Year: 2014

There’s a hagwon for that, you know

Featured image: Gangnam Daesung, one of the most “prestigious” hagwons in South Korea. Yes, there are hagwons for passing the bar. Korea is the land of hagwons and private tutoring. If you want to learn something, or more specifically, if you want to pass some exam, you name it, we have it. The following few paragraphs are a reconstruction of the “upper-middle class” Korean mom and daughter as they progress through hagwons – much of this from experience I have teaching at hagwons, as well as supplementary stories from my friends as both students and teachers, and to a large extent, by observing my aunt, who is one of those mums. * * * * * * * * * * It all starts in primary school: Ballet & Piano, then English & Maths. You want your kid to get a sense of art, so you send her off to piano lessons. Then, you hear about all those moms sending kids to English lessons and Maths lessons. You get anxious, because they teach stuff public schools …

Korea University in Photos

Today I visited the university I did my Bachelor’s at  to meet some friends, and took advantage of the beautiful weather to take some photos. There are so many international students on campus in fall, about 1400 this year, which is a lot considering only about 2000 new students are admitted every year. When I got to campus, a welcoming party was en route and a cheering session was planned for the evening. Media Hall, constructed 2013. View from Samsung Centennial Digital Library (Yes, it really is called that) Graduate school library, home to many frustrated doctorate candidates and postdocs who smoke outside the building looking glum. Close-up of one of the towers at graduate school library Basketball court – man pointing his finger is the traffic officer. Students eating Chinese delivery in front of the Main Hall, a designated historical site and administrative building. A group of students were gathering by the staircase for a group photo Posters promoting university societies, clubs, and graduate recruiting events Some of the posters read: “Calling all investors”, “Doosan …

Photography is the new Ikebana

Canon Academy, Apgujeong-dong August 2014 As a part of my project to entertain readers with photos, I’ve started taking photography lessons at Canon Academy. That day we were getting into Al Servo. Koreans really like to get all the right gear before they start anything. The ladies in my class were holding Mark II’s, III’s, 6Ds, all with massive lenses that look like they could be paparazzi photographers. Or maybe it’s because it’s Apgujeong-dong.

A Samsung repairman and a Professor of Economics. On labour.

“There is no service in Europe or Canada. Every time I get customers who’ve lived abroad they are amazed that people will come to their house to fix the hardware, re-install their OS, even help the elderly retrieve their e-mail passcodes. Who does that? We do, because if we didn’t help the old man retrieve his passcodes he has the option to poorly grade my service on the survey that is automatically sent to him after I complete my visit” (A Samsung serviceman on his visit to clean my laptop’s internal fan, August 21st, 2014) “Korea cannot deal with all those labour unions screaming for higher minimum wages. We cannot compete with other Asian producers with higher wages. We would lose to China, Vietnam, Indonesia” (Professor of Economics at Korea University, sometime in Fall 2013)

How A Head Monk Lives

  Gumgang Sunim from Mihwangsa Temple is an uomo universale. He is head monk, tea ceremony master, writer, calligrapher, and historian. My mother first met him when he came to India to give a demonstration of dayeh, Korean tea ceremony. He had been invited by a Japanese artist and tea ceremony performer. So this week, as my mom is in the country, we drove together with a family friend to Mihwangsa, located at the Southernmost tip of the Korean peninsula (this article was scheduled for June 13th, but somehow got backtracked). Mihwangsa Daewoongjeon (Main Hall) with Dharma Mountains at the back Living quarters for templestay guests Gumgang Sunim is head monk at Mihwangsa. This means that he oversees the temple’s daily schedule, runs rituals and celebrations, receives guests, consoles grieving parents, and, I’m guessing, also takes care of the finances. In addition to all this, he of course has to keep studying Buddhist texts and analysing them, I suppose.

Patriarchy? Do You Mean, “Respect”?

Lee, Sunja’s house#1-Ancestral rites, Lee Sun-Mi, 2004 My grandmother is by all rights a very progressive lady. All her four children married through love . She’s been to Paris, LA, Norway, the Philippines, and even to Russia. One of her granddaughters is going to marry a Japanese man, and she’s okay with that. She told all her daughters and all her granddaughters “Women need to get jobs now. Otherwise nobody will respect you” instead of “Be a good wife”. But it’s when she says the following things that I realise the power of patriarchy drilled into all of us born and raised in Korea: – “He (my male cousin) wants to learn to make kimchi? Why? He has no need for that” – “She (some random neighbour’s daughter) is getting married for the second time, so you know, she’s not very clean, but she is a lovely person” – “You (me) are like a man! Fixing electricity and the plugs around the house…just like your mother!” My male cousin has been wanting to learn how to …

[Film] Uigwe, The 8-Day Festival (KBS, 2013)

Original title: 의궤, 8일간의 축제 Release date: April 17th, 2014 (Korea, 3D) Jeongjo, the 22nd monarch of the Joseon dynasty, is one of the most revered Korean rulers of all time. Politically, he successfully managed to balance factionalism between the many parties. Diplomatically, he opened up to Western powers for their technology while repressing Christianity  (the Joseon Sillok records that Jeongjo wore glasses in his forties due to his deteriorating eyesight). Socially, he paved the way for equality: Seo-eol, sons of concubines, were recruited in key government positions; efforts were made to abolish the slavery system. Culturally, advances were made in the printing press & The Suwon Fortress was built using modern technologies such as pulleys. In 1762, Jeongjo’s father, then crown prince Sado, was sentenced to death. His mental illnesses escalated in killing and raping sprees. Yeongjo, Sado’s father, eventually sentenced he be locked up in a wooden box without any food or drink. He died after 8 days. Although Jeongjo did not avenge political figures who supported his father’s death (and who subsequently argued that Jeongjo had no right to …