Written By: Charles - Sep• 21•23

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Friday gratefuls: The disappearing cold. The streets of Songtan. My packets of antibiotics. 14. My son coming home early. A trip to a historic village tomorrow. Seoah. Murdoch. Kate, always Kate. Healing at 76. Slower, but happening. Travel. On the road again. Israel, too. Shadow Mountain and CBE. Home Granite, er, Turf.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Breathing freely

One brief shining: His sand colored combat boots sit by themselves in the land of outside footwear, his desert camouflage with the dark oakleaf of the Lieutenant Colonel lays draped across the back of his desk chair while my son now dressed in shorts and a t-shirt plays like a ten-year old with Murdoch, throwing a ball, hiding it, picking him up and holding him.


This trip has entered its final days. The last weekend starts tomorrow. A trip to Jeonju Hanok village on Saturday. Screen golf on Sunday. Not sure about Monday and Tuesday yet. My plane leaves Incheon at 5:40 pm on Wednesday. Interestingly, I leave Incheon at 5:40 pm on Wednesday, September 27th, and arrive in Dallas at 4:21 pm on Wednesday, September 27th.

Due to the week plus of cold induced rest I’m probably going to miss the National Korean Museum. See it next year. Don’t want to try the subway with my immune system weakened by the cold. The cold is gone, yes, and I have meds for the sinus infection, but I’m still in that fatigued state that follows an illness. Ode said that we don’t heal as fast at our age. He’s right. Slower, but it’s happening.


Made a slight tactical error when planning this trip and the one to Israel. Forgot I’m 76 and not 60. I’m neither as resilient as I was then, nor am I as quick mentally. Neither makes traveling a non-starter, hardly, but I planned on several days of self-guided wandering in Seoul for example. Not only did I encounter first the hip and back pain caused by spinal stenosis, but I found the subway maps and train routes did not clarify for me as fast I was used to. Then, the cold.

Travel for me now needs to factor in those changes. How? More emphasis on rest. More prep time before leaving for a sight seeing morning or afternoon. Greater use of taxis and buses. These are thing I know my sibs have already learned before nearing 80 years old, but I’ve not got the same level of experience they have.

My first trip outside the U.S. since 2016 finds me back in the same spot: Songtan, Korea. Back then I was 69 and still going strong. Thought I was picking up from there. Nope. In the retrospectoscope, a Kate term, I see all this as obvious. Yet it wasn’t.

I resist going too far down the road of accommodating my age. That way leads to rust in the joints and clogs in the mind. To ignore that my body has changed, on the other hand, simply brings me pain. More workouts with resistance, a stronger core. More walking with shoulders back, stomach in, heel contact, second toe in a straight line with something? And, yes, more leisurely lunches watching the folks of Songtan and Jerusalem going about their daily lives.

Life, that’s what all the people say

Written By: Charles - Sep• 20•23

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Wednesday and Thursday gratefuls: Korea. Slow healing. Rainy Skies. Sleep. Won’t come. Acting. Ming Jen. In Korea. Fuzzy thinking. Me. A bit of homesickness. For my own bed and my own home. A week from today I give back my pass to the future. My son’s sweet nature. Seoah’s persistence and culinary skills. Murdoch staying with me late into the night. Thursday. The family practice doc talking fast under her mask, pointing at my heart. Rain in Songtan. Umbrellas. Umbrella condoms. Sudden changes. Weariness. Recovering at 76. No pneumonia. That cute baby in the waiting room.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Home. Thursday Being old.

One brief shining: There are nights where the inner alarm trips too often, where King Bladder asserts too much royal authority, where no position feels comfortable, the nose plugs up, and the whole damned thing becomes a frustration.


Last night was such a night for me. Kate taps me on the shoulder, whispers in my ear. The tincture of time. Of course. Right. Ride it out. Keep drinking fluids and resting. Yes, my love.

Two and half years since she died. Seven years since we were in Korea together for my son and Seoah’s wedding. Her presence missed. Each day.

Life without a partner. Life without Kate. Alone, but not lonely. That’s almost all the time. How? Friends. Family. Books. Television. Purpose. Exercise. Health.

Would I like to have a partner again? Gosh I don’t know. If it could be Kate. In, well, you know, a beat of my heart. Otherwise? Learning the ways of a new person? Not easy at any age. I miss the love and day-to-day caring. Of course, I do. Yet.

I don’t miss having a partner often. I miss Kate, sure, but that’s not the same. Once in a while I’ll see a couple together and have a smile cross my face, then a nostalgia moment. Brief. Think how nice it would be. Then on to other matters.


Today, Thursday, I’m finally beginning to feel better. Still tired, but I slept well last night. When sick, a partner is wonderful. Kate, especially. Because she knew so damned much. Always felt confident about handling illness with her by my side.

Without her. Not so much. So I err on the side of caution. This cold had lasted seven days. Didn’t seem to be getting better and I got worried that it might be slipping down into my lungs. At 76. Respiratory illness? Avoid it if  you can. So I broke ranks with my ride it out thinking and went to see a Korean family practice doc yesterday.

No appointment. Seaoh and I walked about ten minutes from the apartment to a clinic next to Paris Baguette. Seoah checked me in and we were directed to the plain waiting area. Several Koreans of different ages from infants to old men and women sat there, umbrellas furled by their sides and wrapped in the saran wrap like condom available for them as you come in.

One little girl looked sick in that kiddy way. A frowning face, listless, I’m not having fun at all. An infant sorted through the toys his mother had brought along. An old man in a sweatshirt went over and stuck his arm in the blood pressure monitor machine. Korean news anchors said this and that on the inevitable TV screen.

A screen showed our position in the queue. About 30 minutes, Seoah said. Sure enough about thirty minutes late I heard a Korean version of my name. Seoah and I went to sit in the ondeck seats. A nurse had already come and taken my temperature. When she showed it to me (a digital thermometer), I almost jumped out of my chair. 376! Yikes. A slight fever she said to Seoah. Oh. The metric system. Right. And, no decimal point. Normal is 36.5 to 37.5.

We went into the doctor’s office. No trophies. No fancy shots of nature. Looked like a down at the heels working class living room with no couch. The doctor, a woman, sat an old wooden desk with two computer screens in front of her, frantically typing. She looked up and motioned me into a chair beside the desk. The books in the modest bookshelf behind her looked visited often, none of them for vanity.

Maybe that’s a big difference between the two experiences of Korean medicine I had and the American one. A lack of vanity. This is a system that does not try to elevate medicine or the doctors above their patients. It’s clear that its modest decor and utilitarian approach to patient care is for the purpose of delivering medical care at an affordable and easily accessible level.

When the doctor wanted to examine me, she had me move into a chair that looked like a dentist’s chair from the 1940’s. Both in terms of design and use. She listened to my lungs and said, X-ray.

Got those by walking across the waiting room. Again, no need to go to an imaging center. She looked at the results. Nothing in the lungs. Sinus infection. A prescription. And we were out of there.

Total cost: $15 or 20,000 won. The meds, at 21,600 won, cost more than seeing the doctor. And, we’d gone in without an appointment.






Korea Observed

Written By: Charles - Sep• 18•23

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Tuesday gratefuls:  Tom. Zoom. The Ancient Brothers. Diane. Taiwan. Travel. At our age. My son’s tough work week. Seoah’s galbi stew. Eating special food while sick. Beef and Chicken. Murdoch staying in my room last night until I went to sleep. The trip ticking over to its last week tomorrow. Alan and Joan. Brunch a week from Friday.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Galbi stew

One brief shining: Seoah set out a bowl with chunks of Beef short ribs (galbi), Potatoes, and fat Carrots in a Tomato inflected broth while explaining that Korean people eat this when family members are sick, the Chicken soup she made a couple of days ago, too.


More reflections on Korea. A few thing I missed last time. No outside shoes in the house. A small area to take off my Keen’s and put on my New Balance in house kicks. The tiled roofs of traditional houses ending in an animal medallion at the corners. An overall earnestness that shows up in store clerks, folks walking on the sidewalk, workers going on an apartment building site. We will do our best!

The Orthopedic Hospital. What it did not have. A huge parking lot. A lobby imitating corporate buildings. Muzak. Personnel who came around to help with the financial aspects of your visit. A sense of protected distance for the doctors, obscured procedure rooms. It felt approachable, a facility there to care for your health, not to capture revenue for Allina or Centura or Fairview/Southdale.

In these ways the Korean health care system works in the way a non-capitalist tainted system should and can work. We  have much to learn from this modest and conveniently located approach to health care delivery.


Korea has a population density of about 1300 people per square mile.* This makes it one of the world’s most densely populated nation. Driven in part by terrain that is 70% uninhabitable-Mountainous and a massive in migration to urban centers over the last couple of decades it’s easy to see here in Songtan.

The complex of 16 buildings that holds my son and Seoah’s current home adds to that. As does the Peyeongan City complex going up right across the street from them. A walk in the neighborhood bounded by Songtan-ro and Seyeong-ro showed that four and five story apartment buildings make up the bulk of residential structures there.

When I asked Seoah where she thought she caught her cold, she said the subway. There are so many people here. She’s had several colds. She observed that I may not have had much illness because where I live there are far fewer people. Probably right.

This website’s South Korea entry reveals though an interesting reality. “… the birthrate still remains low and if this continues, the population is expected to decrease by 13% to 42.3 million in 2050 and extinction by 2750 is a possibility.”

South Korea has the fifth lowest birth rate in the world.



South Korea is one of the planet’s most densely populated countries with a density of 503 people per square kilometer, or 1,302 people per square mile. Nearly 70% of South Korea’s land area is mostly uninhabitable due to it being mountainous and the population is established in lowland areas, contributing to a density that is higher than average. In 1975, an estimate was made that South Korea’s population density in its cities, each containing at least 50,000 people, was nearly 4,000 on average. As a result of the continued following of the practice to migrate to urban areas, the figure was much higher in the 1980s.

A Sweet and Wonderful Thing

Written By: Charles - Sep• 17•23

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Monday gratefuls: The real deal. Authenticity. The Ancient Brothers. Getting better. The Colorado/Colorado State game. The Rocky Mountain Showdown. A barn burner. The Marvel Universe. My son’s nerdiness. D.P. Songtan. The great recycling show on Sunday. Chicken noodle soup. Jewish penicillin. This time made by a Korean.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: The body rallies

One brief shining: Sitting on the couch, really a futon bed/couch, in my son’s living room, both of us sneezing and coughing, he found the Colorado/Colorado State game on Youtube and we settled in together, two former Minnesota guys with Colorado tenure rooting for the Buffaloes.


You probably missed it. Mountain Time in the evening. A game that usually has resonance only in Colorado and even then for only the small number of folks who followed the non-legendary Buffaloes and Rams over the last couple of decades. Usually.

This  year though. Coach Prime on the sidelines. Two of his sons on the field. Two wins already in the bag. The first against the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs who lost the 2022 national championship game to the Georgia Bulldogs and ended the year ranked #2 in the nation. That got the sport’s worlds attention.

The Rocky Mountain Showdown however. Whoo, boy. Without a 98 yard touchdown drive in the literal final two minutes AND a two-point conversion for a tie the Buffaloes would have lost a game in which they looked out of sync and ineffective.

College football does overtime differently now than when I last tuned in several years ago. More like the soccer shootout. A coin toss. Winner of the toss gets to choose whether they want the ball first and choice of ends of the field. Both teams get the ball on the opposing teams 25 yard line. They maintain possession until they score, run out of downs, or there’s a takeover. Got that? In the second overtime both teams have to try for two points rather than kicking. Yeah, I know. Here’s a page that explains it all, sort of.

I say all this because the game went to two overtimes, both teams scoring in the first. In the second the Buffaloes scored, but managed a takeover against the Rams offense and the game was over. Whew. What a ride!

Later on my son and I watched Winter Soldier, a Captain America entry in the Marvel Universe. My son’s an athlete. A physics/astrophysics major in college. Now a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. We’re substantially different. Not an athlete. Philosophy/anthropology. Protester against the Vietnam War.

But. We’ve traveled a lot together. Since his plane landed on December 15th, 1981, he’s grown up and I’ve grown old. We not only love each other, we like each other, like spending time when it’s possible.

We share a love of comic books, Marvel comics especially. Football. Travel. Politics. Family.

It is a sweet and wonderful thing to have a strong relationship with a man whom I knew first as a four and a half pound baby, all thin arms and legs.


Written By: Charles - Sep• 16•23

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Sunday gratefuls: A family evening with my son. A cold. Being sick far from home. Cooler weather here and on Shadow Mountain. An all clean Murdoch. My son’s golf game. Improving. His friend Brandon said, “A natural swing.” A trip to Korea. A week and a half to go. The Korea National Museum. The subway. The blue line and the orange line.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Rest when sick

One brief shining: Oh, you know, that first sneeze, the stuffed upness, a slight weary tinge to the whole body, then a second sneeze, the wondering where you put the box of tissues and what’s on your calendar that now has to get pushed further out, wondering about sleep, hoping for a good rest doubting.


Outside of my one bout with Covid a couple of years ago I don’t recall being sick after an awful time with the flu in 2019. Which is somewhat remarkable given those years were Kate’s worst. Yesterday though. Seoah’s cold moved in the opportune way of viral kind into my body and my son’s body. Not awful, but not fun either. Enough to scuttle my plans for a trip into Seoul today to the National Korean Museum. I can hear Kate: Push fluids and get rest. Yes, I trust my doctorwife still.

At 76 any respiratory illness has the potential to do damage, so I’ll go with a pound of cure since that ounce of the other has failed me. Read. Sleep. Sleep. Read. Not a bad way to spend time actually. I brought along my favorite book, Ovid’s Metamorphosis and I have my kindle, too. Not many English language bookstores in Songtan. Or, even in Seoul, I imagine.

Glad I chose to stay for a month plus. A week to relearn to walk and cozy up to better spine health and now a few days to see out my tiny visitors with plenty of time leftover to be with my son, Seoah, Murdoch. See Songtan and Seoul. Be on vacation in a land far from home.

I’m no longer in the oh my god I’m here I’ve gotta see everything mindset. Kate and I, partly due to her later in life back problems, long ago adopted a rest and see what we can, learn as opportunities emerge approach. This leads to a relaxed travel experience without the urge to bag sights, see the must see museum/church/village/waterfall.

Wish I could say I’d always been chill like that. But no. See Pompeii. The Colosseum. The Uffizi. The Kuntz Historische. That holy well. Anglesey. The Empire State Building. The Golden Gate Bridge. So glad Kate and I found another way to be on the road. Helping me now.

My son had a rough night. Worse than mine it sounds. A slow day, then. Especially since he has a very tough week coming up.

Over and out from the virus ward on Songtan-ro.



An often harsh culture

Written By: Charles - Sep• 15•23

Lughnasa and the Korea Moon

Saturday gratefuls: The Grilled Fish shop. Mackerel. Salad with sesame seed dressing. Kimchi. Tofu soup. Pickled radish. Bean Sprouts. Friendship day between Korean Air Force controllers and US controllers. Barbecue with hamburgers and hot dogs. Bulgogi. My son’s care for the folks who work for him. Working out. Pain free. Slow and deliberate. Walking by Mr. Lee.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Korean Culture

One brief shining: The waitress, maybe 5 feet tall, brought out a wooden tray filled with side dishes and slid them into place with the ease of long practice, small covered tin bowls held Rice; she went away and came back with a flat wooden plank containing three whole grilled Fish, all Mackerel, which Seoah prized apart with the blunt end of her metal chopsticks.


The Grilled Fish House sits back from Songtan-ro next to a mechanics shop which never seems to have any cars in the bays. About a five minute walk from the apartment building.

A light Rain fell. Seoah had her umbrella up; but I carried mine unfurled, enjoying the sensation. Rain is no longer common for me in the Mountains. The day was warm.

A table full of working men drank beer and wielded their chopsticks click clack click. An aquarium at the front held three sullen looking fish, a desultory final home.

Seoah and I ate all three Mackerels. Thought it would be too much. It wasn’t. Over the meal we talked about Korean culture. I had collected two paper cups for water and put them top down on the table. No. Always this way. Cups up. Ah. Also. I’ve noticed you just put money down on the counter when paying. Yes? Korean people are sensitive. Think that means you disrespect them. Oh. How do I do it properly? Both hands on the money and hand it to them. I can do that.

This conversation segued into bullying. The intense competitive nature of Korean society manifest especially in the schools, the military, and business leads to constant maneuvering for positions of authority or power. The apparently weak or different suffer. Seoah confirmed this and shook her head. This country.

Korea has universal service so all Korean males go into the Republic of Korea armed service. The ROK. Between age 19 and age 28 a young man has to enlist  for a time period between 18 and 21 months depending on the branch selected. There are exemptions, but most end up doing at least alternative service.

The harshness of the service experience as displayed in D.P., Deserter Pursuer, seems to be common knowledge. Look at this article in the Washington Post.

Seoah confirmed that her brother had trouble when he served. It seems especially the intelligent and the artistic, the gay and the just different, experience brutal beatings and constant hazing. Seoah said she thought many of the episodes on D.P. drew on real stories. If so, OMG.

A similar dynamic occurs in schools. This is a culture’s way of enforcing its most conservative and ugly values. Not much different from racism and sexism.

Seoah said she prefers American culture because it recognizes boundaries between individuals. Not to say we don’t have our bullying and hazing.. We do. The difference seems to be the ubiquity of them in Korean culture.

Darker Notes

Written By: Charles - Sep• 14•23

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Friday gratefuls: Rosh Hashanah. Yom Kippur. L’Shanah Tova. Opening the Book of Life. Chesbon nefesh. A time for accounting for our souls. 5784. Judaism. Israel. Conversion. D.P. My son and his compassion. Seoah and the fried chicken last night. Authentic life. A dog’s life. Rain in Songtan. My son’s cookout tonight with the ROK Air Force controllers.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Accounting for our souls

One brief shining: Walked up Songtan-ro past the restaurant with the image of a man about to eat an uncooked fish, up past the sheet metal shop with grime on its windows and duct work stacked alongside a rarely used front door, past the apartment buildings with narrow parking lanes between them, past the draft beer joint with an official sign that read Draft Beer Hygiene, turned left and back into a residential neighborhood with a mix of low rise apartment buildings, the occasional single family home with a gate, a garden with squash and peppers and a couple of plants I didn’t recognize, left again now going downhill, a sleepy twenty-something came out of an apartment door, looked blearily at me as I continued toward Seoyang-ro, the small commercial area that serves the locals, once there my feet took me left and back toward the 15 building complex where I’m staying for the month of September.


And now for something darker. Long before my son and Seoah moved back to Korea for their four-year stay, I’d become enchanted with K-dramas. One of the things I love about Netflix. All the country specific shows. Turkish. South African. British. Japanese anime. Chinese movies. Israeli shows. Directed by natives and acted in by natives. Story lines peculiar to the sensibilities of other cultures than my own. It’s an unusual moment, being able to see the ordinary entertainment of people’s around the world. How I got to watching my first K-dramas.

Perhaps you’ve seen Vincenzo or Extraordinary Attorney Woo or the Hotel Luna, Stranger, Itaewon Class, Sky Castle. Perhaps not. I have. Yesterday I began to watch D.P. Yes, my misspent old age. I know. But I forgave myself for this habit a long time ago.

Particular themes critical of contemporary Koren culture begin to emerge. The tension between prosecutors and the National Police. Misplaced reverence for chaebol CEO’s. And two that have interested me especially. The punishing competitiveness of the Korean school system and the harmful affects of bullying in many sectors of Korean society.

Skycastle for example follows four families living in a gated community for the rich, powerful, and well-educated. Skycastle. Without spoilers its theme of hyper competitive students, but even more their hyper competitive, win-at-all costs parents, shows how such a system distorts family life, childhood development, and the culture of Korea itself. I asked Seoah and her sisters about this and they acknowledged that Skycastle accurately reflected a small segment of Korean society, like the cheating ring uncovered in 2019 that included actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin reflects a certain segment of ours.

Yes. Skycastle probably exaggerates. Yet. One of Seoah’s nephews, a bright young guy with a talent for the piano as well, often studies until midnight. Not because his mother pressures him but because the school system itself implies that’s the way to educate yourself.

Tomorrow we’ll look at bullying at schools and in the universal military service required of as the law states, all male genders.

Korea II

Written By: Charles - Sep• 13•23

Lughnasa and the 2% crescent Korea Moon

Thursday gratefuls: Seoah feeling better. My son’s love. Murdoch’s, too. And, Seoah’s. Songtan. Working out aprés the flare. Hot wings. Writing. Seoul. An amazing and vibrant city. The Mountains of Songtang. The Rocky Mountains. The Apennines. The Atlas. The Himalayas. The Alps. The Dolomites. The Appalachians. The Smokies. The Sierra Nevada.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Mountains

One brief shining: With a cup of instant coffee in hand I look out the window from this twelfth floor apartment toward Seoul seeing Songtan below and the Tree covered Mountain that rises behind it, then how the city has engulfed and climbed not only this Mountain but others in its range, street and businesses and housing climbing, climbing.


Figuring out the logistics of getting into Seoul and the National Museum of Korea. We could take a bus, but the times were not convenient. At least going up. So, subway. The blue line to the orange line, transfer and four stops north. Between an hour and a half to two hours. After the museum we will take the bus home, perhaps a taxi from the museum to the bus. Just to make a trifecta of urban transportation. Might be my son and me. Depends on how Seoah’s feeling by Sunday.

I could go by myself. Though I don’t have as much stamina as I used to and my brain doesn’t compute the ways of the various modes of transportation as quickly and easily as it used to. Especially in a language that remains beyond my grasp. Not dementia, just the changing neurological capacities of the aging brain. Rapid processing is one of the things that diminishes in quality.

This visit though. With the still healing back. I’ll choose to go with family that can help. This will be trip three into Seoul. I wanted to focus on Seoul this trip and that’s what we’ve done.

We do have a trip planned on the 23rd to Jeonju, a village of 800 traditional Korean homes with restaurants, crafts people, and places to stay overnight. That will be the only outside Seoul experience (other than Songtan, of course) this time. Excepting the 70th birthday for Seoah’s mom in Gwangju and the overnight in Okwga at her parent’s village.

Every trip, my brother said, has its own rhythm. Yes to that. This one has had a slow deliberate rhythm, pauses often and long. The in depth Korean experience for me has come in Songtan. Hardly a tourist destination, it’s a working city with businesses and streets and transportation to serve its citizens, not the world of travelers. With the exception of the area around Osan AB. But where my son and Seoah live Songtan is an urban area for Koreans.

That has given me an unusual opportunity, as did Seoah’s mom’s 70th, to visit Korea as it is, not as it wishes to be seen or as tourists with shorter stays might ever encounter. The enforced slower strolling my sore back has occasioned has reminded me that I may have gone too quickly through the world in times past. There is much to see and learn at a slow walking pace.


A Songtan Flaneur

Written By: Charles - Sep• 12•23

Lughnasa and the Korea Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: Seoah feeling better. My son with a sore throat. I’m ok for now. No longer immune compromised. The streets of Songtan. Grilled Fish place. So many restaurants. So many Koreans. Ha. Back still improving. Workout again today. My son’s very long days next week. The 1311 bus to the subway station in Songtan.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: Korea

One brief shining: Stood at an intersection yesterday and watched the light turn green, the digital timer with 20 seconds ticking down, thought for the first time if that was enough time to make it; it was.


Obvious. Signs in Hangul. Street signs. Restaurant signs. Plant shops. Grocery stores. Clothing stores. Hair salons. The street signs all have transliterations in the English alphabet. Some of the shops and restaurants may have a word or two in English. Most not. Seoah says English literacy declines steadily from Seoul on south. Makes sense. Fewer encounters with English speakers the further south you to. Like Gwanjiu where Seoah’s mom’s seventieth birthday was held. And her home village of Okwga.

Less obvious. Iron chopsticks. Long spoons for soups. The many, many restaurants with the shiny hanging powered vents over the  charcoal or gas cooking pit for every four chairs. The Orthopedic hospital on the second floor of a non-descript office building soon to have Screen Golf on the first floor. The efficient city bus and subway system. Good taxis if you speak Korean.

Even less obvious. The large number of fit Koreans, flexible in old age, limber and athletic when younger. Their work ethic. Honed I imagine in centuries of stoop labor where survival meant the rice crop had to come in. The children in their uniforms walking home after school.

The rolled up thin cuts of beef and pork in the butcher shops. For grilling. Or hot pot cooking. The restaurants with octopus signs. Where you can eat live octopus. The all crab restaurant with the aquariums out front, large crabs clawing and moving against the glass. The various sorts of kimchi. Cabbage. Cucumber. Pickled vegetables.  The multiple side dishes at every traditional meal.

Bowing. Calculating status by age. By wealth and clan. Complicated calculus likely opaque to even a seasoned Korean expat.I think I mentioned here a few weeks back that Seoah’s dad’s first question to me was, “How old are you?” He’s my elder by five years.

Something non-Korean speakers cannot parse is the difference between formal and casual language. If speaking to an elder, formal language is always used until the elder indicates casual language is all right. When meeting new people, formal language again is used and often doesn’t change if or until a friendship forms. I can’t parse this as non-Korean speaker so I don’t know much more about it.

Clans. Bongwans. Those with a common village of origin and paternal ancestor. Bongwans appear to be less important today due to the churn of modern society, but it seems they can still influence business networks and perhaps job seekers.

There’s more, but that’s the Songtan flaneur’s observations for today.


Family First

Written By: Charles - Sep• 11•23

Lughnasa and the Korea Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: Seoah. My son. Their apartment and its twelfth floor view. Murdoch, asleep behind me. My Korean zodiac bracelet that Seoah bought me at the Bongeunsa gift shop. The Pig. Yesterday’s workout. Tiring but pain free. Bulgogi for dinner last night. The Korean National Museum. Songtan. Korea. Shadow Mountain. Kate, always Kate. Jon, may his memory be for a blessing.

Sparks of Joy and Awe: The Spine

One brief shining: Thinking of Shadow Mountain the Lodgepoles and Aspens on Black Mountain the sudden change to a gold and green Mountainscape, cooler Air and blue Sky, Black Bears going into hyperphagia, Elks bugling for dominance and sex, Leaf peepers crowding the Mountain roads.


No, not homesick. But. I do love the Rockies. And I do miss being there as this change to fall happens. It’s a wonderful and special time. Wild neighbors preparing for Winter, many Plants finishing up their season of growth and heading toward dormancy, the surging energy I always experience then. I’ll not miss all of it. Glad for that.


Seoah’s got a cold. Hoarse, feeling fatigue. Overall crummy. My son has an especially long day today. Probably a quiet day. I may take myself out for lunch. Go for a walk. Exercise tomorrow.


Two weeks to go. Will head up to the Korean National Museum on Sunday. Begin to consolidate the learning I had from the Korean histories I read. Visual learning added to book learning. Going to buy gifts there, too. Three big gift shops. Hope they can mail them to me. Another Seoul train ride.


Murdoch sleeps at my feet right now. Where he stays for my son. Each morning as at home I get a cup of coffee, a glass of Water, a bowl of muselix, and sit down to write. This is a habit begun years and years ago. Writing first thing in the morning. Given over to Ancientrails now, but often including novels a few years ago. Will return to that longer version when I can.


Family first. An Air Force motto. And my son’s. Also a defining characteristic of Korean culture. Family comes first. Always. Here’s an example. When Jon died last year, my son and Seoah came to help. A lot of emotion of course, sometimes frayed nerves, but everybody helped, got through the first shocking weeks together.

After a while though Seoah began to ask questions. Why do you help them so much? To my son. In her definition neither Jon, nor Ruth and Gabe were family. Help, yes. Go all out? No. She wanted my son back home in Hawai’i. With his family.

This culturally inculcated strong family orientation has begun to fray as kids leave the home village, marry foreigners, as Seoah did, take jobs in China, as her brother did; however, the brother moved back to Korea and built their parents a new house, Seoah convinced my son to forego a plum assignment in NATO to return to Korea for four years to be close to her parents.

Culture has a conservative disposition, it changes slowly, sometimes not at all, and breaking from its received understandings can cause guilt and shame. Powerful, powerful motivators.