Friday, July 07, 2006

Korean reading

I just finished Simon Winchester's Korea: A Walk through the Land of Miracles. I read Winchester's The Professor and the Madman a while ago, but I wasn't sure what to expect from his take on Korea.

It turns out that back in the 1980s (during the bad old days of Chun Doo-hwan's military dictatorship, which Winchester alludes to several times in his book) WInchester got the idea to walk from the southern coast of Jeju-do up Korea's west coast, ultimately stopping at the DMZ. The reason, was to follow the path taken by the survivors of a Dutch shipwreck who had gotten stuck in Jeju-do in the 1650s and were forcibly brought to Seoul - this was back in the days of the Hermit Kingdom, and the Korean government decided if they let the foreigners go it could ultimately involve Korea in all sorts of nasty entanglements, like the one with Japan in the 1590s that resulted in practically the whole country being burned down to the ground.

So Winchester walked across Jeju-do, then took a ferry to the mainland and walked from Mokpo to Seoul, stopping along the way at Buddhist temples, small inns, and American military bases. The picture he paints is of a heavily militarized country (one I never got to experience - a lot has changed since the 1980s) with a love-hate relationship with the American military presence. He also has a very active libido - you can't deny he has a thing for Korean women, including Korean prostitutes.

At one point Winchester visited a ginseng plant, and after half-skeptically relating many Korean claims about ginseng being a miracle root, he admits that in his experience it really does seem to work - it gives him more energy, makes him more alert, and seems to have no negative side effects. I bought a 12-pack of ginseng extract at E-mart this week. I'll see if it helps me.

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