Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Country of Scholarly Gentlemen

This was yesterday’s post, but I couldn’t be bothered to write it yesterday because after a day[1] of wrestling with Excel—some people were not born to constrict their lives into a spreadsheet! Freedom!—I was busy treating myself to seven full hours of Korean dramas.

Busy, I tell you. It’s finals week, after all, and what better way to celebrate these holy days than by staying up irresponsibly late doing things that have nothing to do with finals?

I did, however, do teachery things yesterday morning. For Global Conversation class, each student is forced to endure a five minute conversation with their professor. Child abuse, some might call it, but in response, we people on the Korean peninsula say 참아 [2](cha-ma). So for three hours, I had about 45 students tromping n and out of my office with such rapid-fire frequency I had time only to blin, circle scores, and 참아, 참아, 참아.[3]

Who knew enduring could be so enjoyable?

Henry is a bespectacled boy who has two expressions: the Korean Stare and Chuckling Face. He is stockier than most Koreans, a hard worker, and not particularly good at English. He and Tom were partners for their speaking final. Tom is the Korean Harry Potter.
Me: Okay, Henry, what will you do over winter vacation?
Henry: (enthused) I will go to Jeju-do!
Me: Won’t it be cold?
Henry: No! Korean stare face.
Me: Skeptical face.
Henry: Because I am a man! Chuckling face.

Iris wears heavy eye make-up and wears her hair like Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction. She blinks a lot, pouts, and tilts her head to one side when I talk to her.
“Iris, who do you think is more polite: Americans or Koreans?”
Blink blink. Pout.
“I think Americans are more polite.”
“Really? Why?”
Blink. Blink. Pout. Tiiiiilt.
“They are so handsome.”

But aside from Iris who—based on my superior teaching instincts—might not have understood the question, most of the kids said Koreans are politer.

Me: Why?
Tom: Because Koreans are…old people. Um…looks at Henry. Koreans are like…
Henry: helpful *shouts angry-sounding Korean words*
Me: confused
Tom: No, no! Old people!
Henry: Oh. 그리고
Tom: Because we are nice to old people and we say…polite to them. We call them by honor names.
Me: Why?
Rachel: Um…Here! Cookies for you, teacher!
Me: Cool! *snarf*
Sidenote: they were so delicious you would have given her extra points, too.
Me: Why?
Marine: Because Korean people…they are so…we bow and…I’m so sorry. I can’t focus because my teacher is so beautiful.
Me: hyuk, hyuk.
Me: Why?
Sally: Because Koreans are the polite people of the east Asia.
Me: Oh, I see.
Me: Why?
Cindy: Because of…동방예의지. Do you know동방예의지?
Me: No.
Cindy: Hmm. Okay. She writes it down. Internet.
Internet, turns out, or more specifically, Wikipedia, is a goldmine about동방예의지. In Romanized form it’s dongbang yeui jiguk and its one of many nicknames for Korea meaning exactly what Sally said: the country of courteous people in the east.

Other names for Korea include
백의민족(Baeguiminjok): "The white-clad people"
계림 Gyerim  "Rooster Forest"
And, my personal favorite:
군자지국Gunjajiguk, "Country of Scholarly Gentlemen".

Rock on, Korea.

[1] Okay, 30 minutes.
[2] “Endure.” Hanna says I’m using it wrong, that참아 can only be used when referring to conflict between people, but who reads footnotes?
[3] Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!


  1. Also also, instead of finals I MYSELF AM DOING AN INCREDIBLE NUMBER OF OTHER THINGS. Including FINALLY getting caught up on this (publishitpublishitpublishitplease) amazing blog.

  2. So...for the record: I read the footnotes...haha

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