Smiling at the DMV

Posted in Travel at 15:48 by RjZ

I am stopping by the DMV today. I have to get my auto license renewed and it’ll cost over $100 not including the smog check my car required, even though it’s still relatively new and passed with flying colors. Still, I’ll be smiling when I pay my fees. I can imagine being pretty upset about the inconvenience; but like many who’ve traveled or lived abroad, I returned to the United States to find a reserve of patience I never knew I left here.

I made a visit to California while living in Germany, where drivers spend over $1000 to get their driver’s licenses, and wait in long lines to fill out forms for them. I took advantage of the visit to San Jose to renew my driver’s license, which I could, at least unofficially, use in Europe. I remembered the long lines in southern California so I got there very early, but alas, the line had already formed before the doors were even opened. Then, before we were let in, angels employees came and handed out forms and little pencils for us to fill out while waiting. They let us know which line we’d have to wait in once the golden gate doors were opened

Once we were inside we waited a bit more in our respective queues and I listened, smiling, to the muttering and complaining from my line-mates. I was eventually helped by a bored but friendly official, who asked me for a correction on the form, and then for $12 for the renewal. That’s it. Done. I few years previous, there is little doubt that I would have joined in the chorus of whining about the lines and bureaucracy, but that day, I was grinning ear to ear at the lack of expense and the relative ease with which I was able to perform this little task.

I don’t always remember how happy I was that day to wait for a little while in line and pay my money. I also don’t mean to imply that Germany has a horrible system of intractable bureaucracy while the United States is some smoothly operating machine. (Even if that is true for the DMV.) Still, it’s helpful for us to notice when things aren’t nearly that bad after all and maybe revel in it a bit. That’s why I’ll be smiling at the DMV today.

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Not much else to talk about

Posted in Travel at 15:41 by RjZ

We had just gotten back into the car after a brief stop to pray. My American colleague and I were on our way to visit another customer and we’re being driven there by our orthodox Jewish sales representative. Normally, he was more discrete in strictly following his tradition, but there was really no other time and we assured him it was no bother. He stood outside the car for a little while davening and muttering and then returned to the car after a few minutes.

He and I had been enjoying a steady stream of discussion topics. We spoke about the Intifada; we spoke about American foreign aid. Now we were busy comparing and contrasting religious practices thanks to his brief interruption. The third in the car hadn’t contributed very much so far, and suddenly he burst out: “Can’t we talk about something else! Don’t you two know that it’s not polite to talk about religion and politics?!” He was obviously quite exasperated by all this.

The Israeli looked away from the road at both of us to say flatly “This is Israel. What else do we have to talk about?”

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Sorry, wrong again

Posted in at 15:15 by RjZ

I just wanted to note that early in the year I complained about how nuts Pat Robertson is.

Indeed, according to CNN, Pat’s got some news for us. He tells us “a terrorist attack on the United States would cause a ‘mass killing’ late in 2007. ‘I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to be nuclear,’ he said. CNN continues “Robertson said God told him about the impending tragedy during a recent prayer retreat.”

Well, he’s got a few days, but it doesn’t look good for another Robertson prediction. Surprise, surprise. Can we all agree to stop listening to him now?

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German lessons

Posted in Society at 9:08 by RjZ

I was living in München, Germany around 1994 when a rather large tax was passed in effort to help pay for the heavy economic burden of reunifying East and West Germany. I had a pretty average German salary and I was surprised when my take-home pay dropped by 100 marks from one check to the next. That’s a pretty huge after tax pay cut! Pass such a drastic tax in the United States and people will march, barefoot, to Washington to protest it. So, I inquired with my colleagues what they thought of the new tax. After all, most of them we’re better paid than I and must be suffering too. ‘It’s for re-unification’ they’d explain, with resignation, as if that simple fact explained everything.

I was reminded of this experience while surveying a power plant outside of Seoul, Korea. Here in the United States, the media portrays a giant gap between South and North Korea. From president Bush labeling North Korea as part of the axis of evil to South Park’s satire of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, one could hardly confuse the North Korean nuclear threat with the friendly South Korean manufacturers of Hyundai’s and Samsung. There I was, looking north at the coal field and further to the DMZ and North Korea just passed the horizon, with the plant’s construction manager was explaining that they were adding two more units for another 1600 megawatts to this already large power plant dominating the little island off the coast. Where is all the power going, I asked, is Seoul still growing so fast? To the north, he pointed. But who is going to pay for it? North Korea doesn’t really have a thriving economy.

While we think of two distinct countries with widely different situations, economies and politics, it’s fairly clear when you speak to South Koreans that they do not share our view regarding the deep divide between the north and the south, save for the arbitrary, 155 mile long, 2.5 mile wide demilitarized zone. The line was drawn right between families and friends separating them for more than half a century. Today, the majority of both countries’ military stands opposed to each other on either side of the DMZ, while back at the power plant, the construction manager seemed a bit befuddled by my questions and responded that “I guess we will pay.”

The construction manager shrugged off the enormous impact of eventual reunification with the same resignation about a future already decided that I saw in Germany. Except it won’t be nearly as easy for Korea as it was for Germany. East German economy was hardly a stellar performer, but people weren’t exactly starving to death. In North Korea, they are. I got the impression that South Koreans imagine a reunified Korea where the North joins them. West Germans had the same expectation, and, for the most part, that is exactly what happened, but it was not without friction. Kim Jong Il does not seem nearly as conciliatory as the East German leaders were. Finally, East Germany didn’t exactly decide to join West Germany on its own. It was allowed to by Soviet President Gorbachov. North Korea, meanwhile, shares a border with China and the Chinese don’t seem nearly as forthcoming today as the Soviets did in 1989.

Exactly how South Korea will accomplish their reunification remains to be seen. Even if political forces somehow relent, their dynamic economy might just be able to survive the extraordinary burden that, like giddy West Germans a decade ago, few seem remotely willing to acknowledge.

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Battle of books?

Posted in at 10:21 by RjZ

Shopdropping sounds pretty hilarious, even when I don’t agree with the message. Regardless, I wish I could have seen this battle:
“At Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., religious groups have been hitting the magazines in the science section with fliers featuring Christian cartoons, while their adversaries have been moving Bibles from the religion section to the fantasy/science-fiction section.”

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Never seen so little.

Posted in Travel at 18:04 by RjZ

A friend got me one of those travel maps where you can place pins to mark where you’ve been. Naturally, map in mind, I was pretty excited about my recent business trip to Korea. It was a painfully short excursion but I ought to be able to come up with something to write about. I haven’t had the time to really come up with a good story about the journey, so I’ll just include everything about the travel, journal style, for your enjoyment. Here it is:

home -> airport -> hotel -> office -> hotel -> airport -> power plant -> hotel -> power plant -> hotel -> office -> airport -> home.

There were some meals in there, loads of kimchee, but no place particularly special and I saw essentially nothing. Airports and power plants are not, typically, near anything interesting; these were no exceptions. I’ve never actually traveled somewhere and seen so little.

I put a little pin in my map just the same though. This totally counts.

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Back now, who needs quality?

Posted in at 9:31 by RjZ

I really need to get back to blogging. Sorry to my avid fans (all three of you.) Just a quick update…I haven’t been writing much because I’ve been traveling quite a bit (for work, alas—few stories) and just haven’t had time. Not enough time to, well, to gather my thoughts on things.

So, the simple plan: write more scattered things! Therefore, dear readers, expect the quality to plummet, but the quantity to increase! That’s something, isn’t it?

Remember, though, I do have the flickr-y photo-blog stuff going….! Register at flckr and comment! I’m not going to make you, but I really think you should be embarrassed by your feeble excuses why you don’t.

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