Fresh off the Boat – TV’s hottest Asian comedy


One of the best American comedies is finally being shown in the UK. If you haven’t watched it, here’s what you need to know.

Although it was billed as the first show to feature a predominantly Asian cast, the shoiw would not have lasted very long if that was all it had going for it. Actually, the show is not just a comedy that a particular ethnic group can approeciatae. It’s a great family show which packs a lot into each 20 minute episode.

Series 1 was fine but by Series 2 they had kicked things up a gear and were making classic episodes such as Michael Chang Fever and The Real Santa.

The show fiollows a American Taiwanese family who move from the Asian –friendly Washington neighborhood to all-white Orlando DC.

If the first season focused mainly on the central character of Eddie, the next started to  look more at the marriage of Jessica and Louis. Now I’ve not seen either perform in many other shows much but boy can they do a great back and forth.

Of course, the writing is extremely sharp and so fresh and funny.  The show pokes fun at the nineties setting. Although it takes place in what is clearly present day America, there are wonderful resferences to things ony people in the nineties can remember (yes, from Pogs to Beanie Babies and the rise of the early internet, it’s all here, lovingly recreated).

Jessica is very clearly the kind of ambitious mother who wants the best for the children (a Tiger Mum before the word was actally used) but the show wiuld not bew enjoyable if she was just a terrible and scolding woman. In fact in episode after episode she comes across as someone who simply loves and cares for her children that she wants the best for them

For example, she gets a position helping at the school play only to realize that the play is an excuse for the children to stand around onstage in fruit and animal costumes (standount epsisode). By the end, she comes round to the idea that the play is harmless fun and goes along with the other parents by clapping at the end (only to mutter, this is all a complete waste of time).

In another episode, she decides that Eddie should join a piccolo club; ‘Do you know how many unclaimed marching band scholarships go unclaimed every year?) And then, when the insufferable goody-two shoes Jewish boy deserts Eddie during a Les Mis performance, she agrees to attend a Beastie Boys concert in his stead.

There are strong messages in each episode. For example, a noted storyline looked at how Jessica felt that she was losing touch with her Chinese roots. Suddenly the family start eating food with chopsticks and the boys are marched off to after-school Chinese lessons.

For a a family show they put some edgy humour in. Eg, when their white neighbor offers to play some records where Frank Sinatra makes racially insensitive remarks about Sammy Davis and Junior.

The couples’ love for each other is never in doubt. If there is a better show on TV I’v not seen it.

Here’s a short list of my favourite episodes:

“Coming from America” (Season 3)


The family go to Taiwan so that Louis can patch things up with his brother. After her attempts to prove her Taiwanese heritage go wrong, Jessica realizes that America is now their natural home.

The scene where Jessica ends up buying the ‘bad fakes’ (counterfeit Nike trainers) at a street market is hilarious.

“Jessica Place” (Season 2)

A spoof of the nineties show which gets a lot of references in the series.


“Phil’s Phaves” (Season 2)

An episode that looks at the very early days of the internet. When the Huangs read an unfavourable interent review that describes their restaurant as boring, they try to make it more fun.

“So Chineez” (Season 1)

When perpetual slacker Eddie wants to represents Jamaica in the school’s UN preoject, his mum is mad and insists he is given China. When Eddie questions what’s cool about China, she lays it down like a boss: “You know what’s cool about China? A wall you can see from space. Who invented Gunpowder? China? Gunpowder, the compass, gambling… China! China! China!”


“Success Perm” Season 1

A really funny show because for many Asian people a perm is a sign of success despite the fact that it makes them

“Dribbling Tiger, Bounce Pass Dragon” (Season 2)

Louis’s attempts to help Eddie’s team win a Basketball game fall falt, so he teaches them how to be the best team at making fouls.

“Success Perm” Season 1

A really funny show because for many Asian people a perm is a sign of success despite the fact that it makes them look ridiculous.


My trip to a Korean Hostess bar

For my first few weeks in Busan I was starting to worry whether I had made the right decision to come here after all.. The experiences I was having weren’t anything special , after an number of fairly disappointing restaurant visits, I decided to cook most of my meals at home. I tried a few bars around PNU where I work but they were not the places you could go to alone and get talking to people very easily.  Most Koreans go to such places to be with their friends, where they can sit on large tables big enough to hold all their snacks and drinks.

Then last Friday I had an experience that restored my faith somewhat and made me see that it is possible to have a good time here, even as a foreigner on your own with no friends.

It all started when I took a ride with one of my students to Dongnae, an area I had heard was a new hot place for drinking. The first place I tried was an Izakaya and as usual I was the only foreigner in that place. I didn’t fancy ordering any food so I chose a bottle of soju instead. The good thing is that you can take the bottle with you if you can’t finish it in one place.

I looked around me and saw just a few Koreans sitting in groups. It didn’t seem like the kind of place anyone was going to speak to a foreigner.  i gulped down a shot of soju and finished the free soup they had given to me.

The next place I went to was called Sherlock Holmes. It looked like a really bad impression of a British pub, all totally inauthentic, the kind of place only someone with no idea about pubs would go to.  After the waiter seemed to have trouble understanding me, I left without sampling any of the beer which was no doubt horribly overpriced. It was on leaving this pub that I ended up talking to someone who was going to be very helpful for the evening.

I saw him smoking outside one of the restaurants. Usually when I am in a place i don’t know I ask a local for some advice.  It can really help if you tell someone that you don’t know where to go, because 9 times out of 10, people will go out of their way to help you. Admittedly you might run the risk of asking someone who either misunderstands your request and sends you to a really bad place, or even worse will act with malice and lead you to somewhere  like Ye Olde Shithole but I promise it’s hardly ever happened to me.

Talking to this guy led me first to go to a beer house where we drunk one giant jug of Miller between us and then we decided to visit a raw fish place. I had wanted to try it since I first came here. finally i had the chance. The platter we tried had three kinds of fish but they were all fairly similar in terms of taste and texture, and nothing like sashimi.

By the time we had finished it was past midnight, which meant that there were no more trains or buses headed back to PNU. so i had no option but to go back with him to Yangsan, which I found out later is actually another city outside Busan (although its still connected to the subway system).

God knows what time it was, but the old guy still wanted to drink, and before i could protest he had dragged me into a karaoke place. It looked like most of the places I had been to before, a bunch of private rooms with a song selection book. We ordered some beers and he proceeded to belt out a version of My Way at earsplitting volume. I settled down to an evening of drinking and singing some of my favourite songs. Then half way through my particularly fine rendition of Living On a Prayer the door was opened and in came a couple of Korean hostess women.

I guess that they must have worked there. They were laden with a giant tray  of fruit (its common to order fruit when drinking) and a tray of drinks including a bottle of whisky. Shots were poured and quickly drunk. they were impressive drinkers if they could match us drink for drink. My woman sat right beside me, much closer than was strictly necessary. To be honest I was glad of the company. Although South Korea has a lot of attractive women, its not easy to find anyone interested in any physical contact, especially a one-night stand.

We started holding hands and I stroked her back under her shirt, but nothing more. The best thing was that she chose some great songs (James Taylor’s Handyman, Bee Gees’ Devotion for us to sing together. For some reason Bee Gees songs always come up at Karaoke whenever Koreans are singing.

Sadly, the drink had got the better of my friend and his companion – who was wearing a low dress that made the most of her large cleavage- had to spend most of the evening mopping his face with a wet towel and pouring water in his mouth. She was definitely attractive and had she been with me I would have liked to have gone further.

As it happens, we didn’t get the best women that worked there, because when I went to the bathroom I went into a different karaoke room and saw a much younger and more attractive woman with a young man. These places aren’t like strip clubs where you can see all the women that they have.

I left before they showed me the bill. and don’t worry, I spoke to the old man and a few days later and he was fine, although the hangover from the bill and the booze can’t have been good.

I believe that these places can be an interesting novelty for anyone wanting to experience the more seamy side of Korean night life. You can guarantee I will be going again, if the price isn’t too high.

The real Korea

I realised recently it was naive of me to think that I could go to Korea and make all my problems disappear. cause when you move to a new country, you replace your old problems with new ones.

When i was living in London, I though that everything about Korea was good but now I live here and can see it up close I am aware of all the problems. And, and I can see all the good things about London that Korea doesn’t have. Like basic human rights and customer service….. Or at least, the standard of human rights is lower here. visitkorea

It sounds harsh but Korea still feels like a very undeveloped country in many ways. The technological advances don’t change the fact that Korea is still a very backwards country in many ways. Luckily I’m not a woman but I still get some of the negatives living here. A case in point: I’m supposed to stand up if an elderly person needs my seat, even if I was on the train first, or I’m tired.

Or i should respect old people no matter what (why)? I guess people don’t usually want to mention how conservative Korea is (but they should!) because they are too busy mentioning the good things.

The train system is not the only bothersome thing (although I recommend taking the bus instead). Like why do I have to order an anju every time I want to go out for a drink? And even though I haven’t found any places that explicitly ban foreigners, there are many places that will do whatever they can to stop them coming in (which is bad, if not worse). Recently I went to a restaurant but they wouldn’t let me order anything because they said I was on my own. The next time i was with a group of Koreans so it was fine. The point is it shouldn’t have happened at all.

Koreans travelling outside their country would expect to treated fairly but it’s naive to think that foreigners will receive fair treatment at all times. I’m seeing a lot of campaigning for tourism in Korea but if the government wants more visitors they’re  going to have to do a hell of a lot more to get people to come here. Like improving service in shops and restaurants. And making sure that there are adequate signing in transport areas. Otherwise, people will go to Japan instead and who can blame them?


1st month in Busan

Actually its already been longer than a month since I moved out here from England, but only a month since I have actually been working.

Rewind: I made the move out here to work for a Hagwon (teaching adults English) because I wanted to see the real Korea, and live in a foreign country. I chose Busan, because I had found it to be more  laid-back than Seoul when I visited in December, and I also liked the fact that it is closer to Japan, where my girlfriend lives.

It feels like its been longer.  London is already beginning to feel like a distant memory. Busan, for all it’s strangeness, is starting to feel like my home.

Still, I ran in to some teething problems during my first month here. What  you need to know is that everything is going fine, now. But there were definitely times when it wasn’t.

After jumping through hoops to get my visa, i felt I had got everything sorted, but then I still had to apply for an Alien resident card. Without this number, you’re not able to open a bank account, or register for many  essential services. Why they don’t allow you to get it before you arrive in Korea, I have no idea. So, now I have it, I’m at least able to feel like I’m an official resident here.

They won’t let you have  a Korean phone number until you have your ARC. Crazy right? I felt like I was the victim of a sick joke, living in the land of Samsung and LG but unable to have a sim card. Even when I got the card, I had to make a special journey to the SK telecom building and register my details. Maybe it’s a security against people taking out too many phone numbers.

I now have a Korean bank account number (good). But as of yet, no debit card. They just give you a paying in book. For a country that has some of the most advanced technology, they  certainly like to do things the old fashioned way.

Then I had some problems buying food. You know how most places have different supermarkets for different budgets? Well in Korea, there are no budget supermarkets. You simply pay a lot every where you go, and sometimes you pay a lot. 

The prices are crazy. For example, a dollar for a tiny carton of milk. Or shampoo, which your lucky to get for less than 5,000 Won. Then there are some things they simply don’t have. Like real cheese.  And frustratingly, its common for stores to bundle together a large bowl of fruit, forcing you to buy much more than you actually need.

A few things are on the whole cheap, for example, instant noodles and ice cream. But if you’re thinking of coming to live out here, be prepared to spend at least double what you would at home (i’m comparing to England prices, where stores are in direct competition and undercut rivals ruthlessly).

But the other thing is that when you live in a country as opposed to simply going on holiday, you become fairly non-plussed about what you used to get really worked up about. For example, I used to watch Korean movies in London all the time. But in Korea, all though there are more films to watch, it’s not the same (usually no subtitles). And funnily, I’m eating less kimchi here than in London. When you’re around Korean food all the time, it starts to become something really quotidian. Plus, you soon get tired of going in to restaurants where the staff can’t speak English and only come to your table to take your order, give you your food and then take your money. I hoping one day to get some interaction from the server but it hasn’t happened yet.

Its funny how people only talk about certain things, like the food, the dramas, or how hot the women are. All valid points, but practical advice on Korea would be more useful. Spend a week in Korea, and you might find Koreans to be polite. But try living here, and you might draw different conclusions. I’m not saying they are uncouth, but their behaviour is far from couth( a lovely word meaning lacking sophistication and refinement). I’ve seen spitting, shouting, and even physical fights (and that’s only the women). And god help you if you think that people shouldn’t talk with food in their mouth, or chew noisily… Enough, I know that this does not apply to all Koreans.

The writer Daniel Tudor (who has lived and worked here for ten years) wrote a book about life in Korea which he called The Impossible Country. I’m beginning to understand what he meant.


By the way, if you want a really good heads up on Korea, i can recommend this book. Much better than many of the blogs which simply churn out the same old jibber jabber about k-pop and dramas.