Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The DMZ Tour went well, as explained by what I did and didn't do:

1)  Didn't get shot

2)  Didn't start a war

3)  Did see a North Korean officer spying on the capitalist, tourist pigs.  And being good tourists, we all took pictures of him!

By the way, I'm standing in North Korea in the first picture.  Despite our casual smiles in these pictures, you could definitely feel the tension in the air.  As you would expect, the soliders in the DMZ were very serious.  They reminded me of a couple Army guys I know who've been in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Clearly these were guys you don't want to mess with.

 That big white building in the background .... that's North Korea.
 And those blue buildings behind Erik .... they're shared territory.  The Demarcation Line (the line that splits the 2 Koreas) runs right through the middle of them.

A quick history lesson on the DMZ.  At the end of WWII, Korea was taken from under Japanese control and was divided between America and Russia.  After a short time, both superpowers agreed to pull out.  About this time, the North decided to speed the reunification process by conquering the South.  And they almost did.  But the South called for help and the US and a dozen other countries answered and pushed the NK back to the border with China.

Then the North called for help.  And a million Chinese troupes came pouring over the border.  They pushed pushed the US-SK army back to the current boundary, where the lines stabilized.  A cease fire was then signed (NOT a peace treaty).  This is why the two Koreas are still technically at war.  They agreed to create an area 2k from each side of the dividing line, called the Demarcation Line, as a demilitarized zone.  And thus we come to the present and the tragedy it has produced.

 Barbed wire, mines by the millions and the most heavily armed border in the world

60 years of seperation

 The Bridge of No Return.  So named because at the cease fire, prisoners of war were given one chance to choose which Korea to live in.  And once they chose to cross or stay, there was no return.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A whole mess of traveling updates

Fairly big news this time.  I'll list in it in chronological order (mostly for suspense purposes).

This week:  
I've been having an excellent time playing tourist on my own island with some friends visiting from the mainland.  Went to a couple waterfalls, an awesome bridge (pictured above), loveland and a nice beach or two.

This weekend:
Flying up to Seoul to do a DMZ tour with Erik on Tuesday and then getting my passport renewed Wednesday :)  And yes on the DMZ tour I will be right on the border with North Korea.  Well within eyesight of NK soldiers.  I'll try to not make fun of them while there.

Oct 17:
My last day

Part of our waterfall tour

Oct 19:
Fly to Japan.  Visit Osaka and Kyoto for 4 days.  See Himeji Castle.  Eat the famous Osaka food.  Spend WAY too much money (this is harder to avoid than a Godzilla attack).  Fly back to Jeju on the 23rd.

Oct 26:
Fly to Bali.  Stay 11 days.  Hike.  Lay on the beach.  Swim.  Lay on the beach.  Do a little shopping.  Lay on the beach.  (noticing a pattern?)

Nov 6:
Fly to Hong Kong.  Stay 3 1/2 days.  Explore.  Visit Macau.  Take the Star Ferry.  See the harbor light show.

Nov 10:
Fly to Dallas.  Connect through Seoul.  Leave Seoul at 11am.  Arrive in Dallas at 8am.  (timezones are fun!)

So 3 major vacation destinations plus a DMZ tour.  Was I exaggerating when I said I had a mess of updates?  For now, enjoy the rest of these pictures.  And thanks to everyone who's given me great travel tips for all these places!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Birthday in the past, Japan in the future

Erik and I at Woljeong Beach on my birthday

First, thanks for the various birthday wishes I got last week.  After about age 12, birthdays aren't a big deal anymore but it's still nice to be remembered :)  And for those who are curious, yes it was a good day.  A little time at school, then Erik and I met up at the beach for a while, then a big dinner and hanging out after.

Now that my friend Jason has returned, we have agreed to go to Japan the 2nd weekend in September for 4 days (I know it's not enough time but we don't have choice).  We'll be visiting Osaka and Kyoto, following the advice of Erik who lived there for 4 years.  A little expensive but should be fun and definitely worth it (since Japan will never again be a mere 2 hour flight away)

On a random note, we had a typhoon hit us Sunday.  Christian, Erik and I thought about trying to go bodysurfing ... until we looked outside and our sanity kicked in.  But the sad/good part was, it was still no worse than a strong Texas thunderstorm (howling wind, rain pouring sideways, less lightning actually).  Other than that, I continue to love working in a public school in summer.  Having your hours significantly reduced for a month is certainly a nice perk.  For now i'll enjoy it while it lasts.

I have no idea what he's doing but it makes me laugh

Clearly this beach isn't on the tourist maps

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What traveling abroad teaches me

Today I thought I'd pass along a story that happened to me recently.  Please note, there is not an actual update on me here.  So if that doesn't interest you, feel free to skip this.

A few days ago I visit Gimyoung beach for the first time.  It was the definition of kid friendly.  I walked 200 yards out into the water and was still able to sit on my heels and let the gentle waves wash over me.  Good place for relaxing.  I actually ended up in a long conversation with a couple of the lifeguards there (why they had lifeguards on a beach like this, none of us knew).

They were young men, who were lucky enough to be doing their mandatory 2 year army term on Jeju.  In this case, their job as soldiers was to lifeguard.  They were very friendly and had lots of questions, which I was happy to answer.  They were surprised I was at the beach alone (this would be unthinkable for Koreans) and even more surprised that I had no definite plans for when I would leave or what i would do next.  "So you will follow your heart today" was the unexpectedly eloquent response from the older of the two, Jim (his English name).

After a little more mutual Q&A, Jim asked where I had traveled to.  As I answered him, his eyes got bigger and bigger.  He then asked a surprisingly insightful question.  He has many friends who have traveled outside Korea and wondered, what do you learn from living and visiting abroad?

For me there are several answers to this.  First, it helps you to understand your own country, both the good and bad parts, much more clearly.  This can be perfectly illustrated by the current troubles raising the debt ceiling in congress.  I can clearly see fault on both sides (The Democrats uncontrolled spending and fear of touching Social Security or Medicare.  The Republicans and especially the Tea Party's willingness to risk inducing a global recession just because they don't want any kind of tax increases).  But i'm proud that the public has the power to bring issues like this, that no one used to care about, to the forefront with their votes.

Second, it helps remove the latent us against the world mentality that far too many people have.  The more you travel, the more you realize that the average person is very similar no matter where you go.  Most people have friends, take pride in a job well done, are opposed to violence and crime and are willing to help you when they can.  When you get right down to it, people aren't so different after all.

That said, the third thing traveling does is allow you to see and appreciate the differences in people and cultures.  For example, in America who you know can help you get a job.  However, in Korea not only is that true but in most cases, your relationships with your co-workers and boss are the main factor in determining who gets promoted.  It's why after work social events in Korea are functionally mandatory.  Because it is your friendships, not your job performance that often determines your future.  Of course this does happen in the US too but we rail against it and do our best to prevent it.  Not so here.  Here it is seen as a good thing.

Another quick example would be timeliness.  Americans, Swiss and Germans are always expected to be on-time or early for business meetings.  Not so in Korea, Brazil or the Middle East.  And both of these are ok.  Both approaches fit the cultures of the respective countries.

As we continued to talk about things like this, they eventually invited me back to the lifeguard shack for snacks and drinks.  I even helped one of them pick his English name.  He wanted something that sounded tough and manly.  After a few suggestions, I offered Dom and he loved it.  First time I helped with that.  It was fun.

After swapping numbers, I headed out but with excellent memories of my new friends.  (sappy enough an ending?)