마의 16세

This is the funniest piece of Korean slang I have learned EVER.  It’s pure gold.

So here’s the context.  The phrase is 마의 16세.  마(魔) comes from 마귀 마, where 마귀 means ‘evil spirit’ or ‘demon.’  It’s the same 마 that’s in 악마 (‘demon’, ‘devil’), 마술 and 마법 (‘witchcraft’, ‘magic’), and 마녀 (‘witch’).  So not a good thing, right?  16세 is sixteen years old, in Korean age (so 14/15 Western age), and this is significant because it is the age when students finish middle school and enter high school.

Basically, 마의 16세 refers to one’s transition from an adorable child to an awkward young adult.  Puberty hits and, bam, so does the acne, the growth spurts (either vertically or horizontally), the braces, the glasses – all the physical and emotional changes that made the transition from child to teenager oh-so painful.  This phrase covers the latter part of puberty – the transition into adulthood – and, interestingly, it seems to apply mostly to boys, whose physical appearance changes more dramatically in a short period of time (in some instances), than girls.  Regardless, I don’t miss those days.

It’s possible that sixteen-year-olds might say something like ‘마의 16세만 넘기면 된다,’ but the really funny thing is that this phrase doesn’t seem to be commonly used to refer to Koreans themselves.  It seems that some Koreans believe that the physical features of Asians do not change significantly between  adolescence and adulthood, or that they make that transition smoothly without an ‘ugly’ period (e.g. look at 유승호 and 여진구!).  In fact, this phrase might be used almost exclusively for Westerners.  

The funniest thing about all this is that the origins of this phrase, according to my Language Partner 언니, comes from Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame)’s shocking transformation from adorable 10-year-old to… less-than-adorable* teenager?  Oh dear.  Of course, I don’t know how true this is but some snooping around on the interwebs has informed me that a lot of people associate this phrase with Dan’s post-puberty transformation.  Face-palm.

*Not my personal opinion, just reporting the general consensus.  We all have our ideas of what is attractive and what is not, but I don’t like throwing around words like ‘ugly’ at anybody.

언어 파트너 이야기

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long while and now I’ve finally managed to get around to doing so.  This is the story of how I met my new Korean language partner and now dear friend and 언니 of two months.

My entire lab is aware I know a bit/am currently studying Korean.  So one morning in December, my deskmate comes in and tells me that she saw a flier on the bulletin board right inside our building.  Someone was looking for an English conversation partner who was interested in learning about Korean culture.  She told me that I should email the person and see if anything comes out of it.  I was really hesitant.  Granted, this is at an academic research institution and the chances of the person being a creep was fairly low… but I still felt weird.

I Googled said person’s email and saw that she was a postdoctoral fellow who was working in the same building as me but in another department.  I debated for half a day and then emailed her, in full Korean.  A day later, we met for coffee.  And we got on really well!  I could tell she was delighted with how much I knew about Korean and Korea (which is deplorably little, in fact) and I was just as happy to help out with English in return.

Since then, we’ve been meeting about twice a week and one day we speak in English, one day in Korean.  We’ve really been teaching each other a lot!  언니 really prepares a lot for our meetings.  She comes with English vocab/grammar questions, stories to tell me, things to show me, topics to talk about.  I follow her lead the best I can.  One of my favorite things to do as her English language partner is to rephrase what she wants to say in Korean into English, or suggest better vocabulary.  I can tell she is a very well-spoken individual in Korean and that she’s frustrated she is not able to express herself the same way in English.  Sometimes when she speaks, I can tell she’s thinking in Korean so the English phrases come out a stilted, but that’s exactly where I can help her.  It’s a great feeling.  In turn, she’s teaching me a lot about Korean culture and lifestyle (in Korean!) and I’m learning tons.

She also asked a friend of hers to bring me this as a gift.  We’re going to read it together. :D

A few posts back, I mentioned that I (personally) do not like approaching random Korean people and talking to them in Korean because 1) it will probably make them uncomfortable and 2) it feels intrusive and self-serving.  (I dunno, this is just a weird personal thing that probably no one else will agree with.)  But in this situation, I had no reserves at all because, initially, language was the entire point of us meeting up with each other.  I didn’t feel “used” as an English speaker nor did I feel like I was “taking advantage” of her being Korean – and that was great.

But now 언니 has really turned into a 친언니-figure for me.  We’re both currently going through difficult times and it’s a relief to share all that with someone who genuinely cares for you.  Despite the language barrier, we can sit and talk for hours about everything and she gives me good advice,on both a personal and an academic level.  She’s just a really sweet and warm person overall, and I’m so lucky to know her.