Sunday, May 2, 2010

Camp Red Cloud

This weekend my friend Leah--who is buds with a bunch of U.S. Army people--invited me to spend the afternoon with her/her bros on Camp Red Cloud, which is about 10 minutes away from Uijeongbu proper.

Leah wants YOU! Notice Uncle Sam on the poster in the background

Being a military brat, I jumped at the chance to go with get a tiny glimpse of what life is like in Korea for the U.S. military. I find the dynamics between the military/Korean/English-teaching communities here to be really fascinating/surprisingly complex, and was delighted to get a different perspective on military life this weekend. That, I couldn't resist a little taste of home/my childhood spent on U.S. military installations...ah, cookie-cutter, barf-colored, concrete housing units...

There's a running joke here: foreigners in Korea are almost always a) Army people or b) English teachers

The U.S. still has a major military presence in Korea. Though it has been scaled back since the Korean War, there are still buttloads of U.S. military bases in Korea--the biggest is Yongsan in Seoul (located near Seoul's infamously raucous foreign district, Itaewon).

It's hard to gauge the typical "Korean" attitude towards the U.S. military presence here. Though I'd say the vast majority of the Koreans are grateful for U.S. aid received during the war, I think the majority of Koreans would also agree that it's high time for the U.S. to get out1. A lot of Korean people have a really negative stereotype of U.S. Army bros, thinking of them as drunken assholes who refuse to integrate at all into Korean culture (and occasionally murder people violently in Burger King...allegedly). As for the English teaching community, stereotypes and general impressions of the U.S. Army run the gamut from completely positive (Leah) to completely negative, to somewhere in between (me).

So were my stereotypes reinforced, or completely obliterated, by my short, short time spent on CRC? Here are my general impressions:
  • U.S. Army barracks have the cleanest toilets in Korea
  • They also have BATHTUBS, of which I am jealous
  • The Commissary and the PX allow for some awesome 'Amurican BBQin, of which I partook...the Commissary allows you to completely forget you are in Korean/never try Korean food (major con, in my opinion)
  • There's an awesome golf course on base, probably the nicest one I've seen in Korea
  • Army people like to drink a lot
  • Most of them are really poor so they are forced to drink in their barracks/go to the on-base bar
  • Most of the guys I met were nice/friendly, if not completely oblivious to the fact that they were in a foreign country
  • A lot of them are really lonely: I was asked out by three different guys over the course of five hours
  • Most of them have done tours in Iraq/Afghanistan and seem fairly traumatized
Not really sure I'll be going back anytime soon, but it was a lot of fun to eat American food/take a break from my usual crowd/hang out with people who remind me a lot of my childhood. I'm interested to see how my view of Army folk continues to change as I spend more time here...and I'm sure I'll think of the guys I met at Red Cloud the next time I find myself in a bar in Seoul that has a "NO US ARMY" sign up on the door...
a) Korea is an OECD country: an economic powerhouse with its own military, capable of taking care of itself
b) The threat from Pyeongyang is minimal/blown out of proportion by Western media
c) Army people are jerks who treat Koreans like they are lesser folk (thought by some, not all, of course)

1 comment:

  1. Madeline Lee - interesting perspective. I just arrived at Camp Red Cloud last week. This is my second tour in Korea (the last being in 2001). Also have had two tours in Iraq and a three year tour in Germany. It is interesting to compare the experience here in Korea versus Germany. Unfortunately the additional restrictions place on soldiers in Korea as well as the perpetuation of the "party time" atmosphere stigma leads (in my opinion) to a much more negative experience for soldiers here in Korea. However, I think there is momentum underway that is shifting the tour here in Korea towards a more "germany" like experience. It is really up to the leadership to push the changes - hopefully they can continue to work for positive change.