Things I love about Korea!

Okay, so readers of Lonely Planet say that Seoul is a lousy city. The New York Times says it is a great city to visit.

How do you choose sides when two idiots disagree? How can you tell who is telling the truth when two liars tell different stories?

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I was on the subway the other day when I began writing a list of things I love about Korea. This is not a final list, by the way.

* The tax rate is 3.3%. That's right. 3.3%. Not 33.3%.

* Even better, I won't have to go through the April 15 IRS game. The government here just TAKES the money. They don't force to also send in forms by a certain date.

* Every company working with Western employees seems to have a manager who will show up when called on a Friday night to help you when your heating system stops working. On the other hand, he is also likely to get you stranded on the highway when his van runs out of gas. (Yes, both things happened recently.)

* The seats on subway line 4 are heated. The next time my heating system at home stops working I may just ride up and down line 4.

* People can look at themselves in a mirror without others thinking they are strange. Many Koreans in fact do this. There seems to be mirrors everywhere. One thing I've noticed is that Korean women seem to enjoy taking photos of themselves, especially when they are seated at cafes or donut shops.

* You can slurp your food without people staring at you. You can even pick up your bowl and drink from it. Americans (at least others I've eaten cereal with) seem to do the same thing but for some reason Americans here think it is strange when Koreans do that with noodles.

* Koreans are eager to meet, greet, and host non-Koreans, especially those who are from Western countries.

* Singing rooms. In some areas there are singing rooms on every corner. I recently went singing in a ritzy part of town for about $9 an hour.

* Seoul seems to be the Swing Dance Capital of the world!

* Koreans will praise me for saying very simple things such as "hello" in Korean.

* One of the best things in the world is a Korean friend who is concerned with how you are doing in Korea.

* Cell reception is great everywhere, apparently for every type of cell service. The downside is that cell reception is great everywhere, meaning you need a good excuse for not answering the phone.

* Korea is extremely safe.

* Tipping is not allowed or expected. I've never enjoyed tipping, it should be enough that I return.

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Things I don't like about Korea? I've only been back for a few weeks. Check back in about 6 months.



Random stuff from the Korea Times

U.S. Black Activists Launch Attack on Cuba

According to the L.A. Times, published in today's Korea Times: Before Obama, "no human rights groups, which largely come from the left, wanted to be seen as lackeys for George W. Bush," said Christopher Sabatini, senior director of policy for the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

Cornel West, Ruby Dee, Melvin Van Peebles and the others who signed the statement should condemn Sabatini for saying such a thing!

1) This is a teachable moment: Say what you think is right, regardless of who agrees or disagrees with you.

2) Will the statement will do any good? I doubt it. Is it late? Certainly. If it will do any good then it may have been even more powerful years ago.

3) Not that I paid attention to them before, but if it is true that they didn't want to be Bush's lackeys, then everything those black activists said about Cuba before 2008 should be disregarded.

4) To paraphrase Golda Meir: They hated Bush more than they loved black Cubans.

4) Edmund Burke is often credited with saying: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing." Burke should have added: Or wait until someone you like is in office to get the courage to say something.

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Korea Times: "Blizzard Creates Additional Odd Jobs."

1) That which is not seen: This article reveals a big difference between journalists and economists. Journalists observe and write about the obvious. Economists (usually) analyze that which is not always obvious, examine the long-term consequences of policies and actions.

2) Invisible victims: The Korea Times reporter, no doubt, is correct that some jobs were created. At what cost? There was probably much more economic activity that was delayed or prevented because of the blizzard. By the way, in this regard, policymakers are more like journalists in that they focus on the obvious immediate benefits rather than long-term negative consequences.

3) Negative economic substitution: So one person quoted in the article was paying 7,000 won (about $5.50) an hour to get someone to shovel snow. If not for the blizzard, perhaps he could have spent that 7,000 won on something else, creating economic activity elsewhere that a reporter would not notice?

4) Apparently a good way to improve an economy is to have more blizzards. Just imagine how many odd jobs could be created if it snowed every day for the next 6 months! Snow removal could become a permanent job.

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A beautiful thing about free markets: Customers make evaluations, not bureaucrats or experts. They are not perfect, of course. But the decisions are made based on who shows up, not what a former Minister of Education thinks.
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Korea Times: Seoul Disputes Lonely Planet's 'Least Favorite City' Label

I didn't realize the travel guide Lonely Planet was still being published. I was a contributor to one of its editions about a decade or so ago. I assumed it died after that.

Based on feedback from readers, it has named Seoul one of its least favorite cities.

Seoul has responded quickly, apparently much faster than it does at cleaning snow off the ground.

1) I haven't done a survey, but I suspect Seoul would easily be named the least favorite cities of Seoulites.

2) Seoul is a great place to live but you wouldn't want to visit.

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Experts: Cold Snap Doesn't Disprove Global Warming

Of course it doesn't. That would be real news if it did.

Okay, I'll play along. So what would disprove global warming? It is the ultimate heads-I-win, tails-you-lose game. Hot weather proves global warming is occurring (heads), cold weather doesn't disprove it (tails). In the 1970s, it was global cooling. Then it became global warming. Now it has become climate change.

So, what, in the eyes of those experts, could disprove global warming/climate change?

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I usually don't mention the Korea Herald because it hides its links. But today's newspaper has a staff editorial: KORUS FTA in limbo.

Some people who know me wonder why I have lost interest in politics.

I remember, in late 1993, in Seoul, being handed a flyer by a wide-eyed college student who was greatly upset that the U.S. was using GATT to force open the Korean rice market. I asked her what she thought I should do about it.

Now, 17 years later, the free trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea is in limbo. I suppose I could have spent the last 17 years becoming an expert about free trade between the two countries.



Foreign Food + People

A few days ago one of my coworkers mentioned that we were all going to an Indian restaurant on Friday night. Obviously, I wasn't present when this was discussed and the final decision was made. I didn't fuss about it because they said we'd sing after dinner...

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I have eaten all types of food. In particular, I love Chinese and Korean food. I have eaten Korean and Chinese food so many times that I no long consider them to be “foreign" food. I think they should be among the food groups…bread, meat, vegetables, Chinese food, Korean food.

So most food is not foreign to me. Food is food. I don’t care which country it was first eaten. Either I enjoy it or I don’t.

But there is one exception: Indian food. It is still foreign to me.

Foreign, as in, from now on I am going to eat a snack before going to eat Indian food.

Foreign, as in, I may eat at a different restaurant and meet up with friends and coworkers later.

Foreign, as in, next time I will just drink water as others eat.

Foreign, as in, I will never move to India.

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Most Indian food tastes bland to me. It may not be the food's fault. As I now say about politics, I don't have a particular label, I'm just an extremist, and extremely proud of it. When it comes to food, I like food that is at an extreme.

When I go to a new restaurant, I'm usually looking for the most extreme item on the menu. If there is goat on the menu then I'm trying it. Rabbit? Sorry, rabbit, I guess your foot wasn't lucky for you. Dog on the menu? Ruff!

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I like food that is really salty. Or really sweet. Or really bitter. I guess that's one reason Sweet & Sour Pork or Chicken sounds good even before I start eating. I like food that is at an extreme.

The one exception is really spicy food. Yes, that means there are some Korean dishes I avoid, but can still eat the spicy stuff when there are no other options.

But Indian food? Most of it tastes bland. The fancier the restaurant, the blander it is. Bland is not an extreme. What I can taste doesn’t taste good. I don't recall ever eating cardboard, but I have the feeling it would taste about the same as Indian food dipped in sauce. In fact, the only acceptable Indian food I've tasted are the sauces covering the food. Perhaps I should just eat the sauce next time?

Curry is fine, but it has to cover up the main dish. Last night's Shrimp pag Curry had potential. But that was all it had, potential.

I'm not saying Indian food is terrible, okay? Terrible is an extreme and bland can't be extreme. I'm just saying that I feel like I have wasted my money when I eat Indian food. 15,500 won (about $13) of mine is gone forever.

I would have been better off mailing the money to a homeless person in America.

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It isn't that I haven't tried various Indian dishes. I have tried Indian food with names I’ve never heard of…I’ve tried Indian food with some of my favorites, such as shrimp. It doesn’t matter. The best Indian food I've had is instant Curry out of a box.

Perhaps the cardboard added to the taste?

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Last night, I felt like I was in church when I was a youngster. I remember that we had to sit through the minister’s sermon, sing, then we could have ice cream or other things we really wanted to eat. But last night, the world was again turned upside.

I ate food I didn’t like before I could sing.

I should have punished my coworkers by delivering a sermon on Indian food being the only foreign food in the world.

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Speaking of foreign, I've heard another non-Korean in Korea complain about Koreans referring to non-Koreans as 외국인. It doesn't bother me one way or the other, I haven't been excited about such semantics since the great African American or black debate of the early 1990s. As you may have noticed, I still use black.

My question for the complaining foreigner: What would you prefer? Not all non-Koreans in Korea are Americans. Many Canadians, Brits, and Australians get upset when Koreans refer to them as Americans. Would Westerner (서양인) be more palatable? Non-Korean?

The complaint may have merit, but the best complaints come with alternative suggestions.

It was always funny to me, by the way, to hear Koreans in America referring to Americans as foreigners. In America!

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I don't think I've ever really thought of food as being foreign. Still, I did LOL the first time I ever saw a dog eating noodles. I hadn't been in Taiwan for very long. I was eating at a friend's home. I remember that the dog was, like all dogs, begging for food. Then, the mom put the noodles on a plate or in a bowl and fed them to the dog.

I don't know why I thought it was so funny. But then, I thought: Dogs in America would eat noodles if someone put them on a plate, in a bowl, on the floor, wherever. Dogs don't care about the national origin of food or its presentation. A dog in Taiwan won't frown about noodles or American beef. Does it like it or not is the test.

A dog, if it could cook, might have some preferences, but 99 percent of the time, it will probably eat whatever it is given when it is hungry.

I don't cook either, by the way, so that may explain my apathy about where food comes from. I'm just happy to be eating...

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I’m sure I amazed my coworkers last night. My Korean isn’t that great, I haven’t tried speaking it to them. I’m very serious at the office, very little joking around. But last night? I sang reggae, love ballads, hip-hop, Korean songs. Yes, I was great. For once, I wasn't the only one who thought so.

By the end of the night, after I sang a few Korean songs, the Korean women there started chanting, “오빠! 오빠!”. Hard to translate, the literal meaning is “big brother,” but in that context, it is like chanting for a hero or superstar.

Even I started to believe I was singing well when I had those Korean women chanting and cheering me.

If they had done that a few more times I probably would have paid the entire bill for the night. I was already feeling happy enough that I was willing to forgive them for taking me to an Indian restaurant.