Thursday, September 30, 2010

Random Stuff: Pictures, Festival, International Marriages

Found this picture on an old disc. Don't know if I posted it yet.

 coffee bar near where I used to live.  The name was Sketch, or Sketchy in Konglish.  And buddy, the name was hella appropriate to the look of the place and neighborhood.


On Friday, the Hi Seoul Festival starts.  The Hi Seoul Festival is usually, frankly, pretty great, loaded with free performances and stuff to see.  You should make a point of attending, if you can.  Here's the website.  Learn more.

Welcome news:  They're trying to tighten the rules on international marriages, so that it's a little harder to set up those tragic situations where imported brides go missing, or get beaten nearly to death, within a week of arriving.  They're proposing laws to block someone with economic or mental disadvantages, or with criminal history, from bringing in a foreign bride.  The problem?  The right to the pursuit of happiness might end up shooting down laws that, say, a mentally disabled 47-year-old is no longer able to bring a 20-year-old in to mother his children.

There are required courses about intercultural issues already, which is good.  I hope they can figure out some ways to make these laws stick.

However, while screening is important, even more important are follow-up programs for women who are already here: I'll be honest and admit I don't know a whole lot about what programs are in place, or where they're located: free classes in Seoul don't mean much for isolated country-houses in Jeollabuk.

Korea Times story here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reader Query: Bike Shop Street in Seoul?

OK, readers, you know how there's some neighborhood or another, somewhere in Seoul, with a street full, almost exclusively, of shops selling one particular thing?  Near jongno 3-ga there's medallion and trophy alley, along the cheonggyecheon by Jongno 5 there's mechanical implement block, and then there's office furniture lane, right next to printing press street.  The bottom of Dobong Mountain, as well as near the fountain in Namdaemun, are hiking goods *mecca*s.  A former coworker swears up and down that she once stumbled across prosthetic limb street, but couldn't remember how to find it back.

Well, readers, I know where scooter and motorbike street is: it's near Chungmuro, mixed in with pet shop street; however, I don't know, and I really want to know, where bicycle lane is.  See, I'm looking into buying a  (non-motorized) bicycle, and I'd like to buy a folding one that fits in the trunk (boot) of the car; however, I don't think I could buy a bike sight unseen, over the internet: like pants, and sofas, they need to pass the bum test, where I try before I buy.

So, if anybody knows where "bike street" is, please let me know in the comments.  A google map would be nice, but not mandatory.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Congrats to the Korean Under-17 Women's Soccer Team

They just won the Under 17 Women's FIFA World Cup in a penalty kicks against Japan.

Plus, they totally dumped their coach when they tried to lift him over their heads after the team photo: skip to about 4:30 of this video, which won't give me the embed code.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Blood Needs in Kangnam: A- Negative, and Call for Solutions

While Michael Simning's blood-drive seems to have seen him through the first period of urgent need (Yeah Gwangju! You rock!), there are still ways that you, or anybody in Gwangju, can help.  For more information, here's a post from ten magazine.  Basically: continue to support Michael's businesses in Gwangju, donate if you can/want, and be ready for the next time he needs blood.  More at Kimchi and Cornbread about the Simning night last weekend.

Please remember, especially if you have a rare blood type, to get connected with Blood Connections, the facebook group, and the ATEK blood registry, at  Not many Koreans have negative RH's in their blood types, so you ought to be thinking about what implications that carries for you.

Meanwhile, I got an e-mail from a lady named Colleen.  She passes word on to me about a need for A negative blood in Kangnam: a lady named Kargan Valmalmine is in Samsung Hospital in Kangnam.

Now, it's really great that Michael Simning has had so much support in Gwangju; Kargan hasn't been in Seoul for as long, and hasn't contributed as much to Seoul's expat community as Mr. Simning, but that doesn't mean her need for blood is less urgent.

Unfortunately, according to my e-mailings with Colleen, and the messages on the Blood Connections facebook page, it looks like we don't have a clear English-speaking go-to contact who will help donors negotiate the language difficulties; I can send you to this page of mine, which runs down the basics of who can and can't, and how to donate, and includes some important forms; however, there continue to be mixed messages at blood donation clinics about whether foreigners (even those who meet all the other requirements) can donate; generally, you can only be sure they'll let you donate if you speak enough Korean to answer a few interview questions in Korean, have lived in Korea for more than a year, and aren't from the UK (darn Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease).  I trust that when an English-and-Korean speaking contact becomes available to facilitate donations becomes available, that information will be posted on the blood connections facebook page, so unless your Korean's sharp, I hope that'll be helpful for now.

Meanwhile, this is getting ridiculous.

Ladies and gentlemen, Korea is an increasingly multicultural country, and it's ludicrous that non-Koreans are running into so freaking many roadblocks just to donate blood, especially when we have many of the blood types that are uncommon in Korea.  You'd think that Korean hospitals would be opening their doors and donation chairs to welcome our rare, exotic bloods, and instead we're getting the runaround, "Korean Only" signs and occasional bullshit explanations that "Oh, you can't mix foreign blood with Korean blood.  Didn't you know that?" (anecdotally, that's been told to SEVERAL of my contacts when they tried to donate).

What are our options?  How can we stir some shit up, to get some movement on this, to facilitate easier donation?  What protocols do Canada or USA or the UK have for taking blood from non-citizens?  Is the NHRCK the way to go?  Letter-writing campaigns to our respective embassies?  Something else?  Because if we're chasing our tails and playing the "I don't know... can we? Can't we?" game every time a need comes up, that's stupid.  Hey Blood Connections People: this is your group, this is your battle.  Coordinate something.  Figure something out.  Contact a human rights lawyer or three and find out the options, because I don't want to be up shit creek without a paddle when it turns out Koreans don't carry my blood type, and they refuse to accept donations from those who do, and I don't think any of my readers want that, either.  Whatever action it is -- signing or submitting a complaint to the NHRCK, or whatever else, I'm on board, and I'll promote it here, and try to get my blog friends to promote it, too, because this blood discrimination is supposed to be a thing of Korea's past, and needs like this are only going to become more common in Korea's future.

Before we go big-picture, though, don't forget: if you're in the Kangnam area, somebody needs A negative blood.

Discussion in the comments.

The Best thing About Chuseok

Well, not really: there are tons of great things about Chuseok:

The mountain I'm going to climb later today, the food, the finally-cooling-down weather, the food, the good times (especially if you've been invited to a Korean family's chuseok gathering), and the food... but one little joy that I haven't mentioned yet is...

little kids in Hanbok!

(so cute)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chuseok really Seoks this year: Rain in Seoul and Seyo's Got Good Timing

I may never have told you the story of the most touching gesture I had from a friend on Chuseok: in my first year, a buddy spent the whole day of Chuseok with me, down at Gyeongbok Palace and Namsangol Folk Village, because he couldn't imagine someone being alone on Chuseok day.  I was really touched by that.

This year, I'm with Wifeoseyo and her awesome family.  We drank some seriously classy Ballantine's whisky: me, my pop and brother-in-law, and have had a great old time bopping around Daegu.

This evening, Wifeoseyo got online and saw news reports that basically, Seoul is currently completely under water.

Here be a shot borrowed from news sources.

the images on the news are incredible, too.  Is it seriously like this?

(another - source)

So from a sensible person (say, wifeoseyo)'s perspective, looks like I got out of town

From a blogger's perspective, holy crap I'm missing out on the greatest blog photo essay this year!!!  And that's why bloggers are different from ordinary people.  Sensible people say "I'm not doing that.  That's buttflapping crazy!"  Bloggers say "I'm in.  Just let me get my camera."

The mad blogger in me wishes I was there, so I could put on my bathing suit, strap on some water wings, put my camera in a dicapac (got one for the honeymoon with coral) and go out exploring Seoul underwater... hoping I didn't get washed out to the Han River, like my buddy Joe almost did.

If you have a floody Seoul story, share it in the comments.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chuseok...the Two Best Things To Do in Seoul

In case you doubted my word about Spam for Chuseok before, here's an oldy but goldy blog post about it: yeah.

And in case you didn't have any Chuseok plans yet, and because you're hooped for getting out of town now, in case you're stuck in seoul, because tickets have been sold out for about seven weeks already, as another expat whose gotten stuck in Seoul before on Chuseok, when you can't be sure ANYTHING will be open, let me give you some tips about the best things to do on Chuseok:

1. Go to Namsangeol Folk Village.  This is the Folk Village right near Korea House, right near Chungmuro Station, right near the bottom of Namsan (Nam Mountain) right near downtown Seoul.  Every chuseok they have tons of stuff to see - performances on the stage, activities like making songpyeon or your own paper-mache hanbok doll, and the like.  There's lots to do, and a lot of demonstrations of traditional Korean arts.  The park isn't too big, and the stage area has a lot of seating, but it might help to reserve a seat: a few times I've gone and had standing room only.

2. Climb mountains.  Particularly the busy ones.

One of the genius things about Seoul, that's never promoted in the Hi Seoul promotional materials (stupidly) is that there are about twenty great mountain hikes, ranging from "I could do this with my step-mother" to "better bring your climbing gear" in difficulty, all within reach by the Seoul Subway and Bus System.  Public transportation still runs on Chuseok, as do the odd taxi, so you can definitely get there, and they're mountain trails: it's hard to close those, isn't it?

Head up to the north end of the #4 Subway line, choose a peak, and strike out for it, get up to Uijeongbu and do likewise; check out this list of mountains in Seoul, or this one, or this one.  Or do Bukhansan, which holds the guinness world record for busiest mountain, meaning it's the one mountain in the world where climbing it will stress you out, or the one mountain you SHOULD climb if you like being around crowds.  Yes.  It's the COEX of Mountains.  But on Chuseok, there will be fewer people up there than any other day, because most folks are with their families.  So take the chance... and September to October are PERFECT climbing weather in Korea.  And Koreans are seriously NEVER more pleasant than when they're on the mountain - it's one of the sweetest aspects to the culture you'll ever find.

They're gorgeous.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Miscegenation? Race-Traitory? Consensual Choice? White Male Korean Female Relationships Warmed Over Again

There's an amazing conversation going on, that's stretched across three blogs so far, about the archetypal, unbelievably fraught white male/Korean female relationship:

is it the ultimate realization of internalized colonialism, or is it simply a choice between two human beings?  This topic comes back again and again, probably with each new wave of people making these same choices, and it's classic troll-bait... so be aware I'll be monitoring the comments carefully on this one.

Anyway, go read James at The Grand Narrative, who, like me, is a white dude married to a Korean woman.  James wrote a post titled "Real and Presumed Causes of Racism Against Interracial Couples in Korea," that's highly worth reading in its entirety.  In it, James responds to a comment on "Noona's Blog" (Are Koreans a Homogenous People?) by a fella named Jake, from a website called "Asian Male Revolutions" which challenges the image of the asian male as it has been presented in the Western media (here's another article about that from "IamKoream," one of my favorite websites for and by Korean Americans).  You see, in response to Noona's question whether Koreans are homogenous, Jake suggests that (most? all?) white male-Korea/Asian female dating boils down to unconscious lapsing into colonial power dynamics.  James at The Grand Narrative has a message for Jake, from Mrs. Grand Narrative:

(in short: -image stolen from James' blog)

Then, I'm No Picasso, which is probably my favorite K-blog that I've found in the last year, weighs in with her own view on the thing, in a portrait of purest hypocrisy on the part of a certain fella she once talked with.  Her post is titled "Hello, I'm a Woman" and is also worth reading in its entirety.

James' blog continues to get more interesting and more relevant as he tackles topics like this.

Now, I'm no trained sociologist, but I find this discussion interesting, if only because I happen to have married a Korean woman myself.  And she's awesome.

I mostly side with James, that it's patronizing, sexist, and just insulting to imply that Korean women have no agency of their own in choosing whom they date and marry: Wifeoseyo didn't pick me because I looked like a superhero, and I didn't pick her because she lowered her eyelids and acted submissive.  In fact, the 'submissive' act is as much a turn-off for me as that aegyo crap, which some people like, but I don't. (The Joshing Gnome's highly worthwhile piece on Aegyo-part 1)

This funny YouTube video looks at the issue of Asian women and white guys, which is pretty good: the doofus who plays the white dude is a real doofus... but after reading I'm No Picasso's post, I can't help but notice the video's almost entirely male.

However, I'll give I'm No Picasso the final word, with this setup:

While I agree with nearly all of the points in theory that Jake has made, and I see where it all is coming from, the point is, categorizing people's relationships with other people based on race is not okay. It's not okay from one end, and it's not okay from the other. And I find it disturbing that it seems this "revolution" in the Asian male's image of himself has to come at the cost of feminsim, in his view.

and then this absolute coup de grace:

Welcome to our world, Jake. Thanks for being part of the problem. So long as you promote the idea that you have the right to categorize the choices that women make in regards to the race of the person they choose to love, and why they are making those choices, you will only be enforcing what it is you are supposedly taking a stand against. This is not a male issue -- you don't get to have all the control.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Det Dere Birthrate

Funny thing:

I keep reading and hearing these pontifications on why the birthrate is so low in Korea.

The funny thing is, I've never seen those pontifications by government ministers and policy makers (mostly male) alongside results of surveys actually ASKING women why they don't want to have kids, or asking them, "If this happened, would you think about having more babies?" (this being things like, government funded daycares, legally binding work end-times, legal maternity leaves protected with teeth, etc.)

And the question is, is the government really that clueless about women's issues, and why on earth aren't they asking the people actually affected by their policy decisions (women, newlyweds, young families).  Another case in point: this obscenely wrong-headed attempt to improve the birth-rate by cracking down on doctors who perform abortions (covered at length and with outrage by the Metropolitician, Korea, No Place for Young Women, but about Whom Policy Is Decided by Old Men)

Cracking down on abortion to solve the low birthrate problem is like raising the downtown speed limits to fix Kangnam's rush-hour traffic gridlock.

This article is the one that set me off.  That's about it for now.

Readers: correct me if I'm wrong.  Are there surveys of Korean women's views on childbirth that are simply being disregarded?  Where can I find and read them?  Links in the comments if you know of one.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Must be Chuseok! Order your Spam Set.

this is from a twitter post posted by a facebook friend...

One of the charms of Korean holiday culture is the gift giving culture: for a while I thought it was dumb, or lame, or stupid, that Koreans give each other toothpaste, spam, and olive oil sets for chusok, but now I just think it's goofy and funny.

Now, the spam might well hearken back to Korea's post-war poverty, a time when the US Military saw to it there was lots of military issue spam in the country, but it was mostly a luxury item for impoverished Koreans.  Some foods, for example budaejigae, came out of that period, and are frankly, some of Korea's best down home lunches, regardless of whether Korean food promotion is proud or ashamed of that period of post-war poverty.  I'll take a good old homey budaejigae over a pretentious boutique cafe lunch any day.

One year, my boss gave every foreign staff member (and every foreign Korean staff member) huge boxes of spam.  None of us knew what to do with it: none of us used spam in our cooking, none of us particularly liked spam.  We had to sign our spam sets out with the front desk; some of us never claimed one, and a few of us left them in the staff room for months before getting rid of them.  We mostly re-gifted them, and we kept one around, to set it up beside our computer monitor, so that it blocked the glare on the computer monitor between 10 and 11 am, when the sun shone in the window.   Were we being passive-aggressive?  Perhaps... but for seollal, our bosses gave us bottles of wine instead, which we actually used.  Another boss gave cash.  That was the best, and if any of my readers are Koreans, thinking of gifts for your foreign friends, cash or gift certificates are probably the perfunctory gifts we'll appreciate most.

The interesting thing, to me, is how in my anecdotal experience, it's so totally acceptable to give out a basically thoughtless gift here.  I asked Wifeoseyo and she said the same: It's just the giving of the gift that matters.  Everybody knows it's perfunctory gift anyway, and there seems to be an unspoken agreement to just be OK with that.  When I give a gift to Wifeoseyo, I want to think about her style, her taste, what she needs, what she expects, and what will make her feel happy: I spend a lot of time thinking about possible gifts, and even writing down in my pocketbook ideas that would make her happy, come gift-giving time.  Making scrapbooks, remembering old conversations, stuff like that.

I talked to an older lady (and yeah, this is generational), and she said, point blank, that she'd rather her husband just gave her cash for her birthday, so she could get what she wanted.  Weddings are the same: people give envelopes of cash on wedding days, and used to give cash to teachers as well - the white envelope culture works here, and again, wedding couples generally just agree to be OK with the way wedding halls sometimes even have a cash machine in the lobby, so that you don't even have to plan at all - just show up at the wedding hall with a bank card.

Do people in North America give thoughtless, perfunctory gifts?  Sure.  Ever got a box of chocolates for valentines day?  My Dad is a pastor, and pastors get a lot of perfunctory boxes of chocolate and christmas cake and pastries, come Christmas.  Back home, people give thoughtless gifts too.  Here, it seems like people don't even try.

So... do the Koreans you know feel embarrassed at all about giving cash, or olive oil, or toothpaste, to even close relatives, or is everybody still openly OK with it (even if they quietly bring it home and go "what the HELL am I going to do with twelve kilograms of spam?")

And what have you observed the younger generation do on gift-obligatory times?  Are young people also scooping up boxes of spam?  Have the types of perfunctory gift changed, though the gifting culture hasn't, or are things totally different now?  Is re-gifting OK, so long as it's done discreetly, the way we replace the cards on Christmas cake and pass it along, back home?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

2S2 Anguk: Get Your Coffee Snob On!

Hey there coffee lovers!  Hope you're well... you may have heard of this thing called 2S2 that I regularly plan -- it's a come-as-you-are expat-and-anyone-else get-together aimed at meeting and making connections.

Well, this week, I'd like to share something that's given me much joy lately: coffee!  See, lately, in the Gyeongbokgung Station area, I've been finding a whole slew of amazing coffee shops, and I'd like to share them with my readers and friends.

So if you're free this Saturday, at 2pm, I'll be on the second floor of Twosome Place, near exit 1 of Anguk station, and anybody who comes out to meet up, will be treated to a coffee shop crawl of the neighborhood west of Gyeongbok Palace.  There are a handful of places there selling a variety of great beans, and slow-drip coffee, siphon coffee, and other stuff; they are also selling top-quality beans, and if you're a Seoul-based lover of coffee, I'll level with you, and tell you that you really need to come out and find out about these places!

Show up at 2pm, and don't be late: we'll be leaving fairly promptly, because the coffee at twosome place doesn't stack up, compared to the awesome places we'll visit thereafter.

Stop having these kinds of coffee experiences: (discarded dishwater coffee handed out before a concert I attended once)

and start having experiences like this:

and this... if it were coffee, instead of ice rink:

and this... not that luwak's on the menu, but you might make the face I make when I smell, and then sip it...

Friday, September 03, 2010

2S2: An Idea

Hi there, readers.

Many of you know about 2S2, the social meetup plan I concocted late last year to help us folks living in Korea get connected with each other. Now, over the last few months, I've been busy as a fox in a henhouse, taking care of this and that, and as my friends will know, I haven't even had time to have a social life...

and 2S2 has fallen by the wayside.

Now, I know some people who are not happy about this, and some people who want to support 2S2 if it continues, and I'm trying to decide what to do about it. There are a few 2S2's in other areas - Yongin/Suji and Suwon continue to meet, and maybe other groups may yet join...

so I'm having a few ideas, and I'd like to hear some feedback, about what next step is the best for 2S2.

1. Pass 2S2 as is, over to ATEK's Social Officers
   -see, while I don't want ATEK to take over the Roboseyo blog, I DO think that as networking goes, ATEK is doing an amazing job of building a sustainable network, and because the organization is designed to perpetuate itself, it means that this meetup will continue, in different forms, all over Korea.  ATEK has a bunch of social officers in all sorts of areas of Korea, and if each of them can access the 2S2 Blog to put their social calendar postings there, then people who aren't on facebook can still access the social event listings.  The feed could be linked on ATEK's homepage, in the PMA pages, or on the main page.

2. Change the name from 2S2 to ATEK Social, and do the same as above.

3. Recruit someone who has more free time to take over 2S2 Anguk.  (any takers?)

4. Let it all go dormant until somebody comes along who wants to take things over.

5. Suck it up, cupcake, and get back to scheduling stuff.  The weather's about to get nicer, anyway.

What say ye, readers?  I DO think it would be a shame if #4 came to pass... so what say ye?


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Random Notes: Multiculturalism in Korea, and Crowdsourced Translation

An interesting article about multiculturalism from one of the Underwoods - one of the foreign families with the longest histories in Korea.  Most interesting quotes: "Koreans are hospitable to guests to a fault"... but "If you stay too long, Koreans become uncomfortable with you" and "having one million temporary foreign residents does not make Korea a multicultural society"

"Homogeneity... is the cornerstone that has helped Korea survive adversity.  But there is a downside, too."  To find out what the downside is, read the article.

It reminded me of a very interesting: academic, but worth downloading the .PDF-article sent to me by Matt, from Popular Gusts, also about multiculturalism, and how Korea, while it has tolerated other cultures, has always done so on the assumption of Korean culture's superiority.   Is that real multiculturalism?  Who knows?  Is surrendering one's idea of cultural superiority a necessary or good thing?  I suppose it depends on which values a country as set as its priorities.  Discuss amongst yourselves.

Crowd-sourced translation is an awesome idea that I'd love to see take off: crowd-sourcing means throwing something out on the internet, and letting users do it, for example, the way Wikipedia was built. Here's an article about it, and here's a website that does it: Looah.  If you want to be a translator, and need practice, if you're bilingual, and think some English blog content should be in Korean, or some Korean online content should be in English, here's the place to submit, or translate.

I've been reading about rhetoric, logic, and the different kinds of appeals one makes during a debate.  This led me to a funny moment of brain-weird, where I was watching this video, and analysing these two kids' appeals to different kinds of authority, and attempts to establish superior ethos.