Bryan Betts
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Last Murmurations of a Destroyed Wetland

Once, you could stand in the middle of the Saemangeum estuary at low tide and look out on a vast expanse of shimmering gray mud seemingly as boundless as the ocean itself, a landscape pockmarked with thousands of tiny volcanoes and home to diverse species of wildlife. All of that

Jieun Choi
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Barber From Another Era

Opened in 1927, Seongwoo Barbershop is one of the oldest in South Korea. Its 68-year-old proprietor-cum-barber Lee Nam-yeol may also be one of the longest-running barbers in the country. Time seems to stand still here. Since Lee’s grandfather opened the shop under Japanese rule, Lee has kept most

Ben Jackson
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Plane Madness? Second Airport Plan Angers Jeju Islanders

On Tuesday morning, the wind blew tufts of black hair across freezing paving stones by the Blue House. Giant fiberglass Pyeongchang Olympic mascots — a white tiger and an Asiatic black bear — looked on as five electric razors hummed across five scalps. Villagers from Seongsan, a quiet county on

Se-Woong Koo
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Insadong: Breathing Its Last

Every South Korean used to need a seal for conducting legal affairs, and I was fourteen when I had my first seal carved. We could have gone to any seal shop in the neighborhood, but my father insisted that we go to Insadong and make a family outing out

Steven Borowiec
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Dispatch from Gumi: Park Geun-Hye's Sins Taint Father's Legacy

The monument to a dictator sits at the foot of some rolling hills, and visitors approaching the entrance are greeted by a bronze statue that depicts workers doggedly dragging a wheelbarrow. Nestled into trees behind the sculpture is a small cluster of gleaming single-story buildings: the house where Park was

Haeryun Kang
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Haebangchon's Forgotten Past: A Stairway, A Shrine and The War Dead

There’s a stairway on the outskirts of the hip Haebangchon area in Seoul — one that doesn’t really merit a second look. No impressive characteristics beyond its steepness, nothing spectacular in its surroundings. No chic bars, no hipster coffee shops. There’s no reason to remember, much less

Ian James
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Songdo: No Man's City

If one were to crown the most bizarre city in South Korea, many users on r/korea would undoubtedly pick Songdo. Officially known as the Songdo International Business District, this 40 billion USD project is promoted as a smart, green, low-carbon city a fifteen-minute drive and a short flight away

Seung-hye Lee
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My Search for Religion

I live in a tower of glass and concrete, surrounded by lush trees. My friends and family are men and women accustomed to wearing finery, driving oversized sedans and dining at choice restaurants. But deep down, hollowness is wrenching. South Korea is an economic miracle, I often hear. So many

Charlotte Hammond
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Changes at Famed Noryangjin Fish Market Ignite Struggle

These days any tourists or shoppers passing through Seoul’s Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market will see a lot of red. Not just the red of the plastic slotted bins for sorting fish, the rubber gloves used for handing them or the deep flush of stacked sea pineapple. In Noryangjin today

Eunseon Park
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"Jae-gaebal": Resisting Seoul's Brutal Apart-ization

Seemingly endless rows of concrete towers awe foreigners who come to Seoul for the first time. Seoul may have become the capital city more than six centuries ago, but few things survive from that time to convince visitors of this history. Colonial rule (1910-45) and the brutal Korean War (1950-53)

Se-Woong Koo
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When We Became Gangnam

There are a few things I cannot forget from my childhood: picking mugwort with my sexagenarian babysitter at a nearby park, to dry and put in bean-paste soup; delighting in a cheap candy ring that came in a range of bright shades so pretty I dared not eat it; a

Geoffrey Cain
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How I Became an Ajumma

The Korean version of this essay appeared in the Kyunghyang Shinmun on 12 February 2015. The English version here has been published with the permission of the newspaper and the author. I have lived in many countries, but the ajumma character seems rather unique to South Korea. In case