The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Travel (page 1 of 7)

Screening Travelers from Saudi Arabia Is A Great Idea

Maybe, it’s not over yet . . .camel_mers


After the MERS outbreak in Korea has been eliminated, according to Wired:

IN THE LAST 24 hours, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health has reported ten new cases of MERS in the capital city of Riyadh, and one death from the virus. Those numbers follow reports of nine new cases yesterday, along with two deaths. According to Helen Branswell, one of WIRED’s favorite infectious disease reporters, the state hasn’t seen that many new infections in a day since the height of the MERS outbreak last year.

Remember this whole MERS panic and tourism flight from Korea started with one man returning from Saudi Arabia.

A Chinese Sewol?


Map: The Guardian

Reports from several news sources report that a Chinese cruise ship has capsized and sunk on the Yangtze River in the midst of a storm.  458 people were aboard, at least eight have been rescuced and amongst which were the captain and chief engineer (who are under arrest) were among the 8-12 people reported rescued (note: there are different reports running around now).  The ship sank within minutes supposedly due to a storm and no SOS was sent out.  Some of the people that escaped first notified the authorities about the ship (cite).

According to Reuters:

. . . Some passengers are still alive inside the hull of a passenger ship carrying 458 people, many of them elderly Chinese tourists (cite)

Among those on board the ship were 406 tourists, aged from around 50 to 80, on a tour organized by a Shanghai tour group, and 47 crew members.

CCP officials have acted quickly, sending many officials and men to the scene, if nothing else to avoid the blowback that has plagued the Korean Government, however much of this already is an erie echo of the Sewol tradgedy:

The accident is certain to catalyze widespread public calls for investigations into both the company and into the government officials who oversee safety regulations and boat traffic along the Yangtze. Ordinary Chinese believe corruption among local officials is rampant, and the Communist Party has made rooting out corruption a priority. (cite)

A large salvage ship has already been dispatched already to try to pull the ship upright in about 17 meters of water and there is a report of workers attempting to cut through the hull of the ship with a blowtorch.

State media said local Hubei law enforcement had mustered 40 inflatable boats for the rescue effort, while more than 1,000 central government law-enforcement officials had been dispatched to the site. (cite)

Considering the concerted attempts at controlling media reportage from within the PRC, it remains to be seen just what happened since there is little released at this point and it is still uncertain just how many people have survived this tragic accident. According to one twitter account:

. . . Non-swimmer Zhang Hui survived after floating in darkness for 10 hours . . .

A few more details have emerged about the extraordinary survival story of tour guide Zhang Hui. He owes his life to a life jacket and a branch after surviving in the water for 10 hours despite not being able to swim. He told Xinhua agency that he scrambled out of a window in torrential rain clutching a life jacket. “Wave after wave crashed over me; I swallowed a lot of water,” Reuters quoted him telling Xinhua. He said that he was unable to flag down passing ships and finally struggled ashore as dawn broke holding onto a branch. (cite)

which implies that least several hours passed before rescue efforts were made.

Addendum: June 4, 2015

This is sounding more and more like the Sewol tragedy:

In an interview, Yan Zhiguo, a director of the company that owns the ship, acknowledged that the hull of the Oriental Star was modified in 1997, an adjustment that could have altered its center of gravity and made it more susceptible to tilting over. And a former member of the ship’s crew said that its furniture was not bolted down, allowing weight on the ship to shift more easily in rough waters and making it more vulnerable to capsizing.
The Oriental Star was one of six vessels cited in 2013 for unspecified violations as part of an effort to improve the safety of ships on the Yangtze River, according to a document on the website of the Jiangsu Maritime Safety Administration. (cite)


MBC says Korean Tourism is “Shameful.”

The blog koreaBANG comes out with some good stuff every now and then.  Added bonus?  They translate some Korean reader comments into English.  Yesterday they outlined MBC’s exposé on how some tourists (namely from that country just across the Yellow Sea) were being “taken for a ride” and how it could be damaging Korea’s long-term reputation as a tourist destination.

Korean tourism has made great strides over the past ten years, from 4.8 million tourists (or “number of arrivals”) in 2003 to 12.2 million in 2013.  However, despite the growth, there is some evidence that Korea may not be getting a lot of value from the increased numbers.  Part of it is structural (i.e. lower income of Chines visitors vis-à-vis Japanese tourists, the rising value of the won, etc.), however, some of it may be due to unscrupulous Korean merchants.  According to the MBC report a lot of tourists are getting scammed, leaving a bad taste in tourists’ mouths and threatening Korea’s long-term tourism growth:

However, Korea may not be drawing as much value from their tourist numbers than they perhaps should.  According to the MBC report a lot of tourists are getting scammed, leaving a bad taste

The shop owner: “This jacket is 120,000 won. The price is so cheap compared to its high quality.” The Chinese man paid about 210,000 won for 3 pieces of clothing.

The journalist tried buying the same clothes in the same shop.

(Journalist: “How much is it?”)
Shop owner: “You can take it for 55,000 won, if you pay cash.” When the journalist bought the same clothes that the Chinese man did, the price was about 100,000 won cheaper.


… Police investigated a Korean restaurant for Chinese tourists only, qualified as an outstanding restaurant by Tourism Board Organization. In the kitchen they found food that had passed the expiration date, and even leftovers that had been stored in the freezer.

Police: “3 years has passed (since the expiration date), 3 years.”

The same problem is occurring with accommodations. Among 70% with quality credentials have been reported for not meeting the requirements of a quality guarantee. Organizations awarding these credentials can also not be trusted…

The government has decided to loosen many regulations in order to raise the number of foreign tourists to 20 million by 2017. However, people point out that the government should combine all the quality assurance systems into one, and run it well.

So, there could be some long-term issues with Korean tourism and greater infrastructure integrity needs to be maintained while the industry continues to grow.  So, who has Korea decided to have helm the ship in these challenging waters?  Well, one important appointee is a former actor named Johnny Yune.  Ah, Johnny.  A very colorful guy who’s Korean-American (i.e. he’s got a U.S. passport), got his big break when he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1980s and starred in the comedy movie “They Call Me Bruce?” (a surprising hit movie making almost $17M in only 325 screens in 1982).  He also had his own talk show on some UHF channel called “The Johnny Yune Show.”  Wow, can’t make this stuff up!  Well, there’s always a chance that Johnny will pull a Reagan (another former actor) and perform better than expected.

A couple more interesting Korean tourism factoids:

  • Russians apparently spend a lot of money in Korea while they are visiting.  Apparently for “medical tourism” (yes, plastic surgery is counted in those “medical tourism” numbers).
  • As far as Korea’s tourism has come, its overall size is still small compared to the rest of the OECD. Korea’s direct tourism industry accounts for about 2% of the GDP, whereas the OECD’s average is 4.7%.  However, that isn’t the median (which is probably somewhere around 3.8 to 4.0%).  The outlier Greece has skewed the average a bit with its whopping 16% of GDP.  Wow, they sure are getting all they can out of some warm weather and some ancient ruins.

South Korea Is A Space Nation with A Groove Now

rocketFinally, South Korea has launched a satellite into orbit around the Earth, though we will not know if the payload has been positioned properly until Thursday.

Iran has also allegedly launched a monkey into space, however, that just doesn’t impress as much as the KSLV-1 launch does.

Also, to remind people just how different this rocket launch and the development of such really is from what the people up north do, here is a bit of my favorite K-pop, B1A4 performing “Beautiful Target”.  Please turn up your volume and click on the photo.


Birthdays this week

I thought some of you readers might be interested in knowing that two of our long-time resident foreigners in Korea – Brother Anthony and Frederic Dustin celebrated/are celebrating their birthdays this week.  Both of these men have done a great deal for Korea -not only Korea Studies but also for their everyday acts of kindness.

Brother Anthony just had a piece come out in Korea Times a couple of days ago that I enjoyed reading.  I think it is a shame that so much of Korea’s past is being lost in the present.  Brother Anthony is also the president of the Royal Asiatic Society – Korea Branch (RAS-KB).

Fred Dustin has been – for the most part – in Korea since 1952 and lives on Korea’s self-proclaimed Hawaii of the Far East.  (I still remember the first time I went to the island with the military so many decades ago during the winter.  I was there for training and had been told it was a tropic paradise – I arrived to snow).  Mr. Dustin runs the Kimnyoung Maze Park (English tab at the top but the Korean site gives the best images of the park), cares for a large number of cats and does a lot of good work for the community that (his) modesty prevents me from going on about.

If you get a chance – come and see one of the RAS-KB’s lectures or go on one of their tours.  And speaking of tours – why don’t you visit the Kimnyoung Maze Park – the oldest maze park in Korea.  When you go to one of these events why don’t you say hi to the gentlemen and wish them a happy birthday.  Also tell them you read about them on The Hole.

Jeju World Wide

With the New Year comes a new site that I am sure many of you will find interesting.   It is Jeju World Wide.

It wasn’t too many years ago that it was really difficult to find anything in English about places outside of Seoul.  Now there are several including Busan Haps, Daegu Pockets and, of course, Jeju World Wide.  These online newspaper/magazines have a lot to offer but, for the most part, seem to be relatively unknown to people outside of their immediate area.  Hopefully this posting will help them gain some well-deserved interest.

Jeju World Wide is a must for anyone thinking about or planning on visiting the island.  Even if you are not going to the island there are a lot of articles that readers on the Hole might find interesting such as Dr. David Nemeth’s recollections as a Peace Corps volunteer on Jeju Island in the 1970s.

In addition, there are maps to the various historic and natural sites, interviews and cultural information.

As this will be constantly updated and added to – in the words of a dreaded first sergeant from my past – “It would behoove you to keep your self acquainted” with the Jeju World Wide.

You don’t have to go far to see the sunrise on New Year’s

The Dong-A Ilbo has a list of good places in the Seoul—Gyeonggi-do region to see the first sunrise of the year.

Or you could always do what I did and hike up Mt. Taebaeksan.

A Dangerous Place to Vacation

I occasionally hear from my family or friends “Isn’t it dangerous living so close to North Korea?” and, well, it could be given the wrong circumstances but, statistically, South Korea is, by far, more safe a place to vacation than certain other places that experience mysterious tourist deaths. Per the linked article:

. . . I used to work in Phuket in 5-star hotels and have seen it to be a common practice to poison foreigners. It has never been made public but I do know of the poisoning of an executive chef, a Swiss sales and marketing girl and a general manager who almost died… the police never took any action and neither did the owners and it was kept quiet…” You receive messages that echo your anger and frustration: “something is rotten in Thailand.” Messages that hint at cover ups and conspiracies: “Everyone blamed bug poison….but there is something scarier going on.”

Suwon now Mecca of toilet reverence

Will there eventually come a day when other cities refer to themselves as, “The Suwon of (insert country name here)?”

Probably not. But Suwon has carved out its niche as the first city in the world to have a toilet-themed park.

Though it opened earlier this year, the BBC recently ran a piece on it, which was then followed by several large media outlets worldwide –giving ample reading material should you visit.

You can check out the city tourist site for more info on “Suwon’s Restroom Culture.” And if you find simply visiting the park inadequate for your desired level of involvement, you can also join the Suwon Restroom Culture Association.

All jokes aside on constructing a theme-park paying homage to the can, it’s great that Suwon puts effort into improving public restrooms. George Constanza would certainly approve.

Lonely Planet and Korea

According to Travel Backboard:

Lonely Planet’s newly released ‘Best in Travel 2013’ names Korea as number three of the top ten destinations in the world to visit in 2013.  South Korea’s growing popularity with visitors to the country has seen a big rise in interest from foreign visitors in recent years.

With over ten million foreign visitors expected to visit Korea by the end of this year the word is out about Korea as a popular travel destination.  No doubt the popularity of PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ has added to this interest in Korea from around the world with over half a billion hits now on Youtube.

Lonely Planet’s endorsement of Korea as a great place to visit will no doubt encourage a lot more visitors from around the world to plan a visit to the country.  Lonely Planet mentions Korea’s great outdoors and recreational activities like mountain climbing, fishing, golfing and skiing as becoming more popular with foreign visitors as they get to know the country better.

Not so sure about this last part:

Korea is a country of inspiration, where you become one of the locals and truly experience life as it is for Koreans today.

Arirang TV interview on Korea’s mountains and their spirits

Just to let you all know, i will be the guest on the 1-hour “Heart to Heart” interview-show of Arirang TV tomorrow (Monday 22nd), broadcast at 9am, 3pm & 9pm (and once more at 3am Tuesday — all are Korea time zone of course). It’s a wide-ranging discussion of my research on the Sanshin Mountain-spirits, the sacred mountains of Korea, my advocacy of UNESCO designation of them as World Heritage Sites, and the improved promotion of Korean Tourism — and a little personal stuff. See this page of their site.

If you miss those broadcasts and still want to see it, or if you want to show it to somebody else, a few days later it will be in their VOD service (video-on-demand archives) in the Heart to Heart section. You can watch it anytime there; have to register but that’s free.

Maybe, this bit of publicity will help me get a new full-time job :-)

Home safe

I’m now home in Seoul, having returned from Jeju-do on Saturday night.


Spent a very pleasant Sunday enjoying a few drinks and cigars with friends, and am now ready to resume blogging.

I’m still alive, folks

Just a couple of iPhone shots from Jeju.

Will return to Seoul tomorrow night.


Town of Seongsan, seen from Seongsan Ilchulbong.


Seongsan Ilchulbong, seen from Ando Tadao’s sublime Genius Loci, Seopjikoji.

Slow boat to Jeju

Now somewhere off Korea’s west coast on the boat to Jeju from Incheon.

Departed Incheon at 7pm. Will arrive in Jeju, God willing, at 8:30am.


Oh my, look at all the seagulls.


Hmm… sea slop. Actually quite tasty.

What was that? Where can I go for some nice riverside walks in spring?

Why, I’m glad you asked.

And so is the Chosun Ilbo.

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