I think back to the many near death or potentially serious injury situations that Sterling and I got into while growing up as missionary kids in Korea, and I praise God that we had ministering angels protecting us. Let me give you four brief examples.
I remember going to church at the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, a hospital established by and run by missionary doctors. Being centrally located in the City of Pusan, missionary families met at the hospital chapel on Sunday evenings for worship and fellowship in English. After the service, while the adults chatted, we kids went running around the hospital exploring. We climbed the ladder up the side of the water tower behind the hospital. We also climbed up onto the roof of the hospital and ran around.
One evening as it was turning dark, I ran as fast as I could along the length of the rooftop and caught a newly erected clothesline across my neck, laying me out on my back. I desperately gasped for air as my throat closed off due to the swelling from the trauma. I did recover, but we all swore each other to secrecy to keep the parents from finding out.
I remember my older brother Sterling, in grade school, after dusk, by early evening moonlight, running along the top of a wall in a game of tag. About to be caught, he bounded off an adjoining goat shed roof and leaped into the pen below.
On the way down, he remembered that there was a metal stake for the goat somewhere down there!
A split-second later, landing on his hands and knees, he was jarred with the sudden pain of his left nostril being ripped from his cheek. A two degree difference in his trajectory would have put the stake through his eye and into his brain.
A missionary doctor reattached the 'flapping nostril' with seven careful stitches.
During the monsoon season in Korea it would rain so hard for so long that the ten foot deep ditch outside our house would be like a raging river. Once, when enough pieces of large debris from the shanty town on the mountain above us could not make it through the large drainage tunnel under the landing outside of our house, the flow was blocked to a trickle.
The untold tons of backed up water could cause serious danger of collapse of roads and houses above us.
Dad and the neighbors got down in the ditch and tried to clear the blockage to let the water flow freely. Sterling also got down there and crawled ten feet into the tunnel. After several unsuccessful attempts to dislodge enough to start a flow, he retreated in justifiable fear.
Dad would not let me go down there, because I was too young and it was too dangerous. I am saying that facetiously, because Sterling was only nine years old at the time and had no business being down there either.
Eventually, ropes were used to pull enough debris loose. The thousands of gallons of backed up sewage water was released in a torrential gushing wall of water that could have killed anyone who had remained below.
I remember we kids chasing buses and jumping up onto the rear bumpers to see how long we could hang on and ride the back of the bus. When the bus would begin to pick up too much speed, we would jump off and hit the pavement at a dead run to avoid falling flat on our faces. Unfortunately, there was more than one time that I did fall onto my knees and elbows because the momentum from the bus was faster than I could run.
My parents were too busy doing the Lord’s work to be supervising us children every minute of the day. I guess that they relied on God’ grace and protection to keep us safe from harm. God protected us and blessed my parents’ ministry.
Due to the Holy Spirit working through the many missionaries in this country, Korea went on to become the most Christianized nation in the Orient. Korean churches now send missionaries all over the world.
BOULDER OF DOOM
As missionary kids growing up in post-war Korea, one of our favorite playgrounds for all kinds of adventures was the mountain above our house called Chun Ma San, which meant 'Mountain of a Thousand Horses’.
One summer afternoon, neighborhood Korean friends and we went hiking on the mountain. One of our pastimes was to find boulders to roll down hill and see what kind of momentum they would build up.
We found a giant boulder over six feet high that looked like it was moveable if we combined all of our strength together. We all got behind it and started to strain and push to start it rolling.
Well, it actually started to move. That is when our childish hubris was suddenly replaced by sheer panic. We realized that if this giant boulder started rolling and picking up speed, it wouldn't stop until it crushed a bunch of shanty houses and shacks below. It could kill a bunch of people!
We all ran around to the front of the boulder to hold it back from rolling. We all put our backs against it and strained for what seemed to be an eternity.
"What do we do now?"
"I don't know. We can't let go."
"We'll hold it and you find a big rock to brace it in front."
Suddenly, the boy at the end shrieked in horror. A very large black snake had slithered over his foot and was wending its way between our feet. We all let go and took off running. We did not look back, because we really did not want to know if the giant boulder was going to roll down the mountain.
Our hearts were pounding and our mischievous little brains did not want to deal with the fact that we had gone too far. Our consciences were screaming at us. We did not stop until we got back down the mountain to our neighborhood.
When we had caught our breaths, we looked up the mountain to see if the boulder was still in place. To our total relief, it was still there. The boulder of doom had not moved. It had not crushed anyone. What a relief!
We went on playing for the rest of the afternoon until it started getting dark and parents were calling out for their children to come home and eat dinner.
We all dispersed to our respective homes. But, one of the parents kept calling for their son to come home. This is when we realized that that boy had not been playing with us after we had come down the mountain.
After eating, the neighborhood kids gathered outside again and started looking for our lost friend. About two hours after dark, here he came, trudging down the mountain to the neighborhood. He was worn out and very angry with all of us.
When we ran from the snake, he had stayed back and held up the boulder for hours until it got dark and he was too tired to push against the rock any longer. When he finally let go to come home, the boulder shifted another inch or two and then stopped.
These many years later, when the memory comes to mind, it weighs heavily on me. There are spiritual lessons to be learned that transcend the poor judgment, the impulsivity, and the obvious lack of good sense we children displayed.
In Proverbs 11:21, the Scriptures say: “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished; but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered”.
So, we, as kids and adults, were punished with guilt; but, as children of Godly parents, we can be assured of delivery from permanent punishment.
Looking back, it seems almost definite that angelic protection must have been present. Paul asks rhetorically in Hebrews 1:14, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”
And didn’t we and others who would inherit salvation, in grave danger, indeed need angelic protection? As the Holy Bible promises in Isaiah 30:18, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you, He rises to show you compassion.”
CRAB APPLE WAR
After five years of missionary work in Korea, it was time for my father to take us back to the United States for a year of furlough. We visited family, Dad gave talks in churches and seminaries about the mission work in Korea, and we kids went to school at Philmont Christian School. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church Missions Board put us up in a house in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. I was in the fifth grade while Sterling was in the sixth grade.
The house we lived in was right across from an amusement park. The park’s slogan was, “Life is a lark at Willow Grove Park.” During the summer months when the park was open, I went to sleep every night to the never ending screams of the people on roller coasters as the connected cars roared down the steep grades and squealed around the corners.
Among the many ways that we kids entertained ourselves, in the winter we had snowball fights, went sledding, and built igloos out of blocks we cut out of the packed down snow. We piled snow in front of the house as high as we could, climbed out my bedroom window on the second floor, and jumped onto the giant pile.
We had a crab apple tree in the back yard. When the apples would fall off of the tree late in the season they would start to get rotten and mushy. We had the neighborhood kids all come over and had crab apple fights using garbage can lids for shields.
One day, after a messy battle, we wound things down and congregated on the front porch of my house. After a round of bragging and speculation as to how far an apple could be thrown from the front porch, I accepted a dare and threw a rotten crab apple from the porch all the way to the middle of the intersection about 40 or 50 yards away.
The apple splattered all over the windshield of a car entering the intersection. A very angry man slammed on his brakes, jumped out of his car, and came running toward us yelling and cursing at the top of his lungs. All the kids scattered and ran away in abject terror. I froze in place. I realized what I had done and decided to take my medicine like a man. My brain was racing with a string of lame apologies I would try, but I was more afraid of the whipping I would get from my parents when they found out.
The man ran up to me and stopped. The veins in his neck and forehead were bulging out and if eyes could burn you, I would have been on fire. He yelled out asking me, “Where did they go?”
Suddenly, I realized that I had another choice. It was time for a decision. It all happened so fast. I blurted out, “They went that way around the corner.”
He ran around the corner of the house chasing after them. He finally tired out when he could not catch anybody, so he went back to his car, cleaned off his windshield, and drove away. I have had mixed feelings of smugness and of guilt every time I have recalled that incident or retold that story, even to this day. I am afraid though, with the passing of time, that the smugness is taking precedent.
My younger brother Nelson remembers when the soft serve ice cream shop in the picture below went out of business. He recalls that Sterling and I dragged the plastic cone that had been on the roof all the way over to our back yard. All of us kids loved forts and hiding places so we crawled inside of the cone to hide at times.
CRAP! ROBBED AGAIN
Right after the Korean War ended in 1953. Pusan, the southernmost port city, was jammed with over 2 million often poverty stricken refugees. They lived a hand-to-mouth existence and were desperate for a more peaceful life in the midst of the chaotic remnants of the war and the preceding 39 years of slavery under the Japanese occupation.
The basic necessities of life....food, fuel, water, shelter....were in short supply, and life was difficult for many who had to live on the margin. Too many times, during my early years in Korea, firestorms would sweep the shacks of the shanty town on the mountain behind us killing hundreds of squatters....refugees trying to start a life for themselves once again.
As in similar circumstances throughout history, petty thievery was often one of the few means of survival. So it was not surprising that our house got hit by burglars from time to time. We had an eight foot concrete wall around our yard with barbed wire and embedded shards of glass on top. We also had a guard dog that roamed our yard and barked at every movement or sound. These security measures may have deterred thieves most of the time, but they did not stop the most destitute and determined.
But here is where the age-old story gets a little bit interesting. There seems to have been an unwritten code among the thieves; it went something like this, “I know that I am intruding and taking what does not belong to me from you; it is a necessity for me. However, in deference to your dignity, I am going to make myself vulnerable to apprehension. If I am not apprehended, then your dignity is maintained, despite your loss.”
Sounds “good”....how did it play out?
Well, in the morning after a theft, the homeowner or someone in his family would invariably find a fresh pile of “dump” somewhere in their living area. Translation: “I took the time to expose myself and take a dump before I left your premises as a good faith demonstration of my willingness to be apprehended for my crime.”
Rodney seemed to have a penchant for finding these “monuments” and often showed up at breakfast cheerily and brightly saying, “We got robbed again!!”
One night during the cool of spring and sometime in the early morning hours , perhaps around 3:00 AM, I woke up to the sounds of the window screen in our bedroom being quietly cut with a hunting knife. Hushed voices were followed by a dark figure clambering noiselessly through the window.
At the age of seven or eight, blankets still provided a mystical shield against danger. Lying on my stomach on the cot, with the blanket pulled almost completely over my head I saw the two legs of the thief creep by, just inches away.
My heart was pounding as he passed. I peeked out at his back as he picked up the sewing machine and iron and began to turn back around, just in time for me to get my head partially back under the blanket.
The thief handed the booty through the window’s torn screen to his accomplice and returned for some clothing. My brother Rodney slept blissfully in the next cot, oblivious to the drama going on.
After it was over, thinking there was no point in waking everybody up, I went back to sleep.
Rodney must have awakened earlier than I, and, seeing the ripped screen, put two and two together.
I woke up just as he tore into the kitchen crowing triumphantly, ”YEAH! THERE WERE TWO OF THEM ALRIGHT; I FOUND BOTH PILES OF CRAP!”
My recollection is only of three instances in which we were burglarized, but even if that was all, that was three too many times. This does not count the time we were robbed at gun point as told in my TWO ROOSTERS story.
I do remember that at five years old, if I had to relieve myself in the middle of the night, I had to go outside to the outhouse. The fear of burglars and braving the extreme cold of winter nights were just a few of the challenges.
I had to sneak down the hallway, through the dining room, and into Dad’s study while avoiding the creaky spots in the wood floor. I didn’t want to wake anyone up.
Then, I had to move a chair over to the wall next to the door and climb up to get the house keys off of a hook on the wall. I unlocked the door to the porch room where we left our shoes and umbrellas before entering the house. I locked that door behind me and then unlocked the porch door to the outside.
I braved the cold, the dark, and childhood fears to go to our unlit, unheated, foul smelling outhouse. Then, to get back to bed, I had to reverse the whole routine.
It was a great day when my father finally put in an indoor porcelain toilet. With no running water, Sterling and I had to keep the bathtub filled with water from the well out in the yard. To flush the toilet, we would dip a bucket of water out of the bathtub and pour it into the toilet bowl.
At least now I didn’t have to brave the dark and foreboding outdoors in the middle of the night.
When my brother Sterling was 6 years old and I was 5, we saw that all the kids and many adults went a little ways up the mountain behind our house and flew kites.
This grand event was a part of the Korean celebration of Chuseok, their harvest festival, which usually took place in September around the Autumn equinox.
Wanting to be like all the other kids, we asked Dad, “Can we go fly kites, too?” Well, Dad had the grand idea that we were going to show them what a real kite was like. We would build a big American style kite and show them what it was all about.
He showed us how to build a giant diamond shaped kite and rigged it with a big ball of twine. Dad took us up the mountain to where all the kite flying was taking place. The Korean kids had these little kites about 12” X 18” in size and they used silk thread or fine sewing thread. They just threw the kite into the air and the wind would take it right up. Our kite was bigger than I was. To the great amusement and bewilderment of the Korean kids, they watched and laughed as we ran back and forth for half an hour trying to get the giant kite into the air. How embarrassing!
Then, pride swelled in my chest as Sterling finally got the kite into the air, and the majestic kite rose up on the winds coming up the mountainside, dwarfing those puny little Korean kites.
Within seconds, my pride turned to shock as our kite went flipping and flopping out of control down the mountain side as all the Korean kids laughed and started yelling, “Chae dong, nah gah tah!” This was the victory chant they used when they cut down someone else’s kite. A little boy, barely five years old, had used his special reel and expert technique to maneuver his little kite over ours and then cause it to dive so that our strings crossed. He then let his kite ride out into the wind so that his razor sharp, powdered glass covered thread cut through our heavy twine like a hot knife through butter.
My brother and I were mortified. I had never been so embarrassed in my life. As we trudged down the mountain in shame, Sterling and I made a pact that we were going to learn how to make and fly Korean kites, and we were going to beat them at their own game.
The Korean ﬁghter kite, the “bang-pae yeon”, is very distinctive; a rectangular, bowed “shield” kite with a hole in the middle of the sail. The elaborate wooden reel has four to eight branches or spokes, with a longer central rod. The reel allows a practiced kite fighter to let out and take in long lengths of line with amazing speed. To manipulate his kite, to make it climb or dive, the flier may pump the reel rapidly from eye-level to knee-level and vice-versa. The flier can also cause the kite to move to the right or left. The line is coated with glue or resin and powdered porcelain or glass. Kite fighters bring their kites, reels, and cutting line to tournaments and engage in a series of one-on-one battles until a winner prevails. Combat can last for five minutes but can conclude in as little as ten seconds with one fighter crossing his line against the other fighter’s line and slicing through it!
Years later in our early teens, my brother and I had perfected the art of kite fighting. We got all the neighborhood kids involved in making kites with bamboo and rice paper, grinding glass with hammers, making glue out of overcooked high gluten rice, and helping us coat and dry long expanses of thread with the concoction. Once the line dried with the glass abrasive impregnated, it was razor sharp.
One fine summer day, Sterling got on top of the outhouse roof to fly his new secret weapon. After an epic cat and mouse battle with an unknown kite fighter from the next neighborhood over, Sterling finally prevailed and cut through the other kite’s line. The untethered kite went flipping and flopping in the wind down toward the bay as we all taunted, “Chae rong, nah gah tah!”
A Korean friend inquired around and found out that the other kite fighter was none other than the head of the gang of hoodlums that ran the red light district next to our neighborhood. Unfortunately, the hoodlum chief had also inquired around and found out that it was Sterling who had embarrassed him by beating him in a kite fight. Rumor had it that he was looking to exact revenge and would probably beat us up if he caught us.
For the next month or so, in order to go anywhere, we had to send out Korean friends out ahead of us to scout for trouble. In order to go shopping, go to church, get a haircut, or go anywhere, we had to pass through the edge of their territory. It was dicey for a while. We eventually heard that he had been arrested in a police raid and was in jail, so we stopped worrying about passing through his turf.
E-mail I received on Feb 18, 2013
I am Peter,Nam, a Korean have been living in Shenzhen,China for three years. I read your essay KITE BATTLES.
You described your childhood times so vividly and it inspired me so much and made me write a letter to you. I am very curious about where and when you had lived in Korea. Could I post your essay on my web http://koreankite.tistory.com/ ?
Bangpae making and flying is my hobby and I had a chance to teach Bangpae making method to a guy live in London. It took me about one and half years by e-mails between me live in Shenzhen,China and him in London. After that I decided to make a site on making and Korean kite, and it becomes famous Bangpae blog on portal as google,yahoo,etc.
If you approve me to post your essay and give me a chance to introduce you on my web about Korean kite, It would be a great honor of me.
Thank you very much.
I gladly gave Master Nam permission and he did put a link to this story on his website. To the consternation of my older brother Sterling, Peter Nam listed me as one of the three Korean kite "Foreign Masters" in the world. Sterling called me and asked me why I was named the Kite Master when he was the one in the story that won the kite battle. Go figure!
The link to Master Nam's page about this story is: https://koreankite.tistory.com/71
Having arrived in Korea in 1954, at age 4, and starting right off playing with the neighborhood Korean kids, I didn't have any problems picking up the Korean language very fast. In fact, I think there was a point in my early childhood where I spoke Korean better than English.
I often dreamed in Korean, and on the ship back to the United States in 1959, I was sleeping down in one of the crew member’s quarters and was told the next morning that I was talking in my sleep in the Korean language.
There was more than one occasion in which my father was preaching in a Korean church and got stuck for a particular word. After an awkward pause, my brother Sterling or I would yell out the right word. There would be a subdued laughter in the church and my dad would carry on with his sermon. One time my father used the right word but pronounced it in a way that it meant something else. My brother Sterling corrected my father so that the Koreans would understand what he really meant.
The Koreans had two numbering systems. Just to tell the time on your watch you would use two systems. You would use one number for the hour and another for the minute. "Yul she Ship bun" meant Ten after Ten.
The use of honorifics was important, especially if you were a young person talking to an adult. When you talked to an older person or a person in a higher social status than yourself, you used honorific endings to your sentences. If you were not sure of someone's age or social status, erring on the side of showing respect was the safer way to go.
In church, praying to God had an even higher honorific vocabulary which you would only use when talking to a king. This would make the sentences longer and more cumbersome.
The Korean language is structured in syllables that are less complex than English, so Koreans had a challenge trying to pronounce English words that had two or three consonants together. For instance, my name, Rodney, has the letters d and n together. Koreans would separate the consonants into separate syllables. They would say Ro-du-ney. They also do not have the ‘r’ sound like ours so they pronounced English words with the letter ‘r’ with a rolling ‘rrr’ sound or an ‘l’ sound.
As part of the mission ministry, my father sold Bibles, theology books, and other classic works to Christian college and seminary students at cost. Otherwise, they would be prohibitively expensive or most likely unavailable in the post-war Korean market.
One day, when my father was not at home, my mother answered a knock on our gate and let in a young seminary student who, she assumed, wanted to buy a book.
He asked my mother, "Have you sex appeal?"
My mother got flustered and her face turned beet red.
He asked her again, "Have you sex appeal?"
Now she was getting worried as she did not know this young man's intentions. After he had asked the same question several more times my mother finally figured out that he was saying, "Have you Shakespeare?"
One time I was in the marketplace and asked a vendor for the cost of an item I wanted to buy. She just stared at me with a blank stare. I asked again in perfect Korean, "How much does that cost?" She still did not understand me. I finally said in Korean, "I am speaking to you in Korean, not in English. Please tell me how much that costs." She finally came out of her trance and answered me.
That happened several different times while I was in Korea and I don't quite understand the phenomenon. My brother Nelson told me that the exact same thing happened to him.
The Korean government put signs all over the walls in Korea that said "SAW BYUN KUM GEE." This meant, "DON'T URINATE HERE." There were very few public bathrooms, if any, so men would just walk over to a wall and urinate on it. Women would just squat down and spread their long dresses out so that they could just urinate, or defecate, on the ground.
Well, at age eight, I noticed one day that the Korean sign, read backwards, said, "GEE KUM BYUN SAW." This meant literally, "GO TO THE BATHROOM NOW."
I pointed that out to my father who got a big kick out of the word play. He told his seminary students during one of his lectures, and they were amused that an American kid noticed that. Well, one of those students, Sung Soo Kim, eventually got his Doctorate in Theology and went on to become President of the prestigious Kosin University in Pusan, Korea.
Ironically, over fifty years later in 2009, when my father died, Dr. Kim was in the U.S. on other business, heard of the impending service, and modified his travel plans to include attendance at the memorial. After the service, we were talking, and Dr. Kim recalled to me that he still remembered how amused and impressed he was when my father told him the word play I had noticed as a child.
When I got out of the Army and lived in Lubbock, Texas, my father came to visit me. We went to a Chinese restaurant and enjoyed a good meal. The Chinese owner and all the servers were dressed in traditional Chinese clothes. Paying the bill at the counter, Dad asked the proprietor, "Isn't that brass character on the wall that means 'Good Luck' upside down?"
The man in full Chinese garb answered in a thick Texan accent, "Beats me, Mac!"
The Koreans did not understand puns or other types of word play very well. My father loved word play, but his attempts at it in Korean failed miserably. The pun may have been good but the Koreans didn't get it. I have since seen several good examples of puns and word play in Korea by Koreans, so I don't know what the problem was back then.
There were virtually no road signs on the country gravel roads. When we drove to some church out in the boonies, we often times got lost, or at least came to forks in the road where we had to make a decision as to which fork to take. It was purely guess work unless there was someone along the road we could ask. My father asked a farmer, "Is this the direction to the town of Chung Ne?" The farmer smiled and bowed politely, shaking his head up and down and said, "Yes."
Well, a half hour down the road and no Chung Ne to be found, we asked someone along the road how to get to that town. He politely told us that we had to turn around and drive back to the fork in the road and go the other way. My dad was furious as we ended up late to church on more than one occasion and for the same reason.
We found out later that the farmer was just being polite. He did not want to offend us by saying "No." After making the same mistake several times, we realized that we had to ask, "Which way is it to the town of Chung Ne?" Then you would get the correct directions.
Speaking of my father’s love for word play, my brother, Nelson Hard, adds this story of an embarrassing encounter in which a basic communication went awry unintentionally:
"A friend and I went on a camping trip with my father to the far northern provinces of South Korea. After hiking and camping we decided to spend a night in an inn before driving home for 8 hours.
When we arrived at the inn, we parked in the courtyard and proceeded to unload the car and talk with the innkeeper, telling her where we were from and that we were a missionary family on our way to the southern coast.
After settling in, my father decided to call my mother at home to apprise her of our plans. He asked the innkeeper for the use of a telephone (chunwha). The innkeeper was shocked and horrified and mumbled that she didn't have one. My father pointed to the phone on her desk and said "You have one right there. I'd like to use the chunwha to call my wife." At first the innkeeper was befuddled and then began to laugh. "I thought you wanted the use of a chunyuh (young maiden)".
Dad's southern Korean accent had been badly misunderstood!
When I was a young boy in Korea, my friend, Robert Wright had a pet monkey named Jocko. Robert was the son of a heart surgeon who was a Baptist missionary in Pusan, Korea. They lived on Yong Do Island across the bay from our house. Dr. Wright spread the word of Jesus Christ’s saving grace through his acts of love and service to the people of Korea. He helped start a hospital and treated many needy people with his skill and devotion.
Jocko was a fun loving monkey with an attitude. One thing he liked to do is jump on Rinny’s back and ride him like a horse while the dog ran around like crazy, trying to shake him off.
Jocko also liked to bite. In the pictures, you can see Robert take the monkey off of his sister Jill’s back and then end up being bitten on the shoulder.
The Wrights brought Jocko to Taechon Beach one summer. The missionaries had a private portion of the beach fenced off and many families had cabins to stay in during summer vacation stays.
We kids would catch grasshoppers and feed them to Jocko so fast that he would have to stuff them in his mouth and store them in his cheeks. We laughed and kept feeding him to see how far his cheeks would pooch out. Well, we did not know when to stop feeding him, and the monkey did not stop eating until he got so sick that he almost died.
The monkey, Jocko, did die eventually in Pusan from overexposure to cigarettes and rice wine that the Koreans would slip to him, thinking that a drunken monkey was funny.
* * * * * *
When I was in high school, another friend had a monkey that we played with. Chi Chi loved chewing gum, and if you gave him a wrapped piece of gum, he could have the wrap off and the gum in his mouth in less than a second. Chi Chi was given to the zoo in the capital city of Seoul, Korea when my friend had to go back to the United States.
I graduated from school, went to college for a couple of semesters in Wenham, Massachusetts, and then joined the US Army. So, about two years later while stationed in Seoul, Korea, I met a nice Korean girl that I asked out on a date. Yes, I took her to the Seoul Zoo on our first date.
When we got to the monkey cage, I was curious as to whether Chi Chi was there. If he was, would he recognize me? I thought to myself,” Miss Yung will really be impressed if I make some kind of instant connection with one of the monkeys in the cage.”
I called out, “Chi Chi? Hey, Chi Chi!”
One of the monkey’s heads spun around and as our eyes met, I could see a spark of recognition cross his face. I called him again and held out a piece of gum. He ran over, reached through the bars, and had the wrapper off and gum in his mouth in a flash.
I reached through the bars to pet him and talked softly to him. “Do you remember me, Chi Chi?” He hung onto my arm for awhile while I talked to him. I gave him some more gum and told him goodbye. He scampered back to his monkey friends but kept looking back over his shoulder as I walked away into the crowd. Oh, and yes! My date was impressed.
* * * * * *
My brother, Sterling, told me that when he was in Viet Nam during the war, there was a monkey at his base that took up residence on one of the 55-gallon barrels of gasoline. The monkey would not let anyone come near the barrel except to throw it some food or leave some drinking water.
The monkey put his little head down into the hole where the cap was unscrewed. He would get high on the gas fumes and loll around in a daze. When he started to sober up, he would stick his head down the hole and huff more gas fumes until he was stoned out of his mind again. This went on for weeks until, eventually, the monkey died. Well, in the middle of a brutal war, at least he died happy.
Each neighborhood in post-war Pusan, Korea was a tight-knit clique. The kids all played together, protected each other, and had loyalty for the neighborhood akin to the fan club mentality one would have toward a sports team.
Each neighborhood had its strengths and weaknesses. One weakness we had is that our neighborhood did not have very many older kids. We had a lot of grade school and middle school kids and only a couple of high school kids.
So, we were the brunt of many surprise attacks by other neighborhood kids who would gang together and come charging into our territory with sticks and other makeshift weapons. We would retreat to my house surrounded by a high wall that had glass and barbed wire on top. We would pass out weapons from our stash and then counter attack, trying to drive them back up the mountain or down the hill.
Our neighborhood decided that we needed better weapons to even the odds so we escalated things by adding slingshots to the mix. Eventually, the other neighborhoods added slingshots to their arsenals. One summer the neighborhoods decided to end this once and for all because too many kids were getting hurt. These battles would go on until someone got hit in the head and started bleeding pretty badly. We would all scatter and go home. The kid who got hurt would go home and get a beating from his parents for participating in this silliness.
Instead of surprise attacks, we avoided the parents and injury to innocent bystanders by going up the mountain where there was an open battlefield.
We all made our own slingshots. When the other neighborhoods made theirs and equaled the odds, we had to come up with something better. We started making wooden slingshot rifles that you could fire down a long stick from a trigger mechanism made with a large nail. The other neighborhoods fell one by one to our superior firepower. The final battle of the competition came down to us against another neighborhood for the championship.
Our neighborhood's youngest kids, five or six years old, were our spies since they could move about other neighborhoods unnoticed. Intelligence came back that the other neighborhood had developed their own rifle slings shots to even the odds. The kids in that neighborhood were also much older and bigger than us.
So, my brother Sterling developed a slingshot cannon that could fire a baseball sized rock over a long distance. He sat on the ground, braced the bi-pod base with his feet and would draw back the large leather pouch attached by four strands of surgical rubber tubing on each side.
On the day of the battle, we went up the mountain to meet our unsuspecting foes. As the battle progressed, our leader got cornered by the other team with a cliff behind him and nowhere else to go but toward the attackers. The leader of the other team aimed his rifle slingshot at our leader and demanded that he surrender.
Sterling was down the hill about 30 or 40 yards and saw our leader in trouble. He drew back and shot a large rock up the hill splintering the wooden rifle that our enemy was about to fire.
The battle came to a sudden halt with a tentative time out. They wanted to see what our secret weapon was. Sterling took a fist sized rock and shot it into a large rock wall about fifty yards away, shattering the projectile into many pieces.
The other team's jaws dropped in amazement. That was the end of the battle. They conceded defeat and we were victorious. No neighborhood ever messed with us again.
STORK ISLAND ADVENTURE
We arrived at the small fishing village on the southern coast of South Korea early on a Sunday morning. I was eight years old at the time and my older brother Sterling was nine. Dad had been invited to preach at the small Christian church there and had decided to make it a vacation camping trip after that. He also brought along his secretary, Mr. Sim Jae Man.
At the church service Sunday morning my father was delivering the sermon in Korean and got stuck for a word he could not think of. He looked like a deer caught in headlights as the awkward pause grew uncomfortably longer. Sterling yelled out the word Dad was looking for from the back of the church. All eyes turned on him and there was a ripple of amused laughter that went through the congregation.
Dad recovered his composure, chuckled goodheartedly, and went on with the sermon. This was not the first time Sterling or I had rescued Dad during a sermon when his Korean had temporarily failed him.
Sterling and I got up at 4:00 AM the next morning to catch the low tide to go crabbing with the church’s pastor who made his living as a fisherman. We got in little wooden row boats and used torches as lights to lure the crabs. We then scooped them up with nets off the bottom in the shallow water covering the mud flats.
After daybreak, the four of us campers loaded our stuff into a small open wooden fishing boat powered by a “hit and miss” one cylinder diesel. The boat owner took us out to a small island several miles offshore. As we approached, we were awestruck by the beauty of the pine tree covered island covered with hundreds of white storks gathered in the tree tops for mating season.
Upon disembarking, we set up camp and went exploring. The only other people on the island were several Buddhist monks that lived in a small temple near the top of the hill.
There was a small cove that was several hundred yards wide. Dad challenged Mr. Sim to a swimming race. The first one to that side of the cove and back wins. Sterling and I stayed on the bank to observe the contest. Dad took an immediate commanding lead with his speed racing strokes while Mr. Sim plodded along with a slow but steady frog style breast stroke. My brother and I cheered when Dad reached the other side and turned to come back when Mr. Sim was not even half way there yet.
It turned into be a classic tortoise and hare situation when my father ran out of steam and had to tread water to rest and catch his breath. To our amazement and disappointment from our vantage point on the shore, we watched Mr. Sim catch up to and pass Dad.
Dad put out one more burst of energy and got past his opponent while we yelled encouragement, but he completely ran out of steam again. Mr. Sim kept to his unaltered steady pace and won the race while Dad floundered around, barely making it to shore with his last ounce of strength.
In the early morning hours of the next day we were awakened by torrential rain and howling winds (we later learned that a typhoon tracking out of the East China Sea toward the Straits of Japan hit the Korean coast with full force). By noon our tent had collapsed in the gale, tent stakes torn from the sodden earth.
Before leaving we had bought some food supplies at the local market and I had talked Dad into letting me buy a bottle of locally produced soda pop. I drank the soda, and ended up with severe vomiting and diarrhea all night and through the next day.
We had expected the boatman to come to pick us up on day three, but because of the storm he didn’t come as scheduled. The hard rain did not stop for three days except for a few hours when the “eye” of the typhoon passed over us.
We ran out of food and potable water, and all we had left was a large can of peanut butter to eat. We were all cold, wet, tired, and hungry.
During a few hour break in the weather, Dad waded in knee deep water across a submerged rocky strip of land about a mile long, which connected to another small island. That island had a tiny village inhabited by subsistence farmers and fishermen.
These folks had little extra and my father was only able to buy a small bag of potatoes. He made it back to “our” island as the tide was coming back in. By the time he made it to shore he was fighting chest high current for footing.
Without sufficient kerosene for the tiny camp stove we would have had to eat potatoes raw. With no clear idea of when the weather was going to break, we had to husband resources carefully.
So Dad, Sterling and Mr. Sim took turns washing the potatoes carefully and boiling them up. As miserable as I was, I gladly joined the rest as we all sipped the hot potato cooking water and ate potatoes and peanut butter to “survive” for the next couple of days.
The last two nights the monks let us sleep under the roof on the front porch of the temple. So, we were at least out of the rain and able to get some rest.
When the rain stopped and a boat came for us, we were very happy to get off that island, get a good hot meal in the village, and head for home and to warm dry beds to sleep in.
THE SWIM HOLE
Apparently, a Japanese officer owned our house during the occupation of Korea, which ended in 1945 at the end of World War Two.
The front yard had a grease pit that was used to service his vehicle. When we arrived in Korea in 1954 and moved to the house, the only visible remnants of the pit was the concrete rim.
My older brother Sterling, some Korean friends, and I dug down and shoveled out all the greasy dirt and gravel.
We spent hours dipping water out of the well to try to fill the hole.
This is where we cooled off in the hot summers.