Update from Korea

It’s been a little more than six months since our son deployed to Korea so it was wonderful to get a phone call from him on Saturday morning.

One interjection: if you’re like me, you’re used to hearing “deployed” followed by “to Afghanistan” or “to Iraq.” But I have come to understand that “deploy” means to position troops – or even civilians – for action. In our son’s case, we’re very grateful that his deployment has taken him to a part of the world that is more concerned having super-fast internet than IED blasts.

Back to our story: Ethan had scheduled the call with us so that we could relay some information to him that he would need to complete his tax return. But we haven’t talked to him since Christmas, so Steve and I were eager to get filled in about what life has been like for him.

Until recently, he’s been stationed at a huge army base – we’re talking 20,000 people with a PX the size of a strip mall and a couple of Starbucks – in Seoul. But because his job in the army is a linguist, every year he has to pass a proficiency test in Korean. Or at least he has to pass it if he wants to keep his pay grade.

So about a month ago, he relocated to Camp Humphreys for a language refresher course. But unlike the way I picture a “camp,” there aren’t any tents and smore’s at this one; it’s another big army installation – 10,000 personnel – located on the western coast of South Korea.

Studying and writing Korean for eight hours a day gets quite tedious but he and his buddies had a four-day a couple of weeks ago and traveled to Busan, a port city and the second largest city in Korea with a population of about 4 million – making it about the same size as LA. In Busan, they did want most army guys do when they are on leave. They went to the beach and bought many drinks. As his mother, that is about as specific as I want him to be.

It was interesting to hear him talk about how beautiful Busan is. His opinion is that Seoul grew incredibly fast in the 1970s and because of that, the architecture is full of concrete monoliths whereas Busan grew more slowly and more attention was paid to planning. He was impressed by the distinctive skyline of the city.

He told us how he marvels at Korea’s desire to over-achieve in everything they do. One small example he gave was that on an American talk show, it wouldn’t be unusual to hear a discussion about how to get in shape or eat more healthfully. On Korean daytime TV, the topic was not just how to eat less, it was how to not eat at all: 10 Tips about How to Fast.

Because spent 18 months learning Korean and now he is stationed in Korea, people sometimes ask me if he speaks fluent Korean. That’s another aspect he liked about Busan compared to Seoul; not everyone knows English so he was able to use his Korean. And where’s the best place to practice? Talking to a cute girl in a bar, of course.  When you’re 26, some things are the same no matter what part of the world you’re in.

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