30 December 2008

Los Angeles: Korean Friendship Bell

This past Sunday, the last one of 2008, was spent again aboard Gwaneum One - in a very fitting way to end a very meaningful year. Here's my recap of the day.

I brought Gwaneum One to my home church - Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena. This church has been one of Southern California's leading proponents of gay marriage, and I am glad to call it my spiritual home.

The Toyota Prius next to Gwaneum One bears many progressive-themed bumper stickers, and is quite typical of the cars that show up here. There is a good mix of all makes and models here; in the far right, another Hyundai (a black Santa Fe SUV) can be seen. I also counted three BMW 3-series sedans too on this day, which made me cringe, but it appears that most people are less in the know about BMW's evil deeds than I am, so I'll have to let it pass. I'll just make sure to spread the word on why I gave up a BMW to drive a Hyundai.

After some shopping opportunities (which yielded nothing that I had wanted), I drove south to San Pedro, to visit Fort McArthur, now Angels Gate Park.

This park's claim to fame is the Friendship Bell, a gift of South Korea's military dictatorship to the United States for the Bicentennial. I came here for a photo op for Gwaneum One, but ended up getting far more than that.

This dedication plaque, dated to July 4, 1976, is in English and Korean, and dedicates the bell to the American spirit and a long, prosperous alliance between the two nations.

Too bad, in the name of "preserving" that American spirit, South Korea's government and the Korean-Americans have been very hard at work destroying it instead!

On January 28, 1981, President Chun Doo-hwan came here and planted this tree. He had seized power through a bloody military coup the previous year, and his US visit, within the first few days of the Reagan Presidency, was to ensure that Reagan would legitimize and back his rule.

Not all was bad under Chun, however. He had vowed to step down at the end of his 7-year term, though his ulterior motive was to install his military buddy Roh Tae-woo in an indirect election. The South Koreans were fed up with this move, however, and revolted, forcing Chun to accept direct elections. Roh did succeed Chun, but had to win the presidency the hard way - real votes in a fair direct election.

Korean village guardians - Great General Under the Heavens, and Female General of the Underground. These are very familiar sights to me by now (in fact, a smaller pair even guards my bedroom), and I am glad to see them here again.

The bell pavilion. A lovely sight!

Detail of the pavilion sign and the color scheme. The colors need some restoration work, I must say; between the ocean breeze and the strong Southern California sunshine, Korean-style color decorations have a hard time keeping up.

Here is the bell itself. It is a massive bell, modeled after the Emille Bell back in Gyeongju, which was part of my road trip last month. It really feels like by coming here, I extended my road trip by another month and 6,000 miles. The only change is that I showed up in Gwaneum One, instead of Gwaneum Zero.

The bell is actually the same size and design as the Emille Bell, making it one of the largest bells ever made. Yes, it does come with a special acoustic chamber that is unique to large Korean bells. And in a few nights, its sound will fill the skies of San Pedro, as 2009 is rung in.

The exterior features four pairs of figurine images: a Statue of Liberty, paired with a Korean counterpart.

The ceiling colors are very vivid, as they had not been exposed as much to direct sunlight. I also get a good look at the acoustic chamber.

Another look at the pavilion, with the Palos Verdes hills to the northwest.

This is a very clear, breezy hilltop, and an excellent place to put a bell pavilion. And this plot of land is surrounded by water on three sides - south, east, west - and that has parallels to the Korean peninsula, which itself faces water in the same three directions.

A look east allows me to observe the busy harbor activities in San Pedro and Long Beach. In the distance are the hills of Orange County.

Looking south, I can see the Santa Catalina Island. In all my years in Southern California, I never got to travel out there.

There is even a small exhibit hall in this park, maintained jointly by South Korea's Cultural Service (under the auspices of the South Korean Consulate of Los Angeles) and the City of Los Angeles Parks Department. I am inside.

This is a map of Korea and vicinity, produced by South Korea's government mapping service. Korea is shown as a unified nation. The major islands of Japan and the northern populated areas of China (as far south as Shanghai) are also shown. Until a month ago, this map had pretty much described my extent of Asian travels; now, I've gone beyond this map, by visiting Hong Kong.

There are some pieces of art here, including this golden Pensive Bodhisattva. I had seen so many of these during my three months in South Korea, and I am glad to see one right here in Los Angeles.

More traditional Korean art. I can also take in modern Korean art, including the Mashimaro animated character and other pop art items.

There also are many tourist posters. They show lots of things, from Bongeunsa Temple next to Seoul's COEX Mall to Seokguram Grotto in Gyeongju. I had visited more or less all of them, and was glad to be reminded of my past three months.

I really feel that by coming here, I extended my South Korean sojourn.

The exterior of the exhibit hall. The flags of the US and South Korea are hoisted outside, and the bell pavilion is in the distance.

There is a sizable parking area here, almost full on this beautiful day. Many local residents like to hang out here for barbecues, for kite flying, for basketball, and for many other activities. A few Korean-Americans trickle in from all over Southern California as well.

Gwaneum One is in the center left, and today, it's the only Korean car in sight here - but a very appropriate one at that. In 1986, on the tenth anniversary of the bell, a visitor could've, for the first time, shown up in a South Korean automobile - the lowly Hyundai Excel. The visitor may have also brought a Samsung boombox or portable cassette player. In the late 1990s, a visitor could've shown up in a better car - probably a Hyundai Elantra - and his/her laptop would've boasted tons of LG semiconductors. And today, I brought Gwaneum One featuring an LG navigation system - though I don't have an LG cell phone on me (I love my iPhone too much). By contrast, back when the bell was first dedicated, the most advanced South Korean goods available in the US were primitive AM radios and black-and-white TV sets. At least they were more advanced than their predecessors - human hair wigs!

A farewell shot of the bell pavilion, with the Catalina Island hills to the far right.

Looking forward to doing some more driving soon. I had missed this year's LA Auto Show due to my Asian trip, so I'll make up for it by driving down to San Diego for the auto show there. I'll stay far away from the BMW stand, but will definitely hang out at most other stands, just to see how most manufacturers' cars stack up against Gwaneum One. I'll certainly hang out for a while at the Hyundai stand, and talk to other visitors about how luxurious my Gwaneum One is! And of course there is that Las Vegas trip that I must also do. If I feel up to the task, I may even consider Palm Springs and/or Santa Barbara.