Sunday, September 30, 2012

KOREAN CULTURE: Korean Thanksgiving Day (1)

Hangawi (한가위) or Chuseok (추석)


The Harvest Moon on Hangawi (Newsis)


Today is Korean Thanksgiving Day, the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, which is referred to in Korean by a variety of different names including Chuseok (추석(秋夕)), Jungchu (중추 (中秋)), Jungchujeol (중추절 (仲秋節)), Gabae-il (가배일 (嘉俳日)), Gawinnal (가윗날), and Hangawi (한가위). It is widely believed to originate from Gabae (가배 (嘉俳)) that involved Gabe (가베) or Gilssam (길쌈), a month-long hemp cloth weaving contest held by King Yuri, the third king (24–57) of the Silla Dynasty (57 BC–935 AD).

According to Samguksagi (삼국사기, “History of the Three Kingdoms”), starting the 16th day of the 7th month through the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, two groups of women respectively led by two princesses were gathered together in the royal courtyard every morning to weave hemp cloth. On the last day of competition, the team that had woven more cloth was announced as that year’s winner and the defeated team treated them to a feast and also entertained them with songs and dances. Such festivities were called Gabae (가배(嘉俳)), a phonetically translated word (from native Korean into Chinese). I think the “” sound in the word was “” (순경음 비읍, “light  labial sound ”)2 which sounds like /v/ as the word changed to Ga-oe (가외) in the 17th century then to Gawi (가위) in the 18th century.


Gilssam by Kim Hongdo (18th century wash painting)


Even though this is the most popular hypothesis about the origin of Korean  Thanksgiving Day, Hangawi, it’s still quite controversial as some people believe the story of the weaving contest was made up based on the fact the word be (, “hemp (cloth)”) sounds similar to bae () of Gabae (가배 (嘉俳)), which is a phonetically translated Chinese word from the native Korean Gave (가베); and the meaning of gave (가베) is just “middle”:



On the other hand, the word Chuseok (추석(秋夕)) first appeared, along with Jungchu (중추(中秋)), in the 17th century literature as Chyusyeok (츄셕). Chuseok translates to “Autumn Evening” in which chu (()) and seok (()) respectively mean “autumn” and “evening”; Jungchu translates to “Middle of Autumn” in which jung (() ) and chu (() ) respectively mean “middle” and “autumn.” The day is called Chuseok and Jungchu as it’s the 15th day (middle) of the 8th month (autumn) of the lunar calendar when we see the harvest (full) moon.

Major Korean national holidays set based on boreum, the 15th of the month when the moon reaches its fullest include Jeongweol Daeboreum or Sangweon (the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar), Baekjung or Jungwoen (the 15th of the seventh month of the lunar calendar), and Hangawi or Chuseok (the 15th of the eighth month of the lunar calendar).  The moon epitomizes birth, fertility, creation, and abundance and in ancient Korea, agriculture was the sole means of living; thus, good harvests determined the quality of their lives.  In other words, farmers, the majority of the people of ancient Korea, always hoped for abundant output and a good year, so they earnestly prayed to the goddess of the moon, at the beginning of the year, that their hopes and wishes would come true.  And they would be filled with the fullest anticipation waiting for the time the moon would reach its fullest - the ultimate symbol of abundance.  And after the harvest, they gave thanks to the goddess of the moon; accordingly, it is also believed Korean Thanksgiving Day probably originates from the ancient shamanistic celebration of the harvest (full) moon.

And just like they do days before Seollal, over 31 million people who live mainly in Seoul and other major big cities, far away from their hometowns hence far apart from their parents and relatives, are already heading home starting yesterday (9/29/2012).  Here’s two typical Korean cliché headlines to describe all this hoopla: (1) Maeumun seollego balgeoreumun babbeuda (마음은 설레고 발걸음은 바쁘다), which translates to (Homeward-bounders) fluttering hearts and busy feet; and (2) Gosokdoroga juchajanguro byeonhaedda (고속도로가 주차장으로 변했다), which literally means "A highway turned into a parking lot," to describe so horrible a traffic jam that nothing is moving forward.


Homeward-bound vehicles for Hangawi holiday
form endless lines on a highway (Yonhap News9/30/2012)


This great exodus is called guiseong (귀성歸省), a Sino-Korean word (i.e. a word of Chinese origin),  which has the same connotation of English phrase coming home.  In this phrase, coming can only be used when the person you're going to is already there; so you’re “coming home” to your parents or relatives who live there.  In a word guiseong, gui means “to return” and seong “to look after or take care of,” so you’re “returning home” or “coming home” after a long absence “to care for your parents’ health if they are still alive or to visit their graves if they already passed away.”

On the other hand, there are tons of people out there in Seoul or other big cities who cannot come home because they are too busy with jam-packed schedules, because they have an infant child who can’t stand very long in a car, or simply because they can’t afford a trip.  So now we have a latest trend in coming home - yeokguiseong (역귀성, 逆歸省) which literally translates to reverse coming home.  These are creative actions taken by the old parents having to meet up with their not-so-young children.  This reverse coming home has one outstanding advantage:  Parents don’t have to worry about traffic jams or exhaustingly crowded bus trips since everybody’s going home when they’re coming to cities like Seoul and after long holiday weekend everybody’s going back to cities when they’re coming back home.  When parents come home to their kids, they never forget to bring two or four armfuls of homegrown produce or mom’s foods for the kids.

Still, more than half of the entire population of South Korea (31 million people out of 50 million) is escaping from big cities, to come home to their families who have lived there for generations.  And this morning, some fathers must have cleaned up every corner of their houses, expecting their grown-up children and/or grandchildren, and most mothers must gone groceries at traditional local markets or prepared traditional foods for Hangawi - all with fluttering hearts and busy feet.



1.  Idu (or Yidu, 이두) is an archaic writing system that phonetically translates the native Korean words into Chinese.  Some of those phonetically translated words are semantically identical with the Chinese letters used (e.g., balgui (발긔  件記(발기) “list”)) while others just borrow the phonetic pronunciations of the Chinese letters used (e.g., jo-i (조이 召史(조이) “commoner’s wife”).  This system was conceived in the Gojoseon period (2333 BC–108 BC) and started being used in earnest in the period of the Three Kingdoms of Korea (57-668). It was mainly used by the (royal) officials thus was named Idu (이두(吏座)) in which i (()) and du (()) respectively mean “officials” and “place/status.”

2.  The Korean alphabet, Hangul, originally had 28 letters consisting of 17 consonants and 11 vowels (Their sounds are described based on the English IPA chart for the sake of your easy understanding.):

     Consonants: (/g/), (/k/), (/d/), (/t/), (/n/),
                          (/b/), (/p/), (/m/), (/ʒ/), (/t͡ʃ/),
                          (/s/),(/h/),(/ŋ/),(/r/,/l/), (light /h/),
                          (alveolar /z/),(velar /ŋ/)

     Vowels:  (/ɯ/), (/i/), (/o/), (/a/), (/u/),(/ə/),
                    (/jo/), (/ja/), (/ju/),(/jə/),(/ʌ/ as in “but”)

And there were 18 side-by-side double or triple consonants such as (/gg/), (/dd/), (/bb/), (/ʒʒ/), (/ss/), (/hh/),(/ŋŋ/), (/nn/), , , , , , , , , , ; and 4 top-down double consonants such as ,,, and. Among the latter consonant group, sounds like /v/ and was the only sound that was actually used.

There were also diphthongs such as (/wa/), (/wə/), (/ʌi/), (/ɯi/), (/ø/), (/ae/), (/wi/), (/e/), etc.

The modern Korean alphabet now has 28 letters consisting of 14 consonants and 10 vowels:

    Consonants: (/g/), (/n/), (/d/), (/l/,/r/), (/m/),
                          (/b/), (/s/), (/ŋ/), (/ʒ/), (/t͡ʃ/),
                          (/k/), (/t/), (/p/), (/h/)

    Vowels:  (/ɯ/), (/i/), (/o/), (/a/), (/u/),(/ə/),
                   (/jo/), (/ja/), (/ju/),(/jə/)

including 5 double consonants ((/gg/), (/dd/), (/bb/), (/ss/), (/ʒʒ/) and 11 consonant clusters ((/gs/), (/nʒ/), (/nh/), (/lg/), (/lm/), (/lb/), (/ls/), (/lt/), (/lp/), (/lh/), (/bs/)) and 11 diphthongs ((/ae/), (/jae/), (/e/), (/je/), (/wa/), (/wae/), (/ø/), (/wə/), (/we/), (/wi/), (ɯi)).

3.  The obsolete light labial sound “”(/v/) changes to /w/ or drops between vowels and such changes still remain in Korean (and you can also see such changes in the pronunciations of the letter "w" in German "wagen" (/vagen/) and in English “wagon" (/waegən/)):

    deobda(덥다): deoveoyo ()→deowoyo (더워요) “It’s hot.”
    gomabda(고맙다): gomaveoyo (고마)
                                 →gomawoyo (고마워요) “Thank you.”
   ● gobge(곱게): govi ()→go-i(고이) “beautifully”

In the Gyeongsangdo province, located in the southeast of Korea, you can still see the remains of the light labial sound “” though: Instead of Deowoyo (, “It’s hot”), for example, they use Deobeoyo (, “It’s hot”).



My Other Posts about Korean Culture & Holidays:
Korean New Year (Seollal) : (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
The First Full Moon Festival (Daeboreum): (1) (2) (3) (4)

Friday, September 28, 2012

KOREA FACTS: L'Express Dokdo Article by Pascal Dayez-Burgeon


프랑스 렉스프레스 독도 기사


Pascal Dayez-Burgeon, Deputy Director of the Institute of Communication Sciences of the CNRS, recently contributed an article to L'Express, covering the recent disputes over the Dokdo sovereignty. I translated the article 'cause I thought it's a great read for those who don't know much about Asian/world history. The translation was done with help of Google Translator and based on my very limited knowledge of French I had acquired during the last two years of my college, a long, long time ago. Thus, you'll find many errors/mistakes in my translation and please let me know if you find any. (Note that my footnotes and elaborations are parenthesized.)


Japan-South Korea: "A Past That Does Not Pass"

Written by Pascal Dayez-Burgeon (9/27/2012)
Translated by ONSEMIRO
(Link to the original L'Express article)


Both countries oppose (each other's) sovereignty over some islets in the South China Sea (I think L'Express meant to say "the East Sea"). The specialist of the region Pascal Dayez-Burgeon sees "provocation" above all things. As he sees it, the Japanese government uses this conflict to "divert the (people's) attention from the environmental concerns" after Fukushima.


Dokdo - Japan claims the sovereignty over these volcanic islets currently held by South Korea. 
Pascal Dayez-Burgeon, Deputy Director of the Institute of Communication Sciences 
of the CNRS, sees "provocation."   Reuters / Korea Pool / Newsis



















Do you know Dokdo? Before, except for the specialized geographers or the champions of the 1000 Euro games, no French people would have been able to answer such a question. But from this summer, (they) know (what it is).

Located in the middle of the sea surrounding the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Archipelago, Dokdo is the volcanic islets of Korea over which Tokyo claims the sovereignty. To confirm that there is no question, South Korean President LMB made a highly publicized visit (to the islets) at the end of August, which incurred the anger of the Japanese nationalists. And for a few hours (after his visit), the two countries had been at loggerheads.

(Is it) Picrochole's quarrel (with the King Grandgousier) or Asian Clochemerle? We'll see: What if Germany, which had occupied France for four years, claimed/annexed Ouessant Island or Ré Island that has always belonged to France? We would not appreciate/accept (it). Roughly speaking, it is the same for the Koreans who can hardly tolerate Japan which still has its eye on even a tiny part of their territory after having colonized the country for nearly 40 years (1910-1945). (And we) can understand (them).

Of course, there is no shortage of explanations for the matter. Dokdo has an economic and strategic interest/advantage that has not escaped Japan and Tokyo is leveraging some legal loopholes to try its luck. Especially, however, the widely discredited Japanese authorities since the Fukushima disaster, without admitting it, see it absolutely favorable for them to stir up nationalistic tensions: they divert the (people's) attention from the environmental concerns.

A Much Deeper Problem

A few weeks after (Lee's visit to) Dokdo, Japan has also opened up a new front along the Diaoyo Archipelago located not far from Taiwan, to the chagrin of Beijing. When people insult (one another), they become oblivious to their real problems.

But when we take a closer look, the problem is much more profound. The wounds of (Japanese) occupation still remain unhealed, (unsolved) between Korea and Japan. Certainly, the division of the (Korean) Peninsula, the forced deportation of the Koreans to the imperial army against their will, or the trafficking of the (Korean) girls to use them as "comfort women" (i.e., sex slaves) for Japanese soldiers were financially compensated. And the Japanese officials, including the King, even expressed their deep regret. However, unlike what Germany did about the Holocaust, Tokyo has never assumed full responsibility for their wrongdoings toward the Korean people.

Nationalism, racism, imperialism in disguise? The question is not so much to explain the Japanese attitude that observes the consequences. In the medium term, their calculation could appear profitable. In refusing to admit to the accusations Korea makes, Japan has kept the upper hand on it.

Cynicism That May Be Harmful

For the economic or political reasons, Tokyo issues empty apologies when necessary. When the (public) opinion is to the contrary, (all they have to do is) step backward while provoking Korea (instead). For this is what it really is about Dokdo: Provocation. It's hard to imagine that Japan would start a war over the islets. Tokyo also has other means of provocation: Insulting the comfort women (i.e., sex slaves), claiming that the East Sea where Dokdo is located should be called the "Sea of ​​Japan," or rendering honors to the soldiers of the colonial Japan.

In the longer term, however, this cynicism may be harmful. For half a century, the Korean people had kept their eyes veiled: A number of them, especially in the sectors including economy, had collaborated with the Japanese occupying (Korea), but no one mentioned it. The honor to finally burst the abscess went to President Roh Moo-hyun (2002-2007). From 2004 through 2005, the issue of collaboration (with Japan) was publicly asked, the main culprits were identified even though most of them are (already) dead, and some of their assets were seized. By engaging in this mea culpa (a Latin phrase that translates to "my mistake" or "my own fault"), Seoul helped settle this dispute (within) and progress towards national reconciliation. (Well, as it is, the late Roh's efforts went down the drain.)

Japan prefers to keep silence. Admit nothing, explain nothing. Is it a good bet? (It) is doubtful. Certainly, the realpolitik is compatible with the business as Japan, Korea, and China are the leading trading partners. But only to a certain extent. (The price of) the flames of nationalism is expensive in terms of (economic) growth. Moreover, they prevent the (Northeast Asian) area from advancing on the path of the European economic cooperation. Without Franco-German reconciliation, there would be no Europe. Without reconciliation with Japan, how could there be an Integrated Northeast Asia?  Dokdo, is it worth the effort?


Related Posts: 
KBS's "Overnight Trips" Goes to the Dokdo Islets of Korea                     
Korean Independence Day (aka, Korean Liberation Day)
Dr Jean-Pierre Lehmann's Financial Times Article "Japan’s Not Ready To Be a Reliable Ally"

Thursday, September 27, 2012

ZILLY TALKZ: Official Trailer of Park Chan-wook's Film "Stoker"


Here comes the official trailer of "Stoker," directed by Park Chan-wook (Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Thirst, etc.) and written by Wentworth Miller (Michael Scofield in "Prison Break"). The film is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2013 and stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode. (Click for more information.)

While watching the face/facial expressions of Mia Wasikowska in the trailer below, I couldn't help being reminded of Bae Doona (or Doona Bae) who starred in Park's 2002 film "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance." So, what's your thoughts?


Related Post: Bae Doona Stars in Cloud Atlas



Friday, September 21, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: Wait! PSY's Gangnam Style Video Gets Propaganda Treatment?


After reading this New York Times (NYT) article, "Viral Video Gets Propaganda Treatment," written by Su Hyun Lee, an NYT reporter, I have to wonder what he/she is talking about.

First of all, the entire article does not live up to its title.  Did Lee want to criticize the North Korean propaganda levers to ridicule a South Korean presidential candidate or South Koreans' "inferiority complex"?  His/Her article lacks coherence, not to mention fairness.

Secondly, I found the last two paragraphs of the article perfectly ridiculous:


NYT article written by Su Hyun Lee (9/20/2012)


One, no South Koreans I know in the United States or South Korea consider PSY to be less than refined. Of course, there must be some others including the writer himself/herself who think like that, but most of the people with sanity appreciate the aesthetic value of his originality/creativity and respect his artistic endeavors of 12 years. I don't think Lee is aware that PSY has been always serious about his music and the messages it conveys; and it's really unprofessional for him/her to make strong assessments solely based on his/her shallow and biased knowledge.

Two, South Koreans are not hungry for "exposure"; it's just amazing and quite fun (or even funny) to them how PSY has gained global fame "without really trying" to promote the song or himself to the world market. On the other hand, if Lee and Dafna Zur are talking about Korean-Americans living in the U.S., like myself, it may hold some water as most of them are happy to witness the course of his rising stardom as if he were their own son.  Why am I happy for him?  Maybe it's partly because I'm one of the ethnicities that are still treated as foreigners while living in this country of immigrants; or partly because one day I feel respected and treated fairly for who I am, then the next day I feel discriminated against only because of my appearance, living in this country called the "Melting Pot"; or simply because I'm just lonely living apart from my parents, siblings, and old friends and happy to see this guy from my motherland live on TV. Whatever the reason is, I wouldn't call it "an inferiority complex."  Even when I feel discriminated against, I never feel inferior 'cause it's their fault not mine. Lee and Zur may insist that feeling discriminated against stems from my "inferiority complex" but as we all know, women or blacks fought for equal rights not because they had "an inferiority complex" to men or whites but because discrimination in any place, in any form, is always unacceptable.

And Lee is not even talking about Korean-Americans; he/she is talking about South Koreans living in South Korea which is no longer a poor, war-torn nation suffering from "an inferiority complex" if there was any. And they are so used to getting the international attention (for nearly 20 years now) thanks to the Korean Wave (aka, Hallyu), even before this PSY craze. Plus, contrary to Zur's belief, no South Koreans (I'm not talking about celebs here) think "any publicity is good publicity." Rather, they highly resent being misrepresented or misinterpreted, and who wouldn't?

And lastly, but certainly not leastly, I found Zur's “inferiority complex” remark the most offensive since Maureen Corrigan's 2011 jibe of “Kimchee-scented Kleenex” in her review of Shin Kyung-sook's Please Look After Mom. Seriously, she didn't even bother to employ political correctness when accounting for a country and its people and culture other than hers. I wonder if she will ever dare to use exactly the same phrase describing, for example, the African-American people and their culture. If she does, I'll be in awe of her audacity.


Other Reads: PSY Craze and My Blog
                      My Blog Cited in the Atlantic Article