Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Korean Kye and Geom-Gye 검계 in Dong Yi

Since even earlier than the 17th century Joseon period there were kye 계 organizations created by the people to help each other out in times of trouble. Life was hard especially when the local yangban were corrupt, so village kye were started in farming villages and the members would regularly pool together an agreed amount of money in preparation for hardships. Food, especially rice could also be pooled and members of the kye  helped each other in other ways too through cooperative farming and with social support, getting together for meetings and events. There were kye set up for weddings and funerals and parents’ 60th birthday parties which were all big, expensive events. The members contributed the agreed amount regularly so that there were funds available in preparation for a special occasion or sudden family loss and any member could collect a lump sum when it was needed. I think this is a great idea but I wouldn’t like to be the one in charge of collecting the money. There needs to be cooperation and trust for this to work! There’s information on Kye and more Korean history here.

Geum-gye leader Choi Hyo-won, Dong Yi, MBC

The Geom-gye in Dong Yi

In the drama Dong Yi, the Geom-Gye 검계 (geom means sword) is an organization made up of members of the  chonmin servant class to help other chonin when they have trouble or are ill-treated. We see the Geom-Gye help slaves escape by  fighting off slave hunters and then providing the runaway slaves with transportation and probably food and lodging when they arrive at their destination. Continue reading

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Calligraphy Lesson 3

I like the pace of this course. Every week (still only in week 3 though) I’m given a new stroke to practise. Today I arrived a few minutes early to get settled and begin the warm up (below) as I find that I really need this time to calm down and clear my head. Korean conversations go on around me as more students arrive and set up their work, getting ink stones from the cupboard at the back of the room or cups of tea from the refreshment table. I think this warm up could be used for various psychological tests including personality assessments or even as a (cheap) lie-detector test because  I can see that my state of mind really affects my strokes. For example, if I’m in a hurry and can’t be bothered to brush enough of the excess ink off on the side of the ink stone before I start, then I get a thick blotchy line that gets bigger and uglier as the ink soaks into the paper (see top line below). If I lose concentration, the line starts veering off in the wrong direction. If someone comes and looks over my shoulder then there’ll be a little hiccup in the line or it will wobble because I suddenly feel nervous. So I bet it would be possible to asses if someone were telling the truth by making them paint straight lines and interrogating them as they go. Then all we’d have to do is assess the wobbles and hiccups in the lines. This test could also be used at job interviews to reveal personality traits such as if the candidate is able to pay attention to detail. I’m obviously not able to, because my lines don’t even start or end at the same level as each other which reveals (I bet) that I’m a generalist and not a specialist. I think I’m on to something here.

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A Calligraphy Exhibition and Calligraphy Lesson 2

Seoul Opera House

This is one of my favourite buildings in Seoul – the opera house at the Seoul Art Centre. Korean historical drama fans will notice that the roof of the building is shaped like the headwear (갓) worn by the aristocratic yangban in the Joseon period (see below).

Ji Jin Hee as King Sukjeong dressed as a yangban in Dong Yi, MBC Continue reading


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紙筆硯墨 지필연묵 My First Calligraphy Class in Seoul

I’ve been meaning to join a calligraphy class for ages because I wanted to do something artistic and finally I did it.  The first class was last Thursday afternoon at the local culture centre. Each term lasts for three months (30,000 won, very cheap) and the classes are once a week. I was told by the ladies at reception when I applied for the course that I’d have to bring all my own stuff : – ink 먹, paper 종이, brush 붓, as the only thing they have there are the ink stones벼루. I did a bit of calligraphy in Japan years ago and still had some brushes. So I dug those out and bought a stack of paper and a bottle of ink from the local stationary shop with the dream that I will soon be writing beautiful hangul…

I have a talent, but it is for always arriving just that little bit too late for events where it would be a lot better to arrive 10 minutes early. I did it again for the first lesson. I was only five minutes late but the teacher was already at the front of the class talking to a packed room of students sitting at long rows of tables with dark blue felt tablecloths. The teacher was indicating towards the two lines of hanja he had written on the board and the students were quietly copying it down into their notebooks. I was very confused since I had signed up for the hangul 한글 lessons not hanja 漢字. Perhaps if I had arrived ON TIME I would have known what was going on. I discovered later that the sentences on the board were a Korean poem and that at the beginning of each lesson for about 30 minutes we’ll learn a new poem and the teacher introduces the meaning and reading of the hanja and we read the poem out loud together. I like this. Continue reading


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The Bad Omen, Dong Yi Ep 5

The King has invited Jang ok-jong, his concubine, back into the palace but the Queen Mother, Tebi Mama, and the western faction are not happy about this. They don’t trust her and want to get rid of her. So they plan an incident that will cause the musical instruments in the palace to play out of key at the Prince’s birthday banquet causing um-pyon (음변 音變 – sound + change)  musical disharmony. They know that the um-pyon will be interpreted as a bad omen that predicts the coming ruin of the country.

Banquet scene for the Prince, Dong Yi Ep 5 MBC

Just as they planned, during the birthday celebrations when the musicians start to play, the pitch of the instruments is off and the musicians play out of time with each other. Continue reading

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Korean Wave Stars at the 63 Building

I stumbled over some famous names in the world of the Korean wave while visiting the 63 building in Yoido, Seoul, last weekend. Guess who?

We went there because there’s a photo exhibition by Korean photographers on at the moment I wanted to see at the Sky Art gallery on the 60th floor of the 63, (yuk-sam) building. But we bought tickets for the “Big Three” which includes the Wax Museum, Sky Art and viewing deck and Sea World. (We were just like the other couples on dates doing this too, even if they were half our age).

The Wax museum

The exhibition included world leaders, historical figures, musicians, artists, and sportsmen, and a room with a table with Jesus and the disciples for The Last Supper where we could have our photo taken at the table with them. (I didn’t do this) Then in one room I saw four heavy-weights from the Korean Wave…. Continue reading

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