Friday, May 11, 2018

Declaring Victory and Minor Travel Observations

I have several hours before I go to the airport and am procrastinating my transcribing of my last few interviews.  So, I blog, of course.

I am very, very grateful as always for the kindness of strangers.  My work on this project (and the one before it) would not be possible without people willing to make connections for me and without people willing to chat with me about their country.  Last night, I had dinner with Robert Kelly and most of my research team.  I know Professor Kelly due to our overlapping membership at the Duck of Minerva.  He provided me with the names of some folks who could help me.  Well, those people couldn't but they referred me to some of the young women in this picture.  Yunyi, the women on the right, is just an undergraduate but proved to be a fixer par excellence, arranging interviews with retired generals, representatives on the National Assembly defence committee, Ministry of National Defense officials and more.  I was somewhat panicked three weeks ago, thinking that I would not be meeting with anyone, but Yunyi pulled my schedule together.  The other two women, Cathy and Annika, were excellent interpreters, making it possible for me to interview anyone who was willing to talk to me.  They were also quite sharp, giving me insights into the tone of those speaking with me.  They are both learning to be professional interpreters, and, in my opinion, are ready to start their careers.

Seoul and South Korea have been very kind to me.  I also got to drink and dine with a student who I last saw twenty years ago.  He is now a Lieutenant Colonel with the American troops based here.  The night before last, I had dinner with a group of American professors, officers, and contractors as well as a couple of other academics and a Canadian officer.  They were not shy in sharing their views.

So, what did I learn or observe along the way?
  1. Hotel buffets teach me that my diet habits are not the worst.
  2. I really don't need someone else to push the elevator button to summon one, but thanks I guess.
  3. I think wishful thinking is a thing since the Koreans are mostly cautiously optimistic about the state of things with North Korea and Trump. The outsiders?  Much closer to my stance of relentlessly pessimistic.
  4. Tom Petty was right as I woke up each morning knowing that I had a day's worth of email waiting for me and yet no word from the grant application that I had busted my ass for in March.  Oy.
  5. Seoul is super-hilly.  If I hadn't known it before, I know now why nearly every Korean war battle seemed to be named after a hill.  But not much in the way of earthquakes.
  6. The gas masks I have seen are not due to the threat of NK WMD but apparently due to a spate of fires a decade or so ago, which has produced much greater fire preparedness.
  7. Paying one's research team in cash (far easier than wiring to students in a foreign country) with thick envelopes felt, um, Michael Cohen-eseque.
  8. I still feel the pain of embarrassment when watching a teenager approach a person with romantic interest in mind with the probability of failure being quite--tis why I am stuck on episode two of Cobra Kai!
  9. I think South Korea's flag may be in the top two or three prettiest flags.  
Anyhow, I have heaps of travel ahead, and I wanted to note what I had seen before the travel addles me further.  As always, I am very, very lucky.

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