Sunday, November 11, 2007

More Korea

selling a $3 acorn cracker/eating tool on the subway

I finally figured out how to pop out of the subway station in the right place. Who would have known that the entrances are labeled? It doesn't seem like coming out of a different exit at the right station would make a difference, but you might find yourself a long ways out of your way on the other side of a street that you can't cross. Turns out to be pretty simple - just follow the circled numbers on the signs. My exit, Samgakji, has 12.

I just got back from running errands at E-mart. It's a large mall-ish, department store kind of thing that has a huge grocery store, I-max theater, and restaurants inside. The department store section had 9 stories that housed many separate vendors selling the same thing. If I recall correctly the 3rd floor was all Cameras, lenses, and MP3 players. One floor had laptops, another cell phones, the next - home appliances. Pretty strange.

I also stumbled upon - Carl, get ready - an e-Sports Stadium on the 9th floor of E-mart. It was locked, but appears to be a competitive video gaming arena. I need someone to read the schedule to verify.

More unique things about Korea:

1. Motorcycles are something else here. I think I'll start an album just on the interesting ones. They seem to be protected like pedestrians. In fact, if a cyclist decides not to run a red light, he'll often become a pedestrian and ride on the sidewalk before returning to the street. I'm still looking for pictures of the motorcycle work vehicles - they carry around so much crap. What are those gloves?

2. Protests are common. I already mentioned that they're a national pastime. I've heard that they protest the minor issues - ie, right turns on reds. At first it seems intimidating. Buses of riot police, the single booming response echoing after the megaphone, the cameras. Then you come back an hour later when the cameras are off and see large numbers of retired age men and women sitting on the ground eating - hardly a public disturbance.

3. Girls wearing miniskirts and boots baffles me. I didn't notice this until recently, and I'm told they wait for the winter. In one particular incident I was outside scurrying to a heated building, bundled up in pants and a jacket - and I don't get cold easily, and a girl walks by me with the shortest imaginable skirt and heels. She had a jacket on, but still...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

High profile DV speaker

You'd think we were at the airport. MPs thoroughly metal detectored us. My co-worker was asked to leave a Gerber outside and the Colonel had to leave his backpack outside - unheard of. I had no idea this was going to be such a high profile event.

You've gotta love the military. The speach began at 1600, so they rolled it back to telling us to be seated by 1530, so we rolled back our arrival to 1500 - and we got there early. An hour before the event would start most of the 800 seats were filled. By a half hour early, it was standing room only. As 1605 rolled around, the Major I was with was bitching about man-hours of productivity. The Colonel responded that "we have a tradition of this" - the little wood choppers were missing hours of productivity waiting for General Washington to bring morale to their little hearts in Lexington.

Admiral Mullen got right down to business. He apologized for being 15 minutes late - he had been on a VTC with el presidente. They, he, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense, were traveling through East Asia meeting with their high level defense counterparts. His speech was a fascinating half hour. He kept re-emphasisng his three pronged priorities and switching his focus between transformation and leadership. He then opened it up to a half hour Q & A. Questions came from the gambit, very low rank to very senior. All were well formulated, most very good pointed questions. There were a few that you could only shake your head at - one was about his response to a specific conspiracy theory question about 9-11. He answered all of the questions very well. The ones that were less relevant led into supporting points about what he mentioned earlier. Afterward my co-worker mentioned that at the last similar event a very senior military spokesperson was asked by a female servicemember (in formal terms) if the military was investigating devices that would allow females to go to the bathroom upright. You've got to be kidding! I have no idea how I would smooth over a question like that on international tv.

Afterward they wisked the Admiral off - flashing sirens, motorcade, and all. An MP was directing traffic. No, she wasn't directing, she was controlling it with steadfast intention. If I wasn't with a group in such heavy traffic I would have stopped to watch. There was never a question as to who should be stopped and who should be moving. She would direct multiple streams at a time like a stoplight. Some cars would be turning left, some going straight, and pedestrian control - all based on the number of people waiting. With all the Generals and Admirals she had to pop to and salute several times in the middle of the traffic direction. It was amazing.

I need to be more ready on my camera. I saw the funniest thing on road so far. it was a motorcycle that had a huge, maybe 10 foot tall trailer behind it. The trailer had garbage and the many recycleables, brooms, rakes, etc. It also had a passenger standing way up high in the air. That doesn't sound like much, but a pic will leave you rolling.

Early Thanksgiving at the USO

It never fails - babies and puppies are timeless chick magnets. Today was no exception. We were introducing members of the Sookmyong Womens college debate team to Thanksgiving, American style. The new food was popular, but not nearly so much as the young man and dog.

Members of our command - probably their wives, cooked Thanksgiving style food. The Koreans brought various traditional local dishes. The event was an interesting chance to experience each other's culture.

Really not much to say about the meal. We sat around, ate, and talked. I did get a chance to meet others that work with me. Most of the girls were pretty shy. These are the ones that our family dry cleaner of 20 years instructed me to marry. I'm looking forward to the next event. We'll probably go on campus to have lunch with them.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


An electronic voice in a "Limousine Bus" (bus) welcomes me to Japan, then reminds us that "cell phones are prohibited as they annoy neighbors". We're on an hour and a half journey to Tokyo from the Tokyo airport, humm? My spontaneous idea to reroute through Narita instead of SFO after visiting Lord doesn't seem so brilliant anymore. Or does it? Perhaps there will be opportunity yet. We've passed 4 nice hotels within a few minutes of the airport. The fact that we'll need to catch a bus for our 8AM international flight tomorrow remains daunting.

I feel sorry for a group of high school exchange students. One girl's comment, "oh how cute, she looks like she's wearing a girl scout uniform - and she's an adult" caught my attention and made me laugh. I looked over to see a petite Japanese woman in a red uniform - a customs officer. The girl had a Southern California accent, but turned out to be North Carolina. Once the group realized that I lived where they were headed they had a battery of questions. "What country is best?", "Will I like the food - I don't do spicy?", and others, to which I could only laugh. The barrage of questions came right when we were stripping down for the x-ray machine.

The United line to get our bus voucher and hotel reservation wasn't bad. It was a little strange looking at the "departures" screen and reading, UA883 - "Not leaving today". WHAT!?!? There were no answers, only customs and immigration lines. Once I found a long United line I knew I was in the right place.

The flight to Japan had been surprisingly easy. The seat next to me was empty so I could creatively lay, stretch, or curl. Some limb would inevitably fall asleep, but no big deal - that was the price of getting some sleep. We were told that a strong head wind would delay our arrival by an hour. I slept most of the 11 hours, which was much shorter than I remember flying in '96.

I woke up for both "lunches". Neither were any good. They made me wish that I'd stuck with the original plan with Korean Air by Delta. They always gave you 2 choices, "chicken" or "beef". One with rice, the other "American style". I was always going for the Asian one, but never got it. I've been duped 3 times now in 2 flights. I felt like I was on some kind of a sick game show.

My Japanese neighbor in the isle seat was great. He never made a move to raise his armrest for a stake in the available center seat; it was all mine!

Long Beach

I hadn't seen my buddy Lord since I punched him in the jaw in Charleston. Don't think he didn't get me back with a furry of shots. We both miss that Mui Thai class and our friends from there.

Lord's a good dude - yep, I get to brag about you here! Being a studly football player and track athlete at the Academy wasn't enough, nor was being a bona fide war hero saving countless lives in Iraq. And who's ever heard of turning down a Harvard scholarship? It didn't surprise me to hear you exercise your PHD program option in Aerospace Engineering at UCLA. I know you'll kick butt there - don't think I can't still take you on the wrestling mat, though ;)

We ended up walking around Long Beach. The weather was nice - what a beautiful place! Palm trees, the beach, and a growing skyline. We stopped at a sushi place for appetizers, then decided on passing up PF Changs in favor of a Hibachi grill. I had no idea that my friend had never experienced one. Afterward we exchanged war stories over ciders at a local brewery. Not much more to say than that. Lord's lovin' life as a grad student and I was happy to see him.

The Conference

The Navy Information Professional Symposium was a success! The three day event was loaded with top notch guest speakers and good information about my Navy community. I had the opportunity to meet the senior brass, my detailer whom I've spoken with extensively over the phone, and the senior Navy IP in Korea who has been sending me emails. The real value lay in mingling during social events, lunches, and breaks. Lots of familiar faces from earlier training classes.

The big event was the many San Diego wildfires, which I hear are worse than 2003. Many local attendees were either evacuating their families or assisting their friends. I wanted to volunteer for help, but it wasn't practical. Aside from laying a little ash on my upgraded 2007 rental Nissan Maxima, the fires didn't affect me much. I did feel silly turning in the car with 40 miles after four days, but I did my part by staying off the roads.