03 May 2004

Retired Generals, Rain and Public Displays of Affection

OK, the title sounds MUCH more interesting than what I will write, probably. I had breakfast with a retired ROK general (he now teaches defense and foreign affairs at a Korean university). It was an interesting meeting, particularly as he was originally on the forefront of reconciliation but is now very concerned by the pace and lack of strategic planning in overtures to the North. He is particularly concerned about the rise of the labor party in South Korea, a concern only heightened by a Chosun Ilbo survey released today claiming something like 30 percent of South Korean want reunification with the North no matter what political system emerges.

Now, in reality, most such surveys are bunk, and given the emotional state of the people in South Korea and the near gut rejection of all things conservative these days, the real number in support of such an extreme position is most definitely much smaller. That said, there is a prevailing sentiment that reunification is good, that North Korea is not the enemy but the wayward brother who needs redeemed. This was also what I was hearing about the ROK soldiers over on Yongsan, who were saying they liked the North Koreans, something shocking to many of the U.S. soldiers.

As for the rain, all day again it fell from the sky (where else?). So its a very wet Hi Seoul Festival thus far. If its ok tomorrow, I'll go in the evening. I did wander around Myongdong and Namdaemun Market today after breakfast, braving the rain to work off the three cups of coffee I had with breakfast, something my body is no longer capable of handling (see earlier posts for the whole coffee background thing).

Myongdong, despite being famous as the fashion capital of South Korea, looked little different than the area behind the post office in Kwangju, except the streets were a little wider, less crowded and there was quieter music.

Now, as for the public displays of affection, which has nothing to do with generals or rain (even if you got some weird ideas from the conglomerate of a title for this post). Over the past eight years, one of the most noticeable social changes is the frequent PDAs amongst younger folks (college age and even earlier). In 1996 (OK, so I am old...), even holding hands was pretty much out in public, at least down in the southern part of the peninsula. Now guys and girls are holding hands, massaging each other on the metro, even playfully slapping one another's behinds... all in public. Still no kissing that I have seen, but other affections are certainly out there.

Now, this type of activity would be nothing interesting in America, but it does represent a new freedom and break from the highly conservative mores of the past. No judgment from me whether that is a good or bad thing. I don't want to turn into one of those anthropologist who refuses to let tribal people use toothbrushes because it brings them further along the evolutionary ladder, and I don't want to try to teach Koreans (or anyone else, for that matter except maybe my son) how to live. These are just observations.

Well, in two days I head to Beijing. Hopefully it will be as eventful and exciting as Seoul. Oh, and in a few days or weeks, a Jackie Chan's Favorite Noodle House (a real licensed operation or a rip-off of Jackie's Kitchen?) will open in Myongdong, so hurry on down for some Hong Kong noodles, Korean style.

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