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A quick recap from my last two columns: My fiancé, Richard, and I traveled to Incheon, South Korea, in August to visit my friend, Jessica, who is spending two years teaching there.
Richard, Jessica and I visited the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul.
The museum has six exhibition rooms and an outdoor museum that display military equipment, monuments and more. The museum provides details about every modern invasion and war that has involved Korea.
Before we got inside the museum, I could tell the war memorial was something special.
Hundreds of military vehicles, including trucks, tanks, planes and submarines, sprawled across the neatly trimmed lawns. Stone and metal carvings of soldiers showed the strength, resolve and bravery of men.
While wandering through the museum’s exhibition rooms, we watched videos, read displays and looked at weapons, military gear and pieces of Korean history.
The war memorial helped me understand why many South Koreans are passionately grateful to the United States. A large part of the museum is dedicated to the Korean War.
Huge statues portray soldiers helping the common man. Plaques list the numbers of foreign soldiers who died aiding South Korea – the U.S. dead outnumbered them all by staggering amounts – and flags wave in the wind, with the U.S. flag purposefully placed next to South Korea’s.
It was an honor to be there. My grandfather fought and nearly died in the Korean War. My dad said he had a big fish-shaped scar on his neck to prove it.
One of the most memorable statues, “The Statue of Brothers,” showed two brothers embracing on the battlefield. The older brother is a Republic of Korea officer and the younger brother is a North Korean soldier. The statue stands on top of a huge dome with a large crack down the middle, representative of a divided Korea. The Korean people still hope for the two countries to be reunited.
Another tribute to the bond between the U.S. and South Korea stood proudly in Jayu (Freedom) Park: a larger-than-life statue of General Douglas MacArthur surrounded by a rose garden. A marble inscription below the statue described MacArthur’s heroic efforts in the Korean War. The park is also home to the Centennial Monument, which commemorates a treaty between the United States and South Korea.
While sitting on a bench in the park, we were approached by a friendly older Korean man who spoke some English. He asked where we where from (we were the only Americans we saw during the entire trip). When we told him, he smiled and pointed to his cap which had the letters “U.S.A.” in red across the front. He explained that America is a “big friend” to Korea and told us that he fought in the Korean War. He even flexed his large bicep muscle to show us his strength. He repeatedly told Jessica that she was “very beautiful” (blond hair is rare and highly valued in Korea). He told me and Richard that we “look like brothers,” to which we all laughed.
All the Koreans we met were polite, sincere and helpful. They offered directions on the subway, and assistance in buying clothes or gifts for family members. One vendor even cooked less-spicy chicken, just for us. And I’ll be forever grateful to the quiet, smiling waitress who noticed me struggling with the thin metal chopsticks and offered me a fork.
Overall, the trip was a great experience. I learned to always carry an umbrella (especially during monsoon season!) as well as my own toilet paper (the restrooms are an experience of their own), how to use a subway system and, perhaps most importantly, how to eat with chopsticks.
I learned some Korean history, and how much I value communication. I learned that if a friendship is deep enough, it can stretch across an ocean.
And I learned that sometimes the best friend is the one who says he loves you for who you are, even when your chopsticks are slipping through your fingers.
To read more about South Korea, Richard’s commentary of our trip is on his Web site: http://www.worldofdreamers.com/southkorea/. To see more photos, visit http://picasaweb.google.com/lauren.lioness/SouthKorea#.
Journalist Lauren Brooks lives in Chico. She is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record’s weekly entertainment guide, The Buzz. She is a CSU, Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.