13 August 2008

The retreat

Most details of my retreat/leave of absence have been confirmed.

Sometime next month, instead of driving the Alaska Highway as previously scheduled (someone else will do it for me), I will head over to Seoul for at least a month, if not more. I first freaked out at the idea of returning to South Korea, due to the Moonies and the new right-wing government (which, undoubtedly, frowns on my anti-Moon and anti-W stance), but after being assured that my retreat will be as far removed from Confucianism, Christianity, and Moonies as possible, I agreed to go.

Air transportation will be on Asiana Airlines, which I had flown twice in the past, and is one of the better airlines out there. My original intention was to grab a dirt-cheap United fare, but Asiana allows me to book an open-return ticket, which I will need since I don't know how long I will exactly be away. In any case, I still get United miles for flying Asiana.

The lengthy stay will also necessitate obtaining a tourist visa, which will allow me to stay up to 90 days, instead of the standard 30 days. This may be my biggest challenge, given that again, South Korea's new right-wing government isn't too fond of people like me.

Accommodations will not be reserved at this time. I will need an extended-stay hotel in downtown Seoul, but decided to move into an apartment near the former US Army base in Yongsan first then spend the first few days checking out suitable hotels in person. The retreat itself will take place in a secluded hilly neighborhood just north of the Presidential Blue House (which marks the north end of downtown); the neighborhood also happens to border Bukhansan National Park, where I should be able to do some hiking. A local bus line will be the link to the rest of the city (subway stations are at least a mile's walk away).

As for connectivity, I am taking my laptop and iPhone. South Korea requires a 2100 MHz phone, which my older iPhone is not, but the iPhone will still work as an iPod and a WiFi device. I will not have access to the Internet the first few days at the apartment, but will insist on a hotel that offers Internet access. I will also rent a Korean phone with a local number.

I also expect plenty of downtime in addition to retreat activities. Seoul is a large and exciting city, and should keep me busy enough, though it can be toxic at times and I'll have to watch myself. I'll also consider returning to other places in South Korea, such as Busan. Remote places that require a car will most likely be off-limits to me, though I will probably get an International Driving Permit just in case. I will also stay put within South Korea; excursions to China and Japan are more trouble and money than they are worth.

Depending on how this retreat goes, I may make another trip next year. Will see how things develop.