Thursday, August 11, 2005


I suppose you could translate the Korean word so-p'oong as "outing," though I'm not sure spending three hours at a board game cafe counts as a true outing.

It was, nevertheless, my first attempt at a truly social occasion in my four-and-a-half years of living in Korea. I've been out with students on numerous occasions before, but never for very long-- one to three hours, max. Today I went about five hours-- a record for me.

My class met me at Hongdae-Ipgu Station and we headed over to a board game cafe near Hongik University (a.k.a. Hongdae, the polysynthesized* form of the name). Board game cafes charge a little bit more per hour than PC-bahngs do, but the time was well-spent today as I lost game after game and marveled at how quick my students were at the games we played.

One student was celebrating her 22nd birthday; after munching on some Baskin Robbins ice cream cake, we played Rummi Cube, followed by Monkey Jenga and classic Jenga (both games involve tall edifices and the threat of collapse), and topped the day off with a couple card games. I can't remember the names of the card games; the first involved reflexes (one of my female students had scarily quick reactions) while the second involved lying... does it surprise you to learn I was terrible at the reflex-oriented game but much better at the lying game?

I thought not.

Perhaps the funniest thing about playing games with a group of Korean college students is that the loser must submit to group abuse. The abuse seemed to intensify as time went on. At first, the loser was penalized by a gentle tap on the head with a silly plastic "hammer" that squeaked on impact with your skull. I received my share of taps, as did others. One female student bravely sacrificed herself for me on one occasion (she became my heuk-jangmi, or "black rose," an expression I learned only today). But punishment moved from hammer taps to an Afro wig, then to a truly humiliating pair of "buttock shorts," which gave the wearer the appearance of a baboon. It was only by chance that I was spared the fate of having to wear the buttock shorts. When you put them on, you have to turn away from the group (thereby exposing your new buttocks) and do some sort of degrading, "seductive" dance. Two guys in our group suffered this fate; their dances were recorded by several digicams and cell phones. I asked the students to email their photos to me; perhaps I'll blog the pics once I get them.

After the board game cafe, we went for some dak-galbi, or spicy chicken and vegetables, which hit the spot because I hadn't had lunch. I sweated my way through the meal, as per usual, and endured yet another discussion of how blood type influences personality. I held out on telling my students what my type was (O-positive) and demanded that they guess. Most of them guessed correctly, but I was unimpressed, given how common my type is.

I left my students around 6PM. As I write this, they're probably still out in the Hongdae area, partying. They may even have met up with another of my coworkers, who was also in the Hongdae neighborhood with his group. That teacher, unlike yours truly, is a huge extravert who loves to go clubbing, so I think my students are in good hands with him. If I had consented to go along, I'd simply have been a lump sitting in the corner, vaguely nodding my head to the rhythm of whatever music happened to be playing at that moment. Instead, I said my goodbyes, headed over to the Wood and Brick restaurant to pick up a lovely block of Gruyere cheese for later, then hailed a cab.

Now I'm at my Smoo office, having recorded attendance for today's "class" (yes, this counted as a class day, and we were asked to take attendance), and will head home for some much-needed rest. We introverts have to unwind after social occasions, you know.

*As Bruce K. Grant explains in his book on Sino-Korean characters, polysynthesis denotes the abbreviated form of a long string of Chinese characters, a mini-compound formed from a larger compound. Perhaps the best example is South Korea's name in Korean: Hanguk is from the two characters Han (Han/Korean people) and guk (country, land, nation). The full name for South Korea is Dae Han Min Guk, or literally "Great Korean People's Country."

[NB: Perhaps a Korean-proficient commenter can tell me whether the dae is modifying the han or the min or the guk. I don't have a clue.]

Another example of polysynthesis at work: the word for "university" is dae-hak-gyo in Sino-Korean. Korea University is Go-ryeo Dae Hak Gyo, and this gets polysynthesized as Godae. Hongik University, then, becomes Hongdae, Ehwa University becomes Eedae, Seoul National University becomes Seouldae, etc.

Some puns are the result of polysynthesis. One term for "hardship" is go-saeng, literally, "suffering-life." Korean high school students are go-deung-hak-saeng, or "superior-level students," but this appellation gets polysynthesized as go-saeng as well. Ask any go-saeng who's about to take the college entrance exam whether she's experiencing go-saeng, and she'll give you a hearty yes, I'm sure.



Jelly said...

I love gruyere.

I'm O-positive too. I may need a blood transfusion soon, so I'm glad to know we're compatible.

Anonymous said...

I could be entirely wrong because Chinese characters aren't really my thing. But I believe that both Dae (큰 대 大) and Han (한나라 한 韓) are modifiers (adjectives even) of the combination 민국 (백성 민 民 and 나라 국 國 or a government of the people) which generally translates as republic or democracy. So if I'm right it would be more like the Great (large) Han (Korean) Republic.


Jelly: I'm O positive too, I think, and I'm a cat owner. If you need a transfusion give me a call I don't kill cats. I can be trusted.


R said...

My blood type is salty.

Kevin Kim said...


What took you so long to place a comment here!?


Hecknoman said...

My blood type is regularly diluted with caffeine.

RE: 'Hanguk is from the two characters Han (Han/Korean people) and guk (country, land, nation).' Han (hansen?) is also an indentifying label of the Chinese. Though it has been many years, I remember my professor in anthropology, who specialized in Chinese studies, stating that some Chinese still think of themselves as the Han empire, with the current pseudo-communist government merely being the latest manifestation. I am wondering if the Korean 'Han' is of similar origin or meaning.

Han wiki

Jelly said...

Thank you Joel. That\'s very kind of you, and your blood is a much better choice than Kevin\'s. His is laced with \"mean.\"

R said...

Kevin, I am living a killer schedule at the moment, and have also been running short of witticisms of late.

Regular flow should be reestablished after August 20th.

Shit, I shouldn't have said that considering your penchant for scattological humor... Ignore everything...