108 times!

I'll get into serious trouble for saying this truism: Koreans bow a lot. Why this seems to be so has been my academic quest this summer. There are apparently unique "bowing" rituals here beyond the still-omnipresent social bows and kowtows that are primarily Confucian in origin. Confucian-inspired bowing on this social level establishes everyone's social rank ... acknowledement that there are elders and juniors, those with rank and those without.

The Greeting Man, by YOO, Young-Ho.

This is also the home (for Christians around the world) of the very famous early morning prayer meetings. See this short clip:

Early morning prayers and prostrations for the Christians began over a century ago in some historic evangelistic revivals in what is now North Korea. To this day, many will say that the numerical success of Christianity here, and the success of the nation, lies explicitly in this practice of debasing, self-effacing, face-to-the-ground bowing and prostration. The spiritual logic: when one is in full spiritual compliance, as in prostration-prayer, then one's divinity is able to bless one more. Become spiritually empty of Self and Ego, to be spiritually filled.

This idea of spiritual "merit" or "advantage" occuring while only in the prostation position/attitude has Buddhist expression as well. Korean Buddhism is quite vibrant and diverse. However, one explicit contribution and consistent practice of Korean Buddhism (especially its Seon or Zen expression) is the "108 Prostrations of Great Repentance." I urge the reader to click the video below and engage in the full 25-minute experience. 

Here is a short video on how to bow in Korean Buddhism. For those wondering about whether this constitutes "worship" the usual response is "no," but it is honoring.

The "108 Bows" is now an integral part of the TempleStay experience that draws many Korean nationals and foreign travelers to the Temples. It seems to be a uniquely Korean Buddhist ritual, although it has traveled

What Buddhists do here is 108 bows at a time. There can be music, or accompanyimg words like the video above, but the number 108 is important.

Why 108? Many explanations exist. One is that there are 108 different kinds of delusions and illusions that plague the habits of the brain. Another explanation comes from Hinduism, which predates Buddhism: The "1" stands for one truth. The "0" represents emptiness, and the 8, when turned on its side, recalls infinity. One monk told me that we have 6 senses (including the mind), times 3 deluded minds (ignorance, lust and anger), times 2 states (craving & non-craving), times 3 periods (past, present, future) = 108. 

Prostration is a spiritual practice. They are the "horizontalizing of the mast of the ego". They are tough; not easy on the knees. One should want to perform them until one actually wants to perform them ... when Extrinsic becomes Intrinsic. Sometimes I see monks in the middle of their 1000+ prostrations, and sometimes even 10,000 plus (in one day!).

A brief analysis of the words: There are several spoken versions, and these spoken words are a very recent addition to Korean Buddhism, and unique to world Buddhism. First one bows in repentance for small mindedness, immodest living, not realizing the miraculous nature of each encounter. A second set of bows emphasizes one coming into more awareness and realization, such as "I prostrate for coming to realize that my deeds are the same as those of Buddha." Another set of bows are in gratitude, such as for realizing one's anger as a bad response to others' actions, so one bows in gratitude to one's "enemies." Finally, one bows as promises, as vows not to lead unthankful, small, truthless lives. 

The wonder of this ritual is that it has ties with many-a-religion. There are shamanistic recognitions that there are larger forces in your life. Confucian thankfulness for family, ancestors and trusted friends are part of these 108 bows. Christian gratitude for Creation, and Christian repentance both filter into these 108 bows as well.

One of the advantages of this 108 Prostrations is its portability. One does not have to be in a Temple or sacred space to perform them. This is Buddhism off the temple mat, but practiced on the mat of common places and common times. Buddhism is the ever-humbling of the ego, lowering oneself until you know your oneness with everything. This is not a temple-only, worship-only spiritual technology.  

So, with all the Korean ways of bows and prostrations to you, I hope to see you on, and off, the mat. 



This time, things get strange and weird.

Background: I have just finished a few weeks of teaching Shamanism and popular Daoism. Long discussion made short, many in Korean history have felt (and still feel) that the geography of Korea is alive ... alive with power, or spirits, and it is the human duty to harness and cooperate with these energies in order to build the most successful city, nation, and society.

I repeat: cooperate with these energies (or Ki in Korean, Chinese: 氣 Ch'i or Qi), and life will be successful. Interrupt these powers and disasters follow. Stay attuned to these Ki and supernatural powers, and the nation will survive.

Just like there are "maps" of the body's pressure points for accupressure, so too this map of the the Korean peninsula shows key "pressure points" where the earth's energies are especially potent. (They are along the mountain ranges.) Keep the energy moving, and society thrives.

Now, imagine you are the Japanese Empire in the previous century (Japan was the colonial power here from 1910 to 1945), and you wanted every possible advantage over the Korean peninsula which you now controlled. You will leave no stone unturned in your attempts to control Korea. Someone from the shamanist and popular Daoist traditions comes to you with an idea:

The energy in the land of Korea is strong. If we could interrupt
and destroy that energy, then our conquest of Korea would be so much easier. Let us therefore drive evil sticks (말뚝) into the power-places in Korea's geography and stop-up Korea's strong earth-power. Let us begin spiritual terrorism in Korea!

Spiritual Terrorism?

Koreans have recently discovered in their sacred mountain spaces many iron rods sunk deep into the earth. They believe these were placed by the Japanese to interrupt and stop Korea's ki. "They [Japanese] struck a spell to break the vein of this place. People could not find it because they put it secretly."*

This is akin to a sort of "evil acupuncture" to block energy flow. The Korean language suggests the iron rods impede the "blood" of the mountain. These rods were thought to clot that blood, to provoke a "spiritual collapse" of the country and its people.

Here are some pictures to illustrate; they come from other sources than my camera. [It gets weirder still; get past these pictures, and you'll see.]

Another set of pictures of a rod-extraction a rod is here.

Yesterday, I visited the House of Sharing for the third time. This is a place where some surviving "grandmothers" of Japaneses sexual slavery during WWII live. (See my blog on this last year.) A Japanese man recently planted a propaganda pole beside the emblematic statue where, each Wednesday, people demonstrate against Japan's refusal to apologize for these crimes outside the Japanese Embassy here in Seoul. The words on his "evil stick" read "Dokdo is Japanese territory." (Dokdo is a contested island close to Korea, but situated between the two countries.)

The actual video of him placing this and explaining why (in Japanese) is here

* * *

 All religions say the earth, especially its mountains, is in some way sacred. This blog is one report on how that is understood here.

Thanks to fellow Ewha University colleagues, IM, Eun-mi and Michael Pettid for their conversations with me about this.

* http://www.jsghnews.com/bbs/board.php?bo_table=tb41&wr_id=595



We are on pilgrimage, wherever we might be. Whether stuck in traffic, walking around the neighborhood, slowing down on the Labyrinth, or hiking the Camino de Santiago ... when seen in a certain attitude, every step may become a faith-full one. 

The marvels of this huge and noisy city are everywhere, if one takes the care to see them. Seen in a certain attitude, the hugeness of Seoul means one is never far away from some pilgrim's path. In that same certain attitude the huge noise of Seoul is just the static overlay covering over choruses of historic and current voices of faith. They're everywhere, if we can tune our ears.

Members of my class at Ewha this summer participated in a long day this week to visit three such sites. Come, and overhear.

(1) Jogyesa is the headquarters of the largest order of "Zen" or sitting Buddhism in Korea. Located in downtown Seoul, it is always a beehive of activity of prayers, incense, meditation, visitors, the faithful. Every time I have visited (now over ten times), the huge Dharma Hall has had a service of chanting or instruction in progress. Two trees nearly 500 years old each stand tall at two sides of this hall (shown at minutes 1:20" and 3:35" in the video just below). 

My students and I explored the area, visited the museum featuring an exhibition of Dharma Bells (example pictured below), and spent 15 minutes in quiet meditation.

Some more pictures: 
 Lotus is a classic metaphor for Buddhism; rooted in darkness, it grows up to a beautiful flower.

(2) One of our class members is Catholic, so our pilgrimage of faiths from Jogyesa took us to a Catholic Shrine on a small hill on the bank of the Han River. Jeoldusan Martyrs' Shrine (Jeoldusan literally means "Beheading Hill") was established to remember and honor the nearly 2000 Catholics who were martyred during the Byeongin Persecution of 1866. This was the fourth and last major execution of Catholics in Korea. On this site, up to 2000 Catholics were killed, by beheading or being thrown into the Han River from the cliff, shown here in an old painting just below. (Look closely at the painting.)

This is how it appears today.
The Chinese characters for "Beheading Hill"

Here are some more images from our visit: 

The above three commemorate some of the more famous martyrs.

YI Seung-hun, one of the first Catholic martyrs, killed in 1801

Jesus with a palm branch

Pope John Paul II visited here in May, 1984 to commemorate the country's 200th year of Catholicism. While here, he canonized 103 Korean martyrs.

St. Andrew KIM Taegon, the 1st Korean-born Catholic priest, and considered the patron saint of Korea; martyred in 1846 at the age of 25.

(3) The third stop for our little band of pilgrims was at the Seoul Central Mosque in Itaewon. A practicing Muslim is in the class. She actually broke her Ramadan month of fasting while here. This was her first visit to this mosque.

Women cannot enter the main prayer hall that the men use; they can go upstairs in a balcony area and offer their prayers. My student took the class members (we are an all-female class) to that balcony and showed them how to pray in Islam.

May your every step be a faith-full one!



First Lecture for my courses in Religion 

with Marc Mullinax

The following is a shortened outline of material to be presented on Days Two/Three in our course together.

All Power to the Imagination.
–Graffito on 14th Street, NW Washington, DC, January 1985 (then, a burned-out district)

Imagination: This course is about the imagination. Organized religion is ever an act of the imagination, developed in a cultural ways after a mystic experience leads to an interruption in the religious status quo (e.g., The Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Joseph Smith, to start a L-O-N-G list). Religion is always about how culture reacts to and takes over the mystics experience, and attempts to help that culture repeat that experience. [Culture is very skilled at one thing: repeating.] The more something gets repeated, the more “true” and “powerful” it becomes. Thus, truth becomes whatever gets repeated most and loudest; truth is whatever the culture has made into acceptable habit.

[Here, I will have a Magnet + Nail demonstration. The magnetism in the magnet gets transferred to the nail only by close proximity/repetition; metaphorically, picture yourself as the nail, and one’s culture-parents-education-religion-conditioning-socialization as the repetitive magnet.]

Start at 0:35"

Take-away #1: The more one is exposed to something, the “more true” one's imagination makes that something becomes. [This is Sociology 101.] For example, if one lives with gravity all one’s life, gravity becomes an automatic, background “given”. No one questions when you place your water glass on the table, whether or not it will stay there, or rise into the air. Additionally, I do not have to understand Newton’s experiments or law of universal gravitation, or “gravitons” in order to know gravity to be “true.”

Take-away #2: "People without imagination," wrote 20th Century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, "really have no right to write about ultimate things... Ultimate religious truth can only be grasped only in symbolic form. Only poets can do justice" to the great events of a faith. The power of a faith is expressed imaginatively. Thus, to be religious is to engage in acts of the imagination. For example, for the next minute, pray. After one minute of praying, reflect on what you just did, where the prayer "went", who "heard" it, and what's supposed to happen now. Think now: Did you pray in the last minute like you have always prayed, not thinking about the mechanics of the prayer? If so, culture and worldview have done their repeating work well.

The power of imagination, for those invested in social justice is here. This is NOT just an academic exercise! The correct use of religious imagination saves lives, da**it! The wrongful use of the imagination leads to murder! Can you say, "Charlottesville"?

Worldview: What is worldview? One’s worldview is the collection of habits of thought (e.g., there is a God, and that God is “up” in heaven; and any other view just isn't right); habits of practice (e.g., driving on the right or left and the “other side” just isn’t “right”); habits of viewing (e.g., a particular gender, nationality, race, religion, political party, etc., has certain attributes or attitudes that often get generalized, valued or even repudiated).

A worldview is one’s inner map from which one unconsciously negotiates all ones daily twists and turns, all of which are met with one’s internalized and habituated (magnet/nail) thoughts and actions, thoughts and actions which one shares with the majority of people in your part of the world. Those who do not share these thoughts and actions are “deviants”. In other words, you might (without really knowing how to articulate why) object to someone without your worldview marrying your son, daughter or best friend .

Here are three videos to take notes on:



I include three videos to let you know how important it is to "get this".

A worldview is your OS, your Operating System, and we are as loyal to them as we might be to more digital OS’s, such as Apple vs. Windows vs. Android.

Your worldview's main task is to "normalize" everything in your world. In the following video, you'll see examples of "normalized" beauty throughout the world. See this video NOT as a way to feel superior, but to acknowledge how different worldviews produce different ideas of beauty. 

Thought question: What does your culture have you do to your body to be more beautiful?

We know that we have a worldview first and most consciously when it gets challenged, and that challenge is often painful. This video (it has Parental Advisory language) demonstrates what I mean:

The young woman in the video above just got her worldview blown away, and it was not comfortable!

Most worldviews that originate in East Asia are monist, instead of dualist (this will take some unpacking). The yin/yang symbol is a good example of monist, in which one can have a lively interplay between complementing opposites, yet both opposites emerge from one single source. Another example from Asian religions is the idea of Brahman in India spirituality. In the West, however, dualist worldviews prevail. Opposites are not complementary, but opposing, not friendly to each other. And only one side can win. Think Jesus and Satan as often depicted in culture.

Spiritually speaking, one can depict monism and dualism in the metaphors of deep well and gas station, respectively. In monism, the source of ones being, energy, wisdom and peace is always within. The way one finds such is by going interior, going deep within oneself, and drawing out ones own deep well all one needs to live well. Contrast this with the gas station mode: one goes to a religious house about as often as one goes to the gas station, where one is injected from without with the energy and sustenance to live well.

Is your spiritual life more intrinsic (deep well) or extrinsic (gas station) to you? (I apologize for this dualist-oriented question!)

Religion? Next, religion is an imagined worldview foisted by the West upon Eastern traditions. Religion comes from “re-ligio” a Latin word often comes down to us to mean “to bind” together – such as gods and creation, heaven and earth – into a unified world. But even this meaning implies a dualistic worldview, where things are not naturally unified. Take-away: Religion is a Western, perhaps dualist-informed concept. I love what the Japanese did with the word religion when they translated the Western word in the 19th Century: 宗教: which means those foreign spiritual movements with doctrines and required membership. In a Monist understanding, religion does not compute because it is something that one compartmentalizes into one's life; but in Japan, one's spirituality is one's entire life, not something one does at special times, places or in special rituals.

In Asia, worldviews have been mostly monistic, where the Tao (or Buddhahood is a deep-well of wisdom that anyone can draw out of themselves, because each person is already the same stuff as the universe and its gods. There is no natural division, only unnatural and temporary divisions between earth and heaven, good and bad, time and eternity. One does not need a religion, for one is already ALL that one needs. (Critical Question to the reader: What good and what bad result from both monist and dualist worldviews?)

Most worldviews presented in our course together will be Dualist. In Dualism, only one side will (must!) win in what MUST be a struggle between light and dark, good and evil, high and low, spirit and flesh, heaven and hell. The following picture illustrates an extreme dualism.
 How dualist is faith in America? How much of an implicit dualism pervades American religiosity? ß Please stay with this question.

Three Levels of Religious Imagination: Whatever it is that we understand “religion” to be, it is an act of creativity, an act of the imagination. Just to say God means that ones brain has already been at work imagining what God is, looks like, his attributes, etc. Let me explain this in three movements or levels of thinking.

A-Level: The mystics who stand at the forefront and earliest history of a faith have had a massively life-changing vision of their ultimate reality, or god, or their universe at its most vital essence, which “changes everything”. Think Moses at his Burning Bush, or Buddha under his Bo Tree, or Muhammad (peace be upon him) receiving the Holy Qur’an from the archangel Gabriel in the cave in Hira. Think of strongly religious people you may know who have had a life-changing experience of their divinity. However, there is no way that Moses, Buddha, Muhammad or someone you know can actually translate exactly what happened in their BIG experience. It is essentially a mind/heart-opening, but mouth-closing experience, not easily translatable.

B-Level: But these people (or their disciples) “have to” say something! It’s like you, after a marvelous dream, or horrible nightmare, unable to express the full drama and content of what you have been through. But still, you try. And you try, and try. The words, however, are “fat-fingered” and clumsy, and only vaguely point to or translate that A-Level experience.

C-Level: This is where we all are (and it’s a pun, by the way). We are two levels away from the A-Level “OMG” experience of a mystic, who has had” to express his or her mystical experience in B-Level words that can never capture that experience, only “dumbed down in ways we understand. At C-Level, we share codified, "dumbed-down" language that we all can understand, but it is poor fare. So, all we get of Moses is that it was a burning bush, but that’s poetry for what really happened and could never make it into words. 

Religion as we know it is ever two levels away. It is where we all dwell: the pope, me, you, your favorite (and least favorite) religious people. At C-level, we can see scriptures, rituals, pilgrimages, prayers, and the like, all of which are efforts by religious people to get as close as they can to the “A-Level” experience themselves in their time and place.

Always two levels from an absolute God, the absolute best we can do is build linguistic stairways to the heavens to attempt to bridge the distance between our understanding and the mystics

Take-away: Every religion may be incomplete, misrepresentational, and even contains wrong-headed elements in it. But each faith is also, I feel, an honest attempt to bring meaning to a worldview. Religion is an attempt to bring meaning to a sometimes meaningless world. Religion is a necessary misunderstanding of the experience of God/Ultimate Reality.

This course is about how people articulate their beyond-language religious experience (A-Level) of a mystic in human language (B-Level) that gets codified into clumsy religious/cultural thought at C-Level. We can observe these C-Level phenomena in the religious languages of America.

At C-Level, religion is an act of the imagination; it is how we imagineer heaven and earth hand-shaking, of time cooperating with eternity, of this world sidling up to the next world. It is imaginative because nothing in religion is verifiable (or falsifiable) like in a Chemistry or Biology lab experience. And yet, even if it is imaginative and not based in verifiable-falsifiable scientific discourse, religion is powerful. Religion unifies people, gives them hope and comfort, gets them excited about doing good work in the world, and more often than not, makes the world a better place. This is why religion remains a viable force, and it is this force that gives our course its focus and content this semester.

So, a summary: Religion is an act of the imagination, (A) initiated originally by mysticism’s original “picture” of the divine, (B) reprinted or translated (partially) to others, who then try to (C) recreate that original “picture”, often without the benefit of the mystical experience.

The above, I hope, is provocative and question-raising for you. Please note your questions and objections for us. In the classes to come, we shall flesh out how our own understandings of religion, worldview and how the imagination works in culture. Welcome to class!

ø ø ø ø ø

Worldview Enrichment Viewing

The Lie We Live, a slightly disturbing challenge to some worldviews

They’re Made out of Meat!! A sci-fi story depiction of the power of worldviews. The story is by Terry Bisson, who published the story originally in OMNI Magazine in 1990.

This blog post is brought to you by the words Imagination, Habit, Worldview, Monism and Dualism.


"Classic" Korean Music

Korean classical music is very complex, and rests on a history longer than the age of my nation.

I was recently invited to a classical Korean music concert on the Ewha campus that included (and you will hear in the videos):

  • The Gayageum, a zither-like instrument that can have 13, 17, 18, 21, 22, or 25 strings.
  • The Haegeum, best described as a vertical fiddle with two strings, played with a bow.
  • The Daegeum, a large bamboo transverse flute with buzzing membrane that gives it a special timbre.
  • The Janggu, double-headed hourglass-shaped drum generally played with one stick and one hand.
The music professor in charge of the concert was KIM, Yusun, pictured here with me after the concert. She holds a Ph.D. in Korean Traditional Music. I received specific permission from her to post these videos.

Musical selection #1 is a calm, reflective and peaceful triptych, pieces played in the royal palace. 

Musical selection #2 is a surprise! Mozart's Concert for Flute, Harp and Orchestra (K.299), arranged for Western flute, gayageum and piano.

Still with me? Number three is a beautiful Arirang Medley (I recently blogged on this song).

Finally, a North Korean Gayageum music piece called "The Spring of Choso"

Thank you for considering Korean music!



The Long Denial: Truth Delayed, and Truth Denied

The Long Denial:
Truth Delayed &Truth Denied

The need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. For suffering is objectivity that weighs upon the subject. -Theodor Adorno, 1966
The Comfort Houses were our Killing Fields. -survivor of forced sex slavery by Japan in WWII, 2016

To politics falls the tasks of taking care of the present; and history is the act of remembering the past in the present. Both are art forms. 

Politics oftentimes finds history to be inconvenient truths, especially when current political chaos is rooted in history. As I write this (July 2016) in Seoul, several current events vie for our political attention, and because they intersect with history and memory, we ever-revisit them because the two-way conversation between the past and present is missing.

(1) The epidemic of US law actually failing, if not outright killing, African Americans is a clear-cut case of a heated political situation not willing to listen to the full sonic forces of U.S. history. Our chaotic story of racism is never fully addressed on countless levels, from the personal to the social, the economic to the political. To pull just one thread of a story of racism (and its denial) and hear just it without hearing the justice in the full range of other stories, is to wind up today in the USA with "Black Lives Matter" seen as an enemy of the status quo maintainers. As long as the full range of stories remain untold or denied, there will be no peace. Guaranteed.

(2) Here in Korea, among the many unheard stories, are 50,000 - 300,000 persons' histories that began, for our purposes, when they were teen-aged girls. Japan was the ruler of this country, and in World War Two its military strategy was to become a world power. We know how that ended. Along the way, however, acts of war require often unspeakable crimes.

They were called "Comfort Women" -- teen-aged Korean girls forcibly or deceptively ("You'll get a job at a place like Paradise.") taken from their homes, shipped to front lines across Asia, and forced into sexual slavery in Japanese "Comfort Stations". Sexual violence - rape - was a military strategy used by the Japanese.

Above and below:
Statue dedicated to "Comfort Women" of Korea outside the main gate of Ewha Womans University, Seoul

Japan lost the war. And from these surviving women, there was shame, silence and secrecy. Until 1991... 
For these fifty years, I have lived, by bearing and again bearing the unbearable. For fifty years, I have had a heavy, painful feeling, but kept thinking in my heart about telling my experience some day ... As I try to speak now, my heart pounds against my chest, because what happened in the past was something extremely unconscionable ... Why does the Japanese government tell such a lie to deny its knowledge of the comfort women system? Actually I was made into a comfort woman, and I am here alive. -Kim Hak-Soon-Source

Thus the log jam of historical secrecy broke open into ... politics. The political tilt of Japan since the war, and still today, is to deny culpability and apologize. (Maybe the Japanese feel Nagasaki and Hiroshima afford them this privilege?). Instead, Japan waits out the deaths of their former sex slaves (average age: 89), perhaps hoping that when the last survivor dies, their voices will re-enter history and leave the political field.

  • That waiting takes place every Wednesday outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul (Click for images here.)
  • That waiting takes place in an untold number of private places across Asia where former comfort women (Korean and other nationalities) still live in secret and in shame.
  • That waiting takes place at The House of Sharing near Seoul, where 60 other Ewha students, professors and I visited yesterday.

The waiting game is political: (1) In 2012 Japanese Prime Minister Abe said before the Diet that "there was no evidence that the 'comfort women' were abducted or taken by force."

(2) In 2013, the placement of comfort women memorials in Korea was quoted to be in "conflict with the views of the Japanese Government."

(3) In 2015 Prime Minister Abe said that "Japanese military 'comfort women' issue is not a political or diplomatic problem.

(4) In December 2015, an "agreement" occurred between Japan and Korea, whereby Japan acknowledged almost everything except their culpability, offering apologies and remorse for "immeasurable and painful experiences" and "incurable physical and psychological wounds." But for critics of the deal, Prime Minister Abe’s apology statement was not specific or convincing enough. He did not acknowledge the extent of official Japanese military involvement in the forced prostitution program nor detail the specific atrocities committed by the Japanese military.

A good video response to that "apology" by the survivors is just below. 

(5) Japan also refuses to include their stories in public school history textbooks. 

It felt a little bizarre to sing and dance with these survivors yesterday, but as I wrote in the last blog, the untying of "Han" might-need to include the arts. Here is a video I shot yesterday.

Maybe a "condition of truth" is to let suffering sing, and dance.
Full-spread documentary on the Comfort Women is just below; every one of its 52 minutes is good and worthy. Click even if
you have just five minutes right now: 

Thank you for reading, and Considering Korea.


What are ARIRANG and HAN?

When I sing Arirang, I always feel at ease. It's like I carry my own home wherever I go. -Jazz vocalist NA, Yun Seon

I have mentioned both the traditional song Arirang (unofficial national anthem of Korea, North or South) and the idea of Han (feelings of unsolvable pain, loss or guilt) before in this blog. Why these two Korean words together? 

Han, first.

However, this blog just can't do it: the printed word alone does not bring the non-Korean reader anywhere close to the understanding of Han that a Korean will share with this concept. Who in the readership has had their country repeatedly invaded and colonized by foreign imperial forces? (Probably none.) Who among us has truly had their head forced underwater continually (and for generations) and by ever-ready forces of class hierarchy, or race, or gender (Perhaps a few.)

Han is a most difficult concept to explain in this antiseptic blog setting. So I must ask forgiveness; to translate Han (like key words of any language) robs it of its culturally embedded meaning. This is not a put-down of my readers, but I doubt the long- and out-standing sorrow, rancor, regret, grief, persecution, injustice, lamentation, and reproach that is Han has made personal visits to many of our lives. I speak of such feelings that so marinate in the active and passive recipes of oppressive life until they become the very breath, blood and soul-ache of a person, a family, a clan, or even a nation. Han is the collective trauma that one wakes up with every morning, that gets no resolution in the waking hours, nor does its visitation in one's dreams bring relief. 

Even though rooted in the historical, han has modern and universal applications. Han is experienced by the anyone marginalized, by the single parent struggling to support children, by the bullied student, by the worker with an unfair boss.

Occasionally there are reprieves of joy, release and lightness of being. But these are not as frequent as the daily assignments of Han

From such a cultural crucible, one can only imagine the effect that the psychological landscape of Han has made upon the arts: painting, dance, music, and songs. To resolve, sublimate and "untie" Han is a task of such arts. To name something with art is hope to endure. It is a mercy in the ever-present shadow. To accompany Han with artistic expressions is to share Han collectively. To share means to survive.

Thus, Arirang, the second term of this blog.

Let's first listen to it, one of four versions:

1. Jazz musician George Winston

2. Yuna Kim the figure skater competing to the song

3. Simple and traditional

4. If you view only one link, THIS is it! This video gives history, context and a sense of the layers of meaning attached to Airirang.

Lyrics are diverse and thus many interpretations abound. Here is one:
Here is the score of the most popular version today.

A movie called "Arirang" from 1926 is now thought to be irretrievably lost. It concerned a freedom fighter from the 1919 rebellion against Japan in Korea (Japan was the colonizing, imperial power in Korea from 1905 - 1945). This commemorative stamp is from that movie.

For good reasons the song Arirang was selected in 2012 by UNESCO as is an "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" from South Korea, and in 2014 as the same Cultural Heritage from North Korea. The UNESCO video from the North Korean citation is well worth the time.

This blog will have more on Han soon, in relation to the group of so-called "Comfort Women" created within South Korea. Until then, know of my thanks for your reading.