Archive for the ‘korea’ Tag

11/29/2022 A Korean Christmas Story   Leave a comment

With Thanksgiving over and Christmas rushing towards us I’ve decided to do something I normally wouldn’t consider. I’m reposting a Christmas story from 2015. It meant a lot to me then and all these years later, it still means a lot. I’m not much of a Christmas person but this story is about the best Christmas I’ve ever had. Just reading it again brings back all of those Christmas feelings I’d hope for on this holiday. I’ll kick off the 2022 Christmas season with this . . .

🌲🌲🌲

I’ve talked a great deal over the years about my experiences while serving in the Army. As with any young man or woman serving outside of this country, being away from home and family during the Christmas season for the first time is difficult.  In my case I was not only away from family, I was in a non-Christian county that seemed to be more than a little primitive to me.

Their religion was primarily Buddhist and the Christmas holiday meant very little to them. They at times pretended to understand but that was motivated entirely by their desire to make money from visiting Americans.

At the time I was stationed in an area that was primarily populated by rice farmers living in small villages that dotted the northern countryside. There were no paved roads and most villages only had electric power for a few hours a day.  For those of us from the United States it was like traveling back in time a hundred years.

I was living almost full time in a local village and actually had my laundry taken to a local river where it was beaten on the rocks with wooden paddles and soap.  That certainly took some getting used to for me.  My Korean friends seemed totally befuddled by the entire Christmas holiday bro-ha-ha and sat silently as I tried to explain it to them. They were interested in my stories of Christ and the Magi, but the virgin birth story had them all silently giggling a little.

Regardless I was determined to have a Christmas celebration, so I asked a few of them for their help in putting up a Christmas tree.  They agreed to help but weren’t exactly sure what I was up to. As that project was progressing, I had a little old mama-san ask me through an interpreter why would any sane person put a tree inside their home. I was hard pressed to answer her because I didn’t know the reason either. They continued to humor me as I explained other peculiarities that they couldn’t quite grasp.

A week or so later with two Korean friends I hiked up a nearby mountain near a small Buddhist temple to find a tree. We ended up dragging back the sorriest looking bush you could ever imagine, set it up in my hooch, and started to decorate it as best we could. There was a hand-made star on top of the tree (my doing) and a number of pieces of charcoal tied to the branches with twine (their doing). I never had that fully explained to me, but it was what they wanted to do. It had something to do with good luck or good pregnancy or something. Since we had no electricity, they suggested placing candles in and around the tree, but I nixed that immediately. The last thing we needed was to burn down my hooch and a portion of the village when a little, dry, and nasty looking tree burst into flames.

I had some GI decorations I made from C-rations that looked stupid as hell but they loved it. Later we ate most of the decorations and drank a bottle of really cheap brandy that I’d brought along for the occasion. I presented them each with a small gift of candy and got a little kiss on the cheek from everyone.

I was still a little homesick but that weird little celebration came to mean a lot to me over the years. It was cozy, friendly, and more than a little strange but it was also genuine. They forever became part of my extended family because they’d made an effort to help get me through a very difficult time. Christmas, the holiday, had very little meaning to them but they realized how important it was to me. 

I still wonder to this day if any of them have fond memories of that night and think about it occasionally. I also hope that all of my comrades-in-arms who are away from home this Christmas are lucky enough to find some friends like I did.

Please keep all of our service men and women in your thoughts and prayers this Christmas season. The sacrifice they are making is truly appreciated by those of us who’ve gone before.

🎄🎄🎄

HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS & A HAPPY NEW YEAR

06/12/2022 “Dogs”   Leave a comment

My father was a dog lover. My mother was a dog lover. I am not. My father trained hunting dogs and in his kennel were normally 15-20 adult dogs and upwards of 10-20 puppies. One of my chores and punishments was the shoveling and removal of their droppings on a daily basis. Many wheelbarrow loads later I decided dogs would never be my favorite pet. This may upset some of you “dog” people out there but so be it. I tried having dogs as pets in my twenties but I was a dismal failure. I eventually switched over to cats and became an official “cat” person. Here are a few facts from the history of dogs.

  • In the 11th century the king of Norway, upset with his subjects, named his dog Saur to the throne. He reigned for three years as king. Note: “Dog Days” came to mean something totally different than it does today.
  • In the 1600’s in Japan the shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, passed laws to protect dogs. Anyone who injured, harmed, killed, or annoyed a dog could be exiled, jailed, or executed. In one month alone in 1687 300 people were executed for being unkind to dogs. In his 30-year reign more than 60,000 people were put to death because of dogs. Note: Give me a cat anytime.
  • In China dogs lived a double life. Some were treated as royalty by the elite of the county and were a preferred gift for the emperor and his minions. The other side of the Chinese coin was that the common folk more often than not ate dogs as a main course for their evening meal. Note: I know that eating dog is disgusting but unfortunately it still goes on to this day. Once I mistakenly ate a bowl of dog soup in Korea in 1968. I don’t recommend it.)
  • Laika, the first dog to fly into outer space aboard Sputnick II, became one of the most famous dogs in the world. Unfortunately, the pooch passed away a few hours into the flight from overheating. Both a cosmonaut and a hotdog. Note: That was a joke, so don’t send any nasty comments.

CATS RULE!

12/13/2021 Simple is My Way   Leave a comment

Many people have asked me why I don’t write about religion very often. Whether it’s Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or any other, I don’t see the need. I don’t need an organization of millions to tell me; good is good, evil is evil, and bad is bad. Don’t do bad, don’t be evil, and do good. Is there any human being out there that doesn’t get that? I don’t think so. Even evil people know they’re doing evil and that they should be doing good, but they just choose not to. I also don’t see the need to be required to turn over a portion of my hard-earned wages so organizations can build gigantic, extravagant cathedrals, mosques, and temples in which to worship. To me it’s a no-brainer. If there is a God (I’m not a believer) and he’s everywhere, I can speak to him or her anytime I want. No church, no congregation, no donations, no preaching, and no stupid rituals . . . just simple communication.

In my humble opinion “simple” is the way to live your life. Believe what you will, keep it a private matter between you and your God (if’s that what you believe), and live your life. I have one philosophy and that is “Always do the right thing no matter the consequences”. None of this “do onto others as they would do unto you” nonsense. I don’t want to do unto anyone and I don’t want anyone doing unto me.

In the mid-60s I spent two wonderful years in the Republic of South Korea thanks to travel plans from Uncle Sam. I became immersed in their culture, their religions, and their people. I learned a lot. One of my habits on my off time was to travel through the countryside and explore. I’d hike between the minefields to reach the mountains and then just walk for miles.

It was on one of these walks that I had my eyes opened somewhat. I was probably four miles from the nearest hut, in the mountains near a place called Blue Lancer Valley. It was bright and sunny, and I hadn’t seen another human being or animal for most of the day. I was taking pictures and enjoying my time not being in the Army for a few hours. I walked around the bend in the trail along this mountainside and discovered a small statue of Buddha that had been carved into a large boulder a very long time ago. Stuck into the crevice in front of that statue was a bouquet of freshly cut flowers. I was always sorry I never got to meet the person who trekked all that way to place those flowers in that spot. That is a person who I would’ve liked to meet because for me that is religion at its best. Simple, private, heartfelt, and meaningful, at least to the person making the journey.

I’m still an unbeliever in all-things mystical but that day gave some hope. It demanded that I at least look into Buddhism as a simple way of learning how to deal with myself. I’m no Buddhist but many of their practices appeal to me, their simple way of living their life.

SIMPLE IS THE WAY

11 SHOPPING DAYS LEFT

10/19/2021 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Remembered   Leave a comment

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died on July 7, 1940 in Sussex, England of a heart attack. Six years and one month later I was born. Approximately twelve years after my birth I read my first Sherlock Holmes story and later saw my first Hollywood movie version starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Through the years I was able to find and read the occasional Holmes story but it wasn’t until I was stationed in Korea in the 1960’s that I happened upon a complete volume of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It was left at the hooch of a Korean business girl by an American G.I. who had since returned to the states. She couldn’t read a word of English and gladly gave me the book. In the intervening years I’ve read the entire Holmes collections many times. That book I found in Korea actually piqued my interest in crime and criminal investigations.

After leaving Korea I joined the Pennsylvania State police and began a thirty year career first as a police officer, then a private investigator, and lastly as a corporate investigator. I’m not saying that Sherlock Holmes was the inspiration for my career but I can’t tell you how many times when I first initiated a case I thought to myself, “Watson, the game is afoot.” Rest in peace Sir Arthur, your legacy lives on.

THANK GOD FOR MY KINDLE, HOLMES IS WITH ME EVERYWHERE

08/22/2021 Olfactory Time Travel   Leave a comment

I hear people talking all the time about how a certain song takes them back. I’ve had that experience on many occasions myself and it’s enjoyable and comforting for just an instant. Music can be a trigger to the past for some but I find that my sense of smell works better for me. A certain smell can capture me and move me to a different time and place. It can be so vivid to a specific incident that I can close my eyes and see the exact spot, smell the exact smells, and see the people who were there. It’s an amazing transition and it usually happens when I least expect it.

If I pick up a baseball glove in Walmart, the smell of the leather sends me back in 1955 as I was driving with my father to my first Little League practice. Interestingly enough Elvis Pressley was singing Heartbreak Hotel on the radio at the time.

Over the years I’ve frequently spent time on shooting ranges to stay proficient with my pistol. On certain wet and rainy days coupled with the smell of gunpowder, takes me immediately back to the summer of 1968 and my time in the Korean DMZ for the Army. I still break out in a cold sweat because it seems so damn real.

There’s one other memory I’d like to recall but I do so cautiously. My father was something of a farting professional. He enjoyed nothing better than to take me food shopping with him which was always a bit embarrassing for me. He was a phantom farter who would leave SBD’s in an aisle and then walk to an adjacent aisle to enjoy the reactions. I can’t tell you on how many occasions I was blamed for being the culprit as he hid laughing hilariously nearby. Still after all these years if I smell a fart in any food store I automatically think of my Dad.

How about the smell of Jean Nate. My first real tongue-on-tongue kiss was done to the smell of Jean Nate. It was 1961 and we were at the Friday night dance at St. Ladislaus Church. We kissed briefly in the alley behind the church and believe me it was memorable. Unfortunately for me my mother came to love Jean Nate a year of so later which created a lot of confusion for me. That smell still takes me back to that alley for that incredible kiss but I keep thinking my mother’s sneaking around somewhere and will unexpectedly show up. It’s a little disconcerting and a major distraction to a wonderful memory. By the way Kathy G., it still remains a wonderful kiss.

So for those of you who are moved by music, and those of us who are moved by smell, we’re the lucky ones. I fear there are many people out there who aren’t moved by much of anything. Links to their past are either too painful to relive and they’ve blocked them or they just don’t care at all.

I LOVE OLFACTORY TIME TRAVEL

08/17/2021 Snow Clutz   Leave a comment

I am the poster boy for clumsy. I love winter and I love the snow but I just can’t seem to walk all that well on it or even near it. Winter is right around the corner and I’ve been trying to get myself mentally prepared for what’s coming. Every year before the snow starts to fly I try to determine exactly when I will fall and what damage I’ll might do to myself. It isn’t a matter of when but how often.

As a kid growing up my friends and I spent a great deal of time in the woods exploring. Even then it was the joke amongst the group as to when I would fall and hurt myself. Everyone thought it was funny and for years I fulfilled my role as the group clutz. I thought it was funny too but only because I hoped at some point it would end, you know, after I got all grown up. Must have been a figment of my imagination.

Let’s spring forward to my college years. I attended Edinboro College in Pennsylvania which just happens to be located in one of the Great Lakes worst snow belts. I couldn’t catch a break, I was on my back a lot in those days and not in a good way.

I then enlisted in the Army in the sixties and ended up in the northern section of South Korea with howling Siberian winds and snow up in my butt. Again, guard duty became quite the adventure as I attempted to remain totally silent while sliding down an icy hill on my back in the middle of the night. I have a scar or two that are constant reminders of those fun days.

Then came the 1970’s. I was enroute home from a job in a really nasty ice storm. I stopped to clean my windows and to take a much needed whiz. I lost my footing while whizzing and slid approximately fifty yards down an icy hill ending up under a nearby parked car. I couldn’t walk for more than a week and spent Super Bowl Sunday propped up in a chair so I can watch the game. I think the Steelers won but I can’t be sure, but those pain pills were the best.

I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. I’ve had a few falls in the ensuing years like breaking a leg and then two years later breaking an arm. Once the snow begins to fly I can guarantee you at least two or three more falls as I wrestle with my snow blower in the driveway. Those kind of things are minor and don’t even bother me anymore. I really hope your winter goes better than the one I’m anticipating.

The Snow Clutz is signing off for now. LOL.

01-30-2014 Journal Entry – Coffee Trivia II   Leave a comment

“That’s something that annoys the hell out of me- I mean if somebody says the coffee’s all ready and it isn’t” ― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Yesterday in Coffee Trivia I I had quite a lot to say about my previous addictions as well as my fondness for coffee. Today you’ll receive more useless coffee information that I’m required to supply because of my addiction.  All addictions have a downside and besides tasting wonderful so does coffee.  It gives me that extra energy burst and ability to talk for long periods of time without taking a breath.  Lucky you, your here for the lecture.

My love affair with coffee didn’t start at an early age like you might think. I wasn’t permitted to drink all that much coffee as a kid because my father felt it might effect my ability to play sports. Once I left for college his control over my beverage intake was finally at an end. I found coffee to be that best friend I’d been missing. The love affair began in earnest at that time and I’ve never looked back, not once. At the time I lived with five other guys in an apartment and there wasn’t a minute of the day that the coffee pot wasn’t full,  steaming hot, and available for drinking. We never kept track but I can almost bet we drank more coffee than alcohol during those years and that’s saying something.

I eventually left school and enlisted in the army since the draft board was hot on my heels.  For the next three years both in the United States and overseas I drank enough coffee to float a battleship. There’s nothing like Army coffee, it can almost eat the enamel right off your teeth. I won’t even begin to try and explain how the Korean’s made their coffee, it was indescribable. I also learned how to make instant coffee from C-ration packets and it sucked so bad I was forced to cut my coffee consumption in the field by 10%. For me that was a major concession.

Skipping ahead a few years and all of a sudden I’m a police officer working in a profession that is known for coffee and donuts. I was never too concerned with the donuts but I thrived on the coffee for seven years. I carried a thermos of hot coffee in the car with me and I’d stop when necessary to refill during my shift. Night shifts were another story altogether. My partner and I were never without a steaming hot coffee in the car or during our lunch stops at restaurants.

So you can see how my addiction to coffee has been the one consistent thing in my life for decades. All of my other addictions were just distractions but my love of coffee remains constant and still does. So let’s get this show on the road. I thought I knew a lot about coffee but I really had no clue. Some of these facts are humorous and some aren’t but they’re all interesting.  I’ve found so much information on coffee I may be forced to increase the number of Coffee Trivia postings to four or five.

  • Flavored coffees are created after the roasting process by applying flavored oils specially created to use on coffee beans.
  • Frederick the great had his coffee made with champagne and a bit of mustard.
  • Hard Bean means the coffee was grown at an altitude above 5000 feet.
  • Hawaii is the only state of the United States in which coffee is commercially grown. Hawaii features an annual Kona Festival, coffee picking contest. Each year the winner becomes a state celebrity. In Hawaii coffee is harvested between November and April.
  • The Nicaraguan Margogpipe is the largest of all coffee beans.
  • It takes 40 coffee beans to make an espresso.
  • One coffee tree yields less than half a kilo of coffee per year.
  • A coffee tree lives for between 60 and 70 years.
  • By 1850, the manual coffee grinder found its way to most upper middle class kitchens of the U.S.
  • Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world (oil is the first.)

“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” ― Dave Barry

  • Brazil produces around 40% of the world’s coffee supply.
  • A Belgian named George Washington invented instant coffee in 1906.
  • Coffee has been used as a beverage for over 700 years.
  • Coffee as a medicine reached its highest and lowest point in the 1600’s in England. Wild medical contraptions to administer a mixture of coffee and an assortment of heated butter, honey, and oil, became treatments for the sick. Soon tea replaced coffee as the national beverage.
  • Coffee beans are similar to grapes that produce wine in that they are affected by the temperature, soil conditions, altitude, rainfall, drainage and degree of ripeness when picked.

“There are three intolerable things in life – cold coffee, lukewarm champagne, and overexcited women…” ― Orson Welles

  • Brewed espresso has 2.5% fat, while filtered coffee contains 0.6% fat.
  • Johan Sebastian Bach wrote an opera about a woman who was addicted to coffee.
  • There is a way to brew coffee with marijuana in it and it is described as producing a “dreamy” kind of coffee buzz.
  • More than 20 million people worldwide, work in the coffee industry.
  • There are two species of coffee plant: Arabica and Robusta.

MORE TO COME

08-18-2013   1 comment

Today I’m going to tell you a story that is true. I’ve had a few moments in my life that deeply affected me but this one more so than many of the others. I’m going to tell you this story in as much detail as I can remember and then when I’m finished I’ll have a few more comments to make.

* * *

It’s 1968, it’s summer time, and it’s very hot here in Korea. It’s 5:00 am, the best time of the day to avoid that hot and sweltering heat of the day. I just finished walking a little more than five miles to reach  this valley which is very isolated.  I’m in the northern part of South Korea just below the DMZ.  I’ve been hearing stories about this place since my arrival in Korea with most of the information received from the elders of the village where I’ve been living. I’ve traveled here to see for myself if the many stories of ghosts and apparitions are really true.

I walked the length of this valley before sun rise and have begun climbing into the surrounding hills so I can have a more panoramic view of the entire area. I’m about 300 feet above the floor of the valley sitting on a huge boulder. It is  unearthly quiet, not a single sound to be heard, and there’s a dense fog rolling through the valley not much higher than 10 feet from ground. I’m just high enough above the fog to be chilled by the light breeze and it sends a shiver through my body. No more than 15 years ago a battle took place in this valley and it lasted for days. It will never be known just how many soldiers died here but it was hundreds and hundreds. It’s something of a memorial to the Korean War that everyone would like to forget since the battle included both North and South Koreans, Turks, and Chinese.

I’ve been told by the village elders who lived through the Korean War that this battle was a massacre. The dead were stacked four deep in places and the carnage was indescribable. Within days of the completion of this battle hundreds of Korean villagers with help from others were tasked to bury the dead. In accordance with Korean tradition the bodies were placed in a sitting position on the ground with their legs crossed and arms folded across the chest and then covered with a mound of dirt. It took many days and hundreds of people to complete the burials and it was something none of them would ever forget.

So here I sit on my boulder as the fog slowly dissipates. I can just see the tops of the hundreds and hundreds of mounds filling the valley as far as the eye can see. The fog intertwines in and around the mounds almost like water and as each minute goes by the fog lessens and lessens until the mounds are fully exposed. I climb down from my perch being careful not to slip and begin my walk slowly and quietly back through the mounds. I picture in my mind each of the bodies contained within the mounds and it’s almost like they’re talking to me. I’m not frightened by this experience but I’m certainly affected by it. I can feel the moisture on my skin drying and I turn around quickly because I can feel a presence near me. All I see are my solitary wet foot prints meandering in and around the mounds and nothing more.  

I can picture the battle as it may have occurred and I can almost hear the rifle shots, mortars, the yelling, the screaming, and the dying. I saw no ghosts but I felt the presence of every person who died in that valley on that day.  They seemed to be clustered around me wondering in their own minds what could have possessed me to come here. I’m not sure why myself but I’m certainly glad I did.

Many of the villagers living in this area are of younger generations and remember little or nothing about the Korean War. I only know what I’ve read in books and stories I’ve heard from a few of the career soldiers with whom I’ve been been assigned. It was an ugly time where many ugly things occurred and then were forgotten. As the years go by this place will slowly disappear in the minds of the locals as things like this have been forgotten thousands of times in the past. There’s no big and fancy wall with the names of the dead posted. There is no map to show the tourists where to go and see these mounds, take a few pictures, and then return home with stories to tell their friends. I firmly believe that the great majority of people killed here in this valley had families who never knew when or where their father’s, son’s, and husbands died. 

I’ll never forget this valley, this day, or any of them.

* * * 

I hope you were able to picture that valley as it was during my short but intense visit.  This was just one of many places in Korea where terrible moments occurred causing much death and destruction.  It amazes me that a country can rebound from such devastation to become the beautiful place it is now.

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