Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Vacation at the Suncruise Resort

Sara and I got back from a very nice vacation the other day. A solid nine days in a row proved itself to be long enough to completely relax, forget about work, and enjoy ourselves! I had been told that Jong-Dong-Jin, on the East Sea of Korea about two hours away from Seoul, was a good place to stay, so I started looking for a hotel. We wound up staying at the first place I found, although when I originally showed it to Sara it was meant to be the joke option.

This cruise-ship-on-a-hill is actually a nine floor hotel, restaurant, rotating sky lounge and banquet hall all wrapped into one unexpected hull. The rooms are divided into either the sunrise or sunset sides, but since they are actually face north or south, they are better thought of as parking lot view or amazing ocean view. You can guess which side we stayed on.

The hotel was quite nice, although needing a paint job in several places. As far as I could tell, besides a group of Chinese, we were the only foreigners there. The restaurant was quite good for dinner and lackluster for all other meals, but to be fair I don't think anyone can do a good American breakfast in this country.

I don't really know what there is to do in the area besides hiking and beach activities, but for us it was the perfect getaway for pure rest. All in all, a complete success!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What sort of poster is this?

I was walking through my local Seoul subway station and saw this poster. I'm speechless. How could anyone think this was a good idea? I don't know what the poster says, but I can only assume that they are trying to convey the idea that this child could be any Korean citizen.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Language Studies

Korean is a tough language. It is ranked by the US Department of Defense as the hardest language in the world for a native English speaker to learn as an adult. Before moving here, Sara and I got a tutor in Portland, who taught us some of the basics, like the alphabet and some useful set phrases.

Unlike the rest of the language, the Korean alphabet is perhaps the easiest alphabet to learn in the world. In the 15th century, a King named Sejong, tired of writing with Chinese characters, got a bunch of linguists to design a writing system. What they came up with is now known as Hangul, and it is a very straight-forward phonetic alphabet that is organized into syllabic blocks. All the shapes of Hangul represent how to make the sound of the letter with your mouth and tongue - although this isn't always obvious.

For a few months, we had a teacher here in Seoul, but when she quit her job, we never looked for anyone else. This is partly to do with the Korean educational paradigm, that memorization is the same as learning. More to the point is that Korean uses many borrowed words, and that once you are comfortable reading Hangul and understand the way words are transliterated, things get a lot easier. This is not to say that I can communicate well, but I do feel comfortable meeting most of my needs in restaurants, when shopping and in taxis. For all the time and money that Koreans spend on learning English, you won't actually encounter many people willing to speak it, due to their fears of making a mistake.

To give you an idea of the transliteration scheme, here are a few examples. Included is how they sound when sounded out, separated by syllable. Sometimes there are helpful spaces put between words, sometimes there are not.
  • I saw this on a poster. 드러잉: 쇼    Deu-rah-ing: syo. Drawing: Show
  • A tasty meal. 치개산드이츠  Chi-ken-san-deu-i-cheu. Chicken Sandwich
  • The name of a book (and movie). 더리더  Dah-ri-dah. The Reader
  • Another movie. 굿모닝 프레지던트  Goot-mo-ning Peu-reh-ji-dan-teu. Good Morning President
 As you can see, things can be a little confusing, like using the same syllable block in "The Reader" to convey "the" and "der". It is something I've found myself getting better at over time and I'm amazed at the sheer quantity of words used every day that are transliterated from the English. I'll never be able to have a decent conversation with someone in Korean, but that is OK. For now, I'm back to my 아이스 아매리카노 (a-i-seu a-mae-ri-ka-no).