Is Ulsan the next Detroit?

In a recent class wih a group of adult students we discussed an article about Detroit which depicted the rise and fall of the city. I was expecting a discussion about the global financial crisis and other economical issues, and therefore I was shocked when they claimed that Ulsan was set to be the next Detroit.

 Hyundai Motors, Ulsan plant.

For anyone who is unaware of Ulsan, I will give you a brief introduction. It has been dubbed the ‘industrial armpit of Korea’, because it houses Hyundai Motors (the worlds largest car assembly), Hyundai Heavy Industry (the largest shipyard) and SK Energy (the second largest oil refinery). Ulsan is currently the second richest city in South Korea, and therefore the second most expensive city to live in.

Detroit car assembly line.

Evidently, there are a few similarities between modern Ulsan and Detroit in the early 20th century. In recent years there has been several strikes in the industrial sector as employees have attempted to get pay rises. The big companies have struck back, and steadily more and more work has been shipped abroad to countries with lower wages. People who live near to the industrial centre have claimed that the neighbourhood has gradually been getting quieter; a few years ago it would be lively at clocking out time, but now many of the restaurants and bars are quiet. There are tales of empty office blocks, and rent has dropped significantly in the past five years.

The affinity of the two cities becomes unnerving the more you look at it. Obviously, a multitude of cities go through financial difficulties, and with the current popularity of gentrification has put a positive spin on economic collapse. Even Detroit – the biggest American city to go bankrupt – is currently undergoing a transformation as money is siphoned back into the city. However, it is still massively concerning to consider how Koreans would handle the financial ruin of city like Ulsan after spending so many years growing and becoming stronger.


Drunk Shakespeare, NYC

Shakespeare has played a big part in my life; it has been difficult to avoid the Bard (and believe me I’ve tried), as I studied English literature up to my bachelors. It’s not that I particularly dislike Shakespeare, I just prefer modern and contemporary literature. After I graduated, I put my Shakespearean anthology away as I believed that I was finished with that part of my life. 

However, on a recent trip to NYC I saw that there was a troupe called Drunk Shakespeare performing off Broadway. The tickets were cheap, so I decided to check it out. The troupe were energetic and they painted a refreshingly modern gloss over Macbeth. It was a very lighthearted performance with topical jokes – I’m sure that a lot of them passed over my head. 

Despite drinking copious amounts of alcohol, the actors still performed really well. Their interactions with the audience were quick and witty and they maintained a jovial, raucous atmosphere during the evening. However, they were more than comedians as they performed Shakespeare with so much passion, and their interpretation competed with the more serious plays that I have seen. In particular, Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy was outstanding, and it made my hair stand on end. 

Perhaps the highlight was the location; it was a really small stage, which provided a very intimate atmosphere to the show. The walls were lined with shelves filled with beautiful books which made it look like an old fashioned library. The audience basically sat on the stage and they were included in many of the scenes. They did exactly what they claimed to do and got drunk whilst performing Shakespeare – it was a far cry from my days studying it in a dusty library. 

The Manchester Attacks

A week ago, I awoke to the tragedy of the Manchester attacks. Over the past few years I haven’t spent much time living there, but it’s where I was born and raised, and frankly it will always be my home. Obviously, I was heartbroken when I heard the news. Living so far away made it even harder to deal with this catastrophe, because I believed that no one would understand my turmoil. 

However, as the week wore on, students and friends showed me endless compassion, and this softened my heartbreak and the homesickness that accompanied it. As I dragged myself out of my negative mindset, I became aware of the positive actions that surrounded this horrific event. In Manchester, taxi drivers turned off their meters in order to evacuate the arena. When the local hospitals ran out of food, companies and individuals supplied them with refreshments. Many tattoo artists worked for free inking the iconic Manchester bee onto the skin of numerous individuals. After the minutes silence at St. Ann’s Square, the crowd erupted into a spontaneous rendition of Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger. 

There have been countless charitable actions that have proved just how amazing humans are. Unfortunately, the main thing we’ll remember about the 22nd May is the vicious attack against so many innocent people. Perhaps what we should remember about this day is the avalanche of charity and bravery that encompassed so many people during the aftermath. If we can focus on the positives, the world doesn’t seem like such a bad place. 

Musing: Korean Dining Rules

I love eating out. I adore walking into a restaurant where I have never been before, scouting out the best seat and analysing the menu for the most appetising items. It’s the thrill of the unknown. Even in Korea, where I am potentially the only foreign face to grace their establishment that week (or perhaps even longer), I enjoy trawling for the best restaurants.

However, there is a certain off-putting aspect to Korean dining, and that is the rules of eating. I enjoy experimenting with my food in order to combine the best tastes and textures, but it often feels as though there is a set of unyielding regulations for eating Korean food, (ironically, this country also boasts a bizarre array of snack flavours and pizza toppings). There have been multiple occasions where the restaurant staff have instructed me on the correct order to put the food into my mouth. Admittedly, there have been times when I’m faced with something obscure, and I am grateful for their interruption. However, when it comes to basic Korean food that I regularly consume – and I don’t always comply with the rules – the altercation can be a little frustrating. After it feels as though the waiters are closely watching me to ensure that I eat correctly, and I feel concerned that my refusal to comply is rude. 

My Korean friends have also informed me on how to correctly consume food when we go out for dinner. Recently, a friend told me that the chilli spice on the table was for one of our dishes, but not another. When I questioned her on this idea she told me that the spice only complimented one of the meals. I tried it with both and I beg to differ, which leads me to ask who creates these regulations, and why are they continuing to be enforced?  

Teaching The Ant and the Grasshopper

I recently taught Aesop’s The Ant and the Grasshopper to a class of elementary students. It brought stories from my youth rushing back to me, and as tends to be the case when you revisit these tales as an adult, I realised that I didn’t fully appreciate the moral back then. There’s something particularly unsettling about returning to books and movies from your youth and interpreting them with a mature mind. Therefore, I decided that it would be interesting to study a fable with my adult students.

Every time I teach this group, I walk away feeling that I’ve learnt so much from them, (sometimes I worry that they teach me more than I teach them). They are intuitive, interested in learning and generally well-rounded, and they didn’t fail to impress me during this class. As I expected, there is a Korean version of this fable, and the students were familiar with the moral of the story, but this didn’t detract from their enthusiasm.

There was a wide range of ideas about the story – which obviously created an interesting discussion. One student recalled a modern version of the fable where the grasshopper is a famous singer whilst the ant is a labourer who becomes sick from working too hard. It was a darkly comical outlook on modern society, and when I researched modern takes of the fable, I found that there is a multitude. If I teach this lesson again I will probably encourage a discussion of how the tale would unfold in modern life.

Below is a copy of the worksheet that I used. This class are intermediate, but the worksheet could easily be adapted to other levels.

The Ant and the Grasshopper Fable
An Aesop’s Fable

In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.”
But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil.
When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer.
Then the Grasshopper knew: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

Moral of Aesop’s Fable: It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.

Chirping Carrying
Content Need
Bearing Tweeting
Toil Prepare
Moiling Delivering
Lay up Fulfilled
Distributing Hard work
Necessity Labour


Is there a fable like this in your country?

Do you enjoy reading stories with morals?

Do you relate to the ant or the grasshopper?

Which would you rather do, work hard or play hard? Is there a time for each?

Why didn’t the grasshopper work hard?

What do you think this story is trying to teach?

Discuss the phrase: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Discuss the phrase: “Prepare an umbrella before it rains.”
Do you think the ants should help the grasshopper?

How do you think the ant felt watching grasshopper play while she was working so hard? Have you ever been in a situation like this?

Do you think the grasshopper will help gather food next year?

Do you think any of the ants will choose to sing and dance rather than work to prepare for the winter?





Public Address System

It’s deepest, darkest winter. The air is so dry that it sticks in my throat and has transformed my skin into a crumbling wreck. If I touch something metallic, I’m likely to receive an electric shock. The landscape resembles something post-apocalyptic, with the dry, desolate mountains and the skeletal trees. The wind is pounding against the balcony windows of my 13th floor apartment. I roll over in bed and glance at my phone, it’s 6 a.m.; I still have a couple of hours before I need to drag myself out from beneath the covers. I wrap myself up in a cocoon as I settle back down.

Suddenly, the PA system, that’s located above the bathroom door, cheerily pings to life. The security guard surly voice grumbles something in Korean, a language that – despite the time I’ve spent living here – I do not speak. I put my head under the covers in a half-arsed attempt to block out his incomprehensible stream, but it’s impossible. He continues for an indefinitely long period, and then the cheery ping signals that he’s finished.

I carry the curse of being a light sleeper, so now sleep completely evades me. I fume as I thrash around in bed before deciding to face the day. How can this man, who signs for my packages when I’m out, storm into my apartment at 6 a.m. and rouse me from my bed? I really didn’t sign up to live in an Orwellian nightmare.

Donald Trump and North Korea

When Donald Trump was elected as the president of the United States five months ago, I felt concerned for the future.  Many of my American friends told me how dissappointed they were with the results, and they were confused about what their own futures would hold. Despite the surmountable fear that surrounded Trump, I felt reassured that his actions wouldn’t strongly effect me. 

However, it now appears that I had no reason to feel so smug. Trump literally stormed into power, and he has used his position rather aggressively. Initially, I believed that he was all bark and no bite, but his actions against Syria and Afghanistan have proved me wrong. Vice President Pence said that the actions in Syria proved “the strength and resolve of our new president”, but what I see is a man with an unchecked capacity for destruction. This concern was reiterated by an extremely insightful podcast by Radiolab called Nukes where they explained the extent of the presidents power over nuclear warfare. Unfortunately, it appears that the president has complete and almost instantaneous authority when it comes to deploying nuclear bombs.

Now, Trump’s turned his attention to North Korea, (a country that also happens to be a close neighbour of mine). Trump has said that North Korea has “gotta behave” when it comes to their plans for intercontinental ballistic missiles. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe that North Korea is likely to quell their nuclear program because of Trump’s somewhat patronising words. 

Over the past few weeks, the news has been increasingly filled with the Trump/North Korea dispute. Alongside that, friends and family have voiced their own concern for my safety as I live in such close proximity to Pyongyang. To be completely honest, I’m currently not overly concerned about the prospect of nuclear warfare. Over the past couple of years I’ve observed the numerous terrorist attacks that have spread over Europe. As far as I can tell, nobody expected these events, and therefore the people who were effected by them weren’t living in fear. If I allow the disputes of the people in power to concern me, they will only cause me unnecessary stress. Therefore, I’m trying to think positively, and hope that this situation doesn’t blow up on my doorstep.