Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seodaemun Prision


Seodaemun Prison History Hall is a museum and former prison located in Seoul, which was used during the Japanese occupation of Korea to house and torture Korean freedom fighters. It was built between 1907 and 1908 and was officially opened on October 21, 1908. It was one of many prisons used by the Japanese during the occupation; capable of housing 500 inmates. The prison continued to be used by the South Korean government after the Japanese occupation ended from 1945- 1985, and is now preserved and restored as a national historic site in Korea. It's a really terrible place, and although I visited a few weeks ago, I haven't been able to bring myself to blog about it until now.

This map shows the locations of Japanese prisons distributed throughout Korea during the Japanese occupation.

Korea was occupied by Japan in 1905 and was officially annexed to Japan as a Japanese colony in 1910 through a bogus annexation treaty. August 29, the day the treaty was signed in 1910 in known nationally as, "the day of national shame." It was preceded by increased control by Japan of Korean interests as well as assassinations and military coups of government. Koreans were none-too-happy about the signing of such document under threat of the use of force by the Japanese government and took to the streets in huge numbers in anti-Japanese rallies and protests. According to Korean records in the first 12 months of demonstrations 46,948 were arrested, 7,509 killed and 15,961 wounded. Those arrested ended up in prisons like Seodaemun, where ended many of their lives.

Restored as a typical example of what a Japanese prison would have looked like during the occupation, the prison was well fortified with towers and even a secret escape route so bodies could be disposed of in local grave yards without the knowledge of the local population.

The stamp on this brick indicates that it was made on-site by prison labourers! It really made me not want to walk on the path anymore. A very uncomfortable feeling.

Throughout the prison there were mannequins reenacting torture scene from when the prison was in use. The Japanese are accused of many war crimes, and the visual depictions at the museum make them seem very real, and very disturbing.

There were special forms of torture for men and women, and no one was spared. Among those tactics approved and commonly used against women were many forms of sexual torture, I'm not even going to begin to or try to describe. I'm actually wincing at myself as I write this.

Even today in Korea there continues to be a level of hostility towards the Japanese, especially among the older generation. This is fueled by the fact that the Japanese government continues to deny its involvement in many of the war crimes that it is accused of by Korea, in spite of new evidence supporting the accusations being found in the new millennium.

For a guided tour through the prison on someone-I-don't-know's blog, please click here and she'll take you through. Also, this video is pretty gripping, but be prepared for something pretty graphic, its not pretty.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Farting Woman: In My Curriculum

When I originally posted the story of the farting woman here and here there was some skepticism among my faithful readers as to if I had indeed just made this one up, and posted it for kicks... but alas my friends, it is not true! It really is in the ESL curriculum that I teach to my wonderful children day in and day out, and here is the proof!

She's right cute- ain't she?

Dan --with whom I share a desk-- is just as perplexed as you and I...

... that this really does exist.

The Reach Out program that this story comes from really is pretty interesting most of the time, and especially with more talkative classes can be pretty fun to teach. Some of my student were able to make up some very interesting and colourful versions of this story about 'poison gas lady.' I wonder what my story is going to be this month...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Learn Korean: Step 1 : Hangeul

The very first thing you really must do when you are trying to learn Korean, even if its only enough to get you through a short vacation in Korea, is to learn Hangeul (한글): the Korean alphabet. It will only take a few hours of your time to memorize which sound corresponds with which character and how to combine those sounds together, but it is oh, so worth it, and will make your time in Korea exponentially easier.

There are 24 different Hangeul letters of which 14 are consonants and 10 are vowels. It was developed as a writing system by the great King Sejong in 1446, and was specifically designed so that even commoners could learn to read and write it.

You might remember this picture of King Sejong from my Cherry Blossom Festival post.

It has been called 'the language you can learn in a morning' and is associated with this very popular Korean quote, "A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days." It is of course easier to learn when you actually have a background in speaking Korean to associate the sounds with, but you can still do it! Try it out!

Here is a list of Korean letters matched up with their closest English equivalents. I know that there are more than 24 letters listed here, but if you look closely you'll see that the extra ones are only common combinations of the simple letters. Good luck!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lotus Lantern Festival

Please attain Buddhism in your next lifetime by lighting a lantern in this life.

As predicted, the Lotus Lantern Festival in celebration of Buddha's birthday was amazing. There had been traditional Korean festivities, lantern making, and more Korean food than you can shake a stick at all day long in downtown Seoul.

By the time we arrived the day time festivities were winding down, the sun was setting, the rain was starting and the evening festivities were gearing up in spite of the cold and wet weather. We wandered around for a little while and explored the temple and what was left of the day time festivities and the settled in to watch what I consider to be the main attraction... the parade!

This is a picture of some of the pillars at the temple, as well as some of the lanterns that were hanging in the immediate area surrounding a the temple. The lanterns actually have Korean writing in the pattern. Cool!

After a full day of festivities the parade kicked off at 7:00pm and was everything that you'd ever imagine such a parade would be. There were millions of people watching, thousands of people marching, colourful displays of everything from fire-breathing dragons to Buddha riding in Thomas the Tank Engine. Marching bands, drummers and traditional musicians provided musical entertainment while dancers, high school students, people dressed as Buddha, monks, soldiers, small children, people from a hospital being pushed in wheel chairs walked, danced and rolled by while waving and smiling at the crowd. I was particularly impressed by a group of ladies wearing traditional Korean hanbok who all danced very gracefully while walking in the parade, as well as a troupe of men preforming stick-taekwondo with flag poles.

Having been plenty excited about the Christmas Parade in St. John's for the majority of my life, I was pretty much beside myself with glee as the parade wore on. It went on and on for a full two hours, and I was jumping up and down, clapping my hands, and I'm somewhat ashamed to admit, occasionally shrieking with excitement. I felt more like someone about to turn four, not twenty-four, but I digress.

What I've been trying to avoid admitting all along, is that I couldn't bring my camera to the parade, and all the other pictures? Yeah.. they're not mine either... are you mad? Please don't be mad... Ah.. I knew you weren't!

My camera was left in school over the weekend because I had brought it to class on Friday to take this video for one of the other teachers that was sick. It's completely adorable so I'll show it to you to make up for it, and I'll continue to steal my friends pictures of the festival to put on a future post. So, without further ado, I present you, Kiwi class:

Anna Teacher:
Please don't be sick.
We miss you.
I love you x 11.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Farting Woman: Alternate Endings

The three versions of this folktale that I have heard all essentially start the same. Beautiful young woman with a strong farting problem, stops farting, gets married, lives happily, becomes sick, blows the house down after being confronted by concerned parents-in-law... and that's where the commonalities end.

The version of the story I told in my last post is paraphrased from a text book at my school, from a unit about Korean folktales. It's obviously meant for children, and mean to be appropriate to teach in the classroom within a restrained time frame, which is perhaps why it is both shorter and less colorful than the two varieties that I am about to relate to you.

A book of Korean folktales found by another blogger says that after the house had been destroyed, the parents-in-law were worried for their son and sent the poor woman back to live with her parents in disgrace. On her way back to her parents home, she encounters many adventures and uses her superfarts to save the day, becoming very rich in the process. After she becomes very rich, the parents-in-law see the error in their ways and welcome her back with open arms.

The same blogger's mother used to tell her Korean folktales as a child and in her mother's version of the folktale, the mother-in-law comes back to the ruins of the house, still dazed by the fart. Seeing her daughter-in-law unharmed, while her husband and son are crawling out of the wreckage, blood pouring from various wounds, the mother-in-law calls her a monster and chases her away with a shovel. So mortified is the poor daughter-in-law that she went into the deep mountainside and died of a broken-heart. And the moral of this story is, never trust your mother-in-law.


Just as with any folktale I'm sure there around a million more possible variations out there. Since I posted it yesterday, I have heard that it is sometimes called the farting daughter-in-law, that the woman only lives with her new family for a few weeks before she gets sick, that she needed a match maker to get married etc. etc. But the guts of the story is the same, and its still hilarious, no matter what permutation you hear. I wish our traditional folk tales were this amusing!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Korean Folktales: The Farting Woman

A long long time ago, when dragons still smoked long pipes...

... there was a beautiful young woman who was sweet, kind and intelligent, but who had one big problem: she couldn't control her farts. She farted often, and her farts were very loud and strong, known to blow over large kimchi pots, or blow the tiles off a roof. Her farting concerned her parents because the beautiful young woman was about to get married. They were afraid of what would happen if she farted in front of her new husband and his parents, so they told her not to fart anymore.

The beautiful young woman married her new husband and she held in all of her farts. They had many children and lived happily together for many years. Her parents-in-law loved her very much because she was a very good daughter-in-law. After 10 years she began to get very sick, and her husband and parents-in-law were very worried about her. They asked her what was wrong, and she told them that she had been holding in her farts for the past 10 years, which was making her sick. They told her that they loved her, and that her health was important to them, so she should fart if she had to.

As it had been a very long time since she had last farted, she warned her husband, parents-in-law and children to hold onto a pillar as the fart was going to be very powerful. When she had finished, her children had been blown into a field, her husband and parents-in-law had been blown onto a neighbour's roof, and her house was destroyed. After that, she could fart any time she wanted to.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Buddha's Birthday and Lotus Lantern Festival

Although a much smaller number than it once was, a fully 23% of Koreans today declare themselves as Buddhist, and Buddhism continues to play a substantial role in the history and culture of Korea. One of the best ways to see in it action in modern day Korea -- aside from visiting one of the many beautiful Buddhist temples scattered across the mountains -- is through attending Buddha's birthday celebrations. They involve thousands of people (but then, in Korea, what doesn't?), a lantern festival and a huge parade from Dongdaemun to Jogyesa with 100 000 lanterns, which is all going to be happening this weekend!

I am so excited about it that I stole other people's picture from the internet -- shush, don't tell anyone -- and am planning on plastering them all over my blog until the weekend arrives!

If I've noticed anything since I got here, its that Korean's take their festivals and parties very seriously, and I don't plan to be a doubter like I was two weeks ago at the cherry blossom festival. Besides, what is more quintessentially and stereotypically Asian than a gigantic dragon lantern? Although, I can imagine that something along the lines of, "eating dog" or other such nonsense going through your heads back at home, I beg to disagree! I'm so excited!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Cabbage that we Ravage with the Chili Paste Taste

You guessed it, its Kimchi!

Making kimchi is the traditional Korean way of preserving vegetables to last over the winter. It can be made from any vegetable, or combination there of, but the most common and popular variety is made in the fall, from whole salted cabbage, with chili paste and other ingredients stuffed between the layers. It is considered by Koreans to be both nutritious and delicious. It really didn't appeal to me when I arrived in Korea, so I disputed the 'delicious' part, but I have discovered that the 'nutritious' part indeed has much truth to it.

According to this article on kimchi is rich in vitamin A, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), calcium, and iron, and is also an excellent source of vitamin C. Although some kimchi varieties are high in salt and therefor associated with the health problems that come from high-sodium diets, the low sodium varieties may possibly reduce cancer growth and were listed on one health magazine's website as one of the 5 healthiest foods in the world. Wow!

Inspite of my initial skepticism, kimchi is quickly becoming one of my favourite Korean foods. I love to eat it with the majority of my meals. I agree with Koreans that it is delicious by itself, in soup or in fried rice. It is many delicious. Having always been a picky eater, that's saying a lot about kimchi and how it can grow on you.

The title of this post actually came from a music video made by some teachers in another part of Korea very close to Seoul. There are many jokes that you might have to live in Korea (or at least visit) to understand, but I'll post it anyway, because I thinks its pretty hilarious, and I'll add some pointers at the end to help you understand. Enjoy!

  1. This song goes out to all the weguks. Weguk = foreigner
  2. Kamsahamnida = Thank you
    Anyonghaseyo = Hello
  3. T-money = Transportation money, for buses, subway, cabs etc.
    Yoke= (subway) station
  4. Koreans cannot swim in a public pool without a swim cap
  5. Drinkin Cass-euh, Drinking Hite-euh, feeling alright-euh: In the Korean language there are no words that end with a consonant sound, and so although Koreans use many English words quite frequently they add a vowel to the end of every word that doesn't already have one, almost exactly like this guy is doing in the video. Cass and Hite are the two popular brands of beer in Korea.
  6. Noraebang : A karaoke room.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Watch -- Laugh -- Enjoy

That is all... have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pizza Maru

Pizza in Korea really is a wonderful thing... depending on where you buy it and what you get on it. Just like everywhere else I supposed.

Korea has a few different major chains in two varieties:
  1. Western Style Pizza
  2. Korean Style Pizza

The two are not actually as different as you might imagine. Korea has most of the major pizza chains -- Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's -- and many of their pizzas are not so unlike home. You must be careful though when you visit as some of the pizza toppings are very much so not what you would expect. In a nutshell there's a lot of fish and Asian sweet potato on pizza here. The western style pizza is also priced in the same price range as at home, which when you are used to shopping and eating in Korea is a ridiculous price to pay for anything... other foods here are so cheap that it makes pizza seem like a luxury.

This is where the Korean style pizza comes in. If you are a fan of a medium sized thin crust pizza for $5 with delicious toppings, then these are the kind of places for you. Most of them have English names, as pizza is considered a western dish, but they have become very Koreanized in some cases. Places like Pizza Maru, Pizza School etc. sell delicious and cheap pizza that I routinely take advantage of, perhaps a little more often than I should. :)

My favourite pizza chain that I have found so far is Pizza Maru which luckily (unluckily?) for me is approximately 3 mins away from my apartment, and I go there at least once a week with the girls from work. They have this really neat green crust, which sounds a little strange until you taste it and discover that it's delicious!

It's run by this kind man below and his family:

He's always soo busy when we are there, and seems to work really hard but always has a warm smile for us when we stop by, and the pizzas are delicious. Sometimes when we drop by after work, his kids -- two boys-- are there hanging out. He has an older boy (9-10 years?) and a younger boy (maybe 3). One day, when I got here first, the littlest boy had lots of boogies all over his face so I took a tissue and handed it to him -- or so I thought. Instead of taking the tissue I offered, he just leaned into my hand... and blew! As I guess it is perfectly natural for a three-year-old boy to do.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where the heck is Matt?

This video is worth waiting an extra few minutes for to load in HD if your computer is fast enough to handle it.

Introducing.... Matt!

An American video game designer from Connecticut, he got tired of making shoot-em-up games for a living, quit is job and this is the result! Without further ado I give you a video simply entitled:

To learn more you can check out Matt's website.

Couple Shirts!

Sometimes, words cannot do justice to the amazing-ness....

Apparently, couple shirts for outings like these, although enjoyed by women, are actually the man's idea. His way of laying claim to what's 'his,' so to speak.

This really helps to explain why Randy and I never got a second look when we were wearing matching hats that I got free on a cereal box while we were skiing over the holidays. Little did we know just how 'Korean' we were being.

I think they're cute...

And, admittedly also a little on the ridiculous side... but in a fun way!

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

As far as the eye can see..

I really wasn't kidding when I said that there were cherry blossoms as far as the eye could see in each direction. As I am prone to dramatics and exaggeration sometimes I anticipated some skepticism among blog-readers and took a video to show you all! I was also hoping to catch some cherry blossoms blowing in the wind, but with no luck... :(

An interesting note related to these cherry blossoms is that despite the name, no actually cherries grow on these trees. The cherry comes from a different species of tree entirely. You can read about it on Wikipedia here.

Also, I thought it would be interesting to mention that it is these very same cherry blossoms that many of us sang about as elementary students when we learned the Japanese folk song Sakura. It is a song about Japan in the spring time, and specifically about the most definitive sign that spring has come to Asia, cherry blossoms.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cherry Blossom Jeans... (Part 2)

Continued from yesterday...

Now, where was I?

Oh, yes... we weren't happy about the whole situation in Yeouido -- as Jen is demonstrating in the picture below. We all gathered, and taken the subway, and walked to the park, only to be met with about a dozen cherry blossom trees, and approximately a million people. A cherry tree here and a cherry tree there, our spirits were getting a little low...

If you take any indication from this next picture, Kelly's spirits were particularly low -- although I think I just caught her at an inopportune moment. I'm actually being a bit overly dramatic, it was a beautiful day and we were really enjoying ourselves in the park seeing all the different things their way to see as neither of us had been there before. That is... until we noticed the road with a seemingly unending line of cherry blossoms. That's when the party really started!

After a short walk we made it to a point on the street where we really started to understand what all the hype was about! The road was blocked off on both sides by huge flower pots and there were cherry blossoms -- and people! -- as far as the eye could see in both directions!

Naturally, we stopped for a few photo shoots as groups of girls are apt to do. There were trees upon trees, and after a while with only a very small amount of prompting from Amanda I decided to climb up into one, which was awfully nice!

Before too long, Amanda decided to join me, and here's the evidence! There's also evidence on facebook! (You will have to be my friend on facebook to use this link I believe.) Neither of us can ever deny it. :) Picture were taken and then we were coaxed down and proceeded to take even more pictures!

And more pictures! Even one of this porta-potty, which is just about the best I've ever seen. Its extremely portable, has stalls on the inside and is just about the closest I've ever come to calling a place where you do your business cute. I didn't make it inside personally, but Amanda said in spite of the outside cuteness it still smelled like an outhouse on the inside. I still think its an improvement over what we have at home.

The cherry blossoms stretched on and on and on, and despite their beauty, and the surreal 60s music that was being played over loudspeakers in the streets we started noticing other things around us. One thing that I tried to capture on camera many a time --but was completely unsuccessful with, resulting in a number of very disappointing pictures -- was the way that the cherry blossoms would blow and swirl all around us when a small gust of wind would come up. There was only a light breeze, but each time we felt it we were showered in thousands upon thousand of tiny pink blossoms. It was really amazing, but very hard to take a picture or a video of.

I also took a picture of this man's shirt. It is more than likely that he really has no idea what it says. There really is a mentality here that anything that is English must be cool.

Another thing that Koreans think is cool is matching couple clothes. Its hard to miss the couple in the picture on the left wearing matching pink sweaters, and its such a normal thing here in Korea. I saw at least a dozen examples while we were walking around for a few hours on Saturday, and will probably devote an entire post to it sometime soon so as not to take up too much space on this already long post.

Next, we saw a bunch of drummers walking around in a circle playing some beats that were very tribal and raw sounding compared to the appearance of their uniforms. There were also a handful of middle-aged Korean men in their street clothes dancing around in the middle of the circle, seemingly just for the fun of it. I have no doubt that Randy would have joined in if it hadn't ended quite shortly after we arrived on the scene. I wouldn't put it past him, and I was actually looking forward to the amusing pictures it would produce. Maybe next time...

Also present at the festival with the people and the cherry blossoms were a number of people dressed up in costumes for children to take pictures with, among them a male and a female police officer. I got a shot of this police-lady really planting a smooch on this poor, unsuspecting fellow. Apparently, more than just children wanted their pictures taken with these folks. (Admittedly, the girls and I had out pictures taken with a character as well.) Along the way we also saw plenty of artwork along the sides of the streets.

One of the more interesting pieces was this cow and rider made from grass.

And of course the jeans with the flowers among others.

~The End~
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