Elwood 5566

Learn Hanja the Fun Way!

Posted in Korean language by 노강호 on February 25, 2011

After my post (When Goggle was Gobble-Dee-Gook)  describing some of the developments that have taken place in the last ten years which now provide greater support for those interested in Korea and Korean culture, a post on a book on hanja designed specifically for the non-Korean student.

Fantastic! Learn Hanja the Fun Way

Learn Hanja the Fun Way, by Lee Yong Hee is extremely user-friendly and presented in a manner that introduces the student to the major radicals and links them to their pictographical roots. The remainder, and bulk of the book is focused on 50 theme based lessons covering topics such as numbers, days, people, the family through to the economy, university and globalization. At the end of each topic a passage is provided in Hangul which incorporates the hanja characters presented up to this point. The reading comprehension is of great benefit as it helps consolidate learning and provides an example of how hanja is used. The author has taken great care to ensure the Hangul isn’t too difficult to present yet another problem. Each topic is rounded of with a four character proverb from the famous Ch’on Cha Mwun, One Thousand Characters (천자문). At the end of the book is a useful section providing hanja for country names, Korean cities, surnames and antonyms.

a large soft back book slightly over A4 size.

This is the first book I have seen which is designed specifically with the non-Korean speaker in mind and along with Bruce K Grants, A Guide to Korean Characters, will allow you to master the 1800 characters used in South Korea.  All you need now is 20 years of study!

Learn Hanja the Fun Way (Chinese Characters for Foreign Learners), by Lee Young Hee (이영회), is available in most large book stores. I bought mine in Kyobo Books, Daegu. It costs 14000 Won and is published by Hangookmunhwa Sa (한국문화사).  ISBN 978-89-5726-232-0 13710.

Homepage: hankookmunhwasa.co.kr

Poor photo quality, sorry!

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In the Days When Google was Gobble-dee-gook

You naively expected this

Podcast 72

I often mention that ten only a few years ago there was little information available on most aspects of Korean culture. Looking back just a few years the changes that have taken place are truly incredible. For those of us who are older, it is easy to forget that access to a whole range of information, all at your fingertips, is a luxury that at one time did not exist and that ‘one time’ was only a couple of years ago; for those who are younger, it is worth pondering the Korean experience before the incredible growth in access to, and compilation of, information – a process still in development.

and found this

When I decided to come to Korea in 2000, it certainly wasn’t for a job and the only factor influencing my decision to step on the plane was to discover a country which at the time ranked with exotic and mysterious destinations such as Mongolia and Tibet.  Just ten years ago anyone coming to Korea, perhaps more so from Europe than the USA, which has had both a closer relationship with Korea and attracted a substantial number of Korean immigrants, did so blind. Other than the information supplied by your recruiter and the odd book in libraries, access to information or first hand accounts was scant. Those who decide to come to Korea today are able to furnish themselves from the abundance of information available in a range of formats and I suspect many are now lured here not because of  the mysterious, but in search of employment. I in no way mean to demean or underplay the reasons people currently come to Korea and it certainly provides a culture shock. But I envy  those who arrived here in the early 1990’s or 1980’s at a time when Korea was not the place it was in 2000.

when your PC looked like this (Macintosh PC circa 1999)

I kept a diary from my first day and reading through its pages it is clear how the internet has become a fundamental resource in both deliberating whether to undertake the experience and in influencing and developing your understanding of Korea. It may even influence the experiences you engage in while on the peninsula. Change has been so rapid, and the resources we now access  have become so integral, it is easy not just to take fore-granted its impact,  but to even doubt that it was really that difficult to access information in the first place.

and your mobile phone, if you had one, looked like this (2000)

Writing in hangul was a major obstacle and you simply couldn’t go into your PC, make a few tweaks and then be able to write in Korean or hanja and besides, in 2000, few teachers had air-conditioning let alone a personal computer with an internet connection. Before laptops and net-books, most of the waygukin you met were in PC bangs where you spent a substantial part of your week. And If you bought a PC  you were privileged but still required Microsoft Proofing Tools to enable you to write in Korean or hanja and which cost c£70 a package.

Korean dictionaries, certainly in the UK, were small and difficult to buy. On the eve of my first trip, I went to London’s largest bookshop, Foyles, and discovered the entire range of books on the Korean language amounted to two introductory books, a useless dictionary and the small copy of the NTC Compact Korean English Dictionary. I bought all four depleting them of their entire Korean language collection. The dictionaries used transliterated Korean rather than hangul script. Meanwhile, books devoted to Japanese occupied an entire book case.

and this was what you needed to write Hangul (and it was expensive)

I’ve known a number of westerners who arrived in Korea in the late 80’s  and whose Korean, many years later, is still rudimentary. It’s easy to criticise such apparent laziness until you remember there was no internet to support your learning or provide lessons, few decent language courses or dictionaries and unless you were in Seoul or one of the big cities, few language classes. After a few years enduring such conditions it becomes a case of, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ As for hanja, I’ve met westerners proficient in Korean who didn’t even know what hanja was. While access to information on the internet existed, certainly around 2000, there was very little compiled on Korea or Korean culture and the ability to write in hanja characters was difficult, costly and dependent on Korean based language packages. Today, though limited for the non Korean speaker, information on hanja is available and if you aren’t interested in trying to learning it, you can very easily research what it comprises.

a time when you really did have to 'teach yourself'

Once again, in the UK, other than on the Korean war, there were few books on Korean history and finding information on topics such as the Hwa-Rang-Do or one of the Korean dynasties, was difficult. And when you did find such books, usually in academic libraries rather than public ones, they were specialist and somewhat boring for the reader who wanted general information. It has only been in very recent years, by which I mean the last 6 or 7  that such information has appeared and I can remember trawling Google in 2002 or 2003 and finding very little other than specialist academic references to major, Korean historical periods. Exactly the same conditions applied to Korean culture, prominent figures, cooking or geography.  Back in the UK I have a small collection of books on Korean culture, history, cooking, hanja and language etc, but all of them were printed and bought in Korea, and ferried back to the UK. So, on returning to Britain in 2002 and 2004, I felt I had to take a part of Korea home with me because there was no way to access ‘Korea’ in the UK. In 1997, when TOPIK, the Korean language proficiency test was introduced for non-Korean speakers, it attracted 2274 people; in 2009, 180.000 people took the exam and test centers now exist globally.

TOPIK exam hall

Korean related information on the internet was in its infancy; Google, for example, became a registered domain name in 1997  and certainly before 2000 most lay-people researched information from software such as Encarta. In 2000, I was originally going to teach in Illsan, I can remember using the internet to find information on this location and found very little. I have just this moment keyed ‘Illsan’ into Google search and in 14 seconds have access to 1.800.000 written resources and 1200 images. Learning Korean and hanja meant you compiled your own dictionary because the words or characters your learnt weren’t in dictionaries and there were no translation tools such as Babblefish or Google to provide support. Even with hangul, I still keep my own dictionary because western ones, even on the internet, don’t explain words uniquely Korean. As for idioms? Try searching Korea idioms on the internet or the availability of electronic dictionaries which are designed for the English native speaker learning Korean. All resources still being developed.

Resources in their infancy 10 years ago, blogging, vlogging, podcast, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter etc, have since become a fundamental means of sharing experiences and providing first hand information not just about all aspects of Korean culture, but on more specific topics such as life for the foreigner and whether you are vegetarian, teacher or gay, information is readily available. Blogging now provides an immense wealth of information but it is worth remembering that the term ‘blog’ was only coined by Peter Merholz, in 1999. Major blogging software which has helped give rise to the blogging phenomena are recent developments: Blogger emerged in 1999 and WordPress in only in 2003.

Song So, Daegu, November 2000

Even today, unless you live in London, obtaining Korean foodstuff is still almost an impossibility and online order of Korean foodstuffs is undeveloped. None of this is very surprising given there were very few Korean living in the UK until recently. Between 1998-1992, at a university with one of the most diverse students populations in the UK, there was a total absence of Koreans and Russians. Indeed, I was to meet Mongolian students before I met any from Korea. And, I can recall the very first five Korean I met; the first, a taekwondo instructor in London, in 1979, the second, a taekwondo instructor in Paderborn, Germany, in 1986, the third, a student in a school near New Maldon,  London, in 1998, and finally, two Koreans in a hotel in the Philippines, in 1998. I had a fleeting ‘meeting’ with Rhee Ki-ha (now  9th Degree Black Belt, taekwon-do), in 1988 but as a grading taekwon-do student, I was forbidden to talk to him.

Daegu 2001. When westerners were still a little unique

Korean Culture – the Korean Wave, Korean football players playing for British football teams, LG, Nong Shim, I-River etc, all arrived on British shores in the years following my first visit and indeed, this Christmas, I was treated to the first Korean cookery program I have see on British television. However, I suspect its genuineness as the recipes included beetroot and English pear (you can easily buy Asian pear in the UK). And neither chopsticks or kimchi featured!

and before the advent of the Korean wave

Up until a few years ago, if you arrived in Korea from Britain, you probably knew nothing about Korean society and possibly expected ‘second world’ conditions. Much of what you learnt about Korea occurred through accidentally stumbling across something and you certainly couldn’t learn from a computer screen. Indeed, access to a computer was probably detrimental to your Korean experience, removing you from, rather than immersing you in, Korean culture. Today, a computer can certainly enhance your experience and if you need to know how to: use your Korean washing machine, plan a trip, find a doctor during a holiday or translate a sentence from Korean into Blackfoot, it’s at your fingertips. Day to day life in Korea has been ‘made simple’ by the tomes of information we can now access  and only last week I used the internet to help me adjust my ondol heating control. With hundreds of accounts on topics such as soju, the Boryeonng Mud Festival  and kimchi, done to death, a blogger is forced to use a range of media formats (vlogging, photographs, podcasts, even cartoons), and  driven to be more creative and original in their perspective  especially if posting on what are now common, if not mundane subjects.

Link to TOPIK Guide.

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Five Second Hanja (12) Winter – 겨울 – 동

Posted in Five Second Hanja (Theme), Korean language by 노강호 on February 7, 2011

winter

This character, meaning ‘winter,’ comprises two parts; the lower two strokes are what is known as the ‘radical’ and in this case signify ‘ice.’ These two strokes never appear independently as they are a compression of the original. ‘Ice’ in fact, contains 5 strokes in its full form.  Radicals convey an important part of a character’s meanings and characters can be grouped according to them.

'winter' - 겨울-동

The ‘character’ above the lower two strokes, is really a pictograph which means ‘walking with legs crossed’ or ‘walking slowly.’ Together the implied meaning is ‘winter.’

winter clothes 동복

winter season 동계

Simply highlighting some of the important and simpler characters. For information on stroke order, radicals and the two elements of a character (spoken – meaning), I suggest you obtain a dictionary such as; A Guide to Korean Characters.

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Interlude (8) Pojangmacha (포장마차)

Posted in Interlude (Theme) by 노강호 on January 12, 2011

a typical snack-type pojangmacha

 

Like most of Korea, the area which I first visited 11 years ago has changed significantly and in Song-so, Daegu, where there now stands Mega Town with the Lotte Cinema Complex, the 24 hours jjimjilbang and a host of restaurants, I remember an enormous vacant lot, uneven and with patches of grass and bushes springing randomly across its expanse. Especially in winter, this was home to numerous large pojangmacha (포장마차).

 

huddling around the steam on a cold evening

 

Now, pojangmacha are basically tents which a range of guises from small to large,  basic to elaborate, some selling snacks, other alcohol and which can stand on their own or be ‘tethered’ to a small van. I particularly remember the tents in the  Song-so lot because they were large, heated and open all night and were what many refer to as a ‘soju tents.’  I remember quite a few evenings where we sat until the early hours wrapped  in thick coats, even though the interior was warm, drinking soju or rice wine while enjoying a bowl of spicy  cod roe soup. Maybe it’s just my imagination, because pojangmacha are around all year, but their bright lights and cozy interiors seem to associate them with winter. Even the more open versions which sell spicy cabbage and rice cake (ddeokkboki) and around which people huddle bathing in the steam wafting off the hot food, warm your spirits on a cold evening.

 

pojangmacha (포장마차)

 

If you walked from Song-so to the main gate of  Keimyung University, 11 years ago, there were a number of vacant lots between  high-rise buildings and often  large pojangmacha would occupy them. Today, they are gone, the lots occupied by new buildings to such an extent that in the entire stretch of road there are no longer any soju tents.

 

snack time

 

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Hanja – Bruce K Grant

Posted in Korean language by 노강호 on January 10, 2011

Bruce Grant

For those interested in learning or expanding their knowledge of hanja, the several thousand Chinese characters incorporated into written Korean, one of my favourite books is available outside Korea, via Amazon. A Guide to Korean Characters, by Bruce. K. Grant is an excellent book which I have previously reviewed. The first copy I bought in 2000 at a cost of 15000 Won and ten years later a second copy cost me 15500 Won (£7.50p). Kyobo books in both Seoul and Daegu often have copies readily available.

An excellent and easy to use resource 

The book has excellent reviews and has probably been the most extensive source on Hanja characters since it was first published in 1979.

You don’t have to be an advanced student of Korean to use this book, even if you are a beginner who have just learned Hangul script you should get this inexpensive treasure.
This is pretty much the only book of its kind that is somewhat readily available, so if you see it – buy it.
There is unlikely to be any new books like this one.
For some reason people only seem to bother learning basic Korean, and the publishers know this so they wont bother publishing any new books like this.
But judging by all the positive reviews and remarks for this little book there is a need for material like this.
So, support the learning of Korean outside of South & North Korea and learn more than just the basics – develop and challenge yourself by learning traditional characters and expand your cultural knowledge (one of the 12 reviews currently hosted on Amazon USA).

The book is hardback and durable and even after 10 years of fingering in a sometimes humid climate, my original copy is still in good condition.  Grant has also published books on Korean Proverbs: Dragons Head, Snake Tail and Frog in a Well, (1982),  and White Field Korean (1982).

Also by Bruce Grant

Be careful where you buy Korean Characters as prices vary; in the USA the cost is approx $29 in the UK it is a staggering £35.

Link to Amazon USA

Link to Amazon UK

Previous review on Bathhouse Ballads

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Cultural Contradictions and Anomalies

Posted in Education, Korean language by 노강호 on January 4, 2011

Korean culture is rich in a number of contradictions mammoth enough in their magnitude to be classed Orwellian and in some cases subsequently rendered as oxymorons.

 

Perhaps the most famous oxymorons

 

With two types of school systems in operation, the state school (hakkyo) and the academy (hakkwon)’, the term ‘school holiday’ is a fine example. Kids yearn for the start of school holidays but unfortunately a holiday they are not as academies, private schools offering every subject from art to English, not only continue operating but increase the hours which they are open.  Any free hours remaining can be easily plugged by enrolling  in the sports academies which provide taekwondo, happkido, comdo (kendo), ballet  and dancing, etc, and which also adjust their hours to take advantage of closure of state schools.

Oxymoron – School holidays are academy days

 

Whoppee...a Korean holiday and business as usual in the academies

 

Holidays are nothing like they are in the west and the idea of someone taking two or three weeks off work in which to laze about or go abroad, are rare. For Koreans a vacation usually amounts to couple of days at the most usually taken at the same time as the rest of the nation. As a result, travelling is extremely stressful and vacation locations packed and busy. And of course, vacations are curtailed by the fact all the academies are open and as such all kids should be studying.

Contradiction – ‘holidays/vacations’  – infrequent, short and usually very stressful

 

an annual mass vacation day (courtesy of Life)

 

‘What do you do when you play?’ I once asked a student.

‘I play the violin.’

‘No, what do you do when you play?’

‘I play the computer.’

‘No!  What do you do in your free time?’

‘I play the piano.’

Well, maybe they misunderstood the word ‘play’ but you probably get the idea. Korean kids often have no experience of ‘playing’ as English children  might and a playground packed with children enjoying a range of games such as tag, football, acting out wrestling moves or doing dance routines,  etc,  is something I’ve seldom seen in Korean schools. Some students will even tell you that studying is their hobby! However, I’ve seen plenty of students sleeping at their desk in the five or ten minute intervals in which British kids would be playing.

Oxymoron – ‘play’ is extracurricular study

 

a ‘vacation’ speciality – the bootcamp

 

And then there are exams! Korean students are always taking exams and shortly before they finish you will hear some reference to their ‘last exam.’ The irony is of course, that this is never their final exam but simply an exam which concludes the current batch.

Oxymoron – final exams are a prelude to the next exam

 

mild compared to a vindaloo

 

Koreans are usually always concerned that their food is either ‘too hot’ or ‘too spicy’ for westerners. Most often they conlfate ‘spicy’ and ‘hot’ both of which it is  not. Although one meaning of ‘spicy’ is ‘pungent’ or ‘hot,’ in terms of range of spices, Korean food is limited with chilli, garlic and ginger, being the dominant ingredients. Cinnamon makes an occasional appearance, usually as a sweet drink but undoubtedly Korean food lacks the range of spices used by Indian, Thai or even Chinese cuisines. Neither is Korean food particularly hot when compared with some Caribbean, Mexican and Indian recipes. The Korean chili is substantially milder than the Habanero and Scotch Bonnet and I have not yet eaten a Korean meal which burns ‘at both ends.’ Several years ago I gave a bottle of habanero based sauce to some Korean friends  introducing them to the point that there exist foods  far hotter than kimchi. However, a raw, hot Korean chili still has the capacity to burn the mouth but it won’t incinerate it as some hotter chillies will.

True – Korean food is spicy – as in pungent

False/True – Korean food is spicy in as much as it uses a three main spices

False/True – Korean food is ‘hot’ – well it’s all relative and depends on personal preference but other national  cuisines are typically hotter.

 

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Five Second Hanja (11) Unify – Tong-il (통일)

Posted in Five Second Hanja (Theme), Korean language, taekwon-do by 노강호 on December 11, 2010

Okay, it’s more complicated, but one of my favourite character combinations, and of significant importance in South Korea is, ”Tong-il.’ ‘Tong’ is the character for ‘govern,’ rule’; ‘unite’, ‘all’ while the single stroke on the right, is the character for, ‘one.’  Combined, they mean ”unification which naturally, is an emotive subject on the peninsula.

tong-il

‘Tong-il’ is also the 24th,  and final pattern (tul, hyong) of the ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) system.

Simply highlighting some of the important and simpler characters. For information on stroke order, radicals and the two elements of a character (spoken – meaning), I suggest you obtain a dictionary such as; A Guide to Korean Characters.

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Five Second Hanja (10) Carpenter (목수)

Posted in Five Second Hanja (Theme), Korean language by 노강호 on December 2, 2010

A totem pole being carved

Combining the characters for ‘wood’ (나무-목 =木) and ‘hand’ (손-수 =手) produce the word ‘carpenter’ (목수). This is a combination of two pictograms.

carpenter - 목수

Simply highlighting some of the important and simpler characters. For information on stroke order, radicals and the two elements of a character (spoken – meaning), I suggest you obtain a dictionary such as; A Guide to Korean Characters.

 

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More Crappy Ingrish

Posted in Korean language, Photo diary by 노강호 on November 26, 2010

Crappy Korean English is great especially when practiced by schools that specialize in teaching English as a foreign language.

Entertaining!

even better with a pint of Cass

one of my student’s shirts

Almost as good as my all time favourite, ‘Milky Boy’

Fantastic! Great advice… if you can actually decipher it

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Interlude (7) A Friendlier version of ‘Mr’ ‘Mrs,’ etc. (샘)

Posted in Comparative, Education, Interlude (Theme), Korean language by 노강호 on November 24, 2010

Okay, here is the point. The term ‘sem’ (샘), is a contraction of ‘son-seng-nim’ (선생님 – teacher) using a letter from each syllable block. The contraction is slightly less formal than the full rendition.  Perhaps the closest translation of  ‘son-seng-nim,’ and its contraction, ‘sem,’ is ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’, etc.

 

Education has more than a token value

 

And here is my ‘twisted’ analysis, a micro-rant. Though translated as ‘teacher’ either word fails to slip directly  into English and  presently, in British culture ‘teacher’ is both not too short of being a ‘slur’ and is a bordering  on a euphemism for someone who though highly educated, professional  and constantly vetted by the world’s most rigorous system,  is regarded with great distrust.  The same situation applies to numerous other professions – doctors, nurses, etc. Even the Korean media is learning to pick up on the distrust in which countries like Britain and America hold their teachers and subsequently use it nefariously.

Rooted in Confucian ethics, ”teacher’ (선생님 – 샘) is a term of respect with teachers and education being held in high regard – though less so if you are western. Though not perfect, the Korean education system plays a far greater role in shaping Korean society than it does in many western countries.

As someone permanently struggling with Korean these are my notes on words and phrases I find useful and which are usually not in a dictionary.  Any amendments, recommendations or errors, please let me know.

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