Category: Rants

Unfair Firings: One Teacher’s Story, and What You Can Do if it Happens to You.

By , October 8, 2014 12:46 pm

This piece was requested by after a recent unfair firing in which the teachers actually stuck around to take the process through the Labor Board. Too often, for various reasons, people who are fired late in their contract, often for suspicious reasons, decide to leave Korea rather than fight for their rights, which unfortunately leads the bad hogwan owners untouched, and ready to do it again to the next unsuspecting teacher. Often known as the “11-month firing”, as some owners prefer to save the severence and airfare they’re due to pay upon completion of a 12-month contract, if this happens to you, please consider taking the time to file with the Labor Board – they will help, and if the same owners show up again and again, perhap they can actually do something to protect other workers in the future. – Ed.

Special thanks to the author of this piece:

My Hagwon contract was supposed to be finished in November. How is it that I’m enjoying coconut milk from a coconut on a beach in Phuket, Thailand in mid October? No, it’s not Chuseok; I was fired from my Hagwon.

This article will hopefully give you some insight on what you can do if you were unfairly fired from your school. It is all too common for some schools to fire their foreign teachers for budget cuts, or ways to avoid paying the severance and flight bonus. If you’ve been fired, whatever the reason stated, there’s a chance that you’ve been fired unfairly.

I came to Ulsan in September of 2013 hoping to save for a Masters in Education, something I am currently working on. I was joined by my life partner and we thought we found the perfect school to grow with, and for me to work on my master classes with the guidance of a strong leader and director. After our first month working at the school, we rarely saw our director, even though we had a lot of questions. He was never around to give assistance like he said he would do, and after working for 8 months in the school, with no warning, he called us into a classroom.  Our director began to scold us for not teaching in the way he wanted us to. We were perplexed and asked him to explain and to tell us what he wanted. He talked to us in circles and concluded the meeting with these words “I must finish you contract”. I was crestfallen, my classes were starting soon and I was supposed to be teaching while enrolled.

We asked why we both had been terminated, and our director (and owner of the academy) said that we were “bad teachers”, but gave no specifics (this is a common 11-month firing tactic. You may also hear, “A mother complained”, again without any specifics. If there are specific reasons, consider the fact you may actually be a bad teacher, and this firing may be legitimate – Ed). This is when we started to ask other friends around us what we should do? Our boss had made up an arbitrary reason to get rid of us, so we had to get ready for what was next.

My partner and I asked a friend to help us translate our trouble to the labor board. The first advice I can give to anyone who feels they were unfairly fired is to find a translator and go to the labor board (see below for details on this –ed). I can tell you from experience, after our boss decided to fire us, the following month was hell. His wife verbally attacked me in the teacher office one evening. A few days later, he gathered all the teachers into his office to yell at the two of us in front of everyone, trying to get us to agree with his decision for him to keep our last month’s paycheck.

My second piece of advice is to not agree to anything and record everything. Take your phone into any meetings and record proof of your boss’ supposed claims. Be ready for anything, and I mean anything.  When we made our claim with the labor board, our former boss made a rebuttal saying I have dyslexia and am unfit to teach – something he had no problem with when he hired me, or for the first 8 months of work. We had to provide the labor board with medical information on dyslexia proving that it does not affect one’s ability to teach. We had to prove that every lie our former employer made was, in fact, a lie. Our former employer made up so many things about myself and my partner, and he even had current employees making up things about us as well. We were not protected by the slander laws as foreigners.

The best thing to do is to stay honest and to keep it to yourself. Do not say anything about your drama at the bars, and DO NOT put the school on the blacklist until you leave the country. Korea has INTENSE slander laws, so even if it’s true you may still get in trouble for it. Play all your cards very close and be very careful who you trust. People you once thought of as friends may turn on you in order to keep their own jobs.

If you want another job in Korea, get a release letter AS SOON as the firing happens. This will allow you to get another job at another school.

Once you leave the country, make sure to blacklist the school ANONYMOUSLY. Stand up for yourself; if you take your school to the labor board for firing you unfairly, the bad school owners and directors will learn that we are not their toys, we are real people and we deserve respect. As long as you are being a good employee, your school should be a respectful employer. When they are not being respectful, if someone crosses a line, stand up for yourself and do not be afraid.

At the Labor Board

The labor board is a big building on the main road in Okdong (the location is pinned on the Interactive Map, under Government – Ed) . We walked in with our translator and waited to speak with the next officer. When the officer and our translator spoke, our translator explained that we had been fired with no cause. The officer explained that to be fired in Korea from your School, public and private, you must receive three warning letters and a month’s notice to arrange for what is next in your life. You must also receive a release letter, in order to find work at a new school. Without the release letter you will not be able to work at a new school. We went to the labor board after every incident with our school, keeping our translator very busy. It’s important to report everything to the labor board officer.

After we made our initial claim, we had to return to the labor board office after our last day of work. We submitted our claim in full, and the officer then faxed our claim to the offices in Busan.

After our claim went to Busan everything became foggy. We moved out of the school-provided apartment and in with some friends. For a lot of the paper work we filled out, we needed an address and our friends generously provided us with that. The process took about two and a half months and we received a little less than a month and a half compensation. (This time frame, and the fact that most teachers are living in a school-provided apartment until they’re fired, is part of the reason why many people don’t bother sticking around to go through the Labor Board process – something the bad hogwan bosses rely on when unfairly firing foreign staff. It can be a tough decision to make, but to follow through not only helps yourself, but helps future teachers coming to Ulsan. Please consider this if this situation should happen to you – Ed).

We had been told that we would receive many different amounts of compensation at different times, but walking away with something was better than nothing at this point. Our school put up a dirty fight, our former employer lied on official paper work, saying awful and untrue things about myself and my partner. This, unfortunately, made an impact with the Busan Labor Board. My partner and I had to prove all our former employers claims were indeed lies. This became such a nightmare and a financial drain that we were really hoping to make an out-of-court settlement as much as we wanted to make a public trial.

We could have ruined our former employer, we could have destroyed the school’s reputation with a public trial, but we didn’t, we took the settlement of a little less than a month and a half pay each, and went on our way. After the dust cleared and we had received our settlement, our former employer asked if we could come in and sign a document saying that we would not black list the school. Upon hearing this news from our translator we declined. Our translator urged us to consider the generosity of our former employer in his settlement, but the nightmare of working at that school was too real and too harsh for us to hide the truth. I feel it is my duty to black list this school in order to help future English teachers coming to Korea. We signed no paper and went on our way, never to return to Korea.

If you have any questions, please contact me, I’m offering this article to help and my email is here (greenteathug /at/ if you need advice or have any questions. Be safe globe trotters!

What you should know about BAPS (Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary)

By , July 17, 2014 6:53 pm

This article was written by Leo, one of the two people who run the Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary. It’s pretty much the only no-kill dog shelter in the Busan-Ulsan area. The article was written in response to some negative comments, and posted on their Facebook page. With Leo’s permission, I’m sharing it here, because I think it’s important stuff to think about – not just for this particular shelter, but for any service run by volunteers with the intention of helping others.

(By Leo Mendoza)

1. BAPS has no full time employees.

I (Leo) have two full time jobs (university teaching and dog kenneling), a part time job (radio production) and multiple free-lance jobs. Jin has two full time jobs (school teaching and dog kenneling). The other person involved regularly is the worker who comes to clean and feed the dogs Tuesday and Thursday, and she receives a small cash stipend from BAPS to cover her transportation and time. She also has a full time job.

2. BAPS has no government or corporate support.

Despite our best efforts, over the past 6 years it has been impossible to find support from anyone other than individuals who donate graciously to BAPS.

3. BAPS costs 2,500,000 per month to run.

Our main expenses are rent, dog food, and regular monthly dog medical supplies. Over the years we have worked hard to be able to buy the food and medicine at great bulk discounts. If we were paying retail prices, the monthly cost would be close to 4 million. BAPS donations are always used towards dogs. All associated costs (transportation, snacks, drinks, management, etc) are paid out of pocket by Leo and Jin.

4. BAPS collects an average of 1,000,000 per month. (now)


From 2008 to 2010 income from other sources was zero.

From 2010 to 2011 income was around 400,000 per month.

From 2011 to 2013 income was around 900,000 per month.

2014 has seen income at a little less than 1,000,000 per month.


The rest of the money needed to pay for the operating of BAPS has come out of Leo and Jin’s pocket. We don’t say this to show off, but to simply lay it down as it is, for all to see.

One of the many spaniels abandoned when it got "too big", rescued by BAPS

One of the many spaniels abandoned when it got “too big”, rescued by BAPS (from the BAPS site)

5. Medical emergencies, spay, neuter, are additional.

Thanks to the support of friendly vets, we pay great discount prices for medical care. Still, even with that help, the medical costs are significant. We spend an average of 5,000,000 a year in emergency medical care plus spay/neuter and heartworm treatments. The great bulk of this money comes from fundraisers organized by volunteers.

6. We know BAPS looks like crap by western standards, but…

We provide a far superior service to our dogs than do just about all the other shelters in Korea. Remember, the government does not support ANY shelters (just pounds).

These are some of the things we have that you will probably not find in other shelters in Korea:

-We vaccinate ALL dogs against every danger found here.

-We provide Heartgard and Frontline to all dogs

-We have a proven history of regular adoption. About 400 so far.

-We have NEVER had a dog get pregnant at BAPS

-We test EVERY dog for safe antibodies levels

-We are 100% No Kill

You’ll just have to take our word for it, but these things are rare in Korea. And they have been damn hard to achieve. Much sweat, sacrifice, and suffering has been spent to get to this level.

7. BAPS does not own our location.

It is a former pig farm, and looks like crap. But BAPS is thoroughly disinfected regularly, and our dogs almost never get skin infections, and we have NEVER had a viral or bacterial outbreak.  Of course, we would love to move to a better facility, buy we can’t afford the cost of purchasing land and building a proper shelter. When to comes to renting,  the fact is that NO on wants to rent to us. Dogs are loud and smelly, and bring property values down. Hence the pig farm.

8. BAPS will never grow beyond what it is.

This is a hard conclusion we’ve reached after all these years. Every step of running BAPS is a losing fight.

The government will not support dogs in this country. They even refuse to recognize dog shelters as legal charities, and won’t let us register as a charitable organization.

We will never have sustainable donations, because the great majority of people who donate to us are foreigners in Korea, and by definition leave the country after a couple years. No one who’s left has ever donated regularly after departing.

Because it takes time and money to make money, BAPS is incapable of raising money to sustain itself, much less to raise money enough to pay a full time worker, or upgrade facilities. It just isn’t going to happen.

9. Despite all this, the dogs are happy.

Yes, our dogs have to spend months confined in the cages.Yes, our dogs go the entire week without having human contact.

But there’s one key fact: OUR DOGS ARE ALIVE.

These dogs would have all been killed 10 days after arriving to the pound had we not pulled them from there. So what if they have to stay a few months in the cages? When they come out they are happy. They get all the food they need, they are protected from the weather, they have enough space to walk around, and they are socialized with people.

I can cite many, many emails, messages, calls, etc. that Jin and I have received from the families who have adopted a BAPS dog and taken them all over the world. Our dogs are happy and loving parts of these families.

We know that the dogs at BAPS will eventually find their home. It may not be this week, or this month, or perhaps even this year. But they will all live.

10. We won’t quit.

BAPS is a life draining prison for us. It has brought us to the brink of bankruptcy a couple of times. It has drained away all possibility of vacations, hobbies, or even a weekend away. The stress it causes even sent me to the hospital once.

But we do this because we look around and see that NO ONE else is doing it. Thousands of dogs die at the pounds in Busan, and no one else is doing anything. We feel it is our moral duty to give a chance to live to the dogs we can.

We know what your western standards are. We’d love to implement them. But we don’t have the money or the free time to do them.  So, here’s a final thought:

When you feel you have the next great ideas for improving BAPS, don’t just say “Leo, you should do X in order for BAPS to grow!” Please consider that your idea costs money I don’t have, and time I don’t have.

If you really want to help, say” Leo, I will do X in order for BAPS to grow!”

Volunteers on the weekend Dog Walk

Volunteers on the weekend Dog Walk – Sundays at 11am. See their Facebook page for details. (from BAPS site)

THAT’S the kind of action we need. That’s how we got our playgrounds built, the Ulsan fundraiser, and other recent projects that people have enacted.

Whatever happens, we are committed to saving dogs in our local community. This is what we do. We don’t apologize to anyone for BAPS not being up to western standards. This is the best that can be done with zero resources. We do this for the dogs. We do not do it for anything else. The dogs.

(If you are considering adopting a dog, please read this post.)

Getting Aquainted – Pets

By , September 2, 2013 7:28 pm

Often when people arrive here, they feel a little lonely without their family and friends close by. For some of us, coming to Korea is our first time living alone, after years of sharing rooms and apartments through university and those first years after school when student loans overshadow all other expenses. What better way is there to solve this loneliness than by getting a pet?

Who could resist this face? Apparently the people who abandoned him on the street.

Who could resist this face? Apparently the people who abandoned him on the street. (Found by a member of our Facebook group)

Well, let’s be realistic. Yes, pets are a great addition to a person’s life, providing companionship, love, and fuzzy cuddles (depending on the type of pet), and there are proven health and psychological benefits to caring for one. But there are downsides to pet ownership that many people overlook, which often ends up hurting the animal. If you are thinking of getting a pet to keep you company, please consider the following.

Pets are not disposable. Please, do not get a pet if you cannot or will not take it with you when you move on from Korea. These little creatures form deep bonds with their humans, and they suffer greatly when their person disappears from their life. Cats and small dogs can live for 20 years if properly cared for – this is a lifetime commitment you are making. Please take it seriously.

The bunny my friend and I pulled out of a garbage pile.

The bunny my friend and I pulled out of a garbage pile.

Korea does not have a system to handle unwanted pets, either. There are very few animal shelters in the country, and they’re all privately operated. They have very limited resources for helping stray or abandoned animals. Likewise, many vets offices will try to help with finding homes, but there are time limits. A dog or cat left with a vet or in a city pound will be euthanized after a week or so, as there is simply no place to put them.

If you can’t take the pet with you when you leave, consider volunteering for a group like Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary (BAPS), where you can go on weekends to walk the dogs at the shelter. Get your pet “fix” and help out a great cause at the same time.

One of the rescued dogs at BAPS, Hani.

One of the rescued dogs at BAPS, Hani, who was likely used for illegal dog fights, then bred repeatedly, before being found wandering.

If you are prepared to make the commitment to a pet, then there are some options for finding the right one for you.

Please don’t buy from pet stores. Puppy mills are rampant here, with sickly, malnourished, neglected dogs caught in a continual cycle of breeding and whelping. The puppies are taken from their mothers far too young, so that they have a longer shelf life of being cute at the shop, and they often have serious behavioural and health issues, from infected eyes to bad hips. Similarly, don’t buy from the lady on the street with a box of puppies or kittens. Doing so only perpetuates the cycle. You may be “rescuing” one animal, but you’re dooming the parents to another breeding cycle, as long as money can be made.

A kitten at the Animal Rescue Korea site

A kitten at the Animal Rescue Korea site

Instead, look to the shelters, like BAPS, or Rescue Korea. Here, your adoption fee goes to cover the costs of feeding and housing the animals, and you’re making room for another pet to be rescued from a horrible fate. They often have purebred animals if you’re looking for a specific breed of dog or cat, and there is a wide range of ages, from energetic young puppies to steady, older pets who just want a comfortable retirement.

There are also reputable breeders to be found in Korea, so please do your research if you choose to go this route. Visit the location to make sure they’re not a puppy mill.

Keep in mind that pets can be very demanding. They need to be trained where to go to the toilet, not to destroy your stuff, not to bite or scratch, etc. They need to be exercised (remember the mantra “A tired pet is a good pet!”), and they need vet care (rabies shots, distemper, heartworm meds, spaying or neutering – don’t add to the unwanted pet problem!). Pets take a lot of work, and if you’re coming home from work exhausted, it may be the last thing you’ll want to do, to clean up poop, or have an excited pet chewing on your fingers. You can’t go away for weekends without finding a pet sitter. You need to come home from work and walk the dog before you go out to the bar (and then you’re leaving it alone again after it’s been alone all day long). These are all things that people often forget when they see happy cavorting fur-babies in a pet-store window.

This is how they get you...

This is how they get you…

It pays to do your research into training and behaviour before you ever adopt an animal. The more you understand and expect before a furry creature enters your house, the less likely you are to be driven completely insane by their midnight capering, or chewing of your new sneakers. I highly recommend reading several books, such as Good Owners, Great Dogs by Brian Kilcommons (my bible when raising my Lab many years ago), or anything off this Amazon list – or surf the net for advice. We also have an Ulsan Dog Owner’s group on Facebook, which is a great place to find helpful people, or organize doggy play-dates.

Don’t get me wrong. I love animals. I would have a house full of animals if I could (in fact, my apartment is so small, that my dog technically does make it full of animals). I think everyone should have a pet in their life if it’s possible for them. But every year I see countless posts on our Facebook group of animals found abandoned on the streets, or animals looking for new homes when their owners leave the country, and my heart breaks for them. If you can make the commitment to give a pet a lifelong home where it’s properly cared for, then by all means, go out and find one! But if you just want something to keep you company for the few months you’re here, try one of those apps where you have a “pet” to play with.

My brother's dog, Gogi, who was abandoned on the streets in Korea, and has accompanied him to Egypt, and soon will join him in Sweden.

My brother’s dog, Gogi, who was found on the streets in Ulsan, accompanied him to Egypt and Canada, and soon will join him in Sweden. Pictured here in the White Desert, May 2013.

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

Safari from Hell

By , August 12, 2012 10:46 am

Hyundai Department store in Ulsan’s Samsandong area has a children’s safari on the 10th floor.  If looking at exotic animals that are presented in small wire cages, most with no water or food, while children scream at them is enjoyable, then by all means, go and spend the 5k won to see these poor creatures.  I went because of a facebook thread about it and just had to do something.  As an animal lover, I wanted to document this travesty.  I was appalled at the lack of control of parents and their children, who sometimes poked and prodded the critters. I was just as appalled at some of the parents who put their cameras right into the faces of the animals and flashed photos.  But I was deeply disturbed by the mammal cages. Of the 12 mammals I counted, only 2 had water in their cage. Several had bowls, but they were bone dry, indicated they hadn’t had water for a long time. Some animals had apparently overturned their bowls, but the trays below their cages were dry as well indicating it had been a long while since any water was dumped out.  I visited the safari at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, in full swing with hundreds of  noisy children and parents. I was more than a little disgusted by it as were a few of the animals.

There were also birds and reptiles in the safari, but those seemed to be fine. All of them had plenty of water and food. A small petting area held a few rabbits and guinea pigs with scads of kids trying to pet and pick the animals, most of which seemed rather terrified or kept to the middle of the pen, out of reach of the rough hands.

I’m sure someone thought that presenting exotic animals to children would be a good idea. They might have even thought it was a teaching moment. Although what they could possibly teach in this type of environment escapes me. But if they wanted to teach that it’s ok to keep animals in small pens with no water, that it’s cool if children screamed and poked at them, that it’s fine if people flashed cameras at close range, that wild animals enjoy a small room with enormous amounts of noise,  then they’ve done a fine job.

Shame on Hyundai Department store for hosting such a travesty. Shame on Koreans for supporting it. PETA Asia-Pacific has been notified.  Although the safari is only at Ulsan’s Hyundai Dept. store until August 12th, there are plans to take the tour to other stores around Korea.

On the possible nature of things

By , December 25, 2011 12:58 am

Support the “Occupy movement” they say. “Why?” might be your question and a reasonable question it is as any question these days is a good one. Humanity has become impotent in its ability to ask the right questions, simply asking questions is an art diminishing by the decade. My current country of presence is a perfect example of simply accepting the status quo without questioning. The west on the other hand is an example of blatant fear and in many instances denial of the need to ask questions while at the same time it chastises those who do. Hardly any of those looking down on the occupiers asks the most simple of questions “Why?” for they assume that they already know the answer as it has been provided to them by means of various types of media and questioning is unnecessary. The handful of people Occupying are labeled many things, but one thing they cannot be labeled as is inept at asking the right questions.

I had a sit down with a friend a few months ago, engrossed in the most wonderful of after work mixed with dim lights, chill tunes and cold beer stupors, discussing world affairs as we saw them when he objectively inquired if all my extreme revelations may have been acquired within a relatively recent past or whether I had been harboring these opinions for longer than my existence within the past half decade. I had no clear answer to his question and come to understand now that it really doesn’t matter when certain thoughts had occurred to me, for why should it?

In reality only recently have I started to read more, listen more and investigate more and without blowing up my analytical limitations into “a life’s work” I’d like to share a piece of it, may you do with it what you like, this including the administrator of this wonderful website who by now may have realized that this piece is anything but about the city in which we live. I believe, however, that it does affect the people of this city on a personal level and as such I see this to be a fit topic. If after reading you still think what you do, well that’s your problem. This is meant to inspire a positive awareness of our existence on this planet, something that many have been trying to do for several decades now, but here I’d like to put my, possibly new to some, spin on reality.

Ok here we go. Place these purple glasses on your nose. Now you should be able to see the world in a different light, at least for as long as your eyes can follow the black symbols on this page.

Imagine that there is a group of people, we’ll call them group A for a easy way to follow along, who decided to benefit from another group of people, group B, by providing them with goods and services. Occasionally the members of group A went about their business in a scrupulous ways, abandoning ethics, rights and wrongs and focusing on only one possible outcome of their endeavors, namely the before mentioned benefits. The people in group B willingly accepted the terms proposed and what was being given, as the benefits were felt to be mutual. So essentially willingly, although unwittingly, they too were part of the scrupulous process of abandoning ethics and rights and wrongs all out of sheer ignorance. Now you must also imagine a group C, you didn’t think you could just get away with thinking that everything in life actually is black and white did ya? Group C has a vested interest in both group A and B since directly and indirectly group C benefits from both groups. Group C is a powerful group of people but wields it’s power in a profusely acceptable way, and although this has been far from so in the past, in today’s world the past misjudgments of group C have long been pushed under the couch and are slowly disintegrating into the remains of the strewn about dust bunnies. Group C has been very public in its diligently successful effort to perpetuate its power across the centuries, without missing a step mind you, but in a much brighter, sunnier and promising but no less feared way. It’s important to mark that since the power of group C has been spanning across centuries and generations of people, group C’s ability at keeping secrets has obviously been increasingly potent. To add colour to this collage imagine a fourth group, group D, which came about out of spite for group C. The people of group D came together with the same idea in mind and a common goal, which was to undermine in their own right, the doings of group C.

I realize by now that this may read like something from a study but bear with me and you may have something to think about. Labels will soon be provided but based on some unfamiliar to me part of the literary tradition I am attempting to build suspense and commitment on part of the reader.

Group D, although quite open in its beginnings, has managed to “go under”, who knows maybe it is Australia, and maintained somewhat of a sinister aura about its legendary existence. Group D has strived to gather as much power onto its side as possible, and being very successful in these pursuits it has also been able to access information beyond the reaches of group B, who seem to be making up 99% of the group equation. Group D also came to realize that while the mutually beneficial partnership between groups A and B was on some levels good for all groups, it was devastatingly damaging to the planet i.e. life in general, and essentially the groups themselves. With this in mind group D decided to do something about it, and their plan was to save the planet.

Now you must understand that although group D is extremely powerful, it is miniscule in its numbers compared to group A and even more so the immense numbers of group B. Group D has been observing groups A and B while they wallowed in their own creations, their own filth and destruction. It has observed the rise and fall of groups and individuals. It has watched history being written, read, re-written, re-read, with hardly any shift in the doings of those who read still blissfully oblivious in their happiness of material goods steering towards their own destruction as well as the destruction of the planet inhabited by groups C and D, same place. There is another group, group E, but honestly that is hardly worth mentioning as it doesn’t really have a voice on the scene, not one that is being listened to very well by the majority of the groups, or rather the majority of the 99% of the groups.

So group D comes up with a plan to save the existence of the planet, and the groups living on it. It’s a diabolical plan as it’s contrived upon ideals which essentially serve their own survivalist interests, which may or may not help the members of other groups, dependant on group D’s roster of new membership. Group D openly states that it does what’s best of individuals, but that it is not an altruistic group, which essentially means that they’re willing to save those who are willing to follow them, but that they aren’t ready to stick their necks out for anyone unwilling to see the knife.

Now this is a touchy question, and one people don’t readily want to address, but one which has deep importance. I have a feeling that the following might offend some but the reality is out there and those need to deal with it. Imagine this scenario. You’re on a boat, you, your partner and your offspring. Imagine that you are the last of your species, and once you’re gone there will be nothing left. Imagine that the boat is sinking and the only way you can stop it is by displacing one of the individuals. Who will be the displaced one?

This is an emotionally tough decision to make, but luckily group D doesn’t deal in emotions but rather logic. As prescribed by logic, attachment, love and the like are secondary to the preservation of the species and as such group D will chose to keep aboard those capable of reproduction, and please don’t assume that I haven’t acknowledged the existence of incestuous relations and the complications of such offspring. This is merely a very simplified example of a much too complicated matter to be covered in these few paragraphs.

Keeping group D’s thought process in mind, wouldn’t it be relatively easy to see their need to eliminate the potential threat created by groups A and B? The need to eliminate both groups in order to preserve the planet and group E, since although group E is not being listened to very actively by the majority of the 99% of the groups, the fact is written in stone that group D is very much aware of the voiceless group E and sees that group as irreplaceable while groups A and B as well as C are expendable.

From a sober perspective, and I do mean sober, what group D is trying to accomplish is rather chivalry. A big task, a hard weighing responsibility, but hey someone’s gotta do it. The majority of the other 99% sure as hell don’t seem to be able to get their shit together, and at this rate the end of all groups is inevitable and although all groups know it, it seems that only group D is actually on its way of doing something about it.

So, as an individual, what group would you choose to join? Group A and B happily living in a world where ignorance is bliss with only a small portion of its members aware of the inevitable demise of its own species and struggling in an attempt to make the remainder aware?; group C openly enigmatic with connection reaching far beyond group A’s and B’s comprehension, what other influences this particular group may have is rather, mystical?; group D willing to take drastic actions in the name of preservation of the species?; or the voiceless yet irreplaceable group E?

How here’s the plot:

If you said A, you are a corporation. If you said B, you are some part of the acclaimed 99%. If you said C, you are the church. If you said D you are the Illuminati. If you said E, you are an animal, a wild beast that loves life and all that it brings, well not in that sense cause animals function on instinct alone….don’t they? But hey, you’ve got no voice so who cares.

If all of this is confusing take the description and plot it back along the rumble to see if it makes better sense. Oh and by the way, the earth is F, or Alpha, or whatever. She will have her voice heard, but it would be sad if it wasn’t in our life time.

Noraebang Owners want to Sell Beer

By , December 16, 2011 10:53 am

Of course noraebangs, or singing rooms, want to sell beer. And they do. In fact, this article from the KoreaTimes is the first indication I’ve had that selling beer in a noraebang  is illegal.  Wait. What?  Illegal?

I’ve lived in Korea for over six years and have yet to go to a noraebang where beer is not provided.  So what gives?  Why is it illegal for a singing room to provide beer? And if it’s illegal why does every noraebang I’ve ever been to sell it? Am I missing something here?

Or is it simply Koreans only follow laws they feel are just and ignore the ones they don’t agree with?  Anyone who has ever driven a car or ridden a motorcycle or bicycle on Korean streets would tend to believe the latter.  Driving laws are followed sporadically at best and regularly flaunted at worst, as evidenced by this video proof. There is a street near my home with several red lights and it’s a rare event to see a car actually stop at one as most simply glide through as if it didn’t exist. So, too, do the noraebangs provide beer, as if the law simply were not in place.  The KoreaTimes article admits that

an average of 13,000 singing room owners or 40 percent of its members annually get fined mostly for the alcohol-related violations

I must be restricting my noraebang outing to the 40%. However, that 40% are just the ones that get caught violating the law, so one can assume that of the other 60% a good percentage must also be selling beer illegally although not fined.

So illegal drinking and driving (not necessarily together) goes on regularly  in Korea. Are there any other laws customarily broken?  Of course! In 2010 the government decreed that hagwons, those private institutions that fuel the existence of so many of us expats , must close their doors by 10:00pm.  Since nearly every Korean wants their son or daughter to be #1 in class, few complain if the hagwon they send their child too violates the hagwon curfew and keeps them later to study. Check out interview #2 in this blog post of problems facing Korean students.  Despite the curfew, there are evidently hagwons that violate the law and parents who don’t give a damn.

So then, the guide to living comfortably in Korea is to do what Koreans do –  illegal or not.  If it’s illegal and you see a Korean doing it first, go for it. You have my permission – and apparently the implicit permission of the law as evidenced by their lack of enforcement.  Have a good time – just don’t get caught.

Lunchtime Links

By , September 28, 2011 12:50 pm

Some stories of interest around Korea:

  • This just in: nano-anything is bad for you. Korean scientists have found that, amazingly, microscopic particles, when introduced to the human body  are toxic. Specifically, cyto (cell) toxic. It’s bad for your cells. Don’t do nano, people. That is all.
  • In a twist on the German ban of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, Korean manufacturer LG is seeking a ban on German cars. German LED maker Osram is not playing nice with LG so they want to ban all German cars. That seems fair. I’m fairly confident that once the Korean parliament members emerge from their BMWs and Mercedes automobiles will quickly see the logic of this approach to the arguments among light blub makers.
  • In logic clearly not designed for mere mortals, economist Kwon Yeong-seon of Nomura Securities reports that Korea will fare better than any other Asian nation in the foreign exchange wars currently underway.

    “The Korean won is the most susceptible (to external impact) along with the Indian rupee among emerging market currencies,” adding, “Price fluctuations will occur temporarily, but when a change occurs on the market, investors will get the perception that the won is undervalued, causing the exchange rate to stabilize.”

    KRW vs USD

    Being most suspectable to change almost certainly means no problem when change occurs is the logic that he seems to employing. Check that logic with the current US Dollar to Korean Won exchange rate, which bears a striking resemblance to a hockey stick and anything but stable.

  • Having the Japanese colonize Korea in the early part of the 20th century really was beneficial. Really. Honest.  So says a new Korean middle school history text book.

    The Association for Contemporary Korean History (ACKH)  was a major influence behind the changing all instances of the term “democracy” to “liberal democracy” in the 2009 revised history education curriculum. The term “liberal democracy” in Korean is considered controversial for its strongly implied support of free market capitalism and anti-communist and anti-socialist connotations. Some say the term is exclusionary, since the national movement against Japanese rule had some connection to socialist movements.

    So, if you’re following along carefully, it was good for the Japanese to brutally colonize Korea because it helped them to instill a “liberal democracy” framework which acted as a bulwark against communism. So there. I bet all those comfort women feel better now.  Some days I just don’t understand this land.

  • The USA may become very interested in Korean sex trafficking. Because of the wage gap between sexes, the use of loan sharks for those women who need cash and stimulus programs that allowed enormous debts to be racked up, many women find themselves in dire straits. Many of those women have become victims of trafficking and ended up in the USA as sex workers.  With law enforcement in America focused at home, the Washington Times suggests going after South Korea to fix the mess.
  • And finally, cheese. There’s more of it these days in Korea. Although up 25% in exports, the total is a mere US$98 million in cheese sold so far this year in Korea. That’s less than  US$2  in cheese for every man, woman and child on the peninsula –  for 7 months.  I’ll eat that much in a single afternoon. Compare and contrast that, if you will, with the cheese exploits of former Editor-in-Chief Fin Madden. Fin is no longer teaching English in Korea but is safely in ensconced calm, safe Cairo, Egypt where he is the Director of Athletics at an international school. Check out the cheese available in Fin’s world. Simply cheese porn. I fart in your general direction thumb my nose at you, Korean cheese importers.


Time for Korean Companies to Grow Up

By , August 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Recently Korean Chaebol/conglomerate SK, (Sun Kyoung Telecom) engaged in some blatantly racist behavior that people need to hear. While they are far from the only company in Korea to do so, it’s a recent example of improper and hurtful behavior and the specifics are fresh.

At the University of Ulsan, SK Telecom offered students a new Apple iPad. While that sounds generous, SK is indeed a business and intends to make money off that promotion. No harm there, as that’s what companies do. With a free iPad, students were offered greatly reduced network plans on SK to support the 3G and 4G connections that make the device so incredibly useful. Students lined up in droves for their free tablet. Classes at the university are riddled with them, as students use them as dictionaries, note taking appliances and many other uses. Go to a coffee shop near the university and they are everywhere.

Well, not quite everywhere. It turns out some students were denied an iPad.


Rocy Martinez, smiling but hot happy about being discriminated against

Rocy Martinez is Venezuelan and a student at Ulsan University. She was given a scholarship by the Korean government to study there. She’s already been here for two of the three years of her education and is intending to stay for the remainder. She was denied getting the iPad this year for no other reason than she is not Korean. “I filled out all the forms online and was never told I wasn’t getting an iPad. Then I went to the SK event to pick up my iPad. I went with a Korean friend and watched as he got his.” The Korean was given his iPad, complete with multiple plans for hand phone and iPad. Ms. Martinez was taken aback in stunned amazement as she was denied because she was a foreigner. “I felt horrible!” she exclaimed.

The reason she was denied? Because foreigners are not allowed to have two phones or two phone numbers, or two telecom accounts or whatever the SK representatives could mumble.

Really Korea? It’s 2011. The days of making blacks ride the back of the bus ended almost 50 years ago in America, yet Korea still clings to the idea that foreigners must be treated differently than Koreans.

Koreans were offered the iPad even if they had a handphone plan with another provider. Why should SK care – they’ll get their money from the plan they offered. If they already had a plan with SK, no problem – an iPad number and handphone number can be readily obtained so that one may have both – if you’re Korean. SK was being not just racist and discriminatory but business stupid. Ms. Martinez was ready to give them money, but their discriminatory rules forbade it. They’ve lost on several fronts.

Some people (even some foreigners) might say that foreigners will bolt in the middle of the night leaving their bills behind. While that may occasionally happen, that is not a valid reason. There are business methods to counter that. Why not have foreigners submit a deposit that will be returned on cancelling the contract? But simply deny products and services to all foreigners because of the fear of what some foreigners might do or have done? That’s the textbook definition of prejudice. We understand we are transient and that may cause some trepidation on the part of businesses to offer long term contracts. But mitigate that risk with business logic, not the illogic of xeniphobia, racism and prejudice. Don’t deny services based on fear because of our skin color, eyes or language. Treat us like we are people. Some people might say that this is just how things are done. Well, it isn’t how things should be done. Others might say that’s just how Korean people are – racist, xenophobic and discriminatory and we have to live with that. And that’s exactly the kind of crap people told Rosa Parks when she didn’t want to sit in the back of the bus any longer.

If this were only about Ms. Martinez, SK and iPads it would be a short story. This kind of behavior from Koreans pervades the lives of many of us foreigners here. We are frequently denied products and services because we are foreigners. How many of us have been denied service because of that? Moreover, all foreigners are treated equally bad. Ms. Martinez is here at the invitation of the Korean government and treated poorly. Many of us are married to Koreans and yet we are denied services if we attempt to obtain them without a spouse in tow. Ever tried to get a handphone, iPad or Galaxy Tab on your own? Almost impossible except at a few stores. Can you use your Korean residence card online like any Korean can?  Only a few websites accept our cards.

Get into the 21st century, Korea. If you want to be a big player in the global market then stop acting like terrified little children and grow up. Treat your residents like people. Not like Korean people and foreigners.

Oh, and stop calling us foreigners when we are standing right next to you. We have names.

East Sea Loses

By , August 10, 2011 2:53 am

Korea has struggled mightily for nearly two decades to persuade the world to use the name “East Sea” when referring to the body of water between Korea and Japan. Recently the United States and the UK backed the name that has been in use on most maps for much longer – the Sea of Japan.

The Chosun Ilbo reported that Seoul protested the name, saying the US “is playing into Japan’s hands” while the US simply said they don’t play the two-name game on geographical nomenclature and support the name that has been more familiar for a longer period.

The Hankyoreh fired off an editorial that (as usual) lambasts the Seoul government for not doing enough to change the name on the world’s maps. They reason that

It is not right to use the name of one country alone for the standard international name of a body of water surrounded by four different countries, namely North Korea, South Korea, Russia, and Japan.

However, one need only consult a world map to see that that is a ludicrous statement and confirm that the Hankoreh editors have about as much geographical knowledge as elementary school students who are not yet exposed to the science. The naming of a body of water after one country when several lie along it is common and fairly normal. The Gulf of Mexico is surrounded by not just Mexico but by the larger (and geographically more encompassing USA), Cuba and Jamaica.  The Persian Gulf is bordered by Iran, the modern name of the Persian empire but also Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait and probably a few other countries I can’t remember.  The Gulf of Thailand is engulfed by Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia.  The South China Sea borders China, Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.  And then there’s that whole Indian Ocean thing that seems to have floated right out of their geography books.

Seriously, Korea, it’s a name. And the Sea of Japan,while it may seem unfair to name a body after only one of several adjacent countries, is far more descriptive than the lame moniker of  “East Sea.”  East of what, pray tell? East of Eden? Hardly.

It is quite obvious to even the casual observer that Koreans have more of an issue with the name being of a former conquering enemy than the number of countries that envelop the sea. Moreover, because the name showed up on maps during the time that Japan had colonized Korea they seem to take even greater level of offense.  It’s not often I defend the USA, but they provided  a nice precedent when even after taking an enormous slice of Mexican land in 1848 they didn’t demand the world change the name to the South Gulf or something equally as mundane.

I will, however, side with the Hankyoreh on the issue they raise concerning the Korean government’s approach to the name change:

It is a matter of concern just what the impact on this current will be from the decision by the United States, which has also made a significant contribution to stirring up the Dokdo issue, to once again side with Japan. If the reason has to do with South Korea’s recent approach or attitude, then the problem is serious.

Yes, it is serious. If spending their won on ads running in New York’s Times Square is their idea of bending world opinion then you may as well kiss Dokdo goodbye now. I have no doubt that the vast majority of people milling around Times Square cared more about a rat’s behind than about a tiny island in the Sea of Japan – oops! I mean the East Sea.