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Tue, February 27, 2024 | 12:11
Dr. Ella Campbell Scarlett: Tiger hunter and royal physician in Korea in 1900
In the fall of 1900, Seoul was temporarily graced by an intrepid English doctor named Ella Campbell Scarlett. Like many of these temporary presences in the Land of the Morning Calm, we know very little about her stay in Korea, but, judging from Horace N. Allen, the ever-cranky American minister to Korea, she was quite the character.
Lunar New Year and the straw man
“Old sayings are generally shadows of skeletons of things that once had a being,” declared a newspaper article from the late 1880s. The article was about a Korean artifact that had been added to the Smithsonian Institution or museum and was on display. The artifact was, of course, a Jaewoong (재웅), a doll made from rice straw with some Korean coins (cash) placed within its sto...
Lunar New Year: A time for defense
Today is the Korean Lunar New Year and children throughout the country are busy bowing down before their parents, relatives and even elder siblings in hopes of obtaining some New Year money. It is a cherished tradition that is likely to be practiced for many more years, but not all New Year’s traditions survived.
Seoul's 1903 streetcar riot
In the early 1900s, streetcars were a ubiquitous sight in Seoul as they raced through the streets. Different people viewed them in different ways. To some, they were symbols of modern technology, the awakening of the Hermit Kingdom. To others they were vehicles of liberation. They were greatly responsible for the end of the nightly curfew and the closing of the gates. They he...
A dog's life in Joseon: Part 2
There is no doubt that for many Korean people in the 19th and early 20th centuries, life was difficult and people did what they could to survive. The idea of eating dogs may have been unthinkable for many of the self-described civilized Westerners, but it wasn’t unheard of. Explorers, especially at the poles, ate dogs. In 1912, Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, ate many...
A dog's life in Joseon: Part 1
Earlier this month, the Korean government announced that it will ban breeding, butchering, distributing and selling of dogs for meat - to take effect in 2027. The dog-meat issue has long been a contentious one between those arguing its part of Korean tradition and those arguing the practice is cruel and barbaric - a vestige of the past when Korea was not as prosperous.
Frederic H. Dustin's temporarily world-famous Jeju Island guesthouse
In the summer of 1971, Jeju Island was anything but a tropical paradise. Frederic H. Dustin, an American who had recently married, was trying to complete his house so that he could bring his bride, Marie-Louise, to live with him on the island. The worst drought in 37 years gripped the island and many fervently wished for a storm to come and bring relief. Dustin was one of tho...
The Forgotten Russian Christmas
For many people, Christmas is the holiday for giving. A time to gather together with friends and family, put aside petty differences and concentrate on making things better. Gifts are exchanged, toasts are made and all enjoy a bountiful feast — even during years marked with turbulence, unrest and disease.
Keeping time in Joseon: Part 3
Long before smartphones - and prior to them, pagers - became an integral part of our daily life, there was “Korean time.” When I first arrived in Korea as a young soldier, the only way to contact and meet my Korean friends was by the ambiguous public payphones. As I remember, a local call cost only 20 won - even then, a very small sum of money. Although the calls were afforda...
Theft in Joseon: Part 2
They say that time is the most precious thing in life - far more valuable than money or luxury goods. People often freely (and sometimes, grudgingly) give and receive it between friends and family, but would you be willing to steal it from strangers?