Category Archives: Asia

What the Passover Seder Can Offer to the Korean Conflict

It is cold night in the Berkshires, but I am enjoying the warmth of family and friends in my parents’ home.  I am in Massachusetts and it is March 2013 – but merely observing the ongoing events, we could be anywhere in the world at any point in time.  This uniformity and timelessness is one of my favorite aspects of the Passover seder, the Jewish ritual meal that celebrates the Biblical exodus of the Israelites from Egypt in specific – and freedom in general.

72 hours ago, I was in the DMZ – the North/South Korean Demilitarized Zone – where I visited the Joint Security Area.   Created as a provision of the Korean Armistice Agreement signed in 1953, the DMZ is a neutral enclave for the North Korean (DPRK) and South Korean (ROK) armed forces (joined by both the UN and US Army).

Following a fatal incident in 1976, the Military Demarcation Line was established, shifting the area from “joint” to parallel but separate.  Effectively, the two sides now stand in a 24-hour face-off, each on their side of the uncrossed line.

On the South Korean side stands a row of small “temporary” buildings, with 2 ROK soldiers statue-still in martial arts stances, with eyes covered by sunglasses so as not to provoke a staring contest.   Directly across from them, on a staircase of a more permanent building, stands a North Korean army official, shrouded by the shadows of the doorway, staring at his enemy through binoculars.  Above him, the curtains in the window are half drawn, obscuring a second North Korean officer, clicking away, photographing anyone who steps into his line of vision.

It is both eerie and surreal.

72 hours later, I am sitting at my family’s seder table.  At the beginning of each seder, we read a passage from the book of Exodus, the second book of the bible, which explicitly instructs us as to how we are to retell the story of the Exodus, a critical component of the Passover tradition:

“You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what God did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8, English Standard version)

The question that begs to be asked is: why are we instructed to change the subject of the exodus story from the Biblical Israelites to a that of  “what God did for me” for an ancient story that is retold each and every year?

By re-appropriating the narrative as a personal retelling of the exodus, we wear our histories as our own, connecting the present to our past.     By going through this motion each and every year, we create a mechanism by which we ensure that the past is bound to the future.

What, then, is the connection to North/South Korea?

It has been argued many times that the creation of separate North and South Koreas, delineated by the 38th parallel, is an arbitrary construction, imposed on a map to separate the 1950s Communist powers of neighboring Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao Zedung’s China in the North with democratic ideals in the South, supported by a United States exhausted from the recent World War.  No differences in ethnicity.  No differences in religion.  No differences in language or culture or history or any of the multitude of factors that underpin most conflicts.  It was a false separation – but one which resulted in a fratricidal war.

Over the last few weeks, I have spoken with a number of Korean friends.  Several told me of their family history, of grandparents from the North, of their grandparents caught in the South on business during the breakout of the war and during the signing of the armistice, of the inability for them to return home after the cease fire.  I learned of family members who were unable to flee to the South, fates unknown, their families unaware to this day if any have survived.

Exactly 60 years after the signing of the armistice, today the two countries are separated by much more than just the 38th parallel – with prosperity in the South in stark contrast to starvation in the North.

Now, two generations later, many young South Koreans are questioning the once indisputable concept of reunification. Support for the national goal of unification, taught in schools from the 5th grade, has been rapidly declining.  According to the Washington Post, “In the 1990s, more than 80 percent of South Korea thought unification was essential, according to government polls. But that number has dropped to 56 percent. About 41 percent of those in their 20s feel that way. Among teens, the figure drops closer to 20 percent.”

Young Koreans are wary of the economic ramifications that the absorption of the ravaged North may have on their country, despite the successful precedent of East & West Germany in 1989.

With Germany as an example of what may be possible, I have asked myself if the challenge transcends the economic to something deeper in the national psyche.

And so, in reading Exodus 13:8 tonight, I began to think about whose narrative South Korea is telling.  Unlike our explicit instructions for Passover, my friends in Seoul tell of the exodus of their ancestors.  Their collective memory excludes them personally – their story is of a past that is becoming increasingly disconnected from their present – and  future.

At the end of each seder, we recite the phrase “next year in Jerusalem,” reflecting and affirming the traditional Jewish longing for a peaceful and Messianic capital – both figuratively and literally.

Perhaps this year, at a seder  in Seoul, someone at this very moment is saying, next year in Pyongyang. 

Peering past the ROK soldiers into North Korea

Peering past the ROK soldiers into North Korea

North Korean side of the JSA

North Korean side of the JSA

Bridge of No Return

Bridge of No Return

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Eating Live Octopus in Busan, Korea

For weeks we’ve been told that a mandatory part of our trip would be eating live octopus, Sannakji, in Busan.

And while not all of us were so brave, Pablo deciding to give it a try…

(please excuse this first attempt to learn how to use imovie)

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Gangnam Style – First Few Days in Seoul, Korea

Now, at the halfway point of our trip, it is astonishing to think that we have only been in Korea for three days, given the amount we have seen and done, thanks to our classmates who have organized this incredible experience.

Our Korean food adventured deserves its own separate write-up, so for now, we will focus on the tourist highlights and company visits.

  • Nanta a non-verbal performance and the longest running show in Korea, which is best described as a cooking-themed version of Broadway’s “Stomp”
  • Gyeongbokgung Palace Tour
  • Shopping in Dongdaemoon
  • Korea War Memorial Museum

 

Yonsei University 

Our visit to Yonsei University began with a presentation from Dr. Hahn, Columbia Business School PhD (‘81), about the transformation of the Korean political and economic environment during the past 60 years.  Learning about the growth the country has undergone during a relatively short timeframe was astonishing.  We then had an exchange with Yonsei MBA students and went on a guided campus tour where we got to “experience” the high-tech Samsung Library.  We were blown away by the flat screens scattered throughout the first floor that served as large touch-screens allowing students to do everything from using an interactive campus map to reading the news from nearly 100 countries in any language imaginable.  The whole group was struck by the beauty and energy of the bustling campus; based on our initial impression of Yonsei, it is easy to see the appeal of attending this prestigious and thriving university.

-Liz Millman, CBS ‘14

 

Severance Hospital

We were graciously received by Severance Hospital, the flagship branch of the Yonsei University Health System, Korea’s first modern medical institution founded in 1885 by American medical missionary Dr Horace Allen.  The medical faculty gave us a presentation on Yonsei’s work in robotic surgery, which at a cumulative caseload of 8,000 surgeries, is one of the world’s most experienced centers of robotic surgery.  Yonsei has made impressive breakthroughs in expanding use of robotic surgery beyond urology and gynecology into general surgery (GS), where it has performed by far the most procedures in the world in part due to the FDA having not yet approved robotic surgery for GS in the USA.  We toured Severance, built in 2005 and designed by American architects Ellerbe Becket, which resembled more of an airport terminal than a hospital with ubiquitous kiosks resembling ATMs for patients checking in.  Severance is 100% paperless with exclusive use of electronic medical records (EMR) and has over 1,200 beds.  Nearly all of us were left wishing we had such an efficient, comfortable, and modern hospital back home in New York.

-Paul Brandenburg, CBS ‘13

 

Lotte Co., Ltd.

See here

 

Nanta!

Nanta!

Seoul at night

Seoul at night

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Outside the Palace

Outside the Palace

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the Palace

the Palace

at the Lotte Home Shopping Network

at the Lotte Home Shopping Network

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Life's tough decisions at Lotte Confectionary Factory

Life’s tough decisions at Lotte Confectionary Factory

In front of the tanks at the Korean War Memorial Museum

In front of the tanks at the Korean War Memorial Museum

 

 

 

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Front page of the Korean News!

One of our most highly anticipated company visits, today we spent the day at Lotte Co. LTD, specifically visiting the Lotte Home Shopping Network HQ, the Lotte Confectionary factory, and one of many Lotte hypermarkets.   We had the honor of being hosted by Chairman Dong-Bin Shin, Chairman of Lotte and CBS alumnus, class of 1981.

Trip student organizers with Mr. Shin

Trip student organizers with Mr. Shin

Mr. Shin joined us for tours of 2 (out of 60+) Lotte business units, which culminated with a presentation on the current state of the conglomerate from the Chairman and Q&A.

Tasting Ice Cream at the Lotte Candy Factory

Tasting Ice Cream at the Lotte Candy Factory

Our visit made the digital front page of the news, which can be found here.

Photo Credit: Yonhap News

Photo Credit: Yonhap News

What an amazing opportunity.  Thank you to Mr. Shin for generously hosting us this week in Korea and today at Lotte Co.

More posts about our trip to Korea can be found on the Chazen blog

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Memoirs of a Day in Kyoto

Home to 2000 temples and shrines, Japan’s former Imperial capital, Kyoto, should be a priority on any trip to Japan.  We took the shinaksen bullet train from Hakone, which cut down the trip from 4-5 hours to 2.

It was interesting to see all of the domestic tourists in Kyoto dressed up in traditional Japanese clothing, an apparently popular local vacation activity.

Shinkasen bullet train

Shinkasen bullet train

 

Visit: 

  • Kiyumizu-dera Temple (UNESCO World Heritage Site) – the most  visited site in Kyoto
  • The 1300 Gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine – the inspiration for the 2005 Christo and Jeanne-Calude “The Gates” exhibit in Central Park, NYC
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Pavillion) (UNESCO World Heritage Site) whose top 2 floors are covered in gold leaf
Kiyomizu-dera  temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kiyomizu-dera  temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kiyomizu-dera  temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kiyomizu-dera  temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple

Kyoto

Kyoto

Fushimi Inari Temple

Fushimi Inari Temple

1300 Gates at Fushimi Inari Temple

1300 Gates at Fushimi Inari Temple

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion Temple

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion Temple

 

Eat at: 

  • Nishiki Market for everything – this one covered street in Kyoto is the best places to taste bits and bites of Japan from the dozens and dozens of merchants selling everything from mochi-wrapped strawberries and tofu donuts to live loach fish and octopus tentacles.  The market was one of our top Kyoto highlights
  • Gogyo (just off of Nishiki Market) for well-priced ramen (vegetarians beware – get something in Nishiki Market instead)
  • Kikunoi – one of Kyoto’s top rated restaurants — but make reservations in advance! (We didn’t get to go)
Mochi at the market...yum!

Mochi at the market…yum!

Nishiki Market Stall

Nishiki Market Stall

Win & Ari at Nishiki Market

Win & Ari at Nishiki Market

Shop atKyoto Handicrafts market for high-quality and reasonably priced souvenirs of all types (lacquer, kimonos, katanas, tea sets, etc.)

Wander throughGion for Gesha spotting

 

Gion at night

Gion at night

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Spotted:  Gesha!

Spotted: Gesha!

 

 

 

 

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A Room with a View: Hakone & Mt. Fuji, Japan

We spent the second leg of our Japan trip in Hakone, a resort town ~1 hour outside of Tokyo, known for its onsen hot springs and views of nearby Mt. Fuji.

Mt. Fuji in the background

Mt. Fuji in the background

Mt. Fuji in the background

Mt. Fuji in the background

Unexpected but wonderful:

  • Transportation:  upon arriving at the train station, all visitors check luggage with a service that transports guests’ bags to their hotels, allowing them to freely ride the many modes of transportation that comprise the Hakone sightseeing loop including: train, cable car funicular, bus, ropeway, and pirate ship (around Ashi lake)
  • Onsen Tamago:  eggs that have been hard-boiled in the volcanic hot springs, yum!
  • Open Air Museum: admittedly, we expected this amazing space to be boring, but it was filled with dynamic, interactive exhibits, including a maze and climbing structures
Ropeway to the pirate ship

Ropeway to the pirate ship

Onsen Tamago

Onsen Tamago

Onsen Tamago

Onsen Tamago

Bus to the volcanic hot springs

Bus to the volcanic hot springs

Open air Museum

Open air Museum

Open air museum

Open air museum

Open air museum

Open air museum

Open air museum

Open air museum

Open air museum

Open air museum

Open Air museum

Open Air museum

Open Air museum

Open Air museum

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Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

The most memorable part of Hakone was our traditional Japanese guest house (ryokan).  Our ryokan  had amazing onsen  hot springs overlooking Mt. Fuji.  In fact, each traditional Japanese room, with a tatami woven mat floor and traditional futon beds, also had a picture-perfect view of Japan’s highest volcano.  Guests at the ryokan wear traditional yukata robes (cotton kimonos) and are served a traditional kaiseki dinner, consisting of several, small, elaborately displayed dishes including:

Kaiseki Menu

Kaiseki Menu

Our beautiful kaiseki dinner

Our beautiful kaiseki dinner

Our ryokan room

Our ryokan room

Where to stay & eat:  Fujimien Ryokan

Visitor tip:  Buy a Hakone “free-pass” which includes the roundtrip train from Tokyo as well as unlimited access on all of the modes of transportation within Hakone.  Very worthwhile.

 

Me & Ari in yukata robes

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Lost in Translation: 36 Hours in Tokyo, Japan

Arrived in Hong Kong!

Arrived in Hong Kong!

Our whirlwind tour through Japan began with 36 hours in Tokyo.  Though Japan as a country is steeped in tradition, Tokyo is a city of the future.  We arrived on the cusp of spring, with the lesser-known plum blossoms heralding the anticipated arrival of cherry blossom season at the end of the month.  Our group of 4 – 2 CBS friends, my brother Ari, and me met up with friends old and new – college friends, business school friends, and friends of friends, creating the illusion of familiarity in a foreign place.

Meeting up with CBS friends for Yakitori

Meeting up with CBS friends for Yakitori

We packed in as many sites & bites as was possible.  Highlights include

  • Imperial Palace where we meandered only  through the manicured gardens, given that the Palace itself is only open 2 days per year
Plum blossoms in the Imperial Palace Gardens

Plum blossoms in the Imperial Palace Gardens

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Walking around outside the Imperial Palace Gardens

Walking around outside the Imperial Palace Gardens

  • Tsujita Ramen restaurant (@ Kanda Station), where one orders through a vending machine, receives a meal ticket, and is then served an incredible meal at a counter that surrounds the kitchen – YUM
Ordering our ramen from the vending machine to get out meal ticket...

Ordering our ramen from the vending machine to get out meal ticket…

Waiting to be seated at the ramen counter...

Waiting to be seated at the ramen counter…

Waiting for our ramen at the counter...

Waiting for our ramen at the counter…

  • Asakusa Cat Café one of 39 cat cafes in Tokyo, this is the only one that has rescues cats.  There space is filled with cat beds, houses, climbers, and toys for people to come and interact with the cat, and the modest entrance fee/beverage fees help subsidize the cost of sheltering the cats until they can be adopted.  Oddly, about half the cats were the size of small dogs.
Asakusa Nekko/Cat Cafe

Asakusa Nekko/Cat Cafe

  • Sensoji Temple
  • Nakamise Shopping Street filled with gifts and goods and sweet shops
Senso-ji Shrine

Senso-ji Shrine

Lantern outside of the Senso-ji Shrine

Lantern outside of the Senso-ji Shrine

  • Harajuku & the Meiji Jingu Shrine – somehow, in the bustling neighborhood of Harajuku, there is a wooded area that contains the Meji Shrine.  Though we arrived just before closing, we were able to walk through the magnificent structure.
  • Ari at the Meiji Jingu Shrine

    Ari at the Meiji Jingu Shrine

     

  • Shibuya Crossing – one of the busiest intersections in the world, something like Times Square…if Times Square was orderly and everyone crossed at once.  The streets went from car-filled and devoid of people, to a sea of humanity intersecting at the change of the light.
Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing

  • Tsukiji Fish Market – we woke up at 4:10 AM to arrive at this world-famous fish market where the 400+ lb tunas are auctioned off each morning.  Despite our early arrival, we were not amongst the limited 120 people allowed in for the viewing – I can only imagine what time everyone else arrived.  The silver lining is that we were the first to arrive at Daiwa Zushi where we had the best omakase sushi, served fresh piece by piece, sitting at a counter with the sushi chef.  By 6 am, we had the breakfast of our lives and, stuffed with fish, departed Tokyo for the next leg of our trip.

New Obsession:  The 5-per-block cold and hot vending machines.  Yum.

5 AM at the Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

5 AM at the Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Our amazing sushi chef at Daiwa Zushi

Our amazing sushi chef at Daiwa Zushi

Tuskiji fish market sushi breakfast at 5:30 AM

Tuskiji fish market sushi breakfast at 5:30 AM

First bites of the omakase Sushi

First bites of the omakase Sushi

Big thanks to Saul, Rene, Darren, Wright, Kei, Troo, Paul, Win, Michael, Russell, Ethan, and Ari for all of the recommendations!

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