Sunday, December 16, 2007

Vernacular Modernism

I was writing a message to someone the other day and said, "December feels like spinning on a roulette wheel." This week I sort of participated in my first kimjang (though I really showed up after my mother-in-law had done most of the work), Aiden took his second-degree black-belt test at kukiwon, KC had his company holiday party, Max's school called to tell me he has the chicken pox (I rushed there to pick him up and take him to the doctor but it was a false alarm, just a bad case of the hives).

So although I already posted this photo essay, I was behind and got it out quickly (which is why it reads a little haltingly) and realized belatedly I should have scouted around for more Seoul pictures. So if anyone has any shots of modern buildings which include traditional elements (images, roofs, etc.) that you don't mind sharing, drop me an e-mail at yunmay (at) gmail(dot)com. Thanks!

Monday, December 10, 2007

long overdue

Well, this post is long overdue. I’ve taken a little break from my own blog, shame on me. I have written a few hurried and harried things for printculture: Weekend Thoughts, Manhwa (on my son’s cartoon habits -- features bad cartoons drawn by yours truly!), Consumer Thoughts, and Vernacular Modernism?. None are as well-written or well-edited as I would like (if you notice any errors let me know, editing is not a strength of mine, especially when medicated). But the last couple months have not been good for writing. I upped my teaching load, and while I enjoy teaching, it takes a lot of time and energy. I’m also still taking Chinese and looked (briefly) into taking French as well (more on the languages later). KC and I went to Shanghai twice without the kids -- our first times traveling without them -- which went really well, though we missed them a lot. And we’ve had a series of illnesses (everyone except Aiden, who is healthy like an ox), which have sapped my strength. If anyone has had experience with severe vertigo (recurring episodes when you feel like the room is spinning which makes you vomit, lasting for a day or two) let me know.

Saturday night the kids, my mom, and I went to a little blogger get-together hosted by Cat and Miguknamja from Seoullife where I got to reunite with Sandra from hereinkorea and meet Joe and Eun Jeong of ZenKimchi fame and Daniel of Epicourageous in Seoul. We had a great time. I haven’t been to any other blogger get-togethers; it is hard for me to get out at night, especially to the other side of the river, and was out of town for Seoul Man Jon’s meet-up over the summer. Also it was a rather long week, and I had lost a few pounds through illness so it was great to have an evening of indulging in the creations of foodies Joe and Daniel.

So although I was already feeling guilty over my long blogging absence, I felt even worse seeing all these other busy people who somehow are able to stay on top of their blogs.

I have really been enjoying Sandra's posts on learning Korean over the past few months, and I've been meaning to write more about learning Chinese. Other than when someone is sick (I missed 2 weeks of class when Max was sick) I am fairly consistent about attending class, unlike the other students, but I don't have much time to study at home and it is a kick my personal vanity to see that they are still better than I am (in my defense, they've all lived in China at some point). Studying Chinese characters from a young age also gives them a huge advantage. The other day we encountered "目的地” in a text and I didn't know what it meant. The teacher said, "목적지" and I thought, aha! So that's where that word comes from. The Koreans in the class (had they come to class that day...) would have known right away what that meant.

Two trips ago my father wasn't around so I had to bumble my way through restaurants with my poor mandarin. I did have an hour long conversation with a masseuse which went well, but conversations, I realize, are often much easier. You can go around the topics you can't talk about, you can partially control the flow of the conversation, and no one is in a hurry. When you're in a restaurant or store and need something done it is both embarrassing and difficult when you can't find the words, and people don't have that much patience to wait through frantic use of the electronic dictionary.

But this last trip I also realized how much of language learning is guerrilla learning. I was able to (thankfully) follow my father around and listen to what he said. When we needed to add water to the teapot I didn't know what verb to use -- put? add? give more? I used "put" and the waitress understood but I knew it wasn't right. My father used add ("加") which I immediately understood but associated with more of a mathematical context. Then when he wanted to ask the waitress to clear one place setting he used lift ("拿"). I would have thought of "clear" (like in Korean, 치워주세요) or "take" or something. In both cases I immediately understood what he said but wouldn't have known which word to use in those situations. So much of language learning is situational, which is why I become more and more convinced that the only way to really learn a language is to live in the country and speak it every day. My Korean vocabulary isn't all that great, I realize (since my Chinese book is translated into Korean and I often have to look up the Korean translations), but the words I know I really know well. In Chinese I've memorized a lot of vocabulary but I don't know how to use it.

The verb "可以" is another good example. I know it as "to be able to," but is used far more commonly that we use that verb. When getting a massage, to ask if the pressure is ok, they use that verb. Or to ask if something will do (in general) they use that word. It has more of the purchasing power of the English "OK." The Korean verb "되다" is like that -- I knew it first as "to become" but it used in so many ways, from "it's done," to "it's ok," to "that works" and many others. How would you learn all those uses unless you were listening to all the different situations in which the word is used? Like the English word "take" ("take time" "it just didn't take" "take a bath" etc.) these words are so hard to define and explain.

I find the whole process fascinating. At some point (though I really don't have any time) I became enamored with the idea of taking up French again. I took 6 years of French and used to speak it decently well, and it just seems like such an easy language next to Korean and Chinese (and Russian, which I took two years of in college and have forgotten completely). My Chinese class is so cheap (about 100 dollars a month for an hour class 5 days a week) I thought that while I have the opportunity I might as well take another. But I found that French is much more expensive and most of the classes are grammar-oriented (I wanted to take conversation). Oh well. I'm so behind on everything else it was probably a crazy idea in the first place. Mais c'est dommage.