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Coconut Rum Mini Cakes

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I don’t like making pastry. Well, I didn’t like making pastry. Now, I feel mostly neutral about it. That’s because I’ve made a concerted effort over the past few months to overcome a lifelong aversion to it via self-inflicted exposure therapy. There have been a lot of things that have helped me get to a place of casual coexistence with the finicky dough (not least of which being a flurry of consolatory messages sent back and forth across the ocean with my comrade in arms in the battle of flakiness, Stepho Snacks), but that’s for another post.

The point is, I put myself on a cake ban until I got the business down.


Coconut Rum Mini-cakes (2 of 9)


But last week I was not feeling so hot — something somewhere in between the blues and the angry reds, I guess. This summer’s eternal heatwave had yet to break, and it felt like that was it — we all just lived in a cloud of humidity located two miles from the surface of the sun forever.

I went to the flower market in the morning, daring the heat to get the better of me. When I got home, I just wanted to bake. Not hard bake, not the kind of baking where you concentrate and learn, but the kind that you’ve done so many times that it’s become a routine, a way to let your hands take over while your mind wanders.


Coconut Rum Mini-cakes (5 of 9)


I rifled through the cabinets and came out holding a can of coconut milk. My grams used to make a beautiful coconut cake every easter and sometimes even for her own birthday. It’s not the kind of cake I crave very often, but 35 degrees and climbing is not exactly the time or the place for double Dutch cocoa. I may be stuck in the sweltering city, but concrete dwellers have just as much a right to coconut and rum as any tawny beach bum.


Coconut Rum Mini-cakes (4 of 9)


For the base, I modified a recipe from The Violet Bakery Cookbook, a heavenly chiffon sponge that would soak up the coconut milk and rum and still remain light and airy. There was something a bit tres leches about the result. I used white rum, as its what I had on hand, but I think dark rum would be even better.


Coconut Rum Mini-cakes (3 of 9)


The soak is also behind the mini-cake form — you can’t soak cupcakes like you can a sheet cake. As has already been well documented on this blog, I am partial to less sweet desserts, which means I have a slight aversion to frosting. B gobbled up the mini cakes, while I mostly stuck to the unfrosted scraps, which were, in my opinion, perfect, if less visually attractive.


Coconut Rum Mini-cakes (8 of 9)


Now we’re having a bit of a summer revival after a treacherous respite, but the worst of it is over. My favorite baking season is approaching, but it’s not too late for a little summery cake. Gather ye coconuts while ye may, kids.

(As a sidenote, I hope the site redesign isn’t causing too much trouble. It’s going to make it vastly easier for me to organize the site, and I hope it will also make it easier for you to navigate in the long run. I also need to embed a bit of code here for Bloglovin, which will tell you to follow me on Bloglovin — you don’t really have to follow me on Bloglovin. It’s just what the code says. Of course, you can if you want to!)


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Coconut Rum Mini Cakes

Coconut Rum Mini Cakes


    Chiffon Sponge Cake
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 c white sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 5 egg whites
  • Coconut Rum Soak
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup white or dark rum
  • 3 tablespoons dark or muscovado sugar
  • Coconut Frosting
  • 4 tablespoons full-fat coconut milk, chilled
  • 1 teaspoon white rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar
  • coconut shavings for topping


  1. Grease a 9"x13" cake pan and preheat the oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F).
  2. Sift together the flour and baking powder in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix half of the sugar, the salt, the vegetable oil, the egg yolks, the water, the vanilla and the nutmeg until creamy and light in color. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until well combined.
  3. In another large bowl, mix the egg whites and the sugar until stiff peaks form. Stir about a third of the egg whites into the cake batter and then fold in the rest, careful not to over-stir as it will deflate the whites and cause the cake to fall.
  4. Pour the mixture into the cake pan and smooth over with a spatula. Bake until the cake is golden brown and bounces back when pressed with the finger.
  5. For the soak, heat the coconut milk and sugar over medium heat in a sauce pan until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the rum and set aside to cool slightly. When both the soak and the cake have cooled to just warm to the touch, pierce the cake all over with a skewer or toothpick. Drizzle the soak over the top and leave on the counter to soak.
  6. To make the frosting, stir together the coconut milk, rum and vanilla. In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to soften the butter. Slowly add the chilled coconut milk to the butter while mixing on high. When the mixture comes together, sprinkle in the salt and begin adding the powdered sugar a cup at a time until the frosting is the consistency and sweetness you prefer.
  7. Use a round cookie cutter or mold to cut circles out of the sheet cake. Layer the cake circles together with the frosting, frost the tops and sprinkle with the shredded coconut. These cakes are best eaten right away but can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days.

The post Coconut Rum Mini Cakes appeared first on Follow the River North.

Follow the River North

Freelance writer and editor. American in Seoul. I write about Korean food. I blog about all food. Last year I wrote a monthly column about traveling to different places around the country to explore Korean ingredients and cuisine. This ignited my interest in local foods and cooking, which I blog about regularly now. I also blog restaurant and cafe recommendations, recipes and some background and history about Korean food.

Books & Stuff    Cafés & Shops     Korean Food & Ingredients      Personal     Recipes       Restaurants & Bars

Are Korean and Japanese related languages?

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Anyone who's studied a little bit of Korean and a little bit of Japanese might tell you, "Korean and Japanese seem so similar!"

After all, many of the words can sound similar to each other. For example, the Korean word for "promise" is 약속 ("yak-sok") and the Japanese word is 約束 ("yaku-soku"). And there are thousands of more words that sound similar between the two languages.

In addition, lots of the grammar seems similar (such as particles). For example, the Korean particle 에 ("e") can mean "to" a location, and the Japanese particle へ ("e") can also mean "to" a location.

There seems to be so many similarities, but are the languages truly related? Find out in this week's new special episode right here!

Feel free to send in your own questions and they might be featured in an upcoming video.

The post Are Korean and Japanese related languages? appeared first on Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean.

 Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean





Why Do You Go Away? So You Can Come Back

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Well, I've been there and back again as Tolkien would put it, and with the customary chests of gold to prove it, so long as chests can be suitcases and gold can consist of quinoa, clothing, candles, and many other things that don't start with /k/, if you can believe it. Allow me my alliteration, alright?

Anyway (sorry, sorry, I promise I'll stop), I've been back from vacation for about three weeks, which means I finally have the energy and presence of mind to write about, well, anything. Jetlag is rough, kids. Add that to the horrendously hot weather, and my sleep has been, in a word, crappy.

Each trip home has been weird in a different way. The first year it was mostly exciting and a bit surreal. My life in Korea started to feel like a dream, and I was surprised upon coming back to find everything exactly where I'd left it. My second visit was just odd and stressful and unsettled- I feel like I never really got my balance. And this year?

This year was the first time I felt any strong desire to move back home. I met my friends, and saw the lives they were living, and for a moment I thought...this could be me. Do I want this to be me?

I've been in Korea long enough now that a lot of the great things have become invisible, which puts the negative things up in sharp contrast. Some things are specific to Korea, while others are things that come with living in a country where you don't speak the language fluently. It's dumb, but the the Korea-specific complaint that I always go back to is bars. I used to love just popping into a local place around 5 or 6 PM, not to get drunk, but to sip on a drink at the bar and write or meet people. One time I talked for an hour with a guy who owned a company that cleaned up houses of hoarders or after a dead body wasn't found for a long time. Gross but fascinating.

It's also much harder to make friends and develop relationships, partially because of cultural differences, but also because of the language barrier. I wouldn't say it's necessarily difficult, but it's certainly more of a challenge. That's probably one of the biggest lures of moving back to Seattle or the US. Not only do I have a preexisting collection of friends, I know the rules of social engagement much better. 

However, for every positive outcome I could get by moving back the US, there is an equal and opposite negative outcome. Whenever I imagine moving, I forget that I won't be able to bring my well-paying job and rent-free living situation with me. I'd have to deal with the horrible US healthcare situation again. I'd go back to cat-calling and gun violence and an inability to afford an apartment of my own. That's a big one, I must admit. Living alone is a gift I'm not sure I'm willing to part with just yet.

I'm lucky to have the job that I have, to be able to support myself at 26, debt-free, with the ability to travel on my own dime, and not have to stress about the bill at a fancy restaurant most of the time. Any time I start to complain, I try to remind myself of that. Not in a "there are STARVING CHILDREN in [insert stereotypical poor country] so EAT your green beans for crissakes" but in a more...count your blessings sort of way. Visiting home every summer is a great way to remind me of that.

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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Graphic Cigarette Warnings Begin In South Korea This December

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Cigarette Labels

Despite an ongoing fight from tobacco companies, the South Korean government says starting in December, health-warning text & images must be included on the upper part of all cigarette packaging for sale in the ROK. Canada was the first country to make the change about 15 years ago, & Korea FM host Chance Dorland recently spoke about that first of its kind transition with Canadian Cancer Society Senior Policy Analyst Rob Cunningham & Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada Executive Director Cynthia Callard to discuss how the new rules went into effect, the opposition they faced from tobacco companies, & how similar regulations could work here in South Korea.

This episode is brought to you by Podcast Assist & its $30 per hour flat rate podcasting voice overs, editing, mastering, transcriptions & even hosting (select a topic, they’ll create & host the podcast). Visit for more information. 

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Interview answers, both in written & audio form, have been edited for length & clarity.

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The post Graphic Cigarette Warnings Begin In South Korea This December appeared first on Korea FM.

Hop On a Plane To Korea Now. The Grand Sale Beckons.

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SALE. A shopaholic’s favorite word that has them whip out their card and cash in a flash as they make a beeline towards the shops. Well, get ready because the Korea Grand Sale is headed your way in October, where your wallet is guaranteed to be emptied out- fast.


What is it?

The Korea Grand Sale is an annual shopping tourism festival aimed at foreign tourists. Previously held during the winter season, this year it has arrived early and will be held from 1st of October to 31st October all around Korea. Around 20,519 stores from 222 businesses of all different types are expected to participate.

main banner

What’s in it for me?

Benefits include 50% off a pass to Everland, up to 80% off selected items at Lotte Duty-free, an additional free night’s stay at the Ibis Ambassador Hotel in Myeongdong, and more. As an overseas guest in Korea, you can shop till you drop with items marked down at ridiculous prices and enjoy awesome discounts up to 50% off for products and services in the sectors of fashion, beauty, food & beverages, accommodation, entertainment and more. Customers can also enjoy various shopping offers from the participating companies with just one coupon, which you can find on the official website.


Is shopping the only thing I can do ?

Oh no, it doesn’t just end there. You can get a warm welcome as soon as you get your first breath of Korean air with an airport welcoming event held on the first day (1st of October) at Incheon and Gimpo International Airport.

Many of you are also probably K-Pop fans, so, of course, you won’t want to miss out on the Grand K-Pop performance taking place at Seoul Yeongdongdaero and COEX on the 30th of September. So far 2PM, who we rate 10 out of 10 in the eye candy and abs scale are the first confirmed participants, with the rest to be revealed on the site as the date draws closer.


Additionally, you can enter for a chance to win a date with a Hallyu star. Yup, that’s right. You could be sitting across the table, gazing into the eyes of your favorite actor or singer as he feeds you cake or link arms with them as you stroll around the shops. Previous stars include Super Junior’s Leeteuk and Kangin and SS301. The winner also receives free round trip flight tickets and hotel vouchers. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Check the official website and facebook page to be the first to know who you could be having a date with this time and how to enter!

star date

Besides the ones mentioned above, there is a diverse range of cultural experiences that you can check out, such as free or discounted trips to museums and palaces and traditional performances. Don’t miss out on this amazing opportunity to enjoy everything Korea has to offer! Check out the official website here for a detailed list of the participating companies, coupons, schedules and more.

Want to stay updated on the latest events and fun things to do ? Then be sure to check out Trazy.combutton6
a service for travelers to easily share and discover the latest hip & hot travel spots from all over the world. 
We are currently focusing on Korea as our destination and plan to expand to other countries gradually. 

All Goes Onward and Outward, Nothing Collapses

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I don’t know why he asked it — probably because the concept of small talk is completely lost on him — but last night at dinner, B asked me when the prime of my life was. He worded it just like that, in English. Sometimes a question like this means he’s picked up a new English phrase and is giving it a spin. Sometimes he’s just heard a song that’s made him feel a certain way. Who knows?

I told him I hoped I wasn’t past my prime, frankly, that it hadn’t happened yet.

The look on his face seemed to indicate that this hadn’t occurred to him as a possible answer.

“… Oh! Me, too!”

He then described a future prime, something about me and him riding horseback with our fat little cat Moja cradled between us, because cats love riding horses.

This weekend I went with a friend to see Dead Poet’s Society, which I hadn’t watched for over a decade, and never in a theater. It’s showing in theaters here now, because… well, I don’t know why. Sometimes Korean mega-theaters just show old American films. Sometimes it’s a tenth anniversary thing. Sometimes, I think it’s a way of filling out the later summer showings when all of the blockbusters have come and gone.

Roger Ebert called the film “shameless in its attempts to pander to an adolescent audience,” which is why I wasn’t sure if my friend, who had, unlike me, never seen the film in her youth and who wouldn’t be able to call upon a sense of nostalgia to validate it, would even like it. But she’s a teacher and has been for nearly a decade. I think the film looks different to teachers.

What was interesting for me, as well, was how my perspective shifted. I watched it before as a student, a young person. This time I watched it from the teacher’s point of view, the barbaric yawp scene, in particular.

I’m not saying it’s not cheesy — it is. But I still think it gets at something. As someone who entered university determined to focus on journalism, who was pushed by one professor in particular to take poetry more seriously, I still identify with it on the other side, as well.

My roommate and I, who shared the same writer’s studio class the first semester of freshman year, joked from the beginning that that professor wanted us to write what we called “kitchen sink poetry” — what looked to us like random lists of objects and actions with little to no association with each other — everything including the kitchen sink.

What we came to realize later was that he was entreating us to abandon logic in order to be able to mine the unconscious for the raw material poetry refines. The kitchen sink was just step one, a kind of meditation. The barbaric yawp.

What I saw now, on the other side, was the wander that you experience as a teacher when you manage to pry a bit of that out of a student, and a sense of comradery in the knowledge that good teaching is really just enabling.

(Here is where I will say that if you haven’t seen the film yet and intend to, you may want to stop reading now.)

After the movie was over, I asked my friend if she thought the accusation that Neil would have never killed himself if he hadn’t met John Keating was right, and, of course, she said no. That it was ridiculous. And that was also my opinion until I watched the film again this time.

This time, I realized there was room for a different interpretation, and the key to it may be the Thoreau quote that’s read to open the DPS meetings: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

The Neil plotline was completely rushed and not so masterfully developed, so it is a little difficult to interpret, but it is made obvious that, prior to meeting Keating, Neil was resigned to following the path his father had set out for him, and without hope, there is no hope to lose. When Neil met Keating, he realized the possibility of a different life, and it was the destruction of this possibility in Neil’s mind that led to the sense of hopelessness that caused him to take his life.

So in an indirect way, it may have been Keating that caused the suicide he was scapegoated for, and the new question the film raised for me this time was less about failed adolescent rebellion against the suffocating power of tradition, as Ebert suggests, and more about whether or not that brief period of enlightenment and hope was more valuable than reaching the end of a long life that was never lived at all.

B is a weird little poet of a sort, in the sense that he absorbs his environment and seems to ruminate over it in his unconscious mind before spitting it back out in a somewhat distant if related form. This week, I’ve been rifling through old files in order to organize my new hard drive, and the photos, videos and documents have caused me to regurgitate countless stories from the past. There’s no doubt life used to be less tamed, more spontaneous and full of events and people. There aren’t as many stories being created now, but there is more than one way to look at that fact. An epic unfolds over years and decades rather than a single night. It moves slow in places because the story is long and wide in scope. It doesn’t matter less for that; it may even matter more.

After he outlined his horseback fantasy, B asked me what I hoped my prime would look like. I said I was sure I didn’t know and hoped I couldn’t imagine. The things I’ve gotten that I’ve wanted have always been somewhat hollow, while the things I never thought of have been the real pay dirt of life. If I’m honest, I hope there is no prime period. Seventy-five years, in the grand scope of things, is not a lot of time, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for every day of it to be divine.

The post All Goes Onward and Outward, Nothing Collapses appeared first on Follow the River North.

Passing through Phuket: Sunday Night Market

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How to get from the Phuket Airport Thailand

When I arrived in Phuket, Thailand, I bought my shuttle bus ticket, packed my duffel bag into the back and waited.  We waited an eternity in a full van for the driver.   I guess I shouldn’t complain as the shared bus is only 200 Thai Baht ($8 Canadian), but after spending 24 hours in a beautiful hotel and seeing Don Mueang airport twice within that 24 hours, I wanted my vacation to start!
Patong Beach Phuket Thailand

On the Road Phuket Thailand

Having had a delayed flight and then another 2 hours to drop everyone off in Patong before heading to my hostel (the last stop in Karon), I arrived at my exhausted and mildly peeved.  I knew we would have to make a stop at a Travel Excursion shop (go in, tell them your hostel’s name and that you’re not buying anything), but I didn’t realize just how long it would take.  I’m not sure how much faster a cab would have been as the beach and most accommodations are at the south end of the island, but I was not a happy camper when I arrived at Doolay Hostel.

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Doolay Hostel Karon Beach Phuket Thailand Doolay Hostel Phuket Thailand Afternoon in Phuket Thailand

The hostel is in Karon Beach, which is one of the less popular beaches in Phuket.  Patong Beach is the site of Bangla Road, which reminded me of Vegas, just on all kinds of drugs.  This area is full of ladyboys, strippers, and the infamous Ping Pong shows.  We’ll get to that.  We were on the other side of all that: relatively empty beaches, street food, beachfront bars, and sunsets to melt even the coldest heart (read: mine, but again, we’ll get to that later…).

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Instagram Photo

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Instagram Photo

After checking in, napping a little, and taking a shower, I met my roommates.  Our tiny female dorm (we had the smallest room, but the aircon worked, it was nearly bug-free [Thailand, guys], and the mattresses were comfy) was full of nurses from Kansas City who had just spent some time in Korea before popping over to Thailand.  One of them had taught in Seoul, too.  I was invited along to the Sunday Night Market, but wasn’t entirely sure I was welcome on their ‘Nurses Gone Wild’ trip, so when I saw a dashing, young, bearded man eating cereal and reading a book in the hallway I stopped to chat.  I managed to convince this sun-kissed demi-god to come with me to the night market so I could finally get some authentic Thai food.  About 45 minutes later we were ready to hit the road.

Banana Pancakes with Nutella in Phuket Thailand

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En route to find a tuk-tuk which wouldn’t gouge us we found banana pancakes.  These crepe-like delights came topped with not only Nutella, but also condensed milk.  I’m not certain how we never really saw overweight Thai people, but for 60 Thai Baht each (just over $2 Canadian) I can assure you had I stayed in Phuket obesity would have hit me hard and fast.

Amazing Sunset in Phuket Thailand Karon Beach
Phuket Thailand Palm Trees
Incredible Sunset in Phuket Thailand Karon Beach

Unbelievable Sunset in Phuket Thailand

After eating out banana pancakes, singing Jack Johnson, and admiring the sunsets, it was off to the night market.  On the East side of the island, the tuk-tuk cost us just over 200 Thai Baht each, so approximately $25 Canadian for the 3 of us.  Tuk-tuks are not as cheap as one might think, and you really do have to haggle them down an excessive amount in Phuket because of all the tourism.

Crowd at the Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

Crowd at the Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

The Night Market was packed!  Sunday nights tend to be the most exciting of the night markets in Thailand, in my limited experience.  Everyone was in a good mood selling their wares.  Nobody was too pushy, either.  Those who could speak English were happy to explain what kind of dishes they were serving, and some of the jewelry and make-up vendors stopped to chat about my necklace.  It was a really relaxing experience, and items were the cheapest I’ve seen anywhere in Thailand, which is interesting since I actually found Phuket to be quite expensive overall.

Durian at the Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

Cyclone Potato Chips at Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

Food at the Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

Food at the Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

Vendors at Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

All Kinds of Curry - Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

Various Curries - Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

Tasty Thai Food Phuket Thailand Night Market

Coconuts Night Market Phuket Thailand

Dim Sum Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

Thai Yellow Curry Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

Chicken Skewers Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

Sunday Night Market Phuket Thailand

Sunday Night Market Phuket

Singha Beer Phuket Sunday Night Market Thailand

At the night market you can get all kinds of “street food” from meat on a skewer, to curry noodles or curry on rice with various types of meat or vegetables, cyclone potato chips, cupcakes, brownies, and tons more.  The main thing to remember is that if it looks like it’s been sitting around at all?  Don’t eat it.  We had everything grilled or boiled right in front of us, and I think that kept up from getting sick.  You can get your fix of make-up, handbags (knock-offs galore), jewelry, shoes (tons of Converse, Adidas, and Nike), and shirts at this market – it’s huge!  I picked up a couple of beer label (Singha and Chiang) t-shirts at the night market in Phuket, but the prices were so good I wish I had gotten more (they were much pricier in Chiang Mai)!  Each  was 100 Thai Baht ($4).  I didn’t even bother haggling because the prices on my t-shirts were so good.  We also found places to buy beer even though it was still technically during one of the many drinking bans.  Huzzah!

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After the Sunday Night Market in Phuket, we headed back to Doolay.  I hadn’t actually had that much to eat at the night market, so we stopped into 711 where Ham & Cheese toasties are essential to weary expats.  If you’re in Thailand and manage not to taste the magic of a ham and cheese toastie, I’d begin to question whether you were even in Thailand at all.

711 Penang Chicken Curry

We also found frozen Penang Chicken Curry with rice which may have been one of the best meals of the week.  That, or it was in the wee small hours of the morning and we had been out swimming!

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The tasty food continued the next day.  Doolay Hostel makes some pretty incredible burgers which you can jack-up with bae (bacon and egg) or extra cheese.  We opted for it all, and the burger did not disappoint!

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The Doolay Hostel Pad Thai might just beat out my own creation in Bangkok.

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The Tom Kha Gai was great, but I would opt for the Pad Thai.  It had a solid amount of tender, roast chicken and the tamarind sauce was excellent.

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Massaman Curry is FAMOUS in the South, so when I finally got my hands on a bowl it was well worth the wait.  The creamy and delicious, spicy curry left me completely blissed out.  Had I just come for the curry I would have been pleased with this particular dish in Phuket!

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Finally, welcome to The Toronto Seoulcialite, H, and welcome to Seoul as of September 21st!  I can’t wait for you to arrive.  Let’s try to cook Thai food once again!

If you liked this post, be sure to add it to a board on Pinterest!

Phuket Sunsets to Melt Your Heart

The post Passing through Phuket: Sunday Night Market appeared first on The Toronto Seoulcialite.

Will Japan Get Sucked into the Post-PCA Ruling South China Sea Mess? Yeah, Probably

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2016.9. 6号(8/30発売)

This is the English-language original of an op-ed I published in this week’s Newsweek Japan. I was thinking about what if any impact the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the South China Sea, and China’s full-throated objection to it, will have on Japan. Three things come to mind:

1. Given the size of Japan’s economy, Japan is more absolutely dependent on SCS freedom of navigation than anyone else. Its straight-up dollar interest in FON down there is huge. It is hard to imagine Japan not getting pulled in just by the criterion alone.

2. China need not start a war or do anything very dramatic to cause genuine trouble for Japan in the SCS. It only needs to stop a few transiting ships for a few days for ‘health inspections’ or ‘environmental concerns.’ Or its fishermen or coast guard could ram or block ships. Once the pressure of an incident rose, China would release the ships, saying that they were now in compliance with some bogus regulation. This would send a clear signal that China has its boot on Japan’s windpipe but in a very oblique way that would make responding to China very hard. The Chinese have proven themselves adept at this sort of salami slicing. Future one- or two-day stoppages for specious health or traffic safety reasons would constantly be hanging out there as a potential threat. At the very least, it would drive up the cost of shipping and insurance.

2. The US is probably not going to fight a major conflict with a near-superpower just over shipping lanes. Were Japan directly attacked, sure, the US would intervene. But the Chinese aren’t stupid. They learned from the massive counter-balancing the Soviets incurred when they tried to bully everyone during the Cold War. The Chinese are much more oblique and crafty, and they’ll work hard to avoid a direct military confrontation with the US. This too will likely force Japan to get more involved.

The full essay follows the jump.


Last month the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague delivered a major defeat for China in the South China Sea. Unanimously rejecting Chinese historical claims to the vast majority of the space, the court sided with the Philippines: China had trespassed into Filipino waters and was illegally occupying islands and reefs in the area. 

The South China Sea contains significant oil reserves, and countries in the region are eager to set up refineries (this is particularly true for energy-starved China). Particularly large quantities lie off the coasts of the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia. The East China Sea is also home to natural gas and fertile fishing grounds.

One month since the ruling, little has changed in China’s behavior. Nevertheless, the Court has given the smaller regional states a powerful public relations tool: China now looks like an outlaws. More lawsuits are likely to follow in the next several years.

China Ignores the Ruling

China dismissed the findings of the Hague court almost immediately. President Xi Xianping wholly rejected the ruling, calling it ‘baseless’. And there has been no reduction of Chinese naval and commercial activity in the disputed areas.

Though the PCA ruling is binding, there is no enforcement mechanism. Formal enforcement would risk an armed clash with China. There will be little consequence in the short term, and China will likely proceed with artificial reef creation and illegal fishing. Nevertheless the findings set a precedent that will likely embolden other countries in the region, namely Vietnam, Japan, and Taiwan, to bring similar lawsuits against Beijing. It is also an important loss of face, which is central to the justification of the Chinese Communist Party’s continuing dictatorship.

Great powers are prone to ignore international law they dislike. In 1986 the Court issued a similar ruling against the United States for illegal mining Nicaraguan waters. Like China, the US similarly dismissed the ruling and continued its operations. But the episode emboldened Congress to cut funding to the Nicaraguan contras, a key tenant of Reagan’s foreign policy, as well providing a foundation for lesser, smaller states to voice their concerns. China will likely face such legal harassment in the years to come. The ‘rules of the road’ in the South China Sea will become a permanent nuisance for Chinese participants in international fora.

Shipping Threat

A permanent Chinese presence in the South China Sea is a growing issue for Japan and others whose shipping transits the area. In fact, geoeconomic leverage, not military engagement, has been China’s modus operandi for years. Beijing punished the Philippines in the past with trumped-up safety regulations over imported mangos, as it is threatening to do so again after the PCA ruling. State-run media ran anti-Japanese editorials that encouraged Chinese consumers to boycott all Japanese products (leading to protests and demonstrations that severely dampened trade for years between the two countries). Korean cell phones were banned completely in the so-called ‘garlic war’ in 2000.

Thus, simply the threat of disrupting trade flows in the South China Sea could have consequences. The South China Sea is arguably the most important trade route in Asia. Over $5 trillion of commercial goods pass through the area each year. Japan and Korea rely on energy imports from the Middle East. Indonesia and Australia send through millions of tons of coal, and Thailand and Vietnam send rice.

China can use this leverage. It could assign arbitrary passage or docking fees, expand its coast guard to ‘randomly inspect’ certain vessels, or temporarily detain Japanese shipping for ‘health inspections.’ It may well declare an air defense identification zone over the space. These transaction costs would reverberate down the supply chain. Suddenly coal shipments might take twice as long to reach South Korea, threatening electricity for millions. Insurance costs would rise as companies feared delay and disruption. All this would not require overt military action.

Japanese Naval Power Projection

Under the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, states may claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)of up to 370 kilometers from its coast(s). States have full and exclusive rights to natural resources within their own EEZs, but must permit safe transit through these zones according to the convention. Many countries in the South China Sea have overlapping EEZs, and China has disregarded all of them.

Hence the debate in Japan over an expanded military role may be overtaken by events. The United States is unlikely to wage a major conflict against China solely for regional states’ shipping concerns. Yet without some kind of regional coalition, China is unlikely to stop building just because of the PCA ruling. Among Asia’s democracies, only Japan is economically large and modern enough to lead such a bloc of resistance. China will not stop for the PCA or the delicacies of Japan’s constitutional debate. This challenge to Japan is materializing now.

Filed under: China, Japan, Newsweek, South China Sea, Strategy

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


Dear Korea #148: Survivor's Guilt

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Whenever life in Korea gets difficult, I often remind myself of where I’m from and the things I survived. Sure, not being able to find clothes in my size or being teased by the locals isn’t exactly my idea of fun, but it certainly beats staring at an almost empty bank account while trying to decide between having food or putting gas in the car.

I consider myself lucky to have the opportunities I’ve been given here. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help but feel guilty that I got those chances and escaped a crappy situation while the people I care about back home are still struggling. Since I moved to Korea, people I love have lost their jobs, homes, spouses, children, and everything in between. The best I’ve been able to do is send back some cash to help, and it kills me that I can’t offer them the same options that I got due to a combination of luck and knowing the right people.

I can only hope that I will someday be successful enough to offer more than good vibes. It’s a goal I’ve always had, and it helps to remind myself of it from time to time.

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.

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