The rainy season is finally tipped to arrive in Seoul. After three weeks of oppressive humidity and drenching sweats, the heavens finally opened for the first time last night, and the omnipresent July mugginess lifted for a brief but incredibly relieving ten minutes. The first rains of summer capped off what has been a week of firsts for me: my first experience of inner-city camping, my first and hopefully last published spelling error, and my first (innocuous) taste of sweet, sweet corporate kickbacks.
A man takes his dogs for a cheeky Saturday cycle along the Han River. Both owner and pets were having an absolute ball. Photo by Nick Gowland
I finally got a chance to take my work outside the office this week, when the travel desk asked me to write an article about a campsite in Seoul. On Saturday morning fellow AKF fellow Brendan Day and I trekked out to Nanji Camping Ground on the banks of the Han River to spend a night barbecuing under the stars. "Trekked out" may be a bit of an exaggeration, because we literally just took a 10 minute bus ride from our hostel and then walked through a park to arrive at the campsite. The raucous Korean campers more than made up for the mosquitos and ever present hum of a nearby eleven lane highway, and we even managed to rent a grill for an authentic Aussie sausage sandwich experience (plus kimchi). You can read more about our urban "glamping" experience in Brendan's latest blog entry.
Left: A deeply patriotic Brendan getting dinky-di with our gas grill. Right: the finished product, sans kimchi. It tasted all wrong because the sausage was actually a hot dog. Photo by Nick Gowland
The article on camping will be published over the weekend. I have been very satisfied with my written output this week. I am incredibly proud to say that three quarters of the articles on page seven of Wednesday’s print edition were written by me. These included the article about a famous international busker, which I mentioned last week, an article about a cricket club in Suwon, and a short brief about weekend Korean courses.
Everything the light touches was written by me, except the bottom left brief which was not. Photo by Nick Gowland
However, Wednesday was as much a lesson in humility as it was a cause for elation. After reading the print version of my cricket article, I had a brief moment of terror upon realising that I’d misspelled the name of a Korea Cricket Association official who I interviewed for the story. Luckily The Korea Herald is a relatively small-scale and seamless operation, meaning that after I had sent an apology email to the cricketer and notified my editor of the mistake, the corrected version was able to go live online in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately it was too late to do anything about the print version, but I have learnt a valuable lesson about checking names and spelling for a fifth time before submitting articles for publication.
Yesterday I again ventured out of the office, this time to conduct an interview for a feature I am co-writing with another intern about illegal tattoo parlours in Seoul. Tattoo art is currently all but illegal in Korea, due to both the Confucian philosophical tradition (which holds that the body is sacred and should not be artificially altered), lingering ideas from the Joseon dynasty where tattoos were used to mark slaves and criminals, and an association with Korean and Japanese gangsters. Tattoos are considered a medical procedure here, meaning artists require a medical license in order to administer body art. Such prohibitive regulation has forced most tattooists to practise their art in secluded illegal parlours, which has led to the development of a hyper-competitive and completely unregulated underground industry.
Tattoo artist Sunrat Kim enjoys a post-interview chocolate milk behind his identity-concealing sunnies and cap. He chose the pseudonym "Sunrat" because he wants to shine bright like the sun, and because he likes the ‘Rat Fink’ cartoon character associated with hot-rod culture. Photo by Nick Gowland
My cowriter and I interviewed an artist named Sunrat Kim, who organised an international tattoo convention in Seoul earlier this year that was raided by police. The interview went well, but as we prepared to leave things took a slight turn towards the unethical. After taking photos of the studios and artists at work (all refused to have their faces shown, and all but Sunrat refused to give any sort of name) and when we were ready to depart, as we walked towards the exit I was pleasantly surprised to see a pile of surfboards propped up in the corner. Turning to Sunrat, I pointed to myself and said ‘Hoju’ while doing a gimmicky surfing action. This gesture of goodwill seemed to have an impact on the tattoo artist. He proceeded to hastily gather a small selection of stickers and posters into two canvas bags before shoving them in our hands, uttering a quick goodbye and sending us on our merry way.
My ill-gotten gains. I think I’ll donate them to charity, to preserve my ethical integrity. Photo by Nick Gowland
On our way back to the office my co-writer explained that as Sunrat handed us our gift bags, he had expressed his sincere hope that we would write positively about his parlour. It seems that I had just been bribed! I have always hoped that the trajectory of my media career would veer widely away from those of Alan Jones and John Laws, but it appears that I’ll have to keep my guard up. To be fair, this first step towards infamy isn’t exactly the moral equivalent to accepting $18 million from leading industrial giants. Even though I may be just a humble university student, $2 worth of advertising material isn’t really enough to bribe me into giving a favourable review. Still, the sage instruction of MECO3603 Media, Law and Ethics continues to ring ever true in my media practice.