Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Not that they really have a choice, but. . .

Pretty much everything I read about the IOC in the lead-up to these olympics has disappointed me.

Latest: freaking journalists won't have uncensored web access for these Olympics.

For the ladies: a blogoseyo first (and probably only)

I just moved into a new apartment, in order to start a new job at Privacy University, where I'll teach adults (as before) work harder, and have VACATION TIME!!!  I'm also next door to my best friend, so things aren't too shabby.  The new apartment is just about triple the size of my last place, but my stuff is still all over the place.  Anyway, I'm a happy dude.

Random thought of the day:

Now, swimming is one of the best things you can do for your health, so it follows that high-level swimming competitors are probably extremely healthy.

I'm not into guys or anything, (though the people who collected these photos seem to be). . . but Michael Phelps, even if you care nothing for swimming and sports, is an Impressive Human Being: he's a contender for eight (count'em, eight) gold medals at the Beijing Olympics (which I still don't support, but I'm not getting into that here). He won six in the Athens Olympics (and two bronze), and has set his sights on Mark Spitz's single-Olympics record of seven.

Meanwhile, the guy looks like God called up a swimming coach and asked for tips on creating the perfect swimmer. Look at those long gorilla arms and crazy huge hands for scooping through the water.   I mean, he also works hard and he's a hell of a competitor. . . but he sure got the physical tools to go with his mental makeup.

Here's the "for the ladies" part: a little beefcake to balance out all those bikini pics and TNA that I usually post here.

(turn on safesearch before you do a google images search for him, though -- there are certain demographics who, um, like insane sixpacks, and whose sites some of my PG-13 or Focus On The Family readers may not want to accidentally visit -- the things I put myself through for you, dear readers! The things I put myself through.)

However, if you like pictures like this (you're welcome, Melissa), give him a google.

Suddenly, MTV cares about swimming. Hope swimming inc. isn't disappointed when they lose interest after Sixpack, I mean Phelps, retires.

To be fair and balanced, female swimmers are also very very healthy: Amanda Beard, who spent a little while near the top of men's magazines' "Sexiest Female Athlete" lists, battling it out with Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova and a few other people without NIKE contracts, looks very healthy, too.  Amanda once posed for playboy, thus making it hard to find clean pics to post here - turn safesearch on before you do the image search for her,  if you're at work or something.  Luckily, I painstakingly combed through all those dirty pics to find a few excellent, clean pics to help you appraise the condition of her health.  The things I do for you, dear readers.  The things I do.  (More images of Amanda Beard here.)

all images from google images.

both swimmers are seen modelling the Speedo LAZR swimsuit, a ridiculous piece of technology that has grooves set into it that reduce drag, and have led to a whole mess of new world records.  The aluminum bat of swimming, if you will.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ask A Korean! Teamup Part 2: Why are Koreans Hypersensitive to Criticisms from Non-Koreans?

We discussed the perception that Expats complain too much about Korea here and here.
The other side of the dynamic is Korean defensiveness. The Korean has written about it on my page (next), and on his page, here. This is my stab at the question.

Soundtrack time: hit play and start reading.

Everything about You, by Ugly Kid Joe.

So, the next question, and it's a biggie, is: When Expats, or other International voices, or basically, Non-Koreans DO criticize Korea,

Why do Koreans get so damn defensive?

Michael Breen, writer of a book every person should read in their first month in Korea, and Korea Times columnist, wrote an article criticizing Korea's beef protests, and was criticized in return for not understanding the true meaning of the protests, and/or for being too critical of Korea (I didn't read the letters to the editor, or possibly the avalanche of comments on the Korea Times website, to which he was obviously responding). responding to those who dismissed his criticisms of recent Korean protests as base K-bashing:

The other thing to remember is that people are extra-sensitive to what ``foreigners" say.

The Korean view of nationalism is race-based. In other words, the thing that you are taught in Korean schools and homes that distinguishes you, as a Korean, from other nations, is your race. Although the world is politically structured around the concept of the nation, few countries distinguish themselves by race. Korea is one and that means that when a bald white face such as mine leers at you from the pages of this newspaper, it is immediately recognized as foreign. Yes, it is a vision of beauty, you find yourself thinking, but no, it is not Korean. That means that, even though I've lived and paid taxes here longer than most Koreans, I am immediately perceived as an outsider commenting from my hotel room. Thus, any criticism is taken to be the rudeness of the visitor. 

And even when that is the case, it is never meant. OK? Group hug? 

Now, Breen's lived in Korea a long, long, long time, but as soon as he criticizes Korea, he is demoted to "an outsider commenting from my hotel room." Conversely, I've discovered, if I tell people how much I like Korean barbeque, and how much I enjoy Kim Kwang Seok, and name-check Korea's top five pop-stars, I'm told I'm practically Korean -- a blue-eyed Korean, if you will. I'm welcomed into the club. . . as long as I only have nice things to say. This kind of double-think reminds me of a movie I watched when I was a kid, where every time a father saw his son do something well, he'd say, "That's my boy. Look what my son did!" but whenever he stepped out of line or did something disappointing, the dear old man would point at his wife and say, "Look what your boy just did!"

Without the defensiveness, the expat complaining would be a non-topic -- the dynamic is what makes this interesting at all. I'm still not convinced that expats in Korea complain more than expats anywhere else, but there's a perception going around that they do, and that put-upon attitude is reflected in many, many comments all around the blogs about Korea (poke around yourself: won't take long to find them). As far as mentioning beefs and complaints in person, to Korean friends and students, I've had the full range of responses, from interested attention, to a surly, "if you don't like it, you should go home".

Myself, I don't mind a reasoned defense, I don't mind a discussion or a debate, but I DO mind being accused of hating something when I'm only trying to discuss it, and I DO mind attempting to learn somebody's views on something, only to have my questions or suggestions met with an emotional backlash, or a slogan, and I really mind the attitude, not that my complaints are incorrect, or formed upon false assumptions (which the debater is capable of pointing out to me), but that my non-Koreanness means I shouldn't be saying what I'm saying, like the Korean who suggested his netizen buddies try to "correct" Brian in Jeollanamdo's critical attitude.

So assuming I've expressed my complaint reasonably and fairly. . . whence the defensiveness, as if some people think we expats are not allowed to criticize?

Now I have to defer to The Korean on this topic, and acknowledge first that, not being a Korean myself, I'm sure there are nuances or points I'll get wrong, or miss completely, even as The Korean warned me in an early e-mail "you know, I'm only one Korean -- I can't REALLY speak for everyone -- just remember that, K?" (paraphrased) However, when I run into the attitude that I'm not allowed to complain, because of things about me which I can't change (for example, my race, age, birthplace, or mother tongue), there are a few things that I think to myself, to calm myself down. They're generalizations, but you know, looking for patterns is something we humans naturally do -- Grok, who notices patterns in animal tracks, is a more successful hunter, and has a better chance of surviving to reproduce than Throg, who just kind of goes into the forest and does whatever with a sharp stick in his hand, and hopes he lucks into some food for his wife (whose behaviour he is completely incapable of reading--which doesn't help him propagate, either, especially since she invented a couch for him to sleep on). I don't think making generalizations is wrong in and of itself-- if generalizations are used to try and understand otherwise mystifying phenomena, they can be useful. If they're inflexible agents of judgement, that's when they get hurtful instead of helpful.

Apologies and butt-coverings aside, let's acknowledge, first of all, that anybody gets defensive when you slag something they love. Let's be fair. If I talk smack about my buddy's wife, I'm gonna get what's coming.

So explanation number 1: It's just human nature, dummy.

And, as with my buddy and his wife, if I have some critique that's well-thought-out and carefully phrased, and especially if my buddy knows I have a long history of being respectful and kind to his wife, and I know her well, he'll listen to my critique a little better-- generally, the Koreans I've met respond much more positively to constructive criticism than to straight-out ranting (which expats really shouldn't lay at their feet, anyway).

Explanation 2:
As with the whining expats, it's the internet, remember? The complainers, the K-defenders and the uber-sensitive Kimcheerleaders are all noisier, and more surly online than anywhere else. If a hundred Koreans read my article, and ninety-eight agree, but two disagree enough to leave poisonous remarks in my comment section, I still come away feeling like Koreans can't take criticism, even though almost everyone actually argreed with my points. . . quietly. Surly k-defenders are much more likely to take the time to drop a little "just go home, jerk! Korea treats you well and you're an ungrateful turd" into the punchbowl. If Joe Expat is getting tired of them, I strongly recommend that he go hang out with some real Korean people (the other 98%), rather than taking his lumps from Korean netijens (who, like netizens of every nationality, often hide behind anonymity to act like jerks, because they can.)

(Soundtrack, part 2: hit play, and read. Patience - by Micah P. Hinson: warning: one bad word.)

Next soundtrack song will be happy.

Explanation 3:
Some expats are too critical, never offering Korea a shred of grace for the fact it's come a bloody long way, and managed (mostly successfully) to cram 200 years of development into 50 years. (This comment is a really good, emphatic look at that, as is Gord's Part Three on "Who's Complaining in Korea," here.) Korea's still a work in progress, and while I don't think it's fair to ask every expat commenter to praise unreservedly, nor to maintain some magic ratio of praise to critique, or add a disclaimer at the beginning of each post, it kind of behooves some of them to offer the benefit of the doubt from time to time. Because of Korea's 5000 year history, and because Kimchi cures SARS? Not really, no. Because 50 years ago Korea was poorer than Haiti? Heck yeah.

The pundits, bloggers, commentators, and general blowhards who are too ungenerous damage their own credibility, I think, and frankly, in the same way that I don't revisit many restaurants that serve me bitter food, an expat's blogging or conversation style will turn me off, and deter me from visiting their site or answering their calls, because I don't like doing things that bum me out, and that includes reading things and hanging out with people, that are graceless, tactless, ungenerous, compassionless, and just plain rude and condescending.

As I said before, if they're blogging to get it off their chest, I'm glad they did, in the same way I'm glad you feel better after barfing up that rotten egg-salad sandwich you ate for lunch, but in both cases, I'm not going to stick around and watch, thanks. If people are blogging or talking to draw attention to things, and contribute to the discussion, they ought to consider their tone and audience . . . all-bashing is just as one-sided a discussion as all-kimcheerleading, just as likely to venture into the realm of self-parodic hyperbole, and just as likely (and worthy) to be ignored.

From here on in, let's be very clear here that the rest of these are theories and guesses and generalizations; don't take this as the final word on the topic by any means. This next theory is kind of cumulative -- a lot of influences piling on top of each other, to provide a kind of context for the K-defending.

Explanation 4: The Explanation Pu-Pu Platter or, in Korean: 모듬 명분 (HT to Google Translate)

4.1. In forty years, Korea went from a country that needed aid, to a country that could offer aid. Countries that NEED aid are approached with a very different mentality -- look at how far backwards international aid organizations are bending/bent, to convince Myanmar and Sudan's leaders to allow relief workers into their countries. Look at the lengths to which countries are going to accommodate Kim Jong-il's ludicrous demands. When people need help, the international community approaches its leaders on its leader’s terms, in order to facilitate the helping of civilians. "We should understand their culture" or being "culturally sensitive" makes sense in that kind of situation.

However, when a country is trying to attract international investment or gain influence in geopolitics, the onus is no longer on the international community to suit THEIR needs; now, the onus is on a country to adhere to international standards. (Or, like China, to bend the rules by offering cheap labour and suppressing their currency's value, so that even though China doesn't meet international standards for working conditions etc., it remains extremely profitable to outsource there.)

Here in Korea, we're only a generation and a half removed from kids running behind US Army jeeps shouting for American GI's to throw them some chocolate. Some of my students remember days when silk-worm larvae was the closest thing they could afford to meat, and the oldest son was the only one in the family who got to drink pricey milk. Korea has gone from being helped to meet international standards, to being judged according to international standards in a very short time, so this whole "member of the international community" is still pretty new territory for Korean society as a whole, and they're still figuring out how to take their lumps.

4.2. Add to that the pride in having risen in the international community so quickly (as well as the heady feeling of all the good press Korea had during the early 1990s: "Here Comes The Asian Tiger!" -- “why can't the international media write stories like THAT about us anymore?”)

4.3. Add also a feeling of historical grievance from the perceived and actual humiliations Korea suffered during the Japanese Colonization, a period of much controversy to historians, and the still raw humiliation of having needed such extensive aid during the 1950s and 1960s -- that image of Korean kids running behind US Military vehicles shouting "Gimme chocolate" is an embarrassment to many of the older Koreans who used to do it.

(huge flag photo from expat jane's site)

4.4. Add to that, the fact many Koreans identify with their ethnic and national roots in a very strong, emotional, even visceral way -- many Koreans don't say "Korean" when talking about their language, they use a possessive -- and not just a possessive, but a PLURAL possessive -- say these three sentences out loud, to see the difference this makes:
"Does the DVD have Korean subtitles?"
"Does the DVD have subtitles in MY language?"
"Does the DVD have subtitles in OUR language?"

Pretty striking difference, eh? That's what "Urimal" means: "Our language."

Now try these three sentences:
"Why is he criticizing Korea?"
"Why is he criticizing MY country?"
"Why is he criticizing OUR country?"

Koreans often say "Our country" (Urinara) to refer to Korea. Again, striking difference.

Whether the use of "our language" and "our country" is a cause or an effect of this deep personal identification with country is moot to this discussion; however, the use of language provides a pretty clear illustration of how personally many Koreans connect their self-identity with their nation, and that helps to explain why criticism often meets such visceral reactions.

With that sense of ownership in mind, that familial pride, think again about how these Koreans think of criticism from outside:

Imagine a guest coming to your new house (the building of which almost killed you), running his finger along the mantle to check for dust, checking the brand labels on the china in your cabinet (hmm. Made in Pennsylvania? Not even from England?), noting loudly that your living room sofas are not Corinthian leather, unlike his sofas back home, and commenting under his breath, as you introduce your children, "Your daughter's a bit chubby, and your son has bad posture, and your other son speaks slowly . . . are you sure he's OK in the head?". . . it'd start to rankle, wouldn't it? Especially if he's constantly talking about all the virtues of his house and his family (and admit, in a moment of honestly, that we've all occasionally given the situation back home more credit than it quite deserves, especially in areas like social welfare and education, where Korea has shortcomings, and knows it). Right or wrong, like it or not, this seems to be how it feels to many Koreans when outsiders criticize.

Soundtrack 3: hit play and keep reading. If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out, by Cat Stevens.

4.5. On top of that, is the fact that the almost entirely homogenous society in Korea, along with the Korean language media, gives Korea the illusion that Korea can still operate like it did in the 1800s -- as an island shrouded in mystery (Korea didn't earn its 'Hermit Kingdom' moniker for nothing). Sometimes, reading a critical blog to Koreans is, as my commenter put it, "Like having my family's dirty laundry aired out" Part of the reaction to a critical K-blog is simply embarrassment that domestic issues are being presented in English (the international language) for anyone to read: "can't we keep our in-house issues in-house?"

This is a mistaken assumption, that it would benefit Koreans, and especially the Korean media, to realize: Korea no longer exists behind a shroud. The language barrier is getting porous, as more Koreans can read English, and now, more and more internationals can read Korean. When a Korean makes comments that play to the home crowd, those comments get translated into other languages now, where in 1970, probably they didn't, or nobody cared anyway, and Korea's leaders and media could pretty much say what they wanted, without much risk of being called to account, as long as they spoke in Korean.

Now, if a Korean factory owner rips off his Indonesian employees, thanks to the internet and the ease of world travel, Indonesians hear about it, where twenty years ago, they wouldn't have, and one ripped off factory worker returning to Indonesia broke, one English teacher cheated out of his severance pay, back in New Jersey complaining, one Vietnamese imported bride murdered by her Korean husband, damages Korea's international reputation more than half a million dollars of "Korea: Sparkling" newspaper and TV ads in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Jersey, can repair. Meanwhile, the ripped-off Indonesian’s uncle blogs about the dirty crooked jerk Korean factory owner, and again, a Korean READS that blog post, where in 1985 it would have been a hot topic around the Indonesian village, and no Korean would have known that Korea was being bad-mouthed somewhere in the world. Communication is better worldwide, Korea’s behaviour at home is reported worldwide, and Korea’s reputation is affected. The sooner Korea realizes this, the better it will be for everyone. As international communication increases, countries will increasingly get exactly the international reputation they deserve, whether they think they deserve it or not.

[rabbit trail: the Korean media will resist acknowledging this truth for as long as they can, because they will then have to come to grips with the fact that as more Koreans' English improves, they will need to improve their product to compete with Reuters, CNN and BBC, instead of just with each other, or they will lose their formerly captive audience.]

4.6 Add to this the fact Korea IS a major world player now (top fifteen economy and all), so Korea is attracting a lot more attention than back when it was mostly farmers and war amputees and beggars. This is good for Korea, but it's difficult taking criticisms, when within living memory (and that can’t be emphasized enough) Korea used to take humanitarian aid (which goes down much easier) instead.
Unfortunately, that's part of being at the top of the pile (a major playa): I'm sure Austria would have loved for that news story about the kidnapping/confining/rapist father to disappear into their own language media, and if that had happened in Burkina, maybe nobody would have heard about it, but instead it was covered on every network. Canada gets embarrassed by a serial killer who kept going for five years longer than he should have, because he was killing Vancouver prostitutes, and mostly First Nations ones at that, and nobody important cared enough about First Nations prostitutes -- the most disaffected, marginalized subsection of probably the most disaffected, marginalized group in all of Western Canada!. . . there's no hiding from that shame anymore, and everybody gets their turn in the spotlight, both for good (KJ Choi wins Sony Invitational) and for bad (PD Diary faces criticism by CNN for crap journalism).

Soundtrack 4: saved the happiest one for last. Be Joyful, by Rock Plaza Central

My question, then, for Koreans, is this, and this is a genuine question that I'd love to hear answered, by as many voices as possible:

While other posters and commenters have made the point that Koreans complain about Korea better than anyone else. . .

If criticism of Korea by non-Koreans upsets or offends you, why does it? How could those views be expressed without upsetting you? Under what conditions ARE outsiders allowed to criticize Korea? (And is it just a tiny minority who feels that way, but they happen to leave a disproportionate number of comments?)

If you have an answer to that question, I'd sincerely love to hear from you. Write in to roboseyo[at]gmail[dot]com and tell me: why do YOU think Koreans take criticism of Korea so poorly? Is that a completely mistaken impression to begin with? When, under what conditions, WOULD criticisms of Korea be taken with an open mind, and judged according to the content, rather than the speaker? If your answer is interesting, I'll publish it on my blog. Throw it down in my comments section if you like, or publish it on your own blog, and send me the link.
I think this question is getting harder, because there are people with Korean blood living around the world, who can't speak the language and barely know anything about Korean culture, while at the same time, there are people from other countries who live in Korea now, who have invested a lot in Korea, in money, time, energy, and passion. Can we dismiss the opinion of a fluent Korean-speaking Ph.D. in East Asian studies, because he has no Korean blood? What about the Indonesian wife of a Korean farmer who's lived here for ten years? Is her opinion more valid if she's mothered children with her Korean husband? What about a Kyopo who has Korean blood but can't speak Korean? What about one who can't speak the language, but reads every book, and follows every news and opinion source he can? What about a pure-blooded transnational adoptee from Korea, who grew up in Denmark, and knows nothing about Korea except that she was born there?

I've given my thoughts; fill me in if I missed something!

Expat Bloggers as well: this question is for you, too. Whence all the negativity on the K-blogosphere, from both sides? Why do YOU think expats complain about Korea? Why do you think critiques are often taken so poorly? Is it just that the internet makes everything seem more extreme than it really is? Is there something I simply missed? Send me your thoughts, or post on your own blog, and send me the link. Let's have a discussion.

(p.s.: Where the hell is Burkina? Here)

A clip and a picture that didn't fit anywhere else:

"Duty Calls" from

Still feeling bummed? Watch this.

Guest-Post from The Korean: Why are Koreans Hyper-Sensitive to Criticisms from Non-Koreans? (And How Can I be a Good Critic?)

-NOTE: This is Part 2 of the joint posting with Roboseyo and Ask A Korean! See the first parts here: Ask A Korean! I Roboseyo I-

Dear Korean,

For a culture so aware of their international image, and so eager to take the international stage, ("Hey, look everybody! A Korean has a lead role on a major network TV series!" "Do you know the Korean Wave?") why do Koreans seem hypersensitive to criticism from non-Koreans? I have heard defensive Koreans make outlandish claims about their culture and people that are completely unrealistic and patently untrue, even while discussing topics Koreans themselves recognize they need to improve, simply because a non-Korean is pointing out the flaws: what is going on there?

Under what conditions, if any, would Koreans be ready and open to accepting constructive criticism from non-Koreans, about Korea's society/culture/business climate/etc.? Who DOES have the right to criticize Korea? And what about non-Koreans who have moved to Korea, studied it, and lived there for a long time, and the 1.5 people in other countries? What should I say to Koreans who get defensive, or am I just butting my head against a wall by bringing up such topics with Koreans, and would do better to surrender, and praise the virtues of kimchi, and leave the controversies be?


Dear Roboseyo,

The hypersensitivity that you speak of is absolutely true, but you did not need the Korean to tell you that. Everything you said about Koreans taking criticisms poorly from a non-Korean is all true: they get extremely animated as if they were personally insulted, they get defensive, and often make counter-claims that are either unpersuasive or borderline absurd.

In fact, for many expats the complaint is not about Koreans’ hypersensitivity; it is their absurd arguments in responding to criticisms. Where do the absurd arguments about Korean superiority come from? As it turns out, the hypersensitivity and the absurdity questions are related, so read on.

Korean People's Hypersensitivity

First, let us eliminate one popular hypothesis from the running. Some observers posit that Korean culture is simply not a “criticizing culture”, because it emphasizes homogeneity and harmony. Because Koreans are reluctant to criticize one another, the theory goes, any amount of criticism is considered a very bold act, and often deeply insulting.

The Korean can unequivocally say that this theory is 100 percent crap, because Koreans liberally criticize their country and each other. And truly, the severe and ignorant nature of their criticisms aimed toward their fellow Koreans makes criticisms from expats look like sprinkles of flowers and baby powder.

Just to give a couple of examples, the Korean took less than 10 minutes of Korean news search to find these choice comments. Please note that the Korean did not say anything about the comments’ coherence or persuasiveness. The Korean will not be responsible for the headache following the reading of these comments:

About Anti-U.S. Beef Protests, titled “Violent suppression against illegal protest is a matter of course”:

“Amnesty International recognized the illegality of Candlelight Protests as well. From the perspective of the riot police, they have to fight the zombie dog packs in a one-to-one hundred numerical disadvantage. It’s enough to make one scared for his life. It’s natural to strain a little in order to protect your own body from extreme fear and anxiety. It’s the same as the fact that in any war there is a mass killing. It’s the same as the situation in which a burglar broke into the house, and in order to protect your property, you could fight the running burglar and end up beat him like a dog in a bit of excitement. The problem is with the punks who tried to overturn the country and turned the streets into lawless hellhole with something that doesn’t even make sense. Keep in mind that human rights organizations always represent the weaker side’s position. Don’t human rights organizations always side with the lone murder?”

About South Korean woman being shot in North Korea, titled “All of you move to North Korea”:

“Freakin’ commies, way to ruin my morning. Stop criticizing the president and cross over if you like North Korea so much. Except you, regular people have to go on living and they have a lot to do for that. Why do you say nothing to the infamous villain Kim Jong-Il and raise hell with our president? If you were born in North Korea you don’t even get the right to run your mouth. That woman will follow you and curse you all your life in the netherworld. Why do these punks without common sense keep on running their mouth? Thanks to the Roh Moo-Hyeon administration that let go of the Internet even trashy citizens are all protected.”

(Note to expat complainers: Still think all Koreans blindly follow the beef protesters while being silent on the North Korean shooting? See what you’re missing when you don’t read Korean media directly?)

Okay then: if search for harmony is not the answer, what makes Koreans hypersensitive to criticisms from non-Koreans? The hints to the answer can be found in Roboseyo’s question. Koreans care very much about their international image, but at the same time they are deeply insecure about the same image. Such attitudes are two sides of the same coin, and the coin is called “Nationalistic Zeal”.

Remember what the Korean wrote in the previous post in this series: the keystone knowledge for understanding modern Korea is the fact that Korea went from abject poverty to one of the world’s economic leaders. Understanding Korean people’s hypersensitivity in this respect is not an exception.

How did the amazing economic growth lead to such hypersensitivity? One obvious way is that Koreans are justifiably proud of their achievement. Again, understanding the astounding magnitude of this growth is the key. In 1962, per capita GDP of Korea was $87. 45 years later in 2007, per capita GDP of Korea was $24,783.

Let’s dice those numbers around. To grow from $87 to $24,783 in 45 years, there has to be a return of 13.4 percent every year for 45 years. Not even the greatest hedge fund manager in the history of Wall Street can do that. To grow from $87 to $24,783 in 45 years, the productivity per person has to double every 5~6 years. In other words, every single person in Korea had to double his/her productivity every 5~6 years for 8~9 times in a row.

This is truly a towering achievement. This has never happened in human history before Koreans did. And Koreans are legitimately proud of their country and themselves for having achieved it. (Of course, the Chinese are now doing what Koreans did. And it should come as no surprise that the same crazed nationalism grips China as well.)

But this nationalistic zeal is not just an outcome of the spectacular growth; it has been a very important tool of the growth as well. After all, this level of development does not come without an enormous amount of sacrifice from all sectors of the society. Thus, Korean employees were asked to work 18 hours a day; Korean employees’ wives were asked to put up with the binge drinking that their husbands would engage in to relieve the stress; Korean students were asked to prove their worth through ridiculously competitive exams; and so on.

Enduring through all this stuff requires a strong motivatioon to look past the shittiness of the current situation and look to the future. Of course the desperate desire to escape poverty was a strong motivator for everyone involved in this process. But there is always more to be done. As Napoleon said, “A man does not have himself killed for a half-pence a day or for a petty distinction; you must speak to the soul in order to electrify him.”

What speaks to the Korean soul? The tried-and-true method that works on every soul. First, glorify the nation’s past history by any means possible. Second, pump the citizens up with national pride over the glorified past history. Third, blame external factors (= other countries) for the current economic plight. Fourth, remind the citizens again about the glory days of the past, and exhort them to reconstructing those moments. Presto! Suddenly you have a nation full of explosively motivated people.

[Warning! Godwin’s Law moment ahead!] Guess who mastered this formula for the first time? None other than Adolf Hitler. Let’s be clear: the Korean does not intend to say anything positive about Hitler. But the method through which the Mustachioed Symbol of Evil motivated Germans enough to turn the post-WWI scrap heap that was Germany into World War-capable economy at least deserves some attention. And the same method, give or take minor variations on the theme, was successfully used in more or less all countries that achieved impressive economic growth in the 20th century. Such countries include Germany, Russia, Italy, Japan, and yes, Korea. (And China.)

Korea’s process fits this pattern perfectly. First, Korea’s glorious past. A nation of power, evidenced by the huge territory that once stretched all the way into Manchuria 15 centuries ago! A nation of science, evidenced by the first armored ship in the world! The first metal printing press in the world! The most scientific alphabet in the world! A nation of artistic genius, with stunningly beautiful Buddhist temples and light turquois ceramics whose colors still cannot be replicated to this day! How can you not get pumped up with all this glory? All this stuff is constantly fed to the people through school textbooks, state-controlled media outlets, and totally objective reports from various university professors.

Then onto blaming other countries – which one will it be? How about Japan? All it did was to occupy Korea for 36 years, tortured and killed people, forced numerous Korean women into an institutionalized prostitution, and perform human experimentation. But we can’t forget North Korea either. Those commies almost ruined everything, and are still plotting to ruin everything. It's clear that Korea should be in a better place than where we are now given our glorious history, but it has to be those jjokbari (nips) and bbalgaeng'i (commies) that are holding us back. Well, no more! Onto economic development!

(Does this sound overly simplistic? But you just have to take the Korean's word for it that this is exactly how it happens. This message was constantly hammered in to the young Korean and his classmates throughout the Korean's school life.)

And this is the point from which both absurdity and hypersensitivity questions can be answered. Let's address the absurdity question first.

While drumming up national pride through history sounds manipulative, the Korean version of this process is, in a larger context, relatively tame. The historical account of Korea told in Korea is, by and large, true. At least Korea did not – officially – make up ancient history like Japan did, or elevate racism to the level of pseudo-science like Nazi Germany did. It is more on par with Italy’s attitude towards the Roman empire, which like Korea attempted to link back to its own history that is, while genuine, too old to be truly relevant in the modern era.

But there is no denying that, although they may be true, Korean historical accounts told by Koreans are consistently and strongly slanted towards achieving the objective stated earlier. This slant is then reinforced over and over within private channels of information (= people without deep knowledge of history simply talking to one another,) because hey, who doesn't like hearing good things about their past? As information reverberates within this self-contained echo chamber, it is often distorted to an absurd proportion.

This problem is compounded by the fact that, like any country in the world, not everyone in Korea is fully knowledgeable about her own nation’s history. Despite what an unsuspecting expat may think, Koreans do not sit and ponder for days upon days fine-tuning the arguments for Korean superiority. All they have are a few nuggets of information about Korea that they have collected through school and media. And it is precisely the schools and the media that relentlessly push out such slanted information.

But many Koreans do not have the proper perspective to evaluate this information they receive, because they have never spent much time examining other cultures. Even if they did have a proper perspective, they do not have the English skills to properly communicate the subtle nuances.

(Aside: in comparison, expats in Korea tend to be well-educated and well-traveled, likely having a better vantage point to evaluate Korean culture and society within a greater context. More importantly, where a certain culture stands within the world is something that is constantly on an expat’s mind. After all, expats are in a foreign country to do (among other things) exactly that!)

So when the irresistible compulsion to defend Korea against non-Korean-generated criticism of Korea strikes an average Korean, she is often poorly equipped to do so. Her argumentative tools simply are not adequate to properly express her fervor. Therefore, she flails about as she tries to stand her ground, and frequently resorts to poor rhetoric and obstinate denial.

For example, one of the typical responses from Koreans that Roboseyo cites is: “Go easy on us, we are just a developing nation!” To which Roboseyo answers thusly:

"Answer: Put very simply:
Still developing:

Finished developing:

Congratulations! You're part of the club! You're playing with the big kids now!

In terms of infrastructure and wealth, Korea is no longer a developing nation. Top fifteen economy in the world, people from South Asia coming HERE to work and send money home -- in the ways of the won, Korea's made it. It's a major player. Other countries look to Korea's development model to figure out how to raise their standard of living and set up infrastructure. One of the drags that comes with being one of the big boys is being a big target, and people pay more attention, and take more shots at big targets. Griping about facing criticism from the international community that Korea worked so hard to join, is like the little boy who wants to play soccer with his older brother's big friends, and then cries when they knock him down with a sliding tackle."

But with more knowledge and ability for nuanced expression, the proverbial Korean could have said this to Roboseyo instead:

“While Korea has an appearance of a fully developed nation, the appearance is more of a façade because such development was only actualized in the last two decades at best. The leadership in the society, primarily consisted of people in their 50s and above, grew up in a pre-modern era. Their paradigms are often stuck in the pre-modern era, and they perpetuate such paradigms into the younger generation through the educational process.

To explain this within your simile, sure it is annoying that the little boy cries after one sliding tackle. But for a little boy, a sliding tackle from a big boy really hurts! His desire to play with the big boys does not change the fact that his body is not ready to take the big boys’ game.”

One may disagree with this explanation, but at least this explanation is no longer absurd. But giving this type of explanation requires a certain level of knowledge, acquired by investing the time to think about this issue, as well as a certain level of eloquence in English. Many Koreans have neither.

Now, the hypersensitivity part. Note that the unit of measurement of the nationalistic zeal is a nation. The glorified history was shared as a nation. It was other nations that imposed difficulties to our own nation, and we as a nation suffered the consequences. And now, we as a nation are gearing up for ascendence, and other nations are doing the same.

It is crucial to understand that in the worldview of a nationalist, each and every person in the world operates as a member of a team called "United States of America", "Brazil", "Thailand", "South Africa", "France", etc. And each team are striving to outdo one another in a giant world race for power, be it economic, political, social, cultural or any other type one can think of.

(Ever wondered why World Cup soccer is so popular around the world? It's not just that soccer is joga bonito. World Cup is so popular because nothing actualizes the world-race in the minds of nationalists quite like a bunch of countries playing a ballgame.)

And here is the reason why Koreans get hypersensitive to criticisms from non-Koreans. Koreans, as faithful nationalists, are deeply concerned about their own team. So deep down, Koreans love hearing what non-Koreans have to say about them. After all, Koreans know that Korea has much to learn to become a leader in the world, and they are keen on listening to any pointers.

But Koreans nonetheless often respond negatively to a non-Korean generated criticism, for two reasons. First is the reflexive emotional response. Beacuse a member of another team just criticized your team, something that you hold dear, you will react automatically. (Ever tried criticizing Ohio State football in Ohio? It's that type of reaction, on Barry Bonds-grade steroids.) It is something along the lines of: "Don't tell me how to run our own team! You think we don't know our problems? Go mind your own fucking business!"

Second reason is that Koreans genuinely worry that criticism from a non-Korean would actively damage the standing of Korea within the world. (And the theme of nationalism as an outcome as well as the tool for that outcome shows once again.) When your team appears weak, other teams will take advantage of it. So you must repel such criticism from a non-Korean, regardless of the validity of that criticism. And the defensiveness for Korea comes out in full swing.

As a Non-Korean, What Can I Do to Become a Constructive Critic?

Let’s move onto the second part of Roboseyo’s question – what can you do, as a non-Korean, to become a constructive critic of Korea?

The most important thing is to understand the level of difficulty involved in being a critic who is listened to, not who is rejected outright. Non-Koreans and expats think they can competently criticize Korean society like they would criticize the current Medicare system. This error is understandable, because virtually anyone thinks s/he can write and criticize without receiving much specialized learning at all.

But make no mistake – there are easy and hard criticisms to make, and the gap in difficulty between the two are as wide as the Pacific Ocean. For example, after about an hour of lesson at the driving range, virtually anyone can swing a golf club. But if an American’s criticism of Medicare to another American is like a doing a round of golf in a neighborhood park, an American’s criticism of Korean society to Korean people is like teeing up at the Pebble Beach, if the entire Pebble Beach were covered in landmines. It takes abundant caution, surgically precise skills, and keen powers of observation. Lacking any of them would lead to the situation literally blowing up on your face.
What makes it so difficult? It is largely a problem of unfamiliarity. Korea’s situation is unlike any country from which expats generally hail. Especially Americans, whose nation was always economically ahead and never had to play catch-up, really do not understand how strong of a force nationalism is, not only in Korea but also in the world generally. (This often leads to crude foreign policies based on bald assertions of strength rather than a more nuanced approach. Such policies may elicit cooperation from America’s allies, but they sure do not inspire fondness towards America.)

But this does not mean that overzealous nationalistic pride is something that is completely alien to Americans, because America has comparable analogues to this phenomenon. Roboseyo, in his excellent post about kimcheerleading, compared this situation to a needy girl who goes around asking, “Do you think I’m pretty?” That analogy is close, but the Korean has a better one. Which group of people in the U.S. has been traditionally dirt-poor, until good fortune combined with incredible effort and talent propelled them to the height of wealth?

Answer: Rappers! The Korean dares anyone to come up with a better analogy. What do you think all the blings, Cristals, and Bentleys are about? Because blackness has always been associated with (among other things) poverty, black rappers go on a rampage of overcompensation to ensure that no one dares think that they are poor, even at the expense of what may be considered crass, in-your-face lyrics and accessories.

(A good one from Saturday Night Live: “Oil price has hit a new high today and continues its trend upwards. Which means, in a few weeks, rappers will start to drink it.”)
But it’s important to realize that it is more than fashion sense that compels rappers to cover up in bling. What rappers demand, through such extravagance, is respect. In other words, rappers want the privileged people of America to recognize that they too are a part of the upper echelon of the society as well. Problem is that they decided to send that message in a form that the existing upper echelon of the society would consider, well, absurd. (Let’s face it – we would all be thinking rappers dress like idiots if their music weren’t so awesome. A hairnet? Seriously? Only old lunch ladies were wearing hairnets until rappers started donning them!)

Now you can imagine the proper difficulty of being a non-Korean, constructive critic. Could you imagine yourself walking up to Tupac (bless his soul) and his crew saying:

“How are you Mr. Shakur? You know, I think you really should stop rapping about shooting the police. I understand where you are coming from, but really, times have changed, and the police now protect all of us. I mean, just look at the number of African-American police officers we have around the country now. It’s really a terrible influence for children, so I really think it’s time for you to move on.”

Is this a valid criticism? Sure it is! But would Tupac listen to you? Putting aside the minor issue that Pac is no longer alive, you would be lucky not to have a cap in your ass by the time you finish your second sentence. Getting Tupac to listen to you would take a lot more rhetorical skills than most of us would ever have. (How are the Korean’s awkward incorporations of hip-hop lingo in this post so far? Any flashbacks from your parents trying to talk “cool”?)

Is Tupac being bull-headed for refusing to listen to a valid criticism? Sure he is. But if your aim is to criticize with the hopes of bringing about changes in behavior (rather than to bitch and moan simply to masturbate your own ego,) does his bull-headedness matter? Consider this – which one is easier to change, the listener’s predisposition to criticism that was built through his entire life, or the speaker’s words out of his mouth, formulated in his head in a few minutes?

In other words, if your true aim is to make Korea a better place through criticism, focus your energy on something that is faster and easier. Focus on your rhetorical skills rather than Korean people’s receptiveness. Truth is, on some level Koreans themselves know that some of them are rather too sensitive to criticisms from non-Koreans. They are working on that, whether or not non-Koreans see the effort. But that will take time.

You could, theoretically, make the Pebble Beach minefield easier; you can bring in minesweepers to take out all the mines, erect huge walls to negate the strong sea wind, and change the whole shape of the course to make it resemble your neighborhood rink. But any progress, as it were, will be achieved very slowly. And more importantly – at least for the Korean himself – it won’t be fun to play.

If you consider yourself to be a skilled rhetorician, what better challenge do you have than volleying a round of criticisms about Korean society to Korean people? If countless blowups make you realize that you are not just ready for this game, stop playing. Shut your mouth and your keyboard for once, and hone your game until you can finally step up to the tee without embarrassing yourself. After all, no one ever told you to play in the Pebble Beach minefield that is Korea.

To that end, here is some practical advice for navigating this hazardous yet exciting course:
Know Yourself. The most important one of all. Now you know how difficult the course is. Korea is a complicated place. Do you know if you can handle it? Do you have more than a shallow understanding of Korea? Do you directly talk to Korean people, and not just the kind who is learning English from you? Do you know Korean history in and out? Do you have enough knowledge to place things in proper perspective? Can you back up what you argue with rich detail and strong citations?

Pick the Right Fight. Recognize which battle is worth going into. There is no sense in wasting time arguing with a person who is simply flailing in an inexperienced area. Gently figure out where your listener stands. Is she well-educated? Well-traveled? Well-versed in knowledge about Korea? Picking an unworthy target is a waste of time. Engage in a serious debate with a smart, serious Korean person.

Be a Better Rhetorician. The Korean cannot instantly make you a better rhetorician. Like with any mastery of skill, being a convincing critic takes a lot of time spent reading, writing, and practicing. But the Korean would point out three areas that are often neglected.

1. Proceed with caution. Realize that you are venturing into a sensitive area, and so you really need to watch each step you take. In fact, Americans have some practice with this when they discuss race relations. (And many Americans, recognizing that they do not have the ability to skillfully navigate such an explosive area, simply stop talking about it. The Korean thinks it is less than ideal for American society as a whole, but on an individual level it is a wise choice.)

To that end, try reading this article from Sports Illustrated by Kelly Dwyer, about the disparity of media treatment that Latrell Sprewell received after assaulting his coach, and that of Shawn Chacon after assaulting his general manager. The article is not even directly about race; it is more about how NBA is treated differently from MLB. But look how many cautions that Dwyer throws into the article.

This is the type of caution that non-Korean critics of Korea must always employ. Doing this at first would not feel comfortable; it would feel cumbersome and nearly paralyzing. But this will make a difference in whether you are listened to or not. If Dwyer did not put in that much cautionary language, he would have been dismissed as another race-mongering sportswriter. Instead, by advancing carefully, he coaxes the readers’ attention all the way to the end, to his strongly worded (“just ridiculous”) conclusion.

2. Be patient. Any change in opinion generally would come very slowly. Take the Korean’s word for this: Korean people deep down are keen on hearing what non-Koreans have to say about them. They are receptive to what you have to say, although it often does feel like ramming your head against a brick wall. Criticize skillfully, and Korean people will listen to you. Take comfort in small milestones, and continue to move forward. Like Coach Anzai says, “When you give up, the game is over.”

3. Avoid harsh words. Many critics are utterly convinced that the harshest words will be the most effective. Even a nice person like Roboseyo sees a value in polemic writing:

“1. polemical writing gets more blog hits than diplomatic writing
2. polemical writing sticks in peoples' heads for longer than diplomatic writing, which means it ultimately has a higher chance of changing a person's pattern of thinking!
3. polemical writing stirs up emotions, which means it will start more discussions, than diplomatic writing, which might not poke through someone's guard.

Bare fact: A scalpel is a better surgical tool than a pillow, and sometimes, a social problem must be sharply criticized to bring about change; gentle phrases just won't stir up a strong enough reaction.”

The Korean disagrees. A scalpel is a better surgical tool than a pillow, but a surgery performed only with a scalpel without any anesthesia would not do any good, simply because the patient would refuse the surgery.

Remind yourself of the greater objective. Are you trying to stroke your own ego by flinging your most damaging attacks and earning the adulation of the people who would have agreed with you no matter how you said the same point you made? Or are you truly trying to convince the people whose opinions are radically different from yours?
The Korean wants to have nothing to with the first group. If you are one of such people, please go find a remote expat rant blog and continue the circlejerk. But for the second group, recognize that rational debate is only possible when the listener is willing to listen. You could have the clearest logic under the sky, and it would not matter one bit.
Aristotle identified ethos, logos, and pathos as the three modes of persuasion. With ethos, the speaker establishes her knowledge and credibility. With logos, the speaker takes logical steps to her conclusion. With pathos, the speaker makes an emotional connection with the listener and convinces the listener to accept her conclusion. In many situations, one or two of them may suffice. But remember, this is Pebble Beach minefield. Successful criticism of Korea from a non-Korean could only come when there is an abundance of all three modes.
That means that an aspiring Korea-critic cannot afford to miss out on pathos. Screaming “I do this for your own good!” - as some expat rant blogs do - does not count. If anesthesia is easily available, would you let your doctor cut you open using only a scalpel because it would be for your own good?

The effect of appealing to a negative emotion is highly overestimated. A polemicist typically has this image in which their missives are closely read, leading the reader to nod slowly as they realize the error of their ways. But has this ever happened to you? To anyone you know, ever? More typical response would be to say “what a fucking idiot!”, and dismiss the writing. Here is a universal truth, valid across space and time: people do not listen to people who piss them off.

Criticism with surgical efficiency does not depend on how hard you verbally strike the listener; it only depends on the location of your strike, and the skill and precision it takes to strike only that location. Your best chance of persuasion is only if you give a strong, rational criticism aimed only at addressing a clearly defined issue. Your argument will be listened to because you avoided spilling to areas that would cause unnecessary emotional flare-up; if your argument is strong enough, it might just convince your listener to change her mind.

The Korean once visited Spain, and watched a series of bullfights. After several rounds, the Korean was struck by the fact that the most fatal strike is the one that appears the most effortless. Three different matadors fought six bulls, and it was clear that the inept matador was the one who was expending the most effort. He would stab and stab at the bull with all of his strength, but the bull continued to stand up and charge. On the other hand, the most skillful matador only needed one shot; his sword slipped through the bull’s body like it was made of butter, and the bull fell within seconds. This should be the image of the most effective criticism.

With that image in mind, go forth into the minefield, the Korean’s complaining expat friends! This concludes the series.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Great Idea! We Can Stop Him Before He Goes Too Far!

Judiciary Committee muses impeaching George W. Bush.

read the whole train-wreck after the link.

from the article:
Too Little, Too Late? Lawmakers Talk Impeachment
Less Than Six Months Before Bush Leaves Office, Partisan Debate Erupts

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2008—

Less than six months before President Bush leaves office, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing today on whether he should be impeached.

As could be predicted, the hearing was highly partisan. Democrats said they wanted accountability. Republicans called the hearing a show trial. People on both sides showed anger and emotion.

The hearing was about executive power and its constitutional limitations. The Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee is concerned the Bush administration exceeded its authority in several areas including the following: improper politicization of the Justice Dept; misuse of presidential signing statements; misuse of surveillance, detention, interrogation and rendition programs; manipulation of intelligence and misuse of war powers; improper retaliation, and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame CIA agent outing case, and misuse of executive privilege.

There were 13 witnesses including current and former members of Congress, most of whom accused the Bush administration of abuse of power. Democrats and Republicans on the Committee spent an hour on opening statements presenting their opinions either justifying Bush's actions or accusing him of being the worst president in U.S. history.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the committee, defended holding such a hearing while the president was on his way out of office.

"And we're not done yet," Conyers said. "We do not intend to go away until we achieve the accountability that the Congress is entitled to and the American people deserve."

Ranking Republican member Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, disagreed.

"This week it seems that we are hosting an anger management class," he said. "Nothing is going to come out of this hearing with regard to impeachment of the president."

But Democrat member Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida was angry at the president.

"Never before in the history of this nation has an administration so successfully diminished the constitutional powers of the legislative branch," Wexler said. "It is unacceptable, and it must not stand."

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., didn't mince words in her feelings about Bush.

"It is my judgment that President Bush is the worst president our country has ever suffered," she said. "Making judgments that have jeopardized our national security, impaired our economy, and diminished the freedom and civil liberties of the American people."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Link Love

Thanks, inessentialmusings, for the link love -- and very kind write-up on a post long-past (which I was proud of, but which never got the kind of response I'd hoped it would.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Suddenly I Feel Better. . .

Matt from PopularGusts has, in his own inimitable style, offered up the thoroughly researched history of complaining expats in Korea. . . a fascinating way to give context to the complaining expat discussion going around right now.

And it sure helps to know how far we've come, just by a glance at the nature of the gripes: at least these days, we're complaining about labyrinthine banking practices and crooked taxi drivers, rather than Koreans' "need of soap" . . . "and bibles"

Wow. The more I read, the less I can choose a "best quote" -- get over there and read this thing. Let's just say that if blogs existed back then, instead of forming colonial plans, Japan would probably just have said "Meh. Sounds like too much work."

Meanwhile the complaining expats can take pride in taking part in a century old tradition.

Who knew.

(but then as now, long-term expats were. . . oh just read the post.)

At least those guys had flair: this guy chose to do his bitching and moaning in verse.
"The houses they live in are mostly of dirt,
With a tumble-down roof made of thatch;
Where soap is unknown, it's safe to assert,
And where vermin in myriads hatch;
The streets are reeking with odors more rife
Than the smell from a hyena's den;
One visit is surely enough for one's life
To that far-away land of Chosen."

Which might be something I'll try. It's been a while since I've written much poetry.

New blogoseyo rule:

when the same old Korea topics come up again (scapegoats, Liandokashima Rockdo, etc.), I shall henceforward only write about them in verse.

I'd ask Matt if he plans to do a history of Korean complaints about Korea, but that might take a while, and go back a long time: I'm pretty sure that Ungnyeo, the bear who became a woman (by hiding in a cave and eating nothing but mugwort and garlic for a hundred days) and bore Dangun, Korea's founder, scratched "This place sucks" on the cave floor while she waited.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This is not your Grandmother's Beethoven.

In early 2006, Beethoven's Ninth, along with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, counseled me through a pretty grimy bit of grief. For about two months, Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road, Arcade Fire's "Neighbourhood #1(Tunnels)" and Beethoven's Ninth, movements four and five, were all that got me up enough to face my classrooms of students.

If only I'd had this, back then, when I needed it.

(ht to

And. . . Strauss.

Dang, I love the muppets!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Before you Plan your Summer Vacation. . . Jeollanam-do, by Brian

Summer Vacation is coming almost finished too hot to do anything anyway finally here!

[In order to help you plan YOUR summer vacation, or your Autumn three-day getaway, I posed this challenge to Brian from Jeollanam-do, a good friend of blogoseyo:

"Given a three day weekend, what would you recommend a person do in Jeollanam-do?"

Brian did me about seven times better than anything I'd hoped for, with this amazing, extensive, well-linked, varied and informative guest-post.

I hope to answer this same question about my stomping grounds, Seoul, in the very near future, in case he ever feels like getting away from all the tea fields and rice paddies and bamboo forests for a bit of car exhaust, glass, steel, and neon light. If you're in Korea, and especially if you live outside Seoul, I'd be very happy to link or post your three day weekend recommendations, too. Busan, Daegu, Gyungsan Province, Chungcheong Province, Gangwon, Daejeon, Dokdo -- let me know how to enjoy your area to the fullest! (And I'll share that with everybody else, too).

Here is his delightful, meticulously prepared, informative to the extreme, and very helpful answer.]

Rob has always been a friend of my blog, and so I was more than happy to write a little something about Jeollanam-do for his site. Not happy enough to get around to writing it in a timely manner, mind you, but happy nonetheless. In all fairness typing "a little something" isn't as easy for me as it is for my peers in Seoul and Busan. As you know, outside of Seoul the hallmarks of civilization are spotty at best, and it's not like I can just sit down in front of a computer---com-pu-ter?---and bang something out. And even if I could, we only have electricity four hours a week, and I like others in my little fishing village use it almost exclusively for the publication of Communist pamphlets. But during final exam time at my Confucian academy I was able to sneak out for a few weeks and travel north along Jeollanam-do's road and into Gwangju's general store to put in some time on our province's wordprocessor. The trip took longer than expected because the road was full of protestors participating in a stick rally against American beef. They haven't invented fire in Gwangju yet, so we've been immune from the insane candlelight riots that have taken hold in Korea's capital.

Some people will say the above description is spot-on, and there are many, Koreans and foreigners alike, who swear that there is no life in Korea outside of Seoul. I wish I were a little more knowledgable about the regional differences of Korea and the nuances of Jeolla to say something more than "um . . . it's kind of like everywhere else." There are political differences, of course, and a bit of a dialect, and there's definitely a bias against Jeolla folk among others in the country. To be fair every region in the country dislikes every other region for some reason or other, which kind of runs counter to the business of jeong and of a unified, happy Korean race we're always hearing about. Oh, that and the whole Korean War thing.

Anyway, as far as living in Jeollanam-do goes, I suspect it's not too different than living in most of the country's other administrative divisions. In fact, I'm busy enough with work and other things that I'm pretty sure I'd spend my weekdays in Seoul the same way I do now in Suncheon. Visiting is a different story, and Jeollanam-do is a popular tourist destination among foreigners. Rob suggested I write about a hypothetical three-day weekend here, because a lot of people take advantage of our holidays to pay a visit to, as the official website tells us, this "promising future-oriented place with clean air, clean water and pure lands." There are, in fact, a number of interesting development projects afoot in the area, which is what that slogan presumably refers to. They just built a new international airport last year, were awarded the 2012 World Expo, are building an entirely new city around the relocated provincial capitol, are gearing up for Korea's first F1 races in 2010. Jeollanam-do is also home to Korea's space station, to a number of sacred temples, to the highest peak and the southernmost point on peninsular South Korea, and Gwangju holds one of the country's premiere arts festivals, the Bienalle, every two years.

It's a little difficult to come up with a three-day itinerary, and you can tell that I'm stalling, mostly because the top spots are spread out across the entire province, rather than being collected into a single city. Moreover it's possible to actually spend three days just in Suncheon and Yeosu, for example, and there are tons of underrated tourist sites in every city and county down here. But what follows is a sample course that people might find helpful when they're planning a trip through the region. I will also say, before I get into the major attractions, that spring and fall are excellent times to visit because there are tons of well-known festivals, and you might take those into account when visiting. I'll be publishing a list of fall festivals in the region in late-August, and I mentioned a few spring festivals back in May. Planning your trip around the festivals will mean dealing with crowds, but you'll also have a convenient, pre-set itinerary.

Anyway, here is a collection of attractions that would make for a pleasant trip in the region. I've started with Suncheon and Yeosu, moved to Boseong, west to Mokpo and Wando, and finally north to Damyang and Gwangju. I've also included other points of interest that . . . that might be of interest, and I've tried to provide bus information to the best of my ability. Obviously having a car would be most convenient and would cut down on time spent waiting for village buses that are often few and far between.

County Map of South Jeolla Province
The sites below cannot all be squeezed into three days, so a couple different combinations that follow the east-to-west pattern include:

- Suncheon - Gurye - Boseong - Damyang
- Suncheon - Yeosu - Boseong - Damyang
- Yeosu - Mokpo - Wando - Gwangju
- Gwangju - Boseong - Damyang
- Gwangju - Wolchulsan - Boseong

You get the idea. Anyway, yeah, the post.


Suncheon Bus Tour: A good idea for those who don't want to worry about finding their own way around town might try the Suncheon City Bus Tour. It boards a little before 9 am every day and follows one of two courses to the city's major attractions, including: Seonamsa and Songgwangsa Temples, Nagan Folk Village, Suncheon Bay, and the Suncheon Drama Set. It finishes at 6 pm where it begins, in front of the Tourist Information Center at Suncheon Station. Inquiries can be made by calling 82-61-749-3328.

Nagan Folk Village (낙안읍성민석마을): Those not doing the bus tour may want to try a few sites individually. Nagan Folk Village, some 25 kilometers outside downtown Suncheon, is considered the best-preserved folk village in the country. Each spring there is a folk culture festival and each fall is the popular Namdo Food Festival held at the Folk Village. It is accessible via local buses 63 and 68, though they only run a combined 19 times each day and it's thus a good idea to head out there first thing in the morning. You can find out what time the buses will come by visiting the tourist information center in front of Suncheon Station, or you can make an educated guess by searching the online timetable.

Seonamsa Temple: My personal favorite temple in Suncheon, it is especially pretty in the spring and fall. Seonamsa and Songgwangsa are both on Jogyesan mountain and are connected by a long trail that goes over the peak. Bus number 1 runs regularly to Seonamsa, and passes by Suncheon Station and the Intercity Bus Terminal, among other places.

Suncheon Dongcheon (Source - Brian)
Nearby attractions: Dongcheon is a stream that runs through the city, between the bus terminal and Suncheon Station. It is a very pleasant area for a stroll . . . Jukdobong Park overlooks the city and the stream and is best accessed via taxi . . . Those spending the night in the city might want to try visit one of the designated quote-unquote foreigner bars: Elvis or Julianna's . . . Gurye county is north of Suncheon and is home to part of Jirisan National Park, which contains the highest peak on peninsular South Korea. Three days could be spent entirely in Gurye, so see this very informative post on hiking trails, this category on "Jirisan," the blog entry here, or this treasure trove by David Mason for more information and decide accordingly. Piagol Valley is an especially popular destination in the fall, when the maples change color.

Accommodation: There are clusters of love motels around Suncheon Station, the Intercity Bus Terminal, Homeplus, and the east side of "New Downtown" in Yeonhyang-dong. The ones around Homeplus are the newest, and are probably the cleanest, and rates start around 35,000 a night for your basic room. It will be about a 4,000 won cab ride from Suncheon Station or you can reach the area via buses 59 or 101.


Hyangiram: I consider Hyangiram (향일암) a must-see for anyone coming to Jeollanam-do, along with the tea fields in Boseong and the bamboo forests in Damyang. Hyangiram is a gorgeous hermitage on the tip of Dolsan Island overlooking the sea. It is separated by the cute village below by 291 steps. There are a number of shrines that climb up the 323-meter-high Geomunsan. Local buses 111 and 113 go to Hyangiram and can be caught across the street from the Yeosu bus terminal. The trip takes between 70 and 80 minutes, so this is something I'd recommend doing first thing in the morning. There is a good write-up available from KBS Global.

Dolsan Bridge and Dolsan Park: At 450 meters long, Dolsan Bridge is considered the longest cable-stayed bridge in Korea. Folks in Jindo also make that claim of theirs, so who knows, but Dolsan Bridge joins Dolsan island to the mainland, and cycles between 50-some different colors at night. The park is pleasant enough during the day, but is definitely worth a visit at night. If crossing the bridge from the mainland, to the right you'll see a couple of interesting things. There is a replica "turtle ship," since Admiral Lee Sun-shin is said to have invented them in Yeosu. And just to the right of the bridge on the Dolsan side is a harbor with a number of small cruise ships. I recommend taking one of these cruises around the outlying islands.

Nearby attractions: There are two beaches roughly ten minutes away from the bus terminal by cab, Manseongni and Mosageum. Manseongni is the quote-unquote famed quote-unquote black-sand beach, although the sand there is actually brown . . . Yeosu has lots of outlying islands, including Geomun-do, home of Port Hamilton, a short-lived British naval station in the late 19th century . . . Odong-do is another very popular attraction in Yeosu.

Accommodation: There are a couple of motels close to the bus terminal. Also a ton in Hak-dong, an area near Turtle Park and Yeosu City Hall with some restaurants, bars, and a movie theater. Suncheon is 40 minutes away by bus, and buses back and forth run until midnight, so you could base yourself out of that city.

Boseong Green Tea Fields
The tea fields are another must-see, and are something pretty much every Korean and foreigner that passes through the area visits. Originally established by the Japanese during Occupation, there are several different plantations today with panoramic views of seemingly undulating rows of green tea plants. Tea is the representative product of Boseong, as 40% of the country's green tea comes from there, and if you visit the largest plantation---called 대한다원---you can buy all kinds of green tea products and green tea food. There are likewise a number of festivals held at the plantation, including the Green Tea Festival in May and the Seopyeonje Pansori Festival in October. It's best to avoid both the tea fields and the bamboo forest in Damyang in winter because the greenery won't be nearly as green.

Nearby attractions: Daewonsa temple is a local favorite among foreigners here. Not only is it beautiful and strikingly colorful, especially in spring, but there is a Tibetan Museum. There are sporadic buses from Boseong-eup and Beolgyo-eup . . . Yulpo Beach and the Yulpo Green Tea Baths are a short distance from the Green Tea Fields, and have gotten mixed reviews. For swimming, Sumun Beach in neighboring Jangheung county is preferrable, and it's only 9 kilometers west of Yulpo.

Accommodation: There are lots of quite little pension in Boseong near the Green Tea Fields. They are of course much more expensive than love motels but might be a nice time if you're travelling with that special someone. Have a look around Naver. Boseong is roughly an hour away from Suncheon, so if you wanted you could continue to base yourself out of that city.

Mokpo and Wando

I don't care that much about Mokpo, but folks say it's a nice city. I'm going to have to defer to the blog A Year in Mokpo and his write-ups on museums, bars, and the local favorite "Love Island." Also check out his post on Bigeum-do, an island in Sinan county accessible by ferry from the city.

Wando is one of Jeollanam-do's four counties comprised entirely or mostly out of islands. Its Myeongsashimni Beach is a regional favorite. The only downside is that Wando is pretty far from everything else---between 2h40m and 3h10m by bus from Gwangju---and would eat up an entire day. As with other cities and counties here, you could even spend an entire 3-day weekend in Wando. The aforementioned Myeongsashimni (명시십리해수욕장) is pretty much the best beach in Jeollanam-do, and though it's on the island of Shinji-do, it's still regularly accessible by buses from Wando-eup. Other points of interest include its impressive movie sets, Gugyedong Pebble Beach, and outlying islands like Bogil-do and Cheongsan-do. Having visited tons of places in Jeollanam-do already, if I had about a week to play with, I'd like to see more of Wando.


Wolchulsan (월출산) is popular little mountain and national park in Yeongam county. The mountain rises to 808.7 meters, is in the country's smallest national park, and has a bunch of attractions, including a sculpture park and a suspension bridge. Called the "Cloud Bridge" (구름다리) it is 120 meters long and spans two peaks some 510 meters high.

It is easy to get to the mountain's entrance from the bus terminal in Yeongam-eup, though it's best to set out for Yeongam early in the morning because not all local bus terminals run there frequently, and you may have to first visit Gwangju or Gangjin, or have to endure a lengthy ride that stops at every town and village along the way. And people of all shapes and ages have climbed Wolchulsan, though as with Jirisan, it's important to come adequately prepared and to be aware of your limitations.

There are a few love motels in Yeongam, though if your body odor isn't too offensive you might opt to move right to the infinitely more interesting Gwangju, where you can clean up and rest up before either trying out that city's nightlife or before going to Damyang the next day.

Gangjin county isn't exactly close, but does border on Wolchulsan, and as I used to live there I am kind of partial to it. Those who've been to Jeonnam before and are looking for other stuff to do---and who have their own transportation---might be intersted in visiting the idiosyncratic Nammireuksa or Omcheonsa temples

Damyang Bamboo Forest

This is the third must-see I've mentioned so far. It is a massive bamboo forest located in Damyang county, just outside of Gwangju. Numerous movies and TV dramas have been shot here---all have survived---and are commemorated with plaques posted throughout the forest. Apparently Ha Ji-won, number one on my list of sexy Korean women, did a fight scene in the forest for some drama or other. And, the rumor on the street is that a friend of a friend of a friend was her private English tutor while Ji-won was filming in the area. Why I was not invited to meat (HA!) meet her has not yet been accounted for.

[I guess we'll never know -Roboseyo]
[Ha Ji-Won, below]

Unfortunately, bus travel between the terminal and the forest is a bit tricky, as according to KBS only four buses head each way each day. (A map I have at home says six per day). I went first thing in the morning once, but was told that buses didn't start heading to the forest until 11:30. I likewise had to wait roughly an hour before heading back into town. Damyang is pretty dull, and if you end up having to wait for the bus you can wander around Damyang-eup to experience a typical Jeollanam-do town, if you haven't already, but except for the bamboo forest there's not much else to see, so you can head back to Gwangju in the afternoon. Damyang does have Soswaewon, a large Joseon-era garden, although buses go there from Gwangju not Damyang. There is also a Metasequoia Road (담양 메타세쿼이아 길), one that was named one of Korea's 100 most beautiful roads in 2006.


Wonhyosa (Source - Brian)
Gwangju is a pleasant and convenient enough city for locals to visit every now and then, but it offers little more than high-rise apartments as far as the eye can see. It has a great bus terminal, though, and is a good place to first enter or exit Jeollanam-do. If you find yourself in the city for the better part of the day, try the May 18th Cemetery or Mudeungsan. The cemetery is accessible via the aptly-numbered bus 518, and is the final resting place of the victims of the 1980 Gwangju Massacre. Mudeungsan is a 1,187-meter-high mountain in on the edge of the city, the centerpiece of Mudeungsan Provincial Park, and according to a professor friend in the city, it's where her students often go for dates, for some reason. You can hike it or can take buses or cars to the top. The lofty Wonhyosa (원효사) temple, overlooking a valley, is nice.

Different people have different styles when travelling. Some like to fill every minute of every day with something, while others would rather just visit one or two places each day. I’ve tried to include a bunch of sites, big and small, to appeal to both sets. It is impractical, though, to try and hit Suncheon, Yeosu, Boseong, Gwangju, Mokpo, and Wando in two-and-a-half days. Pick out a couple “must sees” to book-end your trip and take into account how long you’ll spend there and how long it will take to get in and out, and how convenient transportation will be to other sites. If you supplement your trip with another couple sites along the way, you should have a pleasant visit, one that will give you lots of good pictures and one that will allow you to experience something pretty different than what you’re used to in Seoul. Those with any questions can email me at deutsch.brian[at], and I’ll try to help.