Friday, January 26, 2007

The joy of Google Translation and other comments

I have used Google Translation service many times and it usually gives enough information to give you a rough idea of what the Korean text is about. This time it came up with something quite unusual. It is a translation of a page from the Immigration web site
and the first paragraph comes back with :

The advance booking which leads the Internet of Immigration Bureau civil affairs administration sells in advance, aviation volume or the theater ticket hospital medical treatment reservation date and the time when it is convenient the civil affairs official does under visiting the man with underdeveloped genital organ together home page leads and it is a system which it has reserved.

Quite how an organ got in there I cannot figure. I don't know what the translation is like from English to Korean but here's a link to see what this blog looks like in Korean.

A letter from the spokesman of the Association of Korean Oriental medicine in the Joong Ang daily caught my eye. There has been a great deal of coverage about the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the U.S.A. Inspite of the Koreans having their strategy leaked to the Americans they are gamely continuing the talks.

One sticking point is the issue of opening up the market for practitioners of Oriental Medicine from the US to come to Korea. Choi Jeong-Kuk is understandably worried about Americans, who have only studied for three years, coming here and "threatening public health". Korean doctors have to take a six year course to qualify.

But does he really need to worry? Take for example acupuncture. There are 22,671 licensed acupuncture practitioners in the US. How many do you think can speak Korean? Because lets face it, you could not work here in Oriental medicine speaking only English. Lets be optimistic and say 0.1% , about 20 people. How many of them do you think are keen to give up their comfortable life in the States and have suddenly decided "Korea is the place for me". Two people? Where do you think they are going to get jobs? In one of those 10,436 Oriental medical clinics? Well lets say one of these clinics gives them a chance and they get hired. Do you think any Koreans are actually going to go to an American for Oriental medicine anyway? I don't think so. Mr Jeong-Kuk: I really don't think the Americans are coming to get you. Open the market, set quotas so that you cannot be overwhelmed and see how many doctors actually come.

The leading article on Smoking Kills discusses the lawsuit filed against KT&G (Korea Tomorrow and Global, this is the public tobacco company previously known as Korea Tobacco and Ginseng) It talks about "KT&G increasing its revenue by selling cigarettes and thus damaging health" and "The government should not increase its tax revenue by causing deadly, painful diseases". But it was only a couple of weeks ago they announced record exports of cigarettes to over forty different countries. So it's OK to damage the health of those smokers in Iran, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia that they are exporting to but you don't want them to increase the price of cigarettes in Korea? It does not matter what the cost of a packet is, a nicotine addict will have to get their fix. Keep on increasing the price, it does not stop them smoking, but you raise more money to look after them when they get sick.

As for the comment about increasing the size of the health warning on cigarettes, how many smokers even notice the warning? The government health warning on cigarettes in he UK covers half the packet, it's only the non-smokers that notice it. Starting a campaign to stop teenagers smoking by saying 'smoking kills' does not work, it's been tried in the UK and failed miserably. Teenagers will always be rebels, if you tell them not to do something they will want to do it. My solution would be to force them all to smoke by government demand. Anyone under 16 caught not smoking 30 a day would be given free cigarettes. You would then be a rebel by not smoking. I can't see it happening, but it's just an idea!

In other news: a rare wildcat, Felis bengalensis manchurica

was spotted by an intrepid Hankyoreh reporter in Paju, Gyeonggi Province.

Meanwhile, it's official: Koreans really are one of the most intelligent races on earth.

A British professor has released a map which plots out his dubious claims that some races are naturally smarter than others. The so-called "IQ Map of the World" created by professor Richard Lynn of Ulster University shows the varying intelligence levels of races around the world according to his controversial research.

In his 2006 book "Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis", Lynn divided the world into 10 zones and analyzed their average IQs. His results found that East Asians (Chinese, Japanese and Koreans) have the highest mean IQ at 105.

Well done Korea, keep it up.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Trip to Gyeongju

Gyeongju, not to be confused with Gwangju, Jeonju or Jeju, is the ancient capital city of the Silla Dynasty that ruled parts of the peninsula for nearly a thousand years from 57 BC to 927 AD. It is a popular tourist destination due to the large number of historic sites in the area.

We caught a KTX train from Seoul station and, with a change at Dongdaegu to a local train, the total journey time was just over 3 hours. The tourist information office at the station provided us with an excellent map of the area and we soon found our way to the guest house Sa Rang Chae which we'd booked earlier in the week. On the way we could not help but notice the prevalence of Gyeongju 'Bread' shops. Intrigued, we stopped at Hwangnam where we could see them making the cakes behind the shop counter and so we bought a box. It's not bread at all but pastry filled with Korean red bean paste, it made a very tasty breakfast snack.

We took a 20 minute trip on the local bus (number 11) to Bulguksa. Statues like this are common at the temple gates. They guard against evil spirits.

Inside, the temple is dominated by two pagodas. This one, Dabotap, is a particularly unusual design

After lunch at one of the many nearby restaurants we took the bus to the Seokguram Grotto to see the statue of Buddha. This remarkable granite sculpture carved in 775 was an inspiring sight.

The number 11 bus takes a different route back to the city centre so we passed through the resort area around lake Bomun before alighting near Cheomseongdae an astronomical observatory.

The next day we visited the Daereungwon park which is packed with 23 tumuli of different sizes and shapes. They are the tombs of the kings of Silla. The tomb of Cheonmachong has excavated and is open to the public, we could see how the tomb was constructed inside and replicas of the crown and other items found were on display.

We were also lucky enough to watch a ceremony in front of one tomb. We didn't ask anyone what was happening, but just watched and enjoyed the short and colourful event.

The Gyeongju National Museum was a short walk away and we spent some time in the three large buildings which contain artifacts from the tombs and elsewhere in the area.
Our meal in the evening was in the Kuro folk restaurant. There was a set menu, for 8,000 won we were given 33 separate dishes! They all arrived at the same time and laid out very quickly by the waitress who literally run between the kitchen and tables.

On our last day we went to the Namsan area. The path up the mountain was busy with visitors keen to see the buddhas carved into the rocks. We walked along the base of the hill, which was much quieter, and saw two smaller temples and more tombs. We took a bus back to the station for the train back to Seoul after a very enjoyable weekend trip.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Magritte Exhibition in Seoul

I went to the Seoul Museum of Art last week to see the Rene Magritte exhibition that has opened recently. He is one of my favourite artists, so it was a treat to see his works here in Seoul.

The show includes not only a number of his paintings in a variety of styles (Impressionist, Surrealist and Vache) but also many photos of the artist and his family. These are reproduced in tiny prints, some no bigger than a postage stamp, which made them difficult to see. Also exhibited are examples of the posters he produced while working as a graphic artist.

In the fourth and final gallery, eight of his home movies are on show, most of them were shot on 8mm black and white film. For the exhibition they have been poorly digitised, and to make matters worse, these grainy images are greatly enlarged and projected onto screens on - er - the floor ! They are difficult to see and the perspective is distorted, so I watched very few of them. Still, I am sure there are serious artistic reasons for the unusual presentation. I am sure they will turn up on YouTube some day where they will be easier to watch!

Tickets cost 10,000 won (not 700 won as in the Joong Ang Daily ) and the exhibition is on until April 1st 2007. The museum is a few minutes walk from City Hall subway station.

Magritte is not the only western art on show here in Seoul. The Bat and I visited the Louvre exhibition at the National Museum of Korea last month. The Korean museum, which celebrates its first year anniversary, is exhibiting over one hundred paintings from the French national museum's collection. The exhibition marks the 120th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The exhibition ends on March 18 2007. Tickets cost 10,000 won.

The Louvre has been in the news recently regarding the creation of a new museum in Abu Dhabi. It seems a number of the French are up in arms about sharing their art with the rest of the world. They would prefer to keep it in storage in France since they don't have enough space to display it, rather then lend it out to other museums. They setup a petition about it too. Let's hope they see some sense and do not prevent this type of lending. The tens of thousands of Koreans that have flooded to see the exhibition in Seoul would seem to indicate that they appreciate being able to see these artworks without having to travel to Europe.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Caught up with the Korea blogs

I've finally caught up with all the blogs I read after coming back from snowboarding. NewsNetWire tells me there are 61 feeds I'm currently subscribed to, 43 of them are Korean, and that does not include those that don't have RSS feeds.

Gdog at The Daily Kimchi had a great holiday in UAE, plenty of pictures of food as always. Daegueowl at Kimchi for Breakfast has taken down the Christmas decorations (unlike the rest of Korea where the Christmas lights are all still on) and is looking for a job over here. I don't have any leads at the moment. Fencerider 's diet is still going well, he has not eaten too much at Christmas. Mary at MaryEats has left Korea to go to Seattle and is training to be a Chef, she says she will continue to keep up the blog about Korean food.

The Marmot , Lost Nomad , ROK Drop and Richardson have been busy keeping up with the news as always. You can hear The Marmot talking about his blog on a podcast over at the Metropolitician. Michael was getting very excited about the new Apple iPhone, until someone pointed out that the prototype presented is GSM only and Korea uses a totally different system. By the time they get that launched in June a Korean version is most likely more than 12 to 18 months away, if ever.

Gerry Bevers at Occidentalism had a pretty lousy Christmas. His university has not renewed his contract after his blogging about 'The islands whose name we dare not mention for risk of offending the locals'. The number of comments on this subject at The Marmots hole has just surpassed 500.

Stafford at The Chosun Bimbo has just moved to Seoul from Nonsan. He's settling in to his new apartment and started a new job. Mark at KoreaPopWars has all the latest stats on the Korean Cinema. I discovered Erkin was one of the thousands watching the first sunrise of the New Year over Korea. Jeff is getting better and showed pictures of the damage his bike suffered. He showed some sympathy for Nathan's three stitches. Max went snowboarding at YongPyong too, but did not seem to enjoy it as much as I did. Jodi has had plenty of interesting things to say already this year.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Snowboarding at YongPyong

I have returned safely from my holiday with no broken bones or other damage, so it's time for some pictures and the details.

In spite of having lived in Switzerland for six years I have only ever been snowboarding twice and until now I had never skied. I had taken snowboarding lessons on both previous occasions so this time I felt I could do without.

It took me quite a long time to get used to being on a snowboard again, but by the fourth day I could 'board down the Rainbow Paradise run with a certain amount of skill, but not much style. It's a 5km slope, rated intermediate, which starts from the highest peak at the resort reached by the (Swiss-made) gondola and we managed it seven times during the last day with a stop at the top for a Starbucks coffee at lunchtime.

Father and Son Crowards, already good skiers, eschewed snowboarding lessons and having boned up on the 10 steps to Snowboarding were soon comfortable on the boards. Which was good because private lessons would have been 170,000 Won per person for two hours. No group lessons in English!

I tried skiing for a brief time one afternoon and I succeeded in going down the beginners slope a couple of times without too many problems, but my thighs were already starting to ache badly and queues for the lifts to the nursery slopes were very long. The advantage of going on the more advanced slopes was that there were almost no queues.

Ski and Snowboard hire were well managed by the staff and the equipment was good quality and in good condition. It might have saved some time to be able to hire the equipment once for the whole five days at the start, but this did not seem to be possible, so each morning after a huge breakfast, we would hire the kit and pay for the lift pass. I am sure if you stay in the town below the resort there are shops that will allow multi day hire. Season tickets are available for the lifts if you are skiing there every weekend. All the staff were friendly and could speak enough English to be able to do their job. These are the options for lift passes and rental:

The weather was kind to us all week. Even though there was very little real snow the snow machines were working all night every night and the pistes were well groomed each morning and afternoon. It was snowing quite heavily when we left on the Saturday and we were very glad we were not on the slopes that morning before we left.

In spite of the thousands of children having skiing lessons, the resort did not seem too crowded, however queues for the lifts and in the cheap canteen dining room were very long at certain times of the day. The quietest time was first thing in the morning after the lifts started at 08:30. Here's a general view of the resort :

and looking the other direction from the same place in the evening:

I discovered ski clothing was available to hire but at 60,000 Won for a jacket and trousers for three days, I was very glad I had bought a pair of Salopettes from a street vendor for 10,000 Won before getting there. Helmet hire is also available for 3,000 won per day.

There are other facilities at the resort including a very good swimming pool and sauna that I took advantage of and a Karaoke bar which provided us with great entertainment. The bar was deserted, but the barman led us to a private room where we stayed for several hours with a couple of drinks, belting out some old favourites. We enjoyed it so much we went back a second night.

The bus trip back was more straightforward than the outward journey, though the final stop by the roadside, with no subway or bus stops nearby, was slightly weird. Someone told us it was supposed to be going to Sadang, but when the bus driver indicated, in no uncertain terms, that we would be disembarking , we were nowhere near Sadang. Luckily it was not a long taxi ride back to Yeouido.

The region PyeongChang, has just put in a bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics and if they win you will no doubt be hearing a great deal more about this area. Fingers crossed for decision day on July 4th this year when the International Olympic Committee chooses between Korea, Salzburg in Austria and Sochi in Russia.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Years Day at YongPyong

The Bat and I celebrated New Year's Eve with a seven course meal with the Crowards. We greeted the New Year in on the top of our apartment building singing Auld Lang Syne! If there were any large scale fireworks in Seoul, sadly we could not see them, but we enjoyed the few small ones let off by enthusiastic locals.

Getting up for 7AM this morning was tough, but I made it. We met the travel agent rep at the appointed location, the metro station Euljiro-1 in Downtown Seoul. For reasons unknown this was not the actual start point for the coach to the resort, but a short walk away. We settled ourselves in the comfortable large coach, the five of us were almost the only passengers. There was a short stop at Jamsil where we paid for the bus 26,000 Won per adult return. For reasons unknown, this was taken out of the package on the day and we had to pay in cash. We reached the YongPyong resort at 11:30 after two and a half hours on the traffic free expressways, at least they were in our direction. In the opposite direction, traffic was very heavy and came to a standstill at several places. Later, after I spoke with The Bat, I realised this was due the huge number of Koreans who had been on the East coast at Ganjeolgot watching the sunrise on New Years day and welcoming in the Year of the Golden Pig.

Checking in, and also finding only four sets of bedding in our Korean style room in the Tower Condo, involved some complications, but these were soon amicably sorted out. Keen to get out on the slopes we examined the price list for the ski lifts and equipment hire. Mercifully there was English, but this masterpiece of complexity was not available on leaflets to take away! Eager to take full advantage of the slopes, they opted for the Evening session since the afternoon session had already begun.

After a wicked snowball fight, we spent the afternoon playing the board game "Life" which is new to me. Sadly, getting a degree and being an athlete, did not bring me the riches I so rightly deserved, but at least I was not last!

We had Bibimbap for supper and the Crowards purchased lift passes and rented their skis. I waved them off into the floodlight snowy slopes and returned to a hot chocolate and the internet Cafe! I look forward to their breathless return with tales of excitement. If you are have Windows and are happy to install an active X component you can checkout the webcam at the resort. I will be joining them on the slopes soon enough tomorrow morning after a hearty breakfast. Photos to follow next week, since I cannot upload photos at the internet cafe here.

I'd like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year and I wish you all the best for 2007!