“DID IDSAY THAT OUT LOUD?”
Every English speaking person who travels abroad comes across an occasion where a quaint usage of the language is sighted. I’m sure it is the same for speakers of other languages as well as foreigners mangle their native tongue. When travelling in Asia the most common sightings of unusual English phrases is on clothing and signs. I couldn’t help myself when I saw this young girl walking in a main street in Seoul. I’m sure she knew what the words were intended to say, but was probably unaware of the spelling error!
After a short trip to the south of South Korea we returned to Seoul to celebrate with our hosts the harvest festival of Chuseok. This a family gathering time and a celebration of a good harvest and of ancestors. In the days leading up to Chuseok the shops are full of gift items and special foods and furniture that are part of the rituals that go with the day.
Chuseok is also a time when you see the national Hanbok costume worn in the streets, especially by older people and children. Supermarkets and department stores bring out racks of Hanbok to entice first-time buyers or older customers to update their costumes. Hanbok is often characterized by vibrant colors and simple lines without pockets. Although the term literally means “Korean clothing”, hanbok today often refers specifically to hanbok of Joseon Dynasty and is worn as semi-formal or formal wear during traditional festivals and celebrations.
This image was captured on a Seoul metro train and shows a young girl with her mother. Mother probably has a wedding photograph showing her wearing Hanbok, but probably only otherwise wears it on formal occasions. Young girls especially like to be seen in Hanbok at the time of Chuseok.
Whenever I see this image taken at a beach on Geojedo, an island near Busan in South Korea, I immediately think of the title of the book by Malachy McCourt “A Monk Swimming”. The title arises from a childhood mishearing of “amongst women”, a phrase from the Catholic rosary prayer, Hail Mary.
The image of the two Buddhist monks was taken in the early evening when we were wandering along the beach after a day of exploration and a visit to the Samsung Heavy Industries Shipyard on Geojedo.
A visit to any place of worship, no matter what religion, usually presents a group of willing people preparing or maintaining property or articles of worship as part of their commitment to the faith. Such was the case when we visited a Buddhist temple in Gyeongju Province, South Korea. This happy group of ladies was polishing the temple brass in the shade on the lawn beside the temple. There was animated chatter and laughter as they went about their task of bringing the brassware back to a high luster.
Before we went to China in 2008 for our Yangtze River Cruise my wife and I spent three weeks touring South Korea with our hosts, the parents of our new Korean daughter-in-law. One of the highlights of this time was a visit to the Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan. It was a wet day and people visiting the market crowded the areas under the canvas awnings seeking shelter while they inspected the daily catch offered by the market vendors. Many of the fish on display were new to us and we were fascinated to watch local housewives carefully selecting fish for that night’s meal.
Incy Wincy Spider
While on an early morning walk in rural Gyeong ju Province, South Korea in 2008 I spotted this colourful spider near the pathway beside a field of rice. I didn’t get closer than my telephoto lens would allow!
A Buddhist Prayer
Here is another image from my 2008 Korea trip series. It is an image about colour, patterns and repetition represented by an array of paper prayer lanterns at a Buddhist temple on the northeast coast of South Korea.
Every faith community has its own unique way of offering prayers to their god(s) and each is deeply rooted in their cultural backgrounds. Some prayers are offered freely and personally, while others are offered by some kind of proxy. Whichever way is chosen, every prayer has a very personal meaning to the person offering the prayer.
Buddha in the Mist
Two days after our arrival in Seoul, South Korea in 2008 we were whisked off to the mountains of Seoraksan in the eastern part of the country. The Sinheungsa Temple lies in the Seoraksan National Park. The giant 10 metre bronze Jwabul Statue is at the entry into the temple complex. A fascinating aspect of many of the temple sites is the hand-inscribed tiles that can be found nearby. Visitors can make a donation and leave a message, apparently in the hope of good health or fortune.
The trail to the Sinheungsa Temple crosses a stone bridge and follows the river to the temple gate. Inside the gate a courtyard is crossed to reach the temple. It rained the whole time during our visit and large puddles had formed in the courtyard. The colourful temple stood out from the damp green surroundings and overcast grey skies.
Further up the river valley is a large spherical rock called Heundeulbawi which sits on top of a larger flat rock into which Chinese characters have been carved. Heundeulbawi is about 5 metres high and can be slightly rocked with some effort.
The rain and mist added eeriness to the surroundings and helped to make the visit more memorable. The next day the sky was clear and the views from the top of the nearby cable car were clear to the horizon.
Dol hareubang (Beoksu) Statues – Jejudo, South Korea
One of the first things you see when you visit Jeju Island (Jeju-do) are statues carved from the soft volcanic rock. The statues are to be found all around the island. There is even a statue park near the island’s capital, Jeju.
The large mushroom-like statues are considered to be gods offering both protection and fertility and were placed outside of gates for protection against demons travelling between realities.
We found them at all the places we visited on the island. At any tourist site you will find shops with replicas and goods packaged in plastic containers in the shape of one of the statues.
Haenyo – Diving Ladies, Jejudo, South Korea
Our visit to South Korea in 2008 took us to Jejudo, the largest island off the south coast and legendary spot for honeymoon couples. Many modern honeymooners now choose to go to Hawaii instead.
Jejudo is also the home of the Haenyo, the diving ladies who dive for seafood along the southern coast of the island. We encountered them at Seongsan ilchulbong in a UNESCO World Heritage Park. Although the women, mostly middle-aged to senior citizens, put on “performances” from 1.00 – 2.00 pm each day, they are clearly very proficient at what they do.
Dressed in their black neoprene dive suits, fins and masks, they swim with white polystyrene floats that hold their catch bags, and dive amongst the rocks offshore for seafood. Here a diving lady shows a small octopus that is clinging to her arm after she reached into her dive bag.
When the women dive they hold their breath for about 2 minutes as they dive over 10m below sea level. Most have been diving since the age of 12 to 14 years old. There are about 5600 woman divers on Jejudo, and the numbers reduce each year as the elder members retire.
It is a pity that the women have become little more that a tourist attraction and less of a part of the cultural life of an ancient island way of life.
Buddhist Monk at Gulguksa Temple, Korea
Of the many images captured during our visit to Korea in 2008, this one keeps coming back to me. We were in Korea to visit the parents of our daughter-in-law and during our stay we experienced tremendous hospitality and generosity. Koreans are very proud of their country and our hosts ensured that we saw and experienced as much of the Korean way of life as possible during our three week stay. This included a trip to the historical Gyeongju Province and the many palaces, museums and temples for which the area is famous.
Gulguksa Temple is a World Heritage site and is “No. 1 tourist site in Korea”. While viewing one of the smaller temples on the grounds this Buddhist monk came into view. The bright summer day seemed to make the colours of the temple more vibrant and the monk glow in the sunlight. In a flash he was gone, but in that flicker of time the image of him walking through the view seemed to capture what this place was all about.
Sony Alpha DSLR – A200, 1/250 sec, F 10, ISO 400, Sony DT 18-70mm lens at 60 mm
Night Baker – Itaewon, Seoul
Itaewon in Seoul, Korea contains a small Islamic district clustered around a mosque at the top of a hill. As you walk up the narrow street towards the mosque you pass a cluster of shops selling Islamic food, clothing and other items one might think of being usually associated with people of that faith.
At the time of our visit to Itaewon the call to prayer at dusk had been broadcast. People were hurrying toward the mosque, passing this baker who was preparing bread for the oven, maybe to be ready for the faithful when they returned from prayer.
Sony Alpha DSLR A200, 1/8 sec, F5.6, ISO 400, Sony DT 17-70 mm lens at 35 mm (hand held)
Each day at the Deoksu Palace in Seoul there is a parade in period costume of the imperial guard. Its a colourful display of marching, drums, banners and standing around for photo opportunities. This fellow obligingly stood at the palace gate while fellow tourists took or had their photos taken of and with him.
Sony Alpha DSLR – A200, 1/400 sec, F5.6, ISO 400, Sony DT 17-70mm 3.5-5.6 at 70mm