누가 도와준 거예요?! “Who helped you write this?!” Those were the words greeting me as I picked up the phone when my LP called to give me feedback on an essay I had sent to him. 제가 알아서 썼거든요!!”No one, I wrote this alone!!” I exclaimed, not knowing whether I should feel offended at his accusation that I would “cheat” on my Korean essay or to take his disbelief as a compliment. He then went on to tell me that my Korean writing had become much more natural and that there was hardly anything for him to correct in my latest essay. “It used to be very clumsy and awkward, but this time it’s really good!” As always he’s a textbook example of a brutally honest Korean guy practicing the concept of 병주고 약주다, which means first saying something mildly insulting and then following it up by a compliment. I’m obviously used to his style by now and never even blinked when he went all 선생님 on me and continued to scold me for not taking care of my health (I was having the flu at the time), not eating properly (“What are you doing eating a salad?! You need meat to get stronger, you know! Why don’t you have some 삼겹살??”), and then a final scolding for not having told him that I was sick in the first place. (“Why didn’t you say anything?!! I worry about you!”) I was quite confused as to who was the older one of us (it’s me by the way) when he was finally done lecturing me! This phone call really made for some excellent Korean listening practice. However, in terms of culture, all this is just a classic example of Korean 정, the very special and far-reaching Korean friendly love. Always rest assured that a Korean who comments on your eating habits is a Korean who truly cares for you.
After having digressed into my health and eating habits, and finally being convinced that I really didn’t cheat, he actually wanted to know how I had my improved my writing, so I thought I’d share this here with you too. It’s very simple really: I just started reading, reading, and reading. I’m reading in Korean all through the day and just like that I have felt my writing flow much more naturally. The more you read in your target language, the more words and expressions are stored in your brain. And the more you read the more you pay attention to the details of the language. Each language has its own set of fixed expressions and standard ways of writing, and Korean is no different. Compared to English, which is a very direct language, Korean is very vague and indirect. Take for instance the English expression “who knew?”. It’s something I often find myself saying whenever I learn of something for the first time, like “We have an ATM next to the parking lot? Who knew?”. In Korean a similar expression would be 이런 것을 아는 사람이 어디 있을까요? (lit. where is a person who knows this?). In English this sounds fairly cumbersome, but nonetheless it’s a standard Korean expression. In a similar way, Koreans write “it seems that” as “것으로 보인다”. In general it has taken me some time to feel comfortable using the “로” particle when I’m writing, but I feel I’ve come to really embrace it thereby enabling myself to write very versatile sentences that sound naturally Korean. Afterall, 로 can mean several things spanning “through”, “with”, “to”, “by”, and “as”. More than enough for some initial confusion, but I guess all it took was a lot of reading to get it right. Finally, a very good Korean phrase that instantly gives your writing a quality lift is 그럼에도 불구하고 meaning “despite this” or “nonetheless”.
I’ll post my essay on North Korea’s export of propaganda statues to African dictators here below. I didn’t choose the topic (nor did I cheat!). The essay is based on an article which I was assigned by my LP:
北 최대한 수출품은 ’거대 동상’ … BBC ”아프리카 수출해 수천만 달러 벌어”
북한은 세계적으로 알려진 나라이지만 북한의 가장 인기가 많은 제품은 바로 거대한 동상이라는 것을 아는 사람이 어디 있을까? 북한이라고 하면 주로 먼저 떠올리는 것은 ’독재’, ’공산’, ’전쟁’ 등 같은 단어이다. 북한은 수출국으로 보는 사람들이 많지 않는 것 같다. 그럼에도 불구하고 영국 BBC에서 나온 방상 따르면 북한의 최대 수출픔은 동상과 선전물이라고 한다. 북한에서 그런 거대한 동상이 있는지 모든 사람들이 잘 알고 있지만, 그런 제품 그야말로 다른 나라로 수출된다는 사실을 알게 된 사람이 없는가 (없지 않을까) 싶다. 이 동상은 주로 아프리카로 수출되고 특히 세네갈, 짐바브웨, 모잠비크 같은 나라에서 북한산 동상과 선전물의 인기가 가장 많다고 한다. 이 나라들은 바로 북한처럼 독재라서 그런 제품이 필요한 것 같다. 나는 처음 이 기사를 읽었을 때 많이 놀랬다. 왜냐하면 그때까지 항상 북한을 가난하고 불쌍한 나라로 보았다. 그리고 무엇보다, 북한은 고립한 나라로서 국제적인 무역을 절대로 안 하는 국가인 줄 알았다. 그러나 실은 반대인 것 같다. 게다가 북한은 이 국제적인 무역으로 인하여 많은 돈을 벌 수도 있는 것어로 보인다.