Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Hermit Kingdom

Kim Jong-un, the heir-apparent and son of Kim Jong-il, issued his first military order just before the announcement of his father's death this week, which some sources claim is the proof of young Kim's control over the military. 





Photo by AP

 

The North's state media reported Kim Jong-il's death Monday, two days after it occurred.  Before the the news of passing was announced, Kim Jong-un ordered all military units to stop field exercises and training and return to their bases.

"This is a direct example showing Kim Jong-un's complete control over the military," the source said, adding the move also indicated that the younger Kim is poised to become the top commander of the North's 1.1 million-strong military.

And so on... 



Above paragraphs are based on newest Korea Times articles about prospective difficulties of Kim Jung Un to seize power. Literally everyone around the world expects it. 


If I was to guess and make a bet, I bet there won't be bigger problem with power transfer than it usually is in any hereditary system with several wings of power. Normally parents of the heir have to buy loyalty of those who could try to destroy their plans. If the loyalty cannot be bought with priviledges, then opponents have to be removed anyhow else. 


Such game is ahead of Kim Jung Un. My bet is there is already a dynasty of Kims in an Hermit Kingdom. 


If nothing surprising happens this will just go on. Unless there is a military coup d'etat and the military modernizes country. But I would not bet on it.

And what do you think?

Monday, 19 December 2011

Kim Jong-Il Dies- what comes next

Kim Jong-Il died of a heart attack on December 17th  while travelling on the train. For two days, North Korea rulers kept this information secret from the state news agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Trade. Today, the news of the death of Dear Leader went around the whole world and made global breaking news.


 

Apart from the usual diplomatic messages expressing grief towards North Korea, the White House responded immediately to a message declaring that it is ready to support South Korea against potential changes in the situation on the Korean peninsula. President of South Korea raised the threat level of a cyber attack to Grade 3, the highest. South Korean authorities may, in fact, fear of attacks on their networks and servers, because this year several of them happened. The most serious attack occurred in July 2011, when hackers paralyzed SK Communications, a South Korean telecom company. The North korea was accused of attack which Pyeongyang never acknowledged.
Lee Myeong-bak also contacted the White House indicating his readiness to take all necessary steps required in that situation.


T
the financial markets reacted immediately to the death of Kim Jong-il. South Korea's Kospi index initially fell by 4.1 percent, but then regained a bit of loss and early morning, the decrease was 3.1 percent. Japanese Nikkei has lost 1 percent. and reached 8,314.44 points. According to Victor Cha from Center of Strategic and International Studies this is a reaction similar to the stock market declines in 1994 after the death of former North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung.

Global speculations began about the transfer of power in North Korea. Some analysts expect turbulence and potential conflict between several wings of power in North Korea, including a military coup. Director of the Institute of International Relations, Yonsei University, Professor Lee Chung-Min claims we do not yet know all the answers to many questions. Seizure of power by Kim Jung-Un who was promoted to be the next leader by deceased Kim Jong-il depends on whether he will cope with the hardline generals who are willing to use the situation to take over strings in Pyeongyang. Before Kim Jung-Un will be able to implement any of his own ideas in North Korean politics he has to consolidate power and convince the reluctant ones.


South Koreans, who are closest to all events, react calmly. There is no widespread panic, no one collects goods in case of crisis. As I wrote earlier crisis in relations with North Korea occurs so often that South Koreans are accustomed to it., even if it is the death of the leader of North Korea. Lee Yong Jun, a young engineer from Suwon says it's too early to predict what will happen - It can lead to conflict for power, as hardliners are able to use a young age of Kim Jung-Un against him. But any discussion and figuring out is in my opinion, premature. None of the analysts really knows what will happen and their panic can only reflect on our wallets more than the potential movements of North Korea. - Yong Jun highlights.


This confirms the reaction of the Ministry of Defence, which remains calm and says that there is no compelling reason to raise the DEFCON alert of South Korean armed forces. Anti North Korean surveillance alert had also not been raised. South Korean President Lee Myeong-bak canceled all his meetings and called up an extraordinary summit designed to establish rules of conduct in the situation, however pressing the need for reason and calm. 



**********
Ironically we can guess whether this was a good or not good gift for President Lee-Myeong-bak's birthday which is exactly today. Photo: REUTERS

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Park Geun-hye used again?

"Park's role will likely begin and end as a kind of shield against cold drafts for the nominee review committee," the adviser from the Park wing predicted 2 days ago. 



Recently I had written that in future conservative figures compromised with old system of kinship, connections and silver spoon will less likely be choosen in the elections as the profile of voters and their values change.

In October mayoral elections in Seoul began a star of an independent politician who had no previous connections to any political party involved in traditional Korean politics. It may be one reason why GNP decided to reach for a legend of Park Chung-hee and allowed his daughter to come forefront and lead Hannara once again in her career. But another reason may be that Park Geun-hye if unbounded with any difficult responsibilities just before the presidential elections might focus all her resources on winning and becoming the Korea's next president.. Now one false step may be used against her both by the opposition and her own conservative collegues.

But Park Geun-hye is still unknown card in a tile. It is difficult to predict what she shall do as a leader, more than just doing PR in which she is perfect (see the previeus article on Park Geun-hye). She seems to have her own visions on looking for middle way in foreign affairs and domestic politics. But her chances for applying radical social reforms whiloe representing conservatives are rather slim, with that she would be better trying her chances with the socialist opposition.

Yet, the opposition does not want her. Her own pack may not want to listen. Possibly again she will be used as a shield and PR machine, not much more.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Talmud in Korea

Korea is by far the only country in the world outside of Israel, where Talmud is among mandatory textbooks for kids in school.
One person who laid a vital foundation to friendly connections between Korea and Israel is a Polish Jew saved from Holocaust who now lives in Israel and is a professor of Korean Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

photo by:  huji.ac.il

Dr Jaakow Cohen was rewarded for his lifetime efforts with the highest recognition in Korean science- Order of Magnolia - which he received from the president of South Korea, Lee Myeong-bak on December 7th.

Now Talmud called in Korean 탈무드 is appreciated by Korean parents as a great way to develop critical thinking. It also promotes value of education and family ties, both very important in korea.


On the sidenote: author of this blog - me - had personally met a very serious Korean who is a PhD in physics from Oxford University, and claims as seriously as he is himself, that Koreans are the lost tribe of Israel.

Funny as it sounds, miracles happen. Such claims can be easily confirmed by genetics, and they sometimes are. There are native Africans, whose skin is undoubtedly black, who are genetically Jewish, and this was confirmed by chance during genographic project. So...

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Korean lady won International Violin Competition

Soyoung Yoon received 30 thousand € as a main prize in 14th International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition.
 Soyoung Yoon, winner. Photo from www.wieniawski.com

Second Prize got also an Asian- Miki Kobayashi from Japan, and Third wento to Stefan Tarara from Germany.

International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition is the oldest and most prestigious of it's kind in the world.For the first time it was organized in 1935 and since then it is held every 5 years, always in Poland.

Jury leader, Maxim Vengerov allowed 46 competitors to the first phase of competition, 6 of whom qualified to the final phase. Before that he made personal individual rehearsals of 120 of them travelling around the world to Yokohama, Seoul, Quebec, Bergamo, Moscow, Brussels, London, Baku and Poznań.

Soyoung Yoon admitted after receiving First Prize that it was the most important reward in her career by far. In the final phase she played Violin Concerto fis-moll op. 14 by Wieniawski and Violin Concerto d-moll op.47 by Sibellius.

To listen to Soyoung Yoon outstanding performance go to: http://www.wieniawski.com/yoon_so-young.html

Congratulations to the beautiful Korean lady :)

_____________

Sidenote: this is a perfect example of public diplomacy, neglected by professional diplomats for centuries and successfully done by world class artists.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Korean Economy: end of the Golden Era?

Everyone wants to have a home. A place to stay where we secure a little bit of peace of mind and shelter from hostility of this world.

Such dreams are shared by at least two Korean generations who struggle to get to a good university, later struggle to get a good job and later get a mortgage loan to have a smaller or bigger apartment. After all, nothing bad in it, right?

Korean economy had been in a stable growth ever since President Park Chung-hee, with a small slowdown in 1997, when conglomerate welfare system had collapsed and huge reforms were ordered to be implemented by International Monetary Fund.

Recently Korean Won is getting weaker and weaker.  It already lost several hundred KRW in it's value year to year, however recently stopped losing.

But Korea is facing the very same fate as other countries do. Many countries in the world had believed that state investment can be endlessly covered by issuing bonds. USA believed that too, and foreign purchase of their bonds had more than doubled since early 1990's.  According to the Strategy and Finance Ministry Sunday, the country’s state debt is estimated to reach 448.2 trillion won, which is about $380 billion,  next year, up 25.5 trillion won from an estimated 422.7 trillion won in 2011.

The sad news for an average Korean is that about 222 trillion won of the government debt, accounting for 49.5 percent of the total, is to be repaid with taxpayer money, up from this year’s 48.5 percent to represent the highest level ever. The outstanding amount of government-guaranteed debt will likely reach a record high of 38 trillion won next year.


What an average citizen does not understand, is safe management of goods and income. Total amount of debts of all sorts cannot exceed 20% of monthly income of the household, otherwise if anything happens, they will be unpaid. Even in debt wise societies it is said that about 50% of mortgage loan holders won't be able to pay it after 15 years - half of a time of a loan. 

What is not helping, is an obsession to obtain higher degrees. The country does not need everyone to be a PhD for it's growth, it needs equal treatment of Bachelor's and Master's Degree holders. In average country everyone is needed, from a toilet keeper through a cleaning lady and bus driver up till an engineer. And not everyone needs to be educated like a professor of a university. 

I hope the best for Koreans, however I am afraid that we all have to reprioritise our lives globally. It is possible that there is no miracle ahead and unless new model of economy is implemented, nothing can be changed. 

In these circumstances it is an interesting question, who is a likely candidate to win presidential elections in upcoming year 2012. My next post will be about it, in about 3 weeks, as I go to a hospital now. 

Till then. 

Monday, 12 September 2011

Happy Chusok

Dear Korean friends, and readers from all over there in the internet.
I wish you a very Happy Chusok.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Korean cooking: Songpyeon

Chusok is coming. I have written at least 2 times about how Korean people spend their Chusok. But here I will give a glympse on what they cook.

The video above shows a detailed receipe on how to prepare rice cakes which are eaten very often in Korea, but they are especially done during Chusok.



Recipe Ingredients:

  • 8 cups of rice flour (ssalgaru 쌀가루) this often is in the frozen section of a Korean grocery,
  • but if you are somewhere in the West go to your oriental shop and they will give you rice flower over there. More and more often network chains also have it, like Euroshop or Real. 
  • 2/3 tablespoons of salt
  • 1 cup of hot water
  • glug of sesame oil
  • Sesame seed stuffing
  • 1 cup of chamkae (roasted crushed sesame seed)
  • 2 tablespoons of honey - if you are in Eastern Europe, you are lucky, real honey is exactly what you have not far from your home, unlike anywhere else in the world
  • 14 tablespoons of salt
White bean stuffing - white bean paste can be served in variety of forms, but for this we need a sweet version:
  • 1 cup of white beans (navy beans)
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • a pinch of salt

Recipe Steps:

  • For the white bean stuffing, soak the white beans for 1 hr or longer and boil until it gets very tender. Strain, then crush it with a potato masher. Strain again to remove any liquid. Mix the mashed white bean with walnuts, salt and honey. Set aside.
  • Make the sesame seed stuffing by crushing the roasted sesame seeds and mix with salt and honey. You can put this into a blender or food processor for a short burst. Set it aside.
  • Slowly pour 1 cup hot water into 8 cups of rice flour and knead to make a smooth dough. Now you're ready to stuff the dough.
  • Pull off a small piece (about 2 tablespoons) of the rice flour dough and roll it into a small ball. Push it down in the middle to make a small cave and put a teaspoonful of stuffing mix. Press down edges to close it, and make into a half-moon shape, or whichever shape you want to make it into. You can make half sesame seed stuff and half white bean stuffing.
  • When you're finished stuffing, get a steamer pot ready. Fill water to reach about the half of the pot and bring to a boil. Place a damp cheese cloth on the tray of the steamer, and place the stuffed rice balls on the tray. Steam for about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it sit for five minutes.
  • Coat your hands with some sesame oil and then move each songpyeon (steamed rice balls) carefully to a serving dish. Serve warm or cold. It's best to eat songpyeon fresh. However, if you do have leftovers, you can store in the refrigerator (it will get hard). You'll need to resteam or microwave it to get it soft again.
Serving Size: 15
Preparation Time: 45 minutes

I will let you know how my rice cakes were soon :)


Thursday, 1 September 2011

Daegu Championships



World Championships in Athletics had started in Daegu, just a few days ago. They will last until Sunday.
While South Korea has been in the top 10 of the medal standings at the last two summer Olympics, winning 13 golds in Beijing, they have never won a medal of any color at a World Championships. 


The strategy is to focus on small number of disciplines but do them good, which makes bigger and bugger success over the years. This year the hosts focused on being among 10 top best national teams. 


Best or not, Koreans are happy to host the event, and are good at it. Also Daegu is a very beutiful city located in the middle of the country in the Geum River Valley enclypsed from the West by Nakdong. Also a city of thousands of trees and one of the greenest in Korea, which was the project realised in recent years to stop enormous overheating and smog in summer. I am not sure however if that has been stopped entirely by now - which maybe one of the reasons of reported headaches among athletes. 


Above on the photo, Paweł Wojciechowski after beating world record in high jump, and also a record of Poland after nearly two decades. 











Sunday, 28 August 2011

World 2.0 tries to take over World 1.0

....which will win?
Have you ever wondered that times we all live in are really crazy? Our life is haste and  full of race for cash and pleasure, the faster the better. Our capability of waiting for something  is very limited. Everything we want to get fast, cash, career, women, relationships.

Several things made me think that there is a huge change to what some of us consider normal or good coming with the speed of light.

Let's assume that I have a headache and I am at work. More often I hear "Oh you should take a pill". Maybe one person out of 10 would actually move ass and give me a pill and some hot tea. Shocking right? You would think that action means more than words especially if someone calls himself a friend. Really?!!! I meet more and more people who say "you should". My comment on that: "I know sweedy what I should, but with this you can kiss my ass as far as I know. Piss off. Or move yourself and act, because what you usually get from me is action!". But this is 1.0 person talking to 2.0 one. It can be compared to trying to convince a cow in India to move away from the road.

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep ************************** cenzorship

I was advised to cut off this part. :P

How many people of 1.0 do you know and how many of 2.0? Have you encountered more examples of the world getting crazy?

I would say I know them 50/50. But it is always easier to move the boundary further. To equalize all sorts of behavior. To stop calling things good or wrong. To stop having remorse for anything, or cut all social ties and substitute them with fake ones.

____________

This post was more general, not just about Korea. But I think that these issues touch all of us, globally.
Warm regards to all of my 1.0 friends and 1.0 other users out there.


Thursday, 25 August 2011

Form or content?

Higher Education in Korea is a very good example of social stratification. Not that Korea does not fight with inequalities, because numerous attempts are being done.

But this year, I have learnt that Seoul National University was turned into full private one. Most of Gangnam youngsters born with golden spoon in their mouth (if I am to cite my friend literally) voted for it.

It means that the tuition fee will significantly rise and so the door for smart people from less wealthy families will be closed, unless they get scholarship, or do some jobs for survival.Or something other than a "job" but what gives income.

Everyone in Korea beats to take seat at SNU, Korea Universyty or Yonsei, so called SKY. There is a notion that the top elite in the country are SKY graduates with easy path ahead in life.

In Korea however, the name matter more than the actual quality of education. Among lying challenges ahead is growing pressure for international majors made mostly in English. English language, very difficult for Koreans is used to explain matters which are enough complicated and difficult if taught in Korean.

Also big pressure for number of publications causes drop in it's quality, as not many of these poapers are cited by other scholars. Leydesdorff and Han mentioned about it in Scientometrics.

Young Koreans worry enough that they won't be able to pay for tuition fees and the situation when they do not pay for actual quality makes them frustrated even more. Professor Han, a physics scientist of Korean origin who works in USA, says that most of young Koreans did not posess basic skills of creative thinking and connecting facts when they entered PhD studies in USA.

Is the situation changing? I am not sure. Transformation of SNU into private entity is not a good sign. But I remember that I once met a girl who graduated from International Business at Ajou University in Suwon, and who was a successful investment banker at one of the better financial institutions. Being Ajou graduate, not at all top university in Korea, did not stop her from being successful.

Maybe there is some hope? I will get back to the aspects of Korean science in other posts too. Sorry for the long break.






Monday, 4 July 2011

Bin Laden and East Asia

...is South Korea ready for terror?



It is 3rd August 2009, I leave the plane which just landed heading from Amsterdam to Seoul Incheon airport. After a not very thorough check up I am already in the car with my Korean friend. A nice pretty Asian lady smiles to me here and there and asks if I need anything and if I am comforted enough.

South Korea is one of the safest countries in the world. It has a unique cultural system based on the respect for rules and for the elders, where certain grey moral zone stays hidden from mass sight, and an average citizen is rather happy and confident that neither he will do anything threatening to the society nor it shall be done to him.

Although culturally explained cases of corruption influence negatively business and are a challenge, you may be quite confident that once you leave your DSLR on subway or loose a wallet, your chances to get it back are nearly 100%. Not big chances for the same in Europe, right?

In a society that trusts eachother like this everyone is nice and open. People are friendly. But after G20 summit I attended last year there have been comments that Korea is not protected enough against terror attack, due to lack of thorough security, big amount of trust given to everyone and poor intelligence among communities which may be a bigger source of a threat.

Not that a danger of terror attack is big. Korea does it's best to do business with everyone and asks very limited number of questions. Is a very non-threatening and stabilizing power of growth in many corners of the world. So far this strategy works very well.

This year in Seoul there were 3 blasts, yet unconnected to global terror networks. A very "creative" ex-convict thought to earn cash on falling stocks if he triggers panic. He invested about $45 000 ( 50 mln KRW). He did not gain much and instead was very quickly arrested. Soth Korea, and especially Seoul, has one of the most efficient networks of municipal survelllence> Cameras are almost hidden from sight, they are installed on very high buildings, but their resolution  enables to take a clear facial snapshot of a suspect, or the plate numbers if needed. 

Applying more strict security measures in future is rather necessary if Korea wants to play global ( and it does). Sad fact is that it shall destroy one of the most wonderful aspects of this remarkable country, enormous hospitality and trust. Luckily so far Bin Ladens of this world leave Koreans alone. 

______________

The photo comes from securityinfowatch.com

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Communicare

I have just passed my exam on communication theory. Passed. Was very happy to do so. And because of that decided to write something non related to Korean affairs directly.

It is one of those exams in life a person into humanities - like me - has to take and it also touches a lot of very controversial issues.

It says, for one example, that there are male and female ways of communication. You are female in communication (even if you are a guy - discovered that in due process of studying) if you are chaotic, your thoughts unclear, and emotions most important. There are guys like that.

Before I however realized that I was afraid I might have been a guy myself. Last time I checked I was anatomically a woman, but I really grew worried when I had one by one checked male ways of communication. Logical, clear, sorted out, chronological, prefers shorter sentences, etc. And very  rarely communicates with emotions attached, but once I do, well some people remembered it all too well...

The more I read on the book the more I think Mrozowski is right.

There are indeed male and female communication competencies, but successful in communication are those with mixed competencies. They are called androgynic, it is in terms of human interactions, a third sex to some extent, and there is where I fall. That is where you fall as well Dear Reader if you are a guy but women understand you and grasp your intentions well. In our childhood we grow androgynic if we have other sex siblings and proper communication with other sex parent.

Or is it what we only agreed to call male or female? A lot of denotations of communication symbols are things what we agreed on to call them and understand them by this and not by that. but if we derive denotation from nature, these are indeed male ways of communication.

Successful communication is a key to success in our business and in our private life. What makes it successful? First comes the intention - what and why do I really communicate? Then comes the partner in the interaction- the receiver- have I secured proper conditions and circumstances to be understood well? Then the content- it has to be truthful, just, and important. Message should be kept short. Noone likes too long speeches and not because we are stupid but because we may lose the merit.

Communication is at the basis of every human interaction. It enables interpretation of codes and values, ways of conduct, and also helps to express ourselves properly. From words to a relationship of any kind there is only a short way.

Communication theory summarized by Mrozowski teaches that there are ways to recognize what are the chances of successful relation of any kind, be it business partnership, friendship, relationship or a bond.

At first involvement into interaction has to be equal, goals the same, values simmilar and simmilar way of interpreting the reality around ( the most important in romantic interest).

But this works into any kind of relation. The basic condition is that it has to be equal and honest. And there are also means of communication accurate in every type of interaction. We use different ways in business friendship, different in private one, different to a superior in the university, different to your collegues, and different to your girlfriend. If you receive the same and in the simmilar way, extent and amount, you have big chances to grow into a bond with time, or keep a successful interaction of any type.

Unsuccessful interactions are when involvement, engagement of two parties is unequal. That quickly leads to miscommunication and in a result- confrontation. One which may be a catharsis both in positive and negative way.

So if you have doubts if you communicate well with your surroundings, get a sheet of A4 size and draw yourself in the middle. Then in each corner write: Casual Interactions (lady in the shop), Relations ( business associates, and other collegues of all sorts), Relationships (all joyful and more close interactions with people you have), Bonds (usually here are your real friends, not those who are "friends" on facebook, your closest mentally people of kin, and if you are lucky your parents, siblings and your husband, wife). Later try to group all of people you know into these categories and try to go into their shoes and see if you consider it equal. If you don't, try to judge what causes it. And talk about it! Maybe you neglect someone, maybe someone neglects you.

Also last but not least, a very important issue is that we are always received by our partners in interaction not entirely. Only part of our "self" is received properly. The rest is the set of schemes, stereotypes, codes of interpretation and prejudices of our partner. A slender dynamic brunette might be classified as potentially agressive by some and potentially energetic and friendly by others.

What about non verbal communication? Here is where I fall short, I do not interpret it at all. I do not analyse the way a person looks at me. Words and actions matter and it matters if they fall into logical line of consequenses where I can easily categorize them into proper boxes - welcome into Aspergers world.

But if you are completely normal, you are lucky - you will probably look into somebody's eyes and properly decode the meaning of sight. One universal tip - if somebody's eyes are narrowed in the dark room, and he or she can't hold a straight look into your eyes- science tells you are being screwed.

At the core, what connects us all in the World, wether we are Polish, German, Korean or Indian or whoever else, we all want to be happy.

This simple fact makes life easier. We have the same goal. If we communicate the intentions clearly, we will be understood no matter what our cultural roots are.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Meari hits the penninsula

At least 9 people were dead and 3 went missing after tropical storm Meari hit the Korean penninsula. Most of the facilities had been restored, however no immediate reports on material losses are available.

Korea is at the edge of the temperate zone with monsoon season which had just now started usually lasts for 6 weeks up to 2 months. Most of tropical storms which sometimes hit the penninsula occur from June to September, however nowadays they do not cause as much damage as they used to when the country had not been developed.

It is yet unknown how this will affect relations with North Korea, yet knowing the North regime, not much will change.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Short comments: Ban Ki Moon for 2nd term as UN chief

Ban Ki Moon, a former South Korean minister of foreign affairs was just reassigned to run a 2nd 5 year long tern as the Secretary General of the United Nations.

A good choice. During his term we did not hear about money laundering scandals like during Koffi Annan, and UN seems to be much more active on conflict resolution and giving it's mandate for actual preventive and preemptive actions, but also peace enforcement and peace-keeping operations (like the one in Libya).

Monday, 20 June 2011

Hanok for export

I have read somewhere that Korean traditional houses are to hit Korean Wave as new element. How very interesting concept.

Traditional Korean farmer's house is constructed in a way that it cools in summer by easy draft and cool floor and heats in winter by ondol- traditional floor heating system, concept of which did not change to modern times.

Hanok villages are to be constructed as special "green" projects in Germany and USA. This is very annoying of two reasons.

 "Traditional" house, difficult to guess if it is real or not.

Firstly, being green does not mean destroy environment and then turn to the stone age, it means preserve what you have and use it optimally, and you can live in modern houses. "Green" hanoks take much more space and electricity in modern times, than any living architecture in so called West.

Secondly, how can you export something and be so proud of something, you destroy and don't give a shit about in your own country? If someone had seen Korea, one knows that it is a country with close to none respect to it's own real heritage and history. Instead this country prefers to believe in myths and reconstructs reality- here including traditional villages.

If you haven't been to Korea yet, imagine that someone is destroying and then rebuilding Piazza San Marco in Venezia, or the Tower of London for some stupid conceptual reasons. City authorities in Seoul do invest in cultural preservation, but a closer look at Bukchon or other areas can reveal that most of the houses which could be researched scientifically and repaired, are being thorn down and rebuild from the ground - this way they only pretend the originals and have small historical value. So to speak, they look kitschy.

I really ask myself when will Koreans understand that "traditional" does not mean Joson style only? That what has been built in 1920's also has a style? What is older also has a style? Korean War and destruction of that time is a mere excuse of stupid unification which kills any valuable cultural or architectonic impact.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Short comment: North Korea weird move

... Lousy brother drank some alcohol and messed up again.

This is the only logical explanation of North Korea's recent move in which they revealed that South Korean leaders tried to arrange a meeting on some neutral ground, preferably Malaysia.

This way whoever rules now North Korea gave a clear signal: we won't talk to you. Because we can sink your vessel and noone reacts. Because we can shoot at your island and the world did not give a damn. Because Beijing does not seem to condemn us. Just because we can.

Will there ever be end to it?

Not until China and USA solve this between eachother.

This below is not the best movie I had ever done in my life. But it gives some insight into what people actually think (if you are a professional film maker, have some mercy here. That was my class project.) Thanks to Svajune for help, and Ewout for his camcorder.
Part1:


Part 2:

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Short comments: Sung Kim to be new US Envoy to Seoul

There is a new envoy nominated to hold diplomatic post to South Korea. And it is a very well qualified person, starting from his...origins.

Sung Kim is a US born Korean, there is simply no better candidate for diplomatic duties than bicultural person, and it should apply for every country not just the US.

There are already some Polish-Koreans and they, I am sure, could be good envoys. The problem is, Polish diplomacy still did not quite cut the old school.

Sung Kim used to be an envoy for 6 Party Talks about North Korea ( and with North Korea).
However I do not see any solution to North Korea via any 6 Party or even 100 Party Talks as long as both China and Russia cosider their "security" as keeping idiots in power in North Korea, which is quite popular opinion held among South Korean citizens.

Good luck Mr Kim!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Seoul less Asian?

Korea Times had drawn my attention recently to the street stalls ever present in Seoul's landscape. 
They sell everything starting from shoes for women through souvenirs, candies, street food snacks and so on. 

People who earn money this way are usually those who had no other choice but to go on this way of living after they had received just one financial installment on leaving their jobs in the age of 55- 60 which in many cases was not enough to make retirement on installments. Having no other choice these people went on forever Asian tradition- street vending of all sorts. 


It is of course present in all parts of the world, but Europe seems to surpress it due to aesthetical reasons. 


In Seoul street vendor must have municipal permition to have a stand on a certain location. Recently people who had been making their living on these activities had been moved to the dark corners from the main streets. Hidden away they start to suffer losses in their income, some say up to 50%. 


Previously they also did not have to pay any taxes, now the situation changed.

“It’s not just about the drop in sales. I have to pay 100,000 won in tax every month and with material costs rising, I have no way to make ends meet,” said the veteran street vendor who didn’t want his full name used.
 

Relocation of street stalls had infuriated street vendors. One of the ideas of the local ward office is to move street stalls from the main street in Insa Dong to the back alleys which are obviously less visible. They had organized ongoing 40 day protest in aim to change municipal decisions.

Since it is obvious that the ward office isn’t willing to reconsider its plan, the Insa-dong vendors appear to have no other choice but to continue their fight against demolition workers.

In 2009, Seoul City announced the relocation of around 600 street vendors in Jongno, central Seoul, to seven different specialized alleys connected to the main streets to make the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly.

From my observation it would be more pedestrian friendly if cars or motorbikes had been banned from getting into apparently more pedestrian streets like Insa-Dong alleys. 


There is an aurgument that young people prefer department stores or convenience stores to street vendors, but it is not quite true from my observation. Of course if a department store makes huge action on sales, it attracts customers, but otherwise I had seen several floors near Ewha University simply empty and street vendors and other small shops flourishing. 

Young women also prefer to save some cash and go to underground shopping centers, just like the one which was at Gangnam, but is now closed due to renovation of the station (which wasn't that old by the way). If compared luxury shops at Samsung Street where simply empty with their prices reaching 500 000 KRW for a coat or 200 000 KRW for a pair of shoes. 


When I go down the streets of Warsaw I very often see how the municipal police bans people from selling on the street what they had grown in their small garden somewhere away from the city, or some other people who had no other choice but to try to make ends meet this way. 


Warsaw is a city for rich people only without any offer for middle budget pocket which makes it one of the more expensive cities in Europe. With even 200 000 top richest people out of 3 mln inhabitants who can afford really high prices all the shops in the city can operate, and the invisible hand of the market seems not to work at all. 


Seoul used to be a city with an idea behind it that there has to be space of living for everyone in it. Also the prices of goods had been always adjusted to the average local pocket which I had personally experienced wondering through different corners of the city. 


Also...street vendoring and price negotiations are very old traditions. They should not vanish just because the government wants to make the city look more European. It is not Europe, it is Asia, however modernized, digitalized and developed, it is Asia and it's very core charm is in street vendoring.

Monday, 23 May 2011

K-Pop

...bit about music, culture and what I miss.
I think I have never ever mentioned anything about Korean popular music and how important element of reality it is.

While wondering the streets of any Korean city you hear it everywhere. It gets to you from Nature Republic when you go for a nail polish, but from Paris Baguette too.

It comes from bigger and smaller shops of all sorts, with cd's, with cloths, shoes, with cosmetics, from hairdresser or Haha Coffee, it is always present outside on forever live and colorful Korean streets.

It also influenced culture a lot. Not just dramas, but also music picture very sweet and caring dimention of modern Korean relationships, when people really share a lot. Physically, mentally and emotionally.

Under the mask of forever smile, rushing somewhere for school or to the office are hidden souls. Soul which feel a lot. And even if these feelings have popcultural semi american scent, it has it's own Korean spirit in it. Korean guy or Korean girl smiling to eachother as they walk hand in hand in any street or a park.

For you now:
Park Bom: Don't cry.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Nation Branding

I have just discovered that Arirang TV had published it's report on my blog. This is the post which I had written back in November and which had been written after shooting Today's Blog.

Today's Blog, Arirang
Enjoy!

I have already mentioned about Korean Nation Branding efforts and how they impress me. In more developed countries than Korea comprehensive nation advertising and public diplomacy took much longer time or is not that well organized.

Part of it is Korean Wave which currently hits Japan, China and other Asian countries. Korean boysbands and girlsbands, so called K-pop music to which you may find links in the video corner is just an example. Korean dramas with Winter Sonata leading among them, singer BoA and many others.

This entry on the blog will also be featured on Arirang TV soon thanks to which hospitality I can share even more stories about country's and city's promotion enterpreneurship.

This year Seoul was choosen as one of the must-visit cities by UNESCO as a result of long term action of the Metropolitan Government. Maybe it was this little creature, Haechi, which was designed as a Seoul brand based on a fictional good spirit, symbol of the city, which caused it? Who knows...

Whether Haechi himself had blessed the city with good spirits or not, he definately works as a brand developed back in 2008. Metropolitan government uses it as a symbol which helps promoting good businesses for tourists.

I was taken for a dessert to one of the restaurants in a Korean traditional house situated in a White Collar area, next to the COEX Intercontinental, the very site were G20 was held. The restaurant which name is Pulhyanggi serves all sorts of Korean food for very sophisticated set of clients who usually go there for business negotiations and incentives.



 Inside the Pulhyanggi...

Btw. did I mention that my favorite Korean food is a pancake with seafood which is called haemul pajeon and I can even make it myself?




And this is how restaurants are promoted with the city brand sign:



The Haechi drawing is based on the ancient creature I have already mentioned, which looks like this:



And Seoul area is full of them standing in all sorts of places, both very modern and traditional ones.

As a city Seoul tries to catch up with modernity but also save what is the best from it's ancient spirits. For this all sorts of different things are done, one of them is Cheonggye Stream near Gwanhamun Plaza, or Design Street near Toksugung Palace. There we may find interesting things like design chairs or sculptures as below:



All fitted in traditional historic environment.

Haechi is successful in promoting business as well. An idea which had not been followed by other cities so far as I know. As a brand Hi Seoul is shared by all sorts of small companies which are given support by Seoul Metropolitan Government. The partnership is perfect for both sides: the city promotes itself even better and business gets money and stable environment to grow.



Above is one of the example of the shared brand products. We visited the exhibition with the TV crew from Arirang and were given a gift set with very useful and very nice items including a pen with a flashlight which I use a lot right now.

Haechi itself is a legendary animal representing justice and integrity. The  mythical creature distinguishes good from evil and was believed to bring  fortune and luck and provide safety from disaster. The creature has  been believed to serve as a guardian of Seoul for a long time.

At Gwanhamun Plaza the souvenir shop opened and the top sells are Haechi dolls in all sizes. I got myself the small one... maybe it will bring me the luck?

*******
Just as I shared with viewers of Arirang I will repeat here. Despite constant threat from the North Seoul flourishes. Korea flourishes. South Koreans take steps foreward, round the clock, like a circle in a spiral... strive and persist.

Special thanks to Yoon-mi Jung and her crew who assisted me for more than 6 hrs on a freezing Friday in Seoul driving me around the city wherever I wanted. Thank you for your hospitality and patience. I love Korea!

_________________________
Links to explore:
http://english.seoul.go.kr/gtk/news/news_view.php?idx=7700
http://www.idwseoul.com/interdesignen/user/bizapp/link/link_01.asp?sBBS=0501

It's all about sex...

I have not written anything for about two months now, for witch I am sorry.

This one however asks itself for a comment.

Just today about 400 prostitutes and their "employers" protested against police attempt on crackdown of Korea's sex business.


Some of them loved their "job" to the extent that tried to self-burn in a protest.

In Korea, sex business is indeed a huge source of national GDP. Up to 5% of national income comes from such activities. And these are not just legal red light districts, but more often brothels nicely hidden in norebangs or "only men" pub in a coded system known to men only that such "services" are offered for their libido satisfaction.

Strangely Korea is very much divided society, into two very contrasting groups. One group is a group of girls who practice prostitution for living and they finance their college fee by doing such things. They know all very well how to use their charms and sweet innocent looks. They may approach foreign professor and admit frankly: "I will sleep with you if you give me a good grade."

Another half, on the contrary, has no idea about their spouses activities after hours. In Korea, where it is mandatory to drink with a boss it is so much easy to cheat on your wife, who either has no idea or does not dare to ask questions. And yet...even in Korea dear ladies, the working day may end by 6 on average and you'll get your loverboy home by 7 if he does not have mere excuses. "I am busy", "we have a project deadline" etc can work 4 times a year, but not constantly.

Wether they are self-cheating themselves or not, truth is that some of them  are blind to ever present sex-business around them.

On historical account such diversity on "the professionals" and "honourable wives" had been ongoing for centuries. Back in early 1920's Mrs Ethel Underwood established a trust which tried to fight this phenomenon. Back then, just like today 30% of young Korean women had at least once prostitution experience and 20% remained quite active "on duty". The rest either has no idea or tries not to know.

But economic development is, after all, important. And besides, I may ironically admit that it is much more independent and profitable way of living to be a hooker than to be "sex for free" honourable spouse who until 2008 had troubles with getting any legal custody on property or kids.

"Welcome to Seoul Red Light District, your online resource for Seoul South Korea brothels. Not only will you quickly discover the hottest and most reputable brothels in Seoul here, you’ll also uncover secret traps thoughout the city which many newcomers fall prey to." the advert says.

Capitalism to it's most. "Invisible hand" of the market.
On one hand romantic dramas which contribute to the better balance of character between sexes, on the other hand dark side of Mars prevails.

I'll be more regular in my posts, after some deadlines.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Radiation precautions

I am a kid of Chernobyl. I remember how they told us to drink certain liquid in the kindergarden, and everyone had to do it. Mothers, younger siblings, everyone. My mother took us away to the cottage for more than two weeks where we stayed indoors with supplies of water drilled from 32 meters. Luckily it was not raining...

This was the first time in history when Polish authorities which were at that time directly dependant on Moscow made decisions against orders from Cremlin, but in favor of their own citizens.

Withholding information, a process natural for non-democratic regimes, should not occur in democracies. But, as wikiLeaks reports on japanese nuclear incidents had shown, it is also a daily practice for free-elected governments.

Currently I receive signals from Korea, that my friends are worried and have no clue if there is nothing to be afraid of, or the situation is dangerous. Some foreign Samsung employees had ordered Geiger counters from abroad.

Better safe than sorry, and the fear in Korea, which is very very close to Japan is very understandable and more than justified. What can one do to minimize the possible effects:

- do not eat fruits or vegatables or mushrooms from unknown sources,
- do not drunk mass brand beer which does not have a brwery of production clearly indicated,
- do not drink unknown source bottled water,
- in case of rain, wash yourself immediately,
- avoid rain for several weeks until you make sure that whatever radiation in the clouds there was, it fell down on the Earth one way or the other
- potassium iodine is not harmful and does not give any side effects, if you have it you can take it, but if you live in Sweden, I would not exaggerate

Thanks for my civil defence classes...

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

In the shadow of the quake

Two way tourism between Japan and South Korea had for the long time been very strong pillar of the economies. Now travel agencies feel real slow down because of the disaster, they practically stopped any operations.

Two way tourism had been proving that old time tensions had slowly started to vanish. Japanese, who had occupied Korea for 35 years, are obviously not loved by a lot of Koreans who remember the old times.

Despite bad memories common distrust had slowly vanished. Together with growing Korean Wave a lot of Japanese middle class citizens have been doing weekend shopping in Seoul, crowds of them are visiting sites of their favorite soap operas.

Japan became fashionable among Koreans and is one of their favorite destinations for Lunar New Year or other holidays to go for a visit.

Finally this tragedy had shown that there is a peace between the nations, not only between the governments.

South Korean celebrities and citizens are donating money for Japan. Samsung Group had given already 100 million yen, which is 1,22 million dollars. Daum, one of the internet providers, collected so far 40 million won.

Maybe, in the shadow of the quake, stupid conflict about Dokdo Islands with some small traces of natural resources, not really worth even to be drilled out, will finally be resolved. If this moment is not used, there might be no other opportunity.

There are other, more serious, and never resolved problems between Tokyo and Seoul. Japan had never gone through full denazification and fascist veterans are still presented there as national heroes. It may be a wind of change for both nations, and time of forgiveness. Better late than later. Or never...

15th March 2011

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Earthquake in Japan 3

How can you help Japan?

In Japan currently there is sweet drinking water crisis.

My friend Mikina who is in Tokyo says:

"In my situation, I can get electricity. But no access to gas and water. It’s happening in the whole city I live.
Luckily we our family had eight 2litter drinking water bottles and full of bathtub.
Our city supplies water at every school but they say it takes 2hours to get water and it is limited to 10litters per family. We can’t know when we can get water from tap next. It can be tomorrow or one week after. (...)
Though things should be appreciated, when whole nation try to send things to suffered area, they are not handed to people appropriately and effectively. So I believe contribution of some money helps much more."


Donate Money for Japan - International Red Cross

Apart from this you can donate sweet bottled water supplies to your local Red Cross, or contact state aid agencies.

 Street cracked after the first quake in one of areas which suffered less damage, this can rip apart any second. Photo by Mikina from Tokyo.

Earthquake in Japan 2

Fukushima Power Plant had been reported to have a leak which is now decreasing. Two shakes coming one after another during recent two days had damaged the concrete building of the plant but not it's metal cover, says the authorities. Just in case 20 km zone of evacuation had been created.

The death toll is rising. For now at least 649 people had been killed by the tsunami and the quakes. The water supplies and energy situation on the Japan islands is critical, help however will soon arrive from the world.

Japan quake technology is legendary efficient, but this time it was the tsunami which caused the biggest losses.
State preparations started after the quake in 1923 which was so far the most disastrous with losses and casualties. Since then the quake conscioussness among civilians had risen, the authorities had imposed a lot of solutions including the quake training simulation which every citizen has to go through on 1st September every year.

Since 1981 new building technology makes every skyscraper and building a must have special foundations which amortise the quake up till the magnitude of 9, theoretically. This technology has proved itself very efficient and really helps during such disasters.

It seems however that the only thing which actually saves from the tsunami are high altitude natural sea banks, like on the Korean penninsula, which won't protect the fish industry or boats, but will protect vast spaces of land.

Japanese people help eachother before the rescue teams arrive, a neighbour helps a neighbour with whatever possible.

It is not safe to come back to the buildings even if they seem not to be damaged. Secondary quakes will for sure weaken their cracked structures more.

Japanese economy suffered losses which noone dares to measure yet. Nikkei went down rapidly, same for the exchange rate of yen, but Japanese economy, an export based power, will eventually drag itself from the disaster.

*******

On the side: how come the Kaddafi mess causes oil index skyrocketing and Japanese disaster which may actually harm a lot of platforms and tank ships in Pacific region is causing oil price index down?
The logic of investors is black magic for me. Or may be there is no logic, just a group panic instinct?

Friday, 11 March 2011

Earthquake in Japan

Today there was an earthquake in Japan of 8,9 magnitude. Losses are enormous, mostly in technical assets, infrastructire, businesses and others.

Circa 250 dead, 88 000 missing after strong shakes and 10 meter tsunami rushed through islands of Japan, numbers may increase with time. 
Government warns about secondary shakes and prepares civilians for situation of worse than what it is already.

For such a sudden and strong event I want to congratulate Japanese people for organization and preparations for such a case. Country was shaken but it is not paralyzed. Advanced technologically and very organized, went through struggle with powers of nature not as harmed as countries affected by Indian Ocean Tsunami and earthquake in 2004, where there have been 230 000 fatalities.

Is Korea prepared for an earthquake of this magnitude? A year ago in January there was a small shake which had risen this question in the newspapers. This time, Korean Penninsula was spared.

The authorities had noticed such threats and try to catch up, but will they catch up on time?

Soon more details.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Back on track

To all my readers,
there was a break on the blog.

This silence I'll stop very soon. I have just wrapped up another long term stay in Korea.
I will be back profesionally every now and then to this beautiful country,
expct soon posts on Korea...just after I clean tones of mess and get back to normal in Poland.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Just checked that two people are able to carry an irregular box of 20 kg for a distance of 300m. I love Ajou Campus, this is how far was my post office. 
 And I love Korea Post, have I mentioned it? I have no idea how come 20kg of stuff costs an equivalent of 40€ to be sent to Poland by surface.  If I wanted to do the same from Poland I would pay at least 250€ for the same amount of stuff, and I could not be sure that I get it later. Wages of people are simmilar, much higher in Korea actually, and how come the post is so cheap I have no idea. Maybe it is a good topic for some IB student?
And if I think what fascinating journey will my parcel make: to Pusan and later around all China, India, Medditerranean and to Rotterdam, from there by DHL via Deutsche Bahn to Warsaw Central, I really wish I could send myself off this way :) A fascinating journey around the whole world for 50 000 KRW. Yeah, everyone needs dreams. 
 
 

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Winter Sonata. ''Romantic” trip to Chuncheon Part 2

In the morning we woke up later than planned. It was so quiet in the apartment of our host. Such quiet I have not experienced on the long run up till now. What was scary in the evening when we got here suddenly appeared to be so bright and full of sun.

That settlement had been 30 years old up till now as our host explained. Indeed he had what people in Korea hardly have any longer. Keys to his apartment. A set of small metal thingies which give a feeling of a real home.

This morning it was even colder. -23 according to weather forecast. We were laughing our cold off all the time. After all two women on the go is always lots of fun, once they start joking it never ends.




The plan for today was seeing islands on the lakes. Several of them had been also pictured in Winter Sonata. It had been a one chance in a million to see what Korean people consider romantic.

We headed towards Jungdo Island on the lake near city center. This time we had been from Europe and from India for the purpose of taxi driver curiosity. Freezing cold got even inside the cab. 15 minutes after leaving the apartment we could not feel our feet any longer. Ajoshi wasn't much talkative either. He had been watching tv on his car and probably cursed the fate of his job. Blue morning sky was totally clear, whiteness of the snow unreal for the city's vincinity, looked like taken straight from Queen of Snow fary tale. Would anyone through a piece of ice into my eye this day? Or would I meet someone who would melt it away?

On a ferry to Jungdo Island it seemed that only foreigners can be crazy enough to do any outdoor sightseeing in this weather. Just us and the captain of the floating device. A thought crossed my head, what if something happens to this boat in freezing cold like this. Sun reflected on the icy water. By this time Yukti was hungry but we were still stubbornly on the go. Weird are these foreigners.

        -   Call us 5' before you want to go back. - worried captain told us.
         Apparently he was not sure if we get lost on the island or not. It was the nicest ever approach in my life, private ferry services for not that expensive price of 5000KRW. We got off at the bank and we saw the island. Not a desert island though, a bunch of Koreans headed desparately to the ferry from the freezing cold outside. And us...headed exactly there.

We saw a plastic orange tent serving as a waiting room for a ferry. Somebody resourceful had also made a live fire in the metal barrel exactly like for homeless people somewhere around dark corners of NY or any other city. . In such circumstances the very fact that there is a roof waiting somewhere makes one happy. Very happy. Even if the aircon is noisy washrooms are not private and the nightwatch sees all of your actions.

After 200m of a walk Yukti asked:
-    Can you stand this?
-    No I can't Yukti, it's over. Let's get somewhere under the roof and try to figure out what's here.
-    Ok.

We got inside the local equivalent of something between a kiosk a convenience store and a restaurant. In the middle of it coal heater was settled under traditional huge pot boiling water for whatever reason. Ajoshi behind the counter merely glanced at us and got back to reading Chosun Ilpo. Frozen, we slowly let ourselves relax near the warmth. Feeling of desparation appeared on Yukti's face when we bought onion chips just not to annoy the owner of our shelter too much.

-    All this way from Suwon and we bought chips. We sit and we eat chips. This is something we can do at home.

Burst of sarcastic laugh on my side had put a period to this statement. No matter how motivated I am, -23 degrees is not a temperature for me to handle. My camera would also give up soon.

We headed for a walk towards the pension where they pictured Winter Sonata. It crossed my mind that I understand what is it what Korean public considers romantic. The camp site combined of some 30 small wooden cabins which can fit a family was situated at the lakeside. Away from the city noise, away from civilization. Remote, and underdeveloped for a Korean standard at least. In a country of constant homogenous constructions and no diversity such places can indeed be called romantic. They touch this gentle part of soul in a person.





-   Can you imagine walking hand in hand with a beloved one on crunching snow like this in freezing cold? - asked Yukti.
-   Yes Yukti, oh yes, I can.

Same thought apparently crossed our heads in the very same moment. Indeed, this would be nice.

Sarcastic humour left us soon as we headed to a homeless barrel. It had been surrounded by a lot of ajummas and girls on sightseeing. Finally we were not only two desperados. They shared with us whatever they had, it touched my heart not for the first time how they share whatever limited resources they have. These were some sticky cookies and pieces of baguette. Filled our stomaches for the time being. Because you are a guest and because you are welcome. Such is Korean heart. Such is the part of it which I genuinely love.

Back in downtown we asked for anything to eat and proud locals had recommended us Dalgalbi of course.

-   Apero hagu uenchok and you are there. Straight and on the left.

I looked ahead and thought that no, Dalgalbi can wait until I visit Chuncheon anytime in my life again. Maybe that time it will be different? Somehow, I don't remember when, we ended up at E-Mart because it was warm. Finally warm.

Such was the trip to a city of Chuncheon. It left me with the impression that what humans perceive as romantic is what touches the primeaval part of human consciousness which is connected to nature. It brings me up the words of Gary Snyder, converted buddhist and poet: ''Culture which cuts off from natural and wild life around us and which denies the wild life inside us drives to very dangerous phenomena which will probably destroy humanity one day”.

Chuncheon 16th January 2011

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Big Chill

...or what Caucasian expats do after hours and why I like it.
Grace, Mona, Iri... saranheyo...Nikolai is missing here...


I usually write here about Korea and Koreans, language, cuisine, people, places. But this post will be different.

My cross-cultural couch told me once that an expat always hangs among vacum space and has to learn how to live with it. Has to learn how to recognize symptoms of unfitting and overcome an expatriate crisis.

Away from the natural environment of family and friends everyone encounters difficult moments. Body language, communication patterns, hierarchy, and all sorts of non-verbal signals are sometimes too different to create genuine connection with anyone. Especially if you are an expatriate Caucasian female in the world.

An expatriate success is when you fit in. Not in terms of replacing your own culture with another but in terms of getting bi-cultural skills. People are not born with this, it is not easy to acquire such competencies, even if you are the most socially successful person in the world.

However once in a while everyone needs to feel the air of his own environment and his own kind of sense of humor and entertainment. This is what The Big Chill in Suwon crreated for me. A not- so -huge and not-so-small place with pool and darts and bar and couches is perfect. A friend behind the bar who recognizes me immediately after entering, repeating pattern of faces, even if I don't know them, makes me feel home. Home between individuals whoose communication code is the same. When they make the appointment, it's fixed. When they say a compliment, they don't expect too much out of it. And if I am upset I can have a drink at the bar... all so very Western. It's only a bar, you'd say. Yes, but it's my bar. It's my refuge. A place where my friends meet.

*******
Location: Once in Suwon say to the taxi driver: Nammun. And later have a look.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Guinsa Temple Part 3

After short rest we headed on the routine. This was the time when I felt the power of writing a book about a country and it's people. Hyondok Sunim had brought us off the typical routine of bows and meditation but instead decided to show the space of work, whatever possible in that freezing cold Christmas Day. The sky was so blue on that day.

We were brought into the ladies work space. Like in CatholicChurch or any other traditional patriarchal system women take care for guys stuff, they make cloths, sew them, iron, wash, cook, whatever to deliver ready for the monks.




I was shown their work space where they prepare buddhist religious outfit. Several ladies where sitting in rather small room with the entrance straight from the cold. One of them was cutting pieces. Another one was steam ironing them so it would be easier to sew them. One of them was making trousers only, another one tops. It was visible that they like it. Their way of life, daily work routine. Among giggles and laughs they kept asking questions about our countries, religion, opinions. Every now and then they bursted with laugh after Sunim told stories on our difficult adjustment to the rythm of life in the temple.

An important holiday was approaching. For the celebration purposes, the entire Temple site had been decorated with lanterns which looked like chickens but supposed to be dragons. Temple itself is quite new and very nicely decorated in the mixture of patterns and fresquos with green, gold and red as dominant colors. People headed around us on their routine. Pilgrims arrived and departured. For them it is an equivalent of Lourdes or Fatima, or even Częstochowa. A pilgrimage place where quantities of people head for a moment of refreshment and try just to stop in their haste of life. Maybe pray for their children's successes, their lost love, maybe for better health?



What is strikingly common to see is the fact that Buddism as a religion is a female issue in Korea. There have been quantities of ajummas in a scope of age starting from 40 and up, crowded on narrow spaces and hardly any men present. Maybe 5 of them among hundreds of women? Common phenomenon for the whole world.

It reminds me of, what I thought was a nasty antifeministic comment at the time, words spoken by the local parish priest in Warsaw: "When a woman prays it's normal. A matter of fact. Her soul is emotional, tempts to mysticism. But when cold logic driven male brain prays it is precious. More valued than female prayer." I still remember how angry I was, but when I look at it, I must admit that it is so true. Men are stronger in driving for their goals, never blaim extra factors for their failures or successes and are hardly ever emotional. But this is what makes them successful, after all.

At the lunch time there was time for the  truth. Sleeping routine at the Temple was not for me. I cannot go to sleep at 8 pm for 2 hrs and later at 4:30 am for 2 hours. I was grey on my face and very very tired.

I will be back to Guinsa, Hyondok Sunim. Maybe I will be more tough?

The last part of the day was tea ceremony with a monk. He could not speak english, but I think he understood. He had driven our attention to the fact that Avatar movie had a lot of buddhist elements in it. My journalist self overcame a diplomat inside me when I asked:

- How is buddism related to Korean mindset and modern development? You said that everything is interconnected and hence we should be responsible for nature. But in this case why are Korean people so detached from it? Temple Sites are protected because it is cultural heritage, but if there is no cultural heritage but there is a mount which is home to rare species, it would be blown up with no hesitation? Centuries of buddhist belief did not leave a trace in Korean mindset?

Sunim, an ex journalist, responded:

- I am not smart enough to speak about politics.

Hmm. Indead. That was not a political question I think...

- But maybe he is? - and I show our host. The response from the monk in translation was:

- There are challenges in modern world, but you need to practise. If you practise it will be allright.
 If you practise it will be allright...

Perfect solution which every religion makes for a believer. But maybe there is something in it?

I must admit that the meditation in the small Dharma Hall brought me peace of mind which I had not experienced in more than a month before Christmas. Despite on the faith and religion, or lack of it, if you stop and ask yourself: Quo Vadis? Quo Vadis Humanae? Where do you go? Who are you? What are your dreams? What are your sins? What makes the sense of your life? it is more than beneficial. Guinsa Temple had given me that.

On the icy cold evening with snow crunching under our feet and millions of stars on the sky we headed home. There are no stars in Seoul. Lights of civilization had taken over too long ago.

Hyondok Sunim, I will be back one day.

Guinsa Temple, Christmas 2010