Skip to content


CNN | The City That Never Sleeps

Spoke with CNN’s London correspondent about life in Seoul.



Interview | Something We Like

The administrator for this website launched Halim Design, a successful web design company based in Los Angeles.


The following transcript is for another interview I gave for What’s Up Korea, a cultural website designed to help better promote Korea for newcomers and share creative ideas.

What made you decide to live in Korea?

I think on an intuitive level, I’ve always been fascinated with Asia. I first came here to teach after learning about the opportunity during a presentation on my university campus. It was actually for the JET program – teaching English to corporate employees in Japan. A short while later, after talking with several close friends who had worked in Korea, I realized that coming here seemed a much better fit for me. I intended to stay only for a year but wound up staying much longer.

It is interesting to find a foreign copywriter working for Korean advertising company. What kind of copy do you write? And could you tell us any episode in your work?

I’ll answer your last question first. As for episodes, a rather big one was having my slogan chosen for the global promotion campaign for Seoul. I’ve only been here at HS Ad a short while, so having had that go through was a pretty big deal for me.

The copy I write is mostly for print advertising. I have written copy for catalog and TV commercial narration, but I mostly handle the print side of things. As I work in the global division, and because 30% of our company’s advertising accounts for international distribution, I am involved in the creative process for numerous clients.

I think the idea of having an in-house foreign copywriter working for a Korean company may very well become a new trend in the coming years. A great deal of time, money and effort is saved this way when developing projects for foreign markets.

I learned that you are blogging. How did you get started?

Well, I began documenting my life in Korea initially through journal writing. It was such a culture shock for me when I first arrived that I felt the best way I could slowly make sense of my surroundings was to write out my experiences and share them with friends and family back home. But as the months wore on, and the more I travelled, I wanted my storytelling to go a little further. As much as I enjoy writing, I knew that pictures often tell a much larger story. When I worked for the Korea Tourism Organization, I was fortunate to see so many places and historic sites and it was then that I decided to somehow bring it all together. Also, at the time, there weren’t very many photography blogs out there so I wanted to tap into something I felt could grow significantly.

A number of photos about the scenery and events of Korea are found in your blog. It seems that you have a lot of travel experience. What is your impression about Korea – that you learned from travelling?

Many people regard Korea as a very hurried place to live. That may be true on some levels, but once you get outside of the larger cities, there’s a certain calmness that I find very appealing. People seem to enjoy life on a deeper level than what I’m normally used to. I find this a very attractive quality and a very engaging way of getting the most out of one’s adventure here. Honestly, my impression of Korea keeps evolving. The more I travel, the more I grow to learn different aspects of the culture and its people.

Do you remember the first subject you photographed in Korea? If so, what was it?

If I look back to when I really became serious about photography in Korea, I’d have to say it was after a trip I had taken to a temple in Daegu. I was so amazed by the surrounding serenity and the way everything flowed together so harmoniously. My favorite from that set is of a Buddhist monk kneeling just inside the temple. I thought it would be too intrusive to capture his face while he was praying so I photographed him instead from the side with the temple door obscuring the front part of his body. I have always favored capturing people in their element – carrying about their daily lives in their environment. I feel that really is the best way to connect with people of varying cultures and diversity. Much of my earlier work includes portrait shots – traditional scenes with people as the primary subject.

As a professional photographer, what do you place most emphasis on when you photograph in Korea?

Korea has its fair share of diversity. That’s often hard to fit all in to one frame. I rarely shoot one scene from numerous angles. To be quite honest, there’s a great deal of luck in photography, especially when so much is going in a big city like Seoul. I try not to get in the habit of forcing the story or subject. A lot of my photographs are of fleeting moments – moments I think that would never have worked if I had lingered around waiting for the scene to happen or evolve. Overall, I think stepping away from the action is key – to not appear intrusive. Koreans can be quite shy. They may never stop you from taking their photographs, but a great deal of the integrity will be lost if they become aware of the photographer’s presence.

Would you share with us any short funny story while photographing in Korea?

It’s always amusing photographing children. I once photographed this little girl who never let on that she knew I was there. She was so animated and strutted along striking all these various poses but never once took any real notice of me. That sort of secret exchange was enjoyable and made for some pretty funny results.

There are and there will be more and more foreign residents and neighbors here in Korea. While living in this country for 6 years, what is good or what is still inconvenient for you?

I don’t want to sound too bold here, but Korea is what you make of it. Newcomers are presented with so many opportunities that it’s really up to them to seek out where their interests are. That isn’t to say that there will be certain barriers. That’s a given. But truthfully, I think Korea is pretty accommodating on many levels. The extent to which businesses seem to go out of their way to offer English services for just about every living necessity (mobile phones, banking etc.) accounts for a great deal.

What’s Up Korea deeply appreciates your time and we are happy to get to know you. Do you have last comment?

I have met some great people here in Korea – from all walks of life. There really is a strong network of expats here in the foreign community – more so than when I first arrived. That really presents a soft landing for newcomers. I’m happy to be a part of that growth in any way possible. By having all these cultural outlets available to showcase creative projects for foreigners, it really makes Korea unique and interesting.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Steph permalink
    June 30, 2010 21:59


  2. November 6, 2009 03:49

    Thank you very much, John. Your work is beautiful too.

  3. November 6, 2009 03:31

    So impressed! Great works!

  4. simonebinkhorst permalink
    September 29, 2009 14:34

    The more I read, the more impressed I become.

  5. August 15, 2009 14:33

    Thanks, HK!🙂

  6. August 15, 2009 13:57

    Love reading your stuff!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,395 other followers