You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Life in Seoul’ category.

This morning I dragged myself out of bed ‘early’ to go to the immigration office and extend my E2 visa a whopping six days till Julianne and I leave Korea–and it was an easy and stress free experience (unlike other visits to other offices I’ve done during my time here).

I got to the office about 30 mintues early and there were already about 25 other people waiting outside in the hallway.  The temperature must have been 35 or something because after five minutes of waiting I was soaked in sweat.  I mean it was so hot and humid in the hallway that just standing there waiting made me sweat . . . it’d be nice if sometime in the future Koreans learn about CENTRALIZED heating and air conditioning, and that keeping windows shut keeps the heat and humidity outside . . . but I highly doubt I’ll be around to witness that paradigm shift.

At about twenty minutes to nine a guy suddenly appears in front of the door to the office and begans handing out waiting number tickets.  I was only 8 feet or so from him when I realized why everyone was suddenly swarming around him and I got to him just as he handed out his last one to another guy who had only just shown up, and of course he decides to stand right in front of what I thought was a prime waiting location just 7 or 8 feet from the door to the office–POOH!

I was a bit peeved cause the guy’d only brought out about 10 tickets and I wondered what the point of that was . . . but about two minutes later he reappeared and I snagged #15 in the line up.

Finally, about five minutes before 9am, the door was opened and everybody mobbed the opening trying to get in.  I made a beeline for the application paper stations and found the form I needed.  I then filled out what I needed to, and walked over to the ‘stamp booth’ (the place you pay for stamps you need to put on your forms).  I paid and got my stamps and then went to find a seat to wait for my number to come up.

I waited about 15 minutes which is pretty awesome for an immigration office.

The immigration officer who helped me had good English, and was polite and friendly.  This has NOT always been the case when I’ve had to go to different immigration offices and I was really happy that my last interactions with an immigration officer went well.  REALLY HAPPY!

As a kind of ‘bonus’ to all this the officer told me that I didn’t have to pay to extend my stay six days.  The fee for extending your visa is 30,000won.  I guess that only applies to people actually renewing and extending their visa.  The officer told me that this was my ‘final extension’–I guess that means if I wanted to stay longer I’d have to redo everything in the application process . . . yeah, NO THANKS!

After finishing typing some stuff into the computer the officer then told me that I’d get my alien registration card back today.  I hadn’t thought about the fact that they might need to hold onto it to write on the back that I’d visited the office and officially extended my stay.  Luckily, I only had to wait about five minutes and then a guy called out my name and gave me back my passport and alien registration card.

And that’s my story.

There are only 11 days left for me in Korea, and it’s kind of mind boggling.  I can’t believe I’m leaving, and with all the different things I still have to left to do in order to get ready to leave I’ve hardly been able to sleep at night–and that’s unusual for me.

Anyways, last night’s walkabout with my camera seemed to help my stress levels a little so maybe I’ll get out and do that again tonight IF the heat and humidity die down a little.

Maybe . . . air conditioning might just keep me in my apartment with Julianne watching Discovery Channel or National Geographic.

J

Last week I finally made it out to the Taco Bell in Itaewon, Seoul.  I’d walked past it several times since it opened but one look at the line going out the door and down the street put me off.  I really wasn’t in need of 100% nuclear processed fast food.

Julianne and I were there again last Thursday, and walking past Taco Bell, when the line was only a couple bodies out the door–we decided to go for it.

(Sorry about the quality of pics–I was using my point and shoot camera.)

I quickly realized that in spite of the small number of people that the wait was going to be a long one.  The staff are all still very new to their jobs, and I imagine with the insane lines that there hasn’t been much time for the manager to train the staff as they’re always knee-deep in orders with impatient customers clamoring for their food.

Then there are the Koreans who have never eaten Taco Bell and have to figure out what they want to order . . . asking questions about the food, and not knowing what they’re ordering . . . yeah, that takes up time too.

Add to this some people place huge orders for take out . . . and yeah, even with a small number of people in front of you it can take a long time to get your food.

While waiting for our order, I chatted with an American who works on the base nearby.  He’d only been in Korea for four months and was astounded by how slow the orders were being filled.  We killed a few minutes talking about living in Korea, and I told him how there was another Mexican food place just across the street from Taco Bell.  It’s more expensive but the quality of the food, in my opinion, is much better than Taco Bell.  That being said, NOBODY goes to Taco Bell for good Mexican food cause Taco Bell food falls into a category all its own, lol.

Oh yeah, I saw this poster while waiting in line to order–nice “English.”

I also mentioned “On The Border” (there’s one in COEX Mall, for example), and how they seem to have the best Mexican food in Korea–period.  It was nice to be able to help out a guy who was new to Korea, and he seemed to really appreciate the food tips.

Finally, after nearly 20 minutes, our food was ready.  One thing that surprised me was that the girl calling out orders that were ready was doing so only in Korean.  This is kind of unusual in Itaewon cause there are so many foreigners who are customers.  The girl would only say the order in English after saying it in Korean several times–yet the ratio of foreign to Korean customers was 50-50,  and sometimes more foreign customers were in the waiting area.  Oh well.

After chowing down on the food . . . I felt like crap.  I haven’t had that much processed food in a long time.  I mean, McDonalds and KFC are one thing, but Taco Bell, like I said, is a category all to itself.

Anyways, I don’t think I’ll be eating there again for a long time.  It was nice to be able to have Taco Bell in Korea, but I’d rather spend a little more money and get some good Mexican food.

J

It’s INSANELY HOT and HUMID in Seoul right now, so Julianne and I reluctantly left the air conditioned coolness of our apartment to go get some dinner.  We decided to get some Korean food, and I ordered ‘mul nangmyeon’ (water noodles’).  This is what it looks like before you cut the noodles up into shorter lengths and then mix the other ingredients and hot sauce together.  Tonight the noodles had some peanuts sprinkled over them which I’ve had before a few times although I don’t think that it’s typical to see that.

I don’t have much of a problem eating noodles with chopsticks now, but when I first came to Korea noodles were probably the most tricky for me to manage . . . but I’d say after my first year of practicing I got the hang of it.  Oh yeah, watching how other Koreans eat noodles with their chopsticks gave me some tricks too.

We also ordered some ‘gogi mandu’ (meat dumplings).  They’re a little spicy but I like spicy food and don’t find them to be very hot at all.

And, of course, with the meal come the typical side dishes of kimchi, and a few others.  Hmmm . . . kimchi.  I like kimchi, and it always kills me to see other Koreans who are shocked to see a foreigner munching away on it as he waits for his food to arrive at the table.

Well, time to keep watching the best of season 5’s “Deadliest Catch” on Discovery Channel.  I really hope we can still get access to Discovery Channel in China!

J

While walking home from school on Friday afternoon I was suddenly surprised to see Santa Claus, to learn he was Korean, and to see him dressed up in full Red Devil fan costume–wow!  I didn’t have my Canon D400 with me so I fumbled for my cell phone to take a picture.  The man saw me trying to get my cell phone out, turned and said “It’s okay” before I could even ask if I could take his picture, and posed . . . lol.

Here’s a close up . . .

Seriously awesome!

I’m thinking about going out tonight to watch the Korea vs. Greece game that begins just after 8pm, but it’s been raining all day, and supposed to rain tonight.  I’m not a soccer fan nor do I have World Cup fever like all my students and co-teachers do . . . but taking pictures of Red Devils going nuts watching the game–THAT I could see myself having a lot of fun doing . . .

Hmmm . . . decisions, decisions . . .

J

This morning I jumped into a taxi to get to work and was immediately blasted by music from the ajusshi driver’s stereo playing the soundtrack from a movie he was watching on the dashboard monitor . . .

I tried to tell him where I want to go, and got the typical response I get from most taxi drivers, “Unnnnh?!”  You might think this is because I can’t speak Korean, but I’ve been in Korea for over five years, and I’ve mastered how to say different destinations and the common expressions used in Korean for taxi situations.

I said my destination again very loudly, and the driver still said, “Unnnh?!!!”  I had to yell at him to turn down the stereo so that he could hear me–this is very poor customer service, and frankly speaking, all too typical of many Korean taxi ajusshi drivers’ attitudes when interacting with foreigners.

After turning down his stereo system, with a great display of disgust towards me for telling him to do so, he finally understood where I wanted him to take me.

While he drove me to my destination he muttered under his breath in Korean and kept glaring at me in the rear view mirror.

Is this the kind of reputation Seoul wants foreigners who live and work here to tell their family and friends about back in their home countries?  Is this the kind of reputation Korea wants foreigners to present about the ajusshi of Korea? I don’t think so.

If Korea wants to improve its international brand name as a developed country on the global stage it needs to consider developing an etiquette program for its taxi drivers.  These men are on the front lines of customer service and in Seoul have a high degree of visibility and frequency of interacting with foreigners–especially tourists who are only in Korea for a brief stay.

What do you think tourists say about Korean culture if they have to deal with rude and inconsiderate ajusshi taxi drivers when they go home?

An additional question that Korean tourism adminstrators might want to consider is what kind of image and reputation do they think bloggers who live and work in Korea produce when they are treated rudely when all they are trying to do is go to work, and they are paying for a service which supports the Korean economy?

Please consider creating a tourism etiquette program for the ajusshi taxi drivers of Seoul, and if possible across Korea.

Thank you.

Signed,

A very dissatisfied taxi customer.

The Korea Times had a banner headline that drew my attention a while ago titled, Korea Sees Decreasing Use of Honorific Words.  There are several reasons this article motivated me to write about it, but the primary source comes from a shopping trip at Lotte Mart during the week before Chuseok.

UPDATE:  A friend of mine sent me the link to this article, Koreans Need to Improve Their Global Image. It’s a good read, and there are points in it that are relevant to this post.

Lotte Mart was pretty busy and many people were out getting things they needed for the weekend.  The aisles were very crowded and moving my shopping cart up and down them while looking for the stuff on my list was a big exercise in patience.

At one point I started down an aisle and saw two shopping carts, one on each side of the aisle, in front of me.  I began pushing my cart towards the middle to try and squeeze between the two carts when an ajumma (ajumma, “middle aged married woman”) came flying past my cart to stop and stand in between the two carts–thus blocking the entire aisle and making it impossible for me to get past her.  Nice.

There were several other Korean shoppers behind me, and on the other side of the ajumma, who all wanted to move up and down the aisle–but this ajumma had decided no one else in the world exists, and that only her shopping needs and wants were important.  (As a side note here, it is really amazing when you see nearly every Korean committing “deliberate obliviousness acts” when there are many people all trying to do different things in one social space, like a grocery store, because the number of mild collisions between bodies and shopping carts is astounding.)

All too often in Korea I see this cultural phenomenon of DOA’s, “deliberate obliviousness acts.” It is something that most foreigners when they come to Korea are shocked by, and sometimes outraged by, because we cannot believe that Koreans are TRULY OBLIVIOUS to the degree that they cannot know what is going on around them (though in some instances it actually appears that the Korean is truly DOA).  Yet DOA’s happen on a daily basis in my experiences and interactions with Koreans.

When I am teaching and ask a question and gesture towards a student in my class the student will 99.9999999% of the time pretend to not understand that I am looking at him, pointing at him, and directing my attention at him.  The student immediately puts on his DOA-face, looks behind him at another student, and then pretends to not understand that I’ve called on him; sometimes even after I’ve walked right up to their desk and pointed at them again, repeated the question, the student will still look back at the other student and then make a ‘who me?’ face, lol.  DOA’s occur in the classroom nearly every time a question is asked.  (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but the frequency with which this happens is very high.)

Foreigners will also often complain about how a group of Koreans will slowly walk arm in arm spread out across an entire sidewalk thus making it impossible for people behind them to pass.  This is something that also frequently happens in shopping malls.  COEX mall is the biggest mall in Korea.  Its corridors are extremely wide, and yet you will see a group of Korean friends meandering along the corridor and blocking the entire width of one side of the corridor like there is no one else in the mall.  This particular group-DOA forces other people to submit to their walking pace and submit to the group-DOA’s dominance of the social space that they occupy–that, or it forces people to take action.  This is when, for foreigners, the criticisms of ‘rudeness’ and ‘not understanding Korean culture’ are often made towards us even when we are not the instigators of the DOA.

Yet to foreigners it is the Koreans who are breaking their own ideals of social harmony and paying extreme attention to the relationship dynamics with everyone around you according to Confucian rituals and the social ranks each person has.  One might argue that it is difficult to know what the social rank is of each and every person around you when you’re in a social space like a busy shopping mall like COEX–but I don’t think Koreans would suggest that busy social spaces lack Confucian social codes of behavior.  I think the problem is that the Koreans are not following their own socio-cultural traditions (as the KT article points out).

If Koreans are not following their own modern Confucian behavior rituals and relationship dynamics where does that leave foreigners when they come to live and work in Korea? If a foreigner coming to live and work in Korea did take the time to study Korean language, culture, and Confucianism in particular, and then came to Korea and tried to follow these things strictly . . .  I think KOREANS themselves would think the foreigner is crazy and has no understanding of the current social realities of day to day life in Korea.  The reality is that in nearly every situation in Korea there is a battle for power, for domination of the other, and to achieve the needs and wants of the INDIVIDUAL regardless of the group’s gibun–and especially regardless of Confucian rituals that ‘should’ regulate the individual’s behavior.  The source of this reality probably comes from the aftermath of the Japanese colonial period in Korea that shattered Korean culture, and attempted to impose Japanese culture on Korea, and after the Japanese left  the Americans moved into to fill the power vacuum.  The grievous injuries to Korean Confucianism caused by the Japanese, and then the Americans, gave very little chance of this social philosophy having any real chance of positive effects in the day to day realities of the Korean people.  To exacerbate the problem even further the absolutely insane levels of competition in the public school and university systems makes polite social etiquette almost obsolete.  Everyone is jockeying to push themselves into the lead position in the mad race towards the ever receding finish line so that they can climb just one more position up the social rankings–and all too often I see Koreans willing to do whatever it takes regardless of the cost to themselves and others.

Also, whether or not Koreans will discuss it, RACE  plays a huge role in how modern Confucianism functions today in Korea.  I have seen a 60 year old foreign male teacher treated with a complete and utter lack of respect by younger Korean teachers and supervisors–where is the basis in Confucianism that justifies this kind of treatment?

There is a kind of cultural anarchy that dominates Korean-foreigner cross-cultural interactions.  You would think that Korean culture ideals would be the basis of interactions with foreigners but all too often in my experiences in Korea, and those of many other teachers and foreign visitors I’ve talked to, the KOREAN CULTURAL RULES are discarded and the only ‘guiding’ force behind what is said and done is the individual’s desires.  If it is rude in Korean culture to ask another person how much they weigh, and to tell them that they need to lose weight, then why isn’t it rude to say that to a foreigner whether it’s in Korean language or in English?  The answer is that when some Koreans speak English they often don’t use their own cultural rules of etiquette let alone try to use English rules–yet when a foreigner is interacting with a Korean we are expected to follow the Korean cultural rules and ideals.

This double-standard is glaringly obvious to the foreigner and when they leave Korea I highly doubt that they have positive things to say about Koreans and Korean culture (which is extremely unfortunate because many Koreans are extremely polite and respectful, and make efforts at cross-cultural communication in a polite and respectful manner).  Another facet of this cultural anarchy that occurs when a foreigner and Korean interact is that some Koreans deliberately distort and twist how Korean cultural rules should apply to the situation in favor of what they want to happen.  Yet Confucianism says that, “While juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe their seniors reverence, seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors” (from wikipedia, my bold and italics).

Let me repeat that again, “. . . seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors.”  I’ll link this back to the situation I was in with the ajumma who rushed past me to block me and everyone else trying to walk down the aisle, and how she then stood there committing a DOA.  Most of the shoppers in front of her, and behind her, were younger and yet there was not an ounce of consideration for their needs in the situation.  No body language signals, eye contact, or even a quickly uttered ‘just a moment, I’m sorry’ in Korean.

Perhaps a better example, although very different, of this comes from the Korea Times article I mentioned at the beginning of this post which says,

“This concern was highlighted recently when a 39-year-old judge reprimanded a 69-year-old man during a trial, saying the latter was behaving “rude.”

Many Koreans found the “young” judge’s remark very “inappropriate.” The oldman indeed may have behaved in an ill-mannered way. But in the Korean language, the term “beo reut eop da” (rude) is exclusively used by an older person in rebuking someone who is younger. For many Koreans, the judge’s remark was unacceptable because the role was reversed and he was 20 years junior to the oldman.”

The cultural ‘logic’ at work here is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of my limited understanding with regards to the nuances of Korean Confucianism in modernity.  Yet it seems to me that the old man has an obligation to the younger judge with regards to helping him perform his duties–as opposed to hampering them with his rude behavior.  Maybe someone who has been in Korea longer than I have, and has studied Confucianism (I’ve only read a little bit about it, and definitely have not made a formal and prolonged study of it), might be able to explain this to me . . . I don’ t know.

But based on what I’ve read in Korean history and culture books, online articles, and discussions with Korean English teachers who also studied Confucianism in university I stand by my criticism.

From wikipedia’s entry on Confucianism and relationships,

“Relationships are central to Confucianism. Particular duties arise from one’s particular situation in relation to others. The individual stands simultaneously in several different relationships with different people: as a junior in relation to parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to younger siblings, students, and others. While juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe their seniors reverence, seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. This theme of mutuality is prevalent in East Asian cultures even to this day.

Social harmony—the great goal of Confucianism—therefore results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the social order, and playing his or her part well” (my bold and italics).

But it seems like this social harmony is now only at play in Korea when it facilitates an individual’s needs and wants, when it helps them compete for the first place ranking in school testing, in getting a job, in getting a promotion, in getting whatever is on the radar screen of that particular person.  The rest of the time, when social harmony is NOT in the person’s favor . . . well, the rules get thrown out the window.

Also,  “Ritual and filial piety are indeed the ways in which one should act towards others, but from an underlying attitude of humaneness. Confucius’ concept of humaneness (Chinese: pinyin: rén) is probably best expressed in the Confucian version of the Ethic of reciprocity, or the Golden Rule: “do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.””

Yet all too often in my day to day life in Korea I witness Koreans doing things to other Koreans that they would NOT want done to themselves, and Koreans doing things to me that they would not want done to themselves.  The idealized and highly theoretical ideas of Confucianism do not generally exist in the daily reality of modern Korea–especially in interactions with foreigners because of the language and culture barriers.

I realize that at this point I should own up to using an idealized sense of Confucianism in modern Korean society, but I’ve learned this way of seeing things because of the expectations imposed on me frequently as a result of the admonitions and commandments and criticisms that Koreans have made to me about how I speak/act/think/feel while I’m in Korea . . . the double-standard makes me want to say, “LOOK IN THE MIRROR and point that finger at yourself!”

Something else that occurred to me one day while thinking about Korean culture was this: even walking down the sidewalk in Korea is an exercise in the assertion of one’s rank and the relationships one has with the other pedestrians.

Anyways . . .

If someone was to draw up a list of rules for how commit a DOA in Korea, (deliberate obliviousness act), I imagine they might be the following.

1.  Only use your peripheral vision when scanning the situation you want to dominate.  Direct eye contact is a give away that you know what is going on.

2.  Your face must assume a fixed, expressionless mask wherein there is no hint of any type of reaction to elements that exist outside the ‘obliviousness reality bubble‘ you must project all around you.

3.  If, by some unforeseen accident or freak of nature,  your obliviousness reality bubble is burst you must act extremely shocked and surprised and display that your innocence has been ‘violated.’

4.  If you have the higher social rank in relation to the person who has burst your ORB (‘obliviousness reality bubble’) you should immediately find a way to make the problem the other person’s fault, and give them a severe lambasting (ooh! good word, don’t get to use that one often, lol).

I’m sure others will contribute more DOA rules in the comments section of this post, lol.

I’ll close this post with a video to illustrate both a DOA and its ORB in real life.

Seriously . . . oh . . . my . . . god!

J

Julianne and I went to the wedding of a former co-worker and friend of mine a couple months ago.  It was Julianne’s first wedding hall experience (also known as a ‘wedding castle’) in Korea, and also her first exposure to Korean wedding hall culture.

I’ve been to 3 weddings now at Korean wedding halls, and I stand by my characterization of them: Las Vegas meets Disney World.

Let me explain . . . I think my general dislike of Korean wedding hall culture comes from the general lackadaisical treatment of English language and culture and how Korea assimilates aspects of English language and culture/s that it likes in a completely disconnected manner from the culture/s of origin.

Simply put, it’s jarring to see a wedding with isolated cultural elements reconstituted within a Korean context–yet at the same time the wedding has native English participants, especially the bride or groom, their family members and friends.

I think some readers will protest and criticize my point of view.  I imagine them saying that English language and culture has stolen, and is stealing, words/ideas/cultural rituals and activities from other languages and cultures all the time.  Also, that English language takes these words and mispronounces them, misuses them (at least in contrast with their language and culture of origin), and reconstitutes them according to how English native speakers  need, want, and desire to use them.  Alright, fair enough and point taken.  I’m sure millions of examples can be found of how English culture/s have stolen something from another language and culture, ripped out isolated aspects of the cultural thing, and then produced a horrible version of it.  Off the top of my head some examples might be: Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, and others.

Even within English there are patterns of cultural and linguistic thefts.  Just consider how ‘white’ culture (a problematic term but for the sake of my point one I’ll use here) steals from urban black culture and language.  “Wassup?”, “punk,” and “phat” . . . to name a few.

I would respond by saying that there are some cultural institutions, like a wedding for example, that deserve more careful research and consideration before ripping out isolated elements from the, in this case, wedding institution as a whole and then imitating them in a bizarre spectacle that makes a mockery of the original sacred ritual that is so completely disconnected from the original that it becomes something else . . .

All too often in Korea, when an English language and culture thing is integrated, there is a complete and utter disregard for the cultural rituals and taboos of the thing in question.  In the case of weddings it seems as though some Koreans who visited Disney World and Las Vegas came back to Korea and decided to re-create their own ideas of what a western wedding is through the Korisney aesthetic.  When I say Korisney aesthetic I mean the cultural phenomenon of using Disney narratives, characters, and common scenery.

I should briefly address a major issue underlying this topic: purity.  There is no such thing as ‘pure wedding culture.’  And for that matter ‘pure English culture’ and ‘pure English language.’  All too often native speakers of English become engaged in vociferously defending  conscious and probably more often unconscious norms and values based on the even more unconscious foundation of ‘pure’ culture which has many different masks: heritage, traditions, nation, and identity.

The problem is there needs to be some degree of continuity and integrity to a language and culture system–otherwise it dissolves into a fractured kaleidoscope of disconnected groups of people who cannot communicate and interact with each other with some degree of understanding based on shared experiences that have a high enough degree of similarity as to allow them to be a part of the same socio-linguistic category–in this case, English.

I imagine that if Canadians decided to bring back to Canada the Korean traditional wedding institution but we failed to learn everything about it, and how to perform it in all its many details, that Koreans would launch a massive protest about the destruction of one of Korean culture’s major institutions.

From wikipedia, “A wedding is the ceremony in which two people are united in marriage or a similar institution. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes. Most wedding ceremonies involve an exchange of wedding vows by the couple, presentation of a gift (offering, ring(s), symbolic item, flowers, money), and a public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader. Special wedding garments are often worn, and the ceremony is followed by a wedding reception. Music, poetry, prayers or readings from Scripture or literature also may be incorporated into the ceremony.”

Whether or not a person from Canada or America is religious there is a general sense of formality to a wedding, and usually people ‘go on their best behavior.’

1.  Formal dress.  Wearing a suit for men, or at minimum a shirt and tie.  Women wear a formal dress or business attire.

2. No talking during the wedding ceremony whether it is a religious one or secular.

3.  No talking on cell phones during the ceremony.

4. Wandering in and out of the room during the ceremony is generally frowned upon.

5.  Do not engage other people in conversations about things unrelated to the wedding ceremony–especially during the ceremony.

6. Do not clap and cheer for the bride and groom during the ceremony . . . maybe a little bit of polite clapping after the announcement that the bride and groom are married is okay, but usually not before.

I’m sure I could think of several more “Do’s and Don’ts” for western cultural weddings but I think the 6 I’ve mentioned are relevant to this post.

At the wedding a couple months ago, most of the attendees were in formal wear, so that’s not something that stuck out for Julianne’s first Korean wedding hall experience.  There were, however, other things that shocked her.

The first was probably the architecture of the building–though it’s important to stress that the building in the picture below is not really castle-like compared to the more typical wedding halls you’ll see all over Korea.  The giant-sized photo of a bridge and groom is one of the trademark features, though, and the palatial pillars are also a standard stylistic feature.

I don’t have any good quality close-up shots of a wedding castle in Korea, but here’s one I took when Julianne and I were on a train going down to Busan for a vacation.  When the word “castle” is used it is NOT an exaggeration, lol.

As wedding halls go this one was pretty high end.  I also heard other people commenting on how nice the layout was–but part of me still couldn’t help feeling like I was in a hybrid Las Vegas-Disney stage set on some futuristic movie about wedding culture’s evolution, or something like that . . .

The black shiny pathway, or rather, ‘super model runway’–I refuse to call it an “aisle” because that fails to describe its essence–is what the bride and groom walk down.

This little guy was playing on it before the ceremony began.  Oh yeah, you have to love the trees with flower balls and plastic balls with faux gems hanging from them that line the runway!

Flower ball with faux gems.

Back left corner of the hall.

Back right corner standing next to the entrance to the hall.

Here’s a shot of the trees . . . just in case you want to see a close-up, and come on, you know you want to, lol.

Here’s a shot of the podium behind which the ‘official’ stands who is presiding over the ceremony.  I’ve never thought to ask a Korean teacher, or other Koreans I know, about what criteria is legally required for the Korean who officiates at weddings.  At this wedding, the ‘president’ of the foreign language training center where the groom works, and I used to work, was the person who did the ceremony.  This struck me as unusual because in North America it generally has to be a priest/pastor or Justice of the Peace (or some kind of government official) . . . maybe the president of the training center also has other titles or a position with the government that allowed him to do the job–I really don’t know.

If you take another look at the picture (above) you should take special note of the two small hole-shaped things on either side of the black runway on the top step . . . they’re SMOKE MACHINES, lol.  Yes, smoke machines . . . like I said, Las Vegas meets Disney World.  I’ve heard from other expats in Korea that there are wedding halls that use bubble machines (I guess instead of smoke machines, lol) but I’ve never had the good fortune to see that–yet, lol.

Here are the thrones, err, chairs that the bride and groom’s parents sit in.  Depending on how traditional a wedding the foreign person getting married to a Korean wants (or vice versa), a traditional bow is performed during the ceremony where the groom gets down on his knees and bows his head all way to the ground.  My friend did this for the bride’s parents, and I was really impressed.  I wondered if he would do this for his own parents, lol, but he shook his father’s hand and gave him a hug all the while having a huge happy grin on his face.

The second thing, and probably the biggest shock to most foreigners when they go to their first Korean wedding hall event, was the lack of formality in Korean wedding hall culture.  Wikipedia says,

“In busier wedding halls, formality (except for the couple and their families) is typically relaxed compared to Western standards” (from wikipedia’s “marriage in South Korea“).

Basically, people standing at the back of the wedding hall ceremony room talk at almost regular conversation volume to maybe a little quieter than regular, the middle of the hall ranges from whispered conversation to near regular conversation volume, and the people at the front nearest the ceremonial podium (I won’t use the word ‘altar’ because the space is NOT religious in any sense of the word) whisper and occasionally forget and speak loudly enough for others nearby to hear them talking.

The third cultural difference in wedding hall culture relates closely to number two–cell phones.  I saw one member of, I won’t say whether it was the bride or groom’s family party, answer her cell phone at her table which was all of 10 feet away from the bride and groom exchanging rings . . . and she had a conversation for about a minute.  I happened to be only 2 feet away squatting on the floor trying to keep out of peoples’ sight lines while taking pictures, and when I kind of gave her a ‘look’ for talking too loudly on her cell she had the decency to lower her voice and cover her mouth and cell phone with her hand to try and shield the noise . . . what I don’t get is why she answered her phone at all DURING THE RING EXCHANGE!

The fourth cultural difference revolves around being on time for a wedding ceremony and not walking in and out of the ceremony at any and all times throughout its duration.  Yet this is exactly what happens at a wedding hall ceremony.  People were wandering in and out through the entire ceremony.  The really puzzling thing to me is that no one seemed to be doing the skulking-crouch-low-to-the-ground-looking-embarrassed-that-they’re-late-and-having-an-apologetic-smile-grimace-on-their-face similar to what Korean students do when they walk into class late (that is, if they have good attitudes, the bad attitude kids just waltz in like being late means nothing–but that’s a whole other blog topic).

Since I have a strong dislike of people wandering around, and in and out of the ceremony, a couple days ago I emailed my friend/the groom and I specifically asked if it’d be okay if I took pictures of the wedding–he gave me permission, and I did my best during the ceremony to be as unobtrusive as possible . . .the only thing I can make sense of why people think it’s okay to walk in and out, and be late, is that ‘out of sight out of mind’ excuses their behavior–after all nobody from the wedding party can see what  you’re doing at the back of the room, right?  Oh, and I imagine the money-gifts that everyone who goes to a wedding gives probably excuses lateness cause you know that the more people who come the more money you’ll be getting later, lol.

The fifth item on my list involves having conversations during the wedding ceremony about things not related to the ceremony.

The shocking thing for me was that two of my former Korean co-workers from the training center I worked at with the groom wanted to have full on conversations with me DURING THE CEREMONY.  If they’d wanted to talk quietly about the bride and groom, or the wedding itself in some manner big or small, I MIGHT have been open-minded about whispering with them (since that’s apparently the ‘Korean way’–and if you’re a Korean reader and disagree with me about this, I’d ask you to consider this fact: the MAJORITY of Koreans at weddings do this, and in my mind that makes it fair to describe it as a Korean cultural behavior pattern) . . .

Anyways, getting back to Koreans wanting to chat me up about how I’ve been, where I’m working, and various other banalities while my friend is GETTING MARRIED . . . I tried to politely disengage myself from their insisting on talking and when they missed my polite hint to stop talking I just told them very directly that I’d talk to them AFTER THE CEREMONY.  They didn’t like this, but frankly speaking I just didn’t care–I wanted to be respectful to the bride and groom, their families and friends, and to continue participating in the wedding as a friend and witness to the ceremony.

To illuminate, pun intended, my point about the Las Vegas aspects of a Korean wedding hall ceremony I’ll use the following picture,

In the above picture you can see that red and green lasers are used during the ceremony.  Some of the pictures I took of my friend had red and green lines on his face, and the bride’s face, and I had to retouch them to erase these odd colors off of their faces.

This next pictures shows you the smoke machines I mentioned earlier.  These were used to create a carpet of smoke/fog for the moment when the bride’s father escorts her up to the podium to her waiting groom.

Later in the ceremony the lights were turned down to produce this effect . . . as a lead-in to the next ‘act’ in the ceremony . . .

Wow, somebody has cloned and made a hybrid Elvis-Kenny G!  LOL! Oh my god!  I really should have gotten a picture of Julianne’s face during this part of the wedding . . . I do have shots of the bride and grooms’ reactions, and let me tell you they’re priceless!

I’ll wrap up with this shot of the wedding cake . . . which was a multi-level affair.  The newly wed couple then cut it with a small sword, lol.

It was awesome to see my friend get married to a Korean woman who I know can handle his beer and hockey loving way of life.  I was really happy for them, and wish them the best for the future.

Oh, and to the many many MANY Koreans at the wedding who kept asking and then commanding, “Jason, when are you [and Julianne] getting married? You should get married.”

We’ll get married when we want to, and not a day before.

Thanks.

J

The 2010 Lotus Lantern Festival and Parade that celebrates the Buddha’s birthday is coming soon (May 14-23, and the parade is on Sunday May 16th), and I dropped by Jogye Temple last week to see if the lanterns were up . . . about 40% of the lanterns are done, and I can’t wait for the parade again this year.  This is a shot of the main gate of Jogye Temple which is just 3 blocks or so from Jonggak Station in the center of Seoul.

The lanterns by the gate were lit, but the others weren’t yet.

I tried using my Speedlite 580EXII flash to take a shot of the lanterns not yet turned on . . . I haven’t tried flash photography with anything this big at night yet, and had to play with the settings a bit.

If you like taking pictures and have never visited Jogye Temple I highly recommend you check out the festival and parade.  It’s AWESOME!  The shot below is of the lanterns that have not yet been turned on, and on the left you can see the main temple building.

Here are two posts from last year . . .

2009 Buddhist Lotus Lantern Festival — Preview of the lanterns at Jogye Temple, Seoul

2009 Buddhist Lotus Lantern Festival — Cheonggyecheon stream lantern sculptures at night

I can’t wait to go again this year.  Julianne wants to make her own paper lantern at the festival during the day which should be fun to take pics of while she’s making it, and the parade is probably one of my top 10 things to see and do in Seoul.  Some people say they can’t go because they have to work on Monday morning but I would say it’s worth it to go to the parade and then sleep a few hours in a jimjilbang or cheap hotel and jump on an early bus or train home Monday morning–it’s that good!

J

Click on this link to find more info about the festival and parade.  Click here for more info and a map of the parade route.

Title

date and time

venue
Traditional Lantern Exhibition April 24 (Fri) –May 5 (Wed), 2010 Bongeunsa Temple in Samseong-dong
Ground of Fraternization
(Eoulim Hanmadang)
April 26, 2010 (Sun) 1:00pm Jangchung Gymnasium
Festival Evening Celebrations (Yeondeungnori) April 25, 2010 (Sat) 7:00pm-9:00pm From Insa-dong to the main street in front of Jogyesa Temple
Buddhist Culture Street Fair
(Bulgyo Munhwa Hanmadang)
April 26, 2010 (Sun) 12:00pm-7:00pm The main street in front of Jogyesa Temple
Ground of Harmony
(Hwahap Hanmadang)
April 26, 2010 (Sun) 4:30pm-6:00pm The sports ground at Dongguk University
Buddhist Lantern Parade April 26, 2010 (Sun) 7:00pm-9:30pm Jongno Street (from Dongdaemun to Jogyesa Temple)
Ground of Unity and Hope (Daedong Hanmadang) April 26, 2010 (Sun) 9:30pm-11:00pm Jonggak Intersection
Buddha’s Birthday Celebration and Lantern Lighting May 2, 2010 (Sat) 10:00am
(Lantern Lighting starting at 6:00pm)
Temples across the nation, including Jogyesa Temple

Last week was Julianne’s birthday and I decided that we’d try to find a good dakgalbi place in Seoul.  Now this might seem like a fairly easy mission but factor into this that Julianne and I lived in Chuncheon for nearly 2 years and kind of consider ourselves to be connoisseurs, lol.  A while back Julianne and I were in the Sinchon station area of Seoul and we came across Chuncheon Myungdong Dakgalbi restaurant . . . and we made a mental note to try it sometime.  I took Julianne here for her birthday dinner last week.

The restaurant is only a few blocks away from Yonsei University (one of the top 3 in Korea that all students want to go to) so there were mostly university students in the restaurant.  The wait staff were very good and constantly checked on us to see that everything was okay.

When the platter of dakgalbi ingredients was brought to our table and put in the pan Julianne and I exchanged puzzled looks . . . the amount of food we saw was maybe 40% of what you’d see for two people in Chuncheon in a dakgalbi street restaurant (yes, there actually is a street of dakgalbi restaurants in Chuncheon).

After our server left we talked it over and decided to get a third serving added because we were both hungry.

After our server added the extra serving and mixed it up we were chatting about how long it had been since we’d eaten dakgalbi when we both realized that there were no rice tube cakes in the dakgalbi . . . apparently at this restaurant you have to individually add ingredients like the rice tubes versus in Chuncheon they just automatically put them in for you.  Hmmm . . .

Here are the ‘rice tubes’ as I call them.

Eventually the dakgalbi was finished cooking, and I served Julianne and I our first bowls of dakgalbi.  It was really good . . . but unfortunately not as good as authentic Chuncheon dakgalbi.  Julianne and I, however, both enjoyed the dakgalbi at this restaurant and would recommend anyone in Seoul who wants to try dakgalbi to come here.

All that being said, though, if you have the time we’d suggest that if you want the AUTHENTIC Chuncheon dakgalbi experience that you should jump on an express bus to Chuncheon (it only takes about 50 minutes now to get there from Seoul with the new expressway) and go to dakgalbi street restaurants . . . here are two posts of mine from when Julianne and I were in Chuncheon.

Chicken dokgalbi in Chuncheon, South Korea–up close and personal

2008 September Chicken Dokgalbi Dinner

Yikes . . . after looking at the pictures in those two posts I realize that my photography skills have improved just a wee bit, lol.  Anyways, here’s a closeup shot.

Two guys sitting next to us had rice and cheese after they were done their dokgalbi so we decided to follow suit.  The cheese was real mozzarella and tasted fabulous!

After dinner we decided to walk around the area a bit as the streets were lined with cherry blossom trees.

This guy was walking towards me as I was taking this picture.  He paused, stared up at the tree, and then started rapping, lol.  Yeah, he was practicing while walking around . . .

The neon lights of the shops and restaurants made the cherry blossoms take on some interesting tints.

After about 20 minutes of walking around taking pictures Julianne and I were ready to head home and relax.  I was happy that Julianne enjoyed her birthday, and that the dakgalbi satisfied her cravings (and mine too).

Now we just have to pick a weekend to do a run down to Chuncheon . . .

J

Directions: Walk out of Sinchon Station towards Yonsei University.  About four blocks from the station you’ll come to an intersection, turn right.  About two blocks down you’ll see the restaurant on your left.

Yesterday afternoon I returned with a friend to the 2010 Hangang Yeouido Spring Flower Festival (also see here for info) and the 2km lane way that runs around the National Assembly Building.  Click here to see part 1 of this two part post.  By this point in the afternoon about half the sky was blue, and the sun had come out . . .

I was really happy that the cloudy sky was disappearing, and had a great time taking pictures.

I noticed this little group of blossoms seemingly growing out of the tree’s bark . . . the contrasting light and dark are awesome.

At this point I decided to try using my Speedlite 580EXII flash to get some portrait shots with the sunlight coming almost directly behind me.  I set up my camera and then asked Julianne (she had joined my friend and I by this point) to take the shot.

I then had fun taking pictures of Julianne with cherry blossoms in the background.  This was tricky to do, however, with a nearly constant stream of people walking down the sidewalk, but most would pause for 10 seconds and let me take the shot.

At this point my friend decided to become the ‘photo shoot director’ and told Julianne to look up and pretend to think about something, lol.  I like it!

In the previous two pictures I was using f/5.0 on my Sigma 18-200mm lens.  For this next shot I put it on all depth and I really like that Julianne and the cherry blossoms are in focus.

We finished walking the 2km lane way and then headed towards the other side of Yeouido Park (it’s about 4 or 5 blocks away from the lane way) to find a restaurant for dinner.  I showed Julianne and my friend the giant fish that is one block away from Yeouido Park–they really liked it.

After snapping a few shots of the giant fish we headed to a restaurant for dinner.

I highly recommend checking out the cherry blossoms that line the 2km lane way around the National Assembly Building.  While I know there are other parts of Seoul with large concentrations of cherry blossom trees, walking the 2km lane way is a unique experience where you can not only see the beautiful cherry blossoms in large numbers, you can also see thousands of Koreans of all ages enjoying the spring weather and blossoms in their own unique cultural behaviors (for example, the different picture postures).

Well, time to get ready to go out again today (Sunday) and take more pictures.  The forecast again calls for cloudy skies all day . . . but I’m hoping for sunshine and some blue sky here and there.

J

Archives

Flickr Photos

More Photos