Recent Blog Posts

All Recent Posts

Teacher fired after getting the swine flu

Now here's a story that makes us scratch our heads. Brian in Jeollanam-do broke the story, and the Midnight Runner has done an excellent podcast with the teacher supposedly affected.

The Canadian teacher, only identified as 'Mark' had been on vacation in Thailand, then returned to Korea. He began feeling sick about 4-5 days after returning to Korea (though 'Mark' never mentions having a week of quarantine, which has quickly become standard procedure for most schools too worried about foreign teachers getting sick). From the podcast, his hagwon asked him to come into work even though they knew he was sick.

'Mark' got his testing done, was asked to stay at home as a precaution. He was treated with Tamiflu, and went back to work since he was feeling better. He was eventually diagnosed with swine flu, and the clinic called the school to inform them. The hagwon responded by telling him not to come in, and that they may have to shut down the school, test all the teachers, inform the students, and so on. Perhaps the school suffered big losses as Mark suspects, or several students quit the school as he seems to imply. Although none of the teachers or students got infected, it sounds as though enough students quit (or threatened to quit), and 'Mark' was eventually fired.

At this point, 'Mark' began talking about money. Here's where the story gets interesting for me personally. On the podcast, he began talking about getting his severance pay, a flight home, and getting paid for the three months remaining on his contract. He called the Labor Board, only to find out that the school doesn't need to pay your severance pay (which is true - you have to be employed for at least a year before you can get your money out) or your flight home (which is not obligatory by the school - it's in most contracts that they arrange your trip home after your contract is complete). As for the time left on his contract, I'm not sure if he seriously expects an employer to pay for work not done. Sorry, it's a seriously sucky situation, but getting money you haven't yet earned is highly unlikely at best. Contracts are not intended to serve as a guarantee of future earnings, nor does a one-year contract actually mean you'll be paid for that entire year.

The swine flu has made many in this country paranoid - some to the point of being concerned even after being cleared by a doctor (according to the story, that was the case). The parents do have a right to be concerned if there was a chance of their kids getting sick - but getting cleared by the doctor and following the respective quarantine rules should have been enough. I can imagine enough parents freaking out and demanding the school get rid of him - even though he presumably no longer posed a threat. There might a case out of 'wrongful termination' - but fighting a local businessperson able to hand out white envelopes understand the court system will be like pushing a boulder up Mount Everest.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe - 2009


Question from a reader: international schools and holidays

A reader writes in with questions about international schools and holidays here in Korea. She writes:

hi chris,
i ran across your web-site while doing research regarding living in korea. my husband, three children and i are moving there next month. halloween is a big deal to them. i was looking into what koreans did during halloween and ran across your site. i'm glad to see the school you teach at was having fun with the american traditions of the holiday. my kids are 7, 5 and 3, so of course.

i'm wondering which school you teach at? we are of course going to be placing our children in an international school in/around the seoul area and i'm so nervous about making that decision. from pictures, it seems like you work with small children.

also any other websites you can point out geared towards americans moving to korea would be appreciated.

To my wonderful reader and mother of three,
I currently teach English to adults in a one-on-one classroom / office. Last year I worked with a kindergarten / elementary school, thus the interesting Halloween pictures from last year. I should note that the Halloween program was more of an attempt to make the parents happy - something about learning American traditions or customs.

Unfortunately, the concept of Halloween as a holiday to scare people and give out candy simply doesn't exist here. It's a party day for some Koreans and foreigners in Hongdae, but other than that it's virtually non-existant. A few other holidays translate better - Thanksgiving is similar in nature to Chuseok, a Korean holiday that's coming up the first weekend in October. Christmas is not quite as huge here - only about 25% of the population is Christian - but is still a day off from work. Both New Years are days of celebration (solar and lunar - usually around mid-Feburary), with the latter being a bigger one.

International schools in Seoul - hmm. After a long time of researching (about 10 minutes), I have some information to offer. Kudos go to the Seoul Global Center, which is a great place for virtually any question about life in Seoul. Here's some options from one of their printed resources called Living in Seoul (get a copy if you can - it's incredibly helpful):
I couldn't tell you whether these ages are Korean ages (where a child's age starts at conception) or Western ages (where a child's age starts at delivery) - since these are international schools, I would assume they would be Western ages. Also note that international schools are somewhat expensive - one estimate is $12,000 - $20,000 USD per student per year. Sending them to a Korean public school is an option - I don't know enough about the pros and cons - readers, any help?

I'd also like to point out that homeschooling is also a distinct option. Korean law doesn't currently address homeschooling either way - in other words, it's neither illegal nor legal. There are some homeschooling communities in Korea (mostly located in churches), although most foreign parents homeschooling in Korea presumably go it alone. There's plenty of support on the internet - try or for the USA Distance Learning Association.

I'm afraid foreigners with kids are in the smallest minority here in Korea - I can't say I've seen more than a handful in my year and a half here. At least one fellow K-blogger has a baby (AKA 'A Geek in Korea') and may be able to offer some insights or advice). Since I'm getting out of my sphere of knowledge, I would urge you to take your time. There's no rush to enroll them in school - the fall semester has already started. Best of luck - and let me know what you learn!

Fellow expats - have babies or kids in Korea? What have you learned in your time here?

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe - 2009

I Wanna Be Your Dog

Saw a t-shirt with this wonderful combination of words screaming from it.

Want this t-shirt.

Everything else is bad.

It will pass.

"Seoul to Vaccinate 10 Mil. Against Influenza A"

So says the Korea Times:
South Korea plans to vaccinate 10 million people against influenza A by the end of this year to stem the rapid spread of the disease that has so far claimed three lives in the country.

Health and Welfare Minister Jeon Jae-hee said of the 13.3 million people, including young children and pregnant women, who are most at risk, about 75 percent will be vaccinated by December.

She said Seoul has contacted Britain's GlaxoSmithKline and secured an order for 10 million doses of an anti-viral vaccine, with more to be bought next year.

Jeon said full-scale vaccinations will begin in November with 27 percent of the country's 48 million population to receive protection by February 2010.

Authorities said that medical and quarantine personnel, people suffering from various diseases that inhibit the body's immune systems, young children, pregnant women, students and soldiers are most exposed to the new strain of the flu that have affected most countries in the world.

Jeon also said that South Korea plans to stockpile its Tamiflu reserve so it can treat 10 million people at any given time.
Um, right, sure. I love the idea of a 'full-scale' vaccination program including exactly 27 percent of the population. Oh yes, and let's get young children and students, but not the teachers. Nah - let's keep them on a one-week home quarantine just in case the foreigners are dirty.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe - 2009

South River Toastmasters Summer Wine Party

SRTM holds social gatherings every year and our club in particular is known for some of the better ones. That's because we're lucky enough to have lots of people who are good at organising things. Last weekend we had a summer wine party at Casa Mio, which is behind Kyobo Tower in Gangnam.

Like any good summer wine party, it started off with plenty of chatter and catching up with friends. For KRW25,000 there was unlimited wine to drink and some light food. I probably had around 3 bottles in total, because I like wine and I wanted to get my money's worth. These days 25,000 won is a lot of money to me.

More than 8 cafeteria lunches to be exact.

Here are some of the SRTM people after a moderate amount of wine. I love Alice's face (second from the left). She looks like a little bunny rabbit with closed eyes.

On the left is Judy, one of my favourite nuna's (older sisters) here, and in the middle is Chris Lee, who I like a lot. Chris becomes twice as fun when he's tipsy.

Here's James Lim, the president of SRTM, who ironically had a stomach ache on the night of the party after giving a speech on the Wednesday beforehand that was all about a stomach ache he had in China. But, being the Aussie Battler that he is, he dragged himself into the venue that night and gave a short speech to the guests.

On the left is Luke Shim from Neowiz Toastmasters, and on the right is my new friend Anthony who studies in the fungus lab at Seoul National University. He's only here for a few months and is an international student from Uppsala University in Sweden.

The second round was at JJ's in the Hyatt hotel. I had been there before, but it was a long time ago. Quite a trendy outlet although a little crowded.

I ended up going home around 4am that night, only to wake up a couple of hours later and arrive at the lab at 7am. That's because once a year our building shuts down the electricity for maintenance, so we had to pack all the freezers with dry ice. These days I'm tutoring 3 days per week, going to Toastmasters, sampling down at Suwon for the PhD and trying to make sure the honeymoon is planned properly.

I think I'll be able to relax once I step on the plane with my new wife. For now though, I'll take each day at a time and try and make the most of it.

Seoul, by the numbers

Over at the Traveler's Notebook, an occasional series called 'By the numbers' appears talking about one's trip to some far-flung corner of the world. The most recent, from Cuzco, Peru, was fairly interesting - and got me thinking about trying to start counting things myself. Without further ado, here is my first effort in talking about Korea, by the numbers.

The following are the numbers for my average commute to and from work in Seoul, South Korea.

Flyer wavers (ajuma, or older women, who hand out flyers or business cards to passersby): 7

Koreans with dyed blonde hair: 3

Kids trying on adult clothes: 1

People selling something on the sidewalk: 6

Foreigners seen: 3

People wearing masks: 4

Illegal DVD's available from a street seller: at least 100 different titles.

Police officers who passed the illegal DVD seller and kept walking: 2

Ads for English language schools seen: 9

Ads for different English language schools: 4

Koreans seen carrying English books: 5

Koreans heard actually speaking English: 2

Ads that used at least one English word: 6

Ads that used exactly one English word: 3

Motorcycles using the sidewalk as another lane to drive on: 2

Convenience stores passed: 5

Men wearing suit jackets staring at women passing by in short skirts: at least 5

Business cards seen on the street advertising 'massages': at least 50

Number of bars: 4

Minutes spent walking: 14-15


I snagged a toy camera from a little back street stationary store in Nampo-dong last week. The super headz remake of the classic Vivitar ultra wide and slim. No batteries, no settings, just a small plastic box to stuff with rolls of 35mm film. It tagged along this weekend for an excursion up to Gyeongju, some beach exploring, and a Beomeosa hike. I was looking for a cheap and simple analog device and am happy with the shots. Easily slips in the pocket and should be perfect for some off-kilter graphics of the upcoming Asian trek.

Analog Korea

Busan shore

Busan shore

North gate wall, Guemejong, Busan

Beomeosa Pagoda

Bulguksa, Gyeongju, Korea

Gyeongju field

Gyeongju mounds

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged: Busan, photos, South Korea

Lijiang Baba

Lijiang old town, in north western Yunnan, is the type of place that almost seems too nice. With its narrow streets, gushing canals and Naxi architecture there is no doubt that it is beautiful, but nevertheless many people seem to come away disappointed in the town.

What's missing, it seems, is the presence of any sense of the real China. Lijiang is too clean, ordered and touristy to come even close to authenticity. The Old Town looks and feels, for the most part, like a Las Vegas casino could have built it.

It's not surprising that this superficiality is reflected by bad food. With a few notable exceptions, allot of the dining options in the old town appear to be a case of style over substance. Most of the restaurants and cafes are way overpriced, and seem to be staffed exclusively by a breed of young arrogant types who consider any sort of service an infringement on their human rights.

Rise early in the morning however (before the town has had a chance to rouge up) and another Lijiang presents itself. At these hours, the tour buses have yet to arrive and people seem to be doing normal, everyday things. It's at this time that you're also likely to come across Lijiang Baba, the town's street breakfast of choice.

Lijiang Baba consists of a pancake-sized piece of dough, freshly rolled then dropped into a frying pan with about an inch of hot oil. Into the middle is cracked a whole egg and some chopped green onions are also added. The whole thing is then flipped and allowed to cook on the reverse. The result is a piece of eggy bread about the same thickness and texture of naan bread.

As breakfasts go, this one is close to unbeatable. All too often in China fried flatbread is stodgy and saturated with oil. Not so in Lijiang. Here the bread somehow manages to remain crispy on the outside, yet light and fluffy in the middle. The egg, for its part, is well distributed and along with the green onions adds a little flavour. The Baba also comes with two tart and spicy chilli sauces - a real wake up call.

By midday the Lijiang Baba stalls have by and large cleared away and the tourist onslaught is in full swing. In this respect Lijiang Baba serves a second purpose; that of giving you the energy to get the hell out of there!

[Three] Five dishes for newbies to Korean food

I recently went to eat Korean food with my friends and I was surprised to hear that one of my friends, Monica had not tried it before.

So, I have decided to dedicate this blog entry to Korean food for everyone like Monica who have yet to have tried Korean food.

Here are five Korean dishes I would like to recommend for newbies to Korean food :)

#1) Although it is getting close to autumn,it is still summertime! These days, you may have heard about the dish 냉면 (It's pronounced "naeng-myun"). It is a popular cold noodle dish.
If you listen to K-pop at all, you may have heard the song Naeng-Myun by Jessica of Girl's Generation and Park Myung Soo, a famous comedian in the show 무한도전 ("moo han do jun") or also known as "Infinitey Challenge".
(in the picture above, Jessica and Park Myung Soo are singing "Naeng-Myun" live)

When I first heard the song, Naeng-Myun, I thought it was funny that this food dish was used to compare summer love, but this song has grown on me. The dance is really funny too actually. During the chorus "naeng-myun, naeng-myun, naeng-myun", they do a dance move that looks like they are eating the naeng-myun noodles. Even Tae Yeon of Girl's Generation was doing the moves!
I definitely love naeng-myun, especially when my mom makes it for me at home! These days, if you go to a Korean supermarket, you can find instant naeng-myun packs which has the naengmyun noodles and sauce all included in the box. You just have to cook the noodles and make the naeng-myun soup by boiling water with the sauce included and then cooling it in the fridge before serving. Toppings are not included, but according to your taste, you can slice cucumber, cooked beef, a boiled egg and also few slices of Korean pear!
Here's an example of naeng-myun in a box
If you like spicy food, I would like to recommend 비빔냉면 ("bi-bim-naeng-myun") which is a spicy version of naengmyun (also called 물냉면, literally translates to cold noodles in water, to distinguish it from 비빔냉면, which translates to mixed cold noodles)
#2) One of my favorite things to order is 설렁탕 (pronounced "sul-lung-tang"). This is a warm dish, unlike naeng-myun which is served cold. Sullungtang is a warm beef-broth soup that is cooked for a long time (sometimes a few days) to make sure that the soup extracts all the flavours and nutrients from ox bones. It is served with sweet potato noodles and slices of beef. Sometimes it is not seasoned to allow the customers to pretty add salt and pepper and also diced green onions according to their own taste.
Here's Sullongtang served with rice, and two side dishes, 김치/kimchi and 깎두기 (pronouned "ggack-doo-gi")

#3) This next dish I am going to introduce is popular for many BBQ lovers. Korean BBQ ribs (갈비/"gal-bee") anyone?

Usually, in restaurants, the galbee is cooked right in front of your table in the small circular grill that is built into the table. With the galbee, Koreans also like to BBQ mushrooms, onions,  garlic, and sometimes even kimchi*!

*kimchi, pictured above, is a popular Korean side dish. It is fermented/preserved cabbage which is seasoned with various spices and sauces.

And voila, here is cooked BBQ galbee! Bon appetit :) 
 #5) My Chinese friends really like this last dish called 비빔밥 ("bi-bim-bab") which is rice served with a colorful array of vegetables including spinach, carrots, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and egg. 돌솥비빔밥 ("dol-sot-bibimbab") is the same dish that is served in a stone pot.

Here is bibimbab served with hot sauce and sesame oil. Adding the oil makes mixing the vegetables with the rice easier and the hot sauce is for people who likes spicy food!

#4) This fourth dish I am introducing is for all the noodle lovers out there! 잡채 ("jap-chae") I really like this dish as well!

Jabchae is sweet potato noodles with various vegetables that are chopped up (including pepper, carrots, potato, spinach, etc) and fried beef. This healthy dish is sometimes eaten on its own, or with with rice.

vegetables ready to go into the jabchae




Well I hope that you enjoyed this blog entry, especially if you are unfamiliar to Korean food! I hope I have convinced you to go out and try some!

Next time, I will explain what Korean 반찬 ("ban-chan"), Korean side dishes are.

In the meantime, I hope you have a chance to go eat some Korean food.

Yours truly,


Subscribe to Koreabridge MegaBlog Feed