Friday, April 30, 2010

ATEK Communications Officer, and no, ATEK will not be taking over Roboseyo

On Monday I sent out a press release, and posted on ATEK's website, that I've applied for, and been appointed, ATEK's National Communications Officer.  (link to press release).  This is an interesting opportunity for me, and I'm pretty excited about the possibilities right now.  Last time I wrote about ATEK, I wrote that
The area where Atek is failing so far is in communication, in my opinion. There isn't enough knowledge in the general population about what they're on about, about the kinds of connections that are being formed, and the reasons why things seem to be going slowly. Meeting notes ought to be published somewhere on their websites, and regular national council meetings should be announced, with their agenda and notes published, at least in some form that doesn't impinge on the privacy or trust of the people involved in certain ATEK actions.
I still think that.  From the conversations I've had (and I'm still learning the ropes right now: patience, please!) Atek has a lot of good people, and they're doing a lot of good things, and I'm looking forward to being a part of letting the world, or at least those who care, know what Atek's about, what they're doing, what they want to do, and how people can get involved.  Hopefully soon, people will no longer be able to say that ATEK's main failing is a failure to communicate... if I do my job well enough, people will know enough about ATEK that they'll be able to criticize finer points of its organization or bylaws or goals, and we'll be able to learn a lot from those public discussions, if they're productive.

So stay tuned: I'm getting my feet under me right now, but I've been sharing a lot of interesting ideas with a bunch of people (you can read some of them here, from Jason, who wrote a nice post about my appointment.)

But I'd like to be clear to my readers that I do not intend to use Roboseyo as ATEK's mouthpiece blog, nor any of the other blogs I'm involved with.  That would be unfair to my readers at Roboseyo, who come here for Roboseyo, not for ATEK, it would be unfair to other bloggers and news sources who write about ATEK, to be scooping them any time with inside information, and it would also be unfair to whoever comes after me as National Communications Officer, if I use the Roboseyo media empire (tee hee) for ATEK publicity, rather than trying to set up ATEK-specific communication mechanisms that are separate from Roboseyo, so that I can cleanly pass them on for the next person to use effectively, when my term expires (the bylaws give a maximum term).  Now, if I go to an ATEK event that rocks, I might post photos and talk about it, because that's something that happened in my life, and it rocked.  If ATEK is doing an event that I think is cool, you might hear about it at the 2S2 Blog or here, but I'll continue posting non-ATEK events that I like, and photos of non-ATEK stuff as well, so long as it's awesome (because that's the only real standard here at Roboseyo: awesomiousity).  This will be very remain my personal blog, with my personal opinions.  Because of my new official position, I'll actually be talking about ATEK less here (for example, in posts like this), because now that I'm in an official capacity, I should be writing about it along official channels.

So why, Roboseyo, are you taking on such a big task?  (and dear readers, it IS a big task... with a sharp learning curve.  I'd never written a press release before until Monday, and I made some mistakes that will be corrected in the next one.)  Well, here's why: I'm getting married, readers.  You know that.  To a wonderful Korean lady, no less, whose job prospects are mostly limited to Korea because of the kinds of re-training she'd have to undergo to do her job in other countries (she's pretty specialized).  I'm probably going to be living in Korea for most of my adult life, if things go the way they have been.  The wind blows, and the wheel turns, but for the foreseeable future, Korea's it.  For a lot of that future, I may well be involved in education, and if that's the case, then helping out an organization whose goal is to improve the lives of English teachers seems kind of logical.  At this point, I think ATEK is the organization I can get involved with, that has the best chance of affecting tangible improvements in the quality of life of English teachers in Korea.  I have a big stake in Korea, so I'm doing a favor for my future self, folks.  Also, when I have a bad Korea day (and everybody has them), thinking that I'm doing something meaningful with my free time makes me feel better about the prospect of living in Korea for a long long time.  It won't always be easy: the time management challenge alone will be a biggie, and I have a wedding coming up, but I think I can do a good job of it, and I'm excited to be part of an organization with a lot of cool people who are passionate about making life better for English teachers.  Plus, I get business cards!

If you want to talk to me about personal or blog stuff, write me at the address on the right: roboseyo at gmail.  If you want to write me about ATEK stuff, I'm going to try to keep them separate, so please send it to media[@]atek[.]or[.]kr   If you have some advice, some suggestions, or if you want to help me out as a volunteer, because you like me so much, or just because you're awesome, some of the ideas I've been tossing around for improving communications will take some help, so drop me a line.

Have a great day, readers.


Circus Acrobats...

I love Circus shows.  I love what humans have trained themselves to do.  The first live circus I saw that I can remember well (I think I went to a few when I was a kid, but didn't grasp at the time how friggin' hard it is, what they do,) was in North Korea, at the Geumgang Resort.  The stuff they could do was mind-blowing, and I felt like I was seven years old again... I'm still sad that I wasn't allowed to bring recording devices into the country, or buy a DVD.  Not that circuses EVER look good on DVD.

Saw this on Collegehumor, which usually does comedy, but every once in a wile puts some "wow" on their video feed, and it reminded my.

My favorite circus story was when I went to Beijing in December '08/ January '09 with my best friend and his wife; she speaks Chinese extremely well, so she did a lot of bargaining for us to get awesome prices and deals on a lot of stuff.  When she got on the phone with the circus people, to reserve tickets for the Beijing Circus, she tried to argue for a discount, and the phone operator just answered, "What they do is hard." and she had nothing to say.  Check it out.

The circuses I've been to since then, starting with the most "wow":

1. Geumgang Mountain Tour, North Korea
2. Alegria, by Cirque du Soleil (wrote about it here and here - some of the video clips have been taken down; others are good)
3. Quidam, by Cirque du Soleil
4. Chinese Circus in Shanghai
5. Chinese Circus in Beijing (China takes so many Olympic medals in gymnastics, and supplies performers to every circus in the world, and it shows in their domestic circus shows.)

And being #5 on that list is no shame, buddy.  That's all for now.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blood Connections, Group to Address Blood-Donation Issues, to Meet on Sunday

Blood Connections is a group conceived by some of the people who were working to collect blood for YooWoon, the 19-year-old boy who had a facebook page and a blood drive done in his name, but who passed away last week.

Some people, myself included, discovered that there are a number of issues making it harder for non-Korean speakers to give blood in Korea.  On Sunday, in Kangnam, a group of these people are meeting to start a group meant to address these issues, and make it easier for foreigners to give blood in Korea.  The facebook page is here, and it's a good cause that can mean life or death.

Praise is Meaningless if Not Allowed To Criticize

This article was published in the Korea Herald, but the link is a bit glitchy, so I'm storing a copy here in case it disappears next time The Korea Herald updates its website.

It is further discussed in this blog post, "Death Threads, K-Bloggers, Lousy Korea"

This January, an English teacher in Korea had a conversation with a few other expats. All the complaining she heard made her decide to vent her negativity on a blog, so that she didn’t have to be negative around her friends.

Also a regular blog reader, she took the repeated and repetitive theme of complaining about Korea, and exaggerated it to ridiculous degrees, partly to vent, and partly in hopes that the exaggeration would prompt some of the whiners to shake their heads and say, “Wait a minute ... Korea’s not as bad as all that.” She named the blog Lousy Korea, and while she expected some defensiveness from people who missed her point, she did not expect what happened.

image from original Korea Herald online article (see link above)

The teacher, whom we’ll call L.K. to protect her privacy, last week took her blog down completely. Threats were being made not only to L.K., but to other bloggers who were linked on her blog, and even the families of those bloggers. Lousy Korea is not the only blog that has been targeted by death threats, nor the only expat: Korean Rum Diary is another blogger who received a death threat with detailed descriptions of how he would be murdered, and included his real name and address.

Popular blogger Brian in Jeollanam-do was recently reported to immigration, most likely because of his critical opinions, and the president of the Association for Teachers of English in Korea also had his life threatened. Some of these people were attempting to discuss Korean social issues honestly. Others took negative approaches. However, it is shocking that there are people who believe that when somebody writes something they dislike, an appropriate response is to threaten that person’s job, life, friends or family.

So what’s with these negative blogs, anyway? They’re misunderstood: A lot of the people who complain online save all their negativity for the Internet, so that they can be pleasant and polite during the day to their friends and coworkers. These people are not publishing their articles in famous magazines or newspapers -- they often aren’t writing for an audience at all: They’re participating in a group therapy session, dealing with culture shock by talking to others who also feel culture shock. Posting their thoughts where anybody can find them might not be the wisest choice, but such people deserve pity more than hostility.

Meanwhile, in the same way that hyper-negative bloggers leave a bad impression of expats in Korea, the extreme reactions from netizens, who really believe they are protecting Korea with their hateful behavior, creates the impression that Korean society can’t stand criticism. This tiny, angry minority of hostile people can be very noisy, and they’ve chosen different targets at different times: ask Park Jae-beom, Vera Hohleiter (the “Loser” girl from Misuda), Dog Poop Girl or Jim Hewish. These people do not realize that rather than protect Korea’s reputation, their behavior actually damages it by creating a false image of a country full of thin-skinned, reactionary and hostile netizens.

During Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan’s dictatorships, people were afraid to say anything different, difficult, or provocative, because people were regularly jailed for criticizing the regime. Even today, the situation is similar in North Korea. It is really sad that a few angry and aggressive commenters can create a culture of fear online, so that, once again, people are afraid to express their opinions. It is shameful that even though many Koreans alive today can still remember those dictatorships, some people are celebrating Korea’s new democratic freedoms by using the same fear and intimidation tactics Korea’s old dictators did, to stifle opinions they dislike.

Free speech is the lifeblood of a truly free society, and while free speech does not mean speech without consequences, there are acceptable responses to speech, like written responses, angry comments, criticisms and negative feedback, and there are unacceptable responses, like threats to someone’s privacy, job, safety, friends or even family. It doesn’t matter if someone’s opinion or method of expression is unpopular or even offensive: If their free speech is not also protected, nobody is really free to express themselves.

These days, Korea seems to be especially concerned with how it is perceived by countries around the world. Branding is the buzzword in food, business and tourism promotion. Positive mentions of Korea are repeated, but criticisms are met with outcry.

On the blogs, it’s the same: Everybody congratulates the happy bloggers for truly understanding Korea; however, if bloggers do not feel free to say what they really think, if they are writing positive things because they fear violence when they criticize, then their positive comments are as empty as the songs of North Korean school children praising their leader, for fear of the prison camp.

To comment, e-mail [redacted]; Rob Ouwehand’s other writings can be found at the blog; the opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of The Korea Herald – Ed.

By Rob Ouwehand

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Death Threats, K-Bloggers, Lousy Korea

I wrote an article for The Korea Herald about the Lousy Korea incident, which you can also read about at I'm No Picasso here; the best commentary on the issue so far is coming from Korean Rum Diary, who's made some interesting and thoughtful posts on the topic.  His first discusses critics of negative blogs; his second is actually a long comment from the blogger Lousy Korea, and his third responds to the article I wrote today in the Korea Herald.  In the comments to the first of KRD's posts, The Korean leaves a response that's worth reading.

You can read my article in the Korea Herald here. Duplicate link here in case the first goes dead.

I'd written a big, really long post about this issue that I was going to run this week, but while writing the Herald article, I asked LK to contact me, and during that correspondence, she said that she doesn't wish this thing to be made too much more of a big deal, for the sake of some of the people whose lives have been threatened.

So I'm going to summarize my long post, instead of publishing the whole thing.  Interestingly, it referenced the same news story KRD mentioned: Muslims threatening South Park for their Muhammed portrayal.

Here's the bullet point version of the original post:

1. Yeah, Lousy Korea had a harsh tone that was quite provocative.
2. I'm No Picasso notes here that "hater K-bloggers" and "psycho nutizens" are both extreme fringes who do not represent their groups, but who sometimes makes their entire group look bad.
3. Yep, Korean Sentry can be hateful... but no worse than some of Dave's ESL's Hate Korea comment threads.
4. A lot of this stuff relates to my old "Why Do Expats Complain"/"Why Do Koreans Get So Defensive" teamup.

Longer points:

5. (똥)개 눈에는 똥만 보인다 - a Korean saying literally translated, according to Girlfriendoseyo, "The dog that eats shit, only looks for shit."  I think "The dog with shit in his eye sees only shit" is snappier, but basically, some kinds of writing reveal more about the writer than the subject.  Such extreme writing speaks for itself, and undermines itself with its vitriol; if somebody's having SUCH a bad time in Korea, they ought to be pitied, and then ignored.

6. Most of the "Hate Korea" blogs out there have fewer than 50 followers: they're not reaching a large audience, nor are they really trying to.  It's mostly a few buddies passing notes to each other in class.

(with apologies to Jason Ryan)
Q: If a tree shouts, "Korea sucks" in the forest, ten other trees shout, "Hear, hear!" and nobody else is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
A: Who cares?  I have more important things to worry about.

7.  "Hate Korea" blogs and the extreme reactions they engender lead to a perception that expats and Korean society are incompatible - in the same way that South Park's Mohammed jokes and militant groups' overreactions create the perception that Muslims will NEVER integrate into Western society.  Is the laugh that South Park got for taking cracks at Mohammed worth the mutual alienation that develops between Muslim and Western society?  I don't know.

8. While there are enough Koreans who can read English and access OUR complaining blogs, there are way too few expats who can read enough Korean to answer the K-defenders with "But a Korean blogger said the same thing yesterday!" and provide a link.  That's too bad.

9. Free speech doesn't mean Speech without consequences.  Free speech, even on the internet, has consequences, be that hundreds of commenters flaming me for saying "Wondergirls suck" or Birthers shrieking because I wrote in support of Obamacare, expressing yourself on the internet has consequences. The Marmot, Garry Bevers, Kushibo, and Brian in Jeollanam-do have all been personally attacked or threatened for their online actions.  You own everything you say on the internet, forever.  No, people shouldn't be allowed to publish my address and phone my employer: there are appropriate and inappropriate responses to free speech, but speech DOES have consequences.  Even anonymous speech can be traced by smart, persistent people, and a dedicated sleuth might expose even the thing you thought was completely anonymous!

10. The cycle of Misunderstanding: I really think there's a big misunderstanding leading to the negative cycle of Haters and K-defenders.  Here's how it works:

  1. Expats vent online, kind of like a group therapy session (the internet's good for getting together group therapy and support communities)
  2. K-defenders read the venting and miss the group-therapy context, and react.  Maybe they start out rationally (which would be fine if the point of the forum really were intellectual exchange, but it isn't: it's catharsis), maybe they don't start out rationally.  But they react.
  3. Expats mistake the K-defender's defensiveness for either an invalidation of their right to free speech, or a denial of the realities they face every day.  Instead of explaining, "Kindly leave us to our group therapy," they double-down, and re-assert their right to free speech, usually by saying even nastier things about Korea.
  4. Repeat steps 2-4 until everyone hates everyone.

11. You're not the first one to notice this blog is one-sided.  K-defenders forget that the other people who read the "Hate Korea" blogs have brains, probably don't believe everything they read on the internet, and most likely suspect any blog that is one-sided, either positive (suspected to be propaganda) or negative (suspected to be vendetta).  Readers will seek out other sources, if they care enough to get the full story. If readers are so disengaged and incurious they don't check their facts and read other sources, who cares what they think?

12. When people are putting stuff on the internet, I don't know if "You're not my intended audience" can/should be a "get out of jail free" card; regardless, if it's something easily misunderstood, it's the barest of prudence to put a disclaimer on the front page: something like "This blog is a satire;" or "this blog is just my own opinion;" or "I usually write when I'm feeling a lot of feelings, so the things you read here might not reflect how I feel 80-95% of the time;" or "These are jokes. Lighten up or move on."

13. In my own experience of K-defensiveness, I don't think it's as bad as it used to be, but I don't know if that's because there are more Koreans able to talk openly to foreigners about negative topics, because I'm getting better at presenting my thoughts tactfully, or because I'm getting better at spotting who is and who isn't up to those kinds of discussions, and I naturally avoid those who can't.

who knows.

Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner Part 6

This post is part of a series providing tips for expats in Korea who are interested in becoming friends with Koreans, and tips for Koreans who are interested in becoming friends with Westerners. Read. Yes, I know these are sweeping generalizations. Deal with it.

Tip 15
Be calm: if you find yourself wanting to "correct" my opinion, or if you find yourself wanting to say something like "You should learn more about Korea before you criticize," it's time to do one of two things: 1. do a quick emotion-check - breathe deeply, count to ten, and continue as coolly and rationally as possible, with delicate, tactful language, in a calm voice, or 2. if you don't feel like doing that, or if you're afraid your emotions will make it hard to do that, just change the subject.

Honestly, this is a bad habit many foreigners have: it's natural to have complaints about life -- nobody's ever 100% happy -- but sometimes we choose the wrong time or place to say them, or we take our normal, natural complaints about life, and make them sound like we're complaining generally about Korea, not specifically about a situation. If it seems like the conversation is about to turn into a bunch of complaining, it might be time to change the subject.

If you don't want to have conversations like this, see also tip 11: don't ask questions that could be taken as an invitation to complain.

Tip 15.1 Please allow me to have bad days. Some days, my boss was a jerk, or the crowded subway was annoying, or some of my students' mothers complained about my teaching. If I complain about those things, please listen to me, and don't think that my complaining is a final judgement on your country, or your culture. I need friends to help me deal with my bad days, not Korea defenders to tell me I shouldn't feel that way!

Complaints are emotional, especially if I just had a bad day, and when I'm emotional, I don't always choose my words carefully. That's normal human behavior; please remember that before getting defensive.

Tip 16 Be ready for a different kind of friendship than you have with your Korean friends. I don't feel comfortable explaining in detail exactly how, because "foreigners" is a pretty diverse group, as are Koreans, and the specifics vary for every two different people... but the ways and reasons Koreans form and maintain friendships are sometimes different than the ways and reasons foreigners form and maintain friendships, so there will be times when things are different, strange, maybe even uncomfortable for both of us. In those cases, if you really want to have a good foreign friend, it'll be important for you to talk with me about what's happening, and how or why things are different than you'd each expect from your friends of the same culture. If you can both keep open minds and negotiate those challenges, then you'll be on the way to having a truly rewarding friendship. But especially if you haven't lived outside of Korea, and your friend hasn't spent time in other cultures growing up, both sides will need to work on being flexible. If we can both be flexible, it's totally worth it.

And remember: "It's a cultural difference" is NOT the end of a conversation.  It's the BEGINNING of a conversation.  After saying "It's a cultural difference," it's important to articulate that difference, and how my expectations are different than your expectations, so that we can be understanding and flexible towards each other in the future.

Now, following these tips won’t automatically guarantee that you’ll become great friends with every foreigner you meet: friendship depends on more than avoiding faux-pas - but by avoiding these turn-off behaviors, you’ll hopefully have the tools to make the kind of good impression that leads to good friendships. Have fun!

Back to the Table of Contents for the series.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I'm in the Canadian Embassy's April Newsletter!

The Canadian Embassy wrote a feature about me in their monthly newsletter.  :)

You can read it here.

You can go to this page, and in the top right corner there's a spot where you can subscribe to the newsletter.

Also, on the right side of this blog, under the "helpful sites worth checking out" category, you can find a link to the Embassy's page of information about coming to Korea to teach English.  It's a pretty good primer that touches on the most important points without getting over-long.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wanna Chat with Korean Buddies? How not to make an Ass of Yourself: Part 4

This post is part of a series providing tips for expats in Korea who are interested in becoming friends with Koreans, and tips for Koreans who are interested in becoming friends with Westerners. Read. Yes, I know these are sweeping generalizations. Deal with it.

Here's the table of contents to the series.

On to the tips:

Learn as much as you can about Korean manners. Gord Sellar just wrote a great piece about what is called "Gaijin Smash" in Japan - where foreigners get away with stuff, or dodge the usual expectations or obligations by feigning ignorance of Japanese norms, or demanding special treatment. Don't over-play the foreigner card, and learn how we Koreans deal with conflict resoluation. Open confrontation often isn't the way it's done here; if you have an awkward situation, ask a Korean friend for advice rather than starting off with your battering ram impersonation. As a general rule, Koreans usually prefer back-channels and indirect methods of conflict resolution, rather than direct confrontation; we even have a word for it: 눈치, or nunchi, which might be defined as a cross between social awareness and tact on steroids. Learning a bit of how to comport yourself with nunchi will go a long way. Give a person a small gift and invite them to go drinking to work things out privately, instead of hauling off with a confrontation in front of colleagues, where I lose face, and you lose even MORE face, for making me lose face.

Don't ask how to get a Korean girl. What would you say if a Korean exchange student in your home country asked you the same question? Probably, "Every girl is different; I don't know what to tell you," right? Why would you think it's different here?

So here's Roboseyo's authoritative guide to meeting Korean girls: step one: Come to Korea. Step two: Approach a girl. Step three: Put your best foot forward, and hope she likes you. The Korean from Ask A Korean! wisely notes that "If there is only one thing to remember about Korean men, it’s this: they are men before they are Korean." Ditto for women: it's pretty universal that women want to be treated with respect and kindness. It's universal that there are some awesome women and some crazy psychos in every country. While variations in culture might lead to differences in how people express certain things, or how an an individual's awesomeness/psychoness manifents, those differences won't be that much more confusing than the usual variations between individuals, if you keep an open mind. One friend advises watching a few Korean dramas and romantic comedies to see what women expect from a suitor. From there, figure it out.

Earn your right to be opinionated. When giving opinions on Korea, acknowledge what you don't know. Even Roboseyo remembers having conversations with Koreans in his first year, telling them everything that was wrong with Korea, and exactly how it could be fixed. Coincidentally, the best way to fix things, most of the time, was to do them more the way they were done in Canada. Old Roboseyo was operating under the false assumption that Koreans don't already know what's broke in their system, and got caught up in the heady notion that he would be the visionary - that vaunted outside voice - who could break people's thinking out of the box of Neo-Confucianism (whatever that means) or hyper-competition, or whatever.

Problem is, the more Roboseyo learned about Korea, the more complex all those problems seemed. It's no surprise that a lot of us Koreans rankle when somebody acts as if they have it all figured out, three months into their Korea experience. During all those conversations on his high horse, Roboseyo didn't actually say anything his Korean friends hadn't heard before, and been said better, by a social critic, a commentator, or a thinker in Korea. Don't fall into the trap of thinking we will never have heard your "western perspective" before. Approach discussions of Korean issues with a level of humility appropriate to your level of knowledge about the country.  

Pick Your Spots, Too. Make sure our friendship can bear the frequency and type of complaints, criticisms, and commentaries you make on Korea. It IS my country, after all, so I probably won't want to talk about social issues all the time, nor will I want to hear complaints and criticisms every time we talk.   Spend some time talking about travel, or food, or video games, so that it doesn't seem like the only thing we ever talk about is all the ways you'd change Korea, if you could.

Meanwhile, if you don't know me well enough to read when I'm starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, you shouldn't be getting overly critical to begin with, and if you do know me well enough to read my comfort level, be sure to do so during the discussion.  It's generally a good idea to save the "Korea bashing" theme for other expats, who understand the difference between the "group therapy" context and the "representations of Korean culture" context.

Finally: Don't talk about sex all the time.  Some of us don't mind that - some of us even hang out with non-Koreans so that we can speak a little more freely about topics that are taboo to most Koreans, but not all of us.  It's quite unusual, and often embarrassing to have a lot of really open conversations about sex, even if it's in English, because these days, a lot of people can understand English, and can follow every word you're saying if you talk about it in public.  Even if the other people in the coffee shop don't understand every English word, they'll still recognize words like "sex" and "fuck" - we all watch Hollywood movies.  Once again, pick your spots, and don't go into it unless you already have a pretty good read on a person's sensibilities and comfort zones.

Well, that's what I've got for now. If you can think of other things I've missed, let me know. I hope this series turns out useful for both sides.

And even though I've just spent a few thousand words dredging up stereotypes and awkward aspects of either side of the expat/Korean friendship, here's my bit:

Basically, if you boil down both lists, they sum up the same way: be considerate and respectful, and consider the person you're meeting as a complete human, and not just an example of their group. Really, that's all anyone wants, because, to modify The Korean's quote: "We're humans before we're Koreans, or Westerners."

I've grown uncomfortable with the casual tendency to say "I talked to a Korean nurse at the clinic" instead of saying "I talked to a nurse..." because often adding the "Korean" (or "foreign") label means lumping a whole bunch of baggage over top of the initial situation. "A Korean lady pushed me on the subway." No. "A rude lady pushed me on the subway." Using the word "Korean" there instead of the word "rude" seems to saddle the category of "Korean" with rudeness, and fails to acknowledge the diversity of Koreans, and that's unfair. On both sides, we need to be more careful about avoiding such casual categorizations.

One of my correspondents concurs:
Even though I said these things, this is the small part of my friends/foreigners aspects. Mostly, the foreigners I know are really nice but I sent this list because I had to think about what could be annoying for me.

and I'd say the same thing about the Koreans I know.

Hope you've enjoyed the read.

Back to the table of contents.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Don't Trust Your Boss? How's Peace of Mind for 20 a Month?

I got an e-mail from ATEK's President, Greg Dolezal. I'm a member of ATEK now, and am planning on becoming more involved. I'd rather not let that take over this blog entirely, but I would like to put some of my energy in that direction, and you'll hear about it here from time to time.

Meanwhile, there's an exciting program that I'd like to mention here: Kangnam Labor Law Firm, which has handled a large volume of labor cases by reference from ATEK, is testing a new program called "Legal Assurance" You can read about it, including the text of the ATEK member e-mail, at Chris in SK's blog, it's mentioned at Expacked, and explained further at Kangnam Labor Law Firm's own site.  After reading up, here's the breakdown, as I understand it.

Basically, it works like health insurance: instead of paying tens of thousands for a surgery when you get sick, you pay a little each month, which adds to the pool of insurance payees, and when something big comes along, they draw from that pool to help you out with your surgery.  In this case, 20 000 won a month pays into the monthly plan, which amounts to a retainer, and give you access to the law firm's services.

So why is this a good idea?  Dollars and cents, readers.

See, the standard labor lawyer's retainer fee at Kangnam Labor Law Firm -- the fee you pay them before they start looking into your case -- is 600 000 won, to recruit their services.  Then, if you win a settlement, the firm is also entitled to 30% of the entire settlement, on top of the retainer.

Doing the math on that, if your boss is trying to rip you off for 1 000 000 won, the retainer is 600 000, and then the firm gets 30% of the settlement on top of that.  This means out of your million, 600 000 goes into the retainer, and another 300 000 goes to the firm as a percentage of your settlement, leaving you with 100 000 won - not even worth the effort.  Basically, this means that for cases in which your boss is trying to stiff you for a smaller amount, it's just not worth going to a labor lawyer; your only choice is to cut your losses and look for a better job.

The next problem with doing things this way, is that lawyers don't get called into the case until the dispute has already "gone nuclear" as the law firm calls it -- not until things have gotten so bad between the teacher and the boss, that the teacher is actually willing to cough up 600 000 won - no small amount - to get it sorted.

The last problem with doing things this way is that a lot of English teachers in bad spots need a lawyer for the same reasons they can't afford a retainer: because they're not getting paid.  How is one expected to pony up 600 000 won, when the REASON one needs a lawyer is because one hasn't been paid in two months?

So how does 20 000 a month help?

First, it means that you can access a labor lawyer without dropping 600 000; this means that you can have Kangnam Labor Law Firm backing you up in issues over smaller amounts - that big retainer means  that until the amount in dispute is larger than 2 500 000 won, it's not really worth your while to call in a lawyer, but for 20 000 a month, you can have access to a law firm ready to mediate, negotiate, and support you in smaller matters as well.

Second, it means that rather than waiting until things have gotten really bad between an employer and an employee, you can bring a lawyer in sooner in the process, or get better advice sooner, and hopefully settle the matter before it has to go to court, which is better for everyone.  Mediation is way better than lawsuits, it's faster, and less antagonistic, and there's less chance of totally fire-bombing your working relationship forever (if that's important to you).  If there IS a problem that requires going to court, no further retainer is required, but the firm is there to advise you long before things get bad enough to consider going to court, and there to mediate issues rather than having to bring the hammer.

Third, it means that you can access the expert legal advice of a labor law firm whenever you need it, which could be worth a lot, not just in terms of a stronger negotiating position, but also in terms of peace of mind.

I'd say 20 000 a month is a small price for peace of mind.  So who should sign up for this?

Well, at this point, the Legal Assurance Program is a trial balloon: they're doing a small-scale release, a "soft opening" to see how it works out, and to see if the model is viable.  They might tinker with the model a bit before rolling it out on a larger scale. If it does work out well, I'd say anybody who doesn't trust their boss, anybody who's observed sketchy behavior from their employer, whose employer seems to be hiding something, who's had to fight for things they're entitled to, like health insurance, or who's been burned in the past, and doesn't want it to happen again, would be stupid not to sign up.  Like health insurance or life insurance, anybody who's not sure about the security of their position would have much less to worry about if they signed up, and 20 000 a month is nothing: that's six bowls of jajangmyeon in Seoul, or a meal and a pint at Wolfhound, or three Long Island Ice Teas.  I'm not sure exactly how limited this limited release is, or how many monthly retainers they're putting on the table at this point, but I hope they go to people that need them.

I predict that in the first group of people signing up, Kangnam Labor Law Firm will end up dealing with a lot of grievances, so that it won't pay for itself immediately; however, I think that once that initial burst settles down, it'll be well worth it for them, in revenues and in reputation among English teachers, and it'll be a huge boon for English teachers who aren't sure about the situation they're heading into.

I think it's awesome that Kangnam Labor Law Firm is trying out this system; I hope it works, and I hope we can see others like it.  For those who have been asking what ATEK's done for them, lately, I'd say this is a pretty strong indication that, while ATEK hasn't been loud (though some of its critics have), it has been getting stuff done.

Go to the website and read more about the plan, and you're also free to write them if you have a question at

(by the way: I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not qualified to give legal advice.  Don't take this as such.  Instead, contact Kangnam Labor Law Firm where they actually know what they're talking about, rather than just reading stuff and putting it into pretty words.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

YooWoon Passes Away at Yonsei Severance Hospital

According to messages from Marie, founder of the "Save YooWoon" facebook event, YooWoon, the subject of 2S2's blood drive, passed away yesterday at Yonsei Severance Hospital.

At the facebook page, Marie wrote:

"On behalf of YooWoon's family and myself, thank you once again for your tremendous support during this difficult time."

If you're part of the facebook group, you've received a message about where to pay respects to YooWoon, or you can contact Marie through the facebook page; I won't be publishing that information here, so that any stranger off the street can saunter in: I think I'd recommend that if you haven't met him already, or spoken to his family, it might be best to let the family and friends grieve in privacy.

Regardless, a big thanks to everyone who helped out by donating blood or spreading the word.

Until next time, and especially if you have a rare blood type, it might be a good time to think about donating yourself, or seeing what you can do to make sure that you won't be stuck in a bad situation if something bad happens while you're here in Korea.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Weekend with Roboseyo

Post soundtrack:
Don't Stop the Music, by Jamie Cullum

cross-posted at

The weekend before last was an interesting one for me.  Great, but also full of surprises.  Giving blood, a concert, and a flower boy, coming up...

First of all, after a bit of build-up, the 2S2 Meeting I wrote about earlier, met on Saturday afternoon at 2Pm, near Anguk Station.  We were planning to go down to the blood clinic in Shinchon.

Though there are now 350 or so people on the facebook page, only two people came to the 2S2 Meetup where we planned to give blood.

Maybe that was because all the talk of who can and who can't give blood... maybe it's because a Facebook promise means less than a pinky-swear, and maybe it's because everybody'd already given blood elsewhere.  I'll assume it's the third choice.

So those of us who were eligible to give blood headed to the clinic in Shinchon.  We were told several times that it would be very difficult to take foreigners' blood, for a few different reasons.  The biggest one was the requirement that foreigners have lived in Korea for the last year (continuously, according to some interviewers); secondly, we were quite clearly told that if I didn't speak Korean well enough to answer the questions in a Korean-only interview, without an interpreter, I couldn't give blood.  Now, blood doesn't have a language, so even though it seems to me that it wouldn't be hard to find a way to work around language gaps, for people who are willing to give blood, the clinic people were fairly emphatic about the language issue.  However, when we actually went to the clinic, they allowed the lovely Ms. Hwang (see the photo above) to help me out with the interview after all.  I had a translation of the interview questions in front of me, and we could have probably done the interview on our own, with a little pointing and nodding, and my limited Korean, but it worked out well with Ms. Hwang's help as well.  Once we figured out that I COULD give blood, the process was almost too easy.

I gave blood.  The needle hurt, but I didn't cry.  Because I'm brave.

I'm AB+ - a somewhat rare type, but unfortunately not the type that YooWoon Jeon needs; however, it felt good to give blood, and I'll do it again in two months, when I'm once again eligible.

That night I saw a concert by Jamie Cullum, a British pop/jazz artist whom Girlfriendoseyo adores.  Before the show, we got some free coffee from this table:

It was free, so we got what we paid for... but it was so weak we couldn't even tell whether it was supposed to be coffee or tea, and we left it on top of the trash can, where everybody else left their sad, abandoned cups.  The bathroom sink counter was also littered with cups, where people had poured out their swamp-water.

the coffee was so bad nobody seemed to finish their cup

As for the Jamie Cullum concert, he was awesome: his singing voice is beautiful, cool and smooth but also youthful and energetic (if you played the soundtrack at the top of the post, you're listening to him now).  All through the show, it was obvious that he was having more fun than anybody else in the building, and he not only performed a fantastic live set, but he entertained the heck out of every audience member.

We weren't actually supposed to take pictures, but during the second encore ("High and Dry") everyone else had their cameras out, so I didn't see the harm in getting out mine.  Maybe later I'll put up video of the audience singing along on Youtube.  It was a sweet moment.

Jamie Cullum in Concert

On Sunday, I met some friends at Yeouido park to see the cherry blossoms that hadn't quite come out yet.

Yeouido Park was packed with people.[/caption]

The picnic was good, though I was a bit late; however, the highlight of my day was this guy, who was prancing around dressed in pink, plastic flowers, motioning or asking for people to take their pictures with him.  I'm not sure whether he was doing it because he lost a bet, or was being initiated into a super-cool club (and he'd better be on the fast-track for president, if that's the case) or if he's just naturally like this, but this kid, who might have been fifteen, was the unexpected highlight of the Sunday.

This funny kid was posing for pictures

Thanks, buddy.

More later, readers!

Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner Part 5

This post is part of a series providing tips for expats in Korea who are interested in becoming friends with Koreans, and tips for Koreans who are interested in becoming friends with Westerners. Read. Yes, I know these are sweeping generalizations. Deal with it.

Tip 13: Be realistic. I’m one person, not a representative of a whole group. Please don’t ask me questions like “what do foreigners think of Korea?” because there are more than a million foreigners in Korea, with different ages, educations, origins, and experiences of Korea. If you think foreigners are one huge group that are basically all the same, you'll miss the chance to experience the huge variety of foreigners in Korea.

Yes, I am aware of the irony of myself, speaking on behalf of all foreigners, imploring Koreans not to ask us to speak on behalf of all foreigners.

Tip 13.1 Don't expect me to know everything about my home country. Especially if I’ve been in Korea for a long time, my knowledge about my home country becomes outdated, and rusty. Canada was a different place in 2003, when I left. Seven years later, the internet is a more reliable source than I am about a lot of things.

Tip 13.2 Especially, do not ask me to defend my country's political actions, foreign policy, etc., or hold me responsible for decisions made by my home country's business or political leaders... and if you’re going to bring up social problems in my home country, make sure you have your facts straight, and it doesn’t sound like you’re just bringing them up to show that you think Korea’s better. A former student used to come into class saying "I read that Canada has a higher divorce rate than Korea. What do you have to say about that?"... I didn't have much to say, but when he invited me to hang out outside of class, I politely declined.

Tip 14 Be yourself: In the same way, don't try to represent all Koreans, or speak as if all Koreans are basically the same. Korea is a diverse, sometimes extremely divided country - North and South, Jeolla and Gyungsan, Left Wing and Right Wing, rich and poor, city and country, and so forth. When my friends start saying "Koreans are..." "Koreans think..." a lot, I begin to wonder where they got their facts.

Tip 14.1 Also, don't start talking like a promotional flyer. It makes it seem like you care about my opinion of your country more than you care about me, personally. If I want to know about something, I'll ask, and unless you know a lot more about a topic than most Koreans, I've probably already heard it (especially once a foreigner has been in Korea longer than six months).

Tip 14.2 These last two rules go double for talking about politics, hot topics and controversial issues. You don't have to defend Korea in areas where everybody knows it needs improvement, just because this time, the critic is a foreigner instead of another Korean. You're allowed to say "Yeah. We Koreans hate ___, too. It's pretty fucked up." In fact, we'd love it if you were that honest with us: it would show that you're sincere about having an honest conversation.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wanna Chat with Korean Buddies? How not to make an Ass of Yourself: Part 3

This post is part of a series providing tips for expats in Korea who are interested in becoming friends with Koreans, and tips for Koreans who are interested in becoming friends with Westerners. Read. Yes, I know these are sweeping generalizations. Deal with it.

Well whaddaya know, after all that ranting and raving about the expat's side, I'm having to take more care in presenting the Korean viewpoint. However, in all fairness, this is equally, or maybe MORE important to include on an English language blog, so here's part three: how not to make an ass of yourself around potential Korean friends.

Next guideline: don't get in such a snit if I ask your age, job, major, blood type, or marriage status. They're just questions, and when in Rome, expect the Romans to bring up topics common to Roman small talk. Durr. There are two reasons people ask these questions: 1. because I'm sizing you up, and 2. because I'm nervous about talking all in English to a foreigner, and I can't think of anything else to say.

1. If I AM sizing you up... it's Korea. It comes with the territory, and if you make this into a big deal, you're making bad choices about which walls to butt your head against, particularly because the head-butting of this wall exacts a steep social cost. If you really think you're a manners missionary sent here to teach the Mongol hordes how to hold a China teacup, well, your colonialism is showing.

If the first three minutes of the conversation is the pyre on which you choose to burn your chances to have a real Korean friend, you're dooming yourself to a seriously stunted social life, and being more than a bit of an arrogant foreigner to boot.

2. Maybe I'm asking those questions because all those clever things I was thinking of saying before I met you just vanished in a hazy cloud of "Oh crap I think I just made an English mistake." If I asked because I'm nervous, and you make a big deal out it, you'll make me MORE nervous. Realize that some Koreans may well feel like they're being tested every time they speak to a foreigner... because usually they are. Factor that nervousness into your approach to these kinds of conversations.

Next tip: don't dress like a homeless person. Even if they're off duty, here in Korea, people take care of their appearance. That's just how we roll. It's embarrasing to be seen around a foreigner who looks like he just got back from the island in Castaway.

Another helpful "when in Rome" tip: pay attention to the body language Koreans use when talking to each other, and try to use similar kinds. The size and type of hand gestures, the ways and closeness of entering another person's personal space, are different from one culture to another; trying to mirror what you see around you will help people feel more comfortable with you faster.

Next tip: If you're new here, it's OK to not know much about the country... but don't be proud of how little you know. Don't boast that "I've been here for three years and I still can't read Hayangewl!" and don't be derisive or dismissive when I do try to explain something, or immediately fire back with your country's equivalent of whatever I'm describing, as if that mere description has invalidated everything I said, and again demonstrated your culture's superiority. An inquisitive and respectful attitude is the bare minimum if you want to make friends with Koreans; without it, don't even bother trying.

Start off speaking plainly, and a little slowly when you first meet me, until you've spoken with me enough to gauge how well I can listen to Native English. Instead of starting off speaking quickly, with lots of slang and colloquial language, start simple, and raise your level of speech to match my listening ability. It isn't fun when you talk over my head.

Give a damn about your job. If you're here to teach, be a teacher, and do your best. Don't crap on the reputation of foreign English teachers while you're here. [Roboseyo here: I've written about this topic before... but I swear this one was actually in an e-mail I got from a reader.]

Next tip: Give a little back to the friend who helps you out. Back to that gratitude thing for a second: If I helped you with your banking, or some other communication issue, back it up with a little unbegrudging quid pro quo. Proofread a bit of my writing homework or help out as well as you can with a grammar question I have or something. While it doesn't feel nice to be someone's "I only call you when I need some English tips" friend, it IS nice to return favors.

(P.S. also in this vein: Korea is totally a gift giving culture. "Thank you" gifts, "I'm sorry" gifts "let's work this out" gifts and even, "Hey! It's been another month and we're still co-workers" gifts are all kosher. You don't even necessarily need to carefully think through and come up with deeply thoughtful, personalized gifts - the standbys [paris baguette cakes, boxes of chocolates, cookies or traditional snack sets, leaf teas, wine bottles, or even big boxes of spam or olive oil are acceptable for those kinds of perfunctory gifts] thoughtful's better, but not always necessary when it comes to performing the social rituals of friendship. If you hand-make something for me - knit a cap or a scarf - I'll be really touched, because hand-made, personalized is way above and beyond the normal expectation for gift giving.

Here's part four!

Back to the table of contents.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Food Bloggers Unite! We need This!

Maybe this is just my fantasy, but here's the thing I'd really, really love to see: these days, there's tons of useful info about good eats around Korea out there, but it's scattered into so many places one needs the skills of a librarian and the patience of a turtle-trainer to really get the most useful details... and seeing the mini-maps on Hi Expat's page, got me thinking, "Why isn't it all on one huge google map?" -given that Korea changes so quickly, books don't really cut it anyway, especially on the restaurant scene, where places open and close all the time. A a wiki is a living document that can be constantly updated: exactly what we need.

So here's the idea: I don't have the tech savvy or the time to do it myself, but I'm sure it could be done: you know how everybody just KNOWS that The Korean Blog List is the starting point for every ambitious Would-blog-Expat? Well, I'd really like to see the food writers in Korea get together for a crowd-source-ish wiki-map of all the places they've collectively scouted out, all across Korea: you'll find one of Gangnam, or Jongno, or Jeonju, but imagine if it were all gathered into one place?

Here are the things I think it would need:
1. curators - to remove restaurants flagged by users for either being inaccurate/incompletely reviewed, or having closed, and to maintain at least some standards (Do we really need that MacDonalds in Guri marked? Really?)
2. a system for flagging a restaurant review, or a restaurant, for either incomplete or inaccurate information, or a restaurant that has closed since its review. Maybe a set of guidelines for when to flag a review, and when not to, so as not to waste time on "I totally disagreed with this reviewer's rating for service"
3. a way to add feedback to existing reviews (a second opinion) - HiExpat's restaurant guide has a good system for doing this. Maybe even a button to click if a review's been up for a few years to say, "This restaurant is still in existence" because I know how much it sucks to get a jones for a food, only to show up and have the place gone.
4. a standardized rating system including scores for price, menu, quality, service, atmosphere, and English spoken. (zenkimchi dining has a pretty good system)
5. a way to ban reviewers who violate a simple set of guidelines, or post spam links
6. when you click on a pin to see a preview of the location (see below)
the window that pops up should contain this information:
-links to any reviews of that location (if users can submit these themselves, it would save the curators time)
-a box you can check to flag it (for inaccurate reviews, dead links, no-longer-existent restaurants, or links that don't lead to reviews)
-a summary of the reviews so far (average overall rating or something)
-maybe (and I'm getting greedy here) a check box like at that shows "23 out of 31 people found this review useful" - but that might be getting a bit crowded.
6. searchable tags for entries (Chinese/Japanese/Indian/Vegetarian/Kangnam/Itaewon/Bundang/budget/romantic/etc.)

Whoever puts this together first wins.

Readers: in the comments, which websites have are the most useful food info for you, when you're, say, looking for "a chinese restaurant in Jamsil" or "shabu shabu in Jongno" or the like?

I've made one map - here it is - about finding good food in Jongno. Feel free to enjoy all the places here.

Finally, this wouldn't be complete if I didn't plug the guy who totally gave me a free iPod Touch in the last post:

Culture tip for Koreans: Small Talk Taboos

I'm not finished my "How to Chat with Foreign Beauties" series, though it got delayed by some other stuff. However, I wanted to show this clip, because Park Chan-ho demonstrates something that a number of my students have done as well, and it's on's front page right now.

This interview was posted on "" - a comedy website that puts up funny videos and articles. The reason it's posted is because, well, they think it's really funny. Listen to his teammates laughing in the background. The reason it's funny to them is because in North America it's really culturally strange to talk openly about bowel problems like diarrhea or constipation. Chan-ho has demonstrated an "overshare" - giving more information than I really wanted. As far as I can tell, it's OK to talk about bowel problems in Korean small talk (at least for some groups - particularly older folks - most of my younger students avoid this topic), but it's really strange to North Americans (and I'm pretty sure people from other English speaking nations would agree).

I had a student in a class once, a very cute old lady who'd be a wonderful grandmother, who came in every morning, and when I said "How are you?" she'd give a list of complaints: "My elbow is sore and I was constipated this morning." She'd even look up words to give me the whole grisly story. "I went to the gynecologist yesterday." I tried and tried to get her to just stay with "fine thanks," or "some aches and pains,' but she really seemed to want to give me all the gross details. My coworkers have frequently shared similar stories of students describing the condition of their bowels in more detail than we wanted to hear.

So here's the culture tip: when you talk about your bowel condition to a westerner, it's similar to when we talk openly about sex to you: that is, it might be fine, it might even be good for a laugh, but watch your partner carefully for signs of discomfort; sometimes it makes people feel awkward and embarrassed. When in doubt, say "I had stomach problems." That's enough detail for most of us to be satisfied, without learning too much about your poop. (This is also a good way to get revenge if your foreign friend is talking about sex a lot and embarrassing you: just interrupt their sex story with a gross poop story. My best friend in Canada used to tell diaper stories about her kids when I started talking too much about my favorite music, a topic that was totally uninteresting to her. Led to some interesting conversations.)

Park Chan-ho's an impressive dude: he's stuck around in the MLB for a long time, and been very successful, and you can take comfort in the fact that, after more than a decade living most of his life in North America, he's still making little social blunders: nobody's perfect, but everybody can remember little details like this to fit in a little better. (On the other hand: he uses "off-day" correctly - many of my students say "Off -day" as if it means "one day of vacation." That's incorrect: "off-day" means "a bad day, or a day when I try to do things, and they don't go right.")

Culture Tip Summary:
Poop is cute in Korea. Not really in North America. Talk about it with your doctor, but not during small talk with somebody you don't know very well.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

iPod Touch from HiExpat... sweet!

It's time for a bravo my life update readers. A few weeks ago, I got word about a new website called HiExpat. It's a page run by a guy named Dan, and he and his buddy are working to get it off the ground, to carve out a little corner of the Koreanets for themselves.

One way they tried to do that was by having a little contest: the submitters of restaurant reviews had a chance to win holycrapaniPodtouch!!!

I'd already been thinking about getting some kind of mobile device anyway, so if I could have a chance to get one for free, well, giddyup! I got on that restaurant review board like Tiger Woods on a well-contoured, attractive. . . fairway, and even requested he add some of my faves to the list.

Well, happy to say, after getting my verbosity on and pounding out a whack of reviews, and then writing the webmaster and asking him to add a few more of my favorite restaurants, so I could review them, too, I hammered out as many as I could (meaning six) before the deadline.

I got a message that I'd won the contest, and went down to Itaewon on my night off to collect my prize. It's pretty sweet. I'm pretty proud of myself for having put nothing but productivity programs on it so far -- save that silly lightsaber app that everybody thought was cool two years ago -- Here's the post about the contest from Hi Expat.

It's given me a lot of thoughts about mobile technologies that I'll share with you sometime, and given me a clearer picture of what I want for the next mobile device I buy (gonna need 4g or something: this searching for wifi hotspots thing is cramping my style) but for now, let's leave it at a simple squee over the joy of getting a new toy: I've been playing with it almost nonstop ever since I got it, and it's awesome. Here's me showing off my swag: (from Hi Expat's write-up on the contest)

Now, anyone who gives me free stuff totally gets a write-up on the blog, so let me tell you a bit more about Hi Expat:

Hi Expat is a pretty cool website so far. And I'd say that even if they didn't give me an iPod touch, and writing this post was NOT a precondition of my winning the iPod touch, so's you know - that was never requested, nor even implied. However, I've been looking around Hi Expat, and I had a nice talk with Dan, who just started the site in its current form. His head's in the right space for a guy trying to create something useful for expats online, and he's committed to keeping it "positive and productive" (those were the words he used).

(useful pages include: preparing to move here and places to volunteer in Seoul - if this keeps up, the site's shaping up to be as useful as the Seoul City Blog.)

Along with the job board, Hi Expat has a nifty restaurant review section where you can submit reviews of restaurants listed, and if your restaurant isn't listed, you can request one. It's as easy to use as the mini-review section on Zenkimchi Dining, but because each restaurant is added manually by the site administrator, each review also comes with a little google map of how to find it - extremely useful in a city like Seoul, where street numbers are an afterthought.

I'm happy to see an increase in people setting out to write English blogs that are useful for others coming to Korea - that's heartening to me, as that inherited knowledge about how to have a good time, and where to eat and such is a crucial factor to enjoying life in the ROK. It used to be (back when I first came, and hooker hill was uphill both ways), that the only way you'd hear about those places is if a coworker showed you personally, and you were well-oriented enough to remember how to find it back. Pretty sweet that we're no longer at that point.

I'm going somewhere with this... and the lady outside my window is having a sweet shouting meltdown... but for now, I'll post this about my cool new iPod Touch and say: go visit Hi Expat... and propose my idea for a Korean eating guide on the next post.

By the way, while we're on the "I'm famous" theme, I also just got linked on Korean News Feeds: a total honor.

Women's Safety: a close call and a reminder.

I'm No Picasso, a sweet K-blog that's been attracting attention lately, had a creepy/scary incident where she got followed by some weird guy a few nights ago. You should read it, especially if you're a woman living alone in Korea. "Girls, Be Careful"

This also seems like a good time to remind everybody of ALTAWATSAC's post from last year, discussing, and giving some tips, regarding women's safety in Korea.

Horrific things have happened before, and the simple fact that some of us look different from the general populace tends to attract the attention of loonies, and we'd best be mindful of that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

K-Pop: SNSD Buffalaxed! Gee/Cheese

Buffalax is an internet coinage that's actually named after the Youtube User who first did it: some clown took a music video from another language, and wrote in subtitles of the English words it sounded like, to quite hilarious results. The original was a viral video legend: the great, hilarious Bollywood Benny Lava.

Here, Girls Generation gets a full Buffalax treatment for their song "Gee Gee Gee" (or "Cheese Cheese Cheese")
There are a few bad words, and some absolutely absurd randomness. Enjoy.

Maybe one day I'll post on why "Gee" is one of the quintessential K-pop songs, and possibly my favorite song of 2009, in retrospect, now that I don't have to hear it every time I pass a cosmetics shop. It may well also go down as SNSD's peak, especially now that they're dressing in black and looking not just exactly like each other (as they always did) but also exactly like every other K-pop girl group. They even recorded the transition in the last ten seconds of this video, which includes some bad English, and that most annoying/sometimes contentious of Korean words: "Oppa"(explained) (see #8 of this list), leading to this video, which looks too much like this video... except Brown Eyed Gulls do it better.

OK. I'll admit; SNSD are a guilty pleasure of mine; they're fun, or at least were when they wore bright colors and stuff. We'll see if they remain fun now that they're trying to sound like Katy Perry and Goldfrapp instead of working that cheerful after-school-party vibe they did so well.

Memo to K-pop: there are already lots of bands dressing in black and doing sexy dances. Differentiation sells. I think.

Brown Eyed Girls


After School


I could go on. K-pop needs another girl group wearing black like Jongno needs another Starbucks.

But then, without black leather sexydance groups, we wouldn't have had the greatest K-pop name ever: 혜나, whose music and dancing are nothing special, but her name, when transliterated into English, reads, "Hyena." I wonder if she has a distinctive laugh. Hyenas have one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom. I have no idea what that means for the K-pop version.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Question of the day:

Which sport's highlights are the most fun to watch?



American Football

or Basketball

2S2 Saturday: The Skinny

OK, readers. Here's the news for our blood donation trip:
(Facebook event page here)

1. 2S2 Anguk will need to split into two groups: one group will go to donate blood, but those of us who don't meet the requirements for donation will still meet up and do something else that'll be fun: at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, there's a photo exhibit of National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, the guy who took this photo, and a bunch of others: (more here) Admission is 8000 won for adults. (photo source)
2. But if you want to donate blood...

A wonderful lady names Ms. Ban helped me get the full information about the blood clinic situation, and I'm passing it on to you.

First of all, as mentioned earlier, there are some caveats to donating blood; if you're B- or, under specific cases (if I have this right), if you're AB-, you might have the platelets necessary to help out our man Yoo-woon. If you're not, you might still be able to donate blood, but it'll be out of your own general awesomeness, not for helping out his boy specifically, provided you pass these hurdles.

Take a look at this document. Read it carefully.
Take a look at this document. Read it carefully.

If any of the questions/explanations on those two pages preclude giving blood, sorry: you can't do it. Yep, that means our UK friends can't give blood in Korea. Enjoy the photo exhibit!

Next: if you meet those requirements, and want to donate...

First of all, the nurse we talked to wants saying that everyone at the blood clinic really appreciates our desire to contribute. Next, here are the other requirements for foreigners who want to donate blood. There isn't much information on whether Korean-Hyphenated expats will have an easier time of it than straight-up non-Korean foreigners, but this lady had no trouble.

1. you need to have been in Korea for at least a full year. The person interviewing might take that to mean continuously (without leaving) or they might take it to mean you've lived here for a year with a few excursions, as long as you haven't traveled to those malaria-risk areas mentioned in the donation interview linked above.

2. you must have an Alien Registration Card.

3. you must be able to speak enough Korean to answer the questions in a personal interview about your medical history. There aren't English speakers in the clinic who can interview you, and we tried to suggest some work-around options, but we couldn't get it done. Sorry folks, but that's just the way it is at this point. I'm sure by 2015 there'll be workarounds in place, but for now, there aren't. Sorry.

So if you're stuck at "멕주 하나도 주세요" then look forward to hanging out at the photo exhibit.

If you're confident enough in your Korean that you could still donate blood, here's the next thing.

There are several types of blood transfusions. Our man Yoo-woon needs a different type of transfusion than the regular blood donation, because of his situation. It's a bit more involved than a normal donation: it takes 1-2 hours, and it can rupture blood vessels in some donors, so if you've given blood before and had no problems, you're eligible for this one. If you haven't given blood before, even if you're B-, the nurse suggests giving a regular, 10-15 minute donation on Saturday, and getting your name on the list of people they call when they need B- platelets (there's a list that they have, kind of a volunteer group of people whom they regularly call when they need it; the nurse says the B- supply is not reaching dangerous lows, but the larger that pool of volunteer donors is, the better off everyone is).

The nurse recommends this, first to check that your blood vessels will be robust enough to handle the more involved donation, second, because the special kind of donation Yoo-woon needs is perishable, so they can't keep it in storage: collecting a week's worth of B- platelets doesn't help much when it only lasts 3 days, and third, if we have a group going, it'd be really hard to process a bunch of 1-2 hour donations at the clinic's busiest time of week (Saturday afternoons) - we don't want to overwhelm the clinic on our first try, so that they decide "Forget it. Accommodating foreign donors is too much trouble. And start rejecting us out of hand, rather than just putting us through a rigmarole" If it's a smaller group and people meet all the criteria, they might be willing to go for the long version, but if we have a big group, I think that the best thing we can do is make this a really positive experience for the clinic, so that they think, "Yeah, we really SHOULD make it easier for foreigners to donate, if they're all as nice and cooperative as that group was."

So, given that this is going to be a first-time experience for this clinic, let's make sure this is a positive experience for them, so they'll be more amenable to accepting foreign donors in the future, and will be more likely to see the value of finding workarounds for that Korean language interview that, for now, rules out a lot of healthy, eligible donors from donating: I think that kind of long view is a good one to take, because it will enable us to help out more people in the long run, than if we come on too strong this time, and cause a negative reaction.

So, on Saturday afternoon, at 2PM, meet me on the second floor of Twosome Place, to the right of Exit 1, Anguk Station. At 2:30 sharp we'll head out to our various destinations.

See you there!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Very Special 2S2 on Saturday (possibly)... Korean/English Bilingual Person Needed

Hey there.
You've probably heard about this guy: There's a Korean student, about 19 years old, who's suffering from lymphoma, a kind of blood cancer. There's a page for him on Facebook. Basically, he has B- blood, which is extremely rare in Korea, and also a bad blood type to get sick with, because it can only receive from O- (in certain cases) and other B- types. There's been a push to get some help for him, and because so few Koreans have B- blood, word has been circulating among the expat community.

Now, on Saturday, for 2S2, I'd really like to bring a group down to the blood clinic to donate blood. If you have B- blood, especially, really, seriously think about coming out and helping out, because this kid is not doing well. Even if you don't, giving blood is a cool thing, and, frankly, a powerful symbolic action that projects a really positive image at a time when English teachers in particular are taking a beating.

I've located a blood donation clinic in Sinchon, and I even went down there today with a good friend to talk with the people. After a bit of talk, here's the score:

They don't usually take blood donations from foreigners, because of communication problems, concerns about where we (typically well-travelled folk) have been, and maybe also other... um... less scientific reasons, that aren't the focus of this post.

Now, we might be able to go down there and give blood on Saturday, but before we do, the lady we talked to gave me her phone number, and has asked me to have a bilingual friend contact her, to make sure she can explain the process in detail, and have that information accurately relayed to any would-be expat donors. She spent a lot of time talking about the correct process for donating blood... fair enough.

So, readers, here's where you can help: I really want this to happen, and I have a phone number, but not the language skill. Is there a reader out there who's fluent in Korean, and able to talk to this lady, and then explain the "process" to me, so that I can clearly pass that on to anyone else who needs to have it explained? I'd totally owe you a beer at the microbrew of your choice.

And that's our tentative 2S2 for Saturday: Meet at Anguk station Twosome Place (same time, same place, every month), go down to the donor clinic in Sinchon, and give blood... IF we can get the communication issues cleared up. This means that if you can talk to the lady tomorrow, I need you to send me a message tonight, to roboseyo at gmail dot com, with your phone number, so that we can clear up her concerns about misunderstandings or improper adherence to due process.

Also, if any of my bilingual readers are free on Saturday afternoon, please accept this as a gentle nudge that your presence would help de-stress these poor, nervous nurses at the clinic. It would be hugely appreciated, even if you're not B-!

If you want to donate blood, here's the nitty gritty:
1. You need to have an Alien Registration Card. Bring it, and be ready to present it.
2. You need to have been in Korea for a year.
3. You need to be able to answer some questions about your medical history... this part was a bit murky, and this might be the deal-breaker which will decide if we can go ahead or not. The guy at the Seoul Global Center, while very helpful, was pretty sure that if you don't speak enough Korean to answer the medical history questions yourself, you wouldn't be able to donate; hopefully we'll learn a way that we still can tomorrow, even if we can't speak all the Korean. I'll keep you posted.

If this doesn't work out, we'll do something else for 2S2, probably involving really, really good food. But I hope we can make this work.