Michael (Mike) is the older of the two sons of Vernon and Glendola Binning. In their life story in Recipes for Living, Volume 2, the parents tell that Mike was born in 1947, Mark in 1953. Mike was drafted into the Army in 1970, stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, working in Walter Reed Hospital. Mike was in the Medical Corps, and worked primarily in ophthalmology— research in corneal transplants and the care of the eyes, attending to veterans, both American and Vietnamese, who came back from Vietnam. He was discharged in 1972.

In 1996, Mike went to teach in Korea and continues to live there. He tells, "There are several reasons I chose to live in Korea. I love to travel and I find the culture of Asia very interesting. Korea is kind of its hub. It is between Japan and China and I like to visit both those places. I've been there many times. Additionally, Southeast Asia is not far. It is easy to go to Cambodia, Laos, and other islands. Thailand, particularly, is incredibly beautiful.

"When I first arrived there, propaganda leaflets, dropped from North Korean balloons, depicted the South Korean president as an evil person. There were lots of kidnapings of South Koreans and Japanese after the war — the Japanese to teach North Korean spies how to speak Japanese, and South Koreans to teach them about their culture. South Korean women were kidnaped to "service" the Japanese soldiers during WWII, and South Korean fishermen, who were too far north, were taken prisoner. I know people whose fathers in their little boats were taken by the big gun boats in the 1960s or '70s and haven't been heard from since. This continues to happen all the time now, and they're just gone. There are lots of those stories.

"Knowing the country makes several aspects of the Korean war more significant. (1) It is intensely cold because the north wind comes from Siberia. I don't know how the soldiers stood it in the clothing they were supplied at that time. (2) The invasion at Inchon directed by MacArthur seems incredible. Inchon is a large port city on the west coast of South Korea, a metropolitan area with a population of six to eight million — a size similar to New York. What makes the landing seem so impossible are the huge tide surges. Between high and low tide there is a tremendous shift in the water level. "Chun" means running water in Korean, and the ocean literally runs out when the tide recedes. There is a huge park honoring MacArthur for this successful amphibious landing.

"Evidence of the war still lingers 52 years later. Along the sides of the highways, there is razor-wire and there are manned guard stations along all the rivers, with search lights going at night. The DMZ (de-militarized zone) is still there. There remain 34,000 peace-keeping troops, but even though the South Korean soldiers are at their posts, they probably do not view North Korea as much of a threat as the rest of the world does. Generally speaking, the South Koreans are not much concerned about a North Korean attack.

"The biggest difference in South Korea has been the huge economic development, due primarily to President Park Chun he. He was sort of a dictator, very controversial, who eventually was assassinated. There have been presidents who followed, some good, some bad. The good ones have contributed to the development which had great impetus under President Kim Daejun. The result is that Korea now is the leading ship building country of the world, the first or second world's leading steel producer, so all in all, the economic development has been remarkable from where it was 52 years ago. This is due in part to the culture of the people. They want to succeed, and the war gave them an opportunity to do that.

"North Korea's economic development is devoid of any modernization. The people have no economic power at all. There are little pockets of capitalization. Gaesong is a city that is being sponsored by some South Korean companies to do basic factory work — pots, pans, and clothes —using North Korean labor with South Korean investment. It is a joint effort but the location of the factory is in North Korea. There is a little cooperation there. It is an interesting situation. Something happens that seems positive toward unification but then there will be a gun battle with a North Korean ship being fired on for crossing a line in the ocean. There is this disparity with apparent growth toward unification in some areas and a conflict in others.

"Before the war, North Korea was more advanced economically than South Korea but now North Korea is suffering from widespread famine, and a lot of refugees are trying to escape through China to get back to South Korea. The border between North Korea and China is porous, people can easily go back and forth, contrary to the DMZ, which is heavily patrolled, but to get to China, they can just cross the river.

"I believe most of the older generation views the war as having accomplished something positive. Even though there were bad things that happened during the war — like the massacres of innocent civilians, some of that was because the United Nations troops didn't know if North Koreans had infiltrated South Korea. It was impossible to distinguish North Koreans from South Koreans. Older Korean people have no ill feelings about that. They recognize all of that happened during the time of war. It isn't a problem for them. The younger generation doesn't view it the same way. There is some anti-American sentiment and the current president, Roh Moohyun, was elected because of his anti-American stance. He certainly was not the most qualified candidate, and has proven to be one of the poorest presidents South Korea has ever had.

KOREA IN 2006, through the eyes of a visitor:

Neil Blair of the Development Department of St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, visited Korea from March 24 to April 6, 2006. A number of Korean students attend the seminary. He wrote: I am a guest of Korean born Professor Young Ho Chun, on a two-week venture to explore immersion sites for our students. We spent two days in each Vietnam and Cambodia with Methodist missionaries and their respective ministry projects. We visited the city dump in Phnom Phen where we have a Methodist school literally next to the city dump, which covers several acres. Over 10,000 people live around the dump and sift through fresh loads to find something to sell, or in some cases, something to eat. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't visited it myself, It broke my heart to see men, women and children doing this. We also visited their slums, also unbelievable — sick children, rats in the streets, dogs tied up that will be used for food in a few days, filth, no running water or decent sewer facilities — and yet, smiles and greetings to us visitors.

Our church has some amazing people investing their lives everyday to make a difference with, as the Bible says, "the least of these." I also have hope to think some of our grads will go and have gone into the mission field at the hands-on level. It takes a special kind of person.

We also visited the killing fields, the result of a crazed leader in the mid- to late 70s, Pol Pot, truly a genocide of the population where some three million were slaughtered over a six year period. This story is not a part of our history as it should be — the nightmare of all tragedies in recent history as I understand it, It compares no less than what happened to the Jews in WW 2.

Next, we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the 7th Wonder of the World, the location of the Angkor Wat Temple cities, the largest and most modern city of Temples in the World, Buddhist and Royal in background, unbelievable! It covers over 77 square miles. This was discovered in the jungle perhaps a half century ago, and was a highly advanced civilization — much more so than Europe, with several large Temples, ornate and so artistic — carved stone, thousands of square feet, literally a small country of temples in one area. The date of building began over 1,000 years ago.

Last night we flew out of Cambodia for Seoul, Korea and met with Bishop Chong Bok Lee, a Doctorate graduate of Saint Paul School of Theology. Professor Chun and I will be attending the largest Methodist church in the world tomorrow, around 85,000 members. I will be preaching the 2:30 p.m., the young adult service. I am learning much, and hope to make the trip more than worthwhile for Saint Paul in many ways.

In summary, Korea's political system is a democracy. They have an Assembly, mostly democratic, but with it's own brand of corruption just like the U.S. It seems to get the job done and people are free and happy. They are always concerned with the threat of North Korea, better sometimes than others.


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Last Revised April 10, 2015