An Affair with Korea
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of Washington Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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I spent most of 1966 in Sŏkp’o, a poor and isolated fishing village on the Yellow Sea coast of central South Korea, carrying out social anthropological research. At that time the only way to get to Sŏkp’o, except by boat, was to walk for two hours from where the bus line ended further down the coast....
List of Illustrations
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When visibility is good, the approach to Kimp’o Airport just outside Seoul provides spectacular scenery. It also brings back all sorts of wonderful memories that have piled up in the course of a great many trips to Korea since 1952. Seoul has always been for me both exotic and familiar, a place where unexpected...
1: Sŏkp’o 1965–1966
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I always had a sense of calm well-being waking up in Teacher Yi’s guest room with its uncovered wooden beams and whitewashed mud walls. In addition to the wood smoke from the cooking and heating fires, I could smell the dried fish, garlic, sesame seeds, red pepper, and grain in the storage space...
2: Settling In
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To get here I have followed a narrow, curving, grassy path that separates the knee-high barley from the pine trees. It dips gently from the ridge behind Teacher Lee’s [Yi] house and then makes a long, graceful, climbing turn around the headland some sixty feet above the ocean. I’m lying down in a...
3: Patriotic Journey
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If you are not born and raised in Korea, making the transition to rice as the steady staple, day after day, three times a day, takes time—possibly more time than the average American adult has left. Having already spent four years in Japan, I was certainly used to rice. And with my Korean wife in charge of our...
4: Settling In II
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In spite of the advantages of being Teacher Yi’s guest, I had thought about finding a place of my own right from the start. It seemed obvious that I should live in the Big Hamlet, a half mile or so to the north across the sandspit with the school, the store, the harbor, and the sulchip. The Big Hamlet was the core...
5: Getting Involved
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Administering my little household, sailing my boat, fishing, roaming the hills along the coast, and sampling the food and drink of generous neighbors sometimes threatened to fill up all my time. My small family quickly settled into a fairly normal routine. The children loved the ocean and played endlessly...
6: Getting There
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It wasn’t so far in distance from Seoul, perhaps only 150 kilometers, but in every other way going to Sŏkp’o was like falling over the edge of the farthest horizon. Every couple of months or so I would go up to Seoul from the village to see my wife and youngest child, eat steaks, take hot showers, and get rid...
7: Fathers and Sons
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I know that Kim and Richie are both spoiled—badly spoiled by village standards. I’m not a bit strict, and sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t follow the Korean way of bringing up children. But Kim’s occasional crying spells and angry outbursts can always be cured by heavy doses of attention and hugging...
8: Spirits: Familiar, Benign, and Malevolent
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“Sŏnsaengnim! Sŏnsaengnim!” I woke up bleary-eyed and cross to the sound of a childish voice close to my head just an hour after settling in for a much needed nap. “Respected teacher! Respected teacher!” When I swung open the small, paper-covered door right next to my head there was an eleven-year-old...
9: Fishing I
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Along the beach where the boats were moored, poor fishermen lived in a row of ramshackle hovels. Each one had a small plot for kitchen greens, but the soil was too sandy for successful gardening. On the lopsided roofs the thatch was old and moldering, because the owners had no paddy fields to...
10: The Anthropologist at Work and Play
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It was just after breakfast in early fall, and my daughter, Kim, didn’t want me to leave the house. As I headed down for the harbor after breakfast, she made a fuss, hanging onto me right at the gap where the brush hedge opened up to the path that led over the ridge to the Fifth Hamlet. Her brother caught the..
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From my cottage in the pines up on the hill, the village was even lovelier than usual in the golden autumn light, with the sea wind blowing waves in the ripening rice fields and the coastline a series of jagged cliffs fading away southward to misty islands in the distance. Directly below me an elaborately...
12: Fishing II
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In addition to the trips to Seoul, I roamed up and down the coast on foot and by boat, visiting other communities. Mohang, six miles to the south, had at least three times as many households as Sŏkp’o and an imposing fleet of fishing boats, almost half of which had engines. The rickety bus from T’aean...
13: Go Peacefully; Stay Peacefully
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A spell of cold weather in early December brought five or six inches of wet snow. It was a dramatic change, and the children were happy at first, dimly remembering winter vacations in Vermont. The snow quickly turned to slush and then to mud, which together with low clouds and a bitter wind off the...
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I am on my way back to Sŏkp’o twenty-five years later; it is September 1992.1 The crumbling road high above the sea has been fixed up enough so that buses and trucks can use it safely. Seven regular buses a day connect Sŏkp’o with T’aean. From the seaward window of the bus I can look almost ninety...
Publication Year: 2014