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Published Articles and Work

Woman Writing

The following are professional writing samples from throughout my career. I have written for magazines, websites, newspapers, blogs, and more. I have experience in news writing, copyediting, blog posts, ghostwriting, and more.


I have written about a number of different topics as well, including education, finance, entertainment, lifestyle, and more. I also have experience in SEO content. 


If you would like a copy of my full resume for an open writing or editing position with your company, please send an email to info@emilyckalka.com.

A WINNING HABIT

A feature published in The Lincoln County News on Sept. 12, 2023

If you ask Tanner Thompson about all the races he’s won, he’ll just shrug and tell you his favorite thing about it is meeting new friends.

Tanner - who is No. 21 on the track - started racing when he was six for fun. Today - at the grand old age of 10 - he has so many awards that his parents, Shane and Chelsie Thompson, are quickly running out of space in their home to display them. Trophies and plaques snake around the dining room into the living room and even take up part of the dining room table. More medallions fill the walls of Tanner’s racing- themed bedroom. Most recently, Tanner won the East Series Championship with Ultra4 USA and is in the top three to win the West Series Championship. According to his father Shane, they have one more West Coast race to find out where Tanner places before they travel to Lake Havasu in Arizona for the national championship.

Tanner competes in two types of racing - quad pit bike (or ATV pit bike) and SXS short course - in a limited RZR 170 and mod 170. He competes in about 20 to 24 races per season which has the Thompson family traveling all over the country. He’s raced in Sturgis, South Dakota; Wisconsin; and Redding, Pennsylvania, just to name a few. In the last few years, he’s competed in easily over a hundred races, according to his parents.

So, what is Tanner’s secret to success? He says when he’s behind the wheel, he just focuses on keeping on all fours, which is actually the hardest part. And keeping an eye on where he’s going.

“And make sure you don’t see any crashes in,” he added.

Crashes are a natural part of racing, and Tanner’s had a few, though one at Lake Havasu stands out.

“I lost my steering wheel when I went up a giant barrier and landed in a 25-foot ditch,” he calmly explained. “And then I had to do it again.”

Shane said that right after that race, Tanner got in his other car and did another 30-minute race.

Tanner said it’s exciting when he wins. His parents echoed that though Shane said they’re always a nervous wreck watching him.

“We win some. We lose some. As long as the car rolls back into the trailer, that’s a win,” Tanner’s mother Chelsie said. “We’re very proud of him.

Winning seems to be something Tanner does well. His list of races may be long, but his list of wins runs a close second. He started back in 2019 with MidAmerica Outdoors (MAO) - which he’s been an ambassador for since 2022 - and completes in all of their races every season. In MAO’s week-long Visions race, he won third place in 2021, 2022 and 2023. Tanner was Rookie of the Year at Best in the Desert in 2021 and won first place in 2022.

He’s also taken second place in the Mint 400 in Las Vegas. He was on the cover of Dirt Wheels magazine for the September 2023 issue.

And that’s just a few. Tanner’s also been invited to race snowmobiles up in Canada and race in the desert in Cabo San Lucas.

Thankfully, racing doesn’t cut into his schoolwork. With Davenport only having class four days a week, Tanner’s free to go out and race every weekend. The fourth grader at Davenport Elementary School has also made the superintendent’s honor roll twice in a row.

“Tanner is a great kid and very humble,” said Davenport Principal Misty Emmons. “We are very proud of him and the success he has had so far.”

For now, Tanner says he wants to keep racing for fun. With an army of sponsors, both local and national, behind him, that seems more than possible.

Up next on Tanner’s race schedule is the last Ultra4 race in the West Coast series on Sep. 30.

WE NEED TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH DEAD BODIES

A column published in Groove Korea on July 7, 2021.

No one really likes funerals.

Yes, I know that statement could be akin to saying, “The sky is blue.” Or, “Grass is green (sometimes).” They are often sad, solemn and at times stuffy events (at least in the U.S.) where everyone wears black and you always sing several hymns and a preacher gives a sermon begging people to find Jesus. And before that, there’s the visitation (basically a wake, but in a funeral home and sans alcohol - I know).

I’ve never liked visitations (or funerals in general), though it wasn’t until recently - at the grand age of 35 - that I finally understood why they made me uncomfortable. And no, it actually doesn’t have to do with the fact that you spend four hours sitting in a room with a corpse (okay, well… it kind of does, but bear with me).

It took discovering Caitlin Doughty and her “Ask a Mortician” series on YouTube as well as her book “From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death” that made me stop and really ponder my perspectives about death, dying, death care and funerals. And I think the one thing that really stuck out to me was the main theme that runs throughout her work and that she says often: “We need to be spending more time with dead bodies.”

Now, I’m sure there were several different reactions upon reading that - probably a few “What the hell?”, maybe some recoiling, some exclamations of, “But that’s so morbid. It’s gross!” But… hear me out. (And seriously go check out her videos and books - you will not regret it.)

Since 2008, I’ve had four very distinct, very different experiences with death.

The first was in November 2008 when my favorite grandfather passed away. By favorite, I mean basically a second father who helped raise my sister and I for a time before my mother remarried. Though he was in his 70s, his death was sudden and unexpected (he was a VERY spry 70-something). I spoke to him on the phone just hours before he passed and still remember the last thing he said to me - “I’m so proud of you, Emmie.” He and my grandmother had been visiting my family in Florida for Thanksgiving when he went into the bathroom to take a shower while Dad was cooking breakfast. He walked in, sat down on the floor, and then he was gone. Blood clot in his leg that was related to the quadruple bypass he had the year I was born. They gave him 10 years then, and he made it 24 years and passed physicals to keep his pilot’s license until shortly before he died. Yea, my family is about defying odds.

I was on a business trip in Hong Kong at the time, so by the time I got back to South Korea and then over to Missouri, I had missed his visitation and arrived just in time for the funeral. I was asked if I wanted to do anything in the service - I declined. It was very much your average funeral with all his flying buddies, friends and family. Hymns. A eulogy. A sermon. And then at the end, they opened the casket so everyone could have one last chance to see him.

Now, I did NOT want to see him. I remember my eyes going wide and looking at my mother, desperately asking in a whisper, “Do I have to go up there?” At the time, I wasn’t sure just why I was so vehemently against going up to see him one last time. I thought it was perhaps because I wanted that final image of him in my mind to be from our last family vacation together. But regardless, I was (literally though not dramatically) dragged up to take my turn looking down into the casket and I’m pretty sure I lost it, emotionally speaking (again, I didn’t want to make a scene).

My next experience came just four years later in November 2012. My mother died at the age of 46 from brain cancer. We knew it was coming and had time to prepare (though really, even when you know it’s coming, you’re never fully prepared). They gave her 30 days off chemo - she lived for another three months. I went home for a week before she died and we sat down as a family to plan her memorial service (which is super weird with the person it's for sitting across the table from you). I sat through meetings with her social worker, going over the specifics of what would happen to her body - Mom had decided to donate her body to brain cancer research.

When she passed away, we had a memorial service at my family’s large church in Tulsa. There was no looming casket at the front of the room. In fact, by the time I had arrived in the U.S. just two days after she died, her body had already been shipped off to the organization on the other side of the country that would remove her brain and other related tissues then cremate her and send her remains back to us a month later. The service was, in a lot of ways, far more casual than the other solemn services I had been to (which Mom wanted). We put out a lot of her things on tables at the front that people could peruse before and after the service. There was a slideshow that my sister and I put together (though it was mostly my sister, if I’m being honest) with tons of hilarious photos. My sister sang. I was asked to do something and said no (again). But there were still a fair amount of traditions - hymns, a sermon, tons of flowers, etc. When my family got her ashes back, they buried some of them in a plot in a cemetery where there is a large monument for both Mom and Dad. (It’s a really nice cemetery, though, the view is amazing.)

The third experience was in November 2016 (I’m sure you’ve noticed the pattern by now) when my younger brother Trey died at 20 after he spent about three weeks in a coma following a car accident. It was sudden and slow at the same time. I had been just about to fly back to help my family care for him in the ICU when I got the call. I flew out two days after though my flight was booked that night. By this time, we were seasoned pros when it came to putting funerals together. After the ease of Mom’s, we followed that format. Trey was cremated, so no casket at the service. He had been sent to the funeral home before I arrived. We put out three tables covered in his t-shirts, knick knacks and photos. There was a slideshow of goofy and embarrassing photos (seriously - this is what happens when you let the older sisters plan, though I had hoped to use those photos for his wedding someday). There was no visitation, but the usual church lunch afterwards for family and close friends. My sister sang. I was asked to do something and said no (again). Over 500 people came (which is a lot for a small town in Oklahoma). My family and I learned things about my brother at his funeral that had us crying and then smiling and murmuring, “Yea… that’s Trey.” He truly was one of those good souls who had no idea just how many people he touched in his short life.

By now, my sister and I were certain our family was cursed in the month of November. But we soldiered on. A few days later, we went and picked up Trey and brought him home then picked out his monument and decided what Bible verse to put on it. Part of his ashes were buried in the plot next to Mom. Others we put in jewelry to take with us. Most of him was put in a saddle bag (because Dad still wasn’t sure what to get for him - years later, I think Trey might still be in the saddle bag) and then placed on the shelf next to Mom, who is resting in an antique glass container that was once our great grandmother’s.

Just three months later, we lost Grams. At this point, we thought the curse was broken… then Papa Darrell died from COVID complications in November 2020 - so, still there. Grams’ death was another one of those expected ones. Her ovarian cancer had returned a third time and with Mom, Papa and Trey gone, Grams just didn’t have the fight left in her. She had gone into remission two times before that - in her mid to late 70s - saying it was us grandkids that gave her the reason to keep fighting because we had lost Mom. But she was tired and told me multiple times after Trey died that she felt her time was coming and she just wanted to be with Papa, Mom and Trey.

This was probably the most significant death for me.

I had returned home to spend a week with her, knowing she was likely to die anytime soon. She had gotten really sick really suddenly as I was making the 24-hour trip back. I spent some time in her room chatting with her before she fell asleep as soon as I arrived  - we discussed what color I was going to paint her nails the next day - then I sat up a bit talking to my great aunt before we both went to bed. The next morning, she checked on Grams while I made coffee. We then sat in the living room and chatted for about 15 minutes before she went to check on Grams while I went to get ready. I stopped in the doorway to my room and looked in as she bent over Grams and… I just knew. Aunt Sandy didn’t have to say anything, she just looked up at me and I went in. It was the first time I was there for death in my family and it was far more peaceful than I expected. While we waited for the hospice to come pick her up, Aunt Sandy and I spent time with Grams. We held her hand, kissed her cheek. Talked to her. Told stories about her. When they got there, the nurse asked if I wanted to help clean her off a bit before they took her away and I got some towels though I couldn’t quite bring myself to help. They wrapped her up in one of her favorite quilts and I got one last kiss and good-bye in before she was sent off to the funeral home. She had a traditional funeral, but she had paid for it in advance which helped tremendously. My sister sang again and then declared afterwards that she wasn’t singing at any more funerals. I finally took part by writing and then reading her eulogy. I broke down half way through - which I knew would happen, but figured it was time I did something. She was buried in the veterans’ cemetery with Papa. There were plenty of jokes made graveside, because at this point my family learned it was better to laugh than to cry. Though there was plenty of crying as well.

I know I have spent far too long going over my past experiences, but there is a point here.

We need to spend more time with dead bodies. 


Up until the 20th century in America (as I have now learned from Ask a Mortician), it was unheard of for a body to be sent out to strangers for preparation before burial. Embalming? Not a thing. A body was kept at home with the family washing and then preparing it. A wake would be held in the home before a funeral procession would then take the deceased to its final resting place.

So you see where I’m going with this? Back in the day before funeral homes started trying to sell us the lie that it’s against the law to not be embalmed and figured out how to talk people out of $5,000-$10,000 for a funeral (embalming, casket, concrete vault and all the trimmings), families spent days with the dead body of their loved one in their homes, taking care of it, preparing it. They only paid for the coffin and the burial plot.

It might seem a bit icky to some - I know at first thought, I grimaced - but then I remembered Grams. That 20-minute span of time where I had the opportunity to sit with her and hold her hand in her bedroom. It was extremely comforting and I think because of that time with her, my grieving process for Grams was far, far smoother than it was for Trey, Mom or Papa. 


Remember when I mentioned that I vehemently did not want to go up to my grandfather’s casket at the end of his service? I didn’t want to see him for the first time since his death in front of a church full of people - half of which I didn’t even know. Seeing your loved one after they have passed away is a very, very emotional thing. And it sucks - massively - when you have to do this in very public settings. I wanted to have a moment with just me and him alone. Or even just me, him and my family.

I didn’t get to see my mom or my brother. I didn’t get to kiss them good-bye or hold their hand one last time. I feel like I missed a bit of closure for their deaths because I didn’t get to have that time unlike the rest of my family. And yea, that’s on me. I chose to live halfway across the world where it would take a day or two to get back. It’s something that still haunts me. That I wasn’t there. But that’s another story entirely.


As you can guess, I’ve now spent a lot of time thinking over my personal death plan. Which everyone should have regardless of their age. One of the few inevitabilities we have in life is that we are all going to die some day. My parents took out life insurance policies on all three of us kids just to be prepared. I mean, I was a bit shocked when I found out, but it makes sense. And eases my mind a bit that I don’t have to worry too much about covering costs should I die unexpectedly while living abroad.

One thing I do know is that if it’s possible, I want my loved ones to have the chance to spend time with my body in private. That moment to see your loved one, to come to the understanding that they are gone and to honor the life they have lived, to say good-bye, it’s so important. I don’t want a four-hour visitation. All I want is for my family and loved ones to have that moment with me without the public display.

And then, my first choice (yes, I have multiple options, living abroad you don’t know where you’re going to die) is to just wrap me in a sheet and put me in the ground. No embalming. No thousand dollar casket or vault. Maybe some flowers - but don’t spend hundreds on them. I’m dead. My body is going to rot no matter your best efforts. And I’m in the ground. How good I look as a corpse 10 years later doesn’t matter. Just let nature take me as intended. As it was done for hundreds or thousands of years before. My other option is cremation (preferably water cremation - far more eco-friendly than conventional cremation - but, you know, the dead can’t be picky).

But beyond that, I have learned from the funerals I have helped planned and the ones I’ve attended, I want my service to be one of laughter and void of tradition. I don’t want solemn hymns or a sermon. Honestly, if it was at my favorite bar and just people taking turns talking about their favorite or most embarrassing memories of me while getting drunk with some good music playing, that’s good enough for me. I mean, funerals are more for the people we have left behind. I don’t want the people I leave behind to follow tradition for tradition’s sake. I want them to celebrate the fact that I lived. As my dad said to me about his funeral some day, I want a party. Laugh. Cry. Sing. Dance. Talk.

I’m sure some people may read this and think me irreverent. For talking about death in such a blase way. But honestly, why is death so taboo? We should be talking about death. We should feel comfortable talking about death. Yes, it’s never going to be easy. Grieving is a lifelong process (that whole five steps of grieving stuff is bullshit - there is no “get to this point and you’re good” process - but again, another story) and death affects us all in different ways.

But we should talk about death. We should talk about what we want to happen to us after we die. We should talk about those we have lost without feeling uncomfortable - or worrying about making others uncomfortable. Death is a part of life. And it doesn’t always have to be so morose or uncomfortable. I mean, I get it. If you haven’t experienced the death of someone close to you - or sometimes even if you have - you’d rather pretend death doesn’t exist. But it does.

So let’s talk about it.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE COFFIN

This is an unpublished cover story for Groove Korea magazine written in Spring 2021.

Thinking about what you want to happen to your body after you die is something that many don’t want to do, whether it’s a general fear of death or the idea that the young (or younger) don’t have to think about it right now. But having a death plan is a necessity because - unfortunately - death is one of the few absolutes in life. At least for now.


You have to decide what to do with your body. Or leave it up to your family and/or loved ones, if that’s what you want. And living in the time of COVID-19, which has killed over 3.3 million people worldwide since December 2019 according to Worldometer, it’s definitely something to think about now more than ever.


You can’t research burial options from the grave, now can you?


Not many people realize there are other options out there besides conventional burial or cremation. And even less realize just how harmful to the environment those options can be. Yes, even cremation, which many think is the more eco-friendly option. Or that you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars for a funeral and burial. In fact, a green burial is not only good for the environment, but can often be a far cheaper option.


Just a few numbers. 


According to the Green Burial Council, in the U.S., traditional burials with embalming use each year about 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid, 827,060 of which is formaldehyde, methanol and benzene. They also use about 20 million board feet of hardwoods - including rainforest woods; 1.6 million tons of concrete; 17,000 tons of copper and bronze; 64,500 tons of steel, with caskets and vaults leaching iron, copper, lead, zinc and cobalt into the ground.


To put that into more understandable terms, according to the YouTube video “Eco-Death Takeover” by Caitlin Doughty, a mortician, activist and author who runs the channel “Ask a Mortician,” in a year about 4 million acres of forest are used to make caskets, which is roughly the size of New Jersey.

Additionally, formaldehyde, which is an ingredient in embalming fluid, is one of the top 10 percent most hazardous chemicals according to the Environmental Protection Agency and a known carcinogen. 

For Canada, according to the Ecology Action Center and Green Burial Nova Scotia, traditional burials there in a year use about 4,500 liters of formaldehyde-based embalming fluid, 97 tons of steel, 2,000 tons of concrete, and 56,000 board feet of tropical hardwood in every acre of space.

The average traditional burial in the U.S. costs from $7,000 to $10,000 in 2021, including embalming, body preparation, casket, vault, burial plot, and other fees such as funeral home services.

The Funeral Consumer Alliance website offers a general breakdown of prices, though does say that they vary from region to region. On average a plot for a full-casket burial can cost at least $2,500, though rural cemeteries start around $500, while urban ones charge anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for a plot alone. Grave liners or vaults can run from around $700 to $1,500 while caskets on average start around $2,000.

The other popular form of burial is cremation, which many believe is a more eco-friendly, less expensive option and compared to a traditional burial, it is. A direct cremation - meaning no embalming - in the U.S. can cost about $1,000 to $2,200, and does cut down on resources used as they are often done in simple wooden caskets or even cardboard boxes. However, even cremation has a toll on the environment.

Cremations use fossil fuels to reach and maintain 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit for two or more hours, according to the Green Burial Council’s website. It also releases mercury and water into the air and produces 1.74 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually in the U.S. The amount of energy used in cremations in a year would be enough for a car that gets about 30 miles per gallon to make 1,300 round trips to the moon.

While not nearly as large as the U.S. and Canada, South Korea has quickly become a country of cremation with land for burial becoming scarce and more expensive for interment. According to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, in 2019 about 88.4 percent of the 295,107 people who died were cremated. This is compared to 79.2 percent choosing cremation in 2014, then 80 percent in 2015, 82.7 percent in 2016 and 86.8 percent in 2018.

In addition, there are the costs. According to a study conducted by the Korean Consumer Agency in 2017, the average cost of a hospital funeral room and services is about $8,300 with another $1,700 to $4,400 for burial or cremation services.

But there is good news. More countries around the world are offering more green burial options, though it might take a bit of digging to find the right funeral homes and cemeteries that will cater to your needs. Here are just a few options to consider.


Eco-Friendly Burial Trends


Alkaline Hydrolysis aka Water Cremation

Alkaline Hydrolysis is a newer option in deathcare that is significantly more eco-friendly than conventional cremation. The body is put into a pressurized steel container - no casket necessary - which is then filled with a mixture that is roughly 95 percent water and 5 percent potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. It is then heated to about 300-365 degrees Fahrenheit and the solution circulates and essentially mimics the process the body naturally goes through in decomposition. The main difference is that it only takes a few hours to reduce a body to bone rather than years.


The bones are then pulverized in the same machine that is used after a flame cremation on remaining bone fragments and returned to the family to do with as they wish. The leftover liquid can be disposed of in different ways. It is basically a mixture of salts and sugars, as well as amino acids and peptides - neutralized and containing no DNA. It can be reused as fertilizer or even safely flushed into the sewage system.


According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, compared to flame cremation, alkaline hydrolysis uses 1/8 of the energy and has less than 1/4 of the carbon footprint. As Doughty says in her video, it is a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions, and hazardous chemical emissions are nearly nonexistent, not to mention there is no mercury from dental fillings. The water used in the process is equal to the amount used by the average living person in three days.


Alkaline hydrolysis was initially developed in Europe in the 1990s as a method to dispose of cows with mad cow disease. It was then used in the U.S. at the Mayo Clinic and University of Florida to dispose of cadavers. (Traci Rylands, Confessions of a Funeral Director, July 22, 2014).


As of now, it costs about $1,000 to $2,000, though mostly because of the unavailability. Alkaline hydrolysis is only available in 14 states in the U.S., four provinces in Canada, and just recently moves are being made in the U.K. to offer it. Experts believe that as more countries begin legalizing it and funeral homes begin offering it as an option, the cost will decrease.


Green Burial

A green burial is essentially any burial that uses methods and materials that lower the impact on the environment. According to Ellen Newman, a licensed funeral director that specializes in green, natural and family-led funerals, burial and end-of-life options and a co-founder of the Good Green Death Project, in a recent article on talkdeath.com, this can mean a burial where the body is not embalmed and buried directly into the earth in a biodegradable container with no concrete vault or grave liner.


Green burials are generally allowed in most countries, though may vary by cemetery depending on their individual by-laws, especially in areas where there is a large population that prescribes to Jewish or Muslim burial customs, which do not permit embalming, vaults or grave liners. Some countries have natural burial grounds which prohibit grave liners, vaults and embalming. There are also conservation grounds, which work to conserve the natural ecosystem. Another option is a hybrid cemetery which caters to both traditional and natural burial. 


Options for caskets in green burials are varied, from a simple wooden casket, to cardboard (mostly used for cremation), woven caskets and shrouds.


A green burial can cost much lower than a traditional burial when you factor in the costs of embalming, vaults, grave liners and less eco-friendly caskets. However, the one cost that remains is that of a plot, which again, will vary from cemetery to cemetery.


Especially in the middle of a pandemic, some may worry about the idea of transmissible diseases being spread to groundwater through natural burial, but experts say that isn’t the case. In fact, not undergoing embalming is actually safer as there are no chemicals going into the ground. Natural burial also requires a shallower grave, which allows for more oxygen to reach the body and aid in decomposition, with the remains nourishing the surrounding ground and plantlife.  


Additionally, once a person is dead, the chances of any communicable diseases spreading tend to die as well. According to the Pan American Health Organization, the transmission of an infection requires the presence of an infectious agent, exposure to that agent, and a susceptible host.


“The human body is host to many organisms, only some of which are pathogenic. When the body dies, the environment in which pathogens live can no longer sustain them. Microorganisms involved in the decay process (putrefaction) are not pathogenic,” it said. 


The World Health Organization echoes this, by saying that even though some diseases are highly contagious, their causative agents are unable to survive long in the human body following death and therefore it is unlikely that such epidemics will result in contact with dead bodies.


“Dead or decayed human bodies do not generally create a serious health hazard, unless they are polluting sources of drinking water with fecal matter, or are infected with plague or typhus, in which case they may be infested with the fleas or lice that spread these diseases. In most smaller or less acute emergency situations therefore, families may carry out all the necessary activities following a death,” the WHO said. 


Other Green(er) Options

In today’s age, there are a number of options available after death that are better for the environment than conventional burial or cremation, though not all are currently legal everywhere.


A newer option that is currently gaining traction in the U.S. is natural organic reduction(NOR), or more colloquially put, human composting. The first such facility was opened in Seattle, Washington, around 2020 after a decade of research and efforts to change local law, according to The Seattle Times. Now that it is catching on, more places have opened in Washington state and others are looking to open in other states. The process takes anywhere from several days to several weeks depending on the specific facility and the materials used. The body is kept in a cylinder that is frequently rotated to disperse oxygen. The temperature inside is kept between 130 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit for safe and efficient composting. The body - much like melon rinds or banana peels - is broken down into soil that can then be taken by the family or donated to ecological projects.


There are then other, more common options such as donating your body to scientific research, or less commonly, donating it to a body farm which helps forensic scientists and anthropologists better understand how the body decomposes in different settings. There are currently seven in the U.S. with more set to open.


Unconventional Options in South Korea


While things like human composting and water cremation may not yet be available in South Korea, there are a few less traditional options for interment that people can look into. A natural burial may be available, though it will depend on the specific cemetery. Though as cremation is by far the burial of choice, there are a few growing trends to look into.


House of Memory and Eternity

Traditional mausoleums or charnel houses for cremated remains can sometimes be viewed as sterile or lacking a certain warmth. They are, after all, there to store remains. However, House of Memory and Eternity, or HOME, owned by the Songpa Foundation, kept the living in mind while creating their interment space. Remains are kept in airtight, plastic boxes, which are then placed in book-shaped containers called Home Boxes. They are then stored in what can best be described as a calming library, with family and loved ones allowed to come visit whenever they wish. 


“HOME has turned a mausoleum into a home library, providing a more comfortable and warm space when honoring your loved ones. People feel free to gather around and have friendly chats remembering their loved one,” it said in an email interview with Groove.


The idea came from the philosophy of HOME’s president.


“Each life, in the end, is just the records of the moments of happiness, joy, sadness, and whatever people have gone through. The bereaved families visit HOME whenever they want, pick up the Home Book, and write letters yearning in grief and loss, happy moments, guest logs, and the words they want to say to their beloved,” it said.


The facility said that it focuses on creating a space not just for the dead, but more for the living where families and loved ones can reminisce, laugh, cry, write letters and remember their loved ones.


“HOME serves to be a symbolic place, in efforts to bring a more inviting and warm environment, and HOME dares to change how people perceive death and distressful funeral culture,” it said.


Natural Hanulsoop Forest Memorial Park

Burial in traditional cemeteries is becoming less common in South Korea as more people opt to be cremated and it becomes more difficult to manage and maintain burial sites, not to mention it isn’t eco-friendly, according to the Natural Hanulsoop Forest Memorial Park. Some 70 percent of cremated remains are kept at charnel houses or mausoleums. Among those, a growing number are choosing natural burial sites, with the rate currently sitting at 16 percent.


The memorial forest, located in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province, said influencing this trend is the fact that most burial sites are located in the mountains which have bad access, stiff slopes and can be easily damaged by wild animals. Not to mention, traditional cemeteries can damage nature and are often costly. Providing interment in a natural or forest burial park inflicts less damage on the environment and is less costly, not to mention provides a more healing atmosphere for visitors.


“Considering the trends of young generations not familiar with managing tombs and the shortcomings of land properties, it is projected that the ratio of conventional burial will fall and natural burial will grow in the future,” the memorial park said.


That said, while it is called a natural burial park, Natural Hanulsoop Forest Memorial Park does not currently allow the burial of non-cremated remains as it isn’t registered as a cemetery. But it can provide a calm and natural atmosphere for the repose of a loved one’s ashes.


The park allows several options for the burial of remains in an urn near a memorial tree. Remains can be buried in a family plot or a common plot and prices vary depending on the type of plot and the type of memorial tree. Prices range from 711,000 won to 2.3 million won for 15 years, with remains allowed to stay up to a maximum of 60 years.


The park also provides funeral services, as well as campsites and rest areas. In addition, it has various therapy programs such as massages, meditation, laughter therapy and others. These services are only offered to family and loved ones of those interred in the park.


Potential Future of Funerals in South Korea


While it’s unknown just how far off this latest entry is, in the digital age, there is no telling.


Design studio Common Accounts re-imagined the traditional funeral, utilizing alkaline hydrolysis instead of conventional burial or flame cremation, and relying on social media to generate a virtual afterlife. The studio also came up with the concept with Seoul specifically in mind. Like many other large Asian cities, burial plots are becoming scarcer and cremation is growing in popularity. 


“Today’s city can no longer afford to keep the material business of death at arm’s length, given diminishing land availability, environmental concerns, and the prospect of your digital afterlife,” said co-founder Miles Gertler in a Feb. 29, 2020 article for Dezeen design magazine.


Common Accounts built a prototype funeral home for the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in 2017, housed inside a traditional Korean hanok. The studio also produced a short film that portrayed a possible ceremony at the funeral home that premiered at the exhibition (Re)design Death at the Cube Design Museum in the Netherlands last year.


First, a virtual afterlife portal is opened where friends, family and others are invited to contribute digital memories. Then, the deceased is placed inside the alkaline hydrolysis machine and transformed into a fertile liquid that is used to feed a flower garden on-site. The garden is further used for floral arrangements within the funeral home and the heat generated from the process can be used to sustainably warm the building. 


Co-founder Igor Bragado said in the interview that the world needs new, cleaner, socially productive disposition alternatives that integrate easily with the urban and digital realms. Bragado added that new technologies present “unique opportunities for the production of value - material, ceremonial, and ecological - that shouldn’t be ignored.”


Curator of the Seoul Biennale installation Lee Ji-hoi said in the article that this is a significant dialogue that is needed in Seoul, with the shortage of facilities and burial space creating a crisis in how death is managed in the city.


“We can use this crisis to probe death’s productive potential in daily urban life,” she said.

BABY'S FIRST BIRTHDAY

A blog post written for an unnamed client through Upwork in February 2018.

Congratulations! You’ve made it through the first year of parenting! And now comes the fun part - planning baby’s first birthday. First things first, take a deep breath and relax. While baby is the person of the hour, it’s good to keep in mind that they won’t really remember it, which should take some of the stress out of the preparations. It doesn’t have to be perfect. 


And just to make things a bit easier, here are a few tips to help you on your way.


Themes

First things first, it helps to start with a theme. Choose something that will fit whatever budget you’ve set and don’t stress about preparing an elaborate party - again, baby won’t really know what’s going on or remember. Staying simple will help take some of the load off.


Themes with strong color palettes tend to look better in photos and are fun for the guests. Also, kids love bright colors and balloons, so any theme that incorporates those will always go over well. Any theme with fun, creative decorations is always a winner as well.


Some popular themes include Winnie the Pooh, anything from Disney or Pixar, unicorns, fairies, dinosaurs, music and nautical.


Location

There are many things to take into consideration when choosing the right venue for baby’s first birthday. How many people are you inviting? What is the age range of guests? How will it fit with your theme?


Here are some important things to consider when choosing. Go for a location that is kid-friendly and baby safe since a number of guests will be of the kiddo variety. Also, choose a place that can accommodate all your guests. If the weather is nice, consider something outside in a park. Or if your budget allows, somewhere like a kid-friendly restaurant or even the zoo could be fun and save on the stress of preparing food and decorations.


The most important thing to consider, however, is to choose a location that baby is comfortable with. The day is all about them, after all.


Time Frame

Equally important is the time frame. Most toddlers can only stand so much fun before they start getting cranky so it’s recommended to keep it short - an hour to an hour and a half at the most. Also, plan around your baby’s nap times. You want to make sure they enjoy the party and don’t sleep through it.


Guest List

Keep the guest list limited to close family and friends. You want people there that your child is comfortable being around and a large group of strangers could be overwhelming. So don’t stress about inviting anyone and everyone or hurting feelings. 


It’s also good to keep in mind the comfort of your guests. If there are going to be a number of tots coming, it’s good to make sure there is a quiet space for little guests who get cranky and need a nap. Be sure there’s also somewhere to change diapers or breastfeed. 


Photos

Probably the most important thing to remember for baby’s first birthday is photos. You’ll definitely want tons to remember the day by and to show baby once they are older. Since you’ll be busy running around organizing everything, it might be wise to get some help in this department. If you have the budget, spring for a professional photographer so the pictures are guaranteed to come out looking good. If that doesn’t fit into your budget, ask a friend or family member to be in charge of photos so it’s one less thing that you have to worry about.


Snacks

With any kid’s birthday, there’s really no need for a large amount of elaborate snacks, though if you would like to include some fancier options for the adults, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. For the kiddos, stick to kid-friendly food like soft foods or finger foods. Cut fruit is always good, as are mini muffins, crackers, cheese, cold cuts, deviled eggs or mini meatballs. Avoid hard foods like candy or nuts that could be choking hazards. It’s always a good idea to check for food allergies in advance as well.


The best beverages for the kiddies are milk, juice or water. For the adults, go for tea, soda or even mocktails if you want fancy drinks but are unsure about including alcohol. Serving alcohol is completely up to you, though always consider the time of the party and who is invited.


Most importantly - the cake. It’s good to have a large cake for the guests and then a smaller smash cake for the birthday boy or girl to go to town on for photos.


Activities

Probably the trickiest thing to figure out for baby’s first birthday is what to do, especially if you have a range of really little kids up to older kids. Try to plan entertainment for all ages, whether it’s inviting a princess or magician (let’s face it, even the adults can enjoy a good magician).


If you are at a loss for activities or games to plan, use your party theme as inspiration! If you are having a music-themed party, include a make-your-own-music corner with various kid-friendly instruments. If you go with a nautical theme, include a fishing game using a kiddie pool in the backyard. Include a digzone for a dinosaur party where kids can unearth their own fossils.


Other activities you could do are an arts and crafts table and a play zone for younger guests with age-appropriate toys.


Another fun idea that folks have started doing at first birthdays is to create a time capsule. Put out paper and markets and have older guests write notes to the birthday boy or girl that they can read once they’re older.

SENDING MONEY THE EASY WAY

An article published in The Korea Herald on February 4, 2014.

For foreigners living in Korea, banking can be easy or an incredibly frustrating experience. 

And when it comes to sending money overseas, while commission fees on transactions made at the bank vary little, not all Korean banks are the same. 

On top of this, shopping around is not simple ― a person is only allowed one designated bank for overseas remittances and must go through a transfer process to change to another.

But major Korean banks usually offer discounts on remittance services via ATM and through online and mobile banking, and switching to online options will often save you more money than switching banks. However, it is wise to check with the bank on whether it charges intermediary or other bank fees when sending money.

Some have even introduced special programs to make it easier to send money abroad, especially for foreign clients.

On top of having a division devoted solely to foreign clients, Korea Exchange Bank offers its Easy-One Remittance Service, which is an account that automatically sends whatever money is deposited into it to a designated overseas account. While it requires a minimum deposit of 100,000 won ($92), the service offers a 30 percent discount on commission fees, according to its website. This is cheaper than the rates available at the bank, but more expensive than the online option it offers for its regular accounts.

Ileana Quintano, a teacher from the U.S., recommended banking or sending money overseas with KEB. She uses the Easy-One Remittance Service and says it’s “the most hassle-free remittance option I’ve seen so far.”

“All I have to do is transfer whatever amount I want into that account and the funds are automatically remitted to my American account. If I transfer money into my Easy-One account before 6 p.m. on a business day, the money is in my American account the next morning,” she said.

KB Kookmin Bank has a similar service. The KB Wise Overseas Remittance Service allows clients to set up a schedule and fixed amount for remittances and currencies, and then sends money from the account automatically. The service has 50 percent lower commission fees and a 30 percent discount on exchange rate margins. 

While Shinhan Bank does not offer any special services for overseas remittances, it does have the Shinhan Expat Banking division, which offers services in multiple languages. There is a 50 percent discount on commission fees when sent through Internet banking, which is compatible with both PC and Mac, according to its Facebook page. The bank also charges an intermediary bank fee, which varies depending on the bank. 

“My experience has been positive with both SH (Shinhan Bank) and KB (Kookmin Bank). The tellers at SH were helpful in letting me know exactly what information I needed and the time frames for delivery,” said Evan McKinney, from the U.S.

Woori Bank offers services in English and Chinese and its commission fees run from 5,000 won to 25,000 won plus an 8,000 won cable fee when remitted from the bank. It says there is a 50 percent discount on the exchange rate margin when using Internet banking and no commission fee. However, it does charge an intermediary bank fee. 

Not all foreign clients have been happy with Woori’s customer service. 

Thoa Le, an exchange student from the U.S., said she received poor customer service when she sent money to her home bank from Woori before leaving Korea last year.

“They were really rude about it. Asking me multiple times with an attitude of where I got my money from, suspecting that I did some illegal work to get that money. I showed them that the money was sent to me from the U.S. in my bank passbook,” she said. “They were rude till the very end. It took me over an hour to transfer it.”

U.S. grad student Chelle B. Mille, who sends money overseas about once a year, said Woori didn’t fully explain the fees for overseas remittances and didn’t have a user-friendly website. 

“I realized I could have purchased traveler’s checks instead and paid less in fees, but since they only notified me after the fact, I didn’t have that option,” she said. 

Industrial Bank of Korea offers online banking in English and Chinese, with a 30 percent better exchange rate when sending money through the Internet or smart banking. It does not charge a commission fee for remittances made through online and mobile banking, but does charge additional banking fees. Commission fees on remittances made in the bank range from 5,000 won to 20,000 won. Overseas remittances can also be sent through their ATMs in English with lower fees. Smart banking is available in English for Android users.

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