• A new language? Posted : 2018-03-13 15:22Updated : 2018-03-14 13:15
    By Martin Limon
    Posted : 2018-03-13 15:22

    As the U.S. military relocates out of Yongsan Garrison, Yongsan Legacy aims to archive the living memories of those who served, worked and lived there. This is one of them.

    When I first arrived on Yongsan Compound in June 1968, I had to learn a new language. Not proper Korean, which was beyond my youthful ambitions, but rather a new dialect of GI slang: a dialect one part Korean, one part English and a generous helping of humor.

    One of the first words I learned was “moolah,” I don’t know. Exceedingly useful when you’re a barely educated teenager thrust into a 5,000-year-old culture. But just saying “I don’t know” wasn’t enough for most of us. We added our own spin. When we were completely befuddled we might throw up our hands and say “Moolah the hell out of me.”

    Another word quickly learned was “mianhamnida,” sorry. When faced with an insoluble problem, a GI might say “Sounds like a mianham situation.”

    Yoboseiyo, the Korean telephone greeting, was mangled into “Yobo-skeeter,” reminding one GI of the omnipresent mosquitoes in his home state of Georgia.

    GIs would sometimes combine the new with the familiar. For example, the Korean greeting “Anyonghasaeyo?” became “Anyonghashi-motor pool.”

    “Bbali bbali,” hurry, was almost universally known amongst GIs, as was “yogi,” here, and “chogi,” there. When riding in the back of a “kimchi cab” just pointing and yelling “yogi” was usually enough to convince the driver to stop.

    Many GIs never actually learned the Korean word for beer since there were only two brands available at that time, OB or Crown. Naming them, along with forking out 90 won, earned you a frothing brown bottle of suds.

    The made-up English word “slicky” was used often. It comes from the desperate situation some Koreans faced during the war, when boys would sneak onto military encampments, risking their lives, to steal precious items such as food, medicine or heating fuel, in a desperate attempt to keep their families alive.

    Perplexed GI guards would often comment, “Those boys are slick.” Thus the noun “slicky boys” and the verb “slicky” meaning “to steal.” And possibly my favorite tongue-in-cheek comment of all time: “You slicky my ping-pong heart.”

    Another comment one often heard was “same same,” which makes sense because the mere repetition of the word indicates the idea the person is trying to convey. But the words often came out sounding like “sae-muh sae-muh.”

    This developed into a phrase used even today: “Same old, same old.” Which is a corruption, I believe, of Eighth U.S. Army GI slang.

    It might not be much but these words and phrases still stand as Yongsan Compound’s contribution to the wider world of linguistics.

    Martin Limon is a full-time writer who retired from the army with 20 years of military service, 10 of which he spent in Korea. One of his 12 novels is titled “Slicky Boys.” Another, “Ping-pong Heart.”

  • Historian uncovers Yongsan Garrison’s ancient roots
    By By Kyung Lee

    Posted : 2018-02-27 18:56

    Kim Chun-soo first set foot on Yongsan Garrison in 2002 when he entered his mandatory military service. There, he encountered scattered pieces of trimmed stone blocks while on a routine tour of Camp Coiner in the northern corner of the garrison, and suspected their origins were significant.

    Already versed in Korea’s history dating from the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom through the post-war and contemporary eras, Kim suspected the stones were once bigger and more geometrically refined ― more akin to Sajik Altar located northwest of downtown Seoul. A single media report in 2005 indeed confirmed his first suspicions the rocks also served as a ritual platform called Namdan, according to an 1861 Joseon map.

    Recent photographs showing barbecue grills placed casually on either end of one stone, as well as a reasonable height of bricks laid upon another. Unearthing the exact dimensions of these structures will certainly be a daunting endeavor in the years to come. Civilians will be able to document cultural relics like this that lay unspoken within the garrison.

    “People were under the initial impression the U.S. military erected them,” said Kim, now a research director at the Yongsan Cultural Center.

    “The fact that the vast majority of people don’t know much about these stones presents a great challenge to our research efforts.”

    To investigate both the historical and structural origins of Namdan and Yongsan Garrison in their unaltered state, Kim emphasizes his itching efforts to build an accurate timeline spanning back to Joseon, perhaps even earlier, through the Japanese and American military influences, to provide insight into the altar.

    For his independent project he has collected early maps and photographs of the area, prior to its designation as Camp Coiner, that show dramatic changes to Yongsan’s landscape. In 1920 the 26th Artillery Regiment of the Japanese Imperial Army turned a marching ground into an army barracks. After the occupation ended, Quonset huts and other military structures popped up when elements of the U.S. 7th Infantry Division took over prior to the Korean War.

    Until an official full-scale hand-to-soil examination of Namdan takes place, Kim says interacting with such records is key to understanding the gradual transformations the area underwent over the ages.

    “I believe geographical features of the area can paint a more vivid image of the events that occurred well before Yongsan Garrison was given its name,” he said.

    “We have to take into account the natural elements as well as people to explain how and what changes to Namdan and other potential artifacts in Yongsan Garrison unfolded.”

    Kim currently heads a special exhibition on Yongsan history at the War Memorial of Korea until May 6. Visit yongsanlegacy.org to read more about the history of Seoul’s disappearing U.S. garrison or to contribute your own memories.

  • Discovering Broadway on Yongsan Garrison
    By Samia Mounts

    As the U.S. military relocates out of Yongsan Garrison, Yongsan Legacy aims to archive the living memories of those who served, worked and lived there. This is one of them.

    When my family moved to Seoul in 1989, I was a precocious six-year-old who had just discovered her love for the stage. My dad was a JAG lawyer for the U.S. Air Force, and later became the U.S. SOFA secretary, and my mom was a teacher and school administrator who worked for the schools on post.

    Luckily for my young heart, there was a thriving community theater program on Yongsan Garrison, my new home. We had this beautiful old theater on South Post, complete with dozens of dusty costume racks in the attic, a scene shop backstage on the ground floor, a gorgeous auditorium space with tiered seating and a stage big enough for full-scale musicals and plays. In the lobby hung framed posters from former productions. I used to stare at them, wishing I could have been there. “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Blithe Spirit,” “The Importance Of Being Earnest,” “Kiss Me, Kate!” _ all the standard titles were represented.

    It felt magical to me, full of glittering potential. I worked to be involved in as many productions as I could. I performed the role of Annie in a revue of classic musicals called “Broadway Tonight!” I played the best friend in an original holiday musical called “The Silent Bells,” written by my very own drama teacher _ and personal hero at the time _ Janet O’Neill. My crowning achievement was playing the title role in a melodrama called “The Belle of Bisbee,” a production the elementary school staged. Nothing thrilled me more than being a part of all that magic, whether I was on stage or in the audience. Thanks to that theater, I knew by the time I was eight, I wanted to be an actor.

    Then, a fire destroyed the housing office on post. Our theater was undamaged, but all those offices and workers needed a new space and the theater was the most expendable option. They put all the dusty costumes, hundreds of medieval gowns and zoot suits and poodle skirts, into storage. They gutted the scene shop and auditorium. They moved in office supplies and dividers and computers. That magical, sparkling haven was gone forever.

    They never replaced it, and Yongsan Garrison’s community theater program died a slow death. It moved to the auditorium at the Moyer Rec Center on Main Post, but that didn’t last long. I produced a couple of shows myself in high school, even used some set pieces and costumes pulled from storage, but it wasn’t the same.

    There was never the right kind of backstage energy. The ghosts of past productions, the smell of woodchips from the scene shop, the musty aura of old costumes, the glorious history of the place shimmering just beneath the surface _ all of that was missing in the new, cramped spaces.

    But I’ll never forget what that old theater gave me. It’s the deepest certainty I’ve ever had in my life: theaters are magical, and I was made for the stage.

    The writer is an actor, voice actor and singer active in New York and Seoul. In 2008 she published the young adult novel “Frunk the Skunk” set in a high school in Yongsan Garrison. Visit yongsanlegacy.org to read more about the history of Seoul’s disappearing U.S. garrison or to contribute your own memories.

  • Coco Cugat posted an update in the group Group logo of YSL KoreaTimes ColumnYSL KoreaTimes Column 5 days, 13 hours ago

    ‘5,000-year-old culture collides with gaggle of knucklehead GIs’
    By Martin Limon

    For me, it all started on Yongsan Compound. A place where a 5,000-year-old culture collided with a gaggle of knucklehead GIs (myself included) who could barely find Korea on a map. The result was occasionally tragic, sometimes beautiful, but always provided an opportunity to become someone better.

    In the early 1970s, Yongsan Compound was a happening place. Korea was still emerging from the post-war era and the citizenry was buzzing over the recently completed Seoul-to-Busan highway and the high-rise buildings newly peeking above the skyline of the capital city. Meanwhile, Yongsan Compound was open _ relatively speaking _ to the world. The main gate was nothing more than a roll-back chain-link fence manned by a lone MP. At the Pedestrian Gate, a contract guard checked Korean base workers and military members and waved them through. So unlike the massive defensive structures protecting the gates today.

    Yongsan Compound was seen as a cornucopia of tax-free luxuries: Johnny Walker Black, Kent cigarettes, Stateside staples such as Folger’s freeze-dried crystals, S&H pure cane sugar, canned salted pork shoulder, even jars of maraschino cherries. Massive amounts of these imports were transported off base to help supply the appetites of a newly burgeoning Korean middle class.

    Patti Kim performed at the USOM Club, the Grand Old Opry at the NCO Club, and some of the best Korean singers and bands put on shows at military venues throughout the country. Politicians and chaebol owners hobnobbed with generals on the manicured lawns of the 8th Army Golf Course. Expert taekwondo instructors took students through their paces at Trent Gym. Night classes leading to degrees were offered by the University of Maryland Far East Division.

    But there was trouble in paradise. Crime, not only on base but off-base. Theft, embezzlement, strong-armed robberies, rape and even murder, most often perpetrated by GIs on the Korean public.

    This was the genesis for the series of novels I was eventually to write, beginning with “Jade Lady Burning” in 1992, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and most recently “The Nine-Tailed Fox” published by Soho Press in October 2017. My protagonists are George Sueno and Ernie Bascom, two 8th Army CID agents who because of Sueno’s Korean language skills and Bascom’s ability to blend in with lowlifes of any nationality, come to take on cases of increasingly ominous portent. They’ve appeared in 12 books so far, plus a short stories collection. It all comes from my years spent in Yongsan.

    Martin Limon is a full-time writer who retired from the army with 20 years of military service. He spent 10 years in Korea on three tours: 1968-69, 1973-76 and 1977-80. Visit yongsanlegacy.org to learn more about the history of Seoul’s disappearing U.S. garrison or to contribute your own memories.


  • Coco Cugat posted an update in the group Group logo of YSL KoreaTimes ColumnYSL KoreaTimes Column 5 days, 13 hours ago

    Yongsan and the Electric Mayhem
    By Micah Granderson

    I enjoyed growing up around Yongsan Garrison. Outdoors, kids played roller hockey on streets lined with old gingko trees that turned fragrant in the fall. It had almost the look of a college campus, if a bit more rustic and utilitarian. The public spaces indoors were a different matter altogether. They roared with music, thudded with explosions and shook with the rattle of machine guns. But this wasn’t precisely military related.

    In the early 1980s, video game arcades went through another boom in the United States as clanky pinball machines gave way to video cabinets with digital sound and blasting subwoofers. Perhaps the leadership of the post didn’t immediately see the benefits of shipping heavy arcade machines across the Pacific, but that changed suddenly. Overseas military posts are packed with young men, mostly fond of arcades, all with regular government-issued paychecks, all separated from loved ones and slightly bored. It became apparent to those in charge that buying arcade machines was as good as printing money when it came to balancing the post activity budget.

    At first there were two main arcades. Dragon Hill Lodge was the plushest with deep carpets and massive game setups, the size of a walk-in refrigerator. The competition was a far seedier room in the Townhouse, that had the advantage of being directly across from the Post Exchange. Incredibly long but too narrow, there was almost no overhead lighting, just soldiers packed in by the hundreds anyway to play or cheer on their friends. Being the 1980s, every third person held a cigarette. Overall it was a choking, claustrophobic, disco-lit, deafening madhouse. But, to my seven-year-old eyes, it was magic.

    Soon game machines sprang up in every public space, down to every spare nook and cranny.

    There were machines at the snack bar, across the back of the bowling alley, machines annoyingly close to the payphone. The older generation was getting fed up, but to the soldiers and youngsters, it was one non-stop party.

    Returning to Yongsan recently, I found the garrison where I grew up quiet and eerie. Home game consoles and depopulation of the base had taken their toll. The gleeful din that dominated every public space was gone. Entrance rooms had become ghostly quiet with nothing but a cellphone conversation echoing through the halls. To me it was as if every building decided, in a single moment, to stub out their Marlboros and take a vow of silence.

    Visit yongsanlegacy.org to learn more about the history of Seoul’s disappearing U.S. garrison or to contribute your own memories.


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