Saturday, July 07, 2007


"My head was hit by the teargas canister and I was bleeding. The wound was so bad that I have to go to hospital to have it stitched up. We bought "soju" bottles and made Molotov's cocktails. We threw stones at the riot police. A friend of my friend who was serving his "gundae" (군대-軍隊-National Service) was called up to the front to fight against his friends. It was against his will but he has no choice. He cried during the night because he was badly torn between being loyal to the country and his belief."

"When I was young, I can never understand why Korean university students had to go out on the streets to fight against the authority. Everyday news was filled with coverage of students clashing with riot police. Why do they have to do that?"

"It is for what we call "Yi Sang" (이상-理相-Ideal).

(Protest movements reached a climax after Chun Doo Hwan's 1979 coup and declaration of martial law. Gwangju's confrontation in 1980 left at least 200 civilians dead. Pro-democracy activities intensified thereafter, ultimately forcing the displacement of Chun Doo Hwan and political concessions by the government in 1987. In December that year, the first direct presidential election since 1971 was held and won by Roh Tae Woo - finally ending decades of authoritarian rule.)

"The American always think that we Koreans owed it to them. My American teacher once criticised Koreans for being ungrateful after all those things that US has done for them. But I replied that US only do things that are to their interest. They have not bother to intervene when Japan took over us. Upon hearing that, my English teacher said that my history knowledge is as bad as my English. If my English has been good then, I would have rebutted him that his history knowledge is as poor as his Korean."

That was my teacher, Ms Choi Mi Hui, who spoke. A Korean who was involved in the building of the Korea's modern-day democracy and within her carries a strong sense of patriotism. I am fortunate to have met a person who comes from what I call "the era of ideal". Not many people these days can claim that they live by and fight for their ideals.

I remember during my first lesson with her, I was chided for using my electronics dictionary during her class. I thought she felt offended that I would rather trust a block of electronics than herself. She told me sternly that if there is anything that I do not know I can ask her directly. She kept her promise and I benefited from her teaching.

She understood my passion for learning Korean. She said that she was once like me taking passion in learning English. For five days a week she would have to travel to "hakwon" or language school after work to study English for one hour. I was grateful when I heard that because suddenly I felt that I wasn't alone anymore.

It was not just Korean language and culture that we talked about in class. Curious like any other people would, I could not help but ask her how she met her Singaporean husband. "Was it during your university days that you meet your husband?", I asked. "No, we met in Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal) when I went trekking in India and Nepal for two and a half months.", She replied.

When the new semester reopens in more than a week time, she won't be in SKS anymore. She has decided to quit teaching to look after her daughter who is growing up. She feels guilty whenever her daughter complains that she is not seeing enough of her. During our last lesson, we chit-chatted for an hour after I finished my end-of-semester test paper. From the chit-chat, I was inspired to write this posting. I told her that I finally understood why one should live for ideal after I met her. She gave me a book called "Positive Thinking" as a parting gift and I appreciated that very much. I always find it hard to explain to others why I am learning Korean the way I am learning. There is a certain element of ideal attached to it and no people know it better than someone who comes from "the era of ideal".

선생님께 매우 감사합니다.


  1. I don't bother to explain why I am learning Korean. Just 그냥 ...