Have a fabulous 2012


Gaga: Rest in Peace (b.2002 - d.2010)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Winters: How to Save on Heating while in Korea!

There are various types of housing in Korea that include apartments, studios, jutaek, sataek, hanok, villas (pronounced as billa in Korea), goshiwons and key-suksa (dorms) to name a few. We lived in a jutaek and a billa in Seoul, both were huge.

Jutaek or Tha Khagu Jib (다가구집): houses in this genre were built some 30 years ago. If you have been to Itaewon, Noksapyeong, Hannamdong, Bokwang-dong in Yonsan district the majority of the houses are still villa (billa) or Tha-Kha-gu-jib.

All of these houses have an old style floor heating system "ONDOL" or (온돌).
Ondol is Korea's oldest and most loved inventions. Different people have different opinions about ondol. I remember that my German friend used to say that heated floors gave her feet burns. Some others said that, since windows are not properly sealed ondol doesn't warm up the rooms properly and one feels cold. Another friend, whose mom was quite old, always said that they needed ondol plus a heater to keep her warm and comfortable.

Either you love it or hate it , this is what we have in Korea to heat up the icy rooms  and hence, you will NOT see heaters in building old or new. However, that doesn't mean that there are no heaters. There is an option of a gas heater as well as an electric heater. If you use only electric heater your bill is going to be 50% less approximately than what it usually costs using ondol only. Personally, I've experienced ondol by gas, oil and also wood for really long or short durations in different cities in Korea. It is an interesting experience indeed BUT it is very expensive.

I still remember that we paid 450 to 500 dollars for our heating bill during one winter - for heating four rooms including a kitchen. Our minimum ondol bill was 350USD or 350,000 won.

Nobody told me what could be the alternative of ondol? If you will ask me then I will highly recommend you to buy an electric heater (portable or space heater) and even if you will NOT turn it off the entire month, the bill will be about 30USD-40USD ( depending on the size of the heater, though). I discovered it after paying huge ondol bills for 7 damn years. So now, that the winters are just around the corner, try to get yourself an electric heater (a new one costs 35,000 won only at G-market (online retailers)  and try to experiment. I'm pretty sure that your bill will be super low. Unlike many countries such as Pakistan, electricity is much cheaper than gas in Korea.

Another tip to ward off cold is to buy  an electric heating mat (전기매트) for your bed. I like the simple one better which has cloth cover rather than the fancy ones that do massages or the one with stones, wjatever. Simpler, original models of heating mat are at times better than the upgraded model. I had both the expensive mat which cost us 130,000 won (130USD) 10 years ago and then 2 years later I discovered this simpler version for 40,000 won (40USD). It will keep your bed warm, it comes with a regulator and you can set the heating strength.  It is washable. I'm still using it after 4 years, it's great.

Another tip is: seal your windows with tape ( a duct tape or a regular scotch box sealing tape). It is very helpful in keeping the rooms warm. It took me a year to know this  :-) I have learned all this the hard way (and the expensive way). I really do NOT want others to go through the same experiences that I did.

Last but not the least, get the good old 'hot water bag' which is being sold everywhere in stores.They are inexpensive and might ward off chills you will surely feel during the winters. I'm pretty sure that you will save not just the money but also will fight better to stay warm in winters.

Hence, try my tips and let me know how it worked for you?

I wish everyone a warmer winter this year around!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Free Class to Obtain Korean Driver's License Test

• Date & Time: Every Monday  from Sept. 3 to Oct. 29th. (8 weeks in total)
• Place : Yeonnam Global Village Center in Mapo-gu
• Curriculum:
 - Importance of driving license; types of a driver’s license; process to obtain a driver’s license
 - Definition of transportation-related terms
 - Steps to take after a traffic accident
 - Driving attitude ; legal responsibilities
• Textbooks:
 -A textbook distributed by Korean National Police Agency
  (written in five languincluding Korea, English, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese) and sample questions from previous tests
• Lecturers:
 - Lieutenant Jeong Chang-nam, Corporal Park Jong-woo
• Eligibility:
 - Female marriage migrants, 
 _  Expats who are long-term residents in Korea
• For more information call: (02)6406-8151-3, 
   In Chinese: (02)6406-8156)

Neil Amrstrong has Died at the Age of 82

Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, dies. He commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969.

I think only a few people know that he served in Korea as a pilot. He was always a dare devil and was a decorated combat navel pilot during the Korean War.

When selected for the space mission he escaped death a few times during the test flights. His first words after setting foot on the surface are etched in history books and the memories of those who heard them in a live broadcast.
"That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said.

Although he had been a Navy fighter pilot, a test pilot for NASA's forerunner and an astronaut, Armstrong never allowed himself to be caught up in the celebrity and glamor of the space program. "He didn't give interviews, but he wasn't a strange person or hard to talk to," said Ron Huston, a colleague at the University of Cincinnati. "He just didn't like being a novelty."

Armstrong was one of the quietest, most private men he had ever met wrote Aldrin in his book "Men from Earth".  At the time of the flight's 40th anniversary, Armstrong again was low-key, telling a gathering that the space race was "the ultimate peaceful competition: USA versus U.S.S.R. It did allow both sides to take the high road with the objectives of science and learning and exploration."

A great man indeed. May he rest in peace!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Insadong: Where You Can Buy Korean Souvenirs

Take exit 6 of the Anguk Station on Line 3: Go straight for 3 minutes and you will see an info booth and a hand bags shop, you may ask anybody for Crown Bakery and that is the beginning (or the end, if you entered from the other side) of Insadong Street via Jonggak Station , Line1.

Jongno 3 Ga: If you get off at Jongno3 ga and walk for 5 minutes, passing by Tapgol Park twoards Gyeongbok Palace you will reach Insadong - a souvnir street of Seoul
Insadong Street: a lot of stuff is handmade, long ago, this street was full of tea houses and art galleries - you can still find one but there are not many anymore.

Insadong Street: Passing by a Tea House
This was an interesting addition to Insadong - there was always an open air performance there.
This is the bag shop you will see when you will walk 3 min. from exit 6 Anguk Station. It has been here for past many years!
Jongno 3 ga will bring you to Insadong from one of the many streets all opening                 there.             

An Art Gallery
A Shop specializing in everything-related-to-tea.
You will find Startbucks there too - hard to ignore!

Paint brushes and look at the big one inside for traditional painting!

Some individual artists have their work on display - I love it!
Silver pandants and rings
Traditional Korean Fans.

A restaurant offering all sort of comfort food!
More tea sets (traditional Korean style)

Very pretty and colorful bags (5bucks)!

Pockets made with fake leather for smart phones (3000 won each), aren't they cute!

Korean masks can be a great gift or a souvenir
Cell phone charms and key chains!

Wall Clocks made of Glass!

Pottery: Korean Ceramic also called Celadon

More bag - some of them were very nice and the price was 10,000 won (10USD).

Wood and Clay figurine


More bags within 15USD or 15,000 won

So if you are visiting Korea and want to buy gifts or souvenirs - go to Insadong. Sometimes, you can find this same stuff at Namdaemun Traditional Market or even Itaewon Market. Namdemun being the cheapest. Prices vary with location.

Emotions: Typing in Korean!

I think everybody related to Korea knows or have seen these emotions in sms or text messages and even emails.
What feelings do they express can be seen here!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Movers in Korea: Are You Moving within Korea?

...if so, you will need movers, there are many companies to deal with logistics. Most of them are very professional even if they are not a large scale company. All you have to do is to make a reservation with such a company that has a permit by the government to to do so. Most of the relocations takes place in Spring so if you are moving at a time other than Spring, you will get better rates.You willl see that there are a minimum of 2-3 men accompanied by a woman. Men tackle the moving of the heavy stuff whereas the woman handles kitchen and bathroom related packing. Aside, you might have seen Bongo trucks (by Hyundai) with the entire household loaded on it and wrapped in layers of clothes and plastic baskets in yellow color. In a country where moving of a house is a frequent story for every family there are hundreds of companies to deal with it. If you are on the move in Korea or overseas, call one, Their rates are not that bad. On top, you won't be doing anything except being told that all is done.

However, the problem starts when you are looking for somebody who can speak English and one such mover is:

Dexter Park. He can do small scale moves within dongs or gu and even across provinces. In case you have bought something and wants it to be moved to your place then contact him either by email or phone.

Dexter Park's email:dexterpark83@gmail.com
His phone: 010-2214-7112
Fax: 042-622-3801

His Facebook page can be searched through email as well.

Another very professional guy is Brendan (also a Korean). He speaks English fluently. He also does a real estate business and mover service is tagged to it.

Call Brendan at: 
Another service which is very cheap and excellent can be reached at:1599-1155
You can take a help of a Korean friend to have this services or if you can speak little Korean this company will do. I've used the last two services and am very satisfied with them. In case, you have bought something and want it to be delivered at your place, just call them, they will pick the stuff and will deliver it your place. All you have to do is to text message them your address in English and also Korean and then transfer the money in their account or pay in cash on delivery.  If the move is from a second, third or a higher floor - money increases automatically, since they use gondolas or auto- freight lifts - keep that in mind.

How long does the shipping takes place varies with the shipping company and the time it takes to pass customs in the area you are moving to, shipping usually consumes the following time periods.

Accroding the Immigration Office in Korea:
Domestic packaging,transportation,customs,shipping,insurance): 7 to 10 days.

Shipping by sea
- Southeast Asia : 3 to 10 days
- Western North America : 14 to 20 days
- Eastern, middle North America : 25 to 30 days

All the best with your move.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Are you looking for a flatmate in Seoul or Gyeonggi Province?

Housing is an eternal problem for students on short term or long term basis. The biggest hurdle is the deposit money (보증금) also called key money that starts off usually with 3,000$ or 3 million won to 10,000$ or 10 million won - refundable.

On top, they have to pay a monthly rent tagged to the deposit money and this whole setup is called wal-say (월세). The higher the deposit the lower the rent goes. Hence, KEY money and rent are inversely proportional to each other. Another method is "Jonsay (전세)"where you put a huge deposit (보증금) starting with 70,000 to 100,000USD (700 million to 1000 million won) and do NOT pay any rent. Some Koreans call it a RENT FREE option. When your contract comes to an end that money is refunded.

Anyhow, we have also got options of shared room in an apartment, we have host families option, we have one-room or studio option, we have Hasukjibs, we also have the infamous Goshiwons. The thing is your budget and your personal choices.

Having said that, these days a few friends are looking for a housing in a shared apartment/jutaek, villa etc.

They are studying at Yonsei and Seoul National University.
If anybody is interested in having a flatmate in Seoul/Gyeonggi area, please leave your info. in the comments and we'll get back to you.

We don't care if the place is far away from the above mentioned universities.
Rent should be within 350$ per month or (350,000 won - inclusive of utilities) or 400,000 won within Seoul.

Any pointers would be highly appreciated.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Seoul Fringe Festival

The Seoul Fringe Festival is one of the most representative independent art festival. It was first started by a group of artists in the area with a goal of supporting the indie culture and independent arts of Hongdae.
  • Date: August 15 -September 1
  • Venue: Streets around Hongik University, Shinchon
  • Programs: Indoor Arts Performance, Street Performance, Project Big Boy, Eco Fringe Festival, Asia Independence Film Joint Project, etc.
  • More Info: http://www.seoulfringefestival.net/

Another art related activity that is going on is:

 "Asian Students and Young Artists Art Festival"

 Asian Students and Young Artists Art Festival is organized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Chosunilbo to present art works of talented young students and professional artists from Korea and Asian countries. It is one of the representative art fair for college students.

  • Date: August 1 – 26 from 10:00 to 7:00
  • Venue: Culture Station 284
  • Directions: Seoul Station, Subway Line 1 & 4, exit 2
  • More Info: http://asyaaf.chosun.com

(이드 무바락 여러분! (Eid Mubarak)

EID MUBARAK and Many Happy Returns of the Day!

Eidul Fitr will be celebrated in South Korea this Sunday. Muslim Federation of Korea announced that Eid will be celebrated on August19th. 2012) - which is the first of Shawwal here.

So the Eid prayers (congregation) will be performed on the 19th of August, 2012, Sunday  at 10:00 a.m  in the Seoul Central Masjid, Itaewon.

On Eid, Seoul mosque gets crowded because it caters to not just Seoul area but all adjacent small cities and towns in Gyeonggi province. Moreover, it is Sunday, so more people can come and participate because if Eid falls on week days, they have to take a day off but not this year.

If you wanna pray inside the mosque and not outside on the road then you have to make it to the mosque a few hours earlier. To be on the safe side be there by 7:00 a.m.

One must note that Eid celebrations are observed closely by the Korean government  for crackdown on illegal workers/residents in the city.

Eid has the same importance as Chuseok in Korea or Christmas in general. It is one of the most anticipated holidays. Eidul Fitr is one of the most fun Muslim holidays that revolves around a lot of food, sweets, family get-together. It is a family holiday.

On the auspicious day of Eid, I wish everyone a gracious and wonderful Eid day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


It is August 15th. and is the Independence Day of South Korea. Hence, Happy Independence Day to all South Koreans.

South Korea -- formally called the Republic of Korea -- was founded on Aug. 15, 1948 after the end of Japanese rule, which lasted from 1910-1945. Technically, North and South Korea remain in a state of war because the 1950s Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Today, Bahrain, Congo and India are also celebrating their Independence day hence, I wish the citizens of these countries a happy Independence Day too.

Wish them all peace and progress.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Azadi Mubarak: 66th. Independence Day of Pakistan

Google Doodle celebrating Pakistan's Independence Today

Happy Independence Day to All Pakistanis: Azadi Mubarak Ho - Bohat, Bohat!

We used to say: Jashane Azadi Mubarak, since I couldn't see any Jashan around (celebration/Festivity) hence,  Azadi Mubark will suffice.

Having said that, I hope we learn the importance of freedom and being free, importance of being a country and the importance of being a nation!

A Pakistani Flag made with Gladiola and Tuberoses (Polianthes tuberosa)

We have a long way to go to make the Founding Father of Pakistan PROUD and 66 years have passed already!

With incredible potential, natural resources and human capital we have the power to turn these bad times into good ones. All we need is - in Jinnah's words: UNITY, FAITH and DISCIPLINE - which is lacking!


Monday, August 13, 2012

Fire Breaks Out near Gyeongbok Palace

Fire near Gyeongbok Palace

Korea has a long history of fire break outs of the buildings of historical importance. During the Joseon era, entire palaces , all four in Seoul, burned down to ashes several times. There are various reasons to it. One of the most famous and recent  fire break out case  was that of  Namdemun Gate in 2008. AN arsenist was involved which turned the gate to ashes and it is till under restoration, for the past 4 years! One of the reasons is that wood is used a lot in the traditional buildings. Hence, nothing left of the structures once they catch fire.

According to Korea Herald, a fire broke out at the construction site for National Museum of Contemporary Art’s new building near Gyeongbok Palace on Monday morning, threatening the main Joseon Dynasty palace.

The fire broke out at about 11:22 a.m. covering the palace and the area near Gyeongbok Palace’s Gwangwhamun. The cause of the blaze is not yet known.

The emergency services dispatched about 30 fire engines and more than 100 firepersons to put out the fire and to prevent the fire spreading to the palace.

No casualties or damage to the palace have been reported.

The site is located to the east of the palace, and is scheduled for completion in 2013.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Leaving Pakistan Makes me Cranky...

Islamabad: A view from my room - minutes before storms

...while living in Pakistan is sometimes frustrating especially, seeing so much talented youth being wasted, natural resources misused and a new trend of give no damn attitude towards the country but still, leaving it, HURTS. It is a wonderful place. If you have lived in Pakistan, even for a short time, you will miss this country. It still offers a lot to explore, to experience and to learn from. Still, in the madness, you may come across really wonderful people, breathtaking landscapes, beautiful  weather and great food.

When I'm away, I  always plan that on my return to Pakistan, I'll learn a skill or two, work on this or that project but once, I'm in the country - the rules of the game change. Connections, nepotism, loose talk, bribery, unnecessary favors, indiscriminate lying, blocking of information  are just  the tip of the iceberg. I can NOT handle it and step back.

I've seen many good people being marginalized and this MUST change. 

On a lighter side, I was happy to see geckos (had NOT seen one in years) again, and for some time, enjoyed the power shutdowns, water shortages, UPS batteries screaming for water to be poured into them, armies of domestic help, great food and fresh fruits, artisans at work, change of weather in minutes, rains  in Islamabad (which reminds me of the Swiss landscape (but for a micro second). This wishful thinking will blast away when: men and eyes follow you everywhere, garbage bags track you down, when cars are ready to run over you, when you will realize that the city administration has forgotten to make pavements and where they made them - people prefer chauffeured cars.

I saw an incredible increase in men riding donkeys, juggling of 4 or 5 children and a woman on a motor bike, women in hijabs out numbering women in chaddars, huge number of scavengers - gypsies of Pakistan(same type as the Roma people) and a strong presence of Afghan+Somali refugees. I saw huge waste of water in sectors such as F-10, F-11, F-8 (ma be others as well) where cars were washed in the porches by their drivers who suffer water shortage at homes on daily basis. Number of barbed wired houses has more than doubled, civic sense has gone to zero level. All this made me realized, I'm home. It is a colorful place with great divide!

I was asked the weirdest of questions by a few gentlemen (hearing I have come from Vilayat (overseas)) such as: if I smoke or drink? or one fucktard asked me during a conference in Islamabad if I believe in Allah? Who doesn't in Pakistan, I asked back?? What sort of a question was this?? Have I missed a lot in a decade's absence?? Fellow countrymen/women will leave no chance to ask you the most unexpected questions so prepare yourself, do NOT forget that they mind your business more than their own. By the way, we used to be quite descent, well-cultured people a few years ago. Where has it all gone?

Pakistan has changed in layers and hasn't changed at all!


Saturday, August 11, 2012

'Itaewon Freedom' vs.'Oppa Gangnam Style' that got Viral

I don't write about K-Pop since a lot of people out there are doing a great job. Moreover, my choice of Korean music is slightly off the track. The singers that I  love to listen to are NOT a part of a Korean Wave per se however, their music is very good.  I feel that either you like the K- Pop or you don't. If it clicks, it is addictive.

These days, it seems that the world is getting hooked on “Oppa Gangnam Style.” If you have a background of Gangnam, it may make more sense. I am not a big fan of Gangnam area, it is crowded and too loud and so is the MV. Back to the songs, with a 'particular neighborhood theme', my choice will be "Itaewon Freedom" by J.Y. Park. I'm looking forward to hear Sinchon or Hongdae song.

According to Hangyoreh  song by PSY or Park Jae-sang has topped South Korean online music charts for four straight weeks since its release last month. The track has also been surprisingly popular overseas. The video on YouTube had more than 17 million views as of August 7, roughly three weeks after being posted. More than 60,000 viewers had written comments. Some wrote that they did not ordinarily like K-Pop, but this song hooked them. US hip-hop artist T-Pain and British singer Robbie Williams mentioned it in Twitter and blog posts, saying they couldn‘t stop laughing after seeing the video. It also placed in the Top 10 of the dance music charts for Apple’s iTunes store in the US, Finland, New Zealand, and Denmark.

PSY is seen doing a comical dance reminiscent of a galloping horse in such odd settings as a sauna, racetrack, tour bus, subway and a Gangnam pedal boat.

If you are in Korea these day it is is quite unlikely that you will NOT hear this song in Marts, restaurants or inside the subway or the subway stations - it is everywhere - played all the time.

'Oppa Gangnam Style' being played on screen at the Shin Bundang Line

Good for the Korean Wave since, academia is already talking about how long the Korean Wave will survive?

Japan Loses to South Korea in Football (Olympics 2012)

Park, Chu-young

South Korea beats Japan 2-0 winning bronze medal in 2012 Olympics. Exactly 10 years ago, we witnessed memorable scenes in 2002 FIFA World Cup - Korea/Japan. We moved to Seoul on the first day of FIFA kick off.

The Olympics 2012 match between the arch rivals brought wonderful memories. Anything between Korea and Japan is much anticipated just like Pakistan and India.

A great treat to watch.

Asia has produced fantastic teams over the last 10 years.

South Korean head coach Hong Myung-bo (center) who was the captain of 2002 Korean Squad celebrates after the team`s victory over Japan on Friday. 

For more pictures click HERE at the source.