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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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The Filthy Thing Was Sat on my Doorstep

Posted in Animals by 노강호 on April 12, 2011

 

no check-out!

Maybe it’s an urban myth, but when I was in China I met a traveler who’d claimed he ‘d seen a cockroach supping dribble for the corner of his room mate’s mouth, who thankfully, was asleep at the time. The roaches I encountered in China dwarfed anything I’ve seen in Korea. And seriously, I actually knew a very strange guy from my army days who ate cockroaches. It wasn’t a party piece, he didn’t brag about it or do it to shock people. If ever a cockroach scuttled within reach his arm snatched it with as much speed and accuracy as a mantis and  instantly it was deposited in his mouth. What was uncanny was that the only part of his body that moved was his arm. He didn’t even need to turn his head and could pluck one within the field of his peripheral vision. You met some strange people in the army.

I spent 10 years in the British Army  in Germany and most barracks were infested with both the Oriental and the German cockroach. I even found cockroaches in my food but when I complained was simply told they were full of calories. Needless to say I hate this insect and do not wait for them to start visiting my one-room. I’ve probably seen no more than 12 in 3 years and last year saw only a couple as I’d posted at least 10 poisonous banquet boxes around the room. The thing I’ve learnt about cockroaches is that if you happen to see one snooping around the perimeter of your accommodation, or worse, inside as an unwanted guest, you can guarantee there’s been plenty other visits when you’ve been out or sleeping.

I came home this evening and there was one of the filthy pests scuttling about in the opening of my door, where you leave your shoes. With temperatures still cool, it was too slow to avoid being crushed to oblivion. So it’s off to Dream-Mart in the morning to  buy one of the numerous anti-cockroach devices. For more information on Korean insects and the filthy roach:

An Interlude of Insects (April 2010)

available in Korean stores (click-pic for information)

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FURTHER REFERENCES

What-is-the-best-method-of-cockroach-control

Combat Company Site

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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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'All Things Bright and Beautiful' – Yeon-Ka-Shi (연가시) Parasitic Worms

Posted in Animals by 노강호 on October 27, 2010

Yesterday, as I was teaching, I felt some water fall onto my arm from the ceiling.  For a moment I looked at it bewildered, unsure where it had come from and looking up deduced it was condensation falling from the vent of the air-conditioner.  One of my students muttered some comment, the class laughing in response. I had no idea what he said but recognised one word; a word that immediately invokes  revulsion: ‘yeon-ka-shi!’

If you ask Koreans, especially kids about the yeon-ka-shi (연가시), you are likely to be treated to a catalogue of horror stories. The yeon-ka-shi is a parasitic, ‘horsehair’ worm (nematomorpha) that spends part of its life in water where it finds its way into a host. Though some will tell you otherwise, the hosts are insects and not humans though there have been rare cases of human ‘infection.’ One recorded case  involved a young girl who vomited up a dead worm. Her mother then took her to hospital where both her and the worm were examined. Now, how true this is I don’t know but I read the article, in fact a medical report, somewhere online and subsequently lost the link. However, the conclusion was that the girl must have drunk contaminated water, ie from a pond or puddle and the worm, killed by stomach acid  was subsequently expelled in vomit – not a surprise as a gutful of puddle water is hardly comforting.

 

Link to video of worm (photo; Wiki)

I have been treated to numerous gross accounts of the yeon-ka-shi infecting humans, or how it turns insects into zombies which are subsequently driven to suicide. Other stories relate to the worms crawling out of the backside of insects and I have been warned not to stamp on the camel-cricket (곱등이) as this is a frequent host. The truth? Well, it does invade insects and it does crawl out of backsides and out of the abdomens of squashed hosts. There are plenty of gruesome videos recording this example of  God’s sickening handiwork.

The size of these parasites in relation to their hosts is alarming. The next video apparently portrays a cricket committing suicide.  How observers deduce it is suicide I don’t know. I’d have thought with this massive invasion rummaging around in its body, the cricket was  totally out of its mind.

The natural world inspires both awe and horror but given the number and nature of horrific phenomena, it is truly testament to mankind’s stupidity that we should even dream of erecting and idolozing a creator capable of such perverse manifestations.  One of a host of creations excluded from that  naive polemic, All Things Bright and Beautiful.

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Camel Cricket – 곱등이- Rhaphidophoridae

Posted in Animals, seasons by 노강호 on October 27, 2010

The rather ugly camel-cricket (곱등이)

Okay! Here’s a really ugly insect you might see seeking sanctuary as the weather gets colder. The camel cricket (곱등이) is a rather prehistoric looking insect related to the New Zealand weta. They are often found in caves and dark damp places and in some cases never see daylight but also reside in forests and buildings, especially basements.  They are nocturnal and unlike other crickets (뀌뚜라미), do not chirp.  They are characterised by long legs and antennae. Cave dwelling species, living in continual darkness have been known to eat their own limbs if food is scarce. Apart from their ugliness, they are harmless though their defence mechanism is to jump towards a threat rather than away from it.

Probably one of the last insects you will see before winter

The Korean camel-cricket has a somewhat bad reputation as it is associated with the parasitic worm Koreans call the yeon-ka-shi  (연가시).

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Cricket Song (귀뚜라미)

Posted in Animals, seasons, vodcast by 노강호 on October 18, 2010

I captured the sound of a lonesome cricket (귀뚜라미) on a recent trip up the mountain.

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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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