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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Korean Dining: A Feast For the Palate and the Soul

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Korean food has definitely zoomed into the worldwide spotlight in the past few years. Always delicious, aesthetically intoxicating as it sits before you, and a veritable aerobics class for one’s taste buds, Korean food is taking the international culinary scene by storm.  From New Zealand to New York, Korean restaurants are converting thousands of new initiates daily into Korean food junkies. According to Robert Lee a contributor at eHow food, “New York City is full of great restaurants, and some of its Korean restaurants claim to be among the best in the world.”

But Korean food in and of itself, is only half the picture. Perhaps equally important is the cultural phenomenon of communal dining. The “yin” to this “yang” is the importance that Koreans attach to the meaning of togetherness. There is the very real sense when eating in Korea that the community, be they family or friends, or a combination of both, comes together to share in the bounty of nature. It’s communal dining where more is merrier.
Korean dining is a communal experience. The more people, the merrier. Most food is shared, unlike the western approach with individual servings
This communal process is demonstrated in how food is served as well.  Unlike western style, the emphasis is on sharing. Numerous small dishes, called panch’an (반찬), are laid in the middle of the table for all to share. Popular panch’an dishes include kimchee (김치), cold bean sprouts (콩나물), spinach (시금치나물), seaweed (미역무침), pancakes with scallions (파전) and various potato dishes (감자), amongst countless, delicious, others. In the center of the table are the main courses—these too are shared by all. Only rice and soup are typically served individually.
Panch’an (반찬), an endless array of small dishes, are laid in the middle of the table for all to share
Some say that per capita Korea could possibly have the most restaurants in the world. Daegu would certainly not be the exception with marvelous restaurants lining nearly every block of this great city. But it is important to note that when it comes to Korean food, “dining well,” is not just a matter of eating good food, it is equally about “eating well”--the very process of how Koreans eat their food: together, in community, and sharing by cultural design. It is this latter aspect of Korean dining which makes every meal in Daegu, a feast for both the palate and the soul.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Daegu Deja Vu: Daegu Universities, Then and Now

My most memorable moment on any college campus occurred in Daegu years ago. As a young instructor of English my Korean students were constantly asking me questions about my background: my age, my hometown, which university I graduated from. One day a student asked, “Professor, what was your major subject area?” Without thinking much about it, I responded that my major was American history. The student seemed genuinely perplexed. “Professor, American history is only two-hundred years old. How can that be a major? Korean history, is 5,000 years old,” he continued, “That is a major.”
For me, that conversation stands frozen in time. I was confronted by the realization that my native country was indeed, relatively speaking, only in its infancy compared to say, Korea’s long history. I was humbled by my own naiveté and unintended arrogance.
Then, Keimyung Christian College (now Keimyung University) students in the spring of 1974. Note the Indiana University sweatshirt
The Korean university classroom of that time (the 1970’s) featured rubberized blackboards that made legible writing awkward. Chalk was often a rare commodity. Typically, classrooms were poorly lit and ineffectively heated. In spite of all these challenges, students had an intense interest in learning English.
Co-ed students on the campus of Keimyung Christian College in 1974
Fast-forward several decades. I hope I am a wiser and more thoughtful teacher today. Certainly, Daegu’s universities and colleges have evolved. Most campuses compete on an international stage. Students hail from around the world. Classrooms boast state-of-the-art equipment, heating and air-conditioning. In Keimyung and Yeungnam Universities, Daegu has two of the most prestigious private universities outside Seoul. Kyungbook National University is one of the most highly ranked national universities in Korea. It holds first place in and around the city in many fields.
Several of Daegu’s universities today. Clockwise from top-left: Yeungnam University,Kyungbook National University, Keimyung University, and Daegu Catholic University
Daegu’s large university hospitals make the city the medical hub of southeastern Korea. Kyungbook National University Hospital and Dongsan Hospital, which is partnered with Keimyung University, were founded in 1907 and 1899, respectively. Yeungnam University Medical Center has the largest number of beds in the area. These institutions, along with Daegu Catholic Medical Center, ensure that Daegu has the second largest medical capacity outside of Seoul.
Keimyung Christian College, Administration Building, in 1974
Keimyung University, In-town Campus, Today
And, oh yes, another relatively new sight which can be witnessed on the many university campuses that dot today’s Daegu—couples unabashedly holding hands. While it was common to see women and even men holding hands with members of the same sex in the 70’s, hand-holding between people of the opposite sex was simply not acceptable then.
All eyes however, are on the future. Yeungam University proudly envisions itself primed with global competence and leaping ahead from being a renowned local private university, to becoming one of the world’s most prestigious international universities. Don’t doubt a country with 5,000 years of history and an insatiable appetite for achievement.
Keimyung Christian College student (center) speaking with high school students in 1975. Note girls’ uniforms of that era

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Daegu Déjà Vu: Daegu, Then and Now

"I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man and enjoy the sweet security of the streets."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We know a great city by the lightness in our step, by the excitement reflecting off its wet pavement, by the intriguing smells wafting on the wings of the late night air. Daegu has that great city feel that one gets when you reach the top of the subway exit and the rest of the evening beckons you with its carefree spirit.

Great cities have great pedigrees. Daegu was the provincial capital during the Joseon Dynasty. More recently, it was the site for the founding of two of the world's leading companies, Samsung and Kolon Industries.
Downtown Daegu (1974), note the absence of private cars

Size: Korea’s 4th largest city; 2.5 million population
Name: Daegu, formerly Taegu, means “large hill”
Nick Names: Textile City, Apple City
Commercial Focus: fashion, education, high tech Industries, manufacturing, agriculture
Administrative Divisions: Daegu is divided into 7 districts (Gu’s)
Sister Cities: Daegu has 9 “Sister Cities” and 6 “Friendly Partner Cities” 

Just a few short decades ago Daegu was the fascinating intersection of a rural past and a heart palpitating future--what we know as the Daegu of today. Private cars were a rarity and deliveries were made by men pushing homemade carts. Apartments were largely on the drawing board. The city went to sleep at about 10 PM--thanks to a national curfew. Rice was not available in restaurants two days a week due to rationing.
Colorful Movie Marquee,  a Daegu Cinema circa 1974
Today's Daegu is seen as a leader from sports to commerce. The city of Daegu has been selected to host international athletic competitions such as the 2011 World Championships in Athletics and the FIFA World Soccer Cup, thanks to its world-class sports venues and accommodations. Industry too is drawn to Daegu due to its knowledge-based service sector and its supportive climate for business.

Ice-skating on Su-Seong Lake, Daegu (1974)
As noted by Longfellow, it's easy to have an affection for a great city--and Daegu IS a great city by almost any measure. 

Downtown Daegu Today

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Big Man on Campus

“Higher education provides considerable value to individuals, to the economies where
educated individuals live and work, and society in general." 
                                                             Hill, Hoffman and Rex, Arizona State University 

If you are thinking of Daegu in terms of business, career development, or for personal reasons, you've come to the right place. You are unlikely to find a metropolitan area with more top universities and colleges that are so easily accessible. Amongst the nearly 25 institutions of higher learning you will discover:
-Kyungbook National University, one of the highest ranked national universities in Korea,
-Daegu University, recognized as one of Korea's top universities for special education, rehabilitation science and social welfare programs,
-Keimyung University, which many observers believe has the most beautiful college campus in Korea,
-Yeungnam University, with its nearly 30,000 students, has been designated as one of the best universities in the fields of business and international trade.
Big Man on Campus, Yeungnam University
According to researchers, "economies that have experienced substantial investment in either private or public institutions of higher learning, have realized considerable growth and prosperity" (Hill, et al). Daegu fits that description with significant long term higher education investments in technology, research and infrastructure. 

Yeungnam University may be the best example. On its campus of more than 900 acres, Yeungnam features both the very old and the state-of-the-art; the campus hosts a historical Korean folk village and it is also the site of the Kyungbook Techno Park. Daegu's world class subway system recently expanded the terminus of its green line to Yeungnam University's main gate. Each morning thousands of students, faculty and staff enter the university, generating an academic pulse that eventually circulates throughout the whole economy.
Yeungnam freshmen during Spring orientation 
Yeungnam, which dates from 1947, was founded in its current form by Korea's former president, Park Chung-Hee. By any number of measures including acreage, number of students, number of buildings, and number of employees, Yeungnam University is one of Korea's largest institutions of higher learning. Yeungnam includes a medical school and teaching hospital in Daegu, and an expansive, verdant campus in the adjacent city of Gyeungsan. Demographically, the university's population includes several thousand foreign students. Its Foreign Language Institute alone, has a staff of more than fifty native English speakers who teach English to thousands of Yeungnam students.

Cherry blossoms near Yeungnam Library  
Daegu and its satellite towns are a true epicenter for learning and knowledge creation. Collectively, the cities and towns here in the Daegu region continue to realize growth and prosperity thanks to its vibrant network of outstanding and diverse universities and colleges.