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[Opinion] Far Countries, Neighboring Countries

Posted January. 21, 2005 23:03,   


Koreans have always had “poor” neighbors. During a 5,000-year history, we have heartily worshipped the Chinese, during the Japanese occupation it was Japan who was our sole foreigner, and the United States after our independence. Each time, there were always those who would snuggle up with “the other” authorities and rise to become a pro-Japan, pro-American “elite” class, familiar with foreign cultures. However, the results of these “diplomatic love affairs” always brought about love-hate conflicts and torture. The Koreans’ clannishness might have originated from those views on the foreign and the foreigners.

Professor Rhie Won-bok (59) at Duksung Women’s University Department of Industrial Arts wrapped up his cartoon book series spanning two decades, “Far Countries, Neighboring Countries” with his 12th and last installation, “The President of the United States.” This veteran opened Koreans’ eyes to a world with more diverse foreign countries than just China, United States, Japan, and Europe, which had seemed so “far away” up until the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Many consider his works a “cartoon world history” that broadened Koreans’ international horizon, and treat the author as a true cosmopolitan.

The author was first acquainted with cartoons during his high school years, when he would copy foreign comic books for a part-time job. After graduating from engineering school in Seoul National University with a degree in Architecture, he obtained a designer’s diploma at Germany’s University of Muenster University’s School of Design, and majored in Foreign Arts in the same philosophy college. Likewise, his colorful resume and 10 years’ worth of studying abroad and loitering in Europe, plus his intense thirst for knowledge and numerous travels in Japan and the United States, were the foundation for his “Far Countries, Neighboring Countries.”

There are geographically remote, yet mentally chummy countries, and countries close to us in distance but enemies for life. In that sense, the countries surrounding our peninsula, including Russia, did not make exceptional neighbors. “Far Countries, Neighboring Countries,” which sold over 10 million books worldwide, taught us this lesson: “The world is big and neighbors are aplenty.”

Oh Myung-chul, Editorialist, oscar@donga.com