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July 9, 2015

Our Commune: Putting the Community Back in Gyeongnidan

The neighborhood of Gyeongnidan, which is nestled not far from the bustling main strip of Itaewon, was once a peaceful residential neighborhood inhabited mostly by international expats and elderly Koreans. Over the past few years, however, it has been popularized by food bloggers and television programs, transforming into an overcrowded commercialized district of lifeless cafes and restaurants established with priorities placed on the wallets of their proprietors rather than serving a community.

While the gentrification of Gyeongnidan does have its upsides, any traces of the neighborhood it once was have seemingly all but vanished. Long term residents of the area are disheartened by this, longing for a relaxing space they can come together, without having to wait in preposterously long lines. While such a place might only seem like the stuff of dreams these days, the newly opened Our Commune, located on the main road just next to the GS25 (previously 7-11), is the answer to residents’ hopes.


This five story complex is the dream of Mok Younggyo, a respected photographer, clothing designer and author. Having spent the past six months dedicated to making Our Commune a reality, he worked tirelessly to ensure that each and every detail of the place was well planned and executed. Mok himself designed every aspect of the interior, from the layout, to the lighting fixtures to the gorgeous wooden tables, which he hand-cut from wood he procured in Ichon.

But rather than just focusing on one type of business, as most first-time owners might, Mok sought to incorporate a number of them into what he calls a "city market." As a result, Our Commune boasts a café, a restaurant, a yogurt vendor and a multi-shop. Although each part of the complex serves a different purpose, the concept is consistent, tied together by the building’s simplistic interior and calming vibe.


On the first floor, Slow Things serves thick and creamy homemade Greek yogurt (₩4,000) with an option to add premium toppings (+₩3,000/2) such as organic granola and fruit. (In fact, all of the ingredients used at Our Commune are organic and locally sourced, when possible.) Of these toppings, the house jams, which can be purchased separately and taken home, are especially delicious.


Weekender Coffee is Our Commune’s café and has a basic coffee menu at standard Gyeongnidan prices (starting at ₩5,000). Unlike most coffee joints in the area, however, the terrace on the third floor offers a peaceful, romantic outdoor terrace away from the prying eyes of passersby and an even better view from the rooftop, which is the perfect place to savor the rich flavors of the Weekender Coffee Affogato (₩6,000) or perhaps a bottle of La Chouffe Belgium beer. (This is also where the herbs used in all the dishes are grown.)




Mok collaborated with consultants to create the recipes for lalala, the restaurant, and ended up with a menu that is eclectic, if not a bit confusing, but delicious all the same. 

The Banana Crispy French Toast (₩13,000) makes for a satisfyingly sweet brunch or shared dessert, while the Mashed Potato Omelette (₩10,000) is the ultimate comfort food. Yes, you heard that right. The perfectly fluffy omelette stuffed with mashed potatoes and cheese is rich and glorious and will undoubtedly be a star player in no time. Try it with the Tomato Green Bean Salad (₩6,000), a small but healthy pairing of a boiled-then-grilled tomato atop a bed of crunchy grilled green beans.





The MYG multi-shop, located in the basement, is slated to open next month and will showcase everything from aprons to eco-bags, all of which are designed by Mok.

It’s obvious that Mok has put a great deal of thought and heart into his business’ design, food and sales products. But above all of these things, he hopes that Our Commune will be just that—a place where people can come together, to share and be at one with the community. As such, there is even an additional 20% discount for Itaewon residents (who have proof of identification), to ensure Our Commune becomes a local spot, and perhaps even will help Gyeongnidan retain a bit of what it once was.

More Information: Our Commune

Address: 225-142 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (이태원동 225-142)

Phone: 02-792-8764

Hours: Tues-Thurs, Sun: 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11am-12am; Closed Mondays

Website: Naver Blog (Korean only) / Instagram

Get There: From exit 2 of Noksapyeong Station (Seoul Subway Line 6), walk straight until you reach the underpass. Go down the stairs, cross the street, and exit through the left side. Stay right and walk straight along Gyeongnidan-gil for about 5 minutes. Our Commune is located on the right side of the street, just before the large GS25 convenience store.

Map:



Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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June 19, 2015

Soonsiki Hair: A Cut Above the Rest

There are few moments in everyday life that feel as good as walking out of a salon with a fresh cut, a new color and an amazing blowout. A visit to the hair salon has the ability to make one feel like a new person, free of any worries or insecurities one may have had previous to the visit.

Yet, it has been my experience in Korea that sometimes going to the salon has a completely opposite effect. And it's not just me. Other international residents living here have told me they often leave the hair salon feeling less secure, having been insulted (however unintentionally) by stylists, and left with the complete opposite of what they asked for, most often because they were coerced into getting a "hot Korean style," or were not able to communicate because of a language barrier.

The fact is that I don't have Korean hair. Nor am I Korean. I have unruly, curly hair and my own personal style is not influenced by the latest trends of K-pop. And I feel like many foreigners would agree with me that sometimes it can be difficult to find a stylist who can understand this.

Which is why I was utterly THRILLED to discover Soonsiki Hair.

Walk into this famed Hongdae beauty institution and you'll immediately be greeted by a staff of incredibly hip stylists, each of whom is donned in the latest street fashions and possesses an air of cool confidence. In fact, everything about Soonsiki is cool, without being the least bit pretentious.



When I took a seat at the salon's bar, which doubles as a waiting area, I was quickly greeted and offered a drink from an extensive cafe-like menu. I then met BK, who, with his waistcoat, perfect hair and swagger, instantly reminded me of a Korean version of Justin Timberlake. I had a great first impression of BK, thanks to his willingness to understand exactly what I wanted: Emma Stone auburn and a snip of the dead ends. This was not the least bit difficult to communicate, as BK speaks flawless English.

I opted to get a hair manicure, which is similar to a dye, but uses a colored cream to add a slight tint of color and a shiny gloss to the hair that is only semi-permanent. After seeing a picture of what I wanted, BK immediately whipped up a cocktail of color that he assured me would be perfect for me. His adorable assistant "Gangster" began applying the color to my hair, checking on me every so often to offer some new reading material or another drink.



Soonsiki's specialist designers have a reputation for being the top experts on dyeing non-Asian hair and their color bar is more varied than a giant Crayola box. Unlike many other salons in Seoul, Soonsiki offers toner-only coloring options, rather than the bleach ones at other places.

After washing out the color and getting a fantastic scalp massage, I had a Japanese treatment cream added to my hair for about 10 minutes, which made my hair incredibly soft, fantastically scented and prepped for a cut.



BK took over the reins and prepared his scissors for a bit of snipping. As busy as he was with other customers, he took the time to talk with me, share some of his travel stories and his personal Instagram account. Which, I should add, had a few images of he and Jay Park, one of his most loyal customers.



During the cut, he assured me he wouldn't cut off too much of my length-- just what needed to be cleaned up. And he was true to his word. While he cut, I took a look around the room and saw that the stylists are very well versed in the latest funky trends (I mean, this is Hongdae, after all) but had mastered all the classic styles, as well. Each customer seemed completely at ease, often joking or engaging in banter with his or her stylist.

BK's assistant offered up his services once more for the styling, in which he battled my lion tame with a straightener, resulting in beautiful waves in a color that couldn't have more perfectly matched what I wanted.



Soonsiki Hair's unsurpassed hospitality, professional services and comfortable, modern atmosphere are only just a few of the reasons why it is the best hair salon in Hongdae, if not all of Seoul. Whether you need a trim, highlights, or an entire new look, this is the place to go. Do note, however, that BK is the only stylist that is fluent in English, and he's often booked, so be sure to make a reservation in advance. Also, inquire about their discount for foreigners when you make your reservation.

More Information: Soonsiki Hair

Address:  5th Floor, Seokjeon Building, 29 (Seogyo-dong) Waoosanro 21-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul   (서울시 마포구 와우산로 21길 29 (서교동) 석전빌딩 5층)

Phone: 02-326-5982 ~3

E-mail: Click Here

Website: Click Here

Hours: Daily 10am-10pm

Prices: Cuts start at 30,000 (Men) / 35,000 (Women); Color starts at 122,000; Perms start at 149,000

Get There: From Hongik University Station (Seoul Subway Line 2), walk straight out of exit 9 to the first main intersection. Take a left and walk straight until you reach Forever 21. Take a right and cross the street. Walk straight on Parking Street for a few minutes until you reach the first main intersection.Take a left and walk straight. Soonsiki will be on your right, next to Zara, on the fifth floor.



Map:



Disclaimer: Although Soonsiki provided the above mentioned services free of charge, the opinions are, of course, my own.

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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June 11, 2015

Mission: Escape Rooms at The Vault

Oceans 11. Mission Impossible. The Italian Job. All just a few of my favorite heist movies ever made. Perhaps you know them. And, if you’re anything like me, you have probably dreamed of being able to participate in a heist of your own. Well, now you can. And you don’t even have to worry about getting caught and locked up in jail in the process.

The Vault, situated in Hongdae, is one of Seoul’s newest, most unique entertainment facilities. Combining a spacious dining area, an eclectic cocktail menu and a number of “escape rooms”, the complex provides an experience unlike any other in Korea.


The brainchild of Huw-Morgan Evans, Vault was inspired by a number of game rooms that have been growing in popularity throughout the world. In fact, Huw scouered the globe extensively for the very best courses and incorporated his favorite elements into those at The Vault.

Immensely intrigued, a group of friends and I headed out to Hongdae to test our wits and see if we had what it took to escape the rooms.


After fueling up on colorful (and strong) cocktails, we made our way to the Mission Incredible Room, which was rated medium on the difficulty scale. Without giving us any guidelines or rules, Huw shut us in and set the timer to 45 minutes. 



Now, I can’t give too much away about the rooms, but the tasks were challenging and involved figuring out codes to disable alarms and unlock clues which led to other rooms. The objective of the game was to retrieve a diamond and escape, which we came fairly close to doing, but were unable to do in the end, as we ran out of time.   


By this point, we were incredibly high on adrenaline, if not a bit frustrated, and decided to try the Stalker’s Treachery Spy Room, which, we learned had only been completed successfully by two groups. Here, we attempted to discover the location of a master criminal’s next crime before his henchmen returned. It was not only more mentally challenging, but was physically challenging, and even with Huw giving us a clue, we only managed to complete about 20% of the room. We were a bit disappointed in ourselves, but, we left the room all smiles.


We may not have looked as cool as Tom Cruise navigating those lasers, but the games were seriously fun and a unique way to spend an afternoon. We already have plans to return, and hope that next time, we will be a bit more prepared, have a better strategy (which was pretty much impossible to make going in blind) and will be more observant to the obscure clues strewn throughout the place. And what’s great is that the rooms will be changed up every few months, so each visit can feel like a new one.

Guests can opt to only play the games, which costs 10,000, but can also purchase a combo that includes food and/or drinks (which start around ₩7,000 à la carte) to get a discounted price.

For groups (2-8 people) looking to challenge themselves mentally, and enjoy a few cocktails in a modern lounge, The Vault is the place to be.

NOTICE: This Saturday June 13, The Vault will host a grand opening party starting at 4PM with cheap drinks and half priced games. No better time to check it out!

This blog post will self destruct in 10 seconds...


More Information: The Vault

Address: B2 364-4 NS Tower, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 마포구 서교동 364-4 NS타워 B2)

Phone: 02-338-8639 (Korean); 010-6439-3271 (English)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thevaultkr

To Get There: From exit 1 of Sangsu Station (Seoul Subway Line 6), take an immediate right and walk straight along the sidewalk toward the direction of Hongik University. Continue walking for about 5 minutes until you reach the Starbucks just before the playground and take a left after it. Walk straight for 1 minute to the second intersection and take a left. The Vault will be a few meters up and on your right, just past Thursday Party.

Map:





Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.


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June 5, 2015

Girls' Night Out, Hongdae Style

Nowhere else in Asia (or perhaps the world) does nightlife as well as Seoul, and although there's a party for everyone, there are a number of places designed especially for the entertainment of women. But we're not just talking buy-one-get-one-free drinks and half priced appetizers. Think more along the lines of cute guys in hard hats, sultry stage performances and plenty of places to pamper yourself.

So, round up your girlfriends, book your hair appointment, dig out that little black dress and dust off your dancing shoes. It's time for a girls' night out, Seoul style.

I'll be letting you in on all the places worth checking out around Seoul with your favorite ladies in this new monthly series, but first up is perhaps the city's most legendary nightlife district: Hongdae.

Start your night off with dinner at the Mecentopolis shopping complex attached to Hapjeong Station (Line 2). There are plenty of places to dine (and get some late afternoon shopping in) but my personal favorite restaurant here is Saint Augustin, an upscale Thai restaurant located on the basement level. It's certainly not the best (or most authentic) Thai food in Seoul, but the restaurant's ambiance is nice and the waitstaff attentive, so it works for a girls' night. Also, it's conveniently located near the next stop of the evening, which will undoubtedly be the highlight of your night.

Produced and choreographed by American-born musical director Kolleen Park, Mister Show is a male revue held at the Lotte Card Art Center that combines muscles and music for an unforgettable evening for women of all ages. MCed by an energetic host, the show is act-after-act of entertaining strip tease; the performances, which are themed around concepts that cater to women's fantasies (think samurais and soldiers), won't soon be forgotten.



But don't assume this is some raunchy strip show. All the Mister Show dances are done tastefully (though it should be noted that what Koreans find sexy is quite different than what Westerners do), and the actors interact respectfully with the all-female audience, who are extremely receptive of the show. During my visit, a Korean woman pushing 80 was pulled up on stage for a lap dance. And she loved it.

The performers may not all be Magic Mike, but they are a H-O-T group of former body builders, personal trainers and athletes, and the show is incredibly fun, but could be longer, as 70 minutes goes by way too quickly. It's definitely a place for some laughs and de-stressing with the girls. (Note: This show will only run until July, 26, 2015, so get those tickets now!)

All that estrogen will have you ready to get to dancing, but since things don't really get hopping in Hongdae til midnight, grab some drinks at Gorilla Lounge, which is located in the heart of the district-- about a 20 minute walk or short taxi ride from Hapjeong.

This rather tame sit-down bar (not to be confused with Mama or Papa Gorilla) has outdoor patio seating and a great drink special for the ladies known as "Infinite Cock." Excuse their French. With it, ladies can drink as many cocktails as they would like from a menu of over 20 varieties for three hours (10pm-1am) for only 15,000. And don't let the price fool you... these are quality cocktails, which are served with free caramel popcorn. To top it off, the bartenders are super friendly.



Conveniently, Gorilla is just a hop, skip and a jump from Hongdae's most popular dance clubs. On our last night out, my friends and I ventured out to the less than reputable Gogos and Gogos 2 to take advantage of the free cover. Surprisingly, neither bar was overly crowded, the music was good and the people were fun. But since I'm not a clubber, I recommend checking out this list for more options.

One option for single ladies wanting to mingle is Solo Pocha (솔로포차), which operates as what Koreans refer to as a "hunting" bar. This Konglish term refers to the act of picking someone up in a random place and the bar encourages such activity with its welcome sign, which reads, "Come alone and leave with a partner."

The concept is simple. Grab a table with your friends (guys and girls must sit separately) and when you order, let your server, who acts as an intermediary, know which table of guys you want to talk to. The server will eventually bring the guys over, and that's that.

I can't personally vouch for this place, since I've never been, but it must be effective, as it is always packed. Like most hofs, or Korean style bars, you must order both drinks and food. Rumor has it the fruit soju is excellent.




Finally, if you need a bit of a caffeine jolt to keep you going throughout the night (or into the morning), Standing Coffee II, situated near exit 1 of Sangsu Station is known for their good looking baristas, who just so happen to all be polished lads donned in white button down shirts and black pants. Perhaps that's why no female has a problem waiting for in line for take-out coffee, as there is almost always a queue.

If you don't go for the guys, do go for the coffee, as it is reported to be the some of the best in the city. Unlike its original location in Itaewon, this branch has a secret room in the back where you can sit to drink your coffee; it also gives you the option of adding a shot of alcohol to your beverage. Their blue lemonade is especially tasty topped off with some vodka, or try a shot of whiskey in your coffee.



You don't need to make it to every spot on this list to have a fun night out in Hongdae with your girls. In fact, one of the best things about Hongdae is that a good time awaits just about anywhere in this neighborhood -- from the clubs, to the park, to the streets. Have fun exploring all that Hongdae has to offer, and be sure to let me know what you and your girlfriends' favorite hangouts are in the comments below, just in case I left out any good ones.


More Information:

Mecentopolis Address: 490 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (서울시 마포구 서교동 490); Hours: 9am-10pm; Get There: Hapjeong Station (Lines 2 & 6, Exit 10) 45; Website: Click Here

Mr. Show Address: Lotte Card Art Center, Mecentopolis 2F (See address above); Show Times: Wed-Sun 8pm; Prices: Ladies Zone (Floor seating, looking up at the stage) 80,000; VIP 80,000; Cocktail VIP 80,000 (the guys will serve you a cocktail!); Regular 60,000; Ticket Reservation: Interpark 


Gorilla Lounge Address: 408-17 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (서울시 마포구 서교동 408-17); Hours: Tues-Thurs 5pm-2am, Fri-Sat 5pm-3am, Sun 5pm-12am; Phone 02-322-9107; Instagram: Click Here; Get There: From Sangsu Station (Line 6, Exit 1), walk toward Hongik University. Just before Seven Eleven, turn left. Pass Gogos and just before you reach the main road, take a left. Gorilla Lounge will be down the street and to your right.


Solo Pocha Address: 8 Jandari-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul; Hours: Sun-Thurs 4pm-6am; Fri-Sat 4pm-7:30am; Prices: Food starts at 18,000; Age requirement: 20 years and up; Facebook: Click Here


Standing Coffee Address: 315-8 Sangsu-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (서울시 마포구 서교동 315-8); Ph. 02-333-0427; Hours: 11am-2am; Prices: Coffee starts at 2,800. Alcohol shots start at 2,000. Get There: From Sangsu Station (Line 6, Exit 1) walk straight for two minutes. It will be on your right.

Map



Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.

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May 31, 2015

Korean Onomatopoeia: The Fun Korean Words

The Korean language contains many words that are based on onomatopoeia, which is the sound associated with an object or action. The Korean word for onomatopoeia is heeseongeo (의성어), but don't worry about remembering it... it's rarely used. In fact, if you use the word with Koreans, then they might assume that you are talking about some kind of fish! So let's take a closer look at a few of them.

Note: This article contains Hangul (Korean letters). If you can't read Korean yet, download a free guide here to start reading in about 60 minutes!! 

Learning the onomatopoeic Korean words might sound like an easy way to improve your Korean ability, but it's not as easy as it might seem. This is because the sounds that Koreans associate with something can be very different from the sounds that English speakers associate with the same object or action.

Take animals, for instance. What sound does a dog make? In English, people might say "woof, woof" but in Korean, "멍멍 (meong-meong)." Clearly these are very different. Cats, in English, go "meow, meow"; in Korean, "야옹 (ya-ong)." Korean pigs sound, "꿀꿀꿀 (ggul-ggul-ggul)" whereas in English, "oink-oink." Ducks in Korea go "곽곽 (quack-quack)", and in English... well, actually that one happens to be the same.

In some cases, the Korean name of certain animals is based on the sound that they make, which makes it easier for learners of Korean to remember the names of such animals. Frogs in Korean are called 개구리 (gaeguri) and the sound that they make is "개굴개굴 (gaegul-gaegul)" while owls are called 부엉이 (bu-ong-i) and make a "부엉부엉 (bu-ong-bu-ong)" sound when they hoot.

Other Animal Sounds

구구 (koo-koo) – the sound of a pigeon
음메 (ummeh) – the sound of a cow or sheep
찍찍 (chik-chik) – the sound of a mouse squeaking
히잉 (hi-ing) – the sound of a horse
깎깎 (ggakk-ggakk) – the caw of a raven
꼬끼오 (kkokki-oh) – the sound of a rooster in the morning (and my personal fav!)

These animal sounds are useful for demonstrating how onomatopoeias work in Korea. For example, they show that the sound is often repeated (meong-meong or gaegul-gaegul, for instance) and that the names of objects can be based on the sounds that those objects make (like owls and frogs).

Jay Park did a great parodoy of "What Does the Fox Say" on a past episode of Korea's SNL. Check it out below and see if you can't catch a few of the animal sounds (including that of the legendary gumiho).



But learning about animal sounds is only really useful if you are a hunter (unlikely) or if you want to try and talk to an animal in a zoo (assuming that they are a native Korean animal... llamas and armadillos would most likely speak in Spanish). Instead, let’s learn some useful onomatopoeia that we can use on a daily basis.

Crashing and Explosive Sounds

 (bbang) – the bang of a gun (and, coincidentally enough, the word for bread)
 (ggwang) – a crashing sound (also the sound made when you lose a game)
  (kung) – the sound of a thud



Sounds from Speech or Bodily Actions

짝짝짝 (jjakjjakjjak) – clapping sound (often used in chants at sports matches)
 (eum) – ummmm…..
 (shwit) – shhhh, "Be quiet please," or "Shut up!" if used more forcefully
하하하 (hahaha) – laughing
아야 (a-ya) – Ouch! 
엉엉 (eong-eong) – crying
잉잉 (ing-ing) - whimpering
에취 (eh-chwi) – Achoo!
 (jjok) – kissing sound (you can use this if you want to kiss someone on the cheek)
드르렁드르렁 (duh-ruh-reong-duh-ruh-reong) – snoring
치카치카 (chika-chika) – the sound of someone brushing their teeth
두근두근 (du-geun-du-geun) – the sound of the heart beating. 

If you are talking about your crush, or a situation that gets your heart beating, then you can say 두근두근 to describe your feelings. You may have heard 두근두근 used in K-pop songs.

Sounds Made by Objects

딩동 (ding-dong) – doorbell
똑똑 (ddok-ddok) – knock, knock
빵빵 (bbang-bbang) – car honking
부릉부릉 (bu-reung-bu-reung) – car engine revving 
칙칙폭폭 (chikchik-pokpok) – train 
삐뽀삐뽀 (bbibbo-bbibbo) – police or firetruck siren





Sounds Made in Nature

콸콸 (kwal-kwal) – bubbling stream water
솔솔 (sol-sol) – leaves on a gentle breeze
활활 (hwal-hwal) – a burning fire
쨍쨍 (jjaeng-jjaeng) – a blazing sun
추록추록 (chu-rok-chu-rok) – falling raindrops
우르릉 (oo-ruh-rung) – the rumbling of an earthquake or landslide
휭휭 (hwing-hwing) – the wind
철썩철썩 (cholssok-cholssok) – splashing

The most interesting types of Korean onomatopoeias are descriptive sounds. These sounds represent feelings that might not even make an actual sound. For example, the feeling of warmth can be given the sound 따끈따끈 (ttaggeun-ttaggeun). They often sound similar to the corresponding Korean verb for that feeling, for example "따끈따끈" sounds a little but similar to 따뜻하다 (ttatteuthada, to be warm). Using these descriptive onomatopoeias will make you sound more Korean and help you show your emotions and feelings more clearly in Korean.

Descriptive Sounds

따끈따끈 (ttaggeun-ttaggeun) – a feeling of warmth
방글방글 (banggeul-banggeul) – to smile beamingly
반짝반짝 (banjjak-banjjak) – to be glittering or sparkling
미끌매끌 (mikkeul-maekkeul) – to be slippery, taken from 미끄럽다 (mikkeuropda, to be slippery)
올긋볼긋 (olgeut-bolgeut) – to be many colors / picturesque
보들보들 (bodeul-bodeul) – soft and cuddly
뽀글뽀글 (bogeul-bogeul) – the bubbling of boiling water



Tips and Tricks

Learning onomatopoeic words can be difficult, especially if you try and remember them using a regular method such as flashcards. This is because so many of the onomatopoeic words sound similar compared to other Korean words. They are spelled out as they would sound, so contain far more double consonants.

The best method to learn these words is by trying to listen to them naturally. A fun way to learn the words in this article might be to draw a cartoon and write out the onomatopoeia on the that represents the sounds in the illustration, such as a knock on the door, a gunshot, or a villain slipping on a banana skin. 

Reading manhwa (만화, Korean comics) is also a good way to learn Korean onomatopoeia, as actions and sounds are often written out next to the illustrations. Of course, there are thousands of onomatopoeic words in Korean to match the thousands of sounds in real-life. Learning all of them is too big a task to take on at once, so learn the ones that you think that you will use regularly and find most useful.

What is your favorite Korean onomatopoeic word? Leave it in the comments box below.

In the meantime, check out Seoul Searching's Facebook page to enter a contest to win one of three Korean language scholarships at 90 Day Korean.


This article is the property of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.


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May 28, 2015

An Interview with Joey Rositano, Photographer of Jeju Shamanism

Joey Rositano is not your ordinary expat. Hailing from Nashville, the Tennessee native has called Jeju-do, an island off the southern coast of South Korea, home for the past nine years. 

But it's not just the island's tropical charms and beautiful beaches that keep him there. Rather, his interests in shamanism, a religion that has all but become extinct in recent years, as well as his desire to protect it and share its stories with the world, have driven him to produce a documentary and publish a book of photographs that document his experiences on the island.

Spirits: the Photo Book, which will feature 220 full color images that highlight Jeju shrines, as well as shamanic religious practices that are often carried out by its elderly population, including rare ceremonies performed by haenyeo, the island's famed women divers, to ensure safety while performing their treacherous work.


The book is set to be released in mid-June and will be available for purchase in Jeju, as well as on Joey's blog and Facebook page.

Despite his busy schedule preparing for his book launch, Joey took the time to chat with me for an exclusive Seoul Searching interview to discuss his experiences in Jeju, his efforts to preserve shamanism and the future of the island religion.

What is it that fascinates you most about shamanism?

Shamanism is so fascinating, especially an intact system like Jeju’s muism. After immersing myself in the practice and exploring a number of shamanic communities here, I waver between being fascinated by the familiar and the unfamiliar. 

There is so much in shamanism that mirrors the world’s major religions. There are points at ceremonies where I feel I am at a religious gathering back home; the emotions, the sense of community is really familiar. Then there are times when it is so clear that the elderly practitioners of muism view the world very differently than I do. It’s really fascinating that people with intensely different world-views live beside each other on Jeju Island, the elderly and the younger generations. 


How common is shamanism in Jeju?

It’s in every village but to varying degrees. This is a difficult question to answer because we would have to first agree on what shamanism is. I’ll try to answer simply though. As far as fully functioning systems with a living village shaman and regular shrine rites, perhaps around 25-30 villages out of some several hundred villages practice shamanism in its original form. In villages where the line of traditional village shamans has broken, people still worship at shrines and contract shamans from outside to perform ceremonies. 

Elements of shamanism can be found everywhere in Jeju, in Buddhism and even in Confucian rites. For example, people in Jeju celebrate the Mountain God and Sea God ceremonies with Buddhist monks and at each family’s memorial services a table is set for the Door God who is one of the central deities in Jeju muism’s cosmology. Shamanic funerary rites are often performed in houses even if the younger residents aren’t practitioners of shamanism.


How is shamanism and the religion's shrines in Jeju different than shamanism on the mainland?

It’s really different, though it was more similar in the past. In Jeju, the village shaman, called shimbang in Jeju-eo, a variation of Korean that is only orally spoken on Jeju, is the religious leader of each village. The shimbang is responsible for leading ceremonies at shrines and performing ceremonies in village residents’ homes. These ceremonies are performed to call on the gods to bless a new home, to heal the sick or to ensure the souls of the dead are able to reach the afterlife. 

These are just a few examples. The position of shimbang is generally inherited through family lines and the community is organized around this person who has the unique ability to recite the island and village myths. This is no small feat. We’re talking about up to thirty hours or more of recitation in some cases. I understand that this type of village shamanism is more common in Jeju still than the mainland. 

Also, the music is quite different as are the deities. The female deities are more prominent in Jeju. Of course, all these practices take place in Jeju’s language. Some of the gods overlap with gods in the mainland but they play a different role in Jeju’s cosmology. 

In the 1980s, the Korean government attempted to eradicate shamanism in an effort to shed its reputation as a superstitious, "backward" nation. Even today, it is often viewed by mainlanders in a negative light. Are these sentiments shared by those in Jeju? How is the religion perceived by the general public there?

The Anti-superstition Movement had a great effect on shamanism in Jeju. Many village shamans were coerced to give up their practice during that period. Shrines were also destroyed. Yet, the people of Jeju resisted and fought back. That is certainly a theme in the story of shamanism in Jeju. 

Outsiders have tried over the centuries to destroy the practice but the fact is the people of Jeju always pick up the pieces and rebuild their shrines. That said, the movement did a lot of damage. It successfully erased shamanism from the minds of the younger generations. 

I am constantly educating younger people in the city about muism’s myths and shamanic practice. I’m not trying to be arrogant when I do this. I am always shocked to find out how little they know. So I give presentations at high schools and talk to whoever I can. Many younger people from outlying villages know about muism though, as they grew up around their grandparents. Many of them have had encounters with the village shamans when they were young.


What efforts are being made, if any, to protect the shrines?

There are around 400 shrines. A handful have been protected as cultural assets and individual villages have been making efforts to protect their shrines as well. But the overwhelming majority aren’t protected and many are near to being entirely forgotten. 

There are people working on this problem in Jeju and there is a sense that it is an eminent problem as so much development is occurring. Recently two shrines have been damaged and both are seriously threatened. I’ve been working with a local group on this issue and have played a prominent role in the case of Sulsaemit shrine, which was desecrated last year. I want to work on an initiative to protect all of Jeju’s shrines.

You mentioned that each shrine is associated with a myth. Which is the most interesting you've heard?

I really like the myth of Miss Hyun’s shrine on the southeastern side of the island. Miss Hyun, unlike many of Jeju’s deities, is a young goddess, not a grandmother goddess. She was an actual person, a village shaman, who lived several hundred years ago. It is said that she died of grief after discovering her brother’s corpse on the nearby beach. He had returned to Jeju from the mainland with a ceremonial dress for her but then shipwrecked. Today, villagers still hang ceremonial dresses for Miss Hyun in a tree in her shrine. You can see these dresses in some of the photos I included from the book.


Throughout your research on shamanism, for both your book and your documentary, what is one event or discovery that sticks out the most?

There are so many. It seems like every time I go out I learn something new. I particularly like hearing people’s personal stories, stories of miracles or stories of times when people had no one to turn to except the shrine gods. 

I have enjoyed getting to know one elderly shaman called ‘Oh Halmang’ (Grandma Oh) in her village. Over three days we recorded about fifteen hours of Jeju’s myths. She’s a very comical woman and often would clarify the plots of the myths by comparing them to situations in Korean dramas. Also, hearing stories from the period of the Jeju Uprising, also known as the April 3rd massacre of 1948, has been very sobering. 


In your opinion, what is the future of shamanism in Jeju?

Many believe that Jeju’s native shamanism is on its last legs. Many village shamans agree with this view. Ten or fifteen years is generally a number given. Yet, there is a movement building in Jeju. The youth are starting to embrace the mythology and learn a little bit more about the religion. Shamanism is being incorporated into many art forms. Time will tell if this is only a fad. 

It isn’t unheard of for a community to rebuild its traditional religion. Estonia is a great example of a place where shamanic shrines and practices were essentially entirely reinstated. It will be difficult though. The training that village shamans go through is very extensive and takes great commitment. There are some new shamans in training now.

Anything else?

On Jeju, there is a living example of Eurasian shamanism that is extremely valuable. By examining it, we can get a sense of what it was like to witness the pre-Christian era in places such as Europe as well. I want to bring people’s attention to this and show them that shamanism is not what they think it is. As far as protecting the shrines, it’s time to make some noise. 


Interview by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Images courtesy of Joey Rositano.

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April 20, 2015

A New Beginning, Part II

It was almost exactly two years ago that I wrote this post.

In a nutshell, it went on about how I had decided to quit my day job altogether, become fluent in Korean and embark on a new journey as a freelancer, all the while pursuing a job in Korean tourism and teaming up with a start-up company on a big business project. And so on and so forth.

Needless to say, things didn't necessarily go as planned. I dropped out of Sogang University's language course after only one semester due to a lack of time and money; the business that had promised me partnership had deceived me; and I realized that a career in tourism marketing was a lost cause, for many reasons I won't even try to get into here.

No, things didn't go as planned at all.

After about five months of endless nights of struggling to keep up with my lingually-gifted classmates, and barely scraping by financially on a diet of cup noodles and kimbap, I started focusing more on my blog.



Life had given me lemons and I was ready to slice those suckers up and pour the tequila.

Once I started blogging more, companies began approaching me to collaborate, publications began to hire me for writing gigs, I ended up on the cover of SEOUL Magazine and before I knew it, jobs started rolling in and the rut that had me consumed in self-doubt and uncertainty began to wane.

2014 was one of the most exciting years of my life (thus far, at least), and allowed me to tick off at least half my pre-existing bucket list bullet points. In addition to traveling to a number of new places, I befriended some of the most interesting souls I've ever come across who have been pivotal in getting me where I am now. I was also presented with some amazing opportunities.

Some of the more noteworthy include hosting the Little Secrets: Seoul in-flight travel series for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, participating in a policies discussion with Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, writing the online reviews for Frommers.com's Seoul listings, working with a number of Korean actors and actresses, and being a production assistant on the Cooking Channel's Avec Eric. Each taught me something different and gave me the chance me to get my name out, grow professionally, network and understand more clearly what I wanted (and what I DIDN'T want) out of my career.

I also dedicated a lot of my extra free time to trying to better myself and improve my skills. I enrolled in a number of online writing and photography courses, made it a goal to learn something new everyday, started writing a collection of short stories and read as much as possible.



My flexible schedule over the past two years allowed me to reflect on my life and who I wanted to be and be around. I learned that sometimes, it's necessary to let go. No matter how much you want to be a part of something — be it a personal relationship or a business partnership — if the other party isn't willing to put in an equaled effort, or refuses to value your worth by taking advantage of you, it's time to move on.

I've learned that other times, things just aren't meant to be. And that's okay, too. Because better things are waiting and trust in this belief, with steadfast effort and continued hard work, is the only thing that will lead you to that point. And once you get to that serendipitous crossroads, you will realize that what you've found is more suited to your needs that what you thought you wanted.

So here I am, at the crossroads, exactly six years after the day I arrived in South Korea for the first time.



I was very recently presented with a job offer which would put me in a 9-5 (or, more likely, 9-8) office position. At first, I disregarded it, thinking that continuing down the path of working for myself might be the better option. But I thought about it again. And again. And again. And after much consideration and weighing pros and cons and reading far too much self-help material about how to make a decision (WHO HAVE I BECOME?!), I realized that there's no one right way. I made a choice.

Next week, I will be the proud owner of a much coveted E7 visa, and will be an official employee at Edelman, one of the world's top PR firms. I'll be creating and managing digital content for the blogs and social media accounts of Samsung Electronics and POSCO.  I have a lot to learn (and adjust to, being in a corporate setting, and all), but I'm confident this company will help me develop both professionally and personally, and I am excited for what's to come.

And there is more to come. Drum roll, please.

Last fall, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting the great folks of Tuttle Publishing here in Seoul at a book launch. After tossing some ideas around, Eric Oey, the CEO, made my life dream come true by offering me a book deal. So, if everything continues to go as planned, by the end of the year, my own personal guide to Seoul will be published and on sale in book stores around the world.



Now let me set one thing straight. While I feel that each little step I've taken along the way (sometimes so little I felt like I wasn't even moving) has gotten me to where I am now, none of it would've been possible without the help and support of my family and friends, here and abroad. They've stuck with me and supported me, introduced me to new job opportunities, remained patient through all my annoying questions and favor-asking, and most importantly believed in me.

And I'm so thankful to all of you, my readers, for your continued support, as well, as absolutely NONE OF THIS would've happened without Seoul Searching. I'm so thankful for your comments and e-mails and even those few of you who have approached me out and about in public. Nothing makes me happier than knowing you guys learned a little bit about Korea or found the travel information from a certain post helpful.

I hope that I can continue to be of help to you guys, and to give back to Korea at least a tiny little bit of what it has given to me.

Stay tuned!

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