Category Archives: South Korea

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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What We’re Not Allowed to Wear to the DMZ

This upcoming trip to Asia includes a week in South Korea as part of Columbia Business School’s Chazen International Study Tour.

I opened up our travel information packed and found the following dress code for our day trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)/Joint Security Area (JSA) at the border with North Korea…

“Dress code:  No jeans, no leather pants…no slippers…

Phew, good thing I read that before packing.

jessica biel 181112

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5 Things You Didn’t Think to Pack for Japan

It’s that time again.  In 3 days I’m leaving for  16 day trip to Japan (Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto), Hong Kong, and South Korea.  

Not having ever been to this part of the world, I started Googling what I should pack and came across this amazing list from Lonely Planet on “The 5 Things You Didn’t Think to Pack for Japan.”  Love!

Is there anything that’s missing from this list?  Anything specific to Hong Kong or S. Korea that should go into my suitcase?  Let me know what you think!

suitcase

Non-Lacing Shoes

One of Japan’s best-known customs is removing shoes upon entering a home. But a lot of other places you might visit – ryokanstemplesmuseumshistorical sites, even some restaurants – may require that you doff your footwear at the door, too. Make things easier for yourself – and save time – by forgoing those high lace-up boots for shoes that simply slip on and off, or else have Velcro fasteners.

Tissues

If you’re eating out casually in Japan – in cafes, getting takeaway, etc – you’ll notice that napkins often aren’t given out to customers. It’s a good idea to carry a travel packet of tissues with you for snack times (especially if you’re travelling with kids).

Washcloth

Public bathrooms in Japan usually don’t have paper towels, and there are some that don’t even have hand dryers (or else there’s only one, which might mean waiting). Keep a small towel or washcloth in your bag for drying your hands after you’ve washed them. (A cool, moist towel on your neck will also help keep you cool during Japan’s hot and humid summer.)

Hand Sanitiser

Similarly, some bathrooms you encounter may not even have soap, especially on shinkansen (bullet trains). A small bottle of hand sanitiser will come in handy, even for the non-germophobes.

Umbrella

Even if you’re visiting outside of ‘plum rain’ season (June and July), Japan’s island-weather system means it can rain almost any time of the year. Inexpensive umbrellas are available for purchase, of course, but they don’t fold up, and you may find that a compact travel umbrella is easier to carry when the sun comes out again

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/travel-tips-and-articles/37418#ixzz2MgQBSzrF

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Spring Break 2013 – East Asia!

More details to come, but excited to share that I  just booked travel for Spring Break to East Asia!

Spring Break 2013

Spring Break 2013

March 9-13: Japan (Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto)

March 14-16: Hong Kong

March 17-24: South Korea (Seoul, Uslan, Busan, DMZ)

Guidebooks are ordered, now time to do some research!  Recommendations and suggestions are welcome.

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