Monday, March 26, 2007

Keep up your English!

It will be a while before robots replace humans as translators.
Instant translation is magic and as amazing as it is hilarious. I always wondered how they did that at international conferences. Now I understand why everyone looks so puzzled and perhaps why, after 61 years of operation the UN still has great difficulties in achieving its objectives.

How does the European Parliament manage?

Here are a few excerpts from the German translations of my blog. Haven't had time to look much yet, but you''ll see what I mean.

  • Teller as in a person in a bank who takes your money is translated as storyteller
  • Where I asked about whether the little girl I called Betty was Patty, it has translated Patty as pastetchen or little pastry
  • My absolute favourite though is this one. In that Granny Appleby poem -in the Don't call me Granny! post, it translates "My Charlie won't get fed tonight" as "My Charlie won't get any Federal agents tonight."

The Grammar is of course utterly bizarre, so do not rely on this method to find out what the stories are about or to improve your knowledge of English.

I would be very interested in how the Korean looks.

Cheers for now,
V

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Footnote: Pondering the Omnipotent Mind

You may have noticed small ads appearing at the bottom of posts.
You will probably see different ones at different times, particularly if you are in another country. These are automatically put on by Google search engines working on keywords.
I have nothing to do with what appears, but I am absolutely fascinated by some of the results.

For example, when I wrote on "Surviving The Overland Track (February)," there was an ad at the bottom for survivalists.
When I wrote about national mourning with respect to Korea's World Cup Defeat, there were ads for Grief Counselling and when I wrote about the chaotic traffic in Korea, there were ads for Defensive Driving Courses in Melbourne.

At the moment, this is a private blog - ie only people I tell about it can read it, but a lot of people are saying I should go public so if you see any big mistakes or spelling errors let me know
If anyone minds their picture being shown or their names being given, please let me know that too.


Cheers,

Veronika

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Missing Year - Goodbye, Soul City


The Great South Gate -Gwanghwamun- Cultural Treasure #1


Danpyong - or Leaf Fall, is another special season in Korea. Whole web pages are devoted to places, times and dates when the best foliage displays can be seen. Mothers tenderly lift up their children so that they may touch the changing leaves. It is a lovely time to be in Seoul, but it is tinged with sadness too because I know that soon like the autumn leaves, I will be gone.


This is by no means the first time I have been in Seoul, but usually I've been here on business, whereas today I am just another tourist. I am on one of those buses that lets you get on and off all day and stops at all the tourist attractions. The city is lively, youthful and friendly. There are a lot of universities here and although it is one of the most densely populated cities in the world - only Tokyo ranks higher, I have never felt safer walking around a town at night.



Street Procession. Scenes like this are commonplace in Seoul


Following the crowd to ancient palaces

I start out from Gwangwhamun and follow the crowd to the first of many palaces. They are wonderfully anachronistic amid all the glass and steel.Their beautifully landscaped gardens are veritable havens of peace in what is the commercial, cultural and political hub of Korea. As usual there is beautiful painting and woodwork and every building tells a story.


Pretty in Pink -Changgyeongung Palace is set in beautiful gardens

Ancient trees in danger of toppling are not chopped down in Korea, they are lovingly supported and added to the catalogue of living treasures

Long queues outside WHA listed Gyeongbokgung Palace. This is only the front gate. You have to be part of a guided tour to see this huge palace, so I tag along with a group of blue shirted boy scouts


Richly decorated surfaces at Gyeongbokung Palace

Not all the palaces are painted. This restrained version inside Gyeongbokung was a place of study and meditation

Entrance to the Secret Garden. There is also a lovely water garden here.

Koreans understand the importance of grand entrances and gates - even the toll gates are impressive in places like Gyeongju, but I am also rather partial to these more modest ones


A young mother waits patiently while her son plays with autumn leaves outside one of the palaces

The sound of industrial strength drumming draws me to the Nanta Theatre. The show is a spectacular combination of traditional Korean music, story telling and performance, set in a commercial kitchen. I won't tell you any more, but I promise you will have a good time. It is getting dark when I emerge, so I head off to Insadong for bit of night shopping. This is a collection of tiny art and craft shops, antiques, coffee shops and restaurants in one of the oldest parts of town. There is talk of putting all these shops into one big complex, but I hope it never happens as a lot of the atmosphere would be lost.


What's Cookin'? The fabulous Cookin' Nanta Show
I am not going to tell you too much about this, but I guarantee that you'll come away feeling good.

Little shops like this make shopping in Insadong a pleasure

Afterwards I go to one of the three German taverns to find out what all the Germans are doing here. There's just been another one on television promoting Daegu. I'm surprised to find that it is well patronised by Koreans tucking into Bratwurst and Sauerkraut, which is I suppose, not all that far removed from Kimchi. I spend the rest of the evening talking with a Welshman, an Englishman and a German. If that sounds like the beginning of a joke, let me assure you that it was a hilarious night which made me realise how long it's been since I 've been out at night and had a good laugh.

In memory of Christoph, friendly host of the Baerlin Tavern

Afterwards I am escorted back to my hotel by a young student who wants to practice his English. He is tall, gorgeous and looks like Gong-gill in "The King and the Clown. " Contrary to the image often portrayed in Western movies, Korean men are chivalrous and, I suspect, romantics at heart.

Not everything in Seoul is beautiful. With around three million cars, air quality leaves something to be desired and though there are more sky scrapers here than in any other Asian city, there are no doubt many ugly and substandard buildings, not to mention the hideous tangles of powerlines which keep showing up in my photos. In the morning there are homeless men clustered around the subway stations and as old traditions break down, older folk are not as assured of security and respect in old age as they used to be.

The newspapers report that subway drivers now need counselling because of the growing number of suicides on the tracks. Once it was only the occasional student who had failed his exams. Now it is increasingly the elderly.

Another disturbing sight is seeing a legless man wheeling himself around the market on a low trolley and playing a battered cassette recorder in order to solicit change from passers -by. This happens on the subways too. Although I am sure their lives are more interesting than say, being stuck in an institution, it seems to me that some people have been forgotten in the headlong rush for individual prosperity and material wealth.


Not everything in Seoul is beautiful to behold

On a more positive note, I also read in the papers that large corporations such as Samsung and SK Telecom are doing quite a bit of community service and that the city is starting to address environmental issues such as clean air, more green space and the effects of rapid and unplanned development. They already have No Car Days in Seoul - odd registration numbers one day, even ones the next.The recent restoration of the Cheonggyecheon Stream with its historic bridge, which were long buried under a freeway, is a perfect example of what this city can do, once it puts its mind to it.


Meanwhile, there seems to be altogether too much emphasis on shopping, so I wander down to the Han River for a cruise, once the nearest thing to a honeymoon Korean couples could afford. There is an air of faded glory about it. Today it seems to be mostly business men and graduation classes who take their leisure on the river.

The trip downriver to Namsan Island to see the site where the romantic drama "Winter Sonata" was filmed, is unfortunately booked up, so I take the shorter cruise upriver. Every bridge tells a story and all along the river, people are skateboarding, riding bicycles and jogging. It looks just like the scene in the movie, The Mutant, before the monster comes.

My last image of Korea though, is of a little boy standing on the water's edge holding a long string of kites reaching to the heavens. Korea means sky. Somehow that image gives me a feeling of hope and joy.


A big harvest moon rises slowly over the city as I board the Gongju Express one last time. I am reminded of the words of the C17th century Poet of Danyang, Yun Seon -do:

"You ask me how many friends I have
Water and stone, bamboo and pine
The moon rising up over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade
Besides these five companions,
What other pleasures should I ask?"


Thank you Korea for having me and thanks to all those Koreans - too many of you to name, for a wonderful year!
Special thanks to all my students too for teaching me so much.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Missing Year - High Skies

Autumn is without doubt, the loveliest time in Korea, even before the leaves start to turn. Cosmos light up the roadsides, golden rice flows down the valleys like lava. Kimchi pots appear on balconies and rooves and chilli is dried in the streets. The children tell me that autumn is their favourite season because "the sky is high." I think they mean that the inversion layer with its perpetual haze and humidity has lifted. Certainly, the days are benign and cloudless and the nights cool enough to bring refreshing sleep.

How Koreans feel about the fall is eloquently expressed in the following excerpt written by a Korean student at the English Language Institute at the University of Florida, reprinted here with kind permission:

The Story of Fall in Korea

Hyung-Ju Park
30P

The story of fall in Korea is very important. It is a beautiful array of color, sound, dance and scent.

My country is small but very beautiful. It only takes 6 hours to drive a car from the North to the South. It only takes 4 hours to drive a car from the East to the West of Korea.

Even though it is small, there is a beautiful balance in nature of the mountains and the rivers. They shed a sweet scent of abundance and peace. Furthermore, in Korea, fall expresses a great splendor and beauty. It is the best of all seasons.

A lot of color embroiders the whole country and people’s clothes reflect the colors of fall. Every day there is always the splendor of the setting sun and the rice paddies that look like a running gold river covering the whole country because they change to yellow color in the fall.

When one tree in the mountains changes color, it is like a new costume and all the other trees in jealousy change their clothes too.

The rivers reflect the color of the sky which is very bright blue because of the sun. The sky seems very high when I look into the rivers. My eyes hurt from the intense blue. In the fall, it’s almost like the edge.

The sky is a virgin blue. There is never a cloud, and a bird rarely flies into it.

The sounds of the waters in the river valley, the birds chirping, the wind blowing in the mountains and the rolling leaves create a gorgeous orchestra of music.

Sometimes the wind is like a small child playing and dancing with the fallen leaves on the roadside. It runs in a circle stirring up the leaves........






Kimchi pots appear on balconies and rooves. Kimchi is the fermented spiced cabbage which is served with every meal. Ask any Korean what their favourite food is, or what they would miss most from home, and they will invariably answer "Kimchi."

Women dry chilli

Chilli drying in the street

The festivals begin again, starting with the International Nature Arts Festival in Gongju. The exhibits are made of natural materials and generally have an environmental theme. I am thrilled to come upon the various sculptures in the forest and apologise for not being able to acknowledge their creators. As usual, there are hundreds of school buses and it is good to see disabled children being shepherded around the site as well.



I particularly like this aeolian instrument, modelled on a traditional Korean one.

Around mid - month (October) I spend a weekend at a Buddhist temple. The vegetarian food is superb, but I am a dismal failure at the 108 prostrations which precede the morning and evening meal.
Now it is also chestnut season. Korea is the the world's second largest producer after China, and the woods are full of them. In my pockets, I bring enough home from my walks to have my own harvest festival. We also have a mini harvest festival in school. I still haven't seen any bears, but I have seen two deer, including a baby one, right behind the flat, and lots of trumangi - something like a small striped chipmunk. I continue to be amazed at the way ancient traditions coexist alongside extreme modernity.



Cars rush by an old stone chimney still used in the countryside to send prayers to heaven.

Mountain Gods and Harvest Gods must still be appeased in their season. This small family shrine is in the fields just behind the apartment.

Soon after, rice cakes begin to appear in the shops, and it's Chusok, Korea's Thanksgiving and second biggest holiday. I too receive a red envelope from my boss. These, as every Korean child knows, contain money. Other popular gifts at this time include presentation boxes of fruit or fruit juice and even boxes of Spam. I really like the way gifts are given with both hands in Korea. They are always exquisitely wrapped too. Even the smallest child can make a perfect three dimensional crane or turtle out of a small square of origami paper.

Rice Cakes appear in the stores


The children enjoy Halloween games at school

In class, we discuss less well - known Western celebrations such as April Fool's Day - the students love hearing about the BBC's Spaghetti Harvest Festival - Halloween and St. Patrick's Day. We also talk about cultural differences.
When I ask senior students what they find most odd about foreign teachers, they tell me it is the insistence on eye contact because they find it intrusive and somewhat confronting. They say that no Korean teacher would allow his or her students to look him or her directly in the eye.
The hardest part so far, apart from getting the students to actually speak - a few students have left the class because of this - has been to get them to express their own opinion about something. Initially, they would all look through their books to find whatever it is I may have said, that I now want them to repeat. Much Korean English education seems to be about rote learning rules and unrelated words, rather than actually using them.

The thing which younger students find strange, is the way our voices go up and down. In fact, they often mimic me and fall about laughing. Although Korean may sound rather flat and unmelodious to Western ears, you can see from the above quote that it is a surprisingly rich and evocative language, not that I can understand much of it yet, even now. Judy tells me for example, that Korean has no less than seven different words just for the simple colour blue.

I am very interested in the origin of the language and customs, but the children cannot tell me all that much about them. For instance, there is a passion in Korea for piling up stones, which I had also noticed in Mongolia, where the practice is meant to bring good fortune for one's journeys.
There were ancient kinships ties with Mongolia, through Chinggis Khaan, and this is reflected in the language which also bears a distant relationship, not to Japanese or Chinese, but to Ural - Altaic languages such as Finnish, Hungarian and Turkish. Lately, I have come across some tantalising older references.

Simon Winchester,* for instance, writing in "Korea: Walk Through the Land of Miracles" (1988; 2004, Penguin) which I have just bought, mentions that in antiquity, Koreans possibly had links as far away as Scandinavia. Is this where the common love of hot springs and saunas comes from, or even the extravagant woodwork one finds in both countries? Or is it simply a matter of diffusion across the great Russian steppes or a logical conclusion, given local resources and similarities in climate?

More recently still, while trying to find out more about the Legend of the Bear and the Ferryman, I have landed on a website about Indo -European languages (Etruscan Phrases, Mel Copeland 1981; in http://www.maravot.com/Indo -European; 9/3/2007) which mentions Etruscan as being an earlier common link which may have extended to Asia.
Certainly, they had similar burial practices and there are many ancient dolmens and mounds in Korea. These early Indo - Europeans also liked to pile up stones.

I am intrigued by such questions and would be pleased to hear from anyone with more information re: language, customs, legends or origins. I would also like to add to my collection of interesting place names. You can make comments directly on this blog, although they usually take a while to register on the page. Other feedback is welcome too.

* Simon Winchester also writes eloquently on the aftermath of war, the DMZ and Korea's rapid development, areas which I have not explored very much to date, though I did wonder about the Australian involvement in the Korean War because some Veterans here feel that they have been forgotten and certainly underappreciated by Australians.

Suddenly I am aware that I have only a month left in Korea and I rush about looking at some of the tourist attractions before I leave. Just as there are festivals for almost everything, Korea has hundreds of museums dedicated to just about anything from kimchi and rice cakes to soju liquor, tea, printing, bamboo, bicycles, ceramics, paper, straw and plants, embroidery, Art and Crafts, Pansori and Traditional Music, Film, a Gramaphone and Edison museum, masks, the sea and education, to name just a few. There are also a lot dedicated to historical events such as the war, Independence and even the Olympics. Most towns also have a Folk Museum and, more likely than not, a National Museum containing Royal relics. Fossils, paleo finds and natural history museums are popular too, but alas, there is barely time to see the local ones.
I tell a lie. It does rain when I revisit King Muryeong's Tomb.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Missing Year - Of Dog Days and Hungry Ghosts

Queensland may have its Big Banana but in Gongju, Big Bear welcomes you as you come into town

Until now, like the sound of the crickets under my window, life has been getting more and more frantic. Suddenly there is a lull and everything becomes much more languid. The Koreans have a special name for this short season -"pognal." Traditionally, dog was eaten at this time of year to give strength and to stimulate the appetite. Although the children assure me that this is rarely done now, I check anxiously each day to make sure that the two golden labrador puppies which have recently been installed in the yard of the restaurant next door, are still there.

Samgeytang, chicken stuffed with ginseng and rice is another popular 'pognal' dish and is supposed to do the same job. (Korea has special foods for each season as well as representative foods for each region). I learn to make it under instruction from the women who sell spices in the market. I don't usually do much cooking, because with so many cheap restaurants and food stalls, cooking for one isn't all that appealing. My latest discovery is acorn jelly. This comes as innocuous brown squares served over mountain greens.

The seventh lunar month is also Hungry Ghost Month, a time when the Chinese do not marry, do not make major purchases and do not go on holiday. This year it is a double Hungry Ghost Month - this happens every four years to bring the Lunar Calendar into line with the Solar Calendar - and this has begun to affect the economy.

Korea has festivals for everything - for celedon pottery, for ginseng, for lotus blossoms, paper, mask dances, cartoons and animation, the arrival of the cranes, jazz festivals, but now there is hardly anything on - even the re-enactments at the Fortress are on hold -except the Gomnaru Festival.
This celebrates the Legend of the Bear and the Ferryman. Bears are important in Korean folklore. Korea traces its history to a relationship between a bear and a human and dates this precisely to 2333 BC when Tangun the ruler of Korea was born, but Gongju has its own legend about bears and they are featured on bridge railings and footpaths all around town and of course, Big Bear as you come into town.


The Legend of the Bear and the Ferryman

Gonju's bear story is about a ferryman who is captured by a female bear goddess. One day, the ferryman escapes across the river. The bear goddess tries to run after him, but cannot bear to leave their offspring. They cling to her and she drowns in the river. There is a big statue near the fortress and a small forest shrine near the river to commemorate this sad story. Once a year it is told in a special park near the great winged Pagoda. It is an occasion for family picnics, food stalls, icecreams and fairy floss, and at night there is a big talent quest.

Koreans don't need much excuse to have a family picnic.

Gomnaru Festival

The pishibang and the cinema are among the few places which offer a little respite from the heat. I see Korea's latest Blockbuster "The Mutant." There are no subtitles and I can't understand the words, but the story - a moral tale about a monster emerging from the Han River (the one that flows through Seoul) after a pollution incident, is easy to follow and has a couple of unexpected twists. Where an American film would have the male lead or the government doing the rescuing, here, as in life, it is the family. Seeing familar places, such as the pink bridge on the Han on the big screen, makes the movie somehow personal. New Yorkers must experience this sensation all the time.

I also I see the other Korean box office hit "The King and the Clown." This is an epic film set in Joseon times - a wonderful, witty but tragic tale which gives some insight into the Korean soul. I watch this in a DVD room. I am not sure if DVD rooms are a Korean invention, but it's like having your own private lounge room with a big screen. There's a coffee table and a comfortable couch and Dolby surround sound undistorted by noisy popcorn eaters. I have yet to try a singing room.

Meanwhile, in school, the children are listless, some are away on holidays and one or two are sick. There is no relief from the humidity and it feels worse than Darwin in the wet season, even worse than Singapore, although we are 36° further north. Nor is there any relief at night.

We talk about legends and proverbs. My favourite Korean proverb of the moment is
"Last cow fixes the cowshed." I also like the little homilies printed on the exercise books e.g.

" There can be no rainbow until the storm has passed and remembering this, we gain courage to face the turbulence and stress."

or " Be tolerant and cultivate your garden : that is do with diligence and fortitude" and "Failure teaches success"

Another says, "The habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all of the miseries of life."

I do a lot of reading now. There is a collective sigh of relief as the directors announce that we are all getting six days off. It is then that I escape to the wide open spaces and clear blue skies of Mongolia (See Blue Heaven post in January). Mongolia remains momentarily appealing, except for the fact that next month the temperature there will be 7.6° and the month after it will be below zero.


In the last weekend of August I discover Muju, a popular ski resort in the mountains. I am surprised to find an exact replica of a Swiss village, right down to the wrought iron signs. Muju is also known for its Firefly Festival and prides itself on its clean air and organic produce. This year's Firefly Festival was held early, but I see them everywhere while walking at night.








Not Switzerland but Muju, home of the Firefly Festival


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Missing Year - Mid -Summer Madness


An eerie mist envelopes the beach where we go to keep cool

It's hot and it's humid. The aircon at the school works overtime, people fan themselves with small round fans to move the turgid air, which all seems like too much effort to me, and the ladies of leisure now play Go Stop under the bridge on the Jemichon to keep cool. I can't imagine what the wet season will be like as I have been rained on so thoroughly, so often already. Ross drops in from China. Election fever is in the air, and no sooner are they over, than Soccer season - The World Cup Series -begins. The students now look even more bleary -eyed than usual because it doesn't come on until 4 a.m.

Election Fever in Gonju. This is a form of theatre in which all candidates have their own cheer squads and drive about the streets with music blaring, giving speeches to anyone who will stand still long enough

Soccer Fever
Soccer here is a national obsession. I've never been a big fan of spectator sports, much less on television, but it's different here. The whole country is involved and it's impossible to sleep anyway. There is a hardly a child in the school or in the streets who isn't wearing the familar red and white t -shirts or sporting red devil's horns, trademarks of the Korean team. In the parking lot beside the apartment, the neighbours have rolled out a wide screen TV and cheerily invite us over each night to watch. Their exuberance is impossible to resist. One of them acts as a cheerleader and we lustily repeat "Te Ha Minguk" or the national anthem at regular intervals, while the grocery shop owner under our block of flats comes out bearing platters of barbecue chicken and endless bottles of pale green Soju. It would be impolite to refuse. Ah what personal grief and national mourning when Korea is trumped by the Italians in the semi finals. I am not sure what the Korean is for "The umpire must have forgotten his guide dog" but the utterances were I suspect, very close.

Day at the Beach
Ross spends his break fishing, going to the museums or coming down to the school for a while to tell the children about China. They appreciate having a new face around for a change, but do not seem to be all that interested in other countries. They are however, totally fascinated by the hair on his arms. At the weekends, we head off to the mountains or the beach to cool off.

Daecheon Beach, Korea's longest at 3.5 kilometres, is well patronised at the weekend and as usual, I hear " Hello teacher!" as soon as we arrive. It is a seafood lover's heaven. All along the foreshore are literally hundreds of restaurants displaying
various kinds of living marine life. Though there are quite a few formal restaurants, most are simple affairs of canvas with plastic chairs (see below) and braziers set into the tables. For $30 Ross buys a kilogram of assorted shellfish - scallops, razor shells, abalone, oysters and things I have never seen, and has a Korean BBQ. Seafood gourmand though he is, even he can't even finish it all.
There are of course, any number of other dining options. Down on the rocks, women sit under their umbrellas, cutting up raw octopus and bright orange sea slugs and serving them with chilli sauce and possibly a cold beer. In the evening, we ride a crazy roller coaster at a small fun park and watch fireworks being let off on the beach.

No, these people are not looking for their car keys in the fog, they are looking for shellfish.


Korea is a seafood lover's heaven, particularly near the beach.
Those are sea slugs on the left.

The following weekend we are off to World Heritage listed Gyeonju (no, that's not Gongju, or Cheonju, Jeonju, or Gwanju, though it is sometimes spelled and pronounced Kyeonju). Situated on the East Coast, Gyeonju is remarkable in that it has a series of huge grave mounds right through the middle of town. It also has the biggest and oldest temple. This was the other half of the Two Kingdoms that came together in Gonju, when the last Silla queen joined with the Paeke clan. You can also visit the fascinating observatory she built for watching the stars.
One of the nice things in Korea is that admissions are not very expensive, so all cultural assets are heavily patronised. Huge numbers of school buses can be seen at any time outside any one of them, as Koreans take great delight in their heritage. There is also a lovely grotto in the mountains here which was a great refuge from the heat of the day. What I liked most though, was the townscape itself. The houses with their tiled, ornate rooves are beautifully preserved. No wonder Gyeonju is called "the museum without walls."

Magnificent tumuli (historic graves) of the Silla Kings, right in the middle of Gyeongju

We also visited Andong, a little to the north, which is called "the museum without a roof." This is much smaller and less grand than Gyeonju, but it is the site of a venerated Confucian Academy and the centre of the mask dances - a combination of satire, drama and dance which has a long tradition in Korea. Nearby is Hahoe, a 600 year old traditional village, the only one that has not been destroyed by invaders at some stage, and which was much praised by Queen Elizabeth during her unexpected visit there in 1999. Here the houses are more rustic with unpainted pisé surfaces and thatched rooves, though equally well maintained and set in a pretty "S" bend on the river. The mask dances are Intangible Cultural Property #69. The local Soju in Andong is Intangible Cultural Property #12 and the yellow hemp cloth, first presented to the King in the mid -Joseon Dynasty (1392 -1910) is Intangible Cultural Property # 1. The Masks used in the mask dances are wooden and very expressive. You can see the evolution of fine wood carving here as there are also some very ancient shamanistic totems.

[sorry I don't have many pictures from this trip. My camera is having problems again. I haven't been able to get a compatible charger and they use a different system here, but you can see pictures of these lovely places on the web]

Some Cultural Differences
One of the more perplexing things to a foreigner in Korea, is reconciling Korea's keen interest in the past, with its headlong rush into future. Perhaps the former is a consequence of the latter. Korea has more pishbangs (internet cafes) per head of population than any other country, more cell phones and more internet connections. It has not been called "the most wired country in the world" for nothing. Meanwhile, 300 bookshops a year are shutting their doors and the government is running a pilot program for internet free days in schools.

There is no doubt that Koreans are hard workers. Sick days are practically unheard of. No one stops because of the 'flu. They just wear blue face masks, a scary sight when I first saw them. Recently, when Samsung began to introduce the five -day week, they had to run special programs for their workers so that they would know what to do on the extra day off. Korean television has community service announcements urging fathers to spend more time with their children.

I am also rather shocked at the widespread use and acceptance of corporal punishment in schools because it has long been banned in Australia . At one school I visited, a teacher was administering 'bastido' to a student who had not done his homework. The student, minus his shoes was kneeling on the floor, having the soles of his feet beaten with a cane. The students are philosophical about this. In a debate which we had about it later, my older students said things like," The teacher who hits you, does it because he loves you and wants you to succeed," or "one rotten apple spoils the batch."
On the other hand, everyone was shocked when I sent a disruptive student out of the classroom - common practice in Australia when a student stops the rest of the class from getting on with their work. There were outraged calls from the parents, earnest talks with the directors and the tearful student never returned to class -the exclusion was only supposed to be for a few minutes or possibly the rest of the lesson - because of the extreme loss of face. It was a sharp reminder that just when I think I am starting to get to know Korea, there are indeed cultural differences and outsiders will probably always be 'foreigners."

These are not necessarily criticisms. The whole point of going to other countries as far as I am concerned, apart from looking at different scenery, is to discover different ways of doing things and different ways of looking at the world and to challenge our existing way of thinking. If there were no differences, we would learn nothing and there would be no point in travelling.

The Boryeong Mud Festival

Entrance to Boryeong

On a much lighter note, by mid -July things get even crazier, with the beginning of the Boryeong Mud Festival. This weeklong orgy on Dacheon Beach attracts over a million visitors. From the sound of the accents around me, 'foreigners' are well represented, with about a 3: 1 ratio of US servicemen to English teachers. Everyone is in excessively good spirits.
When you first get there bouncer -types try to put you into the Mud Prison. This is for people who look too clean. Blue mud people emerge from pools and slides.There is a Human Mud Sculpture Contest in progress, a photography competition and an unrelated shamanistic performance further down the beach. The Mud King Contest is eagerly awaited because it carries a three million Won prize (Don't get too excited, that's about $AU 3,000) and there are prizes too, for a Mud Marathon somewhere far down on the tidal flats.

What the.....?

It's all good clean fun and a chance to let off steam, if you don't mind getting a little dirty.
In the evening, all the seafood restaurants are busy and all the hotels are full. The beach rocks to the sound of a huge concert and at the end, a spectacular fireworks display lights up the night sky.


It's Mud Prison for those who look too clean

Practising for the Human Mud Sculpture Contest

Typical Korean Restaurant with BBQ in the middle of the table.
Why do all young Koreans give you the Victory sign when they see you taking a photo?

Next morning it's raining, so I opt for an only slightly less public wallow at the Boryeong Mud Skin Care Centre. The mud is said to contain many trace elements and have rejuvenating effects. I am still waiting.....

When Daecheon isn't hosting the Mud Festival, it is a busy port for the nearby islands. My sightseeing mission to Sapsido island isn't very successful as the monsoon breaks and the rain hammers down the entire time I am there. Thankfully Kim Kwangsik and friends, students from Seoul cram me into their already crowded van and take me to the other ferry terminal at the far end of the island or I would have been soaked and stranded there all night. They also give me an umbrella which goes on to do sterling service on sundry other disastrous missions.

On the news that night, I hear that Typhoon Ewinar (Indonesian for Storm God) has wrought havoc all over the peninsula. Eighteen people have been killed and five hundred homes in Seoul have been flooded. Aid is being sent to North Korea where the damage is much worse.

Women collect shellfish between torrential showers on Sapsido Island