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Ajumma  |  Ajussi | Apkujong  |  Banana Milk  |  Bun deh gi  |  Bundang  |  Carrefour, Homeplus, LotteMart, Emart  |  Chaebol  |  Chu Seok  |  Cider  |  COEX  |  Coffee Machines  |  Cyworld  |  Da rah hey  |  Gangnam  |  GIs  |  Gochu Jang | GS25Han bok  |  Handphone  |  Hobak  |  Hof  |  Itaewon  |  Kimchi  |  Ko jang ee  |  Konglish  |  Mat Dong San  |  PC Bang  |  PX  |  Salsa  |  Samgak Kimbap | Ship won  |  Soju  |  Technomart  |  Way gook  |  Yon-Sama






A term implying a married woman. It used to be used as term of respect. While the husband's sole role in Korean society was to contribute sperm and a paycheck, a married woman traditionally raised the children, helped them with their homework, cleaned the house, paid the bills, handled the family finances, clothed her family, cared for her husband's aged parents, and took an incredibly menial job to pay off her husband's debts. Because an ajumma has little time left in the day to keep up on current fashions, Korean society has rewarded the ajumma's efforts by turning her into a symbol of uncouth backwardness.


The male counterpart of the ajumma. Curiously society has not turned ajussi into a pejorative. However, among the ESL crowd, it is used in a pejorative sense, referring to an older Korean male hepped up on but undeserving of privilege based solely on being born with one X and one Y chromosome.


The Hollywood of Korea. A very rich area, full of extremely attractive young women letting it all hang out to find a well-to-do future husband. Hagwon teachers need not apply.

Banana Milk

Banana milk is a popular Korean beverage. As the name implies, it's banana flavored milk. Banana milk, along with chocopies and matdongsan, is part of Korea's Holy Snacking Trinity. Binggrae is the best known manufacturer of banana milk and the beverage's originator.

The beverage first hit Korean store shelves in 1974. In the '70s Koreans were not a particularly well nourished people and the government encouraged local milk production/consumption. Asians are not traditionally big on dairy, owing to a high prevalence of lactose intolerance. Adult dairy consumption is an adaptation traceable to Northern Europeans and places where winters are long and milk products end up being one of the few foods available.

Genetically Koreans have a strong Mongolian background and many can tolerate dairy, although much of their food comes from Japanese and Chinese cultural roots, which means a lot of stir fry and soup. Cheese and milk doesn't stir fry well and no one but the dastardly French -- with their long waxy mustaches and desires to thwart freedom with their big double deck airplanes financed by outrageous government loans and their Magellan GPS system which you just know they'll turn over to Arab terrorists -- seem to enjoy cheese in their soup. ("But the Tibetans like to put butter in their tea..." "The Tibetans will soon be called to account for their crimes too!")

No. Milk and milk products work best in a culture that bakes and Koreans don't bake.

But there's no denying if you're raising cows and you're not taking advantage of cow milk, you're letting an important and nutritious food source go to waste.

So the Korean government gave the thumbs up to dairy production. The problem with milk is to the Korean palette milk tasted weird. It's hard to imagine someone dunking a chocolate chip cookie in an ice cold glass of fresh milk and proclaiming the taste repellant. But then no Korean could imagine a person putting some slimy kimchi in his mouth and spitting it out proclaiming "I didn't think any fermented cabbage product could be more disgusting than sauerkraut but now I know I've been wrong all these long years. Holy shit, do you Koreans really eat this stuff?"

The Binggrae company (founded in 1969) got the idea to add banana flavoring to the milk. Koreans go bananas for bananas. And they packaged it in a funky stubby little bottle that resembled to some a hand grenade and to others a traditional kimchi pot. The adult generation in the '70s were still dairy avoiders but the kids loved it. It was sweet and the grenade-like packaging was hard to resist. Vendors with their tubs filled with ice and bottles of banana milk became common place at fairs and parks. In the same way a North American has a childhood filled with sweet memories of the day their crappy, cheap parents crowbarred a buck out of their wallets to splurge on a corn dog, Koreans have many a fond memory of their parents buying them a bottle of icy cold banana milk at the park.

Banana milk eventually became the number one product sold in Korean convenience stores. Banana milk out sold cigarettes and if you know Koreans, that's a most astounding claim.

However, not all was good for Binggrae in this banana milk republic. Banana milk sales went soft in the late '80s and early '90s. As Korea entered the world as a fully modern nation, banana milk seemed very dated and old fashioned. Michael Jackson sure didn't drink no fuckin' banana milk. A guy drinking a banana milk and munching a chocopie was as dated as a North American guy eating quiche while wearing his Miami Vice inspired wardrobe and listening to Jan Hammer, like anyone ever listened to Jan Hammer. No, the hip Korean was drinking a little can of Pepsi and munching down a Dunkin' Donuts jelly (banana filling).

Then a curious thing happened. The chaebols and government policy trashed the Korean economy and the IMF had to step in to save the whole ball of wax. Korea, which was a rising tiger, felt humiliated before the world, having to go hat-in-hand to a world body. Oddly this had a positive effect for the Binggrae corporation. Banana milk sales shot up. In times of economic uncertainty, Koreans tend to retreat into tradition. Banana milk, which once seemed old, now seemed like a reminder of better times, a time when Korea was growing economically.

Bun deh gi

A noxious street food consisting of silk worm pupae and some vile brown sauce. The Korean government temporarily banned its public sale for the 1988 Olympics. Apparently, according to co-host Sarah, it tastes like lima beans.


A western style suburb south of Seoul. Owning to the large number of well-healed professional couples with young children, it is becoming a popular and lucrative spot for ESL teaching.

Carrefour, Homeplus, LotteMart, Emart

The main Korean Wal-Martish discount/grocery chains. Carrefour, a French chain, has recently departed Korean shores. Wal-Mart, as well, bailed on Korea.


A chaebol is a large, octopus like company that seems to do everything: hotels, department stores, chewing gum, snacks, main battle tanks, textiles, escalators, wet naps, dried squid, jet skis, school supplies, death rays, and amusement parks.

Major chaebols in Korea are Hyundai, Samsung, LG, Lotte and the SK Group. LG is better known as GoldStar in North America. Some of the smaller ones include Doosan (many of their building projects are labeled "Doota Ville", they are into clothing, publishing, and they build desalination plants) and the highly snicker-worthy "Kolon". Let's not even talk about Kum Ho Tires or the Kranki Wedding Service.

Chu Seok

A three day holiday in Korea, similar to Thanksgiving. If one were to try and divine the purpose the holiday from simply the news reports of, you would think the holiday a celebration of Korean transportation. Koreans line up at airports, railways stations, and bus stations to pay their respects to their public infrastructure. Also, you might conclude another feature of the holiday is to kindnap a blonde woman, dress her up in a hanbok and take photos of her doing a poor job of making rice cakes.


What Koreans call 7-UP.


The most mall-like mall in Korea. Dawn of the Dead is literally played out here on a daily basis as mall deprived westerns walk around like movie zombies in search of a food court with a Taco Bell.

Coffee Machines

One of the things that strikes tourists to Japan is the variety of things one can buy in vending machines, from vodka to sex toys. Korea is a little more circumspect in what they'll vend: beverages and snacks. Ubiquitous in Seoul is the coffee machine (ubiquitous until that one bone chilling cold day when your friend is late to meet you outside a subway entrance on a Sunday morning and nothing more you want to see right now is a coffee machine). For about 200-600 won (20 to 60 cents) you get a Dixie cup of "coffee". It's really more of a shot of super sweet instant coffee that has as much in common with real coffee as donuts have with croissants. The machines vend basically three kinds of coffee: black coffee, black coffee with sugar, and cream coffee with sugar. There's also little cans of Pepsi and cider.

At some point the Korean government feared these coffee machines would wipe out the domestic tea industry and legislated under some horrible punishment that all coffee machines had to vend tea.

I'm not sure that rule is still in force.


The Korean version of Myspace. It predates Myspace. Should you like to get a date in Korea, you generally need both a handphone and a Cyworld page. A basic page is free. One can doll up your Cyworld "hompi" (home page) with little bits of furniture, pets, friends, etc with "do to ri" (acorns, aka cybercash). Do to ri is purchased with real money. One requires a Korean citizenship number to use the site so the site is mostly closed off to foreigners. Foreigners can get access by supplying copies of their identification and submit it via fax or snail mail.

The site is very popular with Korean women who use it to post photos of their European vacations and exotic foods they eat at "fusion" restaurants in Seoul.

Da rah hey

Korean for "repeat after me". Useful to get Korean children to repeat a list of words. Frequently Korean will latch onto the idea that they can just keep repeating EVERYTHING the teacher says. This lil joke is best countered by getting the children to repeat "Teacher, please give me a lot of homework" or "Teacher, I want to kiss all the girls."


"South river". The upper class part of Seoul. Many parts of Gangnam look western.


To ESL teachers, the most hated people in Korea, if you don't count (in order) their students, their boss, all other Koreans and all other ESL teachers. GIs -- with their youth, good bodies, PX access, and spiffy uniforms -- are unfathomable competition for the same pool of English-speaking Korean women.

Gochu jang

Gochu is the Korean word for the chili pepper (also slang for penis) and jang is a kind of sauce. So chili pepper sauce.


A convenience store in Korea. A source of nutritious offerings like samgak kimbap, beer, and soju. Due to either the lack of liquor handling laws or the wholesale failure to ensure compliance, it's not uncommon to see a GS25's small patio become an impromptu outdoor pub. GS25 used to be called LG25. It used to be part of the LG chaebol but one of the family members (the G, apparently) split and took the convenience store business with her. Ms. G added a partner, the mysterious S, and reflagged the stores as GS25. Lifers still refer to it as LG25. Other convenience stores include the ubiquitous 7-11 and FamilyMart.

Han bok

A cross between a kimono and a hot air balloon. It's a traditional woman's robe, designed to be big and baggy to disguise the fact a woman has woman parts under all those layers of silk. Although baggy on the outside, and the farthest thing in the world from pantyhose, women are in no way given a free pass in this traditional grab. I believe the hanbok internally is also meant to bind down her womanly parts, a sort of last defense against a strong gust of wind that might temporarily turn the han bok into something more form fitting.

It is generally believed Among Koreans that there is nothing funnier than a white woman wearing a han bok. Modern Korean women are generally paranoid of wearing a han bok, fearing they will be told they look like whitey in a han bok.


The Korean name for a cell phone.


Korean for pumpkin. It should not be used as a term of endearment as "hobak" also means an incredibly ugly woman.


Hof is the Korean word for pub or bar, specifically a place to drink beer versus a place where one might down shots of soju/whiskey. It's probably one of the few loanwords to enter the Korean language from German, most being from Japanese or English. It's a seemingly odd word to borrow for pub as there is no actual "f" in Korean. The true Korean term is spelt more like "hopu". But when you're dealing with beer, all roads lead to Germany.

The first major Korean beer manufacturer was Oriental Brewery or "OB". It learned the art of brewing from the German beer maker Loewenbrau. Beer pubs borrowed from the German term "Gasthof", shortening it to just "hof".

Domestic beer in a hof is generally quite cheap in Korea, running $2-$3 a bottle. However, custom dictates in a Korean hof that you should order food. This is somewhat reminiscent of old school puritanical British and Canadian liquor handling acts that required food to be on a table at all times if alcohol was being served. Hence, the "rubber" cheese sandwich which was parodied in Infocom version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

In Korea, however, there is no cheese sandwich. You're generally compelled to buy a $20 plate of nachos or cuttlefish. On the up side, there is no tipping. Leaving a tip might cause your wait person to come running out of the hof with money in hand informing you you carelessly left 10 or 20,000 won on the table. This causes more than one ex-pat consternation as not tipping your pub's bartender or waiter is akin to going to the john and not washing your hands. You're left with an unclean feeling for long after the experience. Ex-pats have come to hone their "tip and dash" skills, where you don't leave until you've a) settled your bill and b) your wait person has gone on a bathroom break. At that moment, you slam down a 20,000 won tip and make a run for the door, hoping to be long gone before employees notice you've "forgotten" a couple bills.

Itaewon (It Tay Whan)

Honkey Town. Whitey Town. You know how our cities have China Towns and Little Tokyos and Greek Towns? This is our version! Used to be just long stretches of cat houses and country western bars and people getting stabbed to death in the Burger King washroom. It's undergoing a lot of gentrification. Lots of Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants moved in and then some Italian and French restaurants. It's become a hub for exotic foreign dining and attracting a well traveled Korean following. Word is many Korean celebs hang out in Itaewon restaurants because they're generally not recognized by whitey and can eat a dinner in peace.


Korea's national dish. Used almost in the manner of a condiment. Few things can't be improved without the addition of some kimchi. It is also a cure all for whatever foreign plagues are currently besieging Korea. Be it AIDS, SARS, or Bird Flu some Korean scientist dutifully reports kimchi is effective in warding it off . Kimchi is best understood to the western mind as sauerkraut mixed with chili peppers. Oddly, Germans also ascribe similar curative properties to sauerkraut

Ko jang ee

A Korean term for whitey. Translates as "big nose".


English words in the Korean language and pronouncing English words in the Korean fashion (fishee instead of fish).


Someone who has been in Korea a long time and has no apparent will or ability to return to his home nation.

Mat Dong San

Haitai's Matdongsan, along with Orion chocopies and Binggrae's banana milk, form the main tripod upon which Korea's snacking culture rests. Matdongsan is, well, it's best described as a thick short pretzel stick covered in syrup and roasted peanuts. Oh yeah, it's fucking good.

The name itself roughly translates as "hill (dongsan) taste (mat)". (Adjectives follow the noun in Korean.)

That recalls a hilarious Letterman quip about a TV ad for a douche.

Woman in ad: Massengale disposable douche leaves me feeling as fresh as a country lane after a spring shower.

Letterman: (pause) Gosh, that's mud.

However, the name is meant to imply to Koreans there is a small mountain of taste packed into each matdongsan.

Haitai introduced the snack in 1975. Before matdongsan, Haitai produced Korea's first domestic novelty ice cream product, the Bravo Con (In Korea, "con" would be actually pronounced like "cone" versus "con" as in "Gencon". All O's in Korean are long.) Haitai's first foray into the domestic snack industry was in 1945 with a bean paste bar called Yeonyanggang. Haitai is also known for a rather oddly named and oddly flavored gum called Xylitol.

PC Bang

The PC for personal computer. The Bang is Korean for room. Not pronounced like BANG! It's a sheep "ba". Bahng. Most PC Bangs charge about $1 an hour. They are not traditionally smoke free zones, despite the conspicuous posting of No Smoking signs. Do not try to argue this point with the owner or the offender. You're dealing with people who haven't slept in three days because they were playing Lineage.


A fabled land of American grocery products sold at the same price as American grocery products in the States. There is a PX on most American military bases in Korea, however only American soldiers are allowed to shop there.


A delightful condiment in the West (available, fortunately, in many Korean grocery stores). In Korean it means "diarrhea".

Samgak Kimbap

Literally "3 angle rice and seaweed". A triangular shaped bit of rice wrapped in seaweed (popularly referred to in North America by its Japanese name nori or in Korea as kim). Most are filled with tuna/chicken and mayo/pepper sauce.

Ship won

A 10 won coin. The smallest coin in Korea. It has a value similar to a penny but nearly twice the size of a penny. Costs the Korean government about 3 cents to mint.



Korean hootch made from rice alcohol. The alcohol content is hard to determine, mostly because no one has ever thought to ask, and it varies from brand to brand. Most Koreans simply assume their bottle of soju has enough for 'em. It roughly resembles paint thinner, albeit with a sweet taste that makes downing it by the shot fairly easy. The high and unpredictable alcohol content and the ease with which it goes down, uncut, and the social pressure from your boss and attractive Korean coworkers can make for some particularly unpleasant day after experiences.

Taco Bell

I see no Taco Bell here.



A 10 floor electronics mall. A popular spot with foreigners. Usually one can grub up a sales guy with survival English to transact a sale.

Way gook

A foreign nation. Literally "out land". Way gook in means a foreigner, or outlander. Generally expats simply refer to themselves as "way gooks" as "way gook in" sounds like a verb.


Yon-sama is, oh my god, the biggest thing to hit Japan since Space Invaders. I'm totally not exaggerating. The Japanese press even voted "Yon-sama" as the "word" of 2004, beating out "Iraq", "Brad Pittuh" and even "Those fucking Chinese submarines!"

(So could you see your way to telling me?)

Right. Yon-sama is the Japanese nickname for a Korean actor named Bae Young-Jun who appeared in a rather cheese Korean romantic mini series called Winter Sonata. Young-Jun is a rather average Korean actor, not particularly handsome, sporting what might strike some as a Koreanized mullet. Don't get me wrong. He's no Billy Ray Cyrus with epicanthic folds. There's nothing outright offensive about him. I suppose you might say he has a sincere look. But something about Winter Sonata, when it aired in Japan, just caused the Japanese, primarily women in their 40s, to go crazy for Yon-sama and, by extension, all things Korean. Why is a bit of a mystery that will keep armchair sociologists busy for years.

The most likely explanation is Winter Sonata struck a generational chord. It goes a little like this, ya'all:

There was a long standing bilateral ban on the import of movies, TV shows, and music. Koreans kept out Japanese media products. The Japanese kept out Korean media products. Korea and Japan eventually signed a free trade pact and these media bans were repealed. Winter Sonata was one of the first Korean products to get wide distribution in Japan.

The Japanese, of course, are raised to believe their culture is unique in the world. No one is capable of understanding them. And no one else in the world is like them. But now, before their very eyes, Koreans were shown to be these modern people, very much like them. They looked like them. They ate food just like them. They had similar geography, culture, and traditions. They bowed. They didn't fling poo.

The Japanese couldn't get enough. They were transfixed. It was like watching a monkey roller skate, smoke, and play a deft hand of canasta.

And they also noticed something else about the deep and highly unexpected similarities. Korea was not similar to Japan of the current decade. Korea seemed to be Japan 1984-1996. No subcultures. No children sass talking their grandmother. It was Japan the beautiful, the loyal, the family oriented, the hard working, the monoculture ascending to its rightful place in the economic scheme of things. That Japan. The 40something Japanese generation, who had known these better times, were hit by a wave of nostalgia. Everything they lost was present in Korea today.








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