Friday, August 31, 2007

순간을 잡다

[Top] Beans & Berries, 63 Building. [Middle] At the lift inside Migliore, Sinchon. [Bottom] Inside Iceberry, Myeongdong.

영화를 보기로 했다

On the LED board only two status are shown for ticket sale. It is either 매진 (賣盡 - Sold Out) or 판매 (販買 - On Sale). But even if I can't read Korean I am still quite sure I am able to make out which time slot ticket is available by just looking at the colour of the LED light. Red colour means not available and green colour means available. When it is my turn to buy ticket, I will just speak English. The staff will likely understand what I want. If not, I will use my finger to point here and there and I will still have a good chance of getting the right ticket. And even if I get the wrong ticket, I will just watch whatever I am given. Who say you need to know how to read and speak Korean to get around in Korea.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

추석이 일찍 왔다

We have a songpyeon-making (송편 만들기) event in the Singapore Korean School yesterday. Since two semesters ago, an event is planned every semester to introduce students to the Korean culture. Previously, there was gimbap-making and Korean calligraphy organised. I wasn't aware that there was an event yesterday until I was told by our teacher at the start of the lesson. Too bad, I never brought my camera along. Our teacher gave a short brief of things related to songpyeon. Songpyeon is a traditional Korean food eaten during Chuseok or, in our language, Mid-Autumn Festival. The skin of songpyeon is made from rice flour (쌀가루) and its filling can include red bean, red date, chestnut or sesame seeds. Our teacher added that there was a traditional saying that women who could make beautiful songpyeon would give birth to beautiful daughter.

To accommodate the event, we only have lesson for one hour yesterday. After that, all the classes gathered at the school canteen to make songpyeon. Our teacher first demonstrated the method of making songpyeon. She pulled off a ball of dough and rolled it in between her palms. Once a nice ball shape was formed, she used her thumb and index finger of both hands to press out a cup-shaped dough skin. Then she placed a teaspoon of peanut filling into the dough skin and sealed it by pressing the edge together to form a crescent-shaped songpyeon. I realised that songpyeon is very much like "tangyuan" or rice ball which we make during Winter Solstice (冬至) as both use rice flour as the main ingredient. The exception is the shape. Chinese believe that round shape symbolises fullness, completeness and perfection and hence things should be made round to symbolise goodness, be it tangyuan or mooncake. Koreans make their songpyeon crescent shape because of the belief that the best has yet to come. A full moon will wane after that but a crescent moon will continue to develop to become a full moon and that symbolises growth and more good harvests to come.

After we have completed making our songpyeon, we selected three of our better-looking ones for the songpyeon-making competition. Before the winning result was announced our principal gave us a talk on Chuseok and songpyeon. The interesting thing that I picked out was that songpyeon is supposed to be cooked by steaming over pine needles. The "song" in songpyeon actually means pine while "pyeon" means cake. So while Chinese has mooncake (月饼) for Mid Autumn Festival, Korean has "pinecake" or songpyeon (송편-松饼) for Chuseok. Our principal also took the opportunity to announce that the 3rd Korean Speech Contest (제3회 한국어 말아기 대회) will be held on 3 November this year. He encouraged students to take part in the contest by using himself as an example. He told us that he "suddenly" felt that he could speak Japanese very well after taking part in a Japanese Speech Contest.

Anyway, the winner for the event was TOPIK 1 class. Our class won nothing. Looking at the state of the songpyeon made by the students, I really hope that the traditional Korean saying is just a make-believe.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

여행 비디어

It was snowing in the Korean Folk Village. No matter how hard I tried to hold my camera still for this video, my hands just shivered involuntarily in the cold. The chiming of bell in the background gave a sense of zen to the atmosphere.

At the upstream source of Cheonggyecheon. The sound of water gushing down the man-made waterfall was deafening. A "revitalised" stream with faint resemblance to its humble past. A delightful experience walking beside it during cool weather.

An evening out in Insadong when I saw this busker singing Go-Hae (고해-告解) or Confession. I was captivated by his powerful vocal though I didn't quite understand what he was singing about.

Enjoying a quiet moment inside Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Hurest Wellbeing Club, Myeongdong. This cafe chain is owned by a Singaporean. It is strange that its Singapore outlets do not look as impressive as those in Seoul.


In US there are the Ivy League universities. In Korea there are the "Sky League" universities. SKY represents Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University in order of their university ranking. So I thought these are the three top university in Korea until I do an Internet search. According to THES-QS World University Rankings 2006, surprisingly, Yonsei is not among the top three university in Korea. In fact, the third highest ranking Korean university is the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology after Seoul National and Korea University. As Ivy League universities are not necessarily the top eight university in the US, the "Sky League" is likely to stay intact regardless of Yonsei ranking.

To put thing in perspective, our National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University actually have better world ranking than the Seoul National University. However, I never thought my alma mater, NUS, as a world-class university despite it being among the top 20 university in the world. If it is of world-class standard, how come our politicians are not sending their children there? Many Chinese politicians graduated from the Peking University and that makes it a prestigious university to the Chinese. By any chance is there any high-flying Singapore politician who actually graduated from NUS? If our best brains do not go to NUS, what else can be used to convince me that NUS is among the best in the world. Perhaps the major stumbling block towards achieving world class is that Singaporeans, in general, do not believe enough in ourselves.

I am not obsessed with ranking results. Called it the world best university but it may not suit my preferences. To study Korean language in Korea, I won't be thinking too hard about getting into the Sky League universities. I will be contented just being a student at Sogang University or Kyunghee University. When it comes to learning Korean as a foreign language, Sogang is still known as the best place to do that. I am not too sure if this perception is correct but I can always find out myself someday, perhaps only.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


춘천에서 봤던 일몰이 그림처럼 보이다.

매일 미친듯이 일하다 보니 벌써 주말이 되었다. KLPT2가 취소되기 때문에 오늘 집에서 쉬고 있다. 아무거나 안 할 정도로 쉬였다. 너도 알다시피 제가 한국어능력심험을 준비중인데 좀 피곤하게 마련이다. 어떻든 며칠 전에 회사 근처 있는 한 패스트 푸드점에서 한국 어린 유학생 두명 제 앞에 있는 자리에 앉았다. 그 두 학생은 점심을 먹으면서 서로 이야기했다. 가까워서 그 두 학생의 대화를 잘 들었지만 대부분 이해할 수 못 했다. 제 한국어 능력은 그 두 한국 어린 유학생보다 천지차이라는 생각했다. 꼭 더 노력해야 겠다. 꿈을 위해 무엇든지 할 거라고 한다. 그래서 난 중지 없이 노력할 거야.

Monday, August 20, 2007

눈에 익은 길

There is no road in foreign land that is as familiar to me as Hoegi Road (회기로-回基路). It is the road that I must walk to get to KHU and back to my dormitory. Hoegi is famous for its "pajeon" or spring onion pancake. There many shops along this road that sell the oily but mouth-watering "pajeon". Besides pajeon, there are so many other food to choose from. Every meal is like a feast. Not forgetting the dessert houses and the pushcarts that made this road so much more memorable. I like the feeling of walking down this road and its surrounding neighbourhood. Perhaps like wine, a place also needs to be allowed to "age" to bring out its "flavour". Hip downtown area lacks this kind of "flavour".

Sunday, August 19, 2007

이것이 무엇이에요?

This posting is specially for Jean. She asks what does 것이/을 mean exactly in English and when and how is it used in sentences.

것 means "thing". 것 is used when people know the thing you are talking about. You can use 것 in place of book, car, house or anything that is inanimate.

The particle 이/을 behind 것 determines whether 것 is a subject or an object in a sentence. 이 behind 것, as in 것이, makes 것 a subject. Similarly 을 behind 것, as in 것을, makes 것 an object.

In example 1, the particle 이 is used to define 것 as a subject. When 것 is made a subject, the next thing you are going to do is to say or describe something about the subject. To do that, you will have to use stative verb like 싸다(cheap), 예쁘다(pretty), etc.

1. 이것이 싸요. This thing is cheap.

In example 2, the particle 을 is used to define 것 as an object. When 것 is an object, the next thing you are going to do is to say what you are doing to the object. To do that, you will have to use action verb like 좋아하다(like), 사랑하다(love), etc. The subject in this case is yourself. In Korean language, subject like "I" is normally omitted since it is understood who is performing the action. But this omission has also caused much confusion to beginners who are not particularly clear about the difference between 이/가 and 을/를.

2. (나는) 그것을 좋아해요. I like that thing.

To further add, the more frequent use of 것 is actually in nominalising verb to become noun. Verb can be changed into noun using 것 by following the below pattern.

Action Verb + 는 것 (Present Tense)
Action Verb + 은 것 (Past Tense)
Action Verb + 을 것 (Future Tense)

If I take 배우다 as the action verb, the examples below will show how 것 is used in each case.

배우다 + 는 것 = 배우는 것 (Learning)
배우는 것이 재미있어요. (Learning (thing) is interesting.)
배우는 것을 좋아해요. (I like learning (thing).)

배우다 + 은 것 = 배운 것 (Thing learned)
배운 것이 재미있었어요. (The thing learned was interesting.)
배운 것을 좋아해요. (I like the thing that I learned.)

배우다 + 을 것 = 배울 것 (Thing to learn)
배울 것이 재미있을 거예요. (The thing to learn will probably be interesting.)
배울 것을 좋아할 거예요. (I will probably like the thing I will be learning.)

Let say if 문화(culture) is the thing you are talking about, you can insert it in the following manner:

문화를 배우는 것이 재미있어요. (Learning culture is interesting.)
문화를 배우는 것을 좋아해요. (I like learning culture.)

것 can also be used to normalise stative verb like 예쁘다 in the following way:

Stative Verb + 은 것

예쁘다 + 은 것 = 예쁜 것 (Pretty thing)
예쁜 것이 비싸요. (Pretty thing is expensive.)
예쁜 것을 좋아해요. (I like pretty thing.)

I hope I do not confuse you, Jean. Sometimes I feel that the more I try to explain, the more confusing it get. Furthermore, I am explaining based on what I know. I hope my understanding of the use of 것 is correct. There are many more things that I can write about 것 since it is such a common word but I don't think I can go on without creating more confusion. If you don't understand what I wrote, I would say that it is my fault. Perhaps there is still something that I have not yet fully understood.


Jean, I think you are in luck. Kaye has kindly helped to elaborate on the three ways of nominalising verb to noun. Nominalisation with ~는 것, as I have shown above, is just one of the three ways. Read more in Kaye's blog.

특별하게 싱가포르

"Uniquely" Singapore's National Day Festival from 17 Jul to 26 Aug. In the background is the tallest hotel in Singapore, Swissotel The Stamford. It used to be the tallest hotel in the world when built. We can never reclaim this title as no building in Singapore is allowed to be higher than 280m due to the restriction imposed by our limited airspace.

Starbucks at One Fullerton. "Uniquely" fusion of world cultures. On the outside, Singapore looks like a westernised country. But on the inside, it still remains quite oriental. Perhaps that's why the arrival of Starbucks did not send our kopitiams closing down. Singaporeans also dislike fellow countrymen speaking English with an accent.

"Uniquely" icon of Singapore tourism - Merlion. Half lion and half fish. An icon that is loved more by tourists than Singaporeans. We identify more with Singlish and Singapore food than Merlion. That has kinda of send the Merlion pouring out its sorrow in a video shown in the Singapore Discovery Centre. By the way, Merlion is a registered trademark of the Singapore Tourism Board.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

글을 완성해 봅시다

As we are preparing for TOPIK, we are expected to submit a composition every week. Below is the composition which I submitted in today class. In it, I wrote about one of my failure, how I overcame it and what I have learnt from it. I didn't put in much effort thinking about the content so it is not worth a read. As I was more interested in mastering the writing technique I consider this as a "technical" piece of work. By the way, my composition is only 309 words which is still short of the 400~600 words required in the TOPIK exam. I still need to pull up my socks.

나는 경함한 실수들이 많다. 그 중에서 한 실수를 지금까지도 잊어버리지 않는다. 그 실수는 고등1년 때 큰 시험에 떨어진 것이다. 그 때는 시험을 위한 준비가 많이 부족해서 시험에 떨어졌다. 친구들이랑 함께 많이 놀았기 때문이다. 어려서 그런지 무엇이 가장 중요한지 몰았는데 열심히 공부하는 것에 관심이 없었다. 숙제를 자주 안 했고 복습을 거의 안 했고 매일 줄겁게 놀았다. 결극은 큰 시험에 붙지 않았는데 부모님에게 실망하게 했다. 그렇게 창피한 일을 부모님에게 잘 못을 사과했다. 그 후에 매일 학교로 지하철을 타고가면서 꼭꼭 숙제를 많이 복습했지만 노는 것은 적당하게 계속 놀았다. 모든 것을 과하게 하면 안 좋겠다 그렇게 생각한다. 실수 때마다 변명을 하지 말고 잘 못 된 부분에 직접 해결해야 한다. 시험 직전에 노력하면 절대로 안 된다.

Taking on TOPIK level 4 is really stretching my Korean language limit. I probably understand only 30% of the questions and I may be able to make good guesses for another 30% of them. The rest of the 40% is simply beyond my reach. However, I like what I am undergoing now. I cannot make it too easy for myself or I will learn less and not improve. My TOPIK teacher, Ms Min, is definitely not giving us any illusion that TOPIK is going to be easy. Firstly, she speaks to us as if she is speaking to Koreans. There is no moderation in her speed of speaking and her choice of words. Frankly, most of the times, I can only understand 20% of what she says and for the next 30%, somehow I have to "feel" what she means. As for the other half of what she says, they just draw blank look from me. Secondly, she is making us remember many vocabulary and grammar by drilling us in making sentence after sentence. I really miss the convenience of the electronics dictionary in particular at this moment when there are so many new words appearing in TOPIK level 4. I will not be asking my teacher to make thing any easier. Instead I tell myself to match her standard by working even harder.

생각하는 인생

"There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle."

- Albert Einstein

"인생에는 두 가지 삶 밖에 없다.
한 가지는 기적 같은 건 없다고 믿는 삶.
또 한 가지는 모든 것이 기적이라고 믿는 삶."

- 앨버트 아인슈타인

내가 생각하는 인생은 후자이다. (I think that life is the latter.)

I took the Korean translation for this famous quote of Albert Einstein from my dowoomi's cyworld blog. Dowoomi (도우미) is like a student sponsor to foreigner like me when I was studying in KHU. My teacher, Ms Choi, told me that 도우미 comes from the verb stem 돕다 which means to help. The word 도우미 is actually a "new-age" Korean language made popular by the media. 도우미, as explained by my teacher, is originally used to refer to the showgirls at the exhibition. Showgirls are meant to help company to market their products and the customers to know more about a product. The 미 in 도우미 is intentionally written in that way to mean "beautiful" as 미(美) or beauty is an important attribute required in showgirl.

Back to writing something about my dowoomi - Kim Sor-am. She is a culinary major in KHU, a subject which I thought is as unique as her name. Her subject of study will eventually lead her to become a chef. A chef with a degree is something quite unheard of in Singapore. Chef in Singapore is normally perceived as not so well-educated and that is how thing is here. Anyway, my dowoomi applied for one year study break earlier this year and is now studying Japanese language in Tokyo. She really makes me green with envy. That's why I always call her a lucky girl. Some people may have all the luck in the world but I believe my luck is not that far as well. Perhaps I just need to wait a little longer. 나는 모든 것이 기적이라고 믿는 삶을 살고 있다.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

마음 교환

Our teacher at KHU, Ms Cheon Eun Jeong, asked us one day if we knew a NUS Extension student by the name of Jane while we were having lunch with her. Apparently she will be coming to KHU for a 10-week language course after we leave Korea. None of us knew her since as a matter of fact, NEX has more than a thousand students taking its Korean language courses every year. However, recently I came across Jane's personal blog called "This Other Eden". In it, she wrote about her 10-week KHU and Korea experience. This is a small world afterall. While I don't know her in person but I get to "know" her from Ms Cheon and then through her blog. I think she might also have visited my blog. As to why I think so, you will have to read her blog entries to find out ~.^


I received a few mails in my hotmail inbox recently. I would like to share what I have read and I hope the senders wouldn't mind as I believe their experience will definitely strike a chord with many people out there. Learning a language can at times be demoralising. For that, it is reassuring to know that we are afterall not alone. Thanks for sending me the mails.



I have recently been reading your "Mountain and Field" blog which I found very insightful. For a while now, I have been aspiring to learn any East Asian language (considering in general they are miles away from English), but I have not been able to maintain my motivation long enough to gain any strong foothold I can work on. It doesn't help that my life is currently quite turbulent at the moment.

In truth I took a peek at Korean, and then decided to see how much I could gain from learning Japanese. After that didn't quite work out, I decided to try something a bit more European, so for fun I checked out Esperanto. But sadly, that didn't really work out either. I guess I cannot keep my head in one place for too long! :(

Your blog has actually made me more interested in learning Korean again. But I fear that interest could quickly wane again if I take the non-risk route and try and self-teach myself in my spare time (which I tried to do previously). Perhaps I need to take the plunge and participate in a more intensive Korean course in Korea. In any case, I look forward to hearing more about your progress in learning Hangeul & Chinese in the future. :)

Regards "


"Hi Equinox,

I chanced upon your blog when I was searching for free online resources for learning the Korean language. Like yourself, I am very interested in learning this language. The striking difference is that you had taken many steps to make mastering the language a reality. The process of going through NUS Extension and going to a Korean Uni for a crash course were all options I had considered but fell apart due to other commitments.

Well, I took baby steps last Spring too when I enrolled in a beginners course at the Korean Cultural Center in LA. I am now based in LA. I hope to be in touch with a fellow Singaporean and hopefully we can motivate each other to learn this language. I hope to be able to take small steps to reach your level soon. Hope to hear from you.


Monday, August 13, 2007

한국어 공부하는 게 힘들어

Studying Korean in Singapore is difficult. There are very few institutions here which offer serious lessons on Korean language. Even NUS Extension and Singapore Korean School, which offer decent Korean language courses, are both inadequate in their own ways. I like NEX's Korean Language Programme because lessons were fun-filled and engaging. However, until today, NEX will only offer elementary-level Korean language courses. The wait for its intermediate-level courses seems like forever. While SKS offers intermediate-level courses, such courses are in low demand and infrequent. Furthermore, one can expect nothing more than a typical classroom lesson.

Two Saturdays back, I went back to NEX to submit my registration form for KLPT 2 (Intermediate) workshop. The lesson is supposed to start last Saturday but I received an e-mail last week to inform me that the course is postponed. If my gut-feel is correct, KLPT 2 workshop is most likely going to be cancelled. I have anticipated that the take-up rate is not going to be good anyway because I have done a straw poll earlier and not a single student in the "Post-Advanced" Korean course was interested in taking KLPT. If they are not interested, there is dimmer hope to expect other students to sign up for the KLPT 2 workshop. I hope to be proven wrong but I am already prepared to do self-study for the coming KLPT. To do that, I bought the KLPT Intermediate preparation book from NEX for $45 after submitting my registration form.

Just to see thing on the bright side, I have just saved myself $400 course fee. Furthermore, I can rest on Saturday afternoon instead of attending class. To see a little bit further, thing may get even better for Korean language learning in Singapore if the rumour that NUS is setting up a Centre for Korean Language next year is true.

Friday, August 10, 2007

끝없은 이야기

Moving up the rocky path of Mt. Bukhan. The road ahead is a challenge.

Just as I thought I ran out of story and picture, here are more stories and pictures. This is a series of what I call the "mood" pictures because the mood of the picture captures more of my feeling than its content. My friend was asking me, "Are you sure the picture will look nice by holding your camera so close to the ground?" I am not too sure if the picture will turn out nice but I like taking close up. I like to amplify details that I tend to overlook. I like to see this world from a different perspective. By the way, I did not prone on the ground to take the above picture. I just put my idiot-proof camera upright on the ground and clicked away. The above picture gives me the feeling that life is a challenge but it is surmountable. All I need to do is to take one step at a time. Slowly but surely, I will eventually reach its peak.

A bowl of steaming-hot Kalguksu with a lot of molluscs.

The beach at "geojampo" (거잠포-巨簪浦) is lined up with seafood restaurants. The customers of these restaurants are mostly visitors of Muuido. After completing our day at Muuido we went into one of these restaurants to have our late lunch. I ordered a bowl of Kalguksu (cut noodle in soup) for 5,0000won. It came as a very big bowl of noodle that could probably serve two to three persons. Besides the noodle, which came in white, green and red colour, there are a lot of molluscs. I ate only the noodle and left my friend to polish out the molluscs. She said, with a sense of satisfaction, that the molluscs were very tasty. Only then I knew why the soup was so tasteless. It was a very cold and windy afternoon. When the noodle was served, steam was hovering above the noodle. I like the feeling of warmth in the above picture. As I like to say, there is no better way of experiencing warmth than to be in a place that is freezing cold.

Evening rays casting soft shadows at the Korean Folk Village.

I need the sense of calmness exuded by the above picture these days. It calms my nerve and brings balance back to my life. The shadow cast made by the evening sun is especially relaxing. I like to be reminded that life can be as relaxing as I want to. Despite not blogging for the past few weeks I still cannot find much time to study for my TOPIK and KLPT. Life in Singapore is rather stressful. Our leaders tell our people to work hard to stay ahead of the global competition. Losing the competitive edge will mean losing our survivability. In a small country that has no natural resources, every human resource needs to be optimised to maintain a vibrant economy - the key to our nation's survival. While our government will like our people to think that our immediate future is as rosy as it can be, the fact is that Singapore is as vulnerable as ever. As my country celebrated its 42nd Birthday yesterday, I am proud of its achievement but I know deep within that 42 years ago, this country was born with the destiny to fight forever for its survival. I guess my country's destiny is my destiny. I can't expect life to get any easier, can I? However, one thing that I do appreciate about our country is its systematic planting of trees throughout the island. With the trees around, this place is at least more inhabitable.