Goh stops presidential run

Former Korean presidential hopeful Goh Kun announced today that he would not seek office in December’s Korean presidential election.  The Korean Presidential election, held once every five years, was expected to be a very competitive race until former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak took a commanding lead in recent public opinion polls.  Mr. Lee, the leading candidate for the conservative Grand National Party (GNP), and his rival, Park Geun-hye, GNP party leader, placed first and second, respectively, in recent opinion polls.  Mr. Goh, a former GNP member, left the GNP last year to run as a centrist independent.  He was lobbied by members of the ruling Uri Party and the Democratic Party (DP) to serve as the presidential nominee for a unified, yet-to-be-named merged party.  However, Mr. Goh resisted attempts to join Uri and/or the DP, and he may have dropped out of the race after he determined that he could not win the presidency as an independent.
Mr. Goh’s departure affects the presidential race by strengthening the hand of the GNP.  Barring an unexpected popularity surge by another candidate, either Mr. Lee or Ms. Park seem assured to become the next Korean president, replacing outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun.  Some speculate that despite Mr. Lee’s popularity, the GNP will choose Ms. Park over Ms. Lee as its presidential candidate, because Ms. Park is the party leader and daughter of former Korean President Park Chung-hee, making her a sentimental choice for president within her party.  They point out that the GNP lost the presidency in 2002 to the Uri Party because it chose Mr. Lee Hoi-chang as its presidential candidate, even after Mr. Lee lost the presidency to Kim Dae-jung in 1997.  This implies that the ruling Uri Party or the DP could capitalize on a Lee-Park schism in the GNP to win the presidency.
The GNP might choose Ms. Park as its presidential nominee over Lee Myung-bak, even though Mr. Lee handily beats Ms. Park in opinion polls.  Who the GNP nominates as its standard bearer largely depends on how the GNP decides to choose its presidential candidate–an internal party primary system favors Ms. Park, or an open primary system favors Mr. Lee.  Both are strong presidential candidates, and with the third-strongest candidate, Mr. Goh, departing the race, their statuses solidify as presidential front runners.  Other potential candidates, including former Unification Minister Chang Dong-young and Mr. Kim Geun-tae of the Uri Party, or former Seoul National University President Chung Un-chan, do not have the stature or momentum going into the presidential election to seriously challenge either Mr. Lee or Ms. Park.  It is also unlikely that Mr. Lee would run as an independent or as the  presidential nominee of another political party in the event that the GNP chooses Ms. Park as its nominee.  Moreover, the GNP has won the last five elections and clearly has the momentum going into this year’s presidential race.  Unless a dark horse candidate comes up with a wildly popular solution to the Korean public’s biggest concerns–housing and jobs–Goh’s departure makes it even more evident that either Lee Myung-bak or Park Geun-hye will be Korea’s next president.  We’ll find out in December.

Closer and closer to transition

We’re just 26 days away from leaving Korea.  How will we ever finish everything we must do?  Now that time is growing ever shorter, I find myself choosing between priorities.  I wish I could clone myself and assign myself to do different tasks, like writing this blog.  Alas, I cannot.  Fortunately, the most pressing logistics involved with our move have already been set in motion–our trip is booked, my follow-on assignment is set, and the biggest move preparations are already planned, including scheduling the movers and vehicle pickup.  Over the next 26 days, we need to focus on all the "little" things, like changing addresses, finishing my job evaluation, and organizing paperwork for our trip.  If you’ve ever moved, which I’m sure you have, you’ll understand all that is involved with a move.  I’ve never heard anyone who said anything favorable about moving other than that they’re glad when it’s over.
What is unique about this lifestyle is that moves happen every two, three, or four years.  It’s an amazing experience immersing yourself in cultures such as Korea and Paraguay.  However, moving around the world nine or ten times over a 25- to 30-year period can be a tremendous grind.  This is compounded by the fact that some transitions stretch into months, even years, when training and home leave is involved.  For example, we will be on leave for one month, and then we will be in Virginia for four months to study Spanish.  During this time, our car and most of our worldly possessions will be boxed up and shipped to Paraguay.  For three months, we will live out of suitcases in a furnished apartment in Virginia with no vehicle.  Life won’t feel "normal" again–if you can call this life "normal"–until next August, after we unpack the belongings that will be shipped from Korea in about three weeks.  I shouldn’t complain, but it is a sacrifice to live such a transitory lifestyle.  I wouldn’t trade it for a stable life in suburban America, though.  I’m right where I need to be.

Celebrating the New Year

Last night my wife and I joined another couple for a New Year’s celebration at the Seoul Plaza Hotel located across the street from Seoul City Hall.  We had a wonderful view of the festivities taking place in front of the city hall.  The evening was elegant and fun.  We feasted buffet-style and washed it down with wine.  We also enjoyed some entertainment.  We sat for a caricature artist who sketched comical renderings of our faces.  A magician performed some tricks at our table with coins and cards.  Although we couldn’t figure out how he created these illusions, I joked that it would have been an even bigger feat if he could magically speak English.  We also enjoyed a wonderful a capella quintet that sang a variety of songs in English and Korean, including Roy Orbison’s "Pretty Woman," one of my personal favorites.  At midnight, we rang in the new year with party poppers.  Mine was a dud, so I just clapped in lieu of setting off a noisemaker.
Our evening at the Seoul Plaza Hotel wound down about 12:30 a.m.  We then walked across the street and mingled amidst the throngs of partygoers who celebrated on the city hall plaza.  A rowdy group of people, mostly foreigners, gathered around a Korean hip hop-metal banging out unintelligible tunes.  A gaggle of Koreans lit fireworks, setting off noisemakers and Roman candles.  It  was both dangerous and chaotic, so we circled around the plaza to the outdoor ice rink.  Dozens of Koreans etched the ice with their skates.  I could almost hear the rink crying for a Zamboni machine to clean the ice.
Last night was the best New Year’s celebration we’ve had since 2002, when we ushered in the new year in Cairo, Egypt at the former royal palace watching Egypt’s most famous belly dancer perform over dinner.  Nights like these are rare.  Our New Year’s celebrations are most often spent at home watching "New Year’s Rockin’ Eve" or some other televised extravaganza.
Blog Notes:  I guess that people really do read this blog!  Tonight we had some friends over for dinner.  One friend who often reads World Adventurers noticed in my entry "Five Things You Don’t Know about Me" that I like baked goods, particularly snickerdoodles.  She showed up tonight with a plate full of snickerdoodles in tow and told me that she baked them because she read that I like snickerdoodles!  How about that?  Thank you for the snickerdoodles!  I will thoroughly enjoy them.  In a few days she will probably read this note and laugh at the irony that I’m thanking her on my blog for noticing!
So the Seattle Seahawks are back in the National Football League playoffs.  Unfortunately, they had the worst record of all teams in the playoffs, 9-7, and limped into the playoffs this year after a spectacular 13-3 season last year.  No one is holding much hope that they will go far in the playoffs.  They face the 10-6 Dallas Cowboys in Seattle next weekend.  While they beat the Cowboys last year in Seattle, the Cowboys should have won that game.  The ‘Hawks will have to play their best ball to beat the ‘Boys next weekend.  The one silver lining this year–the reigning Superbowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will be sitting home this playoff season.  After so many obnoxious Steelers fans argued that the outcome of the last year’s Superbowl was fair and decried Seahawks fans as whiners for pointing out questionable officiating calls made during the game, it’s nice to see the Seahawks back in the hunt for a Vince Lombardi trophy this season while Steelers fans sit at home and cry.

Changdeokgung and Beewon

Yesterday my family and I visited Changdeok Palace in Seoul.  We took my in-laws, who are in town visiting for a month, because we had not yet visited one of Seoul’s main tourist attractions.  It’s hard to believe that it took us almost two years to visit the palace, but I’m glad we did.  The day was cool but not too cold, and the pathways were muddy, but we had fun on Christmas Eve day venturing to see one of Korea’s main palaces.
Changdeokgung, or the East Palace, was built between 1405 and 1412 during the reign of King Taejong of the Joseon Dynasty.  Located just to the east of Gyeongbok Palace, former home of the late Joseon monarchs, Changdeokgung served as the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty until 1872, when the seat of government moved to Gyeongbok Palace.  Changdeokgung has been damaged and destroyed several times by the Japanese, French, Chinese, and Americans, although Changdeokgung’s literature only notes that it was destroyed in 1592 by the Japanese.  The palace is perhaps most famous for "Beewon," or "Secret Garden," a sanctuary for the Korean king/emperor that included a library, fish pond, and fishing house where the king/emperor could catch fish from the fish pond.  In 1997, the palace became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
For the shutterbugs:  I posted two new photo albums tonight.  One features photos from the Christmas season, including photos taken during our first snowfall, a Christmas concert, our son’s school’s Christmas production, and Christmas at home.  The second features photos from yesterday’s trip to Changdeok Palace.  Enjoy!
Blog Notes:  It completely slipped my mind that this blog is two years old!  On December 6, 2004, I started World Adventurers after MSN announced that it was offering a free blogging forum.  Happy birthday, World Adventurers.  217,000 hits later, it’s still going strong, although the author hasn’t had much time to write lately.  I’m hoping to use the holiday to make up for lost time.  Thanks for stopping by as faithfully as ever, Dear Reader.
"Girl in the Rain," November’s featured blogger, has cursed me by forcing me to join a game of "meme."  Because it would violate the unwritten meme code of ethics, I apparently can’t add any tags back to her blog, so you’ll have to hunt and peck in the archives for the link (hint: Visit the sparse November archives).  OK, Girl in the Rain!  I’ll give you a hard time at work tomorrow for clogging up the blogosphere and will take up the challenge you have lain at my virtual feet like a cyber-gauntlet: 
Name “Five Things You Don’t Know About Me,” and then tag five others. 
OK, I’m game.  Let me think about it, and I’ll write about this in the next couple of days.  The five tagged people will come from a list of people I’ve featured in the past.  Or, if you prefer, I can tag you, Dear Reader, if you volunteer.  That would be much better then spamming five of my good friends!

Glad to be here

I read that weather conditions in the Seattle area have been atrocious and that the power is off for about 1.5 million people living in the area.  Apparently the number without power has decreased to about 950,000, but that’s still a large number of homes.  It reminds me of the Winter of 2003, when the power went out in our Seattle metro neighborhood no less than three times, once for about two days.  Life was miserable.  Life is bearable in Seattle during the winter when the power is on; without it, life is untenable.  While arguably better than living in areas that deal with large snowfalls, the cold, damp conditions that seep into Seattle-area homes during a blackout are miserable for people not accustomed to such wretched, sustained weather conditions.
Well, I’m thankful we’re here in Seoul now!  We could be in Seattle–we’ll be there in about two months.  Although the weather in Seoul is not known for being kind, it has been unseasonably mild here, for the most part almost enjoyable.  Yes, it is true, in spite of what my wife wrote earlier this month.  I’m glad we’re here in Korea enjoying the crisp, mild winter weather conditions.

Testinpatience Day

Our Thanksgiving didn’t go so well, and it was my fault.  On Thanksgiving morning, we drove out to Goyang (a one to 1-1/2 hour trip) to take our car for a full checkup before shipping it to Paraguay.  My plan was to drop off the car in the morning, go with my family to our community Thanksgiving dinner, and then go alone by mass transit to pick it up in the late afternoon.  My wife tailed me in our other car so I didn’t have to wait in Goyang while the car was being repair.  Why did we do it on Thanksgiving?  Well, Thanksgiving’s not a holiday in Korea, so for me, it was the ideal day to get something done.  I needed to take the car to Goyang because the dealership is the only one that does alignments.  The car pulls sharply to the right, and I was certain that it needed an alignment because it has 40,000 miles and has never had one.  I wanted the dealer to do everything that needed to be done to ready the car for five months in transit and for the cobblestone and potholed streets of Asuncion Paraguay.  I estimated that it would take five hours for the dealer to finish our vehicle.  During that time, we would go home and enjoy Thanksgiving, and at the end of the day, I would go alone and pick it up.  That was the plan, anyway.
It didn’t turn out that way.  Turns out that the tires are worn, and the spare tire I was using on the rear of the car likely caused the car to pull to the right.  If an alignment wasn’t necessary, then I could have saved a lot of time by having the car fixed much closer to home.  The dealer ended up doing little more than looking over the car and making a small list of future repairs contingent on buying new tires (I bought new tires yesterday).  They said that they can determine whether an alignment is necessary after getting new tires.  30 minutes later, we were finished and late for the Thanksgiving dinner.  I suggested going late, but my wife decided that it was too late and suggested eating near the dealer.  I found a really nice, trendy district in Goyang with a variety of restaurants.  My wife picked a "guksu," or noodle restaurant.  I thought the soup was fine, but it was far from what we expected on Thanksgiving.  I apologized for dragging my family all the way out to Goyang and missing the community Thanksgiving dinner.  We had also planned to put up the Christmas tree, our annual ritual, but I fell asleep.  We put the tree up this weekend.  It looks great, but it reminds me that Thanksgiving wasn’t what we expected.  That’s my fault.
Because my wife thinks I will only blog my point of view, I thought I would share how she feels in her own words.  Stay tuned to find out whether I get in trouble and have to remove this because I shared something too private on a blog.
Our Thanksgiving… hum… was a near disaster or at the best a non-event.  I have to take comfort in the fact that I did get today off after begging to my boss.  It also could have been worse had I not resolved myself to be more flexible (as we are living overseas) just a few days ago…  But it was memorable…Maybe Mike will blog about it in the next few days, but then that will just represent his feelings.  My Turkey dinner?  It was a spicy Korean soup with a hodge-podge mix of a few pieces of beef, overcooked cabbage and bean spouts with a side of white rice.
Well written and true.  Thanksgiving wasn’t going to be normal, no matter what we did here.  The truth is that we live overseas, and it’s difficult duplicating the holiday experience away from home.  Your family is far, far away, the weather and surroundings are never what you remembered when you were younger,, and you’re likely to be in a locale that either doesn’t celebrate the holiday or celebrates it differently than you like.  Holidays, among other facts of life, are truly a test in patience when you live overseas (automobile maintenance is another).  We had dinner last night with a family who lived in Paraguay for two years.  We talked to them about what to expect when we arrive there next year.  They emphasized that as long as you are flexible and keep an open mind, you can have a great time in Paraguay.  If you enjoy the outdoors and can get to know people who can show it to you, you can have a great time.  If not, or if you expect it to be America, you’ll probably be miserable.  That is definitely true.  If you impose your expectations and preferences on another culture, you’re bound to be disappointed.
I thought it ironic that my wife would be unhappy about Thanksgiving this year, because Thanksgiving is a holiday she adopted when she immigrated to America.  Like Koreans, Chinese do not celebrate Thanksiving.  She built up expectations of what Thanksgiving should be from her past two decades of enjoying American culture, and Thanksgiving this year did not meet her expectations.  She remembers Thanksgivings in the states when we invited friends over for turkey and fellowship, or when we went over to friends’ houses.  She doesn’t remember the Thanksgiving celebrations I knew when I was young, when I was home with my parents, brother, and sister, sharing a traditional, family Thanksgiving get together with turkey and western-style trimmings after Thanksgiving church services.  To me, those are my fondest Thanksgiving memories, not the Thanksgiving gatherings in Seattle when we shared western- and Asian-style potlucks with Asian American friends.  When we lived in Seattle, we usually saved our trip to my parents’ house for Christmas-time.  The more time passes, the more memories of an ideal Thanksgiving recede.  I doubt they can ever be duplicated again.  My family has scattered to the winds, and we are lucky to be together once every couple of years.  We now have famiies, and our children have no memories of those Thanksgivings.  Why try to bring back the past?  Why not accept that time changes, and it’s important to make the current reality the best it can be?
This year, Thanksgiving was less about giving thanks and appreciating our blessings and more about testing our patience and flexibility.  That is why Thanksgiving Day this year was Testinpatience Day.  (Many days are Testinpatience Day–like yesterday, when the power went out for four hours and we had to eat a restaurant).  My wife has had nary a normal Chinese New Year or Mid-Autumn Festival since she left China, but she has adapted admirably over the years, celebrating them any way she can.   I am very proud of her for her resolve to be patient and flexible overseas.  I have a feeling that Paraguay will test our patience more than Korea has. 

The tortoise and the speed demon

I drove to work this morning and was passed on the way by a colleague who furiously fought traffic to gain any advantage he could.  He seemed to be late for work.  I drove much more patiently, doing my best to obey the traffic laws and using intuition to gain slight advantages on the road.  We both arrived at work at the same time–he just a bit ahead of me.  After he parked, he nonchalantly walked to our work building.  He no longer seemed to be late, but rather, it appeared that he was intent upon driving like a Korean during the morning rush hour.
This is not the first time I’ve seen colleagues do just about anything to gain an advantage on the road.  They are no different than Koreans who drive to the point of recklessness in order to obtain any edge on the road.  I ask, why?  More often than not, I tie or beat these drivers from point to point.  I’ve memorized where the bottlenecks are and skillfully avoid them without acting reckless.  I’m pensive, trying to anticipate heavier traffic and avoiding it.  On occasion, I have to dart between cars when I spot a window of opportunity, but I do my best not to drive haphazardly.  It reminds me of something I read once while in the U.S.–the shorter lane isn’t always the fastest.  Everyone would get where they were going faster if they would just obey the rules of the road–stop cutting people off, speeding, running red lights, and turning shoulders into makeshift lanes.  In Seoul, during morning rush hour, the street lights are timed so that even if you zip past one light, the people behind you are bound to catch up.  That’s why, time and again, I beat the speed demons to work while I drive like a tortoise, because I’m pensive, patient, and find gaps that they miss.  At the very least, I’m right on their tail.