Emptying the camera

UPDATE (9/23/15) Welp, for whatever reasons all the photos on this post became invisible.  Rather than attempt to match them with the still remaining captions, I’m just uploading them again.  Sue me.

ROK soldiers keeping us safe during our visit...

ROK soldiers keeping us safe during our visit…

These guys are tough hombres...

These guys are tough hombres…

Nolan talks history with our tour guide...

Nolan talks history with our tour guide…

This ajumma didn't give two fucks about the NORKs

This ajumma didn’t give two fucks about the NORKs

We were warned not to touch this guy or he'd go all taekwando on your ass...

We were warned not to touch this guy or he’d go all taekwando on your ass…

A North Korean soldier keeping a watchful eye on things (from a safe distance)

A North Korean soldier keeping a watchful eye on things (from a safe distance)

Everything put together sooner or later falls apart...

Everything put together sooner or later falls apart…

Flowers amongst the mines...

Flowers amongst the mines…

The memory card on the camera started filling up, so I’m dumping the images here for your amusement.


Part of our security detail while visiting the Joint Security Area (JSA). The ROK soldiers are quite impressive and very intimidating.


The only North Korean soldier we saw this time. He would periodically take out his binoculars to check us out. So I returned the favor by snapping a photo of him.

The Army Specialist in charge of keeping our group safe from aggressive actions by the communists (and to make sure none of us defected to the worker’s paradise that is North Korea). Interesting guy, a Russian who moved to the US at 16, and joined the Army.


Nolan posing with an ROK soldier. We were repeatedly warned not touch the soldier as they were under strict orders to respond physically to any contact. He didn’t look like someone I would want to mess with.

Another view of the every present security forces taking care of us during the tour. The ROK soldier stands halfway behind the building to reduce his profile should a NORK decide to take a shot at him.


From the bus window as we departed. Thanks for keeping us safe guys.


Looking into North Korea.


“Propaganda Village” the only North Korean “community” allowed in the DMZ under terms of the armistice. It get’s its name because no one actually lives there. The buildings are shells intended to demonstrate what a prosperous country the DPRK is. Until recently speakers would broadcast messages extolling the virtues of life in the North. On the ROK side of the DMZ is “Freedom Village” a farming community with about 240 residents.


Nolan gets a history lesson from the Major in charge of our security detail.


The bridge of no return, so named because after the armistice was signed POW’s were allowed to decide if they wanted to go to the North or South, but the decision was irrevocable. The last ones to cross this bridge was the crew of the captured USS Pueblo in 1968.


Next it was off for a lunchee of bulgogi at a Korean restuarant. Here’s Nolan sampling one of the side dishes. He’s still finding his way when it comes to Korean food.


Some wildflowers along the road.


A farmer ajumma who laughed when I asked if I could take her picture. Yeah, I’m such a tourist.


A traditional Korean bell at one of the observation posts we visited.


This sculpture outside Tunnel #3 was kind of interesting. Inside the the split globe on opposite sides are North Korea and South Korea. The figures are attempting to put the two Koreas back together in a humpty dumpty kind of way.


Nolan says not so fast….

From the DMZ

We are about 2/3 through the DMZ tour. Currently at Tunnel 3. Me, I’ve been there done that and I’m not about to make that f’n hike again. So while Nolan wears his ass out I’m sitting here at a free computer and relaxing. Anyway, I’ll have some pictures to post later.

Remembering Samuel Oitice


Five years ago on a beautiful September morning, NYC firefighter Samuel Oitice answered the call to rescue victims in the World Trade Center. They found his remains in the rubble six months later.

He was one of the 2996 who perished on that fateful day. He is the one I was selected to honor today.

It is hard to imagine the sense of duty and bravery it required to enter that towering inferno in order to save as many lives as possible. Samuel Oitice did not fail in his duty and died a hero. His courage and selflessness are both an inspiration and a reminder that throughout our nation’s history, so called ordinary people have responded in extraordinary ways when called upon to do so. They have a name for people like Samuel Oitice. American.

I never met the man. But I watched him die on television. I knew in that moment that everything had changed. For me. For the world. Five years on I find comfort and hope in the memory of Samuel Oitice.

Here is his story:

Samuel Oitice and his wife, Jean, met on the Peekskill, N.Y., ambulance corps. “He was the driver and I was the crew chief, and I said, `That’s how we’re going to keep it,’ ” she said. “I’d tell everyone that story, but it’s not funny anymore.”

Samuel Oitice, 45, was a New York City firefighter who lived in Peekskill. The couple had a son, John, 19, and a daughter, Jessica, 16.

In the past year, Mrs. Oitice has had to take on her husband’s love of roller coasters. “The higher they were, the bigger the drop, the more he loved them,” she said.

She used to stay on the ground, but has since ridden Disney World’s Tower of Terror with her daughter, who told her, “Daddy would be proud.”

And he knew the risks of his job.

“He said to the kids at one point, when they finally realized what he did: `I married your mom for a reason. I know if something happens to me she’ll get you through this,’ ” she said. “It has just given me strength to know that he had so much faith in me to keep the family together.”

After his funeral, his best friend came into the firehouse, laughing, she said. Seems the fire truck carrying his body had stalled in the graveyard and couldn’t be started. “I said, `He’s playing with us.’ He hated all the pomp and circumstance. He didn’t want it.”


Peekskill firefighter’s dream was to help others

(Original publication: March 19, 2002)

PEEKSKILL — Cold, wet rain helped to mask the tears that flowed during yesterday’s burial service for Samuel Oitice, a New York City firefighter who died in the World Trade Center terrorist attack.

But some said the service itself was a blessing, since Oitice’s body remained missing until six months after the tragedy. Rescue workers pulled Oitice’s remains from Ground Zero last week.

“We are grateful Sam has been found,” Mayor John Testa said. “It is great to be able to say good-bye to Sam properly.”

The family, which has publicly grieved at various memorials and tributes, kept the funeral at Joseph F. Nardone Funeral Home brief. A representative of Gov. George Pataki expressed his condolences, and the Rev. Vernon Wickrematunge admonished mourners to fight anger and guilt by keeping Oitice alive in their memories.

“By remembering, we are able to reap the harvest he had sown while he was with us,” Wickrematunge said.

Oitice, 45, grew up in Peekskill, graduating from Assumption Elementary School and Peekskill High School. He worked as a Peekskill police officer in the early 1980s, but quit to become a firefighter at Manhattan’s 4 Truck at 48th Street and Eighth Avenue. Even so, he fortified his ties to Peekskill by serving as a volunteer firefighter for the past 25 years.

“Sammy is really hard to describe. He always had a light in him, always had to do what needed to be done,” Peekskill Fire Chief Jim Seymour said. “He was a happy-go-lucky guy — just a great person.”

A husband to Jean and father to John, 19, and Jessica, 15, Oitice was also remembered as a family man who loved children. He founded and coached a roller hockey team for Peekskill teen-agers, volunteered at school spaghetti dinners and taught fire safety in the schools.

“He was a good man. He did a lot for all the kids,” said a teary-eyed Patrick Strang, 17.

Since the Sept. 11 attack, Oitice’s son, John, has become a volunteer firefighter in Peekskill. This month, John wore his father’s fire jacket as he marched in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The city named the younger Oitice an honorary aide in the parade.

“Peekskill was always proud of Sam. Now the nation is proud of him,” said Deb Carlin Polhill, a parade committee member and childhood friend of Oitice’s.

Some 40 uniformed firefighters from New York City chartered a bus to attend Oitice’s funeral. Dozens more volunteer firefighters from Peekskill and surrounding areas also paid their respects.

After fire officials mounted Oitice’s flag-draped coffin atop Engine 134 from Peekskill’s Fire Patrol, a 50-car procession settled at Assumption Cemetery in Cortlandt. Oitice’s parents, Julian and Eleanor, were among the roughly 150 mourners. A lone bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” then people lined up to hug the family and to lay long-stemmed roses on the coffin.

Art Ubben, a retired police detective in Peekskill, tearfully recalled a conversation he had with Oitice two years ago.

“He said, ‘My whole life I wanted to be a firefighter. I’m so happy.’ Then this happens,” Ubben said. “He believed in what he was doing. He was helping people. That was his life’s dream and that’s what he achieved.”


A boyhood friend I first met at the Centenial hose firehouse in Peekskill, NY where my father worked. Sammy would come down to see the pumper and help around the house and we would shoot pool and sneak beers.

We later went to Peekskill High School where he was a true friend and sports team mate. Sammy was always someone you could depend on.

Later we worked together as Police Officers on the City of Peekskill Police Department. He was a great cop, but you always knew he would leave and go to his true calling the NYFD. When they called he ran with a smile on his face.

Before that day he spoke about how happy he was working downtown and how much he loved his work.

After that day while filling thousands of buckets of the rubble I held out hope that we could find you trapped and safe. Quickly it was apparent that you and all the others were gone.

Rest in Peace my friend. We all miss you.

–Chris Calabrese

Thank you for your sacrafice Samuel. God bless America.

Read tributes to the other 2995 people who died in the 9/11 attack here.



A fun night out (of Itaewon)

Did something new last night. A group of us rode out to Nowan (about 40 minutes by taxi north) for a night of soft tip darts at the Dragon Bar. It was something new because I normally play steel tips in Itaewon at Dolce Vita Pub. Hey, variety is the spice of life and all that.

Anyway, it was my first time in that area and it is always interesting to see a new part of town. The Dragon Bar is a Western-style bar for Koreans. By that I mean it is frequented primarily by Korean patrons. Our group (me, Duke, Doug, Bill and Nolan) were the only foreigners in a crowd of maybe 75 people. Bill and Nolan had their Korean girlfriends with them as well.

We were there to play in a soft tip tournament. As I said, it was my first experience playing soft tips. The biggest difference is you have to throw lighter darts (I was throwing 16 grams versus my normal 24). It took me awhile to make the adjustment, but after a couple of hours I was doing ok. Unfortunately my successful practice games were not replicated in the tourney games. But it was all good anyway. In steel tips we don’t play much other than cricket and ’01. Last night we were playing roulette (the computer randomly generates 3 numbers you have to hit or have your cumulative score halved) and a couple other different games which made it both a challenging and entertaining evening.

Nolan has been practicing at home and he really played well. Took second in the doubles tourney and made semi-finals in singles. I was very impressed. Despite my poor play the Itaewon players had an excellent showing. Duke wound up winning the singles in a real dogfight with a Korean player.

Speaking of which, the Korean folks in the bar were all very gracious and friendly. The fact that it seemed strange to be in a bar full of natives says a lot about my sheltered existence here in Korea. I mean we have Korean patrons at Dolce but the expats far outnumber them. The role reversal last night was quite striking. All the announcements were in Korean, but Yun Joon (Bill’s GF) kept us up to speed on what was happening. They started the tourney with the Korean national athem. We all stood to pay our respects of course, but we were a little surprised that many Koreans remained seated and talking while the anthem played.

Anyway, the only thing that was a little weird occurred during the singles final. It was Bill, Duke, and the Korean guy (sorry, either I didn’t catch his name or forgot it). Bill used to live in Nowan and played darts at Dragon frequently so he knew many of the people in the bar. When the Korean was shooting the crowd would cheer and applaud loudly. When Bill shot he got some polite applause. When Duke was on the line, silence. It got to him a little I think because he commented on the home field advantage. So, the game is “half-it”. Basically, you have to hit at least one of a series of pre-determined numbers through each of 8 rounds. If you miss, your overall score is halved. The Korean guy did not miss through the first 7 rounds. Bill missed doubles and Duke missed triples. Going into the final round (bullseye) the Korean guy had over 500 points. Bill had 200 points and Duke 180. The weird part was when the crowd started doing this cheer for the Korean which translated was something like “Korea is number 1, go Korea!” I was watching a good match between 3 quality darts players, the Koreans saw it as a matter of national pride to beat the Americans. That NEVER happens in Itaewon. In fact, in Itaewon I’ve had Koreans cheering me on against a Korean because I was the underdog and they wanted to see a top player knocked out (they did get to see that happen, but that’s another story).

Well, I have to think carrying the weight of Korean national pride on his shoulders was a bigger burden on the Korean than was the silence Duke faced when he was shooting. So the Korean steps up in round 8 and misses three darts at the bull. Score halved to 250, but he’s still in the lead. Bill at 200+ just needs one Bull to win but he misses as well. Duke at 180 needs to throw 2 bulls. He steps up and hits a bull with his first dart. Then he throws his second. BULLSEYE.

After a moment of stunned silence the crowd did politely applaud. It was a great match and a beautiful finish. USA! USA! USA! I shouted gleefully. No, I’m kidding. That would have been incredibly rude. Duke won 100,000 Won for his efforts and bought his opponent a congratulatory drink. As well as his compadres from Itaewon. Once the match was over, everyone went back to having a good time and friendliness and warmth abounded. We didn’t make it out of there until 0230.

So there you have the fascinating tale of my evening out of Itaewon. Tonight I have challenge league games at Bless U and Dolce. I’ll be home early tonight though. I’m beginning to feel my age.

Oh yeah, can you believe this–Nolan has been here one week and he has already met a sweet Korean girl and they are spending lots of time together. Needless to say, he is LOVING his time in Korea! I’m very impressed.

The more you pay (the more it’s worth)

I have my car back. All things considered it went as well as could be expected. Ji Young sent me a text message in Hangul explaining where the car was parked. I showed it to the garage owner who relayed the whereabouts to the tow truck driver. So as I suspected it was a bad alternator. Replaced that, the battery (again) and a belt. 203,000 Won including towing and the parking fee at Riverside Park. Hopefully it will keep the going for the rest of my time in Korea, but with almost 160,000 miles on odometer anything could happen at anytime. Doubt I will be taking it out of town again anytime soon. I used a garage off post this time, Kim’s Auto Repair. I recommend them.

Today Nolan and I toured the War Museum. First time for me too and I was very impressed. It was a good primer for our trip to the DMZ. Bought tickets for that yesterday. We are going up Saturday morning, 16 September. I think we will go to Insa-dong on Monday. Next weekend I’m planning to KTX down to Daegu or Busan. Mostly for the train ride, but I want him to see some of the beautiful Korean countryside.

Nolan wants to see a Muay Thai match while he is here. I know nothing about it really. Anyone know of an upcoming event?

Adventures in driving

So, at 1600 yesterday I am ready to head out to the airport. I open the garage door only to discover a car parked completely blocking my exit. Now, I’ve lived here long enough to know that the natives pretty much park whereever they please, but to actually block the entrance to a parking area for an entire apartment building is especially discourteous. So I get out of my vehicle and look around for the driver. There’s two Korean guys standing across the street watching me but they give no indication they know anything about the whereabouts of the owner of the offending vehicle.

Knowing how it’s done, I pull out my cell phone and call the number on the windshield. No answer. I left a rather nasty message in English. Now I’m very frustrated and highly pissed. I go back upstairs and call my landlord telling him he needs to get a tow truck because I had to get to the airport. He said he’d call the police, so I go back downstairs to wait. One of the two guys from across the street comes over and starts talking to me in Korean. All I recognized was “Hangul-mal” so I knew he was asking if I spoke Korean. I told him no, but he continued to speak to me while I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders.

About this time my landlord’s wife walks up and starts talking to the two men. They just shake their heads. I tell her I really need to get to the airport and she talks to the two men more aggressively. Then one of them walks over, pulls out some keys, starts the car and moves it! I was astounded and livid. I asked the landlord’s wife “what’s up with this?” and she just shrugged. I was about as pissed as I’ve ever been and if I hadn’t have been so pressed for time I might have gotten into an altercation. I surely wanted to slap that rude MF’er around. Oh well. I just can’t figure out what the motivation for that whole scene was. Duke thinks they were just messin’ with me because I’m a foreigner, but that makes no sense at all.

Anyway, I pick Duke up in Itaewon (he agreed to be my navigator on my first time drive to Incheon) and we head out. Very easy drive with almost no traffic and we got there in plenty of time to meet Nolan’s plane. In fact we had time for an 8000 Won draft beer in an airport bar while we waited for him to clear immigration and customs. So Nolan makes it through and we are ready for the drive home. I had been a little nervous about driving the old hoop dee on the freeway, but she did just fine and I had no trouble cruising along at 110 km/h. Dusk was falling so I turned on the headlights. I noticed my intrument lights were awful dim but didn’t really think much about it. We got to talking with Nolan and I missed the turnoff for Seoul, but no big deal, we just took the expressway on the opposite side of the river.

Traffic was very heavy, but we were moving along ok. And then my car started to stall. Same thing it did a few weeks ago. Duke said we absolutely do not want to break down in the middle lane of a crowded highway, so I moved over to the right lane. We had about 5 kms to go before reaching the Hannam bridge and I knew there was no way the old car was going to make it. Fortunately, there was an exit to the Han river park and we got off there. I found a parking lot and pulled in. Had just enough power left to get the windows up and that was it.

Nolan grabbed his luggage and we commenced walking. We found an underpass to the other side of the expressway, and after a relatively short distance caught a cab home.

So today I need to figure out just where my car is and how to tell a tow truck driver to get there. I’m sure I have a bad alternator. I was surprised when I took it in last time and all they did was replace the battery. It ran fine until I turned on the headlights, but clearly I was not getting enough charge to keep the car going after that.

Life can be such a joy sometimes.