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March 15, 2017

The Downside to Working at Home

In case you are one of the two people in the world who hasn’t seen this yet…

The video resonated globally with people who work at home and went viral…

There is interesting political content in the original video, if you can tear your attention away from the cute kids. Kelly’s sentiment that South Korea handled the impeachment in a commendably non-violent, democratic manner has been echoed internationally.

However, as a BBC insert observes, two elderly Park supporters died during pro-Park demonstrations the day Park was removed from office. Details on the deaths have been scanty, but the death toll has now risen to three. Early reports mentioned demonstrators stoning police with chunks of concrete, but did not connect that to the deaths.

This should not detract from the months of peaceful demonstrations by millions of Koreans that came before. We can only hope to see as many Americans come forward when it becomes obvious that their choice was as unfortunate. It’s understandable that the Korean police would want to play down the death of seniors at such a historical moment. However, it looks worse if hushed up. Better to release full details and acknowledge any faults or regrets ASAP.

February 22, 2017

Pardon Our Dust

For the next few days, will be receiving a long overdue update to make it friendlier to mobile and tablet users. The site may also end up with a different look – we’ll see how that evolves as the update progresses. I’m going to leave the site up and running as I apply the changes, so visitors may encounter temporary weirdness.

November 23, 2016

Korean Word of the Month: Bi Jung Sang (Abnormal, Not Top)

This Reuters photo of Korean demonstrators borrowing “not my president” from American protestors really caught my eye. Of course, since this is Korea, it comes out as oori (our) President. The sign on the left has a photo of President Park Geun Hye riding piggyback on someone. I assume this is her notorious buddy Choi Soon Sil, who wears sunglasses a lot.

A photo of two Korean demonstrators in a large crowd holding protest signs that say Not Our President in English

I was curious about the Hangeul words on the sign on the right, so I looked them up. Google persisted in translating the first word, 혼이 as “honey.” This annoyed me, since it is wrong in both meaning and pronunciation. 혼 (Romanized “hon”) is pronounced hone (rhymes with phone), not hun.

Luckily, we already know the meaning of 혼 (soul or spirit) from the title of Lee Seo Jin’s 2009 drama by that name. 이 is a subject marking particle. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it. It’s not that significant in a two-word phrase.

The really interesting word is 비정상, which translates as “abnormal,” or has the alternate meaning of “not the summit.” I confirmed these two meanings in several sources. This post to a language blog by a Korean English-learner was especially helpful. Check out the comments.

“Not the Summit”

Even with the help of aforementioned comments, I wasn’t sure I understood the significance of “not the summit.” Then it occurred to me to look up 정상 by itself. It means summit. So apparently 비 has a similar function to 안, which can mean “not” when added to the beginning of a word. Therefore, 비정상 literally means not the top or summit.

But what is the implication of top/summit in Korean? In English, “not the top” might imply that something was unimportant or mediocre. I can’t assume Koreans draw the same association between height and valuableness, though it is a common one in hierarchical societies. In any case, I feel fairly confident that the choice of a word with dual meanings is deliberate. Koreans are big on word play. But we are forgetting 혼, and we shouldn’t. As a phrase, 혼이 비정상 says something like “abnormal (and inferior) spirit.”

Korean Shamanism

If you follow the posts on my Facebook page, you know the current scandal surrounding Park Geun Hye is tied to the recent history of native shamanistic religion in Korea. Such religions were violently suppressed (by Park Geun Hye’s father, among others) in the mid-20th century. Thousands of unique shrines across the country were destroyed, an irretrievable loss.

21st century Korea seems ambivalent about shamanism. It is discounted as superstition unsuited to a modern society. However, the unique Koreanness of it is attracting new attention. Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity dominate Korean spiritual and moral life. None of them are native to Korea.

But they can’t really have it both ways with Park Geun Hye. If association with shamanism erodes her credibility, doesn’t that also denigrate traditional Korean spirituality?

Korean Demonstrators, Broken Promises and Bruised Kibun

It has puzzled me that tens of thousands of Korean protestors are flooding the streets (in very cold weather) over Park’s latest scandal. Seeking feedback from a non-political friend doesn’t seem that scandalous to me. Blackmailing chaebols into making donations is certainly illegal, but the money went to culture and sports nonprofits, not slush funds. There have been numerous other scandals in Park’s administration to date that were far more serious. For example, the Sewol ferry disaster and manipulation of government-supported TV networks, to name just a couple.

Then I started to wonder who these Korean demonstrators were. Are they opposition party members who voted against Park, or are they the people who elected her? If they are the people who put her in office, the intensity of the reaction suddenly makes more sense. If you know a little about kibun, that is. Broken presidential promises may reflect far more personally on a politician’s supporters in Korea than in the U.S. When Park fails, that failure reflects poorly on them.

Kibun is a complex, and very important factor in Korean life, which is why I haven’t written about it. It doesn’t have a direct western parallel, and I wouldn’t want to get it wrong. If you never heard of kibun before, the beginning of this article covers the basics, and may shed some light on Park’s 5% popularity rating.

September 27, 2016

Mobile site temporarily down

미안해요 dear readers, but a wonky update to my mobile site plugin has necessitated switching to another mobile solution until they get the glitches worked out. The temporary mobile site has a very different color scheme, but it gets the job done. Hopefully, everything will be back to normal soon.

June 9, 2016

Language & Alcohol-Blaming Contribute to Rape in Korea

A photo from the back of a woman with long black hair looking out over the sea on a cloudy dayRape in Korea has become a headline topic recently, though this has received little attention in the American press. In late May, a teacher in a remote island village was eating alone at a restaurant. Fathers of her students pressured her into joining them (culturally impossible to refuse), and drinking with them (which she repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempted to decline). When she was too drunk to leave the restaurant on her own, they drove her home and gang-raped her.

Although women are not particularly respected in Korea, teachers are, so there was public outcry over this. Furthermore, this teacher was much younger than the rapists (which made it even more culturally impossible for her to avoid them), who conspired after the fact to destroy evidence. The Ministry of Education was called upon to better protect teachers.

The Ministry’s initial response was to float a policy of not sending female teachers to remote areas. Since 75% of Korean teachers are women, that isn’t practical. More to the point, as Yang Lee Hyun-kyung of the Korean Women’s Association United put it:

How can not sending women to so-called dangerous places be the answer to preventing such crimes against women? What the government is supposed to do is to make a safe environment for women and minorities in society.

Anywhere in Korea can be a “dangerous place” for women and girls. For example, Gyeonggi province. In March, a 14-year-old boy lured a 12-year-old schoolmate to a cheap room where he fed her alcohol, and, along with 5 of his friends, gang-raped her.

And then there was Airdre Mattner, an Australian tourist, whose drink was drugged while she was on a pub crawl in Seoul last year. A group of men then abducted her from her group, took her by taxi to a cheap hotel, and raped her. When police finally acted under international pressure, they only prosecuted her rapists for “sexual harassment,” because “she was unconscious and therefore cannot prove she didn’t consent.” Excuse me??!!! Unconsciousness isn’t proof enough?!!


June 4, 2016

Fan Death: The Unsuspected Perils of a Hot Night in Korea

A drawing of an electric fan in red, with horns on either side like a devil's headEvery country has cultural myths that are accepted as unquestionable truths, even though they sound ludicrous to outsiders. Korea is no exception. Meet fan death (선풍기 – electric fan, 사망설 – death). According to this widespread Korean belief, spending the night in a closed room with a fan blowing on you can be fatal.

People from anywhere else will never have heard of this notion. Could it possibly be true, yet somehow every other country in the world has overlooked it? Korea does have an extreme and somewhat atypical climate that encompasses both ultra-humid monsoon summers and snowy winters.

Experts say the popular explanations for death by fan are not medically founded. The Ask a Korean blog makes a valiant argument on behalf of fans as a contributing factor to deaths under highly specific and theoretical conditions. However, I’m going with snopes and Wikipedia on this one: There is no scientific basis for fan death.

What makes fan death more interesting than other cultural myths is that it’s regarded as factual by Korean fan manufacturers, news media and even government agencies. Korean fans bear warning labels, urging users to crack a window at bedtime. They are equipped with sleep timers, a safety precaution in case you forget. Fatalities with no other obvious cause are reported in the news in utter seriousness as death by fan. MORE…

April 28, 2016

English Dialects: A Korean Compares American & British English

Screenshot from KoreanBilly English dialects video showing two images of himself side by side with a British flag over one and American flag over the otherThere’s an interesting fringe benefit to my exploration of Korean culture. It often makes me more conscious of things about my own culture that I never really thought about before.

I suppose this happens to anyone upon contact with an unfamiliar culture, but I suspect the effect is more pronounced for Americans. We have few close neighbors, and one of the largest is culturally very similar to us. We are rarely reminded of the thousands of daily ways another culture can be different from our own.

The experience of suddenly noticing what was always right under my nose hit me all over again when I discovered YouTube artist KoreanBilly. He has made a series of videos contrasting (among other things) the differences between English dialects in different countries. Of course native English speakers are aware that English is spoken differently in other places. I can tell Australian English from British English. But if you asked me to name the differences, how many could I identify?

Probably not as many as KoreanBilly. Perhaps because ALL versions of English are foreign (literally) to him, he has to get very specific in order to reproduce them. Check out this entertaining video, in which he compares American English and English English, displaying an impressively fluent accent in both. Even though I am a native American English speaker, I learned a lot from it!

If you are wondering about KoreanBilly, he did not grow up in the UK. On the contrary (or TO the contrary, as the Brits would say) Billy has lived in Korea all of his life, except for 6 months in England. You can learn more about him in this bio video on his Facebook page.

Check out the rest of his YouTube videos here. He has a similar video on differences between English English and Irish English. His video on the many ways in which we are exposed to advertising suggests that focused consciousness in one area of communication may heighten awareness in other contexts.

April 17, 2016

Marriage Contract Poll Redux

An anguished Hye Soo looks heavenward as she pleads that she still has a lot to do in lifeRemember that poll I posted when the Marriage Contract plot and casting was first announced?

As you can probably tell, I am a bit cynical about plots that capitalize on extreme situations. However, Marriage Contract has earned honestly every tear and smile it has wrung from me, and there have been plenty of both.

With only 3 episodes left, it’s time to revisit the poll.

How Will They Save Her?

  1. MISDIAGNOSIS. She was never sick in the first place.
  2. SPONTANEOUS RECOVERY. It’s a miracle! Love conquers all!
  3. A DONOR APPEARS. A relative she never knew she had!
  4. THEY WON’T. But we’re OK with it, because she becomes a sympathetic ghost watching over her family.
  5. He makes enough money to send her to Duke University for the new treatment that has cured people with terminal brain cancer.

We can throw out the misdiagnosis option. That ship has sailed.

Ditto for the donor solution. Stop laughing at me – how could I know the affected organ was her brain?! The initial announcements weren’t that specific. And even so, if this was a horror drama… But since it’s melodrama, I think brain transplants are out.

As for resolution number 4, 절대! Don’t ever bring that up again.

Most interesting is the final option on the poll, which was not one of my originals, but was added by a viewer. That’s my favorite, though I wouldn’t say no to a spontaneous remission either.

Going to America is a solution for so many things in Kdrama that it’s an awful cliche, but Marriage Contract has successfully overridden many cliches already. I’m sure they could make it stick. And LSJ just spoke English in episode 11, so there you go.

Meet you at the airport.

Lee Seo Jin to Star in Upcoming Drama – Poll
Marriage Contract Off to a Strong Start
Marriage Contract – I Do
KDrama Word of the Day: Bison (Hand Rubbing)
Dramas with Lee Seo Jin

March 31, 2016

Ilbon? The Hallyu say!

Here’s some old news that is new – and surprising – to me. Japanese megacorporation SoftBank added DramaFever to its lengthy acquisitions roster in 2014. If DF’s Korean-American co-founders noted the inconsistency (not to mention irony) of handing over the promotion of Hallyu to a Japanese company, they didn’t let it get in the way of their $100 million payday. Revenue dropped after the sale, and 16 months later, SoftBank passed DramaFever on to Warner Brothers at a loss.

The flag of Japan, with the white viki logo across the red circle in the centerBut wait – there’s more. Before it acquired Soompi last year, Viki had itself been acquired by Rakuten (also a Japanese company). So for awhile there, DramaFever, Viki and Soompi were all Japanese-owned!
UPDATE: Four days after posting this article, I received a proposal from “the largest adnetwork group in Japan” to place advertising on I declined. Clearly KDrama has become a major moneymaker, and if that’s a mark of its quality and worldwide popularity, I congratulate Korea.

However, this site is about a personal journey of cultural exploration and discovery, which has broadened my perspective on many things, and helped me become more conscious of the influence of my own culture. I love exploring and researching things Korean, and writing about them.

It would be great if the blog produced income so I could spend more time on that, but I have yet to encounter a form of “monetization” (a word I hate) that I feel comfortable with. My posts are my sincere and candid perspective on the things I am writing about. I’m sure I get things wrong sometimes, but you never have to worry that I am pushing anyone’s agenda but my own.

March 29, 2016

KDrama Word of the Day: Bison (Hand Rubbing)

Were you wondering what was up with Uee’s hand rubbing as she begged Kim Yong Geon to reconsider in Episode 7 of Marriage Contract? 저도요 (me, too). I researched and here’s what I found.

In episode 7 of Marriage Contract Uee kneels before Ji Hoon's father and rubs her hands together in prayer position as she begs him to allow the surgery

A photograph of an American Bison with the red slashed NOT circle overlaying it Rubbing hands up and down with palms pressed together in prayer position is characteristic of 비손, pronounced bee-sohn (not to be confused with the shaggy North American animal in the photo, which is pronounced by-sun). Bison is a Korean folk rite used to pray for a wish to come true, or for a cure for a disease.

It looks as though it may be a woman’s ritual, though that is not clear – check out this explanation from the Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Beliefs (click to enlarge):

A page from the Encyclopedia of Korean Folk Beliefs describing details of the bison hand rubbing rite, which also includes offerinsg of clear water and simple foods

As the article explains, the 비 in 비손 is the verb stem of 빌다 (to pray, beg, or imprecate), and 손 is the word for hand.