Friday, November 25, 2005

October 8, 1945 archives: City of the Bell

Foreign News: City of the Bell
The autumn air was brisk and clear. Eagles wheeled overhead against the white clouds, their shadows crossing palaces and hovels, crumbling temples and Western buildings. The city of Seoul (pronounced soul), home of a million people, was 550 years old. Yet the Americans felt like discoverers last week as they explored Korea's mountain-ringed capital.

On the broad boulevards their jeeps competed with oxcarts, with bicycles thick as gnats. Tooting streetcars fairly bulged with grinning Koreans, all in white. Pedestrians gave ground to nothing on wheels; they did not walk like conquered men. In twisted alleys and along the teeming Bun Chung, G.I.s shopped for kimonos. In the "Grill Room Hollywood" they made faces over the villainous brandy. At the "International Cultural Association" they danced (at two yen a dance) with slack-clad Kihsang girls. Over & over, the eleven-piece band played My Blue Heaven.

In the Chongno, street of the big bell, the visitors heard a legend: the city's ten-foot bell has an overtone like the wail of a child, since an infant was among the treasures that went into it in 1396. It rang long & loud on liberation night. Part of the Japanese false front of modernism, they learned, was a race track beyond the East Gate. The Japs took their horses away, so it is closed. Near the South Gate, called Nam Tai Moon, the brick railway station was seething with refugees and other travelers. Nobody was northbound—that way lay Manchuria. Only a handful of Russian liaison officers—no troops—had appeared in Seoul. When one carload neared the city, they were politely turned back.

In their letters home, the Americans would remark that in Seoul the palaces face south, the city wall is all but gone, a tycoon is a yang ban, the favorite dish is shinsunro (beef, eggs, fish, chestnuts, etc.), the housewives wash their white clothes endlessly, and countrymen still wear miniature, translucent top hats, the traditional insigne of the married man. Very friendly people, too—everybody beaming and waving, and the children tagging along behind jeeps shrieking "Hello! hello!"

A wonderful place. But the G.I.s could hardly wait to get home.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy reading historical commentary from the past as it reveals the worldview of people who lived during that time. Thank you for taking the time to post these eyewitness historical accounts.


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