Category: Safety

Typhoon Neoguri expected in Ulsan this week

By , July 7, 2014 4:36 pm

Typhoon Neoguri, which is currently classed as a Category 4 Super-typhoon with winds up to 250km/hr, is blowing it’s heart out over the East China Sea, and bearing down on poor Okinawa, Japan, which is a typhoon magnet and gets pummelled regularly.

The current forecast predicts that Ulsan has a 70% chance of being in the path of this typhoon, which will likely make landfall here on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. By that point, Neoguri will be of strong to normal intensity, and medium to small scale. The winds are forecast between 112 and 155km/hr by that point, which would make it a category 1 typhoon, or a severe tropical storm.

If you’re from an American Gulf Coast state or another bit of the planet that often gets typhoon/hurricane/cyclones, you’ve probably experienced worse storms than what we’ll get here in Ulsan, but if you’re new to the experience, it can be a bit worrying. In the past, most of the typhoons predicted to hit Ulsan have tended to either veer off in a new direction, or die-down significantly once they hit Japan, meaning we rarely get hit with more than a tropical storm. This generally means there will be a storm surge up the Taehwa River. The flood plain for the river is wide and deep, so while the few underpasses and the riverside recreational trails may be flooded and dangerous, the majority of the roadways stay fairly clear. For safety, keep well back from the water in the Taehwa, the neighbourhood streams, as well as along the coastal beaches. There may also be spot-flooding in other low-lying areas of the city, but most of the roads remain drivable (not recommended for scooters/bicycles/motorcycles!) as long as the rain is not blinding. The wind gusts can be alarming.

Usually, if it is still predicted to be a typhoon when it hits Ulsan, schools are cancelled and it’s recommended you stay indoors and not make unnecessary trips out and about, though it’s hard to know this early if the storm will actually be severe enough to warrant this. In my 9.5 years here, I have yet to experience a storm that cut off power or water supplies, so you likely don’t need to stock up on rations or candles, though you may want to make sure you have some food in the house to avoid having to go out. There is sometimes some wind-damage, such as blown down tree-limbs or unsecured signs that could hurt to get hit by, which is why staying inside is a good plan.

To track the storm, follow the Typhoon Information link to the Korean Meteorological Association.

To see the after-effects of the last major storm to hit Ulsan (Sanba), in 2012, check out our photos here and here.

Travel Vaccines in Ulsan

By , March 4, 2014 4:59 pm

We tend to get many requests about travel vaccinations from people heading out from Ulsan on various short or long term adventures. Thanks to Jenn Levy for this helpful information.

“For travel vaccinations we went to Dr June in Nam Gu. He’s at the Asian-Pacific Medical Center, which is on the 3rd floor of the Namgu Homeplus (pinned on the Interactive Map under “shopping” – ed). The clinic’s phone number is 052-261-9155, and they are open holidays and weekends.  He speaks excellent English too!

Dr. June 2

 We got the following vaccinations there:

Hep A – ₩65 000

Hep B – ₩20 000

Japanese Encephalitis – ₩20 000

Typhoid – ₩25 000 (although this is only ₩5 000 at the Buk Gu Health Centre, which is behind Buk Gu Office)

Tetanus – ₩25 000

DPT – ₩25 000

(The prices are all for adult vaccinations. Children’s are cheaper. <Prices as of Feb 2014, subject to change – ed>)

As rabies is extremely rare in Korea, the vaccine is difficult to get, as the doctors have to get some kind of authorisation for a prescription. Dr June said unless you’re working closely with animals or you’re travelling with children (who may touch dogs etc and not say so) it’s unlikely that you’d need it.

For Malaria, we were going to get the precription from Dr June, but he was on vacation at that point, so we went to the Buk Gu Health Centre (pinned on the Interactive Map under “Medical” -ed) and got our prescription there.

The only place that we could actually pick up the prescription though, was from the pharmacy next to Dong Gang hospital (pinned on the Interactive Map under “Medical” – ed). The malaria tablets we got were Malerone (aka Atovaquone-proguanil, which are more expensive than doxycycline: they were ₩119 000 for 38 tablets!).

I did a lot of research into malaria tablets via the American Center for Disease Control website (it works best in Chrome) and they say for mainland Asia, you only need them for Cambodia (Siem Reap and Angkor Wat specifically).  Everywhere else, you just have to cover up and use repellant if you are in forested areas, or places with still water.”



Tragic Child Abuse Case in Guyeong-li

By , November 1, 2013 6:12 pm

Today at lunch, my friend recounted to me a story she’d heard in the news. An 8-year old girl in Guyeong-li (a suburb of Ulsan, just outside of Mugeodong) had been beaten to death by her step-mother. Apparently the girl was about to go on her first school outing and had asked for some kimbap (a typical picnic food). When her step-mother had refused to make some for her, the girl stole 2,000 won to buy some at a local shop. Autopsy results show 16 broken ribs, and the reports are the little girl was beaten for 2 hours. The investigation has revealed an ongoing abusive relationship, and left the neighbourhood reeling at the news.

This tragedy brings to light an issue here that is very often overlooked, or kept quiet within families. There has been a push in many Western countries in recent years to bring domestic violence out from behind locked doors and into national focus, but like many cases at home, here it has very much remained “none-of-your-business”.

My first year teaching here, one of my middle-school students arrived one day with circular marks on her hands. I asked her what happened, and she lightly said, “Oh, I got a bad mark on my math test, so my father burned me with his cigarette.” I was horrified, and went immediately to a co-worker to ask what we should do, who we should report it to. I was told nicely to not worry about it. That this kind of thing happens, and it was none of my business. “Don’t interfere,” I was told. I was at a loss as to what to do at that point, and not knowing Korean law or procedures, I told the student that if she ever needed to talk, I was there for her, and I would help her – but beyond that, I felt helpless.

A few years later, my housemates and I overheard a horrible fight between a mother and her adult daughter in which it was clear someone was being beaten. Again I asked a Korean friend for advice, and again I was told to stay out of it. I was told (though I now doubt how true it was) that the police wouldn’t bother with a fight between parents and children.

Well, now I can pass along a number that you can contact if you are in a similar situation to what I was in – the Dong-a Ilbo story on the death of the little girl in Guyeong-li had this number at the bottom – Child abuse reporting number is 1577-1391. I don’t know what the English abilities are, but if in doubt, try to get a Korean friend or co-worker to help you out. Child abuse is illegal, and the police will investigate the situation. If a kid tells you they’re in trouble at home, you can call that number to report it.  If you hear an assault in progress, call the police at 112 (119 is Fire and Ambulance, though they will send police ’round if you call them – it just may take a little longer). They have a translator on call who can help you if your Korean is not ready for phone calls.



News update 05-12-2013

By , May 13, 2013 12:13 am

news update

In Korean news, this week:

Convenience Store market oversaturated

Is the world ending, or are people just making dire predictions about the Korean Economy?

Gord Sellar made that MBC Parody last year

Study of 1.5 million teenagers in 75 countries finds that girls are better at reading and boys are better at math

Is coverage of foreign teachers’ crimes really so much more? Yes, it turns out.

Yoon Chang-joong situation spirals out of control

“It wasn’t me”, says construction magnate accused of sex party bribes

And like a half dozen other things


As reported in the Hankoryeh last week, over half of South Korean convenience stores average under one million won in sales a day. One-quarter of all stores have sales under 100,000 won for overnight shifts.

The data is helpfully broken down by zoning. That family-run convenience store on the corner near where you live? They’re probably losing money, if they hire staff and don’t run it themselves. Convenience stores are the most popular type of franchise for new small business owners. The government has ordered that new stores should not be allowed to open within 250 metres of each other.

Fun fact: did you know that convenience stores are required to be open 24/7? And did you know that “marts” do not have this requirement?



Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like Myeongdong. It was one of the first places I was told about when I came to Korea – “oh, you should go to Myeongdong in Seoul. Many foreigners go there to enjoy shopping.”

Well, I did. But I hated it. Even Itaewon is better for the soul than Myeongdong’s overpriced faux-Korean style.

Well, Maze28 (aka 한국에 가자, or “let’s go to korea”) has been collecting photos of K-Pop idols in Myeongdong, and around Seoul and businesses like Tony Moly and outside of Seoul in Busan, for some unknown reason. I presume he collects these photos to atone for some past wrongdoing, or purely as an exercise in masochism.

If you’re one of the strange people who enjoy seeing advertisements with K-Pop Idols in them, then click the link above. Otherwise, consider it a warning not to go to Myeongdong.

Aside, if you’re interested in seeing the people that middle-school girls talk about, click on through and you can pair faces with names really easily.



For the Huffington Post, the Korean economy has a few problems – he’s predicting Korea may fall into the same trap of Japan’s “lost decades”.

He cites this as evidence:

1. an aging population and lowest fertility rate in the world.
2. too many university graduates
3. high youth unemployment
4. high private debt load
5. persistent social inequality

I have nothing meaningful to add, except that solving any of these problems may help solve the others – solving recent-graduate unemployment would create more revenue for the pension program and lower privately-held debt.



The title says it all, folks. Your friend and mine Gord Sellar was the one who made the parody video last year, after MBC decided to broadcast a hit piece vilifying interracial couples.

He had distanced himself from it until he had left Korea, which has a bad reputation when it comes to understanding western humour (i.e. satire).

In fact, Saturday Night Live Korea’s Weekend Update segment is being sued by Byun Hee-jae, the Korea Communications Standards commission reprimanded Gag Concert for not using honorifics when talking about the president, and depending on how these issues play out, we could start seeing either much better comedy in Korea or much worse.

I’m no Picasso posted something a month ago on international couples, and if you’re interested in a blog about such a thing, check hers out.



Well, not exactly. Don’t worry, it’s more nuanced than that. What they found is quoted here, at length. You can find the executive summary of the study too.

When it comes to reading, sex difference is smaller at the high end of the performance continuum. That means among those who are best at reading, or best at math, there’s a smaller difference between boys and girls. But at the bottom of the scale, quote: “in 2009, the bottom 5% of boys scored 50 points lower than the bottom 5% of girls”.

But the opposite is true in math. For those who do poorly in math, there is little difference between boys and girls. But at the high end, the difference is much greater.

From the study:

“Interventions that focus on high-achieving girls in mathematics and on low-achieving boys in reading are likely to yield the strongest educational benefits.”



Popular Gusts of Feeling has a really interesting article for those of us who wonder if the media really has it in for Foreign teachers.

Long story short, in terms of number of articles on national news, that American teacher who was wanted on a warrant he fled 8 years ago when he came to Korea got more media attention than a middle school teacher who attempted to rape one of his students, a high school teacher who repeatedly molested a student, an elementary school vice principal who molested nine children, a law school professor who was dismissed for touching a law student, and an elementary school teacher who broke into someone’s apartment and tried to rape them – the single foreign teacher who was wanted for (alleged) rape got more news coverage than all of them put together.

If you’re interested in reading more, check out Popular Gusts’ articles here, connecting the news with North Korean propaganda, and here, for his translation of a Kukmin Ilbo editorial.



According to the victim, immediately after the Park Geun-hye’s first meeting with Barack Obama, on May 7th Spokesman Yoon Chang-joong was drinking alone with the female intern for the Korean embassy. After drinking, he groped her. She brought a friend, which defused the situation. But later that night, Yoon summoned her to his room. She refused and he screamed insults at her over the phone. When she did finally go to his room, Yoon answered the door in his underwear. She left and called the police after talking with her friends at the embassy. Yoon packed his bags and took the first flight to Seoul. Upon hearing about all of this, the Blue House decided to fire him on the spot.

But like any of these stories, there’s two sides. Of course, Yoon claims innocence in the whole matter.

The Presidential Chief of Staff, even, has apologized deeply for these allegations, calling it very shameful and unacceptable.

I have this to say.




Note: the English Dong-a Ilbo uses the word “Contractor”, which carries connotations of manual work. Rather, he was a business-owner who bid on government construction contracts.

Construction magnate Yoon, accused of a sex-bribery scandal involving high-ranking officials and who’s who types, predictably denied everything.

Police also have testimonies from ten women who said they went to Yoon’s vacation home to provide sex for patrons.



One-woman anti-multiculturalism protest actually stirs thoughtful debate.

New York Korean-American rapper Awkwafina raps about her vag in a new music video

Life is still not super great for gays in Korea

An article about the bittersweet, romantic story of a full passport

Sixth North American Workshop on Korean Literature deadline is July 31st

Analysts say Japan isn’t trying to devalue its currency

Popular Gusts thinks noses look like dicks

T-HOPE Fundraising for a Great Cause

By , April 2, 2013 6:01 pm

Last Friday, I had a chance to sit down with Dan Gauthier, a founder of the group T-HOPE (Teachers Helping Other People Everywhere), to talk about some of their ongoing and upcoming projects.

As you may be aware, T-HOPE has been running a volunteer program with the Ulsan Orphanage since 2006; one Sunday each month, teachers (and others) head out to the orphanage in Eonyang to play games, do crafts, and otherwise have fun with the kids. The orphanage is well supported, financially, by the government and private donations, so T-HOPE has focused more on English-language interaction for the kids, and, more imporantly, on having fun. Each year, they throw a huge Christmas Party, too.

A lot of the fundraising done by the group goes to the Dong Gu Welfare Center, which supports 25 families in need. Most of these families are the children of divorced parents who live with their grandparents, and need help with life’s basic necessities; food, clothes, school supplies, etc. Many of the clothing donations Dan collects are taken to this Center.

They’ve also recently started a volunteer program with the Lotus Center for Autistic Children in Ulsan, which I will be writing an article on in the near future, and will be starting programs with mute and deaf children, and blind children.  All of these programs will be looking for volunteers to work with the kids once a month, and we’ll soon have information available on how to get involved.

But what I really wanted to talk to Dan about this time is his large scale fundraising project that is currently underway.

Through his work on the Community Leaders Committee in Ulsan, Dan has become familiar with the domestic violence issues facing women in Korea. There is a particular need for help for the women who immigrate here from South East Asia or China to marry Korean men, especially those in poorer, rural areas. Dan has heard many stories of abuse and death, where the women have had no family of their own in Korea to turn to for help. These stories are rarely covered in the national media. “We have to do something,” says Dan.

So this year, T-HOPE is undertaking fundraising for a Women’s Shelter. “As you know,” Dan explains, “Domestic violence is an issue faced by many people all over the world. So what we’re hoping to do is provide a shelter for these women and their children.”

The T-HOPE Women’s Shelter will provide protection, housing, food, basic necessities, and assistance and counselling to the women. The shelter will be built with private rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, and with indoor and outdoor play areas for the children. As Dan says, “Who’s affected most is the kids. That’s my focus, it’s on the children.”

The goal is to provide a safe environment so the mothers can get the help they need. “If we can help the mother, then she can focus on her kids.”

The shelter will be completed in three phases. First, they’ll need to acquire the land in the Ulsan area to build the shelter. The location will not be widely known, in order to ensure the women’s safety. The police have agreed to provide security for the property. Only the police and members of local community groups who assist abused women will know it’s exact whereabouts. Dan’s brother in Canada works with abusive husbands, and has given Dan a lot of advice on what is needed to help protect the women and keep them and their children safe.

Once the land is acquired, the shelter will be architecturally designed and planned, and then finally, it will be built and opened for use. It’s currently scheduled to be open and ready for operation in 2014.

This may seem like a huge undertaking, but Dan and T-HOPE are not afraid of the challenge. There are a number of fundraising events planned in the near future, as well as sponsorship deals being worked out.

The first of these fundraisers will be the Whale Boat Race at the Ulsan Whale Festival, held at the Taehwa River Park in late April. Dan is hoping to recruit 50 teams of paddlers to participate in the day-long event, Saturday, April 27th. Last year, spots went quickly, so if you’re not yet involved, contact Dan right away. This year, there are three categories to compete in: Men’s, Women’s and Mixed. Each team will paddle in at least 3 races, with the top times moving forward to the semi and final races. This is probably the biggest foreign-community event in Ulsan each year. Check out their website, T-HOPE Asia, for more information, or to sign up.

Due to the past popularity of the Whale Boat Race, this year, T-HOPE is introducing the Rock & Row Dragon Boat Race, over the Buddha Birthday long weekend in May (17th-19th). One hundred teams of participants from all over Korea will be gathering together for a fun filled day beside the Taehwa. They’ve already recruited several teams from the US Military bases, and are planning for 2000 participants to decend on Ulsan. Stay tuned for more information on this event, and how you can get involved.

The funds raised at these two events, through sponsors, team registration, food and beverage purchases, and event merchandise will all go towards the T-HOPE Women’s Shelter project.

There are more fundraisers in the works for future dates, also. UlsanOnline has joined with T-HOPE as an official partner, and will be bringing all the information on these projects, which include a beach volleyball tournament (end of June), a 2nd Poker Run bar-hopping event, and a rugby tournament, among others. So watch our front page for banner ads and articles, or visit the T-HOPE site.  You can also email for more information, or to help organize an event.

Being Prepared for Crisis

By , April 1, 2013 4:02 pm

Updated July 2014 to include the new National Emergency Preparedness App for Foreigners by the Korean government agency NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency). This advice is also useful for natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes (both of which are highly unlikely in Ulsan, but can happen).


As you may or may not have heard, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, is rather upset about several things right now (the new SK President, tightened UN sanctions, SK/US military drills) and is threatening (again) to turn Seoul into a lake of fire. This is mostly a lot of hot air and bluster from a frustrated leader of a poor country that no one really pays any attention to unless they’re threatening nuclear holocaust. So threaten they do. However, they do occassionally follow through (somewhat) on their threats, bombing islands close to their territorial waters, or torpedoing ships. And who knows, Kim Jr.Jr. may be crazier than his father, and less under the influence of China, whose distinct lack of wanting a war has stopped anything from escalating in the past. It’s always good to keep in mind that Korea is a peninsula at war, as they never signed a peace treaty after the fighting in the 1950’s. So while a full out war is highly unlikely, and even bombing a target larger than a fishing village would be rather improbable, it’s always best to be prepared.

1. Register with your embassy in Seoul. The links for Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (the English teacher countries) are available in this story written in 2010 during a similarly tense time (just before Kim Jong Il’s death). If you’re not registered, the embassy will not contact you. It’s possible that Korean Immigration may share their records with embassies during an emergency situation, but imagine the bureaucracy and time involved in that. Be proactive and register.

1.a) (added July 2014) There is now an App available to keep you alerted to any emergency situations, including natural disasters. The Apple store has it available here, and the Android app is available here. There are instructions on how to install it here.

2. Be aware of what your embassy will and won’t do during an emergency situation. Most countries do not evacuate civilians unless there are no commercial routes available for escape, and evacuation costs are considered the citizens responsibility (ie, you have to pay back the government, and it *will* be pricier than flying out on your own ticket). Your home government has a travel site that will explain what their role is in this type of situation.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth office explains their role here.This is the best page for general advice on what to do in a crisis situation, so read this regardless of your citizenship.

The US State Department has a page of FAQs for their citizens.

The Canadian Government’s role in evacuations is explained on this page.

The Irish Government outlines what their Department of Foreign Affairs can do on this site.

The Australian Government lists the duties of their Consular offices.

The New Zealand Government vaguely mentions helping in a crisis here.

The South African Government outlines their Consular roles here.

3. Keep enough money on hand to buy an emergency plane ticket out of the country, should the worst happen. The Canadian government has suggestions for an emergency kit you can keep stashed somewhere handy in case you are stranded in your house for several days.

4. Stay informed. If you’re registered, your embassy will contact you in case of emergency, but it’s up to you to keep an eye on the news. Talk to co-workers or classmates to stay up to date on what’s happening.

5. Let your family and friends back home know you’ve taken all of these steps, and let them know what’s going on here to help calm their fears. It’s difficult for people far from the area to grasp the true danger of the situation, especially with the 24-hour news cycle that loves to make everything a giant crisis. Learn where the nearest pay phones are (they still exist?) so you can try to make contact if cellular networks go down. Again, the likelihood of anything escalating is minimal, but being prepared is never a bad idea.

** Please note, I tried to find travel advice for citizens of other countries, but have been unable to do so yet. I will update the page if that information becomes available. If you are from a country other than the ones listed, and have information on what your fellow citizens can do, please email me at – Thank you!

News Bytes – 1/17/2012

By , January 17, 2013 5:41 pm

Some newsworthy items from around Korea this week:

  • Last year, it was suspected that North Korea was behind the cyber attacks on South Korean newspapers. This week, Korea’s National Police Agency confirms it. Earlier this week, CNN reported on South Korea’s efforts to combat such cyber warfare with a team of hackers.  However, late breaking news today from Seoul is that the “transition team” of incoming president Park Geun Hye, reversed that announcement. They told reporters to simply

    run antivirus programs and change passwords more often.

    That should keep the commies at bay. Presumably, the new president wants to keep things nice and easy between the two countries and not anger the north with the findings.

  •  After a couple of attempts last year at getting into the space age, South Korea is ready to try again. Sometimes between January 30 and February 8, Korea will once again try to get something into orbit.  Last year two failed attempts (no launch) followed two previous failures with disastrous launches.  Here’s hoping Korea finally gets into the limited club of nations in space.  North Korea made the list with a surprise launch in December 2012.
  • Flu season, which has hit hard in the USA this year, is expected to hit Japan and South Korea shortly.
  • No more beatings and no more sexual abuse. At least for athletes in Korea.  The government is cracking down on abusive coaches after the learning that physical abuse is rampant.  30% of athletes said they’d been beaten by their coaches. 9.5% said they weer sexually abused. 47% of parents knew their children had been hit but refused to say anything. And 23% of athletes believed that physical abuse was a necessary motivating tool.  And you thought it was all fun and games!
  • And finally, my new hero in Korean society is actress Kim JeongNan. She is instituting a program to improve the bad driving in Korea.

News Bits – 12/7/2012

By , December 7, 2012 8:50 am

A few interesting tidbits from around Korea:

  • South Korea says it’s going to stop killing whales for research. For years, the country has conducted whale hunts ostensibly for research, killing the whales so they could be studied, but then selling the meat to the many whale restaurants in Ulsan. While some might think that this is the end of killing whales, think again – the Korean fisherman still employ a method called “by catch” where by whales can still be harvested if they are “accidentally” caught in fishing nets.  My money is on no slowdown in whale harvests – there’s a lot of whale restaurant owners in Jangsaengpo and Samsandong  that will be mad as hell if they can’t get the main meat their shop is named for.
  • Sports and Politics don’t mix. That’s what the International Olympic committee must now decide. Park Jang Woo, who was denied his medal in the 2012 Olypmics for displaying a Dokdo flavored poster after Korea beat Japan in football is going to go on trial. Formerly denied the ceremony, now they will decide if he is denied the medal. FIFA has banned the player for two matches for his political display.
  • Korean nuclear authorities have uncovered still more faked quality and safety certified parts for nuclear reactors. This is the third batch of faked papers. This time, however, authorities say the parts or for ancillary devices not directly tied to nuclear processing.
  • Already dealing with a problem of Internet Addiction in Korea (see here and here), the country is now faced with yet another human psychological disorder – Digital Addiction. No longer just internet specific, this is about technology everywhere. Kids don’t take their teddy bears to bed any longer – they snuggle with their smart phone until they go to sleep and then fondle it some more the moment they wake. It’s an Obsessive-Compulsive disorder in which

    “I get nervous when the battery falls below 20 percent,” …. “I find it stressful to stay out of the wireless hotspot zone for too long.”…”Kids forgot to eat lunch, completely absorbed with smartphones and some stayed in the classroom during a PE class”.

    I predict more deaths from this – watching/playing with a phone when one should have been watching traffic, whether driving or walking.  I’ve seen a number of drivers with phone/pad on the wheel and several pedestrians nearly clipped by cars because they aren’t watching.

    And, in case you can’t get enough of your own digital devices, check this out:

  • Today, December 7, the iPhone5 arrives in South Korea.  If you haven’t already gotten one on reserve, you might be waiting. Folllowing closely behind, the iPad Mini will arrive next week.
  • If you missed it. Korea’s fourth attempt to launch a rocket last week fizzled out. Two failed launches and two failed attempted launches have left Korea as one of the few technologically advanced nations that can’t seem to get out of the atmosphere. The next launch attempt is scheduled for next year.
  • Corruption in South Korea rises. Although the Korean Herald, apparently ashamed of their country’s stature, have chosen to misrepresent the data by manipulating the headline. Apparently, the news site understands that most people won’t read the story and simply skim the headlines.. Their headline states that “S. Korea’s corruption index falls” but what that means is that the country fell from 43rd place to 45th place with Denmark and Finland and New Zealand being the least corrupt countries. Go Kiwis!

Dear City of Ulsan, Thanks, But….

By , August 31, 2012 8:46 pm

As an avid bicyclist, I’ve been happy to see the city of Ulsan build so many bicycle paths around town.  When I arrived in 2004 there were few paths, fewer bicyclists and a lot of busy roads. From where I lived in Cheonsang, across the river from Guyeong-li, the paths along the Taewha River were dis-joined, only on side of the river or the other, and frequently to get from one section to another required crossing highways or braving the cliffs along the river’s edge.  And while I’m not afraid of riding a bicycle on Korean streets, I have more than enough experience to speak with authority when I say that the streets, and Korean drivers in particular, are dangerous for bicycles, scooters and motorcycles.  I’ve been hit twice by cars already this year. Therefore, I take advantage of the fine bike paths when I can in order to avoid the rude and inconsiderate drivers. So, thanks very much, City of Ulsan, for giving us cyclists an alternative.  We have, however, another problem.

Many of the bicycle paths that have been constructed are immediately adjacent to walking paths. And the bike paths are clearly marked.  One needn’t even be able to read to understand that some paths are designated as bicycle as they are marked with a picture of a bike. So one can’t blame illiteracy for not understanding that one path is for bikes while the adjacent path is for walking, running, etc.  So with ignorance and illiteracy crossed out, why is it that Koreans cannot follow directions and live within the rules and guidelines?

These days, the bike paths are just as dangerous as the streets. Koreans are just as rude and inconsiderate on the paths as they are behind the wheel of a vehicle.  While many Koreans do abide by the markings and walk or run on the walking path and ride on the riding path, many do not. Just as there are many drivers on the roads who follow the rules and are careful drivers, so too are there many who ride and walk in the appropriate path.  But it only takes a few bad drivers to make for dangerous roads and the same applies on the bike and walking paths. A few individuals cannot or will not follow the rules and have made these places dangerous.

This time, however, the tables are turned. For you Koreans who insist in disobeying the signs I have this say: We’re not on the road and you are not behind the wheel of a 2 ton automobile.  As any beginning student of physics will tell you, one of Isaac Newton’s laws of physics is F=MA, or Force =  Mass x Acceleration.  I’m a big man and I ride hard and fast.  That means you are on the lower end of the force equation with regard to  mass and speed. You are generally smaller than I am (I’m big even by American standards – 187cm, 95kg) , and more than likely you are going much slower, particularly if you are walking. I don’t intend to run into you, but if you do not pay attention to the signs and cross my path while I’m on a bicycle-designated path, our collision will damage you far more than me. F=MA.  It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.

The following photos illustrate my point.

In the above photo, I am riding behind another, slower bicycle. I’d like to pass and keep my speed and heart rate up. But I can’t because this fool ahead has decided he doesn’t want to walk on the adjacent (and empty) walking path but rather on the bike path.  He is endangering himself, me and the bicycle in front of me for no reason whatsoever.  I could have taken many pictures of fools such as this. They are as numerous as locusts on some days. Everyone I find walking on the bike path I tell them, in my best Korean that they are on the bicycle path and the walking path is next to us.  Some actually get angry at me for pointing this out to them.  Apparently they feel entitled to walk where they wish rather than follow the rules. These people will have a very low F coefficient when I see them the next time walking on the bike path.

And then there are the ones who know they shouldn’t be there, but do it anyway.  This group of women are obviously teachers at a kindergarten nearby. They had a dozen cute  little ones out smelling the flowers – right in the middle of the bike path. I don’t think they like the kids. People who like kids would not put them in danger like this. Look carefully at the photo above. Another bicycle ahead of me (wearing a sky blue shirt) passed through this throng of little ones and the teachers barely  looked up and didn’t bother to move the kids out of the way.

However, when I came along 50 meters later I had my camera out and was snapping pictures.  It’s amazing what being caught on camera and the threat of exposure for endangering kids will do for your protective instincts.  Once they saw my camera they shuffled the kids out of the way. I told them I would put this video on Naver and Daum. I don’t think I’ve ever seen color drain from faces as quickly as these ladies did.  They obviously knew they were on the bike path, they knew they shouldn’t have been and only when faced with a public airing of their carelessness with kids did they move. I wonder what any parents of these kids would think if they saw their babies had been subjected to potential serious injury or death by darting in front of a fast moving bike.  This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this.  Most of the time, the teachers smile sweetly and do nothing when I explain they are endangering the kids.  With a camera in my hand, it was their own asses in danger. They knew it and moved quicker than lightening.

But let’s not cast aspersions on just the pedestrians. Korea bike riders can be just as ignorant, rude and inconsiderate. I snapped several pictures of bicyclists riding on the walking path when they should be on the adjacent bike path. Given this revelation, it’s no wonder pedestrians don’t feel compelled to stay on the walking path – there are bikes there.  If bikes stay in their lane, perhaps pedestrians will stay in theirs.

One man behind, five boys in front all riding on the walking path instead of the brown bike path

So despite the time and expense the City of Ulsan has invested (and still are –  a new bike path  is under construction now near the Samho bridge in Mugeodong) in making many great bike paths around the city, I fear it’s all going to waste. Dual paths, but neither properly utilized and neither safe because some Koreans cannot or will not obey the rules and stay on the designated paths. Some Koreans are ruining what otherwise could be a great asset for the community.

What can be done?  Education.  Lots of it. You must go to a driving hagwon to get a license to drive, but we probably don’t need that much. Some public service announcements ought to work. When I first came to Korea it was not uncommon to see people bring pets into grocery stores or even restaurants. A few public service commercials, a few signs and that doesn’t happen any more.  Run a few ads, Ulsan.  Maybe post a  few signs near the paths explaining the dangers of walking on a bike path where large, crazy waygookin ride. Maybe a policeman or two patrolling the paths once in a while explaining the designations of the various paths. Maybe have policemen giving tickets for riding or walking where you shouldn’t.

Whatever it takes, City of Ulsan. Educate your citizens. For their sake. Someone is going to get hurt.  Or by God, I’m putting one of these on the front of my bike and just scooping the witless fools out of the way.



News Odds and Ends – 8/2/2012

By , August 2, 2012 12:04 pm

Some interesting things about the Land of the Morning Calm this week:

  • Business Insider has an article on the dramatic plunge in Korean exports from July. With an export driven economy like Korea’s, a drop of 8.8% year-to-year is an enormous drop from what experts were predicting of 3.7% decline.  Business Insider calls Korea the “Canary in the Coal Mine” and the Korean economy is a harbinger of things to come for the rest of Asia.  Canaries used to be carried into coal mining shafts because they succumbed to toxic gases faster than humans. When the canary keeled over, it was time to get the hell out.
  • In related news, Korean inflation is being reported as the slowest in 12 years due to sluggish demand abroad for Korean goods.
  • And regarding some of those exports, a jury trial worth billions of US dollars has begun in America.  Samsung, Korea’s largest company in sales and profit is in a court fight with Apple over patents on smart phones and tablets. But you’d hardly know it here in Korea, as the news just doesn’t seem to get much play in newspapers and TV.  In fact, only the Dong-A Ilbo has anything about Samsung or Apple and it’s about the level of Samsung’s sales vs Apple and not the trial.  Regarding this massive lawsuit between tech powerhouses, Koreans either a) are not worried or b) don’t care.  Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal has an opinion on this phenomenon :

    Culture is also at work. Historically, the public perception of justice in South Korea is shaped more by accusations and indictments than by trials and their outcomes. If two people are involved in a traffic accident, both are considered to have done something wrong, even if one is clearly more responsible than the other. In such an environment, the details of prior art and patent validity don’t matter to the ordinary person.

    Given the rampant video piracy in this country, that’s not a surprising take on events. That also explains the incredibly high number of inconsiderate drivers that seem to be attracted to me and my two-wheeled vehicles.

  • With Korea’s power grid at near capacity, residents worry that a recent safety shutdown at the nuclear reactor in Jeolla province might have blackout consequences.  Got your diesel power generator handy?  With the summer heat wave still on us and A/C units running high power is already stretched thin across the grid.
  • Name-calling has never been something the North Koreans shy away from. This week, they are calling Kim Young Hwan, a former leader of a leftist underground a “heinous nation-selling bastard.” Kim and several others were arrested in China on charges of endangering national security.  North Korea insists that these activists are behind sabotage acts in Pyongyang.  Meanwhile, South Korea is investigating whether up to 600 citizens were mistreated in Chinese jails. It’s a messy business.
  • A few stories of Koreans behaving badly at the Olympics: The South Korean sailing coach was sent home after being found to be driving drunk.  And although Samsung and Apple electronics hardly elicits a second glance, a malfunctioning timing mechanism in the Fencing competition results in a one player acting out as a cry-baby. A couple of Korean badminton players were disqualified after trying to lose. They wanted to play a lesser ranked team and losing would have ensured that while winning would have pitted them against much better players.
  • And finally, ladies, be careful: August is Sexual Assault Month. According to the Dong-A Ilbo, more assaults occur in August than any other time in Korea.