Life is back to normal in South Korea. Normal at the U.S. Embassy compound means Spring Fleischfest, where big men grill large amounts of meat wearing T-shirts that say “Meat for peace,” and “You don’t make friends with salad.” This was Tom's second time as a Fleischmeister. He helped order meat, marinate it, rub it, and was on the 10 pm-1 am shift the night before to cook it. Drinking Bourbon slushies helped keep the Fleischmeisters motivated, albeit somewhat inebriated.
Uncle Frank's grilled chicken recipe was, once again, a big hit. My Hello Dolly bars won first place in the Fleischfest dessert category, made from chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, graham crackers and sweetened condensed milk. Mmmm good. But I didn’t make them, my maid Aya did. So I gave her the prize, a bag full of kitchen implements.
Six days after Fleischfest, I showed my book-club members the documentary “Forks Over Knives,” about the benefits of a whole-food, plant-based diet. They were grateful that I hadn’t shown it before. Aya made a delicious vegan dinner for them.
The Public Affairs Dept. is running a program for North Korean defectors where once a month, someone from the U.S. Embassy goes to centers that help them integrate into society and talks about the U.S. Afterwards, they do a related group activity and have dinner. Last week I traveled to Daegu and to Gwangju, giving the same speech about the U.S. and family, gender, marriage, and gay rights. A P.A. intern interpreted and did a great job. Each time, we took the KTX train, which is as smooth and comfortable as the Japanese bullet trains.
I learned a lot from the Q and A with these most courageous people, who risk their lives illegally crossing the border from North Korea to China, and once in China, can be sent back if caught, be subject to human trafficking, etc.
I learned that being gay or lesbian is illegal and considered immoral in North Korea. Homosexuality is punishable by death. It’s hard enough living in that country; it must be almost impossible if you have feelings for members of the same sex that you can’t talk to anyone about. I also learned that North Korea discourages divorce. The way it discourages divorce is by punishing the children! If a young man’s parents are divorced, he is prohibited from entering the military, but you need to have served in the military in order to get ahead in any job.
Secretary of State John Kerry visited South Korea for less than 24 hours in April for meetings with new President Park Geun-hye and other officials. His advance team arrived one week before, and between then and when Kerry left, numerous Embassy officials worked almost full-time on the visit, on site checks, security briefings, planning meetings, etc. He stayed at the Hyatt Hotel because it’s up on a hill with no other buildings next to it.
He spoke to Embassy employees and family members the morning before he left, telling us how his dad was in the Foreign Service, and he lived abroad starting at age eleven. I shook his hand, and he posed for the customary photo with all the Embassy kids. There was also the customary "wheels up" party after Kerry flew out.
BTW, the Secretary of State is called “S” in diplomatic parlance. “D” is the Secretary of Defense. POTUS stands form the President of the U.S., and FLOTUS for First Lady of the U.S.
The cherry blossom season was lovely here. We hiked on Mt. Namsan to see the trees in bloom, and went to Yeouido, an island in Seoul which sports the National Assembly and numerous modern buildings, to see a famous street lined with cherry blossoms, next to a park along the Han River where people picnic.
Now the azeleas are in full bloom!