The schedule is rather monotonous for a lecturer invited to the big cities where universities are usually located. First comes the airport, then the car with the polite, smiling young man as a guide, then hotel room and restaurant, podium, introduction, photo graphs, the lecture itself-then the whole thing in reverse order the next day. Occasionally, the routine is broken by unexpected events, but the framework is generally predictable. 

It was altogether different last July in South Korea. The invitation was for a whole week, and Seoul figured only as a quick stop, an arrival and departure. The rest of the time, five days, I was “centered” in the southern provincial town of Su-chon, the departure point every morning for a journey by car to the south, north, east, or west. The arrangement provided a marvelous opportunity to see unfamiliar country side, meet real people (as opposed to intellectuals), eat in local or Chinese restaurants, usually sitting on the floor, visit tearooms, Buddhist shrines and monasteries, train stations (always more filled with common folk than are airports), and, yes, lecture halls. 

The lectures themselves were not at universities but were organized by private local people simply curious to hear about the outside world. They came: teachers, housewives with children, old people traditionally dressed in white with a kind of narrow tophat tied under the chin. The audience did not understand a word I said but listened intently to my translator who, had he been cursing me, I would not have understood. We stood side by side on a podium; I said about five sentences which he took at least 10 minutes to translate, interpret, elaborate on, distort-I do not know to this day. But all went very well; I (we) received thundering applauses. One man in the audience in town X admitted that I was the first Western (white) man he had ever seen. I was in the hinterland. . . . 

For whatever reason, these were remarkable days. I had always thought of Korea as the grim land divided by the DMZ (demilitarized zone), where two American officers were axed to death 10 years ago, provoking (as usual) no reaction from Washington. In my imagination, it had been a land of un friendly bare mountains, strangely shouting karate champions. Now I saw a smiling, lovely countryside, charmingly meandering rice fields occupying every square inch between the hills. Where there are no paddies, the countryside presented a fabric of endless vegetable fields, fishponds, well forested mountainsides, lovely streams and rivers with families picnicking on fish and watermelon. The towns, Seoul included, are nondescript, typical products of semi-Westernization, undecided between uglifying industry and agricultural or fishing centers. Toward evening, they became more habitable, with dimmed lights and the ever-present markets going on till mid night. Peasant women, squatted on streets and bridges, sell their produce to busy shoppers. 

The villages are lovely gems. Often not more than 12 or 15 homes, the typical village presents an eye-catching variety of Chinese roofs, each made of green tiles or blue, yellow or black, red DI brown, adding color patches to the green of the paddies. Work on the fields continues until 9:00 or 10:00 but-this too is typically Chinese-Japanese-Korean-the men and women always seem to be taking it easy, and work seems a form of enthusiastic involvement. (Speak of under development: There is no comparison between steamy, ever-decaying India and sturdy, hardworking Korea or Taiwan.) 

South Korea is a man’s society. The country is industrialized, yet (at least in this Mediterranean-like South) industry has not corroded the country’s social and family structure. The Koreans live in a temporarily happy half way house between tradition and modernity. While my interpreter finished discoursing to our public, I often wait ed for him in an adjoined tea house) not the one from the operetta Tea House of the August Moon, but a real one. Since I was condemned to silence-absolutely nobody spoke English and even my translator, a professor, did not know that in South America they speak Spanish and Portuguese-I just looked and observed. The guests in the tea house were men only, since the tearoom is also a face-saving variety of a bordello. The head girl-geisha? madame/ wears an awfully gaudy dress, with jewels, from, I guess, a five-and-dime store. She and the other girls serve tea and beer, while the men show no inhibition in expressing their interests in feminine charm. Things can be arranged, but usually with discretion. The girl is invited to a hotel room to “serve tea,” and indeed she will carry with her the tray, the samovar-like can, and the cups. The “arrangement” may or may not take its expected course. At any rate1 no protesters have shown up here demanding equal rights for women or decrying the subjugation of women as “sex objects.”

Traveling around south of Seoul, never far from the sea (studded with lovely islands, causeways, hills, gazebos, fish restaurants), I had all sorts of occasions to inquire about what occupies the South Korean mind. Number one is fear of a new attack from the North. People have not forgotten the horror of the invasion 36 years ago, nor MacArthur’s brilliant counterstrategy. Preoccupation number two is Korea’s backseat role not only in its relationship with America but also with Japan. Their admiration for, and apprehension of, the Japanese reminded me of East European attitudes to ward Germany as a kind of elder brother who is often tough to live with but whose past offenses are now push ed far into the background by hatred of the Soviet Union. The Japanese seem numerous in Korea, just as they are increasingly visible almost everywhere on the planet-while U.S. troops and their families remain practically invisible. Yet America is problem number three, as is always the case between protector and client. The big worry: how to continue the country’s industrial growth by selling more merchandise, including military equipment and car tires, on the American market.

It is also the U.S. which relentlessly pushes democratization. This does not fit Korean mentality and tradition, as it is also unfit for the Philippines, Iran, Nicaragua, or South Africa. However, the leaders in Seoul wish to avoid a Washington-engineered change of government (as in Manila or Tehran) and, like typical Orientals who adjust rather than resist (resistance comes later and it is slow), they want to be good pupils of the Big White Democrat. The upshot will be a new constitution prepared by politicians and professors, the unholiest of combinations. The opposition parties will provide an ideal base for subversion, since the rioting Marxist teachers and students will have a safe, First Amendment type, shelter. At public meetings, students already preach from North Kore an textbooks, as they praise Kim Il Sung as the shining unifier of the nation and idolize the northern “socialist man.” In my nightmare, I see this lovely, happy, hardworking people of the South cowering before the commissar who destroys their family life, rice paddies, and quiet monasteries with the deep-bowing monks. 

I don’t think it will happen, though. Moscow does not want to push Japan deeper into America’s arms, because this is how Tokyo would react if South Korea were imperiled. Besides, Japan is quietly arming, too. My friends in Su-chon may go on picnicking, rice picking, visiting the monasteries and the tearooms. But they are still a normal people.