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Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Random Date Change day . . .

I'm annoyed by a few things today, while wanting to laugh them off as unimportant (and they are)

BUT, they need to be called out:

Korea Exchange Bank - which advertises itself as the best option for Expat banking in South Korea.

Backstory: Korea does not trust foreigners, therefore a "credit card" is in reality a debit card, where you get credit on the amount you have on term deposit. That's not an issue for me as I don't like to spend money I don't have anyway.

BUT: I'm about to purchase an expensive air ticket, so needed to extend my credit limit. Simple thing, I'd been told, just put more in the term deposit.

Korea - I wish you were that simple . . .

Went to the bank, where the clerk had no idea what I was talking about, but asked me to stand aside while she called people. While I stood aside, she dealt with one other foreign customer.

She made the calls, invited me back, explained things I already knew, then told me I had no money in my account to transfer. I had just checked my balance and she was wrong. I handed her my savings/debit card to check, and it didn't match the credit card she was looking at.

She had given my credit card to the previous customer, and kept hers,

They phoned the woman, who was very annoyed ("Every time I come here, you get something wrong . . . ") then came back to me.

Yes, I'm being tolerant of your ineptitude, and trying to stay nice . . .

The bank clerk then demanded my ARC (Alien Registration Card - we have to register). I gave her the immigration paperwork that said they have it until Jan. 11 and which immigration  told me is legally the same, and she would not allow me to transfer my own money from one account to another.

At that stage, I could have asked for a manager and growled but I think it's probably a better idea to stop dealing with Korean banks.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Have yourself a simple little Christmas . . .

Some of the most difficult gifts to find in the hi-tech, high-paced, high-pressure world in which we now live cost the least.

Simplicity. Peace. Acceptance. Contentment. Gratefulness. Generosity. Selflessness. Charity. Openheartedness.

It's not that most of us don't have all these qualities within us, it's just that we often lose touch with them as we strive for goals that are far less rewarding. It's all too easy to get caught up in what the world expects of us and fail to recognize what makes us truly happy.

Loving relationships, with friends, family and significant others. Good health. Self-love. The satisfaction of a job well done. The warmth that comes from helping others.

The stressors of everyday life build at Christmas and times of other celebrations for many, particularly in a time when the economy is bad and parents, especially, feel pressure to purchase the latest gadgets their children absolutely MUST have to keep up with their peers. (Consider the joy of a child more excited by the wrapping or box a gift comes in than the expensive toy it contained and it is obvious that excessive greed is taught, by parents, peers and society, rather than innate.)

I've personally experienced the despair of a parent who felt unworthy at not being able to provide more at Christmas and witnessed the pain it caused to not live up to the expectations, not of her children, but of "societal norms."

Unlike the founder of the Occupy movement, I'm not advocating a boycott of gift-giving. For myself, however, I find more meaning in a meal cooked with love, a hand-made note or the gift of time with loved ones than the most expensive trinket or latest piece of gadgetry.

This Christmas, I was blessed. The only gifts I unwrapped were cakes baked by a wonderful friend, which I then had the joy of sharing with others. I was given the gift of a place to stay in the countryside, surrounded by beauty, and the space and time to rediscover the qualities within myself that I'd lost touch with in my last job and busy city life and constant rushing from place to place. I spoke with family, friends and loved ones, both digitally and by phone, and shared in the joy of others around the world.

And relearned, physically, what I've always believed but sometimes lose the meaning of in the bustle of being - that life is an adventure, not an ordeal. A gift, not an obstacle.

This morning, I woke to a clear crisp day but no hot water, so walked through the woods to my friend's house to shower, with the sun rising behind me and speckling my path. In doing so, I startled three deer into flight, and marveled at their beauty and vitality.

It was a morning gift I would never have received if not for an inconvenience that I could have let upset me but that in the grand scheme of things was insignificant.



I will try to stay connected to that simplicity when I go back to the world of work . . .

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

the cover photo . . .

I have been offline for a few weeks, traveling, visiting with friends, reading a lot.

Thinking, remembering, still trying to stay in touch.

Remembering . . .

My cover photo, pretending to be a food vendor, was taken at the JW Marriott restaurant where, in July 2009, suicide bombers targeted a Western breakfast meeting. The Ritz-Carlton, just across the road, was also bombed. Where I was working, blocks away, we heard and felt the aftershock and initially thought it was an earthquake.

It was, but of a different breed . . . .

When they reopened the hotel and restaurant, I wanted to show support, and did, . . .  

Here's the review

Monday, December 3, 2012

The perils of a peripatetic lifestyle . . .

When one door closes, many more open.

That does not necessarily mean you want to step through them all.

As I consider my next adventure in life and, more importantly, how best to fund it with an income means that both interests and challenges me, I've been offered an editing gig in a field that fascinates me. The problem is, because of the level of the employer, the application form requires much the same level of information as needed for a security clearance, including every address and place of travel for the past 10 years, plus detailed information about my family members.

It's times like this I realize that my life is a little outside of the "norm" -- whatever that is.

Apart from the extra pages I would need for my addresses alone (my mother used to joke she had a separate phone book just for me), the prospective employer wants explanations for any time between jobs. That's a book in the making.

"I had nothing more pressing so spent five months doing farm, orchard and vineyard work in New Zealand, then flew to the U.S., borrowed a motorbike and spent three months riding 6,000 miles and talking with folks."

OR, "I finished a contract in January and wanted to go to a bike rally in North Carolina in May, so volunteered in Thailand for three months while waiting."

It's just as well they're only asking for the past 10 years. That puts a statute of limitations on the '93 gig where I crewed my passage across the Indian Ocean, starting in Thailand, switching yachts in Sri Lanka and stopping off in the Maldives and the Seychelles before making landfall in Kenya. Where I traveled for two months before heading back to the "developed" world.

Then there are the countries I've visited - 20 at last count, I think. Including at least six trips to the United States in that time period. And, no, I really don't recall the exact dates or ports of entry and departure for each trip I've made in the past decade, particularly as I've transited through a hub every time on my way to my destination.

I'm not sure whether the resulting application would have me rejected out of hand as a potential spy or have someone trying to recruit me as one.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Priorities

Like many people, one of the first things I do each day is check my smartphone and computer. Personal messages are first, because they are the people I know well and care for. E-mail is next, and I do a quick triage on what needs to be addressed instantly or can be put aside for later. I then turn to Facebook, otherwise known as my virtual school playground.

The thread that interested me most yesterday was on privacy and our rights to it, and my take was that if you intentionally posted on a public domain, you had no such right. A subsequent post is simmering on that. I then slept, while friends on the other side of the world were awake and active, and woke to a contretemps I still don't quite understand (I hate it when people write AND delete things while I'm sleeping) but has friends defriending friends over snark and, potentially, more serious matters. As I said, the virtual school playground.

That over, I return to my e-mail. Where I am struck by what I have decided can wait, while recognizing why I made the decision.

While writing last year, I interviewed members of the Patriot Guard and subscribed to their e-mail feed. Most mornings since then I have woken to notices of Patriot Guard missions. Mostly, these are to stand guard at funeral services. Sometimes for veterans who have died surrounded by family, more often for military members who will only come home in a box.

I put these e-mails aside because I want my mind free and clear to fully appreciate and acknowledge these people who, I will be the first to say, I do not know. When it is a veteran who lived to a ripe old age, I smile and hope he/she learned to value life. When it is a 21-year-old killed in a war none of us really understands, I read of those left behind and ask they have comfort. When, occasionally, it is a happy occasion, I cheer.

Today wasn't bad:

The funeral service for a 1SG (Ret) in Texas
He was described as a soldier, aviator, sportsman, FAA inspector, mentor and teacher. He is survived by his wife, children, parents, grandchildren and many friends.

He will be missed but I believe he lived well.

Snowball Express

This organization sends children of fallen military members on a 5-day vacation. The Patriot Guard carries their bags at the airport (a few other things, but makes them welcome and tries to ease their loss).

Another funeral service, for a US Army Vet, aged 76

Few details here, North Carolina, but I hope he lived well.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I put these aside because I want to focus and acknowledge the lives lost, and get distracted by the schoolyard drama first.

Perhaps I have my priorities reversed.

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's a 'Good morning, beautiful," Day . . .



I love those days when you wake to remember that life is full of unlimited possibilities and whether they are positive or negative is more to do with how you handle the situations the universe puts before you than what that situation is. I know, that sounds very Pollyanna-ish, but I'm at least a practical and pragmatic Pollyanna.

It's hard not to feel upbeat when you wake to a bright new day, with a roof over your head, reasonable health (any day above ground is a good day), food in your pantry, true friends in your heart and phone directory, money in your wallet and bank account (not much, but more than most of the general populace in many countries), witty and sometimes wise friends and pundits on social media, saleable skills and a world full of adventure.

Add to that a cool, crisp autumn morning fresh from the previous day and night of rain; vistas of rippling russet, golds, yellows and reds as the season changes spectacularly; streets full of damp multi-colored leaves; and the small surprises that Seoul offers every day if one keeps one's eyes open.

Wending my way through the myriad of shortcuts and mazes I take when negotiating this metropolis on foot, I found myself making my way down a damp, uneven stone stairway behind a aging blind man who tapped his descent with his cane. For a few years now, I have been reading the blog of an amazing woman and writer who happens to be blind (her nephew is an equally talented photographer I was privileged to work alongside), and have learned from her many of  the challenges of getting around without sight, especially in a big city. I imagine those difficulties are exponentially multiplied in a city that still retains many undeveloped neighborhoods, in which residents with disabilities are more likely to live, and few real facilities to aid them.

Yet, here was my fellow walker, nimbly picking his way down a far-from-regular steep path with the agility of someone much younger and sighted. I'm always humbled that many of those in the world that have the least possessions or the most difficult hurdles to overcome are often the last to complain or to expect others to carry their loads for them.

It's a lesson that is timely to be reminded of as I once again leap into an unknown future, trusting that as doors close (one door just isn't enough for me), other doors will open. They may not be the doors I first headed for or knocked at, but the doors that open will be the ones where I am welcome.

As I prepare for my next adventure and new challenges, I do so with thanks every day for all that I have and the goal to live my life in line with my favorite quote, one that has special meaning for me as an ardent ocean sailor:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Mark Twain (1835 - 1910) 


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ready to Fly the Nest . . .

It has been even more surreal than usual in my Korean workplace this past month after I abruptly resigned (for a multitude of reasons but most of my building unhappiness with the job was related to my Western co-workers, not my Korean colleagues). It is a very civilized and friendly parting and I plan to go back to writing for the agency once I'm no longer a full-time employee here, and they'll go back to paying me for what I write.

The initial reaction to my resignation was one of disbelief, as Koreans tend not to resign from good jobs over matters of principle or inequality of workload, and was instead treated as a negotiating ploy by my bosses. It took me some time to convince them I was serious and not merely angling for more pay. Once they accepted that, my bosses and colleagues seemed stunned I wasn't leaving to go somewhere else, but because I am unhappy being here and unhappiness affects my work and life in general. I offered to stay as long as it takes the company to replace myself and another position that is open at the same time, and that has lead to a strange situation where I am being consulted on my prospective replacement. Having worked in the country and the journalism field for so long, it's a wise decision for them to have made as most of us in the expat media either know each other or at least of each other.

Happily for him, one of the successful applicants is someone who was my assistant on another publication some years back and I feel sure he will treat the agency well and they will do the same for him.

Yesterday, I and the few other crew on the Saturday duty went for lunch with the office "head honcho," as my immediate boss calls her, and the conversation strangely revolved around how many of the staff had said how much they enjoyed working with me and would miss me (not blowing my own trumpet, just a surreal conversation to have when you've resigned mainly because concerns you have consistently raised have been just as consistently ignored).

That is par for the course in the Korean workplace, however, and I usually adapt to it with equanimity. Other uncertainties of late have definitely made me more conscious of my unhappiness here and I have faith a new challenge will soon present itself. I may not make as much money as I do here but, provided I am working as part of a team I respect for their abilities and their effort, I'll be happy with that.

Until then, there are a few things I have been meaning to write . . .  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Blogging for the uninitiated . . .

Note that I have not titled this "Blogging for Dummies" - just because someone doesn't have the same information does NOT make them dumb.

It was brought to my attention yesterday that I has a spelling mistake in my most recent blog and had used the word "cum." I quickly checked, hoping I hadn't inadvertently offended anyone, and found I had used the word in its accurate and literal sense, not the locker room version, to refer to "amateur psychologists cum journalists."

For those unaware of the literal meaning, here's the Merriam-Webster definition:

cum conjunction 
: along with being : AND -- used to form hyphenated phrases 
I've also noticed that some of my readers, sometimes the older, less computer-savvy of them, are not always aware that highlighted words, such as these, are a link to another page or site. I realized that when someone posted the URL to a video I had linked to in my post.

So, I have a slight dilemma.

Many of my regular readers are affiliated with the military, but that does not for a moment mean I think them less intelligent for that. It does, however, suggest that their lexicon may be very different than that of myself - a Humanities graduate with a degree in English Lit, Theater and Linguistics and a decidedly theatrical background.

But I have never liked to dumb down my writing, even when a fledgling reporter working for a chief reporter who believed in catering to the lowest common denominator. I believe good writing should be entertaining, readable, informative and educational. I never want to get to the arrogant high-brow level of the U.K.'s "The Guardian," where even I need a dictionary to fully understand some stories, but if you need to look up the definition of one word per blog post, I think that a positive thing.

I'm not sure I could dumb down my writing anyway, without it becoming stilted and no longer my voice.

So I guess if you think I've made a typo, please let me know. As a copy editor by trade, I know how easy it is to make mistakes, especially in an online format, but who knows, we may both learn from the dialogue.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Psy's past comes back to bite him . . .

The Kiwi has consciously chosen not to join the ranks of amateur psychologists cum journalists hunting for meaning in Psy's viral hit "Gangnam Style" but chooses not to ignore the rampant hypocrisy that was pointed out to her last week. Or the inadvertent irony of members of the U.S. military filming their own tributes to the song without knowing Psy's past.

To put this in context, one needs to go back to 2002 when two schoolgirls were killed in a tragic accident involving a U.S. armored vehicle. The incident was taken advantage of to spread anti-American feeling with the narrative being that it was a deliberate murder. Candle-light vigils became a regular event as did rampant anti-foreigner rhetoric. Anyone Caucasian was considered American and the Kiwi was spat on herself by an elderly Korean man and told to "Go back to America" - difficult when I'm not from there. GI Korea writing on the Rokdrop Web site has a better and well-researched explanation than I can manage from memory.

Fast forward to August 2002, when Psy took up the cause, tapping into the groundswell of nationalism to come out against the United States, at least until it embraced his song and brought him those oh-so-desirable greenbacks. The following is from a Korea Herald story datelined Dec. 5, 2002:

'Socially Active Celebrities' Now Supporting ROK's Anti-American 'Cause'

Anti-American sentiment ignited by the deaths of two Korean schoolgirls run over by a U.S. armored vehicle in June has finally boiled over to the local entertainment industry. 

Following the acquittals of two U.S. soldiers from negligent homicides charges late last month, a growing number of local celebrities have offered their heart-felt sympathy with the victims in public, while expressing their strong resentment over what they see as an unfair ruling by the American military court. 

These public figures have composed protest songs against America to pitch in their voice, join public rallies, or have gone as far as calling for revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which governs the status of 37,000 American troops stationed here, through official statements. 

Even though these pop stars have managed to put in their own two cents' worth, pop vocalist Psy, who has upheld the cause since August through many concerts, is among the most outspoken of them all. 

What price social consciousness when you're trying to sell records and concert tickets, it seems.

From the same story:

During the opening show for the 2002 m.net Music Video Contest held last weekend, the 25-year-old singer belted out "Killer" with a plastic model of an armored vehicle and smashed the plastic prop onto the floor in the middle of his show. Psy went on to beat it with the microphone stand into pieces, sparking a thunderous roar of agreement and excitement from the audience, mostly teens. 
If that description seems far-fetched, you may find the You Tube video a good deal less endearing than his more recent offering. One face for his Korean fans, a totally different face for the world's largest economy. Hypocrisy, thine name is Psy . . .


ADDENDUM: It has been pointed out to me I perhaps should add in a translation of the lyrics to "Killer." I did not, because I do not speak Korean, but here is what they have been translated elsewhere as:

"Torture them slowly
Those GIs who tortured captured Iraquis
Torture them, kill them slowly
Those GIs who fuck she-dogs and he-dogs
Torture them, kill them slowly
And their daughters, moms, pas and daughter-in-laws
Torture them, kill them slowly
To the fatal consummation of their fucking pain


If there is a bilingual reader of this blog that can tell me if that is an accurate translation, I would greatly appreciate your input.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Punching above the Kiwi's weight . . .

On Monday, Sept. 24, the Kiwi scrubbed up, dressed up and pretended to be a lady, to accept an award from United States Forces Korea. Given to to recognize/honor those who make "exceptional contributions that have created a significant positive impact on the ROK-US Alliance and Korean-American relations," the Kiwi got her (Non DOD Civilian category) award for the volunteer and communications work she does here. Her USFK friends do much more for her and the company she was in was much more impressive than thesmall, round flightless bird.

They were:

Ko, Young Mi (Angel) and Kim, Kyung Tae (Joseph) of Korea Farm. Co. Ltd
2012 Good Neighbor (Individual) 
Angel and Joseph have spearheaded a Marine Corps Forces Korea (MARFORK) outreach program in which MARFORK "adopted" a special needs home (because we all know jarheads are "special").
The couple also took Marines and their families to local cultural events and  hosted a kimchi-making day at the family farm. The kimchi was donated to needy Korean families.

Lee, Jong Min
2012 Good Neighbor (Individual)
The director of the Foreign Goods Transaction Office, Mr. Lee was a Korean Augmentee to the U.S. Army (KATUSA) from 1991 to 1993 and has continued his involvement with USFK, particularly with the military police. He plays a key role in promoting USFK-KATUSA relations and contributes time and money to support the American Forces Spouses Club, Seoul American High School Parent Teacher Organization, Yongsan Football Club, USO Six Star Salute and Military Ball.

Kim, Young Mee
2012 Good Neighbor (Individual)
As vice president of Pyeongtaek University, Ms. Kim has played a key role in establishing the USFK Study Center, to foster goodwill and understanding between the USFK and Korean communities.

Pak, Sung Wook
2012 Good Neighbor (Individual)
Mr. Pak is president of the Changwon Social Welfare Association and has volunteered for more than 20 years to help U.S. service members and their families. He has helped introduce Korean culture to the U.S. Naval Base in Chinhae, arranged cultural exchanges between local students and their American peers, led field trips and connected U.S. Chinhae families with local low income families to share holiday meals.

Ahn, Byung Yong, Mayor, Uijeongbu City
2012 Good Neighbor (Individual)
Mayor Ahn conducts cultural trips for 2ID soldiers and families, personally guiding some. His council also sponsors the 2ID Band Christmas Concert to enhance friendship between locals and U.S. soldiers. He also initiated the Children's English Camp, which brings together local elementary students and USFK soldiers.

Dr. Lee, Chung No
2012 Good Neighbor (Individual)
As deputy chief Executive officer of CHA hospital, Dr. Lee consults for Yongsan Garrison's 121 Hospital, hosts Soldier of the Month dinners, donates to USFK and works to nurture the alliance.

Yang, Chang-koo
2012 Good Neighbor (Individual)
Mr. Yang is president of the New Seoul Chapter of People-To-People International (PTPI) and at the forefront of supporting KATUSA-US Soldier Friendship Week. He and PTPI supports many USFK and Republic of Korea alliance events, financially and with gifts of food and beverages.

Won, You Don
2012 Good Neighbor (Individual)
As chairman of the Dongin Development company, Mr. Won has, over the past year, helped more than 300 active duty personnel and and their families in the Osan Air Force Base area.

Social Welfare Foundation Kojedo Aikwangwon
2012 Good Neighbor (Organization)
Since its founding in 15-952, Aikwangwon has partnered with the U.S. Navy through Fleet Activities Chinhae caring by orphans displaced during the Korean War. The relationship continued when the organization became a home caring for mentally and physically disabled children and adults in 1978.
Each year, the foundation hosts an average 300 navy personnel to educate them about Korea's rich history and culture.

CSM Edward L. Herron
2012 Ambassador for the Alliance  Good Neighbor (Individual)
CSM Herron is battalion sergeant major to the Korea Service Corps Battalion where he promotes the ROK-U.S. Alliance on a daily basis. His efforts have been featured multiple times in both the Korean and USFK media.

PFC Derrick Breznicki
2012 Ambassador for the Alliance  Good Neighbor (Individual)
PFC Brezniki has volunteered hundreds of hours of his time to support the Good Neighbor Program at 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery, where he teaches English to the children of the Republic of Korea's 10th Fighter Wing as part of his units English education project. PFC Breznicki is also a regular participant it a Good Neighbor program the unit conducts with the House of Dream Orphanage in Suwon and a reliable recruiter of his fellow soldiers wanting to volunteer.

1LT Neil C. Maley
2012 Ambassador for the Alliance  Good Neighbor (Individual)
As Special Operations Command Korea's primary liaison to three SOCKOR-sponsored orphanages in the Seoul area, 1LT Maley developed and leads an outreach program called SOCKIDs, which assigns service members as sponsors for the residents of they orphanages. 1LT Maley also organizes seasonal events to give the children the chance to experience American Holiday traditions.

Master Sgt Daniel L. McOmber
2012 Ambassador for the Alliance  Good Neighbor (Individual)
Master Sgt. McOmber has organized all Seongyook Boyukwon Orphanage events for the 607th Air Operation Center since October 2011, organizing six orphanage trips to Osan Air Base to participate in goodwill events. Master Sgt. McOmber also actively recruits new volunteers to take part in teh program each month.

Sgt Daniel Wrobel
2012 Ambassador for the Alliance Good Neighbor (Individual)
Since his arrival in South Korea, Sgt Wrobel has volunteered his time and donated goods to several Korean organizations, and been involved with a range of outreach programs for Koreans and U'S. personnel.

Commander, Fleet Activities, Chinhae
2012 Ambassador for the Alliance Good Neighbor (Unit)
For decades, Fleet Activities Chinhae has proudly adopted a number of local orphanages, schools and facilities for the elderly and handicapped. For more than 60 years, the installation has developed a tradition of community engagement and service, with more than 300 projects in 2011 alone.
Fleet Activities Chinhae is not just a good neighbor but an integrated, functional and valued member of teh Korean community.

8th Fighter Wing, Kunsan Air Base

2012 Ambassador for the Alliance Good Neighbor (Unit)
Wing personnel, as a whole, volunteer thousands of hours each year in more than 400 Good Neighbor events, including teaching English, visiting orphanages and nursing homes, learning Korean and gaining a broader understanding of the culture through Support Squadron tours. 

Mrs. Mary Kitzmiller, U.S. Navy Family Readiness Group
2012 Good Neighbor (Family Member)
Mrs. Kitzmiller has been an active member of the U.S. Navy Family Readiness Group for many years and is particularly proactive in her support of the Hye Sim Won Orphanage. Naval Forces Korea has had an ongoing relationship with the orphanage since 1956, and Mrs. Kitzmiller has further built on that long-standing friendship.

Mrs. Tamaria Smythers
2012 Good Neighbor (DOD Civilian)
As overall point of contact for Area IV and 2nd battallian 1st Air Defense Artillery, Mrs. Smythers provides soldiers and family members with information on the various military agencies and local post community, as well as the local community.

Ms. Tracie Barrett
2012 Good Neighbor (Non-DOD Civilian)

Ms. Barrett, a dual citizen of New Zealand Maori and Irish descent has been involved with the Good Neighbor Program since 2003, when she trained and worked as an Emergency Services Case Worker for American Red Cross. A journalist by trade, Ms. Barrett is the publicity coordinator for the American Women's Club Thrift Shop Association and seeks to build understanding between USFK, the Korean community and expatriates of other nations.








Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Kiwi Hangs with the Four Star . . .

U.S. Gen. James D. Thurman (L), the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, presents the Kiwi with the 2012 Good Neighbor Award (Non DOD Civilian) during a ceremony at the Dragon Hill Lodge on Yongsan Garrison, central Seoul, on Sept. 24, 2012. Since 2003, U.S. Forces Korea Command has given the award to honor people for their contribution to friendship between the two countries. (Yonhap)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hangin' with the Ambassador . . .



I'm not sure what I like best about going to the New Zealand Residence here in Seoul -- the fact that  Ambassador Patrick Rata and his staff are  so cool and so are the guests they invite, the grassy lawn outside the stunning residence, admiring the beautiful artworks, eating wonderful food including New Zealand lamb and green-lipped mussels (nom, nom, nom) or the fabulous N.Z. wines and Monteiths beers and ciders that are served in abundance.

If the price i have to pay is listening to and asking questions of a politician or two, some of whom are human and interesting, then writing a story for my work I don't get paid any extra for -- I can live with that.

Which is where I was yesterday, and the following is the result:

 SEOUL, Sept 7 (Yonhap) -- Adapting quickly to the speedy pace of life here in Seoul, New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully fit a lot into his one-day visit to South Korea’s capital from Thursday.

Here to mark the Korea-New Zealand Year of Friendship, as the two countries celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties, McCully met with South Korean lawmakers, presented a plaque to actress and New Zealand Cultural Ambassador to Korea Ha Ji-won, gave media interviews, hosted a reception at the New Zealand Residence and had a late-night dinner with his counterpart, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, before leaving for home Friday morning.

Presented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, Murray McCullay, during the 2012 Korea-New Zealand Year of Friendship in recognition of the contribution made by Ha Ji-won in her role as New Zealand Cultural Ambassador promoting relations between the two countries.”
- the wording on Ha's plaque. Photo courtesy NZ Embassy


The trip followed a visit by Kim to New Zealand in August, during which the foreign ministers discussed progress on a free trade agreement, signed a new Antarctic Cooperation Agreement and shared a commitment to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.

New Zealand service members were part of the United Nations contingent that assisted South Korea during the 1950-53 war with the North, and is an active part of the United Nations Command Armistice Commission that manages the Demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

“We are celebrating the warm bonds of friendship forged in the bonds of war,” McCully said at the Year of Friendship reception.

“At a time when golfing prodigy Lydia Ko has made LPGA history in Canada, I want to acknowledge the significant contribution Korean New Zealanders are making in all areas of New Zealand life,” he said. The minister was referring to South- Korean-born New Zealander Ko, who last month became the youngest winner on the LPGA tour at age 15.

Korea is New Zealand’s fifth-largest trading partner, second-largest source of international students and 1 percent of New Zealanders are of Korean descent, McCully said.

New Zealand Embassy sources said Friday McCully and the South Korean foreign minister continued their August discussion of regional topics during their dinner together the previous night.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hell Hath No Fury . . .

I started my day being attacked by an angry Korean woman. That's a creature that is difficult to imagine unless you've seen one.

I was waiting to flag down a taxi on the main street of my neighborhood, where it's always a matter of who raises their hand first. A young Korean couple was up the street from me and a cab was approaching from my side, so they started walking toward me to catch it first. I did the same, unwilling to have them cut in front, and reached the taxi just before them. And got inside.

The male then berated me, saying they had been waiting for 10 minutes and when I used clear language to tell him I disagreed, the woman tried to drag me from the car. Note to skinny Korean gals: no matter how angry you might be, laying hands on an Irish Maori is not wise. I did not harm her, just batted her away, closed the door and apologized to the taxi driver.

But it's a beautiful day regardless. It was a yellow envelope day, which was especially welcome after just paying a few thousand dollars in key money to take over the lease on my apartment, so I treated myself to a steak lunch at Blacksmith (great food, pricy but excellent service, but they wouldn't let me take out my uneaten bell peppers, saying they only do that for pizza. Fail.). Before lunch though, I got to talk and laugh with my love, something that is difficult when he's on the other side of the world and in an opposite timezone.

That's all it takes to make me happy.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Art of Walking

As a child in small-town New Zealand, I used to hide my shoes near the letterbox each morning on my way to school. None of the other kids at my elementary school in Gisborne wore shoes but my mother insisted we did, and I had enough things for the other kids to make fun of  without adding shoes to the mix (a stutter, a lisp, braces and a plummy accent from elocution lessons didn't go down well with the other Maori kids - children can be a tough audience).

Many years later, while managing an upper-class members-only nightclub in Aotearoa's metropolis of Auckland, one of the owners saw me strolling through the city barefoot and insisted on driving me where I was going so our customers wouldn't see me. Fast forward another decade, when I was crewing small yachts across the Indian Ocean, and I went six glorious months without footwear. While in the Seychelles, we often chilled out with the Irish captain of the Sultan of Oman's private dhow and he often teased me about bringing cocktail dresses on my voyage but no shoes. When we made landfall in Kenya and footwear became necessary, my expensive Italian hiking boots were too tight as my feet had spread in the interim.

I've since learned to wear shoes, and even to like boots.

These thoughts and many others strolled through my mind as I walked to work this morning, something I haven't done for some time because of hot, humid days or torrential downpours. Today, the morning after our second tropical storm in three days, the air was fresh, the sky clear and blue and the temperature cooler as we approach autumn.

My biggest realization was how much I enjoy simply strolling and exploring and observing, and how out of sorts I get when I don't have that outlet. I've been silent of late, not writing, and blamed it on my grief at losing a loved friend, the complications of a complex, long-distance relationship, a stressful living environment and the many extra commitments I've taken on.  I realized today that, for me, walking is therapy as well as exercise, and  missing both those things is what has made me dumb. It's the one time in my busy day when my racing mind slows enough to process things I don't necessarily notice while running from gig to gig or solving other people's problems. This morning's walk not only cleared my mind and lifted my spirits, I came up with a book idea, came to terms with the current state of my personal life, planned recipes for a friend's BBQ and a motorcycle club meeting I said I'd cater for, and started redesigning my apartment now my messy roommate is leaving and taking her clutter with her. Not bad for a 40-minute stroll, and it also saved me bus fare.

Walking makes me feel like myself once more - something that's been missing lately. I won't forget that again.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

To the Poet . . .

I write.

If I write well, people may respond. Good, or bad.

I welcome such interaction, BUT the ability to be anonymous also gives the ability to be a bully, an ass or just a moron.

I wrote a post recently on a very dear and much-loved friend who died.

I received an anonymous comment that was sick, hurtful and disrespectful. I'm glad I monitor my feedback as I would not want my friend's family to read that.

I dislike knowing that someone who reads my blog (intentionally small) would write that.

If you want to engage with me personally, bring it.

If you don't have the courage to do that, go back to your mouse hole until you do.

I have a life to live.

Cooking 101

Someone asked me yesterday what I blog about, and I said whatever interests me,

Today it's food:


On the rooftop a few days ago, while eating breakfast (nectarines, peaches and blueberries with peach yogurt and fresh mint from the balcony garden), my landlady came up to tend her garden and cut two perfect eggplants for me (she tried to give me three and I said too many).

I ate with friends a few weeks ago at a Bulgarian restaurant near 3 Alley Pub and had an amazing grilled eggplant and pepper salad so decided to try something similar.

I grilled the eggplant, one red and one yellow bell pepper (almost, I saved a slice of each to add crunch), a passel of garlic (I'm not sure how big a passel is, but it was a lot), a red onion and some yellow grape tomatoes. Tossed in olive oil and sprinkled well with Italian seasoning first.

Once cooked, I pulsed them in the blender then added the finely chopped raw bell pepper, finely diced raw red onion and a chili pepper (the landlady's garden) for crunch. And some balsamic vinegar. And heaps of fresh basil (my garden).

I gave some to my landlady's family, not sure if they would like it, but this is a Korean family that loves basil and cilantro/coriander (most Koreans dislike both).

The daughter this morning told me they loved it.

Yesterday, a dear friend had a BBQ. I wanted to contribute, and teach Americans that vegetables don't need to be boring.

I did a Kiwi/Mediterranean potato salad.

I boiled halved small potatoes with lots of mint in the water (I wish I could have had vari-colored potatoes but this is Korea, so you work with what you can get) and steamed chunks of sweet potato (they fall apart easier than potato, and I wanted them to stay solid).

Char-grilled a red bell pepper over the gas flame, then put it in a plastic bag to sweat so the skin would be easier to peel. Peeled and chopped it when cool.

Halved yellow and red grape tomatoes. Added fresh mint (garden).

Halved the bigger caper berries, left the babies whole.

Chilled a can of olives stuffed with salmon, ready to mix.

Picked a passel (again?) of fresh basil from the rooftop garden. And some more mint

Got to the BBQ, threw it all together, ripped the basil leaves into it (tear basil, don't cut it), ground pepper over the top.

Took it to the roof, where it got eaten. 

The view from the roof - I forgot to photograph the food.
As someone who cooks, the compliments don't count as much as the empty bowl.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Surviving Typhoons 101

Relish the Power


Damn, nature is powerful. You can't fight it, as much as you try. You can choose to lock yourself away, but why would you? Dance in the rain, run with the winds. It's life - live it!

Choose Your Weapons Wisely


I love watching what others choose to wear and carry during monsoon/typhoon season. Rainboots are big here in South Korea, preferably high-end brands that cost $100 plus. They're often worn with the skimpiest of shorts or mini skirts (Korean gals, in general, have great legs). I prefer flip-flops/jandals/thongs - when the rain is really heavy, boots tend to fill up rather than protect. I keep a change of shoes at work.

Almost everyone carries an umbrella, which can be awkward in crowded places, and are not always useful in the high winds that come with most heavy rains. The streets after a storm are a dead umbrella graveyard.

Long skirts/dresses/pants are not advisable for traveling in. If your work dress code warrants them, you're better to wear shorts and carry dry clothes with you. Or leave a change at work. Pretend you're Don Draper.

Think of Others


When I lived in Jakarta, I always felt guilty for loving storms. More accurately, for having the luxury of being able to love storms. Looking out on the havoc wrought by nature while sipping coffee or even going out to experience the elements isn't quite the same when you know you have a safe haven, dry clothing and (most of the time) warm water at home. Every downpour in Jakarta meant flooding for shantytowns, many of which  are built on the side of waterways, and deaths were inevitable.

As of this morning, there has been only one casualty from Typhoon Khanun, an 83-year-old woman who died when part of her house collapsed.

I worry about those with nowhere to go. When I work nights, I walk through Myeongdong, in downtown Seoul, to catch a bus through Namsan Tunnel 3 to home. The forecourt of the Korea Exchange Bank headquarters, opposite my office building, doubles as the sleeping place for a number of the city's homeless, and I wonder where they go in these weather conditions. There's also a homeless man who lives in the subway underground near my home who I try to look after intermittently. I'll look to see if he's there tonight and needs warm food or perhaps some dry blankets.









Friday, June 29, 2012

The sky weeps

The monsoon has begun.

It started gently, and very, very late.

It began as a gentle rain - exactly what this country needed after the worst drought in more than a century. I walked home in the drizzle last night and it was welcome and refreshing.

I woke this morning to a light rain but in the two hours since then, it has built. Now, as I look out my window, I can see waves of water reaching from the sky to the ground. By tomorrow, I know from experience, there will be people wading through waist-high water and subway stations turned into geysers.

I just called home.

I left it too late, I think.

There's a cantankerous, curmudgeonly, incredibly well-read and intelligent man I love and respect, and he's dying.

I'm not real good with being away from the people I care for when they're dying. But I'm away.

This morning, I tried to call his home. I said I would do that every weekend but life got in the way and by the time I thought of it most weekends lately, the time difference made it too late,

Or . . . see above, I'm not real good with being away from the people I care for when they're dying. (I was AWOL for a year as his son died.) Perhaps I'm just not real good with the people I care for dying.

The monsoon has begun.

There's something about a monsoon,

They're deadly - thankfully less so here than in countries such as Indonesia, where every monsoon means flooding of poor neighborhoods.

Monsoons are incredibly powerful. As if Mother Nature/Gaia is slapping you down.

They also renew/reinvigorate/change - just as wildfires do (can I send my monsoon to Colorado, please).

I don't take an umbrella in a monsoon. I accept it as it is, enjoy the elemental nature of it, and pack a change of clothes in a waterproof bag.

This began as a post about the monsoon, segued into how I feel while my friend is dying, and I hoped to find an analogy somewhere between the two.

I can't. Just simple thoughts.

Sometimes it rains.

People die.

Welcome the rain.


Love the people who are worthy of your love.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dear Facebook

We need to talk . . .

There are many things I love about you. You support me interacting with my friends, you even find friends I thought I lost (not ALWAYS a good thing, btw), you help me sound out other opinions around the world. I love you for all of that.

BUT, you're getting overly controlling and that's making me uncomfortable. I accept that anything I tell you is going to be shared with the world - for all your pluses you're still an incorrigible gossip - but now you're changing my e-mail address. fb - I love you but that's my private property.

I'd like for us to stay together, but you really need to ask my permission before you make decisions that impact on MY life.

I know, I'm the one who says that asking forgiveness is easier than asking permission.

Sometimes that shit don't fly!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Quirks of Dae Han Min Guk, Part I

Korean vendors have a custom they call "service" (said "service-uh," as most syllables end with a vowel sound in the language) in which they give small gifts to their customers. It's almost like tipping in reverse. Service stations give packs of tissue or bottles of water when you fill up your tank, pharmacists give small bottles of health tonics or vitamin drinks and I usually leave the store where I buy haircare and beauty products with a selection of samples, few of which I understand. Similarly, if you shop at the same market regularly, the employee weighing your produce is likely to throw an extra handful of salad greens or piece of fruit into your bag after it's been weighed and priced, as service-uh.

When I lived on Jeju Island and did my vegetable shopping at the traditional markets, I learned to only buy half the amount I needed, so generous were the grandmothers I returned to buy from every five days. Even the coffee shop I frequent in my office building, in addition to having a frequent drinker plan, packages up a piece of cake for me when the whim strikes. Not having the Korean for, "I don't eat cake, unless it's sinfully decadent chocolate cake," I thank them profusely and give it to a cubicle-mate.

Many Korean-owned restaurants are the same and I, being a light eater, often find myself with more food than I ordered or could possibly eat. There's a reasonable Mexican restaurant close by that I go to about once a week and my serving sizes have been steadily increasing.

Today the staff went one better. Not only was my tostada larger than I could manage and packed with extra beef and avocado, but it came with a shot of tequila. For lunch!

Service-uh.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Raising my voice . . .

I consider myself something of a dilletante in my approach to this blog in that I use the medium mainly for my own amusement. I welcome readers who find their way to it and enjoy the conversations I have with them but I also enjoy the limited nature of those conversations. I'm aware there are many ways of maximizing my audience but, for now, this is my play-space and not my profession.

I make my money elsewhere, primarily through editing and writing, and being paid to produce changes the nature of what I write. Here, I have more freedom to play with ideas, style and words.

One problem with that is when I feel there is something I really want to make a stink about, it's the writerly equivalent of one hand clapping. (Perhaps a little more - some of the people who do follow me are important in many different ways.) The ears I want to yell into are unlikely to be turned my way.

The solution - write a guest blog for someone who DOES have a wide audience, of which most are the people I want to let know how I feel.

I thank the erudite and stylish Carl Prine, author of such esteemed tracts as "The Porta-Potty Rock" and the wearer of a padded velvet codpiece in Doctrine Man cartoons, for loaning me the eyes of his readers to express my disgust at the birthday favor the U.S. Army gave an officer for conduct unbecoming anyone.

Be sure to read Carl's better-worded and more knowledgeable piece also.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence that war remembrances all seem to happen together, or if we have so many wars that becomes a given.

Today is South Korea’s Memorial Day (and as I type this, there is a siren screaming outside, and many helicopters flying overhead, and I’m not sure if that is remembrance or incoming – I guess if I get to hit “send” we have an answer)..

That was very distracting, but reminded me of where I live. The last divided country . . . 

But, back to the beginning.

War remembrances.

This weekend was the Queen’s Birthday (Elizabeth) and her Diamond Jubilee, so the regent awarded honours (with a “u,” my American friends). I was honoUred to be invited to the New Zealand Embassy to witness a very specialKorean be awarded an honorary Order (of Merit of New Zealand).

Today is South Korea’s Memorial Day, when they pay respect to their war dead, not only from the Korean War, but from every other action or peace-keeping mission they have lost people in.

It is also the anniversary of D-Day.

I think we need more poetry in life.

I thought of that because of the war poetry I was just reading, and feel poetry is much more moving that facebook posts, but I think it could be expanded – I think we need more poetry in life, not just in war.

For today, we'll stay with war poets from the past,  that we quote short pieces from often on our memorial days, but are worth reading in full:

In Flanders fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In 
Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872–1918)



"For the Fallen"

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond 
England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon (1869–1943)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Back Story - or how to not take "No" for an answer . . .

On Thursday I received an e-mail from The New Zealand Embassy informing me a Korean was to receive an honorary New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honors list today (Monday) and inviting me to attend. The ceremony was taking place during my work hours so I found out who the person was (see blog post below) and offered to write a story for my employers. My editor declined, saying the person wasn't important so didn't warrant a story.

This morning, with little happening in the newsroom and the copy desk overstaffed, I asked if I could attend anyway and was given permission but once again told it wasn't worth a story. I went, I saw, I wrote it up.

When my editor returned from lunch, I told him I'd done a story for him to look at, at which stage he told me again it wasn't worth a story.

"Read it," I said. "If you don't want to run it, don't. But read it and see."

I couldn't help but laugh when it showed up to be copy-edited shortly after.

Korean honored by NZ in Queen’s Birthday List


Chi Kap-chong (L) is congratulated by New Zealand Ambassador to South Korea Patrick Rata (R) on becoming an honorary Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit as deputy head of mission Daniel Mellsop and defense attache Col. Jeremy Ramsden look on. (Courtesy of N.Z. Embassy)

Seoul, June 4 (Yonhap) When Korean Chi Kap-chong was made an honorary Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit Monday as part of the Queen’s Birthday New Zealand Honors list, he was in august company. One of very few non-New Zealanders to win the award, Chi shared the distinction this year with the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The orders are awarded to those “who in any field of endeavor, have rendered meritorious service to New Zealand or have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions or other merits.”

In presenting Chi with the letter investing him with the honor, New Zealand Ambassador to South Korea Patrick Rata said the former war correspondent continued to be important to New Zealand-Korea relations.

As chairman of the U.N. Korean War Allies Association, Chi was instrumental in establishing the New Zealand ANZAC memorial at Gapyeong, about 60 kilometers east of Seoul.

“Chairman Chi’s tireless work over more than five decades to promote better understanding between the U.N. Allies, including New Zealand, and Korea is highly valued by New Zealand,” Rata said.

Chi has been honored previously by many nations for his part in honoring service members of other countries who died in Korea’s 1950–1953 war, during which he was a correspondent for the U.K.-based Reuters news agency.

He said the New Zealand order was made more special by being bestowed on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.

“I didn’t ask for any decorations,” he said. “I am serving. This is my job.”

Chi said many Korean people did not know what other countries served in the Korean War and that was why he made individual memorials for each nation.

Speaking of his days as a young reporter, Chi told an anecdote of being in New Zealand in 1968 covering the state visit of President Park Chung-hee. He spoke to a young New Zealand Army officer who had lost his father in the war when he was only 3 years old.

He told the president about the officer and Park made a point of thanking the New Zealander.

“We must remember them,” Chi said Monday.

Friday, May 4, 2012

South Korea, New Zealand celebrate 50 years of friendship . . .


SEOUL, May 4 (Yonhap) -- The suburb of Yeoksam, in Seoul's upmarket Gangnam district, is home to many of the capital's tallest skyscrapers and office towers that headquarter some of South Korea's biggest businesses. The shining metal and steel architecture of Asia's fourth-largest economy was warmed Thursday by a whimsical performance by a New Zealand theater company, as the two countries celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties this year.

The Red Leap Theatre company opened their production, "The Arrival," at the LG Arts Center to a capacity crowd that included New Zealand Ambassador Patrick Rata, a large number of "Kiwi" residents of Seoul and many South Koreans with ties to the Pacific nation. The evocative and imaginative performance featured puppetry, sharply choreographed physical theater, humor and an invented language to tell the story of a migrant in a strange land, based on an illustrated novel by Australian author Shaun Tan.

Speaking at a reception hosted by the New Zealand Embassy following the show, Rata said the relationship between New Zealand and South Korea has grown from being "allies on the battlefield" to a "contemporary relationship with vibrant trading links and strong political connections."

"The migration theme of tonight's performance is one that will be very familiar to many families and individuals from Korea who have chosen to move to New Zealand in the past two decades," he said.

New Zealand, which has a population of just over 4.4 million people, is now home to 28,000 "Korwis," Rata said. "We welcome another 12,000 or so Korean students who study in New Zealand each year and about 60,000 tourists who visit."

South Korea has a strong New Zealand business community, he added, with more than 2,000 New Zealanders living and working here.

"It's a wonderful bilateral relationship and one we must take forward," Rata said, before asking his fellow Kiwis to join him to finish his speech the traditional New Zealand way, by singing a "waiata," or song in the indigenous Maori language. The embassy plans to hold other events throughout the year to celebrate the "Year of Friendship."


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fish out of water . . .


Dolphins in shallow water as court case drags on

By Tracie Barrett and Iris Hong

JEJU, South Korea, April 27 (Yonhap) -- Human rights and welfare have become political issues in Korea in the recent general elections and the run-up to December's presidential poll. Less discussed but gaining prominence is the issue of animal rights in the country, which only passed its first Animal Welfare Law in 1991. In the first such case in Korean history, a court this month ruled on the case of five illegally captured dolphins.

   The president and a director of Pacific Land, a tourist attraction near Jungmun Beach on the south coast of Jeju Island, were found guilty of buying 11 dolphins from local fishermen who had caught the animals illegally. The pair, known only by their surnames of Heo and Koh, were both sentenced to eight months in prison, fined 10 million won (US$8,760) each and ordered to release the surviving five dolphins, for which they paid an average of 15 million won apiece.

   A court ruled that the marine mammals be released back to nature, but the Pacific Land officials are appealing the verdict. The possibility of up to two years' delay before the Supreme Court rules on the case leaves the animals in a watery limbo until then.

A local animal rights group founded in July 2011, after the Korean Coast Guard uncovered the illegal catches and the issue became public, fears for the dolphin's safety in the interim. Hwang Hyun-jin of the group Hot Pink Dolphins cites the previous deaths of five of the original 11 dolphins, and questions the company's incentive to keep the remaining dolphins alive. "Rehabilitating them needs tremendous sums of money, whereas killing them is simple," she said.

   Her group is campaigning for the release of all dolphins being held in captivity in South Korea and urges Pacific Land to rehabilitate and release its captives. "Locking them up in a small tank, taking away their freedom and exploiting them is very unethical," she said.

   One of the 11 illegally caught dolphins, named Jedoli, was traded to Seoul Grand Park, a major theme park in Korea's capital. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has ordered Jedoli be returned to the wild and the park has earmarked 872 million won for the animal's rehabilitation and release. Kang Hyoung-ook of Seoul Grand Park's media team said the park "was completely unaware" Jedoli had been illegally caught when it received it from Pacific Land in July 2009, in exchange for two sea lions. The park suspended its dolphin show in March, he said, and was seeking public opinion on whether it would restart.
This past weekend, however, Jedoli and four other dolphins at the park returned to public view for "eco shows" aimed at familiarization with the marine mammals. Animal rights groups immediately decried the move, accusing the park of running the same show as before only under a different name.


   Pacific Land's dolphins also continue to perform four to five times a day, however, turning tricks with their trainers in an indoor tank smaller than an Olympic-sized swimming pool. When not performing, a staff member said when asked, the dolphins live in a holding pool underground. For four of the dolphins that were caught in 2009 -- Bok-soon, Chun-sam, Tae-san and Hae-soon -- that amounts to years in captivity without even natural light. Pacific Land declined to be interviewed for the story.

   The Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry (FAFF) regulates the catching of whales and dolphins in South Korean waters under a document called the "Notification of Conservation and Maintenance of Cetacea Species." Lee Seh-oh, a cetacean official in the ministry's policy department, said FAFF can give approval to catch marine mammals "for educational performance and exhibition" after it evaluates the animals and the organization wanting to use them "very carefully."

   The ministry follows regulations set by the International Whaling Commission in such matters as species whose capture is internationally banned, Lee said. Other species, however, such as the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins held by Pacific Land, come under local jurisdiction. FAFF only has control of if and why the marine mammals can be harvested, and no say in how they will be cared for.

   Dolphin expert Dr. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist at Emory University in Georgia and the author of more than 80 publications on cetaceans, said she cannot imagine what life must be like for captured wild dolphins that spend their lives in such close confinement. "Their quality of life must be so poor and wretched," she said. "There is nothing about their environment that I can tell that is good for them in any way."

Marino said the natural range of wild dolphins varies but can be tens of kilometers a day. "Certainly it's not something that can be replicated in a captive setting." The stress of living in confinement produces a lot of abnormalities in cetaceans, she said, both physically and psychologically. Marino is an avowed critic of cetacean captivity and said marine mammals don't live nearly as long in captivity as in the wild.

   If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court's decision to free the Pacific Land dolphins, it is unclear who will foot the bill for their rehabilitation and release. Hot Pink Dolphins believes Pacific Land should pay all related expenses. Pacific Land has reportedly said the animals may not be able to adapt to the ocean again, but Marino disputes that claim. They will need to go through a series of training stages to become autonomous again, she said, but they have a high chance of survival.

   "There is no reason to think that bottlenose dolphins caught from the wild who are in captivity just a few years could not go back into the wild. It has been done many times. These are wild dolphins - they would remember how to survive in the wild."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What lies beneath . . .

I'm not trying to become the voice of the animal rights movement in Korea and, while I see so many things wrong with how animals are treated here, I'd like to see people treated better first. Including the man who sleeps in the subway tunnel near my home and Miss Park, the senior citizen who picks up cigarette butts and overly inebriated U.S servicemen to survive.

But . . .

I was asked to write a feature last week (online tomorrow) on a court case involving some dolphins and found myself incensed at how they were being treated. Then, yesterday, I edited a caption for a picture of a minke whale "accidentally"  found dead in a fisherman's net and auctioned off for more than $74,000. 

Having just completed the dolphin story (dolphins and whales are both cetaceans and covered by the same legal document here), this seemed odd so I did a little research. I found that selling "bycatch" (accidentally caught in nets) whale meat is completely legal in Korea and the amount of such whale meat sold may equal that which Japan catches in its "research" hunts.

I'm not blaming the fishermen, who mainly make a subsistence income, as $70,000 plus is a lot of money for a mistake, but it seems there's something essentially wrong here. I'm also not inviting the moron who fronts Sea Shepherd to come here and sort it out (as an ocean sailor, I think he should be charged with criminal negligence for his lack of concern for his crew's safety or training).

For the record, I also don't mind Koreans eating dogmeat, when it's bred for that purpose and killed humanely (I don't eat it myself because the killing is usually done by beating it to death in the misguided belief that the subsequent increase in adrenaline tenderizes the meat). I live on a farm at home (organic) and we eat our animals, but we give them a good life beforehand and try to minimize any suffering. (Again for the record, vegans and vegos, I have no issue with anyone needing my flesh for sustenance when I die either - that was a conversation had while becalmed in the Indian Ocean many years ago.)

But I do wonder if the Western world is overly focused on the wrong issue here. (Bait and switch, anyone?) Again, writing as an ocean sailor who knows the freedom of the seas, should we not be more concerned with marine mammals with brains larger than ours?


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Watch this space . . .

Coming soon (once my employer has it on the wire first) - the sad saga of The Pacific Land Five . . .


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tracie in Training . . .

I moved apartment last week and have come to suspect the cat that owns one of my new room-mates may have been using my Internet to read The Oatmeal. Our relationship didn't start well. When I went to view the room, Luna (her pet's name for her, tho I suspect her name for herself is much more impressive) had thrown up on the bed. The bed was moved out, I moved myself and my own bed in and I've been trying to explain politely to Luna (the mighty Empress of all) that I don't dislike her, I'm simply allergic.

Felines are abnormally attracted to anyone allergic to them.

We're developing this odd stalker relationship where she comes running from her pet's room most times she hears my bedroom door open, and I explain yet again she can't come in. Sometimes she's smarter than that, and lays low when I get up late at night then slips under my bed, and I only realize she's sneaked in when she appears by my head as I'm falling asleep.

She allows me, before I leave for work each morning, to pet her in the living room. I can't help but feel I disappoint her, though.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Black Money

A fact of life well-known to any man that's ever married a Korean woman is that the finances are the wife's responsibility and one she takes very seriously. It is the norm for the entire paycheck to be turned over to the wife, from which she gives her husband a small allowance. (Even Nicholas Cage, when visiting with the VFW here some years back, commented about his then-new wife that Korean women are very different about money.)

So how's a man to fund all-night soju sessions with his colleagues, not to mention visits to room salons (where the female "hostesses" offer a range of services starting at singing with their male guests and going through to "happy endings") or, for the wealthier gents, the upkeep of one's girlfriend (a necessary status symbol for many)?

The solution? Black money.

Every large Korean company I have worked for here, remembering that traditionally men were the sole business class, has a version of black money, outside of the regular salary. At my first newspaper here, I was told to open an account with the company's credit union, despite my salary going directly to my own bank account. I did so and was surprised to find it already had a good sum deposited - my first encounter with black money. From then on, any extra compensation, including overtime, yearly bonuses and recompense for business expenses went into my "secret" account.

Here in my current job, I get paid extra for working weekends or overtime, in addition to extra payments for editing a monthly publication on North Korea (which to me is akin to being paid to study a favorite subject, although it can be difficult to edit). So every few weeks, the office girl comes around distributing envelopes stuffed with man (10,000) won bills (KRW10,000 is usually close to US$10). I do love those yellow envelopes and probably should never have told the boyfriend they existed.

I have no idea if any of this is taxed as my taxation is all Korean to me, I just smile, thank her and for the publication money sign a receipt. It almost makes me feel as I did in my long-ago and much-loved career as a waitress when I'd go home with extra money each day from tips. I love my job because of the talented people I am privileged to work with and the appreciation I receive for my skills, but it certainly doesn't make me love it any less by tossing me cash-filled envelopes on a regular basis.

Dinner and drinks, anyone?


For the record, the wives are aware of the existence of these accounts, just as many are aware of the existence of room salons and girlfriends, but it's a socially agreed upon construct in Korea that so long as something is not acknowledged or discussed, it does not exist. Opseyo.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In Total Agreement, Well, Sorta . . .

The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit ended last night and the Big O and most of the other Big Talking Heads have departed the peninsula after making fresh commitments toward building a safer world without nuclear terrorism. (The full text of the "Seoul Communique" can be found here, if you need to be underwhelmed.) Ukraine has completed the removal of its last highly enriched uranium, sending it back to Russia where it will be totally safe - but hold on, then what's with the "unusual and extraordinary threat" Big O cited when he extended the national emergency over Russian atomic material last year.

Fat Boy, our next-door-neighbor some 30 miles North of Seoul, did his best to spoil the party by announcing a planned rocket launch next month as part of the Norks' "peaceful space program." The Big Talking Heads at the adults' table all chastised the Norks firmly, with even China openly displeased with this latest toddler tantrum. CNN ran the Norks' announcement it would go ahead with the launch as "Breaking News," while those of us who've spent more time than a two-day summit in Korea know it's simply Same Shit, Different Kim. As one journalist friend wrote on Facebook, "the DPRK regime has threatened to make Seoul 'a sea of fire' more times than I can remember." Obama warned the Norks there would be "no rewards for bad behavior" but it's not surprising Fat Boy and Co. don't believe them as Daddy Dearest, Kim Jong-no-longer-ill, was constantly rewarded for such bad behavior.

Here's how it works: The Norks behave badly and threaten or provoke, even going as far as to blow up a South Korean corvette or bomb a border island. Leaders of other countries sit and cajole the Norks into agreeing to accept food aid in turn for suspending nuclear and ballistic missile development, the Norks seek to up the ante and possibly get a better deal by throwing a toddler tantrum. It's unfortunately a lose-lose situation for the South as, although the North would be annihilated in any full-out war, there is enough conventional artillery aimed directly at Seoul (the suburb my office is in has been included in the promised list of first strikes) to blast it back to post-Korean war scorched-earth status. SSDK.

To add some humor to their tired old act, the Norks did provide a superb example of the circularity of their thinking. The Nork's foreign ministry, when announcing they planned to go ahead with the launch, claimed the deal reached with the U.S. just two weeks earlier "specified a moratorium on long-range missile launch, not 'launch of long-range missile including satellite launch' or 'launch with the use of ballistic missile technology.'"

I'm tempted to compare the Nork's tantrum-throwing and unique reading of contracts with the South seeking to change the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement after they'd asked for and agreed to it (including riots and a tear-gas canister release by lawmakers during the pact's passage) but that could be misinterpreted as on-line criticism, which is frowned upon by those in power.

I will point out, however, that contracts are often viewed in Korea as a step in the negotiating process, not a terminus. That's a concept many Westerners don't understand, which can lead to all sorts of cultural misunderstandings. I've lost count of the number of teachers of English here who've felt gyped when asked to do something not specifically noted in their contract, while to their Korean counterparts, that contract is a broad outline only.

Perhaps someone needs to explain that to the Big O . . .