Monday, April 29, 2013

I'd almost forgotten I was living on a beach island

This is why I've missed Summer on Jeju (as always, click the pictures to make them bigger) 

Part of the fun of living in Asia is standing out.  Two prime examples occurred this last weekend.

The first was when Vicky and I walked into a restaurant we like to visit.  Without saying a word, the waitress brought us the drinks we wanted and started cooking our food.  When we go anywhere more than a couple times, they always remember us.  Can't imagine why.

The more random one was on Friday.  I was walking home from school and was about 100 feet from our apartment building when a delivery man walked up to me and handed me a package.  Confused, I looked down and saw that it was addressed to me and had our address on the package.  Apparently he's been to our apartment before, recognized me as I was walking by and decide to save himself the trouble of going up to the 7th floor. When did I become famous?  (When I became a 6'2 white guy on a small Korean island, that's when)

Hamdeok Soebong before we hiked it

Cool moss-covered rocks.  Just don't try to walk on them!

Smiling into the sun is not easy but Vicky does a great job of it here

But enough about how we blend in about as well as common sense in a political debate.  The rest of our weekend was spent out walking and exploring.  We did this because it's gorgeous here right now and because we want to get our bodies used to walking a lot.  A long cold winter means we were stuck inside for about 5 months straight and got out of shape.  Now that it's not miserably cold and windy outside, we're working to get ourselves back into shape and feeling good!

Vicky even decided to go local by wearing a tracksuit   Her's wasn't as colorful as most Korean hikers opt for (think bright neon colored wind-pants and jackets.  Like her sunglasses but all over)  (And yes they wear those even in summer. Sun protection) but it worked well for her.  It kept her comfortable and shielded the worst of the sun from her lovely, fair skin.

Which way to go?  We opted for both :)

To quote my students when posing for pictures, "Cheese-oo"

On Sunday we elected to pursue our goal by hiking part of Olle Trail 19 near Hamdeok beach.  In case I haven't mentioned it, the Olle Trails are a series of walking trails that circle the entire coast of Jeju.  They are a fantastic way place to go for a walk and see some beautiful scenery.  And as you can tell from the pictures, we did just that!

I really like this one

PS.  I did get my new camera and these are pictures from it.  Don't know if the difference shows much here but I'm really happy with it!

And as long as it keeps taking pictures like these, I'll keep being really happy with it!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Good news. North Korea is easing back on the rhetoric

Don't forget, click these pictures if you want to make them larger.

First the good news.  After weeks of increasingly strident and ridiculous threats, North Korea seems to be backing off their tough talk.  Though they made some threats yesterday, they were much less shrill and absurd compared to their previous statements. That's good news for the Korean peninsula which has been on edge for the past month.

However, this should not be mistaken for the North suddenly deciding to be nice.  More likely, they won't say much for a while and then they will commit a provocation.  This will partially be to allow them to claim a victory on national tv and partially to remind the world they are still here and we should all give them food and money as a reward for being good (yes this is also the mentality of spoiled children).  This provocation will most likely take the form of a small military strike against the South.  When and where this might take place is anyones guess.

 Hopefully not here

 Or here

This possibility isn't something we need to worry about.  It almost certainly won't lead to a war and might not even happen at all.

On a more personal note, I recently decided to buy a very high quality but portable camera.  I've been getting more and more into photography and came to the conclusion that if I'm going to be visiting dozens of countries and taking once-in-a-lifetime trips I want to take the best possible pictures of them.  This is also why I've been reading extensively about photography.  And before my more sarcastic friends can comment, yes I know it's not helping but it can't hurt either (unless I drop the computer on my foot again while reading)

Messing around with macro-photography

Basically, I have a great time doing it and it helps us preserve our memories of all these adventures.  It's just one more reason that I really can't wait until our trip through Europe (as though we needed more reasons to be excited)!  I'll let you know once I get the camera and can start posting pictures taken with it.

 Hopefully they'll look like this except, you know, better!

Vicky and I are both doing well.  I've got about 2 1/2 months left on my contract and Vicky has about 3 1/2.  As the weather has turned nicer we've started walking home from school and getting out and exploring on weekends.  I can't even begin to explain how nice it is to go outside and feel comfortable again.  After being cooped up inside all winter, Spring is heavenly!  As a bonus, I get to see more people starting in shock when they see they foreigners walking around their island (since we're easier to recognize when less bundled up).

Now I just need to get Vicky to wear her cat onesy out to dinner again and this time I can take pictures of people's reactions to her.  :)

The little town we saw on our long walk on Saturday (I forgot to mention, we took a long countryside walk Saturday)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What is North Korea thinking?

Watching the capitalists

Over the last couple days I've been getting worried emails because of all the threats North Korea is making. I'm going to address those concerns here to put your minds at ease.

The first thing to remember about North Korea is that their main priority is regime continuation.  Their leaders live like kings and they do not want to give that up.  And they know starting a war guarantees the death of their regime.

So they talk tough to build up their young leaders credentials with the military.  You must remember that in Korea age and seniority are very important.  So a 20something leader is going to have considerably less prestige and respect from the military than his much older father did.  To build up that respect, he has to talk tough and he has to act tough to win the military over.  And the only way Kim Jong-Un will keep power in North Korea is with the military's blessing.

So they'll bluster and threaten to reduce Seoul to "a sea of fire".  And they'll threaten to nuke New York (even though they can't even come close to doing it).  And they'll tell foreigners to "get out of Korea so you will not be killed in a war."  A few weeks ago they declared that they are now at war with South Korea  (technically it's been in that state for the last 60+ years).  And though all of that talk is bluster, there is a tiny bit of substance behind it.

After the bluster (when SK has dropped it's guard somewhat) they'll probably execute a small, very localized attack somewhere to prove how tough they are.  Perhaps like last time, they'll shell a small island with SK troops on it for a short time.  Or maybe they'll sink a ship like in 2010.  But they won't risk open war with SK and the US because they are guaranteed to lose.  And they know it.

Literally the only danger is one of escalation.  If the North executes one of their small provocations and the South strikes back hard (which they will this time), then the North might be tempted to respond with a stronger retaliation which could escalate into a resumption of actual war.  This is the worst case scenario.  They won't launch an all out first strike because of the desire to preserve their regime.

The good news is that the above is a worst case scenario and is easily avoided many different ways.  Though the North has "warned" foreigners to leave Korea, until the US or British embassies tell us to do the same we're staying here.  Right now the threat is all talk.  And both logic and all available information suggest that while the North seems crazy, they are very sane when it comes to keeping their own power.  And starting a war with South Korea is the one sure way to lose that power.

And if things do somehow go bad, we'll all be getting out as fast a possible.  The US embassy knows we're here and they will send planes to get us out if needed.  So relax everyone not living in South Korea.  Your friends and loved ones here are fine.

The DMZ border with South Korean troops guarding it during my visit in 2011

Monday, April 8, 2013

Big things are afoot (it's not my feet. I just washed them)

One hour after I proposed

As you can obviously guess, the last week has been crazy.  After proposing, we spent the rest of the weekend calling, emailing and meeting family and friends to tell them the good news.  The rest of the week was spent planning the wedding, hunting for a venue with plenty of help from my wonderful mom, writing essays for a class Vicky is taking, researching, etc.

After a weekend that was both productive and relaxing (i didn't think this was possible), I wanted to write and update you guys on our plans going forward.  Plus I wanted a chance to post more cherry blossom pictures since a storm blew them all away yesterday.  Boo!!!

No more sites like this :*(

Or this :*(

So with the addition of a wedding to an already complicated plan, this is what our updated schedule looks like for the rest of the year.

April-June - Keep teaching.  My contract ends at the end of June.
July - Vicky teaches until near the end of July.  I've got the month free for research, photography, beach trips and basically being on vacation on a beach island.
August - For the first two weeks we get to be bums as we prepare to move out and leave Jeju.  August 17th we fly to Switzerland to meet Randy and Vanessa for the beginning of our Europe trip.  They'll stay with us for the first two weeks before heading home.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the beauty

October - We get back to Texas on Oct. 3.  We will then have 5 weeks to furiously prepare for a wedding that will probably occur on November 10th (pending the venue we're looking at being available).  We also want to see lots of our friends (of course) and eat as many small portions of wonderful Texas food as possible (gotta stay in shape for the wedding but there's not a chance on earth we're skipping out on Mexican food and BBQ after being gone a year!)
November - After getting married in early November, we'll head off for our honeymoon and then probably end the month visiting my Grandparents in Arizona to see (or in Vicky's case meet) family.  We might try to sneak in another visit or two while we're at it but we'll see what happens.

By this time, I'll be married to her!

December - We chill in Texas enjoying the holidays with friends and family.
January - We'll almost certainly go abroad again, this time probably to Taiwan.  We haven't gotten the traveling bug out of our systems yet (and in case you were wondering, no I don't plan to live abroad permanently.  I just simply love to travel and this continues to be by far the best time to do it.  Once kids enter the equation down the road, trying to do this would be more complex by several orders of a magnitude.)

To say we'll be busy is a vast understatement.  That's actually the condensed version of our plans (the full version makes the US tax code look succinct).

The good news is all this planning will enable Vicky and I to have what will quite probably be the best year of our lives yet!  Hopefully if you're reading this, you'll be a part of what makes this year so great.

Out exploring and picture taking at Jeju National University

Once again, bonus points if you can ID the movie reference in the title.