President’s Notes-November 2005
by Peter M. Beck

It is hard to believe that it has already been more than a year since I arrived in Seoul last August as the director for the International Crisis Group’s Northeast Asia office. I seem to be attracted to overly-demanding jobs (and children) that leave me precious little time for my favorite hobby, Korean stamps! For that I can only offer my sincere apology to KSS members for not being able to give the society the time that it deserves. Now that we have all survived some very lean times, I will do my best to rededicate myself to advancing the interests of KSS!

Washington 2006: First and foremost, it is not too soon to begin preparing for our presence at Washington 2006, which will be held May 27 - June 3 at the Washington D.C. Convention Center. Please let me know if you plan to attend and if you are prepared to help staff a table or make a presentation (pbeck@icg.org). With a little luck, I hope all of our officers can attend. The last time we were all together was Pacific `97--a most memorable experience! I will do everything in my power to attend.

KSS Members Coming and Going: One of the KSS highlights of the year for me was being able to meet Gary McLean last summer in Seoul at the Olympic Park Hotel, which is walking distance from where I live! It was an all-to-brief reunion, but it was wonderful to be able to get caught up. It was hard to decide who had done more traveling. I still have not had a chance to meet with any of our Korean members, but I hope that will change soon!

It was with great sadness that I read in the Korean press of the passing of one of our earliest members, Dr. Paul Crane. Long before I learned that he had been a member of KSS, I had read his seminal introduction to Korean culture, Korean Patterns, back in the late 1980s. I recall reading an early issue of KSS in which he suggested that the origin of the post office named “Gwendoline,” located in the British mining town of Eunsan a century ago, was that British miners heard the locals refer to Stonehenge-like dolmen in the area in Korean as “koindol,” which sounded a bit like the name “Gwendoline.” The blue cancel is one of my favorites, regardless of whether the story is true or not! I trust that KP will include a full write-up of Dr. Crane’s fascinating life.

Philatelic Finds: The fleeting time I have had for philatelic finds has been largely reserved for Korean Kingdom/empire cancels. I have found several small-town cancels, including one of my new favorites, Onyang (Chungcheong-do), which, as the name implies, is famous for its hot springs, which I sampled many moons ago with the wife. Unfortunately, I have not learned how to find interesting philatelic items in Seoul yet, particularly since the Seoul Central Post Office was torn down to put up a gleaming new building.

Fortunately, I was able to visit another philatelic Mecca—the huge stamp store in Pyongyang! I made my first trip to Pyongyang in October and had the good fortune of staying at the Koryo Hotel, which is located next to the stamp store. The stamp store is the only place I was allowed to walk alone. The extensive displays were matched by a massive inventory of stamps in metal drawers covering an entire wall. What amazed me most was the clerk could find any stamp that I asked for within seconds, even if I was asking for stamps by theme rather than by number or year. Prices were for the most part reasonable, with sheets of new mint stamps for less than a dollar.

Travels: I have just survived a particularly brutal patch of travel, which found me in a different part of the world or Korea every week for almost two months, and in between I was teaching classes at Yonsei and Ewha Universities. The International Crisis Group is a Brussels-based NGO focusing on crisis prevention and resolution through rigorous field research and advocacy, so I have found myself traveling all around Asia, Europe and the United States. We have published four reports so far (available at our web site, www.crisisgroup.org) and are currently finishing up two more reports on China and North Korea and on the territorial and history disputes between Japan, China and Korea, so my travels in Asia have ranged from Ulleung-do (trying to get to Dok-do) to the Korean Autonomous Region in China, including Mt. Baekdu, which has appeared on many a North Korean (and a few South Korean) stamp. My first trip to North Korea was last fall to visit the Diamond Mountains. The trip to Pyongyang was to see the Arirang Festival and the sights of Pyongyang. It has been amazing to see so many of my stamps come to life, but travel in North Korea can be very frustrating.

Family: Our daughter, Julia, is now almost four. She is thriving in Korea and now speaks Korean almost as well as English. My wife’s adjustment back to Korea has been a bit more difficult. Ten years in the United States really spoiled her. We have an apartment right next to the entrance to the Olympic Park (also on a number of South Korean stamps!) and I try to take Julia there for long walks once or twice a week. We were just there this afternoon to enjoy the waning colors of autumn. My office is located a short walk from Kwanghwa-mun, a straight shot on the subway (Line 5).

I would like to wish you and yours all the best as the holidays approach, and good health and good fortune in the new year!

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