Archive for March, 2012
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The General was in town:
The landscape of leafless trees and brown winter foliage flashed past my window as we sped along the tracks at around 180 mph. Enjoying the more spaciously situated larger chairs of KTX’s first class, I sat comfortably enjoying the companionship of General Tarbet, the Adjutant General for the state of Utah. He has been my long time friend, who personally requested that I tag (no pun intended, only military people will get this one) along with him during his whirlwind two-day trip to Seoul, South Korea. I have known him since he was a 1st Lt and he has actually been my commander in one capacity or another to send me off on my three deployments to the Middle East. But I won’t hold that against him, given the overall outcomes of those life-changing mobilizations.
In the Korean’s version of the bullet train, the three of us sat along one row, with plenty of style, legroom, comfort and the occasional snack cart, we traveled the one hour and fifty minutes from Seoul to Daegu. All of this made for easy conversation, the sporadic cat nap and of course there was plenty of time for the customary barrage of sarcastic jabs and bantering. I personally truly enjoy General Tarbet’s great sense of humor and his no frills leadership style.
Looking out the train window I thought for a moment I was back in 1971, making my way by train from Seoul to Daegu (spelled Taegu back then), as a missionary with my transfer in hand, in route to meet up with Greg Newby, my new companion. The train was must slower then and the living conditions drastically different, but the country side, the mountains were still basically the same. The steep mountains and terraced hillsides, with numerous small villages nestled up into every ravine and narrow valley, reminded me of the many memorable moments I have spent over the years out with the country/farm people of Korea.
With its old style Hanok homes, terraced rice fields, and unique calmness and solitude, the countryside of South Korea has always had a certain allure and magnetism to me. Also, with out a doubt the country folk are definitely different in many ways from city folk, still exemplifying a special humbleness that attracted me back in the 70’s and still does.
“Hanok is a term to describe Korean traditional houses. Korean architecture lends consideration to the positioning of the house in relation to its surroundings, with thought given to the land and seasons.
The interior structure of the house is also planned accordingly. This principle is also called Baesanimsu (배산임수), literally meaning that the ideal house is built with a mountain in the back and a river in the front, with the ondol heated rock system for heating during cold winters and a wide daecheong (대청) front porch for keeping the house cool during hot summers.
Houses differ according to region. In the cold northern regions of Korea, houses are built in a closed square form to retain heat better. In the central regions, houses are ‘L’ shaped. Houses in the southernmost regions of Korea are built in an open ‘I’ form. Houses can also be classified according to class and social status.”
Before I knew it the train was pulling into East Daegu, our stop, forcing us to gather up our few belongings in preparation to jump off the train, of course after it stops. No sooner had we exited the train then we spotted our welcoming committee, who whisked us away in their waiting van, off to where the troops were already setting up for the training exercise. With a large contingent of soldiers from Utah in country, the General was here to just say hi and shake as many hands as possible.
Once at K2, a joint Korean/American military base in the center of Daegu, our escorts drove us over to the location of our Utah soldiers, the focus of the General’s visit. Having been the Adjutant General for the state of Utah for the past 12 years, General Tarbet has a great reputation and rapport with the soldiers and has a personal relationship with many of them, which became very evident once he got amongst the troops to interact with each and every one of them. After a short introductory briefing regarding the mission and operational goals and objectives, and a great meal offered up in the US DIFAC (dining facility), we were off to the train and on our way back to Seoul.
Having spent several years away on deployments with the military, my wife has been able to also develop a good friendly relationship with General Tarbet, who has always had an opened door policy with her. During difficult times during my absence she has sought his advice on numerous occasions and of course to jokingly get after him for sending me away to war three times.
Arriving back into Seoul much earlier than expected and with some extra time on his hands and a desire to hook up later with my wife and I for a night out on the town, he requested I return in a couple of hours. This allowed him to crash in his room for a bit, as he attempted to get caught up on his sleep. As requested my wife and I, as his personal escort service, with him in tow, took him and the Command Sergeant Major to a local restaurant affording them the opportunity to enjoy a typical Korean dinner, before his departure early the next morning. It turned out to be one of the better meals we have had, introducing the General to a number of new flavors, which he took to quite easily. I was very impressed.
Paladins the day before:
Having arrived late Wednesday night and on a tight schedule leaving early Saturday morning, the General didn’t have any time to waste. With another group of troops up north of Seoul on the live fire range, early Thursday morning we took off to witness the actual shooting of live rounds from the M109 Paladins the 155 m self propelled gun (Google).
With the hatch swung open, a hand from inside the Paladin motioned for me to enter inside to join the other crewmembers already positioned to perform their duties. I gracefully crawled through the open hatch of the large mobile howitzer, as only a 60-year-old soldier can, to find the 4-crew members preparing for the live fire demonstration. Each with their respective duties and responsibilities, they handed me the short length of rope and hook system used to fire off each round. With ear plugs tightly jammed into my ear canals and with great anticipation, when called upon to do so, I hooked the loop and yanked the rope as one round after another fired off, launching a projectile some 2 or 3 miles away to smash into its target. This was my first time ever to be in a Paladin, so up close and personal, and oh what a thrill. The sounds, the boom, the smell of gunpowder, wow, big toys for men.
Bringing you all Current:
Our Trip to Kyushu, the rest of the story:
A few weeks ago, with the coldness of winter still frozen to us like frost on a metal pipe, we decided to take a short weekend excursion to Japan for a couple of days. Having weathered most of what we thought to be a historically cold winter of humid South Korea, we longed for a short vacation to Japan, where we had been some 30 years before. Advertised as a hot spring tour in the southern volcanic Island of Kyushu Japan, we had thoughts of sitting in the warmth of a natural hot springs, sipping cold drinks amidst the coolness of a Japanese winter. It didn’t quite turn out that way but it ended up being a most memorable break away.
Having decided to leave just a few days before, we didn’t have a lot of options to choose from; even so we were excited for the experience. We booked it through a travel agency, not wanting to have to worry about hotels, transportation and such, deciding to go with one of the more reliable travel agencies in the Seoul area.
With 36 other people on the same tour, a tour-guide with us the entire trip and not too much at stake, we took off from Incheon International Airport. With the sheer number of people traveling on the various tour groups that day and the orderly fashion in which it was all managed, we were totally impressed with how the Koreans have this mode of travel down to a science. With tickets in hand, our middle-aged somewhat taller than average Korean female tour guide greeted us at the Hanna Travel check-in counter.
In a short hour, no sooner had we taken off, had a quick sandwich lunch and a drink, then word came over the intercom system to prepare for our landing in Kumamoto, Japan, where our tour was to begin. Through Japanese customs and on to the bus, we took off on our two-night 3-day Hot Spring tour of Kyushu Japan.
Somewhat removed from the crowded hustle bustle of the more populated areas of Japan, Kyushu would be regarded as more of a rural setting where mostly senior citizens reside. With the trend for the younger generations to move to Tokyo, Kumamoto appears to be more of a retirement community, made up of original residents or transplanted seniors in search of a slower life style.
As only the Japanese seem to be able to do, the streets, the sidewalks and the side roads were all clean and orderly, just as I remembered them to be. There is a certain calmness and tranquility even in the busiest cities, where order and peaceful coexistence is stressed above all else. Not much has changed, as the Japanese chose to leave things as they were, ignoring any urge to redevelop the areas with large apartment complexes and high rise office buildings. Quite on the contrary, the Japanese have a reverence for leaving their surroundings in place, opting to have smaller homes and mini-sized cars. You only have to go out to eat to any Japanese restaurant to realize the value they place on smaller is better.
With the ocean as the backdrop and volcano shaped mountains filling the landscape, one can see clouds of steam rising up through the thick green foliage as steam and vapors are released through out the area. Visions of settling down into the warmth of a natural hot spring filled my head, until I realized that the naturally heated water is merely piped into a public bathhouse inside the hotels that we stayed in. Not being too fond of public bathing, regardless of the quality of the water, I opted out of the hot spring bathing the first night, but succumb to the pressure to at least check it out the second night.
Along with ancient temples, hot pots, active volcanoes, old cities, shopping areas, and beautiful scenic landscapes, we spent time just relaxing and being together. Once the sunset each evening the time was pretty much ours to spend as we saw fit and of course that meant eating. Surprisingly enough, the Japanese food was quite good.
In the course riding around in a large tour bus with 36 other Koreans, we grew close to a couple other like-minded people, whom we exchanged stories and daily dialogue with. One particular couple took an unexpected liking to both of us and has made an effort to stay connected to us many times since that initial meeting on the tour. I will tell you more about this friendship in my next blog.
Rather then bore you with any more details regarding our trip to Japan; I will finish my travel blog of this trip with pictures of the beauties of Japan.
Thanks, keep smiling