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All Things Korean!

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When I was visiting kimchi boy last winter, one of my favourite moments was going grocery shopping together! Home Plus, equivalent to Singapore's NTUC Supermarket, was the nearest to his home. I realise Home Plus actually carries some of Tesco's product.. maybe they are affiliated in some way. Anyway, sometimes we would walk 15 minutes to get there but most of the time we just cycle there! 

Now that I am back in Singapore, whenever I go to the supermarket (mostly NTUC), I get really excited when I see Korean food products. For a moment it made me feel like I was back in Korea again T.T

Korean ice cream, which I never really enjoyed :/

Sauce, condiments ... I usually have a bottle or two bulgogi (불고기) sauce at home.

Whenever I start putting Korean products (Sweet potato noodles for Japchae (잡채), Korean mayonnaise) in the shopping trolley my Dad would say "What?! Korean food again....."

When kimchi boy was in Singapore, he was amazed that we have Thai Tomyum sauce, Indian Curry, Japanese Udon etc.. It is easy to find other South-East Asian or just typical Asian food in a local  supermarkets. There would easily be more than 2 brands of Tomyum soup paste for you to choose from.

While in Korea, it is usually just... Korean. If we really wanted to get Tomyum soup paste, there would be only one brand. & He really knows how to boost his country's economy while living abroad (in Singapore). For eg. my family prefers the Japanese mayo sauce but he would say "Why? Take the Korean one... it tastes and looks exactly the same..".

Gwangali TeaHouse Okada

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 Spring is here and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The beach area is just starting to warm up. Down in the middle of Gwangali beach there is a new teahouse called Ogada or by its English name Korean Tea & Time. It is a great place to sit back and enjoy the seaview.

The tea house is centrally located right on the beachfront road.
Here's their phone number if you have trouble finding them though it should be rather easy.

I took these photos a few months ago, a week after they had first opened. They are much busier now and most likely will be very busy this summer. They have an awesome view of the beach and Gwangali and plenty of comfy seats.

Their teas are all distinctly Korean. They offer the traditional teas that can be found in most traditional teahouses around Busan and in Seoul.
However they also offer Korean tea blends : with nuts or cinnamon or other natural ingredients.
They do take-out as well as 'drink in'. Their website is
and there you can find their full menu. Most of it is in Korean however when you click the links you'll find that all their teas are written in English and in Korean making it very easy to select and order.

A great view and quite a menu. I'll post more details when I return there this weekend and check out another, though much smaller, teahouse in Gwangali. Until then stay steeped!

About the Author

Matthew William Thivierge has abandoned his PhD studies in Shakespeare and is now currently almost half-way through becoming a tea-master (Japanese,Korean & Chinese tea ceremony). He is a part time Ninjologist with some Jagaek studies (Korean 'ninja') and on occasion views the carrying on of pirates from his balcony mounted telescope.

About Tea Busan  *   Mr.T's Chanoyu てさん 茶の湯   *  East Sea Scrolls  *  East Orient Steampunk Society

Becoming a Brand?

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A good way  for any business to retain customers is to generate brand recognition.  Brand recognition brings with itself a status that parents can carry around like a badge.  The problem with branding is it can easily bite you in the ass too.

When I first opened my school, I asked people around and they immediately said “Ohhhh looks expensive!”, even though prices in Korea are regulated ….  I thought that image might have been in my advantage but it seemed to work against me.  Since people had the perception of me being “too expensive” they didn’t bother inquiring.  When schools advertise, they have to add their prices in their advertising, it is just that no school does that, and no punishment is given, at this point.  It is also dangerous to do that since you might actively start a price war with your competition.  Koreans are very good at starting rumors, especially bad ones.  As a foreigner, you will have absolutely no recourse against this problem.

This is probably why franchises do better in South Korea.  Since the brand recognition is there.  But most of us silly foreigners don’t get that part, and are convinced we can do better.  We do better, but your customers don’t know that.  Certainly not at first.

It took me three years to get my “brand” recognized on city level.  It is when I reached my peak that my brand recognition started to backfire.  I had two negative incidents with 2 different teachers not too far apart ( +- 6 months) which turned my brand into a negative added value.  I am still trying to turn back around the negative implications of those incidents.

The customers I have know this, but the customers I don’t have (and would very much like) don’t.  They rely on past information.  It is very difficult to expunge these bad ideas when you are a foreigner.  You have zero control over information spread in your area.  Going viral, as they like to say, is a two-edged sword.

Koreans Trust The Gossip.  The Gossip train is run by mothers who are not pro-actively seeking the truth.  They are very much ingrained with a herd mentality.  What the truth is don’t matter, what everybody else is saying matters.  Exasperating when you are swinging on the wrong side, Exhilarating when you are on the right side.

You want to get that early success, you need to get that Gossip Train work in your favor, but beware, you make a faux-pas, it could well bite you in the ass.


Another Queer Weekend

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Another queer weekend in Seoul! What I would be doing tonight is heading to the pre-party for the upcoming Seoul queer film festival.

It starts at 9 pm on Friday night, April 4th, at Club Jess in Hongdae. Entrance is 15,000 won.

Saturday night at GQ Bar in Jongno has their typical Club Party with K-Pop music (both current and retro) throughout the night. This one is for singles and apparently you are supposed to kiss in the dark.

If you wanted something a bit different on Saturday night, you could go to the Charity Date Auction for CARE. CARE has an ongoing spay and neuter campaign. At the Bull & Barrel in Itaewon, there ae both straight and queer folks you can bid on for a lovely date!

Have a great weekend! 


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I'm still here!

This week came and went... friday is almost here and we've done too many things.

Currently I'm singing "GZB" while my sis and I remember what we've been through with our Instagram pictures. I know you must be tired of me saying how Blessed I feel but I really do feel Blessed everyday.

Today I was walking while waiting for the train and I was thus close to take a picture of a random tree because I thougjt it looked amazing and it made my day brighter (despite being cloudy and rainy all day).

Yesterday GD (hey... you already know I'm a fan here!) Posted a quote that said something like "When a door closes another one opens but sometimes you are so busy pondering about the closed one that you don't realize another one has been open" and that's very true... I got a job yesterday doing marketing in Spanish but I wasn't convinced it was a legit company so, I decided not to take it and instead I decided to focus on what was going on at the moment and BAM! I received another proposal!!

I then went into my 1st and most loved job and ended up cooking Pizza with a student and my sister, we had a great we always do~~

My boss got me a Giant baguette because she knows I love REAL bread (nothing against Korean bread but its not the same), she is awesome and always worry about us ♡.

We have also RSVP'd  for a party with Jay Park next weekend! Wooooo~~

This weekend we have 2 videos to make for our Vlog and then is Chillin' time because I have the worst Dark Circles ever... my boss even told me today that she felt sorry cuz I cooked and I looked VERY tired 헐.

Anyway, just wanted to post a little update, I'm working on a "Single Mom in Korea" post but the next weeks promise to be very busy ones.

Have a great weekend and I'll see you wjen I see you!

-Gisela V.

The Julie/Julia/Gisela Project
Food & Culture

The Julie Julia Gisela Project



Yeongchwisan Azalea Festival 2014 in Yeosu (영취산 진달래축제)

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On a beautiful spring day, I headed to Yeongchwisan (영취산), a  couple of days before the official start of the Azalea (jindal/진달) festival, which is from April fourth to sixth. There are several ways to enter the mountain, but if you come by public transportation, you most likely will have to walk through a small farming village to get to the hiking path. The entrance I usually take is next to Sangam (상암) elementary school, which will be on your right while facing the mountain.

I was there in the early morning and saw elderly farmers working on their land. Seeing farmers, especially elderly ones, make me appreciate their hard work even more. After greeting the friendly farmers, I walked through the small village streets to a road that lead me to the mountain. Like in many mountain entrances in Korea, it has workout equipment. After you pass this area, the hiking path splits. I prefer the one on my left, because the right when is very steep.
When I arrived at the mid area of the mountain, I was blown away by one of the peaks that was fully decorated with azaleas, while the other peak had cherry blossoms leading the way to a small temple, and an even higher peak. During the festival season, there’s a restaurant and restrooms on the mid area. I first hiked the peak with the azaleas. It was beautiful to walk in between the bushes of fully bloomed flowers, and see an equally beautiful view as I hiked up. Unfortunately, ugly factories are built around the mountain.
Then I hiked back down to take the path to the small temple, and a higher peak. I don’t know the name of the temple, but I think it might be Dosolan. The path to the temple consists of many steps. When I almost reached the temple, I got surprised by a small snake. Being a true scaredy cat, I couldn’t help but shriek. This is my second visit to the small temple. It isn’t the most impressive one, but it is charming. If you are tight on time, I suggest you skip the temple and hike straight to the higher peak. I refilled my water bottle at the temple, because I was drinking a lot more than usual and had a dry throat. I suspect it is caused by the bad air blowing out of the factories.
After leaving the temple, I headed to the higher peak, which was the highlight of my hike. I could see beautiful pinks and greens surrounded by factories. A man who hiked up with a cool box full of ice cream was selling them there. It was a nice and refreshing treat. I quickly snapped pictures, as the air there was the worst. I could smell the chemicals. I then hiked to various lower peaks to admire the azaleas. By then the mountain got a lot busier with colorfully-dressed middle-aged hikers. I walked down, only to realize I took a wrong turn.
I ended up at an entrance facing a big factory, which is used by tour buses, and has pop-up eateries during the festival. I was told that no public buses stop there, so the only way back is by taxi. Since I wasn’t that tired I walked around a bit, and discovered a paved road back to the temple. I decided to hike back up the mountain, which was a good decision. The road passes a cherry blossom forest. I don’t think I have ever seen an area so densely populated with cherry blossoms. It was beautiful, but hard to take a good picture of. The best one I took was from afar. I then arrived back to the middle point in between the azalea peak and the temple. I hiked down to where I started and passed by farmers working on their land, while others were selling their goods to hikers.
I had a wonderful day enjoying the azaleas. I really recommend you to see it in person, as the pictures do not do justice to the beauty of the mountain. Happy Hiking!
Click here for more information on the festival and how to get there.

Here some tips:

  • Visit Heungguksa Temple (흥국사) on Yeongchwisan. I’ve never been there before, but it looks nice on the pictures.
  • Combine your trip with Odongdo (오동도), a famous tourist destination in Yeosu. If you aren’t too tired, like my fellow hikers on the bus, take number 68 to get there. There are several buses passing the village to the city, but not sure whether they all head to Odongdo.
  • Visit Bitnoriya (빛노리야) in Geobukseon Park (거북선공원), Yeocheon. The park is lit up every evening until May. There are a lot of restaurants, shops and motels near the park. I don’t think there’s a direct bus going from Yeongchwisan, so you will most likely have to change buses. The park is closer to Yeocheon intercity bus terminal, and Yeocheon train station. You can see pictures of my recent visit here.
  • Near Yeosu intercity bus terminal is an Emart, where if you’d like, you can get your Western food cravings with MacDonalds or Pizzahut.
  • Bring your own food and water when you hike Yeochwisan. There are no vendors during most of your hike, so picnicking on the mountain is the way to go.

More pictures of the festival here

7 Ways South Korea Rules the World

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CNN just recently did an article called, “10 things Korea does better than anywhere else”.  Some of the things I can’t confirm, but I can say that 7 of them are definitely spot on.

The first one being dating.  They report that there’s 2,500 matchmaking companies in Korea.  Now that’s kind of astonishing since there’s less than 50 million people.  So dating is a big thing here.  There’s a lot of coffee shops in Korea, like on every block.  In Korea, coffee shops are a really popular place for people to get together and a lot of meet-ups happen there.  Also, Korea is quickly becoming a Christian nation and churches many times are places where young singles go to meet their dream guy or dream girl.  So, if Korean love is your thing, then you’re probably going to find it if you come to Korea.

soju 150x150 7 Ways South Korea Rules the WorldSecond one is the best selling liquor in the world – which is Soju.  And it’s a distilled liquor that’s usually made out of rice.  Jinro soju is the #1 selling liquor in the world.  It costs about $1 for a bottle of it and if you drink that whole thing, you’re probably going to be very nice and toasty.  And if you’re not, then…you’re probably an alcoholic.  But that’s not the most amazing statistic.  The craziest thing is that most of the soju in this world that is sold is consumed here in Korea.  Koreans love their booze!

#1 in plastic surgery – this might be a no-brainer for anyone who knows anything about plastic surgery or Korea in general.  It seems like you can’t walk down the street without every other ad board, it seems, for some plastic surgery clinic.  But it’s not just Koreans that make up these massive numbers of plastic surgeries happening in the country.  Many other countries flock to Korea on these “plastic surgery tours”.  They come here for the great, state of the art results with a very comparable, low price tag.  It’s pretty amazing actually.  I’m thinking LASIK is probably in my cards before I leave.

Another one was online gaming.  PC bangs, or these rooms with wall to wall computers with internet access, are literally on everypc bang 150x150 7 Ways South Korea Rules the World block in Korea.  Sometimes 2 or 3.  It’s kind of crazy.  And when you go inside they are all chock full of online gamers.  But here’s the crazy thing.  Some of the best players, like the top players in online gaming, and you probably know this if you’re into online gaming and stuff like that – some of them earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from prize money and endorsements and things like that.  I guess playing video games wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Here’s one that surprised me – credit card transactions.   129.7 transactions per person in a single year in Korea.  Now that’s compared to 77.9 in the United States according to this article.  Also, according to the Chosun Ilbo news site, it is “technically illegal for a merchant to refuse payment with credit card”.  I love paying for my cab fare with my card.

golf 300x192 7 Ways South Korea Rules the WorldHere’s another one that really shocked me.  Golf.  I honestly don’t know how they can fit many golf courses here in Korea, but apparently everyone is playing.  And there is an unusually high percentage of top female golfers coming out of Korea.  38 of the top 100 players apparently from Korea and of the top 10 – 4 are from Korea.  So they’re good.

7th one, final one.  Work ethic – and this probably shouldn’t surprise many of you.  Koreans work an average of 44.6 hours per week compared to OECD average, globally, of 32.8.  Considering how many hours that students put into studying each week, it only makes sense that that carries over into their adult work life.  This probably explains why Korea’s prosperity has risen at such a break neck rate.

For such a small country, Korea definitely finds a way to make the most out of what they’ve got.  And I think that’s why it’s such a dynamic place to visit and spend some time teaching abroad.


the Red Dragon Diaries

ESL, Travel, and Judo!

One Nation, Under the Chaebol

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by Third Bass

Aweek ago a friend passed on an intriguing post from the Global Voices website about a new piece of proposed legislation seeking to strike back at Korean consumers taking their business overseas. It appears that,  in order to skirt the significant markups on consumer electronics, younger consumers are increasingly utilizing overseas internet retailers such as Amazon, and this is creating quite a bit of consternation among the denizens of Korea Inc. For those that reside in the ROK, the atmospheric prices―relative to those in the U.S. at least―of computers, smartphones, speakers, autos, clothing, etc., is hardly shocking news. However, those unacquainted with shopping in Korea may be puzzled to learn that even Samsung, LG and Hyundai products sell at prices often two to three times greater than those charged in the U.S. market. In fact, one disgruntled Korean consumer cited in the story points to a Korean brand TV selling for roughly $5,900 in Korea and $1,550 in the U.S. This difference is stark. buildingchaebol

The article rings the alarm of the rather chilling prospect of the Korean government creating ‘blacklists’ of consumers who have the temerity to utilize legal means to save thousands of dollars on their purchases; for me this issue gets to the heart of the good and the bad of Korea’s recent economic history and the public’s Janus-faced relationship with the chaebol (Korea’s giant corporate conglomerates). One the one hand, firms like Samsung are the embodiment of Korea’s status as an advanced, global economic power and thus a source of national pride. On the other, they represent the deep seated cronyism of the Korea political economy and an increasingly calcifying class structure. The chaebol, and their outsized influence on Korean society, are rooted in Korea’s development model, which saw the state commandeer society’s economic assets and direct them towards funding the growth and expansion of these economic behemoths. I should note that as someone who has studied development economics for years and is currently writing a dissertation largely focused on Korean development, I would like to offer a big tip of the hat to Korea for accomplishing an elusive goal that literally hundreds of nations have set out to achieve (and almost none succeeding): rapidly moving up the value added chain and going from a producer of trinkets and t-shirts to one of luxury cars and smartphones in a just a few decades.

GetAttachmentIn my opinion, the most important thing the Korean government did was to keep the control over productive assets largely in Korean hands, often purchasing technology licenses or forcing foreign investors into joint ventures with Korean firms, rather than letting large multinationals come in and run amok in the domestic marketplace. This allowed the state to bolster firms seeking to move into producing higher value goods. Second, the Korean government should be lauded for tactfully fighting off U.S. political pressure for rapid liberalization. These pressures began to mount in the mid-80s and were often backed-up with threats by U.S. trade envoys of severe reprisals. Perhaps the Korean government’s approach to handling U.S. economic demands is best described as ‘bend but don’t break’. Total capitulation to U.S. entreaties could have gutted Korea’s nascent auto and electronics industries, which are now major global competitors.

That said; this largely successful development model has yielded a host of legacies that linger to this day and create problems for the Korean state at both the domestic and international level. Domestically, the state-chaebol nexus which forms the backbone of Korea Inc. has spawned mega-firms that consistently trample over laws and regulations with little or no accountability. Korea expert Samuel Kim has described the chaebol as a “Frankensteinian deus ex machina,” in that these creations of the state are such significant sources of GDP, that any efforts to rein them in are tempered by concerns over potential damage to the economy. Further, the chaebol (as in the Global Voices story) are increasingly the focal point of societal consternation about the growing inequality in Korea, exacerbating the growing  feeling that the deck is stacked against the average citizen.dinoThis strikes at the core of the chaebol’s duel existence in Korean life. They are simultaneously national champions, the purveyors of Korea’s image as an economic powerhouse across the globe and the symbols of an unequal and unfair society where the roads to social advancement are becoming narrower and narrower. The frailty of small and medium sized businesses―by far the largest source of middle class employment―and their lack of access to affordable credit are further consequences of Korea’s chaebol-centered development model. To be sure, a great deal of the societal hand-wringing over the chaebol’s role in Korean society is rooted in a battle over political history. While the above analysis primarily focused on economics and the chaebol, interpretations of Korea’s recent political history, namely the military dictatorships of Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan (1961-1988), form another primary cleavage among the Korean public. Was Park a strong leader who ushered Korea into the club of wealthy economies with his vision and determination, or was he a repressive dictator who murdered and imprisoned those who dared opposed him?

Anyone who has spent some time residing in Korea is aware of the deep national pride that courses deeply through most of its citizens, and how often they are willing to regale you with historical anecdotes, facts, and figures meant to impress Korea’s greatness upon you. Given my particular scholastic proclivities, I’ve always found it remarkable how often Koreans eschew touting their quite momentous economic rise, in favor of extolling Korea’s four seasons, or the turtle ship, or ancient Silla Dynasty, or the legend of King Sejong, etc. To my mind, its recent history – including the transformation an from abjectly impoverished nation into a prosperous society featuring global powerhouses like Samsung and Hyundai – is nothing short of miraculous.  However, upon deeper thought, when one considers the painful history and current angst bubbling beneath the surface of the chaebol’s successes, maybe the focus on the events of long-ago reflect a universal human tendency to see their distant history as a simpler, purer, and far less complicated time.






Korean Birthdays

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I love birthdays!!! In my family, we will always celebrate with cake and presents. Less presents now as we get older but we will always go out for a meal.

Kimchi boy says that Koreans don't really celebrate birthdays.. I wonder if this is true? But anyway, yesterday was his elder brother's birthday and his sister-in-law invited them over for a home-cooked birthday meal. First thing I told him was "don't expect me to cook some birthday meal for you.. we will just go out to eat." HAHA I have no talent in cooking (not that I have talent in any other things at all)

His parents sitting opposite his 80+ year-old grandma.

There is just too much kimchi in this picture...

Cute nephew that only plays with grandfather!

 That is his elder brother & sis-in-law!

MILK CREAM CAKE. Cakes are the reason why I put on so much weight from my last Korean visit. Who can resist a fresh cream cake? Almost impossible to find one in Singapore.

So he was telling me that for the past 26 years, no one has celebrated his birthday with him. Not even past girlfriends! Poor boy says that birthdays aren't that important to him. But he does make an effort on my birthdays and says my birthday is the most important for him now.

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