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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Engaging Culture: Assorted Photos

For today's blog, I decided to use pictures that reflect our everyday experiences in the city, countryside, and at the beach. (To see larger versions of the pictures, just click on them - you can see a slideshow that way without all the text).  :)

Street vendors. 

It's common to see street vendors squatting alongside small piles of in-season fruits and veggies. Nearly all of these are elderly women. This vendor is seated (very rare - squatting is far more typical), and is wearing plastic bags on her head and body to protect her against the rain. The contrast with the LG ad is striking.

Computer/video game center.

We see a lot of signs for "PC Bangs" (literally, "computer rooms") where kids pay about $1/hour to play multi-player computer games.  The name and logo of this particular one, however, with a beaver holding a wooden sign, would NOT work in an American context.

Pre-school book.

We never run out of awkward English examples. This was an early-reader book we found in a pile of English-as-a-second language resources.  I love the sub-title about relaxing with joy and choosing the way of happiness.  Clear influence of buddhism here.

Weeding the rice field ditch by taxi.

When driving home from the beach (see our building just left of the telephone pole?), we often cut through the rice fields.  This day we noticed a taxi (rare outside the city). The driver and (passenger? friend?) were out pulling weeds from the rice/road area.  You can really tell who tends their fields (nearly no grasses or weeds amid the rice) and those who don't, as the rice is golden and the weeds stand about against it.

Surfboard upcycled into a bench.
We live just 10 minutes away from a renowned surf beach, and several (tiny) shops have surfboards, sailboards, scuba gear, and even para-sails.  I love this surfboard-bench, made from old office chairs and a surfboard. I manage to walk a beach almost every day to see what the tide has brought in. We find shoes, gloves, fishing bobbers/nets, and disposable lighters on every walk; whole lightbulbs are fairly typical  too, though I can't imagine how they survive the surf.

Ajeema collecting seaweed.
At one beach in particular, we often see a few ajeemas collecting a particular type of seaweed (sometimes called "dead man's fingers"). The ladies are usually in full sun gear, but this woman wasn't afraid to show her legs.  She used a stick to grab the seaweed out of each wave; others use their hands or just go through what's laying on the beach.

Seaweed Samaritan.
Sometimes I also collect the seaweed and bring it to the ajeemas, careful to bring some to each one who is out collecting.  I usually get a smile and nod from them - and I'm sure they enjoy having a story to share over dinner that night.

Garden spider.  

We had garden spiders in Iowa and enjoyed touching their webs to see them dance (or, as wikipedia prefers to describe it: "oscillate the web vigorously"). They're common here, though a bit bigger than what I'm used to: 3+ inches.  Praying mantises are also common and are larger than in Iowa - we saw an enormous one last week, about 6" long.  I did not love that.

Asian swamp eel.
This was a new creature for me to see on the beach: like a worm or snake, but vertically flattened.  It was slow and appeared to be nearly dead, so I picked it up by the tail for a closer look. I was so surprised when it thrashed and writhed and flapped about that I screamed and flung it into the water, where it rapidly swam away then crawled back out onto the beach.  Google told me this was a baby swamp eel - only 4" long, and they can grow to 40+ inches.  Eew.

Pale frog (marsh frog? unsure)

A small pond on campus has lots of small, bright green frogs, and I have seen this large, pale frog a few times. I used to love watching birds and butterflies, but as I get older and lazier I prefer watching slower creatures.  They're easier to photograph, too.  :)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Korean Thanksgiving: Harvest of Surprises

Korean Thanksgiving (Chuseok) came early this year: it floats around the harvest moon's schedule, much like Easter bobs about in spring. Chuseok combines harvest festivities with ancestor reverence, and I had done my research on what to expect.  As a social psychologist (ok, Licensed People Watcher), I looked forward to witnessing some burial mound bowing, traditional dress, and food offerings.

I had monitored local burial mounds for many days, noticing that they were getting cleaned up as part of the annual ritual.  Happily, the mound below our kitchen window was also cleaned up (hmmm...having an unnamed dead person buried outside my kitchen seems normal now).  We'd been seeing a lot of weed-whackers in action, though they often lack the plastic housing/guard.  In the grocery store, we even saw one with a frightening saw-blade at the bottom - later google research revealed that it's a "paddy cutter," apparently used for harvesting rice. Ok, but still: who thought of inventing (let along USING) a power saw to swing around one's feet while slipping through the muck?  I think the local surgeon's guild is getting kickbacks on this piece of machinery.

Anyway.  Back to Chuseok. During Elisabeth's violin lesson last week, Nick and I went to the Lotte Department Store - the priciest place in town for fashionable clothing and an elite selection of groceries. I wanted to see the traditional Chuseok foods and giftsets, which one is supposed to give to family, friends, and business associates.
Mushrooms: $250.

Cantaloupe, complete with plastic wrap, paper
"underwear" and a bow for about $11.  Each.
A scary American woman imagining
a bite of this giant apple (about $5 each),
which is also over-packaged.
Whole walnuts, tucked into their own
little slots.

On Chuseok morning, Nick and I hiked a path we'd not traveled before so I could find some Traditional Ancestral Rites.We ended up going through a horse corral (oops - you never know where these paths will lead) then under the highway to a tiny village.

As we walked up the gravel hill among rice paddies, a few really nice cars went past us, driven by men wearing business suits. Strange. Then a be-suited Korean man on a motorbike passed us, presumably to visit his family on this festive occasion. I used Nick as camera bait, but got caught by the man, who was not fooled by my tactics.

We continued into the village, where I admired a recently-planted garden of something radishy-looking. The red pepper season is over now: the peppers were picked and laid out to dry, then the plants yanked and the ground tilled and re-planted with this same radishy-looking plant in most gardens. My camera suddenly stopped working as I tried to get a picture of the neat rows along the tiny traditional house with four shiny cars in front, and as I tinkered with it, squatting awkwardly, an elderly ajeema came barreling out of the house toward us.

Now, Sam has proposed a new Guinness World Record category: number of ajeemas smiling at the same time (Sam believes the current record is ONE.)  To our surprise, this lady was beaming.  Dressed nicely (though not in traditional clothing) and with tiny gold hoop earrings, she spoke to us rapidly in Korean.  The only word I understood was Handong, so she correctly connected us to the university.  ("But how did she know?" I stupidly wondered later to Nick. "Um," he responded, as nicely as possible, "we're clearly not from around here." Oh. Yes. I forget myself sometimes).  Wanting to engage her somehow, I pointed to her garden, asking "bro-co -lee?" (the only non-squash veggie vocab word I know); she shook her head then spieled away about the plants and gardens and who knows what else. After we continued walking, we saw a young man in another garden, and he did not look happy.  Bored, sullen, teenager; probably stuck at his grandma's house out in the sticks with family all day, no wi-fi, and it's only 8am.  Poor kid.

Once we got back to campus I kept checking the mound outside for some action. Nothing. By 11am, I decided to go Looking for Culture and went hiking with Sam and Elisabeth.  An extended Korean family went into the woods ahead of us and we saw them less than an hour later, returning with empty cartons from Baskin-Robbins.  Hmm.  Others drove by us in shiny sedans (paths are often used by cars to access fields, burial mounds, and I don't know what else), some dressed up in suits but more commonly in "business casual"; one group of men (young cousins?) wore tank tops and shorts.

Well.  Chuseok was not what I expected.  Perhaps it's like foreigners in the US for our Thanksgiving: they might expect over-dressed Puritans to invite scantily-clad Native Americans for a turkey hunt, amusing stories of the Mayflower, and corn-planting lessons from Squanto.  I'm not sure.  Perhaps living in a rural area (anything not in Seoul is considered rural, I think) makes for more private rituals.  I don't know.

That evening we went to the beach and saw an elderly ajeema with a tiny dog.  Nick asked "Picture?" and she nodded, posing her little dog, apparently assuming I wanted a picture of that instead of her.  I'm considering doing a series of pictures of elderly ajeemas, because I'm increasingly fascinated by their lives as etched into their faces and hands.  And maybe, as I learn the language and can interact better, my expectations will better match reality.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pier Fishing (or, 50 Ways to Catch Lunch)

Yeongilman Port
We parked in the "concrete pavement" area and walked the
breakwater to the lighthouse and back.  The beach to the northwest
of the pier is where we found the nautilus octopus,  the weird
white shell-worms (since identified as Gooseneck Barnacles), and giant waves for bodysurfing.

Needing some exercise, Sam and I headed for the fishing pier at Youngilman Port today.  We've been there before with the whole family and admired the jellyfish, starfish, and regular fish among the seaweed and fishing flotsam, but it's a really long pier (about 2/3 mile) and we'd never made it to the end because of the summer heat. Today's lovely weather - perhaps 80 degrees and breezy - brought out dozens of men and some women. It quickly became clear that this was not a normal tourist destination - or a place where non-fisher-folk typically wander - so we got more stares than usual.  Here's a sample of our trip through pictures.

A satellite version of the fishing pier and the giant shipping port.

Despite the crowded conditions at the rail, in an hour of whipping
rods we didn't see any entanglements with other lines or see
anyone harmed by backlashing hooks.  That said, we had to be vigilant
to avoid the lines being cast  - let the tourist beware.
All the fishermen were men. Nearly all were middle-aged, dressed completely against the sun, and had very similar fishing equipment (rod bag, rolling suitcases/bait boxes, etc.). Despite these similarities we observed distinct techniques. 

Bait launching.  Note the huge yellow and red cranes in the
background - these "walk" up and down the port, moving
shipping containers, etc. 
(1) Snaggers (or flingers).  These fishers cast out lines with at least 3 big treble hooks arranged every few feet, a small sinker on the end, a and small plastic stick/bobber.  They then dipped a plastic launcher (think tennis ball dog toy) into their insulated cooler of gack (some pasty green or tan bait, probably ground shrimp) and flung the bait with astonishing accuracy at the bobber. After waiting for fish to gather, they reeled in the line and checked for snagged fish.  We did not see a lot of success with this method.  However, we did see numerous starfish - fresh and dried - on the pier.  Apparently these are not valuable for eating (or bait), so they're pulled off the hooks and tossed onto the ground.  We tossed a few live ones back (not sure we won any Korean points for that little Save the Earth behavior) and enjoyed sailing the dried ones, which float and totally gave away our game.

oops - a floater.  The water doesn't actually look
oily, but I liked this picture.

Sam wants full disclosure - I gathered these for the photo instead of just
photographing them in their found state.  These are all dead and dried.

Sam as camera bait - I sometimes conceal my true
interest by faking pictures of him.  This one turned out
to be interesting in its own right. 
(2) Bait fishing.  This was mostly done from the ocean side of the pier, where giant concrete "jacks" are stacked up against the pounding water.  This is what I think of as "normal" fishing.  

A fisherman ripping his fish off the hook before dashing
away for the next round.
(3) Snag-and-run.  One team, on the "jacks" side of the pier, used a novel technique. Two snagged fish (no bait launchers though), flung their catch to the pier then ran down a ways before scrambling across the jacks to catch another fish (perhaps a school was moving?).  Two other guys picked up the fish and brought them to their tent - later we saw them cooking/eating together. 

Several of the fishermen brought tents, campstoves, and food along; women sometimes sat in the tents or on ground covers (a plastic cloth used everywhere for picnics, beaches, etc.) right on the pier.  Keep in mind that this is a crowded, concrete pier with dead starfish, bait spatter, and stray hooks everywhere.  People ate, chatted, and even slept. Sort of like going on holiday, I guess.

A sun-sheltered lunch in the dead middle of the pier. 

On our walk back, this middle-of-the-pier ajeema was dozing.
This was the only child we saw on the pier (in the tent).

Tentless, but with the ever-present ground cloth.  And
a jar of octopus tentacles for lunch.  We can only assume the bare-
headed woman has lived outside Korea - the lack of sun
at her age really made her stand out.

Another sleeper.  Again, not touching the ground.  That's
a big deal here - the ground (and therefore shoes) is unclean.
Feet themselves are clean - so eating barefoot on the floor of a
restaurant is fine, even after walking to the bathroom. 

Finally, a few other photos just because I like them.  :)

Only two benches on the whole pier. 

I would love to know this guy's story - he
looked nothing like the other people we've
seen in Korea.

Excellent slogan on a fishing bag. 

At the lighthouse.  The ladies with the umbrellas
(against the sun, remember) kept taking pictures of us.  White folks are rare enough around here, but
Sam's a giant who causes a lot of stares.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

This week's highlights (and lowlights)

I don't have any big stories or deep thoughts this week, but I did take lots of pictures of our trips out of the house.  Here are some pictures of things that were particularly memorable for us.

Walking a hill above the beach, Sam found this hand-sized, brightly-colored
crab, which made a hissing/bubbling noise with its mouth as it dared
us to duel. Unfair fight: it could rapidly sidle up and down the cement walls.

Most rice fields are nearly ready for harvest - the grains are starting to weigh
down the grass and the leaves are turning from green to yellow.
This "rice combine" just harvested a field; we've seen
another type of rice being harvested by hand, one clump at a time.

We found a lovely orchid to celebrate Nick's first day of classes for only $4.50
at a local greenhouse.  That's less than a box of cereal or a single pear.
To bad we can't eat them.

Sam befriended some dogs at a nearby beach.  He sure misses
our dog Ralph.

At the grocery store, the beef is marked with a brown cow photo.  Pork
has pictures of... piglets in red boots.  Not a great sales approach, but perhaps better
than the shouting butcher who announces his wares as you approach
and as you scurry away, avoiding eye contact. 

In the seafood section are several  gift packages for the upcoming Thanksgiving
celebrations.  These two ugly fish are selling for about $130.  I'm sure any
boss would be delighted to receive such an honor.

This tubular stuff is one type of seaweed that washes onto the beach.
Some ajeemas were collecting it from amongst the rocks,shells, other seaweed,
and plastic dreck.  We found some to give them, which earned us bonus points.
Sam was NOT interested in eating it.

Elisabeth and David enjoyed body surfing some really high waves
near the port.  No one else swam until they saw the kids go in.
 I have a theory that most Koreans believe you need the right clothes and
equipment to do any sports - walking trails, biking, swimming.
My kids had no life vests, inner tubes, wet suits, or water socks
- and still had fun - so others without all the gear could follow suit.

We found a magical store with computer gear, art and school/office supplies,
shoes, tools, signs, games, sports equipment, leather wallets, designer pens,
and tons more - all in about 30x30 feet of floor space.  Sam bought a bat
and took David and Elisabeth to a field where they hit dozens of
tennis balls we found in the campus dumpster earlier this summer.
While the kids were batting, we kept hearing a drummer with a catchy beat.
A walk through the nearby woods revealed four women
on traditional Korean drums, pounding out rhythms on their own and their
neighbor's drums.  Check out videos of similar drumming and movement here
(a woman's team) and here (a men's team).

Elisabeth's Korean spelling/handwriting homework this week was on
"things in a classroom." All was well until I saw #8.
Apparently kids are supposed to bring box knives as a basic school supply item.
In response to my astonishment, Elisabeth scornfully said "No one hardly ever bleeds."
I think I will forget to buy one again this week.

We found thousands of these fingertip-sized monsters on a piece of driftwood.
They slowly wave around on their stalks (which are extremely glued to the wood),
open their little shell mouths, and stick out a nasty hairy worm thing.
I can't find anything like them on the internet.