During the first week we were here on Jeju Island, S. Korea, we were awakened by someone’s cuckoo clock cuckooing incessantly in the early hours of the day before 6 a.m. We are lodged in the hotel where the Mayflower Church is living. They and a small number of Korean residents occupy the entire hotel, and, because it has essentially been transformed into a residence hotel, it looks like a hotel but operates like an apartment building.

our-hotelAll the little suites have a long balcony along the windows, and we follow the custom of most of our neighbors by leaving the windows open to allow the
cooler air in during the night. We thought it was odd that one of the families would have a loud cuckoo clock, but the open windows, we thought, accounted for the early morning wake-up call, the sound traveling easily in the early morning quiet. We are used to roosters in Uganda, so why not a cuckoo clock here in S. Korea?

We wondered about this, and each morning I would get up and try to get a sense of which direction from our suite the clock was located, but the sound, though loud, was elusive – I couldn’t pin it down.

Then on Thursday of that first week, when I woke up, it finally dawned on meOur Porch
that we were not hearing a cuckoo clock but the call of an actual cuckoo bird in the wild. I jumped on my computer and sure enough, S. Korea, and Jeju Island, in particular, is host to eight different kinds of cuckoo birds within the cuckoo species (Cuculiformes: Cuculidae). And because I know you’re going to ask, I’ll just go ahead and tell you: they are the Northern Hawk Cuckoo, the Indian Cuckoo, the Common Cuckoo, the Oriental Cuckoo, the Himalayan Cuckoo, the Chestnut-Winged Cuckoo, the Lesser Coucal, and the Lesser Cuckoo. Wow! It’s a cuckoo convention out here.

This brings up a very interesting tidbit about cuckoo birds. I’ve always had a warm place in my heart for cuckoo birds because of the familiar and traditional cuckoo clocks of my childhood. I realize now that my affection for the clock version may have been misplaced. It seems that several species among the various cuckoo birds are classified as “brood parasites.” This means that the mother cuckoo flies through the forest seeking out other birds’ nests. When she finds one, she lays her eggs in the nest and flies away happy and carefree.

I guess birds are not the brightest bulbs in the lamp because when the builder of the nest returns and finds it full of eggs, she rejoices and settles down upon her miraculous clutch of eggs that she can’t remember laying, but well, there they are, so…. 

Apparently, she never realizes she is raising a brood of baby cuckoos – “It’s funny dear, they don’t look like you or me, and look how big and strong they are. I don’t know why all of them make that same annoying sound. I love them, but they are such a handful. I can’t wait for the empty nest phase cuckoo birdsof our life together.” So that famous little cuckoo bird we all think is such a cute little critter popping out of that clock and cuckooing so delightfully upon the hour is actually quite a little rapscallion.

All this to say that we are awakened daily upon the hour of 5 and 6 a.m. by the latest musical rhythms of one of eight possible kinds of pregnant cuckoo birds briefly squatting in some other bird’s nest out there in all that tropical greenery. Now that’s what making a memory is all about.