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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In Total Agreement, Well, Sorta . . .

The 2012 Nuclear Security Summit ended last night and the Big O and most of the other Big Talking Heads have departed the peninsula after making fresh commitments toward building a safer world without nuclear terrorism. (The full text of the "Seoul Communique" can be found here, if you need to be underwhelmed.) Ukraine has completed the removal of its last highly enriched uranium, sending it back to Russia where it will be totally safe - but hold on, then what's with the "unusual and extraordinary threat" Big O cited when he extended the national emergency over Russian atomic material last year.

Fat Boy, our next-door-neighbor some 30 miles North of Seoul, did his best to spoil the party by announcing a planned rocket launch next month as part of the Norks' "peaceful space program." The Big Talking Heads at the adults' table all chastised the Norks firmly, with even China openly displeased with this latest toddler tantrum. CNN ran the Norks' announcement it would go ahead with the launch as "Breaking News," while those of us who've spent more time than a two-day summit in Korea know it's simply Same Shit, Different Kim. As one journalist friend wrote on Facebook, "the DPRK regime has threatened to make Seoul 'a sea of fire' more times than I can remember." Obama warned the Norks there would be "no rewards for bad behavior" but it's not surprising Fat Boy and Co. don't believe them as Daddy Dearest, Kim Jong-no-longer-ill, was constantly rewarded for such bad behavior.

Here's how it works: The Norks behave badly and threaten or provoke, even going as far as to blow up a South Korean corvette or bomb a border island. Leaders of other countries sit and cajole the Norks into agreeing to accept food aid in turn for suspending nuclear and ballistic missile development, the Norks seek to up the ante and possibly get a better deal by throwing a toddler tantrum. It's unfortunately a lose-lose situation for the South as, although the North would be annihilated in any full-out war, there is enough conventional artillery aimed directly at Seoul (the suburb my office is in has been included in the promised list of first strikes) to blast it back to post-Korean war scorched-earth status. SSDK.

To add some humor to their tired old act, the Norks did provide a superb example of the circularity of their thinking. The Nork's foreign ministry, when announcing they planned to go ahead with the launch, claimed the deal reached with the U.S. just two weeks earlier "specified a moratorium on long-range missile launch, not 'launch of long-range missile including satellite launch' or 'launch with the use of ballistic missile technology.'"

I'm tempted to compare the Nork's tantrum-throwing and unique reading of contracts with the South seeking to change the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement after they'd asked for and agreed to it (including riots and a tear-gas canister release by lawmakers during the pact's passage) but that could be misinterpreted as on-line criticism, which is frowned upon by those in power.

I will point out, however, that contracts are often viewed in Korea as a step in the negotiating process, not a terminus. That's a concept many Westerners don't understand, which can lead to all sorts of cultural misunderstandings. I've lost count of the number of teachers of English here who've felt gyped when asked to do something not specifically noted in their contract, while to their Korean counterparts, that contract is a broad outline only.

Perhaps someone needs to explain that to the Big O . . .

Friday, March 16, 2012

Deal With It

It's been a busy week once again in Aotearoa, New Zealand, with a tragedy still unfolding with whanau of a marae I have ties with after a boat was hit by a rogue wave and overturned in Foveaux Strait. Nine people, all extended family or close friends of each other, were heading from Bluff to Stewart Island for an annual muttonbirding expedition. As of this morning, one survivor had been rescued clinging to a petrol can, four to five bodies had been recovered (news reports often differ at this stage and I have not heard an official number) and the rest, including a 7-year-old, were still missing, in chilly, unforgiving seas.

Further north, here in Christchurch, a 27-year-old Somali-born man went on a 90-minute rampage during which he kidnapped and stabbed a delivery van driver then seriously stabbed a council worker whose car he jumped into after the van driver escaped. He is also accused of menacing a school caretaker and a teacher before kidnapping the driver.

I listened to the driver, Marteine Robin, yesterday morning on National Radio and read another interview with her this morning in the Christchurch Press and was struck by her earthy Kiwiness. She initially thought her attacker was a hitchhiker when she saw him walking down the road, "then the door flung open and he had a knife in his hand and he was pointing it at me, telling me to drive or he would stab me."  (Press)

"I told him to get out of my effing truck," she told National Radio, softening her, "I said, 'Get the f*** out of my truck', " quote she gave the Press. She explained to the National Radio host that she had asked him why he was doing what he was doing, and he said he had issues.

"I said, 'We all have issues. Deal with it.'," she told the host, in a matter-of-fact tone.

Those two sentences to me epitomize the Kiwi spirit, and explain the cultural divide between myself and many American friends, one in particular who means much to me. If a Kiwi or Aussie friend is annoyed or irritated or mad or frustrated by something, I'll listen for a short while and often agree the situation/instigator is at fault. But before too long, if it's something out of my or my friend's control, I'm likely to say, "Yeah, life bites sometimes. Get over it." It's just a blunter version of the Serenity Prayer in a way - "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." In the terse, to-the-point and often taciturn culture I come from, we distill that prayer down to, "Get over it."

Probably not surprisingly, this often doesn't translate well when used with American friends. My blunt, "Get over it," statements (another is that all choices have consequences and, having made the choice, there's no point whining about the consequences) are taken as harsh and uncaring. They're actually anything but. To me, accepting and moving on is far healthier than continuing to be angry/frustrated/resentful/guilty/insert negative emotion. If you can change it or improve it, do so, but if you can't, don't allow it to negatively impact on your emotional well-being any more than it must. I'm not belittling the problems we all face, I'm merely refusing to let them dictate my happiness or unhappiness.

Having that attitude helps me immensely right now, as I visit with a dying friend for whom the medical community has given up intervention. "It would only prolong his life," they say. So his extended family, of whom I am privileged to be one, and friends gather to celebrate his life and achievements and the house is filled with light and love and laughter. We're all sad at what must come, but being sad does not prevent us being joyful.

Sometimes life bites. So we might as well enjoy every last second of it that we can.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

To everything, there is a season . . .

The Kiwi has been quiet here of late, as many, many things in her life change and  she readjusts to a new reality

But she is about to have a period of introspection, communication and appreciation, in which there should be much time to think and write

watch this space . . .