Movie Night in Seoul

Greetings Dear Readers!

I know I just posted last night, but this is a special announcement:

For those of you who are in Korea, I’ll be attending a movie premier this coming Friday, July 25th at 8pm and I’d like you to come with me!


The film is called “The View from Here,” directed by Kevin Lambert, and American expat living in Korea for the last five years. Following the film will be a short, directed by Ray Salcedo, called “Caliban’s.” Ray is also an American expat who has been thriving in Korea for more than 7 years. You may remember him from my past blog post on his theatrical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Seoul Shakespeare Company back in May.

The main film, “The View from Here,” follows an expat couple struggling with sex and addiction. The short, “Caliban’s,” is a dark satire about a restaurant that serves taboo delicacies to the top 1% of society. After the films there will be a Q & A session with the cast and crew.


This event is one night only and it’s only 10,000 won a ticket. I’ve been offered two free tickets to the first two people to reply through karliinkorea’s comment section or through my facebook page that they would like to go.

Here are the facts:

Who: Kevin Lambert’s “The View from Here” and Ray Salcedo’s “Caliban’s”

What: Indie movie night in Seoul

When: Friday, July 25th, 2014. 8-10pm.

Where: Seoul Cinema. On the Seoul Metro subway, get off at “Jongno 3ga” station (line 1, 3 and 5 connect there) and leave exit #14

Why: Because why not? Support your fellow dreamers and come out to play!

How much: 10,000 won (unless you are one of the first to respond that you’d like to go, then it’s on the house.) If you’d like to go and but didn’t make the freebie, it’s still only 10,000 won so come out and have some popcorn with me!


E-mail Miles Meili at to reserve your ticket. If you’re the winner of one of the two tickets, I’ll let them know and make sure your name is on the list.

Interesting side note, did you know that Seoul Cinema is one of the oldest theatres in Korea? It’s true. It used to be a single screen theatre during its prime. Now the theatre has grown to an 11 screen film house and is still a popular destination for major film events in the country.

Here are some trailers. Click the links to check them out. Hope to see you there!

The View from Here


Weddings in Korea

I went to a Korean friend’s wedding today and finally got to experience the cultural collision of the modern Korean wedding. A typical Korean wedding nowadays takes place in a wedding hall which is a huge building with wedding rooms on several floors. Each couple has their photo and wedding information on a big board in the main hall, so you know what floor to head to.

The main hall of the 3rd floor, letting us know we had the right couple and were in the right place.

The main hall of the 3rd floor, letting us know we were in the right place.

My friend’s ceremony was to start at 2pm but if you arrive before then, you will find the groom and the parents in the main area greeting guests and exchanging greetings. We saw her husband and in-laws and went over to say hello. Then we went to a side room called the “bride’s room” where the bride was seated in a pretty room on a decorative sofa where she greets her guests. As the guests enter, they can sit down with the bride and have a chat and take some pictures. There is professional photographer there to snap shots of all the people who take a turn on the couch. The bride was beautiful in her long white gown, sitting stiffly from the corset woven into her dress.

Myself and the bride.

Myself and the bride.

The bride with her sister (on the couch), brother in-law and in-law family.

The bride with her sister (on the couch), brother in-law and in-law family.

Once the time hit 2pm, the bride left her sitting room to join her husband and officially present herself and her husband to the crowd. After a pause for photos, they walked down a long elevated runway towards the podium and the waiting officiator.

Walking down the isle.

Walking down the isle.

The officiator made a few statements and the bride and groom did some listen and repeat drills before exchanging rings. All of this was wrapped up by 2:10. Once the official business was sorted, the bride and groom sang a duet together then went to greet the parents of each side of the family and gave each a traditional bow and a hug of support.

The main event room.

The main event room.

The main ceremony.

The main ceremony.

Soon after, the ceremony was over and it was time for some pictures. First all of the family members of both sides took the stage for a photo shoot. Next up was all the friends and we were coached on different hand signals and motions to do for the photos. By the time all of this is done, it had only been about half an hour since the wedding started. Then it was off to the big buffet area for a feast fit for a king.

Both families together.

Both families together.

Guests at Korean weddings don’t give gifts, only envelops of money which is to pay for their meal and then some. For younger people, it is expected to give 50,000 won (approx.$50 CAD) and for older people and/or married people, it is expected to give 100,000 won (approx. $100). Once you give your envelope to the front desk, they give you a ticket for the buffet. If you don’t pay, you don’t eat.

A table is set up for guests to put their money into envelopes and sign their family names.

A table set up for guests to put their money into envelopes and sign their family name.

While the guests were eating, the bride and groom went off to change into their traditional Korean clothes, called hanboks. Once in their traditional dress, they went into a separate room in the hall to formally “meet” the grooms parents. This tradition is called “paebek” and it used to be the first time the bride was meeting the in-laws for real, back in the day. Nowadays they already know each other well, but most families still perform this tradition. Once they’ve performed paebek they enter the dining hall and go around to all the guests to thank them for coming. It’s a long and busy day for both the bride and groom and they usually don’t get a chance to eat until after they’ve made the rounds in the dining hall.

The "paebek" room to formally meet the groom's parents.

The “paebek” room to formally meet the groom’s parents.

The bride in groom in traditional hanboks.

The bride in groom in traditional hanboks.

I asked the friend I was with if Korean style weddings ever do wedding speeches, games or dancing after the ceremony and I was told it’s up to the couple to decide. In their case, it was quite simple and to the point and we were eating within an hour of arriving at the hall. The dining area had no set-up for speeches or a dance area as many are used to in the west. Basically people just ate and went home shortly afterwards. The whole event had us in and out and back home in about 3 hours.

IMG_20140720_4 IMG_20140720_5

I was telling my friend how western weddings usually work with the evening dinner, speeches and a night of dancing and music and she was surprised a wedding could take so long. Quite a difference in culture for sure, but it was interesting to see the couple doing the main ceremony in western style dress with the western format of exchanging rings in front of an official with no religious overtones. Many Koreans say this modern style of wedding ceremony is like a “factory style” where they just turn over couple after couple all weekend long in one building. To me, it was still beautiful and also refreshing and efficient. For those who don’t like the big to-do that goes on all night, this kind of wedding would be perfect for you :)

How to Find a Good Dentist in Korea

This week’s topic was requested by Ben Paz of Utah. Ben wants to know how to find a “trustworthy dentist” in Korea. I’ve got three leads on this one, so lets roll ‘em out.

1) Ask A Friend

Personally, I haven’t been to a dentist since I got here over a year ago, but I will soon and my good Korean friend has offered to take me to hers. I’m not sure if he speaks English well, but my friend highly recommends him and will be there with me for interpretation. I would start by asking a friend if they can recommend anyone and ask if the dentist speaks English before heading out on your own. If they can’t speak English and you’re concerned you may have problems, see if a Korean friend can join you and offer to buy them lunch for taking the time to help. If you live in or near Seoul, you could always head to Itaewon and just have a look around as well. Itaewon has a large US Army base and has many services for the soldiers and their families. It may be a little more expensive than other towns, but it’s an option.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

2) Search is a site for English teachers in Korea to share teaching materials and ideas for the classroom. It also has discussion threads on all things about life in Korea, including dentists all across the country. For best results, go to first, then type in “dentist+waygook” and you’ll see a link to the site. The link should say “the dental thread” and it’s huge. It’s a compilation of recommendations and warnings about good places to go and places to avoid in all provinces of Korea. You may have to do a lot of reading but reviews are honest and provide current info on where to go and who to trust. If you’re feeling lucky, you can also type in “dentist”, your city name, then “waygook” and see what comes up.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

3) Search is an international database for doctor/medical services around the world. I’ve used it before for dermatology clinics in Seoul and it worked out well. The site has customer reviews and detailed information like hours, price range and appointment making options too. They usually mention if they have English services too, so keep your eye out for that. Once you’re on the site, you can type in the kind of doctor or clinic you’re looking for and the city name and results will come up. You can search for cosmetic dentists, braces, restorative, emergency and so on. Choose one with multiple reviews and if past clients are happy, you probably will be too. You can usually e-mail the clinic with any follow up questions you may have and from there you’ll get some insight as to what their English abilities are.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Thank you for writing Ben; I hope this helped to answer your question. If anyone else has a question or would like to request a topic, leave a comment below or post a message on facebook  and I’ll get on it right away. Until next time Dear Readers, be well.

Interview with a Volunteer in Japan

On March 11th, 2011, northeastern Japan was hit by a magnitude 9 earthquake. Less than an hour later, massive tsunami waves crashed into many of Japan’s northeastern coastal cities. Flooding was rampant, leaving over 18,000 people dead, mostly from drowning. The nation is still recovering and as of last summer, more than 300,000 people were still living in temporary housing. This unforgettable event became known as the Great Sendai Earthquake or the Great Tohoku Earthquake. A month after the devastation, the Mayor of Ofunato invited a volunteer organization called All Hands Volunteers to help repair damages. A friend of mine became one of over a thousand people who flew there to help out during All Hands’ 6 month stay. Here is her story.

Temporary housing for locals. Photo courtesy of Grace.

Temporary housing for locals.
Photo courtesy of Gracie Blaze.

Q: How long were you in Japan and what part exactly?

A: I was there for 3 months, in a city called Ofunato, Iwate prefecture which is the second largest prefecture of Japan. It’s in the Tohoku region, the most eastern point in the north.

The earthquakes point of origin and the effected areas.

The earthquakes point of origin and the effected areas.

Q: How did you get to work with All Hands Volunteers?

A: I’ve always had a strong desire to do disaster relief work for years, but larger corporations would always require a degree. I thought, really? I need a random degree to learn how to use saws, demolition a house and remove tsunami debris? After the tsunami struck in March of 2011 and having family in Japan, the need to help grew even stronger. While researching different ways to help via the interwebs, I came across All Hands Volunteers. They are a company that does not charge for volunteering, provides a place to sleep (sleeping bag not included), 3 meals per day, 6 days a week. Volunteers are responsible for funding the plane ticket to the project and back home, the cost of their own meals on the one day off, plus any activities off-site (i.e. sightseeing).

Retouching photos found. One of several other jobs that do not require heavy lifting. All restored photos were put into albums and returned to a library run by city volunteers. Citizens could look through and take what was theirs. Photo courtesy of Grace.

Retouching photos found. One of several other jobs that All Hands does. All restored photos were put into albums and returned to a library run by city volunteers. Citizens could look through and take what was theirs.
Photo courtesy of Gracie Blaze.

Q: When you first arrived, what was your biggest surprise?

A: The gravity of destruction was far more severe than I was prepared for. Buildings and houses torn to pieces, parts of people’s lives strewn about, cars and boats washed ashore, debris everywhere. There were several large foreshocks (smaller quakes before the main eruption) that started from March 9th, then 3 major earthquakes within an hour on March 11th. The ports of the city we were in as well as the neighboring city of Rikuzentakata were almost entirely destroyed by the tsunami that followed, which made heights up to 3 stories. Over the following months, approximately 800 aftershocks were felt throughout the region.


Destruction in Ofunato. Photo courtesy of Gracie Blaze.

Despite all the destruction, what was truly inspiring was the positive message of “Gambarou Ofunato!” all around and the resilient spirit of the people. The word, ‘gambarou’ doesn’t have a direct translation but my friend, Brett, explained it to me best: “It’s like when you’re about to go into battle and your grandpa is sending you off from the lawn saying, ‘Gambarou!’ Kind of a ‘let’s keep on fighting and never give up’ sort of message.”

Volunteers pulling a float during a festival. Banner reads 'Gambarou Ofunato.' Photo courtesy of Grace.

Volunteers pulling a float during a festival. Banner reads ‘Gambarou Ofunato.’
Photo courtesy of Gracie Blaze.

Q: What do you think is the best selling point for people to live and volunteer in Japan?

A: Volunteering allows everyone to learn new skills. For example, I fell in love with carpentry, power drills and saws. Deconstructing houses and demudding under floorboards will always have a very special place in my heart.

Grace in action: Making a custom fence.  Photo courtesy of Frank Ferretti.

Grace in action: Making a custom fence.
Photo courtesy of Frank Ferretti.

Some of the deepest connections I have ever made were with those I met during my 3 months in Ofunato. When you sleep 15 people to a room and spend 24 hours together, you learn to get comfortable with (and to be considerate of) each other very quickly. Volunteers come from all over the world, from different walks of life and at different stages of their lives but all with the same goal: to help others. That bond is what keeps us together. Even 3 years on, some of the volunteers have gone back to Ofunato during festivals to reunite with fellow volunteers and locals. Some even get together in each other’s home cities.

Sleeping arrangements for the All Hands Volunteers.  Photo courtesy of Grace.

Sleeping arrangements for All Hands Volunteers.
Photo courtesy of Gracie Blaze.

Q: What would you say is the downside to living and volunteering in Japan?

A: At some point most of us have to go home. Back to our jobs, our day-to-day lives. I miss the life of being on projects, the grueling days of shoveling debris into 10 ton mud bags in 30 degree (Celsius) weather, the camaraderie and so much more. Most of all I miss the friends I made who live in different parts of the world. Thank goodness for the modern technology of Skype, Viber, and Facebook.

Team work! Building a custom fence. Photo courtesy of Grace.

Team work! Building a custom fence.
Photo courtesy of Gracie Blaze.

Q: What would you advise someone who is about to go volunteer in Japan to pack in their suitcase?

A: A laptop to keep in touch. However, if you’re in rural areas, this may be a waste of space. A ‘phrases and etiquette’ book. The effort to learn basic ‘please and thank yous’ in the mother tongue are always appreciated wherever you go. The etiquette section would teach that certain customs or hand signs can mean one thing in one culture and be rude in another. Educate yourself before arriving! A smile can also go a long way in any country, even if you don’t speak the language. It also helps to always remember why you’re there.

Deconstructing houses. Photo courtesy of Grace.

Deconstructing houses.
Photo courtesy of Gracie Blaze.

Q: How long can expats stay in Japan without a visa?

A: Canadians can stay up to 3 months.

Q: Was housing provided for you upon arrival?

A: Yes. The first question asked was,“Do you prefer a hot shower or beer?” Project Tohoku had 2 bases for volunteers based on your answer.

Sakari base, one of two bases available to stay. Photo courtesy of Grace.

Sakari base, one of two bases available to stay.
Photo courtesy of Gracie Blaze.

Q: What was the food like?

A: Despite what people think, it’s not sushi 24/7. Awesome sushi though, when you do have it. Breakfast was very North American: coffee, cereal and porridge served at our respective bases. Pancake Wednesdays at the main Sakari Base were always the best! The most coveted were the smarties pancakes. Lunch on project was bento style where we would take a ‘kyuukei’ (meaning ‘break time’ in Japanese). Bento lunches included portions of proteins (usually fried), rice and pickled vegetables. Also plentiful were vending machines with a variety of soda pops, tea, water and electrolyte replacers. Our buses would bring us back to the main base for dinner. We always had a great spread prepared for us by the local ladies using local produce and rice. Sometimes we were even treated to meals gifted to us by the neighbouring restaurants!

Project board for Operation Ofunato. Photo courtesy of Grace.

Project board for Operation Ofunato.
Photo courtesy of Gracie Blaze.

Q: Aside from friends and family, what did you miss about Canada?

A: No matter how adaptable we think we are, change can be fearsome. Going to a foreign country, meeting and living with people you don’t know…for most, psychologically, that’s a scary place. But the rewards you reap for pushing yourself, mustering up the courage to do things that are out of your comfort zone will be extraordinary.

Certainly, basic necessities such as clean water or electricity that aren’t readily available in some disaster zones would be missed. In this case, we had those things, were fed and had a place to sleep. We were there helping those who lost everything. Most of us didn’t focus on what we were missing and instead felt gratitude for what we had back home. For the short time spent there, for the small part that was played, it was I who received the greater gift. That of friendships, experiences, personal growth and memories that will be treasured for the rest of my life.

The team for August 2011 Project Ofunato. Photo courtesy of Ari Besser.

The team for August 2011 Project Ofunato. Photo courtesy of Ari Besser.

For more information on All Hands Volunteers, click here.

For volunteer and application info, click here. Be prepared to state when you are available to leave and how long you could stay on a project.

Some current All Hands projects (as of publication date) include: Project Staten Island, New York (superstorm Sandy response), Project Leyte, Philippines (typhoon response), Project Pilger, Nebraska (tornado relief) and Project Colorado, north-central Colorado (flood response).

If you have any questions or comments for myself or Grace, leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you. Until next week, be well Readers :)