On Saturday, Park Gun Hye, Korea’s first female president, announced that South Korea would spend $200 million in 15 poor countries to launch a “Better Life for Girls” initiative.
I am all for improved education, health care, and autonomy for women everywhere, but the timing of this announcement was a tad ironic in the wake of an Associated Press article published the previous day. The article describes how hundreds of Korean women in their 60s, 70s and even 80s, unbeknownst to their families, prostitute themselves on the streets of Seoul to make ends meet.
In 2013, South Korea came in last in an Economist magazine ranking of the best countries for working women. Korea’s support for women abroad would be a lot more credible if it showed the same support for women at home.
Some changes I made to mihansa.net recently are playing havoc with the mobile version of my site. Desktop users may have seen the mobile site and vice versa, or both users may have seen my site stripped of formatting. Rest assured, this is not a hack issue, but it may take me awhile to get it straightened out – in the meantime, the desktop version will be available to everyone.
I know this is not ideal on a small screen, so here is a 사과 for my mobile users :)
The Korean term for “computer hacker” is such an obvious loanword from English that I just had to share it with you. If you have learned the Hangeul alphabet, you’ll know that 컴퓨터 해커 is pronounced kum (or kawm) pyoo tuh (or taw) heh kuh (or kaw).
A “loanword” is a word one language has “borrowed” from another, that sounds a lot like the word in the original language. English is full of them, especially loanwords from French. Korean has a very high percentage (estimates vary) of loanwords from Chinese, but when you start getting into terms for technology and popular culture, you find more English loanwords. Korean also has English loanwords for things that don’t have an exactly equivalent Asian concept, like 뱀파이어 (vampire).
Some Korean words that sound like loanwords from English are actually loanwords from the same language that English borrowed it from (for example, 레스토랑 – restaurant, which is, of course, a French word).
You may be wondering what the difference is between the three Korean g/k-ish letters, ㄱ, ㄲ, and ㅋ. You are not alone! Here’s the best explanation I’ve found, not only for hearing the differences, but for speaking them.
Mihansa.net has been hacked, and I’m still ferreting out all of the back doors the hacker left on my site. The hacker has made several attempts to post ads. So far, I’ve been able to nip this in the bud, but I wanted to warn my readers, as there is a major international hack attack on WordPress sites happening right now in which hackers use websites to spread malware.
There is no advertising on the site placed by me at this time, so if you see any ads, they were placed by hackers. DON’T CLICK ON THEM. They may just be ordinary ads, but why take a chance. Plus, let’s not help this person make any money off my blog!
If you do see an ad, and have a minute to send me an email
letting me know what page it appears on, that would be a big help in keeping one step ahead of the hacker.
Word to the wise: If you find yourself thinking “I really should change that password” as you log in somewhere, DO IT! NOW! Being hacked is a huge pain in the… neck.
Korean politics is (are?) complex. While issues may seem similar to those found in other modern industrial cultures, positions and affiliations are often rooted in ancient conflicts and alliances. But even a Korean political novice like me can tell it’s significant when Park Gun Hye goes to China to attend the 70th anniversary celebration of their WWII victory, and Kim Jong Un doesn’t.
This follows an unprecedented (in my paltry 4 years of Korea-watching, at least) apology from the north for crossing into the South Korean side of the “demilitarized” zone between the two countries – which is, of course, bristling with weaponry on both sides – and planting land mines. Two South Korean soldiers were maimed.
Of course, the north promptly turned around and denied that expressing “regret” constituted an apology. Um, OK. But that is not the only sign of diminished belligerence from North Korea. MORE…
I received the following “English to Korean Translators Wanted” posting from Deluxe Media’s Canadian office. I have verified that a company by this name exists, but other than that I know nothing about them – do your research if you decide to apply!
외국사람 or waeguk-saram is usually translated into English as “foreigner.” 외 means “outsider.” We have encountered the syllable 국 (guk) before in country names: 한국 (hanguk – Korea) or 미국 (miguk- America), for example. We also know that 사람 (saram), means “person.”
So literally, 외국사람 means person from another country. That’s a pretty close match to what English-speakers would mean by “foreigner.” However, the term sounds a little rude when used in English. It comes across as xenophobic to label people by what they aren’t instead of by what they are.
“Foreigner” has a different significance for people of Korean descent living outside of Korea. I first became aware of this last year, when I attended a Korean cultural event. It was held at a large, public outdoor venue located in downtown San Francisco. I first heard about it through a group that was scheduled to perform there. Trying to confirm the details, I could not find any additional information about the event in English, not even on the event calendar for the location.
I was thoroughly puzzled by this, until I saw an ad (in Korean, without subtitles) on the local Korean TV station. Odd as it seemed for a high-profile venue smack dab in the middle of a major shopping district/international tourist destination, the event was being promoted only to Korean-speakers.
This impression was confirmed when I arrived at the event. It was emceed entirely in Korean. The one exception was before the women’s drum dance, which was introduced in English as “a favorite of foreigners.” I realized I was being called a foreigner in my own country, by people who most likely were not themselves born in the U.S. This was startling, but not really offensive. If anything, it seemed funny, and a little surreal.
In this post, a European-Australian man married to a Korean-Australian woman describes a similar experience. I think mihansa readers will find the discussion in the comments on his post highly interesting. Among other things, it reveals the difference of perspectives between Koreans living in Korea, and Korean-hyphenates, not to mention across individuals in both groups. It also reminds us of the hazards of translating words solely for literal meaning, without considering the nuances of cultural context.
A point that isn’t raised however, is that both the blogger and I live in countries where citizens of European descent like ourselves are culturally favored. It’s very easy for us to feel secure in our national identity. So easy that we never have to think about it at all.
I doubt the planners of the San Francisco event had any intention of making non-Koreans feel unwelcome. Rather, I think they were trying to reaffirm a cultural identity that is barely acknowledged, much less supported or valued in their new homeland. If anything, creating an event primarily for themselves in such a conspicuous location was a way of saying “We’re here, we’re Korean, get used to it.” When I found myself perceived as a “foreigner” in my own country, I got a taste of what life is like for them every day.
I attended that event because I love Korean traditional dancing. Happily, I got to see lots of it. A few people were surprised when I turned my brunette head around and showed them my non-Asian face. But no one was even slightly unfriendly to me (nor has anyone ever been, at any Korean event I have attended). It was a far more satisfying glimpse of Korean culture than a Korean-focused event at the Asian Art Museum which I attended around the same time. No doubt this was precisely because it was was targeted for an audience much more knowledgeable about Korea.
But even while the emcee was speaking Korean to Koreans, the American melting pot influence was evident. In between the fan dances, sleeve dances and drum dances, the event featured traditional dancers from many other parts of the world.
And the emcee was right about drum dancers. They are my favorite.
Kdrama fans may have noticed that sometimes all the kids in a Korean family, plus their cousins, share the same generational syllable in their names. I just learned what this Korean names convention is called: 돌림자 (doleemja).
I know this because of an illuminating column I discovered on the Ask a Korean blog. The column answers a burning, well, OK, mildly stinging, question I have had for some time, which is about the location of that generational syllable. Sometimes it’s the second syllable of the name, after the family name and before the personal syllable. Sometimes it’s the last syllable, after the personal syllable. Sometimes it’s both ways in the same family!
If you noticed this too, and were wondering, it’s because the position of the generational syllable is alternated in each generation. That does kind of make sense – one more immediate way to distinguish who belongs in which generation. But I was a little blown away to read that the family doesn’t even get to pick the syllable – rather it is chosen by the family’s clan, based on the elemental associations of the father’s name, according to Chinese astrology.
This is the kind of stuff I love finding out about Korea. It makes me realize how many ways there are to do things that I never even thought about, just taking it for granted that everyone does what I do. We may see a little more variety in the US than in most other countries, since we are almost all the descendants of immigrants from many different places. Even so, there is plenty going on in the world that I haven’t seen, or even considered. I find that reassuring, somehow.