McCain’s generation

Watching a CNN special on John McCain yesterday I was reminded of my grandfather and a conversation I had with him shortly before he passed away. He had been trying to read Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, but ultimately gave it up because, as he said, “it wasn’t for his generation.”

Seeing friends, acquaintances, and fellow soldiers recall the young McCain, I couldn’t help but think of my grandpa, an East Coaster who for decades ran a successful business on Wall Street, a Renaissance man of the Twentieth Century. He just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) wrap his head around a book sub-titled A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, about a new global era and how it came to be.

My grandfather taught me a great deal. He had deeply ingrained values that made him a respected and admired person in whatever circles he found himself in, and I take those lessons to heart. But he was also a man of his time, and though he tried to blend into this new century, his spirit was forever a part of the past. 

No doubt McCain was a valorous soldier and an honorable man, but he is a man of another era, like my grandfather shaped by a world that in many ways is far different than the one towards which we are now heading.

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Seoul’s rush-hour vendors

Seoul subway vendor

Seoul subway vendor

A piece in the Korea Times about Seoul’s subway vendors caught my eye this morning. You see them regularly on the trains here, hawking their wares to mostly indifferent passengers. I do see occasional purchases, and my wife likes to buy stuff from them if for nothing else than to support them. The last item we got was this handy all-in-one screw driver set that I’ve used more than once, for about 2000 won, or 2 bucks. I’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff though, too, and wonder how the hell anyone’s ever gonna convince someone to buy.

Never knew this but the word for the vendors is giabai, which doesn’t sound Korean to me and apparently comes from either Japanese, meaning poor people, or is an english transliteration of “gear buy.” Either way it can’t be an easy way to make a living.

I like stories like this that come from left field and give readers a taste of life in Seoul.

Only in America

Yesterday as people in my office in downtown Seoul gathered around the TV to watch Obama deliver his speech in Denver, a colleague from Sudan turned to me and said, a smile playing on the corners of his mouth, “who would ever have suspected that 49 years ago an African man in Kenya would father the next president of the United States. Only in America.”

“We” the people – Korean democracy

South Korea's national flag

South Korea's national flag

As democrats cheer their candidate in Denver celebrating American democracy, another kind of democracy is taking shape in Korea, where masses have been turning out since the inauguration of the new government to check state authority. It is a movement whose solidarity finds its base in a communal “we,” as opposed to America’s “I,” and is a model for democracies the world over.

In grey robed masses Korea’s Buddhist faithful turned out on Wednesday from across the country, gathering in front of Seoul’s city hall to protest what they see as a government hostile to their faith. With estimates ranging from 60 to 200,000, protesters marched, chanted and prayed in an outpouring of religious and political will overwhelming in its unity.

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Pyongyang eyes Moscow – warily

An interesting read in the Asia Times about the changing dynamic between Pyongyang and Moscow. The six-way talks over North Korea’s nuclear programs are usually presented as at most bi-lateral, or tri-lateral discussions between the US, China and NK. Russia’s role always seemed a little nebulous to me – what are their interests in NK.

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Buddhists rally against LMB

Yesterday in Seoul thousands of Buddhists from around the country rallied to protest what they say is the government’s religious bias against their faith, as demonstrated by recent slights against Buddhist leaders and a cabinet stocked with the president’s fellow church members. In contrast to the anti-US beef protests last month the mood yesterday was surprisingly calm, the atmosphere almost festive.

Lee Myung-bak apologize!

Lee Myung-bak apologize!

Monk against LMB

Monk against LMB

Security prepare for Buddhist protest

Security prepare for Buddhist protest

Michael Phelps is Korean — says China

There’s a mini-propaganda war going on between Chinese and Korean netizens as rumors and allegations fly across the blogosphere, with the latest bout revolvoing around rumors that Michael Phelps descends from Koreans who arrived in North America over a thousand years ago. The “Korean blood that flows in his veins,” goes the rumor, is what helped him make Olympic history.

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