This is me in Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, in 2004…
…and this is me in almost the same spot, in 2008…
…and here I am again, on my last trip in 2011:
Over the course of seven years, this part of the palace hasn’t changed. For the most part, my physical appearance hasn’t changed. Yet so much has changed with me and my relationship with Korea during that time.
This may be hitting the point a little over the head, but it’s worth making: the earthquake, tsunami, and accompanying nuclear crisis are all really big deals and do of course amount to a national crisis. But Japan is a big country, and hundreds of miles from the disaster zone, in places like Fukuoka, day-to-day life was and remains largely unaffected.
Saturday was the big day: about 30 relatives convened in Changwon to see us–more specifically, my sister, brother-in-law, and their baby girl Maren. I had met all of them before, so for me it was a chance to get reacquainted with my massive Korean family (of course they remember me) and see how well my Korean language skills have held up without much usage since the last trip (much better than I had expected).
It was a joyous, raucous occasion, one that made me long for a big, close-knit family structure back in the states, where I live a life largely independent of any family in New York. That of course isn’t possible, so the best that I can do is make the most out of rare opportunities like these. It’s good motivation to keep my Korean language skills in shape and even improve them. Hopefully I’ll start to make it a habit of coming out every few years to see them and build on these relationships. And hopefully they–or more likely, their kids–will make some visits to the US.
One of my relatives put it best: “blood is thicker than water.” In this case, even thicker than the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
It’s raining here in Changwon today, so I’m taking advantage of the down time to fill in other parts of the trip.
Changwon is located all the way in the southern tip of Korea, approximately 300 kilometers from the country’s economic, political, and cultural capital, Seoul. For our 3 day trip there, we opted for the KTX high speed train. Traveling at up to 300 km/h and costing about $100 for a round trip ticket, it’s a fantastic way to get around and represents the best of Korean infrastructure. No traffic, no security checks, just buy a ticket and hop on.
As an added bonus, it’s a great way to see the beautiful Korean countryside. Between the crowded urban centers that define modern Korean life lie pastoral farmland and mountains.
As the countryside rolled by, I couldn’t help but think of the various obstacles to high speed rail in the US. NIMBY(Not In My Backyard)ism, conflicting jurisdictions, conservative politicians fearing a crypto-socialist conspiracy…the list goes on and on.
Meanwhile, as Congress debates over nickels and dimes and Americans choke on congested roads and airports, the KTX roars on.