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Last night, my husband and I were talking about what might happen to us if war breaks out between South Korea and North Korea. What sparked such conversation was theexchange of fire between the two Koreas on Monday, March 31, after several artillery shells launched by the North as part of its live-fire drills near the Western Sea Border landed in the South’s territorial waters. There were no casualties (thank God), but residents of nearby islands Baengnyong and Genpink were evacuated to temporary shelters. It is rather unusual for North Korea to inform South Korea of artillery exercises it plans to carry out near the militarized Western Sea, but a few hours before the live-fire drill on Monday, North Korean Army sent South Korean Navy a warning and ordered the country to control its vessels in seven regions near the Northern Limit Line (NLL). The South Korean Defense Ministry considers this move a “hostile threat” and has made it clear in an interview that they are “fully prepared for all situations”. (Hopefully, there will be no need to prepare for something worse.)
Last week, North Korea fired two mid-range ballistic missiles capable of striking Japan. The U.N. Security Council condemned the launch. As a response to the criticism, North Korea said it will execute “a new form of nuclear test”. South Korea’s Defense Ministry has not yet disclosed any signs of a forthcoming nuclear test, but it said that it continues to closely monitor North Korea’s moves.
This is not the first time North Korea held an instigating military exercise into the waters around the Korean Peninsula.
On November 23, 2010, two marines and two civilians were killed and more than a dozen South Koreans were injured when North Korea bombarded Yeonpyeong Island. The North claimed that the attack was provoked by the South when it refused to cease artillery exercises in the border.
In the same year, a South Korean naval vessel sank near Baengnyeong Island, killing 46 of its crew. According to the South, investigations lead to a torpedo attack by a North Korean submarine.
I have heard my husband and his friends talk about the two Koreas. They also talk about the possibility of war or reunification. Every time they talk about these two possibilities, it appears as if war is more likely to happen than for the two countries to reunify. They say that the North’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, is just too adamant, belligerent and stupid to want to make peace with South Korea. He is driven by his desire to prove himself as a great military leader to his people and he will keep provoking the South. On the other hand, South Korea won’t tolerate North Korea’s further onslaught. If worse comes to worst, South Korea is prepared for war. Just recently, the South Korean government signed an agreement with the U.S. that contains new contingency plans on how to respond to North Korea‘s provocations. The agreement is believed to be one of the reasons why the North conducted the live-fire drill on Monday as a form of protest.
From Korea with Love
minds silent questions rest.
The poem is about a teapot...A red teapot perhaps? I can't recall. Do post in the comments if you've heard of such or can identify the poem or the poet. Until then I shall fish through my poetry books in search...
About the Author
Matthew William Thivierge has abandoned his PhD studies in Shakespeare and is now currently almost half-way through becoming a tea-master (Japanese,Korean & Chinese tea ceremony). He is a part time Ninjologist with some Jagaek studies (Korean 'ninja') and on occasion views the carrying on of pirates from his balcony mounted telescope.
Some of my loot from the gallery. A gallery book showing all the art from the show. A pair of steam punk style flip-up sunglasses. And a brown leather steampunk style I-phone case.
However, I bought the case near the Chungaechung stream from a street vendor for 10,000 won. Steampunk style : it can be found if one only looks carefully enough.
Stay slightly starched and techno savvy.
Two teahouses in Someyeon (downtown Busan) have closed. Both are relatively new compared with the others. However both had their own unique character and it is sad to see them go.
I had just happened upon the one near the Burger King in Someyeon (Oh Janae Wanunga) (pictured at right). Alas, it is now a book cafe.
The other, Da Soul, has also closed. There are still three thriving tea houses in Someyeon (one of which serves fine vegetarian meals). It seems though these new upstarts were no match for the well established.
Later this week, wearing a black armband, I shall remove them from my google tea house map.
On a happier note there are two new tea houses in Gwangali. I shall visit and review them this week.
Until then, Stay steeped!
Korea’s cities can be obnoxiously monotonous at times. And thanks to the country’s fixation with capitalism, everywhere on the southern half of the peninsular looks pretty much the same.
Hoods intends to show that Korea’s real urban beauty is hidden where the veneer of modernity, is at its thinnest.
This is Danggam-dong
Danggam-dong is a large and somewhat insignificant neighbourhood of Busan, not too far from the hectic ugliness of Seomyeon.
Apart from the gazillions of apartments, seafood restaurants, public schools, some hideous roads, coffee shops, Paris Baguettes, soju tents, supermarkets, a couple of temples, loads of English language academies, and various other hagwons*, there’s really nothing of importance there.
Though it is an easy place to start hiking up Baekyangsan.
The gritty, hillside neighbourhood has twice been my home: First in 2009, and again in 2011. The reason I lived there was, of course, to educate 5 to 14-year-old Korean kids in the intricacies of English at a couple of small private academies.
My second time in Danggam was particularly fucking strenuous thanks to the job. The kids didn’t much want to learn, and I didn’t much want to teach them. At least once a week the kids sent me into a fit of unholy rage. Basically, I was an utterly inept teacher. Oh, and my manager was batshit crazy… but she’s a whole other story entirely.
Anyway, the flay she’d given me was spacious, clean and right next door to a supermarket, which, as a fat lazy bastard, I rather quite appreciated. My job might have been insufferable, but at least I only worked 5 hours a day, and I liked my new home.
So, one Monday afternoon six-months into the job as I shuffled head-down into school, my manager pulled me into her office, and casually dropped the news that I had to move out of my flat… By the end of the week.
I can’t remember the reasons she gave now, but suffice it to say there was enough bullshit there to fill the office. I should have refused. I should have moaned for all my might. Instead I was much too British about it all and didn’t put up much of a fuss.
Early that Friday morning, I dragged myself out of bed, packed up, and waited for my manager to show up. Of course, she, and the imbecile blue-van man she’d hired were late. It turned out that he didn’t have the right gear to transport my stuff, and I ended up carrying most of it!
My new place was further down the mountain, and right in and amongst a small favela-like neighbourhood. From the shitty paint job, scattered litter, and general state of dilapidation, I knew I was in for a massive downgrade.
Upstairs, my new flat was half the size of the last place and incredibly rustic. There were cockroaches all over the apartment. The walls were so thin that I could honestly hear my elderly neighbour scratch himself. Plus he was basically deaf and watched TV on top volume all day everyday until whatever channel was on stopped broadcasting – usually at 1am.
I did grow rather fond of the place. I took me a while to get used to the cockroaches, the cold showers, the weak-as-piss air conditioning, the paper-thin walls, the unspeakable bathroom and the dirty washing machine water that emptied in there, and the deaf neighbour (We became friendlier and traded shots of alcohol every now and then).
I was bitter that all of my friends had decent apartments, and here I was teaching in a developed country, at an expensive school, but living in North Korean conditions.
When my one-year contract at the school was up and the manager asked me to stay an extra week before the new teacher started, I burst into a derisive laugh and told her where to stick it… Well actually, I barely managed to stitch together a lie about a training week in Seoul my new school wanted me to do.
*Hagwon = a private school
By the way, if you’re in Korea and think your apartment is shit, some friends of mine run a relocation business and can help you out with that.
- To make you aware of a cool place in Daegu.
- To provide directions to one of the venues that will host a festival I've helped organise.
A faded portrait of Jowangshin found at Anjeokam Hermitage in the mountains of Cheonseongsan.
Hello Again Everyone!!
In the next few articles, I thought I would explore some of the lesser seen or known sites at Korean temples or hermitages. These are rare finds that you might encounter during your travels and simply don’t know what they’re supposed to represent or even depict.
In this article, I thought I would talk about Jowangshin. Traditionally, Jowangshin (조왕신) was thought of as the shaman deity of the fire and hearth. They were customarily found inside a Korean house, but in the past several decades, they have disappeared. One place you can still find them, however, is inside a Buddhist temple’s kitchen.
Jowangshin was worshipped in Korea for over a millennium, since the Three Kingdoms Period in Korean history (57 B.C. to 668 A.D.).
Jowangshin inside the kitchen at Anjeokam Hermitage.
Traditionally, the way in which Jowangshin was embodied was in a bowl of water held on a clay altar above the hearth. The housewife would awake early in the morning and pour fresh water from a nearby well into the bowl. After doing this, she would kneel in front of the bowl and pray for good luck. Also, during important festivals, Jowangshin would be honoured with rice cakes and fruit.
There were five rules that a housewife would have to follow to ensure a happy and prosperous household. They were:
1. Do not curse while in the hearth.
2. Do not sit on the hearth.
3. Do not place your feet on the hearth.
4. Maintain a clean kitchen.
5. You can worship other deities in the kitchen.
Jowangshin as seen inside the kitchen at Daewonam Hermitage.
Jowangshin would broadcast the happenings inside the house towards the heavens. If the rules were followed, Jowangshin would be a benevolent deity. However, if these rules weren’t followed, Jowangshin could be a vengeful deity.
In Korean Buddhism, Jowangshin is a shamanic tutelary deity. Inside the Buddhist temple, you’ll occasionally find this deity housed inside the kitchen. Jowangshin has a special altar inside the kitchen called a Jowang-dan. And you’ll often find a portrait on the wall above the altar depicting Jowangshin.
The kitchen was seen as being the symbol of prosperity for a home. A good fire signified a prosperous house, while a house without a fire represented poverty because traditionally all meals came from a fire. This also translated to a temple or hermitage.
As a shaman deity, he is considered a dharma protecting deity. But in the pantheon of shaman deities, Jowangshin is a minor folk-Buddhist deity below the likes of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Recluse), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Yongwang (The Dragon King). Uniquely, there is a Jowangshin scripture that praises him in the Jowang-gyeong sutra (The Kitchen God Sutra).
Jowangshin hanging inside the eating area at Wonhyoam Hermitage.
What does Jowangshin look like just in case you run across him? Jowangshin is middle aged, and he sports a long black beard. He holds it with his one hand, while either holding a fan or a wooden tablet in the other. He is dressed in royal-looking clothes, and he sits on a throne. Behind his throne are banners with Chinese text written on them. Of note, Jowangshin’s feet don’t touch the ground.
Examples of Jowangshin can be found at a few temples. There are beautiful paintings of him at Anjeokam Hermitage and Wonhyoam Hermitage on Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. Another example can be found at a hermitage at Pyochungsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do called Daewonam Hermitage.
So the next time you’re at a Korean temple, and you decide to have a meal there, have a look around the kitchen because you might just be able to see this lesser seen and known shaman deity.
If you would’ve told 18 year old me that I would one day be a martial arts black belt, I would’ve exhaled the smoke from my hippie chic clove cigarette and laughed in your face.
At 27, I would have told you sadly that they don’t give black belts to fat girls.
By 30, I might have been interested but still a little incredulous. By that time, I had shed fifty pounds and was starting to learn that almost anything is possible.
Last week, at 33 and some change, I did something I never actually thought I would do, even when I started taking classes two years ago. I became a certified, card-carrying (for real, there’s a card, like a license to kill or something) 1st degree black belt in hapkido, an accomplishment I share with at least a third of Korean ten year olds. But, still, it’s a big deal to me.
I don’t know that I can convey to you the ways learning hapkido is changing my life. First of all, it’s instilled in me an appreciation for mixed martial arts. I feel like I better understand the strength, poise, skill, precision, and grace necessary to fight well. Contrary to the way the sport has been promoted to American couch potatoes, MMA done well isn’t violence or gore. It isn’t bloodsport fueled by rage. At their core, martial arts are about precision, detail, balance, control.
Balance is concept essential to being successful in the martial arts (and in life in general), and it’s something I struggle with. Martial artists have to learn to move decisively and forcefully, but lightly and gracefully as well. They have to understand fundamentally how the body should occupy a space, how to ground oneself firmly enough to draw power from one’s stance, but lightly enough to move quickly, surely, fluidly. Like yogis, martial arts masters are in complete control of their breath and their bodies. Their movements are deliberate, precise, economical. Watching a master at work is like watching ballet or modern dance, albeit one where your partner ends up face down in an excruciatingly painful joint lock. Learning martial arts is about learning control: of your breathing, your movements, your impulses, and ultimately, of your opponent.
For me, however, this journey has been mostly about learning patience and persistence. My body has never been naturally athletic or graceful. Even at a fit, healthy weight, I am big for a woman, heavy and curvy and with no natural tendency toward spinning or jumping lightly and easily. I have the kind of footfalls you can hear coming down a hallway. I am not a delicate or exceptionally flexible.
But worse than these physical challenges are my personality failings. As much as I hate to admit this, deep down I am impatient and would rather abandon an activity than fail at it. My entire life, I have skillfully and shrewdly avoided things that didn’t come easily, events or activities where I couldn’t excel easily and assuredly. Now this is not to say that I’m lazy or not a hard worker. I will work my fingers to the bone doing something I’m good at, especially if there is any type of praise or reward at stake.
What I don’t like is failure. I abhor not being the best, having to admit that I might not be perfect or outstanding or even very special at all. Throughout my twenties, I let this fear of imperfection keep me from trying new things, avoiding making big decisions if I couldn’t be assured they’d be the right ones, confining my choices to things like paint colors or a new dress so that I could only mess up so much.
Then I lost my mom. Her passing was one of the defining moments of my existence, laden with realizations about the fragility of life and the stupidity of squandering the scant amount of time you’re given. And if life is short–fleeting, even–then failure is even more transient.
So, two and a half years after saying goodbye to my mom, in a country where I had one friend and almost no command of the language, I walked into Yoon’s Hapkido School in Gwangali And for the past twenty months, I’ve been learning about balance, control, persistence, patience, and failure. And I’ve learned some hapkido, too.
In that dojang, I have failed more spectacularly than anywhere else in my life. At first, I rolled with the ease and grace of the gigged flounder my father used to flop into the boat when he took me fishing (and some days I’m still not much more elegant). During soft front falls, my hip joints hit the floor so hard, I swear the room shook. I have inadvertently hit, kicked, elbowed, or stepped on every friend I’ve made in my thrice weekly classes. I am an endless source of amusement for Master Yoon, who is sometimes so frustrated with my incompetence that he retreats to his office, muttering Korean and shaking his head.
And I have fallen. One my back, butt, sides, stomach, and face. I have fallen while attempting kicks, break falls, throws, basic self-defense maneuvers, even simple footwork. The only thing I’ve done more often than fall is get up. That’s what this experience has been about for me–the getting up. The going back to class the next day after you spent most of the previous lesson failing at what you were supposed to learn. In the end, I have a martial arts black belt not because I’m a killing machine (although I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with me these days), but because I kept getting up.
Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Black Belt, Busan, Hapkido, Korea, Martial Arts, Yoon's Hapkido School