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Whenever I mention that one of my hobbies is to read Classical Chinese texts (漢文, 한문) to other Koreans, their first reaction is astonishment that a Gyopo would and could endeavor such a task. Their second reaction is their opinions on the role of Classical Chinese in Korean culture and history, and they can vary from positive to extremely negative. First, towards the positive end, the opinions are one of great appreciation in the language’s role in just about everything in Korean history from art to philosophy. Then, those who hold a somewhat positive view reluctantly acknowledging its position in Korean history and accepting that Sino-Korean words comprise a substantial portion of the Korean vocabulary. Lastly, toward the extremely negative end, the opinions are those of derision, disparaging Classical Chinese as foreign and elitist, and thus “less” Korean.
Unfortunately, it has been those who hold this last position that are the most vociferous and rancorous. For a people whose flag is laden with symbols that originate from China, namely the blue-red Yin and Yang (靑紅陰陽, 청홍음양) and the four tetragrams (乾坤坎離, 건곤감리), I have found such views utterly baffling. While the desire to appear independent from China is certainly understandable, this view jettisons a significant and important part of the Korean cultural patrimony. To overcome their hostility, I have found it very helpful to show them the Classical Chinese writing of Korean independence activists. This undermines the notion that Classical Chinese is a “threat” to Korean identity. In this blog post, I will first walk through where such views concerning Classical Chinese originate, then demonstrate that widespread knowledge of Classical Chinese was more recent than many believe, and finally exhibit the Classical Chinese writings of Korean independence activists.
The Hangul Narrative
The extremely negative view originates from the following narrative concerning Hangul (한글) that is held by most Koreans today. The story goes that Koreans originally used Chinese characters and Classical Chinese to write. Commoners found the script too difficult to learn. Finally, in the 15th century, King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) created the Hangul, intending to entirely replace Chinese characters with his new alphabet. The haughty aristocracy, however, continued to use Chinese characters and purposefully kept commoners illiterate until the 19th century when reformers finally overthrew the script and declared Hangul the national script. (Other versions of the narrative have that Koreans suddenly stopped using Chinese characters after Hangul was promulgated.)
Though King Sejong’s creation of Hangul is undeniably a watershed moment in Korean history, there are several issues with this narrative. The most problematic is the claim that King Sejong created the script to entirely replace Chinese characters. While in The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People (訓民正音, 훈민정음) the King explicitly states that Hangul was created for commoners, he did not intend to supplant Chinese characters, but supplement them. It can be readily recognized that Hangul was designed to transcribe the pronunciation of Chinese characters. Each block of Hangul represents one syllable, and can correspond to the pronunciation of one Chinese character (e.g., 韓 for 한). Most strikingly, the original script provided for consonants and vowels that were never present in Korean, but in Chinese vernacular dialects. As for its application, one of the first uses of Hangul was to teach – or if one takes a cynical view, propagandize – the Korean populace with Confucian tenets. Many of the earliest works in Hangul are Confucian classics with parallel Classical Chinese and vernacular translations in Hangul, some of them in mixed script.
Widespread Knowledge of Classical Chinese in Early 20th Century Korea
Another issue with the narrative is that Classical Chinese did not all of the sudden die out in the late 19th – or 15th – century. This misconception has probably been fed by the fact that most Koreans especially of the younger generation today are primarily exposed to Classical Chinese through period dramas (史劇, 사극), where court scholars in traditional Hanbok garb are seen occasionally reciting Chinese classics. In reality, the widespread knowledge of the language is much more recent than is widely believed. Classical Chinese was very well alive in the former half of the 20th century in Korea. Many new Classical Chinese works were written during this period:
- A number of Classical Chinese translations of the folk story Tale of Chunhyang (春香傳, 춘향전) were published during the Japanese colonial period (1905-1945). Translations of other folk tales as well as wholly new novels also came out during the same period.
- The last Korean head of state with a Classical Chinese poetry collection is not Emperor Gojong (高宗, 고종, 1852-1919, r. 1863-1907) or Emperor Sunjong (純宗, 순종, 1874-1926, r. 1907-1910), but President Rhee Syngman (李承晩, 이승만, 1875-1965), the first President of South Korea. (North Korean leader Kim Ilsung (金日成, 김일성, 1912-1994) also wrote at least one poem.)
- Korean newspapers regularly printed Classical Chinese poetry submission sections well into the latter half of the 20th century. The newspaper clip above is a poem composed by Korean National Assembly member Jeong Jaewan (鄭在浣, 정재완, 1900-1967?), expressing his scorn for other assembly members’ avarice.
- Family clans continued to publish their genealogical records with new material in Classical Chinese.
- (On a more familial note, we have a Classical Chinese poem at my parents’ house that was composed by one of my grandparents’ friends in the late 1980s.)
Classical Chinese of the Korean Independence Activists
In tandem with this widespread knowledge, Korean independence activists not only looked back to Classical Chinese writings from previous generations for inspiration, but also composed new, original texts to describe their desire for an independent Korea liberated from Japanese rule. Note that Japan made Korea a protectorate in 1905 and annexed it in 1910.
A Turn to the Past for Inspiration
Certain poems by Chosun dynasty figures who lived in calamitous periods in Korea’s past became popular. The poem below is by Hyujeong Seosandaesa (休靜 西山大師, 휴정 서산대사, 1520-1604), a Buddhist monk and a leader of an irregular army (義兵, 의병) who fought against the Japanese during the Japanese Invasions of 1592-1598 (壬辰倭亂, 임진왜란). Kim Gu (金九, 김구, 1876-1949), who is known by almost every Korean schoolchild as the leader of the Korean independence movement, loved reciting Classical Chinese poems and regarded Hyujeong’s poem as his favorite. One story states that he recited the poem as he crossed the 38th Parallel into North Korea to meet with a delegates of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang.
Stepping upon the snow in the middle of a field, I depart.
I ought to not haphazardly and recklessly travel:
The footprints of my travel today
In the end will become mileposts for those after.
Another poem that became well-liked is the poem below by Kwon Pil (權韠, 권필, 1569-1612), who also had lived during the 16th century Japanese Invasions of Korea. Although well-educated, he chose not enter into government office, but became a poet lampooning the state of affairs during his time. This poem is of a form known as “bird-crow” poetry (禽言體, 금언체). The word 布穀(포곡), repeated throughout the poem, is an onomatopoeia for the sound “cuckoo,” or Bbeogugi (뻐구기) in Korean. To the Korean independence activists, the word became newly interpreted as “Restore the nation,” or Buguk (復國, 부국).
Sow the seeds! Sow the seeds!
Amidst the sounds of sowing the seeds, the spring’s resolve is at its completest.
A vigorous child campaigns southward; the village’s streets are empty.
The setting sun only hears the widow’s wails.
Singing “Sow the seeds!” who will sow the seeds?
The paddies and gardens are wide and vast; the field of grass is green.
Poets of the Korean Independence Movement
Many Korean independence activists were also literate in Classical Chinese and composed their own works in the script. A lot of them had been educated in Confucian village schools (書堂 서당). These schools had played such an important role in fomenting patriotic sentiment that the Japanese colonial administration started heavily restricting their activities in 1918, and had effectively closed all of them by 1930. The remainder of this post will cover the poems of Ahn Junggeun, Yun Bonggil, Hwang Hyeon, and Kim Taekyeong. The first two are so well known that they are household names in Korea.
Ahn Junggeun (安重根, 안중근, 1879-1910)
Ahn Junggeun is renowned for his feat of assassinating Ito Hirobumi (伊藤博文, 1864-1909), the first resident general of the Japanese colonial administration in Korea. He is perhaps the most famous Korean independence activist in Korea today. What many Koreans today do not know, however, is his aptitude in Classical Chinese. Ahn Junggeun had studied Chinese classics in a Confucian village school run by his father, and by the age of 10 had not only read the Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism (四書五經, 사서오경), but also a few of the volumes in the 294 volume tome Comprehensive Mirror to Aid Government (資治通鑑, 자치통감). While he awaited execution in jail, he composed much of his last thoughts in the language. Ahn Junggeun wrote many pieces of calligraphy, an essay titled Peace in East Asia (東洋平和論, 동양평화론), and his entire autobiography (安重根義士自敍傳, 안중근의사자서전) all in Classical Chinese. The poem below is from one of his pieces of calligraphy:
Concerning the grand scheme in East Asia, I have pondered extensively and profusely.
Having the will, how can a man tranquilly sleep?
Since a peaceful state of affairs has not yet been achieved, I am still indignant and incensed.
Political tactics have not changed; it is truly pitiful.
Yun Bonggil (尹奉吉, 윤봉길, 1908-1932)
Yun Bonggil is best known for lobbing a lunchbox bomb at a group of Japanese officials gathered at Hongkou Park (虹口公園, 홍구공원) in Shanghai (上海, 상해) for the celebration of the Japanese Emperor’s birthday. The attack killed Yoshinori Shirakawa (白川義則, 1869-1932), a Japanese general who had lead the Imperial Army in capturing the city earlier that year, and injured several others. He is perhaps the second most famous Korean independence activist after Ahn Junggeun. Again, what most Koreans do not know about him is his high proficiency of Classical Chinese. After the March 1st Movement in 1919, he left a Japanese-run public school for a Confucian village school, where he studied Chinese classics. By the time he was executed by firing squad in 1932 at the young age of 24, Yun Bonggil had written over 300 Classical Chinese poems, including the one below:
Recitation on Thoughts While on the Road
The rice on the field are half-ripe, interspersed with green and yellow.
Fighting and pecking, a group of birds all face forward.
The west wind suddenly breaks the rain from the thousand peaks;
The noon heat still swelters the smoke of ten-thousand hamlets.
Most resentful are the straws and unhusked grains added upon the white grounds;
How can a severed grain rise up to the blue skies?
My eyes see mountains and streams, with much awe and beauty.
This country’s foundations shall return to grandeur surely in the future!
- 白地(백지) – Literally “white grounds.” Refers to land unsuitable for farming.
Hwang Hyeon (黃玹, 황현, 1855-1910)
Though Hwang Hyeon is not as well-known as Ahn Junggeun or Yun Bonggil, his contributions to the Korean independence movement are just as significant. In particular, he chronicled various events and about the roles of various figures leading to the loss of Korean independence. (On a related note, he was adamantly against the abolition of Classical Chinese as the official script.) Hwang Hyeon was a great scholar of Chinese classics, and is considered one of the Four Great Masters (四大家, 사대가) of the late Chosun dynasty period (舊韓末, 구한말). Many of his poems make allusions to not only Korean history, but also Chinese history. It should be noted that Korea had never been entirely stripped of its independence prior to the Japanese annexation. In contrast, China had been wholly subjugated by foreign powers multiple times in its history, such as the Turks, Jurchens, Mongols, and the Manchus. Because of this, Hwang Hyeon and other poets of this era looked to Chinese history to draw parallels to what was transpiring in Korea. This is evident in the poem below:
Suicide Poem (third and fourth verses)
The birds and beasts tristfully cry; the seas and mountains cringe.
The hibiscus flowers on this earth have already become flooded and sunken.
The autumn lamp hides the volumes encompassing thousands of ancients.
Difficult it is to make mankind into literate men.
Earlier, I did not support the house with even half a rafter’s merit.
I have only achieved benevolence, but not loyalty.
Ending my will, I was just only able to follow Yun Gok (尹穀, 윤곡).
At this time, I am ashamed to not have caught up with Jin Dong (陣東, 진동).
- Yun Gok and Jin Dong both refer to figures from the Song dynasty (宋, 송, 960-1279) during the Mongol invasions of China. Their names in Mandarin are Yin Gu and Zhen Dong respectively. After Tancheng (潭城, 담성, Damseong) fell during a siege, in despair, Yin Gu decided to kill his family and commit suicide by self-immolation. Zhen Dong was a Song Dynasty literati bureaucrat who strongly pleaded with the Emperor that General Li Gang (李綱, 이강, 1083-1140) should be saved and that his disloyal ministers should be all sentenced to death. In the end, however, he was sentenced to death by beheading.
Kim Taekyeong (金澤榮, 김택영, 1850-1927)
Kim Taekyeong was also a scholar of Classical Chinese, another of the Four Great Masters of the late Chosun dynasty period and a friend of Hwang Hyeon (the other two had passed away before the 20th century). In response to the Eulsa Treaty (乙巳條約, 을사조약) in 1905, which made Korea a protectorate of Japan, he took his family and fled to Nantong (南通, 남통) in China. There, Kim Taekyeong became acquainted with many Chinese reformers and started working at a publication company, where he published works by other Korean independence activists – including Hwang Hyeon’s – and compiled books on Korean history and Korean Classical Chinese literature. He was also a skilled poet, and particularly enjoyed composing a form of poetry called Songs of Chu (楚辭, 초사). This form is marked by the character 兮(혜) in the middle of every line, and is attributed to Qu Yuan (屈原, 굴원, 343-278BC), a Chinese poet and official who committed suicide by drowning in the Miluo River (汨羅江, 멱라강) after having learned that the State of Chu (楚, 초) had capitulated. Kim Taekyong was so renowned for his Songs of Chu poetry that Chinese intellectuals called him the “Korean Qu Yuan” (韓國屈原, 한국굴원). The most famous of his poems is the Song of Lamentation (嗚呼賦, 오호부), in which he expresses his grief over loss of Korean independence:
Song of Lamentation (last two verses)
嗚呼! 哀哉! 已矣兮
오호! 애재! 이의혜
O, the bells of Gwanghwamun (光化門, 광화문), what person will toll it at night?
O, the ancestral tablet of Gija (箕子, 기자), what people will offer oblations of food?
Alas, how sad the situation is! It is all over!
How have we not spirits and have we not Heaven
- Gwanghwamun (光化門, 광화문) – Literally, “Gate of Enlightenment.” Refers to the main gate of Gyeongbokgung (景福宮, 경복궁) Palace in Seoul.
O, only our ancestors’ revered Confucianism.
In the end, we received a righteous man, Ahn Junggeun.
O, his vivacity was dashing and gallant.
Who will say that our country is totally lost?
Several heroic souls gaze back at us.
Pluck an autumn orchid and wait at the banks of the river.
In one of the most calamitous periods in Korean history, many Korean independence activists not only looked back to Classical Chinese writings from previous generations, but also expressed their desire for a liberated Korea in the same script. In this blog post, I only have listed four poets; there are many, many more. Although they certainly were free to write in Hangul (and many did), these independence activists intentionally composed in Classical Chinese to preserve and continue this part of the Korean cultural heritage. With this in mind, I do not think Koreans should continue to shy away from this aspect of Korean culture and history.
This post comes a bit late after a short vacation. Thanks again to the Korea Herald and don't forget to read the disclaimer.
Vehicle accidents and compensation
The prevalence of motor vehicles in Korea brings the possibility of tremendous injury, and as in other places, this leads to disputes about compensation ― whether there is a duty to pay and how much.
It may seem a bit cynical, but the law can’t bring back the dead or magically heal a broken leg. It can only attempt to value those things and compensate for them.
There are two parties from whom an injured party can claim compensation. The driver may have liability under the criminal law, in which case he must compensate the victim or go to jail, and the police and prosecutors will help the victim.
Assuming he has insurance (which is legally obligated), the insurance company may also have a civil obligation, but in that case the victim must hire an attorney if he wants assistance in dealing with the insurance company. The driver may also have civil liability, but as he is generally less flush with cash than the insurance company, we will later focus on the insurance company here.
Regarding possible criminal liability, the driver must have violated certain traffic law provisions, so evidence is key. Witnesses, CCTV, black box recordings or forensic analysis can help establish what happened. In the following 10 types of cases the driver will be prosecuted, even if the victim does not request it, and the prosecutor and court will look to the driver to make a settlement with the victim, or the driver will face stern punishment:
(1) Ignoring a traffic signal, (2) illegally crossing the median line (making a U-turn or driving on the wrong side of the road), (3) exceeding the speed limit by 20 kph or more, (4) illegally passing, (5) illegally entering an intersection, (6) failing to protect a pedestrian at a crosswalk, (7) failing to have a license or having a suspended license, (8) DUI, (9) illegally driving on a sidewalk and (10) failure to properly open and close doors for passengers.
The amount of the settlement is based on the seriousness of the victim’s injury and the economic ability of the driver. The typical range is 400,000 won to 1 million won per week of hospitalization, but egregious cases with obvious fault and serious injury can warrant much more, up to tens of millions of won.
Everyday people, however, are often limited in their means, and so the main source of funds is often from the insurance company. The difference in compensation between individual settlements (where the victim, unaided by counsel, settles directly with the insurance company) and lawsuit-based settlement (where an attorney files a suit) is huge.
Insurance companies worldwide have significant incentives to underpay, and Korea is no exception. Attempting to settle directly is often fruitless; without the threat of a court ordering greater compensation, offers from the insurance company will often remain unreasonably low.
There are four bases for calculating injury, all of which should be adequately taken into account:
First, there should be compensation for economic losses caused by the car accident. Medical bills, private care (at home or outside), and other direct economic losses should be included.
Second, compensation for mental damages. There is no given standard for mental damages, although awards commonly lie within the 400,000 won to 1 million won per week range. Warranting circumstances, such as the inability to partake in an important life event, like a wedding or funeral, should increase the amount of compensation due.
Third, compensation for lost income during hospitalization: This is another kind of economic damage ― obviously the victim cannot work when they are in bed or surgery, and is therefore losing money. Even those who can telecommute are unlikely to be functioning at 100 percent, addressed further in a moment. Lost wages are easy to calculate. If the injured party was running a business, the cost of hiring someone to cover during the absence should be included.
Fourth, compensation for loss of future earning potential should be included, and this is usually the largest portion of a compensation claim. This reflects the difference between a person’s pre-injury and post-injury income capacity. If your earning capacity is reduced by 20 percent (i.e., you can now earn 80 percent of what you could before the accident) then you should receive compensation equaling 20 percent of your income until retirement. As for evidence, after six months of treatment, a doctor can issue a letter attesting to the “inability rate” you will suffer.
You should be ready to get a second opinion regarding any hospitalization, treatment or disability proportion. Sad to say, some doctors have been known to reverse their diagnosis when the insurance company gets involved. There is no need or reason to tolerate a corrupt diagnosis when an objective one is preferred.
Again, I would stress the need to hire counsel here. Besides the emotionally and physically draining aspects of a traumatic injury, there are economic dynamics to consider in insurance negotiations, and without legal action pending, there is simply no leverage to warrant an increase in the offer beyond the lowball that the insurance company feels like throwing. Lay or professional, no person can handle all of that at once.
By Darren Bean and Yuna Lee
Disclaimer: This column is not intended as legal advice. No action should be taken or avoided based on this column, no attorney-client relationship is formed by reading this column or contacting the authors, and the authors expressly disclaim any liability for the content of this column. Those with legal problems in Korea should seek advice from an attorney.
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The Martyr monk, Ichadon, of the Silla Kingdom.
Hello Again Everyone!!
This is the eleventh installment about prominent monks; and this week, I thought I would focus on the martyr, Ichadon, from the Silla Kingdom. Ichadon was a Buddhist monk that supported the introduction of Buddhism to the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.E. – 668 C.E.).
While Buddhism had spread throughout the rest of the Korean peninsula in the Baekje and Goguryeo Kingdoms, Buddhism was still illegal in Silla up until 527 C.E. The reason for its slow acceptance is that the Silla Kingdom had weak state administrative powers. However, the common people were more willing to accept Buddhism than the Silla aristocracy who resisted all forms of Chinese culture; instead, preferring to adhere to the local religions. These two reasons, above all others, is why it took a full 150 years to be accepted in the Silla Kingdom after its neighbours had already accepted it as a state religion.
A Silla Sacrifice from a Mural at Heungnyunsa Temple in Gyeongju.
King Beopheung (514-540), the king of Ichadon, had considered giving permission to the practice of Buddhist teachings in the Silla Kingdom. And in 527, Ichadon, while presenting himself to the royal court, announced that he had become a Buddhist monk. Not only that, but he had established a Buddhist temple on his land. Finally giving into palace aristocrats demands, King Beopheung had Ichadon beheaded. However, and rather miraculously during Ichadon’s execution, instead of blood, milk poured forth from his wound. Also, his head flew upwards and onwards to Mt. Sogeumgansan in Gyeongju. Due to these miracles, as well as Ichadon’s sacrifice, the royal court relented and Buddhism was finally accepted. Also, it led to the first state temple, Heungnyunsa Temple, being established in Silla territory.
The Martyrdom of Ichadon from the Bell at Baeknyulsa Temple in Gyeongju.
Tokyo: a neon wonderland of might skyscrapers, solemn Shinto shrines, and serene parks. The samurai, sumo, robots, videogames, capsule hotels, anime, sushi and everything a Japanophile could ever want are right here in the capital. For the weekend warrior with only 48 precious hours to ramble through the world’s most populated city, time is of the essence. This guide will see you through.
“A Weekend Warrior: A person who holds a regular job during the week which restricts their ability to party / go on trips / partake in awesome activities, and thus plans epic weekend adventures to compensate.” – Urban Dictionary
Tokyo By Day
The old, the new, and the beauty of Tokyo can be experienced in the youthful district of Harajuku. From Harajuku JR Station, follow the hoards of Gyaru girls to the main shopping drag and zigzag through the shops plying to the followers of Japan’s eccentric street fashionistas. Venture further into the quagmire and luxuriate in the street food, the street art, and a plethora of Tokyo oddities.
Sadly, much of Tokyo’s past did not survive the horrors of WWII, though the city did rebuild its former treasures. One such place to experience this bygone age is the Meiji Shrine, which sits quietly behind the madness of Harajuku Station. The shrine is dedicated to the memory of Emperor Meiji, who was instrumental in reforming Japan’s feudalistic agrarian society to one of industry in the late 1800s. A stroll through the massive forest to the temple offers up some liberating space and a tranquil place to ponder the infinite.
Across town in Asakusa is where you’ll find the illustrious Sensō-ji, one of Japan’s oldest sites of Buddhist worship. The temples are outrageously beautiful and as such are very popular with visitors. Between the stalls selling souvenirs, chow down on ramen, tempura, and takoyaki. The Sanja festival, held in the spring, fills the streets with traditional garbed revellers replete with flutes, bells, drums, chants, floats and, of course, camera-happy tourists.
Having your green tea served by a maid, a mom, a Cosplay antagonist, or in the company of cats and dogs is about the most oddball-Japanese experience there is. Akihabura, as well as being the centre for all things electronic, is where these bizarre cafes convene.
Tokyo By Night
Tokyo has a multitude of bars and clubs to while away the night, but are usually fairly spread out… and absolutely savage to your wallet!
The slightly insalubrious Roppongi has the greatest congregation of bars and nightclubs in the city. The district is a popular hangout for expats, despite its infamous reputation for touts offering wild times in strip clubs. Politely refuse them and you’ll be fine. Check out popular bars Motown, Heartland, Abbott’s Choice, and Propaganda.
Shibuya, famous for the world’s busiest crosswalk, is another hip hangout for the city’s youth. There are plenty of places to eat, but drinking establishments are fairly spread out here. Best spots are Hobgoblin, The Dubliners, and super club Womb.
Then there’s Shinjuku, which has almost everything mentioned in the guide so far. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building offers up an unbelievably beautiful view of the city for free! The North Tower is open till 11pm and should definitely be viewed at sunset. Nightlife in Shinjuku centres around Kabukichō, which also happens to be the world’s largest, and safest, red light district.
A quick note on public transport
With there being both an underground system of subway lines (the Tokyo Metro) and a totally separate railway system (JR East), getting around the city is can be confusing. Adding to the confusion is a general lack of English, separate ticketing, incredibly tangled up lines, and steep prices. Stare at a map long enough though, and a helpful commuter is bound to go above and beyond to help you out.
This is one of the most sincere things I have ever written about myself. I am at a point in my life where I feel comfortable about sharing it, and for my closest friends this will be the first time you hear it. It’s a story I was afraid to tell, but I hope it can serve a purpose now. This is the last post I will be writing.
In life, there are times when the floor drops from beneath you.
Four years ago I asked if I could leave drawing class early to go to a doctor’s appointment. My instructor at the time asked me if everything was OK, to which I reassured, “Of course, I’m fine, it’s probably not a big deal.”
One hour later I was diagnosed with Takayasu’s Arteritis.
My mother and father were in the room, and I was shivering on the table, wearing a hideous hypoallergenic
bag over my body. The specialist we had been sent to see, a cardiac surgeon, told us that there was no mistaking the diagnosis – it was a “textbook” case. And in such a tremendous moment in the lives of my parents and I, he was darkly fascinated.
“I’ve actually never seen a live case before, it’s so rare,” he said. Meanwhile, my father looked into his hands. My mother gripped the armrests of the chair as if she was about to shake it. I was furious. How could this young, hotshot surgeon do this to my parents? “Tell them it’s not a big deal,” I begged in my mind. “Please, just tell them that I can handle it. They don’t understand. Honestly…neither do I.”
I was nineteen years old and a freshman in college. Nothing felt wrong. I was just starting to find my footing, make new friends, and understand what living independently was like. It would all be wiped away.
I had to immediately start treatment and make time to take more tests. We were recommended a cardiologist, a rheumatologist, and secondary hematologist on the spot; rationed a handful of business cards and a dab of pity on top. I remember sitting in the car with my parents after the appointment, all three of us just stuck there in the parking lot, the snow falling steadily around us.
My mom got home and researched online feverishly. My father stood silently behind and watched her search. She looked into the disease, the online support groups, the best specialists. While she was reassured by the internet, I refused to look. To me it seemed a Pandora’s Box that I didn’t want to open. All I knew was that I was going to have to face whatever was about to come my way.
I can’t begin to describe the physical and psychological battle that ensued. In order to slow the progression of this rare type of heart disease, I was prescribed a very high dose of steroids for about a year. The medication caused Cushing’s Syndrome, which had a toxic effect on my body. My face became completely rounded and I got acne. My back developed a painful hump. I gained 15 pounds. Into my legs, thighs and abdomen were carved huge, ugly stretch marks that would never heal. My hair thinned and fell out. I was tired and in pain. My body was falling apart day by day.
Because of how different I looked, I hid myself away at school. Every time someone stared at me on the bus, I was ashamed. Every time I ran into one of the new friends I made, I disappeared within myself. I ate quickly and alone in the corner of the cafeteria, afraid to look past my tray. I remember passing through entire days just looking at the cement of the sidewalk, avoiding questioning glances. One of the worst things was waking up every morning and facing the mirror with the hollow hope that it was all a bad dream.
Nightmares wove in and out of my conscious mind. I woke up from the anesthesia during a surgical test and watched the doctors finish their procedure on me. I passed by my reflection and could not recognize my own face in the mirror. Soon I forgot what I used to look like altogether. My identity slipped further away the more I looked into the face that wasn’t mine, the more I walked around in a body that I had never known. When I could be alone, I sobbed until my chest hurt and I couldn’t breathe. I cried enough for a lifetime.
What hurt me the most, though, was what this was doing to the people I loved most in life. I couldn’t prevent my mother from waking up in the middle of the night in terror, and I couldn’t stop my father from feeling guilty. When I asked my younger sister, “Does my face look that bad today?” I couldn’t stop her heart from sinking.
With all of this happening I made the choice to stay in school, and though it was one of the worst semesters I had completed grade-wise, it set the standard for how I was going to continue living. Just like that, the year I was 19 vanished, but I wasn’t going to let anything else be taken from me.
So I did the strongest thing I could do: I smiled.
I tore my gaze away from the sidewalk. I took deep breaths, looked straight ahead and walked without shame. With my swollen, ugly face I went to concerts. I made fun of myself in front of my friends. I devoted myself to studying. I showed my parents that I had enough strength for all of us. I eventually came off the harsh medication and for many months I focused on recovering. Slowly, my mom worried a little less, my father started telling jokes again, and in my sister’s expressive eyes I saw the reflection of happiness return.
Years later, I am here in Korea.
And I am here because of a lie.
My pen hovered over that part of the application for a while.
With pages and pages of paperwork spread out on the surface of the desk, my pen cast a thin shadow over those two little questions. Finally, the shadow twitched, and I wrote something that I am not proud of.
I made up my mind to teach in Korea shortly after my teacher and good friend recommended it during my junior year of college. I was immediately interested in the idea, researching the various programs, offers, and companies all offering a way for me to live and work abroad. It took a while for my parents to accept how determined I was to live abroad for a year, but with my health at a stable point and the doctor’s approval, they didn’t want to hold me back.
It was a long and arduous process getting all the paperwork together. Notarizations, those damned apostilles, my FBI Background Check getting rejected and returned; precious documents all stapled together with the anxiety that I would get found out and sent back before I even started. My fears stemmed from accounts of people getting rejected from the program for health issues as trivial as migraines. While researching I was also made aware of Korea’s social prejudice against those who are not in perfect health. With a complicated-sounding condition lumped into the category of heart disease, it would have been impossibly difficult to convince a recruiter that I was as healthy and functional as everyone else.
So I passed over the hurdles cautiously, one by one – the application, the paperwork, the TEFL courses, the interviews. On top of the normal anxiety of living abroad for a year, I was constantly afraid I would get pulled out of the program during orientation. Before leaving, I prepared with my doctor a note that described the nature of my condition and that it wouldn’t affect my job performance, just in case I needed a bargaining chip to stay. I was also aware that I would need to undergo a health check, but there was no certainty over what kinds of tests they would run or what they would look for.
Another problem I ran into was getting the medication I needed overseas. I was using a medication that needed to be refrigerated, and I had no idea how I was going to keep it cool. I managed to take a few months worth of it onto the plane with a prescription note and clearance, but when I got to the airport in Korea I was scared that someone would misunderstand, pull me aside and charge me for something. I bought some ice at a convenience store in the airport with my new Korean money and replaced it in the pack. I crammed onto the bus with other confused EPIK-ers, not knowing where I was headed or how long it would take before I could buy more ice.
All during orientation I bought cups of ice, frozen popsicles, and cans of energy drinks from the CU to keep the medication cool. Then, close to the end of orientation, the day of the health check arrived.
I was stricken when one of my friends came back and told me what the health check entailed: I had to take a chest x-ray. This was the same test that had been used to diagnose me back when it all started, so I was mentally preparing to pack up my bags and go back home then and there.
But, by some miracle, I passed the health exam.
After that, I got placed at a great school with amazing teachers, in a nicely-sized apartment just a few steps away. I made it.
One incredible (and healthy!) year later, this faulty little heart of mine is still pouring out gratitude.
I haven’t written this to tell you it’s OK to lie on a job application.
I have written this to tell you that there is nothing holding you back in this world.
Go to a country you’ve only seen in pictures and breathe in its air. Squint against the sunrise of an unfamiliar horizon. Chase after something. Teach. Learn.
I will never find the identity I lost four years ago, but in its stead is a new one; one that I have made with my two hands, that others have strengthened with their kindness and support and love. It is the identity of a woman who is confident, bright, recklessly optimistic, and so, so happy.
In a way, through spending this year abroad I wanted to test myself; to prove that I could do it. In a way, I wanted to escape all semblance of the life that told me “You can’t.” Even if it was only for a year, I wanted to put far behind me the memories of struggle and self-defeat.
I wanted to be unstoppable…and I was.
To everyone who has read my blog this year, thank you. It’s been a dream that’s ended much too soon. Thank you for your comments and encouragement. Thank you for listening. As I start my new life in Chicago (law school, after all!), I will no longer write here, but this blog will always be here to those who want to relive this crazy amazing year with me, all over again.
My sketchbook didn’t exactly get filled this year, but my heart did.
I guess I’m addicted to fresh starts after all.
Many Asian cultures value modesty and graciousness as staples of their culture, and South Korea is no different. This translates into the gift-giving culture as a wonderful way to express gratitude towards others who have shown their kindness. If you are new to the culture, here are a few tips to help your gift-giving in South Korea go smoothly.
The first thing you should understand about the gift-giving culture is that Koreans pride themselves on modesty and humbleness. Gift-giving is a way for Koreans to show respect, keep good kibun (being in a good state of mind), and show modest graciousness. The emphasis on modesty and appreciation lends itself to the way gifts are given and accepted. For example, gifts are given with both hands, and are never opened in front of the giver.
Presentation and Selection of your Gifts
Make an effort to wrap your gifts nicely. Presentation and packaging matter almost as much as the gift itself. Yellow or green-striped wrapping paper is a traditional wrapping design in Korea, and you may want to avoid wrapping gifts in dark or red paper. Red is associated with unpleasantness and isn’t used in gift wrapping.
If you are sending gifts to South Korea as a thank-you or follow-up to a business meeting or visit, try using an international gifting service like GiftBasketsOverseas.com so you can send big baskets of flowers or blossoming shrubs. You can’t send these types of preferred gifts overseas yourself, and these services ensure the package arrives undamaged and perfectly wrapped with bows and ribbons.
Even though Koreans take great pride in their own culture, regional gifts from your home country or town also make great gifts for any occasion. If you aren’t sure what to get, a great resource is to search “regional gifts” on Amazon.com. They have thousands of selections of items you may not have even known exist from your home region!
If you’re already in the country and are at a loss at what to bring the hostess of next week’s dinner party, food can always be your go-to. There has been a bit of a cupcake renaissance in Seoul, and cookies, flowers and candies can be a sweet way to offer your thanks.
Understand the Cultural Taboos and Traditions
In most Asian cultures, giving sharp objects is symbolic of severing the relationship, and the same idea applies in South Korea. While giving a newlywed couple a new set of expensive kitchen knives may be commonplace in other areas of the world, you may want to avoid it in Korea. In fact, you may want to stick to the Korean wedding tradition of giving cold hard cash to the bride and groom.
Many Korean holidays, like Chuseok, are celebrated by exchanging gifts. Wine, fruit and other culinary delicacies are great ideas for these holidays, but don’t discount the value of giving money for celebrations like New Year’s and weddings. Money is actually the preferred gift for many family celebrations.
As a house-warming gift, candles with a big box of matches and laundry detergent may seem odd in your home country, but they are the traditional gifts in Korea.
You may feel like there are rules for every situation and celebration, but gift-giving in Korea is really only centered around one aspect- showing thanks. Understanding the culture and traditions may make your experiences easier, and choosing what to give someone in any circumstance may quickly become second nature. So use the helpful tips, and enjoy your next gift-giving experience!
A View of the Main Hall at Jogyesa Temple in Jongno, Seoul.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Jogyesa Temple, in the heart of Seoul, was first established in 1938. When the temple was first established, a building from Gakhwangsa Temple in neighbouring Susong Park was transferred to the present Jogyesa Temple grounds. This building, which no longer exists, was funded nationally for Korea’s first Korean Buddhist mission. At this time it was renamed Taegosa Temple. The temple changed its name, after the Buddhist Purification Movement in 1954, to its current name of Jogyesa Temple.
You first enter the temple, which is surrounded on all sides by stores selling various Buddhist items, through the entrance gate. The four pillars that support the gate are fronted by the Four Heavenly Kings in beautiful metal form. As you step into the temple courtyard, you’ll notice the nine-tier stone pagoda.
The massive main hall occupies the majority of the compact temple courtyard. The exterior walls are adorned with some masterful Palsang-do murals, as well as some stunning floral latticework. Inside the always busy main hall sits a triad of very large statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).
To the left of the main hall is the temple’s elevated bell pavilion, which is joined by the Yeongsan-jeon. There are an assortment of administrative buildings in this area, as well as the temple’s gift shop.
To the rear of the main hall is the Central Buddhist Museum. If you have the time, the museum is well worth a visit. Most prominent, it houses National Treasure #126, which is the Sarira Reliquaries from the Three-story Stone Pagoda of Bulguksa Temple from around the 8th century.
HOW TO GET THERE: There’s one of three ways that you can get to Jogyesa Temple. The first is from Jonggak subway station (line 1). Go through exit #2 and travel straight for 70 metres. You’ll then need to cross the street and go an additional 100 metres, where you’ll finally see the temple. The second way you can visit the temple is by getting off at Anguk subway station (line 3). Go out exit #6 and go straight for 50 metres. You’ll then need to cross the street in front of Dongduk Gallery. The temple lies an additional 50 metres straight ahead. The third way that you can get to the temple is by getting off at Gwanghwamun subway station (line 5). Take exit #2 and go straight for 150 metres. The temple lies between YTN Parking Tower and Hana Bank.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10. The massive main hall, in its own right, is enough reason to visit Jogyesa Temple. The beautiful murals and latticework that adorns the main hall only help to elevate its beauty. Inside this large hall are equally large sized main altar statues. Add into the mix the metal Heavenly King artwork at the temple entry, as well as the Central Buddhist Museum, and you have more than enough reason to get to this easily accessible temple in the heart of Seoul.
The entry gate at Jogyesa Temple.
One of the unique metal Heavenly Kings.
Another up-close of a Cheonwang.
The nine-tier stone pagoda in the centre of the temple courtyard.
The hovering temple bell pavilion.
A look towards the massive main hall.
Some of the hanging temple artwork just outside the main hall.
The floral latticework adorning the main hall.
Just one of the masterful Palsang-do murals.
A look inside the packed main hall.
The equally large Seokgamoni-bul altar statue.
The Yeongsan-jeon hall to the left of the main hall.
A sign for the Central Buddhist Museum.
A look at National Treasure #126.
And remember to check out the free PDF version of this lesson, with extra information and examples, on the YouTube PDFs page (link at top).
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A much shorter version of this appeared here in March 2013, but I recently revisited this piece and gave it a complete makeover: longer, meatier, and whitens your teeth. Check it out, and thanks for dropping by!