Saturday, May 03, 2008

차이 사이에

Today I received a e-mail invitation from the production manager of the MediaCorp Channel 8 infotainment programme, Simply Overseas II (异乡人新鲜事2), to appear in their programme. They are looking for Singaporeans living in Korea to introduce Korean's lifestyle and culture from the perspective of a Singaporean. I think she mistook me as a Singaporean living in Korea because of my blog. Obviously I don't qualify because I am living in Singapore. If not, you will probably have the opportunity to see Korea through "my eyes". *^^*

Programme like "Simply Overseas" exploits the differences in culture and lifestyle to make itself interesting. Unfortunately, more often than not, differences are associated with hatred, conflict and hostility. If we could see differences in a positive light, they will bring with them fresh perspective and endless learning opportunity. Differences are exactly what make my Korean lessons interesting.

In today Korean class, some students were talking among themselves in Mandarin. One student was telling her friend, "错" (wrong as in wrong answer). Our teacher overheard the word "错" and thought that they were saying "추워" (cold as in the room is cold) because "错" and "추워" sound alike. 추워? (Are you cold?), She asked. We had a good laugh. Our teacher went on to say that Mandarin is quite interesting as there are many words which sound like Korean but have totally different meaning. She quoted an example. She was watching the Chinese news on TV and heard the word "儿童" (children). In Korean, "儿童" is pronounced as "a-dong" (아동, 兒童) but the Mandarin pronunciation of "儿童" sounds like "al-tong" (알통) which means biceps in Korean. She flexed her "biceps" just to show us what she meant.

Then she introduced us to this Konglish word "미팅" (meeting). We all knew what meeting means in English but when the Korean says 미팅, it means something quite different. It means a meeting between a group of guys and gals with the objective of finding a boyfriend or girlfriend. From "미팅", we further learnt about its differences with "소개팅" and "선". 소개팅 means a meeting between a guy and a gal with the objective of finding a boyfriend or girlfriend. 선 means a meeting between a guy and a gal with the objective of finding a husband or wife.

We were also taught a different way of answering the question (몇 살이에요?) about our age which is asked ever so frequently by the Koreans. If you do not know, asking for someone age is not a matter of curiosity for the Koreans. In the Korean society, age determines the kind of respect a person is accorded. It is important for them not to be seen as being rude to someone who is older than them. Now back to answering the question about age. We are usually taught to say, for example, 스물다섯살이에요 (I am 25 years old). Our teacher offered us an alternative and a more casual way of replying but only to be used with our Korean friends whom we know well. "I am 25 years old" can also be said as "2학년 5반이에요" (I am from Grade Two Fifth Class) and "32 years old", "3학년 2반이에요".

Differences can only be interesting if one respects differences. I like the meaning told by this Chinese idiom - 入乡随俗, follow the culture of the village you are in. Because of this, I can always enjoy myself in any place I visit. On the contrary, this world would be so much more gloomy if everyone just insists on maintaining their differences. We always have the option to choose how we like to see our world, don't we?


  1. Waaa... equinox is famous... hehe.
    Your posts always seem like you are in Korea, writing about the culture, I think that's why mediacorp contacted you ^_^

    Neh... when I first found out that they used 미팅 for "group dating", I was quite surprised too. But these differences are the things that make learning another language and culture, interesting. ^_^

  2. 전적으로 동감해요. 차이 사이에 많이 재미있음을 찾을 수 있어요 :)

  3. hello,

    i hope you don't mind if i point this out..

    is it 스물 instead of 수물 ? ^^

  4. 물론요. 실수를 고쳤어요.
    실은 항상 이렇게 수무살이라고 말하고 있어서 실수이긴 하지만 진짜 물라요. 틀린 걸 가리켜 줘서 감사해요. ^^