2014 has been a tough year in Korea for news. There’s been ID theft, a string of accidents and disasters, sporting disappointments, and finally outrage and embarrassment with the infamous Nutgate. Here’s a quick look back at this year.
The big news in January was that millions of KB bank users had their IDs stolen. KB is the biggest bank in Korea and 20 million Koreans were affected (40% of population) including the president, Park Geun-hye. (Apparently South Koreans tend to have more than four credit cards and one of the highest levels of personal debt in the developed world.)
I see there is nothing on my blog in February. That must be because the weather was too cold (for me) to go out. And then towards the end of the month yellow dust came blowing over from China which means you have to stay in and keep the windows closed.
In the news there was tragedy when a roof collapsed in Gyeongju from the weight of snow after a heavy snow fall. Hundreds of new college students were having an orientation in the building at the time. 10 people died and over 100 were injured.
The Winter Olympics is not a popular sporting event in Britain since there isn’t really enough snow for people to get excited about winter sports. But here hopes were high as everyone prepared for figure skater Kim Yuna to win another gold medal this time at the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. But there was serious disappointment and calls of unfair judging and a home advantage when Kim Yuna only took Silver, beaten by Russian Adelina Sotnikova to Gold.
By March there were still some yellow dust warnings. But the weather was warming up and by the end of the month the cherry blossom was out along the Han River (above). I came out of hibernation and went for a walk up on a local mountain to see if the little house used in the drama What Happened in Bali (SBS 2003) was still there. It wasn’t. It has finally been knocked down to make way for a new apartment complex instead.
Seoul changes at such a fast pace. There’s construction going on everywhere. And several times I’ve tried to go back to a restaurant I like only to find it’s been turned into a coffee shop! The Dongdaemun Design Park opened this month to mixed reviews and I popped over for a visit. It’s been built on the site of Dongdaemun Stadium which had a long history in Seoul causing more controversy over the choice of the new design park.
In April came the dreadful Sewol ferry disaster. It was on all the TV channels and replaced usual programmes. Everyone watched in horror and disbelief as possible survivors were left stranded on the ferry which sank on its way to Jeju Island. Almost the whole of the second graders from the same high school were missing. The government was criticised for its handing of the situation.
On Buddha’s Birthday (May 6) people lined up to put a chrysanthemum on an alter in front of City Hall in remembrance of the victims of the disaster. The grass was covered in small yellow paper boats. Later this year (November) prosecutors demanded the death penalty for the captain of the ferry. However, he was found not guilty of murder but guilty of gross neglect and sentenced to 36 years in prison. Crew members got prison sentences from 5 to 15 years and the head of the ferry operator was jailed for 10 years for failing to stop the ferry from being overloaded with cargo. Searches by divers continued until November by which time 295 bodies had been found. Nine still missing. The ship’s owner was found dead after being on the run. The coast guard has since been disbanded after it was criticised for not doing anything to help rescue survivors from the boat.
In summer the river was packed again with tents as people try to stay cool eating nengmyeon, cold spicy noodles (above) and bingsu shaved ice dessert.
The World Cup took place in June in Brazil this year which meant a lot of very tired students in the mornings since matches were held around 3 or 4 am local time. Expectations were high but Korea didn’t do too well this year and the fans were not impressed. And they showed their feelings about this when the Korean team got back to Incheon airport – they were greeted with fans shouting 엿 먹어라! (yeot mogura!) and throwing sweets at them. (This literally means ‘eat candy’ but it’s really an insult something like ‘screw you’. Oh dear.
I went home for the summer holidays to the UK and found myself craving Korean ramen for breakfast.
As the weather cools down it’s time to finish off the last bingsu shaved ice dessert, and head over to Soraepogu fish market – the best place to eat prawns at this time of year. Autumn is the season to get out and about so in November we headed over to Nami Island to see the Autumn leaves.
Chuseok Korean Thanksgiving Day fell on September 8 this year – the day when people head off to spend quality time with family and remember their ancestors. From October we had the usual falling (stinky) gingko seeds, Hangul day, and fireworks extravaganza on the Hanggang. Four teams took part: the UK, China, Italy, and Korea.
Tragedy struck again though when 16 Kpop fans died while watching a Kpop band 4minute concert. The ventilation grid they were standing on collapsed and the victims fell to their deaths. A man in charge of planning committed suicide soon after.
By November I was already focusing on Christmas gifts and a great place to buy stuff is at the annual SIWA International Bazaar. I bought goods from all around the world: hand painted Buddhist paintings, Turkish towels, German advent calendars, Danish salt liquorice, and Japanese bowls!
In December as the trees in Seoul wrapped up for winter, I wrapped up my presents for Christmas to send home. I browsed the little shops in Baking Street which sell everything needed to make the essential festive food (in my case the essential food is marzipan), I found an unusual Korean item for myself, and came up with 10 Korean gift ideas.
In the news Nutgate caused outrage (and amusement). The vice president of chaebol family owned Korean Airlines Choi Hyun-ah now faces arrest and criminal charges after forcing a KAL aircraft to return to the airport after becoming angry that she was served macadamia nuts in a bag and not on a plate. (The sale of macadamia nuts has soared though!) Nutgate is pretty funny (although I’m sure not so funny for the KAL staff involved) but it also shows how much power and sense of entitlement members of chaebol families have here.
And finally Sony Pictures Entertainment was criticised after it decided not to release a movie The Interview (a ‘comedy’ about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jung Un) after the company was hacked and received threats about what would happen if it released the film. The Americans accused North Korea of being behind the threats. Sony has since decided to release the film after all. And the film has become Sony’s No 1 online movie of all time. America vowed to deal with the threats it believes come from North Korea so is it a coincidence that the North Korean Internet crashed soon after the threats? The saga continues as a South Korean nuclear operator has now been hacked into in yet another possible cyber-attack by North Korea …