Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Culture shock - what's rude in Korea 2

There are many delicate social norms that might be completely foreign to those come from the West. The way a simple 'hello' is exchanged is different when you do it to friends and to parents. It might be shocking to find how an 'age factor' is so predominant in Korean culture. True, I'm particularly more prone to pay extra attention to culture and language in general, because I do translation from English to Korean, or from Korean to English.

If you're talking to someone who was born even a year earlier than you were, it changes the language structure you are allowed to deliver, let alone your attitude. (This gets less strict for older generation, but it is almost an unchallenged rule to younger generation.)

Culture shock - what's rude in Korea 1

I'm native Korean and have lived in the U.S. and Canada for fourteen years. I now work as a Korean English translator.

There have been a few serious incidents where I was offended and maybe a few more where I offended others. In hindsight, I don't think most of them were intentionally meant to be offensive. We simply didn't understand well enough about each other. On the next few posts, I'd like to list a few things that can be considered rude in Korea while they are assumed harmless or even friendly in North America. Thinking a bit more about this issue than my fellow Koreans did some positive impact on me as a Korean translator.

Korea is, by North American standard, one of the most conservative countries you can find in terms of social values. She has a history of five thousand years, and along the way we learned and developed our own unique way to interact with people.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Koguma - Korean Yam 5

They were bits and pieces kept inside me for years that suddenly flew me back to those days when I was once a kid. What could that be?

It could be the bitter cold weather which was in stark contrast with achingly hot kogumas. Or it could be those guys usually old enough to be my dad armoured with jacket, muffler, gloves, took, and you name it. Or it could be the cracking fire inside the cooker (drum) I couldn’t take my eyes off for some reason. Or maybe it was the atmosphere of the people in a cozy warm house whom I got to share kogumas with: they were usually family members or someone I was very close to. Or it is, very likely, all of the above combined. (I'll tell you shortly why I mention these things in this blog. After all, I translate English to Korean professionally. Bear with me, I'll talk about this in upcoming posts.)

I don’t really know, but it is surely not something negative. It does feel good, and I appreciate this unexpected outcome.



I offer help for English to Korean translation.

Koguma - Korean Yam 4

As you can tell from the pictures, baked kogumas on the street are only found during the winter. As I said in the previous posts, the scene has been a part of our culture for the last few decades. I left Korea ten years ago, but as I was writing these posts and looking at the pictures, I was certainly reminded of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was not as intense as the time I found a stack of old journals that I kept twenty plus years ago. I just found a new place to move and was in the middle of packing up my stuff, but I had to stop. I sat down on the spot, and lost track of time.

Yeah, it wasn’t like that kind of magnitude, but there was surely something that was stirred in me when I got to reminisce about koguma.


Wonder why I talk about these things, in a translation blog? They are all related to translation in some respect. I'm a Korean translator and translation Korean to English is what I do.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Koguma - Korean Yam 3


Oh, hey. I was able to track down a picture that tells what was actually burning inside! So it was simply pieces of woods, huh? Now, that kind of makes sense because what else would they use while on the street like that? Coal, no. Gas, of course not. For this kind of setting with that kind of equipment, wood must have been thought out to begin with. It’s cheap, easy to get, easy to carry, and easy to burn.

I noticed something, though. When I look at this picture now, it strikes me how dangerous it is to have the whole thing exposed out in the open. I said in the previous post that he wouldn’t let anyone come near but, well, that’s not enough, isn’t it? While a mom is paying for a bag of koguma, a 4-year old son full of curious and adventurous mind would reach out to the magic box that spits out a fab delicacy with the merchant completely preoccupied. Well, of course mom would be extra cautious in such situation, but, you know.

Koguma - Korean Yam 2


So what does the cooker look like? You can have a general idea from the picture. The main body is basically a big steel drum. The body usually lies on a cart that makes it easy to carry. On one of the flat sides of the body are a few holes, and each holds a single koguma. It’s like a drawer with handles that you can pull in and out. Everything is made out of steel for maximum heat conduction and not to mention extremely hot. He would not let you get any nearer, but you wouldn’t even think of it anyway. I never cared to ask or observe what kind of material was burned inside the body. I imagine the whole thing is simply a hollow drum and except for the drawers the empty space must have been filled with whatever the material was to burn.
I’m a Korean……….

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Koguma - Korean Yam


Or I should call it sweet potato. It’s certainly different from yam. It’s one of the most popular vegetables in Korea. When I was young, about twenty years ago, I would often run into people in the street selling sweet potato freshly baked out of the cooker they stand next to. The cooker made of a steel drum is about the size of a small refrigerator. It’s hooked on to a cart for mobility, and looked quite primitive in today’s standard, but it served its purpose. Now, sweet potato sold in this way is literally ‘baked.’ I don’t know what they used to bake with whether wood or coal, but I know koguma out of that cooker was burning hot. Of course, it should be obvious now that baked koguma in the street is only found during the winter. It’s very cheap as often is the case for street vendors, but it was very popular, so much so that it has been a part of our culture.

I sometimes translate Korean to English. Or click if you need professional help on Korean translation.