Friday, May 28, 2010

The Final Countdown

As of today, I am officially done with 3 of my 4 terms as a teacher here in Korea. That means only 13 more weeks left in this experience. Wow!

I would just like to take this opportunity to apologize for my lack of posts recently. I have a few half-written entries that I have just not been inspired to finish. I promise they will be coming soon!

I would also like to let everyone know that I am closely following all the news about the tensions between North and South Korea and getting as much information as I possibly can. If you have an urgent opinion about the issue, please contact me and let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Children's Day and Parents' Day

While Americans use the fifth of May to celebrate the victory of Mexican troops over their French oppressors, throughout Korea and much of Southeast Asia the day is used to celebrate children. For elementary school children in particular, this day is one of great importance. Many children get the day off from school, and in some cases, subsequent days off as well, although I have been unable to verify if school is officially canceled or if the parents are just really, really nice.

On the holiday itself, it is traditional for parents to buy a gift for their child or to take their child somewhere special. For example, families may go to the movies, the zoo, or to an amusement park. However, my friend and I went to the shopping capital of Seoul on Children's Day to find it bursting with people, very few of whom were children. The only logical conclusion, therefore, is that the parents took the day off to "spend with their children" and instead went on a shopping spree.

Three days after Children's Day is Parents' Day, on May 8. On Parent's Day, the tradition is to buy a flower, typically a carnation, for your mother or father. This year the day fell on a Saturday, so from Friday through Sunday, convenience stores and florists sold small, premade baskets of flowers outside their stores, and street vendors switched products to sell the same. This makes the holiday pretty difficult to miss for Seoulites.

On a related note, happy Mother's Day to the greatest mom in the world! I love you!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Known in America widely for being a pretty ridiculous song, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" was actually quite famous in Korea for a while as well. Although Americans enjoyed it for its somewhat nonsensical lyrics and vaguely catchy tune, Koreans liked it for a different reason. Specifically, the song appealed to the younger generation. It turns out that the title/ commonly repeated lyric of the song "Who Let the Dogs Out?" sounds like words in the Korean language. In Hangeul (the Korean alphabet), the line would be written as such: "우울할 때 똥 싸."

The English phonetic equivalent of that text is "ooh-ool hal dae ddong ssa."

It translates to "When I feel gloomy, I poop."

Kind of different.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

English Word Sounds that Don't Appear in the Korean Alphabet

The Korean alphabet is made up of letters that are pronounced phonetically. This is great for someone who is learning to read Korean because the pronunciation is consistent from word to word. The problem comes when attempting to "Korean-ize" English words. Korean society is being infiltrated by American culture, but there are some word sounds that just don't translate. For example...

  • The letter for "r" and "l" is the same. This has resulted in many, many stereotypes against Asian culture. The Korean alphabet has a character ㄹ that sounds like an "r" and an "l" combined. Impossible, you say? Sort of. I've been trying for months and I still can't quite do it right.
  • There is no letter that sounds like "i." This is one of those things that only becomes a problem when writing English words in Korean. The Korean alphabet just doesn't have this vowel sound. Instead, the sound for "i" is made by writing two vowel's consecutively: "ah" plus "ee." If you say it fast, you can see how these sounds together make an "i."
  • There is no letter that sounds like "f." This is usually solved by using the letter for "p" instead, and these sounds are close enough to keep me satisfied with the translation. However, on occasion the letter "h" will be used, which leads to ridiculous words like "hu-rench hu-ries."
  • There is no letter that sounds like "v." This is a fairly minor complaint because "b" and "v" have very similar sounds. In fact, I mainly mention it for two reasons. The first is the popularity of Valentine's (or Balentine's) Day here. The second reason is the popularity of the movie Avatar, or as it is written in Korean and pronounced by all of my students, Abatah.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Korea is a culture that seems to be obsessed with coffee. Coffee shops here are not simple buildings; they often have two or three levels, all of which are packed full of customers. This holds true despite the overwhelming number of coffee establishments that exist in the city. Often, several multi-story shops will be on the same block as each other. Sitting around in a coffee shop is just something people do...a lot.

All around the world, people go to coffee shops for the same basic reasons: the coffee tastes better than when you make it at home and hey, we're all a little lazy sometimes. However, in Korea, going to a coffee shop is pretty much the only option, as I have found getting quality coffee in your home to be quite the difficult task. I made the mistake of buying my own coffee pot when I arrived, because it was cheap and I like drinking coffee. There's nothing wrong with the pot, it's finding something to brew in it that's the problem.

Most coffee for sale in stores here is instant coffee. It's contained in tiny sticks that are at least 50% sugar, and it is hugely popular. They're sold everywhere, usually in packs of 100 or 500. I myself have drank some of these at work in dire situations, but it's more like drinking hot chocolate than anything else. Finding actual ground coffee beans to brew at home is very challenging. They can be purchased from coffee shops like Starbucks, but run around $20 for a bag, which in my opinion is a bit steep (even for Starbucks). Therefore, I too have been forced to turn to coffee shops when I want my caffeine fix. Although the coffee I can buy is delicious, I do miss waking up to the smell of coffee in the morning.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

White Day

Today is a holiday of sorts here in South Korea: White Day. A month ago, we celebrated Valentine's Day. Like in America, Valentine's Day celebrates couples or prospective love interests. However, it is a male-centric holiday. If you are the female half of a couple, you buy chocolate or a present for your man, but do not receive a gift in return (although it is common for couples to go on a romantic date). The reason is that women are celebrated one month later on White Day. In the days leading up to March 14, it's deja vu all over again as the convenience stores and shops put out flowery baskets and heart-shaped candy boxes for men to buy for their women.

This holiday creates an interesting dynamic for gift exchange. On the positive side, men often confess that they are unsure what presents to buy for their girlfriends, especially at the beginning of the relationship. This holiday pair system gives the man the advantage of already knowing how "serious" of a present he received. On the other hand, the relationship is one month more serious on the relationship scale when his turn comes. And more importantly, as I pointed out to some coworkers, the man has the opportunity to receive a gift and then become single before he has to return the favor (not saying it happens often, just saying it's possible).

Luckily, if the man should choose to behave that way, the woman could still celebrate herself on Black Day, the April 14th holiday in honor of singles.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Answers to Earlier Questions: The Trash

Today, I learned the reason why there are no trash cans on the streets of Seoul. I brought this issue up earlier in my post about dealing with garbage, on October 25. Well, this mystery has been solved, and the answer is definitely original. Apparently the reason that there are very few public trash cans is to reduce the possibility of trash can bombings. In particular, they are worried about bombs placed by North Koreans.

True story.