As morning light arrived in 1958, my eyes automatically turned to the top of Mudeung-san. It gave me the weather report for the day. Aloft in my underpowered aircraft, the top of Mudeung-san told me that I was nearly home, my makeshift, abandoned stucco cottage left by the Japanese Imperial Army. Looking for the sole grass airstrip, I knew that the winds of Mt. Mudeung-san cast confusing streams of air current. Hence, I had to get low enough to see flag directions. Over the tents of the Republic of Korea, 1st Corp army my L-19 plane allowed me to escape the ardurous gravel road trip from Taejon by Jeep. That small detachment of 26 Americans surrounded by 4,000 Korean troops was home through parts of two winters. More than a half century later, Korea has changed immensely. But, Mudeung-san stands as ever, symbolic in the heart of an old warrior.
When you’re on a bus like this, the tendency is to forget where you are. All of the ambient non-sense, and unnecessary dialogue, will scramble your brain. Next time, get your own car first. Then roll down your window all the way before lighting a cigarette.
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.
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.
ㅁ + ㅏ= 마 /ma/
ㅂ=/b or p 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