Wednesday, October 11, 2006

'Are there trees in (which?) Korea?'

I admit, I find entertainment value in the occasional ignorant question.
Those who know me know I am a map nerd.
I am a fan of the corny bumper sticker that reads:
"without geography, we're nowhere!"
I cannot fathom not knowing, or not wanting to know, where I am and where I might go.
I am a geographile. (I know that's not the real word...someone help me out here...)

One of my favorite questions I was asked when I was younger--in middle school--was this:
"Are there trees in Korea?"
A fellow student learned that I was neither Chinese nor Japanese, but (half) Korean.
And so he asked...I can only hope I controlled my eye-rolling reflex before saying, 'why, yes, there are.'
And then someone else asked me (this was in high school) once:
"Do they have seasons in Korea?"

So here's some photographic evidence--autumn in the mountains of Korea, the envy of a New England fall photo spread:

(another, ignorant question, having to do with my non-Korean other-half heritage--I was once asked, when I was in college, by a fellow university student--egad!--"Really, they speak English in Canada? I thought they all spoke French..." I was kind of impressed actually that the person knew that French was spoken as a native language up north...but really, they didn't know English was the language of 3 out of 4 Canadians?)

And there's this:
"So, you were born in North Korea or South Korea?"
Well, I guess that's a fair question...
...but really, almost no one gets out of North Korea...99.999 % of Koreans abroad are from the Southern half of the peninsula.

And that peninsula sure is in the news these days...
A while back when I finally got around to scanning some photos, I found a photo (from 1993) of North Korea. Back then, one of the only spots in South Korea where you could safely look into the North was about an hour to the NW of Seoul, along the estuary of the Han River at the "Ae-gi-bong" lookout:

It was taken in October--the rice paddies in the 'propaganda villages' are golden...Note the completely deforested mountains, apart from the slopes right along the river in the middle...To the left of those green lower slopes, there's one of those non-populated propaganda villages, built to make it look like all is well in the uptopic North, unlike the evil capitalistic hell of the South...Loudspeakers blast music across the river, to convince gawking day-trippers from Seoul that they live in a (pardon the pun) soul-less society and that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il merit worship..

A couple of weeks later, some relatives took us to visit the eastern mountains of Korea (where the above fall foliage photo was taken: Odae-san national park). Nearby is a little road-side monument marking the pre-Korean-war division of the peninsula. After 3 years and over a million deaths, the country remained divided in 1953, and the DMZ-border hardly moved...

(ahh...the days before contact lenses, in the large-glass-framed 90's...fresh-out-of-high-school geekdom...)

I thought a glimpse into North Korea might be of interest.

And so--yes, there ARE trees in Korea...just not in the North...

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