Book Review – Seoul Survival Guide: Summer 2011 Edition

Seoul Survival Guide: Summer 2011 Edition by Aaron Namba

I was quite excited to read and review this book as I have a soft spot in my heart for Seoul after living there for two years.  Unfortunately, the book didn’t live up to my expectations (although to be honest, the author did tell me not to expect too much).

Seoul Survival Guide is a short self-published book available on both Amazon.com and Amazon.ca for US$7.74 and CDN$7.49 respectively. Yes, it was cheaper on the Canadian site.  I have to say, even though it isn’t expensive, I still thought the price was too much for the number of pages (38) and the content.  Full disclosure: I received my copy for free to review it.  The Summer 2011 Edition is the 2nd edition so far and the author plans to publish twice a year to start, with a goal of publishing quarterly (February, May, August and November).

I think my opinion, and therefore my review, is a little influenced by my expectations of what I thought I would find in it.  In a nutshell, I think it is missing some key chapters/information; I think some information that is included is unnecessary; and I think that there are some good parts.  Overall, it’s a good first outline of a survival guide but not a good finished product. 

However, I do think that it can be a good guide and the fact that the author is making regular updates is great for two reasons.  First, Seoul (and all of Korea) is constantly changing.  I lived in the same neighbourhood in Seoul for two years and it wasn’t the same when I left.  Regular – bi-annual or quarterly – updates will keep it current. Second, regular updates will allow the author to make changes/additions/subtractions to the book to improve its quality.

Positives:

  • “Reminders” section has some great tips.
  • “Safety & Emergencies” – there are some good tips here (like the scooter tip) but some are a little misleading, a little more details could easily clear those up
  • “Phone” section is excellent, great info.
  • “Taxis” section was good and thorough.  
  • “Buses” section has one misleading point but the rest is good.  It’s mentioned that you need to flag them down like a taxi but not that you should be standing at a bus stop to do so.
  • “Food and Drinking” section was good but a few examples of street food would be nice.
  • The appendices are good but could use some more links.

Negatives:

  • The writing is often choppy and has little flow.  That being said, there are some spots of good writing, it’s just not consistent.  
  • There is no information or section on living, moving or working in Seoul and many of the potential customers for this book may be doing so.
  • The “Arrival/Customs” section is unnecessary to all but a first-time traveler (to anywhere) as it’s basically the same in every country.  
  • “Internet Access” section has no mention of internet cafes which are everywhere in Korea and cheap.  I was surprised by the tacit recommendation of stealing wifi.

General Observations:

  • One set of numbers is given and it would be the one most commonly used by a traveler but there should be an explanation that there are two sets of numbers in Korea.
  • Subways are both colour-coded and numbered in Seoul but the guide lacks consistency in how it refers to them.
I passed on this review (along with some expanded points and suggestions) to the author who was quite receptive to my feedback.  I’m curious to see how each edition improves on the last.  
Rating: 2/5 stars but with potential to improve.  Wait a few editions and I believe that this could grow into a useful survival guide.  I’ve seen a working copy of the next edition and it’s better than the last.  I was happy to see that the author used some of my suggestions 🙂

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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