The new train station

The new train station nearest to our apartment beehive is about 75% percent finished, and you now go through the spiffy new electronic ticket checkers in the new building. The new signs, in standard yellow and black, are up, and are predictably loose with their interpretation of English. Not terribly amusing are the ones that have been put up here at Bugok and everywhere else as well, saying “Seoul Thorough”, which I assume is meant to mean something along the lines of “Seoul Direct” or “Seoul Express”.
The one that gave me a laugh today, and made people stare at me more than usual, was the sign that was clearly meant to say “Bugok Rolling Stock Yards” but somehow came out “Bugok Roiling Stork Yards”. I don’t know why I found this one so funny, but I’ve been laughing since I came out of the station. A very “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” flavour to that one : “Roiling Stork, Bubbly Lemur” …

Interesting, and quite odd.

Interesting, and quite odd. The usual, in other words.
Elementary school students in Busan and other parts of South Gyeongsang province are reportedly singing the praises of Osama bin Laden. School authorities in the province said they are working to discourage children from singing what they called a “Bin Laden worship song.”….The song, reportedly sung to the tune of the theme song of a popular cartoon, goes something like this: “Osama bin Laden, the person I admire most. I also want to be a terrorist when I grow up. President Bush, the person I detest most. I’m going to blow up the 63 building.”
This is very much cut from the same cloth as “Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk, Mussolini broke his weinie…” or a raft of other schoolkid songs we half-remember from childhood. The interesting thing to me is that “the Busan Police Agency and the city’s education office on Dec. 7 ordered schools to stop students from singing the song, calling it ‘potentially dangerous‘”. I imagine the scene at the local constabulary…
Corporal Kim is on the sh-t list for not meeting his quota of traffic tickets for the month. The Chief calls him in to his office, yells at him and whacks him over the head a few times with a rolled-up newspaper, then puts him on Elementary School Duty. “If you hear any kids singing that Osama song, Corporal, you bring ’em in, you hear me? Screw this up, and you’ll be hosing down drunks in the back room for the rest of your life!”
Update : Related, tangentially and less amusingly, was the stink over the astonishingly stupid “Hitler Bar” in Taegu a while back.

Korean Contradictions

Korean folks : devote themselves slavishly to their families but will spend 12 or 14 hours a dayat work. Somehow reconcile grand operatic displays of emotional intensity with a finely-honed sense of social etiquette. Are xenophobic, but extremely hospitable. Appear incompetent but achieve incredible successes. Are Confucian, but have disarming instinct for participating in ad-hoc relationships. Are collectivist but are arguably the most individualistic of North-East Asian societies. Are puritanical in public, but earthily sexual in private. Are, when older, serious, self-important and rigid in their public faces, but are free as schoolchildren when drinking with their contemporaries. Relentlessly pursue title and status and wealth, but regard them when achieved as guides for behaviour rather than measures of intrinsic worth. Can be deliberately ignorant of the squalor of their surroundings while acutely conscious of the fine gradations of their relationships with the people around them. Are deeply sentimental but vigorously pragmatic. Believe in the indwelling spirit of all things and put aside that belief when it’s inconvenient. Care deeply for people, but only people that are part of their circle. Believe in romantic love, when it’s convenient. Are sloppily sentimental, but ruthless in business.
Oh, they are fascinating to me. Walking contradictions. And never boring, which, for me, is key. I love these people. That’s why I’m here, again, much as I complain.

Lia says this

Lia says this about the Philippines, her home : “I wish we would learn from our mistakes already and start moving forward.” I hope and pray that there are young Koreans saying things as clear and rational about their own country. In Korean, in English, I don’t care. If there are, tell me.

Christmas Bondaeggi

A fine, blue, almost smogless Christmas day here in Seoul, and we took the opportunity to go to Seoul Grand Park, or more accurately, the Museum of Contemporary Art therein. But, of course, those of you who know me know that that’s not the real story : the interesting bit is that I had bondaeggi for the first time while sober, and quite enjoyed it. Bondaeggi is, of course, boiled, seasoned silkworm larvae, ladled into a paper cup from a big cauldron by one of the the ‘bondaegii ladies’ that squat every 10 metres or so along the concourse leading to Gwacheon subway station, and chant ‘bondaeggi bondaeggi bondaeggi’ until they’re hoarse.
It’s really quite yummy stuff, if slightly odd in texture. Leaves a bit of a nasty aftertaste too, but I suspect that’s as much from the grimy looking cauldron as it is from the bugs themselves.
Mmmm…it’s just not Xmas without some boiled grubs, I always say!

Hot! Hot! Korean! Sexx0ring!

It must be the Xmas season (don’t get me started) but I’m getting all soft and goopy. After calling the pr0n seekers ‘too dumb to live’ there last night, I actually felt a little bad when I found this in my referrer logs this morning. The poor guy clicked on the search result, hoping to find Hot! Hot! Korean! Sexx0ring!, and instead got insulted.
Ah, the power of the IntArWeb thing.

An Xmas present

An Xmas present to all you folks who wearily click the link to come here regularly, in hopes that you’ll find something insightful, amusing or just plain goofy that you can tell your significant other over dinner, and equally (well OK not equally, ’cause you sad random bastards that showed up here looking for nekkid pictures are too dumb to live, really) the folks that showed up here via some of the oddball search engine queries I see in my referrer logs : this is a funny and well-written travelogue thingo about Korea (that I didn’t write, ensuring a much lower smart-ass quotient). Enjoy!
(Next week I start with the all porn format)

Found this scan

Found this scan this evening. Apparently the Philippines is another country that has some history of chowing down on the puppies. Poor guy – he was just trying to run his restaurant…

(I wonder if it was the dogflesh that gave him his Freakishly Large Head.)

Next up on the hit-parade

Next up on the hit-parade : an item a couple of days ago on MBC News talked about a new trend amongst the parents of elementary school children – forcing them to undergo a surgerical procedure which severs some bits of muscle that control the tongue, thus apparently ‘lengthening’ it. You might well wonder why a longer tongue would be such an valuable asset. I certainly did.
Well, it seems there’s a widespread belief that us foreign dogs have much longer tongues than the average Korean, and this evolutionary quirk gives us the ability to pronounce English (and presumably other languages) with more facility. A little radical body mod on the kids will stand them in good stead for pronouncing English, is the thinking.
I don’t really need to rant about this, do I?
I will note though, that almost without fail, throughout their entire elementary, middle and high-school careers, Korean kids are taught completely incorrect phonemes to approximate sounds that exist in English and other Euro languages, but not in Korean. By the time they reach adulthood, if they continue to study English, their pronunciation is so deeply and permanently mangled that it’s very difficult indeed for them to correct it. This is perpetuated by the universal habit of using a whole host of Konglish words written in Hangul script on television and elsewhere (like ‘news’ which in Korean is ´ºÁî, which is pronounced ‘nyoo-juh’), which forces and perpetuates mispronounciation, and annoys the crap out of me.
A decent education system, with well-trained teachers, and practice, will improve kids’ pronunciation of English and other foreign languages, not surgery. Grrrr.

Dumb dumb dumb

In a move so representative of the general silliness of many decisions of the Korean government that it seems like it ought to be parody, they have announced that they will be outlawing pojong mahcha (street food vendors) during the World Cup next year. People are up in arms, as there is a long tradition in Korea of sitting on the benches beside these carts, in summer to take the air, and in winter huddled inside the plastic sheeting that serves as windbreaks, and snarfing down some dok boeki or soondae or other yummy treats. But what people’re even more up in arms about, and justifiably so, is that street vendors will still be allowed to sell hamburgers. To the big fat hamburger-addicted Waeguk who will show up in droves and demand “Burgers! Give us burgers, you bastards!”, presumably.
Clueless old men in the government, scratching their scurfy scalps, going (in Korean, of course) “Huh-yup, dat’s what dem foreigner’s’ll like. They’ll feel all ta home if we only allow street vendors to sell hayam-burgers!”
This is the same sort of inexplicable dissociation from reality that has resulted in “Visit Korea Year 2001” seeing less visitors than actually showed up in “Regular Old Year 2000”. This despite all-singing, all-dancing commercials starring the erudite-but-terrifying prez, and which inexplicably only seemed to actually air within Korea, which when you stop to think about it, kind of defeated the purpose.
Update : Apparently, the legislation will also allow for the sale of ‘sandwiches’, which will presumably please the French tourists as well and their insatiable appetite for croques monsieur. Thanks fishstickchronicles for making me dig deeper into the madness…

A Korean friend recently explained

A Korean friend recently explained to me why there are so freakin’ many crosses glowing in the night skyline of any Korean city, not even outnumbered by the Giant Glowing Bowling Pins of Pusan (recently reRomanized ‘Busan’, but I’m Old Skool HanGul). There are a lot of Christian churches in Korea, and a lot of Christians. The problem seems to be, though, that Korean folks have a marked tendency to be fractious about…well, pretty much everything. Why do you think the Korean War is still officially unfinished? Anyway, most churches apparently tend to have internal dissension about details of dogma, and fracture into sub-churches frequently and parthenogenetically. One of the concommitant beliefs in this constant splitting and recombining of congregations is a conviction that regardless of the actual size of your churchlet, if you have a bigger, brighter, or more clearly visible cross, you somehow win the dogmatic argument. You are presto-chango more Holy.
Thus, crosses galore.
As always, this story may be apocryphal, but I have heard it a few times from various Korean people.


AllLookSame – An interesting effort to explode some preconceptions about similarities and differences in appearance between Koreans, Japanese and Chinese. I like to think that I’m fairly ept at being able to tell the ethnicity of a random North Asian person by looking at them, but I only scored 11/18 on the AllLookSame test. A good tool to make you think a bit about unconscious stereotyping.

Boshintang again

This thread on Metafilter is about boshintang, and links back thanks to y2karl to my post a month or so ago about it. This Herald Tribune article is a relatively reasonable take on the subject. An amusing quote : “…many Koreans are answering [with] a defiant phooey.” I cringe to think about some of the verbiage that is going to be flung around as this “Koreans=Dog Eating Barbarians” meme starts to propagate. Again.
sh-t, I used the word ‘meme’. Ten minutes in the penalty box.
Dec 15 update : The Anti Dog Meat Movement headquarters. “Japanese eat whale meat and Korean eat dog meat. Two countries are co-hosts of 2002 FIFA World Cup. They said that this worldcup will become a ‘green Worldcup’. Is this the truth? What is our next step?” My suggestion for your next step, kids : shut the f–k up. Warning : some nasty imagery ahead, if you follow that link.

Spotted an advert

Spotted an advert in the subway car on the way home this afternoon, for a Thighmaster™ knockoff. Spandex-clad lovelies working their thighs like butter-churns, big smiles.
Brand name : Honeymoon.
I laughed. People thought I was nuts.
This happens with worrying regularity.

Camp Catatonia links to me

Camp Catatonia links to me (thanks!), with some commentary, upon which I’d like to comment. Got it? Good.
There are some parallels between the experiences of foreigners in Japan and Korea, but there are also some very distinct differences. I would have to agree that, at least in their public faces, the Japanese tend to be ‘not openly outgoing and not particularly passionate people’, as characterized, but I would argue that that’s not the case for Koreans. As much as I hate to generalize about such a large group of people, I’m going to do it anyway. In my experience, the Koreans are a fiercely passionate people, warm-hearted to the point of sentimentality, quick to anger and quick to forgive, and in many cases completely lacking in that ‘inscrutability’ that westerners tend to ascribe to all Asian folks. As I’ve mentioned before, some call them ‘the Irish of Asia’, fully aware of both the positive and negative connotations that that phrase can elicit. To carry the analogy a little further, the Japanese would be the English of Asia – reserved, effete, cultured to the point of snobbery, at least in the face they present to outsiders. The Japanese tend to look down their noses at the Koreans, as the Japanese tend to do with most people who aren’t Japanese (again allowing for the fact that I’m making gross generalizations here). Korea has a massive inferiority complex, and a fairly large dose of ‘little man syndrome’ as well. They are desperate to prove to themselves, and the world, that they’re as good, no better, dammit!, than anyone else around. This manifests itself in risible statements, like “Korea has four distinct seasons, unlike anywhere else in the world,” which is one that newbie foreigners always run into soon after arrival and always scratch their head over, trying to dowse out a deeper meaning from what would seem to be nonsense.
I could go on, and I will, but not right now.

The contradictions of Korea

The contradictions of Korea never cease to amaze me. Although the per capita income is hovering around US$6800, the Korea Times reports this morning that 13 Seoul subway stations have been fitted out with wireless internet access for PDA’s and laptops. In the next couple of months this will be extended not only to all stations on lines 5, 6, 7 and 8, but antennas will be installed in tunnels, making continuous broadband access available on trains.
At home, I have a 4-6 Mb uncapped DSL connection, for which I pay about US$30 a month. In the 3 months or so I’ve had it, there hasn’t been a single outage. Meanwhile, tiny roadside plots of dirt along the highway that runs past my apartment beehive are being subsistence-farmed by the old people who live nearby. Sometimes it’s as if you can walk a hundred metres, and pass through a hundred years of history.


Apparently Lineage, a MMORPG from a Korean company called NCSoft, has about 3 million players, with about 160,000 playing concurrently at any given time, making it the biggest online game in the world. I’ve never even heard of the damn thing, and they have something like 7% of the population of the country playing it! Makes Everquest, with a total of around 400,000 players, look like chicken feed (wonderchicken feed, even). (via Salon. Sorry.)