A birthday treat

Last night I was all set to write about something eclectic (traditional Korean music), but then I was pulled away from the computer by a big, pleasant surprise.  My wife took me out for my birthday, and some friends of ours joined us.  My birthday won’t arrive for a few more days, but I was happy to get out and celebrate the somber occasion (after about age 25, birthdays, become more somber than festive ).  What could be better than to celebrate your birthday with friends and loved ones on a weekend?  We went out for delicious Indian food and then for karaoke at a noraebang in Myeongdong.  Truth be told, I didn’t feel much like a party animal last night, but I was still happy to have been treated to a fun night on the town.  Two other couples with children escaped from home and joined us.  We had so much fun that we decided to get together every time one of us had a birthday.  All six of our birthdays are scattered throughout the year, so we can do it periodically.  From time to time, we’ll all plan to hire babysitters or nannies and treat ourselves to a night out. 
At the Indian restaurant we ate mango birthday cake.  I couldn’t believe it didn’t blow the candles out on the first try!  Shame on me.  Either my lungs are shrinking, or there were too many candles on the cake (probably the latter).   My friends gave me a T-shirt and a necktie.  The T-shirt reads "Army" in block letters–most likely a veiled attempt to con me into exercising and cadence calling, methinks.  I think I’ll pass.  The necktie is a nice red, silk tie.  It features an intricate pattern of cigarette lighters and ivy leaves.  I have no idea what subliminal message the tie’s pattern conjures, but I’m sure it’s meant to be comical.  Unfortunately, I’ve already ruined the tie.  I proudly wore it to work today, and like so many of my neckties, it’s already started to fray.  I am so distraught.  I’ve already thrown away a couple of good neckties gone bad.  All my ties have become victims of my workplace.  Virtually every day, they snag on the counter and fray at the ends.  I wore this tie once, and after just one day it started to unravel.  I’ve vowed not to wear any new ties to work until I move to a new job.  Neckties are much too expensive to replace frequently.  I’ll just keep wearing the frazzled ones.  Old and worn and frayed, just like me.

A strangely haunting day

Today was a strange day indeed.  Typically Saturdays are not a flurry of activity around our house, but today was different.  Perhaps a whiff of All Hallow’s Eve spawned some added tempestuousness today.  Actually, Halloween festivities were celebrated today in the American community in Seoul because October 31st is a Monday.  (Most Koreans do not celebrate Halloween, although some who live near military bases have adopted the holiday as a way to get free candy.)  The grand opening of the National Museum of Korea in Seoul this weekend also added to the day’s disequilibrium.  For three consecutive days, the National Museum, the sixth largest museum in the world, has been broadcasting ethereal Korean music and setting off fireworks displays, electrifying the surrounding neighborhoods.  The Halloween and National Museum grand opening celebrations collectively cast an abnormal pall over the day today.  Nothing seemed of the ordinary today.
Many other tangential events also transpired.  ‘Tis the season, I suppose.  The lazy days of summer are long gone, and the flurry of activity preceding the Yuletide is now upon us.  My son attended two different birthday parties, and I was invited over to a friend’s house for a Halloween party (I declined so I could take my son trick o’ treating).  Tomorrow another coworker will marry, and I will likely attend (I just found out and may have to change plans).  Some roughneck guys in the community hosted a no-holds barred football game, which I also missed (I promised to play in the Thanksgiving Day game).  Despite going to two different birthday parties in the neighborhood, my son still managed to take a nap.  He ate so much sugar and was so stimulated by today’s activities that he is still awake as I write and will probably sleep rather fitfully tonight. 
Tonight one of my wife’s coworkers and his family joined us for dinner (pizza) and trick o’ treating.  We all went trick o’ treating on Yongsan Army Base, home of some of the best trick o’ treating in Korea (it is also a very, very safe place to trick o’ treat).  My son was dressed up as (who else) "Thomas the Tank Engine."  His cute little costume featured a front pocket where he could store his candy treasure–his cargo hold.  The coworker’s young daughter was a princess.  It was her first time trick o’ treating as well as the first time the family had visited the U.S. Army base.  Although it is located next to their home in Itaewon, their family had ever had an opportunity to visit Yongsan before.  Most residents of Seoul have never been on Yongsan Army Base because it is restricted to authorized personnel (mostly military).  Tonight was also the first time my son had experienced trick o’ treating.  He had a great time collecting candy and watching other children dressed in an assortment of fanciful Halloween costumes.  At first he was too shy to tell strangers "trick o’ treat," but by the fourth or fifth house visit he’d built up enough courage to say the magic words and accept candy.  We not sure what we’re going to do with all the candy he collected.  He sure isn’t allowed to each all that unhealthy candy!  Dad may have to step in and eat some of it for him.  Sometimes dads have to make big sacrifices for their children.  LOL
Tonight our community hosted the best Haunted House I’ve ever seen.  I haven’t been in a haunted house for years, but this one had to be one of best volunteer, non-profit haunted houses in the world.  It was absolutely fabulous!  I toured the house after it was over, and I was immensely disturbed by the haunted remnants.  One of the ladies in our community who has been doing community haunted houses for over 12 years put in an amazing amount of work putting on the Haunted House, and other members of the community helped her turn it into a literal work of art.  Over 550 people went through the house in just three hours (the community Haunted House is open just one night each year).  Although this is only the 2nd annual community Haunted House, it’s already legendary in Seoul.  Tomorrow I will go back to help clean up and tear down displays.  Next year I might also participate as a mad doctor or killer clown.  Our community association helped fund the Haunted House, but it made so much money that the organizers did not need the funding after all.  I’m glad someone was willing to put in many thankless hours to make it happen.  The community wouldn’t be the same without it.

Still don’t know where we’re headed

My plan to get an early jump on our next assignment failed.  If you recall, I bid on follow-on assignments in several Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong (Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China).  My chances of landing an early assignment were a bit slim, but I was cautiously optimistic.  Unfortunately, I found out a couple days ago that I will have to wait until early next year during my scheduled bid cycle to bid on my next assignment.  Today, my colleagues who were already scheduled to bid this cycle found out what their next assignments will be.  I’m thrilled for them.  The air at work today was abuzz with animated stirrings as the news of people’s onward assignments trickled throughout the building.  I’m especially happy to hear that many of my colleagues’ next assignments are decent (it gives me hope mine will be as well).  Some people are headed to Turkey (Istanbul and Ankara), China (Shanghai and Beijing), one will head to Germany, another to Sri Lanka.  Details are sketchy, but it seems that people were generally satisfied with their next assignments.  The anticipation is over and reality has arrived for them.
I learned one very important lesson from this exercise–knowing foreign languages definitely helps you improve your ability to secure a good, onward assignment.    Seoul has long had a reputation for being a difficult place to be when you do not know another foreign language beyond Korean.  During job bidding, you must submit ranked bids on 20 potential assignments for which one assignment will be selected for you.  Most of the time, you receive one of your top bids.  However, the requirement that you bid on 20 job assignments can leave one dissatisfied with their assignment if the selection is from the bottom of their list.  This is especially true if you do not speak any other foreign language besides Korean.  It limits your list to English-language posts, because you cannot bid on tours that require another foreign language.  Assignments in the Londons and Sydneys of the world are notoriously difficult to land, so you’re often left with English-prevalent places such as Manila, Phillippines, Chennai, India, or Lagos, Nigeria.  If you want to live in Nigeria, you would probably be happy with such a narrow bid list.  However, most people would rather have a wider bid selection. 
As for me, I’m happy to be qualified to bid on Spanish- and Chinese-speaking posts, which dramatically increase my bid selection.  Fortunately, more places are designated Spanish-required than any other language group (Arabic is second).  However, after learning that someone from Seoul just landed a job in Germany, I will now have to buckle down and focus on improving my German language skill.  I started to study German, but I slacked off after I decided to focus solely on working in China on my next assignment (I reasoned that there would be no need for me to study German if I knew I was headed to China.  If given a choice, I would actually prefer a German-required assignment than to work in China after I leave Korea.  I thought that heading to Europe would be an impossible dream bidding out of Seoul, but some people today made me a believer.  Jetzt muess ich Deutsch sehr fleissig ueben!  I have about six months to improve it.