Saturday, August 29, 2009

Random Korea reflections, 7

One enduring image of Korean traffic is of the scooters. They come out of nowhere, zip between cars and between pedestrians on the sidewalk, and ignore traffic lights. And if there's a girl in back, she's riding sidesaddle.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Weather idiots

What kind of idiots bring their seven year old child to the rocky coast to watch a hurricane, as if they're visiting the effin' IMAX or something? These kind of idiots.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Well, that didn't take long...

...At work we're back to our old pattern of back-stabbing office politics. I had to pop tranquilizers yesterday and today. I'm dealing with some difficult subordinates, and they are determined to make trouble for me in retribution. Ugghhh... Memories of my Korea trip are still sustaining me, though. Plus, I got on a workable exercise and diet plan, and have lost ten of the twenty-five pounds I would like to lose by next summer. So, there's that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Random Korea Reflections, 6

I've been following a number of blogs by expats in Korea since I got back. Many of them go on about the rudeness or at least tactlessness of the Koreans they meet. I guess I have to count myself lucky, since I encountered almost nothing of that sort myself. I drew a few stares, but--so I reasoned--it was because I turned up in residential areas, in a city where foreigners are not so common as in Seoul and Busan. Plus, I usually had my children in tow, who are cute enough to make you mess your britches.

Early some mornings I went out of the house we were staying in, down the winding residential street, to a small playground, where I let the kids play. From time to time people would cut through the playground, and give us a long look. But there were not a few smiles from the ajummas too, as they took in the sight of the giant foreigner appa pushing the kids on the swingset.

One morning an ajumma was sitting in the gazebo where I usually sit, so I sat down beside her. I offered her one of my water bottles, which she refused. She gestured at the kids on the monkeybars and said something. I had no idea, so I just replied, "Hankook umma, Migook appa." Korean mother, American father. She tried to talk with me some more, leaving me increasingly embarrassed, when the kids came over asking to go back to the house. I rose and bowed to her, and she to me, and parted ways.

Actually, I think the longest stare I got the whole trip was from a white women, whom I passed when leaving a Dunkin Donuts.

Random Korea Reflections, 5

Those of you who've read this blog for a while, and have the gift of reading between the lines, probably can guess that I've had a really tough time this past couple of years. This trip to Korea was quite a restorative, for which I'm most grateful.

Seeing the sights and spending time with my wife's wonderful family for a month was enough of a treat. Yet, there were a few other incidents which stuck with me, too. I was told that one brother-in-law, a professor, had been praying for me for months. He found out which way America was, and prayed intently in that direction, for my benefit. Who wouldn't be touched?

And one evening one sister took us to a little storefront church in a humble little neighborhood. We climbed the stairs to the sanctuary, simultaneously small, cute, calm, and welcoming, and there met the moksanim, the pastor. He was a small man, with a luminously kind face. He chatted with my wife and her sister in Korean, he having no English, then prayed over me at length, again in Korean. He then spoke to my wife for about twenty minutes, while I tried to keep control of the fidgety kids. Finally we thanked him, and then left.

Later, I asked my wife who that pastor was, and why we had visited him. She gave me a disgusted look, as she does whenever I've forgotten something that she told me months earlier. She reminded me that this was a pastor that my wife's sister admired, and who had been praying for me the whole previous year. I had completely forgotten about that, and was sorry that I didn't thank him for it. But I won't forget the blessing his kindness imparted to me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Young woman under sentence of death... honor killing. Watch the whole thing.

Random Korea reflections, 4

I went to a small Presbyterian church four times while we were in Gwangju. The service was very much along the same lines as what I was used to in the U.S. Singing, prayer, scripture reading, sermon, etc. The sermon seemed longer than in America, no doubt because I couldn't understand it! They served lunch downstairs afterwards, Korean food of course, except for one time when they served curry. Most of my in-laws are very devout, so we had devotions in their homes on occasion, too. When I was in Seoul, I paused to snap a pic of these street preachers in Myeongdung shopping district.

Random Korea Reflections, 3

Most of the people I stayed with were well off, living in luxury homes. Even those that had humbler homes were still comfortable. And most Koreans I saw on the street were well-dressed. So it was a little jarring to see visible poverty, though of course I knew that poverty is present in every society. Some images:

*An old, stooped woman, too poor to indulge in the elderly Koreans' vain custom of dyeing her hair black, rummaging through a wad of plastic and trash on the sidewalk, searching for recyclables.

*An old man in an alley, wincing in arthritic pain as he hoists the handles of his wagon, which he will pull through the streets in search of recyclable cardboard.

*An ajumma in Jeju Island, standing on the sidewalk and bowing to the traffic, trying to drum up business for her restaurant.

But one thing that was different from Atlanta is that, in Korea, I saw only two actual beggars, who were handicapped. I encountered no able-bodied aggressive panhandlers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Random Korea Reflections, 2

Much of what I saw of Korea was through car, bus, and train windows. Even though I couldn't read the signs, I usually stared at the shops as we were being driven through the city. I also liked to people watch. One brother-in-law remarked that all foreigners loved to look at all the signs when they first came to Korea. I allowed as how that was true of me, too, even after a month. From the first day to the last, watching the flood of images stream past the passenger window, watching the people and scenes, was almost as fulfilling to me as going to the "official" sights.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Random Korea Reflections, 1

How generous are my wife's family? This generous: One brother-in-law put my name on his auto insurance, and offered me the use of his car while I was staying with him--he'd take a taxi to work and back. I declined, of course, of necessity as well as courtesy. The streets were too narrow and the traffic was too wild for me to navigate. In America we can turn right on red, but in Korea they go straight on red. Plus, I couldn't read the signs, and would have gotten lost immediately.

And this generous: Another set of in-laws were moving into a new home, a luxury condo in a hi-rise, at the same time we were there. They hurried up to move in, more so than they should have, so that we would be comfortable. The big bed, the hiking trail on the mountain in back, and so on, were partially chosen with me in mind, they said. That was beyond generous and verging on ridiculous, to my mind--but I was no less appreciative.

This generous: My kids couldn't turn around without someone giving them an ice cream cone. I already mentioned how another brother-in-law put us up in a 6-star hotel in Seoul, and gave us a lot of money to go see the sights. And how still another set of in-laws booked us into a beachfront condo on Jeju Island's gorgeous south shore. They treated us to meals at fine restaurants several times weekly. One of them bought some expensive Oriental medicine for me. I don't believe in the principles of Qi and such, but I drink the foul stuff twice daily anyway, because the love that went into its making is as strong as whatever medicinal powers it's supposed to have.

And on our last day, we had to take the overnight bus from Gwangju to Incheon airport, there to catch the plane for home. Several of them turned out at 3:00am to see us off at the bus station, after having dined with us just a few hours previously. What a family...

In return, I've managed to find small ways to help them over the years. I'm an American and a native English speaker, which comes in handy from time to time. One nephew is studying in the U.S. at the moment, and our home is his American home--his parents are grateful for that. I only hope that more of them can come visit in the years to come.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

It's been two weeks since I returned from Korea...

...and I'm still beaming. We traveled to Korea to visit my wife's family in Gwangju, and traveled around sight-seeing and meeting people. Her family really killed the fatted calf for us, I must say. They are mostly upper-class, church-going medical professionals, and they paid for us to go stay in a 6-star hotel in Seoul, and to a beachfront condo on Jeju Island. They welcomed us into their homes, in turns, and doted on us to the point that I could barely phrase my thanks. I'm an American southerner, so I like to think I know something about courtesy and hospitality, but these people were just on a whole higher level. Since I returned, I've been surfing the blogs of foreigners living in Korea. Many of them spin tales of how rude Koreans are, how dull the attractions are. Well, as to the latter, I'm no seasoned traveler, being more of a homebody. Korea is the only east Asian country I've ever been to, so I don't compare the sights with China or Japan. (Plus, I have a pre-existing interest, as my father was in Korea during the war.) And to the former, I can only wish the resident foreigners to have contact with people beyond their school co-workers, restaurant ajummas, jostling strangers on the public transportation, and club pickups.

I'd love to share some family pictures of these wonderful people with you, know...privacy and all that. You never know who's looking. You can see some generic vacation pics at my photo blog.