Saturday, November 29, 2008

며칠 안 남았다

The walk to the Korea Embassy took years.

Just as I was about to get off at the Newton MRT Station, I suddenly felt like running back and hide behind my boring but secure past. An uncertain future is like a thousand-ton weights weighing down on my mind and trying to bring me to my knees. I resisted succumbing to a weak mind because there was no turning back for me. My next step can only be forward. Nonetheless, my steps were heavy and so was my breath.

Goldbell Towers, where the Korea Embassy is located, stood majestically a short distance away from the station's exit. I found my way to the Consular Section, located at the fifth level of the building. The operating hours for the Consular Section is between 9am and 12noon and on weekdays only.

I presented the following items to the Consular's staff for my visa's application:

1. A completed visa application form
2. One passport photograph
3. One photocopy of my Certificate of Admission
4. A study confirmation letter issued by NUS Extension
5. My passport
6. S$80 visa application fee

3 days later, I received my D-2 Student Visa nicely pasted on my passport. There are not many days left before I depart. This shall be the start of a new beginning for me.

며칠 안 남았는데 짐과 맘도 챙겨야겠다. 이제부터 지나간 일들을 다시 돌아보지 않겠다. 쉬운 일이 아니더라도  앞으로만 바라봐야겠다. 힘내!

Monday, November 24, 2008

제4회 한국어 말하기 대회


1400: Commencement

1401: Introduction of Judges
1405: Brief on the rules of competition by Chief Judge, Mr Choi Suk.

1410: First Session of Ten Contestants
1500: Tea Break
1515: Second Session of Ten Contestants
1600: Korean Traditional Dance by SKS Students

1615: Performance by Korean Singer - Lee An
1630: Lucky Draw
1645: Prize Presentation Ceremony
1700: End

Speech Contest

There are something worth noting about this contest. Firstly, the most coveted prize - 2 return air tickets to Korea were given out as first prize. Second prize winners each received a Samsung SGH-F480 touchscreen handphone. Secondly, there were foreigners among the 20 contestants and they are hailed from Myanmar, Malaysia and US. Lastly, the contest was made more lively, with pop music being played while the contestants made their way to the rostrum.

Anyway, among the speeches made, there were two which I listened with interest. The first was made by Contestant 17. She taught the audience 3 methods of getting free food in Korea. In order to understand why I find her topic interesting, one must first understand Singaporean's mentality. Our government has on many occasions painstakingly educated its fellow citizens that there is no such thing as free lunches and if you want something, you will have to pay for it. As such, we have to pay for 반찬 in some Korean restaurants in Singapore. So if you tell Singaporeans that there are freebies, most of our eyes will light up. To Singaporeans, free things are just simply 신기해요!

Here are 3 methods which I have noted:

1. Visit the "시식 코너" or Food Tasting Corner and eat to your heart's content.
2. If you are a girl, say this to a Korean guy: "오빠~ 밥을 사 주세요".
3. Or simply request to eat with the elderly and they will be more than happy to invite you for a free lunch.

The most touching speech of the day should go to Contestant 20.

He is a Korean American, born in Thailand but grew up in US. Life has not been kind to him; he grew up in the shadow of a broken family. He started learning Korean so that he could re-discover his Korean roots and better understand his motherland.

Performance and Lucky Draw

While waiting for the scores to be tallied after all the contestants had delivered their speeches, the audience was entertained by performances put up by the Singapore Korean School's students and the Singapore-based Korean Singer - Lee Ann.

Last year, students from the Singapore Korean School kept us entertained with their "Samulnori" performance. This year they were back again with Korean Traditional Dance. The audience burst into laughter when a boy danced with an exposed chest after failing to re-tie a loose knot. Poor boy, that would probably be one of his most unforgettable stage performance ever. Anyway, even without the 'chest-baring' episode. dance by those adorable kids was still very entertaining.

After the kids, it was singer Lee Ann's turn to keep the audience entertained. Lee Ann is no stranger to this event. He performed in the same speech contest two years ago. Then, he was only starting to establish his foothold in Singapore and the region. Today, he even has his own Singapore's fan club. It is good to see that he is slowing finding his success in this part of the world.

Lee Ann sang 3 songs. After he finished his third song, his fans shouted "encore". However, he told them cheekily that if they want to hear more, they would have to come back next year.

Next, was the lucky draw. Compared to previous years, there were a lot more prizes this year. I lost count of the number but there were definitely more than ten prizes worth about $100 each. The response from the sponsors was extremely good this year probably because the speech contest is linked to the Korea Festival 2008.

Among the audience, Korean kids showed the most excitement when they won. There was this group of Korean kids, who were standing at the upper tier of the auditorium, awaiting eagerly for the winning number to be called. Every time one of them won, the rest would cheer loudly.

Prize Presentation

For the uninitiated, the Korean has slightly more formality when it comes to presenting a prize or award. Prize receipient will have to walk to the front of the Guest-of-Honour and stand still while the content of his or her award certificate is being read out to the audience. Only after that, will the certificate be awarded.

Congratulations to all the prize winners.

The Rest of the Contestants

Group Photo

Working Staff

To all the SKS teachers who worked hard to made this contest a success: 선생님들 정말 많이 수고하셨어요.

Until next speech contest, goodbye!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I don't know why suddenly I am thinking of Lotte World. Perhaps it's winter - a season I have come to associate with the word "magical" and a magical world is just what the Lotte World tries to create. To me, there is no better time to visit the place other than winter. Feel the magic in the air, it's winter now!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

표를 끊았다

배웅도 마중도 하지 마세요. 조용히 떠나게, 도착하게 해 주세요.


Think of yourselves sitting at the bench, remiscing about the good old days, during late autumn time. The season may be all but over but what is left of the memories will provide the warmth needed to tie over the coming winter.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Today, a speed post from Korea arrived. My feeling was mixed as I was opening the envelope. I knew what was inside because I was expecting it. Somehow I wish it can arrive much later in my life - like when I am 60 years old, retired and have no more responsibility and liability. But the reality has come, so I must go. I guess its destiny beckoning. 운명이라서 어쩔 수 없고요.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Today, a registered mail from the Singapore Korean School arrived at my house. It turned out to be my TOPIK Certificate. The certificate shows a slightly different score from what I previously thought. My Vocab and Grammar Section is actually 84 and not 83 marks. As a result, my average is indeed 70 marks as what I heard over the phone the other day. It's a pity that my Writing Section didn't make it pass 50 marks or I will be hitting the roof with joy. I can't say that I am not disappointed but at the same time, I am also thankful that success doesn't come quick and fast. It seems like Grade 4 will still remain a dream, at least for another year. However, my next year target shall be Grade 5 pass. Can I do it? Yes, I can! ^^

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


가끔 자연속으로 도망하고 싶다. 눈을 감면서 바람의 소리를 듣고 싶다.

Monday, November 10, 2008

서울의 불빛

가끔 말이 필요없다. 말없이 도시의 리듬을 잠시 느껴본다.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

"동안" 대 "만에"

What is the difference between (시간) 동안 and (시간) 만에?

Nobody asked me this question. It was a question that I used to ask myself. There was a time when I could not tell them apart. The two grammars were confusing because both indicate time duration. But today, their difference is as clear as daylight to me.

(시간) 동안

The grammar "(시간) 동안" is elementary-level Korean. It simply means a period of time and we are interested in what goes on during this period of time. I believe every beginner should have no problem with this grammar because it is used commonly.


1년 동안 한국어를 공부했어요.
(I studied Korean for 1 year)

10년 동안 싱가포르에서 살았어요
(I lived in Singapore for 10 years)

(시간) 만에

The culprit responsible for causing the confusion is actually the grammar "(시간) 만에", introduced during intermediate-level Korean. While this grammar also indicates a period of time, we are actually not interested in what is going on during this period but rather what goes on after it. An important point to note is that whatever happens after that period of time, must also have happened before the time starts to lapse. See the examples below for better clarity. Otherwise, "(시간) 후에" may be more appropriate if you want to describe something that may not have happened before "after a period of time has lapsed".


1년 만에 좋은 친구를 만났어요.
(After 1 year (interval or lapse), I met my good friend (again).)
Full meaning of the sentence: The last time I met my good friend was 1 year ago. After 1 year interval (1년 만에), I met my good friend again.

3년 만에 한국어를 공부했어요.
(After 3 years (break), I studied Korean (again).)
Full meaning of the sentence: The last time I studied Korean was three years ago. Then I stopped for 3 years. After 3 years break (3년 만에), I studied Korean again.

곧 출발합니다

Saemaeul train making a stop-over at Miryang Station (밀양역, 密陽驛)

Friday, November 07, 2008


Kang Ma-aeKang Ma-ae, the maestro in the MBC drama "Beethoven Virus" (베토벤 바이러스), is a phenomenon these days in Korea. He hold no punches when he speaks. He accepts nothing but the best. He stays true to his ideals and does not allow anything to stand in between he and his passion. By being himself, he comes across as somebody who is arrogant, self-centred and downright insensitive. But all these have nothing to do with his popularity. He is a phenomenon simply because his character is inspirational. He brings out the courage in people to pursue their passion. For his portrayal of Kang Ma-ae, actor Kim Myeong-min was bestowed the most prestigious Grand Award at the recent Korea Drama Festival Awards.

Below is one of the most quoted quote of Kang Ma-ae. He was blasting his orchestra members for giving all sort of reasons for not pursuing their interest. Age, no opportunity, sick father were the reasons given but all were shot down as excuses. I have the video clip below but it is in WMV format. So it may not work in some browsers. The below quote comes on screen somewhere in the middle of the video (1min 18sec). I have also done a translation of the quote.

"이기적이 돼야 합니다! 여러분은 너무 착해요! 아니, 착한게 아니라 바보입니다! 부모 때문에, 자식 때문에, 애 때문에 희생했다? 착각입니다! 결국 여러분 꼴이 이게 뭡니까. 하고 싶은 건 못하고, 생활은 어렵고, 주변사람 누구누구 때문에 희생했다, 피해의식만 생겼잖습니까! 이건 착한 것도, 바보인 것도 아니고, 비겁한 겁니다! 마음만 먹으면 얼마든지 만들어낼 수 있는 백 가지도 넘는 핑계를 대고 도망친 겁니다!"

"You have to be selfish! You are all very kind! No, not kind, it’s stupid! You sacrificed because of parents, because of children, because of child? It’s illusion! At the end, what kind of plight did you land yourself in? Thing you want to do, you cannot do, life is difficult, you sacrificed for all the people around you, you feel like you are being victimised, don’t you! This is not kindness, it's not stupidity, it's cowardice! If you want to, no matter how many, you can provide over hundred of excuses which you can think of and take cover under them!"

(Youtube video can be found here)

If you can view the video, I suggest that you view it ten times. It feels like subjecting yourself to ten rounds of scolding before you finally come to your senses. I tried to imagine myself as one of those pathetic folks whom were being blasted. On the first time, I felt defensive. I don't think Kang Mae-ae knows our problem well enough to be in any position to say what he is saying. On the fifth time, I was a bit shaken because I kinda agree that life is difficult and it's true that I feel helpless sometimes. By the tenth time, I felt like shouting out, "I am not a coward! I will do what I want to do." The change in my reaction was simply amazing!

Just when I was so caught up in this whole thing, it suddenly struck me that this is afterall a drama. How can I be a selfish and irresponsible person just because I want to pursue my interest? So I thought, a more sensible approach is for me to chase my dream only when I have the time and money. But when I was about to make up my mind, Kang Mae-ae appeared and blasted, "핑계입니다!" See, I told you he is an inspiration. ^^

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

폐를 끼치기 싫어

Yeong Gwang ordered his lunch while I sat opposite him in a restaurant. I had my lunch earlier so I did not make any order. While waiting for his meal to be served, he asked in Korean, "Why don't you want to meet?"

His question set my mind in a search mode, trying to find the most appropriate Korean expression to reply him. Seeing that I have difficulty speaking in Korean, he added, "It's okay. You can speak in English. I should be able to understand."

"I don't like to trouble you.", I said.

"다른 사람에게 폐를 끼치기 싫군요. 근데 왜요?", Yeong Gwang asked.

"This is not my first time in Kyunghee so I am quite familiar with the place. I believe you should be quite busy with your study, so I try not to trouble you unnecessarily.", I elaborated.

"It's okay. It is my duty to help you. I can help you to practice your Korean or help you with your homework.", He insisted on offering his help.

"It's okay. I knew all that was taught in class because I have learnt them before. This course was just a revision for me.", I insisted on not troubling him.

Yeong Gwang was my "dowoomi" (student helper) during my summer course at Kyunghee. He has the look of a rock guitarist and used to be one as well. When I first met him, what caught my immediate attention was his burn scar. Apparently, he was badly burnt as a kid when a gas cylinder exploded while he was playing near it. What he may be lacking in appearance, he made it up with his sincerity to help others.

After Yeong Gwang had finished eating his lunch, we left the restaurant. Just before we parted, he said, "I shall leave you with my email address. Keep in touch so that if you ever come to Korea again I can help you find a suitable accommodation."

"방금 다른 사람에게 폐를 끼치기 싫다고 했잖아요.", I turned down his offer once again with a big smile. But deep inside, I was touched by his sincerity.


I was brought up not to give trouble to others or in other words - to be self-reliance. From the day I was able to stand on my two feet, I have not asked for anyone's help, not even my family.

I am very grateful to all those people who had shown your concern for me and offered to help after knowing that I have quited my job. I just wanted to say, please do not worry. I will find my way and I will walk on my own as I have always done. 나 괜찮아요. 진짜 괜찮아요. ^^


Last week, I was back at NEX, not for Korean class, but to collect some certificate. I was thinking it might just be my last visit to NEX for a long while to come. So while I was there, I took the opportunity to visit its small library which houses a collection of Korean books donated by the Korean Embassy. As I was browsing, I came across a book which introduces the common flora of Korea. After pouring through the book, I could at long last tag a name to some of the beautiful flora I saw in Korea.

[Left Column] Top: Chaenomeles (명자나무). Middle: Pyracantha (피라칸사). Bottom: Muscari (무스카리).
[Right Column] Azalea Pancake (진달래 전), a cuisine decorated with Spring flower - Azalea. I saw it being displayed at the recent Korea Fiesta held at VivoCity.

Monday, November 03, 2008

3급을 땄다

I finally got to know my TOPIK results after making an international call to the TOPIK customer hotline. I cannot contain my excitement when my results was read out over the phone. I was first told that my average is 70 marks (almost). It caused me to skip a heart-beat because that average is just enough for a Level 4 Pass. But shortly, I was told I obtained a Level 3 Pass. I kinda knew at that moment my Writing Section probably didn't make pass the 50-mark boundary. For verification sake, I requested for each section's marks to be read out. My hunch was confirmed. My Writing Section is one mark shy of 50 and I am also just one mark shy of Level 4 Pass. To obtain a Level 4 Pass, I need an average of 70 marks & above and each section must be 50 marks & above. Nevertheless, I am still feeling ecstatic from my high Level 3 Pass because last year this time, I was told I failed TOPIK Intermediate.

Comparing with last year results, I made improvement in all sections. My two best sections last year, Vocabulary & Grammar and Listening, improve by 7 marks each. My Writing Section improves by 11 marks but still remains the worst. The best improvement I made is in my Reading Section. It improves by a surprising 27 marks. I knew I am going to do well in this section but the extent of improvement still caught me by surprise. I recognise that I have made good improvement in this TOPIK but I am still far from good. There is a lot more to improve for both my writing and speaking. My speaking is probably the worst of all even though it was not tested. I think it is time to fix them.

It has always been satisfying to know that I am making progress continuously. From the first day, it has been a competition between me and myself that I want to win. I am glad that I am still "winning" over myself after 3 years. I have no doubt that I will continue to "win" next year. 마지막 하고 싶은 말: 고급 한국어를 공부하기가 다 준비 됐습니다! ^^