Eleven And Counting…

September 7, 2013

Eleven years ago today I had 3 main tasks to do.

First, be on time.

I remember leaving the hotel we were staying at and travelling into the city on the subway. Kilts, Hanboks, sporrans, the lot. We did get  few looks of interest from the other passengers on the train. Maybe there was a circus in town?

Next, to say “Yes”.

Not as easy it may sound.

The minister who was in charge of all things “yes” related was a bit of a chatter box. It felt like an eternity standing there, trying not to sweat in the 30+ degree heat while some strange man, jibbering in a strange language, not pausing for breath, was busy telling me all the things that I should be doing for the rest of my life. To be honest, even if we were speaking the same language chances are I probably wouldn’t be paying that much attention to what’s being said either. “Any chance we can cut to the chase, Boss?” There’s a ton of people here who want feeding.

Eventually, we get to the bit where we say “Yes”. I never was good at listening.

Third, make sure everyone enjoys the day.

Well, that was probably the easiest part of the day. There were a lot of people at the ceremony, then about another 50 or so at the reception. Looking back through the photographs it was good to see you all again. Some of you are still in Korea. Others have moved back home and taken that next step in your own Big Journey.

What was truly memorable about that day was being able to spend it with such a great bunch of people. I remember there being lots of laughs and jokes. In fact, so much fun that we kept it going the following day. Good times, as they say.

Eleven years ago today Eun Jin and I were married in Seoul, South Korea. Those are some words that I never thought I’d be putting in writing when I was growing up in Cumbernauld. Worlds, if not light years apart.

I’m truly blessed to have met my partner and to still be together today. Eun Jin’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I love her to bits. Happy Anniversary.

Enjoy the photos

They Shoot Horses, Dont’ They?

July 17, 2013


Sadly, there still seems no way in which you can avoid the fat man in the suit?

Almost a year on from that fateful day in July 2012 when ‘Kangnam Style’ was released from captivity, it, for some unknown reason (to me at least) is still lingering round like that unwanted smell at the back of your student fridge. I wish it was as easy as calling someone to get rid of it. I’ve tried. Really, I have. But it all looks like being in vain. There is no getting away from it.

I should mention that I’ve never actually seen the video in its entirety. Nor have I (willingly at least) heard the song from begining to end. However, that’s not to say that I’ve not been given the privilege of having it blasted in my face when say, travelling on a bus or grabbing a quick bite at lunchtime. I can deal with things like this in short doses as I usually just turn my own music UP to compensate for the inherent noise pollution.


What’s also perplexing is that not only was ‘Kangnam Style’ the first Youtube video to reach one billion (I’ve no idea how many zero’s that is?) hits, but it shows no sign of stopping any time soon. How on God’s Green Earth did we manage to get in such a shitty state of affairs? I want to speak to whoever’s in charge. Now!

Psy also has three videos in the Bestest Youtube Ever Top 20. When you see what makes up the rest of the Top 20 (Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez, and the chimp that lights its own farts – ok, I might have made the last one up, but no too far from the truth), I cannot help but wonder when (and where) all this is going to end? Do people really have that much free time (says he, avoiding writing his thesis by doing this and/or anything else instead) on their hands? How many times do you need to see a video?

Last night as I was going through my Twitter feed, I came across this piece titled – ‘Gangnam’ is one year old, K-Pop Is massive, and Music Is Forever Different

While I don’t necessarily disagree with the first two points in the headline, I can’t see eye-to-eye with the third. Simply put, music is not that much different (Unless ‘different’ is a euphemism for ‘shit’?).

Psy certainly hasn’t changed it.

How people consume music and how the product is sold to them has become more spohisticated, for choice of a better word. But music, and the Psy ‘phenomenon’ in particular is just another cog in the wheel. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it’s just another in a very long line of sub-standard, cheesy, and generally fucking awful novelty songs. ‘The Emporer’s New Clothes’, if you will…

The writer then feels the need to tell us the first time he saw the video, then the first time he showed his friend and blah blah blah. He goes on about it not being ‘anecdotal conjecture’. Utter bollocks.

The parodies. The chat shows. Hanging out with Presidents. The Worldwide Number #1 hit single. The stupid fucking dance routine. But how has it actually changed music forever?

Psy, short of being put up for early-beatification, has done pretty well for himself out of the deal. Riding high on the crest of his equine-esque wave, he’s managed to turn his flagging career around. One could say he has in fact managed something that has escaped so many of us and has  ‘polished the turd’ to great success? Proving many of his critics wrong along the way. Wait, does he have any critics?

I thought it would be difficult to squeeze any more life out of this turgid tune, but not for the first time, I was wrong. The government, albeit the tourism lackeys, have seen fit to put Psy’s big mug all over an advertisement promoting Korea’s awesomeness (of which it has many – but most of which were overlooked). See for yourself.

Seriously –  Samgyeuopsal and champagne? WTF?

To sum up, I don’t think it’s that bad that Psy’s taken on this role as ‘ambassador for Korean culture’, or that he’s continuing to bring ‘Kangnam’ to a worldwide audience. But try getting a taxi there on a Friday night (ironically, unless you’re Psy) pal…that’s a different story?

I can’t really see myself  tuning in to Youtube to partake  in  any more of his ‘musical shenanigans’, now, or anytime soon. For me, the whole ‘Kangnam Stlye’ craze has all the entertainment value of shit on a stick. And not a very big stick at that.

Evidently, however, there are billions of you out there who will. It’s just not for me.

Our Own Backyard…Part 2

July 15, 2013

2013-07-11 16.31.09-1

Without wanting to outstay our welcome (or, if you prefer, to avoid the ever increasing number of tourists coaches that were heading our way now that the rain had stopped) we decided to take the  15-20 walk towards Samcheong-dong (삼청동). It’s a neighbourhood that I’ve only ever driven through and wanted to get a feel of what it looked like from the ground up.

There’s an interesting contrast of the old and new as make your way from Kyeongbok Palace, past yet more nondescript museums and art galleries, walking alongside its long, narrow, and seemingly never-ending walls.

It’s a pleasant enough walk. In fact, with only the massive line of tourist coaches (again) lining up for parking spaces, the walk in itself is actually quite quiet compared to the relative hustle and bustle madness of Sejong-ro. As you make your way towards the end of the road you begin to see more of a security presence. This is mainly because the presidential residence “The Blue House” (Cheong Wa Dae – 청와대) is just up the road. Interestingly enough, this part of Seoul was also witness to one of the more ‘daring’ raids from Our Friends In The North in the late 1960’s.

An elite group of commandos were sent by the North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung to (literally)  get the head of the then Korean President (but in reality, dictator) Park Chung Hee. The mission was not successful in its final objective, but they did get to about 400 metres of the ‘Blue House’ and their main target. A more detailed account is here…

So, with all that in mind, we meandered our way up,  hoping not to bump into some mad, brain-washed, ninja types, but instead, we’d settle for something, hopefully,  a bit more ‘friendly’.

The first thing you’ll notice is that there are lots of very similar things on offer. There are shoe shops aplenty, boutiques, chocolatiers, independent coffee shops (a pleasant change from those ‘other’ ones that are in abundance elsewhere), as well as quite a few small galleries and art spaces. So, if you want to shop, eat, drink or just browse, then this should be right up your street (if you’ll pardon the pun).

With all that walking we were getting a bit hungry. After looking through various  (and somewhat swankier) menus, we decided to just eat at a local, regular restaurant. This is the kind of place that you’ll find almost anywhere in Seoul and get fed reasonably well for $5 or so. Nothing fancy, but kimchi-fried rice (as seen in the now ubiquitous food shot) did the job. Ten  minutes. Fed and watered. Then good to go and finish the walk. If that’s not your thing, there’s plenty of other choices to suit your taste.

It’s not too long before you come across several (very steep) flights of stairs that’ll magically transport you to the Bukchon Hanok Village (). Hanok is the term used to describe a traditional Korean house, and it’s definitely something worth spending a bit of time looking through. These photos may be a better way of showing rather than telling…

Well, other than quite a long walk back to Insadong for a well-deserved cup of coffee (and cake, of course), that was pretty much how we spent the best part of 3 or 4 hours. On the way back you’ll notice that Bukchon has a very  similar kind of vibe to that of Samcheong-dong. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bring your date. Walk. Talk. Eat. Have a drink and enjoy this unique part of the city.

Our Own Backyard…

July 12, 2013

Sejong insta

What do they call it? A Busman’s Holiday? Well, it was sort of like that.

For the past few years, I’ve been driving this route on the way to and from work. Pretty much right through one of the busiest parts of the city. From the Namdaemun gate, past City Hall, the monuments (see pics) on Sejong-ro, past the many (and often) demonstrations near the US Embassy, then Kyungbbok Palace, it’s quite a stretch of road. Always lots going on and only about a 10-15 drive away from where we live.

However, it’s one thing seeing it from the relative comfort of your car, or the elevated view you get when you’re on the bus, but we thought we’d mingle with the tourists (they were all hiding somewhere as it was raining – in monsoon season?) and go for a stroll.

Yesterday (Thursday 11th July 2013 – for those of you who are sticklers for dates and times etc), we decided to have a wee day out together. Something that we should do more of, but always find a way of doing something else instead. Eun Jin had mentioned (that means ” Yes, we’re going!”) the Gauguin exhibition that’s on at Seoul Museum of Art, and it was as good a place to start as any.

Blushing Buddha

Thankfully, it wasn’t that busy inside (by over-crowded city standards at least) and it was a nice, gentle pace to walk around the various exhibits. To be honest, I think there could have been a bit more of it. It said there were around sixty exhibits on show, but it felt like it was needing something more substantial to it.  Still, an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes on a rainy Thursday afternoon.


After we left the museum the rain stopped and it was clearly a sign that we should go for a walk. My Mrs is not known for her love of walking, but the stars must have been in alignment or something because walk we did.

It’s only about 10 minutes or so from the museum to Gwanghwamun Plaza. En route we passed the “Hammering Man” sculpture which is something that you can’t really miss at 22 metres tall. A bit further, after passing Seoul Museum of History (save that for another day) we evntually got to the plaza itself and its two notable monuments. Best of all, it was relatively empty of visitors as they’d obviously been put off by a spot of rain.

The statues (or monuments?) in the plaza represent figures who played an integral part in Korean history. The first one you come to (and the older of the two monuments) is that of Admiral Yi Sun-sin. Long story short –  he helped defeat an invasion by the Japanese in the 16th century. A pretty big deal in these parts – even to this day. Bannockburn, anyone?

After a short stroll you’ll see the newer monument of King Sejong. Sejong is credited with being involved in the creation of the Korean alphabet (Hangul – 한글), as well as advances in technology, astronomy, the arts and plenty more. For those of you who don’t know any Korean, Hangul is actually really easy to read. It’s very logical in its makeup, and certainly something that everyone living and working here should try to learn. Understanding what the words mean after you can read them – well, good luck with that!

So, after a bit of a wander, enjoying the fact that I’d not been elbowed by any marauding touristy-types, we made our way to the top of the plaza, just across from Gyeongbokgung Palace. We didn’t really want to go in for a tour (done it a couple of times), but we decided to hang around for a bit and take a few photos. As we were leaving, then the tourist buses started pulling up outside. It was with that in mind that we made our escape towards the hillier and somewhat trendier neighbourhood of  Samcheong-dong. More of that in Part 2…

To end with, here’s a short video I made of me driving home from work from the other end of this route that I’ve just described. What more could you ask for?


Organic Guitar Sound (Part 2)

March 17, 2013

Man, that was a long break between OGS1 and OGS2. I kinda got caught up with one or two rather unexpected ‘surprises’. Some welcome, others not so, but we move onwards and upwards. Time for some music methinks. slade-1 “It’s Slade” (BBC4) – When I saw this on Pirate Bay, I had the feeling that it was going to go one of two ways. First, it might just go on and on about “Merry Christmas Everybody” as the documentary was shown around the festive period. You know, it would be all novelty and kitsch-like? Tinsel and tartan. Or, it might be an insightful, entertaining story about four rather dodgy looking fellas from Wolverhampton who went on to sell a mere fifty million (yes, count them – at a time when sales did count more) records worldwide? Although done on the cheap (the BBC obviously still splashing all their cash on Attenborough’s wildlife extravaganza’s), the film perfectly conveys the bands persona. Rough, ready, creative, talented, and very, very loud. I have a soft spot for Slade (but not for those who think that Quiet Riot’s version of ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ is any good). I remember getting my first batch of records and a record player as a kid from my cousin. In amongst the Bay City Rollers, David Cassidy, and other dubious vinyl that a teenage girl of the time would like (this was a long, long time ago…) this caught my eye –

Scary, huh?

Scary, huh?

There’s some great stories told by the band themselves, as well as the omnipresent, celebrity/muso, talking-head types maintaining the band’s credibility and legacy for the youth of today. Not just a one-hit, novelty wonder. Another nugget from BBC4’s rockumentary archive was “Can You See The Real Me – Quadrophenia” – a look at the making of the album and a close look at the band themselves. quadcoverYet another bit of a flashback for me, going back to when I was about 13 or 14. A time when the whole idea of a rock opera concept album wasn’t really cool. I remember taping my buddy’s double-album of ‘Quadrophenia’, and coming to the conclusion that it was OK to have a bit more to a song than just 3 chords and a tune. Although I may not have shouted that from the rooftops at the time. “Can You See The Real Me”, with a running time of bout 70 minutes, fills in a lot of the blanks about the band themselves before moving on to discuss Townsend’s magnum opus. There’s lots of  being a ‘Mod’ and what all that meant. Personally, it’s something akin to today’s ‘metro-sexuality’. Jibbering on about what’s fashionable, having a smart haircut and using the latest grooming products. All bollocks, of course.

Of further irritation, there was  also participation from an American music writer whose main objective in the film was to apparently keep stating the obvious. He was particularly annoying. However, the good outdoes the bad, and “Can You See The Real Me” is an absorbing, poignant documentary, filled with vibrant stories and some great anecdotal material. (Q – “What was Keith (Moon) like in 1973?” A- “He was a bit more drunk than 1972.”)

whiAs well as looking (albeit somewhat briefly) at the eclectic personalities of the band members, the film goes to great lengths to show just how the recording of ‘Quadrophenia’ affected Townsend in particular, and his gradual decline into what can only be described as a ‘bit of mad scientist’ towards the end. The obsession (and consequences) to find the perfect result is definitely one of the film’s strengths.

“Can You See The Real Me”, for me at least, raised a few questions regarding liking the people who are making the music? Does it really matter if you like them or not? Townsend comes across as somewhat egotistical, arrogant, and going by his recent questionable use of the internet, a bit more than self-righteous. Also, with Keith Moon, I don’t have much a liking for him as a drummer or as a ‘dude’.  As good and as pioneering a drummer as he was, there’s still this cloud over his ‘eccentricities’.

What the film does do well is look at the albums photography and excellent artwork. It also looks at each of the four sides of the record and the themes contained within them. There’s plenty of chatter about the financial and emotional toll that the recording of the album caused, as well as dealing with the aforementioned characteristics of the band themselves. It’s also on Youtube –

Finally, there was the highly enjoyable “Rush – Beyond The Lighted Stage”. Another one of those slick-looking films that take one of the great iconic rock bands of all time, and well, tell you their story. Well, the band tell the story (for the most part), which is a far better device in this instance than having someone else mumble along for them.

One of the questions that ‘Beyond The Lighted Stage’ asks is “Are Rush the worlds most popular cult band?” The answer to which is probably – yes. The other question is – “How many rock star-types can you get to pay homage to these three Candians?” The answer? A lot. These guys, as the film suggests, ‘are the real deal’. It’s hard not to disagree, even if you’re a fan or not.


The honesty, sincerity, and general ‘goofiness’ of the trio are key to the film’s narrative. The ability to laugh at themselves and not take things too seriously (unlike the seemingly never-ending line of pretentious asshats that corner the market today) really shines through.

At times, there’s a resort to cliche (how they earned their stripes by being on the road for so long, for example), but this doesn’t really deter from telling the band’s unique story. Even if you’re not a fan of prog-rock, ‘Beyond The Lighted Stage’ is a thoroughly enjoyable rock’n’roll romp, spanning the six decades of the band’s career. Long live the time signature change.

Heaven Knows Les Miserable Now…

February 21, 2013


It was made known to me a couple of weeks ago that my better half would like to go to see ‘Les Miserable’ while it was still showing in the cinema.

Of course, instead of demanding “we’re going” (no chance of that happening), or the more subtle “I’ve asked with my friend/sister, but they’re so busy” (not listening), MBH was smart and let the thought fester with me for a couple of weeks. She wanted US to go together. Shit.
Oh well, being the diligent type, and feeling like it would be nice to do something together other than laugh at the dog’s old/new/same tricks (a much underrated pastime for those of us without TV’s), I looked into what cinema chains were still showing it and what times it was running. Too late to back out now. It was a done deal.
So, it was with a mixed sense of fear, apprehension, and over-acting that we toddled off to the local world of cine.You see, it’s not that I didn’t really want to got to the movies with MBH. Far from it. It’s just that musicals and me, well, we don’t get along that well. Or at least my experience of them (however limited) would be a tad biased. Let me explain.
Winter 1999, I visited New York. First time. Awesome anticipation at experiencing lots of firsts. Greenwich Village, Empire State, Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island…you know, all that good stuff. As I was located on W46th Street, Broadway was just around the corner, it was suggested to me (by my companion and native New Yorker) that we “go see a show”. And from there it went a bit “Pete Tong”.
As we sat in our discounted matinée seats, over-priced, weak drinks in hand (very civilized theatres are), the performance started (FYI it was ‘RENT’ we were watching). The band/orchestra in the pit at the front of the stage (a good thing) started, followed shortly by a huge burst of very loud singing.
“OK, it’s a musical…”, I mused in a sage-like fashion, but after about 30 minutes with nothing else but singing I asked my companion “so, when do they start talking?”.
The reply, when it came, was one of considerable disdain and disbelief, “They don’t – it’s a musical!”.
 “Oh…?”, I replied. It must have been one of those moments when you look like a  dog that had just been shown a card trick.
The next two hours or so were spent rather uncomfortably and somewhat impatiently waiting for something to happen. Something other than folk asking singing why there was no milk in the fridge, but in a mildly operatic, look at me I’m ACTING, kinda way. I hated it. Every single second of it. It was boring and loud. Camp (nothing primarily against things being camp per se) and cheesy. Eugh…if only there had been talking in it? At least I tried?
Fast forward to the movie theatre, present day, and as we’re about to take our seats my heart sank. This could only happen to me, right?
We have the outside seats on the row and there’s a guy with a kid of all of 4 years old (I shit you not) wanting to get past to get to his seats. What are some people thinking? I’m all for getting kids into the arts and all, but that’s just too much. However, the guy has the right idea. He pushes the kid along the row to her mother, then he splits. Good call buddy.
To her credit, the kid must have been force-fed Nyquil or something as there wasn’t a peep out of her. But then again, they left about halfway through the film.
So, with one eye on the potentially annoying kid (although, personally, I blame the parents) I was keeping a lookout for other random acts of muppetry as the film commenced. There were a few random flashes of flickering smartphone screens, but on the whole not too bad. With one exception.
Also on our row, was Old Man A. I’d rather use a more sweary description of him, but in hindsight I’m feeling generous. Well, if he didn’t stop messing around with his ‘flip’ cellphone. Opening and shutting. Opening and shutting. A good Scottish word came to mind – ‘footering’. Hmmmm….
 Eventually, he answers his phone (this is about 20 mins in to the film) and relays the following information.
” Mumble, mumble, incoherent mumble…kong-il-kong (공일공 – zero-one-zero)…” He’s telling someone on the other end his phone number.
“Mumble, more mumble, getting louder so now everyone can hear me, not quite so incoherent…kong-il-kong (공일공 – zero-one-zero)…”
Now almost shouting – “KONG- IL – KONG….”. Three times.
Man, he has no idea how close he was to becoming the recipient of the Glasgow Kiss that had his name written all over it. KONG IL KONG indeed.
I had that weird feeling that I was somehow being tested on the levels of my patience. Something I’m not exactly renowned for. Mild palpitations narrowly avoided, it was on with the show.
I’ve never read Victor Hugo’s book, nor had I (for obvious reasons) seen the stage production of Les Miserables. I had however, listened to a review on the BBC via Kermode and Mayo. Truth be told, it mostly went in one ear and out the other. In other words, I was prepared to be as open-minded as I could.
As it turned out, I quite enjoyed it. Surprisingly.
It looked great. It wasn’t boring, even though it ran for more than two and a half hours. There were some good set pieces. Some interesting camera work. A bit of light humour here and there.  And as weird as this may sound, the songs (with the exception of the excruciatingly annoying “One Day More” – where you have 6 different characters all singing different parts about what ‘they’re having for tonight’s tea and oh, let’s have a revolution’- this was the only part of the film where I unleashed a BIG sigh, but still refrained from getting all ‘sweary’) were, (whilst not the most memorable, with the noted exception above), decent. I just tried to let it flow. All in all, the cast did a pretty good job of  it I thought.
Hugh Jackman is very good in the central role and thankfully wasn’t as camp as Christmas. He can obviously hold a tune, act, all of that. Much better in this kind of stuff  compared to that Wolverine rubbish.
Russell Crowe sings like he’s reading a traffic report. He’s pants. You’re not supposed to empathize with his character (he’s the ‘baddie’ – if you didn’t know already?), but he just plays the part with so much “CHEEEZZZZ”. Actually, he’s the kind of baddie that you don’t really ‘hate’ that much. He’s just a bit annoying, continually spoiling everyone else’s buzz. Good news for RC was that as all the other actors apparently had to ‘drop’ 30-40lbs for their respective roles while he maintained a steady consumption of pies. To keep in character, of course.
Tian Zhan
Anne Hathaway – Has gathered about a squillion nominations and awards for her performance, but I’m not sure why myself? I mean, she was OK. Not terrible. But I just don’t get all the fuss? Maybe it’s because her character ‘Fantine’ has such a shitty time of it and is (literally and metaphorically) in the gutter and has to resort to the unimaginable to survive?
Come Oscar night, when she’s all glammed up in her uber-expensive frock, draped in jewelry that has the same value as the GDP as a small Caribbean island nation, she might come up with a better quote than this one when asked about her character…
“So what I did is I tried to get inside the reality of her story as it exists in our world. To do that I read a lot of articles and documentaries and news clips about sexual slavery,” Hathaway continued. “For me, this particular story … I came to the realization that Fantine doesn’t live in the past- she’s living in New York City right now; she’s probably less than a block away.””This injustice exists in our world, so every day that I was her, I thought, this isn’t an invention, this isn’t me acting- this is me honoring that this pain lives in this world, and I hope that we see an end,” the actress added.
Really? How quaint.

Borat was also in the movie, playing himself, but with a Cockney accent. His wife, also playing it ‘Cock-er-knee’, was played by Helena Bonham Carter. She must have it in her contract to always be typecast as some kind of ‘goth’?

However, my favourite bit in the film was when Fernando Torres turned up, acting all a bit upper-class revolutionary (never a good thing), but ended up coming across as more of a foppish, soppy twat. Oh, Fernando…

Fernando Torres sings the blues...

Fernando Torres sings the blues…

I was longing for ‘Nando’ to take one ‘right between the eyes’. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Oh, is that a plot spoiler? In fact, after ‘googling’ yer man, I wasn’t surprised to find out that he’d been a bit typecast. I’m sure the advert in ‘The Stage’ said something like –
“Wanted – Old Etonian, must also have attended Trinity College Cambridge, to play oneself in Les Mis. No psuedo-foppish twattery, only the real thing will do. Can sing ‘softly’, a bonus”…
There were also a couple of random urchin types, running around, being all leery and geezerish (I thought this was set in Paris?). Did somebody think they could through in some Oliver Twist or Mary Poppins for good measure?
All my good-natured jibes and natural cynicism aside, I came away from the film not really feeling much in the way of empathy with any of the characters (with the exception of the quite ‘fit’ Samantha Barks’ ‘Eponine’), but kind of enjoyed it nonetheless. At least I enjoyed it more than I thought than I ever could. Who’d have thought, eh?
Would I watch another one? Mama Mia, Evita…eh, not sure I’m quite ready for that just yet. Let’s just leave it there, shall we?

Gangwon Holiday…

February 20, 2013

This is a short piece that I wrote as a competition entry for…? Well, the title isn’t exactly clear, but something like ‘weird things that happen whilst travelling in Korea’. Kinda rolls off your tongue, no?

I guess it’s more about the chase than the kill (not the story, but the winning part) , but I thought it would be a challenge to get something down in the required 500 words, and a set amount of time.

It’s a true story…read on…


If you were one of those who started your Korean working lives in a ‘hagwon’ (a private academy), the opportunity to take a vacation was somewhat limited.

I’d been planning my first trip in the country to Gangwon-do, (Seoraksan National Park in particular), and had spent many an evening in a PC room planning with an almost militaristic detail on how I was going to spend my inestimable week away from work.

For many of us, coming to a new country to live and work can be a daunting and somewhat intimidating prospect. So many barriers. The language (or in most cases – the distinct lack of), the food, the smells and the seemingly endless list of cultural differences. On the other hand, there’s also room for a certain unbridled enthusiasm to get out there and see what your new host has to offer. It has the potential for being the biggest adventure that you’re willing to make it.

Gangwon province had everything that I was looking for in a Korean vacation. Only a few hours from Seoul. Plenty of golden beaches. A stunning National Park, resplendent in the natural surroundings of the Taebek mountains. The sleepy, seaside town of Sokcho was only about thirty minutes away where one could walk down by the harbour and sample the wide array of excellent (if at times indeterminable) seafood that was on offer.

However, the highlight of the trip for me was Seoraksan National Park. Once inside, there were several trails to choose from, numerous waterfalls, temples, and the hugely impressive “Unification Buddha” (or통일대불). All highly recommended.

Before returning to Seoul, Gangwon-do still had one surprise left in store for me.

As I was enjoying my last night over some drinks with my travel companion, I began to feel a bit unwell. My condition worsened at a seemingly breakneck pace after returning to my room. Thoughts of all the weird and wonderful things I’d been gorging on over the past few days flashed by me. The excrutiating, intense pains in my stomach soon had me reminiscing of ‘that’ scene from the movie Alien. I thought I was going to burst, but I didn’t know at what end. Something was very, very wrong.

I somehow managed get through the night without splitting in two and found my way to a doctor’s surgery the next morning. My worst fears were confirmed when the doctor asked me if it hurt when he pushed down on my lower abdomen. The squealing like a pig probably answered the question for him.Yes, it hurt.

He diagnosed appendicitis, gave me an injection of something strong and told me to get home ASAP and to get it removed.

This happened back in 2000, but within my first six months of arriving in Korea. I guess it didn’t deter me from staying?

One last piece of advice – just remember to keep an open mind, but still leave some room to expect the unexpected on your travels.


2012 in pictures

February 14, 2013


Having an iPhone (or whatever your weapon of choice) is an all too convenient way to snap something – right there and then. It captures the moment – if you will.

Add your ‘app’ to that, ‘Instagram’ or whatever you fancy, and you too can look like someone with a keen eye for a photograph.

Of course, we end up with mostly nice, high quality photos of the kids, the dog, the sunset, inanimate objects, last night’s dinner, dodgy spelling mistakes on signs, or a part of the body that used to require the services of a ‘dark room’ not that long ago (if that’s your thing), and we’re happy campers. This would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. Unless you were some kind of tech-bod. Which I’m not.

I remember my first trip to New York in the winter of 1999. It’s just as well, as I don’t have any photos of it. Maybe I’m making it up for that now? Here’s to something and nothing…


The Shadow Of The Wind – Book Review

February 13, 2013

The Shadow of The Wind

Going through my hard-drive and I found all the book reviews that I did for TBS EFM radio in Seoul a couple of years back. I’ve put them on to Youtube for posterity and not egotistical reasons. Of course…

It’s a bit weird listening to myself as we talk about ‘accents’ at the beginning of the show and the host asks me if I have a strong accent or not? I’ll let you be the judge on that. But, it’s fair to say that if I spoke like I wanted to then conversations may well indeed be a bit on the short side. Can you get subtitles (for the hard of thinking) for radio? I’m sure Steve Jobs probably already patented it?

It was the whole “trying not to swear” for 30 minutes that was more of a challenge.

An enjoyable novel AND a swear free zone for your delectation.


The Year of The Snake…

February 10, 2013


So, it’s soon to be the Year of The Snake. Tomorrow (Sunday 10th February) to be more precise.

In this part of the world it’s a huge deal (think Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and a good weekend on the lash – combined) and you’ll get the idea. Plenty of scran, a few drinks (well, quite often more than a few), lots of banter (usually with me partaking in various drinking games with Eun Jin’s  – not that I’m one to abstain such a request), and some more eating. All in all, it’s not a bad day out with my wife’s extended (and very large) family.

It’ll also be the first time visiting Eun Jin’s parent’s house since her father passed away just before last Christmas. Never an easy time, but I’m sure they’ll remember him tomorrow in one way or another with a few well-versed stories. And a toast.


I’m in the middle of reading “Religion for Atheists” by Alain de Bottan, and I know it probably sounds like a pretentious, smart-arse, kinda thing to do, but it’s something that I have found to be quite interesting.  The author (a non-believer himself) claims that religions have some important things to teach the secular world. It’s a bit long-winded to fit into 500 words here, but he did publish an interesting list of ‘virtues’ that I think we could all take a look at (see link above). Food for thought?


Another great thing about the Lunar New Year is that it’s also the second chance for anyone to make a New Year’s resolution (새해 다짐 -sae-hae da-jim), which reminded me to post this nugget. Whether you’re familiar with Woody Guthrie or not, I think there are a few things that we could all take on board from his most excellent list (written in 1942).

1. Work more and better
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
4. Shave
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed cloths often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight

Well, all that’s left for me to do is to wish you all a Happy Lunar New Year.  Be safe, happy, healthy, prosperous and very, very groovy! 설날 즐겁게 보내세요!


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