Seoul, continued

I was planning to write earlier, but the power was interrupted by construction. While my laptop battery gave me a few hours of functioning, the building’s LAN was completely out, making it impossible for me to actually post anything, so instead I just played Knights of the Old Republic for about an hour and a half.

I left off with Tuesday-being brought to Hanguk Foreign Studies University’s campus by Jongmin. It’s a fairly tiny campus, with less than a dozen buildings in total, although all are decent size. The building I’m staying in contains a dorm for foreign students, but the dorm only seems to actually occupy the top 5th floor of the building, with the ground floor actually departmental offices for something or other, and other floors being used for god knows what. Strangely, the only toilets in the building are on the 1st and 2nd floors, women’s and men’s respectively. I was told that the showers in the building are on the 4th floor, but as they are currently out of order this is rather a moot point.

The room is a fairly tiny double, but I am the only person here (perhaps vacant because of summer vacation?) so it’s quite big enough for a 5 day stay. There is a small with about 100 channels in a bewildering array of languages. Foreign Studies indeed. Of course there are the basic Korean channels, including the US Armed Services network, which broadcasts throughout the country. I also saw BBC World, CNN and a couple of other of the international news channels, including what I think was probably Al Jazheera. I can’t really confirm that, being unable to say anything except ‘hello’ in Arabic. Japanese and Chinese public television were both represented, along with several Arabic and Hindi channels, as well as a lot of others that I was not nearly bored enough to catalogue. Of course being Korea there is also excellent internet access in the room. All I had to do was plug in, no silly registration required, which is lucky because it might have been more than I could handle.

The lack of showers is probably related to the massive demolitions going on outside. It seems that the campus was up until recently surrounded by a rather thick wall, which is currently being destroyed bit by bit. From a diagram I saw by the front gate, the plan seems to be to replace it with an attractive and easily permeable light hedge, with a lot of small un-gated entrances around the perimeter, in an attempt to bring the campus more into the community. This plan seems to be working already, or perhaps it’s goal was achieved before it even started. When walking around the campus at night I am amazed to see the numbers of young children and families skating, playing sports or just hanging out. I assumed at first that the figures walking circled around the sports field would be a university team or club of some sort, but were in fact mostly women of what I would assume to be retirement age. I have absolutely never before in my life seen a university campus used as a community area by so many neighborhood people utterly unconnected with the school as this one.

The campus isn’t in what you would exactly call downtown, but it is an extremely active and energetic local neighborhood, and not just due to the influence of the school. HUFS is located only about a block away from a subway station conveniently named after it. This seems to be one of the primary lines, and it only takes 20 minutes or so to get to what really looks like the city center. There are of course dozens of restaurants, bars and things as well as little stands selling traditional Korean street food, some of which seem only to open after dark. If you go a bit farther away you get a proper street market, which is certainly more for for the sake of proper families than it is for the students. There are several convenience stores in the Japanese model, including the Japanese Family Mart chain. (In other parts of Seoul I also saw 7-11. I wonder if they belong to the US 7-11 corporation or the Japanese conglomorate that the US company sold off their Japanese branch to.) Across the street from the gate is a Dunkin Donuts where I actually had the first proper bagel I’ve ever seen in Asia. Of course it was nothing compared to the fresh New York bagels I’ll be eating in two or three days, but compared to the vaguely bread-flavored torus-shaped chunks of cardboard they sell once every third fortnite in select Japanese supermarkets it was incredible. Also an impressive number of Pizza joints. The first time I have ever seen pizza sold by the slice in Asia, a genuinely moving moment.

There are PC Rooms on every block, and sometimes even more than that. Restaurants are the only thing that outnumber them. Even though Seoul has the highest rate of installed DSL lines of any city in the world, PC rooms (PC Bang in Korean) are still extremely popular places to play net games, watch DVDs (downtown I also saw some specialty DVD viewing parlors. I stepped in for a moment and seriously wondered what percentage of patrons actually use the no-window-in-the-door private rooms to just watch a movie with their date.) or just generally hang out.

As for what I’ve actually been doing here: not so fascinating. Wednesday I went on a tour to the castle wall of Suwon City, where the capital was briefly and unsuccessfully moved about 200 years ago, and then the recreated Traditional Korean Folk Village. If you’ve ever been to one of those Colonial Villages in the US, it’s about the same idea. There was no English language tour running that day, but I joined a Japanese group and had no trouble at all. Getting to try traditional Korean archery by the old castle wall was kind of fun- I didn’t hit the target, but at least I overshot instead of falling short. Following that I went to the Yongsam electronics district, which with the focus on PC computer parts I actually find to be a somewhat more satisfying visit than the far more famous flashy, consumerized , and vastly overrated Akihabara in Tokyo.

Thursday I briefly met the president of the university in the morning, and then went over to Yonsei University with Yongmin to get some information on their language program. I talked to a couple of students there, a Korean-American girl and a couple of Japanese guys. Overall impression -good teachers, too many foreigners, building isolated in a bizarre location separated from the main campus by a bloody annoying hill.

Yesterday I was supposed to go on a tour to that blue gate in the DMZ, which is the only point where North and South Korean soldiers actually meet (legally), but the taxi driver took me to the wrong damn hotel. Following that I decided to take a long walk and had some minor misadventures not really interesting enough to share.

Today I woke up to find that construction required the power to be off until afternoon, but I survived. In the afternoon I went to meet Ejung, a high school friend of my girlfriend Hyunju, who studied at Duke for a year and is about to head back there to begin a PHD in Pathology.

Tomorrow I go home!

Right now, I go eat! Maybe later I’ll post a couple of pictures.


As I said the other day I’m currently staying in Seoul for a few days. I’ve been to Seoul once before, about a year and a half ago, but that was at a time when I knew almost nothing about Korea and hadn’t even yet gotten fully adjusted to life in Japan. Since then I’ve pretty well used to Japan, and even a little tired of it for the time being, and the language, spent several weeks traveling in China, and even learned a tiny amount of the Korean language, all of which makes this visit a very different experience.

Despite having shipped 4 boxes of various sizes, I was still slightly over my legal baggage allowance. While flights bound for the Americas allow you to check two pieces of luggage weighing up to 30 kilos each, flights bound to Korea only allow a single piece of checked baggage weighing 20 kilos or less. Of course when transferring flights you’re allowed the allowance of your final destination, but staying for 5 days in Korea I was supposed to follow the stricter rules of that country. I called the airline to double-check their luggage policy and was told that every kilo over 20 costs 700 yen each, which is about the same price as shipping by boat. I figured it was worth the risk, and packed about 27 kilos. They didn’t even say a word about it at checkin. Until I entered the plane I was also nervous about my carryon luggage. I had my laptop backpack, stuffed fill with electronics and cables, as well as a soft duffle-bag half filled with books, as well as an small over-the-shoulder I had picked up in Hong Kong, and was carrying my jacket. I was under the impression that luggage checks were tight, but I went through the lightest security check I can remember, nobody even glanced once at the size, shape or amount of my luggage, and I collapsed into my seat like a rock.

I arrived tuesday afternoon feeling utterly dead, having spent the entire previous night getting ready to leave and only slept in spurts of a few minutes every time I rode in a vehicle. The taxi shuttle to the Kansai airport in Osaka, the plane flight to Korea, the bus ride from the airport to Seoul- these all took just about an hour and a half each. I took a bus from Incheon airport to the Plaza Hotel in downtown Seoul. Of course on my budget I was not to be staying in such a place. I was actually there to meet Son Jongmin, who was to show me to the place I actually would be staying-the student dormitory at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (韓国外国語大学). Why would I be staying at the dormitory of a strange university for only five days when I’d never even met a single person there? Well, my mom’s cousin Marian Palley, who is a professor at Delaware University, is close friends with other professors at several universities throughout Seoul, including both the president of this one, as well as Professor Kim Inchul, who was one of her students when he was studying for his PHD at the University of Delaware about twenty years ago. When I emailed Marian to tell her that I was going to stop by Seoul on my way home she insisted that I contact her friends at Hankuk University, and Kim Inchul arranged for me to stay for free at their foreign students dorm and to have his graduate assistant help me get there.

I’m pretty tired so I’m going to head off to sleep and finish this tomorrow.

Taiwanese restauranteur watches ‘Temple of Doom’ too many times

Originally spotted this morning in the print edition of The Japan Times. A good complement to my previous post about exotic Chinese food.

Monkey Rescued From Being Put on Menu

By Associated Press

July 16, 2004, 8:06 PM EDT

Taiwan — A monkey was recuperating at a wildlife park in Taiwan after being rescued from a restaurant that planned to sell slices of the animal’s brain while he was alive in a cage, a local government official said Friday.

A tourist in the central mountainous area of Nantou bought the monkey, Formosan macaque, after he saw that customers at a restaurant were about to eat its brains, said Huang Kuo-chen, a forestry official in Taoyuan county, where the tourist lives.

The man phoned Huang’s department to ask whether the monkey could be legally raised at home, the forestry official said.

“Raising monkeys at home is banned because they are protected animals,” Huang said.

The man, who didn’t give his name, handed over the animal to the authorities after rescuing it in May, Huang said. An inspection of the monkey showed exposed bone and small holes in its skull, he said.

In a front-page story, the Apple Daily showed photos of the monkey with a patch of hair shaved on its head where the restaurant reportedly planned to cut open his skull and slice off pieces of brain.

Many Taiwanese enjoy eating exotic animals because they believe the creatures provide special health benefits.

CTI cable news quoted doctors who warned that animal brains could contain dangerous viruses and were not fit for consumption.

The monkey is now being held at a wildlife park before experts evaluate whether it can be released in the wild, Huang said.

Here is a description of one monkey brain feast, which according to the source web site happened in 1948 or so.

The monkey’s head was supported by its neck in a
bracket, two pieces of wood with a semicircular hole on each side such that when you put them
together, they form a complete circle around the animal’s neck, allowing the head to be exposed
above the plank. The hair around the head is shaven with a shaving razor. A small chisel and a
hammer is used to quickly chisel a circle around the crown, and the top part of the skull is
removed. A teaspoon is used to scoop up the brain, which is immediately eaten. This has to be
done before the monkey dies.

North Korea offers free email on the Web-new competition for Gmail?

I’ve known for some time that North Korea aka DPRK(Democractic People’s Republic of Korea) had a basic yet wildly entertaining newswire online at, but after visiting the site again today after a long absence I was pleased to see that they now have much more to offer. According to an undated but presumably recent press release, “The Korea Computer Centre (KCC), the nation’s software hub and local network centre, launched home page Naenara from June Juche 93 (2004).” Juche, incidentally is the name of North Korea’s official state philosophy of self-reliance, propagated by the now-dead but still legally head-of state Kim Il Song and now continued by his gluttonous son Kim Jong Il. Similarly to the way that the year in official dates in Japan is based on the reign of the current emperor (2004 is Heisei year 16, meaning the 16th year of the current emperor), Juche is used as the year label in the DPRK, which Juche year 1 being the year of Kim Il Song’s birth. Back to the main topic; North Korea’s new web presence.
According to their FAQ:


WWW.KCCKP.NET is the biggest Internet site in DPRK that operates as a base of information communication.
It provides useful information concerning whole field of politics, economy and culture of DPRK. North-south relationship has opened up a new stage of development after the historical declaration of Jun.15 Joint Statement attracting the world attention to the Korea’s reunification. Multilateral international relationship including Korea-Russian, Korea-America and Korea-Japan relationship is the focus of the world people’s attention. The reality requires that the world people have a quicker and correct understanding of Korea in order to strengthen the solidarity.

What kind of information is available?
The visitors to our site can gather deep and wide information about Korea. First of all it is possible to know the clear and consistent point of view of DPRK on the current international problems. And it will be helpful for you to know the real situation of Korea.
Membership and information service

Do I need to gain membership?
Of course you may not have a membership. You can browse many information without membership. But it is recommended that you gain a membership in order to enjoy advantage in using our website.

What additional information service is available?

You’ll have your own mail account and make a full use of convenient “Naenara” web mail service. Users can be provided with news and information in concern through “Naenara” e-mail.

How is the user information protected?
The security of user information is fully guaranteed. “Naenara” website regards it as its prime mission to protect privacy. Naenara website has built various security environment and is upgrading it continuously. It uses SSL. The 24-hour monitoring system is on alert to protect the site from hacking and viruses.

tive, but didn’t answer the one question I wanted to know: with a new free email service run according to Kim Jong Il’s interpretation of Stalin’s hard-line communist doctrine, do the capitalist imperialists of Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail have any chance of surviving? Obviously I had to try their email service and make my own assessment. The registration is fairly typical for a web site. I asked my girlfriend to look at the registration and compare the Korean and English versions. She said all of the questions are the same, but the Korean version is extraordinarily polite, actually using the Korean version of the Japanese word ‘sensei’ (which everyone should remember from Karate Kid.) They ask for your real name, a user ID and password with optional hint question, sex, birthday, citizenship and language. They also have optional fields for current email address, telephone numbers, occupation and ‘What do you think of our site?’ Now, it’s common for sites that have a password hint question to give you a list of predefined questions to choose from. is no exception. The choices are: ‘The name of your best friend is…’ ‘The scenary I love most is…’ (type in original) ‘My favorite movie star is…’ “How would Korea change after reunification?’ ‘What will you do when Korea is reunified?’ ‘My favorite movie is…’ By allowing people to choose questions either based on the dream of a unified Korea or Kim Jong Il’s Hollywood film obsession, I think all users will be able to find one that will stick in their head well.

Under the language pulldown menu they have choices for English, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, French and Arabic which probably does a good job of covering over 95% of the people on this planet who have a computer, but the country field is a bit strange. First of all, the list of nations in the pulldown menu is in an order that I would have to describe as completely random if Korea were not the first entry, and will therefore have to describe as almost random, there are a couple of surprises in the list. Now, there is nothing strange about them listing only a single ‘Korea’ instead of ‘Republic of Korea’ and ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,’ but I was completely astonished to see that Taiwan is a possible country of citizenship! How can little North Korea’s official government site contain such a slap in the face of the closest thing they have to a sympathetic ally? Luckily, even as a ‘US Imperialist,’ to quote from the news section of the site, I was allowed to register with no greater hassle than finding my countries name in a non-alphabetized list.

I was now the proud owner of the email address! I opened my gmail account and fired off a quick message to my new account so I could see how their interface stacks up, but I ran into a bit of a brick wall when I discovered that the menu-bar item for ‘e-Mail’ does not in fact actually link to anything. After checking around a bit, I realized that the site was full of links which do nothing but open a Javascript application pop-up window with the message ‘Please Wait!’ Sadly, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to use my North Korean communist email account today. I sent them an email, and although I have lost some confidence in their ability to compete with gmail, I can at least take comfort in the message on the contact information page, ‘You’ll be answered within 24 hours. Kind service will be waiting for you.

First year middle school student sent to Juvenile Correction for illicit access to online game

Here’s an English translation I made of an article I spotted on the news wire of the Japanese daily paper Asahi. The article is extremely vague about the technical details of the case, only saying that he managed to gather the passwords by ‘correctly matching alphabetic and other characters.’ I assume the extreme vagueness is the result of a reporter with no technical knowledge and no desire to have any who basically just re-typed the police blotter to fill his daily file quota. I find it a little surprising that a 13 year old boy was actually arrested for this crime, even under Japan’s unforgiving legal system. Have there been any similar cases of people actually being arrested and charged with criminal activity for hijacking a game account in the US or other countries?

An announcement from the Saitama Prefectural Juvenile Guidance Center states that a Yokohama city first year middle school student(13) was taken into corrective custody by Saitama Prefectural police on July 12th for illegally using someone else’s ID to access the online internet game “Ragnarok.”

According to the same office, on December 16th of last year, when the boy was still a 6th year elementary school student, he used the ID and password of a male company worker(27) from Fujimi city in Saitama prefecture to connect illegally to Ragnarok Online from his home computer up to 16 times.

The boy is said to have collected about 140 people’s IDs and password by correctly matching alphabetic and other characters. Since August of last year he had repeatedly used these IDs and password to illegally access Ragnarok Online over 400 times.

“Ragnarok” is a game in which players engage in adventures on the net, where they collect weapons and other equipment to increase their own power. It was created in Korea, and according to the management company has over 500,000 players in Japan.

Kyoto’s MK Taxi tries to transform Japan: a Korean entrepreneur seeks progress in a xenophobic nation

Following up on my earlier two posts on Korean business and Japan I thought that perhaps I should make sure not to make it sound like the Korean-Japanese community is composed of criminals. Here’s an article I recently came across about a Korean-Japanese owned company based out of Kyoto (where I live.) I’ll post a couple of excerpts and you can click on the title for the full article.

Battling this public perception was one of the key tenets of Aoki Sadao’s plan when he started Japan’s most progressive taxi company, MK Taxi, in Kansai’s cultural capital, Kyoto. Initially starting out as Minami Taxis, the company merged with local rival Katsura Taxis in 1961, thereby forming MK Taxi, or just “MK” as the company is popularly known.

From the beginning, Sadao, a Japanese citizen of Korean descent also known as Yoo Bong Shik, placed great emphasis on presenting a polite, smart face to the public to encourage the belief that MK was a cut above the average Japanese taxi firm.

“I wanted to make drivers feel proud of their job, to have greater self-respect and self-confidence,” he says. In order to help realize this goal, Sadao started paying MK drivers a higher-than-average wage. Special employee apartments were designed and constructed, and drivers were encouraged to continue their education in night classes or at foreign-language schools.


One particularly sour moment occurred in the summer of 2000, when owner Sadao held meetings with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s vice-premier, Kwak Porn Gi. Ethnic Korean Sadao was keen to take advantage of the then-warming relations between the DPRK and Japan with a view to exporting 1,000 taxis in order to establish a tourism-oriented taxi business in North Korea.

This meeting met with furious distaste among the far-right nationalists with their ear-splittingly noisy trucks. One June weekend, as I entered the MK Bowl to watch a five-a-side soccer tournament, trucks were circling the complex, speakers cranked to 11, as a voice agitatedly bellowed out, “MK Taxi! Nippon kara dete-ike!” (MK Taxi! Get the hell out of Japan!)

MK Taxi is only one of several taxi companies whose vehicles can be seen continually roaming the streets looking for fares. They are particularly noteworthy for their very convenient door-to-door Kansai International Airport shuttle service, which costs only about $35. They can afford this through economy of scale; instead of using personal taxis they send a minivan to take about a half-dozen passengers in a single trip, stopping at each address in turn, the route planned out by a GPS based navigation system. Their English language web page (which includes information on the shuttle service) is located at this address.