Food Critic Korea: McDonald’s-Quarter Pounder with Cheese

Korean McDonalds Menu Board

Since I have been in South Korea, one of the things that I have been asked is if American-branded food tastes the same in Korea as in the United States so I decided to do a little exploration to find out. I sought out the standard of Americana-McDonald’s-as my first test. I went to the one in Itaewon, primarily because it’s the only that I know the location of (and can easily walk there) and because I have been there before to try the famous Bulgogi Burger.

Having been to this McDonald’s before (and to other McDonald’s around the world), I was pretty familiar with the process so went straight to the first open register I saw. I ordered a #3 meal with Coke, that’s a Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal. I figured, what could be more American than a Quarter Pounder since the U.S. is about the only country in the world not on the Metric System? I was pleasantly surprised at the price of just ₩5000, though it comes with what is a “small” drink in the U.S. with no option to “super-size.” The order was quickly filled and placed on my tray with 1 catsup packet, 5 napkins and a sale advertisement.

South Korean Quarter Pounder with CheeseArriving at my seat, one of the first things I noticed was that the required space needed for my American body must be greater than that of the average Korean…but that’s a topic for another post. I opened my sandwich to find a protective sleeve like Big Macs in the U.S. use to come in. This kept my Quarter Pounder with Cheese nice and tidy. A quick perusal under the crown revealed the standard McDonald’s condiments for the Quarter Pounder. As I bit into the sandwich … (before I go on, you need to know that I ate at McDonald’s a lot back in the United States-a LOT. And my meal of choice was the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Now, back to my review) … I was transported home. The texture, taste and satisfaction was the same, if not better, than what I would expect to find at any McDonald’s in the United States. My next taste was the french fries which were equally satisfying, if a bit less salty than in the U.S. Then the Coke which I’ve found to be the same about anywhere you go (except Mexico whose formula still includes real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup-those lucky Mexicans!).

Itaewon Seoul McDonald'sAfter completing my meal, I handed my tray with trash to the nice gentleman by the door who sorted the trash for recycling, then I left the Itaewon McDonald’s satisfied and convinced that just about anywhere you go, you’ll find McDonald’s quality and standards upheld, with the serendipitous benefit of local flavors added to the menu.



70th Anniversary of V-J Day

V-J SigningVictory over Japan day has never been a big celebration for me during my life time, but it takes on new significance being in Korea. I have only seriously talked to a very few people here about their feeling towards Japan, but most still hold an animosity toward them lingering from the Japanese occupation during most of the first half of the 20th century-even some who weren’t even living at the time. It was our victory over Japan that won South Korea’s freedom from a very brutal and oppressive occupation that lasted most recently for over 35 years.

These feelings were prolonged by the lack of U.S. sensitivity to the Korean’s attitudes toward the Japanese occupation as the U.S. military leaders enlisted the help of some of the Japanese officials who had been in control in Korea, as well as Korean’s who were viewed as Japanese “puppets” or sympathizers, during U.S. assistance in Korea following the end of the war. It took several years following the defeat of Japan to really cleanse the Korean government of the last vestiges of the occupation.

Japanese-build building on YongsaRemnants of the Japanese occupation remain here on USAG Yongsan where I am stationed. Many of the older buildings were built by the Japanese to house their military and government infrastructure. While the insides have been sufficiently remodeled and updated, the exteriors remain pretty much as they were during the first half of the 20th century though most symbols and references to Japan, if ever prominent, have long since been removed from view. (A pretty good article about the remaining structures can be found here.)

So for most Americans 14 August will come and go without much thought to our Victory over Japan 70 years ago, but for many Koreans it represents liberation and freedom from decades of oppression.

What if North Korea Attacks?

As the Brigade Chaplain, I’m involved in much of the staff work and planning for the Brigade Commander. Recently, the staff has been working on plans for the brigade in the event of war on the Peninsula. Often, when this planning is done in units in the States, it is theoretical or long-term but here in South Korea, it’s real life and comes with a sense of urgency and reality.

North Korean Artillery FireIt is not a secret that North Korea has one of the largest artillery inventories in the world, much of it pointed at South Korea. The capital of South Korea, Seoul, is just 35 miles from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) so is most vulnerable “with estimates of as many as 13,000 [North Korean] artillery pieces positioned along that border.”According to a South Korean security analyst quoted by, the North Koreans “could fire 10,000 rounds per minute to Seoul and its environs.” Which, based on some estimates, this “conventional artillery capability would allow North Korea to flatten Seoul in the first half-hour of any confrontation.”2

Much of the damage that would result from a first strike by North Korea would include significant loss of life and infrastructure to nearby U.S. And South Korean military bases. This doesn’t even take into consideration the North Korean use of uncoventional weapons. North Korea “… is armed with weapons of mass destruction — probably including nuclear weapons — and which, even more frighteningly, has developed a specific strategy for using them” against South Korea.3

According to Bruce W. Bennett, Senior Defense Analyst and professor at Pardee Rand Graduate School, North Korean strategy of attack looks something like this:

— Against South Korean and American battlefield forces, North Korea has emphasized artillery with chemical weapons, and built a huge arsenal of each.

— Against the nearby South Korean capital Seoul and ground force reserves behind the battlefield, North Korea has emphasized long-range artillery with chemical weapons, and special forces with biological weapons.

— Against rear area and off-peninsula targets, North Korea has emphasized ballistic missiles with chemical weapons and special forces with biological weapons, and the development of nuclear weapons.3

Grant it, it would not be long after an initial attack by North Korea that a formidable response was launched from U.S., South Korean and other militaries, but depending on the extent of that response, North Korea could still survive to launch another series of attacks.

The North Korean military has long understood that fortified bunkers are the key to survival in the face of superior enemy air power. There are thousands of hardened underground bunkers close to the front line, and North Korean artillery will carry out “shoot and scoot” attacks, emerging briefly to fire and withdrawing rapidly.4

According to a Rand Corporation Study referenced by, it only takes about 75 seconds after firing, for North Korean artillery to be back under cover and protected from destruction. Ultimately, they would be found and destroyed, but a significant amount of damage and loss of life could be done in the mean time.

Technology can [possibly] help prevent the North Koreans from getting in a second shot. But there is not yet any solution to the thousands of shells and rockets they could launch with the first salvo on Seoul, and that remains one of the biggest concerns in an escalating conflict.4

United States Forces in Korea have plans in place for rapid evacuation of family members and non-essential United States citizens from the peninsula in the event of conflict, as well as issuing protective equipment for family members to protect against chemical and biological attacks. These plans provide some comfort to those living here, but in reality, if North Korea launches an attack from their close proximity, it’s not likely that any of those protective measures would be effective.

Kim Jong-unOne would hope that Kim Jong-un would have sense enough to not begin a military conflict that would very likely end with his -and his military’s- annihilation but based on his (and his predecessor’s) statements and reckless activities, that hope isn’t very secure. Since the signing of the armistice, there have been no fewer than 50 border “incidents” involving North Korea.However, even as seemingly crazy as Kim is, maybe self-preservation will breed restraint in North Korea, allowing the power Kim exerts over his own people to satisfy his craving and prevent him from striking out against his neighbors, who, by the way, long for reunification and lasting peace.











Artillery fire: A view of artillery fire and landing exercises guided by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (not seen) in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 21, 2015. (From

Kim Jong-un with Generals: This photo is from a past DG article from the last time the North Koreans threatened an attack against the U.S., here sits the mighty Kim Jong Un surrounded by his generals making ingenious plans to destroy the U.S. — this was obviously a staged photo. Then if you zoom in above the general’s head (as points out) you can see a map of the US with lines coming into it (implying lines of attack). The text apparently reads “US Mainland Strike Plan” (which is not subtle). (From



Office Space

I’ve finally about got my office set up for my stay in Korea. I’ve unpacked my books, arranged my furniture and desk and hung some pictures. It’s a good space. The Unit Ministry Team (Chaplain & Chaplain Assistant, and in Korea a KATUSA) actually has a suite because of the work that we do. There’s a comfortable place for a few people to sit, along with books and Bibles they can take with them. The chaplain assistant has an office while the KATUSA has a desk by the door, kind of like a “receptionist.” Then I have my office for work, study and counselling.  We try to make it an inviting place.

My office has a window which opens to a school. Most every day I hear the children out playing on the playground…sure, I won’t miss my kids! But it is actually nice to hear cheerful noises rather than what the military often offers!

Here are a few pictures:

Building 6000
Here’s our brigade headquarters from Google Maps. (I’m surprised I haven’t taken a picture of it yet!) It’s a big 6-story building that I heard use to be a jail though I don’t know if that’s true or not.
Building 6000
Our building has quite a view from the roof. Of course, this isn’t one of the good ones but of some of the post.
Brigade UMT office-meeting room
Here’s are “meeting room.” Very comfortable couches and lots of give-a-way books and Bibles. (That black office chair in the corner is trash, they just haven’t taken it out yet. Please overlook it!)
Brigade UMT Office-Chaplain Assistant
This is the chaplain assistant’s office, just as you walk in our door.
Brigade UMT office-KATUSA
Just inside our main door and to the left is our KATUSA’s desk. My office is just beyond.
Brigade UMT office-chaplain's desk
My office. The mess on the desk is evidence of a busy day!
Brigade UMT office-library
It’s nice to have a few of my books with me!
Brigade UMT office-seating
And, a place to sit with Soldiers and either visit or counsel. On the walls are pictures I had enlarged of worship and chaplain ministry during the Korean War.