From where I lived at the Bando Hotel, now the site of the Lotte Hotel and near City Hall, I could easily explore the city of Seoul. I was fascinated by everything I interacted with and took my Petri camera with me wherever I went. There was the Market, the Palaces, Pagoda Park. I saw many of the older generation dressed in traditional clothing, but most younger people wore Western (American) attire, especially because the male students wore their school uniforms. During the colder months, one hardly saw anyone wearing overcoats outside, much less gloves or mittens or scarves. The city was bustling with constant activity of pedestrians and street cars, and also repair. I would run into groups of men or women repairing the road with what seemed to be little more than a shovel. Despite the activity and construction in the commercial areas and historical neighborhoods, there was great poverty all around.
I walked to Namdaemun Shi-jang (South Gate Market) regularly. It was near the Bando Hotel where my mother Salome worked, and where my sister Liz and I lived during our time in Korea. The Market was always a hub-bub of activity - crowded with people, no matter the weather, buying all kinds of goods and different cooked foods and snacks, produce, rice, and other staples. I admit I was too hesitant to eat the street foods at that time as sanitation standards were honestly very questionable. But I loved the sights and sounds, the smells, and all the different people one encountered there. I would often motion to people to ask permission to snap a photo. My Korean language was and still is rudimentary, so people would look at me with curiosity. People did not try to speak to me, but they stared at the Western clothing I wore. People were always intrigued when I pulled out my camera.
POST WAR POLITICAL LIFE
The Bando Hotel was where my mother Salome Han worked. It was my home during my time in Seoul, and also the site of many gatherings for ex-pats, businessmen, and military officers. We had the privilege of being the guests of military brass for excursions to places like the DMZ and Chinhae (the Naval Base). We were guests at Blue House for a private visit with President Rhee, a longtime friend of my mother from his days in Hawai’i.
We traveled in the countryside by jeep with our friend George Daley who worked for a shipping lines. The country roads took hours to get anywhere because they were unpaved and filled with potholes. But there were not many roads at that time to begin with, so we did not get lost. I would more often than not see cars from the 1930’s. The days were long and filled with work for those who lived in the countryside. The rhythm of life seemed to revolve around rice. I often saw men and women threshing rice outside. People wore mainly white clothing, because it was less expensive.
Because of extensive poverty, there was a lot of robbery in those days so the sight of barbed wire was not a strange sight. You would see broken glass cemented onto the outside walls to deter intruders. "Slicky boys" as they were called, were young guys who robbed people's houses in the city and countryside. They were called "slicky" because they could take your belongings without your knowing. I believe this was a term made up by US military soldiers.
There was a lot of community life all along the length of the Han River in those days. Women accompanied by their children washing clothes and all of the cloth in the household was a common sight along the banks of the River.