Another reason to not drive in Korea

I’ve mentioned the obvious things: idiotic taxi drivers, aggressive bus driving maniacs, insane motorbike riders, and a general contempt for observing basic traffic laws (lane markings, red lights, parking). But my biggest nightmare is the young children who dart out between parked cars. In the dark. Check out this video clip

I see young kids like this out on the streets well after what would have been my bedtime at that age. And without any adult supervision whatsoever. I only drive when I have to here. I just don’t want to even think about all that is at risk when I do. Slow and steady, that’s how I take it. It’s kinda like driving sober when everyone else is drunk. Extreme defensive driving is a mandatory skill on the streets of Seoul.

Via Hardy and Tiny’s blog.

Back to normal

Whatever that is. I know its been too long since I last posted. Now that Jenn from I got two shoes is back, I guess I don’t want to be the only one on Nomad’s blogroll who hasn’t done a recent update. So here it is:

I’m feeling fine. The head’s all healed and the scar (shaped like the Korean peninsula, cool huh?) is hardly noticeable. I lost 3 more pool games last night, but at least I’m not losing ugly. My teammates think I’m the unluckiest player in Itaewon, which goes quite nicely with my last in the league ranking. Actually, I’m playing much better but part of my bad luck is getting pitted against some damn good players. Oh well, I have a good attitude about it all and I am kinda sorta having fun at it, at least more so than last season. I really like my international group of teammates. We have an Australian, a Scotsman, a Canadian, an Indian, an Austrian, a Texan, and me. I might have mentioned that before though, huh? God help me if I start repeating myself in my infrequent writings.

Monday night I won two out of three dart games (Cricket doubles). I had a good partner, but I pulled my weight (which if you saw my belly you would know that’s quite a feat in iteslf). I’m thinking about going to the Blue Frog Saturday and playing in a tourney. Those are “A” players, but I need practice throwing under pressure. I seem to play better when I’m playing for fun, so I want to get used to keeping my game on in competition. We’ll see.

Lot’s going on at work too. I am supposed to be representing the Army in an arbitration next month over the union’s claim to standby pay entitlement during the curfew. Any of you DAC’s out there expecting a big payout are dreaming, so don’t go spending that money. This week the union says it filed a class action lawsuit seeking pay in th U.S. Court of Claims in DC. Which is not a surprise (if true) but by my reckoning they have even less of a chance in court because the law is pretty well settled on the conditions that must be present to get standby duty pay. The curfew just wasn’t that restrictive to warrant additional pay. The union wants to delay the arbitration pending the outcome of the lawsuit, but we have objected to that ploy. Still waiting for word from the arbitrator on how he sees it. That’s about all I’m comfortable saying at this point, but I do enjoy doing battle on issues like this.

In other work news, we have two people leaving my office. Arcelia, my fellow supervisor is heading back to the States in a couple of weeks. Her time was up and she declined an extension for family reasons. I’m really going to miss her. She’s good people and has a great sense of humor. She has also been a big help in educating me to the culture that is uniquely DoD. Mr. Kim, Nam U who has been with us for almost forever had to retire for medical reasons. A big loss too, it will be hard to find someone with his skills. Thank God my Mr. Kim is doing well, because if he left I would be screwed big time. You don’t replace 50 years of experience. No sense worrying about it I suppose. I just really struggle with the transient nature of relationships here in Korea. It seems like the cheese is always on the move (obscure reference to one of those trendy books from a few years ago).

What else? I’ve been enjoying watching the Dick Cheney feeding frenzy from a distance. I just can’t believe what a big deal the media is making over the shooting incident. Meanwhile they are ignoring much more important issues like Al Gore’s treason in Saudi Arabia this week. Well, that’s about all you can expect from a warped left wing America-hating bunch of journalists I guess. Even my wife who never agrees with me about anything thinks Cheney is getting hosed, and she pretty much hates Cheney. If it weren’t so sad, watching the Democrats self-destruct would be pretty funny. Being blind and ignorant is one thing, but being blind to your ignorance is fatal. I’m not real keen on a lot of what the Republicans are doing either, but I’m all for killing terrorists wherever we can find them. So until the Dems come up with some kinda plan regarding national security beyond “let’s be nice and not offend anybody” I don’t have much choice in the voting booth.

Ah well, things are going pretty well overall in my view. Even Canada is coming around.

Tolerating intolerance

My liberal wife and father take some issue with my position on the recent “unpleasantness” surrounding the publication of cartoons featuring unflattering images of Mohammed. The issue is not whether it was rude or disrespectful to render an image of Mohammed contrary to the alleged tenets of Islamic faith (although images have been created countless times over the centuries, including in the U.S. Supreme Court building). The issue is about the freedom to do so, and freedom of expression is one of the pillars of Western civilization. Perhaps my limited abilities as a writer prevented me from adequately articulating this point. Thankfully, Daniel Pipes precisely captures my thoughts in this regard:

The key issue at stake in the battle over the 12 Danish cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad is this: Will the West stand up for its customs and mores, including freedom of speech, or will Muslims impose their way of life on the West? Ultimately, there is no compromise: Westerners will either retain their civilization, including the right to insult and blaspheme, or not.

More specifically, will Westerners accede to a double standard by which Muslims are free to insult Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, while Muhammad, Islam, and Muslims enjoy immunity from insults? Muslims routinely publish cartoons far more offensive than the Danish ones. Are they entitled to dish it out while being insulated from similar indignities?


The deeper issue here, however, is not Muslim hypocrisy but Islamic supremacism. The Danish editor who published the cartoons, Flemming Rose, explained that if Muslims insist “that I, as a non-Muslim, should submit to their taboos…they’re asking for my submission.”


Via PowerLine

The Poland of Asia

It’s snowing this morning, which comes as somewhat of a surprise because yesterday was almost springlike (except the temp was in the 30’s), sunny, cloudless, and the air was crystal clear. Anyway, my cell phone rings at 0700 which was quite surprising since it almost never rings period. It was my boss saying roads were condition red and I could delay reporting until 1000. I was planning to walk in anyway, but it gave me the chance to do some blog reading this morning. I came across a couple of Korea-related posts that I thought interesting enough to share.

The first had to do with General LaPorte’s comments during Friday’s change of command ceremony. Although I have not experienced any overt anti-Americanism from any of the Korean people I’ve met, the current ruling party here has definitely shown signs of diminishing support of the alliance. This post from The Officer’s Club suggests an interesting way we might respond to the “leadership” of President Roh and the Uri party.

The idea of eventual Korean Re-unification has been floating in the ether for years now. The civilized world hopes that it will come after Kim-Jong-il dies/steps down/is overthrown, and the South peaceably absorbs the North like the German re-unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The North Koreans hope it will come after they’ve leveled Seoul and rolled over the South. The American military stands in the way of the North, but the political pressure around our presence there is beginning to intensify:

LaPorte, the longest-serving commander of the U.S. Forces Korea with three years and nine months at the helm, always said the alliance was strong. But in his parting speech at a handover ceremony Friday, now free of the responsibility of command, it seems he felt moved to say what was really on his mind. Even then he said the alliance will face difficulties, when in fact it has been strained for the past three years and is now close to breaking point.

Some government officials who value the alliance, unaware of the fact that times have changed, were bitterly attacked when the new government veered toward anti-American sentiment and self-reliance. We now know that some in the National Security Council and ruling Uri Party are in cahoots to stir up trouble by disclosing sensitive information about the relationship.

America, I believe, is obviously getting a lot less out of their commitment than the South Koreans. My policy recommendation for the region is that each time South Korea abstains from a UN vote against the North, issues an anti-American statement, or becomes more conciliatory to the North, we re-deploy 1,000 troops to a more useful location. After this happens a few times, we’ll see how serious the South really is about “sunshine” policies.

I found that link at VodkaPundit who also linked to a post of his from 2003 in which he argued that reunification of the Korea’s will be much more difficult than the German reunification.

Unified Korea isn’t going to be a threat to anyone. Who are they going to invade? Japan? China? Russia? Hardly. Korea is the Poland of Northeast Asia — a small nation trapped between bigger, and often antagonistic, neighbors. No, a single Korea would likely have a smaller (although still very potent) military than does just South Korea today.

So what’s the problem?

Let’s go back to 1989 once more. West Germany had 62 million people, and the world’s third-largest economy. East Germans numbered a mere 17 million, and by Communist standards, they were quite rich. In fact, the old DDR was the richest Communist nation ever, period, full stop. So while reunification was an expensive proposition, West Germany could afford it without too much pain. Also, East Germans had been under the Communist yoke for “only” 45 years. There were still people alive with some memory of how a civil society functions. Easing matters, East Germans could often watch Western TV, and many were allowed limited travel to the west.

South Korea has fewer than 50 million people, and while they’ve made great strides, their per capita income is still only up to that of modern Poland. They aren’t poor, but they aren’t nearly as rich as West Germany was. In addition, their economy isn’t as mature or robust, as the Asian Financial Crisis of a couple years back showed.

Up north are 22 million of their starving brethren. Before the Communist dictatorship, they lived a brutal existence as virtual slaves of Japan. “Chosen,” as Tokyo called Korea, was annexed by the Japanese Empire 93 years ago. It’s safe to say that there is no one in North Korea with any experience living in a politically modern, free, democratic, or tolerant state. Travel is forbidden. Only a small handful of South Koreans are allowed north. There is only one radio station, and it runs nothing but the foulest sort of propaganda. And according to a story in US News & World Report a few weeks ago, North Korea even has concentration camps bigger than the District of Columbia.

Through no fault of their own, the people of North Korea simply aren’t ready to enter the modern world, and South Korea can’t afford to feed, house, re-educate, and re-civilize them all.

Whether or not there’s a war, when North Korea collapses there’s going to be a humanitarian crisis on a scale the world has never seen — 22 million scared, hungry, and desperate people left without any semblance of anything familiar.

And whether or not there’s a war, the United States is going to have to spend an awful lot of treasure and troops to help set things right.

Anyway, it’s an interesting situation and I think the Korean elections in 2007 will provide some clear insights on the future of the ROK-US alliance.

Where I stand

Interesting controversy on the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammed. Seems some folks of the Muslim persuasion don’t care much for the exercise of free speech. Now, I understand that as a matter of faith these people believe that it is a high sin to render a depiction of Muhammed. I’m ok with that. But I ain’t Muslim. Also, I don’t see protests in the street when adherents of the Religion of Peace are publishing videos of beheadings. In fact, these “religious” leaders who are so incensed over the cartoons are calling for just that–off with the heads of any infidel who publishes the drawings of Mohammed.

Come and get me assholes.

Stupid is as stupid does

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated here, but the sad truth is there has just not been much going on in my life worthy of note. Well, until last night. Here’s what went down (some details were supplied by witnesses at the scene since I was not in a position to observe all that was going on).

Last night after work I decided to exit my place of residence for a couple of hours. It has turned cold again and I was craving something other than my usual dinner fare (out of a can or out of the freezer). So I wandered over to 3 Alley Pub. I’ve been there a few times but it is not one of my usual hangouts. Unless we are playing there in darts or pool league, I mostly go for the food. Which is excellent and reasonably priced by the way. Menu is varied, but the theme is German cooking. I had a bowl of seafood and potato soup with bread and butter. And a draft OB. Really hit the spot and a pretty good deal at 9000 Won.

I chatted with Tom, an acquaintence I play pool with occasionally, who was also sitting at the bar. I bought a spot in the Super Bowl pool and got invited to the 3 Alley party to watch the game on the big screen TV Monday morning. Party starts at 7 a.m. and they are expecting over 100 people. Sounds like fun, huh?

(forgive me for dragging this out, but my habit is to write boring and meandering drivel, and I don’t want to disappoint my readers who come here for reassurance, i.e. “man, I’m glad I’m not him! At least I have a life…”)

Anyway, after the one beer and soup at 3 Alley I headed over to Dolce Vita. It has become my hangout of choice, and I actually have some friends I enjoy spending time with there (in a Cliffy from Cheers kinda way). It’s about 6:30 when I arrive, and the only other customer is Rich, a contractor who works on Yongsan, who also spends a lot of time at Dolce Vita. I order another draft beer and we engage in some friendly banter with the owner, Yun Jin (YJ), and the two barkeeps, Min Jung (aka Rachel) and Halley (it’s her Korean name but I am spelling it phonetically). They were in rare form and we were all exhanging friendly banter, laughing and having a great time.

After awhile Jeff came in, which really was a pleasant surprise. He leaves Korea on Saturday and he’s been one of my best friends this past year. We had said our goodbyes on Tuesday, so I had not expected I would ever see him again. I had intended to make it an early night, but his arrival called for another round of beers. Then Duke (another Yongsan contractor) arrived. Duke is really a great guy and one of the best dart players in Itaewon. He’s really been helping me with my game and we are rapidly becoming good buds. He is smitten with Min Jung and I am always good naturedly trying to thwart his efforts in that regard. Shortly thereafter, Roger arrived. Roger’s a soldier and we have been talking about a trip to the Philippines and/or Thailand. So “my gang” of bar buds was all there and the party was on. Later a couple of Korean gentlemen arrived, one I had met before who is a patent attorney. He wants to become a lawyer in the States but feels he must improve his English first. Which is a not to subtle hint that he wants my assistance in that regard. We exhanged business cards but I really doubt I’m going to be taking on the role of teacher.

The other Korean was an older guy (meaning older than me, which makes him pretty ancient) who gave his name as “Jay”. He was pretty funny and had an interesting taste in music. He wanted to hear “Cotten Fields” (he was quite impressed that I actually knew the lyrics…”when I was a little bitty baby my mama would rock me in the cradle, in them ol’ cotton fields back home. It was down in Louisiana, just about a mile from Texarkana, in them ol’ cotten fields back home…”. Of course, my singing didn’t impress, so I found it on the Internet for him. Then he wanted to hear “When the Saints go Marching In”. I didn’t try and sing that one, but I played it for him. He grinned and assured me he was just an old redneck. Koreans never cease to amaze me.

Jeff and I moved over to the pool table where we played a five game set, of which I won three. They were all close games, but yeah, my pool is definitely starting to come around. I even won a game in league this week, which brought my ranking up to #421. There are now two players in Itaewon who are actually ranked lower. Woo Hoo!

(ok, bear with me I’m getting to the interesting part of the story. Really.)

While Jeff and I had been playing pool, Duke and Roger were throwing darts. Apparently Duke had put quite an ass whippin’ on Roger. So when they came back to the bar I suggested to Roger that after his sorry display the least he could do was “ring the bell” (which requires the ringer to buy everyone a drink). I was kidding, but Roger in his shame did in fact ring the bell. Now, I didn’t really want (or need) another drink. It was about 10 o’clock and I was ready to head for home. I was NOT drunk. I want to emphasize that point. I had warm buzz, but as my almost stellar pool performance proves, I was in control of my faculties. Since I’m a slow drinker and didn’t want to stay as long as it would take to finish another beer, I opted for a shot of Tequila. After a friendly toast we downed our shots and I began preparing to leave.

And then Jim came in. Jim is YJ’s husband and one of my favorite people. During our earlier banter, YJ told us the Korean word for “horny”. Which I don’t remember now. Anyway, her risque talk (which is quite unusual as she is normally pretty reserved) led us to speculate that Jim was going to be getting lucky. And we were all over him with that kind of talk as soon as he came in.

I remember laughing and standing up to slap him on the back and then I started to cough (the lingering effect from my recent bout with the cold/flu bug). So as not to be rude, I walked away from the bar towards the restroom…

And the next thing I know is I am lying on the floor. Surronded by the worried faces of Duke, Jim, Jeff, Roger and the Dolce Vita staff. My shirt was unbuttoned Jim was holding a cold compress on my forehead. I was bleeding and they were discussing whether or not I was going to need stitches. I had apparently knocked myself unconcious and they thought I might have a concussion. Duke told me later that he had seen the whole thing. As I walked towards the restroom, I had tripped on my own feet and went head first into the pointed end of the wall and dropped to the floor like a rock.

Laying there I didn’t feel much pain, but I was extremely embarrassed. I maintain that the fall was me being a total klutz, not a hopeless drunk. But I surmised it might appear otherwise. I will say in my own defense that I have had MUCH more to drink and not fallen on my ass (or my head). So that was my main concern, I wanted to reassure everyone I was ok and I told them I didn’t have a drinking problem…I get drunk, I fall down, no problem. Yeah, old joke but not one you tell after getting drunk and falling down, right? I hope that came across at least, because my pride hurt much more than my head.

So they helped me to my feet and led me back to my bar stool. I remember sitting down. Then the next thing I remember I was looking up into those same worried faces again. Apparently I had some kind of seizure, got red in the face and appeared to be having trouble breathing. I’m told they picked me up from the bar stool and laid me back on the floor and Duke put his fingers in my mouth to keep my tongue out of my throat. This time when I came to I actually felt quite a bit better than when I had set back down at the bar. They were all pretty freaked out though, because it appeared I was bleeding from the mouth during the seizure. I’m actually pretty sure it was just blood from the head wound though.

I had a similar seizure-like incident several years ago after donating blood. I was sitting at the table drinking my juice and eating my cookie and then the next thing I know I was sniffing smelling salts. I thought I’d just passed out but the nurse said it was more than that. The Red Cross told me I should forego future blood donations. So now I have a guilt free excuse at blood drive time.

Well, this time there was no convincing the Dolce Vita crowd that I was fine. They had already called an ambulance and I was going to the hospital. What could I do but lay there and try to save face by cracking wise. I think the fact that I had a sense of humor intact reassured everyone I was going to be ok. When I told them how stupid I felt about the whole incident, Duke suggested that my cover story could be that I got fresh with Min Jung and she hit me with a beer bottle. Which under the circumstances was a much better prospect than just being viewed as a dweeb who couldn’t hold his liquor. And I remember Roger kept saying “man, I don’t think I want to go to the Philippines with you anymore”. Bastard.

So the ambulance arrives and the attendants help me to my feet and walk me down the three flights of stairs to the street. I crawled into the ambulance and Duke and YJ accompanied me to the hospital in Hannam-dong (coincidentally right around the corner from my villa). They checked my blood pressure and it was normal. Duke has lived in Korea for ten years and was formerly married to a Korean woman. He speaks decent Korean. And of course YJ is a native so they were able to translate what had happened and clued me in to what was being said.

We get to the emergency room and I got an up close and personal exposure to Korean medicine. Now, I was fortunate that it was not your typical US emergency room scene (where I would have waited hours for treatment). There were maybe a dozen patients milling about, but I got looked at right away. One difference was that there was no paper work to speak of. I gave Duke my Army ID and that was all they asked for. Another difference was that there was no privacy, basically the treatment area was open with cots and equipment scattered about. It seemed a little disorganized and not particularly sterile (I noted a microwave oven amongst the medical devices, so I assume during lulls in activity the staff just has a little snack of kimchi and rice or something). Anyway, they took my blood pressure again and while that was happening the Korean police showed up. I guess they thought I had been in a fight. Duke was able to convince them it was just an accident and they seem satisfied and left. Then the nurse took me for a head x-ray (it came back negative, ha-ha). From there I was taken to a table and told to lie down. I guess Duke and YJ had been hustled off, because I was on my own at this point. They flushed the head wound repeatedly with some incredibly cold liquid, then pulled it open for a better look-see. This was moderately painful, but being the macho American I am (or at least that was the perception I wanted to convey) I didn’t let on. During all this there was a fair amount of Korea talk going on, but of course I have no idea what they were saying. In my imagination it was something disparaging about drunk mi-gooks, but more likely they were discussing next steps. Eventually a nurse who spoke English advised that they had called a “plastic surgeon” to give me stiches.

Well, I am 50 years old (shuddup) and these would be my first stiches. It was also my first ambulance ride. So I guess on balance I’ve been pretty lucky all these years. The surgeon arrived and they placed this heavy cloth over my face. It was a little disconcerting and it appeared to have a brown stain on it, the origins of which I chose not to specualte about. So the stiching commenced. The doc said it would hurt a little, and it did in a bee sting kinda way. I tried to ask how many and I think I heard four. I had gotten to the hospital about 11:00 and it seemed to take a long time sewing my head back together. When the cloth was finally removed from my face it was midnight. If I understood correctly they did interior stiches and exterior stiches, which I guess means the cut was deep. Instead of using one large bandage, they used about 20 small ones. I guess to keep the wound closed so the stiches would hold, or maybe they were out of big ones.

Duke was waiting when I came out and said they needed my credit card. I was a little nervous that the bill might exceed my available funds, but the whole thing came to the 105, 000 Won (just over a hundred US dollars). Now there is a BIG difference because I would have spent at least five times that much in the States. So, while I’m paying a nurse indicates she needs to give me a shot of antibiotics. I go with her to an alcove and she pulls the curtain and I start to roll up my sleeve. She shakes her head no, and points to my butt. Oh yeah, I should have known. I read on Jenn’s blog that they are real big on ass injections here. In fact, they gave me two.

Then it was over to the pharmacy for some pills which Duke said were more antibiotics and a pain killer. It struck me that I was getting all this medicine and no one had taken any medical history from me or even asked about allergies. Oh well, I have no known allergies and I’m not on any other meds, so I figured it was ok.

And that was it. I thanked Duke profusely for all his help and concern and walked the two blocks home. And damn it was cold last night.

I took the day off work today, but I’m feeling just fine. My head is sore to the touch, but otherwise I have no pain to speak of. All in all, except for my wounded pride I came out of the whole experience pretty damn well.

So there you have it, an actual Korean adventure. Hopefully, a once in a lifetime type deal, because once was definitely enough.