Friday, March 30, 2012

Let's take a train tour for Spring Fest !

The past months has been a long wintery, but there is no doubt about the onset of spring season.

There is no time like the present to kick off for a month full of spring festivals across the country (south korea), particularly if one is fond of train travel.

A small country with an intricate railway system, Korea is an ideal for traveling in all seasons. One of the most relaxing, affordable and quickest ways to get to some major flowers and cultural fests is by touring train.

Some travel agencies, like Korail Development Travel, are running seasonal programs linking spring festivities.
Here is an introduction to some of the most renowned attractions that are easily accessible by rail.

Jinhae Gunhang Festival

Jinhae in South Gyeongsang Province is the home to the nation’s largest cherry blossom festival. The Jinhae Gunhang Festival marks its 50th anniversary this year.

Over 2 million local and international tourists come to walk along the tree-lined streets and picturesque mountain paths. There are so many cherry blossom trees in Jinhae that when the wind blows it seems as if it is raining cherry blossoms.

This year, the festival will be held from April 1 to 12.

From Seoul, it takes about five hours to get to Jinhae on the train. So if one leaves early in the morning, it’s possible to get there by 12 p.m., enjoy the whole day and catch the return train to Seoul around 5 p.m. and still make it back to the city by around 10 p.m. By car it could take more than six hours and much longer during the festival period.

Korail Tourism Development, run by the nation’s main railroad operator Korail, offers a single-day travel plan to the festival from April 1 through April 7. Prices range from 59,000 to 64,000 won.

The Jinhae Gunhang Festival also commemorates Korea’s famous Admiral Yi Sun-shin (1545-1598) and includes a military band parade in addition to the many cherry blossom-themed events.

The legendary naval commander is famed for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Imjin war in the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).

Cherry blossoms at Ssanggye Temple

Ssanggye Temple in Hadong, South Gyeongsang Province, is among the most scenic temples in the Mt. Jiri area, one of the three most important mountains in the nation alongside Mt. Halla and Mt. Seorak.

The best time to visit this temple in South Gyeongsang Province is spring, as the 6 kilometer path from Hwagye marketplace to Ssanggye Temple is filled with blooming 600-year-old cherry blossom trees.

With the myth that a walk along the cherry blossom tree path brings good luck for lovers, it is also called “hollaegil” (wedding path). A 40-50 minute walk along the tree-lined path leads to Ssanggye Temple.

Another reason to visit this area is the special tea produced in the region. Nestled between the Seomjin River and Mt. Jiri, Hadong is known for its stunning scenery and it has a reputation for the yearly green tea festival during May and June.

Visitors to the temple will see many tea plantations and tea houses in its vicinity.

A train special including lunch starts at 92,000 won at

Other famous flower festivals in connection with trains include the Gwangyang Maehwa Festival in South Jeolla Province and the Bomun Lake in Gyeongju, South Geyongsang Province, among others.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Incheon : different varieties of food are in display

Diverse Snacks Await at Sinpo Market in IncheonIncheon is known for its diversity as it has long drawn people from a range of different ethnicities due to its being a major port. This may be why it is home to the nation's first China Town and Western-style park, among other cultural influences.

This cultural mix is reflected not only in its architecture, but also in its food. Sinpo Market, one of the city's attractions, constantly draws visitors with its smorgasbord of delicious treats that were created to appeal to the various tastes of foreign visitors. Here are a select few.

◆ Honeyed Fried-Chicken with Hot Sauce

Sinpo Market is known for its dakgangjeong, or honeyed fried-chicken with hot sauce, a mouth -- and occasionally eye -- watering dish that is crispy on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. With its garnish of chopped pepper and peanuts, the first bite is spicy enough to wake up your senses, but it leaves a refreshing aftertaste that can be quite addictive.

Many people claim it even tastes better when it gets cold as it absorbs the flavor of the sauce. It is said that Chinese sailors developed the cooking method for dakgangjeong so they could enjoy fried chicken for a longer period of time.

◆ Chewy Noodles

One of the most popular dishes in Korea is jjolmyeon, or noodles that have a very chewy texture, and it was at this market that they first became introduced to local consumers four decades ago. The thick noodles remain a firm favorite due to their affordable prices and sweet and sour taste.

Jjolmyeon was created accidentally at a factory producing ingredients for naengmyeon, or cold noodles. The factory mistakenly churned out noodles that were unsuitable for naengmyeon because they were too thick. As the owner did not want to throw them away and lose money, he gave them to a restaurant where the cook created a new dish by mixing the noodles with red pepper paste and vegetables. Now they are enjoyed for their initially chewy taste that gives way to the sensation of all the infused spices.

◆ Other Treats

The market also tempts visitors with a variety of delicious treats including mandu, or dumplings made with thin dough and filled with meat or vegetables. These come in various colors and each has its own flavor: yellow mandu with a pumpkin taste, green ones with a hint of mugwort, or even pink ones with a cherry taste.

Another signature dish, gonggalbbang, or large hollow bread, tastes sweet and crispy and exhibits influences from Chinese people who took root in Incheon.

Gyeongbokgung : eye of Seoul City

Gyeongbokgung: main royal palace to Korea's last dynasty

In the heart of Seoul city there lies the main royal palace of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) called Gyeongbok, which literally means a dynasty that will be “greatly blessed and prosperous.” Construction of the palace began three years after the kingdom was founded, entrenching Confucian ideals of cultivating virtue and maintaining ethics in society.

Joseon was the last kingdom of Korean history and the longest-ruling Confucian state in the world.

Gyeongbok Palace is located in central Seoul city with Mt. Bugak to its rear and Mt. Nam in the foreground. The location was deemed auspicious according to the traditional practice of geomancy.

Gwanghwamun is the main entrance to the very palace.

In front of the gate formerly ran Yukjo-geori (street of six ministries) which today is Gwanghwamun Square, a representative plaza in Seoul that can accommodate up to 70,000 people.

Following the central axis upon which the Gwanghwamun Gate stood was the nucleus of the palace including Geunjeongjeon, the main throne hall, and Gangnyeongjeon, the king’s residence.

Geunjeongjeon is considered as Korea’s largest surviving wooden structure where kings conducted state affairs and held official functions.

In Gangnyeongjeon, kings spent time reading books and attending private state affairs with his entourage. Each room at both sides of the building is divided into nine sections. Court ladies stayed at night in those rooms surrounding the center room which was exclusively used by the king.

Next to Gangnyeongjeon is Gyeonghoeru, a pavilion surrounded by a pond, where kings held formal banquets for foreign envoys. Going up the two-story pavilion, kings enjoyed a sweeping view of the palace.

The main structures of Gyeongbok-gung together with the government ministry district formed the heart of the capital city and represented the sovereignty of the Joseon Kingdom.

Gyeongbok Palace is considered one of the most prestigious cultural properties in Korea with its location easily accessible. It is ideal for taking a stroll or enjoying a lunch break.

The palace currently provides brief introductory explanations about the function and history of each structure in Korean, English and other languages are available.

The National Folk Museum is located in the northeastern section of the palace. They have several exhibition halls showcashing a wide selection of Korean culture and history.

Traditional Korean music concerts is going on till friday at 8 p.m. to celebrate Seoul’s hosting of the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit. The palace is closed on Tuesdays.

Admission fee for Gyeongbok-gung is 3,000 won for adults, 2,400 won for children. For further information, visit
There are often hotel coupons available for your stay as well.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hallyu star Kim Rocks !

There are plenty of running away involved in the story of “Catch Me If You Can,” the musical based on the 2002 detective-chase film by Steven Spielberg of Leonardo Di Caprio and opening today in Seoul as the first licensed show outside the United States.

As one of the men who does most of the running and dancing during the performance, Kim Jeong-hoon sounded genuinely impressed by his character’s lifestyle, especially the panache his character, con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., displays in full glory when dodging the police by assuming several fake identities.

Kim, a former singer with the group U.N. and an actor with a flourishing career in korea and abroad, even sounded envious at times, though he denied it.“He’s a crook, definitely,” he said in an interview , after the rehearsal. “But from a man’s perspective, he is a cool cat. His life didn’t have a single dull moment. To live that dangerously, you need guts and talent.”

The 32-year-old found those two qualities to make his musical theater debut. He alternates the role of Frank Jr. with musical theater veteran Um Ki-joon, actor Park Kwang-hyun and K-pop idols Kyuhyun of Super Junior and Key of SHINee.

Lee Gun-myung and Kim Beom-rae, seasoned actors with extensive musical theater credits, play the detective. The role of Frank’s love interest Brenda has gone to girl-group members Sunny (Girls’ Generation) and Dana (The Grace) as well as up-and-coming actress Choi Woo-ri.

“Musical theater was never in my cards,” he said, adding that the production team had approached him first months ago. “The rehearsals are long, and I had many other projects running parallel to them.”

Since the end of his two-year obligatory military service early last year, he has worked non-stop, releasing an album and starring in a TV series in Japan. He is also signed up for drama productions both in China and Korea this year.

Because of the overlap in schedules, Kim joined the “Catch” rehearsals around two weeks later than the rest of the cast.

“There were times I wanted to run away by myself,” he said half-jokingly, “because I was under so much pressure to do well.”

He likened the level of desperation after the first run-through to “a student with 15 different tests in a week.” Most of this stress, however, seemed self-imposed.

Even with the creative team’s compliments, he was not satisfied, he said. He had to do better.

“When I was doing military service, I had so much I wanted to pursue. I’m doing that now,” he said, eyes on fire. “I don’t even have the desire to date these days.”

Other wishes and aspirations will come back once he achieves his goals, he claimed.

“I remember a line from a Japanese film,” without citing its title, “that said, ‘You can succeed with luck but you cannot fail because of it.’ ”

And the 32-year-old is betting his fortune on his career wholeheartedly. Like Frank Jr. on stage, Kim sounded as if he did not have a split second to waste, though looking conspicuously — pitifully — tired. There did not seem to be one minute reserved for some rest or even reflection.

The interview ended with him recalling such a moment, once again back on an army base, where time was aplenty. He did not seem 100-percent sure of the meaning, but he recounted the experience with child-like candor.

“I’m not much of a literary person,” he said, having instead shown exceptional talent in mathematics and science during his years in school and had been enrolled at Seoul National University before his career in entertainment.

The jolt of inspiration struck one day when he was stationed in Cheorlwon in Gangwon Province, observing a full moon.

“The sun gives its all at all times and will explode in a few billion years, but the moon just reflects that light without having to force it. It’s a really smart way of living, isn’t it?

“I know it sounds corny now, but at that moment it felt like science and philosophy were meeting at one point.”

The musical “Catch Me If You Can” opens today at the Blue Square Samsung Card Hall in Itaewon, central Seoul. It will run through June 10. Visit for more information.
(Original DVD available at a discount on

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cultural events during the Seoul 2012 Nuclear Security Summit

Various cultural events is going to take place throughout the duration of the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit (photo: Yonhap News).

By taking place under the theme ”Beyond Security Towards Peace,” the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit has organized cultural events to raise awareness of Korean culture for heads of state and members of international organizations who are participating in the summit. With the participation of 53 heads of state and four international organizations, the summit would serve an important role to expose Korean culture all over the world in an effective way.

[Dinner gala & cultural event]
On March 27 directly after the summit, the leaders of participating nations and their spouses as well as heads of international organizations will be invited to a special dinner and cultural event. The Korean spring-themed dinner will be served with the traditional specialties of eight provinces of Korea.

After dinner, the ambassador of the summit, singer Park Jung-hyun, will get on stage to sing ”Peace Song” specially written for this global summit. Some traditional songs and performances such as Sujecheon, an ancient Korean musical composition accompanied by a royal court dance, salpuri (an exorcism), and hanryangmu (dance) will also follow.

“The event was intended to incorporate the opinions of Korean artists who love peace and also the quintessence of Korean traditional arts” said the Preparatory Secretariat for the Nuclear Security Summit.

The media center in COEX provides a space for cultural experiences.

[Culture & Tourism Booth]
The media center inside COEX, where the summit takes place, is outfitted with a culture and tourism promotional booth where summit participants will take part in a culture experience program. The corners of the booth will be covered with traditional Korean artifacts and craftworks. The booth also provides spaces for experience programs such as trying on Hanbok, receiving acupuncture treatments, drinking herbal tea, and watching K-pop music videos.

[Exhibition: Art Project - Communion]
Korean and Japanese artists gathered to share their views and express their ideas over a variety of art forms at the media center. The Art Project 2012: Communion exhibition brings together diverse artistic interpretations of nuclear issues while also highlighting the specific artistic methods that can be utilized to advance the aims of international peace and safe use of nuclear power. The project has been on display since March 25 and will continue to March 27 exclusively for summit participants, remaining open to the public for one extra day on March 28. For more information, visit

The Art Project 'Communion' is on display (Photo courtesy of National Museum of Contemporary Art).

Also, there is a cyber museum and a culture technology experience room where visitors can create their own avatar and play a cyber game to.

[Traditional performances]
Outside the summit venue, old palaces have arranged cultural events to increase the participation of the general public. On March 26, the king and the queen of the Joseon Dynasty were reimagined taking a stroll around Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace) and 20 Korean artists registered as Intangible Cultural Assets gave traditional performances at Deoksugung.

A modern reinterpretation of royal banquets will be performed at Gyeongbokgung from March 28 for three days.

For those of who missed the chance to get involved in any of the cultural events, from March 28 to 30 Gyeonghoeru Pavilion in Gyeongbokgung will be staging nightly performances of the Gyeonghoeru Yeonhyang, a modern reinterpretation of the special royal banquets that were held for court officials and foreign envoys. Since debuting last year, the Gyeonghoeru Yeonhyang has been praised for its alluring blend of traditional music, architectural splendor, and a one-of-a-kind nightscape.

Visitors to Changdeokgung (Changdeok Palace) on March 27 will have the opportunity to enjoy a moonlight walk through the UNESCO-designated world heritage site for a taste of history, culture, and various pictoresque views.

The National Gugak Center will stage performances of the 500-year-old ensemble piece ”Yeongsanhoesang” from March 27 to 28.

[Gugak Performances]
At the National Gugak Center, meanwhile, the center's court music orchestra will be performing the 500-year-old ensemble piece "Yeongsanhoesang" from March 27 to 28. Based on traditional Buddhist vocal music, "Yeongsanhoesang" is a definitive work in the traditional music repertoire that will provide audiences with a thorough introduction to traditional Korean music.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced that the special events taking place throughout the duration of the global summit would help summit participants and visitors gain a broader perspective of Korea as well as a deeper understanding of Korean culture by engaging themselves in the experience programs.


Korea: how they evolve

I have taken out this article from the Korea Times (rediscovering Korean history section) as this articles will give insight to the viewers and students of Korean language as well as area studies students.More resources on Korean history can be found in the books section, on sale at Amazon.

This is the first of a 10-part series on Korean history from its mythological, ancient beginning until the present day. This project is sponsored by several companies and public agencies including Merck Korea, eBay Korea, Daewoo Securities and Korea Post according to The Korea Times.

(Dr. Kevin N. Cawley is currently the Deputy Director of the Irish Institute of Korean Studies at University College Cork (UCC), Ireland — the only institute in Ireland dedicated to promoting Korean studies — funded by the Academy of Korean Studies, South Korea. He was previously a Gyujanngak Fellow at Seoul National University).

So let's begin from "Dangun" ― The Legendary founder of Korea

The Lord of Heaven had a son called Hwanung, who wanted to live on Earth. His father allowed him to leave Heaven, and sent with him some 3,000 followers including “ministers” taking charge of the wind, clouds and rain.

At that time, a tiger and a bear prayed to Hwanung to make them human. Hwanung set them a task: to live in a cave, away from the sunlight, for 100 days, and to eat just garlic and mugwort.

Before long the impatient and hungry tiger gave up and left the cave, but the bear stayed, and after 21 days turned into a woman. Soon she married Hwanung and later gave a birth to a boy named Dangun, who became the first ruler of Korea.

King Dangun founded Korea’s first kingdom called Gojoseon and governed the country, which controlled areas in today’s far-east China, north of the Korean Peninsula for around 1,500 years. The legend states that Dangun, the grandson of Heaven, became a guardian spirit of a mountain at the age of 1,908.

It may be hard to believe that these things really happened, but many historians think that the Dangun myth contains clues to understanding the earliest society on the Korean Peninsula.

In other words, the Dangun story tells us that the earliest Koreans were religious and worshipped all aspects of nature. One tribe worshipped the sky or Heaven, while other tribes worshipped the tiger and the bear. Eventually the Heaven tribe, which must have been very powerful and smart, united with the bear tribe and drove away the tiger tribe. Dangun is regarded as the official title of their leader, who also had a religious role in his community.

Some go even further ― there are a small group of Koreans who admire Dangun as a god and follow a religion founded in 1909 just before Korea was colonized by Japan. It remains a very minor belief compared to other mainstream religions in Korea such as Christianity and Buddhism.

Historically speaking, the Dangun myth has helped unite Koreans and highlights their unique origins. It also shows that their history and identity is very different from that of neighbors China and Japan, who throughout history invaded the country.

Whether or not people believe in Dangun, his traces are everywhere. For one, October 3 is a national holiday in Korea, as Dangun is thought to have founded the country on the date in 2,333 B.C. In addition, the story of Dangun has even influenced the world-renowned Korean martial art Taekwondo.

The second pattern in the ITF (International Taekwondo Federation) form is named Dangun, and is composed of a series of high-section punches at eye level. This represents the connection between Dangun, Heaven and the mountain where became a mountain spirit.

The first kingdom: Gojoseon

While there are many controversies about Dangun’s real identity, there are no doubts that Gojoseon was Korea’s first kingdom and that it extended into much of Manchuria and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. The oldest historical records have come up with somewhat different accounts for the date of the foundation of the country, but 2,333 B.C. is officially accepted.

This period corresponds with the transition period between the Bronze and Iron ages. Hence, Koreans take pride in the fact that their country’s origin dates back almost 4,500 years. Until the early 1960s, South Korea officially used the Dangun Era calendar on its coins and postage stamps.

Along with Gojoseon, there existed some other states but they were annexed by Gojoseon to make it a powerful country, which could withstand its rivals from mainland China and even expanded its territory well into Manchuria. In the early 2nd century B.C., Gojoseon took refugees from the Yan state in eastern China but they returned evil for good by rebelling and taking the throne. Debates are still underway as to whether the leader of the refugees was an ethnic Korean or not.

In any case, the new Gojoseon ruled by Yan refugees failed to last a century as it fell in 108 B.C. after wars with China. Gojoseon took an early victory against the enemy’s two-pronged strategy, one by land and one by sea, but eventually it collapsed.

In line with the Dangun legacy, the people of Gojoseon worshipped Heaven, held sacred rites and practiced customs that were shared by other Northern states established by ethnic Koreans. Their traditions and culture were passed down to successor states.

Gojoseon had a very strict legal system which consisted of eight clauses. For instance, murderers were to be killed while thieves were to become slaves, and anyone who hurt another was to offer grain to be forgiven.

Southern states

South of the Han River, there existed scores of small city states, which formed three main unions around 2,300 years ago. They survived and thrived there for quite a long time thanks to the natural defenses provided by this great river at the heart of the Korean Peninsula. They were no match for Gojoseon, but flourished enough to trade with various Chinese states.

Just as the northern states, including Gojoseon that worshipped Heaven, the southern countries also held religious rituals conducted by shamans at sacred places such as mountains. Some areas were marked by tall wooden totem poles to show the belief that nature was controlled by spirits.

We also know that ancient Koreans had special rituals for those who died considering the large number of large stone Dolmen tombs ― in fact there are more such in Korea than anywhere else.

With the weakening of Gojoseon, and with the development of strong states south of the Han River, the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria saw three strong states rise to form a three-way rivalry for several hundred years.

Nuclear Summit : discuss about substantial amount of nukes

A large amount of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium that is enough to produce “thousands of nuclear weapons” will be eliminated following the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, officials said Monday.

A target amount of weapons-usable uranium to be removed and how to reach the goal will be stipulated in the Nuclear Security Summit’s Seoul Communique, they said. President Lee Myung-bak will announce the communique at the end of the summit today.

“The Seoul summit will contribute to reducing a great amount of nuclear material that is enough to make thousands of nuclear weapons,” a ranking South Korean diplomat said. “The outcome document will tell everything from the volume to a target for each state.” The diplomat refused to elaborate on the matter since he was not authorized to do so.

The draft of the outcome document was made to meet the goal of a “four-year lockdown” plan, an idea suggested by U.S. President Barack Obama at the first nuclear security summit in Washington in 2010 in a bid to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials by 2014.

The draft was virtually finalized at the Sherpa’s last meeting in Seoul last week and is now waiting for endorsement of leaders attending the Seoul summit.

President Lee hosted a working dinner, during which Lee and other leaders reviewed the progress of the lockdown plan.

“All leaders present at the dinner concluded that the past two years were successful in reducing nuclear materials and promised to work harder to give the Seoul summit a successful ending,” summit spokesman Han Chung-hee told reporters.

Officials said the Seoul Communique will contain political pledges by participating leaders to make the world free of nuclear terrorism, and 11 action plans.

The action plans will include putting into force the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, strengthening education and training through the establishment of Centers of Excellence, and the conversion of nuclear reactors from running on HEU to low-enriched uranium.

The Seoul meeting has paid particular attention to the vulnerability of radioactive materials stored at civilian facilities.

A sense of urgency to reinforce security of civilian facilities with fissile materials has been felt in recent years as the number of attempts to steal weapons-use nuclear material has increased.

“There is recognition by many countries, agencies and individuals that they are insufficiently prepared to face such a threat,” said Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble.

Experts estimate the amount of HEU and plutonium stored as of mid 2011 at civilian facilities worldwide is enough for more than 5,000 and 30,000 nuclear weapons, respectively.

In 2009 alone, there were 215 attempts to steal material reserved for power generation, medical or other commercial purposes, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The 2010 Washington Nuclear Security Summit has driven many countries, including nuclear-armed states such the United States and Russia, to voluntarily dispose of tons of HEU and plutonium.

The U.S. and Russia eliminated seven tons and 48 tons of HEU following the Washington summit. Ten other countries, including Argentina, Australia and the Czech Republic, have joined the reduction plan, each getting rid of roughly 400 kilograms of HEU over the last two years.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Did you know that: The death of angel

Perhaps the greatest fear of a parent is that their child will die before them. For many Westerners residing in Joseon Korea that fear was too often realized. Often these deaths came quickly and without warning. One tragic case was that of Edward T. McCarthy, the manager of the British-owned Gwendoline Gold Mines in present North Korea.

McCarthy recalled that on the morning of Jan. 19, 1901, his daughter suddenly “preferred to nestle in mine or her mother’s arms — so unlike her — but otherwise she

The grave of Justin Barry McCarthy
/ Courtesy of Robert Neff
did not seem ill, for she laughed and talked much as usual.” But by the following morning the little one was deathly ill with diphtheria. Alarmed at the rapid progress of her disease, McCarthy telegraphed Pyongyang asking for medicine to be sent as quickly as possible by the fastest courier. To facilitate its quick arrival he sent out six runners to act as a relay for the courier.

But time was running out. “All that night we watched her closely, for we, both my wife and self saw that she was passing away from us.” Their only hope was the promised serum but unbeknownst to them, the final runner had become disoriented in his race back to the camp and had gotten lost. McCarthy recalled:

“As the first rays of the sun came penetrating her room the little spirit fled from its earthly tenement and only the little clay mould of what she had been lay in my arms.”

Thirty minutes later, the serum that could have saved her life arrived.

Because of the infectious nature of the disease, the Japanese doctor at the mines insisted that the body be cremated but the McCarthy’s refused. They had witnessed the cremation of the doctor’s wife only a few months earlier and were alarmed that as the flames began to burn the coffin the lid suddenly “burst open and the little body rose up and sank back again. It was a ghastly sight.” They were determined that their daughter would be buried in a foreigners’ cemetery.

The nearest foreigners’ cemetery was in Jemulpo but because of the intense cold there was no means to transport the body to that port. Thus, with heavy hearts, they elected to place her body in a sealed cave to await the thaw.

The McCarthy’s were touched by the kindness they received by their Korean hosts who, despite having different religious beliefs, did their best to support the grieving parents. Their small funeral procession was greeted by the Korean villagers “dressed in clean white gala garments, and all so silent; there was no whispering or talking as there would have been amongst an English crowd. They might have been statuette-angels as we passed through that strangely still and silent crowd, a clear pathway having been left for us to go through them.”

When they arrived at the cave they were surprised to see that the Korean villagers — Confucians — had erected three crosses created from beautifully entwined evergreen boughs: tokens of sympathy for the mourning parents.

The Chinese miners also requested to pay their last respects. It was heart-rending for the McCarthy’s “to see these poor coolie-class people making obeisances to the last that remained of our loved little one.”

For nearly two months the parents made daily pilgrimages to the body of their daughter before it was finally carried to Jemulpo Foreigners’ Cemetery by an entourage of volunteers — eight Korean villagers, three Japanese gendarmes and the Korean chief of police.

Her grave, marked with a tombstone that her bereaved mother designed, still stands in a tranquil meadow steeped in history and surrounded by the symbols of progress of a country she lived in and loved — although briefly: Korea.

Human touch: key for ASEAN-Korea's future

ASEAN­Korea Centre’s new secretary general sees human relationships as the linchpin that will carry the partnership between Korea and the association of 10 Southeast Asian nations into the 21st century.

Career diplomat Chung Hae-moon, who started working as the center’s new secretary general on March 13, said he is focused on consolidating the center’s initial three years of expansion by increasing person-to-person exchanges and building awareness here of just how important Southeast Asia has become for Korea’s future prosperity.

“If you look at the flow of people-to-people exchanges between Korea and ASEAN, people got to understand gradually how important Southeast Asia is to Korea and the Korean people,” Chung said in a one-on-one interview with The Korea Times, Thursday.

“I hope I can build on the tremendous achievements made between ASEAN and Korea by exploring new areas of cooperation, creative and innovative areas of cooperation.”

The relationship between Korea and the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has become vital since the end of the Cold War. Since 1990, ASEAN-Korea trade saw a 12-fold rise. Southeast Asia is Korea’s second largest trading partner with some $125 billion in two-way trade. China is Korea’s largest trading partner.

Though attention here is often directed toward the United States and Japan, Chung pointed out that Korean-ASEAN bilateral trade has “surpassed the trade between Korea and Japan, Korea and the U.S. and Korea and the E.U.”

Enormous people-to-people exchanges between ASEAN and Korea ― some 4.5 million people, too, indicate deep bilateral ties. ASEAN-Korea relations were lifted to a "strategic partnership" and the Korean government recently with the “New Asia Diplomatic Initiative.”

The center was established in 2009 on the 20th anniversary since Korea and the association began meeting to forge closer ties. The center is focused on facilitating closer ties and understanding in four areas of the bilateral relationship: to enhance trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchanges otherwise.

Chung said the center was focused on expanding its operations and staff through its initial three years, saying that it is now time to turn to consolidating those gains.

Chung pointed out that, for Korea, ASEAN now stands as a hugely important investment destination.

For example, the center will dispatch an investment mission to Cambodia and Myanmar to take part in an investment seminar today and tomorrow in Cambodia and in another this Thursday and Friday in Myanmar.

“ASEAN is also the second most important area for overseas investment for Korean construction companies,” he said. The No. 1 area for Korean construction is the Middle East.

Chung said he sees the broader picture of his role as secretary general of the center.

“It is extremely important for us to be mindful of the broad philosophical basis of that guides the center,” he said, asking the question: “Why has ASEAN become close to our heart, why is building this partnership in the interest of Korea and ASEAN?”

He said that these fundamental questions will lead the way in the steady and faithful implementation of the many projects and activities that the center manages.

“Raising the awareness of ASEAN here will contribute to this,” he said.

“And people-to-people exchanges will be fundamental to the future of the partnership in the ASEAN-Korean relationship.”

“I can be innovative in terms of injecting something useful in the partnership between ASEAN and Korea,” he added.

He said helping to connect universities between Korea and ASEAN member countries can be one in area in which “the center can play a certain bridge making role,” including increasing student exchanges, academic cooperation, expanding Southeast Asian language programs.

“You cannot achieve anything you want with limited resources, funding and man power. I think this center can connect various organizations between Korea and ASEAN to increase joint efforts.”

Friday, March 23, 2012

Incheon : Foreigners' cemetery offers glimpse into history

Despite being the oldest foreigner cemetery in Korea, Incheon Foreigners Cemetery is rarely visited. The cemetery, hidden by apartments and modern buildings, is filled with the graves of early business pioneers, missionaries, sailors, soldiers, diplomats and even a Spanish dancer who captured the heart of a Chinese diplomat. They are but for the most part forgotten except by the Korean grounds keepers.

During his visit to the cemetery, Jaroslav Olsa Jr., Czech ambassador to Korea, confessed that he “was surprised by the great ambience of the place” and then added that it was “a silent nice meadow with so much history in it.”

A stroll through its grassy rows reveals just how much history.

The first foreigner to be buried in the cemetery was George B. Mott, an American ship captain who suffered tremendous bad luck. After a series of accidents resulting in the losses of his ships, Mott decided to change careers and become the first Western merchant in Korea. In late June 1883, he sailed to Jemulpo where he tried to set up a small merchant shop but within two weeks he was dead. Not only was he the first Western merchant to die in Korea, he was also the first Westerner to die in Korea following its opening to the West.

Another early merchant buried in the cemetery is Captain Charles H. Cooper. Like Mott, Cooper came to Korea after suffering a terrible loss ― part of his family was killed by Chinese bandits in the Russian Maritime Provinces. Cooper and a group of hand-picked men went on a revenge spree and were said to have killed hundreds of Chinese before being forced to leave Russia. After leaving Russia he came to Korea and set up a very successful merchant business before dying in 1889.

Undoubtedly the most well-known and perhaps most important early Western businessman was Walter Townsend. He was one of the leading figures in the Jemulpo community for nearly 34 years and his company sold everything from watches to gatling guns. Surprisingly, his grave was graced with long-dead flowers ― evidence of an earlier visitor.

Friedrich A. Kalitzky, an early Polish merchant can also be found in this cemetery. His tombstone is one of the most prominent and seems to imply that he was either a merchant marine or a former naval man. During his 38 years in Korea he worked as a general merchant, auctioneer, constable and even exported Korean grass seed to the United States.

Sailors and soldiers have also found their final rest in this quiet place. Disease claimed many of these young men. Francis Shearman, a young sailor aboard the U.S.S Enterprise, died in December 1883. His tombstone bears the inscription: “There’s a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft to keep watch o’er the fate of poor Jack. Sleep well.”

He was soon joined by others. Charles Gray, a corporal aboard the U.S.S. Juniata, died in August 1888. Michael Moynahan, a seaman aboard the H.M.S. Undaunted was only 20 years old when he died in 1898. His shipmates had his stone inscribed with: “Gone from us but not forgotten: Never shall thy memory fade.” And yet, judging from the condition of the grave, the memory has faded.

Other sailors died in accidents. George Warren and James Martyn were amongst the 48 British sailors and marines who drowned after their pinnace capsized in Jemulpo harbor during a storm. A monument to remember their deaths was erected in the months immediately following the accident but, due to neglect, was thrown into the harbor in 1929 leaving these two graves as the only testament of that horrible disaster.

Three crewmembers of the Italian warship Marco Polo are also buried here. On Sept. 9, 1904, as the Marco Polo dropped anchor in Jemulpo harbor smoke was discovered coming from the powder room. Immediate action was taken to contain the fire and while it saved the ship, it could not save the lives of three sailors. Unlike many of the other graves in the cemetery, theirs are remembered every year by the Italian ambassador and his staff ― even going so far as to have the tombstone repaired.

Early members of the Korean Customs Service can also be found here. Amandus Ladage, a German, died in the great cholera epidemic of August 1886. Thomas Hollinsworth came to Jemulpo in 1886 to run an inn but after only a year or two, probably due to financial concerns, went to work for the customs where he remained until his death in 1899. Canadian Frederick Richmond also died 1899 but unlike the others ― he was murdered.

British gold miner Lancelot I. Pelly’s ornate gravestone reads that “he fell asleep 23 March 1906” and that “He (the Lord) giveth his beloved sleep.” Australian gold miner A. R. Wiegall was buried here in 1931 ― his wife, Francoise, joined him 30 years later.

Doctors and missionaries also call this cemetery their final resting ground. The tomb of Jean and Joseph Maraval ― French Missionaire Apostoliques ― dominates one side of the cemetery while the grave of Eli Barr Landis ― an early English missionary-doctor ― offers a more humble tribute to his life and death.

Not all of the occupants are adults. Justin Barry McCarthy, the three-year-old daughter of an English gold miner, died at Gwendoline Mines in present North Korea during the winter of 1902. It wasn’t until two months later that her body was carried from the mines to Jemulpo where she was buried ― her grave marked with a tombstone that her mother designed. Time and the elements have taken its toll and the inscriptions are no longer easy to read but at least the grave is identifiable ― unlike the small German child buried nearby whose name has been lost forever.

Part of the reason the cemetery is unvisited is because of its out-of-the-way location. But, according to Lee Jae-bok, the official responsible for the cemetery, that will be remedied in 2014 when the graves are disinterred and moved to a nearby general cemetery.

Lee explained that not only will the move make the graves more accessible to the public but will also make it easier to maintain them.

While Olsa acknowledged the benefits of the proposed move, he also expressed his regret that the cemetery had to be moved at all and hoped that its new location maintains the historical ambiance that it now possesses.

Renowned travelogue marked record sales

Yoo Hong-jun’s renowned travelogue series has sold 3 million copies, according to its publisher Changbi. The six-part series is the only humanities publication to hit the 3 million mark.

“As of March, several humanities books have sold over 1 million copies, like “What is Justice” or “Youth Hurts.” But the travelogue is the first in the category to sell over 3 million,” the publisher said in a statement

“My Survey of Cultural Heritages” has made the author one of the most recognizable experts in this area.
No scholar in modern times has been able to write such detailed, enlightening, and at times entertaining, stories on cultural heritage across the Korean Peninsula. Of the six books, two of them are devoted to stories solely on cultural treasures in North Korea.
Yoo also served as the head of the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea from 2004 until 2008. He currently serves as a professor in the Art History Department at Myongji University.

An art historian by profession, he released the first part of the series in 1993, centered on his personal experiences of traveling through the southern part of the country.

The main purpose of the travelogue has been to shed light on numerous unrecognized cultural artifacts all over the Korean Peninsula.

The first of the series became an instant bestseller, contributing to a new sense of respect among the general readership of our own cultural heritage.

‘To love is to know’

The 63-year-old tried to engage the public in learning about our traditional legacy through famous quotes like “To love is to know” and “We can only see as much as we know” found in the first series.

The sixth book was released last year, devoted to Seoul and areas that he had neglected to cover previously, like South Chungcheong Province.

He devotes almost 150 pages to Gyeongbok Palace alone, giving readers fresh, detailed insight into the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) landmark.

The sub-title of this latest series can be translated as “There Are Hidden Masters Everywhere,” which is a reminder to readers of the hard work of numerous experts and masters in maintaining cultural heritages, including temples, hanok (traditional Korean houses), old schools, palaces, museums, parks and much more.

“A masterpiece is the outcome of the strenuous efforts of many hidden masters. Though unrecognized by the public, they are the true experts,” Yoo wrote in the introduction of the sixth series.

A seventh series will be published in June, with a focus on introducing the traditional treasures of Jeju Island.

There is no telling when the series will be concluded, as he said many parts of the Korean Peninsula still remained uncovered.

“I would like to also write about North Chungcheong and Gyeonggi Province. If I get a chance to visit some more North Korean cities like Hamheung, Bukcheong and Gapsan, I would like to do an additional book on North Korea,” Yoo said.

He also expressed a wish to someday write about the Korean cultural legacies housed in countries like Japan and China.

Boston museum to boost Korean gallery

The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston will renovate its Korean gallery starting this month. The refurbished space, to reopen on Nov. 15, will have white walls and recreate a Korean traditional oiled paper floor. Paintings, screens, and ceramics pieces will be shown in new high-end display cases.

Originally built in 1982, the gallery houses works from over 1,000 items in MFA’s Korean collection. “Our Korean collection really formed from the very beginning of the museum,” Malcolm Rogers, director of MFA, told The Korea Times after his lecture on Thursday.

Rogers came to Korea to speak about MFA’s global outreach programs at a forum hosted by the Korea Foundation. Jane Portal, the Matsutaro Shoriki chair for the Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa at MFA, accompanied him for the occasion.

Considered as one of the finest in the West, MFA’s Asian art collection started when three men from Boston traveled to Japan in the late 18th century and brought back Buddhist paintings. Among them were pieces from the Goryeo Kingdom (936-1332) and Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). The collection also accrued porcelains and ceramics that Chareles Bain Hoyt, a railroad heir, donated in 1950.

Portal who oversees the Asian collection has been acquiring screens and contemporary ceramic creations. “People are familiar with Japanese screens but Korean works are not so well known. I wanted to show that Korea also produced screens,” she said. By displaying works of modern day potters such as Shin Sang-ho and Lee Eun-jin, Portal hopes to show how they have transformed the traditional techniques.

“Portal is an expert and well connected, but we don’t have a curator in Korean art yet. We’d love to receive funding for that one day,” said Rogers. The museum which had about 1.2 million visitors last year, funds itself through three channels — endowment, fundraising and admission. The museum has about 80,000 members who pay annual subscription fees. The budget for this year is $75 million.

The government contributes by making gifts deductible, which gives donors tax breaks.

Having served as deputy director and deputy keeper at the National Portrait Gallery in London, he explains the difference in the funding system between the two countries affects the public’s attitude. In Britain, the government supports museums and as a result, the general admissions are often free. “I think it makes the public take you (museums) for granted, where as in America, people feel that they are acquiring something of value if they are paying.”

Surrounded by schools like Harvard, MIT and Boston University, MFA is developing programs to reach students. Last year’s College Night, an annual event that invites faculty members and students free of charge to enjoy shows, drinks and music at the museum, attracted 6,000 visitors.

The Massachusetts schools pay annual fees to allow their students to visit the museum for free. The subscription fee varies with the size of the student body. Recently, private philanthropies from New Hampshire and Maine offered to organize funds. This will allow students from the states to visit the museum for free as well.

MFA also fosters a group of young professionals to be the leaders of their society. Members of the Art Council learn about art collecting, meet donators and attend various functions.

Since he took the position in 1994, Rogers has strived to make the institution more accessible. He extended the museum’s opening hours in 1995; MFA is now open seven days a week. “I believe museums exist for people.” He has also been focusing on globalization. In 1999, Rogers helped launch the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Nagoya, Japan.

“MFA is encyclopedic; we really try to represent world culture in all times.”

Ganghwa peace observatory centre

“The memory of crossing the Han River on a wooden raft 60 years ago, it’s still so vivid in my mind. I came with my parents and my sister had just gotten married the day before the Korean War broke out. We still haven’t heard from her since,” said Choi Sun-nam, 74, as his eyes filled with tears.

Choi was at the Ganghwa Peace Observatory, casting longing looks toward North Korea. The observatory is located in Cheolsan-ri, Ganghwa County, in the northernmost part of Incheon, a port city about 40 kilometers west of Seoul. It’s where the residents of Yeonbaek Plains in Hwanghae Province mostly settled after fleeing the 1950-1953 Korean War. At the observatory, former North Korean residents like Choi can often be spotted. About 220,000 former North Korean residents visited the spot last year.

From the observatory that opened in 2008, North Korea is only 2.3 kilometers away while the Gaeseong Industrial complex is about 17 kilometers from it. To its left are the Yeonbaek Plains and to the right, one can see glimpses of Gaepung County in North Korea.

The observatory is on three floors. On the first floor is a shop selling local goods from Ganghwa as well as North Korean items and restaurant and a “unification-wish” room. The second floor houses an indoor observatory and an exhibition hall. On the third floor is the observatory, which is equipped with high-tech telescopes to allow a closer view into the North. Outside there is a stand where the visitors can pay respects to the families they have left behind and a musical box where you can push a button to hear a song about the scenic Mt. Geumgang in North Korea.

The observatory is open throughout the year, with seven presentations a day on its history held there. For more information, visit, or call 032) 930-7062.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

When tigers smoked

It is hard to say with any degree when cigarettes were first introduced into Korea. Early encounters with the crews of Western ships may have led to the exchange of cigarettes as gifts but more than likely the introduction of cigarettes began after the Treaty of Ganghwa (The Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity) in 1876.

At first, cigarettes were not very popular ― especially with the common people ― as they were difficult to obtain and quite expensive. In 1882, a small group of American naval officers aboard a Japanese merchant ship managed to sneak ashore at Fusan (modern Busan) for a quick but forbidden visit of that port. They noted that pipe smoking was prevalent amongst the people and that some Koreans smoked cigars of crudely rolled-up tobacco leaves.

In 1883, shortly after Korea opened to the West, an attempt was made to export cigars made from Korean tobacco into the foreign markets. A British diplomat noted that “the cigars which have been turned out on the first attempt are well made and of good tobacco.” However, this initial attempt apparently failed as there is no mention of tobacco being exported in the Reports on Trade.

Western cigarettes, at least in the palace, quickly became popular. In 1888, an American journalist visited the palace and wrote:

“The queen dresses, of course, in Korean costume. She wears fine silks and she has beautiful diamonds. She carries a chatelaine watch which is diamond studded and she smokes American cigarettes by the thousand. All Korean women smoke and the majority of them smoke pipes. The country is, in fact, a land of smokers and the boys and men are seldom seen without pipes in their mouths.”

As cigarettes became more available their prices dropped and their popularity with the common people grew. This led some unscrupulous merchants to try and make a quick profit by packing the once used boxes of American and British tobacco companies with inferior cigarettes. Horace Allen, the American Minister to Korea, urged the Korean government to punish the Koreans involved and was surprised to learn that the Korean Government offenders would be punished with death. Allen noted that the restrictions were effective against the Korean offenders but did nothing against “the Japanese merchants who were the chief offenders.”

The popularity of cigarettes also led to some enterprising Korean entrepreneurs to start their own company. In 1898, The Independent (an English-language newspaper in Seoul) reported:

“Enterprising spirit is slowly but surely permeating the hearts of Koreans. One of the latest indications of it is that a Korean company has been formed to manufacture cigars in Songdo and Seoul with Koksan tobacco. Koksan is a mountainous district in Whanghai and produces a considerable quantity of tobacco….The company ships on the average 10,000 cigars daily to various cities in the country and the demand is said to be increasing. They burn fairly well and considering the price (which is 34 cents per 100) it is a reasonably good smoke.”

The Koreans weren’t the only ones to take advantage of the growing market. By 1903 there were at least two foreign cigarette factories in Chemulpo but even they were not able to keep up with the growing demand.

A review of the customs reports indicate that 92,661,000 cigarettes were imported into Jemulpo in 1903. This number grew to 493,087,000 in 1904 ― undoubtedly due to the start of the Russo-Japanese War and the large number of Japanese soldiers in Korea. Even after the war, more than 395 million were imported.

According to one customs agent, the large import “shows clearly how cigarette smoking is growing in favor with the Koreans and displacing, at least among the working class, the cumbrous long pipe of former days.”

Source: The Korea Times (Arts and Living Section)

Korea Foundation :Lectures on local films for foreigners

The Korea Foundation will be holding a series of six lectures on Korean films starting from comming Monday. This opportunity will give an ample insight to the film lovers as well as to the foreigners who are in Korea.

“Open Lectures on Korean Culture for Foreigners: Treasures of Korean Cinema” will introduce local movies produced between 1958 and 2001 at the Culture Center of the foundation at Mirae Asset CENTER1 Building West Tower, Suha-dong, Seoul. Offered in English, this is an opportunity for foreigners to get an overview of the local scene.

Earl Jackson, a former visiting professor at the School of Film, TV & Multimedia of Korea National University of Arts, will teach the two-hour lectures. Jackson will give brief introductions to the films and watch them with the participants.

“The power of the Korean film industry to portray diverse lives with a fraction of the budget for Hollywood blockbusters like Titanic stems from the creativity that was impacted by the Japanese occupation and the Korean War,” he said. Jackson received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in comparative literature from Cornell University and Princeton University respectively.

The series will kick off with Yu Hyun-mok’s “Obaltan” (1961). Based on a novella of the same name by Yi Beom-seon, it captures the struggles of a Northern Korean refugee family living in Seoul in the late 1950s. It was banned shortly after its release for its grim portrayal of post-war Korea, but subsequently praised for its bold camera techniques and its own form of realism.

On April 9, the class will view “Flower in Hell” (1958) by Shing Sang-ok that follows a prostitute who works around an U.S. army bases in the 1950s. The list of films includes Hanyo (April 23) Mist (May 7) and Holiday (May 21) and One Fine Spring Day (June 4)

This is the second lecture series on Korean film at the Korea Foundation; In September 2011, the institute introduced productions from the 1950s and ‘60s.

Monday, March 19, 2012

'Dansaekhwa' shows timeless movement

Not one of 150 paintings at “Dansaekhwa; Korean Monochrome Painting” at the National Museum of Contemporary Art fails to overwhelm the viewer both in scale and rigor.

Choi Byung-so filled in newspaper pages with ballpoint pen and pencil until the paper turned completely black and shiny with charcoal and ink. Kim Tae-ho’s over-two-meter-high paintings consist of numerous grids; Kim repeated layering up and chipping off the dried ink until the acrylic results protruded over three centimeters off the wall.

“The unique feature of Korean ‘dansaekhwa’ (monochrome paintings) is that they stimulate the tactile sense,” explained Yoon Jin-sup, professor at Honam University who was invited to curate this show, at a press conference at the museum Thursday. This large-scale exhibition convenes works of 31 artists who have pursued a specific genre of abstraction since the 1970s including Kim Whan-ki, Lee U-fan, and Park Seo-bo.

Though labeled monochrome paintings, these works defer from the blue paintings of French artist Yves Klein. This school is devoted to the process or repetition and specificity of material not necessarily to a color. “The repetition we see is a type of searching for neutrality and transcendence.” Kim, in his last years in New York, produced wall-size paintings of squares (“Where, in What Form, Shall We Meet Again,” “Echo 19-II-73 #307”), while Lee Bae mounted blocks of charcoal on canvas (“Issue on Fire,” “Landscape 2000-1”).

These characteristics led the curator to use the Korean term in the English title instead of simply translating it into monochrome paintings.

Lee Kang-so, whose mural-size acrylic works “From an Island” and “Emptiness” are on show, emphasized the historical significance of the exhibition. “We do not need to lament that the masterpieces from the ‘70s only came together now. What is striking is the similarity in these works. The undercurrent of self-control and abstraction was flowing through the Korean artists.”

To help the visitors understand the movement, the museum in Gwachon, south of Seoul, complied over 300 texts on dansaekwha as well as interviews with surviving artists.

Lee U-fan lecture

World renowned artist and philosopher Lee U-fan gave a talk on the art scene in 1970s – when the dansaekwha style bloomed at the peak of the nation’s military dictatorship – at the museum as part of its educational program on Saturday.

“The reality for Korean artists at the time was an abstraction itself,” Lee stressed “They were experiencing dire poverty; they were struggling to secure canvas, paper, or paint to work with.”

According to Lee, the works on display embody resistance against the military regime at the time, refuting the popular criticism in the 1980s that these abstractionists were turning a blind eye to social issues. “You don’t have to paint a fist to challenge authority; it is only natural that the mode of fighting was to devote oneself to the abstract, to deny the unreal reality.”

The repetition, crucial feature of these works, defies any meaning and the subdued hues refuse to take on recognizable color. “These artists were also voicing their opinions with this style. The offerings here are more energetic and righteous than those of any other era,” he said.

In the post-World War II era, artists around the globe were seeking change. In Italy the radical experimentalism of Arte Povera took place while American artists started to incorporate natural surroundings to their works and started the Earth Art movement. In Japan, Mono-ha, a school of artists who investigated found objects and natural materials, came to prominence. Lee, who developed his artistic career in the island nation, is considered one of the leaders of the movement.

The exhibition runs through May 13. Visiting curator Yoon’s lecture on the exhibition is on March 24. Visitors can register online for a tour to Lee Kang-so’s studio in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province on March 31. Park Seo-bo will give a talk on Korean contemporary art on April 14 at the museum.

For more information, call (02) 2188-6000 or visit

Sunday, March 18, 2012

In Korean Movies Multiculturalism is the new theme

More and more Korean movies, including "Pacemaker" by director Kim Dal-joong that opens next Thursday, are taking on the theme of multiculturalism that is changing the face of Korean society. In 2010, one out of every 10 marriages involved a foreign spouse, while the number of children from multicultural families has grown seven-fold from 25,000 in 2006 to 160,000 in 2010. And this trend is being portrayed more frequently on the silver screen.

It was TV dramas that first dealt with the issue. The SBS dramas "Hanoi Bride" (2005) and "Golden Bride" (2007) featured a Korean man who married a Vietnamese woman. But the main focus of those soaps was mostly about the love between a man and a woman that transcended borders. They avoided dealing with the complex issues facing multicultural families. However, recent movies have shown more interest in depicting how families from different social and cultural backgrounds manage in Korean society.

Shin Dong-il's "Bandhobi" (2009) and "Banga Banga" (2010) by director Yuk Sang-hyo drew a lot of attention due to their candid portrayal of the mistreatment of foreign laborers, which has become a more prominent social issue in the country.

"Bandhobi" focuses on the friendship between a Bangladeshi laborer and a high school student, while "Banga Banga" concerns a young unemployed Korean who finds work posing as a foreign laborer. The latter was a low-budget film that cost just W800 million (US$1=W1,159) to produce, but became a box-office hit that attracted over one million viewers.

Lee Han's "Punch," which opened last October, seriously highlighted the issue of multicultural families. But no one expected the movie about a boy with a hunchback father and an immigrant mother from the Philippines to turn into a box office hit, drawing over five million viewers.

In the film, there are several other minor characters who show the daily routines and realities of migrated workers in Korea.

"This movie not only reflects the changes happening in our society, but also tries to suggest solutions," said movie critic Jeon Chan-il. "Rather than adopting a patronizing approach to impoverished foreign laborers who come to Korea to make money, the movie makes us realize they are a part of our society."

One filmmaker said, "We cannot avoid multicultural families and foreign laborers as they have become so common these days." He added, "These changes have been taking place for some time now, so moviegoers are not unfamiliar with this subject. We will probably see more movies taking on this issue."

Metrosexual Koreans were hogging for New Cosmetics

High-end foreign cosmetics brand SK-II recently introduced a skincare line for men in Korea, its first such foray in any country. The decision came after liquid essence for men, which hit local stores last October and costs W160,000 (US$1=1,120) a bottle, saw a month's worth of inventory sell out in just four days.

"Korea accounts for 40 percent of the world's high-end cosmetics market for men, and Korean men are often considered in the industry as test beds for new products," a sales associate of SK-II said.

Men are quickly forming the main ranks of cosmetics shoppers, with the domestic market for men's beauty products growing 15 percent each year. Industry watchers expect the market will surpass W1 trillion this year.


In Korea, concealers, products that minimize pores and whitening products have seen higher sales growth than basic skincare products such as lotions or skin conditioners among men. Meanwhile, domestic cosmetics brand Amore Pacific opened a make-up store for men in the trendy Hongik University area in northern Seoul and it attracts 300 customers a day on average.

The same holds true for apparel. Sales of women's clothing at Lotte Department Store nationwide fell 5 percent in January compared to a year earlier, but increased 7 percent over the same period for men's clothing. Shinsegae Department Store became the first retailer in the industry to open a section last year specializing only in men's fashion and sales have already risen 450 percent since it opened.

Domestic retailers say Korean men in their 20s and 30s have grown up watching popular men's dance groups since the late 1990s and are used to spending money on personal grooming. For example, many online shopping sites saw a surge in sales of men's undergarments that make the wearer look more muscular. Sales of body shaping or padded underwear rose 170 percent in February from one year earlier, according to popular online shopping mall 11st.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Have you ever heard about North Korean Rock Star "Ree"

If there was a punk rocker in North Korea, what would he be like? What would he sing about and where would he perform? Oh Do-ham and Park Jun-chul, members of rock band Pablov, turned these questions into an art show and invited 10 local artists to impersonate their versions of a fictitious rock star named Rhee Sung-wung at the Art Sonje Center in Jongno, central Seoul.

“North Korean Punk Rocker Rhee Sung-wung” is a combination of a concert and an art exhibition. It showcases a stage for the participating bands as installation pieces. On three nights — March 23, March 27 and April 13 — the musicians will perform.

Oh and Park won the Center’s Open Call 2012, an annual competition that allows the finalist to direct a show. “We have never curated an exhibition before. We were drunk and couldn’t stop talking about a rock musician in North Korea,” said Oh, “We wanted to give him the coolest and the most heroic name ever, thus the name Rhee Sung-wung.” Despite their flimsy description, two performances at the press preview on Thursday spoke volumes.

Ryu Ji-won of blues duo the Alligators sang “Fell in Love on Guard Duty” on a piano. As Rhee, Ryu lamented about the memory of making love to a girl for the first time at a mandatory military camp. “I asked a defector who helped us through this project, and he confessed that a lot of adolescents hook up during guard duty at the camp,” Ryu explained. Rhyming about erections and guard duty, this mellow version of Rhee garnered enthusiastic applause as he bounced across the piano on his behind and continued to bounce off the stage.

Dan Pyeong-son, a solo rocker, roared “The Day I Become Human” in a black “hanbok,” or Korean traditional attire for mourning. “You-know-who passed away and so I thought I would hold a funeral at the opening tomorrow wearing this,” mumbled the nonchalant musician with long hair.

Other pieces or performances tell interesting narratives as well. Bam Sun Pirates, a punk duo, will perform in a jailhouse with objects such as “Kim Jong-il’s car sex” video or t-shirts ridiculing the deceased former leader displayed as prosecutors’ exhibits. “These musicians believe Rhee would end up behind bars for singing songs and making props ridiculing the ‘Dear Leader,’” Park explained. The story brings to mind the recent incident when Park Jeong-keun, a photographer, was arrested for retweeting or reposting messages of the communist regime’s Twitter account.

All bands recorded their numbers for the show, and Oh and Park plan to smuggle the CDs across the Yalu River come June when the water level is high and the security lax. “We actually wanted to release the CDs this month, but the North tightened up security after the death (of Kim Jong-il).” They will get help from a defector who has been selling bootleg DVDs of South Korean dramas across the Tumen River.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Moviegoers today are accustomed to glossy, high-definition images that indiscriminately reveal slight skin blemishes of actors known for flawless complexions. Bass-heavy, surround-sound audio has also become the norm.

The cinematic experience is more than about whether the plotline is appealing. The technical aspects of the audiovisuals often determine the overall aesthetics, of how one perceives the content. Sometimes the film itself is deliberately produced to capture the nostalgia of the past. Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” (2011) pays direct homage to early 20th-century silent movies while Quentin Tarantino’s signature visual style displays an adoration of old, dust-streaked images. In 2008, Ryu Seung-wan experimented with old-fashioned dubbing for his retro action flick “Dachimawa Lee.”

There is something quaintly charming about decades-old movies. They are, moreover, an important part of cultural heritage.

“According to FIAF’s (International Federation of Film Archive) code of ethics, archives are responsible for showing movies to people and to protect and pass on this heritage to the next generation — in the best possible representation of the works of their original creators,” said Kim Bong-young, head of the Korean Film Archive’s (KOFA) Film Conservation Center in Sangam-dong, northwestern Seoul.

“Flawless visuals are great, but I believe there is also something beautiful about tainted, moldy films,” said Kim Kiho, an archivist at the center. Here, fans can enjoy old films on the big screen or at personal screening stations. But before introducing works available for viewing, The Korea Times took a peek into the art of film restoration.

Art of conservation

Damaged films are like patients awaiting treatment at the hospital, or in this case the conservation lab.

A tour of the venue revealed rooms filled with various machines, from a super-sized vacuum cleaner that eliminates dust to manually operated appliances resembling sewing machines where archivists mend broken perforations (the hole-punched edge along celluloid film).

Restoration and digitization — converting analogue film to digital format — are complex procedures: removing foreign material from the film, stabilizing shakiness or reducing scratches, noise and dust, as well as altering the color.

“We archivists must make a lot of tricky decisions. A lot of early films were made under poor lighting conditions, where night scenes were shot during the day and such. Often more than two types film were patched up for a given movie and thus different portions of the film are tarnished to varying degrees over time,” said Kim Kiho.

Color grading, or color correction as it’s more commonly known, requires weighing various factors. Sometimes the film’s original cinematographers may be available for consultation, but they may want the archivist to change the color according to how they may have wanted it to look like rather than how it originally was.

“It takes a lot of trial and error, and digital restoration of old movies is still relatively new in Korea. We hope people can value the importance of old movies as a cultural heritage and that they can take interest in watching them, in the spirit of enjoying a more diverse audiovisual experience,” said Kim.

After undergoing careful restoration, films are catalogued and stored at temperature- and humidity-controlled, safe-lock chambers. Thousands of round tin cans storing films (about five are devoted to a single full-length feature film) occupy the space.

Most films are kept at 15 degrees Celsius while original copies and/or material requiring special attention are stored at 5 degrees Celsius.

There is a separate room designated for “exclusive material” — North Korean pictures. Those wanting access to these films must file a written request, which, if approved, can be seen at KOFA’s viewing room.

Importance of heritage

KOFA, a state-supported organization, restores and digitizes some 30 films per year. It is also devoted to collecting lost or rare Korean films scattered overseas. Most notably, Shin Sang-ok’s “Bound by Chastity Rules” (1962) was found in Taiwan several years ago while Kim Ki-young’s “The Boxes of Death” (1955) found its way back home from the United States last year.

“Chastity Rules” proved to be a successful first-time venture for local archivists in 2006-2007, ever since the concept of digital film restoration was introduced here in the mid-1990s. A partially restored copy of the movie premiered at the Busan Film Festival in 2006 before being invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.

Internationally renowned auteur Martin Scorsese also helped put classic Korean films on the map. He was on the frontline of introducing Kim Ki-young’s 1960 erotic thriller “The Housemaid” to the world via Cannes in 2008. The “Taxi Driver” director helped KOFA receive funding from the World Cinema Fund (WCF) for the complex digital restoration process, even though Korea was not a supported member nation.

“That this intensely, even passionately claustrophobic film is known only to the most devoted film lovers in the West is one of the great accidents of film history,” says Scorsese, who ranks “The Housemaid” among the top three films of all time. In 2009, Shin’s 1961 “Prince Yeonsan” was also screened at the prestigious French festival.

“Korean films have a well-established reputation in the world cinema scene and interest in contemporary Korean works has encouraged film experts and fans to look back at older Korean movies. I hope to see more classic Korean films at film festivals,” Julietta Sichel, former program director of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, previously told The Korea Times.

Posters and brochures of local movies are also kept at KOFA. The oldest poster that is stored there after undergoing deoxidation is for the 1932 “A Ferry Boat That Has No Owner” by Lee Gyu-hwan.

Films from the 1940s are being screened at KOFA’s Cinematheque through March 23, including Choi In-kyu’s “Angels on the Streets” (1941) today; An Seok-young’s “Volunteer” (1941) on March 20; Lee Byung-il’s “Spring of Korean Peninsula” (1941) on March 21; Ko Jeon-yeom’s “Suicide Squad of the Watchtower” (1943) on March 22; and Park Gi-chae’s “Straits of Joseon” (1943) on March 23. All screenings are at 2 p.m.

It also runs an online video-on-demand service that allows access to 400 early Korean films, 36 animations and 37 independent works. This month, 11 films by Kim Ki-young, including his iconic “Housemaid,” are available for free. Visit (Korean only). Several Korean cultural centers overseas such as the one in New York offer this Internet service.

In May, KOFA plans on hosting a film festival of restored films at its Cinematheque. The same month, some 70 early English-subtitled Korean movies will become available on video-sharing site YouTube. For more information, visit (Korean and English).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Korean indie films

Local independent cinema has not seen many blockbuster hits like 2009’s “Old Partner” lately but smaller films have slowly yet surely been receiving wider exposure. This month sees a particularly strong lineup of low-budget movies in theaters across the country, including international film fest-verified pictures.

Indie flick enthusiasts and moviegoers looking for alternatives to mainstream fare can appreciate this genre, not only in local arthouses, but also at larger venues.

Multiplex giant CGV has been operating Movie Collage, a program that devotes a number of screens to low-budget works, and is hosting an independent film showcase through March 31. Select CGV theaters around the country housing the project will feature premieres as well as past works.

“We feel that an increasing number of moviegoers want more diversity, and Movie Collage does just this. We lose about 3 billion won a year running the program but we see it as a long-term investment. And last year we had a record number of over 3 billion moviegoers visiting Movie Collage theaters,” said CGV’s head of PR Yi Sang-kyu.

“Choked,” which was invited to the Berlin and Miami International Film Festivals recently, opened last week at CGV Daehangno, under a section focusing on works by Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) graduates.

The film, also to be screened at the Hong Kong International Film Festival later this month, is the first feature by Kim Joong-hyun. A young man’s life is turned upside down when creditors summon him over his missing mother’s debt. The work has been acclaimed for making incisive observations of contemporary Korean society while exuding a sense of compassion.

“Romance Joe,” a collection of intertwined stories involving a suicidal assistant director, has also been released in select theaters around the country.

The film is considered one of the most anticipated of the season among critics, as it already won a Citizens’ Choice Award at the Busan Festival and competed earlier this year in Rotterdam, which is considered a rite of passage of sorts for promising new directors. It marks the feature debut of Lee Kwang-kuk, the longtime assistant to minimal-realist auteur Hong Sang-soo. The Rotterdam Festival organizers described Lee as playing “the storytelling game with unmistakable pleasure in this elegantly shot first feature.”

Fans will be seeing more films that have been invited to Rotterdam including most notably “Stateless Things,” the second picture by Kim Kyung-mook to be shown at the Dutch event.

The film is about two outsiders — a North Korean refugee and a gay prostitute — trying to find their niche. Audience members will be able to converse with the filmmaker himself and lead cast members following the 7:40 p.m. screening on Friday at Sangsang Madang Cinema in Hongdae and the 7:20 p.m. screening on Saturday at Indieplus in Sinsa-dong.

On Thursday, moviegoers can see the re-opening of multiple award-winning auteur Jeon Soo-il’s stark drama “Pink,” about a traumatized woman finding refuge at an obscure port city bar. The film, which had premiered last October, explores the nature of implosive violence and psychosexuality. As typical of Jeon’s works, it features long shots that ebb and flow like a series of still life photographs, accompanied by lilting music by rocker Kang San-eh.

The CGV Movie Collage Korean Independent Film Festival also presents past works that have come to define the local genre, such as Yang Ik-june’s “Breathless” and last year’s decidedly adult animation “King of Pigs.”

Abovementioned films are/will be shown at arthouses and Movie Collage theaters around the country including CGV Apgujeong, Gangbyeon, Sangam, Guro and Daehangno in Seoul; CGV Dong (East) Suwon, Ori and Icheon in Gyeonggi Province; and CGV Seomyeon in Busan.

Visit for more information.

Source: The Korea Times