Paul Harvey eases the Monday blues

It’s Monday today.  Nothing significant happened today, which I suppose is a good way to start the week.  I now have four more days to look forward to until next weekend.  I woke up this morning to the sound of Paul Harvey‘s voice on the radio.  The Armed Forces Network (AFN) carries Paul Harvey’s broadcasts every morning.  Paul Harvey is like an old friend to me.  He’s been on the air for ages.  He’s a broadcasting icon in the same pantheon as Dick Clark, Kasey Kasem, and Garrison Keillor ("Prairie Home Companion").  I used to listen to Paul Harvey faithfully at lunchtime while I was a college student many years ago.  He has a wry voice and reads the news as if he’s reading a newspaper to his listeners.  He starts the news with "Page (insert page)…" and ends each broadcast with "Paul Harvey…good day!"  No one can make advertisements entertaining like Paul Harvey can.  His voice has weathered over the years, and it’s easy to tell that he isn’t as young as he used to be.  Still, his voice is clear and a welcome change from what the rest of the mainstream media has become.  He actually shared an Easter message this morning in honor of Easter (it was Easter Sunday in the U.S. this morning).  Can you imagine that?  No news about Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton, or Martha Stewart.  I must be getting old, because the media’s incessant focus on famous people’s trials and tribulations and on human interest pieces (e.g. Laci Peterson or Terry Schiavo) too often supplant news.  Paul Harvey is different.  It’s easier to face Monday waking up to his familiar voice and easy-to-listen-to broadcast.

All in all, life wasn’t too bad today.  I was in a zone at work and was extremely productive.  I ate my favorite kimchi, a sweeter spicy cabbage kimchi, at restaurant downtown with a friend.  My poor coworkers survived the kimchi breath I had after lunch.  I went home intending to go to a board meeting for our local association and instead stayed home and spent time with my son so my wife could go to a resume review session.  The day was sunny and the atmosphere here was upbeat, although the temperature cooled from the balmy 50’s we enjoyed yesterday.  My son got his latest "Thomas the Tank Engine" toy, a battery-powered engine that can two his other train cars. 

I’ll try to end the day tonight by tackling a few ongoing action items I never can seem to complete.  If I can’t finish something immediately, I tend to put it off until I have time finish it.  This has been especially true since I arrived in Seoul.  I really want life to slow down, and I’ve done my utmost not to get caught up in the perpetual busy mode I was in while I was in Washington, D.C.  Thankfully, life here in Seoul feels much more relaxed and slower paced than it has for me in the past three years.  Seoul is not a slow-paced city by any means, but our life here allows us to decide for ourselves how hectic life should be.  Right now, peace and quiet is what I crave.

Reflections on Easter

We ventured afield this morning to attend Easter services at an international (English-speaking) church near our home.  About 100 expatriates attended the service.  We were joined by another family we met in Washington, D.C. and spend a lot of time with here in Seoul.  Our son was one of the highlights of the service.  Towards the end of the service he broke away from us while we were sitting in a pew and started running towards the back of the sanctuary.  He yelled, "Yay!" during a moment of silent and the pastor blithely told the congregation, "We should all be saying ‘yay’ too because Easter is a happy day."  The congregation laughed.  We’re glad our son provided levity, not embarassment.  The service was good, and the pastor was good.  We haven’t been to church since we attended a large "big box" church in Virginia.  ("Big box" is a term of endearment for warehouse-size stores; I call large churches "big box" churches.)  We did not expect to find a good expat church here in Seoul, because it can be hard to find good churches overseas.  We were pleasantly surprised.  We plan to visit again.

Parking at the church was tricky because more people than usual came to church today (church attendance generally peaks during Christmas and Easter, Christianity’s two most important celebrations).  We had to double-park in the church’ lower garage because the upper lot was full.  When the service was over, I had to navigate our car around a concrete wall, gun the car backwards up the garage ramp past a brick gate, and back it into a narrow alley.  It was a bit nerve-wracking.  If I have to do that every Sunday, we may not drive our car to this church in the future.  Instead, we may park it in a nearby parking lot. 

We haven’t yet driven much in Korea, but we now know three important rules of the road here highlighted by our trip to church today:

  1. Find out whether your destination has parking before you drive.  Parking is at a premium in Seoul.
  2. When the light turns green at an intersection, look both ways first and proceed with caution.  Koreans will drive through red lights without hesitation.  On our way to church we waited 10 seconds after the light turned green to allow the red-lighters to pass.
  3. Don’t worry about cutting off the person behind or beside you–keep your eyes on the road in front of you and make sure you’re alert for the cars that will cut you off.  Be aggressive, but always yield to busses–they will hit you if you mess with them.

Our friends came over today for a traditional Easter dinner.  My wife baked ham and made mashed potatoes, gravy, and green bean casserole.  Our friends brought apple pie.  It was delicious!  I’m still stuffed.  They have a four-year old son who plays very well with our son.  It was fun to watch them run around in circles chasing each other.  They entertain each other for hours and left us adults alone so we could talk.  We really enjoyed it.  Easter was a lot of fun.

Old friends and an “Emigration Fair”

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.