What is Gangnam Style

Before my husband left this morning, I was humming a bit of Gangnam Style to myself. “I refuse to watch this”, he retorted. Only after I explained that PSY’s piece of music is a mocking of the rampant consumerism taking place in Gangnam, the richest and most expensive suburb of Seoul, did he show some interest.

Yes, Gangnam never sleeps. The young and rich are out cruising the streets at night in designer suits and Armani glasses. As one Korean expat noted, “You see more German cars in Gangnam than on German roads”.

Gangnam’s boom took place in the late 1990s with real estate prices rising to an all-time high. Now add designer shops, chic restaurants, high-class hotels, reputable cram schools, and young people with money to this.

PSY himself was born into a rich Gangnam family and I find it interesting that he now would take a swipe at his own class of people.

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The Joys of Teaching

For our forthcoming trip to Korea and Japan, I’ve gotten a lot us useful advice from my Korean students in regards to our two-day stay in Seoul.

1) Do not take the subway. So I have asked some of my former students to have our reunion at the hotel we are staying. Seoul has many eating and drinking places everywhere, so we plan on doing everything from there in walking distance.

2) Take sunglasses. As of now, the Yellow Dust (HwangSa) from China is sweeping over the peninsula, so we need to protect our eyes and we might have to buy some surgical masks as well.

3) Beware of pickpockets. Sounds like any big city in Europe, where we also need to travel with caution.

4) Beware of counterfeit. In order to learn to recognize counterfeit, I was given a lesson by a fourth-grader. He brought all kinds of Korean bills with him, pointing out the watermarks, the silver stripe in some of them, raised textures on some, and more details almost too tiny to see with one’s eyes.

Last, but not least, my local bank had told me I could not buy Korean currency in Germany. This I will have to do with euro cash at the Incheon Airport bank.

That same fourth-grader was also concerned I might go hungry, when I arrive in Seoul without Korean money in my wallet. So he gave me this bill below, so I could buy myself two lunches in Seoul.

Korean Won currency

His concern for me was the nicest present I have ever been given by a student. I offered him euro in exchange, but he wouldn’t have it. All I had to do in return was my promise to him to have a good time.

Corn Ice-cream from Korea

Around the Oberursel area, we get all kinds of ethic, exotic, and extra-terrestrial food, or so it seems. The latest contribution to my collection in tasting unusual food was this corn ice-cream.

A Korean student had brought it to the lesson, and when I saw the wrapper, I did not associate a picture of corn cubs with ice-cream. Except for that it was very cold to the touch.

Corn ice-cream from Korea

Low and behold, it did contain corn-flavored ice-cream, complete with kernels.

corn-flavored ice-cream

… and surprisingly, it tasted very good! Asians do have a knack for combining ingredients in unusual combinations, such as using vegetables in an ice-cream. The Asian market seems to be more willing to try out new concoctions.

The Japanese have a proverb – roughly translated:

If you eat or drink something you have never tasted before, you get to live an extra 70 days.

If you are in the Oberursel area and would like to try this ice-cream, then visit Handok.

대한민국 and World Cup 2010

A personal message:

As I look out the window, I see German flags draped over balconies for tomorrow’s game.

Our own balcony hosts the Korean flag for today’s game South Korea – Greece.

To all my Korean friends – I will be rooting for your team. Now, where is my red shirt…


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South Korea’s Newest Commodity: Hangul

Hangul (한글) is not a product, but a language getting exported from now on. Hangul, the Korean alphabet, has long been the underdog in regards to foreign language teaching and learning.

Based on an article in the New York Times, this perception is about to change with the help of an affluent Korean woman, Lee Ki-nam. Her mission is to bring education with the help of establishing a written language (in this case, Hangul) to less fortunate people in Indonesia.

Tribes, such as the Cia-Cia ethnic minority in Baubau, have already sent a teacher to Seoul to learn all about Hangul and now he is teaching his local language, with the help of Hangul writing, to 50 third graders in his native village.

Opponents claim other countries might then want to bring their language writing too. This I really doubt. Learning Chinese is way too complex and time-consuming (my son is studying Mandarin), Japanese consists of three different writing scripts – Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana (I studied Japanese for two years while living there for three years). I have also learned to read and write the Korean alphabet, which is truly a simplified version, when compared to the other two.

Hangul was promulgated by King Sejong in 1446, who wanted to enable the lower classes some form of education. Up until then only the elite had the luxury to read Chinese literature, but nothing in the Korean sound.

In an era of globalization, Mrs. Lee’s efforts would be called philanthropic, if she exported the dominating Roman letters. Her efforts in spreading the Korean writing style are sadly not appreciated enough yet.

I will support her Hangul project and… I have to get back to my Korean study book now. 안녕!

For more information on study books:

Integrated Korean: Beginning Level in Germany
Read & Speak Korean for Beginners (Book w/Audio CD): The Easiest Way to Communicate Right Away! U.K.
Integrated Korean: Beginning Level U.S.A.

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