Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rice Fields: April 30

I've started to a new series of photos to track the progress in one of the rice fields near my apartment. I will try to update it every week or so with new photos and descriptions of the rice growing process.

In a few of the fields, farmers are burning off old crop. Some tractors are also out and about plowing fields.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gimhae Gaya Culture Festival

Another festival, this one a bit closer to home. Gimhae hosted the Gaya Culture Festival for one week. It was actually a pretty good festival, and I regret not spending more time there. They had a wide variety of entertainment, a decent food selection, and a various craft activities for the children. Although there were a few Korean twists that you wouldn't normally see at a festival in the States. For example, the hand acupuncture booth which was doing good business. I did spend a few hours getting paid to walk around and speak to people in English. Mainly school kids. After my shift, I managed to check out some of the closing activities.

One of which was a massive tug-of-war contest. The central rope stretched for a couple hundred yards. From this main rope radiated side ropes which people pulled on. To add to the effect, they had school groups dressed up in traditional Korean uniforms and groups of drummers in, what appeared to be, clown costumes.

Here is some video footage of the actual tug-of-war and the post tug-of-war dancing.

After a couple of rounds of tug-of-war, the post battle celebration began. Cutting away a piece of the rope seemed to make for a valued souvenir. Unfortunately, I didn't bring a knife with me. Maybe next year.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Festival Weekend

Yeongdeok Snow Crab Festival

March seems to be the kick off of the Korean festival season, and I decided to take advantage and visit a couple of them. On Saturday, I went to the Yeongdeok Snow Crab Festival in, of course, Yeongdeok. Yeongdeok is famous for their crabs, with restaurants all over the country advertising Yeongdeok snow crab. The whole town is one giant string of crab markets and crab restaurants. As you can see, they take their crab seriously here.

It was an interesting festival, with some activities that required a little bit of explanation. Unfortunately, they were not prepared for the onslaught of English speaking tourists, namely myself, and did not provide any explanation whatsoever. One of the first things they did was some sort of silent auction. They had boxes of crabs and people wrote down prices. They held up their bid and the auctioneers went around selecting the winning bids. I don't think it was based upon the highest bid, but rather the closest to some randomly chosen magic price. I never did quite figure out the whole process, which is unfortunate since the prices seemed to be quite on the cheap side.

The next major activity was fishing for crabs. For 10,000 Won, about $10, you could rent a pole and catch crabs out of a giant pool they had constructed. But again, the directions in English were a little lacking. I was in line early for a pole, but unfortunately, it was the wrong line. I was in the line for those with tickets. But first, I had to buy a ticket in a line 5 feet away. Of course, they wouldn't just take my 10,000 Won and give me a ticket then and there. They wanted me to wait in line. Which had grown considerably longer by this point in time. So I gave up my hopes of catching my lunch.

And what could a crab festival be without eating some crab? So I headed to the food stalls were I first had to buy the crab from a vendor. Two good size crabs cost 50,000 Won, or about $50. Which is supposedly about half the price you'd pay in a restaurant. They then had cookers who I had to pay 6,000 Won to cook my crab. As you can tell from the before and after pictures, the crabs were quite tasty. For another couple thousand won, they even took the bodies and mixed in some rice with the innards. So pretty much every last edible bit of those things was consumed.



Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival
(official website in Korean)

From Yeongdeok, I headed to Daegu, where I spent Saturday night. On Sunday morning, I was off to Cheongdo for the bullfighting festival. You may remember that attended this festival last year as well.

The forecast was for rain, but it ended up being a beautiful day. The stands were crowded and the bullfights were as fascinating to watch as they were last year. There was even a woman trainer who won her match, which excited the the crowd, especially the women.

I was able to take some better video this year as well, but I still need to edit it down. So check back in a week or two for that.

Monday, April 7, 2008

More Temples: Tongdosa & Naewonsa

This past weekend brought forth some more nice weather. As an added benefit, the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Given the nice weather, I decided to head out and visit a couple more temples in the area.


The first temple I visited was Tongdosa. It is one of the three main temples in Korea, along with Songgwangsa, which I have already visited, and Haeinsa, which I will probably visit in the next month or two. Like many of the other temples in the area, it dates back to the 7th century. While none of the structures are overly impressive, it does have a very scenic mountain location. The walk from the parking lot to the temple is alongside a stream and lined with pine trees. Unfortunately, there seems to be some sort of disease or pest that is stripping the pine trees of their bark, so a lot of trees are being taken down. But there are still plenty to see.

Along the path, there are numerous rocks with Chinese lettering carved in them.

The main area of the main temple. There are also 19 smaller temples located along the road heading up the mountain.


Nearby is another temple, albeit less impressive. I haven't been to able to find much information about it on line though. There are only a few structures, but they are a little more brightly painted than at most other temples. The hike from the parking lot to the temple is also quite scenic, with trails extending beyond the temple going further up the mountains.

One interesting face of this temple is the monks. If you look closely, through the shaved heads and gray robes, you will notice that they are all women. In fact, a book, Women in Korean Zen, was written about the women monks at Naewonsa.

This upcoming weekend brings a return of the Korean bullfighting festival that I attended last year. I also plan on hitting the Yeongdeuk Snow Crab Festival near Pohang, which is tempting me with free fishing boat rides. Expect a full report with pictures in a week or so.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Korean Ages 201

After over two years here, I have finally uncovered the full secret to Korean ages.

When a baby is born, they start out at the age of 1 year.

If they celebrate their birthday according to the lunar calendar, which is rare these days, but a little more common among older Koreans, they age another year on Lunar New Year's Day. Which is in late January or early February of the solar year.

If they celebrate their birthday according to the solar calendar, they age another year on Solar New Year's Day. Which is, of course, January 1.

You can convert to lunar dates at the Hong Kong Observatory web site.