A Travellerspoint blog

South Korea in the News

media bits

South Korea is popping up increasingly in international news & often, in special reports that echo a lot of the generalizations an expat might make after living here for several months. Take a look!

On education
I do agree that the US could incorporate some elements of the rigorous system here--and isn't it better for South Korea to be ahead and have to scale back than to be bogged down with funding and quality of education woes? I also understand the education official's concern about creativity and imagination being stunted...I've been trying to incorporate more integrated activities (art projects, spontaneous brain exercises) into my kindergarten classroom but even then, we so often have to teach to the test, which seems detrimental to kids that age.

On excessive Internet culture
Yup...these kids need more fresh air and less screen time. I understood this less as a South Korean dilemma and more an indicator of where first-world technology and free time is headed. Tragic.

I'd be interested to hear any reader's thoughts on these topics or any other news items about S Korea that you've noticed.

Posted by H Kingrey 16:57 Archived in South Korea Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Seoul at six months (part II)

merrily marching on...

March highlights (truly, March was one big highlight of my year thus far)

  • My pal Emily made the wonderful decision to spend two weeks touring Seoul--and she made it just in time to celebrate my birthday. With only a couple weekends to see the city by daylight, I dragged her along for a walking tour of the city center. We began at Gyeongbokgung Palace, where I saw my first "changing of the guards" in all its pomp and circumstance. One of my favorite features was a feature that illustrated the zodiac with stone statues, located just outside the palace walls. This area definitely warranted further exploration: nearby is a folk museum and Korea's presidential Blue House. From there, with my guidebook in hand, we roughly navigated the various shopping districts and made our way nearly to the iconic North Seoul Tower. Unfortunately, due to time issues, we left that height unconquered.

  • I celebrated my birthday with a Mexican food dinner at Pancho's, a somewhat over-priced but spacious and generally accommodating space. I was so pleased to see most of the friends I have made here, all in one place. Afterward, we danced the night away in several gay bars. My Korean coworker was shocked by the number of Korean men crowding the space and I have to say that these bars are one attraction that does actually recommend Itaewon (besides the restaurants and bookstore, little does). The crowds were friendly, there was a giant man who was part bouncer/part dancing queen, and some of the clubs even played some of the best dance music I've heard in Seoul (as the night wore on, there was more and more K-Pop).

  • The next day, Maggie, Emily and I toured a few of the outer-lying neighborhoods--and my favorites. In Apgujang, a ritzy and increasingly popular location south of the Han River, we enjoyed gourmet crepes in a very French-inspired cafe. This restaurant had been somewhat elusive as we had tried several times since I have been here to dine with larger groups. It was rewarding--creatively decorated with clever menus and pleasant music. It was one of the more unique dining experiences I've had here and I felt I saw another facet of Seoul. All of the other diners were Korean and yet, it struck me how much Seoul must be changing to become an Arts & Culture hub and may soon see a more international crowd in these common spaces. And yet, methinks it's still off the beaten path. The evening was spent on my favorite street in Hongdae before heading to watch a Japanese film at Godard Theater. My pal Sarah also attended with several friends/coworkers and when we decided to have a post-movie brew, I was delighted to find a second LP bar next door. The bespectacled barkeep spent her time on a computer behind a desk and kept sweet rock and roll playing.

  • For Emily's second weekend in Korea, we took the KTX train to the southern portion of the peninsula, Busan. Emily calculated that at one point in our 3 hour train ride, we were traveling around 190 mph. Weeee! We arrived in Busan quite late at night and very tired. We looked for a "love motel," trying to keep in mind that we should avoid "Texas St."--"a small commercial district opposite Busan station that's home for shifty people, Russians, hostess bars and the occasional street hold up" (Lonely Planet). And still, we ended up right in the middle of it. After looking at one tiny room and with some helpful directions from a passerby, we wandered out of there and into a guidebook recommendation, Seoul Hotel. Next day, we hiked around Beomeosa Temple and ate pajeon , Korean seafood "pizza" after. We spent the evening at Vesta Spa, a sort of upscale jimjilbang. It was rather small but the view of the sea and the outdoor hot tub were certainly memorable. Emily slept for 14 hours...I slept for considerably less due to extremely high temperatures and then a women's room filled to the max with a great deal of noise and traffic. Ah well. Waking up to spa again lessened the effects of sleep deprivation.

  • The rest of Emily's trip was filled with nights out eating at my favorite restaurants here, celebrating St. Patrick's day with a homemade Backgammon board and card games. It was completely refreshing to have one of my best pals from home visit & revived some of my touring around Seoul goals. Speaking of which...

April promises to be another fast-paced month. I've joined an Ultimate Frisbee league here, KUPA and if all works out, will play my first tournament near Busan, in Ulsan this coming weekend. The following weekend, my friends and I (and 150 other folks), will enjoy a bike tour of cherry blossoms near Gyeongju (also near Busan!). To top off the month, I've decided to get my TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate as it's likely I'll teach another year. It requires a two-day course in Daegu, though it's also based online. I'm excited for it and I do think it's about time I learned a little more about how to do my job.

For a visual record of some of these anecdotes, see my facebook albums White Winter Hymnal and Spring Cleaning.

Posted by H Kingrey 09:05 Archived in South Korea Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Seoul at six months (part I)

in typical non-stop Seoul style

overcast

Is it terrible that I don't remember much of February? Yes, it is the shortest month, but I think its rapid passing may have largely owed to the graduation season at school. I spent a bit more time working with my kindergarten class to perfect a Sesame St. inspired-conversation and song-and-dance number choreographed to this charming ditty by Raffi. It was great. We chose sequin-spangled suits for the kids and let 'em at it. I was proud that all the hours cultivating cute paid off.

So that was school--I shall miss my old kindergartners but the introduction of a whole new class hasn't left me much time or energy to reminisce. These 6 and 7 year-old students are completely new to the language and once we learn the basics, I look forward to peppering their English education with big words, fun catch-phrases and colloquialisms.

February weekend highlights (& there seemed to be an abundance):

  • MUSIC: Witnessing performances by some current darlings of China's rawkus music scene (Carsick Cars) and a band I hadn't thought of since college (Do Make Say Think)
  • Taking a 4-hour train ride to Gwangju for a 3-day Lunar New Year weekend with a largely Irish & English ex-pat contingent.
  • The Wild Women's Performance Festival--pictures here at their Facebook site--was quite fun, featuring some excellent music, dance and spoken word at a beautiful venue. As fate would have it, I was even chosen from the crowd to participate in an African dance number.

I imagine that if I wrote daily, or even weekly, here, that there would be more cultural details and stories. Alas and alack. Generally, it remains that my experience of Korean culture is somewhat shallow owing to the language barrier. Obviously, I can move around with relative ease and enjoyment but I've only met a handful of Koreans and of those folks, I've had substantial conversations with a few--they are women mostly--teachers and students. The one Korean man with whom I spoke at length, lived in New York for some time and works in business here now.

Certainly, I learn a fair amount from my students. I get to read their journals--in which topics do range. There's the frequent entry: "I'm very very very very very very very very happy" or "It's very very very very very funny" (meaning "fun"). The more advanced entries in which students at least used a thesaurus to add some spice to the sentence: "I asked my mother and father could we please do dining out. They said yes with great pleasure." Once in awhile, I'll get a melancholy confessional, such as this one the other day: "My parents fight. [But at] this time, I did my homework. It is loud and angry." Another of my students frequently journals about how he misses his mom when she travels (which she does frequently). Of course, it's amazing that the students can express themselves so well and yet, the simple way in which they phrase things makes it that much more touching sometimes. I've had many of my students for several months now and I genuinely enjoy them and feel that we have some rapport going on. This lends to a generally productive and pleasant classroom environment...which I welcome after my few less-than -harmonious classes.

Thus concludes February.

For a visual record of some of these anecdotes, see my facebook albums White Winter Hymnal and Spring Cleaning.

Posted by H Kingrey 08:55 Archived in South Korea Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Happy New Year

The first 31 days of 2010

overcast 32 °F

January finds me both settling in and full of new ambitions (including striving to update monthly).

The temperature generally hovers between -12 and 0 degrees Celsius...some days are blue skied and others are gray and dreary. There are still hunks of ice and snow around. Everyone is wearing neutral colored or black dress coats--sometimes, stepping onto the subway feels like walking into a funeral parlor. Many folks are wearing Ugg-style boots and children are sporting cute, furry animal hats. Vendors remain out in the street--everyday I walk past a truckload of almonds and walnuts, boxes of seafood, the open-faced butcher shop where hunks of beef or pork hang from hooks, and in the evenings, the sweet potato roasting contraption, manned by a bent and shrunken fellow.

I'm rather glad the holidays are behind me now. Video chats and lovely packages from home were comforting. Coworkers and I kept occupied with trips to Lotte World, Land of Magic and Fantasy, cookie and paper-chain making, music shows featuring bands from back home and holiday dinners in Itaewon at mildly tacky but very cheerful expat restaurants: Gecko's and the Irish pub, Wolfhounds. We did have an exceptional Christmas Eve dinner at Thai Orchid. A delicious green veggie curry and red wine were definitely outstanding.

Like any job I've had, after some initial discomfort, I've overcome most of the stress of the job and I'm able to enjoy my work and the students. With the exception of one troublesome class, I look forward to each group of students and the energy is a little better in this new year as I don't teach any of the tired, solemn older middle school students. We are currently working on coordinating graduation festivities and performances for the kindergartners. It should be highly entertaining at least. There are some minor office complications that are somewhat exacerbated by language and cultural differences but I'm sure working through them will make us all better, more compassionate humans. I hope. In March, we'll undergo some major changes: taking in new students, losing two foreign teachers and at least one Korean teacher, and taking on a (yes, only one) new foreign teacher.

January has passed quickly in a succession of grueling teaching weeks (more-so for other teachers who handled extra Intensive courses, I lucked out and just took on more kindies) and fun weekends.

Highlights

  • Discovering the pleasures of jimjilbang--this Wiki provides a very nice summary of the basic experience. The first time I went, we arrived at about 3am and just wanted to hot tub and sleep. We hunted around during what was obviously peak hour for sleeping mats and were just about to settle on the warm, yet hard floor when a sweet employee nabbed some for us from folks using them as blankets. Sleeping in the co-ed room was noisy (snoring and then cell phone alarms in the morning) but not unbearable...what was ridiculous was the Korean men who felt the need to occupy our space. I got up to use the bathroom at one point, and came back to see one sitting on my mat, even though I had noticed him earlier on his own mat. He jumped right up when I returned. In the morning, a man worked his way between my friend Val and me...I let it slide cuz it wasn't bothering me but then he tried to spoon her. Really! Since then, I've visited a huge, popular jimjilbang in our neighborhood, in the evenings, for exercise and relaxation. It's wonderful.

  • Uzbek restaurants in Little Russia (near Dongdaemun Stadium, exit 2)--on the menu: the best beer in Seoul and delicious honey cake.

  • Incheon day trip--Chinatown, a spontaneous tour with a self-taught English speaking, Road Dahl-reading boy and his family, a river tour to see the 7th longest bridge in the world during which time we witnessed the train-wreck that is drunken Korean men.

  • Discovering yet another excellent venue for films off the beaten path (ahem! Avatar): I-Gong, Alternative Visual Culture Factory

  • Continuing to meet people through amazing events such as the Wild Women's Performing Arts Festival coming up at the end of next month.

Posted by H Kingrey 04:58 Archived in South Korea Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

The 6th Jarasum International Jazz Festival

good vibrations

rain
View 365 days in South Korea on H Kingrey's travel map.

I awoke on Saturday morning very jazzed for my first trip outside of Seoul--I was to meet my coworker, Lety, at a subway station some distance north of Suraksan, in Dobongson. From there, we would travel south to the train station at Seongbuk. Simple enough but of course, there were complications. For starters, on the elevator in my building, I met and began talking with a fellow foreigner. I hadn't met her before, so I was a little wrapped up in our conversation. I didn't take notice that I had to catch the subway north on the other side of the tracks--so I missed the first subway to Dobongson. By the time I got to Dobongson, Lety had already caught the subway and I was again on the wrong side of the tracks because, as I learned, only when it was peak travel time did they run the train on that particular side. So, at this point I was about 1/2 hour behind schedule. As I was traveling, I asked (or rather gestured to) a girl if I might use her cell phone to call Lety--she was really nice and assented. When I got to Seongbuk, I'd missed the train and couldn't find my way to an open ticket office. I must have been looking lost enough that a mother with two children called the information number to find out where I should go. After that, things rolled along easily enough and ticket in hand, I was able to chill and wait for the next train.
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There were no tickets available for actual seats but I had a "standing" ticket which allowed me to position myself however comfortably in the passage way between two cars. It wasn't nearly as bad as I imagined. I had my Gregory pack with me, so I sat on that, read my book and stared out the window at the scenery, which was rapidly becoming rural. Lots of farm, far fewer tall buildings with neon signage. Fewer cars and buses. It was alternately rainy and overcast and I really hoped it would blow over by the time I got out to Gapyeong.

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I arrived in Gapyeong at last...walked out in the the gray sunshine, through the station and out into Jazz city...right outside the station, a man was playing clarinet. I asked for directions, found a payphone to call Lety and began the 15 minute walk out to the festival grounds.On my way in, I heard some spectacular guitar music and kept expecting to see a full band but I rounded a corner and saw a single man wailing on his guitar, which was amplified. He was doing fancy fingerwork across a fretboard and it was a pleasure to watch.

I met Lety and Marcus outside the Lotte world tents, which were set up around the island in sporadic little cities. Lotte is truly the uppercrust Wal-Mart of Korea. They are everywhere. There were bikes available for use (even tandem bikes) free of charge BUT you had to be a Lotte member. Lety and I bought tickets and the three of us headed back into town to check out Jean-Philippe Viret at the Jazz Cube.

There's a video here, for a sample; he begins the set: www.viret.com

I really enjoyed it. Viret was playing with pianist Edouard Ferlet and it was quite experiemental sounding--lots of percussive bits.

Afterwards, we made our way back through the town, which was eerily quiet, everyone being indoors or at the concert. We stopped for dinner where I had my first bowl of steaming hot Bibimbap--vegetables, some meat and a raw egg on top of rice. The egg is meant to be mixed in upon service, along with a red pepper paste. Fortified, we made our way down to the mainstage at the Jazz Island to catch Avishai Cohen 'Aurora' (from Israel) and Chico and the Gypsies. The closing band was definitely dancing music. We rushed the stage and worked our way to the very front line to dance with Koreans shouting, "Margarita!" "Tequila!" "Ole!"
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It was excellent...I'm not sure how the loony foreigners was received by the mostly Korean crowd, but I think everyone was having fun. I think we were even videotaped...

Posted by H Kingrey 18:16 Archived in South Korea Tagged events Comments (0)

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