Dear Reader, I am sorry for the long absence. As you know, I love writing this blog. I look forward to writing each night about something different and offbeat. Unfortunately, last week was a difficult week for me, with illness and other commitments I needed to fulfill. Famous last words, I know, but it was just one of those weeks. I’ve done everything that needed to be done, and for the time being, I can relax a bit and spend more time writing. I feel much better, although I still have a cough (thanks for the kind words and well wishes!). As is often the case, the cough will likely linger on for another week or so.
There’s so much to write about since my last entry that I think I’ll focus tonight on just a couple of interesting items. Both happened last night. I spent much of the weekend with my son. After having spent the previous weekend at Seoul City Hall and working as a movie extra, I needed to spend more time with my family. We had a wonderful time. Last night, while his mother went out with some friends, my son and I stayed home and played together. We began to carve a pumpkin into a Jack O’Lantern. I gutted it, and he assisted. The pumpkin still awaits a face because I stopped midway through carving when my son lost interest. He was a great helper, helping daddy put the pumpkin guts into the plastic bowl and cleaning the gunk off my hands. He industriously studied the inside of the pumpkin and asked me if he could have a bite. I told him it didn’t taste good, but he tried a tiny piece anyway…and spit it out. Sometimes you just have to learn something yourself. We’ll finish up the pumpkin carving tomorrow evening. He wants me to turn Jack O’Lantern into a train. While I’m not surprised by his choice, since he absolutely loves trains, I was amused that he chose Oliver from "Thomas the Tank Engine" to serve as the model for his carved pumpkin. He could have chosen Thomas, or Gordon, or Henry, or any number of central characters from the story, "Thomas the Tank Engine." Instead, there was something about this pumpkin that reminded him of Oliver. I’m not sure why–it’s a green train that’s not much different from the other "Thomas" trains. At times, children’s minds work in mysterious ways. So tomorrow night, we shall turn my son’s pumpkin into Oliver the Train.
I haven’t carved a pumpkin in years. The last time I did was over a decade ago when my wife and I just started dating. We were still in college at the time. We were over at her dormitory a few days before Halloween. The residence hall had given away free pumpkins, and we went into the kitchen and carved a pumpkin into a Jack O’Lantern. My Chinese wife had never carved a pumpkin before, for Halloween is a western tradition virtually unknown to Chinese (it’s catching on now in China, I’ve been told). Like my son, she primarily watched me carve it. Although it happened a long time ago and the memory has faded a bit, it came back to me as my son watched me once again carve a pumpkin. After that first Halloween together, my wife and I made it a habit to spend Halloween going out for dinner. We never really were the type of people to stay home and pass out candy to trick o’treaters. However, now that we have a child who’s old enough to wear a costume (he’s going to be Thomas the Tank Engine–who else?), Halloween has taken on a new meaning. We’re not really fans of a celebration that has such dark undertones, but I’m happy to let my son do some of those things most kids like to do, like carving pumpkins, dressing in a costume, and trick o’treating. Trick o’treating can be filled with hazards, but since my neighbors are also my coworkers, I think we can safely trick o’treat without fear of tainted candy in a secure environment.
Last night while we were carving the pumpkin, I suddenly heard explosions outside our house. It took me a few minutes to ascertain that it the sound of a fireworks display. For a brief moment, the unthinkable crossed my mind–were those bombs? Gunfire? I turned on the television just to make sure. Thankfully, it wasn’t an attack. If it were, I would probably not be writing tonight. It is not something to take lightly After all, in Seoul we are well within range of North Korean artillery. If there were an invasion by North Korea, the entire city of Seoul could be destroyed within two-to-three days. No matter how unlikely it seems now, we are within range of a war zone, and the Koreas are technically in a tense ceasefire. There has been no peace on the Korean Peninsula since 1950. Last night was not a holiday such as Independence Day, when you expect fireworks. I might not have thought anything of them, but I could not help imagining briefly what would happen if an invasion really occurred. I would have to send my family to safety in Japan and stay behind, helping people, just as my colleagues in Islamabad are now feverishly helping those savaged by the tragic earthquake in Pakistan. Seoul seems so far away from that possibility. When you live here, you rarely ever think about the possibility of war; that is, until it suddenly grabs your attention. Living in Seoul gives you a different perspective on something that seems so innocuous, even a fireworks display. Every once in awhile, the City of Seoul still stages afternoon siren drills, and the entire city stops for five to 10 minutes, an ominous reminder that Seoul is not quite like any other modern metropolis.