I had every intention of writing this entry in the morning, my most productive time of day. For me, reading, TV watching, and sudoku solving are strictly night-time pursuits. But I simply could not put down a novel and had to finish it: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It’s about the interaction of a London author with townspeople in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands south of England and north of France, just after the end of World War II. It was the only part of England that Germany occupied during the war. It is a charming, engaging book written in a delightful voice reminiscent of Jane Austen.
Now that I’ve finished it and run errands, including buying over 500 pieces of candy for the hoards of trickor-treaters who will descend on the U.S. Embassy compound next Thursday, here I am in front of that old friend, my HP laptop. It’s autumn in Seoul, the best season of the year, with its crisp, cool weather, no rain, and changing leaves. One should spend it outside. Yesterday, I took a tour of the Secret Garden at Changgyeonggung Palace. Lovely! It has the type of old, expansive trees, ponds, and traditional structures that we enjoyed in Tokyo public parks. Here the setting is uncommon because of the destruction of nature during the Korean War, and one can only enter on a guided tour, but tours are offered several times a day.
A few weekends ago we went to Seoul Grand Park, another tree-filled oasis from urban life, known for one of the largest zoos in Asia. When we were there, they held a sheep-herding demonstration with a sheep dog. This is common in Great Britain and New Zealand, but so foreign to the Asian way of life! We ate a treat we’ve only seen in Seoul at street stands: they spiral cut a potato, put a stick through it, fan it out, fry it, and roll it in savory salt. Tasty!
Then there's the chrysanthemum festival at the Jogyesa Temple just a five-minute walk from the Embassy. I remembered it from when I took my daughters there last year during their visit, so I convinced a small group to walk over during lunchtime. Yes, autumn is the best time of year in Seoul.
On a different subject, here’s how the U.S. government shut-down affected us. We at the Dept. of State didn’t have to stop working due to State’s multi-year funding, but our colleagues in the Dept. of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service and Commerce Dept.’s Foreign Commercial Service were furloughed. U.S. businessmen wanted help breaking into Korean markets, and no one was available to aid them. Wall Street wanted business, agriculture and consumer-related statistics, and no one was there to compile them.
No U.S. officials could attend the World Energy Conference in Daegu, S. Korea, and President Obama did not attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Bali, where China’s president took the spotlight. The Embassy’s Public Affairs Dept. could not run the programs it had planned that help Korean young people and give them a good impression of the U.S. To me the government shut-down was a tremendous waste of resources, since furloughed employees ended up being paid for not working, and event deposits were lost. It caused a loss of confidence in the U.S. among our allies, and emboldened our adversaries. We’re in a weaker position to recommend democracy to other countries when our own democracy is broken. The politicians who are in a position to fix the problems in our democratic system won’t, since that’s how they got elected. The fox is minding the hen house!