Category Archives: People & Politics

What Do Interracial Couples, Obama, and Oprah Have in Common?




What Do Interracial Couples, Obama, and Oprah Have in Common?

How often have you heard people say that racism doesn’t exist, or that race no longer matters—“Just look at Oprah.”  Interracial couples, a group experiencing a major growth spurt in the past decade, are frequently pointed to as evidence that racial borders or barriers no longer exist, or don’t matter.

The discourse that U.S. society is colorblind, or evolving in that direction, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Colorblind discourse is rooted in the belief that a persistent refusal to see differences in race, ethnicity, or color is: (1) humanistic (i.e., “we humans are all alike”; “there’s only one race—the human race”), and (2) socially and politically correct (i.e., one reduces the risk of being called racist if one does not see or acknowledge the importance of skin color in how people experience the world).

A colorblind stance dispatches the problem of race in one fell swoop, effectively taking those with race–based power and privilege “off the hook.”  Elaine Pinderhughes (1989) writes that this stance “protects those holding it from awareness of their ignorance of others and the necessity of exerting the energy and effort to understand and bridge the differences” (44). Perhaps it is not surprising that many white people believe that the U.S. has already become a truly color-blind nation, with national polling demonstrating that a majority of whites now believe discrimination against racial minorities no longer exists (Twine & Gallagher 2008). But can race be erased so easily?

Parallels exist between the meanings and interpretations made of the increasing rates of interracial couples in the U.S. and a major milestone in the American political scene. On November 5th, 2008, The New York Times stated, “Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive.” Post (2009) summed up the discourse around Barack Obama’s election in the following way: “This narrative is all about race even as it makes various claims about the diminished significance of race: the prospect of racial healing, the ability of a new generation of Americans to transcend their own identity, and the emergence of a post-racial society”.

Much like the hullabaloo made over the increasing frequency and visibility of interracial couples and multiracial peoples, Obama’s election was accompanied by passionate, and premature, proclamations that racism was at an end in the U.S. After the November 2008 election, almost half of white voters (48%) and three-quarters of black voters (74%) said they expected to see race relations improve during Obama’s presidency. Voters were less effusive a year later, with a plurality of whites (45%) reporting that Obama’s election had made no difference to race relations, and 15% reporting it has made race relations worse (Pew Research Center 2010).

Taking the election of a black—black and white, in fact—chief executive as evidence that racial tension and inequality had been successfully dispatched was a quantum leap, with such an interpretation implying that no further work needed to be done in the quest for equality. The embracing of the notion of a “post-racial” U.S. in popular culture and mass media does not allow space for either acknowledgement of, or critical reflection on, racism as an ongoing phenomenon.

My question: In the age of Obama, are interracial couples and their children now blessed to live in a post-racial era where racial boundaries will simply vanish?  According to the narratives shared by my research participants, the answer is a definite “no”; perhaps, one day, it might become a “yes”.

The more pundits declare the arrival of a post-racial society, the clearer it becomes that we’re not there yet. After President Obama’s State of the Union address in January 2010, commentator Chris Matthews quipped that he “forgot he was black.” Asked to explain his comment, Matthews stated that he had meant it as a compliment to President Obama for rendering race a “non-issue”. Matthews went on to assert that Obama is “post-racial”, rendering racial debate no longer relevant.

Obama’s election, just like the rise in interracial couples, continues to be used as a trope by some to support colorblind discourse. And while Matthews insisted he meant well (i.e., a case of overt, unintentional racism), and had not intended to be offensive (i.e., “it’s not my fault if you’re offended”), others wasted no time fanning the flames of racist political discourse and disinformation following Obama’s election.

The perception of Obama’s “otherness” has actually intensified since his election (New York Times, August 19, 2010), partially due to a macro-aggressive campaign. The Pew Research Center (2010) conducted a poll that found that 18% of Americans believed two years into Obama’s presidency that he was Muslim, up from 11% after his inauguration, and 27% Americans doubted he was born in the US, and, therefore, saw his election as suspect. Protest signs seen in recent years include “Obama’s Plan: White Slavery” and posters portraying the President as Hitler, an African “witch doctor”, and the arch-villain The Joker from the Batman comics and films.

In fact, the number of racially offensive images of President Obama and his wife proliferated so rapidly that Google began running an apology associated with the image search results (Blow 2009).  The fact of President Obama does not allow us to rewrite history and remove race as a powerful organizing principle in U.S. society or even as a factor in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Voting results in battleground states broke down clearly along racial lines. In the South Carolina primary, Obama won 78% of the black vote, but only 24% of the white vote (National Public Radio, January 28, 2008). Innuendos that Obama had been born in Kenya and was secretly a Muslim would never have gained currency if white persons had not experienced him as “Other”.

Vast material disparities remain between blacks and whites. The median black worker earns about $600/week, approximately 80% of the median income of white workers. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that black men are imprisoned at 6.6 times the rate of white men, with nearly 1 in 20 black men incarcerated. The unemployment rate for blacks is nearly twice that of whites across demographic categories (New York Times, November 9, 2009). The catastrophe that was, and is, Hurricane Katrina is yet another reminder that skin color and poverty remain markers of not only who can thrive, but who can survive (Agathangelou 2010).

Racial issues are very much still with us. And Keith Bardwell, a Louisiana justice of the peace, refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children that the couple might have. Bardwell commented, “I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way.” So, post-racial is a ways off, and resistance and prejudice continue to be daily experiences for interracial couples and persons of color. How couples strategically respond to these acts of racism says a lot about their negotiation style, identities both as individual partners and as a couple system, and what can and cannot be talked about in this intimate context. More on this later.

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Kyle D. Killian, Ph.D., LMFT is a licensed couple and family therapist and clinical supervisor. He is the author of Interracial Couples, Intimacy & Therapy: Crossing Racial Borders from Columbia University Press. Connect with him at (click), or via Linkedin at Kyle Killian.

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Agathangelou, A. M. 2010. Bodies of desire, terror and the war in Eurasia: Impolite disruptions of (neo) liberal internationalism, neoconservatism and the ‘new’  imperium.  Millennium: Journal of International Studies 38: 693-722.

Blow, C.M.  2009. Black in the age of Obama. New York Times, December 5. Retrieved January 19 2010 at

Pew Research Center. (2010). Blacks upbeat about Black progress, prospects: A Year After Obama’s Election. Retrieved April 24, 2010 at

Pew Research Center. 2010b. Growing number of Americans say Obama is a Muslim. Retrieved August 19, 2010 at

Pinderhughes, E.  (1989). Understanding Race, Ethnicity, and Power. New York: Free Press.

Twine, F. W. & Charles Gallagher. (2008). The future of whiteness: A map of the third wave. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31, 4-24.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010).  Economic News Release, Table 2.  Accessed April 27, 2010 at

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All the Rage: Interracial Couples in the News




All the Rage: Interracial Couples in the News

In the most recent census results, it was clear that interracial couples are a burgeoning phenomenon in the U.S., continuing to contribute to the diversity of society. Among opposite-sex married couples, one in 10 (5.4 million couples) are interracial, representing an increase of 28% since 2000.  In addition, the most recent census reported that 18% of heterosexual and 21% of gay and lesbian unmarried couples were of different races. Considering the salience of skin color in society, it is surprising that so little research and training has been devoted to race, and, more specifically, to interracial couples. Recognizing this gap, my research explores how interracial couples view themselves and the social forces that implicitly and explicitly influence partners’ perceptions and experiences. What is curious is how interracial couples are, and are not, a “big deal.”

150206-kyle-book1aFor example, a regular reader of my blog at Psychology Today posted a comment entitled “What? My Wife is White?”  George wrote, “My spouse is white and I am black. I never really think about it until I read articles like this or see characters on screen portrayed in an interracial relationship.”  George echoes an important theme of my book Interracial Couples, Intimacy & Therapy, that many interracial couples do not think about race and their differences in color and power and privilege until larger social systems, their extended families, communities, and larger society, do something or say something that raises this difference as an issue.

The partners themselves espouse a stance of colorblindness, like George, who then goes on to say, “As for the in-laws and others, they had to overcome their fears, ignorance, and exposure to something that truly did not expect or see in the world in which they were raised.”  This highlights that while many interracial couples state that race is not an issue for them, it is for other people: in-laws, persons in service professions (valets, hosts at restaurants, etc.), and strangers in public situations. At the same time, occasionally a blog reader will post a comment entitled “Zzzzz”, indicating their apparent lack of interest in the blog’s theme (which begs the question of why they were visiting the blog in the first place; but in web parlance, let’s not feed the trolls).  Interracial couples? No big deal, right?  Racism? Does that still exist?

In an attempt to reality test, I googled “interracial couples in the news” to see what I’d find from the simplest, most cursory search of the internet. I wasn’t fishing for incidents or attacks; I just inserted those five key words in the search engine. Some highlights from the first page of 1,710,000 results are as follows: “Interracial couple attacked outside Queens bar”; “Interracial couple receives racist note on Atlanta valet ticket”; “Kentucky church bans interracial couples”; “Iowa cops investigate hate crime after couple’s house burns”; “Interracial couple discriminated against in Tennessee”; and “High school teacher suspended after comment to interracial couple”.

From these news stories, not limited to southern states, it’s safe to say that interracial couples across the country do not always feel safe.  I believe that there is more work to be done in the area of race, race relations, and racism in the US.  I believe that interracial couples, in embodying racial border crossings in their movement through public spaces together, are a lightning rod for negative attention in our society; they are targets of reactivity from people who consciously and unconsciously “fragment” or break apart interracial couples so that white bodies do not move through space with black bodies due to implicit and explicit racial attitudes, and prejudice.  I think we have room to improve, and I’d like to discuss which interracial couples seem to be targets for rage, and theorize why.

Interracial couples are still a lightning rod for negative attention in U.S. society, I believe, because partners in these relationships embody racial border crossings in their movement through public spaces together. By associating with one another, traveling together, and by touching and kissing one another, they defy notions of racial purity and the principle of homogamy (the idea that happy couples must come from similar backgrounds, culturally or racially). Interracial couples are targets of reactivity from people who consciously and unconsciously fragment interracial couples, and multiracial families, so that bodies with different pigmentation do not move through space together. But which interracial couples seem to be targets for rage?
150206-kyle-book2aBack in 2013, the breakfast cereal Cheerios had an advertisement that featured a black man, a white woman, and a biracial daughter. The black man and white woman were not seen together in the same room in the commercial, and yet, the outrage over being forced to see the mere suggestion of a multiracial family was so intense that Cheerios had to disable comments on YouTube due to flurry of racist comments.

In contrast, quite a few brands over the past several years have produced commercials that feature black women with white men, but these have not caused near the stir of the Cheerios ad. Did you see the Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercial where a white man and black woman make out on the elevator going up to their apartment, and touch and kiss as they prepare (and consume, with quite a bit of gusto) dinner together?  What a good-looking, and happily cavorting, couple they made. And it didn’t seem to upset anybody. We see a rising number of commercials, and television shows, with black women-white men couples. So, why does seeing a black man with a white woman raise such rancor, but not the other combination?

From the time of the silent film Birth of a Nation (1915), small and big screens have depicted black male sexuality as dangerous threat to the chastity of white women everywhere. White males may engage in romantic relationships with women of color in television and film, but rarely if ever do we see men of color in intimate relationships with white women.  Scandal features the interracial pairing of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and President “Fitz” Grant (Tony Goldwyn) and audiences aren’t complaining so much about their hooking up; the only issue some viewers had is with the President’s infidelity.

So, what’s this really about? Perhaps (white) audiences see white men as interracial adventurers or colonists, going where no white man has gone before, and who can blame them?  Perhaps audiences construct them as “white knights” saving black damsels from the distress of finding, or being with, a black partner. The irony is that the white male-black female couples are far less common than the black male-white female couples, according to the U.S. Census.  Black men get together with white women far more frequently in our society, but this is not represented on our TV sets at home. Maybe folks just aren’t ready to face the facts: That black men do date and marry white women, and while the walls and foundation haven’t collapsed and crumbled as a result, the interracial revolution still will not be televised.

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Kyle D. Killian, Ph.D., LMFT is a licensed couple and family therapist and clinical supervisor. He is the author of Interracial Couples, Intimacy & Therapy: Crossing Racial Borders from Columbia University Press. Connect with him at (click), or via Linkedin at Kyle Killian.

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5 most difficult hurdles I had to overcome when I left S’pore for Korea


5 most difficult hurdles I had to overcome when I left S’pore for Korea

Just because you know how to sing all the latest K-pop hits doesn’t mean Korea is the place for you.

When in Rome Korea, do as the Romans Koreans do.

Moving to a completely foreign country like Korea requires a few years of preparation, and still you can never be too prepared. Both Singapore and Korea might be Asian countries with a somewhat similar economic development story, but the similarities end there.


Korea, with its unique community, culture and lifestyle, takes a lot more to adapt to than simply learning a few Korean words and/ or K-pop ditties.

I made the decision a few years ago to head out of Singapore, and I chose Korea as my destination. I have been living in Korea for almost two years now.

Like it or not, I had to face the consequences of that choice, and there were a number of difficulties I faced when I first arrived in Seoul.

Here are the 5 of the most difficult problems I encountered and solved one by one by one, — alone — in a completely new environment.


1. Language


The very first hurdle I had to overcome was the language. Coming from a country where the majority is effectively bilingual, you’d think it’d be relatively easy to pick up another language, right? Wrong.

I started studying the Korean language in 2010, about two years before my move, and then I spent another six months in Korea picking up intermediate Korean. Basic conversational Korean managed to help me get around and order food, but that’s about it.

I needed a higher level of Korean proficiency if I wanted to live comfortably in Korea. Things got exponentially easier once I was able order food beyond bibimbap, shop for my own groceries and get around the city in modes of transportation other than the subway.

I had to deal with several important administrative matters where all information is almost exclusively in Korean — like signing a lease for a rental room, contracting a mobile phone line, and opening a bank account. A good command of the language, both written and spoken, helped greatly in navigating these matters.


2. Accommodation


The real estate market in Korea is expensive, and there was no way I would be able to rent an apartment. I searched several websites like Craiglist and some Korean websites to find a suitable room to rent, and it took at least two months in Seoul before I found a more permanent place to stay.

I soon found out that there were studio apartments called one-rooms that I would be able to rent at reasonable prices, and set up appointments to view these places. More often than not, I was disappointed with them — they looked nothing like what the pictures on the websites showed. Space was an issue, and some of these one-rooms were in such bad condition and had no windows.

I started to think out of the box and searched websites like Airbnb. Most listings on such websites would only rent to travelers or those on short-term stays, and I had to learn to convince (usually in Korean) the home owners to rent their rooms to a poor student like me for at least a year.


3. Food

There is a lot of delicious food in Korea, and for a while, I enjoyed myself trying out all the different foods the country had to offer. Everything tasted delicious and authentic, and cost only a fraction of what I had to pay for Korean food in Singapore.

But we don’t call Singapore a food paradise for nothing. I started missing the diversity of flavours I took for granted back home. You can classify all Korean food as either spicy or bland. And while I am a fan of spicy, spicy Korean food doesn’t even get close to sambal belachan.

I wanted to cook some simple Singaporean food — Yong Tau Foo, Laksa, Chicken Rice — but I couldn’t get the ingredients I needed for these dishes. No non-sticky rice, no coconut milk, no tau pok available at even large supermarkets like Lotte and E-Mart.

I had to rely on my friends coming to Korea for travel to bring some ingredients — like pandan leaves for Nasi Lemak — whenever I needed to satisfy my cravings.


4. Administrative Matters


No one likes to deal with administrative matters — they’re long drawn hassles, and you sometimes have to deal with unreasonable staff processing your documents.

Getting my D2 Visa to study in Korea seemed like a simple enough process, except that I needed a long list of official documents ready before I could actually apply for it. Certain visas qualify a foreigner to apply for an ID (called the Alien Registration Card in Korea), and without it, I would be ineligible for a number of essential services like a bank account and a mobile phone line.

Of course, tied to these services are deadlines and requirements (you need to have an eligible visa to apply for an ID — which you have to do within 90 days of entering the country — an ID to apply for a bank account, and a bank account to apply for a mobile phone line), which I had to figure out on my own, after several wasted trips to the embassy, immigration center, bank and telecom store.


5. Finances


When I made the decision to move out of Singapore, I also wanted to make sure that I made it out on my own. This was an extremely difficult issue, because higher education is costly. I saved up for a number of years before I was ready to be financially independent.

My full-time MBA course is partially financed by a scholarship provided by the school (which means I have to watch my grades), and am currently holding three different part-time jobs to help me to cover my rent, bills and expenses.

It has not been easy juggling being a full-time student with so many other responsibilities, but I’m determined to make this venture work out.

When I moved to Korea, it took me a lot longer than I initially thought it would to know the ins and outs of getting around the place. Sometimes I got frustrated and most other times I’m exhausted from the sheer effort I had to put in to make things work.

Patience and resilience became my two new best friends — and I’ve learnt to always keep them close to me whenever I encounter any difficulties living in a foreign country.

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor. This featured post was first released via on 17 May 2014, and was republished with prior consent. is a Singaporean digital news agency.

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A Winter’s Night – Poem and Photo Gallery


EVP & Partner, Stanton Chase Korea

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A Winter’s Night – Poem and Photo Gallery

A Winter’s Night

A Korean Poem by Park, Yong-Rae (1925-1980)

On a sleepless night, snow fell upon my hometown’s garlic-field.

On a sleepless night, moon-light fell upon my hometown’s house-roof-edge.

A home far away that comfortably rests across water ankle-high.

At one corner of my old country-side home’s courtyard shall the wind fall asleep.

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The Battle for Gahoe-dong


The Battle for Gahoe-dong

In 1987, my wife and I bought a hanok in Seoul’s Gahoe-dong district which has been our home ever since. Living in a hanok brings an understanding of many of the values that were once the foundation of Korean life. Sadly, it also brings an insight into the corruption that characterizes modern Korea.

After six hundred years at the heart of Korean cultural and social life, the traditional beauty of Seoul’s Gahoe-dong district, “the place where beauty gathers,” is being relentlessly destroyed. Gahoe-dong was the last district in Seoul where there were whole streets of traditional Korean houses, hanoks, preserving the ambience of Seoul a century ago. Most of these old homes have now being bulldozed and replaced by modern versions, built mainly of concrete but decorated with traditional architectural elements.

Gahoe-Dong is part of Bukchon, “The Northern Village,” a small area that lies between two former royal palaces, the Kyongbok Palace or “Palace of Shining Happiness” and the Ch’angdok Palace or “Palace of Illustrious Virtue.”


For most of its history, Bukchon was home to many of the nobles and scholars attached to the Royal Court. Old maps show the area had relatively few buildings in a natural, forested landscape that descended from the mountains.

Changing times

During the 1920’s the character of Bukchon began to change. With the Japanese occupation, the role of the aristocracy and yangban diminished. Eventually, the once-privileged residents of Bukchon began to sell their land and move out. This was also a time when the Japanese redeveloped much of Seoul by erecting Japanese-style homes, commercial, and public buildings as part of their assault on Korean culture and values.

While many Koreans were swept along with the wishes of their new, Japanese rulers many also sought ways to resist and preserve the ideas and values they considered important in Korea’s heritage. One of these was a wealthy builder from the Busan area, Chung Sea Kwon (정세권) who owned one of the largest construction companies of his day. Chung felt that if ordinary people could have the opportunity to live in traditional Korean hanoks, it would help preserve Korean values in the face of an increasing pressure to adopt a Japanese way of life.

Chung seized the opportunity to buy up land in Gahoe-dong and elsewhere and began to build small hanoks for ordinary people. Since most Koreans had little money, Chung also provided financial help to buy them. It was Chung who built our own hanok in 1929 and lived in it before selling to the family from whom we bought it in 1987.

All of Chung’s houses were very well built. They were intended to be an expression of uniquely Korean ideas as well as family homes. The idea caught on and Bukchon became a hanok village for ordinary people. However, most of the hanoks Chung built were demolished as part of the Bukchon Plan, despite the fact that the architectural survey that preceded the plan had endorsed their quality and good state of repair.

Korea’s traditional architecture

Hanoks are single-storey buildings based on a framework of interlocking wooden beams that rest on blocks of stone. Other materials used to complete the buildings are also wholly natural such as straw, mulberry paper, and clay. The materials and methods are fundamentally the same as those used to build the royal palaces of the Choson dynasty as well as old Buddhist temples.


Until recently, the hanoks in Gahoe-Dong had survived the successive waves of re-development and re-building that have transformed most of the Seoul. Yet even here pressures for redevelopment were gaining power. Accordingly, Seoul City came to designate them as Local Cultural Assets on March 17, 1977, in an effort to protect them and preserve the area. The area was also designated as a Korean-style House Preservation District and put under the special care of the City, according to an entry (now removed) on the metropolitan government’s web site

Despite these measures, by 2000 only two streets remained entirely filled with hanoks giving a feel for how the district ­ and much of Seoul ­ had looked years ago. Elsewhere, apartment blocks and modern offices had already encroached, transforming Bukchon into a district where Western-style buildings predominated. About this time, the Metropolitan government began to consider how best to retain the little that remained of the hanok village as part of plans for the continuing restoration of the historic sites of North Seoul.

Towards the end of 2001, the Metropolitan government published detailed plans for the restoration and conservation of Bukchon using public money. The plans were based on a detailed architectural survey of most of the surviving hanoks and aimed to restore the district to its former beauty. The government announced grants and low interest loans to assist hanok owners with this work and set about a variety of related projects including resurfacing roads, improving street lighting, removing utility poles, and providing signage to help tourists and other visitors explore the area.

The Restoration Plan goes badly wrong

From that point on, things went badly wrong. While the original plans can only be praised for their imagination and sensitivity towards the restoration of Korea’s architectural heritage, what happened was the exact opposite. In our own street, for example, ours is now the only surviving traditional hanok.

New buildings that have replaced hanoks have been financed partly via government grants and low interest loans. In one example, an owner was given a government grant of KRW30 million and an interest-free long term loan of KRW20 million for “Hanok Repair and Redecoration.” This money was used to completely demolish a fine hanok and erect a modern two-storey building which was given a general business license to allow it operate under a number of categories, including as a restaurant. Objections eventually prevented the business operating and today the building lies empty.

The new developments potentially bring great profit to speculative developers who purchase the land at prices based on single storey traditional dwellings in order to re-sell it at far higher prices, exploiting loopholes in various regulations and often erecting two-storey buildings.

dkibrn-hse-05f-roofAs a result, Seoul’s last district of original hanoks has been mostly destroyed; government grants to encourage preservation were used for demolition; and ordinary people were denied the chance to realize a fair value of their homes.

Sadly, there was more involved than the destruction of a hanok heritage. While some of the original hanok owners were happy to sell at what seemed a fair market price, others wished to remain in homes where they had lived for many years. These people were submitted to an unremitting campaign of harassment to “persuade” them to sell. This could even involve physical assaults. Worse could follow as the police, prosecutors, courts, and media all failed to fulfil the public duties that a citizen might expect in support of his very basic human rights.

Where once there had been a thriving community of ordinary Korean families, there is now a ghost town of empty buildings. An authentic living community has been eradicated. What really happened to the vast budget the Seoul Metropolitan Government allocated to the Bukchon Plan remains one of the unanswered questions of the Lee Myung Bak era.

Not the first time

Gahoe-dong and Bukchon have enjoyed special status as historic districts of cultural importance since 1976. Although this is supposed to ensure the protection the district’s hanoks, hanok numbers have declined each year. All the special plans and projects the metropolitan and local governments have launched have been accompanied by a decline in hanok numbers. Why so? The reason is quite simple, as the Bukchon plan makes evident, the laws and regulations to protect and preserve hanoks are simply not enforced; the protection plans are never implemented and the budgets associated with them are diverted to other activities.

Korea loses contact with its own culture

In every country, there are issues about what should be preserved from the past and what should be discarded. Every country tends to preserve its palaces, castles, and stately homes. In the UK and also in Europe, governments also preserves many more ordinary buildings such as farm buildings, ordinary houses, shops, and public houses. Some are preserved because of their beauty, some because of their construction techniques, some for the insights they provide into social history and the way people once lived. The preservation work involves public money, donations from business, and subscriptions from the general public. There is a broad consensus that this work is just as important as, say, preserving famous works of art because all these manifestations of human skill and creativity help define the culture and traditions of different peoples. It is so sad that these ideas are not well understood in Korea and that important decisions about what, in reality, is done to preserve Korean culture should be left to petty bureaucrats, small construction companies, and speculators.


In some ways, there are special problems in Korea. During the Japanese occupation, there was a determined attempt to eradicate Korean culture. This was followed by the Korean War which splintered families, destroyed the social order, and caused immense physical destruction. Next came the period of military rule when individual liberties were suppressed as the country started to build a modern economy at breakneck speed. Perhaps it is not surprising that some Koreans have lost touch with their own traditions and culture as a result. Be that as it may, the decisions made by today’s generation will determine whether anything will be left of Korea’s distinctive architectural culture for their grandchildren to enjoy.

The root cause of this is corruption, by no means a problem unique to South Korea. However, within the OECD, South Korea, sadly, is distinguished by ubiquitous, pervasive corruption that has become an integral part of government – from the offices of presidents to provincial and local government. At least, this is the conclusion of Professors Doh Chull Shin and Chong Min Park, based on a research project into the lives of ordinary Korean citizens which they reported in a paper in the Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies in 2005. The story of the Sewol Ferry disaster in 2014 is but one indication that corruption today is just as much a part of government as it was in 2005.

There is an enormous gulf between what city officials publicly proclaim and what they allow to happen. The Bukchon Plan talked of the need to protect, preserve, and restore using authentic techniques and materials. Yet city officials routinely approved wholesale demolition in order to erect new structures, and ignored the basic human rights of residents.


Surely it is time to halt all the destruction of old buildings in Gahoe-dong, to demolish new buildings with illegal features, and for society as a whole to consider the fate of the district? Is it too much to expect that a country of Korea’s economic power should find the time and the resources to preserve a small window into ordinary life a century ago? Throughout Europe, there are many examples of towns, districts, and buildings of a similar or older age than Gahoe-dong that are rigorously protected and preserved. The lesson from other countries is that such preservation can attract tourism, enhance local culture, and make the modern urban environment a richer, more enjoyable place for all.

David Kilburn

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David Kilburn worked internationally in the advertising industry for many years before becoming a journalist covering business in East Asia. You may connect with him by clicking hereHis web site,  and YouTube channel, document what has happened to Gahoe-dong and document cultural events organised in the Kilburn’s hanok to raise awareness of the issues.

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor.

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Do you know your Country Name in Chinese?


Do you know your Country Name in Chinese?

Some of us come from Fragrant Blue or Strong Fruit. Maybe you’ve traveled to Meaningful Big Advantage and can’t wait to visit Ink West Brother. Not sure where you’re from? Let’s go on a country name fly-by!


Translating proper names involves selecting sound-alike Chinese characters to phonetically approximate the country’s official name, a process leading to some entertaining literal meanings. Moreover, Chinese country names have evolved over the years, so what they’re called now may be significantly different from centuries ago. For example, France’s full name is Fǎ lán xī gòng hé guó 法兰西共和国 (the French Republic) though it’s often shortened to Fǎ guó 法国 the Law Kingdom. In the past you could have said you’re from Fó lán xī 佛兰西 which sounds like Buddha Blue West.

Most people know the name China means Middle Kingdom (zhōng 中 =middle, guó 国 = kingdom) since the early Chinese perceived their civilization as the center of the universe. Across the Pacific sits its young friend Měi guó美国 the Beautiful Kingdom (USA), which used to be a part of Yīng guó 英国 the Hero Kingdom (England). It’s not that the Chinese think Americans are exceptionally good looking; the full transliterated name is Měi lì jiān hé zhòng guó 美利坚合众国 literally “beautiful advantage perseverant united people country” hence it becomes Měi guó 美国. About the same as shortening the “United States of America” into just the US.

While traveling around Asia, you might not want to miss Rì běn 日本 Sun Root (Japan), Mǎ lái xī yà 马来西亚Horse Come West Asia (Malaysia) and Xīn jiā pō 新加坡 Newly Added Slope (Singapore)… comma, he said with a straight face.

Europe is home to Meaningful Big Advantage Yì dà lì 意大利 (Italy), the Discipline Kingdom Dé guó 德国 (Germany) and Compare Advantage Time Bǐ lì shí 比利时 (Belgium). Let’s not forget their colorful neighbors, Fragrant Blue Fēn lán 芬兰 (Finland) and Love Blue Ài ěr lán 爱尔兰 (Ireland). Hold on, why not “love green” for Ireland? Well, honestly the lán 兰 just sounds like the character for blue, its real meaning is “orchid.”

Let’s take things up a notch. Angola Ān gē lā 安哥拉 sounds like Safe Brother Pull and Congo Gāng guǒ 刚果 yields Strong Fruit. The country of Mexico Mò xī gē 墨西哥 is our Ink West Brother while Guatemala Wēi dì mǎ lā 危地马拉 is a Dangerous Land Horse Pull. Last but not least, Canada Jiā ná dà 加拿大 is the land of Add Grab Big.

So if you could start with a clean slate, what would you call your country in Chinese?

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Stewart Lee Beck (李渡) is an author and the creator of China Simplified. Connect with him at, or visit his website at

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor. This featured post was first released via on March 21, 2014.

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Homer Hulbert – Man of Vision & Friend of Korea

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Homer Hulbert – Man of Vision & Friend of Korea

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Well known amongst Koreans for the words written on his tombstone, Homer B. Hulbert (1863-1949) was the famous American who said, “I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey.”


Homer Hulbert first came to the Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1910) — today’s Korea — on the 4th day of July, 1886 (age 23) to spend 5 years an educator for the “Royal College” at Seoul. This Royal College at Seoul was the first modern day school created directly by King Gojong for the purpose of introducing an English and western-world-oriented education system. An initiative which was based upon the recommendations that came from the Korean (a.k.a. Corean) “Bobingsa” delegation — the First Korean Embassy delegation — after their trip to the United States in 1883.

Upon his arrival, he (Homer B. Hulbert) became quickly fluent in Korean, and began his life’s journey toward becoming one of the greatest Americans to have set foot on Korean soil.

150108-hul-03-his-krAfter having served, in full, his five-year term (1886-1891) in Korea as a teacher (educator), Homer Hulbert returned back to the United States, and then came back once again to Korea (Kingdom of Joseon) in 1893 (age 30) as a Methodist Church missionary. During this period, Homer B. Hulbert would publish many of his landmark books written in English such as the History of Korea (1905) and the Passing of Korea (1906).

In addition to this, and on 28 October 1903, Homer Hulbert along with James S. Gale (1863-1937) and Philip L. Gillett (1874-1939) started the YMCA in Seoul located at Jongno-2-ga. Near, or shortly after the year 1905, the YMCA (Young Men’s Christen Association) in Seoul had begun to introduce the sports of baseball, basketball and ice-skating to Koreans for the first time.

After having become a witness to the injustice brought upon to the people of Korea (Joseon), Homer Hulbert later in his life became an active international figure who had helped, so vigorously, to protect, save and keep Korea’s Independence from the Japanese. In his own words, “Calumny has does its worst, and justice has suffered an eclipse” in reference to what had seen unfold in front of his very own eyes.

A few more words from his famous book, The Passing of Korea (1906), resonate as the truth today. These words are (were) . . . “when the spirit of the nation, quickened by the touch of fire, shall have proved that though sleep is the image of death, it is not death itself”.


During the early 1900s, not all Americans had supported the idea of America, in international affairs, as a nation which should ultimately seek to pursue an European-like Imperialism with respect to their overseas territories.

By the same token, Homer Hulbert was openly critical of Theodore Roosevelt’s view of approving Japan’s takeover in Korea (Source: New York Times, December 5, 2009), in order to create a crisp swap scenario for solidifying and securing the United States acquisition of the Philippines without hostile military threat from Japan.

Today, the content of the Taft-Katsura (Secret) Agreement – whether it was a simple memorandum, signed agreement, or an exchange of talk by ghosts, in nature – seem all to be approaching a level of truth.

Now, and all this time, without having first-hand knowledge of, and insights into, such clandestine war operatives (talks) happening in the background, Homer Hulbert agreed, without reservation, to serve as a special envoy for Korea’s King Gojong to represent Joseon (Korea) overseas during his trip to the United States in 1905 and months prior to the Second Hague Convention (1907) with the end-goal of communicating the truth and injustice, to the world, and the invalidity (forcefully fabricated nature) of the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905 (a.k.a. Eulsa Treaty) which never obtained the consent nor the signature (stamp/seal) of King Gojong.

However, the Korean emissiary delegation was blocked from entry into the Convention Hall. Joseon (Korea) – whether right or wrong – had somehow already been stripped of the power to exercise diplomacy, as an independent nation, in the eyes of attending nations.

Shortly thereafter, word spread to Tokyo. Homer Hulbert was expelled — not permitted to return back to Korea and forced to go back to the United States — during May 1907 by the Japanese-resident General, and King Gojong (Emperor Gojong) was eventually forced to abdicate his throne. The Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1910) — i.e., the Yi Family Dynasty — forever ceased its existence on 29 August 1910 with the “Passing of Korea.”

Miraculously, it would take another 35 years — and the Liberation of Korea (on 15 August 1945) — before Hulbert’s prophecy in which he said, “sleep was an image of death, and not death itself” and in which he also dreamt that Korea would one day rise from its sleep soon became a “vision” that would eventually come true.

150108-hul-05-medalHomer Hulbert was 86 years-old when he returned back to see an independent Korea in 1949, as a honorary high-level State guest, at the invitation of South Korea’s first President Syngman Rhee. A total period of 42 years had gone by for Homer Hulbert. During this trip in 1949 to Seoul, he become ill and soon passed away.

Today, Homer Hulbert rests in external peace at the Yanghwajin Foreigner Missionary Cemetery located in Northwestern Seoul – north of, and along, the Han River.

After his death, Homer Hulbert was awarded the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea’s) Order of National Foundation (Independence Medal of Honor) on the 1st day of March 1950.  His Korean name is “Hul-Bub” (흘법, 訖法), which sound very similar to his last name Hulbert, and is so inscribed in South Korea’s national registry by using his Korean Name.

150108-hul-06-cmedalMore recently (last year), he was recognized once again on the 9th day of October 2014, (Hangul Day), by the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea’s) government by being awarded with the Order of Cultural Merit (Gold Crown Medal of Honor) – 64 years after receiving his Independence Medal.

As a great American in Korea (East Asia) — he, with grace and tremendous dignity, greatly represented his Republic, the nation under God, and a country which stood (stands) for liberty and justice for all.

In 1999, the Hulbert Memorial Society was formed by Professor Dong-Jin (DJ) Kim. He is still actively serving as the Society’s Chairman to help honor and remember Homer B. Hulbert. The Korea Society invited Mr. Kim to speak on April 6 (Wednesday), 2011. This 2011 presentation can be viewed by looking it up on YouTube, or by clicking HERE.

♦ Language Footnote ♦

  • Homer B. Hulbert, Korean Name = 흘법 (訖法)
  • Royal College at Seoul // 육영공원 // 育英公院
  • Bobingsa // 보빙사 // 報聘使
  • Jongro-2-ga // 종로2가 // 鍾路2街
  • Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery, 양화진외국인선교사묘원 (楊花津外國人宣敎師墓園)

♦ Related Outside Stories and External Links via the World Wide Web ♦

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Understanding Foreign Brands – What’s the meaning of “Tsingtao” Beer?

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Understanding Foreign Brands – What’s the meaning of “Tsingtao” Beer?

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Are you thinking about eating out tonight at a fancy Chinese restaurant? Well, what brand of beer are you considering to order? Do you feel a Chinese brand beer will go well with Chinese food – like the most of us? Well, the most famous and widely available Chinese beer — outside China — is probably Tsingtao. Now, you know that. You’ve probably heard about Tsingtao before in your lifetime, right? So far, so good – everything’s cool.

Now, and all of a sudden, you hit upon a minor problem which is, how in the hey do you pronounce “Tsingtao” properly as to avoid embarrassment when placing an order? And what does Tsingtao mean anyway?

Tsingtao (青岛) is a name to a port location (city) in Eastern China, and it became an area which was heavily influenced by German investments between 1898 to 1914, or prior to the so called “Seize of Tsingtau”.

It was during this period — 1903 to be exact, as printed on each Tsingtao Beer bottle (can) today — that the Germans started producing (bottling) beer in China – Get it? Can you see that there’s a connection (link) here between Germany and beer?

In summary, 1903 was a year between 1898 and 1914, and a period of Germany’s influence in China’s Shandong Peninsula, and a location where the Germans started to produce beer for consumption after having formed Tsingtao Brewery. If you wish to learn more about this period regarding Germany in China, please look up the Kiautschou Bay concession in history books.

Today, this city’s location is officially spelt Qingdao (not Tsingtao) on maps, but the beer brand retains its “Tsingtao” spelling. Tsingtao, the brand has thus, over the years, undergone transformation to become a proper noun as one beer brand and is no longer used (spelt this way) to represent location (the city).

Finally, let’s get to the part where you can learn to order “Tsingtao” with confidence, and without sounding overly awkward. Say it out loud – practice – repeat for about five (5) to ten (10) times before leaving home tonight, and when you get to the restaurant – say Tsingtao (or Qingdao which is the same thing). Kindly remember, not to drink too much – and not to drink and drive.

Note: The Seoul Tribune would like to express our thanks to "" for granting us approval to use their YouTube material(s).

♦ Foreign Language Tips ♦

  • 青 (Qing) means color blue in Chinese
  • 岛 (Dao or Tao) means island in Chinese
  • 啤酒  . . .  means the “beer” type of alcoholic drink in Chinese

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10 Ways to a Healthier Life

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10 Ways to a Healthier Life

A few phrases – 10 of them – on how to maintain a good and healthy life-style, were created by a famous 16th century Korean Scholar. Without having had any first-hand knowledge related to modern medicine (roughly 500 years ago), his past statements (teachings and recommendations), looking back now, seem to be remarkably spot-on.

Translated into English, by the Kievalo Research Institute, here’s this famous scholar’s — and we will get to his name in just a minute — Top 10 List (secrets, lessons, ways, and/or teachings) for how to maintain a healthier life. Check them out. They are first shown in English; and then presented in Korean with dual use of Chinese characters for our bi-lingual readers.

Ten-Ways to A Healthier Life  (Words of Wisdom from the 16th Century)

  1. Eat less red meat; and enjoy more vegetables.
  2. Reduce the frequency of feeling anger; and enjoy laughter more often.
  3. Ride cars (horse-drawn carriages) less often; and frequently walk.
  4. Make a habit of eating smaller portions of food; and chew more before swallowing.
  5. Try to minimize deep worrying (anxiety); and increase the joy of better sleep.
  6. Decrease salt in-take; and eat more vinegar(s).
  7. Wear thinner (less) clothes (for movement); and bathe more often (for hygiene).
  8. Don’t be excessively greedy (less greedy); and perform good deeds more often.
  9. Eat less sugar; and consume more natural fruits.
  10. Be less talkative (use less words); and act (take action) more often.

150101 health-Ten-List (Kr)

Now, the name of this scholar, who wrote these words (i.e., 10 four-lettered phrases shown above in the white box), is Yi I  (1536-1584). The way to pronounce his name is by saying the English letter “E” twice (as in saying A,B, C, D, E). Hence, his name when read (said/sounded) out loud is E-E (이이/李珥/Yi-I).

At this point, you might want to ask, how really famous was/is he? Well, this gentleman was/is so famous that his face (portrait) appears on today’s 5,000 Korean Won banknote after having passed away approximately 500 years ago – that’s how famous.

150101 health-EE-portraitWhat do you think? Not exactly Dr. (Mehmet) Oz, right? Do you see anything worthy of practice today? If you were to walk away and remember just one of them, what would that one be?

Does Number 2 —not to get angry (upset) too often, and to laugh more frequently — stick out the most? After all, there’s a saying which says that, “laughter is the best medicine,” right?  According to an article which appeared in the New York Times (September 11, 2011), Laughter produces Endorphines – which is a good thing. Next time, when you see (or pick-up) a 5,000 Korean Won banknote, would you try to think of Yi I  (E-E) and some of his sayings?

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How to choose a Chinese Name


How to choose a Chinese Name

Foreigners using Chinese names is a custom dating back to the Tang Dynasty. We do it for the same reasons some Chinese use English names overseas — they’re easier for locals to pronounce and facilitate cross-cultural connections. In other words…when in Rome, do as the Romanians do.


Most of us live with whatever name our parents picked for us, way before they even met us in person. We might secretly wish for a different name, one which resonates more with how we see ourselves. Not everyone gets it right.

Here’s the Good News

Come to China and no matter how old you are, you have the golden opportunity to rename yourself! This with no risk of angering your parents back home.

Here’s a 3-step process most foreigners follow on how to choose a Chinese name:

  1. Find a Chinese friend with a good vocabulary whom you trust.
  2. Select a Chinese surname which sounds similar to your Western surname, e.g. Bell = Bèi, Garcia = Gāo, Maalouf = Mǎ , Vincent = Wēn.
  3. Add two more sound-alike characters to reflect some positive aspect of your character. Stephanie Smith could become Shí Jìngyí 石静怡 (meaning stone, quiet and joyful) and Jason Sutherland could become Sū Jiéshèng 苏杰胜 (meaning revive, outstanding and victorious).

That’s all there is to it. Choose a Chinese name wisely and others will be unable to tell by name alone whether you’re Chinese or not. There are plenty of ways to run amok, however, such as trying to be cute with a novelty name. We’ll leave it to you to determine if the following westerners have succeeded or not:

Literal Meaning
Danny Dǎ nǐ 打你 Hit you (Not the best way to start a sales pitch)
Eva Ài huá 爱华 Love China
Fabio Fā piào 发票 The country’s ubiquitous tax receipts
Hunter Hóng dēng zǒu 红灯走 Walk when light is red (A popular habit)
Jimmy Jīn mào 金茂 The Jinmao Tower in Shanghai
Keanu Jī ròu 肌肉 Muscle
Lorenzo Liǎng mǐ gāo 两米高 Two meters high
Roberto Luó bo tóu 萝卜头 Turnip head preserved in vinegar
Rose Ròu sī 肉丝 Slice of pork

It’s worth saying that a foreigner calling himself Jīn Mào in Shanghai is the equivalent of a Chinese in Paris calling herself Eiffel Tower. Kinda dumb, but at least memorable.

Whatever name you choose, you might find your Chinese friends and co-workers start calling you a name which begins with lǎo 老 (old) or xiǎo 小 (small). If someone calls you Lǎo Lǐ 老李, it doesn’t mean you’re old, just that you’ve come a long way, have knowledge to share and people can trust you. It’s a mark of respect. Just the same if someone calls you Xiǎo Wáng 小王, that doesn’t mean you’re small, inexperienced or insignificant. It just means you possess youth (compared with the person addressing you) and suggests a certain fondness. Hang in there and maybe someday people will call you Lǎo Wáng 老王. It’s all good.

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Stewart Lee Beck (李渡) is an author and the creator of China Simplified. Connect with him at, or visit his website at

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor. This featured post was first released via on April 25, 2014.

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