Korean Sojourns

I Think I’m Turning Ko-re-an

“My very chains and I grew friends…”
—Byron, The Prisoner of Chillon

Understanding Psy (싸이 이해하기) / Psy-Ology

Gangnam Style is about the silliness of South Korea’s nouveau riche; Gentleman is (more or less) about the silliness of assholes.

This is the best of KPOP: incredibly simple, incredibly fast, incredibly repetitive, incredibly catchy. All South Korea will be playing this song from every storefront and every television and every smartphone around the clock for the next six months, long after the rest of the world has lost interest; nonetheless, Psy is no one-hit wonder.

La Fusillade

…I have also quit reading Expat Hell. I’m afraid to talk about it because the writer is rather savage to almost everyone, most notably his detractors. Still. Sticks and stones. I just always felt horrible about myself whenever I read his writing, entertaining as it was. As though living in Korea was something to be ashamed of. As though there is nothing more to this place than stupid expatriates, plastic surgery addicts, prostitutes, and ajummas. Well, obviously, if it is so shameful, and if you are so rich and successful, why don’t you go back to America, or live in Thailand, or somewhere more to your liking? I am no Korea apologist, but there is far more to this country than the vomit on the sidewalk.

When To Panic About North Korea

It really is all bluster. Both Choe Sang-hoon of the New York Times and Ask A Korean have reached the same conclusion: so long as the Kaesong Industrial Plant stays open, war would appear to be unlikely.


It’s come to the point where I can predict the answers to most of the questions I ask in my conversation classes. “What’s your favorite kind of music?” “Balla-duh.” “Who’s your favorite actor?” “Won Bin.” “Why do you like him?” “He is so sexy.” “What do you like doing?” “I like sleeping.” “What are your plans for this weekend?” “I’m going to a cafe to talk with my friends.” “What’s your favorite kind of coffee?” “I like Americano.” “Why?” “It is very delicious.” And on and on.

That Is Mannerless Speaking

While standing in line at the new Starbucks in town—why did I even go there? the green tea latte was $6!—and listening to Hanggai in my earbuds, I heard a woman behind me shouting, in Korean, “It’s a foreigner! It’s a foreigner!” I turned around and looked at this woman, who was shouting for the benefit of her toddler, then standing far beneath us. Rolling my eyes, I turned back to the front of the line, but the shouts of “It’s a foreigner!” continued unabated, and I thought, yes, this is it, finally, the moment I strike back, after almost four years of listening to people talk about me as if I can’t understand them, the end is here, this is the turn of the tide.

The earbuds come out.

Korea: Not Finnished Yet

Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. “Oh,” he mentioned at one point, “and there are no private schools in Finland.”

The Coffee Alchemist At Schumann Gwa Clara

For Whom The Whom Whoms (One Way Learning Korean Improved My English)

This word, whom, it isn’t the easiest word to throw around, and I’m willing to bet about 99% of English speakers would prefer to just say who rather than risk looking like a dumbass. Even the dictionary thinks you should lay off before attempting to tackle this beast: “Although there are some speakers who still use who and whom according to the rules of formal grammar as stated here, there are many more who rarely use whom at all; its use has retreated steadily and is now largely restricted to formal contexts.” One of my best teachers in high school told me that you can tell if whom is the right word to use if you can replace it with him—to whom are you speaking? to him are you speaking? are you speaking to him?—because both whom and him “forms the objective case”; in other words, he is the subject, him is the object, as in, he is screwing himself. The subject screws the object.

President Park

Yesterday in class I suggested that my students say “What do you think of…” instead of “Howabout…?”, since the latter is a pseudo-Konglish-y phrase thrown around all the time by even the most advanced learners as a segue from one topic into another—”Howabout Ameleekano?” was the inspirational disaster hurled my way in a fascinating discussion of coffee preferences (“Why do you like it?” “It is very delicious.”)—and as a more interesting example and possible kindler of more fruitful conversations I said the students could ask each other what they thought of Park Geun-hye, the new president of South Korea and the daughter of the dictator and (more-or-less) founder of the country, Mr. Controversy, Park Chung-hee. There was at once a collective gasp from the entire classroom. Eighteen students gaped their mouths and eyes: I had committed some sort of faux pas.

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