To begin, we go back in time to the end of WW2. The Japanese lost the war and were forced to relinquish control of their annexed Korean territory which they had established in 1910 and cruelly administered. The Soviets, who had only entered the Pacific theater of the war weeks before, were given temporary authority over lands north of the arbitrarily decided 38th parallel whereas U.S.A. was given the lands to the south. Continue reading
Her name was Hanil (하늘). In Korean, it means “sky.” She was a Shih Tzu, which in Chinese, I imagine means “Sits on You.” She loved to sit on me. If I was on the couch, she was on the couch; if I was in bed, she was on my foot mat. Before she got sick, she would try with grunty zeal to jump up on the couch or bed. She followed me around the house and barked if I closed the bathroom door. She followed only me on dog walks. She needed no leash, because she never strayed from my feet. When we drove, she would jump across the dead man’s zone of used cups and chocolate wrappers in the elbow console just to get to my warm lap. She was brown and white with big black cataract eyes. She used to roll and rub all over my scattered clothes trying to absorb the smell. She loved me and I loved her back. Continue reading
When I returned to Korea after a year traveling SE Asia, Italy and USA, I was curious what I would notice, what changed, what feelings I’d re-experience, what would bother, excite or challenge me this time. Turns out, it’s the same same but different. Continue reading
A new lethal disease from some far-flung corner of the world has made its way into the headlines again. MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) has invaded Korea and set the country in a minor panic as it has killed two people and infected dozens in only two weeks. Continue reading
I’ve lived in Korea for five calendar years and have traveled around the world as well as come back home to the USA a few times. People sometimes ask me where I live, and I noticed that there are a few questions people ask when they hear the words, “I live in Korea.” Continue reading
“Seoul is not Vienna.” They were some of the first words my American friend and I exchanged on our new Korean cell-phones. It does not have the classic architecture we are used to seeing in European video montages. It does not have the tiny alleys with overhanging flowerpots of Rome, the myriad of dessert stores filled with cute ponytailed girls like Paris, the dirty, seedy charm of Berlin, the cozy fireplace pubs of Dublin or the late night tapas and midnight serenades of children like Seville. What it does have is alleys filled with neon lights and squirmy squid, expensive cakes at places called Paris Baguette, posh, symmetrical skyscrapers and outdoor tents for heavy consumption of the local firewater—soju. Children are awake for all hours of the night; they can be seen in their school attire sometimes until ten at night. They also go to school on Saturdays here. The charm is different in Asia than Europe. The charm lies in the smog, in the conspicuous consumption, and the blatant live to work lifestyle. The charm lies in knowing that sixty years ago, this country looked like a moonscape. The civil war that America found its way into blew apart this country and led to the creation of the DMZ. The “miracle on the Han” or aka Seoul’s rise to a prominent exporter of goods and intellectual property provides the south with the reason to work hard. They know what they have accomplished in a short time. They know that 60km to the north lies a land where hard work is compulsory and dedicated to the “Great Leader”. They know that education and labor is important to success. The Europeans are quite the opposite, napping Spaniards, laissez-faire French, cappuccino sipping Italians bear a different burden of balancing living well by working hard. Of course, the Germans are a whole different breed, somewhere in the middle of self-loathing and arrogance of their accomplishments.
But the persistent stench of urine and seaweed in my neighborhood of Dong-jak hasn’t reached the level of charming through its unpleasantness yet. The cultural shock of eating squid weekly and seaweed daily is a bit of a stunner. The idea of eating out being cheaper than cooking at home is unusual, but agreeable. The times when seeing a blonde head feels like an eye smack. The city of Seoul is vibrant and dynamic, but it is powerfully, wholly Korean, despite the Western influence of McD’s or Starbucks.