Elwood 5566

Honestly! I’m not a trainspotter!

Posted in Photo diary, services and facilities, Technology by 노강호 on September 26, 2011

In December 2010, I took some photos for a post I intended writing on the KTX (KTX – Gold Standard. Jan 2011). After downloading them on to my UK computer, a glitch erased them. Then this week, I discover that I hadn’t erased the file but transfered it to my palm-reader which as a white elephant, rarely gets used.

The older type KTX, the sleek design inspired by the snout of a shark

The KTX San Ch'eon class engine

The San Ch'eon class was launched in March 2010

carriage entrances where there are usually free bottles of water, computer re-charging booths

one of the most impressive features: the on-board cinema

usually there are around 12 carriages not including two engines and a cinema.

I’m not in the least interested in trains in general and didn’t make a special trip to take these photos. I took them on my way to London back in December 2010. In the UK, train spotting is a hobby, uniquely British and which has a long tradition. Trainspotters have their own fashion’ frequently derided and spend weekends standing on the ends of platforms equipped with cameras and notebooks. I imagine, though it might be a falsehood, that they get extremely excited exchanging chassis numbers or discussing changes in livery.  They are the butt of  numerous jokes and to be called a ‘trainspotter’  is not complimentary.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Tagged with: ,

Books are Bad for Your Back

Posted in Comparative, Education, Technology by 노강호 on May 8, 2011

one of my student’s bags

Student’s bags stuffed full of books seem to  be a concern globally. Of course, it seems only to be books that are bad as often the heaviest and bulkiest bags are ones crammed full of sporting equipment. In the UK, I live near a sports college , a euphemism I’ll refrain from exploring, and kids carry bags stuffed with football, cricket and sporting equipment. And what about kids who deliver newspapers?

Of course, the solution is simple, more online resources (which are not just credible but free) and reading materials produced in CD form. Unfortunately, in the dumbed down world, we’ve had to wait for several generations of software toys to be produced for the worlds cretons while the e-book and palm readers and a myriad of other intellectual potentials dawdle in the backwater. I still can’t effectively read a musical score in anything but book form and haven’t been that impressed with palm readers (though I haven’t tried a Kindle). You can realistically bludgeon someone to death in Grand Theft Auto yet the technology for reading a book is in its infancy.

This year, in an effort to reduce the strain on Korean students backs, many reading resources are being produced in CD format.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Translator Technology – The Dixau DX3

Posted in Korean language, Technology, Uncategorized by 노강호 on April 18, 2011

The Dixau DX3, by Unichal

I’ve had an electronic dictionary but got so annoyed with it I hurled on the floor and smashed it. The problem is electronic dictionaries bought in Korea aren’t as useful for the English learner of Korean as they are for the Korean learner of English. I bought it primarily to study hanja and if I were Korean this would be fantastic but naturally, the keyed in hanja produced a definition in Korean.

I was really excited a few weeks ago when a student appeared in a class with a dictionary that sat on your text and was able to instantly scan a selected word and produce not just an LED definition, but spoken rendition. My interest rapidly sank when I discovered the rendition was only in English.  However, as a piece of technology, it was amazing and translates not just English, but German, Spanish and French. As per usual, it is equipped with audio and video playback.

the cute DX2

In 2007, I bought a Nurian translator and at over 200.000 Won (£100), I wasn’t that impressed. It certainly wasn’t top of the range and I’ve seen much sleeker, user friendly models since. I guess mine was an old model. The DX3 is around 2 years old  and the price in Korea, under 200.000 Won. I recently saw one advertised in the USA for $199.

Other similar devices include Wizcom’s pen-scanner, the Quicktionary, which looks like a cross between a tube of toothpaste and vibrator. The basic costs is between $150-200 and different language packages can be bought at around $20 a time. The list of languages available is extensive but as usual, there are no Korean to English versions.

the Quicktionary - clumsy looking

Links to:

Unichal translators

Wizcom Quictionaries

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

In the Days When Google was Gobble-dee-gook

You naively expected this

Podcast 72

I often mention that ten only a few years ago there was little information available on most aspects of Korean culture. Looking back just a few years the changes that have taken place are truly incredible. For those of us who are older, it is easy to forget that access to a whole range of information, all at your fingertips, is a luxury that at one time did not exist and that ‘one time’ was only a couple of years ago; for those who are younger, it is worth pondering the Korean experience before the incredible growth in access to, and compilation of, information – a process still in development.

and found this

When I decided to come to Korea in 2000, it certainly wasn’t for a job and the only factor influencing my decision to step on the plane was to discover a country which at the time ranked with exotic and mysterious destinations such as Mongolia and Tibet.  Just ten years ago anyone coming to Korea, perhaps more so from Europe than the USA, which has had both a closer relationship with Korea and attracted a substantial number of Korean immigrants, did so blind. Other than the information supplied by your recruiter and the odd book in libraries, access to information or first hand accounts was scant. Those who decide to come to Korea today are able to furnish themselves from the abundance of information available in a range of formats and I suspect many are now lured here not because of  the mysterious, but in search of employment. I in no way mean to demean or underplay the reasons people currently come to Korea and it certainly provides a culture shock. But I envy  those who arrived here in the early 1990’s or 1980’s at a time when Korea was not the place it was in 2000.

when your PC looked like this (Macintosh PC circa 1999)

I kept a diary from my first day and reading through its pages it is clear how the internet has become a fundamental resource in both deliberating whether to undertake the experience and in influencing and developing your understanding of Korea. It may even influence the experiences you engage in while on the peninsula. Change has been so rapid, and the resources we now access  have become so integral, it is easy not just to take fore-granted its impact,  but to even doubt that it was really that difficult to access information in the first place.

and your mobile phone, if you had one, looked like this (2000)

Writing in hangul was a major obstacle and you simply couldn’t go into your PC, make a few tweaks and then be able to write in Korean or hanja and besides, in 2000, few teachers had air-conditioning let alone a personal computer with an internet connection. Before laptops and net-books, most of the waygukin you met were in PC bangs where you spent a substantial part of your week. And If you bought a PC  you were privileged but still required Microsoft Proofing Tools to enable you to write in Korean or hanja and which cost c£70 a package.

Korean dictionaries, certainly in the UK, were small and difficult to buy. On the eve of my first trip, I went to London’s largest bookshop, Foyles, and discovered the entire range of books on the Korean language amounted to two introductory books, a useless dictionary and the small copy of the NTC Compact Korean English Dictionary. I bought all four depleting them of their entire Korean language collection. The dictionaries used transliterated Korean rather than hangul script. Meanwhile, books devoted to Japanese occupied an entire book case.

and this was what you needed to write Hangul (and it was expensive)

I’ve known a number of westerners who arrived in Korea in the late 80’s  and whose Korean, many years later, is still rudimentary. It’s easy to criticise such apparent laziness until you remember there was no internet to support your learning or provide lessons, few decent language courses or dictionaries and unless you were in Seoul or one of the big cities, few language classes. After a few years enduring such conditions it becomes a case of, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ As for hanja, I’ve met westerners proficient in Korean who didn’t even know what hanja was. While access to information on the internet existed, certainly around 2000, there was very little compiled on Korea or Korean culture and the ability to write in hanja characters was difficult, costly and dependent on Korean based language packages. Today, though limited for the non Korean speaker, information on hanja is available and if you aren’t interested in trying to learning it, you can very easily research what it comprises.

a time when you really did have to 'teach yourself'

Once again, in the UK, other than on the Korean war, there were few books on Korean history and finding information on topics such as the Hwa-Rang-Do or one of the Korean dynasties, was difficult. And when you did find such books, usually in academic libraries rather than public ones, they were specialist and somewhat boring for the reader who wanted general information. It has only been in very recent years, by which I mean the last 6 or 7  that such information has appeared and I can remember trawling Google in 2002 or 2003 and finding very little other than specialist academic references to major, Korean historical periods. Exactly the same conditions applied to Korean culture, prominent figures, cooking or geography.  Back in the UK I have a small collection of books on Korean culture, history, cooking, hanja and language etc, but all of them were printed and bought in Korea, and ferried back to the UK. So, on returning to Britain in 2002 and 2004, I felt I had to take a part of Korea home with me because there was no way to access ‘Korea’ in the UK. In 1997, when TOPIK, the Korean language proficiency test was introduced for non-Korean speakers, it attracted 2274 people; in 2009, 180.000 people took the exam and test centers now exist globally.

TOPIK exam hall

Korean related information on the internet was in its infancy; Google, for example, became a registered domain name in 1997  and certainly before 2000 most lay-people researched information from software such as Encarta. In 2000, I was originally going to teach in Illsan, I can remember using the internet to find information on this location and found very little. I have just this moment keyed ‘Illsan’ into Google search and in 14 seconds have access to 1.800.000 written resources and 1200 images. Learning Korean and hanja meant you compiled your own dictionary because the words or characters your learnt weren’t in dictionaries and there were no translation tools such as Babblefish or Google to provide support. Even with hangul, I still keep my own dictionary because western ones, even on the internet, don’t explain words uniquely Korean. As for idioms? Try searching Korea idioms on the internet or the availability of electronic dictionaries which are designed for the English native speaker learning Korean. All resources still being developed.

Resources in their infancy 10 years ago, blogging, vlogging, podcast, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter etc, have since become a fundamental means of sharing experiences and providing first hand information not just about all aspects of Korean culture, but on more specific topics such as life for the foreigner and whether you are vegetarian, teacher or gay, information is readily available. Blogging now provides an immense wealth of information but it is worth remembering that the term ‘blog’ was only coined by Peter Merholz, in 1999. Major blogging software which has helped give rise to the blogging phenomena are recent developments: Blogger emerged in 1999 and WordPress in only in 2003.

Song So, Daegu, November 2000

Even today, unless you live in London, obtaining Korean foodstuff is still almost an impossibility and online order of Korean foodstuffs is undeveloped. None of this is very surprising given there were very few Korean living in the UK until recently. Between 1998-1992, at a university with one of the most diverse students populations in the UK, there was a total absence of Koreans and Russians. Indeed, I was to meet Mongolian students before I met any from Korea. And, I can recall the very first five Korean I met; the first, a taekwondo instructor in London, in 1979, the second, a taekwondo instructor in Paderborn, Germany, in 1986, the third, a student in a school near New Maldon,  London, in 1998, and finally, two Koreans in a hotel in the Philippines, in 1998. I had a fleeting ‘meeting’ with Rhee Ki-ha (now  9th Degree Black Belt, taekwon-do), in 1988 but as a grading taekwon-do student, I was forbidden to talk to him.

Daegu 2001. When westerners were still a little unique

Korean Culture – the Korean Wave, Korean football players playing for British football teams, LG, Nong Shim, I-River etc, all arrived on British shores in the years following my first visit and indeed, this Christmas, I was treated to the first Korean cookery program I have see on British television. However, I suspect its genuineness as the recipes included beetroot and English pear (you can easily buy Asian pear in the UK). And neither chopsticks or kimchi featured!

and before the advent of the Korean wave

Up until a few years ago, if you arrived in Korea from Britain, you probably knew nothing about Korean society and possibly expected ‘second world’ conditions. Much of what you learnt about Korea occurred through accidentally stumbling across something and you certainly couldn’t learn from a computer screen. Indeed, access to a computer was probably detrimental to your Korean experience, removing you from, rather than immersing you in, Korean culture. Today, a computer can certainly enhance your experience and if you need to know how to: use your Korean washing machine, plan a trip, find a doctor during a holiday or translate a sentence from Korean into Blackfoot, it’s at your fingertips. Day to day life in Korea has been ‘made simple’ by the tomes of information we can now access  and only last week I used the internet to help me adjust my ondol heating control. With hundreds of accounts on topics such as soju, the Boryeonng Mud Festival  and kimchi, done to death, a blogger is forced to use a range of media formats (vlogging, photographs, podcasts, even cartoons), and  driven to be more creative and original in their perspective  especially if posting on what are now common, if not mundane subjects.

Link to TOPIK Guide.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Monday Market – King Oyster Mushroom – 새송이 버섯

Posted in plants and trees, Technology, video clips by 노강호 on February 10, 2011

oyster mushrooms growing wild – difficult to find, easy to cultivate

In Britain, we tend to have both mushrooms and toadstools. ‘Toadstools’ is a term, though not exclusive in its use, to describe those cap bearing ‘mushrooms’ which are inedible or poisonous. Unfortunately, many toadstools are indeed edible and there are a number of examples I am competent enough to pick and eat. One of my favourites, which grows and is eaten in Korea, is the parasol mushroom (갓 버섯 – lepioptera procera). In England, this wonderful mushroom is prolific but few people pick it and it is unavailable in shops.

young parasol mushroom – unmistakable

Koreans, like many other European countries, are much more adventurous in their culinary and medicinal use of fungi and a wide range of exotic mushrooms are available. The king oyster  mushroom (새송이 버섯 – pleurotus eryngii) is common  in markets and supermarkets and is also known in Britain as the king trumpet mushroom or French horn mushroom. In Korea it is a common ingredient in stews and a favourite skewered between meat and onion. Though not particularly flavoursome, when cooked it has a meaty, abalone-like texture. Though difficult to find, as they often grow under forest ‘debris,’ they are easy to cultivate.

an oyster mushroom farm

Baby oysters are excellent in soups and stew and freeze easily

Korea is one of the leading producers of  the king oyster mushroom and grown in temperature controlled environments with air cleaning, water de-ionizing and automated systems,  farming is high-tech.  One of the most successful producers is Kim Geum-hee who now owns six high-tech farms producing over 5 tons of mushroom daily.

Kim Geum-hee a pioneer in the art of mushroom farming

Kim Geum-hee is an adorable character and one of Korea’s outstanding agriculturalists. I fell in love with her personality after just one video  partly because the added translations are a little ‘studenty’ but ironically enhance the videos imbuing  them with an enchanting cuteness.


“Photo by Catie Baumer Schwalb, pitchforkdiaries.com, used with permission.”

The videos about her success are interesting and well worth watching. ‘Kim Geum-hee ‘had a dream about mushroom,’ and later, ‘after graduating fell in love with mushroom.’ Oh, dear, I have bad thoughts.  When I see a room full of cap-type mushrooms I can’t help being reminded of penises. I’m sure many other westerners would have the same response and besides, the stinkhorn’s botanical name is phallus impudicus and before it  was biological classified it was known as, ‘fungus virilis penis effige‘ ( Gerard, 1597).  It’s not just me! You can poke a Korean in the eye with even the most phallic of fungi, of which there are a number of amazing varieties, and not the slightest link will be made to a penis. To Koreans that offensive fungi is simply a mushroom!

There are some excellent ways to use the king oyster mushroom:

Pitchfork Diaries


Vegan and Korean

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

KTX – Gold Standard

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, services and facilities, Technology by 노강호 on January 29, 2011

the impressive KTX, launched on April 1 2004 with speed of 186 mph (later increased to 190 mph)

KTX 1 launched April 1 2002 with top working speed of 300 kph (186 mph)

(This was later increased to 305 kph (190 mph))

KTX 2 (Sancheon) introduced March 2 2010 with top working speed of 350 kph (217 mph) It is named ‘Sancheon’ after the Cherry Salmon

KTX 3 with a top working speed now  likely to be 370 kph (230 mph) is due to appear in 2015

HEMU 400X will take speeds to 400 kph (249 mph). Line test begin in 2012. This is the second of 2 experimental trains the other being the HSR-350x

Cherry Salmon

If I hadn’t been so tired after almost 32 hours of traveling, I’d have taken some photos. I am totally in love with the Korean KTX train service and traveling first class is well worth the extra money. Though the British 125, high-speed train towing 7-8 carriages at a maximum speed of 125 mile per hour, has been the backbone of British intercity travel for thirty years, it is far from the golden standard of travel even if you sit in first class. And it might not be upgraded within the next 10 years! The KTX service is certainly a limited service, operating to only a few destinations but despite being less than 10 years old,  services are being extended and new engines and rolling stock introduced.  Towing 18 carriages, at a top speed of just over 200 mph, the compartments are fairly quiet  and you might be fooled into thinking the train isn’t traveling so fast. However, having kept an eye on the carriage plasma screens, where the speed is constantly visible, we traveled at about 290 kph for most of the journey (that’s c. 180 mph). The KTX, modeled on the French TGV system, is a technological masterpiece but  it isn’t just technology and speed that make a service ‘gold standard.’

British first-class train travel when it was more than just ‘oik’ free

When trains stop at stations prior to departing for another destination, a small army of cleaners purge the train and ‘spruce it up.’  In the UK, a class divided society, first-class bestows kudos and is a great way to feel superior over fellow travelers by reminding them you have more money. Apart from the absence of  ‘oiks,’ there is very little else to attract potential customers and first class on British trains can hardly be compared to business-class on airlines. KTX first-class however, is quite different and very comparable to airline business class standards.  A carpet with at least a little pile cushions your feet and it’s clean, a fact you can tell because the light fawn colour highlights any dirt – which there isn’t. I don’t remember if British Rail has carpets on the first-class floor but if they do, they are certainly not a light colour but most definitely dark blue or brown or some other dirt-masking colour.   The seats are broad and spacious and their backs can be adjusted with an electrically assisted motor, to provide ultimate comfort. A small buffet car provides refreshments and is the headquarters for the refreshment trolleys that service both first and second class. There are male and female toilets, baby changing and feeding stations, small recesses to power mobile devices and wi-fi internet access and sockets for powering computers are provide throughout the train. In all carriages plasma screens  provide a range of information and are coordinated with the journey’s progress so that as a program ends the approaching station is announced and often there may then follow some useful information on that town or city. On first class, snacks such as peanuts or biscuits and bottled water are complimentary provisions.

The KTX cinema carriage

Staff are highly visible on trains and their bearing and dress is impeccable and perhaps it is this more than anything else that puts the KTX service on a par with the business class of an airline. In addition, if you’re making a longer journey, the train’s cinema carriage provides a unique experience. The next wave of KTX rolling stock will have first class seats that can swivel 360 degrees and though I’m not sure how it will materialise, but several reports claim the new rolling stock will have basic cooking resources for passengers. I can’t imagine this meaning trains will have gas ranges and barbecue facilities so imagine it might mean publicly available microwaves.



Meanwhile, back in ‘Broken Britain,’ from early 2011, London-Scotland routes will be terminating the refreshment trolley to second class carriages while  first class provisions will be upgraded with passengers being served, at their seats, as many sandwiches and drinks as they can consume before  reaching their destination.  Management seem to think this will attract more customers but with British rail prices one of the most expensive in Europe, you have to be a retard to spend the equivalent of between the price of a two course all for the sake of  some complimentary sandwiches.  British rail sandwiches were never very palatable even when you paid inflated prices for them. I am reminded of the doomed Titanic and the manning of lifeboats in order of class.

This model, currently being developed, is able to tilt

The experimental HSR 350X which reaches speeds of 350 kph (217 mph)

I am very tempted to make a first-class journey on one of East Coast’s trains simply to see how many sandwiches I could gorge myself on before the train reaches the first stop, where I would alight.

At this point I did a little research. A ticket  from London King’s Cross, to Nottingham, on an East Coast train, which can be used at anytime of day making it comparable to the KTX ticket, on which there are no time restrictions,  costs £64 second-class and £90 first class. That’s a difference of £26. At 2 hours 11 minutes, the traveling time is about 20 minutes longer than Seoul to Daegu. If I travel 2nd class the difference will easily buy a two course meal in a decent restaurant or,  short of £9, book a room in Nottingham’s Days Hotel.  If I go first-class I am sure I could  eat at least ten sandwiches and a couple of cups of tea and with a sandwich or two in my pocket, I could certainly eat my way into a substantial part of the profit the company would otherwise take.

the sleek shark-like design was apparently deliberate

The blue shark. An urban myth, perhaps?

Out of interest, Seoul to Daegu cost approx £38 (first class) with the distance being 322 kilometers. King’s Cross to Nottingham is 174 kilometers.  Based on departure and arrival times, I calculated the KTX travels at approx 175 kph or 108 mph while the Nottingham destined train, an intercity train, travels at 108 kph or 49 mph.  Using my rather basic skills of arithmetic, this means the KTX costs 19 pence per mile (12 pence per kilometer) while the East Coast company train costs 83 pence per mile (51 pence per kilometer). Travel on a comparative service in terms of ticket usage and  train service means the UK service is 4.37 times more expensive and yet  2.2o times slower than a journey on KTX. The London to Aberdeen journey is a long haul of  8 hours thirty minutes which means a second class passenger is going to be very thirsty and hungry at the end of their journey. However, simply pay the extra £50 and all the sandwiches and tea you want will be waiting for you.

The KTX Sancheon began service on March 2 2010 and reaches 230 kph (205 mph)  KTX 3, with a speed of 250 kph (217 mph) will be introduced in 2015

The shape of things to come. The next generation capable of speeds in excess of 400 kph (248 mph) are already being planned

Related Articles

(Several years ago Korail reduced the numbers of staff on the KTX and dismissed a large number of attendants. Many took the matter to court and even went  on hunger strike. Link to Korea Times article.)

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Tagged with: , , , ,