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Monday, October 20, 2014

Out and about: Recent photos

Here are some photos of kids at Bukbu beach (downtown), Jukdo market sights, and glimpses of creatures on campus in recent weeks.

I love to watch young Korean families.  The Korean abortion rate is extremely high (some estimate 75% of pregnancies are aborted, despite its not being legal), so when babies are born into the right family situation, they are completely adored.  I have never, ever seen a Korean kid have a tantrum or scream at his/her parents.
This little one got cold, so her dad gave her his t-shirt and her mom continued the game of chase.

Nick and I enjoyed watching a man tease delighted children with his carefully piloted kite.  This little girl was shy at first, and finally "caught" the kite as the pilot walked it across the sand.
More kids got into the fun, with a feisty "Frozen" fan in the lead.

The big open-air market (Jukdo) never fails to amaze and delight me.

This woman used the same knife to scratch her eyebrow and peel the garlic she was selling.
Men don't usually carry fans, but this guy may have been preventing sunburn on his bald spot.  Note that he is wearing gloves (and the food seller does not).  Ah, Korea.
And, if you owned a clothing store, why wouldn't you name it Man Shopping and sit out front with friends?
I love that Koreans value English, even if its annoying nuances get lost in translation.  

Finally, some creatures within a 3-minute walk of our building:

This lovely thrush must have just smacked a window and broken its neck.  It was heart-breakingly soft.
The thrush, that is, not the window.

We think these are chestnuts, will prickles that make sewing needles seem dull as yarn.  

This fat guy and his many friends live happily in our garden's compost pile.
Tracey, my Australian friend, believes it's the grub of what she calls a Christmas Beetle and what I grew up calling a June Bug (though I have NEVER seen grubs this big in the US).
For daring readers interested in the lifestyle of this edible nightmare, just check Wikipedia under the entry
"cockchafers."  Which itself may crack you up for days to come.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Corporate Customer Service: Mistakes were Made

Perhaps you can imagine the challenges of effective customer service and persuasive marketing strategies in a second language, especially when that language is English (what a horrible language that adopts any old word that comes along instead of following things like RULES) and when the intended audience is mostly native English speakers hired by the government to teach English. Though valiant attempts at such service and marketing are made, they can go badly wrong, as demonstrated here, in a document we received from our Korean car insurance company.

Now, I love that they're eager to communicate with English-speaking customers.  I truly do.  But when a company is pleased to semi-annually remove significant chunks of money from my bank account, I expect something along the lines of glossy, proofread, tri-fold brochures.  Or at least something more self-respecting than a document written by underpaid and unsupervised interns during happy hour. Let's take a look. 

Here is an overview of the front and back side of the (cheaply printed) document.  Even without reading the fine print (we'll get to that shortly), one might wonder about the credibility of a company still addicted to 1990s clip art.

Ok, let's take a look at the details now, shall we?

This is a promising start in cheerful colors and readable fonts.
It suggests that Korean insurance folks may be more friendly and laid back than
the lawyers running the fine print show back home.

Now for a summary of their services:

These benefits seem like good ideas for US companies to adopt.
Then one begins to notice a few writing errors. And upside-down clip art.
And tiny little seeds of doubt may be planted about the credibility of folks providing these benefits.
Accessing the services is described next:

 I like their thoughtfulness in anticipating customer questions.
But. why is a tiny mushroom smiling in one graphic while a tortured man is screaming?
Are either of these the "other korean" to which I should change my call?

Ok, that was the first page.  Here is the flip side, where things move past endearingly strange.

So, if I'm not at fault then I make a call but don't take pictures.
But if the accident IS my fault then I should ...take a selfie? with the guy I hit?
Note that the word DRUNKEN was on a sticker pasted over the word "Drinking." Either way, it appears to describe the condition of the writer. 
Gentle reader, have you forgotten this is a document from my car insurance agency, whom I trust to have my back? Here is their final bit of advice:

Taxi and Bus chasing? Illegal parking is ok if the hood is open?  WHAT?
This section was surely scratched onto a napkin over a late-night bottle
on a binge, and the boss didn't bother to look it over.
And, no, I did not add the thought bubble above the woman’s head.
There you have it: Korean car insurance as as presented to foreign customer. As their motto says, this piece of paper will "make the difference between carelessness and security."  I couldn’t have drunken it better myself.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Field trip to Uljin Cave

On Sunday afternoon we decided to head about 90 minutes north along the coast to visit the well-reputed cave in Uljin.  Along the way, we stopped at a convenience store for beverages (even the remote villages have convenience stores with iced coffees, yogurt drinks, Coke, Fanta, and Sprite - though diet drinks are rare as cassette tapes in a college dorm). While waiting for Nick to pay, the kids and I decoded the Korean writing on next-door apartment building: “Kahn Doe Bill.” Which may disappoint those dear readers looking for deep meaning as we realized it just means, well, "Condo Building,"  Ah, English in disguise.  Tricksters.

When meandering along the coast, we noticed an unusually large sculpture.  Needing to stretch our legs anyway, we went to check it out via the strangely-labeled "Whale and Clean Beach Road."

This striking whale sculpture inexplicably featured  a very naked, and very well-endowed (non-Korean) 
bronze lady on its snout.

Inside the whale, looking toward its mouth.
David's hiding from the naked lady AND the camera.

Adjacent to the whale sculpture were a pair of intriguing blue ships.
Which were, on closer inspection, confusingly-signed bathrooms. 

The Uljin cave (named Seongryugul for historical mountain-god-worship and Buddha statue storage reasons) is a typical Korean tourist site, at least for this side of the country. Brown highway signs in Korean, Chinese, and English (never Japanese - they're the bad guys) pointed us most of the way and then abruptly stopped once we got sort of close (we've done this enough not to be surprised anymore).  We paid our parking fee (well before reaching the site or the gravel-covered parking lot) to a dentally-challenged older guy in a ramshackle shed, behind which several friends were animatedly squatting and chatting.  We parked, wisely anticipated restroom needs given our empty beverage bottles, and brought paper from the van (we have learned the hard way that public restrooms are only guaranteed to provide some for of toilet.  Paper, sinks, soap, and lights are all optional).  Happily, we found TP hanging about 20 feet outside the bathrooms amid the informal market's displays of dried fish, tiny heaps of grains, and Korean pumpkins.  (Keep in mind this place is a national monument.  Can you imagine going to, say, Mt. Rushmore and having to step through and around an open-air grocery/gift shop?  No, you cannot. But here, it's normal.  And you'll read more about this market later.)

Hooray!  TP provided!

After a stroll through the market, we found the cave ticket booth overlooking the 
beautiful dammed river near a pair of spewing stone turtles.  

The historical marker includes a jab at the Japanese for starving 500 Koreans to death here.  Not recently, mind you: this is after Columbus' time but round about Sir Francis Drake was doing his thing for Queen Elisabeth and Roanoke Island was getting deserted (and the Taj Mahal was being built).  Wow: Koreans know how to hold a grudge.
We gave our tickets to another man stationed near racks of white hard helmets.  We couldn't read any of the Korean signs but obediently donned and adjusted the helmets, assuming these were required safely gear.  Silly Americans - we were almost the only ones in the cave who bothered.  We located the tiny cave entrance (Sioux Center residents: picture the children's door at Pizza Hut) and I was suddenly grateful for being the shortest one in our family.
Nick's bottom half entering the cave; we are warmly welcomed in bat language.

The cave held a stunning variety of limestone formations and bat-shaped labels, and I wished for a flashlight stronger than Nick's cell phone to see more than what was revealed by the stingy lights.

Besides the tourists (and a dead rat we spied, splayed high up on a craggy wall), 
there was not a sign of life, not even a spider web or bit of bat poop.  
That said, much of the cave reminded us strongly of Alien.
After our 45-minute self-guided tour along the well-marked if sometimes sideways- or crawling-only paths, we walked along the reservoir path before heading back.  As we wandered toward the van, we had to pass through the market again. The tiny shops and restaurants lined along the road/path sold drinks, traditional Korean foods, cigarettes, plastic crap (anyone want a white baby doll dress in jungle camouflage?), traditional crafts, and sometimes sidewalk-squatting sellers with fresh fruit, veggies, and fish.  Everything is cheap from a US perspective, but not much is attractive.

A wide range of kitchy and fine products for sale in the market.
Some shops also sell (and boldly display) penis-themed items.  For the sake of our PG-13 audience, I shall not offer pictures here, but suffice it to say that a larger-than-oh-my-gosh-large water fountain formation and a table of variously shaped and positioned tchotchkes elicited rather different responses from our little group's members: disdainful frowning, embarrassed horror, snickering wonder, and amused curiosity.  I shall not reveal which names accompanied which responses, but you may wish to refer to my earlier "Fertility Park" post.

We bought bottled water from one woman, who pointed to David, asked (in Korean) if he was my son, then chortled about him being so big! and handsome!  (both words in my vocab list this week).  David gave his great shy smile and turned away to lurch along the path.  As we neared the parking area, the background music became louder and we discovered several ajummas dressed in Hiking Gear (this is a fashion category here) and dancing like drunken lunatics.  We had never seen this kind of Korean behavior before so I fear we stared, and David managed to record a few seconds on his tablet.

It was a very satisfying journey, capped off with a mis-printed highway sign on the way home: "Snow Crap Mountain."  Sounds like an adventure for another weekend. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Veggie Pride

Nick fails to escape the photo in the Dream Mart produce section.
I'm sorry, but Korean corn-on-the-cob
is like the homeless version of
American sweet corn.

When you move to another country you discover new fruits, veggies, meats, and other goodies.  In Korea, I love the enormous crunchy-sweet apples, the round crisp pears, the sweet white melon.  We quickly learned not to touch the deceitful Korean corn-on-the cob, which is so tasteless an Iowa farmer wouldn’t toss it to his least favorite pig.  That said, Korea loves to dump canned corn on American food, somehow assuming that we are as obsessed with that grain as they are with rice. We've learned to ask for corn to NOT be put onto our pizza, hot dogs, etc.  

Today I wish to tell two recent stories related to my attempts to identify strange veggies. 

Last week, when Nick stopped our van at a busy intersection, I noticed a man selling meter-long sticks out of his Bongo truck (a unique style of pick-up truck here).  Some big banners (Korean do so love their banners) announced the name of these stick things, but that did not help me imagine what these things were or what they would be used for.  So I watched, puzzled, as women approached the truck and bought a few sticks at a time.  The items seemed to be not quite wooden; more like extremely long, skinny carrots. I rolled my window down and took some pictures, secure in my anonymity amid the confusion of busy traffic.  But just as the traffic light turned green and Nick stepped on the gas, I was caught.  The seller looked directly at me, picked up a long root-thing, and waved it limply in front of him like a whip in slow motion, a bright smile lighting up his face. 

Long Stick Seller Man (just before waving one at me).

My second veggie encounter this week happened outside my doctor's office.  I came out of the building and nearly ran into an ajumma setting out her veggies for sale on the sidewalk.  I noticed one box of very large, light-green veggies that I’d not seen before, sort of like zucchini but of monstrous proportions.  Proudly whipping out my stunning array of Korean vocabulary, I asked “Mwa yay-yo?” (“what is it?”) while pointing to the box at her feet.  She responded quickly “Han gay ee chawn won” ("2000 won for each one").  I smiled, shook my head, and repeated my question. She proceeded to pick up one of the veggies in question, poke me in the belly with it a few times, and restate her price. My smile was surely more strained now, but I bravely tried one more tactic: “Ho-bahk?” ("pumpkin/squash?").  And AGAIN with the poking but this time she said “say sah me.”  Which I didn’t understand.  Wishing to stop the prodding of my gooshy middle-aged middle parts, I walked away, my curiosity about the veggie unsatisfied, and new questions arising about the ajumma's unorthodox persuasion methods.  

P. S. Veggie Research

The Sticks: I e-mailed my stick truck picture to my delightful new Korean tutor, and she responded this way:
that is called burdock.
korean pronounciation is woo awng
it is food which we can eat.
if you drew this, you can lose weight. but way to drew is little bit difficult.
This give me some new information, but I was not entirely clear on how vegetable doodling is a feasible diet plan.  I also wondered whether the weight loss reference was a polite hint.  But, thus armed with some new information,  I consulted Wikipedia (see Arctium):
(a) The grippy seedpods of burdock (we called them “hitchhikers” as kids walking through the Michigan woods) inspired the concept of Velcro. 
(b) Some Koreans make tea out of the burdock root or cut it up for Korean veggie soup.
(c) The flavor of burdock is not necessarily its selling point: 
"Burdock root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavour with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking in water." (quothe Wikipedia).
Hmmm… tea with “a little muddy harshness,” anyone?

The Monster Zucchini:  The Poking Veggie Ajumma said what sounded like "sesame" but I couldn't find any Korean spelling of this word that made sense (I found these interesting versions, though: three new non-; new thirty two; three American companies; three three American).  I knew that Koreans eat the very tasty "sesame" leaves with grilled meat, but (a) those leaves aren't from the same plants as sesame seeds and (b) they aren't from plants that create veggies of frightening size. So the closest I've found to the poking veggie is "Asian zucchini" but I'm not convinced I've identified the monster yet. The squash, I mean, not the ajumma.

P. P. S.  AHA!
Here is an explanatory note from Jeremy Knapp, an Iowa transplant to Korea (his lovely wife is Korean and Jeremy is fluent in the language and culture):
The 우엉 (burdock) actually tastes lovely as a tea. Muddy is the wrong word. I would think "earthy," in the same way that a nice stout beer might be earthy. Mellow, not pungent.

The 수세미 (soo-say-me) is used to make natural sponges; we call it "loofah" or "luffa" in English. As the plant gets older and the seeds get more hard and dry, the flesh dries up and creates a sponge.

See here: here:

P.S. Yes, there's a difference between the (black or gray) wild sesame plant and the domestic sesame plant. But the ordinary white sesame (Big Mac Bun and toasted sesame you see here and there) comes from the same plants that those tasty leaves grow from. I used to raise these plants back in Iowa.