I have grown increasingly frustrated with Live Journal, so I have decided to start a new blog elsewhere. You can see my latest thoughts at http://rbbadger.wordpress.com.
This has been good for me and I hope that you enjoyed the postings. I look forward to seeing all of your comments on my new site!
The Ministry for Unification of the Republic of Korea has announced that tours to Mount Geumgang in North Korea are being suspended. A South Korean housewife was shot there after she allegedly strayed into forbidden territory. Until the investigation is complete, the South Korean tours have been suspended. Following the summit talks between South Korean president Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, tourists from the South were permitted to visit Mount Geumgang in the North. The founder of the Hyundai Group, Chung Yu-jung, was born in what is now North Korea. The North Korean government granted to Hyundai Asan the exclusive right to conduct tours in the Mount Geumgang area.
Well, we've finished another week at Little Fox. Thank you so much for the cards and gifts. It was good to speak with some of you, notably Mama, Kimberly, and Jennifer. If you call me at work, you are likely to get either Anne, our secretary or our director. Anne is very nice, but she doesn't speak much English.
The birthday was a very low-key affair. For one, I had to work. My co-workers gave me about 100,000 won in cash as a gift ($100) and there was, of course, a cake. I was sung to by some of my classes as well. So, that was nice. Anne gave me the gift of a bell to hang on the door of my apartment.
It has been rather hot lately. At of course, it is humid, though Korea's humidity does not even begin to approach that of Hong Kong, Cambodia, or Thailand. I have been running my air conditioner a lot. I rather think that KEPCO, the Korean Electric Power Company, is going to love me in the same way that GS Caltex (our gas company) loved me during our very cold winter. The large number of nuclear reactors in Korea (about 20 are currently online) helps to ensure that at least eletricity is relatively cheap. Also, Korea is abundantly blessed with rivers, so there are quite a few hydroelectric plants as well.
The beef protests are dying down. I was in Gwanghwamun, a part of Seoul where many of the protests have been taking place. I didn't see that many protestors, though there was one off-balance woman holding a sign protesting in the subway. What has been good to see is that US beef is selling quite well in the stores that choose to sell it. Korea has pretty much banned US beef since 2003, owing to the outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in the USA. The purpose of the protests was to complain about the possible dangers of eating US beef, but it later turned into a free-for-all to go after the new president and his policies. Korean politics are nothing if not exciting. Democracy is in its infancy here. It is also in its beginning stages in Japan, but the Japanese seem to run things better.
Speaking of democracy, the Cardinal Bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kuin, S.D.B. has once again participated in protests asking for democracy in Hong Kong. At present, the people of Hong Kong can only elect about half of their representatives in the Legislative Council. The Chief Executive, something akin to a provincial governor, is elected by electors that Beijing appoints. Each year, on the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to the Chinese, there are protests. In 2007, Cardinal Zen made the bold move of actually joining in the protests. Cardinal Zen is a fairly fierce critic of the Communists up north not to mention the Hong Kong government. The Chinese government says that eventually, the people of Hong Kong will be able to choose their own chief executive and all the members of the Legislative Council. However, the date keeps being pushed back. In 2007, Cardinal Zen used very strong language in a prayer meeting in Victory Park where he stated, "we have been lied to, we have been insulted, we have been deprived of our rights". He has been banned from entering mainland China, even though he is a Chinese citizen, in the past.
Despite the fact that they are Chinese citizens, people of the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions have to deal with the border controls like anyone else. Other than visiting Shenzen, which they can do with just their ID Cards, to visit the rest of the mainland, they have to have a special pass granted by the Public Security Bureau in Guangzhou.
Things get even more interesting when Taiwan enters the picture. People from Hong Kong are free to visit Taiwan, but the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) does not recognise the legal validity of People's Republic of China passports, whether they be from Hong Kong, Macao, or the Mainland. (Hong Kong and Macao residents have their own passports issued by their own immigration departments.) So, to visit Taiwan, they have to obtain a permit to visit from a travel agency owned by the government of Taiwan. For citizens of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to visit the mainland or Hong Kong, they have to obtain a special pass just to enter as their passports are not legally valid in the eyes of the Chinese authorities.
Oil prices, as we all know, have gotten ridiculous lately. I think that the increased usage of the Seoul Metropolitan City mass transit system is due to the gas prices. It is starting to play havoc here, as inflation is starting to rear its ugly head as transporting raw materials gets more and more expensive.
Korea boast quite a few excellent orchestras. The most prestigious of them, as one might imagine, are in Seoul. And the two most prestigious of the Seoul orchestras are the Seoul Philharmonic and the KBS Symphony Orchestra.
Korea is sort of a cultural paradise for me. Classical music concerts take place often and the tickets aren't too expensive. Additionally, the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, a place I visit often, has concerts of traditional Korean music every Saturday and often during weekdays as well.
Yesterday, I attended two concerts. I was back at the NCKTPA for their Saturday afternoon concert. The concert featured one of my favourite pieces of traditional Korean music, the Ajaeng Sanjo. For those of you who don't know what an ajaeng is, it looks a lot like the gayageum. If you had seen the clip I had posted of the Gayageum Ensemble of Sookmyung Women's University playing Beatles hits, then you know what a gayageum is. The gayageum often has twelve strings which are plucked. The ajaeng only has six strings, but these are bowed. The Ajaeng Sanjo is a solo piece for ajaeng accompanied by a drummer. Sanjo, which literally means "scattered melodies", is a sort of improvisational style of music which starts in a slow tempo and gets quite fast. Sanjo soloists generally learn the music from their teacher. Traditionally, these pieces were not even written down, but passed down from teacher to student. Once the student has become a master in his or her own right, he or she can embelish the work as he or she sees fit a new school of sanjo sometimes emerges. Currently, there are sanjos for gayageum, ajaeng, piri (Korean oboe which Christine thinks sounds like a kazoo), haegeum (two stringed fiddle), and daegeum (bamboo transverse flute).
The other reason for going was, of course, to hear the traditional orchestra of the NCKTPA. It is a symphony-orchestra sized ensemble which features only traditional Korean music. While orchestras are nothing new to the field of traditional Korean music, the NCKTPA orchestra and the KBS Traditional Orchestra operate a bit differently. For one thing, the conductor actually conducts. In the court music repertoire, the conductor stands to the side bearing a large wooden clapper which he uses to mark the various sections of a given work. Other than manipulating the clapper, he doesn't really do anything else. With the NCKTPA and KBS Traditional Orchestras, there is a podium from which the conductor conducts and a concert master, generally the first chair haegeum player. Traditionally, the orchestral court music was done in unison without any harmony. This neo-traditional music features harmony, but seeks to use the traditional instruments in a more symphonic way.
Following that concert, I decided to go over to the Seoul Arts Centre to see if tickets were available for the evening concert of the Seoul Philharmonic. Happily, there were. The Seoul Philharmonic, under the direction of Maestro Myung-whun Chung performed Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 "Emperor" with Nicholas Angelich as the soloist. After the concerto, which was utterly wonderful, I might add, they performed Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique".
Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 was his last symphony. If you accept the theory of David Brown, the prominent British musicologist and authority on Russian music, the Symphony No. 6 is sort of Tchaikovsky's "goodbye, cruel world" note before he killed himself. Brown wrote the article on Tchaikovsky for the New Grove, and as we all know, the New Grove never lies (wink, wink). (The New Grove has had to make apologies for its cruel treatment of Rachmaninoff in the 1958 edition.) There really is no clear evidence one way or another than Tchaikovsky killed himself, but the Symphony No. 6 is a pretty dark and pessimistic work.
Western classical music has become very popular is Asia. The Japanese have sported fine musicians and composers for many, many years. Korea is not about to play second fiddle to the Japanese, so many, many performing arts centres exist and almost every city manages to support a symphony orchestra or two.
A country to watch in the classical music world is going to be China. In China, as in Russia, the government watches kids closely to see what their particular talents are. If they are musically inclined, then they are quickly hurried off to the conservatory where they study music. If they are athletic, then they are put into state schools to prepare for the olympics. From a point in time where western classical music was viewed as hedonistic and bourgeois, classical music has really begun to thrive there.
The former president of the People's Republic of China, Jiang Zemin, is a huge fan of classical music and it was during his time in the presidency that work was begun on the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, a massive complex containing three auditoriums, one for symphonies, another for opera and ballet, and a third for Chinese opera and theatre.
While Yo-yo Ma is not a citizen of China (he was born in France to Chinese parents and subsequently became a citizen of the USA), Chinese composers and conductors such as Tan Dun and pianists such as Lang Lang have become stars on the worldwide stage. Classical music has a very bright future in Asia.
In honor of Independence Day, I am putting up this prayer for our government written by the first Catholic bishop in the United States of America, John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore. Archbishop Carroll was a great figure in American history. His cousin, Charles Carroll of Carrollton was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
In 1776, Archbishop Carroll journeyed with his cousin Charles Carroll, Bejamin Franklin, and Samuel Chase to Quebec to convince the French Canadians to join the Revolution. It was thought that having a French speaking Catholic priest might help rally the Quebecois to their cause. It obviously didn't happen, but it made Archbishop Carroll very well known in early American politics.
Archbishop Carroll saw the separation of Church and State as a great blessing. Under the laws at the time, only the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania granted freedom of religion to Catholics. Archbishop Carroll saw such a separation as a marvelous opportunity for the Catholic Church to grow and flourish without any interference from the state.
This prayer of Archbishop Carroll's has long been a favorite of mine.
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name. We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, Joseph, all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation. We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty. We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability. We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal. Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Soon, the eyes of the world will be fastened on Beijing as they prepare to host the 2008 Olympics. Sadly, the Olympics has been already marred by the response of the government to the unrest in Tibet. The President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) has mulled withdrawing Taiwan's national team, but for the present, it appears that they are good to go.
Chinese politics are quite unique. You have a nation that professes to be Socialist, yet there appear to few of the safety nets that a modern Socialist nation, such as Sweden would have. There are the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao which operate under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle. Then, there are the Special Autonomous Regions, such as Tibet which, unlike Hong Kong and Macao, have virtually no autonomy and are tightly governed from Beijing.
Until 1984, the People's Republic of China did not participate in the Olympic Games. The major reason for this was not because they were banned from participating. The reason concerned, as it often does, a small island off the coast of China known to us as Taiwan or by its official name as the Republic of China.
After the bloody Chinese civil war came to an end in 1949, the Kuomintang led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (正介石) fled to Taiwan where the Republic of China was set up yet again. Most countries of the world, with the exception of the Communist nations, kept their diplomatic relations with the Republic of China in Taiwan rather than with the People's Republic in Mainland China. The Republic of China was one of the founding nations of the UN and held a seat on the security council for many years. Things changed quickly after Nixon's historic trip to China in 1971. The Republic of China was kicked out the UN, the People's Republic was recognised as the successor state, and under Jimmy Carter, US diplomatic ties were severed.
Until 1984, athletes from Taiwan participated under the name of the Republic of China (中華民國, Zhonghua Min Guo) and under the flag of the Republic of China. As a compromise with Beijing, Taiwan was still allowed to participate, but they were no longer allowed to use their country's flag or even its name. Taiwan participates in the Olympics under the name of Chinese Taipei (中華台北, Zhonghua Taipei) and under a flag that the IOC designed for them.
I rather hope that Chinese Taipei does exceedingly well in Beijing.
Yesterday was a very busy day at the 덕소남양주센터 of Little Fox. We had market day, an occasion for the kids to practice buying stuff in English. Their moms also came, with the exception of the mother of one of the kids. We had set up shops in all of the classrooms. Julie and I took care of the supermarket. Joshua and Casey took care of the toy and stationery store. John and the boss' wife ran the restaurant. Lina ran the clothing store. Hannah and Rachel ran the cooking class.
After all this, we had the storytelling event where all of the students, with the exception of the Apple Class which is made up of beginning students, got up and told their moms and all of us the stories they had memorised. They did really well.
It was also a good opportunity to chat with the mothers of the children a bit. I was happy to have a good visit with Sam's mother. Sam is a really bright six year old boy. He has a vocabulary in both English and Korean that is really impressive. Some of my elementary students will refer to 漢字 as Chinese writing. Sam calls them what they are, namely Chinese characters. Dealing with him is sometimes difficult as he wants to answer all the questions and the books are far too easy for him. I told his mom that I was really surprised to see him writing in Chinese characters. He wanted to show me something one day. He had written in his workbook 一二三四五六七八九十, or the Chinese numbers from 1 to 10. I was really floored by that. I didn't expect it. Neither did his mom, who really had no idea that he had figured that out. She was, to put it mildly, really surprised.
Despite his precociousness, Sam is pretty much like the rest of his class. During lunch and break times, he runs through the hallways terrorising the teachers and causing all sorts of noise. As sort of befits a six year-old boy, his big interests right now are dinosaurs.
This was also a good occasion to talk with the mother of one of my other students, a girl by the name of Bon (Korean name Kang Hye-bon). Bon's mother and father both work for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Korea, the largest denomination of Christians in Korea. Her mom speaks good English and is very nice. She had just had a baby a few weeks ago, so it was good to know that the new baby is doing really well.
One of the students did not have his mom with him. Both of his parents work long hours, so he has been placed in the care of his grandmother. I don't know how much time his dad spends with him, as he really latches onto the male teachers. Almost every day, when I go check his homework, he will grab hold of my arm and not want to let go. It was really sad to me to see all the other moms there, but his not there with him. One of the fathers even took his lunch hour to see his daughter sing.
This boy does worry me sometimes, especially because he is sometimes very, very shy. When we went to the Moran Museum of Art, we let the kids run rampant through the grounds of the sculpture garden. While the kids were running and playing, I saw this boy standing all by himself wanting to join in but not sure how to. The rest of the students were running and, in the case of Andrew, bonking headfirst into hideous objets d'art. He generally understands when I ask him questions, but he is often really hesitant to speak. He's getting better, but it is taking more time than with the other students.
Encouring the quiet ones to speak is a major task. There is another boy in a class I substituted for only once. This boy was so quiet and didn't participate at all. I would try and talk to him every day, but it took weeks before he would actually start talking. I am not his teacher, but he probably speaks more to me in English than any of the other teachers. The old Latin adage "repititio mater studiorum" holds place here. Repetition is the mother of study and when it comes to learning a language, repetition and use of it is key.
The Chinese government, which prizes stability above all else, has decided to overhaul its visa regulations. Unlike most countries, which grant visa free entry to US Citizens, Canadians, Australians, EU Citizens, the Japanese, and such like, everybody needs a visa to go to China. We can go to Hong Kong without a visa and we can go to Macao without one. Both places are Special Administrative Regions, so they have considerable autonomy and their own immigration departments, mercifully free of the whims of Beijing.
Now, to get a Chinese visa, you have to provide your airline tickets (originals not e-tickets) in some instances, a confirmation from your hotel confirming your reservation with the requisite number of stamps on it, and a two-page application form along with your passport and a passport photo.
From those who've successfully gotten visas, it seems that all you have to have is the right number of seals in all the right places. Having gone through that agony to get a visa here is not an experience that I'm eager to go through again soon. I am hoping that around the time of Chuseok (Korean harvest festival), the Chinese government will once again become easy to deal with in the issuance of visas.
The Chinese visa process is getting a bit like Russia's visa process which requires invitations from your hotel with the right number of seals on the document, application forms, and a veritable mountain of paperwork.
Luckily, though, I can always go back to Hong Kong on my late July vacation or to the other China without these headaches. The other China is, of course, the Republic of China (Taiwan) who, despite having been stabbed in the back by the Carter administration, still will let us in with a minimum of headaches.
In Seoul, there exists a small Cathedral which serves the rather small Orthodox community here. In the late 19th century, Russian missionaries came to Korea and Japan. Japan has a large, by Japanese standards anyway, Orthodox community numbering almost 25,000 people. The Korean Orthodox Church probably does not number more than 2,000 people.
The Orthodox Church is generally identified with Russia or Greece. However, there are a few other countries in Europe which are mostly Orthodox, not to mention significant (but minority) populations in the Middle East. Additionally, the Orthodox Churches have dioceses and parishes in North and South America and missions in Korea, Hong Kong, and a few other places. The Orthodox Church of Japan was founded by the Russians and is remarkable, as it has all native clergy, including the bishops themselves. In North America, it is sort of confusing, as the Greeks fall under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Russians fall under their own jursidiction, having been granted autocephaly (self-governing status) by the Moscow Patriarchate. The Serbians fall under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Belgrade, the Romanians under the Patriarchate of Bucharest, and so forth. Yet all are in communion with each other.
The Orthodox Metropolis of Korea, which falls under the canonical oversight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, has all native Koreans as priests, but the bishops are Greeks. Retired Metropolitan Sotirios has been here since 1975 when he volunteered to serve in the Korean Mission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The current Metropolitan of Korea, Metropolitan Ambrosios, was educated in America, speaks English exceedingly well and is quickly learning Korean.
The Cathedral was built in the 1960s, but the interior is such that the City of Seoul has asked the Cultural Heritage Administration to name it is as an important architectural site. It is a small church. But it is a magnificent one. The walls and ceiling of the church are adorned with icons, all done as a voluntary work by an art professor from Greece. The iconostasis, or screen dividing the sanctuary from the rest of the church, was hand-carved in Greece and was a gift of the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece.