Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Inhaling Korea: Learning Its Language & Culture

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart."
Nelson Mandela

Many people believe that learning a language is required to really understand a culture. If that is so, learning to speak, at least some Korean, may be your ticket to gaining insight into this amazing place called Korea. I was fortunate. I first came to Korea as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer. That organization ensured that all its volunteers had three months of intense language and cultural awareness training. It was a free-pass to the living museum that is Korea--a gift that I did not fully appreciate at the time. I do now.

Thumbs Up! Learning Korean at Yeungnam University's Korean Language Institute

There has never been a better time to learn the language and the culture. Your efforts will reap immediate benefits. You will see Korea through a richer and more intimate prism. Koreans will generally react very favorably to your efforts to learn their language and explore their culture. For more about how many Koreans react to foreigners learning Korean visit

Fortunately, there are numerous avenues for learning Korean and for exploring Korean culture. Many local universities and language institutes offer both language and culture courses. For example,Yeungnam University in Gyeungsan, conveniently situated on the green line, has its Korean Language Institute.

Private language institutes and other organizations provide numerous meeting and cost options. The Daegu YMCA, for example, has a variety of language levels and class meeting times. They also offer cultural classes related to Korean cooking, art and traditional musical instruments. Go to, then click on "Home" for the Winter/Spring schedule of classes.
What time is it? Learning to tell time in Korean

The internet offers even more language learning options. Two recommended online language learning vehicles are Learn Korean Online and Livemocha

One can always choose to live in Korea without learning the language. But the wisdom of the ages strongly suggests otherwise."To have another language," said Charlemagne, "is to possess a second soul." 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Full of Bull

"How about a bullfight?" my Korean teacher asked me one recent afternoon. "A bullfight? In Korea?" Once I got past the total incongruity of that image, I pushed back. "No way," I said. "I once saw a bullfight in Barcelona, Spain. The blood, the torture, the sheer brutality. I walked right out of the arena in total disgust." "Ah," Ms. Kwak responded. "Obviously you don't know about Korean bullfighting."

Scratch the matador, the sword, the gore. It's all bull in Cheongdo, South Korea. Bullfighting has been a tradition here for over 1,000 years. Korean Hanwoo bulls weighing between 1,322 and 1,764 lbs. clash like huge brown titans. Happily these bulls live to fight another day. "Spain's bullfight is between man and bull and assumes that men will defeat bulls," said Lee Joong Geun, county executive of Cheongdo. "But Cheongdo's bullfighting is an energetic fight between two bulls." In fact, owners have deep affection for their animals. Some even sleep with their bulls.
Korean bulls: clashing of heads and horns; but no matador, no gore

The annual Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival is held each March. Nearly 100 bulls compete for the title of "strongest bull." Foreign guests are invariably pleasantly surprised by their Korean bullfighting experience. It's curiously entertaining and fun. Two bulls fight head-on until one just backs off, either from exhaustion or intimidation. Sand is certainly kicked up, but unlike their Spanish and Mexican counterparts, there are no casualties other than perhaps loss of pride. 
Packed arena during the March Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival

In fact, I left the arena will a wide smile on my face. I had bet Ms. Kwak that the bull with the blue marking would win. She had taken the bull painted with the red circle. Mine won. Lunch was on Ms. Kwak.

Getting to Cheongdo: From downtown Daegu it is about 35 kilometers to Cheongdo. It can be reached by bus, train or rental car from Daegu.

Statue at the Bullfighting Museum in Cheongdo

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

[Dec/Transportation] Subway Superlatives: Riding the Daegu Subway

It's almost always sad to witness the slow, reluctant demise of an aging athlete: the once robust, virile performer becoming a shadow of his former self. Inevitably, a young upstart with speed and agility, wrapped in a fresh package, steps onto the stage, bathing in the spotlight of adulation.

Every major city in its time must respond to the challenge of efficiently transporting its citizens from one point to another. Boston (slow and without a schedule), New York (dark, dirty stations) and Paris (antiquated access, wheelchair-unfriendly)--all boast subway systems that remind us of athletes past their prime.

Korea's subway systems are the fresh, new "kids" on the world transportation "block." Daegu's new subway system leads the pack as perhaps the best example: it is fast, spotlessly clean, safe, reliable and brimming with optimism.
Daegu subway stations: bright, litter-free, safe
Daegu Subway System Fast Facts
Began Operation           Nov. 20, 1995
System Length             118.2 Kilometers/74 miles
Lines                            Red (Line 1) and Green (Line 2)
Stations                        58
Transfer Station            Ban-wol-dang Station
Basic Fare                    1200 won/$1.10 (1100 won with a transportation card)
Managed By                 DTRO/The Daegu Metropolitan Transit Corporation

The mission of DTRO is to provide "safe and comfortable transit"--and that it does, superbly. The subway cars are glistening clean and modern. The stations are bright and user-friendly offering handicap access, elevators, escalators that turn-off when not in use, and easy access for passengers with bikes-all driven by a state-of-the-art electronic pass system.

Convenient bike rails. Bikes welcome on weekends
For a great "how to navigate the system" overview click here

Boasting best practices from around the world, Daegu's subway system is simply best-in-class. Take her out for a spin. She'll leave you breathless.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Message In a Bottle: Korea and Israel

In some surprising ways, Korea has become my second home. I would have hung that mantle on Israel, with all our trips there and my decade of work with Seeds of Peace. But certainly that connection has become far too complicated by how Israel, as a political entity, treats a people (the Palestinians). I think that relationship is a bit like an addict and an enabler. Every time I try to will hope and good intent on the State of Israel, one of its leaders steps forward, yells something about a foolish new policy, and peace retreats two steps, or even further, into the shadows. It's an exhausting and disappointing process.

Korea is a much easier marriage (at least for me). Like Israel, the food here is great. Like Israel, the politics (with its neighbor, North Korea) are heavy lifting. But Koreans ignore the demons. Yes, there are the occasional incursions and gunfire. But what else, they seem to say, would you expect from a sad and outcast drunken neighbor?

The list of what I love about Korea is long: the food, the people, the topography (and only the size of the State of Indiana!), the culture, the history. And, not insubstantially, I suspect (no, I really do), that I may have lived a previous life here. Either that, or I am confusing a previous existence here with my earlier stint as a 22-24 year old peace corps volunteer. Either way, some very emotional strings are pulling me...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

[Nov/Leisure] Let’s Get Physical: It’s Easy in the Daegu Area

The golden oldie, “Let’s Get Physical,” made popular by singer Olivia Newton-John, could well have been written with Daegu in mind. There is an unmistakable culture here about being physical. 

Daegu’s city fathers have wisely invested in miles upon miles of public biking and running trails. Moreover, hundreds of exercise stations pepper the city and its environs in corner parks, civic squares, and along rivers and roadways.

Exercise stations dot the landscape in Daegu

If you are into walking, jogging or biking, or if you aspire to get started in any, or all, of these activities, Daegu is the place for you!  You’ll find people out exercising at any time of day or night, across the seasons.

In the Daegu area you will see that synthetic tracks, those wonderfully soft walkways usually made of recycled rubber products, have conveniently been laid in every neighborhood. Access is minutes away.

Residents getting in their exercise on the riverside track
 in Gyeungsan
When you choose walking, you make a healthy choice. A walk along the river or through one of the area's numerous parks allows you to see the sights while staying fit. If biking is your thing, the nearly endless network of trails means you can create a unique route almost every time out. And Daegu can be a runner’s paradise with those ubiquitous soft, colorful tracks meandering their way throughout the metropolitan area, and well beyond.

Local resident jogging his way to health
So pick a tune, make it your own and exercise your way to a healthier you--in Daegu.

Let’s Get Physical (Olivia Newton-John)

Walk Don’t Run (The Ventures)

 It Keeps You Running (The Doobie Brothers)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

[Nov/Leisure] The Daegu Art Museum: Come Listen to the Voices of Korea's Artists

“Art speaks the soul of its culture.”
                                                                               Abby Willowroot

There is a box-like structure that adorns the hillside just past the familiar venue that is Daegu Stadium.  Inside a gift awaits you. The ambience is a unique mix of the glass and steel one finds in Finland and the hospitality that is so uniquely characteristic of Korea. Here, at the Daegu Art Museum, you can hear the intriguing voices of Korea’s artists and experience their art with all your senses.
One current exhibit celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Korean artist, Lee In Sung (1912-1950). I was drawn like a moth to a flame, to his “Girl” (1940), a painting of his daughter in her striking red dress and subtle, long pigtails. She seems to portray all the magic and complexity possessed by Korean girls.
Shin Sang Ho’s (b.1947) sculptures are as direct, as they are colorful. It is easy to be captivated and provoked by his use of material, including a great deal of military hardware.

Interestingly, the site also features a wonderful restaurant which will help make your visit that much more appetizing. This world-class art museum is perhaps Daegu’s best kept secret. With your family, friends or even for personal exploration, a morning or afternoon at the Daegu Art Museum is an unbeatable cultural gift.

From November through March the Daegu Art Museum is open daily from 10:00 AM -6 PM. Closed Mondays. For more information including directions and exhibit information:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

[Nov/Tour] Andong Unmasked

The city of Andong is heralded in Korea for its outstanding traditional food, especially its steamed chicken (Jjimdak), grilled mackerel (Kohdunga) and native all-natural rice-wine (soju). In fact, a trip to Andong is well worth it just to enjoy these three culinary treasures. But Andong, which is Gyeongsangbuk-do’s largest city in the northern part of the province, is internationally regarded for its amazing folk heritage--in particular, The Hahoe Folk Village and the Annual Folk Festival featuring  the Andong Masks.

The Hahoe Folk Village can be reached via a scenic bus ride from downtown Andong. The village uniquely features an active community of residents living as they would a century ago. Walking down the village’s lanes and alleys affords visitors glimpses of traditional Korean life that have become all too rare. It’s easy to lose track of time as you turn a corner and gaze at rice paddies and mountains without any modern distractions. Not surprisingly, Hahoe Folk Village has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Traditional Korean residence at Hahoe Folk Village
Recently Andong residents welcomed tens of thousands of visitors to the 41st Annual Folk Festival that featured its parade of masks and presentations by performing artists from around the world. The masks have the power to mesmerize as they come alive in numerous theatrical shows and displays. Vendors from throughout Korea dot the fair grounds offering everything from natural foods to clothing. The entire festival, held each fall, is striking in its diversity and vibrancy.
Masks at Andong's Annual Folk Festival

Even restaurants get into the act
Enhance your visit to Andong with an overnight stay at a local Korean inn (min-bak). A fine example is The Man Hyu Guest House located about 25 minutes from downtown Andong. Take bus #51 and ask for Bongjeongsa Temple. Sit back and let the driver take you to the end of the line. Man Hyu Guesthouse is just a short walk up the hill.
A delicious breakfast at the Man Hyu Guest House
Visit Andong for yourself and experience its marvelous masquerading. It is surely one of Korea’s, and Gyeongsangbukdo’s, best treasures.

Getting there: Andong is about a 2-hour train ride from Dong Daegu Station.
The Man Hyu Guest House is a 25-minute bus ride from downtown Andong. Take the #51 bus to its last stop. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Yes, you were

Dear Abe,

When you are older, an adult, maybe 20 or so, you might have a chance to look back at this photo. It was taken during the summer of 2012. I was so lucky. I was able to come home to Peaks Island from Korea in time to be with you and to see the birth of your sister, Zoe. Yes Abe, you were as loving as your smile. Yes, you were as good as gold...and smart too. You were so glorious to be with. You loved baseball and everything red. Yes, you were deeply loved by your mom and dad and all your grandparents, from Montana to Maine. You were loved too by your great grandparents living in warmer places like Arizona and Florida. Yes, you were so deeply loved.

Abe welcomes Zoe into the world, Summer 2012
Dear Zoe,

Zoe, when you are older you will see how you were loved too. Into the world you came with deep dark hair. You completed a splendid picture for your family, from A-Z. Can you see that in your brother's smile? I look forward to know you young lady. For now, and maybe then, I am a world away. Yes, Zoe, from near and far, you too were loved deeply.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

[Nov/Tour] Gatbawi – A Masterpiece of Buddhist Sculpture, Near Daegu

He sits there patiently and stoically. As soon as you cast your eyes upon him you know that your walk up the mountain trail was well worth the effort. Gatbawi, the sitting Buddha, is considered one of the masterpieces of Buddhist sculpture. An official Korean Treasure (No. 431), the 4-meter tall stone Buddha, Gatbawi, was carved in the 9th century. There he rests on a mountain peak, overlooking a wide vista north of Daegu. As the Buddha of medicine, he holds a medicine pot in his left hand. The stone headpiece atop his head represents his supreme wisdom, while the position of his hand symbolizes the expelling of evil. This latter point is important because tradition has it that Gatbawi will grant visitors one wish.
Gatbawi, Korean Treasure no. 431

A trip to Gatbawi is mesmerizing for reasons of your choosing. Perhaps it is seeing the sitting Buddha himself. You might savor the dramatic view of the countryside. For the weekend hiker in you, the trail up to Gatbawi is pleasant, as the long staircase and trail wind and climb through the forest that blankets the mountainside. Your trip to Gatbawi, by any measure, is well worth the visit.

Hiking up the mountain staircase

Give yourself several hours for the visit and climb up.

Getting there: Leaving Dong Daegu Station, exit and turn right, walk down a set of stairs. You will see the city bus stop ahead. Take bus #401, or 101-1 to Gatbawi (40-50 minutes).  By taxi, the trip is 25-30 minutes from Dong Daegu Station (figure a 20,000 won fare).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Afternoon Delight

In recent years coffee shops have proliferated throughout Korea. Franchised coffee shops, offer predictability and convenience, but they are rarely interesting, creative or welcoming. However, there are a few gems out there that bring delight to coffee lovers in the Daegu area. Cafepresso, thanks to owner-baristas Ho and Miri, is just such an oasis. Roasting and hand-drip experts, they ply their trade with passion and artistry. Taste a delicious fresh brewed Dutch Coffee or a wonderful White Cafe Mocha. Treat yourself to a mouthwatering dish of Vanilla Ice-Cream, drizzled with chocolate syrup and adorned with almonds and oreo cookies. Experience the Honey Bread with fresh cream. Cafepresso gets our vote for best coffee shop in the greater Daegu area. It's well worth visiting.
    Phone: 053-801-6668   Address: 562-5 Sa-Dong Gyeongsan City  Baristas: Ho and Miri

Delicious Coffees and Desserts

Welcome to Cafepresso!

Owner/Baristas Ho (left) and Miri

Cafepresso Location

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Daegu Boasts Best Thai Food This Side of Bangkok

Ah, savory soups and heavenly dishes. Korea's fourth largest metropolis, Daegu, boasts MK Suki, a magical Thai restaurant that will please anyone yearning for authentic Thai food. One of our dishes (see photo) featured fresh squid, sweet mini-corn cobs, mushrooms and fish in a delicious, light broth. I yearn for more just recalling my recent visit. No problem. MK Suki is an easy find, located across the street from Daewoo Trump Apartments in Daegu's Suseong-gu neighborhood.
    Restaurant: MK Suki (Thai), Address: #998-4 Jisan-dong, Suseong-gu, Phone: 053-783-6400

Culinary art. Seafood dish featuring squid and sweet corn.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guilty Pleasures of an Expat in Daegu

Delicious Duo--Hamburger and Cut Fries 
Burger Project and Chef Choi-The Real Deal
OK, I am guilty as charged. I was in downtown Daegu and saw the tempting photos of hamburgers at Burger Project. Could they be as good as alleged? This is, of course, a man who has not had a real, honest-to-goodness hamburger in some time. Alas, my hamburger was off-the-charts delicious! Moreover, the cut potatoes were unbelievably mouthwatering. Ah, the guilty pleasures of an expat in Daegu. Come meet Chef Choi at Burger Project in the Hyundai Department Store in downtown Daegu.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The End of the Line

"Well, it's all right, riding around in the breeze  Well, it's all right, if you live the life you please  Well, it's all right, even if the sun don't shine  Well, it's all right, we're going to the end of the line."
                     from The Traveling Wilburys - End of the Line

They say Prague is a city designed for walking - a pedestrian heaven. I'll put on my Ecco shoes, grab my day pack, buy some bottled water - I need nothing more, save a map and my insatiable traveler's curiosity.

But this day we took some unusual advice from a local, "Just get on one of the trolley lines, any number actually, and take it to the end of the line. You can't go wrong." Soon after, we were boarding line #1 and taking it through a series of nondescript, urban Czech neighborhoods. Then we came to the terminus, exited the trolley car and stood at the stop pondering our situation. Where the heck were we? Suddenly, my stomach interrupted with a request, "How about some Chinese food?" Chinese food? I didn't have a clue where I was and all I could think about was eating some Chinese food. (Note: I am a sucker for Chinese food wherever I am in the world.) 

We saw a few stores lining the curve in the road across the street. It was quiet. Several stores looked  vacated and the streets were noticeably absent people. We walked a block or two and there, lo and behold, was a Chinese restaurant! Surely the Chinese characters on the sign must have read, Lucky Stars. We found heaven at the end of the line.

Gifted recently with a few days off for the Korean thanksgiving holiday, Chuseok, a friend and I headed to Andong to attend Korea's famed Mask Festival. The festival itself and the city's culinary specialties of spicy chicken, grilled mackerel and rice wine (soju), all lived up to the lofty tourist hype.

Masks symbolizing the Andong Mask Festival
Festival "attendees" with beards and hats in common
When the night grew still, when the voices quieted and the hum of the cars and buses ebbed, it was time to find our way to the Korean inn where I had made reservations. Man Hyu Guest House was 20 minutes out of town, in the foothills northwest of Andong, near the Bong Jung Buddhist Temple. The innkeeper welcomed us warmly in the Korean tradition. We were enveloped by tranquility and comfort. I fell asleep listening to the song of water cascading down a rocky stream just outside my room. 
At our inn: A comforting breakfast of rice porridge
The guest house was literally at the end of the line - in this case, bus #51. I recall the traveler's credo I strive to abide by: Have trust. Ride with the breeze. Live the life you please. No problem exists, even if the sun doesn't shine--when you're going to the end of the line.