Tag Archives: South Korea

The Bay 101: Favourite tourist attraction in Haeundae

If you check out  out any tourist guide to Busan, you will find this place mentioned as one of the best places to visit for what Koreans call ‘Night View.’ Every time I ask for recommendations of where to go I’m always told that this or that particular place has the best night view of the city, so much that I’m wondering if anywhere in Busan is actually worth visiting in the daytime?

The Bay 101 is situated in Haeundae Marina, right at the bottom of Dongbaek Island (itself a great place to look at the sea at day and night). It’s one of the few buildings that really suits the landscape. Built in the modernist style, it looks out over the bay and offers views of the skyscrapers that dominate the skyline.

On visiting the BAy 101 on Saturday evening, I was afraid that it would be full of tourists. Actually there were so many locals and a few Chinese people, but hardly any foreigners. There are simply dozens of people sitting outside on the terraces. The tables were a close together but it wasn’t a big problem.

The food was worth trying, if not the ultimate reason to come here. Fingers & Chat is  on the first floor of the building where you can eat inside at the restaurant or sit outside (which is what nearly everyone was doing) which we did on Saturday evening.

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The menu gave us a choice of sea bass or cod, which was a good selection. There were several sides, including crispy dried pollack, which tasted like dried squid. They don’t give you a large piece of fish as you would get in England. Instead the fish is served goujon style in five pieces as you can see in the picture.

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One thing I really liked was that they gave us two servings of mayonnaise as well as some creche. It showed that we were eating at a place which cared about small details. The fries were a little soft but I have yet to find anywhere which serves fries exactly as I would like them to be. We had to ask for salt and I’m surprised how people can eat unseasoned potatoes.

Everyone was having a good time with a fair bit of drinking going on. We stayed for an hour, after taking a few photos of the view. Personally, I’m glad that I have tried this landmark building in Haeundae, even if I’m not rushing to go back.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Ambience: 4 out of 5. There were a lot of people and some children running around.

Food: 4 out of 5. The Fish and chips were tasty and the mayonnaise was superb. 

Price: 3 out of 5. You are paying for the location.

Service: we were served very quickly after standing in line at the counter for five minutes. After I finished I was about to take my tray inside when 

Perfect for: a special romantic occasion. There were so many couples that I wouldn’t recommend going alone, unless you want to depress yourself.

 

 

Ten things I hate about South Korea.

In no particular order:

Bars and restaurants

One of the worst things is going to restaurants and bars on your own. Koreans have a hatred of doing things on their own. Don’t expect to be welcomed by other Koreans when you go to restaurants as a foreigner, they will completely avoid any interaction with you. Although I enjoy eating Korean food, the pressure of sitting in a restaurant being glowered at is too much sometimes. The bottom line: Korea can be very lonely place for a single person.

Korean language

Aaahh, the Korean language. When I was England I was serious about studying Korean. I took lessons, went on language exchanges and used apps to improve my Korean. THe worst thing is when you have a conversation in Korean and people ignore you, or laugh, or answer you in English. I have learned very little Korean here and I am convinced my Korean is going backwards.

Dating

Wow, is dating hard work here. Its not that dating is unpleasant, it’s mroe the attitude Korean women have towards dating foreigners. For example, a common excuse is “I can’t speak English so I won’t date anyone who isn’t Korean.” It’s hard to approach someone and simply ask them out, at least, in my experience.

Traditional culture

I visited the Korean palace in Seoul. Apart from a nice garden and a pond, there was little else to see. As for traditional culture, Korean’s traditional music, pansoori consists of a drum being banged loudly for half an hour whilst a woman makes a noise like she is being slowly impaled. Apart from concerts and Koreans wearing Hanbok, I see very little signs of traditional culture here. At least in Japan you can easily see kimonos and visit traditional restaurants.

K-pop

When people talk about Korean Wave, Hallyu, it’s K-pop that often comes up. Now, I like K-pop. I think some of it has been good fun. What I don’t like is that for most people K-pop is the only music they will hear in Korea. There are some great rock and Indie bands but due to the large record companies that produce and distribute music its very difficult to hear anything but the Melon 100.

Work

Korea has the most miserable work culture in the world. But at least Koreans can talk to each other and share food at work. As a foreigner, I feel excluded from most work activities. For some reason, it doesn’t occur to my colleagues to ask me any questions about my life or pay any interest in what I am doing, or invite me to lunch. Although many Koreans teach English, they would much rather talk to their colleagues in Korean than speak English to me.

Old people

Encountering old people is one of the hardest aspects of life here. For example, there are seats marked for use for the elderly, one of the many areas where old people have privileges over everyone else. It’s quite common for older Koreans to take up every seat in a carriage while young people who have been working all day must stand.  Korea has a real problem with age. There are places where you won’t see anyone under thirty. At other times, you can visit an outside market and it will be mostly be seniors. It’s hard to reconcile the behaviours of older Koreans with younger people. It’s a problem that is going to get worse as Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world.

Clothes and fashion

I try not to buy many clothes here. It’s hard to find clothes of very good quality. Unfortunately Koreans have a mania for new things. It’s not socially acceptable to wear old clothes here. everything has to be brand new and up-to-the minute. I can’t deny that Koreans are well-dressed, stylish people, but the desire to follow the latest fashions seems exhausting.

TV

This is certainly the least serious problem because there’s always the option of simply turning the TV off. There are typically three types of popular shows here:

1: Lifestyle and travel shows. A group of foreign tourists visit Korea and try kimchi, wear hanbok, etc. I can’t watch without cringing, but there are at least five programmes I can see which follow this theme.

2. Wacky and zany variety programs, the most popular is Running Man. They sometimes feature famous Americans such as Tom Cruise and Steven Youn.

In the last category are dramas. The good ones are ‘The Good Wife”, “The Return” and “Mr Sunshine.” There are also Korean soap operas which usually revolve around family relationships. A very common trope is a mother-in-law who criticises her daughter for not being a good wife, or making bad food or something. These are the least interesting programs on TV. There are several news programs which seem to be exclusively focused on domestic news. Which brings me to…….

Attitude to foreigners 

As many have pointed out, Koreans have a strange attitude. On the one hand, I think they want foreigners to know about Korean culture. I see that they have a lot of information about Korean attractions on line. On the other hand, a foreigner could easily come to the conclusion that Koreans don’t want to have any interaction with foreigners unless it involves money. Come on Koreans, you can do better!

Jangyu Cafe Street, Gimhae

Finding the perfect coffee in Jangyu Cafe Street

Besides being home to Busan’s International airport , Gimhae has many other things to recommend it as a place to visit. There is the excellent Gaya museum and the tomb of King Suro. For shoppers, there is a large Shinsegae department store and next to the Lotte Water Park there is a massive outlet store.

Last week I visited Jangyu Caffe Street. Busan has its own well known café street in the Jeonpo area of Soemyeon, but I was interested in somewhere off the beaten track. After a stuffy bus ride through the countryside, I was sure I was heading in the wrong direction, but eventually I saw the twisting tubes of the water park and realized I wasn’t far from my destination.

The area is known alternatively as Jangyu Café Street on Instagram hashtags. Most of the cafes were located in a street by Yulha canal in a long stretch of shops. I counted more than 15 cafés, which were impressive looking and the street is free (mostly) of the identical franchises such as Caffe Bene and Tom N Toms. There were so many that I wanted to try but I chose Labelles Heidi because it seemed to have the nicest atmosphere of all the places I passed.

Inside, the design was modern and light. There was a decent selection of cakes and yoghurt. But it was coffee I was there for. They offer a selection of roasts with guidance on the roasting, blend and flavour profile. Bitter, tart, sour, earthy are some of the words used to describe coffee. I could tell it was a great cup with out knowing too much about which coffee they used. It was spacious enough to find plenty of free seats, and much quieter than the more hectic cafes in Jeonpo. There were several ladies yakking away in the comfortable chairs downstairs whilst on the mezzanine the ever present young Korean girls were furiously tapping away on their phones.

A few doors down is Café Stein. I went there to try some very good Gelato, and chilled out for a while reading the Korean books on the shelves. Finally I tried one more coffee in Café 1001. The mood was a little cold so I ordered my coffee to go. But with so many high quality places I am sure to be going back soon.

Getting lost in Busan

I have been here for nine months now and I thought that I would feel more at home here by now. Actually it’s more like the opposite of that situation. It seems that the longer I stay here the stranger it seems. And the things that I don’t like become more unappealing. Not that I don’t like it here. I would never have come all this way if I didn’t like it here. But if you stick around in Busan longer you can find more things to dislike.

Land of the old and ignorant

The old people that ride the subway every time of the day, barging through everyone, are something I can never understand. Aren’t these the same old people who spend their weekends trekking up mountains, who at 65+ are entitled to free transport, when everyone else has to pay for the privilege of having to stand up for most of the journey.

I can understand the old people for not being able to speak English, but for the young people to be barely conversant with even basic spoken English is something I find hard to get my head around, when you consider how important English is for almost every job.

The land of shopping malls and overpriced coffee

The consumerism is something else. There are more shopping centres than museums and theatres combined. Almost Nothing is free. Every item of clothing has to be brand new-looking. It’s not possible for Korean people to wear anything that might be even a little faded or ripped (although somehow clothes that have been artfully distressed escape this injunction). The concept of wabi-sabi, something along the lines of beauty in imperfection, does not apply here.

If its coffee, it has to be drunk in the most expensive cafe. You want to buy a cake and you end up spending double the cost of a lunch. Fruit is so expensive that I’m going with out fruit. Everything comes bundled in plastic polystyrene and good luck finding a rubbish bin.

All kimchi’d out

The food is good, but it’s hard to get excited about trying the same varieties of kimchi jiggae, samgyeopsal, and fried chicken. A chef in Korea must have the most boring job in the world, because there is no room for innovation or change in traditional Korean restaurants.

Dating Hell

The Korean system of relationships, with its taxonomy of dating conventions, is baffling to any outsider. The concept of couples wearing matching outfits would be fine if it was Halloween, but on any other occasion it is simply daft.

I’m seeing adverts warning men about taking photos of women’s underwear. I Guess they’re aimed at Korean men, supposed protectors of women’s dignity against foreign playboys. I guess it would be nice to take a photo of some of these women though, and besides what is the problem of a harmless picture?

Office ostracism

I’m also in the difficult position of being one of the only non-Korean teachers at work. And even though most of the teachers can speak more than enough English to have a conversation, they would rather spend their time speaking Korean. I’m sick of being ignored when it comes to sharing snacks, eating lunch, conversations, all because I’m not Korean.

My life is non-stop boredom and hard work, and relationships that fail to blossom. And that’s why it can be so hard living here. There are so many occasions where it could be possible for things to be better, but it doesn’t change.Somehow, I doubt I will be working here next year.

Sexless Korea

Is it possible that I got it wrong about Korea? Specifically, that it’s really easy to get with women if you’re white?

Whilst there are those who would say otherwise, here are a few reasons why it’s actually hard, really hard, to get even a date here as a foreign male.

  1. The culture is totally different. Yes, it’s obvious, but any of the rules in other countries don’t apply here. The hook-up culture is not the same. For example, Tinder is used as much to make friends as it is for actual dating (or so I’m told).

Some Korean women won’t date foreigners. You could have excellent Korean, be successful and good-looking, but some Korean women won’t date you because you’re not Korean. Although you will see WMAF couples, you won’t see many really top-level Korean women going out with anyone not Korean. As much as I hate it, it’s just a fact of life here.

The clubs are as much for dancing as they are for meeting people. On the two occasions I have been to clubs, I saw that most people were staying in gender-segregated groups. Men were definitely not approaching woman to dance. It would be completely different back home. It’s even harder to approach people in bars, because people sit on separate tables and don’t even place their orders at the bar. Although there is less opportunity to take a girl home here (most people still live at home) Koreans use the same phrase for one night stand, showing that they are at least aware of the concept.

Koreans have a rigid dating culture, and to approach someone randomly on the street, or in a cafe, isn’t really done. Although I have tried it several times, in most cases I could feel that the women didn’t really want to have a conversation with me and made a point of moving on as soon as possible.

The sheer amount of foreign students and English teachers has made foreigners less of a novelty. In fact, I feel largely ignored here, and somewhat invisible, to the point where I can be in a room of Koreans and nobody will acknowledge me.

The possibility that women will feel judged if they go out with foreign men possibly puts them off approaching them in the first place.

Lastly, the fact is that there are some sickos out there who will date a korean woman and flood sites with articles like ‘Korean women are easy’. This sort of thing does nobody any favours. Whilst you must always take something like that with massive grain of salt, whether it’s even true – and ask yourself whether someone who was actually sleeping with a lot of women would want to tell others about it online – it’s going to only make it harder for everyone.

One thing I am seeing is that there are much more Korean men with western women. I guess its because men are much more comfortable dating out of their culture than women here.

Meanwhile any men moving to South Korea in search of easy sex should do an instant reality check.

The battle between men and women in South Korea

The latest rounds have been fired in the battle of the sexes. Far from being a land of calm, South Korea is currently undergoing a gender war.

it was an innocuous t-shirt that lit the fuse for the recent conflagration. When a voice actress for a video game tweeted a picture of herself wearing a t-shirt reading ‘Girls do not need a Prince’ it led to complaints from men who considered it anti-male. Whilst the actress received support from the country’s women’s groups, the game company saw differently. Nexon, the company that produced the game, decided to replace her voice with another actress.

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So much for supporting female equality. It’s part of a wider problem when women in South Korea, which has one of the lowest scores for women in the developed world.

Whilst the feminist group Megalia has drawn criticism from some who consider it ant-men, the men’s groups have not helped the cause with largely misogynist rhetoric and some hateful slogans online.

Whilst women continue to make gains in all areas of society, it seems that there are many men who want to do all they can to reverse these advances.

if there was any substance to the men’s rights groups, it might be different. But from what i’ve seen, it’s all just noise. What ever the problems in South Korea (lack of jobs, a stalling economy) they effect men and women in the same way. All the anti-men and anti-women arguments simply pull men and women further apart, and that’s what’s really sad.

Hell Choson?

A recent survey for Global Citizenship claims that South Korean young adults report some of the highest levels of dissatisfaction of any country. The study gives South Korea a net happiness score of 29%, which was the second lowest out of the 20 countries represented in the study.Yet if you look further down, you can see things becoming more nuanced. South Korea scores 65% on relationships and well being, and 82% felt hopeful about the future.

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I have heard about the phenomenon known as Hell Choson (헬조선), a term to describe the economic problems of low growth, which has led to some Koreans wanting to relocate to other countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. But often this is less about not loving Korea but a desire to travel the world. In recent years it has become much easier to do this due to working holiday visas and study abroad programs.

I’m sceptical about the efforts to measure happiness. It could easily become skewed by differences in local character. People might want to give honest or less honest answers to the interviewer. Or they might simply have a persona grievance that doesn’t reflect any general unhappiness.

Besides, I didn’t meet anything like the level of discontent among South Koreans when I travelled there. If anything, most young Koreans seemed happy in their country and were fully engaged in all areas of their lives. Contrast with Britain, where most youngsters are rootless and uncertain.

As always, this is my opinion and I could well be wrong. Leave a comment below and tell me your experiences.

Things I wish I had known about South Korea before travelling there

It’s not as cheap as people say

Having said that, the food is cheaper than in most other countries. Particularly Japanese and Korean. But if you want to eat imported food, I’m sure its more expensive. Travel is cheaper than many countries, but accommodation can be expensive if you want to stay somewhere comfortable. I actually wasn’t expecting Korea to be cheap because it’s a developed country.

Some people aren’t friendly to foreigners

I mean, a lot are, but you will definitely meet people who don’t give off a friendly impression. I have heard that many Koreans are shy around foreigners so this may be the reason.

There are a lot of old people

As a rapidly-aging country, with a stalling birthrate, Korea has tons of old people. I realised this whenever I travelled on the metro. In England, the birthrate is around 2.2 per woman, compared to 0.88 in Seoul. This means that you will see many more elderly people on the subways than younger people.

It’s very materialistic

There are big department stores everywhere. I enjoyed looking at the displays and experiencing good service in the famous deperatment stores such as Lotte, Hyundai, and Shinsegae. Eventually I found that the consumerism became a bit too much. They all sell the same products. But being able to shop until 9pm was definitely a good thing.

The palaces all look very similar

I visited Changdeokgung and a few days later I visited Deokstgung. Whilst Deokstgung is much bigger, I didn’t feel it offered anything different to what I had already seen. You have to pay to enter the palaces but this only allows you to access the grounds. You don’t get to walk inside any of the rooms. There is a changing of the guards ceremony but there is no king living there, so it’s only for tourists. I didn’t visit Deoksugung, but I’m sure it’s more of the same.

People are very conscious about looks

At first, I was interested in all the pretty women everywhere. Then I noticed that they were also very absorbed, taking selfies of themselves everywhere. Some of the Korean women who are not the most beautiful are often more approachable and easy to talk to. And men are in many cases just as concerned about appearance. If you go to Seoul, you might feel pressured to look good all the time.

It’s governed by a lot of rules

Don’t think that you can go around doing as you please. Like anywhere, there are rules, and Korea has a few you should be aware of. Can you buy something in a store and then return it? I’m not sure, and I can’t imagine they would be cool with it. You have two order a certain amount of meat in barbecue restaurants.

There are no bars

You can find many restaurants and Izakaya style pubs, but Korea doesn’t seem to offer anywhere for people who just want to have a drink.

It will be totally great in-spite of all these things. Going the first time was a big shock but the second time around will be a lot more straightforward.

Why I don’t like Korea fans

What’s your passion? Is it an interest that you enjoy sharing with others or is it an activity that you pursue alone? Maybe you enjoy meeting up with people who also share your passion.

Or is it difficult to find someone who likes the same things as you? I am a huge fan of Korea and if I wanted to I could attend many meet-ups for fans of Korea. But I choose not to. Here’s why. I already know what I like about Korea. I’m not really interested in listening to what others have to say about it. Maybe they know more than I do, or maybe they don’t. But I know from painful experience that it can be frustrating to listen to others drone on about something which you care about. It’s also why I don’t enjoy book groups because I find myself disagreeing when ever someone shares their opinions on the book, or I can’t understand why they don’t like it for the same reasons I do.

That’s why I don’t bother attending any fan meet-ups that I see advertised on Facebook. I’m very happy watching Korean films whenever there is a festival, but I’m not interested in hearing what any non-Korean has to say about them. Sometimes a passion shared is a passion weakened.

I went to a Korean language class and it was terrible, because it was full of people talking about Korea but they didn’t know anything. If I want to learn about Korea I will do it by getting to know other Koreans. It’s the only way as far as I’m concerned.

This year, I will be visiting Korea for the first time. I heard that it’s really cold in winter. So maybe there will be fewer foreign tourists. Well, I can only hope…

2nd Scandal threatens to engulf South Korean President

You may not have heard about this unless you have been following the Korean news online. You certainly wouldn’t find anything about it in the crap blogs that think the only interesting things going on in Korea are k-pop and couple t-shirts.

But this is really worth paying attention to. It concerns Geun-Hye’s advisor,Choi Soon-gil, who is said to have had access to private documents since the start of her presidency. The Presdient has apologised:

“Regardless of the reasons involved, I am sorry that (the scandal) has caused national concerns,” Park said. “I deeply apologize to the people.”

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But the scandal continues. Ever since Park became President she has provoked a backlash against her increasingly right wing politics. But people have finally had enough. The affair, known as ‘Choi Soon-sil gate;’, concerns the woman who has had access to all the President’s information including speeches she has made; and the woman’s daughter. It has assailed the President and has seen her approval rating plummet to her lowest level for the second week running.

The accusations are that Park set up two non-for profit organisations that became her personal piggy bank. The other scandal concerns Yoo-ra Chung, Choi’s daughter. the dressage athlete attended Ehwa university and passed all her exams. The catch? She never sat any exams. As a result, the Dean of the college sat down, the first time this has happened in its 150 year history. Yoo-ra and her mother have been living in Germany where Korean journalists are still tracking their whereabouts.This picture shows a group of student protesters showing their anger at the scandal:

K2016102300158-800.jpgSource: Korea Times