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October Yonhap: Mannam Volunteer Association faces criticism from foreign residents

By Curtis File
Contributing writer
SEOUL, Oct. 28 (Yonhap) — When Tom Traubert replied to a Facebook ad for the Daegu branch of Mannam Volunteer Association in the fall of 2011, he was looking to give back to the Korean community.

“I have a long history of volunteerism and work with non-profit organizations,” said the 31-year-old English teacher, who asked to use his Internet pseudonym. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to continue with that while I live in Korea.” But it didn’t take long before he started to feel that something was amiss.

Though Mannam bills itself as the embodying the “spirit of pure volunteerism” according to its official web site, Traubert says that just three of the many events organized by the Daegu branch in his year-long stint with the organization qualified as volunteering. The rest, he said, were promotional events in the hopes of recruiting more foreign residents.

“As time went by, I became more and more aware of how the only skill or resource they wanted from me was that I was a foreigner, willing to wear a Mannam T-shirt and interested in bringing in more foreigners to the organization,” he said.

A blog post by Laura Oxenreiter, another former Mannam organizer from Daegu, echoed these sentiments.

“Probably the beginning of my real doubts was when Mannam organized a ‘Natural Disaster Walk’ in Daegu. The non-Korean organizers gave some input, but then weren’t actually involved in the preparations,” she wrote. “In the end, the attendees just walked around a park while being filmed most of the day. A lot of people who’d attended left in the middle of the day, because they were so frustrated by the obsession with pictures and the lack of any constructive work.”


Read more at: Mannam Volunteer Association faces criticism from foreign residents


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September Yonhap: Artists seek new boroughs in an unforgiving city

By Curtis File
Contributing writer
SEOUL, Sept. 24 (Yonhap) — When the auction begins, Jojae clutches his painting nervously in front of the small crowd before him. Seated in lawn chairs on an overgrown, pothole-ridden lawn, none of the 20 or so attendees utters a peep when the bidding starts at 70 million won (US$62,780)
The tension breaks when a young boy shouts “10,000 won!” The crowd laughs, but this is exactly the point of this afternoon’s “Noitcua,” or auction in reverse. Artists feature their work and interested buyers underbid each other until a final price is settled.
“We came here just to have fun and create an interesting atmosphere,” says Jojae, 29, whose painting ended up selling for 24,000 won. “It’s not meant to be serious; I just wanted to have fun with my art.”

Thanks to Halim, a well-known 36-year-old musician, quirky events like this are becoming more frequent at DoHa. The abandoned military base sits just outside of Seoul, a former home to an emergency bridge services unit. Now it is a sanctuary for the city’s “starving artists.”

Painted rocks on wire stems reach out from the barren gardens of an old administration building, the largest left remaining. Inside and out, its white walls are decorated with murals, canvas paintings, and melted straw sculptures. At the back of the building a small art gallery sits next to a cafe serving Americanos and lemonade.
“Being an artist is not easy in Seoul, it’s a hard life,” says Halim. “We came here because we needed somewhere to go. DoHa’s meaning is ‘across the river,’ so that is where we went.”

Read more at: Artists seek new boroughs in an unforgiving city

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August Yonhap: Struggling for acceptance, gay Christians find their own place of worship

By Curtis File
Contributing writer
SEOUL, Aug. 13 (Yonhap) — On Sunday evenings, the Rev. Daniel Payne begins his sermon beneath the glint of a disco ball. Standing before a small congregation on love seats and bar stools, he talks about piety, prayer and prejudice — a topic his flock is all too familiar with.

   They are members of the Open Doors Community Church, a congregation of mostly gay and lesbian-identified Christians who reject the notion that their sexuality conflicts with their faith. Unwelcome at more traditional houses of worship, the church has taken up space in the Moonlight Tavern in the back alleys of Itaewon, a district of Seoul known as a centerpiece of the foreign community.

   “I want to give thanks for bringing this group together,” says Payne, clad in khaki shorts and a shirt with a clerical collar. “It’s great that we can have such an open community of people who can just come as they are and just love, and know that God loves them, too.” It’s a scene of odd juxtapositions.

Some tattooed and pierced, some in button-ups and ties, the group is a mix of expats and native Koreans. Against a backdrop of black-lit vodka bottles and martini-glass chandeliers, they recite traditional prayers, sing modern Christian-rock anthems and participate in group discussions about the challenges of living a Christ-like life.


Read more at: Struggling for acceptance, gay Christians find their own place of worship


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July Yonhap: Hanwoo farmers worried about uncertain market

SEOUL, July 2 (Yonhap) — Kim Kee-Seong has operated a small ranch with about 100 prized Hanwoo cattle in the Hoengseong countryside in Gangwon Province, about 137 kilometers east of Seoul, for the past 30 years. Housed in pens just a few yards from his front porch, the cows are close to the farmer, now well into his 60s, both literally and figuratively.

“I grew up on a farm in Hoengseong,” he says. “These cows are my livelihood and they represent a tradition for my family and for all of Korea.”
Indeed, the free-range Hanwoo cattle are extolled by government organizations and citizens alike for being of much higher quality and taste than their factory-farmed American cousins.

When asked what makes the Hanwoo meat so tender, the 165-centimeters-tall farmer cracks a smile and says, “It’s a secret. But I’ll say that it’s 50 percent good breeding and 50 percent the raising process.” When it comes time to talk about the business though, Kim gets more serious.

Read more at: Hanwoo farmers worried about uncertain market

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May Yonhap: Urban explorers find life in abandoned spaces

SEOUL, May 23 (Yonhap) — Broken glass and splintered wood crunch underfoot as Yangban Tal weaves his way through a cramped alley. Armed with a camera and a Korean mask, from which he draws his pseudonym, he’s come to a small cluster of abandoned traditional Korean homes, called hanok, to photograph, explore, and document urban decay and growth across Seoul.

For the last eight years since his arrival in Seoul, Yangban Tal, a 33-year-old writer and photographer, has been leading the urban exploration community throughout Korea.

At the heart of it is his ongoing photo series featuring traditional Korean masks, which commoners used to mock the aristocracy, juxtaposed with urban decline across the country. He also organizes meet-ups and connects with other artists and explorers across the country.

Read more at: Urban explorers find life in abandoned spaces


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April Yonhap: For world’s most wired country, breaking Internet monopoly is hard

SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) — Nine years ago when Kim Kee-chang came back to his native country of South Korea, he had no idea he was coming back to start a tech war. But when he booted up Linux on his computer something strange happened: he couldn’t use Korean Web sites.

“Basically I couldn’t do anything,” said Kim, the founder of OpenWeb, an organization dedicated to expanding web accessibility in Korea. “Pages were not adequately displayed on the screen, links didn’t work, menus didn’t work. Nothing worked.”

Kim had discovered a glitch in an otherwise perfect system: for all intents and purposes, South Korea had become a slave to Internet Explorer and, by extension, Microsoft. It’s a problem that Kim believes is rooted in pride; pride that has had damaging effects to Korea’s Internet culture.

Read the rest at: For world’s most wired country, breaking Internet monopoly is hard