Archive | June, 2011

The Unwanted Ones

29 Jun

I’m not normally a booster for stuff that’s already been written or printed, but I will make an exception this time.  If you haven’t read this piece in the Los Angeles Times, it is definitely worth your time:

The drop box is attached to the side of a home in a ragged working-class neighborhood. It is lined with a soft pink and blue blanket, and has a bell that rings when the little door is opened.

Because this depository isn’t for books, it’s for babies — and not just any infants; these children are the unwanted ones, a burden many parents find too terrible to bear.

One is deaf, blind and paralyzed; another has a tiny misshapen head. There’s a baby with Down syndrome, another with cerebral palsy, still another who is quadriplegic, with permanent brain damage.

But to Pastor Lee Jong-rak, they are all perfect. And they have found a home here at the ad hoc orphanage he runs with his wife and small staff. It is the only private center for disabled children in South Korea.

“This is a facility for the protection of life,” reads a hand-scrawled sign outside the drop box. “If you can’t take care of your disabled babies, don’t throw them away or leave them on the street. Bring them here.”

I’ve run across some heartbreaking sights in Korea, but I’ve seen none more cruel than public attitudes toward the disabled.  Many times I’ve come across a group of disabled people, from young ages all the way up into adulthood, in public on an outing.  They do not comprehend the stares they receive from passersby, but I do, and I can tell you they are awful stares.  These are not unaware children gawking at a strange-acting or -looking person.  These are grown adults, looking at the disabled with what can only be described as looks of horror.  There is a legitimate, palpable sense of simultaneous fear and disgust in the onlookers’ eyes, as though these helpless creatures were some sort of plague visited upon their neat, trendy, beautiful world.  Mind you, that is not the attitude of all Koreans; I have seen older mothers and fathers dutifully caring for a middle-aged child who cannot take care of himself.  But the overall attitude of the society is not one of acceptance, of empathy, or even pity — it is of disgust.

There’s charity and then there’s charity.  We all have the duty to do what we can for those who suffer, but that doesn’t mean that all spending toward benevolent ends is equal.  But in this case, I think it’s clear to anyone who reads the whole article that every single won given to Lee Jong-rak will be used for good.

If you’re interested in making a donation to help out his efforts, below is contact and donation information for his church.

Give Out Love Church (JuSaRang Gongdongche Church)
646-151 Nangok-dong, Gwanak-gu, Seoul
Republic of Korea
Phone: 82-2-854-4505

 Name of the Bank


 Address of the Bank HQ

 9th FL. Sewoo Bldg. 10, Yeouido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu,
Seoul, Korea

 Bank Account Number


Name of the Account Holder

 Give Out Love Church

 Phone number


Wandering on Twitter

20 Jun

Much to my chagrin, I’ve gone and taken up the mark of the beast.  Yes, Autarkes is now on Twitter.  From now on, all Virtue of Wandering posts will be cross-posted on Twitter, along with other, shorter tidbits that won’t make it onto the blog.  You can find me here: @autarkes

Hope to see y’all there.

Korea: Life in Pictures II

17 Jun

Gwanghwamun (광화문) by night.  It is interesting to compare this current, historically-accurate reconstruction in its soft-lit, regal splendor, and the older, ivy-covered, concrete version dominated by the old Japanese colonial government building.  As you can see from the picture in the link, sometimes psychological power of inanimate objects is more important than historical accuracy in determining which part of the past we wish to remember.

Gyeong Wol (경월) is a brand of soju quite popular in the southeast of Korea, though difficult to find in other areas of the country.  I found this very old bottle in a remote valley, beside a stream.  It’s a huge bottle: 1.8 liters.  Now I understand why the farmers’ trucks are always veering back and forth on country roads.

There is huge difference between what more and more people in other countries see of Korea and the reality of much of Koreans’ existence.  The Koreans I know have no huge, luxurious houses, nor Audis, nor are they tall, white-skinned, well-dressed, and flawless dancers.  I know shopkeepers, chefs, potters, construction foremen, schoolteachers.  They live in places like this, in small, cramped, jury-rigged conditions that most Westerners would find abhorrent.  Yes, of course it is true that the lives of ordinary people anywhere do not match the popularized notions of life in a given land.  But with Korea, it is different.  Boosterism rules this country.  Exported Korean culture highlights the country’s successes, not pathologies, as in America.  Yet this obscures the true nature of life here — demanding, rough-edged, dirty.

I have found that in Korea, what is not said is as, if not more, important as what is said.  Volumes are spoken in silence and in faces.  In the composure of eyes and lips, one can see beauty born of duty, burden, and sadness.

This man was not Korean, but he wrote something I think very akin to the truest sentiments of this country and its people:

“Unless you know where you belong in the divisions of order, you lack the conventions of intercourse.  It is function maintained by manners which gives freedom.  Wherever you are, you know who you are.  Whenever you act, you act instinctively out of this knowledge.”

– Andrew Nelson Lytle

Orwell the Socialist

13 Jun

I’ve written an essay about George Orwell, one of my favorite writers, and the nature of his largely-unexamined socialist beliefs.  It’s long-form, so it would eat up too much of the front page.  I’ve posted it here:

Once my WordPress competency increases somewhat, I will hopefully have a place with its own link.  For now, it’s under Essays.



Perfect Village

3 Jun

A few weeks ago I found what was to me the perfect Korean village.

What made the village particularly appealing was that everything old is adapted for contemporary use.  Hardly the way things work in most places I’ve been in the 삼성민국, but this is Gangwon-do.  This store is not only an ancient building itself, but the manner of selling is of a really old style.  In my understanding, “연쇄점” means a general store, in the sense of an old-school mercantile establishment, not a convenience shop.  The middle-aged man running the place said that it was over forty years old.  The building certainly appeared older than that.

The restaurant next door still listed a two-digit telephone number.  I wonder when those were still in use in rural Korea.

The picture doesn’t really do it justice, but this building was just about the oldest one I saw in the whole place.  No one inside or anywhere around to ask about it, though.

The kid on the bench in front of the little shop on the left sat there playing with his toy pellet gun.  He seemed to pay me no heed.  We walked inside to buy something to drink.  His grandmother seemed surprised that anyone would actually come into her place at all.  But she was still all smiles and even came to the door to give us a big wave as we walked away.  The kid still didn’t seem interested.  The very old and the very young, with a gulf in between — that’s Korea, in more ways than one.