New Orleans The Saturday before Thanksgiving the whole family had the good sense to do what had to be done by whatever means necessary as the saying used to go to get home for their mother’s birthday, so the daughter rolled in over night from South America, the son from the frozen north, and I did 24 hours completely my circle around the globe to make it on time. Waiting for my son’s plane, my daughter turned to me and asked if I was going to do some notes on the down-low of this recent trip to India and Korea to meet her grandfather’s demand. Not being able to say “no” to either one of them, here are some brief notes about some of the other pieces of life on the road.
- Ashutosh Saxena, our friend from SARDI, was driving his new Honda through the dark back streets of Delhi taking me to the airport. Out of nowhere one of the sacred cows, normally ambling along the sides of the street, was in the middle lurching towards our headlights, the cow kept coming right at me and glanced its head, despite a quick swerve, right smack into the side front mirror next to me.
- The subway system in Seoul was amazing in no small way because the Korean Rail had figured out a way to trump the problems of language using numbers. Every line was numbered and every stop on each line was numbered. If you stayed, as I did, on stop #131 on line #1, you knew that there was only one #131 and one line #1 anywhere. Even before learning the name of my stop, if I stayed vigilant and looked for the numbers, there was no way to get lost. This sequential order should be everywhere!
- Na and some of the organizers from Incheon drove me up to the border of the DMZ. An amusement park has been built on the site next to the Peace Bridge and other monuments to the division of the country. As one drives up along the river towards the border, you look through fencing and concertina wire with sentry stations build – though largely vacant – every 100 yards or so. Nearer to the border one sees 2 and 6 man patrols and military vehicles still working the drive spaces along the fence line. Looking into North Korea you see nothing but more hills and vacant land. Most interesting to me were the flocks of ducks and geese flying all over the area and paddling along every available watercourse. I had read somewhere in recent years that the DMZ has essentially gone back to wilderness over recent years because it’s a no-man zone of sorts allowing wildlife to come back in an unimaginable way. The richness of the waterfowl movements contrasted everywhere with the bleak, stark scenes everywhere else.
- The culture and scene in Korea was fascinating. Seoul is a very modern city. Some notes:
* Everyone seems to smoke? Part of the social scene.
* Drinking is equally big and also very social!
* The diet is very healthy compared to what we are used to eating. A lot of organic food. Not that much meat. They like the hot stuff. Dessert is frequently some slices of pears or chunks of watermelon.
* A lot of high heels on hard streets. The young set seems to care a lot about fashion.
- There was an interesting contradiction in Seoul though. Much of the design and architecture frankly seemed anti-people, and definitely anti-pedestrian. The streets are wide and the rules bizarre. Pedestrians enter clearly marked “kill zones” if they want to walk across the surface to cross. To offset some of this problem there are frequent underground passage ways to allow people to cross the over to the other side and these are often shopping areas teeming with people. Of course you have to be able to get up and down the steps, and that’s a serious job for some, I’ll bet. On the other side as the day wears on and the evening comes, the sidewalks burst out with plastic stalls of sorts – this is definitely four season country and it’s already cold – selling a wide variety of food, roasting chestnuts, and every other kind of thing. The people are warm and welcoming and fighting against an environment that screams the opposite message.
- Speaking of food, Dr. Vandana Shiva hosted a dinner at her offices where she has a cafe of sorts for all of the speakers and allies in our panel. About the most healthy and best Indian food you can imagine, because of her long campaign supporting Indian agriculture and natural foods. Millet turns out to be excellent in a number of forms!
- Stayed at the YMCA in Seoul. Turned out to be great! In-room connection for high speed internet — $40.00 per night. Sign me up, and let me know where else they run these places around the world!
- You figure. The water is potable in Seoul and conditions are top rate. Had some soup near the DMZ though that cleaned me out and brought me down for 2 straight days where I was hurtin’ for certain.
Met with Dr. Joshi, one of the top leaders for the right BJP party in India, the official opposition. This was my second meeting with him. Last time we met with him at his home office behind machine guns on a Sunday. This time we went through all the security and met at Parliament. As always, the entrance was more imposing than the actual offices on the floors. He was gracious and served us snacks that were virtually a full meal. The day before I had met with the new General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in their building which was one of the better party locations I have seen in the country. He was smooth as silk, especially on the questions of how they were handling the “contradiction” of West Bengal, where they are ruling power, yet where they are also opening the door for Reliance to invade the retail markets. A country filled with contradictions, but one where we are certainly engaging power at every point now. These are interesting times!
Life on the road!