After I wrote my last blog about Korean history, I realized that I knew someone who came to Korea in those times and had seen what Korea was like. I went to visit with him yesterday. His name is Malcom Parsely. He has been in Korea since 1954. He first came as a military man one year after the Korean war, the war between the north and the south. We had a long visit yesterday afternoon, and he filled me in on what he saw.
First, he told me that most of Korea was full of dirt streets. Much of Seoul also was, but there were some cobblestone streets in some places in Seoul. Now a days, they have paved all those roads and redone the cobblestone streets.
He said there were no buildings that were taller than 2 stories high, none of these apartment buildings with 24 stories like they have today. The capital building was completely gutted and anyone could go in. If you went in, you saw all the important papers from the files strewn all over the place.
If you have ever been associated with the military, you know that the PX is where military men shop. The American PX was in Shinsegae Department store. There were bullet holes in the tiles of the walls in Shinsege Department store. They have replaced those tiles, and if you go into Shinsegae today, there are some tiles that are different from the others. Those are the tiles that were replaces because they had bullet holes in them.
Seoul only had one bridge for cars to drive across the Han River back then. Now, there are 32 bridges.
The people were extremely poor. The children had pot bellies from lack of food. There were many orphans. Twelve year old kids whose parents were dead were raising their younger brothers and sisters. There were people suffering from gangrene because there was no medication. All around you, you could see amputees, beggars, and blind people. Women were sitting on corners selling apples just trying to make enough money to eat.
Mostly, only the military people and missionaries had cars. The normal Korean didn’t have a car. The president of Korea was driving a very old black Cadillac. All the cars were black. As a small bus, they had something they called “hopsung,” a 14 passenger jeep with the door in the back. The other buses were made from old military chassis from 1/2 ton trucks that had been converted into buses. The took old oil drums and beat them out to make the sides and tops of the buses and put them on the truck chassis to make these buses. Since military trucks basically had no springs for suspension, the buses didn’t either. There were no cars manufactured in Korea.
There virtually were no laws for driving. The Americans put up speed limit signs. The speed limit signs said 30 miles an hours, but you couldn’t go 30 miles an hour on their roads. The roads were full of pot holes. The way the farmers paid their taxes was by maintaining the road in front of their homes on their side of the road. They threw rocks into the road to repair them, and when it rained all the rocks washed out, and the pot holes were there again. There were very few cars on the roads, and the two things they used the most were the gas pedal and the horn. Eventually, the people used their horns so much that the roads were completely loud, and the government was forced to make laws to stop them from using their horns so much to take the noise pollution down a notch. A rumor began being passed around that if they turned their lights off when they stopped at a stop light, it would save their batteries, so when people stopped at the stop light, everyone turned their lights off. If you wanted to park, you just parked where ever you chose. There were no laws governing where you park. You could make a U turn anywhere you wanted. Now a days, there are lots of roads marked where you are supposed to make a U turn. They are clearly marked, and you aren’t supposed to make a U turn in other places, but in those times, you could U turn everywhere.
Another interesting phenomena during that time were the blind people with scissors. The blind people walked through the streets at night with scissors moving them back and forth like they were cutting, but weren’t cutting anything. They were making a specific noise so people would know they were there. If you heard the noise and needed a massage, you were supposed to go out into the streets and bring the blind person to you house and let them give you a massage.
As far as food, there was no western style food at all. Now a days in Seoul, you can find McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Popeyes, Baskin Robbins, etc., all kinds of American style restaurants. You can also find Italian restaurants and steak houses. However, none of these kinds of restaurants were in Korea right after the Korean war. Now, you can even find special bakeries that sell nice bread. A big chain of bakeries is called Paris Baquette, and there are many others on almost every street corner, but during these times, bread stores were really hard to find. It was hard to buy food because everything was unsanitary. If you wanted a specific kind of fruit or vegetable, if it wasn’t in season and grown in Korea, you just couldn’t get it. Candy was scarce. They only had a couple of types of candy. If you look back through my blogs, there is a blog about Korea’s traditional candy that didn’t have sugar in it. It is called Yut, a kind of taffy. It is made by boiling barley until it is naturally sweet. There is no sugar in it. You could buy yut during this time. There was also another kind of candy called nougat that was soft peanut taffy you could find. As I have told you in other blogs, they didn’t have sugar until it was brought here from the west.
This is 1954 Korea. Malcom talked more, and I will write the rest of it in another blog to stop this blog from becoming too long. Malcom is one of those military men who fell in love with Korea. He had to leave S. Korea in July of 1955, but he came back on October 16, 1960 with a team of missionaries and has been in Korea ever since. That team of missionaries did a lot to develop their area of Korea, fight poverty, and spread Christianity. In my next blog about Malcom’s early years in Korea, I will share that information with you too. Malcom has been an eye witness to the progress that Korea made.
If you want to see some of Malcom’s historical pictures, he has them on his website. His website is Christ.or.kr. When you get there, there is a place on the left where it says “ko.” You can click “ko” to change the language on the website from Korean to English. Next, go to the place that say “about COCM, and once you click on that, a list comes up under it. On that list, there is a place that says “historical pictures.” Click there, and you can see his pictures. He told someone in his office to send me pictures, but they haven’t, so I decided to go ahead and write the blog without them, but you can still see his pictures if you want.
Malcom is the resident missionary at Korea Christian University. When I first met him, his office was in the second building built at KCU, the library building. Many people don’t realize the Music building was the first one built. It was built as a dormitory back them by the students. When they built a new Bible building a few years ago, they moved his office over there. He is the only missionary left from the early days of KCU. My office was also in the Bible building.