Rachel's here!

Rachel decided that she was done with waiting, and so she was born at 2:02pm at Yongsei Severance University Hospital in Sinchon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul. She is about 4 pounds and a bit early, at 32 weeks, but she's healthy and lively. As a preemie, Rachel will be spending a few weeks in the NICU, but her prognosis is excellent.

As you may have guessed, having her in Seoul was not in the plan.. but what fun would life be if everything went according to plan?

A New World

A New World

It's been a day since Obama was elected and I'm still struggling to process my emotions. I'm so used to being cynical about the direction my country has been going, so used to hating and despising our leadership, so used to hopelessness as I watched my nation lose it's soul.. I had forgotten what it was like to feel proud of my country. Words cannot express how profound this has been for me.

Check this out:

I have to tell you, this had me crying. Crying tears of joy and rage.. rage at how low my feelings had gotten, and how I hadn't even noticed. It's just been eight years of unrelenting cynicism and pessimism, and I'd just gotten so used to it. Watching my fellow Americans flooding the streets in dozens of cities, it's all come back. For God's sake, they're singing the Star Spangled Banner in the streets! When is the last time something like that happened? That's the way I used to feel when I was a kid, and my heart was filled with unconditional love for the United States. That's the way I feel again, today.

It's all come rushing back. I now remember how incredible it really is to be an American, how lucky I am to be a citizen of the greatest nation on Earth. Look at what we did. In our darkest hour, we came together and redeemed it all. To ourselves, and to the world. Nothing is impossible, which is really the way it's always been. That's why it's so incredible, so glorious, to be an American, because no matter how bad things get, we always have the ability to fix it, to make it right again. Listen to me, using "we".. a few days ago I would have dismissed such a sentiment as a corny cliche. No longer.

We've got alot to do. Bridges to mend, wounds to heal, and a future to build. We can do it. We can do anything.

Oh yeah

So Taekwondo, that kicked my ass. I thought the police academy was tough, but this class.. it's taught on the Army base by this 70 year old Korean dude who looks like he walked off the set of some 70s kung-fu flick. He's about five feet tall, all wiry muscle, sinew, and giant calluses in weird places from kicking ass since before my parents were born. He had us doing *100-300* reps of some, just, evil exercises. After about 10 of them, I'm dying, and I look over at this guy and he's doing the same thing effortlessly with 40 pounds of rocks hanging from his limbs. Did I mention he's 70? I'm not really complaining, though; as a teacher and mentor he's excellent; demanding, but also cheerful and encouraging.

Next class is in 90 minutes. I am simultaneously looking forward to, and dreading, my next session. Ow. My abs are still killing me.

haircuts in Korea

So getting a haircut in Korea kind of sucks. The stylists here can only give you one of two haircuts; the Jarhead, or the Ajoshi. On post or off, it doesn't matter. Even if I provided a picture, I still got a bad cut. Naturally, the only solution is to do my own haircuts. Since I don't know the first thing about cuttin' hair, there is only one cut that I can really do..

It's a bit jarring, but I think I like the bald thing. My pate feels.. invigorated.

My wife has been even more frustrated than I have in the hair department; we'll see if she attempts my solution.

Also, today I'm starting Tae kwon do!

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I forgot that my wife had also taken pictures with her camera; some of 'em are better than mine.

North Korea's uninhabited "Peace Village". That is the tallest flagpole on earth, and the flag atop it has a dry weight of 600 pounds, takes 30 men to hoist, and has to be taken down when it rains.

The Bridge of No Return. The last time it was actually used was in 1968, when the crew of the USS Pueblo was released across it. Since then, it's gone pretty much untouched, and is now in danger of collapse. The ROK hasn't posted anyone at this bridge since the 80s, since the NKPA kept trying to kidnap them.

Here's a better shot of one of the North's guards at the JSA:

Both sides maintain multiple guard towers equipped with binoculars, telescopes, and cameras. Everyone who visits the DMZ is watched and recorded by both sides, and the North sometimes uses these images in their propaganda. There's a dress code and rules of conduct for anyone visiting from the South.

She got a good shot of the entrance to the platform at Dorasan Station, too.


So the wife and I decided to do the famous DMZ tour this weekend. North Korea has always fascinated me, a nation-sized Cold War relic and monument to ego that would be comical if it wasn't so tragic and dangerous. The recent rumors of Jong-Il's health problems have really brought the question of "what next" to the forefront of alot of minds here.

So anyway, the border is only about 60km north of Seoul. About 40km out, you start to see huge razor-wire fences along the shores of the Han river; this is because the North often attempts to send infiltration teams down the river in crude mini submarines. The last incident was about 4 years ago, so this isn't something that is in the past. Hundreds of miles of shoreline are manned 24/7 against this sort of thing, it's like living right next to a James Bond villain.

The shore defenses. The "Freedom Highway" that our bus followed paralleled the river. Those hills were our first glimpse of North Korea. You may not be able to tell from this pic, but they are entirely deforested; harvested for lumber years ago. The resulting flooding has devastated agriculture and contributed to multiple famines in the DPRK.

As we drove further and further north, traffic on the freeway tapered off until we were the only vehicle on the road. Eventually we started to see gigantic house-sized concrete blocks balanced along the side of (and above) the road; tank traps. At this point we were no longer allowed to take pictures, so the one above was it for awhile. Even further in and we were swerving back and forth between more barriers strewn across the highway, and stopping at multiple checkpoints. Mine field warning signs also began to appear. As you pass mile after mile of mine fields, 30-foot razor wire fences, concertina wire, and artillery emplacements, you begin to realize that all of this stuff is real. It's hard to believe that this Cold War shit is still going on anywhere in the world, but here it is.

The USO tour we took stopped at several rather surreal spots on the way to the Joint Security Area. The first stop was an overlook of the JSA and the two propaganda villages maintained by each side. Again, picture-taking was not allowed. They had coin-operated binoculars set up, though. Through these I saw a guy walking down the street in the North's propoganda village 2km away, however, and it really hit me then. There's a guy, living in that hell, and I can see him with my own eyes. Of course I'm sure he's one of the privileged to be allowed anywhere close to the DMZ, but it was still jarring.

The next stop was the Third Tunnel, which is the third of four North-dug invasion tunnels discovered so far. #4 was found in 1990, and there are theories that up to 20 additional tunnels exist. This one was found in 1978, and by the time ROK forces had dug an interception tunnel, the NK tunnelers had rubbed coal over the granite walls and claimed that it was a coal mine. After this we got to watch a rather jingoistic film on how awesome the ROK is, how duplicitous the North is, and how reunification has practically already happened. Again, no pictures allowed. An additional interesting fact about the DMZ is that it has become a four kilometer-wide nature preserve. Nobody goes into that area (except for the JSA and propaganda villages), so alot of rare animals have had kind of a field day in there. Also, the rice and ginseng grown by the ROK propaganda villagers goes for about 6x the normal price, because this area is completely unpolluted. The North's village is thought to be uninhabited.

After this, we had a bit of extra time, so we got to stop at Dorasan Station, which is the last train station before you'd enter North Korea, if you could take a train up there. A few years ago, relations were warming between the two Koreas, and this station was built as part of that. The current pro-US administration is taking a harder line, and that has pissed off the North. It was fascinating to see all of these facilities sitting around, gleaming and new, waiting for reunification.


Our last stop was the main attraction: The Joint Security Area. This is where you see NK and ROK soldiers staring at each other across a courtyard. It's the only place where this happens; the rest of the DMZ is 4 kilometers across. Both sides used to enjoy full freedom of movement within this square-kilometer area, but ever since the 1976 Ax-Murder Incident, the JSA has been divided along the actual Demarcation Line.

So we pulled up to the ROK's Freedom House, walked up some stairs, and all of a sudden we step out into this famous scene:

It's deathly quiet; all conversation halted as we walked out here. Aside from us, the only people were the guards on both sides, staring at each other in complete silence. It blew my mind to be standing here, it's almost like going back in time. 30 feet away is the line, and across it is the most isolated, closed nation on earth. No walls, no fences.. people have tried to run across in the past. In 1984 a Soviet tourist did so, and this resulted in a small battle. The latest incident was in 1998, when a NKPA Captain simply stepped across and defected. Lethal incidents have started here simply because of perceived rude gestures or facial expressions. There is a tension in the air that is palpable; it's impossible to describe.

You can't really see him very well in this picture, but there is one NKPA guard standing in the doorway of that gray building.

We had a tour of the building on the left of this picture; basically it's just a conference room, and you can stand "in" North Korea. There's a rather large Korean soldier there to prevent anyone from trying to open the door on that side.

The Ray Bans, by the way, are part of the uniform here; the idea is to appear intimidating towards the North Koreans. Personally I think they look a bit silly, maybe they just need to update the glasses a bit. But the guys who get assigned here are absolute badasses, and can kick my ass no matter how dated their eyewear.

Interestingly, the North Koreans run their own tours, presumably reserved for Chinese tourists and politically reliable citizens. In the conference room you could see footprints on the tables where the tour guides apparently stand to give their spiels; the soldier conducting our tour didn't even want us touching the furniture.

So that's the highlights. We also saw the dramatically-named Bridge of No Return, but we weren't allowed out of the bus here and it didn't photograph very well anyway. The JSA is one of the most incredible things I've ever seen, it's like a living time capsule.</html>

So, uh.. I'm moving to Seoul. On Monday.

Hey guys, it's been awhile. As you may recall, I recently got hired by the Henderson Police Department, and started the Academy last month. You might also remember that my wife got an offer from the DOD right before I started the Academy; a dream job that she has been applying for over a six year period. This forced me into the toughest decision I have ever faced, bar none, and it took me awhile to make the right call.

The police thing, the brotherhood thing, that entire world.. it's seductive. Once I started the Academy I got it bad. I drank the kool-aid. I know how all that "put them through hell and they'll bond" psychology works, but that doesn't mean that I am immune to it. I was highly impressed with everyone I met during that process, and I was in. These were already my brothers and sisters, even if we were all just recruits. The TACs were our gods, and we lived for even the smallest word of praise from them. It was Hell and Heaven in the same package.

I wasn't going to drop out. It was the wrong decision, and objectively I knew that, but I didn't care. I had never wanted something so badly in my life. We decided that my wife and my daughter would go to Korea for a year, then return. In the meantime I would finish out the academy and hit the streets. Hopefully one or the other of us would decide that our respective dream wasn't all that we'd thought it'd be, and we'd reunite.

But that was bullshit, and I knew it. I fucking loved that job, and my wife lives for travel. It took me awhile to come around. Eventually I came to several points that I could not get around, no matter how much I attempted to duck and weave around them. First of all, the cop thing is not conducive to a good marriage. I didn't see many wedding rings, but I heard a lot of divorce stories. My wife and I could probably make it through this, we have good communication, but I was never happy with how it was going to affect us. Figure 3-5 years before I had enough seniority to pull anything but graves.

Second of all, frankly, the cop thing was my dream, but the world-travel thing was always our dream. On the one hand I could make myself happy, but on the other I could do the same for both of us.

The real clincher, though, was the issue of my daughter. There was no way for me to spin this out into the right decision for her. I'd be out of her life for a year, and fuck that. As a husband, and especially as a parent, I have to put my family first. That's just the way it is.

So anyway, that was it. I resigned. The good news is that HPD was very understanding, and they said that they'd hire me back if I ever return to Vegas. That's unlikely. My wife and I both love travel, and the DOD school system is actually one of the best public educations you can get in the US. I think we're going to be into this for the long haul.. and even if we do return to the States, I don't think Vegas will be our choice.

So anyway, that's it. The military has already packed up all of our stuff, and we're on a plane come Monday morning. My whole life is about to change, again.. whatever complaints I may have about my life, "boring" isn't really one of them.

I can't wait.

PS: We're going to be doing the Skype thing, and I'm pretty sure we're going to have a domestic number for it. I'll get that out there to the peeps that need it.

Police Academy impressions

So this week was orientation, and next week the getting screamed at, push ups, and running begins. I met my classmates and we filled out paperwork, picked up our gear, cleaned guns and shined boots, etc.

I had originally agreed with my wife that Korea would be our ultimate goal, but I gotta say.. the cop world is extremely seductive for me. The idea of being held to a high standard, of working my ass off and making that standard with my comrades/teammates, it really calls to me. I'm aware of the psychology behind how military and paramilitary organizations like this one use shared hardship for team-building and to build esprit de corps, but that doesn't mean that I am less vulnerable to it. I am highly impressed with everyone in my class, and I find that I am very keen to do well by my instructors, to meet the high standards that they set and meet themselves.

On the other side of the coin, I am also aware of the fact that many of these goals are in direct opposition to a good family life. As a rookie I face several years of graves, and there isn't much vacation to start with either. I've already been spending most of my off-time with my fellow recruits, studying and exercising, and that's only going to get worse once we form our platoons tomorrow. My wife already admits to resenting it, even though we both knew, intellectually, that this is how it was going to be.

The money is decent and the benefits are just ridiculous, but the real draw, for me, is the comradery. I'm still a raw recruit, but I already love this world.. and it really is a world to itself. The next four weeks are going to be hell, but I do not expect that my opinion is going to change because of that. I'm actually looking forward to that crucible. I want it to start right now.

I know, I know, that dropping this and going to Korea with the wife when the times comes is the better long term decision.. but for the first time, cold logic isn't the only thing dictating my actions. I love my family, but I am also falling in love with a fucking job! It scares me shitless because I know it's not the right decision, and yet I might do it anyway.