Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why I don't want to know your "English name"

I was just reading an article (this one) and found the following passage:

"A name is, after all, perhaps the most important identifier of a person. Most decisions are made in about three to four seconds of meeting someone, and this “thin-slicing” is surprisingly accurate. Something as packed full of clues as a name tends to lead to all sorts of assumptions and expectations about a person, often before any face-to-face interaction has taken place. A first name can imply race, age, socioeconomic status, and sometimes religion, so it’s an easy—or lazy—way to judge someone’s background, character, and intelligence."

In my mind (disclaimer, a mild cold may be impacting synapse firing) this immediately connected to students yesterday in my distribution class starting to tell everyone their "English names." I abhor the idea of "English names." I didn't allow the students to finish the sentence and introduce these names. There are several reasons why.

1.  Names are hugely important. The name you have shapes how people treat you and how you perceive of yourself. Our names are very much wrapped up with our identity. There have been societies where people had a use name and a true name, and they rarely shared the true name, if they shared it at all. Because naming a thing is powerful. And nicknames, especially the type that students give themselves or are assigned for some middle school or even elementary school English class are horrible. Way back in 1996 when I arrived in Korea was the only time I ever taught in a situation where "English" names were the norm. I immediately found the idea repugnant. 

Of course I was struggling with the Korean names, but wasn't that MY problem that I needed to get over, rather than the student's problem? Isn't this Korea?

And how could a student, based on a very limited recall of "English" names be competent to give themselves a name (I think I had 5 Jennys when I arrived in my first middle school girl class-- a completely impossible situation). How could I, based on a communication impaired momentary chance to get to know them bestow a decent name on them? How could any such name beat the name they already had?

Back in 1996 I did succeed in getting a few people to think outside the box-- I still remember the student who decided to call herself Blue-- but I had a lot of young boys who named themselves after the family names of prominent NBA stars. From the next year when I started working in girl's middle school I never used "English names" with students again. 

2.  From the above you can rightly assume that Korean-chosen "English names" are often boring, repetitive, and just plain wrong. As the passage above explains names indicate things about religion and ethnicity, and that's why Koreans have names like Jeong-eun (who tried to introduce an English name yesterday). When you read a name, you expect something. Tiffany is the name of a blond, blue-eyed girl who chews gum and she's probably a cheerleader. Brittany is definitely a WASP.  Grace is past 50, probably past 70 years old. All three of those names are common among Korean women in America. Jack has spikey hair, maybe freckles, and he probably likes off-road dirt-bike riding or has an ATV that he's rolled a couple times, although he didn't tell his parents, because he's a total risk-taker. And yes, Jose is probably Hispanic and Jamal is probably African-American, just like Jeong-eun is Korean and Nguyen is Vietnamese and someone who took the name Mimi has just got to be from China. So when a Korean takes the "English name" Vino (this was an example from a newspaper article a friend linked on FB last week, and yes, it said quite clearly that this was his "English" name, not his nickname or his "Italian name") then something is just wrong. Bible names are for Christians. End. of. Story. 

3.  I think people should respect the names their parents thought long and hard about, and if they don't want to use those names, they should just legally change their names. Yes, I did the latter. I don't think there is something wrong with legally changing your name. If your name really does not conform to your self-image, or does not work for you, then change it. Removing a deadbeat dad's name, changing the spelling entered by a dyslexic parent on a birth certificate, or in my case, finding a unique name-- each of these is totally legitimate. I find changing names because people find them "hard" much less legitimate. Let's celebrate diversity, for crying out loud. Every time someone "simplifies" their name from a perfectly legitimate Polish or Greek or Hungarian name to something that sounds more "English," I feel the world has become a little bit less colorful. It makes me think of Ellis Island and all the European immigrants who had their names simplified on arrival, or who later on decided to just give up the struggle and change the spelling. That's crazy. 

My maiden name is Blomberg. Not Bloomberg. Bloomberg is pretty darn well known, as a name-- not that there are so many more Bloombergs than Blombergs, but because of Bloomberg news and mayor Bloomberg-- if you type "Mayor B" into Google is supplies "Bloomberg." If you type in the family name Blomberg, it helpfully supplies results for Bloomberg as well, because you probably made a mistake. So I had to fight with people to say my name Blom and not Bloom (the meaning, of course, is the same) throughout my life until I changed my family name (after I got married). And of course living in Korea Blomberg was no picnic (Korea has no double consonants and so the BL and RG were a big problem, as of course were the R and L. I can remember more than once trying to make airplane reservations (or even check the reservation) and spending what felt like 15 minutes spelling my name. B as in Boy, L as in Love... In other words, I have felt the pain of people with unusual or hard to spell names, but you just have to keep spelling and correcting. Is it really that hard? I'd rather honor my name and correct someone than adjust to match the lowest common denominator. 

4. Finally, I'm not saying that people don't have the right to pick racially neutral names for the kids they are raising in the US-- the data seems to show some very frightening things about how hard some opportunities are to get with a non-white name-- but shouldn't we really be working to get past that kind of nonsense instead of avoiding it through whitewashing? But as long as I am in Korea and my students are in Korea, I don't see a reason why they should be going around changing their names because a name like Jeong-eun is too "hard." (Jeong-eun isn't even hard. When people get names like Hyeon-gyeong then English native-speakers can get tongue-twisted, but Jeong-eun is easy!). 

And I'm going to keep enjoying the benefits of having a name people remember (even if they are unsure how to say it). 

What do you think? Do you subscribe to that whole "use of nicknames in the workplace/ classroom breaks down Korean cultural barriers and helps people work/converse more freely?" Should I let Jeong-eun tell me her English name in a  class on Korean culture and society?

CedarBough T. Saeji 

p.s. I did take the name Therese in high school French-- but it was my ancestor's name and my teacher required me to take a French name, it wasn't that I wanted to pick one. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Working in Korean University (not teaching a foreign language)

Let's be frank-- I can't be totally frank because I'm still here.

How is it working for a Korean university (not teaching a foreign language)? Well, a friend of mine insists that anywhere we would work there would be downsides, and the downsides in Korea are just different than those if we were working in the US for example. That's true, of course. But it's not a particularly helpful observation. Also, the things that make working somewhere hard are more or less tolerable depending on your personality, too. She might thrive at my university despite some of the frustrations I've had, and vice-versa. 

Here are a few things to think about:
There is no hiring committee. The department chair will make the decision and does not necessarily need to share the responsibility with anyone else. This type of system, of course, leads to hiring your buddy rather than the best applicant. I will not be the one who hires the next professor for my department (we'll start advertising soon). And I do not know how much I will be consulted in the process, indeed, in Korean law how much I can be consulted. Adjuncts are hired based entirely on networks. This next semester there will be a professor teaching who was introduced to me by my former professor. And my good friend Go Seokjin will continue teaching Korean percussion-- he's teaching it because I had to find someone with an MA and teaching experience, and he was the first person with an MA within my large network of percussionist friends who was available. But if my chair was a Koreanist, it might be that the two adjuncts this semester were from his network, not mine.

Only journal publications really count-- especially in highly ranked journals. I spent my whole summer working in my office and there will be 3 encyclopedia entries, 2 book chapters, and 1 journal article published as a result of my nose to the grindstone. Only the journal article matters, even though I have already spent 2 months editing a book in all my free time, even if my name was going to be on the spine (it's not, I just have credit for writing one chapter), the publication would hardly matter. On the other side, I get financial bonuses that are -quite large- for publications in A&HCI or SSCI listed journals. A certain number of points needed to be accrued per contract period-- easy to do if you have listed journal publications, much harder if you're relying on less highly valued work (I think I get 25 points to present at a conference in Korea, versus like 150 points for a listed publication). But this also means you need to submit extra for a buffer and to protect yourself from publication delays.

At our university foreigners are not on the same track with Koreans, really, ever. We all have to share offices (my office is actually the department office)(Korean professors have their own offices, even if they are not tenure track), we don't get to go to things like the "all faculty meeting" that happened two days ago (in fact that's sort of a blessing, as I'd have a hard time staying awake and I understand Korean, unlike many foreign co-workers). We can't be chairs of our departments (even though I am the only professor in my department). Part of our salary is our housing, but the housing is not something we can choose, and unlike some schools we cannot take a monthly payout and find our own place to stay.





Sunday, August 17, 2014

Discussing Chuseok

Next week I will go to the KBS radio studios to record a special guest interview for a Chuseok special broadcast (thanks to Eugene for introducing me to the KBS radio host). Chuseok (추석) is the Korean harvest festival, sometimes translated into English as the Korean Thanksgiving, partially because it does include coming together with your family for a large meal. But Chuseok is much more than just a meal, leading me to prefer calling it a harvest festival-- to reflect the large number of activities that people would participate in/watch during Chuseok. [Thursday Edit: I was reading a blog by my friend Eugene (yep, same guy mentioned a couple sentences ago) and he expressed his frustration with Koreans constantly labeling Korean things "the Korean this" and "the Korean that." My mind immediately snapped to several instances of this, including when I wrote the above paragraph on Wednesday. I find no problem with someone saying that Chunhyang is the Korean Romeo & Juliet. The story is similarly tragic, and extremely well known. But there are so many cases where, as Eugene said, it's just ridiculous and ends up causing more misunderstanding than understanding.]

I am writing this blog as sort of a way to get my thoughts together before I have to speak eloquently (I hope) on the radio. In addition, this radio discussion will provide me with an example for my students for the Korean Folklore class I am teaching this fall. One of the main aspects of this class will be teaching my students how to explain Korean traditional customs in an engaging way in English. I chose that focus for two reasons (1). my students have varying personal experience and background knowledge of traditional customs. A few of them are from more traditional rural families, and have a much deeper understanding than my urban Christian students. Through focusing on explaining the traditions we manage to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable for lack of knowledge, or frustrated through reviewing too many things they know. (2). Even if you have the background knowledge explaining things in an engaging way is crucial for growing interest/ re-connecting Koreans to their traditions-- and through learning how to make it interesting in English I am confident my students will also be able to turn on friends and family members with their presentations. Just this Monday one of my students was visiting my office and she told me she repeats everything I say (presumably she means the interesting bits) to her mom, who is a teacher, so that her mom will teach it to Korean young people.

I am a virus. ㅋㅋㅋ
I am infecting Koreans around me with my own attitude that not all traditions should be forgotten.

Okay, first of all, did you realize that there is more than one kind of jesa? (제사)

Jesa -Ancestral Rites
Jesa is one of those terms that Western people hear Korean use, usually glossed as 'ancestral worship ceremony,' or 'ancestral veneration' and often they don't feel comfortable asking more. Especially when a Korean tells them they're really tired because they were awake in the middle of the night doing jesa for their grandpa or their mother. It can feel rude to inquire further. Maybe you did, though, because you're curious and you felt comfortable asking that Korean friend. Probably (unfortunately) you wouldn't learn that much-- and you might get confused because of the different types of jesa and the (somewhat) different activities and motivations behind them. You'd hear about preparing special food, offered on an altar, or at a gravesite, clipping some grass, bowing, and probably an excuse about how your friend's uncle (father's oldest brother) or grandfather is the person who really knows all about it, that your friend just follows along as instructed.

The big types of jesa are gije (기제 or 기일제사), charye  (차례), and sije (시제).

With these three the type you need to sensitive about with your friend is gije -- this is the one that is done on the death anniversary for close relatives. So this might be for your friend's grandmother this week, and two month's later your friend's family might be doing it for his dad, or it could be the next week-- it all depends on when someone died. If the death is pretty recent then it is certainly a sad occasion -- getting together with family and memorializing that dear departed family member. Asking who the gije was for, and how long since he/she passed on would help you assess whether your friend might need some extra emotional support.

Charye is the type of jesa that is done at Chuseok. It's jesa for the relatives of 4 generations (count this from the generation of the family head, so if your friend has a living paternal grandfather this is counted from grandfather). Therefore a memorial tablet should be placed on the charye table for each of those relatives, usually in couple sets following the male line (paternal great grandparents, great great grandparents...). Of course, if by chance someone has died of a generation below the family head (paternal grandfather is alive, but father is dead), then father's tablet should be included on the table, too. So charye includes the recently passed, as well. Because charye is for 4 generations it is sometimes called sasanje (사산제)

Charye  is held four times per year according to the Zhuzi Jiali (주자가례 in Korean), the family rituals of Zhu Xi (12th century, Chinese, the thinker whose brand of Neo-Confucianism became most dominant in Korea's Joseon Dynasty). The four times for charye are Chuseok, Seollal, Hansik, and Dano (or sometimes at Dongji (winter solstice), instead of one of the other four, depending on the family).

So charye is actually literally tea (cha) and rye (ceremony). But don't let your mind go to some orientalist representation of a Japanese tea ceremony-- alcohol is offered (and drunk) during Chuseok. It's earthy, it's gritty, it's real, it's Korean. It's not refined and exclusionary at all. To do charye at Chuseok you usually go take care of your grave site the weekend before (or a couple weekends before, because a lot of grave sites are located on little backroads that can get jammed up if everyone goes right at the same time-- or these days some people will just ask a couple family members to do it, and not perform the grave maintenance as an act of humility because humility be damned compared to the horrible inconvenience of visiting a tomb somewhat near the hometown that probably most people in the family don't even live in any more.)  This grave site maintenance (벌초) generally means clipping the grass and uprooting any weeds. So on Chuseok the family goes to the grave and bows with offered food and drink, but the elaborate table with offerings is at home. So the grave site ceremony is called Chuseok seongmyo and the ceremony at home, which usually takes place first on the morning of Chuseok is Chuseok charye.

Foods for the different charye, sije and gije vary by time of year of the ceremony and by region of the country. For Chuseok special foods include songpyeon (송편) -- specifically the type of songpyeon stuffed glutinous rice cakes that you make with pine needles in the steamer. It may be made with the new rice, and theoretically an unmarried woman who made pretty songpyeon was going to find a good husband, while a pregnant woman making pretty cakes would have a beautiful daughter (if you are wondering if in son-obsessed Korea this meant that you didn't want to even engage in making songpyeon at Chuseok if you happened to be pregnant, you'd be sort of right. After the cakes were cooked, if you sampled a cake and it was undercooked, you were having a girl, and if it was cooked completely, you were having a boy). In Jeolla Province they have a traditional offshoot to Chuseok charye  called olbe simni (올베심리)-- the offering of prematurely harvested rice (rice that isn't fully ripe). Other important foods at Chuseok include Taro Soup (토란국), skewered mushrooms (화양적), and skewered egged and breaded veggies and meat (느름적).
This graphic explains a somewhat standard table for charye. The back is to the north wall, notice that the west side and east side are carefully explained on the graphic. At the very back, the four things there are the ancestral tablets with the names of the deceased. The first row has noodles, rice, soup and songpyeon or ddeok. The second row has meat, savory pancakes, tofu, and fish. The third row has a meat soup, tofu soup, and fish soup. The fourth row has a different type of fish, then vegetable side dishes, soy sauce, and even a sweet rice called sikhye. The fifth row has different types of fruits and nuts and snacks. Then there is the table for ritual incense and alcohol. This is usually a lower and much smaller table. Female descendants are on the west side (left) and male on the east side. If someone is officiating and talking through the whole ceremony, pouring drinks, reminding people how many bows to do, etc. they will be at the east corner of the little table. 

Sije, a ceremony that few Korean families still observe, is the jesa that is done for the 5th generation and onwards back into the past. Sije can be held either on Hansik (Cold Food Day-- in April) or during the 10th lunar month (two months after Chuseok). Sije has several other names-- including 시사, 시향, 묘사, 묘전제사, 세일제, and 세일사. This ceremony is held regularly once per year at the tomb site, traditionally, although these days it is more common for people to eschew going to the tombsite. If sije is held on Hansik it is possible for charye and sije to be held four times total, whereas if sije is in the 10th lunar month there would be five ceremonies-- four charye and one sije.

So those are the three main types of jesa, but it gets even more complicated!
Jesa is Confucian culture, so of course we also have a Buddhist version, called daeryejae (다례재), usually held in the temple to honor monks who have passed, and of course the Won Buddhists always insist that they are not the same as the Buddhists, so they have a jesa just a little different than other groups.
The Catholics have long realized the importance of accepting jesa as a way to harmonize with Korean culture, and the Catholics also prepare their jesa a little differently. Naturally, instead of placing the names of deceased family members on the jesa table, the Catholics place a cross at the center back (so that you are not bowing down to dead people, but to the Lord).
The Protestants long prohibited any kind of jesa. To make it possible for some Protestants who are good Koreans and want to honor their ancestors, but don't want to "worship" them because that would be sacrilegious, there is the hybrid ceremony called chudosik (추도식). There is a good article in English on the topic by a guy who seems to have no idea how to spell his own name. Hung Chull Jang. I'd guess that's 장흥철 but...

Chuseok (beyond Jesa)
So Chuseok itself is actually celebrated on August 15th according to the lunar calendar. (The 15th is always full moon, the 1st is the new moon). The name Chuseok means Autumn Evening, and other terms for the holiday include 가재, 가재일, 가위, 한가위, 중추, 중추절, and 중추가절. To tell you the truth I've only ever heard people use (han)gawi, and jungchu before, but the book I am referring to as I write this paragraph listed those other names, too.

At Chuseok people didn't just cook a lot and bow to the deceased ancestors, they also would predict the harvest (rain=poor crop yields, clouds obscuring the moon completely was a bad sign, but a totally clear night was a very bad sign for barley farming.)

People would dress up at Chuseok in Chuseokbim (추석빔)-- special clothes and accessories. (설날 clothes are called 설빔, 단오 clothes are called 단오장). The clothes would be new, or maybe really well laundered. Because this was right before the cold season started, these clothes would be the new set of clothes to wear for the winter, often quilted 마고자 (a jacket) or a 두루마기 (long coat down to the knees). The special clothing for girl children would include the classic top with striped sleeves and a red skirt.

The alcohol associated with Chuseok is gabaeju (가배주)ㅡ if you were getting excited about trying a new type of Korean alcohol you'd  not previously had, sorry. This was just sort of the generic name for the alcohol available at Chuseok, the only thing special about it was that it might be made from the brand new crop of rice.

Ganggang Sullae (강강술래) is one of the key arts performed at this annual festival-- not that it was ever performed everywhere in Korea until more or less the modern era, though. This art is from the south coast of Jeolla Province. It is a circle dance, generally performed by a group of women (only). The dance steps and the accompanying song are not that difficult, what is difficult is constant flow from one type of pattern to another, including some special ones where the ladies form a bridge out of their backs and another walks along the bridge-- all while continuing the song in a classic folk song style where everyone sings a chorus and individuals sing each verse. Traditionally performed outside on the night of Chuseok (under that big moon), it is also performed at Daeboreum in some parts of Korea.

Particularly because it is preserved most actively on Jindo Island and the adjoining mainland, it is often associated with Admiral Yi Sunsin (the turtle boat guy-- the guy in the middle of the street in armor at Gwanghwamun). Some scholars try to link them together, but there is no credible evidence.

Ganggang Sullae is usually divided into three parts by speed of the accompanying drumming. There may be games inserted within the performance such as 개고리타령, 남생아놀아라, 고사리 꺽자, 쥔쥐새끼놀이, 청어엮고 풀기, 기와밟기, 덕석몰이, 꼬리따기, 문지기놀이, 가마등, 수건놓기, and 외따먹기. Each of these games has a connection to some sort of traditional activity, and in a long, full-length performance (usually just once per year), all these parts can be seen but otherwise the entire list will not be performed. Most scholars believe that the entire dance was performed to bring the gods pleasure, but that the deeper religious significance has been forgotten. The art is protected under Korea's Cultural Property Protection Law as Intangible Cultural Property #8.

Chuseok itself is an agrarian festival-- most of the various activities associated with it were connected somehow to the land and agricultural life. One such is geobugi noli (거북이놀이)-- the turtle dance/game. The turtle costumes were made from millet stalks, and usually two people would get inside the turtle's top shell and walk from home to home with a turtle leader and people playing pungmul music. The head of each house was to invite the turtle and troupe inside to play and dance, and the troupe would wish for the long life and prosperity of the family who lived in that house. The household should also feed and provide drinks for the performers. Apparently this tradition is still alive nearby where I lived in Gyeonggi Province, but to the best of my knowledge it's only a re-enactment, now. Also it's worth noting that the turtle, as a long life creature, was associated with these prayers for long life of villagers. A very similar practice elsewhere in Korea was called sonoli (소놀이) with pungmul and two people inside a cow costume. Another activity was a weaving game, called gilssam noli (길쌈놀이). And having sossaum (소싸움) or ox fights was also common. Don't worry the oxes fought each other, they weren't goaded like in the European style. These fights are still going on in places like Cheongdo in Gyeongsangbukdo.

For me what is interesting is two other performances-- that of Bak Cheomji noli (박첨지놀이),  and that of Songpa Sandae Noli (송파산대놀이).

I am going to start my first day of my Korean Folklore class with Bak Cheomji's tale. We'll be reading the story in translation. So this story is actually a puppet play with 9 human characters, a temple, a serpent, a hawk and birds, as well as the funeral flag bearers, carpenters, funeral casket bearers, and the mourners. The puppets in Korea are manipulated from below, generally on a single rod. The play is performed by two groups-- by the Namsadang group (and then it's generally called Ggokdu Gaksi Noleum), and by a group from Seosan. The story is the same, but the Seosan version is registered as regional cultural property for Chungcheonnamdo, instead of as a national one like the multi-act Namsadang (National Treasure #3). The puppet play, like most of the mask dance dramas, is not very complimentary to the upper class yangban, and particularly addresses the 처첩관계 -- the relationship of wife and concubine. In the regional version Buddhism looks pretty good-- fervent prayers to Buddha give the character Sogyeong his sight back-- but in the Namsadang version Buddhism is more heavily criticized.

Of course the characters are quite rude to each other. Here's a passage from the Namsadang version where old Pyo Saengwon is reunited with his old wife (a common scene in mask dance dramas, too). The old man criticizes the appearance of the old woman.

꼭두각시:  Do you know why this has happened? I must tell you. To look for you, I climbed a steep mountain in Gangwon Province where I ate acorn jelly. That is the reason by face has changed to its present appearance.
표생원: What? What are you talking about? You! You harlot! Are you trying to tell me that you have so many pockmarks on your face because you ate acorn jelly? I ate mounds of corn and acorns when I was coming to 산수갑산 from 백두산 in 함경도. But I don't have a single pockmark on my face. My face is as smooth as if it were planed. What an absurd and hollow liar! [pauses] However, if a dragon appears out of a small ditch, we must still call it a dragon. And even if the guardian of a temple is made of straw, we must still call it the guardian of the temple. According to this logic, I must now admonish 돌몰이, my concubine, to greet my wife. [He brings them together]. Well. Wife. Let's stop talking nonsense. We must discuss our future. You have already passed your sixtieth birthday. I am eighty years old and poor. In addition, we don't have a single child. What a great failure! Aren't you sad about this, too?
꼭두각시: I haven't seen you for many years, but this has been the cause of my worries.
            [translation by Oh-Kon Cho in his excellent book Traditional Korean Theatre]

Songpa Sandae Noli was a mask dance drama often performed during Chuseok festivities. But I have written about it repeatedly in the past, so I won't go into it more here. [Some previous posts on Songpa Sandae Noli 1 2 3 although those won't be particularly basic information].

[To write this post, in addition to a large number of things stored in my brain that I accessed, I also used the Encyclopedia of Korean Seasonal Customs, published in 2007 by the National Folk Museum of Korea, and I've been reading a very nice book called 제사와 차례.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Best (non-Korean food) Cafe in Korea

Is the title a little overboard?
Let's see if you could be attracted to Plant after I'm done telling you about the cafe.

1).  Do you like cake? Soft, moist, flavorful, full of wholesome ingredients and not too insanely sweet? Have you had a hard time in Korea finding a cake that tasted the way it looked like it should? What if I tell you that the cake is even vegan? And yet for a non-vegan it is still just as perfect as any non-vegan cake you've ever had? At Plant there are usually at least three cakes available, sometimes even five or six. They change often but some that I see a lot include:
Chocolate & Peanut Butter
Double Chocolate Mousse
Apple and Earl Grey
Caramel Banana
Carrot Spice
Pumpkin Spice with Ginger Cookie frosting (my favorite)
Red Velvet
Lemon Pound

There are also various other baked things that should include at least four of the following on any given day (unless you arrive too close to quitting time):
Muffins
Cupcakes
Scones
Cookies
Coconut Chews
Lemon Drops
Oreo Brownies
I often take a couple muffins or scones home with me to make a more exciting breakfast the next day. Baking was where Mipa (the owner) started her commercial food preparation journey, with a little online store, the "Alien's Day Out Bakeshop."


2). Do you like a cozy cafe with free wifi in a central location? Okay Plant has that, too. It's in Itaewon, and yes, that's a disgusting part of town, but at least it's central. The cafe is equally far from Noksapyeong or Itaewon subway stations-- walk down the main street in Itaewon, take the steps downhill next to the Converse store, pass the Greek place, pass the photo of a big-tits foreigner looking incredibly ugly eating pasta, and then Plant will be on the right behind the glass.

3). Do you like delicious food? Plant's food is light, not heavy, not greasy. The menu changes all the time, but there are usually two to three plates on offer. The food is 100% vegan-- if the description says its got cheese, that's not dairy cheese. Normal entrees are things like sandwiches or wraps with robust flavor. These are paired with soups, hummus, chips, pita, salad... that sort of thing. A normal plate of food is about 12,000 won. I've never had anything that wasn't good (I've had things I'm less of a fan of, like the soba noodle salad, but even then it wasn't anything I could complain about, it just wasn't my favorite). It's always made from quality materials, and the pairings of crunchy and smooth, hearty and fresh always leave my belly feeling really good. The secret to most of Mipa's food is that she does not stint on the special homemade dressings and sauces that elevate her food beyond the level most people can make at home and into taste delight. I still remember with joy the Thanksgiving sandwich, but my favorite item is probably Mipa's smoked tempeh wrap.




4) Don't worry, there's more. Plant also offers a substantial smoothie packed with two of my favorites: cacao nibs and spirulina. There is hot and cold coffee (a tad weak). There is chai and various other drinks too, recently I had the ginger-ade (it was very gingery but much too sweet for my tastes).
Here's the official Plant FB page. There is a map, and opening hours on the page, but I already explained how to find it, and it's closed Sunday and Monday.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Shaved Ice (Bing-su)

This is just a super quick post to say you should go get yourself some shaved ice dessert, now!


It's summer time in Korea, this means it's bing-su (빙수) season. These days there are hundreds of different kinds and even entire restaurants dedicated to serving bing-su.

The classic is patbing-su (팥빙수) -- this is made with red beans, fruit (often canned fruit), malt flour (just a sprinkle), gummy candies (traditionally made from glutinous rice), sweetened condensed milk, and sometimes corn flakes or other cereal. The ice is on the bottom, with the toppings arranged over it. I always get them to leave out the sweetened condensed milk, of course, and it's certainly sweet enough without it. The beans are sweet, both naturally and prepared with sugar, so this is very much a dessert.

These days fruit bing-su (과일빙수) of various kinds are very popular. Many of these use milk instead of sweetened condensed milk, and so they are marketed to young ladies who want a healthy and low-calorie treat (no, I don't think milk is healthy, but the dairy marketers of the world have mostly convinced people it is). Either they will come with a selection of fresh fruit (perhaps including some canned or frozen fruit, too), or if you choose a single fruit (mango, blueberry, strawberry, kiwi), you may be resigning yourself to mostly frozen fruit and a syrup of the fruit flavor. Green tea bingsu (녹차빙수) is also quite popular.

Ornate bingsu options can include pieces of candy bars, scoops of ice cream, cookies, and really the sky is the limit. Bingsu in special bingsu restaurants are often made in a size appropriate for a couple to share and come in a large sloping bowl for a price of around 10,000 won (10 dollars). A classic red bean bingsu in the standard size will be around 5,000. It's also possible to find "cup bingsu" that are smaller servings and will cost a little less.

Most bakeries (such as Paris Baguette, Paris Croissant, and Tous les Jours) offer bing-su, as do some independent coffee shops.

Enjoy!





These are just photos I found on the internet. If you waited for me to take a nice photo and then get around to resizing it, this blog would never be published. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ten things to do if you live in Korea

Today I read two lists of ten. One was 10 mistakes that newbies (in Korea) make. Another was 10 things the author insists he will never do while in Korea. I can't resist (and while I was washing my dishes I got an idea...)

Here's my 10:

1) Learn Korean. Don't whine that it's hard (it's harder if you succumb to that mindset) in fact getting survival Korean is not hard and learning to phonetically read takes HALF A DAY. How do I know this? Because I did. Because my mom did it. Because I have taught multiple trainings where I teach people to phonetically read Korean, as long as they can refer to a cheat sheet, in 30 minutes. And for the average person it's going to take another few hours to memorize the letters. There are a lot of places you can learn Korean. Some are free. Some are better than others. I recommend paying (you get what you pay for, most of those free courses are a waste of time), but the best paying courses are pretty intense, so if you're already working full time... I understand. What I don't understand is not trying. I taught Korean to myself. I had Korean friends that helped, but the hard work (the hours of memorizing) was mine. And no, my Korean isn't perfect, but yes, it's fluent according to most definitions of fluent.

Also this will keep you from sounding like a doofus when you say even basic things like "thanks" and "Seoul" and "Taekwondo" wrong. (Seriously, I had a guy tell me in the elevator of my building that to him it would always be Taekwondo (said Tie-kwon-do) because that's how it's said in America.)

2) Make a Korean friend. And I mean a real friend. Not some token guy/gal you always see at work. Or an English-vampire who is using you. Or a boyfriend/girlfriend. Or some weird stratified power differential relationship like being you and your really cool student. I mean someone who really gets you, and you get them. And you can pick up the phone after not talking for two years and just flow right back into the conversation. And then don't think of that friend as a ticket to understanding the country. Just think of them as a friend. Don't always run to them for help translating stuff and sorting things out and everything (obviously sometimes asking for help is wise, but they aren't your friend to lubricate your life anymore than you are theirs because they want to practice English). This is when having friendships with people that are conducted in Korean is pretty awesome. They avoided learning English all these years-- but that doesn't mean they aren't super fun to talk to, once you learn Korean.

3) Read real books about Korea (not just bloggers who may know barely more than you do, or even less). Read a good history book (yes, some of them are shite. Or a lot of them, really). Read up on Korean film. Or literature. Or the performing arts. A good book in English is probably released OUTSIDE Korea and not by Hollym (although Hollym has some good ones, too). University presses tend to be good. But still, check some reviews, and check to see if that author is well regarded. Or read some journals on Korean Studies. It can be pretty heavy going to start with journal articles before you have the background, though.  

4) Never ever ever think that a conversation with a Korean passes for "learning" about Korea. You're learning about what that one person thinks/knows/thinks they know but is totally back-ass wrong about. Would you talk to a buddy in the US over a beer and think "well now that I asked him why Americans won't just pass single-payer health care, I understand."? No, you wouldn't. That Korean co-worker of yours might have just made something up to make you go away. The old guy at the pojangmacha might have just been screwing with you. Unless they are an expert on Korea, they may have thought more about your culture and why you act the way you do than the way they act.

Also, as a side-note-- not all experts on Korea are Korean. Experts on Korean history/culture/film/music are the people who spent a long time learning about it and understanding it. And in case you hadn't noticed, some Koreans aren't that interested in learning about Korea (sort of like you may have no opinion what the greatest American novel of the 20th century was).

Excuse me for being so America-centric. It's easy for me to pick on Americans, because I am American.

5) Don't think Koreans do "it" wrong before you try to understand why they do "it" that way. And be open to the idea that later you might think that your own country does it wrong. I've lived in Korea a long time (and China, and Tibet)... but then I moved to the US to do my doctorate. And even if I hadn't been pretty open to the US not having the monopoly on the right way to do things before, going back to the US sure set me straight. The way we screw everything up is embarrassing. The way our country's government can be completely shackled by people who are neck deep in corporate payouts and denying even basic principles of science and economics is mind-boggling. Not to say that Korean politics isn't it's own inadvertent comedy-show at times, but the point is maybe just let Korea be Korea, and wait to pass judgement.

6) Go to the bathhouse already. Or the new-fangled spa style. Whatever. Get over your body shame or whatever it is that's holding you back. Winter day? Everything feeling cold and tight? Yep. That's where to go. Had a really rough week at work? Yep, go to the bathhouse. Please, oh please, don't forget to shower before you get in the pools, though.

7) Discover something. Try something new. Go somewhere that no one recommended that you go. The way that these days every freaking person seems to need to "get hooked up" by someone and follow in that person's footsteps to the best nightclub, the best burrito restaurant, the best beer, the best vacation spot, the best festival is just guaranteed to limit your experiences. I'm not saying I don't recommend that people go to specific places that I personally loved, I do. But I also recommend that you just go there and explore. Not get all set in advance with all the reservations and all the directions to all the sites. Go. Ask someone on the street. Don't ask someone. Wander. Be spontaneous. Stop eating at the same restaurant. Risk just jumping on the next bus even though you don't know where it goes. Slow down. Poke your head in. Ask what "it" is for. Stop playing it safe. You're in a new country. Explore it without using a guidebook. (And of course, learn some freaking Korean already).

8) Take advantage of the vast numbers of organized activities. I don't mean the ones that are organized for foreigners (like trips to the Mud Fest or booze cruises in Busan). I mean the much vaster number of activities that are organized and open to anyone. There are one day classes in flower arranging. I have a friend who is now learning advanced Korean sign-language (yes, she already learned Korean). There are hiking clubs. Soccer clubs. Hagwon classes in Japanese. Photography workshops. Ballroom dance classes. Wine appreciation classes. Opportunities to volunteer in many ways that have nothing to do with teaching English. I used to volunteer at an orphanage. Four times per month I took any kids that wanted on an outing. I took them to the orchestra. I took them to modern dance. I took them to go hiking, eat kimbap on the mountain, and visit a temple. I got two cameras donated and taught them photography (these were the film camera days, and those were SLR cameras). I taught them taekkyon. Those were some good kids.

The point is there are some things you always meant to learn that are being taught somewhere in Korea. Unless you're in a very small town they might be taught right in your neighborhood. No, it's not easy to find classes in Korean traditional music... for you. But not for me. It's out there.

9) Try not filling up your mental space, even your entire social life with other foreigners. Those people are a barrier between you and actually figuring this place out. You're listening to their interpretations because they've been here six months longer than you? Yes, I did that when I first go here, too. Then I realized that my co-worker had already communicated all sorts of half-truths and misunderstandings to me. I needed a mental enema. And I stopped listening to other people pronounce the truth about Korea.

(I know this is a little ironic since that's sort of what this post is doing to you, but I think I'm telling you to learn things for yourself, aren't I?)

10) And finally, if you still want to hang out with other foreigners... get diverse. Living overseas gives you a chance to meet many different foreigners. I had this amazing Pakistani friend who worked for a factory in Korea for years (his old email isn't working, I keep hoping I'll find him again). He was a ton of fun to hang out with. One of the non-Koreans I call most often is from Lebanon, another is German, the co-workers I enjoy socializing with are from Italy and Bulgaria. My husband (who I met in Korea) is from Tibet. If you teach English (or if you're in the military) and surround yourself just by others who teach English or who are in the military you are limiting yourself and your experiences.



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cosmopolitan Strivings and Racialization: The Foreign Dancing Body in Korean Popular Music Videos

I'm almost done with the rough draft of this paper-- if it passes review it will be part of a book. If I can figure out how to divide it up into two papers, it will also be part of something else. ㅋㅋㅋ.

The paper analyzes videos released in the past year, with a focus on these:
Cosmpolitan Strivings visible in a search for Authenticity:
Park Jiyoon, Beep

Cosmopolitan Strivings visible in creating an international atmosphere:
TVXQ, Something
Taeyang, Ringa Linga MV
Rain, La Song

Cosmopolitan Strivings in sex/love:
CN Blue, Can't Stop
Jay Park, Metronome

Here is a snippet from the end of the introduction:

           Korean popular music videos have stories to tell about Korean culture. These videos, increasingly created with one ear tuned to the reactions of international audiences, and increasingly employing video directors and choreographers from abroad, "play a crucial role in Korea's increasing dialogue with the outside world" (Epstein 2014: 317). Part of that dialogue is the visual internationalization of the videos. It has become common to catch glimpses or even see featured foreign dancing bodies in Korean popular music videos. The visual internationalization of K-pop follows the less visible, but well known, internationalization of the stars themselves—many of whom now hail from diasporic Korean communities or other parts of Asia (although so far there is only one non-Asian performer).[1] What role do these foreign dancing bodies play in these popular music videos? An expert dancer, often black or Latino, may lend an aura of authenticity to a group of back-up dancers, projecting a message of the star wattage of the Korean performer who is able to hire "the best" back-up dancers from anywhere in the world. Or the presence of non-Koreans partying together with the Korean stars may situate the foreign fan within the K-pop narrative. Other foreign dancing bodies bring exoticized, sexualized spice to what would otherwise be a conventional hetero-normative narrative.
            Any observer of these K-pop videos will notice the foreign dancing bodies. They are highly visible, standing out to the eye, in their obvious non-Koreanness. Are the foreign bodies in the music videos for the foreign eye, or for the Korean eye? How are these foreign dancing bodies received? How has the portrayal of foreign dancing bodies changed as K-pop has grown into a more international phenomenon? In this paper I seek to use dance, or at least appearance in the dance context, to examine the role of the foreign dancing body. After a brief survey of foreign dancing bodies in K-pop's past, and discussion of racialization in the Korean context, I outline, with examples, the ways that I see K-pop videos released between summer 2013 and summer 2014 displaying cosmpolitan strivings through the foreign dancing body. Finally I conclude by returning to wrap up the inter-related topics that arose in the course of the chapter.               




[1] Here I refer to Brady Moore, a member of the group Busker, Busker. However this group is not K-pop, but rather strongly self-identified as an "indie" group. In addition non-Koreans appeared in years past performing with artists who began rehearsing with them while outside Korea, such as Seo Taiji. A K-pop group including a white French woman, The Gloss, debuted in mid 2013, as discussed on the blog Seoul Beats (available at http://seoulbeats.com/2013/06/the-gloss/, accessed on 7/9/2014), but the group has not managed to release their own original song or a video that is not a cover, more than a year after their first upload to Youtube—at this point it is likely that their fifteen minutes of, if not fame at least buzz, has already come and gone. To learn more about Brady Moore and read a discussion of foreigners as actual K-pop stars, see http://askakorean.blogspot.kr/2013/06/can-non-asian-foreigner-succeed-in-k.html. Accessed on 4/20/2014.


Some visuals that may be used in the paper:



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Advice for a Trip to Korea (based on more than a dozen years of experience traveling in Korea)

Let's just say that this is your first trip to Korea, and you really really want to make the most of your time here. Knowing that I've spent many years here, you (or one of your friends) might ask me for my advice. So here it is, my grand advice for your trip in Korea.

Packing for Korea:
Plug converters (they are easy to find at the airport BUT the packaging often doesn't know what's the right size for Korea, so if you don't know yourself...). Electricity is 220 volt. It's two giant round prongs that are fairly fat but not as fat as some countries.
Here I've photographed my American plug next to the plug converter I use for my computer. 

Slip on/off shoes (and nice socks, since everyone will see them). If you have to unlace and retie your shoes each time you go to a restaurant or a hotel room... it's going to get old fast.
Tops that reveal no cleavage (and no shoulders unless you plan to layer). Koreans find upper body exposure very racy and yet wear shorts that end after the transition from leg to butt, and skirts that look like belts.
Feminine products unless you prefer pads (pads are available everywhere)




Getting Around in Korea:
One of the best things about Seoul, the entire greater metro area, and the whole country of Korea is AMAZING public transportation. You will experience this as soon as you arrive at the airport. You can take shuttle buses to many specific destinations (around the entire country) or you can take the subway into Seoul. Buy a transportation card immediately. I cannot emphasize that enough. If you buy single trip tickets you can only transfer to other subways, not the bus, and it's annoying to figure out how much money you need on the ticket (the computer system will lead you through, but you need to know the name of the stop, etc.), there is a deposit for single pass tickets, and you have to get it back at the other end, etc. The transportation cards are vended at some subway stations by machines (you can pick the ones that look like credit cards, or the fob style) and at most minimarts. The cards are called T-Money cards (even when it is not made by the T-Money company). They usually cost around 2 dollars (card) and 5 dollars (fob). Then you add money to the card at the machines that are at each subway station. These machines speak multiple languages. Add a good 20,000 Korean won to start with-- the transport is good, and fairly cheap, but when touring around it's not hard to use more than 10,000 in a day. Oh, these cards also work in Seoul taxis!!! and as money in some minimarts!!! Anyway, you buy and then load your card. You "beep" on the way in and out of all buses and subways and it will then give you 30 minutes to transfer (from bus to subway or subway to bus or bus to bus)(if you don't beep as you exit the bus, you'll be charged for going to the end of the line). It does not work if you take the same bus number twice in 30 minutes, but otherwise it is all golden. When you beep on the way off it calculates the length of your travel and deducts additional money beyond the base fare. When you beep on the way off take a look at your total remaining and refill anytime you need.
Green Buses: Only travel within the district of Seoul you are currently in.
Blue Buses: Only travel within Seoul.
Yellow Buses: Are rare and just for tourist things, like going up the mountain in the center of Seoul.
Red Buses: Go to satellite cities and bedroom communities. They cost more, so only use the red buses if you want to go all the way out of Seoul.
             Kids under 7 are free on public transit (but not trains and inter-city buses). Kids under 19 are discounted, and there is a way to get the card to know you're a kid (it announces to the driver that you're a kid so adults can't use a kid's card). If you buy the card at a minimart try to get them to help you get the card coded for the elem school/middle school/high school rate. I have no idea how to do it, I just know you CAN do it. Over 65 is free on public transit if you get a special card to show your age and use on the bus and subway-- I don't know if that is hard to get or not. It may be restricted to Koreans.
             Also entry to most tourist sites are reduced for elderly and children, so pay attention if you have those in your group.

Leaving Seoul: I understand that you probably like the train. Trains are nice, I like them, too. There are even some package deals and specials for foreign tourists in Korea. (Korea Rail) I have many friends who prefer the train, but in Korea I almost always take the intercity bus. This is partially because of where I tend to go (small towns with no trains), but it's also because you need reservations on trains at any popular time of the day/week (I really prefer to take the first bus after I got up, ate, and got to the bus station instead of stressing about a specific departure time), and the prices for the bullet trains (the only trains that beat the bus times) are higher than the buses (and for the bus I can almost always just show up at the terminal and catch the next bus that's leaving). Also most Korean buses are 2 seats on one side of the aisle and 1 on the other. Very big, very comfortable. Yes, you can't just walk down the aisle to the restroom, but they do stop at a rest stop halfway there.
               Seoul has three major bus terminals-- the terminal that's called the Express Bus Terminal/Central City (it's two different buildings, back to back), the south bus terminal (Nambu Terminal) and the East Seoul Terminal (Dong Seoul Terminal). Many destinations are served by more than one terminal, but there is usually one terminal that has more frequent departures. For example if I go to Andong the Dong Seoul Terminal will have buses every 15 minutes or so, but Central City has one an hour. (Express Bus Association info for all the Express buses from Dong Seoul, Express Terminal, and Central City)(Nambu Terminal info in Korean for Nambu Terminal departures).

Must See Locations:
Inside Seoul
Seoul Streets: You cannot come to Korea without wandering the streets in the center of old Seoul. You will find palaces, museums, and modern wonders (like Seoul City Hall). In addition to making an effort to visit specific sites in Seoul, I recommend wandering around. Sit in a coffee shop (everywhere) and watch people. Window shop. Eat street food. Find something that others didn't. Seoul is a very walking friendly city, and the entire old part of the city is pretty flat, too. Getting out of the subway system at a major stop like Jongno 3ga(종로3가) or Jonggak(종각) or City Hall (시청) would put you in the center of this area. There is a law that any large building must have public art, and some of it's really good. There is a "stream" (recirculated water except in the rainy season when it sometimes closes due to flooding) in the center of the city that is very pleasant to walk next to, it's called Cheonggyecheon (청계천). I really recommend a stroll after a meal along the stream. Very near the godawful expensive and ugly blue and red shell at one end of the stream is Kyobo Bookstore -- the best source for non-Korean books/guides/magazines in Seoul (they have another outlet in southern Seoul, but it's smaller). Publishing in Korea is cut-throat and therefore relatively cheap, you can buy coffee table books of Korean temple scenes or landscapes often for 30 USD, and domestically printed books on Korean history and culture may only set you back 20 for a hardcover (considering that Korea is in general not a cheap country, the price of books is pleasantly low).

People Watching  There is soooo much good people-watching in Korea.
             If you want to be shocked and outraged about plastic surgery, go to Apgujeong in the afternoon and sit in a cafe by the window and watch people with bandaged faces come out of clinics. Look at your barista and her supernaturally wide eyes. Look back at the bandaged faces.  Spend the rest of your vacation telling kids with thin eyes, round faces, and low nose bridges that you think they're so beautiful or so handsome in hopes that your words will offset what they learn every time they watch a TV drama or a music video or see any kind of advertisement. Try to get over the judgment, though. Korea is one of only two countries in the world where it's legal to require a photo with a job application.
             In general the old part of Seoul is all easily walkable. I know the temptation to go into the subway and then come out at the right stop is strong, but honestly you often spend more time walking down and finding the platform and riding the train and coming back up than you would have spent just walking from point A to point B in old Seoul (esp. if you need to transfer lines). If you have a smart phone use your map functions, if you're good with directions you don't even need that, most of the time. Just make a note of what MAJOR site is in the direction you're heading and the road signs above the street will tell you that Seoul Station or City Hall or Gwanghwamun is in this direction or in that. You'll discover stuff as you walk.

Palaces: There are several palaces. The one that is the most beautiful is Changdeok Palace. The "Secret Garden" tour is worth the additional entry fee, especially if you go at a nice time of day for photographs, however you must enter that part with a guide, you cannot go on your own schedule. The guides are mostly horrible, with memorized (but not understood) information of a very superficial nature. The reason I mention this is that I would urge you to go with any guide according to your own schedule, even if you can't understand the language they are speaking, because even if you can understand you're unlikely to learn much (or to "learn" the wrong thing). Gyeongbok Palace  is also very nice, although almost all the buildings are recent reconstructions (because the Japanese destroyed the palace to sit their colonial government right in the middle of it in symbolic subjection of the Koreans to Japanese authority). This palace has two advantages-- regular "changing of the guard ceremonies" to watch (I believe they are right on the hour), and inside the grounds is the peerless National Folk Museum of Korea. This museum is really well done, and definitely worth a trip. Go to the museum or palace right after your meal and plan on staying there until you get hungry again... the two should take at least 4 hours to be done properly, without rushing. If you're going to rush one of them, rush the palace. You could basically just walk through it, pausing for photos. The folk museum, on the other hand, is a leading part of the ICOM (International Committee on Museums) and reflects the latest understanding on display of culture/folklore. There are audio guides, docents, and even an acceptable amount of English signage. Deoksu Palace, closest to City Hall, is also very nice and also has changing of the guards, but it's much smaller.

Museums:  Speaking of museums (and I'm not the biggest museum person, although it might seem like it right now), the National Museum of Korea is excellent. It's worth a day, if you're a real museum-goer. And since it's free and a 5 minute direct walk from the subway stop, it's worth it for just a flying visit, too. There are multiple restaurants in it, multiple gift shops (with really excellent gifts, many of which are under 15 dollars, none of them are a rip-off. I'm talking about a place you can REALLY buy cultural gifts without getting ripped off). It's closed on Monday, but open late on Wednesday (go and look around, then have dinner, then look more!). There are lockers to store your stuff for free as you walk around. There are audio guides and docents and really acceptable English signage. I recommend the Buddhist sculpture and Buddhist painting sections-- this is jaw droppingly amazing art. Simply take a subway to Ichon(이촌) and follow the signs (I think it's exit 2). I recently visited the Museum of Contemporary Korean History (the Korean name is actually the Museum of History of the Republic of Korea (South Korea)). This museum doesn't have that much signage in any language, relying more on displays, but there is an acceptable amount of English (but not Japanese/Chinese or other languages of foreign visitors to Korea). It's free, and very close to Gwanghwamun Gate (the gate that takes you into Gyeongbok Palace). Since it's so centrally located, even if you only have an hour, why not? It's nicely temperature controlled, a great place to escape on a steaming/freezing day, and it's fun to see political posters from the 60s and the covers of old comic books, and what not. Also nearby (five minutes stroll eastward from the intersection closest to the famous statue of General Yi Sunshin standing grimly defending the nation) is the Seoul Museum of History. That museum has much less non-Korean signage, but it has some interesting displays, too. A lot of it is focused on Seoul, a city founded in the very end of the fourteenth century, there is a lot of history to display!

Honestly, Korea is very museum-crazy. There are tons (over a hundred museums exist just on university campuses, of the one's I've visited my favorite is the one at Ewha Womans University (not a typo)). There is a kimchi museum. A friend opened an amazing Museum of Shamanism, it's probably the third shamanic museum in Seoul. [See the end of this to find good directions to the museum] There are museums everywhere. Many are quite small. The War Memorial of Korea is pretty big and parts are well made, but fairly grim if you think war is evil. The best reason to go there is to see displays of the Korean War from a totally different perspective than the way it's remembered outside the Republic of Korea. It's a two minute walk from the Samgakji Subway Station (삼각지).

City Hall. Yes, go into City Hall. It's a crazy architectural achievement with a curved glass exterior and walls covered with plants and cool art, and it's open to the public. Since you'll be walking by, why not? Next to City Hall in the winter there is a skating rink that costs only 1,000 won and another 1,000 to rent a pair of (very bad) skates. The rest of the year that same area may have performances, political rallies, or other cool events.

If you're a night-life type of person, you could go to Gangnam (the part of the district of Gangnam near Gangnam Station), to Hongdae (take the subway to Hong-ik University and exit on the side nearest the university), or to Itaewon (the subway stop is called Itaewon). There is night life everywhere in Korea, though. These three districts would be either more "stereotype" of young Korea, more "alternative" young Korea, or more "international" Korea, in the same order as listed above. I don't give a rat's batookus about night life, though, so that's all I have to say on the subject. Live music, though, def. more likely to find small crowded venues with live music in Hongdae than the other two. It is possible you could find a place that doesn't welcome foreigners. Get over yourself and your outrage and go somewhere else. You don't want to support someone who doesn't want your money, anyway. This is not very common, so don't worry.

The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts/ The National Gugak Center: In southern Seoul you can find the Seoul Arts Center (nearest subway stop is the orange line Nambu Terminal Station). There are galleries and operas and various events... and on the same grounds is the National Gugak Center. This center for Korean traditional performance includes four venues, a museum dedicated to Korean music, and a gift shop with traditional music CDs. There are regular concerts that show large varieties of Korean traditional and neo-traditional music on Saturday afternoons that are sort of marketed for foreigners. They're good, unless you're me, in which case you may prefer a more focused program prepared for a Korean audience. They have an outdoor series (it pauses in the coldest and hottest months) that is particularly fun and good for kids (since it's usually exciting folk performances) that is even free. I wish I could link you to a reliable site that showed all the performances on the calendar, but even their Korean calendar is last minute and not always up to date-- the English language one is ... well, it sucks.

Jogyesa and Bongwonsa. These are two Buddhist temples in Seoul, and if you're not leaving Seoul, you should go. The best time to go is 4 a.m. when there won't be other tourists and there is a beautiful morning service. Try going right after you arrive when you have jetlag waking you up super early. Jogyesa is the namesake of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism (roughly 80% of the Buddhists in Korea-- and Buddhists are the majority of the religious population-- 47% of Koreans answered non-religious on the last census, though). Jogyesa is in the center of old Seoul. The buildings are quite old (if refurbished) and the (smaller) Buddha statue in the glass case inside is a marvelous example of Buddhist sculpture. Bongwonsa is much more beautiful, it's on a mountain above Yonsei University, and the head temple of the Taego Order (that's 10% of Buddhists and the only significant order in which monks can marry, although they seldom do). Walk around super slowly and look very carefully at all the old buildings-- some of the premier master painters of Buddhist temple art made/make Bongwonsa their home, it's exquisitely beautiful. Unlike Jogyesa, which I really only recommend at 4 a.m., Bongwonsa is beautiful all day. Remember if you go into any temple building you need socks (if you're wearing sandals, just bring socks in your bag like I do). It is completely acceptable to enter the buildings from side doors (never the central door which is reserved for monks). You are welcome to observe respectfully (no photography inside the building, but you can always take shots outside), or to follow along. Like most religions Buddhism is open to you learning more about their religion something that's much easier when you come in and get close to the action, so as long as you are respectful you'll be welcome.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza recently opened, and although I haven't gone yet, apparently it's worth the trip. The architecture is very innovative (like a space ship is the popular comparison), and inside there are exhibits and displays both free and ticketed (and they seem to change every month, which is nice).

Leeum Gallery is one that folks who like art galleries tend to enjoy. I've been there twice, once at the current location just last year. Honestly, I am the wrong audience. The lack of thorough historically situated information about historical pieces displayed as art removed from their history (except rough date details) just irritates me. The cherry-picking aspect of showing a little ceramic, a little metal, a little Buddhism, etc. may (to some people) seem like a well-curated and not overwhelming introduction to Korea's artistic greatness, but to me it just smacks of "I'm freaking rich and I bought all this stuff, so trust me, it's the best." The one part of this gallery that I enjoyed was the contemporary art exhibits-- and although I'm sure they often change, you might want to see them, too. It's a little hard to find by public transit, but you can do it. Leeum website.

Shopping
If you like traditional markets, the bustling Gwangjang Market at the Jongno5ga (종로5가) subway station is a great place to sit on a plastic stool, eat mungbean pancakes, drink while it's still daylight, and watch an older section of the population rush around doing their errands. It's also a good place to buy some random presents. Traditional markets are falling by the wayside in Korea, and they're harder to find and smaller in Seoul every time I turn around (they're doing okay in rural areas), but the bargains are really great. And doesn't it feel good to support some old grandmother instead of a corporate chain? This is where I go to buy off-the-shelf hanbok (한복) or Korean traditional clothing. Silk children's hanbok are about 80 USD for a girl and 50 USD for a boy at a reasonable degree of quality (lower quality ones are on sale at the airport for 140 for a girl's hanbok). Adults tend to buy tailored hanbok, and when I buy silk hanbok so do I, because I like to choose all my colors and styles, so I'm not sure how much they cost. The market is ALL CASH. Other things you can buy there-- almost everything, but what stands out to my mind as perhaps interesting to buy or look at... bamboo mats, blankets, fabric, and decorative dangles called norigae that traditionally hang off hanbok but can be a relatively low-priced unique gift for friends back home (hang it in a window? on an X-mas tree? wear it as a broach-like decoration on your clothing similar to how it's used with hanbok?).

Speaking of buying traditional things, I know you can find some nice presents in the "traditional shopping street" of Insadong (get off the subway at Anguk Station (안국) and go out exit 6), but those people are being pushed out by corporate interests and rising rents. So if you do go there and do some shopping could you do me a favor and NOT shop in any of the franchises on the street? I don't care if it's the tea-shop Sulloc, Crown Bakery, Starbucks, or one of the mini-marts, just please don't support them pushing out the mom and pop businesses. The new shiny three story shops-- those displaced funky galleries and antique sellers. Please support the people in the older rag-tag looking buildings with a sliver of display space. As I explain below it's really easy to buy Made in China here... if you want Korean made, culturally Korean gifts be ready to spend a little more and be vigilant. Insadong is blocked to vehicle traffic on the weekend, and it has a nice artsy vibe. But it's crawling with international tourists, too, and can start to feel like a real mob scene. Traditional tea shops, restaurants, really everything in this district costs more than elsewhere due to the rents. However it can be hard to know where to find the stuff outside Insadong's concentration.

If you were a Chinese tourist, you'd want to go to the trendy and fashionable shopping district of Myeongdong (명동)(that's the name of the subway stop, too). If you like fashion, clothing, and want to go to an area where young Koreans enjoy shopping, I recommend it. I go there and enjoy shopping at the largest UNIQLO in Korea, this is a Japanese fast-fashion brand, and if you are not fairly slim it's not for you, but... if you are, check it out. This district also is home to Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral and it's a pretty cool building/grounds, worth a visit if you're into seeing old architecture. There is an English service on Sunday (check with them to find out what time is the English one. Many churches have English service, including the Anglican Cathedral across the street from City Hall, next to Deoksu Palace, others have instantaneous translation through headsets, like the Yeouido Full Gospel Church, largest in the world). If you were a well-heeled person you'd go to Apgujeong (앞구정) to go shopping, where the super upscale stores like Chanel are located. Unless you're a sucker for brand names, I'd recommend just using that district for people watching.

Where to Stay?
Korea is getting into creating little guesthouses, airb&b is doing well, and there are big and little hotels. Outside Seoul it's not hard to find a place to stay that's 30,000 for the night (if you have more than two people in there they might start to ask for more money). Inside Seoul and the central areas of other large cities you're going to pay (a lot) more unless you search well (it's not that hard to find places in Seoul for 25,000 a night if you're not that picky, but you need to search and the easiest places to find with an English search may already be booked up... there are a lot of places that don't have good English websites, though). In the winter when it's best to sleep on the heated floors you might want to ask for an "ondol" (온돌) room instead of a room with a "chimdae" (침대) or Western style bed. The good thing about an ondol room (there are very nice floor mattresses to sleep on) is that you can fit a lot of people in one room. If you're traveling on a budget with friends, this is your best option.
Vocabulary:
Guesthouse is just ge-seu-teu-ha-u-seu (게스트 하우스) (that's guesthouse as well as you can write it within the rules of the Korean alphabet). This is what it's called when it's either made for a backpacker market, or several rooms in a house in a urban setting that are being rented out.
Yeo-gwan (여관) is technically a love hotel-- but the slight trashiness can be amusing. Like chairs made for acrobatic sexual positions with a graphic card explaining how to use the chair. Or mirrors on the ceiling.
Mo-tel (equal weight on both syllables, unlike in English)
Ho-tel (again equal weight). Hotels in Korea are not going to be cheap.
Minbak (민박) Minbak are old school guesthouses, Korean style. You mostly find them in the rural areas, where Koreans would want to escape the city and stay in someone's house or out building. I don't think I've ever seen a sign for a minbak in an urban area. They have blankets, and generally have a small kitchen and will loan you a few pans. Korean college students and 20s will go stay in a minbak and cook their own meals to facilitate a really cheap vacation. Back in the day they cost 5 or 10,000 per night. I'm sure they're probably fancier and more expensive these days.
Pen-shyeon (펜션) are pensions... whatever that means, I think it's what Europeans might call a little weekend rental cabin, because that's what they tend to be. Mostly they are entire buildings, often quite nice, with several bedrooms, and they can be the size for a family or the size for a university club or major to go party in (and of course they include cooking facilities so you can make your own food, too). If it's off season they are really cheap, and they're often located at really nice places. Primarily this word is used to describe places in small towns and in the countryside, not in the city.


Outside of Seoul:
The common places for tourists to visit if they leave Seoul are:
Suwon Fortress and Suwon Folk Village Folk Village Website
Jeonju (especially Jeonju's Hanok Village)
Start at this website for some info on touring Jeonju. I also really recommend staying in a hanok (traditional house) if available (reserve in advance).
Gyeongju (Silla Dynasty sites galore). Among the sites to see here there is the Gyeongju National Museum (great Buddhist art), Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple, and the tombs of the ancient kings of the Shilla and Unified Shilla Dynasties.
Busan (just because it's the second biggest city and has beaches)
Andong (Confucian culture)

I'm telling you the truth here-- most of these are common places to visit because the tourist guidebooks and the Korean guestimates about what foreigners want to see all push you towards these spots-- not because they are really the most amazing things you ever saw. I'm not saying these are places you shouldn't go-- they're all quite nice, and they are better equipped to handle non-Korean speaking tourists. HOWEVER, they are not my favorite places. The only one I would really say you should do, since you came all the way to Korea, is Gyeongju.
               Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Dynasty, the first dynasty to unify Korea. The city is a virtual "museum without walls" -- this is further enforced by zoning and building regulations that impose things like "traditional" roofs over gas stations. In Gyeongju you can see the beautiful temple Bulguksa, the peerless Buddhist grotto of Seokguram, tombs of the royals, Buddhist statues carved into the rocks on Mt. Namsan (that pains me to write as san=mountain so I just said Mt. Nam Mountain), and various other sites (none as interesting as the ones I just mentioned). There are tourist info booths, public transit to the major sites, and abundant lodging and dining options.

I am going to come back and add details to this in the future, but here are some other places you could go that I personally want to visit again and again:
Tongyeong (south coast)
Yeosu (south coast)
Songgwangsa (temple of the sangha)
Tongdosa (temple of the buddha)
Haeinsa (temple of the dharma)
Jindo (island connected by a causeway on the southwest corner of Korea)
Ulleungdo (island accessible only by ferry that stops if the weather sucks)
Jirisan (mountain in the central south)
And do a Temple Stay! You get to stay in the temple, be part of activities (this is more planned out at some temples than others), eat the food the monks/nuns eat, and so on. You can only share a room with your same gender and you have to wake up early for morning prayers, but you can do it for one, two, or more nights and it's a great (if unusual) way to learn about a culture. The price can vary a lot depending on if they offer a lot of fancy activities (tea ceremonies, temple roof tile rubbing, etc.) or if it focuses more on things like meditation. This link will get you started.

Easy to Find in Korea:
Ibuprofen (pronounced EE-byu-pro-pen) and all kinds of over the counter drugs
New sandals/shoes for small feet (top size is about 8 for women, 10 for men)
Bags
Chintzy tourist gifts (be aware that you're often buying Made in China if the prices seem quite "good" and unless you can tell the difference, that chintzy thing might be culturally Chinese. The Koreans know the difference and sometimes like to buy "ethnic" gifts or artwork, just like you do. No one is trying to fool you into buying Chinese stuff, it's your responsibility to bring home a culturally Korean gift for a friend, if that's what you want).
Cheap places to stay. Of course the cheapest may rent the next room over by the hour, and there may be thin walls, and you may hear a lot of ahem, noise. Unless you are there are the same time as some local festival with a ton of people flowing into the area, it's not necessary to make reservations, unless you're picky. Only one time did K and I have to ask at about 5 places before we found an acceptably priced available room-- but we didn't start looking until after 10 pm and there was a HUGE multi-day festival... so that was really our fault.

Other Cool Things:
The Post Office. They have free internet connected computers, so if you're not using a smart phone and want to duck in and google some directions or something, go to the post office. Also it is cheap to send things home to your country (and there are strong boxes available for sale at the PO). Because the PO is also a bank and also a place to pay public utility bills, they are in every (even small) town. If you're looking for a longer session on the computer the Korean word for internet cafe is "PC-bang" (soft a in bang), look for the English "PC" on a business on the second floor of a building and that's it. They're also now mandatorily non-smoking (awesome).
No tipping (the cost is the cost for your taxi, haircut, dinner, etc.-- workers earn a living wage, too)
They only think their food is spicy, it's milder than Mexican, Thai, Indian spice
Food poisoning is very rare, the street food is particularly safe.


Timothy Holm made this literary travel guide to Korea-- if you're into literary history and Korean lit, this is the guide for you.

I promise I'll go back and add photos to this at some point.