Posts Tagged ‘Birthday’

May Day

Back in 2013 I started the annual tradition of summiting the nearest mountain in the pre-dawn hours of my birth-day. The idea being that I wanted to watch the sun, rise over my new year of life.

I’m honestly not sure where the idea came from, but at the time I was living at a camp nestled on the southern slopes of Oahu, Hawaii’s – Waianae Mountain-range. I was in convenient proximity to a whole string of mountains, so… Why not?

I did not know it at the time, but the idea of watching the sun,rise over a new year, is totally Korean. In-fact thousands, nae. Probably millions of Koreans gather on all the various mountaintops across the peninsula to watch the sun, rise into the cold January sky on the first day of the new year. Coincidentally, this new years day is also a universal ‘birthday’ across Korea as each Korean ages one year regardless of their actual day of birth. Essentially any person born within the same calendar year  is the same age. Thus:  Age = Current Year – Birth Year + 1. Actual birthdays are acknowledged here but not necessarily celebrated outside of childhood.

Saturday night (April 30th 2016) found me at a local beach on Yeosu’s east coast. A friend is departing Korea, so a hoard of us gathered for camping and night-time revelry. I was unsure whether I would sleep prior to my early AM hike but setup a tent in what I anticipated to be a dark and quiet corner of the tent village. As the humid spring night wore on, the debauchery increased as the temperature played opposite. A bit after midnight I decided that a ‘nap’ may be in order.

With sunrise at 5:39AM, I had an alarm poised for 3:30. The cool-wet air paired with the babel of the campfire and infrequent firework explosions all played against my plans for a nap. In no time at all, I was packing up a sandy damp tent and making for my car (recently acquired). Heading into the night, I had little plan as to what mountain I would scale but figured any of the many peaks scattering Yeosu’s east coast would offer a spectacular sunrise over the water. Not wanting to bushwhack as I had the year prior, I decided on 마래산 (Maraesan Mtn.) – a peak that I am recently familiar with, having climbed it twice this month already. Twenty minutes of driving and I was able to get to a ‘trail-head’ (service road more like) and was soon trekking a steep paved incline with cameras and tripod in- hand.

Feeling the pressure of the imminent sun, I stopped for a few photos but did not dare to take the time to setup my tripod too many times. A bit after 5, I could hear the distant litany of Buddhist ritual. Visiting a Buddhist Temple last year, I had learned of the Jonggo (bell tower). Each Buddhist temple in Korea has one and they house a series of percussion instruments used for rousing the various creatures of the earth. Not moments after the resonating last note from the old bell; birds, and insects started their pre-dawn petitions.

Once upon the dark summit, I setup the GoPro on the tripod and pointed it east. Taking a seat in the lorn-Korean style gazebo, I tried to focus my mind on meaningful meditation.

Alas. The desire to document the awakening world proved overwhelming and I was soon snapping away photos on my camera and phone. The photo-shoot for-one was interrupted around 5:30 when I was joined by an early rising hiker. Embarrassed out of taking selfies, we joined our silent gazes toward the opposing mountains of Namhae-do now shroud in a gradient crown of pink to orange.

Just as Google had said, the sun’s fiery crimson face peeked around the dark mountains exactly at 5:39. I alternated between watching with fascination and snapping intermittent photos as the sun rose into the sky with visible speed and bravado. The hiker did not hang around long before heading down the opposite slope. I hung around soaking in the warm motility that only an early sun can provide after a chilly night.

The rest of my day was spent playing host to a friend that was visiting from out of town. I scooted her around to all my favorite sites before shuttling her and Hayangyi (my cats first car ride) to the bus terminal. Not long after, I headed to the other side of town for the inaugural jog with the newly minted Yeosu Running Club. Our seaside jaunt ended with a rare Korean style of chicken BBQ. After dinner I decided to swing into Starbucks to see if I could get that free tall-beverage. They were unapologetic in saying that I needed to register online (I had tried previously but my very functional Korean phone number was denied). One of the running club members took pity and was good enough to get me a coffee. Bless his heart. After scooting home (and apparently loosing my wallet somewhere along the way…) I decided that I didn’t have a full enough day, and took a dusky hike with the cat up the mountain behind my apartment. After talking to my parents for a bit, it ended up being a full 38 hours of wakefulness.

A name-day well spent. Wear Sunscreen.



Earth Snake

My first exposure to the lunar calendar with its zodiac signs came from grandma’s favorite “Chinamen Buffet”. Like maybe many Chinese restaurants in the west, this one provides a calendar placemat. It was this early exotic exposure that cued me into the notion that I am a “snake” with a birth year of ‘89. In my youth I was quite taken with the idea of snakes. They are elusive critters much harder to catch than toads, frogs, and turtles. They are also much harder to retain. More snakes escaped my confinement than any of my other early pets.

Society of course does not share that childlike fascination of the serpentine; at least western society. I suppose that snake with his winning temptations in the Garden of Eden ruined our trust. The snake is forever a sign of evil and deceit. An unfortunate animal to be associated with indeed. But alas the world is bigger. In ancient Greece, Egypt, and Mesoamerica, snakes were worshiped and revered. Apparently India is called the “Land of Snakes” and even to this day snakes are worshipped as gods.

A bit of internet research has yielded that Korea also has its own snake mythology. Eopsin (업신) is the goddess of storage and wealth, she would often take the form of a snake. As is such, snakes were welcomed into Korean households and even prevented from leaving, as abandonment by Eopsin would surely mean bankruptcy.

Although the Gregorian calendar rules here in Korea, there is still the residual influence of the Chinese or lunar calendar. For instance, about half of the holidays celebrated here are dependent on the full moons’ date rather than a fixed western date. May is a month that includes both of such holidays. It also happens to be my birth month. It’s the culmination of these truths that has led me into the rabbit (note: snakes are quite incompatible with rabbits) hole of discovery, to find what it means to be a snake.

It is believed in Chinese culture that the snake is the most mysterious of the dozen zodiac critters and also the most intuitive. So far I like those adjectives, they suit me much better than “deceitful” or “evil”. Additionally a snake personifies intelligence and is seen as wise. I like the sound of that (maybe it’s the snakes vainness coming through) although those are really not adj. I would use in describing my personality.

Additionally it is said that snakes are intuitive, creative and meditative. These all work for me well enough although I wish I could be more diligent with the meditative bit. They say that snakes also tend to be more independent, distrustful and solitary. I wouldn’t be quick to call myself “distrustful” but definitely independent!

Burrowing further into the “snake” hole I have learned that each zodiac animal is also paired with one of 5 elements depending on the year you are born. A 1989 snake is considered an “earth snake”: “calm, with strong self-control, but not steadfast and diligent enough in work.” Another site had similar information with the addition of; “They’re friendly and approachable and believe that they’ll reap great rewards by working hard and relying on common sense.”  Now that sounds like me!

With a dozen zodiac signs and 5 different elements, that means an earth snake only comes along once every 60 years. Out of curiosity I looked into these other elemental snake traits and found; “appreciating the arts and a refined taste”- not me, “fond of the limelight” -not at all, “a born leader” -no thank you, and lastly “communicative, but sentimental” -nope. Well I’m intrigued, a bit of truth to the zodiac?

On yet another website, I learned that in ancient times, the Chinese divided the day into 12, 2-hour periods with one of the zodiac animals representing each. The snake oversees the 9am-11am gap. As far as I know, I was born around 10am, firmly planting me in the hour of the snake within the year of the snake. I am not sure what this means exactly but of the few lucky numbers snakes have, 89 is one of them.

I am generally skeptical of these mystical, fortune telling type destinies (maybe it’s the wise, intelligent snake within me…) but nevertheless I cannot help but to feel some affinity for the enigmatic snake. If I find myself married to a “dragon” or “rooster” then maybe I will take a closer look at my zodiac destiny. Until then I’ll keep walking on two feet.