I’m back home from my trip to Korea, so I suppose I ought to sum up the experience, make a couple of general observations, and post a few more pictures. You can see my complete collection of rank amateur photography by clicking this link to my Facebook album.
It’s easy to be condescending toward a foreign culture. Much hay is made on the internet from pictures like this one on the left, when the meaning behind a sign doesn’t quite survive its translation into English. It steadies one a bit to remember it works both ways. I wonder sometimes how much inadvertent amusement–or offense–I’ve created traveling through a land I didn’t understand nearly as well as I thought.
South Korea isn’t some wannabe American groupie state. This is an ancient culture that was a civilization long before there was a United States, or much of a civilized Europe. They developed metal movable type two centuries before Gutenberg. Their written alphabet is one of the most elegant and efficient in the world.
For all the depth of their historical roots and cultural traditions, they embrace the future and the change that inevitably comes with it. These are not people you can comprehend in a couple of weeks, or months, or years.
They’re not perfect. Koreans deal with many of the same challenges we face in America. There’s crime, and vice, and poverty struggling alongside great wealth. There’s corruption and inefficiency in government. There’s pollution and overcrowding. A large fraction of their workforce is entering their senior years, and the younger generation will have to support both their elders and the economy. And we mustn’t forget all those missiles, bombs, and artillery shells pointed both directions across the northern border. It’s hard to communicate the vague, oppressive weight of that threat hanging over the Korean Peninsula every single day. When the sky’s overcast, and the air is bitter cold, it can be a very gloomy place.
I like Korea. My military assignment here left an indelible imprint on me, and a part of me will always remain here, rooting these folks on in spirit. They’ve displayed amazing strength and fortitude persevering through great adversity and suffering, against incredible odds. They want to see their country united and at peace. I pray they succeed. I believe they will.