Thursday, February 28, 2008

결말이 된다

I think it's time to end my "Winter Wander" series. It all started late November last year when I flew to Seoul hoping to witness the “first snow” for the winter. Unfortunately, it fell days before I departed from Singapore. Then I thought, perhaps I should still be lucky to catch sight of snowing. During my two-week stay in Seoul, not a single flake of snow fell from the sky despite outdoor temperature holding at sub-zero degrees for many days. The very day which the weather forecast predicted high probability of precipitation turned out to be a rainy day instead. But as a consolation, snow finally came on the morning of my departure from Seoul. So these were about all the misses. As for the gains, I got to meet Kaye (a stranger minutes before we met), got a free lunch from Ms Cheon (my Korean teacher in Kyunghee), bought my e-dictionary, spoke to taxi ajeosshi in Korean, ate Dunkin’s Donut for lunch and gimbab for dinner and best of all, got to “hibernate” for long hours in the guesthouse’s bed. Amidst these gains and misses, I shall pull down the closing curtain. For a while, I was thinking how I should end this. Should I end it with a “big bang” or just let thing fade away quietly? Though I prefer the latter, I shall still post the last two photos of my trip that best depict these two endings. Until next time, that's all ^^

Cinderella musical performance at the Lotte World Amusement Park

The Coffee Bean outlet at the Seoul Olympics Park

Monday, February 25, 2008


I have previously shown some night pictures of the Galleria but I doubt they delivered the same impact which I received when I was standing there in Apgujeong watching its changing facade with my naked eyes. Here are more pictures of it. 그 아름다움은 정말 말로 표형할 수 없네요.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Picture taken in Lotte World Amusement Park

I thought I have outgrown amusement park but only to discover that there is still a child in me when I am in one. There is still some part of me that refuses to grow up though it may not be a bad thing afterall. Sometimes, it feels good to be reassured that I am still not worn out yet. ^^

Saturday, February 23, 2008

알게 되다

In order to explain the grammar <동작돌사> + 게 되다 in class today, our teacher related her embarrassing experience in China. She was asking a native for direction and the reply she got was "我不清楚" (I'm not clear). It may seem rather simple for us, whom understand Mandarin, but not to our Korean teacher. She didn't know what "我不清楚" means and as she didn't seem to be getting any direction from the person, she went on to ask a second native. The second person replied, "我不太清楚" (I'm not too clear) and that totally confused her. As to what happened to her after that, she didn't tell us.

Our teacher didn't realise that both "我不清楚" or "我不太清楚" also mean "I don't know". This is because all she had learnt about saying "I don't know" in Mandarin was "我不知道" or "我不认识". "我不清楚" was out of her vocabulary range. Subsequently, as she heard more and more people saying "我不清楚", she started to guess that it should mean "I don't know" and finally, one fine day, she confirmed her guess. Using this story, our teacher started to explain the grammar. She didn't go out intentionally to search for the meaning of "我不清楚" but because she kept hearing people saying "我不清楚", she naturally came to know what "我不清楚" means. To summarise it, 그 말을 자주 들어서 알게 됐어요. (Because I hear those words frequently, I came to know its meaning.)

Now, back to the textbook explanation of the grammar <동작돌사> + 게 되다. This grammar is used when you want to say about the change that happens naturally as a result of certain situation or condition. The most important thing to note is that the change must happen naturally and not intentionally. Let's say you study hard with an intention to do well in the exam, this sentence 열심히 공부해서 시험에 잘 보게 됐어요 is a wrong expression. Instead, you should write, 열심히 공부해서 시험에 잘 봤어요 (Because I studied hard, I did well in the exam).

In life, many changes just happen naturally without any intervention. Despite that, for a change to happen naturally, there is still a need for an "initiator" or a spark. Frankly, I didn't quite understand this grammar until today. The "spark" that leads me to this understanding is my decision to repeat Intermediate-level Korean. 중급 한국어 수업을 다시 한 번 공부해서 이 문법을 알게 됐어요 (Because I study intermediate Korean again, I came to understand this grammar). To this point, it may seem that the grammar has been fully explained though not quite yet.

There is just one more thing to say, which is when to use 돼요 and 됐어요. I have been using 됐어요 in all my examples above because I am referring to a specific situation for each example. If I am referring to a general situation, the sentence shall end in 돼요. For a specific situation, change must have already happened before I can talked about it and hence the past-tense form "됐어요" is more appropriate. In a general situation, the change can happen anytime, be it in the past or the future, so the present-tense form "돼요" is preferred. For example, 날씨가 더우면 에이컨을 켜게 돼요 (If the weather is hot, the air-con came to be switched on). "날씨가 더우면" is a general situation which is being referred to and so 돼요 is used.

마지막으로 난 심심해서 이 글을 쓰게 됐어요. 혹시 너는 이 글을 읽어서 문법을 알게 되면 좋겠어요. 그럼 오늘 이만 쓸게요.

가을의 색깔

Picture taken at Yonsei University.

Picture taken at Duksung Women's University - Jongno Campus

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

복을 잘 받았습니다

Last two weeks, our teacher was back in Korea celebrating Seollal and her father 60th birthday. Yesterday, our Korean lesson resumed and she handed us each a gift which she bought from Insadong. The gift we received, as shown below, is called 복주머니 or "fortune bag". The characters printed on the bag is called "Hunmin Jeongeun" (훈민정음, 訓民正音) and from which the present-day Hangeul is derived from. 복주머니를 받을 때 복도 많이 받을 수 있다. 누가 복이 필요해요? 나 줄게요... 많으니까요^^

Monday, February 18, 2008

지난 12월의 추억

It seems my memory fades very fast these days. I cannot remember clearly what I did last December. I wonder is it because my mind is too pre-occupied with works and deadlines these days that there is not much space left for memory...

This bear is a famous apparel brand in Korea. Can't recall the brand name.

Outside one of the four-star hotels in Seoul but don't remember which.

A snack bar somewhere in Lotte World. Don't know I took this photo.

One of the bridges that span across Cheonggyecheon but I don't know which.

A saving grace. This is SOMA Museum of Arts in the Seoul Olympics Park.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


I am finally back at NUS Extension. It has been one year in the waiting and intermediate level Korean language course is at last a reality at NEX. According to a NEX staff, the response to this inaugural course is so overwhelming that they have to open up two classes. Both classes are on Saturday - one class is in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Such response is quite unprecedented for a high-level course though it is not surprising since demand has been accumulating over the last few years.

As today is our first lesson of the course, self-introduction (자기소개) is always a must. Our teacher, 김세화, started by giving a self-introduction of herself. She majors in Korean Language and Korean Studies as an undergraduate and has a Masters in Teaching Korean as a Foreign Language. Her teaching experience includes teaching Korean to Chinese students in Qingdao for one year. She even came prepared with a PowerPoint presentation of her family and colleagues at Kyunghee University.

When it comes to the students' turn to do self-introduction, I am more or less prepared to answer the three most commonly-asked-questions:

1. How long have you been studying Korean?
2. What is your reason for studying Korean?
3. What do you want to learn through this course?

True enough, our teacher did not deviate much from these standard questions. The only additional question which she asked was who our previous Korean teachers were. My previous Korean teachers include both her predecessors, 김민재 and 지서원. If I am to compare her teaching style with both of them, I think she is somewhere in between. She is not a "livewire" like her predecessors but is pleasant and lively enough to be a rather interesting teacher.

During one conversation, she thought she saw me in Kyunghee before but I didn't remember seeing her. I am quite used to people commenting that they saw me somewhere before because I think I have the so-called "common look". But after some rewinding of event in my mind, I think she maybe right. Perhaps she is one of those teachers who followed our field trip when I am in Kyunghee last year. But then, I cannot be too sure.

Today lesson is conducted completely in Korean and our teacher is so relieved that she can finally used Korean to teach. Before our class, I think she must have been struggling to teach her lower-level Korean classes with her limited English. I can grasp 95% of her teaching but I am not too sure if anyone in the class has problem understanding her explanation in Korean. I know I have problem coping with lesson taught in 100% Korean when I first started my intermediate-level lesson last year. However, I have resisted the temptation of asking our teacher to explain in English as I need to cut my reliance on English and start to think in Korean.

A language can only be taught by itself just like a diamond can only be cut and polish by another diamond. Because of that, I am feeling that writing this blog in English is no longer helping me in my Korean study. What I need is to spend more time in listening, reading and writing in Korean which I rarely have time after blogging. I will need to consolidate my foundation in intermediate level Korean before moving on to the advanced level. This would mean that I may need to cut down on my blogging frequency to find more time for self study.

Starting next week, I will have 7 hours of Korean lessons every week. But I am not complaining because I am doing what I like. How do I know that? Because I am always feeling this indescribable sense of happiness while attending Korean class. Sometimes, I wonder how can this happen. A sense of happiness can only be felt if I am also feeling a sense of unhappiness. Perhaps this sense of unhappiness is coming from my work. My life is just trying to find its balance afterall.

Friday, February 15, 2008

봄의 향기

If you ask the Koreans what are their equivalent of "Romeo and Juliet", it will likely be the love story between Chunhyang (춘향, 春香) and Lee Mongryong (이몽룡, 李夢龍).

Set in the late 18th Century of the Chosun Dynasty, Mongryong is the son of the Governor of Namwon while Chunhyang is the daughter of a retired courtesan. Despite the stark difference in their social status, it doesn't stop Mongryong from falling in love with Chunhyang when he first sees her playing the swing during Dano (단오, 端午). As the love between them grows deeper, one day, Mongryong has to leave for Seoul with his father who is seeking higher office in the capital. However he promises that one day after he passes the state exam and becomes a court official, he will come back to take her as his legal wife. Time passes and Governor Byun comes to know about Chunhyang's beauty and wants her to be his courtesan. When Chunhyang refuses, the infuriated Governor Byun orders his guards to beat her and throw her into jail. In the meantime, Mongryong passes the state exam and comes back to Namwon as a royal emissary. With the authority bestowed upon him, Mongryong saves Chunhyang and brings Governor Byun to face the justice.

It seems that many enduring love stories almost always have to end up in a tragedy. But the love story between Chunhyang and Mongryong goes against the grain of thing and yet continues to touch the heart of many Koreans. In this story, love alone doesn't win hearts. It is the keeping of the promise to love one another that makes this story enduring. In this world that we live in, it is always easy to fall in love but quite another thing to keep a promise. With every promise broken, this world may perhaps grow fonder of Chunhyang and Mongryong.

I was first introduced to Chunhyang during my Basic level 3 Korean class. Then, our teacher brought a video tape of the movie "Chunhyang Dyeon" (춘향뎐, 春香伝) to class as part of our cultural lesson. We watched the movie mostly in fast forward mode as there wasn't enough time to watch the movie in its completeness. From the cultural lesson, I also learnt that the story of Chunhyang was orginally told through pansori (판소리). Taking it literally, "pan" means a place where many people gather and "sori" means sound. Pansori is a genre of traditional Korean music that is performed by a singer and a drummer.

I have our teacher to thank for introducing me to this story. If she has not believed in teaching the Korean language together with the culture behind it, my Korean learning journey will have been much less rewarding. Many thanks for this "fragrance of the Spring" (봄의 향기).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

일년지계 재어춘

일년지계는 봄에 있고 일일지계는 아침에 있다.

What this means is that the plan for the year is made in Spring and the plan for the day is made in the morning. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the value of planning. If I need things to happen, hoping alone is not enough. I can say with certainty that without planning, almost everything that I have hoped for previously, seldom turned out the way as intended. I couldn't remember when I began to change. Anyway, after I started the habit of planning, I also developed the habit of thinking through the things to be accomplished by the end of the day while sipping away my tea in the morning. A day becomes more meaningful that way. I probably have my plan for this year sorted out as well and so I know that whatever happens to me next Spring is not a matter of luck or fortune but due the plan which I made this Spring.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

너무 안타깝다

Namdaemun is now made history. When I last walked through it, it seemed like it was going to exist for many more centuries to come. Being designated a national treasure maybe a liability afterall. 600 years is too short a period in the timeline of humanity. 너무 안타깝다.

Photos of Namdaemun taken in Dec 2007

Monday, February 11, 2008

봄의 느낌

Five days of 연휴 (連休, consecutive holidays) is finally over. While there are no four seasons in Singapore, the celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year is always associated with the arrival of Spring. Nothing represents Spring better than flowers. 꽃이 없으면 춘래불사춘(春來不似春)이라는 것이다. If there is no flowers, Spring which comes is not Spring. So here is the "Spring" I came across at the Sentosa Flowers 2008.