Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Interview with Illinois Farm Bureau

I recently gave a radio interview with the Illinois Farm Bureau about the recent U.S beef import debacle. I spoke with Josh St. Peters, a former classmate of mine from the University of Illinois, and currently the Farm Information Director for RFD. The piece was made available to nearly 90 radio stations across the state who carry IFB programming.

Copy the web address below into your Internet browser. A podcast of the entire "RFD Today" show from June 11 will appear. My interview starts about half-way through the show.


Seoul probably won't win any awards (anytime soon) for stunning architecture or breathtaking civic design, but inspiration can often be found in written messages posted in obscure places. One of my favorites lately is a motivational ditty in English adorning Yeouido's 63 Building. I see the message, "Love your life. Love your dream," almost every time I traverse over the Han River and during jogs around the city. English phrases found around Korea often come off as ambiguous, humorous translations of Korean sayings. I've never heard, "Love your dream," before, but whether the 63 Building's uplifting slogan is intentional inspiration or accidental philosophy, I like it! What could be better than loving your life, and enjoying what you're striving for?

Zzz . . .

I've decided Seoulites will sleep anywhere. Maybe it's due to their diligent work ethic, long nights in the soju tent, or obscene amounts of time studying English in private institutes, but whatever the reason, there seems to be an inordinate amount of daytime snoozing going on.

In the park

Against a stranger on the subway

In twos under a bridge

On the sidelines of a protest

In the office

Outside a busy sports arena

Down by the (Han) river

Perhaps you've also noticed the propensity for shoe removal during naps. I'm not sure whether it's an obligatory, civilized gesture or purely for comfort.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Protest du jour

These days I don't have to travel far to play roving reporter. There are daily protests occurring right on my KBS doorstep. Today a group of elderly (and some quite dapper) gentlemen gathered to protest protesters' protests. Seriously. As you may have guessed from demographic stereotype, these men are conservatives (as is the current South Korean government) and are decrying the anti-government protests that have blanketed the country in the last two months. My favorite part of today's demonstration was when the old women who sell ice cream in Yeouido Park across the street relocated to the protest site, just in case the anti-anit-government activism incited the sweet tooth. Or maybe they were drawn by the expressive machismo of the old men!

The riot police show up

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rainy day protest

Day two of the monsoon season (장 마) didn't deter protesters from gathering outside KBS to boisterously address the broadcaster's president, Jung Yun-joo. Propaganda calling for Jung to step down from his post has peppered the premises for months, but his critics have become more vocal in recent weeks. The protest frenzy brought on by daily demonstrations against U.S. beef imports seem to be inspiring anyone with a complaint about anything to take to the streets with bullhorns, poorly amplified music, and today, ponchos. I'm told some of the signs behind held by these demonstrators accuse KBS of promoting anti-American sentiment through its coverage of the candlelight vigils. It's difficult to see through this video, but riot police buses are parked bumper to bumper the length of the block and are blocking access to the main entrance of the building. Several of our freelancers who come and go through the day had trouble getting into the building.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Seoul: how do YOU say it?

If you're a migukin like I am, chances are South Korea's capital rolls off your tongue sounding just like sole or soul. But actually, there should be no mistaking the city for the bottom of a shoe because, in Korean, Seoul is spoken in two syllables (서 울). The closest I can come to a phonetic Roman alphabet translation is "suh-ool", but even that probably won't come out just right if spoken by a non-native. Although the Korean word is two syllables, it still sounds like one when spoken by native speakers (at least, that's my impression), but it doesn't really sound like sole or soul.

My life here has offered a daily dose of humility as I stumble my way through pronunciations of Korean words and phrases. I suppose having my snafus broadcast around the world makes that slice of humble pie even bigger. I realized my pronunciation of Seoul wasn't quite right as soon as I started at KBS, which is why I'm proud to report a personal accomplishment that occurred yesterday. As I delivered my standard sign-off concluding my afternoon newscast ("And that's the news from the KBS World Radio news center in Seoul. I'm Abby Rhodes") and exited the studio, an approving Mr. Kim said, "I like your pronunciation of Seoul." At first I thought he meant "like" in the, "I find it really humorous that your pronunciation is so wretched" way, but Mr. Kim was actually offering a genuine compliment. This conversation was a far cry from one we had about eight months ago when I still pronounced Seoul with one syllable.

Mr. Kim: Actually, it's "Seh-ool" (but it still sounded like sole to me!)

Abby: Right. Seoul. (one syllable)

Mr. Kim: No. "Seh-ool".

Abby: Okay. Seoul. (still one syllable, still sounding like sole)

Mr. Kim: (gives up)

And if Seoul has given me this much trouble, just imagine what Koreans think when I rattle off the names of newsmakers and other major cities. I find solace in the fact that around here, I'm still called A-bee Ro-jew.

Friday, June 13, 2008

O ship beon!

*** Original post: December 13, 2007

Since samgyeopsal (three-fat pork) has become a weekly staple in my diet, I decided it was high time I join a gym. In a society where great importance is placed on appearance and it seems everyone is on a diet, gyms are ubiquitous. I located a little mom-n-pop operation about two blocks from my apartment last week and sauntered in to inquire about their monthly membership rates. I made my first faux pas just stepping in the door. It's customary to take off your shoes when entering a home or a a restaurant with floor seating, but I didn't realize the same rules apply to gyms. And apparently walking over about five pairs of shoes just to get through the door wasn't hint enough. Once I realized everyone who was paying attention was staring at my feet, I quickly shuffled back out into the entryway and shed my shoes. Through a series of hand gestures, grunts, and facial expressions, I confirmed the membership rates and told the owner I'd be back another day.
So, this Monday I found myself back in the gym, the owner sternly instructing me to do "O ship beon" [fifty more] abdominal exercise "x". Fifty more?! Who do I look like, Rocky Balboa?! This guy does not think it is cute and/or funny that I don't speak Korean. While I smile at my own ignorance, hoping for a little sympathy, he seems to get increasingly annoyed. Although I tried to explain that I really just wanted to run on the treadmill, Mr. Gymowner seemed highly concerned with my mid-section and insisted upon guiding me through rigorous strength training before turning me loose for a cardio workout. I hung up my coat and hadn't gotten three steps outside the locker room when he approached me and used blatant gestures to "explain" we'd be working on my stomach . . . and whatever you call the flab that pokes out of your sides over the band of your exercise shorts. At this point, I was glad I couldn't understand anything that was coming out of his mouth. His message was pretty clear--"Honey, that samgyeopsal is going straight to your gut."
Amid 1970s era posters of body builders, I huffed and puffed my way through Mr. Gymowner's instructions, looking forward to being left alone to commence my treadmill workout. But when the time arrived, I realized every treadmill in the gym was set up on a permanent incline--a significant incline. Not ready for defeat, I decided no hill was too much for me and started running at a fairly brisk pace. That's when I realized everyone else in the gym was watching me (some giggling) and there was no way I would make it any longer than ten minutes at this pace. But now that I had established myself as super woman, I couldn't give up my ambitious run and settle for power walking like some soccer mom. The glass in front of the treadmill reflected my face getting redder and redder and even my most inspring iPod tunes weren't cutting it for this workout. I hammered through 25 minutes with visions of Sylvester Stalone confidently maneuvering the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art before succumbing to my fatigue. I stumbled off the treadmill, my legs feeling like Jell-O, grabbed my things, and rushed out before Mr. Gymowner could catch me and demand, "O ship beon!" of any other maneuver up his sleeve.

Note: Since writing this blog entry last December, I have lost four or five kilos (8-10 pounds), so apparently Mr. Gymowner's tough love has paid off! Nevertheless, he says I still need to lose four more kilos!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Is it just me . . .

. . . or is this too close for comfort? During a recent late night subway ride through Seoul, I watched the guy on the right make pillows out of four different passengers. Each lucky passenger appeared to be a stranger to Mr. Sleepyhead. As I watched each scenario play out, I was more baffled by the response of the "pillows" than by the utter disregard for personal space coming from Mr. Sleepyhead. Several months ago I blogged about the lack of recognition, or at least respect, of personal space in Seoul. I suppose I've become accustomed to the pushing and shoving in the subway, random people touching my hair out of curiosity, and even retail store employees physically pulling me off the street and into their store to check out the merchandise. Some space invaders still catch me off-guard, though. Last weekend an elderly woman approached me from behind, slipped her hand under the sleeve of my t-shirt and roughly tugged on it to get my attention. She was asking for 1,000 won (about $1), but the audacity of her approach and the resulting torn hem in my t-shirt sleeve left me feeling irritated, and far from benevolent.

In some respects, I believe Korea's "touch culture" is refreshing. Men of all ages are comfortable embracing one another in public and walking down the street with arms slung over each others' shoulders. I've seen men my age mess with each others' hair on the subway. They aren't subject to the homophobic scorn and accusations they'd likely receive in Korea (although Korean society is certainly homophobic--it's just that "gays don't exist in Korea"--ha!). Perhaps I'm the old fuddy duddy, not willingly offering up my shoulder to random sleepyheads. Watching Mr. Sleepyhead on the subway Saturday night I wondered, "What would Abby do?" I'm fairly certainly I would have left my seat as soon as his head hit my body, even if it meant standing for the rest of my 30-minute ride. Am I the rude one?

Saengil Chukha haeyo, Sarah!

Happy birthday to KBS World Radio English host and writer, Sarah Jun! The English team enjoyed a Vietnamese lunch in celebration of Sarah's special day, followed by a quick photo shoot outside KBS. (From left: Sarah Jun, Mr. Chae Hong-pyo, Abby Rhodes, and Sophia Hong)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Protest or family fun?

I found the photo to the left on website of The Hankyoreh, an independent Korean newspaper. Shots like this only confirm my opinion that the recent vigils and protests in opposition of the U.S. beef import deal have become less and less about U.S. beef, and more about the thrill of complaining . . . about something, anything. Sure, many Koreans are upset, and rightfully so, that the government is acting more like a dictatorship than a democracy. The U.S. beef import deal did come up suddenly and it sure did look like Lee Myung-bak was bowing at the feet of U.S. interests. But as the protests get bigger, longer, and more vocal, the arguments against U.S. beef aren't getting any more convincing. Students are relishing the boycott of classes to protest issues many of them don't understand. Photos from rallies show kids thrilled to be playing with fire. Meanwhile, online scaremongering and baseless rumors about the safety of U.S. beef are inticing more people to jump on the bandwagon every day. I believe Koreans should be concerned about their health and absolutly should expect their government to serve in their best interests (and I really don't care if anyone eats U.S. beef), but the fad vigils aren't projecting an image of a well-informed public.