Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dinner and a Show...WOW

Tonight we enjoyed a traditional Buddhist temple meal.  After wondering through the maze-like ally ways of the Insadong neighborhood of Seoul we entered a restaurant, or tea house, fashioned in the style of an old Buddhist temple.  After removing our shoes at the entrance, we were escorted to tables for which we sat on the floor (on flat pillows).  Massive quantities of food were already on the table for us and then more kept being brought out and/or being uncovered due to being previously hidden by food on a large flat board which had been set on top of a basket with more intrigues inside.  Following the consumption of mass consumables, there was a traditional dance performance.  Enjoy the pictures of tonight's dinner and a show:

Art Abounds

This afternoon we went to the Korean National History Museum.  The mammoth building has three stories housing the permanent exhibits plus much more space for traveling special exhibits.  Here is a taste of Korea's history through the artifacts in this museum:

Friday, June 28, 2013

Lectures...Round Two

I'll post professor pictures ASAP

During our second day at Korea University we had lectures/discussions on the following topics: Modern History, Society, Traditional Arts, and (following lunch in the university cafeteria) Cinema.

Modern History: While the session's title was geared to the modern era, it included background information on the legacy Korea's 2000 years of written history.  Nationalistic maps often portray the era of the "Three Kingdoms" as being much larger than they most likely were.  This era of "Three Kingdoms" might better be classified as the first era of a divided Korea (as compared with the current North-South split). The Choson Dynasty was 500 years and there are other examples of dynasties elsewhere in the world.  An interesting discussion focused on the heroes' images placed on currency: in Korea such are dominated by the Confucian scholars rather than key political or military leaders.  It was noted that there were three waves of the era of Japanese occupAtion and only the third (1931-1945, assimilationist era) in which Japanese behavior become deplorable and most Koreans truly developed a strong hatred.  The speaker's analysis contends that Gen. MacArthur is highly responsible for the current North-South split: his telegraphed ideas about an invasion of China during Korean War so as to oust Mao were intercepted and resulted in the Chinese invasion which caused UN/US/Southern forces to lose ground and shift back to armistice line.  A short discussion focused on "dictators" of the south which impacted economic development.

Society: The presentation began with a 21 minute video of the 1980s pro-democracy protest movements in South Korea so as to help contextualize the political society.  The discussion which followed focused on what could be an intriguing dynamic considering such a strong social push for increased democracy; there is a strong conservative perspective with a longing toward the leaders of the 60s-early 80s. Why might this be...not long after the political structural shifts there was some economic turmoil that occurred in the same era as the political liberalization.  The American montra of "it's the ecomomy, stupid" might help put the longing to the era of pseudo-democracy.  In the recent 2012 presidential elections, lower-class (economically frustrated) voters had a 65.7% bend toward the more conservative (era of less democracy and more governmental control of the economy) perspective.  It's little surprise that the daughter of one of the former president-dictators won the election, especially with a campaign making strong overtures to the success of her father's era.

Traditional Arts: A discussion which rapidly covered a progression of time using the various mediums of traditional Korean art.  Slides were shown of items used as examples as the era and medium being discussed.  One especially important aspect of the discussion which grabbed my attention involved the diffusion of culture, religion, and art from China to Korea to Japan: slides were shown of "National Treasure No. 83", a bronze bodhisattva statue made in Korea, connects with the diffusion of Buddhism from China into Korea and then a later, near identical, red pine statue found at a temple in Japan shows the continued diffusion of Buddhism on to Japan and yet in a Japanese traditional art form.  As Confucianism migrated into Korea the styles changed from elaborate to a more non-di script symbol design in white ceramics.

Cinema: Korean cinema has a troubled history often linked with strong censorship during both the era of Japanese occupation as well as the pseudo-democratic dictatorships.  Recent relaxing in censorship and international attention to domestic film festivals have advanced Korean cinema into international perspective.  Korea has 50+ university departments with degrees in film making.  Going to the theaters is big among viewers where as home viewing (DVD or online) is low.  40-60% of tickets purchased are for local films rather than those from other countries.  Many stars get their start on TV and then transition with popularity.  Korean films tend to be less ironic and more emotionally direct than films from other countries.


The Learning

This morning our group headed off to Korea University for the first three sessions of our lecture series while here in Seoul.  Various professors from both KU as well as other colleges/universities in Korea and the U.S. are sharing their expertise on a variety of Korean social, political, and economic issues.  Today our lectures where over "Language", "Economy", and "Education" in Korea.

Language: The Korean alphabet, better known as Hangeul, was created in the mid-1400s under the leadership of King Sejung.  The Korean people had been heavily influenced by the Chinese for centuries, and while they spoke a distinct language the Chinese alphabet had been used for the written version of Korean.  Sejung felt that the Chinese characters were too complicated for the common people and wanted something more simple in hopes that they could learn to read.  It is estimated that today there are 79 million speakers of Korean world-wide: 60% in South Korea, 31% in North Korea, and 9% elsewhere (China, Russia, USA, etc.).

David = 데이비드 (pronounced: deibideu)
Oklahoma = 오클라호마 (pronounced: okeullahoma

Professor Mikyung Chang
Economy: A very intriguing discussion regarding South Korea's economic development growth.  In the aftermath of the Korean War South Korea was the poorest country in Southeast Asia (even below North Korea).  Due to multiple five-year plans and lots of regulations from a strong "dictatorial" government the economy rapidly developed.  As of 2012, South Korea joined an economic group which their media calls the "20-50 Club", those countries who have an annual per capita income of $20,000 or more AND a population of at least 50 million people.  There are currently only seven total countries that meet both qualifications: Japan (joined in 1987), USA (1988), France (1990), Italy (1990), Germany (1991), UK (1996), and South Korea (2012).  One interesting point raised was that the government understood that the fertility rate (average number of children born per woman) is linked to economic development and thus a policy was enacted to discourage couples from having more than two children each: any government based economic incentives, like health insurance, was denied to the 3rd or subsequent child.  However, significant concerns developed in the 1990s with the economic advancement combined with declining population growth that there would eventually not be enough workers paying taxes so as to help finance government-based elder care programs (like our Social Security) so now there are cash bonus plus the other benefits if couple will have more than two children--it is too early to tell how much long-term success will come from these programs.
Professor Innwon Park
Education:  Following a brief video created by the Korean Ministry of Education, the discussion noted that Korean education was much of the driving force behind the economic growth.  The government wanted to profit from its human capital so it tried to provide the best quality education possible.  So much in Korean society has been linked with the "best" education that many parents place a large amount of pressure on their students to earn the highest possible grades and national standardized test scores.  So important is this quest for high grades, many families hire tutors for their children's after school hours.  It was "claimed" that the most influential indicator of a couple's marital happiness is(are) the score(s) of their child(ren) on standardized tests.  With her blessing, the discussion ventured away from the presenters pre-planned PowerPoint presentation to a discussion on the importance of educational systems which place so much emphasis on standardized test scores, an issue of concern to many educators and parents within the United States.
Professor Mimi Bong
The Teaching

Following the morning of being "students" and our special lunch meeting at Korea University, we traveled across Seoul to Goyang Foreign Language High School.  As we entered the meeting hall we were welcomed by thunderous applause from the pre-selected student guides for the afternoon.  Word of greeting were given by the school's principal and two student leaders.  GFLHS is a private Christian school in which most of the students live on campus due to the distance from their families' homes.  The nearly 1400 students are involved in school-related studies (classes and co-curricular activities) from 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM Monday through Friday and until 1:00 PM on Saturdays (yes, that's 18 hours of school per day!!!).

washing up after PE class

The students then broke up into small groups to accompany pairs of teachers from our team on a campus tour which would concluded at their home room class.  Once at the classrooms we were able to spend about 15 minutes on a lesson we had previously prepared (originally we were told 25 minute lessons...but hey, things change, right?).  I quickly passed out some bookmarks of Sequoya and Clara Luper I had taken as gifts and briefly explained each person's significance in Oklahoma's history.  It was cool to be able to connect Sequoya's Cherokee story with that of King Sejung and the Korean alphabet.

lesson handouts and Sequoya bookmark 

I then passed out the handouts I had made for my lesson/discussion on "Natural Disasters and Community Response".  Due to the time changes, I wasn't able to provide the time for individual writing and small group discussions for which I had planned.  I was able to, however, briefly discuss the recent May 20 tornado in Moore and SW Oklahoma City and show them pictures of the tornado with Southmoore in the foreground as well as before/after pictures of the overall tornado path and Plaza Towers Elementary School.  Students enjoyed the fact that my handouts included pictures of the front pages of two Korean newspapers with headlines/pictures of the tornado event.  I then drew their attention to recent natural disasters in Korea and we briefly discussed how a community might react in the young lady had a great word for it: "help!".
my student guides for the afternoon

We then headed back to the hotel to be dropped off for dinner and running around on our own.  It was great to do some remote road roaming today in the forums of each a student and a teacher.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Korean Walk-About

Following breakfast at our hotel, our 40 member group went into central Seoul by subway (or metro or tube or underground or whatever else they call it in your neck of the woods).  We emerged just off of the central mall/park area that runs through the middle of Seoul.  We were greeted by a statue of King Sejung who is most well known to Koreans for being the one to create Hangul, or the characters for the Korean alphabet (imagine if Sequoya of Cherokee syllabary fame was also the tribe's chief).  After a few pictures, most of us ventured downstairs (below the park) to explore a museum to the Story of King Sejung.

Finishing with the statue/museum, we continued walking, passing by the United States Embassy, heading through the mall toward Gyeongbokgung Palace.  We arrived just in time for the changing of the guard.  I wasn't too upset that we did not tour this palace; I was able to tour the grounds on my first trip to Seoul in 2009.

We then ventured a little way just to the side of the palace grounds to the Korean Folk History Museum.  While I have also visited this museum, I did take advantage of the air-conditioning opportunity by taking a quick stroll through the museum.

"snake" at the zodiac statue plaza
1977, the year of the snake

Our walk through the city continued behind the palace to the home of South Korea's president: Cheongwadae or "the Blue House".

We then stroled to a couple of streets away to a cute little shopping district with small restaurants for lunch.  Our large group split up in to smaller groups so as not to overwhelm any one restaurant.  My group went to Spice+.  For our group of seven, we ordered two sets of the tteokbokki: rice cake, noodles, egg, onions, fish, and beef bulgogi.  Two gas powered stoves were set on our table and pots filled with the tteokbokki ingredients were placed on the stoves so as to cook our meal.  We were responsible for stiring and determining when it was "ready" and then eating...WOW.  Yum!!

Following lunch we made our way back to the hotel so as to rest and prepare for our formal opening dinner tonight at our hotel.  It's fancy dress so I'll be ironing my duds in a moment and heading upstairs.