The Korean Cinematic Experience

One of the many things I enjoy doing with my friends is going to the cinema. It’s a great way to pass a rainy day, Sunday or any day that requires filling.

In Ireland, the cinema experience is not actually all that great. First, there’s the trouble of finding a cinema, especially if you live in the countryside like myself. Then, you have to gather up  a crew. This in itself is also not easy. It requires the initial contact, confirmation of interest, general debate about movie choice and time (no 021330 in Ireland!!!!!) Then a meeting spot must be arranged, a safe place for the cars. Whose car will be taken and the arranging goes on and on. Finally, you get to the cinema, pay an extortionate amount for the ticket, even more for a few snack before finally getting yo watch the actual movie.

Korea is not at all like that. Movie theaters are EVERYWHERE. There are even 2 or possibly 3 in Paju (shock shock ). There are always  the most recent English movies playing.
Arranging a movie, however, does require some planning, although not to the Irish standard.  First a simple call to 02 1330 to confirm times and locations, then a simple facebook status to inform of intention of such outing. Then it’s simply a case of sitting back and drinking your tea while you wait for equally enthused cinema goers to respond.

After that its all in your jihachul app. Check your subway departure that leaves you enough time to get you to the theater with pleasure to buy your ticket and purchase the snacks.

Buying a ticket at the machine is not always an option, even for a.Korean reader as the screen is timed so most of the time a straight line for the counter is more successful. Then you must content with the look of shock and
fear on the persons face when they realise that they are the ones who must deal with the foreigners. But usually its a simple “movie title” “time” “number of tickets” is the only conversation required. Tickets are super cheap (approx 4 euro) and then its off to the snack counter.

One of the reasons I love the cinema is.because it allows you to eat and drink things in quantities that you would never otherwise eat and drink them. Like cheese popcorn. Where else would I be allowed eat a giant container of cheese popcorn….by myself???? Nowhere, is the answer. The same goes for Cola. Delicious. The best part is that you can sneak in some candy and eat that after you’ve devoured the popcorn. Its simply heaven.

The best part of the Korean cinema experience, however is the actual movie. Usually, the only foreigners are my friends and I. Everyone else is Korean. For English movies, there are Korean subtitles. But we all know that humour does not translate well. So usually its the foreigners laughing hysterically while the entire rest of the cinema is completely quiet, muttering about the loud crazy foreigners. Koreans also like to eat in silence so if we’re not laughing we’re eating loudly, much to their annoyance. Then, there are the references to past movies that we get that they totally don’t and you can almost hear that reference flying completely over their heads. 

Then at the very end,after the movie has finished, everyone takes out their own trash. This concept was, at first alien to me but in my effort to become Korean I too have taken to doing it.

So that’s it, my Korean cinematic experience. Full of overeating and over laughing but a whole world less traumatic than any cinematic experience I could have in Ireland.

My trip to Cat Cafe & Dog Cafe

Last weekend,my friend sent me a rather unusual request~”Let’s go to a Cat Cafe and Dog Cafe before I leave” she said. Being the extraordinarily amazing friend I am,I agreed and off we went to Ilsan.
First on the agenda was the Cat Cafe.

Even before we went in, I was visualising being attacked by a million cats. I saw myself as one of those old cat ladies who just spends all day loving her cats only to be eaten by them.
Luckily for me,it wasnt like that at all. As you enter the first room, you change your shoes and sanitize your hands. Then you pay 5,000 won for entry and whatever else for the worlds worst cup of coffee.


Our great slippers……….

Then off you go to play with the cats. Or not play, turns out they hate me. So I sat alone.





That’s me after some cat tried to claw me.


Inside the cafe.


My friend,Area, with a cat.


Cute. So after an hour of complete rejection,we left to take our chances with the dogs.

This turned out to be a much more successful
endeavour. The dog cafe was a much more relaxed,entertaining affair. You simply bought your drink and a few treats for the dogs. Then you can play,pet and feed the dogs.


The St. Bernard was my favourite. Wanted to take him home but my bag wasnt big enough.





The guys with the mops had their work cut out for them.



Some of the regulars to the cafe were super friendly and spoke fluent English so we were able to chat about the dogs and the cafe.

We discussed how the notion of Dog and Cat cafe would never happen in Ireland and America because of the idea that it’s cruel to animals, the food preparation standards and so on and so forth.

The dog cafe was a better experience in my opinion and this particular one was really well run. Not all the dogs were from Some were brought there by their owners to play with the other dogs so there was a.great atmosphere. The owner, as far as I could tell, was a professional dog handler.

The dog cafe is called ‘I love puppy dog’ and its in Ilsan, La Festa. I have no idea what the cat cafe was actually called but if anyone is interested in going, message me and I’ll give you directions.

Why I love Seoul Subway

Subway is by far my preferred method of transport in Korea.  It’s always quite a novelty because apart from the Luas line we have nothing of the sort in Ireland. I’m super lucky that I live a short walk from Geumneung Station on the Gyeonggi Line.  Up here in Paju, we’re slightly special.  We have our own line connecting us with central Seoul but its not a subway so much as a train.  But not a KTX so don’t get confused.  It’s quite new, only having started in 2009 so in the winter it’s toasty warm and in the summer the air conditioning actually works.

according to some Seoul subway is the best in the world; I can see why.  When it comes to directions and getting places, I’m not exactly Einstein but this subway is idiot proof.  You can figure it out in no time and the transfer are clearly marked at each station. 


It isn’t without its faults, however.  At peak hours it’s a case of; (substitute bus for subway)

Seriously though, I’ve been on the subway where I thought I was in an episode of “how many people can we fit in this subway car without anyone dying?”

Most weekends, I usually spend so much time on the subway, that I almost consider it home.  From Geumneung, it takes 33 minutes to get to DMC where I then transfer, sometimes several times, to get to my final destination.  The following entertainment is usually available on the subway;

1. Great characters; You find these people everywhere.  The ones who talk to themselves are the best.  The people who have had slightly too much soju and are having difficulty in maintaining correct conduct.  The randomers who speak enough English to have a chat to you.  The church people who are always more than happy to talk to you about the Bible. Sometimes the adjussis like to shout at each other.  The list goes on. 

2. The sellers; On some of the subway lines, you can buy things.  I fairly sure it’s illegal but who wouldn’t want a singing top thing or a cheap packet of plasters? Once I bought a pair of fleecy tights and seriously they were the business, I practically lived in them my first winter.  Anyway, it’s always entertaining to watch their sales pitch and see how much they manage to sell. 

3. The foreigners; There’s always that “what to do, what to do?” moment when you see other foreigners on the subway.  It’s like “didn’t you get the memo that I was taking this subway?” Then of course you must just ignore them because that’s clearly what normal people do.  Heaven forbid two foreigners would talk to each other.

4. The nut man; I love the nut man. He should be in the post with the “Great characters” but he’s so great I gave him one for himself.  It’s a shame I don’t have a picture because he is such a legend.  I’ve only ever seen him on the special Gyeonggi Line ( we’re so cool we have our own nut man).  He always has a doctors white coat on with pants and white trainers and sometimes has one of the white hair nets on.  All he sells are peanuts.  He just goes from cart to cart rattling his steel cups together and selling his snacks. 

5. The sleepers; No matter what time of the day you take the subway, there are always sleepers.  Sometimes they snore, sometimes they fall off the seat slightly and sometimes they take up the entire row.  This is especially the case on a Sunday morning when the revellers from the night before are struggling to make it home. 


And if you don’t like all of the above entertainment, you could always pass the time reading a book………..

How to be Korean in 8 easy steps

Have you always wanted to be Korea but never known how? Follow these easy steps and you will be well on your way!

1. You must never eat unless there is a sufficient quantity of Kimchi available.  The same goes for rice.  You should eat both for every meal.  You should also be of the opinion that Kimchi alone is a delicious meal.  You should think the same for rice. 

2. You must use the latest smart phone technology ; Then you must spend all your available time on said technology.  You should spend a good portion of this time taking pictures of yourself with your phone.  There should be other members of the public around you when you take the necessary 20 pictures. 


3. You must wear the largest available glasses;   The glasses should be so big that it becomes difficult for anyone to actually locate your eyes.


4. If you are a girl, you must wear short shorts; In fact it should be a belt, in the sub-zero conditions and then complain that its cold. If you’re a male, you should stand close to your significant other with a fleece blanket.

5. You must fall into a deep sleep on the public transport and then wake up just as you pull in to your stop. This is a skill so if you’re foreign you should practice. 


6.Perfect the 애교 (Aegyo);    Here’s a video that explains it to anyone not in Korea-  You must also perfect your whining voice and use it at every available opportunity like this guy demonstrates; When you pose for pictures you should only pose using your aegyo


7. You should use slang.i.e.짱 (chang), 대박,(dae bak) and lets not forget 헐!!!!!! (hul) This lady confirms my thoughts on slang.


8. You must possess “the gear”. For every hobby you have, you must be in possession of the correct gear.  If you like hiking you should wear and use every available item required for hiking.  The same goes for soccer, tennis, swimming and so on. 


The Korean education system

I just had a conversation with a middle school girl.  During the course of the conversation, I asked her why she looked so tired.  She told me it was exam month and that every night she would study until 2am.  She would then get up at 6.30am and leave the house at 7.20am to walk the 40 minutes to school with her friends because it was the only free time she would have in the day.  I asked her if, after the exams, she would have time to relax and rest and she replied no because she was then going to prepare for high school. I also asked her about her hobbies and she told me that she effectively doesn’t have time for hobbies because she’s expected to study so much. 

This got me thinking to my life, in Ireland, at her age.  I would go to school from 9am to 4pm.  Go home, study for a few hours and go to bed.  I would also play music and sports and enjoy regular social activities even in the dreaded “exam month”. My parents forced upon us the belief that you don’t always have to get 100%, as long as you can stand by your work and say that you gave it your best, then that was the most important thing.

What that student described to me was the life of a regular middle school student in Korea.  Expected to study so hard for so long that she has been denied the opportunity for hobbies.  It’s not surprising that suicide is the leading cause of death among the young people in Korea.  They are simply following what society expects them to be, not what they truly are.  Korea is a country that prides itself on the academic achievements of its young people.  There is nothing wrong with this, it’s the sacrifices it makes to achieve those results that’s wrong. 

Education in Korea is a factory like machine.  Everyone does the same thing, are expected to produce the same high results and anything outside of those high results are disregarded as substandard materials. It’s not just a middle school problem.  This mindset starts as early as kindergarten.  The 7 year olds at my school are expected to complete an English exam at the end of term.  Our school is not an English academy, it’s a Korean playschool with English as a subject.  We do mock exams to prepare and it’s gotten to the point where I can only give the results to the teacher because the competition was so high among the students. It wasn’t just the competition, it was the fact that the students who got lower scores, even though they passed, would be looked down on by the higher achievers.   

What should also be considered is what the Koreans actually call “education”. Students are only encouraged to memorize and repeat.  No form of understanding or independent thought is necessary, just remember this and it’s all fine.  There is no room for creativity or critical thinking.  Twenty hours of studying wouldn’t be necessary if it was quality study that was occurring.  Native teachers will tell you that students in Korea, although they study, score very poorly on comprehension and even worse on open questions.  We should also look to the relationship between teacher and pupil in Korea.  Although students show a great ability, Korean teachers quite often don’t trust the students enough to independently answer a question.  Instead they spoon feed the answers to them.  The lack of trust in this critical relationship is what makes the learning environment uncomfortable and stressful.

A few weeks ago I watched a TED talk by Sir.Ken Richardson ( What I took from this speech is that education systems dislocate us from our natural talents.  This happens worldwide and is not just a problem isolated to Korea. But I feel Korea could learn a lot from transforming their education system.  To say “reform” here would not help because it would be a case of same same but different.  In fact, I really wonder if transforming the education system would do anything to transform the mindset of the Korean people.  People here expect the great results and fantastic achievements because it’s what they’ve grown with, it’s the only thing they know. 

But it’s not working.  In 2012, students and young people should be encouraged to be more than what society simply expects them to be.  I saw a clip from a documentary recently on the pressures faced by high school students in Korea

I’m sure the problem of industrial like education is not Korea’s alone.  No education system is perfect.  What Korea needs to understand and appreciate though is that all students are not Einsteins.  Each has their own talent and ability and we, as a nation must start encouraging our young people to foster and develop those talents, alongside a healthy education.