Archive for the ‘Family & Friends’ Category


Congrats to Chris – now well into his thirties!

July 21, 2007

Mr. 31 ~ Happy Birthday and many more!

Here’s hoping this year’s version of July 22 is plenty enjoyable for the dongsaeng. As someone who associates “birthday” with “gray and rainy,” there’s certainly no small amount of jealousy that Chris can enjoy his birthday grilling by the pool and tossing back a coupla cold ones. Then again, the dog days of summer far better suit his sunny and warm personality than the gloom and doom of November. We’re looking forward to celebrating in person in only a few weeks. Congratulations!!

As for news in Korea, the past week of travel was most enjoyable, as nearly every chance to get out of Seoul has become. The stress of city, uh, supermegamonstercity life have truly started to take their toll on me. Irritable, exhausted, distracted – I can’t seem to calm down unless I have a beer these days. Just too much too fast too often. And the tiny apartment doesn’t offer much respite.

Fortunately, I have generous friends who offer solace at their sanctuaries. First, in Gwangju where we spent time with my dear friends Bob, Hwanchul and Vanya. At night, we chatted til the wee hours and watched silly youtube videos. During the day, we ventured to the Gwangju National Cemetery to learn about the 1980 Democracy Movement and subsequent massacre. Then, up to a valley deep in Mudeung-san to sit by a mountain stream and gorge ourselves on mountain vegetables and rice wine.

Oh, how can I forget? Before the day’s trip began, I had my own Korean version of Michael Moore’s Sicko. On the way down to Gwangju, as our bus stopped into a highway rest area, I indulged as I always do on some roasted new potatoes. Suddenly, my tongue notices a new topographical feature in the cracks and crevices of my dental plains – ack, a new canyon! Seems my tooth got brokened by the potatoes! Weird indeed. Granted, a smaller piece had broken off earlier that week, but still – potatoes? This second piece was significantly larger and demanded quick attention. Still, we wouldn’t be back to Seoul for a while and we wouldn’t be in Gwangju but for a few days – would I have time for a crown? Yikes.

Well, long story short – went to dentist without an appointment, didn’t need a crown, had a permanent porcelain filling to cover the hole, final price – $40 and 2 hours – 1.25 of which were waiting in the office. Not bad.

Okay, back to travel tales. The next day, we took leave of the boys and went to see my Gwangju gal pal, Elaine, and hunkered down in the air conditioned comfort of her swanky apartment. Of course, no week goes by without sweat and toil, so, I did have to include a running workout, this time on the nice new track at Cheonnam University. It was my first “speed” workout in a while. Using the discipline accorded by a track, I managed a decent 5 miler in rather ridiculous heat and humidity. Warm up mile, 3 fast miles each quicker than the previous, then a “cool” down. Made me very eager to get on a track more regularly. Though my mileage has improved this year, my speed has tanked, so, I need some more training of that sort. Plus, oddly, I love the monotony of laps, where all I have to worry about is pacing. Anyways, sorry to bore you with that.

The night proceeded with ssambap (rice and side dishes wrapped in greens – think, fajitas, but using lettuce instead of tortillias) and patbingsu (ice, sweet milk, red beans, strawberries, sweet rice cakes), not a bad combination. Then home for more chats and wishful thoughts that we’d see each other again in the not too distant future. Elaine was one of my best friends here this year. I can’t say enough about how comfortable she made me feel when I was stressed, or how generous she was as a host. We spent quite a few hours complaining, laughing, and teasing each other. It was sad to say goodbye.

But goodbye it had to be, and at a very early hour. The next day we had to catch early buses, well, I had to catch an early bus and the ladies decided to join the fun. I was off to Baengnyeon Hermitage and they were headed back up to Seoul. My mission was to meet up with one Ilman Seunim 일만(日卍)스님(Seunim is the appellation for Korean monks), a friend I’d made at a trip to a temple in May. His hermitage is part of the immense Haein-sa complex. Though the weather was less than ideal, with fog enshrouding the entire Gaya Mountain, it made for a very peaceful and contemplative mood. 79350-01.jpg

My room was on the front face of the building on the far right. It looked straight out into a mountain valley, as you see in the second picture. Though the valley was mostly fog, it didn’t matter. Somehow in my mind, the beauty was all there intact. It made a great frame for my little cell, and I spent a good long while simply staring into that pleasant abyss.


What is a visit to a hermitage like? Quiet. Great vegetarian food. Lots of green tea with chatty monks who like to laugh a lot. Prostrations, hundreds of them. Booming chanting that echoes in the hills. 2.40 am wake-up! Visits to surrounding hermitages and “brother monks.” Baengnyeon-am is famous for being the final resting place of the most famous Korean monk of the modern age, Seongcheol Seunim. This meditation master was known by everybody, primarily for his incredibly strict regimen and his meditation prowess. His fame grew so wide, and seekers so many, that he instituted a rule stating that only after doing 3,000 prostrations can anyone get the chance to meet him. Even now that he’s passed on, people still come to the hermitage to do their 3,000. I didn’t manage that many, but a minor chunk at least. Seongcheol welcomed anyone, rich or poor, Buddhist or Christian, as long as they did their prostrations. When President/Dictator Park Chunghee came by, Seongcheol blew him off. “Did he do 3000? No. Sorry. Not interested.” To Christians, he did have one fairly major stipulation, however:

Just a few days ago, three Christians came and did their 3,000 prostrations. I always tell Christians that there is one condition that they must agree to concerning their prostrations. The condition is that when they prostrate, they must make a wish that all those who refute their God and who curse Jesus are the first to go to their heaven. And they think that is really nice. After all, isn’t such an attitude a truly religious one? The one thing I can’t fathom is how people who claim to be truly religious can go around saying that only followers of their religion will go to a wonderful place after death, and everyone else will go to some place terrible.

The Buddha always said that the greater a person curses and hurts you, the greater you should respect, help and serve that person.

In fact, despite the fame of this hermitage, I wasn’t really all that interested in the legacy of Seongcheol, I just wanted to visit my friend. He’s an incredible man, Ilman. He was previously a Korean Marine Recon soldier (basically, the Korean version of the Navy Seals), but had a conversion after seeing not a few deaths take place right at his side during training. He also took part in the brutality that is Korean military training, beating many a young recruit. He himself admitted to “shedding buckets of tears” during his own training, suffering from the pain of constant abuse. Interesting confession to hear from such a big, strong man. He shared his picture from his Marine days, and he was definitely a frightening sight. I said he looked terrifying. He said he was terrifying, and that’s why he became a monk. We were both glad for his change.

The visit was only one day, as Ilman Seunim had to get up to Seoul to prepare for his own trip to the States. He’ll be staying in New Jersey at a Korean temple there for three months. Looks like I may have an east coast trip to ponder.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll leave you with an odd cartoon that kind of suits my state of mind about now….(click on it to see a bigger size if you can’t read it).



Godspeed Eomoni!

May 29, 2007

Haven’t had much time to write recently. We had a great visit from our friends Chris and Carrie. During their time here, we did a temple stay for a few days, saw the ancient Silla capital of Gyeongju (or Gaengju – as the local dialect puts it), took in the Buddha’s Birthday Lotus Lantern Parade and Concert extravaganza, and…. and…. got sick for a few days.

Other than that, we’ve visited with relatives, had fun with both our hyeongs, and gotten some good running miles in. Only one month left in the fulbright, then an extra month on my dime, then onwards to Appleton (or, in Korean it would be sagwachon).

But in the biggest news, it’s been a long hard slog of a late winter/spring for our Mom. Two surgeries, recovery, taking care of Grandpa, etc. etc. She is recovering again right now, and we wish her the very very very best.

MOM~ Get well soon!



Quick Update

May 22, 2007

We were oh-so-sad to see our friends leave Seoul this AM, but could not have asked for a more wonderful visit with them.  At least we can re-live the memories on flickr.

 And now, it’s back to work for both of us….


Closing the Ann Arbor Chapter

April 25, 2007

This past April, filled with staggered goodbyes, has really made me feel the bittersweetness of vagabondage. [see flickr set] It was much more difficult to leave Ann Arbor than I had anticipated it would be. This, of course, is directly related to the sadness I feel about leaving beloved friends and valued colleagues, all of whom will be sorely missed.  As trite as it may sound, with each new move, life becomes more complicated. We now have cherished friends living on at least 4 continents and 12 different cities. In a perfect world, we could visit ALL of them once a year for at least a week each. Until that magic day when Matty and I both become wealthy independent scholars and make this possible, however, we will console ourselves with the thought of how fortunate we are to have met so many wonderful people on this journey so far. Here’s hoping that our next episode in Appleton will bring us similar joys and sorrows.


Oh no, I gotta big Ding on my lap!

February 7, 2007

Ding, otherwise known as Ling, or Ling-a-ding, is sitting on my lap and purring as loudly as possible. My coffee has cooled just enough to be perfect, and the clementines that followed my yummy “hu-ru-ts n’ nut” (that would be – fruits and nuts in the native tongue) cereal were not the least bit sour.

I just want to mark for perpetuity how thankful I am to have a friend like Ding. She’s been by my side for almost 14 years! I’m a little anxious as well because I’m leaving her alone this weekend and this will be the first time she has to go a few days with me gone. Luckily, my next-door-neighbor Hana will be taking her in. They both like each other, so it should be a fun time for both. Ah, the reassurance of finding a good ding-sitter.

Another Ling-ecdote: The lady from the gas company came in last week on a scheduled visit to check the pipes for leakage (“uh, no Ma’am, those are my pipes leaking, sincere apologies”). As most Korean women of a certain age are wont to do, she let out an “um-muh-muh!” to indicate shock and a bit of fear when she finally took notice of the little beast who was following close behind.

After she got over the initial shock, she said, “Hey, you know, she’s actually pretty cute. How long have you raised her?”

“Almost 14 years.”

“Ohmigosh. She’s not a pet, she’s your little sister! Wow, and you brought her here from the States?”


“Look at you! You international cat!”

That’s Ding, my international little sister cat, sitting in my lap, staring at me and purring as I bring this morning’s breakfast to a close.


Oh, P.S. – to my freezing peeps back in the hinterlands… it was 56 degrees here yesterday! You’ll be happy to know it is 35 and rainy right now though.


Mom’s Steppin’ Out~

January 15, 2007

I wanted to wish the best of luck to Mom’s recovery. She begins her new life with a human-made ankle today. It is so unbelievable to conceptualize – getting a new joint and being able to stand on it the same day. Science fiction becomes science fact. Here’s hoping all goes well and you are doing wind sprints within winter’s thaw (assuming winter every properly freezes, that is)!

As for everything else… I have no time to blog! I work work work… or clean the house, or take care of the cat, or meet with friends and associates, etc. I’ll try my best to get some pictures up of a recent family wedding (my first at a Catholic church in Korea) and of some interesting culture issues I’ve had my eye on (regarding Korean textbook revision, the insane pressures for beauty conformity/plastic surgery, and some other gender politics stuff).

I do have one horrible news item to speak of. A few nights ago, about a mile from my house, an American solider allegedly raped a 67 year-old Korean woman repeatedly, beating her face in the process. He was caught in the act and thrown in jail. I can’t say this will do well for Korean/foreign relations, especially on quiet dark alleys, late at night.


Meet the new BAKSA

December 9, 2006

The Korean word for Doctor, as in one who has achieved a doctorate, is BAKSA, derived from the Chinese characters:

bak.jpgBAK and sa.jpgSA

BAK – means “to be complete and far-reaching” (the cross on the left means complete, or, to extend in all four directions; the stuff on the right… far reaching, trust me).

SA – composed of a cross (the character for ten) upon a stand (the character for one) means, “one who knows everything, from one to ten.”

So, a BAKSA, is one whose knowledge of everything, from one to ten, is complete and far-reaching.

I’m not sure if that’s the case with our superstar, Dominica, but she is without a doubt, the proud new Doctor of Philosphy in French Language and Literature. I’ve never personally seen a scholar work harder, go through more pain and suffering, deal with more obstacles, and overcome everything to persevere – and that was just in me helping her! KIDDING – good gravy.

Seriously, the tale is storybook. Her parents gave up so very much – her father – an executive position with a major, now world-famous, Korean conglomerate, her mother – a comfortable life as housewife of the executive salaryman – to make sure their children would have more opportunity specifically to study what and how they saw fit. In the past, she’s confessed that as a student in her very first years of French, she had dreams both minor, of one day proctoring her own French language exams, and grand, to craft and lead her own course on the literature of 19th c. France that intrigued her so much. She’s already accomplished both of these, and has now reached the summit of her student path. There is no further for the student to go.

So, what next?

You know…why don’t we get to that later, hey? If I’ve learned anything in either my youthful upbringin in the midwest or my adult upbringing in the far east, it’s that you should never, ever, ever make haste to rush beyond the glorious and fleeting moments of triumph that life so rarely offers.

So, for now, let’s just simply bask in the glow of someone we all respect and love so very, very much – to cherish and honor the incredible accomplishment of someone who has worked so hard, for so long, with so little to go on but her own drive to reach that goal she set for herself and that her parents dreamed of her achieving when they left Korea some 30 odd years ago.

Brava! and Man-se!


-my beloved –

Dr. Dominica Sung-hee Chang, Ph.D.