|At a temple in the Seoraksan Mountains, South Korea, April 1999|
On my other blog:
|At a temple in the Seoraksan Mountains, South Korea, April 1999|
On my other blog:
Here is a full report of my first Iran-Afghanistan trip in 1972 [I have no photos as I didn't own a camera, but I have attached some pictures of souvenirs from the trip]:
In February 1972 I turned 21, which was at the time the age of majority in my country Luxembourg. I had worked for Luxair Luxembourg Airlines for over two years.
I decided to celebrate my new independence by traveling as far as possible from Luxembourg and took two weeks' leave from my job for the second half of March 1972. The company would request a free ticket for me from another airline but there was a limit to how far I could fly based on the length of time I had worked for them. Looking at a map I found that Tehran, Iran was the furthest I could go for free, and I received a ticket from Lufthansa German Airlines for that destination on their once-weekly flight.
I knew practically nothing about Iran. The country had been in the news a few months earlier, in October 1971, when Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi threw an extraordinarily lavish party in the desert at Persepolis for royalty and heads of state from 60 countries. Our Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte, the parents of the present Grand Duke Henri, had attended, and it was prominently covered in the local media. According to the Shah the occasion was the celebration of the 2,500th year of the foundation of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great.
It was late afternoon on 16 March 1972 when I arrived at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport on a Lufthansa Boeing 727. I found a tourist information office that was just about to close for the day. A young lady, the only person on duty, was very friendly and helpful. She booked me into one of the cheaper hotels in the city and also arranged for a taxicab to take me there.
One of the first things I learned in Iran was that local people use water to clean themselves in a toilet rather than paper. At the Asia Hotel the toilet outside my room was a squat version just like our old outhouse, and there was no paper at all, only a jug of water.
I encountered a lot of other interesting things in Iran that I had never known before, and I was fascinated. Even today I fondly remember the rice dishes I ate in Iran, which were always fabulous. I was also extremely fond of Iranian pastries, and dates instantly became one of my favorite fruits.
At breakfast in the hotel on my first morning in Iran I met two young men, one of whom said he was from Kenya and the other from Kuwait. The Kenyan gave his name as Taffy. He was a few years older than I, and somehow he didn't seem like a typical African. I learned later that his ancestors came from the Punjab, which is today divided between India and Pakistan. He told me he was on his way to Lahore in Pakistan to visit relatives there and was looking for people who would join him for the ride in his car and share expenses on the trip. The Kuwaiti was a friend of his named Mahmood who could not go with him because he had to return home to his country.
Taffy asked if I was interested in riding with him to Lahore or at least as far as Kabul in Afghanistan. Since I wanted to travel as far from Luxembourg as possible I accepted immediately. He proposed to meet again at breakfast the next morning, when he would take me to the Afghan Embassy to get visas for that country.
Later that day I walked around the area in Tehran near the hotel but I don't remember seeing much of the city.
When I returned to the hotel in the afternoon I ran into Taffy again. He had just seen Mahmood off – I don't remember whether it was at the airport or a train station. Taffy proposed to go to a nearby movie theater to watch one of the latest James Bond films, and since I was a Bond fan I was happy to join him. [I am not sure I remember this correctly: my memory is not clear about whether this happened in 1972 when I was with Taffy or a year later in February 1973 when I was in Tehran again by myself]
When we entered the auditorium the movie was already in progress. I remember seeing Sean Connery as Bond entering a room with a greeting of “Salam.” It turned out the film was all dubbed in Persian, with no subtitles. Taffy and I had missed that point when we bought our tickets.
At the end of the film we stayed in the auditorium for the next showing so we could watch the first part, which we had missed.
Before the movie began huge pictures of the Shah and his consort were projected to the screen, and all the spectators rose from their seats as a recording of the national anthem resounded through the hall.
The following morning after breakfast Taffy took me to his car. It was a huge American Ford Galaxie 500 XL with a 5-liter engine and Missouri/US license plates. Taffy told me he had bought the car while studying in the United States and had shipped it to England, where he had moved from Kenya with his family in the 1960s. From England he had driven the Ford across Europe and the Middle East to Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic pilgrimage there, and then he had come to Iran via Kuwait, where he had picked up Mahmood.
At the Afghan Embassy we met a bearded young man who must have been about two meters tall. He was an American from New York who gave his name as Robert Barrett. It turned out he was also headed east, and after a brief discussion of probable costs of the trip he agreed to join us and share our expenses. Staff members at the embassy informed us that it would probably be easier and quicker to get visas from the Afghan consulate in Mashhad in eastern Iran, so we left.
Taffy and I drove back to our hotel to collect our luggage, then we picked Robert (Bob) up at his hotel and headed north out of Tehran.
The city is separated from the Caspian Sea by the Alburz Mountain range, whose highest peak is the 5,600-meter extinct volcano Demavand, Iran's tallest. The main road north passes close to the foot of the mountain at an altitude over 2,000 meters.
I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Demavand but as we drove into the mountains the view became increasingly foggy and within a short time we were caught in a snowstorm. There were policemen on the road warning drivers of dangerous conditions further up and advising everybody to put snow chains on their tires. Luckily Taffy had snowchains in his trunk, which he had used earlier that winter while traveling on perilous roads in the mountains of Turkey.
I am not sure I remember this correctly but when we fitted the snow chains it looked to me at one point as if Bob the American held up one corner of the heavy car by himself for a moment.
We drove on through the mountains but could not see much other than a short portion of the road in front and the snow swirling around us.
Some time later we left the snowstorm behind as we traveled downhill through a forest on the northern side of the Alburz range towards the town of Amol, about 180 km from Tehran. We turned east just south of the Caspian Sea, and night fell before we reached the town of Sari.
After spending the night in a shared room at Nader Hotel in Sari we continued our journey east. I remember Bob telling us he had deserted from a US Army base in Germany and was on his way overland to Australia, where he had a girlfriend.
The weather was pleasant most of the day until some time in the afternoon when we drove up a hill on the way towards Bodjnurd, about 450 kilometers from Sari. The sky darkened and snow began to fall. Soon we couldn't see more than 20 meters ahead. At one point I had to get out of the car to remove a large stone from the road in front. As we continued the snowfall got thicker and thicker, and a strong wind blew.
Not much later we had to stop because a car was stuck in the snow just ahead of us. Taffy got out and trudged to the front to see what was happening. He came back and told us the road was blocked by several cars that were unable to move. We had to wait for the storm to pass.
A minibus filled with passengers stopped behind us, and the driver left the engine running to keep the interior warm. We didn't have that option because there was not much gasoline left in the Galaxie's tank.
By the time darkness fell we were shivering in the car and we huddled together to try to keep warm. There was only one blanket, which we shared as best we could. Outside, the snow kept falling and a strong wind blew. We did not sleep much if at all that night.
By the time the sun rose in the morning the storm had let up and the sky cleared. Inside the car the windows were covered with a layer of ice from our breaths. It was very hard to open the doors as we had to push away the snow that had piled up hip deep outside, and it was impossible to keep the stuff from pouring into the car.
The engine of the minibus behind us was still running, although the driver must have stopped it once or twice during the night to top up his fuel tank from some jerrycans he had on board. Taffy, Bob and I visited the minibus and the driver allowed us to stay inside for a short while to warm up. I remember that some of the passengers carried live chickens with them.
The landscape outside was beautiful, all white. There were snowdrifts in some places on the slope more than 2-3 meters high, and even on the road it was not much less than one meter.
We scraped the ice and the snow to clear the car's windows, and Taffy tried to start the engine. Luckily it sputtered to life after several increasingly desperate attempts.
A few hours later we saw a group of Iranian soldiers in winter uniforms approaching on skis. They all carried backpacks filled with bread, cheese and I think even some dates, which they proceeded to distribute to the people stranded in the snow. They were certainly welcome. They told us there were machines on the way to clear the road and free our vehicles but that the snow was so deep in some areas they might not be able to finish the job until the next day. They said workers were clearing a path leading down the slope on which people could walk about a kilometer or so to a place on the road where buses from nearby Bodjnurd would pick them up so they could spend the next night in the town.
As luck would have it the path branched off the road very close to where we were. Taffy got the idea we might be able to drive down that path, which Bob and I thought sounded crazy. He inspected it even as workers were clearing the stretches on the slope where the snow was too deep to walk through.
It was already late in the afternoon by the time the workers finished their job. Taffy, not wanting to wait until there were too many people on the path, decided to risk driving down in the Galaxie.
The upper part of the slope directly below the road was quite steep, so we quickly picked up speed going down. The heavy car bumped up and down so much on the very uneven path that our heads hit the ceiling several times (there were no seatbelts in those days). It got so bad we feared the Galaxie's suspension might collapse.
Suddenly Taffy noticed the steering was not responding when he turned the wheel. The car just kept going straight no matter how much he tried to change direction. I think we were very lucky there was no major curve and the wheels didn't turn sideways, otherwise the Galaxie would have overturned.
We breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the end of the path and were back on the road, which was covered with a layer of ice and gravel. Taffy stopped the car and we got out. Then he put a jack under the front of the Galaxie and lifted it up. He was holding a length of cable with which he hoped to fix the steering system temporarily so that we could drive down the road to Bodjnurd.
When he slid under the car I remember worrying that the jack might slip on the icy road and he would get crushed.
After a few minutes he was done. We got back in the car and slowly drove towards the town as night was falling.
In Bodjnurd we found a garage where Taffy could have the steering system welded back together. We spent the night in a shared room at Izadi Hotel, very happy to sleep in warm beds again. According to some notes I wrote down that time the room rate was 150 rials, which was about 86 Belgian francs or not much more than 2 Euros today without adjusting for inflation. Unfortunately these notes I kept cover only my spending and contain very little information about the journey and my impressions. My total budget for the trip was 4,500 francs (7,830 rials) or a little over 100 Euros.
The next morning we left Bodjnurd for Mashhad, about 270 kilometers away. This part of the trip passed without incident.
When we arrived in Mashhad we did a little bit of sightseeing. There were large crowds in town as it was Nowruz, the Iranian new year. I remember being very impressed by the huge Imam Reza Shrine complex with its golden dome but because there were so many people in the area I decided against going inside.
As I recorded in my notes we spent the night at the “Tourist Hotel” for 150 rials. The next morning we went to the Afghan consulate and were issued 15-day visas for that country. It was the second day of the first month of the year 1351 in the Iranian/Afghan Islamic solar calendar (22 March 1972 CE).
When we arrived at the Afghan border at Islam Qala I found out I needed to prove I was vaccinated against cholera. My vaccination certificate was good only for smallpox, which was all that was required for Iran. Taffy talked to one of the officials there who, for a small baksheesh, stamped the back page of my certificate with a note in the Afghan language Dari saying it was accepted.
The first thing we did after entering Afghanistan was replenish the Galaxie's huge gasoline tank at a filling station. Bob immediately asked a young boy there if he could sell us some hashish. Sure enough, the boy disappeared briefly in the small building of the station and returned with a bag. Bob showed him some beautiful turquoise stones and within a short time they agreed on a trade.
As we drove on towards Herat, the main city in western Afghanistan, the three of us were taking puffs from joints Bob had rolled and shared with us. Even though I was a fairly heavy cigarette smoker by this time I was afraid to inhale the hashish smoke deeply as Bob and Taffy both did. It was a first for me but because I didn't suck it into my lungs I felt almost no effect.
In Herat we found a room at the Behzad Hotel for 80 afghanis per night for two people, according to my notes. Taffy and I were planning to spend just two nights there before heading southeast to Kandahar, the country's second largest city. Bob said he wanted to spend more time in Herat and would not continue traveling with us, so we split up and he went to look for a cheaper hotel in town. We didn't see him or hear from him again after this.
Among the very few things I remember about Herat were young boys we encountered in many places who were asking for handouts. In Iran I had given some coins to beggars, too, as I recorded in my notes, but I think they were mostly older people or women. I also recall the open sewers in the city streets and the myriad small shops often minded by young boys. Unlike in Iran, women and girls seemed almost invisible as they either shunned the streets or were hidden inside all-enveloping burqas.
In Herat I visited a beautiful large mosque. It was the first Islamic house of worship I actually saw from the inside, as I had not entered one in Iran. I remember a local Afghan man I met there telling me that poor people were allowed to sleep in the mosque at night. This surprised me as I could not imagine our Catholic churches staying open during nights to serve as sleeping quarters. Much less could I have believed at the time that nine months later I would spend part of one night resting on some steps in the big mosque of Mecca, the Muslims' holiest place.
After two days Taffy and I were on our way to Kandahar, about 570 kilometers away. The road, Asian Highway 1, appeared to be covered with rectangular slabs about 20 meters long, like very large tiles. There were small ridges between the slabs where they were fitted together, and the Galaxie's tires made a popping sound every time we crossed one of those.
In many places along the way there were swarms of small birds like sparrows sitting in the middle of the road. When we approached they flew up but some of them were not quick enough and ended up smashed and stuck to the front of the car or the windshield. I asked Taffy to slow down so they would have time to escape but he seemed to be in a hurry to get to Kandahar.
At one point we stopped at a gas station to refill the Galaxie's tank. After a short while there a scruffy-looking man walked up to us and plucked the dead birds from the front of the car, dropping them in a metal pot he carried. We assumed he was going to cook and eat them.
The weather was good and the road ahead of us seemed to glisten in the light of the sun as if it was wet. We were about halfway to Kandahar when, suddenly, this mirage became real and the car splashed into water. The road was flooded more than knee-deep over a stretch of about 50 meters, and the Galaxie's engine quickly sputtered to a halt. --- We were lucky. A bus had stopped on the far side of the flooded area and some of its male passengers were wading in the water. When they saw that our car was stuck they came to help us and pushed the Galaxie to the other side. Taffy and I thanked them profusely.
In Kandahar we stayed at Spozhmay Hotel on the main road into the city for 100 afghanis in a 2-bed room.
At the hotel we met an American hippie couple who told us that during the opium harvest the whole city smelled of the drug. Among the very few things I remember from Kandahar is a bus I once rode into town that seemed to be made mostly of wood, with chickens and some goats among the passengers.
The day after we arrived it was already 25 March, and I felt I should not continue traveling to Kabul and beyond with Taffy because I might not be able to get to Tehran in time to catch my once-weekly flight back to Europe only five days later, on a Thursday. I had to get back to my job at Luxair the following Monday, and I didn't think I had enough money to fly back to the Iranian capital from Kabul.
The following day we left the hotel. Taffy took me to the bus station in Kandahar and then drove on towards Kabul and Lahore.
I arrived back in Herat by bus late that afternoon and went straight to Behzad Hotel, where I spent the next night, then in the morning I took another bus to the Iranian border.
At the Tayebad border post on the Iranian side I was asked to show my cholera vaccination certificate. When I showed the officials the stamp one of their Afghan counterparts had placed on the back of my document a few days earlier they were not impressed. I was immediately taken to a room in the building that looked and smelled like a dispensary. A man in a white coat prepared a needle and then jabbed it into my shoulder so hard I was sure he had hit the bone. I winced but didn't complain. The pain, however, bothered me for quite some time afterward.
I had to wait a short while in another room where I was soon joined by a young Sikh man wearing the typical turban, two older Afghan men and a small Afghan boy. The five of us were taken by bus to Tayebad quarantine station, a place that looked like a small fort in the middle of a desert-like landscape. To tell the truth I don't remember much about what it was like but this was the impression left in my memory.
At the station a doctor told us in English and Persian or Dari that we would undergo a test the next day and would then have to wait there for another 24 hours for the evaluation, which would show whether or not we carried a cholera infection. The Sikh man immediately protested loudly, saying his wife was sick in a hospital in Tehran and he had to get there as quickly as possible. The doctor insisted we had to wait 24 hours, but after some discussion he agreed that we could take the test right away rather than the following day.
He took each one of us to a separate room for the test. What I remember is that he asked me to stand facing a wall, and to drop my pants and underpants. Then he asked me to bend forward and hold my buttocks apart so he could insert something into my anus. It turned out to be a long stick with some gluey substance stuck to the end, which he pushed quite a long way inside. I gasped, but then I worried about how the little boy would take this treatment.
It turned out the most difficult patients were the two older Afghan men, who almost got into a fight with the doctor -- or at least it sounded like that to me.
We spent the night and the following day at the station, and the next evening we were taken to Tayebad town. After this I don't remember seeing any of them again. I found a bus that would take me to Mashhad, with very few other passengers on board.
By the time I arrived in Mashhad it was already quite late at night. I didn't recognize any of the few places where the bus stopped in the city, so I just got off at the terminal. The streets in this area were mostly dark, with only a few lights here and there. I walked around a bit, lugging my heavy seabag and looking for anything that might be a hotel.
There were hardly any people in the streets this late in the night. I saw one man a little older than I and asked him in English if he knew a hotel in this area. He seemed to understand but answered in broken French that there were none as far as he knew. We went on to talk a little bit in French, and he told me he was a sports teacher at the Ghazali school. His name was Gholamreza Gholami, as he wrote on a little piece of paper that I still have.
He invited me to spend the night in the house nearby where he lived. I ended up sleeping alongside 8 or 9 other men on a mat on the floor of one of a few small rooms around a central courtyard in an old brick building. There was a manual pump in the middle of the yard, which we activated the next morning to get water for drinking, for tea and to wash ourselves.
After a simple breakfast Gholami and one of the other men took me in an old car to the center of Mashhad. I had told him I needed to get back to Tehran to catch a flight back to Europe. At first I considered traveling by bus or train but I was worried that if there was any kind of delay I might get to Mehrabad Airport too late to catch my flight the next day 30 March. On Gholami's suggestion we went to an Iran Air office to see if I could fly instead. I had only 2,100 rials left but it turned out a one-way ticket to Tehran cost exactly 2,000, so I bought one and gave Gholami the remaining 100 rials.
The flight was enjoyable and uneventful but shortly after I arrived at Mehrabad Airport I almost collapsed with pain from severe stomach cramps. I also had a very bad diarrhea and had to run to the toilet every half hour or so for the rest of the day and throughout my last night in Iran. And I had no money left to buy anything to eat or drink.
Next morning I went to the Lufthansa office to check if there were seats available on the flight to Frankfurt, since I could not have a reservation. I was lucky: several places were free. A young Iranian man who worked for the airline took me aside and asked if I wanted to earn some money by doing him a favor. I guess he had noticed how miserable and disheveled I looked.
I asked him what he needed, and he said he wanted me to buy two bottles of Black & White whiskey at the local duty-free store and take them on board the airplane, where he would come to pick them up just before the flight left. [I think it was two bottles, though I don't remember clearly and it might have been just one]. He would give me money for the purchase and a couple of hundred rials extra for myself. I happily agreed to do it, because I was quite hungry by this time. He gave me a bag in which he wanted me to place the whiskey bottles once I had boarded the plane.
After checking in I bought the two bottles of whiskey, took them on the plane and then put them in the bag the man had given me. Sure enough, shortly before the plane left the gate he came on board and took the bag with him.
When I returned home from this adventurous trip I found it hard to go back to my daily routine. Almost everything seemed boring, especially at work.
|Mashhad-Tehran air ticket|
|My 1982 visa for Czechoslovakia on the left|
Just watched this Korean drama. I have never seen any movie or TV series that moved me as deeply as this one — ever. It’s a fantasy story about the mysterious daughter of King Muryeong of the ancient Baekje Kingdom in what is now Korea, some 1,500 years ago. This drama has plenty of inconsistencies and faults but the beauty of the story, the characters, the setting and the music made me forget the world for a time. I was especially moved by the main character, the young lady Seol-nan, whose identity as the king’s daughter is hidden. She is perfectly portrayed by the wonderful actress Seo Hyun-jin. Incomparable!
So, how do I relate to this drama?
Diary Wednesday 28 April and Thursday 29 April 2021:
This is something very special.
My wife highly recommended a Korean TV drama, “The King's Daughter – Soo Baek Hyang”. It's long: 108 episodes of just over half an hour each. It's a fantasy based on a real woman who lived some 1,500 years ago in the kingdom of Baekje (whose capital at the time was located about 50 km south of where the city of Cheonan lies today – the well-preserved tomb of the king portrayed in this drama was discovered in 1971 and is a now registered as a Korean Historic Site).
I finished watching it 2 days ago. It is by far the most deeply moving story I have ever seen in film. That's what it is to me.
The story of Seol-nan or Soo Baek Hyang, the main character whose identity as King Muryeong of Baekje's daughter is hidden, resonates with my deepest feelings like no other. She is wonderfully and beautifully portrayed by the actress Seo Hyun-jin.
The story is complicated but it is basically about a girl who was conceived by a top general who later became king with his greatest love, the lady Chaewha. The two were tragically separated although their love for each other never waned. The girl's mother was falsely regarded as a traitor to the country and might have been killed if not for a deaf-mute laborer who carried her away to safety and prevented her from committing suicide because her beloved general was directly responsible for the death of her father, whom he saw as a traitor.
The laborer, Koo-cheon, protected her and loved her, and he was with her when she gave birth to the daughter of the general who had by then become king. From the very beginning as a small baby the girl had a special fondness for the poor deaf-mute laborer, who also loved her as if she was his own special child. The mother was deeply touched by this and later married Koo-cheon because there was no way she could ever return to her true love, the king.
Later, she gave birth to a second daughter sired by the laborer. They were named Seol-nan and Seol-hee. Seol-nan, the king's daughter, was full of love towards her mother and her stepfather (whom she knew only as her real father), and very protective of her younger sister even if it meant taking punishment for wrongs Seol-hee had done. Seol-nan was also very happy with their simple life in a remote village in the mountains. Seol-hee, on the other hand, wanted a better life and even came to despise her poor handicapped father.
One day they were attacked by assassins who they thought were bandits. In fighting desperately to protect his family the father was so badly wounded they thought he was dead. But he had fought so fiercely that Seol-nan was able to create a diversion that allowed her and her sister to escape from the assassins, taking their wounded and blinded mother with them.
They hid in a cave in the mountains and Seol-nan did her best to erase their tracks so the assassins could not find them. But the mother, who had lost her eyesight to a sword stroke in the fight, was so badly injured that her life was in danger.
Seol-nan risked her own life to try to find a doctor in a village not far away. The doctor was not willing to go to the cave with her but he gave her some medicines for her mother.
While she was away her mother woke up and started talking urgently to Seol-hee because she thought it was Seol-nan who was with her. She addressed her as Seol-nan but Seol-hee did not tell her that her sister had gone to look for a doctor. Seol-hee kept silent so the mother could not know she was actually talking to her rather than Seol-nan since she could not see her.
She felt she was close to death, so she wanted to reveal to Seol-nan the secret of her conception by the king. Both daughters had known only one father, Koo-cheon. Seol-hee listened intently to her mother telling her her name chosen by herself and the king for their first child if she was a daughter would be Soo Baek Hyang.
Her mother also urged her to find a special hairpin the king had given her before the events that drove them apart. The mother had lost that hairpin on the way to the cave but realized it only later. They were lucky the assassins did not find it because it could have led them to their hiding place.
Lady Chaewha told Seol-hee to go to the Baekje capital and try to get access to the king. She was sure the king would recognize the hairpin and the name Soo Baek Hyang, and would be happy to welcome his daughter because she knew he valued blood ties almost above all else.
Then she touched Seol-hee's face and realized she was talking to the wrong daughter. Seol-hee told her Seol-nan had gone to find a doctor. The mother asked Seol-hee to tell Seol-nan about these things if she herself was unable to do so when her older daughter returned. Seol-hee promised to do that and then, at her mother's urging, stepped out of the cave to look for her sister.
When Seol-nan came back with the medicine and met her sister outside the cave, Seol-hee acted distraught and told her their mother was delirious and telling crazy stories. She stood in the way and even prevented Seol-nan from entering the cave right away. Seol-nan then brushed past her sister and found her mother crawling towards her in desperation and on the threshold of death.
Seol-nan held her mother in her arms and lady Chaewha desperately tried to tell her what she had said to Seol-hee before. She did not have the strength to speak anymore, however, and only managed to whisper something like: “Your name is Soo Baek Hyang.” It was barely audible and Seol-nan was not sure she heard right.
Her mother died in her arms.
Seol-nan did remember the name Soo Baek Hyang, though, because she had a tattoo of a flower on the back of her left shoulder. Her mother had given her that tattoo when she was a child and told her the name of the flower was Soo Baek Hyang, the centennial fragrance, and the “Baek” part was what gave the Baekje kingdom its name.
Her mother had told her this one day when she was bathing the two girls and they asked her about the tattoo on Seol-nan's shoulder, which Seol-hee did not have.
Seol-hee never told Seol-nan what her mother had revealed to her in the cave.
After the mother died Seol-nan vowed to find their parents' murderers and punish them, and to always protect and support her younger sister as Lady Chaewha had asked of her and as she had done many times in the past.
If I remember correctly Seol-hee found the hairpin from the king but did not tell Seol-nan about it.
When they were on their way towards Baekje from the small neighboring Gaya Confederacy where their parents had found refuge and raised them, Seol-hee stole away and disappeared. She abandoned Seol-nan and made her way to the Baekje capital, where she wanted to take Seol-nan's place as the daughter of the king.
Seol-nan, distraught when finding her sister gone, believed she must have been kidnapped by bandits and resolved to rescue her at the risk of her own life.
This is just a very brief account of the beginning of the story.
The purity, sincerity, selflessness and dedication of Seol-nan throughout this story moved me to tears many times. To me, Seo Hyun-jin, the actress who portrayed her, is not only ravishingly beautiful but also displayed a wonderful personality here very convincingly. She really embodied the incomparably lovable and loving character of Seol-nan.
In the film she often takes on roles normally reserved for men and she is regarded by most of those she encounters as a tomboy. Many of the men fail to see her great beauty as a result.
So, how do I feel connected to this story?
I have a daughter who happens to live in Korea. She has two older brothers who are severely mentally handicapped and unable to live independently.
From the time I was in my late teens my secret heroes were always girls, women, heroines, not men like myself. I am very happy to be a man and never wanted to be a woman myself because I always felt very deeply that I wanted to love and cherish women while seeing them from a male perspective.
I saw my imagined heroine more as a daughter of mine or perhaps a younger sister (I was the oldest of six children and grew up with three younger sisters) than as a love partner or wife. My ideal heroine was like a daughter to me rather than a wife. This drama has fully brought that realization home to me.
In this story I personally identify most with the laborer Koo-cheon, the only man Seol-nan knew as her father until she discovered the secret of her conception. But I also feel like the king towards Seol-nan, who, after she goes through many tribulations and much suffering, finally discovers her as his true daughter. This is one of the greatest moments of the drama. Unfortunately the king dies not long after this of an illness. Yet I was very glad the drama ended on a happy note, with a new beginning.
There is much sadness here but also much joy, much hatred counterbalanced by great love. I feel a special, deep love as a father towards my daughter because I see a Seol-nan in her.
*** Here is a link to the song in the drama on Youtube, the first part being sung by the actress Seo Hyun-jin herself: Seo Hyun Jin Feat Kim Nani Soo Baek Hyang OST
Weapons of war displayed at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. Photo 2014.
Diary entry Monday 31 August 2020 (excerpt):
The volume of anti-China and anti-Russia disinformation spread by western media and western governments these days is beyond anything I have seen and heard before – almost unbelievable.
It’s a huge campaign to vilify those countries that don’t toe the capitalist-oligarchist-white supremacist-militarist-fascist-Zionist-Judeo-Christian-centered line.
The USA has truly become a huge criminal enterprise and an “evil empire“ in my view, bombing and occupying other countries, supporting evil regimes like Saudi Arabia, which is destroying Yemen, threatening and coercing others around the globe, strangling nations like Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and others with sanctions, lying, cheating, stealing, murdering and plundering in so many places, etc.
I am not “anti-American.” I just want to see peace, cooperation and harmony in the world, and in my view it is primarily the USA and Israel who are working against those ideals, even though they pretend otherwise. More than anything I would like to see peaceful cooperation among nations and non-hostile competition. But the USA and its “allies” (lackeys, really), and Zionist Israel go out of their way to destroy any chance of that happening.
They have really been doing this ever since they were created even though they publicly espoused great ideals in which many of their people believed. They were deceived and hijacked from the beginning by selfish, lying, evil people who quickly gained great power.
Today these powerful people cannot bear the fact that the leaders of China, Russia, Iran and others stand in the way of their efforts to gain absolute power over the world. They want to crush them either by inciting revolts in their countries or – if they become desperate enough in case “regime change” attempts meet with no success – by destroying them with military force. They believe they have God on their side, and that God wants them to take control of the whole world.
Our Moon [Unification] movement also wants to take over the world and build what they describe as the “Heavenly Kingdom under God and True Parents.” They focus on winning leaders of countries and powerful people in all spheres of life to their side. In essence they are building an oligarchy that they want to rule the world under the guidance of Rev. Moon’s widow Hak Ja Han and her successors.
But have they built a really peaceful, harmonious, cooperative society on a small scale anywhere? Yes, they get people to cooperate harmoniously (I guess) in order to organize their many spectacular, lavish events such as big rallies and conferences designed to entice world leaders in all fields to join their fold. But I don’t see any real progress at the grassroots level towards building a real harmonious society that could become a model for a future world of peace and love.
Perhaps I don’t know enough about what may have already been achieved or be in the process towards that goal. Until now I have seen no sign at all of the building of an ideal society. It seems the focus is totally on a top-down approach, which in my opinion is doomed to failure because it will almost certainly be hijacked by the most powerful, devious and ultimately selfish people – just like almost any society created by humans before.
I hope I can be proven wrong in this. I do hope so. – Right now it doesn’t look good.
About how my view of the USA changed over time
How could they cope when I am gone? I worry about that much more than about myself dying. Also, I worry very much that I might become a burden to them if I lose my mind or parts of my body.
This is what I fear and what I worry about much, much more than my own demise. I believe I am now fully reconciled with the idea that I will die. I certainly would not want to live too long – only long enough to be able to take care of my family as much as possible. I do want to leave this existence once I feel I have done my best in this. … And I definitely do not want to exist beyond this earthly life.