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Chasing Daylight

 

J. D. Pendry

 

Itís been a while since I crossed the Pacific Ocean.There is a 13-hour time difference between Wild Wonderful and the Republic of Korea.I left in daylight and chased it across the ocean. I didnít see dark until we were waiting for a connecting flight in Tokyo more than 18 hours after beginning the trip.On the return flight, we left Koreaís Inchon International Airport in the morning daylight at 11:00 AM.After connecting again in Tokyo and flying another 12 hours through the night and back into daylight, we arrived in Chicago at around 3:00 PM the same day.We finally completed mission arriving back in Wild Wonderful at 8:30 PM.My jets are still lagging.

 

Korea is much different in many ways from the Korea I remember when last there in December of 1976.It is the same as I remember, however, it in many other respects.My trip journal is quite long, so Iíll give you some highlights and insights.In a few weeks, I hope to have the entire trip journal on line.

 

First, let me assure you that the Koreans are much less concerned about SARS and North Korea than are we here in America.Iím happy to report to you that we did not contract the disease nor encounter anyone with it and North Korea did not invade during the whole two weeks we were there.I cannot report to you on the status of any US military bases, because I didnít visit any while there, but I can tell you that itís not the opinion of most Koreans that the US forces there should leave.I did ride by Camp Stanley a couple of times.It doesnít look much changed, but the surrounding area certainly is.I also saw very few Americans during my stay because I was mostly the lone American in the crowd for two weeks and in places not usually frequented by Americans.The Americans I did see were a few GIs out shopping in Uijongbu and a group visiting the Korean Folk Village.I could pick them out at long range by their manner of dress. Often sports jerseys and baseball caps, some worn backwards.Up close, it was the earrings, tattoos and loud conversation.If I was a terrorist looking for an American soldier target in Korea, I donít think Iíd have much trouble finding one.The youngsters I saw were just out exploring and shopping, not much different from when I was a 19-year-old Private at Camp Red Cloud.Actually, they were probably a little more reserved and less trouble making than were the Vietnam generation with which I first toured Korea.Still, they were obviously American soldiers and in this day and time practicing to be a little more inconspicuous when outside the force protection umbrella may be the wiser thing.

 

Even with all of the emphasis on airport security since our major terror event, Iím still not convinced that a determined individual couldnít carry something onto an aircraft and destroy it.Hereís why I say that.Traveling to Korea, I had two quarts of Chivas Regal scotch whiskey (I donít drink it, these were gifts) in my carry-on bag.Think about that, two quarts of liquid in a carry-on bag.Although it went through X-ray machines at every airport, not once did someone visually inspect the contents of the bag.I realize that international travelers often have duty-free liquor in their bags, but I think someone should visually check them.What if my two quarts of liquid were flammable (more so than booze flammable)?It would have been easy to break a bottle of liquid and ignite it on the plane.I would have felt better about it if someone would have said let me look at those bottles.At least they could have checked to see if the seals were broken.Frankly, I get the impression that security doesnít want to confront or be an inconvenience anyone.Short of a strip search, they would have got no arguments from me.Unfortunately, many of us donít feel that way.Maybe some of you recent travelers could offer your experience.Iím also concerned about ports of entry into the United States.My party of three travelers had 6 checked bags and 3 carry-ons.All of them bulging at the seams.I completed a customs declaration, which no one read very carefully I donít think.The reason I say that is that three different agents touched the form and looked at it for about 3 seconds each.I think I could have put about anything on the form as long as I didnít exceed the $800.00 per person allowable for duty free goods.That was the only area anyone looked at on the form.Of all the bags, we sent again through the x-ray machines, only my wifeís carry-on was inspected.ďAny food, meat, fruit or plants in this bag?Ē the inspector asked while unzipping and looking in the main compartmentďNope.ĒEnd of inspection.In my mind I was thinking, no, the anthrax is in the aftershave bottle in my toiletries along with the other biological agents, which are in the checked baggage.There was an agent walking around spot-checking bags with a beagle.Normally these are drug or explosive detecting dogs.I donít know if theyíre trained for other things.The point I hope to make is that I believe itís impossible for our agents, as professional as they are, to catch things such as this.It would just be luck if they did.

 

The landscape in Korea is unchanged, except that there seems to be a lot more vegetation than when I was last there.The cityscape, however, shows some dramatic change.My last trip there, most Koreans still lived in traditional Korean houses, L or U shaped, walled in with a courtyard.The houses were placed so close together that there was only walking space between them.Those old houses and housing areas are rare now, replaced by many high-rise apartment houses.Every town that I saw in my travels from Uijongbu to south of Taejon and on to Cheju Island had these apartment complexes, although there were fewer on Cheju.I suppose when you donít have the room to expand out, you expand up.I remembered driving a 2 lane MSR (main supply route) between Seoul and Uijongbu in 1972.Now there are many multiple lane roads with several different routes all packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic.Depending on which route you choose, it might be difficult for you to determine where Uijongbu ends and Seoul begins.

 

I also spent some time in farm country in the south.Modern houses and modern farming technology are replacing or have replaced the old.The first time I saw this area with my wife in 1972 we had to walk the last couple of miles to the family farm house because the taxi couldnít negotiate the road, there was still thatched roofs on houses and there was no plumbing or electricity.The changes I saw are nothing short of remarkable.The farm village is much the same with all the houses located in one place sort of centered on the fields.The difference is that the houses are now modern brick houses and some of them are remarkably western in appearance, at least on the exterior.The Korean countryside is certainly my preferred part of the country.The air is clean, there is no traffic to speak of and there are no apartment houses.The women who used to walk around the village or ride bicycles now ride motor scooters.Itís also common to see a farmer riding in his truck or on a tractor with a cell phone attached to his belt.The oxen I recall from years ago are long gone and rice is no longer hand planted.

 

One thing in this culture that hasnít changed and that Iíve always admired is the respect shown elders by young Koreans.They all have cars and cell-phones nowadays and are as connected and Internet savvy as are we here in America.In fact, I donít think youíll find a dial up connection in Korea, itís all broadband.With all this advancement over the years, they have held on to the values that make their culture attractive to me.A meal is still a family event and respect toward elders is the norm.Americans could learn from that.

 

Korean food didnít change either.Of course, my bride of 30 years has kept me well fed in that regard.Still, I managed to add a little tonnage during my two week stay.The Korean relatives, young and old, were always concerned that I was eating enough.This meant that I had an always full rice bowl during meals and everything that I liked was maneuvered into close proximity of me.Something to do with my chopstick skills, I believe.My only problem is that meals in the traditional fashion meant sitting on the floor.My American body and posterior are not the best designed for long periods of floor sitting.Although well fed, by the end of each meal I was generally in some form of pain and with sleeping legs.Many of the restaurants we visited were also traditional, with seating on the floor.By the end of two weeks, I was just hoping for a chair.In the two weeks, there were no western style meals for me.I never had time to get hungry and the new belly bulge I have to work off is evidence of that.

 

While we were waiting for our return flight from Inchon, we decided to get something to eat from the airport Burger King.They had the standard menu, mostly.While standing in line, my wife walked up to make sure I had the order right.When she walked away, an American woman in line looked at me and said it sure is good to hear someone speaking English.She then told me that she was visiting her husband who was in the military.She said that she wanted to eat pancakes, but the McDonalds located upstairs didnít have them.She came down to the Burger King, she said, hoping to get some French toast sticks, but they didnít have them either.She said that she couldnít understand why and questioned, ďWhat kind of Burger King is this anyway?ĒI just smiled in response and thought; itís a Korean one.In lieu of everything thatís going on in the world today, do you think that itís that type of attitude that causes us some problems?Many of us travel to other countries and expect them to resemble America, and sometimes we do it without even thinking about it.We also expect them to communicate to us in English.Maybe we should think about it.

 

I have quite a long trip journal.As soon as I transcribe my notes, and research a few areas to give you some more information about my trip and the places visited, Iíll put it on line.Maybe itíll be useful to those of you who might be preparing to chase the daylight across the international dateline.

 

Copyright © 2003, JD Pendry, All Rights Reserved