Unification News for September 1998

The Land of Morning Calm and Burning Dummies

by Mike Balcomb

Night and Day. Chalk and Cheese. Fire and Ice. However tired the old cliches about two places being so different may be, they certainly applied to the experiences of the PLA on tour in Japan and Korea.

Don't get me wrong. We had a great time in both countries, and accomplished a lot. But Korea was, well, different, starting even with the weather. Japan was hot and humid, in the 90s everyday. Korea was wet. It poured almost without ceasing from the moment we arrived till the end of the Seoul Rally.

And it wasn't just the weather that was opposite. So was the organizers' attitude toward time. For example, in Japan we went over and over the schedule again and again, looking for bottlenecks or delays. We came early -- sometimes too early -- for most everything. All that was to change in Korea.

We arrived in Pusan, Korea's second and southernmost city on the very same morning of our first rally. By the time we cleared customs and made the short journey to the rally site at Pusan Station, it was 10.50am and we were due to start at 11.00am. Many Americans and certainly all Japanese would be tearing their hair out at such a late arrival, but the Korean PLA hosts were unruffled.

"Good," said Young Shin Chang, Koran PLA President, "You're here in time. Now we have you down here as providing three speakers and two entertainment numbers. We have the rest covered. Ready? We are!" And they were, ready and well prepared. Fortified by some instant language lessons on the boat from some of our Korean American participants, we were soon able to join in a full throated chant "Chol dae sarang, chol dae soonkyol" (absolute love, absolute purity).

The next surprise came with the appearance of the "Free Sex Man," a casually dressed effigy of a playboy, Eastern style. Enthusiastic handlers doused the dummy with at least five gallons of kerosene and then, right there in front of the stage, set fire to it to the cheers of the onlookers. I remembered our cautious burning of the Playboy Bunny in Chicago last summer, but that was nothing. Flames twelve feet high shot upwards, temporarily making everyone forget the incessant downpour.

In fact, the PLA has been active and activist in Korea for almost two years. They've conducted Pure Love Seminars and pledge signing sessions in thousands of elementary and secondary schools throughout the country. A number of Korean students came out to the USA last year for Pure Love '97, and they made good use of their field experience in putting together this year's program.

That night in Pusan, each of the 200 international students was paired up with a Korean volunteer. Our hosts had put a lot of effort into preparing this simple ceremony, with all the Korean students bearing small gifts for their new friends. Some could speak English; most not. Yet when it was over we had ten mixed groups of 40, ready to board their ten buses the following morning for the ten hour drive to Seoul.

At least, that was the original plan, but a few days before the Korean PLA had proposed breaking up the trip with a rally-to-go performance in Taejon, an important industrial and university town south of Seoul. "Just driving all day is too boring," they said. "We should have some fun!" The fun turned out to be remarkably similar to the rest of the tour program. We marched through the downtown and held a sizzling rally on a blocked off city street. Right on cue, the heavens opened as the Free Sex Man (Taejon version) burst into flames at the end of the rally.

Arriving in Seoul in torrential rain, well after midnight, the participants gamely tried to grab a few precious hours of sleep before the final event of the tour, the Seoul rally. The venue was Daehangno, literally University Road, and the time was 11.00am on August 15th, Korea's Independence Day. More than 1,500 showed up for a charged and powerful event. Korean, American and Russian speakers vied with each other in intensity and passion. The march held up the traffic for many long minutes at a time, until the police gave in to the outraged horns of motorists and let the traffic flow briefly.

Finally, the marchers stormed into a private apartment complex where a desultory soccer game was in progress, and without missing a beat swept onto the field and up to the bleachers for a final cheer and call to action, led by President Robert Kittel and the Korean hosts. Sensing that the end of the tour was really there, the cheering went on and on, in English and Korean, the sound reverberating across the field and off the apartment buildings nearby. The Korean PLA Tour was over.

Well, not quite. In another stark contrast with Japan, the Korean mass media were very keen to cover the tour. Four national newspapers covered the Pusan rally, while three TV cameramen, including KBS National TV, jockeyed for position around the stage. A cable corporation released the footage in their seven major outlets that night, and the next day's newspapers carried good pictures and stories. The TV and Press were again out in force in Taejon, and in Seoul KBS sent their documentary team, interested in making a program about pure youth. News of the tour continued to spread even as we folded our banners and flags for the last time.

After so much frenetic activity, what do 400 teenagers and students do? Rest? You've got to be kidding. While older staff (yes, including me) entertained dreams of hot baths, beds and plane trips home, the volunteers charged out to take full advantage of Seoul's shopping, the bargain hunter's paradise. At the airport it seemed touch and go whether the plane could even accommodate all the extra stuff, but with what seemed like an extra shudder the 747 left the runway and the tour was finally over.

Next year? Pure Love '99, of course. Europe? South America? We don't know, but the first inquiries are already coming in. Sign up early if you want to be counted in!

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