Songtan Sally

There is a legendary figure in the town of Songtan, her name is Sally.

She is famous not for her conversation, singing ability or charm, but because she propositions every male that crosses her path (and mind you, she is not particularly attractive).

Yes, ladies and gentleman, she is a prostitute. One of many, I am sure, in Korea.

This brings up an interesting point/ thought. There are examples of prostitution literally everywhere in Korea (of course not advertised). Yet, there are huge campaigns that advertise to ‘stop human trafficking’ on billboards and radio spotlights. The interesting thing is, I wonder if people connect the two; real life and our conventional thoughts of human trafficking are often at conflict with each other. We think abuse/ human trafficking will be obvious to spot, because, obviously no one can possibly believe in supporting such a practice. But the reality is, it’s everywhere. Sally just being one example.

A thought – keep your eyes open. Often times, situations are all about perception.


Teaching ROK ROTC

As an attempt to do something besides work, drink and constantly be around American military, I have picked up teaching military English to a group of ROK Army ROTC students.

The class has 35 boys of whom, act exactly as you would imagine a group of Junior level University students full of future male army leaders. They are goofy, don’t understand what I am saying half the time and try their best to get the whole class to crack a smile (including myself) during any activity.

Through the few short weeks that I have taught the class, I have learned more things about the Korean culture than I did struggling to get some sort of international experience cramped into my studio-dorm on base.

For one, they refuse to let me drive to the class myself instead making me take the taxi provided for by the University. Second, they always give me an escort to and from class and third, they practically force food down my throat at the end of every teaching session.

This was a pretty funny experience the first day of class.

My escort (who’s English name is John) asked if I was hungry. Although it was almost 8pm, was starved having not had time to eat prior to class, I promptly said ‘no, I am OK’, the polite American response. Well, John, not to be discouraged by my response asked, ‘Do you like Hamburger’?  ‘ Well, yes its OK’ said I. ‘OK we go to McDonalds’.

Let me preface this with the fact that I do not step foot in McDonalds in the states and absolutely refuse to do so when traveling.

We then got into a polite dance of ‘No I am really OK’ to ‘OK fine if you have to feed me, take me to your favorite Korean restaurant’. Which they did. Much to my surprise though, after sitting on the floor and taking off my shoes, them offering me a fork (another thing I refuse to do) and then ordering Bulgogi (the one Korean food that every American loves) – I noticed none of them were eating!

Then I felt especially rude. I had made them go to a Korean restaurant only to find out that it was polite in Korean culture to feed me because the class made me miss dinner (time is 5-730pm); they were trying to give me fast food and I was trying to get a cultural experience. To top it all, I was also not allowed to pay.

I still smile when thinking about it; everyone is doing their polite dance in an attempt to not be rude, but instead we are misunderstanding the etiquette of the other.

The Indigenous People of Malaysia

There are a few communities in the world that still carry on their traditional ways of living. Excluding the communities in Africa, Southeast Asia has a few of these rare communities. Living in what is claimed to be the oldest rainforest in the world, Taman Negara, the Batek people have lived in this 130 million year old forest for hundreds of years. Though the world around them has developed into a world of cars, TV and internet, the people in Taman Negara have remained nomadic, living in leaf thatched roofs, hunting with shooting darts and making a fire with wood and rubbing sticks.

How, in our modern world, can communities such as this exist? Their children receive fully funded schooling opportunities from the government, modern doctors that go to their village and opportunities for employment in the outside world – yet they refuse this assistance and made the prideful choice to remain in their old ways and carry on the traditions of their fathers. When looking at this rare and small community (it is made of ruffly 1000 people), one must ask – why do they choose a life in the jungle for the comforts of the modern world?

Being an American Women in Kuala Lumpur

Have you ever been to Muslim country? For all my military friends – war zones excluded – I am speaking for places like Turkey, Egypt, Morocco and the country I am currently in, Malaysia.

Don’t ask me why I didn’t factor this in in all my trip preparation for traveling here, but the Islamic influence in this country is one of the major striking factors for a person used to largely secular societies (albeit even religious areas of the US are nothing in comparison to religious areas here). At first, I tried to ignore the head scarfs, floor length, full armed dresses and shops that read ‘the modern Muslim women’, but after wiping the sweat off my brow wearing shorts and a tank top (it was 100 yesterday) I began wondering how dedicated I would really be to the whole conservative dress thing if I lived in this weather day in and day out.

– there was that – and also the constant cat calls, smooching sounds and honking of horns I couldn’t really understand, even when wearing a full length dress myself and a jacket, why I was getting so much attention (my boyfriend kept saying it must be my sexy ankles).

Then it hit me – yes I need to be wearing a headscarf myself and a poncho of a dress that covered all areas, side from my hands, in order to stop getting awkwardly long stares and smoochy sounds thrown my way. In this society, that was clearly acceptable behavior towards a women who decided to show as much skin as I had. But why?

I would argue that it was the national religion that provided this influence. A modest women would never wear what I was wearing (but let me also caveat that every westerner was). To protect her womenhood and dignity she covers all areas of her body – and the more attractive, the more covered.

What affect does this have on a society? Does it protect the women of the country? ( Let me also be fair and say that there were also women at work in every area of society – female cops…with head scarfs, female barista’s at starbucks…with head scarfs and immigration officers..with head scarfs). Or does it create a society that constrains other areas of being a women.. such as dress, behavior and freedom?

Hanji, Hanoks and the town of Jeonju

Neighboring the town of Gunsan, is Jeonju. A glittering city – honestly looking very similar to Gunsan and every other middle sized Korean city, save for one quality: its hanok village.

Hanok’s are traditional korean style homes. While many cities have communities of them, Jeonju’s village was home to the Yi royal family under the Joseon Dynasty. Distroyed like much of Korea, this village has been rebuilt into a pleasant community of crafts, medicine markets and a tribute to the traditional Korean art of Hanji.

Hanji is all things paper. There are Hanji cards, hanji ties, hanji plates and a hanji museum. It is a wonderful art and quite amazing what can be done with simple paper.

A getaway only 30 minutes away, Jeonju is often a hidden secret to Gunsan residents who mostly relay on Seoul and Osan to entertain them on weekend getaways.

love motels

The hidden gem of Korea.

Believe me, at first I was sketched out at the idea – these places do not let you book ahead, only the night of and offer rates by the hour. They are glittered all over major cities and usually have bright lights associated with them. At first I refused to even look at them, wondering why more people here do not just stay in hostels for easy, cheap accommodation.

Then I went to Busan.

A coastal city mostly known for its beaches, somehow every hotel that popped up on google searches was booked. Then I cam accross this lovely web site:

Which convinced me with its reasonable pictures and descriptions to try it out – and I am never going back to a regular hotel again.

Staying in the VIP suite atop the Wu Motel overlooking the beach, we could have easily held a 20 person party comfortably in our suite which slept 5. For $120 we drank champagne, DJ’d on two room computers and celebrated being young and in South Korea.


This is a random fact I learned today while practicing my Hangul: Japan has no word for ‘love’ in Japanese.

Affection? Care? Yes. But, love there is no such word for such a strong emotion. Instead, they use the English word with a Japanese accent to display the emotion, however, this only occurred after exposure to English. So, for centuries the culture progressed without verbally displaying this emotion.

This fact just baffles to me. How can you not have a word, for the only word, that really matters?

13 = 4

As a part of my effort to immerse myself in this drastically different country – I have signed up for Hangul (Korean). My goal is to be able to read the random signs written in what looks like gibberish by Jan.

Aside from being able to read basic phrases, the class is good for random facts such as the one I learned last week.

Koreans have a certain superstition for the number 4. Similar to our 13, it is considered a dark and deathly number. Unlike our unlucky superstition, however, they do not have any floors that are at level 4. It simply skips the level. 1,2,3,5,6!I assume the tradition translates to other areas too…4 kids, bad. 4 eggs, bad. Group of 4, bad. Nov 4th…bad.

Yet another random fact of about Korea. Good for cocktail parties or just something random to start off the conversation.

The Hmong

Live at the highest point of the mountainous range of Lao PDR (Laos); a small landlocked country sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand. It took my college study abroad group 4 days of trekking up the steep mountain side to get to their village.

Known as one of the more well off of the people that populate the different levels of the mountain side, they assisted the US during the Vietnam war. The most heavily bombed country in the world, much of their population fled to the US after the war as Lao remains a communist country.

Yesterday, I met one of these people. He happens to be in the military serving in Korea with me. How ironic and interesting the world is. A man, whose family moved to California following Vietnam, now finds himself the US military serving in another divided country on the eastern side of the world. I love it.