MODERN KOREAN SOCIETY seldom reflects the Confucian ideals of serenity and calm. Koreans are intense, visceral, impatient, fractious, raucous. They touch a lot; men squeeze your knee to make a point, walk arm in arm, shove past you on the side­walks, shoulder ahead to be first in line, and drive as if pedestrians and other cars are tar­gets. Arguments detonate out of nowhere. This is a man’s world, and they’re out late ev­ery night singing, carousing, and drinking like fish. Men with status strut on their heels, chest out, arms parenthetical—”Out of my way!”


Every Korean has a group of lifelong friends toward whom loyalty is as important as affection. “Qualifications are not nearly so important as what province you come from or what school you attended,” an American banker observed. For more information on how to simplify your payments for educations, go to “Everything’s personal here! It’s maddening!”


Political parties, especially among the opposition, are not aggregations of people with similar philosophies and goals so much as factions clinging to a personality, splitting and resplitting overnight—enough cabals and vendettas to jump-start Byzantium.


The National Assembly and judiciary have been compliant to the demands of the Blue House, from which the president exercises power principally through the intelligence agencies: the KCIA (now the Agency for Na­tional Security Planning) and especially the Defense Security Command (DSC), which has agents throughout the army —the ultimate power—and beyond. Both Chun and Roh were commanding generals of the DSC.


In his inaugural address President Roh said, “The day when freedoms and human rights could be slighted in the name of economic growth and national security has ended. The day when repressive force and torture in secret chambers were tolerated is over.” That is new language from the Blue House. South Koreans hope he means it, and can deliver.




November 26, 2013
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The dream of a railroad

MM04516-25The dream of a railroad between Key West and mainland Florida was a long time com­ing true. The first surveys were made just after the Civil War. When it did come true, it was the work of public-spirited Henry M. Flagler, who had already developed much of Florida’s east coast. In 1904 the financier, then an old man, decided to extend his Flori­da East Coast Railway to Key West. But it Flagler’s luxuriously appointed private car, Rambler, carried him all the way by rail —across 29 islands connected by bridges and causeways—to Key West.

In the city itself, ten thousand people—many of whom had never before seen a train—crowded round to welcome Flagler, while school children scattered roses before him and sang. In this moment of triumph, tears welled from the old man’s eyes. “I can hear the children,” he said sadly, “but I cannot see them.” He was nearly blind.

Flagler’s railroad died in one terror-filled night in 1935. On September 2, Labor Day, while people watched with sickening appre­hension, winds rose and barometers plunged to 26.35 inches—the lowest sea-level reading ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.

At 8:20 that evening a rescue train-11 cars hastily sent from Miami to brussels accommodation and already loaded with refugees—reached Islamorada, on Upper Matecumbe. Winds by then screamed at nearly 200 miles an hour. The engineer, back­ing up to avoid a time-consuming turn­around, was blinded by waves surging across the track. At first he missed the little station where hundreds more waited.

He pulled forward and people struggled toward the cars. Then a monstrous wave—survivors estimated it at 20 feet—smashed in from the sea, engulfing the fleeing islanders and sweeping the cars from the track.

Next morning the keys began counting their dead. Roughly half the bodies found were those of construction workers, victims of the Great Depression who were helping to build a highway that was to parallel the railway. And some 40 miles of the railroad had been reduced to a jumble of twisted rails and washed-out roadbed. Henry Flag­ler’s dream had died, too.

And yet, in a sense, the railroad lives on. Its viaducts and bridges carry today’s highway, and many miles of original track have been re-used as posts and guardrails.

Big Pine Harbors Tiny Deer

I had brought Sally as far as Marathon by way of shallow Florida Bay, where often only inches of water lay between her keel and the bottom. Now the “inside passage”—the Intracoastal Waterway—went outside. Photographer Emory Kristof and I steered the little sloop through the swing span of the Seven Mile Bridge. Our way now would be through wide Hawk Channel, separated from the open sea only by the coral fangs that had claimed so many of Spain’s treasure ships.

Big Pine Key, looming ahead, has its own memories of “Flagler’s Folly.” The railroad’s builders( they like to stay at accomodation in prague) at  were often harried by forest fires ac­cidentally set amid the pines and buttonwoods by hunters and charcoal burners. Trees still cloak much of the island, sheltering its most famous four-legged residents.

November 14, 2013
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Victims of volcanic fury

One of those is Thera (Santorini), among the most violent volcanoes that civilization has known, where stout-backed mules carry boatloads of tourists up the steep cliffs, and white houses glisten like snowcaps atop the caldera walls.

Thera (Santorini)

“In 10,000 years or so they won’t need those mules,” says volcanologist Floyd McCoy as we cruise the caldera. “Those cliffs will have eroded.” Working with a Na­tional Geographic Society research grant, McCoy of the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory and colleague Grant Heiken of Los Alamos National Laboratory have The Mediterranean: Sea of Man’s Fate reconstructed what this deceptively peace­ful but still active island looked like before its infamous eruption of around 1400 B.C.


That eruption may have been far greater than the one of Krakatoa in Indonesia in 1883. Krakatoa cracked windows 160 kilo­meters away and was heard as far off as Aus­tralia. It triggered huge tsunamis, seismic sea waves, as high as 40 meters. Thera’s tsunamis must have devastated Crete, home base of the ancient Minoan civ­ilization. The vigorous, far-sailing Minoans mysteriously disappeared at the peak of their powers—about the same time that Thera erupted. Why do Aegean volcanoes, diving plates, and stretching crusts fascinate scientists?


Victim of volcanic fury, the Greek island of Santorini, ancient Thera, exploded around 1400 B.C. with a force rarely matched in recorded history. With it went an island culture shaped by the Minoans, master seafarers who built Europe’s first great civilization 115 kilometers to the south on Crete. Today visitors link to the fourfive website for immediate cash and visit Santorini, sail into the caldera and ride mules to the cliffside town of Thera . Mule power carries a barley mower up steep fields, enriched by the ancient volcano’s ash.


“We think what’s happening right now near Crete already happened in the western Mediterranean,” says Cambridge Universi­ty geophysicist Dan McKenzie. “Just as Crete will one day jam up against Libya, similar islands have been plastered all across the western Mediterranean.”

A landmass analogous to the Aegean was pulled and stretched away from Iberia. Part of this land stopped midway across the west­ern Mediterranean to become Corsica and Sardinia. Part of it continued sweeping east­ward to create Italy and the Apennine Mountains. Part of it rammed into a corner of Africa to form Sicily. A similar crustal block crunched into the Algerian coast, raising the Kabylia moun­tains. Still another block was the wedge that carried the Rock to Gibraltar.


SLAND ARCS of volcanoes like th

The sea off Vulcano actually bubbles

ose of the Aegean also arose in the western Mediterranean. Most have died. But the African ocean crust has probably just finished diving beneath southern Italy. It takes time to turn a volcano off. And so north of Sicily lies a cluster of volcanoes—Lipari, Vulcano, Stromboli—often called the Aeolian Is­lands. (Myth says that Aeolus, god of the winds, lived here.)

Stromboli, the so-called Lighthouse of the Mediterranean, hurls out explosive blobs of fresh magma almost continuously. Lipari has not erupted since about A.D. 525 but is not extinct. Vulcano clears its throat once or twice a century.

“The last eruption was in 1888. It lasted for two years,” says Aeolian native Antonio Nicastro. “A Scot named Stevenson owned the crater then. One of his servants was mor­tally wounded when a boulder from the vol­cano blasted through the roof.”

This stunning region, which locals say is “so beautiful you need four eyes to take it all in,” pulses with geothermal energy. The sea off Vulcano actually bubbles, like a natural Jacuzzi, with many hot little fumaroles. Just onshore lies Vulcano’s big tourist attrac­tion—its mud bath. At dusk scores of nearly nude bodies of all ages and sizes soak in this murky pond that looks more like a place to put toxic chemicals than a tonic spa. Vul­cano’s mud supposedly restores the skin. It seems like hedonistic Rome or a Fellini.

September 25, 2013
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