Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Solbridge

Korean War Documentary on MBC (South Korea)

Two months ago I was approached by a Korean filmmaker who asked me if I would be interested in taking part in a documentary he was making on the Korean War. Turns out the documentary he was making was about the Battle of Hoengseong which I described in my novel War Remains and that one of his friends (who also happened to be one of my Facebook friends) had read my book and told him about it. A few messages and emails later, we met one afternoon at SolBridge in April and talked about his documentary. Two weeks later, I was on my way back to Hoengseong and Massacre Valley to be interviewed and describe the battle that was fought here in February 1951 and the battle which is at the beginning of War Remains.

Then, on my birthday, May 28, which was also Buddha’s Birthday in Korea this year, the producer/director Park Jong-woo came down to Daejeon and filmed more scenes in my office at SolBridge.

 

Article on the SolBridge International School of Business website

 

Part Two of the Documentary. I am at 10:30.

 

Ghosts of Christmas Past — Japan, 1989

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2qCHLx_4qA&feature=related]

Today, while I was in the locker room at Sol-Sporex (located in one of the lower levels of the SolBridge International School of Business), one of the more upscale fitness clubs I have worked out at here in Korea, I heard the Second Movement of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony playing in the background.

And in a split second, as I heard the familiar piccolo solo and strings of this composition, I was transported back in a time—21 years to be exact—to a cold Sunday afternoon before Christmas in Hamamatsu, Japan as I waited in the lobby of a community center dressed as Santa Claus (with two pillows underneath my baggy costume to have some semblance to that jolly man in red) before I was to make my grand entrance at a children’s Christmas party.

While I was waiting to make my grand entrance back on that Sunday in 1989, I was listening to some local orchestra perform Dvorak’s symphony in an adjacent concert hall.

It’s funny how music has a way of opening up one’s memory and transporting one back in time. I was immediately overcome with a wave of holiday blues and nostalgia, as I sat there listening to one of my favorite symphonies, tying my shoes. In fact, the holiday blues and nostalgia were so strong I could hardly move. I just sat there, listening to the beautiful sounds of this symphony thinking about 1989, the first year I taught English overseas, and this year in Daejeon, my 20th year teaching English in Korea.

Whenever I heard this symphony, I will always think back to that year I taught English in Japan, when I first embarked on this noble profession. I am reminded of all the dreams I once had and the passion and enthusiasm that filled my life then and still fills my life now. Though bittersweet at times, especially when spending the holidays alone, it is part of the music, the soundtrack of my life.

When a taxi ride becomes a mini history lesson

After I finished teaching two teacher training classes in the Solbridge building (the building houses an international school of business associated with Woosong University) near Daejeon Station this morning, I caught a taxi outside to go to HomePlus—about a ten-minute ride away—to pick up a few things.

As soon as I told the sixtysomething driver in Korean where I wanted to go, it must have really impressed him because I got bombarded with a volley of questions (in Korean and English) from where I was from and what I do in Korea.

After we got through that small talk, he told me that he had fought in the Vietnam War for two years and had been stationed first in Saigon in 1965 before moving up country. His English was pretty good—good enough to tell me that he suffers the side effects from the use of Agent Orange during the war.

All this in about a fifteen-minute taxi ride to HomePlus.

As for the South Korean military represented the second largest contingent of foreign troops in Vietnam, second only to the U.S. forces. It has been argued that South Korea willingly joined in the Vietnam War because it represented a fight against communism, which South Korea was eager to stem under the guidance of President Park Chung-hee’s military administration. Park initially sent two Korean infantry divisions and a marine brigade in 1965. At their peak, the Korean military had over 50,000 soldiers on the ground; all together more than 310,000 South Koreans served throughout the war. About 5,000 of them died in combat in Vietnam, and more than 11,000 were injured or wounded.

Without question, it was a win-win situation for South Korea given that these troops were paid for and that those troops gained valuable battle experience, not the least of which the South Korean army became skilled with using some of the most advanced US military weaponry.

Although the price tag in terms of financial and economic aid to the South might smack of mercenary underpinnings, the war actually helped build the economy of South Korea because of massive U.S. military contracts and related economic aid awarded South Korea. To be sure from 1965 to 1975, South Korea’s GNP grew 14 times, and exports increased 29 times. Moreover South Korean automakers as well as shipping magnate Hanjin also benefited from the war effort.

And here was one veteran, a taxi driver talking about his war experience to a foreign passenger. He might have just been trying out his language skills but it turned out to be a mini history lesson.

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