Meeting Choe Chong-dae and Leaving for the Ozarks
Nearly two years ago, Choe Chong-dae, president of Dae-kwang International Company, contacted me about a vacation article that I had written for The Korea Times, "Soaking Up Sun in Mt. Seorak" (September 18, 2008), which can also be read on my blog, along with more images here.
President Choe is very interested in religion, particularly Korean religion, and often writes on religious issues for the Korea Times. He had liked my article for its mention of the Buddhist monk Wonhyo, whose cave for meditation was located high up on Mt. Seorak, and had subsequently contacted me to arrange a meeting. But Choe and I somehow never found time to get together until this past Wednesday, when he treated me to lunch at a Korean restaurant not far from his office near Jonggak Subway Station.
That's an area that I used to frequent back around 2003 and 2004, when I was living in Osan but commuting to Seoul to teach courses on Gnosticism at Hanshin Theological Seminary and courses on Milton's Paradise Lost at Korea University. I would arrive early in Seoul and prepare my lectures over coffee at the Starbucks near Jonggak Station. That cafe is now gone, replaced by a far better coffee shop, as I discovered Wednesday by enjoying an espresso there while waiting to meet President Choe.
I was put in mind to contact President Choe again after seeing his name in an article, "Polar Star shines bright for Choe brothers" in the Korea Herald of August 1, 2008. He and his brother, Choe Chong-pil, had "received the Swedish Order of the Polar Star for their efforts in promoting relations between Korea and Sweden," an honor that their father had earlier received, in 1971, and which President Choe had mentioned to me in an email back in 2008. His father and the crown prince of Sweden together excavated the Sobong Tomb and discovered the Silla Dynasty royal crown back in the 1920s, which explains the Swedish connection.
Anyway, Choe and I had a good meal together and discussed the Donghak religion, about which I know very little but learned a bit more -- including the tidbit that Choe's great-great-grandfather was one of the founders. I also learned that a sometime reader who has occasionally commented upon my blog, Won Joon Choe, is President Choe's nephew and an expert on Leo Strauss. Small world, after all.
Speaking of relatives, I'm heading off in a few hours to see my wife and children, as well as my extended clan of kin, in the Ozark Mountains, so I'll soon be enjoying scenery like this:
I've borrowed this recent photograph from the website of Tim Ernst, an Ozark photographer who has many, many, far-more-stunning images to share, so drop in at his place and meander about.
I'll try, moreover, to supply a few photos of my own over the next ten days, but there may be a break in my blogging while I'm underway to Arkansas . . .