What NOT to say on a language exchange

A language exchange can be a great way to improve language learning and sharing each other’s culture.

Oh, but before you get carried away, here are some things to be aware of. First of all, its good if you are both at a similar level. Some of the language exchanges I have been on have been with near fluent English learners so we tended to speak mostly in English.

I suppose because of the high number of women using language websites such as MyLanguageexchange.com mean that for some men it’s more of a dating website.

Here’s an exchange of emails that show just how foolish this can be:

Lewis Haynes: I can’t just give up on a beautiful single girl like u just like that

Girl: haha okie. you’d better find right one in UK

Lewis Haynes: There are so many girls here but I found  attraction in u pretty

I can’t take my eyes of u and my thought girl.

Girl: stop–

I feel gross (emoticon)

Despite the fact that she is clearly not interested, he carries on in the same vein.

Am serious babe. Am not a kid that don’t know what they feels.

Girl: I don’t want it, I’m sorry seriously

Lewis: Wish u can look in to deep my heart u will not say what u are saying right now.

Girl: haha time will tell

Lewis: It can only tell if u can give me chance to prove to you what I’m saying right now. Really like u so much wish I am living in Korea I wouldn’t have let him take u away…

He sends her several more messages despite the fact that she stops replying to him at this point.

This kind of thing is bad for everyone because women become mistrustful of using language exchange websites and it makes it more difficult for men who simply want to improve their new language.

Somehow the opportunity to message dozens of women mean that some men fell they can use it to tell a complete stranger all of their fantasises. But it shouldn’t put people off completely.

Diary of romance, part 11: Goodbye

I finally said goodbye to Miho tonight. She is leaving for Japan tomorrow. I decided against going with her to the airport for obvious reasons. It would be too drawn-out and unnecessarily painful for both of us. We came back from a holiday in Spain on Friday and have been making the most of our time together.

I managed not to cry but Miho definitely shed a few tears. I felt more sad in the hours before rather than when I actually said goodbye. It was very hard and emotional watching her go. We said goodbye and she left my flat, but I waited outside my balcony to make sure that she caught the bus. I’m not sure what’s going to happen next but I’m confident we’ll see each other again.

The last seven months have been great with her by my side and I’m grateful for everything she has done for me, and I’m she feels the same for me too. I left her with a present and a card with some hastily written words. She gave me a card too but I haven’t opened it yet. It can wait a few hours anyway. They say love hurts and I’m beginning to see why…..

Korean Englishman – what’s the big deal?

If you’re Korean, you’ll almost certainly have heard of Korean Englishman, a young priest who has made dozens of  massively popular Youtube videos. When I say popular, I’m talking in the 100,000s of views for videos such as 처음 써보는 한국 어플 “스노우”에 푹 빠진 영국 친구들!!

In Korea, it seems there is a fascination when it comes to foreigners (particularly from England) who can speak Korean. Make that any Korean. To some people, this could be a little patronising. Yes, Korean is a difficult language to learn but it’s not impossible. Of course, it helps if you attended a Korean school since 11, as Josh Carrott, one of the presenters did.


Love him or hate him, (and I find myself in the latter category) you can’t deny the success of these videos in promoting Korean culture and in providing a link between UK and Korea. They may be the reason why so many young Koreans are interested in England.

It’s possible that these videos could help English people learn Korean, but it depends on your level of tolerance for endless joking around, fast edits and pop-up captions every five seconds. Maybe I’m jealous because, however hard I try, I will never reach the same level of mastery of the Korean language.

What do you think?

Drop me a comment in the box below.


Is the Korean wave over?

In response to the THAAD defence shield, China retaliated by cancelling a concert in Shanghai for the K-Pop Idol group Exo.

Now people are worried that it could lead to further restrictions on other K-pop performers, or TV programmes. The ban is particularly worrying as China is perhaps the biggest exporter of Korean music and TV programmes, all part of the movement known as Hallyu or Korean Wave. Shares have already fallen in Korean stocks after the news.


The demise of Hallyu has been reported many times. A backlash from other countries, who resent Korea’s dominance on the airwaves has led to restrictions on the amount of Korean songs played on the radio in Cambodia, and China and Japan have tried to limit the number of Korean dramas shown on the airwaves.

The main markets for Korean entertainment has been in other Asian countries but as they develop their own entertainment (or simply improve the ones they already have) there will be less dominance by Korean culture. This is particularly true of Japan and China who have often been fiercely nationalistic.

Sadly, the conglomerates which manufacture Korean groups and singers have simply been churning out too many of the same looking and sounding groups. No-wonder the public are losing interest. Internationally, there hasn’t been a song anything like as popular as Gingham Style, which was nearly 4 years ago.

No-one can doubt the popularity of K-Pop. SNSD’s Gee has ranked a phenomenal 166,417,458 youtube views, but the group haven’t been able to match the super hit (the departure of lead singer Jessica has really hurt the group’s chances).

It’s well-known that the government of Korea have interested in TV and music production as part of promoting the Spirit of Korea overseas. But nearly all of it been on pop-culture which has meant that traditional aspects of Korean culture have lost out. It could be time for a change of tack. Changes in music and TV come about thick and fast but people will (I think) always love Korean food, the people and the history of Korea.

Which is better; Korea or Japan?

Of course, in an ideal world, there would be just one country, a combination of the two called “Japorea” or “Korpan”. There is so much these great countries have in common. They have similar environments and climate. They like similar music and films. Let’s put it to the test.

Starting with:


Japansese is a beautiful language to listen to  but very difficult to read and write. On the other hand, the Korean alphabet Hanguel is very easy to read and write and is phonetic too. Korean is a very difficult language to learn but there are many opportunities to speak it because Koreans travel so much.

Winner: Korea.


Would you rather have sushi or Kimbab? Most Korean dishes can be done in a similar style by Japanese restaurants. Most of Japanese cuisine looks incredibly beautiful ob the plate whereas Korean has a tendency to be served in a straightforward, unpretentious way. Apart from seafood and rice, the patisserie in Japan is second to none. Therefore, Japan has this one.

Winner: Japan.


South Korea has the world’s number one liquor, Soju. At only an average of 20% alcohol, its light enough to be slammed in shot glasses and still packs a punch too. You can’t do the same with Sake. Japan has several delicious beers (Sapporo, Asahi) but Korea has makgeoli, a sweet, slightly sparkling wine that goes so well with fried chicken. It’s tough, but I think South Korea has a better selection of alcohol.


Winner: South Korea


Ozu, Mizocuhi, Kurosawa. These are some of the most famous Japanese directors that have made well-known films. I’m not going to mention more recent Japanese works, but think about Studio Ghibli. On the other hand, Korea made some great films between  2002-2005, but they haven’t been nearly as successful recently. Many Korean directors are now working with American studios or even for Netflix, with the example of Bong Joon-ho. Japan’s film industry is far-better established for Korea to compete.


Winner: Japan.

Pop music

K-pop has sold the image of Korea all around the world. Big Bang, Girls Generation  and Super Junior sell out in China and Japan. When was the last time you heard of a Japanese pop group doing the same? PSY still has the most watched Youtube video of all time.


Winner: South Korea


Some of the world’s most beautiful of women come from Korea. Ordinary Korean women are super amazing too. Not only are they beautiful but they are very smart too. A further plus is that most young Korean women speak English. It’s not the same with Japanese women, who don’t travel as much outside their country. Personality-wise, Korean women tend to be very outgoing and confident. Contrast Japanese girls who are much shyer and prefer staying at home.


Advantage to Korea on this one.


Since Yukio Mishima won the Pullitzer prize, western readers have known about Japanese writers. Haruki Murakami has sold millions of books which have been translated into 5o languages. Japan’s thriller writers like Keigo Higashino enjoy huge success. Korean novels are only starting to be translated into English. Korean writer Han Kang recently won the Man Booker Prize for The Vegetarian. Literary accolades aside, it’s not a novel people are going to enjoy reading.


Japan can have this one.

Politics and History

Japan’s history dates back thousands of years. So does Korea’s, but less is known about it. Korea has had a very difficult past century of conflicts that weren’t its fault. Japan came out of the Second World War to become one of the world’s largest economies. Korea’s economic turnaround has been no less impressive. I can’t stop reading about Korea, on the other hand, I am also fascinated by the history of Japan.


TV soaps

Most people have watched at least one Korean drama. Truth is, they are really not something I can recommend. Japan’s dramas are not something I have watched but I’d like to think they are better than crappy TV series such as My Love from the Stars.

Winner: Japan


Visit to Japan and you can be entertained by a Geisha. Or visit a Buddhist temple. Perhaps a visit to a bath house, or a tea ceremony? Most visitors to Seoul go shopping, drink and eat and go to nightclubs in Seoul. There is probably a wider variety of cultural events in Japan.

Real Geisha posing before a cherry blossom tree in the Geisha quarter of Gion in Kyoto, Japan, Asia
Real Geisha posing before a cherry blossom tree in the Geisha quarter of Gion in Kyoto, Japan, Asia

Winner: Japan.

Korea: 4

Japan: 5

The Bright Courtyard

The Bright Courtyard, London W1

What’s the most romantic cuisine you can think of?

It used to be French cuisine. All those rich dishes and so-called aphrodisiacs like oysters. Or maybe Italian? Ever since the cute couple in The Lady and The Trump slurped on a spaghetti strand there has been an allure about Italian food.

For me, the most mysterious and romantic cuisine is Chinese. Every time I visit a Chinese restaurant I struck by a wonderful feeling of exoticism and mystery. Usually there is different music playing and a man speaking in a strange accent. Or there used to be. Nowadays the second generation of Chinese people speak English better than most people born here.

The Bright Courtyard might not have the traditional red and gold design of High Street Chinese. It’s a very modern, a mostly white dining room, with black wooden structures separating the room into different areas.


Its situated across the road from Royal China Club, an admittedly more famous Chinese restaurant. I figured they already have more than enough support and they don’t need my custom.

The occasion was Miho’s birthday so I needed somewhere sufficiently impressive.  The Bright Courtyard did the job. Thanks to Harden’s Restaurant Guide (the only one I would trust) I’ve  only just become aware of it. It’s been reviewed favourably by Giles Coren and Jay Rayner.

We ordered mainly from the Dim Sum menu. What could be sexier than tiered bamboo steamers containing miniature delicacies, all brought to your table on a silver trolley?  They were all mostly excellent. We ordered several a large rice bowl for 2. It came in a large, smooth stone bowl like a Korean Dolsot. Vegetables were diced finely with pieces of chicken and egg. It was more than enough and we ended up it taking most of it home.


Beancurd rolls with prawns tasted like sweet pancakes. They were pleasant but not too memorable. Far better were the Venison puffs. Each one topped with black sesame seeds, showing the care that goes into the presentation on every level. Even better were the Short rib puffs. If the steamed dumplings were delicate, healthy, these were gloriously rich and unctuous. The golden pastry, a million miles away from leaded shortcrust, flaked apart in the mouth. I was full but ate two more anyway.

We also ate scallop and pork dumplings, shimmeringly translucent and soft-textured.

Shi Mai Dumplings
Venison puffs with pea shoots

We had a mango pudding, a creamy bowl of chilled milky mango. As it was a birthday the restaurant the restaurant served us a delicious fruit plate, and even sang happy birthday.

Now I think of it, a restaurant can serve the best cooking in the world but it means nothing if the service is bad. After years of famously bad service in Chinese restaurants, the restaurant shows that you can manage to provide great food and great service. Which, after all, is something people remember as much as the food.

Our waitress Chui Ling, who served us so charmingly and professionally



Food: 4.5/5

Ambience: 4

Service: 5/5

The total bill was less than I expected, thanks to a 10% discount for Miho’s birthday.

The Joy Luck Club

When Wayne Wang was brought out to direct the film of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, it must have seemed like a dream come true for fans of Asian cinema. With Oliver Stone as producer and several of the hottest Asian actresses in tow this looked like a surefire hit.

Unfortunately, it really missed the mark. Instead of being the moving epic that they were clearly going for, the film is a terrible and incoherent mess.

Let’s see: there are four daughters of four mothers, who are all members of the titular club. They moved to America it seems at different times and have made a point of bringing up their children as American rather than Chinese.

So the film had my interest but the flashbacks are totally intrusive and serve to prevent any sense of time and place. Now, like most American /Chinese productions, the characters speaking English. Not that this is a problem, as the daughters were brought up to speak English. Would adult Chinese women speak English alone with their friends? No, of course they wouldn’t.


Now, in the flashbacks, the characters only speak Chinese. This is fine. These scenes are terribly melodramatic though. We are supposed to be shocked by the barbarity of Chinese culture and the way that women were treated. Each mother is given a flashback scene in which some awful event from the past is revealed, I lost interest after a while.

Then, the film takes us back to nineties New York, where their daughters live life of unabashed privilege, complete with yuppie boyfriends. These scenes feel like a Woody Allen film without the wit.

The Joy Luck Club does not deliver any emotional payoff. Each scene unfolds with the predictability of a thousand soap opera cliches.

Director Wang was never given the same budget to work with again. Vivian Wu appeared in Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow book, whilst  Lauren Tom played the role of Ross’s girlfriend in Friends. Fans of American-Chinese films would have to wait until Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon for their next piece of Chinese cinema.