All Those Meanwhiles

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March 26, 2019- 

For a good part of my time with my little family, in Korea, I was drawn away from anything to do with the wider world.  It felt only natural to narrow my focus, with only a relatively brief microburst of heavy rain, upon our return to Busan from Jeju, on March 15, to let the potential of havoc remind me that there was indeed “life’s mud and stone”, in the words of the great Kenny Rogers, of which to be ever mindful.

Nothing was more jarring than the shootings in Christchurch, something for which I ached, for days afterward, upon reading a digest of news in a copy of The Korea Herald.  Spiritual truth is one, continuous flow, throughout history and will remain so.  The wanton slaughter of 120 people in northern Nigeria, yet another episode in the back-and-forth atrocities between Christians and Muslims in that country and the ongoing bloodbath in Mali, orchestrated by the Islamic State and pitting the Peuhl people against IS’s Dogon opponents, have stayed on the back burner of the world’s awareness.  This is the wrong approach. At the very least, what happens in Africa, especially in the west and north of the continent, will spread to Europe, eventually, just as conflicts in the west of Asia are feared to do.  More essentially, the deaths of hundreds-anywhere- is a humanitarian crisis, worthy of the full attention of the wider world.

We seem to at least be paying closer attention to the horrific cyclone-caused damage and casualties in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.  Americans can identify with such events, especially when simultaneous horrors are ravaging the North American Great Plains and riparian areas of the Midwest.  Nature is in a highly-charged state right now.  Whether it is cyclical or the result of intense man-made climatic disruptions, unified responses are necessary.

Then, there were the more personal individual tragedies:  A young lady who had survived last year’s Parkland, FL shootings was overcome by her emotional pain, and took her life.  A week later, the esteemed economist, Paul Krueger, overcome by suffering of his own, followed suit.  Closer to home, two teen girls in our area and a Phoenix police officer were killed by inattentive drivers.

I learned my lesson, that even during the most basic and intensely personal of life events, there is no separation from all that surrounds us.  Meanwhile, family thrives, near neighbours may struggle-and those who live in areas, where life’s larger problems seem intractable, continue to warrant our love and efforts to help, where possible.

The “meanwhiles” never take a vacation.

Fighting Headwinds

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March 16-17, 2019-

Having hugged my kids farewell, I found processing out of Korea, at Gimhae (Busan) and at Incheon (Seoul), to be a breeze.  The flight back to San Francisco was, longer, as we were flying into the wind currents and things got a bit rough, when we passed through the North Pacific, between the outer Hawaiian Islands and  the Northwest U.S. coast,  I was able to sleep for about five hours, and ended up viewing  “Kin”, which had an interesting Sci-Fi premise, loosely echoing John Sayles’ “The Brother from Another Planet” (1984), except, in this case, the alien is a 14-year-old boy, who is very vocal and is being raised by his adoptive Caucasian parent.  He comes across a weapon, from his home planet, links up with his ex-con foster brother and is subsequently pursued, both by the foster brother’s angry loan shark creditors and by his relatives from Home Planet, who at least want the weapon back.  It all ends, fairly well.

My arrival in San Francisco was not too shabby- C & I was quick and welcoming and the walk from International to Domestic is nowhere near as cumbersome as is that in LAX.  Nevertheless, I was not able to reach the United terminal in time for the scheduled flight, and end up on the next one, reaching Phoenix at 11:20 P.M., five minutes late for the shuttle. That, in turn, put me on the last shuttle, at 12:15, and long story short, I made it to Home Base by 3:30 a.m.

One incident still rankles: A nice young lady, a flight attendant, on the domestic flight, had her skirt lifted by a female passenger’s shoe, as she was helping to go over the pre-flight safety instructions.  She handled it with grace and poise, before a male flight attendant switched stations with her and she spent the rest of the flight away from the errant passenger.  Having just finished welcoming my daughter-in-law into our family, and being welcomed into hers, I was angry that this even happened.  That young woman, someone’s child and probably someone’s beloved, should never have experienced this.  We are not in the bad old days of the 1950’s-early 70’s.

That brings me back to Korea.  Chauvinism and machismo were starting to fade, as we left the country in 1992.  There is scant evidence of it now- as Korean women have stood up for their rights and for one another.  It ought to be a global phenomenon, and I will be responsible enough to speak out against such shameful behaviour, whether it comes from a man or from another woman, wherever it happens.

Korean cities have been very similar in appearance to the U.S, since the rebuilding efforts of the 1960’s, following the Korean War.  Now, prosperity has made them even more so, with high rise apartment and office buildings, echoing those of North America, Japan and China.  Standing in the sun room of my family’s apartment, in Busan, I envisioned a parkour master trying to leap onto the nearby building’s roof. This is something I, with my stumpy legs, would never dare to try-but a good running start would give a practiced parkour enthusiast a chance- maybe.

Enough of whimsy, though, I am back in the quotidian world and have done little, other than sleep, on this St. Patrick’s Day- leaving the apartment only for a two-hour meeting. Work resumes tomorrow, and I don’t plan on going very far afield, for at least the next few months.  The just-completed journey, though, was astonishing. a good reflection of why I travel.

Busan’s Magnetic Side

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March 16, 2019, Busan-

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This ancient port has become, like many large cities across the globe, a place of high rise, high density apartment buildings and intense, often grid-locked, traffic.  Nowhere is this more clear than in the area called Marine City, close to the popular Haeundae Beach and Strip.

We used our God-given feet today, the final day of my entry into a Korean family.  Our foci were two:  Dongbaek,  site of the 2005 Convocation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Council and Haeundae itself.

The night before, shortly after our arrival back in Busan, we headed directly over to an older section of the city, to patronize a restaurant owned and operated by family friends, the Paks.

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As the sign implies  it is a place for people to get a dose of quality American-style food.  The father and son also serve what I regard as the best coffee in Busan, if not in all Korea.  I was fortunate to have been given some, to bring back with me to the U.S.

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Here is a view of Dongbaek, from Gwangan Pier, near Marine City.  Conversely, once at Dongbaek, we had a fine view of Gwanggalli Bridge. It is said to rival the Golden Gate and George Washington Bridges, when lit up at night.

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We spent several minutes looking at the APEC House, site of the aforementioned conference.  We joined a group of visitors from west Africa, on this fine morning.

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Miniature pines abound, on this small headland.

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Below is a fine view of the traditional pavilion and of Dongbaek Lighthouse.

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This mural of a Korean country scene greets visitors to APEC House.  I refrained from photographing the auditorium, to protect the privacy of a young Korean family, who were making a detailed visit to the conference center.

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Above, is a statue of Choi Chi-won, regarded as the first great Korean advocate of Confucian teachings and etiquette.  He lived during the Silla Dynasty, in the Tenth Century A.D.  Below, is a shrine to the great teacher.  At the summit of Dongbaek, it is a serene place, most of the time. We were there only briefly, as an older man started to pester us.

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Here is a view of Dongbaek’s southern tip.

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This Mermaid Statue commemorates the legend of a princess from a foreign land, who pined away for her homeland, day and night.

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Haeundae Beach Park includes this shady, forested area. We walked there, easily, from Dongbaek.

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Modern Korean etiquette eschews photography of people, without their consent.  I was able to catch a glimpse of Haeunedae Beach, sans bathers.

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Rabbits are seen as good fortune, as well as being symbols of fecundity.

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Here is the southeastern edge of Haeundae Strip, a bustling commercial tourist area, where we had lunch.  Looking for a chicken restaurant, we found they open at 2 p.m., which is averse to my schedule. So, we settled for more burgers-at one of  the ubiquitous Hello, Patty cafes.  The people in this photo shrugged their shoulders at being photographed, so no harm, no foul.

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With that my time in Korea is drawing to a close.  My time as a member of a gregarious extended family is, however, just beginning.

NEXT:  Further reflections on Korea-and the trip back to Arizona

 

 

 

The Fox in the Cave, and the Peacocks Above- Part 1

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March 15, 2019, Hallim, Jeju-do-

We got out of Ga San Ho Bang, in relatively short order, this morning, as there was a fairly long drive ahead of us and breakfast had to be factored into the mix.  We went up Jeju’s west coast to Hallim, site of both yellow sand and lava beaches.

Settling on a small establishment that offered the abalone porridge I’d been craving for a day or so, my intrepid young hosts found themselves invited to cook their own eggs to order.

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Chefs for a morning

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Abalone porridge and tuk-pae-gi (seafood hotpot) were accompanied by side dishes.

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Below, is myok-guk, or Korean seaweed soup.

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Arriving at Hallim Park, a multivariate sampler of Jeju life, along with a rich botanical garden and aviary, we strode this blend of tropical and mountain flora.

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Before long, we entered Hyopjae-gul (cave), which Penny, Aram and I had visited once, when he was about a year old.  The first of three caves on this site, Hyop-jae is largely sedimentary rock.  Another cave on the route is made of lava.

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On this rock, which fell from the roof of the cave, one can see luminescence-from microorganisms that thrive on its surface.

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When we emerged from Hyopjae-gul, we were greeted by this small army of Stone Guardians.  The collection is one of the master works of Hallim Park’s founder, Song Bong-gyu.

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Mr. Song is still alive and working hard, to constantly improve his visionary work.

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Once past the dol-harubang collection, I decided to get a fuller view.

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I reflected on this message, as we walked.  I am in the prime of my life, right now, but there are always challenges to face, both internally, and from people who have floated in and out of my life.

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Mr. Song gathered these faceless stone guardians, perhaps as a reminder that there are always those around us who give away little of their thoughts and intentions.

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Yunhee is an example of a shining light, in the midst of darkness. This scene is in Ssangyong (Two Dragons) Cave, so named because legend has it that two great fire-breathers once lived here.

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I took photos in this cave, without using flash, so as to minimize disruption to the experience of our fellow visitors and to emphasize that there is a modicum of bio luminescence here.

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There is a legend of a certain Dr. Jin, who. as a child, chose to explore Ssangyong Cave, rather than go directly to school.  He found the company of a delightful young girl, who had a bead with which they played, as well as dancing about and singing.  Unbeknownst to him, the girl was actually a fox, which had shape-shifted in order to enchant Dr. Jin.  One day, young Jin swallowed the bead and found himself feeling quite ill. He encountered a man, outside the cave, who warned him that the girl was really this fox and that he would not be able to return to the cave.  Jin recovered and went on to become a legendary healer.

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With that, I leave you and will return with Part 2 of our Hallim Park adventure:  The Stone Art, Tropical Botanic Garden and Bird Park exhibits, as well as an indoor Stone Art collection.

Jeju’s Wild Southwest Corner

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March 14, 2019, Sogwip’o, Jeju-

When I was getting ready to leave Jeju-do, in 1992, one of a series of exit interviews was a visit with the then-mayor of Sogwip’o, southern Jeju’s commercial center and the present governmental unit for all of Jeju, south of Halla-san.  He asked me whether Sogwip’o had a bright future and whether I would promote the area, once in the United States.

At the time, all I could do, promotion-wise, was talk the area up, among friends and acquaintances. I did, however, see that it had a bright future.  Time has borne this out.  Sogwip’o’s population has climbed to over 100,000 residents, including a fair number of condominium owners from China ( as is also the case with Jeju-shi) -enticed by the favourable China policy of the island province’s government.

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Nonetheless, I found the sections of Sogwip’o that we visited are still quite blessed by natural beauty, though the whole development of the coast  has resulted in a drop in the water table, and some drying up of the area’s waterfalls, as was evident when we went to Jeongjeyon.

Our first stop, though, was a coastal beach in the village of Jeungmun, which is the site of a Hyatt Regency Hotel.  This was a place we visited on occasion, when we lived here, as Penny and I knew the General Manager of the hotel.  It is also the site of a meeting between then- South Korean President Roh Tae-woo and then- Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1991.

One of my favourite natural spots in Jeju is adjacent to the Hyatt:  Jusangjeoli.  It is a segment of volcanic beach, which we once accessed from the Hyatt’s own beach.  So, the three of us went down to the beach, from a fairly new area, highlighting Jeju’s citrus industry, which is one of the island’s economic staples-along with tourism.

Here are some of the scenes we encountered.

This large conch mock-up draws attention to Jeju’s equally important marine products industry- offering a plenitude of fish, shellfish and kelp.

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The main draw for tourists, though, is the lava-strewn beach.  As with Songsan, a wide variety of shapes may be discerned, on Jusangjeoli’s paths.

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The dragon countenance is found in many areas of Jeju.

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These slats are not a mock-up of a luxury development.  Wind and water shaped them, over the centuries.

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The likenesses at the head of this formation are not a pair  I’d want to meet in a dark alley.

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Jeju’s sheerest cliffs are found here at Jusangjeoli.

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This Peace Park, between Jusangjeoli and the Hyatt, is a place for both quiet reflection and the romping of spirited children, who like to hopscotch and play tag, around the surrounding zodiac stones.

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As this had been a very full day, already, we chose one of Seogwipo’s three waterfalls to visit.  Jeongjeyon is further west and north of the other two (Jeongjiyon and Jeongbang).  Its namesake waterfall has dried up, as a consequence of condominium development- something of an issue now, between locals and Chinese immigrants, who favour such development as a way to invest their income.

Nonetheless, Jeongjeyon has a continuing aesthetic appeal.  There is no dam here, just a lack of running water, at this site of the first cataract.

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The second cataract proved the most active of the three.

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Here are some stairs to nowhere, in particular.

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Despite the shortage of running water, Jeongjeyon’s flora is thick and prolific.

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The second cataract also seemed to be a bit on the mild side, in terms of flow.

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Visitors drop coins into the second cataract’s pool, as a means of making a wish.

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This is Seonimgyo, or Seven Nymphs Bridge, which connects Jeongjeyon Falls with the Jeungmyun Tourist Complex.  It depicts the seven nymphs, of legend, who descended from Heaven, at night.

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The third cataract had more water, and also required the most stair climbing.

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We were quite worn-out, by this point,  So, after a delicious seafood meal, we headed for our lodging.

 

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Ga San Ho Bang is a dormitory-style hotel, offering yurt-style rooms, with male and female shared bathrooms. I was well-rested, after a night in this cone-shaped room.  It had ondol, or water-heated floor pipes, so the room was especially cozy.

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NEXT:  Hallim Park- Caves, Botanic Gardens and An Army of Stone Guardians

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Squared Away

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March 12, 2019, Busan-

We bid farewell to the Shin branch of my extended family, with a fine dinner last night and a heartfelt  series of bows, this morning.  After a few family photos, we were off to the Korea Boivins’ home, here in this crossroads port.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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There is always a greeter, no matter where one goes in life.  This figure is in the lobby of Aram’s and Yunhee’s apartment building.

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After a fashion, we headed for Shinsegae Department Store, where we first had an American-style dinner, at Johnny Rocket’s, then went suit shopping-for me.  The family wanted to gift me with a new suit, so they did.  It’s a Spring through Fall suit, blue as opposed to my black winter suits, which have had to suffice up to now.  A dress shirt was chosen, to accompany said suit.  With that, and a coffee, downstairs, the shopping jaunt was done.  I guess in some circles,  I’m a wet blanket.

NEXT:  Journey back to Jeju

 

 

These Lengthening Ties

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March 11, 2019, Gyong-Meon, South Korea-

One of the questions I have been asked about the marriage of Aram and Yunhee is how I feel about my son marrying someone from another nation or culture.  (“Race” is left out of this, thankfully. )  My answer is very simple:  Aram has married a beautiful and highly intelligent young woman, who will bring great pride and joy to my family  We, in turn, will bring a great deal of the same to her equally distinguished family.

There was a time, even during our previous living in Korea, when language and cultural differences cast all manner of misunderstandings and suspicion upon even the strongest of work relationships and faith community affairs.  Slowly and carefully, we managed, by working together, to mitigate the worst of these.  Aram, being an infant and toddler at the time, was largely spared the relatively few insults and personal attacks that came our way-not just from more hidebound people in this society, but from equally narrow-minded people on the eastern shore of the Pacific as well.

My friendship with the Shin and Park families has been instantaneous.  There is none of the rancour or suspicion of the 1980’s and ’90’s to soil the life of the extended family.  The growing pains have eased, and we have found that there is an authentic human bond.

This is as Baha’u’llah intended, in calling for the spiritual unification of the entire planet- before other forms of unity are truly realized  This does not mean uniformity, which is the antithesis of true unity.  We families will long cherish each other, much as those who were previously set, within the bounds of American culture, have proven enduring.  It’s time for the next step forward, and the rising generations are leading the way.  I am gladly following that lead.

NEXT:  Chonju and its historical preservation

Their New Beginning

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March 10, 2019, Guangju-

This city was once best known as place of uprising- against a second-level military regime, in the Spring of 1980.  Although the uprising was initially quashed, its target, President Chun Doo-hwan, never gained the level of power and stability he wanted, and eventually stepped down, on the last day of 1988.

Today, Guang-joo is a more peaceful place and was the scene of the consecration of the marriage of Aram Boivin and Yunhee Shin, my son and daughter-in-law.  Now they have established themselves as  a full-fledged unit.  At the nicely-appointed Sangmoo Ritz Wedding Hall, a reverent blend of Baha’i scripture and tasteful musical selections made for a lovely hour-long ceremony, cementing what was set in motion with their civil wedding, last November in Guam, which, being an American Territory, provided the U.S. marriage license that will just make things easier, when it comes time for them to return to the U.S.

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I gave a short speech, as father of the groom, but otherwise submitted to the instructions of the wedding planner, photographer and master of ceremonies,  I did get in a few photographs, prior to the ceremony.

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The above has Yunhee’s name written in Hangul (Korean script), with her family name first, then her given name.  The names of us parents are written above.

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The flower arrangements are from well-wishers. Below are random photos of Yunhee and Aram, in the lobby of the wedding hall.

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Another milestone has passed, yet with it, the duties of a father-in-law, and God willing, those of a grandparent, will fall to me. My family has now been extended across the Pacific and I have a feeling the blessings far outweigh the burdens.  We will enjoy the rest of this fine week together- tomorrow with Yunhee’s parents and the remainder of the week, divided between Busan and Jeju, the place of Aram’s birth and a well-established resort community.

Quantum Leaps and Recovery

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March 9, 2019, Gyeom-myon, South Korea-

Friday, March 8, 2019 was the day that barely happened, in my world.  I crossed the International Date Line, right at Midnight, thus throwing me into- today.  We landed at  Seoul Incheon International Airport, about eight hours later.  Amazingly, I got a blessed seven hours of sleep , whilst on board the flying city that is a trans-oceanic flight.

The short hop to Busan, from Incheon, ended on a disconcerting note:  My checked luggage had been detained there, for some sort of “further inspection”.  I was assured that nothing was found amiss, and that the bags would be delivered to Aram’s in-laws’ address, which is where we will be staying, during and immediately after tomorrow’s wedding.

With that, I finished clearing Customs, at Gimhae International Airport, then joined Aram and Yunhee to head to their apartment in the Marine City section of the large port, South Korea’s second largest city.  I took a brief rest, and after catching up on the past several months, we sat down and planned the itinerary for the next several days.  I also caught up on life in the U.S., and learned, to my dismay, that my last surviving maternal uncle had passed away, not long before my flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles had departed.  I will miss his stories and the twinkle that was always in his eyes.

 

We set out for the lovely country home of Yunhee’s parents, arriving around 4 p.m.  The brief rest stop at Saman yielded these first photos of the Korean countryside.  This highway rest stop has many of the amenities associated with similar concourses in North America and  in Europe.  It also has a small exercise area, with rudimentary simple machines, for limbering.  The bridge connects nearby housing areas with the Rest Area, so that locals can walk and enjoy the shops and restaurants.  The covered shrine-like buildings are for people to enjoy picnic lunches or to just sit and meditate.

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Korea has changed much, since we last lived here as a family, in 1992.  I look forward to re-visiting some of the areas we treasured, and to see a few new places, as well.  Tomorrow, my beloved son and daughter-in-law will sanctify their civil marriage.  Stay tuned!

Quotidia Beget Adventure

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March 7, 2019, Los Angeles-

Among the phenomena which might be overlooked, when one is en route to a special destination, is the landscape below an airplane circling for a safe landing.  Such was the case this evening, as our Sky West flight from Phoenix got cleared for landing at LAX.

This was the first time in memory that I had a window seat, and thus could look at the vast expanse of  territory that is the Los Angeles Basin.  With all that has been written, bantered and felt about LA and its smog, congestion and excess, the place as a whole is a marvel, when seen from 8,000 feet-especially at night.  Some SoCal-phobes will reply that a mess can’t be a marvel, but we know better.  One does not have to approve of  what is the current situation, to be amazed at how much humanity is packed into even such a vast area.

Prior to this, I put in a full day at work and was glad to leave my charges with a sense of accomplishment, leading up to the ten-week homestretch that follows Spring Break,  The shuttle van down to Phoenix was an equally smooth and quotidian process, with us arriving at Sky Harbor with time to spare.  Barrio Avion provided tender and spicy beef for my farewell burrito.

Two three-year-old boys, meeting by chance and becoming fast friends, provided the after-dinner entertainment.  G., a new older brother, very much appreciated the presence of J., his new friend.  Watching them play with miniature cars and trucks, hide and seek and get lectured by their respective fathers, for shaking the line stantions, that are used to separate groups of boarding passengers.  There was no lack of spirit with these two.  Indeed, my first encounter with G was his running up the aisle, momentarily unbeknownst to his parents.  I kept my distance, but also kept an eye on him, in case he made it clear to the TSA  area.  Mom was on scene, 30 seconds later, and brought him safely back to the gate lobby.  Then J and father showed up and more localized activity took over.

We landed at LAX, about fifteen minutes late.  I then embarked on a 1 1/4-mile walk, from the United terminal to the Asiana booths, at Tom Bradley International (AKA Terminal B).  I am in the shape to undertake such a luggage lug, but I wonder how disabled people are accommodated, with the City of Cars expecting everyone to walk, with no electric sidewalks and only the occasional elevator, along the labyrinth.

I made it, with the loudspeaker calling my name, four times, as the Koreans wanted to verify my new passport.  I heard them and felt their pain, eventually getting to show the document to the chief of security at Asiana and receiving his swift assistance, in getting through the line, to the check-in booth and onto the shuttle bus that brought us to the plane.  It was an East Asian style shuttle, meaning that a packer was on hand, to shout at and cajole us into cramming as tightly as possible.  I actually kind of miss those days, in Seoul and Jeju, though I must say young men are less prone to grab all the seats and make women and older men stand for the ride.  That is the one thing about the old days that never failed to get me rankled, especially when Penny was pregnant with Aram.

I’m on the plane now, seated with an elegant woman from Colombia and a Korean student, on Spring Break from her school in Arizona.  It’ll be a long, and I sense, restful, journey to Seoul.