May 31, 2013

Conversations with K-girls: Dinner Plans

K-girl: I have a dinner plan.

Me: With me?

K-girl: No.... uh.... umm..... with my family?

May 28, 2013

In Hostile Territory

Me: She looks a little Chinese, even though she is Korean.

Korean guy: Yes, so I don't like her.

Me: Chinese girls are also nice.

Korean guy: Japanese better but they exposed to radioactivity.

Me: I thought you had a Chinese girlfriend before.

Korean guy: Nope, I just had Chinese homemate but she had stinky foreign boyfriend.

Me: A big hairy oaf?

Korean guy: Oaf?

Me: For example "That was my foot you just stepped on, you bumbling oaf".

Korean guy (after looking up the definition of oaf in an electronic dictionary): "Why give publicity to this self-indulgent, adolescent oaf?"

Me: Yes, exactly. For instance, that guy talking to the Chinese-looking girl appears to be an oaf.

Korean guy: That I agree. He looks oaf so normal girls don't have any hostility.

Me: Yup, they let their defences down but when they see a dangerous Prince of Persia they have their shields up.

Korean guy: Yes, that's fact so it's not your fault. Their reaction is natural.

Me: Hostility is a good word.

Korean guy: Why? It's bad word, isn't it?

Me: I mean it's a good word to describe the situation.

Korean guy: Aha~

May 25, 2013

Escape from Trash Mountain - Nanjido

Take a low lying island located on a river in Seoul, add two decades worth of garbage generated during a period of rapid modernization never before seen in human history, and what are you left with? A 100 meter high mountain of trash, reeking so badly that people could smell it from the other side of the Han River. The dump site of Nanjido grew to cover an area of almost 3 million square meters, dwarfing the pyramids of Giza in scale.

Nanjido became a dangerous eyesore that oozed methane which frequently ignited, causing 1300 fires over the life span of the landfill. Millions of tons of industrial and household waste had piled up like the credit card debt of a Korean beauty's boyfriend. After one big blaze in 1984, the last of the inhabitants of the isle were relocated.

Seoul was selected as a host of the 2002 World Cup. The city's soccer stadium was located a corner kick away from this festering heap of rubbish, so the government decided to do something about the situation. They transformed the dump into a large green space, replete with parks, sculptures, trails, golf courses, and dazzling views of Seoul.

Ironically, there are barely any garbage cans on a mountain that once served as the city's wastebasket. Every time I came up on what looked to be a garbage can, it turned out to be a container for fire extinguishers. The extinguishers are a nice safety precaution, but perhaps a bit underpowered to put out a fire on a blazing mountain of methane. Smoking is prohibited on top of the park for this reason, as it could lead to spontaneous combustion. Despite the potential safety hazards, a visit to 'Trash Mountain' is certainly not a waste of time.


People say I'm extravagant because I want to be surrounded by beauty. But tell me, who wants to be surrounded by garbage? ~ Imelda Marcos 

May 22, 2013

Celebrating Buddha's Birthday

Buddhism is the leading belief system in South Korea (if you consider Protestantism and Catholicism as distinct religions), so the birth of Buddha is celebrated with great pomp and pageantry every year. A Chinese friend of mine was in Seoul for a business trip, and he joined me for the day as we participated in the festive activities on offer throughout the city.

Our first stop was the Jogyesa Temple, a large complex located in the heart of old Seoul. The principal temple of the Jogye Order and the centre of Zen Buddhism in Korea, its roots can be traced back over five hundred years. A colourful hive of activity, Jogyesa is not the kind of place to visit for a serene meditative experience. However, it does provide a good introduction into the world of Korean Buddhism.

When we first entered the complex, we were ushered into a movie theatre. A highly entertaining documentary was shown explaining how Korea was the greatest nation on Earth. One infographic compared the total number of inventions made in Korea with the sum total of every invention made by all other countries in the world in a year. It was a tight race, but Korea came out on top. It also highlighted the fact that Korea has the best alphabet system ever concocted. Hanguel is a highly elegant system that replaced the traditional Chinese characters that were previously used by Koreans.

After the film concluded it was time for us to make some traditional paper lanterns. Volunteers guided us as we crafted a masterpiece out of coloured paper and adhesive. We explored the temple grounds for a while and ate a vegetarian meal, consisting predominantly of sticky rice.

We were given instructions to go to Tapgol Park as some VIP seating was reserved for foreigners. We had front row seats to view the Lotus Lantern Festival Parade being held to commemorate Buddha's birthday. As the parade neared its conclusion, we were pulled in to the procession to add a multicultural flavour to the festivities. We held our handcrafted lotus lanterns high and waved to the adoring crowds as we passed by.

May 20, 2013

Conversations with K-girls: English No

Me: Do you know any English?

K-girl: English no.

Me: 'English know' or 'English no'?

K-girl: English NO!