Friday, July 5, 2013

Korean #3: Chonbuk University in "Korea's Gastronomical City"



I am now a three-week summer-term student at Chonbuck National University, a nationally-funded institution in Joenju, Korea.  Think of Michigan, Washington or Utah.  Very large campus, new buildings, 30,000 students, a full menu of disciplines and research institutes.  When one of my professors was a child, this was a rice field (and there’s still one in the center of campus, plus greenhouses). Fifty-five years old, It aspires to be a top 100 university in the world.

It’s located in a city of 650,000 which UNESCO has declared a “Creative City for Gastronomy.”  Cars seem newer than at home, there’s a profusion of small businesses plus super-department stores, large parks and abundant natural areas, mountains, and lots of apartment buildings.  It’s a modern regional capital an hour from the sea.

I arrive at mid-day with the expectation that taxi drivers will get me to “dae ki suk sa,” a dormitory at Chonbuk, and that some would speak English.  Wrong.  In interaction with about 40 taxi drivers in the next two days, none spoke English or knew where to take me unless the destination was written in Korean. My pronunciation, which I thought mimicked exactly what I had heard, was so inaccurate that there was no place called “Chonbuk.”  Had I gotten off the bus too soon?

In Korean there are 10 vowels to which 14 consonants can be attached.  Intonations are critical.  The same word can have a half dozen meanings depending on context. It is a syllabic language, i.e. each syllable is a word, as in dai ki suk sa. The written language is said to be simple enough to acquire a basic understanding in ten hours.  Seen printed, it is perfect for scanning, clean and blocky.  In the hands of a master, Korean script, on the other hand, can be a thing of beauty. 

On the first day I happen upon the Calligraphy Museum which was featuring the work of a single, late great calligrapher.  Here is his picture and that of his son.  
 

I arrive at mid-day and therefore miss orientation.  So I twice try to chase after what I think is my class at a heritage village called Hanok, to no avail (plus it is not my class).  Once, I get dropped off miles in the wrong direction at the national theatre.  But, as with many “mistakes,” it cut me loose to explore.  Here are pictures of a poor hillside neighborhood near Hanok:







 

When all this settles down, in the morning I am studying healthy living through Korean cuisine and nutrition for three hours with Professor Won Song, a Korean native teaching at Michigan State.  She works with AID on world-wide hunger issues, which is great for me.  In the afternoon, Professor Jeong Duk Yi, an anthropologist, teaches “An Introduction to Korean Culture” for another three hours.  By then, I’m pooped.

Staying with me in Boise this summer is an actor with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival who writes a popular food blog, thisoldchef.com.  David McCann should be here to describe the food here in “the food capital of Korea.”

Even the cafeteria food is tasty, once you decide that a little kimchi goes a long way.  Every Korean meal should contain foods with five colors: green, yellow, red, white and black.  Rice, of course, lots of salads, soups, noodles, yogurt and abundant vegetables.  Many go out for dinner and more than a few for drinking, but more on that later.

Students are from Korea, all over Asia and a few from Europe, Africa and the U. S.  The largest contingent is 60 or so Muslims from Malaysia.  Here are some new friends:
 

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