Category: How to Culture

Pottery Classes in Dal Dong

By , October 31, 2013 6:36 pm

by Kim Chan Sook

A homemakers sense of beauty and style can be so homogenous because our options are limited. This means our cupboards are decorated with very similar dishes, cups and crockery. Sometimes I think that I fancy owning and decorating my kitchen with unique, original, valuable and meaningful ceramics. The ceramics which can be made ourselves, with our ingenious inspirations  can be family heirlooms. We can also later share our experience, and reminisce with our descendants through our creations. Pottery usually is baked at a  very high temperature, so its durability is very strong therefore we don’t have to worry about how we preserve them.

Store 4

Timeless pieces

I searched everywhere for pottery lessons and then finally I found a wonderful place located very accessibly, near by the Nam-gu public office (Namgu Cheong) in Dal Dong.

Dal Dong Park

On the street, looking towards the park between the Namgu Office and the Cultural Center

The reason why I choose the gallery is that the potters provide various paper-templates, plaster-templates, gracious dyes, (specifically their dyes and shape of pottery is said to be elegant and attractive) and also the freedom they allowed me to find my own style. I think their non-excessive interference is good for our originality.

The classroom

The classroom

We just keep in mind and respect every potter’s tenacity for their style. They want the style to be inherited and to teach Korean types of pottery to everybody, regardless of nation and race.

Two or three  months after we begin learning, and have mastered the basics, we can choose and make what we want. We can emulate our teachers products or we can create original pieces.

Classroom 2

Because their products are so phenomenal,  we bend over backwards to recreate their pieces, and we can do it by taking our teachers advice and direction.

I used a plaster template

I used a plaster template

I used


I made to my taste

I made to my taste

We can  learn about a distinguished potters craft. For reference they have an exhibition hall to sell their products and they also take orders from gorgeous restaurants.

The exhibition and shop

The exhibition and shop

After we are accustomed to the skills, we can buy a tiny kiln, which is just like an electronic rice cooker and then we can bake pottery in the house.

Whenever I put meals on my potteries, I’m proud of myself, the pottery upgrades the class of food and when I present my own creation to my precious friends their blissful gaiety adds to my pleasure, because the pottery which they were presented is the only one in the world, even though we take an inspiration though other potters.

The gallery is open from 10:30a.m. to 8p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.

Store 3

I usually stay for over 3 hours a day. When I am tired of working, I can take a rest and drink a cup of coffee at the well-landscaped Mun-hwa park which located just beside the gallery, and can make an appointment for my next lesson, and then I can create again.

In the same building as the gallery and workshop there is also a very famous Korean restaurant. The gallery is on the first  floor and the restaurant which is second to none in wrapped-rice with lotus leaf is on the 2nd floor of the building.

Healthy rice wrapped in a lotus leaf, served on hand-made pottery

Healthy rice wrapped in a lotus leaf, served on hand-made pottery

If we’d like to eat in that restaurant, we usually have to book a table 1 or 2 days before. They put all of their meals on the potter’s products and they use 13 ingredients when they cook rice. The restaurant is remarkable for vegetarians too. This is because they serve vegetable-based meals. (there will on occasion be some fishy side dishes). The main dish is 12,000won per portion. The name is Sung-won-cha.

Restaurant Table

The restaurant also has a another room for tea ceremonies and for sells natural-dyed clothes, many pieces of accessories and bags.

Restaurant Sign

If your spirit of creation is moved, shall we take pottery lessons to diffuse our wily emulation and for the day when we will be able to pass a finest heirloom down our pottery in Han Jin An gallery?

The name of gallery : Han Jin An ( 한 진 안)

Lesson fee : Once a week-100,000won, Twice a week-200,000won for each month.

Baking fee in the electronic kiln : 15,000won each kilogram according to our product’s weight.

Class schedule : Every Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30a.m. to 8p.m.

Starting time is up to you but before change your regular time, you should tell them about your schedule.

Preparation material : A set of gravers – which are easily and cheaply bought in Gu-am stationary store (location pinned on Interactive Map under “Shopping”)  – and an apron.

Everything else is provided, and when you finish, out of politeness, you had better put tools back in their place.

Location : Near the Cultural Center/KBS Hall/ Namgu Office – (pinned on the Interactive Map under “Culture”

or look at this satellite view

Telephone no : 052) 266. 9979

Atelier Haru: Minhwa Painting Classes in Ulsan

By , July 4, 2013 5:20 pm

by Kate Croft

Class Times:

Tuesday 10 AM – 1 PM
Wednesday 2-5 PM, 7-10 PM
Thursday 10 AM – 1 PM, 2-5 PM, 7-10 PM
Friday 7-10 PM
Saturday 10 AM – 1 PM

Prices: 150,000 won for a once-a-week course (5 times in one month) and 250,000 won for a twice-a-week course (10 times in a month).

It started because I was jealous. My Korean friend Eva started taking a painting class, and she showed off a photo of her first work over coffee. “It’s my first time painting,” she admitted. Her painting – a lively cluster of peonies in bloom – was truly lovely.

“Your first time? Really?” I asked her in disbelief. Eva is an exceptionally creative person, but this painting looked positively skillful.

palettes of Minhwa paint

palettes of Minhwa paint

“Oh, yes. It’s really quite easy,” she confided, and explained the process of her first 민화 (Minhwa) painting. Minhwa is a traditional Korean art form that typically combines black ink wash painting with Korean water-based paints, similar to watercolors. It sounded like very detailed work that might require some patience, but I thought maybe – just maybe – I could do it. Eva wholeheartedly agreed and invited me to visit the atelier (that’s French, and also Korean, for painting studio). “You’ll love my teacher,” she grinned. “She wants to practice English.”

The lovely and talented teacher, Eugene Choi

The lovely and talented teacher, Eugene Choi

Eva took me to 아틀리에 하루 (Atelier Haru), located in Samsan-dong. Haru is a lovely little one-room studio perched on top of a building near Hyundai Department Store, just a couple of doors down from Guam, Ulsan’s ultimate desintation for stationary and art supplies.  We rode the elevator to the fifth floor, then got out to climb one more flight of stairs to the roof. Up there, it seemed like another world; potted flowers led the way to the studio, and the traffic sounds gave way to a rooster crowing (this is not a pastoral metaphor – apparently someone keeps chickens on top of Guam!). The studio has big windows on three sides, which flood the cozy little room with light, ideal for painting.

In the studio

In the studio

Eugene Choi, Haru’s owner and teacher, has a the bedside manner of a gentle breeze. She flutters by to offer instruction or guidance, but largely leaves you to concentrate on the intricate process of Minhwa, one of Korea’s longest-lived traditional art forms. Her English is limited (she confessed I was her first foreign pupil), but she communicates basic instructions well enough, and will always demonstrate first so you have an example to emulate. Her own outrageously beautiful paintings show true artistic integrity, from the hanji canvases she mounts herself, to the washes made from natural dyes, to the hand-chiseled stone stamps with which she signs her work.  If you are a beginner, she will prepare your palette and brushes for you, and she always creates a peaceful, relaxing environment with pleasant music and occasionally coffee, so that the three-hour painting sessions fly by.

The teacher at work

The teacher at work

By the end of my fifth class, I had completed my first painting – peonies similar to Eva’s, which represent wealth and honor, and are a common subject in traditional Minhwa, along with lotuses, fish, turtles, dragonflies, butterflies, tigers, magpies and human figures doing everyday tasks, as well as the scenes and patterns often depicted on temple walls.

My painting

My painting

By the end of my third class, however, I had already bought my own set of Minhwa paints, brushes, Korean ink (수묵화, similar to the Japanese sumi-e) and an enormous roll of hanji paper to practice at home. Since then, I’ve completed several pieces on my own, in addition to the work I’ve done in class (which is, admittedly, far superior due to the teacher’s guidance). Minhwa is an excellent way to learn about Korean cultural traditions, and my time at Haru has greatly enriched my appreciation of Korean art and art history. I think I’ve found my new favorite hobby.^^

By Eugene Choi

By Eugene Choi


Studio Name: 아틀리에 하루 (Atelier Haru)

Owner/Instructor: Eugene Choi

Address: 30 Wangsaeng-ro66beon-gil

Location: Just West of Guam Stationary Store, 6th floor.

Map: (Also pinned on the Interactive Map under “Culture”)

Class information: Classes are purchased in packages of 5. Each class is three hours long. Most students seem to register for one class per week, on a designated day. Please note that the Saturday afternoon class is very popular (currently full).

Class schedule:

Monday:                No class.

Tuesday:                10:00AM-1:00PM;      2:00PM-5:00PM;      7:00PM-10:00PM.

Wednesday:         10:00AM-1:00PM;      2:00PM-5:00PM;      7:00PM-10:00PM.

Thursday:              10:00AM-1:00PM;      2:00PM-5:00PM.

Friday:                    10:00AM-1:00PM;      2:00PM-5:00PM;      7:00PM-10:00PM.

Saturday:               10:00AM-1:00PM;      2:00PM-5:00PM.

Sunday:                 No class.


If you read Korean, there is a lot more information about Minhwa and the studio on her website. If you don’t, just enjoy the pictures – there are photos of each student’s completed works (mine is there!).

Contact: You can contact Ms. Choi by email at mimi8502 at naver dot com, or call/Kakao 010-4750-9243 (phone calls in Korean only, please!). I also recommend you stop by the studio during class hours to introduce yourself in person!


Street sign outside studio

Street sign outside studio

Author contact information:


The Twelve Days of Love (reprinted from the Ulsan Pear)

By , March 13, 2013 5:39 pm

Editor’s Note: This was originally published in the Ulsan Pear (the newspaper predecessor to – you can check out the archives here) in February 2006. I’m republishing it here in celebration of White Day, which is tomorrow.

By Mike Weber

Every country and culture has its own unique courtship rituals. Sometimes, ideas and customs get borrowed. Things are lost in the translation, but sometimes things are gained as well.

In Korea, simply having one Valentine’s Day is not enough . Each month, the 14th is set aside for lovers (or in some cases, the loveless). No one is entirely sure where and how some of these days started. They seem to have began as loose high school traditions. Much like urban legends, they have become more widely circulated via the internet. There is no central authority of the days and how they should be observed. Check a dozen different Cyworld home pages, and you’ll see a dozen different variations on the themes. Here’s a rough break down of the twelve “lover’s holidays” in Korea (not including Pepero Day, Christmas, birthdays etc).

January 14th – “Diary Day”

The customary gift is a year-long daily planner or calendar. Exceptionally devoted lovers will mark off certain days, such as the 200 or 300 day anniversaries of their couplehood, as well as birthdays and whatnot.

February 14th – “Valentine’s Day”

The original. Korean girls celebrate the Gnostic teachings of Valentinius by giving chocolate to their boys.

March 14th – “White Day”

This day is set aside for the boys to reciprocate gifts of chocolate to their ladies.

April 14th – “Black Day”

A holiday anyone can appreciate, those who are unlucky in love celebrate their bitterness with “jajangmyang,” a Chinese dish of noodles and black bean sauce.

Nobody loves you? Here, eat this!

May 14th – “Rose Day”

Lovers exchange roses and sentiments, among other things. Alternately, the 14th of May can also be “Yellow Day,” which is celebrated with curry.

June 14th – “Kiss Day”

The human mouth contains over 300 strains of bacteria, several types of fungus, and millions of individual microbes. Have a happy Kiss Day!

July 14th –“Silver Day”

A gift of silver jewelry is the traditional exchange for this day. Silver is a tasteful alternative to gold, which has been ruined by mafia goons and rappers.

August 14th– “Green Day”

Even Billie Joe would approve of taking your loved one to a scenic, rustic area and enjoying a green bottle of soju together.

Taking Green Day too far. (photo from

September 14th – “Music and Photo Day”

On this day, take your sweetheart somewhere where you can enjoy music. And also, take a photo.

October 14th – “Wine Day”

What’s more romantic than enjoying a quiet bottle of wine with a loved one? Find a nice, candlelit locale and splurge of a bottle of the good stuff. It sure beats chocolate.

November 14th – “Movie Day”

The traditional “dinner and a movie” date of the West gets its very own day in Korea. Surely with the immense volume of high quality cinema that Hollywood has been putting out lately, you’ll have no trouble finding a movie worth seeing.

December 14th – “Hug Day”

As the name implies, this day is for hugs. You don’t need a sweetheart to enjoy this day; anyone likes a good hug. Especially if they’re drunk.

You’ll never need to wait more than a month to have an opportunity for romance: you can woo your special someone all year long. Enjoy some Korean culture and make every 14th a special day.

Be Aware of Very Different Things

By , February 5, 2013 1:34 pm

Coming to a new country and culture can be daunting. There are so many new things to learn, whether they are customs, manners, food, clothes and yes, even laws.

For most things, the laws here in Korea are no different than laws in any other country.  No one needs to tell you that stealing is bad, killing someone will land you in jail (or worse) or that illicit drugs might get you thrown out of the country. But there are several areas of Korean law to be aware of that are vastly different from most other places.

One the biggest, and perhaps costliest, mistakes one might make in Korea is in the area of self defense.  You DO NOT have the right lay the smack down on someone in self defense. You have a right to defend yourself, but only to the extent that you prevent someone from physically harming you. In other words,

Defend yourself, but don’t fight back

you can physically restrain someone, but if they hit you, you are not allowed to hit back. That’s called fighting. And fighting, regardless of who started it or why, both parties are at fault.  Worse, the one who wins in the street loses in court.  So, for example, imagine you are attacked in the street by a gang of thugs who mean to do you bodily harm. You decide to take matters into your hands (no pun intended) and offer the best defense you were taught – the best defense is a good offense. So, you strike the leader of the gang and hope his followers lose the will to continue. The result: the leader is down and out with a broken nose, but you are saddled with a large cost assigned to you by the court to cover the leader’s medical costs.  This really happened here in Ulsan. And it could happen to you.  According to the Police, you should merely hold or restrain your attacker with one hand while frantically calling the police (call 119)  with the other.  Good luck with that. Koreans seem to know that foreigners are apt to fight rather than restrain and sometimes they appear to egg a foreigner on in the hopes that a fight will ensue. Whoever loses the fight, i.e. whoever has  more medical costs or stays in the hospital longer, wins what is called “Blood money.”  Since most of us don’t like staying in the hospital for long (bad food, loss of job, etc), we’ll get out more quickly, be judged the winner of the fight and therefore the real loser: the one who pays the blood money. They’ll antagonize you to fight and even fake injury or self inflict injury so they can  report you to the police and you’ll be forced to pay blood money.  This, too, has actually happened in Ulsan. It could happen to you.

Be the bystander. Let the EMTs be the heroes

Another area where foreigners can get into difficulty is in helping someone.  In some countries, if you are involved in an accident and fail to render help to an injured person, you can be held responsible. Not so here in Korea. You can be charged with interfering by the very person you are trying to help. Police say that in this situation you should call for help (call 112) but not do anything else.  Many of us have had CPR training or 1st Aid training, but unless you want to pay blood money to the injured person, your best course of action is to  call emergency responders and calmly watch as the injured party continues their death rattle, inspires their own vomit and gasps for air. Be sure to take some video for posting on the gore sites on the internet, but don’t help the injured person.

Finally, traffic laws are something to be aware of.  Although nearly all traffic markings, traffic signs and instructions are either in the international form or even in English, they mean nothing. Absolutely nothing. Those white markings on the street that in other countries means “cross walk”, a space that is considered safe to cross the street without fear of being run over, are not that at all.  Those are marks are similar in nature to the cross-hairs on a telescopic rifle sight, enabling Koreans to better aim their vehicle at you. A red/green traffic light does NOT mean its OK to go when it’s green.  A green light means it’s OK to proceed forward IF and ONLY IF  a Korean on the cross avenue has not decided he wishes to continue through his red light. Never go when its green simply because it’s green. Go when no other cars are coming, including when it’s a red light. If it’s red and no one else is coming, it’s safe to go through.  That goes for just about any other traffic law as well. If it says don’t do X, you can be sure it’s perfectly OK to do X. Parking is a perfect example of this.  Blue and red no-parking signs with the Korean markings  주차금지 (no parking) or solid yellow lines on the right hand side of the road means it’s perfectly OK to park there. Walk down any street in Ulsan and see for yourself that this is true and there are plenty of cars parking there.

There is an exception to the traffic non-laws, however.  That is where the laws are enforced with CCTV and, in some cases Radar-enabled CCTV.  Since the police rarely do much of anything in traffic except push traffic buttons and check their hand phones, Koreans have long relied on CCTV cameras combined with high tech computer systems to handle violators.  If it says “no parking” and there’s a CCTV camera nearby, you can bet you’ll get a ticket if you park there. If there’s a traffic light with a CCTV camera mounted on it, you can bet its safe to go on green and very unsafe to go on red or you’ll get a ticket. If there’s a speed limit sign and a radar speed-camera sign, it’s wise to stay under limit – or you’ll get a ticket. Sure enough, within a few days of violating a law in the presence of CCTV a ticket will arrive in the mail  announcing the violation and the need to pay. But don’t worry about paying the ticket.  The ticket goes to the car owner and not necessarily the driver. So only if you sell your car or you need major repairs will you have to pay those traffic fines. Your best bet is to wait until you’re ready to leave Korea. Then sell your car to an unsuspecting foreigner who will then be saddled with all of your tickets. Problem solved.

We hope you’ve learned something about Korean laws here and hope you’ll keep safe during your stay here.  For more information regarding Korean laws, rules and regulations for which our tongue is planted far less firmly in our cheek, please visit The Official Word section of

New Year, Round 2

By , January 6, 2012 6:56 pm

For those of you who had great aspirations of starting off 2012 right – you know, eat healthier, get fit, be nicer, get up before noon even if you start work at 3 – but have had trouble keeping your resolutions, you’re in luck! Here in Korea, you get two shots at a fresh start to a New Year, thanks to using both the Gregorian and Lunar calendars.

Since the Lunar and Gregorian calendars don’t exactly match up, the Lunar holiday dates tend to fluctuate, hence Easter happening any time in March or April. Lunar New Year, or 설날 (Seollal) is no exception. This year it falls on January 23rd, which is a Monday. Koreans take the days surrounding Seollal off, primarily as preparation and travel days.

Everyone's heading to The Grandmother's House

Much like Chuseok, the feast of thanksgiving and paying homage to the ancestors held in Sept/Oct, Seollal is a time for families to gather together, usually at The Grandmother’s House, which is either in

Gyeonggu or Busan, according to the diaries of almost every young student I ever taught. (I always picture The Grandmother as a kindly old lady, with her graying hair tied up in a bun, a permanent smile on her wrinkled face, and an apron tied around her stooped, rounded frame. Kind of like the old 할모니 (halmony is ‘grandmother’ in Korean) who sells bondaegi and squid off that street cart in Shinae in the evenings, come to think of it.)

The Grandmother


Marty wrote a thorough that article  explains all of the traditions and rituals that take place on Lunar New Years.

If you aren’t close enough to your Korean friends to get yourself invited to a family celebration, you can find lots of other ways to celebrate this changing of the year.

Plan ahead – Keep in mind that many people travel on the days surrounding Seollal, so the roads will be very busy, and the buses and trains booked well in advance. Don’t expect to turn up at the station and get a ticket, like you can most days.

Watch the sunrise at the beach – We in Ulsan are in a lucky position, as we are both south and east enough to catch some of the earliest rays of sunshine to hit the Eurasian continent on New Year’s morning. While this is a much bigger tradition for Koreans on the morning of January 1st, the sunrise is no less beautiful on Seollal morning – but Gangeolgot point, or Jinha beach (the two most popular locations) will be less crowded.


See, that's pretty no matter what day you see it!

Take advantage of the lack of crowds – While many businesses and tourist attractions will be closed for the day of Seollal, some remain open, but mostly empty. This is definitely the best day to hit the ski slopes around Korea, though it is becoming busier each year as younger Koreans take a pass on the traditions of old. Wherever you plan to go, call ahead (either the site, or Korean tourist information) to make sure it’ll be open. Some places, such as Ulsan Grand Park, will often put out some of the toys for games traditionally played on Seollal, like that standing see-saw where you have to jump, or the “throw the arrows into the kimchi pot” game. These are free for people to try out.

High 1 on Seollal

High 1 on Not Seollal










Eat some traditional Seollal food – As Marty explains in his article, there is often a meaning behind the type of food eaten for Seollal. The women of a Korean family usually spend the entire day before cooking and preparing the food, not only for the family, but also for the Je Sa rites for their ancestors. Common New Year food includes ddeokguk (rice cake soup), galbijim (braised short ribs), japchae (glass noodles with thinly sliced veggies), and pajeon (savoury pancakes with green onions).

Food for the Ancestors

Discover what the Year of the Dragon means to you – Check out your Eastern Zodiac reading for 2012, and see how the Year of the Water Dragon, or Black Dragon, will affect your fortunes. Apparently, this will be an energetic year, after the peaceful Year of the Rabbit (apparently this zodiac doesn’t apply to Arabic regions…). It’s a good year to get married, have children or start a business, and Dragon years bring good fortune and happiness (according to this site).


Restart your New Year’s Resolutions – Here’s your chance, if you’ve been less-than-successful in keeping your resolutions so far. The days are getting brighter, the temperatures will begin to rise, and it might not be as much of a challenge to get to the gym, or go out for a run as it was in the cold, dark of January.


However you chose to celebrate Seollal, here’s hoping the Year of the Water Dragon is a good one for all of us!

Tomorrow is 11-11-11!

By , November 10, 2011 3:25 pm

While the western world honours the fallen soldiers of World Wars I and II, and hold a moment of silence in memory of their sacrifice, an entirely different spirit prevails in Korea at 11:11 on 11/11. This is the moment when, apparently, if you exchange Pepero sticks with someone, your love will last forever.

And why? Well, it’s because a stick of Pepero looks like a 1, and 11/11 looks like four sticks. And remember, this year is 2011. The date will be 11/11/11!

Lotte, the makers of the chocolate and cookie stick called Pepero, deny creating this day as a marketing tool. They say that they noticed a bump in sales around the 11th of November for a number of years, and responded to that bump by creating special gift boxes and such. The credit for the invention of Pepero Day falls to some middle and high school girls in Busan in 1994, who, according to the official Lotte story, exchanged the snack with the wish that they would all grow as tall and slender as a Pepero stick. Which is kind of ironic, considering it’s a cookie dipped in chocolate.

Whatever the truth is, no one can deny that Pepero Day is successful. In 2001, over 5 billion won worth of Pepero was sold in the days surrounding Nov. 11th. By 2004, the figure had risen to 13 billion won. More Pepero is sold on this one day than on every other day of the year combined. Some put the total between 55-66% of yearly sales in one day.

Lotte isn’t the only company to profit from Pepero Day, though. Many of the bakeries now bake giant chocolate-dipped cookie or bread sticks, and shops sell ingredients for kids to make their own at home.

And it’s not just for kids, either. The love angle of it makes it a popular day for young couples to exchange gift baskets and even jewelry, making it second only to Valentine’s Day in terms of marketing pressure to impress you r sweetheart with candy.

If you’re a teacher, either in a hogwan or public school, be prepared for an onslaught of Pepero. Every year I taught in a hogwan, I ended up with a chocolate-induced tummy-ache by the end of the day, even after re-gifting as many of the boxes as I could.

Cultural Differences – Getting Aquainted Part II

By , September 10, 2011 5:32 pm

Korea is a strange place. Expats who have lived here for years still find themselves constantly surprised. The culture is inherently contradictory of itself, and while deeply rooted in centuries old customs, also changes and adapts faster than any other culture I’ve yet experienced.

In the years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen some of the kindest, most generous acts offered by people, but I’ve also witnessed blatant racism and xenophobia, often back to back, and from the same people.

This is a technologically advanced country, with the fastest Internet in the world, wireless everywhere, cell-phone service underground, and yet you can’t flush toilet paper for fear of clogging the ancient pipes.

The inexplicable occurs regularly regardless of length of time in Korea

Women can sport skirts and shorts that barely cover their bums, yet showing shoulders or cleavage is frowned upon. Ancient grandmothers can barely stand up straight, yet they sprint past you as you climb a mountain trail, and then pound back bottles of makkoli (rice alcohol) at the top. Eating something with your hands is considered dirty, but selling shellfish that have been sitting in buckets of lukewarm water in the sun all day is not a problem.

Some of the differences between our cultures are easy enough to navigate, and cause little-to-no problem when trying to adapt to living here. Taking off your shoes going into a restaurant soon becomes second nature, and you quickly learn to wear easy-to-remove shoes, and socks with no holes, when eating out. But other differences cause a lot of friction, sometimes because it’s not just “different” from what we do at home, but it actually goes against everything we’ve been taught, and we see it as wrong.

The first Korean to eat these must have been near death from starvation

1) One of the biggest problems foreigners have here is the automatic deference to older people. In the West, elders are treated with respect, we offer bus seats to grandpas and help grannies cross the street. But if an older person tells you to do something that is incorrect or counter-productive, you can point out the error. Here, correcting someone who is even just a year or two older is considered the height of rudeness. Pointing out to your boss that he or she has made a poor decision, is akin to smacking them in the face, which is never a good idea. Right or wrong, if your boss tells you to do something, you are meant to do it, no questions asked. This can be a difficult thing to do for those of us raised to question authority, stand up when something is wrong, and speak out when you feel you’re being treated unfairly.

2) It’s also part of the corporate culture to consider staff as belonging to the company. Therefore if the boss decides you must now work Saturdays, this is what you will do. The Korean staff will accept this, even if it makes them angry and they have to rearrange their lives to accommodate that. They may grumble in the staff room, but it’s a rare Korean worker who will go into the boss’ office to complain. It’s just what must be done.

"... like, what happened to the road?"

3) Likewise with last-minute decisions and schedule changes. Since the company owns you, you should have no problem doing what you are told. Unfortunately, this idea that staff doesn’t need to be told any of the details until the last possible moment often means you don’t get told at all, meaning teachers end up in the wrong class, or getting a phone call at 2pm asking why you aren’t in class, when up until that moment you were scheduled to come in at three.

4) Many foreign women run into problems here with older Korean men. Due to the patriarchal, Confucian societal structure here, a young woman has basically no status, and Korean girls will not speak back to older men. For those of us raised in the post-feminist society prominent in the West, it’s difficult to watch and next to impossible to accept when the older man is trying to dictate to us. This dynamic can create a lot of friction in the workplace between Western women and Korean men.

5) Something specific to this region of Korea is what I refer to as the “Ulsan Accent”. There is a tendency in Gyeongsangnamdo (the province around Ulsan and Busan) for people to speak as though they are angrily yelling, even if they are just greeting you. “HELLO! IT’S GOOD TO SEE YOU!!”

Of course, when you don’t speak much Korean, (or even when you do), it’s easy to misinterpret this “accent” as being yelled at for no reason. This can lead to unpleasant altercations. An ajusshi walks up to you and starts angrily (you think) yelling at you in Korean. You either walk away as fast as possible, or you yell back. When alcohol is involved, this can escalate quickly.


Cat? Dog? A mythical Korean beast of lore?

6) There are other customs here that foreigners can find annoying and difficult to get used to. While they cause less outright problems than the others, these are the straws that build up until the camel’s back breaks. At the supermarket, ajummas love to see what you’re buying, even at times going so far as to rifle through your grocery cart. People encourage their small children to talk to you, and teenagers yell out, “Hello!” and “Nice to meet you!” and then laugh like hyenas when you respond, making you feel a little bit like a trained monkey on display. (“Isn’t it cute? It thinks it’s people!”)

And coworkers will tell you, “You’re getting fat” or “You look terrible today” without any regard for your feelings. No one lines up unless they are forced to by ropes or numbered tickets, and even then older people will just walk right up to the teller or cashier and force their way in front of you. Your coworkers will refer to you as “waygookeen” (foreigner) when they speak about you, even if it would make as much sense to use your name. At first it all seems funny, but part way through your time here, it starts to wear on you.

You might notice I haven’t said what you should do when you encounter these situations. This is because there is no right answer. Some people feel more comfortable just accepting the status quo and going along with it. Others feel the need to stand up and challenge things they feel are wrong and unfair. After all, that’s how things changed back home.

The Ulsan Museum

By , August 5, 2011 9:17 am

A while ago I wrote an article for a national magazine on Ulsan and the comments that it received were far from nice. They said that Ulsan was “the most boring, polluted and dirty cities” that they’ve had the “displeasure” of living in. One commenter also mentioned that Ulsan has “zero in the way of culture” These guys really gave it to our fair city and I felt that it was completely wrong.

On June 22nd, 2011 the Ulsan Museum opened its doors to show off the culture of Ulsan. Originally, I thought that it was just going to show off the ship building and oil refineries, like a huge standing commercial for SK and Hyundai. When I walked in, I got the feeling that there was something more. I was shocked to see how much actual culture there was in this city.

Admission is free for the Ulsan (permanent) exhibits but you do have to grab a ticket on the way in. When you ride the escalator up, take the right and, chronologically, the story of Ulsan unfolds for you. There is a lot of detail and history that is not just whaling, ships and cars. English services are available and I would say that they are almost needed as some of the pieces have a ton of story and information but the only English would be a one-word description.

Probably the closest you'll get the petroglyphs without swimming

The path then leads to the inevitable industry of Ulsan. However, they do it in an interesting way or at least I thought so. They give you glimpses into interesting areas and show you the hard work and unique things that are created in Ulsan. Did you know they started making sugar in Ulsan back in 1963? With creative exhibits they show you what goes on behind the closed gates of the factories around Ulsan.

Hyundai's exhibit

The permanent exhibit ends with an interactive board that you can leave a note on. If you also look at the mural (on the right, as you leave) you also see MY contribution!!  The photo of the Taehwa River walking bridge is mine! I had entered it into a competition held by the city and received an honorable mention. So this is where they used and I am happy that it is there.

Courtesy of yours truly, Jason Teale

For 5,000 won you can also check out the special exhibition of the “Fantastic Creatures” from the British Museum. I was really interested in this exhibit because it showed all of the cool creatures that the human mind has created throughout time. From Chinese dragons to the chimera. From sculptures to coins this exhibit covers everything that hollywood has shown us over the years. It is really interesting.

For 5,000 won you can tour the two exhibit halls and get a glimpse at the creatures and monsters from different cultures. There is more than enough to keep you interested here and there is still more. They really put time into making this museum very professional and not just some country village building with some old stuff thrown in. They did a great job.

There is also a children’s museum with tons of interactive activities from driving simulators to excavations. There is even a “circle theatre” that is equipped with a 360 degree screen. The “cafeteria” is actually a tastefully decorated “bistro” which also shocked me as I was totally expecting something resembling the emart shik-dang.

Overall, I was impressed with the new museum and it is a much better addition than the “whaling museum” by cultural standards. The location is easily accessible because it is located just up from the Gonguptap Rotary, nest to the entrance of Ulsan Grand Park. The grounds and the architecture are great and you also most seem to forget that you live in a “boring, polluted,  and dirty” city.

The only downsides, if any, are minor stemming from the lack of English at the ticket area and having a huge information desk (not for tickets) and a smaller almost unnoticeable desk for tickets. On the day that I went there seemed to be a lot of children also running around being noisy and destructive. I only wish that the ajummas watching out for people would pay more attention to the “little disturbances” than photographers taking shots of the exhibits. However, that is life and kids will be kids.  Just put on some music and enjoy the exhibits.

Useful Information:

Hours of Operation: 9 am – 6 pm

Fee: Free for the Ulsan Exhibit

5,000 won for the “Fantastic Creatures” special exhibit

Location: Next to the East gate of Ulsan Grand Park. Just up from Gonguptap Rotary



Ulsan Metropolitan City, Nam-gu

Doowangno 277 (In Ulsan Grand Park)

052-222-8501~2 (Korean language only)

For our Korean Readers: Interacting with foreigners

By , April 13, 2010 11:32 am

“Are we really that different”?

Interacting with foreigners while demonstrating a friendly atmosphere based on cultural understanding and communication.

Korea is filled with an atmosphere of jovial spirits and good tidings, the language demonstrates a need for respecting elders, strangers (of Korean descent) and impressions of gratitude. “Wagukens” or “foreigners” coming to Korea are entertained and showered with affections in certain situations but the term “Waguken” is a perfect instance of how enclosed and homogenous Korea is as a nation. The term designates anyone not of Korean heritage or direct ancestral link as not only “foreign” but alien in nature, intrinsically different in all matters of life. That which is ultimately “set apart”, yet regardless of race, color, or creed we are all alike as human beings who encompass the globe. We all feel, share, cry, laugh, take importance in family memories. Many Koreans need to take into account that there is a mother or father thousands of Kilometers away that cry and feel anguish because their child is far away from home and in need of support.

Koreans sometimes approach “Waguken’s” as novelty items who can’t relate to Korean life or culture. But this is simply untrue. The mannerism’s are apparent in your children who scoff, laugh, entice ill sentiments and treat foreigners disrespectfully while speaking Korean or English. it is evident in the young children who don’t address us with the proper respectful term “Yoh” or point in a cocky sneer and scream “Waguken”!!!!

Korean’s have difficulty with addressing, commiserating, or sharing feelings, thoughts or idea’s with foreigners. There is a gap that must be addressed, while addressing a foreigner, being over excited, very touchy or loud makes us as uncomfortable as you are while speaking with us. The best scenario is too act calm, speak slowly, and give continuous eye contact. We are not clowns, it is better to attempt to speak English with as much respect as you would show towards a fellow Korean. In Western countries we address strangers as “Sir” (for a male adult) or Ms. (for a female adult). We have honorific term’s in our language as well, we are addressed formerly until we let an individual know that it is okay to address us by our informal names. In the Korean school system it is improper to address a Korean teacher informally but it has been sanctioned perfectly acceptable to address a foreigner teacher informally from the start. Koreans have argued that addressing foreign teacher’s by their first names from the start creates a more comfortable and amicable relationship amongst the teacher and student. I disagree, children have been raised to listen and respect adults because of their status and knowledge, we have earned the same respect. Our lives have been filled with hard earned knowledge that accumulates to wisdom. We are owed the same respect due to our own endeavors and knowledge, Korean school children should be encouraged to bow, pay homage and respect all adults, not just those of Korean descent.
Foreigner’s contribute to the economy and live very similar lives to Koreans, we get ready for work in the morning, we work hard all day, we go to the grocery store, and we do our banking. Many Foreigner’s are very interested in Korean history, Korean culture and the Korean language. A good way to meet a Foreigner and begin a friendship is to approach us respectfully and ask basic questions while making us feel comfortable. Many times I have been approached and grabbed on my legs, arms and chest by full grown adults who snicker and think its “okay” to treat foreigners the same way cattle is handled at a meat market, this is a sure fire way to make us truly uncomfortable and we will not want to associate with you further. Also, while seated a table with fellow Korean friends, I would suggest not laughing at everything a Foreigner says while engaging in a conversation with them. This also makes us uncomfortable and embarrassed, it is better to be respectful and realize that every time you say a word in English would you want us to laugh? Every single time? Every single word? The English language is widely spoken and the more you view it as a “joke” or ” silly thing” the less likely that you or your children will benefit from its use here in Korea. Korea has spent countless amounts of money and time attempting to learn the English language but does not want to incorporate western culture into its foundation. Western culture is not only tied up in the people who come here to teach English but also in the language itself, this lack of insight exacerbates Korea’s inability to grasp the English language as a whole.
Most Foreigner’s I meet desire learning Korean but in Ulsan, there are not many programs geared towards teaching Korean. A great way to form a bond with a foreigner is to teach them some Korean and encourage their learning of the language. Language exchange is a great tool to further your English abilities, strengthen a friendship with someone from a different place and learn from someone in very comfortable one on one setting. Korean has so much to offer, and is a great language to learn. I know many foreigners who attempt to learn Korean but are laughed at every time they say any word in Korean, so these foreigners stop trying to learn and isolate themselves from Koreans daily. If you are Korean and reading this, please stop laughing, set the standards for fostering a comfortable environment for foreigners. There are a broad range of subjects in which language exchange is useful and it is a great and fun tool but there needs to be MUTUAL respect for each others nervousness and comfortability. I write these words not to “put down” Korea but to shine a light on some misunderstandings between “Foreigners” and “Hangukens”.

Please, Ma! Just 5 more minutes!

By , November 23, 2009 10:46 pm

Julia is a bright 8-year-old grade-one student who, like most of her peers, attends an English hogwan after the state school is finished for the day. After English class, she has art class and piano class at other private academies. Once home, she does her homework for about an hour and a half before studying for another few hours. If she finishes early, then she can play computer games or watch TV for up to one hour before bedtime. Bedtime for her is 1am. She wakes up at 5:30am to start the next day. When asked how she feels, Julia says, “I’m tired, but my mom gets angry when I’m not awake.”

While hers is an extreme case, she is not alone. Most Korean children are not getting enough sleep. An article in the Chosun Ilbo highlighted that Korean kids get significantly less sleep than their peers in other countries. On average, the children here sleep for about eight hours and forty minutes per night while American children sleep for nine and a half hours.

The biggest reason for this sleep difference is the school system. Korean parents spend millions of won sending their kids to hogwans, to better their education and their chances of getting into top universities. But are parents nudging their children to the top of the academic heap, or unwittingly shoving them off a cliff edge?

Recent studies throughout the United States have shown that when children sleep less than eleven hours per night, their brains are not developing properly, which can cause permanent damage and lead to problems not only with learning, but with their overall health and well being.

A child’s brain continues to mature until the age of 21, and much of that development happens during sleep. Without it, the right pathways aren’t formed to allow kids to turn memories from short to long term. Basically, tired children can’t remember what they just learned. Lack of sleep can negatively affect children’s IQs just as much as exposure to lead.

Foreign teachers in South Korea are often surprised by how late the kids here stay up. It’s not uncommon to find a group of boys playing in the park at 10pm, or babies being carted around the supermarket on a late-night shopping trip. A quick poll of seven to 10-year old students at a hogwan in Okdong showed that while many went to bed at nine or ten at night, a large number were routinely up until midnight. The biggest factor in this late bedtime is homework. “I usually spend two or three hours on homework,” says Sam, a grade four student. “When my homework is finished, I have free time, but it’s usually time for bed.”

An American study found that when kids slept for ten hours per night rather than the recommended 11 – 13, after only three days they were testing two years below their previous level in cognitive maturation and development. On average, an “A” student sleeps only 30 minutes more than a “D” student, yet that half hour shows a marked difference in their learning capabilities. There are also signs that the moodiness and depression experienced by teenagers could likely be caused by lack of sleep in their formative years, as it impairs their emotional stability.

Too little sleep also slows the body’s ability to extract glucose from the blood stream, which can lead to obesity. A Japanese study showed that children who got less than eight hours sleep a night had a 300% higher chance of being obese than those who got at least ten hours.

“I feel bad for them,” says Sun, an English teacher at a hogwan in Ulsan. “It wasn’t like that when I was young. We were in bed by 9pm. There was an announcement on TV saying it’s time for all the children to go to sleep. But even if I don’t want that (late nights of studying) for my children, I’ll have to do it. Otherwise, they’ll be left behind.”

The current government is working to improve the Korean education system in order to eliminate the need for private academies. Besides implementing new programs like bringing foreign English teachers into the state schools, they are also trying to restrict hogwans by forcing them to close their doors by 10pm. But without a national campaign to alert parents to the dangers of sleep deprivation, it’s likely that time and money will continue to be spent sending children to extra classes when what they really need is a good night’s sleep.