June 2008 News of the RAS-KB

Report on RAS-KB Lectures

There can be no question that the generosity of the owners and managers of Somerset Palace, Seoul, in allowing the RAS-KB to use the building's Residents' Lounge for lectures has made an enormous difference to the life of the Society. The last year has seen a very considerable increase in the numbers attending the RAS-KB lectures which are organized twice each month. The most popular event to date was the lecture held on 20 May 2008, with the title
"Where do Foreign Missionaries fit in Korea’s Modern History?" which attracted a record-breaking audience of 90 to hear Professor Donald Clark -- who is the son and grandson of Presbyterian missionaries who first arrived in Korea in 1902.  The level of conviviality is equally on the up-an-up, with ever more people congregating in the nearby Jacob's restaurant after the lectures to enjoy pasta and beer. After the May 20 meeting, some were even obliged to drink standing in the street outside, for lack of space!

    A missionary family house at Hannam University, Daejeon

The lectures given in recent months have covered a wide variety of topics. There is no doubt that lectures about North Korea attract more-than-average audiences. On 11 September 2007, we heard Dr. Andrei Lankov  talk on "The North Koreans in the Borderland : Chinese North East and North Korea.
" He evoked the rarely reported situation in the borderland areas and the role of the Yanban region, the ups and downs of the North Korean refugees' flow, the current situation of refugees, the role of smuggling and legitimate trade with North Korea, as well as the current state of the Korean-Chinese community and it role in dealing with North Korea. Since he had just come back from a lengthy study tour of the region, he gave an eye-opening account of the great changes there have been since the time a few years back when so many North Koreans fled across the border to avoid starvation.

A very different aspect of Korea was evoked on 13 November 2007, when the topic was "The 2007 Baekdu-daegan Expedition." Two hardy hikers gave a lecture illustrated with photos they had taken just a few days previously as they walked the whole length of the South Korean section of the "Baekdu-daegan"
  the 670 km-long mountain-range-line containing a geomantic stream of earth-energy that runs throughout the Korean Peninsula, from Baekdu-san on the northern border down to Jiri-san near the south coast.  It includes most of Korea's highest peaks and most-sacred mountains, and the sources of all of Korea's major rivers.

   Worak-san, about midway along the

One of the most unusual lectures of recent years was one improvised at very short notice in the Seoul Press Club where we first watched the concert given in Pyeongyang by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on CNN, then heard two North Korea experts discuss the probable implications and future prospects.

Dr. Lankov returned on April 8 for a lecture on a very different topic : "The transformation of Seoul Traffic in the 1940s and 1950s"  He explained, using a variety of old photos, that Seoul traffic in the 1940s and 1950s looked colorful if odd. Decommissioned military jeeps, painted black, served as the chauffeured cars of the elite. The commoners walked or rode bicycles. The streets were full of mini-vans which were the major means of transportation for most people. The crowded streetcars slowly traversed the badly damaged tracks. The Seoul administration openly admitted that most of the city buses were not roadworthy, even according to the then lax regulations, but it had no choice but to let them to continue their operations since people had to get home. There was little nostalgia in the room for the obvious discomfort people had to endure not so long ago.

    Seoul streetcar in 1946

Finally, on 6 May 2008, we were taken inside North Korea by a young Canadian who had worked in Pyeongyang.
"Pyongyang through my eyes: An up close and personal look inside North Korea" provided a very different insight into life in North Korea. Our lecturer showed us some of the pictures he had taken of ordinary North Koreans leading their ordinary, everyday lives. Often he had held his camera low down at his side, to avoid provoking reactions, but what his lecture stressed and his photos showed clearly was that the people in North Korean are as varied and warm-hearted as people everywhere. Not focussing on problems or issues, but simply describing the people who had befriended him, our lecturer reminded us that the young people of the world create peace by their way of accepting each other.