September 29, 2005

Atlantic City

I'll be in Atlantic City for two days on business starting tomorrow, hmmm, what shall I do while I'm there?

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September 28, 2005


Well, I have finally put some pictures up. And if you haven't yet read part one and part two of my trip, feel free to do so.

Two of the pictures need some explanation, the first is at my mom's gravesite.

As I said before, my "harmony" (grandmother in Korean) was murdered outside her home by North Korean soldiers there to take my grandfather and aunts and uncles away. As they had secretly fled in the night, my grandmother paid the price. She was buried in the traditional mound grave standing upright in a wooden coffin on a hilly outcrop overlooking the home in which she lived. Beside her graves are the graves of the neighbor boy's mother and father, executed in much the same fashion.

My aunt made the almost three day trek out of the valley with my mom on her back in 1951 so my mother has never seen my grandmother's grave. About 10-15 years ago, they opened the Cheorwon Valley to those who were born there. My aunt and uncle returned and went to their mother's grave where they cleared the area and put in a gravestone.

Koreans believe that you must care for the graves of your parents and ancestors or bad things will befall your family. So many older Koreans fear that the reason they have suffered is because they were unable to care for the graves of their parents and ancestors. Being able to go "home" as it were, was a life-long dream for my mom, aunt and uncle. Only now, after some 54 years did my mom get to finally return home.

Which brings me to the gravesites which we cleared. In Korea, non-christinas, and some christians too, celebrate Jesa. It is the honoring or worship of one's ancestors. Once a year, men clear away the brush and debris at ancestral gravesites (we visited three which were each over 500 years old). My family is descended from a Late Goreyo King but that King's remains are trapped within the barbed wire of the DMZ and no one can go there, so we cleaned the graves of the later ancestors.
Women did not take part in this cleaning. Nor did they take part in the ancestral Jesa ceremony (they can now). See, in older Korean culture, a family was represented by its men. The women were not important to the family name.

Anyway, at Jesa, the men dress all in white, make offerings and chants and other ceremonial trappings to show their honor of their ancestors in their home, and then they march to the gravesite to chant, offer food and drink and piles of stones in honor. Also at Jesa, entire families visit the gravesites of their parents, they have a picnic and take small offerings of rice cakes to their parents.

Even though I am a woman, because I showed interest in my family history, the Chairman of our family (every traditionally upper-class family had one) invited us to participate so that he could point out the significance of each site.

The one in the picture is on a military base (on which non-military people are not allowed, except at Jesa and on which women are never allowed but they apparently made an exception because they didn't shoot us). We were surrounded by armed boys while we worked, and had to walk over a mine field to get to one section of our familial gravesites. It was an experience I shall not soon forget.

The gravesite itself is in three mounds. The middle one was originally taller than the other two as the man was buried there between his two wives. His grave has since sunk lower than the other two and the tale is that his wives had wrapped their arms around him and were holding him close for all eternity. Neat.

In Korea, families keep a book of names of the men born to the family, and if you are a male child, your children's names will appear in the book as well. It was kept from the King we are decended from. Anyway, my mother's name appears in the book, and my grandfather and great grandfather all the way up to this King. This book had recently been printed (the only time in almost 1000 years) because of a dispute in the family. One extra copy was printed and it was given to me during my visit! While my name isn't in the book, my mother's is, and I can forever tell people my family line is the Ubong-Kim's. (oh and on my grandmother's side, her Kim's were descended from a Shilla King so, I'm technically royalty, I wonder if that rubs out the redneck on my dad's side . . .)

Stay tuned for more pictures and stuff . . .

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September 27, 2005

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!

Here are some pictures from my trip to Korea. Click on the links to see bigger versions!

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThis is my mom and aunt eating at a Kalbi house in Korea. Kalbi is marinated pork cooked on a sizzling plate in front of you.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThis is my mom and her sister and brother (She hadn't seen her brother since 1983).

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThese kids are kids in the village where my aunt lives.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHanging with Ronald, where even he has slanted eyes . . . I look terrible!

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThat, my friends is a North Korean city in the distance. Notice that there isn't much vegetation growing on the mountains?

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usA North Korean lookout post. The dirt road is within the DMZ, the picture is taken through a car window because I may have been shot if caught taking pictures.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThe shelled out remains of the North Korean Labor Party Headquarters, the site of many atrocities during the war.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usEarly morning in the Cheorwon Valley.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThis is my Grandmother's grave. It is near the site of the home where my mom was born. My mother had not been here since she was several months old. She had never seen the grave of her mother. Never known where she was born.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usA traditional home. My mom was born in a home like this. My aunt sits in the doorway, my mom is in the foreground walking.

Free Image Hosting at Here is a grave of one of my ancestors. In todays world he would be as important as a vice president. That is my smiling mom in the foreground. We took part in grave cleaning day to prepare for Korean Thanksgiving. This grave site is nearly 600 years old.

That is all for now. Disregard the ugly picture of me. The airport lost my luggage, so I had been in the same clothes for three days!

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Comment Spam!!

I got hit with like 45 messages last night!!! Anyone else have this problem? I'm gonna find that "belikethesquirrel" guy and shove a broom up his ass!

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September 21, 2005

Going Home Again Part II

Ok, as everyone knows I went to Korea for the first time in my life just a week and 1/2 ago.

My mom hadn't been back since 1983 and hadn't been to her birthplace since 1951. It was a whirlwind trip wherein I learned a lot about my family, my heritage and the plight of refugees from the war.

There wasn't a family member or family friend that we visited that didn't have a story of intrigue, despair and loss to tell me.

My Korean isn't very good but my mom was there to help me interpret.

I stayed in the area surrounding the DMZ. Normal Koreans and foreigners barely ever visit. if you were born there you can get a pass, and you can accompany someone without a pass. So, there I was. Minutes from North Korea and the ever watchful eyes of the North Korean and South Korean military.

A few places truly were inspiring and I will try to paint the picture for you here.

The first is the DMZ itself. It is quite literally the line drawn in the sand. It is a roughly 2 mile plot of land that spans the width of the country. On the southern border of the DMZ is an 8 foot tall fence with rolling barbed wire at the top and live grenades hanging every 2 to 3 feet. Just inside that border fence is another barbed wire fence. It too contains live ordinance. You cannot get close to the fence, in fact, you cannot stop your vehicle as someone may shoot you. My photos are from the back seat of a car. You aren't to photograph that area either. You can see the barren, abandoned road within the DMZ that stretches up into the mountains and to the North Korean lookout point.

There is one spot you can stop (but no pictures). There is an observatory which you can climb and look out across the DMZ. I went there. It is less than a mile from my aunt's home. At that site is an abandoned rail station whose train used to take Koreans all over the North and South and into Russia and China.

When it stopped running 55 years ago, the train was left right where it ended its last run. There it sits in ruins today. It is a reminder of what the North Korean's used that train for in the early days of the war.

After the forced occupation by Japan ended, the North Koreans entertained thoughts of unifying the country. To that end, they set up the National Labor Party Headquarters - a vast stone building which stands in ruins as a tribute to the lives lost there. It is 1/2 mile from my mother's village and 1/2 mile from the train depot.

The North Koreans would round up peaceful villagers with the threat of putting them on the train to North Korea. In reality they would place these individuals on the train until they were herded to the Headquarters to be executed. When the area was liberated by the American military, what the soldiers found were trenches behind the building filled with executed, peaceful villagers. Why were they executed? To prove a point - to show that the North was mighty and strong, and to force those peaceful villagers to follow their lead. Young Korean's with sympathy for North Korea have completely forgotten the horrors of those days.

Why this spot and the train depot were so important to my trip was because of what they meant to my aunt, my uncle and their friends. My uncle explained that everyday as a teen, before he fell ill, he saw the North Koreans round innocent villagers up. His friends, neighbors, and some family were never seen again. On occassion, the North Korean soldiers would return to their village to tell them that a body could be gathered from the headquarters for burial. That is how they knew what happened to those particular friends and neighbors, the rest are simply lost. They lived with the fear that they were next.

Indeed, my uncle's best friend, who lives nearby, told me that at 15 years old his entire village was rounded up at gun point. They went to the depot, where they were told to go, but he got scared and snuck away in the middle of the night. He never saw another soul from his village again. I heard these tales time and again. These buildings stand so North Korean/Communist atrocities will never be forgotten, yet somehow they have been.

I also visited a folk village and museum and an old palace complex. It was all really fun, because while the Folk Village was early 19th Century, my aunt remembers living that way as a child. They didn't have straw roofs, but all the other particulars were exactly as they had been in the distant past. Korea has only recently, in the last 30 years, modernized.

Ok, so, believe it or not I was actually searching for the little mud buildings with dirt floors that you see on certain episodes of MASH. Let me tell you, that is as completely inaccurate as one could imagine.

In Korea, (at least not since the Bronze Age) there were no mud huts with dirt floors. The Koreans ate, slept and did everything else on their floors. So, dirt was not used. Instead, their floors were made of wood with an elaborate heating system underneath so that the floors were warm. It is really neat. I visited one of the old homes, still being lived in, yet long-since modernized. It was just like the folk village except it had electricity. It was really cool.

And the food! Man, it knocked me out! I had the best food while I was there. All these older Koreans I met were floored cause I'd eat just about anything they placed in front of me. Oh how I miss the food!

That's all for now. I should get around to posting pics. soon. . .

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September 20, 2005

Cotillion Time!


It's Tuesday, and that means it is Cotillion time. For you newbies, it is a roundup of the thoughts of some very lovely ladies in the 'sphere. You really shouldn't miss these ladies as they almost never disappoint.

This week the lovely hostesses reside at Fistful of Fortnights; Crystal Clear, Soldier's Angel, and Knowledge Is Power.

Go check out these lovely ladies.

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September 19, 2005


basil's interviewing bloggers round the 'sphere. Go there to ask questions of your favorites including yours truly! Oh, and if you haven't read my last post do so, and stay tuned for more about my trip to the Land of the Morning Calm.

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September 16, 2005

Going Home Again

It was the spring of 1951 in the village of Hwagal-ri about a mile from what would become known as the DMZ, in the Cherwon valley nestled between the majestic mountains of the Korean peninsula. The rice fields had just been planted and nothing was very green yet. The weather was becoming balmy and the threat of fevers hadn't yet past.

Her oldest brother was in bed with Yellow Fever and would probably die. He was 17.

Two days earlier, her father and another brother and sister had disappeared. It was rumored that the North Koreans were coming for them as they had so many local villages, but she hadn't paid it any mind. Afterall, she was 10 and was needed to take care of the new baby, a girl, just a few weeks old. Besides, the North Koreans were always around and had been "disappearing" people for the last number of years.

That is when it happened, a very distinct knock on the door, not a knock, a pounding that would never be forgotten. She could hear the shouting, questions about where her father was and then the shots. Her mother lay in a pool of blood outside their home. The soldiers had entered to execute her brother but were told in the pleading, pathetic voice of her elderly grandmother that he had Yellow Fever and was contagious. The soldiers nervously backed away, and ran from the house so as not to be sick themselves.

Some villagers attended to the burial of her mother, on a hill overlooking their home, in a traditional mound with no marker. She was gone. Who would care for them? A sick brother, a baby, an elderly grandmother, and her? She hadn't time to worry for she too fell sick with Yellow Fever and was sent to bed.

When she awoke, it was late spring and the land was lush and green. Her brother had not died, and had gone off to join the South Korean ROK Army. She was alone with her elderly grandmother and the baby. She learned that her grandmother kept the baby alive with rice water but she was not well.

She could barely stand upon her legs as the fever had taken its toll upon her body, but they could no longer stay in their home for it was now at what was known as the front line in the "conflict". She set off with her elderly grandmother and the baby with what little they could carry.

While they walked, they often were met with flying bullets and had to maneuver mine fields and mortars. They hid from the North Koreans once and thought they would surely die when a plane flew overhead. At one point, the baby's wrist was grazed by a bullet, but she did not lose her hand.

Several times along the way, she thought of leaving the baby by the road side as she was weak and the baby, now several months old was heavy. When she came to the HanTan River she spied a rock below the bridge and decided to leave the baby there, surely some other refugee would take her. She was torn. This baby was her sister. Her only real connection to her family at this moment. She would not leave her.

She proceeded to cross the HanTan river on an unsteady wooden foot-bridge laden with the child, her last link to her family, with her elderly grandmother in tow. Several times she slipped but they managed to cross the river.

It had been two days and nights, but she managed to emerge from the mountains at a small village crossroads. There, they and other refugees were met by U.S. soldiers. These wonderful men took her elderly grandmother to a medical facility and then on to a refugee camp. She would never be seen again. They gave her food and candy and a kind look and transported her and the baby to an orphanage outside Seoul.

She was able to spend a few months with her sister at the orphanage but they were separated and she was sent to work as a house girl.

She visited her sister often to ensure that they would never part. She cried at the door of the orphanage to make sure her sister was not adopted to the foreign couples lining the entry way. She wept as she saw that her sister hadn't any clothes or food to eat, and knew that she hadn't any to spare. She couldn't believe that her sister, having but one notebook, would erase the beginning of the book and start again when she had reached the end. She scraped change together now and again to buy her little sister a piece of candy or hair adornment any small token was received as a precious gift. Her only comfort was that she hadn't given into temptation and left her sister behind.

As she got older, she met another refugee and they married. She looked after her sister, still in an orphanage, as best she could, but her sister was now an unruly pre-teen. She was still comforted that she had ensured that they would not be separated. Eleven years had past, and one day she was met on the street by a neighbor who inquired the name of her long-lost brother. Coyly, the neighbor said "I know your brother, do you want to meet him?" Unsure how to react, she said yes. Her brother lived in a flat mere blocks away from her and had for years. He was married, had children and was working. She and "the baby" went to meet their brother. After 11 years, they were finally reunited, though bitter-sweet, their hearts were happy. Whether they had other family alive remained to be seen, but for now, the three of them had each other.

Twenty three years had past and "the baby" was now a beautiful woman with long, raven black hair and a penchant for gambling and alcohol abuse.


"The baby" was getting her life on track and had gotten a job at the courthouse in Seoul and had begun college classes to be a pharmacist. She would be just fine. Then one day, "the baby" brought a young man to her sister's home.

This young military man was a handsome American of barely twenty. She knew that he was a good man when he ate everything on his plate and asked for more. "The baby" seemed smitten, and had certainly never brought a man by before. She approved but had reservations. Specifically that if the relationship progressed she would actually be separated from "the baby" after all these years.

The two indeed married and while they lived in Korea for two years, the young American was about to be transferred to America. Her instincts about this young American were correct, he was indeed a good man! They were expecting their first child and there were complications. He used all of his leave staying home to care for his bride and their unborn child. In fact, for a brief time he was AWOL as he insisted on staying with his wife. He didn't get into too much trouble once the situation was explained, and the complications subsided.

The two left Korea when "the baby" was eight months pregnant. She would not get to meet her tiny niece or nephew, not at least for 30 years. . .

Nearly forty-five years after she left her home, the government of Korea granted limited access to the zone surrounding the DMZ to those who could prove their birth in that area - she was going home! Monthly, she meets and eats with friends who had resided in the same orphanage as her. Those some 50-odd years later, they still cry and sob that they could not save their siblings as she had. She is a proud woman who lives in a proud country.

She now resides in a small village a mile from the DMZ, within military checkpoints and surrounded by the famed rice fields of Cherwon-do and the streets lined with multi-colored cosmos and mums. Inside a village which proudly displayed hot, red peppers drying in the sun and bundles of sesame freshly picked she lived in a tiny two room home. It was here, not one week ago that "the baby" who is my mother, and I visited. It was here that for the first time in 54 years "the baby" returned to the place of her birth, visited the grave of her mother, and walked along some of the same path her sister had taken to rescue her 54 years ago.

It was here, that she was greeted by the extended arms of long-lost family members who had also returned to the land of their birth to remember.

The beauty of Cherwon-do has not been lost. Though the villages are long-gone, replaced by military bases, checkpoints, and minefields, the concrete jungle of the cities of Korea have not yet extended to this peaceful valley. It remains a destination for its refugees to return home to and to reunite with the souls of their dead loved ones and living family members. It was where, though 1/2 caucasian, I was embraced as an Ubong-Kimci, a long-lost sister, a loved one, a member of an extended family with many holes to fill. It is there, that my mother's heart lies.

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I'm Back!

Ok, the party is over. I have a lot to clean up I see. Oh and to whoever left one of those yummy provisions tied up in my basement for me: Thank you!

Oh, and to whoever left the llama tied up in the bathroom - the poor thing needed some water geez!

Thanks to everyone for keeping my house, um, shall we say "lived in," while I was away!

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September 02, 2005

Comment Party!

Today is it, after this weekend I will be in Korea for a week and a half.

So, feel free to engage in a comment party here. I've left minimal supplies, cause i know ya'll bring your own. I have, however left a few specifics for the ladies and gents in the Extended. Have some fun! The pool is clean, the fridge is stocked with every imaginable beverage, and I am on my way to the homeland of my mama. See you all when I return!

Have fun!!

Last comment party I had, I only had three comments. . .




Have some fun with these ones!

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September 01, 2005


Give!!!!! See the post below!

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Blog For Relief -Hurricane Katrina

Hugh Hewitt has passed on the idea to make TODAY the Blog for Katrina Day! (the day was picked by Evil Glenn who has his roundup page here:

The Bear is keeping track, as he does so well, so go sign up your blog too.

Some bloggers are selling stuff that you can bid on, like Michele at Letters from NYC and the Laughing Wolf; and still others are compiling wonderful lists of places for your donations like Lee Ann and Fausta.

Phin and Apothegm Designs is auctioning off a website design, go there now!

I won't repeat the lists on how to help, because by clicking on a few of the above links you can find that information, my suggested charity is the Salvation Army for personal reasons but the list of places to give is long!

If you don't like the Salvation Army, head over to Ogre's and donate to the Samaritan's Purse. Do it at his site and he'll match you dollar for dollar! I did it! What are you waiting for?

NOTE: Once you have made your contribution, please track it at the Bear's donation tracking page. If I have encouraged you to make a donation, please list my blog. Thanks! But please, if you are able, give.

The Technorati Tags are: flood aid and hurricane katrina

Do your part to help out please!

Also: if you are looking for a loved one, Katrina Finder is up. (h/t basil)

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