Meet the new boss…

…same as the old boss?

Well, we can always “hope”.

What, me worry?

northkorea_1241764c.jpgA little sabre rattling from North of the Border.

On Saturday, a dour man in military uniform appeared on North Korean television, flanked by army flags, and read a statement saying the country was now on a war-footing. He said the North would take an “all-out confrontational posture” against its neighbour.

Although North Korea regularly issues threats against the South, a spokesman for the South Korea Unification ministry said it was the most serious threat since 1998.

The television broadcast accused the South of “opting for the road to confrontation with the help of outside powers, ignoring the call for conciliation and cooperation”.

Commentators noted that the broadcast was transmitted just a few days before the inauguration of Barack Obama as US president. “North Korea wants to draw Obama’s attention,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University.

North Korea has repeatedly accused Lee Myung-Bak, the South Korean president, of being a “sycophant” to the United States.

In response to the threat, the South Korean armed forces have been told to “strengthen their alert status”. However, the South Koreans said “no particular movements by the North Korean military have been detected.”

A spokesman for the South Korean military said: “Much of the comments are the usual rhetoric and arguments that have been issued previously. North Korea talks a lot but we will have few words and instead respond with action.”

North Korea imposed border restrictions with South Korea at the start of last month, accusing the government in Seoul of taking confrontation “beyond the danger level”.

Selig Harrison, a US weapons expert returning from talks in Pyongyang, said senior North Korean officials had told him that they have “weaponised” enough plutonium for four to five nuclear weapons. He said 30.8kg of plutonium listed as part of the preliminary disarmament deal had been incorporated into warheads, according to North Korea.

Idle threats from a bankrupt regime. Unless they’re not. But this is the reason we are here, to deter the Norks from engaging in more than banter and bluster.

Long Time Gone

Looking at the calendar just now I see it is my anniversary. Four years in Korea!

No big insights. Plodding along and the time just keeps passing me by. The fact that I’m still here says something I suppose. Yeah, I guess I’ve pretty much found my comfort zone. Now, I recognize that I’m kinda living in between two worlds here, not really part of Korea and not really in tune with my U.S. roots either. But it seems to be working and I frankly spend zero energy worrying about it. Yeah, I should be speaking the local language by now. Sue me. I’m learning new words here and there and understanding a little more than I let on, but obviously I don’t care enough to work harder at it, likely because I don’t need to.

I have friends and people I care about it here. I have my darts. I have my time alone. And yes, I do miss my family and know that with each passing day I am drifting further away from being a meaningful part of anyone’s life there.

For better or worse you only get to live one life at a time. For now, this is the one I’ve chosen and I’m going to ride it out for the next two years. Or until I die. Whichever comes first.

It’s an Obama Nation!

I don’t write much about politics these days. Not that I don’t care, but being several thousand miles away from the Homeland does take some of the edge off the things that used to get me worked up.

So we have a new President. Not the one I would have preferred, but the only American President we got. And for that reason alone he has my respect and sincere best wishes for success in the job.

I read some pundit who said those who didn’t vote for Obama will be less disappointed in his presidency than those who did. I think that’s probably right. One of the scariest things during the election cycle was the press and Obama partisans portrayal of him as a messiah-like savior of the nation, hell the world. Well, you heard it here first folks, Obama does not walk on water. Trust me on that.

Today, I am hoping that Obama can at least live up to his predecessor’s achievments. Foremost among them is that we have not had a successful terrorist attack on American soil since that fateful September morning in 2001. I hope that Mr. Obama has the good judgment not to dismantle the tools that have made that possible.

And Bush’s steadfastness and refusal to surrender led to victory in Iraq, something Obama said couldn’t be done. I hope Obama has the political courage to see us through to victory in Afghanistan (a war he did support) as well.

Good luck Mr. Obama. God bless America.

A new beginning

Well, this post is about darts so move along if that subject holds no interest for you.

I titled this post “a new beginning”. But isn’t a beginning by its nature always new? Can you have an old beginning? I mean, even the beginning of the end is a start, and you can only start at the beginning right? Then again, you can have a new start, so maybe a new beginning is not redundant after all. Figuring out this kind of stuff makes my head hurt…

Anyway, last night was the opening of the new dart season. And my first night with my new team, the Blue Bulls of Bless U Pub. Bottom line up front, we won the match 22-15 against XOX, a Korean team from Friends Bar.

I could be charitable to myself and say I had a case of the opening night jitters, but the reality is I had my head up my ass, especially in singles cricket. Stupid, stupid stuff–mental mistakes and not following rudimentary cricket game management strategies. I threw at closed numbers and chased my opponent when I was down on points. Duh. I was lucky to come out of singles winning the one leg I managed. My darts were inconsistent (not unusual) but I did manage a couple of 7-marks, along with a 3BC and 3BS. So, I might have shot well enough to win except for my head being in the wrong place.

I fared a little better in doubles, going 4-2 in two games. Played smarter anyway, but wasn’t hitting the triples and bulls when I needed to. Ah well, the team won and I have the first week with the Blue Bulls under my belt, so it should only get better from here.

My new teammates are a great group of guys and I’m really going to enjoy playing with them. Craig (aka The Goat) brought some “medicine” in a flask which he asserted I had to partake in as a right of initiation to the team. Then mid-match we had a round of tequila shots and a toast of welcome. Apparently the team also has a tradition that the person who shoots the lowest score in the opening round of the team game, has to buy a round for the team. Somehow I managed to “win” that dubious honor by throwing a 26. Sorry to say that was not my lowest score during the game.

Anyway, I had a great time. We have a strong team (defending A division regular season champs) and I expect we will be in the hunt again this year. But win or lose I suspect we will keep the emphasis on having fun, which is where it belongs in my opinion. Of course, it’s a lot more fun to win and I hope to do my part to make that happen on a frequent basis.

And so ends my report.

All dressed up and nowhere to go…

Because I already went and now I’m back. I guess I’m not really all that dressed up, just my normal work uniform, a business suit. Although it is custom made. Even has my name on it.

So, why did I clean myself up on a Saturday? Well, the 8th Army CG had his annual New Year’s reception this afternoon. It turned out to be a very nice affair. Got to mingle with all the brass and G.O.’s, eat some good food, and “show the flag”. The last being the main reason I attended. Got to keep up appearances and be a team player and all that political stuff. It’s all good and I had a nice time as well.

I’m thinkin’ on doing my Saturday night Itaewon wanderings in my suit and tie as well. A) because I’m too lazy to change, and B) why the hell not? The contrast between my blue jeans and ball cap look and me cleaned up might be fun for a little change of pace.

Gawd–what drivel this post is. Could be that you are what you write, but I ain’t going there.

What else? Sad news recently on the passing of LTC Frankenhauser. As I understand the story, he got hit by a bus while crossing the street near Yongsan Station. Really sad as by all accounts he was a good and well respected man. Leaves behind a wife and a couple of kids as well. I didn’t know him beyond a professional relationship, but he was a fine officer and a gentlemen in all my dealings with him. Rest in Peace, Sir.

His death serves as a blunt reminder that you just never know what day is gonna be your last one. And also that you cross the street at your peril in Korea. Not many here respect common traffic laws (like red lights) so the crosswalk with the green man inviting you to cross offers little protection. I tend to keep my guard up, but all it takes is a moments distraction and you are done. Ah well.

I mentioned in my previous post about getting cell phone spam at 3 a.m. Today my house phone rang at 5 a.m. Now, I never use my house phone. I don’t even have the number memorized. And it rarely rings, beyond an occasional telemarketer. When I say “sorry, no hangul-mal” (and I’m sure that is not the right word, but that’s what I say) they promptly hang up. That’s cool.

Well, by the time I roused myself out of my winter slumber and made it to the phone in the living room, I’d missed the call. Back in bed and wondering who the f**k would be calling, and it rang again. So, I rushed out to answer. I could barely hear who was talking and didn’t recognize the voice, although it was in English. Apparently he couldn’t hear me at all, and he eventually hung up.

Hmm, I reckon it was 3 p.m. Friday afternoon on the East coast, but not sure who would have the number even I don’t use there. I knew my mom went to the hospital Friday for a surgical procedure, so it had me worried enough that I couldn’t sleep. Called home later and talked to my daughter and everything is apparently ok. Which is a relief.

Up early with nothing to do, so I killed a few hours playing CIV IV. Did some ass kicking and won the game, but my score was under 6000 again. Which gave me the Neville Chamberlain ranking. Which basically sucks. Can’t figure out what I’m doing or how to gin up a higher score. Best I’ve ever done was a little over 10,000 points, but that was long ago and I have no idea how to replicate it. Do you?

Still with me? Get a life! Alright, let’s talk some darts. Friday night Dolce Tourney. In the Early Bird event, I drew Craig (one of my new teammates) as a partner. He’s a good thrower and we were feeling real confident about our chances. In the first round we faced off with JP and Eun Suk (one of the better female players in the league). Still, and meaning no disrespect, given our “A” division rankings, Craig and I had to be considered the favorites to win. Well, we dropped the first cricket leg in large part because the bullseye (which is actually one of my better targets) inexplicably deserted me. Ok, JP was throwing good, but I still wasn’t worried about our prospects. We played a close ’01 game, but Craig hit the out and the deciding leg was on. JP took the diddle and Eun Suk convinced him to play cricket. We played behind most of the game, in large part due to JP nailing some triples with a frequency that had me distressed. So, we started in on the bulls behind on points and our 17s and 18s open. We pounded in some bulls eyes and closed the 17. Craig hit 4 more bulls, which gave us the lead on points. I failed in my attempt to close 18, and they pointed to take the lead. So we have bulls closed and they have bulls wide open. The game was still ours to take. A couple more bulls and we were ahead on points again and just needed to close out the 18. Craig got the second one, but his third dart hit the wire on the 1 side. Damn.

No worries though, they still needed three bulls and even with a couple of untimely bounce outs, we were hitting at least one or two every throw. So, Eun Suk steps up and hits a triple 18 good for 54 points. Then she throws another triple 18. Our point lead was suddenly a negative 100. Eun Suk wasn’t finished though, with her third dart she hit a double bull! That would be an 8-mark and it proved to be our downfall. We never recovered and JP hit the final bull for the out. Strange way to lose, isn’t it?

Well, Eun Suk and JP wound up winning the tourney, but there was little comfort in that for us.

In the prime time event, I drew Seung Youb (ranked first in “A” division last season and another of my new teammates) as my partner. So, I figured our chances at the money were better than good. We drew a tough first round match against Dave New and Craig, but prevailed after three hard fought legs. That was our biggest challenge until the championship game, when we faced Greg and Simon. Again, statistically speaking, we had to be favored. Did I ever mention that I totally suck at statistics? Yep, they took us down in two legs and we had to settle for 2nd place.

But you know what? I had a great time playing darts last night. And I am really looking forward to the new season and my new team. League play starts Monday night. If you give a sh*t, you can read all about it hear. I’m figuring Duke at least enjoys my dart rants.

Hey, the door bell rang (that don’t happen all that often either). Oh, it is my new bidet being delivered. Wipe that smirk off your faces! (heh, wipe–no pun intended). I’ve been having a little medical problem so to speak, and this bidet is rumored to help with that. I was kinda sorta hoping that installation came with delivery, but apparently not. And my Korean is nowhere near good enough to ask about that. Or to read Hangul instructions for that matter. And I’m not particularly “handy” when it comes to home repairs.

Well, I will figure something out. Now I hear Itaewon and a cold OB (that’s a Korean beer if ya don’t know) or three beckoning me. So, I guess you could say I’m all dressed up and I DO have somewhere to go…

Spam at 3 a.m.

Well, it’s cold. The weather girl in my sidebar says it’s 7 degrees F this morning. It’s the wind that gets to you though. Biting. Makes my face hurt.

The final “between the seasons” dart tourney was played at Bless U last night. Me and Scott (my new team captain) managed a 3rd place finish. Woulda/shoulda/coulda done better, but we didn’t hit the big numbers when we needed them most. That’s how it goes sometimes.

New season kicks off next Monday and it should prove to be a challenging one. 8 teams in the “A” division this time around and top to bottom they should all be competitive. Looking forward to getting back in league action.

You know, there outta be a law. I have a rarely used cell phone. Rarely used in the sense that I don’t make or receive many calls. And I keep it in the silent “vibrate” mode all the time. But if you miss a call, it will chirp once a minute or so to let you know. I would say that for every 5 text messages I receive, 4 are spam advertisements. That’s irratating enough any time of day. But this moring I am awakened by my phone periodically chirping. Tried to ignore it, but it won’t stop until you open the phone. So I get out of bed, turn on the light, find my glasses, open the phone, and sure enough, it’s f’n spam. So, I started the day pissed.

I hope there is a special place in hell for spammers.


Long week. I dreamed Tuesday night that it was Friday morning and when I woke up to a Wednesday morning I was sorely disappointed. Kinda threw me off for the rest of the week.

Anyway, as we say in Army–NSTR (nothing significant to report). I did accomplish most of the things required to effectuate my tour extension. New ID, ration card, driver’s liscense, etc. I’ll see the ROK immigration folks on Monday about the renewed visa.

Also had the farewell luncheon for one of my star employees, Oscar. Top drawer and I hated to lose him but he prefers Germany to Korea, so whattaya gonna do?

Let’s see, what else have I been up to? Well, there’s this:

I needed to get somewhere and decided to walk there. I wasn’t particularly early or particularly late, so I walked along at a steady pace.

Earlier on I heard something that I wanted to remember. I found a pen and wrote it down on a piece of paper. If I need to be reminded of the information at any point I will find the piece of paper and read it.

I noticed that after eating my lunch a tub of low fat spread remained on the kitchen work surface. It did not have a lid on. I remedied the situation by replacing the lid and returning the container to the refrigerator.

I did not actually write the items that appear directly above. They are entries from the self-titled “Dullest Blog In The World”.

Now, I think I could compete in this blog category. In fact, can you tell where my blog post ends and his begins?

News from my “hometown”


As my regular reader(s) know, I spend a fair amount of my off-duty time in Itaewon. Or as some less generous souls refer to it: Shitaewon.

Nice article in the Stars and Stripes talking about how things are changing here. It’s something I have noticed and commented on myself. Fewer sleazy bars (although there are still plenty around) more upscale restaurants and high end shopping. And I have also noticed that many more Koreans are spending quality time here these days, whereas in the recent past most Koreans tended to avoid the area altogether.

Here’s one example: one day a former employee asked if I would drop her off in Itaewon on my way home from work. She was meeting friends to try out one of the newly opened restaurants. As we entered town she said “oh, I hate Itaewon”. I asked her why and she matter-of-factly replied “too many Americans.” I was shocked and exclaimed “Ms. Kim, that is like me saying I hate Los Angeles because there are too many Koreans!” She said I didn’t understand what she meant. For her, as a single woman in Itaewon she was afraid people would look at her like she was searching for a foreigner boyfriend and she didn’t want to be thought of that way. Not sure that made me feel any better about her remark, but it was her honest feeling.

Anyway, it is good to see more of the locals out enjoying what really is a pretty vibrant and eclectic environment. We are even getting some brave Korean customers coming into Dolce Vita these days. Sometimes I think they are just there to watch the Miguks at play, but everyone gets along so I suppose Rodney King would be proud.

Stars and Stripes also had an article explaining how Itaewon got its name which is quite fascinating:

Itaewon has long been known as the foreigner’s neighborhood in South Korea.

The area got its name more than four centuries ago, when invading Japanese troops broke into a Buddhist temple there and raped the nuns.

When the Korean government returned to Seoul after the invasion, it allowed nuns who had gotten pregnant to live and raise their babies there at a nursery established for them.

The area was named I Tae Won. “I” means “different,” “Tae” means “fetus,” and “Won” means “home.” Some Japanese troops who surrendered at the end of the war settled in Itaewon, establishing a permanent foreign presence there.

During the 1600s, Itaewon’s name came to mean “large pear tree” because of the trees planted there. There isn’t a single remaining pear tree in Itaewon.

Itaewon is now home to most of Seoul’s expat population.

Even today, folks of mixed race ancestry are close to the bottom of social hierarchy here in Korea. One rung up from being a foreigner. I guess its for the best that we are all hanging out in our own little colony. Wouldn’t want to scare the children.

I say the above tongue-in-cheek. I am quite fond of the Korean people and almost all have been kind and respectful to me. I do not mean to be overly critical of cultural norms and traditions, but I am also glad to note that things are gradually changing for the better (at least from my perspective).

And here’s a final S&S story to “warm” your heart:

An 8th Army soldier allegedly set fire to an Itaewon restaurant after a night of binge drinking, South Korean police said.

Police said a 22-year-old Army specialist stationed at K-16 Air Base is under investigation for the early Thursday fire. He allegedly jumped onto the terrace of My Thai China, set fire to a mound of trash because he was cold, then passed out, police said.

The soldier, police said, was rescued from the blaze by Korean movie star Hong Suk-chon, who owns the My Thai China and four other Itaewon restaurants.

After calling emergency services, Hong spotted the soldier asleep on a chair inside the restaurant. He pulled the soldier from the building and carried him away from the fire on his back.

Police said Hong will not press charges against the soldier.

“[Hong] said he does not want the soldier to be punished since he did not believe the soldier did it intentionally,” the policeman said. “He was very worried about whether [the soldier] was injured.”

This story I am sure would have a different (less positive) spin the Korean media as the escapades of drunken soldiers get big play here. No excuse for this kind of conduct and it perpetuates a negative sterotype that is not the norm for the vast majority of military personnel serving in Korea. It takes one hundred good acts to overcome the damage caused by one foolish individual.

But what is most impressive here is the action and reaction of the business owner, Mr. Hong. His courage in rescuing the soldier is only matched by the genoristy of his forgiveness. That is an extremely rare combination these days in any country. I will make it a point to eat in one of Mr. Hong’s establishments as a small token of my esteem.

That’s the news from the ‘Twon.

Welcome to Korea

Here’s a nice video from the USFK webpage talking about the benefits of living and working in Korea.

I’ve been here almost four years now, so I don’t need convincing. Still, as an HR guy I have to deal with recruitment and retention issues and let me tell you, it ain’t easy sometimes. To the extent that some folks impression of Korea is limited to old M*A*S*H episodes, perhaps this video will open some eyes.

Yeah, there is a crazy guy living up north who *may* have some nukes in his WMD arsenal, but I almost always feel safer here than I did in the states. Except when I’m driving.

Anyway, for those who are interested in the lifestyle here, check out the video linked above.

If ignorance is bliss…

…then I should be pretty damn happy.

Here’s an example: Yesterday I spent a lazy day doing my usual routine of ‘net surfing and CIV IV. Around six I shower up and prepare to head out to Dolce for a special editon of the Friday night tourney–“Eric’s Last Hurrah”. Yep, another year, another friend rotating back to the States.

So anyway, after I got dressed I just didn’t feel right. Coudn’t put my finger on what it was, not exactly dizzy but off-kilter somehow. I even looked in the mirror to see if my glasses were dirty, but they seemed fine. Off I went to Dolce but I was still out of sorts. My dart game is always inconsistent, but I just couldn’t “get a feel” for my throws last night. I didn’t totally suck, but I was definitely off my game. In fact in a double elimination tourney, my partner Lonnie and I lost four straight legs and we were the first 8 teams to be eliminated. Which is unusual for me. As I told CH last night, I didn’t stick around long enough for him to beat me. Oh well.

I did stay for some free beers (Eric got a keg as a going away present). I guess the drinking gave me back some equilibrium, or at least the beer buzz made the out of sorts feeling seem natural. I went out for some bulgogi and then headed home. Where I discovered what had been wrong with me.

Get this–on the bathroom floor is one of the lenses from my eyeglasses. Yep, I had gone the whole night with half a pair of glasses and never noticed. Neither apparently did the 30-some people in Dolce Vita. I am sure some of the darters would have loved a good laugh at my expense had they noticed.

Well mystery solved and the diagnosis is late stage stupidity.

And just to underscore the ignorance point–these were my “backup” glasses I was wearing last night. The other day I took off my new glasses while changing my shirt and laid them on the bed. In the exact spot where I would ultimately sit down to put on my socks.

So today I will be making a visit to the eyeglass store for repairs wearing my back-up back-up frames. I will of course be completely cheerful in my response if he asks how I managed to break both pairs.

Hey, I must be a real happy guy. After all, ignorance is bliss!

Have a fine 2009!

It is the dawning of another year. My wish to all of you is that it be filled with happiness, success, and the love of friends and family.

As my regular reader(s) may have guessed, I rang in the new year with my friends at Dolce Vita. YJ put out a turkey feast with all the trimmings. John and company provided live music, and of course there was darts.

By midnight the place was really rockin’ and we all paused to watch the Korean traditional ringing of the bell to welcome in the new year. (Similar to the dropping ball in Times Square, just a couple of thousand years older). Then some of the patrons emulated by ringing the bar bar, which of course resulted in shots for the house. After a couple of those it was time for me to go home, and home I went.

Happy New Year!