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Whether it's from red neon crosses lighting up the night sky or the sound of monks rapping on moktok it is not unusual to encounter evidence of the influence that Christianity and Buddhism have had in South Korea. For someone not specifically looking for them though, it can be much harder to spot the references to Daoism and Shamanism that have also played a role in shaping Korean culture.

Buddhist temples - particularly those situated on mountainsides - may have an area reserved for worship of a local spirit, a 'mountain god' (Hangeul, 산신; Hanja, 山神), and these may include paintings representing various deities associated with Buddhism or Shamanism. In addition to this, shaman-related paintings can also be used in ritual performances known as gut (굿) in Korean. According to Yoon Yeolsu (Yoon 2004:10),

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Measurements (단위)

Every election in the United States see politicians - though I am primarily referring to presidential candidates here - make campaign promises of what they want to change during their time in office. And after each election is finished I can't help but feel disappointed by the lack of discussion over one topic in particular: when will the United States finally join the rest of the world and adopt the metric system? (Actually, that's not completely true. Liberia and Myanmar haven't fully adopted the metric system either. Ouhh, what rebels we are!)

Atom and His Package hits the nail on the head with his song (Lord It's Hard to Be Happy When You're Not Using) The Metric System, though with a couple of profanities in there you may want to refrain from playing the song around impressionable minds.

However, despite the near-universal acceptance of the metric system as a way of handling measurement across the world there are still occasions where one will encounter other systems. Korea is one example of this, as it's still possible to come across evidence of the older terms from time to time. Amanda asked me about one of them - the 리 - in an earlier entry and a few others one might encounter are the 근, 돈, and 평.

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Daeboreum Gifts

Yesterday was Jeongwol Daeboreum. I received a nice surprise when I came in to work, as our academy vice-director had brought in peanuts for all of the teachers. In addition to that, she also had a few packets of nut-flavored soy milk that she gave out to a few of the students who came early for class. Many of them are young enough where they didn't understand the significance of it though, which meant they got a quick lesson on the customs of Daeboreum.

Meanwhile, on my way home from work I encountered one of our academy's students buying a box of satsuma oranges (귤; gyul) with her mother. After a brief conversation, the street vendor - who had been listening in - complimented me on my Korean and asked if I knew what special day it was. When I gave Daeboreum as an answer he immediately broke into a smile and gave me a handful of peanuts from a sack he'd brought with him.

Last night I also received a text message from a middle-aged Korean woman I recently met:
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Blast From The Past

I recently found out that my musical tastes match up with what a Korean woman my age would have been listening to as a middle school student. That was an amusing discovery, though not completely unexpected.

I met three friends from Uijeongbu over the weekend and had a nice conversation over lunch. While I'm not sure how we got on the subject, one of the topics we discussed was music and, in particular, what bands we liked when we were in middle school. Since two of the people I met were women in their mid-20s we ended up talking about Korean pop music that was popular circa 1998-2000.

One friend said that g.o.d. had been her favorite while the other was apparently very big on the boy band Shinhwa. They both had posters of their favorite members hanging on their bedroom wall - which brings to mind images of classmates showing off their New Kids On The Block memorabilia when I was in fourth grade - and started an animated discussion of their favorite songs and albums from the time.

Personally, I'm rather fond of the material that S.E.S. released at the time, though I didn't discover the group until their popularity was waning. My friends seemed surprised that I was familiar with so many of the pop artists of the late 1990s, though a lot of that probably comes from visiting Korea during the winter of 2002 (buying plenty of CDs while I was here) and enjoying a wide variety of music in general. I can tell I'm growing old since I don't know any of the dance moves that contemporary singers have made popular but still occasionally listen to older singers / groups like Koyote and Lee Jung Hyun.

And somewhere in the United States I have a few discs filled with tracks from the likes of H.O.T., Fin.K.L., Baby VOX, 1TYM, Jinusean, As One, Tasha (now recording as Yoon Mi Rae), and NRG. With YouTube providing easy access to all kinds of videos I'll include one from S.E.S. to go with this entry. "Dreams Come True" is the first song I heard from the group and one that I still hear playing from shops in Uijeongbu from time to time:


As I'm sure many of you know, Valentine's Day took place on Monday this week. While it's true that the observance of Valentine's Day (밸런타인데이) is different in Korea than it is in most of North American and Western Europe it's not really a subject that I considered writing about. I did, however, receive chocolate from a few of my female students today and told them that I would reciprocate on White Day.

Instead, there is another holiday this week that I am looking forward to with much more interest: Jeongwol Daeboreum (정월 대보름), which is a festival to celebrate the first full moon in the lunar year. I've written about Daeboreum in the past - here and here - and asked a few of my students what they had planned for the day. Despite having a few anonymous commenters on my blog claim that Korean traditional customs are 'all dead' it seems the news hasn't filtered through to Uijeongbu just yet. While the majority of my students weren't planning to do anything special for Daeboreum a few said their parents had recently bought a lot of nuts in relation to the holiday.

Walnuts (호두) and peanuts (땅콩) for sale in downtown Uijeongbu

Go back a few centuries and fresh fruits and vegetables were hard to come by during the winter months; as a result, nuts were consumed as a healthy alternative. What I found particularly interesting though was the news that several of my students intended to participate in a Daljip Taeugi (달집태우기) ceremony. This event is one of the more visible aspects of Daeboreum and involves assembling a tower of pine branches or straw bundles that is used to make a bonfire when night falls.

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