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Having a Korean Farm Experience with MAFRA’s Happy Bus Day

Sun, 2014-12-21 12:47
Having a Korean Farm Experience with MAFRA’s Happy Bus Day

Fall in Korea, a time when we can experience amazing foliage, and with winter around the corner, it also means harvest time. Happy Bus Day is an organization, established by MAFRA, which educates both foreigners and locals about farm practices in Korea through farm to table day trip experiences.

After the Korean War, citizens fled cities and took refuge in the countryside creating industry from the land in farming and agricultural practices. Today this practice has taken a 180 and now almost all of Korea’s population lives in cities and farming is slowly becoming a near extinct profession. The government is looking at the industry in hopes to make it sustainable once again.   Through educational programs like Happy Bus Day this is becoming possible. I attended my second trip this October where we set out from the bustle of Seoul City towards the countryside to see what it is really all about.


Our first stop was a farm in Soomy Village located in Yangpyhunh in Gyenggi-do. This area is designated for visitors to experience farm life. It also is the home of many festivals including the strawberry festival in the spring, catfish festival in the summer and kimchi making festival in the fall. We were headed to make Korea’s staple food- of course KIMCHI!

We walked onto the farm where we were faced with a handful of elders and a huge crop of Korean cabbage and turnips. We suited up with aprons, gloves, head coverings and arm protections to avoid the messy kimichi getting on our clothes. We stepped onto a covered patio to get to work on Kimchi production. A master Kimchi maker instructed us on how to create the perfect recipe.

Ingredients were poured in front of us including tiny shrimp, spicy red pepper powder and finally the pre-salted cabbage. We watched an instructor pack the cabbage to turn into Kimchi and then followed her lead. My husband, who has very little (need I say no?) cooking skill came along for the trip. He even had fun trying to craft kimchi! A farmer walked over to him and packed a cabbage leaf full of the spicy mixture popping it into his mouth. Instantly his forehead began to sweat from the spicy flavor. YIKES!

Also among the participants was Danny Shechtman, a noble piece price winner in chemistry.   He rolled up his sleeves and began grating cabbage among the locals and expats of all ages. Proving that anyone can have fun making Kimchi, he playfully danced along to the grating motion of his turnip.

Once we had our cabbage prepared for Kimchi we placed it into containers to take home. We were then given pork wrapped with Kimchi in cabbage to snack on. This dish is a traditional meal to eat when Kimchi making.

From all that kimchi making we all had worked up quite the appetite. Our next stop was lunch! We were back on the bus, only to arrive later at Kwang-I Won restaurant, where we were greeted by the MAFRA minister and invited to share a meal with him. The village restaurant specializes in soybean paste and farm to table dinning experiences. The experience from the food, to the restaurant facilities were spectacular.

The restaurant itself had an amazing ambiance complete with 100’s of Kimchi pots in its front and a roof made from broken pots. The menu included nearly a dozen traditional farm fresh dishes incorporating soy sauce soybean paste and other natural enzymes.

The morning was spent with Korea Tradition but after lunch we headed to a place that creates products new to Korea- dairy! I know what you are thinking dairy in Korea? We don’t often think of Cheese, Yogurt and dairy products when we think of Korea but as foreign food becomes more popular in Korea cheese is quickly becoming a favorite food in Korea. Cheese is similar to many of the tastes and textures already in Korean cooking so it is complimentary to the Korean pallet.

Euna Farm is a ranch produces organic milk and creates cheese and yogurt products. Visitors can enjoy experiences farm like and making these products. The facilities also house a pension for those seeking accommodations.

Dressing up like farmers!

Our experience began with   making cheese. The farm owner welcomed us into a kitchen and explained how to make cheese. We marveled as she warmed cheese curds with hot water and then stretched it into a long pizza like shape, before putting it back together into a line and braiding it. The owner only spoke Korea, but interpreters also joined us for the trip. They did a spectacular job translating what was going on. They also were very animated, making it enjoyable to listen to! Often listening to interpretation can be very dry, but we were delighted by, Happy Bus Day’s interpreters and their chrismal!


When it was our turn to give cheese making a go, we poured hot water onto the curd and followed instructions. It was really interesting to see the cheese making process. The most difficult part was braiding the long strands of cheese. The chef had effortlessly done this, but when it was our turn we all struggled! I am not good at braiding hair, but was able to successfully turn my cheese blob into a braid! Yippee! I was happy to show off my cheese braid to my group, and then assist them in the braiding process.

Our next activity was preparing cheese tteokbokki. Tteokbokki is a long skinny rice cake that is commonly eaten in Korea. We moved on to another kitchen where woks were set out and followed a chef in preparing the dish. Tteokbokki is most commonly eaten with a thick red pepper sauce.   This fusion dish used vegetables, a small amount of sauce and plenty of cheese! It was delicious and enjoyable to sample.


Our final activity of the day was a scavenger hunt which had us running all around the farm in search of different live stock, and activities. My husband and I ran from place to place, dressing up like farmers, calling for sheep that were grazing in a field and petting a horse that lives on the facilities. We were very excited to WIN the scavenger hunt! Our reward was 3 containers of the yogurt that the farm made. I wasn’t sure how the yogurt would taste, but it ended up being delicious and supplied me with a weeks worth of breakfast!

The days activities were really enjoyable. Getting away from the concrete jungle that makes up Seoul is always refreshing. If you love food, I encourage making a trip to the countryside to experience some of the farm experience program that the government has set up. There is nothing quite like eating food that has just been picked and prepared right before your eyes!


Soomy Village

Contact: Hyun Kee Lee 031-775-5205

531 Bongsang-ri, Danwol-myeon Yangpyung-gun, Gyenggi-do, Korea

Kwang-I Won Village Restaurant

Contact: Kwang Ja Kim 021-774-4700

120-11 Yongmoonsan-ro, Youngmoon-myeon, Yangpyung-gun, Gyeonggi-do, Korea

Euna Dairy Farm

Contact: OK hyang Cho 031-882-5868

Mountain 41-10, Geumdang-ri, Ganam-myeon, Yeojoo-gun, Gyeonggi-do, Korea


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Grab Your Traveling Spoon and Get a Taste of Korean Culture

Wed, 2014-12-17 16:10
Grab Your Traveling Spoon and Get a Taste of Korean Culture Some of the best memories of my travels involve sharing a meal with the local people. From slurping up chanko at a sumo wrestling championship with a Japanese couple in Tokyo to picnicking with Tibetan monks in India to chowing down on tajine with Berber nomads in the middle of the Sahara Desert, the experience combines the very best two ways to get to know a country's culture: conversing with the locals and eating the food.

Such experiences are often spontaneous, as getting a chance to interact with the local people isn't always easy. After all, it's kinda difficult to walk up to a stranger and invite them to share a meal, without looking like a crazy person, that is.

But just as the internet is opening doors to make it easier to book flights, research destinations and locate unique accommodations, it's also evolving to connect travelers with local residents.

Enter Traveling Spoon, a new online startup that's enhancing the way we experience travel. The site's concept is similar to Airbnb's, but instead of featuring homestays and room rentals, Traveling Spoon matches travelers with local residents to act as eating buddies and culinary guides. These hosts provide cultural experiences by offering home cooked meals, cooking classes and even market tours.

Currently, Traveling Spoon's platform connects users with hosts in over 35 cities worldwide, including Seoul.

I have been waiting for a service like this to crop up here in Korea for quite some time, so was super excited to hear that it has finally come to fruition. I wanted to be one of the first to take part, so I signed up via the user-friendly form on the Traveling Spoon website and was soon connected to my host, Boyoon, and a date was scheduled for our meetup, based on our mutual availability.

I arrived to Boyoon's modern but homey apartment located in a high rise in the upscale Jamsil district. I couldn't help but smile when her five-year-old daughter, Uyoogjung, opened the door, dressed in a colorful hanbok, alongside her brother, Sunoo, both curious and uncertain as they took me in. Soon enough, their interest in me waned and turned to building blocks and cartoons.

With the children occupied, Boyoon briefly introduced herself and wasted no time moving on to the evening's extensive menu of kimchi, fermented vegetables and traditional dishes. She would be teaching me how to make kimchi buchimgae, a savory pancake, and bulgogi, marinated beef, two of my favorite Korean dishes, neither of which I had ever attempted to make.

As she walked me through the process, she offered invaluable cooking tips: cook beef with pear and pork with apple to bring out the best flavors, cut the kimchi like this to make it appear as a blossoming flower. She also pointed out cultural tidbits about the food she prepared, like how Koreans eat seaweed soup on their birthdays and how each winter, families gather for an entire weekend to make enough kimchi to last a year. 

This event, known as kimjang, had just taken place and as such, her kimchi refrigerator was stocked to the brim with all sorts of varieties, many of which we would sample at dinner. Her fridge also contained many condiments used in almost all Korean dishes: ssamjang, gochujang, doenjang. Also made by her mother, these were absolutely divine and far better than anything I've ever had in any restaurant.

Soon enough, it was dinner time and I- like Uyoongjung and Sunoo, couldn't keep my hands off my chopsticks for long. In traditional Korean fashion, the spread was laid out family-style, in the center of the table, to be shared by all. I've always been particularly fond of this cultural habit, as it really allows diners to connect with one another, which was the case this evening.

Every bite of the food was fantastic and despite all the flavors being so drastically different, they blended together beautifully.

After a simple dessert of fresh persimmons and maeshilcha, or plum tea, it was time to go. The big meal had me and the tots lethargic and I most certainly didn't want to get in the way of their beauty sleep.

Although I've had many chances to dine with Koreans over the years I have lived here, not all travelers have the resources to do so. Which is why Traveling Spoon is a great service for all those looking to delve deeper into the country's culture through sharing an authentic meal with locals in the comfort of their homes.

Disclaimer: Although this experience was provided free of charge by Traveling Spoon, the opinions are, of course, my own.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

Seoul Searching

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Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

Innovation or Aberration? – Unpeeling the Costco Onion Salad

Wed, 2014-12-17 15:44
Innovation or Aberration? – Unpeeling the Costco Onion Salad

By John Bocskay

Any American or Canadian who has been to a Costco in Korea has witnessed what Koreans do with the onions. In the U.S. you turn the crank on the dispenser and catch the tumbling onions on the hot dog, the whole hot dog, and nothing but the hot dog, but that’s not how the Koreans roll. Most of them pile the onions on a dish or a patch of foil, dump globs of ketchup and mustard over them, mix it all into a lumpy orangey mash, and tuck straight into it with fork and spoon as an improvised side dish to their pizza, clam chowder, or Caesar salad.

Expat critics react with a mix of condescension, bemusement, derision, and disgust. Didn’t Koreans get the memo? Onions are supposed to go on the hot dogsAnd look how many onions they’re piling onHave they no shame?

Among the many unfair and uncharitable assessments of this practice, perhaps the most ironic and ridiculous is the bizarre notion that Korean shoppers are taking advantage of the generosity of Costco, a fantasy that would have us imagine Costco to be a defenseless multinational corporation which is either unaware that their staff are refilling the onion dispensers 30 times a day on weekends (I asked) or are somehow powerless to stop this hemorrhaging of onions; a fantasy which depends for its dramatic tension on the belief that despite giving away samples of ribeye steak, shrimp, wine, pork cutlets, sausage, noodles, cookies and dozens of other items every day at stations all over the store, the thing that’s going to finally bust them and ruin the party for everyone is the unfortunate habit of doling out a few sacks of one of the cheapest fucking vegetables on the planet.

The onion guy fills it up for Nth time.

If that argument sounds lame, you may find yourself suspecting, as I do, that what’s more likely happening is that Costco Korea has lucked into an inadvertent but tolerable solution to their lack of side dishes in a country that everywhere expects them, and that management has decided to run with it as long as it doesn’t lose too much money.

A recent e-mail exchange with Edward Yoon Kim, the General Merchandise Manager for Costco Korea confirmed my hunch. Noting that the company believes that “real success comes from real member satisfaction,” Mr. Kim explained that as long as Costco can make a “reasonable profit” while making customers happy they would continue offering free onions, and that if it was no longer profitable to do so they would consider stopping it. Since the onion salad buffet has been going strong for several years, it seems safe to call it something other than abuse.

There’s a lot about these criticisms that has always struck me as strange. The first thing you might notice at Costco is that there is nothing posted on the onion dispenser itself to indicate that the onions are supposed to go on hot dogs or that they are not intended as a side dish. In other words, there was no ‘memo’ that Korean customers are not getting, and the habit that our worldly Western critic imagines to be a self-evident universal truth turns out to be nothing more than his own narrow cultural conditioning.

Nor is there anything intrinsic to the onion dispenser to suggest that the culturally-conditioned way that Americans use it – cranking steadily with one hand while catching an uneven flow of onions atop a narrow moving target with the other hand – is even the best way to use it. In the 20 minutes that I observed people serving themselves onions on a recent Saturday afternoon, the only people who dropped onions onto the counter – apart from the one little kid who cranked it for fun until his mom told him to cut the shit – were the ones who used it the “right” way. Not surprisingly, nobody who used a dish to catch onions managed to miss any.

Ditto for the ketchup and mustard, which is actually harder to dispense directly onto a hot dog than the onions are, for the same reasons (uneven flow, occasional spurts, moving target, etc.), but with the added challenge of the changing distance of the hot dog to the spigot as it is pumped downward. Catching the condiments on a dish and mixing them later makes it easy and actually gives you a shot at recreating the model hot dog in the promotional photo above the food court, or failing that, just not making a total mess.

I also watched people eat for a while, and I noted that a quarter of the people (7 out of 28) who took onions were actually using them in the intended way: as a topping for hot dogs.  I realized then that mixing the onions with the condiments beforehand and spreading them on as a sticky mixture made them less likely to tumble out when you bite into the dog. I also observed another 7 people put the onions on bulgogi bakes, which I mentally noted as something I definitely had to try later.

The rest treated the onions exactly the same way Koreans treat them everywhere else: as a side dish, and in order to understand that, you need posit nothing stranger or more terrible than a small cluster of reasonable assumptions based on long-standing cultural practice.

The more I think about the Costco onion salad, the tougher question for me to answer is not why Koreans do it or why Costco allows it, but why Westerners almost never see it as innovation or a clever adaptation and instead tend to paint it as a failed attempt at cultural appropriation. And it’s a very selective tendency. Chop up a hot dog into pieces so that the family can share it and you have a charming example of Korean togetherness; but eat onions from a dish with mustard and you’re a culturally-confounded freeloader. Bump into someone in a traditional market and it’s an instantly forgettable part of the rough-and-tumble charm of the old Asia, but nudge someone with a shopping cart at an American supermarket chain and you’re destined to be the clueless antagonist in an upcoming facebook rant or K-blog screed.

I’ve long suspected that the reason we think like this (I confess to it as well) is that when you go to a place like Costco you feel you are stepping into a piece of America, so you consciously or unconsciously feel that the same norms apply. When they don’t, it’s more jarring than if the setting had been radically different and had carried no such expectations. This may be why it often seems that the hardest things for Western expats to accept are ironically not the things that are most different from our home countries but the things that are most similar. We enjoy the mad rush of a tuk-tuk ride through Bangkok’s shifty alleys yet curse the Korean driver who fails to indicate a lane change on Seoul’s modern roads. Being nudged at a street food cart is a minor annoyance, but cutting the line at a Busan Burger King inspires an aggrieved lecture. Shoot soju on a raised wooden platform in front of a bodega and you channel old-world insouciance; do the same thing on a new sidewalk and you’re an obstacle. A savage. An idiot.

Re-purposing familiar devices is often considered clever.

It’s fun to point out cultural quirks and oddities, but it’s ironic that the cultural heirs of Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers so often insist that Koreans should think inside the box and see onion dispensers as having only one conceivable use. You can learn something about familiar things by observing how they are used by people who have no culturally conditioned ways of using them – there’s a whole genre of internet memes which fascinates millions of people for precisely this reason. It’s weird that we applaud the ingenuity of the American yokel who figured out that he can use toothpaste to clean the headlights of his pickup truck, and we dignify his achievement with the label “life hack”; but when some anonymous Korean shopper figured out that catching condiments on a dish was actually a decent idea, or that mixing them together would result in a dish that millions of people apparently enjoy, we deride it as a cultural hack job.

Perhaps the final irony is that if we insist on being purists and on recreating ethnic dishes either authentically or not at all, then we’re simply being difficult, but the more immediate problem with that is that a lot of my favorite foods – General Tso’s Chicken and New York-style pizza come to mind – would never have been created in the first place. You’d also have to say goodbye to the American hot dog, which is itself a bastardization of European sausage that could not have held onions at all if Americans hadn’t added the bun. When you really get down to unpeeling the layers of assumptions surrounding the Costco onion salad, it becomes hard to know which is piled higher: the onions, or the irony.

The only real question remaining for me concerning the onion salad is, “How does it taste?” so in the interest of the advancement of knowledge I tried it. I admit to feeling a pang of vestigial guilt when I piled the onions on my plate, plopped some mustard and ketchup down next to it, and swirled it all together. I’ll also be the first to admit that the resulting mixture really does look gross, perhaps because it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the fake plastic vomit that was sold in the backs of comic books when I was kid.

Once I got past that, however, I found the onion salad to be surprisingly bland, not nearly as tart as I expected, but my curiosity was still only half satisfied. Fulfilling an earlier promise to myself, I cut open a bulgogi bake, loaded the onion salad on top and had a genuine Eureka moment as the flavors hit me: the combination of the breaded crust, marinated beef, cheese, onions, mustard, and ketchup transformed the ho-hum bulgogi bake into a very respectable cheeseburger, and I assume, fair reader, that you don’t need me to tell you exactly how weird and terrible that was.



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Korea's Ever Growing Embrace of Same-sex Couples

Wed, 2014-12-17 13:39
Korea's Ever Growing Embrace of Same-sex Couples Gallup Korea released a daily opinion poll on the 12th of December which included a section on individuals' perception of same-sex couples in Korea. Data may be the one thing I enjoy as much as queer Korea, so I made a couple of graphs for the main questions in the poll. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a hold of the actual data set (still working on that) but I thought I would create some graphs of the main findings to the five questions related to homosexuality.

Some quick notes about the survey itself. They used random digit dialing of cell phones in Korea and had a total of 1005 respondents. To include women and the elderly that may not have access to phones, around 15% of the calls were made to home phones. 17% of respondents were 19-29, 19% in their 30s, 22% in their 40s, 20% in their 50s, and 21% were 60 plus. All of the 2014 responses have a margin of error of +-3.1% at a 95% confidence interval (not sure of the margin of error for the 2001 values).

This looks incredible. In a 13 year period, the number of people in favor of the legalization of same-sex marriage has doubled, while the number of people opposed to same-sex marriage has fallen by 10%. Who knows, maybe Park Won-soon's 'misquoted' words will come true and Korea will be the first Asian country with same-sex marriage.

Things look pretty optimistic as it concerns equality of opportunity in the workforce as well as workplace security. However, these questions seem as if they were worded in a way that would be difficult to respond negatively. Combine this with the lack of non-discrimination laws, and I find it unlikely that LGBT individuals believe their workplace would be supportive enough if they did decide to come out.

As you can see, there has been a dramatic change in opinion over the past 13 years. In 2001, Hong Seok-cheon had just come out and was met with hatred. Now, he is back on TV. Maybe Korea is ready for some more idols to come out of the closet....

Ah, the old nature vs nurture question. Honestly, I don't give a damn. Whether I'm gay because of genetics or because of the way I was raised, it's all the same to me now. However, I can see why this holds importance to some people. Of all the questions, this question had the least amount of change between surveys.

The survey then goes on to break it down by region, age level, political party, etc, but this is all I have for you at the moment. The Gallup Opinion Poll can be found here.

Although Korea is still certainly a conservative country, it is definitely quickly embracing the rights of same-sex couples. Does this mean I'll have to wear a hanbok for my wedding? 
Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

Now and Then: Songgwangsa Temple

Wed, 2014-12-17 02:35
Now and Then: Songgwangsa Temple


The front facade to Songgwangsa Temple from 1928.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple is located in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do on the western slopes of Mt. Jogyesan. Songgwangsa Temple means “Spreading Pine Temple,” in English. It  was first established in the 1190s. However, Songgwangsa Temple was built on the grounds of a former temple, Gilsangsa Temple, which was built in 867 A.D. The original Gilsangsa Temple was constructed by Seon master, Hyerin. Not only did he help construct the temple, but he also lived there with thirty to forty fellow monks, as well. With that said, very little is known about Hyerin, and some scholars believe he might simply be a legendary figure.

For some fifty years, Gilsangsa Temple remained abandoned in the mid-to-late 12th century. It wasn’t until the 1190, and over a nine year period, that the famed monk, Jinul, or Bojo-guksa (1158-1210) reconstructed the temple. The temple was renamed Songgwangsa Temple at this point, and it was not long after that it became an important centre for Korean Buddhism.

Songgwangsa Temple, like numerous other temples throughout the Korean peninsula, has had a turbulent past. It suffered damage both during the Imjin War (1592-98), as well as during the Korean War (1950-53).

However, coupled with this devastation, the temple has gone through periods of growth and expansion like during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Also, the temple was largely rebuilt in the 17th century after its destruction during the Imjin War. More recent renovations took place in 1988. During this time, fourteen buildings at the temple were refurbished.

In total, Songgwangsa Temple has produced 16 national preceptors. In 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism. Also, it was made an international meditation centre at this time. Historically, it’s one of the three jewel temples alongside Tongdosa Temple and Haeinsa Temple. Songgwangsa Temple represents the “seung,” or monk aspect of the three jewels with its large monk population, which still exists to the present day. In total, the temple houses four national treasures and a couple dozen treasures.

An overview of Songgwangsa Temple from 1940.

The welcoming Iljumun Gate from 1920.

The picturesque front facade at Songgwangsa Temple.

The Cheonwangmun Gate from 1920.

And the former main hall from 1930.

The present day Iljumun Gate.

The beautiful front facade at Songgwangsa Temple.

The massive main hall constructed in 1988.

The post Now and Then: Songgwangsa Temple appeared first on Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.

Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

How to Save Money While Teaching in Korea

Tue, 2014-12-16 13:00
How to Save Money While Teaching in Korea

For many people, one of the biggest perks of teaching in South Korea is the opportunity to save money. Whether you’re aiming to escape the crushing thumb of your student loans or build a little nestegg from which to launch your adventure, teaching English in Korea will make it easy to do that without forcing you to become a hermit. Sure,  if you wanted to be really hardcore about it, I suppose you could subsist on ramen 7 nights a week and never set foot outside your apartment, clinging to every cent like Gollum and the ring. But that sounds terrible. At least to me.

The way I see it, the whole point of living in another country is to live in that country (a.k.a. do some cool shit!). Carpe diem! Si se puede! Hakuna matata! Sign up for a weekend trip on meetup.com. Sample the local cuisine. Take a class to learn one of the country’s traditions or past-times.  That being said, I totally understand the desire to have your cake and eat it too. I feel the same way. So, here’s what I’ve done to make that happen:

1. Do the math. Crunch some numbers and figure out an estimated budget, factor in how much you want to save from each paycheck, then subtract those two numbers from your monthly salary. Whatever’s left over is what you have to frolic around the world with. In my case, my bills (phone, gas and electric), groceries and social activities cost me around $500 / month. In a perfect world, I’m putting away $1,000 from every paycheck, which leaves me with about 1/4 of my $2,100 / month salary for frolicking. **Unfortunately, my upcoming winter vacation trips will eat heavily into my preliminary saving efforts, but it’ll be worth it and I think I can make up for it later on.

2. Don’t buy crap you don’t need. I guess this is applicable to life in general, but for a frugal adventurer this may be the most imporant tip of all. Unless you’re planning to put down roots somewhere for several years, learn to live without a few kitchen appliances and a full-blown wardrobe. That toaster oven is not going to fit in your suitcase on the flight home, and neither are those four new pairs of shoes. Five years from now, what will you remember more: that overrated six-speed blender you used only a handful of times and then bequeathed unto the next teacher, or the day you spent island hopping in Thailand using that same money? Mhm. My thoughts exactly.

3. Do things in groups. Going solo has it benefits, but so does traveling with other people. Whether it’s a weekend trip or a two-week winter getaway, invite a friend or a three to come with. Suddenly that pension (hotel room) that would’ve cost you $60 a night is now $15 a person. Ca-ching!

4. Suck it up and ride the bus. Public transportation may cost you more in terms of time, but your wallet will thank you. I personally don’t take cabs unless it’s late at night and the buses have stopped running. And when the weather is nice and I have the energy, I really prefer to bike where ever I’m going. Yep, that’s right. Sometimes I’m too cheap to ride the bus. Korean taxis actually aren’t that expensive, and the buses cost practicely nothing, so the savings from my efforts is minimal here. But it seems silly to pay $5 or even $1, when I can get there in basically the same amount of time, completely on my own terms, fo’ free.

5. Eat out, but eat local. About once a week I like to enjoy a nice meal out with friends, but we almost always go to a Korean restaurant. It’s reasonably priced and the portions are generous. Occasionally, for someone’s birthday or a holiday, we splurge on Domino’s or Pizza Hut, but such lavish dinners are few and far between. The same goes for grocery shopping. In a weak moment of despair and homesickness, buying an overpriced item from home is totally worth it. But in general, settle for local substitutes and things that taste the same no matter where in the world you are, like fruits and veggies.

6. Be stingy but don’t die trying. When you’re home, use only the lights you actually need. Yeah, you might start to feel like a crazy person, lurking from room to room, turning one switch off and then turning on another. But at the end of the month, when your gas and electric bills aren’t even double-digit numbers, everyone else will look like the nutjobs. That being said. Don’t make yourself miserable or sick: one cool fall evening I thought I could just wrap myself in layers and blankets instead of turning on the heat. Nnnnope. I woke up in the middle of the night with shivers and a sore throat that last three days. Lesson learned.

7. Pace yourself. Remember when I said to do some cool shit? Well, what I meant was, do some cool shit in a way that won’t break the bank. Depending on your saving goals, this may require you to pick and choose, or stagger, your activities. For example, I’m currently taking a traditional Korean painting class. When this five week course is up, I’m going to look into taekwondo lessons. Instead of spending close to $300 / month to do both of these things at once, I’m spending half that and focusing on just one activity. As a result, I’ll be able to enjoy myself more because I won’t be exahusted from overscheduling myself. And I can keep myself busy for longer, without dipping into savings funds.

8. Stay strong. If you’re as serious about holding onto your money as you are about finding fun ways to spend it, you have to stay committed. You (hopefully) developed a well thought-out plan. Now stick to it. Sometimes that means passing on a movie or another drink at the bar, which sucks. And I know, it can be hard at times to see how all the tiny sacrifices add up to big rewards, especially when the pay-off seems like forever away. But when you have big goals and a small income, every little bit helps.

So there you have it. My advice on how to save money in Korea without forcing yourself to live under a rock. I won’t pretend that this list is the be-all end-all, but it’s worked well for me so far. And if you do something else that I’ve left off the list, feel free to mention it in the comments below! Happy saving, but more importantly, happy traveling!

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Best views of Busan

Tue, 2014-12-16 08:05
Best views of Busan

Busan is one of Korea’s most scenic cities and here are a few photogenic spots that I’d like to recommend.

1) Dongbaek Sea Wall
Want a great view of the Busan skyline at sunset? Take the Green Line to Dongbaek station (Exit 1) and turn right. Walk down the street to the sea wall where you can have an unrivalled view of the setting sun behind the majestic Gwangan Bridge (pictured above).

2) Jangsan
This little hill has a great birds-eye-view of the Haeundae and Centum City areas.

3) Geumjeongsan Fortress Wall
This long mountain range behind Busan has a view of the entire city all the way down to the coast. Read more about hiking Geumjeongsan here. (coming soon)

Busan is also great for beaches, food and shopping, read more here. And if you’re out at night, catch live music on the beach here.

Blogging on secretkorea.net is my way of sharing cool travel experiences with all of you. I do my best to personally verify everything posted here. However, prices and conditions may have changed since my last visit. Please double check with other sources such as official tourist hotlines to avoid disappointment. If you like this post, disagree or want to contribute additional useful information for other travelers, please comment below! =)

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Paranoid Anti-Americanism of South Korean Geopolitical Film

Sun, 2014-12-14 22:00
Paranoid Anti-Americanism of South Korean Geopolitical Film


So I watch way too many movies when I should be working, probably because I am pretty lazy. But a side benefit is noticing the various tropes and themes of movie genres. And one thing I’ve picked up watching movies in my field (international relations) in South Korea, is the regular use of stock American villains. Maybe I notice it just because I am an American, but it seems pretty pronounced to me.

It is well-known that westerners in Korean soaps are frequently used to introduce duplicity, sleaze, STDs, and so on. But in the film industry, the Americans are more nefarious, usually plotting to manipulate Korea  to serve neo-imperial goals or something preposterous like that. Amusingly, the plots are usually ludicrous to the point of laughable (Americans mass-bombing plague victims in downtown Seoul in broad daylight?! – hah!); the dialogue is risibly ridiculous as well (“Korea is independent and sovereign, and you Yankees can’t tell us what to do!” Yeah!!); and the ‘American’ characters almost always sound like Russians or non-American English teachers the movie producers just pulled off the street and stuck in a bad rip-off of a US Army uniform.

It is also noticeable that all this American manipulation of Korea is self-congratulation: if the Americans are going to great lengths to use Korea for their dastardly plots, then Korea must be pretty important to the world’s lone superpower. Better fanciful American flattery of Korea, in trying to manipulate it, than the reality of American ignorance of it.

So here is some nice holiday relaxation. Revel in the sheer laughable paranoia of left-wing Korean cinema. It’s a hoot:

One of the good things about blogging is how it opens up social science to topics we would otherwise never explore. One area is representations of international relations (IR) in film, games, and other media. (Duck of Minerva, where I used to write, is good on this.) This is a tricky area to write in formally. How many of us would want to accredit a dissertation about hyper-patriotic US military tropes in the Call of Duty game series or the Transformers film series? These are actually interesting questions, but the field just does not reward it professionally. Still we notice this stuff all the time.

American geopolitical entertainment is notorious for its rah-rah patriotism, ‘patriotic’ violence, and often brutality. John Wayne made the Green Berets to shore up popular support for the Vietnam War. Rambo and Red Dawn so capture popular American cold war thinking that I have seen them listed in IR syllabi. Since 9/11, it is even more obvious. The TV show 24 was so influential that it impacted the torture debate in the US. Call of Duty channeled the Bush-era hysteria of high-tech terrorists lurking everywhere, which therefore required a massive military response like the Iraq War. The franchise even got right-wing hero (and convicted felon) Oliver North to plumb for the games as possible ‘real-life’ (!) scenarios. 2012’s Battleship was basically a metaphor for the US and Japan working together to repel Chinese domination of the Pacific.

So here is a little social science fun on the Korean movie industry. I live in Korea, so inevitably I watch the films; the geopolitical ones are the most interesting for IR types. And if there is one trope I notice again and again (perhaps because I am an American), it is the preposterous American villain scenarios the Korean film industry just adores. There’s always a rogue American soldier or defense official ready to sacrifice Korea in the name of US global domination. Hah! Here are the most preposterous of the last decade:

1. Welcome to Donmaekgol (2005) ­­­­– North and South Korean soldiers in the middle of the Korean War stumble across each other in a remote village untouched by the war. There they learn that the war was just a big misunderstanding – there’s no mention of Kim Il Sung or the communist invasion – and that the real enemy is the Americans who will imminently bomb the peaceful villagers. To the south, Korean officials arguing against the raid are over-ruled by the arrogant American air staff. But thankfully those Northern and Southern soldiers, who have since found their shared Korean-ness, work together to resist the air raid and save the idyllic village from American aggression.

2. Typhoon (2005) – A terrorist threatens to nuke Korea, but the Americans are more concerned that their secret plot to contain China and Russia be leaked. Korea, and basing nuclear missiles there, is central to this scheme, so Washington invokes ‘OPCON’ to prevent Korean defensive action against the terrorist nuclear threat. Thankfully patriotic Korean SEALS launch a suicide mission without American permission, and save Korea. This film captures favorite themes of the South Korean left from last decade – OPCON, US manipulation of Korea, America containing China and Russia. Today, Seoul is desperate for the US to retain control of the wartime South Korean military (because it ties the US so tightly to Korean defense), but back in the day, OPCON reversion was marketed to the Korean public as restoring Korean sovereignty from the haughty Americans. Typhoon taps into that with standard-issue scenes of nasty, condescending American bureaucrats bossing around Korean officials.

3. The Host (2006) – This film was actually so successful in Korea that it was briefly released in the West. The most famous sequence is at the very beginning when a US military doctor forces his reluctant Korean assistant to dump formaldehyde in the Han river (the main river bisecting Seoul). The agent produces a river monster that terrorizes the city. The evil US authority figure is standard-issue Korean anti-Americanism. But the best part is actually when the creature attacks. It eats an American English teacher with really bad hair while his Korean girlfriend watches. Hah! Korean high-schoolers everywhere, forced to learn English from an early age and attending to cram-schools for hours each week, were likely cheering to see their worst enemy eaten. And take that Korean girls who go out with foreigners!

4. A Little Pond (2009) – The film covers the alleged massacre of Korean refugees during the war at No Gun Ri. The film is based on this book, which in turn is based heavily on Associated Press accounts. Those accounts have been seriously questioned however in this well-researched response. None of this is covered in the film, including the war-time penetration of South Korea by communist infiltrators that likely contributed to these events. Instead, the most egregious interpretation of the event was adopted. The Americans massacre hundreds, and the US soldiers (portrayed wholly unconvincingly by non-Americans with vaguely Russian accents) are mindlessly gleeful and bloodthirsty. For a sustained response to the AP articles, go here.

5. Return to Base (2012) – A coup in North Korea brings to power a mad general determined to reunite Korea and punish America. To stop a missile launch against the US homeland, shady-looking American officers and bureaucrats in Korea (who sound an awful lot like Russians or European English teachers) yell at peace-seeking Korean government officials and plot to nuke North Korea. The Koreans heroically stand-up to the domineering Americans infringing on Korean sovereignty and bossing around Korean officials. Much yelling and conniving about arrogant American control of Korean foreign policy ensues. A last-ditch air raid is launched to avert an American-led nuclear war in Korea sure to obliterate the peninsula. Thankfully, the Korean version of Tom Cruise saves the day from American nuclear war-mongers.

6. The Flu (2013) – Just in time to stoke your Ebola paranoia, this film will teach you that the American response to pandemics is to massacre the hapless ill with a massive airstrike in the middle of a major city. Seoul is wracked by your standard-issue Hollywood plague, and the ill are congregating in the streets. To stop it from spreading, top American officials in Korea – once again in bad suits and with accents that sound an awful lot like the director just grabbed some Russians from a bar in Seoul – plan an airstrike on the infected people massed in public. This is to take place in downtown Seoul in broad daylight presumably with global media coverage. To boot, the dastardly American commander overrules Korean officials by ordering Korean soldiers on the street to shoot at the ill. Naturally the first victim is a mother helping her child. Hah! Enraged South Korean officials threaten to shoot down the American fighters with surface-to-air missiles. A great deal of yelling about Korea as independent and not subject to American dictates follows. The Americans give in, disgraced before the heroism and patriotic might of the Korean president, and Seoul is saved.

BONUS ROUND: ANTI-JAPANESE PARANOIA – Hanbando (2006) and Roaring Currents (2014). Did you know that the Japanese haven’t changed in their rapacious desire to invade and conquer Korea since the Hideyoshi wars of the 1590s? The never-subtle Korean film industry is here to remind you of Japan’s 425-year history of anti-Korean fascist expansionism.


In my 6+ years in Korea, the Korean film industry is the most reliably anti-American segment of society I can think of. Compared to the government, military, or even academia or farmers, no Korean group is so consistently willing to envision wild conspiracies about the US manipulating Korea, condescending to its officials, and exploiting OPCON for its own nefarious purposes. What I keep waiting to see is a Korean film that shows how the Combined Forces Command actually works, in response to something like the Cheonan sinking in 2010. But that would be a lot less fun to watch…

Filed under: Korea (South), Media, United States

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University


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Echoes of Jeju: A Photo Essay of Korean Island Life in 1979 (Part 1)

Sat, 2014-12-13 05:36
Echoes of Jeju: A Photo Essay of Korean Island Life in 1979 (Part 1)

35 years ago my family moved from America to Jeju Island. We lived there for just over a year. I was six then. While we were there, my father took a bunch of photographs. But they got buried away in a pile of boxes, stored along with all the other stuff families collect.


I remember seeing the Jeju photos as child when we came back from Korea. Whenever friends would come over, my dad would pull open the big white viewing screen, turn on the slide machine – I can still hear the whizzing the of the fan cooling down the bright viewing light – and then dim the lights.

The carousel made a clicking sound as the slides dropped in and out: a Korean grandfather in traditional clothing, Hallasan Mountain, or the ubiquitous haenyo or woman diver. The exotic images and my own experience living in Korea as a child were enough to convince me to travel the world as much as possible, and one day go back to Jeju.

Time went on and the photos and slide shows disappeared with it. Ever since I came back to Korea in 2007, my father and I talked about digging up those old photographs and converting them to digital files. Whether it was for educational purposes, or purely for entertainment value, we both felt a need to share them. The following is a small collection of some of those images, along with an interview with my father.

The sun sets in front of Halla Mountain.A street festival in Jeju.Tony DeMarco with village elder and kidsHoneymooners take a photo on Jeju.Locals in front of choga-jip or Jeju stone house.Workers in the field.Horse pulling cart full of coal yuntans or coal.Older women or ajummas helping out with construction.An ad for a new housing development.A model poses during a photo shoot at Hyopjae Beach.A street on Jeju. The sign reads “Dog Soup.”Boxes of fish by the market.A man rows a traditional Jeju raft.A haenyo with her equipment.A small village in front of Halla Mountain.Extinct volcanoes or oreum as they are known on Jeju.Doing laundry in the river.Jeju street scene.Mom, me, and younger brother Matt.


An Interview With My Father

Now that we’ve digitized the photos, I wanted to find out the story behind them. I wanted to know why my father made the choices he made. So I asked him a few questions about that part of our lives, and here’s what he had to say.


Me: What brought you to Jeju in 1979?

Dad: An independent study course for my masters in International Studies at Central Connecticut State University. My advisor, Dr. K.L. Koh, knew I had been a Korean linguist in the Army and had spent a year in Pyeong Taek already and asked me to go back to his home island of Jeju to begin an exchange relationship teaching English at Jeju National University.  In addition I wanted to do an article for Nat Geo and continue a Korean art business I started with three of my army buddies and Jeff.


What was your first impression when you arrived in Jeju? You went over first and then we came a couple months later.

I was scared and really alone.  I felt like I was on a different planet.  No one spoke English.  My first night there was stormy, cold and dark.  Your mom was pregnant with Matt and I felt really guilty about leaving her and you.  My first dinner there after I got off the plane in Jeju City I’ll never forget.  I ordered from a picture menu, lobster and octopus.  When I got served, both were moving.


What did you know about Korea before you went?

I had spent a year as a Korean Linguist for the U.S. Army Security Agency in Pyeong Taek at Camp Humphryes.  Your mom came a few weeks after I got there in 1972, and because Korea was so primitive then, dependents were not allowed for enlisted men so we lived off base in Korean style housing with yeon tans and an outhouse.  It was really hard but we learned a lot about how Koreans lived back then.


What was it like teaching English at Jeju National University?

I was really shocked at what I found.  The “language lab” was a bunch of broken down tape machines.  Nothing worked.  I became the tape and wore my voice out so many times.  All of my Jeju students looked at me like they never heard English.    Park Chung-hee was a total dictator then and there was a big pro-democracy movement led by academics and students and the Jeju kids, although backward then, were just catching on to things.  Then the massacre in Daegu happened and things got really serious.  Then Park got assassinated.  Really turbulent times.


What was it like raising a family there?

An almost impossible challenge.  We were the only western family at Jaewon Apt. You knew no Korean.  The first apt JNU put us in had holes in the walls behind the cabinets and rats would come in.  Finally after a few weeks we got a much better apt from JNU. Mom got sick just after she came with you from exhaustion probably and almost died when she got antibiotics that she was allergic to.  Matt got sick also with really bad eczema.  The only western medical help we could get was the nuns at Hallim.


You went back to Jeju a few years ago. How has it changed?

I didn’t recognize it.  I was stunned at the development, new architecture, new roads, a complete transformation.  It had changed from a primitive backwater place to avoid, to a modern and beautiful resort destination.


How did you get into photography? Why did you shoot mostly slides? Did you have any training to learn how to use your camera?

I always enjoyed taking pictures. During my Army tour in ’72-’73 we had a darkroom and lots of my buddies were into taking shots of Korea.  It was a strange and beautiful place.  We got into developing our own film, B&W, and color.  The best film back then was Kodachrome and Ectachrome so we had a great little informal Photo Club.  Also, for my Nat Geo article, slides were the highest quality image you could get.


Was there anything in particular you were trying to document/capture with your camera? Why?

I knew that Jeju was going to change forever.  Dr. Koh told me about the billions of won that the government was going to pour into the island for development.  Being “modern” was more important to them than preserving the unique culture of Jeju.  I knew lots would be lost forever so I wanted to preserve a small slice with my shots.  Plus, I was to submit the photo essay for my independent study at Central Connecticut State University.


What did your friends and family say when you said you were moving to Jeju.

They thought I was crazy.  It devastated your mom that I would leave her with a little 5 year old and expecting a baby.  It caused a lot of pain for all of us but I felt I had no other options as it seemed a path was laid out for me to go back to Korea for lots of reasons and I couldn’t get a job in the U.S.  I’ll never forget the look in your eyes when I left you.


How did the locals treat you?

Some treated us really well and were sorry for the tough time we were having.  Kyeong Hee was a godsend, helped mom so much with all the challenges. We made some Korean friends but others looked at us like we were from Mars.  There was only one other American on the island then and only one other foreign family with kids.  It’s crazy but I think I’d do it again.

 Click here to read Part 2 of Echoes of Jeju

 [This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Groove Magazine.]



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'Stand in Solidarity' March from KSU to Gwangan and Candlelight Vigil

Wed, 2014-12-10 07:48

Awareness March and Vigil
Saturday December 13, 2014
WHY: Because black lives don’t matter enough, to enough people, in the USA; because there is a problem with police brutality in the USA; because the justice system consistently fails black people in the USA

Our Purpose, Our Hope: Today, we Stand in Solidarity with the March on Washington and all those in the world protesting against injustice. We gather to raise awareness here in Korea and have a moment of silence for all the lives lost every 28 hours, and show an international community wanting to see a change in the equality of all persons everywhere. 

Join the FB event to RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/1522764591319275/?source=1&sid_reminder=2397090577259692032 


2pm- 5pm
We will meet at 2pm-2:30 KSU (Table Talk)

Make posters/ few poems/ chants/ songs (bring supplies for posters or your own signs)

We will begin our march at 2:30 to Gwangan (Map attached)

Around 3pm-3:30 arrive at Gwangan
Speeches, purpose, songs, chants
Lighting of candles (signify a solidarity, a coming together, a responsibility for our fellow man, and the encouragement of truth and justice for all)
Moment of silence (leads into a reading of victim’s name)
Reading of victims’ names

5pm Follow-up at HQ 
Sharkey’s will also be offering a free drink with any meal purchased that day, until 7pm as well.

**Feel free to meet us at any point along the march. Dress Warmly. 
Our over all purpose is to shed light on ALL the lives lost and reveal the current inequalities. Any funds raised will go to http://dreamdefenders.org/

The Dream Defenders develop the next generation of radical leaders to realize and exercise our independent collective power. Through the promotion of voting and changing laws as well as law makers.

Thanks to our current sponsors: Table Talk, HQ, Sharkey's, Eva's Ticket, Thirsty Moose, and the Basement. 

If you're interested in becoming a sponsor or donating to the cause, please contact us! 

Route of the March Banner black lives matter.jpg 'Stand in Solidarity' March from KSU to Gwangan and Candlelight Vigil
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Jen vs Cancer

Tue, 2014-12-09 05:49
Jen vs Cancer

One of Busan's Awesomest could use some support in kicking cancer's ass!


From Jen

Ok. So here it is. I have cancer (metastatic melanoma, late stage). I am leaving Korea because my treatment options are more varied back home. I will be flying out of Busan on December 17th, and will likely not have time to say goodbye to some people here that I love dearly. I've been dreading this post because I hate the idea of putting my hand out... but I have no idea what kind of coverage I will be able to qualify for in the US, and don't know what will and what won't be covered. Please read and share the following link
. Also, please forgive me for not responding to messages in the next week or two, I am about to pack up/wrap up 8 years of my life in a week. Much love and many thanks.

From Facebook shares...

Jen is an incredible woman and the backbone of the Busan expat community I was so fortunate to be apart of. Though I never knew her personally, she made many Wednesday nights at Ol' 55 memorable for all of us. In the spirit of the season and expat camaraderie- it is incumbent upon us all to help her in her moment of need. Jen- I speak on behalf of all those your exuberant strength impacted. We are here for you!    - Casey

My friend, Jen Sotham, is not one who enjoys asking for help or charity. After eight years of living and teaching in South Korea, she's going home to New York now because her on-and-off fight with cancer has gotten very serious. Please SHARE this link, and DONATE to help her fight cancer! We love her very much and pray for her ongoing journey in life. - Stacy

Jen is an amazing friend and has supported and helped me and many others in the past. With a heart as big as hers it is for her to do it. I hope your hearts are just as big and can send her some love and support, even if its just a tiny bit  - Greg

I had the pleasure of getting to know Jen while working on The Vagina Monologues together in Busan. I was and continue to be inspired by her generous and caring nature and her love for the community she's called home for the last 8 years. She is such a giving and positive person and is in need of some generosity now. Please send her some positive thoughts and consider donating and sharing this page.    - Katie

Jen is a dear friend, poet, musician, teacher, filmmaker who has always reached out to others in times of need. It's our turn to support her & her fight.  - K

One of my dearest friends is about to begin a battle for her life. While it has been something that she has been dealing with on and off for a while, things have gotten very real this time. Please help this wonderful, inspirational woman and artist and her family through this difficult time. Follow the link if you can contribute to her fight.  - Mike


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The Reasons I Left Korea

Sun, 2014-12-07 07:50
The Reasons I Left Korea Faisal Akram (https://www.flickr.com/people/72847119@N00)

I'm back!!  It's been nearly 4 months without a single post, but I have been busy trying to settle into life in a new country, Australia, so give me a break.  To be honest, compared to living in Korea, it is just like living in England just a bit sunnier, more laid back, and with barbecues everywhere.

So why did I leave Korea?  I had a decent job that I liked, a very comfortable existence, was saving money and had lots of free time.  In recent months I have had times where I thought, "Jees, what am I doing?", especially as I have had to fork out quite a lot of my saved cash in tuition fees and work very hard here in Oz.  Here are my reasons:
1. The English Teaching Went Stale

I remember how keen I was to teach when I started my High school teaching job, I gave it everything and I was so creative in my lesson planning.  I enjoyed going to work, in fact I'd even turn up 45 minutes early everyday!  By the middle of my third year however, I was getting lazy and irritable, the challenge had gone and I was working off old lesson plans.  Everything, including the lessons themselves became less enjoyable. It was time to move on.  On top of this, could I ever be anything but an English teacher in South Korea?

2. Disappearing Friends

A friend of mine commented on Facebook the other day something along the lines of, "another year in Korea and the friend count continues to fall."  This is very true.  If you stay for a year or two, you make loads of new friends and keep your old ones, if you stay for longer, the new friends leave and you're out of sight, out of mind to your friends at home.  For me, I am always looking for new experiences and England has grown stale also, so it is with great regret that I have distanced myself from friends back home.  In Australia, I can at least make friends through my sports and there is less of a cultural barrier as well.

3. I was Becoming too Immersed in the World of the Internet

This blog was partly to blame for this, but also the nature of my job and Korea as a whole.  Too many spare hours on the computer at work sent me into a world that isn't quite as it seems, where faux outrage, trolling and political correctness reign absurdly supreme and debates always end on a sour note due to implied aggressive tone and the lack of a human face (or even a real name) to hold each person back.

I was afraid, frankly, of becoming one sad bastard who spends hours arguing with morons and reading other people's worthless blogs (I can see the irony, really), looking for something to blog about.  Live in the world of the internet for too long and you forget what the real world is all about, and that it is much better to live in.

It isn't all negative; I grew a much thicker skin, discovered the very real problem of political correctness for myself, and most importantly created something.  That something might only be a shitty opinionated blog, but I think it is important to have an outlet, to produce something, which is a large part of why I'm writing this post now.  What it means is that posts on this blog will be far less frequent than in the past, but that this site is not dead!!!

4. Something New, but not so Stressful

What can I say, I get bored easily these days, both with jobs and the places I live.  I want to see the world before I die and experience many different countries and cultures.  However, I want to live in these new worlds and not simply pass through them.

Korea is a place I am sure I will return to - I have family here after all - but for now the spice has gone and too many things were rubbing me up the wrong way, a long break was needed. When I do return, it will be to study Korean first, as my lack of fluency in the language is probably my biggest regret in my time living there, even though I could get by OK, I just couldn't have very deep conversations.  When I can speak properly, I can argue with Koreans in their own language and that'll be really interesting!

Australia is somewhere different, but not too different.  It's a taste of home, but with kangaroos, Koalas, and possums!!


5. Too Easy

The above is one of my favourite Aussie sayings I hear a lot over here, so I thought I drop it in to describe how I felt in Korea in general.  Soooo comfortable my life had become.  I have never been happy being comfortable; when it lasts for too long it becomes a rut, a furrow in the path so deep that it becomes impossible to blaze a new trail and go to new, exciting places, both literally and metaphorically. Through discomfort, the challenge of something new, and associating myself with new people, I have learned and achieved a lot and gained great life satisfaction in the process.  Korea was certainly this way for a time, but all good things must come to an end.

6. Freedom!!!

There was always the feeling of constraint in Korean society, the feeling that I couldn't really do and say what I wanted.  I couldn't just be me and be accepted by Korea, I would never be accepted that way, I would have to conform.  To be fair I have felt this way in England as well, but the flavour of it in Korea was certainly sharper and more pronounced.  I even felt pressure to not voice my opinions on this blog, so I often held back (believe it or not).  I believe my blog was censored by Busan's Ministry of Education (according to a chap on Asiapundits).  I felt like I was one blog post away from getting in trouble. I say that, but just as I was leaving, I kept on getting requests to join radio debates in Seoul (had to keep refusing, but I did one on the phone about the Sewol disaster and safety), so someone must have been reading and thinking I had some valid points or at least a debatable opposing view.  Perhaps I was just being paranoid and that actually I was one step away from recognition as a truly insightful blogger on Korea (could be dreaming on that one).

Note: Stay tuned for some more perspectives on Korea, except now from the outside looking back in; I guess I am still on the inside in a way, as I have family, so the blog title can stay the same.


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Representative Jasmin Lee Bashed for Proposed Bill

Fri, 2014-12-05 19:14
Representative Jasmin Lee Bashed for Proposed Bill

For the past few days, my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with shares of a post from Daum about the bill that Representative Jasmin Lee has proposed which seeks to give unregistered foreign children the right to a public education and government health services, and also exempts them from compulsory deportation and guarantees their right to live with their family in Korea. The post spawned negative reactions (and a few derogatory comments ) from Korean netizens.

Although the bill is focused primarily on the rights of undocumented children, some netizens worry that it might worsen illegal immigration in South Korea, and even encourage it. Some commenters lament the bill’s possible impact on the economy if it gets approved:  If the children of undocumented immigrants are allowed to stay in Korea, the parents get to stay, too. They take away the jobs that should be given to Koreans and legal immigrants. They don’t pay their share in taxes, but they are entitled to free social services, and their children are given free education and healthcare benefits, which makes it unfair to tax-payers.

It seems that there are also many Filipinos who are less enthusiastic about the bill. One Facebook group of Pinay spouses was bombarded by negative comments when a member posted something about the proposed bill:

Most of the commenters are criticizing Representative Lee for prioritizing illegal aliens instead of foreign spouses and their children who need more government support and protection, but what they fail to understand is that this bill does not only apply to undocumented children of illegal immigrants but to “all” undocumented children in South Korea, including those who have been abandoned by their parents and children who were born outside Korea whose documents have expired.

A commenter suggested that more attention be given to abused women and children who have legal rights to stay in Korea, but are living in misery. She added that some families send their kids to school in other countries because Korean education is expensive, so providing free education for children of illegal immigrants who do not pay proper taxes at all is absurd. The truth is, both documented and undocumented children in South Korea are entitled to free public education until secondary school, only that education benefits of undocumented children are “limited” as described in an article from The Korea Times:

Under the current Education Law, children of registered citizens have free access to a six-year primary school and three-year middle school education. But it limits education for children of undocumented foreigners to the first six years.

Furthermore, primary education is only available on the condition that a document identifying a child’s home address is submitted to the education authorities.

The problem with the current system is that most parents (who are illegal immigrants) don’t dare to enroll their children in public schools for fear of being deported if the schools ask for the address and identity of the parents. A family counselor in Korea told me that some schools do not accept immigrant children simply because they have no registration number. Take the case of a 16-year-old child of an illegal immigrant from Nigeria who was denied admission to high school because she doesn’t have a foreign registration number. Her middle school teacher sought the help of Gong Gam Human Rights Law Foundation and the girl was admitted only when it was explained to the local office of education that a child “may receive high school education regardless of the parents’ undocumented status” as stated in the School Registration Guideline for Multicultural Students issued by the Ministry of Education. The girl was fortunate enough to have someone stand up for her, but not all of these children are lucky. There are currently no laws that protect the rights of undocumented migrant children in South Korea.

A couple of commenters are protesting about having to pay more taxes to support the needs of these undocumented children. Some are saying that they have to work hard to learn Korean language and assimilate into Korean culture, and wait for years before they are given permanent residence or citizenship, but this bill makes it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain legal residence in Korea until their children finish high school. They don’t even have to earn it; they just have to have kids that will give them the ticket. Some commenters believe that this bill will not get passed because Koreans won’t allow it, but if it does, it will create a conflict between Koreans and immigrants. There are those who are saying that we cannot bend the rules. If you stay in another country illegally and have a child in that country, then you have to face the consequences and not expect the government to cut you or your child some slack.

When I showed the “most talked about” post to my husband, he was not so pleased. He kept blabbering in Korean, and I know that when he does that, he is very upset. He told me that Korea is just a small country and its economy is not doing so well. If this bill gets passed, Korea will become overpopulated and more chaotic. Its economy will suffer greatly.

My heart goes out to all undocumented children. It is not their fault that their parents choose to live in the shadows as illegal immigrants. It is not their fault that they were abandoned by irresponsible parents. It is not their fault that their neglectful parents failed to register their birth or that their documents expired. They are victims… victims of the law… victims of their parents’ actions. This bill, however, seems impossible to uphold if it does not set boundaries. It aims to help the children, but it also has huge drawbacks. Some are protesting that this bill tolerates people to break the law. Illegal immigration is a crime, after all.

To be honest, I have my doubts about this bill, too. I always complain about the taxes that my husband and I have to pay in Korea, and I worry that we would end up paying more taxes once this bill gets passed, but lately, I began reading articles on immigration, and one of the solutions on illegal immigration that makes more sense to me is this one from an article from Phil for Humanity:

to allow illegal aliens to become legal residents and ultimately maybe even citizenship, thus illegal aliens would become legal residents who would pay their share in taxes

I agree with this solution, but illegal immigrants should undergo the same tedious process that legal immigrants go through before they get residence or citizenship in Korea. They should be given more requirements (or maybe do community service for a number of hours) for breaking the law in the first place.  We all have things to say about this proposed bill, but we are not even sure what it includes or excludes. What we know so far is that it seeks to give undocumented children in Korea free education, health care and social support until they finish secondary school. In the news articles that I have read, there was no mention of the children’s parents or how they might benefit from this bill. In this story, the protagonists are the children. We hope that this will all be about them… for them.


From Korea with Love



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Korean Talent Race - Win a Masters Degree Tuition Waiver in Sweden

Fri, 2014-12-05 05:11


PRIZE A total of 5 full-tuition waivers for a master's program will be awarded (one tuition waiver per participating university). Application-fee waiver for the top 10 finalists from each university. ELIGIBILITY Open to Korean final-year bachelor’s students and recent graduates who want to embark on a journey and study an English-taught international master’s program beginning fall 2015. CHALLENGE DEADLINE January 6, 2015 READY TO GET STARTED? Click See all challenges and you will be able to select your first challenge from among the five participating universities. Good luck!

Korean Talent Race - Win a Masters Degree Tuition Waiver in Sweden
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On Bongsudae and Bilbo Baggins

Thu, 2014-12-04 09:43
On Bongsudae and Bilbo Baggins

by Steve K. Feldman

A few weeks ago, on a typically splendid late-fall weekend here in Busan, I climbed Hwangnyeong Mountain, one of the many small peaks that jut up above the dense, concrete sprawl of this port city on South Korea’s southern tip.  At the top, I experienced a neat bit of déjà vu, or synchronicity, or what-have-you.  I remembered the first time I climbed Hwangnyeong-san, way back in 2003, during my first year in Korea. This was just a few weeks before The Return of the King—the third of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies—came out in South Korea. Now it’s 2014, and I realized my recent climb once again coincides with the release of part three of another Jackson-directed J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy—this time, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, hitting theaters on December 17.

And there’s an even bigger Hwangnyeong-san / Tolkien connection—the bongsudae.  Bongsudae are the mountain-top fire beacons built by Chosun Dynasty kings in the 15th and 16th centuries that relayed messages up and down the peninsula, mostly having to do with foreign invasion, which happened all too frequently. The bongsudae system, at its height, had 673 towers that stretched from Busan all the way up to what is now Seoul. Usually the bongsudae consisted of 5 separate chimney-like pots or bowls, each about 3 meters high, made of stone or brick. The usual practice was one beacon remained lit as an “all clear.” Two fires meant an enemy was sighted. Three meant the enemy was nigh. Four meant the border had been breached, and five meant a battle was underway. A signal fire lit in Busan took about 12 hours to make it all the way to the King’s palaces almost 500 km away in Seoul. Busan has two mountains with sets of these fire-beacons, Hwangnyeon-san and Ganbio-san in Haeundae.

Back in 2003, seeing the bongsudae gave me one of those little shivery thrills you get when something ancient and exotic (even though they were, alas, replicas, re-built in the 1970s) jumps out of the history books, amidst all the bustling, high-tech, 21th century modernity. However, it wasn’t just the thrill of seeming something super old and “Korea-y” as Mr. Motgol would put it. There was also a flash of recognition because bongsudae make a brief but memorable appearance in The Lord of the Rings.

As a geeky 13 or 14 year old, I read The Lord of the Rings literally to tatters. I think the copy of The Fellowship of the Ring my twin brother and I had eventually started around page 32 as the cover, then the table of contents, then the maps of Middle Earth, then much of chapter 1 got torn away from overuse. The fire beacons make their appearance early in chapter 1 of The Return of the King, as Gandalf and Pippen ride to the great city of Minas Tirith just as Sauron is about unleash his forces of darkness upon it. Approaching the city, they see the beacons lit along the mountains to the north, calling for aid from neighboring Rohan:

Gandalf cried aloud to his horse. “On, Shadowfax! We must hasten. Time is short. See! The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled. See, there is the fire on Amon Din, and flame on Eilenach; and there they go speeding west: Nardol, Erelas, Min-Rimoon, Calenhad, and the Halifirien on the borders of Rohan.”

Pippen became drowsy again and paid little attention to Gandalf telling him of the customs of Gondor, and how the Lord of the City had beacons built on the tops of outlying hills along both borders of the great range, and maintained posts at these points where fresh horses were always in readiness to bear his errand-riders to Rohan in the North, or to Belfalas in the South. “It is long since the beacons of the North were lit,” he said.

So, only a few months after the cool experience of climbing Hwangnyeong-san and finding Korea’s version of Gondor’s fire beacons, I found myself plunked down in my seat at the Haeundae Megabox awaiting Peter Jackson’s version of The Return of the King.  With the first two movies great beyond almost all expectations (even hard-core Tolkien fan-geeks like me were won over), my anticipation was high for the trilogy’s climax, stoked even higher by critics’ orgasmic reviews.  As the theater lights dimmed, I idly wondered if the fire beacons of Gondor—Tolkien’s bongsudae—would make an appearance.

Well, not only did they make an appearance, but Peter Jackson took brilliant artistic license to turn the lighting of the fire beacons into one of the most majestic shots in the trilogy—a scene of pure chill-inducing wonder. Instead of showing some distant flickering lights on far-off mountain peaks while Gandalf delivers some awkward exposition filled with a long list of fictional mountain names (let’s face it—there’s a LOT of awkward exposition in The Lord of the Rings), Jackson follows his instinct for dramaticization over exposition. We get a scene set in Minas Tirith, where Gandalf orders Pippin to sneak up to city’s own fire beacon and light it surreptitiously, against the wishes of Lord Denethor, who is sunk in depression following the death of his son, Boromir.  Once the fire is lit, we see the flames spring to life on the next closest mountain.  And then . . . suddenly we jump to a soaring, eagle-eye view of fires leaping up along the ridges and peaks, one by one, some of the peaks jutting above the clouds.  The camera thrillingly zooms in on one fire, then wheels around and as we pull away, the shot pans to the next peak, which suddenly blazes with fire, and so on, all the way until Aragorn, in Rohan, sees the last fire beacon and runs to alert King Theoden . . . and all of this accompanied appropriately grand, sweeping music. (Watch the full scene here.)

All of us in the theater were gob-smacked. I actually heard several Koreans near me gasp aloud in astonishment. The scene was jaw-dropping in its own context, but for Koreans, it was like a scene from their own rich, tragic history brought to spectacular life.  “This is what it must have been like!” they must have thought. Over four hundred years ago, the Japanese invasion under General Hideyoshi approaching the coast, the fire signals leaping peak to peak all the way to Seoul–this is what it was like!

By now, countless vats of critical ink have been spilled detailing why the first two Hobbit movies were disappointing:  the jarring discrepancies in tone; the unnecessary padding and stretching of a single medium-length novel into three lengthy epic films; the absurdly overdone action sequences. It was still nice to return to Middle Earth via the incredible landscapes of New Zealand, and the great Ian McKellan still completely owns Gandalf and Martin Freeman is perfect as the reluctant hero Bilbo. The first two Hobbit films are not as disastrously shit-tastic as the three Star Wars prequels, by any means, but disappointing nonetheless.

In comparing The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings movies, I keep coming back to the bongsudae.  Amid all the monsters and magic, what made Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies so great was the rough verisimilitude that ran throughout the whole project. And by versimillitude, I mean the sense that the Korean movie goers had when watching the fire beacons of Gondor burst alight:  that’s what it was like! In watching the Helm’s Deep and the Siege of Gondor battle scenes, you could think to yourself, “Wow, that’s what the Mongol siege of Baghdad was like,” or “that’s what a charge of heavy cavalry during the Crusades was like.” Even quiet scenes seem like they could have been reasonable facsimiles of medieval or Anglo-Saxon life. The Prancing Pony Inn at Bree seemed exactly the place where Chaucer and his travelling compansions might have stopped for the night on their way to Canterbury and had a story-telling contest. The Golden Hall of King Theoden in Rohan could have been an actual Viking mead-hall. The Shire itself, homeland of the Hobbits, was clearly a facsimile of Tolkien’s beloved rural English countryside that he no doubt saw being threatened by urban and suburban development, just like in the final chapters of The Return of the King. In other words, shit was cool ‘cause shit was based on real shit.

The Mongol siege of Baghdad, or Sauron’s siege of Minas Tirith?

But then we get to The Hobbit films. The scenes that in The Lord of the Rings seem inspired by real medieval life now seem inspired by . . . Donkey Kong.  Yes, I know that Tolkien’s The Hobbit was much lighter in tone than the later trilogy, and I understand the need, once they decided expand The Hobbit into three films, to provide satisfying climaxes for all three movies. But still, it became clear rather quickly that Jackson’s instincts as to what to include from the books, what to take out, what to conflate and condense, what to highlight, and what to flat-out invent—the instincts which had seemed so unerring in The Lord of the Rings films—had sadly deserted him and had been replaced with a video game mentality. Radagast’s sled pulled by rabbits and hedgehogs (Sonic the Hedgehog?) was the first clear sign that something was going horribly wrong.  Then the scene in the underground Goblin kingdom made me groan with its slap-stick preposterousness.  Then, in the second film we get the dwarves escaping from the Elven Halls in barrels—O.K., that was all well and good, straight from the book, really— but Jackson had to add an orc battle on top of that, with the elves shooting at the orcs while balancing on the dwarves’ heads or some crap like that.  WHY?!  And finally, we get the climax in which the dwarves try to subdue the dragon Smaug by firing up their old smelting and forging furnaces and machinery—a scene filled with too-clever-by-half Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions that was not in the book at all and seemed to serve no practical purpose but to make the audience, or at least the kids in the audience, go “Wow.”

Only it didn’t make me go “wow,” it made me groan and check my watch. Didn’t we all learn from some guy named Lucas that throwing as much CGI shit on the screen as possible is not what the audience really cares about? Why is it that the Death Star battle at the end of the original Star Wars and the battle on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back far outstrip any of the action sequences in Episodes 6, 1, 2, and 3?  It’s because the last battle in Star Wars was modeled on real fighter-plane aerial dog fights. And the awesome Imperial Walkers seemed a plausible way to actually attack an ice-bound rebel base, and the Snow-Speeders with their tow-cables seemed an actually plausible way to attack the Walkers.  In other words, everything was in the service of the story.  When I stop thinking, “Wow, Bilbo or Luke, or Frodo or whoever was sure lucky to get out of that mess,” and start thinking, “Wow, the dudes who designed that special effect sure are good at what they do,” that’s the wrong kind of “wow.” You’ve jolted me out of the dream that every fantasy/action/sci-fi movie is supposed be and reminded me of a bunch of very well-paid techno-geeks with models and matte-paintings and computers and blue-screens.

In any case, Peter Jackson already has my 10 bucks for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. In a few weeks, I’ll find myself at Lotte Cinema, or Megabox, or CGV, hoping that this time Jackson just sticks to the damn book, and remembers that even the most far-out fantasy scenes need to be grounded in something real-world and historical, like Gondor’s fire beacons and the bongsudae.  The dragon Smaug laying waste to the lake town? Perhaps Jackson used U.S. jets napalming Vietnamese villages as inspiration. The titular “five army” battle, with masses of dwarves, elves, men, eagles and orcs, plus a hobbit and a wizard, all going medieval on each others’ asses, should invoke, well, a real medieval battle.  That battle should provide ample opportunity for that gritty battle-realism that was so stirring in The Lord of the Rings. But then again, even in those great battle scenes, we had ridiculous shit like dwarf-tossing and Legolas running up the trunks of elephants and a ghost-soldier army that looked like they came out of a Disney theme-park ride.

Well, whatever shit Jackson decides to throw on the screen, this’ll be our final big-screen romp through Middle Earth. This’ll be our final cinematic look at that fantasy world thought out with staggering depth by that Oxford Philology professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. That makes me a little sad—after all, so much of what Jackson gave us was great. So much of it measured up to or even surpassed what I saw in my head as a 13-year old with his nose buried in those books. After this last movie, we’ll have to just go back and read those books again. At least until Peter Jackson decides to film The Silmarillion

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My Winter Survival Kit

Wed, 2014-12-03 02:14
My Winter Survival Kit  

I was pretty excited for December, to officially get into the Christmas Spirit, and even more to be able to start on the Malteser Chocolate Advent Calendar sent to me from home. And rather fittingly, the 1st December brought with it winter weather. Proper, bitterly cold winter with face-numbing winds and an actual snowstorm too. Cue us walking home from work completely unprepared for the sudden drop in temperature, with numb hands and feet and frozen faces.

So that evening it was time to get my winter gear out of the wardrobe. All of the things I bought last year to help me survive the freezing temperatures of Korea. Here is a list of my winter survival gear:

Huge Winter Coat

It might sound silly, but I never really realised how important a coat was until last year, when I bought a proper coat for the first time in my life, and it was so worth it. It comes past my knees, has a thick, padded interior and a fur-lined padded hood which covers my whole face. It might make me look like I’m wearing a man’s coat which is several sizes too big (my sister’s words, not mine) but it does the job and keeps me warm. In fact, by the time I’ve walked the 10 minute to school, my head is usually too hot. Best investment ever.

 Gloves (x 2 pairs)

Again, the first time I’ve bought proper gloves (rather than pretty ones). One thin Lycra pair for underneath, and a thick padded pair to wear on top. I can literally not move my fingers once I have both pairs on- it makes entering the code to get into the apartment quite difficult- but it does stop my fingers going completely numb. Which I see as a positive.


I knew my normal thin scarves/pashminas wouldn’t do the trick in Korea, so I bought a huge, woolly snood to keep my neck warm. Turns out that it barely fits underneath my coat because it’s so thick, but it’s nice for wearing once I’m at school.

Fur-Lined Leggings

I can thank Lotte Mart for this purchase. Not just normal leggings, but thick leggings lined on the inside with soft, warm fur. A definite treat for your legs. I wear them with dresses, underneath trousers, underneath my pajamas…basically I alternate between different pairs all winter. And, in Korea they come in men’s sizes too; leggings are no longer a female-fashion-item as they are in England, but a useful piece of clothing to help you against the cold weather. And I love them.

Fluffy Slipper-Socks

Uniqlo was where I found these life-saving slipper-socks. As we have to take off our shoes inside, I needed something warm for my feet, something better than the sandals given by the school (if I worethem, my feet would be frost-bitten by the end of the day).

These slippers are lined with fur and super-snug, keeping my feet nice and toasty all day. The students with their freezing feet are pretty envious.

Furry Welly-Boots

Another amazing purchase was my furry welly-boots which are the comfiest, coziest shoes I’ve ever owned. They’re soft and snug and it’s like having your feet in a cotton-wool cushion. Before I bought these, my toes would be numb by the time I was halfway to school, but now they’re actually warm, even when walking through snow.

Again, I may not look too cool, sporting thick, un-elegant wellies (especially next to my Korean co-teacher, who wears high-heels even in the snow and ice), but I feel good. Which is way more important in the freezing weather!

Hot Water Bottle

To be honest, the minute I get home I’ll make a boiling-hot water bottle, and keep it next to me all evening. I would tie one to myself all day at school if it wouldn’t be so hard to carry around everywhere.

Heat Pads

This is a good alternative to a hot water bottle, and is easier to keep with you all day. The best version I’ve tried is a sticky hot-pad which you stick to your clothing and which keeps warm for hours. In fact, it gets so hot that my co-teacher warned me not to stick it straight onto my skin, or I’d actually get burnt. Now that’s a good heat-pad.

Endless Cups Of Tea

Any excuse to drink more tea is fine with me, and the winter isdefinitely a good excuse. I pretty much chain-drink tea during the cold months, and keep a kettle by my desk at school. It’s a little expensive when you get through an average of 10 mugs a day, but it’s worth it.

Fluffy Pajamas

The pajamas in Korea are so cute, and so soft and fluffy, that I’m glad of the excuse to buy myself numerous pairs. The best part is they’re so much warmer than a lot of pajamas. And when you wear them over the top of fluffy leggings too? Your legs will never go cold.


Of course there are obviously other things to do to keep warm; electric blankets and central heating, to name a couple. But, I find that if you don’t want your bills to sky-rocket by having your heating on 24/7, you can survive without it, as long as you take other precautions. And if you don’t want to cry every time you step outside and are hit by icy-cold air, you definitely need to buy some proper winter-gear. 

 The best part of having a proper cold-survival-kit? You can actually (kind-0f) enjoy winter, going outside to take pretty walks in the snow or alternatively, play in it. Happy winter, and here’s hoping for a White Christmas…



Kathryn's Living

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Clinical Trial Subjects Wanted - Inje University Busan Paik Hospital Clinical Trial Center

Sun, 2014-11-30 21:02
Clinical Trial Subjects Wanted-Inje University Busan Paik Hospital CTC

Clinical Trial Subjects Wanted

Inje University Busan Paik Hospital

Clinical Trial Center

is creating a database of volunteers who are keen to participate in future clinical trials. 

The Subject Database is a list of volunteers who are interested in participating in clinical trials. When a trial becomes available which matches with a volunteer’s profile, that member will be contacted and given the first opportunity to volunteer to participate in the clinical trial.

1. Be an adult over the age of 19
2. Understand and voluntarily sign the written Subject Registration Consent form or fill in online Subject Registration questionnaire at 
3. Be willing to receive information about relevant clinical trials which they may be eligible to participate in. 


•Visit the center
Visit the clinical trial center at Busan Paik Hospital, in Gaegum, Busan

Volunteers will be given a souvenir for registering on the Subject Database, and will receive additional financial compensation for any trial participated in.

Contact info
Inje University Busan Paik Hospital Clinical Trial Center

Principal Investigator:
Clinical Pharmacology Unit Professor Jaegook Shin
Contact : Subject Recruitment Team Manager, Angelina
Email: busanpaiksrt@busanpaik.ac.kr / Tel: 051) 890-8879

PDF Version Here


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Put 7 Photographers on a Tiny Island in South Korea and This is the Result

Sun, 2014-11-30 05:08
Put 7 Photographers on a Tiny Island in South Korea and This is the Re

Nothing is better than an island getaway with friends, especially when those friends are all excellent photographers. Last week I headed out with some of the best photographers in the area to the tiny island of Somaemuldo. This island is located near Tongyeong but really is isolated from everything. People come to fish (I think??) and just to get away from it all.

There is really nothing much on the island but what is there is quaint and nice. There are no cars and no roads on the island. What is there are a few inns and a couple of restaurants. The biggest asset in my mind was the cafe. On an island of this size and this far away from the city you don’t mind paying inflated prices to have a morning cup of joe.

Once we got to the island we headed off to the Lighthouse on the other side of the island. There is a land bridge that disappears during the high tide and it is something cool to see. We spent most of the evening in search of the stars which were reluctant to come out. However, that did not stop us from spending hours shooting. It was a great time and a hard hike back to the mountain and down the other side to the village.


It was then we realized that the prices here on the island were a tad higher than on the mainland. Rice, ramyeon and a pepsi came out to a grand total of 8,000 won which is about twice the price of what it would be back home. This is a minor point when you realize that past 6 pm your options for food drop to zero. All of the restaurants close around 6 pm. The best tip is to bring your own food as most do. All of the pensions are equipped with kitchens and it seems that most are aware of the high prices and cook for themselves.

One of the best places to grab some refreshments is the only cafe on the island. I firmly and incorrectly thought that this place wouldn’t be anything special given the fact that it is located on a tiny island. I was proven wrong and they also open up early as well. As we walked back to our pension from a sunrise shoot we all stopped to see if they were even open to the idea of making coffee. To my surprise they were! Suffice to say that it made my weekend. Having a place to sit and talk about the morning’s shots over coffee is something awesome.


The price of the island aside, this place is a great spot to shoot some seascapes and island life. There is even an abandoned school where you can get your fix of urban exploration. The biggest thing here is to relax and find your groove. While the view may not send photographers out in droves, it is a great place to spend with some good friends and do some hiking. When you realized that the most important things are the people around you and not necessarily the photograph you are trying to take, it puts your creativity into overdrive.

It took a long time to get to Somaemuldo from Ulsan. The easiest way is to take the bus from Ulsan to Tongyeong and then the ferry to the island. You are looking at about 3 to 4 hours on the bus, then a 15 minute taxi ride to the ferry terminal. The ferry takes about an hour and a half to get to the island and it also makes a short stop in the larger Bijindo.


If staying on the island is not your thing, then affordable accommodation can be  near the ferry terminal in Tongyeong. Booking is key to staying on the island because there are only a few pensions. They are also not that cheap either. Rooms start at around 100,000 won a night and most are only the ondol style. To put this into perspective a decent room on jeju island starts at around 50,000 won for a non-dormitory style room. At any rate, this is just something to keep in mind when travelling there.

The other side of the island is best for the morning shots as it faces the sun and the larger island of Maemuldo. The hike there is easy but getting a clear shot is tricky. We found a cliff that fishermen use. It was steep and a little risky but paid off in the end.

If you’d like to visit the area, check out Scott Rotzoll’s article on the islands for more information. He gives some great shots as well as more information and links.


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Mandu for Breakfast: Jeonju Food Tour Part 2

Tue, 2014-11-25 03:50
Mandu for Breakfast: Jeonju Food Tour Part 2 Hopefully you've recovered from the feast that was Part 1, because I have yet more food to talk to you about. I pretty much always have food to talk about, so it's a wonder I ever write about anything else on this blog. First stop of the day? Dumplings.

I know, eating dumplings for breakfast sounds weird, but in our defense A) we slept in pretty late and B) don't be such a square.

Mandu god is watching you.According to a friend of a friend this place is pretty famous, and if a long line is a good judge of quality, then by that alone this place would win awards. It stretched down the street and around a corner, and some people even had snacks to sustain them during the wait.

Working hard in that tiny space!
The setup in this place is perfect. The line moves past the display of freshly made dumplings, so you have a chance to think about your order before you get to the front. As we watched, they were continuously bringing out fresh wares. Apparently this place is famous for the shrimp mandu, but since I can't eat shrimp, we made sure to get a full selection.

Shrimp balls and kimchi mandu.
If it had been up to me we would have ended up with one of everything, but fortunately Joon could handle the pressure and managed to buy a more reasonable amount.

Sexy close-up shot.
Pictured here, from left to right: 8-pack of kimchi mandu, 1 fried mandu with noodles inside, 2 spicy kimchi mandu, 2 shrimp mandu, and 1 tortilla wrapped fusion...thing. And dixie cup for scale. We practically had to fight a couple to keep our seats, but we were clearly there first and he was just being a big greedy jerk.

I cannot stress how huge, delicious, and hugely delicious these were. The spicy ones were the perfect amount of spicy, too; just enough to give it a kick without covering up the flavor. If I lived in Jeonju, I'd probably brave the line at least once a week to stuff my face with these pockets of heaven. I'd also become horribly fat, so it's probably better that I stay in Wonju.

Our final stop was Cafe Manil Manil, for the patbingsu that had eluded us the day before. The owner was really nice, and even remembered us! Patbingsu isn't exactly a winter food, but in the warm cafe with the sun shining through the many windows, it was easy to forget the chilly weather.

Very natural, comfortable feeling.

Real flowers on the tables!
Too cute. Also explains all the old hippie music.
I was thrilled even before our dessert and coffee arrived, because the music in Manil Manil was basically all the music I listened to with my parents when I was younger. I even heard some Eric Clapton, which I don't think I've heard before in Korea.

Americano for an American.
The red beans were just right, not too sweet, and the shaved ice was the kind that a bit milky and sweet, so the two complemented each other delightfully. I also had a nice hot coffee to warm me up, which rounded out the meal perfectly. I feel like this place must get crazy in the summer, but whatever the situation, you should definitely go here if you're in Jeonju.

With that, our adventure finally came to an end. Full and happy, we caught a bus to Seoul, then I caught a second bus back to Wonju, the catching of which is a long story unto itself that I may tell later. If anyone wants more specific directions to any of these places, leave a comment and I'll try to draw a map or get an address.

Teacher Pretty
Middle school ESL teacher, lover of pink, eater of kimchi, addicted to Etude House, expert procrastinator, meeter of 2-dimensionial popstars: Ana. That's me.

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10 Ways That Korea Is Winning

Tue, 2014-11-25 01:22
10 Ways That Korea Is Winning

All countries have good and bad points, things which we can either complain about or praise. And while Korea has it’s faults, today I’m going to focus on the good things: 10 things which give Korea definite cool points.

Oreo Cereal


To the misery of Oreo-lovers everywhere, this cereal has been discontinued in every country…apart from South Korea. I regularly see it featured on lists along the lines of ‘foods we miss which no longer exist’. Well, come to Korea and stock up…




Umbrella Plastic Protectors


Ever had the problem of your umbrella dripping everywhere while you carry it awkwardly around a shop? Not a problem in Korea- stick your umbrella into the stand, pull it out and it’s in a perfectly shaped umbrella-plastic-bag. Finally, an easy way to hold your umbrella, without leaving large puddles wherever you walk. This is an invention which England could do with copying…




Bubble Tea


Sure, you can get Bubble Tea in other countries. In fact, it’s a new and ‘trendy’ thing in the UK- for an extortionate price, that is.

In Korea, there are Bubble Tea cafes around every corner (not just a restricted number of exclusive cafes like in the UK), and most importantly, they’re cheap.  Cheaper than a cup of coffee, in fact.

Ahead of the trends, lower on the prices. Go Korea.




Can we just talk about the variety/ cheapness of socks in Korea? I could literally buy a pair every day and not run out of designs. Plus there’s the choice: trainer socks, fluffy socks, socks with animal ears on. Socks have never been so exciting. (Ditto smartphone covers- endless designs and cheap. It’s tempting to buy a different cover for every day of the week).


Pizza Take-Out Tray


Papa John’s has just made pizza delivery more exciting- a three-layered pizza box, with one layer for pizza, another for sides & dip, and a final layer for a cookie pizza dessert. A 3-course meal in one takeout box = one pretty impressive invention.

And, it’s only available in Korea.



http2007,Wikimedia Commons

Clean, with working Wi-Fi, coffee and vending machines, and actual shops everywhere. In Korea, walking around subway stations is definitely more fun (and more likely to make you spend unnecessary money).

And let’s not forget the screens where you can find out information, or even better, play games and watch sports.


24 Hour Convenience Stores


The practicality of having a 24-hour store on pretty much every corner can’t be beaten. And they aren’t only good for buying emergency milk for breakfast. They have everything: food, drinks, medicines, alcohol, first-aid stuff, even emergency underwear.

On top of this, they have a hot-water stations and microwaves, so you can make hot food/drinks. Instant meals and coffee at 3 in the morning? No problem. That’s convenience on a whole new level…


Food Courts

WiNG, Wikimedia Commons

If you get hungry when you shop, it’s no problem in Korea. You don’t have to buy an overpriced meal from a small cafe with minimal choice. No, there’s an entire food court with so many options it’s usually hard to decide what to buy.

What a way to make a trip to the supermarket more enjoyable!


Animal Cafes

The most fun you’ll ever have in a cafe. Again, Korea is ahead of the trend with these cafes- in London, a cat cafe has recently opened and is such a phenomenon that there’s long waiting list to be able to visit. Imagine the excitement if someone opened a dog cafe…

In Korea, you simply pop to your local cafe any day of the week. Another win for Korea.


Free Coffee


It might be sweet, artificial coffee, but in my opinion, getting free coffee at the end of a meal is pretty great. Even better are the places where you can get an ice lolly at the end of your meal.

A definite way to ensure my return to a restaurant…



I think it’s fair to say that these are 10 things which Korea definitely does well. I would have mentioned 50 pence sushi, but I know I’ve raved about that before…

So, if you’re having a bad day full of negative feelings towards Korea, go out, buy yourself some nice socks and visit an animal cafe to cheer you up… That will definitely soften the blow of any negative feelings…

Filed under: Expat, Korea, Living


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by Dr. Radut