Friday, March 21, 2014

Teaching Modern Korean History

I love history. Even Mr. Jacobs couldn't cure me of my love of history. That high school teacher of mine may have taught me the lesson that blonds with big tits and few questions are preferred over super eager students like me, but I didn't blame history for my lazy, sexist, and relatively under-educated teacher.

During my MA I had a history teacher, Lew Young Ick, whom I previously wrote about on this blog (here). He actually lectured us like we were high school students and gave us quizzes and the sort of tests where you memorize a (*#%&) load of facts. But I never felt like he was anything but the best professor ever because his knowledge was so encyclopedic it was almost unreal. Due to his teaching style I sometimes felt slightly disregarded (he never treated us like emerging scholars), but I learned a TON and earned his respect, especially by the end of the second class I took with him.

It was his lectures that I was able to rely on in the years between then and now --- I still have typed notes from every class. The understanding I got from Professor Lew has structured my entire understanding of Korean history. And as I now teach Modern Korean History to my own students, I again turn to his lecture notes to form the outline for my own lecture. Then I fill in and flesh out what I am going to say based on reading from authors who are often more middle of the road or towards the left than uber-conservative Dr. Lew. However, in Korean history (ironically) I am something of a conservative. In Korean history being conservative means being able to go beyond a place of "Japan is evil" and "Korea would have become everything it was meant to be, including a liberal democracy independently and just as fast if Japan hadn't occupied Korea" -- this being the position of the liberal historians (also called nationalist historians and that gets confusing being nationalists in other areas of the world are the conservatives, not the liberals). So to be a conservative historian of Korean means that you can blame the US and Japan for the various phenomenally bad things they did (like occupying the country), but you can also more impartially admit that Japan did help modernize Korea, even if it motivated by a Japanese desire to make Korea into a more profitable colony.

The first full class we discussed Korea's new relationships with Japan and the US, and changing relations with China. The second full class was on the enlightenment movement, the failed Gapsin Coup, plus Russia and England. Next week we'll be discussing the Donghak Movement and basically bringing Korea from late 1880s to almost colonization.

It's an exciting time...
The Bobingsa Mission to the USA (note my bad-boy historical boyfriend 서광범 front second from the right)
Here's Seo Gwangbeom again. 

The last two kings, ahem, emperors of Korea

Saturday, March 8, 2014

New Semester, New Department, Counting my Blessings

I am really blessed. I get to teach something I am really passionate about-- Korean Studies-- to a bunch of free, young, interested students. I have 20 students, 17 are women, all 20 are Korean.

So that's 20 blessings right there.

And the department gets 3 assistants-- that's another three blessings. The chair told the students to submit their info if they wanted to be a department assistant (it's work, but it comes with what I believe is a full tuition waiver). One assistant was already determined-- a fourth year student from the chair's department (Serbia-Croatian studies)-- because we needed someone who had enough of an idea of how the campus works and who to turn to for help that we wouldn't be at the mercy of three assistants who were all first year and pretty overwhelmed.

I suggested to the chair that the students should be chosen based on financial need. As it turned out only two students applied (and they all knew about it so I guess only those two feel any need), and they will start next week. The fourth year student, though, is already giving me TONS of reasons to count my blessings. She's smart and takes care of stuff, so that I don't need to worry about it, or waste time on minor things. For example, she took a stack of books where I had marked some images for scanning to the copy center. She'll also get the completed scans, email them to me, and return the books to the office. Now that's the kind of stuff I am so happy to have someone do, so that I can concentrate on creating the PPT that will incorporate the images, and not worry about leaving my office while the copy center is still open.

Another blessing is that my health is still with me. I had a health scare this week and didn't have time to deal with it. I trusted (had no option but to trust) that my body would take care of itself, although I did need some reassurance and scolding from my good friend Georgy. Feel free to encourage me to eat more iron, though, because among other things I think I may be full on anemic at the moment.

I was able to see Lina, who will co-teach the Korean Culture and Society class, in person, for the first time since 2006. I really like her, so that was awesome. Definitely another blessing.

And my amazing friend Kim came to visit Korea with her friend Randy, and they spent the night and had a lovely dinner with me (if I do compliment my own food).

That's at least 26 blessings, without getting into small things like the taste of Hallabong (a native Korean citrus fruit that ROCKS), coffee, or finally having a long conversation with my husband (the phones have been funky lately).

Friday, March 7, 2014

The School Year Has Begun!

There are so many things I've started to write and haven't finished... maybe I will. Don't hold your breath. In the meantime, let me tell you about the start of the school year:

It's Saturday, the first week is done and I'm sitting in my office, listening to Karjam singing (unfortunately not live) and determined to finish a ton of class prep today.

Intro to Modern Korean History (for majors)
(5 weeks only): Intro to Korean Culture and Society (for majors)
(every week): Intro to Korean Studies I (for majors)
(teaching 5 weeks, attending every week): Intro to Korean Music: Pungmul Drumming (for majors)
Contemporary Korean Culture and Society (for non-majors)
Modern Korean History (for graduate students in Korean Studies or International Studies)

This week was the first week, and usually first week classes are so easy-- you spend time on the syllabus and letting students know the expectations for the course and you try to get to know them and let them learn enough about you to suss out if they really want to take the class. But when it's your department and it's the same students on Monday and all three classes on Tuesday, it's very different... you really have to start teaching right away because you can't do introductory games and conversation for 11 hours! The students are not required to take all the classes--the required class is Intro to Korean Studies I and the rest of the classes are optional-- but of course they need a certain number of credits to graduate. So almost all of them are enrolled in all four classes (two students elected not take the history course and one student isn't taking the music course). They are also enrolled in various other courses that meet distribution requirements.

Next week I won't be teaching Korean Culture and Society, but rather Lyudmila will spend 5 weeks with them teaching them how to look at Korean culture and society through Korean literature. Then I get them, and at the end of the semester Lina (a friend from my MA at Yonsei University who is doing her doctoral dissertation research in Korea right now) will teach them about Korean Social Movements for 5 weeks. For the Korean Music class, however, I will always attend even when I'm not providing lectures on Korean music. On those days (about 9 or 10 of the 16 weeks) my friend Go Seokjin will teach them drumming on the janggu or hourglass drum. The style they will start with this semester is the style from Imshil Pilbong Nongak, also the style played here on campus by the student club. I am hoping to integrate my students with the club and then with attendance at the transmission center in Pilbong. An ideal outcome for me will be to find a way to give students credit for attending a certain number of weeks of classes in Pilbong during their vacations. I still have to figure out how that will work out, though. And my new chair, who I love in every other way, seems to be very nervous about the connection of pungmul drumming with politics and will NOT listen to me when I assert that the kids these days are not interested in politics and just want to play the music. I hope to get him to listen to common sense, soon.

So far I love the personalities and attitude of all my major students.

On Wednesday I taught my non-major class... that was stressful. First of all the classroom that was mine on the schedule was being occupied by another class. What the heck! Finally we started, at least 15 minutes late, in a different classroom, but it was NOT the way I want to make a first impression!!! Then the students included two students who spoke no English, even though the class is listed as being taught in English. These students (who are from China and from Uzbekistan-- it's not Korean students who are totally unprepared to use English) really wanted to take the class, and the students in the class really wanted to meet more foreigners and make foreign friends... this left me in a quandry over what to do. If I told the two foreign students to leave, we'd lose 2 out of 5 enrolled foreigners (only one is German and an obvious foreigner, by the way), but all my class prep was done in English, and I didn't want to redo my syllabus and spend all the extra time to prepare lessons in Korean (did that last semester and it easily was double the prep time, maybe triple).

Thursday was the hardest day. I got a bus at 6:05 and made it to the campus in Seoul by 8, finding the classroom by 8:20 or so. The class started at 9, and there were 12 students there, only one with a 100% Korean name, although several had diasporic Korean names (like Eric Lee). A student (sounded American and looked Jewish) was a bit abrasive and challenging of a couple of the things I said-- he took a hard-lined (Korean) nationalist perspective (which is kind of funny since he's not Korean), and his attitude in class really threw me off. I am hoping (for once) that my first impression made him think he did not want to take the class, because an argumentative ultra-nationalist will be hard to deal with considering that I was trained by the opposite of the nationalist camp and hence will say things a nationalist might not like over and over all semester.

Now I better buckle down and work on prep!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Yousef and Omar Enroll in Hapkido

On Monday I finally convinced Mohamed that Omar and Yousef should enroll in Hapkido. We all started back up on Tuesday. At first Mohamed was resistant that it wasn't cheaper (as a discount for two kids-- he thought half off the second kid would be good, but the instructor insisted that he gives 20,000 off for two kids making it  a 10% discount or 180,000 instead of 200,000 for two kids but that includes monthly test fees) but after the last 4 days, I think it should be more expensive. It's not easy teaching young boys who kind of want to goof off, don't understand the language of instruction, have obviously a limited athletic background, and are culturally out of step with Korea.

However, it's also been very fun/cute.

The boys are in seventh heaven to have padded floor, padded walls, trampoline, balls of various sizes and other kids to run around with. The lack of common language was easily defeated by the enthusiasm of everyone and the sweetness of a couple of the Korean kids (as well as Yousef and Omar being pretty darn sweet!). When class started it was hard for them to follow along at all, and from the first day we had issues with them wanting to just stop, rest, drink water, etc. during class. None of which is okay. You need to get permission to do anything other than continue to follow directions.

The boys follow along a tiny amount better, and I get to experience news things, like making sure they stand up to bow to the instructor. Yousef declares "tomorrow let's go 50 minutes earlier."

This week has made me closer to the kids in the studio than I ever was before, as they suddenly have a reason to talk to me. They ask about the boys or ask me to translate, all except one middle school boy who adorably speaks broken English to Yousef and Omar and slips them candy. The boys found out they're getting their own 도복 (dobok- martial arts uniform), Yousef declares "I will wear it all day, and then go home, and then wear my PJs, and then wake up and put it on again."

The boys get their uniforms, and I message a photo to their dad who responds with "my heroes!" It is obvious that the boys are in the right place, as they rough and tumble with everyone like mad, no hard feelings. However because there is a test on Saturday and only the boys and I are not taking it, again I end up spending most of class teaching them, and not getting to do any of my own practice. I am not the most patient teacher for boys who cannot cartwheel, cannot jump rope, and are generally not able to easily see the difference between their motion and mine. Omar spends the whole time we're practicing falls (rolls) falling wrong, but then posing at the end perfectly and waiting for me to compliment him before he gets back up. On the bright side, both boys are doing well with "get up" "again" "ready" start" etc.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sangmo Classes at Imshil Pilbong Nongak Transmission Center

Koreans tend to be jugglers. Not in the sense of juggling pins or balls, but in the sense of simultaneously being involved in multiple projects and pursuits. If someone told me that Koreans invented multitasking, I might believe them. The performing art that best demonstrates multitasking is pungmul, a type of traditional drumming performed while dancing. Amongst pungmul performers, this is best exemplified by those who perform while wearing the sangmo. Sangmo is a hat crowned by a whip attached to a ribbon. The ribbon is manipulated while dancing and playing percussion on any of the pungmul instruments, although most commonly it is the sogo a small hand drum that does not significantly contribute to the soundscape. The pungmul soundscape is dominated by the low, regular resonant beat on the large gong, the jing; the high staccato clang of the ggwaenggwari; and the variety of drum beats emanating from the buk (a barrel drum struck on its barrel as well as the hide) and the janggu (an hourglass drum struck on both sides, simultaneously or alone, with two sharply different sticks). The sogo is the preferred instrument of the sangmo because it encourages a more spectacular show—the drum is light enough to be frequently raised to head height or higher, and with one hand swinging the drum, the other the stick, dance motions, punctuated by drum beats, are accentuated. Sangmo specialists are a particular type of pungmul player—alpha personalities tend to gravitate towards the ggwaenggwari, as the leader of the performance will (almost always) be on this instrument, dictating the mood and eliciting the best performance through carefully circulating through the rhythmic patterns. The instrument that sounds good, alone or in groups, and is mostly widely used in all types of Korean performance is the janggu. Hence many of the most musical and most deeply interested in exploring all aspects of Korean performance become janggu players. Those on the buk and the jing are often those most comfortable with a supporting role, although in full-time professional percussion groups every member will be given time in the spotlight. Those who become proficient with the sangmo, however, are stubborn.
               I tried to teach myself back in the late 1990s, but after achieving no progress at all I concluded that the sangmo I had bought must be purely decorative and non-functional. In 2010, in Korea to do research for my dissertation, I decided to try again and ventured to a store I already knew was frequented by musicians (not people looking for an interesting object to hang on their wall). I bought a sangmo and enrolled in an intensive week long class at the Imshil Pilbong Nongak Transmission Center. On the first day a helpful fellow classmate helped me strap the sangmo onto my head, and learning to put the sangmo on was the only progress I made that week (leading me to believe that my previous sangmo had been completely functional).
               The first hurdle to learning sangmo is that a brand new sangmo is stiff and unresponsive compared to how it will become after several months of use. Chaesang jaebi (sangmo performers) also utilize various hacks to improve the sangmo that the manufacturers apparently are unaware of. These include adding some weight to the jinja. The jinja is the key part of the entire sangmo, between the hat and the whip. Some also work to improve the flex and responsiveness of the whip by adding an additional layer of thread, or a coating of wax to the end of the whip closest to the jinja. The single most important part of making the sangmo easier to spin, however, is just rotations of the jinja. These rotations, of course, can occur with the sangmo on the chaesang jaebi but most people also rotate the jinja, off the hat, holding one end in their hand and rotating it (in both directions) whenever they have a free hand. 

During winter vacation I returned to Pilbong for a week, hoping to recover the sangmo ability I'd lost during the 2.5 years of dissertation and job search when I did not practice. Honestly, I thought of it often, but always kept putting it off. It's my personality-- give me a room full of people to practice anything with and I'll do it. Ask me to do it on my own and ... oh well. Back in July 2011 I had been getting pretty good, too! For some reason the week I went to the training center there were no independent learners. Or there was one, and she was in high school. We shared a room, and went to almost every meal together, but we had nothing in common-- or nothing except the fact that a graduate of her high school is one of my favorite people I've ever met at the training center. He's not a close friend, but he's just sweet as sujeonggwa (cinnamon punch) at the wedding dinner I was at last Saturday. I did, however, get to know my fellow sangmo students-- after all, we were enduring the same torture together. 

Yes, sangmo can be torture. 

You know that punishment (popular in Asia) where people put their hands behind their back (or on their ear lobes), squat, and then jump up and down? That was the first day. Our instructor, Yu Seonbo, was determined to prove to everyone that the sangmo spins because of your --downward-- motion when you bend your legs (no, it's not spun by your neck). By making it almost impossible to power on the upstroke, and showing us that the sangmo still spun, if we did it right, he felt he was imparting this important lesson. I felt he took it way too far. The punishment to the leg muscles of that first day (9-12 and then 2-5 followed by individual practice from 7-9) haunted the group for the rest of the week. Fortunately my regular instructor, Yi Jonghui, had told Seonbo that my knees were bad, so I was able to escape the worst of this torture. But what I had to do just to maintain face as a serious learner was enough to keep me for the next four days whimpering and mincing along as the pain in my knees was overpowered by the agony of my calves. At one point it was so bad I FB messaged a fellow student in the next room-- with an adjoining sliding door between the rooms-- to bring me "pas" the mentholated lotion that I knew he had but I felt too pained to stand up and go get it. 

By the end of the week I feel that I returned, more or less, to the proficiency I had in summer 2011, but I don't know if I will ever advance past that point.

Photos and explanation about how to improve the whip and jinja
My Sangmo Progress as of Spring 2011

Friday, January 31, 2014

Teaching Korean to My 10-Year-Old Neighbor

I have a weak spot for young boys. I just love their gung-ho energy. I really really do. I've mentioned my colleague Mohamed's three sons before. The oldest, Yousef, will be starting school soon (in March), and he'll be plunked right into fourth grade with zero Korean. Sound fun? Right. So now I'm intensively tutoring him in Korean.

After two solid lessons of perhaps an hour each he's most of the way to reading phonetically, and his retention is very high, so he's also speaking a few sentence structures with his limited vocabulary.

Give me milk.
I don't have milk.
Give me water.
I want to play.
I want to eat.
I am an Egyptian.

He appealed to me to go to a school supply store. Like an idjit, even though I'm busy, I say "Do you want to go to Seoul tomorrow?"

Yousef and I went to Seoul today. We watched ice skaters at Lotte World's ice rink, had a donut with my former student Heehyun, had french fries at Lotteria, and spent way more than he had been given to bring with him at the stationery store (and I got several pens, some twine, some wall hangers, a new notebook, etc.).

When we got home I learned that Yousef's access to my house (not even just the trip to Seoul) had caused intense jealousy in the household. Apparently someone has made going to my house sound a lot more fun than just a study session.

Everyday except Sunday the boys came over-- first on Monday all three came just to spend time in my house. This would have been a lot more welcome if I had not already translated for the family at the clinic and at the cell phone store. I really have a lot to do to get ready for next semester. So when the boys all came over (and made a mess because Achmed eyed by pomegranate with such lust I finally had to give in and give them pomegranate which they managed to get everywhere)(by the way, pomegranates at this time of year in Korea are pretty expensive!) the last thing I expected was that they'd be back an hour later (I never had time to eat dinner) for a Korean lesson, this time with Omar in tow, claiming to be interested in learning, too. Achmed also followed along, promising to be very quiet. They brought popcorn with them. This (unsurprisingly) ended up allover the floor so that I had to clean my floor again.

Tuesday Omar was back, but Wednesday Omar came but did not study, while Yousef and I were able to concentrate again. Yousef is almost reading from memory (except seldom used vowels), and today's conversations were:

Do you want to drink milk?
Yes, I do.
Do you want to drink beer?
No, I don't.
Do you want to eat pork?
No, I don't.
Do you want to eat watermelon?
Yes, I do.
I don't like pork.
I like cabbage.
Do you have water?
No, I don't.
Do you have beef?
Yes, I do.

He has a vocabulary of about 25 foods and drinks, and I'm working hard with him to memorize everything to do with pork, because his mom vented to me one day about how "Koreans put pork in everything" -- which is not true, and it's always clearly marked, but if you cannot read Korean...

Yousef has also mastered a variety of other useful words and phrases, such as "where are you going?" with "I am going to---" and about 15 options of where he is going (city names, school, the dentist, the hospital, the market, home, etc.). He can say he forgot if I ask him something, but I forgot to review "I don't know." He can say he's hot, he's cold, etc. I really want to take him to go practice. I did take him briefly the other day to practice in the Korean snack shop/cheap restaurant (분식), but his brothers came, so then he didn't practice much and most of the time was spent trying to teach all three to use chopsticks, instead of practicing Korean. Incidentally they were closed-minded about trying anything, although eventually Yousef decided he could eat 라볶이 (big fat rice noodles and ramen noodles cooked in a spicy and somewhat sweet sauce), I had to order 공기밥 (plain rice) and fried eggs (not on the menu) for them! Only Yousef would even try 참치김밥  (tuna kimbap) (햄 배고 without ham), although he couldn't get a whole one to his mouth, so I don't think he ever knew what it should really taste like.

Yousef has continued to study everyday. He's 10 and doesn't feel the urgency of the approaching school year, because he's in massive denial that the kids (I told them they all learned English since 3rd grade and some even earlier) will be able to speak to him in English and that the teacher will be able to speak. Having him memorize "Where is the toilet?" turned into a big argument (he's very smart and articulate in English) about how everyone had to at least know words like toilet in English. That is not true, of course, and this area we live in doesn't have a bunch of good jobs (aside from here at the university), so the kids in the school are kids of lower class families that have not been pushed in extra after-school classes. They haven't gone to all English pre-schools. Even the professors (the Korean professors) live somewhere like 분당 (Bundang, a popular up-scale Seoul bedroom community 45 minutes by bus from here) or 잠실 (Jamshil area of Seoul, the corner of Seoul closest to here) because they want their kids in better schools than this one. So Yousef's classmates are not going to be kids of the elites with all the advantages that can bring. This is not to say that kids of farmers can't be incredibly smart, this is to say that Korean housewives in 강남 (Gangnam, south of the river in Seoul) spend their entire lives on pushing their kids to excel academically, rather than working. This amount of stress makes Korean kids unhappy, but it means they have high test scores.

I worried that Yousef's dad didn't have a realistic idea about the English in the school, and that he was passing this onto Yousef (Yousef said something that made me think that) but I went to talk to Mohamed who told me a story of another co-worker's son being so traumatized by a teacher yelling at him in Korean (she told him to do something, he didn't understand, she kept telling him, he kept not understanding, she started yelling) that he refused to ever go back to the school. Right in front of me Mohamed told Yousef to stop complaining to me about having to learn so many languages (in his old school he was learning French and German as well as Arabic and English), and that he had to concentrate on Korean right now. Mohamed clearly understands the school environment will be almost all Korean, and he's definitely worried about adjustment, but Yousef is about as handsome as any kid his age can be. His personality is great, and he's very smart. So I think he should be okay, as long as he can follow basic instructions (that's what we drilled last night-- open your book, close your book, sit down, stand up, get ready, start, stop), apologize, say he doesn't understand, ask for help, say he forgot, bow appropriately (we've been working on that), and so on. We'll have one more lesson, then I'm off to do field research for 1.5 weeks.
                                                                                     Achmed, Yousef, and Omar

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Facebook Posts" from my Trip -- Part IV (last part)

Everyone will feel neglected if we don't go personally to visit them. Now we're visiting Hlabae (sister #2). She and her husband live in a tent, even in the winter. Total massive respect. #family #Tibetansaretough

Even in a tent, you still have an altar

Inside Hlabae's tent

The view from above Hlabae and her two neighbor's tents on the mountain. Bringing the herds together at night makes it easier to keep them safe from wolves and thieves.

Achi Hlabae gave me a bowl of the most delicious joma, ever. She harvested it herself while watching the yaks. Joma is? A nitrogen fixing rhizome. A root. Nutty/beany at the same time. #bestTibetanfoodever #family

A hail storm added to the whiteness. Where is the turn off onto a -not- road that will get us safely to Damdentso's?

Passing by a nomad winter house (temporary house) guarded (of course) by a Tibetan mastiff

Herding the yaks home with the approaching storm

Our next stop was Damdentso's house. As the kids showed Karjam and I their year end exam papers it struck me how amazing it must be for a parent who is illiterate, but wanted to study more (like Damdentso), to see her kids becoming literate in written Tibetan, Chinese, and English. #literacy #family

Karjam with Damdentso's oldest and youngest-- the middle child (a boy) has become a monk (at 10 years old)

We went to the monastery store and got prayer flags, both as gifts for my family and to hang on Ama Dunmajhet's gate and the front of her house. It looks great. #Buddhism

Enjoying coffee by the yak chip fire. So glad I brought my aeropress. #aeropress #bestcoffeeever

Frozen morning in Zhyibuk's van from Ahwencang to Maqu turned into a glorious warm shower lasting a ridiculously long time.

Today was the day of restaurants--big lunch with Tserangtso and her boyfriend in a Chinese restaurant in Maqu and fancy schmancy Tibetan restaurant for dinner with Jabu, his family, and Jangloju in Hezou.

Ahyangtso went with me to do errands. I don't know what impressed her the most. Certainly the escalator was surprising. She wanted to push the cart at the grocery (I only really needed it for my bags) but then ran into my heels repeatedly. And she ate constantly. Banana, juice, pomelo, ice cream.

Karjam took me to the train station and waited on the platform until the train started to pull away, at which point he walked next to my window. I cried. Of course. I will miss him so much.

I laid down to sleep but the four parents and three kids in my compartment were so noisy I couldn't. Saw a very (very very) sad woman and asked her what was going on. I listened to her and held her hands as she cried and smiled and relayed a story that as she stopped sobbing became easier to understand, of a wonderful father who had meant the world to her. #grieving #mourning

The cost of the airplane ticket is worth it. #loudcellphonegames #screamingchildren #shoutingadults #spitting #secondhandsmoke #eatingchickenfeet #speedoftravel

My birthday. Fever, come, gone, come, gone, come, gone. Nausea. Headache, come and come and come. But I'm pretty sure I've had worse. #30hoursonthetrain #trainrideformybirthday

The boat will be less relaxing than I had anticipated--sharing the 4 bed room with a mother, paternal aunt, and daughter, all Joseon-jok (Korean-Chinese). Like a Korean mother the mother doesn't allow the mischevious seven year old to get away with anything, like a Chinese woman she scolds in a loud and high voice.

Made several interesting friends on the boat--including the warden in charge of foreign prisoners at the largest prison in Korea. Shared a taxi to the subway, and rode the subway with another very interesting guy (and his quiet son).

Chief difference between being around Koreans and Chinese--public etiquette. On a bus of nearly 30 riders I can hear the driver's music and the road noise, and a soft ripple of conversation, and that's it. If this was China I'd be listening to 15 people's cell phones (playing games, or sending text messages with loud button noises and alerts), all conversations would be shouted, and the driver would probably be smoking. #sogladtobehome #sickofChina #Koreaisthebest

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 8th, 2014

We were supposed to go get Ama Dunmajhet but Karjam felt that there were still a few last touches on sprucing up the house before she arrived. It had snowed about an inch during the night, more than the dusting the previous night, and so I decided to get out from under K's feet and head out for some snowy photos. I headed toward the nearer temple, intending just to take a few photos as soon as I got high enough to have a good vantage point. My feet took me closer, still. As I was setting up my camera, I noticed a herd of yaks cresting the hill to my right, heading to the mountain to the left of the temple. I positioned to get the perfect shot of yaks in a row, stupa and temple buildings behind them, but the herd kept growing and growing until I was surrounded by over 100 quiet shuffling yaks, with a few horses, cows, and cross-bred yak-cow hybrids as well. It felt pretty magical, just me, the temple, a woman herding the yaks with a baby strapped to her chest, and far off in the distance some hardy souls who were already circling the stupa. The yaks didn't bother me in the slightest, as yaks are patient and intelligent animals accustomed to humans. The downside to the entire experience was that each time I turned on the camera, or turned it off, or adjusted the tripod settings, or took the lens cap off, or replaced the lens cap, or pressed the trigger button to take a shot my hands screamed with the cold. I bunched the fingers together inside the gloves, but it was deathly cold-- on my walk out the steam of my breath had caught my glasses and frozen-- I had to use my fingernail to scrape off the ice in a large enough spot to see through.

These look like 'projects' right? Might as well be. Shoddy construction by out-of-town (village) people for the locals who had never previously owned houses and didn't know how to spot shoddy construction. Really a tragedy, but 'settling' the nomads is part of Chinese policy...

Karjam and I had not lit the fire in the morning, but fortunately after a few minutes we headed to Zhyibuk's house, where the living area was, as usual, toasty warm. Tserdin and Hlamo were, however, conspicuously absent (Zhyibuk joked "they're gone so we don't have anything except tea and bread"). Shortly I was informed that they'd gone to Maqu so that Tserdin could get a hysterectomy. I am all for family planning, but this struck me as odd, both that the kids (3 and 5?) knew it (okay, maybe they didn't understand), and that Tibetans who live in rural areas are allowed 3 children under China's family planning policies, and they usually take advantage by having every allowed child.

In the warm house (the fire stoked by Banko in the absence of the women) I tried just taking off my boots and putting my sock feet near the stove, discreetly for a short time, then re-booting. Over half an hour later I realized that this had not worked, although it had brought feeling back to an acceptable level, so instead I had to strip off my socks and try again. In the meantime I goofed around with the kids and drank cup after cup of green tea. Zhyibuk's house is the only place that people ordinarily drink green tea of the places we usually visit. A different kind of tea that looks like it's made from the whole plant (sticks and all) of some bush is the usual type here, it's dark, heavily caffeinated, and often brewed with milk (this time of the year that means milk from pouches from the store, not fresh yak milk). We brew ours without milk and add milk for those who want it, but at many households I just choose to drink hot water.

We were supposed to move onwards from Zhyibuk's with water from the well for Tubko's household, but while we were there Ani Sanko (Ama Dunmajhet's sister) stopped by and asked Karjam to drive her daughter and daughter's family (who were visiting from Linxia, her husband is not Tibetan-- I couldn't tell if he (Ga Ping) was Han Chinese or Hui), with belongings, out to her son's nomad encampment. Karjam couldn't say no, but part of this process had to include hanging around at Ani Sanko's house while everything got prepared. Karjam doesn't like visiting her, because 1) she's a poor housekeeper 2) she's had a depressing string of bad luck 3) the combination of 1 and 2 pulls at your heartstrings. She is, however, fun and lively-- due to the Chinese speaking son-in-law she's picked up a little Chinese (although I can barely understand him, much less her), and she's super generous. I couldn't leave without a new string of prayer beads and a bowl/cup with the 8 auspicious Tibetan symbols on it, with a smidgen of butter (for richness), two apples, and two disks of bread. It took forever to get out of her icebox home, especially since her dog (not tied up) had recently had (at least three) puppies, and was extremely dangerous (except to Ani Sanko, meaning we all had to have her help us across the yard).

Ani Sanko

K and I then drove the family out to their camp, but on the way there Tsebae called. So, instead of heading to Tubko's to get Ama, we had to return to Ama's house, open the gate for Tsebae, help her sort her stuff, then drive her and her eldest to where her (string of expletives) husband was. Then at last we were able to drive out to Tubko's house. When we got there only Rinchin, Rinchin's deaf brother, Jolo, and Ama were there. After a lunch of tsampa, and afraid I wouldn't have another opportunity I insisted on walking out to the sky burial site. Jolo escorted me past the dog zone, then turned back. As I walked, I reflected on how much easier it had been when I rode to the site on horses with April and Karjam. Certainly long before I had arrived I felt toasty warm everywhere, even my fingers and toes. From a long distance away it was apparent that there were not that many new prayer flag arrays, that trends in how to erect the prayer flags had changed, and that the volume of total prayer flag displays had increased significantly. Last time I visited it seemed the newer style was to use a type of parasol or umbrella style, and flag trees were also common, but now there were two types of display dominating-- rows of thickly hung vertical flags, and extremely long flag strings across the gap between the steep hills lining the site. As I got closer I had to pick my footing with care-- tattered prayer flags, human bone, and shards of sutra-inscribed slate littered the ground. Stepping on or even over Tibetan writing is a huge offense, and I was sure without needing to be told that I should treat the bones with respect. Chanting "om mani padme hum" I gingerly explored the site, wondering which of the two newest displays had been erected for Apa Lorae. I took photos of the tattered prayer flags, and the newer ones, trying to do a decent job and leave quickly as I was worried that K and Ama would be waiting. Sure enough, when I crested the hill on the way back I was shortly greeted by Karjam blowing the truck's horn.

The sky burial site from a distance

This is what the parasols that I loved photographing a few years ago look like now

After stopping at Zhyibuk's to pick up two of Karjam's bags he'd been storing there for more safety (now that Ama is home, one of the three of us will generally be home, allowing for less worry about thievery-- a constant concern around here, whether it is of yak/sheep/horse rustling or more standard B&E.), we finally were able to show Ama Dunmajhet what we'd done to her house. Her reaction was as good as or even better than we'd hoped. She thought it was really beautiful and that it felt like a new home. More, she commented to Karjam that the changes meant she wouldn't be constantly faced by Apa Lorae's absence in the surroundings he'd once filled. She's never slept in the room we fixed up, but now she will. The color, the flooring, the hearth for the stove, all these things we did make it feel really different.

As it got dark K went and fetched Tubla and Ahyangtso from the Nyingma temple (the farther away temple). When Apa Lorae died he was not "done" with a series of Buddhist tasks--such as circling various temples, spinning various prayer wheels, and doing prostrations at various sites. The kids, especially the two girls, are finishing a lot of these tasks before the 49 days are up. They circled the large prayer hall at the Nyingma temple 500 times (total for both of them) and have to do another 500 the next day, to finish that task. I would have gone with K to get the girls but I was exhausted after all the activity of the day, and stayed home to cook. I made veggies for Tubla and I (Tubla is being mostly vegetarian these days!!!), and Ama cut up meat that I made into a big meat and noodle soup for the other three. The girls spent the night on Ama's old bed, going to sleep earlier and leaving Ama, K and I up around the stove, talking.
Even last time I came here it was impossible to find so many good veggies in Maqu. Now I dine like this! Nummy!

Monday, January 20, 2014

"Facebook Posts" from my Trip, Part III

Spent the whole day painting. Exhausted. #homeimprovement

Paint Ninja! 
Made a tile hearth for under the stove. So nice to have a husband with useful skills. Retreated to Zhyibuk's house for dinner because we couldn't reseat the stove yet. #homeimprovement
Prayer flags on the hill above the house

Spreading the concrete for the hearth

Years of dental nightmares have taught me self-diagnosis. Desperately in need of an emergency root canal, and the closest dentists I sort of trust are in Korea. The pain is all the way into my cheekbone. Inadvertent meeting of the wrong tooth with anything has me screaming like a banshee. #cannotchew #holyFballs #misery
  *this dental pain resided over the next few days. back in Korea now, I must find a dentist.
Note the completed hearth!

Carpet to keep the cold of the concrete farther from one's feet

Getting closer to done!

It dusted snow last night, as soon as the sun came out we went to the top of the hill above town with my cameras. Gorgeous. Flakes of falling show, sun glinting, prayer flags straining in the wind. Then tea at Gongwher's winter house. #prayerflags #beautifulTibet #family

Karjam with Gongwher's middle daughter

Done preparing Ama Dunmajhet's room--even the bed is set up! Sharing tea by the fire with Karjam in a very changed room. #homeimprovement

At Zhyibuk's house Rinchin Dunma (his granddaughter, Dorsey's daughter) was playing. Her game was to make a makeshift hand-held prayer wheel by sticking a chopstick in an empty Red Bull can and rotating the can while chanting. #Buddhismeverywhere

Ama Dunmajhet said "it feels like I have a new house." She's very pleased. She also said that the changes made it feel so that she wasn't constantly expecting to see Apa Lorae sitting in his normal spot, because the spot had changed so much. She was relieved about that.

Tubla and Ahyangtso came to spend the night and arrived before dinner. Tubla is mostly vegetarian, so she shared my food. #vegetariantibetan #wondersnevercease #goTubla

Today is exceptionally cold. Ama Dunmajhet decided to wear her warmest outfit to go to the temple-- a sheepskin (wool on the inside) coat with decorative trim. Then she worried to Karjam "will people think I'm not properly mourning?" She ended up dressing less warmly. #sameeverywhere #warmiswarm
This is a before sunrise photo I took of Tubla and Ahyangtso doing circuits of this temple building. This a long exposure, the people circling the temple appear as black blurs. 
Just after sunrise
Gongwher came to visit. Such a hottie! He has kind eyes and listens to Ama Dunmajhet who loves to talk (just like Karjam) with words of encouragement and not much else. #Tibetanmen

Ama Dunmajhet comfortable by her stove

In the evening when I drove back to pick up Tubla and Ahyangtso

Ahyangtso doing prostrations-- very determined

Tubla and Ahyangtso