Monday, February 25, 2008

Final Thoughts on Korea

So, here I am with my last email on Korea and my travels (for now).
I'm quite sad to leave Korea.. it's been a interesting and fun
1.8years of my life. Life is full of chapters, and this one is about
to close. I don't think things would be the same if I came back, with
different characters, people and experiences. This doesn't mean i'm
regretful of my decision to leave, but that I'm just sad to go while
things are so great here. Quit while you're ahead I guess..



From my experiences so far, South Korea is like the Portugal of
Europe. Mainly overlooked by it's more popular neighbours (China,
Japan, Taiwan and Russia), Korea is a peninsula covered with many
forests, mountain ranges, and small village towns full of old people.

Korean people differ from the Japanese in that they are more
emotional, honest, outgoing, and individualistic. They can also be
depressed, hot tempered and introverted. When you first meet a Korean,
they tend to be shy and reserved, but once you get to know them, they
become the nicest people you'll ever meet. The Japanese tend to cover
their real feelings and thoughts, which means you never know if they
really like you or not. Koreans would just be blunt and tell you what
they think.

Living in Korea sometimes feels like living in 18th century England in
terms of etiquette and social conduct. People respect their elders,
they also bow to each other in greeting and farewell or when walking
by (even to complete strangers). Women are still treated differently
and unequally, though things are rapidly changing. Homosexuality is
unacceptable. Body contact between the opposite gender is usually
avoided, no one hugs or kisses in public, and expressive gestures such
as hugging friends are usually reserved for big occasions like going
away for a long time.

Koreans tend to criticise their country, but will defend it to the
death if overseas or if any foreigner tries to do the same. There is a
strong sense of identity and national pride, characteristic of
peninsular countries who were often invaded due to their geographic
locations. (Korea's been invaded over 3000 times in written history).

They are also persistant and hardworking. Only in Korea can you turn
one of the poorest countries into the 10 most powerful economies.. in
50 years! Sure, they had to put democracy on hold to do it, but

Korean's also do everything in the extreme. They study, work, play
computer games, etc like fanatics. Add to that a hot tempered
emotional impulsive personality and you find most Korean's to be a
little crazy. But if they are on your side, they are with you forever.

-Ondol hot water floor heating system
-drink driver service - they drive you and your car to your home.
-free water and handtowels at restaurants
-Door bell on table service - you press this for service and they come
right away
-food street stalls - great for after drinking
-hot girls
-cheaper dentists
-cheap Korean food
-hongdae, gangnam, sinchon
-mandu lady
-nambi, pool bar, deck bar, brix, helios, loft, geckos, bungalow,
playstation bar, samgypsal place in hongdae, and other drinking holes
- my friends
- some of my students
- my bachelor pad

-Bad smells
-rude ajummas
- pollution
-extreme weather conditions
- no sidewalks in residental areas
-haebangchon hills
- mopeds riding on sidewalks

There's probably more I could write but I can't think of right now..

Anyway, that's it from me! I gotta get back to my farewell party (take
two) now. So Anneyonghi gaseyo!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

James' return to normality

Hi all..


First of all, yes Korea's national symbol (Namdaemum, which is the 600
year old City Gate) has been burnt down, in a possible arson attack by
a disgruntled senior Korean. Just after the Lunar New Year too!
Wikipedia is on the ball and you can see for yourself at

This tears at the heartstrings of all Koreans, who are very proud
people. It's the equivalent of the Lincoln memorial, Sydney Opera
house or Big ben burning down! Even I'm sad and angry about it. :(
They are also furious at the lack of security at such an important
monument, and the incompetency of the fire crews who took failed to
control the blaze because they were trying to work out how to put out
the fire without damaging the structure! Hello?!! It's on fire!!
Better some damage than all of it, right?!

Secondly, yes I'm still alive and in Korea. :)

Lastly, I won't be in Korea for long.. :(

In two weeks time I'll be back in Melbourne Australia, to study my
Diploma of Secondary Education. This is a one year course, which will
enable me to either find work as a high school teacher in Australia or
- should I get the urge to flee again - enable me to find more
teaching English jobs overseas with better pay and conditions
(although Berlitz is a good company to work for, 6:45am classes are
killing me right now!).

Will I be alone in my endeavour? Wasn't I planning to get married with
Sammy and settle down you ask? Well, that plan has changed a little.
Instead, we've decided to try living together first in Australia to
"test the waters" before committing to something that we're both
admittedly a little scared of. Yep, we've gone the "modern marriage
way" and chosen to go de-facto instead.

So while I'm studying my DipEd, Sammy will study Cookery and should be
a chef in 2.5 years time. After that we are both free to settle in
Australia or travel around the world together teaching and cooking.
:) So my original 10 year travel plan to travel the world has not been
completely abolished as yet, just significantly altered. Plus, should
anything happen to the relationship, I am also free to go back to my
original plan anyway.

Right now, Sammy is in Australia preparing for her cookery course.
I'm still in Korea packing my things up and closing up my life here.
I like to thank my trustworthy reliable mates Nathan and Daniel for
helping look after her while I'm away. :)

I must admit I'm quite reluctant and sad to leave Korea. I mean, I'm
actually really happy with my life right now, and isn't that what
people want? I'm making good money, the work is fun, I have lots of
friends and an active social life. To leave that to go back to study
and hardship is not appealing (I won't be earning money at all while I
study but living of my current savings originally set aside for
travel). But I guess that nothing lasts forever, times change, and
good things come to an end, and I should consider my future.

So, my priorities in life at this point is to find a way to maintain
employment in my life, and to find someone to share my life with. I've
always believed that it doesn't matter what you experience in your
life, if you don't have someone to share your achievements with, it
doesn't feel quite complete. I don't want to be one of those people
who travel around the world experiencing many things and then die
alone with no one to remember them. It's a lonely life and life is too
wonderful to be lonely in. Sammy may or may not be the one for me, but
I can't just give her up without making sure first (she was going to
study in Oz anyway). Hence my decision to return.

So, see some of you all soon! ;) Let's not forget I also miss you all too!!


-News readers bowl to the camera before and after reporting the news.
I feel so honored.

-Korean girls insist on wearing miniskirts in the deep cold of winter.
Now that's brave.

-Korean guys have outrageous hairstyles, like a black mop placed on
the head and styled and dyed (though not as much as Japanese)
manga-esque style. They must spend hours fixing their hair up!

-Koreans think the adjective form of "Fun" is "Funny" eg I had a
funny time! instead of I had a fun time!

- They also think that "hardly" is an adverb for very hard eg "I was
pushed hardly" instead
"I was pushed hard".

-Korean men always carry their girls handbags.

-Korean men sometimes have their own handbags - in the name of fashion
of course.

-Korean men can be very feminine and are not the least homophobic, yet
most are prejudiced against gays.

In Korea, drinking is used to build relationships, especially between
companies doing business together. As a result, many managers and
people working in sales end up with health problems, and is sometimes
fatal! However, even though many people want to stop, they don't, as
it is taboo to decline a drink from their bosses or clients, as that
is a sign of bad business or disrespect to elders. Social rules take
over common sense in this one.

They typically consist of bride and groom inviting everyone they know
and their friends. This could exceed 500 people sometimes. People
would arrive wearing whatever they felt like, no formal suits needed.
They would say a few words to the bride/groom, then sit down on one of
the many banquet tables and eat the expensive food provided. The
ceremony takes place while everyone is eating, talking, and not even
watching the ceremony. It feels like having a wedding ceremony in a
noisy restaurant. Afterwards, people can take photos (but most don't)
or leave as they feel like. But they should leave some money as a

This money is counted and written in a book next to the persons name
by the family, who will remember how much they gave so if they are
invited to that persons wedding next time, they will give the same
amount (more or less). Theoretically this money should help finance
the high cost of the wedding. Unfortunately it doesn't as people don't
contribute as much as they should, leaving the families' quite poor

If that wasn't enough, the groom (and his family) have to buy the
house, whereas the bride (and her family) buy all the furniture.
Therefore, it is common for both families to save for a long time just
for the wedding and housing for their children. No wonder Koreans
aren't having much children anymore!


Korea and Japan have the highest suicide rates in the world! The
reason for this is, as some of my students have told me is that:

During teenage years, the intensive long studying from childhood to
adult, from 6am to 2am, consisting of normal school and lots of
private tutoring and "cram schools" and learning institutes, means
these poor kids don't have a life. Lots of pressure from parents to
excel and emotional teenage angst can drive many Koreans over the

All this hard study is actually not for anything practical it seems,
but to study facts and figures that will help them do well at the
university entrance exams. Thus, if a Korean does not achieve the
score they have been studying for all their life to get into the
university they want, this would cause them to commit suicide.

Then its trying to find a job in a very competitive country where
there is so many people and so few jobs available. Again, this stress
will cause major depression.

Then it's trying to raise a family, buy a house (Korean housing is one
of the most expensive in the world!), pay for their children's clearly
very expensive education, and their weddings, and save enough money
for retirement (retirement age in Korea is so young, at 55!). So
parents burn themselves out very quickly. This life style and stress
can make life seem so bleak.

So, it's no wonder these poor Koreans have one of the highest suicide
rates in the world.

Will attitudes change? Possibly, but it will take a long time. Korean
psyche is steeped in Confucianism, where education is most important
tenet, as is social position and tradition. But the effect of
globalisation is starting to change these views.


Koreans have a strong friendship with the Turkish nation. This is
because it is believed that the Turkish language shares similar
structures and forms to the Korean language (along with Mongolian,
Uzbekistan and parts of Central Asia). The reasoning behind how this
is possible stems from the history of man's migrational patterns: from
Africa, man came up through the Middle East and spread out through
Europe and Asia; Man then crossed the Bering Strait in Russia to
Alaska, or headed south to Australia during the ice age.

Anyway, clearly there was a migration that started in Turkey and ended
in Korea, via Central Asia. Some interbreeding with Mongolians and
voila! The Korean was created. Sounds more plausible than a bear
eating garlic myth. Interestingly the Koreans say they have no genetic
relation to the Chinese race despite being neighbours.

So what is the result? Well apparently Turkish people understand this
also, and embrace the Korean people whenever they visit on vacation.
They are very well looked after, and there is a strong feeling of
brother/sisterhood in the nations. This is why during a recent World
Cup soccer match a few years ago, the two nations playing against each
other were happy to shake each others hand and be friendly to one

Further cementing this relationship also is that Turkey was one of the
countries that helped them a lot during the Korean war.

One could say that Australians, like Koreans, have a similar certain
"mateship" with the Turkish as well, due to Gallipoli in World War

Anyway, I'll write my final essay, uh email on my last thoughts on Korea soon..

Till then,