Chogmyo, Anam Industries, My Secretaries

Other Sights….

I chose this picture to represent a few historical sights I visited in Seoul in the fall of 1997.

Seoul had 5 palaces and an enormous shrine in its central downtown. I visited a gorgeous palace that I’d say was my favourite called Changgyeongkung twice by myself. It was large and full of trees and the same types of buildings as Kyeongbokkung, but you felt more relaxed on the grounds. You were aware that the massive city was teaming outside, but you could enjoy the paths and see couples taking wedding pictures everywhere dressed in wedding garb and listen to stories you were told by the people about the royalty. One story associated with Changgyeongkung tells of a queen’s jealousy, and another story is a queen’s kindness, and so on. There was a wall around a big area that enclosed this palace with gates like at Kyeongbokkung, but there was also an ancient sundial to look at that the king’s men had created to tell time hundreds of years ago. I had never looked at a real sundial before and you could see that if there was a certain shaded area, it was after noon, etc.

There was never an English explanation of anything in the museums and at the special sights so you had to use your imagination a lot. Was it that the king’s servants made that sundial, for instance? Was this, for example, the real “_____”, or a replica?

This is the ticket stub from visiting Changgyeongkung.

Then there was a special shrine, called Chogmyo, with writings of one of the kings enclosed in a number of long tiled buildings with columns. The Koreans reenact an old procession to honour these writings and that king at certain times of the year. The grounds were impressive and visitors felt the importance and the history of it all when they visited. You are aware of the site being sacred when you’re there. Most of these tourist places over all of Korea are part of UNESCO’s historical protected world sites, and have Korean pine trees, ponds and birds, old men playing “Go”, 500-year-old pine trees and women in shiny ‘traditional’ dresses throughout. When I was at the end of the sight-seeing at Chogmyo Shrine, before I left, I was in a wooded area with a pond nearby where people were relaxing and a small flock of ‘painted’ chickadees were flying together in the low branches of a tree, almost like they were playing and chasing eachother. I was thrilled because I had never imagined a colourful chickadee before! They were so sweet!

Here’s what those chickadees looked like.

Can you imagine how hard on the head it was trying to get used to being there? Three of the main palaces were called Kyeongbokkung, Changdeokkung and Changgyeongkung. That’s confusing. I had to try to get all that type of stuff straight. If the names of places all seemed the same to you, you wouldn’t be able to navigate the subway system.


My boss filled in all my days in no time at all. No one wanted to travel too much but I did like it. I remember thinking, ‘It’s hard but at least I’m not in this building(institute in Karak-dong) with these awful Canadians and Americans’. Travelling so much made my days extremely long. After a few morning classes at the institute in Karak-dong, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I was supposed to head out in the 8am morning rush for a satellite city called Bucheon. Later it became an actual city. Bucheon was between Seoul and Incheon. Incheon was famous in the Korean War because a famous US general, General MacArthur, did some strategic work there during the Korean War and it helped the allies to not be losing so badly. The Koreans were so grateful for a famous offensive he did in Incheon that turned the tide of the war, that they have a statue of him in Incheon. Incheon is on the west coast of Korea beside Seoul. I took the subway, bus and taxis to get to Bucheon twice a week for a few months to be the private English teacher of a man who was the head of an Anam Semiconductors plant.

The manager of the plant was Mr Choi. He was extremely nice and also fascinating. To go so far west, outside of Seoul limits, and then take a bus or taxi through those packed streets was exciting, and I for sure had to get slippers out of my locker for this job before I started. Some jobs had a third party recruiter who was involved in getting you the job. Unfortunately, the recruiter for this job was not nice. I remember a pushy, unreasonable Korean woman being at my first meeting with Mr. Choi, and I was accepted for the job. However, when I went for my first day of teaching him, that woman was there, and when she saw me she ragged at me and nastily told me I didn’t look as good as she thought I would. Well, my clothes were okay, although she said they weren’t, but I had travelled through concrete and dust and heat for a two and a half hours to be at the plant! So I was somewhat disheveled. But Mr. Choi was laid back and eager to talk. He’s the one who told me he picked out those cubes of cheese at the buffet in the US.

I wanted to convey that Bucheon was a real ‘concrete jungle’ at the time.

My school didn’t allow me enough time to make it to Anam for 10am because of the long travel time to get there so I was supposed to pay for a taxi to make the trip shorter when I got to the Bucheon subway stop. I didn’t like to spend my money on the taxi instead of the bus but I took a taxi sometimes. The main trouble was that no one called taxis; they hailed them. I couldn’t believe I could physically hail a taxi before I did it. I had to do it, but it was hard for a timid, nervous girl to do. Then when I’d get in that taxi I’d say ‘chik chin’ for ‘go straight’ and ‘orencheok’ or ‘wencheok’ for go left or right. I think I had to say ‘Yogi’ when I wanted the driver to stop. ‘Yogi’ meant ‘here’.

So many times I took the bus to the plant, and I can remember seeing the huge signs and banners everywhere with “IMF” appearing here and there. Sometimes they were rallying about it and a man would have a loudspeaker. The stock market crash was such a big deal for them, as it would be anywhere. The government announced in October that all Koreans should collectively turn their gold jewellery in to certain offices to help with the financial trouble. They did and it did help, but it shows the desperation. The ramifications of that help was not apparent yet when I was living there and there was still panic and fear and shock all over.

Mr. Choi talked to me in a huge, nicely furnished office. I wanted to learn his first name. He told me it was Yong Kyu. When we talked, he told me he had travelled to many countries for business purposes. He had gone golfing on his off time in the Philippines and they all had to carry umbrellas to keep the sun off them on the golf course, it was so hot. He found the heat there unbearable and he was someone who could stand heat way better than I ever could, as his skin looked nicely tanned but it was his natural skin colour. Knowing this helps me to have something to say when I meet a Filipino person. I tell the Filipino person about what Mr. Choi said about the umbrellas and the heat over there when I talk to him or her, and it shows I’m interested in the Philippines and Asia on the whole. Mr, Choi was in the US and described seeing an NHL hockey game while he was there. He said the energy was intense and it was very exciting to him to experience that, and see the fights for the first time, since they don’t have much hockey in Korea. He told me, as a few other Korean businessmen did, that in Germany you could pay and go to a ‘secret’ theater and watch actual people having sex in front of you on the stage! I had a number of classy Korean men with money who were well-travelled describe these places in Germany to me. I never hear about that where I’m from, I can assure you!

The subway entrance I used all the time was below the tall buildings. Across from there now is a massive mall associated with Karak Market. The trees along the sidewalk had large leaves that looked like maple leaves, but the trees had peeling bark that had black or grey sections.

It was very complicated to do this class. The Anam company must have been paying a fortune for Mr. Choi to not be so ‘Korean’ when he spoke to investors from other places. The horrible recruiter woman spent time coaching me on how to pronounce Mr. Choi’s name properly before I had my first class alone with him. English speakers say Choi but I had to understand the way two vowel sounds ‘soft O’ and ‘eh’ would sound if you spoke those two vowel sounds together quickly. It was not easy. The way it was pronounced in Korean was nothing like the way we would pronounce it in English. And I say ‘poor Mr. Choi’ sometimes when I mention him because he was very set in his ways when it came to speaking and I couldn’t make many improvements. I think they should have left him alone, myself.

Everyone you met gave you a business card. We English teachers were no exception. This was my business card!

The Anam class was the one I was going to when the subway train would come out of the underground and I would see the 63 Building with the morning sun on it, along with a million other buildings surrounded by mountains. The sky was “high” and I could see the great river running through the city. Bucheon was very far away and it took over 2 hours to get there. Then after teaching Mr. Choi I would travel all the way back to Eastern Seoul and go to other classes for the day as well. Mr. Choi drove me all the way across Seoul once to buy me a special, swanky meal at the restaurant of the Hotel Intercontinental. It was beside the Trade Center in Kangnam-gu. Poor Mr. Choi kept saying it was a French restaurant, but in the end I found out it was an Italian restaurant called “Firenge”. I know we had a bit of Italian ice cream for dessert. I think it cost over $100 (Can) back in 1997 just for MY meal. I did confess to him that day in the car that I was married. He was told I was single, because the bosses of insitutes and recruiters thought it was good to tell potential clients that female foreigners like me were single, hoping that, what?, we would be available to the men physically? It’s funny, these people trying to get Korean customers to hire their English teachers all made up fake resumes to hand out to companies about the ‘teacher’. My fake resume said I had been teaching at various companies for a year or sometimes two years AND that I was not married. A male recruiter, the one who taught me how to take the subway, once asked, “…Could you say you are not married?…Could you?…Could you please say to them you are not married?…” before one of the interviews. It was awkward to be honest and tell Mr. Choi I wasn’t single – I really didn’t know what was expected of me. Mr. Choi was nice about it but seemed genuinely confused as to why they lied to him.

One day, he asked me if I wanted a personal tour of the plant below us. I did! I had to stand by myself for a few minutes in a tube-like, elevator-like device like you would see on Star Trek. In there, strong wind currents sucked all particles of dust off me. Then I was allowed to go see the workers putting the delicate micro-chips and circuit-boards together. After our ‘class’ we’d go in the elevator to the lunchtime cafeteria and have a meal. I always loved the company cafeterias because they served you a tray full of authentic Korean food. It was a service for employees so no one paid anything to eat at company cafeterias. Once I had fresh raw squid slices with spicy sauce in there. Once I had sesame paste/dip with my food. They couldn’t get enough of that special sesame dip (like a paste). Also, one time, Mr. Choi said he had a wonderful surprise for me : we were going to eat at that cafeteria with 2 Scottish men, and I would feel at home talking to these English speakers, he said. Ha ha I couldn’t understand what those 2 men from Scotland were saying at all! It was worse than making do trying to communicate with the Korean people. And I couldn’t make any Koreans or Mr. Choi understand that either! In Korea, the people didn’t realise a ‘foreigner’ like me could find an English speaker from another country hard to understand.

Around town…

A street stand that sold cigarettes and newspapers. I had to go to them often. And I was hungry for news – there was hardly any English in news or tv or signs.

I had written in Part 1 that I felt it was bad for me to be in Korea when I first got there. I came to realise after being there for 3 months that it was a good thing. Now that I’ve been back in Canada for many years, I believe it was the best thing that ever had happened to me. It took 3 months for me to be physically able to handle the food and the time change. I had my friend, Sang Hyun, and lots of sights I could see. The traffic outside of my ‘institute’ didn’t bother me anymore after 3 months either. One strange thing I always remember was in the taxi that first day when I was first in Seoul going to my institute, we passed the colossal Olympic Stadium. I had never seen a stadium like that in real life or on television, but I had had a dream about a structure like that years before. In that dream I had years ago, I fell backwards off the top of the stadium and I woke up when I fell. It had been a strange nightmare. I thought this was a bad thing: Oh Oh…there’s a stadium like the one I had that nightmare about, I thought. This had added to my sense of foreboding while I was there at first but I got over it after 3 months, thank goodness. One day I noticed I felt okay and comfortable, whereas I hadn’t been okay before.

If it was rush hour, when the doors opened or closed it could be a bad thing for a female…

I added this photo above because I wanted to start explaining about ‘subway perverts’ here. A week after my arrival in Seoul, Bronwyn from the plane-ride over, called me. She was beside herself! She said when it was her first time on a bus, a Korean man had pressed himself against her for a long time on the crowded bus. She couldn’t do anything, as it was crowded and all those people on the bus wouldn’t know what she was saying if she had tried to get help. She said at that time she was so beyond discouraged she wanted to leave Korea. She was so upset on the phone.

When I took the subway one morning in 8am rush hour, not long after that, it happened to me. It was so packed in the subway car, for a few stops we were frozen on the spot and could not move an arm, even. My hands and arms were frozen where they had been when more people getting on had created this traffic jam of people. A Korean man took advantage of this and was shoving his body closely against mine, moving with the sway of the train, over and over. No one could move. No one spoke English. I think he quickly went away and was lost in the crowd afterwards. It is awful and you do feel violated.

One time when the subway car became this packed and my arms were frozen, I moved my hand, since that’s all I could move, and I grabbed a man’s private parts! He was not a pervert, and I felt bad and hadn’t meant to do that. I couldn’t help it! It was so packed, worse than sardines in a can. No one ever made a sound and everyone always quietly endured such things.

Seoul Tower…

Picture of the sunset and the Han River and Seoul Tower. I remember looking at the sky a lot. I loved looking at the moon when I was there. To me, it seemed different over there.

Another time, I was going to spend time with ‘Miss Park’ in the evening. She was a nice secretary who worked at my institute. She’s the one I called when I became lost on the bus that time. I mentioned to her it was so nice to look at the lights of Seoul at night, like for instance the Seoul Tower had colourful lights at night. I had just meant it was great to see the tower lit up green and pink at night, along with all the other lights of the city. She thought I meant I wanted her to take me to the tower that night! She scrambled to find a person who could do that. She found a Korean guy who had a car and was willing to do it. So, when I went downstairs to the third floor of my buiding to meet her, she said we would go with this guy in his car to Seoul Tower. This was a wonderful thing because the tower was a main attraction, and I loved going through Seoul in a car because I could see everything that was above ground(not like if I was underground on the subway). It was terrible though, for Miss Park, because ‘the guy’ wanted to date her, and she didn’t want to date him. Because he did her this big favour, he wanted something from her in return. I felt even worse than feeling I had been an imposition or inconvenience, if she was being pressured by this man to go out with him. I tried to explain to her but explaining anything over there was difficult. She was a nice friend and I wish that evening had gone the way I intended, with us just eating and shopping and looking around.

In the tower, this is the view of the north – you can see those mountains that are behind Kyeongbokkung.

It is highly worth it to go to that tower. You see the whole city with surrounding mountains from the viewing area. You see everything, all over everywhere. I could never have imagined such a tremendous view of any city, ever. It is absolutely spell-binding.

The secretaries…

These are the 3 women who helped run the place for Mr. Kim. Miss Park is in the middle with the round face and glasses. ‘Julia’ is on the left here and Miss Lee is on the right. The photo is double exposed, unfortunately.

It’s funny when I think of it, but Miss Park used to come upstairs all the time, to tell me I had to start a new class, and she’d call me “Covec!!!” Ha ha! She accompanied me to classes sometimes if they thought I would need help. I tried to tell her she had an exotic beauty, because she felt she was unattractive. One time the two of us spent the afternoon together. Her father was in one of the hospitals there. He had had a stroke. I went with her to this hospital to see him, and then we went to her home where she lived with her parents. It was very interesting. In this hospital, we walked down many hallways and passed many rooms. Room upon room upon room we passed. In every room was a stroke patient and relatives were at every one of the beds, working to physically move the limbs of the patient up and down or back and forth. They were doing this in every room and at every bed and there were hundreds of people in that huge section. We don’t do that here at all. I met her sick father but couldn’t say anything in his language. Then we went to her ‘apartment’ and her mother only spoke Korean and it was unreal – she said, with her daughter, Miss Park, interpreting, that she was excited because she had never had a foreigner in her house before.

I had to pick something I wanted this woman, Miss Park’s mother, to make for me to eat before we went. I was not fussy, but I knew I should pick somethinh, so I picked a vermicelli dish they often eat called ‘japchae’. Her mother presented that to me, and she was so worried I wouldn’t be suited. Of course, everything was perfect. I had a little phrasebook and chose the phrase, ‘I ate so much I’m going to burst!!!’ to tell her. The phrases were limited. Miss Park’s family lived to the East of Olympic Park. I saw when I was in her bedroom that she had Korean furniture all inlaid with mother-of-pearl, which is a tradition there. It was amazing to me just to even see the bed and bureau drawers with these decorations. Their furniture was black or dark brown, and like a lacquer style when it had the mother of pearl on it. And because Seoulites never got enough sleep, Miss Park fell asleep later when we were in her room. This would be strange in Canada, if someone invited you over but went to sleep during your visit, but I tried to understand. Everything was different there. And I didn’t mind. I should mention Miss Park’s first name was Hee Nam.

Seoul Tower at night!

I should mention that no one from outside the country was allowed to enter Korea for many, many years. No one could leave Korea and no one could come in. It was only in 1970 they started allowing foreigners back in and letting people out. This is why when I was there most people had never seen a foreigner like me, and the women I visited were so thrilled to have me inside their place. We have to consider the reasons for things and think of all the angles and realise why people are the way they are.

I should also mention that there was heavy censorship there. Only a few songs by certain musical groups were allowed. Now it would be harder for the government to stop people from hearing or seeing certain things now that the internet is around. Only certain movies were approved for them to go see or rent. When I was there, I found that the people had been allowed to hear a few older Elvis songs, like ‘I Can’t help Falling in Love With You”, and they had been allowed to hear a few songs by John Denver and a few Anne Murray songs. They had never been allowed to know about The Beatles. I couldn’t imagine never knowing about the Beatles! One man said I must be upset that John Denver was killed in that plane crash while I was in Korea – “You must be very upset…” He thought, like they all must have, that we all just listened to John Denver and Anne Murray over and over in Canada.

7 thoughts on “Chogmyo, Anam Industries, My Secretaries

  1. I enjoy reading your blog as i was also a teacher in South Korea in 1997 with the Ministry of Education. I arrived in 94 and spent 3 years in Korea teaching English for a variety of places and organizations. As I read your blog, I am amazed at how similar our experiences were.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also enjoyed your comment about the funny Americans and Canadians. I met some weird ones also. The Koreans were for the most part wonderful to work with and I enjoyed my time there. Teaching in the states was a rude awakening but teaching is hard everywhere; however travel in Korea and exposure to the Asian culture made it exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was worse than I let on in the blog. They (the Americans and Canadians)were so hateful and I’m struggling with the other word to describe them – I’ll say ‘tough’. Yes it was never dull! I’m trying to look at your blog…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The system put your comment in spam!! I was telling my mother about you and couldn’t say where you are living! Now I know! I love your blog and memoirs and pictures and souvenirs. I have to put my pictures of souvenirs in the hlig somewhere….


  4. This comment was in spam too! I think one person alluded to escaping the law back in Canada. There was an insane guy from Oregon – he was scary and would have 2 separate conversations going at once while you tried to talk to him. He would alternate between the two as you were having a conversation! (I hope that makes sense) A few of them were in with smuggling marijuana into Korea!!! This is very very bad….because Korea was so terriblyagainst it more than Canada. There was no need of doing that Talk about criminal backgrounds! I was glad get away at the time because of that and the financial trouble.


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