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Sewol Disaster: Why we Must Question some Aspects of Korean Culture

Koreabridge - Wed, 2014-04-23 05:59
Sewol Disaster: Why we Must Question some Aspects of Korean Culture jinjoo2713 (Naver User) 

In the aftermath of great tragedies, one must be thorough in drawing conclusions about the causes and the way people respond in times of trouble and be careful not to explain away matters on handy scapegoats.  Asking pertinent questions is very much a part of this.
The captain of the Sewol and his crew were obviously in the wrong, their individual actions and orders cost lives and they should rightly be brought to justice.  However, the reasons behind their actions are complex.  It is convenient for everyone, including Park Geun Hye and her government, to brush away the issues highlighted by this disaster as the result of solely individual errors and incompetence.  This may be so, but they have to be more thorough than that.

There have been a variety of articles written that place a fair amount of blame on Korean culture for what happened (many from Koreans themselves), and inevitably people have become upset, calling this simplistic and racist (mostly non-Koreans).  I have two thoughts on this; 1) Yes, it is simplistic to say that culture is the sole cause for the disaster, of course it's not, but I have not heard anyone make this claim, only that it may be part of the reason for it or exacerbated it; 2) It is not racist, how can it be?  We are talking about culture, not DNA. People that constantly make this claim are using a kind of language which is not true, unhelpful, and emotive.

The truth is, individuals are significantly influenced by the culture in which they are brought up and this drastically impacts on their individual thoughts and actions.  It is too simplistic to say culture caused the disaster, but did it play a role?  I would argue that the evidence so far suggests it may very well have done, and it is not wrong to suggest it as a possibility and should not be insulting to do so.

I think there are two main aspects of Korean culture which may have helped cause or exacerbate the catastrophe (and I think they are linked):

  1. Hierarchical Respect Culture
  2. A disregard for rules and regulations and lack of knowledge of safety procedures

Of the two factors, number 2 might be the most important.  "But this hasn't got anything to do with culture", I hear you say.  But you'd be wrong.  Sure one can't blame it on Confucianism (the usual turn-to) or pinpoint it to other parts of cultural history, but a lack of respect for safety protocols, rules, and regulations is a modern day cultural issue in Korea and is something all of us who live here regularly see. This is why I shake my head in disbelief that articles like this pop-up, titled "Stop Blaming Korean Culture for Last Week's Ferry Disaster", especially when they go on to write this:

"The real problem, at all levels, seems to be protocol—or rather, the absence of one. Kim Su Bin, a classmate of Lim’s at Danwon High School in Ansan, pointed out that passengers did not receive any safety instruction before or during the trip, and that life jackets were available on the fourth floor but not on the third. A communication’s officer for the Sewol has admitted to the crew’s lack of evacuation training, or the enforcement thereof. And the indecision written all over the transcripts between harbor officials and the Sewol crew reveals an apparent dearth of actionable protocol for either side in the event of such a calamity."

The author then goes on to quote a journalist in South Korea:

“The main point is not culture,” said Jaehwan Cho, a Seoul-based journalist covering the events on his Twitter, in an interview on Sunday. “The main point is government structure... We need to turn our eyes to the government situation, government atmosphere. If we can revise those things, I don’t think this kind of disaster will happen again.”

He is at least partly right, government is an issue, but the lack of a safety protocol, instructions, lack of training, etc, could very well be heavily linked to culture because is not something unique to this situation and it is not all the government's fault.  And after all, where does government come from if not the people and the culture that created it?

When I spoke to my wife about all this, she told me that when she worked as a nurse in a hospital in Korea she was given no fire safety training, but legally she was supposed to, she was even given a form to sign to say she had.  When she said she had no such training, she was simply told to sign it by her superiors anyway.  Irresponsible of my wife? In the atmosphere of the Korean workplace, in reality she had no choice whatsoever, you simply can't question your superiors, if she had refused, her life would have been made very difficult (a subtle way respect hierarchies reduce safety).

So, if there was a fire in that hospital, you might well have had a similar situation occurring as to what happened on the Sewol; panicked people searching for members of staff to tell them where to go and what to do and the response and information would have been poor because the problem is that the patients in the hospital and the passengers on the ferry would have had about as much information on safety as the people who were supposed to be in charge.

Also, people in junior positions are regularly thrown into the deep end and given responsibility for things they perhaps should have been better trained and equipped for. In my wife's case, she became a surgery room nurse and her training consisted of sitting-in on only one or two surgeries and watching (she did many different kinds of joint surgery) and then told to learn terms and instruments at home on her own time. Basically, she had no training and learnt on the job - and was often shouted at and bullied by doctors when she made inevitable mistakes every now and then.  To make matters worse, in the quest for profits and the busy world of Korea, she was forced to rush from patient to patient, hastily sterilising instruments (and often having minor accidents as a result; cuts, burns etc), and feeling extreme pressure to finish important and possibly hazardous tasks quickly (빨리 빨리!).

I see this kind of thing everywhere in Korea, therefore I think it is fair to say that this has become part of the culture and needs changing.  Whether you agree with this or not, my hypothesis is not racist because I am saying it is cultural, not racial, and because it is not about race, it is something that can be changed; it is not written in their DNA and not set in stone.

The exact reason why I believe hierarchical respect culture was a factor is different to most other commentators on this subject.  I simply don't know what passengers from Western countries would have done had they been given the same orders to stay below deck by the captain.  I actually think saying they were being overly obedient is probably a bit simplistic, perhaps this was a factor, but I think this is something we can't really know and it is harsh and insensitive to blame the passengers, who were obviously scared victims of someone else's mistakes and a desperately unfortunate situation.

As I have mentioned already the effect of respect culture is probably more subtle on this disaster.  It is the role of the crew and the captain that needs more focus and these are the questions I would ask:

  1. Why didn't any of the crew question the captain's orders, and if they did, why did it not have any effect?
  2. Why was the captain away from the bridge when the accident occurred?
  3. Why did it take so long to correct the original order of staying below deck?
  4. Why did they go off the original course in the first place?
  5. Why was the response so slow by rescue teams?
 Of course we don't know the answers to any of these questions yet, but I am going to highlight some of the side effects I see day to day in Korea of rigid respect hierarchies and I will leave it to you to connect the dots: 
  1. People rarely question orders of superiors, even when they are obviously wrong sometimes.
  2. The sense of entitlement being of higher age or rank gives people often affords them the luxury of sitting back and letting those below them do most of the difficult work.
  3. When mistakes are made by elders or those of superior rank, they can be very stubborn in admitting them and will often carry on regardless or hope everything will be alright in order to save face.
  4. Protocol, rules, and regulations are often ignored by people who have high status because they feel they know better and are above them.
  5. Respect hierarchies are inefficient, causing a lack of initiative in individuals and can cause slow responses by waiting for orders of superiors.
 Now I am not saying these factors are all definitely related and this is exactly what happened, but it is everyone's responsibility to consider all of these a possibility.  In fact they are questions you could ask people of any culture, but Korean culture accentuates things when it comes to issues of status and respect.  If you refuse to acknowledge them for fear of being a racist or upsetting those of another culture, you may be sending others to their doom in the future.  People's lives, whoever and wherever they are, are more important than the risk of offending cultural sensibilities.

Finally, if someone were to hypothesise that the 7/7 bombings in the UK had something to do with British culture, why on earth would I be offended?  I just don't understand it.  In fact, one could make a good argument that British culture played a role (over-politeness, political correctness, and tolerance of even the dangerous and intolerant for fear of giving offence) in the creation of the Muslim radicals (the UK seems to be quite good at cultivating them) who hatched the plot and carried it out.  Not only that, but even if it had nothing to do with British culture in the end, it would have been our responsibility to question it (and many did) and at least rule it out.

In fact the two examples correlate rather nicely because in the case of the 7/7 bombings it was the actions of psychotic and brainwashed individuals; in the Sewol disaster it seems it was the actions of incompetent individuals in positions of responsibility.  We can leave it at that on both disasters and hope both never happen again, but it must be discovered whether in each case such disasters were a one-off or whether there is something about each culture that might encourage future similar events.  In the case of British culture, might it encourage radical Muslims to flourish?  And is there something about Korean culture that encourages incompetence, danger and confusion, in potentially dangerous situations, to flourish?

The only way to find out and be as thorough as possible in avoiding future disasters is to ask questions, which it seems is easy and not at all insulting to do with British or American culture, but when we do it to non-Western cultures like Korea, we suddenly turn into racist simpletons.  


Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

Earthcast 2014

Earthbridges.net - Wed, 2014-04-23 02:25

On April 22, 2014, the Earthbridges community webcasted live for several hours to recognize Earth Day. We had many people from around the globe who planned and contributed to this event we call, Earthcast.

The broadcast was divided into 6 parts.

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Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

Learning2gether in Hangout with Jeff Lebow and Earthbridges.net: I have a question and Earth Day preview

Webheadsinaction.org - Tue, 2014-04-22 17:16

14:00GMT, Sunday April 20, 2014 

Learning2gether archive: http://learning2gether.net/2014/04/20/176463172/

For further information regarding this event please visit


(same as http://learning2gether.pbworks.com/w/page/32206114/volunteersneeded#Nextupcomingevents)


How this works, from showtime today

The play button will play the recording of the live event

During the live event, you can chat with us in the chat space below



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Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

Learning2gether in Hangout with Jeff Lebow and Earthbridges.net: I have a question and Earth Day preview

Worldbridges Megafeed - Tue, 2014-04-22 17:16

14:00GMT, Sunday April 20, 2014 

Learning2gether archive: http://learning2gether.net/2014/04/20/176463172/

For further information regarding this event please visit


(same as http://learning2gether.pbworks.com/w/page/32206114/volunteersneeded#Nextupcomingevents)


How this works, from showtime today

The play button will play the recording of the live event

During the live event, you can chat with us in the chat space below



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Korea Taking Japanese Grievances Global

Koreabridge - Tue, 2014-04-22 11:16
Korea Taking Japanese Grievances Global By Kevin Hockmuth and George Baca

 For those who have spent even a short time living in the Republic of Korea, it is readily evident that anti-Japanese sentiments run strong and hot. On one level, it makes sense that ordinary Koreans would have a strong sense of grievance associated with the prior Japanese occupation. In the early days of the Republic, elite politicians worked frantically against the accusations that South Korea was home to the “collaborators.” Indeed, anti-Japanese rhetoric has been a mainstay of South Korean politics.

The legacy of this national formation has hit us hard on numerous occasions where we have witnessed the miraculous conversion of an apathetic student into a sharp, energetic critic driven by an almost missionary zeal informing one of Japanese wrongs: from Dokdo and the renaming of the “Sea of Japan” to comfort women.  Often conversations on these subjects turn to how best to get world opinion behind Korea’s position on these issues. 

Increasingly, the Korean government has sought to take these popular resentments and insert them into the agenda within the multilateral international framework. A recent New York Times article entitled, “U.S. Emerges as Central Stage in Asian Rivalry”, illustrates the point. The article points to a transition from the usual ham-handed PR campaigns to stoke global opinion about Japan’s past misdeeds, to a more sophisticated approach that begins on K-Street in Washington. It seems that Korean strategists have found their way to the Mecca of lobbying; a mainstay of US power politics: making campaign contributions to get your issues on the agenda.

And these efforts have yielded some minor, yet notable, political outcomes that move the ball in the direction the Korean government wants it to go. Activists in the Korean-American community have been successful in constructing statues commemorating comfort women in Glendale, CA and Palisades Park, NJ.  Furthermore, the legislature in Virginia has recently passed a bill that requires all textbooks in the state must include the name East Sea along with the generally more accepted name Sea of Japan; a similar piece of legislation is currently pending in New York. In the case of Virginia, the result came after heavy lobbying by the diplomatic detachment of both countries, including their respective ambassadors.    

for the rest, go to: http://busanhaps.com/article/feature-taking-japanese-grievances-global


Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

IHAQ#3: How to curate and foster online conversations (especially ours)

Worldbridges Megafeed - Mon, 2014-04-21 12:53

27:09 minutes (12.43 MB)IHAQ#3
April 20, 2014
How to curate and foster online conversations

Participants Links Mentioned:

Next Week's Featured Question

From  Paul Allison  via  https://twitter.com/youthvoices

What would a K-12 MOOC have in it? What connections would it nurture? Would teachers codesign it with students? Do they exist?
 If you have thoughts on this  or questions of your own, please share them on...

  Twitter:  @eduquestion    #eduquestion
  Google+:  EdTechTalk Google+ Community

 Stay tuned for additional show notes that awesomely curate and foster this conversation

Chat Log Below

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IHAQ#3: How to curate and foster online conversations (especially ours)

EdTechTalk - Mon, 2014-04-21 12:53

27:09 minutes (12.43 MB)IHAQ#3
April 20, 2014
How to curate and foster online conversations

Participants Links Mentioned:

Next Week's Featured Question

From  Paul Allison  via  https://twitter.com/youthvoices

What would a K-12 MOOC have in it? What connections would it nurture? Would teachers codesign it with students? Do they exist?
 If you have thoughts on this  or questions of your own, please share them on...

  Twitter:  @eduquestion    #eduquestion
  Google+:  EdTechTalk Google+ Community

 Stay tuned for additional show notes that awesomely curate and foster this conversation

Chat Log Below

read more

Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

Learning2gether with Jeff Lebow: I have a Question and Earth Day Preview

Englishbridges - Sun, 2014-04-20 17:05


Download: learning2gether-with-earthbridges-about-earth-day-educasts-2014-zlj9c5-vfma.mp3

Sun Apr 20 I have a question about Earth Day preview

This Earth Day preview was planned as a 1400 GMT webcast coordinated from Korea by veteran MC Jeff Lebow and in UAE by Vance Stevens. Those interested in Earth Day Educasts were invited, and in the meantime we talked to Jeff about the new initiative of EdTech Talk, I’ve got a question.

Where? Google Hangout

Earth Day April 22 is being celebrated again this year in the Worldbridges community,


Google+ Community created at: https://plus.google.com/communities/106328638894600774537

You can join the Flickr group for Earthcast14

Jeff Lebow’s links:

Andreas Fischer created a storify story  about “Earthday” and its steadily immense growing.. woow.. see here: https://storify.com/WordfisherMedia/earthday-2014



Sun Apr 20 2359 GMT I have a question #3 on EdTech Talk


Download: i-have-a-question3-on-edtechtalk-o0adgknh13u.mp3

Hangout with the EdTech Talk team Jeff Lebow, Dave Cormier, Jennifer Madrell, and John Shanker

Event page: https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/c96j63hoe6tnhaggdminc1ts980?authkey=CO6tzcjAv9yW_AE

Show notes: http://edtechtalk.com/ihaq3-curating-fostering-online-conversations

Ask questions via

Tag searches on #eduquestion:

 I have a question archives


Earlier this week

More SLMOOC14 sessions scheduled through Apr 30, 2014

Nancy Zingrone Hi Folks: This afternoon’s lecture on Setting up a Learning Center in Second Life will be mostly in WizIQ with the option of taking a tour of the still-under-reconstruction Learning Center in Second Life towards the end of the hour. The SLURL for the Learning Center is available on the Poster Board in the SLHQ but if you go there, the Learning Center is actually next door, one door down to the left as you are looking at the HQ. The direct SLURL to The AZIRE Learning Center is: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Madhupak/153/88/60


Nancy Zingrone Hi Folks, we have scheduled on Tuesday at 3pm SLT (April 15th) an inworld only picnic for the purpose of playing together, and working on walking, running, jumping, climbing and dancing in Second Life! Come join us inworld on Tuesday from 3pm to 4pm in the Chilbo Education Village Sandbox. Here’s the SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Madhupak/56/52/63


Thu Apr 17 2030 GMT STEMseeds 4: Lesson Ideas with Henry Ingwersen

Please plan to join Henry Ingwersen, Amy Loeffelholz and Wesley Fryer on Thursday, April 17th at 4:30 pm Eastern / 3:30 pm Central / 2:30 pm Mountain / 1:30 pm Pacific online (via a Google Hangout) to talk about STEM lesson ideas and ways to engage students through STEM learning. Henry is an elementary classroom STEM teacher in Wells, Maine, and maintains a blog about some of his classroom STEM lessons. Please tweet about this event using the Twitter ID @STEMseeds and follow @STEMseeds.



Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

20 Positive Vibes

Koreabridge - Sun, 2014-04-20 12:49
20 Positive Vibes  

It’s not a time to be taking things for granted.

My youngest brother of four is in town for two weeks and antics are at large. Plenty of trips to traditional Korean spots such as E Mart and Starbucks have so far resulted.

+1 grows from strength to strength. She’s climbing, jumping, running, spinning, and aside from the constant exhaustion, she is nothing but a joy to watch and serioiusly addictive happy drug.

A number of life things have finally sorted , or are in the advanced stages of sorting themselves out. I have a bit more direction and confidence thanks to this.

It’s spring in Suwon and Yeongtong, and once we get those eternalz tourists out of the way (also known as cherry blossoms) the city is riot of green and all sorts of other colours as flowers are sprouting everywhere. It’s truly gorgeous and my favourite time of year.

I lost some weight in Thailand and have managed to keep it off, to a certain extent.

I’ll be reading a poem at a PEN Korea event in Jukjeon, which is just down the road from us. This is happening on the 26th, and I’ll pop a notice up here so if you’re in the area you can drop by.

I’ve been reading (and finishing) a lot more books lately. It has been quite rewarding as I was frustrated by this. Most recently I read The Great Gatsby again, as I last read it in secondary school as part of our first or second year course reading. If you had to do this, I’d suggest rereading it now as you will discover a real gem of a book that was, in this man’s case, wasted on the energies of a fourteen year old.

Since Thailand I’ve been developing my understanding of my camera and its functions, and while I’d say I’m no expert and far from it, I am enjoying the learning curve and its fruits. If you’re keen to learn about how to use your camera I’ve a friend who is staring some photography workshops in Seoul if you want to look him up.

I think that, the more and more I look back, our two months in Thailand was such a good decision, not only because of the weather but also, and more importantly, we got to spend so much time together as a family and learned so much about each other.

I’ve been having some luck submitting some stories and poems to magazines of late, and it’s a gentle reminder that I should keep working away. I’m considering putting a chap book together of Korea related poems, but I consider a lot, so maybe I should say nothing until it actually happens.

I got my writing class to write some poems for me, as part of a lesson on working on narrative, descriptive language, and dramatic effect, and they were all really good.

I walk to work every day.

The amount of good quality imported beer going at decent prices in the bigger supermarkets is increasing steadily. And, the local Lotte had a wine sale of late.

Today the sky is clear and blue and I can see right across Suwon from my twentieth floor perch here.

Last week I met up with three really good old friends from when I first arrived in Korea. I hadn’t seen them for a variety of reasons, namely me being useless, but since seeing them I’ve been reminded of the importance of people close to me staying constant in my life.

I know that some will think I’m a bit of a no-mates internet addict, and I kinda am, but I’ve been getting a lot of benefit from the groups area of Facebook of late. Not only in the Korean Bloggers one, but in a number of photography groups also where I’ve been picking up tips, getting exposure to things I usually wouldn’t seek out, and also networking with others of a similar ilk. It seems a little more of a mature way of utilising the website, rather than just as a promotional tool

A second thing about Facebook, when I initially cancelled my account a few years back I did so in half a fit of nerves and rage, but since I’ve returned I’ve approached it with a different attitude. I see it as a way to actually keep in touch people I know from throughout my life who are from over 30 different countries, and who are also living in 30 different countries. Yes Facebook will lead to the decline of civilisation but at least we’ll know how others are getting along while it’s happening.

I like having hobbies.

Something really amazing is going to happen in July, but it’s a secret.

I have an amazing wife who loves and supports me in everything I do, and we are completely committed to each other, our eternal present, and our futures. And for this I more grateful than anything.

I say all this in light of the tragedy of the Sewol ferry sinking just off the south coast of Korea. I can’t even bare to look at the news because of it. These twenty postive waves are an attempt shine a light on the importance of everything in life, regardless of how trivial it may seem. Be grateful for yourself as we never know how or when it may be taken away from us.


Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

Learning2gether with Robert Wachman about Shaping the Way we Teach English, with guest Deborah Healey

Worldbridges Megafeed - Sun, 2014-04-20 04:58
Learning2gether with Robert Wachman talking about his experience with Shaping the Way we Teach English and attend TESOL conferences virtually

14:00GMT, Sunday April 13, 2014 

For further information regarding this event please visit


(same as http://learning2gether.pbworks.com/w/page/32206114/volunteersneeded#Nextupcomingevents)


How this works, from showtime today


Right now the play button below plays the last recorded live event here.

At showtime it will start streaming the event live

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Learning2gether with Robert Wachman about Shaping the Way we Teach English, with guest Deborah Healey

Webheadsinaction.org - Sun, 2014-04-20 04:58
Learning2gether with Robert Wachman talking about his experience with Shaping the Way we Teach English and attend TESOL conferences virtually

14:00GMT, Sunday April 13, 2014 

For further information regarding this event please visit


(same as http://learning2gether.pbworks.com/w/page/32206114/volunteersneeded#Nextupcomingevents)


How this works, from showtime today


Right now the play button below plays the last recorded live event here.

At showtime it will start streaming the event live

During the live event, you can chat with us in the chat space below



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Categories: Worldbridges Megafeed

Easter Sunday, Korea 2014: On family, memory and the ongoing tragedy of the Sewol

Koreabridge - Sun, 2014-04-20 03:49
Easter Sunday, Korea 2014:Thoughts on family, memory and Sewol Tragedy

It’s a cloudy morning in Busan, another in string of dreary, cool days, but at least I’m up to enjoy it. One of the pluses of my recent motorcycle wreck and subsequent hospitalization is that my sleep schedule has shifted. For the first time in life I can count myself as an early bird, though I doubt this distinction will hold after I’m up and moving 100 percent. Like my mother, I have always been a decidedly nocturnal creature. I am convinced that such proclivities course through our veins, that they’re buried deep in our DNA.

Today is Easter, which makes me think of family, especially my mom. She was an avid celebrator of holidays, and Easter in our house was no exception. In the days leading up she’d marshal a couple of us to assist in the dying of the eggs, an activity that I fervently relished as a kid. Every year it was the same: a big pot of boiled white eggs and Paas Easter Egg dye, which was mixed with water and vinegar to achieve its result. The sharp odor of the vinegar pinpricked my nostrils and stung my eyes; even today one whiff transports me back to the dining room table with my sister Molly and my mom–hard at work dipping–a cigarette in one hand and a thin wire egg holder in the other.

On Easter morning we were treated to baskets filled with chocolate and of course, dyed eggs. Sometimes even a small wrapped gift was included, transforming the setting into a mini springtime Christmas. The chocolate usually took the form of a giant rabbit–and it really was a case of bigger is better. Afterwards I would compare my booty with that of the neighbor kids. Most prized was the solid chocolate bunny. The cheaper hollow version was usually consumed over the course of the day. The solid rabbit was an investment in chocolate and literally could be gnawed and sucked on for days to come. Often the possessor of the prized solid bunny would never even finish the thing: the half-melted hindquarters were eventually discarded, covered in a nasty film of dirt, dust, and drool, turned repulsive to the chocolate saturated child.

Though my parents were certainly guilty of going all-in with regards to the commercial aspects of Easter, they didn’t indulge our every whim, and they made sure that we never forgot just why we were celebrating this day: All sugary contents of the basket were to be left untouched until AFTER mass.

And Easter mass was long, the longest mass of the year, clocking in at a good three hours. I remember being too small to see over the pew, essentially walled in as the old French priest droned on over the microphone in completely unintelligible English, blessing what seemed to be every single item in the church: In the costume and prop-heavy world of Roman Catholicism, this adds up to a lot of stuff. I fidgeted and wormed and swung my legs, dreaming of release, when I could run free, giant chocolate rabbit in hand. My mother acted as camp guard, silently castigating me with offended brown eyes, non-verbally suggesting that my squirreliness was an affront to God himself. The only respite from my utter, existential boredom was the constant shifting of positions: STAND, SIT, KNEEL, repeat. I am still convinced that these were invented solely to occupy those of us who find sitting still for long periods of time an exercise in torture.

After mass we’d pile into the big brown Chevy and head back home for a home cooked feed. On a couple of lucky occasions, I recall heading up to Tacoma, where we met up with some other relatives and were then unleashed upon a proper restaurant for Easter brunch. There were six of us in my immediate family and we could eat. We ‘d decimate the buffet, piling up on bacon, sausage, biscuits, home fries, pancakes, french toast, custom omelets and eggs Benedict smothered in oozing lakes Hollandaise sauce (my aversion to mayonnaise goes back as far as I can remember so I never partook of the latter). One year, after the meal, we posed for pictures in front of a rhododendron bush in bloom. A few years ago I came across some of these photographs when cleaning out my mom’s stuff: My dad wears a grey jacket and blue tie, and is puffed up with pride (and food)–all bushy mustache, glasses, and a closed-lip smile. My mom sported a pink dress and smiles uneasily; unlike my hammy father, she was never comfortable in front of the camera.

*          *          *

Despite my parents’ best efforts, religion never really stuck with me. This, combined with the fact that I have no kids of my own, means that I haven’t celebrated Easter since I was a child myself. Over the years I would call home on Easter, knowing that it was an important day for my both my parents, whose faith was deep; but they’ve been gone for sometime now, so the day barely registers in my mind. It’s  just a thing that I used to observe, from a period so long back that it seems like another lifetime.

This year is different. I sit here, at my desk, in my tenth year in South Korea. The TV rests just feet away, flashing endless images of the Sewol ferry disaster. My wife sleeps poorly, splitting her time between the tiny screen of her phone and the larger screen of the television, starving for a morsel of good news. So far there’s been none.

It was Wednesday when the boat went down. I first learned about it just after eleven A.M. at the beginning of a class I teach for housewives–a group of smart women who all speak remarkably good English. It’s a free talking course, meaning just what sounds like: we discuss whatever is on our minds. The Sewol came up immediately. They were all noticeably worried, but these concerns were immediately put to bed when one of the women stated that she had just heard great news during the drive to class: All the students had been rescued.

The women collectively exhaled and smiled. The crisis had been averted. In perhaps patronizing turn, I remarked on how far Korea had come, how the country’s past reputation for public safety was less-than-stellar, how twenty years ago the outcome would have not been so good.

The women agreed and we quickly switched subjects.

It wasn’t until later in the day that I began to doubt the “everyone is rescued” story. Articles and posts on the internet presented wildly conflicting information. It seemed that many people, perhaps hundreds, were still missing. Did that mean they were still in the ship? Or perhaps, in the chaos of rescue, they had just not managed to count everybody.

Minhee and I went out for dinner at a shabu-shabu restaurant near my school, and it was here where we learned the grim reality of the situation. 179 people had been rescued, but nearly 300 were still missing. The earlier count had been wrong, mistakenly doubled up. The passengers–almost all students from Ansan’s Danwon High School–were presumedly trapped inside of the ship, which had been almost fully submerged for hours now. Their parents were gathering in a gymnasium in the small port of Jindo, near the scene of the sinking. Both authorities and them were holding out hope. I could find none. It was now dark and the water was cold. Perhaps a few air pockets existed, but hypothermia would set in soon. The Sewol had been transformed into an underwater tomb.

As the days the wore on and scenes from the choppy grey water were replayed, the tally on the upper right screen of the TV changed little, with just a few numbers added to the official “dead” category. As of writing this, it stands at 179 rescued, 28 dead, and 269 missing. At this point we can probably merge the “missing” with the “dead,” which now includes a former member of the “rescued:” Danwon High School’s vice principal, Kang Min-kyu, who was so wracked with guilt and grief that he hanged himself from a tree.

This story has just been an endless barrage of bad news, cock-ups, and seemingly willful ineptitude. It’s been a cocktail of incompetence and negligence that far surpasses the criminal. The captain wasn’t on the bridge at the time, despite the fact that the area was known to be treacherous. And most unbelievably, after the ship began listing he told the students–over the loudspeaker–that they should sit down and “stay put,” essentially passing a death sentence on hundreds. He was among the first to be rescued, in flagrant violation of every maritime convention known to mankind, and once safely ensconced in the hospital, he inexplicably saw fit to dry out his roll of fifty thousand won bills that had gotten soaked during the sinking. This was his priority, it seemed.  He seems to have done almost everything wrong, and, not surprisingly, the country is calling for his head.

And then there’s the government response. Despite the fact that hundreds of divers have been on the scene, almost none have made it inside of the ship. Weather, poor visibility, and strong currents have been blamed. Offers of on-the-water aid from both the U.S. and Japanese navies has been spurned. Information has been spotty, contradictory, and inconsistent. Parents have been stonewalled, and to the outsider it appears that the rescue effort has consisted mainly of putting around on boats and some pulling bodies from the sea.

What I do know is that this country is in shock, but that shock is turning to grief coupled with incandescent anger. This is a national nightmare for Korea, by far the biggest catastrophe this nation has faced since I moved here nearly a decade ago. And this is now my home. It has been for sometime. Watching the endlessly looped footage takes me back to a massive tragedy that struck my country: the attacks of 9/11. Though different in nature and circumstance, I can imagine that the Korean people are going through a similarly harrowing emotional process. My heart aches when I see shots of those students longing to see their friends once more, of those parents screaming out their children’s names. I too am sickened inside, and burn with indignation when I contemplate the details of this fiasco and see clear as day just how preventable these deaths were.

So here we are, Easter Sunday, Korea, 2014. Hopefully the observant can find some joy in the spirit of the day. But for most folks, there will be no solace, because unlike the story of Christ’s resurrection, no one trapped in that boat will ever come back.

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Days after Sewol Tragedy

Koreabridge - Sat, 2014-04-19 13:17
Days after Sewol Tragedy

When I woke up today, my husband was watching the news about the sinking of a ferry in South Korea that has brought sorrow all over the nation. It has been four days since the 6,825-ton vessel, Sewol, capsized off Korea’s southwest coast, but rescuers are yet to find hundreds of passengers still unaccounted for, and more and more families receive devastating news as names of victims confirmed dead are announced each day. What makes the news more heartbreaking is that 325 of the 476 passengers aboard the ferry are high school students headed to Jeju Island for a field trip. 179 passengers have been rescued, some of them students, some teachers and crew members, but the search for at least 271 people continues and the chances of finding them alive seem bleak. Since Wednesday, the coast guard and navy divers have found no survivors. On Thursday, bodies were floating in the water where the ferry overturned. Later, three bodies were discovered inside a cabin where a number of students were presumed trapped, but divers were unable to recover them. The death toll has reached 32 as of today.

Families of the missing have crowded in a gymnasium in the port city of Jindo waiting for news of their loved ones. Divers are exhausting all efforts to penetrate the ferry, but the rain, underwater poor visibility and strong currents make the task almost impossible. To the grieving parents, the rescue team and the government are not doing enough. Someangry parents voiced their frustration over government officials who have come to talk to them. One parent threw a bottle of water at the Prime Minister; another slapped a government official. A female correspondent who was reporting the incident was also lambasted.


The prime minister is held by one of his body guards as an angry parent throws a bottle of water at him. (Photo from Dailymail)

A furious relative slapped a government official who was giving an update on the situation. (Photo from Dailymail)


The 69 year-old veteran captain, together with two crew members, were arrested this morning and are facing charges fornegligence of duty and violation of maritime law. Captain Lee Joon-seok was criticized for not piloting the ship when it capsized and for abandoning the passengers after telling them to stay where they were. The victims’ families and the authorities believe that if the passengers were evacuated, more lives could have been saved. An official at the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center recommended evacuation five minutes after the ferry’s distress call, but it took 30 minutes for the captain to order passengers to evacuate. According to him, he had given instructions regarding the route before leaving the wheel for a while. As for delaying evacuation order, this is what he had to say:

“The current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold, and I thought that if people left the ferry without proper judgement, if they were not wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties.”


Captain Lee gives a public apology: “I am sorry to the people of South Korea for causing a disturbance and I bow my head in apology to the families of the victims.” (Photo from BBC News Asia)


In the onset of the tragedy, President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye tried to console the bereaved and angry families, and reassured them that the authorities are doing everything they can to find the missing passengers.

“You must be so worried, unable to sleep … Never lose hope and please wait for the news of rescue.”

She had also gone to the rescue site earlier, pushing divers to continue looking for survivors despite dangerous weather conditions.

“Time is running out. Please hurry. If there are survivors, every minute and second is critical.”

President Park listened to the troubled parents and tried to calm them down. (Photo fromSouth China Morning Post)

The entire country waited for news of more survivors. Some South Korean TV stations cancelled their regular shows to continue broadcasting updates about the search and rescue operations. Families of the missing passengers were filled with hope that their loved ones would be able to make it out of the ship alive, as there have been reports of students sending their parents text messages moments before the ship sank.

A student sends a heartbreaking message to his mother at the brink of the ferry disaster. He was later rescued, along with 179 survivors. (Photo from BBC News Asia)

However, the police revealed that the messages of students still trapped in the ferry are fake. Based on the phone records analyzed by South Korea’s Cyber Terror Response Center, none of the students used their phones from the time the ferry capsized.

Below is an example of messages exchanged between an anxious father and his daughter trapped in the ferry:

DAUGHTER: “Dad, don’t worry. I’ve got a life vest on and we’re huddled together.”

FATHER:  “I know the rescue is underway but make your way out if you can.”

DAUGHTER: “Dad, I can’t walk out … The corridor is full of kids, and it’s too tilted.”

Now that it has been days and there’s only news of death, hope is slowly fading. Experts said that the trapped passengers would only be able to survive in an air pocket for about 72 hours.

On Friday, one of the teachers who accompanied hundreds of students on board the capsized ferry hanged himself from a tree outside the gym where families of the missing passengers were gathered. In a suicide letter found in his wallet, he said:

“Surviving alone is too painful while 200 remain unaccounted for. I take full responsibility. I pushed ahead with the school trip.”

“Burn my body and scatter my ashes at the site of the sunken ferry. Perhaps I can become a teacher for the missing students in my next life.”

“I will once again become a teacher in the afterlife for my students whose bodies have not been discovered.”

Vice principal Kang Min-Gyu stated in his suicide note that he takes full responsibility of what happened to the students who perished and those who are still missing. (Photo from dailymail.co.uk)

There has been a lot of misinformation regarding the ferry disaster and what caused the ship to capsize. Hours after Sewol sank, analysts hypothesized that the ship may have deviated from its intended course, but later on, a statement was made saying that the ship’s intended route was approved by South Korean Oceans and Fisheries Ministry and it did not veer off course. Then again, the chief of South Korea’s Yellow Sea Maritime Police Agency said that the ship did deviate from its course, though it didn’t seem to have hit a rock.

On the first day of the sinking, the media reported that all student passengers have been saved, but this proves to be false as there are students still missing at this point. Parents are blaming the media for the delay of rescue operations. If the media didn’t give that confusing report, students trapped inside could have been pulled out earlier, more lives could have been saved.

On Friday, there was another confusing report that divers have secured a passage to a dining room on the first floor of the ferry. Families were hopeful that passengers trapped inside would soon be rescued, but the West Sea Coast Guard denied it, saying divers had not yet been able to enter the hull.

Now most of the families’ grief is overcome by fury; hope replaced with desperation. The whole country prays for a miracle. Hundreds of students, parents and teachers lit candles and held a mournful vigil at a park in Ansan. Some held upmessages to wish for the safe return of the missing passengers.

Some K-pop stars postponed the planned release of new albums or cancelled promotional events and concerts. OtherKorean celebrities expressed their sadness via social media and are also praying for the safety of all the passengers.

Last night, while a group of Korean teenagers were fooling around, cursing one another and smoking “secretly” at the parking lot outside our apartment building, a former Korean student wrote this message on her Facebook page:

“Lord, I do not understand you,
But I still trust you.
제발 저 배에 타고 있는 사람들 살려주세요.
기적을 보여주세요.”

I asked her if she knew anybody from the ferry tragedy, she said she didn’t know any of the passengers, but she feels sad as a member of one nation and it hurts that there is nothing she can do to help those who are still trapped in the ferry.

There is truth to what she said. Right now, all that concerned people can do is to wait. Most of all, the families of the victims have to endure the anguish of waiting with uncertainty. We pray with them, we pray for them… that despite all this, the remaining 271 passengers will be found.


From Korea with Love



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What I've Learned From Traveling and Living Abroad: The Short List

Koreabridge - Fri, 2014-04-18 12:40
What I've Learned From Traveling and Living Abroad: The Short List April 19th marks the five year anniversary of my big move from Smalltown, USA to the bustling metropolis that is Seoul, South Korea. I've lived out a number of exciting and unique experiences over the past few years that include riding elephants through the jungles of Thailand, working in the slums of India, camping with nomads in the Sahara Desert and teaching English to some of the most adorable children throughout Asia. I've made memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

This adventure has been incredibly fun, but it has also taught me a number of invaluable life lessons: lessons that have opened my mind and my heart; lessons that have changed me; lessons that I'm quite certain I would have never learned in my home country. Conveying all of them (including how to avoid creepy old men, lice remedies and universal charades) would require I write a book, but for time's sake, I've decided to include the more valuable of the lot.

Humanity is more trustworthy than we think.  Though the media tries to make us think otherwise, the world is not a terrible place. Tragic events happen everyday and there are plenty of bad apples scattered across the planet, but in the grand scheme of things, we humans are pretty incredible creatures.

I've found that more often than not, the people of the world are more than willing to reach out and help those in need. Traveling isn't always easy and I feel incredibly blessed to have had more positive human interactions than I can count.

During a trip to Japan, I had a middle-aged couple adopt me as their American daughter for a day at a sumo wrestling competition, eager to teach me the rules of the sport, share their snacks and shower me with gifts. I've gone hiking with a family in Taiwan, was escorted around Bangkok by a group of lively ladyboys and have shared countless meals with complete strangers on multiple continents. The travel gods have watched over me, and I'm certain my journeys would not have been the same without these incredible people so beautifully intertwined in them.

From the nameless faces who have walked me through airports, train stations and bus terminals to ensure that I arrive at the correct destination to the shy but genuine smiles I've received as I've wandered exotic lands, I've felt the undeniable connection that exists between us as humans. Furthermore, I've regained a sense of hope for our world's future in spite of all the darkness that exists in it.

Everyone we meet has something to teach us.  When traveling, one crosses paths with a number of people from different corners of the world, with different lifestyles and mentalities. Some of them only pass through our lives. Some of them stick around for much longer. Either way, whether a result of destiny or coincidence, these strangers, companions and friends are also our teachers, if we are willing to listen to what they have to say.

I once agreed to join a group of acquaintances at a hole-in-the-wall bar in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I began chatting with an expat over a bottle of 333, the local beer. We didn't have much in common, but as our conversation carried on, I recognized that this guy had something to say. I'm embarrassed to admit that I can't recall his name and I probably wouldn't be able to pick him out of a crowd, but I'll never forget what he told me: "It's our job to help others to realize their greatest potentials. Because if we don't do it, who will?"

I only had the pleasure of chatting with this guy for a couple hours, but three years later, I remember those words as clear as day. This is only one of the countless valuable conversations I've had over the past five years.

In addition to keeping our ears open, our eyes are just as important, as there are a number of lessons to be learned that don't require words at all.

Our problems are insignificant compared to those in other parts of the world.  Life's tough. Everyone's got problems. In fact, we would never be happy if we didn't experience disappointment from time to time. Yet, I never realized the extent of how fortunate I was- and am- until I looked poverty, cultural genocide, suppression, war and prejudice square in the eye.

Hearing the stories of North Korean defectors and Tibetan refugees who were forced to escape their home countries to survive. Meeting child prostitutes. Chatting with the "comfort women" of South Korea who were used as sex slaves during the Japanese occupation. Watching beggars starve their children to elicit more sympathy (and money) from passersby. Riding through Mumbai's Dharavi slums on a motorbike at 4am, and witnessing the sight of hundreds of sleeping bodies sprawled across the streets, seeking sanctuary from the Indian summer heat. As heartbreaking as these experiences were, I am fortunate to have witnessed such honest tragedy, as it has put my life and petty problems into perspective.

Although I'll never understand why or how I ended up being born into such fortunate circumstances, I've also come to learn that with greater privilege comes greater responsibility and to waste my fortune on myself would be a waste of life itself.

An open mind is essential for growth.  I never realized how naive I was about the world until I dived into it, inhibition-less and wide-eyed. Having grown up in an ultraconservative homogeneous community, my exposure to the world was limited. I took everything I learned from my parents, my friends, my teachers and even the news at face value, never once questioning their logic's validity and failing entirely to think for myself. It didn't take long after my move for me to realize that everything I had learned my entire life was all relative and that in order to grow, I had to challenge my own thoughts and beliefs.

I've been blessed to have had stereotype after stereotype shattered throughout my travels. In wandering mosques with a giddy group of Muslim teenagers eager to talk about Korean dramas in Malaysia, busting out Bollywood dance moves with a Sikh gentleman in India and cracking jokes with witty Buddhist monks at a temple stay in South Korea, I've realized that religion plays a very small part in who we are as people. Yet, there is valuable insight to be learned from each.

I've found that the poorest of the poor (like the children in the barrios of Mexico willing to share with me their meals when they barely had enough for themselves) are usually far more generous than the wealthy.

Most importantly, I've recognized that just because a culture does something differently, it doesn't make its people inferior or repulsive or backwards. In fact, diversity is what makes our world such a beautiful place to live, wander and discover.

Yet, despite our differences, we are all still human.  Body image issues, heartbreak, regret, pressure to succeed, insecurity, uncertainty about the future, desire to love and be loved in return. We may have different words to express these concepts, but we all experience them in the same way.

We are more than capable of overcoming tribulations independently.  When we challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zones and to throw out our safety nets, we are able to more easily recognize the vulnerability that exists within ourselves. It can be scary at first- terrifying, even.

I was once hospitalized with an E. coli infection in Agra, a mere 24 hours shy of going into septic shock. I was quite certain that I was going to die there, in that crappy hospital room, smack dab in the armpit of India, thousands of miles away from my family and loved ones. I stuck it out and, after a few days of powerful antibiotics, Hindi soap operas and suspected anti-anxiety pills, I left a new person. Or, a less fearful one at least.

Whether it's being robbed, hospitalized, lost or even unable to read a menu, we encounter situations that require us to respond without the assistance of others, forcing us to make our own decisions, which ultimately increases our confidence and certainty of ourselves and our abilities.

We need a lot less than we think we need.  I grew up in a world submerged in consumerism and excess and was taught that I needed the most fashionable clothes, the latest technology and a beautiful home and car to be happy.

After spending countless nights in homes with minimal electricity, taking showers with a maximum of two buckets of water and not having a car or a TV or a dryer for five years, I can honestly say that those widely-believed ideologies are nothing but bullcrap. I've come to learn that we do not need stuff to have an enriched life; in fact, when we own less, we are slaves to less.

The lack of creature comforts is irritating at times, but after getting accustomed to a simpler lifestyle, we are able to focus on more important things, like our relationships and life experiences. Sometimes, like in my case, it takes traveling to countries that force us to live with less to realize this.

The universe opens up doors (and windows and gates) when we put ourselves out there.  Traveling isn't just about seeing landmarks, flirting with the locals and sampling regional cuisine. (Though, don't get me wrong, those are all added bonuses.) Traveling is about the people we meet, the experiences we encounter and the misfortunes we overcome. It's about the lessons we learn from others, about life and about ourselves. The world is our classroom; travel teaches us more than we could ever expect to learn in the comfort of our homes. We just have to be ready and willing to let it happen.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching.  Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

Seoul Searching

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Koreabridge - Fri, 2014-04-18 05:00

I saw ants wandering the crevasses of the sidewalk on this warm afternoon and realized that my journey here has come full circle. The trees that had lost their leaves, shivered and bloomed have again regained their strength to grow. In the day’s heat, my memories skip around from my first steps into Homeplus through blurry midnight taxi rides. But what I remember most are the students that I teach – the quirky, cute, struggling, hard-working and spirited bunch that I brightly say “Hi!” to every day, between every class. They have made up a large part of my life here, and although Korea has given me so much, these kids have undoubtedly given me the most.

I didn’t always think I’d be cut out to teach. When I first considered teaching (rather, tutoring) I was a college sophomore whose primary concern was earning extra money. I came across the position to be an English tutor through a bit of a conversation that I caught as I waited for the bus. I slapped together an application that same night, using an essay that I wrote as a high school junior. A quick interview later, I was handed a manual and a schedule; I got the job. The confidence I had in my own writing got me through the door easily, but I wasn’t prepared for the feeling of sitting across from my peers with their hands at their temples, staring blankly at the paper in front of them. In those 90 minutes, I wasn’t working for my own sake, but for theirs. In the first few sessions I tutored, as I unwrinkled papers crushed by their frustration, I knew that I wasn’t going to waste any time convincing them of my abilities; I needed to convince them of theirs. Smoothing out the page, I would draw a breath, smile, and say, “Let’s look at the first sentence.”

I had to become a tutor.

That being said, I spent the first week of my job floundering a bit. I threw my students worksheets, corrected their papers excessively, and fumbled with the content of the pieces they had to read. But continuous experience helped, and through the dedication I had to getting my students to pass, I learned by leading. After a few short weeks, tutoring hardly felt like a job anymore. I bounced ideas off students, asked them thought-provoking questions, and helped them structure some truly great pieces of writing. They surprised me so much that sometimes I wondered why they were even doing poorly in the first place.

After devoting the rest of college to tutoring every free chance I got, earning money didn’t bring me through the door. What I truly came to love was meeting someone so caught up in their own self-defeat that they didn’t see their own potential, and I would be the one to show them it. When my students brought their grades up from not passing (NP) to a B+, they thanked me again and again. To this, I would pick up their papers and remind them that I didn’t write it, they did. For 90 minutes once a week, all I did was stir their minds until they found what they were looking for. That’s all tutoring was, and four years and countless students later, my task never got more difficult than that.

For tutoring or teaching, you have to begin with your own confidence to get through, and sometimes you even have to trick yourself. When I started teaching in Korea, I told myself that I had all the experience I needed being a tutor, and my assured sense of self did the rest of the work. In truth, I had never stood in front of a class to teach for 45 minutes at a time. Furthermore, even as recent as junior year of college, when I gave presentations I could feel my heartbeat through my voice. But I didn’t linger on these things. The kids didn’t get some blubbering nervous fool when I stood in front of my first class; they deserved a great teacher, and I was resolved to be that.  I stood at the front of the class and I was confident, clear-voiced and a little quirky. I made mistakes but I made light of them. The kids were engaged for the whole lesson, enjoying it. I surprised myself so much that afterwards I wondered how I got magical teaching powers so suddenly. How did it happen?

The truth is that I acted the part until I became it.

At this stage, I feel like my transformation into a teacher is complete. One of the important things I’ve learned is how to let loose and make a fool of myself. I pantomime, dance around, praise emphatically and give every class 110% until I’m so spent that I barely have the energy to do much else other than pass out. I relish any opportunity to laugh along with my students during a lesson. I find myself referring to my students as “my kids” when I tell anyone about them, and I find myself telling all those lame, corny teacher jokes. I didn’t think I’d fall into this job so well, but even through the challenges I find myself coming back, smiling, ready to begin the next lesson.

(From our comics lesson. I swear I didn’t teach them this…)

As all things go, however, time and again I’ve met a fair amount of bumps in the road. On some days the challenges test how much I can endure. A few of my second grade classes this semester get unruly regularly, and it’s hard to get them to concentrate. Some sleep in the corner, some throw pencilcases around. I surely sympathize with the feeling, stuck in a class that you don’t understand, allowing your attention to wane. But for the few kids that are at the front, answering every question, I know that despite the mayhem I have to do right by them. So I use my “New York” and my smile fades into a hard look that epitomizes Jack Nicholson’s “You talkin’ to me?!”, because nothing is scarier than getting a teacher that smiles all the time to clench her jaw, suppressing latent rage. It’s worked well so far. :)

But, as you are well aware, channeling Jack Nicholson four times a week is quite physically and psychologically taxing, so last Friday I was prepared to do a gazelle leap out of school and into the weekend. While I was shutting off my computer, a few of my former students showed up in the teacher’s office. They had graduated middle school last semester were now attending high school. I was so purely happy to see them that I started talking to them way faster than they could understand (or any human being could). One of my former students told me he had gotten into a foreign language high school where he is studying English. As the rest of the group said their goodbyes and left, he hung back to look me in the eyes and say, “Thank you, Natasha Teacher.” Nearly died from the feels.

Thinking back to my days as a tutor, the gratitude that people have shown me makes me believe that maybe, other than notes in the margins and grammar advice, I gave them a bit more: I gave each of them my unshakable faith that they would succeed, and they did. Some of my favorite teachers over the years had done the same for me. It’s a quiet gift of inner strength that I am humbled to give.

When I used to sit cross-legged in the closet of a tutor’s lounge at my college, catching a breather between shifts, I would scoff at a sign above the door: “Saving the World…One Sentence at a Time.”

Thousands of miles away, years later, I get it.

These few months of teaching have made my world a little more beautiful.

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Earthcast 2014 Preview - April 20 1400GMT

Earthbridges.net - Thu, 2014-04-17 11:09

Upcoming Event: April 20, 1400GMT (global times)


This Earth Day preview / Learning2gether session is shaping up as a 1400 GMT webcast coordinated from Korea by veteran MC Jeff Lebow and in UAE by Vance Stevens. Those interested in Earth Day Educasts are invited, plus we'll talk to Jeff about the new initiative of EdTech Talk, I've got a question.

RSVP, ask questions, and/or share thoughts on the Google Event page

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The 52nd annual Jinhae Gunhangje Festival

Koreabridge - Thu, 2014-04-17 05:30
The 52nd annual Jinhae Gunhangje Festival

In early April, I went to the 52nd annual Jinhae Gunhangje Festival (진해군항제) also known as the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival. I don’t mind crowds and always have a good time at festivals in Korea, but surprisingly, I’ve never been to this festival before. It was great!

The city boasts that they have the most cherry blossom trees in the world. There are apparently 360,000 trees blossoming at once, if you’re curious.

Friends were discouraging me from going to the festival. Before I went to Jinhae, people were telling me that it would be too crowded (“everyone will be in your pictures” and “it’ll be so difficult to get there and back”), that the flowers had blossomed too early, and that it would rain. I still went, and I’m happy I did.

There were a ton of people there, but again, I don’t mind crowds. Probably less people there than usual, because it did rain for a short period of time. We just sought refuge from the rain in a tent, drinking makgeolli. Not a big deal.

The view of the trees around the stream was beautiful, and I also really enjoyed the view of the city from Jinhae Tower. The city was very easy to walk. I’ve been told foreigners can rent city bikes there for 1,000₩ with your ARC.

We opted to stand on the one hour bus ride between Jinhae and Busan both ways, so we only had to wait 15 minutes to leave. Bus rides between Jinhae and Busan (Sasang Bus Terminal) are totally reasonable at 5,100₩. We opted to stand, but we actually sat on the steps of the bus (not too uncomfortable) and then on our way back, we sat on the floor of the back of bus (much more uncomfortable). But, meh, we had a good time. 


About the girl

Hi, I'm Stacy. I am from Portland, Oregon, USA, and am currently living and teaching ESL in Cheonan, South Korea. Busy getting into lots of adventures, challenging myself, and loving people. Something more than an ethereal will-o-wisp.

Thank you so much for visiting and reading.

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How Koreans Celebrate Their 70th Birthday

Koreabridge - Wed, 2014-04-16 14:02
How Koreans Celebrate Their 70th Birthday

Last Sunday, my husband’s third uncle celebrated his 70th birthday known as 고희 (gohui) or 칠순 (chilsun) in Korea. Korean seniors have three special birthdays to celebrate: 환갑 (hwanggap or the 60th birthday), 고희/칠순 (gohui/chilsun or the 70th birthday) and 팔순 (palsun or the 80th birthday). Traditionally, the 60th birthday was the one celebrated lavishly, since in the olden days, few people lived to be 60, but now that the average life expectancy in Korea has risen due to medical advancement and better quality of life, some Koreans don’t celebrate the 60th birthday anymore. Instead, the celebration is done on their 70th (or 80th) birthday.

When my 시아버지 (father-in-law) turned 60, we prepared a simple get-together in the house. There was no ceremony, just dinner and drinking. He wanted to go on a trip abroad with the family, but my sister-in-law just gave birth to her second child, so the plan didn’t push through. We will probably have the trip on his 70th birthday.  

While most Koreans have a big party in a banquet hall wherein many guests are invited, some just want to spend time with their family by traveling overseas with them. 

Normally, 60th, 70th and 80th birthday festivities follow ceremonial activities. Family members, as well as the birthday celebrator, wear hanbok on these occasions.  The celebrator is called to sit at the bountiful banquet table where piles of ceremonial food are beautifully arranged. These food include beef, pork, chicken, fish, fresh fruit, rice cake and traditional pastries that are heaped together in 30 to 60 centimeter-tall round stacks, and are placed in two to three colorful rows. The ceremonial food at the party we attended on Sunday wasn’t this elaborate, but there were fruit, rice cake, traditional cookies and a big cake on the banquet table that looked like a wedding cake. Cake was not served on 칠순 in the olden days, but today, it is a common birthday gift here in Korea. Wine was the most usual gift back then. The eldest son would bring wine for the ceremony, and he was the first one to present his parent with the wine and ceremonial meals. The celebrator’s children would all bow to him and offer him wine or other presents.

On my husband’s uncle’s 7oth birthday, it was the eldest son who was called to initiate the ceremony. There was no giving of wine, but the first son bowed to his father and gave him a message. The other siblings were not asked to bowand deliver a message, but they joined the guests in the toast. No one wore hanbok that day. I guess it wasn’t a verytraditional ceremony.

In another 칠순 party my husband and I went to, the children and the grandchildren of the celebrator wore the same color of hanbok. They bowed to the celebrator at the same time, and all the children gave their father short messages and offered him songs. There was a time when guests recited poems for the celebrator, but these days, performers are hired to entertain guests with traditional music, or sometimes the celebrator’s children prepare song and dance numbers. A long time ago, the celebrator’s children would dress as infants or kids to make their parent feel younger, but my husband told me that nobody is doing that now. Thank goodness, I can’t imagine my husband wearing a diaper or carrying a pacifier on his parents’ milestone birthdays! =)


From Korea with Love



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Dear Korea #119 - Under Where?

Koreabridge - Tue, 2014-04-15 15:01
Dear Korea #119 - Under Where?


Erp, looks like I’m a day late. It’s sad how long it usually takes me to recover from a particularly weird week. Here’s hoping I can do better next week! I am the worst (or best?) procrastinator in the world.

Yes, this is another comic about miniskirts. Now that the weather’s getting warmer, it’s hard to walk a block without seeing them.

The conversation in the panel was one I actually had with a friend who enjoys wearing miniskirts. After talking to a number of other people, the general consensus seems to be that wearing short shorts automatically makes miniskirts safe, so to speak. I honestly can’t say anything, as I don’t own any skirts. I’m still trying to figure out dresses.

Dem legs..

Jen Lee's Dear Korea

This is Jen Lee. She likes to draw.
She also likes green tea.

Got any questions, comments, or maybe even some delicious cookies you want to send through the internet? Feel free to contact us at dearkoreacomic at gmail dot com.

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Ulsan Whale Festival 2013

Koreabridge - Tue, 2014-04-15 08:08
Ulsan Whale Festival 2013    I've never actually seen a whale in the waters around Ulsan, but I'm told they are there, just off of Jangsaeng-Pohang Port there's a migratory route they take that allowed them to become potential dinner for those who could catch or afford them. Having a festival in honour of them seems a little sadistic...but I guess it's more for the tradition than anything else.

Personally I like whale meat too, what little I have had has been quite delicious and not at all like I imagined (for a sea creature). If you have issues with eating whale meat let me break it down for you:

You are a vegaratian/vegan: That's cool.
You are otherwise a meat eater: Piss off. (See also, meat eaters who have a problem with dog meat.)

Of course the Ulsan Whale Festival is not all about feasting on flesh. There are the typical Korean festival stalls that promote other festivals and regions in South Korea like a big fat hippy love-in and random bits of art, sculptures and floats including reenactments of early whale fishing by historians. There are probably lanterns and fireworks in the evening too.

There is also a boat race that last year some friends trained hard for and participated in. Strangely, (but most likely for safety reasons) the Korean and foreigner boat race competitions were kept separate last year (a fact that did not stop mixing within the teams themselves of course). This year all foreigners have been excluded from the boat race part of this festival, so I hear...

Whatever the reasons, banning people from taking part (if it is true, I'm struggling to find anything beyond the words of mouths) on the the basis of nationality is fucking stupid. From what I saw last year there were people acting like pricks and others being perfectly civil in equal number during both competitions.

I'll reserve more swearing for an official statement...but if you are one of my mates from last year here's a few pics below:
  On a sad note, last year's boat race was delayed due to reports of someone doing a bridge jump the night before. No body was recovered...
 How to get there: Ulsan Whale Festival takes place around May every year. Check here or here for more details that are "comming soon". I can English too... Depending on which side of town you are coming from (east or west) the 300 and 700 buses will take you there on the day. Aim for Taehwa Rotary, City Hall or anywhere in the middle of Taehwa river. Soundtrack: Mastodon - Blood & Thunder "WHITE, WHALE, HOLY, GRAIL!"


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