Dragon Ship or Turtle Boat?

When I first came to Korea, there was a teacher at the school where I was teaching who wanted so badly for me to like Korea.  I hadn’t planned on coming to Korea. I was recruited, and it just kind of happened to me.  I hadn’t been studying Korean, listening to Korean music, or anything like that.  I had received an email that I looked into, and it happened to be from the Korean government inviting me to come to Korea to teach English.  I was shocked when they called me long distance overseas for a job interview.  I had been teaching in Japan and wanted to go back to Japan, but it wasn’t Japan who was trying to get me. It was Korea.

This picture was taken in my classroom the first year I came to Korea. The students had brought me a birthday cake, and we were eating it with chop sticks.

This teacher from my first school in Korea had found information about me on the computer and decided that I could live in any country and was a good English teacher, and he was behind getting me to Korea. He had been appointed to find a native speaker of English who was an English teacher to come to their school to teach English.  I accepted and thought, “I will go to Korea for a year. It will put me closer to Japan and make it easier to get a job in Japan.”  I could speak Japanese, but I couldn’t speak Korean then. I had a Japanese son in law, but at that time, I didn’t have a Korean son in law. This teacher could feel my love of Japan, and he wanted to make me love Korea, so he came up with all kinds of crazy things.  One of the things he told me about was what he called “a Dragon Ship,” but come to find out, what he was calling “a Dragon Ship” was actually called “a Turtle Boat.” He called it “a Dragon Ship” to try to make it sound more exciting.

Here is a picture of a Turtle Boat with a dragon’s head on it.

He was trying to hard to make Korea sound more exciting than Japan!  There was no such thing as “a Dragon Ship.”  However, there is “a Turtle Boat,” and it is more exciting than its name conveys.  He had shown me a picture of the Korean Turtle Boat calling it “a Dragon Ship.”  The Korean name for the Turtle Boat is Geobukseon.  It is a turtle shaped warship invented by the Koreans. The first historical reference to this ship was in 1413 from the records of King Taejong.  The history suggests that it was first built in the late Goryeo period several thousand years ago.  (Goryeo is where the rest of the world got their name for Korea.  The people along the old silk road heard “Goryeo” and mispronounced it as “Korea.”) Some history suggested that Geobukseon came from the early Jeoson period (1392-1900), when Seoul was first built and there were three kingdoms in Korea. It is called a turtle boat because it was made in the shape of a turtle.  However, I understand why he called it a “Dragon Ship” because it has a dragon’s head decorating it.

The Geobukseon became much better known because in 1592, as usual, the Koreans were having trouble with the Japanese wanting to invade them.  A Korean general, Yi Sun-sin, decided that they needed to be using these ships in full force against the Japanese.  He was the commander in chief of the Korean Navy.  He built the arms of Korea for a year before the Japanese attacked. It was the Geobukseon that saved the Korean people that time from the Japanese.  The shape of a turtle, the spiked decks, and the cannons were perfect.  The shape of the ship made it very maneuverable. The Turtle Boat, the Geobukseon was invincible against the Japanese.

If that teacher had told me the story, he wouldn’t have had to tell me that Korea had Dragon Ships.  The name “Dragon Ship” may sound more exciting than “Turtle Boat,” but the Turtle Boat, the Geobukseon, is extremely tough.  It is an exciting ship.  I just needed time in Korea to understand where I was to learn to appreciate Korea. I didn’t need a warship to entice me to like Korea.  The wars that the Japanese made were not what impressed me about them either. The character of each people group is what impresses me, and I really like Japan and Korea both now.

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