The 48 Feasts – First Post

In about 95 days, I’m going to Korea.  No matter how many times I say it, the words still resound like the words of an event that’s happening to someone else.  I’m going to Korea.  Again.  I’m going to Korea.

In order to explain what this actually means and why its driving me to write these words, a bit of background is needed.  I’m in the Air Force, have been for just over 17 years.  It’s a means to an end that will eventually justify itself with a retirement check and a way to live and support my family with a bit less of a headache once I head out to the real world and eventually get a real job…  in the meantime though, I’m going to Korea…

Unlike the more widely publicized (and granted, more difficult) trips to wonderful locales like Afghanistan and Iraq, Korea sits on the backburners of America’s consciousness, lingering there since the Korean war.   It is one of the largest concentrations of American military outside the US, sitting and waiting, guarding against the Russian bear or whatever red threat in the east that China has to offer, safeguarding a fragile alliance between the west and South Korea, essential standing between the reintegration of North and South Korea under northern control.  I’m not one to dispute the politics of this, suffice it to say that we are there and because we are there, I’m going to Korea.

To the major of military members, a trip to Korea breaks down like this.  You get an assignment for a one year tour.  The area is designated as a dependent restricted assignment.  This means, with a few exceptions, those that are married or with children or both go there alone and spend the year in solitude with work and not much else to fill the time.  Everyone there adapts some sort of coping mechanism to help them get through the time.  Some throw themselves into the job, with no family or real outside interests, there isn’t anything to keep people from working 12 – 16 hour days every day, go home to eat and sleep, rinse and repeat…  Others, most in my experience, dive headfirst into the culture of constant drinking, intoxication being the enemy of reflection on your situation.  Due to the security conditions on the peninsula, there is a curfew for all military assigned there, varying depending on the general conditions at the time but at one point or another, Uncle Sam tells you that you need to be back on the installation and not causing trouble in the host country.  Coupled with this are a bevy of off-limits establishments, everything from pharmacies (where narcotics are sold that aren’t approved and/or controlled substances by the US) to Hotbaths (rampant beds of prostitution and homosexuality one is to assume) to certain bars where foreigners, especially Americans just aren’t welcome.  The controlling atmosphere coupled with the high operations tempo of the ongoing readiness exercises creates a teetering balance of tension and all-out release that goes well with alcohol.

This is not my first trip to Korea.  I spent the year from January 1999 to January 2000 in the exact same location that I am now returning to, nine years later.  In the past, once someone had done a short tour, that was pretty much it, you could count on one short tour and then be relatively secure for the rest of your career.  Not anymore.  With the drawdown of force size worldwide, multiple tours are becoming the norm, not the exception.  And I, unfortunately, have 2 years and 11 months until retirement, too much time left to deny an assignment, not if I want to remain in the military and retire.  So, I am going to Korea…

During my first trip to Korea, one of my coping mechanisms employed centered around food.  I made a daily log of everything I ate and drank, good bad indifferent.  This was not the sort of food log that one would keep in order to maintain health or watch what they were eating…  I ate everything, I drank everything.  And I logged it all.  There was a day that the entire log read something like 14 rum and cokes, one bag of chips.  Riveting reading that, I tell you.   I would like to think that I have grown a bit since then and while I don’t expect my alcohol consumption to be that different than my first trip, I do plan on breaking things up into manageable bite sized pieces, setting small milestones on the way to that goal of 365 days finished and a plane ride back to my wife and kids.  I have grown to some degree in my culinary aptitude so see this as the perfect lemons to lemonade story.

365 seems like such a big number…  much easier in my opinion to count weeks instead of days.  52, much easier to grasp, I can handle 52 of anything.  But wait, there’s more!  As a small payback for the inconvenience of spending a year in Korea, every member is allowed to take a 30 day vacation, a midtour leave to return back to friends and family.  A small concession but believe me, at this point I will take anything I can get.  So my 52 weeks becomes 48…

I have decided that every Sunday for the course of my 48 weeks in Korea, I will prepare a meal.  This meal will be a culinary exploration of options, tailored to my tastes and with me as the sole recipient, only judge and lone witness.  I will create 48 feasts, planning, cooking, eating and documenting.  And when I am done, I will come home.

But for now, I’m going to Korea…


4 Responses to The 48 Feasts – First Post

  1. Catherine says:

    Excellent! I am so looking forward to dining with you in spirit!!!!

  2. staca says:

    Nicely written.

    I’ve kept a blog myself for the past few years – mostly ramblings of a woman who isn’t sure of very much in the world.

    Are you planning a big shebang before you leave?

  3. Gavin says:

    I enjoyed the read.

  4. 48feasts says:

    probably a low key affair involving some fine cuisine and local beer… i’ll keep you in the loop.

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