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The Tragedy of Otto Warmbier: Time for a US Travel Ban?

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ottowarmbierThis is a local re-post for an essay I just wrote for the Lowy Institute this month (here).

I feel nothing but anguish for this young man and his family. Our prayers go out to them. Given that North Korea almost certainly gave him a hack doctor – because all the good ones are kept for elites – who grossly misdiagnosed him, it is no exaggeration to say that Pyongyang effectively murdered this poor man.

The problem is what to do, and the options are all depressingly familiar. Cable news idiots are a talking about force again, but that’s a terrible idea for reasons well known by now. The big question is whether there should be a travel ban on US citizens going to North Korea. This idea gets raised every time there is a hostage-taking. Given that Warmbier was killed though, it is getting a lot more play this time. For myself, I would not counsel Americans to go now. I went in 2012 when it seemed reasonably safe. Kim Jong Un was new to power, and his habit of snatching Americans had not yet bloomed. But now it seems like this is a state policy almost. Don’t go to North Korea now. It is too risky.

The full essay follows the jump:

Earlier this month, an American tourist to North Korea, Otto Warmbier, died of injuries suffered in detention in that country. It is not yet clear from what cause he died. But it appears the North Koreans medically mistreated him in such a way that he suffered major brain damage. My guess is that Warmbier died from inept medical treatment by a hack doctor. High quality medical services are a rationed amenity for elites only in North Korea. Warmbier was likely treated an incompetent who misdiagnosed him – hence the specious claims that he contracted botulism – leading to his coma. Fearful that he would actually die in North Korean custody, Pyongyang then returned him as a ‘humanitarian’ gesture shortly before he did pass away. Given that he returned in a near vegetative state and died shortly thereafter, it is no exaggeration to say that North Korea effectively murdered this young man.

This high-profile death raises many of the same questions over North Korea and its behavior which have bedeviled analysts for decades. It is not clear if the Warmbier tragedy actually opens up new or rarely-considered avenues of action against North Korea. Cable news talk-shows are once again flirting with military options, but this remains unlikely for the same reasons it has always been a poor choice. A more likely outcome is an increase in US bilateral sanctions yet again, and an American travel ban to North Korea.

North Korea and Global Norms

Warmbier’s killing illustrates once again that North Korea routinely operates outside most rules, formal or otherwise, in the modern international system. Warmbier’s case, while tragic, is not that unique in the history of North Korea simply doing whatever it wants, consequences and expectations be damned.

North Korea runs a tourist trade. I was on a trip similar to Warmbier’s in 2012. Most tourists in most places likely assume some basic level of protection in exchange for their willingness to visit and put money into the local economy. One expects, by treaty, to be arrested on reasonable charges, get access to one’s diplomatic representation, be treated reasonably humanely if imprisoned, and so on. It should surprise no one that none of that applies in North Korea. Warmbier vandalized a poster, for which he was preposterously accused of trying to bring down the state and sentenced to an astonishing fifteen years hard labor. He never had access to the Swedish embassy, which acts as the ‘protective power’ for US interests in North Korea. He then received such appalling ‘medical care’ that he died of it. This is not ‘tourism’ as understood in the rest of the world.

North Korea has snatched visitors like this in the past. Usually they are released in reasonable health after some sort of backroom deal (read: shake-down). Warmbier’s case is getting more play than most, because he is an American and actually died from his detention. But North Korea has a long history of such behavior:

Among other ‘highlights,’ it hacked to death two US soldiers in the demilitarized zone in 1976. It sank without warning a South Korean destroyer in 2010, killing forty-six. It has a long history of drug smuggling, overseas assassination, and other gangsterish behavior. This spring, it murdered a regime opponent with a weapon of mass destruction in an airport.

I have long thought this record is a great burden for doves who support engagement. North Korea’s ongoing, violent history of ignoring even the most basic global rules – such as its de facto hostage-taking of Malaysians in North Korea this spring despite their legal presence in-country – makes Pyongyang almost impossible to trust.

The North Korean Tourism Trade

While Warmbier’s passing is a tragedy and his punishment grossly disproportionate to his ‘crime,’ it must also be said that tourism agencies which operate into North Korea are quite explicit in warning tourists not to engage in risky behavior. I went through Koryo Tours, which, to their great credit, was very clear about what not to do: don’t leave behind or even bring in religious materials (‘frontier mission’ evangelicals are regular issue), don’t insult or criticize the leadership to one’s minders, don’t drink too much, don’t flirt, don’t vandalize, don’t wander off, and so on. All of this is common sense for visiting a country as repressive as North Korea. A major question in the wake of Warmbier’s death is whether the company he went through – Young Pioneer Tours – actually gave Warmbier’s tour group a proper security brief.

If Young Pioneers did not, they carry some of the responsibility. And indeed, so many Americans have had trouble in North Korea since Kim Jong Un took over in December 2011, that Young Pioneers will no longer bring Americans in. The US State Department is also quite explicit in warning Americans not to travel to North Korea. When I travelled there, I had read these warnings and was cognizant of the risk. Indeed, I only told a few family members that I was going, because I anticipated that many professional friends and colleagues would try to dissuade, even though I wanted very much to go for the professional exposure. But clearly I was aware that this was not a place to act foolishly, and my sense was that others in my tour section felt the same. In short, Warmbier should have known what he was getting into. In my experience, there was a lot of warning that I would be on my own if anything happened. But when I went, tourism was still generally considered safe.

The question now is whether North Korea is too dangerous for US tourists, as Young Pioneers has suggested. The US State Department has not banned US citizens from travelling to North Korea. But given Warmbier’s death, and given that he was simply a young tourist who drank too much – rather than a oppositional journalist or a missionary – a US ban might be necessary now. For myself, I would no longer encourage an American to go. When I went, it was reasonable safe. Now it strikes me as just too dangerous.

There are still No Good Options to Respond

Given Warmbier’s obvious innocence – his youth, his deeply disturbing post-arrest press conference, his apolitical nature – his death has had a greater impact than most North Korean hostage and abductee stories. The news coverage for this kidnapping is greater than any I can remember since the imprisonment of Euna Lee and Laura Ling in 2009. But other than a travel ban, the Trump administration’s choice are still frustrating and frustratingly familiar. If there were any good options to bring North Korea to heel, they long ago would have been tried. We have had this conversation so many times before. Military action over the death of one individual would be seen as grossly disproportional, while tightening sanctions, whose impact on the elites responsible for Warmbier’s death would be minimal, feels like (and is) more of the same. We remain locked into the same set of terrible choices with no obvious way to make North Korea pay for Warmbier’s death much less slow its nuclear missilization.

Filed under: Diplomacy, Korea (North), Lowy Institute, Prisoners/Hostages

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




101 Frugal Living in Korea Tips

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  Okay readers, who likes money? You? Me? Everybody, right? Here’s how you’re going to be able to keep more of it in your wallet at the end of the month when you’re living in South Korea, working as an English teacher, studying or whatever. 101 Frugal Living in Korea …

The post 101 Frugal Living in Korea Tips appeared first on My Life! Teaching in a Korean University.

Jackie Bolen: How to Get a University Job In Korea


My Life! Teaching in a Korean University

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Ferry Roasters: Mini Donuts and Coconut Cream Coffee in Gyeongridan

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I am on Instagram a lot these days, and the photos of gourmet donuts have been killing me. Of course, Korea has Dunkin’ and Krispy Kreme, but Seoul really hasn’t had the same movement toward more creative independent donut shops that other big cities have seen.

Finally, a couple of months ago, I decided to check out the Korean language donut tag and see what I could find. Other than some really adorable donuts made by somebody’s dad in his home kitchen in Daegu, the only thing that popped up was Ferry Roasters.

Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul

With flavors like Earl Grey and coconut, I was already sold on making the hike up to Gyeongridan eventually, but then I spotted the coconut cream Vienna coffee and grabbed my bag.

Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul

Ferry Roasters is also known for their donut-in-of-a-cup-of-coffee coffee, but I personally am baffled by this recent trend of putting food on top of/in drinks instead of on a plate (it would seem I’m not alone there). I mean, technically you could have a donut in your coffee cup at any place that sells both donuts and coffee.

Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul

But the donut flavors sounded intriguing and the coconut cream Vienna was the first of its kind I’d ever seen. So I slowly schlepped the 30 minutes uphill to get to the shop. I wasn’t disappointed.

Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul

The pricing on the box of “seasonal” (so named because the flavors change from time to time — when I went, the flavors were berry, coconut and Earl Grey) mini donuts is a little whacky, at 10,000 won for 9 bite-sized (two-bite?) donuts, but when you consider that you’d pay about the same amount for two or three pastries at Paris Baguette, it doesn’t feel too bad.

And they are really good — the same cake donut base for every flavor, but with enough well-set icing to make them stand well apart from each other. I was kind of surprised, to be honest, that they managed to pack so much flavor into their icings, because icing tends to just taste like lots of sugar + a hint of whatever. The berry had a nice balance of tartness, the coconut was perhaps a bit too much coconut when combined with the coconut cream coffee (which I reckon means they’d be just right with a latte), and the Earl Grey proved once again that Earl Grey really belongs in baked goods, not teacups (hate the tea itself — love it in a cake or scone).

Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul

I was pleased as punch to find they’d used an appropriately bitter coffee blend to go with the overly sweet coconut cream. The girl behind the counter instructed me not to stir the coffee (I guess the spoon was just for looks) but to drink it as it was, and she was right. If I had stirred it, I think the extra bitter coffee and super sweet cream would have just cancelled each other out, but sipping a little of each at a time created a pleasant contrast.

Peeking at their Instagram just now, I can see they still have the same flavors of donuts in the seasonal box. I’ve also spotted green tea, Oreo mint, buttermilk and Nutella donuts on their Instagram, so hopefully they’ll change it up soon.

Ferry Roasters also offers cinnamon sugar and basil parmesan cake donuts, which you can buy separately or in a mixed box for 6,200-7,500 won. Their cafe options are great, too, although I can’t vouch for anything other than the Vienna: flat white, flat pink, flat honey, balsamic ginger honey ade and a salted caramel latte, among others. I’d go back, even discounting the donuts, just to try a few of those. Although maybe not until monsoon season is over….

Ferry Roasters Gourmet Coffee and Donuts in Seoul

Ferry Roasters
서울시 용산구 이태원동 225-22
225-22 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Tuesday-Sunday 12pm-10pm; Closed Mondays

The post Ferry Roasters: Mini Donuts and Coconut Cream Coffee in Gyeongridan 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

5 Best Summer Festivals in Korea in July 2017

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During the month of July, Korea is packed with plenty of fun things to do such as live music, fireworks and water fights.

If you want to have some serious summer fun in Korea, make sure to check out these upcoming festivals in July!

1. Boryeong Mud Festival

Where: Daecheon Beach, Boryeong City
When: 21 – 30 July 2017boryeong-mud-festival.jpgFor international travelers, there is nothing quite like Boryeong Mud Festival. It is Korea’s one of the largest and most popular festivals, which should be on top of the list for all festival-goers this summer.

At the festival, visitors can enjoy a variety of mud-based activities such as mud slides, mud pits, a mud prison, giant mud bath, a mud swimming pool and plenty more.

Besides these fun-filled activities, SBS MTV’s “The Show”, a popular Korean music television program will be broadcasted live at the venue on July 22 as part of the festival.

| How to Go: For anyone hoping to go to the festival, here’s a great ticket+shuttle package (shuttles depart from Seoul). A shuttle bus service from Busan to the festival is also available.

2. Sinchon Water Gun Festival

Where: Sinchon, Seoul
When: 29 – 30 July 2017sinchon-water-gun-2Once again, the Water Gun Festival will take place on the streets of Sinchon, where a huge crowd of people will be squirting each other with water guns. Now, start gearing up for the Water Gun Festival!

| Ticket Info: Everyone is welcomed to participate this event. But don’t go back all wet! The festival offers special discounted online packages, which include a ticket (a wristband), which gives an access to the changing rooms and a locker, a raincoat and goggles, starting from $9. A variety of water gun options is also available at an additional cost.

3. Hearbeat Festival 2017

Where: Nanji Hangang Park, Seoul
When: 22 July 2017heartbeat-festival.jpgPart music festival, part haunt event, Heartbeat Festival 2017 is one of this summer’s hottest festivals you should not miss when you are in Seoul.

The festival’s music lineup will include some of the best Korean rappers and DJs such as DOK2, Haze, Reddy, Choi Ha-min, DJ RANA, DJ Cream and more. Also, there will be a scare zone and a zombie flash mob, which will surely keep festival-goers entertained.

| Ticket Info: Tickets are 34% off on Trazy, the official English booking website for Hearbeat Festival 2017.

4. Water Bomb Festival 2017

Where: Jamsil Sports Complex, Seoul
| When: 29 July 2017water-bomb-2This year, the Water Bomb Festival will return with even more powerful water explosions and an awesome lineup!

For those new to the festival, it is the best water festival with the best dance music scene, where festival-goers can choose either Team Red or Team Blue, team up with their favorite artists and soak up the targets with water guns.

This year, the festival will feature acts including HyunA, Korea’s hottest rappers such as BewhY, C Jamm and Jessi, and Korean reggae artists Skull & Haha, as well as many local and international DJs, including Lookas, Maximite and DJ KOO.

| Ticket Info: The 1st release tickets are currently $70 but will rise as the event draws closer. Tickets to Water Bomb Festival are available here.

5. Pohang International Fireworks Festival

Where: Yeongildae Beach, Pohang City
| When: 26 – 30 July 2017pohang-fireworksKnown as the “City of Light and Fire,” the coastal city of Pohang will host its annual Pohang International Fireworks Festival where the spectacular fireworks display over the Yeongildae Beach will be showcased every night during the festival period.

Additional highlights include street performances, live music, laser shows and a magnificent fireworks competition on the night of July 29.

| How to Go: Overnight shuttle buses will be running to the festival from Seoul. It is best to book your ride in advance as the shuttle bus runs only on July 29.


A few other festivals and events in Korea this summer include the Bonghwa Sweet FishFestival from July 29 to August 5 (try and catch sweet fish with bare hands!) and the Wake Up City Festa Water Slide Festival in Haeundae Beach, Busan, from July 29 to August 13.

Need more inspiration for summer fun? Find more ideas and awesome things to do in Korea at Korea’s #1 Travel!button-visit

Photo Credits
Boryeong Mud Festival
Sinchon Water Gun Festival
Heartbeat Festival 2017
Water Bomb Festival 2017
Pohang International Fire & Light Festival
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. 

Korea This Week (June 18 – 24)

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A selection of this week’s Korea-related news and commentary

Nuke-free Korea?

Korea’s oldest nuclear power plant, the Kori 1 reactor located in the suburbs of Busan, was permanently shut down last Sunday after 40 years in operation. Commissioned in 1978, the reactor’s initial 30-year life span was extended by ten years in 2008.

Since then, the public mood in Korea has somewhat soured on nuclear power. In March 2011, many Koreans were alarmed by the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power

Fukushima reactor meltdown

The ruined Fukushima nuclear plant

plant in Japan, which prompted many calls for a review of Korea’s energy policies. And in 2012, the Korean public (and this Busan resident) were again rattled by the revelation that the Gori 1 reactor and others had been supplied with substandard parts backed by forged safety certificates, a major scandal  that resulted in several jail sentences.

President Moon Jae-in has vowed to wean the country off nuclear energy, which currently accounts for 22% of South Korea’s power generation, and to move toward renewables and natural gas. Critics of the plan have claimed that Moon’s move may hurt construction companies who have benefited from technology exports in recent decades. In addition to the example of Fukushima and the 2012 scandals, Moon and other proponents point to the potentially catastrophic combination of Korea’s population density, susceptibility to earthquakes, and a long-standing emphasis on cost and efficiency at the expense of public safety as justification for the push to go nuclear-free.

[Mis]adventure Tourism

Otto Warmbier, a 22-year old former student at the University of Virginia, died on Monday after being released from detention in North Korea, where he had been imprisoned since January 2016 for stealing a poster from a Pyongyang hotel. In response, Young Pioneer Tours (YPT), the company that brought Warmbier to North Korea, has announced that it will no longer accept American passport holders for its North Korea tours, while other tour groups that specialize in North Korea trips are expected to follow suit.

According to their website, YPT specializes in “ destinations that your mother would rather you stayed away from”, including Iraqi Kurdistan, Somaliland, and the site of the Chernobyl disaster. Regarding North Korea, the YPT website claims that it is “probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit provided you follow the laws as provided by our documentation and pre-tour briefings,” though it adds that if you do manage to break the law (even an absurdly minor one like stealing a poster), the consequences can be “severe”, or in other words, you’re totally screwed.

YPT also has a reputation for creating tours with a booze-fueled party atmosphere, and

Gareth Johnson of Young Pioneer Tours

YPT founder Gareth Johnson on a 2009 visit to Pyongyang.

for being somewhat lax in the organization of its tours. If you find yourself questioning the wisdom of a business model that encourages excessive alcohol consumption in a country where breaking the most minor law gets you shipped to a gulag for fifteen years, you’re not alone.

Love and Marriage: An Institute You Can Apparently Disparage

Over the past few years, anecdotal evidence has suggested to me that young Koreans are less willing to get married, or to delay marriage to their 30’s. The hard evidence for this trend is provided by Statistics Korea, who report that Korea’s marriage rate has dropped steeply since 1996, and last year recorded the lowest rate since 1970.

Against this backdrop, I was not quite sure what to make of this recent Korea Herald article, which reports that single-person households are now the most common living arrangement (27.8%) in Korea, while also noting that a majority of the people living alone (59.1%) are married.

It’s long been noted that many couples around the world, like this one in England, have found many benefits to sleeping in separate beds or even separate bedrooms.  Are Korean couples taking this marriage-saving trend to the next level by maintaining separate pads, or is it a dark omen that portends a further  weakening of the already battered institution? Stay tuned.

I Love Lucy

Still from the sitcom I Love Lucy. Though Lucy and Ricky’s separate beds were a product of prudish television moral guidelines, today’s viewers may more often see such sleeping arrangements as a crucial component of marital bliss. 






Gigiam Hermitage – 기기암 (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Gigiam Hermitage in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Gigiam Hermitage in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do is another one of those hermitages directly associated with the famed Eunhaesa Temple on the eastern slopes of Mt. Palgongsan. Of the three roads that lead out towards the hermitages at Eunhaesa Temple, Gigiam Hermitage is located on the southern road just up from Seounam Hermitage.

You approach Gigiam Hermitage along a river valley and then up a twisting and turning mountainside road. When you do eventually arrive at the hermitage parking lot, you’ll find the sprawling hermitage grounds. Straight ahead of you, and past some beautifully manicured grounds, are the monks’ dorms. These dorms are fenced off by a high wall, and the dorms are off-limits to visitors.

It’s to the left that you’ll find the buildings that visitors can explore. Unfortunately, when I visited, the main hall was being completely torn down and restored. So instead of being able to visit the beautiful, old main hall at Gigiam Hermitage, they had relocated the main altar paintings and statue to an auxiliary building at the hermitage. This building is the plain-white building to the right of the main hall construction site.

Housed inside this temporary main hall is a crowned seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And this statue is then backed by a beautiful black mural. Hanging on the right wall is a newer looking guardian mural.

Past the main hall construction zone, and to the right of the kitchen at Gigiam Hermitage, is a sign that directs you towards the hermitage’s Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall is just big enough for an adult to sit in. Housed inside this shrine hall are three paintings dedicated to various shaman deities. The first of the three, and straight ahead, is the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. To the left of the Chilseong mural is a retro-looking Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) mural. But it’s the mural to the right, the Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural, that will draw most of your attention. Sanshin is joined in the painting by a leper-looking tiger.

Entrance to Eunhaesa Temple is 3,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can either catch a bus from Hayang or Yeongcheon bus station. The bus ride will cost you about 2,000 won. It’s probably easier to get to Yeongcheon bus station. The bus to Eunhaesa Temple, from Yeongcheon, leaves 8 times a day and it takes about 45 minutes. The first bus leaves at 6:20 a.m. and the last bus leaves at 8:00 p.m. And from Eunhaesa Temple, you’ll need to continue to walk west of the temple, and to the south, towards Gigiam Hermitage. The walk takes about 2.5 km.

OVERALL RATING: 3/10. I think if it wasn’t for the re-construction of the main hall at Gigiam Hermitage, this hermitage would rate higher. However, since half of the buildings that visitors can explore are under construction, Gigiam Hermitage rates as low as it does. However, if you do decide to visit Gigiam Hermitage, keep an eye out for the hidden Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall behind the main hall and the distinctive Sanshin mural housed inside it.

Some of the grounds around Gigiam Hermitage.

One of the stone reliefs at the hermitage with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre.

The temporary main hall at Gigiam Hermitage.

Inside is housed this beautiful statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

The Bodhisattva of Compassion is backed by this black Buddhist mural.

The guardian mural to the right of the main altar.

A look around the temporary main hall.

Yep, the main hall is definitely under construction.

The stairs that lead up to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

The diminutive Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Gigiam Hermitage.

The Chilseong mural housed inside the shaman shrine hall.

As well as this image of Dokseong.

The unique Sanshin mural housed inside the Samseong-gak.

And the view from the main hall at Gigiam Hermitage.

Getting Advice from Chase Jarvis

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About a month or so ago, I saw a link from the legendary, Chase Jarvis to call him and leave a question for his new show. I wanted to hear his answer about my current situation and to find out if he had the chops to answer a real question. I wanted the kind of answer without the usual “lifestyle entrepreneur” mumbo-jumbo of “hustle” or “build your tribe” that so many of these people say. A little while later I commented on one of his posts and got a response from Chase stating something along the lines of “it’s been recorded and will be out soon” or something like that.

As any artist knows, the biggest period of stress is when someone famous or important looks at your work. This was one of those times and I immediately started to sweat once the show started. Chase went straight to my site and my tutorials page. From there he started dishing out some great advice. I had asked Jared Polin from Fro Knows Photo something similar but I really felt Chase dove deeper into this. For that I have to thank Chase for taking the time to answer a question that so many of us have. This advice was also followed up by a great article that my friend Pete DeMarco wrote in reply to Chase’s advice and I encourage you to check it out.

Why did I ask THAT question?

I feel that at the time I was frustrated by a number of projects that were not gaining enough traction (not to mention my career) as I thought that they deserved. I was under the assumption that by simply putting stuff out there (wherever that is) then it would be enough. So I asked Chase for some concrete advice on how to get noticed and how to separate myself from the rest of the photographers out there. Innocent enough question, right? We probably all have been or are in this situation. I was getting frustrated by trying all the techniques, reading all the ebooks and watching all the videos to understand what it takes and still getting nothing in return. So when I saw a chance to call Chase, I thought “what’s the worst that could happen?” and called the number.

Should I stay or should I go?

The first thing that Chase brought up was the fact that in my question I mentioned that I am wanting to head back to Canada. Chase’s insight was to “just go” as there is nothing really stopping me. He felt that if I was doing all of this (photography and tutorials) to make money to go home then there are better ways to go about it. Fair enough, but the reality is that I am trying to shift careers so that I can be a little more location independent. Meaning that if my courses and photography take off then I can relocate back to Canada a bit easier. It is a huge risk transitioning back to Canada after spending 14 years of my life here in Korea . Although if you watch Chase’s interview with Brandon Stanton they mention about not waiting for the big thing to happen and just going for it. Sadly, I feel in my case that this would have disastrous results.

Is it for the MONEY?

After looking at my tutorial page Chase dives into the meat of the issue. He questions my “creative endeavours” and starts wondering if I really know what I am doing. Personally, I think that being a photographer and offering tutorials on how I make my photos and cinemagraphs is pretty clear. It is not “a facade to sell shit” as he mentions but more of an extension of who I am. I have been a teacher for almost 14 years of my life and have recently earned a master’s degree in education. The tutorials are a natural extension of my willingness to share my passion with others. Yes, I charge money but I also produce a lot of free content via my youtube channel, blog and my page. So, transitioning to a new career, making money from your passion certainly helps.

What’s my goal?

This was a great question but one that I feel Chase fell a little off the mark. However, to answer frankly my goal is to be a  world-class photographer and pass my knowledge and tips on to you, my readers and friends. This is something that I think many people are trying to do these days and why this question hits home with so many people. I am not “just trying to make some money” but I do want to make a living. There is a difference that I think that deep down Chase himself knows otherwise his creativelive site would be entirely free. See, the thing is that in the core of my being I love photography. I have a deep connection with it and have devoted over a decade learning it. Ultimately, I want to spend my days taking pictures professionally and teaching people how to build that connection as well.

Master the craft and focus

This is where Chase really gave some good advice and it really made me think about my photography. Looking at my photos, they are all over the place. There are some from here and there and some food/coffee shots mixed in. Buildings and landscapes and whatever else I threw out there. I realized first and foremost that my site wasn’t really showing who I was. Also the people who are looking to me as a teacher should be confident that I can get them to a higher level of mastery and should be able to see this through my site. My site does not reflect that and I felt they way you’d feel if you brought your friends over to a messy house with dirty laundry and pizza boxes scattered everywhere.

He also brought up the fact that if my photography lacked focus and when it is  “very generic”  it makes it harder to master. Without the mastery no one will want to take my courses. This REALLY hit home. I wondered how many people have sites like mine with a little bit of everything. How many people have the messy house and never realize that people are viewing it every single day. I immediately updated my site to show more of the images that I want people to see and more of what I want to focus on. I also realized that my site did not link up to my courses or show that I make cinemagraphs as well.

Patience is a virtue

Embarrassingly enough Chase took a look at my new youtube channel that I started a month ago, after taking the advice of Jared Polin. Thus, it gave the impression that I was just starting out, which if you have been reading these blog posts you will know that I have been taking photos since 2004 or so and blogging like this for almost as long. To be honest, I shifted the content of the of blog in 2011 to be more focussed on photography in Korea. Professionally, I started working with companies like the AFC champions league around 2006 ~ 2007 and not to mention winning a few awards and putting on my first gallery in December of 2007 that was sponsored by the city of Ulsan.

I have had my fair share of struggles too. Read Pete’s article and near the bottom he tells what my good friend, Griffin Stewart said about my struggles (link). I have pushed hard with my tutorials and they didn’t go exactly how I’d planned them but I kept on plugging away. Now thanks to being a part of the 5 Day Deal, I have over 1200 students in my most recent cinemagraph course. So, patience is something that I have a lot of but it does wear out.

The problem is that I see so many success stories and it grinds away at me. Pete DeMarco made a good point is his article about the fact that we are basically made to think that success is our birthright. That is the type of thinking that gets me down. Even Brandon Stanton mentioned that he took thousands of photos before anybody cared about his work. However, when I watched his interview I looked at it and mistakenly thought that he was a guy that quit his job, moved to New York and hit it big after a few movers of taking pictures of strangers. Not to mention in that interview with Chase, they mention about not waiting for “something to happen” before leaving an undesirable situation. This sort of sheds some light maybe on Chases comment about moving to Canada.

Patience is great and in abundance when things are seemingly heading in the right direction. However, when you have a lot riding on your success and it just isn’t happening, then it wears thin. That was the place that I was in when I called Chase. I saw other people making their careers doing what I so loved to do and I was still struggling to get a single comment on my blog or get people to even sign up for a free tutorial. Now, a few things have changed and I have a large group of students enjoying my tutorials.

Be great at ONE thing

This is another really good point that Chase made. Trying to be everything to everyone will make things a lot more difficult at this stage in the game. It makes you appear to lack the focus and the discipline to be truly good at one thing. When people are looking to hire you or in my case, learn from you they want the best. However, Pete brought up a counter point that dabbling does help you find that one thing that you are good at. Had I not dabbled with cinemagraphs, I would not have gotten to know the awesome people at Flixel or have had the opportunities that came from being on the frontline of this emerging genre.

With that being said, he mentions a lot in the end about mastering the craft which made me realize that the images on my site or around may not show my best work. I got the feeling that he felt that I have not yet achieved the level of authority or mastery that he felt is needed to charge money for courses. Again, I feel that he is right in some cases but I also take responsibility for the fact that I am not always putting my best foot forward with regards to what I share with the world.

So the bottomline is that for me this was a huge learning experience for me. It is a hard thing to have someone like Chase Jarvis peel back the layers and go through your site. I have to thank him for choosing my question and taking the time to really give some sound advice. It has given me a lot to think about and I am sure that my question has helped a lot of other photographers as well.

I am now recalibrating and refocusing to show my best work and to improve upon that.  I plan to give my site a massive overhaul as well. I have left it sit idle for too long and it is looking a bit sad and dated. If someone like Chase can’t take one look at my site and see how much I have done then it shows me that I have some homework to do. So with that being said I must thank Chase Jarvis for spending so long on my question and to Pete Demarco as well for giving his thoughts on the advice too.

What do you think of Chase’s advice? Leave your thoughts below.

The post Getting Advice from Chase Jarvis appeared first on The Sajin.

Budget Travel Tips when Teaching ESL Abroad

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If you’re an English teacher, I know you’re probably all about traveling the world in style. Here are some budget travel tips to help you do it well. Let’s be real, even with a high-salary ESL teaching job, you’re not going to get rich. You’ll need to travel cheaply!

These budget travel tips are an excerpt from my book, The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future.Check it out if you need some ESL teacher financial awesome in your life:

English Teachers Love Traveling

Most people go abroad to teach because they want to travel and see the world, eat new food and experience different cultures, languages and people. The first thing that most English teachers want to do when they get a bit of vacation time is take an exotic vacation somewhere out of the country you’re teaching in. After you’ve paid off your debts, filled your emergency fund and begun to invest in the stock market, it really is possible to do this (guilt free). I’ve been to 30+ during my ten years abroad and have done all my trips quite cheaply. Here are my favourite budget travel tips.


I usually know that I want to go somewhere on vacation, but I never really have a specific place in mind, or a specific time period (I get almost twenty weeks of vacation at my job so can go anytime really). I will open up a few tabs on my browser and go to the discount carriers such as Air Asia and Cebu Pacific and see what kind of deals I can find from my city to a few different destinations, using the search over a period of time instead of specific days function. When I find something cheap to a place I want to go to, I book it.


When I went to graduate school in Vancouver, Canada, there were many international students and lots of them were from Europe. During my time in Korea, I also met many people from England who have returned home for work or school.

When I wanted to go to Europe, the obvious choice was to contact all these old friends and mention that I was coming. Most of them offered me a place to stay and generously even organized for me to stay at their friend or parent’s houses in different cities. I ended up traveling around Germany, France, England, the Netherlands and Belgium for almost ten weeks and only had to stay in a hotel for four nights during that period. Many of my meals were covered as well as people usually insisted on cooking for me, or taking me out (of course I returned the favor by buying a few groceries and cooking for them or buying a few drinks out).

In the end, I spent far less money than I would have ever thought possible in Europe and came home with a few hundred Euros still in my pocket. If you do not have friends or family members in interesting places, check out Couch Surfing, which is where you can stay with people for free.


Another way to stay cheaply for a long time in a place is to volunteer. While you often have to pay your own way there, you can sometimes find a place where you can get free accommodation and/or food and drinks.

One winter vacation, I volunteered at a cooking school/bar/restaurant/bungalow in Koh Lanta, Thailand for ten weeks, with all the profits supporting an animal shelter on the island. In return for working at the reception desk for forty hours per week, I got free accommodation and food, as well as half price (and many free thanks to the owner and generous tourists who found out I was a volunteer) drinks at the bar, along with meeting plenty of amazing people. It ended up being another extremely cheap vacation and I spent far less than I thought I would have.

During a summer vacation, I worked at a scuba diving shop in South Korea as a divemaster. I got paid a meagre salary that covered my accommodation, and I got a free lunch most days too. It was a fun summer of diving for very little money!


When I travel somewhere, I will generally book the first couple nights in a hostel or hotel after I get off the plane because it is quite dangerous to be wandering around in the dark, alone in a new city and looking for a place to stay. After that, it really is much cheaper to find something once you have your boots on the ground because the cheapest stuff is often not advertised on sites like Agoda. This is especially true if you will be arriving in a new place during daylight hours. The same applies for any sort of tours or transportation, which are always a rip-off when booked online from abroad instead of on the ground at your destination.


The most expensive way to travel is to always be on the road because you never learn where the best places to eat are, or where the cheapest laundry place is, or where the half price happy hour can be found. When you are always on the move, it can be extremely tiring and when you are in this state, it is so easy to make impulse purchases or break your budget with an expensive taxi ride simply because you are exhausted. Of course, the biggest expense that comes from moving around every couple of days is the transportation costs, which in some countries can end up being the biggest expense of the trip. I recommend staying in a place for at least four or five days to maximize your budget travel.


If your hostel or hotel offers “free” breakfast, make sure you take full advantage of it, especially if it is a delicious buffet. If this is the case, I will eat a lot for breakfast, a small snack for lunch and then a nice dinner later. You can save a lot of money this way. Otherwise, if breakfast is not included in your accommodation, get out of the habit of eating three full meals a day. Just go with street food or a quick snack from a bakery/convenience/grocery store for at least one of the meals, and preferably two. Street food, especially in South-East Asia is really delicious and reasonably healthy.


If you’re looking to get your financial house in order, then the book you’ll need is The Wealthy English Teacher. There are 10 steps you can follow, including budgeting + frugal living, investing in the stock market, building passive income streams and more. Wherever you’re at in your journey towards financial freedom, this book will help you out.

You can get the book on Amazon in both digital and print formats. The (much cheaper!) digital version can be read on any device by downloading the free Kindle reading app. Smartphone, Tablet, Mac, PC, Kindle will all work.

You can check out The Wealthy English Teacher on Amazon today. Get ready to teach, travel and secure your financial future at the same time:


Expat Personal Finance Websites: The Top 3

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Expat Personal Finance

If you’ve decided to teach English in a foreign country, it’s not so uncommon that you’d have some student loan debt. You perhaps have just finished university and want to travel a bit, see the world and have some adventures before returning home. If you aren’t from the USA (!), you can probably pay off your student debt in a year or two, especially if you work in a place where salaries for ESL teachers are reasonably high.

But, what to do with your money after that? Parking it in the bank is a bad idea due to inflation. With the low interest rates these days, you’ll actually be losing money. There are lots of ways to make better use of your free cash.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information related to expat personal finance. There is almost none in fact. There are however three sources which can offer some solid information to help you get started on your journey towards expat personal finance awesome.

Sadly, I wanted to make this into a top 5 or 10 post, but there just isn’t enough good ones out there. Anyway, three is better than nothing so take a look around these ones, particularly Hallam’s site which has enough information for years of reading.

And of course comment below and let us know if you find another good source of expat personal finance information.

Top 3 Expat Personal Finance Websites


#1: Andrew Hallam

If you’re going to attempt to understand your financial situation as an expatriate, there truly is no better place to start than Andrew Hallam’s site. He’s the author of: The Global Expatriate’s Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire ExpatIn my opinion, this really should be in every single expat’s personal library. It’ll cost you around $15, but could potentially save or make your thousands.

There is also a lot of great information on his personal website. It potentially has most of the information from the book in various spots here and there. But, if you like organized, and easy to understand, the book is probably better. I’d rather read a single guide than waste hours searching around for little bits here and there.

You can find Andrew Hallam and lots of excellent expat personal finance information at: 

#2: TESOL LifeStyleexpat-pesonal-finance

In the past year, I ran across Brandy and Stephen who are the brains behind TESOL Lifestyle. I feel like they’re basically my sister and brother from other mothers and I think their website is awesome. They talk about things like making money on AirBnb, budgeting, passive income and side hustles. As you might know, I’m all about this stuff too.

Check out their site, particularly the budget stuff because I think they do a way better job at talking about the particular topic than I do. I’m not gonna lie to you-I don’t keep a budget and it’s a huge weakness of mine. It’s mostly just because I’m almost always thrifty and quite rarely feel tempted to overspend. Anyway, they’re fellow English teachers like myself so check them out if you teach abroad.

You can find TESOL Lifestyle at:

I heard that they might have a podcast coming out soon? I really hope they’ll get it up and running because they’ll be the only ones talking about this important topic.

#3: Expat Finance 

This site isn’t bad for expat personal finance, but it’s more geared for the business person working abroad than it is the average English teacher. Many of the things they talk about are more advanced-level moves such as offshore bank accounts and REITs.

However, they do have some solid information related to expat personal finance and it’s well worth a glance around. They also have an expat finance subreddit that you can ask some questions on and hopefully get some solid answers but it’s not super active. The archives are however a decent source of information and you may have had your question already answered.

You can find Expat Finance at:

Need more Expat Personal Finance Information?

If you’re looking for a book that is geared directly for English teachers and related to personal finance, you’ll need to check out The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future.

It has ten easy steps that will get you started down the road to some financial awesome in your future. Budgeting, paying off debt, saving up money to invest in the stock market, building passive income steams, and more. Wherever you’re at in the journey, you can jump right in and get started with building wealth.

The book is available in both digital and print formats. The (cheaper!) digital one can be read on any device (Kindle, Mac, PC, Smartphone, or Tablet) by downloading the free Kindle reading app from Amazon. If you’re never done it, it’s super easy to do and it’ll make your reading habit more affordable. Ebooks are cheaper than print ones!

Check out the Wealthy English Teacher on Amazon today:

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