Week 5: Research Progress & Culture: 6/24-6/30
This week in frog research was not a whole lot different than the past weeks. Our routine field work takes up Wednesday and Thursday nights until the wee hours of the morning. The next day after is a wash because everyone is too exhausted to move, the only real movement seen in the house is to maybe grab a snack from the kitchen before returning to nap. We've been trained well in the art of spotting and capturing frogs and I'd like to claim myself as a professional at this point, throwing that on my resume without a doubt. The nights have started to shorten and we're finding less frogs as they are wrapping up their seasonal mating and returning from the rice paddies to the forests.
One of the research questions we're trying to investigate is where these frogs are hanging out at in the forest. Searching for them in the forest is a whole other ball-game and the difficulty level is ten-fold. They have what biologists call 'cryptic' coloration or camouflage that makes them almost impossible at times to find. We've tried a handful of techniques to make this search easier, with little luck so far. Part of the fun of research is that it doesn't always go as planned and adjustments to the original procedure are not too uncommon. We've decided to use the next week to try to track the frogs using radio antennae. I'll post more about that next week after we do it.
The research has been a great experience so far. I've learned what I would do and most importantly what I wouldn't do if I ever went on to a similar profession. Small choices and decisions made without proper thought can have tremendous repercussions. You could potentially work many hours of hard labor for almost zero results, so a significant amount of prior research on what you're about to conduct, beforehand, is critical. For instance if you've been following along this far you might remember me talking about 'pipe-houses' we designed for the frogs to live in. There are probably 100 or more of these things that were placed out in the forest. We have not found a single, not one frog, in any of the houses. This could be a result of improper research on whether the pipe houses are adequate artificial homes the frogs may prefer, for instance. Making these pipes, placing them out there, searching for them at night to see if they're occupied, etc - has essentially wasted time and money. Now you can't always foresee the failures, that's just part of research process sometimes but in this case I personally would have done a little more testing before conducting the pipe-house experiment at full extent. We are basically dropping this part of the project because it is not providing any data whatsoever. Just another reason that proper prep and conducting well researched experiments are crucial requirements in collecting worthy results. On a positive note, the overall experience of getting your hands dirty and finding out what it takes to get all of this data is worthwhile. There are many seemingly small details that I may have easily overlooked if I were conducting my own research and it's essential in my eyes to work in a real setting like this to see it firsthand.
The weekend was welcomed and not involving too much excitement. Our previous weekend in Jeju squeezed the energy right out of me - add in a couple nights of research and you've got yourself a day or two of nothing to look forward to. For some reason though we thought, hey, why don't we climb another mountain. Because that's a nice relaxing thing to do, right? Haha! So climb we did. We went back to the mountain range close to our house in Paju known as Bukhansan National Park. It's a relatively quick subway/bus ride until we're at the base of the range. The range spans for many miles and has an extensive network of trails and landmarks to be explored such as temples and waterfalls. Wow this place is beautiful. The peaks strike up out of the ground in all directions and appear to be on the horizon for days. I typically don't like the crowds on the trails but it's enjoyable to see so many people actually out in nature climbing these mountains instead of face deep in their phone messengers or LCD screens. Hiking is extremely popular in Korea and they make sure you know about it. Hikers here are pretty extreme themselves, typically sporting gear as if they're about to scale Everest. I look a bit out of place with my casual t-shirt and shorts, as if I didn't stick out enough as an American already. I tend to make friends on my way up the mountains as people are curious to know my whereabouts and most times the conversations are short but it's more about the friendliness of the conversation rather than the full comprehension that's important. Regardless of lack of understanding in spoken word, little needs to be said at the top of the peaks as we collectively share the full beauty of what lays beneath and beyond our eyes.
Eventually I stumbled upon something peculiar in the middle of the mountainside - a Buddhist temple. It was a surprise as it is very well hidden unless you're looking from the right angle on the trail. Of course I went to investigate and I'm glad I did because I got a glimpse of some magnificent structures up close. Probably the most grandeur was a massive meditating statue surrounded by a wall stronghold, various engravings & artistic pieces, and most stunning was the rows of hundreds of smaller golden replicate statues in a glass case encircling the entire platform. People not only come to see these in real life as a tourist but it's also still regularly used as a worship sanctuary for followers of Buddhism. I witnessed multiple people stop and perform rituals at the statue and in various structures around the temple. I love the design features of some of these structures, the facades are incredibly intricate and appear hand crafted. The inside of these structures are divine and calming. There was a huge bell with a gong that took everything in me not to bang that thing. I also saw an "authentic" monk that made me laugh as it appeared that he was 'one with nature' until he whipped out his cellphone to snap a photo of this butterfly haha! It appears some monks are just as plugged in as the rest of the world.
What was even more fascinating to me was that many of the people making the trek out here were elder women who appeared extremely frail yet made the climb to the temples. Dedication baby, dedication - these ladies are tough as nails!! On my way down I followed a shallow, calm stream that progressively picked up until it fell off the edge of a cliff-face as a waterfall. I could have climbed for days but I eventually made my way down on the otherside of the mountain range.
I was wondering what kind of deadly creatures there are on this peninsula ever since I got here and so far I'm pretty confident I'm not going to die from anything, which is good. However they do have these ridiculously giant hell spawn hornets, no big deal. I've seen a few already...and I remember watching a TV show where these guys were highlighted and basically they're just as terrifying as they are massive. Their stinger is 1/4 of an inch long and the pain is not enjoyable, so I read. They seek out other smaller bees' nests and massacre them. Nice neighbors huh? I'm going to do my best to avoid them.
One thing that bothers me is the constant strive and advertisement for superficial perfection - especially for women. It's kind of sickening actually, the way the media portrays how these women should appear. Plastic surgery is a norm, for instance it's not uncommon to receive a "procedure" as your graduation gift. There is only one main facial look that these ladies strive for too and it's kind of creepy. It looks like they have eyes that never blink and would stare at you forever. I can't help but feel sympathy for some of these women though as it's just part of the culture and look. It's not all that different from back home, except that plastic surgery here doesn't have nearly as much stigma and appears to be seen as sought after. I've read that when applying for most jobs it is required for you to submit a photo of yourself as well so it's very obvious that appearance is a standard that is of high importance.
Not all of Korea is as beautiful as I've led it to appear so far, it's just what I prefer to post for obvious reasons. A huge issue is waste. The density of people in this country, to no real surprise, is quickly exceeding the available capacity. Cities are highly populated and are human waste factories. They don't provide many trash cans around town either so the few you do actually see are filled to the brim, hell they're overflowing into the streets. It's an issue but luckily they have a system of cleaners and garbage collectors that do their best to keep the area clean, it seems to work to a certain degree.
The country appears to always be constructing new infrastructure and various projects wherever you look. It's great to see that they have a flourishing economy but as an environmentally conscious person I see issues with the constant expansion and a dwindling amount of space. Kind of interesting too, disposal of trash is different - we have three separate trash types: food waste, recyclables, and everything else. These all need to be bagged separately and brought out to a "light post" by our house each Mon, Wed, or Fri night.
Chopsticks update: I'm almost at Pro-level. I could probably grab a fly out of thin air by next week. I think I'll bring a nice pair of metal ones home with me ;). One of my favorite snacks that I've started making regularly is white rice and salted seaweed. Sounds kind of weird and yeah I thought so at first too but it's actually delicious and healthy. With chopsticks you grab these strips of seaweed and roll some rice into it and bam, delicious. Kind of like sushi without all the extra yum, but still good.