Go when they ain’t


This weekend my family will take our long-awaited trip to Jeju Island, the "Hawai’i of Korea" (except when it’s snowing).  No person in their right mind who has been in Korea for any extended period of time would miss out on visiting Jeju Island.  Jeju is Korea’s largest island located off the southern coast of Korea to the west of Japan.  Why did we wait 1.5 years to visit one of Korea’s biggest attractions?  We couldn’t find a good three-day weekend to visit it.  It takes at least three days to enjoy Jeju by air, four days by car/ferry.  It isn’t very nice in the winter, and in the summer Koreans converge on it.  There’s only a few holiday weekends that are ideal for travel around Korea, and these are American holidays–namely Memorial Day in May and Labor Day in September.  Last May, we didn’t go anywhere because we had just returned from our visit to the states.  Last September, we visited the other must-see natural wonder of Korea, Seoraksan National Park.  So, here we are visiting Jeju just a few months before our departure.  Better late than never!  We thought about going someplace like Thailand but knew we should exhaust our travel here before visiting Southeast Asia.
 
Not only is it much cheaper to travel during the off-season, but we don’t have to fight the crowds.  Koreans tend to go on vacation during specific times of the year, namely mid-August, when they converge on many of the same popular destinations around Korea and favorite international destinations such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Thailand.  Each year the newspapers publish a photo of the beach at Haeundae (near Busan) in August when thousands of vacationers descend on the beach.  It’s absolutely insane.  Who wants to spend hours snarled in traffic just be lie wall to wall with other people?  We would rather go when there are far fewer people and the rates are cheaper.  Of course, it helps immensely that Korean children are now back in school.  Koreans are far less likely to take extended trips to places such as Jeju Island during the months of September and October (or in early spring), because children usually attend private academies in the evening and school on Saturdays.  That inevitably keeps Korean familiess closer to home.  So we’ll go to Jeju Island when they ain’t.

Cinderellas in our midst


I am apparently the last one to learn that one of my Korean friends will marry an American acquaintance.  Apparently it was a whirlwind romance.  The slipper fit, and she found her Prince.  This is just a week or so after another Korean friend departed for the United States to marry an American man whom she met while he was here on a short-term visit.  None of the Koreans I’ve met here in Korea have dated or married foreigners, until now.  Two announcements in recent months is noteworthy.  Is there a third on the horizon?  I don’t know.  I’m not plugged into the rumor mill, so I don’t know.
 
I have many Korean acquaintances.  Some of them are not presently dating anyone, but they have hinted that they would be open to dating and marrying foreigners.  For some, dating a foreigner is reminiscent of the Cinderella story, especially when the one who meets and marries the foreigner finds their culture far different from their own.  It is even more intriguing when the foreigner is a traveling expatriate, moving from culture to culture, allowing the person to experience places and things they never would if they remained in their own culture. 
 
I assume that dramatic news occurs in trios.  For example, famous persons often die in threes.  Now, two of my acquaintances have recently announced their intentions to marry.  Is a third on the way?  I don’t know.  I’m very happy for the ones who found true love.  Perhaps my belief that it will happen a third time stems from the hope that it will happen to yet another Korean I know.  I hope so. 

Who’s in control?


If you’re a Korea news buff, you’ve probably been reading about plans to transfer wartime control of Korean armed forces on the Korean Peninsula from the United States to South Korea.  The U.S. plans to transfer wartime control to the Korean military in 2009, enabling South Korea to assert its authority in the event of renewed hostilities with North Korea.  Interestingly, it seems to be one of the few times when the ruling Uri Party and the United States seem to be in agreement, while the opposition Grand National Party (GNP) remains opposed in principle.  Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Korean President Roh Moo-hyun have expressed support for the plan, while a number of Korean dignitaries, including GNP leaders, former Korean defense ministers, and retired Korean generals have come out in opposition of the plan.  Reasons for opposing the transfer range from a lack of national consensus, the "hastiness" of the transition, and the assumed cost of the transfer to Korea.  I have no opinion on the transfer itself, but I wanted to point out that it is very ironic that the U.S. and the Roh Administration are in agreement–on a contentious military issue, no less–while the GNP, which is traditionally a strong supporter of the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance, opposes the agreement.  One wonders whether Roh and the Uri Party have thoroughly assessed the implications of this transfer beyond the fact that empowers Korea in the event of an outbreak of hostilities with the North.