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The Best and Worst of South Korea
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Blog Your Backyard: The Best and Worst of South Korea

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South Korea, sadly, doesn’t get the tourist play that a country of its rich cultural heritage probably deserves. People generally overlook Korea in favor of nearby China or Japan and that’s a crying shame. There is plenty to love about the Land of the Morning Calm.

Of course, no place is perfect – and that’s why I’m bringing you the best and worst of South Korea in part two of the Blog Your Backyard contest.

You can find part one here.

The Best of South Korea


A shot taken at one of the many palaces in Seoul

Korea boasts a rich and proud history as an independent nation standing against wave after wave of foreign invaders. Korea has been inhabited by some form of the Korean people since earlier than 2000BC – and while a lot of the historical sites and monuments were unfortunately lost during the Korean War – you can still get a great sense of Korea’s history and heritage.

Buddha statues at Daewonsa outside of Gwangju

The country is full of temples, shrines, and other historical sites. While a lot of these were reconstructed after their destruction during the war (giving rise to the adage of “If you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all”) – you can still get a remarkable sense of the age of the place while sitting on ancient stone seats in Unjusa or Daewonsa.

Seoul itself, while a bustling hub of commerce and technology, still houses many of the older style homes as well as the beautiful palaces that the Emperors of old once called home.

Then there’s the fascinating history surrounding Korea’s Japanese occupation and the Korean War which followed. Countless museums across the country offer tourists a chance to get in touch with many facets of Korean history – with some of the best being in Seoul, Busan, and Gyeongju. There’s also the Korean Folk Village outside of Suwon and the moving May 18 Memorial in Gwangju.


Delicious ddok-boki, a spicy rice cake sold in the streets served with odeng (processed fish)

Many people around the world have probably had a chance to sit down to some delicious Korean BBQ (dubbed galbi if it’s beef or seomgyeopsal if it’s pork) in their life – but Korean food goes far deeper than sizzling meat served inside lettuce leaves.

Sample the spicy ddok galbi (chicken, spicy sauce, and chewy rice cakes), sweet pot binsu (shaved ice, fruit, and sweet red bean paste), hearty dolsot bibimbap (mixed vegetables and meat served with rice in a hot stone bowl), mandu (dumplings), or the iconic kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage) and you’ll understand why I love Korean food so much.

I don’t know about you, but I sure am hungry right about now…

Now, Korea isn’t a vegetarian’s playground, it must be said. The Korean diet centers mainly around white rice, kimchi, and plenty of meat. This is usually beef, pork, or fish. A lot of Koreans don’t really get vegetarians, and so you’ll have a hard time explaining to them that you want your kimbap (similar to sushi rolls) without ham or tuna. I know of at least one chain, dubbed The Loving Hut, that specializes in vegan food and has stores in many of the larger cities.

Korean food is not without its stranger or less appealing options. Boshintong (dog meat soup) is likely to make some people squirm when they hear how the animals are butchered, and I can’t think of many people who don’t feel just a little awkward at the sight of still moving octopus legs being coolly shoveled into Korean mouths.

But by and large, Korean food offers up a lot of great savory flavors. I’m hankering for it right now.

The Night Life

Drunk foreigners at The Speakeasy in Gwangju

New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Korea is the country that never sleeps.

I’ve commented on the Korean drinking culture on several occasions in the past. This is a country that knows how to have a good time. Cheap alcohol is available 24/7 at virtually any corner store in the country, bar prices are very reasonable (as little as $3 equivalent for a Scotch & coke), and there are no end of bars, singing rooms, and clubs for revelers to visit.

It’s not all about alcohol though. Korean cafes and restaurants stay open late – as do the larger grocery stores. You can go out at 11.30pm on a weeknight and still pick up a pizza or some bread and milk for tomorrow.

There’s late night coffee houses and noraebangs (singing rooms) as well as video game arcades, batting cages, and even small amusement parks that cater to the late night crowd.

If you’re a foreigner in Korea and don’t feel up to braving a Korean bar, most cities will have at least one foreigner friendly (if not foreigner run) bar for you to frequent. A quick Google search will doubtless turn up a few great places to meet other travelers and have a good time.

Cheap Transport

The Busan Ferry Terminal offers a cheap way to get to Japan from South Korea

Coming back to Australia, I was immediately hit by just how expensive it is to get around here. I pay $4.30 for my ten minute bus ride into the city. A cab home? I’m looking at $30-35 if the roads aren’t too busy. If I want to visit my family in Armidale (six hours inland) – I’m looking at $80 each way for the train.

Korea is a small country and the benefit of that is dirt cheap transport. A half hour cab ride might set you back know more than $10. A bus ride? You’re looking at a whopping $1.30. Even a trip from Busan in the south to Seoul in the North weighs in at around $30 or slightly more if you want to take the super fast KTX.

The super-fast KTX can get you virtually anywhere in Korea in under four hours. Photo by Tony Bush.

This all adds up to making Korea a very accessible country for tourists. The rail network is impressive and the bus network makes it possible to get virtually anywhere without any real headaches. The 2002 World Cup has also left South Korea with a dearth of airports to make flying from Seoul to Jeju or Mokpo to Busan both easy and affordable.

Even a ferry to Japan isn’t so expensive. You’re looking at around $85 to take the fast boat across to Fukuoka. Flights out to China, Japan, or South East Asia aren’t much more expensive either. Korea is a great place to explore on a budget, and a great place to launch off on your next adventure when you’re done.


Technology & Internet

The latest model Kia (at the time) on display in Seoul. Photo by Tony Bush.

South Korea is one of the emerging technological hubs of the world. Household names such as Samsung, LG, and Kia all call the country home. As you can imagine, technological gadgets abound and you’ll be hard pressed to find a single kid without a smart phone and some kind of portable gaming device in their bag each day.

Better yet? Korea has some of the best internet in the world. I’m talking 100mbps streaming into your apartment with unlimited data for a measly $30 a month. This is a country where gamers and net-heads are on cloud #9.

Natural Beauty

A view of the famous Sunrise Peak and the beach below. Jejudo.
The famous orange bridge atop Wulchasan is a fitting reward for climbing the damned mountain.

Despite being a heavily developed nation that doesn’t display a whole lot of regard for the natural environment (see below in my Worsts) – Korea still boasts a number of truly beautiful sites.

First and foremost amongst these is, of course, volcanic Jejudo. Boasting a tropical climate, black sand beaches, and all manner of volcanic lava tubes and craters to explore – Jeju stands head and shoulders above the rest of Korea when it comes to natural wonders.

A calm place at Daewonsa

But that’s not to say there isn’t beauty to be found on the mainland. Korea’s many mountains have been turned into hiker’s playgrounds. There are some stunning views to be found atop mountains like Wulchasan, and quite a few remarkable national parks scattered around the country.

Korea boasts four seasons offering up four distinct ways to view the country. There’s the bright and fragrant spring, the contrasting colors of the fall, the snow-drifts of winter, and the humid heat of summer to experience. Visit anytime and you’re going to see some truly beautiful scenes.






A show of decadence. The water show held in Nampodong, Busan’s Lotte department store complete with classical music and Russian dancers.

Koreans are without a doubt one of the most materialistic people in the world, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to Koreans by applying that tag. Korea is a national of consumers and it’s a shopper’s heaven (unless you’re of larger stature – see below). There are designer clothes, shoes, and handbags on virtually every street corner.

Korea is a nation where the women are most definitely women – so being pretty is a big priority. Salons and make-up retailers and beauticians abound.

In addition to all of the clothes and shiny things, there’s the aforementioned electronic gadgets in abundance and lots of weird and wonderful toys for kids. A special mention also to stationary. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many varieties of pens, paper, notebooks, and stickers in my life. Teachers and kids alike are going to love it.

By and large, shopping in Korea runs a little cheaper than it does back home. Obviously you’re still going to pay a healthy chunk of change for your Louis Vutton, but there’s plenty of more affordable options on offer.


A shot from the famous Lantern Festival in Jinju. Photo by Tony Bush.

I’ve waxed lyrical about the dizzying array of festivals held in Korea each and every year. Rather than bore you with the details again here – I’ll instead suggest taking a look at my article on festivals in Korea.

The Worst of South Korea

Racism and Homophobia

It doubtless springs from their history of being brutally invaded and oppressed, but Korea is one of the more xenophobic nations in the world.

That’s not strictly true. The older generation most definitely bear the majority of ‘waygookin’ (foreigners) some ill will for being in their country, but the younger generation have a fascination with all things Western.

The racism isn’t so overt with the younger generations, at least not towards white visitors, but until you’ve heard a student shout ‘Obama is a n***er’ or asked if your South African girlfriend has a spear – you probably won’t completely understand just how pervasive this ignorant racism is. It’s not a hateful kind of racism, but it’s no less hard to stomach.

This also extends to homophobia as well. Despite the concept of skin friends meaning that grown men will wrestle and walk hand in hand – the idea of ‘gay’ is completely alien to Koreans. The official line is that there are no homosexuals in Korea, which will come as a nasty surprise to the many gay and lesbian locals who frequent the aptly named ‘Homo Hill’ in Seoul.

And having been offered a blow-job in a bar in Busan earlier this year by a friendly young Korean gentleman, I think it’s safe to say the official line is absolute bunk.

Animal Cruelty

In addition to the somewhat brutal way in which dogs are ‘prepared’ to be used as meat, there are a few other issues of animal cruelty that animal lovers will find hard to handle. Take, for example, the lives these ‘meat dogs’ lead up until they are beaten to death.

Most, if not all, tend to spend their entire lives outdoors and on a short leash. They may not ever get walked and they are certainly not treated with any affection. And that makes sense in a way. I know my family and I weren’t out in the chicken coop getting to know our chickens that we intended to eat.

But these are dogs. These are animals possessing more than a little intelligence, and to see them grovelling for scraps in the gutter on a rainy day is a depressing sight.

Beyond the dogs – you’ll be hard pressed to find a cat whose tail hasn’t been broken, and I once got into a verbal war with a middle aged Korean woman who I caught pulling the feathers of a caged bird as it tried desperately to bite her finger in self defense.

It’s also evident in the appalling conditions most (but not all, I’m assured) zoos treat their display animals. The lion cubs at Everland, cute as they are, probably warrant better than a small concrete room with a water bowl and a green paint job.

Suffice to say, if you’re not a toy poodle being carried around in a woman’s handbag, chances are you’re not going to enjoy animal life in Korea.

Strange Medical Advice

While it’s true that the affordable medical care available in Korea is a pretty sweet deal, it’s not without its drawbacks. Here are just a few examples of the less conventional medical experiences I’ve had or heard of friends having had in Korea.

  • Sleeping with a fan on in a room with closed windows is lethal. Don’t believe me? Look up ‘Fan Death’. It’s a big deal.
  • Kimchi cures cancer. And most everything else.
  • Got a cold? Stomach bug? Chances are you’ll be prescribed various herbal remedies with a particular focus on ginseng.
  • Sick? Prepare to have a needle IN YOUR BUTT. It’s just vitamins, but it won’t hurt any less.
  • Drinking cold water causes sickness. Drink it warm.

Good times good times.

Garbage & Yellow Dust in Summer

Yellow dust blanketing Seoul by night. Photo by K.M.C.

Summer in Korea is an exciting time for a foreigner. It’s the time of year when you hit the beaches, drink until the wee hours of the morning, and generally have a wild time at events such as the Boryeong Mud Festival.

Fun at the 2009 Boryeong Mud Festival

But it’s not without a few drawbacks.

First and foremost is the dreaded ‘yellow dust’, a cloud of potentially dangerous dust that blows in from the Gobi Desert and can cause all manner of respiratory problems. It’s not something I’ve had issue with personally, but health warnings are generally issued to ensure people aren’t out exercising when it’s particularly bad.

The other big drawback is the God awful stink. All year round Koreans put their garbage in the street to be collected, but in summer this makes for the ripe stink of rotting and slowly cooking garbage. It’s not so bad in busier neighborhoods where the garbage men are quick to step in – but a back alley might go days or even weeks without tending. Not good.

Add this to the year round smell wafting up from the sewers and you’ve got a situation where you’ll end up holding your breath every hundred or so meters lest you be struck down.


Two of my favorite students at Storia bidding me farewell in 2009.

It sucks to be a kid in Korea. Having taught for two and a half years, I don’t think I ever met a student who thought they had it good.

They’re at school six days a week. They’re at academies (private after school gigs) for several subjects after school for five of those days. Then there’s homework. And on their day off? They’ll get dragged on a hike or to visit an elderly relative. Torture!

An average student’s day might read as follows:

  1. Wake up at 6.30am
  2. Eat a breakfast of rice, kimchi, and water.
  3. Go to school at 8.30am
  4. Finish school at 3pm
  5. Go to English academy for an hour
  6. Go to Math academy
  7. Go to extracurricular activity such as Tae Kwon Do, ballet, computers, or art.
  8. Go home and do homework until 11-12pm
  9. Steal an hour on your computer to play Maple Story or chat.
  10. Go to bed at 1am

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s no wonder that Korea has one of the highest rates of suicide in the developed world.

Weight Issues

Koreans are slim. Not necessarily healthy, mind you, but slim.

If you’re not model thin or a lanky lad, you’re going to be told you’re fat. Probably more than once a day. Not always by children either. Every employer I ever had made passing comments about my weight on a weekly basis.

Koreans don’t like fat people. They’ll bully the fat kid in their class and they’ll laugh at the fat guy on TV.

That means it’s difficult to shop for clothes in Korea (why cater to the fat guy?) and you’re going to get some odd treatment come summer. I once near came to blows with a drunk ajoshi (old man) who honked my barely existent man boob while I was posing for a picture with a friend.

It wouldn’t be so hard to stomach were Korea a nation of super fit athletes, but it’s not. A lot of Koreans smoke and very few of them exercise. You’ll be running laps and the young men walking the same track will look at you as if you’re a mad-man. Very few people run in Korea. Power walking is the vogue form of exercise. It’s right up there alongside badminton and the only sport where it’s possible to be a morbidly obese millionaire – baseball.

There’s some bitterness here, as you can probably tell. It was frustrating being a guy who could run a 10k and still have people assume that all you did was eat and sit on the couch at home. Especially when that was exactly what the person accusing you would be doing with their spare time.

Rant over.


This photo as nothing to do with the article, but look at how cute the two girls are!

As you can probably tell, a lot of my ‘worst’ when it comes to Korea aren’t going to be things a tourist has to deal with. The weight perception, the education situation, and the medical stuff aren’t likely to come up on your two week whirlwind tour.

In many ways I write that from the ex-pat perspective, and I apologize if that means I missed some glaringly obvious ‘worst’ about Korea.

All told, I loved my time in Korea. It’s safe to say that I love Korea. Australia will always be my home and I’m not sure Korea will ever feature on my travel itinerary again – but that in no way reflects a lack of passion for the land of the morning calm on my behalf.

It’s a beautiful and fascinating country.

The ‘Blog your Backyard’ Project

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  1. shame on those of us koreans who are so shallow and judgmental, making inconsiderate rather rude remarks yet without knowing how offending they can be.. About drinking cold water thing, is that traditionally korean people have been drinking warm water (tea) that they couldn’t handle drinking cold water so fast and it would almost always result in diarrhea. 😛

  2. I(am a Japanese)totally can’t understand what Australian think about Korea as well as Japan.Once we defeated your only valuable immobile division in Singapore. It was a matter of war. victory and defeat. We escorted your army Anzac to Suez. A lot of monuments for Anzac in Sydney. Nothing for our fleet.However, you killed Japanese soldiers caught brutally. We do not request any money from you. We remember what you did during WW2. Study history. No holocaust here.

    Korea is sandwiched between Japan and China. So, has keen sense of inferiority complex.Don’t mention of it.

    We lived in this islands for more than two thousand years. Your ancestors only moved to England around 7th century from Germany. Korea’s oldest history book called three countries chronicle was written by a Buddhist monk in 12th century. Ours called Nihon-Shoki was in 7th century. Anglosaxon chronicle was in 9th century. However, I am afraid you cannot read Aglosaxon chronicle written in classic Latin. Koreans also cannot read any ancestral books. Here In Japan even 16teen years girl can read any classics and sometimes makes poems following old styles.

    Please note that Japanese as a language was established by a female novelist called madam Purple, She wrote the Tale of Genji in 11th century with 3000 pages. Female writers have been in the centre of Japanese literature.

    You should not make any prank against medical facilities, policemen, soldiers, fire fighters.You should think of what an Indian nurse think of duty. You must pay respect other nation’s royal families. Great Britain is far away from you. You are rather better to build the cordial relationship with neighborhood.

    Anyway, no relationship with you.

    From Tokyo

    • I’m not sure what any of this has to do with my post. I don’t think I even mentioned Japan :-/

      All of your points are very valid and noted, just not sure who you’re replying to here?

      • I made a reply to Australian in general. We always wondering why you are so antagonistic to the Far East. You strongly asked the UK government to sever Anglo-Japanese treaty in !921. As a result we were isolated from the rest of the World. We had nothing other than to ally with Germany. Hitler was at war with UK and Soviet so fiercely that he asked us to join his war.

        From the large strategic point of war there was no room for UK if their army was defeated in North Africa. Hitler’aim is to cut logistics in Indian ocean. and to save Erwin Rommel’s corp. We said OK and decided to destroy the UK naval base at Singapore. However Americans were in Philliipin as a colony. We feel troublesome and initiate the war with US. we firmly believed Imperial navy to win over any. We attacked Hawaii before we occupy Singapore.

        This war was between axis powers and US lead countries. Australia had nothing to do with this struggle. Korea was those days part of Japan This has also nothing to do with you. Why you were in Singapore?Korea was most peaceful area during WW2. This was also our hope. Koreans refused to fight with us different from you. You had better say nothing about the problem between Japaan and korea as well as internal matters in that penninsula.

        I live near Yokohama where Japan Gasoline Company’s headquarters exists and lost 10 people in Algeria hostage crisis. Ten instant widows are suddenly next to me, Things are always cruel. Please leave us alone..

        from your humble servant

        • Far from being an expert on World War II history, I can say (having lived in South Korea and having quite a few Korean friends) that there was nothing ‘peaceful’ about the Japanese occupation of South Korea. Thousands were murdered and raped.

          Living now in Nanjing, China – it’s not painting a pretty picture of Japanese occupation either. Over 200,000 people were massacred, tortured, and raped in the city I now call home.

          You need to also bear in mind that Australia are a member of the British Commonwealth and our alliance with them dictates that we support them in military conflicts. This alliance meant that we were fighting in Germany, France, and north Africa despite having no national stake in the war. Likewise, we were called into action in the Pacific Theater when Britain’s allies (the US) requested it.

          There’s also the not small matter of the Japanese bombing of Darwin and the submarine attack on Sydney.

          Ironically, these days Australia maintains strong trade relations with Japan, South Korea, and China. There’s no real ax to grind there. On a personal note, I find Japanese history and contemporary culture to be fascinating. Even in spite of the atrocities I mentioned in my first paragraph, I still feel a great deal of fondness for the nation. I don’t know many Australians who don’t.

          • I wouldn’t worry, Chris. I don’t think this troll even read the post as he seems to have ignored every positive aspect about South Korea that you mention here. Countries have good points and bad points, this dude needs to get over it and stop acting like you’re from a monstrous country and he’s from some innocent, peaceful land.

            Be angry at governments, not ordinary citizens.

          • All you mentioned about Japan and Korea are lies. Southkoreans are educated in antiJapan campain. Why you are not so fair if you check you-tube you can find before-after story of preanexation korea. If not, you are obliged what and when of Korean’s resisitance.

            We are always happy to sever any kind of relationshipi with you. As far as Nanjing concerns there was a large battle in 1937.The whole population there was under 200000.How we could kill 300000 civilians. The fact is very simple. Chankaishek attacked Shanghai concession called British and American joint territory. However, GB was far away from Shanghai so that UK asked us to subdue KMT army in 1932.

            Japan should say”Yes”. Foreign minister, Shidehara,American pet refused. He had grudge against GB because of Washington naval treaty. Grey, famous GB foreign minister wrote this into details. Chankaishek became bold and made a secret treaty with Hitler Germany accepting milittary advisors one of whom was Seeckt. He was a famous figure in WW!. Your good enemy in Gallipoli campaign.July 1937 Chankaishek initiated the total war.This time his target was our marine headquaters in Pokan Shanhai with 300000 manpower.
            After that we mobilizes 5 divisions out of 11with 180000 manpower. You sound it arrogannt that 10Chinese soldier equals 1Japanese. General Matui ,commander of expeditionary force.said this. He was a gentleman with Chinese classics but executed by Tokyo trial precided by Web,a non-cultured Australian. We won the battle of Daijochin. After that the battle changed into mop-up. One month later our soldiers reached the wall of Nanching (British people call this city Namken because British also occupied this city during Opium war)where all field was covered by dead bodies.

            KMT army ran out and got into riv. Yanzu and our army machinegunned them. The colour of river changed to red. At least 300thousand Chinese soldiers gave their lives to their beloved newly established China.We sincerely pray for them and devote tribute for them because Taiwan government has list of dead soldiers.

            i am afraid you are so ignorant of world history. If you truely believe communist’s propaganda. it is a simple mystery. This is not holocaust but war.Anyway GB may get out EC it may be a chance to make the second AngloJapnese alliance including Canada. If we establish free airline between north Canada and Japan,going to Englandi is similara with domestic.

        • Hey sounds like an member of the Japanese Imperial Army has just got the internet!

          I am not sure why you have chosen this forum to exert your old nationalistic views.

          But if you must, you brought the USA and all of their allies into the war with Pearl Habour, did you expect no response? Japan also bombed Australia in Darwin. Have a look at the Hugh Jackman movie, it is quite good and Nicole Kidman is a bit of a dish. Oh i forgot all the submarines that entered into Sydney Harbour and torpedoed our ships, killing 21 Australian sailors. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Sydney_Harbour.

          War is bad for all involved. Get over it, Japan lost.

          p.s. I have some Yokohama tyres, they are very good and well made. Great for doing donuts in!

          • Imperial Japan and independent Australia were at war.Before the battle of Coral sea some admirals thought Australia conquered at one stroke. that is why we sent landing troops to south Newguinea, Port Molesby or somewhere. However Americans fought well. we already experienced airbattle with Chinese in1937 and going on and with Russians in 1939. We won over them onesided.

            Chinese as well as Russians were not good warriers, When dogfight occured each pilot of them tended to away even if they saw their other planes were at risk.American were different. Chinese fought for money and Russians for threat from Stalin. Americans bravery was our first experience of true comradeship. Please note our numbers of aircraft carriers outnumbered US and our fighter Zero was better than US.

            GB sent several squadrons of spitfire fighters to Darwin airfield. our fighter squadron easily all at once. Us fleet harbored in Sydney. The annoying matter to us is that you are in Singapore before Hawaii..In case for war victory or defeat is nothing to us we simply fight for the Emperor at all cost. All Japanese except a few Democrats thought like this.

            Do some Australian make seamless pipe to carry natural gas and also attatchiment technology?To get through the strait and indian ocean is risky year by year.

        • First of all, Your arguments have nothing to do with the article above, you’re here looking for a fight. Fine then.

          Congratulations, you’re from a country with a long and proud history. That’s great for you, and really I do mean that sincerely , I love Japan, I love my time spent there and I would love to go back. That said, do not for one second pretend that your country is somehow innocent of it’s own crimes.

          “No Holocaust” Okay maybe? But no war crimes or attrocities? I call bull. There is well documented evidence and reports of women from various asian countries under Japanese occupation being drafted into a prostitution corps known as “Comfort Women”, for use by Japanese military officers. These women were not given a choice in the matter, they were forced into it. The earliest reports of this were from South Korea.

          Speaking of Japan’s relation to South Korea, Korea was not a part of Japan during World War II, it was occupied by Japan. There is a difference. This wasn’t a province the seceded from your country, it was its own nation that you forcibly took over and claimed ruler-ship of. During this time, it was voluntary for Koreans to Join the Japanese military, however there is debate among historians as to whether Korean enlistees were coerced and it is widely agreed that regulations with the Japanese military were frequently ignored in regards to Korean Nationals. In 1944 – a year before WWII ended – All Korean males were drafted to the Imperial Japanese Army, or its labour force in preparation for the War. that was 200 000 Koreans. Many Korean teenagers were sent to Japan during the war to man factories, in order to offset production losses from Japanese workers enlisting in the army. Don’t believe me? Go to Hiroshima, there’s a monument to the Koreans killed there during the Bomb drop.

          In short, I want to re-iterate that I do not dislike Japan in the least, I could easily write a similar response against Korea, the United States, Germany, or almost any other country that has participated in War. But your country has as bloody of a history as anyone else’s, please don’t try to skew the facts to suit your own ideals.

          • Dear Mr James
            5 My grand uncles out out of 8 were killed in action during WW2. I am proud of them.Before !950 prostitution was legally admitted in Japan.The second contracted agency recruited prostitute openly through newspapers. This is not prostitution in forece. Both Japan and Korea were in poverty. A lot of Japanese girls were sold to brothels trough organized pimps.
            However, we established Chosen-sotkufu(literally Korea govern office)in Seoul most of whose administraters were Korean and our Emperor reigned. I know you may have prejudice toward monarchy system. Bloody maybe, but we did not kill civilians. Curiously enough, Koreans never revolted against us obedient enough to be ruled.A lot of Korean terrorists tried to assassinated many. That is why the present Korean government publicly honor the terrorists. They don’t have true revolutionalists like Ho Chi min or the king Churalonkong of Thailand. One thing i have never heard of is Australian historical figure or thinker..
            I don’t know why. Japanese Imperial army had several Korean officers but no ranking. Some Koreans were conscripted and organized into landwehr.No Japanese want to move to Korean peninsula. Can you draft all Korean males?We have never forced any non-Japanese nationals to Imperial army.
            Imperial army don’t hire any mercenary. I think facts are in historical documents not in the government’t propaganda. I can show you any documents. The problem is that I have never seen any Australian who are able to read and write Japanese.On the other hand Japanese are poor hand at speaking English. Reading only. English speaking Japanese girls are often regarded as an international prostitute.
            In Hiroshima you found out the monument for sacrificed Korean? Who built this?Probably the remnant of imperial officer group. You can say any derogative words on the internet. However kind of devotion to the mother country and the emperor is important virtue to us..Korean=Japanese relationship is a typical love and hate story.
            Sometime we feel to protect Korea is our obligation.
            Adding one word do not bully Newzealanders. Their Otago regiment is splendid. And now our primeminister and British Cameron are on dispute about Algerian storm troopers performed well or not. I think Cameron is correct. I also would like to see Australian storm troopers subdue Muslim terrolists in Indian ocean and North Africa.
            sincerely yours

  3. Hey! Love this blog! I live in Seoul and my family from America is coming to visit me for 10 days in March. I was wondering if you had any suggestions on what I should do with them. I want to take them somewhere besides Seoul for a long weekend but don’t know where to go. Would appreciate any advice! Thank you!

    • March, eh? Busan is absolutely lovely from April on, but not sure it’ll be warm enough for them in March. Still, there’s a stunning seaside temple, the fish markets, shopping, and the seaside is pretty all year long.

      I lived in Gwangju for two years and liked it a lot. Daewonsa temple is beautiful, there are the green tea fields, and you’re close to Mokpo and the surrounding islands if you’re interested in a (somewhat chilly, I’d imagine) cruise in the Yellow Sea.

      What kind of stuff are you looking to show them?

    • My thought would be Gyeongju. Centre of cultural history for the Shilla dynasty. KTX takes you from Seoul to there and is exciting in itself (how many people can say they’ve done 300+ on a train!) All sites can be walked to (or a cheap taxi ride). Sights include Anapji Pond, Tumuli Park, Seokguram and Bulguksa Temple and Gyeongju Museum. We have been to Gyeongju 3 times and always find more to see. Cheap accommodation at motels near bus terminal ($50 per night). Taxi rides to all these sights are under $20US.

  4. I found all of the downsides of Korea to have the same issues as every other country. As a vegetarian, I don’t think Korea is particularly cruel to animals, as opposed to every other nation on earth – I find this quite interesting as many French people eat rabbits, frogs, and even drown birds in brandy or force feed geese.
    But what is commonly misunderstood about dogs (they’re just cuter) is that pigs and chickens actually have a higher IQ and level of intelligence as anyone who has kept them as pets have understood – but for me I think eating any animal is cruel. That being said, I found Korean traditional food to have the most amount of vegetarian options, especially temple food, but more and more Korean food is starting to have meat since western societies have started the practice factory farming making meat easier to obtain. But even now most of the side dishes are vegetarian, and entrees are meat, but thats true for all over the world as well.
    The garbage situation is bad in every city during the summer, I will tell you that even midtown in New York is no laughing matter.

    And as for racism, I don’t know if Koreans are truly racist, as they seem more marked by ignorance – the thing about Koreans is they really don’t ever think too much about it or act on it or really care and just say ignorant things because they don’t really have a lot of knowledge about other people.
    But there is a difference between racism and ignorance, and living in London, staying in Italy and Spain, I have more than a few times heard seriously racist remarks, had friends egged, even attacked or robbed for being Asian and called names. I mean if your Asian going into Europe, you really have to be careful, because they do care if you’re Asian. Also having lived in Japan, at least they don’t rent out vans and start telling all Westerners to leave their country, and protest in front of American schools – that’s racism. If anything Koreans are xenophobic, but that is has changed so much, I wouldn’t say that about korea as they always loved foreigners.

    They are still a bit homophobic as a whole, I have had a couple Korean friends who were gay though – which I think is new for Korea, but I have so many friends from the midwest (US) right now who can’t come out to their families, because they’re afraid to death that their family will disown them and kick them out like lots of other families who did, and they’ve seen their own family member treat other gays cruelly. Homophobia is a problem everywhere, even my straight guy friends, and I live in NYC, are very homophobic.

    I know what you are saying about downsides (though I find them to be the same everywhere), but I’ve always found Westerner’s perspectives of Asian countries to be harsh because they don’t really think about their own, but for those who’re comfortable with both, it’s not hard to see that these are problems that plague every country and people, and there will always be the few that don’t give the country a good name, like hicks in the US, chavs in UK, Spain, etc. It kind of reminds me of the assessment of China (not on here), I find that to be very harsh, too, especially what people say about them eating cats and dogs – I don’t see what the problem is, either you eat meat or you don’t – it seems silly to be specist, but its hard to fathom from one’s own cultural background.

    • I have no moral objection to eating dogs. After all, we eat kangaroos.

      But they beat the dogs to death so that they are scared at the end because it ‘boosts men’s stamina’ to have adrenaline in their systems.

      It’s definitely an ignorant kind of racism, but it’s very in your face as a result. Hearing ‘Obama is a nigger’ or ‘Is your South African girl-friend a spear thrower?’ is still racist, no matter how innocent.

  5. Loved reading your article. It brought back many memories of living in Seoul back in the eighties.

    I had a fantastic time… and the whole 24 hour lifestyle blew me away… the fact that at nine o clock in the morning, having danced our stillettos off, we could pop into a noodle bar for a late night/early morning bowl of noodles. I loved that there was a whole warehouse style clothing store that was best visited at around two am… an amazing and exciting place to be!! 

    I too found some of the same things you mentioned frustrating… added to that the way men, even young men treated their girlfriends. And I will always recognise that fragrant mix of kimchi and cigarette smoke that wafts over you every time you enter a public building such as a post office or bank.

    Thank you for bringing back a whole flood of exciting and interesting memories of about twenty years ago.

    • The way women are treated after marriage is definitely still an issue. Pre-marriage it seems to be all fawning and good manners from the guys, but I hear it’s a different story once the knot is tied. Strange given what a prominent position the mother eventually does play in the family unit.

  6. Actually in terms of the racism, I’ve noticed about an equal amount from all age groups. I often find, actually, that I am treated better by the truly old people – the halmoni and halaboji, perhaps because they still remember America helping out during the Korean War. I also often have younger students who rather than being fascinated with the West seem to dislike me for being a foreigner until they have gotten to know me better. So I think it’s more a family thing than an age thing. Some families are racist and others aren’t. I’ve also noticed a wide range of opinions in young people in regards to Japan. Ranging from “I want to go there/it’s cool” to “I want to kill them all/they are monkeys.”

    I do feel fortunate that as a blond female I am spared the worst of it. But yeah, racism/xenophobia/homophobia is the big ugly pimple in the center of Korea’s face.

    • What part does sexism play in it, I wonder? I copped grief for my weight, but never my race.
      I can almost accept the Korean sentiment towards Japan. The Japanese treatment of Koreans is a less publicized but equally brutal situation to the Holocaust in Europe.

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