Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Martial Arts in Korea

Here's the question:

I am planning (the closer to departure stage) on going to Korea to teach English. My question is general and may be easy for you to answer. Martial arts in Korea-- which fighting style is most studied, are there experienced and wise instructors, if I began lessons, would I be around mostly children? Thanks for your help.

I assume you're very aware that Taekwondo is Korea's national sport, but you might not have known that is also boasts having the most practitioners around the world. Having taught kids for a couple years, I know that it is popular among that demographic and, in the past, most Korean men who completed their obligatory military service had to obtain a black belt while serving.

Former K-Blogger Amanda from Amanda Takes Off was really into the sport and I bet it wouldn't hurt to snoop around her site. From what I understand, she learned quite a bit of Korean from her classes there.

There are other Korean and world martial arts here as well and I'm 100% certain that all of them have classes for adults with skilled instructors. As much as I wanted to imagine someone fighting kids like Kramer did (video here), I don't think you'll have many problems.

The other night, I was out having a drink with a co-worker and there was a very raucous table of Malaysians and Jordanians next to us. We joined in on the fun and found out that they were all Taekwondo referees and that they travel to Korea several times a year for tournaments and competitions. The Jordanian woman (whose name escapes me) at the table, although in her 40s now, was somewhat of a Taekwondo legend who became the first woman in Jordan to participate in the sport and is now the leading Taekwondo spokesperson for the Middle East. The point is that Korea is a martial arts destination.

Since I'm not sure where you'll be living in Korea, there's no need to suggest any dojangs just yet. Enjoy!

Teacher Training Tips

Here's the question:

I read in one of your previous posts that you are a foreign head teacher at your school. I'm suspecting you might have some experience training new teachers. I recently replaced the previous head teacher at my school, and I have to train two new teachers coming in (actually, a dating couple). The teachers they are replacing were horrible. I don't know if it related to their training (done by the previous head teacher), their attitude, my performance, or what. I want to make sure that the new teachers receive proper training and understand things generally upfront. I'll also have to do this fairly quickly because we are without two foreign teachers now and the newbies will probably be put to work as soon as possible. Do you have any tips for training teachers?

Proper training can make or break a school and a proper welcome to Korea can make it or break it for a new teacher. And since you're the new head teacher, your ability to train properly can make or break you. Unfortunately, much more of this success has to do with them rather than you, but there are a few things that you can do to ensure you'll have a decent team of teachers.

If you can remember when you first arrived in Korea, the group of teachers or people that you were first surrounded by were largely responsible for your acculturation into Korean life and work. That group has more power than one might think and as a head teacher, it's wise to make sure that it's not full of the usual whiners who frequent Daves. I'm not saying don't be honest about what they should expect. If they were smart then they did their research anyways, but I remember some pretty big whoppers that were laid on me when I first arrived by some soon-to-be defunct expats. Were they true? Not usually, but I still remember most of them to this day.

3 Training Tips that work...

1) Expectations Game

Clearly laying out what is and isn't expected of the teacher is very important. I'm not talking about contractual expectations like being on time and dress code, but more about what a teacher can expect to happen when he gets in the class. They need to understand what the directors, parents and students want from their teacher. Sure, solid English education is paramount, however there are other hidden expectations that students want. For example, if you teach adults then teachers need to know that teaching their own life and telling their own stories (something that happens far too often) is not acceptable if unsolicited.

I might come-off as being too concerned here, but let them know the stereotypes that exist of English teachers. If you present it in a constructive way, then they shouldn't harbor any anger against Koreans. Sometimes you have an American (I've dealt with many) who has never been out of the country before now and you can tell they are a little hot-headed. I like to take them down a notch. It was good for me as well.

Discussing sexual weekend conquests and boozing is off-limits. It seems pretty clear, but I can guarantee that those of you how are also managers have had to discuss this issue again and again with staff. The student-teacher relationship is held to a higher standard in Korea, so treat it as such.

If you happen to teach kids, then you've gotta play to the parents expectations which, in many cases, is to be an entertaining and educating figure who pays extra close attention "their" student. Impossible, right? Not if you're good at controlling perception.

2) Attainable Goals

I talked about this before and I think it's the key to having a successful teacher and classroom. Students don't actually know their goals. Kids are sent into class to learn English so they can do well on tests. You shouldn't care about that. Adults enroll so they can become "fluent" or communicate with international clients. You shouldn't care about those either. Those goals are not real goals when it comes to language education. Fluency is a dream that might be reached, but when you set the bar that high, you're certain to fail.

Teachers need to set goals for their students. Learning a language is a slow and grueling process and taking on too much at once is a mistake. Set an attainable goal for students (like mastering past and future tense for kids; or having a flawless conference call for adults). Remember, Koreans see a lot of value in completing educational tasks and reaching preset goals. Once they hit that goal, reward them. Give them some candy or take them for a beer (depending on the age).

3) Don't Over-train

Those of us who have been in the industry or in Korea for a while have the tendency to overload newcomers with information. I do it all the damn time and have learned that it stresses people out and makes them feel like they're too far behind to even have a shot at success. As we all know by now, technical training for teachers is less about training and more about trial-by-error. So, have them observe a few classes, talk to a few teachers and write a few lesson plans. They'll get the hang of it soon.

In the end, I think it's about the circle of friends they begin with. I came in at a kids hagwon and met some great people. Many of them are still here today. They set the tone for me. They were typically upbeat about Korea, so that made its way to me. My biggest concern is that teachers arrive in Korea and find themselves in a small hagwon with few or no other foreign teachers. That can lead to isolation real quick which makes teachers unhappy which, of course, leads to poor performance.

I like to take new teachers out as much as possible and even encourage the school to have monthly parties. Camaraderie works and you don't want a runner on your hands.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Help from Fellow Expats

Here's a tricky one:

I was wondering if you could guide me to information about payment obligations regarding repairs within the chonsei system. My specific problem is that we have a leak in our bathroom ceiling and I'm wondering if the apartment above us has any legal responsibility to pay for repairs or to share the cost etc. (i.e. do they pay for repairs that effect only their apartment/living space or does one of us pay for the whole thing? or is there another system that's followed?). Any advice would be appreciated.

Wow, that's a tough one. I would appreciate some solid advice on this one as well. All I know is that when the same type of thing happened to me and it wasn't my fault or the tenant above me, the liability fell on the building's owner and I don't think there was much of a fight about it. However, if your personal property was damaged, I'm sure the wrangling will get more heated.

Sadly, I just don't know to answer and so I appeal to the greater community: Any advice?

Weddings in Korea: How much will it cost to attend?

Here's the question:

The principal of my school invited me to his daughter's wedding. How different are Korean weddings from Western? What kind of gift should I bring? What is appropriate to wear. Are there any big faux paus to avoid?

There are two types of weddings in Korea: Traditional Korean and a Western white wedding. If we really wanted to split hairs, we could throw in different religions which, of course, prescribe to a specific ceremony, but for the most part those two cover the majority of weddings held in Korea.

The traditional wedding is always fun to watch. I had a traditional Korean wedding myself and still love going and watching them if I happen to run into one. They're just that fun. The rest of the weddings that I have been to have been in wedding halls. These are fast, loud and busy affairs where best friends are sitting in the back joking around and talking on their cell-phone as the parents look on -totally expressionless- while the bride is crying uncontrollably. Seriously, I don't like the wedding hall weddings and I don't think I need to say much more to show the contrast between Western and Korean weddings.

If you want a pretty solid summary of weddings and marriage in Korea, Wikipedia offers a pretty comprehensive look at what's going on.

Now, you mentioned clothes and gifts. With clothes, dress seasonally and formally just as you would at home, but as far as a gift goes, it's better to give cash rather than an item. Money is the biggest concern for newlyweds and since some Korean men and women have such unrealistic expectations when it comes to finances, you'll never ever go wrong with a cash gift.

The amount depends on how close you are to the bride/groom. When you walk into the wedding hall or venue, you'll see a table probably sporting an oversized photo along with the name of the soon-to-be-spouses. (On a side note, my wife and I took pictures for over eight hours straight. The pictures turned out great, but it was exhausting to say the least.)

How much money to give?

The standard rate used to go as follows...

* 30,000 won for an acquaintance or someone you're not too close with.

* 50,000+ won for a co-worker or friend.

* 100,000+ for family and old friends (Koreans typically stay in close contact elementary, middle and high-school pals).

Now, however, with the introduction of the 50,000 won note, the minimum has unofficially risen to 50,000 won and, while some people might use the old standard still, it's safe to assume the all the numbers have been adjusted accordingly. Some people even consider how much money to give based on how certain they are the newlyweds will return the favor when it's their turn to get married. For this reason, many Koreans dislike peak seasons because of the high costs.

The method for payment is simple. Go to 711 and buy some celebratory (or just plain) white envelopes. Stuff some cash in it and write your name on the outside. When you arrive at the venue, hand it to the collection table, sign the book and they'll give you a ticket which will get you into the buffet either before, during or after the ceremony. If you're a little late, then wait to go into the buffet until after the post-wedding pictures have been taken. (I've always had a suspicion that the only reason some people attend these things is to get in the picture. Why else would everyone be so rude and talk during the actual ceremony?)

I always encourage people to go to weddings and it never hurts to be a part of something that is so important to your boss. As far as money goes, I think you'd be safe slipping in 30,000 and calling it a day. After all, you're new to the whole thing, so a 20,000 won (faux) mistake is harmless, right?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where can I buy ping-pong balls in Korea?

Here's the question:

Where can I get ping pong balls? Emart has them, but they're like 7,000 won. Anywhere cheaper?

I'm sure you could find them in a sports store somewhere, but they'd also be expensive. I suggest you go to your local stationary store. Don't ask me why, but for some reason, ping-pong balls (탁구 공) are sold in stationary stores and they're usually pretty cheap. I should add that I typically buy them for beer bong -yes, I still play beer bong- and from my experience, they are usually pretty low quality.

So, if you wanna play table tennis, then spring for it, but if you want to pretend that you're still in college, head to the stationary store.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Chuseok Gifts and the Foreigner Experience

Here are the Chuseok-related questions:

Chuseok is coming up and I'm curious as to what exactly happens. I've discussed it with the Koreans I work with and while it's interesting, much of what they tell me centres around their family's traditions. What I'm wondering is:

- are there traditions that foreigners are expected to take part in? I've seen a lot of gift packages in Kim's Club and the like; are we expected to give gifts?

- what shuts down? Do the buses and subway run on a reduced schedule, or are they 100% closed?

- is it only family-based, like the Thanksgivings I'm used to back home in Canada, or is there a way to take part in a Chuseok tradition - for instance, a "Chuseok meal" in a restaurant?


I used to work for a hogwan and now I have a much better job teaching at an elementary school. My Korean co-teacher has been very helpful with both school stuff and non-school stuff like dealing with my apartment and setting up an new bank account. I was wondering what might be an appropriate gift to show my gratitude. Should I also get her something for Chulsuok? I should also get something the woman volunteer who helps out with the after-school classes. Any suggestions? What is the protocol here? And should I also get my Principal something?
Simply put, Chuseok is a harvest festival where Korean families gather together (usually in the husband's hometown or the oldest son's home) and celebrate the harvest, eat traditional food and pay homage to their ancestors.

Here I am a few years ago...

First we give thanks and bow to the harvest (Spot the white guy!):

Then we offer it to our ancestors:

And after eating and drinking, we head to the tombs:

That's the ritual and just about as involved as any non-Korean will ever be in the holiday. Unlike myself, most expats here are not married to a Korean, so your participation is limited to enjoying quiet city streets (unless you live in a "hometown") or getting slammed by hours and hours of highway traffic. All public transportation remains the same though. You'll find that a lot of restaurants and stores are closed, but it's not that big of a hassle.

The gifts are part of the fun as well. Korea Times ran a piece today about parents bribing teachers for the holiday, but there are certainly less-tainted gifts that people exchange.

For an older person or boss, most people buy honey (the expensive kind) or a fish called 굴비. For someone close to your age or a colleague, it's pretty common to buy them some dried persimmon () or other dried fruit. Some people try to get away with the famed Spam gift set and even though it's presence in supermarkets might say otherwise, it's viewed as a little "low-class" or "out-dated" these days. For kids, you give them money. If you don't want to be that specific, deok is probably the safest holiday gift and very easy to find.

As far as your holiday plans, either plan a trip out of the country or book your train tickets now because you don't want to deal with Chuseok traffic.

Should we frequent small, sleepy restaurants?

Here's the question:

I've noticed that restaurants are everywhere here, but it seems that the tendency is for people to frequent those in high-traffic areas. There are restaurants throughout the side streets I've wandered, but I don't often see anyone in them. So, I was wondering how safe it is to wander into these off-the-beaten-track restaurants? Can they be a source of great food finds, or are they usually just serving what I can get in the places where everyone else goes?

I can't remember where I read it, but someone said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Koreans don't go to a specific restaurant, but rather they go out for a specific dish." That's dead-on, but doesn't necessarily mean that people don't frequent restaurants with good reputations. It means that if people want galbi, they're going to find some restaurant (probably local) that serves it.

Honestly, I love wandering into the sleepy looking restaurants. While the food is usually just as good as the busy establishments, it's the service that typically stands out. Extra side-dishes is a win-win for me which, ironically, is my biggest issue with these small restaurants.

Many of you know it or have at least thought about it before (just as many Koreans have): Do they really throw away uneaten/untouched food?

I suspected that they didn't and very, very unfortunately, I was correct. It was and still is a very common practice. Luckily, in July of this year, the Korean government thankfully decided to fight back against the insanely unsanitary way of saving a buck and sanction any restaurant that is caught reusing it's food. Despite swine-flu paranoia, I have a feeling that the practice will continue as long as food prices are increasing and the recession drags on.

I encourage everyone to frequent the small establishments. My favorite part of Korea is the insane amount of restaurants that are found on every street in every pocket of every city on the peninsula. If we all stick to the big places, then much of the charm of Korean eating culture will deteriorate to the point that franchises will take over and then I will be forced to leave the country. Also, they have the best kimchi.

So, get out there and check out the small joints and I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised. If you want more of a food guide for everything else, make sure you see what Zen Kimchi, Fatman Seoul and Seoul Eats have to bring to the plate.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cigars in South Korea

Here's the question:

First, I am a smoker. Not a cigarette smoker, but a cigar smoker. I am not an avid smoker...I can survive without cigars...but I would like to know how cigars figure into Korean culture. I've noticed that there are plenty of cigarette smokers around (all males, it seems), and I haven't noticed any kind of smoking ban (although no one seems to smoke in restaurants - thankfully). However, what I'm asking is: Does anyone in Korea smoke cigars (real cigars - not the ones from the convenience stores)? Does Korea have any cigar stores/shops? Are cigars expensive here (U.S. prices range from $5~$12 for a typical cigar)?

Smoking in Korea is pretty much second-nature. Korea boasts one of the highest numbers of cigarettes consumed per capita and cigarettes, despite being responsible for the rise in heart disease and lung cancer, have largely escaped the heavy tax that many other nations have levied in hopes of curtailing the deadly habit.

As far as most smokers being male, I agree to a point, but it is certainly becoming more common to see young women lighting up in the confines of a smokey bar or hof. Some of the bolder ones are sucking down on the streets as well. However, there are still a lot of rules and some taboo-elements when it comes to smoking in public. For instance, many Korean males will not smoke in front of their bosses. Of course, the boss doesn't care that their employees smoke, yet subordinates continue to file out the door and out-of-sight to light-up. Much like many Western families, it's also rude to smoke in front of family members. I assume that many of these practices will become obsolete in time. Further, I'm not too sure what restaurants you happen to be eating in, but I would be hard-pressed to find one that isn't cloaked in a thick layer of smoke. I guess most of the Western or "family" restaurants don't allow smoking though.

I digress. As you mentioned, nearly every convenience store sells some sort of cigar. They're usually pretty low quality and, from my experience with fellow expats who have been cajoled in quitting smoking cigs by their girlfriends, they smell rancid. However, I am not a connoisseur in any sense of the word. Luckily for us, some one else is.

The Seoul Cigar Aficionado Society, which may or may not be active anymore, offers a short list of spots to purchase cigars.

As much of South Korea's population lives in the capital, Seoul, it is easy to understand why Korea's only cigar shops are in Seoul as well. As of this posting date, there are only three cigar retail locations with a wide range of cigars to choose from.

1. Maska's Cigar at the JW Marriott Hotel - Cuban, Non-Cuban, and Flavored Cigars such as Vanilla, Rum, Chocolate, Honey, Cherry, Peach, & Blackberry.
(Email:, Tel: 02-6282-2922, Web:

2. Pierre Ltd. at the Intercontinental Hotel - Cuban
(Email:, Tel: 02-790-4522, Web:

3. Bluebell Cigars at the Shilla Hotel - Non-Cuban

For more detailed answers, email us at:

I wish I knew more, but there just isn't a big cigar-puffing culture here. I would suggest starting there and see what you come up with. Any cigar smokers out there care to take a stab?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More on the Community Building Project or "The Project"

First of all, I really want to thank all of my fellow K-bloggers/writers and everyone else who has really taken initiative on this project. You know who you are and I'm proud to be part of this community.

Since the meeting on Sunday, I've read some pretty solid ideas of how to go about this and where to start. Charles did an excellent job of laying out what was said at the meeting. You can read it on the Facebook group or on Foreign/er. The project entails three main areas: information availability; community building; and public relations.

I think we all know where the information is because we spend much of our online-time reading blogs, news and other informational websites. However, and as Joy rightly said, most expats probably don't know who we are or where we get our info. Trust me, except for my posts on Korean culture and society, Ask the Expat is a service for people who don't know where to go. They have nowhere to turn and when they go online in search of info, they're most likely going to end up at a recruiters site or a rant on Daves. We can fix this.

Joe's got a new site up and Joy suggested something like I think both of those sites have a lot to offer, just as Hub of Sparkle does. It's clear that a meta-blog is a must.

Public relations is crucial to this project in my opinion, but we've gotta reach out to all mediums of media, not just the papers. Joe was on the radio the other day, we've got all sorts of English-speaking papers covered, multiple podcasters, Korea Beat's magazine spread, Hurt's got his fashion presence and I'm sure we could continue to push. I wonder though: What's going to be our angle? How can we take what we already do and make it work?

I think we should tie that in with positive growth/exposure activities like volunteering; fundraising; cook-offs; quiz nights for charity; blogger bashes; and other things we come up with along the way.

The final thing I wanted to mention was something that Joy also said (I obviously liked her thoughts). Canvassing. We can easily come up with a survey and canvass our local neighborhoods to find out what the average expat is thinking. That would be very easy, quick and a great way to get some solid info. The bottom line is that if we want our community to thrive we have to get rid of the idea of Korea as a hold-over. I can't tell you how many expats and teachers I have met that view Korea as a brief stop and happily move on. If we can get people to think of Korea as a place where you can grow socially, professionally and personally then our community could really take root and start to expand.

So, first things first: What do you all think of coming up with a simple canvassing survey?

Monday, September 14, 2009

How Do I Make My Blog Big?

Here's the question:

"...I'm not all that sure about proper netiquette in advertising a blog. Would it just cheap and lazy of me to go on other people's blogs and give a plug for my own blog? Is it better to email bloggers like yourself and see who's interested in sharing my blog with others? Or is the more etiquettely [sic] correct thing to do just to let it grow by word-of-mouth alone?"

Blogging is a time-consuming endeavor where you are either getting post ideas everywhere you go or you hit a literary wall where nothing is coming out and the blog becomes a burden. This happens to everyone. I think Brian said it best on a facebook comment on one of my notes/posts:

The thing about getting big----or getting medium, in my case---is that with a larger readership comes greater pressure to keep it up. Three posts a week becomes a post a day becomes a post for breakfast, lunch, dinner, becomes . . . and so on.

Luckily, the style of my blog doesn't require that much creativity. People ask questions and I answer them. Sometimes, there's a huge blitz of unique and interesting emails and other times, I get a handful of questions that I can answer easily or refer them to a previous post.

A couple weeks ago, GI Korea laid out what it takes to be a successful blogger and I think it's the best advice I've seen on the topic. He really nailed it on the head. Read it because I can't add much to it.

The questioner provided his blog address to me and it looks like he found a niche for himself, so hopefully he'll keep it going and stick to that theme. Although he hasn't posted more than a couple times and it's been about three weeks since his last one, check it out for yourself: Smelly Billa.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Muslims in South Korea

Here's the question:

I'm a Muslim/UK citizen and interested in coming to Korea to teach. I saw a recent article about Islam in Korea and was wondering how I might be looked upon.
I assume by "recent", you mean THIS article (or this one) and if that's the case, I commend you on your reading of Korean papers before you make the leap.

There's some, but not an overwhelming amount of decent English info on Islam in Korea. Sure, you can read Wikipedia (which I found pretty interesting) or some other "Islam in Korea" pages, but other than a few snippets in the news, there isn't much on how you'd be treated here. I'll try my best.

Since Korea has a pretty high number of non-religious citizens and religious persecution is relatively low (although Islam has a tendency to be tied to terrorism in the minds of many Koreans), I think the best way to go about this is to highlight the fact that non-Korean Muslims here are viewed as very foreign. As I mentioned in a comment on Diffism, there are different categories of foreigners and each one typically carries a certain reputation or stereotype.

You can pretty much break it down like this: Caucasians (teachers, military, government, contractors, business-types and tourists); Asian non-Koreans (laborers, cooks, nannies, tourists and "entertainers"); and other. The "other" is where many western-Asian/Indian/black or otherwise dark-skinned people would be categorized because many Koreans aren't sure where to put them. True, there are hundreds of black teachers here and probably thousands of dark-skinned contractors, businessmen and skilled laborers working here, but the average Korean just doesn't know for sure.

For instance, if an Indian fellow was walking with a bunch of Korean businessmen at lunchtime, it would be assumed that he's involved with business in someway, but if he was alone, it's pretty unlikely that he would be considered to be part of the business crowd. Another good example of this on Korea Beat today. The police refused to believe that an Indian man could be a professor at a Korean university.

Since I don't know your race or ethnicity, I won't offer any simple race-relations tips, but if you were to wear an igal or a thawb, I can say for sure that you'd be given a few looks, yet I wouldn't expect anything worse than what you are used to in the West. Exposure is a huge part of tolerance and acceptance here and since the Korean Muslim population is very small (only a few mosques with 30,000-70,000 followers), the average Korean just doesn't have much experience to go on. You can largely avoid this if you live in Itaewon, but that might not be what you're looking for. I would suggest checking out the Seoul Central Mosque though.

The government is trying to promote closer ties as well. I think you'll be fine and might even find a nice little community to join if you felt so inclined.


September 26th, 2009: Korea Times reports on feuding going on within Korean Islamic groups over the misuse of donations.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Calling All K-Bloggers!

Alright fellow bloggers, Joe (Zen Kimchi), Joy (Foreign/er), Chris (CISK), Alex (Diffism), Jacob (R.O.K. Sojourn) and Brian (BIJD) have all expressed interest, so we started a Facebook group to get the dialogue going.

Join the group and let's get started.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A question for K-bloggers: Is it time to organize?

Here's my personal question for you.

How many K-Bloggers are Seoul-based?

After reading a few good posts on community organizing (Chris and Rob), I got to thinking about the blogging community and how many big K-Bloggers are in Seoul. It seems that there are a lot of calls to organize, but nothing ever materializes. I figured the easiest way to get the ball rolling was to organize ourselves first. Of course, I'd like the entire K-blogging community to get involved, but focusing on Seoul-based bloggers is a little less daunting for now. Think Netroots Nation, but only in Korea.

What do you think? It seems like a good place to start, no?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Just how much has the teaching market tightened in South Korea?

I've gotten A LOT of questions recently from people who are having serious issues finding jobs. I was wondering if any of you readers you could me help out. One of the questioners is a male in his 40s with an MA and another is a black women with with an MA and experience. From my experience recruiting (and I have seen their resumes and pictures), these two would be shoo-ins. Obviously the public schools screwed up this year and perhaps some kid hagwons could be a little tougher to crack given the power that moms have, but they should have no problems teaching adults. Or so I thought. And it's not that they're just not getting hired. It's that recruiters aren't responding to them, they're not getting interviews and overall, they're getting the cold shoulder from everyone along the way. Has the situation really gotten that bad? Is it really this hard to land a decent gig?

So, I wonder...

Those of you who teach adults (or any age for that matter), is your institute actively hiring? Do you know if they have more applicants than usual? Are you working with any non-Caucasians or people over 40?

Is it bad timing or has the market tightened that much?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where do young Koreans go for sex?

Here's the question:

I have a short question: Where do young Koreans go to have sex? I mean, they all live with their parents, right?

Short question with a long answer. I'm going to broaden the scope of the question by expanding "sex" to include all forms of hanky panky.

You are correct that Koreans tend to live with their parents until marriage. There are exceptions to that (moving to Seoul from X small/country city, divorced parents, good job, long commutes etc...) and more and more Koreans are choosing to move out, but the norm is still to stay at home, especially considering housing costs. The Grand Narrative has an excellent write-up on Flatting, Premarital Sex and Cohabitation in Korea, so check that out for sure. I can't any solid "First Age of Sex" surveys on Korea, but I did find this one.

I took the average of the East Asian countries in the survey and hit close to 18 which is just above the global average. I don't have any reasons to think that Korea is that much different than their neighbors, but I'm sure some of you Korean sociologists might be able to add some thoughts.

So, with all of these people living at home, it begs the question as to where they are going to have a little consensual fun. We know that the people in or beyond their late 20's (with money and a little courage) can simply stop by their friendly neighborhood love motel when the urge hits, but what about the rest of the youngsters? Going to a love motel is pretty suggestive, a little more pricey and if people just was a little over-the-shirt lovin', a motel might be too much.

There are options...

DVD Rooms

Judging by the name, these places seem quite innocent, but once you walk in the door and find a bed or huge bed-like couch where the standard couch used to be as little as five years ago, that innocence disappears. I can't find the link, but a few weeks ago, I saw a survey on Naver which said that the number one place for "college students to have sex for the first time" was in DVD rooms. Korea Times also has an article mirroring those results. They're cheap, sound harmless and carry less of a stigma than the love motel.


Like the DVD rooms, the noraebang typically offers privacy, low prices and very little shame. A young couple can go in there and sing, dance, smoke, drink and smooch as much or little as they want.

Love Motels

You all know the love motels by now. I wrote about them and Brian loves to write about them. They come fully equipped with lotions, condoms, tissues, overly fancy shower and bathing facilities and, of course, softcore Korean porn to help the shy young lovers get in the mood. While going to these places might be a bit intimidating for first-timers, the sheer seediness will take care of that apprehension. They're also pretty cheap and oftentimes have hourly rates.

The Park

Don't believe me? Go to Hangang Park late at night on the weekends. Not only will you see the sex-starved twenty-somethings snuggling all day under their blankets in plain view, but when the sun goes down, the action can get a little more heated. No, there are not people getting too wild or anything, but there certainly is something going on. The LGBT scene has got some different rules. I've talked about it a lot on Ask the Expat, but Korea Beat has a good amount on the subject as well.

I'm sure there are a whole host of other spots that I don't know about either as it changes from generation to generation. For instance, the older generation used to head to the drive-in theaters. I'm pretty sure there was no Back Seat Betty's frequenting city overlooks, but it was certainly done one way or another in Korea. Another spot that you can still find around the country is a "dabang" (다방). Many of you will know these places as a discrete place where hookers entertain their guests, but many years ago (1970-80s), these places used to be more varied and innocent. There were the ones with ladies of the night and the ones where young couples could escape from the grips of their parents, drink coffee, chat, listen to a Korean DJ and even get a little close in partitioned cubicles. The latter aspect of the dabang is not seen anymore as they have been totally taken over by the sex industry or have changed themes completely.

So, the youngsters are out there and they appear to be having some success in finding a little privacy. Did I miss any?