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Club Opening: Jongno's Club 50

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A new club opened up this weekend in Jongno. Pub and lounge on the first floor and a dance club in the basement. I'm pretty sure it is a gay club as they were advertising it on Ivan City and it is right near the gay junction outside of Jongno 3 Gu exit 6.


Check out their facebook page for more information. I'll check it out sometime in the near future.  

10 Tricks for Learning Korean

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Are you learning Korean, or thinking about starting? Do you want some helpful tricks for learning the Korean language? I've made this video for you that covers 10 useful tricks that you can use in your Korean studies. You can check out the video right here, and read the tricks right below this post as well.


1. Learn Hangul
• There are several different systems for writing Korean with English, but none are accurate. Using English letters (Romanization) learn Korean means that you will be learning the wrong pronunciation, spelling, or meaning of each word. Learning Hangul only takes a few hours, but will greatly improve your ability to learn Korean. You'll thank me later.
2. Focus on Grammar
• Don't worry about cramming vocabulary until after you have a strong foundation in Korean grammar. Someone who knows proper grammar and basic vocabulary will always sound better than someone who's simply a walking dictionary but can't create coherent sentences. Focus on grammar first, and pick up vocabulary on the side with your extra time.
3. Make Mistakes
• Everyone makes mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes from time to time, you’re doing it wrong. You don’t need to wait until you can speak perfect Korean before you can start speaking Korean. Learn from your mistakes so that you don’t keep making the same ones, but don’t be afraid to make new ones.
4. Keep a Schedule
• Studying 30 minutes a day for 5 days is going to help you much more than studying for 150 minutes at once. You’ll memorize things a lot better than if you had to cram, and it’ll also be easier to manage your time. Also, set realistic goals for yourself; maybe 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week isn't realistic, but maybe 3 days a week is. You can always raise your goal if it is too low, but if you set your goal too high and can't hit it, you will lose your motivation.
5. Practice
• Practice the grammar and vocabulary that you’re learning as much as possible. Every time that you learn something new, practice by making your own example sentences using it. And if you can, make some Korean friends who can help you practice. The more that you can use Korean, the better that you’ll remember it. If you can’t find any Koreans around you, try making some internet friends. But make sure that you’re still practicing speaking and listening as well, and not only reading and writing.
6. Be Polite
• When you’re talking to a friend in Korean who’s the same age as you or younger, it is okay to use slang – in fact it’s preferred. However, if you’re talking to someone who’s older than you (such as a boss at work, or a teacher, or a stranger), even if they’re your friend, you need to speak polite Korean (polite Korean includes using either the 요 form or the 니다 form). If you’re not sure whether to use polite or casual Korean in a situation, always use polite Korean. It’s much better to accidentally be too polite, than to accidentally be rude.
7. Be Creative
• There are a lot of different ways to study Korean, and some will work better for you than others. Be open to experimenting with different methods for learning, and whatever works for you, keep doing it; if it stops working then move onto another method. This’ll help make learning Korean more fun, and will also help to keep you motivated and learning faster. One method that you can try is writing new words you’re learning onto sticky notes, and posting them around the house to help you remember their Korean words.
8. Use Multiple Sources
• I have to admit that I'm a bit biased on this point since I did write my own book, which you should check out, but I’m not the only source out there for learning Korean either. Try to use multiple sources when you’re learning. Everywhere might teach the same grammar and vocabulary, but each person and place might teach it in a different way. If you’re stuck on a concept, then try learning about it from another web site or another book. And if you don’t know what sources are good, try asking other people who have learned Korean already what they would recommend.
9. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
• You don’t need to compare yourself to other people. Every foreigner who learned to speak Korean started where you are now. With studying and practice, you’ll get better. And if you’re not as good as you’d like to be, just take a step back and look at your study habits. Are you studying regularly? Are you practicing what you’re studying? You can always adjust your schedule and keep going.
10. Keep Studying
• Once you have started learning Korean, you’re always going to be learning Korean. Even native Koreans are still learning their own language, and they’re practicing it every single day. The more that you study and practice, the better you’ll be able to speak Korean. If you have already been studying for a long time, then make sure to keep adjusting your schedule and study habits. Once you can hold full conversations in Korean, consider adding additional study methods, such as reading the newspaper, watching television shows, or even studying abroad in Korea. Above all, keep going. The better that you can speak Korean, the more opportunities that you’ll get to use it. Maybe you’ll become a Korean translator, or work at a Korean company, or even date a Korean.

Are you just starting to learn Korean, or want a solid review of the basics? My new book "Korean Made Simple: A beginner's guide to learning the Korean language" is the book for you!

You can check the book out here, or find it directly through Amazon and most online retailers.

-Billy

www.GoBillyKorean.com

 Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean

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Jirisan National Park

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“The mountain of the odd and wise people”

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Tey-Marie Astudillo
Journalist & Videographer
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Busan's Hidden Gem

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With a spread of vividly colorful houses sitting atop a seaside cliff, Taegeukdo Village in Busan (aka Gamcheon Culture Village) looks more like the scenery you’d expect to find in South America or along the shores of coastal Italy even, not South Korea.

This stark contrast to the ultra sleek buildings found in Gangnam, the pale high rise industrial-esque residential apartment towers that swallow most of Seoul and even the traditional Korean Hanok homes, has made the area a popular sightseeing destination for locals and foreigners over the years.

The village, originally formed in 1918 as a community for followers of the Taegeukdo religion, and later refugees during the Korean War, derives it’s name from the ‘taegeuk’ – more commonly known to westerners as the yin and yang symbols, which represent the balance of the universe.

Far from the busy beach scene where most frolic to in Busan, Taegeukdo Village is a perfect retreat to get lost in European-like narrow alley ways and explore a different, more humbling side of South Korea.

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10 Things In Korea That I’ll Never, Ever Do

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by Mr. Motgol

I wrote this  piece a few years back, and while a few things have changed since then, most have not. As it is currently boshingtang eating season, not to mention Mudfest time, I thought that a re-post may be apropos. I’ve made a few small revisions. Enjoy. And don’t take it too seriously.

I like living in Korea. I’ve been here for almost ten years now, so if I hated it, I would have split a long time ago. I like hiking, I like the food, I like riding my motorcycle, checking out the street markets, and drinking my ass off. It’s a crowded crazy little place and I’ve grown to love it, for better or for worse. Plus, the girls are bangin’ hot. I should know: I married one.

That said, there are a lot of things here that I think are totally lame and that I have no interest in doing. Ever. Here’s a list of ten, in no particular order:

1. I’LL NEVER, EVER GO ON A TEMPLE STAY

journey_600

Does wearing pajamas, waking up at 3 a.m., eating soggy flavorless food, bowing hundreds of times, and sitting crosslegged for hours on a hard wooden floor sound like fun to you?  Doesn’t to me. In fact, it sounds totally shitty and boring as fuck. Yet countless foreigners head to the monasteries every weekend to do  “temple stays,” as if it’s some essential “cultural experience” that will leave them with a better understanding of Korea. If you really want to understand the culture, pick up some of the language and get drunk with some ajoshhis at your local soju tent.

And a lot of people give Buddhists a pass because they’re all “nice” and don’t bomb abortion clinics, but Buddhists believe that people are poor because they were assholes in their “past life.” That sounds like a load of horse shit used to keep people in their place to me. Screw Buddhists. I’d rather be a Muslim any day, as at least they believe in egalitarianism.

2. I’LL NEVER, EVER WEAR A HANBOK

hanbok1

Nothing seems to tickle the locals’ fancy more than dressing up the big goofy foreigners in hanboks, which are colorful, traditional Korean attire.  Schools love to make their teachers put them on for festivals and special days; some losers even get married in the things, no doubt at the insistence of their ball-busting soon to be a battle-ax ajumma future wives.  Hanboks suck.  They make any woman who dons one look pregnant and pretty much every foreigner look like a stupid, fat clown (which is how they see us, anyway.)

clown

In short: jarg clobber.

3. I’LL NEVER, EVER GO TO THE BORYEONG MUD FESTIVAL

mudfest

Nothing says “newbie” like the Boryeong Mud Festival: Packs of fresh-off-the-boat teachers wandering around in various states of undress, covered in mud that’s not even from the beach (it’s trucked in for the event) and celebrating the fact that they can publicly drink without getting arrested. The locals have caught on too, gouging the drunken tourists with quadruple-priced rooms, drinks, and meals. The whole thing is a like ESL spring break, though instead of Cancun, the event takes place in a gurgling petri dish. No thanks.

4.  I’LL NEVER, EVER SEE THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS

cherry

The only thing as dreadfully boring as a temple stay must be the yearly pilgrimages to see the cherry blossoms every April.  People pack into their Hyundai Sonatas and wait hours in horrendous traffic jams just to catch of glimpse of the “beautiful cherry blossoms that sooth the soul.”  Sure they’re kind of pretty, but they’re just little fucking flowers on trees. Are they that desperate for natural beauty in this country that blossoms on trees whip them up into some sort of sightseeing frenzy? I don’t get it. I’d rather wash my cats, or spend the weekend watching National Treasure 1 and 2 on a constant loop.

5.  I’LL NEVER, EVER HELP THE ORPHANS

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It’s seems like every month, somebody’s doing some kind of benefit to “help the orphans” – concerts, silent actions, volunteer trips – you name it, those orphans are getting a lot of love, not to mentions some big coin. It’s as if they’re the only charity that foreigners care about. Who are these “orphans” anyway?  I’ve never met any. I thought all of the orphans in this country get adopted by needy and neurotic white Christian couples from Wisconsin, anyway.

6.  I’LL NEVER, EVER WATCH AN “EAT YOUR KIMCHI” VIDEO

eat your kimchi

Really. Those guys should be flayed with razor wire.

7. I’LL NEVER, EVER PAY MONEY TO SEE A SUPER COOL LAPTOP BAND

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There have been a smattering of bands coming through Korea of late, which I do applaud.  However they’ve all been small combos of unshaven emaciated vegan hipsters playing electroclash or whatever bullshit is passing for cool among the ironic mullet set in Williamsburg, Silverlake, and Portland, Oregon these days. A few years back an outfit called Xiu Xiu came to town. I checked out their video on youtube, and it was a steaming glass of pretentious cat piss. This isn’t surprising, seeing how they’re signed to my home town of Olympia’s super-elitist Kill Rock Stars label, who have always put out music so “cool” that it doesn’t even have to be good.

Call me an old, out-of-touch jerkoff, but if you require a laptop computer to play a show, you’re not a musician and I probably will hate you and want to burn down your band.

8.  I’LL NEVER, EVER LEARN HOW TO MAKE DEOK

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Deok, or Korean rice cakes are culturally cherished, but they’re really like eating concentrated apathy. They’re nothing but rice that’s been smacked to death with a huge wooden mallet. Koreans love the things and are always forcing them on foreigners, oblivious to the fact that most of us do not think that “Korean rice cakes are the most delicious rice cakes.” But it’s always in front of your boss or at a home where you teach a very lucrative private, so you choke down the slab of “deok” that looks and tastes like it was cut straight out of a Nerf football.

Some silly and stupid foreigners go on weekend retreats where they learn to make the shit.  That’s just wrong. Some recipes need to stay in the family.

9. I’LL NEVER, EVER EAT BOSHINGTANG

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Boshingtang is Korean dog meat soup. It’s pretty much only eaten by men (to make their dicks hard), and is eaten mainly in the summer, often with su yuk (steamed dog meat).  Most foreigners rightly turn their noses up a the disgusting and depraved practice of eating fido, but there are a big enough minority that give it a try, some with gusto even. They think they’re getting some “real” cultural experience, but no, they’re just eating nasty-ass greasy dog meat and patting themselves on the back for really “getting into Korea.”

Fuck that. I’ve been to the Gupo dog market and seen those poor guys stuffed in their cages and looking out at me with sad, defeated eyes, resigned to their unfortunate fate, which usually involves being strung up and beaten before getting killed.  This supposedly makes the meat more tender or delicious or some other load of crap, but I think it’s just because the people who raise and slaughter dogs are just plain mean.

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I know, I know. I’m a hypocrite because I eat other meat and those animals are too, treated brutally. But I say fuck you, dogs are different and should not be eaten. Chickens and turkeys, on the other hand, are fair game. (rimshot)

*10.  I’LL NEVER, EVER PAY OUT THE ASS FOR OVERPRICED SHITTY FOREIGN FOOD 

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How many times have I gone to an Indian, Thai, or Turkish place in Korea and gotten totally hosed? I never trust any foreigner who says, “Oh, there’s this amazing new middle eastern restaurant in Kyungsungdae.  It’s awesome.”  Why?  Because it never is.  Most all of these places require a wheelbarrow full of banknotes to pay for portions so small that they’d leave a Darfur refugee wanting for more.  One time I counted three microscopic pieces of chicken in a sixteen dollar curry at an abortion of an Indian restaurant. The worst is the time I went to the Thai place in Haeundae and ordered the crab and shrimp curry (thirty six bucks).  The dish arrived, with a handful of small, spiny, gum slicing crabs.  Upon further investigation I discovered there were no shrimp at all. When confronted, the indolent waitress just shrugged, told us that they were out of shrimp, turned and walked away.  And I won’t even write about the massacres that are Korean attempts at Mexican food, except to say that the ceviche I tried in Masan was made with ketchup. Motherfucking ketchup.

I’ve pretty much given up, and so should you.  Wait until you leave this country to get your fix of foreign food, or make the shit yourself – that’s what I do.  And to all you wannabe food critics out there, stop writing glowing reviews of awful foreign restaurants for those English language publications. I haven’t read a negative restaurant review yet, and believe me, some of these places need their rectums reamed.

Me? I’ll be sticking to bibimbap, galbi,  and my daily jeong shik.  As for the shitty foreign restaurants? Just like the holocaust: never again.

 

*Okay, I’ll admit that foreign food options these days have gotten a lot better. I’ve had passable Indian, okay Thai, and some very good Mexican, but this is a new development. I should probably remove #10 from the list, but just let me stew in the hate of days gone past. 



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Criminal Justice in Korea: Jury Trials

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We have continued our column from two weeks ago regarding criminal justice, now discussing the relatively new jury trial system in Korea.  We thank the Korea Herald and remind you to read the disclaimer.
 

Criminal justice: Jury trials in Korea

 
In continuing our discussion of criminal law in Korea, today we discuss a recent addition to the Korean judicial system: the jury trial. 

Before July 2012, all criminal trials in Korea were bench trials, in which the judge decides what is true. This contrasts with a jury trial system where the judge acts like a referee, making sure the two sides follow the law, and the jury of ordinary people decides who to believe.

To qualify for a jury trial, the crime a defendant is charged with must carry a possible sentence of more than one year of imprisonment. Lesser crimes do not carry a right to a jury trial. This is actually not so different from California, where infractions (maximum penalty six months) are tried by bench and not jury. 

Even when the charge is sufficient to warrant a jury trial, a trial by judge may still occur if the defendant waives his right to a jury, or if certain circumstances make the case inappropriate for a jury trial. Those circumstances include if the jurors are so intimidated by violence or loss of property that they cannot complete their duty, or if codefendants do not want a jury trial.

The first step in a jury trial is of course to select a jury. Citizens 20 years old or older are selected at random by the court. Then the judge will exclude jurors who may be biased because they know the people or circumstances involved. After that, the attorneys for each side have a chance to ask questions to try to explore the personality of the jurors and each side has a certain number of preemptory challenges ― jurors they can remove even though the juror was not overly biased, based on the attorney’s preference.

The jury, which is composed of nine people, decides by majority rule. Most juries around the world operate on a majority or supermajority rule. Even in the U.S., where historically a conviction required a unanimous jury verdict, there are many states that have abolished the old rule in favor of majority or supermajority decision-making. So Korea’s approach, though less protective of defendants, is more in keeping with most modern jury systems.

Two factors make Korean jury deliberations very different, though: First, the jurors are allowed to receive the opinion of the judge(s) handling the case, a degree of judge-juror interaction forbidden in many other jury systems for fear the judge will overly influence the jury. In fact, if the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, it must hear the judges’ opinions. And second, the jury’s decision is nonbinding ― the judge may disregard it. There are no specific criteria for when the judge should disregard the verdict, so it remains almost completely up to the discretion of the individual judge.

Besides deciding guilt and innocence, the jury is also expected to give an opinion regarding sentencing. This is different from in the U.S. or U.K., where generally the jury does not control punishment in any way, except for American death penalty cases, where the punishment of death must be separately assessed by the jury. 

This raises an interesting issue, as previous crimes are considered when determining punishment but not when considering guilt. Evidence of previous crimes is usually considered highly prejudicial, inflammatory and of questionable relevance when deciding whether the defendant committed another crime. But when punishing a person, courts usually consider the criminal’s overall conduct ― past and present ― in determining how severe a punishment is warranted. 

Since a Korean jury gives a verdict on both guilt and punishment at the same time, they will hear all the evidence, including highly inflammatory evidence about the defendant’s past crimes. Many lawyers think that this biases the jury in favor of guilt, as jurors often sway towards a guilty verdict if the defendant has a past record, irrespective of the evidence, particularly if those crimes are egregious.

As we mentioned earlier, the jury verdict is not necessarily binding, but it can have an effect on the prosecution’s ability to appeal. The Korean Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that, unless a prosecutor finds new evidence that would clearly establish guilt, a verdict of not guilty accepted by the lower court should stand.

But of course, that’s yet another situation we hope not to see you in.

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Sundays in Ulsan

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It's been so long I almost forgot I have a blog. I only have half of the summer program left, Kimchi boy just celebrated his 29th birthday, the news have been depressing with all these reports of air disasters (I have a serious fear of flying now but the fact that my maternal family is from Taiwan and my boyfriend is Korean is not helping)...

Before I came to Korea, I thought that I would blog regularly while in Korea. But now that I am here, I've been so lazy and my daily life consists of eating, sleeping & watching Korean drama (Hotel King, anyone?).

The only day I look forward to is Sunday. Because on Sundays, I go on dates with Kimchi boy.

Usually we hunt for cafes with good atmosphere and good food, or sometimes we do something interesting like go to a room cafe or a DVD room. (Room cafes are small tiny rooms the size of two study tables, where couples spend time watching TV, playing board games and eating snacks. DVD rooms are rooms where you rent a DVD and you can stay as long as the duration of your movie. Yes.. Korean couples want new options other than the traditional way of watching a movie.) & When we want something challenging, we hunt for Southeast Asian food. You have no idea how difficult it is to get it here.

Last Sunday, we finally found a western cafe/restaurant that serves some really good western food!!! It was nothing like the other western food I've had in Korea. As a Singapore (Asian), I am in no position to judge western food but I've been to America and it did taste like something I've ordered before in the USA.

The place we went is called Jeezle, a European style brunch cafe located at samsan-dong. It is very, very convenient and there is a bus stop right infront of the cafe. However, if you happen to live in UNIST, it takes about an hour to get there.

This website gives you directions to get there: http://ulsanonline.com/restaurant_guide/?p=1847


 
 
Literally in tears just looking at the menu.

We ordered a sandwich set and tomato-based pasta. This is my first time seeing western breakfast that actually looks good ever since I arrived in Ulsan.


One of the best pasta I've ever had in Korea!!!!! The tomato sauce was NOT the usual starchy, transparent sauce you get from most Korean-western fusion or "western" restaurants here.

We also had dessert at Paris Croissant, one of the french pastry shops with branches all across Korea.




Milk tea bingsu (Ice flakes) with fruits. There are many variations of this in Korea.

 
I am waiting for an available weekend to go back to Daejeon (where Kimchi boy is from)! Daejeon feels like home to me now & I can't wait to go back and see Maxi (our puppy), roll on the comfortable bed and just spending time with his parents. Hopefully next weekend!
 

How to prepare for English Camp

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You’re Busy

There are a lot of things to be overwhelmed about in your first year of teaching in Korea, from co-teacher relationships, to asserting your authority, to contract disputes. While our work load is usually pretty light, there are a few times a year when being the only foreigner in your school means you are in charge of one too many things. One of those times comes around at the end of each semester, when preparing for the Summer or Winter English Camp. With Summer Camp just around the corner, and with about 8 camps under my belt, I thought I would share some tips and advice with you that will hopefully ease some of the stress you may have about doing your first camp!

You’re Nervous

I remember how nervous I was doing my first camp at a public school, especially when only one student showed up and I had to scrap my whole plan on the first day. Eventually more students came, but since it was my first year at a public school, I wasn’t used to the whole last-minute, casual, nothing-is-as-serious-as-they-make-it-sound feel that I’m so accustomed to now. And it’s true, you have to be really flexible in this job — never be too invested or attached to any plan that you’ve made. Go with the flow and have fun with it!

You have a Deadline

So if you have a deadline for your camp plan and materials and you feel overwhelmed and you’re not sure where to start, I hope this is helpful for you. I would have loved to see this when I planned my first camp! If you want to see my camp book, watch the video! And if you have any camp horror stories or success stories I’d love to hear them! If you’ve taught before, what was your first camp like? Leave a comment!

Here are some Tips!

Here’s a quick summary of my process in preparing for English camp.

  • Pick a fun theme! In the past I’ve done Dr. Seuss, Olympics (during the Olympics), and Superheroes.
  • Make a broad outline – No details, just activities and big picture ideas.
  • Make a materials list – You’ll probably need to turn in the outline and materials list to your co-teacher by a certain date, so check with him/her on this if you haven’t heard.
  • Focus on your strengths – If you are great at making worksheets, by all means go to town and start making your book! If you’re great at making powerpoints or games, do that. Either way, focus on that and supplement the other elements of your camp with the plethora of materials online.
  • Use the materials available to you – I usually use waygook.org, Pinterest for free printables, and education.com to source worksheets for my camp book.
  • Have FUN! Don’t be afraid to do things that just sound fun to you! Want to play outdoor games with water balloons and water guns for your summer camp? Do it! Want to teach them a fun dance like the Cha Cha Slide? Do it! Want to tye-dye shirts to wear on the last day of camp? Awesome! Be creative. If you’re having fun, they will too.

When you’ve finished your camp, come back and let us know how it went! Did you have fun? Did the students enjoy it?

The post How to prepare for English Camp appeared first on Evan and Rachel.


 

 


Late Night Revelations on Korea Made Over GS25 Sandwiches

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Ignorance breeds contempt. It seems obvious (and sounds like something I’ve heard before), yet when you’re away from your “normal” lifestyle, it can be easy to keep thinking in the way you’ve been thinking before entering your new normal. And that alone can help to shift how one thinks, both in this normal and the normal you’ll eventually return to.

Huh? Let me try to explain.

I come from a family of complainers. Whether it was something in society or in an annoying commercial, our gut reactions have always been to complain about it. Because that feels like we’re doing something about it. “I obviously am against this, and will show my disapproval of it to someone else who is against it by bitching about it.” But, that’s where action usually ended.

One can argue this method stems from low self-esteem, enacted by those who feel they don’t have the power to do anything about whatever is grinding their gears. But, voicing displeasure is something, right? The person with low self-esteem sure as hell hopes so, and will hold onto long before taking on the daunting task of actually trying to do anything about it.

Here in South Korea, one can argue there is a collectively low self-esteem, brought about by generations of constant collisions with bigger nations like China and Japan, by the 60+ year turmoil with its neighbors to the north and through what should be considered an archaic handicapping hierarchy of respect and power based on Confucianism.

But, my revelation was not brought up as a way to complain about South Korea’s mental state. Frankly, because I don’t have actual proof, only anecdotal “evidence.” It’s the same anecdotal evidence that deems the Irish are drunks, people from the South (U.S. to my non-U.S. readers. Or, non-US. Man, that’s meta) are racists, and Parisians are rude. I know none of this from personal experience, although I do know an Irishman who likes to get drunk a lot, but he lives in South Korea.

I think it might take a few of these to get a decent buzz on.
I think it might take a few of these to get a decent buzz on.

What low self-esteem–mine, yours, Korea’s–can do is help maintain ignorance. When I don’t know something, I fear it. If I fear it, my self-esteem can inevitably wane. If it wanes, I flail for something to hold onto. As a foreigner with the feeling of probing Korean eyes on me everyday–hidden behind a thick wall of a language I cannot understand–I can hold onto many stereotypes about Koreans. Many, such as any that may creep in while watching folks come and go from the dog restaurant across from my apartment, aren’t particularly nice.

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The rational side of me acknowledges, even as those not particularly nice thoughts begin to develop, that these stereotypes have little if any place in reality. They are just the knee-jerk reaction of someone who has been conditioned for a long type to lash out at things he cannot understand and/or do anything to change. If I walked into that restaurant and screamed, “eating dogs is wrong!” 1) they probably wouldn’t understand me anyway, 2) I’d look (legitimately) like a nut and 3) I would be a hypocrite since the sandwich I just bought and consumed from GS25 had ham on it.

But ignorance breeds contempt. And it is easier for me to say “eating dogs is wrong,” “spitting on the stairs in the subway is wrong” or “staring at me for an uncomfortably long time is wrong,” than to look at the bigger cultural context. This is not to give someone a free pass (frankly, sometimes I would like to grab someone by the back of their head and make them lick that spit off the stairs). This is not for them; it’s for us, American, Canadian, Korean, anyone who has felt the familiar, fear-fueled pull of writing someone or something off as simply this or that, when a larger examination could probably benefit everyone involved.

By looking at the bigger cultural context, some of the mystery of “the strange foreign thing” is removed. While this can also take away some of that “ooh, this is cool because it’s so, so Korean” mystique that’s pretty rad when you first get here, it can also help smooth out some of those “I hate this because it’s so, so Korean” wrinkles that can develop once you’ve been here a while.

So, what’s the best way to start smoothing out wrinkles? Reading up on your history is a start. But, if you (read: me) are not in the mood for a history lesson, there’s another way: learning the language. Really, what isn’t more connected to history than a society’s way of communicating?

And this is where the revelation really took shape, after having woken at 1:30 a.m. from a four-hour nap, sitting on a bench along a dark and quiet Gimhae sidewalk in the middle of the night, munching on a sandwich with ham on one half, mashed potato on the other (cultural context!). I have been here for about one-and-a-half years. I have had my ups and downs with this country and its many, many quirks.

Like Chuseok gift boxes of toothpaste.
Like Chuseok gift boxes of toothpaste.

The equalizer for most times I was up, however, has been language. Whether it has been working with a co-teacher fluent in English, hanging out with good friends who speak it, or the most important for thriving in a foreign country: learning that country’s language and applying it to everyday situations.

And, it hit me, like my fear a scooter racing down the sidewalk will take me out one day, as to why I have recently felt more inclined to write off that leering adjosshi on the road, that fawning teenager at the bus stop, that ancient belief that eating boiled chicken or dog meat on July 18 is somehow more beneficial for health (that one I’m still struggling to wrap my head around): since moving from my first apartment in another part of Gimhae to what’s now my permanent residence in this city two months ago, I have not once actively tried to further my Korean studies. And my opinion of, and tolerance for, this country and its many, many quirks has suffered as a result.

Quirky advertisements in subway stations.
Quirky advertisements in subway stations.

Ignorance breeds contempt and knowledge is power, two of those cliches that become cliche for a reason. None of this is meant to give assholes a pass. An asshole is an asshole is an asshole, in any country, in any language. It’s to give a little perspective and sanity, two other benefits to knowledge.

In the end, like pretty much everything in life (I won’t say for certain, but I have yet to find something that debunks the belief), it’s all about balance. I refuse to be an apologist for some of the infuriating things maintained or dismissed by this country (public garbage cans!), but I also refuse to simply say this sucks, that sucks or you suck. Because that just blows.



JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.


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