Archive for April, 2012

SEOUL MATE

April 29, 2012

Seoul-Mate

Yes, one could say that I’m now a Seoul-Mate. What a beautiful city, in spite of the 20 million folks who could potentially detract from its allure, but somehow don’t! Granted, it was only one day of visiting, and even that consisted only of a brief stroll through the small shops, booths, and kiosks hawking clothing, accessories, food, and knick-knacks for block after block, and then the ascent to the top of the Seoul Tower looming high on the highest hill, overlooking all of this metropolis as far as the eye could see.

Trees, grass, flowers everywhere, bordering and framing each structure, in every available large and small space. Brilliant and varied azaleas seem to be a favorite, lending a riot of color to every view. Looking down from the tower into the surrounding woods far below, we could see cherry trees still abloom, sprinkled here and there among the green of the forest. Walking trails through canopies of trees are everywhere; the Koreans are great walkers in nature.

Nowhere did I see squalor, such as everywhere in Cairo, and here and there in Istanbul, or jumbles of new and old structures along straight and winding, narrow streets and alleys, of Tokyo. Order, visible all the way to the horizon; modernity embracing even the oldest areas, impressive trafficways and well-marked off streets. Seoul is one of those places where one gets a sense of Excellence, permeating and providing the underlying infrastructure for a vital community.

We ran upon an area where there appeared to be thousands of cars parking along the street; they belonged to the throngs of adults and children visiting the Seoul Art Museum, which abuts an Army base inside Seoul, and slated to be moved miles to the north so that the Koreans can reclaim that area of land to use for more of their progressive developments.

As we drove across one of the many bridges over the Han River, we could see windsurfers, sailboats, and motorboats flitting about on its broad expanse. Instead of expensive apartment buildings hugging the banks on each side, we saw a succession of parks providing respite for everyone; the apartments were farther inland, some interspersed among the many skyscraper business buildings, and some on the high hills surrounding the city.

I’m sure that Seoul has its problems, but if someone were to ask me to recommend cities as a potential place to visit, I would put this one at the top of the list—-Seoul is “the way a city should be”.

Always Be Happy!                                    To Our Youth…Always!

THE DMZ—THE KOREAN DEMILITARIZED ZONE

April 28, 2012

We began our tour with a lengthy, two hour bus ride from the Air Force Base about 25 miles south of Seoul, to the Zone the same distance north of the city. Our luxury bus, a Daewoo with reclining seats, actual curtains on the smoked glass windows, and a complete media system including an HD monitor, from which we viewed a historical review of the events leading up to the Korean War, its subsequent Armistice efforts, and the continuing attempts of the North Koreans to create incidents using brutality, raids, and attempts of infiltration as their tools.

Having arrived last week at night and during a major rainstorm, this was my first opportunity to see the city, and I once again was reminded about how little I know about Korea. Seoul is a city of millions, and it is distributed mile after mile along the Han River, a very broad flow about a half mile across, and edged by high hills and low mountains covered literally with MILLIONS of apartment units like soldiers marching across the summits. Our route was a six lane, high tech “interstate” highway, frequently allowing exit to one of the many modern bridges spanning the river. As we progressed, I was a bit disappointed not to see any “countryside” until we neared our destination; it was one continuous parade of urban life interspersed occasionally with small areas of rice paddies drenched at this time of the year with mud and tiny plants poking their heads above the surface.

When  we finally reached our target area,  we visited several stops to see various components of the conflict’s history. The first stop was at a memorial area, located at the end of the bridge over which prisoner exchanges had occurred. We could not get on the bridge; the other end was in North Korea. On “our side”, there is an amusement park, complete with rides, restaurants and, of all things, A GIFT SHOP! One could climb lots of steps to the observation area above the restaurant, and see for miles in every direction. I was once again surprised to see how mountainous is the landscape, and hazily recalled the difficulties our armies had in “taking” one hill or another.

Our next stop was Tunnel #3. Tunnel? Yes, it seems that after the Armistice was signed, the North Koreans continued to try infiltration supplementing a series of vicious attacks on our security personnel. Upon information gleaned from a defector, our armies were told about a series of tunnels (five located so far) constructed deep underground, capable of transporting up to 30,000 men an hour along with supplies, weaponry, and vehicles. We were allowed to descend into this tunnel, about 240 feet below the surface—let me tell you, coming back up on a 45 degree slope was a real test of my neuropathic leg! As we went down, there was another group along with us, from a USO Army tour, abut 50 people combined. I only went a short way into the actual tunnel, the roof was built for Koreans and not Westerners. We had been issued hardhats, and mine occasionally banged on projections above. On our way up, three more groups of Japanese tourists were descending—I’m sure that the CO2 level zoomed, and I was happy to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, I almost forgot, there was a GIFT SHOP across from the tunnel entrance.

We then went to the highest observation point along the demarcation line, presided over by a watchtower and surrounded in the valley below on three sides by North Korea. We were warned not to make any hostile gestures toward the North, that we are under observation. Our bus then descended to a checkpoint where two of our Army officers were brutally attacked by a squad of North Koreans, and killed with axes that had been intended to remove a tree blocking the view from the upper watchtower down to this checkpoint. The bridge there was the one over which the Pueblo crew passed when they were released from their year of captivity.

We stopped for lunch at a Korean restaurant, then reached our final destination, the Joint Security Area (JSA) where the two sides continue to meet and do nothing. We were allowed to enter the actual room where the negotiations occur, and I had the luxury of standing “across the border” in North Korea when I was on the far side of the table. The demarcation line runs down the center of the room. Outside, we could look at an imposing, three story building outside of which a grim faced North Korean soldier stood at attention. Again, we were warned not to make any gestures toward that facility, the dark windows hide observers and we could start an “incident” if not careful. The building had been intentionally added on to, with the third story, to make it loom over the UN side. Another example of this path of thought is a giant tower having the North Korean flag flying proudly over a “town” near the border. Each side was allowed to have a town built to provide living quarters and supplies to their armies, the one on the South side is a thriving agricultural community, surrounded by rice paddies, farm machinery, etc. The one on the other side is actually a “fake” town, empty shells with painted-on windows, no people. But that flag, which weighs 600 lbs and takes at least 25 persons to hoist, flies proudly over —–nothing.

I spent a lot of time reading all the historical information at every location, and my skepticism about the North Korean was significantly increased, particularly after becoming aware of their violence and continuing lack of good faith. It’s puzzling, that they could be as prosperous as the South, if they would take a different fork in the road. And their support from China and Russia continues to be troubling.

ABH                                                              MY                                                     TOY

KOREA—ANOTHER DAY

April 27, 2012

Well, we finished up our school visit yesterday, and were pleased to be able to award the school some good ratings and fairly mild Required Actions. It remains for me to complete the written report during the next couple of weeks, working around our second school’s evaluative visit.

The weather has turned great, and there is a nearby hillside blanketed with brilliant hues of pink and lavender; I need to get a picture of it. I continue to be curious about the various species of trees that are unfamiliar to me, particularly a type that grows into a perfect isosceles triangle, reaching about 100 ft. toward the sky. Groups of them almost appear to have been trimmed, but the shape is a natural one. Another ubiquitous species is the gingko, the most ancient of trees and having parallel venation in the leaves, and utilize a motile sperm for fertilization. I played a few holes of golf this afternoon, and in the middle of the course is a gingko dating back to 1280 A.D., a huge specimen surrounded by a protective barrier that hid one of my errant shots.

My partner Phil and I indulged in one of my favorite pastimes, helping out the local economy. The Koreans have lot more neat souvenirs than I saw in Japan last month, and I still have a few more to buy. The highlight will be the custom-made cashmere coat I ordered—-it was so cheap that I had to buy it! It will be ready on Thursday. I also bought a traditional Peyton Manning Denver Bronco Reebok jersey. I’m thinking of getting a box and mailing all this stuff inexpensively through the military post office on the base. They seem particularly adept at ceramics, pottery, a variety of figurines, mother of pearl boxes, and the use of jade for lots of different things. It occurred to me how little we know about Korea compared to our knowledge of Japan, and I now want to know a lot more. The people appear fun-loving, lots of laughter, laid back atmosphere. Now I am getting a glimmer of understanding why the Korean lady golfers are so successful on the LPGA tour.

Tomorrow, Saturday, we made it onto the tour of the DMZ, a 12 hour trip. Sunday, the high school principal and his wife are taking us on a tour of Seoul, somehow I think there may be a gift shop or two in those areas, so I had best have my credit card handy! I’m looking forward more to seeing the countryside than our two destinations; as I’ve mentioned before, cities seem to have a lot in common and it’s only when you get to their very special features that they are different—shopping bazaars, towers looming over the town, museums.

Always Be Happy                                 TOur Youth…Always

Korea Day 2–AND NOW TO WORK

April 24, 2012

Well, today dawned, sort of, with a heavy fog obscuring any stray sunlight that happened by. I actually got a few hours of sleep last night, from  9 p.m. until 3:30 a.m., certainly not enough. Tonight I’m going to try to stay up later and ease wakeup toward 5 a.m. Maybe by the time I head for Cairo it will be properly situated so that it can get screwed up again after another 12 hour flight.

As it appeared to have promise of a cool day, I wore my corduroy slacks, a long sleeved shirt, and a Travel Sport Coat, as we headed to the school to begin our work. Little did I know that a lot of that would come off later, when the temperature climbed into the 80’s. Momentarily, I thought I had been transported already to Egypt.

We met with a variety of groups throughout the day, including the school’s steering committee, students from grades 3-5, and the teaching staff after school. In between meetings we roamed the buildings, visiting classroom briefly to get an idea of student involvement and classroom management styles. The fifth grade classrooms are in the middle school, two blocks away and on the third floor. A barrier has been erected in their hallway to prevent them from contamination from the middle school kids. I met their counselor, an attractive, 6’1” lady blonde from Cheyenne, certainly not a person I would have expected to see here. I also was asked by the Korean Culture teacher if I knew a lady from Wyoming who is now in Germany; I immediately knew he was referring to Barbara Mueller, from Buffalo, Wyoming, and whom I had met two years ago on another of my assignments. Thus, one enters the World of DoDEA! It’s actually a small community where folks know each other in many places, and which turnover is not only among students (50% a year at this school) but also among staff (25%). I met with a group of a dozen teachers, the matriarch of the group has been at the school for four years; most of the rest only one or two years.

Given this situation, one of the problems faced by these schools is maintaining continuity, and in having an effective mentoring process in place to train the new folks. On the plus side, all schools in the system use the same materials while most professional development is dictated system-wide in recognition of all the transiency. All schools use the same curriculum, which does provide a strong element of security and comfort to those who move from place to place. One of my team was being interviewed late this afternoon for a potential move to somewhere in Bavaria, having been in the Far East for many years in Okinawa, Japan, and Korea.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) and Thursday will complete our visit to this school; we then have a few days of rest before doing the same thing at the high school, next week. Our plan to visit the DMZ is on hold, as we are on a waiting list for the tour this Saturday. If we don’t get that, we’ll go on one of the other offerings, either a special cave and lake, or the flower gardens in Seoul and a temple or two. Oh, I almost forgot, there is a golf course here, too.

I’m really wanting to get out to the countryside, and see the rice paddies and other local cultural settings. It may be difficult, given that I have lots of report writing to complete this weekend, but I need to make the effort. I do know that it’s comfortable to be back in a civilized place, one where people drive on the proper side of the road. And are not courteous drivers. Japan was totally opposite!

I’ll let you know if they follow through from North Korea with their threat to burn South Korea to ashes, in just a few minutes of time, and soon. I was trying to find their email address to ask them to hold off until after I leave, and I’d like to send them the name of a good hairdresser.

Always Be Happy                                                                           To Our Youth…Always

The Eagle Has Landed

April 22, 2012

After once again having to deal with United Airlines, I’ve finally made it to Korea. We landed among severe turbulence into a dismal, drizzly landscape, just like those pictures I still have in my mind from the Korean War days of G.I.’s struggling through mud, water, and snow toward their objectives. Speaking of that, I’m to travel next Saturday to the DMZ.
I shall be writing United sometime this week, to express my displeasure. First, the plane was two hours late leaving due to a problem discovered with the air conditioning after everyone had already boarded. We were directed to leave the plane and take our belongings with us, a lengthy, time-consuming process. With my usual optimism, I was able to find “the Sweetness in Adversity” by heading to the men’s room in the airport, for a lengthy rest. After about a half-hour, we were told to once again load, and then sat there for over an hour. It was well that the AC had been fixed; some passengers had personal hygiene issues that cried out for resolution.
I had a window seat, deliberately chosen in order to view San Francisco Bay on departure, the Aleutians at Alaska, Northern Japan and Kachatka Peninsula, and finally Korea, as we flew over. My “seat mates” were a Korean young couple who have exceptional bladder control; neither left their seat during the whole 12 hour ordeal!
Those of you who have read some of my previous entries recall my comparisons of U.S. airlines with Lufthansa and Turkish Air; my comments hold even more truth after this flight. Generally, the flight attendants were grumpy, non-smiling older folks as compared to younger, energetic and friendly individuals on the other airlines. At one point, I had my window shade up about to 2 inches so that I could occasionally check to see if we were flying over one of the previously-mentioned landforms; one of the harridans snarled at me to “Shut that window down!”, apparently either extremely exasperated or mildly perturbed. I asked why and she responded, “So that all those people over there (She waved toward the middle section of the passenger area) can sleep!” I looked, and all seemed to already be with the Sandman, but I complied with her “order”. Being naturally passive aggressive, I occasionally raised the shade not only to peek out but to irritate her if she happened by. Only two of the attendants smiled, the rest seemed resentful that we were even aboard. I could understand that in my case, but the rest of the passengers seemed to be pleasant and compliant, even a bit tolerant. At 73, I don’t feel I still need to be tolerant.
Now, let’s look at the entertainment. I was embarrassed about the perception that foreigners were receiving about the US, given the TV shows selected for viewing during the trip. The worst tone, in my opinion, was “Two and a Half Men”, the Charlie Sheen fiasco. All of the trailers I’d seen actually grossed me out from the perspective of decorum and good taste, this one was no better. It was about him appearing on a kids’ TV show and teaching children songs about “cutting the cheese” and “boobies”. Very bad taste. The next TV show was about a British soccer coach, and featured multiple uses of the “f-bomb” by the players and fans. The other offerings were fine, “30 Rock” and “Everyone Loves Raymond” with an episode that I’d never watched. And the movies were good ones—Sherlock Holmes, The Actor, Bad Robot, and The Tower Heist. I actually managed to doze and snooze briefly on this trip.
And now for the food. I still don’t know how Lufthansa does it. United offered only one meal on this 12 hour trip; and when I was offered the choice between chicken or beef, I chose beef. I got chicken. And it was not good, especially when coupled with the stale, whole wheat roll wrapped in cellophane, and a packet of spread. I missed my Lufthansa camembert cheese, real butter, and french baguette. A limp lettuce salad accompanied by a package of dressing completed the offering, along with a brownie. There were two other food occasions, one was a banana and stale roll wrapped in cellophane, which I refused, and a choice just before arrival of a turkey sandwich or fried noodles as a snack. The sandwich felt stale in its blanket of foil, and the noodles appeared unappetizing. This was affirmed by my seatmate, who chose the noodles and couldn’t eat them due to their gluey consistency. When The Snarler asked what I wanted, I told her that “What I wanted was a meal” and turned down both choices. She’s probably not lying awake nights worrying about it.
Fortunately, my next several flights do not include United. Turkish Airlines, from whom I had a good experience, and BWI are the next major carriers. I’ve been warned however, about Egyptair which will be my transport to Aswan. I was told that they spray for bugs just before you embark, and tell you that the spray is not harmful to humans.

Marco Polo
Always Be Happy     TOur Youth…Always

KOREA 1–THE FIRST DAY

April 22, 2012

I awoke to a repeat of the previous evening—a misty drizzle mildly attacking the blooming cherry blossoms, producing a carpeting of pink petals on the walkways throughout the airbase. The base itself is very unmilitary-appearing, more like a modern city built on and among the many hills in the area. Numerous apartment “towers” are interspersed with military office and service buildings, but all constructed to a similar theme of beige and modernity, and meticulously landscaped with a variety of trees, shrubs, bushes, and lawns. I walked to the Osan Elementary School, to gauge how long it would take to get there if “my team” and I decide not to ride; it was about 15 minutes. (more…)

THE EAGLE HAS LANDED

April 21, 2012

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April 18, 2012

AROUND THE WORLD

Well, don’t let the title fool you; it’s neither a variation of the basketball game of HORSE, nor is it an advertisement for a clandestine liaison. It’s actually what it says—-I’m going around the world!

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On Leadership

April 11, 2012

On Leadership

                A colleague and I exchanged a series of emails focusing on topics for which we each were seeking some kind of “revelation” in order to enjoy personal satisfaction and potential closure. Examples included such concepts as Faith, Love, Destiny, and now Leadership; we found as we ambled through our verbal interactions that in each case, in order to internalize the concept, our understanding needed to be reduced to identifying “The Essence” upon which the idea is based. (more…)