Survival Korean aka Learning what you need to learn

I found this little quick survival guide.  There is a lot more to Korean, like any other language, but Survival Korean will get you through some fairly common things.

Koreans are kinda funny when it comes to knowing their language.  First, they are always surprised that you know ANY of it.  It’s like they don’t expect anyone outside of their country to learn their language despite they themselves learn English.  That surprised can be expressed in many ways.  The most common is “Wow, you know Korean?” but I have had one guy who replied with the most oddly nervous laugh I have ever heard.

Now, when you pick up a few phrases another weird phenomena happens.  They think you know more than you do and will start talking to you in Korean.  That’s when I learned how to say “I only know a little Korean.”(Pun not intended but amusing still).

Another common phrase you will learn while here is “How much is this/that?” All-my-e-o. This is a simple phrase to learn but there was a problem.  See, before I learned that, they Koreans would either type it out on a calculator and show it to me, or point to the cash register.  When I asked them this in Korean, they would automatically reply in Korean.  That was when I needed to learn the Korean numbers.  Even after that, they still spoke too quickly to me.  That was when I learned ‘Could you please repeat that slowly?”

What is funny is while you are learning Korean, you want to practice it.  It becomes somewhat frustrating when you walk into a store, say hello, pick up your product, ask how much it is (all in Korean) and the guy behind the counter replies in English because he is a University student who wants to practice his English!

The first Korean I learned was actually the subway names.  The digital signs on the subway alternate between English and Korean (Chinese too but I haven’t the foggiest clue on that language).  So it is easy to learn alternating words.

Once you know the alphabet, you can read everything, almost.  There are a few tricky rules where the sound of a character does actually change depending on it’s position in the syllable.  Still, outside of that, most things are pretty straight forward.  Until you read the ‘Konglish’.  Konglish is an English word made using Korean characters.  Here I am thinking it’s great to read Korean when I get this while reading the name of a restaurant “Chee….ken….dok…ter….oh, Chicken Doctor!”

The Contest Winner! And a new City: Daegu

In March I posted a mini-contest to see who could interpret some Korean characters and what the English word was. This is the word.

Korean Word

The word is bus but pronounced bus-uh. In general, Korean words always end in a vowel so English-based words, for which there is corresponding Korean equivalent, get some added sounds. Learning the sounds of each character is pretty easy. I can read quite a bit of Korea but my comprehension will take a while yet :) Still, it is useful for the ‘konglish’ words like bus :)

Here is Shawn opening the parcel.

The box looks like it had ah been in ah some kind of ah Tsunami AH! The cardboard just fell apart. ( as you can tell ah I am writing ah this with a Korean accent …..AH)
My CHOPSTICKS ah… how nice, thank ah you very much! Enjoy da picture ah.

Enjoy them well Shawn!

Ok, onto Daegu.

The city bills itself as the ‘Colourful City’. Well, we weren’t disappointed. Although I find all the cities here very colourful. I will apply this ‘colourful’ term to the types of things I see here. As mentioned before, and pretty much common knowledge, Asians tend to copy till they figure out who they are instead of trying to be popular like the Western stuff that influences their young people. So when I see a posted for a Korean James-Bond type of movie, I immediately took a picture of it.

Of course the ‘walking mascots’ are very popular for promoting some product or event too. Don’t ask me how Winnie The Poo is connected to anything in Korea though.

There are many different shops in this area. Korea has done some great things in designing their downtown cores. They block off streets and cobblestone the whole place. It makes for wonderful shopping experiences and a cool place to hang too.

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso

So tell me, is this t-shirt from a good artist or a great artist?

You probably don’t need to answer that…

Remember when I wrote about Coffee in Korea? Well, if a massive 3-story coffee-house doesn’t prove that Korean’s love coffee, nothing will!

A few blocks away and this same chain had another 2 story place as well!

Click to see all the albums.

I’m an ALIEN!

“Time flies like an arrow.” – Ancient Proverb

“Fruit flies like bananas.” – BBS Tagline Addendum to Proverb.

It’s amazing how fast time can go by when you get busy. I have been working on a….let’s call it a project, so my free time has been cut in half. Out of that time I sleep and been pushing my self-directed education on ‘all things tech’. As such, my blog posts have been obviously more quiet. Now I am slowly settling into a rhythm and forcing some time for more update. I’ve got lots to show you at least as I have not been slack in taking pictures Winking smile

Yes, it’s true. I am an alien. I even have an officially issued ID card to prove it!

So, for all those who suspected me of being one, now you have your proof. More shall be revealed in due course about our plans for your puny world….err, I mean this beautifully human-food-laden…..err…scenic place.

Let me start my catchup with everyone’s favourite subject…

I will say this, the strawberries here are the largest and sweetest I have EVER tasted! Although I can’t really give proper description of the taste, suffice to say that the reason most people use whip cream to dip their strawberries in is to off set the tartness. Such a practice would totally kill the natural sweetness of these berries!

Yeah, that’s my hand. Damn thing is near 3” long!
Yeah, that’s my hand. Damn thing is near 3” long!
Who knew that only 5 strawberries would cover my entire keyboard!
Who knew that only 5 strawberries would cover my entire keyboard!

(Click here for a few more pics of these monstrosities)

Now, on the flip side of this trip we’ll be displaying a rather bizarre collection of pets. Spiders! (Yes….I said collection….)

I think this is the poisonous one.
I think this is the poisonous one.

And what collection of pet spiders is incomplete without a Tarantula!

You can click here to see a few more pics of his collection.

Now that you are thoroughly freaked out (well, most of you, some are probably already clicking on the link for more), let’s go onto a few other mildly strange things here.

I’m going to teach you some Korean. You’ll be totally amazed at how well you will pick this up!

The interesting thing about older languages is that the rules for modern words vary wildly. Older languages have no rules for incorporating modern terms. So each culture will do what they feel is best. With Korean there is a term called Konglish (Korean/English). There are some words that just do not have any way of being created with the Hangul characters. This is because the Hangul language was originally based on Chinese characters. Chinese writing has dated back around the 14th century. So, using a language based on that kind of age you are bound to run into a problem with new words. For example, Computer or Network. Both very modern words and do not have any direct translation whatsoever. Although I never did quite understand why they didn’t form the same words the same way the word was formed for English.

Yes I know computer comes from the two latin words (with[cum] and think[putare]). Still, as a modern implementation of a device, such words do not always translate well. In Korean computer is ‘kom-pyew-tuh’. Just about every Korean also ends with a vowel. So Koreans will take English words and add a ‘uh’ on words that have a consonant at the end.

For example….end will become end-uh. “is” becomes is-uh. It’s very tough to get them out of that habit but the ones who pay attention will stand out in their English pronunciation.

Now, armed with that knowledge let me give you a few Hangul characters and see if you can figure out the following words.



This is an like an ‘eww’ type of sound but very short. Close to an short i type of sound.

bThis is a b (or p sometimes) sound. It’s not ‘bee’ but more ‘buh’ sound.

sThis is an s. Sometimes a ‘sh’ sound.

eoThis is ‘aw’ sound. It gets shortened typically after a consonant to ‘uh’.

So, test your new found knowledge and figure out this word.

Korean Word

First person to email me what this means will get a special Korean gift from here! (You Koreans on my list, and people I KNOW who are learning Korean are not eligible).

I can tell you that after learning the Hangul characters I get a huge laugh when I read Konglish words like ‘mechanic’ and even ‘chicken doctor'(a restaurant).

Ok, that all for this post. Up next…..the DMZ.

Getting lost in Seoul

I have always been good with directions. I can usually find my way back from where ever I am without too much difficulty. That is all fine and dandy if you are walking outside or through some over-sized department store. Doesn’t do bugger-all if you taking subways and buses.

There is a group of people that I hang out with on Sundays around the Itaewon area. It’s pretty easy to get to, if somewhat long (1.5hrs one way). It’s also a fairly boring trip as I am getting used to seeing things, but there is always something that I can tell a story about on each trip. Now, since most of us who meet up come from different directions, and that getting around in Seoul can take some serious planning, I decided to try a different route(there are 14 different subway lines) to meet with one of the gang and have a travel partner for at least part of the way.

I left a little early to allow for the detour from my normal route. The person I was meeting was at Sinchon Station. When I asked my wife about this she said “Yeah, that’s City Hall station.” Oh, ok, easy enough. So off I went.

On the way there my cell phone buzzes. I got some sort of generic message from my provider or something. It was all in Korean and I can only pick out a few letters at this point. I just closed it and noticed that my battery light was flashing the ‘dangerously low’ flash. Damn. Well, I figured I’d text my friend and tell them where I am and that my battery was dying. As I was trying to type out “At Dongmyo, battery dying” I got as far as “at” then the phone shut down. Damn. Seems I was running a bit late and now cut off from communications. Ah well, hopefully thing will work out.

I get to the station and my friend had told me to meet them at Exit #5. Well exit #5 was blocked due to construction. Exit #4 was right by it so I figured that’ll be where we will meet. I go out and it’s really some sort of minor exit to the street. No one was there and I was actually a little early. I waited for a few minutes and then thought, maybe we’ll meet at the blocked Exit #5 above ground. So I walk over there to check it out.

City Hall has setup an outdoor skating rink. For a whopping 1000 won (about $1) you can rent skates and have fun. Cool idea, might try that next Saturday. I didn’t see my friend. So I hung out. As I was the only one wearing a big red winter coat, and kinda bigger than your average Korean, I figured this was a good spot to hang and be easily recognized.

I watched people skate around and kids running. At one point 3 little girls came up to me and spoke to me in English. The young Koreans love to practice their English skills. The kids were polite and spoke very good indeed. Then they left to do other stuff.

Ok, so now it’s 10mins past when I was supposed to meet my friend and I’m starting to second guess myself. Is this the right stop? Maybe I was supposed to be at Seoul Station and not City Hall? Damn. I head back to the subway and get down the stairs just as the train was leaving. Ugh. Well, they run frequently enough and it is only one stop down. Hopefully my friend will still be waiting.

As I sat down my phone in my pocket buzzed again. I got a text message from my friend. “It’s exit #6 not exit#5 here. Sorry.” Then the phone shut down again and refused to turn on. Bizarre but good that I had the info for the new station I was heading too.

I get to Seoul Station and head out Exit #6. It’s deserted. It’s a big major intersection where you can only get across the street by using the subway exits under ground and now it’s snowing pretty good. I’m only wearing running shoes because it wasn’t snowing when I left. This is starting to suck.

I look around and don’t see anyone. Literally. Dammit. I walk a bit and see a bus terminal area. Well I remember that it’s bus #730 that gets me to my buddy’s place. So I walk over to check out the bus terminal. Guess what…..bus #730 doesn’t stop here. This is just great. Now what??

Well, it’s snowing pretty heavily now. Lots of fun walking in this stuff with running shoes! I make my way over to a covered staircase and yank out my trusty Netbook. I figured if I can get a free WiFi signal, I can double-check the email with directions and maybe even get on Skype to see if someone local was online and give my friend a call. I find a signal but it’s kinda flakey. Seems that Skype can connect but it’s intermittent and I can’t get to my Gmail account (or any other web address). Well this really sucks now.

Lucky, I saw a foreigner and asked him. He told me that I needed to get on the #421 bus, go 3 stops and then switch to the #730. Excellent news! I thanks him, put away my Netbook and got on the next #421.

3 stops later I’m at the next bus stop. Yup, really snowing now. Got about 2 inches of fluff already. I’m hoping that my shoes stay dry-ish.

The #730 shows up and I get on. Ugh, standing room only and the windows are foggy. So my ability to see the surroundings and get my bearings with the hopes of recognizing the area I’m going to is hugely diminished. I ask the bus driver if he goes to Seobinggo station.

Now, I have add in a little note about trying to speak Korean as a foreigner. It seems that if you do not pronounce any word exactly as it is supposed to sound, they don’t get it. It’s like they can’t be bothered to make a mental effort to think “Hey, that sounds like a stop I know! Maybe he means that one?” and then verbally offer me something that sounds more correct. Nope. He just looked at me confused instead. I tried to pronounce it slightly differently which only got me a “An-ni” which means no in Korean. Even that didn’t help me. Did he mean ‘no we don’t stop there’ or ‘no, I don’t know what you mean so I’m going to feign ignorance and just say no’.

What’s that saying about 2 steps forward and 3 steps back?

I try to keep bending down to almost knee level to look out the windows to see if I can recognize anything of the area. Really tough since everything is now covered in a huge dump of snow. But wait….what’s that? After a few minutes I saw this big wall (US Military base) and a passenger bridge that goes over the road. Hey, that looks familiar!!! I ring for a stop and get off the bus.

As the bus pulls away I look around. Dammit! This isn’t the same stop. Oh this day keeps getting better and better!!!

The one thing about being completely out of your environment is that you just have to keep going. Seeing as I’m a rather persistent bugger, my mind went to the next thought.

‘Ok, so I’m at least by the same Military base my friend works at. Oh, and off in the distance I can see the new buildings by his place. Too damn far to walk in running shoes though. I’ll walk along the wall till I get to a guard post and see if I can find someone who knows my buddy.’

So off I go, sliding every now and then, hoping that I just don’t fall down. I get to one of the gates and speak with a Korean guard. His English was passable for a very broken conversation. See, it’s usually not the English that’s the problem. It’s how to express your thoughts in another language. Just knowing the right word to use, is good enough to express a whole sentence. Luckily, the Korean guard and I understood each other but he couldn’t help. Damn, so close and yet so far.

Well, I dared against all hope that I might find a free WiFi signal around. I brought out my Netbook again and thought it was slightly amusing that I’m hoping to either find a free WiFi signal or hop on someone else’s while standing on a Military base.

Oh finally, some luck was shining on me! I got a signal and got into my email account, found my buddy’s phone number and copied it to notepad. Then I realized that I’m holding my Netbook in my arm up fairly high that anyone could see the ‘HACKED’ sticker I put on the bottom of it. Umm….better put that down while technically standing on US soil……err….nothing to see here officer….really….

The guard let me call my friend and he came over and picked me up.

I learned that Sinchon was NOT City Hall. So I was lost even before I begun my trip it seems. See the Korean word for City Hall is Sicheong. Which is what my wife thought I was saying. Yet another reason to get the pronunciation right.

Later that day I was going to try to go back the same way but realized it was more complicated taking buses so decided to just take my usual subway back. I had enough adventure for one day.

Kraft Dinner in Korea

There are some many things people take for granted.  Shelter, transportation and food.  With food, if you need something to prepare a meal you simply go to the store and buy it.  So what happens when you are in a completely foreign country and have yet to learn anything more than ‘hello/goodbye’?

After my hot dog experience with Kraft Dinner, I decided that using the extra hot dogs in spaghetti would be a bad idea I immediately thought of ground beef.  Great, so I’ve decided what to get… how do I get it?

A lot of English words are made more difficult by the Koreans adding a vowel at the end of a word that ends with a consonant.  For example ‘finish’ becomes ‘finishee’.  It is slightly less odd when a word like ‘village’ gets turned into ‘villagee’, which at least makes more sense by trying to pronounce a letter that is there but subdued when vocalized in English.  So I toyed with the idea of trying to make ground beef sound foreign by walking over to the store and asked for ‘grounduh beefuh’ but I just couldn’t bring myself to sound that dumb.

Being the geek that I am, I went to the tools I knew best….the Internet.  Specifically I used Babelfish.  Some of you might wonder why I didn’t use Google Translate, being a bit of a Google Fan.  Well, Babelfish has a bit of a geek history so there is a fondness for using something related to HHGTTG.

So I simply typed in ‘ground beef’ and choose to translate it to Korean and I’ll simply write it out to bring with me.  In case you haven’t seen the Korean written language (called Hangul), it’s related to Chinese/Japanese.  A lot of lines and slashes and circles arranged in some sort of order.  I was kinda hoping it wasn’t an overly complicated bunch of lines that I would be able to easily copy and bring with me.  Turns out I was right.


So, armed with this, I headed over to the store.  First I decided to just look for it.  Ground beef is pretty easy to find.  I found nothing.  Ok, time to whip out the note.  I held it up to one lady and said ‘ground beef?’, opting for standard English.  She said ‘yeh’ (which is yes….oddly, so is ‘neh’…I think it’s kinda like yes and yeah….) and then she proceeded to look for it.  She couldn’t find it and directed me to another lady behind the meat counter.  She said she had it (well, in Korean but I got the meaning) and finished with her current customer.

Well, what she did was get some beef out from the big freezer behind her and cut off some pieces.  She was going to grind it right there.  I asked her to do a bit bigger/more beef.  She ground it up and handed me the bag.

I brought it to the cashier, paid the 8130KRW (about $8) for 328grams (I think??  Not sure if I’m reading the package right).  Probably the most expensive beef I ever bought but at least I can say I did it all on my own and now can make some food with better meat for dinner for us tonight.