The AFKN is the American Forces Korea Network. Everyday throughout Korea, tens of thousands of American servicemen and women turn on their radios and or television sets to enjoy the broadcastings. The services are available to United States personnel serving in Korea all the way from the Demilitarized Zone in the north down to Busan.
The Yongsan Garrison station of the AFKN was located on a hill across the road Eighth Army Drive near the Gate 20 (it was then called Rear Gate) in the North Post. The Building 1510 of the architect/engineering firm Trans-Asia (TAE) was and it is still located on the east side of the main Drive also near the Gate 20.
When discotheque became popular place for drinking and dancing in New York, The Chosun Hotel (The Westin Chosun now) in Seoul in 1970 asked us if TAE could design a discotheque in the basement space of the hotel. The TAE earlier had designed the club house on the roof top and outdoor swimming pool on the roof of the lean-to office building (it was later demolished due to polluted air in the city).
Discotheque is a nightclub for dancing to live or recorded music and often featuring sophisticated sound systems and elaborate lighting effects. It has been known that Mrs. Sybil Burton, former wife of British actor Richard Burton, opened the “Arthur” DISCOTHEQUE in 1965 in Manhattan which became the hottest disco in New York City.
We Korean architects had heard of the disco but never had the design experience. And noticing the AFKN disk jockeys talked like avant-garde artists at a commissary diner, I decided to visit the station just across the street.
When I was about to reach the entrance door, a large German shepherd, black on the shoulders and brown furs on the ventral areas, as tall as my waist, ran from nowhere at me. The dog didn’t bark but put his side of long face against my right thigh so tightly that I could feel his body warmth. The army dog was telling me “Don’t move!”
This was not my first encounter with a ferocious army canine. Every time when I visited tactical missile or signal stations on the top of mountains for R&U (Repair and Utilities) services I was met by unleashed dogs. Some dog at remote military site growled exposing the fierce teeth and quickly bit my leg. Not crushingly hard but I could feel the teeth lines. I knew I shouldn’t move and be quiet. I obeyed. The U.S. Army dogs are trained to recognize Korean civilian but they seemed have no sense in recognizing the North Korean spy from an innocent South Korean engineer. The dogs released his bite when his handler said something in English. The dog handler soldier who believed he was doing his duty never apologized.
Returning to the discotheque story; I entered into the station and introduced myself as a neighbor and explained about my dilemma in designing a discotheque, a French word that I couldn’t even pronounce it properly. And I was met by one avant-garde disk jockey who had had danced in the disco in New York City. The young soldier told me that being a soldier he couldn’t accept the fee when I offered to compensate his time, but asked instead to put him in a room at Chosun Hotel for a week during its construction. He would take his furlough in the hotel. I agreed and registered him at the five-star deluxe hotel that included the meals and drinks for which the hotel later said it’s a complementary. This boy from New York did fine job in supervision of the interior works including DJ booth, air conditioning and colored illuminations and sound proof ceiling and walls.
We danced on the opening day of the Korea’s first discotheque in the ear-splitting disco music. Everyone was happy.
I wonder where that handsome American soldier who had been always cheerful would live. He must be in his late 70s now.
By Nam Sang-so, January 27, 2017.