Entering The Land of the Morning Calm [Travelogue]

entrance to “the strip” in Songtan

I am currently into my third week here in Land of the Morning Calm.  I have yet to break from the invisible borders of Songtan, and the very visible borders of Osan Air Base.  But, I have found ways to keep myself occupied without having to travel too far.  I began training at work, and am very excited about the ease and quality of the job I am entering, something I was pretty nervous about and have gladly exhaled from that pressure.  I’ve continued my escapes at the VFW with Whitey.  I was sad to be away from my family on Thanksgiving, but it was all alright since I had made a huge turkey dinner before I left Spokane, and I am not one for the holidays anyway.

I spent this Thanksgiving in two places.  I was “asked” if I would like to attend a luncheon at the chow hall on base with the current Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Commander, General Thurman and dozen other distinguished folks, from the wing commander on up.  I say “asked”, because I didn’t exactly have a choice.  It was rather nice, although the food was pretty bland, but it was served to me by 3 different generals, so you can’t beat that, I guess.  But, the day got better when I left for the dinner at the VFW.  Now these are some people who know how to make some grub!  With 6 fried turkeys, 4 hams, and more than enough fixings, it was rather tasty.  I also had the privilege of meeting a few Korean students from the university in Seoul (the name escapes me), as well as a cool young cat named Richard, who I will be keeping in contact with, as he has vowed to show me around Seoul and other sites of attractions around Korea.  We exchanged numbers and e-mail addresses as our mutual friend, Pam (another professor, active VFW member) showed him and the very nice Korean students a little around Songtan, including a stop in at the previously mentioned, Dawg Pound.  It was sort of a day of misery that all the soju in the world couldn’t drown due to the fact that I missed my wife and children dearly.  But, as I have learned in my times of traveling alone, you have to make the best of it.  You have to try and move forward and experience all the experiences that are to be had when you visit a new place, no matter how brief your stay may be.

 

Miss Kim burger, yakimandu, and soju @ Dawg Pound

Beyond Thanksgiving, I have simply been surviving.  I’ve tried some good(?) food, but to be perfectly honest, it has been a late night food cart and grease riddled sort of eating.  For all of you city dwellers, you know what I am talking about.  That food that somehow tastes so amazing in the late hour, but you probably wouldn’t consider eating if it wasn’t late at night and you may have had a few alcohol beverages digested (i.e. for Portlanders, anything from Big Ass Sandwiches, although I honestly would eat there sober as well.).  But, still some pretty unique things.  I’ve had my share of Yakimandu, which is basically a fried dumpling filled with assorted ground up vegetables, and I have actually had this prior to the booze, and I do suggest.  I tried the famous Miss Kim egg burger, and absolutely loved it.  Basically a cheeseburger with an over easy cooked egg thrown in the mix, and some sort of Korean lettuce that tasted a lot like cole slaw, only dry.  Would I attempt to eat this thing without being in an alcohol infused state….probably not.  There is also the chicken and lamb skewers you can find anywhere.  As this is a very American serving area, the jokes are out there that it is actually cat meat, but there is no proof of that.  And if it is cat, it’s some damn good cat!

lamb and chicken (cat?) skewers

And of course, there is soju.  Oh, the devilish little soju.  Technically classified as a wine, it actually has the texture of vodka, but is easier to drink.  It’s not a hard alcohol, but it has its ways of violently attacking you, should you ingest too much of it.  I’ve yet to reach that sort of state, but lets just say I have come close.  The most delightful thing about soju is the simple fact that it is sort of like the mushroom of alcohol.  Like mushrooms, the taste alone is pretty satisfying for some, but when you cook a mushroom with another thing (i.e., red wine or poultry) it will absorb that flavor as well.  This is what soju will do as well.  Due to its low alcohol content (around 17 percent, a little bit more than the average wine), it is very easy to over do it, so it is a good idea to monitor yourself while drinking it.  Not to mention it is cheap!!  If you were to buy a bottle of soju at the 7/11 on the strip, it is about 1,300 won, roughly $1.25.  I am actually sort of thankful that soju has been banded from the dorms I live in (a longer story, and pretty absurd), because I would probably do just that, and have some pretty terrible mornings.  As far as served drinks, I have become fond of three different drinks involving soju – soju with cider (cider being a loose term, it’s basically the Korean version of 7 Up), the local favorite known as a White Dog (soju, cider, and a splash of a liquid yogurt that is amazing!), and a Korean Sunrise (not sure if this is an official term, or one that Whitey made up himself, but it’s simply soju, orange juice, and a drop of cherry Grenadines).  Yes, if you come to Korea, you must try soju.  It is actually the most sold alcoholic beverage in the world (google that!), but please, be careful!

Beyond late night grub, soju, and watching Wheel of Fortune at the VFW with the old guys, I really just go to work.  I write a bit.  I spend hours chatting with my lovely wife and children via Skype.  Advancements in technology always seem even more amazing when you are away from those you love.  I remember when during my first trip to Iraq in 2006, I was lucky if I got to make a simple phone call each day, and even thought of making a phone call everyday was quite the advancement back then.  Things have advanced quite a bit.  Now I am able to make phone calls with a free Magic Jack app on my iPhone, I can text my wife anytime I feel like it, and as previously stated, I get to see the love of my life and our spawns pretty much everyday.  My work schedule is sort of a blessing and a curse when it comes to communication though.  I work 12 hour shifts, but never longer than 4 straight days or nights.  Therefore, when I work a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift, it is actually 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. the previous day on the west coast.  So trying not to work around normal sleep schedules sort of blows dogs for quarters, but we have made it work thus far.  I am able to call from work if we aren’t too busy, and I am actually off of work just about as many days as I am on, so that is good.  Plus if I work night shifts, I have times during the day that work out as well.  All in all, I am thankful for what time I do have to speak with the ones I love.

Tucci the Bluesman of Songtan

And when I am not at the VFW, or sitting in my room drowning in my own self pity, I have another bit of excitement…….a musician!  Yes, for those of you who know me pretty well, I tend to seek them out and demand friendship.  Here it is the form of a 65 year old Samoan folk singer named Tucci (Not sure on the spelling really, but it’s pronounced To-See).  I have watched him perform three times since I have been here, including a very memorable experience at a small jazz club just outside of the gate of Osan called Blue Jazz.  Whitey accompanied me to the show, and we had a pretty good time.  The only other occupants in the establishment (it was a Sunday night after all) was a small Korean family who was celebrating their youngest daughter’s birthday.  We ended up socializing with them a bit while Tucci played covers by request, covers by choice, and a couple of original tracks themed around the local Songtan area and its military influence (tracks like “In Songtan”, “The Songtan Hex”, and “Songtan Sally”).  We laughed, we danced (well, I didn’t, but Whitey sure did!), we bought rounds all around, and basically enjoyed a couple of hours of a man and his guitar doing everything he could to entertain less than a dozen people, all the while making you feel very special and warm.  Yes, a pretty good escape.

rooftops of Songtan

So, there you have it folks.  A little update for you.  I have already getting very excited for Melissa to come visit me this summer, I really miss her a lot for a lot of reasons.  In which time I know we will spend some time in Seoul, and maybe take a trip somewhere else (Guam???), and eventually head back to the states for my mid tour to be reunited for a little while with my beautiful daughters and more family.  I also plan on taking a few tours, meeting up with Richard in Seoul to have him show me around, and hit up a few museums I was told where phenomenal.  So keep in touch, there will surely be more exciting stories to tell in the coming 49 weeks before I make the move to Spain.  Until then,

Anyoung he Kay Ship She Yo

Ron

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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