Happy Holidays


Today the high was 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  However, half of the students were wearing sweaters.  This is because in Korea, the Cheusok holiday is approaching, and that means fall is here – never mind that it’s still too warm for sweaters, it’s fall and fall = sweaters.  So here sit 40 students taking their mid-term examinations and they have on long sleeves, undershirts, AND sweater vests.  I, on the other hand, have on only a sleeveless top and a light jacket to cover up my too sexy shoulders.  And I am sweating buckets because premature menopause is telling my body it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Looking at the students in their sweaters makes me feel 10 degrees hotter…

During mid-terms I have to help proctor examinations, even though there’s nothing much I do to help.  Some teachers go so far as to let me organize and distribute the exams / others don’t trust me enough to let me do anything but stand there and watch all hour.  Mr. Lee is the only teacher who tells me to stay in the office.  I am suspicious about this, given the knowledge he provides test answers to his students ahead of time to be more popular.  I wonder if he also gives the students more time or other such favors during the actual exam…

A third of the Emart employees are wearing cheap hanbok and trying to sell customers gift sets, traditional serving dishes, and holiday food items.  In the children’s clothing section are racks upon racks of cheap hanbok for children.  They are very ornate and colorful.  I was told once, by one of the slimey language exchange guys, that these are “fake” hanboks and not traditional at all.  Hanbok, of course, evolved into what they are today and were originally some variation on Chinese costumes.  But then they were simplified, and color and material coded according to class.  But the costumes for the children are more of a fantasy creation – kind of a melding together of Shilla era aristocracy and the more traditional form.  If I find time (doubtful) I’ll try and assemble photos to show you what I mean…

Friday is the national holiday, so Thursday evening most of Seoul will head to the country to visit their family homes.  The men will eat and drink for three days, and the women will cook, clean, cook, clean, cook, clean, and cook and clean some more for three days.  I and my Migook chingus (American friends) will also head to the country and taste a bit of the real holiday madness, which is being stuck on the roads with millions of others.  Supposedly one year in recent history, the 4 hour trip south took 13 hours due to the traffic.

We will be going to visit Gyeongju for Cheusok.  The director of Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network asked if I could help make Choosuk dinner for expectant mothers living in group homes,  (It seems they can’t even show their bellies to their families) and I had to tell her I’d already made plans.  She found it very amusing the way I spelled Gyeongju and Cheusok, as she spelled it Kyungjoo and Choosuk.

There are two different standards for romanizing the sound of Hangul.  The previous standard was the McCune-Reischauer system, which (to my ear) was better at distinguishing some of the consonant sounds (like K and G)

For example, Kyungjoo – there is only one letter in Hangul for both the K and the G sounds, but when that consonant is at the beginning of a word, is has more of a K sound, and when that consonant is in the middle of the word, it has more of a G sound.

But the new standard follows the hangul more literally for direct translation and assumes the reader will know or learn which sound to make.  The new standard also seems (to my mind) to be much more consistent with the phonics of vowel sounds and combinations, so in that regard I think it’s better.  But I read that it left out the “h” sound.  Just a minor thing…

The government instituted the new standard so Korea could participate more fully in a world  of digital communication where direct translation is necessary.  But from a speaking point of view, I think the former system was much better – and like with all conventions, it’s a failure if the people don’t adopt it fully;  causing major chaos for all involved and especially confusing for those just learning Korean.

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In other news about convention, the government’s campaign to walk right has begun being implemented in the subways.  And it’s a complete and utter failure thus far.  As a good citizen and a westerner who enjoys a familiar convention, I now find myself appalled and dismayed as I am more often than before headed for collision with Koreans who ignore the signs.  And then there is the ludicrous interruption of the attempt to walk to the right by escalators permanently installed on the now wrong side…

It would have been much simpler to have just given the streets to Western imperialism, and the subways to Japanese imperialism…

Gyeongju will be interesting…My first month here I went to the National Museum with Lenn and saw their exhibit on the Shilla dynasty.  So Gyeongju is kind of the seat of that dynasty and is the repository of many cultural sites, the main one we want to see being a Buddist grotto carved into the stone.  The replica at the museum was a sensory experience and very successful in recreating the atmosphere.  I think it is special because it is domed and circular, with each carving unique, so there is a special tension inside.  I can’t wait to experience its approach and feel the cool damp of the underground moisture.  When I worked in submarines in the sonar dome, we had to shimmy on our backs through a small dark tunnel comprised of electrical cables, only to arrive in a perfectly round open space:  a secret place, maybe even a sacred space.

Then comes a week of normal classes (if you can call anything I do for a living normal) followed by accompanying Jane to the Busan (or Pusan, if you use the M-R system of romanization) International Film Festival, where we will be seeing the debut of Tammy Chu’s new documentary, Resilience.

click for a link to the website and trailer
click for a link to the website and trailer

I had an opportunity to meet the featured adoptee in the film, and he’s really personable, laid-back, and funny.  Exceptionally so.  Hope Jane and I can hook up with him and Tammy afterward.

I have a half a dozen other half-finished posts for you, but I’m still only half way through my backlog of emails and I still have a lot of research to do for implementing the TRACK website, finishing my puppets, as well as finding a new job and a more interesting place to live.  Never been very good at balance, but at least my life is full…

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5 thoughts on “Happy Holidays

  1. I’ll tell you after I see the movie!

    But I am guessing it is a half sister. Many relinquishing moms went on to lead normal lives and have second families.

  2. I’ll have to find some way to see Resilience. Definitely the sort of situation that will wreak havoc on my emotions.

    This notion that parents must always do for their children is so noble but so sad that if you find your birth mother, can you take care of her? Or do I understand that correctly?

    I spent most of my adult life wishing I had tried to care for my mother. That bends my perspective on my sons’ future if they can find theirs.

  3. Ed, I’m not going to speak for adoptees in general, but based on Jane’s memoir that happened with her. In Mei-Ling Hopgood’s memoir that happened to her. In my reunion it happened to me; my parents wanted to “provide” for me in small ways to compensate, I guess.

    It’s not just a cultural thing, it’s because of all the lost years due to adoption as well…

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