All posts filed under: Culture & History

육예 – The Six Arts

I’ve learned a lot about Korean Confucianism reading <성균관 유생들의 나날>. The main point being, everything academic—including the meritocratic Joseon government—was rooted in the teachings of Confucius (공자). Even “extracurriculars,” like archery had deep philosophical meaning. 대사례 [大射禮], for example, was a ceremonial archery demonstration that scholars partcipated in alongside the King. The act of doing archery alongside the King, after having passed the civil service examinations, was supposed to further cultivate and reaffirm one’s class and rank. In fact, there’s a part in <성균관 유생들의 나날> where the main character, our cross-dressing female scholar Yoonhee, gets huffy about practicing archery. Sunjoon replies: “활쏘기는 선비라면 반드시 익혀야 하는 육예 중 하나요. 우선 바른 자세를 만들어 주고, 그와 함께 정신도 가다듬게 하오. 이것을 거치지 않는다면 활을 쏠 이유가 없소.” (p. 255) Archery, he says, is part of 육예, and therefore something all scholars must be familiar with. 육예[六藝] literally translates to the Six Arts. (You can intuit the meaning easily given the Hanja. 六 is 여섯 륙/육 and 藝 is 예술 예.) The Six Arts were the six main “subjects” that made up …

The thing about 책임감

Let’s talk about 상류사회 (High Society).  That show should win some kind of award for creating two of the most precious side characters in a drama full of people I couldn’t care a whit about.  Changsoo and Jiyi’s flirtationship is, at least in the first six episodes (and honestly I don’t see myself continuing with this show in the future Edit: I am no longer following this show), everything that Joongki and Yoonha’s relationship is not.  It’s honest and transparent, a little bit silly and awkward and, golly, the characters actually communicate about their feelings and insecurities!  Go figure!! Granted, I’m speaking from what I’ve seen of the Changsoo-Jiyi dynamics up till episode 6.  I’m sure the writers will screw it all up with stupid misunderstandings and heartbreak and such now that all the cute is out of the way.  I know their relationship is bound to have drama but it’s just a question of whether the characters suddenly devolve into frustrating idiocy or continue to communicate openly like they have thus far.  Please don’t ruin this couple, 작가님! Anyway, I love this …

Buying and selling rice

I’ve said over and over again that it is impossible to truly understand the essence of a language without knowing a bit of culture and history.  Language is contextual.  An idiomatic phrase or saying that is difficult to remember because it seems “odd” might stick better if you understand its origins.  Such was the case for me with this particular idiom. 쌀사다: to sell rice 쌀팔다: to buy rice My friend Kwang-im told me that in Korean, the phrase ‘to buy rice’ actually literally translates to ‘to sell rice.’  쌀을 팔다.  쌀 is rice and 팔다 is ‘to sell.’  I couldn’t really make head or tails of why this phrase would turn out this way.  It just seemed to be intentionally misleading! Back in the day, rice was the most important crop/asset for any Korean family, especially farmers.  It was so critical to their survival that Koreans believed just the merest mention of “running out” of rice would infuriate the souls of their ancestors.  So, instead of saying you were going out to buy rice (implying that you had run out – gasp!), you’d …

외눈박이 물고기의 사랑 – 류시화 시집

Way back when, I read a poem by Korean poet Ryu Shi-hwa.  My friend and language partner at the time, Kwang-im, suggested him when I was suddenly struck with the desire to read Korean poetry.  Now, I’m not inherently a lover of poetry but through my many years as a student of English literature (which came to an end right before college), I’ve managed to amass a few favorites.  Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, T.S. Eliot, to name a few.  And, having scoped out as many poems as I can find by him, I can now add 류시화 to that list.  His poetry is simple, yet deep and ponderous at the same time.  A fellow poet describes Ryu’s poetry as such: “류시화 시인은 일상 언어들을 사용해 신비한 세계를 빚어낸다.  바로 이 점이 그의 시의 중요한 미덕이다.” – 이문재 (시인) Poet Ryu Shi-hwa evokes the mysteries of this world using everyday language.  This is the most significant virtue of his poetry.  – Lee Moon-jae (poet) When I went to Korea back in September 2014, I was thrilled to …

9 things that are an actual “thing” in Seoul.

In September 2014, I went on a 10-day vacation to Seoul.  I didn’t find it too difficult to adjust to city life there, actually, and didn’t face any huge cultural hurdles.  But I did notice some quirky trends that I thought I’d share!  Here are nine random things I noticed while out and about in Seoul. Horizontal stripes.  In the world of men and women’s fashion, the pattern of the season was horizontal stripes.  Stripes of all colors, in fact, but the most popular seemed to be white and navy blue.  WHYYYY.  Pretty much 80% of the twenty-somethings we encountered were wearing horizontal stripes.  Now, I’m a bit on the curvy side so I’ve always avoided horizontal stripes (my hips and derriere really don’t need any more attention drawn to them heh) but Theo LOVES them so… now I own blue-and-white stripey shirts.  Guh.  A very… uh… helpful shopkeeper in Migliore informed me that it was currently in style for young women to wear over-sized striped shirts tucked baggily into a pair of micro shorts.  Guess who’s not going to dress like …

한글날 축하합니다!

I’m going to cheat and set this post as published on October 9, 2014 (even though it’s really October 13 here shhhh) because that day was Hangeul Day! I have so much admiration for King Sejong.  He took the problem of illiteracy into his own royal, ink-stained hands and literally created a whole new alphabet so his subjects would be educated.  Are our nations’ leaders even half as proactive these days?  I think not. So what exactly is Hangeul Day? October 9, 1446 is the purported date of the publication of 訓民正音 [훈민정음].  Considered one of UNESCO’s World Heritage records, 훈민정음 is the official document detailing King Sejong’s new script and the reasons behind its creation. What does the title mean?  Once again the Hanja tells you the entire story. 訓 [가르칠 훈] = to teach 民 [백성 민] = commoners 正 [바를 정] = pronunciation 音 [소리 음] = sound Put that all together and in English you get something like “Instruction on Pronunciation for the Common People.” Hangeul as we know it and use it today has 24 자모 or characters (14 consonants and …

소자 vs. 소신

The good thing about having so many Korean novels is when I get bored/frustrated with one, I can always move onto another.  I’m pretty sure that at the moment I have a bookmark in every single one I own – but I’m close!  So close!  This close to finishing 우리들의 행복한 시간…. and I started reading 해를 품은 달 again (Note: The novels are fun but I do not recommend the drama.)  It’s sad but also amusing that I was reading these two books at the same time way back in 2012 as well.  Amazing how time zips by. I’m not going to be critical about the fact that I haven’t improved much in Korean over the past couple years because I know I was struggling with bigger issues than just trying to get over a learning slump.  Only in the past few months have I made a real return to reading and listening to Korean on a daily basis again.  And I’m so, so happy to say that it brings me just as much joy now as it did …

새해 복 많이 받으세요!

Happy Lunar New Year, readers! Good grief, January just flew by, but luckily 설날 gives me another chance to wish you all a very prosperous new year.  How are you all doing? A lot of things have happened since the last time I blogged and many of them, I’m happy to say, are good things.  My life is more balanced these days.  I’m happier than I have been in a long while.  Yes, there are still challenges but instead of letting them swallow me, I feel like I can take them on.  Everyday I marvel at how I’m lucky to have such a wonderful support system both online and in real life. My goals for the New Year?  I’d say it’s to sustain this positivity.  To appreciate myself and others more.  To achieve balance in my life. As for my language goals for the New Year:  Get back to Korean.  Make it a part of my daily life again.  The two-month hiatus was nice, but now I’m ready to start again.  Also further my Japanese. …

‘돌 속의 별’

돌의 내부가 암흑이라고 맏는 사람은 돌을 부딪쳐 본 적이 없는 사람이다 돌 속에 별이 갇혀 있다는 것을 모르는 사람이다 돌이 노래할 줄 모른다고 여기는 사람은 저물녘 강의 물살이 부르는 돌들의 노래를 들어 본 적이 없는 사람이다 그 노래를 들으며 울어 본 적이 없는 사람이다 돌 속으로 들어가기 위해서는 물이 되어야 한다는 것을 아직 모르는 사람이다 돌이 차갑다고 말하는 사람은 돌에서 울음을 꺼내 본 적이 없는 사람이다 그 냉정이 한때 불이었다는 것을 잊은 사람이다 돌이 무표정하다고 무시하는 사람은 돌의 얼굴을 가만히 들여다본 적이 없는 사람이다 안으로 소용돌이치는 파문을 이해하지 못하는 사람이다 그 무표정의 모순어법을 -류시화 시집 <나의 상처는 돌 너의 상처는 꽃>