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Arrival of the Memi 2011

Posted in Animals, Nature, seasons, video clips by 노강호 on July 18, 2011

memi (매미 – cicadas) are more colourful in flight

Has the weather been a little strange? Until a few days ago, especially with the arrival of the boknal period, on July 14th, it hadn’t been particularly unpleasant and as I haven’t lived in Korea long enough to notice changing weather patterns, less the fact that copious hours sat in steam rooms and the number of years I have spent here, may have resulted in my being somewhat acclimatised, I haven’t really being splashing sweat all over the place.

Last year, I heard the first memi (매미 – cicadas) on July 22nd. Of course, this is not the first memi to sing in Daegu per-se, but the first I heard and I am consistent at standing in a small park everyday in the lead up to their appearance. Last year, the temperature was scorching as I heard what was actually a solitary song. This week, on July 14th, it seems cooler, though certainly above the memi song threshold of 29 degrees Celsius, and I heard my first song for 2011 and it was a full, if somewhat half-hearted chorus.

Memi song can damage your hearing and I advise you to turn down your volume if you activate the video!

The memi will continue to sing into the hanyeoreum (한여름) period, which occurs in August and by which time the rainy has fully moved north and the evenings are hot a balmy. The chang-ma (장마) rain reappears in early September, only for a few weeks after which the memi song will gradually fade away as the temperature decreases.

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Waiting for Summer’s Herald – the Memi

Posted in Animals, Nature, seasons by 노강호 on May 22, 2011

summer's herald

I much prefer the name ‘memi’ for that bizarre insect known in the west as a cicada. I  would imagine that in places with a hot summer and hence a familiarity with this strange animal, places like the USA, there is rarely any confusion about the pronunciation, ‘cicada;’ but in the UK, where summers are cooler and the insect pretty rare, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, mispronunciation is common.

If you’re a visitor to Korea from a country where the song of the memi is simply regular background noise, you probably won’t even notice it but if like me, you are from cooler climes, that summer scream is one dominant leitmotiv in which intense heat, humidity and sticky bollocks converge.

a newly hatched memi makes its journey from the ground to high branches

The first memi to sing are more likely to be heard in Daegu as this is the hottest region of the peninsula and last year I heard the first on July 7th when the temperature was 30 degrees Celsius; the last I heard on September 25th when the temperature was 29 degrees.  The memi starts ‘singing’ from 84 degrees Fahrenheit, 29 degrees Celsius. There are still a few weeks of relative coolness to enjoy before the world is turned into one sweaty, sticky, noisy hell during which life is spent hugging shadows on the sidewalk, taking constant cold showers and recuperating in the heavenly chill of the air-con. As much as I love spring, it is marred by the anticipation of  what lies in its wake and part of my pleasure in hearing the season’s first memi is knowing that I will also hear its last.

SOME INTERNAL LINKS

Memi at various intensities

Fahrenheit  84 (29 degrees Celsius)

Season of the Memi

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Comparing the Intensity of the Memi (매미) Song Across Summer

Posted in Animals, Diary notes, seasons, video clips by 노강호 on November 28, 2010

This is just a boring snippet for those interested in insects and in particular, the memi (cicada – 매미). Suprisingly, my posts on the memi have attracted considerable hits so I have put the three video-clips together. Before watching, I’d advise you turn down your volume, especially if you are wearing headphones. The memi song can damage your hearing!

All vodcasts were recorded in the same location at approximately the same time of day.

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The Memi’s Lament

Posted in Animals, Daegu, Diary notes, seasons, vodcast by 노강호 on October 4, 2010

Last Saturday (25th September), I heard my last memi (매미 – cicada), and with it ends the song that has accompanied the entire summer. The temperature certainly wasn’t much over 84 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which memi ‘sing,‘ and in the slight breeze which  heralds autumn,  it felt cooler. I always find the song of a single memi sad, a lament to summer and suppose they epitomize the lives of many humans who end their days ‘singing’ to no one. Had the memi been around a month ago, it would have been surrounded by others and its voice would have joined summer’s paean, screaming from the trees. Now, it’s a lonely, solitary dirge to which there is no crescendo and no response. I would imagine the best thing that can happen to the final memi, those that have arrived a little too late and missed the party, is an early frost.

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Memi Update – (매미)Continuing my obsession…

Posted in Animals, Daegu, Diary notes, seasons, vodcast by 노강호 on September 6, 2010

Hot...

Two weeks ago (August 23, 2010), when the temperature in Daegu, the hottest part of Korea, hit 36 degrees, the memi (매미-cicadas) chorus screamed from the pomegranate tree and bushes near my one-room. I made a recording in exactly the same location as I recorded the first memiI heard, on July 7th, of this year. There was one day, Saturday 30th of August, when it was refreshingly cool with little humidity and a fresh breeze. That was a strange day as the memi were silent. It’s an interesting feeling to leave your one-room and the sanctuary of air-conditioning, to step out into intense sunlight that actually seems to have weight, and be surrounded all the time by muggy humidity and that incessant scream from the trees. In the two recordings here you can hear the different levels of intensity. In the second recording, on one of the hottest days of the year, the memi  song was verging on painful.

Alternative Links

Link to Flickr video: On Hearing the First Memi of Summer, 2010

Link to Flickr video: Memi in Full Chorus August. 2010.

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Season of the Memi

Posted in Animals by 노강호 on July 8, 2010

 

Arrival

 

I’ve been waiting to hear the first  memi (매미) of the season and was particularly eager to note whether my bollocks were stuck to my legs and sweat trickling down my back in rivulets. The memi ‘sings’ from 29 degrees (84 degrees Fahrenheit) and above.  Currently, they will be making their way from the ground up into the trees, ready to start their summer song. I’ve only seen the occasional solitary memi moving up a tree but stumbled across a video of several hundred moving up a trunk. (Link to Korean memi video)

I heard the first memi at 1400 as I was taking a photo of a pomegranate tree  and when I realised what it was, I made a mental note – my balls weren’t stuck to my leg and I wasn’t sweating. Not surprising really as I’d only been out of my apartment for less than two minutes and my room had been fairly cool!

 

Midnight memi

 

I actually managed to capture the very first call  before it finished. You can hear the ‘song’ here but I recommend you turn your volume down as I was surprised how loud the recording is. A memi singing in your ear hole, or through your speakers, can have a capacity of 120dB, enough to cause permanent damage to your sense of hearing.

 

In summer the memi (매미 – cicada) sing with intensity, in actual fact their song begins at 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 C) and dominates the summer. This was a recording of the first memi of the year, I heard on July 8th. When the memi are screaming, you know it’s high summer.

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This video doesn’t exist

 

On Hearing the First Memi of Summer 2010: Flicka Video

On Hearing the First Memi of Summer 2010: MP3

Footnote

From the pomegranate tree near my apartment to my school is 3 minutes walk, and by the time I was half way there another memi screamed from a passing tree. At that point, sweat was trickling down my back and face, my nether regions were stuck to one leg. Summer is definitely here!

 

 

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A Gully of Urine and Discarded Cigarette Ends – Vacation Finished!

Posted in customs, Diary notes, Korean children by 노강호 on March 1, 2012

Vacation fashion – the shaggy perm

These past few weeks I’ve experienced the naughtiest behaviour many Korean kids, especially boys, get up to. I live in an area of one and two room accommodations close to a university and sandwiched between high rises on three sides. One-rooms are basically studio type accommodation for one person which range from spacious and comfortable to poky and claustrophobic. Two-rooms are the same but have two bedrooms. The bathroom is always an additional room even if a one-room and often, though not always, so is the kitchen. Usually there is an enclosed veranda bordering the ‘rooms’ and in which you can hang washing, store items and is often the best location for a washing machine.  The enclosed veranda provides an excellent insulation in the winter as it effectively produces an enormous form of double glazing. I’ve lived in most of the variations. The worst was in Cheonan and though it was clean and pleasant, it was on the ground floor and as usual, there were bars on the windows. Worse however, was that the kitchen was in the bedroom area and it was small, small enough so that I could sit on my bed and prepare meals. Indeed, I could do everything either sat at my bed or by taking one-step. A ‘one-step’ would have been a far better description for this type of accommodation.

A small table pulled out from the kitchen unit alongside the bed so that I could prepare food and eat from the comfort of my bed, ideal for invalids and the infirm. Then, by standing and taking one small step, I could wash dishes and cook. For several years I was always embarrassed to say I lived in a ‘one-room’ because it sounds so much like a dingy UK bedsit but I’ve learnt there is great variation in size and comfort. My first two-room, in 2000, for example, had no air-conditioning; ten years ago air-con wasn’t a standard part of a teacher’s accommodation contract and we weren’t even supplied with a fan. My current one room is quite large and probably four times the size of my ‘one-step’ room in Cheonan. I suppose the worst thing about such accommodation, and purely based on my experience, is the lack of any view. Ground floors feel like prison cells due to the barred windows and very often the only glimpse of life beyond is that of the adjacent building’s wall. And of course, the outer windows of one rooms are generally frosted so even if you have a view it’s obstructed by this and the mosquito screen.

the alleyways around my one-room

Around and between the tightly packed one-rooms/two rooms in the area in which I live, are a maze of small passage ways. These provide access to down pipes, gas pipes and air conditioning units rather than a means of walking from one place to another. For nimble and athletic school boys however, capable of climbing over the walls which separate them, they are perfect recesses to hide from the adult world. For most of the year these passages are void of life but during vacation month they are frequently visited by groups of lads up to the Korean equivalent of ‘no good.’

a myriad of hidden recesses

So, this afternoon, March 1st, a national holiday (삼일) marking the earliest public display of resistance to the Japanese occupation which took place on March 1st 1919, the last gaggle of school boys huddle on their haunches under my kitchen window to commit some of the naughtiest acts possible for Korean teenagers. The first of these is smoking which is always accompanied by dribbling spit onto the pavement. This act has a sort of fashion to it and spit is rarely spat out but dribbled with an accompanying intense interest and fascination practiced by the performer. Next comes the pissing, which two boys do against the wall of my building. This is naughty but it’s not an altogether uncommon site in public. The third offence is their noise, boisterous and lively, but too loud! After the cigarette session, they run around a little playing chase and wrestling, almost deliriously happy. One of them throws a stone, not at a window or another person, but simply on the floor. Then I am spotted! There are a few seconds when they freeze, rather like a pack of wolves, in this case toothless, and stare in my direction, sniffing the air, motionless and silent. Then, without any discussion, they are gone. I am still able to hear their chattering and laughing but from a passage I can’t see. Their final offence is in the litter left from the visit, cigarette ends and a discarded packet. However, Koreans litter with impunity and this is only deemed an offence by foreigners. For school boys, such behaviour is about  the closest Koreans come to being hoodlums or delinquents.

Today is the last day of the long winter and spring vacation, two holidays interrupted by a few days school, which preceded the start of the new academic year. Of course, nothing is ever quite as it seems in Korea and despite the fact students have a school vacation, most attend the private academies in the afternoon and evenings or school academic camps.  High school students have hardly any vacation and attend academies on the weekend.

The long holiday period, spanning about seven weeks, allows elementary and middle school students to truly let their hair down. In academies they are often tired from playing lengthy sessions of video games or watching TV until the early hours of the morning and dyed hair, painted nails, earrings and perms are all tolerated. After seven weeks the shorts back and sides of many lads have been groomed into more lengthy and fashionable styles and I’ve even noticed boys tossing their head to flick hair out of their eyes, in a manner reminiscent of Justin Bieber.  It’s all been tolerated, even encouraged, that is until today. I’m sparing a thought for the thousands of kids who will be washing out the dye, getting their haircut and scrubbing their nails clean as they prepare for school in the morning. My fitness center will be void of  the peer groups of teenage boys and girls whose chatter and laughter have accompanied my training sessions for the last two months.  Going back to school in the UK, after the summer vacation, was always depressing but the respite of a week’s half term holiday was at the most only ever about six weeks away.  With the obsessive and intense nature of Korean education and the next vacation laying far in the distance amidst the screaming memis’ song of summer, the end of the spring vacation, the beginning of a long, long  haul marked by a chain of exams and the relentless daily trudge from one academy to another, must be especially gloomy.

a gulley of urine, cigarette ends and a discarded cigarette packet mark the remains of the long vacation

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FURTHER REFERENCES

Patriotic Taekwon-do and Sam Il – (Bathhouse Ballads March 2011)

Korean Teenagers’ Wacky World of ‘Vacation’ Fashions – (Bathhouse Ballads July 2010)

Where Nature Fills the Air

Posted in Animals, bathhouse Ballads, Nature, seasons by 노강호 on June 17, 2011

The Korean Jay - 산까치

Podcast 84

Maybe it’s the nature of the information and blogs I read but there seems to be some agreement that Korean young people have less interest or awareness of the nature around them than their British peers. I have met so many Koreans who do not know the name for the beautiful Jay (산까치) that flashes through the trees on the slopes of mountains, do not know that there are several species of woodpecker (딱다구리) or do not know which tree produces an acorn. Subsequently, it has taken me years to grope my way to knowing the correct names for a bumble bee, wasp and a hornet. Because many Koreans are not reliable at classifying and differentiating wildlife, I’m often forced to use photographs on the internet but I have learnt to be cautious as even here anomalies can appear. And I don’t think I’ve ever met a British kid who hates butterflies – but I know several Korean teenagers who positively detest them.

The smallest of Korean woodpeckers - the pygmy woodpecker (쉬딱다구리)

(산호랑 나비) The swallow-tail, 'mountain tiger,' terrifies some boys I know

Living in the city, as I do, it doesn’t take long to forget the beauty of the countryside and worse, to begin to generalise that Koreans, all Koreans, are ignorant of nature. The ignorance, I now realise, is solely mine and having hung around the city too long, where most of my students and friends have been born and bred, I have forgotten that a significant part of the population live in the country. I rarely meet any enthusiasm for wildlife among those Koreans I know and even though they love hiking, the mountains are not really conducive to walking ‘off trail,’ or random exploration. The mountain trails are always busy and as the borders between the human world and the ‘wild,’  provide only a window into the diversity of  Korean nature.  However, ask Koreans about the camel cricket (곱등이), thread worms (연가시) or cockroach (바퀴벌레) and you elicit animated, revolted responses.

for many Koreans, the camel cricket (곱등이) is probably more revolting than the cockroach partly because of the thread worm it is often believed to be infested with (연가시)

I recently saw a bumble bee (호박벌레) while with a Korean friend and it terrified him. The sight of it actually caused him to step backwards. It was on the floor and suffering the common bumble bee problem, of not being able to take off. It was at the start of spring and in cooler weather they need to ‘warm-up,’ much like cars or humans in the cold. I put my hand down and let it climb on my finger and raising my arm skywards, it was able to launch itself, first plummeting before finally gaining altitude and eventually soaring away on the breeze. My friend was shocked I had dared let it on my hand, not because it could have stung me, which bumble bees rarely do, but because it was ‘dirty,’  but he’s city born and city bred. To date, this is the only bumble bee I’ve seen in Korea. In the UK, one often hears rumours that some of London’s inner city kids have no idea where potatoes come from and have never actually seen a cow. However, I wouldn’t be fool enough to make generalizations from such myopic observations as I seem to have done in Korea where I have prejudged  most Koreans to be disinterested in nature and wildlife.

Hwa-won clan village

The main building of the complex

Last week, I spent the morning no more than a  twenty-minute car drive from bustling Song-so, in the area of Hwa-won. I’m with a friend whose teenage cousin lives in the area and who is able to tell me the names of wild life not just in Korean, but English. Although the city is blocked from view by one mountain, and the fact it lies only a few kilometers away, the distance might as well be a few hundred kilometers and our teenage guide is definitely more rural than high-rise townie. When I spot a preying mantis in the grass, only a few inches long, he deftly picks it up between finger and thumb, in a manner which seemed practiced and was as excited with it as I was. Okay, I know this is one Korean and that my perception of the relationship between Koreans and nature is being radically transformed by him, but there is farmland as far as I can see; is  it really possible to live in such an environment without imbuing some knowledge of and passion for, the surrounding beauty?

one of the quaint side streets

The number of times that Korea evokes in me a heightened sense of reality, where I am reminded of the uniqueness of my experience and how amazing it is to be in a culture thousands of miles away from my own, has diminished.  Not only is Korea crawling with other waegs, myself included, but it has gradually become home from home. The internet, Skype, messenger, and a foreign EPIK teacher in every school has tamed the  ‘Hermit Kingdom’ and brought it much closer to West than it was ten, twenty or thirty years ago. And a browse across the Klogosphere tends to dampen the numinous when it is stirred because a zillion others, just like myself, are having a similar experience. But I remember the times I was inspired by my first glimpse of the Milky Way from Korea, my first rice paddy and experienced the break of dawn from the top of a small mountain. Such moments were uplifting, somewhat mystical and quite moving and all the more so in the absence of the internet and an army of fellow foreigners, both of which dull the uniqueness of your experience.

locals chilling under a chong-cha

Hwa-won clan village, main building and former yang-ban residence

In the base of the Hwa-won valley, the rice paddies are flooded and newly planted with crops. In the distance I heard not just the first cuckoo in late spring, but my very first Korean cuckoo per-se; and all around the air frantically buzzed with busy insects. Of course, the season of the memi has yet to come as the weather is still cool. What was most incredible however, was the air; it was alive with the scent of grass, wild flowers and the humidity of the paddy. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such an alive and pregnant smell and it was so heady and rich I snorted it loudly, laughing to myself in what was almost giddy glee. I suspect, if I were to spend more time in this environment, I would quickly discover locals with a love for and knowledge of the nature around them. There was far more to discover here in the broad valley than up the mountain manacled by a trial frequented by an army of hikers.

And I am gradually coming to realise that perhaps Koreans aren’t as ignorant of nature as I had at first thought and now suspect I have been drawing conclusions about them based on the assumption that a bumble bee or hornet are universally significant. If I asked British people about camel crickets and memi, I could arrive at exactly the same conclusion…

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Tissue Trauma

Posted in bathhouse Ballads by 노강호 on October 19, 2010

 

Not suitable for pumpkin people

I was cooling off last night in the cold pool at the bathhouse. With the evenings still a little warm, at least if you’re western, the cold pool is still not too cold. Many Koreans started wrapping themselves up three weeks ago. The memi (매미) only had to stop singing, at just under 29 degrees, for some to start complaining about ‘the cold.’  The last memi I heard was on Saturday 25th of September and given Daegu is one of the warmest parts of Korea throughout the year, I would imagine the Memi stopped singing earlier, further north.

The following week, was still warm and I sweated in class despite the use of air conditioning and a fan but already some students had begun shimfing about it being cold. ‘Teacher! Teacher! I cold! Turn off air-con!” They whined. Like it’s fucking 28 degrees Celsius!  That week I really enjoyed walking home in the evening because there was just the tiniest touch of coolness floating in the air.  Suddenly there were only a handful of people on the street in short-sleeved shirts. And now it’s mid-October, I notice my shower is a little too uncomfortable to use without increasing the temperature. For the last few months even the coldest setting had become warm. And in my school some teachers have already started that typically Korean custom of wearing a coat all day long.

 

cooling off

 

So, in the bathhouse the cold pool (냉탕) is empty. Six weeks ago it was at its busiest. A friend I haven’t seen for a while came and spoke to me. He’s slightly older than me and incredibly fit. He has a short stocky body and is a regular in the gym where he runs for 45  minutes on the treadmill, at a fast pace. He has this habit of entering the cold pool, which you can just about swim in, by springing over its side and into the water. Most of the schoolboys don’t do that and instead enter by the steps or climb into the pool.

 

tissue trauma

We chat for a while, me draped over the pool ledge and him standing. Then he takes his leave and tells me he wants to have a shower and will come back and join me. As he turns around, I notice a white flash from his buttock and walking into brighter light realise he has a few inches of toilet paper dangling out of his crack. I grin to myself and then momentarily ponder which is the greater embarrassment, a bogey hanging out of your nose or residue bog paper clamped between your checks like an insistent napkin.? Instantly, I choose the bog paper because you can so easily tell someone they have a bogey hanging, you simply touch your nose in a particular manner, and they will understand; it’s a discrete and universally understood hand sign. But how do you convey to someone they have paper hanging out their arse? There’s no universal ‘sign’ and I wouldn’t want to risk saying anything in Korean which might compound the problem. Do you discretely touch your buttocks or point around to them?

Without actually verbalizing the problem, I would imagine the only way you could draw attention to it would be to tug on it, like yanking a doorbell or pulling the chain of a toilet!  You  wouldn’t want to tug on it too much or it might pull out and who knows what’s on the other end or how much might  be dragged out.  Best is probably a small tug, just enough to announce a presence  rather than raise an alarm.  By the time I’d finished pondering, the dilemma was over and he was  safely in the shower where the offending bog paper, sloughing down the backs of his legs, started its voyage to the drain. And luckily for him, I don’t think anyone else noticed.

 

 

envirnomentally friendly method

 

 

all too often the problem in Korea

 

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Hanyorum – High Summer (한여름)

Posted in Animals, Diary notes, Quintesentially Korean, seasons by 노강호 on August 25, 2010

Hanyorum in Daegu - stifling!

Hanyorum (한여름) is the period of high summer and generally occurs in early August when the changma (장마) has moved North into Manchuria. Hanyorum is typified by high temperatures, reaching 38 degrees Fahrenheit, (100 degrees Celsius), in the afternoons and hot and humid nights.

One characteristic of hanyorum is the appearance of crickets (귀뚜라미), though you are more likely to hear them than see them. I both saw and heard  crickets yesterday (August 24th), though they may have been chirping earlier than this. Crickets differ from grasshoppers (메뚜기) in that they are nocturnal and the song of both differ from the omnipresent scream of the cicadas (매미).

A cicada - or memi (매미). The sound of summer!

Grasshoopers (메뚜기), which some Koreans enjoy eating, are diurnal insects and their chirp is often drowned by the memis’ summer shriek, so you need to listen carefully to hear them. Their chirp is more noticeable when there is a lull in the memi scream. They are bright or vivid green, have antennae which are always shorter than their body, and long wings which when in flight are often coloured.

Grasshopper - (메뚜기). Mmmm- delicious!

Crickets (귀뚜라미), are nocturnal and as such require darker camouflage, usually pale green or brown. Their antennae are often the equivalent length of their abdomen and have atrophied or even absent wings and hence, do not fly. They also have ears located on their legs in the form of a white spot or mark. In hanyorum, the chirping of crickets (귀뚜라미) fill the evening air and as such they chirp at lower temperatures than the memi. While memi (cicadas) start screaming at 29 degrees Celsius, the cricket will chirp at cooler temperatures, as low as 13 degrees Celsius. Using Dolbear’s Law (based on Snowy Tree Crickets), it is possible to work out the approximate temperature in Fahrenheit by counting a cricket’s chirps over 14 seconds and adding 40. An interesting if not useless equation unless you happen to have a cricket in isolation, but on one or two occasions, I have had one chirping inside my ‘one room.’

Cricket (귀뚜라미). The clearly visible ears, located on the legs, and absence of wings distinguish it from the grasshopper.

Interesting links and sources:

Telling a grasshopper from a cricket

Fahrenheit 84 – the memi

Grasshoppers

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