[ swing » dano ]

Chilseok (칠석)

Today (16 August) is the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, known as Chilseok (칠석) in Korean. It's one of the traditional holidays that isn't as popular now as it once was, though it's still known well enough for Google to create doodles for the day. Chilseok is something I've written about before on my blog, so if you need a refresher about the holiday you can check out these entries from last year:

[ 01 ] Chilseok (칠석)
[ 02 ] Melons, the Milky Way, and a Korean Folktale
[ 03 ] Chilseok Comic

While doing a quick image search for Chilseok earlier tonight I came across this interesting post from blogger Jo Iryoung (조이령). In the entry she recounts the story and also mentions that a Goguryeo-era (37BCE - 668CE) tomb was found in the Deokheung district (덕흥동) of Nampo City (남포시) of modern-day North Korea that includes a tile mural of Jingnyeo and Gyeonu. If I understand Miss Jo's site correctly the tomb's occupant died at the age of 77 during the reign of King Gwanggaeto the Great (광개토대왕; r. 391-413) and I'll include the images below for anyone interested in seeing them.

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The blog entry also mentions the story's connection to China's Qixi Festival - actually, how much of East Asian folklore has similar roots - and that the location of the relevant stars (Vega and Altair) is noted in the Joseon Dynasty astronomy book Cheonmunyucho (천문유초).

Miss Jo suggests that Chilseok became an important event due to its position within the seasonal calender, as it typically falls within the mid-summer when armies of the time weren't enforcing conscription due to it being the busiest time of year within the farming cycle. This offered conscripts the opportunity to return home - or young men to put off conscription - for a brief period. During this time the conscripts would be able to reunite with their their loved one for at least a limited time. The separation of lovers Jingnyeo and Gyeonu thus became a metaphor for these conscripts and their loved one at home.

Two additional connections are presented in her entry, both with contemporary significance. The first is in connection with 'lonely geese fathers' (외기러기 in Korean) and how they are only rarely able to see their families due to working in another city or country. (For more on lonely geese fathers I would strongly recommend checking out The Grand Narrative's posts here and here.) The second concerns the older generation(s) of Korea and how inter-Korea tensions are such that families divided by the Korean War are unable to see their relatives more than once every few years -- if they're lucky. Parents who have had their children smuggled out of North Korea and into the south face a similar situation though with even less hope of seeing each other again.

As much as I enjoy reading about them, I do sometimes wonder about the relevance of older folktales to modern-day life. However, as illustrated in the examples above, it is certainly possible to draw parallels to events in the present.

[ clazziquai project ]

Gwangbokjeol (광복절)

Yesterday (edit: 15 August) was both V-J Day marking the conclusion of World War Two and Gwangbokjeol (광복절; 'Restoration of Light' Day) in Korea, a public holiday commemorating Korea regaining independence in 1945 after 35 years of Japanese rule. With the day falling on the weekend this year I didn't hear any of my students mention the event, though I did see quite a few people in my neighborhood hanging up Korean flags in the morning and taking them down in the evening.

While at an award ceremony earlier in the day - more on this later - I also noticed that, in addition to everyone standing for the national anthem, a special broadcast was played beforehand that had everyone standing and holding their hand over their heart. It was interesting to see this behavior in light of the fact that no one kept their hand up for the national anthem. Not having gotten much sleep the previous night I was concentrating more on not falling asleep than in the content of the words and also forgot to ask my academy director about it after the ceremony was over. I assume the message was associated with 광복절 though I could always be mistaken about that. (But what else would make everyone put their hand over their heart when this isn't done during the national anthem? Hmm. I really should ask about this at work tomorrow.)

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak gave the traditional presidential speech at Gwanghwamun Gate while wearing a hanbok on Sunday and one of the other events that marks the occasion is a pardon of certain crimes.

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However, one interesting aspect captured by a photographer present at Gwanghwamun was a number of students wearing "V" masks at the day's event. The text that accompanies the photos on the daylife website is a simple:

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - AUGUST 15: A South Korean student wearing mask during the commemorate Korea's 65th Independence Day on August 15, 2010 in Seoul, South Korea. Korea was liberated from Japan's 35-year colonial rule in 1945.

I do wonder though if there's more to the story than that. It seems a bit strange to have students wearing that mask in particular on a holiday celebrating Korea's independence from Japan -- especially in light of the fact that Korea scheduled military exercises with the United States to begin the following day. Is it a case of 'mistaken identity' and the masks don't have any special connotations? You be the judge.

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[ sčánənəxʷ ]

The Dog Days of Summer: 삼복 (2)

Today marks the start sambok in Korea, often translated into English as 'the dog days of summer'. This is a topic that I wrote about in detail last year, so if you're interested in learning about the occasion I would suggest checking out this entry for more information. One thing that I found interesting about sambok this year is that no one at my academy had any idea when it was due to start this month. While everyone knew that it took place at some point in July the closest person to guess a date turned out to be more than a week off -- though that isn't a bad thing. With the date set according to the lunar calender it's probably not a surprise that my coworkers were unable to help me with an answer off the top of their head. The lunar calender isn't exactly used here on a daily basis after all.

What I found interesting isn't that my coworkers in their late 20s and early- to mid-30s didn't know the start of sambok but that a few other people did know. In particular, when I asked at a local gimbap restaurant last night - a part of the 김밥나라 chain that I often frequent - the couple who own the restaurant gave me an immediate response. Similarly, a 21 year old friend of mine mentioned chobok (초복; the opening 10 days of sambok) in a text message to me earlier this evening. So while a majority of Koreans might not keep up-to-date on when it takes place it does seem like there are at least a few who do find it worth remembering. (I suspect that my 21 year old friend is unique among her demographic for knowing when sambok takes place, however.)

Given the culinary aspect to the date there are no doubt plenty of blog entries out there talking about boshintang (보신탕; dog meat soup) or samgyetang (삼계탕; chicken and ginseng soup) as specialty dishes for this time of year, though one of my favorite aspects of sambok isn't the food but rather the takjok (탁족). Quoting from Annual Customs of Korea,

During this period, as one of the ways to spend the hot season people take liquor and food, go to some mountain area or visit some waterfall with their friends and enjoy the cool air. Or sometimes they spend a day by the water with their feet soaked in the cool mountain stream, which is called tag-jog meaning foot soaking.

I spent the weekend in Daegu visiting Diana from Going Places and my trip included visits to the mountains of Palkongsan (팔콩산) and Gayasan (가야산), with both featuring wonderfully cool breezes wafting up from mountain streams. True, we didn't actually spend time in the water, but that's something I can do at one of the mountains near Uijeongbu. Or along the newly constructed Haengbokno (행복로; Happiness Street) if I don't want to travel far.

Two girls play in the stream running through Haengbokno
[ can you hear me now? ]

World Cup 2010 - North Korea: the Aftermath

There has been a lot of speculation surrounding the North Korean men's national team following their performance at the 2010 World Cup. More specifically, I have seen comments popping up on blogs and social media sites concerning how the North Korean players will either be executed or sent to a gulag upon their return to Pyongyang. While I understand that people can be quick to gossip, I can't help but think that the folks making these claims are completely ignorant about the state of North Korean football. (Probably not a surprise given who we're talking about here.)


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[ strasbourg ]

World Cup 2010 - Japan & (Local) Korean Reactions?


Anyone who watched the matches last night - or, just as likely, anyone outside North America who watched the news in the past 24 hours - will know by now that Japan are out of the World Cup. Like Korea, the Japanese national team finished the group stage in second place before eventually losing to South American opponents in the Round of 16 (Uruguay beat Korea in normal time, Paraguay defeated Japan in a penalty shoot-out).

And what kind of reaction did Japan receive from viewers in Korea? Naturally I can only speak from my own experiences, but from what I saw in here in Uijeongbu the team received a fairly positive reception. This was very interesting to see, as one of the common tropes within blogs from English teachers in Korea is that Koreans have a strong hatred for Japan. While I'm not going to deny there are plenty of people here who do feel that way - and I also know one middle-aged Korean woman in the United States who also fits this generalization - it's worth keeping in mind that not everyone on the peninsula feels this way.

The Baskin Robbins near my home set up a large-screen television in the store window with chairs outside for the public to view World Cup games, and while I saw them screening the game between Japan and Denmark the same couldn't be said about the fixture between North Korea and Côte d'Ivoire. (I don't know what other games they screened because I was always somewhere else at the time.) Each time the Japanese team scored the audience cheered with delight. The solitary Danish goal was met with groans of disappointment from everyone present. A second round of cheers came during the match highlights as a new group of people was present to see a recap of the game. When I arrived at work the following day the teacher's room was abuzz with talk of how well Japan had done.

The game last night between Japan and Paraguay started at 11:00pm and no goals were scored in the opening ninety minutes of play. After a quick break the players took to the field for another 30 minutes with no change to the scoreline. When two teams are still level after extra-time in the knockout rounds of the World Cup the match goes to penalties. Two hours and 40 minutes after the match began (1:40am in Korea) the world watched as Japanese defender Yuichi Komano struck his penalty into the crossbar instead of the back of the net. If you had been in my apartment at the time you would have heard my neighbor let out a yell of surprise (anguish?) in response to the miss. Paraguay were successful with each of their penalties and subsequently won the match.

My neighbor wasn't the only one disappointed with the result. Our academy director and vice director had stayed up to watch the game and both remarked that Japan had been unfortunate to lose. In class today I had a few students comment on how Paraguay must be a good team if they beat Japan. Nobody gloated over the loss -- not even the students who say they dislike Japan for the nation's imperial policies of the early 20th century. Given how much criticism England received for going out in the Round of 16 - and even before that - it would have been an ideal time for my students to make a similar scene regarding Japan. And yet nobody did.

While the reactions of a small segment of the population is by no means an indicator of a change in general sentiment it does suggest that the issue of Korean feelings vis-à-vis Japan is not as cut-and-dried as one might be led to believe based on the opinion expressed by some of the foreigners here.

Actually, the situation brings to mind the 'classic' football tune of "You'll Never Walk Alone".


Although these two might have a little more difficulty drumming up support:


(Okay, I also wanted an excuse to post those last two photos ...)
[ faye: thoughtful ]

The 60th Anniversary of the 6·25 War

Yesterday (25 June) marked the 60th anniversary of the 6·25 War in Korea, more commonly known as the Korean War in English-speaking countries. This is a subject that I had wanted to write about on Thursday night before World Cup Fatigue took its toll, so please excuse the tardiness of this update.

This image always comes to mind when I think of the Korean War. From June 9, 1951. Maj. R.V. Spencer, UAF. (Navy)

Similar to the situation in the United States regarding historical events such as the Civil War, there were a few people here yesterday bemoaning the lack of awareness students now have about this important event in Korean history. One radio program that I caught while taking a taxi yesterday morning featured one woman who was telling her co-host that 70% of schoolchildren today don't know when the Korean War began. This is a topic that was brought up last year as well, and I think it's worth repeating that how a survey question is posed has a very strong influence on the type of responses one will receive. As such, it would be interesting to see how the researchers came up with the figures they did.

Despite the general apathy that these sort of articles highlight I had a class of elementary students bring up the subject of the Korean War in class last year and once again during one of my classes on Friday. However, I will admit that there was likely some outside influence on this year's decision to broach the subject. One of the students reported that soldiers had visited her class the day before to talk about the Korean War with them (based on how she worded this it sounds like they were currently serving in the military and not retired war veterans from the period around the 1950s) while just last week we had spent roughly 35 minutes going over the impact of several twentieth-century conflicts on contemporary international politics*.

I didn't think to ask if soldiers only come to present information to certain grade levels - as sometimes happens with other events - nor whether this is an ongoing annual occurrence or one that has only recently been implemented. This is a dilemma I often have in my intermediate level classes -- finding a balance between the normal coursework and allowing the students to talk about whatever subjects they're interested in, coupled with satisfying my curiosity versus limiting myself to corrections of grammar or pronunciation so the students have the opportunity to express their ideas naturally.

Last year there were flags placed along Cheonggyecheon in Seoul to represent the nations involved in the United Nations coalition to aid South Korea along with a photo memorial at the nearby Gwanghwamun Plaza. A bakery here (Fauchon?) also came out with a series of cakes that commemorated the participating nations. (The flag design cakes were originally something I found through Brian in Jeollanam-do but I can no longer find the relevant entry. Sorry, Brian!) Speaking of Brian's site though, he recently posted about a video display in New York's Times Square thanking veterans of the Korean War, courtesy of Professor Seo Kyeong-duk.

A panel from the video. You can see more panels here. Full credit to Brian for posting about this.

On the subject of memorials, one of the easiest to reach is the War Memorial of Korea, located in Seoul. A nicely representative collection of photos, taken by Edward N. Johnson of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command Korea, can be found on Flickr here. There is also a short write-up about Korea's efforts to commemorate the role of war veterans in this article. However, one very impressive internet find I came across earlier in the week is this page, which lists the monuments dedicated to each of the nations that participated in the war. While it may not include directions, it does provide the address for each and includes a photo to go with the location.

I've seen the Ethiopia Monument in Chuncheon and would like to visit some of the memorials as the time and weather allow. Did you know that Gyeonggi-do has two monuments to soldiers from Thailand who gave their lives fighting for South Korea's independence? That's probably information I would have never found on my own were it not for that website. Taking the time to visit a war monument might be a decent idea if you're looking for things to do in the next few weeks.

Of course, if you don't want to make a long trip outdoors there is also the option of watching movies indoors. Wikipedia has a list of Korean War movies here, while the Korea Times names a couple of older, Korean-made films in an article here (not sure how hard they'll be to get ahold of though). The two Korean movies from the list that will likely best easiest to find are Taegukgi and Welcome to Dongmakgol.** Finally, local theaters will be showing '71 - Into the Fire' based on a true story of 71 high school students who fought a holding action against the North Korea army during the early stages of the war. There are a couple of trailers posted online to YouTube here and here. This is the 'official' trailer that I caught in the theater two weeks ago:

* For anyone keeping track at home: The Austro-Hungarian Empire's ethnic policies of the 1890s-1910s, World War I, the Balfour Declaration, Spanish Civil War, Katyn Forest Massacre, Russo-Finnish & Winter Wars, World War II, Sakhalin & Kuril Islands controversy, and Chechen War. I would be surprised if any of my students remember the information now, but they seemed interested at the time.

** For some reason the Hangul (Korean script) is messing up the font formatting on my entry, so here are the titles to the above movies in English and Korean:

Taegukgi (태극기 휘날리며)
Welcome to Dongmakgol (웰컴투 동막골)
71 - Into the Fire (포화속으로)
[ hanbok papillon ]

"Are You Korean?"

There has been a lot of talk here recently about the match between Argentina and Korea. During dinner last night some of my coworkers asked me who I thought would win and my guess was that the game would end in a draw, which seemed to surprise everyone. The following class period saw one of my students - a boy in his first year of middle school - also bring up the subject and I gave him the same answer. When I asked for his own opinion about the outcome his reply was,

"Oh, Korea can't win. I went to the store and put money [bet?] that we will lose."

I see someone doesn't have much faith in the abilities of the Korean national team. Many of the younger students at our academy - ranging from third grade to fifth grade in elementary school - are confident of a Korean victory while the middle school students are much more noncommittal in their replies. Must be the onset of cynicism developing there. Heh. As a joke - and something that came to mind after an experience with a different class a few weeks ago - I teased him with the rejoinder, "Hey, are you Korean?"

The two sides met during the 1986 World Cup with one of the lasting images from their encounter involving Maradona (now coach of the Argentina national team) and Huh Jung-Moo (now coach of the South Korean national team) getting tangled up on the pitch. Maradona looks like he came out second-best in that one, though the team went on to win the game 3-1.

A few weeks ago while teaching a lesson on pentagons in an intermediate-level class I decided to review the various types of polygons with the three students. We went through triangles, rectangles, pentagons, hexagons, heptagons, octagons, nonagons, and decagons -- at which point I thought we'd be done. However, one of the two girls in class asked me what a twelve-sided polygon is called. The first thing that came to mind was 'dodecagon', but since I wasn't entirely sure I added that I would double-check and let her know if that was correct or not. This prompted the boy in class to remark,

"Teacher, are you American? Why don't you know that?"

"Do you know the capital of the Balhae Empire?" *

"Umm ... no."

"Why not? Are you Korean?"

"Ahhh ... teacher!"

That last one was said in a tone of voice that suggested he realized exactly what I was getting at, but for the benefit of the other students I explained how being from the United States doesn't mean that I automatically know everything in English, and especially not when it comes to more specialized terms. (That, and there's obviously something to be said in favor of getting one's facts straight when teaching information to students.) Similarly, just because he was Korean didn't mean that he knows everything about Korean-related history. The girl who had asked about twelve-sided polygons picked up on this immediately but, to my surprise, the other girl in class raised her hand to ask "What is Balhae?". In near-perfect unison her classmates turned to her and said,

"Hey, are you Korean?!"

* I deliberately chose the Balhae Empire as an example because not only is it an area where the students likely hadn't learned as much, but also because it had five different capitals between 698-926CE.

[ naadam ]

World Cup 2010 - Jong Tae-Se (정대세)

While waiting for my first class to start today I joined a conversation between two women at work concerning the World Cup. Or, more accurately, about Jong Tae-Se (정대세 / 鄭大世). For those of you who aren't familiar with Jong Tae-Se - which will likely be most people reading this blog post - he was born in Nagoya, Japan to Zainichi Korean parents holding South Korean citizenship but currently plays for the North Korean national team.

As it turns out, Jong attended a Chongryon-run school before going on to study at Korea University (Japan) and eventually signing for the Japanese professional club Kawasaki Frontale in 2006. Chongryon schools and the Kodaira-based Korea University are educational institutions geared toward the children of ethnic Koreans in Japan and feature a strong bias toward the North Korean government. (In fact, if Wikipedia is to be believed, the Chongryon seems to function as the de facto North Korean embassy in Japan.) But if Jong's parents hold South Korean citizenship why did he receive a pro-North Korean education and how did he ever come to play for the North Korean national team?

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[ can you hear me now? ]

World Cup 2010 - On the Internet

Original source unknown, found here

Saturday evening saw the Republic of Korea take full points against Greece following their 2-0 victory in Port Elizabeth. Despite the weather in Seoul a large number of people took to the streets to watch the game at the COEX Mall, City Hall, and a variety of other locations. Outdoor screens are one great way to watch the games and get involved in the World Cup atmosphere here, while a slightly more 'personal' feel can come from heading to one's local hof or chicken house. And of course there's always the option of watching the action from the privacy of your own home. But what can you do if you're stuck at work while the games are underway?

Well, apart from begging your boss for some extra time off there's always the option of following an internet feed. Monday afternoon our academy director helped me get everything ready so that I could have my laptop in class for the start of the Denmark - Netherlands match. While there wasn't all that much going on during the opening 15 minutes I would prefer not to take my chances in case things began with a fiery start. As it was I rushed home during halftime and showed up six minutes into the second half -- a six minute period that saw the Netherlands take a 1-0 lead over their opponents. Guess I'll need to be a little faster tomorrow if I'm to avoid a similar experience!

Anyway, for anyone interested in catching the games online you should be able to do so through the Naver 2010 World Cup page here. Pick the match you want - team names are pretty straightforward but Naver also includes the appropriate flags to make things even easier - and then click the red box that says [HD] TV 중계. You'll be prompted to download the file NLiveCastClient_v1.1.0.0, and after that you should be all set. Clicking on any of the blue boxes that say 경기영상 will load up a collection of highlights from previous games. Meanwhile, the box furthest to the right for each match - 경기기록 - will take you to a live ticker with text updates for each game. Much less intrusive for those times when you want to follow the action but can't keep your eyes glued to the screen at every moment.

[ msn: it's cold ]

King Taejong's Rain

Saturday (12 June, 2010) not only marked the date of Korea's first match in the 2010 World Cup but also the transition between the fourth and fifth months of the East Asian lunisolar calendar (태음력 in Korea, 太陰曆 in Chinese characters). While the fifth solar month is packed full of special days covering a variety of occasions the same cannot be said of its agriculturally-based counterpart. However, what the fifth lunar month lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality -- with the festivities of Dano (단오) occupying a special place in the traditional calendar.

Dano takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (16 June this year) and is a subject I've written about in the past (here and here). Another event that is coming up falls on the tenth day of the fifth lunar month (21 June) -- King Taejong's Rain. (As an aside, 21 June is also noteworthy for marking the summer solstice within the system of lunisolar seasonal divisions.) Continuing with a description of King Taejong's Rain, from Choe Sang-su's Annual Customs of Korea:

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Prior to starting this entry I decided to do a quick web search to see if there might be other information worth including and came across a somewhat surprising result. According to this page from the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) there is a site near Busan named Taejongdae (태종대) which is "famous for the ritual of praying for rain, performed when there are droughts, and rain on the 10th of lunar May is called the 'Taejong Rain'." All well and good except for the fact that this site gets its name from the Silla Dynasty ruler King Taejong Mu-Yeol (604~661; 태종 무열왕) and not the similarly-named Joseon ruler mentioned in the above passages!

Photo of Taejongdae from Naver 포토갤러리

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Finally, the transition between lunisolar months on Saturday was also heralded with a thunder and lightning storm in my current home of Uijeongbu. The city itself has a connection to King Taejo and his son Taejong but I'll save that for another update. In the meantime, here's a video I took of our local weather. A couple of flashes there that highlight the construction work going on at Uijeongbu Station, plus a decent strike at 40" in.

Funny, it just started down pouring rain outside ...