Sunday, June 28, 2009

what i think at this point

it's been so tough...

i've never lived anywhere where i had less of an idea about what was going on around me.

there are many, many, many times that i just don't understand why a situation precipitates the way it does (from [arking arrangments, to construction, to interpersonal interaction) and it kept me in a state of doubt and uncertainty.

after several converstaions on the subject, with everyone i know in korea worth consulting, it seems to be this: they are good at being individuals...but they are still new to the idea of being a soveriegn, unthreatened, individual culture. They really seem like they are just taking their baby steps as far as sanitation, law enforcement, social unrest, and architecture..thoe being among the many other attributes of a uniqu culture in the modern era.

I have been watching a building go up next door to me. It is currently 5 stories arranged over a parking area. the whole structure was built by 6 guys, they show up in the morning and start blueprints, little equiptment. they get a floor prepared and a concrete truck arrives to pour. they prop it all up with jack-stands and metal poles, and they begin the next's not the only project i've seen done this way, but it's the one i'm most familiar with. the pours are often incomplete, leaving large gaps of exposed rebar. I've never seen surveing equiptment of any kind, and they built the whole structure on a 16 inch slab poured on what was a terreced just seems cray

it seems to my unfamiliar eye, to be another symptom of this enourmous Korean pride tha pervades the country. Pride to the degree tat it blots out reason...defies logic...and scoffs at naked facts...

in my presence, koreans have laid claim to: instant coffee, pepsi cola, cubism(picasso), and leveed a tangent between their use of the oil lamp, and the conception of the electric light. Now, a bit of research will illuminate the origins of Pepsi Cola and Instant Coffee...and maybe it's some western conspiracy, but there is no mention of korea, koreans, or even kimchi (which, by the way, is rumored to prevent swine flu )

koreans rarely say 'i don't know' and are more apt to make something up ad-hoc

now, i'm not trying to bash the people. they are a warm, welcoming, fun people (in some ways) it's just the more modern nuances of civilization that they seem alien to. and it's not just that i'm culturally insensitive...which i long considered the reason for the dischord...koreans themselves acknowledge these same ideas...provided they have left the country in the past...

most koreans don't leave the country because...'why would anyone bother?'

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Enjoy Nature!

Took a hike two weeks ago with some people i know...

Beautiful woods, early spring. Encountered a lovely little waterfall that turned into a meandering stream.

We decided to follow the streem down the hill back to the road.

On the way out of the woods (but a distance from the road) we came accross a gravel road that had a sign. A picture of a fish and an arrow.

We followed the sign and eventually came to a place...

It was a concrete pool, perhaps an acre in area. Around this pool sat about 30 individuals. Single men in their sixties, small groups in their thirties, families, old ladies...
sitting about this pond on a variety of sofs, love seats, and lay-Z-boy style recliners.

They held in their hand long cane poles, and to each was attached a small bobber and bit of bait.

We watched silently in an attempt to confirm what seemed so obvious yet so unexpected that we couldn't be certain...are they fishing?
in several minutes time a gentleman watched his bobber dip and bounce, he lifted the rod, and a small fish not unlike a carp or buffalo fish dangled from his line about 14 inches below his bobber. The man removed the fish, looked it over for a few minutes, and then unceremoniously chucked it back into the pond.
At one end of the pond stretched a long green fence. On the other side stood a similar smaller pond which held the fish that would eventually be released to face the gauntlet of dangling niblets...

On the way out we saw an advertising banner...
Fish and Enjoy Pure Nature!

Past Times and Leisure

I know i don't post frequently, but it's certainly not for lack of thought. It may be just the opposite; so many things strike me on a daily basis that it becomes difficult to single out a notion well enough to see it through to a written page...sort of like tracking a thread through a basket of yarn.

Two recent trips to sporting goods stores helped to highlight a concept i've been noticing for a while now; but more on that later.

Koreans do not seem to be a leisurely folk. In fact, one might aptly acknowledge they are quite the opposite. They are BUSY.

Busy working, busy studying, busy playing with little electronic gadgets of myriad function...busy moving: honking, driving, walking, running...Busy-Busy-Busy!

The only two places i see them take their leisure are on public transportation, where napping is immediate and almost universal
and while dining, in which activity they might be described as the Italians of Asia.

Meals take hours, involve hundreds of dishes of varying shape, size, and function...multiple servings, definite drinking (beer/wine/soju) and conversation into the night...

These folks may not take much leisure, but they are SERIOUS about their past times.
Hiking, Fishing, Golf, Cycling, Jogging

I see couples and groups of all ages, decked out in hiking shoes, carrying telescoping hiking poles, with matching hiking jackets and hiking visors...with hiking packs...hiking watches...hiking water bottles, hiking key holding carabiner clips...
they stroll down the street on their way to the nearest wooded path
they jingle and clang and sparkle in the sun...they match outfits and match stride as they proudly display their obvious hiking prowess as evidenced by their superior hiking apparel...

This image, now repeated many many times over, did initially have the desired effect on me. I was immediately struck with a sense of awe to be in the vicinity of hikers whom are clearly of such great import and acclaim.

-And then I actually crossed paths with these battle-ready sojourners... and out of the korean confucian sense of deference to one's elders, I humbly prevented myself from laughing... they plodded along as though on the shaley ledge of some razorback ridgetop...poking with their carbon fiber telescoping hiking poles...tying and retying their space-age microfabric ergonomic hiking boots...

It wasn't until I entered a sporting goods store that I fully understood what it means to be a Korean hobby enthusiast.
A couple days ago I thought i needed a compass

I was in an area known for hiking. I went into a hiking specialty store.
In order of descending plenitude, the store had on offer: Clothing, shoes, hats, sunglasses...a few packs, four variety of hiking poles, one type of water bottle
...and the lady in charge had to take pause in order to remember what a compass is
>and it wasn't my korean that was the culprit, it was spoken through a translator< Likewise, i went for a soccer is very popular in korea, so i knew that i'd be successful. Walked into a very large sporting goods store... There was a section for hiking apparel, rock climbing apparel, fishing apparel, walking, jogging, and running apparel... there was a section for Taekwondo apparel, and even a section of badminton apparel (similar to tennis apparel, but sillier and with funnier names) And waaaaay on the back, past all the the corner...was a small section of equipment. But they did have, all is not lost

At the coast, i watched a gentleman fishing from the rocks Appropriately attired in the fashion of the day I was thrilled to see him hook and retrieve a fish! as it approached the rocks where he stood, a look of apprehension washed the man's face. It quickly became obvious that he was not accustomed to catching fish... eventually he figured a way to catapult the (small) fish using his 15foot surf rod. After a flying tackle, he subdues his quarry and begins the process of removing the hook. After five to ten minutes he forgoes the hook removal and gnaws through the line (forgetting the fishing pliers located conveniently in his fishing plier holster on his hip) He then utilizes a specially designed cooler on a rope to fetch some water...after several minutes he has gained enough water to cover the fish...which lies in a second specially designed cooler he packs the first cooler away into it's specially designed carrying case, and erects a small cooler tent over the cooler containing the fish. Having lost his fishing visor (which is similar to a hiking or golf visor except for the picture on the front) he now pulls out his telescopic landing net and retrieves his now heartily earned fishing accessory... Now I am not knocking this or any one out there. I truly do respect that people stay very active and even more impressive
they honestly enjoy their time and enjoy each other's company. That's a beautiful thing... and if you'd like, you can purchase a specially designed company enjoying jacket t
hat matches the necessary time enjoyment visor.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

For Photos of School and Kids

Here is a link to the CIS website. CIS (Canada International School) is the English Academy I work for. My particular school is located in the Opo section of Greater Gwangju in the District of Gyeonggi-do.

Click any thumbnail for a small album of pics...

That's all for now

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Don't you eat that yellow..."


Yes, that's right...winter is taking one last stroll accross the Korean peninsula before she takes a much deserved rest.
The stirrings of spring are a growing whisper through the hills and valleys where i walk...

Magpies jostle for a prime pultpit from which to woo a nestmate...
impetuous insects emerge into warm midday sun...even if only to survey their surrounds before darting home before the sun sinks a bit lower.
Lazy low pressure cells with warm balmy air carry the promise of sultry summer nights to come.

In most ways, it's a spring as familiar as any i've known...shrugging off the shroud of grey winter and making ready quite literally to spring back into vitality.
But this spring is not the same as any i've known...There's a strange something in the air that makes me believe this spring, for me at least, is quite unique...


Today the dust arrived. It is something i heard rumored when i arrived here. I think i even remember something from discovery channel or National Geographic about it...

"Dust clouds from the Gobi Dessert? Hmm...but the Gobi is hundreds of miles away...well, we'll see what happens"
I remember thinking that. Seriously...
Well today was the day that it arrived, and people are really reacting. Each day, people can be seen walking around with shop-style dust masks, or those paper things the dentist wears when he tells you that you need to floss more often. Today though, many many people wore masks. Kids had masks with cute familiar cartoon characters...people had masks that matched their outfits (or outfits to match their masks)
Those who somehow left home without the apropriate safety gear covered themselves with shirtsleeves...hats...whatever means available...
Not everyone behaved this way. Certainly many people could be seen carrying on in their normal fashions...but there was definitely a reaction.
I decided to do a bit of cyber-sleuthing to become more aquainted with my new neighbor from across the asian continent...
Dust has, historically, made the pilgrimage from it's home in the cold sandy deserts of the west asian plateua that comprises much of mongolia, western china, and the turkmen regions, and 'dropped in' on the far east peoples of that same extensive land mass.
As the planet approaches vernal equinox, global temperature differnces generate highspeed winds that race accross that high plateau of the Gobi desert.
Sand, dust, and dirt are swept up in its swath and carried aloft literally by the tons.
The heaviest particles are the first to fall as the winds lose velocity over the currogated central Asian continent. Still finer particles follow suite as the winds slow on their path to the pacific.
As the winds reach Eastern China, the Korean peninsula, and the islands of Japan, only the finest of dust particles remain...That dust precipitates onto the lands and waters of far eastern central asia for about 20 days out of the year, after the dry of winter and before the onset of monsoon.
Now, i underdstand that the phrase: 'finest of dust particles' doesn't elicit the same viceral response as the phrase:
'Catastrophic Bio-Chemical Bombardment'
But in this case, at least in this modern day, the two phenomena are synonymous.
To begin with, the High Western Plateau of Asia is a unique and isolated biome of our planet. As such, it harbors unique and isolated species of plants and animals. Many species of the region are relegated only to that plateau, due to dietary, geographical, or mobility restrictions.
Beside the unique plants and animals, the Gobi fosters thriving populations of unique fungi, bacteria, and viruses; many of these, as with anywhere in the world, live in the soil. They are completely restricted in their movement, in that they must remain in the soils of the gobi desert...
...there's nothing in the rules, however, about the soils of the gobi desert picking up and doing a bit of traveling...
which brings us back to today...undeterred by the 'Global Economic Downturn' trillions of fungal spores, viruses, and bacteria made their first visit to Korea. And they will continue to arrive at that rate for the next 2-3 weeks...
Now, I know what you may be thinking... "foreign microbes be damned. I have an immune system and I'm not afraid to use it!"
But here is where modern developed society has imparted a twist on the ages old phenomenon.
As the dust passes chemically fertalized farm fields, and soars above the stacks of sulfer producing coal fired power it cruises through the massive industrial complexes, and it wafts amongst the petrochemical factories and refineries that are known to plague China's less popular populace, as it makes it's journey through this gauntlet of greenhouse gas and general wastes, the dust aquires new atributes.
It scours sulfer from the coal smoke (as well as significant sums of mercury) and deposits it as Sulfuric Acid (acid rain) along its route. It picks up heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, mercury) from the industrial zones. It carries along complex benzene and pthaline compounds that it meets as it passes the petrochemical zones. It becomes the 'six million dollar man' of dust. Yes, we have the technology.
Dust: Version 2009- carries its standard host of biotic tagalongs, as well as a complex toxic slurry of human industrial wastes.
Suddenly, the masks people wear go from laughably condriatic, to pitifully inadequate. Sounds like a full body biohazard suite (a la E.T ) might be more like it.
Generally, symptoms attributed to dust are sore throat and eyes, labored breathing, wheezing, and lethargy.
Those already susceptible to respiratory difficulties however, must take the situation far more seriously. During the heaviest of days, those individuals are reccomended to stay home for fear of death. (many deaths a year attributed to dust)
Additionally, years of heavy dust are known to disrupt crop production due to alien fungal infestation and altered rain patterns. Also the factor of bioaccumulation of heavy metals and volitile organic compounds may become the greatest danger of modern dust in the (near) future. was day one of 20 or so to come. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that while i type this, my eyes itch and my throat is dry... maybe dust enhances pychosomatic symptoms as well...who knows.
Here is a link to a US military site that monitors dust activity accross the peninsula. The base nearest me (35 miles away) is Yongsan.
Due to the rapid desertification of lands surrounding the Gobi (mostly due to poor land and water management practices of China and former Soviet nations) the Dust is getting worse. Will this year set a new record?
Like i said in the beginning...
"well, we'll see what happens"

Monday, March 2, 2009

About Food

So, the few things that really seem to vary as I move around are communications, scenery, pace of life, approach to strangers, and food.

The food here has been a great experience so far.

To start with, Kim Chi (a slow fermented spicy cabbage dish) is, the national food of korea, listed by the world health organization as one of the 5 healthiest prepared foods in the world, and is delicious. It's easy to find, cheap, variable, and great.

I have eaten lots of fish, but not in a form that i've had before. They must indescriminately harvest "fishes", because there is very little whole fish sold. Most fish seems to be ground into meal and used in various 'fish dumplings', 'fish dough', and other strange fish concoctions.
They also dry roast fish and squid and sell it as snacks. The squid is stripped up (like fluke bait) and dried out. It's chewy and sweet, like Squid potato chips for sure.

I ate silk worm larvae the other night. They were served casually with some other foods along with an order of BBQ pork. They looked like bugs, crunched like bugs, and ostensibly tasted like bugs...they weren't bad. A little mushy and a slight bitter taste...they also kind of squished after you crunch them.

The produce here is outstanding. Tasty, crunchy, colorful. I had apples in my fridge for three weeks...ate one last night and it was still delicious. There are farms everywhere, and i can't wait for spring to see them produce. Farmers are preparing their feilds as I write.
The produce now must be produced in the numerous green houses i see in the area.

Cookies, snacks, pastries, and such are also delicious...this is probably due to MSG, although I can't be certain because it takes me a really long time to read a label, and even then i'm not sure what i'm reading.

...and every meal comes with unlimited side chi, pickles, mushrooms, eggs, crunchy snacks, noodles, rice...all kinds of stuff. Meals almost always turn into an for me.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Nearest City: Bungdang

This illustrates the verticle nature of commercial property. Stores, bars, Norae Bongs (Karaoke) and everythings else, exists on 4-5 floors here in Bungdand, and up to the 7th or 8th floor in Seoul.

It's fun, makes everyone walk around with their heads up, and Encourages exercise...

I found it a bit overwhelming at first.