National Geographic : 1950 Jun
Roaming Korea South of the Iron Curtain BY ENZO DE CHETELAT IMAGINE the United States divided into North and South by a border from east to west at about the latitude of San Fran cisco, with a Communist curtain over the North and guerrillas raiding the South. Then you will have some idea of the difficulties faced by Korea. The arbitrary division into Northern and Southern Zones, which began as a military expedient for disarming of Japanese troops by American and Russian forces, became Korea's real tragedy. Now turned into a rigid political barrier be tween Communist-dominated northern and democratic southern Korea, the 38th parallel cuts across villages, mountains, streams, roads, and the country's resources (map, page 779). North Korea is rich in minerals, timber, and hydroelectric power; here was concen trated heavy industry. South Korea is the food-producing half, though it also has some industry and mineral resources. It is prima rily agricultural, has well-developed fisheries, and contains the capital city, Seoul. Trains, Mines, Industries Going Again As I viewed the problem at close range, the difficulties in the way of the new free govern ment at Seoul seemed almost insuperable. But, comparing Korea's present condition with the complete disruption which it faced at first, one sees striking progress. Assisted first by American Military Govern ment and later by the Economic Cooperation Administration, South Korea today is getting its railways repaired and its trains running on schedule.* Short extension lines are being built in the South to tie in the tungsten, coal, and other minerals of the east coast district which for merly fed Japan's war industries (page 790). Mine operations are being extended and new mineral deposits opened. There is still a shortage of electric power, but steam facilities are being expanded and new hydroelectric projects are under way. Industries that were completely halted when Russia turned off the power from the north (page 795) have again started to run; so there are more cotton cloth, paper, bicycles, and other products to supply local needs. Thanks to imported fertilizers, the heavy importations of grain have declined. The Seoul Government and ECA estimate that, barring unforeseen disasters, the 1950 rice crop will supply South Korea's own needs and also should yield a surplus. When, in January, 1948, I was asked to go to South Korea as adviser to the chief of the Geological Survey of Korea, my feelings were mixed. I had heard that the country afforded difficult living conditions for Americans. Friends and family advised me not to go there because of the proximity of the "Iron Cur tain." But my curiosity and eagerness for travel soon overrode my hesitation. Seoul a Crowded Capital Two months later I stepped ashore at Inchon, busy port about 20 miles east of Seoul (page 794). The Korean capital was crowded. The pop ulation had practically doubled in the last 10 years. Since the war there had been a heavy influx of refugees from the Russian Zone and Korean repatriates from Japan, China, and islands of the Pacific. Materials were short during war years and since; every house and building needed repair and a good coat of paint. Seoul is beautifully located in the midst of steep granite hills. Wide avenues give it a Western atmosphere, as do the many new mod ern buildings built when Korea was part of the Japanese Empire (pages 778, 782, 783). But many of its streets are unpaved and bordered by humble shops. Oddly assorted vehicles clogged avenues and narrow streets-oxcarts; dilapidated Japanese three-wheeled cars and motorcycles; gaily painted buses drawn by gaunt horses; rick shas; flashy new American cars of high Korean officials; U. S. Army staff cars, jeeps, and trucks; and streetcars bursting beyond capac ity with passengers hanging from the steps. Traffic policemen, like those of Japanese cities, were as busy as ballet dancers. Their dramatic gesticulations looked like a ballet ver sion of an American policeman directing traffic. Seoul's male population wears mixed garb, part Western and part Oriental. In contrast are the women's dresses, their style unchanged for centuries. Those of older women are white, with embroidered velvet bonnets; younger women and girls have long high-waisted skirts and short bodices in pastel colors-pink, robin's-egg blue, and aquamarine. Many mothers carry babies slung on their backs in bright red and green quilts. Here, too, are schoolboys in high-collared jackets and caps, children in bright-yellow * See "With the U. S. Army in Korea," by Lt. Gen. John R. Hodge, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, June, 1947.