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During my last visit to Korea (in November) I took a day to roam the streets of Seoul, talking to Koreans about several topics. One of the things I asked was “What are the best places to see in Korea?” Everyone I talked to had some great recommendations, so I compiled them together into this video.
A few of the recommendations overlapped – some people agreed with each other. You can know that any of these places would be great for anyone to see who’s visiting Korea.
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There will be loads of retrospectives this year. But rather than write yet another ‘what are the lessons of WWII?’ piece, thought I would write about how current Asian politics is still framed so much by the war. Particularly, I thought it would be useful to point out in all honesty how some of region’s elites actually came to power on the back of the war – even though they’d never, ever admit that. Specifically, Chiang Kai-Shek would have crushed Mao if he hadn’t had to fight the Japanese instead, and the (North) Korean Worker’s Party would never have come to power without the Red Army ‘liberation’ that was legitimized by Japanese occupation. Being honest about this stuff is helpful, if uncomfortable.
This piece was originally written for the Lowy Institute. It starts after the jump:
“Seventy years ago this summer, the long project of Japanese imperialism in the Pacific came to an end. In the West this will all be rolled together with the war against German and Italian fascism. For Americans particularly, it is all World War II, and the struggle against Hitler has always taken preeminence in our remembrance of the conflict. But in Asia, the final death struggle between Imperial Japan and its many enemies, most importantly the United States, is better understood as the crushing of a near-century long Japanese imperial project to remake Asia.
Although it is popular now to read WWII as a global war, I think the Asian term, ‘the Pacific War,’ for the regional war against Japan is more accurate. The conflict that culminated with Hiroshima has its direct roots in Japan’s post-Meiji turn toward imperialism with the first Sino-Japanese war (in the 1890s). German and Italian fascism, by contrast, more were clearly products of the interwar period and the rise of Stalin. Japan’s commitment to the Axis was always mixed at best; C.L. Sulzberger and Steven Ambrose spoke of the ‘Axis Gang’ rather than an alliance. The same imperial Japan which opportunistically declared war on Germany in 1914 opportunistically aligned with it in 1940 (first to pick up its Pacific territories, then to hedge the US and USSR). The Axis powers so distrusted one another that the Nazis did not inform the Japanese of the planned invasion of the USSR, nor did the Japanese consult the Germans on Pearl Harbor.
The ‘Pacific War’ puts the regional focus where it belongs – Japan. It was modernized Japan that permanently broke the long-standing Sino-Confucian order of the region (a momentous rupture that needs more research). It was Japan that dragged, often quite violently and unwillingly, much of the region into economic modernization. It was Japan that first absorbed and then spread western ideologies like sovereignty, nationalism, fascism, genetic racism, and capitalism (corporatism is perhaps more accurate) around the region. And it was the defeat of this long-term imperial project that opened the door for Marxism in the region, compelling the US to stay permanently – and, ironically, fight wars such as Korea or Vietnam mostly to protect Japan against forces the empire itself had sought to counter. A rather strange twist of history that…
So rather than trot out another ‘what are the lessons of WWII?’ essay (here is the best one I’ve read so far), I thought instead to capture what local leaders might say in all honestly about the what became a region-wide, anti-Japanese war:
Japan: “We started the war, and it was a blatant imperial effort to dominate the region. There, I said it! Yes, I know you and the whole world know that already, but my right-wing coalition back home doesn’t. (Actually, they do. They just don’t want to admit.) I would roll-out our old-time excuses that we were just doing what the Brits and French were doing in Africa, or that we were liberating Asians from the whites, or that the Americans forced the war on us, but our extraordinary, Nazi-like brutality in China and cultural eliminationism in Korea are still inexplicable by any of those excuses. Maybe the best I can come up with is that we were blocking the spread of Marxism in the region, but then we also did more than Stalin or Ho or anyone else to help Asian communism by crippling Chiang Kai-Shek against Mao. *Sigh* Ok. I really got nothing left. It’s our fault, and we really should alter our history instruction and at least put up a few museums on the carnage we left behind. But at least we fought the war really foolishly; our general staff actually thought we could simultaneously fight China, the British Empire, and the US and win…”
China: “Thank god for the Japanese invasion, or the Great Helmsman never would have survived the 1930s. Ok, since we’re being honest, Mao really wasn’t so great, but the point is that our party probably would have lost the civil war to the Nationalists if Chiang hadn’t had to spend most of his resources turning eastern China into a quagmire for the Imperial army. And Chiang did a pretty great job of that too, a point I will be sure to never, ever admit to Chinese history students. If the Japanese army hadn’t bogged down so badly in eastern China, then the Japanese strike into southeast Asia, which chain-ganged in the Brits and Americans, wouldn’t have been necessary. I am happy to say that Mao did the least he could in all this, back-biting and infighting with Chiang while using him as a shield against the Japanese. Nor will I ever admit that Mao is responsible for far more Chinese deaths than the Japanese ever were. I’ll just be sure to bang the Diaoyu drum whenever this sorta stuff come up.”
South Korea: “The war is a huge embarrassment. While the Chinese, Americans, and even the Filipinos got to fight, we were torn between ineffectual partisans and collaborationism. So many collaborators in fact, that our country is still turned upside down by this issue a hundred years later. We’ve had book publishing wars explicitly naming names of whom worked with whom. The
dictator president who put us on the map was a collaborator too, and we even ripped off our economic model from the Japanese. All this is pretty hard to stomach, so we’ve therapeutically fashioned our political identity in part as the anti-Japan.”
North Korea: “We’re far more indebted than we’ll ever admit. Without the Japanese annexation and the subsequent Soviet ‘liberation,’ Kim Il Sung might have wound up a Presbyterian preacher. There wasn’t anything close to majority support for a communist takeover in Korea, and most of what we say about Kim Il-Sung’s anti-Japanese heroics at Mt. Paektu is completely made-up. Japanese colonialism also happily provided us with a legitimating ideology, even though our own despotism has lasted twice as long and is far more brutal. We even pulled our racist, semi-fascist, barracks-state, god-king political structure, which is neither Marxist nor Korean in precedent, from imperial Japan. But we admit nothing.””
Korean Aegyo (애교) is basically when somebody acts in a cute or childish way, despite not being a young child themselves. This can take many forms, from how people speak and act, to how they dress or decorate their room. The reason for acting cute is to try and flirt with or impress somebody, or to get something that you want. If you are impressed by somebody’s aegyo, then you can say ‘gyiyowoyo (귀여워요)’ which means ‘cute’ in Korean (dictionary form: 귀엽다).
Korean Aegyo is generally performed by women although some more feminine guys might use it too from time to time. If a regular guy uses this then you may feel uncomfortable and get daksal (닭살) which means ‘goosebumps’ and is used in Korean when somebody is weirding you out. Of course, most people don’t use it in an extreme way, and quite a lot of people really hate it. The more ridiculous examples of aegyo can often be found in Korean dramas or on comedy shows. Those examples are very different from how people might use it in real life, just as Korean dramas themselves aren’t a particularly accurate portrayal of Korea (otherwise we would all be living in the one authentic hanok available to rent in the whole of Seoul or one room apartment overlooking the Doota shopping mall, but dating a chaebol heir/heiress with a secret past and whose evil mother hates us).
The word Aegyo is often used with the word bulida (부리다) to make aegyo bulida (애교 부리다). This means ‘to act in an aegyo way’. There are different levels of aegyo, with some things being used by lots of people and generally accepted as reasonable behavior in public. Take a look at the seven levels below and let us know which levels you think are appropriate to use on a date, and which levels should be left to Korean dramas and gag shows.
Level One Aegyo
Stretching the final vowel of a word
If a word ends in a vowel, then this vowel can be stretched to sound cuter (or whiny depending on your perspective, this guy in particular hates it [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMCnEpeyTS0]). The word ‘oppa (오빠)’ is a good example of this. (For those not familiar with ‘oppa’, it literally means ‘older brother’ is used by girls to refer to a guy who is a little bit older than them). As lots of guys like being called ‘oppa’, saying this word in a cute manner has more effect than other words might (sorry guys, I don’t think saying ‘noona (누나)’ in this way will have quite the same effect).
Level Two Aegyo
Extra ‘ㅁ’s and ‘ㅇ’s
In English it is very hard to show some features of the language, such as sarcasm, when sending a text message or email. In Korea, if you want to express your aegyo in a text message, then rather than adding umpteen extra vowels and wavy line symbols at the end of every word that ends in a vowel, people add the letters ‘m’ or ‘ng’, for example ‘oppang (오빵)’, ‘baegopang (배 고팡)’ etc. This can drive you mad if you are using a dictionary to translate somebody’s text messages. The ‘yo (요)’ at the end of many Korean sentences is also often written as ‘yong (용)’ when people are using this sort of aegyo. Texting in this manner is not uncommon, but some people take it a step further, adding these extra consonants (자음) when speaking.
Level Three Aegyo
Using basic hand gestures
This is when someone uses their hands to make cute symbols like a heart or ‘v’ sign (The Korean ‘V’, not the English ‘V’) in situations outside of having their photograph taken (where even ajjoshis (older Korean men) can be seen making the ‘V’ sign on occasions). The hands can also be used to accentuate the face by creating mock dimples or a ‘V’ shaped chin. Watch the hand gestures in ‘Gee’ if you want to learn some new aegyo hand gestures. Pouting is also included in this level of Korean Aegyo.
Level Four Aegyo
Wearing Lotteworld hairbands outside of Lotteworld
Everybody in Korea knows Lotteworld, the indoor amusement park near Jamsil Station that is open all year round. Many people have dates there and a very popular item on sale there are animal ear hairbands. They look cute and you will see lots of people wearing these around Lotteworld. Whilst wearing these inside Lotteworld is of course aegyo too, it is a generally accepted thing to do, after all, you are in a world with fairies and pirates so why not wear leopard print (호피무늬) cat’s ears? Wearing these in public is not a common thing to do however.
Level Five Aegyo
Full on body movement
Similar to level three, but with the whole body being used, including foot stomps and noises to go with the gestures. By this stage, we are definitely entering TV drama territory, and some readers may wish to tell whoever they are with to stop acting in this way. One way of doing that is to use the verb ‘척하다’ which is similar to ‘pretend’ i.e. gwiyowoon chokhada (귀여운 척하다) – to pretend to be cute; or yeppun chokhada (예쁜 척하다), to pretend to be pretty. If someone’s aegyo is getting on your nerves, then you might want to say ‘kwiyowoon chokhaji maseyo (귀여운 척하지 마세요)’ (stop pretending to be cute).
Level Six Aegyo
Although this is a hand gesture, it is so closely associated with Korean aegyo, and especially the more ridiculous aegyo that you see on Korean gag shows, that it needs its own level. There are several long running jokes on Korean comedy shows which involve very un-cute actors doing the ‘bbuing bbuing’.
Level Seven Aegyo
Choosing to sing this song in a noraebang
This song pretty much sums up Korean aegyo. Watch this video to see some more hand gestures associated with aegyo.
VIEWER WARNING: this song will get stuck in your head so if you really don’t like aegyo, don’t watch this video!
Of course most people don’t use a lot of these later examples seriously except for on TV or in dramas, but the first few levels are used quite regularly. Which level of Aegyo would you use with your partner, and which levels do you think are unacceptable in public?
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See the Cherry Blossoms
Perhaps no other symbol is as representative of Korean spring than the cherry blossom. And while they might not stick around for an extended amount of time, they are most definitely a sight to behold and seeing them in all their glory should be at the top of your travel itinerary.
Expect to see them around April 9th here in Seoul this year (2015). One of the more popular places to take in the beautiful blossoming of the beotkkot is Yeouido Park, where canopies of pink hang over crowds of camera-toting love birds. For less crowded cherry blossom sightseeing, head over to the tranquil Seokchon Lake in Jamsil or Seoul Grand Park.
Picnic in one of Seoul's parks
While you're at it, why not pack a picnic? Picnicking is a favorite pastime of Koreans and when they do it, they do it big. Think all day drinking sessions, complete with kimbap and chimaek. Don't forget to check off these 6 items when packing for your outdoor escapades.
Go to a Festival
While winter has its fair share of festivals, spring offers pleasant weather that actually makes the festivals enjoyable. Many of these celebratory events focus on flowers, but there are also a number that glorify regional cuisine and cultural traditions.
Not to be missed are the Lotus Lantern Festival, which showcases thousands of colorful lanterns and traditional performances, and the Boseong Green Tea Festival, held on a gorgeous tea plantation in the southern part of the country. Both of these events are held in May. For a complete list of spring festivals, visit the KTO website.
Bike Along the Han
Seoul is often portrayed as a city of concrete and neon, so many are surprised to learn that there are a variety of green spaces strewn across the Korean capital. My favorite place to soak up some sun is the Han River and the parks that border it. In addition to featuring riverside cafes, basketball courts and fishing spots, the Han River also has its fair share of bicycle rental shops.
To rent a bike, all you need is a photo ID. Prices are extremely reasonable (around 3,000 won per hour) and the river is equipped with safe and well-marked bike lanes. For more info and a list of routes, click here.
Wander a Cafe Street
It's no secret that Korea is known for its cafes. So much so that there's practically one on every block. There are even entire streets dedicated to the caffeinated beverage that boast cafe after cafe, many of which have great patios or terraces that open in spring.
You don't need to look hard to locate said streets, and many, like Garosu-gil or Samcheongdong-gil are already quite famous. To get off the beaten path, make your way to Jukjeon Cafe Street in Bundang, or Seoraemaeul Cafe Street near Express Bus Terminal, both of which exude a sophisticated European atmosphere.
Visit a Palace
Few places capture the essence of Seoul in spring as well as the palaces of the capital city. Not only are the flowers of the royal gardens in full bloom, but there are often outdoor concerts and performances held here, allowing visitors to truly experience pungnyu.
Pung (wind) and yu (flowing) refer to the enjoyment of tasteful activities that combine the elements of nature, life, and art. It also symbolizes being close to nature, knowing music, being well learned in arts, and being composed yet merry, free from worldly cares.
Changdeokgung is known for its secret garden but my personal favorite of the five palaces is Changgyeonggung. With fewer people, a large pond and a number of picnicking spots, it's got plenty of pungnyu.
Walk the Cheonggyechon
Although not as impressive as the expansive Han River, the Cheonggyechon is a picturesque stream located smack dab in the middle of the city. Often decorated with artworks in the spring, it also functions as an outdoor cultural space. Grab a lemonade or a bottle of makgeolli from a convenience store and dip your feet in the water to enjoy a nice break from touring nearby Insadong or shopping in Myeongdong.
Take advantage of the short-lived gorgeous weather and reserve a spot at one of Seoul's many camping spots. Like picnicking, camping is a favorite outdoor activity of Koreans which involves barbecue, drinking and lots of laughs with friends and family. For a luxurious (and expensive) experience, take a day trip outside of Seoul to Raventree Camp Grounds in Gapyeong.
Happy spring, y'all!
Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.
I bought my plane ticket and am leaving the country on May 12th. I’m having a hard time conceptualizing what my life will be like in a few short weeks. It’s stressing me out, to be honest. I’m also worried about graduate school applications, which I’ll be completing when I’m over there. Today, I toured Duke Law and was really impressed by what I saw. And stressed. LSATs…wut?
But instead of worrying about the unknown, I’ve decided to spend a couple hours this evening focusing on the present and reflecting on the past and all the wonderful things I have in my life. (THAT I WILL MISS SO DESPERATELY ONCE I LEAVE THE COUNTRY!!!) I found GIF-making to be a helpful way to cope with stress, and I hope you enjoy the finished product of my efforts, entitled THINGS I WILL MISS SO DESPERATELY ONCE I LEAVE THE COUNTRY.
Korea is slowly but surely opening up itself to the world. Always belittled by the giants of China and Japan, Korea is blossoming into the world bearing its own unique scent. With the electronics and automobile biggies Samsung, LG, Hyundai leading the way, the Koreanisms have reached far and wide. The Korean dramas are extremely popular with the younger generation in China and India, with many of them translated even into the regional Indian languages. K-POP is widely loved and is again quite catching.
There is also a significant amount of interest from the Korean Government to welcome the foreigners into their country and more importantly, keeping them happy. The Seoul Metropolitan government has now made an effort to hear the views and problems of the foreigners living in Seoul. A few foreigners have been selected to monitor the conditions and problems faced by the foreigners and report it to the city so that they are can make a change and improve the conditions and even meet the expectations of the foreigner. I am one of the selected few :)
We were invited for a ceremony and were presented with a certificate and were briefed with the process involved in the program. It was quite interesting although the entire program was in Korean. Then, were taking on a tour to the new city hall in Seoul, which is totally eco-friendly. It was nice to connect with foreigners from different nationalities, chat about each other's issues and just plain enjoy each others company.
M for Monitoring Seoul for ABC Wednesday