Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Mandarin proficiency is a plus when it comes to learning Korean. I can guess the meaning of many Korean words by simply matching their pronunciation to Chinese words of similar sound. Since I know the meaning of most Chinese words, it saves me the trouble of looking up Korean dictionary frequently for the meaning of unknown words. But sometimes, matching can go wrong.

Take "향수" (pronounced "hiang soo") for example, I was quite certain it means perfume since I matched it to "香水" (pronounced "xiang shui"). It was only logical that when I came across the word "향수병", "香水瓶" (perfume bottle) came to mind. But the problem was, the context in which I saw "향수병" wasn't talking about perfume, fragrance or anything closely related to it. On checking the dictionary, I found out "향수병" is not only "香水瓶", it's also "鄕愁病" (homesickness).

"独在异乡为异客,每逢佳节倍思亲" (poem) - "When you're alone in a foreign land, you'll miss your family even more during every festival". One of the ways to mitigate the pangs of homesickness is to eat some good home food. That was what I thought when I visited Kopitiam in Seoul hoping to taste some good old kopitiam coffee and crispy kaya toast. I don't think I need to describe how the food tasted. Suffice to say, I should have known earlier that the place is meant for Koreans and not for some homesick Singaporean.

Kopitiam in Seoul is not kopitiam at home. Don't get homesick in it.


  1. hahaha. i like yr description of kopitiam. :P

  2. hi there ..
    i enjoy reading your blog and this is my first time leaving a comment ..
    i spent around 4 years in singapore too before i came to seoul .. so my taste bud completely adjusted to singaporean hawker food .. oh how i badly crave for carrot cake , teh tarik n friends

    so i was screaming inside when i found this kopitiam , but like u mentioned , it's korean 'kopitiam' not singaporean ..

    and about the 향수병 , my teacher also mentioned this .. so you'll celebrate CNY in seoul ? hope you have a great one ..



  3. @yan, forget about carrot cake and teh tarik, it's time for you to get used to gimbap, coffee and new friends :)

  4. There are lots of words that are pronounced the same way but have different meanings.Even Koreans sometimes get confused.

  5. Interesting. Although I don't know Chinese, I liked the poem. I wonder how it sounds.
    Singaporeans are so lucky. I'd love to be bilingual.

  6. @isberuchan, I'm not too sure how long our luck will last. There are already signs that public policy is shifting towards de-emphasizing bilingualism. I'm fortunate to be bilingual in English and Mandarin, two very distinct languages.

  7. Your blog is very interesting to me, as I am also a Singaporean learner of Korean. I also leverage on my knowledge of Chinese in my learning of the Korean language, so I believe my thought process reflects yours almost 100%! E.g. 향수병 was immediately interpreted as perfume bottle haha... I later guessed "相思病", which was still wrong :p So much for Chinese being helpful!

    One thing I cannot understand - how can kaya toast not taste Singaporean??? I would love to taste non-singaporean tasting kaya toast! :)

  8. @Orbiter, I think it is wiser for you to spend your money on isaac toast than kaya toast :)

  9. Hi, where in Seoul is this located? :)