June 2008 News of the RAS-KB
Report on RAS-KB Lectures
There can be no question that the generosity of the owners and managers
of Somerset Palace, Seoul, in allowing the RAS-KB to use the building's
Residents' Lounge for lectures has made an enormous difference to the
life of the Society. The last year has seen a very considerable
increase in the numbers attending the RAS-KB lectures which are
organized twice each month. The most popular event to date was the
lecture held on 20 May 2008, with the title "Where do Foreign Missionaries fit in Korea’s Modern History?" which attracted a record-breaking audience of 90 to hear Professor Donald
Clark -- who is the son and grandson of Presbyterian missionaries who
first arrived in Korea in 1902. The level of conviviality is
equally on the up-an-up, with ever more people congregating in the
nearby Jacob's restaurant after the lectures to enjoy pasta and beer.
After the May 20 meeting, some were even obliged to drink standing in
the street outside, for lack of space!
A missionary family house at Hannam University, Daejeon
The lectures given in recent months have covered a wide variety of
topics. There is no doubt that lectures about North Korea attract
more-than-average audiences. On 11 September 2007, we heard Dr. Andrei
Lankov talk on "The North Koreans in the Borderland : Chinese North East and North Korea." He evoked the
rarely reported situation in the borderland areas and the role of the
Yanban region, the ups and downs of the North Korean refugees' flow,
the current situation of refugees, the role of smuggling and legitimate
trade with North Korea, as well as the current state of the
Korean-Chinese community and it role in dealing with North Korea. Since
he had just come back from a lengthy study tour of the region, he gave
an eye-opening account of the great changes there have been since the
time a few years back when so many North Koreans fled across the border
to avoid starvation.
A very different aspect of Korea was evoked on 13 November 2007, when the topic was "The 2007 Baekdu-daegan Expedition." Two
hardy hikers gave a lecture illustrated with photos they had taken just
a few days previously as they walked the whole length of the South
Korean section of the "Baekdu-daegan" the 670 km-long mountain-range-line containing a geomantic stream of
earth-energy that runs throughout the Korean Peninsula, from Baekdu-san on the
northern border down to Jiri-san near the south coast. It includes most of
Korea's highest peaks and most-sacred mountains, and the sources of all of
Korea's major rivers.
Worak-san, about midway along the Baekdu-daegan
One of the most unusual lectures of recent years was one improvised at
very short notice in the Seoul Press Club where we first watched the
concert given in Pyeongyang by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on CNN,
then heard two North Korea experts discuss the probable implications
and future prospects.
Dr. Lankov returned on April 8 for a lecture on a very different topic : "The transformation of Seoul Traffic in the 1940s and 1950s"
He explained, using a variety of old photos, that Seoul traffic in the
1940s and 1950s looked colorful if odd. Decommissioned military jeeps,
painted black, served as the chauffeured cars of the elite. The
commoners walked or rode bicycles. The streets were full of mini-vans
which were the major means of transportation for most people. The
crowded streetcars slowly traversed the badly damaged tracks. The Seoul
administration openly admitted that most of the city buses were not
roadworthy, even according to the then lax regulations, but it had no
choice but to let them to continue their operations since people had to
get home. There was little nostalgia in the room for the obvious
discomfort people had to endure not so long ago.
Seoul streetcar in 1946
Finally, on 6 May 2008, we were taken inside North Korea by a young Canadian who had worked in Pyeongyang. "Pyongyang through my eyes: An up close and personal look inside North Korea" provided
a very different insight into life in North Korea. Our lecturer showed
us some of the pictures he had taken of ordinary North Koreans leading
their ordinary, everyday lives. Often he had held his camera low down
at his side, to avoid provoking reactions, but what his lecture
stressed and his photos showed clearly was that the people in North
Korean are as varied and warm-hearted as people everywhere. Not focussing on problems
or issues, but simply describing the people who had befriended him, our
lecturer reminded us that the young people of the world create peace by their way of accepting each other.