Mun Ok Sun

Mun Ok Sun was a famous Korean shaman who lived on Cheju Island. I met her in 1978 when she was doing a healing ceremony in a straw-covered house near the Cheju Folk Museum. A former diver for shellfish and seafood, she was born and grew up in a rural culture steeped in Taoist, naturalistic […]

If Cowry Shells Could Predict the Future

The weeks surrounding New Year’s Day are prime time for the world’s fortune-tellers. While many people have resolutions, others are looking for help on important decisions ahead about health, marriages and jobs. Fortune-tellers are natural allies. They listen patiently as clients mull over last year’s disappointments and express their fears about what lies ahead. For […]

When Boys Will Not Be Boys

The visit to the Tunisian mobile health clinic took us out of the city past the Roman viaduct towards the mountain villages. Tunis disappeared behind a winding upward road. Sparse settlements dotted the slopes and draft animals poked along the road. I spotted a girl on a donkey heading our way to the edge of […]

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Women, culture and healing

Why are most Asian babies born with a birthmark that looks like a bruise at the base of the spine? Doctors and traditional midwives usually have different explanations for this “Mongolian spot.” According to medical experts, abuse has nothing to do with it. The bluish-grey blotch is merely a genetic gift from the parents and […]

Mothers and Sons

Did you ever hear the riddle about the boy whose father was a famous surgeon? The child grew up fine and strong, but when he was 15-years-old, he and his father had a car accident. By chance, they were taken to different hospitals. The boy’s critical condition required immediate surgery. When the surgeon was called, […]

Competing on a level playing field

When my daughter was 12-years-old, she came home proudly holding broken blocks of wood. She held them like prize plaques, one in each hand. “Guess what? I broke this with my foot today at tae kwon-do class.” I stared in amazement at the one-inch-thick pieces with their stone-like surfaces. She swore that it was easy […]

This is the Hand That Built

This is the hand that raised the kids                         That played in the kitchen                                     That had the pot                                                 That cooked the corn                                                             That sold in the market                                                                         That fed the family                                                             […]

Are Women a Sack of Potatoes?

I never thought that potatoes and onions would ever attract my intellectual curiosity, but lately these two legumes have turned into giant metaphors about gender and politics. Potatoes as a cornerstone of political analysis appeared many years ago when Marx wrote about French peasants as “potatoes in a sack.” The reason he called them potatoes […]