Caveat: 극락길을 버리고 지옥길로 간다

Here is an aphorism from my book of Korean aphorisms.

극락길을 버리고 지옥길로 간다
geuk.rak.gil.eul beo.ri.go gan.da
heaven-road-OBJ abandon-CONJ hell-road-BY go-PRESENT
[One] abandons heaven’s road and goes along hell’s road.

A fool will leave the straight and narrow path to heaven and travel the road to hell instead. Note that these conceptions of heaven and hell are not at necessarily linked to Christian cosmology, but long existed in Buddhist and even shamanistic cosmological traditions.

Caveat: 입살이 바살이라

Here is an aphorism from my book of Korean aphorisms.

입살이 바살이라
ip.sal.i bo.sal.i.ra
mouth-SUBJ bodhisattva-BE-QUOT
“[As if your] mouth were a bodhisattva.”

A bodhisattva is a Buddhist saint. One would normally pray to a saint for help in some difficult thing, using certain types of Buddhist prayers. This is about uttering such prayers but devoid of target – just speaking as if the words themselves would make it true. That is, to speak as if words had the power to make something true. “If words were magic…”. “If wishes were fishes…”

Caveat: 남의 바지 입고 새 벤다

I found this aphorism in my aphorism book.

남의 바지 입고 새 벤다
nam.ui ba.ji ip.go sae ben.da
otherpeople-POSSESSIVE pants wear-CONJ grass cut-PRESENT
[One] wears another’s pants and cuts grass.

This means to benefit by using other people’s things. The word 새 was difficult here. Apparently it can mean “grass” but I didn’t find any Korean-English dictionary telling me so. Nor did I find it in any Korean-Korean dictionary. However, I found many sentences translated online where the word was clearly used to mean “grass.” I suspect it’s a Chinese word, and not, strictly speaking, Korean. It may be seen as archaic or something.

Caveat: Fictional Victorian Doppelgängers for Famous Men


There is a category of things that could be called "Fictional Victorian Doppelgängers for Famous Men." It has at least one member: Wilhelm Heinrich Sebastian Von Troomp. You can read about it at Politco Magazine. These works of childrens' literature by author Ingersoll Lockwood seem very bizarre, but not that different in genre from the subsequent Oz books, really, though apparently of lower quality. But the name of the protagonist is discomfiting.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Little Rabbit Foo Foo, I Don’t Like Your Attitude

When I was a child, there was a kind of an earworm song called "Little Rabbit Fru Fru" which my sister and I sang with great enthusiasm, partly because it seemed to annoy our mother so much.

I thought of that song for some reason, recently – I think one of the songs in one of the role play texts I was teaching featured a similar melody.

I found an infinite number versions online, with variants like "Little Bunny Foo Foo" and others. Most of them are just as earwormy as I recall, but there were some unusual renditions too. I particularly enjoyed one slightly postmodern version, rendered on the basis of a children's book which retells the story of Fru Fru AKA Foo Foo, with excellent Scottish enunciation.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: It is not my Mom’s intention, it is the hair’s

There was apparently a bit of a scandal lately, over a small book of children’s poetry that was published in Korea. It made it to the international press.
Some of the poetry was apparently quite violent. The publisher was compelled to withdraw the publication, and remove unsold volumes from vendors. I guess this ended up as a kind of Streisand effect (q.v.), and now everyone wants to see the book. I found some images online of some pages of the book, which I will reproduce below although I may take them down, as it might actually be a legally dubious move to show them.
I really like the poem about the mom’s hair – it is excellent.
The cannibal doll is more scary, and I can see why parents found the idea of giving voice to such morbid (and confucianly-disrepectful!) poetry disturbing. But as a teacher of elementary students, I feel I can assert that such morbid thinking is common in children, and probably developmentally “normal.”
picture[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Sketch Story

A while back in my young ones class I was doing a lesson where I have the kids draw their own version of the story we’re working on. I call this lesson “making a book” and normally when I do this type of lesson the kids enjoy it. But this group of kids was a little bit restless and feeling whiny that day.

“Too hard!” one of the girls moaned.

“못해” [I can’t], another whined.

They seemed to be overwhelmed with the idea of replicating the story that appeared in our story book on blank paper.

So I took matters in hand.

I said, “Look, I can make this book in 5 minutes.”

“Five minutes!?” the kids chanted together. “Nooo.”

“I can. Watch.”

I began to sketch rapidly, and lettering the story from memory.

“Waa. that’s funny.”

I stopped after about 4 minutes. The kids were inspired, now, and began doing their own rapid-sketch versions happily.

The story was “The Scary Dino.”

I was going through some papers on my desk today and found those first 5 pages of my version.






I was actually pretty surprised at how far I got in making the story in 4 minutes.

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Caveat: Puentes

pictureEl otro día fuí a la gran librería Kyobomungo en Gangnam, donde había pedido un libro hace unas semanas y que por fin había llegado. Cuando voy a esa librería me gusta echar un ojo sobre su colección de libros en español – a veces me encuentro con alguna novedad inesperada.

Así fue esta vez. Descubrí en un rincón una media docena de libros para niños, y espontáneamente decidí comprar uno. Me gusta la literatura infántil, aunque últimamente he dejado mi costumbre de intentar leer libros para niños en coreano.

De todos modos, el libro que compré me era algo entretenido. Se titula El maravilloso puente de mi hermano, por la autora brasileña Ana Maria Machado. Pues es traducido, pero traducir de portugués al español no es algo tan insólito.


Me gusta el gato negro de cara blanca que le sigue al niño en sus exploraciones.

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Caveat: This book have many cheese

Gs_0439691427_xlgThis book review is by Jeongyeol, 6th grade. He is of intermediate ability, but atrocious attitude. I transcribe it exactly as written, with no corrections.

This book is very bad Because many English I hate This book This book have many cheese. This book piature is very dirty This book people is very very smart mouse I hate mouse I hate this book Geronimo stilton is very very stupied This book piature is very crazy I upset!

Such a compelling review. Now I most definitely want to read the book.

Caveat: Stupid Chicken

I was reading the third story in my first grade [broken link! FIXME] A1 reader. It's about a little baby chick trying to cross a stream. The chick gets advice from a duck (swim!), a rabbit (hop across!), a bee (fly!), but she's very sad because she can't do these things. And then the mama hen comes along and says: just walk across the bridge!

Oh! There's a bridge… The chick says, "이렇게 쉬운 걸 가지고…" […like that, it's easy].

For some reason, I found this intensely funny. What a stupid chicken. Cute story.

A1 002

[Daily log: walking, 7 km]

Caveat: 이야기책A1

pictureMy current children’s-book-in-progress is 이야기책A1 – it’s a 1st grade “reader” and the title means “A1 Storybook” (cover picture at right). The stories are fairly easy to read. The second story is about why the cat washes his face after eating, but not before (which is what Korean children learn to do almost universally, I think – though that doesn’t mean they actually do it).
pictureIt’s told in an “oral tradition” style. Here’s how it goes:

여러분, 고양이가 세수하는 것을 본적이 있나요? 고양이는 항상 밥을 먹고 나서 세수를 한답니다. 왜 먹기 전에 하지 않고 먹은 후에 하는 걸까요?
[Hey, everyone, have you ever seen a cat washing himself? Cats always wash themselves after eating. Why do they do that after eating but not before eating?]

And so it goes. It turns out the cat got tricked one time by a sparrow.

Caveat: 쓰레기를 먹는 공룡

pictureAs long as we’re on the topic of dystopian(-ish) children’s literature (see previous post), I dug out one of my favorite Korean children’s books that I’ve run across (not that there are that many in my repertoire). It’s entitled 쓰레기를 먹는 공룡, which roughly translates as The Trash-Eating Dinosaur. I love this book, even though I have not, in fact, successfully read it front-to-back. I like the pictures, I like the aesthetic, I like the theme. And I’ve worked through some fragments. It’s a much higher-level, more difficult kid’s book than the others I’ve blogged about here so far. But anyway. I probably like it partly because it reminds me of the Wump World (see, again, previous post). More retro-futuristic dystopianism, but this time, with a Korean cultural twist.

The basic plot is (or seems to be – remember that my ability to read Korean is pretty lousy) that there is a dinosaur that is discovered that eats trash. He’s put to work, but there are unforeseen consequences – environmental, of course, but also with respect to the dinosaur’s quality-of-life, if you will. Things are resolved happily, of course, just like the Wump World – it’s kid’s lit, after all.

Here are some samples of the book. I love the sketch-like illustrations. Here’s the dinosaur strolling around a clearly Seoul-like metropolis (note historical city-wall gate on upper right-hand edge of the drawing – it reminds me too of the 팔달문 neighborhood in Suwon where I used to stay).


Here’s the dinosaur hard at work. Note the iconic dung-piles in the lower left – these are part of a powerful contemporary visual meme among Korean school children – I see them drawn surreptitiously on desks, blackboards, and books on a daily basis.


I like the politician or public official trying to berate (or interview? – these concepts are interconnected in Korean culture) the dinosaur in this picture.


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Caveat: Star Trek: Planet Pollutus

pictureI was watching old episodes of Star Trek: Voyager – because I’m something of a trekkie, and I’m feeling yucky and therefore doing absolutely nothing productive with my time. And there was an episode called “Workforce” from season 7, in which the crew of the starship are all abducted by a society with a labor shortage. They’re brainwashed and put to work. There were some scenery tableaux in that episode that seemed to evoke, in my mind at least, the aesthetic of one of the singularly most influential children’s books in my own past: Bill Peet’s Wump World.

Here’s a scene from the episode.


Here’s a scene from the old children’s classic that, while obviously not identical, bears some striking resemblance at least in my mind.


You might call it the “Pollutian Aesthetic” – since the Wump World has been taken over by the Pollutians from the Planet Pollutus. In the Star Trek episode, there’s a dash of Orwell’s 1984 (or successor aesthetics like the movie V, for example), too. You might call it retro-futuristic dystopianism.

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Caveat: 우리다같이 케이크를 만들자

This story book is not native Korean. It’s a translation of something by Helen Oxenbury. But it translates well to the contemporary Korean cultural milieu, methinks.

It’s about this kid’s birthday. The title in Korean is 오늘은 내 생일이야. Here’s the Korean cover.


The kid goes around getting ingredients for his cake from various animals. The take-away phrase: “갖다 줄게” [I’ll bring it.]

My favorite part (i.e. cutest picture) is when they then all get together to make the cake, near the end.


The line at the end of this page: “우리다같이 케이크를 만들자” [Let’s all of us together make the cake].

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Caveat: 모양 나라에 온 도깨비

I like children’s books. I like the Korean language. So my recent decision to try to read one Korean kid’s book each week as part of my efforts to learn the language seems destined to be a win-win. Here’s the book. It’s very low level, of course – such is my proficiency with Korean.

The book is called 모양 나라에 온 도깨비, which I would translate as “The gnome who came to the land of shapes.” It’s not really a gnome – a 도깨비 [do-kkae-bi] is a native Korean fairy-tale creature that’s kind of a cross between a gnome and a unicorn, maybe.

Here’s the cover.


The first page introduces the land of triangles.


Other shapes are introduced, farther along. Then all the various shapes, who seem to live in segregated neighborhoods, all run into each other while on a picnic. The plot thickens. So does the Korean – this next was a difficult page to decipher.


A rough translation of this page:

Hello, triangles!
You guys are a little bit weird-looking.
Hello, rectangles!
Really funny-looking.
Hello, circles!
First time ever to see such faces.

Then things get bad. There’s a wind-storm; the shapes get mixed up with each other, and then the gnome shows up. Oh noes!

But it’s a kid’s book. There’s a happy ending.

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Caveat: Sandinistas and Mad Scientist Girls

pictureI found an unexpected treasure of a book yesterday.  A book I’d meant to buy, once, some time ago, but then upon coming to Korea, I  had postponed it indefinitely and forgotten.  In the several shelves of Spanish language books at Kyobo, yesterday, there was sitting the first volume of Ernesto Cardenal‘s autobiography, Vida Perdida.
I was profoundly affected by the work of another Nicaraguan author, 20-something years ago:  La montaña es algo más que una inmensa estepa verde, by Omar Cabezas.  One of my “top 50” books, I would guess – though that list is always changing, isn’t it?  That was an autobiographical bildungsroman, covering Cabezas’ life as a Sandinista rebel in the epoch before the Nicaraguan revolution of 79 and the overthrow of Somoza.
I had always struggled to appreciate the poetry of Cardenal (the poet-politician-priest, who was also a Sandinista, and in fact was later a minister in Ortega’s revolutionary government), and I have thought I would get more out of his prose, but had never had the opportunity to read it.
And there it was, published in Mexico, waiting forlornly to be purchased for only 22,000 원, in a Seoul bookstore. So, of course, I bought it. Vida Perdida, por Ernesto Cardenal. And started reading it.  It begins, not chronologially, but instead with his departure for a Trappist Monastery in Kentucky, having decided to become a priest. I’d forgotten about that – he went off to the same monastery that hosted Thomas Merton for so long.  Such a divergent life from Merton’s, though, despite the latter’s mentorship.
pictureIn other news, I finished the drama Delightful Girl.
Check out the girl with purple hair. A kid sat next to me on the subway and was reading this book, 프래니 (peuraeni = Frannie), about a Mad Scientist Girl. I remembered the title, I and navered it when I got home – it’s a translation of an English-language children’s book by Jim Benton, but the illustrations looked so extremely wonderful and entertaining.  Perhaps next time I hit a bookstore, I should buy this book and use it to try to work on my Korean some more – a children’s book would be about the right level, right?
-Notes for Korean-
context: Now I’ve started watching another drama, called 풀하우스 (pulhauseu=full house).  I find the attribution of its “hanja” name (according to the English wikipedia article) confusing:
lemme try to analyze this:
=[1랑][2만][3not in naver’s online hanja dictionary, but I found it here:만][4옥]
Is this truly a “hanja”?  Or is it simply a Chinese name for the show?  The proper Korean name of the drama is a Konglish term, and Konglishemes don’t have matching hanja, do they?  I’ll be the first to admit, my comprehension of the niceties of the hanja system is next to nil.
context:  dictionaryland and websites.
목록(目錄)=catalog, inventory
구동사=phrasal verb
형용(形容)=form, shape, appearance, description, metaphor
미리보기=preview (lit advance example)
다시보기=(lit again example)=?review?
가르치다=teach (I should know this)
말씀=language, talk
context:  thinking about what’s best.
최고=superlative, best
짱=best (slang.  perhaps mostly used by children–but don’t forget what you saw Ella and Stacey writing on the wall at school, that time)  (…a site for korean slang info)
context:  reading the script for episode 3 of 풀하우스, I’m seeing all kinds of reduplication words, which seem common and are interesting.
쓱쓱=easily, smoothly…
툭툭 치고=tapping…
씩씩=?smiling at each other? not sure what this is
잘 있어=take care (jarisseo=be well)
알았지?=understood?  got it? (This was exciting for me to understand, as I parsed it simply upon hearing it, without having seen the form in writing before… and then I was able to type it in–correctly spelled–and confirm that I’d indeed understood it).
context:  other random curiosities
문어=literary expression
…wow – nice pair of homophones.  far out!
고기=meat, fish (and could I forget this?  It’s one of the few words I thought I’d retained from my first time in Korea, in 1991)
글월=letter, note, epistle
동물=animal, brute, creature
낙지=common octopus
발=foot, paw, arm

Caveat: 어린왕자

Sometime back I bought Le Petit Prince, in a trilingual edition. Recently I’ve been trying to read little bits of it – the Korean part.  It’s fun to do that with a text as familiar as this one is. I was talking about it with someone at work the other day, and realized that the book has the peculiar distinction of being the book I’ve read (or tried to read) in the most different languages. I even remember once trying to decipher the Arabic version, though I made very little progress. I love the story.
The story starts, “나는 여섯 살 때에” (na-neun yeo-seot sal ttae-e) => I-[TOPIC] six [YEAR-COUNTER] time-[AT] => at the time I was six years old…

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