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The Korean Rum Diary

In South Korea, when the going gets tough, the tough get blogging.

Road Junky stumbled across the Korean Rum Diary and was curious what motivated someone to write stuff like:

Every time I come back to Korea it hurts… I get used to being here and at times I forget just how awful it is. After months of seeing nothing but rude, disgusting people being horrible to each other, I forget that there are places around the world where that isn’t normal.

Of course, all around the world there are assholes. But in other countries there are good people and bad people, and they balance out. But in Korea, people are uniformly irredeemable. This is a terrible, terrible country.

So we asked the obviously anonymous Korean Rum Diary blogger to let us know his story. Here it is:

Infamy in Korea

Before moving to Korea I was doing well for myself as a writer. I was editing a small magazine and finding other work, but ultimately not making as much money as I’d like.

So, like many other university graduates from English speaking countries, I took a lucrative-sounding job in South Korea. What I found in Korea was that while I was making plenty of money, my creativity died. There was nothing inspiring, nothing beautiful. Korea was a wasteland to me.

As the months rolled by I found myself unable to write. Nothing struck me as worth writing about. Korea was just a bad parody of something someone saw on American TV.

When about seven months had passed without me having written a word, I suddenly began writing again. However, I was writing honestly, and honesty is not something that serves a foreigner well in Korea.

But I’ve always valued truth and integrity, and in spite of the abject hostility towards any foreigner with a dissenting opinion of anything Korean, I started a blog: The Korean Rum Diary.

The name came from a favourite novel of mine, The Rum Diary, by Hunter S. Thompson. His description of hostile natives forcing formerly optimistic immigrants into utter drunken cynicism reminded me a lot of life in Korea. Also, my favourite drink has always been rum…

The blog was, of course, anonymous. Only a fool would write something critical about Korea under their own name. Yet, that didn’t stop the critics, who were the first to find Korean Rum Diary.

Korea is well known for its internet-savvy population. It has the highest rates of video game addiction in the world, and its netizens are known as some of the most heavy-handed critics on the net. They’ve ruined the lives of many people whose opinions they’ve disagreed with.

But I must admit that KRD didn’t become popular just because of what I was saying. It immediately became a freak show – a place for angry Koreans to come and rage about the immigrants in their country, and tell us why they hate Japanese people. Basically, they offered a fantastic criticism of themselves.

Some of these angry netizens came, flamed and left. Others stuck around, and some are still here today – despite my having finally put restrictions on the comment boards.

The readership of KRD grew well beyond what I ever expected. What I’d started as a project to attract a handful of readers for the sole purpose of getting myself back into the habit of writing drew several hundred readers each day, and I found myself being forced to write more and more to keep the numbers up.

After a while I began working on articles about Korea for magazines and websites, and I started writing a couple of novels about Korea. But all these things took second place. Writing the blog was pretty much occupying most of my free time.

The content of KRD has changed significantly since the blog first began, a whole year ago. It began as short essays on various parts of life in Korea, written roughly once a week. But with more readers and more posts, it became more varied. It also became a whole lot less “angry”, which was really what KRD became widely known for._

KRD is known as the angriest blog in Korea, and yet these days it just isn’t that angry. It’s honest, and sometimes that means it’s aggressive and critical, but mostly it’s a cross between a “living in Korea” blog and a “news” blog.

You see, English language blogs in Korea could be generally divided into two categories: Those about Korea and those about living in Korea. Either people read and comment on the news or they write about the minutiae of everyday life as a foreigner in a strange land.

KRD now seems to have morphed into a more random blog. One day I might write about racism, the next about getting drunk with friends. Sometimes it’s a dose of satire.

Other Korean Blogs

But let’s take a look at what people are calling the K-blogosphere.

Perhaps the most well known K-blogger of all time was Shawn Mathews, author of Korea Life. Although he was around before my time in Korea, he was a big inspiration for many of the bloggers that followed.

He wrote a book about living in Korea, published the contents of his blog as a book, and then several years ago he killed himself while working in China.

Presently there are a number of extremely popular blogs, but when Shawn was writing there weren’t so many. A few today manage to stand out above the rest and take a fair number of viewers and act as discussion boards for readers who often feel too restricted by Dave’s ESL, the community forums for ESL teachers.

First, Brian in Jeollanam-do is one of the most popular and frequently updated blogs around. Brian also writes for the Korea Herald, an English language newspaper. His blog features links to news items relating to Korea, with commentary added by Brian.

There is also ROK Drop, The Grand Narrative and The Marmot’s Hole for other serious studies of Korean news, events or culture.

For less serious studies of Korean news, see @koreangov and Dokdo is Ours, two comic takes on a weird nation. @koreangov began as a Twitter page, but its popularity soon grew and now it comes in blog form. Its purpose seems to be providing very brief satirical commentary on items in the Korean press. Dokdo is Ours, on the other hand, provides fake interviews and satire on the whole gamut of Korean life.

As for the living in Korea blogs, the hottest item of 2009 is undoubtedly An Idiot’s Tale, the daily updates of a white guy with a Korean wife, whom he terms the Dragon Lady. It’s an engrossing Bukowski-esque tale of drunkenness and stupidity. It’s also perhaps the funniest thing to have ever been written in Korea.

One need only read the links in the side bar of any good Korean blog to discover another fantastic story. Such is the madness of life in the so-called Land of the Morning Calm, that it is more than possible to lose several hours just sitting and reading the stories of teachers lost in a weird, foreign culture.