Friday, January 24, 2014

My Korean Students Speak

Korean Students Speak is a neat photo project that a fellow Fulbrighter began two years ago. The premise is simple: English education in South Korea focuses on skills for standardized testing and rarely offers students the opportunity for self-expression, so we foreign English teachers give them just that. A blank sheet of paper and the freedom to write whatever they desire. Then, we share these writings with the world.

I'd been itching to do KSS with my students for a long time, and finally I incorporated it into a unit on "speaking up" last semester. The lessons were centered around the power of words to build people up, bring people down, and change the world. On the day I introduced the project, some students took this idea to heart and wrote inspiring, meaningful messages to share. Other students wrote, "I need more time to sleep!" But every student wrote something.

Now, a few months after I submitted my students' work, they've begun showing up on the website! I'm quite excited to see them, and I'm thrilled that a handful are getting large response from the tumblr community (over 1500 notes!). My favorite so far has really struck a chord with the blog's audience:
"You just haven't found what you're good at."
Visit Korean Students Speak to see thousands more funny, wise, moving, or random sayings!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Seijin no Hi (成人の日)

Young women wearing kimono for Coming-of-Age Day.
My last half-day in Japan happened to be a national holiday called Seijin no Hi (成人の日), or Coming-of-Age Day. The age of majority in Japan is 20 years, so on the second Monday of every January, every Japanese boy or girl who has turned or will turn 20 that year goes back to their hometown for a traditional ceremony and reunions with family and friends. During the ceremony, called seijin-shiki, they are conferred the rights and responsibilities of adult men and women.

I tried not to look like a stalker when I took this...
I realized that something special was going on that morning when I noticed some women walking around town dressed in dazzlingly beautiful furisode (a type of kimono), white furs around their shoulders and hair done up with flowers and beads.

Erik explained that women wear traditional dress and often spend huge sums of money on their outfit, hair, and makeup. The young men can also wear male kimonos, but the recent trend is for them to don trendy Western-style suits, sometimes in bright colors. However, for a male to wear a kimono sometimes flags him as an outmoded "country bumpkin" of sorts. This of course depends on the city and the culture.

I was impressed with the idea of going back to one's hometown just for this one special day. Not everyone does, of course, but in smaller towns it's a great chance to see high school friends again, and in larger towns it might seem like a big party. In fact, I was overwhelmed when I arrived in Fukuoka to take the ferry back to Korea. Fukuoka is Japan's sixth largest city, with a population of near 1.5 million, and it seemed like all of Fukuoka's twenty-year-olds had gathered at one convention center. The convention center was coincidentally located right next to the ferry terminal, so my bus ran into tons of traffic in the early afternoon. In fact, my bus, and many others that I saw, was full of young men in suits and young women in kimonos. After they got off, a full-to-bursting bus was left with just a Korean family and me. I took many photos of the enormous crowd from the bus, but after it turned the corner for the ferry building, I lost sight of them...

And that was my final impression of Japan! I was fortunate to catch a glimpse of Seijin no Hi before I left. I'm not aware of any similar ceremony in Korea, and I certainly did not take part in anything so official or culturally significant when I turned 18 or 21. I'm 23 now (25 according to the Korean method of counting age... 아이구...), and I do feel like an adult, although there's still a lot left for me to learn about independence. Being in my early twenties is about striking the right balance between taking charge of my own life and honoring my parents and upbringing. There isn't really any moment, any one day, that one can point to and say, "I grew up that day." It's a never-ending process.
I took this from the bus. Tons of adults-to-be gathered at a convention center in Fukuoka for their seijin-shiki. I spy some guys in kimonos! And mullets...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Kumamoto (熊本)

Kumamoto Castle. The young lady in the kimono is dressed up for Coming-of-Age Day.
Kumamoto wasn't always called Kumamoto. Those of you who know your kanji/hanja/hanzi might wonder if this city really is the origin of Japan's bears. Actually, its ancient name was 隈本, also read as Kumamoto, but the first character means "corner" or "shadow/shade", not "bear". The origin of shadows? Nah, it's really just a place name, probably kind of a boring one, too, because in 1607 someone thought it would be clever to change the first character to its homophone (熊, which means "bear"), and the new moniker stuck.

That someone, I believe, was Katō Kiyomasa, a daimyo (feudal lord) who ruled in Kyushu in the late 16th and early 17th century. Kiyomasa is an important figure in Kumamoto history; he is also quite the antagonist in Korean history. As a senior commander of the army, Kiyomasa led invasions of Korea during the Joseon Dynasty and captured Seoul, Busan, and Ulsan, among other cities, though the conquest was unsuccessful in the end. He was also an enemy of the Japanese Christians in his domain and brutally persecuted them not long before Christianity was banned outright.

On the other hand, Kiyomasa is responsible for expanding and completing Kumamoto Castle (begun in 1467), which is the main landmark of the city and one of the most gorgeous buildings I've ever seen. The castle keep you see today is actually a reconstruction, since the fortress was besieged during a rebellion in 1877, and the castle was burned to the ground.
Erik and me at Kumamoto-jō.
Erik and Kiyomasa of the tall hat
Walking the grounds of Kumamoto Castle, I noticed several archetypically Japanese things: koi in the river, a woman dressed in a kimono for Coming of Age Day, men in costume as ninja and soldiers for tourists' photos, beautiful artwork on sliding wooden doors inside the museum, a traditional tea ceremony room... It got me thinking about Japanese culture and its portrayal as a monolithic entity to Western eyes.

Google "Japanese culture" and you get a pretty uniform set of images: geisha, sumo wrestlers, Buddha, Shinto shrines, sushi, cherry blossoms, and more geisha. Maybe throw a little Hello Kitty and martial arts in there. (Do the same for "American culture" and you'll see a lot of flags, fast food, and bland diversity-themed stock photos.)

I wondered aloud to Erik if the historical periods in which geisha, sumo wrestlers, ninja, and samurai all came into existence were chronologically close to each other at all. These human icons are, of course, all unique and representative of Japan, but I think we should find it strange to see them juxtaposed, as we would pause at the sight of ninja prowling around a castle in 2014 on the hunt for tourists with fancy digital cameras. Remember Katy Perry's infamous yellowface performance at the American Music Awards last year? "Look at how much she loves and appreciates Japanese culture," they said. "She's dressed as a geisha. There are cherry blossoms falling from the ceiling. Her backup is doing a Chinese fan dance. Ooh, taiko drums!" All of those elements of Japanese (and Chinese) culture appropriated and smashed together to appeal to a Western audience.

Let's turn the tables: I want to see G-Dragon perform his latest hip-hop number on a stage accompanied by Asian cowboys, breakdancers with uh... braided hair extensions, and women dressed like Lady Liberty. GD's a great dancer: he can show off the Charleston, the Dougie, the New York Hustle, and eight beats of perfectly-synchronized tutting with his crew, finishing it off with a square dance as maple leaves and Wal-Mart coupons rain down from the ceiling. "Look at how much he loves and appreciates American culture!"

Erik's apple pie a la mode!
Anyway, cultures collide in odd ways. Erik's favorite dessert in Japan is not mochi or roll cakes but a new McDonald's menu item called "A la mode". It's literally a McD apple pie in a cup, topped with McD soft serve and chocolate sauce. You can obviously make this yourself at any McDonald's, but in Japan it's actually on the menu.

Back to Kumamoto, then. On my second evening in the city, we met up with a friend of Erik's and ate dinner at a great all-you-can-eat shabu shabu place, vowing to consume more than our money's worth!

We followed it up with a night of arcade games. It's been years since I've set foot in an arcade, so I hardly recognized any of the games. A lot of them looked glitzy and super high-tech, including a newfangled rhythm game called "MaiMai" that resembles a giant washing machine. Timed to music, players must tap buttons around a circular screen as colored rings reach them. It looks and feels silly at first, but once you get warmed up and choose a harder skill level, suddenly it becomes really fun. And addicting. I was sad that Dance Dance Revolution was nowhere to be found, but MaiMai more than made up for it. There was also an amazing air hockey game called "Big Bang Smash!" that unloads dozens of tiny pucks onto the court for a minute of pucking madness. It was awesome.
Big Bang Smash! Air hockey on  a sugar high!
What else is there in Kumamoto? I can't forget Kumamon (not the Digimon), Kumamoto's friendly bear mascot! Thanks to Kiyomasa, this city is able to market its namesake with Kumamon toys, Kumamon t-shirts, and Kumamon's smiling visage on everything from cookies to face towels. I don't have any great photos of or with him, even though he is everywhere in Kumamoto, but I did get a face towel... Another mascot is the adorable puppy you see below. I can't remember its name, though, or what exactly he represents. Kawaii-dom, if nothing else.
강아지 (kangaji)! こいぬ (koinu)!
And... I'll sign off with some shots of our beautiful hostel, the "Dyeing and Hostel Nakashimaya". It's part traditional dye store and part traditional inn. Its cozy rooms have tatami mats for sleeping instead of beds and trunks with heavy locks instead of lockers. The lounge area has tons of manga, stunning decor, ancient maps, and modern computers. Every inch of the hostel is exquisite and charming, every figurine placed so that everywhere you look you're reminded that you're in Japan. Even the stairwells were decorated. Again, I wonder how well all the pieces fit together chronologically... is it classy or kitschy? Well, I trust the hostel owners' taste. It was too bad we only spent one night here, but it was enough to leave a solid impression. I highly recommend it.
That's a kid's samurai costume!
Gorgeous paper art.
Oh, and here's a video of some of the arcade games. We're a long way past the days of DDR...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Volcanic Activity (Kurokawa Onsen, Mt. Aso, and more)

A baby Japanese wild boar, or inoshishi! Seen sniffing and pissing by the roadside in Kurokawa.
Let's fast-forward through my first evening in Kumamoto. The most exciting thing was that I ate basashi, or raw horse meat, and it was a real workout for my mandibles. Also, our hostel was jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but I will get to that later.

On Sunday morning, Erik got us a rental car and we drove northeast out of the city toward Mt. Aso (阿蘇山). Mt. Aso is Japan's largest active volcano; it sits in the middle of a caldera that remains from several eruptions of an unimaginably large supervolcano that occurred hundreds of thousands of years ago. This caldera is no mere crater; it's so large that two towns fit comfortably inside of it (including the eponymous town of Aso). If you removed the central cone itself, the Aso caldera could comfortably fit the city of Philadelphia within its steep mountainous walls.

We took the scenic route up the sides of the caldera walls to get a view of the northern valley. As we came up on Skyline Road and Milk Road, the valley opened up beneath us. It was a bit hazy, but still quite a sight. Looking out toward Mt. Aso in the distance, it only hits you how enormous the ancient supervolcano must have been when you realize that there's another valley on the other side of the present volcano, and that both of them used to be "underground" before it exploded.
Kurokawa, the Black River. There are pipes and hot springs on both banks, as well as decorative lights for some festival.
New Year decorations
Then, we drove down into the valley itself, where a few years ago there was very severe flooding. The land here is mostly used for farming, since the volcanic soil is so rich. This means that the produce here is supposedly very good, as is the dairy from local cows. Volcanic activity also means onsen, or hot springs!

We made a pit stop at Kurokawa, which is famous for its many hot springs. Kurokawa means "Black River", and although the river that flows through the sleepy tourist town isn't black, a lot of the wood used to construct the buildings, as well as the ash in the soil, is indeed black, and it gives the place a very rustic feel.

Erik and I had dozens of hot springs to choose from and eventually chose one that was farther away from the main town. It was an outdoor spring, quite isolated and peaceful. Aah... A dip in hot sulphurous water with the sound of a river rushing by? So relaxing I could have fallen asleep in it, and while meditating a bit, almost did.

Relaxed and reinvigorated, we lunched at a famous local tofu restaurant and then took off for the volcano itself (but not before buying souvenirs, watching people make traditional mochi (rice cakes, known as 떡 in Korean), and spotting a baby wild boar!

We finally reached the active volcano, located in the center of the caldera, and my jaw dropped when I saw plumes of white smoke (or steam?) issuing from the far-off crater. It's been a very long time since I've seen anything like that.

We then had the opportunity to drive even closer, up to the base of the crater, but we didn't take the cable car to go inside. Seeing it up close was nice enough. Later in the afternoon, the overcast weather finally cleared, which made the smoke from the volcano look just like giant cumulous clouds against a blue sky. Inspired by the volcano, I got some "ash" ice cream ("soft cream" in Japanglish) which was speckled with black sesame and licked it into the shape of a crater.

Volcanoes certainly excite me, probably because I haven't seen very many active ones in my lifetime. I've seen a lava flow in Hawaii once, but that's all I can remember. South Korea only has two volcanoes, and they're both on islands far away from the main peninsula. So, the volcanoes (and really, the entire hilly landscape) were so unexpected and new for me. It didn't look or feel anything like what I expected from Japan. The hills didn't even feel like "Asian" hills -- to me, that means steep craggy rocks of mountains densely covered in pine forests (Korea) or a tropical jungle (China and Taiwan). As we drove through dry fields and then down the mountain, I felt like we could've been somewhere in the American Midwest.

I found out from Erik that Mt. Aso erupted the day after we'd been there! It wasn't serious, just black smoke instead of white, so I sort of wish it had happened while I'd been around... Maybe next time!
Mt. Aso continually belches out steam, which looked just like the clouds on this cloudy winter day.
Shirakawa Riverhead (Shirakawa Suigen)
On the southern side of Mt. Aso is Minamiaso, a small town also nestled inside the caldera through which runs a beautiful river called Shirakawa, the White River. This river comes from a freshwater spring that is said to produce 60 tons of water every minute.

Entrance is a buck, and visitors are allowed to drink and bottle as much water as they desire. I didn't drink any, but marveled at the water itself. It is the very defintion of pristine. You can see the loose stones at the bottom of the pool, gurgling as water and bubbles gush out from volcanic pressure, but the surface remains very calm. A rare type of underwater grass can only grow in water as clean as this.

The Shirakawa Riverhead was another peaceful, secluded place that I wanted to stay and meditate at. But there were other tourists, and it was getting late, so we left our final pit stop and drove back to Kumamoto.

Overall, the day trip was awesome, probably the highlight of my weekend in Japan. Between blasting K-pop from my phone, munching on convenience store snacks, and beholding some spectular sights, we had all the components of a great road trip and none of mishaps of a bad one. Erik was a trooper for driving, translating, and tour-guiding all day. It was a good thing that all of our activities involved engaging with nature and sort of getting away from the crowds. I was surprised and awed by a lot of what I saw that day, and it makes me want to get out of my polluted city more often to go off into the mountains. In fact, just the other day I took a hike around the Palyong Reservoir and found that the fountain at the base of the reservoir dam had frozen all of the rocks and trees around it. It was a cool find, yet another reason to get out of the house and appreciate the great outdoors.
Erik nabs some springwater; me at Shirakawa Suigen; the sparkling result of Erik's endeavor.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Glover Garden and Gunkanjima (軍艦島)

Heart-shaped charms at Glover Garden in Nagasaki.
I left the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum subdued and pensive, but there was still much to do on our itinerary, so I shelved my thoughts for later. Erik and I walked over to Nagasaki's Chinatown and munched on the Japanese version of gua bao, then headed up into the hills to tour Glover Garden, a cute little neighborhood of lavish Western-style houses built by merchants and businessmen in the late nineteenth century. The higher we went, the more magnificent the view of the harbor city became. At the top, I took a panorama photo with my cell phone; excuse the lazy stitching job and poor quality, but you can sort of get the idea.
All the hills have Nagasaki reminding me of San Francisco.
Christian martyrs' fountain in Glover Garden, Nagasaki.
The gardens themselves are nice enough to walk around, but what Erik and I noticed the most was the eerie lack of other tourists. Erik blamed the winter and the cold weather; in all other seasons, he said, these gardens were packed with people. This continued to be a theme on our travels. I chose a remarkably low-traffic time of the year to visit Kyushu!

The photo at left is of a fountain that was built to commemorate Christian martyrs in Japan. The history of Christianity in this country is very interesting. It was introduced by Francis Xavier, a Basque Jesuit missionary, when he landed in Kagoshima in 1549. Thanks to early missionary work, northern Kyushu is where "all the churches are" in Japan. But in the 17th century, Christianity was forced underground, and many believers were martyred. Japan opened up to the West again in 1853 at the start of the Meiji period, and in 1871, freedom of religion was restored in the country. Christian communities that had been in hiding for hundreds of years have been slowly growing ever since.
Glover House of Glover Garden in Nagasaki.
A model of the 1.2-meter sundae.
As evening approached, Erik and I met up with a friend of his from the area named Fumi, and we had dinner at an izakaya (居酒屋), which is essentially a pub, but the one we went to was very classy. We had a feast that included sashimi, tempura, delicious grilled meats of some sort, and Japanese beer.

For dessert, we went to a diner called Cafe Olympic, which is famous for... how else can I say it? American-sized portions of everything. You can get a steak as big as your head here. But for our dessert, we ordered a super-tall sundae. The largest ice cream sundae offered at the cafe is a ridiculous 1.2 meters tall. It's a glass as long as your arm filled with four or five different flavors, topped with several more cones and various other random items. I mean, ice cream is ice cream, but you really come here for the novelty of eating your way through a four-foot tower of deliciousness. Fumi said he wanted us to experience a "funny dessert", and sure enough, we had our laughs.

The next morning, Erik and I set out for Gunkanjima (軍艦島), or Battleship Island. Its actual name is Hashima, but when you see it you can easily understand why it was given the militaresque moniker. It took half an hour for our ferry to reach the island; it's not that far out to sea, and from it you can easily see the mainland's coast. From the mainland, though, I don't think it's possible to see this:
Gunkanjima, Battleship Island.
So, yeah, holy cow, what is that? Hashima was a coal mining facility operated by Mitsubishi from 1887 to 1974. The miners and their families lived on the rock itself, having expanded it over the years to become a nearly self-sustained community. At its peak, over five thousand people lived on the island of 0.025 square miles. When Japan began to shift toward petroleum instead of coal, Hashima was abandoned, and it has fallen into extreme disrepair in just forty years.

Ruins on an island in the middle of the sea.
The island used to have dozens of high-rise apartment buildings up to seven stories tall, as well as a large school, a shrine, a hospital, a saltwater swimming pool, and of course, a large mining facility and its offices. Many of these buildings have already crumbled into nothing, but our tour took us around a corner of the island to see what was left. As Erik translated our guides' words, I began to get the picture of a small but lively and tight-knit community that worked extremely hard to make their lives livable. They brought soil in from the mainland and carried it to their rooftops to make rooftop gardens. They faced rough waves from typhoons with nothing protecting them besides the concrete seawall. They made do with very little fresh water and limited electricity. Obviously, the men employed in the mine risked their lives every day to dig coal out from beneath the ocean. But after just a few generations, they left. And all that remains is concrete and brick rubble that the waves continue to erode.

A documentary was screened on the ferry on the way back; I was captivated by the "then and now" photos that were shown: a barbershop busy with customers then, a row of rusting barber chairs now; an alley filled with women and children then, an alley overgrown with weeds and vines now.

Gunkanjima was the inspiration for the island where Javier Bardem's psychopath villain in Skyfall gambles with James Bond for the life of Severine. I remember the scene quite clearly, but Silva's island is much larger and apparently more structurally sound than the real island; it's actually just an elaborate set. I doubt any film can be filmed here now, although, amazingly, you can Google Street View a tour of the island. Anyway, visiting Battleship Island was still a great experience; it definitely stirred a bit of the thirst for haikyo, or urban exploration, in me. I wonder what abandoned marvels I can find in Korea?
First glimpses of Battleship Island.
Remains of the brick wall of the mine office, and a recently constructed lighthouse up on the hill.
Erik and me on the boat by Gunkanjima. It was extremely cold.
After returning from the island and lunch, Erik and I chilled around the shopping area by Nagasaki Station, killed some time at an arcade, and then boarded a train for our next stop: Kumamoto!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Nagasaki (長崎)

On my second day in Japan, Erik and I took a train from Fukuoka to Nagasaki. It was the first of many train rides. That morning, I had a chocolate croissant for breakfast, also the first of many chocolate croissants. There is an extremely popular croissant shop in Fukuoka Station called Il Forgno del Mignon. The croissants are small, chewy, and cheap. I prefer my croissants flaky, but these were still good, and I could eat a dozen, maybe. Anyway, after we arrived in Nagasaki and had okonomiyaki for lunch, our first stop was the Nagasaki Peace Park and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

The peace park was filled with sculptures that symbolized peace, donated from countries around the world. I suspect that the one pictured to the right is actually Japan's own sculpture, since this was the one where offerings of flowers, water, paper cranes, and other artistic items had been left.

It was, fittingly, a calm and peaceful day. Erik remarked how strange it was that there were almost no other tourists; a very quiet Thursday afternoon. Fittingly, the only other tourists we saw were a group of deaf Japanese people.

The centerpiece of the park is the Peace Statue, a giant 10-meter sculpture of a deific male figure who holds one hand pointed up toward the heavens as a gesture of peace and the other pointed toward the site of the atomic bomb's hypocenter. Nearly seventy years ago, the hill on which this park now stands, and the entirety of the city around it, was turned to ash and rubble in the blink of an eye because of war. Today, this giant sits peaceful to remind us never to do such a thing again.

I particularly enjoyed seeing two shrines on either side of the Peace Statue that were filled with thousands of paper cranes in all colors of the rainbow. When I was in ninth grade, Mrs. Johnson taught us John Hersey's Hiroshima and the story of Sadako and the thousand paper cranes. Ever since then, I have entertained the small habit of folding any scrap of paper I have no other use for into a paper crane. My desk will be littered with them by the year's end. I don't know if I've yet folded one thousand, but I'll get there eventually. In the meantime, seeing tens of thousands of cranes at the park (and many more later at the museum) was a nice reminder that tens of thousands of people around the world have been inspired in the same way.
Thousands of cranes at the Nagasaki Peace Park. The Japanese reads "Freedom Nagasaki, we are all one/together".
We then proceeded to visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. It is a well-crafted museum with one main exhibit that chronicles the event of the bombing from a comprehensive historical perspective. It begins with a time of events preceding and during the Second World War, explains the mechanics of the bomb and spares no expense depicting its horrific and far-reaching effects, then concludes with a "looking-forward" exhibit that focuses on (seemingly floundering) efforts to curtail the use of weapons of mass destruction internationally ever since the end of the war. I was grounded by the displays: remnants of clothing, photos of charred corpses, twisted steel, bones of a hand fused to a rock, a child's lunchbox with the rice inside reduced to soot. The personal testimonies were also heartbreaking. One that caught my eye was the account of a Korean man present during the attack.

I was surprised to learn that Japanese were not the only victims of the bombings. There were over ten thousand Koreans living in Nagasaki at the time, as well as thousands of Chinese laborers, Taiwanese students, and other foreigners (no Americans, though). According to the account of one Li Ki-Sang, the Korean victims of the bomb were discriminated against by the Japanese, as they were refused medical attention and had no way to get help or return home. He says,
"... There was a sudden, brilliant flash of light. I thought I was about to die. But before I had a chance to throw myself onto the tracks I lost consciousness... [When I later awoke in a primary school-turned-hospital,] I heard cries in Korean coming from the neighboring classroom. When I went into that room I found 50 or 60 of my fellow Koreans lying naked and burned like lumps of flesh and groaning in pain. Then when I shouted, 'What's the matter with all of you?' in Korean, they crawled toward me crying and begging for help. It seems that they were young men brought from Korea by force to work in Japan. They could not speak Japanese. They had been exposed to the atomic bomb explosion while engaged in construction work outside the arms factory... The more I heard from them the more a feeling of anger over the situation and affection for my countrymen welled up inside me."
I, for one, was most surprised that an account like this was even in the museum. (It was translated from Korean into Japanese and English, presumably, but the account itself was not given in Korean in the display.) But it, along with everything else, was an important and sobering reminder that acts of war and violence inevitably have much farther-reaching consequences than anyone can imagine at the time such fatal decisions are made. 11:02am, August 9th, 1945. A break in the clouds, a terrible decision, and generations of fallout.
The Peace Statue in Nagasaki (from behind).

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dazaifu Tenman-gū (太宰府天満宮) and Fukuoka

Entrance gate to the Dazaifu Tenman-gū with a "Happy New Year" message on the banner.
As soon as I arrived in Fukuoka, I had about six hours to kill by myself before meeting up with my friend Erik. He suggested that I go just outside of the city to Dazaifu, where a famous Shinto shrine and some temples are located. Though the directions he gave me were meticulous, I can't deny that I was a bit nervous about journeying all by myself from the port terminal to a mountain town an hour away. Fortunately, I encountered no mishaps as I took one bus and two trains and found myself walking up a cute street lined with souvenir shops and bustling with tourists toward the shrine.

The first thing I did was get something to eat; a long line had formed outside one of the many food shops. I realized that they were all selling essentially the same thing: rice cakes made with ume, or Japanese plum (梅, and 매실 in Korean). But I got into the longest line, because if there's one thing I know about street food, it's that long lines means a worthwhile wait.
Me in front of the main shrine at Dazaifu Tenman-gū.
I then walked the grounds of the shrine itself and marveled at its beauty. Dazaifu Tenman-gū is a shrine dedicated to the worship of Tenjin (天神), a kami (spirit or, in this case, deified human) in Shintoism who represents scholarship. Most pilgrims to this shrine come to pray for success in passing important exams; I briefly considered buying a token as good luck for getting into grad school, but the blatant commercialism of the entire enterprise turned me off a bit. Still, I enjoyed walking around and taking photos of the beautiful details all around the shrine.
These talismans are for writing down your wish. It's the 26th year of the current emporer, and also the Year of the Horse on the East Asian zodiac!
Torii, sacred gates.
The grounds of the shrine are actually quite large. Besides the main shrine, there are smaller shrines and also a few Buddhist temples. I walked along a path I found near the back and followed it up a hill, passing some teahouses along the way. The gravel path led to a stone path lined with torii, the red gates that symbolize entrance into sacred ground (but in this case were built to bring prosperity, which is why you see so many of them in a row).

I ended up on a hiking trail that wound through the hills and passed a very small theme park complete with a rollercoaster, a racing track, empty stalls, and very creepy carnival music playing despite there being almost no guests in the park. I almost wanted to stumble upon a Spirited Away-esque adventure.

The Kyushu National Museum was also located next to the shrine, but I wasn't feeling it, so I took the trains back to central Fukuoka, got very lost in the underground shopping malls, and finally met Erik at a Starbucks. He took me on a quick tour of the Things To Do in Fukuoka, including eating ramen at a yatai (which are very much like the ubiquitous Korean food carts, 포장마차, but apparently are only found in Fukuoka in Japan), being solicited (...) in Nakasu, and shopping at the Tokyu Hands department store, the Don Quijote everything-store, and the various chikagai (underground shopping centers). It was a long evening after a long day, and I was tired but happy when I finally went to sleep. And that was Day 1 in Japan!
Steaming, umami-licious ramen from a yatai. At this particular booth we made the acquaintance of a Japanese-American and her Taiwanese-American boyfriend who studied at Berkeley. Small world.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Ferry to Fukuoka (and Back)

This is going to be a long, boring post about taking a high-speed ferry, the Kobee Beetle, across the East Sea/Sea of Japan from Busan to Fukuoka (and back). The rides themselves weren't very interesting, but I think sharing my experience would be helpful for anyone who wants to take the trip in the future. In the words of a friend, "I mean, Japan's right there. It'd be a shame not to visit while we're in Korea."

My ferry was to depart from Busan on Thursday morning. I had booked my ticket weeks in advance with help from my co-teacher through a travel agency called Joy Road (조이로드). They emailed me my confirmation number and detailed instructions (in Korean) on what to do when I got to the ferry terminal.
View of Busan from my window seat on the ferry; you can see the shopping centers of Nampodong and Busan Tower.
Busan --> Fukuoka
Take the subway line 1 (orange) to Jungang Station (중앙역), get out at exit 10, and walk across the street and through the large gate to the Busan Port International Passenger Terminal (부산국제여겍터미널). Go up to the second floor to the counter for Kobee/Miraejet (they appear to be the same company; both run the same high-speed ferries, as opposed to the slower "cruises"). Check-in ends about forty-five minutse prior to departure. For both trips, you must pay a "terminal tax" (which is BS, but there's no way around it) as well as a "fuel surcharge" for your ticket. The latter of these is actually part of your ticket price, only it changes periodically depending on the price of oil, so it's not calculated until you arrive. For me, the additional fees were about 23,000KRW.

After going through super-fast security and being stamped out of Korea, I boarded the boat! To my surprise, the interior was set up like an airplane cabin, with neat rows of seats and narrow aisles. The TV was showing Running Man before and after the safety instructional videos. There was supposed to be wifi, but it didn't work for me. It wasn't a boat you could walk around in, so I stayed in my seat and looked outside. The view of the coastline of Busan was nice, and then the view of the open water was a thrill, but due to high winds, the waters were rough; several times the boat ran straight into a wave and all I could see outside my window was the white spray of water. I didn't become completely seasick, but I found it more comfortable to close my eyes and drift off. The trip took 3 hours.

Upon arrival in Japan, immigration was an awkward affair. I hadn't put down the telephone number of my friend (an American who lives in Japan) with whom I'd be traveling, so the immigration officer tried to ask me what the number was, or why I didn't have it, or something. He didn't speak more than a few words of English, and I couldn't get anything across to him. The officer next to us was speaking fluently in Korean to another passenger, so I wondered if I should try Korean. But eventually the officer gave up and let me through. Customs was also awkward; the officer searched my bag very thoroughly while asking me extremely rehearsed questions (in English) about my travel plans and past experiences and if I was bringing any illegal drugs into the country.

And then I was in Japan! Hakata Port International Terminal. (The ancient city of Hakata (博多) was merged with Fukuoka (福岡) hundreds of years ago, but it is now the name of the ward where Fukuoka's port and train station are located.) You have to take a bus to get to the actual city: routes 11, 19, or 50 to Hakata train station. Fortunately, my friend had prepared very detailed instructions on how to take the buses (enter from the middle and grab a ticket; you can get change for a 1,000 yen note on any bus, pay the fare with exact change only, depending on the number on your ticket (from the port to Hakata Station is 220 yen)) and where to go from there.

The Kobee Beetle, high-speed ferry
Fukuoka --> Busan
After a wonderful weekend traveling around northern Kyushu, I found myself back in Fukuoka on Monday afternoon for the ferry ride back to Korea. From the new and beautiful Hakata train station, bus stop E, I took bus 88 to the Hakata Port International Terminal (博多港国際ターミナル), last stop on the line. (There was tons of traffic due to a large Seijin-shiki taking place nearby.)

The Kobee/Miraejet counter is on the first floor. The fuel surcharge was 2,000 yen and the terminal tax was 500 yen, the latter payable via a small vending machine by the entrance (because Japan). I had to use my Korean with the clerk, and I really wonder if my American accent was stronger than her Japanese one.

A few funny comparisons between the Busan terminal and the Fukuoka one: at the latter, there was no security prior to boarding. I just showed my boarding pass and terminal ticket and then went to town at the duty-free shop before getting on the boat. At Busan, the security had been quick, but it was at least there. Also, photographs of the boat and pier were not allowed, but at Fukuoka, I snapped a shot of the Beetle. And upon entering Korea again, customs was almost a joke. I breezed through the line (there were 10 lines for Koreans and 1 for non-Koreans) and then walked through a security scanner with all layers of clothes on. It even beeped, but I was let through, and no one checked my bags. I think due to the heavy traffic of returning Korean vacationers, customs and immigration didn't give a hoot about who or what was coming through.

Oh, and thanks to great weather, the trip back to Korea was very comfortable. I took a three hour nap.

So that's that! If you're interested to know more about the ferries between Japan and Korea, leave a comment. Or just go with Google; there's a ton of good information out there.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dropping by Jeju

Plush horses of Jeju!
Whew, a solid week of travel really knocked me out! Since Monday of last week, I've moved around via bike, bus, plane, ferry, rental car, hippie car, subway, tram, local train, regional train, bullet train, and even a sideways elevator; I've ventured across mountains, across and above seas, and to an uninhabited island, stopping at ten cities along the way. And the first thing I did when I arrived back in Changwon was go to taekgyeon practice.

So now I'm exhausted. Fortunately, I have a solid week to refresh and look back on a great week that really made my vacation seem like a vacation before flying off somewhere else. Part 1: Jeju Island! I went to meet with a professor for consultation about my Castleberry research project but also spent some time with Fulbright friends.

On Monday morning, I got a sorely needed haircut, cleaned up my apartment, and then left for the airport. As usual, it took about a minute to get my boarding pass and get through security; though I was hours early, I passed the time with a book, The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester, which was gifted to me by a good friend. It was late afternoon and getting dark when I arrived on the island, but I found my way to my friend Vika's apartment in Jeju City and we caught up, her telling me awesome stories from her recent trip to Laos.

A 돌하르방 at the entrance to JNU
On Tuesday morning, after a paradoxically calming and invigorating yoga session at Vika's favorite local studio, I took a nice brisk walk to the nearby Jeju National University. You can just see the peak of Mt. Halla from the campus; South Korea's highest mountain was covered in snow. At JNU, I met up with Professor Yang to talk about my research project on Jeju-eo. The meeting was fruitful and encouraging in some ways but slightly discouraging in others. The good news is that Professor Yang is 100% on board with my project and thinks that it is an amazing idea and opportunity. The bad news is that, realistically speaking, it's going to be more difficult than I anticipated. We must figure out a way to conduct our own fieldwork (I had wrongly assumed that there would be an existing corpus of recordings of the language), and the timing is not ideal. Despite this, I had a great talk with the professor, gained a lot of useful information about Jeju-eo, and left the meeting feeling extremely encouraged about my prospects.

In the afternoon, Vika and I took a bus headed for the sleepy city on the south side of the island, Seogwipo. This express bus cut right through the island, climbing dizzily through the mountain roads for twenty minutes until we were surrounded by snow, then barreling down the other side for twenty minutes until we saw the beach again. It was an odd journey. In Seogwipo, we walked along the Olle Trails for some scenic views and visited the Jeongbang Falls (정방폭포), the only waterfall in Asia that falls directly into the ocean! Although it was cloudy out, it was still quite a sight, and even though it was the middle of winter, there were plenty of tourists, especially Chinese.

(An aside: a ticket to see the falls costs two bucks normally, but youth aged 24 or under can get in for one. When I saw this information at the ticketing booth, I realized that, it now being 2014, Vika and I, as well as everyone in the world born in 1990, were now 25 by the Korean system of age-reckoning. But we went for it anyway and showed our ID cards, and score! We got the half-price tickets.)
Jeongbang Falls on a cloudy January day.
Vika and me at 정방폭포
After some more hiking, chatting, and eating delicious Jeju oranges, which are now in season, we met up with some of the Fulbrighters who live and teach in Seogwipo. We hung out in Jessica's apartment and ate tons of cookies while laughing over travel stories and commiserating about graduate school and those onerous applications.

For dinner, we went to a popular barbecue restaurant that Kristen has gone to many times before with her school faculty. It's called 새섬갈비 (Saeseom Galbi/BBQ), and it's amazing. The black pork (흑돼지) is so thick, and the side dishes are good. Prices quite reasonable for the portions. I'd definitely go back, but the best part of the dinner, of course, was sharing it with friends.

At the end of the day, Vika and I took the bus back north to Jeju City; flying through winding, dark roads in the rain (no lights except those from passing cars on this terrifying route) was pretty nuts, but our bus driver seemed to know what he was doing. And on Wednesday morning, I left a cold and rainy Jeju to board my flight back to the mainland. Goodbye, Jeju! I'll be back again soon.
Pure yum. I used to be a vegetarian, but in Korea I'll enjoy a grilled pig any day.
Dinner with friends! Left to right: Jessica, Kristen, and Vika, all of whom are going to go on to achieve amazing things. And then there's me. Taken by Taxi.

Monday, January 6, 2014

제주어 (Jeju-eo)

Map of Korea, Jeju Island in pink.
My friend Jessica recently brought to my attention the extremely interesting fact that there is an endangered language spoken in Korea! I used to think that Korean was essentially the only language spoken in this country. Then, I learned about 방언/사투리, the fairly dissimilar regional dialects that make it possible for a Korean to tell where you are from after a minute of conversation.

As it turns out, the local dialect spoken on the island province of Jeju (제주) is even more unique than the dialects of the peninsula. It is so different, in fact, that it is nearly mutually unintelligible with standard Korean. For example, Jeju-eo has retained a low-back vowel that standard Korean no longer uses, and its lexicon includes hundreds of words borrowed from Mongolian, Chinese, and Japanese that don't all appear in standard Korean. In addition, standard verb endings, which are critical to Korean morphology, are completely different: compare Jeju-eo's 알앗수다 alassuda to standard Korean's 알았습니다 alasseumnida, both of which mean "I understand." Thus, a person from Seoul would not be able to understand most of what a Jeju Islander is saying if the latter is using Jeju-eo*.

Unfortunately, common use of Jeju-eo is slowly diminishing. Between 5,000-10,000 Jeju Islanders can speak it natively today, but the grand majority of them are senior citizens. Children are not being taught Jeju-eo at a rate fast enough to keep the language alive for the next generation. Consequently, a few years ago, Jeju-eo was classified as an endangered language by UNESCO.

This is exciting for me, because I want to become a linguistics researcher, and my passion is for endangered languages. Thanks to Jessica, I got a great idea for an independent research project for this upcoming semester. I will travel to Jeju Island, meet a professor at Jeju National University, and work on compiling an English-to-Jeju-eo online dictionary similar to the ones I worked on at Swarthmore. I received funding for my project from the Fulbright Korea Alumni Fund (also called the Castleberry Grant), and I'm thrilled that I can begin right away!

Here are some links to informative articles related to Jeju-eo:
- A professor at the University of Hawaii calls for the preservation and revitalization of Jeju-eo.
- A Jeju Islander reflects on the ongoing loss of Jeju-eo.
- A feature on a Jeju poet who writes only in Jeju-eo.

- - -

*The "eo" (어/語) in Jeju-eo means "speech", which is normally translated as "language", as in 영어 ("English language"). It is also called 제주방언 ("Jeju dialect"), but it seems that native speakers prefer to consider it a language, as do I. This is more an issue of politics/semantics than linguistics, however.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Back in the Family

규, their cat! Bigger and cuter than ever.
Tonight, I had a very pleasant evening with my homestay family from last year. I was beginning to worry that they had either forgotten about me or didn't care to keep in touch, since I hadn't seen them since Chuseok, around September. After Christmas and the New Year passed without comment, I decided to simply invite myself over to their house, a sort of last-ditch effort before I gave up altogether.

As it turns out, they assumed that I had gone home for Christmas, and then they went on their own family vacation in the first few days of January. So it wasn't until this morning that host mom responded to my text and called me from the airport in Seoul, announcing that they had just returned from Cambodia and asking if I'd to join them for dinner tonight.

So, this evening, I baked cranberry-pecan scones and whipped up some cinnamon cream to go with it, then jogged over to their apartment. Not much had changed! The dogs still peed on the floor, their cat had punctured holes in everything during the family's four-day absence, and host bro was still taking care of his menagerie of a hedgehog, several spiders, and a bucket of mealworms. He had also acquired a giant centipede, although his scorpion had gone missing. "Where did it go?" I asked. "I don't know," he said, quite unconcerned. Host bro himself has gotten noticeably taller, but his personality is the same as ever.

As usual, host dad was craving 회, or Korean sushi. We had Korean sushi almost once a week last year. He really loves it; I really do not. But I was happy just to be spending time with them. They regaled me with stories, photos, and videos from their tour of Cambodia: Angkor Wat, floating villages, and eating snakes and tarantulas.

Apparently, K-pop and K-dramas have been a hit in the country, so children selling trinkets on the street had picked up enough Korean -- more than just "Gangnam style!", surprisingly -- to bargain with my family in a language they knew. "One, one dollar!" was the universal way to begin a bargain war for bracelets or toy flutes. But the next kid would offer three for one dollar. My host mother bought three bracelets for one dollar, only to learn that her daughter had bought five for one dollar from another kid. "필요없어요!" ("I don't need it!") she said to the next tiny salesman offering eight for one dollar. To her surprise, he responded, "필요어요!" ("You do need it!") Taken aback, she just repeated, "필요없어요!" And the mischievous kid cried, "거짓말!" ("Lies!")

Host sister had similar drama (pun intended) with a tiny flute saleswoman who tried to charm her with, "언니 예뻐!" ("Sister, you're so pretty!") We all had a really good laugh at these stories. I was surprised when host mom first insisted that Cambodians were really good at speaking Korean, but I suppose it makes sense!

I thoroughly enjoyed the time we had to catch up. They invited me over for tea after dinner, and we munched on the scones I had brought. (It was my first time making scones, and as far as I'm concerned, they were a success!) We continued chatting as the cat crawled over the kitchen table and tried to get at the cinnamon cream. I found out that host dad has picked up the saxophone, host bro is ranked ninth in his middle school, and that host sister is going to Ewha Womans University! (Her parents aren't happy about the sticker price, but it's an elite school.) I left with more gifts than I had brought, as well as an offer from host dad to drop by whenever I wanted. I'm really glad we got to reconnect, and I hope that they'll remain my family, in a sense, as long as I'm in Korea.
Cranberry-pecan scones -- my first batch ever! I loosely followed this recipe, substituting cinnamon for nutmeg and heavy whipping cream for the buttermilk. They were fluffy and delicious.

Friday, January 3, 2014

This Syntax Needs Studied

A few weeks ago, my co-teacher asked me a question about English grammar. This happens several times a week, but around final exam period the questions came more frequently. This time, she asked if "The car needs being washed" was an acceptable grammatical construction (as a variant of the standard "needs to be washed").

As far as I'm aware, no native speaker of American English will say that, but her question did bring up the issue of the interesting "needs washed" construction that has some syntacticians scratching their heads. In some parts of the Midwestern United States, notably western Pennsylvania, the infinitive "to be" will be left out of an utterance following the modal verb "need" and sometimes "like" or "want", and only the passive particle ("washed") is said. Thus, you may sometimes hear, "The car needs washed."

Here is an article from Grammar Girl about the construction, and here is one from the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. According to their research, the "needs washed" construction is apparently derived from patterns in Scottish and/or Irish. The basic conclusion is that it is part of the regional dialect, and furthermore, it is used widely enough that many people actually aren't aware that it is considered incorrect by standard grammars.

My co-teacher was intrigued by the idea that a small population would be oblivious to what to her was clearly a gross syntactic error in their everyday speech. She asked me, "So is it wrong?" I hesitated. If there's anything I've learned from my linguistics courses, it's that we are not to pass judgment on the way humans communicate. A linguist's job is to study language and try to understand the reason why something is said a certain way, not impose any rules determining what is or is not correct. So I told her, "No, I wouldn't say it's wrong. It's merely uncommon. It's not something I would ever say or even teach, but... it's not wrong." There are, I added, many Englishes.

She chuckled and told me about how when she was being trained as an English teacher, there was a large reference book of English grammar that all teachers were expected to consider the final authority on issues such as this. "It's like our Bible for English grammar," she said. But this tome never mentioned anything about "needs washed". "It seems," she continued, "that Americans are very lenient about grammar and don't like to say that something is wrong."

Is that an appropriate generalization? Well, it's true that there's no Academy of English (either in the US or the UK), nothing on par with the illustrious (and/or stuffy) Académie française to dictate what does or does not fly in our language. But there are plenty of American language enthusiasts who find it perfectly acceptable -- if not necessary -- to point out and fix every grammatical error they spot. They are the ones who endeavor to overhaul and improve grammar education in English classrooms and lament the ever-quickening changes to English such as "I wish you would've told me" (gah!) and "a historical event" and "it was funner last time" and "let's dialogue about it" and "the reason is because" and "ain't" (gah!).

You can probably tell that some of these things still bother me. The grammar nut in me -- the linguistic prescriptivist who used to correct my friends' utterances mid-sentence (so rude!) -- has refused to go quietly. It's especially difficult for me as an English teacher to efficiently triage my students' mistakes: which ones do I correct and reinforce? What do I let slide? What do I praise as linguistic creativity and what is just plain wrong?

At least in one sense, I feel fortunate that my co-teacher has me pegged as a grammatically lax American (if this is a thing), because it means that the descriptive linguist in me is finally starting to show his stripes. My hope is that the two sides will work together in my classroom, not against each other, so that my students will be allowed complete freedom of expression while still learning the traditional rules.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Writing Done, Time to Read

I have only left my apartment once in the past forty-eight hours, and that was to go grocery shopping. But the long hours I've spent chained to my desk and rubbing my hands together to keep my fingers warm enough to type are now over, for I have finished my graduate school applications!

Now, I have a choice between getting out of the house, exercising, and seeing friends... VERSUS:
Curling up in bed with all of these beauties. Hm... tough choice.
I've read a paltry forty-five books since graduating from college, and I aim to increase that number by at least 50% before the semester begins in March. Or... before I hear back from the six schools to which I sent a hundred bucks and my hopes and dreams. Whichever comes first.

Huh... I guess that counts as a New Year's resolution. 난 할 수가 있다!