Monday, December 25, 2006

휴가 때야

잠을 자는 토토로를 보면 또 제 휴가 때예요. 한국행 비행기표가 다 팔려서 내일 중국 상해에 여행하러 갈 거예요. 일주일 동안 블로그를 못 하는데요. 내년 제 블로그에서 다시 만납시다. 새해 복 많이 받으세요. 안녕히 계세요. 그럼~



"Love Letter" like "Il Mare" is not easily comprehensible. These are two of the few movies that I watched twice in the cinema. I cannot understand their plots easily not because they are foreign language films but because their plots are very subtle. But once I understood them, they just overwhelmed me.

I last watched "Love Letter" quite some time back. I was reminded about this Japanese movie when it came out in the Sogang textbook which I used for my Korean language lesson. So it seems that this movie is also popular in Korea.

Would I want to know about something which I could no longer change or is it better to remain ignorant? But sometimes, as the movie put it, it may not be a matter of choice. It can still find it way to you since you are related to it even though you may not be aware of it. The dilemma of life is that if you own something, be prepared to lose it. But if you have nothing to start with, there is nothing to lose and be sad about. That is why I believe that sometimes ignorance is bliss.

The best part I like about "Love Letter" is its ending. I was moved by it then. The ending is probably everything about this movie. However, now that I watch the ending in isolation, I am hardly moved by it. It goes to show that the movie must be watched in its totality in order to appreciate its ending.

I have posted a video for those who have watched the movie and like to be reminded of its ending. But for those who have never watched "Love Letter", you may not want to watch the video. Because once you know the ending you probably will not appreciate the movie as much.

신화를 믿어요?

I first saw this tablet, carried on a tortoise-like beast, standing cospiciously near the entrance of Bulguksa. The history of Bulguksa was inscribed on the tablet. Initially, I thought the tortoise-looking beast was a part of Korean mythology. However, after my visit to Beijing, I realised that the beast was actually a Chinese mythological creature.

Chinese legend has it that Dragon has nine sons and its eldest son is this tortoise-looking beast called Bixi (赑屃). Bixi was believed to be the strongest among the nine sons of the Dragon. But it also looked the most different from the Dragon because of its carapace. Hence, Bixi was made to do the unglamorous work of carrying stone tablet on its back.

This legend about the Dragon's nine sons is probably one of those very badly made-up legend that I have heard. In Chinese mythology, there are more than nine mythological creatures but to fit the number 'nine' (nine is considered a 'heaven' number by the Chinese) that befits the heavenly status of the Dragon, different groups of people chose their own set of 'nine sons of the Dragon' for the legend. Since there is no truth to a legend I am not losing sleep over which version of the legend is more correct.

Surprisingly, Singapore has its own "mythological" creature called the "Merlion" (a creature with a head of a lion and a body of a fish). Legend has it that Merlion was once a guardian of the people living in Temasek (which is Singapore in ancient time) protecting them against natural calamity. For Singaporeans, we would laugh off this legend because we know very well that Merlion is created as an icon to promote tourism in Singapore. The legend about the Merlion is a bit too hard to swallow for us. Anyway, the Merlion legend is meant for the tourists. Then again, tourists would never mind being entertained by any legend that comes their way.

Friday, December 22, 2006

적도의 크리스마스

The sky finally cleared up yesterday afternoon, so I decided to go for a stroll in Orchard Road to soak in the tropical Christmas atmosphere. I did get soak afterall - but in my perspiration. Although it has been raining for weeks and night temperature averaging about 26 deg C, I was still feeling quite warm yesterday night.

This year is supposed to be the biggest ever Christmas light-up in Singapore. Its light and sparkle galore at Orchard in Singapore. I just could not take my eyes off this giant Christmas tree outside of Paragon. It was simply the centre of attraction.

It is not frequent that I visit Orchard during the Christmas season. I always feel that the light-up is only meant for the tourists. It is not a must-see for locals. I think I can draw a parallel in that chefs do not usually eat the food they cook even if their food are considered the best in town. I am aware that Singapore has the best Christmas light-up in the region and perhaps the world but I still won't feel a lost if I don't see it.

The Orchard shopping belt is so extensively lite up that there is no need to fear squeezing with crowd to see the lights. After seeing all the pictures and if you are wondering where are all the crowd, please see the picture below. It was really crowded at certain section of Orchard. I did have to squeeze my way through. Well this is Christmas in Singapore - beautiful lights, warm weather and friendly people ^^

크리스마스 쏭

Just don't know why Christmas songs, like Chinese New Year songs, are the same year after year. Everything in the world seems to have progress except festive songs. Wham sang "Last Christmas" a decade ago and every year after that, we have to "reminisce" last christmas in December. Perhaps festive season is a time when people will like to be more traditional and that include their preference for songs. Anyway, here are two non-traditional Korean "Christmas" songs which I think would spice up the festive mood a little bit.

1. "Must Have Love" by Gain of Brown Eyes Girls and Yong Jun of SG Wannabe

2. "Show Me Your Love" by Super Junior

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

메리 크리스 마스

Click on the picture to see the flash animation

Christmas is just around the corner. I thought of posting this flash animation to give my blog an early festive mood. ^^

I wish that everyone can enjoy a Christmas filled with present and smile. 선물가득 웃음가득 즐거워요 크리스 마스 .


Jung Hwa Jeon (중화전-中和殿) - The main hall of Deoksugung

Deoksugung(덕수궁-德壽宮) was a palace which I had very little impression of. My visit there was not planned. I just happened to pass by its main entrance while walking in the vicinity of City Hall in Seoul. Visiting Deoksugung was kinda of by the way.

I couldn't recall why I wasn't paying attention to the palace buildings and scenery. Maybe it was because of the threatening sky and I was rushing to cover the palace compound before the rain. Until now, I am still not aware that there is a statue of King Sejong in the palace. That is an indication of how badly I remember my visit to Deoksugung.

If there is one thing that I still remember, it is the presence of a European-style building, the National Museum of Comtemporary Art, amidst the Korean palace buildings. The contrast was great and the impression stayed. I guess, a good part of memory is made up of those contrasting moments in life.

The National Museum of Comtemporary Art in Deoksugung

Monday, December 18, 2006

비가 많은 달

집이 근처에 찍은 사진이야. 시원 날씨를 좋아하는군!

North-East Monsoon has brought with it abandant rainfall. Since November, it has been raining almost everyday in Singapore in the late afternoon. It is so nice to say goodbye to those hazy days with the onset of the rainy season. I have always enjoyed the cooling weather of December. To me, there is no better time of the year than December. Together with holiday and festive mood, it is hard not to like December.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Lush greenery at Mount Faber. Less than 100m above mean sea level, Mt Faber can hardly be called a mountain

싱가포르에서 산이 하나도 없어요. 등산하는 것을 좋아하지만 오래동안 등산가지 못 해요.

1998 년 저는 한국에 처음 도착했어요. 부산에서 금정산에 올라간 적이 있어요. 그 때에는 벌써 가을이었어요. 날씨가 시원하고 단풍이 빨개지게 시작했어요. 가을에는 가장 등산의 계절이지요. 날씨가 좋고 단풍이 볼 수 있어요.

4년 후에 한국에 다시 가서 경주 토험산에 올라갔어요. 산 중간에 깨끗한 화장실이 있었요. 정말 편이에요. 경주 남산도 올라갔어요. 많이 걷더니 제 다리가 아프게 되었어요.

등산하는 것이 힘들지만 몸과 건강에 아주 좋아요. 산 위에 공기가 신선 하고 경치도 아름다운데 기분 나쁜 일을 다 잊어 버릴 수 있어요. 김밥 먹고 게임 하면 하루 좋은 시간을 보낼 수 있어요.

여건이 된다면 제가 복한의 금강산에 한번 등산가 보고 싶어요. 금강삼은 풍경이 제일 아름답다고요.

Friday, December 15, 2006

돌아가야 하는나

돌아가야 하는나 - 要回去的我。喜欢这样的形容。因为短短几个字,它表达出一颗有方向和希望的心。要回去的我,心又复活了起来。







Thursday, December 14, 2006

심심할 때~

Posting two simple flash animation games. You don't need to know Korean to play them.


The objective of this game is to burst the balloons with the arrows. To move the bowman up and down, press the 'up' and 'down' arrow key. To release the arrow, press the spacebar. If you play this game long enough, I promise that you will learn how to write 'failure'(실패-失敗) in Korean. Try it out to know what I mean.


This game is a variant of Tetris. If there are two or more tiles of the same kind side by side in a vertical or horizontal line, use the mouse to click on one of the tiles and all tiles will disappear. Remove as much tiles as possible and prevent the tiles from reaching the top of the box. This is a simple game and anymore explanation from me will confuse you. So play it only if you are bored.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

한국어가 어려워요?

"Is Korean difficult?"

This question is the second most frequently asked question after "Why do you study Korean?". Well, a short answer will be "yes" but that is as good as a no-answer. Honestly speaking, which language is easy to master. If I am to compare between Chinese and Korean, Chinese would have been a more difficult language to master. First of all, Chinese word is hieroglyph (a picture-like sign which represents a word). Simplification of the Chinese words has not made them much simpler to write, not to mention learning the traditional Chinese form that is still being used in places like Taiwan and Hong Kong. Furthermore, Chinese language has more consonants and vowels as compared to Korean language. In term of pronunciation, Chinese language has four main tones and a light tone but Korean language is monotone. So when comparison is made, Korean language seems a lot easier to master than Chinese language.

However just to give those who are interested to take up Korean language some idea of the difficulties to expect, I shall highlight five areas which, through my experience, are quite challenging.

First difficulty is sound-in-liaison. Something I am unaware of in the English and Chinese language that I have learnt. In Korean language, the sound of the ending consonant of the preceding word is carried over to the next word. Example, 삼월에(sam wol e - In March) is pronounced as 사뭐레(sa mwo le). Sound-in-liaison created the most challenge for me since I am not accustomed to this language style. It took me quite a while to change the way I listen and speak Korean. By the way, I am still adapting to this style of language.

[Edited: Song pointed out that English does have sound-in-liaison. For example, "what are you doing?" is spoken as "wha da you doing?" or in American English "wa ra u doing?" In fact sound-in-liaison is found in many spoken languages. It occurs almost naturally that native speakers may not even know that it exists.]

Second difficulty is contraction of words. Example, the conjunction 그러한데(but) can be contracted to 그런데. Further contraction gives 근데. Essentially, the three Korean words at different stage of contraction mean the same thing. The commonly used conjunction 그래서(so) is actually a contracted form of 그리 하여서. Other commonly seen contraction: 저의(my) gives 제, 나는(I) gives 난 and 누구를(whom) gives 누굴. Contraction of words creates a significant problem for beginners because contracted words cannot be found in the dictionary. Even if they are found in the dictionary, the meanings given are not meant for the words in doubt.

Third difficulty is the different forms of speech. Example, for the verb 먹다(to eat), in honorific form it is spoken as 드세요. In polite and formal form, it is spoken as 먹습니다. In polite and informal form, it is 먹어요. In casual form, it is simply 먹어. The occasion and the social status of the person you are speaking to determine which form is appropriate. When I was a beginner, the different forms of 먹다 are like different words to me. It really doesn't occur to me that there are different forms of the same word. There is also the problem about switching between the different forms. Even if I am able to know when to switch, my tongue can be a bit too stiff to make the change correctly.

Fourth difficulty is irregular verb. It is hard to explain this difficulty if you do not know basic Korean but just take it that the way an irregular verb is written can change under different situations. For example just take a look at the following changes to the verb 만들다(to make):

만들다 + (ㄴ)다음에 = 만든 다음에
만들다 + (ㅂ)시다 = 만듭시다
만들다 + 시다 = 만드세요

As you can see (words in red) 만들다 has morphed into different words under different situations but the meaning of the word has not changed. Irregular verbs are actually quite common in Korean language. Without a good knowledge of irregular verbs, dictionary is actually quite useless because the verb stem has to be first determined before the dictionary can give the right meaning. In this case, I need to make up that the verb stem is 만들다.

The last difficulty is irregular pronunciation. Example, 입니다 is pronounced 임니다, 못합니다 is pronounced 모탐니다, 읽는다 is pronounced 잉는다, just to name a few. There are also many pronunciation rules in the Korean language which can attribute to "irregularity". To be fair, in most cases, the change in pronunciation of a word is determined by rules and not that "irregular" per se. This last difficulty together with sound-in-liaison are creating havoc to my listening.

As what my Korean language teacher told us during our level one Korean language lesson: It is easy to read, write and speak hangeul but you will not know what they mean. She was absolutely right. But to learn Korean, I guess its 할 수 없어요(no choice). Mentally, I am telling myself, learning Korean cannot be harder than learning Chinese. It is just a matter of time.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

부대찌개의 이야기

When I was introduced the different types of Korean food during my level 1 Korean language lesson, the Korean food that left the most impression on me was Budaejjigae. Ironically, I have yet to taste Budaejjigae. "Budae" (부대-部隊) means a military unit and "Jjigae" refers to a stew made from chilli pepper paste. My teacher told the class that Budaejjigae has a sad story behind it.

The "budae" actually refers to the American military units and Budaejjigae was a product of the Korean War. During the war, food was scarce and the Koreans had to resort to eating the leftovers from the American soldiers' ration. That is why sausage, ham, bacon and cheese are among the ingredients found in Budaejjigae. To suit the Koreans' palate, the leftovers were cooked in chilli pepper paste and hence Budaejjigae was born.

I will count my blessing if I am ever going to eat Budaejjigae. Korean War may be over but the memory still continues in Budaejjigae. This is one meaningful Korean food that I will want to try. Not sure if it is sold in Singapore though.

One-person portion of Budaejjigae [Photo Credit: FatMan Seoul]

공부해야 하는 나

I was at Jonggak station (정각역-鐘閣驛) and on my way to Cheonggyecheon (청계천-淸溪川) when I accidentally came across two mega bookstores in Korea, the Bandi & Luni's and Yongpyeon. I just could not help but stop to take a look at these bookstores. It took me a few hours to roam the bookstores though. They are "mind-boggling" huge to say the least. Living in a country where assessment books probably out-sell any other books, it is hard to imagine that a mega bookstore concept is going to take off in Singapore any time soon.

One of those things that I did in Bandi & Luni's was to look for Korean Language textbooks. I managed to find a series of textbooks published by the Language Education Institute of the Seoul National University under the foreign book section. Each volume of texbook cost 15,000won(S$25). The workbook cost another 13,000won(S$21.50). It was not that expensive considering that one textbook is supposed to be used for 200 hours of instruction or 10 weeks of lesson. For some reasons, I did not buy any of the textbooks. Perhaps, it was because of the fever that I was having then.

By the time I was out from Jonggak station it was already late afternoon. The late summer sun had lost its mid-day rage and it was cooling walking along Cheonggyecheon.

A month later, back in Singapore, a friend who just came back from Seoul lent me her SNU's Korean language textbook volume 3. She said that her Korean language level was not good enough to use the textbook yet. She probably has over-estimated my language standard as well. As written in the textbook, it is meant for adult learners who have a knowledge of Korean with about 400 hours of classroom time or the equivalent. Adding up all the formal Korean language lesson time I have, I am not even meeting half of the classroom time required by the textbook.

Nevertheless, without any more Korean lessons to attend, this textbook has been quite useful in maintaining my learning tempo. My electronic dictionary has also been very helpful in breaching the knowledge gap. For my next Korean trip, more of these language books shall be on the top of my buying list.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

산이 있는 곳에

Picture taken at "Nine-Carps Lake" (九鲤湖) in Fujian Province (福建省)

흙이 있는 곳에 초목이 성장할 수 있어요. 산이 있는 곳에 물이 있어야 해요. 산과 물은 분리하지 못 해요. 영원히 같이 함께 있겠어요.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

그렇게 안돼

그곳이 한국이 아니에요. 중국이에요. 하지만 왜 케이블 카안에 한글만 볼 수 있었어요? 다름 언어들이 없었어요? 제가 모르겠어요. 이상하죠?

I was sitting in the cable car going up to the Great Wall at Badaling (八达岭). I noticed that Hangeul was scribbled all over the wall of the cable car. Strangely, there was no scribbling in other languages although thousands of tourists from all over the world visit the Great Wall at Badaling every day. Not to mention the large number of local Chinese who also make their trip up every day.

Why was there only Hangeul scribbling? Perhaps, the act of scribbling was contagious. Only Koreans were encouraged to leave their marks inside the cable car after some Koreans decided to set the "trend" at a much earlier time.

Monday, December 04, 2006



韩文版的《夜来香》收入在《舞者的纯情》的电影原声带。文根英唱的《夜来香》当然不可能翻译原来的中文歌词。21世纪的人类对爱的表现不可能象当年那样含蓄。歌词里没有 “那南风吹来清凉,那夜莺啼声凄怆”只有 “我一直等待着你,为你一个人等待”。没有“我为你歌唱,我为你思量”只有“你全不知道,我对你的爱”。单听韩文版的歌词就很现代。歌的节奏也很轻快很入流,完全不会感觉到那是一首旧歌。怎么说,好歌就是耐听。


Sunday, December 03, 2006

표가 다 팔렸어요

What? All flight from Singapore to Korea has been fully booked until the end of the year?

Yes, the waiting list is also very long as well.

Alright, Thanks.

Too late to do anything now. I will have to find some other place to spend my year-end vacation.

I was thinking of getting myself "frozen" in Korea's sub-zero temperature. Or perhaps see icicles forming on my hairs. Winter should be a good time for me to go Korea. For the past few times when I was in Korea, I fell quite sick. So I joke that I won't fall sick in Korea if I am going there in winter. Can't possibly get sick if I am frozen, right?

How I wish I have a neko-bus that can take me to anywhere I wish. Neko-bus is good in that its seat is "furry" comfortable and it is free. The only problem with the bus is that it operates only at night.

Somehow when reality is not favourable, a little bit of fantasy does help.

할머니의 고향

"고향이 어디 있어요?" (Where is your hometown?) is a strange question to me. As a Singaporean, 고향(故鄕-hometown) has very little meaning to me. I feel awkward if I am to answer, "제 고향이 싱가포르 있어요." (My hometown is Singapore.)

Singapore is a small country. I go to work from my home in the morning and go back to the same home in the evening. I don't need to leave my home to stay somewhere else to work. During festival, I don't need to squeeze on a bus or train to get back home. I see my family everyday and visit my relatives frequently. There is never a sense of separation or detachment in me while living in Singapore. That is why I always feel awkward about being asked the question.

But to my grandmother, 고향 meant a lot to her. She was among the first generation of Chinese immigrants who arrived in Malaya from China to find a livelihood. Life in China during the early 1900s was tough enough to send her to board a cargo ship bound for the unknown. Between a known future of despair and an unknown future of possibility, she had decided to go for the more benign choice.

My grandmother's hometown is in Fujian Province, Putian City. Like most Chinese immigrants who worked overseas, she would remit part of her earning back to China to support my uncle's family and her relatives. She also built a red-brick house in her hometown with her remittance. Since I was young, I have always wanted to see this building for myself.

In December 2004, I stepped foot in China for the first time and my first destination was my grandmother's hometown. I finally saw that red-brick building. Looking at it, I could suddenly understand why my grandmother would rather sting on herself and save all the money she could to build a house in her hometown which she would never stay in.

Perhaps to call a place a hometown, she needed a house where her heart could always go back to.

My grandmother's red-brick house in Putian City, Fujian Province [Dec 2004]

Saturday, December 02, 2006

또 토요일 밤

出场的歌手有진호和“甜蜜的伤悲”(Sweet Sorrow)。
진호将为你带来Bossa Nova曲风的“倘若我们”。

Friday, December 01, 2006

작은 빨간 점

My dowoomi (Korean pal) and I were visiting the National Museum of Korea. The first exhibition room we entered, there was a world map on one side of the wall.

Pointing to the map, I asked my dowoomi, "솔암 씨, 싱가폴을 어디에 있는지 알아요?" (Do you know where is Singapore?)

She pointed to the Southeast Asia region but did not know the exact spot of Singapore. Not too bad for my dowoomi to know that Singapore is in Southeast Asia and not China.

I knew it was not easy for a foreigner to know the exact position of Singapore. Singapore as an island state is too small to be represented in a world map afterall. Therefore to emphasise its position, Singapore is usually represented as a little red dot. Even that, many foreigners are still very vague about its location in the world map. This is a Singapore's dilemma - well known in the world but yet many do not know where it exists in this world.

Singapore is located at Southern tip of the Asia continent. However, it does not hold the honour as the Southern-most point of the Asia continent because it is not connected to the continent by land. The honour belongs to Tanjong Piai in Malaysia. Small as it may be, the world shipping will have to transit the Singapore Strait to get from East Asia to Europe and vice-versa.

The world may not miss Singapore if it ceases to exist one day but Singapore definitely needs the world to continue to exist. Only after I was old enough to leave Singapore to see the world did I discover that for Singapore island to even exist as a country is something of a miracle.

I am proud of where I come from. I will be glad if my foreign friends know where my home is in this world. Therefore, 솔암 씨 잘 했어요. ^^b

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

제 전자사전

These days I cannot imagine myself studying Korean without my electronic dictionary. I bought my e-dictionary in Kyunghee University for 168,000 won(S$280). I must say that it is worthed every cent that I spent. I just like the ease it provides in translating new Korean words. This gadget has the abilty to do translation between Korean and three other main languages, namely English, Chinese and Japanese. It can also function as a pure dictionary for Korean and English. Despite all the functions that it has, I am satisfied just using its Korean-English and English-Korean translation.

From my experience, not all e-dictionaries are made the same. I bought my first e-dictionary in Singapore. It was a popular but expensive Taiwan brand e-dictionary which claims that it can do translation in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The truth is it cannot do it very well. Most of the Korean words which I typed could not be found. Its a pity that good Korean e-dictionaries are not sold in Singapore. I am sorry to say that if you like to have a decent e-dictionary to study Korean, you will either need to go to Korea or get your friend on holiday trip to Korea to buy it for you.

Monday, November 27, 2006

연어를 좋아해요?

Our teacher was preparing us for the meeting with Ms Yang Mi Gyeong (양미경-梁美京), the elegant Korean actress who acted as Han Sang Kung (한상궁-韓尙宮) in the Korean drama, "Jewel in the Palace". Part of the preparation was to anticipate questions that would be asked by Ms Yang. One of the questions that we had to prepare an answer for was the ever popular "왜 한국어를 공부해요?" (Why do you study Korean language?)

To ensure that we were capable of taking the questions asked by Ms Yang, our teacher rehearsed the whole process of asking and answering with every student. When it came to my turn, our teacher asked, "왜 한국어를 공부해요?"

"연어 배우기를 좋아하니까 한국어를 공부하고 있어요." I replied.

"뭐라고요?" Our teacher was puzzled by my answer.

"연어, language 아니에요?" I attempted to clarify

"연어 is salmon. Language is 언어." Our teacher corrected me in her signature "intimidating" way.

What I intended to say was that I like learning language(언어) therefore I am studying Korean. However, I ended up saying I like learning salmon(연어) therefore I am studying Korean. It was an embarassing moment but "연어 is salmon" would forever stick in my mind. Not too bad, besides 참치(Tuna), now I know 연어(Salmon).

As in all learning process, making mistakes and realising the mistake made is the surest way to improve. I have no problem looking silly. In fact I enjoy doing silly things. I thought that's what made the learning process interesting. I enjoy every moment of my Korean language lessons and I treasure all those stupid moments.

I remember a documentary that I have watched. A Japanese Akido's grandmaster was asked to describe to what level does he think he has reached in his Akido's mastery . He replied, "I am just a beginner." Perhaps that is what I should be everyday - a beginner . . . in Korean language learning. Not to be a grandmaster but to be like a beginner, ever eager to learn new things everyday.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

천사의 목소리

Three weeks more to the end of May and World Cup 2002 would open at the new World Cup Stadium in Korea. The world cup theme song , Voices of Korea/Japan- let's get together now, was getting quite good airtime in the TVs in Korea. It was hard not to know Brown Eyes, Lena Park, Chemistry and Sowelu who were the singers of the theme song. Among them, Lena Park's voice was clearly in a class of her own.

Back in Singapore after my holiday in Korea, I went searching for Lena Park's albums. Surprisingly, they were sold in the CD shops. Back then, I was not quite sure of Lena Park's international appeal. Korean music was not that popular in Singapore four years ago afterall. So I did not blame the CD shop owner for looking stun when I handed over two Lena Park's albums to him for payment.

If I have to make a comparison, Lena Park is in the same league as Mariah Carey(US), Misia(Japan) and Zhang Huimei(Taiwan). They are similar in that they all have a powerful lung and a "voice kissed by the God". Mariah Carey's vocal range was said to stretch over seven octaves while Misia could hit five octaves with ease. Normal singers would be considered to have a good vocal range if they can hit three octaves.

Lena Park is a Korean-American. Born and educated in America, she only found fame when she went back to Korea to start her singing career in 1998. While she speaks with an authentic American accent, it is unlikely that her talent in singing will have garnered much fans if she has decided to sing only in English. Despite America being a melting pot, Asian singers are unlikely to get the same support as compared to white or black singers. Asian singers should only know it too well that support usually comes from fans who look like them.

Lena Park is the first Korean singer whom I know but she has continued to be the number one Korean singer to me. To know how well she sings just watch the music video 달(moon) from her fifth album "On & On".

Saturday, November 25, 2006

KLPT시험 성적

Note: The above certificate is not an original certificate issued by the Korean Language Proficiency Test Committee. The certificate is edited and reproduced in this posting for the purpose of illustration only.

I went down to NUS Extension at Park Mall today to collect my Korean Language Proficiency Test result. I scored 245 out of 500 marks. Based on the six-levels KLPT standard, I am considered to have attained level 1 standard (KLPT scores 200-245), the lowest of the passing standards. In fact, it was not that difficult to attain level 1 standard as I previously thought. Almost all those who took the test on the same day as me attained level 1 standard or better.

One of the top performer of this test attained a level 4 standard (KLPT scores 350-395). I was told that she worked in Korea for 2 years. KLPT must have been a piece of cake for her. Our Korean teacher wannabe achieved level 3 standard (KLPT scores 300-345) which she attributed mostly to luck. I thought she was just being humble. She deserved the scores she had. Anyway, if anyone wants to gain entry into a university in Korea, he or she must attain level 5 standard or better (KLPT scores 400-500).

As for my result, I find it unbelievable that I actually did better for my listening than my reading. Nonetheless, I am happy with my result. So what if it is not level 2 or better, at least I did not let down my teacher. Equinox, 화이팅!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

반말 문법

I received the following ban-mal(반말) grammar tables from my friend.

My Korean lessons at NUS Extension does not teach ban-mal. My teacher has decided to concentrate on teaching the informal but polite form of Korean language in which each sentence always ends with "요". The formal and polite form (~ㅂ니다) and the honorific form (~시다) or 존댓말 were also taught except ban-mal.

Ban-mal is a form of Korean language that is widely used in casual conversation. However, it is considered an informal and impolite form of Korean language. Koreans, it seems, will be offended if strangers use ban-mal to speak to them. In my Korean class, ban-mal is like a "forbidden language". My teacher rarely talks about it, not to mention, teaches it. If not for my friend, I will not have known that ban-mal form of Korean language exists.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


I had two bags full of stuffs after shopping but they were not heavy. It was evening peak hour in Busan. The subway was quite crowded. As a habit, I would always choose to stand rather than sit even if there are empty seats. As I was standing and looking aimlessly out of the train windows suddenly I felt a pull on my hand. An old man was trying to ask me to sit down. He was squeezing out a space for me to sit. The ajumma beside him also spontaneously shifted. He was speaking to me in Korean which I did not understand but I guessed that he was trying to tell me that the things I was carrying were heavy and that I should sit down.

I was caught totally surprised by the old man's kind gesture. It was expected of the young people to respect the elders by giving up their seats but the reverse, to me, was quite out of the world that I knew. Anyway, I turned down the old man's offer because the space he squeezed out was quite small and I did not want him to sit in an awkward position. A few stations later, the ajumma sitting beside the old man alighted. He pulled on my bags of stuffs again and asked me to sit down. I did not reject him the second time although I did not really need the seat. I smiled at him to show my gratitude. At that moment, I wish I could have known how to say "감사합니다" to him.

할아버지들 playing a game of Chinese Chess in Jangan Park, Suwon

Monday, November 20, 2006

태극기의 다른의미

I was supposed to find out the meaning of the Korean flag from the internet as a homework. As much as there is an official meaning to the flag, I do have some other interpretation of the Taegeukgi (태극기-太極旗).

I see the red 'yang' as symbolising the Democratic People's Republic of Korea while the blue 'yin' the Republic of Korea. 'Yang' is powerful but lacks endurance while 'ying' is soft but enduring. The 'yin' and 'yang' are maintained in its current state by the four trigrams or kwae(괘-卦) surrounding the taegeuk circle.

The top left trigram is 'geon'(건-乾) or heaven and it symbolises 'justice'. Russia is the 'justice'.

The bottom right trigram is 'gon'(곤-坤) or earth and it symbolises 'fertility'. Japan is the 'fertility'.

The top right trigram is 'gam'(감-坎) or water and it symbolises 'life'. US is the 'life'.

The bottom left trigram is 'i'(이-離) or fire and it symbolises 'wisdom'. China is the 'wisdom'.

From the book of 'I-Ching', 'geon' and 'gon' are direct opposites. Similarly, 'gam' and 'i' are direct opposites. The way in which the four trigrams interacts with one another has a profound impact on the state and health of the taegeuk circle.

Perhaps we can see the current state of affairs of the Korean peninsula through this Taegeukgi. Any possible resolution to the nuclear crisis in the peninsula will likely have to be achieved through the six-party talks. But any hope of quick resolution is almost a naive thought.

For how long will Korea peninsula be apart? I like to remember what former South Korea's President, Kim Dae Jung had said in year 2000 when the North Korea requested to delay the historic meeting of the top leaders of the two Koreas by one day. "The two sides have waited 55 years, so one more day does not matter." he said.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

마지막 장

I have been writing about my 1-week immersion programme in Kyunghee University for the past few months. Today I am writing the concluding chapter for the programme. As they say, all good things must come to an end. But before the final end, I will just re-visit the immersion programme one more time in this posting.

Above is the iconic university administration building. Our first language lesson was conducted by Kim Seon Saeng Nim in this building. It was a special arrangement made by the Institute of International Education so that we could have the experience of studying in this beautiful building.

[Top Left] Grand Auditorium. [Top Right] Bronze Sculpture. [Bottom] Central Library. The Grand Auditorium can easily be mistaken as a Cathedral but it isn't. The Central Library seems to be a favourite filming site for Korean movie. You can see it in "Classics" and "Traces of Love". Coming from a former British colony, where European-style buildings are common, I still feel that the buildings in Kyunghee are beautiful.

This is the slope we had to climb every morning to reach the Institute of International Education where we had our daily lesson. IIE is the white building at the end of this road to the right.

On reaching the entrance of IIE, there were some more steps to climb to the main door. After that, there was still staircase to climb before we finally reached our classroom. It was a good workout every day.

One of the thing we did during our lesson was to do a presentation of ourselves. For our standard, we could only read off our script. Frankly, I didn't understand what others were talking about. Neither did I know what I was talking about. At that time, my Korean language standard was really that bad. 미안해요.

Kyunghee Seoul campus, is really a very nice place for tertiary education. However, it was not just the place that made this immersion programme memorable. Thanks to our teachers at Kyunghee. The interesting and animated 김민재, the chubby and cool 임채훈 and the cute and shy 고우리. Thanks to our dowoomis who spent their time with us. Finally, thanks to the company of my classmates. I will remember the time when we ate the 32cm-tall ice cream in Myeongdong at near zero temperature. That was a really "cool" experience.

I not too sure if I will be back at Kyunghee but I do look forward to studying in Korea again. The end is finally here. I will sign off with the picture (below) which was taken outside the Central Library.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Yesterday, my KLPT class had a post-KLPT gathering. We have our dinner at a Korean restaurant. Our Korean teacher assistant, 이윤숙, joined us for the gathering. It is probably the last time we will see her. She is going back to Korea at the end of this month after 11 months in Singapore. She came here for the purpose of studying Chinese at NUS Extension. So yesterday dinner was also sort of a farewell dinner for her.

After dinner, we went to 봉봉 노래방(Bong Bong Korean Karaoke). It was the first time for me in a 노래방. And yes, we only sang Korean songs. I could read the lyrics but probably understood only about 40 percent of words. One of our classmates sang the song "만약에 우리", a soundtrack from the SBS mini-series "Alone In Love" or 연애시대(戀愛時代). Before she sang the song, she kept saying that "Alone In Love" had a very touching storyline. If you have not watch the drama, probably you will after watching the music video. A soothing love song, very suitable for a quiet and lazy Saturday night.

햇빛이 들어와요

I was hiking in Mt. Geumjeong when this buddha statuette perching on a rock caught my eyes. A beam of sunlight managed to seep through the foilage and illuminate the statuette. The glowing buddha statuette evoked a zen-like feeling that I could hardly find words to describe.

Friday, November 17, 2006

안에 밖에

[Left] taken in Orchard, Singapore. [Right] taken in Myeongdong, Seoul

In Singapore where the weather is hot and humid, I usually drink my iced mocha outside of the cafe. It is not that I like to sit outdoor. In Singapore the cafe's interior space is usually small and crowded. In Seoul, the interior space of the cafe is huge. Surely, you won't find me sitting outside. But it is not because I like the comfort of the air-con. It is more like I can hardly find any chair or table outside the cafe. In fact, I do like to sit outdoor when the weather is cooling. Isn't it a strange world? You don't always get what you want and worse the world may present you with the direct opposite.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

일급에 돌아갈게요

I am quite bad at Hangeul pronounciation. One of the main reason is that I cannot clearly differentiate certain sounds like 외, 왜 and 웨. Listening and speaking are connected. I cannot do well in speaking if I cannot listen well. So I am spending my time recently practising my listening. Its back to basic for me now.

Click on the chart to practise your listening skill

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


There is no more Korean lesson to attend. What should I do now? 어떻게 하죠? Why are there so many works to complete everyday and so little time for other things? 어떻게 하죠? Why is it that when I have time I have no money? Now that I have money why is it that I cannot find time? 어떻해 어떻해? 고민해요.
I'm alright, don't worry. I am just trying to think of some script for the character on the right to say. ^^

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


King Sejong to non-Korean like me is almost synonymous with Hangeul. Every foreigner who learns Korean will likely be told that King Sejong invented the Hangeul so that commoners and not just the scholars could be literate. King Sejong deserves every respect as one of the greatest rulers in the Korean history. However, I don't think he was great because he was extremely brilliant. He became great because he knew how to appreciate and seek out talents. Hangeul would not have been invented if not for the group of scholars he had assembled in his "Hall of the Intellectual" (집현전-集賢殿).

History almost always gives credits to the rulers or the leaders. The real mastermind behind the success of those famous rulers or leaders probably might never be known. Sometimes when I read those quotable quotes of famous people I really wonder how many of these words were really their own. The speech made by famous people on important occasion was more often than not written by someone else. Yet we would not know who actually wrote the speech. If there were some words of wisdom that came out of the speech, the speaker would be credited as the person who said that.

In spite of all that was said, there is a Chinese saying, "良禽择木而栖,良臣择主而侍" (A good bird will choose the best tree to rest and a good official will choose the best ruler to serve). The brainchild behind the world's first rain gauge, a water clock, a sundial and astronomical observation devices, Jang Yeong-sil (장영실-將英實), was fortunate to have met King Sejong. If it was not for King Sejong, Jang Yeong-sil's gift in engineering would not have been uncovered and history would have missed him completely. With a benevolent ruler in King Sejong and good officials working under him, it was only natural that during King Sejong's reign, Joseon Dynasty flourished and made great advancement in art, literature, science and technology.

Jang Yeong-sil created the sundial known as Yangbu Ilgu (양부일구-仰釜日晷). The lines seen across the concave surface are meant to compensate for the seasonal change in the position of the sun. [Picture taken in Hwaseong]

Monday, November 13, 2006

한국말로 인도노래 부르다

Click on the picture to see the flash animation

Another flash animation. Have you ever heard Koreans singing Indian song? I bet Korean can't even read the lyrics here so it doesn't matter if you don't understand what the cows are singing. Watch the animation only if you feel bored. 지루할 때만 보세요. ^^

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Click on the picture to see the flash animation

I first came across gamzadori in Song's blog. 감자 is potato and 도리(道理) is something like philosophy. 감자도리 or gamzadori means potato's philosophy. This gamzadori's flash animation is about 감자 which left on a trip to become a 고구마(sweet potato). 귀엽네요!

경희대에서 온 선생님

I was feeling tired after seven hours of overnight flight to Incheon. My mind was drowsy and I could not wait to get on the limousine bus and continue my slumber. Two representatives from Kyunghee University were already at the arrival hall waiting for us - the NUS extension students who are participating in the one-week immersion programme. Upon our exit from the immigration door, a lady went around confirming our group attendance. I was not sure who she was. Anyway, soon we got on the bus and I slept till the bus reached our dormitory near Hoegi station (회기역). For the rest of the day I only knew that she was our teacher-in-charge at Kyunghee.

On the second day, we had our first lesson with her. She introduced herself as Kim Minjae (김민재-金民載). It sounded like a guy's name. If I got it correctly, she said that her parents were hoping for a son after having one daughter. Too bad, she was born a girl and so she was stuck with a guy's name. Her parents do have a son eventually though. That was my first experience with her storytelling ability. This is one plus point for a teacher. Her stories and her animated way of telling her stories always kept us awake in class.

There were many stories that I can still remember. One of them was about "바바리맨" or "Burberry man". We were learning the Korean words for different clothing when we came across the word "바바리 코트" (Burberry Coat). From Burberry coat came the expression the Burberry man, said 김선생님. "Burberry man" in Korea means flasher or exhibitionist and she related her encounter with a Burberry man when she was young. You should know what a Burberry man will do so I need not elaborate here.

Still on the topic of clothing, she was teaching us the use of the verb stems "입다" (to wear) and "벗다" (to take off one's clothing) and she recounted another incident. An artiste, performing in a "live" entertainment show, probably got too high and took off his cloth (옷을 벗어요) without warning. Since then, entertainment show was not allowed to go "live" in Korea. It seemed nothing "immersed" us into Korea as much as listening to her life stories.

Another day, I was standing at the entrance of the Institute of International Education in Kyunghee (the place where we had our Korean lessons), a Chinese student came up to her and spoke in Chinese about some of the problems she had with her student visa or something like that. 김선생님 was nodding her head all the way. After the student left, "다 알아요?" (you understand everthing) I asked her out of curiosity. "조금" (a little bit), she replied. Sure, a little. I would have believed her if I didn't know that she had a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Language and Literature & Chinese Education and that she was previously a volunteer who taught Korean language to Chinese workers.

We left Kyunghee in late March. 김선생님 came over to teach Korean at NUS Extension in July. That explained why she was made the teacher-in-charge for our immersion programme and why she was feeling nervous when our teacher, Ebony 배선생님, visited Kyunghee in the midst of our programme. On the day of 배선생님's visit she was heard saying, "어떻해, 어떻해?" to one of our classmates.

For those students who are taught by her in NUS Extension, everyone will agree that she is a very good teacher. She is a master at helping students to visualise the things she is teaching. She does this by telling stories or by drawing cartoons or by playing games or by simply showing the objects she is talking about. We can also see that she does a lot of preparation before every lesson. Her training materials are very professional looking and her worksheets are specially customised for each class and lesson. She will always use the students and herself as the subjects in her worksheets. She will also put some photographs of herself to make the worksheets look more interesting. However, I am not too sure whether that has motivated the students to complete the worksheets. Anyway, she should be credited for making our Korean class interesting. Afterall, it is not easy to maintain our attention during our night lessons especially after a full-day work.

For a petite-framed lady, she has an effervescent personality that is almost contagious. She is animated and sometimes comical. Always excited about new things. We will definitely miss 김선생님 when she returns to Kyunghee next January after she completes her stint at NUS Extension.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

한국어 프로그램도 끝났다

Note: The above certificate is not an original certificate issued by NUS Extension. The certificate is edited and reproduced in this posting for the purpose of illustration only.

My Korean Langugae Programme at NUS Extension has finally come to an end. I have reproduced a copy of the course certificate to mark this special milestone. I have studied under the programme from October 2005 to November 2006 and been through 150 hours of Korean lessons (perhaps only 140 hours for me since I missed 4 lessons). Taking one year to complete 150 hours of lessons is quite a long time. Probably it takes only 7.5 weeks in Korea to achieve the same learning hours assuming that there is 4 hours of lesson every day from Monday to Friday. In a mathematical sense, I could have learn Korean up to 400 times faster if I am in Korea as compared to Singapore.

The certificate given at the end of the course is only meant to say that I have participated in the course and nothing indicative of my Korean language standard. I still speak Korean badly. Listening is equally as bad. An end always marks a new beginning. Perhaps I may give back all that I have learnt to my teacher or I can continue to improve. Its all up to me now.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

한국의 영웅

Admiral I-Sun Shin
Korea's national hero Admiral Yi Sun Shin (이순신-李舜臣 1545-1578) is perhaps the first Korean that I know. My first trip to Korea was actually to Jinhae and not Seoul. I happened to see this statue of him standing in the centre of a roundabout in Jinhae.

Through some luck, I was able to lay my hand on his biography. The book was written in English but I found it to be rather thin, about 100 over pages, considering him being one of the greatest naval commanders in the world naval history. Admiral Yi was respected for his unshakeable loyalty, his filial piety, his great leadership in thwarting repeated invasions by the Japanese and his invention of the most advanced warship of his time, the turtle ship (거복선).

For all his contributions to the country, Admiral Yi Sun Shin was conferred the posthumuous title of Chungmugong (충무공-忠武公) by the Joseon government. There are many things in Korea that are named after Admiral Yi like Chungmuro (충무로-忠武路) or Chungmu Art Hall. The use of Chungmu in Korea is almost equivalent to our use of Raffles in Singapore though Raffles is not a hero in any sense. Raffles was the founder of Singapore and that was his only contribution to Singapore history.

겨울 어제부터 시작했다

Yesterday was the beginning of 립동(立冬) of the 24 절기(節氣) or seasonal divisions. The arrival of 립동 marks the start of winter. From this day onwards, temperature will start to fall. Animals will start to go into hibernation. People will start to put on thick clothing. Winter vacation is coming. Christmas is around the corner. The festive mood is in the air.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

이름이 없는 집

This Korean restaurant in Insadong is simply called "인사동그집" or "Insadong That Eating House". It is like saying I don't know the name of the eating house but you know at Insadong that eating house, that one, you know, you know? Or in Singapore context, I can say Katong That Laksa or Tiong Bahru That Chwee Kueh or Changi That Nasi Lemak and Singaporeans will go ya ya ya (yes, yes, yes), that one, I know, I know. In a certain sense, "인사동그집" can mean THE eating house of Insadong. I would think that only eating house worth their salt would dare to go by such "name". I could only think because I never went in and tried out the food and wine. That eating house was quite crowded though.