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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Becoming Myself: A Korean Photographic Essay

















"Home is not just the place where you happen to be born. It's the place where you become yourself."
Pico Iyer

On my 22nd birthday, my relationship with Korea began on the wings of serendipity. On that day, Sept. 2nd, 1973, I received an official acceptance letter from the U.S Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., telling me I was being assigned to serve in South Korea. 

Several months later, in Daegu, a city I had never before heard of,  I was about to complete my in-country training. As he did with each of the other fifty or so volunteers, Dr. Chae, the Korean director of our program, gave me a Korean name. That name, Song Su Nam, gave root to its own nearly novelesque imagery: an old wise man who lived on the Korean peninsula during the time of the Chinese Song dynasty. So I ask rhetorically, when exactly did my relationship with Korea really begin?

A family aboard an overnight ferry bound for Cheju Island (Spring, 1975)


Dining in a Korean Chinese restaurant (1974)

Is being home a place, a presence, or is it more like a journey? And what do we make of the places in between? 

Couple on a Daegu public bus (1974)


Korean elders. This man wears the traditional Korean horsehair hat (1974)

"Am I closer to some other power? Is some other source, some other energy, closer to me than I am to myself?"
Meister Eckhart


Downtown Daegu (1974) before the era of private cars


Downtown Daegu in 2013. In today's Korea, luxury cars hardly draw a second glance

The old and the new in the northeastern
coastal city of Kangnun


Young women in rented Hanbok, Korean traditional dress.
Here taking selfies in Seoul (2016)
Busan's Haeundae Beach during the off-season (Sept. 2014)

Living in Korea makes other parts of Asia much more accessible. By air, Japan is less than two hours away, as is Beijing. For non-Korean citizens, that city provides access to North Korea. Taiwan and Hong Kong are also popular destinations for Koreans and expats alike. Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, are following, or attempting to follow, South Korea's recent path from a developing country to a shining example of economic success. South and North Korea had nearly identical per capita GNPs as recently as 1974. Today, South Korea's GNP, per capita, is fifteen times that of North Korea.


Fashion makes a modest entrance on the streets of North Korea's capital
Pyongyang. This scene is on the main thoroughfare at the entrance of
the city's main subway station (Summer, 2014)
College students at Wonsan Agricultural University, Wonsan, DPRK (2014)

Hanbok-clad tour guide at Juche Tower in Pyongyang (2014)

Buddhist monks visiting ancient temple in Mandalay, Myanmar (2016)


The King of Chinese Chess reigns over all, Temple of Heaven Park, Beijing, China

Yeungnam University is one of Korea's largest universities and boasts a magnificent, sprawling campus. I spent 5-years here teaching, and learning to no end.


The university library is a campus focal point.
The pond in the foreground is a favorite spot of mine for
watching turtles sunning themselves and for enjoying
fried squid and potatoes sold by a local woman.


Tranquil "Lovers' Lane." Here pictured during Cherry Blossom season.


A quiet moment for a gentleman who sits alone
 in the stands of the old soccer field.


With a student during a Saturday Seminar when I had the opportunity
to give a presentation on my trip to North Korea.



"If the only prayer you can ever say in your entire life is 
'thank you,' it will be enough."
Meister Eckhart


Standing in a field of cosmos (Seoul, 1975)



In a field of cosmos (Gyeong-ju, 2014)


My Korean name, Song Su Nam, 
freshly tattooed (2015)

"Oh, how incomprehensible everything was, and actually sad, although it was also beautiful. One knew nothing. One lived and ran about the earth and rode through forests, and certain things looked so challenging and promising and nostalgic: a star in the evening, a blue harebell, a reed-green pond, the eye of a person or of a cow. And sometimes it seemed that something never seen yet long desired was about to happen, that a veil would drop from it all; but then it passed, nothing happened, the riddle remained unsolved, the secret spell unbroken, and in the end one grew old...and still one knew nothing perhaps, was still waiting and listening."
from Narcissus and Goldmund, by Herman Hesse


8 comments:

  1. Thank you so much..totally enjoyed your post!

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  2. Thank you for sharing this. I enjoyed the pictures of your Korea!

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  3. Very nice. Very thoughtful. Your smile is much brighter these days.

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  4. Hey Steve! Love the pics of young you and mellow you in cosmos. How nice to have a Korean name. Narcissus und Goldmunde is a great book. No one I know has ever read it. I've been in Seattle four years now, living with Pam in her houseboat. Very pleasant, although I miss Maine from time to time. We've been spending fall in the Greek islands for the last three years. Progress may drive us out of the houseboat. Not sure. May buy a fixer-upper on Paros and a pied-a-terre in the Seattle area. Two cats complicate everything. Have big fun. Best to M. Keep posting. john
    www.noagecage.com

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  5. What an amazing journey your life has been.The beauty of each country, their culture, and beautiful people. Loved your pictures and blog. Love, Sue

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    1. Thanks for your comment Susan. I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to travel during my life, begining with the Peace Corps as a very young man (22-25). Pleasantly enough, our sons Jacob and Aaron have also choose paths involving traveling, though both call "Portland" home--Jacob in Portland, Oregon and Aaron, Portland, Maine. Love to the family. Please give Aunt Shirley and hug and a kiss from me, Steve

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  6. Beautifully painted Steve. So grateful to experience your travels with you. I look forward as the journey continues and leave you with a quote from Lillian Smith, a writer and early proponent of civil rights. “I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” – Lillian Smith

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