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Now and Then: Hwaeomsa Temple

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Hwaeomsa Temple from 1920.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Hwaeomsa Temple is located in present day Gurye, Jeollanam-do, and it’s part of the famed Jirisan National Park. The name of the temple means “Flower Garland Sutra Temple,” and it relates to one of the temple’s most famous residents. The temple was first founded in 544 A.D. by the monk Yeongi, who may, or may not have, come from India as a missionary monk. Then, in the mid-600s, the famed Uisang returned from Tang China after ten years of study. With him, he returned with the Hwaeom sect teachings. So through his efforts, Hwaeomsa Temple was rebuilt and expanded at this time with the support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647).

And then, once more, the temple was further expanded and refurbished by Master Doseon-guksa in the late 800s. It was at this time that most of the temple’s stone monuments like the massive stone lantern and the stone pagodas were built.

Then, during the Imjin War from 1592 to 1598, Hwaeomsa Temple was completely destroyed. After thirty years, the temple was finally rebuilt. Today, Hwaeomsa Temple is one of the largest temples in Korea, and it’s also one of the most respected. Hwaeomsa Temple houses some of the most recognizable features in all of Korea like the Gakhwangjeon Hall and the Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions. In total, the temple houses four National Treasures and eight additional Treasures.


Monks out in front of the Gakhwang-jeon Hall, which is National Treasure #67.


 A monk next to the massive stone lantern, which just so happens to be National Treasure #12.

Hwaeomsa 1914

National Treasure #35, The Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple, from 1914.


Gakhwang-jeon Hall, today.


National Treasure #12, today.


And the unforgettable Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple.

The post Now and Then: Hwaeomsa Temple appeared first on Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.

10 Korean Date Ideas Everyone Can Enjoy

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UNTIL FEBRUARY 9th: If you were to choose, which Korean celebrity would you pick for a Valentine’s Day date? Go here to vote, leave a comment, and be in a drawing to get a 90 Day Korean language learning scholarship!


Let’s say you’ve got a date set up with a Korean, but you’re not sure where to go. The big day is coming soon, and you want to make a good impression. 악!

Or maybe you want to switch things up and have a Korean-style date with your significant other. Time for an adventure!

Below are the “Top 5 Korean Date Ideas” that you can do to have a Korean style couple experience. You can do many of these anywhere in the world, no matter what city you’re in.

As a bonus, we’ve also added the “Top 5 Seoul Korean Date Ideas” so you can give them a whirl the next time you’re in the capital city.

Some of the words below are written in Hangul, which is the Korean alphabet. If you can’t read Korean yet, then you can impress your date by learning to read before you next meet! You can learn the Korean alphabet for free in about 60 minutes here.

Let’s plan this thing!

Top 5 Korean Date Ideas

1. Cinematic Adventure

Koreans love going to the movies. It’s a huge date place, especially in the bitter cold winter months. Korean movie tickets can generally be booked three days in advance, and you can even choose your seat ahead of time.

Try going for the couple seats in the back, sometimes called the “Sweetbox”. They’re roomier, and they  allow you to sit close to each other and cuddle up during the movie.

Some of the movie theaters in Korea are quite large. The CGV Theater in Gagnam goes up to the 10th floor!

Korean Date At The Movies

These two love Korean date ideas!

If you want to have a Korean movie experience in your area, try looking for a local theater that plays Korean movies. This type of theater will usually be available in bigger cities with large Korean populations, such as the CGV Theater in Los Angeles.

If you’re not near one of those cities, try downloading Korean movies and watching them at home. You can also download a movie in English and get the Korean subtitles from a site like Cineast  to get the Korean theater feel.

2. Karaoke

Also known as “노래방” (“singing room”), karaoke is a popular date activity to do anywhere in Korea.

Although it’s similar to karaoke in many countries, the Korean version is slightly different. With “노래방”, you get an entire room to yourself instead of singing in front of a group of strangers. You can order drinks (beer, soju, soda) and snacks (fruit, nuts, dried squid) from the waiter.

Many cities have singing rooms, so you can reserve one for yourself and your date.

Couple on a Korean Date

Some couples really get into their Korean-style dates!

Or if you prefer to stay local, download some songs on the home computer, grab a microphone, and have a karaoke party at your place!

3. “Cha” Course Meal

When Koreans have a night on the town, they visit various establishments together as a group. During the course of the evening, they may visit 2 – 5 different places, which they refer to as “차”s (rounds). An example schedule:

  • 1차 (Round 1): Dinner at a BBQ restaurant
  • 2차 (Round 2): Drinks at a singing room
  • 3차 (Round 3): Drinks and light food at a bar

For your date idea, you design your own “Cha” course meal mixing in any combo of events you like. You could even do food and drink from different countries, but still keep the same Korean date feel!

4. Authentic Alcohol

Whether your plan is to be out in the city or stay in the comfort of your own home, you can add in a Korean date element by getting some authentic Korean drinks.

For alcohol, try picking up some soju. Some common brands are:

  • 참이슬 (Chamisul) – meaning “real dew”
  • 처음처름 (Chum-Churum) – meaning “like the first time”
  • 좋은 데이 (JoeunDay) – meaning “good day”
Chamisul Korean Soju

Remember to shake before drinking!
Photo: Graham Hills

For beer, you can go with brands such as OB, Hite, Cass, or Max.

5. Leisurely Shopping

This doesn’t have to be shopping with an actual intent to purchase something.

Instead, you can do what Koreans call “아이쇼핑” (window shopping).

Grab your date, and head out to the popular shopping area in your area. Spend your time enjoying each other’s company while you stroll form shop to shop seeing what what new items are out. Mix in an hour or two chatting at a cafe, and the Korean date experience will be complete!

Top 5 Seoul Korean Date Ideas

1. Namsan Tower

Seoul Namsan Tower in Korea

Seoul Namsan Tower in Korea

Also known as N Seoul Tower, this landmark is one of the major tourist attractions in Korea. This 236 meter (777 ft) tower was built in 1969 and is located in the heart of the city.

Attractions include riding up in a cable car, getting a great view of the entire city, and passing through the Teddy Bear Museum!

Most importantly, you can visit the “Locks Of Love” area to show your affection in padlock form.

Add your lock to the tens of thousands of couples who have done the same to symbolize their eternal love.


2. Samcheong-dong

Samcheong-dong is a popular and trendy neighborhood in the center of Seoul. Located next to the well-known tourist area of Insadong, it’s quickly becoming one of the most famous places to visit in Korea.

Lots of small boutique shops, art galleries, and unique cafes are tucked away in the narrow streets in this quaint area of the big city. Grab your date and head to Samcheong-dong during the day to enjoy unique atmosphere of the area.

3. Myeongdong

Myeongdong is one of the major shopping spots in Seoul, and for good reason. It’s jam-packed with almost any store you can think of, so you’ll likely be able to get all your shopping done in one visit.

Korean shopping date in Myeongdong

Lots of people are on their Korean style dates!

Plus there is plenty to do! You can stop by the Seoul Global Cultural Center to get pictures taken in Hanbok (Korean traditional style clothing).  For lunch, make sure you chow down on kalguksu, a tasty soft noodle soup with dumplings. Stop by the famous Kyoja restaurant to get the real deal. 

4. Han River

The Han River is large body of water that separates the northern part of Seoul from the southern part. All along the river are various parks, restaurants, and cafes, which are great places to take a date.

The Han River is especially popular in the evening, where you can take a stroll along the riverside while enjoying the romantic view of the cityscape at night.

Han River in Seoul Korea

A late night stroll by the Han River

5. Cheonggyecheon Stream

Cheonggyecheon is a large stream in the center of the Seoul that has been converted to a modern public recreation area. It’s a fantastic place to take a walk, especially in the evening when the bustle of the city has slowed down.  

Cheonggyecheon in Seoul Korea

A quiet evening near the Cheonggyecheon Stream


What are your favorite Korean date ideas? 

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Hakrim Dabang: Seoul's Original Cafe

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Although there aren't any statistics to back this up, I assume that Seoul, South Korea has a bigger concentration of cafes than any other city in the world. Which is pretty impressive, considering that coffee was practically unknown until the late Joseon dynasty in the early 1900s. Even then, coffee shops, or dabang as they were referred to, were few and far between, with Seoul's coffee culture only developing into what it is today in the 2000s.

The early dabang (다방), unlike the franchises and themed cafes of today, were small gathering places where the young would hang out to listen to music, spend some time with a date, or look for a new significant other. Some dabang had sketchier reputations, and were places men could call to have coffee delivered to their homes, complete with a pretty female server. I'll let you figure things out from there.

These days, traditional dabang are fairly difficult to find in Seoul, as most have been replaced by bigger (and in the eyes of young Koreans, more stylish) chains. Yet there's one little gem that has stood the test of time and whose doors have remained open to this day.

Hakrim Dabang is nestled in the theater district of Hyehwa and is one of Seoul's oldest, opened in 1956. In its early days, Korea’s students struggling for democracy used to discuss philosophy, literature and art at this very place.

If I had to guess, I'd say that not much has changed since its opening, as every detail of the cafe seems to possess the spirit of earlier times. A collection of browning vinyl records sit neatly organized under a vintage speaker. Wrinkled black and white portraits of composers and musicians overlook wooden booths and shelves of vintage photography books. And the walls, with chipping paint and an occasional love note scribble, threaten to confess every secret of the cafe's former visitors.

Patrons of all ages, from the very young to the very, very old, chat and sip their beverages, which are far more enjoyable, no doubt, than the instant coffee once served in institutions like Hakrim. In addition to having their own house blend (which starts at ₩4,500 a cup), the dabang also offers lemonade, a nice selection of teas and even cocktails. Their homemade cream cheese cake (₩5,000) is also a popular item.

Hakrim Dabang's nostalgic atmosphere has made it a popular filming location. K-dramas The Heirs and My Love from the Star have both had scenes set in the cafe and as such, the cafe has become pretty popular with tourists and locals alike, and stays quite busy throughout the weekend. Still, nothing feels touristy about this place. In fact, an afternoon spent here sipping coffee and taking in the mellow sounds of classical music makes one feel as if he or she has traveled back in time a bit, back to a day when things were slower and simpler.

A scene from My Love from the Star, shot in Hakrim Dabang. (Photo: SBS)

As Korea's coffee culture continues to evolve and entrepreneurs are forced to think outside the box to create innovative cafe spaces and coffee beverages, Hakrim Dabang will remain a reminder of the beginning of it all, and a place to relive the memories and times of the past.

More Information: Hakrim Dabang

Address: 94-2 Myeongryoon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul

Hours: Daily 10am-Midnight

Phone: 02-742-2877

Website: Click Here

How to Get There: From exit 3 of Hyehwa Station (Seoul Subway Line 4), turn 180 degrees and walk straight for a few minutes. Hakrim Dabang will be on the left.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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Seoul on Pinterest


D for doodles

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Doodles to brighten up the day!

Red Doodles for the sun
Sun in red doodles

Doodles for the Valentine's Day
For the valentine's day coming up!

Flower doodles
Just a flower doodle

doodles in black
Just a doode done on a cold foggy day

D for Doodles for ABC Wednesday

Sammaksa Temple/Sangbulam Hermitage – 삼막사/상불암 (Mt. Samseongsan, Anyang, Gyeonggi-do)

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Sammaksa Temple

Hello, everyone!

Giuseppe back, with my third temple and yet another mountaintop temple. This time, Sammaksa Temple, “Three Curtain Temple,” near the peak of Mt. Samseongsan, “Three Saint Mountain.”

Sammaksa Temple was first established in 677 during the Silla Dynasty as a small hermitage by the great monk Wonhyo. If this sounds familiar, it’s the same year that Uisang established what is now Yeonjuam Hermitage, just across the narrow valley, on Mt. Gwanaksan. The mountain is actually named after Wonhyo, Uisang, and Yeonpil, “three saints” who spent time here. It’s a well-known fact that Wonhyo and Uisang were close friends and travel companions, but I was not able to find any information at all about the monk Yeonpil, other then he was at the mountain. I don’t know if he was there with Wonhyo and Uisang or came at a later date. Other prominent monks who spent time at the temple during its history were Doseon-guksa, Seosan-daesa, and Muhak-daesa.

Snaking up the mountain road, with a few dramatic glimpses of the granite peaks, you arrive at the temple, which sits high up on a granite brick terrace. A steep set of stairs brings you up between the bell pavilion and the Jijang-jeon, into a tightly compact courtyard. An interesting floral pattern “mural” sits in the center of the courtyard. Straight and to the immediate left upon entering the courtyard is the Myeongbu-jeon, Cultural Property of Gyeonggi-do No. 60, housing the ten Yamas of the underworld, including Ksitigarbha (Jijang-bosal).

Front and center is the Yuk Gwaneum-jeon, the Six Gwaneum Hall, in which are enshrined, you guessed it, seven Gwaneum statues (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). No, six, but I accidentally typed seven and thought I’d make a bad joke about it… ;) There actually isn’t a main hall at this temple, but the Yuk Gwaneum-jeon serves as the main hall. The temple was formerly known as Gwaneumsa Temple but was changed to Sammaksa Temple after the Joseon Dynasty renovations and the temple was said to resemble a Chinese temple name Sammaksa Temple. I was extremely impressed by the six statues. There isn’t anything specifically impressive about their features or artistry, but as a whole, and just their overall impression, is remarkable. Lined up along the long shrine, from right to left, are Yeoui Gwaneum (The Wish Fulfilling Avalokitesvara), Sibil Myeon Gwaneum (The Eleven Faced Avalokitesvara), Junjae Gwaneum (The Cundi Avalokitesvara), Cheonsu Cheonah Gwaneum (The 1000 Hands and 1000 Eyes Avalokitesvara), Seong Gwaneum (The Sacred Avalokitesvara), and Madu Gwaneum (The Horse Headed Avalokitesvara). I was especially drawn to the ones on the opposite ends, Yeoui and Madu, which also had opposing demeanors. The Yeoui Gwaneum sits relaxed, calmly posed, leaning an arm on her raised knee with her face equally calm and relaxed. The Madu Gwaneum is fierce, with a vicious expression. A small golden horse kneels at the front of Madu’s crown.

Passed the office building to the right is the Cheonbul-jeon, Thousand Buddha Hall. The statues inside weren’t of much interest, including the main trio, with a central Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). The only thing of note at all is that there were a thousand of them.

Up behind the Cheonbul-jeon, at the edge of a large, flat granite stone, is an old three-storey stone pagoda, Gyeonggi-do Tangible Cultural property No. 112, erected to commemorate victory over an invading Mongol army during the early 1200’s. Kim Yunhu, priest of the temple, let an arrow fly from an impossible distance and managed to drop the Mongol general dead in his tracks. As he fell from his horse, as if by a magical arrow, his army took it as an omen and they immediately turned back. If you’re at all like me, you may find it strange that a monk would take a life and stranger still that it would be celebrated; but if you consider the evil intentions of the Mongol invaders, taking the generals life certainly averted a whole mess of death and suffering. Needless to say, they weren’t dropping by for tea and scones!

Though the small complex is worth the visit on its own, following the trail that leads further up the mountain is where things get a little more interesting. The trail, starting just beside the Cheonbul-jeon, ultimately leads to the Samjon-bul. But taking a quick detour around a large traditional house leads to the Sanshin-gak, Mountain Spirit Shrine, carved into a large granite face. There is no roof or building covering it, just open along the mountain, it has a nice appeal. Looping back down to the main trail, there is one of the most interesting carvings on another granite formation. At first, I thought it was some sort of physics symbols, but after asking around, I discovered that it was actually three symbols representing a turtle. From right to left, the first is the Chinese character for turtle, the second is the ancient Chinese Oracle bone symbol, and the third is a combination of the two. Once I knew it was a turtle, it seemed pretty obvious!

Continuing another few minutes along the well constructed path, you arrive at the Samjon-bul, but the first thing you encounter are two prominent stones protruding from the edge of the slope. They are Nam Yeo Geun Seok, Male and Female Gender Stones, as they are said to resemble male and female genitals. They have been worshiped for thousands of years as fertility stones. People came from all across the country to make offers and pray for a safe delivery, long life and health for their child, and to have a son. The male stone, other than being certainly erect, is sort of, “Okay, if you say so…”, but the female stone, on the other hand… well that one is quite convincing! They are Folklore Cultural Treasures of Gyeonggi-do No. 3.

Beside the fertility stones, at last, we arrive at the Samjon-bul, a granite relief carving of Chilseong, the Big Dipper. The large, central figure is Chilseong Guang-yeorae-bul, accompanied by Ilgwang-bosal on the left and Wolgwang-bosal on the right, the Sun and Moon Bodhisattvas, respectively. It was made in 1763 and is Tangible Cultural Treasure of Gyeonggi-do No. 94. Originally an open shrine, it is now protected by a small but elegant structure, built on stilts. There were eight people crammed in it when I first arrived, and I have no idea how they were able to do their bows as when I came back later with just two other people it still felt crammed, but cozy. Looking at their noses, you can see that they’ve been damaged, and though this is often a sign of vandalism, it is (at least was) common belief in Korea that grinding down and consuming the noses of stone statues will lead to conceiving a son.

Now, you can return to the main complex or, as it was recommended by a friend who lives nearby, you can continue up the trail, about 400 meters, and over the ridge to just below the peak where sits Sangbulam Hermitage, a small hermitage with a cave shrine at the rear of the Daeung-jeon, Main Hall. There are great views of Anyang city down below and the surrounding mountains. I’m glad I made the effort for these reasons, but the true gem was the Samseong-gak, Three Spirit Shrine, that had stunning paintings of Sanshin (the Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (the Big Dipper), and Dokseong, (The Lonely Saint). The paintings are rendered with incredible detail and artistry and have a very interesting earth tone color scheme, opposed to the usual bright, colorful paintings you typically find. Even if temple paintings don’t usually interest you, these are works of art worth seeing.

Back at Sammaksa Temple, they were serving a simple bowl of noodle soup and kimchi and it amazed me that there were no more than a dozen people all morning in the halls but I counted at least 300 people lined up for lunch!

HOW TO GET THERE: First, take the Line 1 subway to Gwanak Station, one stop before Anyang if you’re Suwon bound. From exit 2, continue straight to the main road, cross, and find the bus stop for the 6-2  bus which will bring you to Gyeongin University of Education, the last stop. From there it’s about a 30-40 minute walk, at a good pace, following the paved road all the way up to the temple. There is also a hiking trail that turns off from the paved road not too far along after the parking lot. I haven’t taken it, so I can not comment further.

The easy way is if you can catch the temple shuttle bus directly across from Hanmaum Seonwon. The first shuttle leaves at 8:30 a.m. and is scheduled to depart about every 30 minutes in the morning and a few more times into the afternoon; but I found the schedule to be rather unreliable (at least after 8:30 a.m.). The shuttle is for temple-goers, not hikers, so you may have to tell them you are visiting the temple. The shuttle costs 1,000 won and fills up quickly. To find Hanmaum, again, leave exit 2, walk to the main road and cross (carefully!) at the large intersection. If you can’t see the massive Seon center, with the unique seven-sphere pagoda on the roof, you either plain well can’t see or it’s the worst yellow dust storm in history, and you shouldn’t be out in it, anyway! ;) The shuttle is a white van and the sign is just down from the intersection. Keep an eye out and you can’t miss it.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Sammaksa Temple itself is not overly spectacular but does offer some objects of interest as well as a long history with great monks having stayed here. The setting is beautiful and the fertility stones along with the Samjon-bul give the temple something special to see while there.

Sangbulam Hermitage, I give a 4.5/10. As far as hermitages go, it’s a good one, but it is still a hermitage. Their value is mostly beyond what you’d experience as a visitor. Most of it’s rating is for the main hall cave and the Samseong paintings. Great view, too!

Sammaksa Temple photos!


Yuk Gwaneum-jeon

Yuk Gwaneum-jeon to the left, office on the right and Cheonbul-jeon in the far center.

Side of Yuk Gwaneum-jeon and Myeongbu-jeon on the left.

The three-story stone pagoda



turtle, turtle, turtle

The path to the Samjon-bul and the Nam Yeo Geun Seok

A small Yongwang-gak, Dragon King Shrine, on the way to Sangbulam Hermitage

Sangbulam Hermitage photos

The Sanshin-gak

Sanshin, Chilseong, and Dokseong

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The view over Anyang valley

Back at Sammaksa Temple:

Day hikers lining up for lunch

slurp, slurp, slurp…

Firing up the noodles

The post Sammaksa Temple/Sangbulam Hermitage – 삼막사/상불암 (Mt. Samseongsan, Anyang, Gyeonggi-do) appeared first on Dale's Korean Temple Adventures.

Invading North Korea is a Really, Really Bad Idea

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The idea of invading North Korea comes up now and again. Usually this is quickly dismissed as hugely risky, naïve, and so on. But the idea does keep recurring and there is an underlying moral attraction to stomping on North Korea. NK is just about the worst place on earth, barring perhaps the ISIS statelet emerging in the Middle East.

So I took this opportunity to sketch out a more detailed rebuttal than the usual ‘this is crazily dangerous’ response. I lay out 6 reasons, probably the most important of which is that South Korea, which will carry most of the costs of a NK collapse, is strongly opposed to preemptive attack. More generally, I continue to be amazed at how blithely neocons and liberal internationalists recommend the American use of force all over the place. Iraq (and Libya and Afghanistan) haven’t made it obvious how risky regime change decapitations are?

This essay was motivated by this original argument for an invasion by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry. Should Gobry read this response, please note: ‘I did notice that you blocked my access to your twitter account. My apologies if this response came off as harsh or inappropriate. That was not my intention. Contact me if you like.’

This essay was originally picked up by the Lowy Institute and, I was pleased to see, reprinted by the National Interest. It begins after the jump:



Earlier this month, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry argued for a US invasion of North Korea. Thankfully, the general response has been quite negative (here, here, here). Invading North Korea is a terrible idea, and it is worth laying out why in some detail. I do not intend this as a particular shot against Gobry – I do not know him personally – but rather against this general idea, as it comes up now and then.

In 1994, the Clinton administration came quick close to a massive air campaign against the North (well-discussed here). Then in the first term of President George W. Bush, regime change was the watchword, and North Korea was on the axis of evil. If the Iraq invasion had worked out, it appears that other states were on the Bush hit list. Neoconservatives (neocons) love to loathe North Korea.

I should note however, that in my seven years working in Korea on Korean security issues, I have never heard a reputable Korean analyst argue for preemptive attack in an op-ed, at a conference, on TV, and so on. Nor have any of my hundreds of students over the years argued for this. This is a western debate that has little resonance on the people who would mostly carry the costs – already a big problem for Gobry’s argument.

1. Moral Revulsion is Not Enough

Gobry, and President Bush who placed North Kore on the axis of evil, both share an admirably strong moral revulsion of North Korea which motivates their hawkishness. Certainly that revulsion is warranted. There is little dispute that North Korea is the worst country on earth – although perhaps the emerging ISIS statelet is giving it a run for its money. The moral argument against North Korea became clear as early as the 1950s, when Kim Il Sung solidified control of the North and turned it into a cult of personality so servile and vicious scholars began using the neologism ‘Kimilsungism’ to describe it.

But there are of course many nasty, awful dictatorships. Perhaps none as awful as North Korea, but certainly huge numbers of people have suffered in many other states, both powerful and weak. Mao’s China comes to mind, as does Cambodia under Pol Pot, or Zimbabwe and Syria-ISIS today.

For a brief moment under George W Bush, after his second inaugural address, it looked as if ‘promoting freedom around the world’ might actually become US foreign policy, thereby justifying widespread global pre-emption. But that was always wildly impractical, and the American public rejected it immediately. And if there is anything we have learned from offensive regime change in places like Iraq and Libya, it is that the unintended consequences and future bloodletting can be extreme.

2. South Koreans really, really don’t want to Invade North Korea

Much of the western debate on North Korea assumes that South Korea will simply go along with whatever decisions emerge from Washington. I thought the same before I moved to Korea. Like many, I figured that the ROK was a democratic ally standing ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ with the US for freedom and democracy, and all that. But South Korean foreign policy is far more realist than that. I have been arguing for a long time that South Koreans are not neocons and that they really don’t want to up-end the status quo if it will be hugely costly.

Polls in South Korea have shown for years that South Koreans fear the costs of unification, increasingly don’t see North Koreans as a fellow people (for whom they should make a huge sacrifice), don’t think that North Korea is a huge threat, dislike Japan almost as much as, if not more than, North Korea, dislike conscription, worry a lot that the US might do something rash and provoke a war, and so on. Neocons like Gobry may see this as a moral failing – South Koreans slacking on the defense of democracy and their historic responsibility to end the world’s worst tyranny. (And I will admit myself that I think South Koreans need to step-up more on this.) But that is ultimately for South Koreans to decide. Far more South Koreans would like to see the two Koreas slowly grow together after North Korea has changed on its own (for example, by a coup, Chinese pressure, or internal breakdown). There are lots of hawks in South Korea (try here and here), but not even the most extreme argue for a preemptive invasion of North Korea.

3. North Korea has nuclear weapons

If the first two reasons are a little soft, this one strikes me as a show-stopper. The United States has never fought a sustained conflict against a nuclear power. Indeed, the very reason North Korea built nuclear weapons was to deter US offensive action. It is hardly a leap of logic to think that the North would launch once US ground forces arrived on its territory. Gobry assumes, far too blithely, that the US could find all the missiles and hit them before they launch. That is a helluva gamble, and certainly not one that South Korea or Japan, the likely targets, want to make. At the very least, we cannot go over the heads of Seoul and Tokyo if we choose to seriously strike the North.

4. The (North) Korean People’s Army would probably fight

This is a tricky debate, because we have no good opinion data on KPA morale. We guess at readiness based on drills and the ferociously-looking marches through Kim Il Sung Square and so on. But we really do not know.

The neocon position in such situations is to again assume the best – that rogue state armies are paper tigers and would collapse quickly. Certainly the Iraqis did in 1991 and 2003. And I would agree that KPA would suffer revolts if pushed into an offensive against the South. But a US invasion would justify all the propaganda Northern soldiers have heard for decades. Overnight they would go from a conscript army used primarily as slave labor on construction projects to defenders of the nation against a long-foretold invasion.

The nationalist interpretation of US preemption would be the easiest interpretive frame. Do we really have any sense that the US army would be ‘greeted as liberators’? That is yet another huge gamble, because if we are wrong, it is a war against a state where almost every able-bodied male has extensive military training. Even in Iraq, the insurgency showed how tenacious third world nationalism is and how easy it is for such feelings to ignite when faced with armed foreigners, however noble their intentions.

5. The People’s Liberation Army might Fight too

A US invasion would also justify every hawk in China. It would set US-Chinese relations back by decades, and almost certainly push the US and China into a larger, violent, heavily militarized cold war throughout Asia. Neocons who loathe China’s repressive oligarchy might not care, but post-Iraq, that frightening insouciance about the world’s second largest economy would almost certainly be a minority opinion in the West, and definitely would be among America’s Asian allies who would carry most of the costs of militarized Sino-US competition.

Indeed, if the US invasion spun out of control – which is easy to envision given the North’s nuclear weapons and the size of the KPA – China (and Japan) could easily get chain-ganged in. China went to war in 1950 to keep the Americans off the Yalu, and that was a war the North stated. If the US were to invade, America would suddenly look like an aggressive, aggrandizing power. It would be easy to see the PLA fight once again for essentially the same reasons.

6. Reconstruction would fall to the US

Here is yet another Iraq lesson neocons seem blind to. When regimes like Libya or North Korea are decapitated, something new needs to be put in place. Gobry’s assumption is simply that South Korea would absorb ex-North Korea. And it probably would in more traditional collapse scenarios. But if the US were to pro-actively invade North Korea, it would be easy to see Southern and global opinion arguing that this is yet another mess made by belligerent Washington that it should clean up. And there is also the potential for a nasty insurgency by Kimist dead-enders, a point Gobry does not even consider.

Neocons really need to learn a few lessons from Iraq and the war on terror about the use of American force.

Filed under: Korea (North), Korea (South), Neocon, United States

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University


Queer Links from the Week: Seoul District court ruled cancelling of military exemption illegal, homosexuals destroying the constitution?

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In regards to a transsexual who had not undergone surgery but was given exemption from military service, the Seoul District court ruled that cancellation of military exemption is illegal. However, this also falls under the jurisprudence of the military law, so way beyond my Korean language/law abilities.

There is a great article on being queer in North Korea over NK News. Something we don't get to hear about much.

For the news from the Christian front, we get a nice article titled 'Homosexuals, destroying the constitution and bringing a sense of crisis to the country and our families' from Christian Today. The article is just information about last week's seminar titled "If we allow homosexuals , what problems will arise in our society?" I don't know whether to laugh or cry....

Of course, there are also cooler Christians like the brave Hyeong-tae who wrote about being a gay Christian over at Media Today.

In pop culture, Si-woo Lee talks about his role in the Korean drama Liar Game and how he likes difficult roles, particularly referring to his gay character in the short film I'm Horny Now (how did I not hear about this movie?)

Jeon Su-gyeong, an actress in La Cage Aux Folles, talked about how if her daughter wanted to marry a man who had gay parents she would agree to it... I guess that is progressive?

Kim Dong-wan from Korean band Shinhwa uploaded a picture for his role in Hedwig with netizens oozing about his many talents.

In response to his reputation about being incompetent in terms of dating, Kim Jong-kook mentioned on Healing Camp that there were rumors running around that he was gay. He does kind of have gay face...

How is a gear shift like a grammar point?

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Next month, I will buy my first car. While this is an exciting and very grownup-feeling thing to do, it's also a bit terrifying, for a variety of reasons. Not only will this be the most money I've ever spent in one go, but my future 2005 Chevy Kalos has...a manual transmission.

So, I recently started learning to drive stick. We started simple, in one of the few traditional student driver locations: a semi-abandoned parking lot.  On the way there the friend I'm buying the car from gave me the basic walk-through. This is the clutch, this is when you should shift, that's the noise you don't want to hear, etc. I'd also been given plenty of advice from friends and family, so I felt...entirely unprepared and marginally terrified. 

After posting about my learning attempts, I got a few interesting comments that kinda got me thinking. Wayne mentioned that he"can drive stick, but only in theory. I read a book. watched a how-to, and then had a friend explain it. I can explain it using a ski-hill analogy. But I feel I'm not ready to get behind the wheel yet..." which led to Harry's counter that "Reading the theory of motoring skill is like reading the theory of how to walk like a human. It's very hard in theory you know". 

This got me thinking. Yes, learning to drive stick is tricky, but since I'm already comfortable with the fundamentals of driving (turning, braking, signaling, running down annoying pedestrians, changing lanes, etc) it's not nearly as stressful or difficult as it would be if I were learning how to shift and use the clutch on top of literally everything else it takes to make a car (safely) go forward and backward.

Then, not unlike a car in neutral on a gentle slope, my thinking kept rolling forward until it bumped into something that I didn't expect to connect with: language learning.

Okay, stay with me here. We've got a pretty long extended metaphor coming up. Learning a language is like learning how to drive a car. There are a few different ways to start, everyone learns at a different time and at a different pace, and if you do it wrong you can kill hundreds of people. Wait, I think one of those only applies to driving...

We just hit 3 children!

There are two main ways to start learning to drive. On the one hand, you can start out by learning the theory. You can study the way an engine works, memorize every road sign and traffic law, Hell, maybe by the end of this surprisingly intensive theoretical driving class you'll be able to take a car apart and put it back together. But what you can't do is drive.

On the other hand, you can go about driving instruction in the style of my dad, by which I mean, force your daughter to drive a scary old van with a malfunctioning speedometer on a winding road over a mountain pass in the thick fog. That was one of the first times I drove. I later went on to take a class that taught me the theory, but I know plenty of people who never took a class and just learned by doing. 

Isn't language learning the same? There are two main learner types: the "I have to learn this crap in school" and "Oh crap I'm in a foreign country help". 

Too many, and by too many I mean nearly all of my students, fall into that first category. I've seen middle school English word lists with stuff like "incomprehensible" and "pretentious" on them, while the students memorizing those words can barely put together a full spoken sentence. They know grammar better than I do, but even a simple question posed, "What did you do yesterday?", poses a serious challenge. They know how a combustion engine works but they're stalling the car every 5 seconds. They know the rules of the road but they're too afraid to start the engine. You get the idea.

On the other hand, you have learners like, Before coming to Korea I knew a few basic phrases and the alphabet, but I mostly learned by doing. If I wanted to eat, go places, make friends, I had to speak Korean. I made a lot of mistakes, I still make a lot of mistakes. But slowly I'm learning the theory that corrals my Korean into a safer version of the chaos I started with. Even if you learn by doing, eventually you have to learn the rules, at least if you plan to drive and/or talk with other people.

I can't say if one way or the other is better, since grammar is important and so is speaking; hopefully both paths will eventually lead to a balance. Knowing the rules of the road is just as important as knowing how to start and stop a car.

Before I wrap this up I want to circle back to what originally got me started on this train of thought. As you know, I'm learning to drive stick after a few years of experience driving only automatic. Before getting in the car, the whole thing sounded scary and complicated and horrible. However, once I got going, it was...surprisingly easy. Sure, it's a new set of things to think about and muscle memory that I don't yet have, but since I already know how to juggle the basics of driving, adding one more ball wasn't the disaster I'd predicted it would be.

I had to find someone worse at changing gears than me.

I know a shower is the traditional place for sudden realizations and epiphanies (wait, it's not?), but this one hit me on the way to the bank: this is the exact situation my students are in. Stay with me here. I'm coming into a classroom and trying to teach them how to drive stick, but I have no idea how much previous driving experience they have.

For example, let's say that stick shift is the equivalent of a new sentence structure; let's use "Have you___?" as our sample sentence. For the students who already have some driving experience, aka they can form sentences and know the alphabet and a decent collection of useful vocab, adding this new form onto that, while tricky, shouldn't be too awfully difficult. They know the verb "to eat" so learning "have eaten" is manageable. On the other hand, if this is the first time they're sitting in a car, well...things aren't gonna go so well. Trying to explain "eat" vs "eaten" to someone who only knows half of the alphabet is an uphill battle. Can you imagine someone trying to teach you how to shift when you don't even know what a steering wheel does?

I wish I was exaggerating, but I've had 2nd and 3rd year middle school students who don't know the alphabet, sitting next to students who lived abroad and probably speak English better than I do. So I guess this big revelation reminded me to pay attention to where my students are, to remember that it's pointless trying to force them to learn the complicated stuff before they know the foundation. It's hard to manage in 45 minutes with classes of 35 students, but I don't think that's an excuse to not try.

If you have any tips, I'm always open to help. Unless it's backseat driving, or you want to change my music. If you want to play your own music, buy your own car!

Teacher Pretty
Middle school ESL teacher, lover of pink, eater of kimchi, addicted to Etude House, expert procrastinator, meeter of 2-dimensionial popstars: Ana. That's me.

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Saved By Island Kids in the Philippines

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Between El Nido and Coron: Tao Expeditions

Chapter 7: Saved by Island Kids

I dreamt of being ushered to islands seldom seen or explored.

I longed for the best of heaven — turquoise glowing water evenly kissed by the sun, silk to touch and rapture to be enveloped by.

I was here, the pinnacle of my four years living abroad, and it was a disappointment.

In paradise, bad weather makes everything look normal, even mundane. Paradise is an illusion. We merely deify great days in far away places, satiated by ignorance.

Being marooned in the same place with chilly rain and little cover for three days was never part of my plan.

We were behind schedule. No longer could we enjoy the best of what lay between El Nido and Coron. It would be a mad rush to reach Coron by the end of the trip with a few convenient stops along the way in an attempt to salvage the journey. Four days became two days, and those two days substantially dropped in quality.

Out of desperation, we left the Tao Center to settle fifteen minutes away at a nearby fishing village. The violent waves of the typhoon forbid further travel. Happy New Years.

A small fishing village of twenty-five families existed behind our new camp. Tao Expeditions bought the land instead of developers to protect the village. They spent years cleaning and restoring the beach. Prior to our arriving, several expeditions must have visited the village because the kids were well-versed in gangster signs for photographs — the beauty of cultural exchange.

Nevertheless, the village was my favorite part of the trip. Until then, I felt discontent. The reality of paradise fell short of my expectations, but the children saved me.

They had rotting teeth, but big smiles; simple toys, but abundant laughter; a small world, yet many friends. These children were happy, even in the middle of a storm. 

Maybe discontent grows with age. Maybe discontent grows when we realize others have something we do not. Maybe misery evolves with age because our experiences in the universe fall short of our child-like expectations of how the universe should be.

Whatever corrodes people with age was absent in these island kids. They could rise above a storm by playing in the sand.

It was time to put up my camera and play in the sand, too.


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