Seeing Korea through his parents’ eyes

The Ukraine crisis has shone a spotlight on one of the glaring gaps in the world: the lack of a strategic and purposeful Europe. The United States can and should lead on the response to this conflict, but nothing can really happen without Europe. The European...

Seeing Korea through his parents’ eyes

The Ukraine crisis has shone a spotlight on one of the glaring gaps in the world: the lack of a strategic and purposeful Europe. The United States can and should lead on the response to this conflict, but nothing can really happen without Europe. The European Union is by far Russia’s largest trading partner — it buys much of Russia’s energy, is the major investor in Russian companies and is the largest destination for Russian capital. Some of President Obama’s critics want him to scold Vladimir Putin. But ultimately, it is European actions that the Russian president will worry about.

Consider how Europe has dealt with Ukraine. For years, it could not really decide whether it wanted to encourage Ukrainian membership in the union, so it sent mixed signals to Kiev, which had the initial effect of disappointing pro-European Ukrainians, angering Russians and confusing everyone else.

Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and editor at large of Time magazine. View Archive

In 2008, after Moscow sent troops into Georgia, Europe promised an “Eastern partnership” to the countries along Europe’s eastern fringe. But, as Neil MacFarlane and Anand Menon point out in the current issue of the journal Survival, “The Eastern partnership was a classic example of the EU’s proclivity for responding to events by adding long-term and rhetorically impressive, but resource-poor, bolt-ons to existing policy.”

European leaders were beginning to woo Ukraine without recognizing how this would be perceived in Russia. Moscow had its own plans for a customs union, to be followed by a Eurasian Union, which was meant to be a counter to the European Union. Ukraine was vital to Russia’s plans and was dependent on Russia for cheap natural gas. Plus, of course, Ukrainians were divided over whether to move west or east.

Negotiations between the European Union and Ukraine for an association agreement meandered along, with the lawyers and translators taking a year to work out the text. In describing this tardiness as a mistake, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said, “The same thing applies to the [European] Union as to the Vatican. God’s mills grind slowly but surely.” The deal that was offered to Ukraine was full of demands for reform and restructuring of its corrupt economy, but it had little in the way of aid to soften the blows and sweeten the pot. When then-President Viktor Yanukovych rejected Europe’s offer and sided with Moscow, he set in motion a high-speed, high-stakes game that Europe was utterly unprepared for and could not respond to.

If Europe was trying to move Ukraine into its camp, it should have been more generous to Kiev and negotiated seriously with Moscow to assuage its concerns. Instead, Europe seemed to act almost unaware of the strategic consequences of its actions. Then when Russia began a campaign to destabilize Ukraine — which persists to this day — Europe remained a step behind, internally conflicted and unwilling to assert itself clearly and quickly. Those same qualities have been on display following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The European Union still has a chance to send a much clearer signal to Ukraine, Russia and the world. It could demand that Russia pressure the separatists to cooperate fully with the investigation of Flight 17 and allow the Ukrainian government — which Moscow recognizes — to take control of its own territory in eastern Ukraine. It could put forward a list of specific sanctions that would be implemented were those conditions not met within, say, two weeks.

In addition, Europe should announce longer-term plans on two fronts, first to gain greater energy independence from Russian oil and gas. European nations must also reverse a two-decade downward spiral in defense spending that has made the E.U. a paper tiger in geopolitical terms. Germany, for example, spends about 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, among the lowest rates in Europe and well below the 2 percent that is the target for all NATO members. It’s hard for a country’s voice to be heard and feared when it speaks softly and carries a twig.

The problem is now being described as European cowardice and appeasement. It is better explained by an absence of coherence among the European Union’s 28 very different countries, a lack of strategic direction and a parochial inward orientation that looks for the world’s problems to go away. The result is a great global vacuum, with terrible consequences.

If we look back years from now and wonder why the liberal, open, rule-based international order weakened and eroded, we might well note that the world’s most powerful political and economic unit, the European Union, with a population and economy larger than America’s, was the great no-show on the international stage.

Read more from Fareed Zakaria’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more on this issue:

Lally Weymouth: Talking with Poland’s foreign minister about the Ukraine crisis

Brenda Shaffer: Stopping Russia from cornering Europe’s energy market

Stephen J. Hadley: Russia should be punished for Ukraine — but not isolated

The Post’s View: The West needs a strategy to contain the world’s newest rogue state

The Post’s View: A more aggressive response to Mr. Putin’s war

Since Sunday, hour upon hour, from just past dawn until after midnight each day, Metro’s new Silver Line has been taking a pounding.

In a week of testing leading to Saturday’s scheduled start of passenger service on the long-awaited rail route, five to 10 trains per hour, without passengers, have been rolling out of the new ­Wiehle-Reston East station, following 11.7 miles of new tracks to East Falls Church. And another five to 10 trains per hour have been traveling the opposite way, from the East Falls Church Metro station to Wiehle Avenue.

After countless rounds of political debate, stop-and-start technical planning that began a half-century ago and the arduous, multibillion-dollar construction work that started in 2009, the Silver Line faced its most important challenge this week.

“It’s the first time that the infrastructure — those tracks, those signals, those switches, all that equipment — has actually seen any real frequency of trains,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. “A train every six minutes at rush hours, both directions, and every 12 minutes through the middays. And for this long. It’s the first time, ever.”

Several hundred trains have rumbled along the route during “simulated service,” putting the intricate rail mechanisms through their paces.

And the result: The Silver Line, Stessel said, “is ready for its close-up.”

Well, time will tell. There are a lot of moving parts, human and mechanical, involved in the new rail line. And like any public transit system, Metro rarely, if ever, runs flawlessly.

Tens of thousands of new riders are expected to eventually use the Silver Line, meaning tens of thousands of people learning — among many other things — how to get where they’re going, how to pay fares, where to stand on escalators, how to behave in a crush of passengers and what to do if they’re caught in closing doors.

And parking: There’s a 2,300-space garage at Wiehle-Reston East, plus a 1,000-space lot. But there is no parking at the four new stations in the Tysons area — McLean, Tysons Corner, Greensboro and Spring Hill. Will new Metro users show up in cars, anyway?

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said repeatedly that he has no worries. “We are prepared,” he said. “We’re ready.”

He also noted, “It’s summertime and we’re going into August, so certainly, other than the people who want to be first, you’ll see lighter ridership now than in the fall.”

After Saturday’s opening, the next big test will come Monday morning, when the first workday rush-hour crowds show up at the new stations. Unlike Saturday and Sunday, when trains will run every 12 minutes, the Silver Line, like other lines, will operate on a rush-hour schedule from 5 a.m to 9 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, with trains every six minutes.

Starting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, about 90 minutes before the first passenger-carrying Silver Line train leaves the Wiehle station — “the inaugural train,” Metro calls it — an invitation-only ceremony will be held at Wiehle featuring remarks by a dozen or so public officials, including Virginia Gov. Terry McAullife (D) and federal Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. There will be a ribbon cutting. And then, about noon: All aboard.

“We’re now in the fifth day of simulated service on the Silver Line, and I’m pleased with what we’ve seen,” Sarles told the transit agency’s board of directors Thursday. He said this week’s simulation “allows us to ensure that everything, from signals to traction power to rail-car mechanics, performs in an integrated fashion throughout the system.”

He said Virginia officials this week issued certificates of occupancy for the five new stations. And the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which monitors Metrorail safety, has approved the start of service.

“With the occupancy certificates and the safety certification in hand, along with five successful days of simulated service under our belt, the system is ready to welcome aboard our customers,” Sarles declared at the directors meeting.

The route that is opening Saturday is just the first phase of the Silver Line. It cost about $2.9 billion, or $150 million more than initially planned. The second phase, extending 11.4 miles west from Reston to Loudoun County, just beyond Dulles International Airport, is expected to cost $2.7 billion and open in 2018.

That would bring the overall Silver Line tab to $5.6 billion.

By creating a rapid-transit connection between the region’s two biggest economic hubs — Tysons Corner and downtown D.C. — and also linking the Dulles corridor to the Pentagon, the Silver Line is expected to gradually transform traffic-choked Tysons into a greener, transit-oriented, quasi-urban community, economic planners say.

They foresee a booming Tysons economy based in a skyline of office towers and, below, walkable spaces filled with trendy retailers, restaurants and bars — a much larger version of Metro-influenced Clarendon and downtown Bethesda.

The departure of the inaugural train Saturday will signal the start of that process — the official beginning of Silver Line service.

But the new line won’t instantly spring to life. Rather, it will become fully operational over a span of 70 minutes, between about noon and 1:10 p.m., which could confuse some passengers waiting for trains in older stations along the Silver Line route.

The reason is the process by which Metro plans to transition within that 70-minute period from simulated Silver Line service to actual service.

Since Sunday, in this week’s tests, five to 10 trains per hour have been leaving Wiehle Avenue and traveling through the four Tysons stations en route to the decades-old station in East Falls Church, which previously had been used only by Orange Line trains.

From East Falls Church to Largo Town Center and back, the Silver Line shares tracks for various stretches with the Orange and Blue lines.

During simulated service, trains leaving Wiehle Avenue have not been picking up riders until they reach East Falls Church. From there to Largo, and on the return trips, the trains have been designated Orange Line trains for the public, although Metro considers them simulated Silver trains.

The simulated service will continue right up until noon Saturday, meaning there will be simulated Silver trains — labeled as Orange trains — coursing through the system when the inaugural train pulls out of Wiehle amid much hoopla.

After the inaugural train covers the 11.7 miles of new tracks and is about to arrive at East Falls Church, all the simulated Silver trains headed in the other direction, from Largo toward Wiehle, will cease to be labeled as Orange. Signs at the front of those trains will change, mid-trip, to read “Silver” instead of “Orange.”

Which means that shortly before 12:30 p.m. Saturday, as the inaugural train approaches East Falls Church, some westbound passengers who boarded trains labeled Orange, with the terminus of East Falls Church posted on the cars, will suddenly find that they’re on trains redesignated as Silver and bound for Wiehle Avenue.

Not to worry, though: The stops will be the same as the Orange Line’s, except for the five added stations at the end, in Tysons and at Wiehle Avenue.

As for eastbound simulated Silver Line trains running ahead of the inaugural train, those won’t change their designations from Orange to Silver until they reach the Largo Town Center station and start back in the other direction.

Finally, about 1:10 p.m., when the inaugural train rolls into Largo, simulated service will be over. All Silver trains in the system will have been relabeled as such. And the new line, decades in the planning and years in the building, will officially be a reality.

Asked after Thursday’s board meeting if there are any aspects of the Silver Line’s opening that worried him, Sarles spoke confidently, citing “the extensive testing we’ve done, the extensive planning and the simulated service, which has gone well.”

He said, “I am really not anxious or losing sleep over the start of service.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) announced Thursday that the number of heroin-related deaths in the state has continued to climb despite efforts by his administration to dramatically reduce overdose deaths before he leaves office in January.

For years, the state was making progress in cutting the number of fatal overdoses, by increasing access to treatment and cracking down on dealers, O’Malley said. But then cheap heroin, often laced with the painkiller fentanyl, became wildly popular among heroin users across the country — and heroin-related deaths spiked in Maryland and elsewhere.

“While I’d like to stand here and tell you that this is getting better, it’s not,” O’Malley said at a news conference at the Annapolis Police Department, one of a series of events examining his progress on 16 strategic goals. “It’s getting worse, which is why we are redoubling our efforts.”

During the first three months of 2014, 252 people died from overdoses, according to data released Thursday, a 33 percent increase from the same time period the year before. Officials say 148 of the deaths were the result of heroin.

There were 858 drug and alcohol-related overdose deaths in the state in 2013. Of those, 464 were related to heroin, an 88 percent increase from 2011. That means more people in Maryland were killed by heroin in 2013 than were murdered.

Maryland health officials are treating the opiate overdoses like an epidemic. O’Malley has convened an Overdose Prevention Council to coordinate with state agencies to collect and analyze data and come up with strategies to prevent fatalities. The council met for the first time this month.

Many state troopers and other Maryland first responders now carry naloxone, a medication that can reverse the lethal effects of a heroin overdose. Troopers also pass out treatment information, and soon-to-be-released inmates are educated on the dangers of heroin.

“Fatality review teams” have begin studying each overdose case file to find commonalities or trends that could help the state identify heroin sources, at-risk groups and new prevention tactics.

While Baltimore has long struggled with drug abuse, O’Malley noted that the heroin epidemic also has had a significant impact on rural and suburban areas of the state, where communities are struggling to respond. Addiction often begins with prescription drugs. Users then switch to heroin, which is usually less expensive.

“If we want to save more lives, we’re going to have to change what we’re doing,” O’Malley said. “We’re going to have to do more of the things that we know work and do them more broadly.”

Think of the most put-together traveler you can imagine. James Bond with a tux and a passport, perhaps. Then picture the exact opposite. That’s my dad.

George Kim is the anti-James Bond, the ill-prepared tourist with the giant camera slung around his neck who always seems one turn away from navigational disaster. Once, when I was young, we were on our way home to New Jersey from Connecticut and somehow ended up in the Catskills. 

Don’t get me wrong. Dad is a sharp guy even at 72, a retired electrical engineer who now teaches entrepreneurship classes. But his long-standing absent-mindedness, above all other reasons, is why I had put off traveling to my parents’ homeland of Korea despite Dad’s nagging. If you don’t speak Korean, or don’t speak it well (like me), you need a tour guide to experience the country properly, especially beyond Seoul. I finally mustered the courage, and booked the trip. I say courage, because Dad was going to be my guide. 

It was a first-time pilgrimage for me — an overdue exploration of my parents’ past and my own heritage as a Korean American. It was also a milestone for my parents. They immigrated to the United States in the late 1960s, but they’ve spent a good chunk of the past seven years of their retirement in South Korea, and I was the first of their four adult children to visit. 

Details: South Korea

The plan was for my father and me to spend about a week seeing Seoul, Busan and Pohang, a port city in the east where my parents make their home. That’s where my father teaches at Handong Global University, a Christian school. My mother, Duckja, would join us there. 

A sound plan on paper, but could I survive the guided tour?

Old Seoul revealed

Not surprisingly, things didn’t start out well. Dad was two hours late picking me up at the airport when I arrived. We spent another hour trying to find his car in the airport parking lot, even though he had parked it just minutes earlier. 

Then we got lost on the way to our Seoul hotel. By the time we checked in, I was hungry and deliriously jet-lagged. Thankfully, it took only 90 minutes or so for Dad to settle on a place to eat.

Discovering the Korea of my parents’ younger days also seemed hard at first. On our first morning in Seoul, Dad and I sat at an outdoor table sipping Starbucks coffee. I scanned the signs around us: Outback Steakhouse, Dunkin’ Donuts, California Pizza Kitchen. Was this Korea or Rockville Pike? 

But Dad helped reveal the past. At Seoul Plaza, a green space in the city center, he pointed out a number of round chips in the bricks of the older buildings — bullet holes left over from the Korean War. 

Dad was 8 when North Korean tanks under the command of Kim Il Sung rolled down Sejong-daero, a main Seoul thoroughfare, and surrounded the plaza. He recalled the tidy lines of soldiers, the helpless civilians and the popping gunfire as militia from both sides ravaged the city. He and his family fled south, eventually to Busan, until the war ended. 

Nearby Gyeongbokgung Palace, one of Korea’s national treasures, has also suffered an unfortunate history. It was all but leveled during the 20th-century Japanese occupation and remains under restoration. To say that Dad still holds grudges against both North Korea and Japan would be an understatement. 

A few blocks southeast, off a street called Ujeongguk-ro, behind the spot where street vendors were selling plastic Buddhas and mounds of japchae noodles, was another precious site — the former location of the small house where Dad had lived as a child. 

The property has since been leveled, and the site now houses the Central Buddhist Museum. Next door is the Jogye Temple, one of the most famous Buddhist sites in Korea. Dad told me how he and his friends would peer over his backyard fence and mischievously throw rocks at the temple’s roof lights, trying to shatter them. They occasionally succeeded, he said. 

I was amazed at his home’s central location. Mom’s childhood home was a few miles away but in the same part of Seoul. The experience was the equivalent of realizing that your parents had once lived in a house that was bulldozed to make room for the Lincoln Memorial. 

We wandered around the nearby sites, including the sprawling Changdeokgung Palace and grounds, where my parents went on dates after the war. Dad then took me down some narrow streets where he had walked when he was young. The roads were all dirt back then, he remembered. He would often play with his toys in the mud, or sometimes just with the mud. 

The hills are alive

I’m the travel opposite of Dad. And, in fairness, it’s not because I’m a seasoned traveler, but because I’m a neurotic one. I came armed with two guidebooks (one in paperback, one on Kindle); all-weather clothing; a cursory knowledge of the language, thanks to months of lessons on Rosetta Stone; power adapters for most of Asia; and a smartphone with what seemed like every travel app in the app store. 

As we set off on the five-hour drive to Pohang (Dad rebuffing my offers to take the wheel), the countryside opened up before us. Beyond Seoul, much of Korea is mountainous. The endless hills brought West Virginia to mind. I followed our progress on Google Maps — both out of curiosity and to make sure that we wouldn’t take a wrong turn and end up in China. I peppered Dad with questions about everything I saw. 

Space is at a premium in much of the country, and the rolling horizon struck me as a bit claustrophobic. Every piece of developable land is spoken for, often by high-rise apartment buildings, while unsightly high-tension wires crisscross the hilltops like skeins of yarn. The smog is thick in spots, some of it coming from Seoul but much of it from China. 

About 50 miles southeast of Seoul, near Chungju, we came upon a rest stop to end all rest stops. It looked like a small mall, with batting cages, a jewelry store and even a decommissioned F-4 Phantom II fighter jet, a Cold War mainstay, displayed in the parking lot. 

It was after dark when we finally arrived in coastal Pohang, and we almost made several wrong turns. We joined up with Mom and ate at a tasty, if unique, restaurant called Shabu Hyang, where you boil your own beef soup and roll your own spring rolls. 

Pohang’s main drag stretched along a boardwalk that smelled faintly of sulfur. On the not-too-distant horizon, I could make out what appeared to be a large neon city. But Dad explained that this mini-Las Vegas was something else entirely: the Posco steel plant, one of the world’s largest, gussied up to make it more palatable to look at. 

The next day, we explored some of the smaller communities around Pohang. We traveled to an oceanside village called Odo-ri, the site of a new church where my Mom, an ordained pastor, preaches. 

We were far from Seoul and other cities that Western tourists might think of visiting. In Chilpo-ri, the next village over, we drove on mud-covered cement roads barely wide enough for Dad’s compact car. One street led right up to a fleet of small boats bobbing on the waves. A fisherman nodded hello. The frothy Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, washing over the shoreline’s dark boulders reminded me of Maine or New Hampshire. But the ubiquitous tsunami warning signs were a reminder that this wasn’t New England. 

Two sides of Busan

 Later, we headed an hour south to Gyeong-ju. The area is chock-full of temples and sites linked to the ancient Silla Kingdom, one of three that controlled the peninsula around the time of the Roman Empire. At Anapji, a Silla palace site with a tranquil artificial pond, Mom overheard a cluster of people speaking Korean. She told me that they had a thick country accent, but the difference didn’t penetrate my wooden ears. 

By the time we reached Busan, my exasperation with Dad was growing again. The booming resort city on Korea’s southern coast, with its spaghetti bowl of streets, didn’t help. 

To compensate for Busan’s bustle, Dad drove at half the speed limit. At one point, we somehow found our way into a dead end next to a pier with no railings. The situation compelled Dad to perform a risky K-turn maneuver that brought us just several feet from plunging into the East Sea. And though a torrential rainstorm had descended, Dad had his heart set on more sightseeing. Halfway down the slippery steps to the seaside Haedongyonggung Temple, Mom and I made an executive decision to head back to the car. 

Yet for all the logistical headaches, I was fascinated by Busan’s dichotomy. 

In the eastern part of the city was Haeundae Beach, Korea’s answer to South Beach — night clubs, designer shops and sleek hotels surrounded a manicured strand. In the middle of it all was the huge Shinsegae Centum City department store, which claims to be the largest in the world. The store has 14 floors that feature a supermarket, a short-track ice rink and a driving range, so the boast appears to be legit. 

To the west, across the bay, an older Busan beckoned. The sidewalks were livelier and the streets more disorderly. There was no manicured beach; rusty trawlers crowded the water. In place of designer clothing stores, elderly vendors sold seaweed and other food from the backs of pickup trucks. 

Jagalchi Fish Market, a pungent, chaotic shock to the senses, anchored this side of Busan. We walked past crowded, smelly stands selling mackerel, tuna, octopus, eel, sea urchins, oysters and some of the largest crabs I’ve ever seen. Vendors sliced up that morning’s catch and served it up on plates along with fresh wasabi. I could have easily spent hours there with Dad and Mom, snapping photos of the fishy maelstrom. 

But Jagalchi would be the last stop. I had a bullet train to catch. Before long, I’d be speeding on the KTX back to Seoul and eventually home. 

At the train station, I hugged Mom goodbye. Then Dad and I went inside. He carried my bag to the ticket counter, made sure I was on the right train and helped me find my track. 

We headed to the main hall for our final goodbyes. As he walked off, I followed him with my eyes until he was out of sight. 

All at once, Dad’s annoyances didn’t matter much anymore. They were as permanent as fog.

And that’s when I realized that he had been, in fact, the perfect guide.

Kim is mobile/tablet editor at
The Washington Post.

More from Travel:

Smart Mouth: The Korean stew that “M*A*S*H” made

Songdo, South Korea: The city that could change the way we travel

South Korea’s Jeju Island, paradise with a dark side

Discovering Korea’s imperial past

Smart Mouth: A marathon of Seoul food, just the way Koreans do it

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