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on 21 May 2013
The author writes as if she has experienced a huge amount of Korea, but is only there for two months. The book is also littered with clunky language and a reliance on bad phrases eg. 'And then...' again and again. I also wasn't too interested in the inner arguments of her boyfriends band. There are also some slightly racist 'observations'.

Sadly this is the only 'travel writing' style book on Korea I have found. It isn't all bad, when the author does experience some interesting events we do get a good account of events and there has been a fair amount of historical research carried out after the trip that has been interjected throughout the chapters that helps to raise the credibility of a not great travel account.
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on 8 May 2017
I have just finished Jen Barclay's " Meeting Mr Kim " ...I know a few years late ! I first became acquainted with Jennifer;s writing after reading " Falling into Honey " and " An Octopus in myOuzo". As a consequence I have booked a holiday to Tilos this summer....Can't wait !
Getting back to the review I have come to the conclusion that I love Ms Barclay's writing ,she is " up my street" as they say. As in previous books She enveloped me with the sights,sounds and smells of Korea. Kimchi ...would love to try it .....do they sell it in Tesco's ?? Jennifer has tremendous courage to travel and sometimes alone in foreign unknown countries . Accepting lifts and staying with strangers could have turned out very differently but Jen has amazingly good instincts that have served her well. It was interesting and informative to read the historical notes at the beginning of each chapter and reading about little known North Korea was fascinating ! Loved it ...please write more !!
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on 15 November 2013
Chances are you are reading this on one of the devices that is made in Korea, and yet around 25 years ago this was a almost unknown country, famous only as a place that America had fought a war in.

This is a few years old now, and even then Westerners were not that common in South Korea. Barclay was there on an extended holiday with a guy who had been given a short term contract to play with his band in a hotel in Seoul. She hadn't visited the country at all, and in this book she describes her feelings and experiences. It has maintained it's unique culture even though is has been the subject of many invasions form China and Japan, and is still occupied by American soldiers as they are technically still at war with North Korea.

It does sound like a fascinating country, she found that Seoul was less welcoming than other parts. As she moved out into the country the people were much more welcoming and friend as a whole. She found the countryside and scenery stunning, and the book helpfully list a set of experience to undertake if you are fortunate to visit.

Great little travel book, and whilst I can believe that it has change more since this was written, I think that a lot of things will have remained the same.
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on 23 December 2013
I've had two really good reads this year and both by the same author. I started with Meeting Mr Kim by Jennifer Barclay and was left feeling that here is a book written with all the grace and elegance of a classic. As I discovered a land I knew nothing about I became as enchanted as the writer was obviously enchanted by temples and lonely hilltops- moments of utter seclusion and silence. I visited busy towns and suddenly understood tradition, mannerism, food and language. Without a doubt, Meeting Mr Kim will last for many years, if not forever more,a valid reference for travellers wishing to understand a country and its way of life, or simply for the reader searching for adventure from the comfortable chair.

I let a number of weeks pass before reading Falling in Honey. I'm a believer in savouring good things to come and Falling in Honey was in the back of mind like a delicious meal waiting on the horizon. I wasn't disappointed, in fact I was overjoyed. The same elegance of beautiful and controlled writing. The story inches forward with days of sunshine, blue sky and sea, beautiful places, food and people and of course, love. It's about pinpoint observation of the small and large detail alike, observations that make books what books are all about and writers what writers are all about. I savoured every page willing it not to end, willing it to carry on.

I fell into honey when I read Falling in Honey as I met Mr Kim when I read Meeting Mr Kim. I now have the difficult decision whether to place Meeting Mr Kim on the top slot of my best read of the year or Falling in Honey. A difficult decision indeed, and one of which I find almost impossible except that they take either first or second place on my list. But what I don't find impossible to say is that both books should be read as both will be totally loved and enjoyed.
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on 28 October 2016
Meeting Mr Kim is an interesting and insightful, light-hearted tale of the author’s time spent travelling around South Korea. Having spent 16 months living and working in Daegu, a large city in the south of the country, there were many observations to which I could easily relate. I particularly enjoyed reading about the encounters and episodes throughout the book that emphasise the kindness, hospitality, and warmth of many Korean people.

Jennifer recounts various episodes from the history of Korea, and this in turn helps her to understand and contextualise the experiences she has along the way of her personal journey. I appreciate the way in which the narrative effectively balances historical information with amusing accounts of her adventures. I would highly recommend Meeting Mr Kim to anyone who is looking for an enjoyable read and would like to know more about this fascinating country.
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on 21 August 2014
After accidentally finding 'Falling in Honey', and absolutely loving it, i thought i should try Ms Barclays other offering regarding Korea. Both books have a similar 'travelogue' style to them, which i find very easy to relate to. I never felt i was being force-fed someones story or information - more that i was just along with them for the ride. I love the way this book carries you into an unknown country (for me it is, anyway), and shows you two sides of it. The brashness and hustle of Seoul, against the stilllness and peace of the Korean countryside. And to me it certainly sells the Korean people in a good light.
It takes me a couple of months to read a book usually - i tend to pick it up now and then, so its nice to have something that you can get back into easily without having to keep a shedful of characters in your head.
I would thoroughly recommend both of these books to anyone.
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on 13 June 2010
In 2000, Jennifer Barclay's boyfriend, a drummer, secured a three month gig at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seoul, South Korea. Unhappy with her life in Toronto, she quits her job, and joins her boyfriend, Gavin, on what would ultimately be an inspiring trip to the "Land of the Morning Calm". The initial excitement quickly peters out as both Jennifer and Gavin struggle to integrate with life in Seoul, finding it unfriendly and soul-less. Gavin's day (night) job means that he spends most of the day sleeping before playing with the band at night. This life leaves Jennifer to her own devices for much of the day. Tiring of the urban sprawl that is Seoul, Jennifer begins to make solo trips away from Seoul, and begins to experience the "real" Korea. It is these journeys of exploration which is the basis of "Meeting Mr Kim".

Much of the author's experience revolves around food - which is not surprising given the wide variety of dishes available in South Korea. The adventure with a dish of "mool naengmyun", as described in chapter three, "The Noodles and the Scissors" is hilarious. Of course, the author's experiences extend to more than just food and range from the challenges of traveling in Korea, dealing with bus trips to small cities and towns, hiking, visiting Buddhist temples (which can be an inspiration in itself), finding places to sleep, camping, as well as meeting Koreans along the way, Mr Lee, Mr Che and many more, some of whom remain nameless. The Mr Kim of the title was one of two older Korean men that the author met on one of the last of her trips out of Seoul, and who remains in email contact with the author. Because she was traveling alone, it seemed that people would go out of their way to be friendly and helpful to Jennifer - their random acts of kindness, such as a maintenance worker allowing Jennifer to enter a excavated tomb in Gyeongju which otherwise was closed for maintenance, is something that I identified with, having been the grateful and appreciative beneficiary of many such acts myself. Jennifer is overwhelmed with the constant acts of kindness that she encounters out in the smaller cities of Korea, and contrasts these with her experiences in Seoul.

If I had a gripe with the book, it is about the depiction of Seoul - there is much more personality in the city than perhaps the author allows - at times she is looking to experience some culture, and struggles to find it, despite having a guidebook. I know from personal experience that there are many such places in Seoul (which I found using a guidebook), not least of which is the alleyways of Insadong (but perhaps she found it too touristy, as she clearly found with Itaewon). Another gripe is the spelling of the placenames - the older system of translating Korean into English is consistently used throughout (for example, Chongmyo for Jongmyo). As explained in an appendix, the transliteration system has been revised, and I would have preferred the newer system since it would probably be more familiar to the majority of readers.

Jennifer clearly has fallen love with all things Korean - as many of us, often unexpectedly, do, having spent time in Korea. My fiancee and I lived there for a sometimes difficult year in 2001/2002 as an ESL teacher. Many ESL teachers have bad experiences in Korea, and are unable to separate their professional lives (which is usually where the difficulties arise) from their personal lives. Fortunately, the Korean friends that we made during our stay meant that we had very rewarding social lives (for some reason, probably because neither of us are drinkers, we didn't really socialise with the other ex-pat ESL teachers at our school who would generally just party during the weekends). As a result, I have a passion for all things Korean (although I admit to being a little unadventurous with the food - Jennifer definitely has the edge on me there!), and have been back to Korea several times since. "Meeting Mr Kim" was a refreshing read; the author bridles with unadulterated passion for Korea and Koreans, with an open-mindedness about new cultural experiences that is not always present in many travelers to Korea.

I would definitely recommend this book to all Korea-philes like myself - it was a delight to read such an accessible travelogue of someone who is clearly just as passionate about Korea as I am. In the appendix, the author has even made suggestions where one can find Korean food in London! I would also suggest that prospective and current ESL teachers have a read as well; learn that there is more to life in Korea than just Seoul. Also, while it doesn't replace a history book, many chapters (there are 22 chapters, plus an appendix containing a Kimchi recipe, a basic bibliography and pointers for further information) begin with a little recap of some aspect of Korean history. But above all else, "Meeting Mr Kim" makes one appreciate the amazing experiences that are available to someone who is open-minded and willing to seek out those experiences.
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on 6 August 2009
This is one of the first books I have read about South Korea since deciding to go there in a couple of years time. It was a wonderful account by someone who had obviously gone there with a brilliant attitude. Her story is an awesome one, that is really well written and draws you into her world at the time, while teaching you a lot about common pit falls foreigners come across in Korea. This is a book I would recommend for a great read, especially if you are interested in learning more about this country and its attitudes and traditions. I read it in just 3 days, couldn't put it down!
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on 3 July 2010
I agree with 'What the Hell,' who reviewed the book last year. Miss Barclay's style is as bland as some of the comments she makes. I could only skim through the first part of the book as I thought is was so tediously written and offensive. In the early chapters she writes about eating bibimbap as if it's a big adventure. I think the other reviewer mentioned the same passage, where the Korean waitress warns the food is 'ferry ferry hhat!' It's not that far removed from those old racist jokes where the Chinese guy ends up saying 'No glot, so solly!'

The same passage includes such gems as:
"The woman in charge, wiry with short curly hair immediately told us to leave. 'Only Korean food,' she explained.
'It's OK,' said Gav, and I smiled. 'We want Korean food!'
Eyeing us suspiciously, she let us sit at a table." etc etc. ad. nauseum

This passage is awful in so many ways. Firstly Barclay's nasty adverbs, which she overuses throughout the book. Did she 'eye' you 'suspiciously' Jennifer? did she really? Or did she actually just nod and go get your food? Secondly the sentiments implied here: that Gav and Jennifer are being terribly daring by eating with the natives. Dear me! Every waygook in Korea has eaten bibimbap a thousand times. I know I lived on it for my first fortnight in Incheon, it was the only thing I knew how to order. Thirdly the idea that the waitress would eye them 'suspiciously' for ordering Korean food is inconceivable; Seoul is a modernistic contemporary city not some cultural backwater. She 'immediately told us to leave?' No she didn't! She'd have wanted the business.

In my opinion Miss Barclay needs to go back to school and start off by reading Edward Said's 'Orientalism.' All the way through this book she sets up the Korean people as these intriguingly exotic Orientals whose behaviour is all directly influenced by Confucian ideology and Buddhist principles. In one chapter she is introduced to a Korean woman who is very hospitable - she offers her food and a bed. For Barclay this is an example of Buddhism in action rather than just an example of someone being decent and friendly. I know plenty of British people who would do the same thing who don't know squat about Buddhism and have never been to church in their lives.

My main problem with this book is the simplistic and naive sentiments that Barclay continually exhibits. What makes it worse is her pallid style and inability to craft her writing.

On a good note, when she narrates her experiences hiking in the mountains and visiting Buddhist temples there are some nice contrasts between the countryside and Seoul. This did make me realise that next time I live in Korea I really want to see the rest of the country more and not get stuck in the capital. I like Seoul but Barclay made me aware that the country is a lot more varied than one city. So for that reason, many thanks and an extra star.

Without this I would have given this book one star or below. The book reads like the sort of self-engrossed ramblings I sometimes indulge in when I'm feeling sorry for myself and write a diary entry. These are often embarrassing even for me to re-read, and I certainly wouldn't attempt to publish them. Who agreed to publish this and why? Maybe she has relatives in the book industry? Do we really want to know about her relationship with 'Gav,' her twenty-one year old drummer boyfriend? Not really. Utter turgid, sanctimonious, self-absorbed drivel that reeks throughout of middle-class, Eurocentric, imperialistic attitudes more fitting to Victorian England than the twenty-first century. Jennifer, you ought to be ashamed of yourself young lady!

However, if you're the sort of bovine individual who enjoys Bridget-Jones-type novels and thinks that actually talking to Asian person is terribly interesting, then do read this book, you'll probably like it.
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on 3 November 2011
Good to read another persons insights and experiences of the wonderful country that is Korea, I myself have been four times and loved every minute of it.

Although the book is based on one persons experience and from 10 years ago and many things may have changed since then, while others remain the same, the Korean people are immensely proud of their country and culture and it retains its identity in this ever changing multicultural world they have the ability to welcome technology while preserving tradition in everyday life.

I found myself remembering the places described in the book as if I were there yesterday - apart from her obvious dislike of Seoul, (It is my favourite city in the world!!) my experiences, like Jennifers, in the more remote places on my travels have been pleasurable adventures with many a happy time spent with Korean people - even if we couldn't communicate with language!

It is difficult to put into words why Korea gets under your skin and into your heart - the breathtaking scenery, the delicious food and most of all the kindness and generosity of the Korean people of which the book describes beautifully and I would recommend it to both people who have been and those who have yet to experience Korea.
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