Brian with Coin


One of my students, Brian, photocopied his own face earlier today.  He was sent to the staffroom to make some standard photocopies and returned with a little something extra.

Close up

He also included a 100₩ coin piece in the shot, which was an inspired decision.  It’s actually quite a ghostly effect, but also a great testament to the universal and global appeal of photocopying your own face.

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“Joke or no joke”: Update

Park Jeung Geun in custody

A few weeks ago I wrote about the plight of the hapless Park Jeung Geun and promised an update if there were any developments – well, for the first time in 40 days (the day when he was arrested), he tweeted the following:

“왔습니다.감사합니다.당분간은 재판준비로 쉽니다.감사합니다!”

I’m about 2 years of language study away from being able to translate that myself with any accuracy; so I chucked it all into an online translator and got the following:

“Thank you very much. For the moment, the preparations for a trial holiday. Thank you”

This website informs us that he has actually been bailed, which makes the crude translation above make a bit more sense.  His letter to the judge is an interesting read and underlines his case for being a woefully misunderstood prankster.

It’s interesting to see that Park has changed his twitter background to a more neutral anime-style cartoon (as opposed to the photoshopped North Korean propaganda still that contributed to the initial furore).  One wonders what exactly has transpired between Park Jeung Geun and the South Korean authorities.

More on this news story as it happens.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions and values expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not express the opinions and values of Daniel Castro himself.


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Ridicurous Engrish: Restaurant No.1

Yammy School


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The Fish and Chip Shops of Blackpool

Living in South Korea inevitably creates a sense of homesickness at points and recently I have been looking at my beloved grey hometown through particularly rose-tinted spectacles.  You might expect that this would take the form of missing people and such, but actually it invariably involves me missing fish and chips.  Anyone who knows me well will understand. So I thought I would provide an informal guide to the chippys of Blackpool that I know and love.  I know I’ve already referred to Proust somewhere here before, but I’ll do it again anyway.  Proust had his madeleine: I have my fish and chips.

‘Whelan’s Fish Restaurant’ – The Rolls Royce

Whelans of Lytham

It’s actually in Lytham, but let’s not get political.  The fish is impeccable, the tartare sauce is the best tartare sauce I have had in my entire life and Gordon Ramsay says it’s good. I’d just like to say a few more words about the tartare sauce.  It really is quite exceptional.  It’s chunky, you get a real crunch from the gherkins and capers and other chopped ingredients that go into it and frankly it’s worth visiting Whelan’s just to try it.  Most fish and chip shops serve a tartare sauce that demeans the name, a kind of flavoured mayonaisse.  Not Whelan’s.  One day great books will be written about the tartare sauce at Whelan’s and there’s a good chance that I might write them.

‘Yorkshire Fisheries’ – The Safest Pair of Hands in Blackpool (for their age)

Yorkshire Fisheries

Yorkshire Fisheries has slowly but surely proved its worth to me over years of solid performances.  There’s nothing overly exceptional about the place: the fish is good, the chips are good, the mushy peas are good, the service is good and it is quick.  The thing is that all these things are always good.  Many times a chippy has provided a good sequence of results, only to falter, invariably through the quality of the fish.  Even the mighty Whelans sometimes serves up a fish that is not quite as stellar as the tartare sauce that accompanies it, but Yorkshire Fisheries never lets you down.  If you are in Blackpool Town Centre you would be insane to go anywhere else.

‘The Cottage’ – The Prodigal Son

The Cottage

Perhaps the most famous chippy in Blackpool (apart from Harry Ramsden’s, which I have never actually visited), I have had mixed experiences with The Cottage.  There was a time when fish and chips for tea MEANT ‘The Cottage’.  However, a series of poor meals and a feeling that they had a bloated sense of self-worth meant years in the wilderness as far as we were concerned: it was the pariah of the Blackpool chippy scene.  I think they got a bit too big for their boots, what with their photo encrusted walls of mediocre celebrities and Conservative politicians ‘slumming it’ after party conferences.  Consequently, The Trawler on Highfield Road won the hearts, minds and stomachs of the Castro family for a good few years, before the Yorkshireman who always greeted you with “Evenin’ cap’n” (belted out in a thick Yorkshire accent from the side of his mouth) sadly retired.

In true naval fashion, The Trawler went down with him.  That guy was the real deal: a salty old dog in a roll-neck jumper.

So when I returned to The Cottage several years later, it was evident that a transformation had taken place.  Gone was the ubiquitous woman with the vinegary face, replaced by a fat man who ran an extremely tight ship.  The previous quaint interior of the frying area had been replaced by a professional metallic decor and the service was similarly mechanical.  This might sound unpleasant, but the quality of the fish and chips was a true return to form, and so The Cottage is once again up there with the best.

‘Eddy’s Fish and Chips’ – The Local Hero

Eddy’s Fish and Chips has only been around for a year or so, but it has already established itself as the number one teatime option on those days when you just can’t be bothered cooking. Although the quality of the fish and chips is excellent, a good deal of Eddy’s success is down to the unusual charm of Eddy himself.  Eddy is a thin Armenian man with a thinning side parting and a sly, ironic expression.  He always works with one other female assistant, a role that no woman seems to be able to stomach for more than a week or two.  He is evidently somewhat insufferable to the average Blackpool female.  He gleefully calls men who are at least 60 years old and in various states of decrepitude “young man” and is generally a very odd creature.  Here’s an exchange with a customer that I once observed:

Oafish Blackpudlian Man: (looking stupidly up at the board of options) “What’s the halibut then, is that a fish?”

Eddy: (darkly looking up at the man with narrowed eyes and speaking with a thick Armenian accent) “IT’S A DIRTY WHITE RRRAT”

Diplomatic Female Assistant: (mercifully stepping in as the Oafish Blackpudlian Man looks confused) “Yes it’s a fish love.”

Sometime I feel that Eddy really belongs somewhere else, which is why it’s so great that he’s in Blackpool serving fish and chips to people that have probably never even heard of Armenia.  Or halibut.


This post is brought to you by the song that I have been playing on repeat to fuel my fish and chips nostalgia.  I know it’s about Borth but anyway…

EDIT: After the first link proved not to play on here due to copyright issues or some other nonsense I was forced to look for another available version of “Everyday is like Sunday”.  It proved impossible until I stumbled across this video that inexplicably blends Grand Theft Auto with the song.

It makes me happy when someone loves two completely different things so much that they  just HAVE to put them together and make a big effort in so doing.  Seems to encapsulate a lot of what makes us human, these silly videos.

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The Most Expensive Cheese Grater in the World

Yours for only £52

Cheese isn’t really something South Korea has mastered just yet.  The fact that it’s pronounced “cheeg-UH” gives this away a little bit.  However it’s still absolutely ludicrous that a major supermarket chain charges 92,000₩ for this cheese grater – current exchange rates tell us that this price is roughly equivalent to £52.    

For this price you might expect that it’s one of those cheese graters that also lays golden eggs, but no: it’s just a standard cheese grater.

Credit for this spot goes to my friend and fellow ex-patriot, Richard “Lorgie” Lawson, who told me that the extortionate price definitely relates to the grater and that this item is actually something of a tourist spot for any non-Koreans visiting the E-Mart in Sanbon, Seoul.

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Botchamania Article for Sabotage Times


Some of you may be aware of my appreciation for the internet phenomenon ‘Botchamania’ – and probably more of you will be aware of my writerly inclinations. I have combined these two things and written an article on my beloved ‘Botchamania’ for the online newspaper/magazine, ‘Sabotage Times’.  You can read the article here.

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Ridicurous Engrish: Shop No.4


Pretty sure the irony of this coffee shop closing down is more delicious than the coffee they once served.

..and gone.

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Ridicurous Engrish: Bag No.1

The Beskind of Bag

I like to imagine a drunk Piglet slurring this to Pooh after a night on the hard stuff (honeycomb).

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“Joke or no joke”

There is a long, colourful and occasionally hilarious tradition of jokes going wrong in the UK. From Billy Connolly’s Ken Bigley joke to the Andrew Sachs/Jonathan Ross incident, there is a tipping point when it comes to jokes.  Push it right up to the edge of what is acceptable and you will often get the heartiest laughs…but if you stray over that line, it can get very ugly indeed.

Last week in Korea, news emerged of a young man who had strayed over a very different line in telling his own kind of joke, and it really has got ugly for him.  To the displeasure of South Korean officials, South Korean Park Jeung Geun retweeted the following message from the official North Korean twitter account:

Long live Kim Jong-Il”

Park faces up to 7 years in prison for his tweet, which was deemed to ‘benefit the enemy’, according to the South Korean ‘National Security Law’.  Park has certainly crossed a line of some kind; but in a different way, it seems that so too have the South Korean officials.  In their response to what actually appears to be a well-intentioned joke you could say that they have, ideologically speaking, crossed the DMZ and taken up the kind of totalitarian stance that the ‘West’ expects from North Korea themselves.

When we come to examine the issue itself, for a ‘true Brit’ the big question is obviously this: was Park actually joking?  In Britain, to know that something is a joke is to place it in a sphere that very nearly exists completely beyond the realm of politics, social relations and good taste.  If Park wasn’t joking then this would swing our favour towards the South Korean government.  His tweet would be literally showing solidarity with North Korea: and after all we shouldn’t forget that North Korea and South Korea are still ‘technically’ at war.

However, all the evidence seems to suggest that he was joking.  A big clue is that Kim Jong-Il is dead – so one very plausible interpretation of Park’s tweet is that he was ironically ridiculing the idea of wishing a long life on a dead, reviled dictator.  In a different tweet, Park, a photographer, had also altered a North Korean propaganda poster to feature himself, looking glum and holding a bottle of whisky instead of a gun (see it here).  It would seem that whatever the case, Park wasn’t taking things too seriously.  Here’s what Park offered by means of explanation for his actions:

My intention was to lampoon North Korea’s leaders for a joke – I did it for fun.

At this stage it seems reasonable to conclude that Park was in fact joking and that he wasn’t attempting to endorse solidarity with North Korea.  There is of course a chance that he is being exceptionally sly and simply masquerading as a silly smarty-pants 24 year old photographer; but then again, maybe the Duke of Edinburgh is secretly a UN Goodwill Ambassador.  Again, at this point I think it’s reasonable, from a British perspective, to believe that Park was just joking.  However, and this is where it gets really interesting, South Korean officials gave the following perspective (according to The New York Times):

“Prosecutors charged that joke or no joke, Mr. Park’s Twitter account served as a tool to spread North Korean propaganda.”

This is almost incomprehensible to our comedy soaked ears we can accept that perhaps the intention to create humour isn’t THE main factor, but surely it is something to be considered nevertheless?  What if Park was just ‘having a laugh’?  The fact that Park’s tweets and photoshopped images appear to be mocking North Korea seems to have escaped South Korean prosecutors entirely.  If Park was indeed joking it is to be hoped for his sake that the factor of his authorial intent comes into it, if only to lessen the length of his potential sentence.

The sanctity of the joke in British culture often makes us keen to side with the joker in cases such as Park Jeung Geun’s.  We pride ourselves on our sophisticated sense of humour, it’s wide berth and supposedly higher intellectual status than the slapstick of continental Europe, for example: so perhaps we loftily sometimes feel that we have the moral high ground when other countries ‘don’t get it’.  But, and to state the obvious: other countries DO have different cultures and senses of humour that we Brits, in our all-knowingness, perhaps sometimes do not fully comprehend.

The difficulty of applying this liberal mode of thought when it comes to South Korea is that we regard South Korea as being somewhat ‘westernised’.  Park seems to be making a very ‘western’ kind of joke; and yet he is a South Korean.  The youth and future of South Korea are becoming westernised – fast food and the accompanying child obesity problem is one symptom of the cultural transition that is occurring.  With this cultural transition comes humour – and the internet is undoubtedly the zone where this cultural interchange is at its peak.  So should Park’s ironic tweet be judged by liberal Western humour or conservative South Korean law?  The jury is out.

The Park Jeung Geun incident not only highlights the tensions that exist in the Korean peninsula, but also the gulf in culture that exists between Korea and the ‘Western’ world.  It is perhaps impossible for us to understand this case from a South Korean perspective; and it is perhaps impossible for South Korean officials to fully understand our shock at what we might see as incredibly stern punishment for a minor offence.  As always, I feel that the onus that is on us is to seek greater understanding of the Korean peninsula as a whole; and more importantly, to avoid the temerity of judging without a fuller cultural understanding. Particularly in my case because I live here.

“And the shame was on the other side.”

Posted in Korea, North Korea / South Korea | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How to get a sofa up 12 storeys in 30 seconds





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