Remembering 9/11

Five years ago today I was in Washington State, walking into the plant where they built the four jets used as missiles that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.  I drove to work, not tuning into the morning news as I usually do during my morning commute.  I was oblivious to what had transpired.  As I walked into the facility, someone asked me, "Did you hear what happened?"  They proceeded to tell me the news of the World Trade Center crash.  The Pentagon had not yet been hit, and only one of the Twin Towers had fallen.  I thought they were joking, because what had happened at the time seemed nothing short of unreal.  I soon realized that this was no joke.  I sat silently with my fellow employees glued to our radios, hoping to hear any news amid chaos erupting on the East Coast.  The Internet was down due to overload, and web sites like were inaccessible from heavy traffic.  Work had to wait.
Just two weeks later, I left that company to pursue my MBA.  Just two years later, determined to serve my country and make a difference in the world, I took a new assignment.  I am now on the front lines of foreign service and am dedicated to promoting American interests and helping keep Americans and America secure.  I love this job and wouldn’t trade it for the world.  This is where I need to be right now.  I don’t think it would have happened had not that fateful day on September 11, 2001, when the world changed, and America changed.  At the 9/11 ceremony today, with flag at half mast, taps, and a memorial speech, I was reminded of that day five years ago and how it changed my life.
On this fifth anniversary of 9/11, I hope and pray for peace.  I hope for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I hope for peace between Democrats and Republicans.  I hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  I hope for peace in the War on Terror.  I hope for peace between Blue Staters and Red Staters.  I hope for peace between the Two Koreas.  In all conflicts, I hope for peace.  There will likely never be true peace on earth in the life we live now, but one can hope that at least we’ll have a bit of respite and a temporary ceasefire of hostilities.  It’s probably more than we can hope for in this world.  There is a lot of fear, anger, and bitterness among people.  I wish that this day will help temper these feelings and create more goodwill.

Our first tol

Tonight we went to our first tol, a Korean-style first birthday party.  It was quite an extravagant event.  A family we met while we were in Virginia in 2004 invited us for their daughter’s first birthday.  The tol, or first birthday, a big milestone in a child’s life and cause for huge celebration in Korea.  While a first birthday party for an American child often consists of a small gathering of friends and family who celebrate the occasion with a birthday cake and candles, perhaps even at McDonald’s, a Korean tol is much more elaborate.  The mom who invited us to celebrate her daughter’s birthday insisted that this tol was a middling affair, but I was very impressed.  She rented the entire floor at a restaurant that specializes in hosting tol in a building overlooking Toksu Palace in downtown Seoul.  It must have cost hundreds of dollars.  The party featured a full buffet with dessert table and an assortment of drinks.  The spread was delicious.  The centerpiece of the tol is a dais situated above the attendees where the child is seated amidst a bounty of food and gifts.  The tol at tonight’s event was a table, behind which the proud parents stood with their daughter in their arms in front of a big cake, surrounded by colorful pink and lavender balloons. 
An emcee hosted the event, offering a play-by-play account of the action.  The birthday girl’s parents placed five different objects in front of their daughter in the hope that she will choose one of them:  1) A microphone; 2) A stethoscope; 3) Pencils; 4) Money; and 5) Yarn.  The five objects represent entertainment, medicine, education, wealth, and longevity.  Whichever object the one-year-old child chooses allegedly determines his or her future.  The emcee announced that the birthday girl had chosen the microphone, a symbol that she will have a very entertaining life.  Afterwards, the emcee hosted a raffle and gave away gifts to members of the audience.  I was given a number, but I’m glad my name didn’t come up because the dialogue was in Korean, not English.  I was told that if I had been chosen, I would have had had to wish the child well with some pithy saying in order to claim my gift.  While I wish the birthday girl well, I was happy to let the Koreans do the public well wishing.
Why is a child’s first birthday such a big occasion in South Korea?  Even as recently as the 1970s, child mortality in South Korea was very high (it is still very high in North Korea).  Many child died before their first birthday.  If they reached their first birthday, their chances of long-term survival increased substantially.  The tol is a Korean traditional celebration the optimism that the child will live to at least adulthood.  Nowadays, the event is thankfully more of a formality than an actual affirmation that a Korean child will survive infancy.
For the Shutterbugs:  I posted three new photo albums from our trip to Jeju Island.  Enjoy!

A bilingual elephant?

Yahoo! published an interesting news article about an elephant at Everland Theme Park in Yongin, Korea that speaks some Korean.  Apparently elephants have the ability to mimick sounds, including noises and rudimentary speech.  In this elephant’s case, he spent so much time with his caretaker over the years that he learned how to mimick several short Korean words, including "yes," "no," "sit," and "lie down."  Elephants actually communicate through sound and body language.  It’s unclear whether this elephant understands the meaning of the words he’s speaking, but one could argue that he expresses them as a form of communication. 
What I actually wondered tonight was whether the elephant could learn multiple languages and become bi- or trilingual.  He already speaks elephantish (referred to as "a-rroo!" in native elephantish), and now he can imitate some Korean words.  If this elephant was shipped from Everland to the San Diego Zoo and stayed there for several years, could he imitate a few English words too?  The possibilities boggle the mind.  As it is, one could make the case that he is the world’s first bilingual elephant.  Given the Korean’s insatiable thirst to learn English as a second language, it’s surprising that the elephant did not gravitate towards learning English instead!