Old friends seem to be coming out of the woodwork here in Seoul! Yesterday evening I was just about to leave work when a colleague I knew from Washington, D.C. walked down the hall. I did a double-take; I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t know he was coming to Seoul from Taiwan. He works in Taiwan and is now in Seoul to fulfill his reserve duty for the U.S. Army. We went out to dinner last night. He chose Tex-Mex because he can’t find any in Taipei. It was great catching up with him and hearing all about life in Taipei. Taipei may very well be our next destination, so we listened carefully to his stories about life there. My colleague will be here for three weeks, and we’ll hopefully get together a few times before he returns to Taipei.
Today I went back to COEX Mall to manage a booth at "Emigration Fair 2005." While it sounds a bit like Ellis Island redux and conjures images of poor emigrants fleeing bad economic conditions, in reality the fair is geared to Korean students and business people who want to study or invest overseas. I answered students’ questions regarding applying to study in the U.S. While at the booth an old acquaintance from the U.S. walked up to me and asked, "What are you doing here?" I was surprised to see a familiar face in the crowd. We had studied together at the University of Washington two years ago and since lost touch. He had no idea that I was in Korea. A Korean, he couldn’t believe that he met someone he knew from the U.S. He told me that our mutual friend Bart was managing another booth nearby. I had contacted Bart before I left the states and let him know I was coming to Korea, but I hadn’t yet had a chance to follow up with him. I couldn’t believe that in a country of 44 million, in a city of 10 million, here my friend was just a few feet away from me. I went over to his booth and gave him a hearty hug. It was great to catch up with an old friend. At the end of the day, we grabbed a Starbucks coffee and chatted about life after school. We decided to meet again in a few weeks for dinner with other University of Washington alumni. The world is truly a small place. Have you ever unexpectedly run into someone you knew from your past in a very unexpected place? It might have been even more unexpected if we had met in another country, but meeting at COEX today was strange enough.
I took my first ride on the Seoul subway today. I don’t know how I’d managed to avoid it for over a month, but I did. Seoul’s system is rather industrial; functional yet uncomfortable and generally unattractive. I prefer Washington, D.C.’s subway system. I’ve ridden on many subways around the world. London has the best overall system, Tokyo has the most comprehensive system, and Moscow’s features by far the most beautiful subway. Seoul’s subway reminds me of New York’s–aged, gritty, and well used by the masses. I’m glad that I know hangeul, the Korean writing system, so I could easily find my destination and transfer stations on a subway map. It’s tricky to navigate Seoul’s subway if you don’t know how to read hangeul or speak some Korean. The trains feature Korean and English announcements, but the English ones are muffled by the noise of the crowds. One train I rode was fairly crowded. I was fascinated by the aggressiveness of the elderly in Seoul. The elderly hold high social positions in Korea, and their special subway seating is sacred. They don’t hesitate to jostle passengers to get to their seats, pass between train cars to find an open seat, or stare down younger adults or children who don’t yield their seat to them. Koreans do not appear to be overly polite on the subway, which iis quite common on most Asian subways. The Seoul subway is definitely not family-friendly. I don’t think my family will be riding it very often. It’s worth taking taxis or driving to avoid having to navigate the cavernous Seoul subway system.
It’s over for my Washington Huskies in the NCAA Tournament. On Thursday night the Louisville Cardinals creamed the Huskies 93-79 in their Sweet Sixteen matchup. As expected, the Huskies will head home and have to watch the Final Four and Championship on TV in Seattle. Louisville looked really tough in their matchup with Georgia Tech last week, and it didn’t look good for the Huskies going into Thursday’s matchup. However, Louisville will have a tough time beating Illinois or North Carolina, but they definitely look like great and will probably be in the Final Four.
From the things that make you go…Hmm Department: Kyrgyzstan recently descended into political chaos, and in an unrelated event, Krygyz passports are no longer accepted by the United States Government. It’s an interesting example of life imitating art. In the movie "The Terminal," Tom Hanks portrayed a man stranded for years at New York JFK airport because he could not enter the U.S. and could not return to his homeland because his country descended into political chaos while he was in transit. I wonder whether Kyrgyzstanis will suffer the same fate. It depends on the status of Bishkek International Airport and whether Kyrgyzstanis can return home. They won’t be able to enter the U.S. anytime soon, I’m afraid.