Archive for May, 2010

How Korea impacts our lives #1

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

So we moved to South Korea
How much of an impact on your life can it really have?

First of all the Vegetarianism/Veganism.
It’s not a title we claim anymore. Let’s face it, we don’t speak the language and our ordering tactic pretty much consists of looking at the wall

and picking the third one from the left. (Or right, got to mix it up a little every now and again.)

This is how we ended up with the fish head stew*.

It was part of our cultural growth, which we have now passed and will never visit on again.
The term most accurate in describing our dietary disposition now is: I’m-annoyed-by-this-but-will-eat-it-lest-we-starve-itarians.


We rock at it.
No, seriously. We have absolutely no idea what people around us are saying and vice versa. Fully submerge yourself in a country like that and your charades skills will skyrocket. I have even made charade inquisitions which lasted shorter than had I asked it in a language I’m familiar with.
Then again, it’s taken us maybe 7 hours in total spread out over 3 weeks to figure out how to get garbage bags.

You see, in Seoul, apparently, you are not allowed to put your trash outside in any old plastic bag. Nor in a generic black garbage bag. Even if the translation on the bag is “galbage bage”. No, the garbage bag you use is issued by your local gu’s office (where a gu is a part of the city, so in our case: Songpa-gu) and is clearly marked (we guess) with marking indicating that you can put this outside in your own gu.
These garbage bags, according to the guidebook, are sold by pretty much any local conbini (They have little convenience stores on every corner here, much as in Japan) except that they’re not on the shelves. The generic garbage bags, however, ARE on the shelves. But after two weeks the cleaning lady started delivering back our garbage. This indicated we were running out of time figuring this out as that stuff doesn’t stay fresh for long usually. Try charading garbage bags, I dare you. It wasn’t till one I got my hands on an actual (used) garbage bag that I was able to get my point across and I was sent to  . . . the conbini.

Armed with my used garbage bag (smelling slightly of ashes) I made my way back to the big combini. Yes, she had garbage bags. Under the counter, obviously for her own use. WHERE (ì–´ë””) DO YOU BUY (wallet tapping) THOSE (point at garbage bag).


She kept grasping the bags desperately going for the good old “My engrish bad” option after a strained silence.
OK, luckily for us there is a guy around here who does speak very passable English (He’s modest about it, but he’s also far superior in English skill than any Korean I’ve accidentally met) who took me by the hand to a different combini and yes . . . . you have to buy your garbage bags here from under the counter. Propped away so the casual shopper won’t see it.
There’s a couple of things which spring to mind being sold from under the counter.
Garbage bags isn’t one of them

Epilogue, noone can really tell me what the things are called, so we have 4 garbage bags now and before we use the last one we will take it to the combini, wave it in the teller’s face and say MORE

Also, it would be nice if we could figure out why the old Korean ladies who take away our trash keep returning our bottles.

Being comfortable around naked Koreans

Ok, this wasn’t really a biggy, a year in Japan prepared us for this quite well. Besides, we’re both blind as a bat. I just do my business in a foggy room filled with slowly moving Korean coloured blobs.
Thing is though . . .

You feel sensitive about certain things. When I came to Korea I had a massive headcold and you know what happens when you have a massive headcold and you take a shower (or eat hot food). Stuff comes out. So you’re sitting there, in the mist, with all these Koreans and you blow like a foghorn. And again. And again. Aaaaaaand you’re starting to feel the eyes of the others on your back as your nosedrippings slowly make their way to the sink and you hope it doesn’t have to pass other people’s feet on the way.

There’s other things though. Both Raph and myself preen certain areas for euhm . . . hygiene purposes.
I’m OK walking into a room with naked Koreans.
I’m OK with them scrubbing each other’s back, and it’s been done to us, perfectly natural.
I’m OK with the genitalia flopping around
I’m OK with the little naked kids running around
I’m OK with the nose blowing
I’m OK with the deep buttcrack towel sawing

Shaving my balls in front of other people?
No, not OK with that.

Living together

We used to spend about 42 hours every two weeks together. We’d long for when we’d see/touch/taste each other again. It was torture (sweet, but torture non the less) to be apart.

Now we’re together pretty much all the time outside of when we go to the communal baths (which are segregated)

We haven’t broken up.

Spreading Happiness

We do this a lot
At random things we do we make people laugh
Haven’t quite worked out where our comedic talents spring from

But people like us a lot. Or at least, there’s the laughing.


P.S. Ik heb m’n blog tweetalig gemaakt voor diegene die dit liever int nederlands lezen. Bovenaan rechts vind je een keuzemenu voor English/Nederlands. Ook onderaan tweetalige posts kan je de opmerking “Deze post is ook te lezen in: Dutch” vinden.

* Picture does not represent the reality of the food we were served.


Even a fish wouldn’t get into trouble if it kept its mouth shut

– Korean proverb

The first mountains

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Well . . . mountain may be a big word.

Raphaëlle is a city person. I am not. I enjoy the advantages and convenience it gives, but I like my outdoors to be . . . outdoorsy. I like the green, the nature, the undulating.

Luckily for me, Seoul has much of the undulating. Most of it is still concreted over, but this city is build on a whole bunch of hills. And there’s a fair bit of these hills on the outskirts which still have the green and the nature. There’s also at least one that is in the middle of the city and we’re moving next to it (No, more on that when I have pictures and the lease is signed :D) . Seems Korean’s (or at least Seoul’s) national hobby is hiking so they’re keeping many of these hills the way it is as well I think.

First weekend here I decided to go explore one. I went on google maps, found the nearest subway accessible bit of green and set off.
With note to the google maps I posted, the nearest indicated green zone is actually a golf field (another national past time) which is why you have to play with the view (top right: map, satellite etc). Also note btw the airfield in the bottom left corner. It’s military as near as I can figure and they do really take off/approach for landing quite close to our rooftop.

Anyway, the subway station I found is called namhansanseong and a quick google after the hike showed that namhansanseong is famous for this kind of thing. I should really google stuff  before setting off on a hike, I didn’t see any of that. I only really googled it in the first place to show people I wasn’t making up that name. I mean the Korean is 남 한산성입구역, who makes that shit up.

The winter has been intense here this year so spring came late. There was still ample skiing being done when I arrived 2 days before this hike (though not on the hill in question). The flowers were arriving



Unfortunately the mountain trees were without much leaf yet.


The bare trees stopped me from getting any super shots, but there’s a couple of nice shots


As I wasn’t even 48 hours out of a 11 hour plane ride with the resulting jetlag and still suffering from an enormous headcold after going up for 2 hours I called it a day, which was just as well for when I got to the subway station I got a call from the landlady of the office if I could meet her earlier than planned.

This involved some “2nd hand furniture” which will hence forth be referred to as “old crap” . I will refer you to the album in which pictures of said old crap are and refrain from any further comment. The mere thought of the stuff revolts me. Important to note is that the first 3 pictures are of after cleaning, not the other way around.

P.S. Due to the dying of the data carrier which on which I held the pictures you can find in my photopage I have to wait to get my backup sent to me here before I can alter the photopage where I usually put my pictures. Yes, there is a backup. No, my bag was quite full enough to bring 2nd backups with me. (First backup died and it seems I hadn’t actually put those pictures back after reformatting my computer. Dôh)


Quote of the day:

Dude, did you just tell a random asian behind a counter of a KOREAN store in KOREA you didn’t speak Chinese?

– Random American in Itaewon, Seoul

Korean 101 / 한국어 101

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

But before we get into the nitty gritty of Language studies, this is the building in which I am currently residing.

I won’t show you what the inside currently looks like, as it’s 2 desks (one holding up one end of the other) a couch, a futon and some cut up cardboard boxes to act as curtains.
And a smelly fridge. Cardboard boxes also smell actually, held fish before.

It does now have fully functional internet and stuff though. I’m not sure how Korean internet works, but it’s been done just so that if you take out the standard modem and put in a router you don’t have to configure anything. Decent speeds, but youtube really doesn’t like it here.


Korean Language.

I don’t know dick about it yet, but then: That’s blogging. Not being an expert in something but telling the internet how it is anyway.

Basics first.

The Korean written language originated as being somewhat of a Chinese offshoot. 漢字 and the like. Back in the mists of time an emperor figured out that while 漢字 are pretty and can be used in a language it isn’t the easiest way to have a langauge.
So he redid the system and came up with Hangul (한글). An alphabet much like our own and far easier for peasants to master. Literacy in Korea under this emperor improved quite drastically.

For the uninitiated eye korean will look as weird as Kanji but it is actually nicely structured. Whereas Chinese every pictogram has a meaning, which can be part of a larger group of pictograms in which the meaning adds to the collective of the pictographs (linguistic borg) every “block” in Korean is more of a syllable consisting of 2-4 letters. So while the untrained western eye sees an equally unintelligible jumble  of lines in 안녕하십니까 as well as 漢字で書くことを勉強した one can dissect the blocks in the first into letters:

안 = ㅇ, silent as first letter or ng elsewhere; ㅏ, a ; ㄴ, n (though exceptions apply) =an
ë…• = ã„´, n , yeo (this is weird, I should use phonetic alphabet for you to understand, but I’ll get to that), ã…‡, ng =nyeong
하 = ha
ì‹­= sib (but pronounced sim due to something something grammer rule something something)
니까 = nikka
안녕하십니까 = annyeonghasimnikka = How do you do (or literally: Are you at peace. And as much a rhetorical question as our version is)

漢字= Chinese letters
書く = to write
勉強 = to learn
漢字で書くことを勉強した = kanjidekakukotowobenkyoushita
There’s no link between the lines and pronunciation. There’s a link between lines and meaning, and the meaning is linked to pronunciation.
(Some of you may see I’ve cheated, writing Japanese as I know even less about Chinese than Korean except that it’s fun making beginning  foreign students of the language say 4 = 4, 10 = 10, 14 = 14 , 40 = 40. Don’t understand? Find one and ask.)

Now, I’m no linguist and I’m not actually sure where we got this alphabet from, it’s called the latin alphabet so I’m assuming those buggers had something to do with it. But the form of the letters itself evolved from stuff (Hieroglyphs and the like). The form of he Korean letters were chosen. So there’s a lot of logic in the letters.

ㅗ,ㅓ,ㅏ,ㅣ,ㅜ,ㅡ are vowels
ã…›,ã…•,ã…‘,ã…  are the y-vowels
So you get ㅏ is a and ㅑ is ya. ㅜ is u and ㅠ is yu. Logical right?
There’s something similar with the w-vowels, though those are a bit sketchier.

The problem I’m having so far is with some of the letters.
Specifically ㅓ,ㅡ,ㅈ,ㅐ and ㅔ
Why these are problematic we have to delve into phonetic alphabet.
You see this is the description of the vowels as per linguistic guide in the Lonely Planet (Raph does not agree with this one btw)

Hangul Romajinized Phonetic
ㅏ a a
ã…“ eo É”
ㅗ o əʊ
ã…£ ee i
ã…¡ eu ÊŠ
ㅐ ea æ
ã…” e e

Silly thing is, we have all these sounds in my native tongue, I’ve just . . . never seen them as one letter. So I have problems pronouncing theã…“,ã…¡,ㅐ and ã…”. Seriously, the last two are just e to me.

Which leaves ã…ˆ in my list of letters I don’t quite get.
I explained the logic in the vowels but haven’t touched on the consonants yet. They also come with little rows. Most notable for this example is:
s, ss, j, jj, tch
Similar letters, similar pronunciations. So why do I have a problem with ã…ˆ. Well, because ã…ˆ will be anything from ã……to ã…Š whenever it decides to do so.
제 = mine, pronounced je
저기 = over there, pronounced tchagi
지내다 = to pass the time, pronounced shineda

Now, there’s a whole range of other letters not doing just one thing. ㄱ is k or g depending on its mood and will be a ng if it follows a ㄹ. But that’s something that’s written down somewhere. Something they tell you from the get go.
ã…ˆ just ignores all the damn rules sounding like whatever it damn well pleases.


(I’ll make a great old man one day, Git offa mah lawn, ya daym kids!)


Quote of the day:

To alcohol! The cause of – and solution to – all of life’s problems!”

– Homer Simpson