12 May 2008

Next Stop: Land of the Morning Calm

It's 1:00am in St. Louis and I've just finished packing. Since I have to catch an international flight at 6am this morning, I decided to stay up all night and get a jump start on adjusting to the new time zone...

After nearly five months in the US, I'm headed back to Asia to spend five weeks working in Seoul, South Korea. I've never been to Korea, and two weeks ago I knew almost nothing about it. Since then, I've managed to read a couple of books on Korean culture and business etiquette, and I spent a few hours yesterday learning to read Korean script. It was surprisingly logical, much easier to learn than Japanese or Chinese writing systems which require excruciating amounts of rote memorization.

I've loaded my ipod with lessons from the Teach Yourself Korean series, so let's see how much I can absorb on the plane ride to Seoul. I get the feeling that, once I get there, the work will be too demanding to leave any room for language studies.

Reading about Korean culture and history has been fascinating. They apparently endured hundreds of years of the most extreme form of Confucianism in Asia, which enforced a strict code of ethics and behavior to ensure group harmony at all costs. That's when it got the nickname "Land of the Morning Calm"-- at a time when people weren't allowed to express emotions in public without serious penalties.

In a single generation, South Korea has transformed into a major global economic power and one of the wealthiest countries in Asia, with some of the highest levels of civil and political rights in the world.

Of course, I've also been learning what I can about Korean food, and I'm looking forward to tasting at least a dozen different varieties of Kimchi in the next few weeks.

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