Happy New Year!!: With the year of the golden pig upon us, I have made a personal resolution to carve out more time for my favorite hobby and society! I believe I will be able to fulfill my resolution because work and travel this year is shaping up to be much less hectic than last year.
New Issues: To kick the year off right, I went to the Kwanghwamun Post Office to pick up a few sheets of the first issue of the year, the Rivers of Korea Series on 18 January. It’s a fairly pedestrian set of paintings of the Nakdong River during each of the seasons. I find it slightly alarming that only 560,000 of each stamp were issued, down from the average 2 million for setenants just a decade ago. Does that mean there is only 1/4 the number of new issue collectors? I am almost ashamed to admit that this was the first time I had purchased a new issue since coming to Seoul two and a half years ago. After all, it was going to the post office for new issues that helped me come down with my acute case of Korean stamp fever back in 1989.
I am almost dreading the next issue, even though it features an artist whose name is phonetically the same as mine, Paik Nam-june. Call me old-fashioned, but I fail to see how stacking television sets can be considered art! Fortunately, that will soon be followed by my vote for the issue of the year, old maps of Korea on February 28. I have managed to acquire a few antique maps of Korea, including a Portuguese map from 1628 that shows Korea as an island, as well as later maps that show the “Sea of Korea.” These maps are proudly on display in my office, so do visit me if you can! Even if you don’t have Korea Post’s colorful booklet showing the issues planned for the year, you can view them all at the KSS website! As always, Harry Penn has been doing a yeomen’s effort to inform the world about Korean stamps (www.pennfamily.org/KSS-USA/).
I plan to visit the Korean Philatelic Center (KPC) to restart my subscription and help a fellow member, but as I mentioned in my previous notes, the old central post office was torn down three years ago. Until the new central post office building opens this July, the KPC has been temporarily located in the southwestern part of Seoul, which is far from my office and even farther from my home. Fortunately, with the Internet, location matters little. You can contact them at (email@example.com).
Woomoon: My next stop was my first-ever visit to what may be the largest stamp dealer and publisher in Korea, Woomoonkwan/Korean Philatelic Co., best known for publishing one of our bibles, the Korean Postage Stamp Catalogue. Located in a hotel around the corner from the Central Post Office, I talked with one of the owners, Mr. Park Sung-ryul, who told me with chagrin about clipping the wartime surcharge stamps from letters when he was a boy. He also told me that it was the sale of a crate-load of 1948-49 regular “Won” issues to an American packet dealer that gave him the capital to set up his business. Woomun and Mr. Park can be reached at (firstname.lastname@example.org).
It was fun to be able to buy the 2007-KPC at the source. I can’t help but offer a few initial observations. You will find the same high-quality printing and binding that puts the competition to shame, but Mr. Park apologized for the fact that the 2006 stamps are not all listed properly because when Woomoon was going to press last July, unlike previous years, Korea Post had not announced all of the remaining issues for the year. I told him that in my case, I am more interested in the front of the book than the back. At first glance at the latest volume, what leapt out at me were the astronomical prices. On paper at least, I am a very rich man. #1 lists at W280,000, which is about $300. Even #5/U3 lists for W60,000. At these prices, I have enough copies of the first five issues alone to put my daughter through college! Of course, the whole set can be had for less than $20 on eBay…
KSS Meeting?: With our far-flung membership there is no ideal location for getting members together, but since the American Philatelic Society is kind enough to offer space, this year’s STAMPSHOW will be held from August 9-12 in Portland. Next year’s big winter show will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina. Do let me know if you plan to attend either one so that we can organize a meeting! My address is (email@example.com). With a little luck, I should be living in the U.S. again by then.
Work/Family: Work-wise, last year was probably the most hectic in my life, thanks to North Korea’s provocative behavior. My Northeast Asia Office of the International Crisis Group published four major reports, including "Perilous Journeys: The Plight of North Koreans in China and Beyond", which gave me the chance to travel to Mongolia, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand to interview North Koreans fleeing the horrible conditions they face back in the North. North Korea’s missile launch and nuclear test meant that the phone was ringing off the hook at times. My record was 61 interviews in 36 hours! We ended up with over 2,000 media mentions from around the world, so there is a chance that you might have seen my name in your newspaper. I also gave 60 presentations and tried to mention Korean stamps wherever possible! I continue to teach at Ewha Woman’s University part-time. My first trip of 2007 is to Malaysia on January 26. Julia is almost five, which means I can introduce her to stamps before long. She is thriving in Seoul, perfectly fluent in Korean and English, so she regularly corrects her parents!
I wish you a healthy and prosperous 2007!