Monday, March 31, 2008
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Today I met someone whose name I've read at least once weekly during KBS news reports. He is Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and also chief nuclear negotiator with North Korea. Hill has been in Seoul the last couple of days in preparation for his second trip to Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea) on Monday. There, he'll check on the progress of the North's nuclear disablement. He expects China, the host of the next six-party talks, to receive a full declaration outlining the country's nuclear program within the next week. I attended a lecture given by Hill to a crowd of just around 30 people at Ewha Women's University in Seoul. Hill gave a thorough, yet straightforward and uncomplicated account of North Korea's nuclear issue from the U.S. perspective. He also took questions from the crowd, and sitting in the front row, of course I jumped right in! He was an extremely laid back, affable man who seems to care genuinely about resolving this issue in a diplomatic fashion.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Don't forget, if you're chosen as listener of the week, you'll receive some great presents from KBS!
Friday, March 28, 2008
As Sophia and I were going over the day's shows this morning, a woman I didn't recognize approached and laid two brightly-wrapped, rectangular boxes on our desk. She said something to Sophia in Korean, Sophia smiled and replied, then the woman continued to pass out more boxes around the office. My typical modus operandi when someone hands me a gift and/or money is to take it, no questions asked, but as with most things in Korea, I figured there was probably an interesting story behind this apple-green box on my desk. Sophia explained that the woman (who, apparently, I should have recognized) was distributing gifts of tteok (Korean rice cakes) in celebration of the 100th day of her son's life.
The son was nowhere to be found, but as I glanced down the length of our office, I spotted at least ten people either pulling apart pieces of sticky tteok or shoving it in by the mouthful. We're talking a lot of brightly-colored boxes, all in honor of someone who can't even roll over on his own. Now, for me to criticize this ritual would be somewhat akin to the pot calling the kettle black. Once I was old enough to realize that my birthday was, in fact, a day to honor me, I quickly moved the party venue from the dining room table of my home to a more spacious location where I could sit atop a pool table to open my presents while all my adoring fans watched from a decidedly lower level. (All of a sudden it's becoming clear to me why the audience for my birthday parties slowly dwindled over the years.) Later in the day I was researching for a show when I realized maybe I shouldn't feel so bad about demanding such undivided attention on my special day. I found the picture below on www.korea.net with the caption: The lucky baby boy delights in his first birthday party, known as "Dol" in Korea, at the Seoul Plaza Hotel, Sunday (Mar. 9).
During the Dol janchi ritual, the baby is urged to pick up one of the items on the table. Whichever item he or she chooses supposedly determines his or her fate. I'm still battling my decision to dive into my first year birthday cake with reckless abandon. I'm forever doomed to a propensity for overeating and utter disregard for the remains of my last meal on my cheek (the latter, however, is at least in part genetic--thanks, Grampa John).
Next week will mark my six month "anniversary" in Korea. At times I can't believe it's already been half a year, but then I think back to my perceptions of the country when I first arrived, how much I didn't know, all the things I've learned in six months and it seems like an eternity since I stepped off the plane at Incheon International Airport. For the first several months every day brought a new adventure, an interesting discovery, or an awkward moment. While I'm sure I'll never cease to experience awkward moments in a place where I don't speak the official language and am still working to grasp the intricacies of the culture, I continue to consider such episodes the highlights of my week. Loyal readers will remember my befuddling moment in a taxi a few weeks ago when I realized the driver was relieving himself in the front seat. That story has served me well over cups of coffee and glasses of wine with many a friend and I actually feel privileged to have the tale in my personal repertoire. After I described the incident to my friend and co-worker, Matt, who is currently writing a book about his experiences in Korea, he said, "I need that stuff for my book! Why is your life perfect?!"
About three weeks ago I realized I was at a turning point in my Korean adventure. A noticeable side effect of this developing change is the lower frequency of posts to this blog. I experienced my epiphany as I was heading home from work after what had been a busy day in radio world. I was half way home on the same bus I take every evening around 6:00. I was flipping through a Time Magazine, catching up on the latest in the charade of American politics, but my mind was wandering to my plan to workout when I got home, maybe cook some chicken breasts after that, and the fact that I should soon mail my next car payment to the U.S. I wasn't paying attention to the bus radio blaring the boisterous ramblings of Korean DJs. I wasn't staring wide-eyed at all the bright lights and signboards with their humorous Konglish creations. Even the funky smell on the bus--the origin of which could be anything ranging from kimchi breath, to body odor, to an unidentifiable city stench--was flying under the radar of my normally overactive olfactory function. It was at this moment that I realized this isn't really an adventure anymore. It's just my life. It's not a strange place where simple jaunts to the grocery store are exhausting cultural exchanges that transcend language barriers. At KBS, I take initiative and do my job just like I would in the States; just another colleague, no longer a novelty with blue eyes and a journalism degree. When the work day is over, I socialize with friends or go home to exercise, cook, clean, or watch movies.
So, as the bus PA system announced the next stop in Korean, I didn't wait to hear the English translation chime in afterwards. These days, of all the things that occur to me in every 24-hour period, more of them seem "normal" than seem different, weird, or confusing. So, maybe Seoul hasn't quite recovered from the onslaught of Hurricane Abby--maybe it never will--but I've certainly adapted well to my home away from home.