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Michael Patrick Shiels
Michael Patrick Shiels

Mackinac Island Or Jeju Island for Trump-North Korea Summit?

May 11, 2018

I like to meet, and interview Michiganders who have found themselves in locations of political intrigue and even destinations inside the “axis of evil.” 

Business developer Felix Sharpe-Caballero travels frequently to forbidden Havana. 

Attorney Bob LaBrant, now with Sterling Group, has personally seen the U.S. Embassy in Tehran long after the building and its occupants were seized by flag-burning Iranians. 

Anderson Economic Group’s Patrick Anderson has heard the call to prayer in Istanbul, Turkey.

West Michigan’s James Haveman, in addition to touring Haiti, helped a newly-free Iraq build a sustainable health care system.

Richard McLellan has employed his legal expertise as an official observer of national elections in Bulgaria and Nigeria, assisted development in Ghana, and has even been bestowed with the title of an African chief: Obinwanne of Ogbunike.

House Democratic Leader Sam Singh survived the “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain.

Republican U.S. Congressman Fred Upton, of St. Joseph, has been to Pyongyang, North Korea…inside the so-called “Hermit Kingdom.” (Which apparently, if the summit goes well, may have a McDonalds and Disney Store before long, if not a Trump Golf Resort.)

As a travel writer, I have flitted around the edges of international adventure: Dubai, Jerusalem, Haifa, Northern Ireland, Cuba, South Africa, Istanbul, Cuba and a meeting with Prince Albert of Monaco are on my resume, as is a place called “the Michigan Club” in the Place Pigalle area of Paris, but let’s leave that aside.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Yung Un, if they cannot have their summit meeting on Mackinac Island, should have it on Jeju Island – a resort island not unlike Hawaii below the Korean peninsula.

I visited Jeju Island, where the talk then, in 2002, was about the North Korea situation, even though we were as far south as one could be from the Demilitarized Zone and border. I rode into the extravagant, new, Nine Bridges Golf Club with English developer David V. Smith, who wanted to show the club off to media. With a $500,000 membership entry fee, Nine Bridges was ultra-private so when the gatehouse guard lifted a simple pole on a hinge to allow our Land Rover to pass, Smith, in his nasal, English accent, muttered, “Well that won’t exactly keep the North out.”

I was shown the resort’s massive, stately clubhouse and on-course hotel buildings, including restaurants, banquet rooms, rooms, guest rooms, conference rooms, offices and a spa. All of the amenities were serviced through an unseen, sophisticated network of underground tunnels, kitchens, laundry facilities, and a lavish locker room for the all-female caddie corps, which Smith led me down to see. “This is where I’ll be when the bloody North comes,” he intoned.

The Englishman and I had the honor of playing golf with the club president – George Kim, a Korean businessman affectionately known as “Georgie.” Instead of a “halfway house,” the golf course had two elaborate stone buildings after each six holes so golfers could sit and relax. We were served invigorating fruit drinks, Soju whiskey, sushi and a great delicacy: Shark fin soup ($80-per-bowl), which I later learned is a very politically incorrect food to consume. Smith turned his nose up at it anyway. “It’s a gelatinous for me,” he whined. (Note: it was whitish gray and gelatinous.)

Shortly after our culinary culture break, on the eighth green, I pointed out a large, black, tarantula-like spider walking across the green. Georgie, nonplussed but with little hesitation, walked over to the spider and stood over it. Then he pulled his divot-repair device, which was basically two connected metal prongs, from his pocket. As might a Ninja Warrior throwing tossing a Chinese throwing star, Georgie whipped the divot tool down with a quick flick of his wrist. The pointy tines of the tool went right through the center of the spider!

Smith and I, standing next to each other, went slack-jawed at the impressive, deadly accurate feat! We watched as Georgie then picked up the tool and turned it upside down at eye level to examine the spider. Its’ eight legs were wiggling like crazy.

I grabbed Smith by the arm in horror. “He’s not going to eat it, is he!?”

Georgie overheard me, paused, turned toward me, and smiled broadly at me. Then he flung the wounded spider into the nearby jungle of trees, and we played on.

After the round of golf, which, due to the two “half-way” houses and the culture of Korean hospitality, took over six hours, George informed us he would treat us to a seafood dinner in the island town of Seogwipo.

Georgie, Smith and I sat at a sidewalk table outside the restaurant along the wharf. Georgie quickly ordered some Hite Korean Beer, Soju white whiskey, and a platter of “fresh sushi.” Large glass tanks were positioned near us just up the restaurant’s concrete front steps under the awning. A man in an apron and chef’s hat, standing at a little stone slab table next to the tank, was handed a slip with our order on it and went to work filling it. Using a net he pulled a big, live fish out of the tank and began wildly pounding the flopping fish in the head with a hammer. Georgie sat perfectly still and was calm while Smith and I recoiled at the seemingly brutal horror of it all. The chef, noticing our loud reflexive reaction, paused for a moment and looked at us with a confused expression on his face. Then, “bang, bang, bang,” he went back to hammering…and then dicing the fish up with a big knife.

To calm my nerves, I dropped a shot of Soju into a pilsner of Hite.

“Korean car bomb,” I told Georgie, who, when I said this, looked at me with the same confused face the sushi chef did.

His net then went back into the tank and scooped out another big, flopping fish. This time, though, the wiggling paid off as the creature flipped off the table and onto the street side concrete steps. As it began sliding and flopping down toward the street, Smith and I noticed a sewer grate in its’ path and began cheering for the fish to slip its’ way to escape!

At the sight of us clapping and cheering the fish, the sushi chef appeared annoyed.  Georgie was not bothered in the least when the big platter of fresh sushi was brought to the table and some of the fish pieces…were still pulsing!

After dinner, because Korea was the host country for the Fifa World Cup that year (for the first time outside Europe or the Americas), Georgie said he would take us to the soccer game. The South Korean team was playing in the quarterfinal match against Spain and it was sure to be a big night.

We entered nearby Jeju World Cup stadium, full of 35,000 screaming Koreans, at game time and took our seats. In the furor, we noticed an entire square of what looked like 100 seats empty, all together in a block, in the stadium stands. Just before the game began, all 35,000 fans calmed down and went silent as a parade of uniformed military police made a show of stiffly marching into the stadium and conspicuously occupying that big block of seats. There would obviously, therefore, be no “hooliganism” at this soccer game!

As it turned out there were no players, either. Once the game started, Smith and I learned the actual game was being held in Gwangju, South Korea – 188 kilometers and a plane flight away on the mainland. 35,000 Jeju Islanders filled the stadium to view the game on giant television screens!

Michael Patrick Shiels hosts a capital-based, award-winning, syndicated morning radio program broadcast across Michigan. For a list of affiliate stations or podcasts see MiBigShow.com. He may be contacted at MShiels@aol.com

May 10, 2018 · Filed under Shiels

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