Saturday, April 30, 2011


Jangseung are Korean totem poles carved with scary figures with name such as "Great General Under the Heaven" or "Great Woman General Under the Ground." The generals once stood in pairs at village entrances, repelling evil spirits and providing safe passage for travelers, who bowed before the posts. Mothers and wives whose men were traveling laid rice cakes, rice wine or dried fish at the feet of the poles. Jangseung were road guardians and served as road signs on the boundaries or towns and countries.

Jangseung poles are usually pines and chestnut tree trunks, about 10 feet tall. The top of a typical one is carved into a face with bulging eyes, a big, bulbous nose, snaggleteeth, along beard and a gaping hole of a mouth. The sinewy shape of the crooked pine tree adds to the totem pole's intimidating look. The stooping figures stare down reproachfully. Many a village kid shuddered on approaching these figures at dusk. Grandmothers warned the young: "The Jangseung will hoist itself out of the ground and fly after you if you don't behave."

No two totem poles look the same. Their shapes and names reflect Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist or animist beliefs and the artistic touch of their makers. Their faces grin, sneer or frown, depending on what angle you look at them. Buddhist monks and Confucian scholars tolerated the homegrown spiritual symbols, but many disappeared after the arrival of Christianity in Korea in the 19th century. Some rural villages still have jangseung.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Korean School

Wangtta (Loser) and bullying are problems - some would say an outgrowth - of South Korea's strict school system, in which pressure to succeed is enormous. Rote-learning for college entrance exams is such that high schools are referred to as "exam hell".

Teachers of old were stern and unforgiving. Confucian ideas stressed that the "king, teacher and father are one and the same" (gunsabuilche). In old schools called Seodang, or "Houses of Letters", the teacher sat cross-legged on the floor, his hand occasionally sweeping his long beard. He wore a horsehair top hat, read dog-eared Confucian textbooks spread on a small table, and stared down at students with "tiger's eyes". Students knelt before the teacher and read their textbooks on the floor. Boys who failed to memorized poems and textbooks were summoned and told to roll up their trouser legs. The teacher's bamboo stick whistled through the air and landed on trembling calves. Other boys waiting their turn, winced at every blow. Hence, the expression, "If you have to be whipped, it's best to be whipped first".

Gyopyeon japda, or "picking up the educational rod," is the Korean expression for becoming a teacher. The paddle euphemistically referred to as the "rod of love."

All Korean men remember a punishment called "Wonsan Bombardment". The victim put his head on the ground and then raised his hips, forming an arch with his body. Only his head and two feet touch the ground. His hands were locked behind his back. With the student poised in this painful position, a teacher sometimes whacked his buttocks with a rod. It was a common punishment in the South Korean military as well.

Parents and children occasionally report bruises, burst eardrums and other injuries afflicted by teachers. The Education Ministry allows teachers to use corporal punishment only when it is "inevitable for educational purposes". It bans teachers from beating students with broom sticks, slippers, belts, rolled-up newspapers or attendance books.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Life as War. South Koreans shout "Fighting" in English when they cheer sports teams, ship off children to colleger entrance exams, and toast each other at a team-building office party. Korean also say "Gonbae" (cheers) or "Dry your glass" - when they toast which means "Bottoms Up!"

Expressions of war or struggle, litter everyday talk. Cars honk in a "war for parking space" (juchajeonjaeng) in Seoul, where traffic is an ordeal.

In an "exam war" (ipsijeonjaeng), wealthy parents spend thousands of dollars a month on private tutoring for their children to pass university entrance exams. A family's reputation still rises and falls on whether its kids get into college. For days ahead of the exams, mothers pray all night at Buddhist temples and Christian churches. On exam day, always in the winter, mothers bundle up and pray outside the school, some holding prayer beads.

On big holidays, millions of Koreans hit the roads in a "going home war" (gwihyangjeonjaeng). They head for hometowns to perform ancestral rites.

The origins of all this fighting talk may lie partly in Korea's violent history and the South's underdog drive to succeed in the shadow of two big powers, China and Japan. Korean endured repression and deprivation during Japan's colonial rule and rose from the ruins of the Korean War to build one of the world's biggest economies.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ppalli Ppalli

Hurry! Hurry! Koreans say "ppalli ppalli" when they want others to speed up. The term now symbolizes Koreans' penchant for rushing things.

A favorite order at a restaurant is, "What's the fastest food you serve here?" Language institutes advertise sok sung - or "fast-result" -courses. Many passengers jostle in the aisles of a plane, taking down luggage, impatient to get off, eventhough the plane is still taxiing after landing. Bus passengers get up and lurch to the doors before the vehicle stops. They rush because the driver is impatient to move on to the next stop.

Ppalli ppalli is a Korean term widely known among restaurant owners and tour guides in Southeast Asia, Guam and Saipan - popular destinations for South Korean tourists.

Sociologists attribute ppalli ppalli to the country's rapid economic growth. South Korea was reduced to ashes during the Korean War, but built itself into one of the world's largest economies.

Some taxi drivers honk horns and yell at the other cars that move slowly. South Korea has one of the world's highest traffic accident rates.

Koreans have not always been in a hurry. The ancient elite considered running below their dignity. Sociologists say Korean began changing as they went through the chaos and great rush began when Park Chung-hee, an authoritarian general who ruled for 18 years until his assination in 1979, sheperded the nation into rapid industrialization. He emphasized getting things done quickly, rewarding companies that built roads, bridges and plants faster than scheduled.

Gonggidanchuk, or "shortening the construction period", used to be proud motto among Korean builders. Now the phrase is associated with sloppy workmanship.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Onomatopoeic Korean Words

Animals, insects and things create different sounds in Korea. Animals, insects, etc are also Koreans so don't be surprised if the dog doesn't say "woof woof" or "arf, arf" or "bowwow" but says "meong meong" or "kang-kang" instead.

Here are some of the onomatopoeic Korean words.

kko-kki-o = cock-a doodle-doo

wing wing = buzz of a bee

kung! = thud, thump

kwang! = a door slam

jjaek-kkak, jaekh-kkak = tick-tock of a clock

jjaek jjaek = tweet tweet, the chirp of a bird

ppi-yak ppi-yak = peep peep of a chick

bu-geul bu-geul = the bubbling of boiling water

wak-ja-ji-keol, or wa-geul wa-geul, or si-kkeul-beok-jeok = hubbub

heol-le beol-tteok = hurly-burly of a hurrying, confused person

kang-kang, meong-meong = woof or bowwow of a dog

kking kking = whine of a dog

chik-chik pok-pok = choo choo, puff of a steam locomotive

ppang-ppang = honk honk of a car

kul kul = snoring

sae-geun, sae-geun = breathing of a sleeping baby

kkul kkul = oink oink of a pig

hu du du = pitter-patter of rain

dal-geu-rak, dal-geu-rak = clackety-clack of typewriter keys

eong eong = boo-hoo of a weeping man

nyam nyam = munch crunch

bu-reung bu-reung = vroom of a car

pi yung = zing, or whiz of an arrow or bullet

ping = twang of a bow

tu-deol, tudeol = mutter, mumble of a person

dwing-gul dwing-gul = a rolling object, or a lazy man shifting his body on the floor

cheom beong = splash of something falling into water

du-geun du-geun = the sound and feeling of a throbbing heart

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cherry Blossoms at Sangnok Park

My hubby invited me to take a walk. He also asked if there was something in my mind that I wanted to go. I said I wanted to see flowers. Cherry blossoms of course because they are famous in Spring. Then he said, prepare and let's go see some flowers.

We went to Sangnok Park. Just 10 minutes drive from my place. There were lots of people and it was hard to find a parking lot. There were lots of stores in the street and inside the park. Even when you don't get inside the park, you'll see lots of cherry blossoms from the road going to the park. But of course it's more beautiful inside.

I don't know why they are called cherry blossoms when they are not cherry trees. hehehehe...

Lots of vendors selling snacks, drinks, toys for kids, and different kinds of food like pork, chicken, alcohol, etc.

Aaah, I feel comforted and relaxed whenever I see flowers. How much more the cherry blossoms where the trees is full of flowers.

Btw, you can't only see cherry blossoms but also this beautiful flowers.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hwanseon Cave

I said i've never been to a cave. So when I saw the sign that there is a cave in Kangwondo (Gangwon, Province) near Samcheok, I told my hubby that I wanted to see it. We went to Hwanseon Cave, one of the largest limestone caves in Asia and the biggest in Korea. Over one million people visited each year. It was cold when we went there but it was warm inside. I think it also makes it cooler in the summer because once inside, the temperature varies between 10° and 14°C. The cave is open year-round and takes about an hour to traverse 1.6 km on steel catwalks, not including the 1.3 km long, 200 m climb to and from the entrance.

From the entrance, you have to walk about 1km. to the monorail. But you can just walk or climb but because we were tired and it was freezing so we decided to take the monorail.

It costs about 5,000 won (around $5) if i'm not mistaken.

We finally reached the cave. There weren't many people. Maybe we were the first customer on that day. We were the early birds. Besides, there weren't many people go to the cave in winter season.

I was amazed of what I have seen inside. I was scared at first, because I thought caves have plenty of bats. But luckily, I've never seen any here in Hwanseon Cave so I just enjoyed the beauty of the cave inside.

There's even waterfalls.

The high rate of water flow has prevented the building up of many stalagmites or stalactites.