Friday, January 30, 2009

A hero in his own way

This guy in Libya turned down a bribe from a drug smuggler worth more than 1300 times his monthly salary. We need more people like this everywhere. It is good to see such actions being commended.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009


Every country has an icon, something quintessential to the country that anyone with a passing familiarity to the country will know about. Australia has kangaroos and the Sydney Opera House. America has the Statue of Liberty and the White House. Italy has the Colosseum, Greece the Parthenon, Japan Mt Fuji. South Korea (and North Korea) have the DMZ. The Demilitarized Zone. The 4 kilometre strip of land that separates North and South Korea that was declared after the stalemate that became the Korean War and intensely guarded ever since.

The weekend before last I went on a tour of the DMZ with the guys from work (we invited the girls but they didn't want to go). The tour met in downtown Seoul early Saturday morning, from where we bussed up to the DMZ which was about 90 minutes away. We then swapped bus to a US Army bus, which took us for a briefing by a very gung-ho and stereotypical soldier on the history of the Joint Security Area, the little area where there are a bunch of buildings nominally there for the purpose of talks, if only the North Koreans would show up. After listening to the briefing and signing a waiver, we took the Army bus into the JSA. Both the North and South have buildings there, and soldiers. We only got to go inside two of the buildings, one of which was the main meeting room. This building is split in the middle by the border, so while inside we were able to technically enter North Korea, although my stay lasted about a minute.

After seeing the main section of the JSA, we were taken on a tour of the places that were involved in the Axe Murder Incident of 1976, which led to Operation Paul Bunyan, the most expensive tree cutting ever (the back up plan to take the tree down if things went really bad was for a battleship on the east coast to bombard the location).

After the JSA we went to Dorasan observatory, a lookout on a mountain near the border. The view wasn't that great, and photos even worse because you weren't allowed to take photos at the edge of the observatory, but had to stand behind some yellow lines about two or three metres back. The fog didn't help either, nor did being kicked out of the auditorium there so some big wig could have a private look at the border.

The final part of the tour was a visit to Infiltration Tunnel 3, one of four known tunnels dug by the North Koreans into the south. Before entering the tunnel, we watched a bizarre film on the DMZ, which started out a bit grim but factual, and then went on a crazy overly optimistic dream about the future of the DMZ. The tunnel itself was low (I had to crouch most of the time, and am glad I got a hardhat), cool and damp. The entrance was pretty steep (about 11 degrees I think) which was OK going down but a good bit of exercise going back up. The tunnel just sort of stops at the end where the South Koreans have put up barricades, and apparently the North Koreans have collapsed the tunnel on their side as well. The tunnel also had a thin layer of coal painted on the sides, as one of the claims the North has made about the tunnel is that it was a coal mine that went a little too far. They said that had it been used, the North expected to get 30,000 men an hour through the tunnel. Presumably the North Koreans aren't as tall as me.

Now for some photos.

Me next to one of the ROK soldiers in the meeting room in the JSA. We were told not to touch them or we'd be "touched" back.

The main building on the North Korean side. There was one soldier visible, but we were told there were more inside the building take our photos.

Where the tree that led up to the Axe Murder Incident used to be.

The badge I had to wear. Unfortunately, we couldn't keep it.

The blue JSA bus

Chris at Dorasan Observatory. The yellow line is where we could take photos from.

Going down the tunnel. The south Koreans have made the entrance part nice and neat, but the later section (the flat bit) is a lot lower and rougher.

Another of the ROK soldiers in the meeting building. He's there in case the North Koreans try and break through the door behind him (I'm not sure why he isn't facing that way then, but that's what they told us. Perhaps he's there to stop us trying to defect to the North (like that would happen)).

More photos are here

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Future Plans

Now my time in Korea is coming to a close I'm about to embark on a large trip that will occupy for the next few months. The plan for the trip is roughly as follows, but is flexible depending on when I can get transport and stuff happens.

Thursday next week I'm going to catch an overnight ferry to Vladivostok. I'll spend a few days there and then catch the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow. A bit of time there, and then a run up to St Petersberg. After Russia, I'm going to head south into the Ukraine, visiting Kiev, maybe Chernobyl (or however close I can get to it), and Sevastopol. From there, I'll go across the Black Sea to Istanbul. Then overland to Athens, where I'm sure I'll find lots to visit and see. I may cross the Med to Egypt from here, we'll have to see how expensive it is. Then on to Italy, Naples, Rome, Venice, Pisa. Then up to Switzerland, maybe via Austria, then west into France to see Paris for more than one day, south to Monaco, then west again to Barcelona, Madrid, and finally Lisbon for a view of the Atlantic ocean. At long last will be a cheap flight to London, where I'll stay until I can just afford a plane ticket home, or I find employment somewhere.

In addition to sightseeing, in the cities I like I think I'll try popping into a few of the local English teaching schools and give them a copy of my resume and just let them know that if they need someone, I'm interested and they can give me an email. It can't hurt to try and if I wind up with a gig in Europe somewhere it would be pretty nice.

So over the next few months expect to hear stories of travels, sights seen, hardships endured, people met, experiences experienced, history felt, hypothermia (Russian winters are very tough according to some guys called Napoleon and Hitler), good weather, bad weather, missed connections, made connections, and photos thereof.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Final Variations on a Theme

Every month, we have to write reports for all the kids we teach. This is generally tedious work in which each report follows a general theme with slight changes in vocabulary and phrasing. Only the exceptionally good or bad get a more personalised version.

This month has been a little more poignant as this is the last time I have to write reports. For the most part, I've followed the same template as previous months, but I did do a bit more for a few students. These were the students who I've taught the longest, thirteen or fourteen months. I'm currently teaching five students who were in my very first classes.

There is also one class I got in my second month which I've had since then. It is a very young class and started out at the lowest level the school teaches. The first day with them I gave them English names (a mix of Buffy actors and people I knew from Japan) and taught them "Hello" and "My name is ...". I'm dreading telling them this week I'm leaving next week. Looking at how much these little kids have learnt while I've been teaching them impresses me. It also makes me feel really slack for how little Korean I've learnt.

So for these kids I've been teaching for most of my time here, my reports this time have had a longer term perspective than my usual reports that focus on just the most recent month.

On the other end of the spectrum was a new student in my middle school class who has been to a total of two classes so far and has a big test covering about three months worth of stuff next class. Their report was short and optimistic, but otherwise lacking in content.

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Prolonged Quietude

So it's been quite a while since I've put anything on my blog. Just over a month in fact, which is the longest time between posts since I started the thing. This is I think a combination of a lot of mundane stuff happening and the big things going through my head have been too big and personal. But most of those have settled down, and the near future is definitely going to be blogworthy, so it's well time I got back in the habit of writing.

I'm going to put some stuff up over the next few days (yay for automated posting), covering stuff in some sort of order (mainly how close to the top of my mind things are).

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Writing time: 15 minutes
Time since last post: 1 month 3 days
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