Ultrasound, electric shock and Sije


Another weekend arrived, but as Friday progressed I’d felt increasingly unwell, aching with flu-like symptoms. The plan was to spend Saturday in Suwon and Mr. FOBY had booked an appointment with his mate, a purveyor of traditional medicine, to diagnose the problems with my knee. Sunday was FOBY’s ancestral catch up at Mr. Oh’s burial ground at Onseok-dong near Suwon.

I arrived in Cheonan around 7.30pm feeling less than hunky dory, so I headed for the guest house and hit the sack straight away. I was meeting FOBY later as his hagwon teaches until 10.30pm. I woke up around 10.15pm feeling a little better and immediately thought of the old maxim “feed a cold, starve a fever”, many folk fob this off as an “old wives tail” but in 2002 Dutch scientists found that eating a meal boosts the type of immune response that destroys the viruses responsible for colds, while fasting stimulates the response that tackles the bacterial infections responsible for most fevers. They also found that alcohol had no effect other than to induce sleep! In their study six hours after eating levels of gamma interferon had more than quadrupled. Gamma interferon is a hallmark of the cell-mediated immune response, in which killer T cells destroy any cells that have been invaded by pathogens.

After the meal and a dose of Tylenol I slept well then woke early feeling somewhat better. After breakfast (favourite cheese bread and coffee) at Tous Les Jours we headed for Suwon along the first major road built after the Korean War; part of which is still a designated emergency airfield. The traffic was pretty awful and we made slow progress exacerbated by my need for frequent rest stops; the spicy soup had doubly affected my constitution. We also had a healthy debate about the failings of 3G and the need for LTE to feed our navigation. Despite his protestations FOBY will await the iPhone 5’s arrival in Korea; whilst he hates Apples “arrogance” he probably hates Samsung plastic more!

I was about to finally realise an ambition, to find out why my knee is so painful.  FOBYs mate is a physician with a background in oriental medicine; he uses modern equipment to diagnose treatment and then a mixture of traditional and modern methods to treat the symptoms. They are good friends having been best mates at school in the 80s. After a tasty meal at the local Italian (the docs treat) we returned to the practice for my diagnosis and treatment.

Ultrasound is an imaging technique that provides the ability to peer inside the body; it can be a powerful diagnostic tool.  Ultrasound produces sound waves that are beamed into the body causing return echoes that are recorded to “visualise” structures beneath the skin. The ability to measure different echoes reflected from a variety of tissues allows a shadow picture to be constructed. The technology is especially accurate at seeing the interface between solid and fluid filled spaces.

The picture was conclusive, firstly the surface of the bones in my knee is rough, the outcome of too much soccer hammer when I was younger.  This though is not the source of the pain, there were black areas showing that there is some synovial fluid leakage inside the knee. In addition the Lateral collateral ligament is inflamed and the black areas represented this. The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) goes from the top part of the fibula (the bone on the outside of the lower leg) to the outside part of the lower thigh bone.  The ligament helps keep the outer side of the knee-joint stable. The treatment involves taking aspirin or ibuprofen along with physical intervention such as electrical stimulus or deep ultrasound plus in some instances acupuncture.  On this occasion my treatment was electrical stimulus and acupuncture.  The doc recommended that I have further treatment but not to accept anything less than a 20 minute session otherwise the impact will be limited. Pricing to be investigated ………

It took like what seemed an age to navigate Suwon and find the hotel frighteningly named Amour and Symphony and in a lively area close to the Samsung Digital City.  Housing the different businesses for the company’s products from mobile phones to TVs, and with about 29,000 employees – including some 800 foreigners from 49 different countries – the complex covers an area equal to 250 soccer fields. For dinner we had fried crispy chicken with spring onion and assorted fried chips and croquet potatoes, that is despite the assistant in the adjacent supermarket telling us he knew nothing of any fried chicken restaurants in the locality. After an early night I was greeted early morning by bad tidings….Man U had won 3-1 at home against QPR and at 4:30am the live replay was emblazoned across the TV screen. After 60 minutes all had looked good until the usual 2012 QPR capitulation! Come on Arry come on! To compound things I awoke this morning (Monday) to a MCFC draw with Chelsea.

After a cold but well presented buffet breakfast it was time to navigate our way to Onseok-dong and the Sije for Mr. Oh. Sije’s are actually seasonal rites held for ancestors who are five or more generations removed (typically performed annually on the tenth lunar month).

One would have anticipated the advent of modernisation in Korea would bring with it the prospect of a rain check in the prevalence of ancestral worship (AW); particularly as the traditional view of spirits and life atypical of AW are alien to most modern countries.  But AW is still prevalent in Korean society. Korean’s commonly think that an ancestor’s spirit is a guardian against an array of enemies. The formalised rituals of AW in Korea date back to the Silla dynasty (during the time of the Three Kingdoms).  The kingdom of Pack-che had a structure of AW for venerating the founding father, celebrated as On-cho. Silla and Koguryo had a similar form for venerating their founding fathers. These worship rituals were conducted four times a year following the change of seasons.

It was not until the end of the Koryo dynasty and the beginning of the Yi dynasty (15th century) that a definitive form of AW became customary. At this time Korean Neo-Confucian scholars such as Paek Yi-chung and Chong Mong-Ju introduced the Han and T’ang systems of AW.  Confucianism had a remarkable influence on the religious practices in the Three Kingdoms. Although Buddhism was already the overriding religion, Confucianism was the dominant ideology for the Yi dynasty which led to the popularisation of AW among Korean families; including the establishment of a family lineage shrine in each household.

The worshipper and the ancestors are both important. According to tradition, the ritual heir (descendant who is to keep up the tradition) has to be a direct and legitimate descendant of the ancestor. In most cases this is the chongia, or eldest son forms the direct line of succession, performing the rituals for all his direct ancestors up to the fourth generation.  Tradition dictates that even if the eldest son were to die while his own eldest son is young, the child becomes the new ritual heir and so able to claim precedence over his more mature uncles. If the eldest son dies in his youth, his younger brother becomes the legally designated heir. Thus succession and inheritance are inextricably linked with ancestor worship in Korea. Unfortunately, the constraints of modern life do not always make this tradition practicable. However, if the death of an un-married son effectively means the extinction of his father’s line, tradition dictates that he may be married posthumously to a dead virgin. A living “son” will then be adopted to represent the other ancestors of the house. Cases of posthumous marriage and adoption have been recorded in Kwangsan-gun, South Kyung- sang Province, and on Jeju Island.

Traditionally the ancestral ritual is conducted by the eldest son (shoud be FOBY in this case), the Master of Rites and the Keeper of the Tablets. The ritual procedure entails that he stands up and bows deeply to an ancestral tablet when it is removed from the shrine. This is similar to the bow of respect the ancestor would have received if he/she were alive. FOBY whilst now integrated into the tribe has little or no knowledge of the ritual details and hence in this instance watches from the periphery as things progress.  The tablet is more than a mere memorial. It is believed to be a symbol, even the residence of the ancestral soul. Therefore the bowing down before the tablet (and the ancestral soul) is not far removed from worshiping.  He then recreates the meeting of heaven and earth by tossing three cups of wine into a bowl of rice or sand (in this case onto the burial mound). This signifies the ancestors’ descent from heaven to the presence of his descendants at the offering table.

Once this has happened, the Master of Rites invokes the soul by lighting incense and pouring a libation. The first cup of wine is dedicated after rotating it three times in the incense. This dedication of the first cup of wine is the primary right of the heir. Another family member will uncover the rice bowl and place a spoon and chopsticks on an empty bowl. At this point all the descendants bow twice touching the floor with their heads. A commemorative address is chanted which pays a respectful tribute to the memory of the deceased. The second cup of wine is generally dedicated by the second son. Another relative follows suit and dedicates the third cup of wine (FOBY’s job on Sunday). The spoon is then placed in the rice bowl.

These dedications are an expression of the descendants’ desire for the ancestor’s presence. When the Master of Rites senses the presence of the ancestral soul, he offers liquor and food in a symbolic gesture of respect and sincerity. After this a ritual prayer is read which calls upon the ancestor’s soul to enjoy these sacrifices as a tangible expression of the descendants’ affection. This is significant and indicative of worship rather than mere reverence. All the worshippers then leave to allow the soul to enjoy the sacrifices. This ritual leads the descendants to believe that the ancestral soul is present and attentive and therefore responsive.  After the soul “has enjoyed the sacrifices”, the descendants return and serve tea before bowing deeply and bidding the soul farewell. Once this has happened, the Master of Rites returns the tablet to the shrine and burns a tablet of paper.

After completion the ritual food and beverages are shared by the family members in a symbolic sharing of identity and harmony. The soul is believed to promote unity and harmony in the family. In theological terms, one can liken this to a holy communion between the dead and the living. The religious connotations are obvious and incontrovertible.

I am unsure why two rituals took place on Sunday one behind the burial mound (which lines up with the setting sun) and one on the tablet directly in front of the mound. I find it quite touching that the Korean’s take the trouble to remember their descendents in this way particularly as they settle down to eat lunch beside the grave.  In the UK this would feel strange and uncomfortable but here it seems eminently appropriate. The only point I would make is that whilst the lineage has been documented it seems little is actually known or documented about the descendents themselves other than where they came from and what their jobs were. On Sunday they (the OH clan) shared photographs of a previous get together when they went Yachting in the sea off Incheon, most seemed mildly inebriated.

FOBY kindly gave me a lift back to Chungju, we had some spicy soup before he departed back to Cheonan.

One thought on “Ultrasound, electric shock and Sije

  1. Interesting tradition! I can see many similarities with what the Chinese folks do in this kind of rite. The offerings are also pretty similar! 😀

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