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A stroll through the blogosphere of Korea

As Korea’s profile raises worldwide, all aspects of the country are explored by a wide net of bloggers.

A blog is an online log of an individual or group’s thoughts, opinions, experiences, and interests. Although most online interaction these days is through social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, blogs provide a more complete experience, with more in-depth content that sees frequent updates. Korea.net maintains its own blog, which selects 50 bloggers each year to report on all things Korea. Recruiting for the 2013 team will begin soon.

In 2009, Korea.net reported on Korea’s English-language blogosphere, claiming there were “at least 50 blogs written about Korea in English” at the time. That number has almost certainly increased to the point of being uncountable, as blogs have proliferated in recent years due to online blogging tools and more convenient hosting options.

“There are just a lot more blogs,” says Robert Koehler, the man behind Korea’s renowned blog the Marmot’s Hole. “It seems like just about every expat has a blog. That means a lot more voices, and a greater diversity of voices. I have no idea what the number is, or if anyone has ever counted.”

Familiar Faces

In the face of the deluge of new blogs written by newcomers discovering Korea, only a few blogs named in the 2009 article remain online and are regularly updated. As well as Marmot’s Hole which is going as strong as ever, the Grand Narrative continues to provide analysis of feminism and sexuality in Korean pop culture, and fashion blog FeetManSeoul and issues-related blog Scribblings of the Metropolitician, both run by Michael Hurt, are still online and very influential.

Koehler moved to Korea in 1997, and started the Marmot’s Hole in 2003 when the blogging medium was still new. “Certainly, I’ve learned a lot through blogging,” he says. “In fact, I’d almost say that’s the main reason I blog now -- it forces me to stay reasonably informed. The blog has helped me professionally, too -- a friend I met through it helped me get my last two jobs.”

The Grand Narrative has been active for nearly six years at the hands of James Turnbull, who has 13 years of experience living in Korea. He focuses mainly on issues of femininity and sexuality in K-pop, and while his articles often have a critical tone, he considers himself a fan. “Well, given the huge time and commitment involved, it's never a good idea to write about something you don't even like,” he says. “So, as it turns out, actually I'm a big fan.”

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The front page of the Marmot's Hole (left); the front page of the Grand Narrative (right)



Staying Power

Staying power has proven to be a virtue of the best bloggers, and many long-running blogs have gained much more fame since 2009.

One such blog that has been turning heads is Ask a Korean!, which invites anyone to write in with their questions about Korea and Korean culture. Started in 2006, it was inspired by the popular site ¡Ask a Mexican! by Gustavo Arellano, and the two of them have collaborated frequently, trading questions about Koreans and Mexicans. “I receive five to ten questions a day,” says the writer, known only as the Korean. “Korean pop culture and finding a Korean date are definitely the most popular questions, although I am always pleasantly surprised by the range and depth of the questions.”

Gusts of Popular Feeling, which got its start in 2005, has accumulated praise for its well-researched, history-minded articles on Korean society. It’s written by Matt van Volkenberg, a history major from Canada who’s been in Korea over a decade and spends great deals of his free time poring over various historic documents such as the archives at the National Assembly Library.

“The blog started out of an interest in Korean history and current events,” says van Volkenberg. “Wherever I am -- whether in Canada, visiting friends in San Francisco, traveling in Southeast Asia, or living in Korea, I've always been interested in finding out more about the history of the place I'm in at the moment. The blog is essentially a reflection of that passion to learn more.”

New Stars

Of course there are countless new blogs that have joined their ranks, bringing fresh perspectives and new, creative ideas to the table.

Geared especially toward travel and lifestyle, Seoulistic is another new addition to the blogosphere, which has been getting a lot of attention. “I think it's because I also have YouTube videos,” guesses Seoulistic blogger Keith Kim. “Most blogs just have text but not too many videos. I try to do both. And of course social networking. I like to add a bit of personality to the posts and videos, to make it more fun, not just information.”

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The front page of Seoulistic (left); the front page of Ask a Korean! (right)



Niche Blogs

Although blogs were once considered little more than online diaries, nowadays the blogosphere is dominated by niche sites with a singular mission or area of interest. Blogs focused on all things Korean -- from food and music to literature and architecture -- are all available online.

Food blogs are a dime a dozen these days, but two of the earliest food blogs still stand out in the crowd. ZenKimchi began in 2004 when Joe McPherson moved to Korea from America, and Seoul Eats was started in 2005 by Korean adoptee Daniel Gray.

“When my first year was coming to a close in Korea, I decided to stay for the long term,” explains McPherson. “I had seen so much change happen in one year that I realized that this was one of those eddies where history was happening. I wanted to witness it for myself. I'm glad I have. Korean food is now more popular than it's ever been. And as a food blogger, I have seen the dining scene, especially its internationalization, increase dramatically.”

A lover of Korean literature, Charles Montgomery started his blog Korean Modern Literature in Translation in January 2006, introducing a new niche to the blogosphere. “I knew the niche existed even if no one really saw it,” says Montgomery. “The Korean concern over the Nobel Prize for Literature showed that the culturati were concerned in the field. Now I get about 200 hits a day, and while the majority of hits used to come from Korea, they are now international.”

Professional Blogs

As well as special interest sites, some blogs are classified into specific careers. While ESL teacher blogs are prevalent, some outstanding examples of professional blogs are the Korean Law Blog, the US military blog ROK Drop, and Kojects.

The Korean Law Blog is run by Sean Hayes, a partner at international law firm IPG Legal. “I find blogging to be fun and I try to give it a minimum of five hours each week,” he says. “I realize that very little useful information is available on law in Korea, thus, I consider the blog not, only, a hobby, but a service to Korea.”

Geared toward transportation, infrastructure, and urbanism, Kojects started in 2010 with Andy Tebay from New Zealand, who recently returned to his home country and added Nikola Medimorec from Germany as a cowriter. Both have worked for the Korea Transport Institute (KOTI), a transportation think-tank funded by the Korean government, “so we know the ‘source’ of all transport policies and developments,” explains Medimorec. “I want to raise attention for specific elements of our daily life. This could be a bus stop, pedestrian area, urban cycling or many other things and places where most of the people pass by without acknowledging them.”

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The front page of Kojects (left); the front page of the Korea Law Blog (right)



Webzine Blogs

As blogs have continued to evolve, many online writers have toyed with the format to better fit their needs. This has resulted in many sites which trace their roots to blogging, but are more akin to online magazines, with multiple contributors writing more journalistic, objective articles, often eschewing the chronological blog format for something more visual.

Chincha was started by three friends from Britain, and now has many other regular contributors. “It’s not really a magazine but it’s also not really a blog,” says Loren Cotter, the main editor. “For me, a blog is a personal webpage which focuses on one person and their thoughts. Chincha is -- and always has been -- a collaborative effort. I think a blog-style magazine could be accurate, although I find myself describing Chincha as a ‘webzine’ more often.”

Likewise, koreaBANG’s editors James Pearson and Raphael Rashid shy away from their blog roots. They publish translations of popular articles from Korean news sources, never passing judgment on their stories.

“A blog is a website on which a user shares his or her views and opinions,” says Rashid. “That's definitely not what we are. I'd like to think of koreaBANG as a small mirror, albeit a rather small mirror, of the Korean Internet.”

“We are what we are: a group of like-minded, multi-lingual individuals who translate articles from the Korean Internet into English,” adds Pearson.

Korean Indie, an online magazine about indie music run by Anna Lindgren Lee and Chris Park, has a different take. “To me Korean Indie is still very much a blog,” explains Lindgren Lee. “I do very much like the pseudo-magazine format, however. [It] not only helps bloggers to promote contents they think should be highlighted, but when done right also makes it easier for readers to find the contents they are more interested in.”

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The front page of Chincha (left); the front page of Korean Indie (right)



Video Blogs

Another innovation to the blogosphere has been the proliferation of video bloggers, people who get out in front of the camera and narrate for their audiences, or record interesting actions or performances.

Most notable in this category is Eat Your Kimchi, run by Canadian duo Simon and Martina Stawski since 2008 when YouTube was introduced to the Korean market. Eat Your Kimchi was registered as a company in 2011, and the Stawskis quit their day jobs to become full-time bloggers. “It comes with a lot more responsibility now,” says Simon. “We have a studio to rent, and staff to pay, while before it was just us in our apartments dorking around. It feels a lot more legitimate for us now, more solidified. Now that we have a Korean business, we feel like we're somewhat more a part of this country now.”

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The front page of Eat Your Kimchi (left); Simon and Martina maintain a weekly schedule for their various features and columns.


“Blogs like Eat Your Kimchi are the biggest blogs right now, and frankly, I think that’s a good thing,” says Robert Koehler. “I think it demonstrates Korea’s rising profile on the global cultural stage. It’s also helped to move the dialogue to more positive aspects of Korea.”

These blogs and many more serve to explore every nook and cranny of Korea and report back to the greater online community. Each of them presents their own opinions and conclusions which are not officially endorsed by the Korean government.

By Jon Dunbar
Korea.net Editor

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