I Live In Korea

My name is Ben Gwynne. I USED to teach English in Incheon, South Korea. Here's some photos, stories, videos, etc.

Dec 22, 2009

Merry Christmas

Spending the next few days with my family then I'm going on vacation, won't be back till early January. When I am, I'll be posting up a storm for sure. Got a lot to write about.

So I'm heaving back to Vietnam, and will revisit the beautiful city that is Nha Trang where I'll be spending time on the beach, taking a cooking class, going down the Mekong Delta, eating copious amounts of dragon fruit and feeding monkeys. Loving life right now.

Again, Merry Christmas.

The following are journal entries from my kids that I have to read. When you combine the curiosity of the youth and translating those thoughts into another language you get great results...In no way, shape, or form am I making fun of the kids English, I sure as hell didn’t know any foreign languages when I was 11 or 12 years old, I’m simply pointing out funny things I’ve read from them that's all. The following are all direct quotes...

On Christmas

“Christmas is a big holibay!!!! Santa is coming and we gives us gifts!!!! We eat a delicious food and fun play. I like white Christmas, it’s romantic! Cold and windy, but mind is warm day.” “Christmas is very fun because don’t go school and Santa gives presents. Hum, I like Santa…Santa is old, but he never dies. He looks like a phoenix. He can fly and do magic. Wow, he is very good!”

“Christmas is born Jesus day. I like Christmas because Christmas is so happy and wonderful.
Many people go traveling Christmas but I don’t go traveling because I have to go to church. Sometimes church is very annoyed. I heard that kiddo.

“Christmas is good to every body because many pepole give presnts for us. But some people are not happy so they don’t give us presents. Many children believe brought to Santa, but Santa didn’t give to children, LOL, your parents give.”

“I hate Christmas! I don’t want Christmas! I don’t have boyfriend!!! In case I have a boyfriend I wait Christmas. Me make a boyfriend for Christmas please Santa. Who banter?!?!?!? I so hate Christmas!!!”

“I want to girlfriend. I want to with a girlfriend for Christmas present but I don’t like girl people or I don’t popular. I want to be very handsome. I always lonely on Christmas so I want to with girlfriend on Christmas.”
This is an incredibly sad post. I gave the kid dating advice and boosted his confidence in my feedback in his journal. I also told the Korean teacher to set him up with the girl above.

On The Afterlife…

“A lot of people talk the ‘world after death’ and I speak and think talk the world after death too. People speaks and think the most is heaven and a hell. I believe god and his disciple but I don’t believe heaven and a hell. I think existence of the world just death people’s world and then death peoples are living same the non world. My think is continued, I don’t think ‘the world after death.’”

“When I am weary of having nothing to do I often think about the world after death. The world after death is the same as sleep. After death we can’t see, think, hear, feel and talk. But after sleep we can get up on the contrary after death we can’t get up. Sometimes I think after death we can come into being again. But people can’t remember the before life. If I am born again I want live happy life like now. Everyone don’t know the world after death, only after death we can know.”

WOAH, broken English or not, that was DEEEEEEEEEEEEP

“I believe the world after death. I believe in the kingdom of heaven and hell because I believe Jesus and God. I hope go Heaven. If I go the world after death I hope I meet Jesus and God. Heaven is not need money and work, that’s automatic action makes the feed, money, clothes, tv and games. I hope go heaven and meet my father and mother and sister live in very fun.”

“I believe the world after death and I think exist the kingdom of Heaven. The kingdom of Heaven is peace, there is go to the kind people but bad people not come in the kingdom of Heaven bad people go in Hades. Hades is scared. I don’t want there and I believe an angel. An angel is beautiful but I don’t believe a devil. A devil is very scared. Do you like the kingdom of Heaven? Where do you want to go?”

“The world after death is difficult for me. It’s very difficult and important but I think it’s nothing because maybe I will die some day. Maybe. Where will I live? Heaven? Hell? I think I live in heaven. Hell isn’t for me. Heaven has angels, hell has devils, but I think I will not die because today science technology development miraculous. Then I will not die. Ben teacher how do your think about the world after death?”

Volume I

Kimchi is pickled cabbage covered with hot pepper sauce and it is the most popular dish in Korea. Health Magazine named it one of the 5 healthiest foods in the world, and also claim that the average Korean eats 40 pounds a year of it. How is it possible to eat 40 pounds of cabbage a year? Well, you eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner. Mmmm.

Kimchi is high in fiber, low in fat, and packed with vitamins that kill bacteria. Koreans are very prideful about the health impacts of kimchi, which causes them to make up outrageous claims like kimchi will prevent people from getting the Bird Flu. I'm not kidding. When Bird Flu was 'in', you know, before Swing Flu, people here thought kimchi would cure and/or prevent people from getting the flu. Sales of kimchi skyrocketed during that period, and an air condition manufacturer even made an air conditioner, "equipped with a filter made out of kimchi that destroys the killer bird flu virus." True story!

I may have gotten ahead of myself, some people might not know what 'pickling' entails…

Pickling is a method of preserving food, it is done so by keeping a food item in vinegar, or covering it with salt. This prevents the food from going bad for a very, very long time. Sounds gross right? Do you like pickles? Well, they are not a vegetable, they are 'pickled' cucumbers. Moving on...

There's nearly 200 types of kimchi, but the basic ingredients are cabbage, salt and hot pepper sauce. You can also make it with onions, spices, etc. Kimchi may sound gross to you, and a lot of people I know who are not from Korea that like eating ethnic food don't even dig kimchi, but I have no problem with it and eat it everyday (only at lunch or dinner, never breakfast). It's part of the culture here so I feel like it's something everyone should at least be willing to try on occasion.

Kimchi has been around for nearly 3,000 years, so it’s a strong element of their culture. People even say "kimchi" when taking a picture, not "cheese." Most importantly, the process of making kimchi is an annual event in which the entire family participates in making kimchi before the winter comes and a lot of the cabbage crops go bad. This happens around early November. One weekend I asked my students what they were up to, and they all replied "making kimchi with my family," so I felt like it was a pretty big deal. I get the perception that you're not a true Korean if you buy your kimchi pre-made. I guess it would be like an Italian in Italy buying Ragu? Or a redneck buying KFC and not slow-roasting a hog for 20 hours on 200 degrees? Just kidding rednecks!

So, when one of my friends at the gym I go to told me he was making kimchi with his family, I asked him to take pictures so I could share with people on my blog. Here is a step by step guide with pictures on how to make kimchi...

Step One: Buy A Ridiculous Amount Of Cabbage (50 heads for this family)

Step Two: Peal Off Some Of The Outer Leaves
(which I guess aren’t as fresh and capable of being preserved)

Step Three: Chop It Into Smaller Pieces
Step Four: Throw Them In Buckets And Cover With
Salt (lots)
, And Let Sit (usually overnight) Step Five: Assemble Together All Other Vegetables You Will Use Step Six: Chop Those Up Step

Seven: Mix All Those Chopped Vegetables Together

Step Eight: Rinse Off Cabbage In Buckets Of Water

Step Nine: Mix Vegetables And Red Pepper Sauce
Together, Apply Layers Of It To Each Cabbage Leaf

Step Ten: Preserve Kimchi In Stone Jars

There you go. You now have enough kimchi to last your family to the spring. This is more than a full day affair if you let the cabbage pickle in the salt overnight. It involves a lot of sitting Indian style, and most people come into school/work/gym on Monday after that weekend feeling a little soar. Me? I just eat it up. Here's the final product...

1 - take a 12 year old student
2 - have them copy and paste information about their country from the internet
3 - have the student edit the document on their own in Korean
4 - copy and paste that to a free translation website
5 - shorten the entry on your own and write it in your diary even though you are unsure what the translation says
6 - submit as your own work

* Be sure to not leave the actual print out of the document you copied from the internet inside your diary for your teacher to see. He could bring attention to it down the road.

That's what one of my students did. She's pretty smart too, one of the better ones in her class, but she got caught red handed on this one by leaving the evidence there for me to see. What a rookie mistake. I hope all the free translations we used in high school weren't this bad.......

"How Do You do I 000 and introduce Korea

Speech it will give the traditional culture of Korea first.

Traditionally culture of Korea shedding of blood, intangibility, being become known well from the place shedding of blood culture property which B comes to cause to defecate a lot at human being culture property in the stone cave cancer the shoes at the time of the light virtue king it was designed with the world-wide cultural heritage to come to come and Korean characteristics it is proud, it did.

The intangibale cultural assest has the traditional musical instruments of Korea and plays the Korean traditional percussion quarter which with representative it holds.

And the person who posses the intangible cultural asset which is a human being culture property it is an end which reaches.

In afterwords Korea – against at week speech it will give.

The first cloth. The Korean clothes beautiful clothing 1 comfort it is pulled out, America of the bedspread curve which it does but saved and grade of tradition oh it is famous with one color.

Second food. “Korea” it will do and there is not a possibility which it will leave out and “there is a Kimchi.” The method which makes it pickles the Chinese cabbage in the salt and it bites and to draw out the different dressing materials it puts in it is mixed together and and and in the powdered red pepper and and.

Third house. In order for the tile-roofed house in order to come to match naturally, controls the curve of the flag and softly and entirely the sun not to be the branch naturally, it did the environment construction which hits.

It will finish the explanation against Korea at above. It listens to until now and it gives. from Thank You."


Not sure what school this took place in, and although it is pretty cool it seems like an incredible waste of time.

Dec 16, 2009

Funny Signs: Part 2

Love the hole in the kids head

I do really want to go to the KINEMA


I wish I knew this sign existed before I went in.
Not going back

??????? 2

I've never been. Say nope to dope kids.

Yes, Happy Walking


One of my favorites because it's not a joke or bad editing

Never heard of the WACKING dance style. Also LOL at
the mispelling of "klumping" since it's popular in Korea.
How do you spell your own word wrong?

I can't wait to REALEX this weekend
Spelling, it's on the bottles you bought lots of


Not funny, but I still like it.

Funny Signs Part I

Dec 14, 2009

Seoul Snow Jam

The Seoul Snow Jam was a Big Air Snowboard contest which is part of the Snowboard World Cup. Professional riders from all over the world travel around each year competing on the World Cup circuit, accumulating points in each competition until a winner is crowned at the end of the season. Having the event here is part of Korea's push to get the 2018 Winter Olympics.

This contest took place in the middle of Seoul at a place called Gwanghwamun. Imagine a massive snowboard jump being built around say, the Empire State Building, right in the middle of 34th street with loads of traffic going by on the side. It was pretty impressive. Here are some pictures, GIFs and a video at the end with a dozen or so short clips of the guys going. Really got me psyched to go skiing soon...


While sucking down a delicious smoothie at Smoothie King I took notice of a very interesting ad they were showing on their wall…
Although spitting in public is acceptable in Korea, spitting smoothies is not. I decided to take a picture of the sign and spent a few hours thinking about the picture and ask myself if the hidden message in this sign has been in front of my face for the last three months, but only when it was spelled out in front of my did I actually realize it. Then I faced the truth…

Asians want to be whiter

The desire to make your skin whiter is a growing phenomenon in Asia and without thinking much into it there’s two immediate explanations that will come to mind…

1. Symbolism - From a Western standpoint we might assume the desire to be white in Asia stems from the symbolism behind the color and it representing purity, innocence, light and serving as the contrast from darkness and evil. However, in many Asian cultures white is the symbol of death, so that’s not it.

2. “The grass is always greener” – There’s no denying a large number of white people wish to be…darker. Those who know me will attest I’m a big fan of Banana Boat SPF 4, and a strong advocate of switching sides at 11 in volleyball when the games is to 21 (just to make both sides get an even glow!). However, I have never gone to a tanning salon, used fake tan spray or wished I was darker. I simply enjoy being out in the sun as much as possible. Getting tanner for white people is a seasonal obsession in the summer or on vacation, getting whiter for Asians is a cultural obsession that persists throughout some of their lives (I want to stress some here so I don’t generalize about all Asians).

So what’s lying beneath the surface for the Asians who strive to be whiter? The implication of class.

See way back in the day in Asia, if you had darker skin it meant you were basically a peasant who spent your days tilling fields and harvesting rice while the wealthier folks lounged around and…did something else.

The method of altering your skin color is quite obvious…

- The natural method of getting tanner is quite simple: spend more time in the sun.
- The unnatural method of getting tanner is quite simple: buy products that will make you tanner.

- The natural method of getting whiter is quite simple: spend less time in the sun.
- The unnatural method of getting whiter is quite simple: buy products that will make you whiter.

I’m sure most people never heard of products that make your product whiter, but we all know Michael Jackson (r.i.p.) showed us it was possible to have the procedure done medically.

“So BG, do you go to the Korean CVS and pick up products to make your skin whiter?”

Well, not CVS, but yes they do sell whitening products over the counter here, though for some people those aren’t enough. A black market is also available where you can by whitening products which are too…good?…to be sold in a store. The problem is any chemical you apply to your skin to alter its color that is sold on the black market will and has caused a lot of horrible and irreversible results.

Though if you’re not willing to injure yourself from using black market whitening products that’s okay, feel free to peruse http://www.ASIANWHITESKIN.com. On their homepage you’ll see such links as “Whitening Pills,” “Injectables,” and “Skin Machines.” My first search on the internet was “asian white skin” and that website was the first site which popped up much to my dismay/delight. I was expecting to begin reading articles about the significance and history behind Asians trying to make their skin whiter, I didn’t expect to be given more ammunition.

While these products claim they are safe, even over the counter and legal lotions are problematic. One of the key ingredients in these lotions which helps skin whiten is mercury. Mercury is an extremely dangerous subject, and even with my little medical knowledge I know it is a toxic chemical that has lethal consequences if there is over exposure. I did some research about mercury laden skin whitening products and found a case where people were using a certain brand which had “between 9,000 and 65,000 times the recommended dose.” Then I felt the need to look up the real dangers of mercury and found that side effects are “impairment of peripheral vision, speech, hearing, and walking, muscle weakness, skin rashes, mood swings, memory loss, mental disturbances, lack of coordination of movements such as writing…”

In the Western world we lay in cancer beds, here they just apply some rub on lotion which could have immediate results, for “better” or much worse.

Examples of the picture I posted are all over signs and the TV here, and now I can easily see there is a preference in the media towards people with whiter skin. I kicked myself upon this revelation for not remembering I’ve witnessed this somewhere else…Bollywood. (Although this entry focuses on Eastern Asians, this stigma also carries over to India as well.) If anyone reading is familiar with Bollywood films/movies, you’ll notice that the Indians starring in those roles are always much lighter than the ones you see, know, or imagine in your head.

Being whiter was an association with class and royalty during ancient times in Asia. Although that is outdated, I'm sure the perception still resonates with some of the more old school families here. Now, being whiter gives people a "leg up" to fame. The singers are “whiter than average,” so are the models and the movie stars. The media is telling us this is what's beautiful, so it's now only natural that people will aspire to be that way at costs that are detrimental to our physical and mental wellness. Back then people aspired to be whiter because it made them feel like they were nobility, now we all want our moment in the sun, even if it’s just for a little while, to make us feel better about ourselves, and that's all we want isn't it? Shaking my head...

On that note, I just booked my plane ticket to Vietnam where I'll be spending a week catching rays under the sun. Isn't it ironic...

* Random fact regarding mercury. In the 1800s a certain type of hats were made by applying mercury to them. The chemical seeped into the peoples brains from their head just by wearing the hat, and caused damage to their central nervous system. People who wore these hats had mood swings and extreme behavioral changes, and they were described as being “mad as a hatter.Yes, that is the origin of the Mad Hatters name from Alice in Wonderland. Pretty cool…I guess.

Random stuff from Saturday...

Day started off seeing the Samsung Thunders (I didn't know you could throw an 's' at the end of thunder) against the Incheon Elephants (formerly known as the BLACKSLAMERS until this year...yeah, they spelled "slammers" wrong). First, I want to say we arrived at half time and there was nobody checking tickets so we didn't have to pay to go in which is pretty ridiculous. Next, there was no heat in the place and it was pretty chilly. Anyway, here's a clip of the game winning basket, the Elephants (my team) were down one point with not much time left on the clock, here's what went down.

Nice play!

Then we headed to some bar for drinks and to play darts. A fire show started randomly and check out what happened. This bar would be shut down in 2 seconds if this happened in America. Unbelievable.

Next we bounced around to a few more places and we noticed two clubs with the word "Harlem" in their title. I guess putting "Harlem" in the name of your club is instant credibility if you're trying to establish a hip hop theme.

Then we carried on until the wee hours of the morning as usual. Fun night.

1. For rated R movies you have to be 18 to see them, even if you are with your parents. Thank god for the internet.

2. Spitting in public is perfectly acceptable, even “hocking a loogie.” If I go a few hours walking around the city and don’t hear someone coughing up serious phlegm and spitting it right on the ground in front of him, it means there just haven’t been any people around.

3. You should never pour beer for yourself when you are in the company of others. You should let someone pour it for you.

4. You should never pour/receive beer from an elder by holding the cup/bottle with one hand. Two hands is a must or else it is a sign of disrespect.

5. ALL Koreans lie about their age. You turn 1 when you are born, and then 2 at the first day of the New Year. So, if you are born on December 25th, you are one years old, on January 1st, just a few days later, you are 2. Then you resume the normally scheduled birthday pattern, celebrating it on the 25th of December each year. So you are 2 years old before you are even 2 weeks old. Interesting.

6. When you go to a movie there’s assigned seating. This means you won’t walk into a crowded theater and spend time looking for seats and asking “is anyone sitting here?” This is great, I love it. Also at the movies, you are supposed to throw out your own trash. No leaving stuff behind for the theater staff.

7. You pay for garbage bags. Yes, you essentially pay to throw out your garbage. Sounds crazy, but think about how much less waste there would be in the world if everyone did this? I personally can say I consume a lot less trash now because of it.

8. It’s acceptable to bump into people if you are trying to get by. On the train, in school, on the Subway, in the supermarket, in the hallway, in the bathroom, anywhere. There would be a lot less people around if this happened in NYC.

9. Sticking your chopsticks into a bowl of rice and leaving them upright, is like the equivalent of pouring out liquor for someone who died. It should not be done.

10. No tipping. None. Never. To do so is almost a slap in the face and implies “I have money and am better than you.” I've been in a bar before and was due back $0.40 for my drink. I was more eager to go dominate my darts game than wait for my change so I left the bar area. Sure enough, the bartender came from behind the bar and chased me down to give me the change. Seriously, just keep the change.

Nov 30, 2009

Funny Signs: Part 1

Surprisingly they don't sell bras

My favorite so far I think

The former name of my city's basketball team. Now
they are just the "Elephants," guess they realized
it wasn't very poltically correct, or spelled correctly.

53% off sale? Really? 53%? The new one says
55%, maybe it was Black Friday?

A weird thing to be selling in a smoothie store


Pretty sure there's not finely sliced apples on it

Wow. This would DEFINITELY cause
controversy in the U.S. for the stereotype


Tanks crossing, must be under 43.2 tons

Kstablished? Leagub?
Very VERY Important People?


I have not been there on a Saturday.....Yet......

Nothing incorrect here, but I still laughed.