Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

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The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is the new landmark building in a landmark area of Seoul. It can get confusing around here, so let me be specific.

동 = east대 = big문 = gate

Dongdaemun is literally a large gate on the eastern part of what once was the Seoul wall. This wall is intact (if recreated) in many places. Several of these gates necklace the former walls of Seoul and provide useful compass points for navigating the city.

Dongdaemun-gu is the district which takes its name from this famous gate; it’s a bit further east from the gate. It’s also my home.

Dongdaemun History & Culture Park is the area which used to house a famous baseball and football stadium. It has been demolished and rebuilt to include museums and ramparts from the wall. This backs on to the markets and busy fashion trade centres. It is also the name for the underground station. Finally we get to the edifice I would like to write about – Dongdaemun Design Plaza. It is quite a mouthful so has been shortened to ddp. I have noticed that many Seoul residents are still unfamiliar with this acronym, but from here on I will refer to it as ddp.

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ddp has been taking shape during the years I have been in Korea. It used to be a building site but as it neared completion I used to ascend the building opposite to view it from above, luckily there is an elevator on the outside of the building which goes up about 17 floors. Finally after 5 years it has been officially inaugurated and I have been able to see it from every other angle, including from the inside. It was designed by Iraqi British architect Zaha Hadid, and it’s a multifunctional mixture of post modern play things. Under the shiny aluminium panels you can find a fashion design information center with seminar rooms and a lecture hall. There is a convention hall, exhibition halls, museum and my personal favourite – a kind of design market.

Zaha Hadid 360 degrees Opening Event

Zaha Hadid 360 degrees Opening Event

 

The fun mixed use nature of the building adds to the playfulness and post industrial vibe that you can find here. Each part of the building morphs into the next and getting from one area to the next is so much fun that you almost don’t care what’s going on in the exhibition spaces. It’s got a minimal feel to it, especially with all the white. However, it differs from any modernist structure because it is completely freeform. There seems to be nothing holding anything up. Moving around the building makes no sense at all, but that’s one of the reasons I like it so much, you never quite know what’s going to happen round the next corner.

ddp

 

The highlight of the interior has to be the staircase which coils round in a triangular direction. There seem to be no straight lines and at one point you can look across to a window and realise that the floor is uphill, the same floor you walked on before without noticing the gradient. I think a lot of organic architecture dates quickly with materials and concrete looking shabby after only a couple of years.  With ddp I think technology has finally caught up with concept and it has allowed Hadid to build something straight from the sketch book with very little compromise.

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From above, and from certain other angles it looks like a spaceship has docked in the middle of the city. The shape of the spaceship resembles the head of some exotic reptile. These curving forms are all contained within a metallic shell of aluminium panels. The underbelly of the building joins into the cultural plaza where you can find some shops and the subway station. There is a lot of concrete surrounding the building but it manages to keep some kind of harmony with the grassy park and the ramparts of the old buildings which sit in the shadow of the silver spaceship.

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It has been criticized for not fitting in with the surrounding area and for not having a specific purpose. I would admit that it does look strange next to some of the larger retail buildings in that area, but it was a large space to fill and I admire the bravery of going for such a structure. I think over time many of the surrounding buildings will be knocked down, and Seoul has far too many geometric blocks littering the skyline anyway. Whether it will be the new fashion and design hub of Asia only time will tell. For the moment, it has provided the city with something different and something which goes some way to shaping the future urban landscape. I think it is far more successful than the City Hall building for demonstrating how this metropolis sees itself moving into the future. The future here seems to be soft edged, fun and playful. If you visit ddp you will be able to walk on it, in it, through it, round it, under it and over it. Someone told me that you can do those things in a multi story car park, if it is just a large post modern car park then I would be more than happy to park myself there every Saturday afternoon – because I love the place!

IMG_2997_Fotor_Collage

 

 

Links and further reading:

http://www.ddp.or.kr/MA010001/getInitPage.do

http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/dongdaemun-design-park-plaza/

http://www.arirang.co.kr/news/News_View.asp?nseq=159617

 

When people ask me, and they often do, ‘what’s your favourite food?’ I usually make up a quick answer to avoid unnecessary complications. Korean cuisine is infinitely complex and I have several ‘favourite’ foods. What I can say with some degree of certainty is that for my favourite meal or meals there should be several key elements. These elements are instantly Korean and instantly delicious. I sometimes get nervous when there is a table missing these key dishes or side dishes. They are of course: rice, kimchi, ssamjang, and some kind of meat. Other elements make these taste better, but these are the foundations of flavour. My favourite way to eat these foods is in a ssam.

possam (6)

A ssam is basically a wrap. The wraps can differ, but the most common is just some green lettuce. You can wrap meat and vegetables in seaweed (or lava) and different kinds of leaves. Once you start free-styling you can even use two different kinds of leaves e.g a sesame leaf and a plain lettuce leaf. The most common places to eat ssam are at any typical Korean BBQ place or at a Bossam/Possam(보쌈) restaurant (the clue is in the name). The reason I love ssam so much is that you make them yourself to match your own palette. You can also develop them over time to include other key elements, garlic and beansprouts often find their way into my own ssams. I think ultimately, there is no taste better than one’s own taste. The ssam, like the humble sandwich in Western Cuisine, is completely subjective. My own ssams rely on a good dollop of ssamjang – the suffix jang can be added to foods to imply a kind of condiment or paste. I also like cooked kimchi if possible, especially for samgyeopsal (삼겹살) which is bbq pork belly. Obviously the most important thing is the actual meat. This combination of textures and flavours makes for a perfect meal. You don’t need to eat lots of meat and rice for ssam, in fact they can be very healthy relying on fresh seasonal vegetables and leafy greens.

possam (1) possam (3)

Here is a DIY guide to making a decent ssam. I think the order in which the food goes on doesn’t matter too much, but I usually put the meat on towards the end. The most important thing, and a common error, is the size of the ssam. A good ssam should be bite sized; it should fit whole into your mouth without spillage. It’s also great to drink soju with ssam, usually a shot goes together with each saam. If you don’t like soju I recommend trying it with ssam before you give up on it. There is something amazing about the ritual of nailing a shot after each ssam, or before each ssam.

ssam_stages

Britain and the USA can be “two nations divided by a common language” George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde

Having lived in Korea for over 2 years I have picked up a lot of Korean. I used to take lessons, which helped, but now I rely on the world being my classroom. One of the stranger aspects of living here is the use of my native tongue – English. Something I didn’t  consider deeply before I came, was that I may have to teach, or communicate using ‘American English’. Being the only ‘British English’ speaker in my workplace, I often find myself either questioning or abandoning British expressions or vocabulary. This is not related to a lack of patriotism, it is simply to aid communication.

אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט

a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot

“A language is a dialect with an army and navy”  Max Weinreich

 

My experience of language is that it is often a contentious issue; people cling to the familiar because they fear losing their identity, or they see a confrontation between their own usage and other forms. Language is about communication, so I’m usually pragmatic when it comes to dropping or adding expressions and vocabulary. However, I am rather pedantic when it comes to verbal accuracy, for example, I prefer saying thrice instead of three times.

After trying to explain words and phrases to people, repeatedly, I decided to write this post as a logic test for conflicting expressions. This list clarifies many examples where I think Americans, British, and other native speakers compete to use, their words to describe things. Having been born in Britain I have consumed television from the USA, Australia, and obviously the UK. I have also visited these countries and worked with Americans and Canadians. Something else to note is that most of the Koreans I have been in contact with have learnt American English; they have provided an objective critique of Britishisms or Americanisms which make no sense or more sense.

Football v Soccer

There is only one winner, football. The word soccer derives from association football as there are many varieties of football. I believe it stems from the British Public School abbreviations – Like turning Rugby into Rugger. Football has gone way beyond the shores of Britain, and its introduction to Europe and South America has turned the word into an international word like okay or taxi. The poor countries whose majority sports are not football often use the word soccer. My advice to people is that if you travel to the USA or Australia then you might use the word soccer to avoid confusion, otherwise use football. Global usage makes a mockery of the word soccer. We have FIFA (Federation of International Football Associations) UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football). The global brands and organizations all use the word football, even in the locations where the word ‘soccer’ is used. If you are Korean then take a look at the listings of the K League. Five teams have Football Club in their names, zero have soccer.

Trousers v Pants

Many People assume that ‘pants’ is an Americanism for trousers. In my experience, many people in North West England, Scotland, and Ireland use pants to mean the long things worn over your underwear. In Southern England pants generally refers to underwear. I once got into an argument in a pub in Italy about this issue. There was a man from Liverpool and a girl from Australia who both used pants to mean non underwear. I’ll let logic have the last word. If ‘pants’ refers only to underwear then why do we have the word underpants but not overpants? Pants is also British slang for ‘not very good’.

Pickles

Can you pass me a pickle?

Which type?

My fondness for pickles prevents me from accepting this word to mean Pickled Gherkins (the type you find on McDonalds Burgers) I can only presume that in America they don’t pickle anything else but gherkins. This word is also used for gherkins in the UK too. I prefer to use gherkin because that’s what it is. In my pickle related nightmare, when I go to the pickle aisle in the supermarket, I see before me 20 metres of gherkins. When I awake from this disturbing briny dream, I become aware that thankfully, there are also pickled onions, Branston pickle, red cabbage, sauerkraut, piccalilli, cucumber, dill, mussels, mango chutney, and even eggs if you go in an old pub. I think I’m fighting a losing battle on the pickle front but I will continue to use the word gherkin just to help the other forgotten pickles, sitting on their dusty shelves in the storage area of the supermarket. In the meantime, the phalanxes of the gherkin super race stand in formation at the front of the pickle shelves, waiting for their pickle fascists to buy them all.

Fall v autumn

Apparently, fall predates autumn. People used fall in the British Isles before autumn came into use and the emigrants to North America continued using it. I have no real logical argument for this debate. I use the word fall in the classroom to avoid confusion. For this ‘word off’ I make a plea to all North Americans, I think Aussies and Kiwis use autumn. Please, please try to use autumn instead of fall. Fall is a commonly used verb, but autumn is specific to the season; it also makes an easy adjective – autumnal. I believe the word just sounds nicer and as soon as I hear it I feel the colours of the leaves and the cool winds. When I hear fall, I think of an old man dying. Poetically it sounds more beautiful:

The wind rustled through her autumnal, auburn hair. This paints an image of a Venus like woman whose hair is graceful and flowing.

The wind rustled through her fallish/fall like hair. This paints the image of an alopecia victim.

Elevator v Lift

I switch my allegiance to the other side of the Atlantic. As a noun, lift already means to give someone transport, whereas elevator is unique to doing its job. I also prefer technical words to come from Latin, in this case ‘elevatore’ the verb for raise. Interestingly French and Italian don’t use ‘elevator’ or ‘elevatore’; they use ascenseur and ascensore. I believe this would give us the much improved word ‘ascender’.

Prawn v Shrimp

Everybody is wrong, but North Americans are more wrong. In America everything seems to be called a shrimp even when it’s a prawn – these are two different organisms. In the UK and commonwealth shrimp usually refers to the very small prawns, shrimp being a synonym for small. However, I have discovered that not all shrimp are small. The difference is a tiny biological matter – the shrimp’s tail segments don’t overlap in the same way. The second segment overlaps above the first and third segments. The problem with this debate is the difference in seafood worldwide. Despite the differences, I know a prawn when I see one, and I live near Morecambe Bay which is famous for shrimp, so I will use the word prawn for prawns and shrimp for shrimp.

Pavement v Sidewalk

I still use the British version – pavement. I just like the word. I remember an interview with the Indie band ‘Pavement’ who were from the US, when asked why they were called pavement instead of sidewalk; they said that they got the name from a list of the most beautiful words in the English language. I also like the suffix –ment which can make verbs into nouns: embankment, shipment, allotment….etc

Zebra Crossing v Cross walk

I like zebra crossing because it’s more poetic. It may cause confusion in very specific circumstances in Kenya or South Africa. If there is an actual zebra crossing the road then cross walk may be easier.

Queue v Line

Queue is a clear winner here because it gives us the option to make different shades of meaning. I don’t make a line unless I am in an identity parade or perhaps on the school playground. Queue implies that there is something to be gained at the end, like admission or a postage stamp. I just wish the word queue had a better spelling.

I think I’ll leave it there for now. I may add more as they arise. The point of this exercise, which may be futile, is to refrain from patriotism when it comes to English. The language has gone international so I want to try to use the best and most logical (or poetic) words on offer. I often feel lucky to be able to choose between different words, but I do feel irritated when my own words are cast aside in favour of less accurate or less descriptive offerings.

If you are learning English as a second language my advice is simply to learn both and choose. However, you may have to choose between the following options:

American words in the UK: you will be understood but looked down upon.

British/Commonwealth words in North America: you may not be understood, or you may cause offence, especially in the case of fanny, fag, tramp, and pissed.


Gimje is a city of about 100,000 people in North Jeolla province. It sits between the regional capital, Jeonju, and the West Sea port town of Gunsan. It’s also on the north-south Honam railway line between Seoul and Mokpo. Despite its size and important location it feels more like a country town than a city. Gimje is unusual in Korea because it’s so far from any mountains, they say it’s the only landlocked place with a horizon. This unique selling point gives Gimje one of the more unusual festival names in a country of festivals and unusual festival names – the ‘Horizon Festival’ or ‘지평선 축제’.

Gimje and the surrounding Honam Plain has been an important centre for rice cultivation for millennia  It was a supply centre for the Baekje dynasty which occupied the South West of Korea before being overrun by the Silla dynasty and their Tang allies from China. The ancient cultivation of rice has bequeathed Gimje with its most famous cultural asset, Byeokgolje (벽골제). This is a huge dyke which controlled the water supply to the rice plantations. It was built in the 4th century AD and is credited with being the first reservoir in Korea; Gimje is considered to be the birthplace of rice cultivation. The dyke is guarded by two immense bamboo dragons which are worth a look even without the festival occurring.

Byeokgolje is now the location of the annual festival in October. It boasts many new amenities which serve as an agricultural museum for the rest of the year. The area is quite large and has some traditional houses, an observation deck, museum, and numerous gardens. The highlight for me is the dragons which sit against the dyke and the famed horizon.  The festival celebrates the rich diversity of agricultural produce from this region which is also more interesting than it sounds. There are many more events than farmers buying equipment or looking at rice grain. The festival hosts the Asian Tug of War Championship, kite flying, song contests, locust catching, and numerous other leisure pursuits. There are many local people and families from all over Korea. In a country which looks and moves into the future at a frightening speed, I find it reassuring that one of the biggest festivals in Korea celebrates such traditional and basic things as rice and a horizon. The harvest and cultivation of rice is still essential to Korea, as it is to many Asian countries.

The Horizon Festival is very well attended so the city puts on free shuttle buses from the bus terminal, train station, and the city hall. This is essential because the location of the ‘horizon’ is some distance from the centre of the city. If you do attend on a weekend I recommend getting there early to avoid the hordes or day-trippers. There were very few foreigners, or ‘international tourists’, as I like to be called. This meant that I was treated pretty well by the volunteers and the general public. Most people seemed keen to make sure I got the right bus, even though I got the wrong bus (by choice). After being in a queue for 25 minutes I was happy just to be moving. Compared to Seoul the crowds were far more provincial and rustic, I saw a couple of old men having a fight and there were more than a few people looking dishevelled from Makkoli and Dongdongju consumption (rice beers).

Autumn is a beautiful season in Korea so it’s a great time to have a festival. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed myself and would recommend this festival to anyone. If you want to visit Gimje outside of festival time then the two must see places around the city are Geumsansa Temple and the Byeokgolje dyke area mentioned above.

There are direct buses from Seoul and you can also take the KTX train from Yongsan 2h05 W32,200. If you are travelling from Jeonju it’s a 30min journey on an intercity bus W2,800.

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