Friday, 31 August 2012

Goodbye, Camera

My camera has been through a lot. It's been knocked, bashed, rained on, snowed on, dented, dropped, used and abused for almost three years. It's been all over the world with me, from Korea to China to Japan to Italy to England, and it's taken thousands upon thousands of photographs.

But now it seems my trusty old camera has finally bitten the dust. It's been knocked one too many times, and has decided to give up the ghost. Time to say an emotional farewell to all our happy snappy memories together. Goodbye, clunky old camera! (I'll be trading you in for a newer, smarter, model!)

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Something Fun

This is something cool I bought in Daiso in Korea. It's a kind of play clay for kids:

Fruits 'n' veg set (과일과 채소) only 3000원 (£1.60)!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

둘래길 Pictures

Most mountains in Korea have signposted trails called '둘레길' (dule-gil). Rather than leading you up the mountain to the summit, 둘레길 paths circle the mountain's base.  This generally means that 둘레길 hikes are less physically demanding, but it also means you get to see the rich and varied sights of life around the perimeters of the mountain.

The most popular place to hike near Seoul is Bukhansan National Park (북한산국립공원), a massive area to the north of the city that encompasses Bukhansan and Dobongsan. I usually go there to follow trails up to the peaks, but when I decided to take the 둘레길 route for a change, I found some really interesting scenery. I got off the subway at Dobongsan station (도봉산역), walked through the market stalls and crowds of weekend hikers, and then just followed the 'Dulegil signs' ...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Know Your Onni from Your Oppa

Korea has a complex system of rules for addressing other people. Unlike in most English-speaking countries, friends and colleagues don't usually call each other simply by their names.

As a foreigner in Korea, people don't expect you to know all these rules, but it helps to try! How you address someone depends on their age, social position, relationship to you, whether they are male or female, and sometimes whether you are male or female, too. In particular, the importance of the 'respect your elders' rule in Korean culture means that you need to be careful about how you address older people.

I've put together a guide to as many of the various ways of addressing other people in Korean that I can think of ... Although, even after two years in Korea I still get totally confused by it and make mistakes! I usually call my friends by their first names or English nicknames, but try to use Korean forms of address for anyone else.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


My favourite Korean drink is a traditional rice brew called makgeolli (막걸리). It looks kind of like milk with a sediment at the bottom, tastes thick and tangy, comes in dodgy-looking plastic bottles and is often drunk by old men, but I love it.

Seoul Style

In Seoul, everyone dresses well. It's important. Even on the subway, you won't see ripped jeans or unwashed jumpers. Guys have super-styled hair, clean crisp shirts and man-bags, while girls have high heels, short skirts and fresh salon manicures. You can see them checking themselves, even posing to take sel-ca (photos of themselves) with their expensive smart phones. Having the latest smart phone in hand is an accessory must, and a trendy-coloured bridge camera or compact DSLR hanging from the neck always gets bonus style points.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

있다 or 이다?

Korean confusion warning: 있다 and 이다. These are two of the most important bits of language in Korean, yet they are easy to get muddled up when you first start learning.

있다 and 이다 correspond roughly to the English verbs 'to have', and 'to be'. However, the way we use the verbs 'to have' and 'to be' in English is quite different to the way we use 있다 and 이다 in Korean.  Don't panic, though - you'll hear both of these all the time, so it's easy to pick up when and how to use them.

Here are a few usage points to consider:

1. 이다 plus adjectives? X
In English we use the structure 'subject + be + adjective', eg. 'I am pretty' (yeah, very useful example).
In Korean, instead of using 'adjectives', we use 'descriptive verbs'. So the structure is:
subject + subject marker particle + descriptive verb
 eg. '예뻐'  ( + 는 + 예쁘다)

There is no '이다' in this sentence, as '예쁘다' already means 'to be pretty'.
So it's important to remember that '이다' cannot 'describe' a characteristic. You can't 'be' an adjective in Korean. When it comes to 이다, you can only 'be' a noun.

2. Location plus 있다
When you want to say 'Where is something?' or 'It's there,' in Korean, you usually need to use the verb 있다. For example, '학교어디에 있어요?' (Where is the school?). In this case, 있다 can be translated not as 'to have', but rather as 'to exist (somewhere)', so the sentence literally means something like 'Where does the school exist?' Here are some more examples:

'책상 위에  가 있어요? -- 이 있어요.'
'What's on the desk? -- There's a book.'
(Could be translated as 'The desk has what on top? -- It has a book.', or 'What exists on the desk's top? -- a book exists')

'친구들한강에 있어'
'My friends are at the Han river.'

Of course, it's not as simple as just always using '있다', because there are some cases when '이다' (예요/이에요) is used to talk about location (you'll hear '어디예요?' a lot). This can get a little complicated, but generally it's best to use 있다 to describe the location of an object or person, meaning of course that the object or person 'exists' in that location.

In order to understand the reason for all of this, you need to know that 있다 is a verb, but 이다 is not actually a verb, it's something else and has a specific function:

You can think of 이다 as meaning 'to be equal to', which may make it easier to distinguish when you can and can't use it. I think that the main difference between this and the English verb 'to be' is that in English you can say '(noun) is (adjective)' or '(noun) is (somewhere)', but in Korean when using 이다 you can only say '(noun) is (noun)' or '(somewhere) is (somewhere)', otherwise you'll have to use a structure without 이다. I'm still trying to get my head around this myself!

있다 on the other hand is not too difficult to understand really, but it has a few different functions - as I said before, it usually means either 'to have' or 'to exist (somewhere)', or something to that effect, and it's a regular verb. Makes sense after a while!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Korean Menus #4 - 포장마차

Today's Korean menu translation: 포장마차 (street food) !

Here's a look at some of the tasty fare on offer at a regular food stand in a regular Korean street.
Most of the items on this menu are quite common.

Useful vocab:

  It sounds more like 'hat', but this is actually the Korean way to write the English word 'hot'.
  Another English word. It means 'ham' but sounds more like 'hem' in Korean!
ddeok, or tteok. This is very common in Korea. The word means any kind of Korean rice cake, which come in many different shapes, sizes and textures. (In the menu below, however, the word 떡 is used as part of another food name, which is not made of rice but is kind of shaped like a rice cake).
맛살 If you search for this word in Naver's dictionary, it comes up as 'razor-clam meat', while '게맛살' comes up as 'crab-sticks'. Actually, both '게맛살' and '맛살' usually just mean 'crab-sticks', i.e. those processed pink fishy strips. Like ... the Spam of seafood. Very popular in kimbap!

All the items this vendor is selling are listed on the outside of her stand in big bold writing (read top-to-bottom). I like this stand for learning food names, because each item is written in a different colour so you can read and memorise it more easily!

오뎅 odeng (skewered fish cake strips)
핫도그  hot dog (not really a hot dog, but a vile kind of battered sausage on a stick)
햄소세지  ham sausage (I think this one is just a plain sausage on a stick)
핫바  hot bar (a kind of um, hot sausage-shaped something on a stick)
맛살 말이 crab-stick roll (crab-sticks rolled up in omelette!)
계란 egg (although I've no idea how the egg would come if you ordered just 'egg' ...)
떡갈비 ddeok galbi (Korean meatballs or meat patties)
아이스크림 ice cream (does she really have ice cream hidden back there somewhere??)
고구마스틱 sweet potato sticks (the yellow things in plastic cups you can see on the right)
솜사탕 cotton candy (솜 = cotton, 사탕 = candy)

I feel a bit sick just looking at all of these! Most of them I've never tried before, but I love odeng. One thing's for sure, Korean street snacks were not designed to be healthy!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Korean Menus #3 - 산에서

Today's menu sign: 북한산 만석장 - A restaurant at Bukhansan mountain park.

There are always lots of places to get food around the mountain trails in Korea. After a long and tiring hike, a good hot meal at a tent restaurant is the best feeling ever!

The items in black on this sign read from top to bottom, not left to right.