The Entertaining Speaker #1: The Entertaining Speech
My name is Donna Murphy, and I live on the U.S. military base called Yongsan Garrison. The building you’re sitting in right now is part of Yongsan Garrison. Notice I didn’t call myself Private Murphy, or Sergeant Murphy, because I’m not in the military. (Take off military jacket, to reveal U.S. Embassy shirt underneath. Change hat). I’m with the U.S. Embassy. "PA" on my hat stands for the Embassy’s Public Affairs office, where I work. But the housing compound where Embassy families live is on the military base. Actually, I know very little about the military. I know two things, and I’m proud of them. I know the word “Colonel” is not pronounced “Co-lo-nel,” but rather “Kernel,” like a piece of corn. And I know “Corps” is not pronounced “Corps,” like a dead body, but rather “Core” like the inside of an apple. And that’s about all I know.
Yongsan Garrison is a piece of the U.S. plopped down in the middle of Seoul. And we’re not talking present-day U.S. When you come onto the base you enter a time-warp, and you’re transported back to the 1950’s. Most people in Seoul live in tall high rises. We live in older, single-story, detached houses. They don’t update buildings because the base is going to move south to Pyongtaek in three or four years. Let’s not confuse Pyongtaek with Pyongyang, where the army doesn’t want to go.
A road divides the U.S. Embassy compound in two, and sometimes we see soldiers in uniform, with backpacks, running down that road at 6 am. Often when soldiers run, they’ll sing cadence. They sing cadence because it keeps them in step, it motivates them, and it takes their minds off the fact that they hate running and would really rather be sleeping in bed.
Here’s an example I got off a website for cadences. I swear I’m not making it up:
Birdie, birdie in the sky,
Dropped some white wash in my eye.
I don't complain and I don't cry,
I'm just glad that cows can't fly.
Left, right, left, your right, your left
But these soldiers are quiet. Why? Because we’re a residential neighborhood, and there’s actually a sign on the road that says “No cadence calling.” And that sign is one way you know you’re living on a military base. That’s Number 8.
How else do you know you’re living on a military base? Count down with me:
7. Midnight mass on Christmas Eve begins at 11 pm, because there’s a curfew.
6. The houses pretty much all look alike and are painted the same shade of brown.
5. The newspaper delivered to your house once a week has articles with titles like “Army’s Top General tours Area I” and “22nd KSC Conducts Annual Mobilization Exercise.”
4. The speed limit is 25 kph.
3. Nobody jaywalks at street crossings.
2. The streets have names like Eighth Army Drive and IX Corps Blvd.
1. They play the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” before movies shown at the movie theater on base, and everybody stands up.
Every place we live has its own rituals and idiosyncracies, and this is especially true of the U.S. Embassy compound on the Yongsan Garrison. I’ll tell you about two of these rituals.
(Put on Fleischmeister shirt over the Embassy shirt, and change hat.)
Not once, but twice a year, a bunch of men get together, grill massive amounts of meat, and serve it to the Embassy community at a big picnic. They call themselves the Fleishmeisters, which is German for “Masters of Meat.” We’re talking ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, lamb, sausages, hamburgers, and for vegetarians, they cook chicken. Their motto is: “You don’t make friends with salad.” It’s all great fun, although now we know that eating large amounts of red meat is bad for your health. Perhaps that's why the Fleischmeisters have a skull as part their insignia.
The second ritual is that after Christmas, people bring their real Christmas trees to the baseball field, and set them on fire. Yes, it’s the annual Bonfire of the Christmas trees, and it’s a sight to behold as, one by one, they place these dry trees on a fire, and whoosh, up they go in flames. They light up so fast, you’ve got to wonder how safe they are in your house, and it makes you seriously contemplate buying an artificial tree next year.
This year the bonfire was supposed to be held at night on January 5th, but it was SO COLD… I’m going to repeat that, and you say: “How cold was it?” It was SO COLD—How cold was it?—that they had to postpone the bonfire.
“The Washington Post” newspaper got hold of this story, that they were postponing a fire because it was too cold, and called our Embassy for a comment. Now, this is the year of the 60th Anniversary of the Armistice between North and South Korea, and all year long, the Public Affairs office where I work is pushing this slogan about the relationship between the U.S. and South Korea: “60 years of partnership and shared prosperity.”
So the Public Affairs office got our Number Two person at the Embassy to say, “While temperatures in Seoul may be frigid, relations between the United States and the Republic of Korea continue to be decidedly warm in 2013 as we celebrate 60 years of partnership and shared prosperity.” That quote ran in the newspaper. My boss was tickled pink.
The presence of the U.S. military in South Korea, working together in partnership with Korea’s own military, has helped make peace and prosperity possible. Living on Yongsan Garrison gives me a greater appreciation of them. Who here has served in their country’s military? Please stand up. Let’s give them a round of applause. Thank you for your service. My hat’s off to you (remove hat). Thank you.