Tagged: Korean Language

Kinder Graduation: The Impending Doom

No, it’s not global warming, peak oil, or another financial bust, it’s Kindergarten graduation! Apparently, this is a big deal in Korea (yet another thing added to the list of lies my recruiter told me). The “2010 Variety Show” features a full line up of skits, sing-a-longs, dances, and drum solos to be performed by the departing seven year old children. Hundreds of friends and family members of the soon-to-be elementary school students will flood the Namgu Auditorium at 9 a.m. sharp this coming Friday. As part of my ever expanding job description, I’ll be narrating a play about a Lion with hiccups, playing the monster in “Hungbu and Nolbu”, doing a 45 second dance to a Korean pop song, and finally — a full on dance routine to another Korean pop song called “Superman”. In three days… urgh. Let’s just get it over with. All month we’ve been practicing these routines, and I’m starting to get a little stressed about it. Did I mention my lines are in Korean? Or that my dance could get ‘mad props’ and ‘much respect’ from JC?

Lines to memorize:

“Nee ga Nolbu nya? Ee na bhun Nolbu, kam hee jay bee uh moke ughl, bo law duh lyaw? Bawl badda ya geyt da!”

“Ha ha ha ha! Na nun sheem pahn ja! — Naw gat chee na bun Nolbu nun, bawl bad ah ya hey!” (Wreck house and strike fear into feeble minded hearts)

We are supposed to be memorizing the lyrics (also in Korean) for the Superman song. What really bothers me about this is the fact that they simply handed us a sheet of words (written in Korean) and said, “Please memorize”. Even my partner teachers (who are Korean) found this hard to believe. “That is a really hard song even if you speak Korean”. Recognizing the gravity of such a request, we were later provided a Romanized version of the lyrics….

Ahbbulssa eo-jjon heojeon hadeora

Paran tah-ee-jeuh-eh bbalgan paenti-neum nae charming point-uh

Dolahrah jiguyeoldu bakwi

I don’t know what it says either, which is why I won’t be singing it on Friday. I’ll be there on stage with the rest of the teachers, dancing like there’s a scorpion in my pants and doing the mime box. But the line has to be drawn somewhere my friends, and I’m already having to wear lipstick and mascara.

in Life


A few people back home have been asking what we did in Korea to celebrate the new year. A moon gazing hike up Mudeung-san? Attending the Sunrise Festival with a backpack full of beers? All night bar hopping and bell ringing in Seoul? Although we discussed doing all of these things, we actually did none of them. Mudeung was too cold, Mokpo too local (even by local standards), and Seoul promised only madness. So instead a bunch of us foreigners headed downtown here in Gwangju for an evening of celebration.

A bar called Pub is where we spent most of the night casually drinking pitchers and ripping shots of tequila. Pub was unique for a few reasons. The menu, although written in hangul, spelled English words. Water, for example, was listed as 오어트 (~watuh). The Korean word for water is 물 (~mool). It went on like this; English words written in Hangul. As a native English speaker that can read Hangul, this was kind of cool. For once I was able to place an order without feeling like a cave man. But what of the everyday Korean man? Does he read 오어트 and think to himself “와트 다 바크?” (~what the fuck). I pondered this with my foreign chums, and three bottles of tequila later, we were still pondering. The great thing about Pub really is their menu; you can order a 1 litre bottle of Jose Cuervo for 49000 KRW. Too drunk to finish? Why that’s no problem at all! A few pen strokes across a leather bound linear field of blue micro dots, and they’ll cork your bottle for next time — free of any additional charge. Come back and finish whenever within 90 days.

As the clock neared midnight, we meandered our way into the clogged artery of center city Gwangju, unsure of what to even expect or look for. It was cold and we were not sober, so the decision was made early not to wander very far from the nearest bar. We settled on a tighty packed area in front of 5.18 Democracy Square. At eleven fifty-nine fourty-nine, the drunken countdown began. “Ship… Gooooo… Paaaal… Chiil… Yooook… Ohhhh… Saaaaa… Saaaam… Eeeeeee… Eeeeeel….


in Life

Learn Hangul, the Korean Language… slowly

Three months now of studying Korean, and according to my Korean teacher, I am a master of incomplete sentence structure. It’s hard. Verbs are especially difficult to get a hold of because the form is changed to suite necessary and nonsensical formalities of everyday Korean conversation. For instance, moak da (목다) means eat, but to be used correctly in a statement it must become moak sum nee da (목릅니다) or moak eh yo — the latter being a more informal pronunciation. Different verbs have different endings, and I am still very unclear on the science behind when to use what.  Verbs always come at the end of a sentence, and most formal endings sound like ‘nee da’ or ‘eh yo’.  Therefore, watching Korean television or listening to the radio, it sounds a lot like they are just repeating themselves.

I have been alright.

Take care of yourself.

Give my best regards to your wife.

Welcome. Please make yourself at home.

Learning to read Hangul (the Korean alphabet) on the other hand was very easy. One could master Hangul with only a few hours of studying if they really wanted to. Outside of Seoul, it is almost essential to learn to read if you plan on venturing beyond the very limited establishments which cater to western culture. Sometimes you may not know what your saying, but the world will be less overwhelming and a lot less foreign. In Hangul, symbols which represent certain phonetic movements of the mouth are combined to form sounds and (eventually) words.

ㅏ= a

ㅁ=/m sound/

ㅁ + ㅏ= 마   /ma/

ㅑ= ya

ㅂ=/b or p sound/

ㄹ=/l sound/

ㅂ+ㅑ+ㄹ = 뱔   /byal/

Get it? The beauty of Hangul is its control over pronunciation. Much attention must be given to how you actually speak Korean. If a word is not pronounced correctly, it may take on a totally new meaning and leave you red in the face. The language is therefore more uniform in sound than English. For example, my friends in Maine will say “Where’d ya pahk the caah?” In North Carolina, they might say “Where’d ya’ll park the car?” How exactly you say the words doesn’t matter because the meaning remains constant. In Korean however, new kew seh yo? (누구세요) means who is it? When my accent kicks in it sounds more like new dew seh yo (누두세요) which means who is your shoes. A simple error completely changes the meaning of the sentence. See my problem?

While the western alphabet had to evolve for thousands of years to become what it is today, Hangul was individually created in 1443 by King Sejong as “the proper sound for instructing people”. Sejong’s main goal for creating Hangul was to combat illiteracy and give the uneducated people “something that they wish to put into words”.  An excerpt from Fifty Wonders of Korea Volume 1 does a beautiful job of elaborating on King Sejong’s invention.

“[…] The basic consonant symbols were schematic drawings of the human speech organs in the process of articulating certain sounds, while the other consonants were formed by adding strokes to these five basic shapes. The vowels were formed according to the three fundamental symbols of Eastern philosophy. The round represents heaven. The flat represents Earth. The upright represents Man.

ㅇ     ㅡ    ㅣ

history of hangul

seoul, take 2

In Korea, if you want the price lowered, you say “ga ga joosayo”. Hahaha. I think this is hilarious, and apparently so do some Koreans. The one time I used “ga ga joosayo” this past weekend at a jewelery store, the clerk flat-out laughed in my face. Then she called over the manager, repeated the phrase in a mocking tone, and he too laughed in my face. Did I just ask for a blow job? Only after the manager caught his breathe did he knock off 5000 KRW. Confused? Yeah me too.

Navigating our way through the spaghetti pile of subway stops and transfer stations was much easier the second time. We sat next to a Korean teenager on our first train from the Express Bus Terminal to Sinseol-dong. He was noticeably red in the face and, as they say in New England, right fackin’ pie-eyed. He ran off the train at the next stop, and puked in a storm drain next to a very well-dressed Korean man violently kicking a vending machine. Nobody seemed to notice except for us.

We stayed at two hostels, one in Sinseol-dong called Backpackers Korea (or something very close to that) and another near Hongik University called Hongdae Guesthouse 2.0. Nicknamed the “Yellow Submarine”, the Hongdae Guesthouse is managed by a middle aged Korean man named Henry. He looks like John Lennon, really, he does. For anyone looking for a cheap hostel at a great location in Seoul, look no further than the Yellow Submarine; 17000 KRW a night to stay in a newly renovated town house (carved up like a frat house) just a 15 minute walk from the ridiculous night life near Hongik University. The employees speak English and are VERY hospitable. Please enjoy.

Coming home from the 2009 Seoul Lantern Festival, we stopped at a bar called Texas, which oddly enough served mainly European beers — except for Sam Adams and Honey Brown. Don’t waste your time at this bar, unless you enjoy pissing your money away on skunk beer and second hand smoke. It was late, so we waved down a cab for a ride back to the hostel. Upon telling him were we were looking for the Yellow Submarine, he drove away immediately. Poor choice of words I think. No matter, the alley was awash with taxis. Another cab pulled up immediately, but when we tried to get in, the doors were locked. “Where are you going?” he said in perfect English. Hongik University Subway Station? “Yes I will take you there for 15,000 KRW.” The previous cab ride had cost half that amount. “We’ll just walk.” Confused, the cabbie rolled up his window and drove away. A third taxi driver pulled up… and the doors were not locked. As he raced us down the two four-lane road towards Hongik Station, he started frantically pushing he buttons on his GPS and made a few rather obscure left turns into alley ways and gas stations. It became clear to us that this cabbie did not know where he was going, or he was trying to rip us off by running up the meter. Either way, we wanted out. One of us said, “Yogeeyo”, which in Korean means “drop me off here asshole”. Lost somewhere in the general area of our hostel, there was only one solution; booze. Cackling like hyenas in front of a gas station as we ripped butts and mixed soju with beer, the Koreans passerby’s were magnificently unimpressed. It was then I said it; “I love this city.”