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Sorcerer Spider Webs (무당거미)

Posted in Animals, seasons by 노강호 on October 16, 2010

There were from my last mountain trip at the end of September. The ‘sorcerer  or ‘shaman’ spider (무당거미) webs all measured around 1.5 meters in diameter. (These spiders have a number of other names)

male sorcerer spider (무당거미)

the sorcerer spider has one of the strongest and largest  known webs

Often the web has a greeny-yellow tinge

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Spotted Darter Dragonflies (고추잠자리)

Posted in Animals, Diary notes, seasons by 노강호 on October 11, 2010

 

Female 'chili dragonfly' lazing in the sun

 

October sees the second flush of dragonflies, the first being around mid-summer. The specie dominating this flush is the ‘Spotted Darter,’ (definetly –Sympetrum and possibly – Depressiusculum). In Korean these are known as ‘chili dragonflies’ (고추잠자리) as the males are bright red. Unfortunately, my one-room roof seemed only to attract females.

 

 

a temporary rest

 

 

 

the male is bright red in colour

 

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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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For Pied and Dabbled Things

Posted in Animals, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Korean language, plants and trees by 노강호 on October 1, 2010

fascinating - or ''just' (그냥)?

Back in Scumland UK, the greatest disruption to a lesson would be two students having a fight, possibly assaulting the teacher or simply a student calling you a ‘fucking wanker.’ In Korea, a similar level of disruption is achieved if an insect flies into the classroom. No! I’m not referring to a gigantic hornet or a preying mantis; pandemonium can be unleashed by a simple house fly. On such occasions, students will duck their heads and even move to the other-side of a class and until the insect is removed or killed, all teaching is likely to cease. I know students, teenage boys, who will squeal and panic, if a butterfly flutters into the classroom.

I have seen some beautiful butterflies in the mountains, some the size of small birds with brightly coloured wings. As a schoolboy, my fondness for butterflies was inspired through collecting and trading cards that came with a packet of  Brooke Bond PG Tips Tea.  Although I’ve noticed dragonflies are admired, some kids even hate butterflies, one of the most majestic and harmless of insects. In Korean, it seems many people relegate most bugs to the same category as cockroaches.

Launched by Brooke Bond (tea) in 1963, this series of cards probably inspired my interest in butterflies

Koreans seem to have a general dislike not just of insects, but bugs in general and ‘bug’ is the preferred term as this precludes having to differentiate between insects and arachnids and many other creepy crawly things. Indeed, terms such as ‘insect’ and the characteristics they exhibit do not seem as easily understood as they might be in the west. The problem of nomenclature, despite biological taxonomy, is obviously cultural but I wonder to what extent it reflects a general disregard for nature in general, especially in a society which has so rapidly become highly urbanized.

'Just' (그냥) a spider!

Korean students, and many adults I know, seem not just oblivious to nature, but indifferent and unmoved by it. Of course, I am making a sweeping generalization and fully aware many Koreans are quite the obverse  as I often come across Korean nature, and nature photography blogs on the internet, but I nonetheless experience different attitudes from students and friends than I would back home. Several years ago, on a mountain trail in Ch’eonan, I was privileged to see a fox posing in profile. My fellow teachers all insisted that either foxes do not exist in Korea or that I must have seen a cat. You simply cannot confuse a cat with a fox, especially having seen the fox motionless and in profile! Every child will give you the correct name when you describe a magpie, one of the most common birds even in urban areas, but describe a jay, a common sight in the mountains, and most will have no idea of its name (산까치). The impressive sorceress spider (무당 거미), with their expansive webs dusted in a powdery yellow,  and abdomens emblazoned with red and yellow markings, to all but one of the people I asked, were ‘just’ (그냥) spiders.  Wasps and hornets  suffer a similar fate and are often clumped together as bees (벌). And then I’m told figs trees don’t grow in Korea when there are several growing in my vicinity.

The reason I am so keen as to Koreans attitudes about nature is that most dictionaries fail to distinguish species and sub-species and hence I am compelled to make inquiries. I often encounter problems trying to discover the Korean word for particular animals or plants. For example, Koreans have a number of different names for ‘octopus’ (낙지, 문어) and will often insist that they are different from each other but this difference has more to do with ‘octopus’ as a food, rather than ‘octopus’ as a species. In Britain, we have a similar problem with ‘sardines’ and ‘pilchards,‘ both different size herrings and most of us differentiate them by the shape of can they are bought in. Sardines, as juvenile pilchards, come in small flat tins whereas the adult pilchard, comes in a round can. I doubt many Brits are capable of differentiating between sardines and pilchards in any other way than by the type of can they occupy when dead and ready to eat.

This is a pilchard

This is a sardine

Differentiating between rats and mice is also problematic and if you tell a Korean you had a mouse in your house, or even had one as a pet, they will recoil  in horror. Despite ‘mice’ having a distinct name (생쥐), they are conflated with rats (쥐) and only by describing a rat as having a  long leathery tail, can you be understood. Exactly the same occurs with chipmunks  (줄무늬 달암쥐) and squirrels (달암쥐) both of which are described as ‘squirrels.’ (다람쥐) Yes, chipmunks are a form of squirrel but they are quite distinct from squirrel squirrels. Indeed, several online dictionaries I consulted identified both squirrels and chipmunk, as squirrels and despite chipmunks being common in the nearby mountains, most people I asked either did not know what they were or simply identified them as ‘squirrels.’

A rat - big, dirty and loves sewers and shite

This is a mouse - small, cute, lives in fields and is a veggie

On another occasion I was with friends in the Kayasan Mountains and noticed what looked like clumps of mistletoe high in the trees. I was excited because I’d not seen mistletoe in Korea and it was prolific and thick. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which grows in the uppermost branches of trees, the seeds being deposited via bird droppings. Not only did my friends have no idea what is was, but they weren’t very interested. As we were coming down the mountain, I noticed bags of ‘clippings’ being sold to make tea and was able to confirm it was mistletoe (겨우사리).

mistletoe can be seen growing in clumps in the high branches (Kayasan, Heinsa)

In early summer, I was looking at plants, along with a close friend, being sold by a street vendor. She was quite impressed that I was able to identify tomato, aubergine, thyme, rosemary and courgette seedlings as well as larger jade and citrus plants. She had no idea that tomato plants have a distinct smell that is imparted onto your hands if your touch them. My poor friend could only identify a chili plant and asked the vendor to name the plants to corroborate my claims.

It worries me that so many young Koreans are uninterested and uninspired by nature, if not fearful of it, because the easiest means by which species will disappear, is when there is no regard for them. In dystopian novels such as Huxley’s, Brave New World, Zamyatin’s, We, and to  a lesser extent, Orwell’s, 1984, nature is perceived as abhorrent, distasteful, imperfect and dirty and hence requiring banishment beyond the  confines of ‘civilization.’  Once there is a general dislike, or simply disregard for nature,  or even people, and before you know it, the damage has been done. All political and social atrocities are born out of an attitude of dislike, disinterest or loathing and the same can be said of environmental atrocities.

The impressive Kayasan Hotel

In Kayasan Mountain, behind the impressive Kayasan Park Hotel, next to the nature trail entrance, is a natural history museum in which are housed an extensive collection of insects which are either extinct or endangered. Some of the insects, all dead and mounted, are of gargantuan proportions, some as much as three  or four inches long. The gargantuan insects that once lived in the mountains of Korea,  with their chunky exoskeletons and long antennae, fascinated not just me but the numerous Korean children, ooo-ing and ah-ing around me; ironically, the same children who yelp, scream and panic when a house fly buzzes into the classroom. It seems that  for many, nature only has the power to inspire wonder and awe when it’s dead, mounted, sanitized and safe.

Capable of causing panic!

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Shaman Spider (무당 거미)

Posted in Animals, Diary notes, seasons by 노강호 on September 23, 2010

I’ve had an infection or ‘red-eye’ and haven’t been able to use the gym or bathhouse so instead I’ve been walking up Warayong Mountain (Wikipedia location) in Song-So.

I noticed a wasp nest on a tree and watched it over several mornings. These wasps are much smaller than European ones.

wasp nest

This is the shaman spider (무당 거미), which is often translated as ‘sorcerer.’ In English it is known as the golden banana spider or joro spider (nephila clavata). ‘ It probably measured about three inches long and can inflict a mildly painful but non-deadly bite. Autumn signals the mating season for spiders and these beautiful, if not scary looking specimens are also cannibalistic. The female is larger than the male and has red markings towards the back, underside of her abdomen.

Female shaman spider (무당 거미) nephila clavata

female shaman spider with distinctive red markings on the underside of abdomen.

the nephila family spin one of the largest size webs – often in excess of 2 meters.

The web was about 4 feet across and slightly yellow in colour and at one point I walked into  a supporting strand. It did not break and I noted at the time how resilient it was. Apparently, genes from this spider have been injected into silk worm cocoons and as a result they subsequently produce a much stronger silk. This product is being launched on the market, in the form of extra durable socks, in 2010.

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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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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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Dragonfly Days (물잠자리)

Posted in Animals, Daegu, Korean language, seasons by 노강호 on August 16, 2010

 

A male 'chili dragonfly' (고추잠자리). This type appear is common in early October

 

Mid August and the dragonflies (잠자리) are hovering over puddles and pools of water. There are several ‘flushes’ of dragonfly with another in early autumn. I suspect these are collectively known as ‘water dragonflies’ (물잠자리) irrespective of actual specie. Sometimes you can see them in large numbers erratically darting here and there. Some are probably damselflies (실잠자리) which are distinguished from dragonflies in much the same way as butterflies are from moths, in that when resting a dragonfly’s wings are 90 degrees to its body, in contrast, a damselfly’s wings rest along the body itself. Dragonflies can fly in six directions, up, down, forwards, backwards and side to side.

 

Bright blue damselflies and deep brown reddish dragonflies seem to be particularly prominent around my area of Daegu at present.

 

 

A damselfly (실잠자리)

 

Clicking this link will take you to David Hasenick’s photo gallery which besides hosting some excellent photos of dragonflies, also has a number of other Korean categories.

While searching for information on Korean dragonflies, I discovered a ‘list’ of the variations in Korean regional dialect for ‘dragonfly.’

 

 

'Dragonfly' - regional variations in dialect

 

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© Nick Elwood 2010. This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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.

Error
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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Faherenheit 84 (29 °C)

Posted in Animals, bathhouse Ballads by 노강호 on May 7, 2010

In the last few days, whenever I leave my relatively cool ‘one room,’  and step into the stairway, I can both feel the rising humidity and smell it. The smell, difficult to describe, is not unpleasant  and if you can ‘smell ‘humidity, that is how I would characterise it. Then, when you step outside you instantly get zapped by both the sun and  its heat reflected off of the pavement. With a little breeze in the air, and cool mornings and evenings, it’s not unpleasant but soon, venturing outside will become a torturous experience reminiscent of being stuck in a sauna-like microwave in which life is reduced to  seeking sanctuary wherever there is air conditioning. As the middle English song goes; ‘Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu! Rivulets of sweat trickling down your back and amassing in little crescents under your man-boobs, if you’re unfortunate to have them, as I do, all necessitate keeping a towel in your bag and one of those bright coloured handkerchiefs in your pocket. As a winter baby, I’ve always hated summers but maybe my dislike of Korean summer is shaded by life in a one room before an air-conditioner was a normal part of an employment contract. Sitting around a small fan, clad only in underpants, as it gyrated from you to your flat-mate, granting you intermittent  coolness, or spending the evening  freezing in  MacDonald’s, were the only reprieve from summer’s muggy heat.

A memi (매미), cicada

Spring, which this year seems to have been skipped, as beautiful as it is, is an unpleasant reminder of what is to follow. And then there are the memi (매미). I have never heard cicadas in Northern Europe and associate them with hotter climates and in Korea, as summer’s leitmotiv, whose chirping, an incessant white noise,  will dominant. Memi are bizarre looking things especially if you come from a climate with much smaller insects. I remember, before I’d seen one, you would pass a tree in mid-day and a chorus of memi would be ‘screaming’ at you. I could never see them and if you stopped and walked back to investigate, the ‘screaming’  would diminish, as if they were watching your approach. The sound is so intense, a crazy-crispy buzzing that it would suggest one tree is host to many memi. How many make that intensity of sound? A handful? Thousands? I am no memi expert but I think when the temperature falls a little, in the evenings of early summer, emerging  memi migrate from the ground, either by flight, climbing the trunks, or a combination of both, to find a perch in branches. This is the time when, if you look carefully, you can sometimes see them on tree trunks.  At other times, I have seen them in-flight  as their  bright colours, hidden when resting, flash vividly, probably to warn off predators.   If you’ve never seen one, they certainly look ugly, fascinating and definitely prehistoric.

Not on my pillow!

I don’t know if I like memi or not, that screaming symphony is at its peak at the hottest time of day, usually as I am on my way to work,  scuttling between one air-conditioned sanctuary and another. I don’t know if I like them because they are a harbinger of summer’s heat. My bollocks positively dislike like them! When you hear the first memi you can assume the temperature is approaching 29 degrees and at the same time you will probably notice sweat trickling down your back .  Once their chirping is symphonic, amassed and intense you can assume the temperature is in the 30’s and if you’re male, your balls, dangling in what has now become an E-Mart carrier bag,  are probably stuck to you leg.

Here are some facts to remember when you hear your first memi this summer:

Desert cicadas are the only  insects known to sweat  in order to lower body temperature!

While Koreans often translate ‘cicadas,’  and many Americans term them, ‘locust,’  they are not! Cicadas belong to an entirely different family of insect.

One species of cicada is native to the UK. (Melampsalta montana)

Cicadas lay eggs in tree bark from which hatched nymphs fall to the ground where they live, burrowing, throughout this stage.  Many cicada  species emerge from the ground annually, but some, with much greater life spans, emerge at 13 or 17 year periods.(eg: magicicada).

Should a memi park on you’re pillow and sing in your ear-hole, with a capacity of 120dB, you can expect permanent damage to your sense of hearing.

However, here is the most important fact: Fahrenheit 84, (29 °C), the approximate temperature from which both the memi will begin to sing and a pair of bollocks will start to stick to an inner thigh!

If your bollocks were stuck to your leg when you heard the memi screaming, I’d like to know! It’s a sort of survey!

(Link: for  more comprehensive memi facts and the source of most information here)