserve to be killed by the virtuous good guy heroes who almost always just get flesh wounds.
And so, I grew up playing soldier and even cowboys and Indians. Only later did I begin to understand that war is almost never clear cut black and white and it’s not just the bad guys that get killed. I learned about “collateral damage”, “civilian casualties”, “killing fields” and “genocide”. I began to see that war wasn’t cool.
Today, I consider myself to be firmly in the peace-loving, pacifist, flower-power camp. Or at least, that’s who I grew up to be. And yet, I confess that I was excited to have the opportunity, with my brother, to visit the Korean War Memorial and their open air collection of war machines. Please forgive this relapsing war-junkie as I guiltily present some photos from that visit.
I took a bit of liberty with the title of this post. It isn’t about the Andy Williams’ song by that name. Sorry if I misled you.
This post is actually about a photograph I took of a bridge in South Korea. I had previously posted about going to Hahoe Village which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The village lies within a loop of the Nakdong River. Nearby is the town of Andong and it is there that we find Woryeong-gyo or the “reflection of the Moon on the river” bridge.
The Woryeong-gyo, with a length of 387 m, crosses the Nakdong River and is the longest wooden pedestrian bridge in South Korea.
There is a legend associated with the bridge. It is said that the construction style of the bridge resembles that of the mituri which is a type of traditional straw shoes made of paper, mulberry, bush clover, hemp, and rice straws. The legend speaks of a grieving wife who expressed her love for her deceased husband and her deep sorrow by making a pair of mituri sandals using her own hair. The bridge, so they say, commemorates her act of devotional love.
So in short, the bridge is about romance.
I got there on a cold winter night and I did indeed get to see the reflection of the moon on the river. It was indeed a beautiful and romantic spot. I might have enjoyed it more if I was not busy shivering and bracing myself against the chilly blasts of wind coming off the water. It took me many cups of ht tea later to feel warm again and to regain sensation in my fingers and exposed ears.
Still, despite the shivering, I managed to take this hand-held and long exposure photo of a pavilion located near the middle of the bridge. Sure, it ain’t perfect but I am still rather pleased with how it came out.
Ladies and gents……….(drum roll)………… the spirit of ethereal love as seen at the pavilion of the “reflection of the Moon on the river” bridge on the Nakdong River.
In the middle of the bustling city of Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, lies a 14 hectare oasis of tranquility. It is the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, the only one in the world honoring those that have fallen while serving the UN cause. Twenty-one nations sent men and women to serve in the Korean War and 11 of those countries are represented with plots in the cemetery.
However, it is still relatively unknown to many people. When I made enquiry about it to a couple of local Korean tourist guides, they expressed surprise that I would be interested in visiting the place. However, one of them came with me and left with a different and much more appreciative attitude. She promised that she would recommend it to other visitors in the future.
The Korean War was the costliest conflict involving troops serving under the United Nations flag with about 41,000 killed or missing. Among the casualties were not just soldiers but medical and aid personnel. The United States lost 36,600 service personnel with another103,300 injured. Last weekend, was Memorial Day in the U.S. which was the spur for this post.
When visiting a war memorial cemetery like this, one cannot help but ponder about the young men and women who served and died for a people and a place that they did not know and are now interred forever away from home.
There are 2,300 lie buried here including 4 known only to God.
The place is beautiful and serene. The Commission for the United Nations Memorial Cemetery (CUNMCK) has done a wonderful job and the Korean soldiers that stand watch over the place give honor to those that died in service for their nation.
A few years ago, I was in Washington D.C. and I took the opportunity to visit the museums but because I am a taphophile, I was also very keen to visit the Arlington National Cemetery and the war memorials.
When I was growing up, the Vietnam War was not far away and people spoke of the “domino theory” which suggested that a communist victory in Vietnam would lead to the fall of other nations in South East Asia to communism in quick succession. The war was never far from our thoughts and from our news. And then the Vietnamese refugees started coming to our shores; we called them the “Boat People”. When I was 14, I spent my school holidays as a volunteer with a U.N. office trying to match names on search requests sent in by relatives against a long list of names of registered refugees in the hope of reuniting separated loved ones. I never did succeed in making even one match.
And so, I was very aware about the Vietnam War and I did visit the Vietnam War Memorial.
But there was another earlier Asian war that I and many, many people are less familiar with …….. the Korean War. It was a little before I was born and I was never taught anything about it in school. Believe it or not, the first I learned about it was from watching the TV series M.A.S.H.
Yet in many ways, although much shorter, it was a bloodier war than the Vietnam War. The percentage of casualties compared to soldiers committed was extremely high. For example, the average U.S. casualties per month was 4,257 for the Korean War as compared to 2,092 for the Vietnam War (source:Korean War Educator). And the suffering of the Korean people was great with as much as 10% of the population killed – a rate of civilian deaths which were higher than that for World War II.
I was deeply moved when I had the opportunity to visit the memorial to what some have called “the Forgotten War”, and remember the sacrifices made and the lives lost.
Warning! Super long post! The Squirrel is in a philosophical mood.
Last weekend was Easter and thoughts of all Christians (including me) was focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, two other deaths occurred over that weekend that made me ponder the whole issue of life and death. Or more specifically, how our view of life affects our view of death and vice versa.
At my church’s Good Friday service, one of the thoughts that we meditated on was the fact that Jesus told his disciples that when he went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, he would be arrested and he would be killed but in spite of that, he went anyway. A death wish? Christians sometimes say that Jesus was born to die.
All of us die, eventually. If we are born then we will die. But of Jesus it is believed that his whole life led to one purpose and that was to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind. (of course, on Easter, we celebrate his rising from the dead, victorious over death itself). But my point was that Jesus lived his life with the knowledge that his life’s ultimate purpose would be fulfilled by his death.
Please note that death was not something pleasant even for Jesus. He knew his death was going to be terrible and costly physically, mentally and spiritually; that is why he prayed “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” That is why he wept for Lazarus, his friend who had died, even though he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. Death is not a good thing.
However, Jesus willingly laid down his life for others because he saw his life purpose fulfilled with his death.
That led me to my first thought:- that we could face death with with more peace if we believed that our lives had purpose and we have lived it to the full.
Last Friday, I also learned about the death of one very sweet and very inspiring lady. Her name was Sharon and she died of cancer. The doctors had given her less than 6 months to live but she fought on for 21 months. She had her chemotherapy and suffered through the hair loss and nausea. She had periods when she was desperately ill and others where it seemed like she was almost untouched by the disease. But through even the worse of it, she was always ready with a smile and encouragement for those around her. In fact, her friends say that she smiled with her whole face.
And giving encouragement to others was just what she did. During those 21 months, she took care of her family and friends, ministering to those who had come to minister to her and she used her energy to set up a Cancer support group for patients and care givers that has been a blessing to several hundred people already.
This was a very special woman and I must add that her compassion for cancer victims did not start only when she herself was stricken by the disease but some 30 years earlier, she had already started to do voluntarily work which included raising money for disabled and abandoned children, and providing support for cancer patients who had their life savings swindled by con men offering fake cures. Her efforts made such an impression that she was given the keys to the city. Amazing achievements, I am sure you would agree but I never heard about any of this from Sharon herself. I only learned about it from the eulogies at her funeral – which only emphasizes just how rare a life Sharon lived.
She had fought the disease as much as she possibly could but she never stopped living life as she wanted to. She spent her last days spending time with her loved ones (including a couple of holidays), going out to eat her favorite foods (even when she was not able to eat more than a spoonful) and most of all, still serving and encouraging others.
But, as her life spark began to ebb for the final time, she was at peace. Death did not scare her because she was confident in her faith that God who had been with her though it all was ready to lead her to everlasting life after death.
This led me to my second reflection; if we have hope beyond death, we are able to enjoy life to the full and still be able to let go when the time comes and not cling on to life in desperation and fear.
This is the antidote to the unhappy state that is referred to by the poet, Dylan Thomas, when he wrote these poignant but sad lines about his dying father;
Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The tragedy of the sinking of the Korean ferry is very much in the news; a tragedy made worse by the fact that so many of the victims were young students from a High School near Seoul. At the moment of this posting, 104 have been confirmed dead and 198 are still missing. This is so very sad. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of all who have perished.
However, it was the story about the school vice-principle that really touched me. He was one of the 174 fortunate ones that were picked up and rescued from the sinking ferry. He had been brought back on land. He had been given a second chance at life.
He was found a couple of days later hanging from a tree. Apparently, he had committed suicide. He was given a second chance at life and he chose to end it.
Why did he do it? I am sure he felt he had his reasons. It could have been from a sense of responsibility as he had organised the school trip. It could have been through a sense of fear of the anger of the bereaved parents; how could he face them? It could have been through a sense of guilt; why did he survive when so many young people died? I don’t know what was going through his mind that he thought he had to end his life.. It may seem that he had wasted his second chance but I don’t blame him or judge him. I am just sorry that there was no one there for him at that moment when he needed help.
But as I thought about it, I came to my third reflection; when we have no more hope in life, then death is welcomed.
Now most of us don’t think much about death and dying cause we are too busy with living and death seems distant. But I think death sets the context and helps us understand life just as we cannot really understand and appreciate light if we have not experience darkness, sweetness if we haven’t experience sourness etc.
I know I have been incredibly reflective and sombre. Thank you for sticking with me if you have made it this far down the post. I guess what I have been trying to say is that we need to examine our understanding of the end of life so that we can live our lives wisely. I always say that my one wish is to “die happy” cause that must mean that I look back at my life without regret and look forward with hope.
My nephew’s wife (would that be my niece-in-law?) is a lovely Korean girl. So I guess it was just a matter of time that there was a family vacation to Korea to get to know the culture better and that is what we did last September.
We did make a trip to Gangnam to witness the Gangnam Style made famous by Psy ( the ladies wanted to do some shopping) but for me, it was just a cityscape like you could find almost anywhere in the world and filled with overpriced designer goods. So the real Gangnam like the Gangnam Style video just left me cold.
Instead, the highlight of the trip for me was our visit to Andong Hahoe Village. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a snapshot of Korean life that has remained relatively unchanged since the Joseon Dynasty at around the 16th Century.
Hahoe Village is beautifully located within a bend of the tranquil Nakdong River with beautiful sandy beaches and the imposing Buyongdae Cliff on the opposite bank. It’s name actually means “Village that is enveloped by water”.
Its buildings represent the architecture of the 16th Century and the Confucianism philosophy ascendent at that time. Indeed the village was suppose to be an incubator of intellectuals and court officials of the Joseon Dynasty.
However, what really makes this special is that the place (unlike many) has not been put on for tourists – it is still very much a real, working, living village with the villagers still living a mostly traditional life. A real time capsule with insight to the Korean psyche.
The villagers still work the land. Paddy fields, vegetable gardens, and orchards are found both in and around the village. Traditional crafts like mask making are still practiced and traditional costumes are still worn especially at weekends.
I loved the place. Hope you will enjoy the photos (all photos by LGS).
Oh, and the beef bbq Korean style in Andong is mucho delicious. A must try.
Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels