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Excursion to Seodaemun prison

I’m still thinking about the events one hundred years ago in 1919: the March 1 movement for independence and its aftermath. I am lucky to live close to many places of historical interest, like Seodaemun prison and Severance hospital, which are full of history right on my doorstep.



In 1992 the Seodaemun prison was turned into a museum, the Seodaemun Prison History Hall, to preserve the history of what took place there during the Japanese occupation and beyond. I have walked by it often, but I never really thought much about what took place there, so I decided it was time to stop in and take a look.
Soedaemun prison was built in 1908 as Gyeongseong prison (which was the Japanese name for Seoul). It was built by colonial Japanese authorities for the purpose of controlling the local population. Originally designed to hold 500 people, in the years following the peaceful uprising, the numbers swelled to nearly five times that number, with prisoners housed in overcrowded conditions.

Among those…

Human Peace Chain

On April 27 I joined with folks from 서울 제일 교회 (Seoul First Church) and headed to 연젼 (Yeoncheon) near the DMZ to participate in the Korean DMZ Human Peace Chain marking the one year anniversary since the signing of the Panmunjom declaration regarding the peace, prosperity and unification of the Korean peninsula at 14:27 on April 27, 2018.



It was a beautiful day. We had a picnic and a program beside the Imjin River, which flows across the border between the two Koreas.


On the bus we had a few international guests—someone from Japan, someone from China, someone from Ireland, someone from the Philippines, and myself from Canada, ensuring that the world was well-represented. 


When it got close to 2:27 the line began to form . . .
I couldn’t see more than a little way up and down the line, but it was an eery feeling, knowing that we were all connected, hand in hand, from east to west and west to east, along the 500 km of the DMZ.

The cherry blossoms have arrived in Seoul ...

It's cherry blossom season in Seoul! On Saturday I got lost coming home from the supermarket and suddenly found myself walking along a street lined with beautifully tinted trees swaying slightly in the breeze. It won’t last, I’m told. They’ll be here today and gone in a few days. Even this morning I observed little bits of confetti scattering on the sidewalk on my way back from Yonsei University.

An incredibly fragile, short-lived miracle; a message. But only if I am willing to pay attention. What is it saying?



Let me juxtapose this with the Lenten worship service that I went to last night, hosted by the human rights committee of the National Council of Churches of Korea, which focused on migrants and refugees. It was very moving. Koreans are a deeply religious people: Christians, Buddhists, whatever, but this does not necessarily make them any more open to foreigners than others. In recent years especially, Korea has reached out to welcome foreigners, but in Korea, as elsewhere, th…

Spring comes to Seoul

Spring comes to Seoul every year around the end of February, and every year for the past one hundred years it has always come with new hope for the independence of Korea—as yet unfulfilled.
March 1 is a holiday in Korea. It marks the 3.1 (samil) movement for independence, which began on March 1, 1919. Actually, it began on February 8, 1919, with Korean students in Japan issuing a declaration of independence in Tokyo. It spread quickly to every part of Korea. In Seoul, in Tapgol Park, a popular place then as now for people to mull about and enjoy the spring air, on the morning of March 1, hundreds of students gathered together to push for independence. The movement was met by the Japanese authorities with violence and repression.





We have photos of these events thanks in part to one of my predecessors, Dr. Frank Schofield, a veterinarian who was a Canadian Presbyterian mission co-worker here, teaching medicine at Yonsei University. He went around Seoul with his camera, recording for poste…

Studying Korean

For the past few months I’ve been focused on learning Korean, first at the Green Language School and now at Yonsei University, so I feel compelled to make a few comments at this point about the frustrations (and joys) of learning this language.
First off, let me say something positive. Before the middle of the fifteenth century, Koreans used Chinese characters in their writing, something that was not always a good fit with the Korean language. But thanks to King Sejong, who instituted Hangul in 1446, Koreans have the most logical alphabet in the world with which to express themselves. Without it, learning Korean would be that much harder. So let me start off by saying, thank you, King Sejong!
Now for the frustrations. I've been at it for almost four months and i feel like I'm just about as confused now as I was on day one, perhaps even more so.

For one thing, there are two words for everything in Korean: one Chinese and one native Korean. This makes for much confusion! There are …