Hangul: The “Beautiful Challenge!”

Hangul, one of the only purpose built languages in the world. It is simple, scientific and rules are consistent. So they say. Koreans are extremely proud of Hangul, as they should be. It distinguishes them from their Chinese neighbors and has helped create a society with nearly 100% literacy.

As many of you may know, we speak English. And as many of you asked before we departed for Korea, no, we do not speak or read Hangul. Both Alison and I are starting from scratch with this Hangul thing and we are reminded of that in moments big and small each and every day. Here are just a few funny and frustrating examples from our life lost in translation.

This is our rice cooker/pressure cooker. Yes, it says “Beautiful Challenge!” smack dab in the middle of it.

rice cooker

My Korean co-teacher came over one day after class and gave me a quick cursory tutorial on the contraption. Based on her own admissions, I did not have much confidence in the instructions she gave me. I posted on some very helpful Facebook sites for foreign teachers in Korea inquiring about people’s experiences with such a rice cooker, people who speak and read English, to be clear. That netted zero. However, I went ahead and trusted my co-teacher’s lesson and made some rice the other night. It went relatively well with only a little liquid leakage to go along with the perfectly cooked grain. The rice cooker did not explode, it only steamed furiously at a couple surprising points, which was a win.


That balloon looking pin in the bottom-left corner is the location of our apartment building in Yeosu using the Korean Maps App:  Naver

Naver is the Google of Korea and its map app is ubiquitous to the “phablet” (phone and tablet in one) loving people of Korea. For us, it just teases us with possible utilities and freedoms. Navigating the streets of Yeosu or finding our way to Naejangsan National Park via Naver, street signs, or asking for directions is a challenge, to say the least. In fact, our friend Tom has a fabulous blog post dedicated solely to Naver Maps for dummie Waygookins (foreigners).

Recently, we heard of a great tea shop in town and it took a Facebook thread with a dozen posts long replete with Naver Maps screen shots for us to figure out where in the heck it is! Thankfully, we have yet to get utterly lost, but certainly we have been quite turned around more than a few times.

Lastly, this is a Kimbap Nara menu.

kim bap

“Kimbap” is kind of like the Korean version of sushi but without the raw fish. It is a warm seaweed roll with rice, veggies and sometimes meat. A Kimbap restaurant serves the tasty Kimbap rolls, along with a variety of steaming soups and stews that are often spicy. Kimbap is the native cheap fast food spot in Korea, more common and way more delicious than Subway back home.

With our level of Hangul, you do not trust that you know exactly what you are ordering. The fun of it being that you are often pleasantly surprised with the results when a spicy Udon noodle soup arrives and its precisely what you wanted. We have come to rely on a blog created by a Waygookin teacher like ourselves which is solely dedicated to the Kimbap restaurant. It includes translations of Kim Bap menu staples and recommendations of Kim Bap rarities. I think it’s safe to say that food is our biggest motivator for learning the language.

– Kenny


9 thoughts on “Hangul: The “Beautiful Challenge!”

  1. Nice entry Kenny — I am glad that you think Hangul is a “beautiful challenge.”  Sounds like you are getting around pretty well, I am sure I would be lost!!!  I realize that I still haven’t responded to you email about the care package you requested, but I will soon.

  2. Phablets are the very best! Koreans are on to something, there.

    Good luck with the rice cooker!
    Take care,

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