Saturday, December 30, 2006

What we did today

We got the subway to Jongno-3ga and walked along Insadong. The Crowards, my visitors, were most interested in all the shops and bought a brilliant Polar bear hat, earrings and a necklace, a ring and a scrapbook for the holiday souvenirs.

We were looking for traditional Korean drumming, asking in the tourist information office we discovered there was a performance on, that very afternoon with drumming and B-Boys organised by the Rainbow Youth Center. We went for a coffee at Cafe Pascucci and had the best hot chocolate ever. We then went for a walk along the Cheonggyecheon and played with the ice. Coming back to Insadong we were in time to catch the B-Boys doing their breakdancing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Dinner and Boxing Day

It was the warmest Christmas day in Seoul for 100 years with temperatures reaching 12.6 deg C I just read in the paper today. We ventured out of the house for a short walk near the Hongik University to enjoy the sunshine and bought some more chocolates from the best chocolate shop in Seoul CacaoBoom.

We had some friends round for Christmas dinner. The highlight of our seven course meal was beef cooked in red wine with mashed potato and carrots. The meat had been marinated overnight and was especially tender and rich. The Christmas Pudding we had made went down very well with Erkin and his girlfriend, but I think it was a little too rich for our two Korean guests who are maybe not so used to such sweet and heavy puddings. Dessert does not really seem to exist in Korean restaurants we have noticed, though ice cream parlours are very popular here.

Unlike in the UK where Boxing Day is a holiday too, here The Bat had to go to work as normal, so to entertain myself I decided to take a bus at random and see where I got to.

I started from just outside our apartment, in front of the National Assembly building and decided to take the first bus that arrived going west. A 6633 arrived first:

This is the route map for the 6633.

As you can see, not much in the way of English, except where there is an interchange with a subway station.
Here's the view of the subway line 9 construction directly in front of the National Assembly.

After about 15 minutes I figured I'd gone far enough and I could see a stream with a path beside it. Alighting at the Dongah Apartment stop I took this shot of a typical block of shops:

It was only when I got home again and looked at the map did I realise why this hotel is named Niagara.

On the other side of the highway from it there is an artificial waterfall. I guess it does not flow during the winter, but I had noticed the rocks in the small hill.
For no apparent reason this small boat was a feature on the road.

After wandering around trying to get to the stream, during which time I found the Dunkin' Donut factory, I crossed the road and descended to walk beside the Anyangcheon. This small river flows into the Han River and, dodging the cyclists I walked north towards their confluence.
The World Cup stadium was visible on the opposite bank. Walking further along the Han river this is the Seongsangyo bridge:

I continued walking beside the Han river until I came back to the National Assembly and home.

This will most likely be my last blog posting of 2006. I have some visitors coming today and we are planning to go skiing next week. To all readers of the blog, I wish you all the very best for 2007.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Fog in Channel; Continent Cut off

One misconception that a lot of foreigeners have, is that there is a lot of fog in London. Well it seems for once they are not wrong. I saw the news reports on the bbc site yesterday about how fog caused British Airways to cancel all domestic flights and it looks like the delays are continuing, so if you are trying to get home this Christmas from England I hope you make it.

If you don't make it home, check out Diamond Geezer's Foggy Christmas Carols that you can all sing along to. North Korean's soldiers are getting Karoke machines to sing along with too, that should keep their spirits up.

Stafford's twelve days of Christmas at the Chosun Bimbo has not reached eleven lords a leaping yet, but that fog caused Lord Fraser to lose his rag and resulted in an air rage incident.

The preparations for the big Christmas dinner at our place are building up. We haven't bought the meat yet, but don't worry we wont be keeping it fresh in the fridge like this.

Update: I knew there was a better headline than that: It should have been
"Fog in Channel; Continent cut off"
from the Times.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas present from Skype

I just saw yesterday that skype are offering free international phone calls from Korea to the United States and Japan for a limited time during the holiday season.

From Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, calls made to the two countries will be free, regardless of whether the call is made to a fixed-line phone or cellular phone. No separate application is required during the offer because computers will automatically detect if calls are made from Korea.

I'm not sure if that applies to Canda too, is it clever enough to figure out which area codes are Canadian and charge for them? I can't see anything on the skype website about it at the moment.

For those who've not got onto the bandwagon: nip out to your local electrical shop and buy yourself a headset (or order one online), download the free software from skype, (available for all platforms) create a skype account, and start calling over the internet for free. You can also send SMS messages, use the text chat feature and make video calls with the latest versions on windows operating system.

You can also call normal fixed line and cell phone numbers if you purchase skype credit. Calls cost a fraction of normal phone rates, however I have had many complaints of poor quality sound for the receiver, which is a real shame as I have always been able to hear the other party perfectly well.

For the full package you can purchase an incoming phone number to allow non skypers to call you. They have just launched this service in Korea, so you can have a Korean number. It also allows you to create a voicemail box, or have calls forwarded to a mobile or fixed line number.

So what have you got to lose? Go ahead and

Skype Me™!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hagwons Hassled by new law

Since none of the Korean news themed blogs ( The Marmot , Lost Nomad and Yeolchae ) picked this up I thought I'd mention this from the Korea Times yesterday.

Students who quit studying at private institutes will get refunds for their fees according to the days left in the school term.
The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development made the announcement yesterday. The practice will begin in March next year.

To date, students who paid a month tuition fee for lessons to private institutes could not get the fees refunded even though they gave up the lessons after a day. Only if private schools are unable to give the lessons, do they get the refunds according to the private institute law.

To correct the flaw in the current law, the revision bill allows students who give up the lessons to get refunds according to the days left if they claim the refund before two-thirds of the lesson days pass.

`It will help lift the financial burden of many parents caused by private education at the institutes,' said Yeo Jong-goo of the ministry.

Well, Mr Goo you must have no idea how to run a business. Boo hoo, those poor students, they give up after a day and they don't get any money back? No, too right, they shouldn't get their money back. The school still has to pay the teacher. What are they going to do if the whole class drops out? How can they pay the teacher if they have refunded all the fees they've just collected?

I'm sorry, if you sign up for a months worth of lessons and you can't make it, well you should have thought of that before you started. If you join and gym and then get tired after a couple of weeks, do they refund your fees and say 'There, There, we're sorry you couldn't manage it here's your cash back'. Funnily enough No. So why should schools have to pay back for students who give up?

Private language schools in Korea (hagwons) have got a pretty bad reputation, but if they are having to work under these laws then, for once, they do have my sympathy. (I am assuming this new law relates to private language schools, it was not clear in the article, and I've emailed the reporter to find out.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Snowfall in Seoul

After we came back from the cinema last night it started to snow. When we got up this morning we were greeted to this delightful scene:

The film was "The Holiday" starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet and Jude Law. It's this month's only western film on at the moment. It's a slushy romantic comedy with the two actresses swapping lives and houses in LA and the home counties and meeting men. Excellent christmas material.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Seoul Christmas Lights

As promised I was out this evening with the new camera and happened by sheer chance to be in the right place at the right time to see the lights being switched on in Seoul City plaza:

The whole grassy area has been filled with a large construction covered in thousands of coloured lights and a christmas tree installed as well. Beside it there is an ice skating rink at which we were treated to a short ice dancing demonstration by several skaters.

Moving on to the Cheonggyecheon both sides of the stream have been adorned with similar lighting.

Lotte department store have pulled out all the stops and covered all available trees with lights.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas in Korea

Well blow me down, Christmas is coming. I am delighted to hear that our Christmas cards are arriving already. If you haven't got one and are expecting one, please let me know. If you haven't got one and were not expecting one from us, to wish you a very Merry Christmas here's a scan of one of the two designs we sent, :

For those friends and relatives coming to the blog for the first time having typed in the website from our "round robin" letter, greetings and welcome from me and The Bat. This is how my wife requested to be referred to on the blog to protect her anonymity, so if you feel enthusiastic enough to comment on the blog please don't refer to her real name! I receive all the comments by email, so don't think that by commenting on any of the older posts I will miss your remarks.

When I started the blog it was initially aimed at friends and family that would be interested to know what we got up to in South Korea. However as I began writing up our adventures I realised how little is known about Korea outside the country and also how difficult it is to get detailed information in English about things to do and see for people thinking of coming to Korea and also for foreigners living here. So I try to cover topics and places that I feel are relevant to all three audiences. If you have any specific things you'd like me to write about please let me know in the comments or by email.

If you are keen to keep up with the blog there is an RSS feed which will inform you of new entries without you having to come to the blog page everyday. You will need either some RSS enabled software, usually your email program or browser can handle it, or use one of the many online services such as Bloglines. In spite of my recent post I do intend to continue. I'll post roughly once or twice a week.

You know it's Christmas around here because everywhere is covered in fairy lights. Cat at Seoul Life has a good photo of the Christmas lights on the Shinsagae department store and, now our new camera has arrived this morning, I hope to bring you more photos of the brightly lit streets.

Demanding an Apology from KBS for racist TV

Fellow blogger Michael Hunt (The Metropolitician) is demanding an apology from KBS for the Korean media's continued racist and sexist stereotyping of foreign people.

Please sign his online petition on his blog from the link.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Too much blogging?

Oh Dear. I was thinking of doing a post about blogging.
But then this morning I read Diamond Geezer who mentioned Twitter which has a blog which had a link to Scobleizer and the first thing on the list of "signs you have been blogging too much" was "you blog about blogging".
It is a continuation of Darren Rose's "8 signs it might be time to take a break from blogging " where there were another couple of signs that apply to me.
So maybe I'll stop posting for a bit.
We'll see.

Friday, December 08, 2006

It's a small world

Everyone has their "It's a small world" story. Here's a small one for today.

I was at the Seoul City Club last night for the European Chamber of Commerce Korea and the Europe Korea Foundation Networking event. I've not been to one of these before, but since I met the Marketing Manager for the EECK at the Pudding Club event, I've been on their mailing list, and this party sounded too good to miss. While everyone else there was introducing themselves and the company they work for, I was there just representing myself. When I introduced myself to a group of British and American expats and explained how I'm a house husband, one of them asked if I wrote a blog. When I replied that I did, he asked if I'd left a comment on his blog, and, sure enough, in my exploration of Korean blogs I'd stumbled upon Steve's Seoul Blog and commented on how great minds think alike, as he uses the same blogger template that I do!

And in the interests of networking here are some of the people I met: There was Peter from The Writer's Ink he wrote a book on Idioms and was telling me how hard it is get anything published. I said I know, my father writes a blog about it Grumpy Old Bookman; Tom from Soft Landing he writes in the Korea Times on high tech companies in Korea; Lisa from Hodo Tour Company she is going to sort out a skiiing trip for me when some friends come over next month. If you need an English speaking travel agent in Seoul she can help; Mr Kim from Kotra; Niall an Irishman from the University of Seoul; Jerry from Telus he is working on bringing Blackberry to Korea, the pilot is going well I understand; Steven from Chevron; Michael an architect from Parsons Brinckerhoff; and BJ a graphic designer from F-Emotion. It was a great party, I drank plenty of vodka but amazingly I am not hung over this morning! Has anyone got any Small world stories to share?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

What are the threats round here?

Well, North Korea does not seem to be able to stay out of the headlines. Last I heard they were still having talks about having talks. Everyone still wants to get together to have these famous "six party talks" ie US, Japan, China, Russia and the 2 Koreas. Dear Leader is still procrastinating about whether to join in or not. It's not clear if the sanctions banning the export to North Korea of iPods, Rolex watches and luxury cars have made any difference to his style yet. The Americans are vaguely wittering about offering the North Koreans a peace treaty, they very graciously thought they might allow South Korea to attend the ceremony too, if there ever is one. Since all North Koreans are taught from birth to hate everything American with total dedication it's hard to see a peace treaty being first on the list of things Mr Kim is looking for. Who would they hate then?

The latest scandal is a re-insurance fraud. Some foolish English insurance companies might have taken on a few more risks in NK than they were expecting and have got some very neat and tidy accident reports which seem suspiciously too perfect. Meanwhile in Doha, Qatar the South Korean team entered the stadium for the Asian Games with the North Korean team under a special "flag of unity". And yet the medal table lists the tally of golds for the two countries separately. Not so friendly after all? But anyway the threat of Nuclear attack appears to have receded, at least that's what the president said to John Howard. Not that it stops every single newspaper article on NK mentioning the nuclear test, as if we could forget.

The three recent cases of Avian influenza have certainly put a damper on poultry farming. Inspite of the prime minister and the parliament publicly eating chicken to reassure the country that it is completely safe, the price of chicken has dropped dramatically.

Not a single Korean has died or even fallen ill from Avian flu. What the Koreans are dying from is Suicide. According to the National Statistical Office (NSO), suicide was the fourth-largest cause of death in the country for two years in a row with 26.1 out of 100,000 people killing themselves, up 2.2-fold from 11.8 ten years ago. South Korea also recorded the highest suicide rate among the OECD member countries. Searching the internet for good ways to kill oneself is becoming more common. I couldn't help but remember the theme tune to M*A*S*H having read that article. [For those who don't automatically think of the number 4077 and Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, along with Hawkeye, BJ, Hotlips, Radar and Klinger, when the acronym MASH appears, the theme tune was Suicide is Painless]
The rise is attributed to an increasing number of people in their 30's taking their lives due to the worsening economic conditions. So inspite of Korean exports reaching $300 billion this year they are still not happy!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sunny Day in Seoul

Not much to blog about today. It was a lovely sunny day yesterday, but very cold indeed. We went for a short walk along the Hangang and this photo shows the Seoul skyline quite well with Mapo Bridge in the foreground and the Seoul North Tower on the hill.

As we walked along the path we discovered the local birdwatchers are now manning a small enclosure where they have setup five very high power telescopes to be able to observe the birds on the small island in the middle of the river. We saw mallards, spot billed ducks, eurasian widgeons, tufted ducks and cormorants.

Off to the camera shop today to get the return the loan camera and get the old one back. They finally quoted an unfeasibly large amount to repair it, for some reason waiting for the part to arrive from Germany before telling us. It's not worth spending that much on an old digital camera so it looks like we're going to buy a new one. That's the trouble with buying a Leica. If you drop it, like I did, it hurts in the wallet. Anyone want a broken Leica Digilux 1 digital camera? They are going for £70 on ebay!

Friday, December 01, 2006

MBC looking for English speaking tourist

I just saw this on the Lonely Planet ThornTree forum:

MBC are looking for an English speaking tourist to follow around for the day next week, either Monday or Tuesday 4th or 5th of Dec. They'll pay 100,000 won to get your impressions of the city and see how you get on.

If you know anyone who might be interested they'd like to know name, duration of stay, plans for the day, place of accom, telephone / email address. Give them a call on 02 2171 2461 or email

I've emailed them and offered my services if they can't find anyone else!

Other things happening next week:

Tuesday 5th Dec. To 100th Anniversary of the birth of Ahn Eak Tai Classical music concert.
7:30 at the KBS Hall in Yeouido. Admission free.

Thursday 7th Dec. The European Chamber of Commerce Korea and the Europe Korea Foundation are happy to present their Year End Party on the Rocks. Co-organized with Emotions Publicis Events and sponsored by Diageo Korea Co., Ltd., this EUCCK Network Club will take place on Thursday, December 7th at Seoul City Club in Yeouido. The evening will feature Smirnoff Black Label Vodka, an Ice Carving Show, a Vodka Fountain, Music Band, Lucky draw and every guest will receive a free gift. Register today for your chance to join in the fun!

Note: Deadline for registration and cancellations is Tuesday, December 5th, 2006. Cost 45,000 Won.