[ buddha-8 ]

Know Your Spirits: Sambul Jeseok (三佛帝釋)

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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[ psych » pineapple ]

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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[ swing » dano ]

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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[ clazziquai project ]

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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[ swing » dano ]

Holiday Week: Valentine's Day and Daeboreum

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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[ msn: it's cold ]

Sohan, the little cold

Today (6 January) marks the start of Sohan (소한; 小寒) in the lunisolar calendars of China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Despite the name translating to 'little cold' in English it felt very frigid outside today and the temperature was -10°C on my walk home from work. I've recently begun joking with friends that I look forward to the days when it snows because they're usually warmer than the days without snow. As an example of this, Jungnangcheon, the stream by my apartment, started thawing out a couple of weeks ago -- but only once it started snowing.

Sohan begins when the sun reaches a celestial longitude of 285° and continues until it reaches a longitude 300°, which will be on 20 January. The following stage is Daehan (대한; 節氣), a period known as the 'great cold' and which marks the final stage of winter in the lunisolar calendar. While I'm not overly thrilled by the low temperatures it does mean there are fewer people out, which leads to nice photo opportunities:

Taereung (태릉), the tomb site of Queen Munjeong [ link ]
[ jang miran ]

Jeong Darae and the 16th Asian Games

Anyone who has read my LiveJournal for a prolonged period of time will know that I am an avid follower of soccer (football). Other sports that I enjoy include handball, badminton, and archery but those are often much harder to watch on a regular basis -- which is why I am so keen to catch them when multinational events such as the Olympics and Asian Games take place. (Although, since coming to Korea, I have attended the Archery World Championships in 2009 and the Women's Junior Handball World Championship in 2010.)

One of the great aspects to these sporting events is seeing a number of athletes that aren't normally in the public's eye. Athletes competing within more popular sports - for example baseball and basketball in the USA or hockey in Canada - are often in the limelight while those competing in sports like sepak takraw, badminton, and archery (among many others) are not. However, multinational sporting events offer a platform for these athletes to shine. I remember the excitement of watching the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, and Goodwill Games as an elementary student and learning a little more about competitors and sporting traditions with each round of each edition.

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[ domo ]

Conflict in East Asia

If you've been following the news recently you've no doubt heard about North Korea's artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on the afternoon of 23 November. If, by some chance, you aren't aware of what's happened you can get a quick summary of events from any number of sources -- such as Yahoo News and BusinessWeek. Before the start of classes today one third grade boy got my attention to talk about events:

"Teacher, did you watch the news?"
"I didn't watch the news, but I heard about North Korea."
"Yes. There was a big 폭팔 (explosion)."
"That's right. 무서워? (Is it scary?)"
"No ... it's exciting!"

I have to admit though that the scariest thing (in my mind) to come out of North Korea over the past week has been their synchronized swimming team at the 16th Asian Games. But that's probably because I'm not a big fan of plastic smiles and nose clips.

In addition to affairs between North and South Korea, there also appears to be some tension developing between South Korea and Taiwan due to the disqualification of a Taiwanese athlete from the Taekwondo competition. While checking out Asian Games photos on DayLife (which I highly recommend) I came across the following:

South Korean students and a woman go into a Korean school in Taipei on November 23, 2010 which was hit with eggs several times the past few days as anti-Korean sentiment increased after a taekwondo row at the Asian Games. Taiwan's taekwondo star Yang Shu-chun was disqualified from the Asian Games in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou last week, setting off a wave of anti-Korean ire across the island where irate fans have blamed South Korean judges for kicking her out of the competition. Organisers of a Taiwanese film festival said on November 23 that South Korean pop groups would not be invited to perform.

Doing a quick web search shed some additional light on the situation, with the BBC reporting on the incident that led to her disqualification and China Post offering information on the aftermath in Taiwan with this article. The general idea from the latter source is that some Taiwanese internet users believe Yang Shu-chun's disqualification was an attempt to make the quarterfinal easier for Korean competitors by removing one of the stronger competitors in the sport.

The technical committee member who disqualified Yang is Hong Sung Chon, an ethnic Korean from the Philippines, while the World Taekwondo Federation's Secretary-General, Yang Jin-suk of South Korea, has reportedly been unable to give a consistent explanation for why the Taiwanese athlete was disqualified. From the China Post article:

The egg-throwing incident was the latest of a series of anti-Korea moves launched by angry Taiwanese, who have called for a boycott of South Korean goods, foods, television programs and entertainers.

Dozens of posts from Taiwanese users were also posted late Friday and early Saturday on the Facebook page of Cheongwadae, South Korea's presidential office, before being removed, with most users blasting the country for its unfair treatment of taekwondo star Yang Shu-chun.

And for those wondering, later news articles (for example, this one from Taiwan News) indicate that the man responsible for the school eggings has been caught by police. Apparently it didn't take much work, as he was standing outside of the school on Monday morning, once again throwing eggs past the main gate.
[ domo ]

At the Noraebang: 5 v 1

Monday evening, while teaching my final class of the day, I asked my students what they did over their weekend. One girl mentioned going to the movies. The sole boy in class spoke about wanting to play baseball but staying inside because it was raining too much to meet his friends outdoors. The other girl said she had a horrible time and went on to elucidate.

This girl - currently in sixth grade - went to the downtown of Uijeongbu to pass the afternoon and ended up in a noraebang (노래방) with five boys in their first year of middle school. As she went back over her story again to add more details she mentioned that the boys had given her money to go with them to the noraebang and then gave her more money once they were all inside. She tried calling her friends to come and join her but only one other girl came -- and then the boys called one of their friends to make it a group of six boys and two girls. She didn't have much fun with the sex ratio being what it was, but at least that was the reason for her disappointment concerning her weekend and not anything more.

Hearing that she accompanied a group of guys to a noraebang who paid her for her time was rather surprising but I wasn't really sure what type of comment to make about the situation. The Grand Narrative writes that the age of consent in Korea is 13 years old which makes her weekend activities that much riskier. Since we were in a classroom setting I'm not sure how much detail she felt comfortable sharing with me about the meeting so I can only assume that things didn't get out of hand and her distaste was over spending time with that many boys rather than with anything in particular that they did.

I did make sure to tell her to be careful in the future and mentioned the incident to her former teacher so that someone else in the academy was aware of what had happened. My current co-teacher for her class seems extremely disinterested in teaching. On top of that she is also quite rude, so I don't exactly trust her to handle the situation very gracefully. I really hope that my student takes care of herself in order to avoid any potentially dangerous situations in the future.

[ faye: thoughtful ]

Detention! Or: my latest visit to immigration

My work visa expired last week, though with all the things our academy director is dealing with at the moment it wasn't until today that he realized that we needed to visit immigration to take care of it.

I'd been to the Uijeongbu Immigration Office several times without any problems - usually getting everything done within 15 minutes, and never waiting more than 25 - but with the office moving to a purpose-built site in Yangju in November we were hoping that things would go even more smoothly this time around. On the way there our director complained about how the building was only identified in Korean despite the fact that many (most?) of its patrons are non-Koreans.

We arrived at 11:50 and took a number for Visa & Resident Services. There were 42 people ahead of us in line and two employees working at the counter. After 30 minutes one of those employees left on a lunch break. During this time there was a man sitting at the Naturalization desk with nothing to do and two more employees at the Invitations counter who were chatting between themselves. By 12:50 our director was getting fed up with waiting and went up to the oldest-looking employee to complain. The man was a low-level supervisor who claimed that he had asked the woman at the Invitation counter to help with the workload but she had refused, claiming that she had some data entry that needed to be done first.

I was somewhat worried when our director went up to the supervisor, since 'trouble makers' can be flagged as such in the Korea Immigration Services network. Fortunately we were treated quite nicely when it was finally our turn.* Granted, it took three hours of waiting, but the woman working at the (Outgoing) Immigration desk began to help whenever she could.

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