Korean Culture – Korea How http://www.koreahow.com The English teacher's guide to living, working, and traveling in Korea. Thu, 28 Nov 2013 13:24:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.6 Pay It Forward: 6 Ways to Volunteer in Korea http://www.koreahow.com/2011/04/1208/ http://www.koreahow.com/2011/04/1208/#comments Sun, 17 Apr 2011 03:15:35 +0000 http://www.koreahow.com/?p=1208 Looking to do some good while you’re in Korea? From serving soup in Seoul to rescuing animals in Suncheon, Courtney “Coco” Tait shows us how to give back.

A student at the Sung Ae Won orphanage on Christmas Day. Photo by Courtney Tait.

Once you’ve explored the local temples, tried all your neighborhood barbecue joints, hiked a nearby mountain or three, disrobed at the spa, and sipped one too many pints of draft Cass, you may be itching for some fresh experiences on the expat path. Volunteering opportunities in Korea are vast, varied, and surprisingly easy to coordinate: anyone with a few spare hours could soon find themselves rescuing a dog, serving soup to the homeless, or screening films on the plight of North Koreans.  Here are six suggestions to get you started.

1. Campaign for North Korean refugees


Approximately 20,000 North Korean refugees live in South Korea, according to online news source Asian Correspondent, with the majority arriving after months or years hiding in China and a grueling detour through Burma, Thailand, or Vietnam.  Upon arrival, they face a multitude of challenges assimilating to South Korean culture, from battling mistrust and paranoia to job discrimination and difficulty communicating in a language embedded with American English slang.

Often malnourished and poorly educated, defectors struggle to adapt to the seemingly rich and increasingly globalized culture of South Korea, with many plagued by guilt for leaving family members in a country where citizens are conditioned to worship a ruthless dictator and forced to survive on minimal rations of food.

Whether you take part in a street campaign or teach English to refugees, there are many ways to help out the plight of North Koreans.

Several North Korean human rights groups based in Seoul require volunteers. Click on the following links for directions and details on how to get involved:

  • Every Saturday from 3-5pm, Rescue NK holds a street campaign in Insadong to raise awareness for the plight of North Koreans, including those who have defected and the millions who remain.  The group also organizes film screenings and benefits aimed toward assisting refugees and those in North Korea who wish to defect.
  • PSCORE coordinates a one-on-one English tutoring program for refugees, and provides advice on inherent challenges that arise when tutoring this unique demographic.
  • Helping Hands Korea, an organization dedicated to helping refugees escape by providing secret foster homes in China to North Korean children, and sending food to orphans and schoolchildren in North Korea – holds a weekly awareness-raising campaign every Tuesday evening from 7-9 pm, near Samgakji Station.

2. Help feed the homeless


According to a 2010 survey conducted by civic groups and the Korean Center for City and Environment Research, and estimated 1500 South Koreans live on the street. The majority–a population that is 95% male and centered mostly in Seoul–can be found in groups scattered around Seoul Station and at various subway stations throughout the city. Approximately 300 homeless reside in Busan and Daegu combined. Though these figures are relatively small in a country of 48.2 million, 1500 homeless means 1500 people who often go hungry while the rest of the population eats.

  • Helping feed Seoul’s homeless isPLUR, a philanthropic group committed to increasing peace and unity in Korea through volunteering.  The group assists at a soup kitchen every Friday, and on Sundays passes out food to the homeless in and around Seoul station.
  • In Busan, BIWA volunteers at Haeundae Soup Kitchen the second Tuesday of each month.  Contact pamela@alfresco.us for details.
  • Carita’s Nuns soup kitchen in Busan’s Suyoung area is also looking for volunteers, and can be reached at 051-544-1236.

3. Foster a furry four-legged creature (or just take one for a walk)


A volunteer helps out at the Asan animal shelter.

Missing the wag of your dog’s tail as you walk through the door or the sound of your cat’s purr before you drift to sleep?  According to Animal Rescue Korea (ARK), many city-run shelters follow a Korean policy that states stray animals can only be held for 10 days before euthanizing.  While not all shelters euthanize, and some are flexible on the 10-day rule, many animals aren’t rescued quickly enough for their life to be saved.



  • If you live in a pet-friendly place and are willing to prep the stray for a permanent home, you can apply to foster an animal in Korea, taking care of it while you or the shelter seeks a long-term caregiver.
  • Just want to brush fur or play fetch? Shelter animals also need grooming, exercise, and photos taken to help them find permanent homes.  Whether you visit once or several times, many shelters welcome the help of volunteers. Just find a shelter in your area to get started.

4. Support former Korean ‘Comfort Women’ at The House of Sharing


During WW2, the Japanese military forcibly recruited an estimated 200,000 women from various countries into sexual slavery.  Known as ‘Comfort Women,’ the majority were Korean, some still adolescents at the time of recruitment.

Located in Seoul, The House of Sharing is a safehouse for halmonis (a respectful term for grandmother) who are former Comfort Women, as well as a human rights museum opened in 1998 to educate visitors on the halmonis’experience and their fight for retribution from the Japanese Government, who to date has failed to take responsibility for the plight of the Comfort Women or issue a formal apology.

  • To join the Outreach Team, visit the House during one if its tours (held on weekends approximately once a month) after which you can apply to volunteer.  According to Korea4expats.com, a long-term commitment and free weekend days once a month are required, as well as some background knowledge of the issue. Volunteers for research, transcription and translation of the halmonis’ personal testimony are also needed. To reserve your place on a tour, email your name, number attending and phone number to: visits@houseofsharing.org
  • Want to support the former comfort women in their demands to the Japanese Government?  Started by the Korean Council in 1992, a demonstration is held every Wednesday from 12-1 pm in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.   The protests provide an opportunity to show the halmoni and the Japanese Government that the international community supports their fight for justice. See their website for more details.

5. Spend time with orphans and at-risk youth


Hundreds of orphanages exist throughout Korea, providing communal homes for children who often have little hope of being adopted.  The children living in them yearn for extra attention and affection, needs which are difficult to meet for staff members who provide basic daily care for every child.  Offering your time to play games and sports, coordinate art and craft activities, and be a positive role model for these kids diversifies their experiences and gives them the opportunity to receive individual attention.

  • Korean Kids & Orphange Outreach Mission (KKOOM) provides a list of orphanages throughout South Korea.  With the help of a bilingual translator, you can often set up your own volunteer times at an orphanage in your area.
  • In Seoul, the Itaewon/Hannam Global Village Center and PLURboth organize regular orphanage visits.
  • In Busan, ATEK Busan Volunteer–a group that coordinates various Busan-based volunteer opportunities–organizes monthly visits to Boys Town Orphanage near Nampodong.   The group also has coordinators working with three other Busan orphanages near Dayeondong, Oncheonjang, and Beomosa, and can set up weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly visits for interested volunteers.
  • ATEK Busan is also looking for a volunteer coordinator or organize activities for at-risk youth at an after-school program in Nampodong.  Created by Child-Fund Green Umbrella–an organization that receives government money to assist children whose parents are impoverished or absent–the facility is open from 2 pm to 6 pm Monday through Friday. *Note: This program is offered across Korea, with 120 locations.  ATEK Busan can connect volunteers at other locations near them.Send a message through ATEKBusanVolunteerto learn more about these opportunities.

6. Teach English to underprivileged Koreans


While expats spend hours each day teaching phonics and grammar to kids in pricey, privately-run hagwons or academies, countless Koreans who can’t afford English lessons are left unable to compete.  In a country whose government emphasizes the importance of learning the world’s leading language, disadvantaged Koreans can benefit from free lessons offered through several organizations–all of which require volunteers.

  • One of the largest volunteer-based organizations in Korea, Seoul-based HOPEpartners with several host centers to provide volunteers with a classroom location and group of underprivileged kids to teach.  Curriculum is flexible, with an emphasis on exposing kids to other cultures and developing familiarity with foreigners.  While HOPE requests that volunteers commit to at least three months teaching time, you can offer as little as one hour per week to as much time as you’d like to give.  HOPE also has centers in Gyungki and other Korean cities.
  • Mustard Seed coordinates teaching kids from low-income or single parent families, meeting twice monthly on Saturday afternoons near Sindaebang Station in Seoul. For details, email bradcurtin@hotmail.com.
  • ATEKBusanVolunteer is looking for committed volunteers to teach English on Saturdays at Women’s Shelters which house abused women and unwed mothers and their children.  Locations are in Geojaedong and Yeonsandong.
  • Also organized through ATEK Busan Volunteer are weekly English lessons at Asian Community School–a transitional school for children of migrant workers.  Teaching times are mornings, 10-1 pm, but volunteers can teach for as little as one hour or up to three. Send a message through ATEKBusanVolunteer to learn more about these and other opportunities.


Hailing from Victoria, Canada, Courtney Tait spent three years traversing Europe, the Middle East, S.E. Asia and Australia before returning home to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Journalism. Her passion for people, travel, art, music, and nature inspires stories and images featured on her blog, Coco Busan.  Currently based in South Korea, she works as a teacher and freelance writer.

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How to Learn Korean Online For FREE! http://www.koreahow.com/2011/01/learn-korean-online-for-free/ http://www.koreahow.com/2011/01/learn-korean-online-for-free/#comments Wed, 19 Jan 2011 14:37:56 +0000 http://www.koreahow.com/?p=1152 These are the only websites you’ll ever need to learn Korean.

Koreans bow to a statue of Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, on Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul. King Sejong introduced Hangul, the 28-letter Korean alphabet, to Koreans in 1446. Photo: Peter DeMarco

Have you just arrived in Korea and can’t read a single item on a restaurant menu? Or have you been here for years and are ready to improve your language skills beyond “mekju juseyo!” If so, start learning Korean from one of the many great websites available online…for FREE:

1. Korean Class 101

  • This is hands down the “fastest, easiest, and most fun way to learn Korean,” as they advertise on their site. There are FREE podcasts every week for all levels. Each podcast is around 10 minutes long. Just search for it on iTunes. You can also upgrade your account for a fee to get lots of cool extras. Visit the site for more details.

2. Learn Korean Online

  • Rob Julien, a teacher of Korean to foreigners in Korea, has put together a site where you can watch over 4 hours of class video for FREE. Even better, you can email him a question and he might discuss it in his next video class. His site is definitely worth a look.

3. Let’s Speak Korean

  • Some years ago, Stephen Revere – the author of Survival Korean and current managing editor of 10 Magazine, hosted a show on Arirang TV called Let’s Speak Korean. Today you can view well over a hundred episodes online for FREE. What is interesting about the show is that each episode is only 10 minutes long. It’s short, simple, and to the point.

4. Sogang Korean Program

  • The Korean Language Education Center at Sogang University has put together an excellent FREE site full of information and exercises to help you learn Korean.

5. Korean Multimedia Dictionary

  • Indiana University made an outstanding FREE site for learning Korean vocabulary. What’s great about it is that you can learn vocabulary by categories. For example, click on “fruits” and a screen will pop up with pictures of an apple, watermelon, pear, etc.. Next, click on the fruit and you will not only see the word spelled in Hangul, but you will hear the Korean pronunciation of it. Amazing!

6. Korean Alphabet

  • Another fantastic FREE site from Indiana University that will teach you the Korean alphabet.
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Is Korea Safe? http://www.koreahow.com/2010/12/is-korea-safe/ http://www.koreahow.com/2010/12/is-korea-safe/#comments Thu, 23 Dec 2010 16:02:13 +0000 http://www.thenomadwithin.com/?p=846 As tensions rise between the North and South, foreigners question if it’s safe to travel or live in South Korea.

A popular map Korean expats living in the city of Busan are showing their friends and family back home. (map by Mathew Golem)

Get out while you still can. It’s time to pack your bags and find a new country. Well, at least that’s what my friends and family in the US tell me. After seeing a constant flow of news reports about the conflict in the media back home, I can’t blame them for thinking that way.

So is Korea safe? Although I am following the news more closely these days, I can honestly say I feel safer walking through Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul than I do in Times Square (especially after that failed car bomb attempt). It’s true the relationship between the South and North has deteriorated since the day I got here.

It seems like just yesterday former Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was sauntering across the 38th parallel on his way to Pyongyang. There he met Kim Jong-il at the Inter-Korean Summit and signed a peace declaration. Mr. Kim even gave Mr. Roh 4 tons of rare mushrooms as a gift – I’m not joking. Roh Moo-hyun gave Kim Jong-il some Korean dramas and Elizabeth Taylor movies which are banned in the North. Fast forward 4 years and the DPRK has kicked out UN weapons inspectors, tested a nuclear bomb, sunk a South Korean battle ship, and shelled Yeonpyeong-do.

Well that surely is enough to leave, right? Nope. This type of stuff has been happening since the Korean War ended in 1953. You can’t deny that tensions are on the rise. However, to date there have been no warnings against travel to South Korea by any foreign embassy.

Most foreigners living in Korea seem to feel pretty relaxed about the current situation, and even joke about it at times. Take for instance a recent article on one of Korea’s most popular blogs,  The Marmot’s Hole by Robert J. Koehler – a magazine editor living in Seoul and a 10-year-resident of Korea. In his post What, Me Worry?, he talks about South Korea’s recent live-fire artillery drills on Yeonpyeong-do, and how the drill start time depended on the weather:

Now, when I woke up this morning, the weather looked pretty good. So good, in fact, that looking at the window, I thought it was the perfect day for a live-fire artillery drill. I considered breaking the old howitzer out of storage, bringing it to the roof and firing a couple rounds towards Gangnam. It’s been a long week, though, so I just made a cup of coffee, flipped on the TV and watched a couple of episodes of season 2 of “The Mentalist.”

There have already been a few signs that North Korea wants to make amends. But we have seen that before time and again.  What does safe mean these days anyways in our globalized world? If the North was stupid and crazy enough to launch an attack, the US would support the South and the Chinese would help defend the North. It would be World War 3. I just can’t see it happening.

For now all we can do is hope for the best and pray Armageddon never happens. In the meantime, you can find me eating bibimbap and taking photos of blue and pink dogs in Korea.

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Date With an Exorcist: Korean Shamanism Unveiled http://www.koreahow.com/2010/11/date-with-an-exorcist-korean-shamanism-unveiled/ http://www.koreahow.com/2010/11/date-with-an-exorcist-korean-shamanism-unveiled/#comments Wed, 24 Nov 2010 10:51:45 +0000 http://nomadwithin.wordpress.com/?p=364

A Korean shaman holds up a dead pig during a ceremony. Photo P. DeMarco


[View slide show here.]

I knew things were going to get out of control when the Shaman stuck a pitchfork in the belly of the dead pig. She picked it up with the help of two other shamans. The pig was resting limp and lifeless at the top of the pole. She started chanting while the other shaman poured a huge bowl of makoli, a fermented Korean rice wine, over the back of the pig.

Next they put over $100 in bills on the pig’s back. The wind blew through the dry fall leaves. Light from a full moon broke through the tree branches. More chanting ensued.

I looked over at Brian Jenkins, a buddy of mine who I’m making a short documentary about shamanism with, and he had this look of disbelief on his face. He shook his head and whispered “what?” We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. It was by far one of the strangest and most amazing things I have seen in Korea, or my travels for that matter.

First Encounter

Last August I was hiking down a mountain here in Busan with friend and photographer extraordinaire Simon Bond, when we came across the shamans. They were performing some ceremony in what looked like a small Buddhist temple. They were as curious about us as we were of them. They eventually invited us in.

Before we knew it, the shaman or ‘mudang’ in Korean wanted us to take part in the ceremony. First, she had me pull some different colored flags from her hand. She then read my future according to the color of the flags I picked. For instance, the gold flag represents money.

Next it was Simon’s turn. According to the shaman, he had the ghost of a dead relative inside him. It needed to be exorcised (see video). We were both caught off guard but couldn’t believe they let us in to see the ceremony or even take part in it.

Shamanism in Korea Today

Although Shamanism was Korea’s first “religion,” most Korean’s are not familiar with the practice. Moreover, many Korean’s won’t even tell their friends if they go to a shaman. When I told my Korean friends I went to a ceremony they all said they have never seen one and don’t know what happens during one. However, the Koreans we met at the shaman’s temple swear by them.

What I find most interesting is how shamans were an integral part of Korean society for millennium but now looked at almost like quacks and thieves by the masses. Even still, many Korean people such as politicians, businessman, the sick, and newly weds still visit shamans.

From Wikipedia:

Belief in a world inhabited by spirits is probably the oldest form of Korean religious life, dating back to prehistoric times.

Shamanism has its roots in ancient, land-based cultures, dating at least as far back as 40,000 years. The shaman was known as “magician, medicine man, psychopomp, mystic and poet” (Eliade, 1974). What set him apart from other healers or priests was his ability to move at will into trance states. During a trance, the shaman’s soul left his body and travelled to other realms, where helping spirits guided him in his work.

The shaman provided healing on many levels; physical, psychological and spiritual. The work of the shaman was based on the holistic model, which took into consideration, not only the whole person, but that person’s interaction with his world, both inner and outer. The soul was considered the place of life breath, where essence resided, and any physical illness was inextricably linked with sickness of the soul. Illness of the mind had to do with soul loss, intrusion, possession.

Photographing the Ceremony

Since then I have been to two different ceremonies. Each time we were allowed to take photos and video. The photos in the accompanying slide show are from a good luck ceremony or ‘gut’ in Korean. There is a woman in the photos wearing a black shirt and red vest. She came all the way from Seoul just to meet this shaman. We had her permission to take photos during the ceremony.

Many of the pics are out of focus – sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident. There was a lot of movement in these ceremonies and I wanted to convey that. At times the shamans look like mystical whirling dervishes, jumping up and down, stabbing the air with their knives and swords. Many pictures were blurred to convey that sense of motion and mysticism.

On the other hand, I’m still learning about photography so some of the pics were too out of focus. Also, I had to go with a high ISO which made many of the pics even blurrier and caused some burning around the lights. I think I pushed my camera and lenses to the limit in a low-light situation, but I’m sure there is more I could learn to improve the quality. Any tips are appreciated.

For More Info About Korean Shamanism

Kim Soo-nam, a Korean press photographer, spent 30 years documenting Shamanistic rituals around Asia. He passed away in 2006. You can see some of his photos and read a great article about his life and work here.

Dirk Schlottmann, a German ethnologist and photojournalist currently living in South Korea did is doctoral thesis on Korean shamanism. He has some fantastic photos of shamanistic rituals on Flickr. He also has three galleries (1, 2, 3) on a German website.

The New York Times published a great article called Shamanism Enjoys Revival in Techo-Savvy South Korea.

Finally, if you have any information about the topic please post in the comments below.

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Foreign Brokered Brides Rethink Korea http://www.koreahow.com/2010/11/foreign-brokered-brides-rethink-korea/ Fri, 19 Nov 2010 09:33:30 +0000 http://nomadwithin.wordpress.com/?p=355

A Vietnamese bride is about to marry a Korean man 20 years older than him. They met through her older sister who also married a Korean. ~ Photo P. DeMarco

When couples say their wedding vows, “till death do us part” is not supposed to mean you stay married until one partner kills the other. Unfortunately, this past summer a schizophrenic Korean man murdered his Vietnamese wife [not the girl in the photo above].

Apart from the ghastly murder, what sent shock waves around the world was that he met his wife, a Vietnamese girl 27 years younger than him, through a bride brokerage service. It is common practice for older Korean men to travel to Southeast Asia to find brides.

Bride brokerage services are very popular in Korea. After the murder, the Korean authorities are cracking down on this poorly regulated practice. Obviously there are some happy marriages between Korean men and foreign brokered brides, but there are many challenges for them as well.

Will.i.am Video Promotes Korean Cool http://www.koreahow.com/2010/11/will-i-am-video-promotes-korean-cool/ Thu, 04 Nov 2010 11:57:30 +0000 http://nomadwithin.wordpress.com/?p=254

Will.i.am knows can read Hangul (Korean script)?

Is Korea becoming the new Japan? I mean, when I think of Japan I think futuristic cool. Images like Shibuya, Blade Runner, Japanese script, and crazy electronic gadgets, and neon signs come to mind.

Move over techno-trendy Japan. Major US recording artist Will.I.Am chose Korean and Hangul (the Korean alphabet) as the stylish futuristic centerpiece for his new video. First time I’ve seen anything like that. Maybe it’s the G20 effect. Maybe not. Check it out..


What do you think?

Backstage Romance: Behind the Scenes at Seoul Fashion Week http://www.koreahow.com/2010/11/backstage-romance-behind-the-scenes-at-seoul-fashion-week/ http://www.koreahow.com/2010/11/backstage-romance-behind-the-scenes-at-seoul-fashion-week/#comments Wed, 03 Nov 2010 05:32:42 +0000 http://nomadwithin.wordpress.com/?p=222

Korean models at Seoul Fashion Week.

Put your backstage pass around your neck and get ready to take a look behind the scenes of Korea’s biggest fashion event.

Story and photos by Peter DeMarco

A slowed-down acoustic cover tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” blares from the speakers as Korean models line up backstage. They are so tall and wispy that they remind you of the blue creatures from Avatar. Munchkin-like minders in black hoods scurry around them unloading bottles of hairspray, tying bows, painting on lipstick, and buttoning blouses. The show is about to start.

The model at the front of the line jokes with her friends behind her, waiting for the go signal to strut down the catwalk. Camera flashes from the press pop around her as if she were a movie star. The models keep joking and laughing with each other. Julia-Roberts-like smiles spark another burst of camera flashes.

Today they are living out their Cindy Crawford fantasies. When there aren’t any fashion shows these young models are students or work in part time jobs. They can make hundreds of dollars in just one show but it’s obviously not about the money.

Time to Work It

“Ready…” says the director, holding back the model with her arm. Like an Olympic athlete, the model’s expression and stance change instantly. She pulls back her shoulders, straightens her back, and puts on her model face. Her lips purse and eyes become sultrier – almost burning.

“Go…” yells the director as she drops her arm. Everything about her look and the way she carries herself screams sexy confidence. Her legs and arms are so thin and long you’d think she was a praying mantis as she walks out on the catwalk. The crowd believes the outfit she’s wearing will be next season’s biggest hit as she struts down the runway.

International buyers place orders. The press take pictures and write stories. Korean pop stars sit front row next to movie stars. Older housewives in search of glamor sit behind VIPs. Younger students stand in the background behind the chairs: cell phone cameras held up high to record the fashion circus.

Fashion is Our Passion

The model walks to the end of the runway, puts her hand on her hip, and nails a pose. A bank of 40 or so photographers in front of her snap their shutters like machine guns. She tilts her head, shifts her weight on her other foot, and strikes another self-assured pose. Again shutters click like a swarm of locusts.

Fashion becomes life. Onlookers search for the next trend, the next hit style. The model spins gracefully on one foot and then glides away. The audience craves her look, her style, and will pay dearly to get it. Envy fills the air. The chorus to Lady Gaga’s song plays in the background as the model exits backstage: “Walk, walk, fashion, baby / Work it, move that thing, crazy.”


7 Days of Fashion Bliss

Seoul Fashion Week started 10 years ago to promote Korean fashion around the world. Today it is supported by the Korean government and attended by buyers and press from around the globe. Fashion Week runs twice a year at SETEC and a few other venues around the city. Visit the Seoul Fashion Week website if you would like more information or attend one of the shows.


Discovering Backstage Fashion Photography

At the show I bumped into Lorenzo from France (make sure you visit his site and click on “Ordinary People” under Photo Projects – fantastic reportage photo series on being transgender in France). He is a freelance photographer working for an Italian fashion magazine. He suggested I shoot backstage since “That’s where all the action is,” he said with a smile.

There is actually a whole industry around backstage fashion photography. Fashion magazines are looking for pictures of the models having their makeup done or posing with other models and designers for instance. These magazines pay up to $100 or more per published photo. And you get to travel around the world to these different fashion shows: Brazil, Barcelona, New York, Tokyo. What a life!


Best Korean Fashion Blogs (in English)

  • THEXOXOKIDS – This blog was started by “ChadChad”, a foreigner teaching English in Korea. He as gone on to become a model, photographer, and stylist. Check his HA:SANG;BEG after party pics –  by far the craziest event of the week.
  • Feet Man Seoul – One of the most famous Korean fashion blogs around. You can find loads of pics from the show there.
  • Kookokoreano
  • Park & Cube
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