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Monday, April 18, 2016

Assumptions from another planet

On the surface, Koreans look and act just like Americans - they walk around and use smartphones and laugh and hail taxis, etc.  Even all the things I've learned about this culture still fail to prepare me for surprises, though. Here is a recent sampling.

(1) Magnet schools.  I like the idea of magnet or alternative schools.  Truly I do.  In Korea such schools might incorporate a Chinese or English curriculum or have special opportunities in music or golf.  No problem there.  And then I read about an elementary school that "started a mission for curing atopic dermatitis." What is THAT, you might wonder.  Well, dear reader, I researched it for you.  It's eczema: dry, itchy cracking skin.  Yuck.  How does one cure it?  Well, in the US we'd provide moisturizers, anti-histamines, and perhaps UV light therapy.  Nothing of the kind here.  Nope: at this school, the kids take a daily 20-minute walk through a hinoki cypress grove (dressed head to toe to avoid the sun or any possible benefits of the tree oil rubbing on their skin).  Further, kids with especially severe cases take baths in cypress tubs. Yup - baths.  At school.  In wooden tubs.  Sometimes I think I have left the planet I grew up on. (source)

(2) Melon Rules: A brief article noted a change of rules regarding watermelon sales.  Ooh, I thought!.  Korean watermelon is delicious but is rather smaller than US melons and is way WAY more expensive (a $10 melon is a steal).  So I read on, hoping for news of subsidies or possibly free melons for Americans wanting a taste of home. But no. Instead: "The government changed regulations to allow stalkless watermelons to be sold."  Wait - what?  Apparently, some Koreans believe that the "t-shaped stalk" previously required was a valid means of evaluating melon freshness.  And, since the farmers were totally annoyed by the challenges created by this utterly baseless belief, the government had mercy.  Farmers may now sell melons without stalks.  I suspect the price will be the same, however.  (source

(3) Art lounging: A nearly 500-foot long traditional landscape painting was installed recently in Seoul.  Along with the painting, I read, specially-designed chairs were also installed.  And this is where I had to re-read the words several times because I had no place in my brain for comprehending this:  "Visitors can view the painting while reclining on the follow the tradition of wayu which means "'traveling in nature while lying down in a room.'"  Yeah, I still can't figure it out. (source)

(4) Panda World:  The Chinese government recently bestowed upon Korea a generous gift of 2 panda bears.  The habitat/enclosure has been completed and the bears are nearly ready for the expected mass of visitors as Panda World opens next week.  To drum up excitement, one article exclaimed, "If lucky, the visitors will get to see the pandas gorging on bamboo leaves, climbing to the end of a branch that almost looks too thin to support their weight, and even pooping."   Pooping.  Ah, Korea. (source)

(5) Typo: The Korean government recently changed its emblem to much public uproar.  An article defending the decision looked to how other countries use their official emblems.  We learn that Germany and the United Kingdom have effectively used traditional symbols on their coat of arms insignia, and then we learn that government departments in the United States have several logos but "many of them have an American bold eagle."   Good for you, America, in selecting a sassy bird: none of those shy (poopy!) pandas for you. (source)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

I'll be brief: 5 snippets from Korean life

I suppose that most people have quirky little happenings all around them.  So in that way, today's post is not exceptional or necessarily Korean.  But it's still funny.  So enjoy.

(1) While shopping online for a keyboard cover/skin for my laptop, I ran across this delightful description: "Dustproof and anti-dirty design may avoid the dust, the cigarette ash, the biscuit filings and so on falls into the keyboard to affect the keyboard life."  You have to love their specificity.  I received my cover/skin in the mail and was bemused at the product's motto:

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(2) I happened to be invited to a meeting with an Important Person (IP) along with some foreign faculty and Korean staff regarding health/repair issues in our apartments.  The IP's staff presented each of us with a gorgeous gourmet-style fruit plate and tiny fruit fork.  We waited respectfully, of course, for the IP to begin eating before we could touch our own food.  He did not.  And, thus, we did not.  End of meeting: table dotted with 15+ pristine fruit plates.  I hope the staff got to enjoy them....

(3) From a conversation with a student discussing the aggravating sound of Chinese opera: he aptly noted that  "some traditional Korean songs also sound anal.  Um. I mean, nasal."  Yeah, that's an important distinction.

(4) A foreign faculty family built a great fort out of used pallets and a horde of children happily commenced to playing.  Within one day, the kids decided there needed to be a president of the fort, decided the basis for elections, held speeches, and the winner was judged by an older sibling.  A precocious 8-year-old won, solemnly telling my friend Tracey that "I am here to serve."   (P.S.: The president was summarily impeached by her mother and no formal government is allowed at the fort).

(5) And our last story for today.  Elisabeth and I were out walking on campus and she popped into the communal laundry room (the 2 dryers serve roughly 30 families and 25+ international graduate students) to see what was on the "free" rack.  To her great horror, the office door for the maintenance staff was wide open, and there stood three ajoshees (middle-aged Korean men), clad only in their tighty whiteys.  She fled, quite unwilling to wonder with me about these briefly clad men.