Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An Example of the Korean Social Structure During a Fourth of July Barbecue

This was the second time that I have been abroad for the Fourth of July, the first time was four years ago when I was in Greece. My family has never really had a tradition when it comes to Independence Day; usually I just go with the flow and end up watching the sky catch on fire from a random hill in the east bay. So I am not one to get particularly homesick over missing the Fourth. But since we were in a foreign country we were all feeling about as patriotic as a group of Political Science enthusiasts could feel, so we figured we should do something special to celebrate. Professor McCuan decided to take us to a restaurant that he had gone to the week prior with the president and the dean of Jeju National University.   Professor McCuan also invited Ko and insisted that he had to join us for dinner because it was the Fourth of July. Ko had no idea of the significance of the date and was probably wondering why the insane American professor kept raving about a random day in July. Unfortunately Ko could not attend the dinner because is infant daughter had developed a fever, we were sad that he could not attend but of course understood.
We took a pair of taxis down to the restaurant, as we drove into Jeju City it was apparent that we were not going to the main downtown area. Rather we were in a less dense and obviously more traditional area of the city filled with Korean restaurants and traditional Korean bars.  There area was clear of the usual droves of high school students that convene around downtown.

Like the area around it the restaurant itself was also quiet and traditional. It was decorated with traditional Korean calligraphy which hung above the clean wooden floors. In the corner was entrance to the kitchen which framed by photos of the cuts of raw meat that the restaurant had to offer. When you don’t speak the local language menus with photos on them are your best friend. The owner with her popeye-like forearms sat down at our table, since we had made reservations the side dishes were already set up for us and the coals were already heating up the barbeque on the table in front of us. To the right of our table there was a long dining room filled with Korean businessmen but hidden from view by opaque screens.
Again we ate barbequed pork but this time we switched up the second course to include mouthwateringly savory beef. After each bite I was engulfed in carnivorous ecstasy, sending me into a Dionysian-like intoxication driven by my palate being overwhelmed with the taste of the supple flesh of young bovine. Okay I am exaggerating, slightly. Saying the food was delicious over and over again is dull. During the meal I began to noticed something; the owner was giving 85% of her attention to one side of the table, the side table that happened to be all male.  She waited on us hand and foot; getting us forks, replenishing our drinks, replacing side dishes and helping us build our lettuce wraps. Erica and Holly received decent service but anywhere near the same amount of service we received. Our hostess actually took beef from Holly and Erica’s barbeque and gave it to us, I felt bad for this beef thievery by proxy.

When we finished up our meal the hostess thanked us in order of our hierarchical seniority, first Professor McCuan then Ethan then me and then a brief nod to Holly and Erica. It was an interesting cultural experience, it was the first time that I really noticed the hierarchy that I had read about prior to visiting Korea.  I think that it is more relaxed in the youth culture or perhaps just not as obvious to foreigners. I think in America we still have a similar hierarchy which is much more passively “enforced” than the Koreans. This is a completely anecdotal account though so I don’t really want to make sweeping generalizations about the culture of Korea based on a single dining experience. I do think it will be interesting for me to compare the role of women in Korea and Sweden. They seem to be polar opposites, Korean culture encourages gender roles whereas Sweden actively tries to destroy any accidental socialization of gender stereo types and has gone as far as creating a gender neutral pronoun for a person. Maybe after a year in Sweden I will be ready to make sweeping generalizations about gender based solely on observations. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

April Third Peace Park

On Tuesday July 3rd, Ko planned a much more somber trip then our previous excursions. We were going to the April Third Peace Park.  The April Third Peace Park was built in the early 2000s after the Korean government formally acknowledged and apologized for the horrendous massacres that occurred on Jeju Island from April 1948 to 1953. As I explained in my previous post the Korean government covered up the massacre going as far as jailing those who tried to expose the truth. It was not until 2006 that the Korean government formally apologized for their role in the massacre.

Before leaving for the April Third Peace Park we were given an article which explained the history of the incident. The article was very critical of the American role in the massacre. At the time of the massacre the American military was the de-facto government of Korea and largely encouraged the suppression of the “uprising”. I was nervous that the peace park would be unfairly anti-American.  But I decided to clear my head of this preconceived view of how the museum and Peace Park might portray the incident and try to view the museum as unbiased as I possibly could.

Ko had commissioned a bus to take us to the Peace Park which is located east of Jeju National University but still deep in the interior of the island. The weather was perfect. The sky was deep blue with clouds cutting through the sky as the sun beamed down on us. We zoomed along the countryside passing horse farms and open fields of green. Eventually we cut into a wooded area of the interior which was incredibly tranquil and stunningly green. The bus driver seemed to know the roads well as he barreled around turns taking up the entire roadway; I figured he had some sort of psychic ability which allowed him to be confident that there were no cars coming in the opposite direction. I figured our ten tons of bus would protect us from any oncoming two door Hyundai so I was not too worried about the possibility of a violent death on the way to the Peace Park. As emerged from the forest we were again surrounded by the green fields of the foothills of Mt. Halla. After traveling down the mountain for a bit the bus pulled into a parking lot which sat adjacent to a building which looked like an upturned UFO, Ko announced that we had arrived at the Peace Park.

We went directly to the museum, it was getting late and we didn’t want to miss the last tour. The interior of the museum is very spacious, with polished stone pillars leading supporting the high ceilings and freshly buffered stone floors. Ko lead us to the front desk where there were five or six smiling museum attendants, he has a quick conversation in Korean and then tell us that we will have a tour guide and he will translate for her. We were then lead down a ramp which has been built to resemble a cave, a homage to those who hid in caves to avoid being killed during the massacre.  At the end of the hallway is a circular room with a rectangular cut of marble in the center. The room had no ceiling rather the walls lead up about fifty feet to open air which allowed for natural light to penetrate into the otherwise dim room. The tour guide explained that the reason the cut of marble was lying flat and had no markings was because the April 3rd Incident has no true name and the marble will only be lifted and engraved when there is an official name of the incident.

The tour guide led us from room to room which gave an overview of Jeju before the massacre, during the massacre and after the massacre. The exhibits were incredibly well done, providing original documents and sources.  I am going to provide a brief summary of what I learned about the April 3rd Incident from the peace park. On April 3rd 1948, police from the mainland fired upon demonstrators at rally celebrating the emancipation over Japanese rule.   The shootings occurred after a police officer’s horse accidently trampled a small child. The police officer did not stop to see if the condition of the child rather he kept moving forward. Demonstrators saw this and started to yell at the police officer, when the police officer continued to ignore them stones were thrown and the police officers retaliated by firing upon the protestors, killing nine.

This shooting caused cascading effects, Jeju had a somewhat strong socialist party. The shooting by the extreme right police officers, who were chosen by the US government, only strengthened the left leaning party as droves of people when to join them after the shooting. The left party organized and burned down several police stations and polling stations for the upcoming election. The US military saw this as an act of outright communist rebellion and brought far right dissenters from the north to go and stop the rebellion by any means necessary.  Bringing in far right ideologues only exacerbated the conflict leading to a complete breakdown in peace talks.  Moderate military officers who wanted to pursue peace talks were promptly fired by the US military and were replaced by officials who would follow orders. The interior of the island was designated “kill and burn zone” anything and anyone in that area was to be destroyed. This included the all of those who fled to the interior early on during the conflict when there was fighting in the city. By 1949, between 14,000 and 60,000 people were killed during the massacres that followed the April Third Incident. For the next fifty years the massacre was covered up. The official story was that there were communists in Jeju and they were killed. It was not until 2006 that the South Korean government apologized for the massacre and it was only in 2009 when an official report documenting the massacre was released.   

The entrance to the April 3rd museum 

A close up of the banner

A section of the Berlin Wall

Looking up from the room with the "Unnamed Monument" 

A US Military map of Jeju Island

One of the many stops on our tour with Ko translating for our tour guide

Most of the exhibits were set up like this. Very well done with equal parts English and Korean.  The lighting was very dim so a lot of my photos came out sub-par. 

A part of an official US Military document regarding the massacre that has since been declassified. 

A meeting with American generals and Korean generals on Jeju Island. The man on the far right wanted to take a more moderate route dealing with the any rebels. He was quickly reassigned. 

More shots of the exhibits 

The museum was incredibly fair and balanced. The purpose of the museum is not to assign blame or try to gain justice for those massacred rather it seeks to educate people on the existence of this massacre.  The simple act of recognizing the fact that the massacre occurred is needed in order for families to reach peace about how their ancestors died. For nearly 60 years those who suffered through the massacre and those whose families were torn apart by the massacre were forbade from the simple act of acknowledging the event that shaped their families history. There was also a feeling of shame and guilt attached to having relatives who died during the massacre because the Korean government framed the massacre as a killing of communist rebels who were sympathetic to the north. So if you were to acknowledge that your relatives were killed during the massacre you were essentially saying your relatives were communist which is a horrible accusation in South Korea .

After our tour of the museum we walked around the park. The sun was beginning to set but the sky was still wonderfully blue and clear. The park is stunningly beautiful and peaceful. We only explored the area immediately outside of the museum but we could see even more monuments in the distance. It was nice to have an area of tranquility to reflect on the tragedy that had occurred on Jeju Island sixty years before. I asked Ko if anyone ever talked about the massacre when he was growing up, he told me that nobody spoke of the massacre and the few times that anyone did speak of the massacre they said that it was just the killing of communist rebels in Jeju and that it was a good thing. Jung Lee a professor from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey who grew up on the mainland of Korea said she never learned anything about the massacre. 

As an American walking through the museum and seeing the truth of the massacre is very unsettling. I am not at all a person who thinks that America is some god-like country who can do no wrong and has done no wrong. I have learned about the evils of that America has perpetuated throughout my country’s history. Even though I knew about the atrocities and were disgusted by them, I would always somehow rationalize them.  Walking through the museum on the island where the massacre occurred made it impossible to rationalize the actions of the US government and be comfortable about it. The US military amplified the extremes of both the far right and far left on Jeju Island by arming the far right and allowing them to kill without discretion. Without the US intervention the April Third Incident may have been peacefully resolved rather than escalading into mass violence.  But the museum was not trying to assign blame to the United States military; rather it just displayed the facts. It was clear that the only motive of the museum was to try to bring attention to the fact that this massacre occurred and that there was a cover up of the true story. The museum and the Peace Park are the start of a long delayed mourning process for those who died during the massacre over sixty years ago.

The plaza outside of the April 3rd museum 

More shots of the plaza 

A lily pond looking next to the plaza

The park stretched out farther in that direction but we did not have time to visit. 

View of the museum from the lily pond. Apparently on the upper two decks there is a wall with  the names of all of those who died during the massacre, unfortunately we did not have time to view the wall.

4.3 Incident. Americans are weird and count the day before the month.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mexican Monday

The Start of Week Two of Exploring Jeju

We decided to hit up Jeju City after class to get some early dinner at Zapata’s in Jeju City. Yes we decided to get Mexican food in Korea. Apparently Zapata's is one of the few Mexican  restaurants on Jeju and generally considered the best. I like our track record of exploring the various foreign food restaurants in Jeju. It does give a good perspective; we see the Korean take on Mexican food. Largely in America we see the American take on Mexican food. I ordered a quesadilla which to my surprise was just two triangles of quesadilla, not the massive semi-circle I was expecting. But no matter, it was stuffed with beef and delicious delicious cheese. There really is not that much cuisine here which utilizes cheese and as soon as I bit into that quesadilla I remembered how much I had missed the melted and gooey dairy product. It speaks to how globalized the world is when a bunch of Americans can sit in a restaurant in Korea and eat Mexican food. The meal really hit the spot.

Afterwards we explored the city more looking to find a nice place to relax and perhaps grab a beer, unfortunately most places were closed, it being a Monday and all. We finally found a little coffee shop overlooking the street and had a cup of coffee and just relaxed. The rain and heat made walking fairly uncomfortable and we were all pretty beat. It was a nice slow Monday  that was slightly less lazy then Sunday. 
Zapata's interior in Jeju City
Inside of Zapata's, interesting choice of decor.

Zapata's menu, I do not think chili fries are a traditional Mexican meal. 

Borris's Brewery was sadly closed

Shots of the rainy roadways of Jeju City

LEGO education center. Probably the most fun education center ever.

Karaoke Korean Style

Saturday Night

 Once we got back to the dorm I immediately took a three hour nap. I was exhausted from all of the climbing, speed boating and eating.  I woke up at 8PM so the night was still young.  All of the students decided that it would be fun to go to a noraebang (노래방) which is Korean Karaoke lounge.  Karaoke in Asia works much differently than it does in America. Rather than going to a bar and getting blackout drunk to muster up the courage to stumble onto the stage and  sing a slurred version of “Take on Me”  to a group of strangers, Korean karaoke is done in small rooms which you rent out with a group of friends. This style of karaoke sounded awesome to me. I always like to sing horribly during weekend nights out. My friends may be less fond of my belting faux-falsetto, but it makes me happy.  

We took two taxis down to downtown to go to karaoke. We met Kim so she acted as our guide taking us to the noraebang and communicating with her roommate Mini to meet up with us. We were greeted by the same scenes of vibrant night life on the streets of Jeju City that we had seen the previous night. We were led by Kim to the noreabang which was in a cool subterranean setting and we were given a room that fit all ten of us. The room looked like an entertainment room on crack. At the head the room was a large LCD TV draped with large speakers.  Facing the TV are three couches, a number of microphones on a table, tambourines, and this crazy look console which was filled with Korean lettering and had about fifty different buttons on it and a catalog that is about a thousand pages long filled with songs. The vast majority of the songs are in Korean or Japanese however there are still about fifty pages dedicate music in English. Everyone immediately starts putting in their song that they want creating a long playlist of songs that had to be sung. I looked around the catalog to fine the most party killing songs I could find. I think The Door’s “The End” takes the cake with Radiohead’s “2 + 2 = 5” coming in a close second.  

Once the playlist had started anyone who wanted to sing just picked up a microphone and sang. There was very little pressure and it was extremely fun just goofing off singing various popular songs. The easiest genre of course was rap, Ethan and I did a wonderful cover of 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”. During the songs the screen would project the lyrics but also show random scenes from what appeared to be short music videos that had no connection to the music playing. My favorite was a harrowing tale of two soldiers as they slogged through the winter battlefield and the eventual tragic demise of one of the soldiers, all of which set to the song “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas. Seeing a soldier scream with horror and singing “my lovely lady lumps” is a very odd juxtaposition. Holly has an extensive knowledge of Korean Pop and Japanese Pop and she did a great version of Japanese song.  I was very impressed at both her ability to sing and her ability to sing in a foreign language. Mini and Kim also did a Korean song, standing up at the front of the room and singing together. It was a really fun experience; the way that the noreabang are set up fosters a comforting feeling and gives people a public space to just to get lose with their friends.  After we were done singing our hearts out we went to a local pub across the street and just hung out in our exhausted state. It was a long and massively fun day.


On the seventh day we rested. 

A note about the chronology of the posts

These posts have been in chronological order but so far have documented the first week from 6/24 to 7/1. I am lagging a bit in posting but I plan to try and get the second week down by the end of this week, although it is looking like it might be a bit hectic with the schedule. Tomorrow the delegation from Sonoma State University is meeting the the mayor of Jeju City and on Thursday we have both an exam, a dinner and a presentation to go to. Friday we go to the beach and we leave Saturday. It is going to be a busy and fast week. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Exploring Jeju in a Transformer Van

I woke up at 8AM on Saturday, nice and refreshed with a robust three hours of sleep under my belt. I walked down to the FamilyMart to get some breakfast and caffeine. The store clerk who served me at 10PM and 5AM was still working when I walked in at 8AM. When I paid he gave me a funny look and then pantomimed sleep while raising his eyebrows in a questioning manner. I told him I had very little and he laughed at my obvious sleep deprived state.

Mr. Ko brought the van to the dorms right at 9AM. The van fit twelve people and it was just enough room for all of the students from Sonoma State and Delaware State, one student from Jeju, Professor McCuan and Mr. Ko. Not to say that it was not a tight fit, the van had these seats which would fold to the side and could slide around laterally which made getting in and out of the van a complex ordeal filled with movable parts and confusion. After we all piled in we hit the road but not before going through the Jeju City McDonalds drive through for a quick morning snack. Our first stop was The Manjanggul Lava Tube, the largest lava tube on Jeju Island and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As we drove the scenery changed from large apartments and busy streets into vast wetlands and fields of greenery with small villages scattered on both sides of the roadway.   This was a very different Jeju than the urban Jeju that we had been exploring for the past week. The buildings were older, the streets less maintained the people more weathered. On the left side of the road we could see the vast ocean for miles before disappearing into the misty horizon.  Near the shore there was a number of different industrial marine fishing tools scattered along the rocky coast. As we drove we saw divers bobbing down in the ocean gathering various sea creatures, older women drying out seaweed on the asphalt, and windmills generating power hundreds of meters off the coast.  We passed rural village after rural village, their roofs hanging low and their streets crooked and steep twisting and conforming to the shape of the land beneath them.  During ride we were listening and singing along to pop music which was about having drunken flings and the sadness of last love, which was slightly hilariously mismatched with the scenery.

Lava and Lunch

Soon we turned more inland and after driving through the lush greenery we reached Manjanggul. We were greeted by a pretty standard parking lot and welcome center, so we all disentangled ourselves out of the jigsaw of the Hyundai van and were welcomed by the hot humid of Jeju made our way to the tube. The entrance Manjanggul is steep staircase surrounded by overhanging trees and foliage, leading downwards to what appears to be a massive pit. With each step the temperature and the humidity went down substantially, it was like walking into an icebox and it felt amazing. At the bottom of the stairs we gathered slightly in the cave and were given an explanation of the network of lava tubes on Jeju. The entire time droplets of water would fall around us hitting the cobblestone pathway formed by ancient magma cooling and hardening. The ceiling was around 15 feet above us and the clearing was about 10 feet wide. On this clearing we were told by a tour guide speaking Korean and Ko translating that Manjanggul runs 7KM but only 1KM is open to the public, we were also given a more in depth explanation about how Manjanggul was formed.

The tour of the lava tubes was very informative but for the most part I was wandering off and just staring at the sheer size of the cave. The word “tube” completely describes the shape and layout of the cave; it really is a giant tube.  Walking through Manjanggul I felt as though I was on an alien planet, wandering around the halls of the palace of the queen. The entire place has an eerie organic feeling to it. The walls are made up of dripping magma and nothing is completely flat, yet it is a structure massive enough fit a fuselage of a large plane. Basically it reminded me of the tunnels on the alien planet in Prometheus so this made me weary of touching anything around the cave. It was a very otherworldly place.

When we walked out of Manjanggul all of our glasses and lenses fogged up as we were hit with the hot and humid air once again. It felt like walking into a sauna, I again realized how much harder it was to breathe in the humid air. We again piled into the jigsaw-van and made our way to a village by the coast to get some lunch before making our way to Seongsan Ilchulbong or Sunrise Peak. Again we took a route going along the coast and passing traditional villages allowing us to have a passing peek into their daily lives.  For lunch went to a Korean barbeque place and again had delicious pork with a number of side dishes. The Korean student who was with us, Jae Hyuk, sat at the same table as I did and helped prepare the pork and explain the side dishes. Our meals here seem to always take about an hour if not more, it is a refreshing change for me to sit down and take my time eating rather than just stuffing my face with the most food as quickly as possible.  

Mr. Ko and the Korean tour guide. Ko did a great job translating the tour guides  geological jargon. The tour guide was actually a graduate of Jeju National University.

Some of the trees before the cave

More pictures of the descent.

Trees growing out from the pit.

From the landing of the cave

Most of my cave pictures are of textured darkness

The largest lava column in the world

I did create my Most Delicious happiness

Lunch, before the main dish of pork

These guys were hiking from the DMZ to the tip of Jeju. To experience all of South Korea 

Diving Grandmas, speedboats and stairs

After our feast of a lunch we hopped back into the van and went to Seongsan Ilchulbong or Sunrise Peak. At this point in the journey I didn’t really know where I was going, I was just sort of going with the flow in my silly-stupor of sleep deprivation.  Basically what I heard was “hike up mountain, cove, women divers and speed boat”, it sounded pretty awesome to me even though I did not know exactly where I was going.  When we reach the parking lot it is clear that this place is a hot spot for tourists. The welcome area is completely packed with droves of mostly Asian tourists posing by the sign or heading to Dunkin Donuts to get their fill of fatty glazed deliciousness. Behind the packed chaos of the parking lot was a mystical looking mountain, its peak covered in dense hot fog so that only the base was visible. To the left of the peak was cliff leading down to a beach surrounded by the high walls of Sunrise Peak. Ko tells us that we need to hurry down or else we will miss the show. I don’t know what show he is talking about but I headed the warning and ran down the stairs to the beach below, stopping occasionally to take photos of the insanely beautiful scenery.

 As I walked down I could hear singing and I could see see three or four figures in wetsuits preforming some sort of dance. When I got down to the beach I realized that these were the female divers of Jeju or haenyo. These particular divers where the most senior on the island, ranging from 60 to 80 years of age, but you would never guess by the way that they dived. They wore wet suites and weighted belts which allowed them to dive under for extended periods of time. All of the divers had been diving for decades and could hold the breath for an absurd amount of time. After ten or so minutes a diver swam back to the shore holding an octopus that she had caught. She emerged from the water with a giant smile on her face as the crowd clapped enthusiastically.  She posed for pictures with the tourists jokingly swinging the octopus towards people who seemed at all scared of the multi-legged ocean beast.   It was all in good fun until one tourist dropped the octopus and then put one of its legs in his mouth, everyone laughed and hooted but then he walked away with the octopus. All of the sudden the energy took an icy turn, people started yelling at the man in Korean and he seemed to brush off their jeers. Ko explained to us that he did not pay for the damaged octopus which put the diver out of about twenty dollars. It put a damper on the otherwise fun exchange that the divers were having with the tourists.

After we had all taken numerous photos of the divers Ko asked us if we wanted to ride on the speedboat, the ones that we had seen cutting in to the cove as we walked down the stairs. We all were game for a little adrenaline rush, although I was slightly nervous as I have never been a fan of harsh natural bodies of water, and after seemingly chaotic roadways in the city I didn’t know exactly how insane the speedboat driver would be. No doubt he would be fairly insane. We all put on our lifejackets and we scooted back, he waited until he got a safe distance from the shore before throttling back and jetting us up and over the waves. We all screamed and laughed as the boat bounced off the waves and cut right and left. Ko sat in the bow and was taking rapid fire photos to document our excited faces. We slowed down by the cliff side to take photos as the driver of the speedboat pointed out interesting aspects of the cliff. After a brief pause in the water we were off again, this time the driver veered left and right making extreme turns in the water, all the time with a giant golden toothed grin on his face.

When we docked we were all excitedly scampered off the boat still glowing with adrenaline induced happiness.  The speedboat ride completely woke me up I felt as though I just awoke from a perfectly timed nap, and I was ready to climb Sunset Peak. We made our way out of the cove and started to head towards the peaks base where hundreds of stairs separated us from the top. We aggressively climbed that mountain, stopping occasionally to take pictures of the fog that surrounded us. The more I walked the more I sweated and absorbed the humid cloud we were walking through. But that did not matter. I wanted to get to the top just to get to the top; I knew the view would be non-existent but I didn’t care. The path itself was crowded with tourist and we had to awkwardly navigate around the slow walkers who were cramping our aggressive stair climbing style. The majority of time the view was only fog, but it just added to the ambience of the climb. It made the whole journey more mysterious I had no idea what I was looking at our how high we were. When we got to the top we all exchanged victory high fives and had a brief description of the things that we couldn’t see that were apparently all around us. On the route back we took care not to slip and fall 600+ stairs down to the base.  We all piled into the van exhausted from the long day and drove back on the coastal road and back to our dorms. 

The misty mountain of "Sunset Peak"

Erica hiding from the wind and the rain 

Ko adjusting his camera and Jae Hyuk

Tourist gathering around the divers 

Erica, Ethan and Holly posing in front of Sunset Peak

Ko taking photos of our insanity during the speedboat ride 

The speedboat driver giving a big thumbs up, indicating that we were not to die 

Heading up Sunset Peak

The crowded stairs up Sunset Peak

The route up Sunset Peak is crowded with tourists

Elijah and a random kid who decided to imitate the pose. Photo courtesy of Jae Hyuk

Ko and Elijah hugging at the peak. Photo courtesy of Jae Hyuk