Saturday, 27 July 2013

Korea - a Tale of Two Nations

Taking on Korea is quite a challenge - with a combined population of around 74 million and a land area slightly smaller than that of the UK, both the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) offer a rich tapestry of culture, music, movies and literature, which will be hard to capture in a small number of blog posts.  I see this as my starting point with the Koreas and I may come back to either country in more detail at a later date.

I also feel that it's important to look at both Koreas, in this first virtual journey around Korean culture.  Perhaps South Korea is much more familiar to us, because of links with the US and the West?  North Korea seems distant and remote - an experience which lies outside the realms of Western imagination - but a place that is fascinating, nonetheless.

Koreans in Uzbekistan and Ireland

My experience of Korea comes mostly through the many Uzbeks and Tajik families, who saw their fathers and older brothers heading off to Seoul and Pusan, to earn money which they would send back home to Uzbekistan.  Their experience of Korea sounded pretty harsh to me - uncomfortable living conditions and relentless work in a society where they are, on the whole, regarded with suspicion.

In an ironic reversal of history, I also met my first Koreans in Uzbekistan, Russian-speaking descendants of Korean peasants who were moved away from the Russian border with Korea, so it could be populated by white Europeans.  I also briefly taught two Korean students during a summer I spent in Dublin - they were incredibly polite, deferential and diligent.

Korea in the shadows

I find Korea interesting as a place that has lived in the shadow of its two, more powerful, neighbours - Japan and China.  As I've started researching Korean history, I can see that it is dominated by Korea's relationship with these two neighbours and, more recently, with other big countries, such as Russia and the United States.  Through it all, the Koreans have remained independent, proud of their language, culture and heritage although, sadly, still divided by the political manoeuvring which took place at the end of World War 2.

A tale of two nations?

Korean reunification flag
I also want to blog about both Koreas, as it feels natural to think of Korea as a whole or single nation.  Of course, the reality of 60 years of separation means that the two Koreas which were created in 1948 have followed different paths and really started developing their own distinct histories and cultures.

It's hard to undo the sense of 'difference' which is created when a country splits in two and I wonder if, one day, Korea will reunite, like Vietnam, Yemen and Germany - or whether the years of separation will reinforce the countries' distinct identities, as it has done in my own country, Ireland?

However you feel about Korea, I hope you'll join me over the next few weeks, as I read books about Korea, listen to Korean music, cook Korean food and watch Korean movies!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Jersey - the Final Word

I've tried to be 'tight' with my timing on Jersey and it really feels as though I've merely scratched the surface in terms of my research into life on the island.  My blog posts can only capture a fraction of my learning experience and this 'final word' is an attempt to summarise the learning journey I've been on for the past month or so.

A summary of the themes

During my research on Jersey, I learned about Jersey's legal status - not part of the UK, but being closely linked culturally and politically.  I also learned about Jèrriais, the native language of the island, now considered to be severely endangered.  I learned about Jersey's reputation as a tax haven and I learned about the Occupation of the Channel Islands by the Nazis, during World War Two.  Finally, I learned how to make Bean Crock or Pais au Fou and Jersey Wonders, traditional recipes from the island. 

Tools for Research

I read the following books:

Tools for research in the afternoon light
Insight Guides: Channel Islands (2007 reprint, editor Brian Bell), which was useful for background research on topic areas.

Living with the Enemy (2002 reprint) by Roy McLoughlin - a useful overview of life in the Channel Islands under Nazi rule.

I also read Night of the Fox (1986) by Jack Higgins, the well-known author who has made Jersey his home.  It was an interesting novel and not the kind I would normally read, but I enjoyed it.  Perhaps most interesting was how a standard plot was turned on its head - somehow the 'good guys' seemed to be the deceptive ones and the ones who made the confession at the end - except it all turned out in their favour, whereas, normally the confession scene happens just before the bad guys get caught!

Finally, I read This is how you disappear (2007), a book of poetry by Jersey-born Jeremy Reed - but more about that later . .

Apart from The Others (2001) dir. Alejandro Amenábar and starring Nicole Kidman, there don't seem to have been many movies set in Jersey.

Nevertheless, I had great fun watching the very first series of Bergerac, the 80's detective show, which brought the island to British TV screens.  It's a bit dated now, of course, but I enjoyed John Nettles' performances and was surprised to learn that his birth-mother was Irish, although he was brought up by adoptive parents.

It was great to see the island on film and funny to think of the image Bergerac portrayed of Jersey, as a hive of international espionage, drugs, homosexuality, inheritance disputes and Korean war veterans!  I didn't watch the TV series when it was aired, back in the day, so it was all new to me and the kind of experience I would have completely missed, if it weren't for this blog!

I also loved the theme music - reggae meets French accordion - it's very catchy!

Unfortunately, other musical experiences were thin on the ground, but luckily the island's reputation has been saved by the wonderful Nerina Pallot who was nominated for the award of British Female Solo Artist at the Brits in 2007.  I particularly liked the song Patience, which is from her debut album, Dear Frustrated Superstar (2001) - I'm pasting in a clip from YouTube below, so you can hear for yourself.

Other Themes

As usual, I couldn't cover all of the themes I would have liked to, in such a short space of time, so here is a suggested list of additional Jersey themes which you can explore in your own free time;

Sleeves and Knitwear
The Battle of the Flowers
The Jersey National Trust
Dutch Elm disease
The St Ouen Wreckers
Lily Langtry, the Jersey Lily
William Prynne
Durrell and conservation
The Chausey islands
Salvage Rights
The Channel Islands on the Vinland map
The Clameur de Haro
The Beast of Jersey
Conway's Jersey Temple in Henley-upon-Thames

Dinner Party trivia

And here are some tidbits of information about Jersey, that will no doubt impress your fellow guests at upcoming dinner parties:

Jersey folk are nicknamed crapauds - the French word for toad - especially by their traditional rivals in Guernsey

The combined population of the Channel Islands is 160,000 people - an estimated 100,000 people live on Jersey

St Helier has over 50 international banks

John Copley's Death of Major Peirson (1793)
Jersey's most famous painting is John Copley's Death of Major Peirson (1793) - which depicts the 'Battle of Jersey' when locals defended the island from a French invasion

New Jersey in the United States was land given to Sir George Carteret, Governor of Jersey by Charles II, in recognition of his (and the island's) support of the Royalist cause

Whilst Jersey supported the Royalists in the Civil War, Guernsey supported the Parliamentarians

The Channel Islands were famous for their knitwear, hence the use of the word Jersey to mean jumper or sweater - I suspect that the Irish word for sweater, which is geansaí, comes from trade and contact with neighbouring Guernsey

There was a thriving illegal tobacco trade between Jersey and Devon in the 17th century

The first Red Pillar Post Boxes, those famous icons of London and England, were erected in Jersey in 1852

The differences in wildlife distribution between the Channel Islands is inexplicably large, eg. there are no magpies on Alderney and Jersey is the only island to have moles

Jersey was known as the Isle of Congers (eels) during the Middle Ages

Jersey has 350 miles of road

St Helier, the capital of Jersey, was named after a Belgian monk

There is an Irish community in St Helier which dates back to Napoleonic times

When Lord Carrington heard that the Jersey-born actress Lily Langtry had lost her parrot, he famously quipped 'I didn't know she had a parrot, but I'd heard she had a cockatoo'

Jesse Boot, the founder of Boots chemist's, married a woman from Jersey and is buried on the island

The Final word on Elegies

I want finish with a bit of poetry by one of Jersey's most famous literary sons, Jeremy Reed.  I don't often read poetry, as part of my research for this blog, so it was a pleasure to spend time reading This is how you disappear - Reed's book of elegiac poems from 2007. 

The collection reads like a who's who of London's gay artists, musicians, film directors and surrealists poets, many of whom were close friends of Reed's, some of whom died during the AIDS epidemic of the 80's and 90's.  Of course, I was already familiar with some of the people Reed writes about, like Derek Jarman, whose work I really love and Dusty Springfield whose music has been enjoyed by many of us.

I was much less familiar with some of the other people that Reed has written Elegies for - for example, the surrealist poet David Gascoyne, the US lyric poet John Wieners and the experimental musician John Balance.  It's a beautiful collection and my first taste, not only of the surrealist movement, but also of a gay London world that might otherwise be lost in the fog of memory.

I'm going to leave you with an excerpt of Reed's Elegy for John Balance and a YouTube video of Coil's At the Heart of it All.

'As you were carried off alone
in a black carriage led by a black horse
along a puddled drive to disappear
at the third bend - a stand of trees
commanding view and winter clouds
big on us, like they'd never clear'

Image credits:

The photo of my research tools was taken by me.

John Copley's Death of Major Peirson is in the public domain and, therefore, copyright-free. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Jersey - How I made Pais au Fou and Jersey Wonders

Jersey is quite well known for its food - especially Jersey Royal potatoes - but also its cream, butter and other produce that appear in English markets quite early in the season.  A quick bit of research led me to the conclusion that the most traditional Jersey dish I could make would be Bean Crock, known as Pais au Fou in Jèrriais (literally peas in the oven), a dish that reminded me a lot of a French cassoulet or bean stew.

To be honest, it was quite an easy dish to make - the only unusual thing about it being the fact that I had to keep it in the oven for 5 hours - a terribly long time to cook anything in our fast-paced 21st century world!  I looked at several different recipes for this dish, but was mostly influenced by this one - I added carrot to the recipe, otherwise it might have been a bit too bland. 

Ingredients for Pais au Fou - Jersey Bean Crock
The ingredients

250g White haricot beans
250g mixed beans
2 onions
2 carrots
5 bay leaves
Black pepper
500g pork belly

How I made Pais au Fou

First, I chopped up the onions and carrots and put them in a large, over-proof casserole dish, topping the chopped vegetables with the bay leaves and pepper.  In Jersey, it's traditional to use a stone crock pot, hence the English name of this dish.

Chop the carrot and onion, add bay leaves and pepper

Add the pork belly pieces, including fat

Next, I chopped up the pork belly and added this to the casserole dish.  I must admit, I'm not a great fan of fat and pork belly is very fatty but, after 5 hours in the oven, the meat and fat were equally succulent and I think I actually enjoyed eating fat, for the first time in my life!

Finally, I added the beans and enough water to cover all of the ingredients.  I guess a purist would use dry beans and boil them before adding them to the casserole dish, but I opted for the easier option of tinned beans and the end result was tasty.

Add the white Haricot beans and mixed beans

Cover all ingredients with water, then put in the oven for five hours

It's a slow-cooking dish, so I left it for five hours in the oven at 150 degrees (Gas mark 2), which is quite a low heat.  I stirred the dish once an hour, to make sure nothing was sticking to the pot and that there was enough water. 

Check the pot about once an hour, to make sure it doesn't dry out

The end result was a yummy Pais au Fou served with Royal Jersey potatoes.  With all the fat and beans, it's also a good idea to serve something green on the side - I quite randomly choose rocket!

Royal Jersey potatoes
Jersey Bean crock - Pais au Fou

La Mèrvelle de Jèrri

Not content with the challenge of Jersey Bean Crock, I also decided to try my hand at making Jersey Wonders or Mèrvelles, a traditional pastry, which is quite similar to English doughnuts or French beignets

Learning how to cook something new is one thing, any idiot can do it, even me!  Learning how to bake something new is a totally different story and I found it quite challenging, although I was really happy with the end result. 

Ingredients for Jersery Wonders or Mèrvelles
I relied a lot on a recipe on the BBC's website and I also watched a video on YouTube, which helped me visualise the process for making wonders, especially how to twist the dough and give my wonders a traditional shape. 

The ingredients

500g self-raising flour
115g (4 ounces) of butter
230g (8 ounces) of caster sugar
6 eggs

How I made Jersey Wonders

I sieved the flour and caster sugar into a mixing bowl, then rubbed in the butter, which I'd cut up into small blocks.

Cut the butter into small 'blocks'

Next, I whisked the eggs in a separate bowl and slowly added the egg mixture to the bowl, mixing the whole lot together until I had a sticky, eggy paste. 

Mix the flour and sugar and work into the blocks of butter until you have a crumbly mix

Whisk the six eggs
Add the eggs to the flour/sugar/butter mix

According the recipe, you should use your hands to make small 'golf balls' from the mixture, which you put on an oven tray and cover with a damp tea-towel for two hour.

Use your hands to make several dozen 'golf balls'
Cover the balls with a damp cloth and leave for two hours

My 'balls' were slightly larger than golf balls, but it didn't really matter, as I was able to divide them in two later, to get smaller pastry shapes, more suitable to making wonders.

The next bit was probably the hardest and I used a lot of extra flour, on my hands and on the rolling pin, to roll out the balls and create an oblong shape.  On the video, I noticed that she cut three slits into the flat oblong and twisted the pastry through the middle one, so I did the same.

Use extra flower to flatten out the balls
Make an oblong shape and cut three slits in the pastry

Twist one end of the pastry through the middle slit and create a doughy shape like this
The result is a strange looking pastry mixture, that reminded me of a fleur-de-lys or a dainty woman's shoe!  I was really beginning to doubt whether or not this delicate mess would become anything edible but, luckily, in the final stage it all came together quite nicely.

The final stage involved heating up some vegetable oil in a pan and dropping the Mèrvelles into the hot oil, 5 or 6 at a time, until they became bloated and rose to the surface.  I was a bit confused by the recipe, when it said to cook the Mèrvelles on each side, when they turned golden brown. 

In my mind, I had an image of a flipping them over, on a frying pan, but I soon understood that I would have to turn the Mèrvelles over in the oil, so they would cook on each side.

Add Mèrvelles to the hot oil

When the go brown on one side, turn them over

I'm quite proud of my Jersey Wonders and enjoyed having them for breakfast with a nice cup of coffee!

Jersey Wonders or Mèrvelles

Image credits:

All photos were taken by me, please feel free to reuse, under the Creative Commons license:

Attribution (especially to this blog post)
Share alike

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Jersey - Don't mention the War!

One of the first things that really jumped out at me about Jersey and the Channel Islands, when I started researching for this blog, is the fact that the Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by the Nazis during World War Two.  For Jersey and the other islands, the Nazi Occupation was a national trauma which has shaped the history of modern Jersey and left a legacy of museums, books and movies, which document and record the Occupation for future generations. 

What really happened?

Once a war has finished, it's sometimes difficult to know exactly what went on.  History is written by the victors and I'm pretty sure that people change their perception of what happened, how they felt etc. in relation to the ultimate outcome of the war itself.  In his book, Living with the Enemy: What really happened (1995), Roy McLaughlin makes a good attempt at unravelling the realities of the Nazi Occupation of the Channel Islands and looks at the perspective of the war from both the local point of view and that of the German soldiers stationed in the Channel Islands during that period.

Different reactions

It was interesting, for me, to see the different reactions of the four main Channel Islands, to the Nazi Occupation.  The entire population of Alderney was evacuated to England (except for two farmers who returned under Nazi rule) and the island became a de facto prison camp for slave workers from Eastern Europe and Spain.  By contrast, the inhabitants of Sark stayed put, under the formidable leadership of Dame Sibyl Hathaway, who seemed to treat the German occupiers as new house staff!  Guernsey also started down the road of evacuation, sending children back to England and Scotland, whereas most inhabitants of Jersey stayed on the island and tried to 'keep calm and carry on'. 

It's quite shocking to see photos of the Nazi flag flying in 1940's Jersey and I'm sure that the propaganda value of the Occupation was exploited to the full by the Nazi government. 

Abandonment v collaboration

British government poster from 1939
Needless to say, the Nazi Occupation of the Channel Islands was a very low point in UK-Jersey relations.  One on hand, the islanders felt 'abandoned' by their fellow Britons - on the other hand, many people in the UK wondered how the islanders could continue living under Nazi rule and questioned whether or not the islanders were 'collaborating' with the enemy.  In a bid to save the islands from destruction, they were demilitarised in June 1940, although the demilitarisation wasn't announced until after the first German bombing raids, which killed a total of 38 people on Jersey and Guernsey. 

It's clear that the British approach to the Channel Islands' Occupation was disorganised and inconsistent.  The War Office didn't consider the islands to be strategic to the defense of Britain and the lack of a coherent approach by the War Office and Home Office led to confusion and disarray.  Acting against official government policy, Churchill tried to rally a response to Occupation by sending spies to Guernsey, but this undermined the islanders position and worsened an already difficult relationship between the states of Guernsey and the occupiers. 

Jersey was eased into the Occupation years by the diplomacy of Alexander Coutanche, who established a fairly workable relationship with the occupiers.  Many British people failed to understand how there could be no resistance movement in Jersey and the other Channel Islands, as there was on mainland France and this was viewed with great suspicion, however, the islanders pointed out that there was nowhere for a resistance movement to hide or retreat to, on an island that is a mere 46 miles squared.

So how bad was the Occupation?

The Nazis had a relatively benevolent approach to the Channel Islands, particularly at the beginning of the Occupation, as they tried to win the hearts and minds of their new British subjects.  The main hardships of Occupation seem to have been more general ones, such as food shortages, which also affected people in mainland Britain and for logistical reasons, the Nazis confiscated the islanders' bicycles!  McLoughlin points to the following three main factors that represented the hardships that Occupation brought to the islands:

Nazi control tower on Jersey by mrwalker
1.  Banning the radio.  At the beginning, islanders were allowed to use their radios and even listen to BBC news but, as the war went on, the Nazis banned the use of radios - a crime punishable by transportation to Germany.  Somehow many islanders managed to hide radios and continue listening to updates from the BBC - it seems most people weren't caught doing this, unless a neighbour informed on them.

2. The arrival of foreign prisoners.  Whilst the islands weren't considered to be strategically important to the British, Hitler was determined to turn them into the most fortified place in the Atlantic!  The Nazis built grand-scale defences on Jersey and the other islands and imported labour, mostly slaves from Eastern Europe and Republican prisoners from Spain, to construct their Atlantic Wall fortifications. 

Whilst the islanders were mostly left in peace, to carry on with their normal lives, the slave-labourers were treated really badly and their treatment was witnessed by the islanders, who were as distressed as any normal human would be at the suffering of others.  Many islanders risked their lives and the lives of their families, by sheltering escaped Russian, Ukrainian and Spanish prisoners who'd fled the horrors of the labour camps.

3. The deportation of non-native inhabitants.  In reprisal for the British internment of German citizens in Iran, the Nazis announced, in 1942, that all non-native (ie. from the British mainland) inhabitants of the Channel Islands would be deported to Germany.  Perhaps more than anything else, this brought home the realities of the war to the islanders who, until that point, had had a fairly peaceful relationship with the Occupiers. 

Liberation and the legacy of the war

Liberation Square, St Helier by amandabhslater
The Channel Islanders felt abandoned again when, in June 1944, during the D-Day landings, the British and other Allied forces liberated Normandy, but didn't arrive in Jersey to liberate the Channel Islands from Nazi rule.  In fact, the Nazis remained in Jersey and the other islands until May 1945, when Germany was finally defeated and the Occupiers agreed to leave.  The winter of 1944/45 was a bitterly cold one and the islanders suffered many deprivations which might have been avoided had they been liberated earlier.  Again, the liberation of the Channel Islands didn't seem to be high on the list of priorities for the British government.

The end of war saw the return of those inhabitants who'd been evacuated in 1940.  McLoughlin describes the uneasy relationship between the returnees and those who had stayed behind.  Another legacy of the war was the number of children of German parentage that had been born to island women and this 'sexual colonisation' of Jersey reminded me of a similar topic I researched for my blog post about the war in Eritrea

The number and influence of informers in Jersey during the war is a controversial and divisive topic that hasn't been fully researched or investigated and remains, to a certain extent, an island taboo.

The Russians in Jersey

I like the way McLoughlin devotes a chapter at the end of his book to look at the Occupation from the eyes of the Occupiers and it's interesting to read how ordinary German soldiers were happy to be posted to the Channel Islands, as it was almost like a holiday from the front line and a refuge from British bombardment, common in Germany and elsewhere.   It would be quite interesting to also know what life on Jersey was like for the many Russians, Ukrainians and Poles who spent the war there.  It must have been truly bizarre to find themselves transported to this western outpost of Nazi Europe, many miles from their Eastern European homelands. 

Image credits:

The 1939 British government poster Keep Calm and Carry on is in the public domain. 

The image of the Nazi control tower was taken by flickr member mrwalker - you can see more of his photos on his Flickr account

The image of the sculpture on Liberation Square in St Helier is by flickr member amandabhslater - Amanda lives in St Helier and you can see more of her images on her photostream

Thanks to Mr Walker and Amanda for sharing these images with us using the Creative Commons License.