October 30, 2012

Conversations With K-girls: Nothing Doing

It is very hard to talk to Korean bombshells. Although I am a distinguished conversationalist, I find it difficult to engage K-girls in dialogue. Most of the time it is because their breathtaking beauty has rendered me speechless. Many times it is because their nondescript boyfriend is standing right beside them. Other times it is because they cannot or will not speak to me in English. Sometimes it is because we literally have nothing to say to each other.

Me: What do you do?
K-girl: Nothing.
Me: Absolutely nothing?
K-girl: I stay at home.
Me: What do you do there?
K-girl: Nothing.

October 29, 2012

Show Run

During the run up to the Formula One Korean Grand Prix, Red Bull presented a show run in Seoul for all those disinclined to make the trek down to Yeongam. I had seen the Red Bull Racing team capture their first chequered flag in Shanghai and then passed by their serene mountain headquarters nestled in the Swiss Alps. Now I would watch the Red Bull race car complete a couple of lightning fast laps of Banpo Bridge, the same location where the spectacular rainbow fountain show is held every night. 

As the holder of both the driver's and constructor's championship titles two years running, the Austrian team has been the dominant force on the Formula One circuit in recent times. Red Bull does not have the storied history or loyal fan base of a team like Ferrari, but the success on the track combined with their marketing savvy off of it has given them solid name recognition. A lot of youth disinterested in the sport but interested in appearing cool were present at the show run. 

Apart from the Red Bull cars and girls, there were a few oddities to attract attention (and I am not referring to myself). On a platform beside the bridge were a large group of taekwondo students filming their own version of the viral hit Gangnam Style. On the other side, a remote controlled flying robot was circling overhead taking video footage of the crowd. It was my first time to see an unmanned aerial vehicle in such close proximity.


"If you’re in control, you’re not going fast enough." – Parnelli Jones

October 26, 2012

Formula 1: 2012 Korean Grand Prix

I slept in on Sunday morning in Mokpo, until only a few bodies were scattered around the previously packed floor of the jimjilbang. After a quick rinse, I left the bathhouse and made my way to a large man made waterfall on one edge of town. At a nearby bus stop I asked a beauty if the bus would go to the terminal. She looked at me, her double eyelids fluttering in fear, and emitted no sound. The bus driver was more friendly, nodding that the bus went to my destination. I ate some pork fat soup at a family run restaurant near the bus terminal. The old lady who ran the place brought me some extra fruit to eat and showed me how to peel them.

Conventional logic would have dictated the Korean stop on the Formula One schedule be located somewhere near Seoul or Incheon, perhaps somewhere like futuristic Songdo. In actuality the Korean International Circuit is located five hours to the south in Yeongam, on the opposite end of the peninsula. This is part of a government plan to promote tourism and boost the economy in this region, and it has poured a lot of money into the effort.

The bus ride from Mokpo to Yeongam was uneventful, as was the race after the first few laps. In Shanghai it rained the whole race, so there were a lot of slips, slides, and spins. The weather was cloudy but clear for the Korean Grand Prix. The track is the longest in Asia and second longest in the world after Italy's Monza. As the visibility was very good I could see a lot of the track from the grandstand, but there were no racing incidents or overtaking manoeuvres in my area.

I wagered that the action on the racetrack would be able to hold the attention of the K-girls in attendance for the first 10 laps of the 55 lap race before they reverted to playing with their handphones, but I was wrong. It took only 7 laps.  For the second time in as many Formula One races as I have been to, Sebastien Vettel emerged victorious. After the race there was a special concert by Gangnam Style sensation Psy, a last minute addition to draw in more spectators to the event.


"Auto racing began 5 minutes after the second car was built." – Henry Ford

October 23, 2012

One Night At The Korean Bathhouse

After the conclusion of the Mokpo Dancing Ocean Fountain show, I had some gimbap (Korean sushi) for dinner and then caught a movie at the theater, emerging outside again after midnight. I asked a Mokpo maiden for the nearest jimjilbang (Korean bathhouse) and she recoiled in horror. A helpful guy then told me where to go. The jimjilbang is a multipurpose facility, with a computer lab, exercise equipment, a canteen, and television area all available in addition to the saunas and massage rooms where I did not venture. When checking into one of these spas, the cashier hands over a baggy, and usually mustard coloured, set of shorts and shirt. These spas also have a communal sleeping area where people can sleep on the heated floor using hard wooden blocks as their pillows.

Photos: Tistory.com

In the changing room I saw more naked Korean men in one moment than naked Korean women I have seen in a lifetime. I placed my personal belongings in a locker, quickly took a shower, and headed to the co-ed sleeping area upstairs. Sleeping on the floor is a Korean tradition. It is highly uncomfortable for those not used to the practice. I continuously struggled to find a decent sleeping postion, squirming around like a severed tentacle of a recently living octopus. Many loud snores could be heard, drowning out the sound of the television that was on throughout the night. Jimjilbangs are the most cost effective way to catch some shut eye indoors in Korea. When I am not in the mood to look for a 24 hour McDonald's, Internet cafe, or ATM, there is no place like a jimjilbang to rest my weary soul when traveling solo.


“What hath night to do with sleep?” ― John Milton, Paradise Lost

October 22, 2012


On the way down from Yudalsan, I stopped by at a serene Buddhist temple and then made my way through some winding alleys before emerging on to a main street. I hailed a taxi to the National Maritime Museum. On the drive there, a limousine passed us. Hanging out from the open trunk was a newlywed couple. We caught up to them at a traffic signal. The taxi driver rolled down his window and attracted their attention, pointing at me. They asked me where I was from.  I answered their query and congratulated them on their union. "Beeoootipool" the taxi driver said of the beaming bride, and the husband and I both nodded in agreement.

The pride of the National Maritime Museum is the wreck of an ancient trading vessel, a 700 hundred year old Chinese barge that used to traverse the aquatic Ceramic Road between China, Japan, and Korea before sinking off the coast of Korea. Artifacts from all three nations were found in the shipwreck of the Sinsan, as well as from India and other far off places.

The special exhibit was also fascinating, bringing to life the tale of a Korean fisherman who was shipwrecked (a recurring theme). He met with mishap after mishap as he tried to make his way home, spending agonizing months in Macao, the Philippines, and China until finally returning to his motherland. During those days, there was a gentleman's agreement among the nations of the South Asia to not harm castaways from other lands and to make their best effort to return them from whence they came. After he reunited with his family, the man took a prominent position in the Korean king's court. He helped those stranded in Korea return to their homelands, making good use of the cultural expertise and language skills he had picked up during his travails.

Mokpo's second most famous natural attraction is Gatbawi, a pair of rock formations shaped like two people wearing traditional Korean hats. The walkway leading to it had been washed away during a recent typhoon. I glimpsed it from behind and then headed to the main square of the city. The World Folk Music Festival was in full swing. I watched old people singing and dancing to traditional Korean music, as had been predicted by a young child at the train station. The seaside concert ended after sun set and was immediately followed by an impressive sound and light show on the 150 meter long Mokpo Dancing Ocean Fountain.


"They make glorious shipwreck who are lost in seeking worlds." - Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

October 21, 2012

English Teachers

I summited several of the ridges of Yeodalsan and admired the view from each peak. Although farther away than the eye could see, I could hear the distant roars of the Formula One race cars as they whizzed around the circuit during the qualifying session. I ran into a couple of English teachers at the top. One of them was talking about a cartoon she saw. There were a series of pictures of the same Korean female at ages 15, 20, 30, 40, and 50. From ages 15-40 she looked like a gorgeous twenty-something and then suddenly transformed into a curly haired old lady at 50.

They told me they were currently teaching in Mokpo, but planned to travel to India for several months after their contract was up before taking up teaching positions in Kyrgyzstan. Most of the foreigners I encounter in Korea are ESL teachers, soldiers, or students. Teaching English is certainly not a bad way of life for those who are young, white, mobile, and unemployed/unemployable in their home countries. A lot of jobs require no background or interest in teaching, but merely a pulse and melanin depravation.

Whereas in China, there were many young professionals of good pedigree working full time in a variety of fields and disciplines, it is extremely rare to meet one in Korea. This may be because South Korea is further up the development ladder than China and already has enough domestic high level talent, or at least believes it does. The government requires stringent evidence from companies documenting why they need to employ foreign workers for non-teaching positions before granting long term work visas. To secure an ESL job on the other hand, all one has to do according to one of the teachers was "just send an email to Korea, and they will ask you when can you come over."


"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." ~ William Arthur

October 20, 2012


I arrived by train to Mokpo, the nearest large city to the Formula One host town Yeongam, around noon on Saturday. As I exited the station I was welcomed by clever children from a local English language institute, who provided me with some pamphlets about the F1 race and a small souvenir . They pointed me to the stop for the free shuttle bus to the Korean International Circuit. I told them I would go there on Sunday to see the actual race, and asked if there were any events in Mokpo on Saturday. "No, unless you want to see old people dancing." said one child portentously.

I walked towards Mokpo's most famous landmark, Yudalsan, primarily because it was visible from the train station. I stopped for a quick bite at Lotteria, my favourite Korean fast food chain, before starting the ascent. As I was overtaking a couple, they spoke to me in clear English. Most Koreans are completely unable or afraid to speak English, especially to scary looking foreigners. Those that do are usually drunken old men or overzealous Christian missionaries.

This couple was neither of the above. They had just returned from America. The husband had just completed his masters in Philadelphia, and had returned with his now pregnant wife to Korea. She would stay at her parent's place nearby as the birth of their child approached, while the husband would visit her every weekend from his hometown.

They only made it partially up the mountain due to her present state, stopping near the statue of the legendary Korean Admiral Yi Sunsin. Although his troops were vastly outnumbered, the admiral had repelled a Japanese invasion here through guile by making it appear as if he had many more soldiers by using a strategy akin to what farmers do with scarecrows. I bid the couple farewell and good luck, before continuing onwards.


“The soldier who fights to death never dies, but the soldier who fights for existence never truly exists.” ~ Admiral Yi Sunsin

October 09, 2012

Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

If there is one thing that can give a Korean beauty a more severe pimple outbreak than having to speak English in public, it is a face to face encounter with the Indo-Canadian Temptation. I was walking with a Dutchman towards a building in Seoul, looking for the entrance. A cute girl, ostensibly the greeter, was positioned nearby. She slowly backed away, an apprehensive look crossing her face.

Me: She does not look too hospitable. I think she is afraid.
Dutchman: I would be too... of you.

October 06, 2012

World of Starcraft

From the string of cookie cutter beauties churned out by the nation's finest surgeons to the bottomless bowls of kimchi provided as side dishes at Korean restaurants, many of the stereotypes about South Korea have been spot on. The gaming culture is no exception, as I would witness firsthand at a television studio in Mokdong during a live broadcast of a Starcraft tournament. As the most technologically savvy and socially awkward group in the world, young Koreans are almost always attached to their electronic devices while awake.

The Korean equivalent of Internet cafes, PC bangs, are usually open 24 hours a day. They can be found around the country, filled with avid gamers around the clock. Gaming addiction is an issue, with the government even attempting to put limits on the number of hours a person can play within a given time frame. There are cases of gamers passing away after marathon sessions at the computer. The victims are not limited to the players themselves. A baby died of malnutrition as her parents were so immersed in the digital world they neglected to feed her.

Starcraft is one of the video games that is wildly popular in South Korea. That is why there are television channels dedicated to broadcasting tournaments where top gamers battle it out in front of live studio audiences. The gamers sit in enclosed booths facing each other, free from the distractions of the outside world. Their antics are displayed on several large screens for the audience to witness. The crowd is evenly divided between foreign and local nerds. There is one girl in attendance, and one more who I am unsure about.

The spectators are offered free pizza during a break, which they gobble up in no time. To the left of the audience are English speaking commentators, and to the right are some extremely lively Korean commentators. They describe each attack and counterstrike between the battling gamers with an intensity that does not match my excitement level, but adds greatly to the atmosphere. Since most gamers rarely see the light of day, a visit to the studio provides an unique glimpse into an usually invisible aspect of modern day life in South Korea.


"Champions rarely talk. They just perform and the world around them talks." - Unknown