Thursday, December 25, 2008


I apologize if this blog has seemed a bit Boo-centric lately, but I've gotta accommodate the family requests for updates!

Anyway, here's Emily opening her Christmas present; we went for one big one this year. She's getting lots of little ones as part of Hanukkah.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

So it's Christmas Eve, and Emily has been put to bed with tales of Santa Claus and all of that corny stuff. She actually isn't too keen on a dude sneaking into the house, but she felt much better about the situation when it was explained that there will be presents involved.

She's pretty excited.

This is my "first" Christmas experience as a parent; up until now my daughter has simply been too young to appreciate the holiday. I find myself looking forward to Christmas morning more now than I ever did as a child. I always appreciated the parental Christmas experience in an intellectual way, but now it's my turn. I can't wait to witness her joy and hear her silver laughter; sometimes it feels like I live my life for that sound. She gives me so such.

I'm pretty excited.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Menorahs and Christmas Trees

Well the wife is having some trouble finding a Menorah in Seoul, but Christmas trees are in abundance. This is Emily's first Christmas tree, and she is rather excited about it. Come to that, so am I! Just looking at it makes me feel warm and snuggly and.. home.


Friday, December 12, 2008


A few weekends ago, the wife and I decided to do the famous DMZ tour. North Korea has always fascinated me, a nation-sized Cold War relic and monument to ego that would be comical if it wasn't so tragic and dangerous. The recent rumors of Jong-Il's health problems have really brought the question of "what next" to the forefront of a lot of minds here.

So anyway, the border is only about 60km north of Seoul. About 40km out, you start to see huge razor-wire fences along the shores of the Han river; this is because the North has often sent infiltration teams overland or down the river. The last known incident was only about 6 years ago, so this isn't something that is buried in the past. Hundreds of miles of shoreline are manned 24/7 against this sort of thing, it's like living right next to a James Bond villain.

The shore defenses. The "Freedom Highway" that our bus followed paralleled the river. Those hills were our first glimpse of North Korea. You may not be able to tell from this pic, but they are entirely denuded; harvested for lumber years ago. The resulting flooding has devastated agriculture and contributed to multiple famines in the DPRK.

As we drove further and further north, traffic on the freeway tapered off until we were the only vehicle on the road. Eventually we started to see gigantic house-sized concrete blocks balanced along the side of (and above) the road; tank traps. At this point we were no longer allowed to take pictures, so the one above was it for awhile. Even further in and we were swerving back and forth between more barriers strewn across the highway, and stopping at multiple checkpoints. Mine field warning signs also began to appear. As you pass mile after mile of mine fields, 30-foot razor wire fences, concertina wire, and artillery emplacements, you begin to realize that all of this stuff is real. It's hard to believe that this Cold War shit is still going on anywhere in the world, but here it is.

The USO tour we took stopped at several rather surreal spots on the way to the Joint Security Area. The first stop was an overlook of the JSA and the two propaganda villages maintained by each side. Again, picture-taking was not allowed, but they had coin-operated binoculars set up. Through these I saw a guy walking down the street in the North's propaganda village 2km away, and it really hit me then. There's a guy, living in that hell, and I can see him with my own eyes. Of course I'm sure he's one of the privileged to be allowed anywhere close to the DMZ, but it was still jarring.

The next stop was the Third Tunnel, which is the third of four North-dug invasion tunnels discovered so far. #4 was found in 1990, and some theories claim that up to 20 additional tunnels exist. This one was found in 1978, and by the time ROK forces had dug an interception tunnel, the NK tunnelers had rubbed coal over the granite walls and claimed that it was a coal mine. After this we got to watch a rather jingoistic film on how awesome the ROK is, how duplicitous the North is, and how reunification has practically already happened. Given the reality, this film was extremely bizarre.

An additional interesting fact about the DMZ is that it has become a four kilometer-wide nature preserve. Nobody goes into that area (except for the JSA and propaganda villages), so many rare animals have had kind of a field day in there. Also, the rice and ginseng grown by the ROK propaganda villagers goes for about 6x the normal price, because this area is completely unpolluted. The North's village is thought to be uninhabited. Lights come on at night, but they do so at the exact same time every evening and are thought to be on timers.

Our bus was ahead of schedule, so we got to stop at Dorasan Station, which is the last train station before you'd enter North Korea, if you could take a train up there. A few years ago, relations were warming between the two Koreas, and this station was built as part of that. The current pro-US administration is taking a harder line, and that has pissed off the North. It was fascinating to see all of these facilities sitting around, gleaming and new, waiting for reunification.


Our last stop was the "main attraction": The Joint Security Area. This is where you see NK and ROK soldiers staring at each other across a courtyard. It's the only place where this happens; the rest of the DMZ is 4 kilometers across. Both sides used to enjoy full freedom of movement within this square-kilometer area, but ever since the 1976 Ax-Murder Incident, the JSA has been divided along the actual Demarcation Line.

So we pulled up to the ROK's Freedom House, walked up some stairs, and all of a sudden we step out into this famous scene:

It's deathly quiet; all conversation halted as we walked out here. Aside from us, the only people were the guards on both sides, staring at each other in complete silence. It blew my mind to be standing here, it's almost like going back in time. 30 feet away is the line, and across it is the most isolated, closed nation on earth. No walls, no fences.. people have tried to run across in the past. In 1984 a Soviet tourist did so, and this resulted in a small battle. The latest incident was in 1998, when a NKPA Captain simply stepped across and defected. Lethal incidents have started here simply because of perceived rude gestures or facial expressions.

There is a tension in the air that is palpable; it's impossible to describe. Bill Clinton called it "the scariest place on Earth", and I can't say I disagree. There's no immediate danger, but you can feel the weight of two entire nations focused on this one spot. It's the Cold War distilled into a physical location, but for the Koreans it's even more emotionally charged; this is brother vs. brother. You can't believe that a place like this still exists.

Here's a better shot of one of the North's guards.

We had a tour of one of the blue buildings; basically it's just a conference room, and you can stand "in" North Korea. There's a decidedly large Korean soldier there to prevent anyone from trying to open the door on that side.

Interestingly, the North Koreans run their own tours, presumably reserved for Chinese tourists and politically reliable citizens. In the conference room you could see footprints on the tables where the tour guides apparently stand to give their spiels; the soldier conducting our tour didn't even want us touching the furniture.

So that's the highlights. We also saw the dramatically-named Bridge of No Return, but we weren't allowed out of the bus here and it didn't photograph very well anyway. The JSA is one of the most incredible things I've ever seen, it's like a living time capsule. If you haven't done so, go. And make sure you take the USO tour, because I don't believe any of the others are allowed into Panmunjom.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Neither Snow, Nor Sleet, Nor Slight Embellishment..

One cool thing about being stared at all the time is that sometimes you feel a little more free to do embarrassing stuff in public. Since everyone is always watching, after a few weeks you kind of develop a shell. So when the time comes, you might as well.. carry a huge toddler playset on your head for 2 kilometers along a major road.
No cabs were stopping and I wasn't sure I'd be able to get this thing into the back of one anyway, so after a few minutes I just said hell with it and started humping the beast down the sidewalk. Rest assured that by the time my daughter is old enough to appreciate the tale, it will have become a brutal 20km trek featuring blinding snow, elbow-magi ajummas, and a broken leg. Maybe some feral dogs.

So anyway, if any parents reading this have been looking for a good place to pick up some toys here in Seoul, lemme know; the shop where I found this has a good selection of European and US toys, and with the Won where it is the prices are decent.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Most Awesome Bed in History

Look at this:

It's called an Uroko House, and I think it's the most awesome piece of furniture I have ever seen. A warm, soft cocoon of books. With a few modifications, I think it would be perfect for Emily.

The wife thinks I'm nuts, she says that the kid would never go to sleep, that she'd spend all night reading.. but she does that already. Of course she can't read yet, but she loves looking through her books and pretending. On any given morning we'll enter her room to find about two dozen books strewn across the floor and her bed. Honestly, is it possible to read too much? Little secret: I will be sorely disappointed if I don't catch her reading under her blanket with a flashlight in a few years.

I first found this a few months ago, and I'll bet she thinks I've forgotten about it. I may not have my workshop anymore, but custom furniture is pretty cheap in Korea.. *shifty eyes*


Friday, December 5, 2008

Holy crap it's cold

Up until now winter has been sort of an abstraction; I haven't really experienced one in about six years. That sunny period ended today; it was about -6C (sorry folks at home, I'm trying to convert my head to Celsius) today, with a windchill taking it even lower. I know it really isn't all that cold; I certainly saw colder temperatures back in Maryland, but my blood has thinned after living in LA and Las Vegas.

It's kind of the reverse of my first summer in Vegas. Some days it'd get up to 47, and walking outside was like stepping into a blast furnace; by my second summer I was an old hand, and sometimes I'd drive with the windows open in the same weather. Hopefully I'll re-acclimate more quickly to Seoul.. in the meantime I think I'm going to pick up some long johns.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

On Reading and Writing

So lately I'm starting to consider "reading up" a bit. I've got this time, great oceans of the stuff, for the first time in almost 20 years. Perhaps this is informed by my school days, but I've always though of really good literature as kind of heavy; something that you need to slow down for, to savor and interpret. Because of that I never really had time for the good stuff, or at least that's how I've always thought.

So mostly I read candy. Stirling and Weber, those sorts of guys. Brisk functional science-fiction that I can pick up and put down at a moment's notice, maybe have two or three going at a time. Like candy, these books are tasty and fun, but they aren't very filling. I'm finding that lately, I want to sit down to a meal. I want some meat, some protein.

Yeah I know I'm laying the metaphor on pretty thick, that's kind of a crutch for me when I'm trying to invoke imagery. That brings up another question, too, one which echos the thoughts of every writer aspirant in history. I wonder: how do they do it? The good ones, I mean, the Big Ones. Good writing seems like it should be so damned easy. Anyone with the vocabulary and a smidgen of smarts should be able to slap prose together like legos. Poetry to Epics, everyone should be able to do it.

It was a relatively innocuous turn of phrase that inspired all of this; I was browsing around for a new piece of candy when I recalled reading about Carmac McCarthy's The Road. I'm a big sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction of any stripe, but I haven't gotten around to this one yet. On the first page is this passage:

“Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than the one that had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.”

That's not really spectacular in the grand scheme of things, I know, but it's definitely a step or two above my normal fare. It started me thinking about the other times I've read or heard really awesome prose, and how it affected me. I remember the first time very clearly; it was during Ronald Reagan's national address on the Challenger Disaster in 1986. Quoting a poem by John Gillespie Mcgee, he said this:

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God."

I still tear up when I read that last bit, to me it's that incredible. It's like reading a symphony. How does someone write something like that? Why can't anyone? It's just a few simple words chained together, and yet it invokes so much. I was 10 years old, and that phrase was my political awakening. I fell in love with Ronald Reagan at that moment (and back out, but that's another story), and I was moved to start learning about.. well, everything. The Cold War, our domestic and foreign policies, the whole shebang. All of that from one turn of phrase.

I want that, again.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Boo room

There has been a familial request for a picture of Emily's room, so here it is. As you can see, MegaDomo bears his incongruous tomorrow's-outfit-bearing duty with dignity and poise. I know the room's a bit cluttered at the moment, we are in the process of moving some stuff about. This kid has way too many toys.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Navigating Seoul

Exploring Seoul has been an interesting challenge. Back in the States, England, and Japan, We were always able to count on Google maps, but they don't cover Korea yet. Adding to the fun is that fact that Seoul is an ancient city, so there's no easy-to-navigate grid thing going on, and many of the streets aren't even named.

Then there are the addresses.

Korean cities are divided in gu, or districts (Seoul has 25). Each gu is then further subdivided into dong, which are neighborhoods. So the first part of a written address will include the gu and dong, which is fine. The problem comes when you get down to the "which building and street" level, both because of the aforementioned nameless streets, and the fact that buildings are numbered by the order in which they were built. The oldest building in a dong is #1, the next oldest is #2, etc. The problem here is that, unless you know a neighborhood intimately, there is no rhyme or reason to this system. If #37 gets torn down and rebuilt, the new building becomes #480.

This isn't just an issue for us waegook either, because most local cabbies have the same problem. Every cab you get into here sports a GPS, and they use it constantly to figure out where they're going. Seoul is so frigging huge that there is no way a single person is going to know the ins and outs of every single dong; there are hundreds of them, with more springing up as the population grows. When someone gives you their card here, it often includes a little map along with the address. These maps usually use landmarks to help you out, but they are not always oriented with north being "up".

I have yet to find a decent map of Seoul; most of them are stylized tourist maps which aren't much good for serious navigation; if anyone reading this knows of a good English-language map for Seoul, please let me know. Because of this, I spend a lot of time on Wikimapia, which is a lifesaver. It's basically Google Maps with a whiteboard overlay, so users can label buildings and other points of interest. What I'll often do is print out an overhead shot from this site, with wherever it is that I'm looking for highlighted. I'm blessed with a pretty decent sense of direction, and I've also got a little pocket compass if I get turned around and it's a cloudy day. With these in hand and a little shoe leather, I've been able to find everything I've tried to find so far.. and I've certainly been getting a lot of exercise.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

old and weak..

Well I'm finally starting to feel better; I've been a bit out of it for the last few days, I dunno if it was the uncharacteristic up-til-4am SparkleFest 5000 or just the effects of my first winter in six years, but there it is. Since we're planning on doing Thanksgiving with some of the wife's work buds on Saturday, tomorrow the plan is to take it easy and just drag the spawnling over to the National Museum Children's Center.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

RE: The Spawn

So a few days ago I was inspired by this dude on Youtube who posted videos of himself doing generic life-in-Seoul-stuff like shopping in Emart and riding the subway. The idea was to give his family and friends back home an idea of what his day to day life is like over here.

So in that vein, here's an action-packed piece of the daily routine for Emily and I; the morning schoolbus dropoff. Warning: The following video clip contains saccharine-sweet levels of toddler shenanigans and extensive use of an embarrassing Daddy voice only used with my daughter; viewer discretion is advised.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Night of Awesome

I've been reading the blogs of our fellow expats for several months now, so when one of them decided to throw a get-together, I decided to join them. I am very glad that I did.

What I found was a group of intelligent, genuine, thoughtful, just awesome people, and we rambled on for ten hours. I looked up and it was 4:00am. I haven't had a night like that since college, that kind of night where you just click with a group of people and utterly lose track of time. It was magical.

Chubbo Chubbington (the third) says it with much more grace and style than I could ever manage, but last night reminded me of how good it is to feel comfortable and warm with a group of good friends, to while the clock away into the wee hours and just enjoy company and conversation. I've been doing without that for so long that I'd forgotten how wonderful it really is.

Home isn't about a building or a location, it's about the people in your life. I've got my family, and now I have close friends. I'd like to think that the Night of Awesome is the start of something special, perhaps a new home for all of us to build together. I hope so.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Ondol Goodness

As anyone 'round these parts knows, winter jumped into the picture last week. One day I was walking around outside in a sweater and the next day it was all BAM winter. So anyway, last night it was finally time to turn on the ondol; the underfloor heating system most homes use here.

So anyway we set the thermostat thinger and waited.

"Still not feeling it, it's still about as cold as a witch's ti.. wait a second."
"Is that a warm spot? Heeeyyy, that feels kinda nice."
"Holy shit the rug is warm!"
*flop onto the floor*
"Why don't we have this in the US?"

I think it's safe to say, we're converts.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Emily's Experience

So what's it like bringing a toddler to Korea? It's not that bad, honestly. We definitely had some concerns coming here, but Korea is really awesome for rugrats. Koreans love 'em, and Emily usually enjoys the attention.

The schools are excellent, at least the preschools. Back in Vegas, Emily was beginning to act out a bit at her preschool; they had a good program, but it was play-based and she was getting bored. We had started looking for an academic program for her, but unfortunately, in the States, there really isn't much in this vein for kids under 3. In education-obsessed Korea, however, that is not a problem.

When we first got here we had planned to put her up in the Army's on-post childcare center, but their program was simple daycare again, so we ruled it out. We then started to explore some of the local options. Language-wise it's not so bad as you'd think: most Koreans are so keen to get their kids speaking English early on that many pre-schools are taught entirely in that language. After checking out several options, we picked a place called Appletree in Seocho-gu. Emily loves it; she's eager to get on the bus in the morning, and when she gets home she is full of stories about what she learned that day. They bus her, feed her, and her teacher calls us every day to give us updates on her progress. My wife specializes in child development, and she thinks it's one of the best programs she has ever seen. My daughter isn't even three yet and she already has half of the alphabet.

All of this costs about $550/month, which is just ridiculously cheap compared to similar programs stateside. Plus she's getting exposed to another culture, and will probably be teaching us Korean if we spend more than a few years here. We both want our daughter to grow up as a world citizen, and I can't imagine a better way to start.

As for grade school, well, I wouldn't want to put Emily into the Korean system; they are bit overzealous in that department. Fortunately we've got access to the US public schools at Yongsan Garrison for that, and the program here is much better than the public schools back in the US.

There is one downside, however.. some days the kid comes home with some serious kimchi-breath.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008


So I'm riding the subway this morning and this older gentleman strikes up a conversation with me in English. Things go politely and well until, as we pull up to our mutual stop, he asks me to guess his age.

Now in the US, the generally polite thing to do in this situation is to lowball; older folks usually like to believe that they look younger and more youthful. Apparently that's not the case in Korea, because when I guess 55 he freaks out; he tells me that he's actually 75, and that I have made him "very upset" by guessing such a low figure. I apologized but he'd already given me his back and walked off; he was really pissed about it.

Does that tie into Confucianism? Specifically, Koreans and East Asians in general really venerate older folks, which is why, for example, Ajummas get away with so much here. Naturally, someone like that comes to believe that they have earned their status, and a low estimate of age might be seen as figuring a lower social rank than they actually merit.

Lesson learned, I suppose.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mounts Namsan and Ansan

Over the last few days I have climbed both Mt. Ansan and Namsan. Namsan is the one everyone is most familiar with, the one that has the Seoul Tower on top. It was a pretty easy climb, since they've installed a paved path and stairs all the way to the top. The views are pretty sweet even if you don't pay the ₩7000 admission.

Mt. Ansan is a much more arduous climb, but I vastly prefer it. There are no paved paths, only the occasional step carved into the rock and a rope handrail at a particularly hairy cliff. The view is better, and there are much less people up there too. Namsan has kind of a carnival atmosphere going on, with multiple restaurants, snack and gift shops, whereas Ansan offers peace & quiet, which is pretty hard to come by in this city. At certain points on the mountain, you hear no city noises at all. Weather permitting, I may take Kim and Emily up there this weekend for a picnic.

I tell you what, elderly folks do not screw around in Korea. Namsan has a cable car to the top, so it's very accessible for everyone, but Ansan has nothing of the sort. When I finally gasped my way to the top, all proud and thinking I had accomplished something, I was somewhat suprised to see several Ajummas hanging out up there and having lunch. I passed a few on the trail coming back down, too, some of these folks had to be in their 80s. If I make it that long, I hope I have half as much spunk left in me by then.


Saturday, November 8, 2008


So we bought a car today. When we moved to Seoul, we had decided not to bring a car; we could have done so for free, but Seoul has good public transportation, and we were going to be living right across the street from where she works. We sold our cars before leaving the US, and we've managed to go carless for about three months now.

I was fine with this, but as time has gone on the wife has begun to express dissatisfaction with this arrangement. For one thing, it's starting to get cold.. and she doesn't always catch the post shuttle to her school, which means a walk or a cab. It also presents a problem for groceries, although you can usually catch a cab at the commissary within a few minutes.

I think all the walking was doing us some good, but I can see her point.. and since she is the one working right now, and we're doing well financially, I finally caved. We met with a local broker today and ended up dropping about $2300 on a 1998 Hyundai Sonata III. It's a nice enough ride, and should do the job for the three miles a day we'll be putting on it. We pick it up on Monday.

Car insurance is pretty damn cheap here, which is nice. It's about $430/year for both of us, and if we could use USAA it would have been $120!

UPDATE: here's the offending vehicle; the wife has named her "Tess".


Friday, November 7, 2008

A New World

It's been a day since Obama was elected and I'm still struggling to process my emotions. I'm so used to being cynical about the direction my country has been going, so used to hating and despising our leadership, so used to hopelessness as I watched my nation lose it's soul.. I had forgotten what it was like to feel proud of my country. Words cannot express how profound this has been for me.

Check this out:

I have to tell you, this had me crying. Crying tears of joy and rage.. rage at how low my feelings had gotten, and how I hadn't even noticed. It's just been eight years of unrelenting cynicism and pessimism, and I'd just gotten so used to it. Watching my fellow Americans flooding the streets in dozens of cities, it's all come back. For God's sake, they're singing the Star Spangled Banner in the streets! When is the last time something like that happened? That's the way I used to feel when I was a kid, and my heart was filled with unconditional love for the United States. That's the way I feel again, today.

It's all come rushing back. I now remember how incredible it really is to be an American, how lucky I am to be a citizen of the greatest nation on Earth. Look at what we did. In our darkest hour, we came together and redeemed it all. To ourselves, and to the world. Nothing is impossible, which is really the way it's always been. That's why it's so incredible, so glorious, to be an American, because no matter how bad things get, we always have the ability to fix it, to make it right again. Listen to me, using "we".. a few days ago I would have dismissed such a sentiment as a corny cliche. No longer.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

election stress

Man this election stress is killing me. I don't usually harp on this stuff, but if McCain wins I'm leaving the country!


OK, well, I'll move another timezone away or something.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I hopped the subway over to Apgujeong today; it's supposed to be the Rodeo Drive of Seoul, so I thought I'd go check it out. It was OK, I suppose, but it doesn't live up to the "Western ideal" of elite shopping districts. There was a nice tree-lined street of bistros, might have to go back and check that out with the wife on a date or something, but other than that.. meh.

So far I have been unimpressed with Korean attempts to duplicate Western-style shopping districts, but I suppose rich Koreans need a place to blow cash just like everyone else. I think they should stick with what they do well, such as giant megamarkets like Namdaemun and Dongdaemun. Those places are incredible; Dongdaemun in particular offers 30,000 merchants spread out over several square kilometers of malls.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sung Kyun Kwan University

So as part of the process of learning about our new home, I've been reading a few books on Korea and her people. One of them is The Koreans by Michael Breen. It's a pretty good treatise on how Koreans think, and I highly recommend it. A few pages in, I came across a rather tantalizing tidbit:

"So much tourism potential is ignored. For example, Sung-kyun-kwan University in Seoul is the oldest university in the world in terms of a set of standing buildings. The classrooms, offices and library built in the fourteenth century are still there. No tour groups ever visit them. "

Well I certainly couldn't let that go, and so on a rainy morning I tossed a camera into the backpack and hopped onto the subway. A few steps later I emerged into a pretty familiar scene: the College Town. The dong surrounding Sung Kyun Kwan University has all of the hallmarks of this apparently worldwide phenomenon: stalls and stores offering cheap food, furniture, and music. It was almost like being back home, except I can't really read the signs yet.

A few wrong turns later and I arrived at the gates; as Breen says, there is no special attention paid to Seonggyungwan; it sits quietly on campus, mostly obscured by trees. In fact, I almost missed it. As I walked through a parking lot located behind a shiny new academic building, I stumbled across 600-year old stairs descending solemnly into the macadam.

Originally built in the 1300s, this compound was last rebuilt in 1601 after a fire. In any other country that I've visited, there would be walls around it, an interpretive museum, and an admission fee. Here, you can just kind of wander in through any open gate.

I did so. The buildings are all well-maintained, and these days appears that the compound is primarily used as a quad by the students here. Damp as it was today, I almost had the place to myself.

There's definitely something awesome about using a site like this as a place for students to hang out, socialize, and study.. and I certainly can't complain about the accessibility. That said, I'd still like to see such an important site get a little more attention, especially from Koreans.

Koreans don't really care much about their ancient roots, or at least that's the impression that I've been getting from both the Koreans I've spoken with, as well as the various authors I've read on the subject. Everything is focused on bootstrapping the country into an economic powerhouse; Koreans seem to have little attention to spare contemplating their ancient heritage. Maybe part of my reaction stems from the fact that, as an American, I'm kind of jealous that Korea has this sort of history sitting around; we certainly have nothing like this where I come from.

This particular site has been preserved, but many aren't. Domestic tourism to ancient temples and palaces is perfunctory at best; even downtown, most of these sites aren't even lit at night. Korea strikes me as being where Japan was in the 1960s, many feel that they too were focused on economic growth and ignored their cultural sites; as a result, many of them are gone now. Kyoto is a sad example of this; many visitors are shocked at what has happened to that once-beautiful city. I hope that Korea avoids the same mistake; I hope that these treasures are still around when she finally decides to catch her breath.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008


So I’m this guy. I grew up in Maryland, kinda got bored after college, and moved to LA. That’s where I met my wife, bought a house, did the white picket fence thing.. and got bored. So we moved to Las Vegas, punched out a daughter, bought another house.. and kinda got bored there too. So what the hell, we moved to Korea.

We are no longer bored.

We’ve been here about two months now, and I have been recently struck with a number of thoughts that I’d like to share with my friends and family. The wife (Kim) has her own blog, and now Ima gonna start mah own. She cannot stop me, she is powerless in the face of my.. typing. And stuff.

So actually I’ve been thinking about setting up a blog for awhile now, but the thing that really pushed me over the edge was this site. You’ve probably seen this guy’s “dancing” videos on the interwebs by now; if not, I highly recommend them. They’re basically pure joy, and really remind me how much I love travel, and why. It has been scientifically proven that nobody can watch these videos without smiling.

The wife and I had already resigned ourselves to the fact that we are not nesting types. We did make a serious go of things in Las Vegas; we bought a nice house, made friends.. Kim even started a business. As for me, I applied to and ultimately was hired by the Henderson Police Department. Being a cop is something I had dreamed about for a long time, and as I started the Police Academy, I thought I had finally made peace with staying in Las Vegas.

Of course, what better time for Kim to get a job offer in Seoul? All living expenses paid, a salary increase, and decent benefits to boot. At this point I had a lot emotionally invested in the cop thing, but ultimately we decided to that this was a better choice for our family.. so here we are.

Now I’ve only been at this expat thing for a few months now, but what I can tell you is that living in a foreign country opens your mind up in ways that are hard to imagine beforehand. Once you get past the tourist phase and start settling into a place, you start looking at the way another people live their lives. Enough of this and pretty much anyone is going to take another look at the assumptions that they’ve simply taken for granted. Astute readers may feel a “for instance” coming on.

Koreans view children as a treasure that belongs to an entire community, not just to their immediate family. Because of this, we have often encountered Ajummas (think grandmas in their 50s) who have scolded Emily for sucking her thumb, or picked her up to show her to some of their friends. To Americans, this sounds absurd and probably a little scary, but that’s just the way it is here. I’ve seen pairs of 5 year olds riding the subways on their own, and toddlers wandering 200 feet behind their parents on the street. Really puts this chick in perspective.

They simply don’t have the “culture of fear” thing going on that we have in the States, and when you think about it, that’s pretty awesome. Crime statistics in Korea back these practices up for them, and since it’s safe, well, I can’t really think of a reason not to do it. If you know your kids are going to be protected by strangers from getting into to trouble or being attacked by predators, then why wouldn’t you let them go out on their own? Of course, this is my daughter and my sensibilities are still informed by American paranoia, but I do feel a bit safer occasionally turning my back on her for a few seconds on the playground. When it comes to kids, it’s like the 1950s here.

Asian society is actually pretty alien to most Westerners, and Korea moreso than most. The above example is only scritchin' at the surface of the weird and awesome things we've run into here, and it's only been two months. We're probably going to be staying at least two years, and I wouldn't miss it for anything.

Well hell, that turned out to be longer than I had planned. Guess I’ve got a few more thoughts rolling around up there than I had anticipated, but I suppose that’ll do for a first entry.


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