Category Archives: south korea

Koreanosaurus Boseongensis

I recently had an article about dinosaurs published on the front cover of the Gwangju News. I’ve spent a little time trying to extract the pages, create new PDFs and upload the article in its original form but haven’t been able to do so. Since it was proving to be such a ballache, here is the article in text only format. I found researching and writing this piece very enjoyable and hope you will too. I’ve been making a conscious effort to write outside my comfort zone and hopefully it’ll pay off…

Me with Professors Huh and Shin

Korea is a country fixated on technology. Time Magazine recently named the English teaching robot as one of the best inventions of 2010. They have the fastest broadband connection in the world and what was until recently the fastest railway system. You could easily be forgiven for assuming that all Koreans were hurtling towards the future at breakneck speed. But in a quiet corner of Gwangju, there is vital work ongoing that’s establishing and defining the peninsula’s unbreakable bond with the past.

The official approval of Koreanosaurus Boseongensis as a new genus and species in October locked the eyes of the scientific world onto the Korea Dinosaur Research Center at Chonnam University. But in truth, it’s just the latest in a long line of remarkable discoveries by Professor Min Huh and his team of researchers.  Korea has proven to be one of the most fertile hunting grounds for excavation teams: now the aptly named Koreanosaurus can take pride of place as the jewel in the crown.

The fossilized remains were discovered in Bibong-ri Boseong, Jeollanam-do (a town more noted for its luscious green tea plantations) in 2003 by Professor Huh’s team. After seven years of excavation, preparation, research and reconstruction, they were finally given the green light to go public with their findings just a few weeks ago. Professor Huh admits it’s been a “very exciting and busy time.”

He is Korea’s top dinosaur expert, respected the world over for his discoveries. He is also the Dean of the Natural Sciences Department of Chonnam. But sitting in his research facility, tucked away at the back of the university, he is amicable and accessible. He manages to simplify everything: offering bite-sized pieces of information, easily digested by those without a background in geology.  He explains about how 100 million years ago, there was only one, super continent. Thus, Korea was connected to China and Mongolia, two other areas rich in dinosaur fossils.

The conditions in Korea were perfect for attracting prehistoric wildlife, in all shapes and sizes. Large parts of what is now Jeollanam-do were lakes; which explains the huge collection of dinosaur footprints, eggs and bone fossils in the area. The county provided some much needed watering holes. The extent of Professor Huh’s findings in the region shouldn’t be understated. He recalls his first fruitful excavation, in Haenam in 1996.

“I didn’t know anything about large dinosaur footprints at the time,” he explains. “I found one, about ten centimeters wide, it looked like the roots of a plant, embedded in sedimentary rock bedding. We kept looking and found more and more. I contacted Professor Martin Lockley, an expert in Colorado University and told him about the find. He was shocked and said only: ‘how many?’”

In total, they found 823 dinosaur and 443 pterosaur footprints Haenam. It is the largest pterosaur (the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight. The most famous pterosaur is the pterodactyl) print site in the world. They also found the world’s oldest webbed bird footprint, dating back 85 million years. In fact, Haenam is unique in being the only site in the world where footprints of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, birds and arthropods (ancient arachnids, crustaceans and insects) have been found in the same locale.

Professor Huh’s next excavation brought him to Hwasun, where he explained that to date his team have uncovered more than 1,800 wide-ranging dinosaur footprints, as well as a trackway which exhibits the fastest speed of any dinosaur in Korea. In Yeosu, they found the world’s longest ornithopod (small, bipedal plant-eating dinosaurs, often birdlike) trackway in the world, amongst 3,853 other footprints.

Goseong, further down the coast towards Busan, has also proven to be a fruitful location for

Professor Huh. In times gone by, Korea’s second city was nothing but water: a huge lake, comparable in size to Lake Superior. As such, it too proved a popular habitat for dinosaurs and has the world’s highest density of dinosaur footprints, with over 5,000 being located, across many different species.

But it was in Boseong that Professor Huh’s remarkable and ultimate achievement was to be unveiled. Unsurprisingly, he beams as he proudly shows me the remains of a skeleton. Koreanosaurus Boseongensis is smaller than you might think. “Jurassic Park was just a movie,” the Professor explains, smiling. “It really wasn’t historically accurate.” The team, too, were initially surprised by the finding. Most of the footprints in the area are indicative of much larger creatures: they were puzzled by the remains.

The Korean team’s expertise is mostly in footprints. They enlisted Pascal Godefroit, a paleontologist from Belgium to confirm that the Koreanosaurus is, indeed, unique to Korea only. It is assumed that it moved primarily on all fours, because of its overall body-plan and the location of the discovery. This, in itself, is an uncommon feature.

Professor Huh continues: “We think it was capable of digging, because of the position of its arms. This would have helped it to find shelter and digging holes with which to lay eggs and raise its young. It was an ornithopod with long legs and neck, but with shorter hindlegs. We believe it moved quite slowly.”

The Professor explained that Koreanosaurus was about a metre tall, and 2.5 long. It weighed about one hundred kilograms and lived in the late Cretaceous period (99.6 million to 65.5 million years ago). The discovery is his most exciting yet, he admits, but there is much work to be done. The next task to hand is to examine and try to establish links between bones and eggs found in the area. Watching the research student buzz round the lab, it’s easy to see that they won’t stop until they have answers.

As Professor Huh places a one hundred million year old bone in my hand, I can’t help but reflect on the minor role in world history human beings have played. We have roamed the earth, in our current form, for a mere two hundred thousand years. Dinosaurs ruled the domain for over three hundred million. The dinosaurs of Korea were wiped out by a series of comets and volcanoes (which resulted in the formation of amongst others, Mudeung Mountain). We may just be doing similarly devastating damage; all within the blink of an eye that has been our lifespan.

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The Calm at the Eye of the Storm: South Korean Kids on the Threat of North Korea

Korean School Kids: Oblivious

The news networks have gone into overdrive this week. The Korean Peninsula has once again come into focus for all the wrong reasons. By attacking the populated island of Yeonpyeong and killing four South Koreans, the North have made it clear that the accession of Kim Jong-un to Head of State will not signal an end to provocative, audacious behaviour.

It has been widely reported that the North have strengthened their nuclear position with the recent confirmation of uranium enrichment. The American scientist who visited the facility, however, has since warned against unnerving hysteria. Conservative commentators, too, have spoken out against sensationalizing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Isn’t that exactly what they want?

All the same, it’s brinkmanship that would test the mettle of many. For me, though, it’s served as a poignant reminder of how people live during times of ‘crisis’. It’s also highlighted the remarkable will that exists within humans to continue on with their lives, even when the world around them goes to pieces. Children, in particular, show impressive indifference in the face of adversity.

I’ve spent the past six months teaching in South Korea. I work in an academy in Gwangju, in the south west of the country. Whilst the international media has been reporting on the mood in Seoul, I have spent the past two days gauging opinion amongst the middle school teenagers I teach. The first thing I noticed is that not one child raised the issue of the North Korean attack when I inquired as to how they were, or how their day had been. The general reaction, when I raised the point, equated to: “oh, that!”

Further questioning revealed a mixture of disdain, sympathy, reactionary, half-hearted hatred and bemusement. But very few of the opinions were enforced with anything resembling conviction… more like eye rolling and heavy tutting.  There was little in the way of childish zeal; the sort one might expect if, say, America had been attacked by an enemy. Of course, I wasn’t grilling 11-year-olds for their opinions on the Korean Situation… I reserved it for the older kids. I wonder if I’d have encountered slightly more animation with the youngsters?

There seems to be a level of acceptance here that these things will, on occasion, happen. It’s apparent even whilst watching news broadcasts: compare those of CNN yesterday with Korean networks. Of course, this is huge news, but it seems as though folks aren’t as willing to get carried away. The calmness struck me as odd at first, but very quickly, I realized it was a sentiment I was well familiar with.

 

Yeonpyeong's Burning: Image by http://www.theage.au

I grew up in the 1980s and 90s in Northern Ireland: surrounded by The Troubles. It seemed like everyday someone had been shot dead; or a bomb had exploded somewhere. Sometimes when we’d be walking to or from school, we’d be greeted on the road by British soldiers, heavily armed. The town I lived in was often closed off because of bomb scares… occasionally, bombs. I was evacuated from a cinema in 1998 whilst playing pool. About an hour later, a huge fireball came rushing towards us at the top of the hill. The bomb had exploded. It probably never came anywhere near us, but it felt like it was right on my arse!

I had a laugh about the incident in school on Monday with friends. Nobody was shocked or surprised… these kind of things just happened. I only realized things like this weren’t normal when I left Ireland for the first time (also in 1998) and went to America. People would ask me how it was, living in Northern Ireland, as if it was a war-zone. I laughed at the very thought… “sure, it’s normal!” Would be the reply. And to me, it was.

‘Normal’ is whatever moment of history we are born into. This week I’ve had messages and emails from home asking me about the situation here.

“What’s going on?”

“It sounds terrible!”

“Is there going to be a war?”

“You’ll be on the first plane home!”

Probably the exact worries people had about our own circumstance in Northern Ireland ten or fifteen years ago. Without trying to make little of what is undoubtedly an anxious, lamentable time, Kim Jong-il was pulling stunts like this when my students were born. As shocking as it may be, for most of them, it’s unsurprising. One of the foibles of conflict still rings true today: the kids are alright.

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Now, enjoy this short audio clip of Sarah Palin promising support for our “North Korean allies” on Glenn Beck’s radio show.

Take a trip to the DMZ

 

Everybody comes to Korea with a list of things they want to do, see and accomplish as long as their arm. Taking in Asia seems to crop up on most of them, along with learning the language, taking up Taekwondo and, of course, saving money. But anybody with of a passing interest in history (or a slight penchant for voyeurism) is guaranteed to make a trip to the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South. That it featured so highly on my own list is slightly worrying, but I’m happy to have checked it off and in the process of doing so, I had one of the most sobering, surreal experiences of my life.

DMZ

There are various trips to choose from, each with their own selling points and packages. I was sold on Adventure Korea’s promise to take me off the beaten track. Rolling through the deserted countryside beyond the civilian control point that precedes the DMZ, I felt reassured that they had kept their side of the bargain, but a slight unease at the eeriness of the surroundings.

The once bustling metropolis of Cheorwan has long since been reduced to a ghost town. Stray machinery peppers the endless rows of rice paddies, conceivably abandoned at the outbreak of war, but more probably by the farmers who must leave the zone before their curfew. It amounts to a whole lot of suspense before we reach the first point of the tour, the Second Tunnel.

One hundred and forty five metres deep and 3.5 kilometres long, the tunnel was intercepted 1.1 kilometres in to South Korean territory in 1975 and had the power to transport 16,000 soldiers an hour under the border. The figure beggars belief. I have to crouch as I make my way down to its base, wondering how long it would’ve taken to carve this into the rock. The guide reveals, to gasps of astonishment, that there is an estimated twenty other tunnels like this yet to be unearthed, but that despite the recent decline in relations, they don’t anticipate an invasion. His words emphasize just how volatile the Korean situation is.

The centerpiece of the tour is a visit to the Cheorwan Observation Centre, situated a mere stone’s throw from the DMZ, with a bird’s eye view of North Korea. Of course, there is scant opportunity to see what life is actually like in the most secluded country on earth, but the little we can see is equal parts fascinating and shocking. On the South Korean side, the farmland is lush, the vegetation rich; a reflection of an age of prosperity. It’s in marked contrast with what we see on the other side.

On the entry point to North Korea, the thriving nature reserve that has been created by default in the DMZ comes to an abrupt halt. Everything living has been flattened, lest it provide camouflage for anyone attempting to escape across the border. There is a North Korean army base visible, looming disturbingly large on a hilltop. The smoke of a fire evidently lit by there soldiers rose towards the sky. Since I’ve been in Korea (actually, since long before it), I have wondered about the North and the peninsula’s situation. Being within such proximity was surreal and if truth be told, thrilling.

Traveling to the DMZ was a worthwhile experience: interesting and enlightening… and, yes, fun. However, it would be advisable to keep your expectations in check. You will not see anything you’re not supposed to, so be realistic… if you manage to do so, you’ll be in for a real treat.

Written for Say Kimchi News

Feed The Boats @ Speakeasy Bar

Written for The Gwangju News

Hearing of a live rock band playing in Gwangju is a bit like seeing an oasis on the horizon after months of traipsing thirstily over scorched desert plains. Sure, the internet allows anybody with a modicum of know-how to keep up to date with whatever tickled their eardrums at home, but any active music fan begins to crave the sweat and grime of a ramshackle gig before long.

And so it was, on the weekend of Gwangju World Music Festival, that Speakeasy paid host to one of the most omnipotent bands in town, Feed The Boats. And the gods were seemingly on their side. With the weather ensuring the Festival was a washout, the boats were duly fed. Patrons streamed through the door in the shape of a one-fingered salute, directed at Festival organizers, who had chosen to overlook Speakeasy when selecting after-party venues for the event. Did somebody say karma?

In some respects, Feed The Boats couldn’t really fail tonight. A bunch of pie-eyed, gig-starved westerners are hardly the most difficult crowd to please, but credit where it’s due: they put on a good show. Their set list was well chosen: a mixture of crowd pleasers and what seemed to be personal favourites. The crowd, well oiled after a warm up set from Deserts, responded well to each number; dancing, singing along and hurling compliments toward the stage. The lead singer has an excellent voice: guttural and grungy, a refreshing take on Courtney Love or Brody Dalle. And so, it was no surprise when they launched into a rollicking Distillers number.

Likewise, their take on Mod classic A Town Called Malice is pleasing, but not wholly unanticipated, given the poker-faced Englishman in tow. Feed The Boats’ style is a well-worn brand of bar-rock; toying with alternative and EMO, before settling somewhere in the middle. The original numbers they play are greeted warmly, but it’s their versions of a couple of classics that will endure. The schism between The Crystals and The Replacements could never be overstated, so congratulations to Feed The Boats for going some way to bridge the gap, with an enjoyable rendition of And Then I Kissed Her and the Minneapolis outfit’s Bastards of Young, delivered in the only way it should be: loud, fast and rickety.

No, Feed The Boats won’t win any awards for originality, but they should be commended for providing what was certainly the most entertaining option on a Saturday night in Gwangju.

Video: The Replacements – Bastards of Young

http://www.youtube.com/v/VtCTQRGXJps?fs=1&hl=en_US

Woobang Tower Jump, Daegu

Written for the Say Kimchi News

I’ve always been a bit of a coward, yet paradoxically, always been pretty keen on scaring the crap out of myself. I think I forget the first part until right before I’m about to do the second. Last week I had a couple of days off work, so I decided I’d go to Daegu to jump off a building. Daegu is Korea’s third city (if, like many, you consider Incheon to be part of Seoul) and home to Woobang Tower, the tallest tower in Asia. They’ve built an amusement park around it, WoobangTower Land, which seems similar in scale to Gwangju’s own Family Land: pretty small, but not bad for an afternoon if you’re at a loose end.

Woobang Tower is 202m high (312m in altitude) and is similar in structure to the CN Tower in Toronto, formerly the world’s tallest free-standing structure (553m) and one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World. At the top of Woobang Tower is a revolving restaurant. There’s a 360° observation deck which gives you stunning, panoramic views of the city below which, incidentally, is huge. Coming from a small Irish town, Gwangju seemed sprawling to me (especially from the top of Mudeung Mountain), but Daegu is a massive step up in terms of scale. From the top of Woobang Tower, you really get an idea of how big it is.

We set off from Gwangju early in the morning and arrived around lunchtime. There were three of us, two jumpers and a photographer, and we met another friend in Daegu who jumped with us. We were all excited; laughing and joking without giving a moment’s consideration to what we were about to do. That was until the Tower became visible in the distance on the taxi ride to Woobang Land. It dominates the horizon. The closer we got, the taller it seemed and when we were within a few hundred metres of it, we saw a little gangway protruding from near the top. This was where we would fall from.

Feeling a little sheepish (and not a little sick) we made our way around the perimeter of the park until we reached the foot of the Tower. We paid (for three people, it was 100,000W, very reasonable) and got on the elevator for the 76th floor. The laughing stopped. Suddenly, it wasn’t funny anymore. Looking at each other for some sort of comfort was futile; the others were either praying or holding their hands over their faces. Yikes. There was a teenage girl ahead of us in the queue so we could see exactly what we had let ourselves in for and as she shimmied closer to the edge of the “plank”, white as a ghost, I felt nothing but sympathy!

The jump itself is not a bungee, which I initially thought, but a sky-jump. It’s like base jumping, except you have a cable attached to your back. Kitted out in the finest race suits this size of Talladega Nights, we decided on which order we would jump in (I was second) and then waited. As with most adrenaline-based activities, this is by far the worst part. Every sort of eventuality runs through your head until eventually, you’ve thought of all of the worst things that can happen and an accepting calm descends over you; at least for a minute. When my turn came I was led out to walk the plank. They strapped a harness onto me and explained a few things to me about what was going to happen. The problem is, I don’t speak Korean. I just smiled and nodded, such has become my custom in this fine nation.

I stood at the edge of the gangway for about a minute, getting properly strapped in. Then, I leaned forward, looking at the ground beneath me… it seemed like miles away! The attendant told me to let go and just like that, I was in suspended animation, 132 metres above a sprawling Korean metropolis. Hanging there, horizontally, was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had. I was trying to squeeze out a smile, as the Korean guy is taking pictures of me (as part of the package, you get some photos and a certificate). And after what seemed like minutes (maximum hang time: 30 seconds), I was falling. This part is not frightening. You drop at a leisurely speed to a target at the bottom, where you’re released from your harness and left to ponder your “achievement”. Breathless and a little befuddled, I was greeted at the bottom by my friends. What a rush! For only 33,000W, the Woobang Tower Sky Jump is highly recommended.

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

Korean Grand Prix Preview



Written for the Gwangju News

On Sunday October 24th of this year, a cacophonous drone emanating from a stretch of tarmac in Yeongam, just south of Gwangju, will chauffer in a new era in Korean spectator sport. The country will join an elite band of 18 others in paying host to a Formula One Grand Prix. It is testament to Korea’s growing presence on the international stage that they have convinced F1’s governing body of their capability to host such a high profile event. Some speculate that it may bring even greater rewards to the nation than the 2002 World Cup. Should that be the case, Korean sport is in for a serious boost.

The inaugural South Korean Grand Prix will attract a crowd of around 130,000 to the newly built Korea International Circuit and officials have been scrambling to find ways to accommodate the masses due to descend on South Jeolla. Car parks are under construction, hundreds of shuttle buses are to be laid on. This sleepy, rural community is about to get a whole lot louder, but a few days of autumnal madness will undoubtedly bode well for the region’s finances.

F1 has long since been tagged as a rich man’s sport, filled with charmers and playboys like Flavio Briatore ( former Benetton and Renault head honcho, former beau of Heidi Klum and larger than life impresario, now banned from the sport because of his part in the Crashgate scandal in 2008) and Eddie Irvine (straight talking and flamboyant Irishman, former Ferrari driver and once a squeeze of Pamela Anderson). Ticket prices are often condemned for being astronomical, unaffordable by locals in many venues. The South Korean Grand Prix will do well to avoid such criticism. The cheapest come in at around 165,000 Won. For the best seats, you can expect to pay upwards of 1.2 million. The locals may have to be content with a thunderous hum, rattling their windows. But the money invested in the area through tourism will more than make up for the racket.

Unsurprisingly considering it’s the world’s fifth largest producer of cars, this is not the first time Korea has attempted to host a GP. The government previously attempted to capitalize on the industry’s standing when they reached an agreement to host an event in 1998, although a lack of funding hindered the construction of a circuit. Malaysia won the race to host another F1 event in Asia and the blogosphere’s rumor mill is rife with allegations that F1 CEO Bernie Eccleston managed to keep the money originally paid to him by race promoters. Indeed, the 2010 race has not come to fruition without a few hitches, either. There were whispers right up until the beginning of the summer that it would not go ahead. Initially, doubts were harbored over whether the course would be ready in time. Promoters, Korea Auto Valley Operation (KAVO), however, were at pains to dispel such fears, announcing that the track would open on September 5th. Perhaps of more serious concern to the survival of the race has been the recent unrest between North and South Korea. Political uncertainties on the Peninsula sparked rumors that the GP would be moved to a venue in Europe, with Magny Cours (France) and Motorland Aragon (Spain) mooted as potential replacements. But with the checkered flag looming ever nearer, it would seem the organizers have avoided such measures and that the event will go ahead as planned.

The deal the Korean committee has struck with the governing body will see the country host a Grand Prix every year for the next seven, with an option to extend the deal for another five. The course itself has been compared with another Spanish track, that of Valencia. Designed by Herman Tilke (the brains behind circuits in Abu Dhabi, Malaysia, Bahrain, Singapore, China and many other venues), it’s the second longest track on the calendar, trailing only Monza in Italy at 5.6 km per lap. Along with Turkey and Brazil, it’s the only track whose racing direction is counter-clockwise. The estimated average speed for an F1 car around the course is 212km/h, with a maximum speed of 320km/h, meaning the quickest cars should be getting around in about 1.5 minutes.

And with the race being number seventeen of nineteen, you can be sure that there won’t be any drivers holding back. After winning the Hungarian GP in Red Bull’s Mark Webber (Australia) is hoping to seal his first ever championship crown. He leads 2008’s champion Lewis Hamilton (McLaren, UK) by just four points, with his teammate Sebastian Vettel (Germany) trailing by a further six. The party travels to Belgium, Italy, Singapore and Japan before making its maiden voyage to Korea in October. The Japanese have traditionally put on a spectacular show and their Korean counterparts would no doubt be delighted to emulate them. All eyes will be on Yeongam on the weekend of the 22nd to see if they can do exactly that.

Boryeong Mud Festival: Not all it’s cracked up to be

July was a busy month. It was always going to be. My girlfriend visited me and stayed the duration. Naturally, we wanted to make the most of it. I had spent May and June tossing ideas around, deliberating how to squeeze the absolute best from our weekends. My working schedule (3pm – 10pm) meant we couldn’t do much travelling during the week. That said, we still got plenty done. The life of an ESL teacher (particularly one employed in a hagwon) is a nocturnal existence. I must’ve had twenty suggestions or ideas about things to do on our four weekends together, but throughout that time, there was only one constant: Boryeong Mud Festival.

It’s been called “Asia’s Number One Festival”, and not just by the press releases. Every sinner we spoke to eulogized it. Nobody, it seemed had a bad word to say about it. Until now. July, especially the early part of the month, is monsoon season in Korea. It rains, heavily. It’s clammy and sticky, but not very sunny. We weren’t surprised to arise on the Saturday on which we were making our way north to Daecheon (the city where Boryeong beach is) to overcast skies. We weren’t even disappointed as the heavens opened above our train carriage. We were in excellent spirits, our whistles whetted by a couple of early morning beers en route.

But as soon as we touched down at the festival itself, we felt a tingle of discomfort. The atmosphere was one of anticipation, but not in a good way, more anxiety. As we made our way to the changing areas, people were jostling past, being unfriendly and rude. Skipping ahead in queues (and not just the ajumas – older ladies in Korea that seem to have rite of passage through even the busiest terminals) and generally throwing daggers from one end of the place to another. We got some food. There was a lot of hustle and bustle – nothing new in Korea – but a little more sinister.

This was not what I’ve come to expect from the country. Looking around me, it was pretty clear why: there were no Koreans there. The crowd was comprised of ESL teachers and GIs on vacation from one of the numerous bases scattered around the country. “What the hell…” we thought, tucking into a bottle of soju. “Everything will be alright when we get a roll in the mud.So we finished our food and soju and headed for the entrance. We were greeted by one of the poorest set ups at a festival I’ve ever seen.

What was billed as a Mud Festival was really just a load of people getting drunk on the beach. There was an area of mud-based activities; slides; baths; wrestling areas, but you had to queue for a long time to get near any of them. One person told me she’d been queuing for over an hour to go down ONE mud slide and they closed it when she got to the front of the line. No explanation, no justification, just rudeness and mismanagement. We attached our disgruntled bodies to the back of a seemingly never-ending line of mud-hungry westerners. After about 30 minutes, we had had enough and bailed (luckily, on our way back to the beach, we came across a small mud bath and went for a dip. This was to be our only mud-based experience at Boryeong Mud Festival 2010).

The rest of the day we spent swimming in the sea and drinking on the shore… not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon, granted, but it was to a backdrop of GI aggression. Later that evening, we went into town to eat. We found ourselves a Korean tour guide who led us to a shellfish restaurant, ate his share of food and promptly scarpered before picking up his share of the tab. The owner continued to try ripping us off. We refused; one of my friends got his Korean girlfriend on the line, which put the willies up the owner: we were onto him. We watched some fireworks and returned to the beach, where we figured we’d spend the night drinking beer, singing songs and having fun. Predictably, it wasn’t to be.

After a late night skinny-dipping session, we fell asleep on the beach, awaking to find our bags gone. The next morning we found them a few hundred yards away, with the stuff strewn all over the beach. My Sony mp3 player was gone, as was my friend’s mobile phone… a fitting end to a pretty disastrous trip. Since I came to Korea the people have been honest, cordial and hospitable. These three sentiments went out the window at Boryeong Mud Festival. I don’t want to come across as a naysayer, because the internet is full of people blogging negatively about Korea.

I am not.

I love it here, which is why the festival was such a shock. To be robbed in Korea is virtually unheard of. Most people I’ve spoken to seem pretty sure it was a westerner that did it and I have to agree. It’s commonplace at home, but that doesn’t excuse it. The entire atmosphere at Boryeong was wrong. In future, I’ll be careful to avoid gatherings like this. I didn’t come 6,000 miles to experience the shoddier traits of the western world. This weekend was isolated and I hope to keep it that way.

I am finding it difficult…


…to motivate myself to maintain this blog. I have had a great few months, but I really need to get the wheels turning over the next while. I hope to make my time in Korea work FOR my career, as well as have a great experience and save some money. I hope to get published more widely. I hope to get involved in the local English speaking radio station.

Hopefully there’s more to come. In the meantime, here’s a photo of me riding a scooter on an island in the Yellow Sea: Seon-yu Do. You may or may not read more about that trip sometime soon.

World Cup 2010 – A Round Up

After four years of hyperbole and anticipation, the World Cup is almost over. Few months on the calendar command so much effort from the media and our livers. And if you support Korea or an English speaking nation, few reap so little reward. Maybe it’s because I’m Irish (neither North nor South qualified), or maybe it’s because the quality of the football on show has been so piss poor, but the previous sentiment rings particularly true for 2010’s edition. This has been the most tedious World Cup in living memory. Granted, it has improved slightly as it’s gone on, but at the beginning, it was less like pulling teeth, more like having your legs ripped off by a giant, vengeful spider.

From Italia 90, I remember the evergreen Roger Milla (whose passport was reported to have flattered him to the tune of ten years) pickpocketing the Argentine goalkeeper to send the reigning champions reeling in the first game. USA 94 evokes memories of Bebeto’s ‘baby cradle’ goal celebration for the champions elect Brazil (not to mention an abysmal penalty effort from Diana Ross in an opening ceremony, dripping with cheese). From France 98, Zinedine Zidane’s stellar performances, claiming a first title for the hosts whilst simultaneously announcing himself as the greatest player of his generation, stick out in the mind. Four years later, the over-performance of South Korea as well as Roy Keane’s infamous ‘toys from his pram’ routine will take some forgetting. 2006’s edition in Germany produced one of the greatest passing goals of all time, when Esteban Cambiasso put the finishing touches to a glorious lesson in fluidity that began 24 passes previously. Zidane also took the opportunity to remind us that his temper is almost as great as his talent, delivering a charge at Marco Materazzi in the final that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a goat farm (it’s worth noting that since Zidane’s retirement, France have failed to win a single game at an international tournament).

But this year has been bereft of quality and yet to produce any truly memorable moments. It says a lot when the main talking points have been the cacophonic drone of the vuvuzela and the failure of some of the “top” sides to even show up. This is the lowest scoring World Cup to date. There have been less red cards than four years ago and whilst aggression doesn’t always equal entertainment, I would happily trade some of the snore-fests we’ve had to endure for something even slightly resembling passion . Many will argue that France shouldn’t even have been at the finals, after the Hand of Gaul incident that sent the Irish crashing out last November and there’s little doubting Ireland would have put on a better show. As it is, a nation not famed for its temperament bickered their way through the tournament, limping out after finishing bottom of a group they were clear favorites to win. French Squad captain Thierry Henry has since met with Nicolas Sarkozy to find out what just went wrong. I imagine the pair are still huddled together, scratching their heads in a dimly lit corner of the Élysée Palace, trying to get to the bottom of things. Forgive me, but my Schadenfreude must be allowed to come up for breath occasionally.

Schadenfreude... Me

The reigning champions Italy, meanwhile, also faced an inglorious exit. A group containing Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand was the easiest on paper and their showing was as much an indictment of Marcello Lippi’s refusal to waver from his triumphant squad of 2006 as it was the Azzuri’s much vaunted, yet universally loathed cattenaccio. A flaccid England side hobbled through to the second round, to be resolutely dispatched by an unfamiliar, flowing German outfit that will meet the impressive Argentines in the Quarter Final. The English media were quick to jump on the back of Fabio Capello: a coach who has won titles in every country he’s worked. In the aftermath of the 4-1 mauling, one clueless pundit was even brazen enough to suggest that not one of the German players would make the England team, which, he opined is “littered with world class players”.

Bullshit.

Whilst Capello did look a trifle clueless tactically (particularly in his replacement of Jermaine Defoe with the lumbering Emile Heskey when the team needed goals) and he fell under the curse of fitting square pegs in round holes that has plagued his predecessors, this “Golden Generation” has underachieved at international level for years. Like the French and the Italians, it’s time for a new approach. Perhaps this dismal showing has provided the kick up the arse required.

Pre-tournament favorites Spain were slow out of the traps, losing to Switzerland and struggling against Chile, but new Barcelona signing David Villa looks to be hitting top gear at just the right time. Worryingly for coach Vicente Del Bosque though, is the form of Fernando Torres. Villa’s strike partner has looked sluggish and off the pace, prompting speculation that he’s carrying an injury. There is more than capable backup on the bench, but the Spaniards’ progression may depend on whether Del Bosque is ruthless enough to sacrifice El Nino.

So, who has impressed? Well the Dutch have cruised through looking more like Germans, and vice versa. The pair will do well to displace the South American duo of Brazil and Argentina, though. 1994’s winning captain Dunga has built a team in his own image: tenacious, efficient and unspectacular. Of course, it is augmented with the flair of Kaka and Robinho, but this is a decidedly un-Brazilian team. The Argentines have (along with the Germans), been the most striking side so far.

Relying, as ever, on tippy-tappy, one touch football, with the genius of Lionel Messi primed to unlock any defence in the competition, they have sailed through to the Quarter Finals. But what makes them infinitely more likeable is the presence of footballing genius and all round mad bastard Diego Maradona at the helm. His last appearance at a World Cup was cut short by his failing a drug test. What odds a triumphant return? Well, having struggled through qualifying and insisting on playing four central defenders at the back, it would seem his tactical nous from the sideline doesn’t compete with his brilliance on the field; but a run to the final is certainly feasible.

Of the less glamorous sides, Paraguay have the joint honor of being responsible for the most boring ninety minutes of my life as they edged the Japanese on penalties in Round 2. I will never get that time back. Uruguay (completing an unprecedented quartet of South American countries in the Quarters), face an athletic Ghanaian side bidding to become the first African nation to reach a World Cup semi final. They may never have a better chance.

SHUT THE FUCK UP

SHUT THE FUCK UP

And as for the Koreans? Well, they performed admirably: a side with few superstars, well-drilled and playing to their strengths. As demonstrated against Argentina in the Group Stage, when up against competent fire power, they have little answer. The adage also rang true against Uruguay in Round 2. Alas, for half a World Cup, I had a team to cheer for, which added a well needed element of spice. Now that they’re gone, I can go back to bitching about vuvuzelas and bemoaning the benign punditry on every channel I stream. And I can’t say I’ll miss the “Fighting Korea” adverts, either.

Here’s raising a well worn glass to the prospect of some decent entertainment. C’mon, it’s not too late.