Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Interview on Sparklecast

Another interview, but this one has cute appeal.

I was interviewed a few weeks back by young Elliot who heads up SparkleCast.

I've not listened to it, but I know what I said. Although I'd like to see how they edited it. I'll tune in soon ;)

Here is the link: Sparklecast Show #60

Oh, update, there is a part 2: Sparklecast Show #61


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Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Fun Way To Go Out: The Golden Klog Awards

Update: The results are in. I was denied in both, but I heard the race for the blog completely over taken by Obama's run for president was tight ;) I did my best and congrats to the winners.

The results.


Here I am in a local Starbucks with my new (used) laptop putting this baby through the motions (so far so good).

This is as good of a time as ever to talk about The Golden Klog Awards. Klog (Korea plus blog).

My friends over at the Hub of Sparkle have nominated this blog for a couple of their Golden Klog Award categories:

Happiest Korea Blogger, 2008

Korea Blog Most Completely Taken Over by Obama’s Run To The White House, 2008

I think both categories are just about right. I'm pretty happy and my blog was completely focused on Obama's run for president for a big chunk of last year. In fact, I've still got an Obama inauguration banner up...okay, they're totally right about that one ;)

It's cute. It's funny. Most important, it puts the spotlight on a group of people who are doing some good writing here in South Korea.

The fact is as soon as I get back to the States, if I keep this blog going, the focus will shift. However, I'm going to be leaving behind a great group of bloggers to keep it going. In fact, I've even discovered some new K-blogs to link to.

The link to the post is below, check out everyone else and, if you're so inclined, vote for me ;)

The Golden Klog Awards: Survey is Up. Go vote!


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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

[Regina Walton's Expat Interviews] Hinduism in Korea

Here is the third part on religion in Korea.

Screengrab of the Article From The Korea Herald

Hinduism in Korea

This is the third part in a series looking into religion in Korea. The first objective is to give expatriates a springboard from which to develop spiritually. Feature articles have examined Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and will examine Islam, Judaism, Sikhism. - Ed.

Hinduism, non-existent in Korea not too long ago, has become less a rarity. Growing trade between Korea and countries where Hinduism is practiced has resulted in more of those nations' nationals calling Korea their home for business reasons. Add to that the thousands of migrant workers from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and the result is thriving Hindu communities.

One of the hubs of that community is the Vedic Cultural Center. It is located in the Haebangchon neighborhood of Seoul.

I walked in at the end of their daily evening service while attendees were still saying the words of the Hare Krishna mantra. It was soothing to hear the mantra and set the tone for the rest of the interview.

I had the pleasure to speak to Kamala Roy and Mr. Arun, who asked that his full name not be used.

Roy has lived in Seoul for 12 years with her husband, who is an investor.

Mr. Arun is a senior devotee and functions as the center's operations manager.

They wanted to stress that the Vedic Center is more of a cultural center than anything else. The center opened July 2008. "There are some ceremonies that can't be done (in other places in Seoul) because there was no cultural home." Roy added that "the main intention in opening this center was to give people a place to go." At least once a month there is a special cultural or formal event like a Hindu festival or a Hindu wedding. Prior to opening the center, Roy would often host these events at her home.

"This is a place to bring people together" she said. "There are a few of us and we're like family." She went on to say that doesn't just apply to people from India, but it's also for people from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

They started off by letting me know about their scheduled Pongal celebration, which happens on Jan. 13, 14 and 15, but the center celebrated it this past weekend on Jan. 18. The celebration is based on the Hindu Lunar Calendar. "It's like our Thanksgiving Day ... This is the season where we get back the harvest to the home. Getting the harvest to the home is like money coming to the home. That's why we give thanks to the rain gods, sun gods and the land gods - everything actually. It's a very big festival."

Mr. Arun also mentioned that they will have a special event during the Lunar New Year, but at the time we spoke, the plans had not yet been finalized.

Beyond these special events, they stressed the importance of their regular schedule. There are daily Hindu services from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. There are Sunday services from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Also on Sundays, they have a special children's class from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. They stressed that the children's classes are not limited to children of Hindu parents, but that all children are welcome to attend.

"It's for anyone. We teach various things. We teach (Hindi) language. We teach culture. We teach scriptures through video. We teach some musical instruments ... Mostly Indian people come, but people have a wrong notion that it's just for Indians.

"We have Korean children also. ... We've designed a course which changes every weekend so that the children don't get bored." Roy added that they teach language. "Also, we teach them the Indian alphabet because there is Indian school (in Seoul)."

When asked to describe the center's attendee's, Mr. Arun explained that there are people from all over the world who attend. "We have people from India, Pakistan, and basically the Indian subcontinent, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. And, many, many, Americans, South Africans, Canadians, Australians and Brazils. Basically, 30 percent of the people who come here are Westerners."

They added that about 10 percent of their attendees are Korean.

The Vedic Center also has yoga classes. Mr. Arun said that they teach "various types of yoga classes," but most of the discussion focused on Sahaja yoga, which he explained "is basically a deep meditation course."

Their yoga classes are Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sahaja yoga is taught on Saturday. The classes are designed to accommodate "different levels of people." He also added: "It's a free service, because the teachers do it voluntarily, so we don't charge."

I asked them how someone interested in just learning more about Hinduism could do that. Mr. Arun suggested that those interested should visit the center on a Sunday. "For that, we have on Sunday a class, the Sunday Feast program ... with a Vedic lunch. Vedic food, vegetarian food, is Holy food without garlic and onions that fosters your meditation process.

"We give food that is good for your meditation and (allows you to) expand yourself into higher levels of yoga." Roy added that the hope is the lunch "encourages vegetarianism." Mr. Arun explained that there are two main things the center promotes: vegetarianism and meditation. To that end the center also teaches vegetarian recipes to those who are interested.

"We have a cyclic program where people can fit at any level." He also explained that the center is working to further the goal of promoting vegetarianism. "Sooner or later we're going to have a vegetarian restaurant or vegetarian market." They also have a program called "Food for Life," and they distribute vegetarian meals.

The discussion then turned to the Bhagavad Gita.

Mr. Arun explained that it's more a philosophical document than scripture. "People from all over the world think that the Bhagavad Gita is something like the Bible. It's actually a philosophical book. It teaches the way of life, how to live your life. ... It is a way of life." He distinguished Hinduism as not so much a religion but a way to live.

In addition, there are Hindu services in Pocheon in Gyeonggido. Services are held at that location on Saturday and Sunday.

You can find more information on The Vedic Center, including contact information at, e-mail, phone 010-2448-6441. Please contact the Vedic Cultural Center for information on their Lunar New Year event.

Here is a .pdf.: KH01212009. Enjoy!


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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The new White House website.


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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Crap That I'll Miss: Fun, Smart and Hilarious Kids

Nothing is perfect and working with children can be a challenge at times. This is particularly so in Korea due to cultural differences and very demanding parents. However, pretty much since I've arrived, I've had tons of fun working at winter or summer English camps. Maybe it's because, in some ways, I'm a kid at heart. I love clowning around with them but also getting serious and seeing them absorb information from me like sponges. Now I'll be 100% honest and also say that I love sending them home at the end of the day because it's truly exhausting too. I discovered that I liked teaching kids when I taught as a substitute teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area.

However, some camp experiences have been better or worse than others. That depends on a number of factors. The most important is the experience level of the management team because a micro-manager can make a camp hell to work at. Unfortunately, there are a lot of micro-managers in Korea. One camp I worked at has a manager so into control that he made teachers sign out for copy paper and locked their classrooms after the kids left to force all the teachers in the library to write their lesson plans and prep for the next day. That was weirdness on a level I'd never seen before and, luckily, haven't seen since. However, I can count the truly unpleasant camps on one hand, so that's not too bad if you calculate 8 years. There was maybe one or two times I elected not to do a camp, so that's around 14 or so of these. Even if the camp is a nightmare on the management side, usually, the pay is decent for a two to three week assignment if you're already in the country. I don't think I'd ever do one if I had to cover my own airfare to get here though. But people are coming here sometimes to get a feel for Korea before deciding to work here for a year or use being in the country for a camp as a way to start looking for an annual position.

The perk for me is changing the type of student I teach from college age young adults to young whip smart kids. There are behavior issues, for sure. But there are behavior issues with college students too. The kids know, just as we do, that these things are temporary and some take advantage of that. However, most of the time the kids are great. I'll miss the few weeks each summer and winter that I spend doing it. This time around it's much more of a challenge because now I'm simultaneously trying to keep up with my writing and interviews. That's truly exhausting.

I also have to say I hope it helps these kids develop a more open perspective to race and people who are different. Prior to being taught by me a lot of these kids have never had much contact, if any, with a black person. Most of these kids are children whose parents are white collar workers, so they have the means and then some. Mostly all have had interaction with foreign teachers and quite a few have lived abroad. It's just the reality is that most teachers here are white and some of them are less than subtle about their views on race.

That's still really weird for me to imagine. As a kid, I remember my first teachers being white and that was no issue. I don't recall gasps or blunt observations of differences. One reason is, probably, as minorities in a white dominated society, whites simply aren't a novelty to a black child in the inner city. I remember being in a class with both black and Hispanic children when I went to schools near my home. When I started going to more integrated schools, it took me no time to develop lasting friendships with my white classmates too. So it still boggles my mind at how Korean culture is so very "us versus them." Here, anyone who isn't northeast Asian (Korean, Chinese, or Japanese) is a novelty. I get it intellectually, but I do wonder sometimes how it feels to be inside a mind like that where everything is either just like you or in stark contrast to you.

It also points to maybe one reason why it just seems so difficult for Koreans to process an interest in and knowledge of their culture by people who aren't ethnically Korean. In conversations with my Korean friends, I point out that the Chinese actually brag about their diversity. They are also neither crestfallen or defensive when you don't like something about China. Also, both the Chinese and Japanese are experts in exporting certain dimensions of their culture. It's an interesting contrast for sure.

I've wandered off the path a bit into cultural-based musing. However, to sum it up, I'll miss the fun, smart and hilarious kids I've had the pleasure to teach while I've been here.


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[Regina Walton's Expat Interviews] Buddhism in Korea

Here is the second in the religion series my editor, Matt Lamers, and I are working on. Even though I'm credited as the writer on this piece, Matt added quite a bit on Cedar Bough's approach and practice of Buddhism.

In the name of full disclosure, Cedar Bough has been a friend of mine pretty much since I arrived in Korea. When I got this column, I told her then I wanted to interview her because what she achieved while being here and what she's working on now is truly impressive. However, I didn't have a chance to talk to her one on one until I was home in L.A. last September.

Buddhism in Korea

This is the second part in a series looking into religion in Korea. The first objective is to give expatriates a springboard from which you can develop spiritually. Feature articles will examine Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism. - Ed.

At times being a foreigner in Korea can be a little challenging. There is both an immense language barrier and a cultural barrier. But once you get past the culture shock, both can be overcome. Cedar Bough Saeji is a good example of a foreigner who has successfully managed to immerse herself in both the language and culture of Korea.

One of the ways she did that was through the practice of Buddhism.

"I feel that I became much stronger in my practice after moving to Korea, and specifically I found the Korean Jogye Order's way of practicing Buddhism to meld nicely with the various things in the tradition that I had picked up on," she said.

If you're interested in meeting other Buddhists, but you do not speak Korean fluently, Cedar Bough recommends visiting one of the country's many temples. "There are temples everywhere in Korea; if you go to one, you can expect to meet other Buddhists. You don't need to speak Korean, you just need to be respectful and observe temple etiquette. If you just do that, they'll like you already."

She also talks highly of temple stays. If expats are seriously interested in Buddhism, she recommends going on a temple stay program at a remote temple. She says it's cheap and proper instruction is provided on how to participate in the ceremony and temple etiquette.

"In Seoul there are Dharma talks advertised in the religion section of the newspaper, in English. There are also some temples that are being run by foreign-born abbots, or abbots that speak good English. If you contact the Jogye Order they will put you in touch with everything you need," she said.

The Buddha stands tall at Bongeunsa, Gangnam-gu, in Seoul.[Photo by Matthew Lamers/The Korea Herald]

What is it about Buddhism that appeals to her?

"Everything, really. My favorite sutra is perhaps that of Vimalakirti, reading it is out of this world - Thurman's translation is supposed to be the best. I like impermanence and reincarnation - I like that I can keep improving myself through multiple lifetimes. I'm not a meditator. A lot of Westerners think of Buddhism and they immediately think of sitting meditation. That's not for me," she said.

"But I love bowing, prostrating, chanting. Right now, working on my Ph.D., I feel very connected to Manjusri. It can be hard to explain but I feel the rightness of Buddhism inside of me as I practice. I took a three month dedicated Buddhist pilgrimage, and I visit a lot of Buddhist sites as part of less Buddhist focused travels - most of the major sites in Asia, actually. It's also important to me that Buddhism does not negate the truth in other doctrines/religions - it is not dogmatic."

Regarding English accessibility, she said you probably won't find good Dharma talks in English near your home, "but there may be a nearby temple. I suggest that you read up on Buddhism at home and go to the temple for the uplifting feeling you get when you start the day with 108 bows."

I met Cedar Bough seven years ago. We were both busy with our own things here but ended up in graduate school at international studies programs across the road from each other. I was at Ewha Womans University and she was at Yonsei University. Now she's in Los Angeles pursuing her doctorate at UCLA.

Cedar Bough first arrived in Korea in 1996. Her reasons for coming to Korea sound similar to others who've come: She wasn't particularly interested in Korea, but had a goal of paying off student loans and a desire to see the world. "I had no special reason to come to Korea. I had no special previous knowledge of Korea or interest in Korea. So, until I showed up, Korea was basically a blank slate for me ... I found that I really loved Korea and I felt like it was my fate to come to Korea and that I had been led to come to Korea for a reason because I felt everything about Korea, even the air, which some people may complain about, even breathing in the air made me feel like I was at home.

"There was a tremendous feeling of comfort in Korea that I felt like I hadn't experienced in other places. So from the moment I arrived in Korea I really knew it was a good place for me to be. Korea has almost always treated me very well, so I have had all these amazing experiences and a lot of stuff has led me to want to stay there."

She left for a year in 2003 and spent time in China. There she was reunited with her then-fiance, now husband, Tibetan musician Karjam Saeji. After spending a year in China, she came back to Korea and enrolled in Yonsei's Graduate School of International Studies. There she earned a master's degree in Korean Studies with a focus on Korean culture, society and religion.

"I realized I really enjoyed academia and that I wanted to perhaps have a future in academia," she said.

However, after Yonsei she took a year off to take a pilgrimage from Eastern Tibet to Lhasa with her husband. Because her Ph. D. focuses on Korean performance arts, when finished, she'll have a doctorate in culture and performance with a focus on Korean folklore.

"Most particularly, I like the Korean mask dance dramas, but all folk performance arts are interesting to me, even court arts are fascinating. Preservation of traditional culture has to be done in the right way so that it's not turned into a reenactment, but is still part of Korean consciousness. I become quite distressed when I see how little younger Koreans - and I can't blame very young Koreans, but college age Korean students - know about Korean traditions. Typical Korean college students may know a little about traditional Korean culture, but maybe they can't even tie the bow on a hanbok."

Cedar Bough is a great example of how an expat can learn more about Korean culture and the language. Her advice to others who want to learn more is pretty straight forward: "In general, if Koreans see a sincere desire to learn about Korean traditions then the people that know about them are very happy to teach foreigners. When you sometimes get a sense that Koreans don't want to teach you about something traditional, it is generally when they've run into the limit of their own knowledge and they're embarrassed. Because how embarrassing is it to have a foreigner interested in something about your own culture that you do not know? So people will shut down and give a foreigner a feeling of being closed out."

She then talked about specific places in Seoul where expats could learn about Korean arts and culture. She said one of the best ways for expats to get a taste is at the National Center for Korean Performing Arts. Twice a year they run free, or low fee, classes that give expats a chance to learn gayageum, or janggu. "It's a good way to get an initial idea if you'd be interested in taking it further. It is free and it is on the weekends. There are actually hagwon for Korean traditional dance and music."

She said city governments run cultural and educational programs. She added that, while there might be a language barrier for a lot of these classes, you can listen, watch, follow along and still learn.

If you're interested in getting deeper into Buddhism, Cedar Bough said that you should stick with the same temple, so that people get used to your presence. "I think that foreigners should know that if you go and practice respectfully in Korea, in the course of only a few visits to a temple ... people will get used to you and welcome you. It will take longer if you skip around and come to different services at different temples, of course. If you live in Seoul, you should go to the 4 a.m. service at Jogyesa at least once. During my M.A. in Seoul and now every summer when I visit Korea for research I go there as often as I can.

"If your own learning has only taken you so far and you really want to go deeper, there are retreats at several temples, including ones run in English, you can get more information at about those."

Here is a .pdf version of today's page: KH01132009


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Thursday, January 8, 2009

[HERALD INTERVIEW]Ne-yo back in Seoul with Jamsil show

Ne-yo will be in town in concert this weekend. Thanks to the promoter, XStream Productions, I managed to land another interview scoop.

This time, however, the culture section demanded it be moved from the Expat Living section to theirs. Um, okay. Maybe not the coolest move on their part, but a scoop nonetheless. Only now it's bumped up a few pages.

Here is the interview. Enjoy.

[HERALD INTERVIEW]Ne-yo back in Seoul with Jamsil show

On Jan. 11, Seoul's R&B fans will have something to celebrate. As he promised last year, Grammy Award winning, R&B singer and producer Ne-yo will be back to perform.

Fans in Seoul got their first taste of him live last April when he performed at Olympic Stadium. This weekend Ne-yo will perform at Jamsil Gymnasium, along with pop group the Pussycat Dolls.

Ne-yo is on tour to promote his third album, "Year of the Gentleman." His 2008 release was recently nominated for six Grammy Awards. The album was inspired by the smooth style of crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.

This time, however, there won't just be a concert. X Stream Productions will host a public after party at 10 p.m. featuring a special appearance by Ne-yo at Club Answer in Seoul. Hip-hop artist Carlos Galvan, aka Cali-Mexci, will be the master of ceremonies.

Ne-yo started writing songs for popular music acts in the late 1990s. He was thrust into the limelight after he co-wrote Mario's hit single "Let Me Love You." After the success of that single, Ne-yo's celebrity grew and he is now an established writer.

In an email interview, Ne-yo talked about making songs and artists he's worked with, and offered advice for emerging musicians.

Q: You started off as a performer but got your break as a songwriter when Marques Houston recorded your song "That Girl." How does it feel to now be both a songwriter and popular performer?

A: My first major placement was with Marques Houston, but that's not all. I wrote a song called "Bad Girl," after that it was Nivea, Christina Milian, then B2K, Heather Headley. Then it was the Mario, Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Musiq Soulchild, Ruben Studdard, Paula DeAnda, some more stuff for Christina Milian, Beyonce, Rhianna, Mario Vazquez, Megan Rochelle ... I know I'm forgetting people - Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson, Celine Deon, Usher, Chris Brown - and on and on.

Q: You also have a strong reputation as a producer of hit records. For example, you produced Rihana's "Take a Bow" and Beyonce's "Irreplacable." How does it feel to have such great success as a songwriter, producer and performer?

A: It's like this - if my song falls at number three, and a song I wrote for Beyonce falls at No. 2, and a song I wrote for Mary J. Blige falls at No. 1, I'm still the first three, so it's all good to me. One, two, and three is still me, even if it ain't me as an artist, it's still me. My name is still on the first three slots in the Billboard charts, so I'm good.

Q: Can you name some of your favorite artists? What artists and songs are in rotation on your iPod?

A: My choice for this year has got to be Lil Wayne. Wayne had a fantastic year in 2008. Wayne has been dope for a really, really long time, and people are just starting to notice it. Jazmine Sullivan, newcomer to the game, did really big things this year. Katy Perry, another newcomer to the game, did really big things this year. There was a lot of really good music this year.

Q: Can you name some of the artists you've loved working with?

A: All artists are unique and I love working with various artists so that I can try out different styles, and as I've mentioned, I have worked with many artists.

Q: You were baptized as Shaffer Chimere Smith. How did you get the name Ne-yo?

A: Everyone asks me that and most everyone knows that I got called Neo by Big D Evans cuz he said I saw music like Neo from the Matrix. Then all of a sudden everyone started calling me that.

Q: You have a recording studio in Atlanta, Georgia, called Carrington House and your own production company called Compound Entertainment. Do you want to start your own record company like Babyface's LaFace Records? Would that also be based in Atlanta?

A: Compound is a label and some artists associated with it are Paula Campbell and Sixx John and Shanell.

Q: According to reports you're also going to work with Marilyn Manson. He performed in Seoul at the ETP Festival over the summer. How is your collaboration with him going?

A: You'll have to wait and see!

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to those aspiring performers, songwriters and producers?

A: I say what I always say, hone your skills. Take the time to hone your skills. A lot of what the business is today is meeting the right person at the right time. You've got to establish relationships and connections. Somebody's going to hear your music at some point - someone's going to find out about it. So you've got to be ready for when your opportunity comes. When I met with Def Jam I hadn't planned on auditioning for them. But the deal happened because I had the songs and I was ready to perform.

For more information on the after party contact Club Answer at (02) 548-7115 or go to their website at For more information on the concert, go to or call 1544-1555. Learn more about Ne-yo's music at his website

Here is a .pdf version:



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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Crap That I'll Miss: Hearty, Tasty and Inexpensive Food

I'm crazy busy, but the little and not so little things I'll miss and won't miss keep hitting me. When they do, I whip out the digital camera and snap a pic.

I'm working at my last English camp for awhile. Honestly, I've done them consistently for two reasons. If you get the right one, in terms of pay, it's worth the time you put in and I actually have fun changing the type of student that I teach from adults to kids. Kids are hilarious and have tons of fun energy.

But the schedules are almost always intense. That means when I get home, I just want to relax, goof-off on the Internet, and get ready for the next day. I don't want to cook, and, even though I have someone who helps me keep my apartment in order, I don't want to have dishes piling up.

Korean food is awesome. Now Koreans still have a mental block when it comes to the concept of non-Koreans liking, knowing and craving their food. That's one reason why you don't see as many Korean restaurants abroad as you do Chinese, Japanese or other Asian cuisines. That sucks. However, they are easy to find in areas where there is a Korean population nearby. When I'm home or just about anywhere in the world I can find Korean food when I crave it. One time that meant, wooden chopsticks and a bag of kimchi while walking around in Brussels and another time that meant noticing an Asian woman reading a book written in 한글, hangul, on the Metro in Paris and asking her where I needed to go for a good bowl of 김치찌개, kimchee jjiggae.

I'll miss being able to have a hearty, tasty and inexpensive meal for less than $5.00 (okay, with the current exchange rate, more like around $5.00 USD). Tonight I had a bowl of 국밥, literally "soup rice". The cost was 4,500 won. I'm glad my camera caught the steam rising up off of the soup. It's really cold right now and a warm bowl of soup and rice was just awesome. I'll miss that a lot.


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