Copyright © Jeffrey Miller 2012 All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrievalsystem, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without theprior permission of the publisher.
Lost Luggage, Digestive Crackers,and David Letterman
How did you end up in Korea?” is a question that most people have asked when they learn that I havelived and worked in Korea.
I turned left at Japan,” I’ve often replied, tweaking a famous line from The Beatles’
A Hard Day’s Night
when John Lennon was asked, “How did you find America?” upon which he replied, “Turned left atGreenland.”
One thing is for certain, I didn’t end up in Korea based on what I knew or didn’t know about thecountry. To be sure, if you were to have asked me prior to 1988, which Korea was the communist one, who Kim Il-sung was, or where Korea was located specifically in Northeast Asia, I probably wouldn’t havebeen able to get all three of them correct.I had heard of Korea though. Two of my uncles fought in the Korean War. One of my high schoolfriends, Louis “LJ” Kirsteatter learned Taekwondo in the 70s, (he could tell you what the symbols on theKorean flag “
” meant—pretty impressive for him to possess that cultural knowledge about the flag back in the 70s when not too many people knew about Korea). And I had a Korean roommate when I wasat college. I knew a few Koreans in some of my classes, but we never talked much about Korea. Sadly, formost people from my generation our knowledge of Korea was limited to what we could glean from thepopular TV show
.On the other hand, the few times that we did hear anything about Korea was when there had been somebreaking news story like the
seizure in 1968, the Panmunjom Axe Murder Incident in 1976,Koreagate, the downing of KAL Flight 007 in 1983, and student demonstrations in the 80s.Despite these international events, our knowledge about Korea remained limited. Even the Korean War, which was for all semantic purposes a substitute for World War III, had sadly been called “the forgotten war.” Even my two uncles who fought in it never talked about it.Of course, the world would learn much about South Korea in 1988 with the Seoul Olympics that couldbe best described as one massive “coming out party” for the nation and its people. As far as teaching English, Korea was not some place that you just heard about one day and decided thatis where you wanted to go to teach. At a time when there was no internet and a letter to and from Koreacould take as much as three weeks, Korea was not some place you just showed up at one day ready toteach. It was still a place that you had to have heard about somewhere from someone who had either beenthere or knew someone who had. People just didn’t end up here by accident. Fate maybe, but not by chance. On a cool, clammy Friday night in December 1990, just two weeks before Christmas, I arrived in Seoul.For some, traveling to another country around the holidays to begin work might be a little depressing, but I was too pumped up to feel depressed. The recruiter, who had phoned me back in October and offered methe job, told me that I would be too excited to feel depressed. She was right. Then again, it wasn’t my first Christmas away from home and definitely not my first Christmas overseas.I had spent the previous Christmas in Japan and there were the two Christmases I spent in Panama back in1976 and 1977 when I was serving in the United States Air Force; so the holidays were not much of a