Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Traveling Korea: Will I Get Bugged? Plus, Blatant, Crass Self-Promotion

Got this question... usually answering questions is the realm of Ask the Expat, Ask A Korean, and sometimes Chris in SK does them, too, but this one came to me. I've made some changes, for brevity, privacy, and to make myself seem more awesome:

Hi Roboseyo the awesome

My name is Kyoposeyo - I'm such a fan of yours that I legally changed it, and your blog gives meaning to my life. As a second generation Korean/Canadian, I want to thank you on behalf of my race for being so awesome. Awesome. I'll say it twice. That's how awesome you are. Having been raised by first generation Korean parents (grew up in a Canadian city), I know a thing or two about Koreans, despite not having lived there, nor being as awesome as you.

I want to throw a question your way: hopefully this complete stranger's question will pierce your near-indestructible shell of awesome. It would help me a lot if it did, and you answered.

I am planning a trip to Japan and Korea in May; I'm going with my caucasian boyfriend. He wants to see Korea's natural beauty, and bask in the awesomeness of the place that inspired your awesome blog. Awesome. There's that word again.
I have been to Korea with my family before, but NEVER with my boyfriend. I speak Korean, but am wondering how Koreans will react to us being together. I thought I'd ask you since you are a foreigner, and I am assuming your girlfriend is Korean?

Your thoughts on this would really help me in planning my trip. I haven't booked a ticket yet, as I am figuring out how many days I want to spend there with my boyfriend.

Sincerely,
Kyoposeyo
p.s.: Awesome!



Hi, Kyoposeyo.

Thanks for the sweet letter. It's actually my policy only to answer letters that use the word "awesome" the exact number of times you did (ten, or twice per paragraph for longer letters), so you lucked out, I guess.

To answer your question:

First, a qualifier: I can't speak for how your family will react. Because family's closer, things are just different; your parents will be more useful in briefing you on introducing him to the family. If he's meeting your uncles, I bet they'll try to get him drunk, as my best friend's uncles-in-law did. For family, their impression will depend a lot on how they've been prepared for meeting him, but that's all I can really say about that.

Next, for people in Korea, once it's clear that you're not Korean born-and-raised, you often get a kind of a free pass here. Therefore, one thing you could do is simply pack clothes that are clearly Canadian, and noticeably different from the fashions Korean women wear. Wear very little make-up, which will set you apart from most Korean women, even in the summer. If you're going to Japan first, pick a few distinctively Japanese accessories you can wear, that'll set you apart for passersby looking from a distance. Then people will size you up as a tourist and the "rules" won't apply to you. You could even speak in more laboured Korean, as if you don't know it well, to make your disguise complete. Of course, if it doesn't sit well with you to deny your Korean background, don't do it; I sure wouldn't hold that against you.

Third: I think the reactions your boyfriend will get, being seen with a visibly Korean woman, really depend a lot on your boyfriend's appearance. Some people have a lot of trouble with negative attention from Koreans when they're out with their Korean girlfriends, but I never have, and I think it's because I do what I can to keep a well-groomed appearance, and try to make a positive first impression on the Koreans around me, especially when I'm with Girlfriendoseyo (who is Korean: you were right about that). I might be totally wrong here, but I bet you'd get more attention in general, if he looks like a bedraggled hippie with long hair, a grizzly adams beard, and torn clothes - just because NOBODY dresses or looks that way in Korea; once he's attracted all that attention, there's a greater chance some of the attention he attracts will turn negative, and that some individual will peg him into the stereotype of the ugly English teacher stealing "our" women or whatever. But if he dresses in a way that keeps a low profile, and fits in with the locals, there's a much much lower chance that he'll elicit that reaction. When in Rome, wear a toga. Those viking furs might be the heighth of fashion in Denmark, but they won't get you far at the Coliseum.

If he's groomed, smiling and polite, if you teach him a few Korean phrases and he says them with a friendly air, all those same people who'd otherwise mutter, will smile and tell you he's a handsome guy, and maybe offer him a shot of makkeolli or some extra side dishes. If you're out climbing mountains and in nature, which it sounds like you want to do, you're very likely to encounter the nicest side of Koreans, rather than the unsavory side: many of the most positive experiences I've had with Koreans, especially older Koreans, have been on the mountain. The same old lady who, in the city, would shove you to get onto the subway car before you, will share her lunch with you on the mountain-- the climbing culture is one of the friendliest aspects of Korea I've come across, personally, so you're probably in for a treat if you're heading for the hiking trails.

Of course, you can also just tell everybody you're married, too. These days, international marriages are nothing out of the ordinary in the countryside.



So, dear readers... agree? Disagree? Am I totally out to lunch? What other advice should I give Kyoposeyo and her Caucasian boyfriend about having the best experience possible in Korea?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Do Stuff: Events and Ways to be a Good Person

I got a letter from a guy named Abhishek Joshi, an expat living in Suwon; he wanted to spread word about a program expats in Suwon have organized, to volunteer at a local orphanage there. He's looking for people who will join him and the others who are already part of the crew, and volunteer in Suwon - give back to the community where we live. Here's his site. I'm also writing about this at the 2S2 Community blog.

Hermit Hideaways, steadily winning more and more "hey, buddy: sweet blog!" points, has some upcoming concerts you can attend.
This is another live show you can attend. Carsick Cars - Chinese Post-Punk.

I have a ton of listings of events and things in my facebook inbox:

Guest speaker Lee Kyung Sook, from the Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea (JCMK), will be speaking at Amnesty International's meeting on Saturday, 06 February 2010, from 16:00 - 18:00. The facebook event page is here.

KISS - Korean International Salsa Social, has regular Thursday night events now. This one includes a salsa lesson. The Facebook event page has more info. Dancing is fun.

And Ka-Brew Korea is having a Beer River Cruise on Saturday, 06 February 2010, starting at 7pm at the Yeoinaru Docks and finishing in RMT Itaewon. You can read up on it here. The theme is pirates.

I heard from the Wild Women's Performing Arts Festival (WWPAF), is a bi-annual fundraising event that uses visual and aural performances in order to address the issue of gender equality in Korea as well throughout the world.

Proceeds from the Festival are given to the KWAU (Korea Women's Association United), an organization that advocates for women's issues in Korea, including the Korean Women’s Hotline, the Dashi Hamkke Anti-Trafficking Organization and agencies for disabled women.

The Festival will be at the Mong Hwan in Sinchon (Sinchon Station, Exit 2). The event will be held on Saturday, February 27 from 8pm-5am.

(all photos on this post are from last year's WWPAF festival) Yet again, there's more information about the event on Facebook.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Weekend Notes: Moving Day, and Movie Quote of the Decade

1. Korean moving companies, seriously, rock. Girlfriendoseyo moved to a new place: the place where we'll live together after the wedding in July (did I mention there are nuptials in my near future? I did. And the post where I announced it, and said:
I got engaged this year! If I don't get at least twenty comments of congratulations on this post, I'm shutting down the blog forever.
is squatting at 12 comments, and Roboseyo remains in danger. Come on, readers. It's not like I asked you to send money or something. Is it that only twelve of you read to the end of the post? Cripes.

But Korean moving companies, comments or none, still rock. A swarm of people comes into your house, loads everything into baskets boxes and things, trucks them to your next place, and unloads them. The guy who did the bookshelves even had a system whereby he returned all the books in the same order on the shelves as they were when he boxed them. All Girlfriendoseyo had to do was point and say "put it in this room" or "that room" and all I had to do was stand around looking handsome (and that takes effort for me), and be tall once or twice.

2. Girlfriendoseyo's mom, Omonim, is cute, and I like her more and more. Today, we discovered that she likes bubble wrap: I grabbed some from the dishes box, and she, Girlfriendoseyo and I had a little moment together, popping bubble wrap. It was brilliant. She even stored some away for later.


3. OK, I was thinking about this, and I'd like to open the question for comments. What was the movie quote of the decade? I mean, a really memorable movie quote has to be usable, it has to be instantly recognizable as "from that movie" - "Frankly, dear, I don't give a damn" "make him an offer he can't refuse" and stuff. (AFI's 100 best movie quotes)... it also has to immediately evoke the movie in question - Saw's "I want to play a game" doesn't evoke the movies quite clearly enough. In fact, if I have to name the movie it's from, it doesn't belong on the list.

The '90s had some good quotes:

"FREEEDOOOOMMM"
"Does that make you horny, baby?"
"I know kung-fu"
"I see dead people"
"My momma always told me life is like a box of chocolates."
"I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. FUPFUPFUPFUPFUP"
like, ALL of The Big Lebowski

and so forth... but what about the naughty oughties? This writer can't come up with anything, and when I tried to think of some good ones, I kept thinking of quotes from '90s movies. So, readers, what IS the quote of the oughties?

Here are the ones that come to mind; a few might have come from an article on this topic that I read a while ago... and I want to know what YOU think might be the movie quote of the decade.

Here are the ones that I think qualify: Immediately identifiable, evocative of important moments, and quotable - you know how to deliver the line:

"I drink your milkshake"
"This is sparta"
"My precioussss" and "YOU SHALL NOT PASS"
"I wish I knew how to quit you"
"Why so serious?"
"I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth."

What am I missing?

On the second tier: a lot of will ferrell
"Hey Honey! We're streaking!"
"I'm kind of a big deal" or "Stay classy, San Diego"
"He only has one face!... I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!" or "What is this? A school for ants?"
"Rock stars have kidnapped my son!"

Help me out here, readers. What are the other most memorable quotes from the '00s?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Back-blogged: last few pictures

1. why I'd rather go to Seoul's indoor skating rinks.

Look at that awful ice.
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What self-respecting Canadian would choose to skate on that... except on a first-to-third date, with a legitimate shot at some smooching?
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2. Girlfriendoseyo took this sweet picture of me at Morning Calm Garden: I like the question-mark shape I'm making. My fiance has a really good eye for photography.
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Back-Blogged: Daegu

So I went to Daegu on December 30 and 31. That was nifty. I had two weeks off before winter sessions started, and I had to get out of town. I met up with a few pals, had the worst Guinness beer I ever tasted. I think it was some of that swill where they mix one part guinness with one part hite, but it was awful. Seriously, I just don't get the mixed drink thing. Cranberry vodka? Rum coke? Yeah, I get that. But pouring soju and coke into a pitcher of beer? What the yuck!

Had a nice long talk with a pal, and then slept in a jimjilbang for the night.

Then next morning, I met up again with my pal and Dann Gaymer, ATEK's public relations manager, and had a nice breakfast, and a little walk around the famous Korean traditional medicine market near Dongseongno, and then wandered almost all the way to Dongdaegu Station, the KTX terminal. I like the Daegu Downtown: because it's more centralized, it's a little less bewildering than Seoul, which has at least five legitimate, frantically busy downtown shopping/hangout areas, and a bunch more almost-there's - Hongdae, Jongno, Hyehwa, Kangnam, Apgujeiong, plush Shincheon, Konguk Univ., Yongsan, Itaewon and let's not forget the sweet downtown spots in some of the satellite cities.

Downtown Daegu.

Daegu's slogan is "Colorful Daegu" = which could be seen all over. I especially liked this shot, because of the colorful spill-stain on the tree-grate.
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It was colorful, though.
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The main road had no crosswalks, and underpasses instead. Nice for traffic. Bad for chronic knee pain.
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Cars weren't allowed in the downtown area. This was another thing I really liked. I suggested to Girlfriendoseyo that Seoul should also ban cars in the downtown shopping areas. She replied "But there are too many assholes who like to show off their cars, who would stop it from happening in Seoul" ... and Girlfriendoseyo is so sweet and well-mannered, that her use of the word asshole really has meaning - I hear her say it less than once a month. But... well said.
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The car-free downtown was also people-free, because it was a bloody cold day.
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Shiny at night.
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Daegu is up with the cheesy, stylish food crazes: don't be calling daegu-ites a bunch of rubes!
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They got brand-name chains, too.
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I crossed the Geumho river.
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Along the way, I hit up some markets in Daegu. You can find this stuff in Seoul, too, but it was fun walking around the ones in there.
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This market had some especially nifty stuff:
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Coolest thing: I saw the rice poppers. You know those crunchy, rice-puffy things that you eat at a bar? Well this is how they make them.

I saw them making it. It was sweet. Then, while they were waiting for the rice to get hot enough to pop (it takes quite a while), the ajumma started doing one of those sweet bbong-chak dances that are the glory of old age in Korea. Her husband joined in, and it was one of those little moments when the world is awesome... and I got it on video. Sweet! Usually I can't get my camera out in time.


This was funny, too: this plastic surgery clinic was right in the middle of downtown Daegu - Daegu's aiming to be a medical tourism hub... or was that mecca? -- and it made me laugh that Korea's first playboy model, Lee Pani, was all over this clinic, promoting it. That a nude model was promoting a plastic surgery clinic was intriguing, and kind of funny: nude poses and lingerie promotions are one of the things "respectable" Korean female stars avoid like the plague, while vociferously denying that they had plastic surgery... so it seemed both appropriate and funny to see a nude model on a cosmetic surgery clinic.
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And when I got back to Seoul Station (yay, KTX!) this was happening.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Back-Blogged: Christmas trip to Suncheon Bay and Boseong Lights Festival

So... my nemesis Dan Gray of Seoul Eats and I got together and planned a nemesis-themed Christmas party. It was great.

We got turkey from the army base near Itaewon.
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There was way too much food for the size of the group (as Christmas dinners should be), so I got to take home a pumpkin pie. The world is a wonderful, wonderful place.

Joy was there with a hat she got from one of those places (Baskin Robbins, Paris Baguette, and I forget which others) that always have a dumb awesome hat contest.
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Chris in SK was there, with his hilarious girlfriend, as were a bunch of Dan Grey's friends from the Seoul Eats meetups, and Kelly NameChangedForPrivacy made an appearance as well, as did an old coworker whom it was great to see.

Then, Girlfriendoseyo and I hopped in a car and started driving: we were heading down to Boseong, for the Tea Fields there, where every Christmas they string the tree plants up and put on a light show. We drove all day, stopping for an early dinner in Jeonju, home of the world's best bibimbap, where they threw more food at us than we could comprehend, and had the best yukhoe (raw, minced beef - traditionally not a favorite of mine, but I'll make exceptions) I've eaten in a long, long time.

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The lights were nice. Strangely, the closer we got to the lights, the nicer they looked, and the were definitely the prettiest when we were right out there, walking around in the middle of the field.

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Thanks to a botched reservation, courtesy of Roboseyo the dumb, whose Korean (lack of) skill still leads to the occasional snafu, and sometimes makes him feel like a noob, we got stuck out in Boseong with, literally (she checked) not a single room for hire within a forty kilometer drive. We drove to Suncheon, where there was one hotel room open in the entire town, and that thanks only to a cancellation (this is what happens when you travel inside Korea on holidays... especially on years when all the red letter days fall on Saturdays and Sundays)

(Here's a video of the lovely lights of Boseong, and Suncheon bay. Keep reading for more on Suncheon.)

But we found a place to crash. And you know how food tastes way better when you're starving, and there's a chance you won't eat the next day? Well dear readers, when you're worried that you'll have to spend the night in a skeezy 24 hour jimjilbang near Suncheon Bus Terminal, or crammed into reclined bucket seats in the car, waking up once an hour to run the engine and warm up the car... then even a simple room in a business hotel seems like a luxury suite. Oh, yes it does. And yeah. The irony was not lost on me, that we were driving around Jeollanamdo, and there was no room at the inns, on CHRISTMAS night. I'm also sad to report that we didn't see any shepherds, and no angels appeared.

On Saturday morning (the 26th), we woke up early enough to check the weather reports: it called for snow on Sunday, so we decided to drive as far as we could on Saturday, rather than do the lion's share of the driving in bad weather. Thanks to some sweet sleuthing, some good luck, and another cancellation, Girlfriendoseyo once again found us a place, one town over from Boryeong, and this one was pretty sweet. It was a beach condo, and it was an amazing, gorgeous place to say... except that whole below freezing thing. (it was cold and windy. Pretty, but bad beach weather).

However, before we headed out, we got a chance to meet up in Suncheon with Brian in Jeollanam-do, in Jeollanam-do. We had a nice hanjeongshik meal with Brian and his fiance, who's just wonderful, and I'm happy to report that Brian's a wonderful guy, and the in-Jeollanamdo's, as a couple, are adorable. Girlfriendoseyo liked them the first time she met them, last Christmas, and this year again, we had a grand old time. We'll look forward to the next opportunity to hang out with them.

After lunch, Girlfriendoseyo and I headed out to Suncheon Bay, which Girlfriendoseyo told me is spectacularly beautiful.

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I concur.

It was crowded, crowded crowded (cf: famous places in Korea, Korean holidays)
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And this poor girl was there. She'd dressed appropriately... give or take twenty degrees celsius.
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I nearly froze my camera and my fingers taking pictures at first (it was beautiful bobbing in the breeze... but cold), and then, climbing the hill to the Suncheon Bay observatory, I was sweating in my winter gear....

but the photos were worth it. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, worth it.

from the observatory
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The water reflected the amazing blue sky.
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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Kopi Luwak: The World's Rarest Coffee. Yep. roboseyo drank cat poo coffee


Kopi Luwak: it's not a myth.

it's a real coffee, made from beans that have passed through a civet cat who has a knack for picking only the best coffee beans on the entire plantation, to eat.

It's a really rare delicacy, but my buddy Bryan (you can see him in the video) knew a place in Hongdae where we could get some. So, of course, we had to get some. Bryan explains more. And hang on for the reactions after we make the coffee and try it.

And of course, we made a Youtube video about it.

If you want to try the amazing cat poo coffee for yourself, you can go to Kaldi Coffee Club, up and around the corner from exit 4 of Hongik University Subway station. Here's their website, and their phone number. 02 335 7770, and here's a map of how to find them.


Monday, 18 January 2010

Canadian Embassy Wants to hear from you, Canuckers

[Update]: The guest list is now full, but you're still welcome to contact Ms. Kim by e-mail (see below)




I got a message from Nicola Kim, a political officer working for Mr. Ted Lipman, the Canadian Ambassador to Korea himself. After a year of discussion about the English teaching experience in Korea, as well as Korean media representation of them, not only here on the blogs, but in Korean courts, and even in the international press (not to mention CBC Radio), the embassy is interested to hear feedback about life in Korea directly from Canadian English teachers.

The meeting will be at the Canadian Embassy in Seoul, from 2:30-4pm on Thursday, January 28th, and Nicola's looking for a one or two more voices to round out the discussion. They're especially looking for long-time teachers, who have been around the block a few times, and have a longer perspective, and even more, at this point, females are underrepresented on the guest list. If any of my readers, especially the female ones, are long-term English teachers in Korea, who hail from Canada, and you have a thing or two to tell, or ask the Canadian Embassy about life in Korea, here's your chance to put in your two bits.

If you aren't free at that time, but you can think of something you'd like to tell the Canadian Embassy, either a complaint or a request, or a "is there anything you can do about ___" or "you could help new incoming Canadian English teachers if you ___" kind of tidbit (or should I say timbit), you are invited to either leave your comments at the bottom of this post, at which point I'll be happy to relay them on to the Canadian Embassy when I go, or you're also invited to contact Nicola Kim directly by sending an e-mail to nicola.kim at gmail dot com

image source



I'm glad the Canadian embassy is doing this; it's a great gesture, and while it makes sense insofar as it will reduce the number of anguished calls they have to field from distraught English teachers, it is also a opportunity to open more communication between the community and the embassy.

So fire off that e-mail, if you can come to the meeting, or let Nicola know what you'd like to say, whether you can come to the meeting or not.

Periodic Table of Canada

I'm not a tech blogger, but memo to Korea: Germany thinks your browser sucks


The country of Germany has encouraged the whole country to stop using Internet Explorer, as it was the browser that made the hacker attacks on Google China possible. Microsoft itself has said that Internet Explorer might have been the weak link in those attacks.

Meanwhile, Internet Explorer six remains the most popular browser in Korea. Imagine building the greatest highway infrastructure in the world - a country full of Autobahns - and then allowing only horse and buggies on it. That's Korea's internet right now.

I really like that google's finally taking a stand against China's web censorship. The information age is making the great firewall of china more porous: it seems that it can be circumvented if people know how, easily enough. Meanwhile, it makes me nervous that the google accounts being attacked were those of Human Rights agitators living in China. I like that Youtube/Google Korea preferred to block uploads and comments from Youtube Korea, rather than require real names.

This is reminiscent of a little while ago, when hackers based in China took over a bunch of zombie computers, including that of the Dalai Lama, hacking into the computers and stealing access to their files, and even being able to take control of their webcams to snap photos ... later the Chinese government seemed to tip its hand, communicating to people who were scheduled to meet the Dalai Lama that such meetings would be ill-advised. (see here)

Ladies and gentlemen: the battlefield of the future, where ones and zeros will be more important than munitions and laser targeting systems.

The internet's an interesting place these days.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Tough Love, Cupcake: How to learn Korean or English

The Korean has an excellent article about how to learn a foreign language as an adult. The summary: suck it up and work hard, you wuss. Who ever told you learning a language well was going to be easy? Go read it.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

In Which Roboseyo Exhorts Seoul City Not To Get in A Snit About Lonely Planet

So Lonely Planet says that Seoul is the third most hated city. Similar statements have been made before, and then as well, Seoul city got all worked up...

Now, first of all, the idea that an institution is within its rights to "correct" people for their opinion, getting upset and responding with "are not, either!" the way Seoul City has, especially when it comes to something like travel preferences, is just silly... yet it happens. And then it happens again. And a similar pattern occurs in other areas. . . not least Korea Times' infamous "Setting The Record Straight" (ps: note the absence of comments below said article)- which is basically the same attitude in a totally different arena. (speaking of which... since publishing that correction (of its readers), The Korea Times has demonstrated an admirable change of direction.... not. yep. I made a 'not' joke.)

For the record, Seoul City's response makes more sense, and more valid points, than the KT's.

Now, as far as the deeper, cultural-level workings of this kind of reaction, I'm probably out of my depth, but we've seen this "let's correct his/her opinion" attitude before: KT's unapology, Brian in JND's 2008 cyber-bullying incident, Seoul City's previous head-buttings with Lonely Planet, and, uh, VANK. Korea's hyper-polarized political scene demonstrate that there IS a healthy bit of disagreement allowed in Korean society... but then this "Let's correct" thing pops up, too... often enough for me to want to start investigating it, looking for a sociological source. So, if anyone wants to give me a grant, I'll get on it.

A few guesses, though: this "let's correct his opinion" thing might simply be traces of Korea's quite recent authoritarian history, in which the people in power right now grew up in a time when those in power COULD say "are not, either" and quash their critics' dissent... but that doesn't work anymore, and the sooner they figure that out, the sooner they will stop appearing arrogant and snippy and hypersensitive, the sooner they will stop taking outdated approaches to modern challenges. I wrote at very great length on the way Koreans get defensive about criticism way back in 2008, and might recommend you read that.

But here's what I want to focus on right now:

Getting all worked up because Lonely Planet says that Seoul Sucks is just not what a world class city does. Sorry, dude. If somebody in a major magazine, or a travel guide, says "Paris has dog crap all over the sidewalks, and the citizens are rude" (commonly-known stereotypes), Paris city hall doesn't go to the press nitpicking those claims, questioning the methods of the survey which discovered tourists don't like stepping in dog crap or getting shite service at a cafe. Why not? Because they're motherf***ing PARIS, that's why. And because they're motherf***ing PARIS, they either figure the travel writers can say what they like, because all press is good press, or they try to improve the complaints they can, if they care to, but I'm SURE they don't write 160 pages of promotional material and send it to the publishing company that called their city... whatever they called it. When Seoul announces itself as a world design capital or a mecca of whatever or a business hub or whatever else, but then feels the need to strike back at a travel guide that said something they don't like, they undermine their attempt to be taken seriously. They'd do better combing the criticisms for ways to improve, and then moving on... or ignoring it, because it's just the internet. Better still: say nothing, and let other people jump to their defense, which makes it look like Seoul is taking the high road, while still further increasing the amount of Seoul-related discussion that's occurring here and there.

Defensiveness. There are myriad reasons Korean companies, netizens, or individuals might get defensive, possibly stemming individually from the frustration of being crapped on by the level above them in a deeply hierarchical culture, in organizations that are frustrated that many people in the world still think Samsung is Japanese, nationally from the frustration of being sandwiched between China and Japan, two richer neighbors which have left a larger imprint in the consciousness of the world... and we end up with people who can't abide someone who whispers that D-wars sucked (that's changed... even the kimcheerleaders who originally supported it smile with embarrassment, or feign amnesia, like the Beef Mamas who are buying American beef, and can't quite remember where they brought their kids in strollers last spring.

And you know, sometimes, singling something out to say it sucks, is a higher form of praise than anything else. There are thousands of dumber songs written than Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, but the people writing these top ten and top five lists know that tagging the Beatles will get them more viral headlines, and a stronger reaction. But saying the beatles suck, or one of their songs suck, or their name sucks, is just a tribute to what a deep impact the band has made... if people are taking cheap shots at Seoul, maybe that means Seoul has officially entered the pantheon of world-class cities! It's been validated as a big, easy, well-known target. Don't you get it, Seoul City? That's GOOD! The New York Times put Seoul on ITS list of places to visit this year (though it didn't clarify whether this year means 2010 or 2010 to 2012) --

If Korea wants to actually have the place in world culture it claims to aspire toward, it's gonna have to get used to these kinds of cheap shots. People aren't going to see Ninja Assassin because Rain is Korean. They'll either see it because it's a good movie, or ignore it because it's a bad movie. Right now, Korea's trying to have its cake and eat it too- it wants to be a world media force, but it also ONLY wants people to use approved phrases when talking about it. That just ain't gonna happen.
When Korea figures out that if Wonder Girls gets a bad review in a rock magazine, that's better than being ignored, I'll get to stop writing blog posts like this. If Rain gets mocked on the Colbert report, that's GOOD - he's becoming more famous! Anybody who doesn't get that, well, it seems to me that they're concerned less with whether Korean culture is actually rising to prominence, and more with... something else (possibly what Gord Sellar once wonderfully described as the standard, near-universal conviction among Koreans that a positive image of Korea must be presented to the world). Eventually Korea will have to let go -- it'll have to realize that the country's big enough, and significant enough a presence, that they will no longer be able to strictly control its perception and its promotion. Creating an authenticity badge for Korean restaurants abroad will accomplish nothing, because people will eat the food if it's good, and they don't care if some stuffed shirt from Seoul approves of it. Eventually, if a teenager from Des Moines blogs that The Wondergirls Suck, Korea will be confident enough in its position that thousands of fourteen year olds WON'T feel compelled to tell that teenager to kill herself. Until then, this all-fired defensiveness just screams "Inferiority Complex" to everyone but the kimcheerleaders who are too red-in-the-face to notice.

Monday, 11 January 2010

2S2 January: a rousing success!

Happy music: Mass Romantic, by The New Pornographers. Glee.


So 2S2 happened again on Saturday. First of all, I'm thrilled to report that Wonju had a 2S2 of their own, over there, and they had an awesome time. You can read about it at the 2S2 Blog, and you can go to my superstar buddy Danielle's blog and tell her how wonderful she is.

This picture is a teaser: for the full write-up of the 2S2 get-together on Saturday, you'll have to go to the 2S2 Community blog.

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Tee hee. Snow on trash.
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This sweet New Year's ice sculpture was on the way from one place to another.
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the good thing about this picture is my nemesis Dan Gray giving me his "seduction" face. Look out, ladies.

The bad thing is I'd urged him to make a more embarrassing pose, and he refused. I'm very disappointed that he's figured out not to do that stuff when my camera's out. For my readers, even more so: we're going to have to find somebody else to tease and/or embarrass with silly pictures.
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footprints on one of those bench blocks in Insadong.
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#2 bummer of the weekend (#1's personal)

We headed to my favorite spiced wine shop. It was not far from the 2S2 meetup. I led a whole group of about 20 of my good friends and Dan Gray's food fans...

to a missing cafe.

See, one of my favorite things in the world is finding great restaurants and stuff, and then showing my friends where they are, and watching them enjoy the victuals. But because I'm so often bringing friends to a place, when one unexpectedly disappears on me, more often than not, I've got a friend or twelve in tow, to watch my dismay, and to think I'm a doofus for leading them to restaurants that don't exist. I have to say this was the largest group ever to mock my despair, as one of my seriously favorite restaurants had been replaced...

by a freaking handbag shop. A handbag shop. Because Samchungdong REALLY needed another handbag shop. it's the only thing the friggin' place was missing. Spiced wine schmiced schmine. Handbag shops are what really defines a great district.

Oh well. Could have been worse. It could have been replaced by a telephoto lens shop for all the froofy couples.

But bitterness aside: the rest of the day was great, and a very rewarding experience, and I'm super glad it happened, and I'm already excited about the next one.

Special thanks to Dan Gray for doing a double-down 2S2 with the Seoul Eats crew: it was a great shot in the arm, and a really positive experience for everyone... except the girl who left the tea house without paying. She's gonna get it.

Just kidding.

Have a good one, all!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Come to 2S2 today!

It's the Second Saturday of January, so it's time for another 2S2. This month, we're doing a 2S2 special, teaming up with the Seoul Eats Meetup, and here's the score: meet at 12pm, at Anguk Station exit 1, for the Seoul Eats part of the meetup. You'll walk down Insa-dong street, and coming from that direction, just past the Ssamzie Square, you'll see a pharmacy on a corner on the left: turn left down that side-street. You'll walk right past a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Then, once you're past the coffee bean, go left again on the first really small side-street. Look, once again, to your left, and you'll see a dumpling restaurant called "Koong". They have the best large Korean dumplings I've eaten, and I highly recommend the ddeook mandukuk - rice-cake dumpling soup. The broth is simple and tasty, the ddeok is super fresh, and the dumplings are fat, juicy, and flavorful, with all the dumplingy goodness you could hope for.

Now here's the sad part: because of an unexpected twist, I have to do something for my boss that's going to keep me busy from 10-12 this morning, which means the earliest I can arrive at the Seoul Eats meetup is about 12:30. That'll be time enough for me to get a good meal, but I'm a little choked that I can't be there for the beginning of the event I helped plan with Dan.

Next, at 2pm (hence, 2S2) we're going to the Twosome Place, the usual 2S2 meetup. We'll muster there, but not stick around too long: I'd like to get out of there fairly quickly, in order to go to a quieter place. If the group's smaller, it'll be spiced wine (glauwine) at a sweet panini restaurant I know, and if the group's bigger, it'll be tea at one of Insadong's great tea houses.

If you live in Wonju, please go to the second 2S2 Pocket, organized by Wonju Wife: read about it here.

There's a google map at the 2S2 Blog, for the Seoul Meetup, and the Wonju meetup.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

2009 Retrospect: Top Ten Blogoseyo Moments of 2009

The top ten Blogoseyo Moments of 2009 - my personal favorite/significant Roboseyo moments of 2009

This is a companion piece to the other year-end retrospects I'm publishing this week, including:
The Top Ten Things Roboseyo Learned Personally This Year
The Top Ten K-Blog Stories of 2009
The Top Ten Expat Stories of 2009 (in the Korea Herald)

And to go with it: some of my favorite songs from 2009.

MGMT - Kids (note the zombie theme in the video)


1. Writing subtitles of supposed translations as the Korean swimming announcers' heads exploded over Park Tae-hwan's gold medal swim took a long time, but was eminently worth it. The post is mentioned more often in comments and e-mails than any other. Eat that, Dokdo is Ours!



2. On Ugly English Teachers and Racist Journalists
Choi Hui-seon wrote her four part hit-piece on English teachers just as I was leaving for my summer vacation, so instead of reporting with the freshness, this five-part series tried to pull together a few themes going around on discussion boards, while taking a look at the Expat/English teacher community as it stands today, and the gap between what we expect and what we get from Korea, and the gap between what Korea expects and what it gets from us.

3. Tony Hellmann, ATEK forming, and The Wagner Report
Blogging The Wagner Report was one of the most time-consuming single-posts of the year for me, but trying to shed some light on the content of Benjamin Wagner's complaint to the NHRCK, and trying to find a middle ground concerning the misunderstandings and bad blood stirred up between E and F series visas was hella stressful, but necessary. The formation of ATEK, and then AFEK, were both positive steps toward a more connected, and truly viable expat community in Korea. Unfortunately, Tony Hellmann - the subject of my first bold statement on the topic - found himself a target of some attacks, but hopefully everyone involved has learned a thing or two about what is and what isn't OK to do when you disagree with someone.

4. Travel Twofer: Morning Calm Garden and Kyoto
My two favorite travel destinations this year were Morning Calm Garden and Kyoto... Morning Calm Garden because sweet mercy, that place is beautiful, and the photos practically took themselves, and Kyoto because, though I didn't announce it on blogoseyo, it's where I proposed to Girlfriendoseyo. Plus, she totally said yes! And later that night, we totally French-kissed, too. Sweet! Other trips this year included Andong, Hanoi, Gyeongju, Canada (more Canada) along with day trips to Paju, Yangpyeong, Jaraseom, Yongin,

6. Freedom of Speech and what NOT to Joke about in Korea
I fired this post off after a really interesting discussion class. The way Korean freedom of speech laws work is way different than it is in North America. It demonstrates a very different view of public and private discourse: to oversimplify, let's say harmony ranks much higher on the cultural value list here than it does back in Canada, and possibly even higher than truth.

Radiohead: Four Minute Warning


7. Pro-Gamer's Tournament
Almost a year after actually taking the photos, I finally ran this write-up about Korea's competitive computer gameing tournament: online gaming is a fascinating cutural phenomenon in Korea, and worth a closer look.

8. The Korea Times Crashes and Burns, and other Media Hijinks (Yonhap, Kang Shin-who, Choi Yong-hee)
While Brian in Jeollanamdo and Popular Gusts had the most extensive (PG) and timely (Brian) coverage, Seeing Kang Shin-who cover English teachers was like watching a car crash in slow motion, and watching him run the Korea Times' credibility into the ground as he went was sad for one of Koreas's few English reporting sources. At this point, between the continuous embarrassment of the comment boards, the increasing number of simply asinine articles, refusals to print corrections, retractions or apologies, and expressions of straight defiance and contempt for its critics, rather than an attempt in good faith to improve, has me in a position now where I have to encourage readers to read the Korea Herald instead: at least they're actually trying to give expats a voice, rather than treating us with contempt. If you're going to get a subscription, I highly recommend the IHT/Joongang mashup: International Herald-Tribune (of the New York Times) and the Joongang Daily. Oh, yeah: let's not forget the Alien Graveyard (good lord I wish I'd bought a paper copy of that issue). It's pretty sad when a paper goes from being linked regularly at The Marmot's Hole, to being linked regularly by Dokdo Is Ours and Koreangov, in the space of a single year. (Yonhap News and Chosun Ilbo were other subjects of roboseyo media criticism)

9. Jon Huer and the Top Ten Favorite Things about Korea Survey
After a bunch more outrage over yet another Jon Huer essay that put words into foreigners' mouths, I challenged people to come up with their OWN top ten list of things they liked about Korea, and the results, published originally on The Hub of Sparkle and in The Korea Herald, were pretty fun to read. While Hub of Sparkle's down, and possibly out, the Korea Herald article is still up for reading.

10. Zombies Zombies Zombies!
Guilty pleasure of the year was zombie movies, and man they were fun. A few of my zombie posts... and also the one about the rise of the craptacle.

And, two bonus "Hurt to Omit" specials:
Only You can Save Roboseyo From Hating Korean Music! - loved the comments on this one.
and this, the post/comment thread that inspired it.

and

How to get noticed in Kblogland


Service Bell, by Feist and Grizzly Bear

2009: Year-End Blogoseyo Retrospective: Top K-Blog Stories

(some images taken from my flickr page)

Here's a look back at the year of K-Blogging:
(and of course, let's punctuate it with music that made me happy this year)

Band of Horses: The Funeral


Matt at The Korea Herald asked me to do a top ten expat stories of 2009, which you can read here. It got me thinking, first of all because lists are fun, and second of all, because I like to take a look back at things in December, so I'm going to give you 2009 in countdown form. I wrote a personal reflection list that you can read here... though I work hard on these personal reflection posts, they're usually the ones that get the fewest reads. Oh well. If the seven people I love the most are the only seven who read it, that's OK with me, really. All the rest is just icing:

The top ten K-Blog Stories of 2009 - the most significant, or talked-about topics on the 2009 K-blogosphere

1. The Korea Times - beginning with strife, and ending in a train-wreck. We should have seen it coming with Jon Huer's series of off-base, un-founded, or just generally ridiculous series of columns. Few commentators on Korea have stirred up so many forehead-smacks, or baffled, upset, or angry comment threads. Bloggers wondered why this guy, who seemed to be writing about an imaginary Korea, got a regular column, while their letters to the editor were going unprinted. In the late Summer, Huer called off his column series, apparently tired of all the negative feedback. Meanwhile, Kang Shin-who seemed to be trying to redefine journalism as a means to grind one's axes, and cause strive in the communities about which one wrote: his misquotes and distortions, which came so frequently, and reflected the same prejudices so uniformly as to make them seem intentional, rather than simply a case of carelessness, along with as his seeming hair-trigger readiness to give quotes to the webmaster of a hate-site - the Anti-English Spectrum - gave the impression that he had a hate-on for English teachers, and in response, it has become common knowledge among English teacher bloggers and NET blog-readers not to give interviews to a guy named Kang Shin-who, and generally to avoid the Korea Times altogether, as its reporting has mostly demonstrated contempt for the English teachers in its audience, and its only response to the criticism directed at it was not an apology, or a retraction: it has been a resounding, childish, "Are not, either!"

At the same time, The Korea Herald has moved into a clear lead as the preferred newspaper for K-bloggers looking to see their names in print, thanks in large part to Matt Lamers' excellent work as editor of the paper's Expat Living page.

2. ATEK and AFEK
For a few months this spring, discussion about ATEK heated up into a total free-for-all, with heated opinions on both sides. While the legitimacy of ATEK as an organization was much-discussed, the personal lives and characters of a few of the key players also got involved, in a way that moved off the comment boards and not only into real life, but into people's employment and legal situations. Update: AFEK, which started out as a snarky repudiation to ATEK, is developing into a community of F-series visa holders to be watched, and which could be capable of great things, and ATEK now has somewhere around one thousand members (as of January 2010.

3. Ben Wagner and Andrea Vandom
Ben Wagner has never been a member of ATEK, though one of ATEK's first public moves was putting its support behind Ben Wagner's complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Prof. Wagner's argument that in-country HIV tests violated English teachers' human rights, and actually worked against the proper protection of Korean children, led to Andrea Vandom refusing to submit her health test results, and a constitutional challenge to the HIV test for English teachers. In June, Ban Ki-moon and other human rights heavyweights called Korea out for its stigma-inducing AIDS testing regulations, and on World Aids Day, 5 other migrant workers' groups also filed complaints to the NHRCK about HIV tests.

4. Benojit Hussain - general wisdom on the K-blogs was to walk away if somebody tried to get into it with you, but Bonojit bucked that advice, and went to the law, leading a Korean judge to award him Korea's first ever civil settlement for a racist attack -- something there isn't even a law for yet. It also caused Korea to take a look in the mirror, as regards racism here, and attracted international media attention, as well as prompting a big discussion on numerous blogs, and a wide variety of opinions on the topic.

5. Korea In the International Media - Barack Obama mentioned Korea's education system, Korea's single mothers were covered in the New York Times, Bonojit Hussain's case also made international headlines. Roh Moo-hyun's suicide and Kim Jong-il's succession, and arms dealing made the kind of worldwide headlines Korea doesn't like, but meanwhile Korean actors starred in a few hollywood movies, and a few Korean singers tried to expand the Korean Wave to America.


6. Jon Huer - some were annoyed at his articles, some were annoyed that The Korea Times would print them, many simply didn't recognize the Korea he described in the regular column Jon Huer wrote for the first half of the year. For whatever reason, and though someone who knew him once assured me he comes across a lot better in person, Jon Huer's articles often just seemed like he was making Korea up as he went along, and rubbed a lot of expats here the wrong way, especially when Mr. Huer applied his "blanket statement" style to expats. His columns ranged from positively ingratiating to harshly critical, even condescending and orientalist, but the one thing most of them shared was a tendency to generalize wildly, often in ways that made his readers wonder what country he was describing, and why he thought it was Korea, and where he got his views, and how long it had been since he'd updated them. (English teachers with backpacks? Seriously? Happy new year: hope you have a good 1995, Mr. Huer.)

7. Swine Flu, Kimchi, and Festival Cancellations - there was the quarantine, there were rumblings of painting swine flu as a foreigners' disease, there were a number of highly entertaining "in Quarantine" blogs, and then, suddenly, finally, there was soap in the dispensers, and people covered their mouths when they coughed and stayed home from work if they felt sick. Well, not that last part, but still: sanitation awareness hit an all-time high this year, and that without a single mention of hazardous materials, downer cows, or spinal fluid. American beef quietly found its way onto Korean market shelves


8. Korean Stars go Global - Boa, Jeon Jihyun, WonderGirls, Rain's abs, and Lee Byung-hyun all tried to make their marks in America, with varying degrees of success. The Wondergirls were the first Korean band to chart on the Billboard top 100, Ninja Assassin got critically panned, but that was because of the Wachowski Brothers' failure to consider story an important part of filmmaking, Blood: The Last Vampire vanished like a dirty secret, without even a courtesy nod from the Kimcheerleaders who rallied behind D-Wars, and not that it's really saying a lot, but Lee Byung Hyun was possibly the best part of the summer craptacle G.I. Joe.. This was fodder for the Kimcheerleaders, of course, and the "Do you know Chee Eye Cho?" questions came fast and furious, while expats weighed the relative merits of the new phase of the "Korean Wave".

9. Rise of the K-Comedy Blogs - This was Dokdo Is Ours' first full year of operation, after starting in the middle of last year, and while comedy blogs (especially ones that frequently update) are hit or miss, some of the high points were memorable. Later in the year, Koreangov hit Twitter in a big way, and finally opened a K-comedy blog of its own, while a few other K-comedy blogs had a few kicks at the can, and faded, and other bloggers managed to crack the K-comedy quicklist simply because the topics were so funny: it may well be that next December, we'll be looking back at 2010 as the year of the rise of the K-boy dating blogs, as a handful of hilarious blogs about hooking up with Korean boys suddenly burst onto the scene this fall. Read more about Korean comedy blogs here.

10. The Marmot Hole Comment Board Implosion - Dongchim once called The Marmot Hole "Dave's For Ajosshis" and as the year wore on, the comment threads there got to be more personal, and less informative. The back-and-forth came to a head in December, when Robert closed comments entirely for a while; we should have seen this coming, with commenters like King Baeksu and Linkd leaving, with the return of Pawikirogi, and, worst of all, with the fact, as the year went on, fewer and fewer fresh voices and new commenters bothered to read, or add, to the comment discussions at what was once far and away the most lively and interesting comment board in the K-blogosphere. Nobody's going to eclipse The Marmot Hole's popularity any time soon, though for relevance, Brian in Jeollanamdo got to most stories sooner than the Marmites did in 2009. Now that moderated commenting is back on at The Marmot's Hole, who knows what the new year holds, but the challenge of maintaining a lively comment forum that doesn't get bogged down in personal attacks or axe grinding remains an elusive happy medium in Kblogland.

Stay tuned for The Top Ten Blogoseyo Moments of 2009... coming soon.




and here's a song called "Dragon's Lair" by Sunset Rubdown, a band starring Spencer Krug, a favorite indie artist of mine, from their album "Dragonslayer" (get it?)




anyway, here's the song. It's long, but I love how it builds.