bookmark_borderPost-316: Warning. Live Fire Drills (Incheon)

A pleasant, sunny Saturday in May 2015. We took a few wrong turns and ended up here:

Sign seen near Gyeyang Mountain [계양산], Incheon, South Korea

We were four — Myself, two Canadians from Ontario (Robbie and Heather) and an American from Massachusetts (Sav. C.). The wrong turns were taken near Gyeyang Mountain in Incheon, South Korea.

These others were all new to Korea, such that I was leading them around. I translated the sign:


등산객 여러분의 안전을 위해 우회도로를 이용해 주시기 바랍니다
Shooting in Progress

Hikers are requested to use the bypass road for their own safety.
Commanding Officer, Unit 9100

I proposed a brief reconnaissance in the arrow’s direction, but was vetoed by the two female members of our group.

We’d come down from summit on the right-hand-side path. At the time, I assumed that this side path would lead to a shooting range which would be blocked off by barbed wire or something. I was sure we wouldn’t just walk into a place which had live bullets whizzing around.

Only one time have I heard gunfire in Korea. It was while hiking north of Ilsan in Paju County, which is adjacent to the DMZ. Paju’s hiking trails are full of elaborate and well made but unoccupied defensive positions on hilltops, some small and some big enough for artillery, as well as networks of trenches, covered tunnels, dug-out hiding places big enough for vehicles or tanks, and other such things. Continue reading “Post-316: Warning. Live Fire Drills (Incheon)”

bookmark_borderPost-315: Two Danes

I have some amount of Danish ancestry via my father. The important (by European tradition) “father’s father father’s…” (patrilineal) line for me comes from Denmark (see post-223), but that line entered the USA a long time ago now. I have never been to Denmark. I have met personally and had interaction with only two Danes in my life.

Let me write a few words about these two Danes.

(Dane 1). The Scraggly Blond Backpacker. 2011.
Kazakhstan is a place that the typical Western traveler would, it seems to me, never think to go. The low-profile of the country, and the vague fear that the suffix “Stan” inspires work to a certain kind of traveler’s benefit, though. A big benefit for me was crossing paths with so many interesting people in my rather long time there. One was a “zero-budget” Danish male traveler a little younger than I.

I saw him on an online forum for travelers in Kazakhstan. After finding out we’d both be in Astana, the capital, the same day, I asked him if he’d like to meet, and he agreed.

The meeting place we arranged was Baiterek, a towering landmark in Astana that looks like something out of Superman. I think the meeting time was 12:00 Noon on a weekday. 

He showed up a little late, but when he did he was easy to spot even in the sprawling Baiterek plaza. Even though I’d never seen him before, I immediately identified him. His blond hair, not quite neatly combed, rested atop a slightly melancholy face, above a wiry frame that carried a very big backpack along with the small chip he carried on his shoulder. 

He drank water from bathroom faucets (I saw him do it) to save money, as well as camping outside at night. This was May, so the weather was alright. He told me that the Kazakhstan police often harassed him on suspicion of smuggling drugs, especially in the south. This I readily believed because he looked the part. In fact, confirmation of his ability to attract police came later that day when one demanded identification from the both of us at a train station. He challenged the policeman, which is generally not a good idea, but they did leave us alone. The policeman may have been looking for a bribe, but he didn’t get one and wandered off. Alternatively, he may just have wondered what country we were from and used his authority to take a look.

We wandered around Astana. I was trying to locate one of the few English bookstores in the country I’d heard about, which turned out to be in a hotel, and a very nice one at that, with full security. The security guards at the front gate gave him the third degree. He had to forfeit the knife he was carrying. Hey, as he showed up looking like he had just been plucked out of a guerrilla campsite, he had to have expected that. I found and bought the English autobiography of Kazakhstan’s president-for-life Nazarbayev at that bookstore (“The Kazakhstan Way”), which was an impressive book.

This Danish guy talked to me about politics a lot in the course of the day, and came very near saying he was a Marxist. He had much to say about the USA, about how bad it was and all. I found more interesting his commentary on Danish and European affairs. He condemned, using the flim-flam adjective “Nazi,” a particular political party called the Danish People’s Party (which currently holds 21% of seats in Denmark’s legislature). This political talk of his I found quaint. Hard left-wing politics is “cool” for  Western European youth (much more than in the USA) and he was either 23 or 24 at the time (2011).

All this said, I liked him. His ambitious travel made him an adventurer in the Viking tradition. (I do doubt that the Vikings would’ve much cared for Marxist theory, but that’s not so important.) He did have a soft spot, it seemed, for an American with a Danish surname, and alas he invited me to visit him in Denmark, which is unlikely to ever happen because I’ve forgotten his name.


Baiterek, a monument in Astana, Kazakhstan

About what “Dane 1” looked like viewed from the rear (not actually him; found online).

“The Kazakhstan Way” Political Autobiography of the President of Kazakhstan

From a meeting of the Danish People’s Party (found online here)
(Dane 2). Korean-Studying Teenager. 2015. 
Life goes on and I’ve found myself studying Korean, and this has brought me into contact with lots of sorts of people I’d never have otherwise met. One of whom was “Dane 2,” a particular teenage girl and the youngest student I have ever studied with. (In fact, I have taught students who are several years older than her.) The first month we were in the same class (April 2015), the class’ average age was over 30, I think, but this girl was born in April 1998. She has not yet started high school (Gymnasium). Imagine that. 

Before going further, I should say that she looked nothing like a Dane, much less a European. She was only half-Danish (father) and half-Thai (mother). 

She was raised in Denmark and has only gone to Thailand on long visits. She cannot speak the Thai language well. Her father was in Thailand as a Christian missionary in the 1990s which is how her parents met. Her relationship towards being of mixed race is complicated, as I find usually to be the case with such people. It turns out she somewhat resents Danes and puts the Thais on a kind of pedestal of virtue. She came near to saying she resents Danes as a people, though not quite. I found this talk of hers a little distressing. (Come to think of it, “Dane 1” above also came close to saying he resents Denmark, but I more readily forgave that.) She also had some good things to say about Denmark.


Island of Fyn (Funen) in Denmark

Hans Christian Andersen and one of his fairy tales

“Danes” (from a google search)

Early on, I told her my surname, which comes from Denmark, and tried to explain my understanding of what the name meant and asked her for confirmation (this being done in Korean during a class break), though she didn’t know the meaning for sure. She told me she had “four or five” acquaintances with that surname, which surprised me. She asked me the “American pronunciation” of various Danish names.

Her hometown is on Funen Island (Danish: Fyn)According to my uncle’s genealogical research, Funen was the birthplace of some of our Danish ancestors in the 1800s and back into the 1700s (people were less mobile back then, so for all we know, it goes back many centuries, then). The earliest ancestor he traced was born in 1795 in or near Odense, a town on Funen Island, which was rising to prominence in the late 1700s (e.g.: According to Wikipedia, Odense Theater was founded in 1796, being “the first provincial theatre in Denmark.” A few years later, a baby was born in Odense named Hans Christian Andersen (b.1805), who was, later in life, to rise to prominence as one of the world’s great fairy tale writers.)

Back to the girl. She is definitely “more Danish” than me, by total ancestral share (hers being 50% vs. my 12.5%), and importantly she was born and raised there, as well as being a native Danish speaker and so on. Any  identification I could make with Denmark would be highly abstract at best. 

On the other hand, if the two of us, she and I, were standing somewhere, side by side, and an observer from afar were told that one of us was a Dane and one not, very likely ten people in ten would guess that I was the Dane and she the non-Dane (I being half Scandinavian and entirely Northwestern European by ancestry). She is quite dark-skinned and could not readily pass for a native of even a peripheral European nation.

One other thing worth telling that I recall: She dislikes Muslims. She was a young child when the Anti-Denmark riots were breaking out across the world after the Mohammed cartoon issue, 2006. She remembers being told to conceal that she is from Denmark when traveling for fear of attack.

Her ambition, after finishing Gymansium (which I understand to be a kind of blend of high school and early college for the brightest one-third or so students), which she is only due to start this fall, is to pursue university education in Korea. Why Korea? I don’t know.

I look forward to meeting a third Dane someday. Maybe more. Unlikely a third or beyond will get a full write-up like this, though.