Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Taking Tea With The Master

Great Tea Master Chae Won-hwa

I've been focusing on far too many little things this month and completely forgot to urge you to rush out and snatch a copy of the May edition of 10 Magazine (though it's probably too late now, unless you plead with them for a back issue). I was fortunate enough to snag the cover story (The Way Of Tea) and a chance to interview Brother Anthony of Taizé.

In my delightful chat with Brother Anthony he talked about the Great Tea Master Chae Won-hwa and with the Tea Gods smiling down upon me I was given the chance to meet her a few weeks later at her studio in Insadong.

I spent a couple of hours in the company of Master Chae and two of her students. We sat cross-legged on the floor of the small room where she teaches The Way Of Tea and talked about her life, her passions and about tea itself. It was a wonderful experience and a meeting that I'll remember for a very long time to come.

Here's just a few shots from my time with Master Chae, if you ever get a chance to meet her then be prepared for intelligent passionate conversation and a magnificent cup of Panyaro tea.

Great Tea Master Chae Won-hwa

Great Tea Master Chae Won-hwa

Great Tea Master Chae Won-hwa

Great Tea Master Chae Won-hwa

Great Tea Master Chae Won-hwa

Monday, May 30, 2011

Time To Get Your Crayons Out

If you enjoy writing and aren't afraid to publicly put pen to paper then there's an exciting opportunity that may just be for you...

Head on over to The New Korea Files, where you're invited to submit pieces for a brand new book of "original English-language writing by blogging expatriates living in Korea". I'll be typing out my own piece this month and I encourage you to do the same.

Here's the info:


Submissions will be accepted from English-language writers who currently live in Korea and blog about their experiences.


We are looking for short essays, creative non-fiction, poetry pieces, art and lists that center around the theme Beyond Bulgogi.

Submissions should be emailed to book1@nanoomi.net with the subject line “BB Article Submission” or “BB Submission, other” by July 1st. Submissions must be attached as a Word .doc/.docx, .txt, .or rtf file. Any submissions in other formats will not be considered. Please indicate how you wish your name to appear if your piece is selected for inclusion.

The New Korea Files assumes only first-publication rights to selected pieces, to include printing in South Korea and in an online edition via online retailers. All other rights, including subsequent publication, are retained by the author.

Please be aware that TNKF will exercise editorial control over submissions.

Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, but if a submission is accepted by other publications, it must be withdrawn from The New Korea Files. Please contact TNKF via email immediately if a submission is accepted by another publication. Authors will be notified in July if their pieces have been chosen for inclusion / returned for rewrite / rejected for inclusion.

Articles: Works of up to 3,000 words will be considered, although we prefer shorter. Authors may submit any number of pieces for consideration.

Poetry, Art, etc.: Any number of pieces will be accepted for submission.

Head on over to their website for more details and also the chance to submit pieces to their "The Kindness of Strangers" category.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

One Rule For Expat Life In Korea

I'm a little late to this party, but I've just seen the CNNGO article by Kyle Burton and the responses from Chris in South Korea, Roboseyo and David Wills. They all have interesting things to say and some useful tips of their own (Go read them now if you haven't already).

I've got one little rule for expat life in Korea. It's a simple one, but I've found it to be fairly effective wherever I've gone:

Don't be a wanker.

Welcome to Korea, I hope you enjoy yourself, but please don't be tempted to act like an idiot just because you're in a new and exciting place. Like it or not, you're a cultural ambassador for your community and when in Korea, you need to respect not only the local laws, but also the people around you. I'm not saying you shouldn't have fun, but be aware of the consequences of your actions. Last year Ask A Korean wrote a great post titled "Ask a Korean! Wiki: How Not to be an Arrogant American?". It's worth a read and it applies not just to Americans, but to every foreign visitor or resident in Korea.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Concrete Window

Concrete Window HDR

A picturesque view of the Yongsan Army base from the outside looking in. The grass does look greener on the other side...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Summer Spaghetti

Basil and Tomato Spaghetti

Summer is most definitely here (and judging from this week's weather it may well be rainy season) and the basil in our balcony garden is growing strong, so to celebrate we made a tomato and pepper spaghetti to brighten up our rainy lunchtime.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Girl And The Whale

The Girl And The Whale

I had a little time on my hands this afternoon and decided to explore the Hongdae/Shincheon area. I got off at Sangsu subway station and discovered this gorgeous slightly faded mural at the crossroad. I'm not sure why it's there, I'm not sure what it means, but I have fallen in love with this girl and her whale. My new favourite piece of street art in Seoul.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Things To Do On A Wednesday Night

Roboseyo has already posted about the rather interesting party going on tomorrow night, but I thought I'd throw my two pennies worth in and let you know about it. Project Obangsaek is a documentary and website set up by documentary maker Benson Lee and it already has a fair few bits and pieces of interest on the web. Aurelien Laine (French film producer) has some interesting things to say on the South Korean film market and Hae Hee Joung writes about the Korean graffiti scene.

But back to tomorrow night's party. I've heard rumour that some stars of the K-blogosphere will be in attendance at Project Obangsaek's launch party to talk about Nanoomi at 7.30 and it'll be a good chance to get your funk on when the Seoul Train Party gets on the rails at 9.00.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bibiming Your Bap

Ever wondered what the best way to mix your 비빔밥 (bibimbap) might be? Well down at the 중앙회관 restaurant in Jeonju, they bibim your bap for you.

What follows is a minute's worth of uncut, hot and steamy mixing action...

If you're in Jeonju then I strongly advise you to take time out of your busy schedule and make your way down to what may well be the best bibimbap restaurant in the country.

Best Bibimbap in Jeonju

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sage Sanitary Advice

Sage Sanitary Advice

"Prosperity is a great teach;
adversity is a greater."

Wise words, toilet wall sign, wise words... Seen in a toilet next to Dunkin Donuts at City Hall.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Comics Trading Day

Comics Trading Day

A little info for connoisseurs of comics...

This weekend seems to be the perfect time to dig out your unwanted comic books and to head to Hongdae. On May 14th from 1.00 till 5.00 pm at Thanks Books in Hongdae there will be a comics trading day.

If you fancy finding out more about it then contact pow.boom.crash [at] gmail.com for more info and the chance to secure your spot.

It may well be a treasure trove of graphic delights.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nice To Meat You

A few shots from last weekend's Friendship Fair at City Hall. A meat lover's paradise...

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

Greek kebabs served with tiny pitta breads.

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

The rather larger Russian versions.

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

Afghanistan had the prettiest skewers.

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

However, Indonesia had the tastiest...

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

Peru wins for largest chunks of meat though.

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

The French contingent did have the best sausages on offer.

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

But it was good to see the UK's representative Gavin turning out with his usual bangers.

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

Chef Meili did the Austrians proud with his delicious roast pork.

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

But the highlight of the festival for me was the Lebanese chicken and rice.

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

It turns out the creator of the best food of the festival is a diplomat working at the embassy. I'm hoping he gives up the day job and gives Seoul a Lebanese restaurant to be proud of!

Seoul Foreigner Friendship Fair

Falafel creation caught in the act.

Alas the friendship fair is over for another year, but I urge any foodies in Seoul to make a point of turning up to next year's festivities. It's well worth a visit.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Book of Mormon

Completely unrelated to Korea. I just thought I'd share this link for the more heretical among you. National Public Radio have a sneak peek of The Book Of Mormon, the Broadway musical from the demented minds of the creators of South Park and Avenue Q.

This isn't for the faint of heart or the easily offended, but if you have a puerile sense of humour, a love of broadway musicals and don't mind burning in hell then this may be for you.

Disclaimer: I'm not sure how long the album will be online to listen to for free, but you'll be able to buy a copy later this month...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Models of Friendship

Girls HDR

I'm not quite sure what these models were doing at the Seoul Friendship Fair over the weekend, but I had to admire their poise and control. Herded like fashion robots they walked and paused on command, smiling for the cameras and then disappeared into the palace across from City Hall.

Girls HDR

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Kebab Anyone?


An enormous chicken kebab offered by the lovely fellows of the Turkish stall at the Seoul Friendship Fair yesterday. If you didn't go yesterday or today then you really missed out on some fine street food. More pictures to come...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

JIFF 2011 Part Five - Departure, Words Of Praise And Warning

For Other JIFF 2011 posts please click here.

JIFF 2011
Services on offer.

After far less snoring time than I would have appreciated I scoffed down some instant ramyon, stumbled into a taxi and collapsed onto a 무궁화 (Mugunghwa) train. The Mugunghwa service is cheaper (17,000 won), slower (three hours and fifty minutes), has smaller seats, less legroom and a rather louder, drunker class of passenger, but the train cafe is always open and the hazelnut coffee is just as bad. I think I’d take the Saemaeul over the Mugunghwa every time if I had the choice, it’s worth the extra 7,500 won.

I arrived back in Seoul disheveled, downtrodden and dirtier than we I left, but I was happy to have had my whirlwind affair with the Jeonju International Film Festival. I’ll be back again, that’s for sure, but I’ll try and find some different accommodation...

JIFF 2011
Helpful volunteers willing to pose for the camera.

The Jeonju International Festival was filled with incredibly helpful volunteers, the English subtitles were excellent for the most part and the choice of films on offer was fantastic. I’d also like to commend the brave interpreters who were ready and willing to do live interpretation for me. For the Q&As for Anyang, Paradise City and The True Taste Show I had an interpreter all to myself. It feels special to have a man sitting next to you whispering English translations in your ear... For Nowhere to Hide, I had to share with others, but I think it’s incredible that Jeonju is able to offer that sort of service to their visitors. The ability to understand and participate in the Q&As greatly enhanced my festival experience and allowed me to enjoy the films on a different level.

Next year, take a little time out of your schedule and head to Jeonju, you won’t regret it. Go for the festival, go for the bibimbap, go for the chance to annoy up and coming directors with comments about their English subtitles, just make sure you stay away from the 백제의 성 motel.

JIFF 2011
Enter at own risk...

JIFF 2011 Part Four - Please Refrain From Kissing The Director

For Other JIFF 2011 posts please click here.

JIFF 2011
Spiderman, patron saint of film festivals everywhere.

I popped back to the festival open area I had visited the day before and picked up a couple of dvds from a stall. Lindsay Anderson’s If with Korean subtitles and Kamome Diner, a Japanese drama set in Finland. Then off to Megabox for film number six.

JIFF 2011
JIFF art on display.

달팽이의 별 (Planet of Snail) is a Korean documentary dealing with the life of a deaf-blind man and his diminutive wife, showing how they communicate with each other and their friends. It’s an uplifting hour and a half and the director Yi Seung-jun tries to show us what it must be like to live in this world of no sound or light. A touching story of how normal life can come out of unusual circumstances.

JIFF 2011
Coffee and Kidlat.

Feeling warm and fuzzy, I skipped down the slightly wet road, watched from a distance as Crying Nut warmed up for that night’s concert and then made my way to a hanok cafe for a cup of organic fair-trade coffee and a chance for my brain to cope with two days worth of sensory overload.

JIFF 2011
Kayagum wires strung across Hanok beams.

JIFF 2011
Quite possibly the best coffee house in Jeonju.

Then coffee consumed, I braced myself for the final film of my festival experience: Lee Myung-se’s 인정사정 볼 것 없다 (Nowhere to Hide).

I saw this film for the first time back in 2004 on DVD and fell in love with it. An artistic action film that experiments with image and form whilst thrilling, chilling, making you laugh and keeping you on the edge of your seat.

Back in CGV for the second time, I sat down and prepared myself. Then Lee Myung-se came and sat in front of me. Directly in front of me. Lee Myung-se was sitting directly in front of me! I kept my cool, I refrained from kissing his tiny bald head and waited for the movie to begin.

JIFF 2011
The back of Lee Myung-se's head...

Nowhere to Hide remains one of my favourite films and it has improved with age... sort of... let me explain. Seven years ago when I first saw the film I was a foolish young boy who had only been in Korea four years, my Korean was rudimentary and I relied on subtitles to enjoy Korean films. Fast forward to last weekend and I was surprised by how funny the film was, the Korean audience helped, but I realized that I understood the jokes and language play. It makes me happy that I’m able to appreciate Korean language films more deeply, that as my language skills improve I’m able to immerse myself more fully and understand more and more of the subtleties of language. In the words of Charlie Sheen “I’m winning”... Fortunately Lee Myung-se was also “winning” and the audience loved watching Nowhere to Hide. Most stayed for the hour long talk afterwards and if I have the time and inclination I’ll divulge some juicy details in a later post.

JIFF 2011
Cine Talk with Lee Myung-se.

I left the cinema at 11.30 thoroughly exhausted, but very happy with my first experience of the Jeonju International Film Festival. Back to the motel of doom, a can of beer, the red tinted windows, the circular love bed and the promise of a few hours of sleep.

JIFF 2011
This butterfly represents my feelings toward Lee Myung-se.

Friday, May 6, 2011

JIFF 2011 Part Three - Stormy Weather And HERZOG!

For Other JIFF 2011 posts please click here.

JIFF 2011
Welcome to JIFF, our banners are pretty and our spellchecker is broken.

I woke up to a thunderous storm, rain blasting onto the red tinted windows and the realization that I didn’t know where I could get breakfast. Stomach growling, I washed, brushed and got myself ready under the sickly green light of the bathroom, and made my way out into the rainy morning. Fortunately the JIFF shuttle bus was waiting for me and I settled myself into one of the faux leather seats as the tv at the head of the bus flickered with footage from the first two days of the festival and the speakers boomed with hideous techno. Dance music at ten in the morning has never seemed proper.

JIFF 2011
You must try one of these choco pies before you die.

As we arrived at the cinema street, the rain eased off and I was able to walk around looking for sustenance. Unable to find a Korean restaurant for breakfast, I headed for the PNB bakery and picked up one of their delicious baked choco pies. Not the healthiest way to break my fast, but I was hungry and I had four films to see.

JIFF 2011
Evil cat.

Next stop was a cute little coffee shop with an evil looking cat crouched on the counter. I left a warning in one of their notebooks. I think this may accurately reflect what a night in the 백제의 성 motel can do to a man’s mind...

JIFF 2011
Warning to others.

With caffeine and chocolate cake flowing through my digestive system I was ready for the first flick of the day: Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D. I had been wanting to see this documentary for quite a while and was so happy that JIFF were showing it in 3D. I think my tweet from before the screening says it all:

“HERZOG! HERZOG! HERZOG! Time for 3D Werner Herzog...”

Sometimes I can be such a geek.

JIFF 2011
I feel the same way about Herzog that a motel Ajosshi feels about these business cards (found outside my motel).

The Megabox screening was packed out (with the largest number of foreigners I had seen at the festival so far) and it did not disappoint. I think it may be the best use of 3D in cinema I have seen so far. Herzog allows the camera to linger over the fabulous prehistoric cave paintings of Chauvet and the 3D allows us to experience a little of the depth and texture of the art. This kind of film is best suited to hardcore documentary fans who have the patience and interest to spend ninety minutes looking at some old scribbles on a cave wall. I am one of those fans and was delighted by how Herzog has captured this unique historical wonder. Go see this in the cinema if you can, it’s well worth your hard earned cash and will leave you feeling like a better person. The postscript with the radioactive albino crocodiles may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it to be a fitting Herzogian end to the whole thing.

No Q&A and certainly no Werner Herzog, so it was time for coffee and a cheese muffin.

JIFF 2011
They call this a cheese muffin. I call them liars.

A cheese muffin served with squirty cream? A cheese muffin that has never been introduced to any kind of recognizable cheese? A muffin certainly, not a bad one in fact, but this was completely different to the muffin I had dreamed of in those long lonely moments between ordering and receiving the damn thing.

At this point I was wondering whether watching The True Taste Show had cursed me and if I would be condemned to a weekend of dismal food. However, I’m a big boy and my next screening called.

Short animation programs can be a mixed bag, you may get some good, some bad and some just plain weird cartoons, but it seemed the best choice when I was booking tickets and I hoped that there might be some interesting moving pictures.

JIFF 2011
This mural was more exciting than the short animation program...

Eighty minutes later the house lights came back on and I left the cinema with my head hung low. My first failure of the festival. The main animation of the program was a rather ghoulish Japanese vegan fantasy, drawn in pencil (a touch Plymtonesque) and ending with a cannibalistic orgy of destruction. It lasted fifty minutes and I wished I’d spent that time in a happier place. The other few animations were blissfully short but none impressed me.

JIFF 2011
Happiness spread before me.

I needed cheering up, I needed food. I had an hour and a half till the next film and I knew just where to go... my favourite bibimbap place in the whole of Korea. I’ve written about 중앙회관 before and I’d recommend it to anyone heading to Jeonju. It’s a little out of the way, but 10,000 won will get you an incredible meal.

JIFF 2011
Bibimmed bap.

The way the ajummas bibim your bap is a thing of beauty and it was just what I needed to re-energize me and help me through the rest of the day. I gave the owners a hand with a few translations for their menu and they were kind enough to give me my meal for free. The True Taste Show curse was lifted, my festival mojo was back and I was ready for cinematic action.

JIFF 2011
You want this. I know you do.

JIFF 2011 Part Two - Offending Directors And Culinary Curses

For Other JIFF 2011 posts please click here.

JIFF 2011

I’ve been interested in the work of Park Chan-kyong ever since I heard he was Park Chan-wook’s brother and that they were working on a short film called 파란만장 (Night Fishing) together. Call me shallow, but Park Chan-wook is one of my favourite directors and I a firm believer that genius can be hereditary, so the opportunity to see Park Chan-kyong’s first feature length film could not be missed. I had already seen his short film 비행 (Flying) at the Korean Rhapsody exhibition that is still running at the Leeum Museum. It was an interesting piece of work, but I was curious to see how he would fill out two hours worth of film.

다시 태어나고 싶어요, 안양에 (Anyang, Paradise City) turned out to be an enjoyable semi-fictional, semi-documentary investigation into Anyang City’s history, focusing on a fire at the Greenhill Factory. Park Chan-kyong plays a version of himself as onscreen director, whilst two actresses Kim Yeri and Park Min-yeong play his assistants (and as it turns out did actually assist in the making of the film). The film follows their investigation of the fire, their interviews with historians, authors and shaman and also highlights some traditional performances from the area. I’d hesistate to call it a feature film, but would rather describe it as media art. In the way that Matthew Barney makes feature length art pieces, Park Chan-kyong has done something in a similar vein.

JIFF 2011
Q&A with Park Chan-kyong (centre).

After the screening Park Chan-kyong and Kim Yeri had a brief Q&A session with the audience who remained. I may do a separate post on that session at a later date.

As we left the screening room, I said hello to Mr. Park, said how much I enjoyed the film and pointed out that some of the subtitles in his film had mistakes. He was not best pleased and excused himself for a cigarette. It’s good to know that I can accidentally offend a director with just a few words...

JIFF 2011
Found at Jeonju station.

Trying to forget my faux-pas, I brushed away copious tears and sniveling, made my way to the next screening...

Film number two was Kim Jae-hwan’s 트루맛쇼 (The True Taste Show), a rather entertaining investigation into the world of Korean reality television, again at Megabox. Kim and his crew took it upon themselves to examine the tv shows that recommend restaurants to the public. They set up their own fake restaurant and found out that it’ll normally cost you 10 million won if you want your place to appear on tv, sometimes more or less depending on the grade of celebrity you want come visit and pretend they are a regular customer.

JIFF 2011
Director Kim Jae-hwan alongside Park Na-rim and Ki Hyo-young at the Q&A.

The documentary is very funny, very sharp and pulls no punches in exposing the reality of reality television. I fear I may be one of only a few people who get to see it though, as the director talked about possible lawsuits in the Q&A afterwards. He said they planned to rent cinemas in Seoul and screen the film, I hope they manage to do it and that audiences flock to see this expose of televisual malpractice. Quite possibly the best film of the festival for me, certainly the most surprising.

Dying for dinner after seeing so much food on the big screen, I searched for somewhere else to eat. With little time to spare I popped into a dumpling chain restaurant for a rather unsatisfactory plate of 고기 만두 (3,500 won for the taste of salty poor quality food).

JIFF 2011
Salty lumps of disappointment.

Belly rumbling slightly I headed to the third and final screening of the day: Inside Job, the oscar winning documentary detailing the worldwide financial crisis of 2008. This time the film was shown at the rather seedier CGV cinema. I love CGV Yongsan, but the Jeonju branch is rather old and worn, plus the film was badly projected with a fifth of the screen slightly out of focus. Nobody seemed too bothered, nobody complained and the projection stayed that way for the whole film. Meh. Inside Job is enjoyable, but it plays out like a two hour economics lecture from a series of entertaining professors. It’s 95% talking heads and it can get a little tiring at times. Certainly worth watching if you want to confirm how corrupt the banking industry is and how terrible the crisis was, but there’s nothing new to see here except for the humiliation of several important people on camera. There was a Q&A session with a Korean University professor after the film, but I wasn’t in the mood for another lecture.

I was out of CGV by 10.00 and headed back to my rather sordid little room in the love motel. Picked up a couple of beers from a convenience store and watched Scrubs on the fuzzy tv. I slept.

JIFF 2011
HD vision sunglasses? Really?