Korea Journal, December, 2000 - Part Two

Alfred C. Snider, University of Vermont


December 21, 2000

I awoke refreshed and had a long bath. At breakfast I noticed that octopus had returned to the buffet. After breakfast I returned to my room and worked on my journal for the previous day as well as my speech for the Prime Minister's office. After that I went downstairs to the business center to try and get hooked up to the internet. I succeeded (by rewiring their computer, I hope they don't mind) and sent off installments of my journal and email to my daughter, Sarah Jane, to solidify plans to meet up in New York City on Christmas eve.

Gyeongho arrived to meet me for lunch, and I got to meet one of his colleagues he had studied with at Kent State, Jungkee Kim of Hanyang University, who was interested in taking his sabbatical in the USA and splitting his time between Vermont in the Fall (learning about how a debate team operates and going to tournaments with us as well as engaging in his own research) and then going to Kent State in the Spring to finish his American research projects. He also said he was very interested in attending the international coaching workshop at the World Debate Institute, and having heard great things about him (and he had two teams in the "sweet sixteen") I said that he would be very welcome. Nadja joined us and we continued a jolly traditional lunch (although my legs are starting to fatigue from sitting on the floor so much), even if Prof. Kim was unhappy with the service we were receiving. Prof. Kim seemed highly intellectual and very dynamic, and it was a pleasure to have met him, and I looked forward to having him work with our team in the Fall of 2001.

After lunch we went back to the hotel where Gyeongho and I worked on our plans for the rest of my stay, including my speech at the Prime Minister's office. They had changed their topic interests (from 21st century persuasion to a dual theme of how to create a debating culture in Korea and how to better act as political conflict resolution agents. I tossed my old speech and we talked about some themes for the new one.

At 3 PM we were again joined by Nadja and Kyung Hee, who was to drive us to the Korean Broadcast Institute to meet Dr. Lee again. Gyeongho seemed to think this was a very important event, which I didn't necessarily understand, but I certainly would later.

We drove into Seoul center and parked in front of a 21 story building which is where Kyung Hee left us. Gyeongho told me that Dr. Lee managed the entire building, and that KBI was a government think tank for telecommunications policy. We saw the director of the Korean FCC walking out as we walked in.

On the 6th floor we found the President's office and were greeted by Dr. Lee. She led us into her office (huge, great view, impressively appointed) and had a wonderful visit. She gave me a framed copy of the article and picture which appeared about me in the previous day's Munwha Ilbo, which I was very grateful for. She also gave us leather bound name card holders and pen cases embossed with KBI. I presented her with my gift of Vermont maple syrup which she seemed to enjoy a lot. She talked about the role of KBI in Korean society and discussed their major projects. Like most Koreans she was very interested in Nadja's return to her motherland after several generations away. Nadja confided in us that she had felt a special bond with Korea during her visit to the Korean Folk Village the day before. She expressed her strong support for debating in Korea and indicated an interest in attending the World Debate Institute after her three year term as President of KBI was up. I told her she would be welcomed.

Dr. Lee took us on a short tour of the KBI facilities, which was extremely impressive. We saw the digital archive where they keep all Korean broadcasts in a database searchable by topic, name, image, date, etc. We typed in a keyword at a keyboard and a full screen full motion digital video of the topic we asked for (President Kim's visit to North Korea) appeared instantly. I commented that this must take up a lot of storage space and she indicated that they had 100 terabytes of storage on their server. We also saw training facilities, sound stages, offices of the research staff, and an impressive library. The non-linear editing technical workers were particularly proud of their video editing system, saying it was the largest such system in the world.

Digital Video Archive at KBI | Completely searchable video database

100 terrebytes of storage | World's most powerful nonlinear video editing station

Scene being built in KBI soundstage | Dr. Lee, President of KBI, with Nadja and the author

After a stop in Dr. Lee's office for another short visit, we left with her and were picked up by her limousine at the front door of the massive KBI skyscraper. We were whisked away to a part of town which is full of traditional shops and tea houses. The limo dropped us off and we walked a ways, browsing in the shops, and I mentioned that I was looking for a gift for my daughter. Dr. Lee suggested an establishment called "Gana Art Gallery" where she said they had handmade and high fashion items I might be interested. It was a stunning store, not large, but each item was of extraordinary beauty and very finely made. I marveled at fantastic silk goods and jewelry, yet at the same time was surprised by the low prices. I had heard that fashion items were reasonable in Korea, but this was clear proof. Dr. Lee helped me select an incredible gift for my daughter as well as a new silk tie, and her assistance was appreciated since I have serious red-green color blindness and often make fashion mistakes (as many of my readers know).

We continued our strolling among the other shops and I bought a small beautiful set of wind chimes to put in my office window during the spring and summer, and they had a delightful tone to them. We returned to the street just in time to meet our arriving limo which would take us to dinner.

We arrived at the entrance to a darkened alley and left the limo. This seemed like a strange place for our dinner, but I trusted our host. We went to a modest looking building with a small lighted sign and went in. Instantly we were greeted like old friends. Like most traditional Korean restaurants we removed our shoes, and then we were escorted upstairs to a private dining room. We seated ourselves on beautifully embroidered mats on the floor, and what has to be one of the most glamorous meals of my life began. We began with the traditional Korean dish for the winter solstice, which is what this day was. One by one course after delightful course was brought, all traditional Korean dishes. Increasingly as the courses were brought Gyeongho would gasp in amazement at what was being presented. More than six different kinds of kim chee, delightful seafood dishes (including two incredible octopus dishes), delicious vegetables, tender and succulent beef ribs in the traditional style, and on, and on, and on. Some of the items brought to us, I was told by Dr. Lee, were 15 years in preparation. Some of my readers may find this hard to believe but the meal was far beyond even my appetite, but I tried to sample as many things as I could. Korean food is delightfully spiced, with an amazing amount of variety, and has a wonderful variety of textures and colors as well. As the meal wound down we continued our fascinating conversation with Dr. Lee, including telecommunications policy, her interest in debate, stories about Gyeongho as an undergraduate student, and of course, Nadja and her story. As a citizen of Uzbekistan of Korean descent, her ancestors having been deported from East Asia (Sakhalin Island, I believe) by Stalin in the 1930's to Uzbekistan, her return to Korea and her reintroduction to Korean culture was of intense interest to everyone she met. They were curious about which foods and customs were still held by the substantial Korean population in Uzbekistan, often trading with each other the names of foods which she was familiar with in Uzbekistan but obviously had a Korean origin.

We left the restaurant after praising the staff for their wonderful meal and service. The limo arrived to collect Dr. Lee, and we parted with warm handshakes and the knowledge that she would be judging the national final at the National Assembly building on Saturday.

Nadja and I caught a taxi back to the hotel and Gyeongho took the subway to his home. When I returned I fell asleep instantly. It had been another incredible day here in Korea.

December 22, 2000

I woke up after a somewhat restless sleep. I decided to skip breakfast today, and worked on my journal for a while before getting dressed and catching a taxi to Kyung Hee University.

I arrived at the main lecture building where the tournament was being held and found Gyeongho. The tournament wasn't scheduled to start until 10 AM, but I still saw debaters preparing. The goal of the tournament today is to go from the "sweet sixteen" to the "final four."

Gyeongho and I had a brief meeting and reviewed my speech for the Prime Minister's office which would take place later that day and which he would be translating. We made some changes and I added a number of his excellent suggestions. They had asked me to address the issues of how Korea can create a debating culture and how this can relate to conflict resolution within Korean society. A lot to do in sixty minutes, so I decided to just cover a few of the more major issues.

Gyeongho went off to judge and I wandered from round to round observing the debates. These debates were clearly different from the ones I had seen earlier. Besides having five judge panels, the debating itself was quite different -- much more intense, more use of evidence, fewer uncertainties, and a good indication that the more prepared teams were the ones who had risen to the top sixteen. I took some more pictures of the debating and enjoyed watching things progress so quickly. After the first debate many of the judges indicated that they had seen the same debaters again today after judging them earlier in the tournament and that they had improved immensely. I noted that, yes, repetition and practice is the great developer of debating skills.

After the morning round we joined a number of the judges and lunch. Many of the judges are guests of the tournament, professors from other universities who are interested in starting their own debating programs. I met many articulate and friendly colleagues, such as Prof. Chi-won Kang of Kangwon National University, Prof. Chang hee Park of Dong-Eui University, Prof. Dong-Sook Park of Ewha Woman's (their spelling) University, Prof. Si-Hoon Lee of Keimyung University, as well as Dr. Suk Chut Jin, of Wisdom House, a leading Korean publishing house. They all seemed very encouraged by what they had seen at the debate tournament, and seemed very interested in forming debating programs. This is, perhaps, one of the most important things that this tournament accomplished, it allowed leading academics from many universities to see and hear debating in a tournament setting so that they could consider starting their own programs.

We adjourned to a local restaurant for lunch (most of the judges coming with the tournament staff) for another delightful Korean meal, with many small servings of a wide variety of different foods. The conversation was excellent and many of them had questions about how debating is organized and how it is taught in America.

We returned to campus for the next round, and instead of watching it I met with several colleagues and they were very interested in how tournaments were organized, including schedules, power pairing, judge and team assignment, elimination rounds, dropping high and low points, and other factors. Before the discussion was over I had taken pieces of paper to demonstrate schedules, brackets, and the rest. They seemed intensely interested, especially Gyeongho who is interested in everything related to debate with an intense vigor.

We were joined by a member of the Prime Minister's office staff who would accompany us to my lecture at 4 PM. We left at about 3 PM and caught a taxi into the main part of the city. We arrived at another of the breathtaking Korean modern skyscrapers and we were escorted up to the offices where I would be making my presentation, where I was greeted by Sung Ho Lee, Director for Inspection and Investigation for the Prime Minister's office. I again had a chance to meet with Key-Chong Park, the Director General, whom I had spoken with after my tournament keynote speech. He greeted me warmly and he asked about my impression of the tournament. I commented that for a country without competitive debating the fact that so many students had joined the tournament and debated so well was a real indicator of success. He mentioned that while he was pleased with the tournament it had been organized in a short period of time and he hoped that next year it would be bigger and better. He mentioned that he would love to have me return to Korea in the future to work with Korean debaters and teachers as well as Korean policymakers, and he complemented me on my keynote speech, and mentioned that was why he had invited me to come to talk to his colleagues in the Prime Minister's office. I was stunned but gratified by his positive comments. He mentioned that there had been a slight delay because a meeting they had on the problem of foreign dancers and entertainers who had come to Korea and then had their passports confiscated by unscrupulous employers who then coerced them into prostitution had been extended while they worked out specific action steps to protect the human rights of these individuals. We spoke about this as a global problem, in Eastern Europe and also in the USA and Canada. An aide indicated it was time and that my audience had gathered, and we went to the venue for my speech.

It was a magnificent room, richly appointed, with a gigantic ring of solid and beautiful wooden tables dominating the center, with huge soft leather chairs for each person and a microphone for each individual. We set up the digital camera to record my speech and I felt like a tourist for a moment. I declined to get on my hands and knees to look for a power outlet, and hoped that the battery would last through my speech, a move I would later regret. It only got the first 48 minutes.

Gyeongho introduced me and I took the podium. My speech proceeded as planned, and I was pleased that I was beginning to get the hang of the translation process. While Gyeongho was translating my previous paragraph or so I would take that time to gauge nonverbal reactions, adjust content, change my approach based on how things were being received, and pay attention to time allocation. After reiterating my keynote discussion on basic debate processes and how important I believe they are to personal, social, and national success in the global information age, I dealt with the two topics they had expressed interest in -- how to promote a debating culture in Korea and how to use debate skills for conflict resolution.


I ended my speech with a theme Gyeongho and I have talked about many times. A vision of a future debate, a debate involving students from both North and South Korea, with each team have a representative of each country, and, as I said, during that debate, for the first time in 50 years, Korea will speak with one voice. It was fairly emotional for me, but it seemed to have a very real impact on the audience.

I took my seat at the head of the table and then answered a number of excellent questions from the audience, including how to differentiate between criticizing the ideas of another person or group versus criticizing the other person or group as people, what Korea should avoid in creating a debate culture, and a discussion of both the Gore-Bush debates and the Clinton-Lazio debates.

As the event concluded we packed up and accompanied the Director General back to his office, where he presented me with a beautiful engraved watch as a gift from the people of Korea, for which I was extremely grateful, especially since it is a pendant style watch and not a wristwatch. After a brief conversation about plans for my next trip to Korea Gyeongho and I departed.

We were ebullient as we left. We decided to take the subway since I really wanted to see it. We talked steadily as we moved through the very clean and very modern subway system, and I knew that if I lived in Seoul this is how I would get around town. Gyeongho was very pleased at the event we had just been at, and I remarked what a tremendous job he had done of translation, based on the kind of reaction he received. We made plans for future debate partnerships between us, future visits to Korea, and future tournaments, perhaps a worldwide English language tournament to be held in Korea, a sort of World Cup.

We arrived quickly back at the district where Kyung Hee University is, and made our way to the restaurant where tournament staff would be meeting us along with some of the guest judges. We arrived to find some of them already there. We learned that Prof. Jungkee Kim of Hanyang University had placed his teams in the top two spots, and that they would be competing the next day at the National Assembly building for the National Championship. This "close out" of the final round indicated to me, once again, what a valuable person he would be during his potential sabbatical stay in Vermont as a member of our debate program. The meal was excellent, the company was festive, and the conversation was thought provoking. Apparently one of the teams had, on the affirmative, proposed more than ten different reforms to stop corruption, and this created a conversation about independent plans versus plans with many components and possible negative strategies against such an approach. Once again, the rapid development of argument strategy indicated to me the intellectual sophistication of the Korean debaters as well as the judges who were genuinely interested in these questions of strategy and tactics.

As dinner came to a close I was realizing how tired I was, but was also realizing that my stay in Korea would be coming to an end. Kyung Hee took Hwa Sung, Nadja, and myself back to the hotel, and I actually dozed off a bit on the way home. Nadja shook me gently awake when we arrived. I bid them all farewell and went to my room, suspecting that the young women, Hwa Sung, Kyung Hee, and Nadja would probably do what they had done for the last couple of nights, go out on the town and stay up until three or four in the morning. I could have gone along, but I was simply too tired at that point.

As I went to bed I shook my head in disbelief at the wonderful day I had experienced, while looking forward to the National Final tomorrow at the National Assembly building.