Friday, December 09, 2011

아름다운 님

When you look up a Korean dictionary, the word "아리다" comes immediately before "아리땁다". For this word pair, their sequence of appearance in the dictionary is not a coincidence. "아리다" describes pain whilst "아리땁다" portrays beauty. In meaning, they are diametrically opposite but yet they are closely related. You can say this is the aesthetics of the Korean people - beauty emerges from pain and heartache and vice versa. To the Korean, 아린 것 (painful thing) and 아리따운 건 (beautiful thing) are interchangeable. Painful memories, if allow to settle down, will slowly "mature" and eventually elevate to something beautiful. Compare this with the fermentation of soybean paste (된장) in the "Jangdok" (장독, crock). If fermentation is allowed to take place without disturbance, the foul smell of the fermented beans will soon be compensated by the pleasant taste of the paste. It is as if "beauty" has embraced "pain" with a tight hug.

Have you ever asked, "What is the meaning of Arirang?" There are many explanations but I thought this explanation is more appropriate - The "아리" in "아리랑" comes from the word "아리다" and from which "아리땁다" was derived. "랑" means "님" (honorific used when addressing a person). "Arirang" can be defined as "my beautiful dear" (아리따운 님) or as the "dear who gave me heartache" (아린 님).  As a song, "Arirang" is both sad and beautiful and that's perhaps why it is so endearing.

아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요... (My beautiful dear, my beautiful dear, my beauty)
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다. (My beautiful dear heads towards the Pass)
나를 버리고 가시는 님은 (My dear who left without me)
십리도 못가서 발병난다. (is not able to walk for 5km without hurting his foot)

청청하늘엔 별도 많고 (Up in the blue blue sky, there are many stars)
우리네 가슴엔 꿈도 많다 (In our heart, we also have many dreams)

저기 저 산이 백두산이라지 (Look there, isn't that Mt. Baekdu)
동지 섣달에도 꽃만 핀다 (Flowers bloom even during winter solstice)

"Arirang" is a song supposedly sang by a lady whose lover left her for the battlefront 600 years ago. "Heads towards the Pass" means her lover was leaving the city for a distant place. She couldn't bear to part with him and she believed he couldn't too. That was probably why she thought his foot would start to ache even before he  could walk 5km. The talk about many stars and dreams shows that they had many plans for their future. But  somehow, she knew the chance of seeing him again was slim. When she sang about Mt. Baekdu, a sacred mountain to the Koreans, she was actually hoping for a miracle, hoping that flowers would indeed bloom in Mt. Baekdu even in the peak of winter, hoping her lover would return safely.

Two decades ago, a Hong Kong wrist watch commercial which cast Chow Yun-fat and Wu Chien-lien caught the imagination of a whole generation of people. A real classic even by today standard. If you have yet to appreciate the relationship between "아리다" and "아리땁다", perhaps you soon will.

The setting of the commercial: February 1939, about one and a half year into the second Sino-Japanese war. The battle of interest and the backdrop of the heartbreaking love story, was the lesser-known "Lanzhou Air Battle" (兰州空战). 2nd Lieutenant Liu Fu-hong (刘福洪), a pilot and a graduate of the Huangpu Military Academy had just married his wife, Chen Ying-fan (陈影凡), 10 years his junior.

Dashing Chow Yun-fat (37) played 2nd Lieutenant Liu Fu-hong with Wu Chien-lien (24), known for her melancholic eyes, as his newly-wed wife Chen Ying-fan in the 1992 Sovil et Titus commercial.

The Japanese forward airbase at "Yun-cheng" (运城) in Shanxi Province was fast becoming a threat to Lanzhou (Gansu Province), a major city in the northwest of China, and had to be neutralised. Newly wed Liu was ordered to lead a flight of four Vultee V-11 planes on a bombing mission to "Yun-cheng". On the fateful day, Feb 5 1939, Liu and his team flew for 3 hours before offloading forty 30-pound bombs over their targets. Tens of Japanese planes were destroyed in the raid. The mission was a success but unfortunately, Liu never saw home again. His plane crushed on the return trip due to engine failure. He flew his last flight at the age of 30. On hearing the news of his death, Chen Ying-fan attempted suicide but was saved. She finally committed suicide on Feb 16 by putting a bullet through herself. She was only 20 then.

The "Lanzhou Air Battle" of 1939 saw the combined force of the Republic of China Air Force and the USSR Air Volunteer Force thwarting the aggression of the Japanese Air Force. The attention to details was amazing for a commercial. You can see a Russian officer fifth from left. Everyone was in thick winter outfits because it was supposed to be winter then.

"너를 사랑해서 결혼하는게 아니라, 너만 사랑해서 결혼하는거다."(I marry you not because I love you, I marry you because I only love you.) - quote from Korean drama "Secret Garden".

Background music - "La Califfa" by Italian composer Ennio Morricone

Can you differentiate between "아린 사랑" (heartbreaking love) and "아리따운 사랑" (beautiful love) after watching the CF? You can't, can you? They are the same.


  1. This is a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. You like heartbreaking post, don't you (: