bookmark_borderPost-151: Progress Across South Korea After Two Weeks 

“To make it clear across this country, South Korea, on foot” was the goal (see post-146). A cross-country mountain hiking trail called the “Baekdu-Daegan” was the way. 

I’ve made progress, but it’s been really physically tough, and I realize I’m just not too good at this “trekking” thing. I’ve taken many rest days, including presently. 

I began walking from Jungsan-ri [중산리) on Tuesday, September 17th at about 7:20 AM. I passed through Jiri Mountain National Park over the next few days, staying in the efficiently-run mountain hostels at night (which are reservation-only), and then emerged into one of the highly-remote parts of the trail outside the national parks. 

I don’t have much time now to write. Here is a photo I took in Jiri Mountain National Park [지리산국립공원]:


Jiri Mountain National Park [Jirisan, 지리산], September 2013

It really does look like that, at the right time of day. An Google-Image search for “Jirisan” yields many more.

It’s now 9:00 AM on Tuesday, October 1st, or two weeks almost to the hour after my trip began. I am now in a town called Hamyang, a ways north of the Jiri Mountains.

bookmark_borderPost-150: The End Came on a Thursday

My last day was a Thursday. I expected it to be a Friday. That was two and a half weeks ago. 

Suddenly, it was over, my twenty-four months (about eleven of them good) at “Ava*** English” in Bucheon.

Looking Back on mid-September From Hamyang
I am now in a small city called Hamyang (pop. 20,000 in the city [읍] another 20,000 in the surrounding 250-square-mile county [군]), making the county area very rural — 80 people per square mile versus Seoul’s 45,000 per square mile. As I am resting in Hamyang the next two days, I have the time to relate the story of my last few days in Bucheon:

The new guy arrived on Tuesday, but was secluded and not introduced to me. Thursday was my surprise-last-day. Then came a few stressful days of harriedly packing my things, thoroughly cleaning the apartment, finding places to store my things (temporary and longer-term); frantically ferrying my bags back and forth between places; even finding a place to sleep was a challenge. I finally got going with my across-South-Korea travel plan (see post-146) on Monday evening. I’ve been very seldom on the Internet since then. This is my first post in nearly three weeks. 

Surprise: It’s Your Last Day
At about 5:00 PM on Thursday Sept. 12th, to my surprised-bemusement and disappointment, I was told to not to come in on Friday. (Note that I taught on Thursdays 5:20-10:00 PM; 10:00 being the “close of business” time; this meant that I had only twenty minutes’ warning that it was my last day). The new guy would do all my classes.

The reason this was disappointing was that on Fridays, I was to teach five classes (of 65 minutes each this semester), including LN, GA (both are high-level 6th-graders), and T3 (medium-high-level eighth and ninth graders studying “TOEFL“). Of the thirty or more students between those classes, I’d had nearly all over multiple semesters, and a couple of the older ones for nearly every semester since I started in September 2011. I had a lot of success with them. I fully expected, and told them, that my last day would be Friday Sept. 13th. 

I should explain that Fridays were my only “significant” day in the two to three weeks I spent there in Fall Semester 2013. What I mean is, the way the Fall schedule worked out, in all my other classes that week (Mondays through Thursdays), 90%+ of the students were either quite-new or brand-new to me (with perhaps a narrow majority being “brand new”), and classes were all low-level.. My saying goodbye to such classes meant little, both to them and to me. 

My schedule was designed for the new guy, and they planned to plant his foot firmly on the lowest rung of the ladder, regardless of any other consideration, because hierarchy must be enforced and people have to know their places. This means he was given the lowest-level and most problematic classes, I was a place-holder for the two to three weeks of Fall Semester till he arrived, except Fridays, when I still had some significant classes.

Being forbidden from saying goodbye to LN, GA, and T3 seems just cruel. This is exactly the kind of stunt the managers would often pull. Always cutting corners against us, cheating on money in small ways, lying, withholding information (why was I not told of this “plan” earlier? — The date of my last day seems important enough to merit some advance notice), social ostracism, and just any other miscellaneous bits of antagonism. 

[An aside: In the months leading up to the end, I began to see that the antagonism was probably is race-based on the part of certain managers. That is to say, they want(ed) to feel superior and want(ed) to express Korean racial pride, or something, by “screwing” us foreigners and so on. This sounds like a crude analysis, and is not “P.C.”, but I don’t care. Over two years at “Ava**n”, I accumulated some quite-specific reasons for believing this.]

Surprise Phone Call from Students

It wasn’t all bad, though. One manager, the only one who has been consistently kind to me, Elly, surprised me by calling me on the phone during her LN class (high-level sixth graders). The class spent at least ten minutes on the phone. She spoke some, they spoke in chorus some, and each student said something, things like that they would miss me and that they think I was a good teacher; one said she was sorry she didn’t work harder. Some students, I learned, had made some kind of cards which they had planned to give on my last day, but were now unable. Many seemed very sad, (I’m sure they would become attached to most people in my place who earnestly gave their full effort). 

I told them I was sad that I wasn’t able to see them on my last day. I told them, via speaker-phone, that their new foreign-teacher was good and they should listen to him (to which they replied in chorus “No!!” — That was touching but made me cringe for the new guy and don’t bear any grudge against him. In truth, I have no idea what that new guy is like, because they didn’t let me meet him; they kept him sealed-off in the other building and did not introduce us, and did not have him watch my classes. He is from Canada; in his 20s; his name is the same as the Biblical evangelist formerly known as Saul. I never learned his last name; he had some kind of trendy haircut.) They had just seen him about a half-hour earlier for his first class.

An Impromptu Goodbye Speech
That phone call came on a Friday about 5:30 PM, as I was packing my bags in the apartment. I’d left Ava**n (the name of the institute) at about 10:40 PM on Thursday. After 10:00 PM on Thursday, a cake materialized. I was asked to make a goodbye speech to the five Korean teachers in the second-floor building. I didn’t have anything planned.

What did I end up saying? I referenced the “farewell comedy routine” that my friend C.H. delivered in June 2012. [See post-73, final paragraph]. He actually delivered a list of jokes about the institute, something like Jay Leno or David Letterman would do. I also deliberately referenced M.R. (looks like Steve Jobs) who finished in June 2013 in my speech. Both of them also had problems at that place, and by mentioning them I was trying to get the coded message across of who I believe the good guys really were, or something like that. I don’t know if anyone understood that, except potentially C.R., the young California coworker sitting and listening to it.

The essence of my speech was that most of the Korean teachers had been kind to me (the real antagonists were not present, of course), and I wanted to thank them for it. I went home and started packing.

Vacating the Apartment
Why did I go home and immediately start packing? Because I was also told, in yet another “kick in the stomach as my foot was out the door”, that I had to vacate the apartment by Friday evening. (The institute controls the apartment.) Remember I was told this about 5:00 PM on Thursday.

Why not give a little more warning? My final work day was explicitly-stated in the contract as September 13th, but it was usual to remain a few days after one’s final day, to get affairs in order. I expected to leave at noon on Sunday.

The manager who engineered this, whom I have here in the past referred to as “Stringbean”, must have done this solely to antagonize me and “show me who was boss”. They always did things like that. But, as I said in the impromptu final speech on that Thursday, “It’s all over now”.

bookmark_borderPost-149: Visiting Chipyongni, 2013

I recently visited the battle site of Chipyongni, a three-day siege in February 1951 during the Korean War, when 5,000 Americans and French defeated 25,000 Chinese attackers. It was first successful defensive stand for the Americans against the Chinese in the Korean War.

I mentioned my visit in post-148 (“the Gettysburg of Korea“). I wrote:

In 2012, after reading “The Longest Winter”, I identified the location of the battle by figuring out its current name. What we wrote in English in the 1950s as “Chipyong” is now written as “Jipyeong” [Gee-pyuhng] (지평리 in Korean). Its suffix, ri or ni, means “village” in Korean. It has since been promoted to “myeon”, a slightly larger settlement than a ri/ni. The current name is thus Jipyeong-myeon (지평면).

[…] [Visiting the site] was one of the most significant excursions of my time in Korea. I feel blessed that it worked out the way it did. The word “Chipyongni” does not even appear in the tourist guidebook I have. It was something I independently discovered.

Below is the location of Chipyongni (now called Jipyeong-myeon, 지평면). You can  zoom-in on this map all the way. It is anchored on the site of the memorial, which is in the middle of the American defensive perimeter.
Across the Country By “Subway”
One of the amazing things about this excursion to Chipyongni is that I covered 95%+ of the distance to the battle site (the red marker above) using what is loosely called “the subway”. It has evolved into a cheap-and-easy Greater Seoul Rail Network. It has been gobbling-up legitimate (above-ground) train-lines for years, and continues to expand. There are now about twenty lines. I wrote about one such rail-line way back in post-9:

This rail line [“Gyeong-Hui”] still exists intact, today, It was incorporated into the ever-growing Greater Seoul urban rail network (still often loosely called a ‘subway’) in 2009. I remember when that happened, as I was living in Ilsan at the time, through which it passes.

I also rode the “subway” very-long distance to Chuncheon this year. See post-15. This most-recent Jipyeong-myeon/Chipyongni trip is another instance for which sarcastic quote-marks on “subway” are called for. I scanned-in with my transit card at Bucheon (west of Seoul), and stayed in the system all the way to Yongmun, the terminus of the “Jungang Line”. The trip involved 80 minutes of riding Line 7, then waiting around to transfer in east-Seoul, then another hour on the Jungang Line until Yongmun. The total cost for the subway trip, as the screen told me when I scanned my card out of the system at Yongmun, was an incredible 2,150 Won (less than $2.00 USD[!]). As you can see above, this was a trip near halfway across the country, east-to-west. The trip was not very pleasant, though, as I had to stand for almost all of those three hours, and it was generally crowded all the way. At $2.00, it becomes a “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”  thing. South Korea is no longer a cheap place to live, but it still for transportation.

PictureYongmun Station, September 2013

At Yongmun
Saturday. Sometime before 10:00 AM, my traveling companion and I arrive at Yongmun Station, tired, groggy. For an “end-of-the-line station”, the atmosphere outside is downright “kinetic” this morning, though. Koreans in hiking gear are frolicking about. They are probably all going to the Yongmun Temple area.

In the 850-page travel guidebook on Korea I have, this entire region (Eastern Gyeonggi-Do) gets about a page and a half’s write-up. All that is mentioned is Yongmun Temple and its environs (“Yongmun-sa [temple] sits below Yongmun-san [mountain]. At 1,157 meters, this mountain is not the tallest in Gyeonggi-Do, but some say it’s the best-looking. Of its many hiking trails, the one that’s perhaps most often used goes over the….”). A few resorts are also mentioned.

In that guidebook, the word “Chipyongni” appears nowhere., though.

Eastward On Foot
The original idea was to get out of the train station at Yongmun and proceed to Jipyeong on foot, only three miles away. I carried printouts of the battle history, downloaded from, which I read again on the train ride. Included was the following map:

Map of Battle of Chipyongni. Red are Chinese [PLA] attacks. Blue are U.S./French defensive positions.
Off to the west, along the railroad tracks and just off the map, is Yongmun Station. [See post-147 for battle history]

My idea was to use the landmarks on the above army-history map to try to find the U.S. and French defensive positions during the siege and walk along them. They defended low-lying hills around the village. I had little idea as to how I would find those exact hills. I just sort of hoped it would work out. I didn’t have any clue if there was any kind of memorial or anything.

Walking through the town of Yongmun, we got some kimbap and a disappointingly-small plate of tteokpokki (떡볶이). Heading east towards Jipyeong, I saw a ROK Army base:


The entrance to an army base in the town of Yongmun. [Click to expand]

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the fact that this Korean Army base includes several “cute” things, a cartoon soldier with the word “Last Punch” (I don’t get it), and a yellow smiley-face on the sign.

Minutes later, we were out of the town, and came upon this kind of scenery:


Scene between Yongmun and Jipyeong [Chipyongni], South Korea [September 2013]

This is the kind of thing that the veterans of the Korean War must remember, at least during autumn. It’s not how it looked during the Battle of Chipyongni, though, as the battle was in frigid February. Temperatures were below freezing and snow was on the ground. Walking through in the pleasant fall weather, and with the drenching-humidity of summer in very recent memory, it’s hard to imagine that this landscape will become “Siberia” in a few months. It will.
On to the Memorial
A snag in my ad-hoc plan presented itself after a while. It was necessary to cross a narrow mountain pass, but construction workers were obstructing it. We turned back. A taxi passed by, and we got in. I marveled at this good fortune. A taxi passing by such a road was lucky, exactly when it was needed. The friendly driver drove us the few miles to the Chipyongni Battle Memorial, dropping us off in front of the below sign. The ride cost 5,000 Won ($4.50).

Sign pointing out the “Record Stone of the Jipyeong Battle” [지평전투전적비]

The old tradition in Korea is to mark an important event with an inscribed stone. This was done for the dramatic battle of Chipyongni by a ROK Army division in 1957. That stone still stands. I later heard from a local resident that it used to be nearer the town hall, and was moved out to its present location some years ago. Both locations may be arbitrary when it comes to actual place-significance for the battle. The locals we spoke with later said this, something I’d already suspected. Here is the map, again, zoomed in. The red marker is the location of the battle memorial:
As best I can tell by comparing the maps, the American defensive perimeter in the north ran in a line from the larger of the two little blue lakes in the top right of this map, and straight west from there. It ran a bit west of the creek, then turned south, which was the French position.

Here are some photos of the memorial:


Chipyongni Battle Memorial [September 2013].
At the top of the stairs sits the “record stone”. The UN flag, ROK (South Korea) flag, U.S. flag, French flags fly.


Another view of the record stone and flags. In the background on the right, construction has begun on a new museum


A view from the top of the hill that houses the record stone, looking southwest.
The village of Jipyeong [formerly Chipyong] is off to the left in the distance.

Museum Under Construction
The building shrouded in blue will be a new museum. I found this sign in front of it:

Sign informing visitors that a new Chipyongni Battle Museum is being built, and will open in 2014.
(Locals were skeptical it would actually open then due to lack of money.)

PictureMe looking at the plaque

The sign above says the cost of the museum project is 1,761 백만원, or $1,761,000 (if I converted that correctly), and that it will be completed on January 30th, 2014. The cost is being paid 50% by the army and 50% by the state. There will be two floors, one an education hall (교육장) and the other an war-exhibition room (전시관, I am not sure of this translation).

I spent a long time at the memorial. I read every word, though I already knew the history from my previous reading on the subject. As I hope the above pictures show, the atmosphere at this memorial site is very pleasant. There were no other visitors or passersby in the hour or more I was there, though I did see one construction worker.

After leaving the memorial site, we walked south to the heart of downtown Jipyeong. Here it is. I don’t know why there is a woman dressed in old-fashioned garb:

“Downtown Jipyeong”: The only major intersection in town

Again,this is right in the center of the village, the most significant intersection. There were very few cars around.

The red banner there says “우리도 죽기전에 지평면에서 수도권 전철 타고 싶마”. I recognized enough words to understand that it was a slogan demanding that the Seoul urban rail network be extended to Jipyeong Station. It currently ends one station before Jipyeong, at Yongmun. This is a major inconvenience for Jipyeong residents. If they want the ultra-cheap way to get into and then around Seoul (see above), they have to go to Yongmun first. They can still ride the “normal trains”, but those are much more infrequent and more expensive. Maybe a bigger reason for this campaign is to put Jipyeong “on the map”. To Seoul-area dwellers, Jipyeong doesn’t exist. If it’s on the subway network, suddenly it exists, and more people would visit, and would spend money. These banners were all over Jipyeong.

Here is a wider shot of the intersection:

That blue structure is a bus-stop. About the time I took this picture, I was approached suddenly by a boy. He said something like “I have never seen a foreigner here before!” I think those were his first words. He spoke in English. His grammar and accent were both great. I asked if he’d been abroad, and he said he’d been in the Philippines. He informed me that he was in middle school, and he said the town had only 100 students. I don’t know if he meant 100 in the middle school, or if 100 was the total for the elementary, middle, and high schools combined. I could believe the latter. He wondered what I was doing. The boy was eager to please, so I asked him for help in my quest to walk the hills of the battle. I showed him my map print-out, and asked if he knew how I could find any of those hills. He puzzled over it for a while, trying to orient himself. Soon, a small gaggle of friends had joined him. Nobody knew anything. One girl identified “Pongmi-san” on this map, but nobody had heard of “Mongmi-san”. They wandered away.

This boy’s warm conversation, and (futile) attempts to help, was the first of many instances of kindness from Jipyeong people that really impressed me (the taxi driver was first, but he was a Yongmun person, I think. He undercharged me, knowing I was a foreigner visiting this historic site). Random “street” kindness to strangers, especially foreigners, is quite uncommon in Korea, and this boy’s kindness amazed me. Never once in Bucheon, in two years, has anything like this happened to me.

Continuing on, I resolved to try to find where the railroad crosses the major road east of town, that being where the 23rd Regiment’s 2nd Battalion was entrenched, according to the army-history map. I never made it that far. Walking a short was east, I found a town-hall. I had the idea to look for a map, but it was locked up. A bunch of men were loitering outside an adjacent building, and invited us in to eat. It was a dining hall. Before we knew it, this happened:


A free meal served by “New New Village Movement” (새새마을) at Jipyeong town hall, September 2013

Those tin-foil spherical objects are “rice balls” with a few other ingredients tossed in. This is commonly called “fist rice” (주먹밥). There are also side dishes (반찬) and fried mushrooms. All free. This was the second instance in which I was amazed at the Jipyeong people‘s generosity and hospitality. We weren’t entitled to this food, being non-residents. Again, in my experience in Korea, you don’t invite strangers in such a way as this, much less foreigners. (I mean, hell, in two years we foreign-teachers were never invited once by the boss[es] of the language-institute to dinner). This was an event organized by a civic group that I presume offers free lunches at the town-hall every Saturday.

So the guys standing outside the town-hall insisted we should eat this free food. Bottled water was also given freely, and there was even beer. The man in the blue baseball cap in the above photo came over and talked to us for a long while. He insisted on sharing some beer. The subject turned to the battle. The man consulted my map (this one), but held it upside down. He talked at length, my Korean friend reported, about the site of his house and how many Chinese were killed in its vicinity. He said he’d been in the USA in 1988, while in the ROK military. Another local, a man with tied-back hair who greatly resembled an American-Indian to me, also sat down, mostly quiet (his taciturnity added to the “American-Indian vibe”). He was clearly interested and wanted to help.

Soon the man with tied-back hair asked if we were interested in the small museum about the battle. It was housed in the nearby library. We were. It wasn’t open. The man with tied-back hair said to wait a minute. Minutes later, the man returned, and led us to the library adjacent to the eating-hall and the town-hall. He’d gone to fetch the octogenarian Korean-War veteran museum-caretaker. He asked him to open it on account only of us! The old man had kindly come in, and was waiting. I couldn’t believe my good luck to meet such people as these. (This kind of hospitality puts Seoul and its satellites, like Bucheon or Ilsan, to shame. It made me think, “I hope this place fails to get its train station incorporated into the Seoul Metrorail network”, for fear it would be corrupting.)

A small room constituted the Chipyongni Museum:


The small “Chipyongni Museum” housed in the Jipyeong Library.
Its caretaker is in the background, with a red cap, emphasizing some point

I spent a long time here, looking at everything carefully, and listening to the man speak. He had a lot to say and was highly enthusiastic. He is a veteran of the war, and I presume he is from Jipyeong. This is his museum.

There is Korean War paraphernalia of all kinds, uniforms, helmets, equipment salvaged from the battlefield, badges, portraits, photographs, books, maps, and binders filled with photos of the various commemorations over the years. Every year, he told us, a French delegation arrives to honor the French battalion. Descendants of the American veterans also come every year, he said. The man informed us of various fine points the history of the battle (it involved only 300 Koreans, “KATUSAs” embedded in the U.S. Regiment and the French battalion, he said), of the village (it has not really grown much since 1951), of the museum (the new, larger, museum [see above] supposedly opens in 2014, but he doubted it would), and the preservation efforts (he said there was talk of making some or all of the defensive perimeter into a marked hiking path. It would be two miles long or so). This man has documented a lot about the battle. I get the feeling that the new museum, next to the memorial, may have been his initiative.

I noticed the guestbook on the table. When I visited on the afternoon of September 7th, there were no names in it yet for September. In fact, the previous entries were on August 20th, and prior to that, August 11th. I leafed through all the pages, going back to early 2012, and found only a small handful written in English, and those belonged in all but one case to U.S. Military personnel. They wrote their “address” as “Camp Humphreys” or the like, nothing more. There may have been about five military who visited. There was a single non-military foreigner in the past year, the man recalled. He said she was a middle-aged woman from Texas visiting her daughter who was teaching English in a nearby city. He described her.

I signed the guestbook, leaving my name and address.


The museum keeper of Chipyongni

The man, at one point, criticized young Koreans for their anti-Americanism. He became a little more animated. He was apparently saying that they are ungrateful and spoiled. This is characteristic of his generation’s attitudes. The younger generations were fully ready, a few years ago, to believe that U.S. soldiers had deliberately murdered two Korean middle school girls by running them over with their tank during an exercise for fun, even (or so goes the lie) backing up several times over them to ensure the girls were dead. These U.S. soldiers were animated solely by hatred for Koreans, many believed or claimed to believe. Then, they were tried in a U.S. military court and found not guilty, further evidence of American disregard for Korean life! (The court found the incident to be a tragic accident, and determined that the girls were walking in a strictly-restricted zone that day). That Koreans really believed the storyline as presented above is baffling. I attribute it to the “follower” mentality. No, it’s not rational, but others are saying it, so we’ve got to follow. That story probably literally originated with North Korea. It’s the kind of thing they do. The protests against U.S. beef of the late 2000s, and then the protests against the FTA of the early 2010s were equally ridiculous, the museum-keeper commented. (U.S. beef is still not being sold in South Korea in my experience.)

At the end, the kind and energetic man gave me two pamphlets about Chipyongni in English and Korean, and a medallion that says “We Will Not Forget / Battle of Chipyong-Ni” and something in Korean.

After leaving the museum, we walked to the train station to get tickets on the “normal train” get back to Bucheon, with the intention of also finding some of the other historical markers the kind old man at the museum had discussed.

Another act of unprovoked kindness followed at the train station. The attendant said no seats were available, but that we could come back later and maybe some would open up via cancellations. Someone in Seoul or Bucheon would’ve just sold us “standing tickets” (the same price, for some reason, as sitting tickets) and been done with it. This man, though, waited, and constantly monitored the status of seats available via his computer. He tracked us down outside the station an hour or more later and said he’d reserved the tickets. We paid. We rode back to Seoul that evening in seats, and fell fast asleep (having woken up at 6:00 AM), which would’ve been impossible with standing tickets. Why did this man go so far to make our trip more convenient? He gained nothing from it. These Jipyeong people are amazing, I concluded.

Before leaving, I found a few more historical markers. The French memorial is near the train station:


The French Memorial, near the French Battalion’s headquarters during the battle (according to the museum-keeper).


Memorial stone for the French Battalion at Chipyongni, in French, Korean, and English. [Click to expand]

We ate a small dinner at this spot, on the grass.

I suspect that these memorials were set up by the Americans because of the grass. Both here and at the main battle memorial (discussed above), the grass is of the softest kind you often find on American front-lawns, not unlike my memories of my mother’s front lawn from years ago, so soft it’s more pleasant to lay on than a bed.

Judging by my comparison of the current map and the battle-history map, this was probably the above was about the view the French soldiers had as the Chinese approached and attacked.

One curious thing during this visit to Jipyeong was the butterflies. They were everywhere. I captured one in a photo:

A typical sight in Jipyeong during my visit

Finally, the train came through at 6:09 PM, and about six people got on at Jipyeong Station, myself included. The train was already packed, having started way down in Andong, but we had seats due to the vigilance of the attendant.

Jipyeong Station

Minutes after settling into the train seat, I fell asleep. I awoke in Yongsan, central Seoul, and hour later, amazed at what a great day-trip I’d just had.

bookmark_borderPost-148: September 11th, 2011

Tomorrow is September 11th. Two years ago on that day, I left the USA by plane to come to Korea for the second time. I started a job. Now two years have passed. I regret staying at this particular job that second year. It was a mistake.

In 2011, I knew I had to come (again, that is). There were many reasons. For some reason, I took a lot of “audio books” that I copied from the Arlington library, but I ended up listening to very few of them. Maybe only two. Of the clothes I arrived with, relatively few are left. I have more money in my bank account now. I know more about Korea.I’ve seen more places. I’ve seen more people. I’m not sure if I am a more confident teacher. My ex-coworker M.R. (in Korea since 2004), who was said to resemble Steve Job by many students, was so antagonized by management here that he felt “working in Av**** has caused me to become a much worse teacher”. I sympathize with him, and I fear the same.

I don’t know where I am going with this wandering retrospective, but…Oh, and somewhere along in there I got the idea to do a big hiking trip across South Korea, which I will begin on September 16th.

Ever since I’ve been able to “see the end”, I’ve been doing various things I need to do to “get my affairs in order”, and have not had the energy or desire to update this thing. Oh, right, I also started this blog in the two years I’ve been here, but have not much publicized it.

I still have never eaten dog nor “still-living octopus” (산낙지), but I could if I wanted to without much trouble.

bookmark_borderPost-147: Chipyong-ni (Feb. 1951), “the Gettysburg of Korea”

The dramatic Battle of Chipyong-ni (지평리) [Feb. 13-15, 1951] was the “Gettysburg of the Korean War”, they say, in that it was the first time, when under Chinese attack, that the Americans didn’t retreat. (The linked-to book discusses the entire “Wonju Campaign” of February 1951, of which the siege of Chipyongni was the most significant part.)

PictureGettysburg Art, by Don Troiani

In the long (500 pages), detailed military history of the U.S. Civil War I read a few years ago, I believe it was called How the North Won, I was surprised at how little attention was given to Gettysburg. Only a few paragraphs. The authors actually had a small appendix explaining why they neglected Gettysburg. It was actually of little final importance in the defeat of the Confederacy in military terms (the purpose of the book). They explained how unlikely it was that Lee was “about to win the war” with a victory there, and about how it was not a turning point.

This goes against what we’ve been told in movies. Gettysburg was the turning point, we are told. The strategic situation in the East was exactly the same in Fall 1863 (after Gettysburg) as it had been in Spring 1863 (before Gettysburg). Nothing changed. It was, by definition, not a turning point, because nothing changed. I remember thinking, “Okay, but Gettysburg must have increased Union Army morale”. It was the first time the Army of the Potomac (the eastern Union army) actually decisively won a major battle. It was the first time the Army of the Potomac did not retreat after a battle. That must count for something.

PictureChipyong-ni Artwork

Likewise, Chipyong-ni was the first bright spot after so many weeks of retreats in Korea, “the longest retreat in U.S. military history”. It was the first time the Americans did not retreat when attacked by the Chinese. The incredible casualty ratio made the formerly-invincible-seeming Chinese seem like amateurs: 5,000 Chinese killed and wounded, versus 400 U.S. and French casualties.

See the long essay from the U.S. Center for Military History entitled “Restoring the Balance: 25 January to 8 July 1951” for a full history of the campaign.

In the two weeks before the February 13th-15th battle, the UN had taken a limited offensive, as below. The dark line was the frontline as of January 25th, and the dotted line was the front as of February 11th. Note that Chipyong-ni was the point of furthest advance in the area.


Map of the UN offensives between January 25th and February 11th, 1951. Chipyong-ni was the point of furthest advance. It was encircled by the Chinese on February 13th. “Thunderbolt” and “Roundup” were codenames for the UN offensives.

[From “Restoring the Balance”]
While UN forces in Operation THUNDERBOLT advanced to an area just south of the Han against only minor resistance, Chinese and North Korean forces were massing in the central sector north of Hoengsong seeking to renew their offensive south. On the night of 11-12 February the enemy struck with five Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) armies and two North Korean corps, totaling approximately 135,000 soldiers. The main effort was against X Corps’ ROK divisions north of Hoengsong. The Chinese attack, dramatically announced with bugle calls and drum beating, penetrated the ROK line and forced the South Koreans into a ragged withdrawal to the southeast via snow-covered passes in the rugged mountains. The ROK units, particularly the 8th Division, were badly battered in the process, creating large holes in the UN defenses. Accordingly, UN forces were soon in a general withdrawal to the south in the central section, giving up most of the terrain recently regained. Despite an attempt to form a solid defensive line, Hoengsong itself was abandoned on 13 February.

Also on the thirteenth the Chinese broadened the offensive against the X Corps with attacks against U.S. 2d Infantry Division positions near Chip’yong-ni, on the left of the corps’ front. They also struck farther to the west out of a bridgehead south of the Han near Yangp’yong against elements of the U.S. 24th Infantry Division, holding the IX Corps’ right flank. The 21st Infantry of the 24th Division quickly contained the Yangp’yong attack that was aimed toward Suwon, but at Chip’yong-ni the Chinese encircled the 2d Division’s 23d Infantry and its attached French Army battalion, cleverly exploiting a gap in the overextended American lines.

Chip’yong-ni was a key road junction surrounded by a ring of small hills. Rather than have the 23d Infantry withdraw, General Ridgway directed that the position be held to block or delay Chinese access to the nearby Han River Valley. An enemy advance down the east bank of the Han would threaten the positions of the IX and I Corps west of the river. Accordingly, the UN forces at Chip’yong-ni dug into the surrounding hills and formed a solid perimeter while reinforcements were mustered. The role of the Air Force was essential at Chip’yong-ni with close air support forcing the attackers to conduct their assaults only after dark. And once the enemy had cut off the ground routes, all resupply was by air.

 As Ridgway hoped, the 5,000 defenders of Chip’yong-ni quickly became the focus of Chinese attention. Throughout the night of 13-14 February, three Chinese divisions assaulted the perimeter, supported by artillery. The attackers shifted to different sections of the two-mile American perimeter probing for weak points. The Chinese were often stopped only at the barbed wire protecting the individual American positions, with the defenders employing extensive artillery support and automatic weapons fire from an attached antiaircraft artillery battalion. Daylight brought a respite to the attacks. True to form, the Chinese renewed their assaults the night of 14-15 February. Again the fighting was intense. During the 14 February attack, Sfc. William Sitman, a machine gun section leader in Company M, 23d Infantry, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in providing support to an infantry company, in the end placing his body between an enemy grenade and five fellow soldiers.


Chipyong-ni Battle Map (from here), Originally published in “Ebb and Flow, November 1950 to July 1951“. The dark part in the middle is the village. The railroad that passes through it still exists.

While the 23d Infantry held on at Chip’yong-ni, the situation to the southeast was grave. At the time Ridgway and Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond, the X Corps commander, were seeking to stabilize the front line between Chip’yong-ni and Wonju, where the destruction of the ROK forces around Hoengsong had created major gaps in the defensive line. For three desperate days, the front wavered as the Chinese attempted to exploit these gaps before UN reinforcements could arrive on the scene. Ridgway acted quickly to push units into the critical areas, ordering IX Corps to move the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade and the ROK 6th Division over to X Corps and into the gap south of Chip’yong-ni. The action proved timely. On the night of 13-14 February, the Chinese conducted major assaults at Chip’yong-ni, Ch’uam-ni, five miles southeast of Chip’yong-ni, and at Wonju. But supported by massed artillery and air support, the UN forces repulsed the attacks, causing heavy Chinese casualties.

To provide additional support, the IX Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Bryant E. Moore, now began directly assisting the X Corps in restoring the front and relieving Chip’yong-ni. On 14 February the 5th Cavalry, detached from the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division, was taken out of IX Corps reserve and assigned the relief mission. For the task, the three infantry battalions of the 5th Cavalry were reinforced with two field artillery battalions, two tank companies, and a company each of combat engineers and medics. Initially the relief force advanced rapidly, making half the twelve-mile distance to Chip’yong-ni from the main U.S. defensive line on the first day. Damaged bridges and roadblocks then slowed movement. On the morning of the fifteenth, two of the infantry battalions assaulted enemy positions on the high ground north of the secondary road leading to Chip’yong-ni. When the attack stalled against firm Chinese resistance, Col. Marcel Crombez, 5th Cavalry commander, organized a force of twenty-three tanks, with infantry and engineers riding on them, to cut through the final six miles to the 23d Infantry. The tank-infantry force advanced in the late afternoon, using mobility and firepower to run a gauntlet of enemy defenses. Poor coordination between the tanks and supporting artillery made progress slow. Nevertheless, in an hour and fifteen minutes the task force reached the encircled garrison and spent the night there. At daylight the tanks returned to the main body of the relief force unopposed and came back to Chip’yong-ni spearheading a supply column. With the defenders resupplied and linked up with friendly forces, the siege could be considered over. UN casualties totaled 404, including 52 soldiers killed. Chinese losses were far greater. Captured documents later revealed that the enemy suffered at least 5,000 casualties. The defense of Chip’yong-ni was a major factor in the successful blunting of the Chinese counteroffensive in February 1951 and a major boost to UN morale.                                     [From “Restoring the Balance“]

Chipyong-ni stayed in U.S. hands for the rest of the war.

Far off to the east of Chipyong-ni, Seoul itself was still in Chinese hands at the time of the battle (Feb. 1951), and would be till mid-March. It was nearly recaptured yet again by the Chinese in April/May 1951. “Chinese hands”. That’s the other interesting thing about Chipyong-ni. It was a major battle of the Korean War, but very few Koreans were actually involved. According to the elderly museum-keeper at Chipyong-ni, only 150 Koreans were part of the U.S. force at Chipyong-ni and they were KATUSAs (English-speaking Koreans to facilitate communication).

I first became aware of Chipyong-ni in the recent Korean War history The Longest Winter (2007). I grew to dislike that book as I was reading it, because it was more a political screed than an actual history. The author spent more time on 1940s/1950s U.S. politics than anything. He chose specific personalities to vilify for his own political purposes (it seemed to me), including General MacArthur himself, whom he paints as a buffoon. He even vilified the leader of the relief column at Chipyongni, Colonel Crombez, for wasting his soldiers’ lives. He put lots of men with rifles on top of the tanks. When soldiers fell off tanks, Colonel Crombez ordered the convoy on. Many of the men who fell off ended up dead or POWs. (Crombez prioritized breaking the siege, which was the right decision, General Ridgeway later said.)

Chipyongni 2013
I visited the site of the Battle of Chipyongni in September 2013. In 2012, after reading The Longest Winter, I identified the location of the battle by figuring out its current name. What we wrote in English in the 1950s as “Chipyong” is now written as “Jipyeong” [Gee-pyuhng] (지평리 in Korean). Its suffix, ri or ni, means “village” in Korean. It has since been promoted to “myeon”, a slightly larger settlement than a ri/ni. The current name is thus Jipyeong-myeon (지평면).

I will write about the visit later. For now I can say it was one of the most significant excursions of my time in Korea. I feel blessed that it worked out the way it did. The word “Chipyongni” does not even appear in the tourist guidebook I have. It was something I independently discovered.

bookmark_borderPost-146: Across South Korea on Foot

It’s as good a time as any to reveal that I plan to hike across South Korea, from south-central to northeast.

It will take seven to eight weeks. I begin on September 16th. I doubt there will be many, if any, updates in those weeks. The trail is called, in Korean, “Baekdu-Daegan”. It’s sort of a Korean “Appalachian Trail”.

Here is a wall map on which I plotted out the approximate course.


Wallmap of South Korea on which I plotted my hiking course. [Click to Expand]
Start: In the south [Jiri Mountains].
Planned End: Northeast [near DMZ].

I will post more on this later, I hope. I hardly find time these days. This is an ambitious plan, but with proper planning and sufficient courage, it can be done.

Tomorrow, I visit Chipyongni, a February 1951 battlefield. It’s due east of Seoul, but near halfway across the country. It’ll take up to three hours to get there by train. It’s rural: I’ll camp overnight. It’ll be a kind of “practice run” for the hike.

bookmark_borderPost-145: Trip to the Incheon Visa Office

Nine days till my last day at this job.

Problem: My visa is running out before I plan to leave. Thus, this morning I paid I (successful) visit to the Incheon Immigration [Visa Control] Office. I asked to extend my visa and it was done. My Alien Registration Card got a new “expiration date” printed on it, 28 days later than the original. Phew; Another thing done, I thought.

The Incheon Immigration Office is inexplicably located very far away from anything. I managed to get there by train and then bus. I got off at the station inexplicably named “East-Incheon Train Station” (it is in the west of Incheon). I’d been here before with my friend CH. It is not far from Freedom Park, which features the giant MacArthur statue.

Very few of us got off at this station. One whom I noticed was a man, East-Asian in appearance but foreign-seeming to me. He seemed drawn from the ex-Soviet world, though this may be wrong. I base this on his walk [tough guy], his clothes [suit, not well-fitting; not in Korean fashion], his haircut [close-cut, nearly shaved-head], his shabby briefcase, and his build [big]. I didn’t even see his face. He got in a taxi outside the train station. I went to try to find a bus. Twenty minutes later, I saw him at the foreigner office, talking to a Visa Control agent. I was right. He was a foreigner. The agent spoke to him in Korean, and he nodded along. All I know for sure is that he was not Chinese. There are two wings at the Immigration Office, one for Chinese, one for others. He was in the “non-Chinese” section.

The process for me was easy. The woman wanted me to write down what I planned to do after I finished working to give me a “tourist” extension. She gave me a blank A4 paper. At first, I wrote a single sentence, but she wanted more. I listed some places. She asked me to sign it. I wondered why this would matter, and realized it’s possible that she did it out of personal interest. This is like the police in Kazakhstan in 2011. Living up to the ex-Soviet police stereotype, they demanded I produce ID or passport on the street for no apparent reason. I never had serious problems. The times they did this to me, or at least one of the times, I got the feeling the guy was just curious where I was from, but felt too awkward or lacking language-confidence to ask it in a jovial way, so he just used his position to impel me to show him my passport,which would give him the information he wanted.

Anyway, the agent did not comment on the list of destinations I wrote out. She disappeared and reaappared with the Alien Card within two minutes or so. The card had a new expiry date printed on the back. “That’s all. Bye!”, she said.

I emerged to find a bus going back to East-Incheon Train Station. The neighborhood was totally empty. I got on a #24 bus. It was unexpectedly packed with people, and suitcases. No seats were empty. It must’ve come from the airport, I figured. I heard a few Chinese voices. One of the signs on the bus was written in Chinese and Korean. I was confused about this, but I guess Incheon really does have a lot of Chinese. I rode the back to the train station and rode back to Songnae Station, the closest to my home/workplace. I ate a small lunch at Lotteria, a Korean knockoff of McDonald’s. It was only 11:00 AM. As I ate, I read the newspaper about Syria (somebody proposing a “No-Fly Zone“) and the shocking recent indictments against pro-North-Korean National Assembly members (for plotting “Underground Revolution”), and finally got another bus home. It was well before noon. I’d left home at about 9:15.

I’d call the morning genuinely pleasant.

Partly, it was pleasant because it all really felt like “travelling”. The core of “old” Incheon feels somewhat like  Southeast-Asia to me (or what I imagine SE-Asia to be, having never been there): poorer, dirtier, less efficient, not-well-organized, lazier; but relaxed, unpretentious, authentic.

bookmark_borderPost-144: Entering the Army

On September 10th of 2013, my Korean friend Hoon will enter the South Korean army for his mandatory service. He is now 26, some years older than the average conscript. He worked as an assistant at the language-institute here for a number of months in 2012. He was the head assistant, and was consistently kind to me/us, one of the few who were.

Twenty-one months is the term of service for all able-bodied, full-blooded, male South Korean citizens. Foreign citizen ethnic-Koreans (“Gyopos”), and mixed-race citizens, are exempt.

I met him for a final meal recently, and he seemed in good spirits.