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Lessons For The Teacher- What We Learnt To Expect When Teaching In Korea

Wed, 2014-10-22 06:45
Lessons For The Teacher- What We Learnt To Expect When Teaching In Kor

We came to Korea to be teachers, to help children to learn. Turns out that working as an English teacher in Korea has taught us a lot of things too: lessons in leading, discipline, understanding and eternal patience (ok, still working on that last one…). And, we’ve learnt that school in Korea is completely different than in England; would you ask about a teacher’s relationship status in the UK? Most probably not. In Korea? It’s one of the first questions you’re asked (and repeatedly asked again, and again, and again).

So travelling across the world to teach is a learning curve, to say the least. Here are some of the things that I’ve come to expect as a teacher working in Korea:

Everyone Says Hello

You simply cannot walk down the corridor without being bombarded by greetings from students at every turn. It was quite a shock at the start, although a nice one, of course. Waving, children calling your name, sometimes even giving you a hug. So this is what it feels like to be a celebrity…

Inappropriate Questions

“Teacher, do you have a boyfriend?” “Teacher, do you live with your boyfriend?” “Teacher, why aren’t you married?” “Teacher, how old are you?” If I had ever asked a teacher their age, I think I would have received detention or at the very least a good telling-off.

And I don’t really mind the personal questions, but it’s a bit disruptive when you’re answer that  “yes, I have a boyfriend”, causes about 10 minutes of giggling from your class full of embarrassed teenagers.

Students Being In Awe 

blog.pokerjunkie.com

You’d think that the students would be used to Westerners, having been taught by them for years. But still, they are continually amazed by a Westerner’s appearance. If you walk past students who haven’t seen you before at a neighbouring school, their stares are as incredulous (and sometimes as scared) as if you had just arriveded from another planet. Seriously.

The most common feature which leaves the students awestruck? Height: if the male teachers are 6 foot or above, they are regarded with such amazement it’s as if they’re some kind of freakish giant.

K Pop Rules All

en.wikipedia

I guess working with teenagers, you’re going to expect adolescent obsessions whatever country you’re in. But the love for K Pop really is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. All I need to do is say the word ‘EXO’ in class, and the screams are so loud you’d think that the Pop Band had actually appeared in my class. K Pop pencil cases, wallets, mirrors, photos, folders, makeshift tattoos… Korean schools are definitely in the midst of K Pop mania.

Exams Will Cause All Kinds Of Stress

Exams are a stressful time for anyone, but in Korea it’s a new extreme: students crying in the hallways, accosting their teachers to find out why they lost one mark in their test. And a day of total depression the day the results come out; every student you ask “How did you do”, you’re answered with a tearful “Not good.” Surely everyone can’t fail? Well, it sure seems like it here.

The worst I’ve seen was a student in our office for 2 hours, crying over one mark in her English test; she only finally left because it was time to go home. And no, she didn’t get the extra mark in the end either.

The Parents Are Very Involved

For this reason, I’m very glad I don’t speak Korean. Parents will text and call teachers, come into the school, and again it’s usually to argue over their child’s exam score or because they’ve been put in bottom set. One of our co-teachers was called until 11 pm by parents during exam time; she is a better person than me… I think I would have changed my number! Oh, and then there’s the parent who came into our office and cried over her daughter’s exam score for an hour… which really made it quite awkward for everyone in the room.

Sleeping In Class

forum.thefreedictionary.com

So when I was at school, anyone who dared to sleep in class would be thought of as a proper rebel. In Korea, it’s pretty weird if you get through a class without someone falling asleep (or trying to at any rate). I guess the reason for this is the long days they have studying, as I discussed in my Korean Education post.

Still, it would be nice if I didn’t have to spend half my time prodding students awake when it’s all become to much for them. And the individuals who decide to bring along a blanket and cushion to class to make themselves comfortable? That’s really just taking things too far!

The Students Have Power Over Teachers

It’s normal for teachers to write reports and evaluations for students. But in Korea, the students can get-their-own-back by writing reports on the teachers. That little terror who always disrupts class and I’m always telling off? Well, he’s going to give me a bad rating for sure!

If only I could have done the same when I was in school; some teachers would definitely have felt my wrath…

Boys and Girls Do Not Mix

I thought the ‘boys and girls hate each other’ phase was usually over when children become teenagers. Apparently not. A minority of boys and girls and friends, but the majority of students? No such luck. Sometimes if I ask a boy and girl to sit next to each other, or, even worse, work together, I’m greeted with looks of such surprise and worry you’d think I’d suggested they get married.

The one time in my class when the students found out that one boy fancied someone, there was such uproar that I couldn’t calm them down for fifteen minutes. True story. Which leads me on to my next point…

No Kissing. Ever.

funscrape.com

Ok, I’m not suggesting that students should be getting up to mischief in school by any means. What I’m talking about is how students can’t even talk about kissing, let alone see someone kissing on TV or in a movie. Before I knew this,I showed Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ music video in class. When Taylor kissed someone at the end… well, the reaction was the same as if I’d shown something on an X Rated Movie Channel.

I just hoped I hadn’t scarred them for life. I felt as guilty as a parent telling their child that Father Christmas isn’t real, making my students lose their innocence. Bad move me.

Students Want Your Food And Drink

Another type of inappropriate questions which the students ask: “Teacher, can I have some of your water?” “Ooh teacher, your lunch looks delicious, can I eat some?” Um… no… you cannot get your germs on my water bottle, and you cannot eat the lunch I prepared; get your own!

Giving Food = Undying Love

tinalicious.com

This is the last, and most important thing I’ve learnt while teaching in Korea. Food is the best reward you can give, and will earn you top teacher points among students.

If only I’d known this at the start. Food is the answer to everything: a bribe to make the children work, a reward for the hard-workers. All you need to do to get a student to profess their adoring love for you is to give them a piece of chocolate. Works every time. Well, you live and you learn…

 


Filed under: Korea, Living

© KATHRYN GODFREY 

Kathryn's Living
KathrynsLiving.wordpress.com

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Glamping Under the Stars at Raventree in Gapyeong

Mon, 2014-10-20 10:46
Glamping Under the Stars at Raventree in Gapyeong Fall has officially arrived in Korea. The season may not be the longest, but it is, without a doubt, the most beautiful. The country's autumn colors, crisp air and cool temperatures beckon its inhabitants to don their sweaters and head outdoors for festivals, mountain hikes and danpoong noryi, excursions to see the fall foliage. Yet there is one autumn activity that has particularly taken off in Korea in recent years that sets itself apart from every other seasonal activity -- glamping.



Although camping has always been popular, with campsites often booked months in advance, glamping (or glamorous camping) offers a bit of luxury to those seeking to get the full experience of the great outdoors without sacrificing any creature comforts of civilization.

Raventree in Gappyeong, located just a forty minute's drive from Gangnam, is not only the most conveniently located glamping site in Korea, but is also one of the most beautiful. A couple weeks ago, a friend and I packed our bags and made our way out to the rolling landscapes of Gyeonggi Province. Thanks to her GPS, the site was easy to find, and offered a scenic route which conveniently passed by some tasty restaurants and snack stalls, as the glamping anticipation worked up our appetites.



Upon arrival, our eyes widened at the site of the campground's lavish tents, arranged in a neat semi-circle and perched on the side of a mountain overlooking a picturesque valley. Unable to contain our excitement, we jumped out the car and were quickly welcomed by the friendly manager of the campground who escorted us to our home for the evening. We wasted no time in exploring our two-story tent, an incredible shelter unlike any I had seen before.

In the lower level of this two-story tent was a kitchen and living area that extends out onto the wooden deck. Equipped with a mini-fridge, a hot plate, cutlery, plates, pots and pans, the room offers everything one might need to prepare a hot bowl of ramen, a simple camping meal or a feast (as we would later learn many visitors opt for). The sleeping area upstairs is accessed via a ladder and is completely screened in, so as to keep out bugs. Additionally, it is fairly spacious and easily fits two people very comfortably, but is also big enough for a family with two small children.





We took a walk around the site, which boasts a nice pond, a playground, shower facilities, a dish-washing station, a convenience store that sells snacks, drinks and basic camping necessities, and the quintessential karaoke machine. (This is Korea, after all.)

The sun began to set on the campground and as clusters of constellations and a full moon claimed the crystal clear skies, the friendly manager stopped by our tent with plenty of firewood (that he would refill throughout the evening) to help us start up a fire in the raised pit on our deck. He also delivered the Raventree BBQ Glamping Combo that we ordered ahead of time for an additional cost. Packed in our set was a tasty variety of pork, sausage, shrimp, veggies, kimchi and condiments. We got right to grilling and inhaled lettuce wraps of barbecue goodness and slurped down cold beer. It was all very good but my friend and I agreed that bringing our own food on the next visit would be far more economical.





I had intentionally made the reservation for this particular night, as I knew there would be a full moon, but to to our surprise, a lunar eclipse also took place. Families gathered together after dinner to marvel at the spectacular site, one that I am sure wouldn't have been as nearly as impressive in the city.

Just as we finished up another round of beers, an American gentleman invited my friend and I to join his gumbo party a few tents down. Not ones to turn down gumbo, we joined the feast that was already well under way. The group had packed all sorts of treats and were quick to share as we exchanged travel stories and playlist recommendations. It never ceases to amaze me that despite being out in the middle of nowhere, there are always new friends to be made and laughs to be had.



Unlike most campsites in Korea, Raventree was occupied by families and couples rather than the rowdy groups of intoxicated ajusshi (old men) that tend to shout and blare trot music all through the night. With this added sense of calm, my friend and I had no problem falling right to sleep. Additionally, despite the frigid temperatures, the heated mats under our pallets kept us cozy. From the beginning of November, heaters are installed in the lower level of the tents to provide extra warmth, making camping in the winter not only possible, but also enjoyable.





I woke to a view of misty mountains in the morning and after whipping up a mug of hot cocoa, bundled up and did a bit of reading on the deck, a last attempt to enjoy the great outdoors before check-out.

Sure, a stay at Raventree isn't exactly roughing it and some might even consider it a bit too pricey for a night out in the middle of nowhere. However, I could equate our stay to that of one in a decent hotel, but with the added benefit of good service, friendly neighbors, fresh air, incredible surroundings and a memorable experience that only the nature of the Korean countryside can offer.

More Information: Raventree

Address: 10 Wegoklee Seorak-myeon Gaypeong Gyunggi-do (경기도 가평군 설악면 위곡리 10)
Phone Number: +82 2-1688-8614
Price: Tents 165,000 won/ night (Sun-Thurs); 177,000 won/ night (Friday); 198,000 won/ night (Saturday, holidays); Premium BBQ Combo Set (2 people) 98,000 won
Check-in: 3pm
Check-out: 12pm
Reservations: By the Raventree website (Korean), Glamping.com (English) or by e-mail at raventree@naver.com (English)
Facebook: Click Here
Get There: Take bus number 7000 from Exit 9 of Jamsil Station (Subway Line 2 or 8) to Seorak-myeon (설악면) (4,000 won). The bus runs every hour and the travel time is about 40 minutes. After arriving at Seorak-myeon, take a taxi to Raventree (about 8,000 won).


Disclaimer: Although Raventree provided accommodations free of charge in return for this post, the opinions are, of course, my own.

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


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www.MySeoulSearching.com

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Korean Beauty Standards: Another Pressure Point

Sat, 2014-10-18 05:14
Korean Beauty Standards: Another Pressure Point blog.asiatown.net

Working in a middle school full of adolescent girls is like being transported back in time to a teenage world of worries, insecurities, and an ever-present wish to change pretty much everything about yourself- hair, skin, body- in fact, if you look for it, you can pretty much find fault with anything, and that’s exactly what teenagers do.

It’s true that on the surface, Korean girls don’t appear as obsessed by their looks as Western girls; they don’t wear any make-up until high school (and even then wear a minimal amount), they don’t wear a lot of jewellery, no hitched-up skirts or high heels, and the ponytail is the only hairstyle I see. However, underneath the surface, these girls have far more disdain for their appearance, and it’s only when talking to them that you realise how incredibly low their self-esteem actually is.

Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brandon Myrick, via Wikimedia Commons

The way the word ‘ugly’ is thrown around is shocking; it’s a word only really used in England as an insult or as an extreme, and definitely not a word used normally to describe people. In  my opinion, it’s a word which shouldn’t be used at all due to its overwhelmingly negative connotations.

What’s even stranger is the girls’ treatment of other people, especially that of their friends. Here are just a few of the things my students have said about their friends. Oh, and not in a bitchy, behind-their-back way: this is said to their friend’s face:

“Her cheeks are like an apple, they’re so red from pimples.”

“She is quite ugly. She has a square face.”

“She is not pretty and has thick legs.”

It’s so weird to see friends talking about one another in this way, when for me, it’s always been girl code to automatically support your friends when they’re feeling down about themselves: “You’re not ugly”, “No-one can notice the spot on your chin”, “Of course you haven’t put on weight”.

The fact that friends are so quick and happy to insult, and to receive insults from each other without any offence just demonstrates how low their self-esteem actually is; it’s normal for them to be called ‘ugly’ and to accept this as fact, because they believe it.

ryot.org

With such bad views of themselves and how openly they discuss their ‘bad’ looks, it’s no surprise that plastic surgery levels are sky high. According to reports, ‘1 in 77 people’ now have surgery to change their appearance, and ‘20% of women aged 19 to 49 in Seoul admit to going under the knife’. Double eyelid surgery is increasingly popular and is something many of my students have expressed their desire to get done when they’re older. when I see double-eyelid tape and glue in CU convenience stores, it reminds me how the pressure for girls to change their looks is everywhere. 

Of course, the K Pop girls don’t do anything to boost confidence among teenagers- they actually have the opposite effect, and make the girls feel even more inadequate. One K Pop star admitted that she had so much plastic surgery, people no longer recognised her. Pop Dust website also describes how the stars no longer care about keeping their surgery a secret; one girl group, Brown Eyed Girls sang a parody of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’, called ‘Plastic Face’. Is this a good message to send to impressionable young girls? I think not.

http://www.georgianewsday.com/news/world

When photos of the 2013 Miss Korea Beauty Pageant finalists were made public, they were criticised by many people who thought the girls had undergone so much surgery that they all looked the same. The desire for surgery was blamed on the desire to look more Western.

Even without resorting to surgery, I’ve witnessed many older girls wearing a lot of make-up, especially eye make-up, to try and look more like the ‘pretty’ girls on TV. Of course, it isn’t just in Korea that celebrities and the media have a damaging effect, it happens everywhere: extreme diets, changing of hair colour, make-up experimentation, fake tans… people trying to transform into someone else. But in Korea, it seems more extreme, perhaps because everyone wants to look the same. This results, as was made clear with the 2013 beauty pageant, in a group of beautiful clones with minimal individuality.

thefw.com

I know that for teenage years, and for many years after, women all over the world use make-up, endless hair and beauty products, and go on fad diets to achieve some sort of ideal. But I feel like pressure on Korea girls is so much worse, and it’s worrying. It seems like all societal expectations of the Western World are magnified in Korea; school pressure is ten-times worse, the pressure on women to find and marry a ‘suitable’ man, and in the same way, the pressure to look good seems so much more extreme than in other countries.

My question (and worry) is ‘when will it stop?’ A lot of Koreans face too much stress in their lives as it is, and beauty is one pressure point too much. Instead of trying to alter their looks, girls should accept who they are and not view themselves with such harsh negativity. I want to shake sense into my students sometimes, to stop them being so down on themselves and make them believe that they are in no way ugly. Teenage years are for having fun, for being with friends and family- not for worrying that you don’t look the same as the celebrities. In fact, I wish I could go back in time and tell my teenage self the same thing… well, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Why South Korean High Schoolers Want Plastic Surgery? Check out their answers here.


Filed under: Beauty, Korea, Living

© KATHRYN GODFREY 

Kathryn's Living
KathrynsLiving.wordpress.com

Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

In Ulsan (Cups Song – South KoREMIX)

Thu, 2014-10-16 14:23
In Ulsan (Cups Song – South KoREMIX)

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: my most advanced first year high school students singing a revised version of the Cup Song from Pitch Perfect! Enjoy!

So, what do all the references in the song mean? Well, I’ll tell you! Ulsan is the city where my school resides. T-money is a type of “currency” used to travel all around Korea (it’s mostly used for intracity buses and subways, but it’s accepted by taxis too). Soju is the most popular adult beverage in Korea (*disclaimer* I don’t condone under-age drinking. The original song mentions bottles of whiskey, so I changed the lyric to the Korean equivalent, that’s all!). Nam-gu is home to the new downtown area of Ulsan (a “gu” is a district or neighborhood). In Nam-gu you’ll find outlet malls, department stores, movie theatres and restaurants. Dong-gu is the coastal area of Ulsan. There you can go to Ilsan beach, take in the ship yards, and stroll through scenic Daewangam Park! “Munsu” is short for Munsu soccer stadium, which is named after nearby Munsu Mountain. Grand Park is one of two main parks in Ulsan where you can enjoy the outdoors without actually leaving the city (additional mini-parks and bike paths are all over the city too, especially along the Taewha River). And lastly, true to the original song, Ulsan is surrounded by mountains (the gorgeous Yeongnam Alps are only a short bus ride away) and the mighty Taewha River runs right through the city!

I had an absolute blast working on this project with my students, and I think they liked it too!

 


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On Dodko (for the U of N’s Blog Symposium on Asian Territorial Disputes)

Thu, 2014-10-16 11:19
On Dodko (for the U of N’s Blog Symposium on Asian Territorial Dispute


The China Policy Institute of the University of Nottingham in Britain is running a blog symposium – cool idea! – this week on Asia’s territorial disputes. Here is the series page, and here is my submission. I’d like to thank the CPI blog director, my friend Jon Sullivan, for inviting me to submit. Not surprisingly, I was solicited to write on Dokdo/Takeshima/Liancourt.

Regular readers of my work will notice some of my preferred themes – that Korean claim is probably stronger; that a Japanese acceptance of that is nonetheless necessary to legitimate that sovereignty claim; that Korea wildly overblows the importance of this conflict because ‘anti-Japanism’ is central to modern South Korean identity.

The other entries in the series are worth your time if this area interests you. I was happy to participate. Below the jump is my contribution:

 

Korea and Japan have been locked in an on-again/off-again dispute over two small volcanic rocks in the Sea of Japan since the 1950s. In Korea, these two rocks are known as ‘Dokdo’ (독도); in Japan, they are called ‘Takeshima’ (たけしま). In the West, they are called the ‘Liancourt Rocks,’ after a French ship that nearly foundered there. For those new to the dispute, the Wikipedia write-up is actually pretty good, and some of its links are helpful. The literature on this issue in Korea (which I know best) is immense. The Korean government even supports a ‘Dokdo Research Institute.’

Ownership

I have no definitive comment on proper ownership. In my experience teaching in Asia as an American, there is little value to westerners making determinate judgments. Americans particularly are often seen as a referee in this conflict, as the US is an ally to both Japan and Korea. Hence I think it very unwise for Americans to definitively take a side. The US government position is that Japan and Korea need to work it on their own. I follow that line myself, as do most of the Americans and westerners I know in this area.

As best I can tell from the historical data – which are themselves hotly disputed, of course – the Korean claim is probably stronger, but there is likely no way to seriously establish that. The Koreans control the island and will certainly not surrender it, barring a Japanese use of force, which is unthinkable due to the mutual alliances with the United States. But Japan is unlikely to accept Korean control as legitimate without arbitration to which the Koreans will not agree. Hence the stalemate.

The historical problem is that sovereignty as we understand today, with strict, mutually exclusive zones, did not really exist in Asia until the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. There were borders, and Asia arguably had state-like bureaucracies before the West. But details like who exactly owned small, uninhabited rocks were simply not the focus of traditional Confucian governance and diplomacy. It is possible that some undisputed map from the 18th century or something will be unearthed that definitively settles the dispute, but I doubt it. In the end, even if Korea’s claim is stronger, the issue will not be resolved without some kind of agreement with Japan to legitimate it.

The Koreans do of course control the islets. To bolster its claim, the Korean government runs tours, stations police there, and routinely patrols the airspace. Seoul has also sought to change the international practice of using the term ‘Sea of Japan’ for the body of water between Korea and Japan to ‘East Sea.’ This is partly from Korea’s post-colonial, anti-Japanese nationalism, but it is also intended to bolster Seoul’s Dokdo claim by diluting the idea that the waters around Liancourt are ‘Japanese.’

Finally, it should be noted that the Japanese, for all the bluster coming from Seoul, have not actually pushed this issue much. The claim is formally maintained, and Shimane prefecture does celebrate ‘Takeshima Day’ on February 22. But there is little Japanese effort to change facts on the ground. Japanese fishing and naval vessels are not prodding the South Koreans. There is nothing like China’s behavior in the Paracels or Spratlys.

My own sense from Japanese colleagues is that Japan cares little for the issue. It makes for good politicking, and in the heated atmosphere of Japan-Korea relations today, it would be impossible for any Japanese politician to step back from the claim. But my own sense is that Japan holds to its Takeshima claim because it fears the ‘demonstration effect’ of flexibility on its other territorial disputes, with Russia and China, which are far more important. If Japan gives on Liancourt, Russia and especially China will push harder in their respective disputes. Given that an accidental Sino-Japanese clash over Senkaku is now a major regional worry, the Japanese will not budge on Liancourt.

Korean State-Building

The larger context on the Korean side of this flap is the intense Japanese focus of modern Korean nationalism. Japanese, Americans, and others have frequently noted the extremism of Korean rhetoric regarding Liancourt (here, here, here, here). One Korean president even ordered Korean ships to fire on Japanese ships near the islets; Seoul has also tried to include its Dokdo claim under the US-Korean defense treaty, which implies a possible American use of force against Japan. I have argued elsewhere (here, here, here) that much of this comes from the unique legitimacy challenge facing South Korea, as a half-country in contention with a mendacious, duplicitous national competitor.

Korean tension with Japan is obviously rooted in memory and territorial issues, but antipathy toward Japan also serves a national identity-building purpose in South Korea. The ROK (Republic of Korea) is trapped in a debilitating national legitimacy contest with the aggressively nationalist DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) which does not hesitate to play powerful nationalist cards against the South: South Korea is Hanguk, while North Korea is Joseon. South Korea is the bastardized, globalized, ‘Yankee Colony’ selling Korea’s heritage, folkways, and racial integrity to foreigners, while North Korea, despite its poverty, defends the minjok against its many predators, including Japan and the United States. To counter this narrative and the national confusion it generates, the ROK targets Japan instead the DRPK as the focal point of its state-building nationalism. If the ROK cannot be the anti-DPRK, then it will be the anti-Japan. And China, especially under Xi Jinping, clearly manipulates Korean disdain for Japan. But when Korea unites, the anti-Japan animus needed for the intra-Korean competition will be unnecessary. This is the long-term solution Korea-Japan tension.

Is there a Way Forward?

There is no dearth of proposals to improve Japan-Korea relations. Resolution of the territorial issue would help, but I believe that it is more the outcome than the cause. That is, the intensity of the Dokdo dispute stems not from the value of Dokdo itself, but from its symbolism for Korean national identity. Because South Korea defines itself against Japan (rather than against the DPRK), Dokdo has taken on an importance all out of proportion to its material value.

Seoul often seeks to deflect this critique with arguments about local natural resources or the seabed, but these are fairly transparent dodges. It is not at all clear that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) would allow control of Liancourt to project claims to the sea around it or to reset the overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Korea and Japan. Liancourt is not traditionally understood as ‘habitable;’ it cannot support indigenous human life. How to define that could of course be disputed, which Korea would likely do if it came so far. (Here is a good treatment of the UNCLOS tangle in the Asia-Pacific.)

If I am correct, the Liancourt/Dokdo/Takeshima fight will remain locked in place indefinitely. The only two events that would break the deadlock – a Japanese climb-down or a North Korean collapse – are unlikely in the medium-term. And Seoul will regularly deploy the Dokdo tussle in its geopolitical and historiographic contest with Tokyo. If there is one upside to this mess, at least Dokdo humor is pretty funny.”


Filed under: Asia, Foreign Policy, Japan, Korea (South)

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University
robertkelly260@hotmail.com

 

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Autumn Hiking in South Korea: Part 5 가지산 (Gajisan)

Wed, 2014-10-15 02:08
Autumn Hiking in South Korea: Part 5 가지산 (Gajisan)

After a seasonal hiatus in respect of sporting fixtures on weekends and travel trips over the spring and summer it is rapidly reverting to ideal hiking conditions in the Republic of Korea. As the weather cools and the leaves begin to turn and fall I find myself being drawn back to the escapist attractions of the Korean mountains. My return to the rocky tree-shrouded country landscape began on Hangeul Day (national holiday for the celebration of the Korean writing system) at Gajisan, a mountain that narrowly wins the honour of being the highest in the Yeongnam Alps, an area that I had heavily explored during the last winter.

I invited my Korean friend Mia along for the hike and we met in northern Busan at Myeongnyun station just after nine o’clock to catch the number 12 bus to Eonyang, a small town to the east of the Yeongnam Alps. I’ve taken the number 12 bus before and it was equally slow as before as it trundled out of Busan into Yangsan and then snaked its way slowly between the villages that lie north of Yangsan. When we eventually arrived in Eonyang around an hour and a half later our patience for public buses was stretched and we jumped in a taxi. Our taxi ride took us to the gates of Seongnamsa (or Seoknamsa as it should be romanized from the Korean 석남사). After readying ourselves we headed to a car park to the left hand side of the main entrance gate where a path began that would take us along a counter-clockwise route to the peak of Gajisan. As we passed a large group of hikers in the car park Mia immediately almost stood on a snake that slithered across the beginning of the path.

The route begins with a relatively shallow ascent and gradually steepens until the point that trail gives way to slightly more technical, partially eroded, and rocky route. Personally I found the whole route relatively easy but many of the hikers we passed were increasingly fatigued as we passed them. Mia also found the going a little tough and was generous enough to curse me repeatedly for bringing her along. A heap of verbal motivation and my adamance that it wasn’t so severe as some of the other routes in the Yeongnam Alps may or may not have helped. I was also rebuked for falsely advertising the actual peak. As sky gave way to rock and treeline I was vocal in my expression that ‘it’s not far now’ only to clamber upon a false peak with an ascent and a further climb to the actual peak visible another kilometre away.

The final climb brought us to the top of the 1240m peak but this was not even halfway through the actual hike, I chose not to mention this to my friend. At the top of Gajisan, on what was a warm and mostly clear autumn day, we were greeted with an incredible view across all directions. Mountain peaks and receding horizons contrasted with the bright blue sky as far as we could see. After queuing with other hikers for some mandatory photos we began the hike that followed the ridge north before stopping for a snack on one of the notable rocky outcroppings that overlooked the view towards Ulsan in the east.

The undulating ridge trail lasted for a few kilometres before we began the knee-bursting descent. Although not particularly steep it was certainly relentless with few plateaus. The ground was skiddy, the dried and crumbling mud providing a surface that required cautious attention. It was quite a relief to reach the outside grounds of the temple, neither of us had much desire to look inside and we followed the exit road to the main entrance gate and then crossed over to a small bus station.  We had decided on our descent that we did not relish the long journey on the number 12 bus from Eonyang back to Busan so we decided to catch a bus from outside the temple to Ulsan KTX station and then take the rapid KTX service back to Busan. At the KTX station we even had twenty minutes to grab some cheap Korean food to fill our grumbling stomachs.

On reflection this is a good hike, it only takes in one remarkable peak and can be accomplished in half a day if you can keep a good pace up. The views from the summit are quite breathtaking, as much of those in the Yeongnam Alps are, if you are interested in the route we took you can check the GPS recording here: http://www.mapmyhike.com/workout/760095549 I am of the understanding that you can turn this into a longer hike that ends in Unmunsa a temple to the north-east although I think you would have to then travel to Miryang to find any suitable transport to any of the respective cities in the region.

 

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2014 Busan Global Gathering @ Citizens Park

Wed, 2014-10-15 01:08

○ Date & Time: October 18, 2014 10:00 a.m. - 5.m.
○ Venue: Busan Citizens Park  Google Map Link
○ For more info.: 1577-7716
○ Website: http://www.bfia.or.kr/english/contents/g1_1.asp

Saturday, October 18 10a.m-5p.m
Busan Citizens Park

hosted by Busan Metropolitan City & 
Busan Foundation for Int’l Activities(BFIA)About the Event

  • Global Gathering is unique cultural event that brings together people from all over the world. It is one of the biggest cultural events in the city of Busan. After a very successful and well-received Global Gathering at APEC Naru Park in Haeundae last year, We are pleased to announce the Global Gathering is coming back in 2014. Local foreign communities, international schools, cultural centers that representing their own counties will join the event. The event attracted thousands of spectators and increased the number of exhibitors and stage performers from previous year. It will continue that momentum in 2014. A variety programs and things for fun will be provided : culture-related promotional booths, food, stage presentations, folk games, photo exhibition, and other events.
     

2014 Busan Global Gathering @ Citizens Park
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Gimje Horizon’s Festival

Sun, 2014-10-12 13:26
Gimje Horizon’s Festival

The summer heat is finished and the beauty of fall is upon us.  As blues skies open up and cool weather sets in a peaceful time of year begins. Something that goes hand and hand with this autumn is Festival Season in Korea. Every weekend provinces throughout the country put on amazing festivals showcasing their local specialties. There is so much going on that it is near impossible to discover every great event. This is why when Korea Tourism Organizations (KTO) announced they were recruiting members for ‘Global Group on Cultural and Tourism Festivals’ to attend some of the festivals being held throughout the season I jumped on the opportunity.

KTO put together over 15 trips allowing foreign participants to attend the festivals FREE OF CHARGE! What’s the catch? In return KTO asks participants to simply share their experience and fill out a simple survey. The trip I attended was so interesting that there is no way I wouldn’t share my experience.

Great opportunities for foreigners to experience tourism and culture happen often in Korea. If you are interested in attending some make sure to Like! Our facebook page where we post links to opportunities.

 

The morning of October 4th I joined 20 foreigners from around the world and headed out of Seoul by bus to spend the weekend attending two great festivals: Gimje Horizon Festival and Sancheong Medicinal Herb Festival.

 

Our first stop was Gimje. The trip was about three hours by bus from Seoul. Gimje is located in North Jeolla Province in the Southwestern part of Korea and known as the “great plains.” The mountainous country flattens in this landmass making the area an ideal place to cultivate crops, specifically rice.

 

Our tour included some area attractions as well as the festival. Visitors can easily make a weekend trip, exploring the area. The natural flat landscape littered with Korea’s fall flower- the Cosmo, makes for ideal bike tours. There are also several notable temples. Our first stop was to Simpo Port and Manghaesa Temple Observatory, where we became acquainted with the history of the region.  The area is famous for their seafood. Here clams around 5cm in size, which were once a prized meal for kings, are produced.   Walking into any humble shop around Simpo Port will allow you to feast on this local delicacy.

5cm Clams fit for a king! Our seafood lunch at Simpo Port

 

After eating a delicious seafood lunch, at the tiny fishing port (Simpo Port), we took a short walk to Manghaesa Temple. This beautiful and historic Buddhist temple is famous for it’s placement. The small area has stunning beauty and is believed to be a place where Heaven meets Earth. In this area we also stopped at a pavilion that offers 360-degree views of the unobstructed plains.

360 observation tower at Simp Port Views from the observation tower

 

Following this stop we made our way to the festival grounds. Gimje Horizon Festival focuses on Korea’s agricultural history and offers guests a glimpse into the heritage that is being preserved by local agricultural communities. Supporting the theme is an array of programs and events that make the festival fun for the entire family. If farming doesn’t interest you, surely the many interactive events will! Festivities include a dragon competition, kite flying, culinary experience, interactive rice harvesting experiences, a grand torch parade and so much more.

 

Gimje Visitors Center and look out tower

 

Gimje is the only place in Korea where visitors can observe a panoramic view of the area encased with rice paddies that expand into the horizon without obstruction by mountains. The setting of the festival is among Gimje’s Tourism office which houses an observation tower, allowing visitors to view the area as well as the festival.

Gimje Visitors Center and look out tower

Once in the tower I was able to quickly orient myself and see the 100’s of flying kites among the blue autumn sky, the festival is famous for, as well as two massive bamboo dragons that are the centerpiece of the event.

 

I looked down into the festival with some binoculars, which were available at the top of the observatory, and couldn’t wait to be among the events. Rice patties allowing visitors to have interactive experiences, kite flying demonstrations and much more were in my view. I giggle at the cute children wearing rice hats and running through fields, with nets, catching grasshoppers.

 

After observing the festival from above, I headed to ground level and walked through the main gate. At the information tent a woman arranged me with an English-speaking guide that would help me better understand the festival. This service is free and available to all foreigners in several languages.

 

English Guide

My guide was a sweet high school student who was able to easily show me around the festival and guide me to the exhibits that interested me. Our first stop was a dooling dragon competition. Two huge dragon costumes, worn by about 10 people, gracefully weaved around a stage. Foreigners and locals were invited to participate in wearing the dragon costume as well as competing in the competitions. Dancing, Rock paper scissors, and tug-o-war were just a few of the competitions that were held to see if the red or blue dragon would reign over the festival.

 

Dueling Dragons Demonstration

 

After enjoying this demonstration, we continued into the festival to observe the grand Dragons. The 2 story dragon statues are stunning and a spectacle like no other. It is in this area that many people fly kites. Just behind the dragons is an agriculture lake with duck boats and paddleboats for visitors use. Although the experience looked relaxing, I opted not to participate and continued to the Traditional Village where I observed traditional crafts, folk games and then participated in a traditional wedding.

 

Traditionally Korean weddings were grand events, often lasting several days and involving entire villages.   Locals in costumes reenacted the festivities. Musicians wore traditional costumes and banged drums as they danced in a circle.   I was given the opportunity to try on a traditional wedding costume. This was great fun! My guide helped me understand the experience and assured me she would make sure I looked beautiful. Volunteers surrounded me in a replica Hanok field home and placed the outfit on me. After I was dressed in wedding hanbok they did my hair in a bun and placed a braided wig on top as well as a traditional hat and large decorative shaft that pierced through the bun. Because I went on the trip alone, I did not have a groom, so I was introduced to another visitor- who I would marry. They ushered me around the hanok home and took pictures in front of alters set up for the wedding and then in front of a tiny box that the bride was carried in, to the wedding, in ancient times. My guide explained the entire process and snapped pictures with my camera throughout. What fun!

 

Getting dressed in traditional wedding outfit Traditional Wedding Dress

Once back in my street clothes, we continued to what I found the most interesting area of the festival. The Rice field village housed many interactive experiences. Visitors were allowed to go into the rice fields and harvest their own crop with traditional tools through the supervision of rice farmers. Once the rice was gathered, traditional iron pots were set up on campfires allowing participants to cook and eat rice in traditional fashion. In addition to these activities children were given nets and allowed to run among the rice field and catch locust, or play in a straw-plant land that consisted of archery, sling shots, a petting zoo, straw- trampoline, slide and rodeo.   The straw from the rice plant is also used to create traditional crafts. Participants could gather straw and create ropes and make straw bags.


No festival would be fun without food and a large food court offers both traditional and foreign food for purchase. The area is not only famous for seafood and rice but also beef. Jipyeongseon Hanu or Horizon Korean Beef is the meat of choice in Gimje. At the festival you can visit a butcher stand and purchase meat then barbeque it in the typical Korean fashion accompanied by Korean side dishes at participating restaurants.

 

Our group tried a local dish called Gimje Yukhoe Bibimbap which is Bibimbap topped with steak tartare. If you are adventurous enough to eat Tartare I highly recommend sampling the dish. It was delicious!

After dinner our day did not end. The sun set and as the sky darkened my favorite part of the festival began! How could things get even more exciting, right? The Kyeokgolje Torch Parade!! Participants were given tiki torches and after a fun rally session we lite our torches and marched among hundreds of other participants throughout the festival grounds.

Getting Ready to march in the lantern parade

 

The parade ended along the lake. A stage was set up with three plasma globes (those spheres that have pink lights when you touch your finger to they follow) and government figures stood in front of them. They each briefly spoke about the festival. While our lanterns glistened in the cool night sky, each man pressed his fingers to the sphere. Music began playing and a massive blue light-up dragon flew through the sky, followed by a beautiful fire works display. The dragon continued to dart through the sky throughout the fireworks! I had never seen anything like it!

After the fireworks display, we distinguished our lanterns and headed to our hotel for the night. We would arise early the following morning for ANOTHER festival located about two hours from Gimje. The Sancheung Medicine Herb Festival was the next stop in our tour.

 

Make sure to tune into my next blog post where I will tell you all about it!

Date: October 1-5th 2014

Transportation
[By train]
Take an express train to Gimje Station.
Take the festival shuttle bus from the Station to the festival venue.
(Shuttle bus schedule: 07:30-22:30)

[By bus]
Take an express bus to Gimje Bus Terminal.
Take the festival shuttle bus from the Terminal to the festival venue.
(Shuttle bus schedule: 08:00-22:00)

For more information: www.festival.gimje.go.kr 


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Stepping Out Of Seoul

Thu, 2014-10-09 01:26
Stepping Out Of Seoul

It can be pretty hard to find proper tourist guides for South Korea, especially if you want to look outside of Seoul, and it annoys me. Why? Because there are so many beautiful and interesting places to visit.

We’ve had so many good experiences exploring Korea (not counting the times we’ve gotten lost on local buses and ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere) and found many things which are worthwhile doing, even if they’re not advertised in tourist brochures.

Here is my expat guide to places outside of the capital city, things to do when you want to step out of Seoul.

Chiaksan National Park

 

Ok, so with Chiaksan right on my doorstep (as I live in Wonju) it’s an obvious place for me to visit. But it is definitely worth taking a trip to; the hike is definitely tough though, so be prepared. But the good thing about Chiaksan is that you don’t have to reach the peak to experience the beauty of the place; there are temples, waterfalls, rivers and so much gorgeous greenery before you even reach the incline. We have been a couple of times just to wander around the temple and walk the gentle walk to the main waterfall, which is a great picnic area.

For hikers and nature lovers, this is truly somewhere you should take the time to visit. (Oh, but I’d advise you not to visit Chiak Dreamland which is close by- I’ve heard only negative things about it, so it doesn’t seem worth the time or money).

  

Baegunsan National Forest

  

This is another beauty spot right where I live, so I’ve got no excuse not to visit! But if you’re near the Wonju area, Baegunsan Forest is another prime hiking and nature spot definitely worth taking the time to explore. It is less famous than Chiaksan, but the scenery is beautiful and there are so many nice spots to sit and relax, that in my opinion it’s just as worthwhile visiting.

There are a few different hiking options: a longer gentle course and a tougher short route. But the reason I love Baegunsan is the lakes and rocky areas at the bottom of the mountain. You could spend a couple of hours exploring these or having a picnic. If you’re craving serenity, Baegunsan would be an ideal place!

 

Seoraksan National Park

  

This is the last hiking place, promise.

Again, an area of amazing scenery which is lovely to walk around. The hike is tough, so prepare for a lot of steps, but it’s much shorter than other mountains such as Chiaksan, which makes it much more doable. There is also a cable car you can take to another peak if hiking isn’t your thing!

Sokcho itself is a wonderful area too, with beaches and a fish market (Jungang Market) so it’s a nice place to spend a weekend.

  

 Gangneung (Gyeongpo) 

  

Who doesn’t like the beach? And if you’d rather a less crowded beach than those down in Busan, Gangneung and Gyeongpo Beach is a good alternative. It’s particularly nice because it’s surrounded by trees and it’s also next to Gyeongpo Lake which is pretty and peaceful.

In the area there’s also a sea train and a zip line, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous. Plenty to do to make for a good day out!

Oh, one thing- check the weather forecast before you go as it tends to be breezier than other areas. One time we went we found this out the hard way, by nearly being blown over the moment we reached the beach- bad times.

  

 Nami Island

  

Ok, so yes it’s touristy and yes it’s all artificial and yes it can get very busy. But, that being said, if you want to go somewhere for a nice wander round, maybe a cycle, perhaps a bike ride, and have the chance for a short ferry ride (only 5 minutes), then Nami Island is a nice place for a day out. As long as you’re not expecting it to be the most beautiful place in Korea, you won’t be disappointed.

Take a picnic, visit the ostriches, read a book by the water- it’s a pleasant place, just don’t expect anything wonderful.

   

Chuncheon’s Dakgalbi Alley and Myeongdong Street

For any dakgalbi lovers, this place is perfect. A whole street full of dakgalbi restaurants. It’s pretty delicious! The only problem is choosing which restaurant to go in…

As for Myeongdong Street- it’s a good place to go shopping, but don’t expect it to be as good as Myeongdong in Seoul by any means. There is a large underground market and lots of shops for sure, but it isn’t as good as the real thing.

Still, a large shopping area right next to a whole street of dakgalbi restaurants? It can’t be that bad, can it?!

 Cheongpyeong Temple and Soyang Dam

  

This area is definitely worth a mention. The Soyang Dam is at the head of the Soyang river and is absolutely huge. But the real attraction is the area over the river; you can take a short ferry over to a beautiful valley where you can walk to the Cheongpyeong Temple, seeing waterfalls, statues, and streams along the way.

If you like hiking then you can also hike around the area instead of taking a ferry over. Whichever way you go, it’s worth it.

   

Garden of Morning Calm- Lighting Festival

 

It’s hard to show how spectacular this place was in photos, but it really was amazing and exceeded my expectations. I’ve never been to the Garden Of Morning Calm during the day, but at night, lit up with thousands of lights, it was stunning. You can spend a good couple of hours walking around the gardens, there are even different areas with different ‘themes’, so there’s plenty to look around. There’s also a couple of nice restaurants and a few street-food stalls, so you can make an evening out of it.

One tip- be careful about when you go. We made the mistake of going on the last weekend, which also happened to be White Day and it was absolutely packed- it took over an hour in standstill traffic on a local bus to get there, and the bus going back was delayed for over an hour. Also, taxis refused to go there because it was so busy. Lesson learnt.

Taebaeksan Mountain Snow Festival

 

Another unique experience which was a lot of fun! The sculptures were pretty incredible, and again, the festival was in such a nice area, surrounded by mountains that it was a pretty place to explore.

The only negative is that it was a lot smaller than expected and we were finished pretty quickly. A lot of the attractions, such as the snow slide and small skating pond were aimed more for children than adults. So I wouldn’t advise anyone to travel for hours to get to the festival, as it might not be worth the journey.

  

Hanu Beef Festival 

 

This was a surprisingly good festival, in another beautiful area. The festival was on a river and surrounded by forestry. Even better, there are some hot springs close by which you can visit a the same time.

A highlight for me was seeing all the cattle; it was almost like visiting a farm (smell included, unfortunately). There were tons of stalls selling various food and beauty products, and enough street-food stalls to please any foodie. On top of this there were pop-up restaurants, selling a good selection of delicious foods, including of course the famous Hanu beef.

Great scenic area, animals, shopping and good food- what’s not to love?

  

DMZ Tour

 

We did the DMZ tour with the WINK group on Facebook and it was a good choice, the only negative being that we didn’t visit the Panmunjeom area, which was a shame. Instead, we saw the Freedom Bridge, two of the tunnels, an observation desk, and a solider took us on tour of a battle field. So we definitely managed to do a lot of interesting things in one day, and it was well organised.

A surprising highlight of the trip was where we stopped for lunch in Cheolwon; there was a beautiful canyon which we had time to visit, and it was a such a lovely place to stop. This made the trip that bit more special, and I’d definitely recommend it.

 

 This is just a handful of places outside of Seoul, but they alone prove that there are so many wonderful places to visit which aren’t hugely advertised to tourists. If you have any more suggestions of interesting places, please let me know so I can go on some new adventures, and explore Korea some more…

© KATHRYN GODFREY 

Kathryn's Living
KathrynsLiving.wordpress.com

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2014 International Mask Festival – Andong, South Korea

Wed, 2014-10-08 13:25
2014 International Mask Festival – Andong, South Korea

Masks:  Pretty cool!

Food: Pretty good!

Performances: Okay.

Location: Okay.

Overall: Pretty…okay.

A few weeks back, on September 27th and 28th, I traveled north to the sleepy town of Andong (population approximately 160,000) for the 2014 Mask Festival (side note: check out the vlog post here!). Spanning ten days, the festival featured masks from countries around the world and offered a fair number of international maskdance performances, as well as other kid-friendly acivities like mask-making, a giant trampoline, and one of those pools with giant plastic bubbles you get inside of in order to walk around on water! If you’re like me, it’s not that you’re too old for such shenanigans…you’re just too big. So as a consolation prize you can wander around the souvenir and discount shopping tents, eat your fill at one of the many food booths that line one stretch of the festival grounds, and check out the mask exhibits!

For me, the highlight of day one came when I got my groove on with a bunch of ajummas (a term used to address married women over the age of 70) at an impromptu dance party that took place right before all these groups of mask-clad older women and a few kid groups performed on a nearby stage. They seemed quite impressed with my moves (e.g., the twist, the moonwalk, and a few jazzercise combos) and gave me a round of applause for my ridiculousness at the end of the song. I guess sometimes making a connection with people means being willing to make a fool of yourself!

The second day of the festival I headed out of the city to Hahoe Village, a historic Korean village and World Heritage Site that Queen Elizabeth II herself has visited. From the main festival site in downtown Andong, it was about a 50-minute bus ride, and another 10 minutes by shuttle, before arriving at the village. Once there, you can wander the narrow, winding streets and peer over the stone walls (if you’re tall enough) to peak in at traditional Korean homes (called, hanok), and go for a relaxing stroll while snapping photos of the quaint, rice paddy-tiered countryside. Additional cultural mask performances were also presented on a stage set along the river in town. Food choices there were a little limited, so it might behoove you to bring your own snacks if you go. And for a bird’s eye-view of Hahoe, you can take a 3,000-won boat ride across the river and set out on a 15-20 minute hike up Buyongdae Cliff. Fyi, the 3,000-won you shelled out on the way there covers your return trip!

In the early evening I returned to the Andong Intercity Bus terminal (which is actually located a good 30-40 minutes away from downtown by bus, about halfway between the main festival site and the folk village), to make the 3-hour return journey to Ulsan.

Overall, I enjoyed the festival but was a little underwhelmed. I was originally looking forward to making a mask, but decided against it when I saw that the materials weren’t of the greatest quality. Some of the maskdance performances seemed very thought-out and authentic/professional, though most featured younger performers who a) seemed lacking in performance experience and b) didn’t seem to know quite what they were supposed to being doing while on stage. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or maybe the calibre of the invited groups was abnormally low this year. Either way, I’m glad I went…it was nice (really!)…but I wouldn’t say it’s something I’d do again.

I wish I could give a more positive, enthusiastic review. Something like, “Yes! The Andong Mask Festival is AMAZING! Your experience here won’t be complete without it!” …But I can’t. Not if I’m being completely honest. Sorry… Do go and check it out, though. If nothing else, it’s something you should do once to say you’ve done!

 

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The Dalmaji Limited - A walk along Busan’s abandoned railway

Tue, 2014-10-07 14:25
The Dalmaji Limited - A walk along Busan’s abandoned railway A walk along Busan’s abandoned railway

Originally constructed in 1918 as part of the Donghae Nambu line, the tracks were abandoned last December. The old Haeundae Station, which stood right by the beach, has now been relocated* to Jwa-dong, a full 15 minutes by car further from the sands.

The replacement of the line comes as a massive blow for trainspotters and railway enthusiasts, as chugging down by the coastline as the sun hung over the sea, or set over Gwangan Bridge, was most tranquil indeed.

Fear not, though, for someone with the power to do so (probably some suit in an important official capacity within Busan) decided to open up the old line to the public. Hurrah!… but not until next month.

Perhaps because of the wondrous city views, sequestered natural surroundings, and the zero gradient hike; the unruly masses of South Korea’s second city have taken it upon themselves to walk down the old gravelly coastal path to Songjeong beach ahead of time.

And I was one of them. Though I, reaching new peaks of unfitness, only managed to walk as far as Cheongsapo. I was slightly put off, though, by signs which threatened to fine me to the tune of 3,000,000 Won ($3,000) for walking down there. But I took the threats as empty, seeing as the ajumas and ajusshis rambled down there with complete impunity.

The walk is long, and a bit uneven, but the views, fresh air, mad dogs, occasional splatterings of graffiti, and the sunset were sublime.

From Haeundae Beach: Look at the sea, turn left and walk all the way past Geckos, and whatever it is they’re building down the end. Then, walk up the road to the left towards Dalmaji hill. About halfway up, you’ll find the disused railway line.

A note from the Editor-in-Chimp: This article was originally posted here on Asia Pundits. Check ‘em out, won’t ya?

* Should you give a shit why the station has been moved, Kojects, a transportation and urban planning projects in Korea blog, explains it way better than I ever could.

The post The Dalmaji Limited appeared first on Monkeyboy Goes.


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The Asian Games experience

Tue, 2014-10-07 12:37
The Asian Games experience Asian games 2014 was held in Incheon in South Korea! After missing the opening ceremony and all the games in the first week, I got a chance to go to the stadium on the final days: We went to see the track and field events. Oh! what an experience it was!

Not many Koreans in Seoul seemed interested or even seem to know that there was this mega event going on in Incheon. But I was delighted to go when my family was ready! The weather is just perfect now in Korea. It took us around 40 minutes to reach Incheon Geomam station from Seoul by subway. Then we took the free shuttle which was conveniently parked on the entrance of the subway station to the main stadium. The night view of the stadium was awesome and the enthusiasm of the crowd was contagious. We were able to see the track and field, shot put, javelin, long jump, high jump and triple jump for both men and women.

The main stadium of the asian games, 2014 IncheonAthletics going on in the main stadium


There was not much crowd as you can see, just die hard fans and family of the athletes. Mostly the home team supporters. We were able to sit right in the front row and have a marvelous view. We watched the women's 4X400m relay win the gold medal in live :D It was an super experience to jump and cheer and shout at the top my voice! My son was downright appalled at my raucous behavior. But our screams were infections and he caught the yelling bug too! We became instant celebrity among the kind Koreans who acknowledged the Indian team's massive victory in the relay.

The victorious Indian women won gold

Moon Art at the Asian Games main Stadium

The Asian games stadium was more than just track and field and tennis courts and swimming pools. It is a huge park open to the public and many other always-available facilities like biking tracks, jogging tracks, fountains for the kids to play during summer and many more.
We were deliberating on this piece of art. Dh said that it looks like a snake hactching or a duck dipping its head into the water. Whatever it could be, we had a great time discussing it :)

The cricket StadiumOur next game in the Asian Games was to watch the cricket match. No, India was not playing. But with IPLgeek as your son, one has to make some amends and so we went to watch the match between Afghanistan and SriLanka! This was no match for the red and gold ambience of the Chinnamswamy stadium during a RCB match. The clamour of the crowd was not electric. Yet, it was nice to see a cricket match on a foreign soil.

But it was nothing to complain about though. There were few shots, lots of wickets and the fun started when the supporters of Srilanka and Afghanistan had a fist off! And we had the best view with us happily situated between the Srilankans on the right and the Afghans on the left. The ever-vigilant Korean police was instantly there on the scene and were multiplying with the minute! I felt like I had Z-security allocated to me and my family :)
The cricket stadium

Z-level security

The fountains surrounding the stadium
And yes, there was a food festival going on with food from all around the world. 
Oh yum!
With all the events played and done with, the stadium was bare but there was a lot of other things to do.
The stadium at twilight. Our world Tuesday Incheon Asian Games
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10 Mysterious Korean Phrases (That Aren’t What They Seem)

Tue, 2014-10-07 03:46
10 Mysterious Korean Phrases (That Aren’t What They Seem)

Some Korean phrases are confusing because they have cultural subtleties. If you study Korean as a second language, they can be hard to understand. In some cases, they’re hard for even Koreans to explain!

Below are some common everyday Korean phrases that you’ll hear on a regular basis. Below the phrase is the literal translation, and the explanation of what it really means. Uncover the mysteries of these expressions, and feel confident using them yourself!

The expressions are written in Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. If you haven’t learned to read Hangeul yet and want to study Korean, you can learn how to read in about 1 hour for free by downloading the 90 Minute Challenge here.

시작! (Let’s start!)

1. 우리 나라 (oori nara)

Literal Translation: “Our country”

This Korean Phrase Really Means: “My country”, with the “our” meaning “Korean people”

Explanation: If you study Korean history, you’ll find that Koreans have a long past. They think of themselves as one collective group of people. Therefore, instead of saying “my country”, Koreans say “our country” to show they share this with all Koreans.

2. 우리 집 (oori jip)

Literal Translation: “Our house”

This Korean Phrase Really Means: “My house”, with the “our” meaning “my family”.

Explanation: Whoa, whoa! Slow down, it’s a little soon to be talking about becoming roommates!

This is the same concept as with “우리 나라” above. Basically it is the idea of the house belonging to a collective group (family) instead of just one person.

3. 잘 먹었습니다 (jal meogeosseumnida)

Literal Translation: “I ate well”

This Korean Phrase Really Means: “The meal was good” or “Thank You”

Explanation: It does mean, “I ate well”, but it also has some different uses. For example, if someone treats you to a meal, you would say this instead of “thank you”. Think of it as an indirect thank you.

4. 잘 먹겠습니다 (jal meokgesseumnida)

Literal Translation: “I will eat well”

This Korean Phrase Really Means: “I will eat well because of your effort”

Explanation: Koreans say this before eating to show appreciation to the person who prepared for the food. It’s kind of like saying “thanks for preparing this, I’m going to have a good meal because of you”.

5. 많이 드세요 (maany deuseyo)

Literal Translation: “Eat a lot”

This Korean Phrase Really Means: “Have a great meal”

Explanation: This is similar to saying “Bon appetite” in English. In the post-Korean war times, Koreans had food shortages. Therefore, this was a polite thing to say to make sure the people eating had enough to eat. It shows consideration for the other people.

6. 맛있게 드세요 (masitge deuseyo)

Literal Translation: “Eat deliciously”

This Korean Phrase Really Means: “I hope the food is delicious” or “Enjoy the food you’re about to eat”

Explanation: In English, it would sound funny to use “delicious” to describe the way in which you’d eat food. In Korean, it means to wish that the other person would have a delicious meal.

7. 밥 먹었어요? (bap meogeoseoyo?)

Literal Translation: “Did you eat?”

This Korean Phrase Really Means: “How are you?” or “Did you eat?”

Explanation: As mentioned before, Korea was devastated after the war, and food was harder to come by. Therefore, to show your concern for someone’s well being, you’d ask if they had eaten. While Korea has an abundance of food now, the phrase has still carried on as a greeting to show concern for other people you know.

8. 가세요 (gaseyo)

Literal Translation: “Please go”

This Korean Phrase Really Means: “Have a good day and proceed safely”

Explanation: Wow!! If you want me to leave, you could be a little less direct!

While this expression seems a little harsh when you translate it directly, it’s actually quite polite. If you study Korean, you’ll notice that this has a polite “세요” ending. This Korean phrase means that you wish the other person a safe journey wherever he or she is going to. You can use this regardless if you know the other person’s destination or not.

9. 들어가세요 (deuleo-gaseyo)

Literal Translation: “Please enter”

This Korean Phrase Really Means: “Have a good day and arrive safely at your destination”

Explanation: This is similar to “가세요”, except it’s used more often when you know the person’s destination. That way, you can say that you wish they would enter it safely!

10. 화이팅 (hwaiting)

Literal Translation: “Fighting!”

This Korean Phrase Really Means: “Hurray!”, “Go team!” or “You can do it!”

Explanation: A fight? Ok, you grab the video camera, and I’ll take the tripod! Let’s go!

While the word sounds very close to “fighting” in English, it’s more of a cheer that Koreans use to show encouragement and enthusiasm for some kind of competition. It can be used for a sports cheer, to encourage someone to pass a test, or to wish them good luck on a blind date.

 

Now that you’ve got a few phrases under your belt, try using them the next time you’re out with your Korean friends, classmates, or coworkers!

Have you had any mysterious Korean phrase that you’ve solved? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Photo Credit: Mauge

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Seoul’s Medicine Market

Mon, 2014-10-06 11:02
Seoul’s Medicine Market  Seoul’s Medicine Market

I’ve always been fascinated with oriental medicine. Using herbal medicines and natural healing to stay healthy just seems like the right way to live.  Growing up in a Western culture, where I am thankful to have highly developed scientific advancement of modern medicine, unfortunately I did not have a lot of exposure to natural curses and practices of oriental medicine.

 

When I arrived in Seoul I was excited to explore oriental medicine and see it being practiced first hand.  One of the most exciting markets I have visited is Seoul’s Medicine Market. Korean is a country who’s culture is so enrooted in traditional medicine practice, that many of their everyday meals combine herbal medicine to incorporate health into everyday life.

 

Located outside Jegi Station in Dongdaemun, is the Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Market. You won’t have a doubt you are in the proper location, as you leave exit 1 and the smell of herbs intoxicates you.  Vendors range from wholesale shops and pharmacies to street vendors and elders that sit on the ground peddling their goods.

 

Don’t miss this entrance for Seoul’s Medicine Market!

A great way to get oriented with Oriental Medicine is to pay a visit to Seoul’s Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Museum first.  This state of the art museum is free to visitors.  The museum aims to pass on the history and culture of Korean oriental medicine. I was amazed as I walked down the many stairs, into the basement museum and a LED screen illuminated before my eyes giving me an introduction to Korean medicine. Once complete the screen split and a door opened into the museum. Talk about a display of Korea’s modern technology!

 

The museum features several sections including the “The History and Culture of Korean Oriental Medicine”, “Korean Oriental Medicine and the Human Body”, “Medicinal Herb Village Story”, “A Prescription for Harmony”, “Korean Oriental Medicine Experience Corner for Children” and “The History and Traditions of Seoul Yangnyeongsi”. Several hundred kinds of Korean Medicine are on display at the museum with explanations and descriptions.

The museum features a culture center offering samples of medicinal tea and other interactive activities.  When I visited the center they taught me how to grind and pack herbs in a traditional package. I also had a screening to determine my body type and then was given tips on how to improve my lifestyle by an on site doctor.

Once back outside the museum, I walked into the market.  The main street is decorated in a stunning archway with sculptors of traditional tools on each side.  Roaming the streets I immediately was able to recognize some of the medicines I had seen in the museum.  Dry frogs and antlers hang from stalls. Heaps of roots and leaves lie in piles.  “Wow they really do use this stuff,” was the first thought that came to mind.  It was exciting to actually be able to identify why it was being used. It is one thing to learn about medicine in a museum or book, but seeing it in everyday life is fascinating.

Herb clinics, where oriental medicine doctors give treatments, are scattered throughout the market. If you are looking for a specific treatment, visiting these doctors will surely be beneficial. Westerns often visit clinics to receive help natural healing with back pain, weight loss and immune system boosting. Many of these clinics also offer traditional treatments like acupuncture and cupping.

 

The traditional pharmacies, with large floor to ceiling wooden file cabinets, filled with oriental medicine, is a must see site.   Old women sit in waiting rooms chatting and drinking medicinal tea as they wait for the pharmacist to open the large wood cabinets, engraved with Korean writing identifying the scientific name of the medicinal herb.

If you are looking to buy some of Korea’s world famous red ginseng entire buildings, located in this district, are filled, from basement to rooftop, with vendors offering various forms of ginseng at wholesale pricing. Ginseng has been found to aid in type 2 diabetes, physical and mental health stimulation, weight control, menstrual problems and immune system boosting as well as a variety of other benefits. Korea is the largest producer of ginseng. World sales of the product were over 2.1billion dollars in 2010, with over half coming from South Korea. In effort to build my immune system for the upcoming winter months, I picked up a bottle of red ginseng pills. I’m hoping for a healthy winter with the aid of this supplement!

 

During your time in Korea, I highly recommend a visit to Seoul’s medicine market! If you’d like to visit the market with a guide the Seoul Metropolitan Government offers a walking tour free of charge.

 

Subway: Jegi Station (Seoul Subway Line 1), Exit 2

 

If you love markets make sure to tune inevery first Monday of the month where I highlight a different market in Seoul!

 

Want to explore another great market while you’re in the area?  Cheongnyangni Fruit and Vegetable Market is right next door!

 

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EPIK Interview Questions

Mon, 2014-10-06 11:00
EPIK Interview Questions

The Skype interview is a critical step in the EPIK application process. Below is a list of questions, provided to me by my preliminary recruiting agency, Gone2Korea, that could’ve come up during the call. I’ve also taken the liberty of adding some supporting questions/suggestions to help further prompt any future EPIK teachers who are preparing for their interviews! My actual interview only lasted 25 minutes and I was barely asked half of these questions, but it never hurts to be too prepared!

In addition to basic questions that verify your identity and prying inquiries about your medical history, during your EPIK interview you might be asked:

Why are you interested in teaching? Think about what or who has inspired you to become a teacher. What parts of a teacher’s job do you find most exciting or interesting? Is it working with kids? The opportunity to serve as a role model or to share your culture? The satisfaction of contributing to a student’s growth?

Why Korea? It goes without saying, but I’ll do it anyway: don’t mention anything about your plot to save as much money as possible or to use Korea as a convenient homebase whilst you galavant around the rest of Asia for the next year…even if one or both of those is true. It just not the first thing they want to hear. Instead, consider what other aspects of Korea make it an attractive country in which to teach. Does the education system impress you? How about the students’ international reputation for work ethic? Or, what else about Korean culture, food or language interests you?

What do you know about Korea? A.k.a., “have you done your homework? What have you done to learn about Korean culture, the educational system, etc?” At the very least, spend some time on Wikipedia to get to know the country’s modern history (or ancient history, if you’re into that sort of thing), and read up on any current events you can find. Or, research what’s coming down the pike for the old R-o-K! Bottom line, by demonstrating a foundation of knowledge about Korea you are also demonstrating that you care; that you aren’t going to be some ignorant foreigner who comes in and refuses to immerse in/learn about their culture.

What is your educational philosophy? They’ve already read whatever you wrote in your application essay, so just be consistent. If you want, feel free to elaborate on one or two of the points you made!

How will you handle classes that consist of students with varied English skills and capabilities? Hopefully your TEFL course addressed this challenge and armed you tactics/strategies which you can tout off to the interviewer.

Classroom Management It’s possible you will be asked in some way about the following topics: designing and enforcing classroom rules, dealing with disruptive students, combining disciplinary forces with your co-teacher, and teaching large classes. Take time to think about how you would address these points.

Your co-teacher Arguably the most important relationship you’ll have during your entire year, your relationship with your co-teacher will be greatly affected by: how you approach and resolve disagreements, how you receive criticism, and how you respond to stress/unexpected change. Formulate answers and/or illustrative scenarios regarding these topics.

What type of students (age group) do you think that you could teach most effectively & why? Here, be honest but positive. If the thought of being surrounded by sticky-fingered munchkins is enough to send you running for the hills, that’s okay. Just say something like, “I most enjoy relating to middle and high school students on a more mature level. With older students, we can discuss more complex topics.” The opposite is also true. If angsty, teenage hormones make you want to pull your hair out, rephrase by stating, “I have a high-energy personality that would lend itself well towards working with younger students. It’s also fun to be part of building their foundation with English.” It’s perfectly acceptable to respond that you could teach all ages too! Just back it up with examples.

In your opinion, what are the top qualities of an English as a second language teacher? There are literally a million ways to answer this question. All I will say is that whatever qualities you choose, make sure they’re ones you possess and have demonstrated in the past! Once you make your initial response (e.g, “I think an ESL teacher should be patient and organized.”), support it with a story of a time when you exhibited those qualities.

How will your educational background help you as a teacher? Do you have personal experience studying another language? Do you have superior reading, writing or speaking skills that will make you an EXPERT-expert in one of those areas? Or, do you have a fascination with foreign cultures from which you’ll draw to make your lessons more engaging for students?

Why have you chosen to pursue a teaching job in Korea? Are you looking to challenge yourself, personally and professionally? Are you considering a career in education, or ESL in particular? Do you want to participate in an exchange of language and culture between yourself and Korean students?

What is your 5 year plan, 10 year plan, etc.? I hate this question. There’s no one alive who has ever uttered a response to this and then carried out exactly what they said they would. What interviewers should be asking (and, I think, what they’re trying to ask with this question) is, “Are you committed to doing this job well? For as long as you are here, are you willing to do the best job you can, to continually strive for improvement and to put as much effort as possible towards getting to know your students and staff?

How will you adapt to and reconcile the differences between your country and Korea? It’s okay to acknowledge the cultural differences here. But another good thing to do might be to point out the similarities between the two. You don’t have to make yourself sound like some superhuman foreigner who’s immune to culture shock. All they’re looking for is that you’re able to be patient, understanding, and eager to learn about Korean culture.

In 1-2 minutes teach me something I don’t already know. Pick a word or concept that is slang, an inside joke with your friends, or has meaning in your community. Offer to teach something personal! That way you will have fun teaching it, the interviewer will enjoy learning it, and he/she will connect better with you/your enthusiasm.

What does EPIK stand for? For the love of Pete, make sure you know: English Program in Korea!

Hope this was helpful! Happy interviewing!

 


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Bored in Korea? Read a book! Teakettle Mountain Released on Amazon

Sun, 2014-10-05 21:56
Bored in Korea? Read a book! Teakettle Mountain Released on Amazon

Teakettle Mountain, the story of one loser English teacher’s quest to not be a loser, has been re-released on amazon.com. Check out the story reviewers are calling “a joy to read”—available now for $2.99, less than a third the cost of a cup of coffee in our adoptive homeland!

Update: Now available for free!
Get your copy here.

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The Good, The Bad, and The Hagfish

Sun, 2014-10-05 09:31
The Good, The Bad, and The Hagfish

by John Bocskay

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly lives in mud 150 meters under the sea.

I ’ve always loved the Korean word for fish: “mulgogi”, a compound formed from the words “water” (mul) and “meat” (gogi). More than simply labeling a common class of aquatic creatures, “mulgogi” suggests a way of looking at the world, a very East Asian orientation that assumes all things that swim to be edible unless proven otherwise.

Much of Korean seafood strikes the average Westerner as very different, and some of it as downright bizarre: fermented skate, with its powerful ammonia smell; sea cucumbers, whose similarity to an actual cucumber begins and ends with its oblong shape; and live octopus, which is both alive and an octopus. The list goes on, but perhaps no other creature better exemplifies the Korean commitment to sampling the totality of the world’s sea life than the hagfish. Though hagfish are found all over the world and have been known for centuries, they are only eaten in Korea and by the Korean diaspora in Japan and the United States. Even the Chinese – about whom Koreans joke will eat every four-legged thing except the table – lay off the hagfish.

You may have seen them in the tanks at Jagalchi market , these pinkish eel-like creatures the Koreans call ggomjangeo resting in a knotted mass awaiting the fillet knife. You may have eaten them there, seen them skinned alive, chopped up and thrown still writhing onto a grill with red pepper sauce and onions and served with sesame leaves and garlic. Once you get past the idea of food squirming on the grill, ggomjangeo bokkeum is actually quite tasty. It has a firm, springy texture, and presents some odd shapes as the intestines curl like shirtsleeves, but it ends up tasting more like the same yangnyeom sauce you enjoy with your fried chicken. Some eat it because, like all things vaguely penis-shaped, the hagfish is thought to be a male “stamina food”. Whether you get a rise out of it or not, grilled hagfish is far from the strangest-tasting food you will ever put in your mouth, but considered as an animal, it is arguably one of the biggest oddballs you will encounter on the Korean menu.

Total Weirdo

For starters, the name is misleading. The jangeo part of the name means ‘eel’, though hagfish are not even remotely related to eels and bear only a superficial resemblance to them. The English name hagfish isn’t much better, because as it turns out, they’re not true fish either: they have no jaws, stomach or true fins, and have primitive eyes that sense light but can’t resolve images. Scientists are not even unanimous on whether to classify the hagfish as a vertebrate – an ostensibly unambiguous category – because it is the only known creature to have a bony skull but a spine made entirely of cartilage. The hagfish is so hard to classify that when Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, first encountered one in 1754, he declared it to be a worm, a classification which managed to stand for nearly four decades until it was corrected.

Today we know that the hagfish is an ancient animal – a so-called living fossil that has changed little in over 300 million years and is more closely related to the common ancestor of all vertebrates than it is to any other animal living today except the lamprey (another total weirdo). While scientists continue to debate its place in the evolutionary tree, current opinion strongly suggests that the creature on your dinner plate is a charter member of the proud lineage that gave the animal kingdom its very first spinal column.

Ain’t Got No Alibi

Say cheese!

While “fish” may miss the mark, “hag” is not unfair. The hagfish is widely considered to be one of the ugliest animals in the world, because it manages to combine nearly every quality we find repulsive in animals. It looks harmless enough sitting there on the bottom of the tank with its little whiskers (called ‘barbels’) reminiscent of catfish, but just below them, tucked out of sight, is a mouth so creepy that fans of H.R. Giger have wondered whether the retractable mouths of his cinematic aliens were inspired by the hagfish’s ‘rasping tongue‘: four rows of tooth-like “rasps” that project from the mouth (which opens horizontally, by the way), grasps the flesh of its prey and hauls it toward the gullet.

The hagfish’s diet doesn’t win it any admirers either. Once thought to be exclusively a scavenger – another class of animal that no one loves – it is now known to subsist mainly on large, deep-sea worms, a revelation which merely elevated it from a revolting opportunist to a revolting predator. It does scavenge part-time, however: when the carcass of a dead whale or other creature settles on the bottom, thousands of hagfish follow their single nostril to the buffet. Using their rasping tongues, they burrow into the carcass and eat it from the inside out, thus combining the most gag-inducing features of vultures and maggots into one charming package. They’ve also been known to use their unique skill set to infest the bodies of fish trapped in nets, which naturally has done little to endear them to fisherman around the world. Though they certainly chow down like vertebrates, they have the distinctly invertebrate ability to absorb nutrients directly through their skin, which comes in handy when you are literally tucked in to your meal.

“He slimed me”

Despite all that, one of the most remarkable and literally repulsive features of the hagfish is not the way it eats but the way it defends itself from being eaten. If you’ve taken a close look inside a tank full of hagfish, you may have noticed strands of milky filaments swirling around the tank like old cobwebs.  When a hagfish is bitten by a predator (or seized by a middle-aged woman in pink rubber boots) it quickly emits a copious amount of slimy mucus which instantly reacts with water to become a tough, stretchy glob that envelops its body like a cocoon. This slime clogs the gills of would-be predators, who gag on it and spit out the hagfish unharmed thanks to its tough skin (belts, wallets and other accessories are made from it and sold as “eel leather”). Once the danger has passed, the hagfish twists into a knot and slides the knot down the length of its body, whisking off the slime in one motion. This defense strategy is extremely effective; the hagfish has no known aquatic predators because it has evolved over hundreds of millions of years – not to be smarter or faster – but to be chewed on, found repulsive, and spit out intact.

The slime has also acted as a turn-off to all but the most determined human diners, and is the source of its genus name Myxine (from the Greek word for slime) as well as its more colorful nicknames slime eel and snot eel. It turns out, however, that hagfish slime is edible. Because it’s composed of protein, it is said to be used as a substitute for egg whites, though I’ve yet to find a restaurant anywhere that uses it. Who knows: maybe with a slightly catchier name and a kickass marketing strategy, hagfish slime omelets could be finding their way to a breakfast menu near you.

A less far-fetched scenario would be finding a use for it as a fabric. A team of researchers at the University of Guelph, Ontario is looking for ways to replicate the tough, stretchy fibers in hagfish slime and spin it into a renewable fabric that could one day replace non-renewable oil-based fabrics like lycra, spandex, and nylon. They’re not there yet, but hagfish hotpants remain a theoretical possibility.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the hagfish, like the size and health of their populations, how they reproduce, how to tell their approximate age, and their precise role in ocean ecosystems. Information like this is critical for managing hagfish fisheries, which are currently unregulated in the United States (which is actually where most of the hagfish in Korea now comes from). If there is a less likely candidate for overfishing than the hagfish I hope I never meet it (or eat it), but it’s worth looking after them all the same. After all, they may be weird, but they’re family.

Author’s Note: October 15th is Hagfish Day, a holiday created by WhaleTimes.org to remind people that even the ugliest creatures need our conservation efforts. Whether you decide that the best way to celebrate Hagfish Day is by eating a hagfish or not eating one is up to you. I won’t judge.


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Seoul Wandering

Sun, 2014-10-05 08:38
Seoul Wandering

miestai.netThough we don’t live in Seoul, we’ve taken many trips to the capital and have made so many good memories there. Even though Itaewon is the main expat area, we’ve only been there twice, and both times only for food (which was, thankfully, delicious). Instead, we’ve tried to go to different areas and experience different things, not only the main tourist attractions.I thought I’d share with you my thoughts about Seoul- what is worth doing, what isn’t, and everything in between. So here we go… this is my Expat Guide To Seoul.
The Palace District
I have to admit that we only went to the palace district  because my parents were visiting, after we’d been here for close to a year. But, it turned out to be well worth the wait- not only amazing buildings but pretty scenery too, which I didn’t expect in the middle of Seoul.If you’re going to the Palace District, it’s definitely worth it to get the combination ticket, which allows you entrance into all of the palaces and is valid for one month.And my favourite palace? Definitely Changdeokgung- make sure you visit the Secret Garden which is absolutely beautiful. You will feel a million miles from the city!
Cheonggyecheon stream

 Is it odd to find a stream running through the middle of a city? Sure. Do we mind? Not at all.

The Cheonggyecheon stream is definitely worth a visit, and luckily you can join in at numerous places in the city (if you want to go from the start, go to Cheonggye Plaza where the stream begins).

Sure, you can still hear noises from the city, but it does feel more serene down by the stream than up in the busy streets.  It’s a nice area to stop and have lunch, or take a romantic stroll in the evening when it’s all lit up.

Definitely worth going to see if you’re in the area, if only to see some greenery in the middle of a concrete jungle.

Aquarium, 63 Building

 

Ok so honestly, we were disappointed by the 63 building, as our students had built it up to be the ‘best place to go in Korea’. So we had pretty high expectations. That’s not to say it was awful, just not anywhere near as good as expected.

We went to the Aquarium which was very small, and so packed with people you could barely move. It didn’t really seem worth the 19,000 won as we were finished in well under an hour. I can’t comment on the rest of the attractions, as it was so busy we decided to give it a miss, rather than queuing for ages for a ticket.

Verdict? Fine for a quick visit, but don’t expect anything amazing. Oh, and don’t go on a public holiday or weekend if you can avoid it, unless you enjoy long queues and over-excited children.

Seoul Grand Park

 This was the first place we went to visit in Seoul and we were pretty impressed. It was the perfect time of year; cherry blossoms were out and it was sunny but not too hot.

You could easily spend a whole day here; there is an absolutely huge zoo which takes hours to walk around, botanical gardens, a rose garden, a sky lift, and tons of scenery to look at. Plus, the entrance fee to the zoo is only 3000 won- pretty amazing.

If you want to go somewhere where you don’t feel like you’re in the middle of the city, this would be the place to go.

Snow Spoon Cafe

Michaela Den, commons.wikimedia

It wasn’t going to be long before I spoke about food, and this cafe is definitely worth a mention. For any frozen yoghurt lovers like me, you have to go here.

Snow Spoon is located in Hongdae and is a self-serve fro-yo cafe. There are tons of different flavours (plain, chocolate, green tea, strawberry) and toppings (everything from fruit to chocolate to cookies).

The only bad thing about Snow Spoon? The temptation to get over excited when making your fro-yo, resulting in spending too much money and eating way too much. Oh well, it’s definitely worth it!

Myeongdong

Myeongdong is definitely good for any expats wanting to find shops from home; H & M, Forever 21, Body Shop, Gap, the list goes on. Plus, there are tons of cool bars and restaurants to choose from.

Definitely the best place to go for a shopping spree, just beware of the crowds- if you’re in a rush it probably isn’t the place to go!

Namdaemun Market

IGEL, commons.wikimedia

Just down the road from Myeongdong, this is the more traditional shopping area. A huge market selling everything from clothes to jewellery to kitchen equipment to food. This is the place to come for a few bargains and unusual finds.

Again, it’s always crowded so get ready to fight your way through.

 

High Street Market

 After craving a proper sandwich for about a year, High Street Market was a God-send. It’s an amazing deli/ shop in Itaewon with truly amazing food.

The majority of the shop-food is imported, things like oatmeal, granola, condiments, fresh cheese and meats. And the deli serves just delicious sandwiches filled with salmon, beef, pulled pork and humus (obviously not all together). They also have a good selection of cakes and sweet treats in their bakery.

We went to Itaewon just to go to High Street Market, and we weren’t disappointed. If you’re ever craving a good sandwich, this is the place to go!

Namsan Seoul Tower

This is worth a trip at night when the tower is all lit-up and the shining lights of Seoul make for a good view. To make it that little bit more fun, it’s good to take the cable car to and from the tower (and it’s also much easier than taking a bus to the top).

One thing about the tower: don’t be fooled by the pictures on the Namsan Tower website, which make the ‘N Terrace’ look like an elegant, romantic bar, because it really isn’t. Sure, it has some ‘couple sofas’ overlooking the city, but you are served your drink in a plastic beer cup and it’s usually too crowded to even get a seat. Nice, but not what the picture promises.

Trick Eye Museum

This museum is well worth a visit if you’re in the Hongdae area, and a good opportunity to take souvenir photos too. It’s good fun going around, although you have to get used to posing while having a queue of people watching you.

The highlight for me? The ice sculpture area. Although, seriously, it was absolutely freezing, especially as we were dressed in summer clothes at the time…

European Christmas Market

Ok, this was the biggest disappointment of anything in Seoul. When I hear the words ‘Christmas Market’ I think festive, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas music, you get the idea. Needless to say I was super excited to get into the Christmas spirit by going to this market. Unfortunately, it ended up being a small square of white tents, blaring loud (non-Christmas) music and so many people you could barely move.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for a couple of the stalls selling Christmas cards and advent calendars, I wouldn’t have known it was a Christmas market. It does have foods from other European countries, sure, but Christmas market? I wouldn’t call it that.

Seoul National Museum

If you want to feel cultured and learn more about Korea, this would be a good place to go.

It’s a beautiful building with nice surroundings. If you’re interested in history and culture, you could definitely spend half a day here. There are endless relics, paintings and statues to look at and get a good feel for the history of Korea.

My only negative? It feels in some ways more of a gallery than a museum; the majority of the museum is ‘don’t touch’ displays, without anything interactive to allow you to feel more involved.

Cat/ Dog Cafes

 Cat and Dog cafes are pretty much my favourite thing in Korea, and there are so many in Seoul, you don’t know where to start! You can spend hours easily amused playing with the animals, and it’s just the best thing ever!

For any animal lover these cafes are perfect. The best ones we have found are, ‘Cat’s Attic’ ‘Tom’s Cat Cafe’, and ‘Bau House Dog Cafe’. As I’ve said before, don’t wear your best clothes when you go to a dog one- I learnt this lesson the hard way after being dribbled on by an old bulldog for an hour. Nice…

Winter Ice Skating

The one highlight of freezing winter months? The opening of ice rinks in Seoul. We went to Seoul Square for ice skating, for the incredibly cheap price of 1000 won per hour, and it wasn’t even overly crowded, despite being a Saturday.

If you prefer a more sophisticated skate, there are places such as Grand Hyatt Ice Rink, where there are less children and it’s beautifully lit-up at night time. Of course the price is much more as you have to pay up to 40,000 won.

Whether you prefer cheap and cheerful or elegant and expensive, there will be somewhere to suit you. Endless hours of skating fun (and some bumps along the way).

Coreanos Mexican Restaurant

Ernesto Andrade, commons.wikimedia

The food here is simply incredible. The best Mexican food I’ve ever had, without doubt. Tacos, Burritos, Nachos, Fries, Tostadas,  all of it is just so good. The only danger you have (which we experienced) is ordering way too much, not being able to resist finishing the huge amount of food, and eating until you literally can’t move (and I mean literally- we had to sit in a subway station until we recovered).

There are two in Seoul- one in Apgujeong and the other in Itaewon. You just have to go and try it. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

 

Cooking Class

 This is not only the most fun thing I’ve done in Korea, but I’ve never felt more Korean than when learning how to cook Korean food!

We took a class with the Food and Culture Academy in Seoul, and it was so enjoyable. You can select what dishes you want to cook in advance (we chose Bulgogi and, of course my favourite, Bibimbap) and there is a huge variety of meals to choose from. Then you are taught to cook them with a chef, and at the end you can eat your food and are presented with a certificate.

It’s an experience which I’d highly recommend, especially for all you foodies out there. Don’t be put off if you’re not a whizz in the kitchen- I actually sliced my finger open within the first five minutes and had to be given a first aid kit, so don’t worry, you couldn’t embarrass yourself more than I did!

Hyehwa-dong

 This place was an unexpected delight; we stayed here for a night simply because it was convenient, but soon found out it was such a lovely area.

The buildings are almost European-looking, old fashioned and rustic. The streets are full of amazing bars, brunch places, cute little cafes and so many delicious-looking restaurants. We were so sad to only be staying one night.

All in all, it’s clear to see I’m a fan of Seoul and everything it has to offer. There is always something to visit, a new cafe or restaurant to try, a new area to explore. But what I’ve learnt about Seoul? That the best things aren’t necessarily those on the front page of a tourist website; yes, the 63 Building and Namsan Tower are nice to see, but they aren’t the best things to do in Seoul. 

I’d advise just going to different areas and wandering around the streets- by doing this, we’ve discovered some amazing and unique places. My favourite two areas in Seoul? Hongdae- cat cafes galore, an H & M, endless restaurants and of course, the best frozen yoghurt place in Seoul. And Hyehwa-dong- a place found totally by accident, but which is beautiful at night and different to the rest of the city. 

For now I’ll look forward to my next visit, dreaming about Coreanos and wishing there was one where I lived…


© KATHRYN GODFREY 

Kathryn's Living
KathrynsLiving.wordpress.com

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Korean Education: High Grades, High Pressure… Low Happiness?

Fri, 2014-10-03 06:55
Korean Education: High Grades, High Pressure… Low Happiness?

What is the point of school? To get good grades? To make friends and have fun? To teach you about life and help you to become independent? Well I think that all three things are important. Unfortunately in Korea, I have seen far too much emphasis placed on the first thing: to get good grades. Of course, it’s well known that some of the best academic results in the world come from South Korea, and Western schools could certainly learn a lesson or two from the Koreans about how to gain such success. But what the Korean Education system surely lacks is balance, and the realisation that sometimes, less is more.

Picture: qiyuan.youth.cn

Let’s have a look at an average student’s day: from 8.30 am until 4.30 pm they are in regular school (and have up to 8 classes per day with one hour for lunch). Then after school, they attend a ‘hagwon’ (a private school which 75% of students attend), which has classes until 9 or 10 pm. When do they do find time to do their homework (which is given by both regular schools and hagwons)? When they get home afterwards. The result: students overworked and falling asleep in class, stressed about their workload and therefore not working to their full potential.

“We’re too tired when we study in hagwons”.

“We’re too sleepy too study well”.

“Hagwon homework causes students lots of stress”.

These are things which my students wrote when asked what they think of the education system. Sure, children can go to school from 8 am to 10 pm every day, but is it beneficial if for the majority of that time they aren’t concentrating because they’re too tired or worried about the homework they haven’t had time to finish? Every day I have students falling asleep, or sneakily trying to complete their hagwon homework in my class. Quite often when I ask them what time they went to bed, the answer will be somewhere in the early hours of the morning. 

Even worse is when they have vacation and the majority of students simply go to summer/winter camp, spend extra time studying and still go to their hagwon every day. As a result they get no proper break during the school year. My standard response when I ask them what they did on their vacation? “Study”. And did they enjoy their vacation? “No”. I can honestly say that this is what 90% of my students say.

Picture: Occupy The Money System Facebook

More worrying than anything else though, is the ease with which students talk about stress, depression and suicide. I have known children as young as 7 years old talking about how depressed they are when they have tests, crying at how their parents will react to their scores and terrified at the prospect of a report card. According to Korea Real Time, a recent survey showed that half of South Korean teenagers had suicidal thoughts, and one in three called themselves depressed. (http://blogs.wsj.com/korearealtime/2014/03/20/poll-shows-half-of-korean-teenagers-have-suicidal-thoughts/)

Of course, on paper the education system is a success; Korea has continually high test scores and one of the highest percentages of teenagers who continue onto university. No one can dispute the merits of such a system, and it’s true that even the least-motivated and worst-behaved students study hard when it comes to their exams. But what they need is more balance, so that they are more focused and willing to work hard during the entire academic year. It’s true that students may benefit from a couple of extra lessons outside of school if they’re struggling in a specific subject, but going to hagwons for hours every night only makes them exhausted and stressed.

Something which confirms this to me is seeing the best students in our school. By ‘best’ I don’t just mean best in terms of exam scores, I mean the most active students, the happiest, the most engaged and enthusiastic in lessons. These students are invariably the ones who aren’t pushed into ridiculously long hours. Sure, they might go to a hagwon, but not every day and not for so many hours. The result? Brighter students who not only perform better in lessons, but enjoy school because they’re not too tired to focus.

“There is no time to do our hobbies”.

I mentioned before that what the system desperately needs is more balance, and my student’s complaint above reiterates this. Sure, it is important to work hard and achieve good grades, but it’s also important to have hobbies when you’re growing up. Whether it’s music, sports, reading, etc, children should be encouraged to live well-rounded lives. And most importantly, to have independence which sadly, the majority of students lack. Why? Because the focus of their teaching is entirely on getting good grades, being spoon fed to achieve a high score on the all-important mid term exams. Ask a student an academic question, you’ll get the answer in a heartbeat. Ask a student for their opinion and it’s much more difficult for them to give you an answer.

I don’t want to come across as completely against Korean education, because as I said at the start, it evidently has its benefits. I am impressed that students even make it through their 12 hour (or more) days. Even better, 99% of students, even if they don’t show it in class, openly acknowledge and appreciate the importance of school and a good education.

What I think needs to change is the attitude that exams are the be-all and end-all. Not all students are academically gifted, that is a fact not only in Korea but around the world, and those students should be encouraged to excel in other fields, not waste their time in a classroom feeling ever-more helpless and stressed.

Even more importantly, the students should be taught independent thinking; what’s the use of getting into a prestigious university if you can’t cope with looking after yourself and making your own decisions when you’re there?

So what’s the ideal? An education system which pushes you to do your best, of course. But be realistic; doing your best is not working for 12 hours a day with only 50% effort. Doing your best is working for half that time, but with 100% effort. And most importantly, as system in which children feel happy.

 


© KATHRYN GODFREY 

Kathryn's Living
KathrynsLiving.wordpress.com

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