한글날 (Hangeulnal) – Korean Alphabet Day

Hangeul Day2

October 9th comes with yet another South Korean holiday, 한글날 (Hangeulnal) or Korean Alphabet Day. Known as Hangeul Day in South Korea and Chosŏn’gŭl (조선글) Day in North Korea, this national holiday commemorates the creation of the Korean alphabet (Hangeul/Chosŏn’gŭl). The alphabet was invented in 1443 and proclaimed as the official alphabet in 1446 by King Sejong the Great.

It is commonly held that King Sejong invented the alphabet himself and possibly with the help of some of his scholars. Before this revolutionary writing system, all records were conducted with Chinese characters (Hanja), which lead to many commoner lacking the ability to read. In order to change this—and against all royal discretion—King Sejong set himself on a secret project to write the alphabet.

This had to be kept secret from most of the royals because of many factors. Chinese political and military culture was highly regarded and many others were considered barbaric at the time, so deviating from a divine writing culture to another was frowned upon. Another likely reason was that the civic tests were reserved for those who were literate. Oftentimes these civil servants would come from higher class families that could afford a teacher for their child. With a universal alphabet that commoners could use, there was widespread fear that the caste system would be uprooted. Lastly, the political fear of contestation. With more people able to read and write, it would be easier for commoners to get an education and get involved in political activities. King Sejong revolutionized Korean society with his new invention.

King Sejong

Who is King Sejong the Great?

Sejong the Great was the fourth ruler of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea (1392 AD to 1897 AD). He is a beloved folk hero in Korea. A highly educated and ingenious strategist, he is most noted for the invention of the phonetic Korean alphabet, Hangeul. Despite opposition from officials who wanted to keep Hanja, Hangeul is the prevailing alphabet today. King Sejong also established a scholarly research institute and library. Under his rule, Korean literature and culture flourished.

Sejong the Great is one of only two Korean rulers honored with the appellation “Great” in all of Korean history. The only other is Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo (57 BC to 668 AD), the monarch who expanded the Korean territory into Manchuria.

The Ingeniousness Behind Hangeul

Hangeul was written based off of the shape the mouth and palette takes when forming the sound. For example ㄱ ‘g’ represent the shape of the tongue when pronouncing the letter. ㅅ represents the shape of the teeth when making the ‘s’ sound and so on.

consonants-5-groups-diagram

To learn more about the Korean alphabet and how to write it, take a look here.

What to do on Hangeul Day?

Hangeul DayThere are small various events that you can go to on this day. A lot of people tend to go to Gwanghwamun Plaza or the Han River or just enjoy a day of relaxation. This holiday was removed from the list of national holiday because of pressure by companies in 1991. However, starting in 2013, October 9th was reinstated as a national holiday in celebration of the creation of Hangeul.

Learning Korean

오늘의 표현 (Today’s Expression):

올해 한글날은 목요일에 있습니다.
ol-lae han-geul-nal-eun mo-gyo-il-e i-ssum-ni-da.
This year Hangeul Day is on a Thursday.

단어 (Vocabulary):

올해 (ol-lae) — this year
한글날 (Han-geul-nal) — Hangeul Day or Korean Alphabet Day
목요일 (Mo-gyo-il) — Thursday

개천절 (Gaecheonjeol) – National Foundation Day

GaecheonjeolIt’s National Foundation Day in South Korea! Literally translated as the “Festival of the Opening of Heaven,” 개천절 (Gaecheonjeol) celebrates the foundation myth of the Gojoseon state (Ancient Korea). The story places the creation of Gojoseon by 단군 왕겁 (Dangun Wanggeom) at 2333 BC.

The Legend of Dangun

Dangun’s legend begins with Hwanin (환인), or the “Lord of Heaven.” Hwanin’s son, Hwanung (환웅), yearned to live among the valleys and mountains of the earth, so he asked his father to permit him to descend with 3,000 followers. Hwanin gave his son his blessing and permission to descend to the Baekdu Mountains (백두산맥) on the border of modern day North Korea and China. Here, Hwanung founded Sinsi (신시), the “City of God,” where he—along with his ministers of clouds, rain, and wind—taught the humans various crafts and instituted laws and moral codes.

DangunWhile teaching the humans, a tiger and bear prayed that they may become human. Hwanung heard these prayers and gave them orders. With 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort, the two were ordered to eat only this sacred food and remain out of the sun for 100 days. Twenty days passed and the tiger could bear no more, so he gave up and left the cave. However, the bear remained, carrying out Hwanung’s instructions. On the 100th day, the bear was transformed into a woman.

Ungneyo (웅녀 ), the “bear-woman,” was made offerings to Hwanung in her gratefulness. However, she quickly became sad for lack of a husband and prayed beneath the Divine Betula tree (신단수, Sindansu) for a child. Hwanung was again moved by her prayers and took her as his wife. Soon she birthed a son by the name of  Dangun Wanggeom (단군 왕겁).

Dangun inherited his father’s throne and built the walled city of Asadal, the first city of the Gojoseon Kingdom (also known as Old/Ancient Joseon.)

10042013_national_foundation_day_001Customs

Every October 3rd, South Koreans commonly celebrate National Foundation Day with festivals, parades, burning of sandalwood incense, and 잡채 (chapjae). Each year, millions of Seoulites and foreigners flood Youido Park along the Han River to watch a magnificent fireworks display. Each country has it’s own display often with Japan, China, and then Korea as the finale. There is also a ceremony held at Chamseongdan altar at the summit of Mt. Manisan in Dangun’s honor. The altar is rumored to have been built by Dangun himself and is a legendary place of worship favored by ancient Korean kings throughout history.

Although North Korea recognizes 개천절 (Gaecheonjeol), it is not celebrated as a public holiday, but tradition is kept with an annual ceremony at the Mausoleum of Dangun.

Learning Korean

오늘의 표현 (Today’s Expression):

이번 주 금요일은 공휴일인 개천절입니다.
i-beon ju geum-yo-il-eun gong-hyu-il-in gae-cheon-jeol-im-ni-da
This Friday is Gaecheonjeol, a public holiday.

단어 (Vocabulary):

개천 (Gae-cheon) — Opening of Heaven
공휴일 (Gong-hyu-il) — Public Holiday
고조선 (Gojoseon) — first Korean kingdom, Old Joseon
단군 (Dangun) — legendary founder of Gojoseon

Quality Kimchi is Important!

A restaurant is only as good as its kimchi.

The other day, I was out with one of my Korean friends for a nice dinner. When I asked her for recommendations, she pointed out a restaurant that has “the best kimchi on the block.” In my confusion I asked her what else she wanted to eat, because kimchi alone isn’t a meal. She explained to me that she didn’t want to go eat only kimchi, but rather that the restaurant was of good quality.

What is kimchi?

Kimchi is a Korean fermented vegetable condiment/side-dish. There are hundreds of kimchi varieties, but the basic premise is a vegetable food that is salted, blended, and fermented with various ingredientsat ambient temperature. Each kimchi variation has its own unique sweet, sour, salty, zingy, or bright taste.  Kimchi and sauerkraut are very similar, however kimchi is less acidic and takes less time (around 3 days, rather than 20).

Kimchi Varieties

Why does kimchi quality (often) equal restaurant quality?

Kimchi takes a long time to make because you have to deal with a long fermentation process. Good kimchi also requires daily attention to make sure the cabbage or radish is properly submerged. If a restaurant doesn’t pay attention to its kimchi, then what other foods are they not paying attention to? Good food take time.

At first it was quite hard for me to discern the taste quality between different kimchi batches, but after living here for almost two months–and feeling quite disappointed when there is no kimchi to be seen at my meal table—I can easily tell if the restaurant makes their own precious side dish or if they just ship in a batch of frozen, pre-processed kimchi. There is a very distinct flavor and consistency difference between the two as with most foods, so it doesn’t take a refined palette to spot.

Kimchi is often an acquired taste for foreigners, just as spice level is. I am quite used to fermented cabbage with my parents loving sauerkraut (although I’m admittedly not a fan of sauerkraut, especially being around when family are processing it themselves!), so I quite enjoyed it from the start. But if you are not used to this type of pickled vegetables, never fear! All of my international classmates have grown to like it and look for it at every meal within a month. Just like a song, kimchi will grow on you!

So next time you ask for restaurant recommendations, be sure to ask how good the kimchi is!

Kimchi-Ingredients-copy
Kimchi Recipe

Kimchi is not difficult to make, but it might be hard to find the necessary ingredients depending on where you live. Here you can find an easy recipe to make your own kimchi at home. If you have any tips or tricks to making your own kimchi, let me know in the comments! I’m always looking for good culinary advice!

Learning Korean

오늘의 표현 (Today’s Expression):

김치는 보통  한국 식당에 반찬입니다.
kim-chi-neun bu-tong han-guk sik-dang-e ban-chan-im-ni-da.
Kimchi is usually a side dish at Korean restaurants.

단어 (Vocabulary):

한국 식당 (han-guk sik-dang) — Korean restaurant
음식 (eum-sik) — food
반찬 (ban-chan) — side dish
김치 (kim-chi) — kimchi

보너스 (Bonus)!

Korean Proverb:

김치국부터 마시지 말라
kim-chi-guk-bu-teo ma-si-ji mal-la
Don’t drink the Kimchi soup first

Figurative Meaning:

Don’t get ahead of yourself when planning for the future. Just as you won’t drink all the broth of your kimchi soup before eating the other contents.

The ‘No’ Vote and What it Means for Scotland

No Vote

As many of you know, Scotland has decided to remain a part of the United Kingdom. In the end, the vote was 55% No and 45% Yes. So what now? Right after the vote there were some riots in places such as Glasgow. Also, the First Minister of Scotland resigned. There is supposed to be further devolution of power, but no change is fast. A few signs and activists linger in the streets. Divided sides are in the process of reuniting. Life continues.

For Further Information

Glasgow Riots

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/scottish-independence/glasgow-riots-footage-shows-yes-and-no-voters-in-running-street-battles-in-disorder-after-prounion-rally-9745771.html

Political Implications

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/02/campaign-scottish-independence-over-yes-movement

Economic Implications

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/allister-heath/11108214/Seven-ways-in-which-the-Scotland-No-vote-will-affect-the-UK-economy-and-markets.html

Hong Kong Unrest from an Insider’s View

Protests and tensions rise as more Hong Kongers flood the streets, demanding democracy. What’s really going on in Hong Kong? There’s much more than what first meets the eye. Take a look at this video by China Uncensored that does a great job explaining some of the underlying complications.

Chinese Short Story 003 – 晏子使楚 (Yanzi’s Diplomatic Mission to Chu)

When Emperor You was killed in 770 BC by Quanrong, a barbarian tribe, the Chinese royalty lost control of the whole country. China was split up into states and suffered by endless wars until 221 BC.

Yanzi is a famous politician and diplomat in Qi, a state in North-East China. Unfortunately, God didn’t give him a good appearance to match his wisdom and resource. Yanzi was tiny and ugly. One day. the king of Qi, King Jing, wanted to get help from the Chu state in South China, so he sent Yanzi on a diplomatic mission to Chu.

Main Gate of ChuKing Ling, the king of Chu, was not satisfied with the emissary because of Yanzi’s ugliness. He asked his people to close the gates of his city and they told Yanzi, “There is a hole dug in the wall by dogs. King Ling thinks the hole is big enough for you.” Yanzi answered, “People go through a great gate when they visit a great kingdom. People go through a dog’s hole when they visit a dog’s kingdom.” After King Ling heard this answer he asked his guards to open the biggest gate for Yanzi.

After Yanzi and King Ling met each other, King Ling asked, “Are there any people in Qi now?”

Yanzi answered,”There are more than 7,000 clans that live in our capital. People can cover the sun with their arms. There are too many people that flood the streets; so they swarm shoulder to shoulder and feet to feet. How can you say there are no people in Qi now?”

“But why, then, did King Jing send you to me?”

“Great people work together on a great job. We really can’t find a better person than you,” Yanzi answered.

Yanzi's Diplomatic MissionAs was custom, King Ling prepared a dinner for Yanzi. During the dinner, some soldiers walked in with a person who was tied up.

King Ling asked, “Who is this guy?”

The soilders answered,” He is from Qi. He is a thief.”

“Are all the people from Qi good at stealing?” King Ling asked Yanzi.

Yanzi answered, “If you plant an orange tree in the South of Huaihe River, it is called Ju. The fruits are sweet and tasty. If you plant an orange tree in the North of Huaihe River, it is called Zhi. These fruits are bitter and distasteful. They are the same fruit, but the environment has changed them. Why are the people in Qi kind and honest, but changed after they moved to Chu?”

King Ling laughed out boisterously and said, “I shouldn’t try to make fun of you! The person who wants to shame others will always be shamed in the end.”