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Last 2 Weeks: ISIS Teen, Middle Class Tax Hike, K Pick-up, & More

Wed, 2015-01-28 12:34
L2W: ISIS Teen, Middle Class Tax Hike, & More

 

1. National

1) A Korean teenager joins ISISPolice concluded that a Korean teenager surnamed Kim missing since Jan 10 in Turkey voluntarily went to Syria to join ISIS. Using Mujahideen as his alias, the 18 year old boy inquired on Twitter about joining the terrorist group in Oct last year, and wrote in his Facebook “I want join Islamic state. I want leaving my country and families just want to get a new life.”  Kim had trouble in mixing with friends, and quit his middle school a few years ago. It is the first time a Korean joined ISIS.   If Kim intends to stay in Syria, all Koreans are praying Kim better work as an ISIS cook or a nurse, instead of showing up in black in video with a couple of orange cloth hostages next to him.  2) Anger mounts over tax hike in middle classThe middle class are fuming at the new tax law revised last year that turned out to take lots of money from their pocket in tax return, turning the usual “13th month salary” into a tiny pocket money. People got more upset as the government gave assurance the middle class would be untouched when it proposed the new law that is very complicated to explain with a few sentences. The Finance Minister had to make an apology, and President Park’s approval rate keeps falling from nearly 70% last April to 35% last week.    President Park promised more welfare without tax increase during the 2012 presidential campaign, much like Reagan’s “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Voters had to know there is no hot ice cream, and politicians tend to keep two tongues in one mouth.    2. Economy1) Hyundai Motor sells more, earns lessIn an investor conference call, Hyundai Motor reported its lowest annual operating profit in four years at 7.55 trillion won ($6.95B), despite 4.8% increase in global sales. It sold 4.96 million vehicles, a 4.8% up from 4.73 million units in 2013, making 89.25 trillion in revenue, up 2.2% over 87.3 trillion won in 2013. Hyundai said the drop in profit was mainly due to falling won-dollar exchange rate, and the declining currency value in other nations like Russia. Hyundai also announced two groundbreakings in China in 2015, one in Hebei and the other in Chongqing.  To please its disgruntled investors over land purchase, Hyundai said it will raise the current 1,950 won dividend per share to 3,000 won, a whopping 54% increase, automatically triggering my wife, a Hyundai stock owner since 1999, to thumb through Louis Vuitton catalogues. 3. Automotive 1) Ssangyong Motor launches new SUVSsangyong picked a small Italian town Tivoli as the name for its new small SUV. Tivoli is Ssangyong’s first new model since it went belly up in 2009. Tivoli has 1.6L engine with126 HP and 12.3 km/L Since taking pre-order on Dec 22, it has received 5,000 orders until now, with two months waiting line, expecting to sell 38,500 Tivoli models in 2015.     Lee Yoo-il, CEO of Ssangyong, made a surprise announcement he will retire in March. Ex-Hyundai, Lee was hired in 2009 when the company was in court receivership, turning the company around in six years. Mr. Lee was the head of Hyundai Canada in Toronto in early 90’s while I was a tail in Bromont Plant in Quebec. Well, sorry, I have never met Mr. Lee.  2) Hyundai shows off its pick-up truckHyundai displayed its concept pick-up truck Santacruz (HCD-15) at Detroit Auto Show. Santacruz is powered by 190HP 2/0L turbo diesel engine and features 4WD H-Trac system. Though Hyundai said they have no plan for its mass production, auto analysts believe Hyundai will eventually as a breakthrough to increase market share in North America.     Hyundai once produced pick-up truck, a tiny 1.6L gas engine variation from its Pony passenger car, Hyundai’s first own design model. Launched in 1976, the last Pony was produced at Ulsan plant in Jan 1990. Ex and current Hyundai employees can be divided into two groups; before Pony and after Pony. Old folks if you saw pony production in Ulsan, young chick if you didn’t. I am an old fart while Mr. Lee at Ssangyong is a Cro-Magnon. Regards,H.S. 
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Useful Or Not? Foreign English Teachers In Korea

Wed, 2015-01-28 05:20
Useful Or Not? Foreign English Teachers In Korea

 

 

During the last few years, the number of jobs available for foreign English teachers in Korean public schools has significantly decreased. According to an article on The Korean Observer, the number of foreign teachers has dropped from over 9,000 to 6,785 in three years. Meanwhile jobs at hagwons are becoming more competitive between foreigners. The question is whether these cuts are beneficial, or detrimental, for Korean students.

I currently work at a public middle school, but one which is recognised throughout Korea as having an impressive English programme; parents pay fees specifically for foreigners to teach their children. Needless to say foreign teachers are important to the school and their lessons are an important part of students’ timetables. And I think having such a system which incorporates foreign teachers is invaluable.
There are a number of reasons why. Firstly, because Korean teachers can focus too much upon English grammar, rather than speaking and writing, so that their students can perform well on tests. I recently read this article on Korea Times, which states that 7 out of 10 middle/high school students are unsatisfied with their English lessons because they’re too ‘test-orientated.’ Of course it’s important for students to score well, but it’s also essential that they can hold a good conversation and write well in English. As such, lessons with foreign teachers, held entirely in English, can greatly help to improve conversational skills.
Secondly, there are some mistakes which Korean teachers make, or don’t pick up on when their students make them. The Korea Times article mentions that some Korean teachers don’t have the English ability to teach well enough; they aren’t re-trained and don’t have their English skills evaluated properly. And while I’m not implying that Korean-English teachers are incompetent, there are errors made, even if they’re tiny ones. Errors that perhaps only native English speakers pick up on and correct. Here are some example of mistakes I hear daily from students (and teachers):

  • The use of stressed/ stressful/ stress: “I feel very stressful” “Homework is very stressed”
  • The word ‘funny’ instead of ‘fun': “Skiing is very funny” “My vacation was very funny”
  • The word ‘comfortable’ instead of ‘convenient': “My smart phone is very comfortable”
  • Pronunciation to add ‘ee’ sound on the end of words: “Finishee” “Changee”
  • The word ‘until’ being used instead of ‘at': “Until 3 pm, you can go home”

Mistakes like these may not stop someone understanding the speaker (apart from the use of the word ‘until’, which has confused me numerous times), but they prevent even the smartest students from speaking perfectly. And for this reason, having a foreign teacher to correct mistakes is extremely beneficial.

Understanding different accents is also important; American/ Canadian teachers are the most popular in Korea, because their accents are easier to understand. As I’m English, the problem with my accent came up when I was interviewed for jobs, and I didn’t think it would be a problem at all when teaching, but I was wrong. Time and time again, students and Korean friends have found my accent difficult to understand. Similarly South African accents, Australian, New Zealand, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh. But it’s important that Koreans can understand English speakers with different accents; what’s the point in speaking English fluently if you travel to Britain but can’t understand anyone? Or if you only understand the Korean-English accent of a Korean teacher.

There are numerous positives of having foreign teachers in public schools. However, there are ways in which I’d agree things can be improved. Mainly, the fact that English lessons taught by foreigners can be seen by students as somewhat of a ‘novelty’ and aren’t taken as seriously as other classes. In my case, foreign teachers aren’t involved in English exams, we give no homework and as for discipline, we don’t have much authority: we can’t speak to parents ourselves, and we don’t have the same respect as the Korean teachers, so any stern-words aren’t taken too seriously.

Moreover, despite the fact that parents pay a lot of money for us to teach their children, we’re constantly told to ‘play games’ and ‘keep the children happy’ rather than have a strict academic lesson. Of course it’s important to have fun, but if foreign teachers taught in the same way as Korean teachers, having tests, giving out homework, and keeping the focus on structured learning, students could learn more.

A number of South Korea students go abroad to study English.

Given the benefits, it would be detrimental to students to further decrease the number of foreign teachers. There may still be native English speakers working in hagwons, but not all students attend hagwons, and so some will miss out on valuable teaching. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the most fluent students are those who have travelled to English-speaking countries to learn the language: this alone proves how useful time spent with native-English speakers can help English ability.

No matter how good a Korean-English teacher may be, it’s a bonus for students to interact with, and be taught by, foreigners, and I hope that ten years from now, there’ll still be foreign teachers in Korean public schools.

© KATHRYN GODFREY 

Kathryn's Living
KathrynsLiving.wordpress.com

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Korea’s 400-year-old Andong Hahoe village

Tue, 2015-01-27 08:59
Korea’s 400-year-old Andong Hahoe village

The Andong Hahoe (pronounced ha-hwe) village is known for its traditional mask dance, which you can read about here.

But it’s also a really special part of Korea where the traditional homes have been preserved for up to 400 years. That makes it the perfect setting for historical dramas like Arang and the Magistrate (starring Lee Joon-ki and Shin Min-ah).

If you can get up the cliff across the river, you can get a great birds-eye-view of the Hahoe village. There is supposed to be a ferryman who will take you across, but he was not around when I visited, so I had to hike for an hour to get around and across via a pedestrian bridge. Thankfully, I managed to hitchhike back to the bus terminal. Seoul and Busan are both several hours away by bus.

Hahoe village is pretty small and worth about half a day to visit, although it is also possible to book accomodation there. But with fairly large numbers of tourists passing through daily, it wouldn’t be my recommendation for a ‘quiet getaway in the countryside’. Try Gyeongju or Yeosu instead, as they are much more sprawling and more peaceful.

I maintain this site as a hobby and have personally verified or experienced most of the information posted here. However, prices and conditions may have changed since my last visit. Please double check with other sources such as official tourist hotlines to avoid disappointment. If you’d like to contribute an update or additional useful information for other travelers, please comment below!
Prices provided in Korean won or US dollars.

Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

Monoculture?

Fri, 2015-01-23 06:04
Monoculture?

This post started life months ago as the third in a series about clashing cultural norms. After more time in Korea and (hopefully) more understanding on my part, it turned into something a bit different…you can read where it all started here.

Here are some criticisms of the UK according to other Europeans:

1. Opaque communications: Our morbid fear of conflict makes our language indirect and gives us a reputation, amongst our continental counterparts, for being dishonest and sneaky. The rest of the English-speaking world, too, complains of the bafflingly high incidence of coded language in British English. For those new to this phenomenon, this handy chart should help:

2. Drinking culture Whereas in most European countries public drunkenness is seen as embarrassing, in the UK it is a bona fide bonding ritual. This tends to be linked to the point above: as noted by our cousins across the Channel we frequently need to be off our faces to lose the fear associated with saying what we actually think – a prerequisite for getting closer to anybody. This means that many British people would be aghast at the prospect of a non-alcoholic social event and, perhaps more interestingly, that bad behaviour when drunk is indulged to a much greater degree than elsewhere. British people tend to excuse almost anything (with a heavy dose of piss-taking) on the grounds that the person was drunk at the time.

3. The class system. This is one of those things that only really hits you when you are outside it, and surrounded by people who find it utterly bonkers and unfathomable. Class permeates every aspect of our communication and lifestyle, from our accent to our choice of groceries to the pubs we drink in.

These issues are uncannily similar to those Brits tend to cite as problematic in Korea. The internet groans with blogs and articles aimed at those making the move here, citing indirect communication styles, an extreme drinking culture and a rigid, unfathomable and outdated social hierarchy. You’d think we’d be at an advantage. So what makes the move so hard? The answer, for many, is Korea’s perceived monoculture which is often seen as the direct opposite of British multiculturalism (‘culture’ here refers both to race and ethnicity, and to culture in the sense of rules governing social interaction).

One of the biggest turnarounds in my own thinking has come from questioning this direct opposition, which is often taken as read by Koreans and Brits both. Whilst there are broad and generalised truths behind it, I’ve felt increasingly that it often comes from a place of privilege which has at times  obscured my empathy with and understanding of Korean culture and people. I want to talk a little more about this over the next couple of posts.

Korean Identity: Popular Wisdom

Korean identity can seem to be shaped largely by ethnicity. The population is around 96% ethnically Korean and children are taught from an early age (with a pride that many Westerners find disconcerting) that Korea is ‘ethnically homogenous’ with a ‘pure bloodline.’ This marginally Malfoy-esque discourse contains both holes and justifications, which I’ll explore in the next post. Nationalism – particularly defined in opposition to Japan – is strongly and frequently expressed while racism, particularly towards Black and South Asian people, is a real issue (see here and here). The attitude to Caucasians is more nuanced, resulting from concurrent feelings of inferiority and resentment – again, I’ll look at these in more detail in the next post.

If the criteria for Korean identity seem stringent, the same can be said of those for social acceptance. Here, there is one way to be beautiful (white skin, thin, small face, big eyes, V-shaped jaw) and one way to be successful (top university, big company, car, house, marriage). Even clothes shops are often ‘one size fits all’, underscoring the idea that if you do not fit that size it is your responsibility to make it happen – why should extra clothes be made for the minority? At school, I notice that ‘tribes’ – the Trendies, Goths, Skaters, Geeks and Townies of my youth – do not exist: all my students dress in much the same way and seem to decide by mutual, unspoken consensus that one jacket , T-shirt or pair of trousers is this week’s must-wear item. Tellingly, they informed me that if they do not conform to such trends it is seen as ‘dangerous’: they are choosing to set themselves apart from the group, upsetting its harmony. My partner and one of my students – raised in New Zealand and the USA respectively – arouse suspicion and resentment because, though they fulfil the ‘ethnically Korean’ criterion, they do not follow the expected rules of dress and beauty, and speak ‘unusual’ Korean. These behaviours are seen to disturb a group harmony which often seems more like group homogeneity and which runs through all aspects of Korean life. It results in things like my student being referred to as ‘America’ by her teachers, and refused help with Korean language and history on the grounds that she ‘should know’, or my partner being told he doesn’t walk ‘in a Korean enough way.’ Foreigners, meanwhile, have a much easier ride but nevertheless occupy a strange place in this setup. At once expected to be a contributing part of the group, we are simultaneously seen as removed from it; reminded of our otherness in ways that can create tension, as when I was told it was fine for me to go to the funeral in a sundress, because ‘you’re not Korean’

British Identity: Popular Wisdom

Back in 2012 as a shell-shocked new arrival in China, I wrote a post in which I described London with pride as a ‘melting-pot of races, languages and cultures.’ This points to my British education which, far from the ‘pure bloodline’ rhetoric Korean children hear, instilled in us the idea of our nation as a happy soup of different racial and ethnic ingredients blended together by a shared British identity. British people will often cite this ‘melting pot’ as the reason why ‘Britishness’ cannot be defined by race or ethnicity. There are other aspects of British life, however, which make defining our identity in concrete terms a tricky prospect. Not least of these is social class: the call made last year by ex-Education Secretary and all-round twerp Michael Gove to include ‘British Values’ in the school curriculum prompted outrage precisely because we remain unsure as to what the term ‘British Values’ actually means. In one of my favourite articles of 2014, Owen Jones said here that this was because there are two histories of Britain: the history told by the ruling classes and that told by those who struggle against them. You could say, though, that there are many more than Jones’ two histories; that we are really a country of tribes, any number of which we may subscribe to at any one point. We may come under pressure to conform, but to what exactly, and to what extent, depends on a number of factors including race, ethnicity, social class, political beliefs, career, and membership of various subcultures. All these provide different influences to which we refer when constructing our identities. The fact that we ‘construct our identities’ at all shows how much we are at odds with the Korean model, in which your expected identity is already prescribed and your role is to fulfill it regardless of personal inclinations. Contrary to ideas of group harmony, our rule of thumb for smooth social interactions tends to be that as long as a person’s actions do not have a negative impact on us personally it is none of our business how they carry on.

Questions and confrontations

Far from home, confused and struggling to navigate the murky waters of Korean life, we are prone to setting up simplistic oppositions between the two sets of identities outlined above in order to make sense of ourselves and our surroundings. Add to this the frustration or bewilderment with Korea that makes us biased in favour of home, and it’s easy to end up with the idea that Korean culture and identity are fixed, unchanging and exclusionary whereas ours are diverse, fluid and inclusive. Although I could see exceptions to both sides, when I started to pick apart the received wisdom and my own uninterrogated views I realised that this was probably the party line to which I defaulted. As someone who liked to think of herself as open-minded with a good grasp of her own privilege this was a slightly painful realisation, but I’m happy to have made it. The results were these:

On the UK

The very term ‘melting pot’ that I was so quick to chuck around in my China post is itself the preserve of white privilege: if you are not white British, is the ‘British identity’ that melts us all together really any more than a colonising force of assimilation? This assimilation extends to our conceptions of beauty, which may seem initially to be more varied and permissive than Korea’s,  but which each subscribe to a Euro-centric and largely unattainable ideal. When it comes to notions of success, in our academic and professional lives we and our children are being pushed more and more towards an aggressively capitalist, individualistic ideal, the top ranks of which are almost exclusively white (and male, and upper-class – but more of that another time). The ‘diversity’ of which we are so proud is often used euphemistically in our own culture(‘Peckham is so…diverse!’) or to describe an ideal we are far from having achieved: as most recently evidenced by new draconian immigration laws and the rise of the Right in the UK, our society is far from the enlightened, equal and meritocratic ideal that our eyes sometimes see, especially if those eyes are homesick and Caucasian.

On Korea

Outside of a couple of novels and history books, the vast majority of reading about Korean culture and identity that I had been exposed to was written by or for foreigners sharing stories and advice about living in Korea. Most of the writers were white. My own blog fits this description, and whilst I hope it’s enjoyable what it won’t tell you is anything about Korean culture or identity from a Korean perspective. To mitigate this, in the next post I want to share some Korean perspectives on national identity, and to explore a little more about how challenging white privilege can change our perceptions of cultural difference.

GoEastMyChild.Tumblr.com
Wanderings and Ramblings of an ESL teacher currently based in a tiny mountain town near the North Korean border.

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Now and Then: Beopjusa Temple

Wed, 2015-01-21 02:18
Now and Then: Beopjusa Temple

Beopjusa Temple in the early 20th century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Beopjusa Temple was first established in 553 A.D. by the monk Uisin. The name of the temple means “The Place Where the Dharma Resides Temple,” in English. The reason that the temple was named Beopjusa Temple is that Uisin brought back a number of Indian sutras from his travels that he wanted to house at the temple.

During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), Beopjusa Temple housed as many as 3,000 monks. At one point in the 1100’s, over 30,000 monks gathered at Beopjusa Temple to pray for the dying national priest, Uicheon. Beopjusa Temple remained an important part of Buddhism throughout Korea during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910); however, the temple shrank in size as state support for Buddhism nearly disappeared in Confucian led ideology at this point in Korean history. It’s believed that King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, retired to a spot near Beopjusa Temple after tiring from all of his sons’ fighting. Like most other temples in Korea, Beopjusa Temple suffered from extensive damage at the hands of the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). A majority of the buildings at the temple were restored in 1624, including the famed Palsang-jeon wooden pagoda.

The temple is beautifully located in Songnisan National Park in Boeun County, Chungcheongbuk-do. In the 1960s, the temple underwent extensive repairs and refurbishment. In 1988 the massive bronze statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) that stands at 33 metres in height replaced the twenty year old cement statue that resided at the temple. Most recently, Beopjusa Temple participates in the highly popular Temple Stay Program that’s conducted in English. In total, the temple houses three national treasures and twelve additional treasures. Of the three national treasures, the five-story wooden pagoda is National Treasure #55.

The Iljumun Gate at Beopjusa Temple.

The famous Palsang-jeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple.

A farmer to the side of the temple.

Beopjusa Temple during the 1960s.

Today, what the Iljumun Gate looks like.

The Beopjusa Temple courtyard.

With a closer look at the Palsang-jeon wooden pagoda.

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

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Colouring in the Favelas of Busan

Mon, 2015-01-19 20:35
Colouring in the Favelas of Busan

The past six decades have absolutely transmogrified South Korea from poorest nation on Earth to one of great opulence and wealth. Busan has benefited mightily from the country’s change in fortunes, but like cities the world over, booming Busan has its fair share of poor neighbourhoods. Pushed out to the margins of the city, these hidden districts face a similar situation to the famous favelas(shantytowns) of Brazil. With rising costs of city living, it seems that Busan’s incoming tourist and business dollars are forever out of reach for these communities. But a few of these rustic areas are using colourful street art in hopes of attracting visitors.

Anchang Street

A Colorful Favela

Taeguk Village (태국마을) (also known as Gamcheon Cultural Village) is one such suburb on the breadline. In the early stages of the Korean War, Busan became the last bastion of hope and a beacon for those still loyal to the UN-backed government. Taeguk Village was hastily constructed as a temporary refugee camp for the thousands of displaced peoples holding out against the North. With the ceasefire effectively ending the war in1953,Busan gradually evolved into the dynamic megalopolis it is today, yet progress in the camp-like Taeguk Village remained slow.

Oi, you! If you wanna see what Taeguk Village actually looks like, then click here! All these photos are from Anchang Village

The pukatronic bus to Anchang Village

Monkeyboy was here

In 2009, Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism designated Taeguk Village as host to its “Art Village Project”. Street art virtuosos commissioned by the project moved in and transformed the rustic village into something of a living art gallery. The theme stuck and the town has since added more works to its oeuvre, as well as a light sprinkling of restaurants and cafés.

Seeing how Busan surrounds Taeguk on all sides, the descriptive word “village”, at least in Western terms, is a bit of a misnomer. Wording aside, though, Taeguk certainly does give off the small-village vibe thanks to the relaxed pace of life, winding paths, congested houses and nonchalant cats. In contrast to the chrome skyscrapers back in the city, Taeguk Village is awash with bright colors, narrow pathways, curious statues, magnificent graffiti and interactive exhibitions in previously empty homes. To aid you in discovering all of the village’s artsy secrets, grab a trusty village map, which can be picked up at the visitor center near the bus stop or at any of the nearby cafés and shops. Stamping the back of your map at all seven miniature galleries scores you a nifty little postcard when presented to the observatory atop the hill. Or just follow the tropical fish… that’ll make sense when you get there!

In the words of its own tourist paraphernalia, Taeguk Village “has opted for preservation and rejuvenation, rather than redevelopment, using its resources to enrich the cultural content [it possesses].” “Its resources” are, namely, the beautiful view of the sea from atop the hill, the tranquil atmosphere within, the friendly faces of the locals and the feeling of having escaped the city despite being engulfed by it.

Paint by numbers 

Anchang Village (안창마을), another hillside suburb of Busan, has tried emulating the success of Taeguk. It too has allowed artists to come in and color-in its walls, but the village is very much off the beaten track and far less developed for tourists.

However, Anchang Village is way off the usual tourist trail, and is therefore much earlier in its development. Despite this, a growing number of day-trippers do venture to these parts.

Most of the town’s murals are clustered around the bus stop and to be honest, there aren’t that many to see. However, picking a random direction and getting lost in the vibrant, serpentine alleys is the best way to visit. A multitude of wires criss-cross above homes and most doorways are adorned with little pieces of handicraft. The Busan vista viewed from atop of the hillside is definitely something to behold.

Be Considerate

The popularity of Taeguk Village seems to have helped rejuvenate the town as the cafes, restaurants and tourist facilities have spurred some much-needed development. However, it remains to be seen whether Anchang Village has benefitted at all. Remember that both villages are filled with actual homes, so please respect the residents’ property and be mindful of what you photograph.

Directions

To Taeguk Village: From exit 8 at Toseong Station (orange Line 1), follow the street around the corner to the right. In front of the Busan Cancer Center, catch bus 2-2 to Gamcheon Elementary School.

To Anchang: Take the No. 1 mini bus from exit 5 of Bomil Station on the orange Line 1. Get off at the last stop.

A note from the Editor-in-Chimp: This post was originally written for 10 Magazine. You can check it out here on their website if you like

The post Colouring in the Favelas of Busan appeared first on Monkeyboy Goes.


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Looking Back on What Predictions for East Asia 2014 I got Wrong…and a little Right

Mon, 2015-01-19 17:47
Looking Back on What Predictions for East Asia 2014 I got Wrong…and a

I have always liked these end of the year prediction check-ups, and new year prediction-making exercises. It’s fun, but it also is an important check on irresponsibility in our punditry. Month after month we say this or that is important, or this or that will happen. But later when the current we thought was important turns out not to be, or the ‘revolutionary’ leader we thought would ‘change everything’ turns out to be a bust, we conveniently forget about that and say some other trend is actually what really matters.

This is intellectually pretty shoddy but understandable. No one likes to admit they are wrong. But identifying why causal mechanisms we thought important actually weren’t, is an important way for us to improve our thinking and explain ourselves to readers. The alternative is those neocons who got Iraq really, really wrong, but still come back on TV unchastened. Bleh.

So here is a run-down of the big things I got wrong in 2014 in Asia. In brief, I overestimated the importance of the Sewol in driving reform in Korea, and the depth of the freeze between North Korea and China; I underestimated the importance of the UN report on North Korean human rights, and China’s efforts to build parallel institutions in Asia particularly. This was originally posted at the Lowy Institute last week:

 

 

January should be called pundit accountability month. On websites such as this, we make all sorts of predictions and forecasts, or we identify structural trends or leadership changes as critical, and so on. The temptation to choose our ideologically preferred our independent variables, or otherwise retrospectively curve-fit, is strong. So occasionally we should look back at where we blew it and why.

So here are some areas of East Asian security (mostly) where I misread the 2014 trends:

1. Over-rating the Importance of the Sewol ferry sinking in South Korea

This was probably my biggest miscall. On April 16, 2014, the South Korean passenger ferry Sewol foundered off the southwest coast. Almost 300 people died, including many high school students who, horrifically, were told to wait in the ship as it sank. Some are still missing; divers perished in the rescue efforts; and the vice principal of the school from which the young victims came later committed suicide. It was a hugely emotional national catastrophe that rocked the country for months.

Inevitably the crisis turned political, as the corruption that so bedevils Korean industry and regulation, came to light. The ferry had been significantly overloaded and poorly staffed. The response was confused and slow. President Park Geun Hye was accused of indifference. The criticism reached such a crescendo that conservative defenders of the administration started accusing presidential critics of being North Korean sympathizers – a standard mccarthyite fall-back of the South Korean right when it is in major trouble.

At the time, I thought this would finally be the breakthrough needed to crack down on the crony corporatism that so mars the Korean economy. I argued both here and at Newsweek that this was an inflection moment. The victims’ parents and national commentators even began calling for Park to resign. And in three election cycles in 2014, the opposition ran on the catastrophe relentlessly.

Yet to no avail amazingly. The opposition was repeatedly trounced. The regulatory reforms announced by the Park administration are weak, with much organogram reshuffling, but no serious crackdown on the business and regulatory looking-the-other-way which caused the sinking. I must admit to still being baffled (and disappointed) by how quickly this seemed to fade away. My best explanation of the reform drive’s failure is that the country’s conglomerate (chaebol) elites are even more deeply tied to the Korean political class, especially conservatives, than we thought. Awful.

 

2. Underrating the Importance of the UN Human Rights Report on North Korea

Here is a topic I am happy to be incorrect about. At the time of the Commission of Inquiry’s (COI) report, I argued here that it would not mean much, that we had seen it all before, we all knew already that North Korea was the worst place on earth, and so on. And indeed, for North Korea watchers, the report’s findings were anticipated. There has been a robust defector literature for more than a decade now that has given us a direct and terrifying inside look at North Korea (start here). Perhaps the biggest splash at the time was the COI’s open willingness to compare the North’s gulag system to the Nazi concentration camps.

Happily, my we’ve-heard-this-all-before dismissal was too cynical. In the UN, the report has galvanized an effort to refer Pyongyang, specifically Kim Jong Un, to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Wow. Who would have thought that possible just a year ago? What great progress!

I think my flaw in April was assuming that other countries accepted the information hitherto available. But much of that information came from US and South Korean sources – NGOs, defectors, the governments themselves. For many in the global South, these are apparently highly unreliable sources. The US, especially post-Iraq, is apparently so distrusted, that no one wants to hear yet more US carping about the axis of evil, and South Korea, as a US ally, is assumed to be trafficking in its propaganda. But for many Southern states and LDCs, the UN has unrivalled legitimacy. It is sympathetic to their concerns and treats them more equitably than traditional power politics would suggest. So when the UN told them North Korea was awful, they finally believed it. This is nice example of the legitimacy costs America suffers by ignoring global rules.

3. Underrating China’s Efforts at Building Parallel International Institutions

China’s effort to slowly counter US global hegemony branched into a new area in 2014 – countering US domination of international organizations with its own Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and BRICS Bank. The former appears to challenge the Asian Development Bank and the latter, the World Bank. The next logical step would be an IMF counter, perhaps in a revitalized Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI).

International relations theory actually strongly predicts this sort of behavior. Dominant states are expected to be uncomfortable ceding power and privilege to rising challengers, as the US Congress has indeed been unwilling to countenance IMF and World Bank reform to more properly include China. So new powers may then seek to build their systems.

My skepticism of Chinese efforts here was rooted in the clear failure of the USSR’s parallel structures in the past, and the continuing failure of international organizations in Asia, including CMI, today. Indeed, I was so dismissive that I did not even mention these efforts in my 2014 writing. But recall how badly served the east bloc was by Comecon, or how no Asian state bothered with the CMI when the Great Recession hit. They all scrambled for accords with the US Treasury.

Nevertheless, China seems to be genuinely pushing ahead with this. 2015 could be an important year here if China can get one of Asia’s big democracies (South Korea, Indonesia, Australia) to join the AIIB (but Japan never will). Or if China can build a real parallel to the IMF. I am very skeptical of that, but it is something to watch. The Chinese are quite good at the long game.

4. Who Thought the Sino-North Korean Fallout would get so Bad?

Here is another one I am happy to have been wrong about. But I do not think anyone else saw this coming either. The standard line is that China sees North Korea as a useful buffer against South Korea, Japan, and the US, while North Korea cannot survive without subsidization, so it must eventually placate Beijing. For myself, I still believe that is broadly correct, so I anticipate that North Korea will come around this year. I do not think a permanent Sino-North Korean breach is at hand.

Yet in 2014, South Korean President Park seems to have done a masterful job schmoozing Chinese President Xi Jinping, a gift that eluded Korea’s previous presidents. Park is sometimes accused of ‘sinophilia,’ but I find this a foolish charge. South Korea lives right next door to enormous China, and trying to get along with Beijing is smart politics. Similarly, China holds the key to North Korea because of its economic support, toleration for sanctions-running, and cover at international institutions, like its anticipated ICC veto (point 2 above). If the South is really serious about unification, then wooing China away from North Korea is a necessity. Let’s hope it holds through this year, but I am skeptical.

Bonus: What did I get right?

Not much interesting unfortunately. It is far less interesting to claim credit for prescience, but I broadly think I got the continuing freeze between Japan and South Korea correct, as well as Xi’s tough external nationalism.

The longer I live in Asia, the more deeply skeptical I become that a Japan-Korea rapprochement is possible without a major shift in Japanese conservative politics. This will not happen barring some unforeseen crisis, and Korea will not budge an inch, as Japan’s colonial misdeeds are now central to South Korea’s political identity formation. This is an easy prediction for the future too.

Near the end of his tenure, Wen Jiabao said several times that China need significant reform, but it was not hard to imagine that his successors would choose the easier route of status quo party-led developmentalism at home and tough nationalism abroad. And so they have…


Filed under: Asia, China, Korea (North), Korea (South), Predictions

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

 

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My Top 5 List for 2104: 5 Biggest Foreign Policy Events in Korea

Mon, 2015-01-12 17:36
My Top 5 List for 2104: 5 Biggest Foreign Policy Events in Korea

This is a follow-up to my previous post – a top 5 list of events for US power in Asia in 2014.

South Korea had a good year. President Park’s cozying up to Beijing is starting to pay off. China-North Korea relations are frosty, which is important progress. Seoul also got OPCON delayed indefinitely, which is great for Southern security, as well as its defense budget (but not so great for the US). And the UN report on North Korea human rights has gotten a lot of traction – way more than I thought – and looks increasingly likely to show-up China and Russia for what they really are out here – shameless, cold-blooded supporters of the worst regime on earth. The more that point is made in public and Moscow and Beijing suffer the embarrassment costs of that support, the better.

The full post comes after the jump; it was originally written for the Lowy Institute:

The end of the year is a nice time to reflect on big events and try to prioritize them. This is often seen as a fool’s errand. There are so many events, and weighing their causal significance, in real time particularly, seems impossible. Still, assigning causal weight is what we are supposed to do in social science; it is what makes us different from pundits who just assign causality to their favorite arguments. So even if our judgments are poor, we still have to try.

What that in mind, here are the top five foreign policy events for Korea (where I live and work) for 2014. The relevant benchmark is security – those events which impact the security of the two Koreas, specifically those which impact their competition and move the debate about North Korean collapse and/or unification. All in all, South Korea had a pretty good year, while North Korea struggled. Indeed, North Korea is now so isolated (points 1 and 5 below), that denuclearization is becoming ever more unlikely: to give up its best deterrence against a hostile region would be folly. Anyway, here’s that list:

1. Improving Xi-Park Relations, and the Mini-Freeze between Beijing and Pyongyang

There’s a lot nattering about the good relationship between South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Pro-American South Korean conservatives have accused her of being a sinophile and preferring Xi to Obama.

I must admit that I have never understood this criticism. I suppose very partisan Americans might see Park’s supposed ‘sinophilia’ as a threat to the alliance. But that is pretty myopic. The whole point of the alliance is to control, if not eventual dispose of, North Korea. And this is precisely what Park is trying to wrangle from Xi. China more than anyone now holds the key to North Korea. It pays its bills, allows massive sanctions-busting along the border, provides it political cover at the UN and elsewhere (point 5 below), and so on. North Korea has no other meaningful allies to carry its costs. So if Park can slowly pull Xi away from Pyongyang, that is a huge achievement. We should all be cheering for this and the distance it has already created between North Korea and China.

2. Kim Jong Un’s Disappearance

Ah, wasn’t the autumn fun? For six weeks you could indulge all your paranoid fantasies and conspiracy theories about North Korea, and by mid-October, Kim Jong-Un’s disappearance was so lengthy that saying nutball stuff like, he was overthrown in a coup and that his sister had taken over the country, was actually credible.

Too bad none of the fun was true. But we did learn some things few of us want to admit, the most important being that the regime can fly on autopilot for away. There may be a neo-patrimonial sun-king cult at the top, but there are also institutions below – however deformed, neofeudal, or mafiaosi. And they did a pretty good job holding the DPRK together during Kim Jong-Il’s sudden illness (fall 2008), after Kim Jong-Il’s sudden death (December 2011), and again this time. So don’t get too excited for regime collapse next time some high figure dies suddenly or is purged.

3. Decision to Permanently Delay OPCON Transfer

This probably the most under-reported of all my points in this list, given how dull and bureaucratic it is. I wrote on this last month for Lowy. OPCON is the ‘operational control’ of the South Korean military in wartime. OPCON is currently in the hands of a US four-star general, in order to insure unity of command during a war. (In peacetime, i.e., right now, OPCON belongs to the South Koreans naturally.)

Needless to say, this is controversial. Many South Koreans, especially on the left, see US OPCON as an infringement on South Korean sovereignty (it is) and a major provocation to North Korea (it isn’t). So under South Korea’s most recent liberal president last decade, an agreement was struck to return OPCON to the Seoul. But the Southern right strongly opposed this as (correctly) reducing the American sense of commitment to South Korean defense. After conservatives re-won the presidency, OPCON was repeatedly delayed until last month, the delay was effectively made permanent by pushing the issue to the 2020s. In other words, the US commitment here will indefinitely remain as it has been.

4. The Kono Statement Pseudo-Review

2014 was another bad year for rapprochement between Japan and Korea. The low point was probably Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to revisit Japan’s apology for the sexual enslavement of Korean women (the ‘comfort women’) during the Pacific War. This apology, known as the Kono Statement, was examined for politicization, and Abe indeed found what he wanted – that Seoul pressured Tokyo over the crafting of the statement. But then Abe decided not to alter the statement.

I must admit that I don’t understand this at all and said so for Lowy at the time. What is the point of running a ‘review’ – which everyone knew would be politicized and give Abe what he wanted – but then not changing the statement in response? Abe thus got the worst of both worlds: He convinced the South Koreans once again that the Japanese right is unrepentant about wartime atrocities, while simultaneously inflaming and the disappointing Japanese conservatives who want to dump the Kono Statement altogether. This outcome makes everything worse – Seoul and Tokyo are as far apart as ever, while Japanese conservatives’ revanchism has now spread into government. Yikes.

5. The UN Commission of Inquiry Report on North Korean Human Rights

Early this year, the UN told everybody what everybody already knew: that North Korean gulags are on par with the Nazi Holocaust. But this has turned out to be a pretty big deal, bigger I think than most of us thought when it was released. The COI report has acquired a credibility globally that no amount of reports from the US government or NGOs could, and now there is discussion of sending the North Korean leadership before the International Criminal Court. I think this report broke through, because many less developed states intrinsically distrust US human rights pronouncements as either self-serving, hypocritical (post-Abu Ghraib), or ‘human rights imperialism.’ But the UN is trusted in much of the global South, because it is far more open to their concerns. So a UN report on North Korea is turning out to have far more weight in moving global public opinion than anyone thought.

Happily, China may be forced into publicly voting to prevent a referral of North Korea to the ICC. That would be a huge victory, as it would starkly reveal to the world just how much China protects its hideous, orwellian client. And such embarrassing publicity is probably the best way to pull China from North Korea.

BONUS: ‘Events’ that weren’t:

6. The Curious Lack of Impact of the Sewol Tragedy

At the time, the sinking of the Sewol ferry got enormous play in the local and global media. Pundits across Korea talked of it re-setting politics for years and beginning the decline of the Park presidency. The opposition took up the banner of Sewol for the year’s elections – and lost three times on it. What happened to all the social anger of the time? It’s still not clear.

7. Japan’s Non-Remilitarization

If there were a list from within the Korean media or government, I have little doubt that it would include the re-militarization of Japan. This is perennial Korean concern, frequently wildly exaggerated, and under Abe, it has gained new life. But Japan actually woefully underspends on defense, a truth widely recognized outside the region.

Happy New Year, all.


Filed under: China, Korea (North), Korea (South), United States

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

 

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Deez Nuts: On Privilege, Apologies, and Cho Hyun-ah

Fri, 2015-01-09 08:41
Deez Nuts: On Privilege, Apologies, and Cho Hyun-ah

by Chris Tharp

I have to admit to reveling in the ongoing drama of “Nutgate,” in which then Korean Airlines vice president for cabin service Cho Hyun-ah threw a weapons grade conniption when, on a flight from New York to Seoul, an attendant in first class had the audacity to serve her macadamia nuts in the packet instead of upon a pristine plate. Not content just to dress the offending stewardess down, she unleashed a torrent of abuse upon the whole staff and ordered the taxiing plane back to the gate, where she had the chief purser ejected for dereliction of duty. Almost as puzzling as Ms. Cho’s seemingly cruel and petty outburst is the fact that pilot went along with her demand, breaking aviation safety law in a pathetic attempt to save his own ass. He knew better than to defy HER will. After all, her father, Cho Yang-ho, is the chairman of Hanjin, the conglomerate that owns Korean Airlines. Hyun-ah was  backed up by serious, hard power. If she was so willing to bounce the purser over a nut discrepancy, what fate could await a pilot who disobeyed a direct order from Her Highness? Knowing his place on the strata of Korean social power, the pilot bowed down his head and turned that plane the fuck around.

This story quickly went viral and is still being covered worldwide. Part of it is the absurdity of the narrative: Such a brouhaha over nuts, really? The whole affair seemed so silly and random, but the bullying behavior of the central antagonist colored it with a much darker hue. It shone a light on the seeming untouchability of the 1%, that not only do the uber-rich have all the money, but they consider themselves above the law. This especially tapped into the zeitgeist here in South Korea, where people have been watching the families of the nation’s chaebol (conglomerates) act like modern day aristocrats for decades now. Enough was enough, and it didn’t take long before liberals and conservatives alike were calling for Cho Hyun-ah’s head on a pike.

There is more than just the will to punish bad behavior going on here. We love a good villainess and are very willing to cast Ms. Cho in that role. Throughout my lifetime the media has periodically turned its lens onto those out-of-touch, wealthy women that we love to hate, fire-breathing female figures who live in diamond palaces and run roughshod over the help. Remember Leona Helmsely, aka “The Queen of Mean”? Zsa Zsa Gabor’s infamous slapping of the traffic cop? Or the racist outbursts Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Shott? Cho Hyun-ah is just another notorious woman crowned with the time-honored title of Megabitch. The fact that she’s Asian only ratchets it up to another level. Now she is no longer just a Megabitch, but a fully-fledged Dragon Lady. I haven’t seen a real-life Dragon Lady elicit such levels of vitriol since the days of Imelda Marcos. I wonder how many shoes Cho Hyun-ah owns?

None of this should come as too much of a surprise. After all, Ms. Cho’s English name is ‘Heather.’ Heather Cho. Anyone who grew up in the 1980’s can testify that pretty much any girl name Heather was considered to steeped in venom. This notion was so widespread at the time that they ended up making a hit movie about it. I wonder how Ms. Cho came upon that name. Did she choose it herself? Or, more likely, was it assigned to her by an English teacher who knew what made her tick?

Teacher: So… Hyun-ah. What English name would you like?

Hyun-ah: Hello teacher… I want to be called ‘Sunny.’

Teacher: ‘Sunny?’ Hmmm… let’s see… Oh, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. That name’s already taken. We’re just going go ahead and call you ‘Heather,’ m’kay?

One thing I like about Korea is that if you’re a public figure and you really fuck up, you have crawl out in front of the whole nation and perform a giant mea culpa. There is no stonewalling, no subterfuge, no hiding behind layers of lawyers and publicists. You are forced to put one foot in front of the other and hike the walk of shame in front of a battalion of camera-wielding journalists, where, voice a-trembling, you repeatedly whisper ‘I’m sorry’ into a wall of microphones and then bow. I think this ritual of public contrition plays an essential role in a person’s rehabilitation while also serving the public’s need to stick the offending celebrity in the pillories and launch volley after volley of virtual tomatoes. Cho Hyun-ah did this just days after the whole incident went public, and something about it was immensely satisfying. There she was, in her stylish black jacket and grey scarf, strands of loose hair rakishly blowing over her seemingly makeup-free face, while she mumbled her apologies in a barely-audible sigh. The rest of us sat there smugly while she choked down spoonful after spoonful of steaming, fecal-flavored bibimbap for all the world to see. I was absolutely enraptured and never wanted it to end.

What’s even better was that her dad, Cho Yang-ho, apologized too. One of the richest men in the nation hauled himself in front of the cameras and confessed his heartfelt regret that he didn’t do a better job in raising her. I was both impressed and dumbfounded. Here we had a father taking responsibility for the behavior of his grown, 40-year old daughter, basically admitting to the fact that he had overindulged her growing up, recognizing that this may just have some bearing on her actions today.

Can you imagine if this happened back home? If the parents of our most awful citizens came forward and apologized on behalf of their spawn?

“On behalf of our family and the whole nation of Canada, I’d like to offer my most sincere apologies. It’s time I faced the fact that my son Justin is indeed a malignant, no-talent puddle of shit. We are very sorry for encouraging him to go into music, but even sorrier for having him in the first place.”

“We’d like to express regret for buying our daughter Paris a Caribbean island for her 8th birthday. We should have just gone with the pony.”

“Perhaps I shouldn’t have paved the way for Jr. to go into politics. It wasn’t prudent of me do to so, since it resulted in two illegal wars and a gutted economy for the benefit of his cronies. I’d like to apologize, but… screw it, let’s just keep blaming it all on the negro.”

The whole notion of parents apologizing for their adult kids is very Korean. Most Koreans take this idea of collective responsibility very seriously. North Korea takes it to the extreme, where several generations of one family will be thrown into the gulag over the supposed sins of just one member. But I’ve seen it here in South Korea, first hand. In 2007 a student massacred 32 people in a mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech in America. Early reports told us that the shooter was Asian, but for some time his exact ethnicity was unknown. Koreans were tight lipped on the story, presumably praying inside that the murderer was anything but Korean. Please Japanese. Please Japanese. When it turned out that he was indeed a Korean kid, for days I was subjected to deeply felt apologies from Korean friends, acquaintances, and students, with many of them directly apologizing on behalf of their entire nation.

“I am so sorry he was Korean. We are so ashamed.”

“It’s okay,” I’d say. “You don’t need to apologize. Really.

“But I am sorry.”

“What? Did you send him money to buy bullets?”

Cho Hyun-ah was detained on December 30th and is now holed up in a cold, South Korean jail. She has been indicted on five different charges and faces up to 15 years in prison for her nut meltdown. Her father stripped her of all her positions within Hanjin’s companies, and seems very willing to sacrifice her onto the pyre of public outrage. I wonder how long it is before they brand the word BITCH into her back with a hot iron and force her walk to walk naked through the freezing streets of Seoul. She’s getting her commupance and then some, but I have to admit that I actually feel sorry for her. The satisfaction that so many of us get by knowing that she is suffering is not an attractive human emotion. It’s ugly, because at times we’ve all been terrible people. Our willingness to spit in Ms. Cho’s disgraced face runs counter to Christ’s “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone,” which you don’t have to be a Christian to recognize as one of his finest moments. That was also a situation involving a very unpopular woman. Hmmm… I sense a pattern here.

Spurned by the public, fired from her jobs, abandoned by her father, facing hard time… what’s a former heiress to do? Well she’ll have to serve whatever sentence is handed down, but when she comes out, I have a business idea I’d like to pitch her way: I think she should open an S & M dungeon. Just picture it: The whole thing is done up like the first class cabin of a jumbo jet. She is dressed in a skin-tight PVC catsuit, along with an Nazi SS cap and patch over one eye. She sits, legs crossed, in an airline seat and carries a bullwhip. The slave is lead in on a leash. He wears a chief purser’s uniform with the whole of the crotch cut out. A leather gimp mask covers his face. A ball gag occupies the cavity of his mouth. A butt plug in the shape of a miniature Boeing 747 is rammed deep into the recesses of his ass. In his trembling hands is a pack of macadamia nuts. At Madam Cho’s feet is a plate made of the purest white porcelain.

“It puts the nuts on the plate.”

*CRACK*

“It puts the nuts on the plate.”

*CRACK*

“PUT THE NUTS ON THE MOTHERFUCKING PLATE!!!”

This works for me. Maybe it will for her as well. After all, doesn’t everyone deserve a shot at redemption?


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Hoods: Busan’s Ugliest Neighbourhood

Thu, 2015-01-08 22:56
Hoods: Busan’s Ugliest Neighbourhood

Korea’s cities can be obnoxiously monotonous at times. And thanks to the country’s fixation with capitalism, everywhere on the southern half of the peninsular looks pretty much the same.

Hoods intends to show that Korea’s real urban beauty is hidden where the veneer of modernity is at its thinnest.

This is Seomyeon…

Seomyeon, where consumerism feasts upon on the neon spatter of the country’s capitalist ejaculate.

I hate the crowds, the pretentious clothes shops, the corporate coffee shops, and the horrific traffic. I hate the massive roads that butcher the downtown and force pedestrians to filter through the awful underground mall. I hate the crowds that the subway divulges here every three minutes. I hate the towering grey buildings which suck the colour from the sky and flash their advertisements at you from on high.

I hate the pot-holed, uneven, leaflet-strewn and puke stained streets. I hate the toxic fumes that emanate from the gridlocked cars and the vile stench of human effluvium that occasionally wafts up from the drains. I hate the kitschy night clubs and their soul-crushing music.

Grey…

Look at this egregious arsehole driving a combat vehicle through the high street!

Kissing room: A classy establishment where patrons pay a young girl to insert her tongue in their mouths

Going underground

I hate Seomyeon.

But in this veritable den-of-shit there are a few places where rampant capitalism has yet to soil.

One such place is 68th Street.

The narrow streets down here, though they do tend to reek of deep fried fuck-knows-what, are less crowded and do not involve pissing around underground.

Who know’s what she’s cooking, and as a vegetarian, I doubt every much it’ll do me much good to know, but she was lovely and seemed to enjoy my foreignness / photographing.

Inflatable signage! Do these things actually draw the punters in, or are they only there to temp drunk idiots to knock them down?

 

No Parking!

The colours!

There are other parts of Seomyeon where you can escape the neon madness and gratuitous advertising, but you’ll have to search deep within its bowels.

Goodbye Seomyeon. I’m getting outta here

Pronunciation guide

서면. Written in English as Seomyeon. Pronounced Soh Mi’ Yon. Listen to the locals and you’ll get used to it.

Remember! The Es are silent. Avoid saying See Oh Mee Yon like a complete plonker.

The post Hoods: Busan’s Ugliest Neighbourhood appeared first on Monkeyboy Goes.


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How I celebrate old and new in Busan

Thu, 2015-01-08 11:19
How I celebrate old and new in Busan Hello peeps!! Happy new year!!

Glad to be back to write this blog after so much hectic during the end of the year before.
Well to cut it short I am writing about my experience about my new year celebration-the one that I celebrate the way Korean celebrate it- well here is the story.

December 31st
I went to Nampo-dong area around 11pm to see the fireworks and the charity bell ringing in the Mt.Yongdu park, the area was awfully crowded to the point that you have to queue for around almost half an hour to get to the park. And it was freaking cold but the line was that long. I got up and heard the 33 times charity bell ringing which supposed to mean as the bell of peace.
Then we went until we saw bunch of flying paper and lantern and when we almost went down the fireworks were there!! it was beautiful and worth to watch.
Down in Nampo-dong the street food vendor seller were still open and it was too crowded to eat so we opted to rush to Haeundae and take a nap before the important event on the next dawn.
Turns out event the subway is closed but you can take the bus for that day since they make the operation  hours longer than the initial time.
We arrived back at Hauendae around 2AM.

January 1st
 The 7.45am sun  I checked the sunrise supposed to be around 7.32am on the morning and around 6.30 we departed from our beloved Hi Korea Hostel which is so near with the beach and we took turns to Lotteria and got some breakfast then we rush to the Hauendae beach where almost there was no more place to stand left. Luckily we found some pretty good spots nearby the aquarium.


After waiting for around half and hour, at 7.32am the sun was rise but we couldnt see it properly yet as there was heavy cloud just at that side of the sun, finally  around 7.49am we could see the sun properly.

Trust me it was worth to see!!

 
 The 7.49am sun!!
January 4th the 1st weekend of the 2015

There was polar bear swimming festival in Haeundae beach!
Not only Korean spotted but believe me or not around 30% were foreigners that tried to swim in the cold winter Haeundae beach!!
You have to pay the registration fee for 20000KRW but you got some merchandise and of course the experience of it.
Well I couldnt participate because I had no idea that we have to register for it but watching it form a far was an interesting things to do.

Polar bear swim festival   
well I bit you guys my adieu for now, wait for my new experience and my new post and see yaa again!!!







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Now and Then: The City of Gyeongju

Tue, 2015-01-06 00:47
Now and Then: The City of Gyeongju

Anapji, in Gyeongju, during the 1950s.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The city of Gyeongju, in Gyeongsangbuk-do, has a long and storied past that is closely tied to the Silla Kingdom. From 57 B.C. to 935 A.D., for nearly a thousand years of history, Gyeongju was the capital city of the Silla Kingdom. Formerly, Gyeongju was known as Seorabeol and Gyerim. It wasn’t until 935 A.D. that the town became known as Gyeongju. During the 992 years that the Silla Kingdom reigned, it was the longest period of rule by a single dynasty in Korean history. During this period in Korean history, the Silla Kingdom would rise from a small tribal nation to unify the entire Korean peninsula.

Dotted throughout the Gyeongju cityscape are some thirty-five national treasures and a countless amount of treasures. When Buddhism came to the Silla Kingdom in the early 6th century, it reached its zenith with the establishment of Bulguksa Temple and Seokguram Hermitage in the late 8th century. In addition to these internationally famed sites, there are a countless amount of lesser known sites spread throughout the entire city including Anapji and Cheonseongdae. Additionally, there’s Chilbulam Hermitage, Sambulsa Temple, Samneung-gol Valley, and Bucheobawi on Mt. Namsan. There’s also Baeknyulsa Temple and Gulbulsa-ji on Mt. Sogeumgangsan that visitors can see when enjoying Gyeongju. There really are an amazing amount of sites to experience when visiting the thousand year old capital of the Silla Kingdom.

More recently, Gyeongju is the second largest city by area in all of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province next to Andong. And as of 2008, it had a population of nearly 270,000 people whose major source of income revolves around the tourist trade. So by promoting their past, people of today can prosper from nearly a thousand years of history.

Anapji in the early 1970s.

Anapji during the 1975 excavation.

Cheonseongdae Observatory

Bucheobawi from Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

Another image of Bucheobawi.

The amazing Seven Buddhas statue at Chilbulam Hermitage.

The three Buddhas from Sambulsa Temple on the western side of Mt. Namsan.

Yep, that’s someone standing on the shoulders of the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul in Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan.

The turtle-based stele dedicated to King Taejong on Mt. Seondosan.

An older image of the stone sculpture from Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site on Mt. Sogeumgangsan.

The stark landscape from Mt. Sogeumgangsan, and a look towards Baeknyulsa Temple.

Anapji as it appears today.

An up close of Bucheobawi.

The three Buddhas at Sambulsa Temple. Now, they’re sheltered under a wooden pavilion.

The seven stone Buddhas at Chilbulam Hermitage.

The Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul as it appears today.

The better protected Taejong stele from Mt. Seondosan.

A more recent picture from Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site.

And a look over top the main hall at Baeknyulsa Temple.

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

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The only thing to fear is change itself…. Wait…

Mon, 2015-01-05 00:33
The only thing to fear is change itself…. Wait…

It was only temporary…but…last week, in the immortal words of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, my new Korean life got totally flip-turned-upside-down. Now-I’d-like-to-take-a-minute, just-sit-right-there-and-I’ll-tell-you-how-I….how my…forget it. How things changed.

Long story short, part of my Winter Camp involved me teaching at an elementary school reading camp for a few days before going back to teach at my regular middle/high school. Sidenote for those not in-the-know: a winter camp is a  two-three week period between regular semesters where kids come to school anyway to study more. The camps vary in theme and content, sometimes being determined by the school and other times by the Native English teachers. Generally speaking they’re supposed to be lighter and more “fun,” but in the end the kids are still there to study and learn English.

When my co-teacher first told me that I had been summoned by the EPIK Powers That Be, I was less than thrilled. I didn’t even get to volunteer as tribute. My name had been drawn and my fate, set. ‘Why meeee?’ I moaned in my head, conducting the choir at my own private pity party. ‘I don’t care if it’s only for three days. I don’t want to go to a different school, work with different students and different co-teachers in a different classroom where everything’s different. Wahhhhh.’

In my defense, my apprehensions weren’t completely invalid. As expats working abroad, I think it’s fair to say that any of us would be disgruntled to give up the routine and sense of familiarity we work so hard to establish in the early days,  even just for a brief while. In my case, I’d spent 4 months teaching middle schoolers and high schoolers, and had grown accustomed to the classroom dynamic and the flow of the lessons. I knew what kinds of topics they liked and what activities they found boring. But for this camp, I was back at square one.

In an attempt to thwart potential mutinies from the little pirates and ensure a successful voyage through the uncharted waters of elementary school, I over-prepared like crazy. My lesson plans were so detailed and explicit that a monkey could’ve followed them. I had enough back-up activities to last me three lifetimes, and a separate list of games a mile long.

The morning of day one, I gave myself a harty pep-talk on the bus, ‘You can do this, Nathan. You can do this. They’re just little kids. Little tiny humans who like to laugh and play, sing songs, and repeat anything you say. Just keep them busy and engaged, and everything will be fine. And even if it feels like things are unraveling or derailing, smile and find a way to get back on track without losing your shit. They might be little and they might not speak much English, but they can smell fear and spot an opportunity to go nuts in a heartbeat. You got this. You got this.’

Replace “huns” with “children.” …And “defeat” to “teach,” I guess.

So, how did it all work out? Just fine, actually! It was great! I had a really fun time with the itty-bitty first-graders who barely came up to my waist and could hardly say hello. They’re so frickin cute! And the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders that I taught were all actually very high level, so working with them was a breeze. Thanks to my over-preparedness it was easy to adapt when something didn’t go as planned or swap one activity out for another. My co-teachers were all very helpful and had excellent English skills, fortunately, and I never encountered any serious behavioral problems with the students.

The moral of the story then, I guess, is that it’s okay to fear change and tread lightly into the unknown, just so long as you can let go of that fear and ultimately walk with more confidence before you rob yourself of the possibility that you could be headed towards something great. Don’t ruin something for yourself before you have a chance to experience it. In the face of change, feelings of reluctancy and insecurity are normal. But if you lay the proper groundwork, you can set yourself up to succeed and enjoy the ride, no matter what kind of twists and turns you experience along the way.


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My Top 5 List for 2014: 5 Biggest Foreign Policy Events for the US in Asia

Mon, 2015-01-05 00:28
My Top 5 List for 2014: 5 Biggest Foreign Policy Events for the US in

I love these hoky, end-of-the-year lists. But I don’t know much about genuinely interesting or cool stuff, like the top 5 classical music pieces or architectural masterpieces of the year. So before you read another list about the Kardashians’ top 5 lip glosses, or the 5 most repetitive comic movies of the year, here is an uber-wonky one that’s basically about the sustainability of the pivot.

I am constantly wondering whether the US can carry through on the ‘rebalance,’ whether we can actually shift out of the Middle East and Europe and pay more attention to the Asia-Pacific. I am skeptical, in part because I tend to see US commitments as opportunity costs of one another. In other words, if we are tangling with Putin or ISIS, then we don’t have much time for China or Maduro. But if you’re a neocon, then the pivot is no trouble. Getting involved in Asia doesn’t mean lessening commitments elsewhere, because the US should be globocop anyway, and US domestic expenses should be cut to fund to all this intervention.

The following post was originally put up at the Diplomat:

 

So it’s the end of the year – time for lazy bloggers and writers everywhere to crank out a ‘clip-show’ column to prioritize events of the year. I actually rather enjoy these exercises. At first blush, ‘top five’ lists seem rather facile. They leave far too much room for the writer’s personal preferences; it’s all-but-impossible to agree on a metric that would fairly rank events, personalities, and so on.

But on the other hand, trying to assign priority or causal weight is central to good social science, and hopefully, punditry. Every time you read someone say, X was ‘more’ important than Y, or A was ‘of greater significance’ than B, those locutions implicitly assigns weights. We do this all the time in common speech, even if we don’t admit it.

So here is a list of five major 2014 events that impacted the US position in Asia, specifically events that are likely to increase or decrease the US level of commitment to the region. In so far as a looming Sino-US (or Sino-US/Japan) regional competition is becoming the conventional wisdom, it is helpful to take such measures occasionally.

1. The Unwanted War against ISIS.

The troubles of the US pivot to Asia are a regular theme in my writing for the Diplomat. While I personally strongly support the pivot, I remain deeply skeptical that the US can actually do it, given its range of other commitments, weak domestic knowledge of east Asia, and strong cultural and religious interests in Europe and the Middle East.

My November column for the Diplomat argues that the war against ISIS is precisely the sort of open-ended, vague, exit strategy-less Middle East conflict that makes it so hard for the US to pivot to another region. This may not matter, if the US can dominate the Middle East and simultaneously block Chinese regional hegemony. But at this point, only neoconservatives must believe that is possible, or desire to so inflate the defense budget that it might be. For the rest of us, it is obvious that there are genuine opportunity costs to America’s long, frequently fruitless engagement in the Middle East.

The US maintains four regional hegemonies – in Latin America (the erstwhile ‘Monroe Doctrine’), Europe (through NATO), East Asia, and the Middle East/Persian Gulf. In the last three, it faces serious challenges – Putin (arguably the flimsiest and where US allies could do much more), islamist jihadism, which has proven remarkable resilient to American power, and China. Unipolarity does not mean omnipotence, so the need for the US to rank these commitments grows with new challenges. And every new war the US fights in the Middle East pushes Asia further toward China.

2. China’s South China Sea Belligerence

There is a raging debate over whether China’s behavior in the last years is newly assertive or not. Some have noted, for example, that China’s claims in the South and East China Seas are not new, only the strength with which it is pursuing them But I find in Asia, where I work, that the debate is increasingly closing with the Xi Jinping presidency. As I and a number of other observers argued earlier this year, China under Xi’s new leadership managed to pick three major fights in less than a year. Japan particularly seems to tilting against China. The Abe-Xi handshake was about as grim as one could imagine.

Much of the pushback notes that the Chinese are cautious and that the conflict over these islets is being ‘fought’ by fishermen and coast guards. And so it is, but this is almost certainly craft on the part of Beijing. It is widely know that the Chinese Communist Party has studied the collapse of the USSR intensively. Beijing will not make the same mistake – alienate its periphery into a harsh encircling coalition, or bankrupt its smaller economy trying to match the Americans dollar for dollar. Instead, the Chinese stratagem in the South China Sea is regular if mild pressure, leap-frogging claims, land-reclamation to generate new claimed spaces, and so on. If the US is going to pivot, southeast Asian nations will be looking for some kind of response to this ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach to maritime disputes, and the US does not have one yet.

3. The end of wartime operational control reversion in South Korea.

For the last ten years, the US and South Korean governments have wrangled over the united command of US and South Korean forces. As it stands now, Seoul has operational command (OPCON) of its forces in peacetime. As there has been no war in Korea since the 1950s, this effectively means that Seoul runs its military and defense policy. But to insure unity of command in wartime, the alliance gives OPCON to the Americans should war break-out.

Korean opinion is deeply divided on this. On the one hand, OPCON reversion (to Seoul) is a long sought goal of the left. South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun demanded it back a decade ago as a marker of South Korean independence from the US. But conservatives almost immediately called for a delay, realizing that OPCON reversion would almost certainly lessen the US commitment to Korea. In the broad American commitment to Southern security it represents, US OPCON helps keep Korea’s defense costs down (substantially) and relieves pressure on the South Korean army particularly.

And this fall, the issue finally ended, as much of the Korean national security bureaucracy would prefer. OPCON reversion, many times delayed already, has now been pushed off to some vague point in the 2020s, where it will almost certainly be shelved again when needed. The ten-year OPCON soap-opera is over; the US will stay firmly tied to Korea indefinitely.

4. The continuing spat between Japan and Korea.

This was yet another terrible year for relations between Japan and Korea, a topic heavily (and well) covered by the Diplomat. The low point had to be the pointless Japanese ‘review’ of the Kono Statement which did nothing to change Japan’s stance on the comfort women issue, other than to signal to Seoul once again that Japan does not take it seriously. It is unnecessary to belabor this yet again at this site, but the continuing inability of Japan and Korea to work together obviously benefits American challengers in the region, including China, North Korea, and Russia.

5. The UN’’s blockbuster North Korean human rights report

At the time, I was quite skeptical this would make much difference. Perhaps because I spend so much time on this issue, it has always seemed self-evident to me that North Korea is the worst country on earth, worse even than the ISIS statelet. But the report – perhaps because it bears the imprimatur of the more neutral UN than US or South Korea – has generated enormous, unexpected pressure on North Korea and its patron China. China may be forced to publicly veto an effort to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court – a terrible public embarrassment for a country that seeks global prestige.

This is great news. North Korea has few friends beyond China. If all the bad publicity finally draws some distance between Beijing and Pyongyang, that could finally force North Korea to change, because its ‘system’ cannot survive without external aid. Maybe, just maybe, we will look back and see this as a turning point in finally cutting off the Kim clique.


Filed under: Alliances, Asia, China, International Organizations, Islam, Japan, Korea (North), Korea (South), Middle East, Pivot

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

 

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8 Korean Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

Wed, 2014-12-31 06:26
8 Korean Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had this situation happen to you.

You hit the Korean study books hard, head out to practice your newfound knowledge, and the people you talk to have no idea what you’re saying.

Very frustrating!

It’s a common situation for people who learn Korean as a second language. Often times, Korean is from their first language. The sounds, pronunciation, and intonation are far from their mother tongue, so it’s hard to replicate those sounds that are required for Korean.

But rest assured, you’re not alone!

Think back the opposite situation. Have you ever talked to people that were learning English as a second language? They may have tried to ask you something in English, but you had no idea what they said. If they persisted with the question, you probably found out that their pronunciation was slightly off.

It’s a very similar situation to you speaking Korean.

When you run into this situation, they key is to keep at it. If the other person doesn’t understand what you are saying in Korean, try explaining it another way. You’ll find that your pronunciation or intonation was slightly off, and now you can find out the correct way to say it.

In short, keep going and don’t give up!

Luckily, there are ways to avoid this situation all together. If you know the common Korean mistakes ahead of time, then you’re going to be a few steps ahead of the game. Plus you’ll look much cooler when you talk like a fluent Korean speaker in a short amount of time.

Let’s get to it! Below are the common Korean mistakes that people make.

Note: The explanations below are written using Hangul (Korean alphabet). If you can’t read the characters yet, you can learn in less than 60 minutes for free in this guide.

1. Smooth Finish: 안녕하세요

Photo: NCDOTcommunications

One of the first phrases everyone learns is “안녕하세요”, which is a greeting similar to “hello”. Have you ever listening to Koreans pronounce this word? The ending is not pronounced the way it is written. Instead of finishing with a “요” sound, Koreans finish the greeting with a “여”.


If you want to sound like a native Korean, pronounce your greeting like this: “안녕하세여”.

2. Botching the Badchims: 합니다

Many people learn the formal way to speak Korean early on, which is the “-ㅂ니다” verb form. When you use this form, the “ㅂ” needs to get paired with the verb depending on the verb’s structure. The “ㅂ” is always in the bottom, or “받침” (badchim), position. Normally, the “ㅂ” has a “b” or “p” sound, depending on where it is in the word.

This is a special case! Instead of pronouncing “합니다” like “hap-ni-da”, you’re going to say it like “ham-ni-da”. In Hangul, the pronunciation will look like “함니다”.

Although it seems strange at first, it will make your life easier. If you try saying “hap-ni-da” vs. “ham-ni-da”, you’ll notice the second one is easier to say. It flows easier. Korean has developed rules similar to these, so look out for pronunciation that doesn’t seem to follow the rules.

If you want an easy trick to remember this one, try an association. “합니다” kind of sounds like “ham need a”, meaning that you need a ham. Around Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving), a very common gift is to give Spam (the meat, not the email!). So you can think to yourself, “around Chuseok, many people need a ham”. “Ham-ni-da!”

3. Making Peace with the Irregular: 같이

Those irregular pronunciation words! Why do they have to make life so difficult?

The next violator we’re going to look at is “같이”, which means “together”. If you pronounce this word according to the rules of Hangul, it should sound like “ka-tee”. However, the correct pronunciation is “ka-chee”, or “가치”.

Let’s link up an association to help commit this to your memory. “같이” means “together”. In order to go somewhere “together” with your friend, first you need to “catch” them. “Ka-chee” sounds similar to “catchy”. In order to go somewhere “같이” with your friend, first you need to “catchy” them.

4. Hana’s Number Duel: 둘

Photo: uwdigitalcollections

Let’s talk numbers. Korean has two numbering systems. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call them the China System (일, 이, 삼…) and the Korea System (하나, 둘, 셋…).

The numbers for the Korean language are a bit burdensome because you have to learn two systems. Not only that, but you need to use different systems for different situations.

If you have managed to avoid pulling your hair out at this point, we applaud your patience and persistence! Rest assured, we’ll give you some help to make sure you’re using the correct ones.

One of the common Korean mistakes is using the China system to talk about age using “살” for years. A big no-no! If you’re talking about your 5 year old nephew, his age is “다섯살”, not “오살”.

If your cousin is 14 years old, how would you express that in Korean?

A) 십사살

B) 열넷살

If you said “B”, high-fives for you!

When you’re using age in Korean, you want to stick to the Korea System. An easy way to remember this is if you remember the story about Hana, the Korean fencing champion. She LOVES the Korean number system, and she frequently defends it’s honor. She is also sensitive about her age. Anytime someone talks about age incorrectly, she challenges them to a “set” of fencing “duels”.

Or put another way, when age comes up, “Hana” demands a “duel”. And she wants at least a full “set” of duels!

When age comes up, think “하나”, “둘”, “셋”.

We hope this helps you steer clear of any upcoming duels!

5. Honorable Celebrations: 생일

Photo: Toomy

Koreans value honor and social rank. It’s deeply ingrained in the Korean language in a number of ways.

One way is the special vocabulary that is used for those higher in the social ranks than us. One clear example of this is when you’re talking about your parents or grandparents.

Suppose their birthday is coming up. If you tell your Korean friend that it’s their “생일” (birthday), then you gave your ancestors a verbal slap in the face. How rude!

The correct word for your parent’s birthday is “생신”.

Although you are forgiven as a Korean learner, it’s much better to use the proper word. Not only will you be more respectful to your parents in the eyes of Koreans, but you’ll also sound more like a fluent speaker!

If you need an association, think of your shin. If you told your dad that it was his “생일”, he would kick you in the shin and say “생신”!

6. Old School to New School: 와인

One challenging part of learning Korean is knowing when to use the correct word. For example, maybe you want to learn the word for “wine” in Korean. One source says “포도주”, the other says “와인”. Which one is correct?

The best word to use is “와인”. Since there is a big push to learn English here, some of the older Korean vocabulary is replaced with the English word sounded out in Korean.

If there are two choices for a word in Korean and one of them sounds like English, that’s generally the best one to use. It’s more recent and likely more commonly used. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but a good guideline to use to keep your Korean flowing smoothly.

7. Action Sandwich: 안

Photo: Pen Waggener

One of the Korean mistakes that stand out is with the word “not”.

In Korean, “not” can be expressed using “안”.

So you can simply pop it in front of a word. For example, if you’re saying you’re not busy (“바빠요”), you can say “안 바빠요”.

This works fine in most verb and adjective cases. There is one exception, which is with “하다” action verbs.

Examples of this would be:

일하다 – to work

운동하다 – to exercise

운전하다 – to drive

You cannot add the “안” at the beginning of the verb like in most other cases. These verbs are very particular about how they get along with “안”. This is wrong:

안 일해요 – (X)

안 운동해요 – (X)

안 운전해요 – (X)

Embarrassing!

Instead, you need to sandwich the “안” between the beginning part of the verb (noun portion), and the “하다”. It will look like this:

일 안해요 – (O)

운동 안해요 – (O)

운전 안해요 – (O)

Using this rule is a simple way to make your Korean more natural sounding.

To help remember, think about how society rewards action takers. They make the effort, so they get to reap the benefits.

Well, “하다” action verbs are similar. They are are always hard at work, so sometimes we tell them to take a break. We tell them “not” to work. We do this by giving them a sandwich. Or in other words, we “sandwich” the “안” (not) between the beginning of the verb and the “하다”.

Anyone else getting hungry?

8. One Size Doesn’t Fit All: 포장

Korea is a fashion conscious country, so they are very particular about the fit of their clothes. Clothing is either the precise size, or it’s custom made. No one size fits all!

Well, the same is true of their verbs. If you’ve studied everyday Korean phrases, you may notice specific differences. One great example is from Korean cafe vocabulary.

Let’s say you’re ordering at a cafe in Korea.

For here or to go?

If you’re ordering only coffee to go, then you’d say “테이크 아웃이에요”.

If you’re ordering coffee and food to go, then you’d say “포장해 주세요”.

“포장”  is the word that’s often used in Korean when referring to packing up food and taking it to go. It is quite common.

However, this word sounds strange to Koreans if you use it for coffee and drinks.

If you want to order like a pro, make sure you know these differences. Koreans appreciate good fit when it comes to both clothes and Korean vocabulary!

Summary

Integrate these simple 8 rules into your Korean learning and you’ll be talking more and more like a native speaker everyday.

What Korean mistakes do you hear most often?

Photo Credit: parhessiastes

Learn to read Korean and be having simple conversations, taking taxis and ordering in Korean within a week with our FREE Hangeul Hacks series: http://www.90DayKorean.com/learn

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Samgyeopsal - 7 variations, pairing with soju, dipping sauces

Mon, 2014-12-29 21:49
Samgyeopsal - 7 variations, pairing with soju, dipping sauces We will show you 7 different varieties of samgyeopsal, dipping sauces, and how to pair with soju! Happy new year!


   See additional samgyeopsal recipe here.


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Warped Tour

Sat, 2014-12-27 02:13
Warped Tour

by Steve K. Feldman

Suki Kim’s excellent new memoir Without You, There Is No Us: My Year with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite surely ranks as one of the greatest Gonzo journalistic feats ever, right up there with Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels, or Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between (about a guy who walked across Afghanistan in the months after 9/11). You think you’ve got a tough teaching gig? To get her story, Kim, a Korean-American, lived for a year in Pyongyang, North Korea, teaching English composition at the Pyongyang University for Science & Technology (PUST), a university run by Christian missionaries.

I mean—just imagine . . . having to live with Christian missionaries for a whole year!

And, sure, I guess living in a repressive totalitarian state was pretty tough, too.

Her remarkable undercover stint has resulted in one of the best books on North Korea in recent years. Without You, There is No Us belongs squarely in the first tier of works that seek to illuminate the darkness of this mysterious, closed society. To be sure, Kim’s access was limited to just a geographic and demographic sliver of North Korea. However, no book, not even the best defector accounts such as The Aquariums of Pyongyang and Nothing to Envy, detail such real, extended, relatively unscripted interaction between real North Koreans and an “enemy” American.

At first glance, there aren’t any big revelations here. Much of what Kim presents should be very familiar to anybody who has read any travel accounts in North Korea: the constant presence of the “minders” who “mind” (spy on) your every move; the “sightseeing” mostly restricted to mind-numbing, eyeball-glazing monuments to the Great Leader and Dear Leader; the endless demonization of America; the grinding poverty of a ruined economy lurking behind the paper-thin façade of modernity. This is all well-trodden territory, but Kim presents the familiar themes of barren / creepy / repressive North Korea with her novelist’s sharp eye for telling detail.

Where the book really breaks new ground, however, is in the author’s day-to-day accounts of teaching—or attempting to teach—the fully indoctrinated young men of the book’s title, the “sons of the elite.” All of her students were sons of Pyongyang’s elite ruling class (though she never talked to, let alone met, any of her students’ parents). How do you teach opinion or persuasive essays to people who have been taught—warned, even— never to argue, never to have an opinion? How do you teach them to back up their ideas with supporting evidence when “facts” or “the truth” have always been simply what the Dear Leader declares them to be? “Their entire system was designed not to be questioned, and to squash critical thinking,” Kim writes. In North Korea, “there was no proof, no checks and balances—unless, of course they wanted to prove that the Great Leader had single-handedly written hundreds of operas and thousands of books and saved the nation and done a miraculous number of things.” She sums up trying to teach essay-writing to such blinkered students in one word: “disaster.”

Simple conversations with students in the lunchroom or classroom were just as difficult and fraught with dangers. Every day was a dance through a DMZ minefield of forbidden topics. In answering students’ endless questions about the world outside their hermetically-sealed borders, Kim knew that revealing anything about the wealth, openness and freedom of “out there” was risky, for both herself and the students. A simple, honest answer to an innocuous question like “How many countries have you been to?” would let students plainly see the opportunities available to her that were utterly denied to themselves.

 

Yet as abhorrent and alien as much of their views, behavior  and upbringing are, Kim, like any good teacher, can’t help but  grow attached to them over her two semesters at PUST. She  often calls the students “beautiful” and “lovely” and refers to  them as “her children.” Throughout the book, Kim explores  the wrenching ambivalence of wanting to open up their minds  yet not wanting to get them in trouble—either as students or  in the future when they would supplant their parents as the  top-echelon leadership of the DPRK. In dealing with one  particularly inquisitive student, Kim and her young T.A. Katie realize that saying too much might get themselves deported, but could very well get the student killed. “Until then, I had hoped that perhaps I could change one student, open up one path of understanding,” Kim muses. “But what kind of a future did I envision for the one student I reached? Opening up this country would mean sacrificing these lives. Opening up this country would mean the blood of my beautiful students.”

Her portrait of her students is fascinating, empathetic, and immensely sad. In South Korea, foreign English teachers often bemoan their students’ lives that are equal parts grindstone and pressure cooker, yet the most haggwon-oppressed, sleep-deprived South Korean student would not survive a week in the shoes of Kim’s North Korean students. They are never alone—never, not a single moment. They are partnered up in a “buddy” system for the clear purpose of keeping an eye on one-another. It’s breathtaking how carefully the State raises a population of snitches. Also heart-rending is the physical labor that students are submitted to—most of it either pointless or made pointlessly difficult by the absence of tools or technology: cutting crass with scissors; standing guard in freezing cold weather over the ridiculous shrine to “Kimjongilism;” being carted off during school vacations to work in harvesting or construction sites. Even as sons of high-ranking party members, life is an brutal, endless slog, even if they will never face starvation. For them, attending a weekend math haggwon would be like lounging pool-side with a fruity drink.

Despite the glibness of my lead graph, living with Christian missionaries was, for Kim, its own brand of, well, hell. At times, her evangelical colleagues spur as much forehead-slapping disbelief and anger as the North Korean authorities. When Kim wants to show students a Harry Potter movie, the idea is shot down not by the North Korean officials (who must approve every book and every lesson plan), but by the school’s head teacher who calls it a piece of anti-Christian “filth.” “What would Christians around the world say about our decision to expose our students to such heresy?” the woman rages with staggeringly misguided righteousness.

At one point, a colleague openly talks with Kim about how her reason for being there was to “bring the Lord to this Land,” how “this life here is temporary,” and that the suffering North Koreans “will be received by Him in heaven.” Kim explodes at her, accusing her of delegitimizing the suffering of the North Korean masses: “So are you saying that it’s okay for North Koreans to rot in gulags because in your estimation it isn’t real? . . . If the eternal life waiting for them in heaven is so amazing, should the millions who are suffering here just commit mass suicide? Why don’t you go check out a gulag and then dare to tell me that it’s temporary?”

Kim’s portrayal of the school and its Christian faculty has garnered some controversy. The school has openly expressed hurt and anger over what they call a betrayal by Kim. They deny that they are Christian missionaries at all, and that Kim both misrepresented them in the book and misrepresented herself when she landed the job.

On her website, Kim counters these charges with a simple, powerful statement:

There is a long tradition of “undercover” journalism—pretending to be something one is not in order to be accepted by a community and uncover truths that would otherwise remain hidden. In some cases, this is the only way to gain access to a place. North Korea, described only recently by the BBC as “one of the world’s most secretive societies,” is such a place. [….] I did not break any promises. I applied to work at PUST under my real name. I was not asked to sign and did not sign any kind of confidentiality agreement, nor did I ever promise not to write about PUST. Meanwhile, in the six decades since Korea was divided, millions have died from persecution and hunger. Today’s North Korea is a gulag posing as a nation, keeping its people hostage under the Great Leader’s maniacal and barbaric control, depriving them of the very last bit of humanity. So what are our alternatives? How much longer are we going to sit back and watch? To me, it is silence that is indefensible. (read the full statement at http://sukikim.com/ethicsnote)

Given the fact that Kim didn’t hide anything about her past or her career, it’s strange she got the job at PUST in the first place, a point she also makes in the book and in the full text of the above statement. She wrote several articles for Harper’s and The New York Review of Books about previous trips to North Korea, most notably an outstanding account of the New York Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang in 2008. That article, unlike a lot of the accounts in the mainstream press, dug underneath the official North Korea-sanctioned feel-good story of “we’re not here for politics / music can bring us together!” Instead, Kim focused on the pointlessness of interaction with North Korea when the interaction was entirely on their terms. Also, her well-received debut novel, The Interpreter, has enough sex to make a evangelical Christian blush (which is to say, any sex at all). Ten minutes of internet browsing might have suggested to school authorities what Kim had in mind in seeking this job. Equally puzzling was North Korea granting her another Visa after those earlier articles—they even assigned to her one of the same minders from the New York Philharmonic trip.

Indeed, Kim worrying about having her cover blown—by both the North Koreans and her Christian colleagues—makes her day-to-day life even more stressful and adds another layer of dark tension throughout the book. In the end, the tension, the stress, the isolation, the bleakness, the cold, and the unceasing vigilance of the State—Orwell’s Big Brother incarnate—grind down her spirit of resistance, as it all was surely designed to: “The sealed border was not just at the 38th parallel, but everywhere, in each person’s heart, blocking the past and choking off the future. As much as I loved those boys, or because of it, I was becoming convinced that the wall between us was impossible to break down, and not only that, it was permanent.”

However, in an incredible coincidence, on Kim’s very last day at the school—a day filled with the bittersweet teacher-student goodbyes that any of us who have taught for a living might recognize—something happens that suggests just maybe that this wall might one day vanish into history: Kim Jong-il dies. Her final glimpse of her students as she’s leaving for the airport is of them in the cafeteria eating breakfast, refusing to look at her, “their eyes swollen and red, [with] no expression on their faces. It was as though the life had been sucked out of them.” She makes no comment on whether or not these tears are real or forced, or perhaps some of both, but simply wonders if their world will change for the better. Three years later, we’re still asking that question.


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The “Interview” Fits a Long Tradition of Really Stupid US Portrayals of North Korea (but SK Film is much Better)

Thu, 2014-12-25 00:00
The “Interview” Fits a Long Tradition of Really Stupid US Portrayals o

 

 

If you are looking to watch The Interview immediately, you can buy it on YouTube here. But the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes have been weak so far.

I am not quite sure what to make of all the hacking controversy yet, but in the run-up to the film, I wrote this quick comparison of North Korea in South Korean and US film. Not surprisingly, South Korea handles NK far more intelligently, whereas the US seems to have a weird, somewhat creepy obsession with North Korea invading America. Yes, really; read the review below: the US will have four ‘NK invades the US’ movies or video games in five years. I am still trying to figure out what that means.

Anyway, this was first written for Lowy Institute; the essay follows the jump.

 

Later this month comes the release of a comedy about North Korea. In The Interview, two American journalists are recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-Un, who is portrayed as an obese, cigar-chomping playboy (which is likely not far from the truth). In response, it appears that North Korea has hacked Sony Studios. This North Korean reaction is not too surprising. As a neo-patrimonial sun-king cult, it cannot easily tolerate mockery of a leadership it suggests is semi-divine. It is also increasingly clear from Northern cyber-attacks on South Korean institutions, that North Korea is ramping up in this area. Indeed, cyber, with its unclear rules for what constitutes aggression, is an ideal twilight space for North Korea to operate.

Last month I wrote here about the South Korea film industry and its geopolitical penchant to plot around over-the-top American villains. Antagonists are often from the North unsurprisingly, but usually the Northern and Southern characters find their shared Korean brotherhood as the film unfolds. Together they then rally against the real enemy, a role often conveniently filled by the Yanks. But this month I thought I would look at portrayals of the North in South Korean and American film in the run-up The Interview (which unfortunately does not look very good; its pre-release Rotten Tomatoes score is just 44%).

North Korea in South Korean Geopolitical Film

This is a huge topic. Not surprisingly, North Korea is a constant, lurking background for much Korean film, but I thought I would focus here on a few major geopolitical films in the last two decades. The overwhelming emphasis, contrary to US portrayals of evil North Korea, is on the DPRK as a tragically divided brother of the same family. The heartbreak of national division is regularly (and rightfully) mined for deep emotional impact on the viewer, as films on civil wars (such as Gettysburg) often do. For readers with little knowledge of Korean film but interest in North/South issues, the following are worth your time:

1. Brotherhood of War (2004). This is the biggest and the best of the recent South Korean films on national division. It portrays the Korean War with disturbingly graphic yet credible violence, and demonstrates just how confused loyalties became. While the North is the aggressor, Southern atrocities and poor leadership are shown as well. Such honesty is rare in South Korean film and a major mark in favor of the movie. Two brothers are shown landing on different sides of the conflict. Although this is a fairly transparent metaphor to show the division of Korea, it does reflect the reality that national division in the 1940s did split some families (although not nearly as many as you see in the movies). In the midst of extraordinary carnage and waste, the two brothers eventually face each other on the battlefield. While much of the plot and characters are cliché, and the film clearly rips off Saving Private Ryan, it is still the best Korean War film I have seen. It conveys the confusion, heartache, and sheer horror, without the silly North Korean comic book villains that mar so much western film.

2. JSA: Joint Security Area (2000). Another strong film that investigates the pain of national division, with an extremely poignant ending shot. Two border guards from the South and two from the North (rather improbably) strike up a friendship across the Demilitarized Zone. This leads to much metaphorical line-crossing, intermingling, and references to one another as ‘brother.’ Again, it is fairly emotionally cliché but powerful nonetheless, and I find that Koreans I have watched it with are quite moved by the interaction and inevitable tragedy that ends it. Once again, the North and South are cast as tragically and inexplicably opposed brothers of the same family. Ideology is scarcely mentioned.

3. Shiri (1999). This is a mix of Mata Hari and James Bond: a beautiful female North Korean agent infiltrates Southern intelligence, launching plots that could provoke a war. Her romantic involvement with a Southerner again serves to blend the two Koreas and stress their unity against a tragic geopolitical backdrop. Also again, no mention is made that, by the period in which the film story occurs, persistent national division was almost exclusively the fault of persistent, post-Cold War Northern intransigence. While I did not find this particularly good, it was a big hit in South Korea and fueled a wave of inter-Korean movies in the 2000s.

4. 71: Into the Fire (2010). Yet another sad film about the brutality and awfulness of the 1950 war. Based on a true story, a group of Southern students fights to defend their high school against the Northern invasion. Rare for Southern film, the North is portrayed harshly as aggressive imperialists.

US Film on North Korea

In contrast to South Korea’s marked seriousness and constant tragic emphasis, US film almost exclusively uses North Korea as a: 1) punch-line, or 2) preposterously powerful comic-book villain. Aliens, Nazis, and post-Soviet Russian gangsters have been over-used as villains in movies so many times that I guess we need new ones now. But the Chinese movie market is now too big and too censored to alienate Beijing with believable stories about Sino-US competition (a shame, that). So instead we get North Korean villains standing in. They are ‘Asian’ enough to give a hint of China, without actually provoking the wrath of its censors:

5. Team America: World Police (2004). Probably the best ‘portrayal’ of North Korea in American film, because it is a hysterical lampoon that does not take itself seriously like the others below. It’s very funny, although don’t overlook the ethical issues of laughing about the worst country on earth.

7. Homefront (video game), (2011). This is not a movie, but it does seem to have a launched (below) a bizarre entertainment sub-genre of North Korean invasions of the United States. Here is where the US entertainment industry goes off the rails and abjures serious treatment to South Korean filmmakers. Homefront is basically a video-game re-make of the film Red Dawn (1984), in which a group of good-looking young American resistance fighters wage a guerilla conflict against a Soviet invasion of the continental United States. That film has become a campy pseudo-classic of the Cold War, but the game update simply flies over the edge in asking players to believe that North Korea re-unifies Korea, absorbs Japan, and then Southeast Asia. These resources in turn fuel its invasion of the US west coast. Hah! There are so many leaps of logic, that the whole thing just falls apart. But there are always enough idiot fan-boys to suggest it might actually happen, dude!! And it sold well enough that the Norks will try again to reduce America in next year’s sequel.

8. Red Dawn (remake), (2012). This film is simultaneously a re-make of the 1984 original and a rip-off of the game just mentioned (demonstrating yet again how bereft Hollywood is of originality). It is awful, lacking even the camp fun of the game and film. Hot young models in tight-fighting clothes fire rockets and automatic weapons at Korean-Americans with bad accents. Yawn. More interestingly though, this film was the first major casualty of Chinese geopolitical-cinematic pressure on Hollywood. The original version had contemporary China substitute for the earlier Soviet role as American invader. This far more credible (and potentially exciting) premise was dropped under Beijing menacing, in exchange for the preposterous notion that North Korea has the resources to launch a trans-Pacific invasion of America. Whatever…

9. Olympus has Fallen, (2013). Yet a third ‘North Korea invades America’ premise in as many years. Does that mean something? Are Americans obsessed with North Korea, with being invaded, or have we just run out of bad guys? This film’s premise is ‘Die Hard in the White House’: a lone American hero battle Nork agents who take over the White House. Once again, it’s laughably ridiculous, but the White House take-over sequence is actually pretty exciting.

10. Die Another Day (2002). And what would such a list be without a Bond film and a super-villain so ridiculous – and with such fluent English! – that it makes Team America look like sophisticated international relations analysis. (And if you really feel compelled to scrape the bottom of the barrel of direct-to-video, try this.) Enough said.

So there’s so fun geopolitical entertainment for you to relax with over the holidays! Merry Christmas!


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dressing up like farmers!

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Soomy Village

Contact: Hyun Kee Lee 031-775-5205

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

Kwang-I Won Village Restaurant

Contact: Kwang Ja Kim 021-774-4700

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

Euna Dairy Farm

Contact: OK hyang Cho 031-882-5868

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

 

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Grab Your Traveling Spoon and Get a Taste of Korean Culture

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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



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



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



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



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

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

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


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

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



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