Year: 2012

New motivation

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’m still studying Korean.  Overthinking it maybe.  I don’t really believe people need a tangible reason to study a foreign language, but most people have some kind of motivation.  한류 seems to be the main driving force for the younger (newer?) generation of Korean learners.  But in my case, it’s always felt like Korean chose me.  I love language.  And I had tried to learn several languages before abandoning most of them; something clicked in place when I first heard spoken Korean.  I grew to like Korean music and dramas as a result of that.

I still like Korean music (mostly hiphop and indie) but 2012 was the year that Korean dramas officially died for me.  Granted, there were some I really liked, but when I think about the zeal with which I watched dramas for the first couple years since I discovered them – the spark’s gone.  I only finished three dramas this year and left behind a slew of unfinished ones.  I don’t regret it.

I realized a few months ago that my interest in Korean has shifted away from pop culture and toward literature.  This was the year of Korean novels for me, with SEVEN new ones lining my shelf since January.  Here’s all of them.


(No need to compliment my photography skills.  I know y’all are awed.)

For me, one of the greatest rewards of knowing a foreign language is being able to sample a whole new universe of writing.  I guess it’s not surprising that I’ve come to love and appreciate Korean literature as much as I do.  There are so many great books to be read.

Reading 桜蘭高校ホスト部

Look at what I have not been reading these days.

2012-12-13 22.51.43*squeals*  桜蘭高校ホスト部 (Ouran High School Host Club) is one of my ALL-TIME favorite animes and mangas ever.  It’s cute, funny, endearing, and not to mention the art is gorgeous.  (It’s also the only anime I’ve ever watched both English-subbed and English-dubbed – and the dubbing is very impressive!)  Now shoujo manga can be pretty ridiculous but one of the charms of OHSHC is that it makes fun of its own genre and tropes and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  You have the typical shoujo setup:  a cross-dressing(or is she?) female from a working-class family enters a private academy for the Incredibly Wealthy & Snooty and gets entangled in rich-kid shenanigans – but our heroine Haruhi is far from the typical Mary Sues of shoujo-verse (lookin’ at you, Honda Tohru).  She’s sharp, resourceful, delightfully glib and her deadpan humor keeps readers laughing and rooting for her.

2012-12-13 22.53.02I’m not going to lie – reading this was (is) a very long and painful process.  I’m amazed at how much Kanji I don’t know (heh), but in turn, I’m surprised at how much I do know.  The grammar is very basic and easy to follow; I hardly need to look up anything, even with the mere year of beginning Japanese that I went through.  And the Kanji really isn’t as awful as I make it out to be.  I use the microscopic furigana over each character to get the pronunciation, and I have my Japanese dictionary app open to help with learning the meaning and stroke order.  It works!  I have a notebook that’s solely full of Kanji from this manga and I find myself getting better and better at remembering them without needing to make flashcards.  Yay.

I’m taking just over a week off for winter break (so short *sob*), but hopefully I’ll get around to studying Japanese a little more very soon.  For now, though, my days are consumed by experiments and labwork; I need to get tons of stuff done before Christmas.  Wish me luck.  Sigh.

A peach a day keeps the ghosts away?

If you’ve watched Arang and the Magistrate, you might remember how excited Arang was to eat peaches once she came back to life. I didn’t know this but in Korean (also Chinese and Japanese, I think) mythology/culture, peaches are thought to have special supernatural properties:  They keep ghosts away!

There are a lot of different variations on how and why this story came about, but the general consensus seems to be that peaches symbolize the warmth and vitality of springtime; hence, they repel ghosts which prefer just the opposite.  In fact, one of the ways to exorcise a person thought to be possessed by a spirit is by whacking him with the branch of a peach tree!  The superstition carries so deeply that people don’t serve peaches during 제사, because it scares off ancestral spirits.

Moreover, peaches are considered divine fruits, consumed by the King of Heaven and other immortals to keep them ageless.  They are thought to be a potent ingredient for elixirs and charms for eternal youth, good health, and warding off demons.  Supposedly people used to make everything from bows and arrows to clubs from the wood of peach trees, believing that their weapons too would possess the special powers of the tree from which it was carved.

There are tons more interesting folktales out there about peaches and their “special powers.”  Check them out if you have time!  Personally, I wouldn’t mind some peach cobbler right about now. *sob*

V + ㄹ세

As you all may or may not know, Sungkyunkwan Scandal is one of my favorite dramas; the books are equally entertaining albeit horribly difficult to read.  I’m still plowing through book one, but I have paged through a lot of it and read chunks here and there.  This bit is from the last chapter of book one (all copyright belongs to the author 정은궐).  If any of you are planning to get the books or watch the drama later, don’t worry, none of these passages should be spoiler-worthy.

Okay so this isn’t strictly 사극 말투 but since I’ve often heard it and read it in historical dramas/books, I decided to include it in here.  It’s important to note V+ㄹ세 is sometimes used among the older generation when speaking 하게체, but rarely (if at all) among the younger current generation.  Here we go!

Three scholars in charge of Sungkyunkwan’s student publication (문집) accost Guhro and physically restrain him from escaping.  This year, they intend on getting his contribution to the publication one way or another, even at the risk of their own lives.

“뭐, 뭐야!  이거 놔!”
“글을 주기 전엔 놓아줄 수 없네.  걸오!  글 좀 주게나.”
“죽고 싶지 않으면 썩 떨어져!”
“죽더라도 글을 받기 전엔 떨어지지 않겠네.  우린 지금 유서 써 놓고 이리 달려들었어.”
“무슨 글?”
“우리 셋이 이번에 문집을 맡았네.  꼭 자네 글을 싣고 싶단 말일세.”
“에잇!  내가 미쳤다고 그런 글을 줘?”

Later, Yoonhee marvels over Guhro’s writing.  Guhro gives her a short poem to read and tells her to take it if she likes it.  Yoonhee is amazed that the contents of the poem and the disposition of the writer can be so… different.  Yongha butts in… 

“이런 걸 두고 사기(fraud)라고 하지.  시 속에 지은이의 성품이 녹아 있기 마련이라더니, 말짱 헛말일세!”
“시비 걸려면 내놔!”
“싫습니다!  이제 이건 제 겁니다.”
윤희는 그가 빼앗기 전에 얼른 소맷자락 속으로 넣아서 감추었다.  용하가 평소와 달리 대단히 기분 나쁜 투로 말하였다.
“걸오!  난 왜 안 주는가?  내가 자네 글을 얼마나 갖고 싶어하는데, 왜 난 안 주고 여기 대물만주는가!  나도 사랑 시를 지어 주게.  나도 달란 말일세!”

V + 일세 is used in one of three situations.

  1. When you are letting another person know of your thoughts/opinion on some matter.
  2. As an exclamation, when you’ve realized something for the first time.
  3. When you are conjecturing/surmising or intending to do something.

I think the first and third examples fall more under situation 1.  (Though I do tend to hear this construction more when I would expect to hear 모모 말이야 in contemporary Korean.)  The second example falls more under situation 2.  Not to be mixed up with the 말일세 of the other examples, 헛말 refers to “meaningless/useless words” and the 일세 in this context functions more like 이네.  Note that this construction is used between social equals or to inferior – it’s practically like using 반말.

There you have it!  I hope you don’t mind the long examples.  I love the humor in these books and it’s a delight to read richer, rounder versions of the characters I loved so much from the drama.

G.O.D – 길

I really love listening to 유인나의 볼륨을 높여요, not only for the 사연s, but also for the music (go figure).  The nice thing about the podcast version of the show is that you only hear a 10-20 second clip of the song being played – in my opinion, plenty of time to decide whether I like it or not.  That’s how I found out about this song.

Okay, so I don’t know much about first-gen K-pop.  I’ve heard of H.O.T, Seo Taiji and Boys, and (recently) 젝스키스 because of 응답하라 1997 (Hakchan is my favorite character, but that’s a whoooole other post).  I knew of G.O.D, but only because of 최고의 사랑 and Yoon Kyesang.  This is my first time actually listening to them and I’ve been looping this song nonstop for the past couple days.

Man, the lyrics are so, so relevant to anyone in or around their college years.  I actually read a lot of recent fan comments talking about how they were in elementary school when the song first came out and they thought it was nice at the time, but now that they’re in college, it means so much more to them.  So I felt I had to share.

(This reminds me of the time Dia was fangirling over G.O.D.!  Hehe.)

Lyrics below the cut.

Continue reading “G.O.D – 길”



If you’re at the advanced-intermediate-ish level in Korean have a Twitter account, make sure you’re following @urimal365, if you’re not already!  This is the official twitter account of The National Institute of the Korean Language (국립국어원), where they answer several questions on a daily basis about everything and anything related to the language – grammar, usage, spacing, spelling, honorifics, meaning, shortened forms, expressions, etc.

Keep in mind, this is supposed to be for native speakers so all of the questions and explanations are in Korean.  You may need to brush up on your Korean grammar terminology (check out my list – which I need to update) but if you’ve been using Korean websites to help with learning grammar, the explanations are pretty simple to follow.  I noticed that a LOT of questions are about 띄어 쓰기 and spelling.  Some of the questions surprise me because it’s stuff that I actually already know but then it made me realize – there are a lot of things about “proper” English grammar that I don’t know and have to look up too.  Or things that I know but can’t explain very well.  For example, a native English-speaking friend of mine just asked me the other day about the difference between ‘further’ and ‘farther.’  I think native speakers of any language don’t really think about why we say something a certain way and just say what sounds right.  That’s why this Twitter is so great for native Korean speakers.

But, of course, it’s not just for native speakers.  I tweeted them a grammar question today that I couldn’t find a great explanation for anywhere online and got a really clear, helpful answer in return.

I still feel the need to preface my questions with “I’m a foreigner learning Korean…” in case I make a mistake when I’m composing my question or when I’m about to ask something really simple (like this).  I guess I’m still not too confident in myself. ><

Anyway, I’ll have to jot this down in my grammar notebook.  I know it’s easy to go to your Korean friends or teachers or the TTMIK staff about grammar questions, but I’m a really big fan of making a sincere effort in trying to look it up yourself.  I promise you will learn so much more effectively that way.  Really.  The more time you spend trying to look up something online or in a textbook, the better it’ll stick.

But this is still an awesome resource.  I’ll be honest and say I don’t read ALL of their tweets, but when I do, I always learn something.


So this is what I’ve been reading these days

I actually didn’t know anything about this book before Yekyung told me about it (special thanks to her for the gift!); she described it as a well-known book that many Koreans in their twenties have read.  It’s also been made into a movie, which I hadn’t seen or heard of.  I decided to start reading this book “blind” – as in, not knowing the story beforehand, since all the other novels I own are stories that have been made into dramas or movies that I’ve already seen.  I think that was a good initial reading strategy; the fact that I knew the plot beforehand really helped me understand the novels themselves, even if I didn’t understand every single word.  Now, however, I want to challenge myself a little and go into this novel not knowing anything, and then watch the movie afterwards.  All I know from the summary alone is that the story is about a woman who has tried to commit suicide several times and a man facing capital punishment for murder, whose lives are brought together by a Catholic nun.

I’m only 55 pages into it and it’s already quite sad.  I’ve read several Korean reviews online saying that the book made them cry – I’m curious to see if it’ll end up making me cry (granted I don’t cry easily).  The 설레임 I felt while reading 해를 품은 달 definitely proves I can be moved by Korean prose, but enough to bring tears to my eyes?  Well, we’ll see.

Speaking of prose, it’s a very lovely read but there is A LOT of figurative language.  Metaphors and similes galore.  I think I’d be frustrated if this book were in English, but this type of writing seems more forgiving in (and dare I say more suited for) Korean.  Overall, it has a very somber and melancholy tone and both characters have an introspective style of narration which might make for a very heavy read, but surprisingly it’s not.  I’m actually really taken aback by how readable  the book is despite its story, and not only in the sense that I can comprehend what’s going on.  I keep turning the pages, never feeling like I need a break to recover from the heaviness of the plot (lookin’ at you, Russian literature).

Hope I’ll finally make it to the end of this one!  I have a bad habit of buying Korean novels, flipping quickly through them, reading all the easy parts, and never going back to properly read them from the beginning.  Or worse, I buy Korean novels and don’t get any further than sniffing the pages….

First (?!) Korean notebook

That’s right.  It’s been nearly three years since I started studying Korean, and I’ve finally started a notebook.

During the early days, I learned a LOT of grammar from songs and my “notebook” was actually just a binder full of song lyrics.  I had the Korean lyrics on one page and 3-5 pages of detailed grammar and vocabulary notes stapled behind it – a compilation of stuff I looked up in books and read on the internet.

Then as I started reading more, I had sheets and sheets of vocabulary words (in blue and black) and grammar points in red, which I organized in order of the the books and/or articles I read, in the same binder.

Now, I plan on taking TOPIK sometime in 2013 (I think it’s only offered annually in the US?  I have to check the dates), and it’s getting harder for me to retain those not-so-common grammar points, so I decided to start a grammar notebook.  I’m still sticking to loose-leaf paper for my vocab notes because I like organizing them according to the source material (and I read a lot of stuff simultaneously), but I think it’ll be useful to build my own grammar dictionary of sorts.

Anyway, here’s a page from the new notebook!  I’m in the process of recopying some old grammar points I’d written on scraps of paper ages ago.


Look at those lovely colors!  Jeannie sent me these pens from Korea and I LOVE the super-super-fine point tips.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen 0.3 tip pens in the US.

Happy 한글날 to all my fellow Korean learners!


잠귀가 밝다/어둡다

Yekyung has an incredible ability to know exactly which words and phrases I might not be familiar with when we’re conversing.  Like she’ll go on for a couple minutes in Korean and then suddenly stop and say, “Do you know 모모?”  That’s how I learned this phrase.

잠귀(가) 밝다:  to be a light sleeper
잠귀(가) 어둡다:  to be a deep sleeper

잠귀 is pretty easy to figure out.  It’s just a concatenation of 잠 (sleep) + 귀 (ear).

잠귀:  잠결에 소리를 듣는 귀의 감각.  Your ability to hear when you’re asleep.

밝다 and 어둡다 are kind of funny to me because 밝다 literally means “to be bright” and 어둡다 means “to be dark” – so the translation isn’t exactly literal.

I used to be a 잠귀 밝은 사람.  I had trouble falling asleep anywhere but my own bed and I woke up at the slightest noise – but then graduate school happened.  Unsurprisingly, I now have no trouble sleeping like a rock at any given time or place, including during seminars.  Or so I thought.  Yekyung has got to be the most 잠귀가 어두운 사람 I have ever met.  She needs to set six alarms to get up in the morning… and then she makes fun of me for being a sleepyhead!  XD

“한국말로 해봐!”

For various reasons, I have always avoided telling Korean people that I know Korean.  Not that I’m shy or afraid of making mistakes… I’m somehow hyper-conscious of unintentionally objectifying the him/her.  As in, “I want to be your friend because you’re Korean.”  People are individuals, not a race.  I never want the other person to feel like I’m his/her friend simply because s/he is Korean.  I want our friendship to be built on more than that.

So when I volunteered to host my friend Yekyung during this year’s interview weekend, I didn’t tell her I knew Korean until our very last email exchange before we were to meet in person.  In the post-script, I wrote one short sentence in Korean, telling her to feel free to mix Korean and English with me if she liked.  At that point, keeping it a secret would just be rude.

I think I’ve mentioned Yekyung on this blog a couple times.  She is now a very good friend, a really great 언니, and a fantastic language partner of mine.  This weekend, our program had its annual scientific conference by the beach and Yekyung was my roommate for 3 days – it was great!  I mean, aside from the fact that she’s an incredibly sweet person and a wonderful roomie, she’s an incredibly strict language teacher.  One of the best things about being friends with her, is that she got over the “한국어 잘 하시네요” phase pretty quick.  When I speak in Korean, she actually listens to what I’m saying, she corrects me without reserve, and, yes, she praises me a decent amount, but not so much that it’ll get to my head!

I love that whenever we chat, at least one of us is getting language practice.  She gets to practice English with me, but also has the luxury of switching back to Korean when she feels like it.  I still find it difficult to hold conversations in 100% Korean, but it’s getting easier and easier to intersperse my English with longer and longer Korean sentences when I’m with her.  And, man, is she a strict conversationalist!  One day I said something like “스탠포드 처음 왔을 때, 너무 umm because it was like so big  길치니까, 걱정 됐어” and she just gave me a look and said, “Um?  Because it was like so big?  What is that?  And there is no such thing as um in Korean!”  Haha.

We like to share our language worries with each other.  It turns out that many of the difficulties I have in Korean, she has in English.  One of them, for example, is not being able to follow a conversation that’s taking place in a loud setting or with lots of people talking at once.  Another being not knowing simple words (Yekyung:  “Do you know 국자?  The long spoon that you put in soup?  I don’t know that word.”)  It makes me feel like we can really help each master each others’ language.

Best of all, I never feel alienated from Korean when I talk to Yekyung.  There’s never this sense of, “Oh, you’re not Korean so I won’t speak in Korean with you.”  I mean, she’d wake up in the morning half-asleep and say “어 일어났어? 몇시야?” to me, like it was totally natural for her to speak to her non-Korean friend in Korean like that.  It was great.  I think I was the one only who kept thinking it was all amazing and unbelievable that I was actually speaking in Korean while Yekyung was totally unfazed.  Haha.  I think I even asked her like three times, “실제 언니라고 부르면 이상하지 않아?” and she looked at me like I was crazy, because what else would I call her?  Hehe.

A couple months ago, there was a period of time during which I texted and spoke to Yekyung only in English because I figured, as a graduate student in the U.S., she should really practice conversing in English as much as she can.  In fact, it’s probably selfish of me to try to talk to her in Korean for my own practice.  But Yekyung actually encourages me to speak to her in Korean.  Once we went out for brunch and I started talking to her in English but suddenly she interrupted me saying, “한국말로 해봐!”  I feel an incredible surge of happiness whenever she says that (and she says it a lot!) because it makes me feel like she really cares about helping me improve.

I think it’s pretty clear that I’m still overly sensitive about how Koreans might view me as a foreigner with in interest in their language and culture, but Yekyung’s really helped me become less self-conscious.  And I feel myself getting better and becoming more confident with each passing day.  Here’s to both of us mastering our language of choice!