I was going to try to keep from a running commentary on the similarities between you in Shanghai in 2007 and me in Seoul in 1988, but there are too many echoes and I’ll miss something if I wait until the end.

  • Everybody smoked. ALL THE TIME. EVERYWHERE.
  • Air pollution and visibility were horrible. The only time it cleared was a couple weeks before the 1988 Olympic Games, when the government made all private vehicles go to an odd/even driving system and shut down all major local factories. By the time the Games opened the sky was blue, the air was clear, and the mountains were so close they were almost touchable. Three days after the closing ceremony it was back to life as usual.
  • Enclosed sewers were unusual. Any open river, stream, or drainage ditch was used for any sort of sewage. Combine that with the Korean diet (garlic and pepper for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and summer weather required mouth breathing.
  • Streets, OTOH, were spotless. Cleaners were out before the city woke up to grab any spare trash.
  • The “old lady” (50s? I had just turned 30) who cleaned our hooch (3-man junior officer bachelor quarters, repurposed from the Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th Century and built by slave labor) was an ajima, literally “aunt,” but by custom any female of indeterminate status past a certain age was an ajima and her male counterpart was an apaji (uncle).
  • The U.S.A. was miguk— “beautiful land.”
  • I lived on base, so my culture shock was manageable, but Americans who lived in the ville (married housing on base was severely sparse) had a harder time.

Excellent so far, Jen!

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Husband & retiree. Developer, tech writer, & IT geek. I fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches. Occasionally do weird & goofy things.

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