Saturday, October 31, 2009

놓친 건 예쁜 것이다

How do you know a day has ended?

A day ends only after the day's work has been done, isn't it?

For those who say that a day ends when the sun set, congratulations, you are living your life.

Cheonggyecheon Plaza at Twilight

크림을 빼고 주세요

My friend wanted me to take a picture of the receipt because she found it interesting. Instead of "no whipping cream", the receipt shows only "no whipping". Who want to be 'whipped' for ordering a mocha, so 'no whipping' cream please.

Proof that the receipt did have 'no whipping' printed

It is almost November and holiday mood is in the air.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


My first Korean language book explained '겠' as a future tense marker. I thought it was an easy word, so I ignore finding out more about it. At one time, I even used '겠' and '을 것' interchangeably. My teacher corrected me without leaving an explanation. I realised now that If she was to explain, she would require many lessons just to clarify everything on '겠'.

'겠' is not easy to explain simply but it is also not difficult to understand. All that is required is a lot of time.

I have no intention to explain '겠' in much details because I doubt my explanation will make anyone clearer. Just look at the words that can be associated with '겠' explanation: 의향 (inclination), 의도 (intention), 의지 (will), 추축 (guess), 조심스럽다 (cautious), 부드럽다 (softness), 곧 (soon), 가능성 (probability), 능력 (ability).

To make thing easy, I shall compare and contrast some very similar sentences.

Pair 1

1. 내일 내가 학교에 가겠어요
2. 내일 내가 학교에 갈 거예요.

The pair of sentences above means I will go to school tomorrow. Despite the same meaning, there is subtle difference between them. For sentence 1, what it means is I am definitely going to school tomorrow regardless of anything. It shows my intention and will. For sentence 2, what it means is I am going to school tomorrow but it can also turn out that I may not go, since no one can predict for sure what will happen in future. In this case, I didn't express much of my thought except a possible action of going to school.

Pair 2

3. 선생님이 케이크를 사겠어요.
4. 선생님이 케이크를 살 거예요.

In pair 2, sentence 3 is not a correct sentence. While you can know your own intention, you won't be able to tell the intention of your teacher or someone else. Hence, sentence 3 is incorrect. To say that our teacher will be buying us a cake, sentence 4 is the correct way to do it. Since we can't tell others' intention, we can always ask, e.g. 선생님, 케이크를 사시겠어요? (Teacher, will you be buying us a cake?)

Pair 3

5. 네, 알겠습니다
6. 네, 알았습니다

In pair 3, '겠' takes on a different meaning. It is no longer about intention and will. In this case, '겠' takes on some element of 'guess' and 'softness'. Pair 3 can be simply translated as "Yes, I know." However, the mood of the listener can vary drastically depending on which sentence you choose to say. If I am to translate sentence 5 literally, it means " Yes, I guess I know it". "I guess I know it" doesn't mean the person doesn't quite understand, rather it is a 'softer' or indirect way of telling others that I have understood without sounding conceited. For sentence 6, what it means literally is, "Yes, I know it already' (so stop checking with me again). To a listener, the speaker can appear irritated and disrespectful. So if you want to sound 'gentle' and respectful, use '알겠습니다' or '모르겠습니다'. Appropriate use of '겠' is good manner.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I like this Caffe Pascucci's branch in Apgujeong. I hope it stays for a long time. Changes in Seoul happen at a 'break-neck' speed. A shop which you see today may be torn down the next day and in a few week times , a new shop opens for business.

겨울의 남산

Last winter was the first time I went up Namsan. Of course, it was very cold and my hands were freezing even with gloves on. Actually I like Namsan during winter night because it was a lot more peaceful.

A popular photo angle of N Seoul Tower. It captures part of a tree to the left and part of a pavilion to the right and with the tower in the centre.

The flight of steps beside the cable station at the top of Namsan. The city lights of Seoul could be clearly seen. Snow covered the top of the wall beside the steps.

N Seoul Tower and Namsan as seen from Han River. I actually took this picture from Gangnam side. Seoul is unique in that it is probably the only big city in the world that has mountains right smack in the center.

Monday, October 26, 2009

밥 먹고 싶어요?

My classmate is quite popular with guys because she knows how to doll herself up. She was telling us about her encounter with a South American guy whom she met in library. The guy, an Elementary 2-level student, tried to date her out for lunch. The guy asked her in simple Korean, "밥 먹고 싶어?"

My classmate had a bone to pick with his 'awkward' request. She analysed that "밥 먹고 싶어요?" is more like a direct translation of "Do you wanna eat?" and foreigners who are not too long into Korean language are quite prone to saying that. If a Korean is to ask, it will either be, "밥 먹을래?" or "밥 먹으러 가자"

Anyway, she didn't agree to the request because she was too busy with other guys. She is currently a Masters student and I heard that one of her seniors, a Korean guy, is showing interest in her. The way he asks her out for lunch, "오빠 밥 사줄게." (I shall buy you lunch). However, I don't think he stands a good chance because she prefers westerner. That's all for gossip today.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

제3회 KLPT도전

Two days after coming back from Korea, I applied for KLPT and today is the test.

The test started at 10am but we were 'confined' inside the exam room from 9am onwards. This may be my third time but I was anything but calm. Instead of saying I was nervous, I should say I was excited. Excited to be back in NEX, excited to meet some familiar faces and last but not least, I believe I have a good chance of getting grade 4 or better.

The test started with listening. The first word read out was "뜨거워요", followed by "오늘은 12월31일입니다 and so on and so forth. There came a time when it became so difficult that I had to pick my answer blindly. As you can see, I still have some more distance to go; i am still not there yet.

40 minutes of listening and 70 minutes of reading but not even half a minute to catch a breath. I kept telling myself "Forget it if I don't know, go to the next question. There is not enough time for me to ponder." When I just completed shading the last circle on my answer sheet, the test ended. It was that close.

Compared to previous tests, there was less guessing work this time. I should have no problem surpassing my previous score of 305 marks. How well I will do is anyone guess. Test results are expected to be out 2 weeks later. Until then, below is how I would grade myself:

Grade 1 - No chance
Grade 2 - Slim chance
Grade 3 - Good chance
Grade 4 - High chance
Grade 5 - Some chance
Grade 6 - Undeserving even if there is chance

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Winter: A snow-covered path by a riverside in Changpyeong.

Spring: Lily blossoms at full glory in Namsan.

Summer: Gwanghwamun Square turned into a water park.

Autumn: 'Search' is underway to recover the 'missing' Autumn.

Friday, October 23, 2009

영화 해운대

In the movie "Haeundae", it took one and a half hour of movie time before the mega tsunami hit the beach. At the moment of disaster, for no reason, I felt a sense of lost despite knowing that all were just CGI effects. I have probably formed some kind of attachment to the buildings at Haeundae and I just can't bear to see them being smashed and destroyed.

The light beacon at Haeundae where much of the story in "Haeundae" took place. It's early in morning and everything looks so calm.

Western end of Haeundae Beach in the evening. If you have once been enchanted by this place, it will be 'hard' to witness it being destroyed in the movie.

All these buildings are also not spared from the mega tsunami. It was not easy to see them being laid to waste.

A giant container ship, brought in by the mega tsunami hit Gwangan Bridge in the movie. I felt sorry when such a beautiful bridge has to collapse at the end.

After watching "Haeundae", it seems like tsunami is approaching in this picture. Could it be calmness before the storm? My imagination is running wild. Anyway, my impression of Haeundae is still a resort and not a tsunami-stricken beach. First impression always last.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

노을을 쳐다본다

In case you are curious where this place is, it is at 뚝섬유원지역 (Ttukseom Resort Station, Line 7). Ttukseom Resort is one of the major parks along the Han River. It has just completed a major face-lift few months back. Many new sitting areas were created for the public to unwind after a day of school or work. Add the evening breezes and the beautiful Cheongdam Bridge (청담대교, 淸潭大橋) and a visit can turn out to be a perfect low-expenses night out.

Cheongdam Bridge (청담대교, 淸潭大橋). Opposite is Gangnam.

Monday, October 19, 2009

뒤돌아가는 듯

Red maple leaves in Deoksugung

A cool and quiet afternoon in Deoksugung

Water play at Gwanghwamun Square during Summer

Cooling off at Cheonggyecheon during Summer

Time seems to have stagnated after going backward. 'Summer' is back but there are no water fountains or cool streams to take away the heat. Air-con is indeed a great invention.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

싱가폴 어학원 비교

Two years ago, I wrote a post which compares the Korean language courses offered by NUS Extension (NEX) and Singapore Korean School (SKS). Since then, National University of Singapore (NUS) also started its own Korean language programme.

I was recently asked to update my comparison by a reader who is currently an NUS undergraduate. Since I have no knowledge of how Korean courses are run in NUS, I am writing based on what I am being told. All credit for this post goes to the reader who made the request.

Since my last post, NEX's Korean programme has undergone some changes. One siginificant change is that, it is in the progress of changing its Basic-level textbooks to those published by Kyunghee. The duration for each of its Intermediate-level courses has also been lengthened from 32 to 40 hours.

NUS took in its inaugural batch of Korean language students on Aug 2008. Similar to NEX, NUS uses Kyunghee textbooks. I was told that Korean 1 module is highly popular with the students and it is not easy to get a place. As NUS's Korean language students, they have to attend 4 hours of lectures and 2 hours of tutorial weekly. They also get to go for 1-month language immersion programme at Yonsei University during Summer. The bad news is, NUS's programme is only open to its students.

Table 1: This table shows the pegging of the various Korean language courses/modules offered at various Singapore institutions to the standard Korean language proficiency level. As NUS has yet to fully develop its Intermediate-level modules, I have left a question mark under it. It is speculated that NUS may be introducing Korean 5 and 6 in the not-so-distant future.

Table 2: How to read this table - Take the case of NEX, the '150 hours' means the total number of lesson hours require to complete the whole Basic-level syllabus. '60 weeks over 6 sems' means there are six 10-week long semesters. Each semester is considered a course and hence, 6 semesters means you have to pay course fee 6 times. The time in bracket indicates the approximate length of time you will take to complete a level.

From Table 2, I am speculating that NUS's Intermediate-level programme will also be about 234 hours. My teacher, who was the brainchild behind NUS's programme, had earlier envisaged a programme that is between 400 and 500 hours. So, it seems like thing is taking shape quite nicely.

Table 3: This table attempts to give an analysis of the cost-benefit for each of the institution. The course fee does not take into account textbook cost or any discount that may be given. Hour to hour comparison, it is the cheapest to study in Korea. But, if all incidental and opportunity cost are included in the calculation, it can well cost 5 times more (compared to NEX) to study in Korea. From another point of view, over a fixed length of time, it is easily 10 times more effective to study Korean language in Korea than in Singapore. The next question to ask is, so what if it is 10 times more effective when at the end of the day, it cannot be translated to higher-paying job or better promotion prospect. To me, I have a happy and rewarding time studying in Korea and that in itself is priceless.

1. Course fee (per semester) of about KRW1.5 million and an exchange rate of SGD1 : KRW800 was used to arrive at the estimate. The figure is on the high end. But if Korean won continues to appreciate, this figure may become low in future. As a ballpark, it will cost about SGD20,000 (~KRW17 million), with everything included, to study and lead a comfortable life in Korea for 1 year. A low-end estimate will still add up to a 5-figure amount.

Friday, October 16, 2009

윗물이 맑다

There is a Korean proverb - '윗물이 맑아야 아랫물이 맑다' (Upstream water has to be clear for downstream water to be clear). What it means is, if people at the top do well, people at the bottom will follow and do well. Anyway, if you like to see clear upstream water (맑은 윗말), go Yangpyeong (양평).

Clear water at Yangpyeong which is the upper stream of Han River


언제가는 단풍놀이를 갈 것이다

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

삶의 질

This is Ansan Lake Park (안산호수공원). Ansan Stream (안산천) runs beside the lake. Next to the stream is Ansan Central Library. Book lovers sat in the open with book in their hands. Some dozed off. It was a cool early autumn evening on a weekday.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

희망과 기적

I watched 2 Korean movies on my flight back to Singapore.

'Castaway On the Moon' (김씨 표류기) is about hope. The movie says, "Hope is to be able to cook a bowl of Jjajangmyeon when all you have left in life is only a packet of seasoning."

'Why Did You Come to My House?' (집에 왜 왔니?) is about miracle. The movie says, "When someone you love, love you back, it is not just a miracle between two of you, it is real miracle."

Monday, October 12, 2009


I have been taught to use '왜냐하면' like '그래서', and for a long time, I thought that '왜냐하면' is a word like 'because'. Of course, it is not, if you know indirect speech form. '왜냐하면' is the short form of '왜냐고 하면' and is literally translated as 'if you ask why' or 'in case you wanna know why. It looks simple now but it wasn't when I was a beginner.

왜냐하면' is not the only expression I stumbled upon, there are also similar expressions like '뭐냐면' (if you ask what it is), '어떻게 되냐면 (if you ask how it become), 어디 있냐면 (if you ask where it is), which baffled me. As a beginner, I really had a hard time deciphering their meanings.

When providing explanation or information which is not being asked, foreigners usually don't start with "if you ask..."; we just go straight to the point. However, culturally, Koreans are obliged to make an assumption that you may want to know more before they continue with what they want to say. In this way, even if the listener doesn't really want to know more, the speaker will not appear rude because he is speaking on the basis of an assumption.

There is one more thing which I learned about '왜냐하면'. To use it like 'because', I have to start a sentence with it and end with '때문이다' like "왜냐하면... 때문이다." (If you ask why, it is because of ...).

Beginning is always tough. In learning, I am always encouraged by the thought that 'I will know it one day.'

Sunday, October 11, 2009

쉬워 보이지만 설명하기 어렵다

It's time to exercise the brain a bit. Look at the picture below and guess a common Korean phrase. (Hint: The phrase has 4 characters and commonly used during exclamation.)

If the picture doesn't ring a bell, get over it because this is not the main focus of this post. What I am going to talk about is 'simplicity' and 'difficulty' or something like that. Time to switch channel if you don't want anymore of 'brain exercise'.

Never-before-seen or what I like to call 'difficult' words, do not usually impede my understanding of an article I read. I can either guess the meaning or check up the dictionary. So, in some way, problem with 'difficult' words is actually an easy problem. But what I found most confusing, is those common and 'simple' word like 고, 도, 더, 야, 니 etc. I could misinterpret, at worst, the whole thrust of an article because of some simple words which I misunderstood. Sometimes, I thought I know but actually, I don't.

I like how my teachers explained 'simple' words. Their explanation is so precise and simple.

'고' indicates '완료' (completion, conclusion)
'도' indicates '양보' (give way, compromise)
'더' indicates '회상' (recall, look back)
'야' indicates '조건' (condition, term)
'니' indicates '자기 생각, 주장' (own thought, opinion, observation)

Despite such simple explanation, I found them most useful and enlightening. Take for example, the grammar ~더니, a combination of '더' and '니', which I have problem understanding previously. I can now guess that when a person uses 더니, he is saying about his opinion, thought or observation on someone or something while recalling his past experience. In brief, whatever is said by the speaker, can be taken as personal and subjective view. Dictionary definitely can't help much in such situation.

Life is a paradox. Simple-looking thing is difficult to explain but difficult-looking thing is easy to explain. An amateur has difficult explanation for what's seemed simple while an expert has difficult explanation for what's seemed difficult. It would thus take a wise man to explain both simple and difficult things simply.

If you think you can easily lead a simple life, think again. That, by itself, is difficult because life is a paradox. We are all more likely to be caught up in a 'difficult' life. What to do? Think simply: That's life.

[Answer: 큰일났다. Big 'One' = 큰일]

Saturday, October 10, 2009

현재에서 살자

I shall stop writing about my memories in Seoul for the time being, just in case I get too soak into nostalgia and become depressed. I like to live in the present and dream about the future. As for the past, I shall keep it in my heart.

I have more or less completed my 'de-koreanisation' process. It wasn't difficult because I wasn't 'koreanised' much to begin with. Korea is like my second home and there wasn't a need for me to change much to fit in. As such, I rarely felt the urge to compare and contrast Korea with Singapore.

Last nine months has been the most well documented period of my life. I have no regret because I have tried to make the best of each day. Ironically, it was past regrets which motivated me to live everyday with no regret. Life is too short to be whining about past regrets so we have to make the best out of each and everyday.

Life becomes boring if you stop trying new thing. But trying out new thing also means having to deal with a new set of problems. I have made my choice between leading a boring life free of problems and an interesting life filled with challenges. But before I can say anything about my future, I need to live each day.

나 할 수 있다. 꿈을 이룰 수 있다. 세상이 더 멋지게 할 수 있다. 과거 말고 미래 말고 현재에서만 살자.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


It is quite likely that foreigners who want to go to Apgujeong may end up losing their way. This is because Apgujeong is some distance away from Apgujeong Station (Line 3) and there is no clear directional sign.

To get to Apgujeong, exit from Exit 2 of Apgujeong Station and walk straight (there is a need to cross road) for the next 10-15 mins until you see the Galleria to your left. By then, to your right, will be the 'actual' Apgujeong.

Even if I don't say anything, you can probably guess that Apgujeong is a place where if you don't have a deep pocket, you may get your pocket 'burned'.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

마지막 인사

I was at my favourite 닭꼬치 stall. I thought of saying goodbye to the stallholder since I was a regular customer. But I changed my mind. I took a few pictures, ate my last stick of 닭꼬치 and left quietly.

Sometimes, it may be good not to say goodbye. If I remain quiet, it may seem like I have never left. On the contrary, people whom I bid farewell to, may be left with an impression that I am leaving them forever.

I like leaving with an unladen heart. Leaving would be difficult if anyone was to say, "떠나지마." I don't dream dramatic ending. Leaving quietly is fine with me.

I have never eaten the stall's 어묵 (boiled fish paste). I only drank the soup.

Waiting for my stick of 닭꼬치 (skewered chicken meat) to be ready.

구문이 되었다

This is an old news by YTN. I like to watch it from time to time. It is like sitting in a time machine which can bring me back to my past in NUS Extension. The news was made 4 years old ago and that is about as long as I have studied Korean.

The teacher who appears in the video is also my teacher. My study in KHU would not have been possible without her. The Korean langauge programme in NUS's main campus would not have existed if not for her.

The students in the video are my seniors but many became my classmates later. We have since gone separate ways after completing our course in NEX

When I first came across this news, I could not understand a single word in it. But now, I can, and I am quite glad I can. It may be an old news now but a treasured one.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

남자란... 여자란...

I remember an interesting practice which we had with the grammar, Noun + (이)란.

My teacher asked the girls to make sentences starting with 남자란 and the guys with 여자란.

The girls said,

남자란 도구이다. (Man is tool)

남자란 은행이다. (Man is bank)

남자란 어깨이다. (Man is shoulder)

The guys said,

여자란 약이다. (Woman is medicine)

여자란 필수품이다. (Woman is basic necessity)

The interesting part is not the sentence itself but what the sentence says about the person who made it.

Monday, October 05, 2009


This is the last of my KHU's trilogy - the concluding chapter of my student's life in KHU. It was an eye-opener for me to be among foreign students who have very good command of Korean language. If time can be rewind, I would want to start learning my basic in Korea so that I can be as good as them. It's a pity you won't get to hear them speak much in the video. Anyway, watch out for the Chinese girl who speaks last in the video. She speaks Korean like a Korean. They are fantastic.

Friday, October 02, 2009

늘 한가위만 같아라

'Chuseok' (추석, 秋夕) can also be called '한가위', '가위' or '중추절' (中秋節). Weather during Chuseok is not as hot as summer nor as cold as winter. It is considered the best time of the year to be living in and a time when grains and fruits become ripe and people's sense of abundance reaches its peak. Hence, Korean has a saying, "더도 말고 덜도 말고 늘 한가위만 같아라." (Wish not for less or more, just always be like Chuseok (or 한가위). Happy Chuseok ^^

Thursday, October 01, 2009


After seeing Cosmos, Autumn is no longer maple leaves.

Autumn is when the most important ingredient of kimchi is harvested

Autumn is the time when you can get to eat steamed corns.

Autumn is about beautiful blue sky which you want to sleep under.