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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New Glasses

I purchased a pair of new glasses last week.

After coming in a little early and preparing for the day's classes I went downstairs to a shop in the same building as our English academy to see what frames they had in stock. A salesclerk came over and greeted me as soon as I walked in the door and, since I didn't have a style in mind, I asked him to show me the more popular styles in Korea at the moment. After comparing a few of them I settled on one I liked and then it was time for the eye exam.

Since it had been 3 years since the last time I bought glasses - and had an eye exam - I was really curious to see how much my eyesight had changed. As it turns out: not very much. I can still use my old glasses without any trouble while the new ones have a slightly modified prescription to better suit my vision. The eye exam was a nice bit of fun as well.

First came a section that involved naming a series of numbers that got progressively smaller. Following that was a color test involving plates of green and red objects to check for color blindness. The next step was looking at a collection of 3D sticks and putting them in order based on which looked closest and which seemed furthest away. (This was also the first time I've encountered a 3D section to an eye exam.) The final portion of the exam involved naming a set of shapes that also involved the 3D sticks placed over them. Everything went fine until that last part. I successfully named off the triangle, the diamond, and the circle before getting stuck on the rectangle.

The problem wasn't that I couldn't make out the rectangle's shape -- it was that I couldn't remember the Korean word for rectangle. (For those curious, it's 직사각형.) Since the salesclerk had greeted me in Korean that was the language that we used for our conversation about frame designs and throughout the eye exam. As a result, he didn't realize that it was a language issue at first and seemed rather confused over my inability to see the rectangle shape clearly. It didn't take long, however, before I gave up on trying to think of the right word and just told him that I knew the name in English but not in Korean.

The clerk later apologized for not telling me that I could have given my answers in English, though I can't say that I minded doing the exam in Korean. After all, apart from the word for rectangle my (admittedly very poor) Korean was up to the task of handling our discussion.

When it came time to add up all the costs the salesclerk later gave me a decent discount on my frames and lenses. The frames were originally 180,000 Won but he dropped the price down to 112,000 Won. The lenses were an additional 55,000 Won - for a total price of 167,000 Won - but he decided that wasn't an 'even' number and rounded it down to 150,000 Won for me. It's more than I paid for my previous set of glasses but I do like them and if they last me for three years I'll feel like I got my money's worth. And that's what counts in the end, right?

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:

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