Sunday, December 20, 2009
Go there to read more. (Today, the 21st, is my day!)
Saturday, December 19, 2009
That's what an acquaintance of mine said after listening to me translate our conversation to our archery teacher. She had talked about a variety of things including personal and professional past and future (planned) events and, in simplified form, I related all of those. He nodded and said something like "Oh I get it."
Another time: "Man your Korean is really good, to me that was just a string of words."
This is what another acquaintance--in fact, the one who introduced me to archery and who speaks adequate Korean (although he stopped studying a few months ago)--said when I related a story in Korean. We had been talking with a man who spoke pretty good English (better English than my Korean, definitely) but he didn't understand the last point. So I simplified and related, in my most current 2d language.
The problem is, Jack--my friend--was not the only one who felt that way. The Korean man said, in perfect English:
"Yes, what was that? I didn't really understand."
That's the problem. People nod to show they are listening, not necessarily that they understand. Generally Koreans react the same way to my long-winded Korean attempts that non-speaking expats do: "That was an amazing series of words that I could get no meaning from."
Misconjugated verbs and gerunds, dropped particles (mark subject and object and often function like our prepositions), poor pronunciation, and sometimes simply made-up words that I have no idea where they came from have been known to regularly emit from my mouth. But in the meantime, I assure you: If you don't speak Korean, I can amaze you with mine.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Here Comes the Food!
Here Comes the Food!
Give Us Some Money and We Will Feed You!
That pretty much sums it up. K weddings are a big deal, and big business. "Wedding Palaces," "Wedding Towers," and even Wonju's own "Wedding Opera House" (which attempts to look like 95% old castle and 5% Disney product). K weddings get together huge groups, including even casual acquaintances (generally), who then proceed to ignore the ceremony and eat.
To be fair, my friend Kim Cheong-rae, who was kind enough to invite me to witness him betrothe a German woman, admitted his wedding would be short on ceremony. "People just come for the food. We're not going to waste their time with much chatter."
You could say the same thing about wedding receptions in the US (that I've seen) but the overtness here is drastic. Drinking during the vows and talking loudly? Okay! Especially if you're an old man. Helping yourself to the buffet and another beer while the bride gives a speech? Fine! Crowding in front of others to take pictures whenever you feel like it, even crowding the betrothed and getting in their way? Cool!
Well, fine so long as you ponied up.
K-weddings do not waste time with registries. Why buy a gift? We'll get it for ourselves. The traditional gift is ... an envelope full of cash! And YES YOU HAVE TO. The men who sit at the table by the entrance (just behind the Groom's mother) have a list of invitees. Only those who give the men envelopes will get tickets for the buffet, and your buffet tickets WILL be checked before you are allowed to graze from the tables in the back room.
To Cheong-rae's credit he personally handed out the tickets (to anyone who bothered to go up and congratulate him) and didn't ask if you'd "given" first. (Although it was rather quickly after I told him that we three foreigners did pitch in that he invited us to the after-BBQ. Hmm. (Kim: Kidding!))
Video NOT of Kim's wedding but for cultural reference:
Picture: Mr. and Mrs. Kim, the best I could capture them from a seated position. (Same last name as 40% of the population here or something like that. Good thing they trace ancestry very carefully but I don't think it's an issue for them.)
"War divides the country" is the more accurate, and less used, way to describe Korea. After all, the uneasy truce that created the Demilitarized Zone, was a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. Cessation? Often illusion; numerous attempts on executives' and citizens' lives have been made by the North for the past forty years, and continue today. Seoul didn't always have a top-rated international airport, Jongno Tower, or even the perpetual "armpit" (Lonely Planet) that is Itaewon ... in most of our Parent's lives, it doubled as capital city and wasteland ... a role it's held for hundreds of years. As I type this I sit in a valley between mountains that nearly perfectly geographically divided the country, hence was a strategic target throughout the fighting. The weathered faces that hock radishes in the market have seen more suffering than most care to elucidate.
But the Koreans I've encountered don't use the "proper" terminology to connote threat or fear so much as hope. Everywhere there are cries that the bloodline "will" be reunited. Only once realpolitik takes the forum floor is that hope winded. A massive and determinative war, or even a regime collapse that results in a flood of refugees--neither of these are pretty pictures to those whose mandatory military service reminds them of what life could be like.
Metaphorically also Korea (South) is a divided country. Traditional markets and BMWs, G20 membership and FTAs ... but today I drop the metaphoric for the literal. Oddly enough what brought me to Seoul that weekend was an ATEK meeting, a meeting for those expats who, displeased with foreigner abuse, seek to share information that can be used in the spars of litigation. Having a few hours to burn I visited the War Memorial before the meeting.
Quickly I noticed the conflict between somber rememberance and capitalistic opportunity. There's a wedding hall at the war memorial.
Let me repeat that:
There are two wedding halls located at the memorial to a war that is still technically ongoing, a war that tore a country in half for forty years and counting.
(Korean wedding etiquette is something deserving of its own post, and I'll get to that in another catch-up post over my vacation.)
But I digress.
Ignoring the Wedding Hall there are numerous displays of arms and maps, ranging from ancient to modern. Most interesting about the War Memorial is that it is not exclusively about the 20th century conflict we know as the "Korean War." It is about war, in Korea, since the time of arrowheads and spears. Since Goguryo was invaded by Baekjae and then Silla and the Mongols crushed Baekjae, and went on to take Goguryo, unifying the three Kingdoms into "Goryeo," which gave Korea its name ... some hundreds of years ago.
I could keep commenting but often the symbolism is obvious and the words are vacant. The flickr photostream is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/badukkong/sets/72157623028162228/.
And I would like to thank the Korean government for offering gas-mask use training in English. I walk past the glass cases of emergency equipment every time I take the subway in Seoul, it's only with an odd ease that, like most around me, I assume their use will remain unnecessary for years to come.
WONJU, Gangwon Province - Su Jeoung sits across from me, arms resting on the table, beret nicely in place, and smiles calmly. "My life is with pizza, coffee, and art," she says. An interesting comparison, to say the least. Su said she has received a lot of inspiration from travelling. "I had many good experiences traveling. There is one purpose - to see art, to enjoy art - the United States, Paris, Norway, Italy, Germany - those created good feelings for my future business."
Su lives in Korea's least populated province - Gangwon-do. Despite, or perhaps because of that, she's a member of FIAC, the Parisian creative consortium, and regularly attends their events. Art is a cornerstone, but not her entire existence. To my surprise, it's the third thing she mentions.
She was a franchisee for 10 years with a large pizza company, but she found the terms unfair. Well-traveled and successful, she followed the well-worn path of creating her own business, but gave it a twist of gourmet and fringe.
"My dream was to be a businesswoman and an artist," she says.
Other things can be more easily numbered: Her gallery-cafe, Acozza, opened in January this year. Since then, eight exhibitions featuring about 30 artists have passed through. The artists are mostly Korean and female, but expats and men are not excluded. More than one creator has had their work grace walls in Paris, London or Chicago, but others have only a show or two to their name.
To our left is the work of Kim Ji-young. From this distance, 15 meters, the cute girly faces and bright colors belong to cartoons, and the bandage on the eye makes one think, "poor thing." It's only after a few steps back that one notices the earring is a chain tethered to another character and the title reads "Domestic Violence." Other pieces, in similar style, draw inspiration from Na-young and the many similar stories that aren't quite as gruesome or public.
Acozza's M.O., however, isn't gloom-and-doom, it's balance; turning back to the wall behind Su, there are colorful and gentle pastels into which it would be difficult for even the most macabre mind to inject subliminal sorrow.
A month prior, computer monitors or screens were placed where paper sits now. "Mix and Media," the first exhibition of its kind in Wonju, featured audio, visual, and still art side-by-side. One false documentary detailed the international clashes that occurred after a bridge was built connecting Europe and Africa, a MacBook contained electronic symphonies, and the heavily saturated, subtly sardonic, work of art coordinator and barista Hanna draped the opposite wall.
My clearest memory of that exhibit, however, was sitting at another table with two friends, enjoying the balsamic reduction sauce on the Pizza alla Ortolana with a Chilean red, and watching Barbie get a feel on the back wall. Another doll carried her up a volcanic hillside and their plastic lips touched. A molded hand slowly slid downward. I tried to make the craning of my neck less than overt but failed; I'd chosen the wrong side of the table at which to sit.
"It's my take on the little mermaid," explained Suq H. Won, "A girl gives up something of herself and discovers sexual pleasure. But it's not so much about the story as the framing and editing." In a way, it's hardly about anything but coincidence; consider how welcome comments on female sexuality are in Confucian societies. Had the artist scheduled to fill that space come through, this piece wouldn't have been shown.
The work that was scheduled to (and did) feature included a brief video in which she both lovingly and savagely mined fruit from a fresh pineapple. The exhibition brochure made references to John the Baptist, but she was willing to further explain in a more universal language:
She had found a small pineapple on the edge of a farm while staying in Hawaii. It was too small to eat - "probably leftover from someone stealing something" - but she took it home and hydroponically "planted" it in a jar of water. A month later, she couldn't take it back to Korea, but she couldn't leave it either. Consumption was her conclusion. Maternal and murderous instinct conflicted, and one, the tastier, if less nurturing, won out. Or it's "cannibalism as an act of loving," as her brochure explains.
She harbors as much affection for her hometown as she did about the fruit. "Wonju is 10 or 20 years behind. If it becomes a media art center, it'll be after I die. I'm only hoping to lay the base, the background." Her attitude is pragmatic.
However, there is a second column of thought to consider when accounting for the growth of an art industry: The business-creative model has been proven successful by others. T.S. Eliot was a banker and publisher in his later years, and Charles Ives sold insurance when he wasn't composing or lying naked on his piano.
Of their ilk, but not lying naked on a pizza, Su sits waiting to trade several pieces of real property to fund a further vision, instead of a golden parachute. By summer 2010, Acozza Gallery, a second space, will have opened. Su's excitement is clear; artists have already agreed to exhibit, and the contemporary metal shell of the building-to-be has already been erected.
There's a new 10-page exhibition program under my arm, as there usually is when I leave. The question of how many sisters it first meets in my desk drawer, as well as the question of whether this seed will germinate in our lifetimes, has yet to be answered.
"Changing thought, changing future," reads Acozza's slogan. Thought clearly has already changed; the issue that remains is how soon the future will follow suit.
By Darren Bean
Friday, November 20, 2009
Case in point was a hagwon that thought it could boss around three to seven foreign teachers. Now, besides having won their labor case, they're UNION.
Two or more employees have the right to unionize. Not just the opportunity, but the right. Meaning if you are fired for forming or being part of a union, a cause of action exists against your employer.
And it gets better. Once a formally approved union, employess can (1) legally strike if demands are not met and (2) make union demands. Don't like something your boss is doing? If a union demands an issue be addressed, management has to address the issue. This doesn't mean you have carte blanche to push around the employer, but they have to at least say "yay" or "nay" and if nay ... well ... see (1).
If interested in forming another union, call:
Thursday, November 19, 2009
And I say BS to that. Free speech is one thing but, in a country where truth is only a defense to defamation SOMETIMES and a group uses false statistics to create discriminatory laws ...
|Blurring line between hate, free speech|
Over the past few years, a group calling itself Anti-English Spectrum has stirred up expats living in Korea, leading many to label the group as perpetrators of hate speech and racist activities due to their Naver cafe content and offline stalking activities. Anti-English Spectrum is the product of a backlash in 2005 in response to a "sexy costume party" put on by a few native English teachers. On a site with the heading "English Spectrum," parties were advertised and pictures were posted. The male founder of Anti-English Spectrum felt that Korean women at the party were being degraded and decided to take action. Part of their statement of purpose reads:
"Until the degradation of Korean women by English Spectrum stirred an uproar, we were just common citizens of the Republic of Korea. ... One day, we witnessed the English Spectrum's arrogant and base statements degrading Korean women and we felt something beyond rage, a feeling of unendurable humiliation. And so, because of our burning consciences, our 'active consciences,' that we just could not ignore, we are gathered here together."
Since its inception, the group has increasingly pursued the deportation of "illegal and problem teachers." As for who should be deported exactly, it looks for fake degree holders, drug users and HIV/AIDS-infected individuals. If those don't work, expats could be accused of "violating the Korean moral code."
Through its website, the group seems to be saying that crimes committed by native English teachers have reached socially dangerous levels.
But is native teacher crime in Korea even a problem?
National Assembly Representative Lee Gun-hyeon reported in September this year that there were 114 crimes committed by foreign English teachers in 2007 and 99 in 2008, translating into a foreign teacher crime rate of 0.64 and 0.5 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, according to the Korean Institute of Criminology, the Korean crime rate in 2007 was 3.5 percent. In other words, the native English teacher crime rate was more than five times lower than the Korean crime rate.
An issue many have with Anti-English Spectrum is its past use of racist language, such as referring to foreigners as "Black pigs," saying that foreigners engage in "sexual molestation," and that they "target children."
Another AES action that has gone further than your friendly neighborhood watch involves them engaging in types of vigilantism. The group's administrator admits to stalking foreigners. "Whenever I have to prepare a policy report or embark on the pursuit of an illegal foreign lecturer, then I end up working until dawn because I throw myself into it, braving fire and water. Then because I have to be at work in the morning, I don't get any sleep, and therefore am physically very tired." They have also stored information and photographs on their website of non-Koreans they have followed.
As for charges of racism, Anti-English Spectrum's host Naver.com, said they have received no complaints. The PR department for Korea's biggest portal stated that even though the cafe is rather large -- having 17,000 members -- prior to being contacted by The Korea Herald a representative said she was unaware of the group. When asked about the "black pig" comment, the representative stated that "in this case 'black pig' is definitely a racist comment."
"It is hard to detect all offensive comments. What's more important here is the measure we take against such actions ... If anyone reports to us about wrongdoings that are going on in this cafe, we will take measures and give sanctions to them."
Anti-English Spectrum also delved into the nation's AIDS discussion by disseminating rumors on its website that "infected (HIV) foreigners are indiscriminately spreading the virus." The manager of AES then implied that the spread of the virus in Korea could be the result of a foreign organization operating here. "It is not yet known whether a foreign AIDS-infected peoples' organization is responsible for inciting these people, or whether it is the infected foreigners within Korea just working amongst themselves. The only truth known from the rumor is that these people are spreading AIDS in order to make their existence known."
A foreigner in Korea has never been brought up on such charges. A Korean taxi driver was, however, accused by the police on March 13 for knowingly spreading HIV/AIDS to dozens of women in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province.
Further involvement in the AIDS public opinion field was the group's successful influencing of foreign visa regulations using false statistics. Bill (3356), which is now at the National Assembly, is designed to allow AIDS testing for any foreigners coming into Korea on working visas. The bill contains a statistic which originates from Anti-English Spectrum, and has been quoted by the group's administrator in the media on numerous occasions. It states that in 2007 the Itaewon AIDS clinic performed 80 percent of its tests on foreign teachers and foreign white collar workers.
Korea AIDS/HIV Prevention & Support Center statistics for that year show that the 80 percent statistic is false. Furthermore, KHAP director Yu Sung-chal told Expat Living that the clinic "moved to Seongbuk-gu in 2006, so it makes no sense to say that the Itaewon clinic sent out these statistics."
When Assemblyman Lee Sang-jun, who is behind Bill (3356) was asked by the Herald about the false statistic, he stated that he got the stats from the Ministry of Justice, and that he does not remember who in the ministry he got them from. "I do go over statistics at times. But in this case, since they are not the vital issue here, but rather a reference, I didn't check the facts."
The same dubious statistic can be traced back even further. A petition from AES sent to the Ministry of Justice in 2006 bears the same 80 percent figure. Around this time, Anti-English Spectrum assisted in an online article that alleged the percentage was English teachers, leaving out the mention of white collar workers. The picture included with the article is of a white man giving a blood sample to a nurse -- presumably an English teacher, since the article is about EFL teachers -- with the caption once again mentioning the Itaewon AIDS tests.
As it turns out, the photo was a fake. The picture is of President George W. Bush's former U.S. Global AIDS coordinator being publicly tested for HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia in an effort to fight AIDS stigma. The same picture is on Wikipedia.
When reached for comment, the director of the AIDS Prevention Center in Daegu did not have nice things to say about Anti-English Spectrum. "I think they are highly nationalistic and they treat foreigners as our enemies ... I do believe in freedom of speech, however, what they are sending out is highly controversial and might send out the wrong perception," said Kim Ji-young.
Aside from propagating the use of false statistics and admitting to stalking foreigners, AES has made a name for itself with dozens of propagandistic posters. The main themes: Illegal teachers are drug takers, sex fiends, gamblers and are unqualified; some are pedophiles; they are the source of Korea's HIV/AIDS problem.
The main issues for most expats: This kind of propaganda incites hatred for all foreigners, since it's impossible to tell an illegal from a legal one.
Teachers speak up
On Nov. 13, the Association for Teachers of English in Korea issued a press release supporting the efforts of Andrea Vandom, a Ph.D. student in International Relations at the University of California, who has taken action against Anti-English Spectrum. In a letter dated Nov. 6, which was sent to Naver's parent company NHN Corporation, Vandom outlines that AES violates both Korean law and also Naver Cafe's operating principles.
"This group's highly defamatory statements violate Article Ga-4 (Defamatory Posts) of Naver Cafe's terms of service agreement and rise to the level of violation of the Korean Criminal Code."
She goes on to state, "Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination ... which the Republic of Korea has declared 'has the same authority of domestic law.' Says that '(promoting) racial hatred and discrimination in any form,' such as with the use of 'promotional posters,' is a prohibited act."
Referring to her letter, ATEK president Greg Dolezal stated, "The Anti-English Spectrum is attempting to sabotage multiculturalism in Korea with their xenophobic accusations that are aimed at foreign teachers who are innocent of the crimes the group describes.
"ATEK cannot accept such harmful material relating to foreign teachers ... Therefore we whole heartedly support these letters and urge the NHN Corporation to honor Naver's content policies and remove the offensive material from the group's page."
Towards the end of her letter, Vandom says that. "I have emphasized that Naver should protect its users' rights to speak freely in a robust and open environment where controversial ideas are expressed and even offensive language is used, but even free speech has its limits." She ends the letter with six example points "strongly suggesting" that Naver remove any material on AES' site that promotes "racism, xenophobia and the proliferation of hate speech."
Kyung Hee University international law professor Benjamin Wagner takes issue with the way AES has handled the sensitive issue of HIV/AIDS. "It is not free speech to try to stir a social panic by falsely claiming foreigners have AIDS and are conspiring to infect the Korean population. This is a criminal matter," said Wagner.
"Firstly, I'm appalled at their degradation of Korean women. Secondly, their willful refusal to abide by Korea's laws and moral principles is shameful and has marked the group as the true outsiders. Their tactics and ideology are completely alien to Korean democratic society. To give just two examples: their attempt to create rumors of foreigners plotting to infect Koreans with AIDS is a propaganda ploy right out of the Pyongyang playbook; and their spying -- tracking peoples movements, following them home, secretly photographing them -- is reminiscent of past military dictatorships' human rights violations, which this country successfully fought to eradicate."
AES' cafe manager initially agreed to an interview but subsequently disallowed the use of his answers in print. Anti-English Spectrum, to its credit, has removed some of the most offensive content. There are still ongoing discussions on their cafe on the subject of stalking foreigners. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Adam Walsh
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The Korean government's motivation, however, I would suspect to be less altruistic. The wealth disparity between India and Korea means that Indians will have more to lose if they "rabble rouse" as English teachers are just starting to do (ATEK, etc.)
First article: Indian teachers to come
Second article: SMOE (Seoul) tells English teachers to [insert self-deprecating expletive of your choice] regarding the many contracts SMOE breaks.
Third article: Deported (admittedly illegal but EMPLOYED BY WHOM?) immigrant trying to get Korean health insurance to cover the head wound from ... his employer chucking things at him out of anger.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Meet Ken Hash ... again. He's the guy my last post quoted a press release for. He needs money on account of infection. It looks like he'll need more money soon. You see, Ken's plight was made public by the Korea Herald on November 2d.: http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/NEWKHSITE/data/html_dir/2009/11/02/200911020085.asp.
Recently, Ken applied to change schools, perhaps to a school that wouldn't endanger his life by demanding early release from the hospital while complications were pending. EPIK (the public school English teaching program here), however, told him he was not qualified to teach for them. Funny, considering they granted him a certificate of qualification in April this year. So the same organization that got him out of the hospital early is now axing his decade-plus career because he spoke out about the fact that they valued a week's salary more than his life. Korea may be hosting the G20 next year, but make no mistake: the labor practices here display all the ethics and humanitarianism of the early industrial revolution. And even these practices are those afforded to the richer immigrants ... just think of the poorer, which the Korean government is actively trying to bring in: http://taegukilchang.blogspot.com/2009/11/k-govt-to-bring-indians-to-teach.html
Sunday, October 25, 2009
2009 October 26: Teacher in Need(Gyeonggido, South Korea)—
The Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK)is calling on it's members and all in the English teaching community of Korea to help outa fellow teacher in need.
Kenneth Hash, 46, is a US citizen who has been in Korea for almost 12 years and iscurrently working at a middle school in Namdae.In August of this year Ken was unfortunate enough to get an insect bite which caused amassive leg infection that required several surgeries and still to this day requires weeklytreatments. Ken’s hospitalization lasted for almost a month.
While Ken was hospitalized his school informed him that he would be fired if he did notreturn to work no later than September 11th, 2009 and that he would not be paid for partor all of the time he was hospitalized. The doctors wanted Ken to remain in the hospitaluntil September 18th, 2009 at the earliest.
His school managed to convince the doctors to release him early so they could put himback to work. Due to this early release Ken’s illness and treatment are still ongoing andhe has endured several complications due to not receiving proper levels of care andtreatment.
Because of the seriousness of his illness and the treatment methods required Ken’s out ofpocket (after insurance) medical bills have surpassed 3,000,000KRW. This has placed ahuge burden on him both mentally and financially, which has only been exacerbated bythe actions of his school.To pay the expenses for his treatment Ken has been forced to sell everything he owns andto borrow money from his co-teachers just to be allowed to leave the hospital.
ATEKwould like to ask not only it's members but everyone in the foreign teaching communityto make a donation: Even a small amount, such as 25,000 KRW or W50,000 KRW wouldgo a long way to helping Ken out, although larger donations are obviously welcome too.
Please remember that this tragic situation could have easily happened to any of us.Contributions can be made directly to Ken via direct deposit to his bank account atNongHyup Bank.
The account number is (two, three, five, zero) 8952 (zero zero six) 259. To contribute simply take this information (the name and bank account number) to your bank and ask them totransfer whatever amount you wish to contribute or alternatively transfer the money viaan ATM.
In the meantime ATEK will continue to monitor the situation and do everything we canto help Ken in these difficult times.Any inquiries on this matter may be made directly to John Wurth, Gyeonggido ATEKCouncil Chair, at[wurthjt] --at-- yahoo [dot] (com).
--credit Dann Gaymer, press secretary but any errors in this blog post are mine.
Please repost! --DB
Friday, October 23, 2009
"More sex crimes committed by foreigners" by Lee Ji-yoon.
First I must point out that, as there are over one million foreigners, and approximately 20,000 English teachers, the foreigner article should be barely relevant on visa policy for English teacher. But wait, I predict it will be. ("Korean critical thought" has proven itself an oxymoron regularly and I expect no exception. A debate in spring in the Times showed an immigration official citing "increased drug crimes" as a reason to increase E-level visa regulations. Problem was, the "increased drug crimes" were committed by Thais, not native English speakers. But I digress.)
Second, there is reason to suspect sexual violence by foreigners would be far more reported than that by Koreans. The Kinsey Institute estimates the sex crime reportation rate to be at 6.1 percent, a far cry from the approximately-40% rate in most OECD nations. (http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/ccies/kr.php.) Kinsey also points out that gender disparity is absurd in Korea, with men enjoying far more power than women in just about every arena. The Grand Narrative (http://thegrandnarrative.wordpress.com/) just put up a nice piece, "Playholic," which quotes a female K-blogger as stating that women are shy to demand contraception from men for being seen as promiscuous in their social clique. The relation? Would an assaulted Korean woman report a Korean man who is more powerful than her and can destroy her social life, or an outsider? Clearly the latter. Hence we should not be asking ourselves, "What are foreigners doing?" rather we should ask, "What are Koreans doing that we do not know?"
Third, straight from the article: "While the nation's average indictment rate for sexual crimes was 45 percent in 2008, the rate for foreigners was 39.7 percent over the past eight years." This is followed by a cry for more indictment against foreigners. As a former defense attorney and prosecutor I can tell you, rapists are not not prosecuted (double negative intentional) just because they are foreign or leaving the country. However, a lot of sex crime complaints amount to lies (for attention or vengeance) or unprovable allegations. Would it be too much to ask the Korean government to rely on actual, proven guilt? Probably so, but I will nonetheless.
Finally, the article states that foreign arrests in 2009 are up over 40% from 2008. There is simply no explanation for this but selective enforcement. Consider: Group A and Group B both have 100 people and commit crime at a 10% (ten people) rate. The police, convinced Group B is deviant, monitor Group B's actions more closely by a factor of 2. At the end of the year, X (say 20%, 2) Group A citizens are arrested and 40% (4) of the non-law-abiding Group B citizens are. This gives rise to the statistic that Group Bs are twice as virulent as Group As. Rinse and repeat.
There has never, outside of riots or revolutions, been a criminal activity increase exceeding 40 percent. But the Seoul Police--who proudly gave an award to the overtly racist Anti-English Spectrum for citizen legal enforcement--could certainly be inept and biased.
I'd like to thank the Herald for running my piece, below. I'd like to not thank them for running the piece I just commented on.
If you follow "xenophobia" you'll see Sean Hayes' pointing out that this sort of idiocy is costing Korea money and visibility on the international stage.
Hey Koreans, do you want to be Japan junior (1) a lot longer or (2) no more? It's up to you.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
If you came here from reading that, (1) thank you and (2) check out the "humor" tagged writings, they're generally the most entertaining.
WONJU, GangwonProvince - "You don't live in Seoul? You must feel so isolated."
This was a comment from a Brit I'd just spent a few hours with in Hongdae, Seoul. But what did I expect? He'd been here a few years and still struggled to say "Juseyo," with a heavy accent, "JOOOsayyo," after placing an order in English.
As we sat and had Quiznos subs with three Americans with whom we'd just played music, I learned quite a bit about living in Seoul.
My new friends had plenty of contacts, and plenty of places to go on the weekend, but they didn't really know any Koreans. If they went places where Koreans were, there wasn't much mingling. They had no trouble integrating, but what were they integrating into? Korea, or a foreign subculture, like Chinatown in a major western city?
I, on the other hand, live in Wonju. It's about 90 minutes from Seoul by bus. The population is about 300,000, and there are numerous mountains and a few rice-paddy laden villages reachable by transit. My city got one - count it, one - paragraph in the last edition of the Lonely Planet, mostly because it's near Chiaksan National Park.
I know less than a dozen foreigners, most of them teachers at my school. There are so few white (or black) faces here that we automatically greet each other when we pass on the street, even if we've never met.
But I'm not writing to talk about my isolation from foreign culture. I'm writing to talk about how much Koreans in rural areas will reach out to foreigners. How, until he became too busy at his new job, Tony (English name) used to wait in a coffee shop every Saturday for a couple of hours just to greet and teach English speakers, calling it "Korean Club."
"Korean Club" introduced me to "English Club," where Koreans gathered to practice their English and drink until three, or later. English club made more than half the contacts in my phone Korean. We went for lunches, dinners, and drinks. We played pool and went camping outside of Chuncheon.
Were they constantly practicing their English with me? Yes, because my Korean isn't much to speak of. Did I feel used? No, I felt like we were having conversations, about everything from travel to relationships to movies. I felt like I had to move really fast to pick up the check.
Most of the amenities of a mid-sized city are here, just not in English. I go to yoga every morning and practice the words for parts of the body and relative placement particles (like prepositions). What I don't understand I mimic, in classic monkey-see-monkey-do fashion. I've taken a similar approach to taekwondo, and have managed to advance a little bit in that sport as well.
It isn't always easy - most conversations involve the phone dictionary, lots of gesturing, and substantial frustration. But you actually get used to those things after a while, and they motivate you to study Korean a little harder, which is never a bad thing. The constant embarrassment actually makes it easier to approach Koreans you don't know when you need help, or want to start a (small) conversation.
In the meantime, I've learned you don't really need to say that much to have a good night, even a late night, or a good shared meal. I've been to a traditional jjimjilbang that got some airtime on Arirang, four-wheeling (in Korean), and a big potato festival.
Admittedly, there are benefits to living in major cities - more to do, more people to (easily) meet and chat with, more variety in restaurants and pubs. I haven't heard a single note of live music here, and certainly haven't enjoyed any spoken words in English or independent films.
To those who live in big cities and enjoy it, I understand your perspective and the appeal of a major metro area. But I must say: You live in Seoul? You must feel so isolated.
For more of Darren Bean's writings, go to www.taegukilchang.blogspot.com - Ed.
By Darren Bean
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Let me back up a bit. (No disgusting pun intended.)
As you may have read, my (now former) yoga instructor is pregnant. Recently she reached a point where the pregnancy disallowed her to teach us the more intense yoga poses and moves, so we have a new teacher.
I personally quite like the new teacher. She's willing to correct me quite often (needed) and a change of poses/methods is always good.
She specifically emphasizes breathing. Pilates-style, stomach contracted, slow, deliberate breathing.
To this end, we were doing a warm up exercise last week: While sitting on our knees with hands outstretched to the sides, we would ball our fingers into a fist, then release, breathing in when we clenched and out when we released.
The yoga instructor said something, looked at me, then looked at one of the women in the class who speaks very good English. "Tell him," she said.
And the English speaker said, "Darren, when you make a fist, you need to tighten your ..." and gestured with her hand along her abdomen and buttocks.
"Okay," I said, and tightened my chest and buttocks.
"No, she said, tighten your ..." and did the same gesture.
The instructor then said "kwalyeokgeun," and the English-speaker shrugged.
Thinking I'd understood, and the word was of no importance, I confidently said "Algessumnida." The instructor shook her head, and we proceeded with class.
After class I met up with four women: The English-speaker and three of the best yoga students. The English-speaker again said, "When you tighten your fist you tighten your, ..." I said, "chest, buttocks," and another woman intervened.
This other woman, who I will call Yoga Master, is amazingly strong and flexible. But I've never heard her speak English beyond "hello" and such. And so I was all the more surprised when she said:
After eight months in Korea I'm proud of the body parts I know. Arm, leg, body, head; more recently I've acquired nose, wrist, mouth, eye, thigh, and buttocks. Rectal locations (other than the butt which you put your hands under when doing leg-lifts) never ranked terribly high on my list of things to learn, but for some reason (I'm hoping she used a phone-dictionary) she knew this one.
The English-speaker, who was using her phone dictionary when this interruption occurred, concurred, "Yes, sphincter! Do you know 'sphincter,' Darren?"
"Yes," I said. "I do. I should tighten my sphincter?"
"Yes! Your sphincter!"
We confirmed that we were talking about the same body part using hand gestures that maybe we should've tried earlier, gestures I'm not going to detail here.
Then the five of us went out in the hall, and two or three of the women demonstrated the exercise.
We all had our hands out, extended fingers, and gradually balled them into a fist as the English-speaker said "Breathe in and tighten your sphincter," and the Yoga Master echoed, "sphincter," and I echoed, "tighten my sphincter." And then we released the fist, the English speaker said "relax your sphincter," and the Yoga Master and I echoed "relax your sphincter." And then we did it again, but this time all of the women chimed in: "Breathe in, tighten your sphincter." And we ended in perfect unison: "Breathe out, relax your sphincter."
[Of course there's no picture. ]
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Sean Hayes's take on how the racist minority in Korea and other power structures are preventing Korea from becoming a real multinational player. If they do host the G20 in 2010 expect me to be outside with picket sign, unconstitutional law against daytime assembly still on the books or not.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
(and as a footnote lemme say Korean allergy medicine makes me feel really funny ... like even if I was still sneezing it'd be cool, man)
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
엣찌 있게 (et-chi it-ge)
(I actually saved it on my phone as a memo and forgot ... shame on me!)
Kim tells me that this is just a word for "Edgy," as in fashion-forward. Konglishlly speaking, that makes perfect sense. Back to the drawing board.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Most of the wealthy nations on Earth found their way there through exploitation and protectionism. The European powers and their colonies, America and its taxes and thievery. (America did not join the Berne Convention against intellectual piracy until they--blush--we-- stood more to lose from Chinese piracy than to gain from pirating European works.) Japan through its exploitation of you and others.
Your protectionistic taxes are legendary, even among your own people. The US has called in the WTO to see you tax beer and diluted soju equally, and right they are that you are favoring one beverage over the other, by rates of almost 80%.
But I did not acquire a taste for the cheap stuff to see its price raised! Fight to the bitter end! (Or lower the damn taxes on Bourbon and Scotch, already. Actually maybe that's a better ... no you won't do that, nevermind.)
Second, an explanation:
If you've been in Korea more than a few minutes, you've probably noticed the price discrepancy between the ubiquitous soju (the cheap stuff, not the traditional drink) and beer. Beer: over 1000 won/can, domestic, over 3000won/bottle, imported (one "standard drink"). Soju: about 1000 won/bottle (6 "standard drinks").
(For information on "standard drinks": http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Practitioner/pocketguide/pocket_guide2.htm)
If you've been in Korea more than a day, you've probably tasted soju, out of curiousity and the desire to save, and likely been appalled. If you've been here a few months, you may have acquired a taste. Or, as a friend of mine put it when asked if he liked soju: "I like to be drunk." (Notice flavor is not mentioned.)
The price difference--Why?
History and taxes.
The cheap stuff came about just after the war. According to Wikipedia (look, this is a blog, not academia, okay?), the Korean government prohibited distilllation from rice to alleviate food shortages resulting from the ravagings of the war. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soju.)
But according to scholars at American University (please ignore the name, it actually is a decent university), this was more of a "leftover" from Japanese colonialism than an action by the postwar government. (http://www1.american.edu/TED/soju.htm, section 2, paragraphs 3-4.)
The Japanese controlled brewing and only licensed to certain supporters, yet somehow soju slipped through the cracks ... the cite I give is not at all clear on why or how and I invite anyone to add to this discussion.
My well-educated friend Kim who, though he does not know the word for wedgie, see http://taegukilchang.blogspot.com/search/label/language%20barrier, is quite smart, has told me an anecdote: The Japanese government allowed and encouraged certain alcohol to slip through the cracks to encourage drunkenness, and thus complacency, among the occupied people. This explanation makes particular sense when you consider that the name, even, is similar to a similar Japanese product, shochu. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sh%C5%8Dch%C5%AB. I wouldn't do it in a paper but it's a blog, forgive me.) Given the numerous historical cultural exchanges between Korea and Japan this evidence isn't much, but it's enough for me to believe Kim and type a bit more.
Point is, soju was cheap and people drank it.
Now as you might now if you've ever encountered people and taxes, people don't like taxes on things they do. They like taxes on things other people do. Tax the wrong thing and you've got an uprising, regardless of the logic or justification.
So if everybody drinks soju, do you tax it? Not unless you want a revolution. But what about those western liquours favored by the rich under Japanese rule and the kids today? Tax 'em to death. 100%. No joke.
This is where the WTO steps in. Soju is cheap because its tax rate is closer to 20%. The US complains to the WTO that the preferential taxation is economic protectionism, which it is in actuality--there isn't any soju importation going on in Korea. And the WTO has since ordered Korea to bring its taxes in line, which the government is (slowly) doing.
So beware, soju drinkers. Soon that green bottle of poison may cost nearly $2.
So for the third time, I have gone, camera in hand to the local Korean Traditional Archery Club (name forthcoming when I remember it) and been trained, yet I still have yet to pull my camera out of my bag and take pictures. There's not a whole lot visually of note, honestly. Some grapevines growing to shade the seating area. Standing places and targets. A very nice lounge with quite a collection of trophies spanning 15 years.
What's more important is that there was a traditional archery group in Wonju, and I didn't know about it until months after my temple stay (where traditional archery was part of the fare). It's great. Training is one month (if you come every day) or three if, like me, you can only make weekends. For a couple of hours per day you learn technique from the sabonim and patience waiting for him to tell you do practice more while he works with the many others there.
Sometime in the near future (like when it gets cold and I will be crazy to go), I'll be able to actually fire on the range with my friend Jack, who introduced me (thanks, Jack!). Until then I will be strengthening back muscles, gaining callouses on fingers, and shooting ... nothing ... into the air.
But after a month, when I can actually pull a "real" bow, they'll let me shoot ... the arrow tethered to a rope for beginners. A month after that comes the real fun of missing far away targets repeatedly while my instructor shakes his head, seeing that I only absorbed half of what he taught me.
But hey, it's a start. And they're actually very helpful and patient, to be teaching to a non-Korean-speaker (I speak some but am not "flex your elbow and aim about thirty degrees while holding your breath" level).
Too bad I'm a vegan ... lookout remaining wildlife! I will be able to shoot somewhere in your general vicinity in a couple of months!
Friday, September 18, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Go Greg. (I've never met the guy but he's done good work in the press arena.)
I'm the Gangwon-do hagwon representative, officially contactable at gangwon [dot] hagwon [at] (the atek domain). http://www.atek.or.kr/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=51&Itemid=191
So far I've managed to help one person (actually in another province) with some ammo against his hagwon director who was paying neither pension nor medical insurance nor promised vacation days. Updates on that later.
For why we need a teachers' union, see:
The "mandatory viewing" below
Any tale of hagwon workers getting ripped off by their bosses, sometimes getting sued for trying to warn others, like this one: http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2876587
And this, for those who thought public schools were safer:
And a hundred others.
Important Event Dates:
Sep 26 KOTESOL Gangwon-do gathering in Wonju (free pizza!)
Oct 10 (tentative) ATEK Gangwon-do gathering in Wonju (probably lots of soju since Jack and I will be in charge!)
Early Nov. (obviously tentative) Habitat for Humanity Build
Anyone who happens to want to volunteer teaching or otherwise, please comment/email. We're using contacts from HOPE and around Wonju/Gangwon-do to try to set up a HOPE-like thing (but less formal, less paperwork). About HOPE:
Thursday, September 3, 2009
It takes a few minutes ... but wait until you hear about the Ministry of Justice.
Really people like the group you see are in the minority in my experience ... but we all know what a powerful, vocal minority can do. (Or in this case, has done.)
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Just a week ago, at Ocean World, I swear Park taught me a simple word for "wedgie." (After watching several women in bikinis go down a very steep slide, it was highly topical.)
So I asked Kim, "Kim, what's the Korean word for wedgie?"
"Well, we don't have a noun." (We must note that Kim is getting his Master's in English right now and was reading "English Syntax" on the van.)
"We say 'Butt ate trousers.' "
"Eongdongi-ga paji-rul meogeotda." (Politely: meogeosseoyo. But really, is this a "polite" topic?")
Somebody, tell me a noun for wedgie. It's not that I want to prove Kim wrong. It's that, like intelligent life, or peaceful coexistance .... I know it's out there.
[No picture ... is there an appropriate picture? I don't think so. So no picture.]
Sunday, August 23, 2009
But really, you do.
The beach is dirty, far away, scant on food, and cold.
The theme-park has beer about every fifty meters, a way-cool slide (actually, several), and best of all ... gratuitous Egyptian themeism everywhere you look!
"Whoa." (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix. Totally.)
When we arrived, I could not believe my eyes. I was about to spend my Saturday at one of those cheesy theme parks that I openly mock. Not only that, I had paid near $50 to get in and put another $50 more down in "Ocean World Coin" to buy things on the inside.
This is where being a cynical American is proven wrong, but I'll get to that later.
We took off our shoes just past the entrance and put them in shoe lockers. We were given rubber adjustable wrist-bands that looked like watches to wave by and open our lockers, and we were given UPC-like scannable wrist bands with our dear "Ocean World Coin." We undressed and locked up separately, and met at the threshold of a world of concrete, cash, and current.
Park, showing no signs of slowing down since the ATV excursion, led us at high foot-speed (on wet concrete) to a variety of locales before she sadly informed us (Caroline and I) that there were no beach chairs to be had (rented) and we would have to lie on the shaded concrete. We spread out our Snoopy, Hello Kitty, and sadly blank towels, put on our life jackets (required), and headed for the wave pool.
Before, I had been to wave pools. And the ocean.
This was bigger than wave pools, and, usually, the ocean.
This was less salty than the ocean.
This was more crowded than most subways.
But once I got used to bumping into someone wherever I turned, it was fun.
We swam, hand in hand, for the birthplace of the waves, near the wall, the speakers playing "dun-DUNNNH" (a minor third, I think) every time a wave was to come and the dog-headed god. Past the many fake stone cobras and palm trees we went, ignoring signs of "podu cotu" (food court) and the beach cabanas that destroyed the theme! We were swept up in waves bigger than us, catapulted into strangers as if in a mosh pit, and emerged, nasally clorinated, in time to laugh, rinse (okay maybe not rinse), and repeat.
Then it was snack time. The stands at Ocean World have the usual hot-dog fare, the usual (Korean) ddukbokki fair, and ... churros. Yes, churros. I don't know if I can call it "Konglish" as it is "Kospish" (or Spanglean?) but there were churros. Coincidentally, "cheoreoseu" is also singular, as the Koreans opted to adapt the plural, rather than the single "churro." Funny, considering that the "churros" were sold in packs of ... one. But we had beer (about $3 a pop domestic, $6 for heineken, not bad for a theme park) and churros and went to experience what every theme park promises:
Long f*ing lines.
We took our full beer cans to the line for the tube slide, which was over 90 minutes long. Along the way we watched people try to tactfully remove wedgies as they exited a high-speed slide, and we watched luge-like races on a hill.
It was a long 90 minutes, no doubt, and I had to pee by the top.
And then they put us in an inner tube with handles, two or three stories up, and pushed us down a curvy-bumpy slide.
And it was so totally worth it. Why did I skip Oceans of Fun when I was a child living near Kansas City? How could I doubt that those lines were for majestic pleasures? How wrong could I have been?
But I was.
Anyhoo, we had lunch, and a dip in the hot tub, and then got in line for the BIG slide. The 200 minute line. Two snack-bar trips and restroom trips later (done tag-team in line, of course), and we were sitting with a huge crowd, moving slowly toward an amorphous destination of adrenaline, looking at the 30 minute mark.
Then we got our two-person raft.
Looking at a five-story slide is one thing. Preparing to go down it, as you look out on the tiny people, is another. My companion is plagued with vertigo, and I merely anxiety, so I had to go first. I had the front seat to face the drop that we would be forced down to begin our ride.
Our Korean lifeguards were very polite, making sure we were in proper position and ready before we went. And then we went ... every up-swing, we caught air. We nearly turned around, but the (well-designed) corners narrowed and straightened us out. A few minutes (maybe twenty seconds?) later we were at the bottom.
Seven p.m., time to leave. Sorry for making you wait three hours, Park, but we did too. And coming here was your idea.
There were numerous other notables, too. Coin lockers? No, those are "self-control boxes," which, at about 10 cents, you should get several of. Nevermind they're right next to the smoking area. (Cough, irony, cough, pun, cough, hack, wheeze, done.) Stage shows? We've got 'em, nearly all day, in some of the "most interesting" costumes you'll ever see. http://www.flickr.com/photos/badukkong/sets/72157621992467965/ doesn't do justice; there were flamingo-like rags and puffy balls fit for Vegas glam and burlesque ... indescribable.
But the best part? Ocean World coin is refundable. They scan your bracelet on the way out and give you your money back. It's just an easier way of paying, not a way of predating on your laziness.
And that, my friends, is Korean hospitality. In a theme park. About water. And Egyptians. In the wooded forest.
***Do check out the video at http://www.flickr.com/photos/badukkong/sets/72157621992467965/. Audio's bad but you'll get the idea. Photos, too.
[Photo: Entrance with models/dancers. Russian, we think, by overhearing.]
Well it was fun. Well, not so much fun as tasty. But it was tasty.
Herb Nara (Herb Country) is, as the title implies, a themed-up K-tourist-trap somewhere in the depths of Gangwon-do. How I got there remains a mystery, as I was merely a passenger, but I don't remember the drive taking too long from the ATV place by P'yongchang.
There were herbs.
Lots of herbs.
Herb jam, herb tea, herb bread.
All pleasing to the palate. So much so that I took some home despite the exorbitant prices. (Okay, not that exorbitant for organic produce in Korea, but still.)
And then there were more herbs.
And some stupid photo-ops.
Four-wheeling (ATV riding) near P'yongchang (still in Gangwon-do, Korea's most rural province, but near Seoul). Great fun. For about $25 per person we got a brief introductory lesson and an hour of guided on- and off- road adventure. The trail started paved and straight, and gradually got more difficult as we progressed. There were beautiful views to be had off the side of the mountain, but they were not as captivating as the task of staying on the path (and thus on the mountain), and so my memory is fuzzy and pictures are not to be had.
A couple in our group wanted to go quite slow, so we did, but eventually, when we were about to turn around, the group split. My Korean friend, Park Gun-yeong, who is a bit of an adventure nut and trainer, basically demanded that we go further, and faster, and then come back to get the rest. Before I knew it (I just reacted to "Darren, come on"), we were going full throttle.
At first, I was glad. It's easier to go fast--you have momentum and not every rut in the trail is a major obstacle. But it's not easier to turn fast, and when you're on a path about twice as wide as your ATV with one side being a guardrail-free drop down a mountain, you really don't want to skid out. Or at least I didn't want to. Park, on the other hand, was no longer to be seen.
Eventually I caught up with her and the disenfranchised guide who did not understand why I had parted ways with the pokees, and we headed back down. Next stop: Herb Nara
An meogsumnida: "Meog" is eat. "An" before it makes it negative, and the "sumnida" afterwards makes it formal. (For those who can read Korean but aren't familiar with the irregular pronunciation rules, piup ("p") is said "m" before niun.)
Meog ji anhayo: A less formal (but still polite) way of saying you don't eat. Again "meog" is eat, "ji" is a connector used with verbs, "an" (like earlier) makes it negative and the "--yo" makes it polite.
(If your phrasebook has "an meogayo," that's basically the same thing but didn't fit the song rhythm as nicely.)
Bbego juseyo: "Take out please" ("bbae" is the stem of remove, "go" is a connector used with verbs, and "juseyo," literally "give me" makes it nice and polite.)
Gogi: Meat (Tweiji: Pig, Soe: Cow, Dalk: Chicken. Yes you have to say all three. "Meat" by itself generally is taken to mean beef. I've seen ham in "vegetable" kim-bap (sushi-like) rolls. See http://taegukilchang.blogspot.com/2009/07/no-meat-doesnt-mean-no-meat.html.)
Modun chongnyu gogi: ("Modun" means every ("modu" in the adjective form) "chongnyu" is kind, and I think we've covered "gogi" by now. Again for those who can read and are surprised at the spelling: riul ("r") after iung ("ng") becomes "n.")
Haemul: Seafood. (Mulgogi: Fish (which is not seafood sometimes), Seu: shrimp (and lobster but let's not go there), Joge: Shellfish (usually clam). Yes you have to say odang seperately, it's not considered seafood. Again, see http://taegukilchang.blogspot.com/2009/07/no-meat-doesnt-mean-no-meat.html.)
Tarun keot i. First, you probably noticed I say "kosh-i" that's because shiot (romanized s), when in the padchim (bottom) is said like a "t," but when followed by a vowel (like "i," our dear old topic marker), it usually is said as an "s" and part of the next vowel. That said, "tarun" is another and "keot" is thing. Since Korean usually doesn't distinguish between plural, this could be either "another thing ..." or "other things ..."
Kyeran: Egg. In a dictionary there are a ton of words for egg. This one works in restaurants. I have no idea what the rest are.
Uyu: Milk. Kurim: Cream (duh), Aisu Kurim: Ice Cream (duh again)
Meog ji anhaso: Same as "meog ji anhayo," but changing the -yo to -so makes it a reason for doing something else. Here, "because I don't eat these things ,... " (followed by "please take them out," "bbego juseyo").
Hope you enjoyed it. Veggies in Seoul have some resources, like this one: http://seoulveggieclub.wordpress.com/.
The rest of you, though (like us Wonju-ites), best get to singin'
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Normally at this point the polite thing would be for me to ask how far along she was. She definitely wasn't showing. But how do I do that? "Onje yo?" Literally, when, could mean when it would be due or when it was conceived, and I probably cound guess from context (in the future or the past) what she meant, but it'd be better if I could ask "When + [due date or conception date]?"
Sadly I don't know any even polite terms for intercourse, much less conception, and that wouldn't be the most polite approach, anyway. I could ask when she was due maybe by saying "Onje ai sargesseoyo?" (Literally, when will it intend to live, because I don't know a proper future tense yet.) Maybe "Onje ai sarolkeoeyo?" (When will it probably live?) But neither of those are terribly polite.
Being fluent in the universal lecture of gestures, my next thought was to try to communicate by hand movement either (1) a baby being born or (2) a baby being conceived. The latter is easy, but again, impolite, and the former ... well the best I could do was either (a) make a circle with my hands and gesture, using a forearm, something large coming out, or (b) make a basketball hoop with with my hands/arms and poke my head through.
Then I thought, "Perhaps I could even combine the gestures and completely humiliate myself."
This left me with only the typical stranded foreigner option: Wait for someone else to relay the information to you, if you're lucky. This approach beats offending everyone in eyeshot and earshot, though.
(Of course, by the time I had figured all this out four other people had entered the room and we had already begun yoga class.)
Credit: Arirang TV, in a special about motorcycle delivery in Seoul. If my school in Wonju can hire a handful of native speakers to teach, do you think maybe they could hire one to edit?
Sunday, August 9, 2009
This weekend was the first (am told) Gangwon-do Big Potato Festival! Three days were dedicated to the root vegetable (which I do love), marked by food, crafts, booze (of course), and even a bit of singing and dancing. Four hours was enough for me (as there were only 20 or so booths), but that's not to say I didn't enjoy myself.
A bit of background: Gangwon-do is home to, supposedly, Korea's most delicious potatoes. Gangwonites (?) themselves are sometimes referred to as "potatoes" ("kamja") due to the fact that, when Korea was much poorer, Gangwon's soil could not produce rice and thus Gangwon produced (and consumed) potatoes.
Back to the festival: On display courtesy of the Forestry Research Institute were several ... interesting ... arrangements of beautiful moths. There was also animal taxidermy which, as a veg, somewhat bothers me but I must confess it was tastefully done (other than the moths) and the specimens were beautiful and well-preserved. We (I went with a coworker) saw quite a variety of flowers, onions, mushrooms, and (of course) potatoes.
Outside that very large tent were (1) the nicest port-a-potties I've ever seen and (2) the rest of the festival. It included display booths with several nice products that were ... not for sale. I left with namecards and maps to places I'll probably never go instead of honey-coated dried mushrooms.
The potato sales were handled similarly. Although red and purple (yum!) potato samples were available and promoted, only if I order online and get delivery will I cook their deliciousness in my very own kitchen. Thankfully, shipping is cheap here.
Another booth was make your own kamja-jeon (potato pancake)! For a measly thousand won (less than $1 US), I was provided with a large potato and a grater. When my labor was finished, the ajumma on the other side added minced vegetables and fried up my finely grated treat. Lunch? No longer needed.
But there was more food to be had, and it was had. Potato dduk (rice cake)--all the starch you need in a week ... in a single serving. Croquettes so creamy they looked cheese filled, but were only potato (and actually a bit too creamy, if tasty nonetheless). Potato booze with your meal? Sure, but it's not vodka--it's a kinda smelly, if mellow to drink, sweet wine, weighing in at, am told, about seven to ten percent.
I skipped the crafts made of silk and potato flower face painting, but another booth intrigued me--some sort of potato glop and mesh cloths were sitting out. I approached, curious, and was told to extend my hand. The glop was placed on a cloth, and then on my arm. I was told I would be exfoliated and whitened in ten minutes. To date, I can't tell the difference, but Korean women (who are more aware of such things) have consistently guessed correctly to which arm the mystic potato cosmetic was applied.
So to the cosmopolitans in their big cities I say: Sure, you have a variety of restaurants, live entertainment, and such, but ... do you have potatoes?
Photo link on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/badukkong/sets/72157621861869041/
[Photo: The mascots of the festival.]
Sunday, August 2, 2009
At Golgulsa, one of my roommates highly recommended the Yangdong Folk Village outside of Gyeongju.
The folk village previously had not made my radar as it was (1) a half hour bus ride plus a half hour walk outside of Gyeongju and (2) a folk village, which could not, to my mind, guarantee much more than the shopping of the folk craft village.
I was wrong.
Yangdong folk village, though not readily accessible, is a stunning collection of Joseon dynasty homes, lecture halls, and other buildings. Its noteworthiness comes in its scope (taking hours to walk through), its preservation of commoners' hut-like dwelling homes, and the fact that some of the homes are even still occupied. Occasionally a halmoni will glance up from her television while you photograph her house.
We arrived and were greeted by a bilingual volunteer guide who directed us to the four national treasures contained in the village and gave us English guidemaps. We mentioned we were hungry and she walked us to the restaurants. (There are only two restaurants in the village to preserve its character.)
On our way into the restaurant, a man offered us slices of peach (not cheap), and we sat down. We had a very nice doenchangcchige (like miso soup but thicker and with more veg and tofu) and p'ajeon (spring onion pancake with soy dipping sauce) and side dishes for ... the same price those things would have been in Wonju. The two allowed restaurants in Yangdong serve great food and don't gouge you!
This naturally put us in a good and we headed out to explore the village to be greeted by ... the bilingual volunteer! She had walked back up to the restaurant area to offer to give us a personal guided tour, in our native language, of the village!
(Perhaps now I should mention there is no entry fee for the village, so this was all "gratis.")
She took us to the varied historical treasures in the village, and explained the very human history of the village. Though a Confucian village, Yangdong is known as the son-in-law village because it is where men would go live with their wives' families. The two founding families were competitive, each building up successive pavilions and lecture halls such that the village has about seven times as many as would be expected.
We toured traditional humble restrooms (mud hut, straw roof, hole), luxurious houses with separate male and female quarters, and the hillside and valleys along the way. Our guide told us how to make a stomach-soothing drink from maeshil (plums) and sugar.
About three hours later, we had seen the national treasures and most of the village. Our guide politely disembarked, and we headed back to the restaurants to try the recommended cheongju (filtered rice wine). We went to the other of our two options, and had a significant quantity of wine as well as very, very nice kim chi and tofu for a mere 12k won.
From there, we walked back down the highway parallel to the railroad tracks to our bus stop, snapped a few photos and went home.
But to reiterate: 24k won (under $20 US) spent, four hours entertainment, food, history, and a guided tour. Definitely on the "recommended" list.
[Photos on Flickr but not yet grouped.]
[Ed: Pic of humble homes in Yangdong.]
Saturday, August 1, 2009
My photos are now up on Flickr. I tried to use FB but it hated so I was all like, "nuh-uh" and so I totally did tha Flickr thang.
Enough bad English.
Search for my screen name, badukkong, or follow the link:
The photos are grouped on the right side. I'm darn close to my limit (after deleting several) so view 'em now, while they're there.
[Pic: Man and girl on Bonggi beach, near King Munmu's Sea Tomb (in the background).]
Ch'alborippang. My new favorite food.
What is it?
Two small barley pancakes (about the size of your palm) with sweet red bean paste in the middle.
I think I ate about 30 of these in my time in Gyeongju. The perfection is hard to describe. They are pancake-house quality pancakes, yet prepackaged. The ratio of sweet bean paste to pancake varies by venue (from very little, like a stingy jelly sandwich, to a noticeable amount with extra pancake to hold the extra spread) but they are always super-mega-yum. Breakfast with coffee ... snack on the go ... IS THERE ANYTHING THEY CAN'T DO? I don't know.
For travelers with the Lonely Planet (Korea) in tow, note: ch'alborippang is the pancake sandwich mentioned in the Gyeongju chapter, not gyeonjuppang. Gyongjuppang is more bean paste (a lot of bean paste) in a cylindrical bread shell. Better for those who like bean paste but lacking the beautiful texture of the ch'alborippang.
And for family and friends: I'd bring you some, but unless I bought a suitcase full on the way to the airport, you'd never see them after a 14-hour flight. Guess you just have to come visit.
Friday, July 31, 2009
At 4:00 a.m., crawling up a hill in the dark, you begin counting the hours until you leave boot camp temple. Your legs move out of stubborn will but remind you with every step that they'd rather not.
Eventually you make it to chanting, and follow along on the slow chant even though you're reading hangeul. Feeling brave, you try the same on the fast chant (for the musicians, think: syllables at around 140/minute or so) and quickly are lost. Out of boredom you make up your own words, partially cathartic, and partially reviewing recently-learned Korean words:
sundubu chige meoggoship'eoyo, chagoship'oyo
ilbangt'onghaeng means "one-way street"
pissan ieyo, kakka juseyo
man-on, man-on, kakka juseyo
tari apayo, manhi apayo
I'm hungy, I'm tired
I want to eat soft tofu stew, I want to sleep
"ilbang tonghang" means one-way street
that's expensive, give me a discount
10k won, 10k won, give me a discount
my legs hurt, they hurt a lot
And so on. The second full day, apart from the tiredness (lack of sleep) and aching body wasn't terribly distinguishable from the first but for the 108 bows.
The 108 bows, or baek-pal bae, are done to show humility, contemplate mistakes, and reflect on the decision to live rightly. These are not waist-bows. These are feet-together, in a controlled motion (read: using the legs) fall to the knees, press head to the floor, stand up in another controlled motion (same leg muscles), and repeat for 20 minutes bows. By halfway through your cushion is sweat-stained by your forehead. And then you have lunch, archery, chores, and training.
An aside on archery would fit nicely here, so I'm going to throw it in. It's fun. It's exhausting. Just pulling the bowstring back takes a fair bit of arm and back strength. Letting it fly with accuracy while you're shaking from the effort isn't easy by any means. Proper technique is essential--small failures result in scraped thumbs (from the arrow, your thumb acts as a bridge), or reddened arms (from the bowstring snapping them).
The rest of this story is pretty much the same, and will be omitted, as I am trying to keep this brief because there was a centipede on the cubicle next to me in the PC bang, now it is out of sight, and I fear it will pop up from the keyboard when I am not looking, and I will scream. More on Golgulsa and my return to Gyeongju (and the very excellent Yangdong folk village) soon.
[Pic: Sunmudo training center.]
We were told that we would need to get up at 4:00 a.m. (with our "wake-up call") and could not be late for chanting at 4:30, so naturally I set a back-up alarm.
There was no need.
A monk hitting a wooden block and chanting quite loudly circumambulating our room at 4:00 sharp. We hiked up three stories or so on a steep hill to meet the
Schedule, in brief:
5:00 sitting meditation (30 minutes)
At 5:30, we did walking meditation and stretched when we reached a clearing at the bottom of the field. We then hiked back up the hill to have our breakfast.
I should take an aside here to marvel at Golgulsa's layout. It is truly a place where everything is uphill, both ways. The temple is structured like a V, with the cafeteria building at the bottom the V. It is uphill to each peak of the V, and the dorms are halfway up the left side. The dorms are, however, beneath the temple where morning chant is held, and morning chant is beneath the pagoda where walking meditation first goes. Hence you go uphill to chant and uphill to walking meditation. Then, having gone downhill during walking meditation, you go uphill for food and then further uphill (to the "chant room") for 108 bows.
These are not tiny hills. These are three-to-six story hills that you would not want to go down on on anything with wheels. These hills hurt.
What about training? Well, that's up the other side of the "V." (the right side). So, going from your dorm to the training center means going downhill, to go up, and going back involves the same (but more uphill).
Returning to my first full day, we had our breakfast (rice, kim chi, and tofu--tofu was a once-a-day treat), and had an hour and a half of "relaxed" sunmudo training. By relaxed, I mean there were spells of sitting and lying meditation. We did not kick or punch. We stretched and held poses. Poses like supporting your whole body on your forearms and tiptoes. For a full minute. Or until you collapsed. Nice, kind, easy, "relaxed" training.
Then, instead of returning to the chant room to do 108 bows (explained later), we were told we would go hiking. A compatriot who was finishing a month-long stay said, "it's got to be better than bowing," and we were off. We were hiking up a trail about 200 vertical meters, and took about 90 minutes total time to climb the hill, turn around, and descend through another path. Along the way we saw mushrooms of varying colors, from tan and gray to a rather bright purple-pink, and some so sizable they would substitute for small birdbaths. We looked out on forested hills and small villages, and talked briefly in broken Konglish. When we got back we were too late for tea but ready to go to lunch.
Needless to say, at this time, I thought my legs hurt. The next two days would teach me a lot.
Actually, this day would teach me a lot. We had archery (fun!) at 2:00, chores (weeding) at 3:00, and dinner (rice, kim chi, and something) after a short nap. Then we had "hard" sunmudo training. Bear walking on your knuckles is painful, the same on fingertips is incredibly difficult, and duck walking after a day of hills ... well I have to admit I wussed out and just walked like a human, despite some respiteful glares from our instructor.
Then it was time for bed.
The next day I would start to appreciate my legs more, and make up my own chanting words.
[Pic: Mushroom convex and large enough to be a small birdbath, diamater probably around my waist size (30" / 75 cm).]
Monday at about 4 p.m: I arrived at Golgulsa, a fairly secluded temple far to the East of Gyeongju. Golgulsa is most famous for teaching Sunmudo to outsiders. What is Sunmudo? A combination of Taekwondo and buddhist principles. A combat-ineffective, gymnastic, incredibly demanding martial art designed to harmonize body and mind and challenge the practitioner.
Pros and Cons, in short:
Pro: Best kim chi I've ever had, and damn good rice.
Con: For every meal, inluding breakfast.
Pro: Meals included in room fare.
Con: See above.
Pro: Excellent martial arts training.
Con: For three hours a day on top of all the hill walking you're doing. Not optional.
Pro: 40k won (per day) for everything.
Con: Late for anything=1080 bows.
Golgulsa is a martial arts temple, without a doubt. Punctuality is revered, from the 4:30 a.m. chanting to the 10:20 108 bows to the 8:30 p.m. training before bed. Golgulsa specializes in "turning around" troubled children, with a combination of excessive demands and infinite patience. I personally witnessed four slacker high-schoolers sleep through things and show up late, to be told, kindly, that they now had more work to do.
As for the rest of us? Well, as I said, I began my day at about 5 starting with dinner. The finest kim chi I've had, rice, and some sides. A few hours later was training. "Excited" would understate my mindset.
The session began with stretching and "balance poses." The instructor grabbed one foot with one hand and stuck the other hand up in the air. We followed suit. He extended his leg to be perfectly straight, at a 90 degree angle. I tried my best. To emphasize that this difficult pose was only a step, he then moved his extended leg so that it was perfectly vertical. He was doing standing splits in front of us while we hopped and moaned, trying to extend our legs.
But then stretching ended and punching began. One punch at a time, easy. Three, getting tired. Five? Was tired already. Ten, in rapid succession? Gave all I had. Felt it in my shoulders for the next two days.
Then we kicked. We held the kicks at first, learning odd squatting transitional poses, and clapping our hands together inbetween kicks (we then would extend our hands with our legs, or splay our hands to our sides for added effect). Hana, dul, set, net .., we did several sets of ten, until thoroughly exhausted. We ended with tai-chi like slow-motion poses, focusing on breathing and relaxation.
Having survived the training, I was exhilirated. Gradually over the next few days my muscles would remind me that 90 minutes was a far cry from 4 days.
[Pic: The stone buddha carved into Golgulsa.]
Monday in Gyeongju was my last day getting up after 4:00 a.m., my last day not having kim chi for breakfast, and my last day feeling my legs (and liking it) for four days that went far too fast but seemed like an eternity.
I got up at a reasonable hour and took a bus to Bulguksa, a famous temple East of Gyeongju. Like most temples, this one has been largely rebuilt, but rebuilt to exacting specifications. Like most temples, it sits atop a wooded hill (like the hill I would soon curse) and looks out upon beautiful scenery, has astounding sculptures and architecture, and all in all was an amazing, and reasonably priced (4k won), experience.
Bulguksa was beautiful, if swarming with tourists, and this entry is mostly an excuse to place-save for picture links in the future. My apologies.
(FYI the "Folk Craft Village" was great for shopping, but not for folk existence--the Yangdong folk village in Part 4 was far better.)
My second day in Gyeongju was a predictable but enjoyable tourist's path through the "major" hits.
First, I should really lavish more praise on Gyeongju. It is to Korea what Kyoto is to Japan: Not the first city you'd think of, but easy to navigate, tourist-friendly, and historically rich.
Walking slightly further than I had yesterday, I initially saw (even more) historical burial mounds set against mountain forestry in the background. Having grown accustomed to such scenery, I proceeded quickly to Cheongseomdae, the East's oldest observatory. Though appearing little more than an awkward oversized stone pillar, each piece is carefully thought out--the base, each story of the tower, and its facing all are calculated to correlate to months, days, and the year.
Shortly past Cheongseomdae was Anapji Pond, and the path to Anapji was a trail through varied gardens, including water lilies so plentiful that the waterway was hidden. Anapji itself (on a vacation weekend) was a very crowded tourist draw, but still the faithfully reconstructed buildings reflecting off the pond were quite beautiful, and there were well-kept and kindly displayed Shilla-era relics (from incense burners to cups to a game die) within the building.
The third stop was the Gyeongju National Museum. Having relegated only a few hours to this museum, I could only view a couple of the buildings, and listen to the recording of a temple bells beautiful and haunting overtones. (More on that, and TV coverage of it, in a later post.) Suffice to stay its collection, being spread out among multiple buildings is less imposing than the National Museums', but still is rich and English-friendly.
Now it was time for lunch. A nearby place offered ssam-cheong-shik (rice eaten in greens with lots of side dishes) at a reasonable price and then I was off to Namsan.
Namsan is reachable by both bus or foot from Gyeongju, but not knowing the bus routes (and having an abundance of energy), I went by foot. The small portion that I hiked in 3 hours (the Lonely Planet has courses spanning 8 hours) included a stone buddha sculpture in a buddhist nunnery, and Korea's largest collection of buddhist relief carvings--on a single rock (but yes, a different rock from the aforementioned sculpture). Trails were not particularly well marked but locals were helpful. Bathrooms were ... special.
Which brings me to another point. The hostel I stayed in these two nights was also "special." Generally well rated (but docked for cleanliness), I can assure you the detractors are not being overly critical. No bedbugs, no roachs, but that's about all I can say. It was a bed, though, which was more than I'd have the next three days, as I was about to be the victim (though glad) of a boot camp billed as a "temple stay."
[Ed: Pic from the National Museum.]