Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Korea Redux (page 1 of 11)

Remembering Johnny Grant

Hollywood and the USO (United Service Organizations) have recently lost a very dear and special friend with the passing of 84-year-old Johnny Grant.

The avuncular Grant, who was the honorary mayor of Tinsel town, was Hollywood’s most recognized spokesman for his work as chairman of the Walk of Fame Selection Committee, not to mention Hollywood’s Ambassador of Goodwill.

Whether it was serving as a sort of ‘master of ceremonies when someone was to receive a “star” on Hollywood’s famous “walk of fame” or working with various charity organizations, Grant contributed much to promoting goodwill within the community.

Although Grant had a distinguished career in radio and television that spanned over six decades, from his earliest work as a newscaster in Goldsboro, North Carolina, to his star-studded productions of the Hollywood Christmas Parade and hundreds of charity telecasts, the heart and soul of Grant’s life was his dedicated USO service. He was the master of over 4,500 ceremonies, completed more than 14 trips to Korea, 14 tours in Vietnam and an amazing 50 USO overseas shows.

Additionally, he personally organized visits to lift the morale, hopes and dreams of U.S. service members serving overseas.

I first had the chance to see Grant in 2000 when he came to Korea to take part in a USO banquet for U.S. Korean War veterans who had returned to Korea for commemoration events in June of that year on the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. A year later, in June 2001, I had the chance to personally meet Grant for an article for the Korea Times when he was on one of those USO trips to Korea to entertain the troops.

Back then at 78 years of age, there seemed to be no stopping a man who got his start with the USO with the help of another legendary USO personality, Bob Hope.

He had many fond memories of visiting Korea, especially when it came to entertaining the troops, which had been his lifeline as a USO entertainer.

What struck me most about the interview I had with him was how he had never forgotten his first USO tour in Korea when he came here during Christmas in 1951.

”The first time I remember landing at Kimpo and finally coming into downtown Seoul, about the only building that was still standing was the old Chosun Hotel,” recalled Grant during the interview. ”We stayed there. I just couldn’t believe the devastation that had already taken place here in Seoul.”

Listening to Grant recall in that interview what it must have been like in Korea during the Korean Conflict, which lasted from 1950-53, reminded me of all the sacrifices men and women made on the behalf of Korea.

I was covering many of the Korean War commemoration events taking place around the peninsula. Listening to Grant talk about how he and others had entertained troops during the war made me feel a part of history. Grant, like many of the returning veterans I would meet from 2000-2003, helped me to understand the Korean War better and those sacrifices that so many young men and women made.

In the years following the Korean War, coming back to Korea, whether to perform or to visit, was always quite rewarding for Grant. What had impressed him the most about Korea in the years following the conflict was how much Korea had changed and evolved in such a short period of time, not to mention how the country was able to rebuild.

“I’ve loved the spirit of the Korean people. In many ways they are entrepreneurs, they love adventure,” recalled Grant during the interview. “They love to take chances.”

I felt fortunate that I could have met someone like Grant when he returned to Korea in 2001 and sit down with him and talk about his experiences as an entertainer coming to Korea during the Korean War.

What I have always admired most about the entertainers who have come to Korea to visit the troops has been how much they appreciate not only the chance to come here, but also the important role they play being a part of the USO and its mission around the world.

To be sure, the USO has played a very important role here in Korea over the years since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War ― not only for service members serving here on the peninsula ― but also as a bridge between the military and the Korean community.

People vaguely aware of the USO think that it is only for service members stationed in Korea, but the USO also has programs and services for civilians ― Korean and non-Korean ― ranging from tours here and abroad, tickets to concerts and other events, as well as a canteen with some honest-to-goodness home-style cooking.

Grant was a very kind and gracious man and I was fortunate to have had the chance to sit down and talk with someone who had such a rewarding life.

A few weeks after the interview, Grant sent me an email thanking me for the interview and inviting me to visit him if I was ever in Hollywood. Sadly, I never had the chance to take him up on his offer.

Yes, Hollywood and the USO lost a very dear and special friend. Johnny Grant will be missed, but his legacy and the life he dedicated to the USO will remain an integral part of the USO’s mission both here and around the world.

Trip to immigration

In the not-so-distant past when it was time to extend your sojourn status in Korea and you had to go to your local immigration office, it sometimes took anywhere from one week to ten days to have this done.

Now, it takes no more than thirty minutes.

At least that was how long it took me this morning to extend my sojourn status and apply for a multiple-reentry permit.

(Oh, for those of you keeping score at home, I decided to stay at Woosong for another year instead of taking a job elsewhere. Despite a lousy vacation schedule, it was just better for me to stay where I am at.)

It probably took me longer to get to and from the immigration office by taxi than it did for the immigration official to extend my sojourn and issue me the multiple-reentry permit. Well, things are a little bit quieter here in Daejeon than they were in Seoul when I had to go out to Mok-dong and have the same thing done.

Anyway, I am good to go for another year.

Trip to immigration

In the not-so distant past when it was time to extend your sojourn status in Korea and you had to go to your local immigration office, it sometimes took anywhere from one week to ten days to have this done. 

Now, it takes no more than thirty minutes. 

At least that was how long it took me this morning to extend my sojourn status and apply for a multiple-reentry permit. 

(Oh, for those of you keeping score at home, I decided to stay at Woosong for another year instead of taking a job elsewhere. Despite a lousy vacation schedule, it was just better for me to stay where I am at.) 

It probably took me longer to get to and from the immigration office by taxi than it did for the immigration official to extend my sojourn and issue me the multiple-reentry permit. Well, things are a little bit quieter here in Daejeon than they were in Seoul when I had to go out to Mok-dong and have the same thing done.  

Anyway, I am good to go for another year.

Another week; another schedule change

That’s right my schedule changes again. 

For those of you keeping score at home this is the third time my schedule has changed the past three weeks. First it was a teacher’s training camp for two weeks, followed by a government children’s camp for a week. Now it’s a conversation class. 

Well, at least it’s going to be a short, sweet week. I just have to teach Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 7:00-9:00. It’s an upper level class, a so-called “free-talking” class whatever that is supposed to mean.

Oh, I know what “free-talking” is here in Korea and it definitely does not mean talking freely. Whenever I have had a student come up to me and say that they wanted some “free-talking” or when a class asked for some “free-talking” time a red flag would pop up inside my mind and I could hear the Robot from TV’s Lost in Space go “warning, warning Bill Robinson” because a warning is what you needed when it came to “free-talking.” What it could be loosely translated as was the students wanted to speak Konglish (Korean/English) with a smattering of English and more than likely mostly Korean. 

Well, that’s the way it used to be and I haven’t taught the class yet so maybe I am going to be in for a surprise when I walk into the classroom tonight. 

Wow, it’s already the end of January. Gee, this month sure did fly by.

Another week; another schedule change

That’s right my schedule changes again.

For those of you keeping score at home this is the third time my schedule has changed the past three weeks. First it was a teacher’s training camp for two weeks, followed by a government children’s camp for a week. Now it’s a conversation class.

Well, at least it’s going to be a short, sweet week. I just have to teach Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 7:00-9:00. It’s an upper level class, a so-called “free-talking” class whatever that is supposed to mean. Oh, I know what “free-talking” is here in Korea and it definitely does not mean talking freely.

Whenever I have had a student come up to me and say that they wanted some “free-talking” or when a class asked for some “free-talking” time a red flag would pop up inside my mind and I could hear the Robot from TV’s Lost in Space go “warning, warning Bill Robinson” because a warning is what you needed when it came to “free-talking.” What it could be loosely translated as was the students wanted to speak Konglish (Korean/English) with a smattering of English and more than likely mostly Korean.

Well, that’s the way it used to be and I haven’t taught the class yet so maybe I am going to be in for a surprise when I walk into the classroom tonight.

Wow, it’s already the end of January. Gee, this month sure did fly by.

Happy Feet

232232551.jpg It might have been the coldest day of the year, but Spring is in the air. 

“Customers at a Nine West store in Myeong-dong, Seoul, look forward to spring’s colorful fashions, such as these enamel shoes released by the brand yesterday. Bright enamel shoes are expected to attract many customers with the change of season.” 

Be that as it may, what gives with this spring-like wear on what was one of the coldest days of the year? I guess you might say they are getting a leg (or four) up on spring. 

Pic and quoted text ripped from the Joong Ang Daily

Happy Feet

It might have been the coldest day of the year, but Spring is in the air.

“Customers at a Nine West store in Myeong-dong, Seoul, look forward to spring’s colorful fashions, such as these enamel shoes released by the brand yesterday. Bright enamel shoes are expected to attract many customers with the change of season.”

Be that as it may, what gives with this spring-like wear on what was one of the coldest days of the year? I guess you might say they are getting a leg (or four) up on spring.

Pic and quoted text ripped from the Joong Ang Daily

Hey you guys, it’s “hump day”

Some things just don’t translate well at first. 

Take for example the expression “hump day,” which is sometimes used when greeting people—such as in “have a happy hump day’—on Wednesdays back in the States (or anywhere else people have a five-day work week). A few years ago that expression would be hard to explain to a class of English-language learners in Korea when most people were working a six-day work week and students were also going to school six days a week. I wonder if that will change now with more and more people working five days a week?

It’s always been interesting for me, at least as an English teacher in Korea how certain English expressions and aphorisms have evolved here. Take for example the expression “hey you guys, how’s it going?’’—which has become quite popular (at least the “hey you guys” part) with younger, hip Koreans. I wouldn’t be surprised if the popularity of expressions like this one were in part due to the popularity of sitcoms like Friends. I started using this expression years ago and it wasn’t too long after that I started to hear many of my students using it in class and outside of class. Another example is “What’s up?” That one has become very popular with younger Koreans. 

Now, if we can only get people to stop the blatant misuse of English in expressions like “let’s” in ads such as “Let’s KT.”

Hey you guys, it’s “hump day”

Some things just don’t translate well at first.

Take for example the expression “hump day,” which is sometimes used when greeting people—such as in “have a happy hump day’—on Wednesdays back in the States (or anywhere else people have a five-day work week).

A few years ago that expression would be hard to explain to a class of English-language learners in Korea when most people were working a six-day work week and students were also going to school six days a week.

I wonder if that will change now with more and more people working five days a week?

It’s always been interesting for me, at least as an English teacher in Korea how certain English expressions and aphorisms have evolved here.

Take for example the expression “hey you guys, how’s it going?’’—which has become quite popular (at least the “hey you guys” part) with younger, hip Koreans. I wouldn’t be surprised if the popularity of expressions like this one were in part due to the popularity of sitcoms like Friends. I started using this expression years ago and it wasn’t too long after that I started to hear many of my students using it in class and outside of class. Another example is “What’s up?” That one has become very popular with younger Koreans.

Now, if we can only get people to stop the blatant misuse of English in expressions like “let’s” in ads such as “Let’s KT.”

When West meets East and Vice-Versa

Sitting here at my desk with my second cup of instant coffee this morning. Just looking out the window and watching the snow coming down. In the distance the mountains are shrouded in a veil of falling snow and low-lying clouds. 

Another cold, damp, rainy/snowy, gray day in Daejeon. Actually, I love these kinds of days. Feels more like November weather than January weather. I am sure, right now it is snowing a lot somewhere in Korea. It’s 9:30. Another hour and I will hit the gym for two hours. Then stop off for—at what has become my favorite little Korean restaurant—a take out of kimchi-fried rice. That’ll be my next few hours. Mapping out my day; making all the necessary arrangements and adjustments to the schedule that I have this week with these government children’s classes I have to teach in the late afternoon and early evening. One thing is for certain; this week is going to fly by. Then just three classes next week followed by one the following week and then, on vacation again for twelve days. 

To the untrained observer, this might not sound like the exciting and exotic life of an expat teaching English in the Orient. Then again, I have been here for so long I am not always certain myself what is supposed to be exotic anymore or what was supposed to be exotic in the first place. It was kind of like when I first came here and had certain preconceptions on what I thought life was going to be like in the Orient. Imagine my surprise when I first came to Seoul in 1990 to teach English and ended up living in this block of apartments that could have been in Chicago or New York. And then, imagine my further surprise when I turned on the television my first night in Korea (the apartment the school had set me up with was furnished) and I could watch David Letterman.  

Perhaps a lot of people are the same way after reading about the Orient and deciding to come here for a few years. One of my friends said that he first became interested in Japan after reading Shogun. Sometimes that is all it takes—a novel or movie to feed one’s desires to leave home for any length of time and see a part of the world, and perhaps, even become an expat. 

However, once one is lured to the Orient, it’s not all about quaint Buddhist temples tucked away in spirit-filled mountains, disciplined tea ceremonies, terraced rice paddies, glimmering statues of gold, mysterious ancient cities and misty groves of bamboo.  Just visit places like Shinjuku or even here in Korea Itaewon to have all those images and romantic notions dashed. 

And at the same time, I am sure that a lot of people might feel the same way about what life is supposed to be like in the States. When I was in Japan in 1989 and told students that I was from Chicago, they wanted to know all about Al Capone and all the gangsters. One student even asked me if I had a gun when I was living back home. Maybe these students had seen the movie The Untouchables. 

These preconceptions, and sometimes misconceptions, which drive us, fuel our imaginations, and for better or worse, make the world an interesting place to live. Even when we get some things wrong, or are way off base, it is what makes the world go round and round. It definitely makes life colorful and interesting and perhaps, that’s what we really want in the end.

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