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Sun, January 29, 2023 | 07:41
1885: Year of the Monkey
Korea, in the early months of 1885, was in turmoil. A failed coup attempt in December 1884 resulted in large numbers of Japanese and Chinese soldiers being encamped in Seoul and the surrounding region - a conflict between these two countries on Korean soil was a real possibility. Blood was being spilled in the streets by the Korean authorities. Rebels were executed and their ...
White Whiskers and the Rabbit
Long ago, when tigers smoked pipes, there was a huge tiger known as White Whiskers who dwelt in the wild and sparsely populated region that is now Gangwon Province. Tigers were not uncommon in the province; in fact, tigers were fairly common throughout the peninsula - the only exception being Jeju Island and a few small islands. However, White Whiskers was known as the proude...
Tales around the stove
It is no secret that winters in Korea are cold but, judging from the various diaries and correspondences of Westerners residing in Seoul, the winters of the present aren't as cold as the winters of the past.
The tale of the great bell of Jongno
Bosingak, the bell tower at Jongno, the main street through downtown Seoul, is a popular spot for ringing in the New Year. One of my most vivid memories of this event was on Dec. 31, 1999, when thousands upon thousands of people crowded the streets around the bell in anticipation and fear of the impending new millennium (among those fears was the Y2K bug). The atmosphere was ...
Settling debts in the New Year in Joseon
In the late 19th century, the beginning of a new year meant settling debts from the previous year. Sometimes debtors tried to avoid their obligations by secretly moving to a new location while others tried more drastic means such as trying to convince their creditors that they had moved on to the afterlife.
Winter scenes of Seoul's past
In the late 19th century, Westerners often described Seoul during the winter in one of two ways: a dirty, crowded city choking under the haze of smoke from countless chimneys, or as a clean and quaint city with streets blanketed by snow and its inhabitants dressed in clean white clothing except during the holidays when they wore brightly colored festive outfits. I think, for ...
The “true Christmas spirit”
As a boy, I often looked forward to wandering the snow-covered streets of my city to admire the Christmas decorations. Houses were lit up with countless lights - some were obviously color-schemed while others were haphazard assortments of whatever colors could be found - snowmen (when there was enough snow) stood silent guard in the front yards and sometimes Santa and his sle...
Recycling old tin cans in Joseon
“The introduction of kerosene,” according to John Jordan, the British consul in Seoul, “has worked a veritable revolution in village life in [Korea, with almost] every cottage possessing [a] Japanese lamp.”
Kerosene importers clash in Joseon
In the early 1880s, the first “products of Western civilization” that really appealed to Korean consumers were beer, matches and kerosene. During the 19th century, kerosene was the United States' number one export item to the Korean Peninsula. In 1885, more than 162,400 gallons (614,750 liters) of American kerosene arrived in Jemulpo (modern Incheon).
How the great Jemulpo Fire of 1907 started
Just prior to dawn on March 5, 1907, the streets of Jemulpo (modern Incheon) were almost completely deserted due to the early hour and the bitter cold - aggravated by a fairly strong northerly wind. The few exceptions were probably along the waterfront where customs agents and watchmen prepared for a busy day of inspecting outgoing and incoming goods from the small steamers a...