Sunday, December 14, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The won-yen exchange rate has brought many a Japanese tourist to Korea in recent weeks just for shopping. Something tells me they aren't buying "Dokdo Love" socks, though. I wonder if there are "Takeshima Love" socks in Japan???
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Just a few of the many tubs of ingredients.
The cabbages are halved and soak in salt water overnight before being stuffed on Day 2. Kimjang can be great exercise; Haewon came into work bemoaning sore limbs after two days of throwing hundreds of cabbages around.
On Day 2, many gloved hands stuff hundreds of cabbages with red pepper powder, fish sauce, minced ginger, garlic, and green onions to create the delicacy widely regarded as one of the world's healthiest foods. After the stuffing, the kimchi will be packed in plastic containers (or earthenware jars, traditionally) where it will ferment. It's ready to eat in about a week and stays good through the winter. In fact, many people prefer aged kimchi over the freshly-made.
Friday, November 14, 2008
This Thursday marked one of the biggest, and most high-stress, annual events in South Korea. About 590,000 high school students across the nation took the college entrance exam (College Scholastic Ability Test), which many believe will seal their fate when it comes to their future career prospects. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the exam is a "national obsession", and its impacts stretch far wider than the students who take it. State employees go to work an hour later to cut down on commuter congestion. Oversleepers are rushed to exam sites by police escort. Parents wring their hands with worry that their kids' performance may reflect poor nurturing. Around the time of last year's exam, I posted the following entry to my personal blog:
National University Entrance Exam Day
This Thursday the high temperature in Seoul dropped a noticeable five degrees from the previous day. Those five degrees were enough to make everyone feel like winter is right around the corner. I hadn't really thought about it feeling colder until I was walking to the subway after work and remembered a sidebar to a prominent news story this week. Thursday, November 15, was national university entrance exam day. Legend says temperatures always dip on this very important day for Koreans. When I first heard that theory, early in the week, I was ready to call the BS card immediately, but I'm not kidding you; it was COLD Thursday!
The temperature is just a small part of the story that surrounds exam day. For one thing, it really is just one day a year. High schoolers get one shot a year to put on their best game face and try to earn their way into one of Korea's top three universities. It's called aiming for the "SKY" because the top three schools are Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University. If you score well enough to be accepted into one of these schools, you've got a great chance of making your career dreams come true. If you don't score well enough, many Koreans would say you might as well crawl into a hole and die. That's how much pressure there is on these kids to do well. So much that in recent years several suicides have been attributed to the stress associated with this make-or-break exam.
Korean kids are groomed for academic success from the age of two or three. They're enrolled in "nursery schools" where they aren't just cutting out shapes and sloppily gluing them onto construction paper. They're learning foreign languages, how to read, how to play a musical instrument, and a variety of other things. Once kids start going to school, the intensity picks up. School gets out earlier here, around 1:00 or 2:00, but most kids spend the rest of the afternoon and evening attending several different academies. Sophia's daughter, for instance, goes to an English academy, a piano academy, an art academy, and takes swimming lessons. Most of the time, she doesn't go to bed until after 10:00PM . . . and she's 7 years old! Many parents will practically go broke paying for their kids to attend these academies (or "hagwons") because they know their kids can't be competitive academically without additional instruction. I tutor a 14 year-old once a week in English. I meet with him at 7:00PM to help him learn English, just as he's getting home from spending an hour or two at an English hagwon.
So on national university entrance exam day, the government urges all civil servants to go to work one hour later so the public transportation system is less crowded for kids trying to make it to test sites on time. The military halts all flights and shooting drills so as not to distract students during listening portions of the exam. Mothers across the country take photos of their kids to local churches and Buddhist temples to be placed on altars.
So while all these kids were biting their nails and drying their sweaty palms, I started reminiscing about taking the ACT as a junior in high school. I could have taken a prep course to get myself ready for the test, but I thought it sounded boring. I could have purchased a study guide to familiarize myself with the format of the test, but I needed that money for clothes! I probably could have at least gotten an adequate amount of sleep the night before the test, but I was too busy packing because as soon as the exam was over, I was heading to Florida for a vacation. Although I could have taken the test as many times as I was willing to pay to do so, I felt satisfied with my first score and really didn't want to deal with another four-hour exam, anyway. My score was hardly stellar, but just good enough to get me into the university of my choice. I'm not sure pressure entered into the scenario at all. I can guarantee you that even had I scored very poorly, I would not have considered my life to be over. Ironically, most Koreans would look at me in my current situation and say I'm very successful. The sad part is, that's mostly because I speak English.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
One of our listeners impressed the English section by sending a huge box with various types of Pepero. Thanks, Steve!
When it comes to Pepero, the options are endless. They range from the inexpensive, but most popular varieties you can find in any convenience store, to more expensive varities available at bakeries. KBS World Spanish service chief, Sonia, poses with fancy Pepero.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I was a little disappointed that there was no "I Voted" sticker in my absentee ballot packet. Like many Americans, I have become completely immersed in the excitement of this year's election. On one hand, it's a bummer to be half-way around the world as my fellow Americans head to the polls on Election Day. On the other hand, it's been very interesting to live in a foreign country during a historic campaign that comes at a tumultuous time for the entire world.
I've done some very unscientific polling, and concluded that Koreans' opinions about the U.S. election are just as diverse as the U.S. itself. Many Koreans tell me they like Barack Obama, but believe John McCain will win. Most say conservative U.S. policy better serves Korea. Some have blatantly said, "I like Obama, but . . . he's black," while others have intimated that the Illinois senator's good looks should be reason enough to vote for him. McCain's P.O.W. experience pulls at some heartstrings, but some have said he's just too old. And I've been humbled by a few who have said, "I'm not American. I don't care."
Since the results will pour in during my Wednesday morning, I'm looking forward to observing the atmosphere around KBS. I may be the only one riding an emotional roller coaster tomorrow, alternately shrieking with joy and anxiously wringing my hands, but there's no doubt many are looking forward to seeing how America votes.
Monday, November 3, 2008
The top! Check out the guy just casually perched on a rock, with death just a slip away! Somehow, I always forget that I'm terrified of heights until I find myself hundreds of meters above sea level with a line of hikers behind me, waiting as I muster the courage for the next death-defying step. Thankfully, Matt was a calming coach.
We found these chilies out to dry near a Buddhist temple
Seoul through the trees
Look close for the truly crazy . . . at least they're attached to a rope!
Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
This week Korea announced 2010-2012 are "Visit Korea" years. The tourism promotion campaign is the third of its kind and seeks to bring 10 million tourists and $10 billion in tourism money to Korea annually by 2012. The campaign committee has plans for more on-site promotion projects in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. More offices like this could be popping up in a neighborhood near you!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I took this video in a section of Shanghai referred to as "Old Town" or "Old City". These lively areas where working class people can be seen hustling and bustling around the clock are always my favorite parts of big cities.
I was amazed by the prevalence of bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles in China. I had never actually seen a moped in person before. Cyclists have their own lane on most roads and even designated signal lights. Here's a shot from an intersection along Shanghai's famous Nanjing Road.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
This dispute between two rural Illinois siblings is ironically indicative of the larger picture. Korea claims absolute sovereignty over Dokdo, while Japan has repeatedly claimed over the years that Takeshima is Japanese territory. The controversy spikes every so often and most recently when Japan suggested it would claim territorial rights over the islets in upcoming school textbooks. Meanwhile, the United States didn't make things easier for Korea when its Board on Geographic Names categorized the islets as having "undesignated sovereignty". The BGN's designations are used as the U.S. federal government's standard. Although I found myself arguing like a Korean would with my brother, my outsider perspective actually tells me the BGN's classification makes perfect sense. Although it makes a thorny issue even more complex, the U.S. has been calling the islets the Liancourt Rocks since 1977 so as to stay out of the Korea-Japan dispute. Yet it officially recognized the islets as South Korean territory prior to the "undesignated sovereignty" debacle. So with Japan making refreshed claims to Dokdo at the same time the U.S. naming agency delivered a diplomatic slap in the face, it's no wonder Koreans were a little perturbed. Although the BGN name change was based on a decision made some time ago, the untimely release felt to Koreans like a U.S. vote in favor of Japan. Perhaps because this incident came on the heels of very spirited demonstrations against U.S. beef imports and amidst the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement impasse, the Bush administration quickly instructed the BGN to re-designate the Liancourt Rocks as Korean territory on its website.
who owns it. Regardless of what the islets are called on a map, they're barely even visible without a magnifying glass.
Monday, September 22, 2008
KBS World Radio will soon begin an RSS feed service. This means you'll be able to download our programming onto your computer to enjoy whenever, wherever you wish.
Our first step is deciding which programs to feature via RSS feed. That's where YOU come in! Please let us know which shows you'd most like to see available in this format. Remember, you can always listen to our programs on-demand on our website, but this new option will allow you to take KBS World with you wherever you go!
Send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment here on my blog and give us your input.
America's most internationally familiar food chain is exercising damage control in light of Koreans' apprehension of U.S. beef. As though McDonald's customers were pillars of healthy consumption, the company is assuring everyone that its burgers are made strictly with Australian beef. (Personally, I've never dared to guess from where the "mystery meat" used in McDonald's products comes, regardless of where its sold.)
After months of intense public backlash against the government's decision to reopen the Korean market to U.S. beef, many restaurants have been pushing the non-American beef-ness of their products, but I find myself irritated by these signs posted at an American fast food icon. McDonald's should be using its power to advertise the quality of American products and help repair the tattered image of U.S. beef, rather than playing into unfounded rumors and irrational fears. Perhaps coming from farm country U.S.A., I'm too slow to scrutinize American farm products, but I've certainly never worried about the safety of beef purchased in the States. I have, on the other hand, winced when considering the amount of fat and cholesterol in an order of McDonald's french fries. That's what Koreans oughtta be worried about.