Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: South Korea (page 45 of 46)

Is Hollywood picking on Korea?

You might think so if you happened to read a story in the Digital Chosun Ilbo today about Hollywood’s rough treatment of Korea in movies.

According to the article, “another Hollywood movie is stoking criticism of U.S. attitudes toward Koreans.”

The romantic comedy Because I Said So, which was released in Korea last Thursday, “features a Korean-run massage parlor at the beginning where the staff shout “fast, fast”, are atrocious at massage, listen in on the conversations of the customers and talk about them behind their backs in Korean. Many viewers here felt it was hard to concentrate on the rest of the movie because of the unpleasant feelings that generated.”

I haven’t seen the movie, but I wonder if those scene descriptions really warrant any ill feelings that Hollywood is coming down too hard on Korea.

What I am not sure about though, is how the story’s lead about two USFK service members being released by police authorities after having sexually assaulted a Korean woman is tied in with Hollywood’s supposed rough treatment of Korea. But I guess if one needs a lead to rile up everyone about Hollywood’s unfair treatment of Koreans, it’s probably as good a lead as any.

Have you ever seen the “mud rain?”

I’ve seen some pretty bizarre weather in my life, but not as bizarre as it was yesterday which was reported in a story by the Dong-A Ilbo.

“As it is dark already at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Sejong-no, Seoul, cars with headlights on are creeping along in bumper-to-bumper traffic. On the afternoon of March 28, heavy rain, thunder and lightning were accompanied by a large hail shower that effected areas of Seoul, Gangwon and Chungcheong provinces. In some areas, yellow sand suspended in the air combined with rain, producing what appeared to be mud-rain. Rain showers will continue across the country until March 29.”

Yeah, a hard rain’s definitely going to fall especially when there’s mud in it.

(Photo courtesy of the Dong-A Ilbo)

Stale Suds

For someone who’s been known to hoist a fine barley and hops brew now and then, imagine if you will taking a deep swig of your favorite libation and realizing that it has gone bad.

Chances are, if some of your favorite American or other international brewskis were purchased by bar owners from Namdaemun Market in Seoul or the International Market in Pusan the past few years, you might have swigged some stale suds.

According to a story in today’s JoongAng Daily, “police arrested two Korean officials at the U.S. Army and Air Force Exchange Service on charges of smuggling almost 400,000 bottles of expired beer from U.S. army bases here and selling them to wholesalers.” What’s even more astounding than all that expired beer is that the suspects “allegedly made 2.2 billion won ($2.34 million) in sales and evaded import tariffs on alcohol, estimated at 670 million won.” Gee, that’s a lot of cheese for some stale brewskis.

You know, when I was at this bar in Seoul the other week, I could have sworn the beer I had tasted a little funny. At 6,000 won a pop for some Corona you hope it’s going to be fresh, right? Of course after a half-dozen bottles of beer and a pack of smokes, you start to lose your sense of taste anyway. By then everything starts to taste the same.

This story reminded me of “the great beer heist” a few years ago when some very ingenious Korean entrepreneurs dug a tunnel underneath a U.S. military base to a storeroom and began absconding with a ton of suds via an elaborate rail system to another shop just outside the base. That was pretty roguish of those tunnel rats, but at least the beer they were passing onto consumers was fresh.

I guess some people will just stop at nothing to get their hands on some beer and make a buck.

Murder on White Day

You hate to read about domestic violence turned tragic when someone’s life is taken, like an article in The Korea Times today about a woman who killed her husband on White Day after they had a quarrel, but you think someone could have come up with a better headline.

Sounds more like the title of some crime novel or a movie.

Not quite sure why this murder was any more significant or newsworthy just because it happened on White Day either.

What I did find interesting (and not to make light of the tragedy) was the woman’s initial defense that she didn’t remember anything because she was drunk. I guess that’s a good defense if any before the CSI folks show up and prove you wrong.

A new home for USFK

After years of debate and controversy about USFK’s (United States Forces Korea) large military presence smack dab in the middle of Seoul, it appears that yes, indeed a large number of forces are finally going to be relocated to Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek about 70 kilometers south of Seoul.

According to Yonhap News, work will soon begin for the construction of a main road to Camp Humphreys in anticipation of the base’s full-fledged expansion in the near future.

When I first came to Korea in 1990 there was talk about relocating U.S. forces out of Seoul and then again talk about base realignment in 2002 with the Land Partnership Plan (which I wrote an article about for The Korea Times). Now it’s just a matter of time before USFK has a new home.

Although it might seem a little idealistic on the part of USFK to relocate its command to Camp Humphreys by 2008 as it hopes to when the base expansion is complete, when it does settle in down there, all this talk about relocation will soon be a thing of the past. Then people can start wondering what to do with that part of the Yongsan base that will be vacated.

In the meantime, my friend who just got a base pass is going to have to put it to good use (along with everyone else who has one in the Seoul area) before everything shuts down and moves south.

Spam for the Chinese New Year

Today is Sollal—the Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year—in Korea one of the nation’s most celebrated holidays and noted for the mass migration of families to their hometowns and subsequent notorious traffic gridlock on the highways.

Equally celebrated to a lesser degree is the giving of gifts (which is also done at Chusok, Korea’s Thanksgiving holiday)—more specifically—boxed gift sets including, but not limited to toothpaste, soap, tuna fish, sesame seed oil, coffee, whiskey and Spam. That’s right, boxed gift sets of Spam. I guess if Spam was your thing, it would be really cool to get a gift set of it for Sollal or Chusok (Spam is one of the main ingredients in budae-chigae, a spicy stew which also consists of kimchi, hot dogs, onions, thin rice cakes, and ramen).
With the entire nation on holiday, most stores are closed today. However, yesterday those stores, which were opened, were crowded with customers doing their last minute shopping before they took to the roads or before family members came to Daejeon. Down the street at GS Mart, Korea’s equivalent of a Costco or Carrefour, there was a sizable crowd finishing up their shopping. Amid the throng of shoppers about a dozen Korean women—young and old—decked out in their colorful and elegant hanboks were busy touting these gift boxed sets to any customer who walked by.
A few of the younger ladies spoke a little English and tried to get me to buy some of the gift sets they were selling. They were pretty cute and charming as they tried out their limited language skills talking to me, and perhaps hoping that I would buy one of the gift sets. Sorry ladies, just looking today. As much as I would like to receive such a gift (believe it or not, I have never received such a gift for as long as I have been in Korea) I wasn’t about to buy one for myself.
I might not have bought anything from these ladies, but at least I got them to pose for a few quick photos. What could be more Asian than having them flash the “peace sign” when they’ve had their photo taken?

In the meantime, I will leave the Spam, the coffee and the little dried fish sets for another time. With most shops and restaurants closed for the next two days, I have other more pressing concerns: what and where am I going to eat today?

Some quiet time in Daejeon

After all the travelling and things I have done since I left Korea last September I now have some quiet time before I start teaching on March 2nd.

It’s nice to finally be able to unpack my suitcase and have a place that I can call home for the next year.

Of course, I probably couldn’t have picked a more inopportune time to come back to Korea–right before the start of Sollal one of the most important holidays here when pretty much the whole nation shuts down and a couple million people head to their hometowns–but that is the way things worked out for me. If I could have changed my ticket I would have come here next week to avoid the holiday madness. On the other hand, it’s nice to have this quiet time to reflect on everything I’ve done the past couple of months.

It feels a little strange to be back here though. On one hand, it feels like I never left; on the other hand, especially living in a new city, I am starting all over again and getting used to being in Korea.

The other day when I was waiting at the Daejeon Bus Terminal for one of the office staff from Woosong to pick me up, I noticed many people staring at me as they were entering and exiting the terminal. Wow, I haven’t been stared at in ages! It reminded me of what it was like living in Seoul in the early 90s when there weren’t too many foreigners out and about and staring at foreigners seemed to be the national past time.

Yeah, it’s probably going to take some time getting used to being in Korea again for some things.

World Best Airport Hub?

Some things never change even when you have been away for awhile.

Coming into Incheon International Airport on Wednesday night I saw this huge sign advertising Incheon as the “World Best Airport Hub” as well as similar signs on luggage carts and airport service trucks.

Gee, you’d think if you are going to plaster this slogan/message everywhere in the airport, you might have thought about asking someone who speaks English to check the grammar. Shouldn’t it read “World’s Best Airport Hub” or “The World’s Best Airport Hub?”

Yup, some things never change.

Six weeks to go…and a bit of soul-searching in Seoul

I think the hardest part of leaving a place that you have called home for almost 16 years is lying to rest the ghosts of your past and saying good-bye.

Saying good-bye to friends and colleagues, some that you have known for almost as long as you have been in Korea is hard enough, but what ghosts would I have to lie to rest?

I suppose if there were any “ghosts” they would have to be all those dreams and desires which brought me here originally, not to mention many of those life-defining moments—both successes and failures, triumphs and tragedy—which will forever be linked to the time I was in Korea. When you’ve been somewhere for as long as I have and then one day, decide to pull up stakes and leave, you find yourself going through a gamut of emotions as you look back on your life for all those years and everything you’ve experienced. There are some things that you want to hold onto; there are other things you just want to forget and put behind you.

Even though you knew this day was eventually going to come, it doesn’t make it any easier when you are about ready to end this chapter of your life. Would it have been any easier if I had only stayed here for a few years? Would it have been better off for me to have taken some time off after my wife passed away five years ago?

At the same time, I often think about that Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken” as I think about all the “roads” I have taken while I have been living here all these years. Some roads were a dead-end; others were the right paths for me to take at the time.

I have traveled down some pretty rocky roads while I have been in Korea and I suppose I did a fair amount of stumbling and tripping. When I think about some of the roads that I could have taken—professional and personal—how would have my life played out differently? It’s easy to look back and say what you could have done and what you should have done, but at the time you thought you were doing the right thing.

Choices and decisions were made, some good and some bad and some I would rather forget, but everything that was set in motion nearly 16 years ago has led me to where I am at today.

Since I handed in my resignation last month and started getting ready to leave Korea, I have had a lot of things on my mind. Today I was thinking about the night before I came to Korea and how excited I was to come here. I was saying good-bye to friends and family again and ending another chapter to my life. I had already seen my Mother (who was living in Texas at the time) two weeks before for Thanksgiving and now I was fitting in those last-minute good-byes.

I had lunch with Dick Verucchi (I would not see him for another 15 years), met my good friend Louis Kirsteatter, who I would see again in 1992 (before he suffered a nervous breakdown and would never be the same again), and a phone call in the evening to my college friend/roommate Luke McQuade (who I still haven’t seen since).

I had been staying with my grandparents prior to leaving for Korea and in the back of my mind there was that fear that I might not see them again. I would when I came home for the holidays in 1992, but it would be the last time that I would see them both alive (my grandmother died in 1995 and my grandfather 3 years later). It was right before Christmas and my grandmother had this small Christmas tree in the window. She told me how much she missed coming home (my grandparents still enjoyed stopping in one of their favorite bars after doing the shopping for the week) and seeing the tree lit in the window. I made sure that I had gotten home in time so I could turn on the tree for her. I would like to think that I did something very special for her before I left for Korea.

It’s funny some of the things you remember when you are about to leave a place that you might not ever return to again. I know all the times that I have been back home since; things are never the same anymore. Memories are a funny thing. We sometimes remember only what we want to remember, and then remember the way things were before we set off on whatever adventure that lay ahead. Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right after all, “you can’t go home again.”

Well, I am about ready to take another road and I am filled again with much anticipation and expectation, as I was when I came to Korea in 1990. And there will be a lot of memories that I will be taking with me—nearly sixteen-year’s worth. That’s a lot of baggage to carry.

North Korea Fires Their Missiles

Woke up this morning and learned that overnight North Korea had gone ahead and fired their missiles as they said they would.

Well, that is going to be the big news of the day and make everyone a little nervous I suppose. It is going to get everyone scrambling to find some sort of diplomatic solution to deal with the North.

For what it is worth, I still see such actions as a desperate attempt by the North to have the rest of the world, especially the United States pay more attention to the regime. Well, the North has definitely gotten our attention today.

I have always gotten the impression in the past that when Pyongyang resorted to a bit of sabre rattling, they just wanted to raise the fear factor a notch or two for people to take notice. These missile tests though, have not only raised that fear factor to a new level, but are also going to make people more nervous and concerned.

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