FOOD IS LOVE
What I Learned about Peace While Being Carried on My Father’s Back
I have lived my life with just one thought. I wanted to bring about a world of peace, a world where there are no wars and where all humankind lives in love. Perhaps some may say, “How is it possible that you were thinking about peace even when you were a child?” Is it so astonishing that a child would dream of a peaceful world?
In 1920, when I was born, Korea was under forced occupation by Japan. Even after liberation, there came the Korean War, the Asian financial crisis, and other numerous difficult crises. For many years, the land of Korea has not been closely associated with peace. But these times of suffering and confusion were not matters related only to Korea. The two world wars, the Vietnam War, and the wars in the Middle East show that people in the world continuously treat each other with en- mity, point guns at each other, and bomb each another. Perhaps for people who experience these horrors of bloodied bodies and broken bones, peace has been something that could be imagined only in a dream. Peace, though, is not so difficult to accomplish. To begin with, we can find peace in the air we breathe, in the natural environment, and in the people around us.
As a child, I thought of the meadows as my home. As soon as I could wolf down my bowl of rice for breakfast, I would run out of the house and spend the entire day in the hills and streams. I could spend the day wandering about the forest with all the different birds and animals, eating herbs and wild berries, and I would never feel hungry. Even as a child, I knew that my mind and body were at ease anytime I went into the forest.
I would often fall asleep in the hills after playing there. My father would be forced to come find me. When I heard my father shouting in the distance, “Yong Myung! Yong Myung!” I couldn’t help but smile, even as I slept. My name as a child was Yong Myung. The sound of his voice would awaken me, but I would pretend to still be asleep. He would hoist me onto his back and carry me home. That feeling I had as he carried me down the hill—feeling completely secure and able to let my heart be completely at ease—that was peace. That is how I learned about peace, while being carried on my father’s back.
The reason I loved the forest was also because all the peace in the world dwells there. Life forms in the forest do not fight each other. Of course, they eat one another and are eaten, but that is because they are hungry and need to sustain themselves. They do not fight out of enmity. Birds do not hate other birds. Animals do not hate other animals. Trees do not hate other trees. There needs to be an absence of enmity for peace to come. Human beings are the only ones who hate other members of the same species. People hate other people because their country is different, their religion is different, and their way of thinking is different.
I have been to almost two hundred countries. There were not many countries where I would land at the airport and think to myself, “This really is a peaceful and contented place.” There were many places where, because of civil war, soldiers held their weapons high, guarding the air- ports and blocking the streets. The sound of gunfire could be heard day and night. Several times, I came close to losing my life in places where I went to talk about peace. In today’s world, there is an endless series of conflicts and confrontations, large and small. Tens of millions suffer from hunger, with nothing to eat. Yet, trillions of dollars are spent on weapons. The money spent on guns and bombs alone would give us enough to end hunger for everyone.
I have dedicated my life to building bridges of peace between countries that hate each other as enemies because of ideology and religion. I created forums where Islam, Christianity, and Judaism could come together. I worked to reconcile the views of the United States and the Soviet Union when they were at odds with each other over Iraq. I have helped in the process of bringing reconciliation between North and South Korea. I did not do these things for money or fame. From the time I was old enough to know what was going on in the world, there has been only one objective for my life: that is for the world to live in peace, as one. I never wanted anything else. It has not been easy to live day and night for the purpose of peace, but that is the work that makes me most happy.
During the Cold War, we experienced the pain of having our world divided in two because of ideology. It seemed then that if only communism would disappear, peace would come. Yet, now that the Cold War is past, we find even more conflicts. We are now fractured by race and religion. Many countries facing each other across their borders are at odds. As if that were not enough, we have situations within countries where people are divided by race, religion, or the regions where they were born. People think of each other as en- emies across these lines of division and refuse to open their hearts to one another.
When we look at human history, we see that the most brutal and cruel wars were not those fought between nations but those between races. Among these, the worst were wars between races where religion was used as a pretext. In the Bosnian civil war, said to be one of the worst ethnic conflicts of the twentieth century, thousands, including many children, were brutally massacred. I am sure you remember the terrorist incident of September 11, 2001, when thousands of innocent lives were lost as the World Trade Center buildings in New York were completely destroyed after passenger planes were crashed into them. Recently, too, in the Gaza Strip in Palestine as well as in southern Israel, hundreds have lost their lives as a result of that intense conflict. Homes have been destroyed, and people are living on the brink of death. All this is the grim result of conflicts between ethnic groups and between religions.
What makes people hate and kill each other like this? Of course there are many reasons, but religious differences are almost always connected. This was true with the Gulf War, which was fought over oil. It is true with the Arab–Israeli conflict over control of Jerusa- lem. When racism uses religion as a pretext, the problem becomes extremely complex. The evil ghosts of the religious wars that we thought had ended in the Middle Ages continue to haunt us in the twenty-first century.
Religious wars continue to occur because many politicians use the enmity between religions to satisfy their selfish designs. In the face of political power, religions often waver and lose their way. They lose sight of their original purpose, which is to exist for the sake of peace. All religions have a responsibility to advance the cause of world peace. Yet, lamentably, we see that religions instead become the cause of conflict. Behind this evil we find the machinations of politics, with its power and money. The responsibility of a leader, above all else, is to keep the peace. Yet leaders often seem to do the opposite and lead the world into confrontation and violence.
Leaders use the language of religion and nationalism to hide their selfish ambitions. Unless their hearts are set right, countries and na- tionalities will wander in confusion. Religion and love of one’s nation are not evil in their essence. They are valuable if these impulses are used to contribute to building a global human community. When the claim is made that only a particular religion or ethnic group is right and when other religions and ethnic groups are treated with disdain and attacked, religion and love of nation lose their value. When a religion goes so far as to trample on others and treat other religions as worthless, it no longer embodies goodness. The same is true when love of nation is used to emphasize the righteousness of a person’s own country over others.
The truth of the universe is that we must acknowledge each other and help each other. Even the smallest animals know this. Cats and dogs do not get along, but if you raise them in the same household, they embrace each other’s offspring and are friendly toward each other. We see the same thing in plants. The vine that winds its way up a tree depends on the trunk to support it. The tree, however, does not say, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing, winding your way up my trunk?” The principle of the universe is for everyone to live together, for the sake of one another. Anyone who deviates from this principle faces certain ruin. If nationalities and religions continue maliciously to attack each other, humanity has no future. There will be an endless cycle of terror and warfare until one day we become extinct. But we are not without hope. Clearly there is hope.
I have lived my life without ever letting go of that hope and always kept alive the dream of peace. What I want is to wipe away completely the walls and fences that divide the world in myriad ways and to create a world of unity. I want to tear down the walls between religions and between races and fill in the gap between the rich and the poor. Once that is done, we can reestablish the world of peace that God created in the beginning. I am talking about a world where no one goes hungry and no one sheds tears. To heal a world where there is no hope, and which is lacking in love, we need to go back to the pure hearts that we had as children. To shed our desire to possess ever-increasing amounts of material wealth and restore our beautiful essence as human beings, we need to go back to the principles of peace and the breath of love that we learned as we were being carried on our fathers’ backs.
The Joy of Giving Food to Others
I have very small eyes. I am told that when I was born, my mother wondered, “Does my baby have eyes, or not?” and spread my eye- lids apart with her fingers. Then when I blinked, she said with joy,
“Oh my, yes. He does have eyes, after all!” My eyes were so small that people often called me “Osan’s Little Tiny-Eyes,” because my mother was from the village of Osan.
I cannot remember anyone saying, though, that my small eyes make me any less attractive. In fact, people who know something about physiognomy, the art of understanding a person’s characteristics and fortune by studying facial features, say my small eyes give me the right disposition to be a religious leader. I think it is similar to the way a camera is able to focus on objects farther away as the aperture of its iris diaphragm is reduced. A religious leader needs to be able to see farther into the future than do other people, and perhaps small eyes are an indication of such a quality. My nose is rather unusual as well. Just one look and it is obvious that this is the nose of a stubborn and determined man. There must be something to physiognomy, because when I look back on my life, these features of my face seem to parallel the way I have lived my life.
I was born at 2221 Sang-sa Ri (village), Deok-eon District, Jeong-ju Township, Pyong-an Province, as the second son of Kyung Yu Moon of the Nam Pyung Moon clan and Kyung Gye Kim of the Yeon An Kim clan. I was born on the sixth day of the first lunar month in 1920, the year after the 1919 independence movement. I was told that our family settled in the village of Sang-sa Ri during the life of my great- grandfather. My paternal great-grandfather worked the farm himself, produced thousands of bushels of rice, and built the family fortune with his own hands. He never smoked or drank liquor, preferring instead to use that money to buy food to give to those in need. When he died, his last words were, “If you feed people from all the regions of Korea, then you will receive blessings from all those regions.” So the guest room in our home was always full of people. Even people from other villages knew that if they came to our home, they could always count on being fed a good meal. My mother carried out her role of preparing food for all those people without ever complaining.
My great-grandfather was so active, he never wanted to rest. If he had some spare time he would use it to make pairs of straw footwear that he would then sell in the marketplace. When he grew old, in his merciful ways, he would buy several geese, let them go in the wild, and pray that all would be well with his descendants. He hired a teacher of Chinese characters to sit in the guest room of his home and provide free literacy lessons to the young people of the village. The villagers gave him the honorific title “Sun Ok” (Jewel of Goodness) and referred to our home as “a home that will be blessed.”
By the time I was born and was growing up, much of the wealth that my great-grandfather had accumulated was gone, and our family had just enough to get by. The family tradition of feeding others was still alive, however, and we would feed others even if it meant there wouldn’t be enough to feed our family members. The first thing I learned after I learned to walk was how to serve food to others.
During the Japanese occupation, many Koreans had their homes and land confiscated. As they escaped the country to Manchuria, where they hoped to build new lives for themselves, they would pass by our home on the main road that led to Seon-cheon in North Pyong-an Province. My mother would always prepare food for the passersby, who came from all parts of Korea. If a beggar came to our home asking for food and my mother didn’t react quickly enough, my grandfather would pick up his meal and take it to the beggar. Perhaps because I was born into such a family, I too have spent much of my life feeding people. To me, giving people food is the most precious work. When I am eating and I see someone who has nothing to eat, it pains my heart and I cannot continue eating.
I will tell you something that happened when I was about eleven years old. It was toward the last day of the year, and everyone in the village was busy preparing rice cakes for the New Year’s feast. There was one neighbor family, though, that was so poor they had nothing to eat. I kept seeing their faces in my mind, and it made me so restless that I was walking around the house, wondering what to do. Finally, I picked up an eight-kilogram (17.6-pound) bag of rice and ran out of the house. I was in such a hurry to get the bag of rice out of the house that I didn’t even tie the bag closed. I hoisted the bag onto my shoulders and held it tight as I ran along a steep, uphill path for about eight kilometers (five miles) to get to the neighbor’s home. I was excited to think how good it would feel to give those people enough food so they could eat as much as they wanted.
The village mill was next to our house. The four walls of the mill- house were well built, so that the crushed rice could not fall through the cracks. This meant that in the winter it was a good place to escape the wind and stay warm. If someone took some kindling from our home’s furnace and started a small fire in the millhouse, it became warmer than an ondol-heated room. Some of the beggars who would travel around the country would decide to spend the winter in that millhouse. I was fascinated by the stories they had to tell about the world outside, and I found myself spending time with them every chance I got. My mother would bring my meals to the millhouse, and she would always bring enough for my beggar friends to eat as well. We would eat from the same dishes and share the same blankets at night. This is how I spent the winter. When spring came, they would leave for faraway places, and I could not wait for winter to come again so they would return to our home. Just because their bodies were poorly clothed did not mean that their hearts were ragged as well. They had a deep and warm love that showed. I gave them food, and they shared their love with me. The deep friendship and warmth they showed me back then continue to be a source of strength for me today.
As I go around the world and witness children suffering from hunger, I am always reminded of how my grandfather never missed a chance to share food with others.
Being a Friend to All
Once I set my mind to do something, I have to put it into action immediately. Otherwise, I cannot sleep. As a child, I would sometimes get an idea during the night but be forced
to wait until morning before acting on it. I would stay awake and make scratches on the wall to pass the time. This happened so often that I would almost dig a hole in the wall and chunks of dirt would pile up on the floor. I also couldn’t sleep if I had been treated unfairly during the day. In such a case, I would get out of bed during the night, go to the culprit’s home, and challenge him to come out and fight me. I am sure it must have been very difficult for my parents to raise me.
I could not stand to see someone treated unjustly. Whenever there was a fight among the children in the village, I would involve myself as though I were responsible to see that justice was served in every situ- ation. I would decide which child in the fight was in the wrong and I would scold that child in a loud voice. Once I went to see the grandfa- ther of a boy who was a bully in the neighborhood. I said to him, “Your grandson has done this and that wrong. Please take care of it.”
I could be wild in my actions, but nevertheless I was a child with a big heart. I would sometimes visit my married older sister in the home of her husband’s family and demand that they serve me rice cakes and chicken. The adults never disliked me for this because they could see that my heart was filled with a warm love.
I was particularly good at taking care of animals. When birds made a nest in a tree in front of our house, I dug a small waterhole for them to drink water. I also scattered some hulled millet from the storeroom on the ground for the birds to eat. At first, the birds would fly away when- ever someone came close. They soon realized, however, that the person giving them food was someone who loved them, and they stopped fly- ing away when I approached.
Once I thought I would try raising fish. So I caught some fish and put them in the water hole. I also took a fistful of fish food and sprinkled it over the water. When I got up the next morning, though, I found that all the fish had died during the night. I was so looking forward to raising those fish. I stood there in astonishment, looking at them floating on top of the water. I remember that I cried all day that day.
My father kept many bee colonies. He would take a large hive box and fasten a basic foundation to the bottom of the hive. Then the bees would deposit their beeswax there to create a nest and store their honey. I was a curious child, and I wanted to see just how the bees built the hive. So I stuck my face into the middle of the hive and got myself stung severely by the bees, causing my entire face to swell tremendously.
I once took the foundations from the hive boxes and received a severe scolding from my father. Once the bees had finished building their hives, my father would take the foundations and stack them to one side. These foundations were covered with beeswax that could be used as fuel for lamps in place of oil. I took those expensive foundations, broke them up, and took them to homes that couldn’t afford to buy oil for their lamps. It was an act of kindness, but I had done it without my father’s permission, and so I was harshly reprimanded.
When I was twelve, we had very little in the way of games. The choices were a Parcheesi-like game called yute, a chesslike game called jang-gi, and card games. I always enjoyed it when many people would play together. During the day, I would like to play yute or fly my kite, and in the evenings I would make the rounds of the card games going on around the village. They were games where the winner picked up 120 won (Korean monetary unit) after each hand, and I could usually win at least once every three hands. New Year’s Eve and the first full moon of the new year were the days when the most gambling went on. On those days, the police would look the other way and never arrest anyone for gambling. I went to where grown-ups were gambling, took a nap during the night, and got them to deal me in for just three hands in the early morning, just as they were about to call it quits for the night. I took the money I had won, bought some starch syrup, and took it around to all my friends to give them each a taste. I didn’t use the money for myself or to do anything bad. When my older sisters’ husbands visited our home, I would ask permission and take money from their wallets. I would then use this money to buy sweets for children in need. I also bought them starch syrup.
In any village it is natural that there are people who live well and those who don’t. When I would see a child who had brought boiled millet to school for lunch, I couldn’t eat my own better lunch of rice. So I would exchange my rice for his millet. I felt closer to the children from poor families than to those from rich families, and I wanted somehow to see to it that they didn’t go hungry. This was a kind of game that I en- joyed most of all. I was still a child, but I felt that I wanted to be a friend to everyone. In fact, I wanted to be more than just friends; I wanted to have relationships where we could share our deepest hearts.
One of my uncles was a greedy man. His family owned a melon patch near the middle of the village, and every summer, when the melons were ripe and giving off a sweet fragrance, the village children would beg him to let them eat some. My uncle, though, set up a tent on the road next to the melon patch and sat there keeping guard, refusing to share even a single melon.
One day I went to him and asked, “Uncle, would it be all right if some time I were to go to your patch and eat all the melon I want?” Uncle willingly an- swered, “Sure, that would be fine.”
So I sent word to all the children that anyone wanting to eat melon should bring a burlap bag and gather in front of my house at midnight. At midnight I led them to my uncle’s melon patch and told them, “I want all of you to pick a row of melons, and don’t worry about anything.” The children shouted with joy and ran into the melon patch. It took only a few minutes for several rows of melons to be picked clean. That night the hungry chil- dren of the village sat in a clover field and ate melons until their stomachs almost burst.
The next day there was big trouble. I went to my uncle’s home, and it was in pandemonium, like a beehive that had been poked. “You rascal,” my uncle shouted at me. “Was this your doing? Are you the one who ruined my entire year’s work of raising melons?”
No matter what he said, I was not going to back down. “Uncle,” I said, “don’t you remember? You told me I could eat all the melons I wanted. The village children wanted to eat melons, and their desire was my desire. Was it right for me to give them a melon each, or should I absolutely not have given them any?” When he heard this, my uncle said, “All right. You’re right.” That was the end of his anger.
A Definite Compass for My Life
The Moon clan originated in Nampyung, near Naju, Cholla Prov- ince, a town about 320 miles south of Seoul, in the southwest region of the country. My great-great-grandfather, Sung Hak Moon, had three sons. The youngest of these was my great-grandfather, Jung Heul Moon, who himself had three sons: Chi Guk, Shin Guk, and Yun Guk. My grandfather, Chi Guk Moon, was the oldest.
Grandfather Chi Guk Moon was illiterate, as he did not attend either a modern elementary school or the traditional village school. His power of concentration was so great, however, that he was able to recite the full text of the Korean translation of San Guo Zhi just by having listened to others read it to him. And it wasn’t just San Guo Zhi. When he heard someone tell an interesting story, he could memorize it and retell it in exactly the same words. He could memorize anything after hearing it just once. My father took after him in this way; he could sing from memory the Christian hymnal, consisting of more than four hundred pages.
Grandfather followed the last words of his father to live his life with a spirit of giving, but he was not able to maintain the family fortune. This was because his youngest brother, my Great-Uncle Yun Guk Moon, bor- rowed money against the family’s property and lost it all. Following this incident, members of the family went through some very hard times, but my grandfather and father never spoke ill of Great-Uncle Yun Guk. This was because they knew he had not lost the money gambling or doing anything of that nature. Instead, he had sent the money to the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, based in Shanghai, China. In those days, seventy thousand won was a large sum, and this was the amount that my great uncle donated to the independence movement.
Great-Uncle Yun Guk, a graduate of Pyongyang Seminary and a minister, was an intellectual who was fluent in English and well versed in Chinese studies. He served as the responsible pastor for three churches, including Deok Heung Church in Deok Eon Myeon. He participated in the drafting of the 1919 Declaration of Independence, together with Nam Seon Choe. When it was found, however, that three of the sixteen Christian leaders among the signatories were associated with Deok Heung Church, Great-Uncle had his name removed from the list. Seung Heung Lee, one of the remaining signatories who worked with my great-uncle in establishing the Osan School, asked Great-Uncle Yun Guk to take care of all his affairs in case the independence movement failed and he died at the hands of the Japanese colonial authorities.
On returning to our hometown, Great-Uncle Yun Guk printed tens of thousands of Korean flags and handed them out to the people who poured into the streets to shout their support for Korean independence. He was arrested on March 8 as he led a demonstration on the hill behind the Aipo Myeon administrative office. The demonstration in support of independence was attended by the principal, faculty, and some two thousand students of the Osan School, some three thousand Christians, and some four thousand other residents of the area. He was given a two-year prison sentence and was imprisoned in the Eui-ju prison. The following year he was released as part of a special pardon.
Even after his release, severe persecution by the Japanese police meant he could never stay long in one place, and he was always on the run. He carried a large scar where the Japanese police had tortured him by stabbing him with a bamboo spear and carving out a piece of his flesh. He was speared in the legs and in the side of his ribs, but he said that he never gave in. When the Japanese found they couldn’t break him, they offered him the position of county chief if he would pledge to stop participating in the independence movement. His response was to rebuke the Japanese in a loud voice: “Do you think I would take on a position and work for you thieves?”
When I was about seven or eight years old, Great-Uncle Yun Guk was staying in our home for a short time and some members of the Korean independence army came to see him. They were low on funds and had traveled by night on foot through a heavy snowfall to reach our house. My father covered the heads of us children with a sleeping quilt so that we would not be awakened. I was already wide awake, and I lay there under the quilt, my eyes wide open, listening as best I could to the sounds of the adults talking. Though it was late, my mother killed a chicken and boiled some noodles to serve to the independence fighters.
To this day, I cannot forget the words that I heard Great-Uncle Yun Guk speak as I lay there under the quilt, holding my breath in excite- ment. “Even if you die,” he said, “if you die for the sake of our country, you will be blessed.” He continued, “Right now, we can see only dark- ness before us, but the bright morning is sure to come.” Because of the effects of torture, he did not have full use of his body, but his voice resonated with strength.
I also remember thinking to myself then: “Why did such a wonder- ful person as Great-Uncle have to go to prison? If only we were stronger than Japan, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Great-Uncle Yun Guk continued to roam about the country, avoid- ing persecution by the Japanese police, and it was not until 1966, while I was in Seoul, that I received news of him again. Great-Uncle appeared in a dream to one of my younger cousins and told him, “I am buried in Jeong-seon, Kang-won Province.” We went to the address he gave in the dream and found that he had passed away nine years before that. We found only a grave mound covered with weeds. I had his remains reburied in Paju, Kyounggi Province, near Seoul.
In the years following Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945, com- munists in North Korea killed Christian ministers and independence fighters indiscriminately. Great-Uncle Yun Guk, fearing his presence might cause harm to the family, escaped the communists by crossing south over the 38th parallel and settling in Jeong-seon. No one in our family was aware of this. He supported himself in that remote mountain valley by selling calligraphy brushes. Later, we were told that he set up a traditional village school where he taught Chinese classics. Accord- ing to some of his former students, he often enjoyed spontaneously composing poems in Chinese characters. His students transcribed and preserved some 130 of these, including the following:
South North Peace
Ten years have passed since I left home to come South
The flow of time speeds my hair to turn white
I would return North, but how can I?
What was intended as a short sojourn has been prolonged
Wearing the long-sleeved ko-hemp clothing of summer
I fan myself with a silk fan and consider what the autumn will bring
Peace between South and North draws near
Children waiting under the eaves, You needn’t worry so much.
Though separated from his family and living in Jeong-seon, a land unfamiliar to him in every way, Great-Uncle Yun Guk’s heart was filled with concerns for his country. Great-Uncle also left this poetic verse: “When setting your goal in the beginning, pledge yourself to a high standard; don’t allow yourself even the least bit of private desire (厥 初立志自期高 私慾未嘗容一毫).” My great-uncle’s contributions to the independence movement were posthumously recognized by the Republic of Korea government in 1977 with a Presidential Award and in 1990 with the Order of Merit for National Foundation. Even now, I sometimes recite his poetic verses. They are infused with his steadfast love for his country, even in the face of extreme adversity.
Recently, as I have grown older, I think about Great-Uncle Yun Guk more often. Each phrase of his poetry expressing his heart of concern for his country penetrates into my heart. I have taught our members the song Daehan Jiri Ga (Song of Korean Geography), whose words were written by Great-Uncle Yun Guk himself. I enjoy singing this song with our members. When I sing this song, from Mount Baektu to Mount Halla, I feel relieved of my burdens.
Song of Korean Geography
The peninsula of Korea in the
East Positioned among three countries.
North, the wide plains of Manchuria
East, the deep and blue East Sea,
South, a sea of many islands,
West, the deep Yellow Sea Food
in the seas on three sides,
Our treasure of all species of fish.
Mighty Mount Paektu stands on the North,
Providing water to the Rivers of Amrok and Tumen.
Flowing into seas east and west,
Marking a clear border with the Soviets
Mount Kumgang shines bright in the center,
A preserve for the world, pride of Korea.
Mount Halla rises above the blue South Sea
A landmark for fishermen at sea.
Four plains of Daedong, Hangang, Geumgang,
and Jeonju give our people food and clothing.
Four mines of Woonsan, Soonan, Gaecheon,
and Jaeryung give us the treasures of the Earth.
Four cities of Kyungsung, Pyongyang, Daegu,
and Kaesung shine over the land Four ports of Busan,
Wonsan, Mokpo and Incheon welcome foreign ships.
Railroads spread out from Kyungsung,
Connecting the two main lines, Kyung-Eui and
Kyung-Bu Branch lines Kyung-Won and Honam
run north and south, Cover the peninsula.
Our sites tell us our history. Pyongyang,
2,000-year-old city of Dangun, Kaesung,
capital of Koryo, Kyungsung, 500-year
capital of Chosun, Kyungju, 2,000 years of
Shilla’s culture shines, origin of Pak Hyuk-ko-sai,
Chungchong has Buyo, the historic capital of Paekche.
Sons of Korea pioneering the future,
the waves of civilization wash against our shores.
Come out of the hills, and march forward
in strength to the world of the future!
Stubborn Child Who Never Gives Up
My father was not good at collecting debts, but if he bor- rowed money, he would honor the pledge to repay, even if it meant selling the family cow or even removing one
of the pillars from our home and selling it at market. He always said, “You can’t change the truth with trickery. Anything that is true will not be dominated by a small trick. Anything that is the result of trickery won’t go more than a few years before it is exposed.”
My father had a large stature. He was so strong that he had no difficulty walking up a flight of stairs carrying a bag of rice on his shoulders. The fact that at age ninety I’m still able to travel around the world and carry on my work is a result of the physical strength I inherited from my father.
My mother, whose favorite Christian hymn was “Higher Ground,” was also quite a strong woman. I take after her not only for her wide forehead and round face but for her straightfor ward and high-spirited personality as well. I have a stubborn streak, and there is no doubt I am my mother’s child.
When I was a child, I had the nickname “day crier.” I earned this nickname because once I started to cry, I wouldn’t stop for the entire day. When I cried, it would be so loud that people would think something terrible had happened. People sleeping in bed would come outside to see what was going on. Also, I didn’t just cry sitting still. I would jump around the room, injuring myself and creating an uproar. Sometimes I would bleed. I had this kind of intense personality even when I was young.
Once my mind was made up, I would never back down, not even if it meant breaking a bone in my body. Of course, this was all before I became mature. When my mother would scold me for doing something wrong, I would talk back to her, saying, “No. Absolutely not!” All I had to do was admit that I was wrong, but I would rather have died than let those words out of my mouth. My mother, though, had quite a strong personality as well.
She would strike me, and say, “You think you can get away with not answering your parent?” Once, she struck me so hard she knocked me down. Even after I got up, I wouldn’t give in to her. She just stood in front of me, crying loudly. Even then, I wouldn’t admit that I was wrong.
My competitive spirit was as strong as my stubbornness. I couldn’t stand to lose in any situation. The adults in the village would say, “Osan’s Little Tiny-Eyes, once he decides to do something, he does it.”
I don’t remember how old I was when this happened. A boy gave me a bloody nose and ran away. For a month after that, I would go to his house every day and stand there, waiting for him to come out. The village adults were amazed to see me persist until finally his parents apologized to me. They even gave me a container full of rice cakes.
This doesn’t mean I was always trying to win with stubborn persis- tence. I was physically much larger and stronger than other children my age. No child could beat me in arm wrestling. I once lost a wrestling match to a boy three years older than I was, and it made me so angry that I couldn’t sit still. I went to a nearby mountain, stripped some bark from an acacia tree, and for the next six months I worked out on this tree every evening to become strong enough to defeat that child. At the end of six months, I challenged him to a rematch and managed to beat him.
Each generation in our family has had many children. I had one older brother, three older sisters, and three younger sisters. I actually had four other younger siblings who were born after Hyo Seon. Mother gave birth to thirteen children, but five did not survive. Her heart must have been deeply tormented. Mother suffered a great deal to raise so many children in circumstances that were by no means plentiful. As a child I had many siblings. If these siblings got together with our first and second cousins, we could do anything. Much time has passed, however, and now I feel as though I am the only one remaining in the world.
I once visited North Korea for a short while, in 1991. I went to my hometown for the first time in 48 years and found that my mother and most of my siblings had passed away. Only one older sister and one younger sister remained. My older sister, who had been like a mother to me when I was a child, had become a grandmother of more than seventy years. My younger sister was older than sixty, and her face was covered with wrinkles. When we were young, I teased my younger sister a lot.
I would shout, “Hey, Hyo Seon, you’re going to marry a guy with one eye.” And she would come back with, “What did you say? What makes you think you know that, Brother?” Then she would run up behind me and tap me on the back with her tiny fists.
In the year she turned eighteen, Hyo Seon met a man with whom one of our aunts was trying to arrange her marriage. That morning she got up early, carefully combed her hair, and powdered her face. She thoroughly cleaned our home inside and out and waited for her prospective groom to arrive. “Hyo Seon,” I teased her, “you must really want to get married.” This made her blush, and I still remember how beautiful she looked with the redness in her face showing through the white powder.
It has been well over ten years since my visit to North Korea. My older sister, who wept so sorrowfully to see me, has since passed away, leaving just my younger sister. It fills me with such anguish. I feel as though my heart may melt away.
I was good with my hands, and I used to make clothes for myself. When it got cold, I would quickly knit myself a cap to wear. I was better at it than the women were, and I would give knitting tips to my older sisters. I once knitted a muffler for Hyo Seon. My hands were as big and thick as a bear’s paw, but I enjoyed needlework, and I would even make my own underwear. I would take some cloth off a roll, fold it in half, cut it to the right design, hem it, sew it up, and put it on. When I made a pair of traditional Korean socks for my mother this way, she expressed how much she liked them by saying, “Well, well, I thought Second Son was just fooling around, but these fit me perfectly.”
In those days it was necessary to weave cotton cloth as a part of preparations for the marriage of a son or daughter. Mother would take cotton wool and place it on a spinning wheel to make the thread. This was called to-ggaeng-i in the dialect of Pyong-an Province. She would set the width at twenty threads and make twelve pieces of cotton cloth, thirteen pieces of cotton cloth, and so on. Each time a child would marry, cotton cloth as soft and beautiful as processed satin would be cre- ated through Mother’s coarse hands. Her hands were incredibly quick. Others might weave three or four pieces of to-ggaeng-i fabric in a day, but Mother could weave as many as twenty. When she was in a hurry to complete the marriage preparations for one of my older sisters, she could weave an entire roll of fabric in a day. Mother had an impatient personality. Whenever she would set her mind to doing something, she would work quickly to get it done. I take after her in that way.
Since childhood, I have always enjoyed eating a wide variety of foods. As a child, I enjoyed eating corn, raw cucumber, raw potato, and raw beans. On a visit to my maternal relatives who lived about five miles away from our home, I noticed something round growing in the field. I asked what it was and was told it was ji-gwa, or “earth fruit.” In that neighborhood, people referred to sweet potatoes as earth fruit. Some- one dug one up and cooked it for me in steam, so I ate it. It had such a delectable taste that I took a whole basketful of them and ate them all myself. From the following year, I couldn’t keep myself away from my maternal relatives’ home for more than three days. I would shout out, “Mother, I’m going out for a while,” run the whole distance to where they lived, and eat sweet potatoes.
Where we lived, we had what we called “potato pass” in May. We would survive the winter on potatoes, until spring came and we could start harvesting barley. May was a critical period, because if our store of potatoes was depleted before the barley could be harvested, people began to starve. Surviving the time when potato stores were running low and the barley had not yet been harvested was similar to climbing to a steep mountain pass, so we called it potato pass.
The barley we ate then was not the tasty, flat-grained barley that we see today. The grains were more cylindrical in shape, but that was all right with us. We would soak the barley in water for about two days before cooking it. When we sat down to eat, I would press down on the barley with my spoon, trying to make it stick together. It was no use, though, because when I scooped it up in my spoon, it would just scatter like so much sand. I would mix it with gochujang (red pepper paste) and take a mouthful. As I chewed, the grains of barley would keep com- ing out between my teeth, so I had to keep my mouth tightly closed.
We also used to catch and eat tree frogs. In those days in rural areas, children would be fed tree frogs when they caught the measles and their faces became thin from the weight loss. We would catch three or four of these frogs that were big and had plenty of flesh on their fat legs. We would roast them wrapped in squash leaves, and they would be very tender and tasty, just as though they had been steamed in a rice cooker. Speaking of tasty, I can’t leave out sparrow and pheasant meat, either. We would cook the lovely colored eggs of mountain birds and the waterfowl that would fly over the fields making a loud, gulping call. As I roamed the hills and fields, this is how I came to understand that there was an abundance of food in the natural environment given to us by God.
Loving Nature to Learn from It
My personality was such that I had to know about every- thing that I could see. I couldn’t just pass over something superficially. I would start thinking, “I wonder what the
name of that mountain is. I wonder what’s up there.” I had to go see for myself. While still a child, I climbed to the tops of all the mountains that were in a five-mile radius of our home. I went everywhere, even beyond the mountains. That way, when I saw a mountain shining in the morning sunlight, I could have an image in my mind of what was on that mountain and I could gaze at it in comfort. I hated even to look at places I didn’t know. I had to know about everything I could see, and even what was beyond. Otherwise, my mind was so restless that I couldn’t endure it.
When I went to the mountains, I would touch all the flowers and trees. I wasn’t satisfied just to look at things with my eyes; I had to touch the flowers, smell them, and even put them in my mouth and chew on them. I enjoyed the fragrances, the touch, and the tastes so much that I wouldn’t have minded if someone had told me to stick my nose in the brush and keep it there the whole day. I loved nature so much that anytime I went outside, I would spend the day roaming the hills and fields and forget about having to go home. When my older sisters would go into the hills to gather wild vegetables, I would lead the way up the hill and pick the plants. Thanks to this experience, I know a lot about many kinds of wild vegetables that taste good and are high in nutri- tion. I was particularly fond of a member of the sunflower family called sseum-ba-gwi (scientific name Ixeris dentata). You could mix it with seasoned bean paste and put it in a dish of gochujang bibimbap, and it would have a wonderful flavor. When you eat sseum-ba-gwi, you need to put it in your mouth and then hold your breath for a few seconds. This is the time it takes for the bitter taste to go away and for a different, sweet taste to come out. It’s important to get the correct rhythm to enjoy the wonderful flavor of sseum-ba-gwi.
I used to enjoy climbing trees as well. Mainly I climbed up and down a huge, two-hundred-year-old chestnut tree that was in our yard. I liked the view from the upper branches of that tree. I could see even beyond the entrance to the village. Once I was up there, I wouldn’t want to come down. Sometimes, I would be up in the tree until late at night, and the youngest of my older sisters would come out of the house and make a fuss over how dangerous it was and try to get me to come down.
“Yong Myung, please come down,” she would say. “It’s late, and you need to come in and go to bed.”
“If I get sleepy, I can sleep up here.”
It didn’t matter what she said; I wouldn’t budge from my branch in the chestnut tree. Finally, she would lose her temper, and shout at me, “Hey, monkey! Get down here now!”
Maybe it’s because I was born in the Year of the Monkey that I en- joyed climbing trees so much. When chestnut burrs hung in clusters from the branches, I would take a broken branch and jump up and down to knock them down. I remember this being a lot of fun. I feel sorry for children these days who don’t grow up in the countryside and don’t experience this kind of enjoyment.
The birds flying free in the sky were also objects of my curiosity. Once in a while some particularly pretty birds would come by, and I would study everything I could about them, noticing what the male looked like and what the female looked like. There were no books back then to tell me about the various kinds of trees, shrubs, and birds, so I had to examine each myself. Often I would miss my meals because I would be hiking around the mountains looking for the places where migratory birds went.
Once I climbed up and down a tree every morning and evening for several days to check on a magpie nest. I wanted to see how a magpie lays its eggs. I finally got to witness the magpie lay its eggs, and I became friends with the bird as well. The first few times it saw me, the magpie let out a loud squawk and made a big fuss when it saw me approach. Later, though, I could get close and it would remain still.
The insects in that area were also my friends. Every year, in late summer, a clear-toned cicada would sing in the upper branches of a persimmon tree that was right outside my room. Each summer, I would be grateful when the loud, irritating sounds of the other types of cicada that made noise all summer would suddenly stop and be replaced by the song of the clear-toned cicada. Its song let me know that the humid summer season would soon pass, with the cool autumn to follow.
Their sound went something like this: “Sulu Sulululululu!” Whenever I would hear the clear-toned cicada sing like this, I would look up into the persimmon tree and think, “Of course, as long as it’s going to sing, it has to sing from a high place so that everyone in the village can hear it and be glad. Who could hear it if it went into a pit and sang?”
I soon realized that both the summer cicadas and the clear-toned cicadas were making sounds for love.
Whether they were singing, “Mem mem mem” or “Suluk sulu,” they were making sounds in order to attract their mates. Once I realized this, I couldn’t help but laugh every time I heard an insect start singing.
“Oh, you want love, don’t you? Go ahead and sing, and find yourself a good mate.”
Gradually I learned how to be friends with everything in nature in a way that we could share our hearts with each other.
The Yellow Sea coast was only about two and a half miles from our home. It was near enough that I could easily see it from any high place near our home. There was a series of water pools along the path to the sea, and a creek flowed between them. I would often dig around one of those pools smelling of stale water to catch eel and freshwater mud crab. I would poke around in all sorts of places to catch different kinds of water life, so I came to know where each kind lived. Eels, by nature, do not like to be visible, so they hide their long bodies in crab holes and other similar places. Often, though, they can’t quite fit all of their bodies in the holes, so the ends of their tails remain sticking out. I could easily catch them, simply by grabbing the tail and pulling the eel out of its hole. If we had company in our home and they wanted to eat steamed eel, then it was nothing for me to run the three and a half miles round- trip to the water pools and bring back about five eels. During summer vacations, I would often catch more than forty eels in a day.
There was one chore I didn’t like doing. This was to feed the cow. Often, when my father would tell me to feed the cow, I would take it to the meadow of the neighboring village, where I would tie it up and run away. But after a while, I would start to worry about the cow. When I looked back, I could see it was still there, right where I had tied it. It just stayed there, half the day or more, mooing and waiting for someone to come feed it. Hearing the cow mooing in the distance, I would feel sorry for it and think, “That cow! What am I going to do with it?” Maybe you can imagine how I felt to ignore the cow’s mooing. Still, when I would go back to it late in the evening, it wouldn’t be angry or try to gore me with its horns. Instead it seemed happy to see me. This made me realize that a person’s perspective on a major objective in life should be like that of a cow. Bide your time with patience, and something good will come to you.
There was a dog in our home that I loved very much. It was so smart that when it came time for me to come home from school, it would run to meet me when I was still a long distance from home. Whenever it saw me, it acted happy. I would always pet it with my right hand. So, even if it happened to be on my left side, it would go around to my right side and rub its face against me, begging to be petted. Then I would take my right hand and pet it on its head and back. If I didn’t, the dog would whine and run circles around me as I walked down the road.
“You rascal,” I would say. “You know about love, don’t you? Do you like love?”
Animals know about love. Have you ever seen a mother hen sitting on her eggs until they hatch? The hen will keep her eyes open and stamp her foot on the ground so no one can go near it. I would go in and out of the chicken coop, knowing it would make the hen angry. When I would go into the coop, the hen would straighten its neck and try to threaten me. Instead of backing away, I would also act in a threatening manner toward the hen. After I went into the coop a few times, the hen would just pretend not to see me. But she would keep herself bristled up and her claws long and sharp. She looked like she wanted to swoosh over and attack me, but she couldn’t move because of the eggs. So she just sat there in anguish. I would go near and touch her feathers, but she wouldn’t budge. It seemed that it was determined not to move from that spot until her eggs had hatched, even if it meant letting someone pluck all the feathers from her bosom. Because it is so steadfastly attached to its eggs through love, the hen has an authority that keeps even the rooster from doing whatever it wants. The hen commands complete authority over everything under heaven, as if to say, “I don’t care who you are. You had better not disturb these eggs!”
There is also a demonstration of love when a pig gives birth to pig- lets. I followed a mother pig around so I could watch it give birth to its litter. At the moment of birth, the mother pig gives a push with a loud grunt and a piglet slips out onto the ground. The pig lets out another loud grunt and a second piglet comes out. It was similar with cats and dogs. It made me very happy to see these little baby animals that hadn’t even opened their eyes come into the world. I couldn’t help but laugh with joy.
On the other hand, it gave me much anguish to witness the death of an animal. There was a slaughterhouse a little ways from the village. Once a cow was inside the slaughterhouse, a butcher would appear out of nowhere and strike the cow with an iron hammer about the size of a person’s forearm. The cow would fall over. In the next moment, it would be stripped of its hide and its legs would be cut off. Life hangs on so desperately that the stumps remaining on the cow after its legs were cut off would continue to quiver. It brought tears to my eyes to watch this, and I cried out loud.
From when I was a child, I have had a certain peculiarity. I could know things that others didn’t, as if I had some natural paranormal ability. If I said it was going to rain, then it would rain. I might be sitting in our home and say, “The old man Mr. So-and-So in the next village doesn’t feel well today.” And it would always be right. From the time I was eight I was well known as a champion matchmaker. I only had to see photographs of a prospective bride and groom and I could tell everything. If I said, “This marriage is bad,” and they went ahead and married anyway, they would inevitably break up later. I’ve been doing this until I’ve turned 90, and now I can tell much about a person just seeing the way he sits or the way he laughs.
If I focused my thoughts, I could tell what my older sisters were doing at a particular moment. So, although my older sisters liked me, they also feared me. They felt that I knew all their secrets. It may seem like I have some incredible paranormal power, but actually it isn’t anything to be surprised about. Even ants, which we often think of as insignificant creatures, can tell when the rainy season is coming, and they go to where they can stay dry. People in tune with nature should be able to tell what is ahead for them. It’s not such a difficult thing.
You can tell which way the wind is going to blow by carefully examining a magpie’s nest. A magpie will put the entrance to its nest on the opposite side from the direction where the wind is going to blow. It will take twigs in its beak and weave them together in a complex fashion, and then pick up mud with its beak and plaster the top and bottom of the nest so that the rain doesn’t get in. It arranges the ends of the twigs so that they all face the same direction. Like a gutter on a roof, this makes the rain flow toward one place. Even magpies have such wisdom to help them survive, so wouldn’t it be natural for people to have this type of ability as well?
If I were at a cow market with my father, I might say, “Father, don’t buy this cow. A good cow should look good on the nape of its neck and have strong front hooves. It should have a firm buttocks and back. This cow isn’t like that.” Sure enough, that cow would not sell. My father would say, “How do you know all this?” and I would reply, “I’ve known that since I was in mother’s womb.” Of course, I wasn’t serious.
If you love cows, you can tell a lot about them. The most powerful force in the world is love, and the most fearful thing is a mind and body united. If you quiet yourself and focus your mind, there is a place deep down where the mind is able to settle. You need to let your mind go to that place. When you put your mind in that place and go to sleep, then when you awake you will be extremely sensitive. That is the moment when you should turn away all extraneous thoughts and focus your consciousness. Then you will be able to communicate with everything. If you don’t believe me, try it right now. Each life form in the world seeks to connect itself with that which gives it the most love. So if you have something that you don’t truly love, then your possession or dominion is false and you will be forced to give it up.
Talking about the Universe with the Insects
Spending time in the forest cleanses the mind. The sound of leaves rustling in the wind, the sound of the wind blowing through the reeds, the sound of frogs croaking in the ponds: All you can hear
are the sounds of nature; no extraneous thoughts enter the mind. If you empty your mind and receive nature into your entire being, there is no separation between you and nature. Nature comes into you, and you become completely one with nature. In the moment that the boundary between you and nature disappears, you feel a profound sense of joy. Then nature becomes you, and you become nature.
I have always treasured such experiences in my life. Even now, I close my eyes and enter a state in which I am one with nature. Some refer to this as anātman, or “not-self,” but to me it is more than that, because na- ture enters and settles into the place that has been made empty. While in that state, I listen to the sounds that nature hands to me—the sounds of the pine trees, the sounds of the bugs—and we become friends. I could go to a village and know, without meeting anyone, the disposition of the minds of the people living there. I would go into the meadow of the village and spend the night there, then listen to what the crops in the fields would tell me. I could see whether the crops were sad or happy and that would tell me the kind of people who lived there.
The reason I could be in jail in South Korea and the United States, and even North Korea, and not feel lonely and isolated is that even in jail I could hear the sound of the wind blowing and talk to the bugs that were there with me.
You may ask, “What do you talk about with bugs?” Even the smallest grain of sand contains the principles of the world, and even a speck of dust floating in the air contains the harmony of the uni- verse. Everything around us was given birth through a combination of forces so complex we cannot even imagine it. These forces are closely related to each other. Nothing in the universe was conceived outside the heart of God. The movement of just one leaf holds within it the breathing of the universe.
From childhood, I have had a gift of being able to resonate with the sounds of nature as I roam around the hills and meadows. Nature creates a single harmony and produces a sound that is magnificent and beautiful. No one tries to show off and no one is ignored; there is just a supreme harmony. Whenever I found myself in difficulty, nature comforted me; whenever I collapsed in despair, it raised me back up. Children these days are raised in urban areas and don’t have opportunities to become familiar with nature, but developing sensitivity to nature is actually more important than developing our knowledge. What is the purpose of providing a university education to a child who cannot feel nature in his bosom and whose sensi- tivities are dull? The person separated from nature can gather book knowledge here and there and then easily become an individualistic person who worships material goods.
We need to feel the difference between the sound of spring rain fall- ing like a soft whisper and that of the autumn rain falling with pops and crackles. It is only the person who enjoys resonance with nature who can be said to have a true character. A dandelion blooming by the side of the road is more precious than all the gold in the world. We need to have a heart that knows how to love nature and love people. Anyone who cannot love nature or love people is not capable of loving God. Everything in creation embodies God at the level of symbol, and human beings are substantial beings created in the image of God. Only a person who can love nature can love God.
I did not spend all my time roaming the hills and meadows and playing. I also worked hard helping my older brother run the farm. On a farm there are many tasks that must be done during a particular season. The rice paddies and fields need to be plowed. Rice seedlings need to be transplanted, and weeds need to be pulled. When one is pulling weeds, the most difficult task is to weed a field of millet. After the seeds are planted, the furrows need to be weeded at least three times, and this is backbreaking work. When we were finished, we couldn’t straighten our backs for awhile. Sweet potatoes don’t taste very good if they are planted in clay. They need to be planted in a mixture of one-third clay and two-thirds sand if they are going to produce the best-tasting sweet potatoes. For corn, human excrement was the best fertilizer, so I would take my hands and break up all the solid excrement into small pieces. By helping out on the farm, I learned what was needed to make beans grow well, what kind of soil was best for soybeans, and what soil was best for red beans. I am a farmer’s farmer.
Pyongan Province was among the first places in Korea to accept Christian culture, so farmland was already arranged in straight lines in the 1930s and 1940s. To transplant rice seedlings, we would take a pole with twelve equally spaced markings to indicate where the rows would go and lay it across the width of the paddy. Then two people would move along the pole, each planting six rows of seedlings. Later, when I came to the southern part of Korea, I saw that they would put a string across the paddy and have dozens of people splashing around in there. It seemed like a very inefficient way of doing it. I would spread my legs to twice the width of my shoulders so I could plant the seedlings more quickly. During the rice-planting season, I was able to earn enough money to at least cover my own tuition.
When I turned ten, my father had me attend a traditional school in our village, where an old man taught Chinese classics. At this school, all we had to do was memorize one booklet each day. I would focus myself and complete the memorization in a half hour. If I could stand in front of the schoolmaster and recite that day’s lesson, then I was finished for the day. If the schoolmaster dozed off in the early afternoon, I would leave the school and go into the hills and meadows. The more time I spent in the hills, the more I knew where to find edible plants. Eventually, I was eating enough of these plants that I could go without lunch, and I stopped eating lunch at home.
At school, we read the Analects of Confucius and the works of Men- cius, and we were taught Chinese characters. I excelled at writing, and by the time I was twelve the schoolmaster had me making the model characters that other students would learn from. Actually, I wanted to attend a formal school, not the traditional village school. I felt I shouldn’t be just memorizing Confucius and Mencius when others were build- ing airplanes. This was April, and my father had already paid my full year’s tuition in advance. Even though I knew this, I decided to quit the village school and worked to convince my father to send me to a formal school. I worked on convincing my grandfather and even my uncle. To transfer into elementary school, I had to take an exam. To study for this exam, I had to attend a preparatory school. I convinced one of my younger cousins to go with me, and we both entered the Wonbong Preparatory School and began our studies for the exam to transfer into elementary school.
The next year, when I was fourteen, I passed the exam and transferred into the third grade at Osan School. I had a late start, but I studied hard and was able to skip the fifth grade. Osan School was five miles from our home, but I never missed a day or was ever late for school. Each time I would climb a hill in the road, a group of students would be waiting for me. I would walk so quickly, though, that they would have a hard time keeping up. This is how I traveled that mountain road that was rumored to be a place where tigers sometimes appeared.
The Osan School was a nationalist school established by Yi Sung Hun, who was active in the independence movement. Not only was the Japanese language not taught, but students were actually forbid- den to speak Japanese. I had a different opinion on this. I felt that we had to know our enemy if we were to defeat it. I took another trans- fer exam and entered the fourth grade of the Jung-ju Public Normal School. In public schools, all classes were conducted in Japanese, so I memorized katakana and hiragana the night before my first day of class. I didn’t know any Japanese, so I took all the textbooks from grades one through four and memorized them over the course of two weeks. This enabled me to start understanding the language.
By the time I graduated from grammar school, I was fluent in Japa- nese. On the day of my graduation, I volunteered to give a speech before a gathering of all the important people in Jung-ju. Normally in that situation, the student is expected to speak about his gratitude for the support received from his teachers and the school. Instead, I referred to each of my teachers by name and critiqued them, pointing out problems in the way the school was run. I also spoke on our time in history and the kind of determination that people in responsible positions should make. I gave this rather critical speech entirely in Japanese.
“Japanese people should pack their bags as soon as possible and go back to Japan,” I said. “This land was handed down to us by our ances- tors, and all the future generations of our people must live here.”
I said these things in front of the chief of police, the county chief, and town mayor. I was taking after the spirit of Great-Uncle Yun Guk Moon and saying things that no one else dared say. The audience was shocked. When I left the stage, I could see people’s faces had turned pale. Noth- ing happened to me that day, but there were problems later on. From that day, the Japanese police marked me as a person to be tracked and began watching me, making a nuisance of themselves. Later, when I was trying to go to Japan to continue my studies, the chief of police refused to place his stamp on a form that I needed, and this caused me some trouble. He regarded me as a dangerous person who should not be al- lowed to travel to Japan and refused to stamp the form for me. I had a big argument with him and finally convinced him to put his stamp on the form. Only then could I go to Japan.