Solongseeyoutomorrow’s Blog

January 30, 2009

3 weeks

Filed under: Uncategorized — solongseeyoutomorrow @ 11:31 pm

Action-packed, as I think the New Year’s week is for most here — the official holiday was Monday and Tuesday; we could feel the city drain a bit but we were in the thick of it (on the roads) when the hoards returned (a 15 mile drive took nearly 3 hours! — all part of the experience; oddly though, many were men alone in their cars — when I asked, one woman suggested it might be men having gone off after their household chesa (the rituals for the ancestors on New Year’s morning) to “play”; I wonder if it wasn’t men alone doing New Year’s greetings and grave visits (other folks have agreed with me). In a phone (skype — we are paying $5/mo. for limitless phone calls to the U.S.!) conversation with my dear friend Karen Winter-Nelson last week, Isaac chimed in to say that he was very excited about the saebae (i.e., the New Year’s bowing (with some monetary rewards)). This prompted 14 year old Ezra to wonder whether he could still bow at his age which in turn prompted me to ask So Jin (who we had spent the holiday with) and Jiwon (the 15 year old daughter of my old friend — and I pride myself because I formally introduced him to his wife); true to their ages, So Jin wrote to Karen to say that one bows to their parents as long as they are alive, while Jiwon wrote with a kid’s eye, namely offering until what age one could bow (for cash) (until marriage generally, but in the case of her family she continues to see her grandparents give her parents money!). Meanwhile So Jin chirped in to say that she had been thinking that perhaps college students should no longer to be given cash this way, but her siblings persisted so she had no choice but to give as well. (After I began writing this someone told me that in his family his parents and married siblings give money to one another during the bow (the kids go first); yet others have mentioned the considerable financial burden of these payments). Just this morning the 3 kids were video skyping with the girls’ friend Ellen and they were performing the bow for her — and they were also showing her video clips (through skype) of the 1st birthday party we went to (will get to that). And, while I’m on the topic of the new technologies, Karen had already (by the time of her son Ezra’s query) found the Korean New Year’s bow on Youtube. How is one to keep up?

I have always liked the Japanese expression “hana yori dango” meaning “more than the flowers, the rice-cakes” — meaning when people’s attentions go to the more material/crass than the spirit (in this case during the formal “flower watching” in the Japanese spring). All that to say that it is odd (or not so, really) that I have described the money given on the holiday before the holiday. With no further ado. Isaac and I got into the mood the Sunday before with a visit to the “Korean house village” at Namsan (i.e., the have transported a “traditional” rural yangban (former elites) complex where they were doing many “traditional” games, demonstrations, and performances. Isaac pushed a metal ring, swung at a top with a string to keep it going, took in a wonderful drumming performance, pounded sticky rice to make ddôk, etc., together with the “Evanston boys.” (There had been a possibility that Isaac would visit the boys’ home to which he said: “Mom how would you feel if it’s your second week and you’re having your first play date!” — he seems very content to go ‘when he is ready’). It was bitter cold and he was a great sport and I relented (like all kids, he was pretty persistent) and bought him two wooden swords (one for Simone of course who for some reason loves sword fighting) (what was I thinking? The apartment is big but not that big and the swords were quickly broken and confiscated by Andy!) The crowd (not so large actually) was mostly Chinese! I chatted with a family from Taiwan on vacation — I would have loved to know if the others were resident or not. (Andy and the girls explored a water wheel in the neighborhood and a mountain behind (Ansan) which we all hiked almost all the way up yesterday (Andy read yesterday–he is busily finding hiking maps for Seoul) that it was the scene of an enormous Korean War battle with many deaths) (we are baffled why there is no residential development there — but appreciative and also of the remarkable network of what appear to be newly groomed paths, lookouts, and as with the mountain above us, remarkable vita parcours (that’s what we call it after the European exercise stations that dot their hills as well). (Since I wrote this I have found out that it was citizen activism that saved the hill from apartment building and that downstairs Yon-mi’s Dad was very involved. We’ll have to ask him about it).

As for the day of New Year’s, the kids slept in (we watched Titanic the night before such that all New Year’s Day all Isaac wanted to talk about was other ship-sinking but most of all to learn from Andy about all the technologies that today — continued risks aside — make Titanic-like events less likely; I think asking for more was Isaac’s was of calming himself) and by the time I called So Jin it was pretty clear that we would miss the family chesa. But, they waited. Andy drove: muttering a bit on the way about the different way that Koreans tend to direct people to their abodes. The chesa table with the dark wood dishes (many of them) was set up in front of a folding screen and piled high with goodies — the fruit of So Jin and her mother-in-law’s effort. When I kept telling Isaac that these were offerings for the ancestors he wanted to know when they would eat it all. Later he learned when So Jin told us that now we would have to wait a bit for the ancestors to eat before we could. So Jin’s husband, Byoung-young — with his parents looking on and chiming in and with the help of a ritual handbook propped on the shelf — guided everyone through the bowing and greeting of both living and dead. And, yes, the kids were elated to receive New Year’s money from So Jin and her in-laws. But when we went to spend it and he realized the value-of-money and that with ALL that it would only turn into a single stuffed animal, he was saddened (we were at the underground shoppng haven, Co-ex). Ah. It was lovely to observe the way in which So Jin and Byoung-young and his parents took the occasion to share with Hyemin their hopes for her into the New Year: that she study well, be well-mannered etc. At least as a parent, I think it’s great to have/make those occasions, to single out what we care about. Hyemin, Isaac’s age, bowed to us too! All told our kids to have a great time in Korea! Although serious, there was nothing stiff or off-putting to the occasion and we all felt very comfortable there. And then the screen and offerings — after the ancestors’ time to eat — were folded up, and tucked away (there is a special trunk) and we ate. When Byoung-young lit a piece of paper (I should know what it was but I don’t) to send the ancestors away (he stepped out of the apartment into the hall), Isaac explained that the flame must be guiding them back, which So Jin agreed captured to spirit perfectly. (The girls will complain — if they ever read this far — that I am (yet again) lavishing far too much praise on Isaac!)

What a feast. And then a bit later we headed to So Jin’s temple, the Hanmaum Seon (Korean zen) Center ( founded by a woman, now in her 80s, Master Daehaeng. I know that the Center/temple has been an important place of refuge, learning, prayer, and comradeship for So Jin (once I enjoyed a whole dinner hearing all about So Jin’s intensive many-month-long training there — and So Jin’s peace-of-mind is enough to make me want to follow in her footsteps). I think it was 5 stories, and floors 3, 4, and 5 are enormous, completely open, prayer chambers (with 5’s televised on 3 and 4), and with 5’s decorated with more traditional painted wooden ceiling etc. And all floors with a Buddha. The building is quite new, although on the location of the old temple. We arrived, knowingly, after the temple’s chesa ceremony and thus saw the temple emptied. It was beautiful and peaceful and it was lovely to meet several of the people who had joined So Jin for her intensive training (I could feel their bond) and to see the lovely garden which includes a beautiful relief of the Master feeding ducks in Germany (an adherent there — there are many — took a photo that inspired the relief), beautiful clay mosaics (several again with my favorite decorative motif of 10-good luck symbols), and many other delights for the eye, including the beautiful way in which 7 golden spheres on the top of the stupa in the garden replicate the 7 golden spheres on the top of the temple. I took a picture of them together and was pleased, only to find out in the gift shop that such a shot is nearly canonical! So Jin described — I forget if it was heresay — how the Master herself oversaw the erecting of the spheres on the garden stupa, wanting to be sure of their safety. I loved that detail and the image of the 80s-something Master lovingly overseeing the finishing touches of this garden. Another detail: So Jin told me that she has taken to greeting people on the New Years with “In the New Year, make lots of god fortune” rather than the standard, “In the New Year, receive lots of goof fortune.” Smile. And a lovely bit of luck. Some parishioners (not sure what to say) had already begun making the lanterns for the spring lantern festival: we headed to the temple basement to find a young man and woman each practicing their ink and brush drawings (of standard motifs) and the architecture made of some of them made of think wooden thread-like rods. When asked they explained that the painting/coloring — volunteer work that runs 100s of hours — is a religious practice itself. It looked appealing to me; I like repetition of that sort!

Another highlight was Shim-il’s first birthday celebration with nearly 50 people! Shim-il is the grandson of the woman who I called So-yeon’s Mother in my book on women and melodrama inSouth Korea. I’ve known the family since 1983 and Shim-il’s Dad since he was quite a young boy. Shim-il’s Mom is Chinese and the family lives in Shanghai. Most gathered were the relatives on So-yeon’s Mother’s side as well as a number of Cathedral (they are Catholic) folks (priests and other folks) because Shim-il’s grandfather is the president of his congregation. I was on cloud nine to see so many people I know and like in one place and to meet all of the 20-something cousins; we were seated (it was a long table at a lovely restaurant) next to them and they were a cosmopolitan group with many studies abroad among them. Andy was immediately comfortable (wine helped) and as one of the cousins had his fiancée with and was about to marry there was lots of fodder for fun banter. Nearing the end of the party the soon-to-groom handed out his wedding invitations to all at the party (us included); Andy joked that we would be numbers 645-650 (the size of their “mid-size” wedding had already been a topic of conversation; if not for the fact that we will be in Japan then, we would go!). So-yeon’s Father who I say quite a bit about in that book, faults aside, is a man who knows how to have a good time: he is at home in a crowd and an entertainer par excellence. Even now, I keep asking myself, what made that party so much fun when it could have been stiff and perfunctory. At the other end of the table was the “altar-like” table set for the baby — piled high with fruits and sweets (standard for such an event). On that table was the tray full of items that the baby — as tradition has it — picks up to foretell his course (will he make money? Be a scholar? Life a long life? etc.) It was fun to watch the little hands (with hovering adults guiding) make their way to an enormous wad of string to predict long life and to a book and ruler to foretell the scholar. Several nights later over pizza dinner with Jiwon (the daughter of the marriage I “arranged” — they had hosted us for a wonderful evening that included a pool, sauna, hot tub, wine, and plum wine; I was barely standing by 10ish) we had ourselves is stitches imagining that there might have been entirely other things on such a table: chains to predict a criminal, a microphone a rock star etc. etc. The conversation was devishly irreverent which the kids somehow “got.” I nearly cried laughing. (I had visions of it on Youtube). (later Q-ho told me that these days with money being everything some people attach coins to everything on the tray (books and brushes included) so that the baby can’t avoid symbols or economic well-being! I insisted that this must be a joke but he said no). Back to the party. Shim-il (meaning one heart) seemed a bit overwhelmed by all the Korean (he had only been here 2 days) but smiled when we spoke English to him — he won our hearts. So-yeon’s Mother called me to ask what I thought of her Chinese daughter-in-law. I liked her: tall, frank, and remarkably at ease in this most-difficult of situations (she speaks no Korean). But, not surprisingly, she had lots to say; this historically fragile relationship of mother and daughter-in-law is made ever more so by this sort of international marriage, of which there are more and more in South Korea (some 15% of marriages; largely, however, to resident foreign workers or the marriages of migrant brides to farmers who find themselves stranded in the countryside where no South Korean girl wants to settle). Seo-yeon’s Mother asked me to meet her son to remind him of the importance of remembering Korea (and teaching Shim-il Korean) but he leaves today and it didn’t happen.

As if all this wasn’t enough eventful, Carmen had a very special visit two evenings ago: of the deaf couple we met selling hôtddôk (sweet rice panckes) on a truck. We had been corresponding by texting (Frances, I did learn how!) and it took many days for us to find a free night! (Don’t ask Andy what he thinks of our schedule, but things are calming down). They arrived with their 15 year old (13 American age) daughter who is not deaf and can translate her parents’ signing with ease. The father doesn’t speak and can’t read lips; the very active and expressive mother speaks (I can make it out but it takes work) and read lips. Both parents are educated (the Mom seems to have a college degree); they do the truck on the weekends and during the week it seems that the Mom is busy with various work with deaf people and the father polishes cars. This New Years, what with things being tight, they opted on selling the pancakes rather than visiting. (Soo-Jung told me last night that the ski area she went to on the New Years was nearly empty. So the economic crisis is running its course here too.) For nearly 3 hours Carmen and Sôn-a’s Mom compared ASL (American Sign Language) and Korean sign language (which they told me is a colonial period product and similar to Japanese sign language — I will have to look into this). The Mother took copious notes and we all had a ball. The signs were all slightly different, but many of them somewhat intelligible — it was so much fun comparing. We all got the biggest laugh when we figured out that the ASL sign for being born (one hand sliding under the other) is the Korean sign for putting in a video. Carmen was at her best: enthusiastically explaining even the many ASL jokes that she knows (they were VERY hard to translate). Many year ago I translated Japanese at a deaf school in Hartford (I was traveling with the then young-adult peace activist children of atomic bomb victims) and I remember so clearly how very interested the kids were in me and my speaking Japanese (this was after weeks of being on the road where I was having invisibility blues — I felt like not much more than a mouth-piece much of the time). That evening too it was as if we were all sort of enjoying the joy of translation in and of itself. They brought a mocca cake that was divine and I felt terrible when I had to say that I needed to feed my family dinner. Likely Carmen and I will head there one afternoon next week.

Other highlights:

A lovely lunch with my long-term RA’s parents, sister, and brother-in-law at a hotel buffet with — to the kids’ delight — a chocolate fondue waterfall of sorts. Everything else became appetizers to the altar. Jiyeon’s Dad is an avid snow boarded, skier, and hiker and had spent the New Years afternoon and evening till midnight skiing. His wife had joined his trips when younger but when he began to snowboard she found herself left behind and prefers to stay home for quieter fare. In the few days since, Jiyeon has been offered an academic job in the U.S. and I am so happy for all of them. Crazily, I asked Jiyeon if I could offer her a spring RAship in Seoul and she obliged (so she will come soon). I am terribly spoiled, what with Q-ho “the great” (he has done everything from detective work — finding old friends — to bringing rice for our family from his hometown; I hope I can return the favors into the future) who has eased all of our transitions here (he is one of Haejoang’s students) and Jiyeon soon to come.

A dinner here of 5 (!!) anthropologists of Korea (So Jin, Erica Vogel (studying Peruvians here), Seo Young Park studying the Tongdaemun market (women, time, production), and that was how I was able to see Laura Nelson again and it was so much fun). I know of 6 people doing anthropological (or kindred) research here so we will meet monthly. Also met and old friend of an old friend who is studying gaming in Korea and has a fabulous blog on things-internet: (for the academically inclined I recommend her most recent co-authored publication that explains South Korea’s uniqueness for resisting (Japanese) console-based (e.g., the Wii) gaming and instead doing internet-based games, often at the ubiquitous so-called PC-bang (i.e., rooms)). And when Florence came over, so did John Cho (one of my students who is still field-working here) and Hae Yeon Choo who I met at the Monterey SSRC (first) Korea Workshop last summer and is studying Filipina laborers, sex workers, and brides (she is happy to have me visit her in the field which would be very special for me).

A lovely dinner hosted by Yang Han-sun, a former student who just landed a tenure-track job and was kind enough to feel compelled to take a group of Illinois-anthro folks (me, So Jin, Soo Jung, John, Josie, and Hye-young) out to a delicious dinner. Those of us with kids shared the woes (and joys) of child-rearing. As is so often the case, folks in Seoul don’t see one another (what with busy lives, and in a crowded city) so my visit prompted their reunion (again!). But I missed the Hapkido exhibition at which all three kids punched pieces of balsa wood (to split it) and apparently succeeded. By the time I left the studio, Isaac was being coddled by a big group of older boys and the girls were ensconced in a group of slightly older teens who each of whom was communicating with hand motions to say that all of the others in the group were nuts. I could see friendships in the making. The kids are continuing their Korean with Yon-mi downstairs and by now the girls can read han’gul and say interesting things like “parking lot” and “subway.” And Kay (Kayoun) who taught them in preschool at home and is just back from finishing her Ed PhD has found the kids another lovely teacher who can spend some hours here. This is music to my ears because these are long weeks with little child care!

FINALLY, and I mean it, So Jin (through her artist brother and sister-in-law) have found me an oil painting teacher. Yes, it makes no sense to come to Seoul and learn oil painting, but I have the time. So. I can’t wait to begin.

Whoops, two more little things. One. I love apartment living. Andy and I spend lots of time at the same table (in the early morning). The kitchen fans out into the dining-living open space so I never feel isolated there. And every room is easily accessible such that even though the apartment is spacious it all seems easier. And day by day there are touches of Haejoang’s that move me: the photo from our New Year’s card shortly after Isaac’s birth is hanging on the sliding door to the kitchen; the laminated card from this year with the photo that Tom Bassett took of the kids at a New Hampshire beach when they were in boogie board heaven is propped on the shelf at the door; and a welcome sign to Carmen and Simone with a purple ribbon hang’s on the door to the room that Simone and Isaac decided to share. My Mom has always been a big believer in welcome signs and as I was much less efficient than my other siblings with practical contributions to household labor, they were my province and I loved them (placenames for the table too). In our family it is Carmen who tends to take this on. Two, I finally figured out one of the reasons I love Seoul: over half of the country lives in Seoul and vicinity and everyone else isn’t very far away anyways. So, everyone I know here is nearby. That is a luxury that we so don’t have in the U.S. Actually, as it turns out, I will see many more American friends here in Seoul than I would at home (a number of old friend will pass through, even those without obvious Korea connections!)

Mom, you still here?


January 22, 2009

2 weeks…

Filed under: Uncategorized — solongseeyoutomorrow @ 11:46 pm

Do not want to live to blog, but I am enjoying this rhythm.

What’s not to like: nearly a continuous family vacation. We all need, I fear, a reality check! But, for the moment, we’ll just “enjoy” (when did we all start saying that?)

Lots of excitement here/there. We watched the inauguration (WOW!) at 1:30 a.m. on Feb 20 at a condo at THE South Korean ski resort: Yongpy’ông in Kangwondo — my first visit both to the province and the resort. For his Obama collection Isaac chose to buy a South Korean newspaper that featured Obama swearing in; So Jin and I coaxed him to choose one of the many other newspapers that featured gorgeous photos of the couple dancing, strolling etc. but he insisted on the serious one. Yongpy’ông is vying to host the 2018 winter Olympics and my goodness are they ever ready. A “resort” seems the wrong word for this ski city with its world-class water park, enormous sleeping capacity, nearly 20 lifts…It has been over 20 years since I have skied so it is hard for me to distinguish what is Korean from what is a transformed sport. Nearly half of the people on the mountain (at least on the bunny slope) were show boarding and there are air stations all over the place equipped with nozzles for drying off your skis (i.e., at the end of the day or even as you head into lunch). I was hesitant about skiing — the metal in my leg, the fact that we live on a hill that I can barely walk up even in full tact etc. — but, like riding a bike, it all came back to me. The girls picked up from where they had left off with my sister Ruth and niece Molly a year ago in New Hampshire. It was a first for Isaac and Andy and it was warm and the (made) snow was in great form; Isaac took to it easily and was quickly converted; Byung-ho (who was finishing up his PhD in anthro just as I was applying/arriving in 1990 — he was, I think, instrumental in my hire!) and Jin-su (his brother-in-law) were (again) instrumental in managing Andy’s getting down the hill (I think it took OVER an hour) at which point Andy announced the end of his skiing career (his legs can’t figure themselves into a snow plow and instead he found himself heading down with the speed of a racer (the rest is history and I could barely look)). The girls quickly picked out Jin-su (the better skier) as their personal guide and they went on to tackle a “gold” (green-blue-gold-black) which in hindsight even Carmen admits was a bit ambitious. It was certainly hard to feel the economic crisis, but evidently we were witnessing but a fraction of capacity (it was a weekday). It was definitely a younger set: small kids in large groups (the kids all agreed that American kids would be too unwieldy to handle in such large groups) and college students on break (Isaac quizzed each of his chair-lift mates — the chairlifts are 4 across (a new one for me) and one of them is in an internet-based club that rents a room in the town that the members all share). Red-jacketed, helmeted (required for kids) Isaac was popular on the slopes; he had a blast, but 12 runs did him in and he literally collapsed at 12:30 (we had only purchased morning tickets), balling that he wanted to keep skiing and then that he hated skiing etc. etc. Hats off to Byung-ho for engineering this trip (no small feat), to Andy for trying a new trick at our age (!), to Jin-su for his good cheer in helping all of us, to Ji-young (his daughter) for putting up with us, and to me for braving the sport after such a hiatus. Also noteworthy: Andy took his biggest car trip thus far: 1 hour plus to Byung-ho’s apartment in Sanbon. The English speaking GPS (Haejoang arranged for one) was a help (he braved Seoul driving without it last Saturday to Home-plus; the streets were crazy-crowded, and the store was not to be believed (crowded) — the outing exhausted Simone, Andy, and me (Simone came along to secure baking items and indeed made chocolate chip cookies the very next morning which many friends then enjoyed) and meanwhile Carmen and Isaac played (and watched some TV at home)).

We had a special après-ski treat: a one-hour trip to the coastal city of Gangneung — inspired by my student/friend Jin-Heon who wrote from Urbana to say that this is one of his favorite winter spots (I didn’t even know that Kangwondo was both he and his wife’s “home town” and that So Jin too was born on the Eastern coast). The Gyeonpo (Kyongp’o) beach was beautiful, having been evidently recently completely re-done, razing all the sashimi-dives that have typically dotted most touristy beaches: the result, a gorgeous pristine stretch. Isaac ended up with his pants off (in January) and the girls in bare feet. Kids and beaches simply are a match. Andy couldn’t believe that we had traversed the width of the country which prompted him to figure out which U.S. state best approximates South Korea’s size (his answer: Indiana).

And on this perpetual vacation of ours, there have been more treats. “Evanston Mom” (a very Korean way of referring to the Mom of the boys we met in Evanston), So-yeong took the girls shopping to Namdaemun market (her also stylish unmarried sister joined while her husband was sent home to take care of the boys, only after picking up the girls and delivering all 4 of them to the market!) Five hours later they returned toting many bags (we gave each girl 50,000 won — about $40): skirts, leggings, sweaters, and fabulous scarves (a gift from So-yeong). One of Carmen’s appeals: “We need to fit in with the Korean style” (!) Really cute stuff and all had fun (I think teen shopping is a great thing to sub-contract!) So-yeong is the Mom of 2 boys, so I think she had fun (purportedly So-yeong and her sister commiserated with the girls by telling them that they too much prefer shopping to museums) (how taxing our 30 minute visit to a show on early modern landscapes and calligraphy seems to have been!) (it was beautiful).

When we “dragged” them to the museum (Hapkoje Gallery near Kyôngbokkung Palace) I spotted a hôtddok (sticky rice flour pancakes filled with brown sugar) truck and was compelled because the Seoul I remember had these everywhere (the truck definitely was playing to this nostalgia with a sign about the “taste of yore”). The kids loved them. But the exciting thing was that the couple was deaf. Between the woman’s lip-reading, Carmen’s signing, and writing, we had a nice conversation and have since been texting (although I haven’t figured out Korean language texting yet — next week). Also, a friend of the woman’s called to say that they would arrange to have a deaf person and hearing friend from our neighborhood visit us so that Carmen can begin her forays (she has wanted to learn about Korean signing). I am simply stunned at the easy way in which everything is falling into place, most importantly for the kids. Speaking of which, Alex’s Mom (and Alex) took the girls to Everland amusement park (a good hour outside of Seoul (in Yongin which we passed on the way to the ski area); they came home at 10:30 last night, exhilarated (I’ll leave those details to Carmen’s blog). For his part, Isaac had a treat because Q-ho (anthropologist here who is ably assisting me!) took him to the Palace which the girls had little patience for when we walked through the grounds but which enthralled him. All 3 of them are quite taken with their Chinese zodiac animals: Isaac the snake and the girls the Ox, the year that is about to begin with many festivities this coming Monday (Isaac and I went with So Jin yesterday to buy him a han’bok (Korean traditional clothing) for the day (he was most excited though to learn that the little red purse (a “service” with the purchase) will be filled with coins if he bows to his elders on new years day! Q-ho bought Isaac a reproduction of the snake sculpture at the Palace and last night he did a beautiful sketch of it. Taking photos in front of their zodiac animal is becoming a pastime and we are in good Korean company when we do it (there were beautiful wooden ones at the East coast beach).

Other things:

Isaac has found the “Monicals” (his favorite pizza chain at home) in Seoul: near the Yonsei gate (although he also proclaimed that it is more like the upscale fare at Timpone’s). There he sprinkled parmesan (“the best I have ever tasted,” he said) on the seaweed (kim) that I had in my purse (always safe to have along for Isaac) and proclaimed “kimcheese” which is funny because of its proximity to kimch’i (the pickled cabbage that is Korea’s staple food).

My old friend and fellow anthropologist of Korea Laura Nelson is in town and what a treat to spend an evening together and to have another on the horizon. She is here beginning research on breast cancer in South Korea with many fascinating hypotheses about South Korean (and American) particularities.

After many years of little contact, I had a wonderful meeting with Choong Soon Kim who along with Laurel Kendall welcomed me so kindly to Korean anthropology. He treated me to a fabulous breakfast and we had sooo much fun catching up. He is the President of Korean Digital University and reminded me that his was the first anthropology PhD in the U.S. Into his 70s, he is still furiously writing and has a fascinating book on the horizon on Korea’s multicultural past and present. Now here is a tidbit that was remarkable news to me: 26% of Korea’s 4000 surname sub-groups (i.e., the Kims of Kimae (a place name)) (from 286 surname groups)) are descendents of naturalized Koreans (e.g., from China, Vietnam, Mongolia…) Into the present, his University is making a big push to serve the many foreign wives (and husbands) in South Korea today — particularly in the regions (i.e., outside of greater Seoul).

Yesterday I met Professor Kwang-yeong Shin (Sociology, Chungang U.) who I met first at a conference in Toronto on neoliberalism. It was fascinating to listen to his thoughts about South Korea’s recent changes, particularly in regard to class/inequality. A year ago he began an Inequality study group that I hope to join — he is also part of a group on inequality in East Asia that my old friend Hiroshi Ishida (Tokyo U.) is also active in. Professor Shin said that rather than fret about South Korea’s 880000 won generation (i.e., circa $700 with the devalued won), that is 20-somethings with low paid jobs (who he points out get to live at home), it is the 50-something men who have been forced to retire as early as their late 40s and end up as apartment guards, taxi can drivers (that explains all the drivers who frustrate Andy for hardly knowing their way around), Amway-like salesmen, or eventually small business owners (which helps explain South Korea’s some 50,000 hairdressers and South Korea’s persistent #1 self employment figure (34% of the population, 25% excluding farmers)). He also told me about the dramatic extent of the economic bubble that is now bursting (3X real estate increases (the sense that one had to buy NOW), dramatic rise of the stock exchange etc. South Korea’s currency devaluation is paralleled only by Iceland’s (alas, a good time for those of us with dollars).

Way too long. The New Year this coming Monday and other reunions on the horizon too. Really, who else but Mom and Dad would read this!

January 16, 2009

One week to the day!

Filed under: Uncategorized — solongseeyoutomorrow @ 5:00 am

Just a week, today. And it’s snowing. Crazy how much we have somehow been able to do and still, for my part, feel relaxed. Getting “away” is key: not my house, not my every-day — makes a difference! I teased Carmen that she’ll go home answering to “What did you do in Korea?” with “I blogged”; and I’ll go home replying, “I read Carm’s blog.” Hers is great: much more fun. And I can just refer to her photos until she teaches me those tricks! So, if you haven’t already, do visit: Andy, no surprise, has begun to master his environs; I can talk to the cab drivers, but it is Andy who tells them where to go! The Seoul on-line bus maps are his universe. And today he is off at Seoul National: his first real day at work.

So, the kids. A bit of a routine has taken hold: but Andy and I clamor for more. Just now they are downstairs with Yôn-mi, a 5th grade teacher on winter break, learning the alphabet (han’gul) and some Korean — they can all count a bit now which comes in handy at Hapkido (Korean aikido) where there is lots of movement-to-numbers. Yôn-mi has called in extra support, a teacher of younger kids, for Isaac! Hapkido is a hit; the woman master (sabon-nim) is warm and funny and orchestrates a fun-filled hour that is circus like — every few minutes the act changes and yesterday included breaking some boards (with a seam) in half. The unheated studio seems to be a neighborhood hang-out; and the hours are flexible — every day at 11, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 7 — and they can go twice if they want.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Korea-net is kicking in — and it is large and strong!

My good friend and artist Bea Nettles enjoyed the assistance of a young woman Sim Jana (last name first) last summer and suggested I reach her while she was home on break (she did her BA at the U of I) and is now doing book making at Columbia College). Jana’s father is “Seoul Intangible [i.e., living] Cultural Heritage No. 26 Somok (Door & Window),” namely he carves beautiful wooden, well, doors and windows. With the assistance of Jana’s Mother, he fitted a whole traditional home with his own woodwork; it is a museum of sorts and eventually his family will live there. It is called: Chun Won San Bang (some blog features: The kids took wood shavings as mementos! And Jana has played with door/window motifs in some of her remarkable work ( The kids are invited back to try their hand at it in the courtyard when it warms up — aspiring architect Isaac was thrilled. In the courtyard is a tree on which Sim Yong-sik (the intangible) has placed hand-carved tiny turtles at the base and the branches are full of stylized wooden birds made by a friend of his; and the wall of the courtyard is the work of another friend — a beautiful mosaic (not exactly, since it is all clay, but I don’t know what to call it) of a traditional Korean pattern that features 10 good luck symbols (e.g., the pine, crane, turtle…). I have loved that motif for years and this rendition is breath-taking (a photo will follow).

And the U of I network took me to an amazing event the other evening, a farewell party for Lee Gi-beom (EPS Ph.D. from years ago — I was on his committee) who was stepping down from the directorship of Okedongmu (, an NGO devoted to North Korean children. I was able to see my old friends Soo-Jung and Byung-ho too. I learned how to program my cell and have enjoyed calling many old friends this week — and so lovely to be able to say: there’s no rush, we have months and months ahead.

We did our family’s foreign registration and could see Seoul’s changing demography. So Jin’s house is nearby so we were able to visit her family; I was so happy to see her in-laws who kindly hosted me when I visited several summers ago. For Isaac’s part, he told me that he wants to know what it would feel like to listen to English if you didn’t know even a single word and I told him that it would feel just like it feels for him to be in Korea. He wasn’t convinced and said that he would like to forget all of his English so that he could really know. Josie, another U of I-er here in Seoul, called this poetic!

And have we been eating well. Simone fell in love with Casa Della Luce at Yonsei’s East Gate. And we followed cousin Kathy’s recommendation to waffles at the Café at the Ilmin Museum in downtown Seoul ( WOW, a thick waffle topped with whipped cream and fruit and it seems that waffles are “in” in Seoul these days and that there are whole neighborhoods known for them! And, yes, we are enjoying Korean fare too and the fabulous cooking of the once-a-week cook that we inherited (for a price, of course) with the house. Isaac is basking in kim (Korean “nori” (in Japanese) or seaweed) which many friends have brought him. And U of I-er Hee Jung’s mother brought us so much delicious kimch’i yesterday and the Korean version (I think) of the Japanese “Christmas cake” — lots of whipped cream — the girls loved it!

That about says it. Skiing in Kangwondo on the horizon! And Carmen is counting the days until Everland with Alex, the grandson of my old friend, So-yôn’s mother, next Thursday. Sunday we have a hike planned — and Carmen a shopping spree with the stylish Mom of the Evanston boys, Soo-Jung. Simone might check out jazz dance in the neighborhood. And I have found a pool — now to mobilize myself back into that groove.

January 11, 2009

Day 4 in Seoul

Filed under: Uncategorized — solongseeyoutomorrow @ 9:29 pm

My first blog. Wouldn’t even be able to post if Carmen hadn’t started hers first and told me what to do. Thank goodness for millenial kids. In a word, we are lucky: an old friendship has afforded us a beautiful apartment — 4 bedrooms, 3 lofts, nestled in the hills in Seoul’s NW. This  is an old neighborhood  with an old neighborhood feel. A far cry from the cutting edge of Seoul life South of the Han River. Haejoang (our host) left us a childhood friend (who long ago married a Korean settler in Taiwan — from the colonial era) who oversaw this apartment’s recent maekover (it is incredible!) to help us settle in for a couple of days: now we know the ropes: the various garbage collecting, the groceries down the steep (really) hill that stores will deliver, the bus routes. Ch’unhui-ssi has now gone her way to Jeju Island to be with her Mom in her 90s (we plan to visit her) (I’ve  never been to South Korea’s tropical island and its about time) (Her daughter is here learning Korean at Yonsei — her Mom wants her to learn the can/will do spirit of Koreans that she finds lacking in Taiwan’s warmer climate and mindset!).  Meanwhile Haejoang gave Andy a driving lesson (he was great) and she is arranging for English GPS and she has made all sorts of other arrangements too: at 10 this morning we head to the kids’s school neighborhood for MW 10-12 soccer for Carmen and Isaac (and we knock on a little ballet studio door for Simone); the 10 year old boy on  the first floor will knock today at 4:30 to take all 3 kids to the neighborhood hapkido (a taekwondo-like marital art); and Yonmee from the third floor  (a twenty-something school teacher on winter break (winter break is South Korea’s summer break, i.e., long) will knock and get started with Korean lessons for the kids (our “villa”- the word for small apartment buildings — has 7 units; a far cry from the much more typical huge apartment complexes that pretty much ARE the Seoul landscape). So, Haejoang has been busy on our behalf!! The kids have already seen their school ( and met (very briefly) all their teachers who happened to be in a faculty meeting (they are young!) School doesn’t start until March 1 which is why Andy and I are grateful  for all of these other arrangements.  Soon we will be more solo as Haejoang heads to Japan and Nepal (afterwards she will  live with a friend for the duration — incredible right! her generosity). (Andy is free to use her car but driving in Seoul is not for the faint). Other than seeing So Jin (my old friend and former student) and Q-ho (Haejoang’s student  who will be helping  me with my work while I am here) who were kind enough to pick us up at 6 am on Jan 9, I have not begun to make contact with my Korea network. It is SO lovely to come here and not feel the need to power-connect; it has been about 12 years since I lighted into Korea for more than 10 days. With 7 months,  I can take it slow. The only friends we connected with are Isaac’s: 2 little boys and their parents who we met in Evanston when we subletted last summer — they brought toys (to lend — the perfect tonic for Isaac, including han’gul (alphabet) magnets for the fridge) and “kim” (seaweed), Isaac’s trademark food) and they took us to a tofu-specialty shop down the road where Isaac fell asleep under the table (in one of those rooms with the low tables that you snuggle into with the warmed floor). And yesterday we went to Seoul’s premier bookstore (Kyobo) and bought Korea’s Lonely Planet guide (NK is included), Obama’s autobiography (it was sold  out in Urbana’s best bookstore), maps to quench Andy’s desires for detail (although now he is hooked on the “Seoul Metropolitan Bus Map” which does it all, building by building; he’s been at it now for over 2 hours), and a play-do kitchen set for Isaac (he is really missing his things from home). This is an odd genre: no question my parents will want to read every-word, but as for the rest of you, I by no means mean to presume this level of interest. The best editor it seems will be time: i.e., not coming in too often. Let me close on the lovely serendipity that my cousin Kathy spent several years in Seoul several years ago and is able  to get us started on some healthy Korea tourism  — I am delighted this  visit to be a  tourist! The researcher gig is old hat; these are new ropes.

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