One of the great things about running a website about Korean Buddhist temples is that you get to meet a lot of amazing people. And a lot of these amazing people have varying backgrounds, interests, and insights. Rather amazingly, some of these people first visited Korea in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Here are their stories!
Q1: Where are you originally from? Introduce yourself a little.
A: I was born in Chicago in 1958 and grew up primarily in the Washington D.C. area. My father worked in Langley, Virginia at the CIA. My family moved to Okinawa, Japan in 1971, when I was 12.
We lived on a small American base called Camp Chinen. My dad traveled around the Far East for weeks at a time to places like Saigon, Singapore, the Philippines, Laos, and Malaysia. I didn’t know what he did or why he went to those places. I was turning 13 and not so interested in my parents, as I was into myself and boys. It was an idyllic time for me and one of my favorite childhood memories. But after one year, our base was shut down and we had to leave the island.
Q2: When and why did you first come to Korea?
A: We moved straight to Seoul, South Korea in the summer of 1972, where we lived for the next three years on the Embassy compound, which was U.S.O.M. housing on the Yongsan army base. I went to the Seoul American High School for my freshman, sophomore and junior years. These, too, became the best years of my life.
Q3: When you first came to Korea what city did you live? Did you subsequently move around?
A: Although my family lived in “little America,” as we called our base, I spent lots of time traveling with my friends and my sister all over the country. Unchaperoned!
We would walk to the gate of our protected compound, take a cab ride to a bus stop, hop on a bus to the train station, get on a train and stay on until we saw a nice area for a picnic, get off the train, spend the day and do it all in reverse to be back home for dinner!
Imagine parents today letting their young teenagers do that even once. That’s how I spent all of my free time! Also, camping was a big part of my life in Korea.
Q4: What were places you enjoyed visiting while in Korea?
A: The places I remember going, usually carrying a backpack and/or a tent with a group of friends, were Mt. Seoraksan, Mt. Namsan in Seoul, a dairy farm in the northeast mountains that was run by Americans, several Buddhist temples in remote locations that I can’t recall, and Jeju-do Island by ferry to name but a few. There were also the tourist places in and around Seoul that we went on field trips: Suwon Village, Gyeongbokgung Palace, and the Blue House (not inside!). We visited parks, hotels, restaurants, bath houses, shops and marketplaces. I learned to speak conversational Hangeul, which was enough to get around. Park Chung Hee (1917-79) was president, while we lived there. Billy Graham (1918-2018) came to Yeoui-do for a crusade, and I went to that. Some of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl champions) visited the Yongsan base in some kind of world tour, and I met them. Bob Hope (1903-2003) came to Seoul on tour while we were there, and I saw him, too.
Q5: Did you remain in Korea or did you return home?
A: The Vietnam War ended before we left in 1975. I remember some guy running into the teen club, where I was sitting at a table playing a game of Spades, saying “The war is over,” and we all cheered.
So, we moved back to the States for my senior year of high school, back to the same area. I graduated from Broad Run High School in Ashburn, Virginia.
I ended up marrying a boy I had met in Korea. He lived in Jeonju as a missionary kid. We went back to visit after we were married and lived for six months with his parents. Our first child was born in a Jeonju hospital, the same hospital that my husband was born 21 years earlier.