bookmark_borderPost-330: The Call of Northwestern Europe

​Europeans tell me ​that I can pass for any of the nationalities of continental northwestern Europe. I started hearing this in 2007 when I started to meet real Europeans, and it continues. Some guess specific single countries; some say “it could be one of several;” in either case, it’s always northwestern Europe.

What’s remarkable is that they’re right. I am, in fact, of half Scandinavian, 3/8ths German, and 1/8th Colonial New England ancestry (the ultimate-country-origins of this last line I haven’t learned but odds are good, given who settled in Colonial New England, that it is entirely northwestern European, as well).  (See Also: post-223: “Kinsfolk By the Millions“).


Northwest Europe
Germany has probably been the most-often-made guess. To guess “Germany” in this kind of guessing game is to stay close to the trunk and not venture out too far on any limb, since Germany is, in many ways, a meshing together of several smaller, more-organic “nations” united by a language. Accordingly, a wide range of European “looks” are at home in Germany. (Chancellor Conrad Adenauer had a very exotic look. I wonder how he’d have fared in this guessing game. I wouldn’t guess Germany.)

The most specific was from a German young man who narrowed it down to a state (Bundesland) of Germany. This German’s name and face I’ve long forgotten, but I can still hear his answer in my mind. He said I’d best fit in Niedersachsen [Lower Saxony]. Wait. Now that I think of it, it may have been Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It was one of those. I’m sure it was on the water (see below) and I’m sure it wasn’t Schleswig-Holstein (a German state that some of my Danish ancestors found themselves in, against their will, after Denmark bungled a war in the 1800s and lost territory).

It’s easy to make fun of this kind of thing. “How can you narrow down someone’s ‘look’ to a specific state in the Federal Republic of Germany? That’s crazy.” I remember thinking, though, You know what? The geographic centroid of my ancestors’ places of origin probably *is* around about that state. There was no way he could’ve known any such a thing, about me, someone he’d just met that very day, and before I told him anything. He guessed it from sight alone. Impressive, I say. Impressive. On the below map, his guess was either the top red state (Niedersachsen) or the top blue state (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern). The more I think, the more I lean towards Niedersachsen. Yes, I’m 90% sure it was Niedersachsen.


I’ve also, occasionally, had people say  “Netherlands,” right next door to Niedersachsen (Both have the word nether in their names [the old-Germanic word nether survives on the margins of English, too] which means “low,” hence “The Low Countries.”) In terms of ancestral stock, Netherlands and northwestern Germans are close. This map of the frequency of my particular Y-chromosome group [R1b-U106] (originally from post-223) reinforces all this:

The consistent accuracy, in general, of these guesses, by strangers, constitutes “poor man’s proof” that ethnicity is a valid concept at some level. Some today like to mock or discard it but do so at their own peril. I mean, here I am, someone in the USA for generations, and they can still identify me to the correct ancestral region of Europe with total accuracy, essentially. Draw your conclusions.

There is also this. I hardly recall any case at all in Germany of someone in public speaking to me in English straight away. Always German. This was not the case for other White Americans I knew. I recall one American friend, B.A. We attended the same university in the USA, even, but met in Germany. He was what in physical anthropology is called the Atlantid type (that black-haired British Isles type). That sort of face is rare in Germany, the sign of a likely foreigner, probably an English-speaking one. I recall that when Germans saw B.A., they tended to use English. Not always, but sometimes. Then there was the case of the girl who spoke to me in German and asked whether I was showing B.A. around Germany! She said something like “It’s lucky he has you to show him around.” She thought I was a native German. (I think I have related this story on these pages before.) In fact, we were both foreigners and had similar levels of German; mine was better, but not by that much. (There was also the case of I.S., a Polish friend, whose German was much better than mine. In her time there in the 2000s, she said Germans would ask her “Sind Sie aus dem Osten?” or “Are you from the East?”).

Germans are very nice and will very often address someone whom they believe to be a native English speaker in English, even in Germany. In many other countries, language of address in public can be a more delicate matter with “political” implications. Estonia was such a country. Kazakhstan was. Malaysia is. In a very different way, Korea is, too.

Hearing “You look like [such-and-such nationality]” from Europeans was flattering. It meant, or so I presumed, that they accepted me as one of them, as one of the European family after all. There is power in this.

​Here is a scene some of my ancestors will have known:

(Based on footage taken in Norway. Edited and created by a Norwegian cinematographer who goes by IEDNlab on Youtube.)
Thanks for reading.

bookmark_borderPost-329: Nordisk Julbon (Christmas Service)

This year, 2015, was the first Christmas that I was in the USA since 2010, and only the third of the past ten years. It’s good to be in the USA, but it’s good to be abroad, too. 

I attended several Christmas Eve services with family. One was at the Swedish Lutheran church in Washington, D.C. (whose existence I was unaware of; my father had apparently been before. They hold worship service in Swedish on the first Sunday of each month). It was actually a combined Christmas Eve service of the Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish churches of Washington D.C., and the Icelandic Church Abroad. In fact, it was Swedish led and used their space. The limits of egalitarianism: One of the churches’ names does have to come at the top of the program (see below)…

I appreciated this service. It reminded me of Estonia (the closest I’ve yet gotten to Scandinavia), which is another Lutheran country except that it was, for some reason, about 70 Fahrenheit [20 C] out that day.


Sign says: “Augustana Lutheran Church” “Swedish Lutheran Church of Washington, D.C.”
A clearer view of the sign taken in spring (found online):

Back to photos I took that Christmas Eve:



Some photos I find online of the service, via




Below are two pages of the program, the front page and one of the interior pages.

Everything alternated between different Scandinavian languages but there was just as much English as anything, including the introductory remarks by the man whom I took to be the main pastor (a Swede). I originally suspected that this was for the benefit of people like me. More likely, though, now that I think about it, is that the Scandinavians prefer speaking in English to each other over picking one of their closely-related languages (which would be possible, except for the Finns). In other words, a Swede could speak to a Norwegian in Swedish and the latter would get it fine, I think, but to ensure smooth relations, neutral English is preferred. Or so I’ve heard. I regrettably lack enough experience with real Scandinavians to confirm it.



As to what the languages sounded like. Knowledge of German helps with Scandinavian, but I don’t think I could really understand anything I heard, though I could get much more from the written text.

In Swedish:
          Var Fader, du som ar i himeln.
          Lat ditt namn bli helgat

          Our Father, who art in heaven
          Hallowed be thy name

Himmel [Swedish: himeln] means “Sky” and “Heaven” in German. “Heilig” [Swedish: helgat] means “sacred” or “holy” in German. The other words are all quite close to English. Given some context and cultural awareness, I think I could basically understand this Lord’s Prayer in Swedish and the others (except Finnish) in written form. 

There were several musical performances. The most unique was a man playing a long alphorn-like instrument. I learn it is called neverlur in Norwegian and näverlur in Swedish (näver means birch and lur means trumpet). It was the first time I’d seen this instrument. The one the man played was even longer than this one that I find online:


Photo from Lurspel, apparently a small site run by players of this and related instruments.
It must’ve been heavy. He picked it up like an oversize Olympic pole vaulter’s pole, carefully wobbled it into place — suspended in mid air — using the combined sheer forces of his arms and his will, and knocked out the sound.

​It seems that some version of this instrument goes back to the Northern European Bronze Age in the centuries around 1000 BC.


bookmark_borderPost-328: Remembering John Redin


What the U.S. 6th Virginia Regiment would’ve looked like, 1770s. From here
Who was John Redin?

Born: England, circa 1752.
U.S. War for Independence Service: 6th Virginia Regiment, Continental Army. There is record of a private “John Readon” enlisting in Virginia in 1777. If this is him, he missed crossing the Delaware with Washington (the regiment did, Dec. 1776) but did arrive in time for Valley Forge (winter 1777-78).
Died: 1832 in Arlington, Virginia, age 80.
Daughter married into an early Arlington family.

I happen to have come to stop by John Redin’s grave several times over the past ten years. It is in an old family cemetery near Interstate 66, behind a church and easily accessible by one of Arlington’s bike trails, which is how I came to pass by so many times. (More on the cemetery.)

The rear-right-most grave below is John Redin’s.


In many ways, John Redin was no one special, and, in fact, I suspect that this post may be the most ever written about him in one place, at least after his lifetime, though I’d be glad to learn I am wrong about that. Hundreds were already living in Arlington by the time he will have arrived, but anyway John Redin was an early Arlingtonian, and that’s reason enough to remember him.

A new informational sign in memory of John Redin was erected as part of a 2013 eagle scout project. (See below.)

The new sign will definitely draw many more visitors up from the bike trail, and the proof of such is already to be seen. The flags by his grave were not there in the 2000s, as I recall (when I first read the faded words on the gravestone), nor in 2011, when I think I last stopped by. A fair number of coins, a lollipop, and some other candy in a wrapper were all left there this time. This for a man no one knows. He’s been waiting a long while for that kind of attention…


What can we reasonably suppose about his origin? We know his regiment was raised in southern Virginia (mustered into Continental Army service February 1776 at Williamsburg). This strongly suggests that southern Virginia is where Redin originally lived after emigrating from England, which further suggests that he came to Virginia as an indentured servant (because had he been free in those days, and not bound by a term of indenture in some trade, presumably he would have gone to the frontier for free land, and not stuck around eastern Virginia).

John Redin’s regiment was at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-1778, the low point for the American rebels, when one in six American soldiers died of cold, disease, or malnutrition, others became too sick or weak to fight, and many others deserted and went home. The 6th Virginia regiment entered Valley Forge with 237 men and left the next spring with 88, a 63% loss of strength without so much as an actual battle.


At Valley Forge. (Painting by Edwin Austin Abbey.)
The regiment was apparently dissolved in May 1779, and those staying in Continental Army service attached to other Virginia regiments. That John Redin is listed as being in the 6th Virginia suggests he enlisted before that.

The entire small cemetery, fenced off:


Below: The bike trail. Down the way (not visible here) is a turnoff to the cemetery. On the right: I-66 and the Metro rail tracks, approaching Ballston Station in the direction of sight here.

The new sign:

The older sign (church in the background):

(Sign reads:) Southern-Shreve Cemetery. Five generations of the Southern, Shreve, and related families are interred in this burial plot. The Shreve family in Arlington dates from the arrival of Samuel Shreve from New Jersey about 1780. Shreve purchased a tract of land near Ballston in 1791. The earliest grave (1832) is that of John Redin (Sixth Continental Line), a veteran of the American Revolution. Redin’s daughter married Richard Southern.
According to the Arlington, Virginia Historical Society, the earliest marked gravesite that survives to the present in Arlington is that of a member of the Ball family, buried in 1766. The Ball family was one of the original pioneer-settler families of Arlington, arriving in 1742 (135 years after John Smith first set foot in Arlington, in 1607, soon thereafter to be taken prisoner by local Indians). The original Ball pioneers arrived before even the founding of the town of Alexandria as a port serving the tobacco trade (1749). (An early member of the Alexander family, I think, was the first large landowner in what is now Arlington and Alexandria, the latter city a namesake of this family.)

Some Ball descendants were running a tavern and store at what is now Glebe Rd and Wilson Blvd by 1800, which gave the local community the name “Ball’s Crossroads;” later “Ball’s Town;” finally “Ballston,” the neighborhood name that survives today. Redin is buried only a mile or so west of the old Ball’s Tavern and General Store.

John Redin will likely have known many members of the Ball family, as there were so few families in Arlington in those days, nothing like the 230,000 living in Arlington today (up to 320,000 during business hours, I hear), many of whom are high-income transients.

Where are the descendants of John Redin today? According to this, no one named Redin was listed as a resident of Virginia in the 2000 census.

In 2000, there were only 279 people with the last name Redin living in the US. Historically, the name has been most prevalent in the West. However, it is especially popular in South Dakota.

bookmark_borderPost-327: List of All Posts, and To Do List

I have made an updated List of All Posts, including short descriptions and some other commentary interspersed.

The list is at


Screenshot of, Dec. 18, 2015
There are a few projects I wanted to get done on these pages but have never gotten around to. These include:

  • The series on my first day in Korea in 2009 (posts 46 to 52). I planned twelve parts but completed only seven. The “story”, as I saw it, was somewhat worth recording in its own right. It certainly worth telling, I felt, when viewed from the perspective of several years later and knowing so much more. Specific memories fade, but knowledge accumulates.
  • Regrettably, post-290 is the only one about Japan following my time there. Many other posts relate to Japan, but only secondarily.
  • Despite intending to, I wrote nothing about my day in Manila in August 2014, or the many news places I visited in 2015, including Australia, Fiji, and Hawaii in August 2015.
  • My Baekdu-Daegan Mountain Trail (crosscountry trail across Korea) posts in September and October 2013. I am not sure how satisfied I am with how these came out. A great trip, and I’d like to finish the second half.
  • I am more interested in Europe than Asia, but since I started this only in 2013, when I was in Korea, there is a lot about Korea. Some, like post-268, and post-248 reflect my interest in Germany, the European country I know most about, having lived there and  speaking the language at an intermediate level.
  • I’ve done many other things worth writing about in 2015 but most have gone unremarked upon on these pages. You can see a real slowdown starting in June 2015. Generally, post slowdowns occur in summer, when I am traveling, and when something new comes up that focuses all my attention.
  • The Internet is unstable. I wonder if anyone remembers “Geocities“? It was an early website hosting platform, now totally gone, but in 1999 it reportedly was the third-most-visited website. I even made a webpage on it around year 2000 about The Simpsons. It is completely gone. Geocities webpages are all gone. The same is true today, in different ways. Content disappears all the time. Notably Youtube videos. Several that I posted about disappeared, for whatever reason. A notable case is post-197, about the group that spearheaded the Ukraine revolution in February 2014. The video has disappeared, but my transcription survives, for whatever this may be worth.

bookmark_borderPost-326: Cornerstone of Washington, D.C.


To look at it, the plain-looking building above would appear, to the reasonable person’s eye, to be a house, probably an old one. The reasonable person would be exactly half right (if counting by the letter).

It is actually a lighthouse. Believe it or not… Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. It is the southernmost point of the original District of Columbia.

I was there on December 11th, 2015, on my way to Mount Vernon by bicycle. The weather reached 70 F (21 C) and I had just finished an exam the previous day.

Washington, D.C. was originally a perfect square, ten miles on each side, and any square will have corner points. This lighthouse was D.C.’s southern corner point. (The stone marker actually says “Historic Boundary,” because the Virginia side was returned in the 1800s.)

The red marker on the below map is anchored where the photo was taken. You can zoom in on this map all the way down. The anchor-point is exactly where I was standing, facing south.

The original cornerstone, placed in 1791, demarcating the boundary of the new federal district, also stands at Jones Point, and I sought it out. It was difficult to find.

Below: Along the Potomac River. To my right is the lighthouse. The lighthouse’s small shed is visible here (The same shed is visible in the above photo, behind the bicycle).


Below: The front of the lighthouse. I am standing almost in the Potomac River.

Above, directly under the door of the lighthouse, a curious opening exists. Easy to miss; very easy to miss; it values its peace and quiet. On closer inspection, this opening turns out to contain the cornerstone. Up close:

“The oldest existing physical monument associated with the federal city of Washington, D.C.”

Completely unremarkable!  No inscriptions are visible. Nothing obviously distinguishes it from a rock never touched by human hands.

“The inscription on the south cornerstone, worn by weather and water, is now illegible.” A small example of the power of Time to erase the works of man.


Two hundred and twenty-four years. That doesn’t seem so long. What would 2,000 years do? 20,000 years?

Say a great civilization existed long ago. Call it “Atlantis.” Say Atlantis’ monuments and buildings fell into disuse after a civilizational collapse or a mega disaster event. Is it possible that all of Atlantis’ monuments and buildings could’ve been wiped away with nary a trace left for us to find today, that all its structures became indistinguishable from natural features over time? Which leaves us with Atlantis the Legend, rather than Atlantis the Fact.

Maybe the case of the weathering of the Washington, D.C. cornerstone seems trivial. Think of it this way: Each  concept or emotion is as a reservoir, and different experiences “tap in” to different extents. I may have but splashed a few drops. Shelley’s traveler, meanwhile, upon his discovery of the ruins of the statue of Ozymandias, took a headfirst dive into the very same reservoir (but it was the same reservoir):

[O]n the pedestal these words appear:
My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings.
Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!”
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

bookmark_borderPost-325: Using the “Galaxy SIII” (Samsung)

Eighty million Samsung Galaxy SIII (S3) phones were sold between its release in May 2012 and May 2015. One of them ended up in my hands in December 2013, and has been used nearly every day by me since then.

(Until December 2013, I used a cheap but reliable “non-smart” phone. A lot of people around me were getting smartphones in 2011-2013, but I  considered it not worth the money. I knew people paying $80 and up a month, and I was focused intently on saving in those days. One of my first posts here, Post #22 [“Phone Birthday”] was about this.)

From time to time in Korea, in 2014 and 2015, I’d get comments that the phone was “too old” (generally from students), but this never bothered me at all. If it works, why replace it? It’s true that the Galaxy S7 will be released in 2016 or 2017, but the higher models I’ve seen seemed to have only marginal improvements, as best I could tell.


Samsung Galaxy SIII. (Mine is white.)
“Used, but hardly used, like new” was how the seller described the phone that would become “my phone.” The seller was someone in Korea who was upgrading to an S4, or something. I don’t recall the exact sum I gave him, cash, but it was something like $150. The original price of a Galaxy S3, upon release, was something like $750 (if bought outright)! That was only a year and a half earlier, at that point. I thought I got a great deal, and it does still work…

Owning the phone outright, rather than paying a theoretically reduced price on installments mixed in with phone service, allowed me to use a much-cheaper prepaid service. For my purposes, this meant about $15 a month for 3G Internet and for phone calls. I believe text messages cost two cents, but I generally used a messaging application.

My Galaxy S3 phone’s “birthdate” (manufacture date), printed inside the battery compartment, is March 14th, 2013. This is around the birthdate of this very website.

bookmark_borderPost-324: Who is Aubrey Beardsley? What is a ‘Pierrot’?

Here’s the kind of thing I like to find. Hidden or forgotten knowledge, waiting to be found. Libraries are great for this. (Though, in fact, I found what is below in a quiet, dusty little corner of the Internet.)

The Saturday Review magazine’s January 28th, 1928 issue has the following advertisement (p.559):


A lot of this advertisement puzzled me.

(1) Who is Aubrey Beardsley?
(2) What is a “pierrot”? What is a “harlequin”?
(3) What is meant, exactly, by “clown”? Is this actually a biography of a circus clown?
(4) What is meant by “Oscar Wilde’s downfall”? Again, was a circus clown actually involved in it? This seems unlikely.
(5) Who has ever heard of the names “Aubrey” (for a boy) or “Haldane”? How might you pronounce “Haldane”?
(6) Was $6.00 expensive for a book in 1928?

This word “pierrot”.  I recognized it to be — this is true — a Korean word. I had struggled remembering the Korean word 피에로. The Korean-English dictionary said the word translates in English as “pierrot; clown.” I’d never heard of an English word “pierrot.” It seems French. How did Korean get a French loanword for “clown”? Does the word really exist in English? If so, why had I never heard it before? Seeing it in English for the first time, in a periodical published six decades before my birth was a pleasant surprise…

The Ngram of “pierrot” and “pierrots” (Ngram is a tool to graph word frequency in published material over time):

It gained popularity in English texts in the 1900-1920 period and stayed in high use from WWI to the 1930s.

Use of “pierrot” had declined quite a lot by the time I started reading in the 1990s. It was up to five times more common in published texts in the 1920s-1930s than it was by the 1990s-2000s. In fact, by year 2000 the red line (“pierrots”) sits back where it was before the word started its rise in the 1900-1905 period. I interpret this to mean that we have “completely lost the word” and so it has returned to just being “a foreign word,” not a “loan word” any more. (It was deloaned?) (I am vindicated in this thought by the fact that the automatic spellchecker included in the Firefox browser on which I am writing warns me that “pierrot” is a misspelled word.)

Thinking about the rise and fall of the word “pierrot”: The amount of language change that must have occurred in history that has simply vanished without a trace must be enormous. Maybe much, much greater than that which survived, than that which forms part of the languages as they exist today. There is probably no way to track down the great majority of vanished words or perhaps other aspects of language because most of history was pre-literate. Given a non-literate culture, especially, “pierrot” is a case of a word that would simply vanish.

How did Korean get this word? Best guess: It must’ve come through Japan in the ’20s when it was a hip word in English.

Who was Aubrey Beardsley? He was an English cartoonist (1872-1897). Some of his drawings were quite shocking. His art is the kind that would’ve been considered decadent or pornographic at the time and subject to bans, but today might appear in museums.

Who was the biographer, Haldane MacFall? He was another English artist and writer (1860-1928; he died the very year this book was advertised at age 68). His full name was Chambers Haldane Cooke Macfall. The link over his name is to a little biography of the man someone has done. The Aubrey Beardsley book is mentioned in the rundown of his published works: “[MacFall also wrote]…a spirited defence of his friend Aubrey Beardsley (1928.)”

The Aubrey Beardsley book was sold for $6.00 in 1928. This equals $83.45 in 2015 dollars. That’s a whole lot of money for a book.

bookmark_borderPost-323: The Reinvigoration of Korean Buddhism in the late 1800s (Sem Vermeersch)

“Christianity is foreign to Korea; Buddhism is native; it’s a shame that Christians have so much power in today’s Korea while Buddhism, Koreans’ ancestral faith, is so relatively weak…”

I imagine that many foreign observers of today’s Korea have had thoughts like this. Yet these same people, if they have been to Korea, will notice a distinct lack of temples in the cities. They big temples, and the old ones, are all hidden away in the mountains. Why is this? (Jared Way, whom I consider to be a kind of amateur expert on Buddhism in his own right, pointed this out to me.)

A recognized expert on Korean Buddhism, Sem Vermeersch, was interviewed and had some surprising remarks relevant to this issue, which suggest that the impression people have (noted above in italics) may be rather misguided. Buddhism was marginal in Korea for centuries, with monks even banned from entering any city. (Explaining why the great temples of Korea are never in cities.)

It seems that Korean Buddhism was marginal in the 1800s and then totally reinvigorated by Japanese contact. Just as Korean Christianity owes it all to the White missionary families who started showing up in the 1880s, Korean Buddhism owes, in perhaps comparable measure, to the Meiji Japanese. Both Korean Christianity and Korean Buddhism are products of the period of cultural shock by which a semi-medieval Chosun Dynasty stumbled its way into the modern world (yanked and shoved along the way).

Here is the relevant part of interview, transcribed by me:



Professor Sem Vermeersch
Interviewer: It seems many Korean Buddhists actually welcomed, in a sense, Japanese involvement [in Korean affairs in the late 1800s] because Japanese authorities forced Korean authorities to open up the cities, again, to the Buddhists.

Professor Sem Vermeersch (Seoul National University): Yes, that’s right. […] [From the 1600s-1800s in Korea,] Buddhism was tolerated. No one would confiscate their property. This didn’t happen anymore [after the suppressions of the 1400s-1500s]. Buddhism was left to its own devices but they were allowed to exist. Temples were taxed. They had to pay heavy taxes but they could at least maintain themselves. In the late 19th century, very slowly foreigners began to seep into the country. Of course, the Japanese were the most prominent of these. We all know the story of how Catholicism came to Korea, how Western missionaries started coming in the 1890s, but actually as soon as the treaty between Korea and Japan was inked in 1876, the year after already the Japanese opened a Buddhist temple in Busan. I think it was 1877. So very quickly, the Japanese were here to spread their own forms of Buddhism. Initially, they cooperated very well with the Korean Buddhist monks. There’s a very famous example of a Japanese Buddhist monk who “lobbied” the Korean government to overturn the ban on Buddhist monks entering the cities. That was, I think, in 1895. King Kojong allowed monks to open temples in Seoul and to go into the cities as monks. Before that, if they wanted to enter the city they had to dress up, disguise themselves, as something different. So in 1895, Buddhist monks were allowed to enter the cities, and that allowed them to spread “Dharma” again among the people. So initially they looked up, very much, to these Japanese monks.

Interviewer: They ended a four hundred year ban, so —

Professor Sem Vermseersch: Exactly.

Interviewer: That’s quite something.

Professor Sem Vermseersch: So they were very grateful, actually. Not only that, but they also saw that Japanese Buddhist monks, apparently, had a lot of influence, lots of financial means, that they apparently had a very strong position in their own country, so Korean Buddhist monks basically wanted to follow the Japanese model, and learn about other cultures through these Japanese Buddhist monks. There is the famous case of the leader of Korean Buddhism at the beginning of the colonial period, 1909 or 1910. He made a secret pact with the Japanese that Japanese and Korean Buddhism would merge. […] Up to that point, there was a lot of goodwill amongst Korean Buddhists towards the Japanese, but when it became known that he had made this secret pact…There was a huge uproar.

[From Korea and the World podcast, recorded December 2014] [22:25-26:10]

bookmark_borderPost-322: Pen Your Wishes to Singapore on Her 50th Birthday

Late July 2015: Upon recognizing the Singapore flag in Seoul in a place it had never been before (just south of Gwanghwamun Plaza), I discovered that a temporary Singapore exhibition had been set up.

Temporary but presentable. Equipped with A/C inside:





“Pen your wishes for Singapore on her 50th birthday” is a phrasing no American could’ve come up with. Well done.

Most of the exhibition consisted of photos and accompanying explanations. Here are some:


“Queuing is something of a national sport.”

“People use packets of tissue paper to ‘chope’ seats.” / “500,000 attend Swing Singapore festival” (1989) / “The first Great Singapore Duck Race” (1998).

“The merger with Malaysia was short lived.”
The crying man is Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died this year after one of the most successful political lives of his time. (See post #292: “On Lee Kuan Yew, Founder of Singapore“).

“Merdeka is the Malay word for freedom.”
There was also a television with three different videos about Singapore playing in rotation. The video I saw was of was some kind of professional Korean photographer who did a photoshoot over a weekend in Singapore and also had a filmcrew following him around, filming him taking pictures.

bookmark_borderPost-321: Donald Kirk — Speaking on Jeju, Okinawa


Donald Kirk is a veteran U.S. journalist who has reported on Asia for nearly fifty years.

I attended a talk and luncheon by him in Washington, D.C. on December 7th, 2015. It was hosted by a university’s Korea Studies program. The crowd was fewer than twenty people, most of whom were Asian foreigners. I couldn’t tell their countries of origin and didn’t have a chance to talk to them. Most were graduate students. (Everyone had sandwiches and cookies but of all the attendees I was the only one to take a can of regular coca cola. Several had diet coke. What to make of that?).

If I recall correctly, Kirk said that he first entered Korea in 1972, previously having reported from Vietnam and elsewhere. He ended up, over his career, reporting on Korea a lot (though by no means exclusively), and is still going strong on that topic in the 2010s. I had previously run across the name Donald Kirk in the Korea Times, one of the English-language newspapers. It still runs his column. I occasionally bought the Korea Times and have written about this newspaper elsewhere on this site.

I must say that I was greatly impressed with Donald Kirk. He struck me as a quality investigative journalist of the classic variety. He was also energetic and vigorous. He looked younger in person than in the photo above (attached to his Korea Times columns). Seeing him in person, had someone told me he was in his 50s, I’d have certainly believed it. (He is in his 70s.)

Kirk’s talk was about Jeju (of Korea) and Okinawa (of Japan) and their many parallels. The new parallel is of military base controversies on both.

I took notes during the talk. Here are some of his remarks I found most interesting:


  • Donald Kirk’s book is called Okinawa and Jeju: Bases of Discontent. (This title is a pun, as will become clear below, I think.)
  • Kirk spent six weeks in Okinawa and Jeju, on a grant from some group in the USA, doing research for the book.
  • Okinawa and Jeju are both the southernmost points of their countries, different in culture and language from their mainlands, different identities. Both islands have always resented control by the mother country. Kirk didn’t say this explicitly, but I think meant it. (Few Koreans, I think, would ever entertain the idea that Jeju “resents” Korea, and certainly few would say it. Donald Kirk, being an American, has the freedom to do so.)
  • Okinawa was only taken by Japan in the late 1800s. Previously, it had been an independent kingdom.
  • Jeju was conquered much earlier, but always maintained its own identity and strong local dialect.
  • After independence in 1948, a revolt on Jeju against the Korean government was put down with 30,000 killed.
  • The Jeju of today is completely changed, now an enormous tourist spot with 90% of tourists now Chinese (Kirk’s estimate) and previous “national feeling” may be swamped to an extent by that. The young raised in Jeju can speak with standard Korean accents now, of course.
  • (I asked about the Jeju Revolt during the Q-and-A: “What would you say were the causes?” I wanted to get at whether it was “really” a communist revolt, as was claimed at the time, or what? It’s hard to trust answers you get on this from Koreans, because it is politically sensitive. Kirk didn’t have a specific answer. He mentioned political, labor problems. He graciously asked the Koreans in the room for their opinions. No one spoke up.)
  • (Someone else asked why there is no secession movement on Jeju. The questioner, an Asian of nationality unknown to me, said that Okinawa did have one. Kirk answered that in his view the Okinawa secession movement “didn’t amount to much” when held up to the light of day.)
  • Kirk pointed out that Jeju is the only Korean province given special “self-governing status” (제주특별자치도).
  • The left-wing governments of Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Mu-Hyun, governing 1998-2008, did things to appease Jeju like officially apologizing for the Jeju massacre of ’48.
  • Both Jeju and Okinawa now have military base controversies which likely will be around for a while. Okinawa has long had a large U.S. presence, and South Korea is currently building a naval base on Jeju, to open next year.
  • Why is South Korea “militarizing” Jeju? Firstly, Kirk discussed the Ieodo Rocks (이어도), which are claimed by both China and Korea. Occupied by South Korea. China has not pressed this claim, unlike its many other claims to islands and rocks quite far from its borders. China has aggravated nearly all its maritime neighbors with its bold territorial claims, except South Korea.
  • Kirk said that South Korea is trying hard to maintain good relations with China. To this end, Korea won’t support any SE Asian states in territorial disputes with China.
  • Despite this deference-to-China policy, South Korea has quietly built up the Ieodo Rocks in a manner similar to what it has done with the much-more-publicized (especially in Korea itself) Dokdo Rocks in the sea between Korea and Japan, occupied since 1952 by South Korea but also claimed by Japan.
  • South Korea has built facilities, including a helipad, on Ieodo (picture below). These rocks are completely submerged but rise near enough the surface to allow such facilities.

Ieodo Rocks, occupied by South Korea
  • If China ever presses the Ieodo Rocks claim, the South Korean Navy would be in a better position to enforce its claim with the Jeju base. The rocks are 150 km southeast of Jeju.
  • The second reason for the Jeju naval base, Kirk says: North Korea. A strong naval base on Jeju could better intercept North Korean vessels. This is the official position and is valid.
  • Kirk says that former president Kim Dae-Jung opened the shipping lanes around Jeju to North Korean commercial ships. This surprised me. This ended with the end of the Sunshine Policy. Kim Dae-Jung was a longtime South Korean left-wing political dissident, elected president in 1997, and was interviewed several times by Kirk during his long career, which included a period of exile in the USA (mostly spent in Northern Virginia, according to Kirk).
  • Some Koreans are protesting the Jeju naval base. They say it will hurt the environment.
  • Kirk says he interviewed one of the main protest leaders at the Jeju naval base protests, a certain Korean Catholic priest. I cannot recall what specific remarks he made about this priest. He said his name was Moon.
  • Kirk doesn’t buy the notion that the protest is environmental in nature. He gave the example of the plan to completely destroy a particular island in Busan Harbor so as to allow more maneuvering space for ships. No protests at all for that doomed island.
  • The real force behind the protests on Jeju, Kirk says, may be anti-American Left (this is my term, not his). The protesters, if you talk to them, allege that the base “will become a U.S. base”. The base is a U.S. plot, they say. Kirk says there is no basis for this claim, no indication the U.S. has anything to do with it.
  • Opposition on Okinawa to the military bases does relate to the U.S., as one of the largest overseas U.S. bases in the world is on Okinawa, but Kirk says that it is not so simple on Okinawa as “Get the foreigners out.” Okinawans do not yearn, at all, he says, for a handover to the Japanese military (and there may again soon be one to speak of). They probably prefer the U.S. to Japan. The Okinawa protesters just want to be left alone with no bases at all. (This does seem to suggest that Okinawa “national feeling” is strong, even if Kirk says rumors of a secession movement have been greatly exaggerated.)
  • I asked a question about what Kirk’s view was on prospective U.S. military withdrawal from Korea and/or Japan, whether it was possible or likely anytime soon. He replied that Jimmy Carter had had a plan to withdraw U.S. forces totally from Korea in the late 1970s, but “he was talked out of it” after taking office. Kirk then said that today Donald Trump, who has said the same thing (Korea can pay for its own defense; foreign commitments a waste of money; bring U.S. troops home), if elected, would also be talked out of it. I wanted to follow up but didn’t have the chance. Who “talked Carter out of it”? Why? Who would talk Trump out of it? Why?

Note: I implanted one fact above that didn’t come from the talk I attended, but from an interview with Donald Kirk I listened to separately. It is that Kim Dae-Jung lived mostly in Northern Virginia during his political exile in the USA, 1980-1985. Kirk has mixed feelings about Kim Dae-Jung, and many negative things to say, while conceding his political skill. Kirk’s perspective on the much-praised, Nobel-anointed Kim Dae-Jung was nice to hear: This interview was reposted to Youtube here. (Korea and the World podcast, October 2015).