Thursday, September 04, 2003

Ye Olde Blogge

From the Maximum Leader, re: my "sharp exchange" with the Infidel (btw, Infidel, I'm just yanking yer chain. I truly do enjoy your blog, whatever my disagreements, and admit I'm about as sharp as a bowling ball.):

You know, at one point he mentions that NK has to choose between nukes and artillery... Actually they don't. They have already bought and paid for the artillery and the shells. That stuff sits around for decades and is still good.

He has a good point on the whole NK army being starving. The only way NK "wins" anything is if they start shooting. I think anyone can expect that if shooting begins all of the major civilian casualties will occur (in the South at least) in the first 1-4 days. I don't think the starving NKs can put up a steady resistance for much longer. But once shooting starts, no telling how messy it would get.

UPDATE: I see that the Maximum Leader already posted his thoughts.

A Washington Times article pointed out by Kevin at IA remarks that the NK troops aren't starving, and are in fact pretty well-fed. Hmmm... sounds like it's time for me to go and do some more research on this question. Journalists'll say anything. Heh.

Ch'u-sok is coming. The harvest moon festival. The actual date this year is hard to forget (it's determined by the lunar calendar), because on the solar calendar (i.e., the Western calendar), it's September 11 this year. The holiday, three days long (maybe five, since it bleeds into the weekend), starts on the 10th and ends the 12th. For those not in the know, Ch'u-sok is one of two really big holidays in Korea, the other major holiday being Seol-nal (pronounce it "sull-lahl"), or Lunar New Year. This Ch'u-sok, I'll be over at the k'eun-jip (literally, "big house"), which is generally the house of the eldest son, where the rest of the family will congregate. We'll arrive in the morning, probably around 9AM, go to the family altar and bow to our ancestors. The ritual is quite complex and I'd love to take notes, but can't, dammit, because I'm a male relative and have to participate! Where are the women? you ask. Well, Ji-hyon, one of my female cousins, will be in the room with us, because she's of our generation (remember, in Korea, you can own your own web design business at age 27 and still be a child in the older generation's eyes... same applies to this 34-year-old fart). The other ladies, the moms, will be-- you guessed it-- in the kitchen, getting everything ready. Much food will be eaten, and since we impatient younger folks will be itching to leave the joint early (after an afternoon siesta), my ass will likely quit the compound sometime before dinner.

Korean names are usually done as three Chinese characters. The first (read 'em left to right) is the surname. The next two characters are the given name. In the case of a slew of male siblings, it's quite common for all the siblings to share the same Chinese character as one of the two in their given names. So in our family's case, you see something like this:

My mother's four cousins:

Yoo Geun-sae
Yoo Geun-shik
Yoo Geun-seong (generally pronounce "eo" in between "aw" and "uh"; I'm not consistent in my romanization, however)
Yoo Geun-gyu

Geun-sae's children (two sons): Byeong-yeol and Kang-yeol.
Geun-shik's children: Seong-yeol (son) and Ji-hyon (daughter, hence totally different name).
Geun-seong's children (two sons): Gi-yeol and Jae-yeol.
Geun-gyu's son: Seung-yeol. (pronounce the "eu" like "eu" in French to have some idea what it sounds like. In many cases, that vowel, written as a simple horizontal dash, almost isn't there)

Geun-gyu had another son who died two years ago, Jun-yeol.

As you see, sometimes the "shared Chinese character" is the first syllable of the given name, and sometimes it's the second.

Most Koreans follow this traditional Chinese nomenclature. So it's jarring, even to foreigners, to see Koreans with 2-syllable or 4-syllable names. A modern trend is to move away from Chinese and use "pure Korean" names for the kids. The syllablic structure is usually preserved, however, so there's still a natural rhythm to the 3-syllable name. Example: people who name their daughters nara (country) or haneul (sky, heaven). The Sino-Korean characters for these are guk and ch'eon, respectively. (Chinese speakers might recognize some phonetic resemblance to tian in the bastardized Korean ch'eon.)

My relatives run the religious gamut from mu-gyo (no religion) to kidok-gyo (Christian) to bul-gyo (Buddhist). Generally, when you prostrate yourself before the ancestral altar, your face goes down to the floor. But my Christian relatives simply stop the prostration when their knees hit the floor, then wait for everyone else to finish their bowing, so they can take up the rising motion with the rest of the group. I don't know whether all Korean Christians do this, but this reminds me of some Muslims who claim they can bow to no one but God.

True story: I was teaching English to a very nice gent (late 20s, early 30s, I guess) named Osama al-Safi, from the United Arab Emirates, a couple years ago in northern Virginia. Very polite, very devout Muslim. Already spoke excellent English, and was actually a singer of some note in the UAE (he even gave me a copy of one of his albums). Osama (Jesus, that name!) was very interested in learning kung fu, and I happened to know of a local master, Yoo Jun-saeng, who's fairly well-established in the NoVA area. Master Yoo's a beast of a man: short, but built like a fucking truck. He grew up learning kung fu first, then took on hapkido and taekwondo as extensions. He's also produced quite a few TKD champions and has a reputation as a very hard teacher. One very young child I know, the son of one of my mother's Korean friends, was regularly reduced to tears in Master Yoo's class, because the man is simply scary (not to mention a typically traditional Korean disciplinarian). Now the kid loves going to TKD class. Anyway, I took Osama to meet Master Yoo, but we never got beyond the school's entrance.

You see, it's standard practice in a dojang (Korean way to say dojo; same two Chinese characters) to remove your shoes and bow to the flags when you're crossing the threshold. This practice carried over into non-Korean lands as a gesture of respect to the host country. So in many American dojang you'll see a Korean and American flag flying together (is "flying" the right term if they're indoors? I hate to say hanging together). Osama politely refused to bow to the flags. Master Yoo's demeanor remained cheerful, but he physically interposed himself between us and the threshold and said, "Then I can't let you in. I'm sorry." The incident ended with shrugs and smiles (and some strong suggestions from Master Yoo that Osama change his thinking), and we left, not having seen a single swung saber or wooden practice halberd. What a shame. Osama took it all in stride and said he understood Master Yoo's position completely.

I asked Osama how martial arts are practiced in the UAE if other Muslims also believe you can't bow to each other. Bowing is simply a fact of life in most martial arts; it's a simple, abbreviated gesture of respect, and carries no religious weight, so this no-bowing injunction boggled my mind. No bowing!? Osama said there's a special salute some Muslim martial artists use that's done with a rising motion of the hands and arms, and a lifting of the body onto tiptoe. Sounded awfully strange to me, and I had trouble visualizing it (so I may be describing it poorly here).

Epilogue: It turns out that, as with all phenomena, you can't paint all Muslims with the same brush. Not all Muslims take such a narrow view of whom you can bow to. (Parse something and look for its essence. It ain't there.) Osama's back in the UAE, married, hopefully happy, hopefully still churning out albums. He's also been known to speak at local mosques, so here's hoping his sermons/dharma talks/homilies are about peace and compassion, which aren't bad things to hear about, now and then.

Segue into NOTE TO SELF: Look for Muslim-run blogs that decry terrorism and promote peace. They're out there. I just haven't made the effort to look.

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