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.

늦까지 일해야

선생님: 왜 숙재를 안 했어요?
학생가: 바빠서 숙재를 안 했어요.
학생나: 시간이 없어서 숙재를 안 했어요.
학생다: 일을 많이 해야 해서 숙재를 못 했어요.

I am not trying to suggest reasons to give for not doing homework. Despite that, the reasons given above are the more common ones used by students to explain why they don't do their homework. It strikes me today that Singaporeans are indeed working too hard sometime.

An e-mail appeared in my Inbox. A staff from our company's administration section wrote:

"Dear all, as you know the air-con in our office will be shut after 6:30pm every day. For the welfare of those staff who work late, I will be consolidating order for fans to be bought so that the office can remain ventilated even after the air-con is switched off for the day. Please let me know if you would like a fan for your section. Thank you."

The air-con is shut after 6:30pm because staff are not encouraged to work overtime. However, that did not deter many from staying back late to work each day. There is no doubt that Singaporeans can be very hardworking contrary to the popular belief that Singaporeans are getting complacent and lazy.

As for my reply, you guess . . . ^^

Monday, November 06, 2006

한국전통건물의 색채

In Korea, 청색(靑色) looks blue. That's why 청와대(靑瓦臺), the official residence of the South Korean President, is called the Blue House and not the Green House. To me, 청색 is green because 靑色 in Chinese is green. In Korean, green is called 녹색(綠色) or 초록색(草綠色). It took me quite some time to tell the difference.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

남이섬의 미

This is Nami Island, a place made famous by the Korean drama "Winter Sonata". A place where bad photographer can also take beautiful pictures. If you walk fast enough, one hour is all you need to cover the whole island. But Nami Island is not meant for a quick walk through. You need to take a slow walk in order to appreciate its serene beauty.

행복한 이유

After returning from the one-week immersion programme in Kyunghee University, I wrote an e-mail to tell my teacher of my experience in Kyunghee. I have everything good to say about the programme but on the other hand I became uncertain about continuing with my Korean study.

Frankly, I was quite demoralised (but not to the extent of quitting) about continuing with my Korean study. Firstly, there is no institution in Singapore that offers Korean studies at higher level. Secondly, even on completion of advanced level at NUS extension, I will be no where proficient in my use of the Korean language. In brief, I cannot see a future in my Korean language learning beyond NUS Extension.

My teacher replied with an attachment of the homeworks submitted by her better students and tried to show me that there is every reason to believe that I can continue to improve by attending lessons and working hard.

SunriseThe day came when I understood what my teacher was trying to impress upon me. In the 2nd Korean Langauge Speech Contest, NUS Extension was represented with nine speakers among the nineteen finalists. It may not seem significant unless I tell you that my teacher was only given a week's notice to inform all her students about the contest. The students were required to submit their presentation articles within days before the registration closing date.

Eventually, the students never let her down. They came back with one second prize and two third prizes. Asiana's representative even thought that third prize winner, Jean Teo, should have been the winner and instantly offered her a free air ticket to Korea. For those who did not win, I also thought that they performed very well. My teacher was simply overjoyed with the students' good performance.

To have good students, to a teacher, is a reason to be happy about.

Equally to study under a good teacher, to a student, is a reason to be happy about.

I met my teacher recently, she encouraged me to go Korea to further my language study. I will think about it. With the Korean lessons coming to an end, its time for me to learn to "fly on my own" and find my own way. I must say I can now see a future in Korean language learning beyond NUS Extension.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

버섯 야채 죽

Walking into a porridge house in Seoul is like walking into a cafe. Nice decor and relax atmosphere. A bowl of mushroom vegetable porridge is priced at 5,000 won (S$8.30), quite expensive when compared to the porridge sold in Singapore.

Porridge HouseThe mushroom vegetable porridge was quite delicious although I did not find anything special about Korean porridge except the presentation of the porridge and the side dishes. I don't mind another bowl of mushroom vegetable porridge but I do prefer eating Teochew porridge or Taiwan porridge.

Mushroon Vegetable Porridge

마음청정 나라청정

The reason for visiting Korea in 2002 was a depressing one. I had a heated argument with my superior. No one was right or wrong in that instance, it was just ideological difference. The very next day I submitted my application for two weeks leave and my superior approved on the spot. So I went on a holiday to Korea to release an oppressed mind and find the peace it needed.

I avoided Seoul and chose to stay in Kyongju. I stayed in the Kolon Hotel which was just beside Bulguksa Temple. From where I stayed, I had a good view of the Mt.Tohamsan. I found much joy going mountain hiking and countryside trekking everday. The cool weather of spring was just ideal for these activities.

Some of the days were very wet. During some night and early morning, thick mist was hanging lowly and I felt like I was walking in the cloud. I was detached from the mundane world for the time I was in Kyongju. I was not thinking of my work, the unhappiness I had caused to my superior or other stress-inducing thoughts. Peace finally settled in my mind and on my return to Singapore, I knew I was no longer going to be the same.

Entrance to Sokkuram Grotto in Mt. Tohamsan, Kyongju

I took a picture of the entrance to the Sokkuram Grotto about a week before Buddha Birthday (or what we called the Vesak day in Singapore) in 2002. The entrance was all dressed up for the big day. Back then, I did not understand any of the two vertical columns of words on each side of the entrance. But now I understand.

마음청정 나라청정 - Mind at peace, country at peace
마음을맑게 세상을밝게 - Clear is the mind, bright is the world

I had these same realisations when I returned from Korea that year. The external world is actually a reflection of our internal world. We see what we want to see. Changing the world around us, it seems, is no longer that untenable. We just have to change our mind and the world around us will change in tandem. I knew I was no longer going to be the same because I finally realised how far a change in my thought can take me to.

소중한 경험

Ten minutes into the listening section of the Korean Language Proficiency Test, I was still able to make sense of what I heard. Before twenty minutes were up, my brain was already working at its limit to interpret what it received. From twenty minutes onwards till the end, the brain ceased to make sense of anything heard. It seemed that either my hearing or my brain was deteriorating by the minutes.

I experienced the same feeling when I sat for a placement test in Kyunghee University. It was a listening test and after attempting the first five questions or so, I gave up listening completely as I was unable to understand the remaining 10 to 20 questions and not to mention finding the correct answers for them.

NEX students concentrating during the placement test in Kyunghee University

KLPT was difficult for my standard. However, the pressure of preparing and taking the test was good in the sense that it exposed all the weaknesses in my Korean language. Now I know exactly which are the critical areas to work on. The other benefit of taking KLPT was that my Korean language learning took on an exponential curve. Within a short period of time, my Korean vocabulary expanded with hundreds of new words and expressions. I learnt the usage of many more particles, conjunctions and sentence endings that were not covered in my normal Korean lessons.

In my next phase of Korean learning, I shall be concentrating on pronouncing my hanguel accurately which in turn will help me to listen better. I shall also train myself to listen, read and understand the language faster. But I am not about to start today. Maybe next week. It has been quite some time since I enjoy a free Saturday afternoon. Perhaps I shall just laze around this afternoon.

Friday, November 03, 2006


A day after the Korean Language Proficiency Language Test, our teacher sent us an e-mail, eager to know the outcome of the test.

My reply:

The KLPT is harder than I expected. While I may have completed my revision of the green KLPT book but I still wasn't able to answer one-third of the 100 questions with confidence. I probably know the answers to about 20 questions but that was still way off the 40 questions passing mark.

For the test, we need to be able to listen, read and understand the language fast. While I believe there are questions which I may be able to give the right answer if given more time, it just cannot be done during the test. The short time given for each question effectively prevented us from even translating the words in our mind. I have great difficulty coping with the long passage and conversation for both listening and reading.

미안해요. 아마 시험에 붙지 못 할 거예요. [I'm sorry. I probably cannot pass]

A Korean Language teacher wannabe's reply:

사실은 저한테 그 시험을 굉장히 어려워서 잘 못 했다고 생각했어요. 선생님의 기대를 크게 저버린 것 같아서 정말 미안해요.
[Frankly, to me, that test was extremely difficult. I don't think I can do well. I'm sorry for not meeting teacher's expection to a large extent.]

Another good student's reply:

저도 그 시험을 퍽 어려워서 잘 못 하는걸 같습니다. 선생님이 실망한다면 죄송합니다.
[Me too. Because that test was quite difficult, I don't think I can do well. I am very sorry for disappointing you.]

There is one thing common among us. We all felt apologetic to our teacher for failing to do well in the test. Perhaps this is a Asian's mentality. We always feel indebted to our teachers when we do not do well in our examination.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

중국과 한국의 경치

When I saw the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, I was awe-struck by their granduer. Granduer in itself is beauty. When I saw the Hwaseong Fortress, I was captivated by its humbleness. Humbleness equally evokes a sense of beauty. I do like both.