Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Journal of cross-cultural clash

Originally posted at mojeopinie.pl

When the former polish embassor to South Korea has warned me about going to East Asia for half year long, he knew very well what he was talking about. He deliberately claimed that getting along here is not possible, not to mention becoming double culture competent person. Luckily I didn't pay attention to his speech back then.

August was like a honeymoon. Everything was exciting and new: beautiful women on the streets, mountains around, original cuisine and architecture, I loved it! At work people were initially very nice. They helped a lot with everything, carried my luggage, organized acomodation and gave the best computer to work at. They also remembered what is the most important here in Korea - not once I had to eat alone. After a month honey moon was over.

Subsequently weird things happened. I have done a lot to make friends among people from my lab. I kept hearing one constant thing: "Chigani obsoyo" I am sorry, I am busy. Later on I was in need of serious help with administration affairs and I didn't get one.

Reading the Geography of thought by Nisbett I started to wander why does that happen? What is the mechanism of fitting inside the culture? Is it possible at all?

Nisbett tries to descibe differences between european and asian thinking processes. Tries to give an answer to those and other questions. Why people would smash me with an umbrella without an excuse or stand on my feet on the subway? Why the body language does not work? Why do I have to push my way out of the bus? Why after asking for directions am I given wrong ones? Why women always follow men like squaw and never go in front of them?

Confucianism as the philosophy ruling for centuries in this part of the world gives partial answers to these questions. The same lady who ruthlessly smashed my eyes with her umbrella would sacrifice her life for her friends happiness, because a friend is a part of the group. I do not belong to her group and therefore I need no special attention or privileges.

If one of the readers goes for holiday to Korea and is given wrong directions after asking how to get somewhere, may not be surprised. Saying "I don't know" means losing face here. Such answers are not given at this latitude. Usually it doesn't cause major problems as both the subway and trains together with tourist attractions are well marked in English. However Polish professor at Seoul National University had recently an adventure with the lady in the drugstore. He had gone with the prescription from the polish doctor and all the substances mentioned in latin next to it. While later his wife inquired what actual medicines he was taking all the time and he had been drinking stuff for external usage. Cultural fear of losing face was stronger then the health of the patient and a VIP in one.

All such things should not mislead Westerners if they want to do business with Korea. Koreans know very well what they want in business and at first they protect their own industries. They would hire the best foreign experts in corporate centers but the management of chebols would remain Korean and companies would remain Korean by all means. A very small country, like the island surrounded by enemies is doing much better than Poland, which is not capable of building consise and successful long term strategy of foreign affairs nor it is eager to support domestic business like Korea does for recent 20 years.

What else can we learn? We can learn how to have fun with the group of friends. How to eat well , how to drink and how to sing at karaoke, no matter the day, weather or the hour, time shared with the others is what is important. Koreans can learn from Europeans how to dance. In the most famous salsa club in Seoul 20 to 40 people dance regularly ( but how they dance!) when in Warsaw everybody dances.

Cultural difference is very remarkable if take into account that Korea is copycating everything american for many years. Starting with talk shows, or self laughing soap operas similar to "Friends" through boys bands and girls bands ending with architecture. Copycating USA will not change the culture as according to Nisbett people in this part of the world simply think differently. I am very sorry to make general assumptions as East Asian societies and ethnic groups are just as diversed as European but both direct observations and scientific research support this.

Collective acting rules Asian citizen daily life. There is a significant advantage in that. All changes and modernizations might be implemented only by convincing leaders. The rest which usually depends on them would not oppose or protest aggainst anything. Even in democratic society like in South Korea. Basis of everything is the harmony of the whole.

Personally I believe that there are two things that Korean citizens could learn from Europeans. One is an art of making real friends. If a Korean person is in serious trouble would not tell this to anyone just not to be a burden for the group but instead might even commit suicide ( which is not that rare at all). There are exclusions like everywhere. making friends with Korean people requires exactly same social skills as it takes to make friends with neighbors in Endhoven, Berlin, Paris or Warsaw. Patience and tolerance.

Another thing is the project efficiency not time sitting at work. Poland is not a good example as both salaries and social structure resembles some of Third World countries. But in Germany or Great Britain one is paid for the job done not for sitting until 8 p.m. or coming to the lab on Saturdays. Despite that my boss is European and set up the Western standards of work, everyone is coming on Saturday anyway, culture is stronger. The same thing is giving Western managers in Korean companies a big headache. How does that happen that 3 Europeans do the same amount of work by 11 am and 10 Koreans cannot manage until evening.

That's very interesting because Korean managers in LG or Samsung branches in Europe are not that understanding and work efficiency is something strongly imposed. Why is there such difference? I can only guess that Koreans know VERY WELL what can they require from who.

It is high time for Western leaders to appreciate Confucianist nations. Their time is coming and it is coming very soon. It depends on us if at least partially they would accept our values - provided that we learn to talk to them at first. Cross cultural clashes happen every day to every European or American working in Korea or China. Someone I know had summarized it this way: " I am just a guest here. It is not fault of my hosts that I don't speak their language. If you want to know the culture, learn the language". East Asian economies will soon dominate over the world. The question is how many people in Europe can speak these languages?

Ooops... and it was serious again? OMG... sorry.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Changes in life

And so it is.

I got fed up with compliments about my work and my rising bills. If someone thinks that my job is good - well...

That would be all for now.

Next post is just maybe coming soon.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Differences diary cont

I have to go to Japan soon. Don't ask me why, I just have to. It's exciting trip. I have always wanted to go to Japan and now I am able to make this come true.

At first I have to schedule the trip in a very detailed way. I have to know where to prchase the tickets, where to find the terminal and many other things.

I have started asking my Korean friends about that and they don't know anything. They are in their late 20's studying at the best university in this part of the world but they are not able to advice me on those issues.

I can manage on my own and I took no offense. But this is just another example of differences between West and East. In the western cultures it is normal for young people to move away from their families and make everything independently. They know how to schedule the trip, pay taxes and manage with other affairs.

Here in Korea people in the age of 30 are not really independent. They have their life managed by their parents in every aspect i.e. education, personal choices, evening classes. And so on.

They become fully independent between 35 and 40, when they get first real jobs or get PhDs ( which starts to be the standard of education in this part of the world).

I am not sure if it is better or worse. It is just different. And cultural diversity is what has always excited me the most.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Pusan film festival

Too late to write about that. I know.
Yet I need to write just that: polish adverstising industry in terms of diplomacy simply sucks.
There was a movie festival in Pusan, very famous in Asia, biggest one.
And Poland didn't really show the movies which would be spotted more.
"Zero" by Borowski was in the contest, but for the rest, was it really needed to show all the movies made in 2009? Aren't there any better ones, already awarded in previous years at other festivals just to show?

I don't know... but I really hope that next year I will watch some really good movies in Pusan, and not only there.
For instance "Tricks" or "Vinci".

In Pusan the main award went to the movie "Kick off" by Shawkat Amin Korki. The feature shows the life of Kurdish Irakis trying to survive in nowadays Iraq touched by war and full of trouble. This is another example of sensitivity in Korean society. Both FIPRESCI award and the Main Prize went to that picture.

So... maybe it's time to stop showing plastic comedies made by TVN or action movies like many other of them in the world and maybe just once for instance here in Asia show something like "General Nil"? There is no need of being afraid of showing off with martirology and struggle. Not here in Korea.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Poland - Korea 20 years passed...

On November 2nd 20 years have passed since Poland and Korea established officially bilateral ties. In Poland there is a special Korean cultural year celebrated, a lot of trade fairs and exhibitions have been opened as well. One of the most fruitful in enterprise followed was Korean Product Show held in Warsaw in June.

Here in Seoul with the occasion both sides have exchanged traditional diplomatic chit chat letters saying how wonderful it has been so far and how they intend it to be. Indeed they do not have to go too far to visit each other as Polish Embassy in Seoul is situated in the most prestigious spot - near the Special Presidential Area, next to Gyeokbongguk Palace ( if I spelled that right).

So far Korean companies like Samsung, Ssangyoung, and LG have invested more than 1.7 bln $ in Poland creating design and development centers and employing lots of people.
However diplomatic chit chat is one and reality is another. There is an anonymous unconfirmed rumour that all Korean industries are withdrawing from Poland within next year due to the special tax abolition period will have expired by then. Yet due to my current information this proves to be not true so far. We'll see what the officials from Poland tell me and when.

It is a good occasion to try to summarize similarities and differences between our two nations. Koreans are very intelligent, patriotic and conscious people. They like to drink a lot, too. They are not afraid to be loud in the evening at some bar or restaurant. And they know who Walesa was ( it's very good that they don't know who Walesa is today as they probably would be confused a bit).

Polish people... are lucky. Oh yes, they are hardworking too, when it is really needed, but they are mostly lucky. Like with that special spirit in the air watching over them for centuries and always sparing just from under the hammer of fate. Current state of polish economy is a little bit of both of that. After we joined EU most of young labor force not competitive on polish market fled abroad and started sending money home. And more money and more money. Sustainable central government policy towards state bonds management and transparent fiscal and bank legal system spared Poland from "financial crisis" inferno. Even after huge panic and mass foreign capital withdrawal and some hocus pocus of Goldman Sachs last year economy merely slowed down a bit by 2 to 3%.

Ill - considered currency hedges have hit some firms, some "end of the chain" companies suffered impact from old EU collapsing economy, but nevertheless 60% of big ones plan new investments this year.

How these circumstances are being used, that's different. If Poland learns - and I think that has learnd a lot by now - that wind of change never blows twice - then a little bit of hard work applied and success gonna last.

Looks like this is visible now by polish businessmen. They often complain about bailout plans and other stability magic techniques giving remark like Jozef Przyblwa, a hotelier in one of the Silesian towns, stating that the crisis has weeded out the "weak and reckless".
Polish central government despite of wishes or more brutal orders from old EU states like France or Germany which consistently try to impose "shut up and obey" policy towards Poland, keeps minding it's own business using whatever it takes to built the state of the future.

This is very similar to Korea as well. One of the most important factors which makes this country successful is good foreign affairs management and very determined strategy of economic patriotism within the global village of these days. With growing Japanese agressive attitude and constant threat from China is like modern Poland eclypsed between two non-friendly states trying not just to survive, but succeed.

Are there differences...? Oh yes. Polish people are veeeery individualistic. They do not obey much and must see own interest in any action taken. Where two Polish meet, there are 5 opinions - a common sense tells. Koreans are very collectivist and will always obey to the orders.
Despite of the differences, simmilarity of fate and history and some traits of mentality makes it all the way possible to cooperate.

This is all for now. Next post is coming soon.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Nonsense post

Just some nonsense.

Che Guevara

I am very busy lately. So busy that I did not have time to go out and catch images of the beautiful Korean fall and I am watching leaves slowly going down. Red, Yellow, half green, half orange...

Last week I went to the War Memorial. If someone wants to know what korean history really is about, should see that one. From exhibition to exhibition, window to window, one by one we go through the ages of constant struggle for independence.

Bizarre though, why this museum is not the one most advertised in the Korean folders for foreign visitors? Artificial rebuilt and boring palaces or the static and rather boring National Museum gets more recognition than this one.

It was there were I severely quarreled with a friend of mine. It started from perception of Poland in the modern EU and ended up with the bigger discussion between a liberal by heart and more than a socialist.

An intellectual clash between a liberal and a socialist is indeed a severe one. Like two totally different species tried to establish a union... and yet they fail because their inner nature is too different one from another.

French people have been fascinated by communism ever since the idea developed. Many of them married Russians or Ukrainians during Soviet times and went to experience the heaven on the Earth and enormous embrace of Uncle Joe. Never woke up, maybe only when they discovered weird diseases killing them one by one after May 1986.

Initially I wanted to say that it is not my fairy tale as I am polish. But is it so? Some of us recently dream the same illusion, would love to go back to the old good times of forever joy and peace.

I don't. But...
I was looking for arguments to support my theories and couldn't find sufficient ones. How to convince someone that the state aid is not something which makes most of the people in the world happy?

I will put it this way. A slave is not a someone I force and torture. It is someone fed and it is someone whose life is being organized but himself has not got anything to say. A slave is a model of a zoo animal. Because there are big spaces and this life is even comfortable but this is life ruled by somebody else.

I haven't met a single person who would envy the zoo animals for their life. If someone does then I recommend that person a trapped cage zoo experience. A free person must be self - reliant and responsible both cooperative with others towards the goals in life, not passively waiting for some authority to share goods by any "equality" meaning.

There was a small tale about two birds:

"Why do you cry? " - asked the young bird to the elder -
"You have a lot of food here and the shelter"?
" You were born in the cage that's your tomorrow
I was born free my dear and that is my sorrow"

How is it related to Korea? Maybe it isn't and yet maybe it is... In the War Memorial there is the entire stand about Korean troops protecting independence for whatever it takes. No matter what sacrifice it takes.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Murphy's Day

Murphy's Law applies to human species definately more than needed.
Yesterday it was my day to experience Murphy's Law in practise, especially that part which says that unluckiness go in triples around.

I went to the Immigration Office at Omogkyo to try to fix my legal affairs in Korea.
I had to apply for re-entry permit and change of status - Visa extension.

I was waiting in the line for more than 3 hrs watching very remarkable actions of public service officers. Not that I did not know how it was going to be due to my diplomatic education, but I had made an appointment and being really in rush grew impatient.

Hours have passed, ladies were going for lunch one after another, then brushing their teeth, then chit chatting on the phone or one to another totally ignoring people in the line.

My number was 411. At 1 p.m. I saw a free officer playing only with his computer, watching me. In western world any sign of my growing impatience would be noticed and taken into account and here... no comments.

Finally at 1:30 p.m. Ajoshi pressed the button and I could approach. However I did not manage to get what I wanted simply because I wasn't understood. In the city of 20 million people there are no english fluent specialists to serve me!

Maybe if I acted along the rules of confuciasism and asked how his wife was doing, later how her parents are doing, and if he is doing or not doing at all, I might have gained more friendly reception smile. But this time I wasn't in the mood for that. In polish there is a saying: talked a cow to the picture, really resembles this experience.

At 2:20 I got in the cab in rush to try to catch Irina who I had promised to meet with and practice our korean homework. Me being totally reliable, never 5 minutes late with nothing, this time failed. And the driver tried to pretend he doesn't understand what "Soul de hakkyo" means. Normally quiet I raised my voice that time and almost yealed on my driver speaking the name again.

At 3:00 I dropped in the lab like a tornado and logged into my FB account to try to find anyone who would know Irina's phone number. I called my friend and apologised. Luckily these were not any important negotiations in business, in such case I would be in trouble.

In the afternoon I wanted to eat noodles, but noodles went off everywhere. Some merciful and friendly person adviced me to get downstairs at the Student Center, there would be noodles!

So I went there and got noodles, but totally different from those I ordered and spicy like hell.

That's not all. I scored 10/15 in the test which was my poorest performance since I started the course.

Today luckily dude Murphy left me alone.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Confucianism in practice

Harry Triandis have once said that one of the borders between cultures may be established by measuring Individualistic versus Collectivist approach.

Asian societies are collectivist by their inner essence. They will stand up for the common goal of the groups they belong to and as well they would never like to be a burden to the group.

This leads to situations when they are left alone with their problems putting smile on their faces. Does it mean they won't speak out? They will. My friends do trust me.
But whether they shall acquire any support from other members of the group, that is different issue...

Recently I have experienced that. One of my friends wanted to leave the job and go away only not to become a subject of the other's pity. It took a while to convince this person not to do so.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Travels with Herodotus

It happened at last. I am grounded. Stuck in my comfortable bed until the end of the week.
It wasn't very wise for me to remain so active. Luckily it is not a swine flue, or I hope it is not.

I was wondering just now what takes a good reporter. Is there a possibility for me to do something unique which goes beyond the contemporary momentus of the weekly or daily issue? What is the truth in journalism, and how do I judge if it is one?
Is my point of view fair and just? To what extent am I influenced by my own cultural background? Do I have sufficient ability to listen? Are my skills ok? And so on...
Are there any objective terms of measure which I can apply to compare, research and describe what I see?

I don't know. But I started reading... My best friends for the following days are: "Applied cross-cultural psychology" by Brislin and "The geography of thought" by Nisbett. I hope to improve my understanding of the world...if I have any so far. Too much of I in this all.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Seoul Dream of Samarkanda

Last Saturday I went with my russian friends to Dogdaemun District in aim to watch the game between Russia and Germany.

The owner of the Uzbek restaurant was supposed to be waiting for us at the subway exit, but did not appear. We found the place on our own after 1h and something of hopeless walking.

After we arrived there the owner said that there was never any ORT channel in the neighbourhood. "But we phoned you and you said that we can watch the game here" Nikolai said to the owner. The latter repplied: "No way. Noone called here. definately not you."

Then Nikolai calles the number he previously dialled and the cell started to ring in the mans pants.

Suddenly another Uzbek aproached and spared his collegue saying: "But I know where you can watch the game". I replied: "You will be a gentleman and lead us there" in russian. I am not really sure if I had spoken properly as he asked: "Ana, kto eto? Who is she?" Nikolai replied: "Ana Paliaczka. She is Polish". The Uzbek said to me: " Paliaczka, Ty oczien krasiwaja, kak Tiebia zawut? Polish Lady, you are very beautiful, what's your name?" I replied to him that I would tell him my name only after he drags us to the place. On every corner he kept saying "Eto usze za iglom, U Tiebia jest numier tieliefona? That's just around the corner, do you have a phone number?" Nikolai kept repeating him to lead us.

Eventually we hit the main street near Dongdaemun Stadium Station and he said watching the pavement: "I don't really know where is the place" and to me: "Krasavica! Beauty!" ....and escaped!

The game would probably be less exciting without that adventure putting that we lost. Oh...we lost, means this time Slavic team lost the game. We shared common Slavic sorrow after. But Ukraine won with England, hurray!

The Central Asian Community in Seoul is quite huge and has its own district called Dongdaemun exactly. Near the exit number 5 from Dongdaemun Stadium Station a tourist approaches totally different world. Especially for a person from Poland the cyrylic alphabet around is very familliar. There are plenty of restaurants with variety of East Eauropean- Central Asian Food. Mongolian, Kazakh or Uzbek cuisine. Russian desserts and dumplings, milk tea and variety of traditional hats and dresses next to the modern city noise.

Some of the restaurants are run by Korean Kazakh or Korean Uzbek. How is this possible?
During the 30's batiuszka narodaw Josif Vasillionowicz Stalin had his own policy to the whole world, not just Poland. Some of it's policy contained dragging native Soviet Koreans into Central Asia steps. According to the 1989 population registry there were still at least over 100 000 of them both in Uzbekhistan and Kazakhstan. Now they go slowly back to Seoul upgrading its multinational character... dream of Samarkanda in the middle of civilisation. Never to be forgotten!

Next post is coming soon.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

International Food Festival @ SNU

SNU organizes a lot of activities for students. This time it is International Food Festival held here on 7th and 8th of October.

I joined my French friends and we are doing french pancakes both sweet and salty. Very good!
Yesterday we even gained money to my surprise:)

Today awkward situation occured as we were given some korean help, but the guy doesn't even speak proper english, not even to mention that he is actually sick and coughing all the time.

Luckily I succeeded to get rid of this "help".

That is all for now, next post is coming soon.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Work efficiency and Confucianism

Today I had a very interesting discussion with my Korean Friend, Youn A.

We talked about the work efficiency or on the contrary lack of it in most of Korean companies. I wondered how is that people are paid for sitting hours here and not for the project efficiency as it is in the West.

I was informed that it is not that much important and that harmony is more important, cause the company is like one big organism and has to work as such. "So" she said " I am the hardworking one and I will easily get kicked off any company as not fitting to the others". How extraordinary statement to hear for a Westerner like me.

I am totally independent person and as such am not good example of Western management methods application as corporate environment is as far good for me as it comes to the media industry and not any other type of that. And I work freelance which fits my personality the best.
But still time management and work efficiency are important issues to me. As a boss I would prefer to employ 3 hardworking people good in time management skills and responsible for meeting deadlines instead of 10 lazy ones.

I wonder what is the management system in those Korean companies, like Posco, Samsung, Hyundai, which made a global success? Is it like that there as well?
Yet to discover...

Next post is coming soon

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Polish community in Seoul

My social life in Seoul is improving instantly. Thanks to the Korean course I know more and more people, including one very nice polish family. I think it is the best occasion to describe the polish community life in South Korea.
Agnieszka & Radek are very nice people. On every friday their home is always open after 7 p.m. and enourmous hospitality of the hosts makes this home always, really always full of people. There are no better like polish parties. Not many things are needed. Enough to move the table to the balcony and 30 people can have fun crazy dancing until the very down. And if someone is too tired to go home, finds his place to sleep too. This is called polish hospitality.
Speaking of the hospitality, recently I have paid a visit to the polish pallottine church and small monastery situated south - east from Seoul in the woodlands and mountains of Yangdeogwon. For the information of the unfamiliar ones - it is near the Vivaldi Park.
However it is very difficult to escape from very overwhelming civilisation impact in Korea, there is a place to experience contemplation and silence. Built for many years step by step by step it is almost finished now. Enourmous amount of work has been done by many volunteers and helpers led by priest Paul, a very funny guy.
We got there with my friends and spent a really nice weekend, only far too short. Eventually I was requested by priest Paul to do some photos at the celebration of kids first communion. However I am still looking for my ways with God, I was really happy to do that. Some of the result is above.

Next post is coming soon.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Country of engineers

South Korea is a country of engineers. With it's average salary in the sector reaching 27000$ annually, it is a leading country for engineer's jobs in the whole region.
Normally in all anglo-saxon background  financial white collars doing their stock exchange hocus pocus are the best paid sector. And we can see the result in recent crisis.
Here unlike in many countries, engineers who are responsible for growth and development are the best paid. If not for their inventions there would be nothing.  
It is visible everywhere, with scyscrapers, roads, and amazing constructions just like the one above. The fountain is attached to one of the bridges and there is a free music & light show every single evening in the summer.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Food, fiest & life.

Koreans are very social people. This is very impressive and it is the fact I would always emphesize while remembering my trip.
Lunch is a sacred time even in the corporate background known of spying own employees elsewhere. Of course any joining labor unions is prohibited but if it comes to the free time during work hours, lunch time is when everybody goes off the hook of any bosses surveilance,

Does not matter what one eats or where one goes, what is important are people to be in touch with and talk to in aim of maintaining social ties. In the evening, despite of quantities of work left to be done for the other morning everyone meets with friends for a Sojo or rice wine somewhere in the nice small or bigger restaurant. People talk laudly, laugh, tell stories... end yeah, go eventually drunk. Really drunk, despite of the age or social background.

Recently someone told me that it is because that Far East Asian Cultures did not develop crop eating heritage and therefore the digestion system cannot stand alcohol that much. Nevertheless they gather together and noone sits and eats alone and..if this happens it is considered awkward.

The conclusion is that I maintained all my social ties in Europe instantly. Connected back even with people who I had not seen for years.

Dear reader. If you sit alone in the evening and there is noone to talk to, start from talking to others yourself.

This is all for now. Next post is coming soon.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

An-nyong Hasseyo

I have recently started my korean course, first level. I can say "hello" and "thank you". Wow, I can even order the meal in the restaurant.

Rice rolls- my favourite- are called "gimpap" in korean. The language itself is of an unknown origin. Isolated, spoken mainly in South and North Korea and the Chinease Province Yanbian.
Some 80 million people use this language in the world. Some of them live in the ex Soviet Union area, some in Brazil, and some in USA apart from Korean natives. This is a Subject Object Verb language which means that I can say: I apple ate. It was supposedly invented by King Sejong the Great of Joseon Dynasty, or more precisely his Royal Academy is credited for that. Indeed it was early XV century when in the Far East one of the rulers regularly gathered scholars and advisors to know their opinions. To compare, it happened in Poland as late as XVIII century and still was considered innovative for then time Europe.
An-nyonghi- kesseyo. Till later.
Next post is coming soon.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Seoul Subway

Seoul has got magnificent and very efficient public transport system.
Especially I recommend subway for everyone to use as it is impossible to get lost.
There are a lot of stations with numerous exits and very detailed neighbourhood maps displayed every corner of the station.

Seoul Transportation Card can be easily charged at any self service machine which is as well very very easy to use. You only need to place the card and choose the amount of money to be charged. Usually 10 000 KRW is sufficient for a weekly usage with a "go there and back" routes.

Unlike in many cities I have been before, Seoul subway is very well protected indeed. Like at Sadang or Gangnam stations, almost everywhere the automatic doors open as the train arrives.

This is how the city fights with suiciders.... Indeed plenty of people commit suicide here in Korea. Even ex president lately did so due to some corruption accusations. It is an easy way out with long tradition in asian cultures.

There might be several other reasons to that as well. There is no welfare system here. There are no retirement solutions, and the state neither takes care for handicapped people. People have got lots of money as long as they work, but if the health declines... or there are job cuts due to any economic crisis...

In other parts of the world there are social research works done on an instant to investigate possible reasons to any of the patology which occurs in the society.

I cannot say that there is no research done here in Korea as I simply did not ask anyone about it yet. From myself I can only say that closing the subway tunnels is not a solution. Solving social problems is.

Next post is coming soon.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Bugak Mount

Cheongwadae - Blue Roof/ Blue House Presidential Residence

Situated near Insa - dong the Government Area with the Presidential Palace is a must see spot in Seoul. Therefore I was taken there by my Korean friend, Youna as one of the first attractions.

The name Cheongwadae more resembles the "roof" not the "house" as I was informed. Several buildings in the area have indeed blue roofs, as it was a sophisticated color to paint high standard buildings.

The very surroundings of the palace are guarded by the cctv police monitoring and plenty of police around, all very nice but as well ready for intermediate and brutal action on the spot if they see any sign of danger. Photos of people are forbidden to take, especially with a camera like Sony Alfa of mine. There are two or three spots marked as "This is the best place to take a photo" where just everyone uses the opportunity. One of the spots is in front of the main gate - as above shown on the photo.

It was a very hot day. Humidity reaching 80 % and temperature of my favourite 38-40 in the sun. We didn't enter any palace on that day and as well a livery parade was not the one to attend due to some renovation spoiling potentially the photographs to take.

Therefore we hit the Bugak Mount, the one in the background of the photo. Koreans believe that the best place to place the important buildings are in the naturally guarded spots as the one resembled here. This is so universal instinct of people worldwide, enough to mention medieval castles and cities always "hugged" to the safe mount or rock site.

On the Bugak Mount, or more presicely, next to the top of it, is a famous caffeteria with a nice view to Seoul and it is the top point of the trail where people are allowed to go. We had a nice peppermint and lemonade drinks. However the most favourite drink of Koreans is the rice drink in the hot days. One of the small but important things is that almost nowhere tables are provided with paper towels or tissues which is a standard in the western countries. So it is good to have that always in the handbag, otherwise we have to show off with mouth full of fat around on the way to the restroom.

Koreans are very romantic people in a way. The caffeteria itself is famous due to the drama series being shot there several years ago. Now everyone wants to experience that romantic athmosphere pictured in the movie. As soon as I know the name of it, I will place it here.

This is all for now. Next post is coming soon.

Copyright: Agnieszka Piasecka 10.09.2009

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Way of teaching

This is not very surprising to many people conscious about the world. However hearing about the thing is one, and seeing it with own eyes is another.

Here in Seoul, and in Korea in general, students are forbidden to ask questions if they don't sufficiently understand the issue once explained by the professor. It changes with time, as the more foreigners are employed the more they understand that one should be able to ask the question, yet I have many Korean friends who complain that they need to spend long hours self studying through the subject.

Currently I teach english one of my neighbours, and I had inquired if he could ask his tutor a question related to the study or write an email to one. The answer was: "Well, if I new one and there was any previous contact I could, but now...".

For my experience, only one person I know in Poland would not reply to an email from a stranger, and this is a man who genuinely hates internet or any other modern inventions.

Here in Korea, and I suppose in East Asia in general, position of an older person is unquestionable, despite of actual achievements or real knowledge. It is an offence to get in the elevator together with professor or to sit at the caffeteria too close to the one.

Is this issue related to eye contact? I don't know. I am not skilled in social research that much yet. I am only wondering if this might be the reason of such behaviour. In class, everyone watches the booklet instead of a teacher.

This is considered a lack of respect to the superior or to anyone if one avoids an eye contact in anglo-saxon, roman or slavic background. I don't look at you, means I have something to hide, I lie, either I don't like you at all. Here in Asia if I dare to look at someone older straight then it means I don't like him or don't respect him. This prooves that however universal some rules might be, they apply to just about one cultural background.

Yet, the question is, might this "watching, observing" issue be the reason for not asking for help during the class? I don't know...this is one to explore.

Copyright: Agnieszka Piasecka, Seoul, 26th August 2009

Next post is coming soon.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Changes to the world

And so it is. I have finally arrived to Korea and settled down a little bit. It is 11 p.m., a nice quiet summer evening, a good moment to start this blog I planned for so long.

I had a very nice trip. Whole plan was realised, well almost.
I reached Amsterdam so quickly that I no onger believe it's 1000km from Warsaw. It seems so close.

At Schiphol I was greeted by a long time unseen friend. We spent far too long time at the airport drinking coffee and wondering around all the shops there. Before I got in the IC to Amsterdam Centraal it was noon and too late to visit Rijksmuseum, I went for a walk around the city instead.

Amsterdam is a city which used to be my home for a long time. A place where I felt well and lived on my own making independent ways in life. Magnificent experience!

However lots of change has occured since I visited the city last time in 2006. Changes all around, and to my disgrace for worse... The economic crisis has stroke Netherlands very severely and it is visible all around. Prices of all goods doubled during that time, everything what I remember is now twice more expensive. Economic crisis in the west was highlighted in the news, but this is something one must see with own eyes... The unfinished constructions, smaller number of cars around, etc. Compared Poland is doing very well, I wonder if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is using that fact anyhow...?

As I've mentioned above I had fulfilled my plan almost totally. Besides the fact I had to walk myself with a very heavy hand luggage to the train station because my friend suddenly felt homesick and got angry with me for some reason. O Tempora, o Mores!

Stoptrein, local airport service train gets into Schiphol in 20 minutes, so 10 past 4 p.m. I could start my check in. Train was almost empty as everyone usually gets to Schiphol by bus 300, which is usually very crowded, or by taxi.

KLM is served with no check in, and after not very detailed passport control I could wait for boarding. I haven't bought much in Amsterdam, or other words, I bought almost nothing.
All my favourite brands are not available there. Apparently noone believes that someone wishes to buy Roger Gare instead of Max Factor. But I have my own tastes and marketing spin doctors cannot do much with me :)

While boarding I was lucky to get in the plane as the passenger no 1, because the Economy Class was let in as first. Most of the Economy Class passengers were Korean, there were some fellow students, 3 Europeans going for holidays and that's all. As for the Business Class, these were Russian people, and among them women breathtakingly beautiful and also very luxury. They say Polish women are pretty, but Russian emigrants...I cannor find words to describe it. The picture of those people waiting had got gentle and noble scent of the Upper Class in many meanings.

In Netherlands the richest people are Russian so it's not surprising they just fly arround the world.

I got the seat next to the window. Astonishing!! I made the photo of the borderline between the day and upcoming night. And the projection of the setting sun on the clouds somewhere above Petersburg. I had planned to do these photos for a very long time...

I couldn't do a sunrise and I am very sorry about that. KLM policy says to shut down the window covers, so I obeyed. I saw Gobi desert and Northern China. It was one of the most beautiful flights in my life...

After arrival it appeared my cellphone is dead. I forgot about the differences between Western and Korean GSM frequency. Luckily my fiend Chang heard his name being called by the Information Desk. Later on I was taken care of as the hounourable guest and taken by the hospitality of my Korean hosts. I was shown the laboratory and the University Campus.

First glance and first impression...Seoul is a giant Zakopane. It reminds me of San Fransisco as well with it's roads climbing many mountains. The city itself is situated in the mountains 600m heigh but impressing in their features due to the big differences of the relative altitude.
The city of churches and buddist temples, very modern cars and subways next to the old markets where everything is sold on the ground . City of very brutal business and fierce competition to survive next to very nice and welcoming people, who always take their shoes off before entering somebody's home.

Seoul is copycating New York, a lot of tall high rise buildings which spoil the skyline everywhere. 20 floors, tall, narrow with small, uncomfortable apartments.

For now I've got the studio hired 30 minutes walk from the Campus with the window to the noisy street, but the building is not that tall and people are very nice. Surroundings are more accurate to the center of London, if compared.

Subway station is just next to the building I live in.

That is all for now. Next post is coming soon.
Agnieszka Piasecka

Seoul, 16th August 2009