It’s no surprise to me that a torpedo was found in the wreckage of the Cheonan ship that sunk a few weeks ago. Really, I didn’t believe it all when the news here was saying that it was an internal mechanical problem. I haven’t heard anyone talking about it here at all. Maybe it’s my neighborhood, or who I’m talking to, but life in my area hasn’t even blinked. My friends in the US, on the other hand, are practically calling a four alarm fire. I’ve gotten multiple messages and chat boxes asking what the atmosphere is like here. Apparently this is huge news back home. I don’t think people here are shocked, or even that interested, in the antics of the northern neighbor.
One of my military friends pointed out a feature in the skyline that I had noticed, but hadn’t thought about before. The tops of a lot of the high rise apartment buildings in the Seoul area, and even in my neighborhood in Incheon, are flat. I thought maybe it was solar technology or something, but I’ve been informed that they are actually helicopter landing pads. Whether for military or hospital use, I guess it depends on what’s going on at the time.
So on Saturday, while I was not being worried in the least about N. Korea, I went downtown to finally see the Steve McCurry exhibit at Sejong Center For the Arts. You know, the famous National Geographic cover “Unguarded Moment” of the young Afghani girl with the green eyes. That is just one of a truly amazing body of work from Afghanistan, Burma, Nepal, India, and an unbelievable photo from 9/11. It is kind of astounding that one of the world’s best photographers happened to be there at that moment to catch the essence of the tragedy.
There was a family of Americans behind me for most of the time I was in the museum and they were the classic example of why some Koreans don’t like foreigners. They were loud, obnoxious, and loudly presented their opinion on every piece with no regard for the fact that the museum was extremely crowded. The mom kept walking up to the placards, looking at the location of each photo, and then declaring it loudly in a tone of voice meant to convey that she knew the exact location of each photo by sight, not because she had rushed up to read it before the rest of her family got there. I finally managed to wiggle away from them and realized the photos were causing tears to come to my eyes, not the piercing sound of that woman’s voice.
There is a huge difference between my experiences as a child growing up in rural Maine with miles of woods to satisfy my whims, and rivers, streams, and of course the Ocean, to inspire the imagination. My students here grow up in a concrete jungle and even forays into nature in Korea are highly controlled and manicured. I think Seoul makes some good efforts to add some natural elements to one of the largest cities in the world, and the kiddos were taking full advantage during the rain on Saturday. I did find my adult mind wondering how their moms were going to get them home sopping wet on the subway.
I decided to take advantage of the handy-dandy little poll making thing that wordpress has. Sorry about the period instead of the question mark at the end of the poll question, but I’m not willing to recreate the poll to change it.
In a standard baby hissy fit, the republican party has decided to disallow Senate hearings. Senate hearings are allowed while the senate is in session due to a generally unanimous agreement that has long bee upstanding. In a hissy fit, the party of hell no has decided that no senate hearings will be held while they feel jilted over the health care bill.
Ironically, one of the meetings they shut down was on North Korean security, which military officials from Korea and Hawaii had flown in for. I’m finding it interesting that the very next day, a matter of possible security happened. Although, now it is being said that the explosion in the South Koran Navy ship was possibly caused by a flock of birds, and not a North Korean missile. Let’s hope the S. Korean navy people who are still missing are found safely, and that the U.S. republican party gets their head out of the asses and learns how to do something constructive, and not just destructive.
Eco Libris, in a random act of generosity, offered 100 free books to 100 bloggers who were willing to review them. The idea is to get the word out about publishers that are environmentally friendly with their printing/paper services.
“Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website”.
This is a very conversational, thoughtful, and engaging look at the history of various civil rights movements in California. Being a huge, and hugely diverse state, I think it serves as an example, and interesting reading for anyone just about anywhere. The first thing that struck me about the book, is that we really do need reminders that a short time ago in history, discrimination and violence were not only legal, but encouraged by majority groups.
Although this book could be used as a college level textbook, it is not at all dry, and has so many other uses for anyone interested in American rights movements, history, and globalization.
The book is largely split into chapters that follow a time period, but although each chapter ends a little later in time, they all go back in history to roughly the mid-1880s looking at the chain of events that lead to the breakthrough in rights. Chapters one through three look at early California history including immigrant rights and workers’ rights. The next set of chapters look at racial equality, the rights of women, and political dissent. Moving further in time the authors examine free press, religious freedom, GLBT rights, people with disabilities, and criminal justice.
The first chapter Staking our Claim was a horrific look at some the early practices of violence against, in particular, Chinese laborers and Mexican people. One story was of a Mexican woman whose house had been broken into. She defended herself, wounding her assailant, and was then dragged into the streets, beaten and hanged for doing so. This chapter references some of CA early women’s rights laws, such as a woman being able to keep her property after a divorce, which wasn’t so much for the concern of women, but to attract wealthy, single women to California as potential wives.
Under Color of Law looks thoroughly, but not only, at African American rights, times of indentured servatude after slavery was ended, and also Mexican anti-segregation movements, the Filipino movement to end anti-miscegenation laws, and the Native American take-over and protest at Alcatraz.
The only chapter not in the time line is the final chapter, and is the one that is probably most personal to the co-author Stan Yogi. It is entitled Behind Barbed Wire and addresses the removal and incarceration of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Stan’s dedication in the beginning of the book reads, “Stan Yogi dedicates this book to his parents…who were incarcerated during WWII and still had faith in the promise of American freedom and justice.”
Although this book is very readable in its entirety, there is no need to read each chapter followed by the other. They stand alone as well researched pieces that could be used as references to each particular issue.
Book Giveaway I would be happy to pass on this book. If you are interested in reading it, leave a comment and I will pick someone at random.
“We elected to print this title on 30% post consumer recycled paper, processed chlorine free. As a result, for this printing we have saved:
22 trees (40′ tall and 6″ diameter)
9,884 gallons of wastewater
7 million BTUs of Total Energy
600 pounds of Solid Waste
2,052 pounds of greenhouse gases”
This was a pretty good month. I’m almost getting back into the swing of things. Lots of travel stories, some book club choices, and the final instalment of Harry Potter.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyby Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, who died before the book was published.
I wasn’t sure about this book at first. I wasn’t sure I could keep the characters straight. I thought at first it was going to be stuffy and over-rated. But by the end I was completely won over, even to the point where Guernsey Island, an occupied island during WWII, seems like a place everyone should visit at some point. When I was finished I wanted to start it over again because I’m sure there is stuff I missed in the beginning before I figured out who was who. Read for the Bookleaves bookclub.
Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for Women Who Are Changing the World by Holly Morris
I really enjoyed this book, although it was clear it was written to try to fund the Adventure Diva enterprise, which is a multi-media mother-daughter team who travel the world looking to interview women who are true “adventure divas.” They have an interesting website, including (pricey) tours that you can go on with them.
Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad
A wonderful little collection of really well thought out essays on what it means to live in a country other than your home. One thing I really liked about it is that it was essays by women I’ve never heard of. Sometimes reading essay collections from authors who you already love can get tedious (as I often find the pieces seem like they are throw-aways that didn’t get published elsewhere, but by shear force of the author’s name can still make money).
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguiseby Ruth Reichl
I had never even heard of Ruth Reichl and didn’t know that she is an extremely famous food writer, restaurant critic, and editor of Gourmet magazine. This book was fantastic, funny, interesting, and intrigued me on a subject I’ve never been the least bit interested in. This book in particular deals with her need to create disguises so that she could go into a restaurant and be treated like a regular customer and not as herself. The two experiences proved to be vastly different dining, and gave her chance to see how much of New York is really just for the show.
Burnt Shadows: A Novel
Talking about this book at the Seoul Women’s Bookclub brought teary eyes around the table. I had to remind myself several times that the characters in this book are not real. They almost all could have been people that we’ve met on our travels.
I just found this picture on SquidLit blog. I was having a hard time imagining what the “tattooed” burns looked like, when women in the blast were wearing white kimono that had a dark pattern on it, that got inlayed in their skin.
I love that musicians are finally using their music to take a stand again. I’ve never had much of a talent for writing these kinds of songs.
Filed under: economics, Korea, Peace, Politics, Travel, War | Tags: DMZ Korea
The Demilitarized Zone tour, or DMZ as it is known, was one of the more interesting things I’ve done since being in Korea on many levels: at once a cultural event, an educational event about a hotspot for violence in the world, and an interesting look into how two countries are shaping their own history and public information.
It was also a chance to be around the type of foreigners that I’ve avoided since coming to Korea – the loud ones that think the whole bus needs to be regaled with their tales of drunkenness, sexual excursions, how various penises from around the world compare, and all the things Koreans do wrong. This in turn led us to make friends with two of the very cool type of foreigners who agreed that the other type were being way too loud and ruining our view.
For anyone back home who might not be aware, the DMZ is a swath of land bordered on both sides by a fence and razor wire, that divides North and South Korea. No one has been allowed onto this skinny piece of land that runs the entire width of the Korean peninsula for fifty years, and they claim it has become a haven for wildlife. Unfortunately, the most interesting parts of the tour were the parts we were not allowed to take pictures of.
First we stopped at Unification Park, where the fact that South Korea has turned this into a huge tourist venture is blatantly obvious. People from all over the world, including Koreans, come to the boarder in droves to glimpse a little of the insanity that is North Korea, and also to pay homage to the fact that eventually they may be a unified country again. They’ve gone as far as to build a theme park to keep the kiddies happy, and the start of a “bridge” that may one day join the two countries – an enormous steel structure that at the moment is truly a bridge to nowhere.
Our first stop after joining the larger tour was the Third Infiltration Tunnel. This was truly fascinating, and unfortunately we couldn’t take pics in the inside of the tunnel. South Korea has found four tunnels, the latest in 1990, that are assumed to built by NK to be used to tunnel in ground support for an air strike on South Korea. They believe there may be more tunnels that have yet to be found – yet another case were geologists and archaeologists may be of help – Jim and I were talking about how if they did a survey of the border with a resistivity machine, they’d find out pretty quick if there were more tunnels or not. I had a feeling that the threat of more tunnels might actually just be being used to keep people concerned.
One of the more interesting facts about the tunnels is that the North Koreans smudged them with coal and tried to claim that they were coal mines that went too far underground and “accidentally” made it over the border. Anyone who has worked in coal country doing survey knows this is utter BS. First of all, coal exists in layers (as it is formed by compression of layers of organic material over a long period of time), which is why strip mining is so popular. You need to strip off a broad swath to get the most coal; skinny tunnels would not be effective at all. The other reason is that the area is mostly granite, not a place where coal layers are likely to be found.
It is said that the North Korean government told its people that South Korea actually built the tunnels to infiltrate North Korea and ruin their society with their filthy westernized ways. One interesting thing about the video we saw before going into the tunnels is that it makes almost no mention of the American, British, or Soviet involvement with WWII and the Korean war. It shows footage of the two different factions of Koreans, calling it a “fratricidal” war – almost implying that no one else was involved.
The closest thing I could get to a tunnel shot, was an outside shot of where the recently bored new tunnel was constructed to join with the actual Infiltration tunnel so that tourists could go down into it. It is thirty meters underground and we had to wear hardhats – this is all getting very familiar. Don’t forget your PPE! (If you don’t get it, don’t worry, it’s an inside joke.)
We moved on to the observation tower – and lucked out with having a gorgeous day with a great shot of the North Korean mountains, and a “city.” Apparently when North Korea became aware that this observation tower had been built, and tourists were coming to view this area, they promptly built a fake city to prove that North Korea is doing well and prospering. Someone comes to switch on and off the lights, but no one really lives there. You could really tell, to me it looked like one of those pre-fab midwestern towns where the Home Depot has been built, the townhouses are up, but no one has actually lived there yet. There is something so distinctive about the traces that humans leave, that I think we can really tell if no one has ever lived there even if it is made to look on the contrary. We were not allowed to take pics of this town either (or the map of the area inside the building).
The last stop was a blatant piece of overly optimistic propaganda. With the money raised from tourism, there has been an entire subway station built right at the border, complete with destination Pyeongyang, North Korea. It claims with absolute certainty that when North Korea collapses and is once again unified with South Korea, that the train line will eventually join with the Trans-Siberian, and Trans-China lines. We were even able to use a “commemerative stamp” to stamp our tour books and prove we had been there. Scrap-booking is apparenlty alive and well everywhere. There were also large photos of when Bush came to the opening of this station, declaring his support for the unification of the peninsula.
Although these are nice sentiments, is South Korea really willing to take on the financial, social, and political burden of bringing a populace of brain-washed people, who have a standard of living one hundred years behind the rest of the world, who truly believe that if you touch something western your hand could fall off, up to South Korean consumerist standards? (There was even some discussion that maybe they are looking at North Korea as a possibility for really cheap labor – a job now farmed out to Burmese, Pakastani, and Nepali folks. Using North Koreans would have the advantage of the people speaking at least some form of Korean.) There was a windowless building next to the station, that the tour guide noted that she was required to tell us was a storage unit for goods from the area. She was implying that that is not at all what it is, and more likely, I’m assuming it is probably a weapons cache or some such.
Of course there are also North Korean refugees who just really want to see their home again before they die. All along the border there were old ladies wearing pink and praying along the fences. To me they were a much bigger sign of hope than subway stations that go nowhere. At the end of the day, what people are willing to do for each other is really what matters the most.
All in all, it was a fascinating, thumbs-up day.
For anyone that cares, we used Grace Travel 02-332-8946. 48,000 won, but it does not take you to Pannumjeon – where the US and North Korean soldiers stand and stare at each other. We’ll save that for another time.
Well, it’s become clear that North Korea wants something. The last time they stamped their feet and threatened their neighbors, the US gave them fuel aid. I’m not sure it’s clear what is going on now, but they have escalated their actions by holding two journalists and sentencing them to twelve years hard labor, as well as shooting off the test missiles we are aware of.
I thought the Democracy Now report was interesting, and wanted to let people know that overall, people here do not feel an eminent threat. For the most part, it seems locals folks were much more worried about swine flu than getting blown up by North Korea.