“what an absolute honor it was to perform for the men and women serving in korea. it always amazes me how grateful they are. i can never say thank you enough to all those who serve, god bless our troops!” – Jolie Edwards
WEDNESDAY, MAY 18TH: Today I leave Las Vegas for Korea where Mark Wills and Jolie Edwards will perform 5 shows for the 8th Army at various Camps throughout South Korea. Last night was the ACM Awards in Vegas and my Japanese promoter – Charlie Nagatani – received the Jim Reeves Award for his 50 years of singing country music in Japan. It was a wonderful event and the highlight of his career. BUT, I had to leave for the airport at 4 am for a 6:30 flight (VEGAS IS ALWAYS CROWDED) which meant getting up at 3 am. Since I didn’t finish “working” until almost 2 am, it just wasn’t worth going to bed for 1 hour of sleep. Just stayed up, thinking that I was in first class from Vegas to Chicago and would sleep on the flight. Only, it was a “TED” flight instead of a United flight and there was non first class. It was a miserable flight. Met up with Mark and his group and Jolie in Chicago. No problem getting out of Chicago on time and we flew to Tokyo Narita. . We hit some really severe turbulence on the flight over, though. I was, of course, scouting for “lightning” after my last experience flying over Japan. Sat with a really nice man who works for Boeing and travels to Korea regularly on business. He has “base privileges” so he’s going to try and come to our show at Yongsan on Sunday. Got to “pick his brain” about airplanes and “crashes” since I still hate to fly. J We had to get off the plane in Tokyo, go through Security, wait about an hour, and then bet back on the same plane to Seoul. No turbulence this time. And, we got all our luggage and gear in Seoul. Airlines broke my handle and I didn’t want to wait in the long line to claim the damage. Time for a new suitcase, I suppose. Our escort went to the wrong arrival area but having been to Korea so many times, I knew exactly where to look for him. We are staying at the Marriott for the first time. Usually stay at the beautiful Dragon Hill Lodge on base. The Marriott is FABULOUS. Don’t mind this at all. Big Jacuzzi-style tub, large shower, huge beds, and U.S. Electrical plugs. Everything is very expensive, though. $25 per day for 24 hour internet connection! But I don’t mind because it’s such a nice hotel. Supposedly have a state-of-the-art fitness center which I will check out in a few hours. It’s almost 3 am and I need to go to bed. I had 101 emails (not including the SPAM) when I landed. Nice to be loved so much. J Jude
FRIDAY, MAY 20TH (DAY THREE) Forgot that yesterday was Day One and Day Two since we “lost” a day. Not to worry, we will get it back when we fly home. Got up at 6 am to work out in the hotel. FABULOUS health club. Jolie and a couple of the guys were in there too. They have never seen some of the “machines” that the Koreans use. They still use the “vibrating belts”. Not sure why, but they seem to really like these. There were also these machines that have a rack of wooden rollers. The rollers turn and move from head to toe up and down your back. It looked like it would feel great, so Jolie and I decided to try it out. It felt like a massage! Then this one Korean guy got on the machine but he stood FACING the rollers. OUCH! Had to go get ID cards and ration cards this morning. They have moved the facility and it’s much easier now. Then Mark and Jolie went to AFN to do radio interviews. Next was an hour and a half drive from Yongsan in Seoul to Camp Casey for a concert. Have lots of friends at Casey and really looking forward to going back there. First show was fabulous at Camp Casey. Jolie is SUCH an entertainer. She’s cute and sexy which the guys love but she is not threatening to the women because she tells them she is happily married and a “mom”. She gets a soldier up on stage with him and makes him feel like a million dollars. Then she goes out into the crowd and “spreads the love around”! J Mark has hit, after hit, after hit and it’s awesome to see everyone singing along with his songs. I think the real reason both artists were such a huge success is because their support, love and passion for the U.S. military is REAL and is evident in their actions on and off stage. Exactly the kind of artists I want representing Stars for Stripes! The Colonel of the base presented each artist with a beautiful “tomahawk” which is representative of their Camp. Not sure how they will get these back to the States. May have to ship them home. Saw my friend who is the MWR coordinator for this Area. He has had 6 massive heart attacks and had FINALLY quit smoking after the last one when I saw him in December. Now, he’s smoking again. All I can think of is that he has a death wish. Such a sweetheart and sad to see him doing this to himself but he just doesn’t seem to be able to kick the habit no matter what. One and a half hour bus ride back to the hotel after the show. Not getting in bed until 3:30 am and have to get up at 6 am. Four hour bus ride tomorrow to Camp Walker. Have to check out of the hotel and stay at Camp Walker overnight. Then come back to the Marriott and thankfully stay here the rest of the time! Night. Jude
SATURDAY, MAY 21ST – DAY FIVE: Have to drive to Camp Walker today and depending upon traffic, it will be a 3 ½ to 4 hour drive. At least the seats in the bus recline. I grabbed a delicious Mango Smoothie from the hotel deli before the trip. The bus air conditioning has only one setting – HIGH. So you either turn it on and within a few minutes are freezing or you leave it off and swelter. We made a couple of stops at “road side rest stations” which are pretty awesome. Lots of food booths and a cafeteria and some booths selling traditional Korean items and clothes. I purchased some “Walnut Cakes” for everyone – tastes like a waffle with red bean curd inside and they are really good. Couldn’t get Jolie to even try one, though. All our shows are outside this trip except for one. When we arrived, they had lots of static displays set up but it looked like it was going to rain at any moment. The boys got to play in some tanks and helicopters for a few minutes since we couldn’t “start making noise from the stage” until 3 pm. This audience is much different from last night. At Camp Casey (where we were last night), the soldiers work hard all day so they party hard when they are “off”. At Camp Walker (Taegu Area) the quality of life is really good and most of the audience were “families” – wives and children. No one had been drinking very much and they all just wanted to sit and enjoy the music. Although the artists didn’t get a lot of feedback from the audience and very few people danced, everyone really enjoyed the show. The Brigadier General at this base is someone that Chely and I met in the Narita Airport in 2002. He had just had surgery on his leg and was returning to Korea from Hawaii where he had been recuperating. I’ve stayed in touch with him via email and this is my third time to take entertainment to his Camp (Walker) since I met him. Really nice guy with a beautiful family that he is lucky enough to have there with him. He wants to have me and the artist come to his home for dinner when I come back this October. His young son has learned the Korean National Anthem and has been performing it at some special events. We had him sing it for us. He’s really good. Doesn’t speak Korean at all but sings beautifully. Mark and Jolie did another great show and signed autographs for everyone after the event. There were some really beautiful dogs at this concert. I got a copy of a PUG that kept trying to leap up onto the autograph table. He’s standing up with his head and paws on the table as if he’s waiting for an autograph. Too cute! We went to the Evergreen Club for dinner after the show and FINALLY got in bed early. The only reason I got in bed early is because I could not get my internet to connect in my room. It’s a dial up and I could hear the tones but it just would not connect. Thankfully it’s the weekend and I shouldn’t have too many backed up. I did go to the lobby and use their computer but it is unbelievably slow and constantly “locks up”! I am actually going to get to sleep for SIX hours tonight. I need it….
SUNDAY, MAY 22ND – DAY 6: Up at 6 am after a great night’s sleep. Went to jog around the base and got a “map” before I left. Perfect jogging weather. I ran way up into the “hills” without ever getting off the base. Then, somehow, I got in the middle of the golf course. Not really hard to do since it seems the entire base is a “golf course”. I ran up a hill and realized I was going to get lost, so I turned around to go back down. But some golfers started yelling at me to go the other way. Seems they were waiting for me to get out of their way so they could make hit their golf balls! It was really hard to find anywhere to jog where golfers weren’t teeing up! Went to breakfast at the Evergreen Club then had another 4 hour drive back to Seoul. We perform at Yongsan Garrison today in Seoul. We had a couple of hours of “free” time after checking in at the Marriott so several of us decided to try and find the underground shopping center where my friend always takes me to shop. We got directions from the front desk and began weaving our way through the department store, basements, and alleys. Could not find it. Everyone except Anita (Mark’s manager) and I just gave up. We were determined to find it and eventually we succeeded. Didn’t have much time except to look around but now we know where to go tomorrow. It had rained on and off all day and I was worried that we should move the show inside. But, by show time, it had stopped raining – although it was much cooler – and we had a great crowd. So many people that I have met on previous tours were there and remembered me. My dear friend since the late 80’s – John Downie and his lovely wife Jong Kyun – were there and I got to talk to them quite a while. Again, Jolie and Mark gave them an awesome show and we got nothing but compliments from everyone attending. The autograph session was longer than usual but that’s why we’re here and they enjoy that sometimes more than the show. Yongson has been the “main” base in Korea for as long as I can remember because it’s in Seoul. But, it will be closing, supposedly by 2006, and I find that very sad. The military will be keeping the beautiful Dragon Hill Lodge, but almost everything else will be turned over to the Koreans. I had our driver take me by the house where my friend who is a General will be relocating in a few weeks. I took photos and will email to him so he can see where he’ll be living. He’s been in Iraq for the past year and a half, so I’m sure this will be “nice” comparatively….certainly better weather-wise. It gets really hot here in the Summer but nothing like the 140’s in Iraq! We had dinner arranged for us at the Italian restaurant back at the hotel. But, by that time it was almost midnight and the only “menu” available was the bar menu – just a couple of pastas and pizzas available. So, everyone went back to their room and ordered room service! Jolie and I have booked the “deluxe” package at the Spa tomorrow morning. Now, that is to prepare us for power shopping the rest of the day! We’re a little worried about one of the items on their agenda – some kind of “floating”. I’ll let you know how that goes tomorrow. Jude
MONDAY, MAY 23RD – DAY 7: Got up to go work out before the “Spa” treatment. Realized that I had left my camera in the Italian restaurant last night. It was closed so I couldn’t go check on it that early. Got in a really good workout and then hit the Spa. So, let me “describe” the “Deluxe Package”. Went into a little room where she gave me a robe and a plastic pouch. After my experience in China, I KNEW that the contents were little paper panties – not a hair net – and not something you wear on your head. Jolie said she would have thought it was a hair net, too, and would have put them on her head if I had not already warned her. J First there was the Hydro-Bath. It was a large bathtub that you “float” in and it turns into a bubbling caldron. The water in mine was only lukewarm, so I really didn’t get much enjoyment from it. Jolie said hers was so hot, she almost passed out! Then, there was 10 minutes of Oxygen Therapy. Other than a pleasant smell, I’m not sure that this had any effect on me either! Finally, off to the Swedish massage which was awesome. She worked so hard to get the knots out of my neck and shoulders, but some of them never released. Korea stress, I’m sure! This part was worth the price. Then, there was a facial which was pretty lame. Couldn’t even tell I’d had one when she finished. Last on the agenda was the “floating” part. Again, there was a bathtub lined with plastic so that it looked like a water bed. You lay down on top of the plastic filled water and then they fold the sides of the plastic over the top of you so that you’re covered with the “water bed mattress”. Again, couldn’t tell that I got any benefit from that. I would have saved a lot of money if I had just purchased the Swedish Massage instead of the Deluxe Package. Then, on my way out, I found another little brochure. They had a body scrub and slimming seaweed wrap with massage that is exactly what I wanted. Oh well. No time for that one now. Went back to the restaurant to try and retrieve my camera but they were still closed. I convinced the Concierge to open the restaurant for me. We went in and of course, there were no lights on. Had to climb this curved staircase to the second floor and it was treacherous. Surprised I didn’t fall down on that one. But, the camera was in the floor right by my chair where I had left it. We all met in the lobby and noon and I took them to Itaewon shopping. Did the usual – tailor-made items and “copy” bags. But my normal copy bag shop has closed down. It was hidden upstairs behind these blacked-out windows. I went up and knocked and when no one answered, I peeked inside. The door was NEVER unlocked before, so I knew something was up when it opened. Stripped bare. Guess they got busted and had to relocate. Mark and I went to the great sushi place that I found over Christmas with the Bellamy Brothers. It was just as good as I remembered. Also went back to Mr. Beans Coffee Shop and had some of the best hot chocolate in the world. We shopped until 8 pm! Went to the Italian Restaurant for dinner because they have the full menu until 11 pm. Really good food. We changed our departure time from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, so now we have time to shop again tomorrow! Jude
TUESDAY, MAY 24TH – DAY 8: Got up to jog and was going to “try” to find the path along the river. Had gotten directions from the hotel last night but when I got outside, nothing was as they said. Finally, after taking numerous wrong turns and wasting several minutes, I found it. The great thing was, there was a path that looked like green astro-turf and as long as I followed it, it took me straight to the river. I did have to cross one major intersection and on the jog back, found that I could have gone UNDER the streets on a bike path. Also, the path ended after about a mile and a half and there was this huge set of stairs leading up to the street above. I assumed I could take it up and then it would come back down on the other side of the river. Wrong! Got up to the top and I was running right alongside 6 lanes of traffic. Then there was this loud WHOOSH and a bullet train went by! The sidewalk ended and I would have been on an entrance ramp to the interstate had I not turned around. Went back down the stairs and again, found a bike path that led me to an unbelievable running/bike path by the river. Only one concern this time. My worst nightmare is a “worm” and the path was covered with worms. I couldn’t enjoy the scenery for watching my feet and trying not to step on a worm. I am convinced that if I accidentally step on one, it could become lodged in the crevice of my shoe and when I pick my foot up, it would be flung back onto my body. Really, really hate worms! Back to the hotel to shower and then met Jolie and Anita to go shopping in the Underground – where all the locals shop. Jolie was in HEAVEN because she’s so tiny and all the clothes fit her. I didn’t find one shirt that would button on me. We shopped for several hours. I had been told the night before that we will be performing at a very small Camp – Camp Eagle – with only 500-700 men and women. That’s actually the kind we like because they rarely get entertainment. Also was told that it was an hour and a half drive, so we didn’t depart the hotel until 3:30 pm. Wrong again. It took over 2 hours to get there. Then when we arrived, we learned that there are 3 companies and that 2 of those were out in the field. So, it was a small, very boisterous, great crowd. They were so excited to have entertainment and everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome. When we got on the bus to drive to Camp Eagle, we were informed that our tour to the DMZ was canceled. That is the highlight of the trip for everyone and upon asking WHY this was canceled, I was informed that the group before us had been dressed inappropriately and that we were having to “pay for their mistake”. THAT was unacceptable. After the show, Jolie and Mark signed autographs for everyone in the audience. We didn’t get out of there until a little after 11 and didn’t arrive back at the hotel until 1:00 am. When I asked what time we would be departing for the show at Camp Stanley since the DMZ tour was canceled, I was informed that the tour was back on and we were leaving at 12 noon! Jolie and Mark have a lot of plaques and gifts that need to be packed and shipped home. I asked if we could have the Army van take us from the hotel to the base to do that and was told, no, that the driver needed to get some rest. I seriously doubt that he is going to sleep past 10 am tomorrow but was not going to argue the point. I’ll make arrangements to have a taxi take us. Better get my email checked and try to grab a couple of hours sleep! Jude
WEDNESDAY, MAY 25TH, DAY 9: My New Year’s Resolution to get a minimum of 5 hours sleep per night went right out the window on this trip. Only got 2 ½ hours last night. Could have slept 4 hours if I hadn’t gotten up to go to the gym or even 6 hours if I had not felt obligated to go to Pack and Wrap and the Post Office with the others to help them. For once, I don’t have ANYTHING to ship home. Depressing! I must be losing my “shopper’s touch”. I ordered an AAFES Taxi (a taxi from the base that can come to the hotel to pick us up and then take us on base. Commercial taxis have to drop us at the gate.) at 8 A.M. for a 10 A.M. pickup. Of course, it didn’t come. In Korea, they always say “in 5 minutes”. Now “5 minutes” can mean anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour but it NEVER means 5 minutes. After being told 5 more minutes until 10:30, I decided we should take a commercial taxi and walk to the Pack and Wrap. As soon as we started to get into a commercial taxi, the AAFES taxi pulled up. Good thing because Jolie and Anita had several heavy items to ship back. While they were getting the packages wrapped, I walked up to the Dragon Hill Lodge and turned in Mark’s cell phone for him. Then back to the Post Office to help them with the shipping. We got back just in time to leave for the DMZ. I would have to count them up, but I think I’ve done the DMZ tour about 20 times now. But, I love it. I always learn something new. Jolie and Storm had done it once before but for everyone else, it was such a thrill to be able to actually walk over into North Korea. The briefing and slide show is so informative and I think it’s important for everyone who comes to Korea to know “why” we have troops deployed to this area. I would have been very disappointed if this group had not been able to have this experience. Arrived at Camp Stanley just in time to do sound check. Outdoor show and it looked like rain, but it never happened. It always makes me nervous when the sound company starts pulling out the plastic sheeting. I have lots of friends at this Camp from previous tours. They do a good job “advertising” the event and provide wonderful hospitality for us. Show started right on time….big crowd….and lively crowd! Jolie rocked them with her last 45 minute show of this tour. Then the Colonel that is one of my friends took the stage too intro Mark. Only he got nervous and introduced Mark as Mark Edwards – twice! We were howling. He was so embarrassed and Mark was out for revenge. When Mark did his “thank yous”, he introduced the Colonel as “Lieutenant”! I was standing in the audience and some of the guys thought Mark had made a mistake and they were horrified. When they learned that he did it on purpose, they were all “high-fiving”! It was such a fun evening and the perfect way to end the tour. Mark and Jolie have been ending the show with “Wanted – Dead or Alive”. Then, if the crowd asks for one more show, Mark sings the National Anthem a capella. Every night, I watch the audience when he begins the song. Up to that point, they have all been drinking and partying. But, the minute he hits the first note, the smiles disappear, the hats come off, and the hands go over their hearts. They sing along with him on every word. It makes me so proud to be an American and so thankful to see such fine young men and women who hold our future in their hands. I overheard the audience saying what a good show it was because Mark and Jolie “talk” to them. They can tell that they love the troops and that they are speaking from their hearts. Mark and Jolie signed autographs for about an hour and a half and then we departed for Seoul. It was only an hour drive coming back. We had special shirts embroidered with our tour information and gave these to our two MWR Coordinators and two bus drivers as a special thank you for a great tour. Mark got a suit and shirt made at my tailor for $270 and it was delivered to the hotel. It fit him perfectly! If you ever come to Seoul and want anything made, go to New York Tailor and ask specifically for Mr. Park. Be sure and tell him I sent you because he will give you a great deal and take good care of you. I send him a LOT of business J We have a 7:30 am lobby call for the airport departure tomorrow morning. Got to check email and try to sleep another 2 hours tonight. Jude
THURSDAY, MAY 26TH, DAY 10: That 5:30 am wakeup call came way too soon. Had a hard time waking myself up. No problem checking out of the Marriott. It was a great hotel and I’m delighted to know that there is another good option for lodging other than the Dragon Hill Lodge on the base. About a one hour bus ride to the airport and then we got to check in as a “group”. When I went through immigration, the little Korean guy kept staring at me and then he would look at my passport, type something on the computer and then POUND on the desk. He did the “pounding” thing several times. Never said a word but I felt like he was going to whisk me away to the officials at any minute. I waited for Anita to come through after me and asked her if he did the same thing with her. One of the others in the group said that the agent was “frustrated” because his computer was moving so slow and kept pounding on the desk to try and speed it up! Pretty strange. Flight to Narita was much too short because I wanted to sleep. Jolie and I are sitting together on these flighs which makes it really nice. I had warned everyone that the food would not be good from Korea to the U.S. and I was not disappointed. There were some little sliced cucumbers and something that looked a little like cold chicken, a wedge of something white that looked like cheese with a pate center and a “cream puff”. Guess you know what I ate. Landed in Narita and were only supposed to have an hour to change planes. But our flight was late, so we actually had a litte longer. We were going to try and get Mark on an earlier connection out of Chicago but that’s probably not going to happen now. The flight from Narita to Chicago was “interesting”. Jolie was sitting next to me and her video monitor didn’t work. I rang for the flight attendant and they looked back, saw the call button was on, and ignored us. I finally had to go to the galley and ask them what we could do about it. He said he’d “get back to me”. After almost an hour had passed, I approached him again. He said that there were no empty seats and that they could not repair it. I reminded him how expensive business class seats are and he said that United would do “something”….give Jolie a free ticket or some miles. She filled out a form but no one ever told her what they would do for restitution. When the meal was served, the flight attendant forgot to give everyone the dressing for the salad, bread and anything to drink! After the meal, they never came around and offered anything to drink. I have learned to bring my own bottle of water for flights on United. All the flight attendants seemed to hate their jobs and were definitely not friendly. The meals were the worst I’ve had on any airline. I think United is in bankruptcy so maybe that has something to do with it. The turbulence was terrible for about a half hour. Jolie and I were both “praying” for it to end. Not good for us to sit together since we’re both scared to fly! We landed early in Chicago and I was able to change my flight to an earlier flight as well. I had them re-tag my luggage so that it would be on the earlier flight, too. Mark got out early but his band opted to stay around and wait for their original flight which was several hours later. I landed in Nashville and, of course, my bags didn’t come. I had to drive back out later that evening to collect them. They finally came in on the flight with all of Mark’s musicians. But, that flight had been delayed even longer in Chicago due to “mechanical problems”. It was about 7:30 when it finally landed in Nashville and everyone had been sitting in Chicago since noon. Good news is, all the bags were on that flight. Good to be home but have to fly to NYC on Saturday morning.