Archive for the 'Korea' Category

Vice Guide to North Korea

I’ve never been longer to North Korea than the thirty something seconds you get at the DMZ. Now here’s a 2008 documentary at by Shane Smith you really, really need to see: The Vice Guide to North Korea 1 of 3, part two and three. Weird. Surreal. Bizzare.


10 Unique Korean Customs & Practices

10 Unique Korean Customs & Practices


Why TOEFL Online Registration Broke Down

ETS_TOEFL_logoTOEFL is required as English became a basic requirement for jobs in South Korea, even ones completely unrelated to English. Even children are taking the test. I don’t have to mention that they’re not supposed to take it since TOEFL is targeted to candidates in their last high school year or first semester at the university. The market for TOEFL in South Korea is not huge, it is gigantic: The bank of Korea estimated in 2005 that about 54,8 million Euro are spent annually for study. The linked page gives a good explanation about the sociocultural reasons why everybody is learning English.

800px-Flag_of_South_Korea.svgThis year, it happened that the TOEFL online registration system (a.k.a. iSER) broke down for several weeks. Worldwide, nobody was able to register online. It’s no wonder if you have one server and hundreds of thousands of customers trying to register. This was certainly the case in South Korea. The cbt TOEFL, the computer-based variety, was taken by 130,000 in 2006. Since ibt TOEFL got introduced, the numbers were cut to less than one fourth. The numbers vary depending on who you ask. The rest of the unlucky ones who didn’t get a seat yet are even hiring people to do so for them or fly to other countries to take the test. The ETS server got pounded by Korean customers, once there were 32 million hits in one day when free seats for July admins were up to grabs. Now, that’s desperation.

ETS is going to loose a lot of customers if they don’t expand their network capacity fast: The South Korean government might create a test of their own to depend less on TOEFL. It’ll take them a few years though, and even then, ETS has a head start of several decades in language tests and a couple of years in internet-based testforms. TOEFL is a global operation, involving thousands of people working hard for it for years.

After the debacle with excluding South Korea from July admins lawyers took it in their hands and filed a complaint at the Fair Trade Commission. In the meanwhile, the importance of TOEFL is decreasing, applicants for foreign language schools are among the first who don’t need to take the TOEFL anymore.

Lee Yong-Tak (who has an English name like every English language learner in this country: his name is Paul), who has been appointed as country manager for South Korea on June 1st will need every help he can get to end the TOEFL crisis in South Korea. My advice: Four cities can’t possibly meet demand for the whole country, get every university and language school equipped with computers on board asap.

US Pressure On South Korea: Fair Use Is History

US pressure on South Korea: fair use is history


Capitalism Creeps Into North Korea

Capitalism Creeps Into North Korea


Descrimination of Foreigners in South Korea

People (in South Korea) who want to watch TV programs online or to shop on Internet shopping malls must enter their resident registration number, not given to “foreigners”. Sounds familiar to Japanese issues.


Catching-Up With Photos And Videos

I’ve uploaded over a thousand pictures from my year of study abroad at Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University in Japan in 2000 and my travels to South Korea in the same year, 2001 and 2003, including our wedding. My brother’s wedding in 2003 is finally online as well as the series about my intermezzo at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Croatia, the Model United Nation Simulations and a few other events and travels from the last few years. Last but not least: food. Since Google Video is currently the only service that offers unlimited video size and length, it’s the choice of the moment.

(photos removed)

Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It, Deutsche Telekom!

I’m employed as a test center manager at my company and the list of my duties is longer than today’s first page of this blog. How come I can leave for a full month and travel to South Korea with my family? In the last few years, out of a number of reasons my company used to have its employees work from home. My duties and responsibilities allow me to work almost completely as a telecommuter, although I prefer being in the office several times a week. I’ve been “away” for a whole month last year and it worked, this year it’s most probably the last time for the next couple of years and it works again. I didn’t have an internet connection before yesterday though, which was quite a problem since I need to be online, especially during TOEFL preparation courses or TOEFL and other tests. My parents-in-law’ new apartment already has DSL network plugs built into all rooms, but they don’t have a computer thus no need for an internet connection. After our arrival, my sister-in-law called a local internet provider, hanaro, on a Saturday morning (at 10 a.m.). Not only it was possible to do this on the weekend and confirm an order for one month of broadband per phone, but their customer service visited us within 8 (eight) hours! That’s quick – and it didn’t even cost the world. It would have cost three times as much with Deutsche Telekom, they’d need a week or even more and I’d have to split internet connection and the provider and switch the latter to another company, because Deutsche Telekom doesn’t offer internet for one month.

The Eagle Has Landed

IMG_2750 They say every voyage is an adventure – well, sometimes it’s more than that, it’s a thriller, too. Everything at home was prepared, bags packed, the apartment cleaned and most of our belongings already in boxes, ready for the move in June. We’re visiting the family in South Korea before that, May 23rd, KLM flight 1860, from Düsseldorf via Amsterdam to Incheon, departure time 16:25. We arrived at the airport about two hours before departure, everything seemed to go smooth. Almost everything. At the check-in counter, the ground staff gave us back my passport because it was invalid, I’m terribly sorry, but you can’t fly with this passport. Imagine the shock. Turns out, we’ve left my current, red passport at home and took the green, temporary one that expired in 2004. Next followed a speed race back home with a cab. The driver was sympathetic and used hidden Tunesian driving skills to get me home in a mere 15 minutes. I needed much longer to find the passport though, because, as mentioned above, everything was already packed and prepared for the move. The passport was found at last after a dozen boxes were opened and we were able to check-in 30 minutes prior to departure.

The exitement wasn’t over completely: The bus that took us to the airplane drove a few rounds around the air field, somebody else was a higher priority. As we found out, the police escorted a black prisoner to the airplane. He tried to resist against his extradition, kicked and screamed, fought with the guards. One of the police men had a wound over his right eye and lost his uniform badge on the right shoulder after they succeeded in seating him in the back of the machine. I don’t know what the reason for the extradition was, but he seemed very determined to oppose it in every possible way. He stopped screaming when we entered the airplane – it took us a few minutes to fold the buggy and hand it over to the ground personnel which is why we were last to board the prop airliner. The prisoner was kept in the last seat, closely watched by two male and one female guard. I remembered the deportation of a Sudanese refugee in ’99, who died of suffocation due to the restraints and the position he was forced to keep – the job to keep another person quiet and calm for even just an hour who doesn’t want to in a small airplane is unbelievably hard, the police officers today did a good job without having to resort to a harsh approach. I guess a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought this way, today my primary concern was how to calm down my son if the rioting should restart. It didn’t, and I was thankful for it.

IMG_2762 Shiphol Amsterdam for us was running again, from one gate to the other, since our plane was late. We hadn’t time to buy one or two presents we planned to, so we skipped that part. One advantage when you travel with infants: Everybody is nice to you, the ground personnel asked us into the VIP line for boarding, skipping a queue of a couple of dozen passengers. When we boarded the KLM Boeing 747 to Incheon, we finally had a feeling of relief. The 8563 kilometers in 9 1/2h were over rather quickly. One detail mentioning: If you’re on international flights with KLM, beware of the food. Ours was good, but the stuff they try to sell as children food is far from acceptable. White bread with sugar (the slice of cheese helps a little), a chocolate bar and a sweet beverage – better bring your own breakfast if you don’t want a hyperactive kid jumping on and off your lap for the rest of the flight.

IMG_2777After arriving at Incheon airport the next day we ate at “our” Japanese restaurant and took the bus to Daejeon (??, ??). Beside hitchhiking, there’s no cheaper way to travel the country. Plus, you get your own track on the expressway. It was Buddha’s birthday, but the roads were rather empty. From my first visit I can remember that on that day there’s no coming through. Three hours later, our family fetched us from the long distance bus station and we arrived at home, happily and exhausted. The welcome dinner was fabulous!

Today’s lesson: Double-check passports, tickets, money and key. Triple-check passports. Check once more. And again. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Farewell Party

IMG_2728We’re celebrating two good-byes: Firstly, we’re moving to a new home at the end of June after living three and a half years at Europe’s most polluted micro-dust street, with a paper mill and a major Autobahn drive-up in the neighborhood. The apartment itself is great though, spacious and affordable considering we’re living in Düsseldorf – but it’s no good if you have kids and want to go out for a walk every day. We’ve looked around for almost a whole year and found just the right place.

The second good-bye is a rather temporary matter: We’re leaving to South Korea for a month-long family visit. As long as Jun is still an infant – in aviatory terms – he doesn’t have to pay the full ticket. Since we’re planning for a second child, it’s not getting cheaper in the future.

The picture on the left should give an idea what you missed, in case you were invited but couldn’t come.

Because Enshrinement Is Cheaper Than Paying Pensions

because enshrinement is cheaper than paying pensions to Korean WWII veterans – and the other side of the Yasukuni story.


Fremd Im Eigenen Leben

Fremd im Eigenen Leben

I read again through a few hundred pages of trivial literature, but it wasn’t not too worthwhile this time. It was the first one for several years, since my studies curbed my appetite for books unrelated to seminars. My wife usually starts reading something and I jump on the wagon and join her. In this case, we’ve read a book by Chang-Rae Lee, A Gesture Life in its German translation, Fremd im Eigenen Leben. My English is far from being free from errors, but I’m certain that the translator either didn’t have much time or was incompetent. On the first few pages already you get strangely translated words (false friends), throughout the whole book I never had the feeling that the translation was close to the original… somehow… bumpy, inaccurate. The lector also must have been in a hurry, the number of grammar and spelling errors was telling. The story itself was interesting, though, verbose at times, with a predictable character developement. On the bright side, that’s not to say that the characters weren’t intruiging, the relation to reality, a Zainichi in the Japanese Imperial Army is a tantalizing foundation for a story, but the execution was surprisingly uninspired – the author won the PEN/Hemingway Award for another book. Maybe it’s the translation, maybe my expectations were too high. If you’re looking for information about Japan’s war history and the notorios Comfort Women system, better turn to Yoshimi Yoshiaki or Buruma.

1st Birthday

IMG_1335It’s Jun’s first birthday! Looking back, the last twelve months went over so quickly. He starts to walk and talk, little by little, and it’s great to see his growing ability to interact with the people and objects around him. We’re in Korea since Oct 2nd, introducing him to the Korean half of the family. He gets along with everybody very smoothly, playing with his three cousins and his grandparents, his uncle and aunts. I’ll be staying in South Korea until Nov 2nd, Heejoo and Jun until Nov 30th. It’ll be hard without him for a whole month, but I already introduced skype to my sister-in-law and got her a webcam, so I hope we will have a few video calls in November. I still can remember that when I was 5 or so and alone with my mother in Croatia, my Dad wasn’t around for several weeks, I was afraid of the unfamiliar guy coming through the door one day.

p.s.: In a conversation with a friend, I realized that Jun’s initials are JPG (Jun Philipp Grabi?).

p.p.s.: I tried out Windows Live Writer for this post… curiosity killed the cat.

Prejudice Map Expanded

A telling 11 days after CA, Spiegel Online reports about the prejudice map.

Kushibo, a regular reader and commentator at CA who said that national pride would be the #1 stereotype mentioned about Koreans, made me curious enough to find it out myself… this is the top ten I got, using the same modus operandi (results can differ since the web changes every second):

  1. “The Koreans are known for solving for low cost, and the Americans? Nah, they’re petrol heads.”
  2. “Avi, the North Koreans are known for playing hard and nasty on the soccer field.”
  3. “Koreans are known for liking their food very very very hot and spicy..yuMm!”
  4. “North Koreans are known for bluffing and running there mouths off to get attention.”
  5. “The Koreans are known for wanting everything yesterday!”
  6. “Typically, the Koreans are known for churning out low-cost cars from basic platforms and exporting them globally.”
  7. “Koreans are known for hiding their age well.”
  8. “Koreans are known for their boat-shaped shoes.”
  9. “Koreans are known for separating their family members, such as separating the sexes and the young from the old.”
  10. “Koreans are known for their negotiating skills, and they often do not look for absolutes, as most things are subject to change.”

Surprisingly, nothing about national pride, but cars, food and soccer.

100 Days


Since spontaneous crib death was rampant in earlier centuries, Koreans started to celebrate the life (and survival) of every Korean baby that made it through the rough first 100 days. Nowadays, with the wonders of modern medicine and overall improvement of life conditions, the custom lost its original reason, but the celebration remained. Today, Jun is 100 days old, so, according to Korean tradition we prepared a rich table with rice, miyokguk (???), and fruits for Samshinhalmoni (?????). She’s the Korean version of the western storck you want to propitiate so your offspring can live happy ever after (the first 100 days). Actually, there’s supposed to be baekseolgi (???), a variation of steamed rice on the table, but the store where we ordered it, Kims Asia Shop at Stresemannstrasse, happened to forgot our order and had only a cheap excuse why they didn’t make it. Speaking of cheap, they’re one of the cheapest stores for Asian food in Düsseldorf, but you really have to be careful what you buy since they tend to overwrite the expiration date on their products. Jun slept though most of his 100th day, and I was so fortunate to get to eat everything we prepared for Samshinhalmoni. Oh happy day…

For the record, I didn’t get him the kitschy outfit, but he’s almost outgrown it anyway. At his fourth regular examination (U4) – the day before – the doctor said that with his 65cm and 6,850g he’s ambitiously scratching at the upper limit for normal growth.