Simon Winchester’s Korea

I have lived in Korea for over two years, and all the while, I have been searching for a good book about this mysterious country.

I found a highly recommended one (with both positive and negative aspects), written by an Englishman, Simon Winchester, who set out on foot from Korea’s southern tip to the North Korean border in the late 1980’s. It was more or less what I was looking for . . . for now.

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Most, if not all, of the things I will relay below stem from Winchester’s understanding of Korea during that time. Korea is likely a very different place today. I am not writing this to spark political or religious debate or to cause any debate at all, but to merely reflect on what I read and learned having lived here and having read Winchester’s account of Korea from the 1980’s and after. I wanted to report the things that I found interesting, unique, or culturally dynamic (though some will be outdated) and put them all in one place.

Miss Park Choon-sil, interpreter and friend of Winchester, upon meeting him, said many times that [she was eager that her country, so little known abroad and of such uncertain reputation, should be better and more sympathetically understood out in the English speaking world.]

It was Simon Winchester’s hope, and it is my hope too.

Here is a collection of things I’ve learned and found interesting—38 reflections and quotes.

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1. The Korean secret police, tappers of phones, followers of dissidents, and beaters-up of radicals are known as the angibu (pg. 88)

2. Many Koreans believe that eating dog is good for the libido and increases stamina (pg. 85)

3. Korean protocol of introducing someone can be quite cumbersome but also quite useful. For example, to a westerner, Mr. Kim would introduce his wife as, Mrs. Kim. If she introduced herself to say a shopkeeper, she would say Mrs. Choe (Choe is her maiden name) – Choe Mi-young. But to Mrs. Kim, she would neither be Mrs. Kim nor Mrs. Choe. She would instead be, the mother of the family’s eldest son and thus introduced as ‘Kyu-Hwan eum-ma, Kyu-Hwan’s mother. (pg 76)

4. Winchester on work ethic: “Having seen the rice planters working so hard earlier in the day, and now watching these tennis players competing in so deadly a fashion and with such talent, bloodless determination, I found myself thinking—tangential though the thought might at first seem—about the extraordinary success of every one if Korea’s recent ambitions. How triumphant the country had become from utter ruin in the 1950s to the world’s fastest growing economy in the 1980s! And much of that success, I fancied, had come about because of sheer will-power and concentrated effort that the Korean people apply to any venture the undertake—they play tennis hard, well, and to win; they build ships day and night, at lower prices and in greater numbers to beat the competition; they work their fields at an exhausting pace to make quite certain their fellow people want for nothing in their diet, and so that the nation has to import nothing—no food, anyway—from abroad.” (pg. 73-74)

5. Yi Sun-shin was an admiral in the Royal Korean Navy of the sixteenth century. He is revered today as the man who, almost alone, administered a series of stunning defeats to the Japanese and proved that Koreans are capable of seeing off the ambitions of their most loathsome neighbors, if only they really try. (pg. 64)

6. The Japanese made their first concerted attack on Korea in the spring of 1592, when the warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi sent an army of 150,000 men storming through the peninsula on their way to China—Korea being thought of by the Japanese as merely a springboard or a convenient walk-way for the acquisition of the larger prize. (pg. 64)

7. President Park decreed that thatched roofs were a stigma of underdevelopment and ordered a nationwide campaign to replace thatch with tile. Most thatch has gone from Korea, but here down in Cholla, where they are said to loathe the government with vigor and venom, a lot of it has stayed, both as a defiant symbol of Cholla independence and because it is warm, cheap, and handsome. (pg. 100)

8. Winchesters thoughts on Korea and their attitude toward the ‘dignity of poverty’: “The Koreans are an ambitious, hardworking people, perhaps more hardworking than any I have ever encountered and ever will. They want to improve their lot. They want, desperately, to improve their children’s lot. They will work all the hours God gives them to provide a good education for their offspring—no sacrifice is too much for a Korean father to make, no hours too long for a Korean mother to work, if only the child is well educated, is given a better chance, a better series of opportunities.” (pg. 101)

9. “Whether you call it the Kwangju uprising, the Kwangju massacre, the Kwangju rebellion, or the Kwangju incident, depends entirely on where you stand in Korean politics. Wherever you stand, the events of those seven days in May 1980 have left scars on the Korean psyche like no event since the 1950 war.” (pg 105)

10. The Confucian deal, in a society like Korea’s where Confucianism is still widely followed, is a simple one: if people will agree to forget their individuality and concentrate on their duties, then they can be guaranteed that they will be treated with respect and kindness by all. Self-abnegation is bargained, in other words, for universal respect. Happiness is to be gained through human things, coming to terms with oneself, one’s family, one’s community.” (pg. 119)

11. On Confucianism: The two systems, the material and the Confucian sit uneasily together. Which, then, is the better of the two systems? Is a life of self-abnegation, respect for others, a sense of duty, and correct behavior more worthy than a life of self-assertion, of total freedom, of ‘looking out for Number One’? Or, put another way, is a society that is liberally stuffed with Edisons and Fords and Einsteins, and with depressives and murderers and alcoholics—is that approaching the ideal? Or do we have a more fulfilled society when all is carefully structured social harmony, where the jen and the yi, the yin and the yang, are in-near perfect equilibrium, where no one raises his voice, and every parent is revered by every child, where the elders are cared for, children are adored, imagination and innovation and invention are feared rather than favoured, and the individual is forgotten? (pg. 120)

12. Korean is a Ural-Altaic language—linguistically connected (though only rather vaguely) to Turkish, Mongolian, Finnish, and Magyar. Chinese, on the other hand, is a Sino-Tibetan tongue, with ties to Burmese and Thai and Tibetan. In 1420 King Sejong began working on a system that would allow Koreans to not only speak, but also read and write their language. Until then, nothing existed. Using Chinese characters to express Korean sounds would be like using Chinese to express English—it is technically possible, but is also clumsy, useless and philosophically out of whack. (pg. 129)

13. On December 25th, 1443, King Sejong, 4th king of the Yi Dynasty unveiled a new script for which Koreans would use to write. It was to be known as Hun min chong um—The Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People. (An odd title for a supposedly simple script: he changed it three years later to hangul, which means ‘the Korean Writing.’ (pg. 130)

14. Confucianism lays great emphasis on the group, on togetherness. Solitude is not a Korean pleasure. (pg. 134)

15. Japanese colonial masters had introduced the notion of married monks to Korea; it was all part of the Japanese grand design to do all they could to lessen the cultural and religious differences between the two countries, as part of their moral rationale for having carried out their annexation. (pg. 137)

16. Ondol—the Korean house-heating system, consists of a series of flues that carry the hot gases from the kitchen range beneath the floor and heats the home is a very cheap and efficient system. It is also used in Afghanistan. (pg. 139)

17. Everything in Korea is offered with both hands, indicating that no hand is free to aim a blow or draw a sword. (pg. 147)

18. Hangeul Day is celebrated and no other language day is. (pg. 147)

19. Ginseng is the symbol of Korea. (pg. 208)

20. Bamboo is known to Koreans as taenamu, or the Great Tree, and is greatly revered to Korea as it in China. It has the advantages of strength, suppleness, and lightness, so that it can be used to make scaffolding or baskets, chopsticks or tablemats, carved spoons or furniture. And its young shoots can be eaten. (pg. 157)

21. The hwangap is the celebration of a turning point in a person’s life, 60 years to be exact, when man or woman has passed through the five twelve-year zodiacal cycles—the yukgap—as the sixty year period is known—which constitute the proper life span of the human being. And thus a huge party is staged. Once someone has gone through this sixty year period, they retire from active life, take their respected ease as an elder, let their children make them as comfortable as they can, and let filial piety take over the reins of their life.

22. The Korean War (1950-1953) is known to Koreans as the Civil War. (pg. 194)

23. On invasions: “Korea has spent the better part of its four thousand years being invaded, crushed, subjugated, colonized, or in other ways trampled on: all its neighbors have made good use of the little peninsula—the Chinese, the Russians, the Mongols, the Manchus, and the Japanese have all seized and invaded and wrecked according to their wants and moods. (The cynical though not wholly unreasonable view is that today’s American’s are following in the same ignoble tradition.) (pg. 196-197)

24. Tangun, as legend has it, founded Korea in 2333 BC, and is said to have been descended from Hwanung, who governed the universe in 4000 BC. (pg. 197)

25. On Korea’s 3 Kingdoms: “At its most basic, history judgment on these three kingdoms is thus: the kings of Koguryo (who operated from Pyongyang) were warlike; those of Shilla (whose capital was Kyongju in the southeast) were skillful and ambitious (and eventually triumphant in dominating the monarchs of the other two); and the rulers of Paekche were cultured and religious. (pg. 198)

26. On wildlife: “The noble animals—the tigers and bears for which the peninsula was once famous—have all but gone; and such is the Korean appetite for any meat that moves that, except for the odd weasel or mouse, Korean forest floors are like vast empty ballrooms, dark and quite silent.” (pg 222)

27. The rose of Sharon, though not a rose, (it is a type of hibiscus) is Korea’s national emblem. pg 222

28. Seoul was founded in 1392 and is South Korea’s current capital. Before that, Kaesong was the capital, which now lies in the north. (pg. 235)

29. O.B. (a Korean beer), stands for Oriental Brewery. (pg. 238)

30. “The Han River is the mightiest river in all of Korea, rival to the Yalu and the Kum and the Imjin. And now, politics have made the Han a sad sort of stream, a river that is pointless at one end and now supposedly very dangerous at the other.” (pg. 239)

31. “In August 1910, King Sunjong, the 27th king of Korea, issued a proclamation yielding up his throne and his country to the Japanese. They had annexed his country; it fell upon his shoulders to bring an end to a dynasty that had ruled Korea, for good or ill, since 1392.” (pg. 246)

32. Choson means ‘morning freshness and calm.’ (pg. 247)

33. On education, words from Kim Woo-choong: “Look at the villages all over Korea, and see which is the biggest and most imposing building in every one. It’ll nearly always be the school building. We worship teachers here; we worship schools. We pay our teachers well. They are respected figures in our community. Are they still in the West? I have heard not, not as much as before. Look at the universities in Seoul—there are dozens of them. People crawl over each other to get to attend classes. They really want to learn. They want to be trained. There is this intense desire to better themselves, and to do it with their brains if they can. If anything can be specifically thought of as responsible for our country’s success then its that—the intense desire to learn, to become properly educated at the best schools that can be afforded No matter what the cost, no matter the hardship, that’s the prime duty of a parent, to get his children educated. That’s the key.” (pg. 250)

34. “The interview was short and much as I had feared. Koreans are properly proud of their country, or they are in public, at least, even if a lack of confidence, and self-pity and deep and inconsolable melancholy sometimes seem to be the national malaise—and while they find foreign attention flattering, they regard themselves as eminently deserving of it. So there is—I had been warned—a touch of condescension about their response to anyone who takes an interest in them—much as there is in Japan. And so the interviewer asked me to speak in Korean, not to laud my efforts with the language but rather to show how badly a foreigner speaks so complicated a language. Then again, I was asked to sing a Korean song—to demonstrate how difficult it was for anyone other than a son of Chosun to tackle the mournful rhythms of the local music. No one in the interview wanted me to lose face; it wasn’t as crude as that. But I was expected to offer a display that would reassure the viewers of their unassailable superiority in all things I might attempt—and I, having been told exactly what to do, wasn’t going to disappoint them.” (Simon Winchester, after having walked nearly the entirety of South Korea, pg. 262)

35. The Korean Armistice Agreement—signed on 27 July 1953 in Kaesong by Marshal Kim Il Sung, supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army and by Peng The Huai, commander of the Chinese People’s Volunteers, and in Munsan by General Mark Clark, the American commander of the UN Forces, is a document that effectively created the division of the Korean peninsula into two violently opposing countries. No treaty, no concordat, no instrument of state recognized by the real world created a country called North Korea or fashioned this miracle state called South Korea. Article One of the armistice says it all:

a. A Military Demarcation Line shall be fixed, and both sides shall withdraw two (2) kilometers from this line so as to establish a Demilitarized Zone between the opposing forces. A Demilitarized Zone shall be established as a buffer zone to prevent the occurrence of incidents which might lead to resumption of hostilities. (pg. 268)

36. The irony of the DMZ according to Winchester: “It is 151 miles long, stretching across the country like a giant scar. Almost no humans go there—there are no farmers, no towns, few soldiers. The consequence of this is a profusion of wildlife within the zone—wildlife that is untroubled by the threat of artillery that points menacingly in its direction, since it is wise enough not to understand the threat. So all manner of birds and beasts that have vanished from the more developed parts of Korea still live within the frontier fences. The Manchurian crane, Grus japonensis, a red-capped black-wing-tipped bird of wonderful magnificence, still struts its stuff among the sedges of the DMZ; the Korean wildcat prowls beneath the arc lights; the little Korean bears—Ursus thibetanus usurious heuda—that have a white stripe down their black furry backs can also be seen grubbing for food at the edge of the minefields. It is an ironic counterpoint to the awfulness of war that so much that is beautiful are rare flourishes where the human anger is greatest, and yet in those places where peace has translated into commerce, so much loveliness has cleared away.” (pg 270)

37. Korean people say that the birds are “weeping.” Birds in Korea do not sing. They weep.

38. Winchester’s interview of a man who (for safety reasons) can never be named: “But I have a suspicion. From what I have seen, and from the conversations I have had, I actually believe that the people who will think of me as a friend, and who will write to me more constantly, will be the friends, I made in North Korea. It has nothing to do with politics—I am no fan of Kim Il Sung, don’t worry. But the people in the North seem, in a strange way, to be purer in their Koreanness. They are still gracious and kindly. There is something old-fashioned about them. There is a degree of sincerity and gentility that somehow seems to be evaporating, just a little, in the South. Many people I know in the South are too concerned with their own prosperity, with the rush of their lives, to remember their Koreanness. Perhaps it is my imagination, but I felt the Koreans north of the line were more—how shall I say it?—more unspoiled. I feel they will remain my friends for longer. (pg. 281)

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Can you add any quotes or fun facts to the list?

Predictions for Legend of Korra Book 4: Balance

“You must gain balance within yourself before you can bring balance to the world.”

Guru Pathik

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Legend of Korra, Book 4: Balance premieres this Friday, October 3rd and the Avatar fandom (myself included) could not be more excited. In this final installment of the Avatar series, what can we expect to see?

I’m going to give you my predictions for Book 4: Balance and why they matter. I will try my best to keep it brief and relevant. Here goes!

1. Kuvira is this season’s villain. 

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Why it matters: This will be the first main female villain that we have seen in both Aang and Korra’s story. Azula had a commanding influence in the Legend of Aang but Fire Lord Ozai was the main villain. In a show where the female characters are such dominating forces, I think its great that we are finally seeing a stand-alone (as it seems) baddie.

2. Our heroes hold new positions of power. 

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Why it matters: In the Book 4 trailer, we see Bolin and Mako looking smart in their new attire. With the passing of time, it is my guess that famous pro-benders, movers, and all-star cops have moved up in the ranks. With Bolin’s newfound ability of lavabending, and three more years of maturity (maybe) I wouldn’t be surprised if he and his brother were in prominent positions of power.

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This matches nicely with the theme going on in Korra’s world. Almost every single character holds some position of power. It’s time for the next generation to join the ranks.

3. Varrick and Zhu Li will play a larger role in Book 4.

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Why it matters: It matters because Varrick, although sneaky and duplicitous, has a knack for inventing new things and in this new world order, it seems that many things have evolved accordingly. Varrick has been and will continue to be a frontrunner in the technology race. Mecha tanks, among other things will play a part in a war that is sure to come. The robots look sleeker, more mobile. Varrick and possibly Asami and her father’s company have moved with the times. Zhu Li appears in the trailer and gives us a devastating look! Could she have a greater role this season? Has she finally had enough of Varrick’s shenanigans? She is a cold-hearted killing machine after all . . .

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4. Kuvira wants . . . 

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Why it matters: I left this one up to your imagination. It will be interesting to see what Kuvira’s interests are. Will hers be different from past villains or does she want the same as Amon . . . Unalaq . . . the Red Lotus . . . ? My guess is that she wants to expand. In the three years that have passed since the Earth Queen’s death, Kuvira could have made serious moves. Ba Sing Se seems to still be under the jurisdiction of the Earth King and his son, Prince Wu, but there is no way Kuvira was idle during that time. With the next Avatar being born an Earthbender maybe this is Kuvira and her supporters way of sharing their power with the rest of the world. Sound familiar . . . ? I thought so.

5. Hiroshi Sato is back.

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Why it matters: It looks like we are going to have another prison break on our hands. Other than Varrick, there is no greater inventor than Hiroshi Sato. If Kuvira wants to expand her army and territories, she is going to need manpower and Mecha tanks, and that is something Mr. Sato can undoubtedly provide.

6. Three years have passed since the end of Book 3, Change.

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Why it matters: The passing of three years gives the series a chance to evolve and grow in the meantime. New relationships have likely blossomed. Instead of going through the beginning stages of these changes, we can watch them as backstory, and keep the pace of this series moving forward. Here are the possible romances for Book 4.

Bolin and Opal.

Kai and Jinora.

Mako and Korra?

Mako and Asami?

Suyin and . . . ?

Has Lin finally found love, or will Tenzin be her first and last?

Katara and Zuko . . .

And will we find out the identities of Lin and Suyin’s fathers???

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Kai and Jinora

My personal favorite, and the first airbending romance we’ve seen

7. Korra will suffer from great psychological damage.

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Why it matters: In some way, the venom of the Red Lotus will continue to affect Korra. We know that Korra is full of passion and personality. She has always wanted to be the Avatar. But what we saw from her as Season 3 ended said so much about what she went through. Instead of having an outburst or fit of anger and sadness, Korra was eerily silent.

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She is growing. In Season 3, she changed . . . as the name of Book 3 suggested. She didn’t have the energy to break down, to cry to Asami like she had to Tenzin before. Finally, she was broken. As the single tear streaked down her face while she sat in her wheelchair, Korra knew that she was broken. I believe this will be a constant theme in Book 4, Balance. Korra will try to find her balance. And she will have visions—hallucinations of her previous self. From the trailer, we see visions of Korra with her long hair in the infamous “Swamp” and elsewhere. Korra will need to fight off her demons and herself if she is going to come out alive again.

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8. Toph Bei Fong’s legacy will play an important role in Book 4.

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Why it matters: because it’s Toph, that’s why. And also because Toph gave birth to two daughters, Lin and Suyin who lived most of their adult lives estranged from one another.

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In Book 3 we see the love they have for each other but they could not be more different. In this oncoming war, which sides will these sisters choose? Will Suyin believe in fellow metal clan member, Kuvira and her vision for the future or will she back her honorable sister and chief of Police, Lin? And on which side will Suyin’s daughter, Opal end up?

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In the trailer, we see a look of disappointment from both Suyin and Opal—possibly in reaction to the actions Suyin is making or maybe something else entirely. Two sisters, daughters of the greatest earthbender to ever live, now caught in a war taking place in Earth Kingdom territory and likely other parts of the Avatar world­—there aren’t words great enough to convey such a situation. We also see from the trailer that Korra finds Toph. Could it be a vision from the Swamp or . . . “the real deal?”

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9. Flying squirrel suits  

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Why it matters: in this quickly evolving world, the four elements compete to keep up with each other. The squirrel suits are a huge step forward for the air nomads. They allow air benders to fly and glide without having to control a glider with their hands. This makes them incredibly mobile and less vulnerable. It seems Zaheer’s achievement of weightlessness has had a positive effect on them.

10. Korra’s new look

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Why it matters: Korra matches well with the themes of this season. It’s all about Balance, a characteristic of earthbenders, and to me, Korra’s haircut means a few things. 1. She has changed. She is more mature and is getting the balance she needs in her life and as the Avatar. 2. She kind of looks like an Avatar version of Toph herself, with the earthbending garb and the hair combined. And what greater teacher of Balance is there than Toph Bei Fong, Melon Lord, Blind Bandit, first metalbender, and student of the Badger Moles, the original earthbenders? The answer: there isn’t one.

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 11. Korra will restore Balance to the Avatar Universe.

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Why it matters: The Avatar Universe is grossly out of sorts. Zaheer and his Red Lotus companions have achieved their natural order of disorder. Because of Zaheer’s plan to eliminate all world leaders, the Earth Queen has fallen and Ba Sing Se is in turmoil. In addition, the spirit and human worlds have merged, but with little resolution.

There is so much unbalance in this new world order: benders versus non-benders, spirits versus humans, the Red Lotus versus the White Lotus, Avatar and world leaders, and now the depraved and crazed in Ba Sing Se in a place with no strong leadership (that we know of). There is no doubt in my mind that Kuvira attempts to fill that empty space. The greatest imbalance is that Korra has been cut off from the past Avatars. I believe part of her journey in this final installment will be reconnecting with them, bringing balance to the world and all the Avatars that have been and will be.

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What are your predictions for Legend of Korra Book 4, Balance?

Let me know in the comments, hotman!

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Flameo!

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You Know Nothing About Korea

“If you don’t know what the word, ‘han,’ in Korean means, then you know nothing about Korea.”

This is what one of my Korean friends told me last week.

To me, it meant a few things. First, it was a smack in the face. I have lived in Korea for almost two years now, and by comparison, in the scope of life, it really isn’t a long time. I’m not Korean, I can’t speak the language fluently, and I can only really understand the hearts and minds of Korean people only through their ability to speak and express themselves (for the most part) in English. I don’t know their true hopes and dreams, their frustrations, their fears . . . because often, when speaking in a second language, expressing oneself is extremely difficult. But to be told, I know NOTHING about Korea, was a shock to my system.

South Korea is one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in the world. It has the second lowest ethnic diversity rank in the world. First in the world is North Korea.

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This makes for an interesting time when living as a foreigner in S. Korea because among foreigners there are various “kinds,” for lack of a better word. There are those that marry Koreans and begin a life here, while some come here to live abroad or travel after college, or are somewhere in between their mid-life professional career. Then there are others who haven’t quite figured it out. I think I fit into that category. I mean . . . I know I want to live here and learn the language while I write books and travel but I don’t know how far I see Korea in my future.

In addition to the 7 countries where English is accepted as the official language and whose citizens can legally teach in South Korea, there are many other foreigners here, from different Asian countries, working for better pay, or scientists, engineers and researchers from all over the world, although those majorities don’t seem to be as obvious as the native English teachers that inhabit nearly every part of South Korea.

My point is, the “kind” of foreigner that I am, is one that constantly makes an effort to learn about Korea. I teach myself the language and take lessons when I have time. I ask questions and keep notebooks of memos, notes, and vocabulary that I want to be able to use later. In my first year in Korea this was not the case. I could get by, but I wasn’t interested enough to put my other priorities behind learning the language. Now, the priority is much higher, but writing is still my main interest. That will likely never change.

But, I’m juggling.

It turns out I did know about this word, “han.” I just didn’t know the term for it. My friend, who was intoxicated at the time, came at me aggressively and it was the first time I had seen her like this. She told me that I need to write about Korea, that I need to know the culture and the language and that I need to try harder. I didn’t like hearing it. A typical week for me is already jam-packed. Without boring you, I’ll try to give you the short version. I wake up at 6:30 every morning and am at school by 8 where I’m teaching until 5 Monday – Friday. From 5-7 I’m working out at the gym. It’s pretty normal for me to get home at 8 three nights a week and 10 the other two nights because of my extra classes. The rest of that time from when I get home until I lay down somewhere between 12 and 1, I’m doing one of these things:

Writing: I am in the midst of editing my first book of my Worlds Apart series, A Myth Reborn.

Reading: I’m part of a book club in my city and have to read one book per month. Some of the books are quite long and if I want to join in the discussion and not get kicked out of the club, which I don’t want, I have to keep up.

Critiquing: I recently joined a critique group in order to post my own writings for critique and to critique others. The system is based on karma points so I can’t post anything until I’ve critiqued other’s work.

Social Media: In an effort to build my author platform, I try to stay active in the social media community by running free giveaways on my Facebook page, tweeting to people about book stuff and making connections on twitter, or by using Instagram to meet and connect even further. Those are the three main ones but I also use Pinterest, Linkedin, Tumblr, and the most time-consuming one . . .

WordPress: I try to blog at least once a week but these days with everything else, I’m lucky if I get one in. These posts devour my time and can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to complete one post. Insanity!

Writing: Yup. I’m saying it again. I started writing a new story. Its fan fiction and I want to use it as a way to write this cool story inside my head but also train my writing muscles outside of Worlds Apart. I don’t know why or how I started but I couldn’t keep the ideas away any more.

As for the weekends? I’m working, as in writing or doing any combination of the things above or I’m traveling. Many times I’ll bring my work with me.

And no matter what day it is, I’m always trying to learn more Korean. If I can learn one new word, sentence, or construction every day and use it properly the next day, then that’s progress. I try to think of it like that.

So again, when my friend said, “you should try harder – you’re not doing enough,” I felt angry, misunderstood, and overwhelmed. I thought, “How can I possibly do more? This is the busiest I’ve ever been in my life!”

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I won’t even get into the specifics of my job, but it is very difficult to balance everything not to mention a social life and my huge family back home.

When I left her that night and her final words were, “you need to try harder,” mainly because she wants me to effectively express Korean culture and attitudes in book form, I thought, “Wow. I really don’t want to see her again. She read me all wrong, even after I tried to explain what I was doing.”

I went home and mulled it over more, and this thought prevailed.

It’s not worth losing a friend over.

Yes. She was aggressive and unfair, and I told her that later (when she wasn’t drunk) to which she apologized . . . but I knew it wasn’t worth losing a friend over.

 

Later that weekend I researched what “han” meant.

In English there is no equivalent. Here is what Wikipedia says:

Han or Haan is a concept in Korean culture. Despite being a cultural-psychological trait shared among East Asian peoples, the feeling in Korea is probably more pronounced as a nationally distributed emotion, which likely has resulted from Korea’s more frequent exposure to invasions by overwhelming foreign powers. Han denotes a collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face of insurmountable odds (the overcoming of which is beyond the nation’s capabilities on its own). It connotes aspects of lament and unavenged injustice.

Han is frequently translated as sorrow, spite, rancor, regret, resentment or grief, among many other attempts to explain a concept that has no English equivalent. Han is an inherent characteristic of the Korean character and as such finds expression, implied or explicit, in nearly every aspect of Korean life and culture.

Han is passive. It yearns for vengeance, but does not seek it. Han is held close to the heart, hoping and patient but never aggressive. It becomes part of the blood and breath of a person. There is a sense of lamentation and even of reproach toward the destiny that led to such misery.

By having male and female Korean friends, an ex-girlfriend (Korean), co teachers, students and parents of various ages, I knew of this sentiment. It’s pouring out of television, movies, different forms of media and runs through the veins of Koreans that understand what it means. I just didn’t know it was called, “han.”

Now I know, and I haven’t lost a friend. A quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune comes to mind.

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“When strangers meet, great allowances should be made for differences of custom and training.” – Lady Jessica

There should always be some leeway or else resentment, prejudice and racism will follow. It’s better to be patient, open-minded and objective about everything you see and do.

I believe the definition of han itself captures why my friend was so upset. Korea is one of the lowest ethnically diverse countries in the world, but my friend wanted me to know about han. She wants me to learn the language (and she is 100% unconditionally there when I ask for help). She wants me and probably other foreigners to know about this deep feeling of han that is common among Korean people. I felt misunderstood but in a lot of ways my friend probably did too.

We as foreigners are outsiders, and sometimes lack cultural awareness. As natives and foreigners alike, we both need understanding, patience, and effort if we want to evolve.

This post isn’t here to make you think that all Korean people are like this, or (on the flip side) that my actions represent every American. In fact, that is the last thing I want you to think when reading this. We need to break outside our normal ways of thinking. I told you my friend was Korean in order to put this anecdote in the context of our conversation but that part shouldn’t matter in the end.

We cannot pin down one race, religion or country for the actions of one person. How many times have you met someone from “insert country here” and thought, oh they must “insert stereotype or prejudice here” . . .? Never done it? Well consider yourself the minority. We all do it to some level subconsciously. I’m trying to break my old ways of thinking and broaden my horizons and I believe after we talked about it, that my friend did too.

Some questions that I tend to think about (and may end up as future blog posts) are: what are the differences between high and low context cultures and why are those differences important? When should people of different races, genders, and sex compliment one another on appearance and where is the line drawn? And finally, and perhaps most relevant is, what are the true implications and meanings of taking a picture of oneself—aka “the selfie”?

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I want to keep learning about this dynamic and interesting country. If you are interested too, ask me anything. I’m not native but I can give you a foreigner’s perspective.

I was going to make a post on what I do with my free time because my friends ask me what I am actually doing and why I can never hang out. I took the opportunity to combine this post about Korea and what I do with my free time into one.

What problems or frustrations have you faced living in a foreign country?

Want to hear more or ask me questions?

Follow me on Twitter @jobicusmaximus Instagram @worldsaparttheseries or @jobabraham or check out my website: www.jamerkel.com

Avatar: The Last Airbender Power Hour

In honor of Legend of Korra Book 3: Change, I decided it’s finally time to release one of my greater nerdy accomplishments, dedicated to the original Avatar series, Legend of Aang. It’s a YouTube video dubbed to Avatar: The Last Airbender called Avatar: The Last Airbender Power Hour.

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Sometime during my later years of college, I found the time to create a video power hour using clips from The Last Airbender with music from different genres superimposed on top.

This party game can be played with as many friends as you want, and can involve drinking or not. According to power hour rules, you are meant to take one shot of beer per minute (or when the song changes), totaling 60 shots of beer in one hour (but there are many other ways to play).

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Of course, if you want to watch and play the game, make sure you’re of age, and you drink responsibly. If you just want to watch it for fun and not consume alcohol, that’s fine too. But one thing is sure—if you enjoy Avatar: The Last Airbender, this video will likely quench your thirst!

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Instead of a power hour, you can also make up your own rules. For example, every time there is airbending, Shawn has to take a sip of beer, and so on.

I hope you enjoy. The creative genius of the clips and videos are completely the work of Nickelodeon and Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino and of course the credit for each song goes to each individual artist. All I did was cut the clips and put music on top using iMovie. I had a blast doing it, and I play this game with my friends from time to time. I’ve also made some for other seasons that I plan to upload to YouTube soon.

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 Like this one . . . Korra Book 1: Air

If you like what you see and want to see more then leave a comment and let me know.

Who else thinks Legend of Korra Book 3: Change is off to a great start?

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Follow me on Twitter @jobicusmaximus Instagram @worldsaparttheseries or @jobabraham or check out my website: www.jamerkel.com

Keep On Dreaming Even If It Breaks Your Heart

Famous words by Eli Young Band . . . “Keep on Dreaming Even If It Breaks Your Heart”

“Way back on the radio dial
A fire got lit inside a bright eyed child
Every note just wrapped around his soul
From steel guitars to Memphis all the way to rock n roll”

During my 45 day backpacking adventure through Southeast Asia, Eli Young’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” song came on my iPod while I was on my way to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia and the song and the memory became intertwined forever. I made a video to go along with it.

The journey was like something out of a dream. And even when it was all over, it didn’t feel like that. Even when I got on the plane to leave and go back home for the first time in over a year, I felt at peace, like I did everything I wanted to do. There was no feeling of sadness or longing. I felt that my final day was as real and as fresh as my first.

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