Thursday, September 28, 2006

Two Month Update

As you know, my birthday is coming up and so we had a party for me and Jacye. He turns 30 on Monday. I turn 26 in Korea on Thursday. I'll be out of town so no calls.

Well, it's been just over two months since I left home. I still find something shocking everyday and can't wait for the next. I have not had a dull moment yet. My friends here are wonderful and I am so lucky that I chose the school I did. I do miss everyone a lot and please know that I am thinking of you all constantly.

Life here is going well. I am really enjoying my job and the nightlife is still rockin'. I have a vacation this week, so the crew is going to The Yellow Sea for a little beach camping. I'm excited to get out of the city again. The pollution here is just so awful. You can smell and taste it. When we went to Ganghyeon last weekend I got some nice fresh air. ("Got me some good closet air" -that's for Mom and Kristin.)

I have not been to The Yellow Sea, so this should be a great break. I work Monday, off Tuesday, work Wednesday and then we cruise out. It's me, Dave, Rhett, Joel, Suzanna and maybe someone else. I'll take loads of pictures.

This past weekend was fun. Here are some recent pictures...

We went to a Norabang twice this weekend. I found Round and Round at one of them and sung my heart out for my great brother-in-law. He loves RATT, so this was kind of a dedication.

Mr. Won took out all the staff on Friday for Mike's going away party. We're all sad to see him go.

Here we are at our favorite bar. It's called The Beverage Lab and we usually go there two times a week. The people there know us all by name and it has a great atmosphere. Also, it's right by my house, so the stagger home is not too bad.

Here we are rockin' it at a Norabang. Look at Rhett. He was loving it. We were singing for three hours this night. It was too fun.

Fun people...

Rachel and Suzanna having some fun singing "It's Raining Men". Joel liked it too.

I know it sounds like we're all drunk all the time and that may have some truth to it, but we are all close friends and I hope to keep this guys in my life for many years to come. What a group! What a time!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I know it's been awhile since I last posted, but I've been really busy. I went out of town last weekend and this is the first chance I've had to sit and write. I am going to be very honest and detailed in this post. Also, there is a part about dog meat, but I'll give you a warning before so you can skip it if you want.

Before I came here, I talked to Rhett on the phone. It was an interview of sort. Besides asking me the basic interview questions, he attempted to get to know me. I mentioned that I enjoyed climbing. He seemed excited and told me that he and another teacher (Joel) tried to go out and climb from time to time. This excited me, so I planned on packing my shoes and other gear to bring here. When I arrived I couldn't find my shoes. Turns out that I left them in the States. So, for the last two months we've been trying to get a trip going and last weekend we finally went. We were going to a place called Gangyheon.

Ganghyeon is about two and half hours away by subway and train. On Friday we got all packed up and bought our supplies. It wasn't a camping trip because they have rooms you can stay in, but people can and were camping there. I have all my camping gear, but we didn't have a large enough tent to fit me, Joel and big Rhett. So I got a bottle of Whisky at the store. It was very cheap and gross. Of course, it still cost 25000 won. I also picked up some lettuce and bacon for dinner. I know it sounds weird, but you'd be surprised how much fatty bacon is consumed here. I don't really care for it, but it's easy to cook so why not.

Rhett and I live south of the Han in an area called Kangnam. I live in Daechi which is within Kangnam which is within Seoul. So we walked to the subway and just barely missed it. We had to wait for a few minutes, so we busted out the badmitton rackets and shuttle cocks and played a little game. The Koreans around us seemed a bit perplexed, but I've gotten used to being somewhat of a spectacle here. It's not hard. The train pulled up and we put down the rackets and jumped on the subway. We got seats which isn't that rare. There was a baby sitting next to be that just wouldn't stop staring. It made me quite uncomfortable actually. He was probably just confused by my lighter hair and large European nose. Our stop was called and we exited the subway to start our little adventure. I was excited. I've been here for two months and haven't really left the city.

I haven't traveled by train in many years and I love doing new things, so this was all so neat for me. We entered the train station, went up to the ticket booth and bought three tickets to Ganghyeon. They cost 5000 won a piece.

"Do you want to buy return tickets?" they asked Rhett in Korean.

He looked at me and we both decided not to get them yet. He shook his head and they handed us our tickets. We looked at the departure time. It said 22:00. We looked at the clock. It was only 7:30pm. What were we going to do for two and half hours? Guess...

So we met Joel at the McDonalds and ate there. I was hoping to avoid eating there while I was here, but there was something about the Big Mac that was just too enticing. I ordered first and I guess didn't understand something that was said to me and the whole staff erupted in laughter. I smiled and let it go. It's a lot easier that way, especially because I tend to embarrass myself in many situations here. Isn't that part of the fun though? So we ate and cracked the bottle of Whisky right there in the McDonalds.

"What kind did you get?" Joel asked, I glanced down at the label.

"Sir Francis."

He was not happy with my purchase. Apparentely it was the worst selection I could of made. I didn't care. We finished eating and went outside. A drunk woman approached us and very abruptly sat down in front us with her Soju bottle in hand. She said something and then started throwing her stuff around and laughing. We tried to humor her a bit, but she was so annoying. We lost her and sat down on the other side of the parking lot. We debated for awhile about why Koreans think that Korean culture is homogeneous and very unique when all the evidence points the other way. I guess it was more of a discussion rather than a debate.

Before we knew it the big hand was approaching the 10 and it was time for us to board the train. I got the solo ticket, so I knew I was going to be sitting next to some Korean. I was hoping for a nice young and sexy Korean woman. We found our car and climbed the stairs. I found my seat and looked at my new neighbor. She was about 75 and asleep. She had that old woman hair growing off her chin and a quiet but obnoxious snore. Joel and Rhett laughed at me. Luckily, they were right across the aisle. The train started to move and we poured some shots of Sir Francis. Boy was it gross! A few minutes into the ride a foreign couple approached us and asked where we were going. We told them and they said they were headed there as well. They were nice and we would actually hang out with them a lot later on. They left and the three of us carried on.

As time and shots passed we were noticeably getting a little loud.

"I thought I was loud, but you are loud as shit." Joel told me with a laugh.

"Am I being loud? I don't think I'm being loud!" I snapped back.

Within one minute the train guy walked down the aisle and told me to be quiet. We all laughed and quieted down. After we were quiet for a few, we all noticed how quiet it was in there. It was like a library. Live and learn I guess. The train started to slow down and we gathered our stuff and ourselves. We stepped off the train and we were there.

The cool mountain air was so fresh. The smell was wonderful -pines; furs; grass; mountain water and no polluted city air. It was all dark except for the dim light spilling out from the train station office. We were all excited and started the twenty minute walk to the area. We walked through a small town. All the stores were closed and nobody was outside. It was so great to feel some sort of seclusion again. We crossed bridges over rivers and land. We walked through dark tunnels and finally spotted our destination. It was 12:30am.

We arrived at our pseudo-hotel. It was a room with a toilet, sink and blankets. No beds or anything else. We started cooking our dinner and had a few more drinks. After debating about anything and everything with Joel, we went down the meet some people. There were tons of foreigners there. As we started talking to some of them we discovered that a climbing group, "Korea on the Rocks" had planned to same thing we had. I was happy about it though. I got to meat all sorts of people from all over the world. Rhett and Joel were not as excited and actually kept to themselves a lot. We were up until maybe 4am or so.

The next morning Joel and I woke up at 8:30 and headed for the wall. There weren't many people on the rocks yet so we had plenty of routes to choose from. We climbed for a couple hours and then decided that Rhett had gotten enough beauty sleep. He finally made his way to the rocks and got into his harness. I opted out of belaying him. He's about 250 plus pounds and I just wasn't too excited or confident in my abilities to safely do it. So Joel did it after he was tied into the rock on the ground and I was holding him down. Rhett climbed about 60 feet of the 110 foot route Joel and I had done a couple times. I was impressed, but he was upset with his performance. At least he did it though. In an earlier post, I wrote that Koreans don't do much for recreation. I was wrong. They do and I saw some of it this weekend. They were all out there on those rocks and they were so great. I wish you could see some of these people on those rocks. I was blown away. The most shocking thing was that there were older men and older women out there on the rocks. I'm talking women over 55 making me look like I was 85. I tried to imagine Mom up there on those rocks, but unless Emmie could be there with her she wouldn't dream of it. It was time for some lunch, so we ate some noodles and just basked for awhile.

The surrounding area was beautiful and I had heard that there were some good trails around. We started walking to where we thought one was. We found the trail head and started the ascent. I had my Chacos on, but Rhett an Joel were both wearing crappy sandals. They complained and I told them I'd go on and they could go back and climb. They stayed. It had been way to long since I had been on a trail. It was great. The flora is similar to that at home: deciduous woods. We hiked the 7km trail passing all sorts of older people the whole way. It was so great up there.

We finished after awhile and decided we were pretty tired, so we just chilled out the rest of the afternoon. Night came and the party started. We met all sorts of people and had a little beach party on the banks of the river. Rhett decided to go in early, so Joel and I continued on. It was very cold, but felt great. Around midnight or so, Joel and I returned to the beach and started socializing. He was pretty drunk as I was, but I was still rocking it. We sat down and joined the circle around the fire. After ten minutes or so I noticed Joel hadn't been talking to anyone. He was fine, but just quiet. Then all of sudden he shouted.

"This sucks!"

The whole group stopped talking, looked at Joel, looked at me and then back at Joel. It was a show-stopper to say the least. He calmly stood up and walked up the hill. I said good-bye to everyone and followed him. We drank up there for awhile and then staggered home. I told Joel what he said the next morning. He laughed although he didn't remember.

We left the area and went into town. We stopped to eat at a small restaurant and this is where you might want to skip ahead. We didn't eat dog. I couldn't do that, but when I went to use the bathroom I heard a lot of barking. I followed the sound and came across what looked like a kennel. It was not a kennel, but a dog farm. There were lots of dogs in very small cages. I thought they might be used for meat, but I wasn't sure. I tried to pet them and show them a little human compassion, but they were very mean. I returned to the table and Rhett told me that he's assumed that some dogs he's seen have been used for that, but he knew that those poor dogs were used for their meat. How awful! He said I should take a picture of it because it's rare sight. I said no. I did not want to make the memory any more vivid. I asked them how the dogs were killed and they told me. This is gross, but perhaps some of you are interested. They either slit their throats or beat them to death so the meat will have a sort of adrenaline flavor. It's so horrible and I'm glad that it's not practiced too much in Seoul. I know I eat meat, but I don't have a relationship with cows and pigs. I do have several relationships with dogs.

So we got on the train at 450 and went home. This time we didn't have seats so we had to stand. It was a great trip and I can't wait to go back. Maybe next time I'll free those dogs...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

There goes Mike...

Mike will be leaving soon and I know the whole staff will miss him. I certainly will. The kids will be so sad as well. Every kid seems to know and love Mike Teacher. He is a smart guy, hard worker and extremely fun. He's typically the one who calls everyone to get the evening started. He's been teaching at Wonderland for a year and two months and now is moving on. As I mentioned before, he can speak Korean and Japanese very, very well. Although he does use the improper tense of "see" from time to time. I make sure to correct him and be an obnoxious as possible, but he's from Chicago so what can you say?

He has been in and out of Asia his whole life and now is in the process of getting a job here. He's interviewed with one place and is waiting to hear from them. He'll get a job here and still be around, but he will be living and working like a Korean business man. Long hours, tons of work and very little free time awaits him. It will not be the same as being a teacher here. We have tons of free time, very little pressure and have the ability to stay out late and get up early.

The above picture is a rare sight. This usually is what Dave does after an hour of drinking, but I felt like I should post this picture. I'm sure he won't be too thrilled to see this, but hey, it's all good clean fun. So, it's not like the fun will subside, but his presence and attitude will be missed. Luckily, Dave is returning in a couple weeks, so that will nice.

Cheers Mike...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Friday in the Park

My school goes on at least one field trip a month. For September, we went to this neat park about 25km outside of Seoul. It was so nice to leave the city and see some wilderness and most of all, sit in the grass. It was very relaxing and the kids really enjoyed it. It was quite pretty as well.

We were only there for a few hours, but I felt great afterwards. I haven't lived in a city for that long at all, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to live far away from nature. This might be the hardest thing about the year. Sure, we can leave the city and cruise around the peninsula, but there is something about being surrounded by a concrete jungle tha just seems like a real downer. I smelled freshly cut grass last week for the first time in a couple months and it was the most wonderful aroma. I couldn't believe how great a feeling I got when its scent hit my nose. It's funny how the small things can really get to you.

The park was like Xanadu for me. I played soccer with the kids and had a grand old time on the playground. In college, if we couldn't go to the Obed or mountains, we'd simply go to the park and sit in a tree. I love being outside in nature. It was just what I needed.

Cancer Curing Kimchi Club

We registered our team and the plan was set. We were competing in the bi-annual Rocky Mountain Tavern (RMT) scavenger hunt. The only thing we had left to do was come up with a name. Of course, this is always hard. So we did what anyone would do when they need to brainstorm: start drinking Soju. After an hour or so of drinking and Joel playing "Callin' Baton Rouge" over and over again, we started thinking. Not only did we need a name, but we also needed to make team shirts and a logo.

Several ideas were being tossed around. We thought about The Rub-Offs, The Non-Teachers, Biological Tape Recorders and a few less noteworthy names. It was getting a bit late, so we decided to start thinking about the shirt design and worry about the name later. The final idea was to have a list of guidelines for living in Korea on the back. Here they are: Typical Korean Operation; Tin-Pan Culture; Soju It To Me; To The Bitter End; My Film Stopped Rolling; If The Hen Cries, The House Will Collapse; Biological Tape Recorder; Overworked; 007 Teaching Privates; Homosexual Free; If You Say So; Plastic Surgery is Natural. They all carry significance and I could write a post on each one, but for now I'll leave it alone. As we were thinking about things to write on the list, Joel suggested that we include something about the myth/fact that Koreans believe that Kimchi cures cancer. It did not make the list because as we debated it possible inclusion, Joel shouted

"How about the Cancer Curing Kimchi Club?"

The room erupted in laughter and it was settled. We would be the Cancer Curing Kimchi Club. What a name! So we finished up the design, printed it out and ironed them on our white shirts. It was about 1:30 am -still early- so we decided to go to a Norabang for a little fun and soju. We sang for a couple hours with our dreadful voices and that was the evening. I had planned to go to bed early that night, but you know me, I'm usually up for some fun.

I got into bed at about 6:00am. The phone rang at 11:00am. It was Mom.

"Where have you been? I was so worried." she said with a hint of relief in her voice.

"What do you mean? I've been sleeping."

"Kristin tried calling you for hours."

"I didn't hear the phone ring, sorry."

We talked for awhile, which is always nice, and that was it. I showered, watched a Curb Enthusiasm episode (The Weatherman episode), ate cheerios and then I left for Rhett's. I got there at about 12:40pm and Joel (who had passed out there after the Norabang) and Rhett were both there, wearing their shirts. Shortly after I arrived, Mike walked in followed by Suzanna, Aaron, and Gina. We got in a cab and left for Itaewon. The hunt started at 3:00pm, so we got there early to have a few drinks and talk about our strategy. Again, we just drank and laughed, luckily Joel couldn't put on "Callin Baton Rouge" at the Canadian tavern.

The manager asked us all to sit and he began telling us the rules.

"No cheating and if the cops ask who is hosting the hunt, tell them it's Gekko's (another popular bar)."

"Also, everything has to be documented by photo and video and at least 4 team members have to be in the shot."

Cops huh? I guess I knew we would be doing some crazy stuff, but I didn't think we would have the possibility of any legal problems. He said go and with that we started our day. It was a 3:00pm and we glanced at our list.

"We should start here."

"No, we should start here and then go there."

"No, we should go here first and do those things later."

Well this is a great start I thought to myself. We eventually got started with a visit to the famed Hooker Hill. One of the challenges was to give a hooker a high-five. So we found a brothel. All of us ran inside and tried to coerce the hooker into giving us five. She declined, but Rhett managed to make it appear that she did it.

They were pissed that we were in there, but we ran out as soon as the picture was snapped. I'm not going to tell you all the challenges we did, but I'll give you the highlights. We had to bench press something, so we opted to use Gina. We had to do a cheerleader pyramid in front of KFC. We did it.

We had to get fitted for a suit. This was fun and the guy was not too happy that we were all in his small store, being loud and drunk. At least we were speaking Korean.

We had wear traditional Korean clothing, assume cooking responsibilities at a street vendor's eatery, kiss a bartender, flash a train conducter, Indian Leg wrestle in a PC bang, buy and change underwear ON the street, take topless shots, take body shots off random Koreans, chug a full bottle of Soju, take a shot with a homeless person, get a body wax, drive a taxi and a city bus, take a bath, hug a cop, mail a letter home and take a shot with the Family Guy animator. He lives in Seoul and has for about seven years. We did not do this one, but actually met him later on. I bought him a shot and we took a couple pictures together on Rhett's camera, so I'll post that later.

She shopkeep did not like the idea of us holding up these clothes.

Joel, Mike, Rhett, some guy and I all took the shirtless shot. It was fun and the bar didn't seem to mind. We tried to get more people at the bar to join in so we could get extra points, but it didn't work. At another bar though, we got a girl to flash us therefore earning us more points. I decided not to put that picture up on here, but it will be on webshots. It was not a pretty sight, so don't get excited. Luckily, we were all behind her when she raised her shirt.

I couldn't believe the driver let us drive. I was in the back taking the picture.

There she is. I think we gave her 500 won for her time.

We finally got back to the bar and took a nice group shot that gave us some serious points. We did all but five of the fifty challenges. It was so much fun and I feel more connected to the city, the people and my new friends. So all the scores were added up and we all sat down to hear the results.

"And the first loser is...Cancer Curing Kimchi Club!" the guy announced.

We were all excited. Then we all watched a slideshow of a compilation of all the teams' pictures, It was so fun. All the teams laughed, met each other and continued drinking together into the evening. Plus, second place was great, but we weren't there to win or lose. We were there to create memories. We were there to have fun in a foreign city with new people. We there to have Koreans laugh with us and at us. And according to our Second place prize, we were there for nachos and two huge pitchers of ice cold beer. Oh, Itaewon...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Roy Moo-Hyun in Washington

I'll be interested to hear how this goes.

Heart and Seoul in Washington
By Donald Kirk

WASHINGTON - US President George W Bush hosts South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun at the White House on Thursday in a summit that's likely to be the most difficult and potentially most tendentious meeting ever held between the leaders of the two countries. The two presidents are so far apart on the most basic issues that no amount of diplomatic double-talk appears likely to paper over the chasm. So deep are the differences that South Korean officials are saying the two sides have agreed that no joint communique will emerge from the meeting.

Somehow their aides and advisers may devise a waffling statement to which both of them can subscribe, but both sides agree it would be a miracle if they came to real terms on how to deal with North Korea or on breaking down trade barriers that are holding up talks on a free-trade agreement (FTA).

It's hard to say which of these two areas of discussion is more controversial. The topic of North Korea grabs the headlines while that country's leader, Kim Jong-il, wields the threat of an underground nuclear test that would proclaim it a full-fledged nuclear power, but US efforts to penetrate South Korea's largely closed agricultural markets arouse much greater concern to well-organized South Korean farmers.

The US and South Korea, moreover, are at odds on the basic future of their alliance. The United States has persuaded South Korea to go along with a grand design for scaling down the number of US troops while building a huge new base 80 kilometers south of Seoul. The base would accommodate the US military headquarters, now in the center of the capital, as well as the last US combat troops.

The plan confronts South Koreans with the question of whether their country is really prepared to face the North militarily. Southern officials blame what they see as the hardline policy of the United States for the failure to persuade the North to return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons. This policy, they believe, is responsible for raising the risk of a second Korean War.

The solution, in the official South Korean view, would be for the US to talk directly with North Korea rather than insist that it return to six-party talks as a prerequisite for any form of dialogue. South Korea's unification minister, Lee Jeong-seok, advanced this view in a 50-minute meeting on Monday with Christopher Hill, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, when Hill touched down in Seoul on the final leg of a trip in which he also stopped off in Tokyo and Beijing.

Lee's call for "no restrictions on the form of dialogue" reflects the overriding desire of President Roh to pursue reconciliation with Pyongyang regardless of the threat posed by North Korean nuclear warheads or missiles that may some day be capable of carrying them to targets as far as the US west coast. Roh is sure to try to press the case for reconciliation in Thursday's summit, while Bush holds fast to the need for resuming six-party talks. The question is how the two will manage to appear to uphold the US-Korean alliance while Roh calls for what Bush sees as a dangerous form of appeasement.

Roh may also try to convince Bush on what he sees as the folly of the US drive for stiffening economic measures against North Korea if it continues to refuse to return to six-party talks. Hill raised this possibility at every stop on his trip, calling for "vigilance" in enforcing the United Nations Security Council resolution, adopted after North Korea test-fired seven missiles in early July, banning any dealings with the country that might provide technology or funding for missiles or weapons of mass destruction.

Presumably the advisers to both Roh and Bush are so highly attuned to the differences between them that they have scripted a summit in which the two presidents manage to talk politely. Otherwise, the summit could break down in open disagreement, further jeopardizing an alliance that already is clearly frayed. Somehow the two presidents must also find the words to promote a free-trade agreement that both governments profess to favor. Negotiations with Seoul on an FTA appear to US officials as just about as difficult as efforts at bringing Pyongyang back to six-party talks.

While Hill was getting nowhere in his talks with South Korean officials, Wendy Cutler, assistant US special trade representative, leading the US side in the FTA negotiations, concluded what she said was a "disappointing" third round of talks with the South Koreans in Seattle. Basically, the Koreans refused to agree to open up agricultural markets, knowing full well that significant concessions would provoke a renewal of violent protests by rice farmers fearful of losing their livelihoods to US competition.

There's no way Roh and Bush can avoid this issue. They may, however, gloss over it, talking up the benefits of free trade while ignoring the controversy. They may also come up with an implicit tradeoff - US concessions to South Korea in return for a show of South Korean support for the alliance.

US and South Korean scriptwriters may also hope to find common ground even on the topic of North Korea. The formula would be a new version of multilateralism. Hill, in Seoul, suggested that approach in a call for a multilateral forum - a "mechanism", as he called it in an exercise in voodoo diplomacy - that might function without North Korea. Roh, at the meeting of Asian and European leaders in Helsinki, called for a multilateral security framework in Northeast Asia. Diplomatic wordsmiths may manage to merge these pleas into a formulation reflecting both concepts.

Roh and Bush may also find common ground on the topic of North Korean nukes, deploring the development of North Korean nuclear warheads and calling on Pyongyang not to upset everyone by an underground test. A vaguely worded statement on that topic could get around the whole question of how to respond to a test. Bush may well see a test as a reason not just to strengthen economic sanctions but to build up defenses in the region, notably in Japan. Roh has already suggested he does not believe a test would be all that important - certainly no reason for giving up the quest for North-South reconciliation.

Roh may, however, be up for a clarion call against escalation of tensions as seen in North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Such a statement would mollify the US while also appeasing another constituency of which he is acutely aware, his own conservative opposition, angling to take over in South Korea's next presidential election at the end of next year.

For Bush and Roh, the challenge is to give an appearance of continuity and a common approach. Ideally, the final script for the summit will be a bland concoction of diplo-speak. But will they be able to stick to the script? The great challenge is for both sides to avoid any sign of acrimony while neither backs down from previously known views.

Journalist Donald Kirk has been covering Korea - and the confrontation of forces in Northeast Asia - for more than 30 years.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How it all began...

I know I haven't been writing much about my experiences recently, but in all honesty nothing big has been happening and I'm becoming increasingly interested in Korean history, philosophy and politics. I do have a few posts to write, but I'm trying to gather all the information I need before I can present it to you. I got the idea for this post the other day when I was talking to Aaron about Korean mythology.

Like a lot of Asiatic cultures, Korea has their share of myths and they usually involve animals and nature. Remember, Korea has a rich religious history, although over half of the population alive now claims to be secular. The original religion of Korea was a form of the Eurasian shamanism and the totemism of Far East Asia, specifically of the nomadic peoples of present-day Manchuria. These were strongly influenced by the later importations of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism from China. I'll talk about religion in Korea after I visit some temples and familiarize myself with what's written and what's practiced. I mention past religion in order to give a background to the myth I'm about to explain to you. Harmony with the world is always paramount with Asian religion, so using flora and fauna in a myth only makes sense.

This is the creation of the Corean. (The "C" was changed to "K" during the Japanese occupation from 1910-1945. Japan did this so Corea would not be presented before Japan was during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. You'll see the Corean spelling a lot here, but there is no push to change it back.) Buried deep in the subconscious memory of descendants of Asiatic tribes that moved into southern Manchurua and the Korean Peninsula lies the myth of Tan'gun. Hwanin, the heavenly king, had a son, Hwanung, who wished to live on earth among men. Accompanied by 3,000 followers, Hwanung descended from heaven and appeared under a sandalwood tree on Myohyong-san (san is mountain) in North Korea. He ruled over the people that he found there, teaching them agriculture, arts and social behavior. Here he is...

There was a bear and tiger in this land who wished to become human. They prayed to Hwanung to fulfill their wish, and he looked favorable upon them. Giving each 20 or so cloves of garlic and a bunch of mugwort, he told them to take only that nourishment and to stay out of the sun for 100 days. They retired to a cave and took the food. Because of growing impatience and hunger, the tiger left the cave. The bear, however, endured and was turned into a woman. (Note the feminine characteristics of the bear compared with the masculine traits of the tiger.)

Happy with the fulfillment of her wish, she prayed under the sandalwood tree to become a mother. Hwanung gladly obliged, and the bear-woman bore Tan'gun, The sandalwood King. Tan'gun became the first human king of the people of the peninsula, establishing his capital at Wanggom (current day Pyongyang) in 2333 B.C. and calling his kingdom Choson meaning morning calm or morning freshness. That is the literal meaning of "Korea" as well.

Of course, no one really believes this myth anymore, but it's still used to foster Korean nationalism. Koreans, like Americans, also have a "Manifest Destiny" chip on their shoulder, but I'll discuss that later on as well. They believe that there is a Korean race. This "race" is apparently the purest in the world and there are even Korean biologists, anthropologists and other scientists who claim the same. Naturally, this is not true, but they DO believe themselves to be of a pure or divine race. Classic.

To that I say, if they're so pure and divine, then why does a tremendously large percentage of the population get plastic surgery? I tell you next time...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Interesting article...

Here's another great article I found. This subject is a complicted one that has very serious implications. East Asian stability is at question in the years to come and I'm going to try to stay at the forefront of the matter while I'm here and hopefully later in life. It's funny how easy it is to discover such a modern day problem that effects millions, yet unless you look for it, you very easily could never know about it. This is why we need to read newspapers my friends.

South Korea must choose sides
By Corey Richardson

Rumors of a substantial drawdown or complete withdrawal of US Forces Korea (USFK) have been around for decades. After years of a South Korean administration generally hostile to US regional objectives and priorities, perhaps the rumors are finally becoming a reality. That would be a tragedy for both sides.

If the US were to leave Korea, how would US influence in the region be altered? How would Korea's relationships with China and Japan change? What about the strengthening US-Japan alliance? What if North Korea collapsed? These questions have largely escaped critical consideration in the current debate.

Despite President Roh Moo-hyun's stunning obliviousness to political and security realities, South Korea would be particularly vulnerable without USFK, or even with a token force left in place. For its part, the US cannot realistically expect to maintain or improve its ability to exert regional influence by leaving Korea.

Like US Forces Japan (USFJ), America's Korean contingent helps prevent conflict by acting as a strong deterrent for any nation that might consider military actions or threats, at the same time moderating the responses of the host nation in tense situations. Obviously, the original purpose of the US-South Korea alliance was to counter the North Korean threat. However, as that threat has waned, a more important, diplomatically incorrect mission has evolved in addition to deterring North Korea: ensuring stability among China, Japan and Korea.

The North Korean threat is nonetheless the reason for the majority of South Korea's defenses, even if Seoul won't say so in defense white papers. No conventional military calculus suggests the possibility of a North Korean victory in a second Korean War, but a weaker South Korean military could cause Pyongyang to miscalculate. South Korea's defenses must remain strong.

Regional tensions, but stability

Even with USFK in Korea, issues from the region's long and often confrontational history cause tensions to flare. Chinese claims that Koguryo, an ancient ethnically Korean kingdom whose territories extended into present-day China, was in fact a Chinese kingdom have raised Korean hackles on several occasions. The move is viewed as the possible groundwork for justifying a Chinese invasion of the northern half of the peninsula, perhaps to "help" a North Korea on the verge of implosion, or after collapse.

China's plans to register Mount Baekdu (Changbai in Chinese) as a Chinese historical site with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Geopark list was also viewed as a possible prelude to claiming North Korean territory. The mountain, sacred to both sides, straddles the border. A 1962 agreement between the two countries split ownership of the mountain.

This view is bolstered by the fact that China prefers to retain border buffer zones and would not relish having a reunified Korea, potentially with US forces just across the Yalu River. South Korea could not prevent China from sending troops into North Korea, and the US likely would not risk war with China over North Korea. Japan's colonial domination of Korea from 1910 to 1945 has left a deep and bitter resentment in both Koreas that is apt to provoke emotional and drastic responses.

One high-profile manifestation of this is the decades-long dispute over the ownership of some relatively insignificant islets in the waters between the peninsula and the archipelago, the Liancourt Rocks. Known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, South Korea has stationed a Coast Guard contingent on the island since 1954 to enforce its claim. Both nations claim the area as a part of their exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

In 2005 South Korea scrambled fighters to intercept a civilian Japanese Cessna aircraft nearing Dokdo airspace. When Japan announced plans to conduct a hydrographic survey of the area, South Korea made vague threats alluding to possible military action against the research vessels. Japan backed down.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's numerous visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to Japan's war dead including some convicted war criminals, have raised diplomatic tensions with both South Korea and China on several occasions, including a temporary recall of South Korea's ambassador in Japan.

Ripe for an arms race

South Korea wants to be the "hub" of something in East Asia, and it may finally have its chance, thanks to the Roh administration. The current US-South Korea situation is a case of "be careful of what you ask for because you might get it". Even so, the psychological impact on South Korea of a significant USFK departure likely would not be immediate but should not be underestimated. A massive reduction of US troop levels and capabilities could have the same effect as a complete withdrawal on Seoul's planning processes. It might begin with regretful concern, but could quickly become panic.

At this point it should be noted that even if the USFK withdraws from Korea, some sort of collaborative security agreement will remain in place. However, South Korea's perception of America's commitment to security on the peninsula is the decisive factor in how it will react to real and perceived threats. What are now relatively minor disagreements with Japan and China would take on a more serious dimension.

Without USFK, South Korea would need to vastly increase its defense budget to make up for functions long taken for granted. With American forces on its soil as a safety net, South Korea didn't have to be overly concerned with being attacked or invaded. Many Koreans would perceive that era over. Another factor is the closer US-Japan security partnership, which causes both China and South Korea concern. Some in the South Korean defense sector are undoubtedly jealous of the relationship Japan enjoys with the US. Japan would also need to take into consideration a South Korea without the moderating influence of USFK, although the role of USFJ in Japan would reduce much concern.

In such an environment it's not unthinkable that a few minor skirmishes could occur, between South Korean and Japanese navel vessels in the vicinity of Dokdo, for example. This would be the slow start of a regional arms race, with Korea and Japan joining China's ongoing buildup.

A reunified Korea could go nuclear

North Korea is the wildcard. If in the next few years reunification were to occur - through a North Korean collapse, the death of Kim Jong-il, or a possible but unlikely mutual agreement - South Korea would suddenly find itself straddled with the enormous cost of integrating North Korea. These costs would dwarf the already massive increase South Korea would have been undertaking in defense spending, something it would clearly be unprepared and unable to accomplish while maintaining its defense investment. A Korea faced with an economic dilemma of such magnitude would find maintaining its conventional military forces at current levels impossible. At the same time, it would feel more vulnerable than ever, even with US security assurances.

For a nation paranoid about the possibility of outside influence or military intervention, strapped for cash, and obsessed about its position in the international hierarchy, the obvious route might be to either incorporate North Korean nuclear devices (if they actually exist), or build their own, something South Korean technicians could easily accomplish. North Korea, after all, has set the example for economically challenged nations looking for the ultimate in deterrence.

One might argue that clear and firm US security guarantees for a reunified Korea would be able to dissuade any government from choosing the nuclear option. If making decisions based purely on logic the answer would be probably yes. Unfortunately, the recent Korean leadership has established a record of being motivated more by emotional and nationalistic factors than logical or realistic ones. Antics over Dokdo and the Yasukuni Shrine and alienating the US serve as examples. But the continuation of the "Sunshine Policy" tops those.

Instead of admitting they've been sold a dead horse, the Roh administration continued riding the rotting and bloated beast known as the Sunshine Policy, until all that are left today are a pile of bones, a bit of dried skin, and a few tufts of dirty hair. Roh, however, is still in the saddle, if not as firmly after North Korea's recent missile tests.

Japan must then consider its options in countering an openly nuclear, reunified Korea without USFK. Already building momentum to change its constitution to clarify its military, it's not inconceivable that Japan would ultimately consider going nuclear to deter Korea. As in South Korea, there is no technological barrier preventing Japan from building nuclear weapons.

While the details of the race and escalation of tensions can vary in any number of ways and are not inevitable, that an arms race would occur is probable. Only the perception of threat and vulnerability need be present for this to occur. East Asia could become a nuclear powder keg ready to explode over something as childish as the Dokdo/Takeshima dispute between Korea and Japan, a Diaoyu/Senkakus dispute between China and Japan, or the Koguryo dispute between Korea and China.

The arms race need not occur

One could argue that the US would be able to step in and moderate things before such an escalation could occur. Considering the recent US record on influencing either North or South Korea, it is perhaps unwise to count on it being able to do so at some crucial point in the future. One could also argue that the US need not be involved in a future East Asian war. Like assuming there is no need for USFK since North Korea is considered less of a threat to Seoul, that is wishful thinking. The US has too many political and diplomatic ties, aside from alliance obligations, to ignore such a war. For American policymakers, the notion that a withdrawal is a deserved payback for the rampant anti-Americanism in South Korea, or that the few billion we spend on defense there is a catastrophic waste, need to be discarded. The potential cost of a war would be far greater in both American lives and in dollars, the benefits of continued peace immeasurable.

Vastly reducing or withdrawing USFK can only harm US security, it cannot help it. USFK has helped maintain peace and allowed the US to project influence in the region for the past six decades; removing that presence would be foolish and difficult to replicate once done. It is also important to keep in mind that the next presidential election will likely result in a less anti-American administration.

South Korean policymakers and citizens alike need to come to terms with the fact that Korea will probably never be a powerful nation, but because of its location it will always be important in the geopolitical sense. Because of this, Korea can never take the middle ground or play a "balancing" role; Korea must choose sides.

Finally, the reality that both American and South Korean policymakers need to come to terms with is that USFK deterring a second North Korean invasion has become a secondary mission to maintaining regional stability, even in a reunified Korea.

Corey Richardson is a Washington-based analyst who covered East Asian security issues as a presidential management fellow with the US Department of Defense, and is a co-founder of The Korea Liberator (, a weblog focused on North Korea. The opinions expressed are his own. He can be reached at

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Simply the Best (or worst)

South Korea, like most countries, has its good points and its bad points. So thought I'd try a new kind of post. I've done a little research and come up with a fun and somewhat interesting list that I think highlights South Korea. We'll start with census facts from The UN.

#1 Seoul population: 10, 765, 000 people (Sao Paulo is #2)

#7 Gas prices: 1.655 USD/liter (Great Britian is #1)

#81 Life expectancy: 59 for men, 64 for women (Japan is #1, Bahrain beat Korea...ouch!)

#13 Korean language is spoken by 75 million people (Chinese is #1, followed by English)

#39 Freedom of Press (Finland and Iceland are #1, US is #17)

#4 4.04 % in increased productivity from 2002 to 2004 (Poland is #1, US is #7)

#11 Budget expenditures in 2005 with 189,000,000,000 USD (US is #1)

#20 Account balances with 14,320,000,000 USD (#1 is Japan and US is in dead last)

#25 Debt with 188,400,000,000 USD (US is #1 with 8,837,000,000,000)

#18 Ecomomic aid donor with 423,000,000 (Japan is #1, UK is #2 and US is #3)

#13 Electricity consumption (US is #1)

#11 GDP with 1,021,000,000 USD (The EU is #1, US is #2)

#43 GDP per capita with 21,000 (Bermuda is #1, US is #5)

#26 Natural gas consumption (US is #1)

#10 Oil consumption (US is #1)

#62 Population below poverty line (Zambia is #1, US is #64)

#104 Unemployment rate (Liberia is #1, US is #91)

So, all that tells about is the "state" of Korea, but it doesn't tell much about the people and their abilities. Maybe this list will help.

#2 Math skills (#1 is Finland, US is #24) CBS NEWS

#1 International Breakdancing Championship

#52 FIFA (soccer) rankings (Brazil is #1, US is #23)

#21 International Men's Basketball

#8 International Women's Basketball

#1 ESL teachers

There are over 14,000 ESL teachers in South Korea and over 10,000 of those are in Seoul. I'm glad the Bengals, Reds and Vols all won their weekend games. It looks like the Bengals were on top of it, although Palmer was a bit shy. Ainge is on fire, but needs to keep it together. The Reds have a lot of work to do if they want to fight back up to that Wild Card position. I can't wait to go see them all next year. I hope you enjoyed all the stats. I found them interesting at least...

Update: I have started taking Judo and I'll fill you in as I find out whether it's for me. Besides that, I'm busy working, writing and planning my Cambodian trip. Fun times!!!

I'm glad I'm not Korea.

Wherever you go in the world, you're going to see people and music which reflect that specific culture. So I want to tell you about the things that I have overlooked while I've been here. I want to start with fashion. A few weeks ago we went to the market. I did not need any clothes since I have not been here long, but Mike, Joel and Dave needed some stuff and I'm always up for something.

As you can tell, it's not the kind of place where you could get nice clothing. They had a lot of used clothes, old electronics and some really creepy pornography. We could not find anything that we wanted, so we decided to sit and get a bite to eat. It was there that we ate some gross quail and some pretty odd pig's head. (You eat the skin off the face.) After that "wonderful" meal Dave, Mike and Joel still needed some new clothes and were not ready to give up yet, so we decided to walk to the mall. I hate malls so much. In fact, the last time I was in a mall was with Uncle John in Cincinnati when he was looking for a phone charger. I even commented that I hoped I wouldn't be in a mall for a year. I don't think he likes them either. So we walked down the road. The area we were in in called Dangdae-mun. It is a huge market district. Major markets, like Namdae-mun and Dangdae-mun, provide another place for Korean food as well -some of which I had never seen or heard of before. I had trouble identifying much of it.

I have never been stylish and neither have my friends. We're happy dressing the same way we have since middle-school: khakis, solid polo's and that's about it. Sure, I wear tye-dye's, shorts and sandals from time to time, but that's not stylish by any means. I know we didn't live in a big city, but still. This is a picture of us during Spring of 2004.

Both South Korea and Japan are somewhat of a beacon of fashion in Asia. From what I've read, the Chinese youth and older frantically try to keep up with South Korean fashion. They buy posters and shop at South Korean stores in China in hopes of looking as "cool" as the people here. I do not think they look very "cool" here, but I'm not into fashion or Korean, so what do I know. There are tons of models here from all over the world (especially Russia) and there is not a huge difference between the fashion you see models sporting and what the people wear. The college-aged and twenty-somethings are the ones who are typically setting or following the trends very closely. The Japanese and Koreans dress very similarly and both countries seem to share fashion ideas and styles. Just like at home, pop stars influence styles heavily and start all sorts of awful fashions.

This is a trend that is slowly moving its way to Korea. I have not seen it yet, but it is apparently real big in Japan and seems to be doing well here. I think Japan might put up with a lot more than here. I assume the women would not be able to dress like this if they still lived at home. Personally, I don't mind it too much, but I wouldn't really want to see my wife or daughter in the outfit.

This is a pretty typical sight in Japan, but it's all over the place here. If you want me to pick up anything you see on this post, just let me know and I'll put it in the mail.

I put these two pictures next to each other to show that all the fashion is not odd. The girls on the left reflect a more typical Korean fashion, but the two on the right are right up there. If you are married, you will probably dress more like the ladies on the left. Age is a factor as well.

So we left the market (which was located in an old baseball stadium) and walked to the mall. We passed people selling everything imaginable. Piles of clothes, shoes, sunglasses, wallets and hats were on both sides of us. We stopped at one place to check out the shirts. In the middle of the piles was man selling the clothes. He was shouting like he was an auctioneer. The clothes were all awful though. So we arrived at the mall and it was so different from those at home. Instead of individual stores, there were just salespeople standing in front of their small display that might have two manikins (sp?). The clothes had pockets all over them, big letters and usually had English written on them. Of course, the English didn't make any sense. It would say things like, "I'm off to island, so bad you?" and "Don't talk to me if you're hungry." I'm serious, those are two that I can remember. It seems like they could find someone to proof-read them before they go out. So the guys and girls have interesting fashion and it's not like home where there's a lot of variation, in most cases they all dress the same.

I will not buy the clothing here. It's just not me. Besides, would you really want to see me in some of those outfits?

I know that this wasn't the most interesting post, but I figured you guys should get to see what I have to see everyday. Also, I'm trying to set up the blog so I can post videos on here. I'm in the process of doing it, so be patient. When I get that set up, I will address the music, or as it's called here, K-Pop.

Honestly, I do know anything about fashion, so who knows what's trendy...