bookmark_borderPost-105: “AFN The Eagle, Serving America’s Best!” (Or, America on Korean FM Radio)

In 2011, 2012, and 2013, while living in Korea, I’ve occasionally listened to 102.7 FM, broadcasting from Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul. It is the radio station of the USA’s “Armed Forces Network” (which is always called by its acronym, “AFN”). They call it “The Eagle”. The slogan you often hear the DJs repeat: “AFN, ‘The Eagle’: Serving America’s Best”.

“DJ” Andrew Branstad
How many times have I heard this, smoothly-delivered from the main DJ:

This is AFN “The Eagle”, serving America’s best! I’m Sergeant Andrew Branstad with you here on……

Branstad is the name of some of my relatives in Iowa. A search shows that this Andrew Branstad is from Mason City, Iowa [Video] [Interview], so, for all I know, he is a relative of mine. As far as I know, the Branstads to whom I’m related are distant relatives of Iowa’s governor.

I think Andrew Branstad is quite a good DJ, the equal of any civilian one in the USA. I’ve been listening to him for nearly two years now. I enjoy listening when he’s “on the air”, even though I’m not the intended audience at all.

America on the Korean FM Dial
The AFN radio station out of Yongsan is enjoyable, well-executed, and professional, given the small target-audience of a few thousand (tens of thousands?) of Americans attached to the U.S. military around Seoul. You’d have no idea that “The Eagle” was in Korea, 98% of the time. My impression is that U.S. Soldiers generally don’t notice Korea. There is seldom any mention of Korea at all on AFN, for example, so it’s no wonder. Relatedly, I notice that the Army people all pronounce “Yongsan”, the base in Seoul, “wrong”. It’s supposed to be “Yohng-sahn” (용산). The Army people say “Young-saen” (“영새언”) or occasionally Yahng-saen” (“양새언”), depending on their accents. (Maybe some are aware they’re saying it wrong, but would think it pretentious to try to imitate the true Korean pronunciation.)

During most of the day, there is no DJ, and top-40 pop music is played. A recorded “Today’s best hits, on AFN”  is the tagline. which is followed immediately by top-40 U.S. music. Every now and then, there are also songs I recognize from the 2000s and 1990s. Somebody at the helm there really loves the 1991 song “Life is a Highway“. Maybe Branstad himself! He’d be about the right age [b. circa 1979] for it to be a youth-nostalgia thing for him (and a befitting song for youth-nostalgia it is). I’ve heard that song many times at all hours of the day on 102.7 FM, “The Eagle”.

Simulcasts; Morning Show at Bedtime
AFN “The Eagle” also sometimes does “simulcasts” of programs from the USA, involving some local U.S. DJs I’d never heard of, playing more top-40 music (one being somebody named Dave Perry, who I often end up hearing, and who has a pretty great radio voice). The main simulcast program I hear is called “Kid Kraddick in the Morning“. It’s on when I get home from work, 10 PM Korea time. Sometimes I listen. Listening into an American “morning-show” at 10 PM in Korea is pretty neat. Once, I was amused to turn it on and hear Psy being interviewed, in English, by the “Kid Kraddick” cast. Psy sounded sleepy, and didn’t sound very fluent in English at the moment.

Totally Irrelevant to Me
I was once on Yongsan Garrison. My retired-Air-Force uncle brought me on while he was here for a week. Yongsan is an amazing place, a true American “colony”. Listening to AFN, I sometimes feel like I’m in the U.S. Army in Korea. The latter is especially true from the “commercials”, which are entirely informational, Army-oriented public-service announcements. Some are on how to avoid getting into trouble, others are info on events upcoming at Yongsan.

All of that is totally irrelevant to me, but then sometimes the least relevant is the most fascinating. Just ask any of my students: Rule #1 for many classes: “Anything off-topic is highly entertaining”!

bookmark_borderPost-104: Gettysburg 150th — Reading, Watching, Walking

We’re now past the 150th anniversary of the dramatic Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3).

I’ve had the ambition for several years to walk from the northern suburbs of Washington, DC to Gettysburg, retracing the footsteps of the army. I attempted this in 2011, and nearly made it all the way. I didn’t have enough time.

I planned to do it in July 2013, the actual 150th, and even made tentative plans to do so with my friend Jonathan S., but alas I was in Korea at the time.  (He’s been having a hard time recently, a kind of frustration about being low on the chain in the post-2008 economy, flailing around and not getting ahead. I know more than a few people in that position.)


Colonel Chamberlain leading the 20th Maine’s bayonet charge at Little Round Top, Gettysburg

That reminds me. Somebody has posted the extended-version of the 1993 film “Gettysburg” onto Youtube. It’s been up for several months,, and has 150,000 views as of today. Four and a half hours, total running time.
The charge of the 20th Maine (as in the painting above) is shown from 2:28:00 to 2:33:00 (two hours, twenty-eight minutes). The 20th Maine was at Little Round Top, on the extreme left wing of the Union Army’s defense line. General Lee chose to attack the Round Top hills on July 2nd. If they’d taken the Round Tops (nobody remember, but there is also a “Big Round Top”), the Confederates could have put artillery on them, threatening the rest of the Union line, probably inducing Union retreat, and thus winning the battle. That’s the implication in Killer Angels.

Around the early 1990s, my dad read the now-classic book Killer Angels, an account of the battle. Although written like fiction, it is essentially nonfiction. There were a couple trips to Gettysburg inspired by that book (I guess). I was too young to appreciate the trips, or much remember them. I remember cassette tapes being played. More driving than walking. Maybe the trip was a stop-off on route to Iowa (where my father’s family lived/lives). That seems likely.

Later, in the mid-1990s, in one of the final years of his life, my mother’s father also read the book Killer Angels. This may be an incorrect memory, but I remember him reading it at my aunt’s house in Chester, CT. A memory I am more sure of is that he finished it in one day, from cover to cover. I was amazed at the time. How could anyone finish a book in one day! I thought. It is several hundred pages.

I finally read that book, too, in 2012. I bought it in Korea. I spent all of 2012 in Korea. The author of that book immortalized the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment and its commander, Colonel (later General) Joshua Chamberlain, who was an academic, a professor, before the war, and spoke several languages.


Related: I wrote in post-103 about Lincoln’s humility displayed in his correspondence with General Grant, along with my amateur social analysis of American personality

Related: I wrote in post-102 about the man who may well be the worst commander of the U.S. Civil War.

Related: I wrote in post-14 about a ‘relative’ who was killed at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. I consider him to be the first person bearing my surname to have lived in the USA, and will continue to think so until I see contrary evidence.

bookmark_borderPost-103: When Lincoln Was Wrong (Or, “Sincerity, Simplicity, and Humility Without Servility”)

Lincoln’s Civil War letters, on the 150th anniversary of the writing of each, are being transcribed/published here:


I appreciate whoever is doing it.

An entry on July 13th, 2013 reproduces a letter by Lincoln to General Grant of July 13th, 1863, exactly 150 years earlier. Lincoln congratulates Grant on his victory in the then-recently-ended Vicksburg campaign. (Grant’s siege of Vicksburg ended July 4th, when the Confederate general surrendered — 30,000 Confederates became prisoners in a day. An entire Confederate field army, the Army of Mississippi, gone.) Lincoln admits he was wrong and Grant was right about strategy.

[To] Major General Grant               Executive Mansion,
My dear General                              Washington, July 13, 1863.
I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. […..] I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.
            Yours very truly
            A. LINCOLN

This warm/humble style is characteristic of Lincoln. What other 19th-century leader would’ve written such a letter?

There is, I think, something very American (old American) about Lincoln’s attitude there. I don’t have the verbal ability to concisely say what I mean, so I will lift the words of R.W. Emerson: “Sincerity, simplicity, and humility without servility.” These were American “folk-virtues”, historically. (This personality-archetype has allowed Europeans these past few centuries to think of Americans as unsophisticated rubes). George Washington was like that. Robert E Lee was like that. A lot of now-living Americans are still like that, but people like that are not “cool” anymore. My father’s extended family is pretty much like that, I think. My mother’s side, too, but less so.

This reminds me of an observation someone had at the informal soccer games I’ve been at in Korea. Most players are British and some are North-American. You often hear the Americans play-down their own abilities (“I’m not very good”…), while the British/Irish players never do. There’s not much difference in actual ability between us all, but you’d think North-Americans were far inferior from attitudes on display. That’s “American humility” at work, maybe.

Humility is “big” in East-Asia, too, of course. After over three years here now, though, it’s my impression that, when push comes to shove, East-Asian humility is usually (1) not sincere, and (2) actually about servility, not humility. I mean, among East-Asians, a person may appear humble or accomodating, but in fact is most often “submitting” because his/her social position demands it (e.g. an employee submitting to the boss), not because he/she is an independent actor in the world who is independently humble. Insincerity also dominates social interactions here, more than I’ve ever seen among my own people. It’s that “face” thing, I guess.

Anyway, no social pressure impelled Lincoln to write to Grant saying “you were right and I was wrong”. No social pressure impelled him, after news of the surrender at Appomattox arrived, ending the war, to order the White House band to play “Dixie” — which he did, amazingly.

Related: I wrote in post-102 about the man who may well be the worst commander of the U.S. Civil War.

Related: I wrote in post-14 about a ‘relative’ who was killed at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. I consider him to be the first person bearing my surname to have lived in the USA, and will continue to think so until I see contrary evidence.

bookmark_borderPost-102: “Incapacity, Amounting to Almost Imbecility” (Or, the Worst Civil War General)

I nominate Dixon Miles (1804-1862), U.S. Army, for the title

“Worst Commander of the U.S. Civil War”. Here’s why:

During the First Battle of Bull Run, [Dixon Miles’ Union] division was in reserve […] [Miles] was accused by Brig. Gen. Richardson of being drunk during the battle. A court of inquiry validated this accusation. [from Wiki]

Being drunk during one major battle could actually be forgiven, really, if done once. What he did in 1862 clinches it.

After an eight-month leave of absence, [Dixon Miles] was reassigned to what should have been a quieter post. In March 1862 he commanded a brigade that defended the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and, in September 1862 he was given command of the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry (which, for some reason, does not have a possessive apostrophe in its official name) in 1862 was a very strategic town, west of Washington, and right in Robert E. Lee’s avenue of invasion during the Antietam campaign.

Dixon Miles bungled the defense, assigning soldiers to defend completely the wrong places. Stonewall Jackson was able to march in and quickly surround the city with almost no fighting. Jackson took the heights above the town. The Confederates began to bombard Harpers Ferry from those heights. Commander Dixon Miles was drunk again (his subordinates reported). He eagerly decided to surrender without further ado. However:

Before the white flag could be raised, [Miles] was struck in the left leg by an exploding shell, mortally wounding him. Some of his men accused him of being drunk on duty again, and were so thoroughly disgusted by his inept defense that it was said to be difficult to find a man to carry him to the hospital. Miles died the next day and is buried in St. James Episcopal Church Cemetery in Monkton, Maryland. Some historians have concluded that Miles was struck by artillery deliberately fired by his own men, but there is no conclusive proof.

The resulting surrender of 12,419 men was the largest number of U.S. soldiers surrendered until the Battle of Corregidor in World War II. The court of inquiry into the surrender denounced Miles for “incapacity, amounting to almost imbecility.”

PictureDixon Miles (1804-62)

In summary, Dixon Miles :
(1) commanded troops during two battles,
(2) was probably drunk at both battles;
(3) saw no action at one of his battles (Bull Run),
(4) bungled the defense of Harpers Ferry so bad that he surrendered 12,000 men without a fight;
(5) may have been killed by his own men, in anger over his drunken bumbling.

PictureT.J. “Stonewall” Jackson (1823-63)
(From here)

Stonewall Jackson has a mythical reputation as “invincible on the battlefield”. Looking great is easier if you face “imbecilic” (in the U.S. government’s words) opponents.

Contrasting totally with Miles, Jackson was a teetotaler.

Jackson was famously serious, stern Presbyterian; he was a fanatic driven by the desire to win, and he won just about all the battles he led, usually decisively and often lopsidedly (like Harpers Ferry). The Confederate cause was obviously right, Jackson’s men must’ve thought, if it produced men like Jackson; the Union cause was obviously wrong, the same men (and others) must’ve thought, if the Union cause produced such inept, indecisive generals.

People all react to their leaders. It’s true in the workplace, isn’t it. If a manager is inept, lazy, passive-aggressive, narrow-minded, secretive, selfish, corrupt, grudge-nursing, arrogant, threatening, and cares more about playing “office politics” than actually making the project successful, then — for God’s sake! — any subordinate would end up with low morale. (Note: That string of adjectives, sadly, describes some of my own managers at the language-institute at which I work, particularly the one I’ve elsewhere here called “Stringbean”.

Note also that the wonjang (director) here been seemingly-hungover during business hours, more than a few times. He is always a little surly, but on some days he’s a bit surlier and his hair is unkempt, and he hasn’t shaved, which leads the the wide suspicion of a hangover. I have no way to really confirm this, because he never graces me with the pleasure of conversation. In fact, after two years, I am sure he doesn’t even know my name.

This wonjang would’ve gotten along well with Dixon Miles, anyway.

bookmark_borderPost-101: Ilsan’s Suburbs (Or, Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown)

Early on Sunday, I took a picture of Ilsan’s “suburbs”. (Ilsan is a city northwest of Seoul. I lived there for one year and was back visiting.) Here is the view I had from the tenth floor:

East-Central Ilsan, looking east
Most of Ilsan’s residents, along with most residents of the Seoul Megalopolis generally, live in buildings similar to those in the background (monolithic highrise apartments). A select few in Ilsan live in actual detached/single-family houses, similar to those in the foreground below (I think these foreground buildings are mixed-use, and may even be multi-family. I assure you that nearby are thousands of smallish single-family houses, though). They have no yard space. A few feet separate the wall of one house from the wall of the next. Most are relatively small by U.S. standards, and sell for $1 million, I’m told.

In the center-left of the photo above is a building with a South-Korean flag on one side and a U.S. flag on the other. It is the “Korea Christian International School” (한국기독국제학교), which I’d never heard of till now. The existence of such a school is testament to the strength of Christianity in Ilsan, and in South-Korea generally. Actually, it’s hard for me to imagine a “Korea Buddhist International School” in Ilsan. If there were one, it wouldn’t be so conspicuous or “self-confident”, I’d imagine. Buddhism is so lethargic/undynamic in Ilsan as to be near invisible, in my experience.

Here’s a (3D model) view from near the same spot, but looking west. You can see a lot of small single-family homes.


3D Model of central Ilsan from Naver Maps.
Single-family houses in the foreground, “downtown” in the center, apartments on the right, the Han River far in the background
A few minutes’ walk from even the remotest of these “suburban houses” allows a resident to find a bus-stop to elsewhere in Ilsan or to Seoul, or to a train station to enter the region’s huge urban rail network. Korea thus has nothing like American suburbs, of course. Some people call Ilsan itself a “suburb”, which is mostly wrong. It may be a bedroom community for Seoul to an extent, but it’s not a suburb at all in the American sense. It’s proper designation is “new city” (신도시). The “new cities” in South Korea are just transplants (onto former farmland) of high-end Seoul, just better-planned and better laid-out.

In my first year in Korea, when I lived in Ilsan, I had a student named Lee H.J., who lived in one of those houses in central Ilsan, I somehow learned. Many of the students were a bit spoiled, but H.J. was particularly bad. She was smart and worked pretty hard, but her attitude was persistently gloomy and usually hostile. She complained almost every day. I started to realize that “heavy is the head that wears the crown”. Being brought up wealthy in South Korea must seem like nothing but a punishment. She went to four or five after-school institutes, and was the object of constant pressure from her mom. If she were poorer, she wouldn’t have been so burdened by all that extra studying.

Lee H.J. (who was in 6th and 7th grade when I taught her in 2009-2010) provided me with a memorable line I’ve pondered ever since. She wrote, “Today is only tomorrow’s yesterday.” She wrote it in an essay. What does it mean? It seems like it could/should have some deep meaning, but when I try to grab onto that meaning, it always conceptually slips through my fingers, like trying to grab onto a cloud.

bookmark_borderPost-100: Ilsan Bus Stop in the Rain, “An Amateur Sociological Analysis”


Bus stop in Ilsan, July 8th 2013

I snapped the above picture while waiting for bus #1001 in Ilsan on Sunday afternoon. I was returning to Bucheon after visiting at the hospital (see post-99).

It’s a seemingly-humdrum scene, but there’s actually several interesting things going on here.

(1) Teenagers Riding Public Buses. The two umbrella-clutching figures you see are high-school girls, wearing backpacks which are obviously weighted-down by books inside. This was 3 PM on a Sunday. These being Ilsan kids (Ilsan is on the wealthy side), they are no doubt going to one of their many hagwon (supplemental education institutes, such as the one I work at, as of this writing). In the USA, teenagers generally don’t ride public buses, of course. Certainly not well-off teenagers! “It’s dangerous”. I’ve seen elementary-school-age Korean children riding the public buses alone — inconceivable in the USA I know. In Korea, nobody is scared of being attacked on the bus; nobody would think twice about “letting a kid ride the bus alone”. I like the utter safety of general Korean public life, and lament that the USA I knew growing up was not…quite…like…that. That’s the way a society should be.

(2) Monsoon. Look at the sky. All of Sunday looked about like that. And all of Monday, and some of Tuesday….. Korea’s monsoon rains are not usually very vicious, but they are certainly persistently-depressing. There was no break in the total cloud-cover all day, with occasional rain. In my place of birth in Virginia, summer rains tend to be short and intense, then sunny. I am not used to a blotted-out sun for days on end. / Actually, on Sunday I had no umbrella, myself. A young man whose father was in the hospital kindly gave me an extra as I was leaving.

(3) GPS-Based Bus Arrival Notification. At the top of the picture you can see a device that says “1001 — 11분 일산서구청”. “1001” is the bus running from Ilsan to Bucheon’s Sang-Dong neighborhood (near where I live and work), taking about thirty minutes on a good day. The cost is about $2.00. The sign informs the bus rider that the bus is set to arrive in eleven minutes (11분), and it gives the bus’ current location (“일산서구청“, West-Ilsan City Hall). The buses in the Seoul metro area are now all, AFAIK, being tracked with GPS. This is highly useful.

(4) Dieting Advertisement. Points #1, #2, and #3 above are all aspects of Korean culture that are different from what we’re (I’m) used to in the USA. Some things, though, just cross all cultural boundaries: The advertisement on the bus shelter claims that you can lose 10 kilograms (22 pounds) in four weeks!, using their special dieting method.


Click to Enlarge
Note also the use of English — “Before” and “After”.

There are a couple of other things I could comment on in just this humdrum little photo. The wide sidewalks, the very-short shorts of the high-school girl (which — no joke — may have gotten her mother, at that age in the ’70s, into trouble with the police), the greenery (an extension of the amazing urban park anchored on Jeongbal Hill in the middle of Ilsan).

The cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words is proven again.

bookmark_borderPost-99: Vacation a Success; Surgeries a Success

I spent much of the time since my last post (June 29th) in the far south of Korea. I hope to write about the trip later. It didn’t turn out the way I’d planned, but it was still enjoyable. Sometimes plans are meant to be broken, anyway.

Now I am back near Seoul, back “home” (my Sept. 2011 to Sept. 2013 home).

In the week I was “AFK” (Away From this Keyboard), two people underwent surgeries, as I mentioned in post-98. Both are fine. My sister is now out of the hospital, six days after surgery. My friend Jared is still recovering in the hospital, four days after surgery, but is doing remarkably well.

I visited Jared in the hospital Saturday into Sunday. The visit was a little surreal. The hospital-area I was in (a place for recovering patients to recuperate) felt like part airport and part prison. It is a tight-running ship, though, and a highly-modern facility, the equivalent to the best in the world, I think — not that I know much about hospitals. It also has some great views, from the 10th floor, of Ilsan.

At the hospital, I saw his boss-friend Curt (whom I’d met once before) and his friend Grace (whom I’d heard about many times, but not met). Grace is amazing: She lived in Korea till age 10, then moved to Canada till age 24, and then returned to Korea for the past decade or so. She is the rare example of a Korean who is, from my judgement after interacting with her for five hours on Saturday, absolutely-totally native-level fluent in both languages.

Jared’s surgery made him unable to talk very well. He wrote messages on paper, usually, including many jokes. One was unintentional. Let me relate it here. The subject of Jared’s desktop computer came up. He’d gotten it at Costco. I said “It was really cheap, wasn’t it?” He started writing his answer on his notepad, with Grace and I looking on. I had developed the habit of reading each word as he wrote it. “I — got — it — with — pants.”  Pants? He quickly scribbled something again. Oh! It was actually p-o-i-n-t-s. He got the computer with points (i.e., buy enough and you get something free). The ‘o’ and ‘i’ blended together in the poorly-lit room. The ridiculousness of getting a desktop computer “with pants” (buy a pair of pants, get a computer free!) made us laugh, Jared included.