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At a Korean PC room, playing Starcraft for two days straight

Koreans love online gaming, example: This is a “PC room“, where one can play multiplayer computer games online. PC rooms like this are extremely popular among South-Koreans, ever since Starcraft came out in 1997. You have a room like this every block! Interesting because the computer and broadband penetration is quite high in Korea. But many young people are going to these rooms to play LAN-based multiplayer games with others online, in private. This particular pc-room was quite big, filled with sigarette smoke and people sitting hours and hours behind their computer screen; quite hectic and depressing place to be. I went in for a few minutes to do some work, but was glad to be outside again. But some people take it quite seriously, last August another South Korean man died just after 50 hours of nearly nonstop gaming. The man only left his online battle simulation games to go to the bathroom and to take short naps on a makeshift bed. The cause of death was presumed to be heart failure stemming from exhaustion. Good grief, I’d rather do something else.

  1. You can access these rooms for about one dollar per hour
  2. I noticed 60 seats but only two girls
  3. You hear guns go off everywhere
  4. Do not talk with your ‘friendly’ neighbor
  5. Older people play casino games
  6. Starcraft is still big, after 11 years


The Korean Demilitarized Zone

South Korea’s military says it is preparing for the possibility that North Korea may try to provoke a naval skirmish along their disputed sea border. (december 2008, While things look calm for an expat, South and North Korea are officially still at war, because of that military service is compulsory for men. One of my Korean friends served at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for a couple of years. He told me about the DMZ, I decided to check the buffer-zone between North and South Korea out for myself. It’s a iron curtain just like the one in Europe during the cold war.

Both sides are heavily guarded by army guards — ready to defend themselves against the enemy. The border is about 248 kilometers long, the DMZ is 4 kilometers wide. I took the liberty to send out a Tweet from North Korea, just like our minister of foreign affairs, Maxime Verhagen.
We had to go through a number of checks but South-Koreans have to register 6 months in advance to go, and are not allowed to join foreigners on this visit, so I was alone today! That second picture (field) shows the North Korean mountains, they are bald — claimed to be cut down by North Koreans for heating and cooking.

The Korean flagpole war is an interesting phenomenon, outcome is the biggest flag of the world — waving for North Korea. (picture) Two entities have such deep rooted feelings to be better then the other, that one cannot live with the fact that their flag is bigger. During the Olymics in Seoul in 1988, the South-Koreans decided to raise a big South-Korean flag in the propaganda village Daesongong. This created a counter reaction of the North Koreans to enlarge their flag size. The South Koreans didn’t like this, and decided to raise their flag to astounding height. This ‘flag war’ continued to ridiculous proportions. So today, you will find the worlds biggest flag in a no-man village in the middle of no where. While it’s hard to see on the picture, this flag is HUGE! The pole is 160 meters long! The flag has to be taken down during rain, avoiding the pole to be collapsing under the weight.

The video shows the only portion of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face. The small blue buildings on the left is the MAC Conference Room, where talks take place between both sides. These buildings are set squarely on the Military Demarcation Line separating South and North Korea. North Korea in the back, South Korea in the front.

5:45 AM, sunrise in Gyeonju

The thermometer slowly declined down to zero degrees over the last week. We headed up to the roof to see the sunset in the clean frosty sky, I realized that this was not the first time we were going up for a view.

5:45 AM, sunrise in Gyeonju. We woke up early to see the sunrise in Gyonju, the South East of Korea. We drove our car up the mountain by dawn, feeling chased by time. Fortunately, we got there in time! The sunrise was amazing, never seen something like it!

Buddha Bumped into this fellow when I was hiking somewhere in the west. I wonder how long this statue has been here.

Saturday stroll through rainy Changdeokgung garden

After weeks of sunshine it started to rain in Seoul today. We had a day off and decided to have a look at the Changdeokgung palace, close to our home.
The greatest building in Changdeokgung, used for official ceremonies.

The tone gate is called Bullomun. “Bullo” means “not to age”. Will it work?

[Pictures] Han river in Seoul

Some pictures I took of the Han river during the last months here in Seoul. The total length of the Han River is 514 km. Although it is not a long river, the lower Han is remarkably broad for such a relatively short river. Within Seoul city limits, the river is more than 1 km wide. We visited the second skyscraper on the left of this picture and decided to cross the river with the bridge.

This picture is taken from the Namsan Tower in the center of Seoul.


[Pictures] View over Busan city from hotel

We decided to head out to Korea’s second largest city — the harbor city Busan. Very moist and clear upon arrival, but dark and foggy when we woke up. I was curious about Busan because I like cities next to the sea, we spend some time on the beach, had an interesting night.

Do you see those grey shafts with the blue P on it? That are parking spaces… A big elevator for cars. No driving, very efficient.The Busan harbor is ranked internationally as the third largest seaport in terms of cargo volume, it reminded me of Rotterdam.

Paragliding at a Korean army base

Want to join paragliding this weekend? – off course! that’s a no brainer! In reality, the relaxing chair and the calm speed got me disappointed, I should have thought of bringing a good book to read. Some people manage to stay up there for a long time! As the first foreigners at this Korean army base, I had some joy in getting a good overview of the ‘secret’ weapons on the camp.

What do you get when you combine a cinema, pool and cheap hotel?

We visited a jjimjilbang in Busan last night; The jjimjilbang concept comes close to a bath-house, it is a combination of sauna, hotel and gym. I just spend a night there for $10, and I am excited, what an experience! I slept on the marble floor but had a massage in return!

Imagine a 24 hour serviced building with cinema room, hot baths, sauna, bars, restaurants and pc/tv rooms. You walk around in comfortable clothes supplied by the staff. Very relaxing athmosphere.  Woman and men are separated, except for activity rooms.

Why would you go here? I guess this concept is an answer to the busy life most people have here. The jjimjilbang is a place for people to come together, rather then sitting in a small 30th floor appartment. A feeling of space and luxury in a world were space is limited. Visitors vary from drunken business men (drinking is a burden obliged by boss for many) and families that gather in the weekend. I wonder if something like this would work in Europe.

Learn to read and pronounce Korean Hangul in 2 days

You don’t need a black belt in Taekwondo to master the Korean language, actually… reading Hangul (Korean writing) is surprisingly easy!

That’s the main point I am trying to make in this post. While the Korean characters seem complex at first, they are easy to read within one week. Skip the touristic English metro maps, and start learning the way the correct way!

Truth is that this information applies for a specific group, but I stumbled upon a few useful things to master the Language quickly.

Korean Language

There are about 80 million Korean speakers, with large groups in Korea, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Japan. There are more people that can speak Korean then there are people that speak French or Italian.

Korean language was previously written using Hanja, which ‘borrowed’ Chinese characters, but pronounced them in a Korean way. In the 15th century, the national writing system called Hangul (meaning Korean) was developed.

Master the alphabet in less then a day

I’m not going to write down how to learn the alphbet. There are many guides out there that done the same. I would suggest to do only one exercise: try to master this Flash game made by Aeriagloris. The game shows a letter, and suggests 3 to 5 answers to that question. It is good because the game allows showing either Korean or English writing of the symbol. Much better then flash cards! Master the 24 Hangul letters in less then a day. [edit: here is an alternative]

Writing Korean

Hangul alphabet is applied into syllabic blocks. Each blocks contains at least two of the Korean letters. Hangul may be written either vertically or horizontally. The traditional direction is the Chinese style of writing top to bottom, right to left.

Correct Pronunciation

My friend Byeoung Cho (designer) created a colorful Korean hangul practice sheets, which proved useful when I mastered my intonations. I decided to share his work for others that want to learn as well! Note: The grey characters indicate low usage. You’re invited to leave a “thank you” in the comments when you use them!

The pictures are A4 sized, click on them for full view.

I added the contents in text here as well:

가 나 다 라 마 바 사 아 자 차 카 타 파 하
갸 냐 랴 먀 샤 야 쟈 캬
거 너 더 러 머 버 서 어 저 처 커 터 퍼 허
겨 녀 뎌 려 며 벼 셔 여 져 쳐 켜 텨 펴 혀
고 노 도 로 모 보 소 오 조 초 코 토 포 호
교 뇨 료 묘 뵤 쇼 요 죠 쵸 쿄 표 효
구 누 두 루 무 부 수 우주추 쿠 투 푸 후
규 뉴 듀 류 뮤 뷰 슈 유 쥬 츄 큐 튜 퓨 휴

그 느 드 르 므 브 스 으 즈 츠 크 트 프 흐
기 니 디 리 미 비 시 이 지 치 키 티 피 히
개 내 대 래 매 배 새 애 재 채 캐 태 패 해
걔 섀 얘 쟤
게 네 데 레 메 베 세 에 제 체 케 테 페 헤
계 례 셰 예 폐 혜

과 놔 봐 솨 와 좌 콰 화
괘 놰 돼 쇄 왜 쾌 홰
괴 뇌 되 뢰 뫼 뵈 쇠 외 죄 최 퇴 푀 회
궈 눠 둬 뤄 뭐 숴 워 줘 춰 쿼 훠

궈 눠 둬 뤄 뭐 숴 숴 워 줘 춰 쿼 훠
궤 쉐 췌 퉤 훼
귀 뉘 뒤 뷔 쉬 위 쥐 취 퀴 튀 휘
늬 의 틔 희
까 깨 꼬 꼭 꽃 꾸 꿈 꿈 끝 끼
따 땅 때 또 뚜 뚝 뜨 띠
빠 빼 뻐 뽀 뿌 쁘 삐
싸 쌍 쌔 쏘 쑥 씨
짜 째 쪼 찌

What can you leave to your descendant?

I visited a Korean art expo on Saturday the 23rd, and met a fascinating artist named Hae do Park. He dedicated his life to learn a new skill, and aims to inspire younger artists with his work. The combination of using silver and his apply his technique create objects that almost seem real. The bird on the picture is so detailed and beautiful that it just attracted me, like most shiny objects do. Actually, the bird should attract anyone, since it took the creator more then a year to make, and it’s claimed to be worth a million dollars. He is out for a mission to create a grand piece to get interest in Korean traditions from the youth.

Motivated to inspire the youth

Someone told me that people find creativity in different situations. For him I guess its based on his life long experience as a smith. The artist asked himself what he could leave to his descendant, and noticed that the Korean society is slowly changing their preference to western jewels. In his quest he saw an opportunity. He looked at the old techniques used in traditional woman hangers, and based his technique on it. He currently creates the sculptures with scaring precise work. He learned a new skill, and applied it to a new idea. His noble cause is to use the technique to create eye-catchers like this bird. His believe is that small jewelry can’t get the attention of young artists. He is currently working on his masterpiece — a big phoenix (3 legged bird), that he isn’t going to sell. He might show it on the exhibition that he plans in five years from now.