Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SteelConnect Reconnects

November 30, 2010

After a year of "disconnect," my steel journey resumes amidst local and world events which by any means reconnects to my journey in the past. Day by day, as events unfurled, there seemed to be some significant relevance or parallelism to events observed and experienced in the past. Plus new developments which make my steel journey exciting, memorable and informative.

To resume this month of November is auspicious. A number of big events which helped change the course of the world happened in this time. To name a few: the election of Abraham Lincoln as US president (Nov. 6, 1860) and his Gettysburg address ( Nov. 19, 1863, the fall of the Czars of and the rise of Lenin and Communism in Russia, Armistice Day or the end of World War I (Nov. 11, 1918), the birthday of Mickey Mouse (Nov.18, 1928), which made the world a lot happier, the assassination of America's beloved president, John F. Kennedy ( Nov. 22, 1963, the fall of the Berlin Wall signaling the start of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, and America's Thanksgiving holiday which was first celebrated as a national holiday on November 26, 1789, and many more.

Nothing though beats my personal affection to this Scorpio month. November is my birth month and therefore the start of my journey to life. It is also the birth month of many of my loved ones, namely, my beloved mother, my youngest son, my father-in-law, and many other close friends and relatives and former classmates.

It is therefore a month of our celebration of life. It is indeed a Thanksgiving period.

Welcome once again to SteelConnect!

Dateline: Incheon, South Korea- November 2006

Four years ago, at around this time, I travelled to south Korea to attend the 1st SouthEast Asia Iron and Steel Institute (SEAISI) Technical Training Program at Pohang Iron and Steel Works, more popularly called POSCO, at the seaside city of Pohang from November 4-10, 2006.

We arrived on a cold winter early morning at the spanking Incheon International Airport at the height of another gripping tension between the North and the South following the test firing of the North of its much vaunted missiles in the Korean Sea, a move vehemently protested by the South and its main supporter, the US and their Western allies. Both sides came to a full red alert and the seeming all out war was looming anytime. This is almost the same situation as it is today, following the bombing by the North of an island significantly just near Incheon.

Our group from the Philippines was composed of us three from the steel industry, the other two being the two young scions of the families that own Pag-asa Steel and Capitol Steel, both manufacturers of steel bars, apparently as part of their exposure and preparation for joining management of their firms eventually. At our pre-departure briefing conducted by the Philippine iron and Steel institute (PISI) which sponsored and endorsed our attendance to the training, a major part was spent in the discussion on what we should do in case war indeed erupts while we are still there. I was fully aware of the situation ( as I have always been because world affairs and history is my major interest), but it really did not cross my mind that we will be caught in the crossfire in a war nobody wants, except perhaps the stubborn North Korea. As
one of the measures, the president of PISI appointed me as the leader of our 3-man delegation precisely because of my “seniority,” both in age and experience. I remembered asking half jokingly, half serious, “So what am I gonna do?” except to contact the Philippine embassy, I could not recall now what the other things we needed to do.

Incheon International Airport is just a few minutes away the capital Seoul by train and even by bus. So the recent attack was indeed serious because it happened just at the very doorstep of its capital, perhaps reminiscent of the 1950’s war when the North invaded Seoul itself.

Clearing the immigaration and transferring to the nearby Gimpo airport for our connecting domestic flight to Pohang, everything seemed normal. There was never any sign of the full alert status anywhere which we expected. Security was never tight. This observation held true throughout our 1-week stay at Pohang and nearby places. Nor did we hear this being discussed anywhere, anytime. I fact, I never saw any uniformed military man on the streets or elsewhere. The only time I saw a man in uniform was on our final day at the bus station bound for Seoul and Incheon (how we ended up taking the long bus ride instead of the much shorter plane ride is another story) two young military men in their early 20’s apparently homeward bound for a vacation. In short, life went on in South Korea; there seemed to be no alarm at all. And I guess, today, when the news reports says, everything is normal there, everybody goes on, I could say, this is very true.

My personal take on this is this: The South Koreans are used and perhaps tired of these antics and bullying of the North’s King Jong Il. So they just leve it to their government and the US to be alarmed and do the preparation and to look tough and ready for an eye to eye encounter. So normal was the situation then that on our last day, we even planned to spend the whole day, not to see downtown Seoul, but to travel and visit the DMZ (the Demilitarized Zone) at the 38th Parallel border. We figured out, that would be more fun, adventurous and unique. But no
thanks to the slight weather foul up and Korean air’s super safety consciousness, which all of us delegates from the ASEAN region protested as improperly placed (in contrast, the other local airline, Asiana continued its normal flights in and out of Pohang) , we were forced to take the long solitary bus trip to Seoul and Incheon for our evening flight home. Our wish and plan to see more of the Land of the Morning Calm up north and perhaps smell the cold nuclear air came to naught.