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It's finally Spring...

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It is finally Spring in Korea!!!

It is a wonderful feeling.. being able to experience a change of seasons. In Singapore, where it is summer all year round, the only change we get is from rainy to sunny to cloudy.

As part of his weight loss plan, Kimchi boy cycles daily now and he sends me pictures of flowers blooming around Daejeon City. Such a pretty sight ... wish I was there.


The Fireplace King Spirit – Jowang-shin (조왕신)

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Anjeokam2 - Jowangshin

A faded portrait of Jowangshin found at Anjeokam Hermitage in the mountains of Cheonseongsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

In the next few articles, I thought I would explore some of the lesser seen or known sites at Korean temples or hermitages. These are rare finds that you might encounter during your travels and simply don’t know what they’re supposed to represent or even depict.

In this article, I thought I would talk about Jowangshin. Traditionally, Jowangshin (조왕신) was thought of as the shaman deity of the fire and hearth. They were customarily found inside a Korean house, but in the past several decades, they have disappeared. One place you can still find them, however, is inside a Buddhist temple’s kitchen.

Jowangshin was worshipped in Korea for over a millennium, since the Three Kingdoms Period in Korean history (57 B.C. to 668 A.D.).

Anjeokam1 - Jowangshin

Jowangshin inside the kitchen at Anjeokam Hermitage.

Traditionally, the way in which Jowangshin was embodied was in a bowl of water held on a clay altar above the hearth. The housewife would awake early in the morning and pour fresh water from a nearby well into the bowl. After doing this, she would kneel in front of the bowl and pray for good luck. Also, during important festivals, Jowangshin would be honoured with rice cakes and fruit.

There were five rules that a housewife would have to follow to ensure a happy and prosperous household. They were:

1. Do not curse while in the hearth.

2. Do not sit on the hearth.

3. Do not place your feet on the hearth.

4. Maintain a clean kitchen.

5. You can worship other deities in the kitchen.

Daewonam - Jowangshin

Jowangshin as seen inside the kitchen at Daewonam Hermitage.

Jowangshin would broadcast the happenings inside the house towards the heavens. If the rules were followed, Jowangshin would be a benevolent deity. However, if these rules weren’t followed, Jowangshin could be a vengeful deity.

In Korean Buddhism, Jowangshin is a shamanic tutelary deity. Inside the Buddhist temple, you’ll occasionally find this deity housed inside the kitchen. Jowangshin has a special altar inside the kitchen called a Jowang-dan. And you’ll often find a portrait on the wall above the altar depicting Jowangshin.

The kitchen was seen as being the symbol of prosperity for a home. A good fire signified a prosperous house, while a house without a fire represented poverty because traditionally all meals came from a fire. This also translated to a temple or hermitage.

As a shaman deity, he is considered a dharma protecting deity. But in the pantheon of shaman deities, Jowangshin is a minor folk-Buddhist deity below the likes of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Recluse), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Yongwang (The Dragon King). Uniquely, there is a Jowangshin scripture that praises him in the Jowang-gyeong sutra (The Kitchen God Sutra).

Wonhyoam - Jowangshin

Jowangshin hanging inside the eating area at Wonhyoam Hermitage.

What does Jowangshin look like just in case you run across him? Jowangshin is middle aged, and he sports a long black beard. He holds it with his one hand, while either holding a fan or a wooden tablet in the other. He is dressed in royal-looking clothes, and he sits on a throne. Behind his throne are banners with Chinese text written on them. Of note, Jowangshin’s feet don’t touch the ground.

Examples of Jowangshin can be found at a few temples. There are beautiful paintings of him at Anjeokam Hermitage and Wonhyoam Hermitage on Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. Another example can be found at a hermitage at Pyochungsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do called Daewonam Hermitage.

So the next time you’re at a Korean temple, and you decide to have a meal there, have a look around the kitchen because you might just be able to see this lesser seen and known shaman deity.

In Black

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If you would’ve told 18 year old me that I would one day be a martial arts black belt, I would’ve exhaled the smoke from my hippie chic clove cigarette and laughed in your face.

At 27, I would have told you sadly that they don’t give black belts to fat girls.

By 30, I might have been interested but still a little incredulous. By that time, I had shed fifty pounds and was starting to learn that almost anything is possible.

Last week, at 33 and some change, I did something I never actually thought I would do, even when I started taking classes two years ago.  I  became a certified, card-carrying (for real, there’s a card, like a license to kill or something) 1st degree black belt in hapkido, an accomplishment I share with at least a third of Korean ten year olds.  But, still, it’s a big deal to me.

I don’t know that I can convey to you the ways learning hapkido is changing my life.  First of all, it’s instilled in me an appreciation for mixed martial arts.  I feel like I better understand the strength, poise, skill, precision, and grace necessary to fight well.  Contrary to the way the sport has been promoted to American couch potatoes, MMA done well isn’t violence or gore.  It isn’t bloodsport fueled by rage.  At their core, martial arts are about precision, detail, balance, control.

Balance is concept essential to being successful in the martial arts (and in life in general), and it’s something I struggle with.  Martial artists have to learn  to move decisively and forcefully, but lightly and gracefully as well.  They have to understand fundamentally how the body should occupy a space, how to ground oneself firmly enough to draw power from one’s stance, but lightly enough to move quickly, surely, fluidly.  Like yogis, martial arts masters are in complete control of their breath and their bodies.  Their movements are deliberate, precise, economical.  Watching a master at work is like watching ballet or modern dance, albeit one where your partner ends up face down in an excruciatingly painful joint lock.  Learning martial arts is about learning control:  of your breathing, your movements, your impulses, and ultimately, of your opponent.

For me, however, this journey has been mostly about learning patience and persistence.  My body has never been naturally athletic or graceful.  Even at a fit, healthy weight, I am big for a woman, heavy and curvy and with no natural tendency toward spinning or jumping lightly and easily.  I have the kind of footfalls you can hear coming down a hallway.  I am not a delicate or exceptionally flexible.

But worse than these physical challenges are my personality failings.  As much as I hate to admit this, deep down I am impatient and would rather abandon an activity than fail at it.  My entire life, I have skillfully and shrewdly avoided things that didn’t come easily, events or activities where I couldn’t excel easily and assuredly.  Now this is not to say that I’m lazy or not a hard worker.  I will work my fingers to the bone doing something I’m good at, especially if there is any type of praise or reward at stake.

What I don’t like is failure.  I abhor not being the best, having to admit that I might not be perfect or outstanding or even very special at all.  Throughout my twenties, I let this fear of imperfection keep me from trying new things, avoiding making big decisions if I couldn’t be assured they’d be the right ones, confining my choices to things like paint colors or a new dress so that I could only mess up so much.

Then I lost my mom.  Her passing was one of the defining moments of my existence, laden with realizations about the fragility of life and the stupidity of squandering the scant amount of time you’re given.  And if life is short–fleeting, even–then failure is even more transient.

So, two and a half years after saying goodbye to my mom, in a country where I had one friend and almost no command of the language, I walked into Yoon’s Hapkido School in Gwangali  And for the past twenty months, I’ve been learning about balance, control, persistence, patience, and failure.  And I’ve learned some hapkido, too.

In that dojang, I have failed more spectacularly than anywhere else in my life.  At first, I rolled with the ease and grace of the gigged flounder my father used to flop into the boat when he took me fishing (and some days I’m still not much more elegant).  During soft front falls, my hip joints hit the floor so hard, I swear the room shook.  I have inadvertently hit, kicked, elbowed, or stepped on every friend I’ve made in my thrice weekly classes.  I am an endless source of amusement for Master Yoon, who is sometimes so frustrated with my incompetence that he retreats to his office, muttering Korean and shaking his head.

And I have fallen.  One my back, butt, sides, stomach, and face.  I have fallen while attempting kicks, break falls, throws, basic self-defense maneuvers,  even simple footwork.  The only thing I’ve done more often than fall is get up.  That’s what this experience has been about for me–the getting up.  The going back to class the next day after you spent most of the previous lesson failing at what you were supposed to learn.   In the end, I have a martial arts black belt not because I’m a killing machine (although I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with me these days), but because I kept getting up.




Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Black Belt, Busan, Hapkido, Korea, Martial Arts, Yoon's Hapkido School

My Cocky Korean

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Boston Market has provided my go-to meal for the majority of my adult life...and by 'go-to' I mean when I need something quick, hearty, and relatively healthy (meat, starch, and veggie w/ multiple colors represented). Unfortunately, when I last moved, I didn't base it off of the closest Boston Market location. Fortunately, I've been forced to branch out...

...resulting in my new go-to meal: bibimbap (비빔밥). Again, meat, starch, and veggie w/ multiple colors represented. There is a pretty good Korean restaurant up the street from my apartment where the owner makes most of the food herself...kinda close to homemade! Being a creature of habit, I order the same thing every time I go. So after craving a hearty go-to meal all day today, I walk into the restaurant, get bold, and announce that I don't need a menu. "I already know what I want." I was directed towards my table and confidently tell the waitress that "I'd like the beef bibimbap." That's it. No other questions asked. She wrote it down, and I felt a sense of accomplishment as she walked away to put in my order.

I munched on my banchan (반찬 - defined in a previous post) and waited patiently to hear that familiar sizzling sound from behind me announcing that my hot, delicious meat, starch, and veggie had arrived. I was hungry and had a while I waited, I could see it and all but taste it already.

Well, I didn't hear any sizzling. Then, the waitress startled my thoughts when she came over with a big, white, COLD bowl of...bibimbap. I felt disappointed and stupid. She gave me exactly what I ordered, so what could I say? I had ordered the wrong thing. See, the thing I love most about bibimbap is that it can come in a piping hot stone pot...hence the anticipated sizzle. The rice gets crunchier and crunchier up against that hot stone as you progress through the meal. That is DOLSOT (돌솥 - stone pot) bibimbap. THAT is not what I ordered. I cockily ordered straight-up bibimbap. I was disappointed. While it was still good, I didn't get that sizzle nor the crunch. I overlooked it. My basics. I now know better. That's what I get for slacking off on my Korean lessons and sauntering up into the restaurant thinking I know WAY more Korean than I actually do. Time to hit the books again!


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Registration for April 12th Meeting Open!!!

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Spring has definitely sprung!  Actually we have been saving this destination ever since we stumbled apon it online back in the colder months.  The weather is warming up and we are […]

Makgeolli Mamas & Papas

International Marriage, Part 1

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The following first appeared in the Korea Herald, to whom we are quite grateful:

People everywhere have questions about the law and are often misinformed. In Korea, the problem seems particularly acute for English-speaking expats, owing to a couple of factors. 

First, there are two language barriers: The legal language barrier, as few people really understand the law in their own language, and the Korean-English barrier ― even fewer English speakers are strong enough in Korean to read the laws. 

Second, there are profound cultural and philosophical differences about the role of laws and the justice system, the role of the police, and related concepts. And third, the information is often simply out of date. Korean law changes quickly and often, and though some principles seem to endure, the constantly changing details do not make understanding it any easier.

To try to solve these problems, this column will attempt to give you a basic understanding of your legal rights, responsibilities and options in Korea in various contexts and, when appropriate, discuss the implications. If you are curious about a specific area of law, please let us know and we will try to include it in our column. To begin, we are going to address a very common issue for long-term expats ― marriage in Korea.

We would guess that the vast majority of couples in Korea are either not thinking about marriage or are already married. But should you fall into that middle group of couples who are thinking about tying the knot, there are some legal implications and simple procedures of which you should be aware.

First, we should talk about the benefits. Married couples whose income falls below a certain level can receive a government-backed, very low-interest loan for key money or buying a home. There are discounts on cellular and other services, and you are able to file or receive documents for one another, such as lease registrations and tax paperwork. And there is simply no easier way to get a resident visa here than by being family. 

Of course there are commitments and dangers as well, and we will address the possibility of having to pay support, divide your property and negotiate the custody of children (sadly, dogs are still considered property) in the next column. If you want to minimize such dangers there is always the possibility of a prenuptial agreement ― Korea will recognize certain prenups as valid. This will also be addressed in a future column.

The non-Korean spouse will need to visit his or her embassy and complete a declaration of eligibility to marry, or a similar form with a different name. The U.S. Embassy, for example, has the form online so that you can print it out and complete it in advance. If you apply for an appointment online, the visit to the consulate to notarize the paper should take less than 20 minutes.

Then you will need to get married. The district, or “gu,” office can give you the forms and two witnesses are required. You will also need to translate the declaration from the consulate into Korean. A nonprofessional translation is fine for this, so long as it gets the info right.

With the translation and the original in hand, as well as the Korean paperwork, the couple needs to visit the district office with both parties’ IDs. The process doesn’t take much longer than a visit to the bank. Congratulations, you have now created a new set of legal rights and liabilities, although perhaps you would have preferred for us to stop after “congratulations.”

If you are the foreign spouse, your visa status has not changed. That requires a lot of simple, but seemingly endless, paperwork for immigration. Don’t forget to mention that you want to change visas when you visit the consulate. If you do this, they will give you the necessary paperwork to complete and translate. As for the Korean spouse, if he or she wishes to immigrate to the non-Korean’s country, there will be a whole mess of paperwork costing hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars; the U.S.’ procedure alone could warrant its own article. 

If your marriage has not gone so well, and you’re curious about how to dissolve it, we will address that next time. 

Don't forget that disclaimer



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Dear Korea #118 - This Looks Shopped...

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To those of you that fell for yesterday’s joke, I sincerely apologize. I didn’t think anyone would fall for it. Honestly, do I really seem like the type of person who could do something bad enough to get banned from all of South Korea? Either way, if it helps, I got yelled at quite a bit from close friends in and out of the country who fell for it as well.

Now that the time to prank has passed, here’s the real comic of the week. No pranks in this one, I swear.

When it comes to doctoring photos, Korea seems to do it on another level. After having my picture taken for reasons, I’ve had my chin shaved down, my eyes reshaped, and even my neck slimmed down. I get that the goal of these photo companies is to make me look good for potential job purposes, but I’m not sure if it counts if I don’t look like myself anymore.

This seems to be even worse for my friends who have non-Korean features. They tend to lose their freckles and even have their skin lightened to where they look like they belong to a different nationality. It’s kind of hilarious, yet sad in its own way.

That being said, I wouldn’t mind having some of my neck fat trimmed down that easily in real life.

Jen Lee's Dear Korea

This is Jen Lee. She likes to draw.
She also likes green tea.

Got any questions, comments, or maybe even some delicious cookies you want to send through the internet? Feel free to contact us at dearkoreacomic at gmail dot com.

You can also leave comments on the comic’s Facebook Page!


The Colossal Buddha

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One of the coolest things that I have seen in a long time happened when I was driving to my new job at Busan University of Foreign Studies. As I was driving along I saw a colossal Buddha statue on the horizon. It was huge! As I drove along I realized that this was infact a temple of some sort and was worth investigating.


As the blossoms have bloomed in the area and the weather is warming up, I thought that it was time to check out this mysterious gigantic Buddha statue. The temple is a newer temple meaning that it is not like Beomosa, further down the road or anything. Hongbubsa is a beautifully landscaped temple with a huge golden Buddha on top. The best part about this temple is that you can go right up to it and actually get inside of it.


As Buddha’s birthday comes upon us soon, the temple has already started decorating for the celebration. This is for sure on my list for place to shoot during that time.  It is unusual to see such a large Buddha statue in Korea as this is something that you’d typically see in some place like Thailand. At any rate, I can’t wait to get back out there during the blue hour when the lanterns are all lit up.


If you would like to join me on this photo outing, drop a comment below and I will put together a photowalk once I get more details and numbers. Hongbubsa is located just off the #7 HWY on your way into Busan from Yongsan. It is just before Beomosa and well if you miss it you are probably blind or in the complete wrong area.

만우절: “April Fool’s Day” in SK

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1Have you received or pulled a prank today? April 1st is April Fool’s Day, 만우절 in Korean. My husband woke up very early this morning, and I thought that he was planning to play a trick on me, but he was just watching the news. Perhaps, he got tired of playing tricks, because we have been pranking each other every 만우절 since we got married. I was tempted to turn off the water heater while he was taking a shower, but I remembered he has a cold. He’s taking a nap right now and I’m thinking of drawing a mustache on his face. A friend is coming later. When she sees him, I bet the reaction will be gut-busting! =)

I am reposting an article I wrote about April Fool’s Day in Korea. Enjoy reading and good luck on the pranks! ^^


Originally posted on From Korea with Love:

Back in the Philippines , I didn’t know about April Fool’s Day . It isn’t as popular in my country as it is inSouth Korea . April Fool’s Day (also known as All Fool’s Day ), which is celebrated on April 1st, is believed to have begun in France , but nowadays, people from all over the world follow the tradition of playing practical jokes on one another.


Last year, my husband played a trick on me. It made me upset, but before I could strangle him, he told me he was just kidding, because it was 만우절 (April Fool’s Day in Korean). 만 (man) means “many” or “much”, and 우 means “foolish”. Put the words together and the real meaning will be “very foolish”.

Today was my turn to pull Mr. Ra’s (my husband’s) leg… and I succeeded! ㅋㅋㅋ … ^^

Here’s my prank which I sent throughKakaotalk:

View original 372 more words


From Korea with Love




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