The Korean Bell Rings of Freedom and Compassion...
Of all the many treasures in San Pedro this is my favorite. It is probably more intertwined in my "being" than any other physical/cultural/spiritual entity. Those who know the martial arts side of my life and the work I have done with at risk kids in the San Pedro area, via the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club and the San Pedro YMCA, will attest to this. Since 1990, I have held over 100 black belt and award ceremonies, training sessions, and other martial arts gatherings here. Outside of Asia, I know of no other place where one can gather and train with a wide blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean before us and majestic grandeur of an Eastern Buddhist Temple in the background.
My teacher, Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee, Korean born, who coincidentally retired in of all place San Pedro, and I strolled the grounds of the Korean Friendship Bell. We seldom spoke; he did not speak English, here at the Korean Friendship Bell we did not need to. There is an energy that reminds me acutely of the feeling I got in the midst of Sedona's vortexes. This is one place, more intermeshed with my psyche than any Church or Educational Institution, where I have been able to enter that inner self that escapes me in other realms. I have made history here, and it has asked nothing more from me then my humble reverence for its subtle physical-metaphorical revelations.
I am there several times a week. I can show you the gun turrets, outline the high points off its scenic overlook better than any tour guide, and, if pressed, I can tell you pretty much everything you want to know about its construction and history. But you can read most if not all this information on a metal-relief plaque posted on marble at the entrance. I can also tell you this is where my son Ian took some of his first steps, where we struggled to launch his first kite, where we played countless one on one basketball bouts in what has been nicknamed the "windiest" hoops in the universe, and where in later years with were initiated to Lacrosse and kicked around a soccer ball: all, around the spirit and surreal shadow of what Ian and I called "the bell."
When I spend time at the Korean Friendship Bell I think of FREEDOM. The Korean Bell is a gift from the South Korean People as a way to gratefully commemorate and thank us for our involvement in the Korean Conflict. The Korean Bell is a tribute to the over 36,000 American lives sacrificed in a war--one that is technically still not over--which has been named "The Forgotten War." Few realize South Korea was placed on a political back burner when the Japanese annexed it in 1909. Emancipated in 1945 following WWI, the war torn country celebrated only a few years before it was wrenched apart North from South as the Eastern extension of the "Cold War" began to get the World's attention.
The map of the Far East which we study today is drawn in its current state by the hands of the 36,000 Americans and 58,000 Koreans who surrender their lives seeking FREEDOM from oppression. I know the Korean culture better than most, I lived there for a while, and they know how our country values the Liberty Bell as a true and beloved American symbol of freedom. What a beautiful choice of a gift. The "temple bell" resembles so many that I have seen in the Buddhist temples in Korea, and cast into its complexion is the Statue of liberty.
Paradoxically, the Korean Friendship Park sits upon a section of Fort MacArthur which once stood watch over the Southern California coast line. Abandon gun turret placement are scattered here and there and "The Temple Bell" sits upon a battery when once a web of catacombs and bunkers housing munitions and men.
I have read a few reviews which said things like the Korean Friendship Bell should be used for something else or even given back, but there are a lot of Korean Americans and Inside Out Bananas like me, not to mention 100,000 departed souls who I think would bear to differ. There is a very detailed description of the metallurgic makeup of the Korean Bell about the iron, nickel, copper and even gold content at the Friendship Park. The "Bell" and its colorful temple pulls together and hold the spirit of Freedom, and the Compassion willingly extended by Americans to a relatively unknown Eastern country who simple wanted to enjoy what we sometimes take for granted.
The Korean Bell is as much a symbol of America's conceptualization of the inalienable right to freedom as anything I can think of in my life. Sometimes in fact, I call it the "Freedom Bell." The sunrise and sunsets are unparalleled for the Korean Friendship Bell. Funny how the Sunrises in the East.