Monday, June 16, 2008

Dragon Brothers and Afganistan Taekwondo

It's a new week on the Korean Tour...a fresh slate. It doesnt matter whether you finished 35th, 1st or missed the cut at the last tournament, you have the potential to win this event. As the last tournament finished, I found myself without a way to get from the small Korean town, back to Seoul. I asked around, and eventually met up with Mr. Lee, a "boxing promoter" and golf aficionado. He offered to drive me to the nearest town to catch a bus back to the city (It took half an hour to work this out with my inability to speak any Korean and his to speak limited english). As we exchanged words and arrived at the bus stop, he generously offered to drive me back to Seoul Airport (2 hours away). En route, we stopped to meet his "brother" for dinner. As we sat over the Korean barbeque, I inquired about their family tie and a piece of tatoo I noticed underneath the short sleeve of Mr. Lee's shirt. Both men showed me the begining of a dragon tatoo that extended around their entire upper torso and took a month to complete. Mr. Lee said all his "family" had the dragon tatoo.

I asked further. "Mom and Dad have tatoo?"

He pointed to the sky and responded, "Mom and Dad."

"Oh, not alive?" I continued.

"Um," he nodded. "No sister, no brother. Solo." He pointed to his "brother." "He my brother. Many, Many brother in Korea. Many, Many brother in Japan."

I'm starting to get the picture.

"In Japan, call Yakuza," he said.

"Korean mob?" I asked.

"Mafia. Italy! You know? Al Pacino? You know?" He asked.

"Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Marlon Brando. Yeah, I know. You Godfather?" I joked.

I know he didnt understand the reference, but he shook his head and said, "Korean Mafia. Many, Many Dragon brother. Many, Many family. Many, Many nightclub."

I'm thinking, "no way this guy could hang with Brando."

"Gun? You shoot people?" I'm joking at the time.

"No gun. Big, eh, sword. Cut. Big, eh..." His friend came to the rescue, "Knife."

A bit primative. Now I know why all the new gang movies I see on tv here involve Crocodile Dundee's Knife battles.

So here I am in the midst of the Korean mob. We ate a great beef dinner and he dropped me off at the airport unscathed.

I am traveling with an Asian Tour player from Taiwan, Lien Lu Sen. Today, we were trying to figure out how to make the three and a half hour journey from Seoul to a small town on the North Korean border. We phoned Mr. Lee for some advice.

"You want go to Korea Tour Tournament?" He asked.

"Yes, very far. How go?" I asked as basically as possible.

"No problem. I come airport. Together, go." He said.

We reluctantly accept and 30 minutes later, Mr. Lee shows up in his black Hyundai and takes us three hours up to the North Korean border. In a country where getting a tee time is impossible and expensive, he has arranged a tee time for us tomorrow for free. I'm sure my mom is reading this now and shaking her head. I am about to get an email that says "Be Careful."

As I wrote that, a guy just sat down next to me, maybe 18 or 19 and asked me to help him with a computer problem. I'm messing with his wireless networks and making conversation, asking him what he is doing in the middle-of-nowhere-Korea. He tells me he came to Korea to train with a great Taekwondo master for the Olympics, which he qualified for. I said, "great man, congradulations. Where are you from?"


An sudden chill ran down my face. "You are competing for Afganistan?"

"Yes. And you? You are from where?" He asked.

A thousand things ran through my mind in the split second before I replied, "The US." The one thought that emerged from the thousand was, "here is a very rare opportunity to bridge a gap."

We spent the next twenty minutes talking about our goals, our homes and computer problems. I never did fix his computer. My efforts fell a bit short. But maybe fixing a computer problem wasnt the point of our meeting.

Here I am, a few minutes south of the North Korean border, using a Korean mobster for transportation and connections, and befriending an Olympian from Kabul. Fantastic.

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