Out in the Cold
...in North Korea

<<<previous <<<before the storm
 December 13, 1997

When I arrived in Korea I decided I wasn't going to let it get me down. My intentional upbeat attitude worked in Turkey, so I decided to try it here. I had friends in the states, and I could buy a computer to keep in touch. I definitely needed a support group--my marriage of seven years had just gone up in smoke, and I was on a one-year remote tour with nothing to return to. I smiled a lot, but no one else smiled. I didn't understand it then.

I bought a computer and sent out a few emails and one to Amanda. I didn't want to steal her from her boyfriend, but I was hoping we could be closer because I had put up a wall between us before--I was MARRIED you know. Now I could be open, more sensitive and kind--all that stuff.

Amanda didn't answer, and Miimii got upset because my first email was too long (it was less than a page). No one from the my old office replied. No one asked me how I was or anything. Weeks went by with nothing from anyone but Tom, Miimii and Robert. This was harder than I thought. Miimii kept bugging me about a computer program called ICQ, and said I could do chat (I'd never done that before). She guaranteed I'd love it. After a few emails she persuaded me to try it. We practiced and it was fun. She said I should send it to Amanda, so I did. Amanda finally responded with an email. She told me not to email her anymore.

I was crushed. I had no one to talk to except my future ex-wife (who'd been dating for a month already), and no one at work knew me well. I tried to ignore it but it hurt. Amanda was my friend.

Hugging myself...hugging myself...hugging myself...(near the DMZ)>>>

The next morning, November 24, I entered a 10 kilometer run on base to give myself something to look forward to, because by now I was loosing my optimism. I was very surprised to take an early lead. With my sickness, work, and turmoil in my personnal life I hardly trained anymore. I had one encouraging moment in a training run when I was charging up the hill to the HTAC (the command post I worked in) and flew past two mountain bikers.
I led for 5 1/2 miles of the race. The police car that was leading the race was too slow. I hit my hand on the trunk a few times and it didn't speed up, so I blew past it. About 1/2 mile from the finish, a much older, skinnier guy caught me and took the lead. I hung on and paced off him ten feet back so I wouldn't lose too much time. My natural tendency was to let him go and keep 2nd place, but he couldn't shake me, so it came down to a sprint finish, which I suck at. I can't sprint--my race finishes in Turkey earlier that year confirmed that. We blasted out of the last corner and in 100 yards I put 30 feet on him. I couldn't believe it!

As I received my cheesy plastic/particle board trophy in the pouring rain, my admiring competitors clapping, I felt like the most pathetic man in the world. I was a winner, but no one in the world cared. I was completely alone. I almost cried when they handed it to me, but the rain took care of the tears. An empty win indeed.
I spent Thanksgiving alone, depressed, spending the entire weekend chatting with Miimii on ICQ because now she was depressed about her life too, approaching her 30th birthday. I couldn't understand why she couldn't talk to her boyfriend, but I let it be.

Then I went to North Korea for my birthday! I'd been upset for most of the day, feeling abandoned, but I prayed for patience and a soft heart. I didn't want to be like this, but I was deeply hurt.
Our tour ran into a tour of Japanese high-school girls from Tokyo, and they got into a snowball fight with some Army guards stationed in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which is the strip of land between North and South Korea that was void of a military presence. It was meant to stop a million screaming Communists from crossing into South Korea. The Japanese girls were sweet. They reminded me of Miimii when we first met--feisty, funny, cute--always smiling and fun. And they were very clever too, moving behind barriers to hide from the guards. Then they swarmed on me and another Air Force guy, and I must have taken twenty pictures with different groups of Japanese girls. We were like celebrities there. It was very hard to be in a bad mood around all those adoring fans.

Michael stands between two ticking time bombs about to explode and blow another hole in his chest>>>

We arrived at the North Korean border at approximately 2:30 pm, Korean time, on December 13, 1997. I had yet to take a picture of myself for my birthday, and in the states it was 11:30 pm, December 12. I had 30 minutes left for my 32nd birthday photo. The tour guide, a Korean lady named Heather, was having a hard time with the tour and seemed pretty upset too (she rarely smiled), so I befriended her. She and I ended up sitting in front of the bus together chatting and making fun of the bus driver for the rest of the tour. We were like two lost souls who just needed a smile and more importantly, a giggle. When we arrived at the border, we walked into a U.N. building that was split down the middle by a microphone cord, which was the actual North Korean border. This room was the scene of many North/South Korean negotiations in the past. I gave Heather my camera, jumped across the border into North Korea, and she shot this picture from South Korea for me, and for my mother.>>>

Do I look happy enough?>>>