999th post – A tale of two cities

I have occasionally pondered the similarities and differences between these two cities (shown above as close as I can to the same scale). I think there are more differences than similarities. Both are the biggest city in their country, but Seoul comprehensively so and Sydney only just (and is projected to be overtaken by Melbourne sooner rather than later). Seoul is the capital of South Korea, but Sydney isn’t the capital of Australia, even though many people around the world think or assume it is. As a result, Sydney (and/or Melbourne) dominate economically and culturally, but not politically (at least at the national level; they dominate their respective states). 

Geographically, both sit between the ocean and mountains. Even though South Korea is overall more mountainous, Wentworth Falls (at the far left of the Sydney map) is higher in elevation than Bukhansan. It’s just that Bukhansan is located comparatively much closer to its city. (Also, Mount Kosciuszko (the highest mountain on mainland Australia) is higher than Hallasan, and Mawson Peak (the highest on an outlying territory) is (just) higher than Mount Baekdu.) Both are at similar latitudes (Seoul 37ºN and Sydney 33ºS), but Seoul’s weather is dominated by the Siberian high and East Asian monsoon, meaning very cold winters (with snow) and very wet summers (with occasional typhoons) while Sydney’s is more equable, very rarely getting super-cold or super-hot (at least towards the coast; my inland suburb is more variable, and one day a few years ago a suburb near here was the hottest place on the planet). 

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Korean painters

I saw a tradesperson’s van announcing that:


I wouldn’t have thought that there was much money to be made from painting Koreans. Perhaps they should try painting houses instead. Ha ha. I wonder if any non-Koreans hire these painters because they are Korean, or because they are professional and experienced.

In 2015, during my second stay in Korea, my wife and I went to Dongdaemun Design Plaza. A number of young artists were painting caricature portraits of people. We got ours done. It was (and is, as I look at it now) very apparent that the artist was much more experienced in painting Koreans than foreigners. I’m recognisable, but that’s about all. (Looking at it again, I can see that’s it actually pastel.)

When I taught English, I had a set of flashcards of occupations (and still have them). Two were/are of a painter, which showed someone painting a house, and an artist, which showed someone painting a painting (which, when completed, really should be called a painted).

(Korean painters might also be these people.)


At some time during my first stay in Korea, I made a Korean name for myself, 음대호 (eum dae-ho), but I rarely use it. At some time during my second stay in Korea, I became aware of the Korean movie Tiger (trailer, wikipedia), but I didn’t watch it then and haven’t since. One of my textbooks had the word for tiger, 호랑이 (ho-rang-i/ho-lang-i), so I assumed that’s what the title was in Korean, but I have recently been reading a lot about Korean movies and discovered that it’s actually 대호 (dae-ho), from 대, great and the first syllable of 호랑이.

Today is the Lunar New Year, which begins the year of the tiger in the zodiacs of China and nearby countries including Korea. But I’m not a tiger. It would have neat if I was, given that I made the name for other reasons. 여라 분 새해 복 많이 받으세요!

Google bedroom view

I have been using Google Maps to explore South Korea, retracing places I’ve been to and finding places I haven’t. Naver Maps has better maps and aerial, but no street view or user-submitted photos, from what I can see. I managed to trace one brother- and sister-in-law’s house in a densely populated suburb of Seoul. I noticed that there was one user-submitted photo nearby. A presumably young woman has submitted a photo of her bedroom, in an apartment immediately above the office where my wife used to work. There’s nothing revealing about the photo, but it seems an unlikely thing for anyone to submit to Google Maps. 

Flavoured soju and makgeolli

When I lived in Korea for the second time in 2015-2016, flavoured soju and makgeolli were a comparatively recent thing. But they don’t seem to have penetrated to Korean communities overseas. My wife’s restaurant stocks peach makgeolli and she sometimes brings a bottle home, but I don’t like it. My favourites are banana makgeolli and pineapple soju (but not together).

The men at our party yesterday evening expressed great surprise when I mentioned these drinks, and I had to jump online to find confirmation. An Australian liquor store stocks soju with blueberry, strawberry, yogurt, peach, citron, apple, apple mango and green grape soju from Chum Churum and with mandarin orange, ginger, lychee and Americano from Chateul Soorok (no sign of pineapple in there), and makgeolli with chestnut, green grape, banana and peach from Kook Soon Dang. Another site reviews cream cheese, chestnut, banana, citron and peach flavoured makgeolli.

No doubt your tastes will vary. Please drink responsibly, especially because the fruit flavours tends to hide the fact that you’re drinking alcohol.

The first time I encountered pineapple soju and mentioned it on Facebook, one of my Facebook friends asked “What’s soju?”. I explained that it’s a healthy vegetable-based vitamin and mineral drink, which is … mostly true.

Cold hands, 따뜻한 마음

Last night my wife and I had dinner with friends in their new apartment. After dinner, we watched an episode of the Korean drama 응답하라 1988 (eung-dap-ha-ra), of which I was previously unaware (more about that later). Unlike the dramas my wife watches online, this one, on a streaming service, had English subtitles, so I was was able to follow most of the story (apart from figuring out who was who and how they were related). At one point the female lead and one of her male friends are sitting in the rain. He asks “Why are your hands so cold?”. She replies “Because my heart is warm”.

That is equivalent to English “Cold hands, warm heart”, which I haven’t seen or heard for years. My wife later told me that the full expression in Korean is 마음이 따뜻하면 손이 차갑다, or If you heart is warm, your hands are cold. (There are variations on the internet, including some which put the hands first, as in English.) I haven’t been able to find whether this expression is meant to be literal, figurative or both, and which way round the cause and effect is. My Facebook friends have been unable to help me. As is the often way with most of these sayings, there are multiple interpretations.

I later found that 응답하라 1988 was shown on Korean cable tv in late 2015 – early 2016, which explains why I didn’t know it. I was in Korea at the time, but not watching any cable tv (and very little free-to-air tv). The title 응답하라 1988 is officially given as Reply 1988, which doesn’t make much sense. Some sources give it as Answer me 1988, and Google and Bing both translate 응답하라 by itself as respond, both of which make more sense.

Early in the episode, one character refers to McDonald’s in Apgujeong. Yes, the first McDonald’s there opened in 1988, at the time of and almost certainly because of the Olympic Games that year.

Korean names

Today is the birthday of my wife’s youngest niece, which gives me the chance to talk about Korean given names. That niece and her two older sisters share the first syllable of their given name (현, hyeon or hyun). Traditionally, all (or most) Koreans shared the first syllable of their given name with their siblings and male-line cousins. In modern times, this is less systematically followed. Of my wife’s siblings, her two oldest sisters share the same first syllable (보, bo) (but in Korean style, she only ever refers to them as ‘first sister’ and ‘second sister’), but then she and her third (older) sister don’t. (She and the second and third sister share their second syllable, so their names can be summarised as AB, AC, DC and EC.) Then her two younger brothers share the same first syllable (도, do), which is different from any of their sisters’.

The first sister’s two daughters have the first syllable (은, eun – very common in modern-day Korea), which is different than any of their parents, aunts, uncles or cousins. I can’t actually tell them apart. They look different enough but I haven’t spent enough time with them individually, only ever seeing them at Soellal and Chusoek,* when everyone was milling around. Likewise with their husbands. Three of the second sister’s four children (all boys, I think – we had the least to do with them) have the same but different first syllable (which I have recorded in English as sung, which might be 성, seong or 승, seung (the son of one of them definitely has 승)). The third sister’s daughter and son have first syllables different from each other and any of their cousins. But all of those probably get their names from their fathers’ sides of their families. 

Most relevant are the children of my wife’s two brothers, who traditionally would have the same first syllable. But they don’t. The three daughters of the older younger brother have the same first syllable (현, hyeon or hyun), while the daughter and son of the youngest brother have the same but different first syllable (하, ha). In fact, the daughter has a name which is more typically a boy’s name, and the son has a name which is more typically a girl’s name (but not exclusively so in each case). On the last Soellal I was in Korea, I had a Korean tutorial book with many sample sentences which used his name, but the person in the book was a girl. When they were younger, the first and second daughters were very similar, but by the time I went back to Korea they had developed in different ways and I can easily tell them apart now.

On the other hand, two of my sisters have names which are similar but distinct to English speakers, but my wife initially had trouble remembering who was who until she came to Australia and met them. It helps that they live in different states.

* One of my colleagues, also married to a Korean woman, was astounded that I would willingly spend time with my wife’s family in the absence of my wife, but I quite like them, even allowing for the fact that we can barely communicate (or possibly because of it).

What part don’t you understand?

In August 2015, when I went to Korea for the second time, my working visa was delayed, so I had to do the ‘visa run’ to Fukuoka, Japan. While I was wandering around a suburb of that city, I saw a modern building devoted to the study and performance of traditional Noh theatre.  I thought that their slogan could be “What part of Noh don’t you understand?”. Unfortunately, on searching the internet, I found that Pat Byrnes, a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine, had beaten me to it. I thought I mentioned this in my blog post of the time, but apparently not. Certainly I mentioned it on Facebook.

The reason I’m mentioning it now is that a few days ago I was watching some of the Crash Course series on the history of theatre, one of which is about Noh. I’ve written before about the variable quality of their autosubtitles — usually perfect, but sometimes, inexplicably, very wrong. Maybe the fault is Youtube’s, not Crash Course’s, but the same principle applies Continue reading

498th post – Last day as English language teacher

Today is my last day as an English language teacher, after more than eleven and a half years at a language college, provincial government high school and university in South Korea and language colleges in Australia. I am making this move for a wide variety of reasons, related to the ESL sector in general (an Australian student visa requires attendance at classes for 20 hours per week, so most teachers are engaged for 20 hours per week, and there is very little opportunity to advance to a full-time position), the college and colleagues (some classes at some colleges are run as courses – the students start at the same time, do the course, and finish at the same time, but our English classes have been ‘start and finish when you need to’, and I’ve had to share a small office with up to four other people of various degrees of loudness in various languages, as student of various degrees of loudness in various languages come and go), the students (who have different levels of English, life experience and personal and study backgrounds, some of whom attend way less than 20 hours per week, and come and go, use their phone, chat in their own language or sleep when they are there), and myself (basically, dealing with all of the above, and commuting). 

Through English language teaching, I’ve lived in South Korea for two periods totalling three and a half years, met my wife, travelled to Hong Kong and Japan, met all kinds of other people in South Korea and Australia, gained my masters degree (and may yet go on to doctoral study), attempted to learn Korean (하지만 아직 잘 못 해요), developed a serious hobby of photography and started this blog. On the other hand, I’ve had to largely give up my other serious hobby of classical choral singing. (I can and will return to that, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever again perform at my peak.) So now it’s time for a change. From tomorrow …