Mar 31, 2010

Korean Folklore

I am absolutely becoming obsessed with Korean Folklore. Their stories are great, the kids share them with me, my coworkers share them with me and then I try to retell them.

So, although this isn't the best way to do it, I have found these stories and want to share. I know it is alot of reading, but you may like them too. (the bear and tiger story is my favorite :)

The Creation of the World

At the beginning the world did not exist. A deity named Yul-ryeo 율려 (律呂) and a goddess named Mago 마고(麻姑) appeared. Yul-ryeo then died. Mago in turn gave birth to two goddesses: Gung-hee 궁희(穹姬) and So-hee 소희 (巢姬). They in turn each gave birth to twoMen of Heaven 천인 (天人) and two Women of Heaven 천녀 (天女).

After the appearance of the Heavenly People, Yul-ryeo 율려 is revived and through her re-birth heaven, earth, and the oceans were created, along with Chi (soul) 기 (氣), fire 불 (火), water 물 (水), and earth 흙 (土). These four elements in turn mixed and became herbs and plants, birds and animals.

Mago 마고 (麻姑) decided to stay with Yul-ryeo, whose body had now become the world, and the Heavenly People ruled all living things from their heavenly fortress named Magoseong 마고성 (麻姑城) in honour of the goddess.

The Coming of Humankind

There were four Heavenly Men guarding each cardinal direction of the fortress, and they were Cheong-gung 청궁 (靑穹), Hwang-gung 황궁 (黃穹) who were children of Gunghwee, and Hukso 흑소(黑巢), Baekso 백소(白巢)who were children of Sohwee. They in turn married the four Heavenly Women, and gave birth to twelve children, who would become the ancestors of the humans.

These ancestors were pure and were have said to drink from Earth's Milk 지유 (地乳), which came from a spring inside the castle. They could speak without making sounds, and act without seeing and never died. Thus they lived for ten thousand years undisturbed.

Then there came a time when the number of people became too large. There was not enough of Earth's Milk (or "Jiyu") to go around for everyone. Because of this, a man from the line of Baekso 백소 (白巢) by the name of Jiso 지소 (支巢) decided to cede his meal of Earth's Milk five times to his neighbours (other versions say that he waited in line but the line was so long he never got his turn). Eventually his hunger grew intolerable, and deciding to kill himself he headed towards a cliff, where he saw a grape vine growing in the edges. Unable to suppress his hunger, he ate the grapes and immediately acquired the five tastes of sourness, bitterness, spiciness, sweetness, and saltiness. This is known as the Incident of the Five Tastes (오미의 변).

Jiso 지소 (支巢) returned to his people and told them of his discovery. Soon however, those who ate from these grapes began to grow teeth. From the teeth spewed a saliva that turned into venom. This was because they had eaten another living thing in order to stay alive.

Soon they were able to see, but were no longer able to hear the heavens. Their skin became coarse, their feet heavy, and they were no longer pure. They gave birth to many animal-resembling children and their lifespans began to shrink.

There eventually came a point when the people of Magosung 마고성 (麻姑城) began blaming Jiso (지소) for the transformation, and he along with his family and all those who had eaten the grapes were forced to leave Magosung 마고성 (麻姑城).

As the line of Jiso was leaving, however, Hwang-gung (황궁:黃穹, one of the four guardians and a direct ancestor of the Korean people) tried to encourage them by saying that if they could recover their pure nature, they would be free of their misery.

Upon hearing this, the people became convinced that the only way to become pure once more was to drink from Earth's Milk again. They then stormed the castle and overwhelmed it, razing the fortress to its foundations in order to reveal the source of the spring that had given them Earth's Milk. The spring, however, began to flow in all directions and thereafter the milk turned into inedible earth, leaving not only the original perpetrators but all the former inhabitants of the now destroyed castle to starve.

Soon thereafter there ensued a massive famine, and everyone was reduced to devouring not only grapes, but all sorts of plants and even animals in an attempt to satiate their hunger. Of them only Hwang-gung 황궁 (黃穹) came forth to Mago 마고 (麻姑) and begged her for forgiveness. He swore he would not rest until mankind could recover its pure nature. From her he obtained the Three Heavenly Heirlooms, and great knowledge. He then called together all the people of the earth, taught them agriculture, and gave each clan leader a Heavenly Heirloom and then sent them off in different directions to people the earth.

The Settling of the World

Cheong-gung 청궁 (靑穹) went to the East, where he established China.

Baekso 백소 (白巢) and his people moved to the West and became the people of Europe and the Middle East.

Heukso 흑소 (黑巢) moved to the South, into the region that is now India and Southeast Asia.

The Establishment of Korea

Hwang-gung 황궁 (黃穹) took three thousand followers and they alone went to the harsh North, to a place called Cheonsanju 천산주 (天山洲), meaning "land of the heavenly mountain" where the land was cold and dangerous. He had done this on purpose, because he wanted to be purified once more. Upon arrival, Hwang-gung 황궁 (黃穹) signed an oath swearing that he would recover his purity.

Hwang-gung 황궁 (黃穹) ruled for a thousand years, using the Heavenly Heirloom, which granted him power over fire and the sun. Hwang-gung eventually achieved his goal of self-purification. To his oldest son Yuin 유인 (有因) he gave the Heavenly Heirloom as a sign of his right to govern the kingdom, whereas to his two younger sons he gave the responsibility of governing over a province each. He then departed to the Heavenly Mountain 천산 (天山) where he became a stone that could speak Yul-ryeo's message, constantly reminding men of their path to innocence.

Yuin 유인(有因) ruled for another thousand years. Using the Heavenly Heirloom, he taught his people how to tame fire and cook food. He later left for the Heavenly Mountain as well and gave the heirloom to his a son by the name of Han-in 한인 (桓因) [sometimes pronounced "Hwanin" 환인]. Han-in 한인 (桓因) was the last of the heavenly rulers, who used the power of the Heirloom to bring abundant sunlight and good weather. Under the three thousand years of peaceful reign since Hwang-gung 황궁 (黃穹), the people eventually lost their animal-like appearance and slowly began recovering their image.

Very little survives of the Pre-Buddhist mythologies, the vast majority of them having been oral literature and a substantial amount of them now forgotten from folklore.

It seems that out of an initial chaos the world was formed and a race of giants set up the stars in the heavens, and separated them from a deepness of water. When their job was finished they fell into an eternal slumber and their bodies became the islands and mountains etc

The Sun and the Moon

In the world before the sun and the moon, only the stars existed.

It was in these early days that there lived siblings: Haesik (해식) the older brother and Dalsun (달순) the younger sister. Their mother was a poor peasant woman who sold rice-cakes for a living.

The mother was returning from the village one day when she was encountered by a tiger perched on a hill demanding a rice-cake in exchange for sparing her life. She gave it to him and the tiger went away, only to appear before her at the next hill; this time demanding two rice cakes. She gave him the cakes, only to find him again on the third hill, this time asking for four rice cakes. When the mother finally ran out of rice cakes to feed him, the tiger threatened to devour her.

The mother pleaded, saying she was the sole mother of two children. Upon hearing this the tiger's hunger grew even more vicious. He devoured the mother and then took on her clothing as a disguise. He then made his way to the house where he knew the children awaited.

At the house the children were worried that their mother was not returning. Haesik suggested they lock the door, when he heard a voice calling them from outside. Dalsun, the younger, thought it was her mother, but Haesik knew the voice was different and sensed that something was not right. The tiger urged them to open the door, but Haesik staunchly refused.

Not giving in, the tiger used some of the powder left from the rice cakes and applied it on the back of his hand, making them look white. When he inserted his fingers through a space in the door, Dalsun became convinced that it was their mother and immediately opened the door. The tiger chased them until the children climbed up to the safety of a tree.

When the tiger found an axe in the house and began chopping down on the tree, Dalsun made a prayer asking the heavens to send down a strong rope if they should be saved and a rotten rope if they were to be damned. A strong rope was sent down, and both siblings climbed up until they reached the heavens.

Seeing this, the tiger made a similar request, but the rope he got was rotten and he fell in a millet field. His blood stained the millet and this is why millet stalk is said to be red.

In heaven, Haesik became the sun (Haennim 햇님) and Dalsun became the moon (Dallim 달님), but later Dalsun complained that she was afraid of the dark. Thus Haesik decided to stand in for her so that Dalsun could become the sun.

Founding Myth of Ancient Joseon

In the heavens lived a god 천제 (天帝) by the name of Hwanin 환인 (桓因). Hwanin is an alias of Indra.[2] Hwanin is the name in Buddhismof Indra, this name is widely used in east Asia. Hwanin had a son by the name of Hwanung 환웅 (桓雄). Everyday, Hwanung would peer over the edge of heaven down into the earth and shed tears. When asked why by his father, Hwanung answered that he worried for the fate of the mortals and that he wished to rule them in order to bring peace and justice into their kind. Moved by his devotion, Hwanin allowed him to descend into the world and rule. He gave his son Three Heavenly Heirlooms 천부삼인 (天符三印), along with a group of three thousand servants, and ordered the Three Lords of wind 풍백 (風伯), rain 우사 (雨師), and clouds 운사 (雲師) to follow him.

Hwanung thus descended onto the world. He first arrived at the mountain-top of Mount Taebaek and there established a city he calledShinshi 신시 (神市), meaning City of the Gods. Hwanung took care of 360 human affairs, including agriculture, life, illness, justice, good and evil, etc. It was during this time that two beasts approached him, wishing to become human.

One of them, a tiger, is now thought to symbolize a tiger-totem clan that vied for power along with the bear, representing the gentler and more civilized bear-clan.

Hwanung gave both of them a handful of mugwort and twenty cloves or garlic, with which they had to stave off their hunger while remaining inside a dark cave without seeing the sunlight for 100 days. The tiger in his temper, ran away before the ordeal was through, but the bear remained patient and on the twenty-first day turned into a beautiful woman. The woman was given the name Ungnyeo 웅녀 (熊女).

Not long after her transformation, Ungnyeo began to crave a child, but since she has been a beast before she became a woman, no one was willing to wed her. In her sadness she sat beneath a holy tree and prayed for a child everyday. Hwanung, moved by her prayers, took human form for a brief moment and through him she gave birth to a son.

This son is Dangun, forefather of the Korean people.

Dangun established a kingdom he called Asadal 아사달 (阿斯達), meaning "place where the morning sun shines". This name was later changed to Joseon 조선 (朝鮮) (Now called Ancient Joseon to distinguish it from the later Joseon kingdom). Legend has it that Dangun ruled undisturbed for one thousand five hundred years before his kingdom was invaded by the Ju Empire. He is said to have lived until he was 1,908 years of age—at which point he decided to leave the mortal lands and headed for the quiet of the mountains where he became a divine spirit of the mountain, or Sansillyeong (산신령).

Mar 30, 2010

Gwangju Spring Flower Expo!

What could possibly get you more amped up for spring than some sweet smellin flowers? Well, yes, baseball might....and yeah, warmer weather but Well, if nothing else the 2010 Gwangju Spring Flower Expo gave us something to check out on Saturday. We cabbed it over with a korean guy we work with and his girlfriend to see the floral "fantasmofest" in the afternoon which was in itself an experience. We got and quickly realized that the cabby was a war vet with some fairly impressive looking decoration that was once a part of his uniform proudly displayed on the dash of the cab. What's nice about traveling with a Korean friend that is bi-lingual is that we have a unique opportunity to understand completely what is being said to us without nodding nervously to everything. The cabby explained to us that he was given the cab after his service term ended from the government so that he could have a job which we thought was fantastic. He also explained to us how gratful he was to have the U.S. as an ally on the battlefield and as a country today. He actually worked on building the first set of highways in Korea that was funded by American dollars paid to Korea for their support in the Vietnam War. Needless to say, Nicole and I were moved just hearing the guy speak the way he did about our home country and history he had fighting alongside our troops long before us.

Ok, so after the uplifting cab ride we arrived at the Kim Dae-jung Convention Center for the expo. There was a pretty decent crowd on hand as it was the first day of the event and the weather was fantastic. The outside area had a long row of tents that featured some of the familiar fair that we've come to expect from most fests. Dried fruits, nuts, wooden silverware...a soju sampling.

We did see some honeycomb though that was frikin amazing tasting.

Once inside the center were more booths with an array of vendors selling more stuff, not all flower related. This lady had no choice but to pose for a shot as she got something treated inside that roller coaster car looking spa thingy. Not really sure exactly what was happening to her underneath but she was happy about it and that was plenty enough for me to know.

Inside the actual exhibition hall was actually less hectic. Half of the area was devoted to flower displays which were very nice and elaborate. As I am not a connoisseur of the floral arts, I was mainly drawn to the bright ones.

A few oddities were stroon a huge high heel.....a camper....some sailboats, and screen golf.

We ate some very under "iced" ice cream which we both paid for later (sorry). We then watched a bit of Theatrical Tae-kwon-do which I can only assume is what the most discriminating flower lovers like to do.

After we had our fill of flowers and Nicole was finished signing autographs, we called it a day. It was a good time and nice to see all the fam's out with their kids for the afternoon. Tixx for those local and interested are 5000 won and the expo runs from 3/26-4/4 this year.
Thanks for readin,adam


This morning while I was drinking my coffee at 7 am, I celebrated Passover via skype with my family. Although there is no matzo here, I did get my one bag of kosher marshmellows with coconut mailed to me along with a box of matzo ball soup mix. You can also pick up a nice bottle of the all popular Manichevitz here in Emart.

I don't think sticking to the Passover diet here will be that hard. Yes they have a ton of bread, but seaweed, rice and cabbage are of course our main dishes daily here.

Chag Sameach (sp?)

I love you guys!

Mar 29, 2010

Nicole's Garden....

As spring season is approaches, our resident horticulturist is back at it. This weekend Nicole took some time to prepare her garden which given our limited gardening space consists of some pots and window boxes. This season we'll be growing some tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and thyme so as the season rolls on we'll keep ya posted with updates.

hope you never stop growing...(heh heh...whatever.)

Mar 26, 2010

virtually addicted...

Plucked from today's headlines courtesy of is an article detailing Korea's online obsession with some interesting perspective on the phenomena and why its become so out of control. Check it out for the full rundown. link

For us, we noticed the Korean's love right away just by visiting a local PC bang and viewing first-hand the hoards of school kids funneling in at any small break from school to get their "Starcraft" or "SuddenAattack" fix to name just a few. The streets are literally lined with "PC Bangs" as they are called and with some being 24 hours, the addiction to internet gaming, chatting and just the basic escape to a virtual world is never hard to satisfy.
Students are constantly talking to me about an array of games that I "must" try. As it stated in the CNN article, Korean game developers are in the tens of thousands now and pumping out new titles all the time. It doesn't surprise me that researchers are attributing this craze to a work obsessed society either. If I had to work 60 hour weeks or go to school 6-7 days a week i'd be looking for a release too, and they find it online.

It'll be interesting to see how the government handles the epidemic and if they can unplug the most wired country in the world.

thanks for reading,

Mar 21, 2010

a new do

This weekend I decided I needed a change. After much debate I decided on Hair Tokyo as my place of attack. Being in Asia, with mostly black hair'd natives, how on earth do you trust anyone to add a little blonde to you? Well, at work I work with a few Foreign teachers who all swear hair tokyo can do the job. So, armed with a picture saved on the new ipod touch, I went in.

They got straight to work, three of them on my hair. At one point, I had to call a Korean for translation help, it seems they were concerned as to how the dye would work on my black dyed hair and my brown natural roots growing in. Seeing as though they didn't strip the color out or tone the bleach after, I was a little nervous. But, after they blew dried my hair, I was a bit disappointed because there was really no change in my hair color, except right around my once again, phone a Korean.

Between Giana (my phone a friend) and I, I asked, more please. So, two more hours later, I had more. I had three girls straightening my hair at once. I don't think I have had hair this light since I was 21. While this was all taking place, the manager snapped a few photos for their website. They said nice color. So, I think it more meant, foreigner getting their hair done op!

Although in the picture it appears a bit orange, I love it, it looks fantastic. So, ladies in Gwangju, I highly recommend hair tokyo. (ignore the strange faces they are making, it is very common for no smile, cute face when a camera is in play)

Gwangyang Maehwa Festival

Thank god.....the weather finally decided to take a turn for the better this weekend which allowed your favorite cold weather phobes the opportunity to get out an explore again. We took the 2 hour trip southwest to the city of Gwangyang for the Maehwa festival which is known for the Maehwa apricot tree that blooms a very pretty white flower that decorates the rolling landscape.

We ran into some old friends Peter and Leah who were heading out to the fest and made a day of it together. We grabbed some bibimbop on arrival to power up and trekked though the pathways leading us throughout the area, attempting some artsy photog's of the flowers as we went.

In true Korean fashion, we witnessed the usual high-heel hikers at the peak of the climb which although somewhat impressive, never fails to induce a "wtf" moment for me.

After we'd seen enough of the blooms we walked to a second level of the fest where we took in the sounds of some Korean sax players and checked out a field of plum wine barrels. We also got to sample some pickled and spiced plum in the gift shop nearby.

The last stop in our visit was back on ground level where a large outdoor tent was setup with booths and some sort of award ceremony. In the tent were some handmade tapestries, jewlery, traditional wall art and a cool booth that let you build your own flower crate of wood. Naturally, Nicole being an excellent carpenter, she jumped in and constructed a masterpiece which will be a gift for her yoga instructor in town.

Nicole can't get enough of these little Korean babies strapped to their mom's backs.

It was nice to get back outside after what has seemed like a long and uber-chilly winter. Lots of fests and events upcoming so stay tuned and thanks as always for checkin us out.


All of the photos from today are under the photos link at the top of the website.

Mar 20, 2010

haeundae beach

A few weeks ago we went to Busan and stayed in Haeundae Beach. Haeundae Beach may be the most famous beach in all of Korea. Of course we went during the winter so it wasn't packed with Koreans in heels enjoying the sunshine from underneath their sweatshirts (see some earlier posts on the beach).

Haeundae was named by the poet Choi Chi-Won, it means Sea and Clouds. He has a stone somewhere on the Beach with his Calligraphy written on it.

There is an aquarium for all the tourists. All my students highly recommend it, but most adults I know have said that they have enjoyed other ones more.

We then took a walk along the front of the beach and saw this great sign, which Adam definitely approved of.

Then, infront of the waterfront Westin hotel there were three or four Ajummas in the water facing the freezing cold water and wind exercising with their gloves on and masks to shield themselves from the very little sun.
You can also take a stroll along the Sea on a very long boardwalk that circles the beach and Dongbaek Island which was once an island but with the buildup of sand and such it is now connected to the main land. Along the way is a beautiful mermaid sculpture. She represents the legendary heart breaking love story of the Princess of Topaz from the Naranda country beyond the Sea. In this country lived a mermaid who was married to the King of Mungungnara. She shed many tears longing for her homeland and reflecting on the topaz beads given to her by her grandmother-in-law which she holds in her hands.

As you stroll through the city of Haeundae you can see just how developed and wealthy the area is. You don't see many of the apartment highrises like you do here in Gwangju, but more condo towers and hotels. There is even a Trump Tower built. We are not sure if it is a legit one, but it sure did look like it.

(I edited the pictures playing around with the new photoscape)

Happy St. Patty's Day

Yes, I realize it is a few days too late, but I just got this picture from my mother today and I couldn't help but share. Although we celebrated the holiday with the absence of green beer, cornbeef and cabbage, we did wear our green...I wore it on the 17th here in Korea and Adam wore it the next day to celebrate with America.
We hope all of you celebrated double..for us!

Mar 16, 2010

i Heart me

Seeing a Korean woman without make-up on is pretty rare unless shes like 80 or 8. There is a very strong sense of vanity here and they don't try to hide it one bit. The pic above we had to take on the sly of a woman that was out eating dinner. She literally sat with a fairly large mirror up to her face for a good 4 minutes or so evening out any possible imperfections that would obviously ruin the occasion. What you can't see because my fat head was in the way are her 3 other friends who were all engaging in the same activity. This repeated itself about 3 times in the 45 minutes that we ate.
In school we see it all day.....between the mirrored cell phones and fold-able desktop mirrors, students as young as 11 can't go 30 minutes without a few glances. Yes, this is a cell phone charm with a mirror on it.
To help perpetuate the fury of self-picture taking to check for runny mascara, Samsung now has a new "mirror" digital camera with a small lcd screen on the front so you'll get a perfect shot...of your entirely too perfect face.
Its not just the woman...every public restroom I visit seems to be equipped with a few Korean men powdering up and i don't mean just washing hands. I even saw two dudes doing each others hair the other day.

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