Darn. When I woke up this morning I felt much better, but when I went to work I fell ill again with a head cold. I felt worse as the day progressed. I feel a little better now, but not much better. Nevertheless, I stuck it out and stayed at work all day today. My cubemate told me that I should go home and rest, but I had too much too do, too many fires to fight. I was still very productive and accomplished as much as I could in eight hours while not feeling well. I hope I’ll feel better tomorrow. On Wednesday morning I have to fly to Busan for the day, so I hope I’m better by then. Because I have a head cold, I’m afraid that the flight, even if it’s a short one, will cause my ears to plug. When we arrived in Korea from Hawaii last February, that’s exactly what happened. It took a week for me to completely regain my hearing. Even now my wife says I’m often hard of hearing, so literally losing my hearing would be absolutely devastating. LOL
This weekend a colleague from Guangzhou, China arrived in town to stay for a couple of weeks. He took the airport shuttle into town, and I picked him up and helped him settle into his temporary digs. It was great to see him. We hired in at the same time and went through training together in Washington, D.C. He is a very jovial guy and rather comedic, the kind of person you want to volunteer to emcee a public event. He’s also a new father and a bit more somber than I remember him. It’s either because he misses his family or because he’s worn out from being a new father. We went to dinner last night at a Korean restaurant, and he tried bulgogi for the first time (best to start out with the tried and true). We talked a lot about living and working in Seoul and Guangzhou. I have not yet been to Guangzhou, but I may go there for my next assignment. He really likes Guangzhou. He says that he misses Western culture, because Western culture is somewhat limited in Guangzhou. For example, Guangzhou has an assortment of McDonald’s, Pizza Hut’s, and Starbucks, but other than that, non-Chinese dining is a bit hard to find. It’s much easier to find Western food, particularly if you have access to a U.S. military base such as Yongsan Garrison in Seoul or Osan A.F.B. in Osan. He gets his fill of Western whenever he leaves Guangzhou for destinations such as Hong Kong. He’s very happy to see so much Western fare here in Seoul.
My colleague also says that, for a variety of reasons, it is somewhat difficult to meet Chinese locals and that his family spends most of their time with friends in the Guangzhou expatriate community. I can understand that, because as I’ve previously mentioned, I rarely have an opportunity to get out and meet Koreans here. Most of the time I either work, stay close to home, or go on family outings. However, since my wife is from China and I know China well, I hope that my experience in China will be different than my colleague’s experience. The Guangzhou Western expatriate community, at least those who live and work in the city, is apparently small–much smaller than it is in Seoul. I believe that most expatriates who visit Guangdong Province are overseas Chinese (Huaqiao).
My friend has never been to Seoul. This morning I showed him Seoul Tower, Seoul Station, Namdaemun (Gate), City Hall, Toksu Palace, the Statue of Yi Sunshin, the Blue House (Korean presidential palace), and Gyeongbok Palace on the way to work. He thought it was wonderful to see so many Seoul highlights in one fell swoop. I realized just how compact Seoul really is. In the span of 15 minutes, we drove past most of Seoul’s famous landmarks. I live and work around these monuments and have grown so accustomed to them that I forget about their significance. Take the Statue of Yi Sun-shin, for instance. On most mornings, I use my line of sight between the Yi Sun-shin’s Statue and Bukhansan, a mountain behind Gyeongbok Palace, to guage the day’s weather. Much of the time the sky is hazy or overcast, indicating ominous weather patterns. I rarely recall the historical significance of the statue. Admiral Yi Sun-Shin is very significant in Korean history. In 1592, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified feudal Japan, invaded Korea in order to launch an assault on Qing China. Admiral Yi, credited with inventing the world’s first iron-clad ships, known as the "Turtle Ships," was instrumental in driving back the Japanese Navy. I see Admiral Yi’s statue every day, but rarely do I think about the story of the man and the history behind his statue. While Seoul is a vibrant, modern city, it is historical monuments such as these that make Seoul even more colorful.
Blog Note: I added some photo albums from our June trip to Gyeongju and the East Coast. There are three albums–one featuring Bulguksa Temple and Lake Bomun, one with Gyeongju and Silla photos, and photos of the Korean countryside and seaside. I’d been meaning to publish them, but didn’t have a chance until now. Enjoy!