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September 2014

Camping at Taeanhaean National Park, Korea (태안해안국립공원)

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Over Labor Day weekend, the Two Crabs took a camping trip to Taeanhaean National Park (태안해안국립공원)- a gorgeous seaside park located in the west coast of South Korea on the Yellow Sea. This was the third Korea national park camping experience. Although not as scenic or dramatic as Seoraksan National Park, the campground was the nicest we've experienced in Korea. 

Logo_park_01 Taeanhaean National Park is located a 2-hour drive southwest of Seoul. There are actually several private campgrounds in and around the park, but we stayed at the official National Park campground near the city of Taean. This huge campground is located in a peaceful pine forest just steps from the water.

We arrived on a Sunday morning and most folks were packing up to leave for the weekend. Because Monday was an American holiday, we had a whole campground section to ourselves! Unlike other Korean campgrounds we've experienced, there are no marked spots. You basically put up your tent wherever there's space and place a sticker on your tent. We got the closest spot to the beach!

This campground has lots of amenities including several hot water showers, a rarity at Korean campgrounds -- though you'll pay about $3.50 for the privelege. There's also a camp store, several camp kitchens and plenty of bathrooms. Unusual to Taeanhaean, you can't light a fire on the ground so you need to rent or buy a fire pit from the camp store for $5 a night.  TNP campground costs 30,000 Won, or about $30 a night -- our most expensive Korean camping experience.

Like most Korean campgrounds, there are no picnic tables, so you need to plan ahead; we bought a table from REI last year which has come in handy several times already!

Just outside the borders of the campground, you'll find a little road with several seafood restaurants selling great dishes like 해물탕 (Heh-mul-tang), a stew with assorted seafood like scallops, crabs, oysters, squid and clams for about $40 that will easily feed 2 or 3 people. The little road of restaurants also has some convenience stores, a mobile cafe and even a noraebang (singing room). For hiking and walking fans, there's also a coastline hiking path that stretches more than 40km to neighboring beaches. 

As for the beach itself, don't expect a white sandy beach with palm trees. Like most beaches on Korea's west coast, Taeanhaean has a brown muddy sand beach with shallow water. At low-tide, the water retreats more than half a mile from shore! Hundreds of Korean fisherfolks and families use this opportunity to dig for their supper, mainly clams and other small shellfish. While the beach here may not be the most picturesque by day, you can't beat the amazing sunset views in the evening!

A few scenes from Taeanhaean National Park:






After Flag Day and Swearing-In Day, the next most memorable day in a Foreign Service Officer's career is the date he or she TENURED. 

So what is "tenure"? As one of my friends jokingly stated, "Short of punching your boss in the face, you can't be fired." But as in university/academia world, tenure in the Foreign Service means job security. When Entry Level Officers (ELOs) join the Foreign Service, they are hired on a probationary status as limited-appointment, career "CANDIDATES".  ELOs who fail to achieve tenure within 5 years of joining the Foreign Service are separated from the service. About 5% of FSOs fail to get tenure for one reason or another.

Last Saturday morning, I was awoken by my phone buzzing, alerting me to a new incoming email or diplomatic cable. After waiting for more than four years for this news, here it was. The subject line in bold capital letters read: "RESULTS OF THE SUMMER 2014 TENURE BOARD".  I was too nervous to immediately open the e-mail. So after some strong coffee and mentally preparing ourselves, Mrs. Crab and I opened the email together. And scrolled and scrolled and scrolled until there it was, my name in all caps. Tenured baby!

I won't bore you with the specific requirements for obtaining tenure, but you can read it yourself in the Foreign Affairs Manual: 3 FAM 2240.  But here's the summary from the State Department website: 

"The sole criterion for a positive tenuring decision will be the candidate’s demonstrated potential, assuming normal growth and career development, to serve effectively as a Foreign Service Officer over a normal career span, extending to and including class FS-01."

Technically, I've only been "recommended" for tenure. It's not official until we receive U.S. Senate confirmation. And given the lightning speed and bipartisan cooperation shown by our congress lately, it will likely be many many months before we're commissioned as career FSOs. The next step is promotion from FS-4 (ELO) to FS-3 (mid-career status).

The Foreign Service is my THIRD career (after the military and journalism). I absolutely LOVE my FS job and my consular career track. I intend to make the FS my career, and hopefully have a long & fruitful career in the Foreign Service or until I'm hauled away kicking and screaming at age 65 (mandatory retirement age).