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Korean Sojourns

Abuse!

She’s not my student—she’s my friend—and she attends one of the better middle schools in Beautiful Gyeongju. During our last conversation she revealed that one of her teachers punishes her students by, first, holding her fingers almost like a long-nailed vampire or ghoul, and, second, by raking them against the asscheeks of her disobedient pupils. She whacked one such student several times with a meterstick or a pointer or something, and he was so badly hurt he had to go to the hospital, telling my friend that his behind was covered with black and blue welts.

They’re usually punished, physically, for not doing their homework.


How Far the Apple Has Fallen from the Tree

The Story Of Gertrude Berg's Great Grandson...

The Story Of Gertrude Berg’s Great Grandson…

...Living In Korea

…Living In Korea


Fight The Power

Why have I stopped blogging? Because blogging doesn’t pay. Writing books doesn’t really pay either, but it does pay something, and I decided over the last two months to devote all my creative powers toward using writing to make that something into a bigger and more substantial something that would be sufficient to extricate both myself and my family from Korea. Not surprisingly, we’re all still here.


Rules For The Korean Road

1. Pedal to the metal at all times. Even before you start the engine. Even when you are outside of the car, you should leave a brick on the gas pedal, because speed makes men stronger.
2. If you drive an expensive-looking black car, it’s okay to run over children and old ladies. In fact, the police will fine you if you don’t.
3. Honk like you’re getting paid for it. Install fake police sirens to help convince other ( = lesser) people that you are in charge and know how to deal with every situation far better than they do.
4. Since signaling causes you to lose face by revealing your intentions to your enemies, don’t signal, unless it’s a fake-out.
5. Fill up your tank with paint thinner and then bribe the mechanic to write a fraudulent insurance form once the car inevitably breaks down to win.


George Orwell Sounds A Lot Like A North Korean (In Korean)

그러면 우리는 무엇을 해야 되겠읍니까? 그것은 밤낮 없이 몸과 마음을 다하여 인류의 타도에 힘쓰는 것입니다!

Romanization:

Guh-lu-myon oo-lee-nun moo-oh-sul hay-ya day-ges-soom-nee-ka? Guh-gos-oon bam-nat opshee mome-gwa ma-oom-ul da-ha-yaw il-yoo-ai ta-do-ai heem-suh-nun goshe-im-nee-da!

My literal translation:

So we-the what-the do should? Thing-the nightdayless body-and mind-the all-for humanity-of overthrow-at strength-using thing is!

George Orwell:

What then must we do? Why, work night and day, body and soul, for the overthrow of the human race!


When The Storm Lay Gyeongju Low

My son and I were wandering the Bronze Age petroglyphs on the far side of the Hyeongsan River and the feeling in the air was already bizarre, as he had just pointed at one of the sheer cliffs and exclaimed “Buddha!”, despite having no apparent knowledge that the area was some kind of sacred fertility precinct thousands of years ago (in Korean it’s called “애기 청소 / Aegee Chungso / Baby-Washing”). The carvings on the rocks are visible if you look closely—I only discovered them after taking a picture, draining the colors, and then fiddling with the contrast—but I find it somewhat eerie that the boy found his own arcane way of sensing their spiritual significance.


How To Fight The Hellos

It’s always confused me, this occasional predilection Asia has for greeting non-Asians with an English hello—I was once helloed as faraway as the Balinese countryside, while riding on the back of a speeding motorbike, by a uniformed schoolchild—and though I can’t speak for the tone used in China, Japan, or other countries, my impression is that in Korea the speaker is generally attempting to alienate you from his culture, to establish that you are a member of a different tribe, to amuse his friends, or to sate a Pavlovian reflex implanted within his consciousness by his television or his elders: when you see a person who looks slightly different, you must say hello in English.


I Was On National TV In Korea For Ten Minutes…

…and, as a result, I’ve shamed all of my ancestors, from Adam on down. You should be able to watch the video here. The segment with my family starts at about 44:00.


Nice New Review Of Teakettle Mountain

On Amazon.com

Teakettle Mountain is a wonderful and humorous portrayal of life in South Korea. The detail is amazing – of the people, the place and the culture, as well as the pace and structure of life – absolutely fascinating. I feel like I’ve boarded a plane and physically visited the country.

Ian James’ grip and use of language is a joy to read. I didn’t curl up with the book, Teakettle Mountain curled up with me, and didn’t let me out of its embrace until I had read the last word. It is so full of wonderfully original descriptions it was difficult to find a favourite, and after much deliberation I’ve chosen: ‘Ms Yoon, who spoke American English as though she were a textbook that had been electrified and, Frankenstein-like, bought to life.’


Where Have All The Korean Ruins Gone?

There isn’t a whole hell of a lot left of the Shilla Dynasty. Aside from two spectacular sets of ruins in Gyeongju—Seokguram and Bulguksa, of course—and a few decent sculptures in the local museum, nearly everything this thousand-year old culture created has been completely destroyed. Part of me suspected that this was due to a lack of artistic fervor, but absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence: it’s also possible that the last millennium of Korean history was turbulent enough to nearly erase the Shilla from existence.


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