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Friday, October 24, 2008


Alright, well, I haven't posted in a little while, though nothing too exciting happened this week, but I did finally take care of something that had been hanging over my head for a while: voting. All in all, the process wasn't too tough - download some forms, fill them out and sign, email some photos, get the real ballot, then send it all together in one package to the county registrar.

My inner skeptic tends to come out around voting time. This because, uh, I still can't think of any good reason to vote. It was pretty easy not to worry about that in St. Louis, when my voting location was Bartmer Elementary School, just down the street. Even if my vote was inconsequential, so was the amount of time and effort it took me to cast it. This time around, though, I had to go through a bit more of an ordeal, and in the end, I wound up having to spend a whopping 15 dollars on airmail. This was because the ballot has to be turned in By Nov 4 at 7pm, and I sent it on Oct 21st, and standard mail can take up to 2 weeks. So, despite not considering my vote too important, I wound up deciding to spend 15 hard-earned dollars on it. I can buy dinner Monday-Friday with that much money! Anyhow, I'm glad it's done with.

I wouldn't have informed you of all the above boring errand stuff if it didn't lead to something a little more interesting, which is: George Carlin. When he died, I obtained a set of his HBO specials and have been watching them on and off since then. I found his early stuff OK, with some interesting takes on the way we talk and the oddness of so many of our phrases, but his later stuff is getting really good - lots more socio-political commentary, with some anti-religious stuff thrown in. And then also some weird stories about his pets. But he makes it work. Anyway, I happened to come across the following schtick (profanity/crudeness warning). If you don't wanna sit through it all, I'll transcribe the highlight:

While all of it is hilarious, I think he makes a pretty good point in the third section.

"I don't vote because I believe if you vote, you have no right to complain. People like to twist that around, I know. They say "well, if you don't vote, you have no right to complain," but where's the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent people, and they get into office and screw everything up, well YOU are responsible for what they have done, YOU caused the problem, YOU voted them in, YOU have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote, who in fact did not even leave the house on election day, am in no way responsible for what these people have done and have every right to complain as loud as I want about the mess you created that I had nothing to do with."

I guess, according to that logic, I actually just spent 15 dollars (and several hours of my time) to divest myself of the right to complain. George isn't around to do any more complaining for me, but I suppose he did enough in his lifetime.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The 100th Entry!

Or probably only about the 80th, if you discount all the entries that consisted of me saying "uh, I did some cool stuff this weekend, and I'll write about it later."

Anyway, a little Korean phone number zaniness I just learned about from the book I use to study. It's kinda cute. In all these examples, the last digits of a company's phone number, when spoken quickly, remind the listener of some aspect of the business. I assume it's a pretty good mnemonic device. For instance:

Moving companies often end with 2424 (ee-sa-ee-sa), because 이사 (ee-sa) means "moving."

Railroad stations often end with 7788 (ch'eel-ch'eel-p'al-p'al), which is close to the Korean onomatopoeia of a steam-engine: 칙칙폭폭 (ch'eek-ch'eek-poke-poke)

Real estate agencies often end with 4989 (sa-gu-p'al-gu), because 사 (sa) means "buy," 팔 (p'al) means "sell," and the particle 고 (go) and its alternate pronunciation 구(gu) mean "and." Buy and sell and...

Other companies which offer some service or other often use 8282 (p'ar-ee-par'ee), which sounds pretty close to the phrase 빨리 빨리 (bbal-lee bbal-lee), which means "quick, quick" or "hurry up."

Korean is pretty cool in its ability to generate this sort of word play. In all of my amateurity, I hypothesize that this is because: 1) Korean syllables are more discrete (and therefore less discreet???) than English ones, by which I mean that if you see a word in Korean, it's immediately obvious how many syllables it should have and where they start and stop. The effect of this is that it's easy to pull a word apart into its constituent concepts. In English, though, if you take some random word like "homogeneous," if you don't know the Greek etymology in advance, there's no reason to break the word up into homo-gene-ous (same-group-full) instead of ho-mogen-ous (indecipherable).

2) Korean, though atonal, takes a large percent of its vocabulary from Chinese, which is tonal. This means that while some word like "sa" might have 4 meanings in Chinese, all differentiated by rising, falling, or stable tones, they all sound the same in Korean.

Thus, because of 1) it's easy to break Korean words into proper segments, each of which has some meaning; and because of 2), each of those segments will likely have several meanings. So if you're willing to be lenient and creative, there are lots of possibilities inside any one word.

Two of my Korean buddies - Julio and Dylan - showed me a little something like this this morning, actually. A bus passed by, and one of the stops listed on the placard was "gwan-eum-dong." They asked me to guess the meaning, but, knowing only that "gwan" is a part of the word for "relationship" and "eum" is related to sounds and the mouth, I had a pretty hard time coming up with anything. They told me, though, that I had the wrong "gwan" and "eum" in mind, and said that these characters meant "darkly" and "watching." I forget which was which. Anyway, this "malevolent watching" they mentioned, according to the dictionary, is "voyeurism." I'm pretty sure this was a dirty trick on their part, and that nobody actually lives in a place called "voyeurism district," but who knows?

I think this is one of the things I like most about Korea, and about living abroad in general, and it's something I expect to miss when I leave. Here, I get to think about this sort of stuff all day long. Even when I'm just hanging out with my friends and having a good time goofing off, there are lot of opportunities to learn quirky and interesting stuff about language(s). How stimulating!