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Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Our bus from Seoul had emptied out at the East Daegu Station. The driver was taking a break somewhere outside in the grey chill. I noticed that the only other person on the bus was sitting directly in front of me--on the other side of the tall seatback. I struck up a conversation with Ms. Yoon, a recent college graduate. She was petite, all of perhaps 22 or 23. Her intermittent fingering of her cell phone didn't keep her from being quite friendly.
We were soon on our way again. The scenery between Daegu and the somewhat more provincial Gyeongsan was flowing alongside our conversation. She was a newly minted elementary school English teacher about to begin her teaching career. She was speaking nearly flawless, accent-free English.
She wasn't much older then my students at Yeungnam University are likely to be. I asked her what she and her friends were talking about these days--what mattered to them. She quickly responded, "K-pop"* (Gayo in Korean) saying that it was a new music genre that was very popular not only in Korea but abroad as well--Korean pop music. Then she added that the issues of the Korean economy and finding jobs were also on their minds. I asked Ms.Yoon if North Korea was worrying her. She smiled and said "No, not really."
Our bus arrived in Gyeongsan and we both waited outside for our rides. She had a small colorful suitcase and told me that she was just returning from a weeklong education seminar in Thailand.
Byeong, my host, greeted me warmly. I introduced him to Ms.Yoon and in departing, I wished her the best. My bags filled the trunk and back seat of his car. We spoke politely as he drove me to my apartment--my new home in Korea. We reflected on the Korean economy of his teenage years--when I was last teaching in Korea. It was as recent as the mid 1970's when both Koreas, north and south, had almost identical per capita annual incomes. Today, North Korea struggles with massive food shortages and an economy that has changed little since 1975. South Korea is now one of the world's leading economic powers and top exporters. I wonder if K-pop has found its way into the dark citadel that is North Korea.**


  1. Hey Steve, I like the old photos, tile roofs with high-rises in the background, very nice. Am going to have to check out K-pop. Hope your teaching is off to a good start. Keep on keeping us posted, a bit dull & cold on the island, john

    1. Greetings John, I picture you with black pen in hand, book down on table, writing earnestly and intently in the cafe downfront; a man not to be disturbed, lest an important meandering thought get forever caught and left behind on a some thicket of distraction. Have you benefitted from any milder weather? Are your visions of the orient soothing your soul? Let me know. Steve

  2. Hi, Steve,
    Fun to read this and imagine what you're seeing, tasting, hearing.

    K-pop has crossed the borders of North Korea as well as countries all over the world. I remember seeing references to a big K-pop concert in Pyongyang last year or the year before, and here's a blog post discussing how the music is infiltrating the DPRK:

    Just got a foot of snow on Peaks yesterday - almost the first time it's really looked like winter this year.

    Hope you have a wonderful start teaching.

    1. Hi Annie, I just received a comment from fellow island resident Whitney Fox who, like Yunhee, also hails from Daegu. My comment to her (see latest blog entry) made mention of you and your life here. The only thing recognizable to me now, after spending two brief evenings in Daegu, is the former location of the Peace Corps lending library office there. It was a quiet and dusty place then, lined with paperbacks, about 3-4 blocks from the center of downtown Daegu. The subway system, like Seoul's, is rather remarkable; 2 lines, red and green. Fare is about $1.10. Warm regards, he with the kimchee breath and loving it, Steve