Thursday, 29 December 2011


Korean language is hard to master, not because of the grammar or pronunciation, but because of the way you have to change the verb endings depending on who you're talking to and in what situation. I wouldn't say English is easier, but at least you can usually apply a one-sentence-fits-all rule without sounding too strange. In Korean, however, there are varying levels of politeness or formality that you have to be careful about.

A lot of foreigners first learn the verb ending -습니다/-ㅂ니다, but this is rarely used in everyday conversation so if you use it a lot you will sound very foreign.

The ending -요 is very useful. It's added to the end of most verb conjugations to show politeness. For example, 가요 (go), 갔어요 (went), 갈 거예요 (will go).

If you're talking to a child you would sound strange adding that -요 because you don't need to be polite to children. Also if you're talking to your best mate you wouldn't need the -요. Korea also has rules about how polite you should be depending on if someone is older or younger than you, but I find a lot of people don't apply the same rules for foreigners.

There are even more polite verb endings which would be used for example by store attendants to customers, or by employees to their boss, or in any other situation where you would want to show the most respect. But those very polite endings are only used when you are talking about that person, asking them a question or instructing them to do something - I mean, you don't use those very polite endings if you are talking to that person but telling them something about yourself. If you are referring to yourself you would probably use the basic ending with -요 as I described before.

It's also possible to say something in a rude or angry tone but still add that polite -요.

Confused yet? It's hard enough picking the verb ending you need and then correctly using it with a particular verb, let alone worrying about if you're being too formal, too stand-offish, too informal, over-friendly or perhaps downright rude. If you're starting to learn Korean don't worry too much about it. Just keep practising and you'll get used to it as you go along. Just like any other language, you have to make mistakes along the way.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Lotte World

Lotte World theme park is a magical land of excitement, adventure, and ... long queues.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Winter, and Blankets

1. Winter in Korea is COLD.

2. It's perfectly acceptable to walk around in public wearing a blanket. I'm serious. I even went to work the other day and our secretary was sitting behind the desk with her legs wrapped up in one. Last week I saw some high school girls on the subway with Hello Kitty blankets worn like sarongs. The most common sight is guys carrying blankets to drape over the shoulders of their girlfriends when out for a walk.

3. In conclusion, my advice this winter is: Invest in a good-looking blanket to wrap yourself up in this winter. Perhaps a nice plaid or something in Christmasy colours. Stay warm, stay stylish, wear a blanket!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Coffee Shop

Coffee is BIG in Korea. During the 13-minute walk from my apartment to the subway station, I will pass a Starbucks, a Caffe Ti-amo, a Caffe Bene, a Holly's Coffee, a Tom n Toms, five independent coffee shops and four coffee-selling bakeries. That's FOURTEEN opportunities to buy a Cappuccino, without even taking a detour. And if it's too early or late for those places to be open, I can just pop into any corner store and find a large selection of coffee in cans, bottles or cartons for a quick hit of caffeine/sugar/goodness-knows-whatever-else-they-mix-in-with-that-stuff.

As people spend so much time in coffee shops, I thought a coffee shop language lesson might be useful! You don't really need to speak any Korean to order coffee, but it's good to know. Here are some key words and phrases:

일회용 컵 disposable cup
종이 컵 paper cup
머그잔 / 머그컵 mug
홍차 black tea
녹차 green tea
따뜻한 것 hot one
시원한 것 cold one

고구마라떼 두 잔 주세요 two sweet potato lattes, please (try it, it's yummy!)
아이스 카페 라떼 하나 주세요 one ice cafe latte, please
우유 빼 주세요 leave out the milk
휘핑 크림 추가해 주세요 add whipped cream please
가지고 가실 거예요? Is it for take-out?
여기서 드실 거예요? Is it for eat-in?
가져갈 거예요. Take-out please.
포장해 주세요. Wrap it for take-out, please. (for food)
여기서 마실 거예요. I'll drink it here.

고소한 맛

"고소하다" describes a flavour that can be roughly translated as nutty, savoury, earthy or aromatic, but which has no direct translation in English. Chestnuts, sesame seeds and almonds can be described as having a 고소한 flavour. It generally means the taste of nuts.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Snack of the Day: 땅콩 꽈배기

땅콩 꽈배기 (Peanut Twists) are something like dry Crunchy Nut cereal, and something like Sesame Snaps, although not quite as good as either and probably unhealthier. Basically a very crunchy, sweet snack with bits of peanut stuck to it, although the peanut flavour is not strong. Actually they tasted alright, but left me with a greasy taste in my mouth and guilt for eating such unhealthy crap.

Ingredients: Wheat flour, refined sugar, rice oil, starch, sweetener (fructooligosaccharide), fried peanuts, wheat starch, palm oil, unrefined sugar, dextrose, flavouring, caramel, artificial nut flavouring, whole milk powder

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Year in Pictures

The year's not quite over yet, but here are some of my favorite pictures so far from 2011. Most of them were already published on my other blog. Photographed around Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Tip for getting around Seoul

I'm rubbish at directions. Luckily, if I want to find some place and I'm not sure how to get there, I can just look it up on Daum 지도 before I go.

If you can read and type Hangeul, and understand the names of places in Korean, just go to and click on '지도' in the blue menu bar. Voila, you can see a map of Korea and just search in Hangeul for the place you wanna get to. To the far right is a little webcam icon, '로드뷰', which will give you a navigable street view when you click on it and drag the icon to where you want to look. This is the same idea as Google Maps Street View, but personally I find Daum a hundred times better. It covers the whole of South Korea's cities and main roads, including even BOAT routes around a couple of islands, Hallasan's main mountain trail, and the insides of Seoul metro stations.

There are billions of nifty tools on this map service. Buttons on the left allow you to search for bus routes, hotels, and other stuff with one click. A small ruler icon on the far right lets you map a route and it will calculate the distance in metres and the time it would take to walk or cycle. The '스토어뷰' (Store View) actually lets you see INSIDE stores and restaurants. And at the top of the map, you can see how the weather is in the area you're looking at!

Well I hope this information is useful to someone. If you're a foreigner in Korea and savvy enough to read and understand enough Korean to get around, you probably already use this map service. If you don't, I recommend it. In my opinion it does so much more than any other online map service I know of, and is quicker and easier to use than most. I use it to find out how to get from subway stations to mountain trail starting points, to calculate cycle routes and how long it would take me to cycle somewhere, to retrace my steps when I've forgotton where some cool place is and I want to find out how to get there again, and sometimes just to waste time virtually sightseeing around Korea on my computer screen. Thumbs up for Daum.


Today I tackled Suraksan. It's a really nice mountain to hike because there are several subway stations around the bottom of it so it's easy to get to, and it's not half as packed with people as its neighbour Dobongsan.

I started from Suraksan station (Line 7). From exit 1, walk straight and take the second right. There are food stalls lining the street and enough other hikers around so you know you're going the right way.

The trail from there is quite easy. Not spectacular scenery but pretty enough, and although it's not difficult to climb it does get quite steep towards the top.

I hiked up to a plateau with a signpost which pointed the way to the top. The area around here was pretty crowded but I didn't see many people actually going up to the top. It seemed a bit tricky so as I was hiking alone I didn't bother going up further and just followed the signpost down towards Jangam Station (also Line 7).

This route was a lot quieter, and had some nice views. It was very rocky and difficult to negotiate a foot-hold in places, especially with all the autumn leaves covering the ground. Not exactly difficult, just rather slow-going. Also, there didn't seem to be a well-defined trail but rather I was just scrambling downwards and hoping for the best!

Towards the bottom of the mountain I passed a temple, and then I was led as expected to Jangam Station. All in all I was only hiking for a couple of hours.

Next time I might try starting from Danggogae station (end of line 4).

Sunday, 16 October 2011

봉숭아 nail dye

Bongsunga (봉숭아), or Garden Balsam, is a plant used traditionally in Korea to dye fingernails, in a similar way to henna. I see a lot of children and young women with this reddish-orange nail dye around the end of summer every year, although I had no idea what it was until someone told me! Last summer I dyed my own nails with the help of my lovely friend's grandma, using fresh flowers picked from her garden in the Korean countryside, but this year I bought a packet of prepared powder from Daiso and did it that way.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Botany Lesson

Here are some plants you can commonly see in Korea, with their English and Korean names. I took all of these photos in various locations around Korea.



Wednesday, 12 October 2011


영국은 한 나라가 아닌 4개국으로 구성되어 있다. U.K.는 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland의 약어이다. Great Britain은 영국제도에서 가장 큰 섬이고 England, Scotland, Wales로 이루어져 있다. 영국제도에서 두 번째로 큰 섬은 Ireland이다. 그러나, 그섬의 일부분만 U.K.에 속한다. Northern Ireland라고 불린다. 그래서 England, Scotland, Wales, 그리고 Northern Ireland는 U.K.의 4개국이다. 그러나 아일랜드 (Republic of Ireland)은 영국의 국가 아니다.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Zoology Lesson

I wanted to make a 'visual dictionary' style lesson in Korean and English, for words that might get confused or mistranslated. So, I started with some common animals. Enjoy!

(grey) squirrel

(회색) 다람쥐

(Note: In Korean the word 다람쥐 means both 'squirrel' and 'chipmunk')

photo by arkorn from

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Night Hike

I've recently started hiking in the evenings after work. What a great way to spend my time! A physical work-out and some wonderful fresh mountain air (well, as fresh as you can get in the middle of this massive city), away from the harsh heat of the daytime. Whether walking up through the pathways and landscaped park at Namsan, or the more natural forest trails at Umyeonsan or Bugaksan, a couple of hours spent hiking after work are much better relaxation than anything I might otherwise do in that time.

Unfortunately it takes a 30-50 minute subway ride to get to any good mountains from my place, as I'm not lucky enough to have any right on my doorstep. But still, to have so many beautiful mountain trails just a short subway ride away is a privelidge enough for me! It's great to walk through the trees in the dark, and there's always enough ambient light from the metropolis to ensure you can see where you're going. I love Seoul!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Hiking Bukhansan

Last weekend I went to Bukhansan and hiked a trail towards Baegundae peak (백운대). I really love this route as it's very beautiful, passing little waterfalls and streams, and is physically challenging enough to give me a good workout. Unfortunately it's very difficult to get right to the top of the peak, and I stopped just short of it at Wimun gate (위문), which is 725m high and can take up to 3 hours to reach via this route.

To get there by public transport, take the subway to Yeonshinnae (연신내) station, exit 3, and from there take bus 34 or 704 to 북한산성입구 (Bukhansan fortress). WARNING: This journey is HELL. There are so many hikers packing onto every bus that comes, you are guaranteed to be crushed up against an old man for the whole journey, trying not to fall over every time the bus goes around a corner. It really is the worst bus journey ever, and sometimes you have to wait ages at the bus stop. Luckily it doesn't last TOO long. From there you'll see the entrance to Bukhansan, a wide road flanked by outdoor clothing brand stores. Follow the signs towards 백운대.

Have a look over at my other blog for some photos of the beautiful mountain scenery, and check out our more recent Bukhansan hiking video on Youtube:

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Korean Drink of the Day: 솔의눈

Lotte 솔의눈 is a 'pine bud drink', which sounds pretty refreshing. The taste of pine would actually be quite nice, too ... if only it didn't remind me of TOILET BLEACH.


Concentrated pine bud extract (solids 50%, Switzerland), purified water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, glucose, vitamin C, trisodium citrate, artificial flavoring (pine bud flavor, lemon flavor), DL-malic acid, Gardenia Blue (coloring)

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


This weekend I went hiking at Dobongsan (도봉산), a mountain within the Bukhansan National Park north of Seoul. We started from the entrance near the Dobongsan subway station and climbed to Jaoonbong peak (자운봉). Here's a little guide to hiking this route.

Being easily accessible by subway, you might think Dobongsan is a great option for a short weekend hike, but unfortunately there are a lot of other people with the same idea. When we got there the area was PACKED! Like, literally hundreds of people. Even when we reached the peak we couldn't stay long to admire the view because the area was so full of other hikers. Unfortunately it's always going to be busy if you go on the weekend, so it's not exactly a peaceful get-away location.

Still, walking through all the hiking gear stores, restaurants and vendors around the base of the mountain is great if you want to soak up the bustling atmosphere. We passed a Buddhist temple and the scent of incense wafted through the air, before being replaced by the smell of roast chestnuts as we walked on. There's often a busker who plays saxophone around the area. And you can always pick up some snacks or extra gear you might need.

The hike to Jaoonbong takes a couple of hours, passing some beautiful scenery along the way and opening up on a great panoramic view of Seoul at the top. The route does get quite tricky with some big boulders to negotiate, but as long as you are careful and sensible you'll be fine. We even saw some children there with their parents.

Overall I really like this route, it's a challenge but doesn't take too long, and there are lots of places to eat a meal afterwards. The only problem is the number of people there, which can get really frustrating. Unfortunately this is a problem in most good hiking spots around the edge of the city, so it's generally unavoidable.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Inwangsan: Tranquility in the heart of the city

After a long night of partying, my mind and body needed a moment of calm this weekend and I headed to Inwangsan, a mountain close to the centre of Seoul. Inwangsan is home to a glut of Buddhist temples and shamanist shrines, huddled together around the base of the mountain. Spend some time meandering among these sites, and the fascinating history of Inwangsan will start to reveal itself.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


One of my favorite ways to chill out with friends, Korean-style, is at a singing room or 'noraebang'. For those who don't know what this is, it's similar to Japanese karaoke 'box' rooms, and it's FUN. OK, for me it's fun, but then I love singing. If karaoke aint your bag, then maybe it's not something for you. For a lot of people I know, it only becomes fun after copious amounts of alcohol.

Noraebangs are EVERYWHERE in Korea, and it's popular amongst pretty much every demographic. You can find them by looking for brightly flashing neon signs that say '노래방'. Inside, you'll see a corridor with numbered doors, and a reception desk. The guy at the desk will take your money and give you an appropriately-sized room for the number of people you have, and then that room is yours for however long you want to spend in there! The rooms often have some kind of disco lighting and are usually kind of tacky-looking, unless you go somewhere really fancy. You select the songs you want to sing using an electronic controller, and there's always a big selection of Korean and English songs to choose from.

Something to note is that while you can usually buy soft drinks at a noraebang, most that I've been to don't sell alcohol, and a friend told me that alcohol is actually banned in many noraebangs. This seems a bit strange, but then again most people are already sloshed by the time they hit the noraebang anyway. This is the main difference between a Korean noraebang and my karaoke room experience in Tokyo, where a variety of awful cocktails could be ordered to the room in the place we visited. In this Japanese version of the singing room, we were also hit with an enormous bill at the end of the night - which would rarely happen in Korea, where you can visit a noraebang for as little as 15,000won per room per hour.

To conclude this post, noraebangs are AMAZING fun and I love them.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

It gets stranger ...

WARNING: If the words 'vaginal steam bath' make you feel queasy, don't read this post.

I previously posted about my experiences in a Korean bath house (jjimjilbang), including the slightly disturbing 'body scrub' which I tried at Dragon Hill Spa. But another one of the strangest experiences in my life so far has also taken place in Dragon Hill. it's called the 'Emperor's Sitz Hip Bath' in English, and if you've ever heard of a sitz or hip bath before, you'll be aware it has something to do with crouching over boiling hot water. The aim of this traditional Korean version is to cure all kinds of issues one might have with one's lady-bits, and it's purported benefits include: stimulating blood circulation, relieving period pain, removing body waste and curing various minor ailments in your lady-area.

OK girls, just for your benefit I'm going to explain exactly what this bizarre alternative therapy entails. I know, beacause I'VE TRIED IT.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Mountain Hiking in Seoul

One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday is walking in the mountains around Seoul. This kills more than one bird: Firstly, it's a free and enjoyable way to get some exercise (something my lifestyle is distinctly lacking). Secondly, it keeps me far away from the shopping centres and thereby helps me to save money by avoiding temptation. Another reason is the simple self-satisfaction of walking onwards for hours and finally reaching the goal, the top of a peak. I can then relax in the evening over a few shots of soju, saying proudly to myself, "I CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN TODAY." Which has a better ring to it than, say, "I spent 200,000won on shoes today." (Which is what I might have done otherwise.)

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Korean Spa

Many apartments in Korea don't have bathtubs. However, despite not being able to take a bath at home, there's something a million times better in Seoul and that's the public bath-houses or 'jjimjilbang'. Some of these are small and little more than a place to wash and sleep, but head to one of the larger places for the full jjimjilbang experience. It's a unique aspect of Korean culture that really needs to be experienced first-hand.