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Bloody Monday

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I blame it on Valium. I had popped one the night before to put me down, to guarantee a full night’s rest before a busy work week, and it performed with aplomb. I was lowered into the depths of a gelatinous envelope of sleep. This was a soothing black slumber, embracing me softly while massaging the hardened flesh of my inner brain. The Valium plied its magic with chemical tendrils that, while delivering on the sleep front, stubbornly fought release come morning time. That’s right, that magic little pill will knock you the hell out, but with that comes a price: your bones become leaden, your eyes balls of cotton, and your head a cloud of steam. A proper Valium hangover can drag on for hours and hours. It’s a tough thing to shake.

Even though I am now solidly trudging down the trail of middle age, I’m still not really a morning person. I don’t suppose I ever will be. I’ve gotten better, but it just seems, at a genetic level, that I’m designed to work best at night. So, that morning, Monday, March 17th, 2014–St. Patrick’s Day–I stumble out of bed near-blind from both my natural aversion to early hours and the fog of the pill. I have gotten my sleep, but am now positively zombified. Still, I have work to do. Carpe diem and all of that shit.  My phone buzzes. It’s the station. Are you coming now?  Yes, I clumsily type back. Coming now. I slide into my black Levis, throw on my green sweater and black jacket, grab my helmet and shoot out the door to do my weekly morning radio gig. I jump onto my motorcycle–a Hyosung Troy 125– turn the key and give the engine a couple of revs before zipping off to make my first fifty bucks of the day.

The station is located in Centum City–just a ten minute ride away in the sparse early-morning traffic. Centum is a spanky new part of town featuring glass and aluminum rises which jut from the bank of the Suyeong River. City PR pimps tried to christen it “The Manhattan of Busan,” to some eye-rolls and snickers among the Westerner set; such labeling may be a bit much, but that morning the place lives up to its hype: the sun sparkles off the surface of the river and lights up the side of the gleaming buildings, creating a brilliant scene. For a moment all seems right in the world

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I arrive at the station at 7:10, ride the elevator to the 4th floor, scan my fingerprint, enter the studio, greet the producer and host, slither behind the mic and sleepwalk through the bit (a ten minute weekly sports round up). Afterwards I fly out the door, stumble down the stairs, and mount my bike once again to head back home where I plan to shower, eat, change into my work clothes, and most importantly, take down multiple cups of inky coffee to help blast me out of my haze. My first class is at 9 am at my school, again just a couple minutes’ ride from my front door.

I cruise through the nearly-empty streets of Centum, eager to get home as soon as I can. The air is still frigid from the night and slices through my coat, causing me to shiver beneath my sweater. This helps to keep me awake as I press on. I turn left onto a larger road that that spans the slow moving river as a bridge. To my right is the massive sewage treatment plant. The dank sweet smell of human waste mixed with soil radiates from the huge concrete fertilizer silo, on which is painted an unfinished marine-themed mural featuring the phantom silhouettes of fish. I then come to a much bigger intersection and stop. The light is red. Across the way I observe the slow lurch of a construction crane putting up an apartment block. It’s now around 7:40 and traffic is just beginning to pick up. It’s no longer a ghost town out here, but things are still empty enough. I sigh and fight the urge to close my heavy lids. I need to get home and caffeinate, now. The light is still red. I see a car blasting down the right lane. After him, I think. This is Korea, after all, where traffic lights are merely suggestions. I wait for the car to pass. I then figure the way is now clear, twist the throttle and go…

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Honnnnnnnnnnnnk!

It’s coming from the left. My left side. The direction where somehow, inexplicably, I had neglected to look. The scream of braking rubber on asphalt. Oh shit. My veins turn to ice. My stomach opens into sick black pit as I realize that I have just pulled out directly into the path of a speeding car.

CRACK!

I come to on the ground. It’s rough and ice cold. I feel cars whizzing by. A man stands over me bellowing in Korean: “Are you okay? Why didn’t you see me? Why didn’t you look???” My shoulder is on fire. My left leg screams. I try to move. Agony. Nausea.

“Don’t! Stay still!”

I look down and see that my left leg, about halfway down below the knee, is sticking out at a 90 degree angle. The jagged end of the shin bone sticks out through black denim. There is blood. “My leg… my leg,” I manage in Korean. A siren in the distance. Then I pass out.

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There are now several men around me. Uniforms. They crouch down and take hold: “One, two, three.” A supernova of pain explodes up my leg while I’m shifted onto a stretcher. I lift into the air and am loaded in the back of the ambulance. The door slams shut and the paramedic speaks to me in English: “You are going to be okay.” Decent English. The vehicle engages into gear and we’re off, siren crying outside. “This will help with the pain.” A pinprick as he finds a vein. Again, I pass out.

I come to in the hospital. I’m on a gurney. I see white walls, the lurid lights of the E.R. I’m afraid to look at my leg because I’m sure it looks like I stepped on a land mine. The pain has largely vanished, though. Hooray for drugs! There are three doctors milling about, consulting. One of them hands me my phone and tells me to call someone close. I try Minhee. She doesn’t pick up. It’s early. Still asleep. I hand it back to the doctor, so smart in his lab coat. He looks like a kid. I’m surely his hyung. In a restaurant he’d be pouring my drinks. He starts working down the list of  people on my call log. I begin to fade out until he hands me the phone once again.

“Hello, Chris? What’s happening?” It’s my co-worker Cheryl.

A while later the doctors wheel me into another room under brighter lights. “We will now set your fracture,” the young one says in well-pronounced English. “You will feel…” he searches for the word, “…intense pain.”

Just then my boss, Professor Park, appears. She’s a tall, refugee-skinny woman of about sixty. She greets the doctors with an “Annyeonghaseo?” followed by a tiny bow. They return the greeting and and have a short exchange. She takes one look at my leg and the color drains from her face. “Uh, Chris… you’re classes are covered… it is okay. Don’t worry. No problem.”

She looks again to the carnage.

“Fighting!” she says for encouragement, making a bony fist to emphasize the point. She smiles a nervous smile then disappears. The doctors grab my leg. I can feel the bones freely floating as they begin to wrestle with it in an attempt at a set. I scream through the veil of painkiller coursing through my veins until the manhandling stops. They apply a splint and wheel me back out to the E.R., and inform me that I’ll require surgery right away.

In the meantime I’m wheeled into several other rooms for X-rays and a scan to make sure my head is okay. Thankfully my helmet did its job and everything is fine upstairs. Also, there is no neck/spinal injury. It seems my mangled leg is the worst of it, which at this point doesn’t seem so bad, since I now know that, even though I have a long road to recovery, I’ll be okay. A warm wave of relief mixes with the drugs as I am wheeled back into the E.R.

As I sit in the E.R., afloat on the gurney, Minhee finally arrives, rushing in in a panic. She is crying. She tells me that her battery was dead and she missed the flood of phone calls that deluged her device for three hours after the wreck. She describes her exchange with my boss, Professor Park, how when she finally reached her, Professor Park (a constantly proselytizing born-again Christian) only told Minhee that she “must pray.”

“But how is he?” Minhee pleaded. “Will he be okay?”

“Do you know how to pray?” Professor Park continued, oblivious to Minhee’s desperate query. “I will teach to you pray.” Unable to get a straight answer out of the woman, Minhee hung up the phone and jumped a taxi, fearing the worst.

When she finally kisses me I am on my phone, letting the Facebook universe know what has happened, that I’ve suffered a motorcycle wreck and broken my leg, but that I’ve avoided the worst and will likely come out largely unscathed in the end.

surgery

In the late afternoon I’m taken into surgery. They inject me with a spinal anaesthetic which not only numbs, but paralyzes the bottom half of my body. I can’t move a thing. Freaky. They then give me something to put me out, which doesn’t entirely do the job. I keep coming to, listening to them bang and clang around my leg. It sounds like a construction zone. I notice that throughout the procedure several doctors and nurses repeatedly check their smart phones. Even they’re addicted to the things. I hope it’s just Kakao and Facebook. Part of me dreads that the main surgeon is getting his instructions from the Korean version of Wikipedia.

The surgery goes by without any hitches, and I come out the proud owner of a metal rod and pins holding together my fractured tibia. The fibula, which was also broken, is a bone which bears no weight, and will be left alone. This, evidently, is very common among orthopedic surgeries these days. I choose to take the doctor’s word on it.

IntramedullaryRod

I spend the next two nights in a group room: Five patients stuffed into a small space. But it’s not just five people: In Korea, you are expected to bring your own caretaker. The nurses change your IV’s and take your blood pressure, but the nuts and bolts of looking after someone–emptying your pee pitcher, getting you water, basic cleaning, assisting with eating–this all rests on the shoulders of your personal caregiver, which, in most cases, is a family member. Each big bed has a mini-bed that rolls underneath it for storage, so five people in the room becomes ten. Add the fact that several of the “patients” don’t seem to be really hurt at all (staying in the hospital for insurance claims, I’m told), and all day the room becomes a coffee-klatch for middle aged Korean ajummas and ajeoshis to sit and yap at crazy volumes. I’m in severe pain with a painkiller that isn’t even coming CLOSE to dealing with the discomfort I got going on, and all I can do between bouts of moaning is to fantasize about defenestrating my roommates from the 9th story window.

The next day Minhee has me moved into a private room, where I am given peace and quiet, along with a big bag of self-dosing fentanyl that finally allows me to recoup with a modicum of serenity. I stay in that hospital for a week and a half before transferring to a cheaper and more convenient location, where I pass the remainder of my stay. My Facebook and email is abuzz with messages from both Korea and around the world. A steady stream of friends and well-wishers visits me daily. At times my room resembles a small party. I’m presented with plates of food, envelopes of cash to help offset the expense and books. Books are delivered en mass and I chew through them, particularly charmed by an account of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition and the hilarious/bleak graphic novels of Daniel Clowes. I am well rested, happy, and above all, thankful. I feel calmer and more positive than I have in years. I’m released on the 18th day and start back at work the following Monday.

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Today is the one year anniversary of that nasty wreck, that day where, if the dice would have come up a bit differently, I may not even be here typing today. The whole time I was laid up I kept telling myself: It could be worse. And it could have. I could have ended up dead or eating jello for a living. I got fucked up. I got hurt but bounced back quickly, and trip around the sun later I’m back in action. My leg is 95% there. I walk miles daily and hike several times a week. When hobbling around last spring, unable to partake of any of the physical joys that we associate with warming weather, I promised myself that once my leg was healed I was use it with a vengeance, that I would make walking even more of a priority in my life and so far I have delivered on that. This summer I’ll go on a massive hike either here in Asia or that States (haven’t decided yet), and I’m planning to do an epic jaunt here in Korea in the future, one that could take me up the entire spine of the country on foot.

My motorcycle was destroyed in the wreck and sold off for parts to a garage. I haven’t been on a bike since, though I haven’t forsworn riding again in the future. I rode for nearly ten  years without a serious incident, and may have hit eleven had I been a bit more awake that morning. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t thinking. I had gotten absolutely placid on a route that I had ridden a hundred times before, and it nearly cost me my life. I broke the first rule of crossing the road, taught to us all by our mothers when we’re just beginning to totter along on our feet:

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I believe I will ride again, but only for open-road travel. I won’t ride a motorcycle for my daily transportation in a city such as Busan where so many people drive like crackheads. Sure, this crash was my fault, but next time it may be someone else asleep at the wheel, and they may not even brake.

Of course it was my wife Minhee who really carried the weight while I was hurt. She dealt with the doctors, the insurance, the police, our home, our animals, the bills, my work, and most importantly, me. At one point she literally wiped my butt. This actually happened, and no, I’m not proud. She was hoping to avoid such a chore until well into our elderly years, but we don’t always get to choose the whens and where’s, now do we?  I am thankful to have married such a terrific woman. It took getting maimed to really appreciate tying the knot. In sickness and in health…

Korea proved its mettle, at least as far as its health system goes. I was delivered to a state-of-the-art hospital within thirty minutes of my wreck and patched up by doctors who knew what the hell they were doing, even if they felt the need to chat on their phones in the operating room. Sure, they do a few things different than the west, but in the end I was taken care of and not left with staggering debt, even given the fact that the national insurance made me reimburse them since the crash was my fault. This was something that I was ignorant of going in: Korean national health insurance doesn’t cover some things deemed too risky or negligent on behalf of the claimant. They’ll pay the bill but come to collect it later. Luckily, my friends in Busan passed the hat and raised a lot of money to help take the sting out of that, but all said and done a full surgery and two and a half week stay in a private hospital room clocked in less than eight thousand dollars. Add another zero to those digits and we just may be approaching the bill in America, sans insurance.

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So here I am, scarred but alive. I’m not able to sprint yet and my shoulder is a bit sore at times, but I can’t complain. As I lay there in that hospital bed with my leg jacked up, I often thought, I wonder how I’ll feel in a year’s time? Well today I got the answer: pretty damned good, and if you want to know, I’ve now switched to Xanax. It’s much easier on the system the next day.

 DCF 1.0



Now and Then: Silsangsa Temple

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A look at Silsangsa Temple from the turn of the last century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Silsangsa Temple is located in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do, and it was first established in 828 A.D. by the monk Jeunggak (Hongcheok). The name of the temple means, in English, “True Nature Temple.” In the early 800s, Hongcheok traveled to Tang China with Monk Doui to learn more about Buddhism. After a time, they returned to the Korean peninsula after both were certified in the new Seon (Zen) lineage. It was at this time that Hongcheok was named a National Master (Guksa) by the Silla king. In the same year as the temple’s creation, Hongcheok established the Silsang-sanmun, or the “True Nature Mountain Gate,” in English, as one of the Nine Mountain Schools. The reason that he decided to build Silsangsa Temple on the northern part of Mt. Jirisan was based on geomantic principles. Hongcheok believed that if he didn’t build a temple on this site that Korea’s spiritual energy would flow over and into Japan. Around the same time, Master Doui similarly constructed Borimsa Temple, which was another member of the Nine Mountain Schools (Gajisan). After the establishment of Silsangsa Temple, Master Hongcheok continued to spread the new Seon teachings throughout the Silla Kingdom. Uniquely, Silsangsa Temple is founded on an open plain and not up in the mountains like a lot of Korean temples. Currently, it’s surrounded on most sides by farmers’ fields.

Throughout the years, the temple has been renovated, re-built, and destroyed. In the early 900s, Silsangsa Temple was expanded under royal order according to the geomantic advice of master Doseon. Tragically, the temple was destroyed in 1597 by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Slowly, the temple was rebuilt, when in 1684 the Geukrak-jeon was restored. Eventually, the temple complex would grow large enough to house thirty-six buildings by 1700. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the temple faced a period of decline, as well as a destructive fire. In fact, the temple was completely destroyed by fire in 1882. After this fire, the temple was restored to its current, much smaller, size. And during the Korean War (1950-53), parts of the temple were harmed by fighting forces that passed through this area of combat. Fortunately, most cultural relics were spared.

While visibly not quite as grand as its former glory, parts of that past still remain. In total, the temple houses eight Treasures. In addition to these eight Treasures, the neighbouring Baekjangam Hermitage, which is directly associated with Silsangsa Temple, houses National Treasure #10 in the form of a highly unique Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.), three-story, stone pagoda. Silsangsa Temple also houses the largest steel statue of a Buddha in Korea in the form of a Unified Silla Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). Also, the temple lies within the park limits of the picturesque Jirisan National Park.

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One of the temple buildings at Silsangsa Temple.

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 Another building at Silsangsa Temple.

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The temple grounds around the turn of the last century.

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One of the temple’s stone lanterns out in front of the main hall.

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One of the original spirit poles that stands guard out by the entrance of the temple.

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The ancient biseok dedicated to Hongcheok.

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Silsangsa Temple’s main hall today.

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The temple grounds at Silsangsa Temple.

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The biseok dedicated to the founding monk, Hongcheok.

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The exact same spirit pole as it appears now.

The post Now and Then: Silsangsa Temple appeared first on Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.


Japchae- Tasty treat

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Japchae is a popular Korean noodle dish that I love making. The chewy texture of the translucent sweet potato noodles along with the plethora of veggies makes it so colorful and tasty.

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The colorful, flavorful and healthy Japchae
The authentic Korean version of the Japchae can be found here. My version is an easy, quick-fix, veggie probably Indianish version of the same :)

The sweet potato noodles takes a bit more time to cook than our regular rice or wheat noodles. I cook it with salt and oil to make the noodles stringy and not mush together. I also wash the cooked and hot noodles in cold water to ensure it does not mush together. Keep it aside. It looks nice and translucent. And tastes a bit chewier than the usual noodles. It gives it an interesting taste.

I like using all the veggies I have in my fridge in this dish :) Mainly, I ensure I have the red and yellow bell peppers, button mushrooms and garlic. I love to use bok choy, broccoli, carrots in it.

I sautee chopped garlic, long strips of the onions, colorful peppers, bok choy and spinach in sesame oil. Then, I add the soy sauce, sugar, salt and a pinch of black pepper and let the veggies take in the flavor of the sauces. Then, I transfer all of this to the noodles. After mixing it well, I let it warm and make sure the noodles absorbs the soy sauce too. Last, I add the toasted sesame seeds as a garnish. Easy to make one dish meal :)

J for Japchae for ABC Wednesday

Hi! :) I was wondering how much the tickets cost for Dream Concert?

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I'm planning to watch it this coming May.. I've seen your blog about Dream Concert 2013 and I really want to experience it too.

 

Hi! To answer your question, there are different levels of tickets. I bought VVIP (which is on the ground floor, but a bit further from the stage) for $200 USD in 2013.


About the girl

Hi, I'm Stacy. I am from Portland, Oregon, USA, and am currently living and teaching ESL in Busan, South Korea. Busy getting into lots of adventures, challenging myself, and loving people. Something more than an ethereal will-o-wisp.

Thank you so much for visiting and reading.

Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, LastfmFlickr, and FacebookAsk me anything

 


Look Both Ways

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by Chris Tharp

I blame it on Valium. I had popped one the night before to put me down, to guarantee a full night’s rest before a busy work week, and it performed with aplomb. I was lowered into the depths of a gelatinous envelope of sleep. This was a soothing black slumber, embracing me softly while massaging the hardened flesh of my inner brain. The Valium plied its magic with chemical tendrils that, while delivering on the sleep front, also stubbornly fought release come morning time. That’s right, that magic little pill will knock you the hell out, but with that comes a price: your bones become leaden, your eyes balls of cotton, and your head a cloud of steam. A proper Valium hangover can drag on for hours and hours. It’s a stubborn thing to shake.

Even though I am now solidly trudging down the trail of middle age, I’m still not really a morning person. I don’t suppose I ever will be. I’ve gotten better, but it just seems, at a genetic level, that I’m designed to work best at night. So, that morning, March 17th, 2014–St. Patrick’s Day–I stumble out of bed near-blind from both my natural aversion to early hours and the fog of the pill. I have gotten my sleep, but am now positively zombified. Still, I have work to do. Carpe diem and all of that shit.  My phone buzzes. It’s the station. Are you coming now?  Yes, I clumsily type back. Coming now. I slide into my black Levis, throw on my green sweater and black jacket, grab my helmet and shoot out the door to do my weekly morning radio gig. I jump onto my motorcycle–a Hyosung Troy 125– turn the key and give the engine a couple of revs before zipping off to make my first fifty bucks of the day.

The station is located in Centum City–just a ten minute ride away in the sparse early-morning traffic. Centum is a spanky new part of town featuring glass and aluminum rises which jut from the bank of the Suyeong River. City PR pimps tried to christen it “The Manhattan of Busan,” to some eye-rolls and snickers among the Westerner set; such labeling may be a bit much, but that morning the place live up to its hype: the sun sparkles off the surface of the river and lights up the side of the gleaming buildings, creating a brilliant scene. For a moment all seems right in the world

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I arrive at the station at 7:10, ride the elevator to the 4th floor, scan my fingerprint, enter the studio, greet the producer and host, slither behind the mic and sleepwalk through the bit (a ten minute weekly sports round up). Afterwards I fly out the door, stumble down the stairs, and mount my bike once again to head back home where I plan to shower, eat, change into my work clothes, and most importantly, take down multiple cups of inky coffee to help blast me out of my haze. My first class is at 9 am at my school, again just a couple minutes’ ride from my front door.

I cruise through the nearly-empty streets of Centum, eager to get home as soon as I can. The air is still frigid from the night and slices through my coat, causing me to shiver beneath my sweater. This helps to keep me awake as I press on. I turn left onto a larger road that that spans the slow moving river as a bridge. To my right is the massive sewage treatment plant. The dank sweet smell of human waste mixed with soil radiates from the huge concrete fertilizer silo, on which is painted an unfinished marine-themed mural featuring the phantom silhouettes of fish. I then come to a much bigger intersection and stop. The light is red. Across the way I observe the slow lurch of a construction crane putting up an apartment block. It’s now around 7:40 and traffic is just beginning to pick up. It’s no longer a ghost town out here, but things are still empty enough. I sigh and fight the urge to close my heavy lids. I need to get home and caffeinate, now. The light is still red. I see a car blasting down the right lane. After him, I think. This is Korea, after all, where traffic lights are merely suggestions. I wait for the car to pass. I then figure the way is now clear, twist the throttle and go…

redlight

Honnnnnnnnnnnnk!

It’s coming from the left. My left side. The direction where somehow, inexplicably, I had neglected to look. The scream of braking rubber on asphalt. Oh shit. My veins turn to ice. My stomach opens into sick black pit as I realize that I have just pulled out directly into the path of a speeding car.

CRACK!

I come to on the ground. It’s rough and ice cold. I feel cars whizzing by. A man stands over me bellowing in Korean: “Are you okay? Why didn’t you see me? Why didn’t you look???” My shoulder is on fire. My left leg screams. I try to move. Agony. Nausea.

“Don’t! Stay still!”

I look down and see that my left leg, about halfway down below the knee, is sticking out at a 90 degree angle. The jagged end of the shin bone sticks out through black denim. There is blood. “My leg… my leg,” I manage in Korean. A siren in the distance. Then I pass out.

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There are now several men around me. Uniforms. They crouch down and take hold: “One, two, three.” A supernova of pain explodes up my leg while I’m shifted onto a stretcher. I lift into the air and am loaded in the back of the ambulance. The door slams shut and the paramedic speaks to me in English: “You are going to be okay.” Decent English. The vehicle engages into gear and we’re off, siren crying outside. “This will help with the pain.” A pinprick as he finds a vein. Again, I pass out.

I come to in the hospital. I’m on a gurney. I see white walls, the lurid lights of the E.R. I’m afraid to look at my leg because I’m sure it looks like I stepped on a land mine. The pain has largely vanished, though. Hooray for drugs! There are three doctors milling about, consulting. One of them hands me my phone and tells me to call someone close. I try Minhee. She doesn’t pick up. It’s early. Still asleep. I hand it back to the doctor, so smart in his lab coat. He looks like a kid. I’m surely his hyung. In a restaurant he’d be pouring my drinks. He starts working down the list of  people on my call log. I begin to fade out until he hands me the phone once again.

“Hello, Chris? What’s happening?” It’s my co-worker Cheryl.

A while later the doctors wheel me into another room under brighter lights. “We will now set your fracture,” the young one says in well-pronounced English. “You will feel…” he searches for the word, “…intense pain.”

Just then my boss, Professor Park, appears. She’s a tall, refugee-skinny woman of about sixty. She greets the doctors with an “Annyeonghaseo?” followed by a tiny bow. They return the greeting and and have a short exchange. She takes one look at my leg and the color drains from her face. “Uh, Chris… you’re classes are covered… it is okay. Don’t worry. No problem.”

She looks again to the carnage.

“Fighting!” she says for encouragement, making a bony fist to emphasize the point. She smiles a nervous smile then disappears. The doctors grab my leg. I can feel the bones freely floating as they begin to wrestle with it in an attempt at a set. I scream through the veil of painkiller coursing through my veins until the manhandling stops. They apply a splint and wheel me back out to the E.R., and inform me that I’ll require surgery right away.

In the meantime I’m wheeled into several other rooms for X-rays and a scan to make sure my head is okay. Thankfully my helmet did its job and everything is fine upstairs. Also, there is no neck/spinal injury. It seems my mangled leg is the worst of it, which at this point doesn’t seem so bad, since I now know that, even though I have a long road to recovery, I’ll be okay. A warm wave of relief mixes with the drugs as I am wheeled back into the E.R.

As I sit in the E.R., afloat on the gurney, Minhee finally arrives, rushing in in a panic. She is crying. She tells me that her battery was dead and she missed the flood of phone calls that deluged her device for three hours after the wreck. She describes her exchange with my boss, Professor Park, how when she finally reached her, Professor Park (a constantly proselytizing born-again Christian) only told Minhee that she “must pray.”

“But how is he?” Minhee pleaded. “Will he be okay?”

“Do you know how to pray?” Professor Park continued, oblivious to Minhee’s desperate query. “I will teach to you pray.” Unable to get a straight answer out of the woman, Minhee hung up the phone and jumped a taxi, fearing the worst.

When she finally kisses me I am on my phone, letting the Facebook universe know what has happened, that I’ve suffered a motorcycle wreck and broken my leg, but that I’ve avoided the worst and will likely come out largely unscathed in the end.

surgery

In the late afternoon I’m taken into surgery. They inject me with a spinal anaesthetic which not only numbs, but paralyzes the bottom half of my body. I can’t move a thing. Freaky. They then give me something to put me out, which doesn’t entirely do the job. I keep coming to, listening to them bang and clang around my leg. It sounds like a construction zone. I notice that throughout the procedure several doctors and nurses repeatedly check their smart phones. Even they’re addicted to the things. I hope it’s just Kakao and Facebook. Part of me dreads that the main surgeon is getting his instructions from the Korean version of Wikipedia.

The surgery goes by without any hitches, and I come out the proud owner of a metal rod and pins holding together my fractured tibia. The fibula, which was also broken, is a bone which bears no weight, and will be left alone. This, evidently, is very common among orthopedic surgeries these days. I choose to take the doctor’s word on it.

IntramedullaryRod

I spend the next two nights in a group room: Five patients stuffed into a small space. But it’s not just five people: In Korea, you are expected to bring your own caretaker. The nurses change your IV’s and take your blood pressure, but the nuts and bolts of looking after someone–emptying your pee pitcher, getting you water, basic cleaning, assisting with eating–this all rests on the shoulders of your personal caregiver, which, in most cases, is a family member. Each big bed has a mini-bed that rolls underneath it for storage, so five people in the room becomes ten. Add the fact that several of the “patients” don’t seem to be really hurt at all (staying in the hospital for insurance claims,I’m told), and all day the room becomes a coffee-klatch for middle aged Korean ajummas and ajeoshis to sit and yap at crazy volumes. I’m in severe pain with a painkiller that isn’t even coming CLOSE to dealing with the discomfort I got going on, and all I can do between bouts of moaning is to fantasize about defenestrating my roommates from the 9th story window.

The next day Minhee has me moved into a private room, where I am given peace and quiet, along with a big bag of self-dosing fentanyl that finally allows me to recoup with a modicum of serenity. I stay in that hospital for a week and a half before transferring to a cheaper and more convenient location, where I pass the remainder of my stay. My Facebook and email is abuzz with messages from both Korea and around the world. A steady stream of friends and well-wishers visits me daily. At times my room resembles a small party. I’m presented with plates of food, envelopes of cash to help offset the expense and books. Books are delivered en mass and I chew through them, particularly charmed by an account of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition and the hilarious/bleak graphic novels of Daniel Clowes. I am well rested, happy, and above all, thankful. I feel calmer and more positive than I have in years. I’m released on the 18th day and start back at work the following Monday.

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Today is the one year anniversary of that nasty wreck, that day where, if the dice would have come up a bit differently, I may not even be here typing today. The whole time I was laid up I kept telling myself: It could be worse. And it could have. I could have ended up dead or eating jello for a living. I got fucked up. I got hurt but bounced back quickly, and trip around the sun later I’m back in action. My leg is 95% there. I walk miles daily and hike several times a week. When hobbling around last spring, unable to partake of any of the physical joys that we associate with warming weather, I promised myself that once my leg was healed I was use it with a vengeance, that I would make walking even more of a priority in my life and so far I have delivered on that. This summer I’ll go on a massive hike either here in Asia or that States (haven’t decided yet), and I’m planning to do an epic jaunt here in Korea in the future, one that could take me up the entire spine of the country on foot.

My motorcycle was destroyed in the wreck and sold off for parts to a garage. I haven’t been on a bike since, though I haven’t forsworn riding again in the future. I rode for nearly ten  years without a serious incident, and may have hit eleven had I been a bit more awake that morning. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t thinking. I had gotten absolutely placid on a route that I had ridden a hundred times before, and it nearly cost me my life. I broke the first rule of crossing a road, taught to us all by our mothers when we’re just beginning to totter along on our feet:

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I believe I will ride again, but only for open-road travel. I won’t ride a motorcycle for my daily transportation in a city such as Busan where so many people drive like crackheads. Sure, this crash was my fault, but next time it may be someone else asleep at the wheel, and they may not even brake.

Of course it was my wife Minhee who really carried the weight while I was hurt. She dealt with the doctors, the insurance, the police, our home, our animals, the bills, my work, and most importantly, me. At one point she literally wiped my butt. This actually happened, and no, I’m not proud. She was hoping to avoid such a chore until well into our elderly years, but we don’t always get to choose the whens and where’s, now do we?  I am thankful to have married such a terrific woman. It took getting maimed to really appreciate tying the knot. In sickness and in health…

Korea proved its mettle, at least as far as its health system goes. I was delivered to a state-of-the-art hospital within thirty minutes of my wreck and patched up by doctors who knew what the hell they were doing, even if they felt the need to chat on their phones in the operating room. Sure, they do a few things different than the west, but in the end I was taken care of and not left with staggering debt, even given the fact that the national insurance made me reimburse them since the crash was my fault. This was something that I was ignorant of going in: Korean national health insurance doesn’t cover some things deemed too risky or negligent on behalf of the claimant. They’ll pay the bill but come to collect it later. Luckily, my friends in Busan passed the hat and raised a lot of money to help take the sting out of that, but all said and done a full surgery and two and a half week stay in a private hospital room clocked in less than eight thousand dollars. Add another zero to those digits and we just may be approaching the bill in America, sans insurance.

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So here I am, scarred but alive. I’m not able to sprint yet and my shoulder is a bit sore at times, but I can’t complain. As I lay there in that hospital bed with my leg jacked up, I often thought, I wonder how I’ll feel in a year’s time? Well today I got the answer: pretty damned good, and if you want to know, I’ve now switched to Xanax. It’s much easier on the system the next day.

 DCF 1.0



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Will South Korea Eventually Feel Compelled to Bomb NK Missile Sites?

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The picture to the left is the poster from a South Korean film in which a North Korean coup forces South Korea to launch on air-strike on Nork missile sites. It’s not very good (it’s the Top Gun of Korea), but it’s the closet pop-culture reference I could think of to the argument I make below.

My concern is that the more nuclear missiles North Korea has, the more they threaten South Korea’s existence. To date, North Korea’s missile and nukes have generally been understood as a tool for regime security – to prevent an American ‘regime change’ attack – or as a gangsterish way for NK to shake-down SK, Japan, and the US. As Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton both noted, the Norks are great at selling and re-selling their nuclear program for aid.

But, if NK gets dozens, or even hundreds, of nuclear warheads and missiles, then the nuke program is no longer about regime security or blackmail. It would then represent an existential threat to SK as a state and society. This is why I am such a strong supporter of THAAD. NK is moving from being a frightening rogue state obsessed with survival, to a major threat to the constitutional order and physical survival of the ROK (and Japan). To be sure, the USSR and USA were that to each other in the Cold War, but both developed technologies (SLBMs mostly) that allowed them to survive (or ‘ride out’ in nuclear parlance) even a massive first strike and still retaliate. By contrast, neither NK nor SK have this ‘assured second strike.’ (SK might because of the American alliance, but that’s not entirely clear.)

Further, both NK and SK are very vulnerable to a first strike, so the incentives to move first are high. NK cannot hide its nuclear weapons. They are vulnerable and a obvious temptation for an allied preemptive strikes, creating a ‘use-them-or-lose-them’ dilemma for Pyongyang. And this dilemma tightens as they build more and more. The more nukes NK builds, the greater the allied temptation to destroy them before they could be used, and, in turn, the more NK’s incentives to use them first rise. It’s a nasty spiral of paranoia.

SK too is vulnerable as a small, highly centralized state with a highly concentrated population defenseless against missile attack. It would not take many nuclear strikes to destabilize the Republic (unlike the US or USSR in the Cold War). As NK nukes move from a few for security, to many as a state- and society-breaking threat to SK (and even Japan), the incentives to preemptively destroy them first will grow also. This is a classic nuclear security dilemma, straight out of the Cold War in the 1950s.

The best way out of this would be nuclear restraint on the NK part (a pipe-dream, that), and/or robust missile defense on the SK side. THAAD is really, really important to slow the security dilemma paranoia that accompanies arms build-ups, especially nuclear ones. The Chinese ought to think about that before they come out so strongly against THAAD. If South Korea is entirely ‘naked’ or ‘roof-less’ against missile attack when NK has 100+ nuclear missiles, what does Beijing think will happen? That Seoul will just sit back and do nothing because of trade with China? I doubt it. No SK president could tolerate such a stark, asymmetric threat to the ROK’s very existence just to keep the Chinese mollified. That would border on dereliction of duty.

These ideas were first flesh out at The Diplomat here.

 

 

As North Korea continues to develop both nuclear weapons and the missile technology to carry them, the pressure on South Korea to take preemptive military action will gradually rise. At some point, North Korea may have so many missiles and warheads, that South Korea considers that capability to be an existential threat to Southern security. This is the greatest long-term risk to security and stability in Korea, arguably more destabilizing than a North Korean collapse. If North Korea does not arrest its nuclear and missile programs at a reasonably small, defensively-minded deterrent, then Southern elites will increasingly see those weapons as threats to Southern survival, not just tools of defense or gangsterish blackmail.

During the Cold War, the extraordinary speed and power of nuclear missiles created a bizarre and frightening ‘balance of terror.’ Both the Americans and Soviets had these weapons, but they were enormously vulnerable to a first strike. Under the logic ‘use them or lose them,’ there were enormous incentives to launch first: if A did not get its missiles out of the silos quickly enough, they might be destroyed by B’s first strike. One superpower could then hold the other’s cities hostage to nuclear annihilation and demand concessions. This countervalue, ‘city busting’ temptation was eventually alleviated by ‘assured second strike’ technologies, particularly submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). SLBMs ensured the survivability of nuclear forces; hard-to-find submarines could ride out an enemy first strike and still retaliate. So the military value of launching first declined dramatically. By the 1970s, both the US and the USSR had achieved enough survivability through various ‘hardening’ efforts that nuclear bipolarity was relatively stable despite the huge number of weapons in the arms race.

The Korean nuclear race does not have this stability and is unlikely to ever achieve it. Nuclear Korea today is more like the cold war of the 1950s, when nuclear weapons were new and destabilizing, than in the 1970s when they had been strategically integrated, and bipolarity was mature. Specifically, North Korea will never been able to harden its locations well enough to achieve assured second strike. North Korea is too small to pursue the geographic dispersion strategies the Soviets tried, and too poor to build a reliable SLBM force or effective air defense. Further US satellite coverage makes very hard for the North to conceal anything of great importance. North Korea’s nuclear weapons will always be highly vulnerable. So North Korea will always face the ‘use it or lose it’ logic that incentives a first strike.

On the Southern side, its small size and extreme demographic concentration in a few large cities makes the Republic of Korea an easy target for a nuclear strike. More than half of South Korea’s population lives in greater Seoul alone (more than 20 million people), and Seoul’s suburbs begin just thirty miles from the demilitarized zone. This again raises the temptation value of a Northern strike. Both the Soviet Union and the United States were so large, that only a massive first strike would have led to national collapse. In South Korea by contrast, nuking only about five large cities would likely be enough to push South Korea toward national-constitutional breakdown. Given its extreme urbanization and centralization, South Korea is extremely vulnerable to a WMD and/or decapitation strike.

While large-scale North Korean offensive action is highly unlikely – Pyongyang’s elites most likely just want to survive to enjoy their gangster high life – nuclear weapons do offer a conceivable route to Northern military victory for the first time in decades: a first-strike mix of counterforce detonations to throw the Southern military into disarray; limited counter-value city strikes to spur social and constitutional break-down in the South; followed by an invasion and occupation before the US military could arrive in force; and a standing threat to nuke Japan or the United States as well should they intervene. Again, this is unlikely, and I still strongly believe an allied victory is likely even if the North were to use nuclear weapons. But the more nukes the North builds, the more this threat, and the ‘use it or lose it’ first strike incentives, grow.

It is for this reason that the US has pushed South Korea so hard on missile defense. Not only would missile defense save lives, but it would dramatically improve Southern national-constitutional survivability. (Decentralization would also help enormously, and I have argued for that repeatedly in conferences in Korea, but it is unlikely.) A missile shield would lessen the military-offensive value of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, so reducing both first-strike temptations in Pyongyang and preemptive air-strike pressure in Seoul. Unfortunately South Korea is not hardened meaningfully to ride-out Northern nuclear strikes. Missile defense in South Korea has become politicized as a US plot to dominate South Korean foreign policy (yes, really) and provoke China. (Although opinion may, at last, be changing on this.) Air drills are routinely ignored. And no one I know in South Korea knows where their shelters are or what to do in case of nuclear strike.

Ideally North Korea would de-nuclearize. And we should always keep talking to North Korea. Pyongyang is so dangerous that freezing it out is a bad idea. Talking does not mean we must be taken advantage of by the North’s regular bargaining gimmicks. But we must admit that North Korea seems unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons. The program goes back decades, to the 1960s. Rumor has it that Pyongyang devoted more than 5% of GDP in the last two decades to developing these weapons. The program continued through the 1990s, even as more than a million North Koreans starved to death in a famine resulting from post-Cold War economic breakdown. The North has repeatedly lied and flim-flammed to outsiders like the ROK government and the IAEA to keep its programs alive clandestinely. Recently Kim Jong Un has referred to nuclear weapons as the “nation’s life.”

We could even go a step further and admit that a few Northern nuclear missiles are tolerable. If we put ourselves in Pyongyang’s shoes, a limited nuclear deterrent makes sense. Conventionally, North Korea is falling further and further behind. No matter how big the North Korean army gets quantitatively, it is an increasingly weak shield against high-tech opponents. US regime change in the Middle East has clearly incentivized despots everywhere in the world to consider the ultimate security which nuclear weapons provide. The North Koreans have openly said that nuclear weapons ensure their post-9/11 regime security. As distasteful as it may be to us, there is a logic to that. A small, defensive-minded deterrent – say five to ten warhead-tipped missiles that could threaten limited retaliation against Southern cities – would be an objectively rational hedge against offensive action by the US or South Korea. Indeed, this is almost certainly what Pyongyang says to Beijing to defend its program to its unhappy patron.

But this is the absolute limit of responsible Northern nuclear deployment and probably where the DPRK is right now. Further nuclear and missile development would exceed even the most expansive definition of North Korean security and takes us into the realm of nuclear blackmail, highly dangerous proliferation, and an offensive first-strike capability. Pyongyang does not need, for example, the ICBM it is supposedly working on.

In this context, my greatest fear for Korean security in the next two decades is North Korean nuclearization continuing apace, generating dozens, perhaps hundreds of missile and warheads, coupled to rising South Korean paranoia and pressure to preemptively strike. There is no possible national security rationale for Pyongyang to keep deploying beyond what it has now, and if they do, expect South Korean planners to increasingly consider preemptive airstrikes. North Korea with five or ten missiles (some of which would fail or be destroyed in combat) is terrible humanitarian threat, but not an existential one to South Korea (and Japan). South Korea could ride out, perhaps, five urban strikes, and Japan even more.

But a North Korea with dozens of nuclear missiles, possibly one hundred, some of them on submarines, would constitute a state- and society-breaking, constitutional threat to South Korea and Japan in case of conflict. That in turn will incentivize pre-emptive airstrikes. This spiral of paranoia between North Korea nuclearization, and pressure on Seoul (or even Tokyo) to preemptively defang North Korea before it can threaten state-destruction, is entirely predictable – and the reason why everyone, even China and Russia, wants North Korea to stop building. Let’s hope they listen (but they won’t).


Filed under: Geopolitics, Korea (North), Korea (South), Missiles/Missile Defense, Nuclear Weapons


Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
robertkelly260@hotmail.com

 


Deep Thoughts

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Ever since I left Seoul I have been thinking more and more about myself and my photography. I saw John Steele’s great post about his turning point with photography and it really gave me a lot to think about. I have gone over what I do and and how I do it more than at any other point in my photographic life. Was there a turning point for me? Are my best photos behind me?

These past few months have worn me out. A year ago, I had what I called the perfect job for a photographer. I worked at a university with some amazing photographers and I had the time to get out and take some photos whenever I wanted. However, just a few months ago the same person who hired me basically laughed me out of his office when I went to check my schedule for this term. So I that got me thinking  a lot about if I am at a crossroads in life right now.

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The biggest choice that I think that anyone has with life and with photography is do you continue down the road that you have always gone but ultimately leads nowhere or do you keep changing paths until you find one that suits you or that is profitable? For the longest time, I chose the comfortable path. For 5 years I worked at the same school, took the same photos of the same places. It was really comfortable knowing that nothing would change. I knew where to go and what to do.

Sadly, nothing lasts forever and doing the same thing wasn’t doing it for me. That is the same way that I feel about my photography. For years, I had a recipe for HDR photos that I thought were really good. I would set up, shoot and not really even have to think about the settings. Maybe a bit about the composition but more or less I just knew that I was going to get something out of the shoot. For most, that is great.

For me, I started wanting more. I started seeing other people pop up and make some serious waves and yet no matter how many of my photos I posted, they only made ripples. It was really starting to get to me. I was got so annoyed when I saw people getting getting great shots with a ton of comments. I knew that this wasn’t healthy and the whole thing was meaningless but it still burned me inside.

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My Turning Point

The biggest thing that I realized was that I had to change myself in order to change the outcome of my efforts. I have been doing the same things over and over again. Taking the same photos over and over again. So I started learning new techniques. I started depending on HDR less and less and actually using the camera and the myriad of photo techniques to get the desired look that I wanted.

It is the same in life. I got lazy and I realized that the people that I look up to are the ones are pushing themselves everyday. Sure, they may seem relaxed but they are also hitting the gym, studying, maintain schedules and just being positive. I have grown into a complainer while the people that I was complaining about were out there putting in some serious effort to get their name out. It’s easier to gripe about how crappy things are than to change them. It is a lot harder to see how great things are and that with a little effort each day I can do something better.

 

So for now I am focussing on being that person and that photographer that I want to be. This means learning and studying each day and even meditating. I always thought that meditation was for hippies or something to only do when you are really stressed but it is helping to give me a clearer idea of what I want. I have even done this while waiting for a right light out shooting. Just taking a few minutes to clear my head and focus on the scene in front of me really helped make a better photo.

So in the end, I just want to say that hopefully there will be a new path for me in the coming days. I have a new blog style with a clearer focus on the photos and I am really happy with it. Thank you all for the great support and I hope this post wasn’t too sappy. I hope that it gave you something to think about on some level.


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