Showing posts with label korea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label korea. Show all posts

December 21, 2013

Chronicles of Korea

As my time in Korea comes to an end, I compiled a thorough list of the different places I visited around the country during my stay. The natural and historical sites had much more variety and charm than the inhabitants. Although it pales in comparison to my Chinese adventures, there was still a lot to see and explore in this small but densely populated nation. 


Wherever you go, go with all your heart. ~ Confucius

December 02, 2013

The Bridge of Life

On the surface, Seoul is the most perfect place I have lived in. The benefits of living in the Korean megapolis are aplenty:
  • All manner of commercial establishments stay open day and night
  • An extensive public transit system augmented with moderately priced cabs 
  • Safe and clean environs with an honest and hygienic populace
  • High speed trains and express buses which allow me to easily explore the rest of the country on weekends
  • Blazing fast broadband and wireless internet speeds 
  • Main courses at restaurants that come with a healthy assortment of side dishes, which are refilled for free
  • Public restrooms are easily available so I do not have to improvise during emergencies
  • New shipments of K-girls roll out of the beauty factories of Sinsa and Apgujeong at regularly scheduled intervals
  • Heated floors
  • Toilets can wash and dry nether regions at the push of a button (if pressed in the correct order)

Once you peel away the layers of benefits afforded by the 24/7 conveniences of Korean life, the rotten core is revealed. A society catapulted from subsistence to modernity in a handful of decades always leaves some behind. Alcoholism, prostitution, domestic abuse, plastic surgery, video game addiction, chronic mistreatment of international heartthrobs, and long hours at the office are commonplace.

Most struggle day to day to keep up appearances and conform to societal norms, to show their friends and neighbours that they are just as successful as them (or slightly more so), and to push themselves and their offspring into continuing the loop of never-ending education and work required to accumulate additional wealth and status.

It comes as no surprise that South Korea is annually number one in the world suicide rankings. Samsung tried to convert the suicide hotspot of Mapo Bridge into a place where such deadly actions could be averted. Portions of the railings on the interactive Bridge of Life light up with message beacons as one walks by. 

A string of hopeful phrases written in Korean bring about anticipation of a better future or elicit recollections of happy times - “A loved one waiting for you at home.”, “The best is yet to come.”, and so on. Unfortunately suicides actually went up after the conversion of the bridge, as the publicity it created drew more members of society to its edge. 


"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

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 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.

October 29, 2013

Prince Disease

Korean girl: You have prince disease.

Me: Prince disease?

Korean girl: You don't know prince disease?

Me: No... what is it?

Korean girl: Let me find English word.

<Consults Korean-English dictionary on smartphone for several minutes>

Korean girl: Ahh... it means 'you are snob'!

October 12, 2013

Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival

A four hour bus ride southward from Seoul's Nambu Bus Terminal saw me arrive in Jinju. I strolled to the riverside, arriving just in time for the start of the day's lantern festivities. The Jinju Namgang Yudeong Festival is held annually on the river that cuts a swathe through the town of 350,000. Several battles took place between the Koreans and the Japanese during the Imjin War in the 1500s in the region. The 70,000 Korean lives lost in the defence of the nation are commemorated by releasing the floating lamps into the Nam river every year.

The most noticeable landmark in town is Jinjuseong, a large fortress straddling the southern side of the Namgang. With spectacular river views and live performances it was the place to be on a happening Saturday night. After enjoying the festivities late into the evening, I went in search of food and accommodation.

I followed the masses to the eMart supermarket - a bastion of hope for a hungry man. A young lady at the food court took my order and giggled surreptitiously at the same time. Exceedingly handsome men are a rare sight in Jinju. I hurriedly completed my meal, worried that no rooms would be available and that I would have to spend another night wide awake at a 24 hour Korean sauna.

Due to the fact that many Korean males live with their parents into their thirties and also have a penchant for infidelity, both single and married men have a need for seedy love motels to carry out their amorous activities. They can also be used for wholesome purposes such as catching some simple shut eye. I wandered the streets and enquired for the availability of rooms at each such love motel I happened to pass by. On my fifth attempt, I found a motel with one room remaining.

After showing me my room, the motel manager invited me for a nightcap and regaled me with his life story. Thirty years ago he had studied English in university. On this day he finally had the opportunity to use it. As English vocabulary from bygone days drifted to the tip of his tongue, he told me his life story in disjointed sentence fragments. I would guess what he was trying to say and he would confirm whether my interpretation was the correct one.

The manager told me of how as schoolchildren decades ago, he and his classmates would release a few lanterns into the river. Nowadays, he explained, the lantern festival had exploded into a well-organized but tacky extravaganza which lacked the simplicity and charm of bygone days.

While we were conversing two beauties approached the counter. They inquired as to if a room was available and he turned them away. "You very lucky." he said earnestly, "If you come 30 minutes after, then you find two ladies in your room". I agreed that that would have been an entirely unfortunate turn of events.

October 02, 2013

Conversations with K-girls: Lebanon

K-girl: Are you Lebanon?

Me: No, I am from Canada.

K-girl: ...

Me: ...

K-girl: ... Are you Lebanon?

September 25, 2013

Night Fishing in Jeju

After jointly devouring a large hamburger that shared the same dimensions as a medium sized pizza somewhere in the middle of Jeju, my two travel companions and I rushed towards the coastline of Korea's favourite island. We squeezed in a visit to see the perfectly hexagonal basalt formations formed by the cooling of liquid lava at Jungmun Beach, before continuing onwards in our rented car at a breakneck pace to a dock where a boat awaited to take us night fishing.

I was traveling with a Korean woman and an American man. The lady was the only one with a valid driving license so she had rented a car. The American and I could only hope for the best as we burned rubber across Jeju. We arrived at the secluded dock with minutes to spare before the launch took off. Prior to stepping onto the deck of our fishing vessel, we loaded up on some supplies to get us through the night - bait, fishing gloves, and some snacks. Several Korean vacationers also joined us on board.

As the sun set and darkness embraced us we sailed out into the open ocean along with a few other fishing vessels. We dropped anchor after we were an adequate distance out into open water and well spaced apart from the other potential night fishermen and women. The floodlights were turned on, illuminating the vessel and a small region around us. Luckily, no one on our boat felt sea sick so we could stay out longer than the other vessels.

A crew member showed me how to take the shrimp we were using as bait and attach it to the fish hook. It was a bit like threading a needle. On my first attempt I hooked my glove instead of the bait, and battled the fishing rod for a while until the crew member prevented me from becoming the first fisherman to catch himself with his own fishing rod. I soon became adept at the process and in no time was catching mackerel like there was no tomorrow. The fish would be yanked on to the ship, disengaged from the hook, and tossed into a bucket.

Mackerels are known for swimming near the surface and for easily being tricked into taking the bait. Their limited intellect makes them the ideal candidate for novice fishermen such as myself. My Korean friend caught the most fish, with the equally inexperienced American and I lagging far behind. The crew kindly cut and cleaned the fish for dinner. They even brought out a portable stove for us foreigners, as they were worried we would not be able to handle raw fish. I tried both the cooked and uncooked varieties, but preferred the raw one.


The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope. ~ John Buchan

September 22, 2013


Korean lady: I have friends who work as fashion models and they are always talking about their Botox injections.

Me: You have friends who are fashion models?

Korean lady: Don't worry. I will never introduce them to you!

September 13, 2013

Compliments of the Arnab

Korean lady: Why are you smiling?

Me: I am looking good.

Korean lady: Thank you!

After she walked away with a big grin on her face, I discussed the incident with a German guy who was in the vicinity.

Me: I said 'I am looking good' but she only heard 'looking good'.

German guy: Yes, I heard the entire conversation... but I didn't mention anything.

Me: Perhaps I should give more compliments.

German guy: Yes, you should.

September 04, 2013

Conversations with K-girls: Home Run

Me: Would you like a coffee courtesy of Arnab?

K-girl: Can I go home instead?

August 19, 2013

There Is No Try

A Korean guy and I were discussing a K-girl who was a shared acquaintance.

Korean guy: She is different from other girls. She is willing to try everything once. That is her good quality.

Me: No... not everything.

Korean guy: Kkkkk. Everything but you!

August 17, 2013

The Moses Miracle - Jindo Sea Parting

Jindo is an island located off the south coast of the Korean peninsula. Connected by a bridge to the mainland, the island is a quiet unheralded place for most of the year until almost a half a million vibrantly attired elderly Korean, youthful Westerners pretending to be English teachers, and tourists descend upon on it to attend the annual Jindo Sea Parting Festival. The sea parting phenomena gained international fame in the mid-1970's after the then French ambassador proclaimed it Korea's version of the Biblical 'Moses Miracle'.

Some of the teachers donned faux Moses beards and carried a staff to complete the scene as they trudged across the 2.8 kilometre stretch of land that emerged from the sea, connecting Jindo to the even smaller island of Modo. A lot of people did not bother to walk across the whole way, preferring to stop and collect the seaweed, abalone, and starfish that surfaced once the sea floor was revealed.

The path only lasts for about an hour each day during the four days of the festival before the sea level rises to cover it up again, so there is heavy foot traffic that makes it a tough distance to cover in such a short time. As the clock ticked down, the waves rushed back in quickly with tremendous force. That is why many don vividly coloured knee high plastic boots to keep dry as they walk across the sea bed.

Although science has washed away the mysteries behind the magical sea parting, the tale behind the tidal harmonics remains enchanting. In the ancient days, many tigers were said to roam Jindo and feast on the delicious locals. Frightened villages fled to Modo for safety reasons, but an old grandmother was inadvertently left behind.

The old lady prayed to the mythical dragon king of the sea to be reunited with her family, who informed her a rainbow over the sea would connect her with her loved ones. Sure enough, her prayers were answered when the waters parted to reveal a rainbow-shaped pathway from Jindo to Modo. She rushed to her family. They met midway, with the exhausted but happy grannie breathing her last in the arms of her beloved family.

Apart from the sea parting phenomena, Jindo is also famous in Korea for its namesake breed of dogs. The Jindo dogs are heralded for their loyalty, intelligence, and courage. Protected under the auspices of Cultural Properties Protection Act and declared a national treasure, this particular breed of dog does not appear on Korean dinner tables. As I strolled through the back alleys of a Jindo neighbourhood, many yards had the dogs caged or tied up within them. They roamed about freely on the grounds of a Buddhist temple though, the look in their eye more wolfish than domesticated. I returned their gaze before continuing on my journey up a hill to get a panoramic view of Jindo.


A sojourner have I become in a foreign land. ~ Moses

August 16, 2013

Car Comparison

One day I was walking through a car park containing an assortment of vehicles in Seoul with an American guy.

Me: I often ask Korean girls why they are so fixated on Hyundais or Kias (Korean guys) and BMWs (white guys), when they could aim higher for an exotic supercar like a Ferrari or Lamborghini (myself).

American guy: ... And that is why you don't get a second date.

August 05, 2013

Horsing Around in Jeju

After several action packed days in Jeju spent fishing in the open seas and climbing 2000 meter high mountains, my last day on the beautiful South Korean island was much more laid back. The morning was allotted to wandering part of the world's best network of lava tubes, the evening to relaxing on several beaches, and the night on locating some of Jeju's fabled horse meat.

The lava tubes were formed as rivers of fire cut conduits through the island, leaving behind a geological treasure that hosts a diverse range of rock formations. The kilometre long lava tube is dark, as tunnels tend to be, with water dripping from up above in many spots. Enough artificial lighting has been added to make the tunnel walkable, but a solid camera is still needed to get proper shots in the dark.

The first beach we visited had clear aquamarine water and gigantic jellyfish, but not much else. We had not had any lunch so we decided to find a less isolated beach with more dining options. As we waited patiently at the bus stop to get from one beach to another, a friendly local offered us a ride. His English was unexpectedly existent, so were able to engage in basic communication. He took us to our beach destination via a scenic coastal route rather than the main highway so we could enjoy the view. Behind us, Hallasan dominated the skyline. In front of us, the sun put on a spectacular show as it set.

Although not very keen on the prospect, my travel companions agreed to accompany me on a hunt for horse meat for dinner. After several false starts and dead ends, we finally made our way to a horse house on the other side of town from where we initially began our quest for equine flesh. My two travel companions were hesitant about ponying up too much cash for horse meat, especially after seeing the hefty price tag for all the items on the menu.

"Fetishes are expensive" grumbled my Dutch friend, shooting me a look of disapproval. We went for the basic course rather than the lavish spread proposed by the staff. We were the only customers in the restaurant, but were still ushered into a private room before we were served our night mare. The marinated horse meat was quite succulent, making for a memorable last supper in Jeju.


"A lovely horse is always an experience... It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words." ~ Beryl Markham

August 02, 2013

Maid in Korea

Korean man: Arnab has maid in India.

Korean woman: Really!?

Me: Many, but I don't have a personal one.

Korean man: Does maid help you take shower?

Me: In Korea I have no maid.

Korean woman: That is why you don't take shower! Hahahahaha.