Does industry funding corrupt GMO research?

Not specifically Jeju related, but a important post. I met a scientist who said he was not allowed to do research on GM crops on Jeju – I’m not sure whether this is still the case.

View from the fence

Mistrust of businesses is at the core of many people’s fear about GM (and if we’re honest, much of this is directed at Monsanto). This of course spills over into mistrust of academic scientists, especially those who are funded by industry or collaborate with industry.

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Bananas, biscuits and soju

Seolmundae Halmang is the ‘grandmother’ founder goddess of Jeju island. Many myths are associated with her, including her promise to build a bridge between Jeju and mainland Korea if the people of Jeju gave her 100 boxes of silk for her to use to make her underwear. (Yes, she was a giant goddess.)  Unfortunately, the people found only 99 boxes, so the potential bridge was never built and the rocks which would have been used to make it are scattered randomly in the sea.  A sign-board near this shrine in Pyeoseon mentions Seolmundae Halmang, but I am not really sure whether the shrine is dedicated to her or  – or perhaps more likely and – to some other of the 18,000 gods and goddesses said to belong in Jeju.

It was not easy at first to spot the small stone building that housed the shrine amidst the haphazard and rather unattractive out-of-season seaside buildings at the edge of Pyeoseon harbour.  Previous shrines I have seen on Jeju have all been outdoors.  This one was a single-roomed building containing nothing but an alcove with offerings, including bananas, biscuits and soju.

Photos in an old school

IMG_6690The Kim Young Gap gallery in eastern Jeju on Olle 3 is a favourite place of ours. An old school, with its grounds developed into landscaped gardens, contains an evocative display of the photos of Kim Young Gap, often showing eulalia grass blowing in the wind with slopes of oreums in the background.  Today we revisited this gallery but also found a less well-known one a few miles away in Gasi-ri.  The Love of Nature gallery is similarly housed in an abandoned school, reached across a bleak playground with an overgrown basketball court and rusting climbing frame.  IMG_6691
Inside, some classroom walls have been removed to give three large rooms. The main one contains impressive photos of Jeju landscapes.  The pictures I found unexpectedly evocative, however, were the formal school photos displayed in a corridor – perhaps as they had been when the building was still a school:  classes of 12-year-olds staring seriously at the camera, dating from 1960 to about 2003 when the school closed.  In the earlier photos there are far more boys than girls and they wear a military style uniform with caps.IMG_6694The highlight of the gallery were the classrooms of photographs taken by Seo Jae Chul, mainly in the 1970s.  These chronicled daily life on Jeju at the time.  Some showed fishing ports hardly different from today, while others showed men and women carrying on their backs enormous bundles of sticks for fuel, or a mother breast-feeding a baby alongside women working in an onion field. The scene in this photo might be seen today, but the wicker baskets are largely replaced by plastic now.  Progress?  Perhaps plastic is easier to clean, but environmentally and aesthetically it is a backward step.


IMG_6685 I stumbled across Banglimwon on a cycle-ride yesterday.  There was noone at the reception to take my 7000KRW (about US$7) so I wandered into the gardens on my own.  Typical of Jeju, this ‘museum’ was difficult to pin down – something between the Eden Project (a cactus house) and a theme park  (cute model frogs playing musical instruments).  I spotted two other visitors, and by the time I had followed the signs to the exit a couple had appeared in the office and I was able to buy my ticket  – and a Jeju tangerine icecream.

There are half a dozen gardens in western Jeju and I often wonder how they survive financially. Only one has made it onto the tourist bus trail; the others are rarely visited.  Banglimwon seems to be a labour of love: fallen camelia petals shaped into a heart exemplified this yesterday.  Plants, labelled in Latin, have been brought from all over the world and are carefully tended.  The landscaping – including the two ‘brother’ waterfalls and an excavated cave – is impressive.  Other touches are more humorous, perhaps intentionally so.  Can you spot a plastic frog wearing a bikini at the left of the photo below?IMG_6688

Black sand beach

Spring has arrived suddenly on Jeju. A week ago we had the last snow showers, but this weekend fires were lit on the side of Saebyeol Oreum to mark the first full moon of the lunar year and, traditionally, to rid the ground of pests and dry vegetation before the new growing season. Agricultural fields are full of activity, especially the spring onion harvest.  Yellow canola (oil seed rape) has appeared, and tourists with selfie-sticks are paying 1000 won for the privilege of taking their photos with a background of the yellow flowers. I chose not to join them on Friday evening in the field near the reconstruction of Hendrick Hamel’s ship de Sperwer driven to Jeju by a storm in 1653.  Instead, I turned eastwards along the black sand beach, which was completely deserted apart from a Temmincks cormorant drying its wings. IMG_6325

Respecting ancestors

WRaised circular tombs surrounded by stone walls are a feature of Jeju , and many places in mainland Korea. You see them on hillsides, in woods, on cliff tops (I’d like to put in a bid for one of these) and in farmland. These pictures show a couple I passed today. Farmers seem happy to sacrifice land in which they could have planted onions or erected a greenhouse in order not to disturb the resting places of their forefathers. I hope this respect is still shown when the original family no longer own the land.  And I imagine it contributed towards sustainable agriculture as well as showing respect to ancestors. 



Random things

   I haven’t posted for a long time. Blame pressure of work, not any loss of fascination with this island. On a bike ride this morning I passed this boat, at least 10 miles from the sea. Along the same stretch of road I saw a shaman stick and a wedding cafe. 

70 years since Korea gained independence from Japan

IMG_5695 IMG_5701Today is the 70th anniversary of Korea gaining independence from Japan. Many households are flying a Korean flag.  The relationship with Japan is complicated – Korea was under Japanese control from 1910 until the end of WWII, and there is no doubt that many Koreans, including the ‘comfort women’ who were forced to provide sexual services for the Japanese military, suffered greatly.  There is a strong feeling of national pride and identity.  It does puzzle me a little, nevertheless, that the South Korean government said today that Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s statement yesterday was disappointing.






    Idyllically beautiful, with the most demanding of the Olle trails, Chujado was a perfect place for a two day  break. The pace of life was slow, with two visits from a ferry each day and the population occupied in fishing and small scale farming. But the work is hard and not everyone is happy when the major leisure activity is to sit and chat and watch the world go by. The Middle School has only 18 children across three year groups, so many of the younger people having moved away. The teachers, all from outside the island, keep it open until 9pm because there is nowhere else for the teenagers to go. I do hope some of these 18 students will eventually settle in Chuja and find a fulfilling way to enjoy a simple lifestyle as part of a complicated world. 

Send your horses to Jeju

Olle 14.1 012 We passed many horses on Olle 14.1, especially on top of Mundoji Oreum, where they roamed freely.  Many of the ponies we see are tethered, in fields or even occasionally behind vans as they trot along to work providing rides for visitors.  Olle 14.1 008

In the thirteenth century Kublai Khan brought 160 ponies here by ship. They were interbred with the local stock and shipped back regularly to the Mongolian army.  Jeju’s reputation as good pastureland for breeding horses gave rise to the proverb ‘send your horses to Jeju and your sons to Seoul’.Olle 14.1 018

Horses are still being brought to Jeju – a few weeks ago we watched a polo match at the only polo ground in Korea. Many of the horses had been imported from Argentina.

The Jeju dialect word for a pony is ‘ganse’ and this is used as the name for the blue metal ponies that mark key points on the Olle trails.


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