Sunday, October 31, 2004

I miss halloween

I was supposed to go to a 'branch elementary school' in Eoseongjin on Friday and help out with a Halloween party. Instead I went to the dentist for the first step in getting a crown on a broken tooth.

Koreans are just learning about Halloween. I remember a few years ago at BCM Hagwon, leaping into a co-workers class, dressed all in black and waving a stick. My face was covered in a black cycling mask. The poor teacher fell back into a corner and screamed wildly while I tried to rip the mask off, saying, 'It's me. Stop screaming. I'm sorry...' It's a good thing I had a lot of candy to bribe the students with!

Halloween in Summer Posted by Hello

At a summer camp, one day's theme was Western holidays and my class learned about halloween. Well, we made masks and they learned to say, 'Trick or treat, smell my feet...' I guess that learning...

Friday, October 29, 2004

Hey!...Close the door!

It is now mid-fall and the temperature is falling. I have one basic, heartfelt plea for Koreans at this time: Please, please, after you leave your house, start closing any outer door you use.

I don't care about your homes... That sounds kind of mean-spirited; I do care about your homes, but you have the right to leave your own door open if you want. Other doors; at work, at school, public buildings, shops...., please close them after you go through.

My country is a cold one. In my part of Canada, we will have more than two months of -10 degrees Celsius or colder weather. Inside virtually every building, it will be 16 to 20 degrees. I love winter sports, making snowmen, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, skating and more.

All that said, I still feel uncomfortably cold in Korea. I think Korea is colder than Canada. Why? Because there is no escape from the temperature. Outside, it is -1 to +8 degrees Celsius and inside it is 4 to12 degrees. In late November and through to March, I will teach wearing a sweater and vest...sometimes even a scarf and long-underwear. Some students bring cushions to class because the seats are so cold.

Some Koreans might say that keeping the interior temperature down is for health reasons; to prevent a thermal shock going from hot to cold to hot to cold... I'll believe that when the gas and electrical heaters are turned off, instead of being close enough to some that they almost cook their legs.

Other Koreans may exclaim that Korea is a developing country, they don't have the money to heat their workspaces. Here is where we agree. However, you could afford to heat your offices if you CLOSED THE FRICKIN' OUTER DOORS!

Perhaps I'm biased by my nationality. Canada's R2000 building technology is famous for it's energy efficiency. The early R2000 homes had one flaw: they were so well sealed and airtight that there was some danger of suffocation. That's a little extreme, but keeping warm air in and cold air old seems like a good idea to me.

Finding errors about Korea

Attention, Web-surfers: it’s time to get patriotic again.

[This article was first posted in the Korea Herald, but I have linked it to 'About Joel' as it is only available at KH for one week -already gone.]
The Korea Overseas Information Service has announced
another contest in which Internet users who report erroneous
information about Korea that appears on foreign Web sites are
eligible to win prizes.

The errors may be wide ranging, such as factual errors about
the nation’s history and culture. The competition will kick off
next month and continue through Dec. 10.
As a typical example of Web errors, KOIS officials cited
references to the “Sea of Japan” for the body of water
between Korea and Japan, instead of the name Korea uses,
the “East Sea.”

I always scratch my head when I see 'Sea of Japan' described as the wrong name, as an error. As far as I can see, it's a name, maybe not the only name, but it's a real name, not an error.
Although I live on the Korean coast of this sea and use the Korean name with friends and students, I prefer the Japanese name. When we think of the North Sea, we have an idea of where it should be. I guess that few people search maps of Australia or Oceania for the North Sea, but focus their attention on the top quarter of the globe. There is an end to 'North'. There is no end to 'East'. The name 'Sea of Japan' is a better indicator of where it is.

A few months ago, EBS' radio English program described Tasmania as part of New Zealand. Will there be any contests to correct the geographical, historical or cultural errors in Korean publications? Korean comics used to show Caucasians with huge noses and blacks with huge stereotypical features. Can we write in if we see those?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Holding his pen, but definitely sleeping. Posted by Hello

Friday, October 22, 2004

Salmon fest and Korean eating habits

Lao-ocean girl, an ex-pat living in Gangneung has some news about the Salmon Festival, which I posted about a few weeks ago, starting tomorrow (Saturday the 23rd) and horrifying (but unsurprising) news about the communal bowls used in Korean restaurants and foodcarts. I have tried to ignore my discomfort in sharing soups and even dipping bowls but no longer. Read it.

Anyway, come to Yangyang and enjoy the salmon, but don't share.

Temple stay at Naksansa

I saw this article in the Korea Herald and thought I would describe my temple stay experience at Naksan Temple. The article is about Jagwang Temple but the basics are the same at every temple.

Experience Buddhist monk life through templestay
A typical weekend visit to the Jagwang Temple runs for 24 hours,
starting on Saturday around 3 p.m. and finishing at the same time
Sunday afternoon. It's an introspective experience, giving the visitor
a glimpse of the solitary lives of Buddhist monks and nuns, while
allowing them to participate in regular temple activities. ...
The Buddhist tea ceremony - a crucial part of being able to able to
free your mind and focus on reflecting upon the world and yourself
- involves learning the meaning of the complex tea preparation rituals
and drinking etiquette. But for Hae Il-shim, what seems like a
painstaking process of carefully washing the teacups and pot before
brewing the tea is actually a highly pleasurable part of her day.

"The tea ceremony helps me to erase myself," she said slowly
sipping tea from a delicate looking kiln-fired green teacup.
"The discipline of the ceremony allows me to find Buddha in my
mind and reminds me that I'm not special. This is a way of
remembering to respect and treat everyone evenly."
...After meditation is finished, it's time for a Q and A meeting
with the temple "seunim" (a respectful way to address a
Buddhist monk or nun in Korea) before heading off to bed
at 10 p.m. During this time, visitors are encouraged to ask
questions or seek advice on Buddhism, personal problems
or even the meaning of life. According to Chong Ah seunim,
the abbot of Jagwang Temple, most foreigners enroll in the
temple stay program because they want to see and experience
the reality of Korean Buddhism. ...With the 5 a.m. ceremony
coming all too quickly, pondering the wisdom of the seunim's
advice from the evening before doesn't seem all that important
as you begin the first of the 108 bows - one for each of the
anguishes or sufferings encountered throughout life's stages.
Prostrating yourself on the ground 108 times to show respect
to Buddha and your Buddhist self is an agonizing experience,
but provides an interesting insight into what it takes to lead a monk's life.

I went to Naksan Temple with 6 friends. [Note, there is a minimum group size, you should enquire when planning a visit.] Five of us lived in Yangyang and had been to the temple at least a few times, while it was the first visit for two. If you want to learn about the temple itself, look on the web or, do a temple stay, I guess.

Planning to stay the night made the whole visit seem different. I knew the grounds as well as any layman. In 2003, a group of diplomats came for a templestay and I was drafted into being a guide for their visit. In preparation, I had to do a fair bit of study on the temple and the region. I knew what many of the paintings meant and who Ui-seung and Won-hyo were. I could even parrot a few Zen lines. Still, I had spoken to only about 3 monks in all my stay in Korea.

The visit was interesting and informative but incomplete; I learned a lot but only intermittently had a glimpse of what a monk's life entailed. The visit felt more like an intense guided tour than an immersion into the life of a monk. I fully understand that 24 hours in a temple is not enough to see the inner workings of a lifetime of devotion, but I wanted more. Just as my 5 days a year working at my in-law's farm doesn't make me farmer, the temple stay didn't give me a lot of insight into the thoughts and motivations of a monk.

Our stay was a busy one. The tour of the site, meditation practice, tea ceremony and evening meal (I probably have the order mixed up) filled the afternoon and evening. Perhaps that really is an example of a monk's life: one of fairly constant work, not the easeful existence imagined by outsiders.

It was also an intense one. My understanding of Buddhist philosophy is that one must do whatever one thing without thinking about other things. Do one thing intensely. The tea ceremony was very atmospheric; inside a temple room of wood and mud and reeds, carefully preparing the tea and thoughtfully savouring it. Our (okay, 'my') attempts to chat were quickly stopped. This was a tea CEREMONY damnit, not a tea SOCIAL.

The trip was a chance to focus on simple things but not to relax in the modern sense.
Our Q and A session with the monk started slowly but picked up as we thought about what we wanted to ask. The monk guiding us was named Pap-gong (and, in my thoughts, I immediately called her Popcorn. She was a biguni, or female monk. I also converted that to bikini. 'Popcorn, the bikini') although we addressed her as Seu-nim, or reverend monk. She was posted at Naksan to help with the templestay program and was separate from the other, male, monks at the temple. She had an elder mentor somewhere else in Korea she visited on occasion and was also mentoring an orphaned high school girl in Pusan. I learned a lot about the rigors of a monk's life when she told us she meditated eight hours a day when she was young but no longer had that much energy so her meditation periods were now shorter.

After the Q & A, she gave us a koan or Seon (Korean Zen) riddle for us to meditate on. I was already in pain from sitting crosslegged for some time and when she asked how long we would like to meditate, I choose the shortest period she suggested, ten minutes. The riddle was doubly difficult because the translator was a little quiet and I wasn't sure if it was 'Why does the whiteboard have hair' or 'Why does the white board have hair?' Perhaps non-teachers wouldn't have that trouble. I was sure that no whiteboard I'd used in class had hair unless someone headbutted the edge by accident while leaving class. After the meditation, another templestayer said of course, it was 'white board' as in lumber. Finally, after speaking to the translator, we learned we had lost ten minutes of our lives because the words were 'white boar' as in male pig. Ah well, I would have just wasted them, chatting.

Ringing the bell Posted by Hello

We woke at 3:00 am to do the 108 bows. We went to the main hall in the original part of Naksan temple and joined the service. The monks were in gray and brown and Buddhist students and we visitors were in yellow hanbok. By the way, it isn't just 108 bows, the service included bowing to several of the statues three times each. Then, without warning, the students and monks just kept bowing. We joined in, at our own paces. I was going pretty quickly until I noticed another visitor staying in the full bow position for a few seconds each time. I then tried to slow down and think more about why I was bowing and show a little more respect. Again without warning, everyone started to leave. If I counted the bowing during the service, I think I did the full 108. After leaving the building, I learned that the other visitor was just tired and resting with each box. Dang, I could have made it.

The other visitors went back to bed while I wandered around the temple a bit. The giant standing Buddha looked wonderful, gleaming in the quiet darkness. I was the only one around and I stayed longer than I had previously meditated just enjoying the peace.

After a short nap, we got up again to see the sunrise; Yangyang being famous for it's sunrises. The day dawned very clear, which is nice but slight cloud cover makes for better colors.

After sunrise, we left the temple on our separate ways. The full templestay includes a tour of Sorakdong, the main entrance to Soraksan, with it's giant bronze, sitting Buddha but we were locals and had seen it. I, for one, went home to bed.

Here are some links for those interested:

Click here for the main templestay website. Naksan's templestays are run by a tour agency called itour.
Right beside the temple is a youth hostel. No English.
Finally, about temples and Korean Buddhism, click here. I bought the book but now it's free online.

temple information- from the Korea Herald Posted by Hello

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Doug Bennett: My favorite musician, dead at 53

When I was a speed swimmer in my teens, the coach used to play Doug and the Slugs all the time. I enjoyed the music and when they played nearby - at the Kee To Bala, in Muskoka, they were my first choice to try to get in underage. I had learned to like the music because i heard it so often but when I saw them in concert, WOW!- The best Bar-band in Canada. The Kee had strange floors ( I think should-be-condemned is a better description of the floors) and dancers got a big spring. It was like dancing on a trampoline. I saw them again several times at the Kee and also at Front 54 in Thorold. Nobody sat and listened to Doug. He wouldn't let you- I mean that, I think he would drag people onto the floor. One year, he had this bit where he would find a bar-goer and ask them obnoxious questions while holding their hair and making them nod their head to his queries. My friend Ron thought it was great when he was tackled but I think someone later sued him.

I have no idea if his music was 'good'. I can't carry a tune. But I know his concert show was the best I had ever seen

Doug and the Slugs Posted by Hello

This picture is from their second album. I found it here.

Goodbye Doug. "Too bad you had to get caught. That's not you to make a mistake"

Monday, October 18, 2004

Cranes have returned to Cheorwon

While visiting a Korean friend, I noticed a newspaper with a picture of some Manchurian cranes on the front page. Upon returning home, I could not find the picture online. Anyway, they have returned to Cheorwon. I thought Korea was just a rest stop on a longer migration but this site says Korea is their wintering site. As I couldn't find the photo I wanted here is a Korean stamp photo featuring the Manchurian crane.

Manchurian Crane Posted by Hello

The site that gave me their migration route also gave their name as Manchurian or Japanese Crane. I already used a 'Sea of Japan/East Sea' joke for the Japanese Maple below so I guess I can't here (sigh).

I went to Cheorwon a few years ago with the Royal Asiatic Society and the weather was crummy but the birds were fantastic. Never having seen an ostrich, when I saw these giants, I thought they could be ostriches. These are big birds. They fly in 'V's and their huge wings look prehistoric.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Another Japanese Maple Posted by Hello

New Hiking Route in Seorak National Park

I posted earlier about a trail being reopened after 20 years closure for recovery from overuse. On Friday I made the hike and here are the details. I apologize for the quality of the photos; my wife is using our digital so these are film photos that have been scanned.

Entrance to Heul-lim Gol

I learned about the new trail in the Joongang Daily. I will refer to the article a few times.

The trail is a little inconvenient to reach as it is between Hangyeryoung and Osaek. The article describes the trailhead as 2 km below Hangyeryoung when it is actually three and a half. My friend and I took the bus to Hangyeryoung (pass or or highest point of the road) and walked down to the trailhead. It was a fast walk and not too scary although the bus drivers sure lean on their horns a lot. There were a lot of switchbacks and if you were a good longjumper, you could probably reach the trailhead in one jump; the landing would be messy though.

The trail has been closed for twenty years and only recently reopened. This is a good thing as the soil is a very fine powdery dirt that will erode quickly. As yet the trail is not very wide but there are several points where the trail splits and rejoins. I have heard that along the Appalachian Trail in the Eastern US, hikers are strongly requested to stick to the one path even if it is under water to reduce erosion around the trail. There is no such education here and some Seorak trails are 10 meters wide. The Heullim trail is not but could soon be.

Do not expect a solitary experience in Seorak in the Fall. I hoped to avoid crowds by hiking on a weekday. If the weekend is more crowded, Seoul would have to be empty. The first half of the hike was relatively private but at the top, there was a group of perhaps 50 shuffling and clambering over each other to enjoy the view. To get to the top, one had to climb 3 or 4 metres almost vertically and the top was a rounded knob of rough rock so people literally did clamber over each other.

The views were great and would be even when the fall colors are gone.

Hangyeryeong Posted by Hello

Above is our starting point. We walked downhill for 40 minutes before climbing above it. Clicking on the picture will enlarge it and you will see how many vehicles are parked there.

Japanese Maple Posted by Hello

The Maple of Japan or, as it's known here, the East Maple, was the brightest in the forest. It's shocking red was wonderful and many people collected leaves to take home.

As I've said before though, it's the wildlife that I really want to see while hiking. I wasn't disappointed:

Snake -(poisonous?) Posted by Hello

We saw two snakes. I took a stick and encouraged this one to vacate the trail because the next Korean coming down either would not come down or would encourage the snake to vacate this world with a stick. A man beside me kept warning me, saying 'Dok-sa' which I am sure means poisonous.
I don't know if the snake is poisonous. I know that many people in my part of Canada talk about the cottonmouth snakes and copperhead snakes they've seen, unaware that there are none such in Canada. A lot of harmless foxsnakes and milksnakes are beaten to death for no good reason. I have no reason to believe Koreans are any better educated about their snakes. On the other hand, it's the only kind of snake I've seen in Korea, and I've seen it in four provinces so it is common enough to be well-known. If any readers know, please tell me.
After reaching the peak, we continued down to Osaek valley. The trail got progressively busier but I saw only a little garbage. (I always plan to bring a bag and collect garbage and never do.)

At O-saek, we caught a bus home to Yangyang. The buses from Yangyang to Hangyeryoung from O-saek to Yangyang are regular but the schedule has recently changed. Greenyard Hotel, which houses the hot springs, has a bus of it's own to and from Yangyang and the airport.

I had planned to make the trip a two day affair, going to Daechungbong- the highest peak, and spending the night, then going down to Hangyeryoung and Heullim. I learned online that the Daechungbong sleeping hut is booked up for more than a week in advance. Actually, a Korean friend found out for me. The English site gives a phone number to call but the Korean site allows you to reserve online and check for vacancies.

The hike took about four hours from Hangye to O-saek and maybe five and a half to and from Yangyang.

Along my cycling route

I think we've now had a full month without rain. I've had many great rides past my university and down some back roads, meeting the coast at Naksan Temple. The total trip is about 15 km and half that is on a cycling path. So long as it's not covered in drying rice, the path is wonderful.

Traditional roof and persimmon tree. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


I love a good swamp. Sorry, a good wetland. Apparently, swamps are unpleasant places, possibly bordered by the homes of slack-jawed yokels. A wetland is an ecologically-important area of water, thick mud and myriad plants and animals that is worth saving. Keep the Dutch away (In Ontario, they have the rep of swa...wetland-drainers)!

The Joongang Daily has an article about attempts to preserve wetlands in Incheon. The wetlands are located on two islands: Silmi, of movie fame, and Yeongjong, which also includes the International Airport. I am all for protecting wetlands and consider myself an environmentalist but I think the airport has an valid argument here.

Airport authorities said that the islands, if left undeveloped,
would attract migratory birds and present a hazard to
operations at the airport nearby."No foreign airliners will
use Incheon International Airport after they hear that the
airport is near a natural preserve that is densely packed
with birds," an official said.

Birds and airports are a very bad mix. I am more troubled by the official's statement, "No foreign airlines...". Would Korean Air and Asiana continue to use the airport? Hmmm, where can I get to from Kimhae?

Crying out for a canoe to explore Posted by Hello

(Probably, I am the one crying for a canoe. Hey, anyone in Korea have a used canoe or even an old windsurfer board and kayak paddle for sale?)

Above is a wetland maintained for education purposes. My mom is a volunteer here. This the Wye Marsh in Midland, Ontario, Canada. The photo is from their site.

Although I don't care for mosquitoes ( or blackflies, deerflies, horseflies,..), paddling in a wetland was always exciting to me. The narrow, winding routes are mazelike, mysterious. Who knows what is around the corner? Turtles, pike sunning themselves, birds aplenty, and such a variety of other animals that, after more than four years without a canoe trip, I can hardly imagine anymore.

Sure, hiking in Korea is fine, pleasant, good exercise even. And I have seen a deer while hiking, probably an escapee from an antler farm. Canoeing through a Canadian wetl..ah heck, swamp, just has more to be seen, more rewards for exploring.

I hope Korea finds a way to preserve some real wetlands ( not pesticide-filled irrigation ponds) but this really seems to be something they should have thought about before starting an ambitious airport project. Arguing about it only 2 or 3 years after completion could give the impression that Koreans don't plan ahead well.

Documentary on NK Defectors

The Marmot, or a guest blogger, has a post about a documentary discussing the lives of North Korean defectors living in South Korea. The show is on KBS2 at 11pm tomorrow night (Wed the 13th). It will be in Korean but I will probably try to follow what's going on. What was interesting about the post was the quotes from defectors living in South Korea.

“Having risked their lives to escape their north, what are their dreams of South Korea?”
Eon Pil-suk (not her real name/defector) “Did we suffer like this to come to South Korea, only to be treated like this? Who can settle in with this kind of alienation and ostracism?”
” Defectors who have fallen into crime! Where does it all end?!”

This matches the early October report in the Joongang daily with the title '3 of 4 defectors here on welfare'. The article also mentions a surveys finding that 'just over two-thirds of North Korean defectors here said it was difficult to adjust to the competition inherent in South Korean society. '

I expect that all ex-pats in Korea follow this news with at least mild interest. My interest perked up with the daring entry in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing by 44 North Koreans. I've been keeping up with the news as best i can but have found no developments more than three days after the event. This is my first time following this kind of story so I wonder how it suddenly disappeared from the media.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

New trail opens in Seoraksan

It's been a slow week for me. I had big plans to do a hike in Seoraksan but just felt too lazy. Here is the hike I would have done. From the Jungang Ilbo:

The western part of the highest peak, Daecheong, which stands
1,708 meters above sea level, is called "inner Seorak;" the other
side, closest to the ocean is called "outer Seorak." For the first
time in 20 years, hiking trails through the Heulim valley, which
is hidden between the rocky walls of Mount Manmulsang (A
Thousand Rock Shapes) and Chilhyeongje peak, will soon be
open to the public after having been closed for conservation
purposes. Lee Jong-seung, a 61-year-old hiker, guided our
group of reporters to the as-yet-inaccessible valley.

Park officials expect the valley to be open to the public in
time for the Chuseok holiday, which begins Sept. 27. Until
then, any attempt to navigate the passage without an
experienced guide would be difficult. In other words, don't
do what we did.

From a rest area in Hangye-ryeong, a two-kilometer
(1.2 miles) drive toward Yangyang on Highway 44 leads
our group to an abandoned parking lot. Two hundred
meters from here is a sign that reads, "No longer used
as climbing routes." This is where Heulim valley begins.

This Friday (I have the day off), I will try to get there. There is no bus stopping at Heulim Valley, so I think I have to go to Hangyeryoung and walk down the road for two kilometres.

Me with the fastest hiker I know. Posted by Hello

I hike pretty frequently in the cooler weather in Korea. In Canada, I hiked perhaps 10 times but went canoeing nearly every ice-free day. I'll be canoeing this December if I go home.

I hike, as most foreigners do, to enjoy the quiet and the scenery. We typically dress lightly and walk quickly. In Canada, I also hike to enjoy the wildlife, but I've seen enough chipmunks so there's not much in Korea to excite me. Most Koreans tend to hike to enjoy each others company and so dress warmly and walk slowly.

Having passed many Koreans on the trail -and if you've been to Seorak, you can understand that 'many' means 'a whole frickin lot' - I thought I was a pretty fast hiker. The man in the picture walked me into the ground. We traveled from O-saek to Biseon-dae in about 7 hours (about 16 km) and I actually ran a few times to catch up.

Anyway, look for a report on the trail next Saturday.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Fall colors at higher elevations

This picture is from the Joongang Ilbo. It's from somewhere in Seorak National Park.

autumn on Seorak Mountain

Here, at sea level, there is still only green.

Oh, another important thing to see here is the number of people. I will start hiking again now that it is cool enough, but I will only go on weekdays. If you are lucky enough to have a weekday off, I recommend it. A friend described Seoraksan in the fall on a weekend at 'crowded as the Jongno subway transfer station' with everyone walking in step.

Utilities officials lie in other countries, too!

I came across this article while looking at MSNBC. It reminded me to be a little less judgmental. I was surprised to see this problem in the US but wouldn't have noticed it here in Korea.

Lead levels misrepresented in U.S. cities

Cities across the country are manipulating the results of
tests used to detect lead in water, violating federal law
and putting millions of Americans at risk of drinking
more of the contaminant than their suppliers are reporting.

Some cities, including Philadelphia and Boston, have thrown
out tests that show high readings or have avoided testing
homes most likely to have lead, records show. In New York
City, the nation's largest water provider has for the past three
years assured its 9.3 million customers that its water was safe
because the lead content fell below federal limits. But the city
has withheld from regulators hundreds of test results that would
have raised lead levels above the safety standard in two of those
years, according to records.

We have our own water problems in Canada. A few years ago in Walkerton:

Seven people died from drinking contaminated water.
Hundreds suffered from the symptoms of the disease, not
knowing if they too would die.
According to the local medical officer of health, it all could

have been prevented. Dr. Murray McQuigge stunned the
country with his revelation on CBC Radio on May 25, 200
that the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission knew there
was a problem with the water several days before they told the public.

This is what we expect here in Korea. An online travel guide to Korea warns us that:

Much of the water that is supplied comes from the Han River,
the massive waterway that separates Seoul into two. This River
is supposedly clean enough to swim in, and that is debatable,
but it's certainly not clean enough to drink. Of course it is treated
chemically, but it is better to side with caution on this one as who
knows if those chemicals are even legal in the US.

Here the US is considered a safe place with reasonable health guidelines and we can now see that may not be the case.

I just need to think about these things once in a while to avoid becoming an IA clone. Korea has problems but they aren't alone.