Comparing Korea

Here are some comparisons of Korea with other places. More observations from this old dad.


South Korea is just over 100km – or a few hours ferry ride – from Japan. Across the stretch of water known as the East Sea or Sea of Japan depending where you come from. Yet Korea has relatively little seismic activity, compared with neighbouring Japan.

The other day they had an earthquake not far from here – so I was told. I never felt it, but I later found out it was about the time I noticed a lot of fairly large fish jumping out of sea as if they were going crazy!! I was walking along the quayside looking into the water at the little fish close to the rocks when I suddenly noticed some much larger fish jumping out of the water. Then more and more joined in. Leaping fully out of the sea like salmon trying to fight their way up the falls of a descending river. At the time I thought that there must have been a much larger predator in the quay but now I believe it was about the time of the “quake”. My senses may be deteriorating due to age but I am sure those fish felt the tremors.


In the work’s canteen the Koreans file in, serve up their food and sit down. Then it’s heads down. Hardly raising their heads until they have eaten enough. Then it’s straight over to drop off their trays and chopsticks.

On the way out of the canteen they pass rows of water fountains and take a quick slurp of water – never any drinks with the meal! Very curious.

Then, just before the exit there are two large urns of tea where most will drink it standing almost without pausing. The whole thing is a like a production line. Then out. 

In the UK we tend to eat quickly and go back to work but it’s nothing like the conveyor belt style of this place. And there would always be drinks to take a little time with at the end of the meal.

In Spain eating lunch it is a national pastime where it normally lasts for 2 hours – or even longer. If the Spanish did a Korean style lunch it would be like finding a restaurant that you want to eat in then turning around and going straight back to work!! It couldn’t be more different.


Of the three oriental languages Korean must be by far the easiest to learn for westerners. Chinese writing contains thousands of characters. Japanese is initially even more confusing. It uses Chinese-like characters (of which there are thousands) plus a kind of syllable based writing which is possibly simpler and more like an alphabet (but not quite).

Korean is very simple by comparison. It has an alphabet consisting of 40 letters – 19 consonants and 21 vowels. The letters are grouped into blocks, usually of two or three letters, to form syllables – possibly often confused for being characters. If you know the 40 letters of the alphabet you can, more or less, instantly read it. Even if you do not know what the words mean. Great when you are looking for a place name on a bus for example.

Written Korean is very distinctive. You can spot it right away because of the repeated use of circular and oval letters. There are no circles in Chinese and hardly noticeable in Japanese.

Furthermore, Korean is also written left to right, top to bottom. Another good reason it would be easier for westerners.

Pedestrian Crossings

In this part of Korea at least there is no chance of a car/bus/van stopping at a pedestrian (zebra) crossing unless there are traffic lights. It can be quite annoying and dangerous even if you are at a zebra. It reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago where I mentioned how the Spanish cross the roads at zebra crossings. They would not survive long here. That probably explains why I have neither seen nor heard any Spanish people here.

Visit over…

Today is the last day of my first visit to Korea and the job is not complete. There is talk of another trip in the new year. But I am not thinking about that right now. I just want to head west and see my boy.

Ship Building is Child’s Play

Shipbuilding  by blocks…

I mentioned in a previous post how this shipyard had huge sections of hull lying around waiting to be assembled in to the classic ship shape. Like giant Lego sets. You can read that post here. It seems my son has been looking at the photos I sent over of some of the ships in this yard.

He must have been so inspired that he made this fantastic vessel out of his Duplo Lego. Complete with extremely tall bridge section. And he made it all by himself.

I was very impressed: Proud even. Maybe he thought it was a cargo ship and that tall bridge section would allow a line of sight when fully laden. There is even what appears to be a crane in the mid-section. Excellent observation.

Not quite. As it turns out it is a ship but not the ocean going kind. This super structure is a space ship.

A Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Star Wars is very much back in fashion for this four year old. I was informed that he has recently been watching a couple of the movies on TV. With new episodes being released at a rate of almost one a year since Disney Studios bought the rights the TV channels are showing older episodes as part up the build up to the newest release – somewhere around Christmas time.

Since watching the films his fascination for the characters has reached a new level. Add to that the fact that he now has new Star Wars pyjamas covered in Storm Troopers. They are the best. These cloned soldiers from a galaxy far, far away are now his favourite characters. Naturally like any kid his age he knows plenty of the other bizarrely named characters. And he won’t stop talking about them to anyone who will listen. This includes his grandmother who has no idea what he is talking about.

Star Wars Studies…

So confused was his grandmother that she went out and bought the box-set of the first three episodes so she could study them and know what he was talking about.

That is to say the second set of three episodes (1 – 3). As any Star Wars fan will tell you, the very first film in the franchise was Episode 4.

The only problem is that now she has been ‘studying’ the films she is even more confused. Unable to accept the story for what it is there are now too many questions. Not so for a young boy. It must be the (two) generation gap.

It’s going to take a four year old to explain it all.




More Thoughts on Korean Large Scale Industry

I have been here 11 full days now and finally I think I am over the jetlag. No longer are my eyes slowly closing and my head dropping as early as 9.30pm. Now I can last till after 11pm. Haha…fully recovered.

It is true what they say. It takes at least one day per hour of time difference to completely recover from such jetlag. Especially when you are getting up early to go into work.

The Mass Commute…

I take a small shuttle bus from the hotel direct to the support building I am based at. Every morning between 7 & 8am I see so many thousands of workers pour into the shipyard. After a day’s work they all tend to leave at the same time – about 6pm

At these times the place is like a huge bus station with coaches and minibuses everywhere. Many more use bicycles. The hundreds of buses and thousands of cyclists create a scene of inner city traffic chaos; all inside the confines of the shipyard gates.

The whole rush hour periods are conducted by security/traffic controllers standing in the middle of the roads with whistles, flashing sticks and uniforms complete with white helmets. They struggle to control it and much of the chaos just rolls by them.

Shipbuilding on this scale…

The multiple car parks that are dotted around the site are never even half full.

It got me thinking. If a country like the UK wanted to try and revive its shipbuilding industry to even half of this scale nobody would have any time to do any work. Everyone would drive and the traffic jams would be horrendous. By the time they all got to work it would be time to leave and then they would endure a second jam in the opposite direction. It would be completely unworkable.

The same would be true in any other European country. Spain; certainly.

Then I realised that back in the days when the UK had a busy shipbuilding industry nobody really owned a car. Certainly not the working classes. It would have been much like this place now. Everyone commuting in and out of work on buses and bicycles.

In some ways the car has killed any chance of a revival in industries on this scale.


I have been joined by two colleagues who arrived late last Thursday. While I have recovered from the jetlag they are exactly where I was just over a week ago. I know the feeling…

Culture Shocks! – But not just the obvious

Well today is my son’s 4th birthday and I am half way around the world and missing him like crazy.

To lighten my spirits I thought I would write about some of the subtle and not so subtle cultural peculiarities I have seen in my few days here. It is important to realise that this area is probably not typical of Korea as all manner of expats and foreign workers are catered for. It’s a bit like going on holiday to Benidorm and saying you have been to Spain.


Naturally the writing is a huge cultural barrier. As anyone who has spent time in the orient can tell you the writing on signs and shops is so mind blowing that it is difficult to pick out the English text which can sometimes be there. The huge ships being made here take years to complete so there are many expats who have settled here with their families. There are so called international schools for their kids which means that they are probably being taught in English. I would like to think that these kids also learn Korean while they are here. A bit of junior school Korean would certainly be useful to me right now.

But the language barrier is to be expected. Here are some other, more peculiar little things I have noticed…

Toilet Humour

Someone had a sense of humour when they installed these. The all singing, all dancing toilet. The Korean writing makes it impossible (for me) to know what is going on but since when did the simple toilet need to be so complicated? I won’t go into detail but we all know what we use it for so what’s with all the gadgets? That extending nozzle in the video is just hilarious. Who thought that was a good idea?


Kids usually develop a sense of “toilet humour” at around 4 years old (especially boys) so my son would love the toilet in my hotel bathroom.

Spam – a lot!

Not to be confused with the Monty Python inspired stage play “Spamalot”. There really is a lot of Spam on display in the supermarkets in Korea. A good friend of mine mentioned this to me before I flew out. Apparently, it stems back to the time when the American GIs were here (during the Korean war) and gave up their rations of Spam to locals. They gained a taste for the stuff. Blimey! Now it is more evident than I am remember it in the 70s.

Special 6-packs of Spam stacked high are a sight to behold.

Speaking of 6-packs…

Usually the term ‘6-pack’ refers to 6 cans of beer. Take a look at this tiny can of beer. The mobile phone is only there to provide a sense of scale.

On the left is a regular 12oz/355ml beer can. On the right is a great little idea. A few slurps of beer just when you only fancy a quick drink. And it just so happens to be one of my favourites – the Japanese Asahi. So small it came in an 8-pack!

Missing My Son’s Birthday

This is the first time I have missed my son’s birthday – including his actual birth. It’s not easy – as you can imagine – and as he just had a party for all his classmates here is a little note to him. He can’t read it yet, but when he is old enough…

Note to my son:

I feel terrible that I missed your birthday Dani but there will be more. The plan is(was) that this would be a short-term contract and I could then spend more time with you over the build up to Christmas. I have a plan – well more of an idea really – to work short term contracts and then spend more time with you in between. As I am at the mercy of other companies to employ me for those “short term” contracts it remains to be seen. This is the first. We shall see how it works out…


I am over here in South Korea the shipbuilding capital of the world.

I wish I could bring you here and show you this place. It would be the greatest birthday present a little boy could ever have. Really big boys toys. The huge ships being built and the massive cranes. I just know you would love it.

Once upon a time Spain would probably have been the centre of shipbuilding. Wooden ships in those days of course – in the days of the conquistadores. Not that long ago (in your nana’s lifetime) Great Britain was the capital. Not anymore though. And never would it have been on this scale.

It took me 20 minutes from the security gate by bus to get to the right quay. Even longer going back when you get off at the wrong gate as I did. First day, getting to know my way around etc…This place is like a city in itself. So many half-built (and almost completed) ships of all shapes and sizes. Different but all very large. There were also lots of ship sections (parts of body shape). Like large Lego pieces. I would love to take a photo or two but the security covered my phone lenses with stickers in order to prevent such things.

Each Quay has a large multi storey office (support) centre building. The office I have been left in (quite literally) seats about 500 people and is just one office on one the six floors. A truly immense operation.

It is hardly top secret. You can see the place on google earth (see image below). They just do not want you filming close-up. Understandable.

Despite the immense scale of this place I am told that over the past few years they had reduced the workforce from around 45,000 to 30,000 – an incredible 15 thousand fewer jobs. But those will come back if there is a big demand for new ships the word over. I guess it’s much like other manufacturing industries; car-making for example. It must be cyclic. The world’s demand for ships comes and goes, ebbs and flows even. No pun intended.


On a different note I bought my first pair of glasses the other day. Just before coming over here to work. I definitely need them for reading small detail on drawings. When the writing is too small to be read at arms length then it’s time to use the spectacles. Finally I am like everyone else I know of my age group. The eyes have gone. Well, deteriorated a little. Still, it’s another sign of age.

So in a few weeks I can spend a lot of time with you again. I have only been here one day but already I can’t wait.

DSME Shipyard

Can a Coward be a True Leader?

I never saw that coming….

They say a week is a long time in politics. Well, it is now just over a week since the Catalan separatists supposedly declared independence and not much has happened. As I wrote in the previous post on the Catalan saga, señor Puigdemont made sure that he got his family out of the country before officially doing the deed.

But not even I would have predicted that he himself would run away. What’s more he has ran off to Brussels. So much for “independence” and faith in his own “republic” of Catalonia. At the same time he is telling Catalans to peacefully resist the Spanish government’s take-over of the regions politics and business matters. He insists that he is not seeking asylum but even after the court in Madrid issued a warrant for his arrest (along with several of his colleagues) he is refusing to go.

That is so brave of him don’t you agree?

My best prediction was that he knew that he was already assured hero status. Therefore, after having pressed all the right (or wrong – depending on your view) buttons, he would be a man and face the music. But no it seems he is too much of a coward for that.

Hiding in plain sight in the “capital of Europe” (as he is now calling it), Puigdemont is trying to weasel his way out of a free, all expenses paid break in one of the Spanish state penitentiaries. Apparently, the law is not fair. That’s great. Who wants to rob a bank with me? We may be able to claim that it is not really against the law. Would we get away with it? We all know the answer to that one. So why should the laws of the land not apply to Mr. Puigdemont?

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? One law for “us”; one for “them”?

Like that Frenchman….

He reminds me of that other well-known coward Charles de Gaulle who fled to Britain (or wherever) when France was overrun in the 2nd world war. Only to return a “national hero” after Britain and the USA (and other allies) had chased the Germans out of France. Great eh?

It is said that on his return to France he met some of the liberators of his country. When he shook hands with the British servicemen he apparently said something like “Thank you, now f**k off”. This could all be an urban myth of course but I like the story.

Quick lesson in how to be a hero kids: Run away, let someone else do your fighting and return when it is all clear. Not exactly what we should be telling our children is it?

Final thought…

And so, to a final thought. What do the Catalans who voted for this man now think of him? He has left them to face the consequences of his actions, guidance and insistence. Do they consider him an heroic leader. I would love to hear from anyone who still supports him. Can any of you just walk away from your jobs now that the Spanish government is running your region?

My advice to Mr.Puigdemont? Simple. Come back and face the music you wimp.

Single Use Plastic

I received quite a few texts and emails about the recent Plastic Fantastic? blog post on the wasteful use and disposal of plastics. It seems that the proliferation of plastics could be much more than a danger to sea-life. There were comments about plastics possibly being responsible for all sorts of (human) life threatening ailments. All interesting stuff. So here is the promised follow-up on ‘single use plastics’.

Before we get into this; anyone who knows me will know that I am no eco-warrior – even though (of course) I care about my young son’s future. That does not mean that I can’t spot something totally wasteful when I see it. The so called ‘single use plastics’  definitely fall into that category.

Do Supermarkets Help?

Supermarkets have been charging for plastic bags for some time. It is supposed to encourage people to use the stronger, multiple use bags instead. But supermarkets also allow incalculable numbers of product packaging in single use plastics.

I can remember when supermarkets gave out paper carrier bags. In the USA the supermarkets have always used brown paper bags. It makes perfect sense. Fully recyclable but also bio-degradable. I also have memories of carrying said paper bags of shopping back from the supermarket in the days when we didn’t have a car in the family. You won’t be surprised to hear that it rains a lot where I grew up. I still have not so fond memories of those old paper carrier bags disintegrating in the heavy rain – some hundred metres or so from home. So close and yet so far.

These days of course everyone has a car. And even when they don’t, they take a taxi from the supermarket. Well, almost everyone.

In this day and age, why don’t supermarkets use paper carrier bags like they do in the USA? They could still charge for them. The big difference is that people could discard them with a clear conscience.

Are there other vested interests involved? We, the public, can only do so much. Sometimes most of us cannot be bothered making the effort. Sad but true. It is quite difficult being forced to be an eco-warrior. It is so much easier for the big organisations (like the supermarkets) to make those decisions for us. Which would you pay for if they gave you a choice? A single use plastic, or a paper carrier bag?

Here’s another angle…

Brace yourself if you consider yourself a true Green recycler.

There should really be no such thing as single use plastic. As an absolute minimum it should have two uses. The second use being power station fuel.

I realise that may come as a shock to many. Even complete horror to the green lobbyist types. However, as I write, there are more and more EfW power plants being built in the UK and around the world. That’s Energy from Waste folks! And they burn pretty much anything and everything. Forget all the other arguments about the need for new power stations, carbon emissions and pollution etc…

While this may seem contentious it is an indisputable fact. There are plenty of these power stations already and they are burning all sorts of material. If you think these things go to landfill sites then please tell me; where is all this land that needs filling? EfW stations are popping up everywhere.

My point is this: ‘Single use plastic’ is not necessarily the real problem. It is the discarding of such items that is the bigger issue. That is where the plastics get into the food chain.

On a Lighter Note…

All this talk of green agenda and eco-warriors reminds me of that character from the 90s TV series The Fast Show. “Dave Angel – Eco-Warrior”.

If you fancy a laugh, check these out:

More are of course easy to find on Youtube.