Elwood 5566

An Autumn morning in the Rose Garden (장미공원)

Posted in Daegu, Diary notes, Photo diary, plants and trees, seasons, video clips by 노강호 on November 29, 2010

blaze of autumn

In Autumn, you can often kick or push a small tree and the leaves fall like snow.  Last weekend I noticed several people , mostly couples, kicking trees and then getting all excited as they stood in the brief leaf storm.  In England, the air to usually too damp for the leaves to turn crispy and English leaves, sodden, soggy and sloppy, are notorious for sabotaging our rail network. Indeed, in just a few days the trees in one road,  golden yellow, have been blown barren by a bitter wind that bites your face.  In my UK garden, the defoliation of summer’s leaves is a long and slow process and even late December some leaves will have avoided being blown off.

These photographs were taken on or around 18th of November, which is actually winter rather than autumn, when most of the trees still had leaves and they were at their most dramatic. Most were taken around 7.30 in the morning with a frost over the ground and light mist in the air.

autumn colours

Autumn across the rose garden


while I took these photos, suneung was just about to begin

the chong-cha (정자) at the rose garden's center

it's easy to see why the hanja character for autumn, is a combination of tree and fire

another blaze

rose, high rise and mountain

in the background is the boys' high school where the suneung was about to start

rose and high rise

and then home

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Monday Market -Oriental Quince (모과) Chaenomeles sinensis

Posted in Nature, oriental Medicine, plants and trees, seasons by 노강호 on November 16, 2010

oriental quince bonsai

Another portent that winter is approaching is the appearance of the oriental quince, mo-ghwa (모과). Unlike the quince found in parts of Europe and North Africa where its uses, depending on climate and hence proportions, span from making jams and jelly to a substitute potato, the oriental quince is mostly used in oriental medicine and as tea. However, the mo-ghwa’s predominant use is as an ornamental air freshener. Don’t expect wonders! It won’t clear the smell of fried mackerel or unpleasant toilet odours and neither is one potent enough to scent an entire room but for scenting corners or enclosed spaces, a car being ideal, they are successful. I have one sitting on my desk and  it subtly scents that corner of my room.

moghwa (모과)

by the bowl

Moghwa have a very waxy skin in which the scent is contained and they sort of look quite attractive. The scent is similar to that of a fruity apple. The cost varys from about a 1000 won upwards and ideally you should buy one unblemished as these will last well into spring. Supermarkets often sell them in a small basket.

oriental quince tree and fruit

At this time of year one can see many trees bearing fruits, dae-ch’u, unhaeng (ginkgo), persimmon and Asian pears, for example. However, it is illegal to pick fruits from any tree on sidewalks or parks as the trees are not public property.

When buying one, especially from street vendors where they are much cheaper, avoid ones with blemishes or other forms of damage. A good moghwa will last the entire winter and into spring but a badly chosen one can be brown and rotted within a few weeks!

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The Rose of Sharon – 무궁화 – National Flower of Korea

Posted in plants and trees, Quintesentially Korean, seasons by 노강호 on October 21, 2010

Despite the ‘Rose of Sharon’s,‘ grand, popular names, ‘the immortal flower’ and ‘everlasting flower,’ I always have a slight loathing when I see one, which is everyday as one grows right outside my one-room. My loathing is totally unfounded.

Korea’s national flower, ‘the Rose of Sharon‘ (Hibiscus syriacus), comes from a deciduous shrub the flower of which bears a striking resemblance to that of the tree mallow ( Lavatera arborea or Malva dendromorpha) which is native to much of Europe.

flower of the tree mallow

National flower of Korea (무궁화) 'Rose of Sharon.' This was actually the first flower of the year on this plant (July 5th 2010).

Both plants are shrubs and have soft pink flowers of the same size set in a five petal arrangement.  The five petals are significant  in terms of the ‘Rose of Sharon’ as they symbolise Korea and appear in numerous official and unofficial emblems.


the five petals of the Rose of Sharon

an important symbol

The Korean name for the flower, mu-gung-hwa (무궁화), combines two words, ‘mu-gung’ (무궁) meaning ‘immortal’ or ‘everlasting,’ and ‘hwa’ (화) meaning ‘flower.’ It really is the case that the flower is long lasting and the same flowers will bloom all summer and into autumn, closing every evening and bursting back into flower as the sun rises. The ‘Rose of Sharon,’ associates the plant with Syria, where it supposedly originated but personally, I prefer the Korean name as it reminds one of the tenacity which is reflected in so many aspects of Korean culture and landcape. ‘Tenacity,’ is both one of the tenets of  ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) and WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) taekwondo, and a theme in my post on the  wood carvings I photographed in Pal-gong-san National Park, Daegu. Historically, The flower was first cited in Korean text around 1400 years ago and hence has a long standing  historical tradition making it ideal for its reference in the Korean National Anthem.

flower variations

I watched the mu-gung-hwa outside my one-room all year, from the appearance of the first buds until mid-August, when some blight shriveled the leaves and killed the flowers. Given its association with ‘immortality,’ this was a disappointment serving to remind me of the realities of life.

My one-room mugunghwa in May

June 15th

July 5th and the first blooms

in full bloom

And why do I have an irrational loathing for the mu-gung-hwa? Because it so closely resembles the tree mallow which is a prolific shrub especially in coastal regions of Southern England.  Several years ago, a friend gave me a small cutting which I planted in my front garden and within three years it had grown into a  large shrub, blocking the light in my front window and necessitating constant pruning. No matter how vigorously you prune it to the ground, it springs back in mockery and within weeks needs to be re-attacked.


The mugunghwa-ho (무궁화호), is the cheapest type of Korean train service and is often  the only service on some lines.



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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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Korean Teas: Summer Refreshment – Korean Bamboo Leaf Tea (대잎 차)

Posted in plants and trees, tea (cereal, herb) by 노강호 on August 18, 2010

Bamboo leaf tea

Specifics: A leaf tea available in tea bags but not easy to find. Specialist deli type shops often stock it.

In summer, I prefer water or a chilled, non sweetened cereal drink or a tea as a refreshment. My favourite is probably mistletoe tea (겨우살이) but a close contender is bamboo  leaf tea (데잎 차) The tea comes in bags which can be a little difficult to find though it can be bought in other forms. I couldn’t buy the bags in my local E-Mart or Home Plus but I know two small delicatessen type shops which sell them.

I have to be honest, making the tea is hit and miss and I still haven’t worked out the best way to make it. Several times I have made a very refreshing brew but repeating this seems temperamental and on some occasions the tea has been almost tasteless. When right however, the flavour is subtle and distinct and bears a similarity to mistletoe – a very mild lemony tang without any tartness or bitterness.

Not to be confused with Green bamboo leaf - green tea - which is from China!

Like most things that taste ‘just,’ (그냥), bamboo leaf tea has those beneficial qualities,’ it is supposedly a detoxicant and can even help you lose weight. Don’t get me wrong, I love these types of tea but can draw a distinction between refreshing and delicious.  A high quality milkshake is delicious – bamboo water is ‘just’ but on  a hot day or a sweaty training session, the milkshake comes second.

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Burdock 우엉 Monday Market

Posted in plants and trees, vegetables by 노강호 on June 7, 2010


Recognize this plant? If you’re British, it is fairly common and though simply a thistle to many, burdock, is a household name to most adults over 40. Burdock is a biennial plant the flower heads of which are burrs. When I was a boy these were infamous for sticking to your clothes and hair. However, since the advent of paedo-paranoia and personal computers, I would imagine younger generations have little experience of them. Incidentally, it were these burrs and the plant seeds that inspired George de Mestral to investigate their properties in the 1940’s and which subsequently led to the invention of Velcro.

Cross section showing the extensive taproot.

Childhood memories

In Britain, Burdock is probably most renowned as an ingredient in Dandelion and Burdock drink which  has been popular in the UK since the 13th century and though it never had the same appeal as Coca-Cola or Pepsi, it joins the ranks of cult classics  such as Tizer and Irn Bru. Burdock has various  uses in herbal medicine. In Britain, it was also used as a food but today this practice lies in the domain of the more adventurous. (Burdock recipes UK)

probably more popular in the North of England and Scotland

a cult classic

In Korea, burdock taproot is a fairly common sight both in street markets and supermarkets and a bundle of whole root (통우엉),will cost around 2000-3000 Won (£1-£1.50.)  The roots are used to make various side dishes and as a vegetable in soups etc.

Burdock taproot

Burdock as a side dish

Burdock root as a pleasant taste, is slightly crunchy with a little woody texture and a nutty-earthy taste.

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Monday Market: Ot. 옻. Rhus Verniviflua

Posted in herbs and 'woods', plants and trees, Quintesentially Korean by 노강호 on May 24, 2010

Ot (옻) costing 2000W (£1)

I’ve had some difficulty trying to find information on this ‘food.’ I’m not even sure how categorise it. The closest relative ‘food’ I can relate it to is cinnamon, which is a bark and a spice but Ot (옻), Rhus Verniviflua (Toxicodendron vernicifluum), is chunk of log and isn’t spicy. It is related to the poison ivy family and can cause skin irritation. When I first ate chicken and ot soup, I was warned it might upset my stomach but suffered no ill effects. It is a regular ingredient in chicken-ginseng soup (삼게탕).

Most information on Ot seems related to its use as a lacquer that is traditionally used in Korea and Japan to coat wooden chopsticks but also a range of other items, including fountain pens. The lacquer technique takes great care to apply and is extremely durable and beautiful and in this context the plant is referred to as the ‘lacquer tree.’

Ot can be seen in street markets where it is sold in a variety of sizes. It is boiled in soups and obviously removed before eating though smaller pieces of wood may be left in situ to be discarded at the table. It is also used to make a particular type of both bean and red pepper paste. In chicken-ginseng soup it provides the slightly bitter background taste.

Nothing beats a log in your soup

Ot bean paste (된장)

ot barbecued pork (옻 삼겹살)

Ot as an integral ingredient in chicken ginseng soup. (삼게탕)

Ot as used to make a highly beautiful lacquer

ot as it grows

Ot is also used as an oriental medicine but extensive information is difficult to find in English. If making chicken-ginseng soup, ot is one of the dried ingredients available in packets costing around 4000Won (£2) and available widely.

dried ingredients for chicken ginseng soup (삼게탕)

Monday Market: Sesame Leaf (갰잎) Perilla Frutescens

Posted in plants and trees, Quintesentially Korean, seasons, vegetables by 노강호 on May 18, 2010

A field of sesame. (갰잎) Perilla Frutescens. (Ch'eonan) September.

I used to pass a field of sesame everyday on my way to school in Ch’eonan (천안). In the late summer, you could always smell the scent in the air especially in the muggy weather or when it was raining. The scent of sesame is quintessentially Korean. I feel in love with sesame leaves the first time I ate them though I often hear wayguks (meant endearingly), say they don’t like them. Being a fat twat, I eat most things. Indeed, after my first visit to Korea I grew sesame in my garden for a couple of years. Yes, they have a distinct taste and smell both more pronounced than the other types of leaves used to ‘parcel’ the components of a Korean barbecue. In addition, their texture, slightly furry and definitely more ‘leafy’ than lettuce,  distinguishes them.

Sesame leaves with boiled pork. (보쌈)

Sesame, in all its forms, as a vegetable, kimchi, as seeds, oil and powder are an essential part of Korean cooking. The leaves are available throughout the year in portions reflecting the weather of that particular growing year. Late summer is when they are most abundant and at their largest in size, approximately the span of a large, adult hand.

Washed leaves of sesame

The leaves can also be made into a kimchi and pickled though I find the process laborious. In supermarkets they are often sold washed in bags, or more traditionally, as in the street markets, in small bundles, folded in half and bound with a piece of twine. While not particularly tasty on their own, they are excellent when used as a wrap – provided of course, you like them in the first place. My favourite parcel – meat of some kind, a little boiled rice, raw garlic and cabbage kimchi or bean paste – delicious!

Mistletoe – Viscum album Coloratum (겨우살이) Not Just for Kissing Under

Posted in herbs and 'woods', plants and trees, tea (cereal, herb) by 노강호 on May 15, 2010

Specifics: a tea made with leafs and branches. I have only seen this being sold in bundles either in the mountains or street markets. It is not always easy and more common in spring. I would be very cautious of using this in Europe as the species may be poisonous, from the little I know the berries are. I can’t find any reference to its use as a tea in the West, though I have not searched extensively.

A few months ago I noticed a little old lady street vendor selling, amongst other things, what appeared to be mistletoe. I was intrigued as of course, in the West it is usually only ever seen at Christmas when it is used to kiss under. Like most of my Korean friends,when asked about this plant, none had the slightest idea what it was,  nor any interest.

Kayasan National Park

On Children’s Day, I went to  Kayasan National Park (가야산)  which is a short distance from Daegu. As is the custom on such days, we made a ‘pilgrimage’ to the Haeinsa (해인사) Temple, one of Korea’s most important temples and home to Korean National Treasure No. 52, the Tripitaka Koreana. These comprise 81.340 woodblock templates, carved in the 13th century and forming the most accurate, oldest, and extensive treatise of Buddhist law and scripture.  With full foliage not yet set on surrounding trees, I noticed ‘balls’ of what appeared to be mistletoe growing on their upper branches. I was quite excited, an excitement my friends find quite strange and eccentric. None of them could tell me what they were but their interest was microscopically sparked when I pointed out to them that the leaf shape on the balls, only just visible, differed from that  on the surrounding branches. And then we stopped by a small ‘kiosk’ selling the customary objects found in such locations, dried mushrooms, steaming silk worm cocoons, – various fresh mountain greens, herbs, onions and wood, and in one corner, a large pile of mistletoe, instantly recognizable and available either fresh or cut and dried at 10.000W (£6) a large bag.

'Balls' of mistletoe can be seen in distant the tree tops

Mistletoe, Viscum album Coloratum -a hemi-parasitic plant

Cut and dried mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant with an extensive and ancient history in many cultures. Myth suggests mistletoe was the wood from which the cross of Jesus was made, after which, as a punishment, the former tree was withered and reduced to a parasite. The plant has various hosts and usually grows on higher branches where seeds fall in bird droppings.

Instructions for making tea – Mistletoe can be kept in the fridge, though I was told not to store it in the freezer. A handful of twigs and leaves are then boiled in approximately 2 litres of water and the tea drank warm or chilled. I have discovered that a fuller infusion is made if the ‘leaves’ are left to steep over night before being removed. European Mistletoe can also be used for making tea herbalists claim it has numerous benefits, one of which is lowering blood pressure. Here  is made by way of a cold infusion.

The taste – I am not really into hot herbal or cereal teas and generally prefer these chilled. Mistletoe surprised me as it has a very distinct and pleasant taste with a lemony aroma. The taste is remarkably similar to that of western type tea (Ceylon, PG Tips, Liptons etc)  but quite soft. It lacks  the bitterness or tartness associated with tannin in un-milked, un-sugared tea. Currently I prefer this ‘tea’ to Korean barley, corn or green tea.

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Magnolias (목련) and 'Sudden Spring Colds' (꽃샘추위)

Posted in Diary notes, Nature, plants and trees, seasons by 노강호 on April 4, 2010


The glorious magnolia (목련) provides a sure sign that spring is here. This is one of my favourite flowers but unfortunately, as magnificent as it looks with large, waxy, petals, it’s has a strange, low-key, chemical scent. Early spring is typified by cool or cold mornings and evenings and increasingly warmer days but temperatures can change suddenly – a phenomenon known as (꽃샘추위). From my understanding this means ‘sudden spring colds’ or, what in English we might call ‘cold snaps’ except a cold snap can occur throughout the year. Any further insight into this term would be appreciated.