Korean Sojourns

The Pattern Of Chabyul!

The Site Of The Foul Crime!

Chabyul…or discrimination.


At the university I teach the students to speak and write.

The conversation classes are the ESL equivalent of a factory line: the students face each other in two rows and drill common grammar forms into each other’s heads, switching places when they finish, the student at the front moving to the back and the rest of the students in the row moving down, while the students in the opposite row stay still. A large projection screen displays the sentence forms that the students have to practice, and alternating pictures ensure that the conversation always stays fresh.


After an hour of reading I’ve finally started to write, which means that my son will wake up soon.

Our new house has an office, and by that I mean a room with large windows overlooking the older parts of the city, a table, numerous ESL textbooks that no one ever touches, two chairs, and a cheap old Korean couch that doubled on exactly one occasion as a bed for a guest. This room is vitally important because I can come here before the sun comes up and when the sky out the bedroom window is a faint pink fabric glowing ever brighter against the blue of the night and the stars you can sometimes see despite all the cities and all the light pollution—I can come here, and sit, and work, maybe for an hour or so if I’m lucky, without waking up the boy.

Tracing The Causes Of Several Naps

Two days in a row now I’ve been done in by hour after hour of streaming, babbling Korean. I know enough to identify the important points of these intimate conversations held among my Korean family members, but making sense of all the backwards-somersault grammatical tricks they perform, their Gyeongju accents slurring pairs of Chinese syllables into new Korean monosyllables, with a word like gwa-way, one-on-one tutoring, forced together into gway, in that curious forge, the Korean mouth—making sense of complaints about my brother-in-law, and the phrase five million won, and the Konglish ess-yoo-bee, is impossible without my wife’s help, and through her I learn that he had requested five million won, the rough equivalent of five thousand dollars, to buy an unnecessarily new SUV, adding that his parents could sell one of the few small apartments that they own to generate the cash.

Biking At Night In Gyeongju

Pedaling through Gyeongju at night. This is a flat city, built millennia ago beneath the great sheltering wall of South Mountain, and unlike the near-vertical drops of Busan you can really get around in this place if you’ve got a bike: only the crisscrossing four-lane highways pose any danger, and the traffic lights go on forever. Even as I bike here I’ve got New York on my mind: there at least the lights change after just a few seconds.

The New Landlord

The two gray apartment buildings rise outside grandma’s living room windows.

She is their owner, and she is sitting on the brown hardwood floor of her vast two-story house of brick, stretching out her left leg while folding the right one under her knee. There is a large flatscreen television turned off facing a big brown leather couch no one ever sits on, above which hangs a very pink and blue family portrait, with the edges blurred, and everyone inside smiling as if there are sharp objects secretly being inserted into their rectums. In the evenings her husband likes to sit on the floor near the couch and watch the news to learn about how the Japanese are trying to steal Dokdo back again.

Ghetto Playground Liberation

I knew there was a lot of garbage in Korea, I’ve written about the garbage here a thousand times before, it’s even how my book about this place opens up, during my trip to America one of my relatives even commented on how dark and depressing an opening this was—and yet, this morning when I ventured outside into the molasses-thick humidity at the behest of my son (yelling at me to put on his shoes in Toddlerese and then yelling at me while pointing to the door), and went to the deserted and very poor excuse of a playground that we frequent merely because it is close to the apartment, I was still astounded that people anywhere could live like this.

Upping The Korean Ante

In New York I vowed to study Korean.

My vacation from the university has lasted two months, and during that time I’ve probably spent about two hours with my favorite textbook, available for free in its entirety online. Back in Korea it would be a good week if I could put in an hour reading and then another hour practicing the grammar points with one of my wife’s friends, who is hoping to marry a Korean doctor who lives in New Zealand—these two meet up every six months but he only texts her, never calls, and seems finicky about putting a ring around the woman who is desperate to marry him.

Nixon Went To China, And Lee Went To Dokdo

Let me say one thing before I begin: this post is not going to be a tired rehashing of the Dokdo issue. The newspaper of record just published an article on Lee Myung-bak’s recent wag-the-dog visit to the islands, while the Dokdo Times, as usual, has summarized the event perfectly:

Japanese-born President Lee Myung-bak made the first ever visit by a South Korean leader to the Korean Dokdo Islands today, in an unprecedented trip that unmistakably proves Seoul’s sovereignty over the territory.

Dog Meat And Vegetarianism

Dog meat protests are apparently on the rise in Seoul as Koreans struggle to shake the mild reputation they have for turning household pets and endangered animals into soups that are supposed to give men harder erections. I’m willing to bet that most of the people at these protests still prefer to spend a night a week at the local samgyupsal joint, devouring food that Westerners approve of; during the Seoul Olympics the Korean government “closed all restaurants serving Gaejang-guk to better improve the country’s image to Western visitors” according to wikipedia, although naturally they opened up later, and can be found at a safe distance from major tourist destinations.

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