from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

About Me

with 31 comments

Holden Beck was a pseudonym I was using until the book was published.

My name is Young Chun. I’m an American who, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, ended up serving two years in the Korean Army. I’ve published a memoir titled The Accidental Citizen-Soldier, available on Amazon for $2.99 (Kindle version).

 

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Written by Young

March 2, 2010 at 5:30 pm

31 Responses

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  1. When are you an asshole?

    Diane

    September 15, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    • I’m usually not an asshole in person. Usually. But the beauty of the internet is that I can get in touch with that side of my persona without any shred of guilt or remorse.

      holdenbeck

      September 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm

  2. Hey. I am an Israeli journalist working on a story about the S. Korean army. Am in Seoul right now. How can I contact you? Thanks

    Boaz

    November 8, 2010 at 10:32 am

    • If the article is purely about the Korean Army, I’m sure you will be able to find people much more knowledgable than me. If, by chance, this is about my particular story, I’m holding off giving interviews until I get a book deal.

      I’m not sure of how much help I may be to you, but I’ll send a reply to your e-mail account.

      holdenbeck

      November 8, 2010 at 3:36 pm

  3. Hey man, first of all, good work on the blog. I find your writing style very enjoyable and the subjects you discuss are fascinating. I’m 1st generation Canadian, born in Seoul, moved when I was in grade school. I stumbled upon your blog when I was researching about English teaching gigs in Korea. I had joined the Canadian Navy when I turned 18 two years ago, and chose to remain as a member in the reserves when I began attending university. Coming from Korean background and having military experience under my belt, I just wanted to let you know that I really sympathize with your experience. However, you sure do bitch and moan a lot about your service, now that it is over, maybe it would be wise to turn a new leaf and regard your experience in more positive light? haha, Im just joshing ya, keep up the good work!

    W

    William w Lee

    January 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    • William, thanks for the comment. I appreciate it.

      So you’re thinking about teaching in Korea? How does that work out with your Reserves obligations? And Canada has a navy? (It’s a joke. My question, not your navy…)

      Do I bitch and moan a lot about my service? I don’t remember doing that much in the last couple months so maybe it’s long overdue. It’s somewhat of a tradition for discharged Korean soldiers to do so. At least the ones I know.

      In all seriousness, I didn’t enjoy my time in the Army, but I don’t have any resentment. I’m a very cynical person but I’m not really negative. At the same time, I don’t see any use in looking at the experience in a positive light. It was what it was. It’s just a part of my past and I don’t really think of it that often these days aside from when I’m writing.

      Thanks for stopping by…

      holdenbeck

      January 11, 2011 at 5:19 pm

  4. I’ve been scrolling around for an entry explaining how you got drafted, however, I’ve run out of patience and time (therefore I am writing to you directly). I’m going to Korea in a few months to teach English, and I am scared shitless that i’ll be drafted. I’ve received an F-4 visa from the Korean consulate in LA. Would that be enough to keep me out of the Korean military? Could you offer me any advice?

    Besides that, you’re writing style is refreshing and full of descriptive details. I hope you get a book deal soon. Also, we both have a commonality in that we both have a deep fascination (a nicer way of saying addiction) to booze.

    Any words of advice you could give me regarding avoiding getting drafted and teaching English in Korea will be greatly appreciated. Heck, I’ll even buy a nights worth of booze for the both of us if you can help me out! 😀

    Jay Yoo

    October 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    • The good news is that if you were able to get a visa, you most likely don’t have Korean citizenship. The way that I found out I had Korean citizenship was when I went to Immigration to get a visa. The clerk looked at me and said, “Visa? You can’t get a visa. You’re a Korean citizen.” It was news to me.

      If you want to be absolutely certain, you can double check to make sure your father (or relatives on his side) has never reported your birth in Korea and you can drop by the Korean consulate in LA and ask them if you can get a copy of your father’s hojeok. The odds are, you’re pretty safe, but I can understand if you want peace of mind.

      Did you get a job offer yet? I’ve been out of the hakwon game for a while but I found my first job at Dave’s ESL Cafe. You have to be careful, though, because there are a lot of seedy employers out there. Also be careful if they say it’s close to Seoul. I spent the year before I went to the Army at a small hakwon in Bundang in Seongnam city and it was a pain going out to Seoul to party.

      Anyway, thanks for the compliment about the writing. I hope to get a book deal sometime next year but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. And of course, an offer of night’s worth of booze is always welcome but just a warning that it can get a little pricey. I’d be a rich man if I didn’t drink. As it is, I’m poor as hell.

      If you have any other questions, send me an e-mail: holdenbeck@gmail.com

      holdenbeck

      October 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm

  5. Instead of waiting for a book deal you should check out her story
    http://www.npr.org/2012/01/08/144804084/a-self-published-authors-2-million-cinderella-story

    adann

    April 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    • Thanks for the link. I haven’t discounted the possibility of self-publishing but I’m going to try the more conventional path first. There’s just something about seeing your work in print on the bookshelves. Regardless, I still have a way to go before finishing the manuscript and starting the process of finding an agent and publisher again.

      holdenbeck

      April 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm

  6. Holden, I came across your blog by accident (when reminiscing about my own horrible Korean army experience via google search engine, lol), and I’m struck how similar our experiences were: I served around roughly the same time; spent most of my life before that overseas; and I could hardly speak a word of Korean – which, of course, didn’t stop them from assigning me work as a linguist (and chewing me out)! The main difference would be was that I was a KATUSA; that said, gochams are the same whatever uniform they wear – and some were very memorable – and I’ll never forget the squad leader who saw it as his mission to pick on me everyday in Nonsan. I think it’s great that someone is memorializing the horrible experience of being a non-Korean Korean in the Korean Army. Judging from your posts, you got talent; I wish you the best.

    jimmy

    May 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    • Jimmy, thanks for the encouragement. I’m sorry to hear that you had to go through a similar experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
      Were you born in Korea? If so, how old were you when you moved to the States?
      When did you get your physical before the Army? When I was at the MMA for my physical, there was another guy–he couldn’t speak well, either, but he was born in Korea. I don’t know what happened to him.

      holdenbeck

      May 14, 2012 at 12:03 am

      • I was born in Korea but stayed only for the first couple years of my life. I lived in the States, also Singapore, until I came back in 2002. To be frank, I don’t quite remember when I took the physical but it must have been in 02, because I entered the Army about a while later in 03. (I used the intervening time to desperately learn Korean. Alas, it case a case of too little, too late). When exactly did you serve? I did my time from Jun 03 to Aug 05.

        jimmy

        May 15, 2012 at 4:44 am

      • I also came to Korea in 2002 but didn’t have my physical until after you started your service. I started in January 2004.

        I wasn’t smart enough to use the intervening time to desperately learn Korean. It’s another complicated part of the story but I thought that I had a foolproof plan to avoid the service right up until the day before I was inducted.

        holdenbeck

        May 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm

  7. Weren’t you the KA who actually had enlisted in the U.S. Army while you were in Korea, and had orders and everything to report for basic training in the U.S, i.e., until the MMA swooped down and intercepted you just as you were about to board a Space-A flight out of Osan AB?

    kmg365

    March 11, 2013 at 12:30 am

    • It depends. If the information can be used against me, then no. But if you know this information, then the probability is either we’ve met before or you know someone I’ve met. Have we met before?

      holdenbeck

      March 11, 2013 at 11:43 am

  8. Let me explain~no, we definitely have never met even though I am also a 2G KA (I’m from Chicago though). I was in Korea from 2001-2007, and learned of your predicament when I worked as a copy editor for the English-language edition of the JoongAng Ilbo. (iirc, I also remember seeing it mentioned in some other U.S. dailies as well.) When I saw that story, it really touched a nerve in me as I did my time too — albeit as an 11B grunt in the U.S. Army from 1988-92 — so definitely no judgment here and nothing but kudos for having stuck it out in one of the toughest armies on earth. btw, if and when your book comes out, I’ll be the first in line to buy it, so keep up the good work and please keep us updated! (There’ll always be a market for military and penal memoirs if writers like Guy Sajer and Solzhenitsyn are to be believed.) 🙂

    kmg365

    March 11, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    • I hadn’t realized how much the media knew about my predicament. The incident at Osan AB happened not even two days before I entered Korean Army boot camp.

      Thanks for the encouragement. I hope what they say is true. At times, the manuscript is more a penal memoir than a military memoir because there isn’t any real action in the Korean Army, even during North Korea’s frequent acts of provocation.

      I haven’t been good at keeping up with the blog but I think I’ll be more active once things start rolling. But first things first, I need to finish my revisions.

      By the way, I’m also originally from Chicago. I moved to Seattle when I was 12.

      holdenbeck

      March 11, 2013 at 5:45 pm

  9. Hey, I know a few published authors (albeit their genre is very different from you). Given the US publishing market now, you may want to just self-publish since they just tend to complain about their editors and agents now & how hard things have become. But I can ask around for you. This is Chris (Annie’s cousin btw). Ping me via email or Facebook.

    Chris

    August 17, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    • Hey, Chris, I’ll hit you up on e-mail. I’m still working on my stuff but it’d be good to hang out.

      holdenbeck

      August 17, 2013 at 11:04 pm

  10. Hi
    First of all, this is a very interesting blog, especially that I will have to go through the 21 month military service in 2015. My situation is a little similar to yours, and I was wondering if you could give me any advice.
    This is my story: I am a 31 year old French korean adoptee, and I came to Korea in 2008 under a F4 visa.
    I got married in 2011 to a Korean girl.
    Then, the Korean government allowed dual citizenship ( for adoptee included).
    In 2013 I applied for the korean citizenship and received it last october…Little did I know that I was adopted not on an orphan registry-which would have granted me military exemption- but on my korean family registry (hojuk).
    After contacting the MMA and the ministry of justice, they just felt sorry for my case and nothing they could do to help me.
    The problem was nobody double checked if I was under an orphan registry, and all clerks I have been dealing with my Korean citizenship assumed without checking that because I was an adoptee it was certain for them that I would not have to serve in the military…
    I can delay my military service until 2015.
    I feel upset, frustrated and stupid to have believed that orphan in korean law is much different to the international meaning…
    Also, I can not escape korea, so I feel trapped, meaning that there is no way I could see my family for a very long time…
    Because of that, and after reading horror stories about the Korean army, I get quite often into crazy and violent rages, punching things and wanting to kill any one related to korean army…
    There is also a newspaper that wants to tell about my story, but I feel a little reluctant to do so because of the way korean media distortioned the truth..
    Thank you for reading

    ben jh

    November 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    • Ben, first of all, I’m really sorry to hear about your situation. I would never wish what I went through on anyone and it angers me that this sort of thing is still happening. The government just loves to screw people over.

      There are a couple of things I hope you will find at least a little comforting although I doubt it will be much.

      First, it is likely that they won’t require you to serve as a full-time, active-duty soldier. Are you 31 by Korean accounting of age? I heard somewhere that conscripts that are older are more likely to be a 공익근무원, which means working in a public office (for example, the Gwanak-gu District Office). If so, you’ll still have to go through basic training (I think it’s been shortened to four weeks these days), but after you’re done, you’ll be able to commute to the office from home. As you’re married, I’m sure this is much better than being shipped off to a small unit in the countryside where you can only come out on the weekend five times during your service (and leaving the neighborhood around the base is prohibited). If there is no way to avoid the service, this would probably be the best option, and to that end, I would recommend that you talk to reporters. It’s my opinion that the government will be more likely to place you in such a position if they know that the international community is watching (but it probably won’t get you off the hook). If you want to talk to a French reporter, I have a friend I can put you in contact with.

      I thought I had a couple more things to say but realize that none of them are particularly comforting.

      As for advice, I’d say that getting your story printed is a good idea. My story was printed in The Korea Times back in 2003 and they reported the facts without distortion. There was also a story of another guy around the same time. I don’t remember the details but he served in the US Army and did a tour overseas, he came back to teach in Korea, he was born in Korea and somehow still had Korean citizenship, he was in his 30s, and he was assigned to work in a public office.

      How is your Korean? If it’s not great, I’d use this time to learn Korean. If you can speak well, practice speaking in the most formal register–습니다/습니까. If you want, I can go over the military terminology I can remember with you. The experience is already shitty enough without being oblivious to what people are screaming at you.

      Have you been barred from leaving the country (출입금지)? If you’re okay with never coming back to Korea (which might be difficult with your wife’s family), a friend told me that a guy in the same situation snuck out of the country by sailing to Japan. Long before I heard the story, I was also considering doing the same thing.

      The only other thing I can do is offer to a sympathetic ear and alcohol. I was pretty much drunk whenever I had the chance from the moment I learned I had to go to the Army until I went to boot camp. If you want to grab a beer, my e-mail address: holdenbeck@gmail.com

      holdenbeck

      November 19, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    • Hi Ben,

      I’m terribly sorry to hear what you’re going through. I entered the Korean military in ’03 speaking poor Korean, left in ’05 speaking poor Korean, and still speak poor Korean to this day (in some ways, my Korean now is worse since I developed an anathema to *anything* Korean (except the food and my Korean wife) after my army experience and avoided situations where I had to use the language). Anyway, I felt terrible when I read your post and felt compelled to write this reply.

      Holden makes some really good points in his reply, and I urge you to think about them carefully. I’ll add a few comments.

      But first of all, do you speak Korean? My reply is based in the assumption that you do not, or that your Korean is very poor.

      1) Definitely look into the alternative service options (though, you are probably already doing this). The 공익근무원 option might work. Pros: As Holden said, you can commute to work. Cons: The service is considerably longer, I believe, and your bosses are still Koreans who probably view you as cheap labor – in your case, cheap labor who perhaps doesn’t know how to speak properly. It will not be fun, but may be better than being a common soldier. The main reason I hesitate to fully endorse this route, is the longer period of service.

      2) May I suggest trying to enlist into the KATUSA program? Being a KATUSA means you are still in the ROK Army, but you are assigned to work alongside the U.S. soldiers. The length of service is the same as regular soldiers, and so is the pay, but at least you can use English for part of the day. Note, however, that I said “part of the day”…. That is because you are still a Korean soldier, living and working with other KATUSAs. As a result, you cannot completely escape your fellow Koreans – and some may hold a grudge against you for speaking better English, etc. As a former KATUSA, I know from experience. Like most Korean soldiers, KATUSAs are immature and enjoy hazing and bullying one another (they call it “character-building”). Speaking poor Korean means you will be an outsider and targeted for special attention. (KATUSAs are generally well-educated and are supposed to speak/write English fairly well, but the reality is their English is quite poor – they never use it among themselves, only reluctantly use it with the Americans, and they spend their free time only with other KATUSAs. Amazingly, there is an unwritten rule against becoming too friendly with the Americans outside of work).

      That said, it is STILL preferable to regular military service because (1) you can use English at least for part of the day, and (2) you can usually leave camp during the weekends unless there is training or you are in combat arms unit. However, you have to apply for the KATUSA program early to get a shot (selection is random; you have to fill out some paperwork, and submit the results of a English language test such as TOEIC, TEPS, etc., and they pick the “lucky ones” by lottery), and it may in fact be too late to apply. I urge you to find out soon.

      3) Regardless of whether you go into the regular army, KATUSA, or even become a 공익근무원, you must – MUST! – brush up on your Korean. Even if you speak semi-decent Korean, I strongly advise you to practice as much as you can, as if your life depends on it – because it does. I would also suggest becoming up to date with the latest K-POP music, celebrities, dramas, and pretend to like them (in case you don’t) as that’s about the only thing your fellow soldiers care about. Also, as the “new guy,” you will probably be required to sing/dance/make jokes for the entertainment of your seniors. Don’t be like me who couldn’t dance or sing a single K-POP song (still can’t and probably never will), and had to do literally hundreds of push-ups as punishment.

      4) I think Holden’s advice regarding the media is sound. Try to get as much attention, as possible. In your case, I truly believe the media will be sympathetic. If he hasn’t already, maybe Holden can connect you to the same reporter for the Korea Times. This may be helpful later when arriving at your unit, too. If your commanding officer knows that the media is watching, he will try to avoid any incident regarding you.

      5) Now, here’s the tricky part. According to a relative (who was discharged just a year ago from a hard core infantry unit), nowadays there are many ways to report on bullying/hazing from seniors, and such reports are taken seriously. I was skeptical when I heard this, but he was able to back it up with real examples of corrective action in his own unit. So some things appear to have changed. You will likely be bullied to some degree…. The question is: do you report it and become a black sheep, or do you suffer in silence? When I was in, I just suffered in silence – I was too young, too scared, and couldn’t even speak Korean well enough to make a report! But in retrospect, maybe I should have just reported them – and soaked in the hate for “betraying” the immature “traditions” of the unit. If you’re health, however, is at serious risk due to dangerous hazing, I urge you make a report! You must take care of your own health – no one else will.

      Lastly, as a fellow married man (who is also incidentally 31 years old), I sympathize with you. I can’t imagine the toll this has taken upon your marriage. I truly hope that the two of you are pulling through somehow. I have more to say, but probably it’s best to communicate privately. If you want to talk anytime, just let me know: jimmy_jrock @ hotmail . com [remove the spaces].

      Jimmy

      Jimmy

      December 20, 2013 at 5:23 am

      • Jimmy. it’s been a long time. I hope you were able to get in touch with Ben. He should be finding out next month whether he can avoid the service or not. If I hear back from him, I’m going to ask if I can post his story here.

        Holden

        holdenbeck

        December 23, 2013 at 10:09 pm

      • Holden, I didn’t hear from him. Did you get in touch with him? Anyway, I hope things are impoving for you. I was very sorry to hear about the accident and multiple surgeries… I hope you get better soon!

        Jimmy

        Jimmy

        February 28, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      • Jimmy, I’m happy to tell you that Ben was able to get an exemption due to medical reasons (nothing serious, though).
        As for me, I’m fine. I’m through with the surgeries and shots and medications and had a cast put on my leg a couple days ago. I should be starting physical therapy in about a month. Thanks for the message.

        Holden

        holdenbeck

        March 1, 2014 at 4:17 pm

  11. Mr. Beck – I stumbled upon your blog while inputting a combination of words that I cannot recall. While I haven’t read through all of your entries (there are many), let me say your accounts and thoughts about the Korean army from the perspective of a US citizen is refreshing. I served from ’07 to ’09 as a dual citizen since the law had just changed before my conscription. I spoke Korean with limited proficiency in 2007 as a 1.5 generation Korean/American and that set the stage for many interesting events. Anyway, thanks for writing and I look forward to more. Cheers.

    Hank

    March 5, 2014 at 11:58 am

    • Also, I wish you the best in your recovery.

      Hank

      March 5, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    • Hank, just Holden is fine. I’m sorry to hear you had to serve. It’s hard enough already without having to try to figure out what the hell everyone is screaming at you. How did you end up in the service?

      Since my accident, I’ve just been posting about the hospital (the book is on hold right now) so if you want to share some of your interesting events, let me know if you’d willing to share some of those stories here as a guest blogger.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Holden

      holdenbeck

      March 5, 2014 at 5:04 pm

  12. Dear Holden,

    My name is Joyce and I work for ExpatFinder.com.
    ExpatFinder.com is a free one stop website for people preparing to move or working and living overseas. We provide a myriad of services for expatriates and we have over 2,000 articles to help and support the people moving around the world and we are now creating an interview section to help the expats with real life experiences!
    We quite enjoy your blog about living in Seoul, it is very interesting and informative. Would it be possible to interview you to further share some of your tips and feature some of your first hand experience as an Expat and your interview will be published on our Expat Interview section as a guide for our expat readers. The questions are mainly about the day to day lifestyle of an expat. If it would be possible, could you also send some photographs that we can use?
    Of course, if you accept, we can add a link to your blog or some of your website.
    The questions are enclosed, feel free to respond freely. You can return the doc with your answers if you accept this invitation.
    Thanks in advance and do let me know if you prefer other means to conduct this interview and we would be happy to accommodate your terms.

    Best regards,
    Joyce

    Joyce

    December 2, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    • Hi, Joyce, I’m actually preparing to close down this blog and start up a new one. Once I’ve done that, I guess I wouldn’t mind responding to your interview. I didn’t, however, receive any enclosed questions.

      holdenbeck

      December 27, 2014 at 10:26 pm


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