22 October 2008

Temporarily Home

I have just returned to Los Angeles, though it looks like I'll spend less than a week (maybe WAY less) here before heading for Seoul again, and resuming my regimen for a few more months at least.

I enjoyed my flight, which was on a very new 777 (HL7742) with video-on-demand - this was my first time flying on a plane with such a feature. The combination of two hot meals, amenity kits, and the video-on-demand made even my economy class experience comparable to some US airlines' business classes.

Upon departure from Seoul, the first programming that caught my attention was a documentary on New York Philharmonic's historic visit to Pyongyang, last February. It was so telling of the ability of human emotions and culture to overcome political barriers - and also of the North Korean propaganda machine still rearing its ugly head (as evidenced by music students who (1) have never heard of Juilliard, and (2) don't feel a need to go there, as North Korea has "plenty of good teachers" already). As I said about a week ago, civilians, not government bureaucrats, need to be in charge of North Korea's connections to the world - and the rest of the world's ties to North Korea - in order to ensure true peace and prosperity. Again, Kim Jong-il needs to go, and get replaced by someone who will be forced to listen to the people more. In any case, I loved seeing New York and Pyongyang musicians performing together, as well as the New York Phil's encore performance of "Arirang," a very popular traditional melody in both Koreas, which brought the entire audience to tears. It was also nice to see South Korea do its part in this historical event, by having MBC send its broadcast team north for live broadcast to the rest of the world, and by having Asiana Airlines fly the musicians to/from Pyongyang.

I was later able to tap into a number of pop and K-pop albums, choose any tracks of my liking, and make my own playlist. I ended up making two playlists. The first one consisted of latest English-language hits as well as some classics including U2 and Michael Jackson; I had listened to many of those songs in my previous travels around the world, and I wanted to remember all those events - and carry their spirit forward into even more travels in the future (and doing something good for everyone while at it). Again, I was no longer traveling between South Korea and the US on a South Korean-flagged airplane; I was in a part of a much bigger world, and about to take it all in. I really wish that after I return to Seoul, I will be able to pull off a Hong Kong trip.

The second playlist consisted of 1970s and 1980s K-pop - the very songs that I listened to while riding in my father's Hyundai Pony on the streets of Seoul. I wanted to re-live the memories, so that as I return to Seoul and try to do the Gyeongju road trip, I will be able to carry the same spirit forward as well. I want to drive exactly the same routes that my father once frequently drove. It's a shame that I'll have to drive something modern, as opposed to a 30-year-old Pony; on the other hand, I'll enjoy luxuries that were unheard of in the Pony, such as FM radio, CD player, air conditioning, automatic transmission, and maybe even a navigation system. Yes, the Pony had only an AM radio - best suited for newscasts, but also suitable for variety talk shows and even music. I remember that there was one KBS frequency that was pretty much nationwide, which was a good thing, as the radio's preset buttons were mechanical and it wasn't a good idea to use them often. (Besides, trying to tune an AM radio in rural areas could easily mean picking up a North Korean propaganda frequency by mistake - severely punishable if found out. Urban areas purposely jammed such frequencies, but rural areas couldn't be jammed.)

I passed the rest of time with a movie and some games. The games I played included three variations of Battleship, Blackjack, chess, video poker, and a bowling simulation. The chess program was easily beaten even at the hardest setting, however. Both Battleship and chess allowed playing against another passenger as opposed to the system.

When all was said and done, I finally found myself back home. I am glad to report that unlike four years ago, when every household in my area had a Bush-Cheney '04 sign out, there are no McCain-Palin signs anywhere. McCain appears to be in grave trouble - and that's a good thing. However, it does look like 2MB will succeed in getting California to ban gay marriage, based on "Yes on 8" bumper stickers on the cars. It looks like the No camp decided to stick to its feel-good empty liberal slogans, and never campaign with the conservative immigrants who will prove decisive. I will not forward any more contributions to the No on 8 campaign. It does appear that the vote will be close, however, especially if all the No votes materialize in San Francisco to counter the Catholics and the immigrants in Los Angeles.