Thursday, July 29, 2010

Good-bye Songsan.

I’m very sad to say that today is my last day in Korea. The last seven weeks have been truly wonderful and I will have many fond memories of my stay in Songsan. I’ve eaten some excellent food and some very strange food, seen wonderful sights, and got to prepare some really great ankylosaur fossils at the lab. Robin and Scott and I have had a great time.

I’m so grateful for all of the people who have helped me out for the last two months – Dr. Lee for hosting me on this research abroad visit, Yun for all of his help at the lab and around town, and Choon-Hyung, Pak-Jin, and Jin-Young for their patience at my lack of Korean and their excellent lunchtime cooking!

Tomorrow Robin returns to Canada and Scott and I head off to Beijing for two weeks of research and the Flugsaurier Symposium. Stay tuned for more updates!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Happy Suwon

Before we headed to the Korean Folk Village we had a bit of a stroll around the streets near the Suwon train station. There is a great pedestrian street with lots of interesting shops and restaurants.

I loved the jumble of signs! Although it was quiet in the morning, by the time we returned for dinner it was bustling with lots and lots of people.

The sign says “bee-eh kae-been” – beer cabin. Moose! Feels like home?

For dinner we ate at a Japanese-Korean fusion restaurant and had some very tasty chicken and seafood dishes. As appetizers, however, we got a bowl of interesting looking pine-cone-like things...silkworm larvae! Presumably this is a byproduct of the silk-getting (silking? Seriously, what do you call it?) process. They were cooked, and not squishy but not exactly crunchy. It took me a long time to decide to eat it. They tasted like Zojig’s canned crickets smell. I will probably not partake of the cooked silkworm larvae again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Korean Folk Village, part 3: in which there is general silliness

For an extra 3000 won (about $3) you could go in the Korean haunted house! Spooky! It was just about the best 3000 won I’ve ever spent. Winding through dark corridors you would occasionally set off a blacklight-lit scene with little animatronics. Spooky characters included a bat eating a person, giant Arthropleura-like centipedes, someone getting pounded to death in a grain mill, and a snake coiling around a person. There were frequent appearances by a monster with a red face and a horn coming out of its forehead – presumably a monster from Korean folklore?

A popular Korean historical drama was filmed at the village, and there are costumes to try on for photos. I figure the hat fits pretty well.

Robin liked the Korean hats! (They were hot and strange.)

Scattered around the grounds were recreation pavilions with musical instruments and board games. There were also these really strange wicker tubes that you were supposed to lie down and hug. Very strange!

Korean Folk Village, part 2: in which there are flora and fauna

A traditional folk painting in Korea includes a tiger, a magpie, and a pine tree, and is called a jakhodo. The pine tree is a symbol of the first month of the year, the tiger has power to chase away evil spirits, and magpies were good omens that brought good news. I like these very much!

One of the very best things we saw at the Korean Folk Village was the process for getting silk from silkworms! I never had a very good idea of this process, and it was really neat to see how it was done in the old days. The silkworm caterpillars are allowed to create their cocoons, and then the pupae are put into boiling water. A few strands are caught from 5-10 pupae, and then wound up onto a rotating wheel. It was really fascinating but also kind of gross, because the pupae bob around in the water in a very disturbing way.

We were also quite delighted by these amazing red, black and white beetles. They could really jump! Any bug people out there have any idea what kind of beetle we saw? (His head is towards the top of the picture.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Korean Folk Village, part 1: in which there is edutainment

Last Saturday we headed in to Suwon to visit the Korean Folk Village. I would highly recommend making the trip in to Suwon if you’re ever visiting Seoul or other nearby cities in Korea. The village is a reconstruction of many different styles and types of Korean buildings – scholar’s homes, temples, palaces, governor’s mansions, or the farmer’s thatched roof cottage (THATCHED ROOF COTTAGES!) shown here. There are so many interactive elements to the whole place - you can learn to make paper, straw sandals, and pottery, or you can try your hand at farm machinery, try catching a mudloach, wear traditional clothes, sit in a palanquin, and tons of other little activities. The three of us learned a lot about traditional Korean culture, AND had a lot of fun – true edutainment. The whole place is a little bit like Fortress Louisbourg in Cape Breton, or Fort Edmonton Park.

Robin and I wrote wishes on little pieces of paper and tied them to the strings on this rock pile. I wished for good specimens during my Gobi fieldwork in August. Robin wished for something lame like health and happiness for her family...

There appeared to be a working Buddhist temple set a little ways off the main paths. Up many sets of stairs and gardens was a beautiful building with this gold Buddha and fruit offerings.

One of my favourite things we saw on Saturday was a traditional farmer’s drum and dance performance. Several of the men were wearing these amazing streamer hats. The sticks on the back of the hats can swing around freely in a circle, and attached to the end is a streamer. By flicking their heads in different directions, the dancers could produce amazing streamer patterns that were completely amazing to watch.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


We went to the beach this weekend!

The beaches are found on Jebudo, or Jebu Island, a short bus ride from Songsan. We had a wonderful afternoon looking for shells, admiring the scenery, and getting sunburnt.

There were some very nice rock formations, and apparently some hawks like to nest on the rocks behind me. At high tide you cannot drive on or off of the island, because the causeway becomes flooded (the “Miracle of Moses” as folks like to call it here).

I realize the last few posts have been a bit dinosaur-light, but luckily we were able to find this excellent specimen of Euoplocephalus with armour in situ.

And Scott found a very nice Centrosaurus!

I also kind of childishly insisted on having dinner in the boat restaurant...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Korean Food Adventures, part whatever the part it is now.

I realize a lot of the food posts probably make it seem like the cuisine over here is all live octopi and anglerfish and things that are very unusual to the North American palate. While everything is certainly different, not all dishes are as extravagantly odd. Hushik nangmyeon are cold dessert noodles that I have heard are very common snacks in the summertime. There are really thin noodles, cucumbers, radishes, melons, half of a hardboiled egg, and sesame seeds. It is quite tasty and certainly nice at the end of the meal!

The noodles can be challenging to eat, however. Too slippery!

Ok, I need to include one more extravagantly odd dish. Can you guess what the spicy meat on the grill is? Hint: it’s not squid, as we initially thought....’s pig intestines!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Taking the Seoul Train, part 2

During our visit to Seoul we also visited the National Folk Museum, which was quite interesting. They have a series of Saturday traditional dance and music performances, and we were treated to a wonderful group of traditional dancers. My favourite number involved dancing with hourglass-shaped drums.

Magpies are good luck in Korea!

These are jangseung, Korean totem poles or tikis. They usually stand at the entrance to a town or village to ward off daemons and mark village boundaries.

Acupuncture dolls!

These are stone scholars that would have marked graves of important people.

Some of the stone figures had very strange faces!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Taking the Seoul Train, part 1

Scott and I trekked in to Seoul on Saturday and visited Gyeonbok Palace. The palace was founded in the 14th century, during the Joseon Dyanasty. It was a monsoon day in Korea but that meant the crowds were pretty thin and we had a great day.

There are 36 stone figures around the main hall, Geungjeong-jeon. One of my favourites was this turtle monster, called a dusky warrior turtle. Perhaps an inspiration for Gamera?

There were many excellent statues around the grounds.

Scott says hello to a new friend.

This is the garden behind Gyotae-jeon, the Queen’s residence. The chimneys have various symbolic animals on them. We learned that cranes and turtles represent longevity, butterflies and flowers represent fertility, and, somewhat surprisingly, bats represent wealth.

This is Hyangwon-jeong, a garden for relaxation. We saw two ducklings slowly making their way across the tops of the lily pads here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hwaseong dinosaur eggs.

The Hwaseong dinosaur egg site is just a 15 or 20 minute walk from the visitor centre across the salt marsh. The nests are found in these little island outcrops, which look as though waves were crashing on them just yesterday.

Scott and Robin ponder the taphonomy and geology of the egg-bearing strata. The outcrops all show multiple fining-upward packages and we saw eggs in at least two levels.

We were surprised that eggs could be preserved in such a coarse conglomerate. You can see how angular the clasts (rocks) are within the outcrop, which indicates that the pebbles and cobbles were not transported very far or for very long. We were thinking they were debris flows, but we will need to read up on the geology of the area. Weathering of the outcrops makes the rock look almost volcanic.

Despite being found in such coarse rock, the nice round eggs are uncrushed and not broken up. They also seem to be found in a finer sandstone, with the coarse conglomerate around them. Could the nests have been dug into the conglomerate? Were the nests preserved during debris flows or floods? How did the eggs survive in such good condition? Geology is full of problem solving fun!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Korean Food Adventures, Part 3

On days ending with a two and a seven, the Sagang Market just next to our motel hosts a farmer’s market. All kinds of rice, vegetables, and fish are for sale, as well as clothes, shoes, and garden or kitchen tools. I’m always amazed by the variety of fish available!

The fish comes dried, fresh, or on sticks. The red things are dates; we’ve had them in a beef soup (galbi tang) and the flavours actually went really well together.

Some of our food adventures have to do with the unusual product names for certain things around here. Our favourite commercials are for DK, which looks like Mountain Dew, and Pocari Sweat, which is an ‘ion supply drink’. Robin and I decided to give it a go, despite its rather unappealing name.

“I like sweat”? Well, bottoms up!

Pocari Sweat was sweet, but had a distressingly black pepper-flavoured aftertaste. We were not huge fans. But I guess at least it didn’t taste like sweat...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The role of natural history museums.

Regular work was put on hold on Friday as the museum hosted a pretty sizable conference, the International Symposium on National Natural History Museum in Gyeonggi Province. Korea currently does not have a such a museum, and one proposal is to situate the museum near the current lab and visitor centre at the egg site. The presenters included the director of the Natural History Museum in London, the director of the Museum National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, and the social science analyst at the Smithsonian in Washington, as well as several researchers from Korea.

I was interested in particular in the discussion by the British Museum’s director, on the role of natural history museums today. He brought up some interesting points about educating the public about biodiversity, climate change, and extinction, and in generally increasing interest in science. I was surprised to hear that there has been a marked decrease in student interest in the sciences in the UK, and was wondering if the same has been true for Canada and the US. I sometimes wonder if natural history museums preach to the choir, in that only people who are already interested in educating themselves will actually go to the museum. If museums want to educate the public, and perhaps have an active role in preventing science public relations disasters like Climategate, then they need to somehow be reaching the people who aren’t interested in science literacy. I don’t know how this can be achieved, but it is interesting to think about. What attracts people to natural history museums?

Also, we got to wear these totally rad translator radios so we could hear the interpreter translate the Korean speeches. Stylish!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More fun at the lab.

We’ve had a couple of really nice sunny days in Hwaseong, the first properly sunny days since I arrived in Korea. So, you get some nice outside pictures today!

Construction on a boardwalk out to the egg site is moving along very quickly, and I suspect the boardwalk will be finished later this week or next. The boardwalk will provide a nice dry and non-muddy surface to walk on, and will also protect the surrounding marsh.

As an interesting aside, just beyond the egg site islands is a small creek, and beyond that is the boundary for a Universal Studios theme park that should be completed around 2014. This whole area will probably be completely unrecognizable in a few years, with the addition of the theme park, natural history museum, and other amenities going up.

Just off the patio at the visitor centre is this really cute giant dinosaur egg sitting area. Watched over by Charcharodontosaurus? Robin for scale.

The beginning of the road leading to the museum is marked by these charming fellows, a possible stegosaur and sauropod. Part of the words written on them are Kong Lyong or Kong Ryong, which means dinosaur, but we have not figured out the rest yet.

A handsome fellow indeed!