culture shock

That Was the Year That Was

A few years ago the American company I worked for sent me on a management course which was a predictable exercise in the fascism of extroversion run by morally nihilistic extroverts telling me to be extroverted. I wrote software. Software writers are supposed to be introverts – otherwise we're really not going to be happy sat at our desk on our own all day. But I guess the course had some effect on me because that's when I realised I really wasn't happy about it. So I quit, which probably wasn't the result they were expecting, although perhaps it's just as well because later they sent my boss to jail. While extroverts might run the world but they can be as dumb as rocks in dealing with introverts. I'd set up an Introverts United support group to help raise awareness of our plight, except I wouldn't want to go to the meetings.

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead

Having a baby in Korea can expose you to a great deal of culturally odd experiences. There are rules about staying in hospital, rules about keeping the rooms there at high temperatures, beliefs that new mothers shouldn't shower for a week, and when the fortune tellers get involved, the minefield of baby naming to navigate. Eventually, those first few weeks pass by and you're left with your newborn at home, and you think things might start to get a little less strange.

But when my wife came into our office and said "I need a picture of a chicken to hang upside down over the baby's bed", I was hardly even surprised even if I had no idea what the reasoning behind it was. Does there come a point where you've been in Korea so long that nothing surprises you any more?

When the Smoke Clears

I really don't like mosquitoes, the dreaded Korean 'mogi'. Recently I related some of my mogi-chasing stories to someone here and she seemed to think it was more amusing than I did. When I got home, I asked my wife, "what's so funny about that?" She told me that Korean people don't usually bother enough about mosquitoes to spend an hour out of bed in the middle of the night chasing one with a newspaper. OK, that's fair enough, I may be a little crazy. But look at it this way - I'm a completer-finisher*. (*I wish - I'm actually a dangerously high scoring 'shaper').

But am I crazy enough to want to run trucks around crowded streets spraying insecticide at everyone? No - so who are the crazy ones now?

faces that made me love Asia (3): Seol Gyung Gu- 설경구

It starts with a face, his face, close up. Almost too closed. He is in pain, drunk, desperate. He wants to shout. He wants comfort but it’s too late, it’s over, he is too old, he has seen too much. He must die, so everything can start anew.

That face is the one of  Seol Kyung-gu (설경구). His intense way of acting embraces perfectly the 20 years of Korean History developped in the movie “Peppermint candy” (박하사탕).

Horror Hospital

Recently I wrote about some of the problems my wife and I had experienced with the maternity hospital we were in, but things were going to turn out to be worse for other people in what seemed to me like a perfect storm of Korean cultural issues.

Your Name Here

It's normal for Westerners to name their children once they are born - or even before. In fact, the traditional Catholic dogma of my upbringing almost demands it insofar as an unchristened babies are left in limbo, or at least they used to be until the infallible Church changed its mind three years ago. But leaving organised religion aside, it seems sensible that a baby should have a name, rather than simply being 'the baby' or any other range of personal pronouns.


Access Denied

Twenty minutes after my son was born, I was finally able to take my first picture of him... through the glass partition of the 'Baby Center'. But that was more than my wife, who despite being awake wasn't able to see him again until 4pm Sunday afternoon - eleven hours after the birth.

I said a mistake was made in those precious few seconds after his birth, and it was that my wife handed our baby back to the impatient staff at their beckoning, and not to me. I would have liked to have held him. But they wanted to take him away and clean him up. It didn't seem unreasonable and I didn't think it was going to have the consequences it did.

Holding the Baby


Five days ago my wife gave birth to our first child, a boy. Over the last couple of years, we'd talked about whether it was better to have a baby in England or Korea. I've always been impressed with the Korean health system - yes, it costs money, but it is fast and efficient in comparison to the slow lumbering bureaucracy of the British National Health Service. Korea seemed to be the clear winner. Now I'm no longer sure. I want to document my experience here as a possibly cautionary tale for other people who find themselves in the same position. Had I known a few months ago what I know now, things may have worked out differently.

I'm splitting what I have to say into the before and after - a tale of two halves if you will, and then there may be quite a lot of post-match analysis, so if you don't want to know the result, look away now.

She's Having a Baby

Thank you for *Chuseok*

Most of us here in South Korea are aware that there are holidays coming up next week, and some of us might even know the name of those holidays, or even what the holiday is for. So here's a little summary...

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