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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Crash Course: Korean Skin Care

Seriously.  This was 1980.
When I was a young lady approaching the pivotal pubertal rites of Shaving, Deodorant, and Make-Up, CNN was just being born (shush, you young ones). When my friend’s big sister got on the bus the first day of 8th grade, my mental make-up map was complete: the sophisticated mid-Michigan
14-year-old should wear heavy foundation, a coat of glittering blue shadow, clumpy mascara, and clown-circle blusher.

(Yeah.  I’m also cringing now.)

As an impressionable girl, I embraced her example and commenced to slathering my own face in color and clumps.  Until college, that is, when my beloved Dutch roommate liberated me from the patriarchal American tyranny of oppressive cosmetic consumption.  Thus, as the years have passed, I rarely used make-up and ignored facial fashion follies.  Now, however, 30-some years later, I have two significant challenges to my intentional ignorance: (a) my daughter has reached the triple pubertal gates and (b) we live in the Skin Technology Capital of the Universe.  South Korea is supposedly 10 years ahead of the US in skin care science, and now that my face is getting, um, more experienced, the time had come to introduce my face to facial experts.

RuDa, just sitting in a coffee shop.
Enter my gorgeous TA, RuDa, who agreed to facilitate the introductions.  RuDa recommended going to a Real Make-Up Store rather than dashing into a local convenience store. I reluctantly agreed, assuming we’d just get some basic information. She had other ideas, however.

Lotte Department Store is the home of high-end make-up and clothing in our city.  The white-gloved parking attendants carefully direct customer cars through the garage and manage not to sneer at our sad old van among the common luxury cars.  

To say that Lotte is a department store is a bit misleading for my North American readers.  It's more like a very high-end street market, crowded with stalls and goods, only this is shiny and stately.  And, frankly, rather o.v.e.r.w.h.e.l.m.i.n.g. Here I present my Lessons Learned.

Image result for lotte department store parking attendant
It wasn't this crowded the day we went to Lotte.  But it FELT this crowded.

(1)   The women who work in these shops show no discomfort with personal space invasion.  I, on the other hand, should have perhaps investigated the wine department prior to entering skin land.

2) Scientifically testing the sensitivity and pH of one’s skin (among other things) are apparently basic pre-requisites to proper product selection.  And, of course, there are apps for those tests: one holds very still while a saleswoman rests her phone on one’s face.  Then one gets to see a very close-up photo of one’s skin, or perhaps it is the back end of a baboon, and we all pretend not to be horrified.

(3)   Having strangers expertly apply products to one’s face while one is very nervous can make for much cringing. For example, a lady used a tiny little brush to apply lipstick; it tickled SO MUCH that I could not repress small snorting noises.  Another lady applied "cushion foundation,” which is a Korean technological wonder of a liquid foundation delivered with a compact powder puff thing.  Except … it felt like she was slapping me with a baby crib mattress, and once that image came to mind, I couldn't stop giggling.  Poor RuDa.

A Hera saleslady pats my face to death.
(4)   The sales women were quite kind to my baggy sun-damaged, middle-aged skin, at least to my face (let's just say that RuDa didn't translate everything).  They were also fairly patient with my utter ignorance of their products, how to apply them, and the proper "detached" face expected during a makeover.  

5)   Here's one I sure didn't see coming: Under no circumstances should soap be applied to one's face.  EVER.  There are products for cleaning one’s facial skin--and soap is NOT among them. You'd think I had been bathing bunnies in bleach. I shall repent of this skin sin.

6)   One could literally spend all of one’s income on skin care and make-up. Then again, the major ingredients include things like snake venom, placenta, plankton, and gold dust; as one store's slogan had it, "ingredients extracted from nature and enigmatic state" (true THAT). Happily, RuDa knew that the same products we were testing were sold by discount shops on another floor.  I decided I can live without a flashy brand names on my snail goo cleansing foam.

7)   Make-up shopping requires significant training.  I had imagined we'd have light-hearted breezy conversations like “oh, here’s a rack of 5 shades of lipstick – what’s the right color for me?” Ah, no. Store after store had HUNDREDs of shades of lip tint, lip stain, lipstick, lip liner, and who knows what else.  We used testers all over our hands to compare colors and textures.  Then RuDa suggested I select more of a “fall” color rather than something with "too much summer” and I nearly lost my ignorant mind.  I was the dumbest kid in class. 

8)   Having good skin is a LOT of work.  Here’s the rough order in which stuff apparently goes onto the Korean adult face (male and female) at least once EVERY SINGLE DAY:
(a)    Make-up remover (as needed)
(b)   Cleanser
(c)    Toner (or, at the very least, another round of cleanser)
(d)   Essence (skin repair stuff)
(e)    Acne lotion (as needed)
(f)     Moisturizer (softens skin and prevents future damage; the fashionable stuff includes bleaching/whitening agents)
(g)    Eye cream (RuDa is ashamed that she hasn’t started using this yet)
(h)   Sunscreen (at least 50 SPF; preferably with more whitening agents)

(9)   Now that the skin is ready, it’s FINALLY time for the make-up – and there is so much used to achieve the popular Korean "naturally dewy" look that I’m sure I’ll never master it:
(i)     Primer (bright purple or green to even skin tones and reduce redness)
(j)     Cushion foundation (slightly lighter than natural skin color)
(k)    Powder 
(l)     Blusher 
(m)  Eyebrows: powder or pencil plus trimmers, combs, and gel
(n)   Eyes: liner plus 2-3 shades of shadow plus 1-3 layers of mascara
(o)   Lips: primer plus stain/stick/gloss/pencil
(p)   Setting spray (like hairspray for the face)

Well, it's no wonder that my students hate 8:30am classes – they have to get up at 6:30am just to make their faces presentable.  Maybe I'll call up my Dutch friend again for a refresher about the tyranny of cosmetics.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Running Errands: Adorable, Awesome, and Awkward

We had 4 errands to run in town this morning.  Easy peasy, right?  But there are always surprises, which makes errands = adventure (or exhaustion, but it's better to stay positive).

To whit: David, Elisabeth and I (they’re only 3 weeks into their 10-week winter break) planned to do 4 errands:

1) Meet an ex-pat to pass along spices from a leaving-Korea ex-pat
2) Get 2 pictures printed.
3) Buy a headset for Nick.
4) Get the van’s broken taillight fixed.

Here is how things actually went:
(1) Spice recipient Kate sort of forgot our meet-up plan so I texted her from our designated meeting spot outside the Fuji film/photo shop.  Moments later, she ran down the street in pink leopard fleece pajamas and plastic shower shoes. Passersby = shocked, but I'd color that adorable.

(2) As the Fuji film/photo studio guy turned on his computer and printer (this is an inexplicable process no matter what time of day I show up), David and I browsed the various displays with some amusement (see photo).  As we did so, a middle-aged man came in, walked directly to the back mirror while chattering aloud to our film guy, and vigorously plucked hairs from around his ears. Eww. Not adorable.

This photo was prominently displayed at the Fuji shop.

And displaying it in multiple sizes allowed the customer
to choose which size he/she wanted to have.
Photo size, that is.

(3) Then to Hi-Mart, our local electronics store.  It appeared open, but as I touched the non-responsive door-opener button, Elisabeth noticed that the employees were having a meeting.  Ok, no big deal, so we headed back to the van.  A be-suited salesman rushed out, however, and invited us inside the store. Upon entering we noted that his eight be-suited coworkers and their boss man abruptly paused their meeting, sitting silently now in the middle of the store, just waiting.  They did not stare at us (that would be rude), but we detected giggling at our poor salesguy’s attempts at English as we browsed the headsets, trailed him past the centrally-seated group to the cash register, and then trailed back again as he escorted us to the door.   Painfully awkward -- for all 13 of us.  I wonder if they laughed as hard as we did.

(4) Finally, to “our” mechanic shop.  When Spiffy Car Guy came out, I pointed to our van’s smashed taillight (the driver at fault for backing into a cement wall? he shall remain nameless).  Car Guy began a speedy Korean monologue, eschewing non-verbal niceties like eye contact to see if we understood anything. FinallyThus, resorting to higher-than-average levels of gesturing and Korean questions (thank you, Elisabeth), we indicated that we’d walk to a nearby coffee shop and he could text me when he was done (no appointment needed!).

Spiffy Speedmate Car Guy
ordering our new tail-light.
About 30 minutes later, Car Guy suddenly appeared at our café table. Oh, um, ok. He monologued for about 2 weeks, and as he windily continued I just got up to ask the coffee shop woman (who had tried out her English when we ordered) if she would please translate for me.  She gamely agreed and we returned to the still-talking Car Guy (sorry kids).  That conversation went something like this:

He: "blah blah blah."

She (to me): “Um, car part?  Um…new? Awb-saw-yo?” and she crossed her wrists in front of her face.

Me: “Oh...ok. Lamp? He doesn't have new one?” And I crossed my forearms, repeating "awb-saw-yo."

She (relieved): “Yes!”

He: “blah blah blah.” Note that he didn't stop talking during the translation - he just kept right on going.

She (after I gestured for a mid-stream report): “Um, his car? Same part? One part more today afternoon.  Another part Friday.”

Me: “Ok.... So... he can fix our car this afternoon?  And another part comes on Friday?”

She: “Yes!"

He: “Blah blah blah.”

She: “You car can drive? Come today afternoon?

Me: “Oh! We can drive our van now?”  She nodded then ran away to hide behind the counter, a mixture of terror and relief and pride on her face. After telling Car Guy we'd be along shortly (thank you, David), he exited Cafe Ancy (yeah, we don't understand the English name either).

We finished our yummy non-coffee drinks and returned to the SpeedMate car shop (no clue about that name, either).  Car Guy had apparently done an eye transplant (not literally - that's gross): he replaced our shattered taillight with one from his own van so we could drive home and come back later once the new taillight came in.  Wow – that is the most awesome and yet rudely awkward customer service I’ve ever had.
Eye transplant from his van to ours.

This week maybe we'll go really big and try to get our laptops or bikes fixed and maybe even my wedding ring resized.  Then again, maybe I'll stay home and store up more energy before setting out onto the high seas of errand adventures.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tap, tap, tap: Me vs. the Camera Weasel

Pohang City has only one Canon camera dealer, and when my camera is sick, to him I must go.  I do not like my camera man.  His middle-aged, slicked-back, jet-black died hair reflects his weasel-y soul far more accurately than his smiley little face.  But, alas, my camera died last week and even Google could not educate me enough to repair the SD card reader. So, with dread, I went to see the Canon camera guy.

When I went to his shop 2 years ago (see gory details here) with my first beloved TA, I was still a cowering American, not yet owning the full Authority of my Professorship and trying overly hard not to offend the natives.  This time, however, armed with my current beloved TA, a just-completed make-over at a pricey department store (blog to follow), a fancy English/Korean business card, and a far more hostile confident attitude, things were going to go differently. And they did.  Sort of.

Visit 1: Camera Drop Off
We walked into the little shop and I explained the SD card reader problem with my camera, speaking directly to Camera Man’s face (he’s older than me, so this was a bit rude), waiting for my TA to translate.  He looked at my camera and made some notes in a ratty spiral-bound notebook on the counter.  Figuring he'd need my name and phone number, I slapped down my business card, Korean side up. The word “kyo-soo-neem,” written right under my name, means something like Fear Me for My Professorship Trumps Whatever Puny Job You Have. Camera man offered eyebrow flashes at this. I felt I had scored a teeny tiny hit.  Then, seeing that I teach psychology, he quickly countered with a request to analyze him (ooh - good play, camera man).  I, not in the mood to explain the difference between the psychological domains of therapy (not me) and teaching/research (me), just stuck with something safe: You are a happy man.  More! he wanted.  No, I said (saying “no” in Korea, especially to someone older, is pretty rude.  But probably not as rude as what I really wanted to say.). Then he, in a crafty move, wanted to analyze me. And he did: Very beautiful! he said.  Ha, I thought to myself.  Last time I was here you told my TA that I was fat.  In my mental scorebook, we were tied at this point.

He fussed with my camera, writing more cryptic notes.  After an elaborate show of looking all over the camera, shaking his head and making little grunty noises (he’s not your more subtle actor), he confided in my TA that I had worn off the camera’s serial number; indeed, a more responsible camera owner would have protected this vital information with scotch tape (which, in Korean, sounds like suh-kawch-uh tay-puh).  Not a bit deterred by his shaming attempts, I offered to text him the serial number once I got home.  No, no, he replied.  Ha, ha -- I don’t really need it.  Harrumph.  He then fussed about the purple scarf I use instead of the uncomfortable and ugly advertisement strap that the manufacturer provides.   I refused to buy a new strap from him.  I remained perfectly calm; the score was even-steven.

It was his move.  He solidly tap tap tapped on my lens filter, eyebrows raised. Plastic! he chortled disparagingly, taking my filter off and flipping a brand new glass filter next to it onto the counter. I stared into his tiny eyes, my face a mask of deadly self-control. You, I said slowly, sold me that plastic filter two years ago.  Oh! he responded. Ha ha--glass filter is much better!  And he placed my plastic and his glass filter on some newspaper as if that would prove some superior quality. Ah, I said, pretending to consider this option.  I looked at him.  Is it free?  Oh!  No, no!  Ha ha, he said, it’s 30,000 (roughly $25).  Ah.  Not free? Then no. Plastic is fine, I said.  I might have gained some ground here, as he silently cleaned my filter and replaced it on the lens.  

So after this 20-some minutes of fussing and banter, he finally said he’d send the camera out for a repair estimate and would text my TA in 3-4 days.  Fine.  Today, I did not lose.  I stood up to Camera Man.

Intermission: The Negotiation
My TA heard nothing for 6 days, then she learned that the camera was repaired (!) and ready for pickup.  Those unauthorized repairs would cost 150,000won (about $128).  Tap tap tap, I thought. How to counter this move? Google showed I could get this same repair for $85 in the US, so I instructed my TA to negotiate: because he had not been authorized to go ahead with the repair, I would not pay more than 120,000 won (about $100).  To my surprise, he agreed.  This was unsettling.

Visit 2: Camera Pick-up
I returned to the shop without my TA, feeling confident that I could manage the exchange of repaired camera for payment.  He remembered me, got my lens-less camera out of a ziplock bag, and began playing with its buttons.  After several minutes of his fiddling silence and consultation with a computer, I realized he was setting the date on the camera.  Surely that could have been done earlier? That done, he grabbed a lens from his stock, clicked it into place, and took a couple of test pictures.  (Surely this could also have been done earlier, right?)   Apparently satisfied, he removed his lens and handed the camera over to me. Where is my lens? I asked.  You have? he asked, pointing at me with raised eyebrows.  No. I do not. You have it, I said, pointing at him (a little rudely).  Oh, he said.  Ha ha. He rummaged extravagantly about and found my lens, clicking it into place.  I did some test shots of my own to confirm that the camera worked and it was time to finish this distasteful business.

I pushed my Korean bank card across the counter to him.  No, no, he said. Korean money! I slowly stretched my hand over that thick glass counter: Tap Tap Tap!  This is HanaBank – Korean!  Oh! Ha ha, he said.  He rang up the sale: 132,000 won.  No, I said.  120,000 won.  Oh! he exclaimed. It's 120,000 won for repair plus 12,000 for…something. I could not understand him; I could not understand the tiny Korean print on the receipt.  I was trapped. Frustrated. Outplayed.  AGAIN.  By the camera weasel.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Too Much Probing

I read a daily English-language Korean newspaper -- the old-fashioned kind, made of paper.  It is delivered to our building lobby by an alien for all I know - in 3 years I have not once spotted the responsible person/truck/spaceship.  Most mornings my paper is then tossed into the elevator by a lovely Alabama couple who enjoys walking together in the hours before make-up and business suits are required.  Some time later the paper is then tossed/kicked out of the elevator onto our 5th floor, from whence my earliest-rising husband or children hurl/kick it down the hallway toward our apartment.

I love this social network that gets my folded paper and its trusty yellow rubber band across the country to my doorstep. Some mornings, though, the headlines are in rather poor taste.  For example, today's headline shouted that "{President} Park will cooperate with criminal probe." That particular word choice seems to be a favorite lately.  A few months ago, the day's top headline read, "Lotte's {CEO} Shin flies home to face a widening probe;" the poor man vowed to sincerely cooperate with this distasteful procedure. And on that same front page, another article about captured spies stated that "The two suspects are now in custody and being probed."  And on page 2 that day, this puzzling headline, "Vietnamese suspects tried to incite broader mutiny probe."

Now, this is a reputable paper.  But somehow it has escaped these fine folks that legal investigations might be better called, oh, say, "investigations" or "inquiries."  At least in America, their particular word choice recalls lurid stories of aliens abducting humans and (inexplicably) proceeding with...probing.  Sometimes English just doesn't work across cultures.  Ah, Korea.  :)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Living in Community: A Bee Story

Community gardening has come to mean a great deal more than veggies, flowers, and weed control (important as those are).  Indeed, it has become a significant avenue for learning.  Here is one story that captivated me this summer, beset as it is with gripping thematic elements of sex, violence, and deaths of thousands.

This spring, Joshua, a friend and science teacher at the kids’ international school, asked whether some of his students could start beehiving (of course that's a verb). Well... why not. Just make sure little kids can't jump on the hives or tease the little honey-makers but otherwise, go right ahead. So, his students researched bees and planned their project and ordered two hives.

The materials, virgin queen, and workers soon arrived by mail (yes, the Korean Post Office, like the USPS, will deliver bees) and the students installed them in our community garden and under the campus cell phone tower (it’s science, after all: they planned to study the effects of cell phone waves on hive health).  We (ok, “they” plus me) waited for action.  A couple of days.  And…the hives just didn’t take off: the bees huddled inside, rarely venturing out and apparently making no honey.  This was not good news for the science fair project.  Maybe the hives were too high off the ground? Maybe not enough sun? Maybe not enough flowers?  

Oh.  Oops.  After some additional research, the students got a very valuable lesson about the sex-ed idiom regarding "the birds and the bees.”  Dear readers with some life experience will not be surprised that virgin queen bee + female workers does NOT result in baby bees.  And with no baby bees, apparently there is no point in going to work each morning. Thus, the silent hives.

So, what to do.  Can you just order up some attractive boy bees?  Apparently not.  The students could order a non-virgin queen, but the existing bees/queen would likely resist the attempted coup and kill her.  So much for baby bees. Some part of my brain ran secret calculations and said “Aha! I have seen bee hives by Chilpo, a tiny village just north of us, best known for its sandy beaches! Perhaps the Chilpo hive owners can help!”

I, naturally, volunteered to drive as this was a potential adventure not to be missed. Joshua, his colleague John (a Korean-Tanzanian-Kenyan) and three bee students came, along with Elisabeth, who also decided this was not an adventure to be missed (I might possibly have bribed her by saying, “Hey!  There’s a horse! Bring an apple!”).  

Happily, someone was at the Hive Place.  Through John's translation, we learned that this place was not, as it appeared, a run-down 1950s-style motel, but... a Beekeeping Cooperative! This was excellent news indeed! 

This is BeeMan.  He is a hero.  Keep reading.
Mr. BeeMan gave us an impromptu tour of the many hives, opening some to show the students what drones look like: big, fuzzy, and a bit dopey (the boy bees, that is, not the girls).

Girls, meet drones.
Those boy wasps have a pretty important purpose,
even if they only work one day in their lives. 
During our tour, BeeMan's colleague brought out some delicious red honey for us to taste (harvested last fall).  And he brought out a jar housing a savage demon: a Giant Asian Hornet, which is rumored to love nothing better than eating honeybees.  

Demon Hornet.  Eeww.
After an explanation of the students' sexless hive situation, kind BeeMan offered to either loan or sell a couple of thriving hives with fertile queens, accommodating drones, and eager worker ladies.  The students opted to buy and a few evenings later, we drove the buzzing hives back to campus for installation (sorry, old bees, who were gently released.  May all your days be filled with bright flowers.)

So, after a day or two of resting and orienteering (sorry mom - I didn't get any pictures of their tiny maps and compasses), the new bees began working.  For several weeks I loved seeing them busily bouncing around the garden, shaking the flowers with their joyous humming.  Joshua and I (and Nick) talked endlessly about honey harvesting this fall, strategies for overwintering the bees in cozy luxury, and even expanding the hives next spring.

Honeybee, meet monarda.

We gradually noticed decreased bee activity.  And then some huge hornets hanging around the hives like our Chicago neighborhood gangs in the 1990s.  Indeed, these were the demonic GAHs.  I had naively assumed that these hornets, despite BeeMan's colleague's Jar of Doom,  were the stuff of fairy tales and urban legend (like the wild boars/warthogs that supposedly roam the woods around campus).  But, alas, I was wrong.  At first, a few GAHs lounged outside the hive entrances, apparently casing the joint; then they began chewing away the wood to enlarge the holes (the better to eat you, my dear).  Finally, they and their homeboys moved in to ruthlessly grab and bite any emerging honeybees. All day long, bees lost their heads either literally (eew) or figuratively (stumbling around aimlessly on the ground).  Then even more GAH gangsters (and a smaller species of hornet) swooped in, picked up the dazed/dead creatures, and buzzed away with their bee booty. (For some great close-up footage of this brutal war, check out this incredible youtube video here).

Various attempts were made to thwart the evil hornets.  Nick wielded a stick, knocking down and stepping on the GAHs.  Pest Removal Experts had been summoned to the high school dorms to remove hornet nests found near the eaves. 
Nick: Professor, Principal, Hornet Slayer

Anti-Hornet Expert with Equipment.
Or, slightly more accurately, Fireman with Badminton Set.

Time-tested technique: spray, whack, stomp, spray some more.
You just can't find better entertainment.
As the students we frantically tried to save the bees, we learned a great deal. We learned that bees’ stingers are useless against the hornets’ tough exoskeleton; we also learned that the hornets were quite uninterested in humans and let us approach quite closely without any sign of aggression (that is, they didn't hurt us; we tried to hurt them plenty).  And we learned that honeybees have adapted ways to defend their hives against marauding hornets.  In thermo-balling, honeybees will allow a hornet into their nest and then mob around it, basically heating it to death because the bees can tolerate higher temperatures than hornets.  We learned that in other regions, where the hornets have adapted to higher temperatures, the bees may engage in asphyxio-balling: they cover the legs of a hornet, thus cutting off its air supply (who knew that hornets breathe with their thighs?) and suffocating it.  Indeed, I got to see this latter defense, but it was a group of smaller hornets suffocating a GAH rather than honeybees.  

wait, what's this buzzing pile
in my garden?

But, despite all the efforts of the bees and humans, the hornets won.  Both hives were dead.  And the science fair project also seemed dead. We had learned some fascinating new things but our spirits were still crushed.  The bad guys had won, and good was overcome.   This is not how the movie was supposed to end.

However, upon reflection (and perhaps a kick in the spiritual pants by friend Tracey), I realized that I had made certain assumptions.  I was rooting for the honeybees (and the students' planned project), so whatever hindered their well-being was The Enemy.  Thus, hornets were evil (and ugly and scary-looking) and were on my list of things to ask God about someday.  But, wait a minute.  I do love to watch an osprey gliding over calm water, snatching up a fish and carrying it home for a family lunch.  Or watching a cat stalk a grasshopper or mouse. are those any different from the hornets and bees?  Nothing except the labels I've assigned. Who knew that beehiving would come with such insights?  

And - oh, look now.  Another teacher is wondering if she could possibly have a small chicken coop in the garden next spring.  Chickens.  Hmmm.  This could be a good learning experience. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

More Language Issues: Korean English <> English

I've been collecting little snippets and stories about the Korean language and decided it was high time I share these four short essays, below.


Native speakers of English probably don't even realize how cute (or strange) some of our words and idioms are.  Imagine trying to explain the meaning of "toadstool" to a new English learner, for example.  Korean has some similar sorts of words/idioms that I have enjoyed learning:

Fish = 물고기 = mool goh-ghee.  Which literally means "water meat." Is that perfect or what?  English could get more creative like this.  Cows would be "pasture meat" and chickens would be "coop meat"....  (Please feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below.  :) )

Runny nose = 콧물 = kote mool.  Which means, well, "nose water."  Which is admittedly more accurate than our English “runny nose.”

Extreme tiredness = 코피 = koh pee (NOT to be confused with 커피 = kaw pee, which is coffee).  This literally means "nose blood."  This has confused me.  A banner on campus has red blood spatter images all over it and says 코피가 터져도 새벽기도는 계속됀다. I could only read “nose blood” at the beginning and assumed this (rather tasteless) sign might be a health center announcement.  Even my TA's interpretation of the Korean was not entirely helpful: "Even though we get nosebleeds, early morning prayer meeting will continue.” Wait - what?? My curiosity was definitely not satisified, so I pushed further: how are nosebleeds connected to morning prayer???  Oh. "Nosebleed" is Korean slang for "extreme tiredness" or "stress."  Wow.  Idioms are tricky.

Working on the Language

A few times recently, I have found myself with something to say to Koreans and I worked hard to get the Korean sentence all worked out in my head. The situations did not go quite as I had imagined, however, much like any well-rehearsed conversations, I suppose.  In June our family was at the beach north of Chilpo (do not picture sand: it's rocks and gravel and cars and lots of Koreans in tents and fishing from the rocks but no one is in the water except the crazy Americans doing the season’s first snorkel and trying out our new kayaks).  I came into shore from snorkeling (wonderful, but very cold) and thus knew exactly where the big fish were (and were not) lurking. Said lurking area was not where our nearest beach neighbor guy was doing his fishing. So: I wanted to be a Good Samaritan (of sorts).  Thus, I quietly practiced with Elisabeth to fine-tune my earth-shattering Fish Location Knowledge into passable Korean. Then worked up the nerve to go tell him my big news. “Man!" (because that's what you say here). "Many fish! 20 meters!” And I pointed to the Great Fish Hangout. I was super proud that I could put this message together in Korean and actually communicate with a native, helping him to succeed in landing his lunch. In response, he smiled broadly at me, paused a second or two, and said, perfectly clearly, “Thank you.” In English. Without a trace of an accent. Arg.

Korean Accent
When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, our neighbors had family visiting from the southern U.S. and their kids came over to play. I had never heard a southern US accent before and I therefore understood very little of what they said. When I showed off my pet gerbils, the older girl kept asking me, “Dawzee baht?” I would shake my head in confusion and she would repeat this inexplicable question while pointing with increasing intensity to my pets.  This went on much too long and I just could not understand her.  Much, much later I finally realized she had been inquiring about the animal's proclivity to bite. Oh. Right. I hope she doesn't remember that.

The English and Korean languages have overlapping sets of sounds as well as their own unique sounds.  Thus, even English-fluent Koreans speak with an accent that reflects these language differences, so it can be hard for English speakers to figure out what a Korean is saying.  Here are some examples from our international church, which is led by a Korean pastor/missionary:

(1) The Biblical story of Jackie S.  You don't remember it either?  Here's a hint: he climbed a tree to better see Jee-juss.  (Korean doesn’t have a “z” sound so they substitute a “j” for English words with that sound.  As a result, I will probably say “pee-jah” forevermore when ordering a large pepperoni.)

(2) The cheap tax collector. I spent much of a sermon trying to figure out what Biblical character this.  Then I remembered that Korean lacks the “f” sound and often substitutes a "p." So...that would be Matthew.  That lesson was helpful when a later sermon referred to the “steep nekka” people of Israel.  :)

3) During prayer, God was praised for being warty.  So warty! What? Oh, yeah, no “th” sound in Korean. Got it. And it took me far, FAR too long to figure out that bee-leebers were, well, Christians, and that needing "face" to be saved was not actually about maintaining one's social reputation.

(4) Finally, the English distinction between “r” and “l” is not made in Korean.  (Instead, the comparable sound is like the Spanish “r” where the tongue hits mid-palate in preparation for a rolling sound.)  So what I heard in church sounded like “Lula” but was actually, well, referring to a rich young ruler.

Bad Google 
Sometimes, a memo from the kids' school or the university comes through that’s only in Korean and I ask Google to give me a sense of what’s going on. We had one a couple of years ago that described a school camping trip and the kids were "horseshit horseshit" (a terrible translation of the word for "nervous/excited"). A recent memo demonstrated another problem. After some comments about how parents can access students’ information via a Korean government website, this heading appeared:

성적 및 생활기록부 확인.  Hmmm.

Google told me this meant: “And sexual life record check”

Um, WHAT? I continued reading and was not comforted:

"Sexual and life record of service after parents sign up students can be found on the menu.

"Nice Parent Services ( )> Student Performance> Grades

"Nice Parent Services ( )> Student Life> Living Record"

WHOA! My kids have performance grades given for their sexual activity? I THOUGHT THIS WAS KOREA! I THOUGHT THIS WAS A CHRISTIAN SCHOOL!

I turned to my new TA, begging for clarification. As it turns out, the same Korean word can be translated as either “sexual” or “grades.” Oh. Thanks, Google, for leaping to the worst possible interpretation there.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Strange and Wonderful Creatures: Snorkeling at Odo

It has been nearly one whole year since I started snorkeling at Jeju Island and we bought gear to continue our ocean adventures locally.  Of course, we couldn't snorkel here in Pohang during the cold season (roughly October to June), but now we're BACK. It's not the Philippines (snorkeling heaven in January; shoutout to Justin and Leanne at Paniolo Guesthouse), but even the home of South Korea's steel industry (a larger and less smelly version of Gary, IN) has some interesting sea life, which is really the purpose of putting one's body into maritime danger.

Kristina:  Texan, friend, photographer, snorkel buddy.
Today I ended up snorkeling with Kristina (you may remember her here). She's 20 years my junior, which means Koreans assume we're a mother/daughter duo; they are very, VERY confused when we say no, we're friends.  (In Korea, the word "friend" really means "age mate."  You can't be friends with people older or younger because of status and language differences based on age).  I kind of like keeping folks on their toes.  :)

ANYWAY. Last season, Nick and I cataloged about 20 species of fish who swam with us at local beaches, plus other creatures like sea hares, spiny urchins, anemones, crabs, eels, jellyfish and a bunch of different mollusks (whelks, mussels, periwinkles, etc.).  Once we saw two baby shrimp, which may be the cutest things in the sea: just imagine swimming in a Pixar movie.  After several trips, we saw the same few kinds of creatures again and again and again which is like visiting old friends: comforting but rarely exciting.  Then after our Philippines trip, I was a little hesitant/reluctant to go back into the (boring) waters of Steel City.  (Then again, this is WAY better than any snorkeling in Iowa.)

But today.... Ah, today.  Today, Kristina and I scored THREE ENTIRELY NEW (to us) sea creatures. Allow me to set the scene.  I know it's taking forever to get to the point, but be patient.

We originally set out to photograph fishing villages; these quaint traditional areas are fast being abandoned for high-rise apartments in the city (eew.). After stopping at a few places, we soon realized that the ocean was flat...FLAT. We'd never seen anything like it: it was perfect for snorkeling and we could do photos on land any old time.  A quick trip home to get our gear and back we went to the beach at Odo-ri.

Look at that glassy water.  And the anachronistic Mondrian-style building decor in the harbor.
And these sassy ladies cleaning fishing nets.  

In our rush, we forgot to grab some anti-fog agent (a.k.a. travel-sized shampoo), and I'm reluctant to spit in my goggles (I know it works, but still.  Yuck.).  I remembered that the snorkel guy in Jeju picked sook for us; this common Korean plant (a.k.a. mugwort; a.k.a. stubborn garden weed) has miraculous anti-fog properties. So we picked some growing by the road, rubbed it on our goggles, and into the glassy water we finally went.

Spring time in the ocean apparently means everything is having sex and babies. Wow - slimy eggs sacs waved about like spiderwebby purses; orange egg ribbons dotted the plants; giant schools of baby fish just hung out, waiting to grow up. (You can swim right through schools of 10,000+ fish and not touch a single one - their flock mentality is pretty amazing.)
Sea hare photo from
We saw some sea hares (think giant slugs made passably cute by their long "ears"), some larger fish, and spiny urchins among the rocks (being collected by some young men for their beach lunch. Eew.).  We were happy to see a relatively large crab (at 6" across, it was far larger than the common 1-inch versions that skitter along the beach) but respectfully left it and its claws alone.

As Kristina and I swam along (have I mentioned the joy of a buoyant body?  I am an effortless athlete in this briny arena), we spotted an inexplicable object near the surface.  About 5" long, this completely transparent and somewhat flattened rectangular object had, well, a set of electrified rainbows inside of it.  I mentally ruled out the reasonable explanations (e.g., tiny neon signs in a ziploc bag) and was left with, well, nothing.  What in the world could this be?  Was it even alive? We spent some time looking at it, having enough wisdom not to touch a mysterious electrical thing while swimming (hey - childhood safety education WORKS), when we suddenly realized it was moving deliberately toward us (where "us" here means "my face"); I noticed its weird head, vaguely shaped like a plenaria (thanks, biology class) or a hammerhead shark (no thanks, Shark Week).  We quickly (and perhaps a tiny bit hysterically) whooshed it (snorkel jargon for "madly pushed water to re-establish a comfortable zone of personal space").  Later, after much research ("neon baggie ocean" might not have been the most efficient Google search phrase), I finally identified this as a comb jellyfish.  Which was kind of a disappointing name.  As though someone thought this creature was as common and as boring as a pocket comb.  Thus, I shall recommend to the International Jellyfish Naming Association some better options, like "Prism Jelly" or "Rainbow Glory" or maybe even "Rock-a-jelly." Anything, really, would be better.  Comb jelly.  Harummph.

A "comb jelly."  Photo from montereybayaquarium
A short time later I noticed some unusual movement about 10' below me, among the rocks. And then I saw, for the first time ever in the wild (rather than at a grocery store or market stall or public aquarium), an octopus. He/she was absolutely camouflaged against a rock but had been detected by the neighboring fish, who acted like crows harassing a hawk.  Kristina and I dove to get closer looks; its head was a bit smaller than a softball and its fish-smacking tentacles were maybe 10" long.  It was completely unimpressed with us, even when we tossed some shells near it and when I moved its rock (which might or might not have accidentally rolled over its head).  Even close up, knowing exactly where it was, my brain could not see this thing until it moved.  Finally tiring of all the harassment, he (she?) finally escaped under another rock, either out of reach or out of sight.  It was hard to tell.

What an amazing morning. Tired, happy, and getting cold, we headed back toward the beach to find a coffee shop (kaw-pee, as it's pronounced here). Moving out of the rock zone back to the shallower sandy area, I spotted a strange blob amid the grasses waving below us.  At first I took it to be a large sea hare until some part of my mind realized that it was vibrating.  Like a football-sized hovercraft on a doily, with rapidly undulating edges. Oh. Oh my.  It was a cuttlefish, which is the cuddly cousin of the octopus.  I had only seen these in videos (not counting the cuttlebones I'd found while beachcombing).  I dove for a closer look and as I got within arm's reach, it turned its strange, huge eyes toward me.  It is an unsettling feeling indeed to be an intruder in an alien's land (oops - an alien's waters) and then to be noticed by said alien, who looks into your eyes and then makes a decision of some sort. I think we both held our breaths for that instant (literally AND figuratively) before Cuttlefish shot away, instantly changing his/her color and texture to precisely match the sandy bottom it now glided above.  I was astonished at its quick-change: like clicking a new filter option on a digital photo. What a stunning creature.

cuttlefish photo from darwinsreef pbworks
Well, what did we learn today, dear readers?  Perhaps you've concluded that Pohang's waters are well worth continued exploration. I would tend to agree.  However, for those who've read this far, you might share some of my caution once you see what our sassy fisher ladies pulled out of their nets...:
That is an anglerfish.  With sharp pointy teeth.
And a strong trigger for instant panic upon which was based
the scariest movie scene in animation history...:

P.S. If you might enjoy some hilarious (if sometimes crude) science videos about the octopus, cuttlefish, anglerfish, and other creatures, check out Ze Frank's "True Facts" video series.   You'll learn far more (in a far shorter time) than you ever did in biology class.  :)