Friday, June 29, 2007

Expats in Asia: Want to star in a TV show?

Unlike Joe Mondello over at Paintroller blog, who has become an "extremely minor internet celebrity" thanks to his video resume (in Korean) and is turning down TV interviews, I don't get many invitations to go on TV. So when this email arrived out of the blue I was intrigued:

From: Chandramohan Nag
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2007 15:48:35 +0800
To: Jon Allen


My name is Nag , a television producer working from Singapore, i just happen to see your blog , . I'm currently working on an 8-part television series called Global expats for a local television channel. It aims to examine and track the lives and livelihood of expatriates who choose to work, live and play in Asia. I would like to feature you in our series. We would like you to share your Expat experience what kind of a cultural shock you had? How did you cope? What are the things you like about the new place? How is different is life away from home etc. what's the culture shock you had first moved in? What efforts you take to adapt to the culture? (For example learning language, music, art etc? how you socialize with local people etc.

If you are interested pls. drop me line : cm_nag [at]

We will take it from there.


So I exchanged a couple of emails with him but after I told him my age, and gave him a few details about our interests, poor Korean language skills, minimal social life and how we only have a small number of Korean and expat friends, he seemed to lose interest!

But maybe, if you're younger, sexier, speak a bit of Korean and have lots of Korean and expat friends you might be more what he is looking for. He did not give me any more details, so drop him a line if you are keen and please do let me know how you get on. Did any other bloggers get his email?

This forum also has a few 'media requests' for British expats if you have a burning desire to get more attention.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Korean Blogs that have lasted the year

Today marks the first anniversary of this blog. Yes, one year ago I tentatively began this blog about our impending trip to Seoul. 150 posts later I'm still blogging and still bringing a small but loyal band of readers a mixture of news, events, photos and items of interest on my life in Seoul.

To celebrate this anniversary I decided to take a visit to The Korean Blog List to see how many other bloggers that added their blog to the list around the same time as I did are still blogging.

Feet Man Seoul Continues to grow his blog with daily posts on Korean fashion tips and stars and has expanded with Korean language posts as well.

Art Life and Everything Penelope stopped posting in December 2006.

Azikiwe Chandler Azikiwe is still blogging and writing a book.

Lazy Saturday Suegene is still busy blogging about knitting from New England.

Just Wandering Jackie is still blogging and has decided to stay another year in Korea. She's just got a new job at a University.

A Year In Korea Not sure what he's called, but he lasted the year and he is about to leave Korea very soon.

Deeper Shade Of Seoul Jes is still here blogging about her life.

Dae Han Min Decline Jon is busy DJing and has pictures of people vomiting and other happier scenes from punk rock concerts on his blog.

I Dream Therefore I Am Jimong has moved his blog to wordpress and continues to blog about Korean items of interest from Vancouver.

A Canadian In Korea Eric has posted a few updates and is back in Canada soon.

A Welshman With Seoul :P Now defunct.

DeiHanMinGuk Discoveries Goulash updates his blog on an occasional basis.

Living On The Flipside Amy provides very detailed updates on her life almost every day.

Flora In Seoul Flora's stopped in April, and has started facebooking. (Is that a verb yet?)

Show Dae Jang Geum On BBC Alice in London started a blog about her quest to get the BBC to air the Korean drama 'Dae Jang Geum' in the UK. Her latest post in May indicates that the BBC would love to share it with the British viewers, but sadly there just isn't enough time in the day to show it.

Seoul Searching This one disappeared.

Seoul Brotha Adrian was on my blogroll until last month when I noticed he stopped posting in December last year.

Simply Korean This one has disappeared too.

Hidden Confessions Jon stopped posting in Sep 2006.

Beloved Babbling Beloved is back in the US and still babbling occasionally.

Noraebang He hasn't posted since April

Peace Of Rice: 1/150,000 KADs Soon Young is still blogging frequently.

Almost Urban -Canadian Student Henry has been blogging steadily during the year. His postings on his trip to Mt Kumgang in North Korea are excellent.

The Daily Kimchi The indefatigable Gdog has continued to blog a post every day since he began his teaching job last year. His blog also provides the largest number of referrals to this blog for which I am always grateful.

So, out of the 24 blogs started only 8 have stopped blogging. That is quite a good record I would say. Congratulations to all those that have lasted a year. Here's to another year of blogging, and to the 36 blogs that have been added to the Blog List since my last roundup in April can you last the year?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

IFC Seoul Construction site in Yeouido

Back in November last year I mentioned the start of construction of the International Finance Centre Seoul. [Their website has to be the least informative site I have ever visited.]
Days after that photograph of the trees was taken, the hoardings went up and work began in earnest. As you can see from this shot the hoardings are a work of art in themselves. These drilling machines have a certain 'transformers' look about them.

IFC Seoul construction site, with hoardings and drilling machines
This was the view yesterday from the Shinhan bank office overlooking the site. The LG Twin towers are opposite.

View of IFC Seoul construction site from Shinhan buildingAnd this is the view from the other direction looking towards the Shinhan building, peeking through an open door on to the site.

View of IFC Seoul construction siteAs you can see they are going deep with the underground levels. There is a continuous stream of heavy trucks removing the earth. Here you can see the drilling machines at work.
View of IFC Seoul construction site
Across the road is Parc1. The ground breaking ceremony was on the 5th June 2007 and the hoardings went up around the whole site very quickly, but there is not much else to see at the moment.

The Parc1 site was the last undeveloped lot on Yeouido, with the possible exception of a small plot near Building 63. However there's a two story KBS building, with a large area being used a car park, right beside the site of the subway station currently under construction on line 9. I think this is a prime target for redevelopment. The next most likely place is a block directly opposite the National Assembly building occupied by some elderly and shabby low rise blocks, used again by KBS. I can already sense the wrecking crews moving in.

Longer term, I spotted an announcement that MBC, a large broadcasting company, are planning to move their headquarters out of Yeouido across the Han river to the Digital Media City currently under construction not far from the World cup stadium in 2011. This will no doubt be followed by the swift redevelopment of the sizeable plot they currently occupy. So the rumble of construction trucks will continue around Yeouido for many years to come, as I think it will do around the rest of the country.

Here's a google-earth snapshot with the sites marked.
Google Earth Image of Yeouido with buildings discussed marked on

Monday, June 25, 2007

Itaewon Restaurant Discount card

This looks like it could be useful if you live in Seoul and eat out or go shopping in Itaewon. American Bill Swisshelm has launched a discount card called Eat-A-One. Members can get a discount of up to 10% at around 30 restaurants, shops and even dance studios in the neighbourhood.

Gold member merchants such as Chakraa, Italonia, La Casa Loca, Pharoah's restaurant, Toque Diner, Namaste restaurant and Saigon Grill offer a 10 percent discount. Silver member merchants, such as Santorini, Smokey Saloon, Flying Pan and Taco Amigo, offer either a discount or a benefit such as a free drink. Discounts only apply to the cardholder and a guest.

There are also discounts at other Itaewon shops such as at the dance studio You Can Dance, Well-Being Shop and the English bookstore What The Book.

A one year membership at Eat-A-One costs only 25,000 won, Bill reckons you could save between 300,000 to 500,000 won a year depending on how often you use the card.

For more details check out his website Story from Korea Times, H/T SeoulSteves.

Update: The card also gives a 20% discount off tickets for the show Nanta. Two tickets will almost save you the cost of the card straight away.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Comedy in Seoul tomorrow

Sorry for the short notice, but I only just read my Seoul Selection newsletter last night.

Tomorrow night, for one night only, Perry Kutz and Kurt Green are doing a comedy show in Itaewon at the B1 Lounge.

These two professional comedians from the United States, have been brought over to Korea for a one night only show in Itaewon. I've not heard of them before, but it's the first comedy I've seen advertised since I've been here. I emailed BH Promotions yesterday and got two tickets, so I guess they have not sold out yet. Let me know if anyone else is planning on going.

Venue: the B1 Lounge, Itaewon, line 6, exit 1. Go out exit 1, turn right at KFC, walk up about 20 meters. The B1 Lounge is on your left.

Date : June 24 2007

Time: Doors open at 5pm. Show starts at 6pm. General seating.

Tickets: 35,000 won, includes one free drink. Tickets are on sale in advance at the venue (open everyday 7pm until late).

Reservations: by email only at thebhpcompany @

Space is limited, please reserve/buy advance tickets early.

For more information, call Kirstie at 016-695-4624.

[All details from Seoul Times]

Friday, June 22, 2007

The best bread in Seoul

Daeguowl's observation about the difficulty in obtaining decent bread, now that he has arrived in Korea, reminded me that I have not mentioned the best 'Backerei Konditorei' that we found in Seoul. If you are tired of the wonderloaf, crustless pap that you get in your local Paris Baguette, Tous les Jours or Crown Bakery, then head over to Richemont in Hongik

Richemont bakery. View of the outside , Hongik University.

It's a couple of minutes walk from Hongik University subway station on line 2. Take exit 6 from the station, continue walking along the main road and turn left at the traffic lights on to the road leading up to the university entrance. The bakery is just there on the corner on your left. It's open until 10pm. It's marked on HongdaeHongdae's flickr map.

The bread is a bit more expensive that that of the chain bakeries but it's well worth it. They do a very good sour dough bread.
Richemont bakery, bread selection
The cakes are good too.
Richemont bakery, cake selection
The pastries are difficult to resist
Richemont bakery, savouries selection
But don't get caught out by these savoury doughnuts on the bottom right in this picture. I bought one expecting a sweet sugary jam filling and was surprised by a curry flavour filling of vegetables.
Richemont bakery, pastries selection

If that's too far to travel then the Paris Croissant chain is an acceptable susbstitute. There are branches around the city, there's one at the Gwanghwamun end of the Cheonggyecheong opposite the huge snail-like sculpture.

SaraDevil found a good place for bagels in Daegu, and Queen for a year found the Strohrer bakery in Ulsan, but alas, she didn't let on where exactly.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What sort of English are they teaching the Koreans?

The JoongAng Daily newspaper produces a weekly supplement titled 'Think English'. It has a number of different sections including translations of recent news items and general English comprehension tests with Korean translations. (They should maybe rename it 'See English, Read Korean' but I guess it doesn't have quite the same ring to it).

There is a section titled 'Real Vocabulary', contributed by Kenny Kim, which consists of six sentences with multiple choice options to fill in the blanks for the missing words. Each week I look at it and spot at least one grammatical error or nonsensical sentence. Two weeks ago he set a record with five out of six sentences having at least one problem. My copy of the newspaper has now been recycled and sadly they do not seem to archive that section of the paper on the web, so I cannot share with you his mistakes.
Last Saturday's issue was a welcome change when I could not find any mistakes in that section. Well done Kenny, keep it up, I'll be checking back next week.

What did catch my eye though, was on the next page in the 'Fun Fun' section: [Readers who are offended by four letter words should NOT click to enlarge on this scan below]

scanned section of JoongAng daily Think English
Well I certainly wasn't expecting that type of language in a family newspaper. Can anyone translate the article please? I am fascinated to know what advice they are giving.

Perhaps the Think English staff have been to Itaewon, The westerner's ghetto area in Seoul, seen the name of this shop, and thought it a perfectly acceptable word to discuss?

Or maybe they've been watching the TV show Six Feet Under where the characters swear in almost every other sentence.

Meanwhile the Korea Times 'The Learning Times' supplement recently translated a dialogue from the movie The Devil wears Prada, underneath the headline 'Good Will Hunting'. I wonder if anyone noticed?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Trip to Taipei, Taiwan

The recent pause in posts has been due to a short break we've taken in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan.

The two and a half hour flight from Incheon with Asiana Airlines was a bargain 270,000 won each.

Our accommodation during the holiday was the remarkable Grand Hotel.

View of the Grand Hotel

It may look very grand from the outside, but inside the rooms and facilities are of a regular three star hotel, still, the foyer was quite impressive.

Our first stop was the world famous National Palace Museum. We took advantage of the free guided tour in English at 10am. The well-spoken and enthusiastic lady lead us around the highlights of the museum's many precious artefacts including Chinese porcelain, ivory and jade. The museum has recently been renovated and all the rooms are well lit and all the objects had detailed English descriptions. The audio guide we used when going around for a second time, was also of a high quality and gave useful and interesting information. This is a view of the second building, currently housing an exhibition from the British Museum.

The title of "world's tallest building" is currently held by Taipei 101. This impressive skyscraper stands out on the city skyline and a trip to the observation deck was next on our itinerary. The elevators to the 89th floor take less than 38 seconds and reach a world record speed of over 63km/h (37 mph).
View of Taipei 101 skyscraper from outside on the streetThe weather was not particularly good, but the views over the city were still spectacular.
View of Taipei from Taipei 101 skyscraper observation deckThe clouds over the jungle covered hills were beautiful. The skyscraper also claims to have the world's largest 'mass damper' and they are proud to display the 660 metric tonne sphere in it's enclosure in the centre of the observation deck.

One of the most impressive squares in Taipei is the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall Plaza. This building is the National Theatre:

On the opposite side of the square is a similar building, the National Concert Hall, and between the two is the huge white marble building that is National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall:
National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall( Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall)

We took a trip to the National History Museum and were delighted to discover an exhibition of the terracotta army of the Xian Dynasty. We were remarkably lucky to get in without queueing. After seeing the exhibits we came out to find hundreds of people queueing around the block to get in! The botanical gardens form the grounds of the museum and provided a welcome bit of greenery to enjoy.

Taiwan is well known for its green tea and we were keen to go to Pinglin to see 'The world's largest tea museum'. We followed the detailed instructions in our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook and took the MRT, Taipei's very modern and efficient subway system, to the southernmost station Xindian. From there we took a bus for a 45 minute ride further south to the small town of Pinglin and found the museum. There was a reasonable amount of English on the display boards and several rooms of exhibits that were interesting and you get to taste some tea in the gift shop. The museum is not huge, but we felt it was worth the trip.

The Tea museum at Pinglin , Taipei, Taiwan
During a walk along the river bank I spotted this hairy little creature:

a black catterpilla with long white hairs with water drops on a metal fence
In the evening we visited Longshan Temple, The photos on the wikipedia page do not do it justice: The intricate carvings and decoration are impressive, the lights dazzling, the smoke from the incense intense and there's a waterfall outside too!

We took a trip to Beitou on the northern edge of the city, at the end of the red line on the MRT, to get closer to the national park. We followed a road winding up the end of the valley through the dense vegetation and discovered this small temple which had great views of Taipei.

temple at the end of the valley in Beitou Taipei,Taiwan

After coming back down into the valley it was time to sample the hotsprings for which the town is famous. We chose a relaxing hot bath in the Sweetme Hotspring resort hotel. [No Dr Fish this time!]

On our last day we just had time to visit the Fine Arts Museum of Taipei at the bottom of the hill from our hotel. There were four exhibitions on: The "Still Life" show of Taiwanese artists was very interesting; There was Taiwanese Photography on display in another room; A sample of ten contemporary Italian artists in another room, and last but by no means least A Retrospective of Su Hsin-Tien’s Cyclical Space Paintings whose style was sometimes very similar to a drawing of MC Esher, one of my favorite artists.
One memorable aspect of the visit was the large number of school children that were being taken round in groups. They obediently sat and listened attentively to museum staff explaining the pictures in front of them.

It was then back on the rickety public bus that goes out to the Taipei's international airport for our trip back to Incheon airport and home to Yeouido.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Construction on the AREX railway

Phase 1 of the AREX airport link between Gimpo and Incheon airports opened in March. Phase 2, which takes the line from Gimpo into Seoul Station, has been under construction for sometime now and I have been photographing what I can of the sites where work is occurring.

At Gimpo airport the line is deep in tunnel, it heads north east and rises to the surface to cross the Han river on a new bridge.

On the north bank of the river the next section of the bridge is being built, ready to be moved into position.

The line curves to the east and descends into tunnel to go below Susaek bridge. The line is being built in a cut and cover tunnel running parallel to mainline railway to Susaek station. From Susaek to Gajwa railway station there is a short section being constructed using the "Tubular Roof and Trench Tunnelling method" it proclaims on a banner at the site entrance. At Gajwa I sneaked into the work site and got this photo of the 50m deep excavation. You can just see the guard on the far left coming over to order me off the site.

However it seems they had miscalculated something and the retaining wall on the right hand side of the photo collapsed suddenly on Sunday afternoon :

View of collapsed retaining wall with railway lines hanging in midair at building site
[Photo courtesy of the Korea Times newspaper.] Thankfully no one was injured. The construction site worked evacuated the site at 4:30 when they realised the wall was not going to hold, but no one thought to inform the railway that they may want to stop trains until 5:00pm. The last train crossed the tracks just two minutes before the collapse. The chosun has some choice words to say about this!

I visited the site yesterday and there was a continuous stream of trucks delivering material to fill the hole to be able to reinstate the railway lines as quickly as possible. It was a local attraction with at least twenty men watching the proceedings. I hope this setback does not delay the opening date of 2010.

From Gajwa there is another short section not in cut and cover before the open trench reappears. The trench follows the line of the previously existing Yongsan railway line traces of which can still be found at a couple of the roads that cross the work sites. At Hongik University there is more major excavation for the new station which will connect with Subway line 2. The trench continues to Gongdeok where there will be another station. The line then continues in bored tunnel under the hill to come out on the west side of Seoul Station.

Update : Matt has more photos.

Monday, June 04, 2007

SamcheongGak: Seoul's secret sanctuary

If someone had told me last week that there exists a place, only ten minutes drive from Downtown Seoul, that is green and peaceful, with views of undisturbed forest and not a tower block in sight, I would not have believed them.

But, thanks to a Korean friend who took us there, we have discovered such a place. SamcheongGak. This is the view from the terrace looking towards the city fortress walls, beyond the hill is the presidential residence the 'Blue House'

Samcheonggak view from the terrace towards the city walls

In 1972 the Red Cross built it in the pine forest behind Bukak mountain as a venue to hold a historic meeting between North and South Korea. The buildings were reserved for use by high ranking government officials until 2000 when the Seoul Metropolitan Government bought the site and opened it to the public as a venue for traditional Korean cultural performances in 2001.

This small valley holds a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city that anyone can visit. There are six traditional buildings, the largest, Ilhwa-dang, contains a restaurant, tea house and the performance hall. This building is used for classes in tradition arts such as the tea ceremony and pottery.

SamcheongGak view of one of the smaller buildings on the site

You can stay overnight in two of the other buildings.

If you'd like to take a trip up to the gate in the fortress walls you'll need to book up at least a week in advance to join one three daily visits to Bukak mountain.

There is no public transport to SamcheongGak, but there is a free shuttle bus service from Gwanghwamun Station (line 5) Exit 3. Buses run daily from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Timetable.