Sunday, May 13, 2018

Traditional Tea at Sudeoksa Temple

Sudeoksa Temple is a Jogye Order temple, nestled at the foot of Mt. Deoksungsan near Yesan, Chungcheongnam-do. It stands tall in  huddle of mountains with Mt Gayasan to the north, Oseosan to the west, Yongbongsan to the southeast, and the with the incredible gentle slopes, valleys and broad fields allowing panoramic views this area is known as "little Geumgangsan". In this setting Sudeoksa is the main monastery of Seon Buddhism and has produced many spiritual leaders.

Wandering around this temple for a while and seeing the massive and wide variety of trees (evidently this place was little touched by the Korean War), my friend and I decided our highlight of the day was finally stopping at a traditional tea shop completely surrounded by forests that were wet with rain.  No other buildings were in sight and the tea shop was all of wood decor with floor to ceiling windows, a very homey atmosphere and the rich aroma of homemade long-brewed teas. We settled on ginger-lemon tea for me, completely homemade, and a earthy brew of a root tea decorated with nut shavings for my friend. Perfect, tranquil, I want to return with a book on another rainy day! 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Semiwon Lotus Garden

Semiwon is becoming known as quite the tourist destination. The site is marketed as 'the garden of water and flowers', and on this day it was particularly water-full .... it was raining, and thus the reason for going: not as many visitors AND the colors would be alive and bright.

Semiwon is located at the mouth of two Han Rivers, the Buk Han Kang and the Nam Han Kang, and getting there is quite easy. By subway, take the Gyeongui-Jungang Line and get off at Yangsu station, go out exit 1 (600 scenic meters if you follow the river path and not the ugly roadways). By bus, take either #167 from Cheongryangri station getting off at Yangsu-ri and walking 500 meters, or bus #2000-1 from Gangbyeong Station getting off at Yangseo Culture and Sports Park.

According to the tourism sign:
"A garden of water and flowers, Semiwon is a lotus flower garden that was created based on an old adage, "Cleanse your mind while looking at water and beautify your mind while looking at flowers." All paths in the garden are constructed with washboards to symbolize cleansing your mind while looking at the Han River. The river water that is drawn from the Han River is designed to flow through the six ponds, where lotus flowers, water lilies, and irises are growing in order to filter out heavy metals and suspended matters before it flows back into the river. Major facilities at Semiwon include the World Water Lily Garden, which has more than 100 varieties of water lilies; Monet's Garden, which was inspired by the flower paintings of French artist Claude Monet; and Sehanjeong Garden, which was created by reproducing a painting titled Sehando (Winter Scene) by Kim Jeong-hui (1786-1856, pen-name Chusa), a prominent calligrapher of the Joseon period. When lotus flowers are in full bloom between July and August, Semiwon is filled with beautiful scents."
Spring is on the way and small touches are starting to be visible ......... amidst the refuse of last year's garden.

"Cleanse your mind while looking at water and beautify your mind while looking at flowers." 

A museum filled with lotus-decorated objects. [An epiphany for me: while I've been aware of the lotus motif for a very long time, it was particularly interesting to see a museum organized not on the period theme but on an icon theme!]

And after enjoying the beauty of the lotus gardens, we left Semiwon grounds and across the street is a rather popular restaurant that specializes in lotus-leaf rice with diverse vegetable side dishes. Fabulous flavor on top of very unique presentation!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Shaman Festival, Gyeryongsan

Hippie Korea tour group organized a trip to the "princess festival" (as translated online ) at Gyeryongsan, Gyeryongsan has been regarded as a sacred mountain since ancient times, and documented as such since the Silla Dynasty. During the Joseon Dynasty XX temple on Gyeryongsan positioned strategically and geomantically-speaking between Mt. Myohyang to the north and Jiri Mts to the south was dedicated to the mountain, which thus became its national guardian. The mountain also created a unique aspect of Korean Buddhism, the "sanshin prayer" which is making hopes and expressing wishes to the mountain god. For civilians, the mountain god was the object of praying for fertility and the birth of a son, and for shamans the mountain god is an objective source of energy. Shamanic practices have been central to this mountain culture and, until the Japanese colonial period when many traditional Korean cultural expressions were prohibited, were conducted annually here. 

After the colonial period, shamanic practices were quickly reinstated and Gyeryongsan is arguably one of the strongholds of Korean shamanism. However, with the influences of modernism and on-going dynamic culture changes the people of Gyeryongsan Jarak Village have changed their ceremony and incorporated it into a festival that invites tourism. That said, it is still a type of national ceremony.

So a busload of international people descended on the festival, and the locals were delighted. Several special farmers' dances had been prepared, but the best dancing was done by a group of elderly villagers, mostly men over 60, who pounded out the beat with great enthusiasm, although always in sync. They had real character! I've heard a lot of farmers' drum groups but these guys far excelled all others because they played like they felt the music, and they danced raucously while playing like the act of sharing music was a wild and enervating experience. Well, I'm convinced it was for them, and by extension to all the viewers as well! And like in all Korean traditional performances, there is no barrier between the performers and the audience, and so the audience was naturally expected to participate in the dancing, and yes the drinking of makgeolli too ... which large numbers did!

The festival performance included role play between historical characters, had a reenactment of a gut (exorcism), included a women's dance representing the dignity and properness of the upperclass, and between performances the audience was fed ddeok for comensal eating and plied with makgeolli for the same purpose.

The entrance to the festival site with jangseung appropriately standing to fend off evil. In traditional times the jangseung, the yin-yang couple, were positioned along the roads the led into villages. They were the sentinels of the village and thought to ward off evilness with their ugly faces.
best drumming group ... really warming the audience up!
By popular request at the end of this particular day at the festival, the elderly-men (mostly) drummers were requested to pound out their invigorating beats again!
A beautiful display of real food for this country festival!  Of late, I've been seeing plastic foods and sweets because of food expense and the subsequent waste of ceremonial food so this display is quite impressive.
The pig, especially a smiling pig, brings good luck to shamanic festivals.

The large basin in front of the pig is filled with makgeolli, and people with petitions come up and dip a bill of money, typically W10,000, into the makgeolli and paste it onto the pig. Unfortunately the wind was blowing and the bills kept flying off the pig ..... does this mean that luck or one's wishes fly away? Hmm, didn't ask.
A very rich display of wealth for the ceremony presented here! Plus, displaying the lucky smiling pig!
Fortune will shine on this village!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Yong-wang, King of the Dragons

King of the Dragons
The Yong-wang and other Dragons in Korean Shrines

Both pictures as posted via RASKB email transmission of the event, Nov 2017
Professor David Mason has a fascination with Yong-wang, the Dragon King, an ancient mythological spirit here in Korea. For years David has sleuthed around Korea watching ceremonies related to the Dragon King, intensively studied the shrines dedicated to the Dragon King in the back regions of Buddhist temple compounds, and trailed images of dragons and other iconography that, for those in the know, depict the Dragon King. When I heard that David gave a lecture at the Dongguk University Seon Center on Nov 19, 2016 on the topic, I asked if he would change his upcoming lecture for the Royal Asiatic Society on 
Solitary Sage: Korea's “Go-un” Choi Chi-won Book By Professor David to this unique lecture on the Dragon King. Obviously he did! Thank you, Professor!

A summary of his Yong-wang lecture:

Dragons have always played a key role in Oriental traditions, especially in religious and governmental artworks. They are plentifully employed in Korean royal palaces, Shamanic and Confucian shrines, and Buddhist temples as uplifting and protective spiritual guardians of the heavens. They are found depicted on furniture and on many artifacts, believed to bring good fortune to the owners. 

“Dragon” is one of the 12 auspicious figures of the oriental zodiac  as the leader of them all. The word itself is heavily employed in all eastern languages, and appears within an extremely high percentage of place names and other names, in comparison with other words. Looking deeper, in Korea they are presented much less as motifs of heaven-granted authority as in China, but more as symbols of the vital energies of water and its life-sustaining cycles as it moves through transformations – and the depictions have subtle characteristic differences.

Most Korean Buddhist temples have at least a small shrine for Yong-wang the dragon-king, and he also appears in Guardian Assembly Icons and some paintings of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. There are many interesting myths about appearances and behavior of this royal figure within Korean Daoist, Buddhist and folklore traditions. This lecture, well depicted through many colorful photos of the artworks and shrine, will explain about dragons and their monarch, and the role they play in eastern spirituality.
The video link to this unique lecture is on the Royal Asiatic Society blog site titled Lecture Video: King of the Dragons, or on YouTube: King of the Dragons: The Yong-wang and other Dragons in Korean Shrines (1:12:19).

Thursday, February 22, 2018

James Garth - "I Thank Korea for Her Books"

“I thank Korea for her books” James Scarth Gale, Korean Literature in Hanmun, and Allo-metropolitan Missionary Orientalism

Lecturer: Professor Ross King
Date: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 7:30pm to 9:00pm
Venue: Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace, Gwanghwamun
             (near Anguk Station, across street from Japanese Embassy)

A Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch bi-monthly lecture ( for more lectures)

In this lecture, I give an overview of my forthcoming book by the same title. Based largely on the James Scarth Gale papers held by the Fisher Rare Book Library (University of Toronto), this project examines and contextualizes James Scarth Gale’s forty-year career as a missionary scholar in Korea (1888-1927) and argues that Gale is a foundational but largely forgotten and underappreciated figure in the history of modern Korean Studies, particularly as concerns traditional Korean literary culture and literary history—topics that remain underexplored in English-language scholarship to this day. The Gale Papers force a reevaluation of our image of Gale and his legacy: from that of missionary, lexicographer, historian, and occasional translator of premodern fiction, to dedicated bibliophile, and champion, prolific translator and interpreter of Korean literature and literary culture in Literary Sinitic.

The project approaches Gale’s scholarly legacy by focusing on his Korean bibliomania, and is divided into two parts. Part One analyzes Gale’s collecting of old Korean books, his study and translation of them in collaboration with his Korean ‘pundits’, and the relationship of his literary and scholarly work to broader questions of ‘Orientalism’ in general and missionary Orientalism, in particular. 
One key argument is that for Gale, ‘Korean literature’ existed almost exclusively in the cosmopolitan code of Literary Sinitic (‘Classical Chinese’); modern Korean literature was barely getting off the ground in the 1920s when Gale retired, and he was dismissive of vernacular literary production, both premodern and modern.  
A second key argument is that Gale strove through all of his activities to demonstrate that Korea was a ‘civilized nation’ and a ‘nation of scholars and books’, whose deep historical engagement with Chinese civilization and thought had prepared it for Christianity and its one Great Book.  
A third key argument is that Gale’s literary and bibliophilic project amounted to a major intervention into defining—in a contested and transnational intellectual field in colonial Korea in the 19teens and 1920s—the premodern Korean literary tradition and canon; a full accounting of his book collecting and translation projects sheds new light on the process by which the modern notion of the ‘Korean Classics’ was constructed.  
A final question the book poses concerns the relative oblivion into which Gale’s work fell: why is he largely forgotten today, even in Korea, and why was the bulk of his work never published?
Ross King earned his BA in Linguistics and Political Science from Yale College and his MA and PhD from Harvard in Linguistics. Currently he serves as Professor of Korean and Head of Department in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. His main research interests are Korean historical linguistics, Korean dialectology (esp. the dialect(s) preserved by the ethnic Korean minority in Russia and the former USSR), the history of Korean linguistics (including the history of Korean linguistic thought in Korea and Korean linguistic and script nationalism), and the history of language, writing and literary culture in the ‘Sinographic Cosmopolis’ (漢字文化圈).

Ross King is also the author of a Korean language series: Elementary Korean: Second Edition, (Audio CD Included), Advanced Korean: Includes Sino-Korean Companion Workbook on CD-ROM, and Continuing Korean: Second Edition (Includes Audio CD) - all three published 2014 and 2015.

This lecture can be viewed on the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch YouTube channel - 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Royal Tombs of Joseon Dynasty

Jinny Hwang Inhee presented on the Royal Tombs of Joseon. She is an expert and has made an in-depth study of the Joseon Dynasty royal tombs, and in her expressive slide show she explained many of the characteristic features of the tombs. Jinny Hwang Inhee, a graduate from the Civics Education Department, Ewha Womans University, spoke in Korean and Kim Jaebum, a RAS Council member, provided English translation. Jinhee is a writer and an educator. Since 2013 she has been serving as President of the Durumari History Education Institute.

A write-up of her presentation is as follows: 

The Joseon Dynasty, the last period in Korean history before the Japanese annexation, was founded by General Yi Seonggye in 1392 and forcibly annexed to the Japanese Empire in 1910. While the dynasty lasted for 519 years, 27 kings and 45 queens reigned, including the last two with the title of “Emperor” with their empresses in the Daehan / Korean Empire. In all, 42 Joseon royal tombs including two in Gaeseong, presently North Korea, are preserved, virtually all that were built. The 40 of them located in South Korea are registered by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage not only for the aesthetic value of their sculpture but also for the entirety of their preservation. 
It is also amazing to note that the royal ancestral rituals jerye have been observed continuously for 623 years. The main Jeonju Yi family Jongyagwon had to overcome difficulties following the demise of the dynasty to continue the ritual at the graves, while that held at the main shrine of Jongmyo, which is now held once on the first Sunday of May each year, is also a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.
  • last of the Korean traditional dynasties
  • founded by General Yi Seonggye in 1392
  • 27 kings & 45 queens
  • from 1392 - 1910, a span of 519 years
  • royal tombs - a graveyard exclusive for kings and queens
Joseon Royal Tombs
  • 42 tombs in total = 40 in South Korea + 2 in Gaeseong, present-day North Korea
  • the 40 tombs in South Korea are UNESCO World Culture Heritage, and they are protected for their aesthetic value and must be preserved in their entirety
  • all within 44 kilometers of Seoul, the capital
  • 2 in Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do
  • ? in Yeongweol, Gangwon-do 
  • Jongyagwon, for the main Jeonju Yi family
  • rites at royal tombs continued even during Japanese occupation
  • Jongmyo Jerye 
  • 1st Sunday of May each year
  • UNESCO World Cultural Heritage
  • continued for over 600 years
King or Queen Dies
  • establish gukjangdogam
  • place corpse in jaegung and keep it at binjeon
  • observe rites and mourn for 5 months
  • no preservatives or cooling facilities
  • cultivate juniper for incense
Constructing Tombs
  • select site
  • form mound and excavate 3 meters deep
  • make room for stones or lime walls
  • stone sculptures to decorate
  • build jeongjagak at entrance
  • erect hongsalmun gate 
(read more about tombs and their terms)
Burial and Rites
  • 5 months after demise
  • take soul in shinju back to the palace
  • rites in honjeon every morning and evening for 3 years
  • move shinju to Jongmyo
  • royal name, the myoho, is given
  • queen's soul to Jongmyo 3 years after king's death
Location and Feature
  • best location: big mountain to the north, low hills to the south, views to the east and west
  • features differ between each era based on:
  • state law
  • extent of royal power
  • political circumstances
  • economic conditions
  • topography of the site
Basic Structure
  • jaeshil at entrance
  • geumcheongyo bridge
  • baewi

Chamdo: Path for Worship
  • long stone path for hongsalmun
  • left: shindo - soul, tomb owner
  • right: eodo - lower status on up to ancestors
  • soul-tablet in yellow cloth on shindo
  • left: luxurious patterns for souls
  • right: without ornaments for kings
  • down staircase behind the palace
  • soul to neungchim to fall quietly to sleep, no stairway to come down
  • exclusive for royal tombs (if at other tombs, people arrested and killed as traitors)
  • entrance and exit:
  • direction decided and must connect to chamdo
  • enter from the east: sunrise, beginning, birth, spring, etc.
  • leave toward the west: death, extinction
Smaller Annexes
  • subokbang - on right before jeongjagak; for tomb keeper and night duty
  • suragan - royal kitchen on left; prepare food and offerings
  • bigak - a little further inside and on the right; tombstone etching on whose tomb
Sachoji or Gang
  • hill behind jeongjagak
  • unique style of Joseon royal tombs
  • 2 meanings of gang:
  • tank for storing vigor streaming into the soil
  • demonstrate dignity as power
  • hiking precluded - somewhat open to the neungchim at the front
Museogin and Munseogin
  • stages divided by stones on top of sachoji
  • lower stage: museogin and maseok - have warrior-shaped generals with swords
  • middle stage: munseogin and maseok - have officials, most of whom are scholars
  • interpretation: "The pen is mightier than the sword" meaning literary preference over military 
  • reign continues posthumously
  • variations in garments by king:
  • museogin placed only in royal tombs
  • civilian graves considered treacherous
  • top stage - burial mound neungchim
  • gokjang:
  • walls and roof tiles surrounding 3 sides
  • sun, moon, stars
  • resemble palace buildings' back walls
  • royal tombs as epitomes of the palace
Seogmul and Honyuseok
  • seogmul - in front of gokjang
  • yangseok - sheep = obedience; repel evil
  • hoseok - tiger = loyal; patron neungchim
  • honyuseok - in front of neungchim
  • for offerings in ordinary graveyards
  • "stone where the soul plays"
Goseok and Mangjuseok
  • goseok - stones supporting honyuseok look like drums
  • guimyeon - faces of ghost or goblin
  • mangjuseok - on each side of honyuseok: "observing stone poles" with several hypothesis about their use:
  • sign for soul from body to find neungchim
  • device to harmonize yin and yang
  • instrument to hold vigor from being scattered 
  • columns a division between this world and the next
Seho and Jangmyeongdeung
  • seho embossed on stone poles
  • shape of ear with holes
  • developed into animal shapes
  • some not like tigers but wizards
  • jangmyongdeung to honyuseok
  • to pray for souls of the departed
  • shape altered in each era
  • scale gradually shrank - later kings were more pragmatic
  • initial period of the kingdom:
  • conscripted manpower 5,000 for each tomb
  • construction work - up to 5 months
  • mobilized personnel to carry food
  • construction bothered people
  • great agony on people in Gyeonggi where a large number of royal tombs have been built
  • their endeavor and perseverance enables us to possess World Cultural Heritage today
Books Published:

Other notes:
  • gukjangdogam - nation-wide royal funeral 
  • In inclement weather when the body began to smell, the court spread juniper branches.
  • 일월성신 - sun, moon, star decorations on the wall that surrounds the tombs
  • 선장릉 - When UNESCO came to evaluate the tombs as a future UNESCO World Culture Heritage site, the Korean government didn't want to show the 선장릉 because there was no body inside. Eventually they did and it was highly regarded, especially as it was on very valuable land.
  • The Silla and Koryeo Dynasty tombs were traditionally built on flat ground, but in the Joseon Dynasty, tombs were built on the top of artificial mounds.
  • Today, there are three places where royal ancestor worship are held - the dates:
  • 1st Sunday of May (solar calendar)
  • each ancestor's memorial day

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Seoul Olympics Hodori

On September 30, 1981 South Korea learned that its proposal to host the 1988 Olympics had been accepted. South Koreans went wild! And thus they began planning a very impressive opening to the games with precision to detail, and of course symbolism.

As in all Asian and Olympic games, a mascot is chosen and South Korea chose the hodori, their mascot from the 1986 Asian games, to be their on-going mascot in the 1988 Olympics. I've heard references to the mascot of the 1986 Asian games as actually being the hosuni, the female version of the hodori, but have been unable to prove or even disprove this. In any regard, hodori derives from the "ho", the Chinese character for tiger or horangi in full, and "dori" as a masculine diminutive; "suni" would therefore be the feminine diminutive.

Kim Hyun, then 35, was the designer of the hodori mascot for the '88 Olympics. And in the intervening 40 years, it has remained his most significant and internationally recognized design, although he has contributed many other designs that are also rather iconic within South Korea like those of "HiSeoul" and "T-money".

In designing the "hodori" tiger, the representative animal chosen, he was imagining the Amur tiger and thought to portray it as friendly and hospitable as tigers have often been portrayed in Korean legends and folk tales as well as being stylized in art with a quirky humorous demeanor. Tigers are extinct in Korea but less than a hundred years ago they were a real threat to citizens, and yet, Koreans have always had a kind of love-hate relationship with the tiger, which figures heavily in their folk stories and art, and the striped beast was both feared and respected, and so commonly tigers were verbalized as being humorous, brave and noble.

Symbols also present in Kim Hyun's tiger caricature are the five Olympic rings around his neck and the sangmo, the hat worn in pungmul which is traditional music that incorporates singing, dancing, drumming and even acrobatics. The sangmo hat had a long ribbon attached as it was whirled as the wearer performed. Therefore, Kim Hyun stylized the friendly tiger wearing a traditional hat with the ribbon curled into a "S" as a symbol of Seoul the host capital. In much of the Olympic hodori art the ribbon does not always curl in the S-shape as the hodori is characterized as participating in all of the sports at some point, but pay attention to the curl of the ribbon as it may represent the initial letter of the sport the hodori is characterizing.

In choosing the tiger as the representative mascot of South Korea, 4,344 entries were reviewed until the selection was narrowed to four  -- a rabbit, a squirrel, a pair of mandarin ducks (also very symbolic in Korea) and a tiger before ultimately choosing the striped fellow. The selection of name for the stylized-tiger-to-be generated 2,295 suggestions from the public before finalizing the name "hodori".

Eventually the 1988 Seoul Olympics would last 16 days, starting on the 17th of September in 1988 and lasting through the 2nd of October. During those days 8,391 athletes from 159 countries would compete in 237 matches of 23 events. Not only did South Korea host the Olympics and "put Korea on the map" but they also ate up the home turf and ranked 4th in the Olympics overall! This was a major success for a country that had been forced open only one century before, colonized by another country for 35 years, struggled with a civil war after colonization and then struggled with extreme poverty and a ravaged agricultural society for another two decades. South Korea had become industrialized, earned money, increased trade, exported more than it imported and had earned the right to hold their heads high and host the most famous of international games.

Yoon Tae-woong, the hoop boy
of the 1988 Seoul Olympics 
International visitors and people watching television were incredibly impressed by the grand opening ceremony of the games. But perhaps the most impressive scene to Koreans, I hear this over and over and this is three decades later!, is when the boy rolled a hoop across the stadium field. The boy is also called the hodori of the Seoul Olympics.

In July 1988 the Seoul Olympic organizing committee announced that they were looking for a boy to roll a hoop in the opening ceremony. The boy had to be cute for public broadcasting and had to have been born on the 30th of September 1981, the day that Seoul had been selected as the Olympic-hosting city in Badenbaden, Germany. One boy, Yoon Tae-woong, was selected among 24,000 kids as the hodori and he became the symbol of Korea rising from poverty to roll a hoop toward a better future. Yoon Tae-woong currently is pursuing a career in acting, but it seems that he will never achieve the interest of the nation as he did when he was "hoop boy". To see Tae-woong as "hoop boy" in the Olympics, watch The 24th 88 Seoul Olympic Games Opening Ceremony and refer to 1:20.5 to see his tiny moments of fame.

"Soohorang", a white tiger caricature, will be the mascot in the upcoming 2018 Olympics hosted by South Korea. The white tiger is the most famous, according to the Chinese zodiac, among all of the tigers. I'm sure he was chosen as a very augurous character.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Making Ebru, Turkish Marbled Paper

Several weeks ago the Yongsan Global Village Center hosted an experience through the Turkish Culture Center (Yeoksam station, Seoul) of making the Turkish traditional marbled paper, ebru. The walls of the center are decorated with vivid colors -- ceramics painted mandala style, Turkish lamps of varying sizes, and frame upon frame upon frame of just plain ebru paper or ebru paper framing some other kind of artwork. 

The center table was already set up with four large pans of treated water, which had to be mixed several hours or even a day in advance. Ox gall is added to gel the water just a touch which allows the special paints (acrylic-based? oil-based?) to be buoyant for a short time. When I asked how much ox gall is needed, I was told there is no set recipe -- the mixing is based on experience. This makes sense to me as temperature, humidity, altitude probably all affect the ration of water to ox gall. 

The colors used are all natural pigments, and typically in Turkey artists are known to go out in nature and find their own pigments and stains and whatever to make their own paints. I asked the price of the typical ebru paints and was only told "very expensive". The center does sell paints to those who enroll in a four-month program, W900,000 for enrollment. 

So our small group of 12 was only introduced to the basics of ebru, since none of us had ever experienced it before. The center does offer basic courses for those interested. It's W25,000/person with a minimum of 4 people, which makes sense. Set-up for the water mixture would be quite the hassel and expensive if only a couple of people were going to be using it.

The instructor explained to us the various colors, the brushes which are made from animal hair and all artists pretty much make their own, and then she introduced us to the method of marbling the paper. In this introductory class, we learned three kinds of simple marbling:

Battal ebru or "stone" marbling - the paint is tapped in stone or pebble shapes onto the surface of the water, then a paper without sizing is placed flat on the water and the paint immediately adheres to the surface of the paper ... provided the ox gall ration is right, or the paint is right (not watercolor, for instance). It's important to lay the paper flat on the water and not get bubbles; otherwise, there will be a big white patch where the bubble was. So the best way to lay the paper flat is to treat the opposite corners like wings of a bird, and to hold those wings gently as the paper is lowered onto the surface of the water and then the wings are lightly released. 

our instructor tapping a paint-loaded brush to drop pebbles onto the surface of the water
Sal ebru or "wave" marbling - first tap stones or pebbles of paint onto the surface like with battal ebru, but then with a thin object make a back and forth pattern.

Tarak ebru or "comb" marbling is taking the wave pattern to the next level. A piece of wood with thin spikes/nails/knitting-needle-like objects is gently dipped in one end of the pan with paints floating and the comb is dragged through the paints to the opposite side. Often the comb is then dragged through again to make horizontal and vertical comb-like patterns. While I like the spontaneity of the battal ebru and the sal ebru, if only lightly waved, is nice, I really dislike the busy-ness of "combed" tarak ebru. But then that's just my opinion.

Another ebru that I like but which we didn't make is swirled ebru. The colors are spattered on the water and then gently swirled with a thin object. Van Gogh would have loved this style!

After painting a sheet, it is placed in the drying rack for at least 15 minutes. With everyone's sheets drying, we then went into a video room and watched YouTube clips of Ebru masters making massive sheets of ebru with impressive pictures, advertisements with ebru, and national images and clothing featuring ebru designs. Wow, my eyes have been opened to an aspect of the culture that I certainly would have overlooked if I just traveled to Turkey. Ebru is everywhere! The art form is absolutely a part of the national image!

Go to a Turkish home, coffee or desserts is a must. We were treated with rich brownies from a package, but who would have known they were an American product with their exotic presentation?! Turkish black tea was the complement.
Shelves and walls held many Turkish art forms, and the mandala-like painted ceramics were a big item.
Unfortunately this kind of class is not offered as the center has no kiln.
The ebru I made (left to right): battal or "stone" ebru, tarak or "comb" ebru, and sal or "wave" ebru
My battal ebru should be on top. I absolutely love the colors! The white on it is because my surface paint wasn't so dense and the non-painted water created a fifth color. I wish I had left more "white" on my next two paintings; they would have turned out more impressive.

Before we were turned lose on the paints, we were instructed to limit our paintings to only 3 colors, but I added a few flecks of yellow, my fourth color, for contrast ... and I really like the results. I do agree though that in general the limited color range is how to achieve the best results.


For those wanting to learn more about ebru and its connection to the national image of Turkey, look up Garip Ay on the internet. He's Turkey's most famous ebru artist!

Contact info the Turkish Culture Center:

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

First Recorded Music in Korea

Lecturer: Jihoon Suk
Date: Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 7:30pm to 9:00pm
Venue: Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace, Gwanghwamun
(near Anguk Station, across street from Japanese Embassy)
Hosting organization: Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch

Write-up and picture from the email concerning this event
In the first decade of the 20th century, the newly-established record industries in North America and Europe were eager to expand their market to all over the world. Starting in 1902, the London-based Gramophone and Typewriter (G&T) company began a series of recording sessions in non-Western countries, usually referred to as "recording expeditions", to record music and other types of performing arts for potential customers in the non-Western world. 

During these recording expeditions, there were always "intermediaries" in the area, who, not only acted as "talent scouts" to find performers willing to make recordings, but also acted as sales agents for the recording companies. Korea was no exception in the eyes of the executives of the G&T company. The 101 sides of Korean recordings recorded by the company (but eventually produced by its American affiliate, Victor Talking Machine Co.) in 1906, were the direct results of their third major recording expedition to Asia. 

The musical importance of these 1906 Korean recordings cannot be stressed enough, as they provide rich resources for studying the earliest attainable forms of Korean pre-modern music. Their production history also reveals an interesting dynamic between the Western record companies and the Korean public, which paralleled the socio-economic effects and outcomes of the coming of the "West" to the "East" at the turn of the 20th century. (It even reveals a surprising connection with the RAS!) 

This lecture will include a demonstration of early sound recording technologies, both playback and recording technologies using period equipment. It will also include several sound clips of several extant 1906 Victor Korean recordings. 


Jihoon Suk received a BA and MA in Korean modern history from Yonsei University. While he calls himself a "generalist" in terms of his knowledge on Korean history, his primary research focuses on the roles of the modern non-textual media (sound recordings, films, and photographs), as it was one of the most crucial factors shaping the modern perception of Korean "traditional culture" or "national culture" as we see today. 

He is also an avid collector of vintage sound recordings, which led to his involvement with the Korean 78rpm Discography Project and Archive (, a near-complete online database of Korean commercial records issued between 1907 and 1945. He also has been working with various museums and archives in Korea and around the world, including the Independence Hall Museum of Korea, the Korean Film Archive, the National Gugak Center, U.S. Library of Congress, The New York Public Library, and the University of Hawaii-Manoa.

Published in Korea Times, Jan 17 (W), Foreign Column, "Tracing Korea's earliest recorded music"

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Heungam Evacuation - Ned Forney

At the bi-monthly lecture on Korea hosted by the Royal Asiactic Society, Ned Forney shared the remarkable and largely untold story of the United Nation’s first humanitarian operation and the largest US military amphibious evacuation of civilians, under combat conditions, in American history. Ned’s grandfather, the late Edward H. Forney, a colonel in the US Marine Corps, was attached to the US Army X Corps during the first six months of the Korean War. As the senior Marine working for Gen. Edward Almond, the commanding officer of X Corps, Forney helped plan the Incheon and Wonsan Landings and was then the evacuation control officer for the Heungnam withdrawal in December 1950.

During the 15-day operation, over 105,000 US, ROK, and British servicemen were evacuated, along with 17,500 jeeps, trucks, tractors, artillery pieces, and tanks and 350,000 tons of fuel, ammo, and supplies. It was not simply another Dunkirk. In addition to the military withdrawal, 100,000 North Korean refugees were also rescued from Heungnam. Colonel Forney, Admiral James Doyle, the US Navy commander responsible for the naval operations during the withdrawal, and Dr. Hyun Bong-hak, a Korean civil affairs officers and interpreter attached to X Corps, all played a pivotal role in the historic, unprecedented operation.

There are an estimated one million descendants of the Hungnam evacuees now living in freedom in South Korea, the United States, and throughout the world. ROK President Moon Jae-in is one of them. With the support of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (MPVA) and the Hungnam Evacuation Memorial Committee, Ned has interviewed 30 former Hungnam refugees and during his lecture will weave their tragic stories into the larger untold saga of the Hungnam Evacuation. 

Write up on the presentation via the RASKB website and this picture as posted in a RASKB email
Ned Forney writes and presents extensively on the evacuation and the people effected. Following are direct links to his homepage with content related to the Hungnam Evacuation:
Korean War Babies Born on the Meredith
More on the Heungam Evacuation
Other Forney Heungam-related articles