November 29, 2013

ARNABarbecue: Nice to Meat You

Korean BBQ restaurants are immensely popular for dinner, especially to commemorate celebratory occasions. For the birthday of a Danish friend, we ventured to a busy barbecue house in a lively student area in Seoul. Although the meat and accompaniments are provided by the BBQ restaurant, the cooking is usually done by the diners themselves. They have to carefully transfer the meat from the plate it sits on and place it on the barbecue. 

The pieces of meat have to be turned over in a timely fashion so that they do not get charred or stuck to the grill. Scissors can be used to cut the meat into more manageable chunks. Adjustable overhead vents suck up the smoke. Clothes can be stuffed in to large plastic bags or in the empty space underneath ones seat, so that they do not end up smelling of juicy strips of pork or beef. 

We could tell that at this particular restaurant the meat was very fresh. When it was brought to our table it was still in the original wrapping from the grocery store it was purchased from, complete with price tag. I kept the price tag (410g of beef for 41,000 Korean won) as a souvenir. As the night continued, we ended up at a bar. Outside the restroom I was waiting in line behind a beauty, who noticed the price tag affixed to my chest.

K-girl: You are beef?

Me: Do you like beef?

K-girl: No... I like pork.

November 24, 2013

Never O'clock

Korean girl: I have a friend who lives in Gangnam. Her family is wealthy and she recently had plastic surgery.

Me: Oh, when do we meet?

Korean girl: Never o'clock!

November 21, 2013


Three old friends from my Beijing days and I reunited after a few years for a weeklong trip to Myanmar (previously known as Burma). The people of Myanmar were friendly, helpful, and full of warmth. Even though they did not possess abundant quantities of material wealth, most people we encountered were clever enough. While the masses of smartphone wielding drones in Korean sport a vacant look around the clock, the Myanmarians had that distinct sharpness in their eyes that belies a certain awareness of their surroundings. They also did not appear to be made from plastic

On the topic of plastic, access to cash using internationally issued credit or debit cards is now a viable alternative to carrying large wads of US dollars as ATM’s made their way to Myanmar a year or two before I did. The nation was generally closed off to the West for the greater part of the past few decades, only opening up recently as it slowly transitions from military rule to democracy. American brands are not readily visible, although signs of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean investment into the gold rush of economic development that awaits Myanmar were apparent.  

The Myanmarians still use their traditional forms of dress and makeup in day to day life. This meant full length body hugging outfits for the women, their faces coated with a paste that functions as both sunscreen and beauty product, and loose sarongs for the men. The English level was decent everywhere we went, so there was little problem in communication. Of course after being in Korea, my standards for judging English competency have slipped as low as K-girls’ standards in selecting their mates.

The infrastructure was much better than nearby Laos and Cambodia, but Myanmar dwarfs these nations with a population exceeding 60 million inhabitants. Even with an established transportation system, moving about was still a hair-raising experience. We took all forms of transit available to us - trains, taxis, buses, bicycles, backs of trucks with the open tailgate functioning as the platform for more passengers to stand upon, and horse carts to name a few - to make our way from Yangon to Mandalay, with stops in Bagan and Inle in between.

November 17, 2013


Harsh, empty, and beautiful are words that could describe either K-girls or the Mongolian landscape. Add natural to that list of adjectives, and the land of Genghis Khan remains the only viable option among the two. I had previously visited Inner Mongolia, the part of the once great empire now absorbed by China, to explore the ghost city of Ordos and perform a Bollywood-style dance in the singing sands of the Gobi desert. This gave me a vague idea of the type of environment I was to expect in Mongolia, but did not prepare me for the vast open spaces, hearty lifestyle, hospitable people, and charming desolation that I would experience during my trip. 

Last Chuseok mostly fell on a weekend, so I spent my limited days on the island paradise of Jeju as I could not venture very far from the peninsula. The Korean thanksgiving holiday fortuitously fell on three consecutive weekdays this year, so I took a couple of extra days off work to convert it into a nine day sojourn of Mongolia.

The least densely populated country on Earth, Mongolia is about 15 times the size of South Korea but has less than 3 million inhabitants compared to the 50 million denizens of Daehanminguk. The capital city of Ulaanbaatar was utilized primarily as a base for entry and exit into Mongolia, as most of the days were spent on the road exploring sand dunes and national parks. A sturdy but aged Russian vehicle was used for transportation and circular tents (called gers) were the primary type of accommodation.


The open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself. ~ William Least Heat-Moon

November 12, 2013


Me (pointing to a piece of cardboard lying on a table): It resembles the personality of a Korean man.

Korean man (upon realizing the cardboard had a greyish hue): But the colour is like your heart.

November 08, 2013

Conversations with K-girls: Hairy Chest

After seeing a tuft of my majestic chest hair...

Korean girl #1: Ahhhhhhh, I hate it!

Korean girl #2: Going home now.

Korean girl #1 (to Korean guy): He is the Arab?

Korean guy: No, India.

Korean girl #1: Does the India girl like the hair? Korean girl hate that kind of thing.

Me: Yes, they love it.

Korean girl #1: Ughhhh.

November 06, 2013

Do Not Mock

Me: South Korea is officially called Daehanminguk (대한민국)?

Korean guy: Yes.

Me: So the direct translation is something like big/great (dae) first/best (han) people's republic (minguk)?

Korean guy: Do not mock.  

November 05, 2013

Inner Beauty

Korean woman: You never say anything nice about me.

Me: Really? I think you have great inner beauty.

Korean woman: What about my outer beauty?

Me: I appreciate you for your great inner beauty.

Korean woman: Oh my god! I can't believe you said that. My boyfriend would kill you if he heard this.

Me: He might attempt the same if he heard I greatly appreciated your outer beauty.

November 01, 2013

Honeyed Words

Chinese girl: When I ask some favor form you, I should say something good, especially handsome ~ cool guy ~~something like that haha

Me: That's right!