Sunday, May 31, 2009

Last couple of days in Korea

Last couple of days in Korea:

So we got back to Seoul and went to the university; can’t remember the bloody name at the moment, they kind of all sound alike to me. We met some university students and it was very interesting to meet them. I believe on that day we went to a market, where Jake and I finally got the cords we needed for our computers and his camera file unload deal. I also found a really cool model shop where I bought an M-48 for our time in Kazakhstan. That day was Jake’s birthday, so I grabbed him a Stryker kit. That day we saw a tae kwan do demonstration that was very well done. I could never do that and for some reason I don’t want to study a martial art, but I respect these little buggers.

That afternoon (after the Mall) we saw the Samsung “D’light” (or whatever they call it) show house. Basically it just shows off all of Samsung’s cool gear which ain’t so bad. Some of it seems kind of pointless, but it is all rather cool, nonetheless. That night we went to a buffet that apparently is super, super expensive and world class. I’m very proud that I only had two normal size plates and stopped at that. I also picked up a pair of sunglasses that night-30,000 won, but custom made so I think that’s a fair trade and I like ‘em loads.

I think I’ve decided that I am not meant for a relationship. They’re just too complicated, difficult, and require too much work and trust. I’m pretty bad on all those counts anyway, but I’m especially lacking on the trust. I don’t honestly believe that anyone likes me (or could), let alone loves me. I think that I’m better on my own. Girls don’t like me and I find it difficult to find common ground or talk to them in any other way than joking. I’m a pretty shallow person anyway, so looks mean a lot to me and for a person ugly as I, that’s unfair. So logically, I shouldn’t expect anymore than I’d give them.

The next day we met a different group of students. We saw another university and met some new students and we got a tie from this university. Because of that difficulty with my friend, I was a bit sleepy, and during the lecture it was very hard to stay awake. We went to another folk village; one which is apparently more well known than the last one we went to. It was all pretty neat; we met some interesting students when we went to “Everland” amusement park, which is the Korean version of Disneyland. Jake and I hung out with two girls; one named Yu-Ri and the other Swan. I had talked with Swan quite a bit on the bus earlier because she had been to Kansas before and had a very different perspective than other international students who usually just complain about Pittsburg and Kansas. She could be described as a “free-spirit” or crazy. Both fit.

The next day we saw the Independence Hall of Korea, which was very neat, but a huge stoker of Korean nationalism. Asian nationalism is a bit worrysome I think, because while the west seems to be drifting into this idealized “Why can’t we all just get along” world, Asia seems hell bent on reviving the 19th century. We next saw the Kia plant, which was neat and a bit more “rough and tumble” than the Daewoo shipyards, but the workers didn’t seem very focused or motivated. A lot of them were lounging around when we came by, playing cards or listening to mp3 players. That afternoon we went into Itaewon, which was pretty cool, since it basically was the international quarter of Seoul (or it seems to be). The thing that sucked about that was we had to eat at Pizza hut again. Jake and I opted to try and hold out until we could go to dinner, but we didn’t get a chance to go to dinner until late that night because we visited the Seoul Tower.

It was completely worth making dinner late, because Seoul is beautiful at night. It is bright and gorgeous. However, I think my favorite part was looking towards Pyongyang North Korea and since there is a mountain in the way, no light comes from that direction it gives it a very sinister and foreboding look and the next day I was going to go to the DMZ…

That night, one of the students (named Heidi) agreed to take us to a Korean bar/restaurant where we could get some of that food we had tried in Jinju...and some of the liquor we had dinner. And a few drinks...

And they flowed pretty freely. Jake and I had a wonderful time, finishing off this stuff. We started with a bottle of the maek gul ri. Milky colored, but it didn't remind me of the stuff I drank at Jinju. We next went for a big old bowl of dongdong ju. Even more milky white looking and even served the same way as our Jinju drink, it too is different. But there's a lot of it...and Jake and I were already feeling it by the time we got started on it. I wasn't sure we'd be able to finish it-Jake says he'd never been drunk before, and I was one time.

Add in the fact that we both have to walk home by ourselves in one of the largest cities in the world where we do not speak the language at all...I was a bit worried.

But as Bobby Horton would say: "Wine, will the best resolutions destroy" or in this case "Dongdongju" will and as the bowl emptied...

We got braver...and tossed on a bottle of Soju for good measure. Feeling quite drunk, we finally paid our bill and got on the way home. It was a tough little task, keeping on track, but we did it and we had a blast. But we had to get up for our DMZ trip the next day...

Looks like I won’t have a chance to finish this tonight. Not sure when my next one will be. Hopefully soon since there’s a lot to talk about and times are difficult now.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thoughts on the Korean Mourning process

Its been a while and there's a lot to catch up on. Before I do my trip I think I'm going to talk about an event that's pretty well known through out the world.

As I am sure you are all aware, recently the former president Roh committed suicide. You are also probably aware that he was under investigation for...

Accidentally hit post, but I'm not ready yet. I'll update this later. To hold you over here's a photo of me in North Korea.
To the left of me is a ROK Guard and South Korea. I am standing across the line of demilitarization; I.E. North Korean territory.

Kim Jong Il just got pwn3d!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Furious and despairing and trying to catch up

Now that I've had a bit of sleep I'll get back to what got me so riled up last night.

So we went to this island yesterday that was basically naught but a huge garden. OK, whatever, not my cup of tea. I mean it wasn't horrible, but you know there's only so many plants you can look at in an hour and a half, especially on such a small island.

Well, of course the girls loved the thing and were gushing about how great it was, but when we got ready to go to the POW camp, oh did they moan. "Do we have to go?" OK, I get it, you are girls; history isn't your thing. But was a garden island mine? I never complained while you were in earshot, why do you have to drag me down, eh? No matter, I guess, just keep trucking on and trying to ignore them.

The museum of the POW was pretty cool. I think it has fallen into a little bit of hard times, but the old girl still has some life in her, I think. I love the giant T-34 that you go into to enter the museum, nice little touch methinks even if it is a bit drab on the inside. However, I knew that this was going to be a delicate situation to handle, since we have 5 members of the PRC, including one son of the vice governor of that region that had that nasty little earthquake. I expected though, that we'd all get through this, but I don't think the confrontation with the doctrine of the party was good for Hai-Xiao. After he saw some parts about how the POWs were treated in accordance to the Geneva convention he got mad. I was walking by an exibit about the POW rising and I heard him talking to Ross (an American) in our group saying "The American army has a history of beating prisoners."

Wonderful, more conjecture and stated facts from a guy whose national army's biggest operation in the last twenty or so years was murdering its own people. Mabye a cheap shot, but this is from the same guy who claims that the American government is lying about Iraq, because he saw a video on the Chinese website of an American marine saying he thought a figure in the distance was an enemy combatant and it turned out to be a child. Or that there was that instance where the marines murdered the family and raped the little girl. Horrible stuff does happen, but in America those things are reported and people are punished.

Not like China where the people aren't allowed to ask the government why their children's school collapsed but the government office next door was still standing. Or where certain histories and websites are forbiddon...I'll never understand how in China they can trust their government when they accept that it is corrupt, authoritarian, and repressive over a government that is open, frequently being challenged by the press (doesn't sound like a good thing, but think about it-it means that the press is free enough to criticize) and purely from the historical stand point, it doesn't hurt their case that neutral parties who were allowed to inspect the camps (unlike the Chinese hell holes they put our soldiers into) disagree with the Chinese Government's "history".

/Rant mode off, it took a lot of my will power not to punch him in the back of the head at that very moment and it took even more not to smack Ross when he said "When have winners ever been honest about history" without going into how much that made me mad, I can assure you it did. Chao, the other chinese guy wasn't much better; declaring it all to be "Bullsh*t."
At least the girls showed a bit more restraint. I figured they couldn't have like that stuff any better (or maybe they just didn't care; international student girls, much like American girls never seem to care about history).

So the communists were a serious drag at this trip, and finally made me just decide there's no point in even talking to these people. If they can buy what they're government is telling them, even after what they've seen in the US and they can ignore the rest of the world to go with their government then there isn't any way I'm going to convince them otherwise. An article I read in the NY Times recently talked about how the Chinese are willing to accept the repression of their government because of the progress and modernization. I guess that's their business. It starts to bother me however, when Hai-Xiao says they want confrontation with us and are preparing for it, it does worry me. I can't believe these are the people that are going to surpass us. I also can't believe what some of the Koreans believe about us, their allies who kept them from speaking...korean with a northern accent, but that is another story...

We only had 45 minutes at this museum, half the time at the other island, but as soon as it was 39 minutes those girls from earlier started pushing Dr. Lee to have us leave. "Can't we go already?" I had to freaking run up and down the rest of the camp to get photos and I still was running behind. Those jerks rushed us out of there on the most historically interesting tour we had yet been on.

To end this whole sorry affair, we were trying to get dinner sorted out and we were planning on eating at McDonalds to save time...but Dr. Lee found out from our Korean guides that there was this "terrific" place that made traditional Korean cold noodles and we could do it, if the group wanted. The chinese students got extremely excited, because they had had this before, but before we could say anything, the back half of the bus shouted "No!" "I really just have to have a burger"

WTH. This group has been complaining about Bulgogi...what kind of people are they? What is wrong with them? We've eaten at American fast food restraunts five times now, six tomorrow and we've had plenty of options for individuals to eat there....and we've been out of the states for what a week? And you are already freaking craving burgers? Unbelievable...just unbelievable...

Sally MacLennane blues in Jinju...

Words cannot describe how frustrated I am with things today. But I’ll start off playing catch up and I’ll give myself another evening to cool down and then talk about my frustration with this group.

I had a wonderful time yesterday and the past couple of days in Jinju. We saw some amazing sights filled with beauty and wonder. Jake and I had a lot of fun avoiding the “American Day” (lunch at McDonalds and dinner at Pizza hut) and I’d like to just put a HUGE shout out to Soojin Wu for helping us out by getting Bibimbap beforehand (4:30). Thanks and you get one huge tip of the hat! However, hands down the best part was meeting Elly’s family and her friends. Later that night (~7:30) Elly’s mother, sister, and friend Hyun-Jung came and picked me up and took me to a chicken place for dinner.

Neither elly’s mother or her sister spoke English, but Hyun-Jung spoke it very well. Chicken was very good; a kind of fried chicken with a sweet red sticky sauce and some side dishes. The only problem was that it was very difficult to eat the chicken with the chopsticks, since it was still on the bone and everything. Coupled with our sitting on the ground (traditional Korean style) made this a very difficult meal for me; however apparently my difficulties made me look very “cute” in their eyes, at the expense of a bit of pride. I learned later that Jinju is famous in Korea for its high number of beautiful women-the Korean saying goes “The number of beautiful women in Jinju is one more than the number of flies,” so perhaps this is a more than fair trade off, no?

After dinner, Elly’s mother (well technically Hyun-Jung drove) had us stop by a grocery store where we got some fruit and snacks, and then we went back to Elly’s home and talked for a long time. It was a really wonderful night; eventually Elly’s aunt and two younger cousins came over and visited, although the cousins were kind of afraid of me or something. Regardless of this, I had a wonderful night with these ladies and I made plans with Hyun-Jung to meet with some more of Elly’s friends the next night.

The next day we visited a Korean shrine in the mountains and it was absolutely beautiful. The hike up the mountain and through the woods was gorgeous and the shrine itself was really cool as well. We also saw a folk village which was pretty neat and then we went to a Chinese restaurant. That was kind of fun as well, since I sat near Ja-ru and Sao-schen (two Chinese girls) and we talked about the quality of the food in comparison with back home, why I shouldn’t eat at Guanton province, and the general mischief children could get into in the states or in the PRC.

After dinner, we all went back to the hotel, but Soo-jin was going to help me and Jake go meet with Elly’s friends. However, she also invited some members of our group, which was a huge mistake. Firstly, they are never very punctual. Secondly, they are extremely loud. Third, they are extremely inconsiderate. They never are grateful either. Soo-jin was kind of worried since she wasn’t comfortable with so many people coming and plus the bus driver was waiting on us before he could go home, so she wanted us to hurry. However, they didn’t seem to care and took their sweet time, ignoring Soo-jin. And when Soo-jin asked them to be careful and stick together because she was responsible for them; they just laughed at her and said they were adults. Never mind that she was going out of her way to take them out…

Anyway, luckily they got bored waiting at the restaurant/bar place we were at and went off on their own. That left Jake, Soo-jin and I together with some snacking food (Koreans like to snack when they drink) and some so-ju while we waited for Elly’s friends. So-ju is a traditional Korean alcohol and it is OK. Much better than vodka, but that isn’t saying much. Hanging out with Soo-jin was fun and it really is a pity I didn’t get to know her better last year while she was still in PSU. It kind of sucks making a friend after you’ve already parted ways…

Elly’s friend Hyun-Jung showed up, bringing two guys along: Dong Yup and Jin Yeong. We ordered more food and more so-ju and we started to have a really good time. They were really fun people to know and Jake and I are both in agreement that last night was probably the best we’ve had so far (although for me, it is a close tie with meeting Elly’s family). Sadly, eventually Soo-jin had to leave because she had to work the next day, so we all said our goodbyes; hoping that we’d all meet again sometime (most likely in vain, I deeply regret to say).

After this, Elly’s friends and the two of us continued to hang out, but we moved to a different restaurant/bar. By now, Jake was a little tipsy but I felt fine, if extremely full. Both swearing off anymore food, we continued to converse with Elly’s friends and try new types of Korean liquors. To be honest, they weren’t all that bad, and it is a good thing they were all so weak, or I’d be in a lot of trouble, since I am not one inclined to drink and I have little experience in the matter. Sadly, the night drew to a close and we made our farewells with some great folks. Hyun-Jung’s only fault that I can find so far is that she’s an Obama supporter, and the two guys’ only problem is that they did they’re military service in the navy. But nobody is perfect.

Man, how I’ll miss Jinju… I hope I'll come back again someday, but it just seems so unlikely...

"Sad to say I must be on my way
So buy me beer and whiskey 'cause I'm going far away (far away)
I'd like to think of me returning when I can
To the greatest little boozer and to Sally MacLennan"

By the way, Hyun-Jung, if you read this, this song isn't really the best sampling of my kind of music. I like the song, but the band is a little bit "rough" like that rice drink we had.

Friday, May 22, 2009

POSCO and Starcraft

Had a good day yesterday. We went to GNU and saw another propaganda video for the school. Maybe this sort of thing is effective here, but it is a little weird to me.

Met the president of the school. Was a bit annoying, because to show his status they had us waiting for him for a while and then I had to move twice to get farther away from him. Bloody aristocracy; thank God Dad's a French Revolution Scholar so I can rail against people of a higher social class than me without being a goddamn communist.

Headin' off to breakfast now, so hopefully I'll get this updated later today. Cool thing is that I got in touch with Elly, who got in touch with her friend, who got in touch with me and Elly's mom, so tonight ~7:30 they'll come and pick me up. Not sure what we're going to do, but it should be interesting to meet them. Unfortunately it is hard to get in touch with them here; local call aren't free and the instructions elly gave me for public phones didn't seem to work for me.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

From Jinju

Another excellent day here in Korea. We went to a couple of interesting sights today. Started this morning off a little apprehensions about the weather-rained most of the day and I had forgotten my windbreaker coat at the first hotel (Sorry Dad! Hopefully the hotel'll hold onto it when we go back there next week.

Anyway, we bypassed this unpleasantness by buying some cheap raincoats and going on our way to our activities. We went and saw two Buddhist temples and while I still don't understand Buddhism, I do understand why Elly's mother always took the family there for relaxing. It really is a nice little walk in the woods to these temples. This beauty was amplified by the fact that it was raining, which I always enjoy (especially when I have an opportunity to wear my awesome hat). I don't really understand why Elly said she always complained, it didn't seem that arduous of a climb, to be truthful.

After that we also saw a museum, some ancient Silla burial mounds, and the foundation of the old palace of Silla. All of this stuff was very neat, but not what is going to leave a lasting impression. At every place we went today, it seemed there was a bleedin' horde of school age Korean kids. Just multitudes of the little buggers walking 'round and making a general nuisance of themselves. Anytime we were around, the kids started to come closer and say “Hi” or “Hello” or anything really. Jeff and I had two 10 year old Korean boys shout that we’re handsome several times. I really hope they just didn’t understand the possible connotations of what they were saying. I don’t really mind Korean girls saying that; generally they can be cute. But boys…that kind of crosses the line a bit…

Anyway, back to the point. It is really fun to see the reaction of these kids. They seem really excited to see us; not sure if its just because they want to practice English or what, since they seem to get a little anti-US as they grow. Either way, my day was made the other day when walking through the Museum of Korean History and a little boy walked by, turned to his friend and said-“Miguki!”

I'm in Jinju now and really regretting that I told Elly it'd be awkward to meet her mother. I think it actually would have been quite nice to meet her and said hi. Elly and I might not be going out but we're still friends. Or at least i hope we are. Anyway, time for bed.

But it is a bit lonely 'round here right now.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Day I Continued and Concerns about the ChiComms

So it was an interesting day today-had a great breakfast at our hotel; Korean beef and cabbage soup with kimchi (of course). Kyang Hee University was rather neat, the buildings were all impressive on the outside, but a little bit run down (kind of old looking and dirty etc) inside. Nothing huge, just gave the sense that outward appearance was more important than what is on the inside. Sometimes I wonder if that isn't a trait the whole country shares. Everywhere you look, there is something showing off status. The cars here are pretty big, which we've been explained is a status symbol; bellboys at hotels will bow to owners of larger cars as a sign of respect but they tend to ignore (or visibly treat differently) owners of less prominent cars-according to Dr. Lee.

Every video we watch emphasizes pride and success of the whatever it is for. For Kyang Hee University, it was not merely the stepping stone for a bright and wonderful future, but something more, something "in harmony with nature". Watching the video for the planned new city hall, I felt like I was watching "The Triumph of the Will," because not only with this new building serve to show the grandeur, majesty, and culture of the Korean people, it will also shine on for the future generations. Look, I understand pride in yourselves and your country-I'm an American. I like to think we invented that. But it really starts getting a little irritating-I mean seriously, it is like watching a propaganda video. I can't really explain it, but it just rubs me a little bit the wrong way; probably because they use way too many adjectives in these videos. Almost every sentences has at least two more than are necessary to convey the general idea...

So Korean nationalism is alive and well. We had a lesson on Korean politics, which emphasized the economic progress of South Korea and acknowledged the authoritarian regimes that it has had, but argued that no countries founded or liberated since the end of World War Two have been economically prosperous and democratic their whole time. "Absolutely no examples of this anywhere in the world." I wonder what Austrians, (west) Germans, Belgians, Netherlanders, Danes, Norwegians, or any of the host of countries liberated after WWII. Heck, I think even the Japanese are pretty clean on that front, whatever crimes against history they have.

We also saw Chang Duck Palace, which was a pretty cool historical point. Interesting to see an Oriental style palace-Hai Schau (a Chinese guy on our trip) said it was just like a miniature version of the "Forbidden City" and was not too impressed. Hai Schau (a close pheonetic approximation of his name) is a neat guy. Son of a vice governor of a region in China, he says he isn't a communist and disagrees with his government. He has complained a lot about of the lack of freedom in his country and about a lot of the petty stuff the government does (like why they ban certain video games or media and its triviality). Hai is a nice guy, but I am a little concerned about China since meeting him. First, he talked about how the Chinese military training is specifically focused on fighting the US and compensates for the fire/air support disadvantages they have by practicing in situations where they operate without any support and the US OPFOR does. There is a very callous disregard for the average soldier's life, not just among the higher ups, but among the average soldiers themselves, and according to him they put completing the mission above all else; even if it means destruction of the unit.

Now who knows how much of that is accurate or to what level or how effective their training is, but Hai assures me that after a certain point, they stop taking 80% casualties and start completing the mission with much more modest (25% was his unit's best). This may all be bluff or perhaps the Chinese training is less effective than they think, but this still concerns me. While they are training to fight us and developing weapons to take away our advantage on the seas-all those damn subs you see surfacing near our carrier groups, that missile that is specifically designed to sink carriers, or all the engineers they are sending to S. Korea just to learn ship building-we're just focusing on fighting low intensity conflicts. Which is fine, I understand that's what we need now, but knowing how to do a movement to contact with a group of five terrorists and search EPWs is not going to be of much use when fighting the PLA. Hell, Hai says the buggers have these little grenades around their neck so they can detonate them when they're about to be captured. Perhaps I am always the pessimist, but we should at least be seriously training for the possibility of a conventional war-and maybe we are, but I don't hear about maneuvers like REFORGER (OK I know we don't do that anymore, but I mean large scale real to life simulations like they would do) nor do I hear much about that OPFOR Unit the NTC uses. Dad always talked about that unit and training with it, but guys who are prior service in ROTC now a-days never mention it and ROTC does absolutely no training for it.

Also, I'm literally willing to lay down money that says our government expects to over come this with the use of airpower. Dammit, I am tired of how much we expect airpower to do stuff. Air power strategists promise the moon time and time again, but they never deliver. They claimed industrial bombing could bring Germany to its knees and win on its own (don't believe me, ask "Bomber Harris" he says they could), they didn't win the Korean or Vietnam conflicts, played a much more minimal role in winning Desert Storm than they are given credit for (see my own personal research I did for that Medina ridge paper), "Shock and awe" 2003 was a complete failure, and what real use is the airforce playing now? Just support-that is all the airforce is, a support element for the ground. Airpower cannot alone win wars against any determined foe, no matter how technologically inferior. When will we realize that in America? Maybe that should be a topic I focus my history paper on next year...sorry to get on my soap box and get emotional-I'm not expert on any of this stuff and there are wiser men than me at the Pentagon so I'm sure they're taking care of this or since I have such little knowledge about actual army training maybe all my worries are for naught. This rant is just an expression of my worries, I just hope I'm as wrong and ignorant as I probably am.

Edit: I also want to comment about the average attitude that Hai describes in China. Firstly, he says that the military (and the government apparently) feels that for a country to become strong and a world power, it must beat another, and who better to beat than the strongest there is. So there is kind of an attitude that for them to become truly great they have to beat us in a war...which doesn't bode well with me. Furthermore, while they believe we are economically dependent on each other and when one of us does well, the other does too, they still have some kind of irrational dislike for us. He says when visitors from the US come to China everyone is really excited and glad to see that relations are getting better, but once the Americans leave everyone starts becoming more critical and hostile towards the Americans again. Again, who knows if this is really the case; maybe Hai is just seeing things a certain way, or he's describing extreme cases and I am taking them too seriously. Most of this post has just feelings of uneasiness talking.