Houston

We've been back in Houston for about a week. My social compass has gone astray; I don't know where my North is. I've acted many different ways in many different cultures. It’s amusing to see myself display cultural ticks I've picked up that are out of place in America. I'm sure I'll acclimate soon enough, but I'm not sure I want to. I've enjoyed being the foreigner not held accountable to the same social pressures as everyone else; especially in Asia where protocol is everything. I just bowed and smiled and that's all anyone expected. Maybe I'll just walk around Houston in a big furry Russian hat and pretend not to speak English. Privet!


Running with Chopsticks

When I was growing up in NYC, I heard about doors to apartments being left unlocked in the 50s. I never believed it until now. Korea has a virtually crime free society. I've seen iPhones charging in public places with the owners gone. Street merchants cover their merch at night with just tarps; and no one takes anything. In six weeks I've only seen one person raise their voice in anger; the police were called. The food is probably the healthiest and most delicious of anywhere I've been. I am rarely disappointed when trying something new. Most food is prepared in front of me so I can examine the freshness of the ingredients before cooking. Hygiene standards are extremely high. Everything is super clean. 90% of the cars on the road are Korean made as well as most of the products in stores. The government imposes high tariffs to keep imports out. The country was destroyed during the Korean war, so much of the architecture is new and futuristic  They have the fastest internet I've ever experienced and a community effort to cover the country with WIFI. They have the largest subway system in the world and the airport is a small city. If you haven't figured it out, I like Korea.

Changdeokgung Palace
Bibimbap, Kimchi, Sliced Egg Omelet, Bean Sprout Soup, Mysterious Red Stuff
Subway
Seaweed
Jonggak Shrine
The Cat Cafe
Remote for the hotel toilet with translation
Gangnam Style

DMZ

On TV it's us against them, axes of evil and all that. I'm no friend of communism, especially the cult of personality version they practice in North Korea. I've taken sides and have done my fair share of saber rattling, at least in my own mind. In 1953 North and South Korea agreed on a ceasefire, but no treaty was ever signed. So they are still technically at war.


Tara and I took a USO guided tour of the demilitarized zone or DMZ. A copy of the waiver we signed can be downloaded here. The DMZ is a 4km area that stretches the entire length of the N/S Korean border. In the center or 2km from each side is the actual "border." It’s demilitarized because arms over 60 caliber are not allowed. I was expecting a casual, largely ceremonial show of sovereignty after so many years. I was wrong, it was incredibly tense.


There were heavily fortified checkpoints every few minutes. Signs for mines were posted just off the roads where our bus was driving. The DMZ has more mines per square foot than anywhere else on earth. Soldiers are staring at each across the border all day; only about 30 feet apart. The border is marked on the ground between the buildings on Conference Row by concrete slabs.


Our US army escorts only allowed us to point our cameras towards North Korea for fear of spying. Chinese and Korean nationals are not allowed in the DMZ without special permission.


I wasn't prepared for my reaction. I became very very sad. Years of watching foreign conflicts on TV have sapped my empathy for the realities of war, almost becoming callous. In person it was just tragic. What made things worse is North Korea has unfriended South Korea on Facebook.


Surviving Technology

Before the industrial revolution people had to struggle to survive. Most people’s lives revolved around farming. food, clothes, and tools were created by hand in the home. You couldn't just walk into Wal-Mart and choose from 8000 bags of potato chips. Malnourishment and disease were common, wages were very low. People traveled long distances over harsh terrain, mostly on foot. Today in modern countries, technology has made things easy. The essential components for survival are provided by society at birth. Survival skills that have culminated over 50,000 years are now obsolete. We're not fighting for survival anymore; we're fighting for the next iPad.

Flåm Norway
I would argue that many of the current problems in our society are due to a shift from the natural mode of survival to feeling like a helpless cog in a machine. Feeling that we are in control of our own destiny is a fundamental human need. Without it we become helpless, discouraged, and depressed. And occasionally dead. Without the urgency of survival, it's easy to slip into the mindset of why are things happening to me; instead of taking control of our lives and taking responsibility for everything that happens.

Eleven months ago I felt like a helpless cog. The challenges I've encountered on this trip have helped me renew confidence in my mind and body; especially as I'm getting older. The doubt committee has slowed down at least for a while. I have greater trust in my problem solving skills and I feel like I can better handle whatever might happen. This trip has been a good way to refresh myself to start the next chapter of my life. The main thing I've learned is that I must go and do instead of wait. It's the only way to continuously shift my comfort zone so I can stay resilient.