The Sanchon Hunjang
(usually clicking on the photos yields an enlarged version
Owl that man!
Xu Shen 許愼 허신
's dictionary 《說文解字 설문해자
》 defines the word "owl 梟" as "An unfilial bird that eats its [own] mother. Thus at the winter solstice [we] catch and dismember them. The character comes from [the graphic elements of] a bird's head on top of a stick."
☞ 許: 허락할 허, 愼: 삼갈 신, 說: 말씀 설, 文: 글월 문, 解: 풀 해, 字: 글자 자.
So those Chinese folk somewhere got the idea that owls eat their own mothers, which is one of the greatest sins in the view of those who highly value the respect that offspring should show to their parents. We see the same cultural idea reflected in a graphic bit of verse
by 韓愈 한유
of the mid-Tang:
鴟梟啄母腦, The owl pecks it's mother's brains--
母死子始翻. Mother dies as offspring begins to fly.
☞ 鴟: 올빼미 치, 啄: 쪼을 탁, 母: 어미 모, 腦: 뇌 뇌,
死: 죽을 사, 子: 아들 자, 始: 비로소 시, 翻: 날 번.
This damns the owl to being a symbol for evil. As if that weren't enough, some cultural dictionaries say that the characteristic sound that the owl makes is heard by Chinese to be their word for "dig, dig" as in "dig a grave, 'cause this one's not going to make it." It's said to be the sound one hears right about the time you breathe your last. (Unfortunately I've only seen this in English
sources, so I don't know what the "dig" word they are refering to is.) Just to show I didn't make this up:
The hoot of the owl is much feared. It is said that when any one is going to die the owl is heard calling out, "Dig! dig!" Of course, they think it is telling them to dig the grave that will soon be needed, and they instantly expect the death of the sick man.
And this practice of dismembering them and placing their heads on pikes at the winter solstice in order to ward off evil adds another meaning to this word: to gibbet someone (actually the English gibbet usually refers to locking someone up in a cage like this one...
...to die and have their remains act as a deterrent to like-minded evildoers. In contrast, 梟首 효수 (note: that's usually a transitive verb, as in "owl's head that man!"
) refers specfically to posting only the head of an evil-doer in a public place...
☞ 首: 머리 수.
...for the same purpose.)
The last definition for this word in the small dictionary on my desk is "mountain peak," which must owe something to the macabre resemblance of the Oriental gibbet to a mountain. This combination reminds the Sanchon Hunjang of 切頭山 절두산
, or "Lopping-heads Mountain" in Seoul and the sad events that took place there
☞ 切: 끊을 절, 頭: 머리 두, 山: 메 산.
The word 梟 is also used to describe the character of 劉備 유비
in the 《三國(志)演義 삼국지
》 (I know
those don't read the same. Fact is that this book is called by different names in China and Korea. What can a poor Sanchon Hunjang do about such complications in the real world? But hey, Amazon is selling several translations of it
in English.), something like an "inappropriately aggressive hero figure." I suppose the logic must be something like "as long as he produces results, people will overlook his over-the-topness, but if he's not careful, he will end up with his head on a gibbet."
☞ 劉: 죽일 류, 備: 갖출 비, 三: 석 삼, 國: 나라 국, 演: 멀리 흐를 연, 義: 옳을 의, 志: 뜻 지
Don't be whistling at night. Or playing a flute either... 뱀 나타나
And while you're at it, don't go around cutting your nails at night, either. Or if you do, be very careful what you do with the clippings because you just never know when some rat might eat the nail trimmings, turn into an evil copy of yourself and steal your identity
. You'd probably spend the rest of your life trying to clean up your credit report so it's best just to be careful up front.
You can't believe
the things you gotta watch out for. Especially at night... ^^
JH, who had worked in the desk next to me for a couple of years but was then sent overseas to work, was in town for the week. He's not getting any younger and is feeling the heat, so he was back to have a bunch of blind dates in hopes of meeting "the one." Of course he's been doing that every year for the past three, and he wasn't exactly letting grass grow under his feet when he lived here either. All this effort has yielded nothing. And judging by what he said this week, it doesn't seem he's seen any more success this time around. Maybe it's time to throw in the towel...
Anyway, since he was in town, all the old gang had to get together at the Indian chain Ganga
for dinner. Over our blueberry lassis, we were all complaining about our superiors (the favorite pastime ^^). I won't bother to repeat any of what I said because everyone's already heard it.
JH was saying that his boss is a really nice guy. Too nice, in fact, because he can't say no to anyone and this results in dumptruck loads of work for his department. He was also saying that his boss is a gourmet. In addition to being a good cook, he also knows how to find wonderful 맛집
all over Korea. The problem with that is that he tends to forget that he's not in Korea any more. When they were eating 아구찜 the other day, the boss started going on and on about how there was a wonderful 아구찜 place on 종로. If they had been in Korea, they would all have been interested in the information, but in Amsterdam, the consensus was that he should just be glad he can get 아구찜 at all.
In the process, we also learned that his boss loves to order many many dishes off the menu, but he doesn't eat much, so they end up throwing a lot of food away. To this JS responded,
아~ 그분은 입이 짧구나!
Like so many expressions, because of the context, it wasn't too tough to pick out what she meant. But it sounded funny to have a "short mouth."
Opposite expression to "입이 짧다"? Hint: you can't say "입이 길다." It's "[니] 뱃속에 거지 들었다." So having a hollow leg is equivalent to having a beggar in your tummy.
All this talk about appetites is making me feel bad. I'm going to have to be sure and hit the gym tonight...
So, how long have you two been a couplet?
In the old days, Korean people used to think very highly of 대꾸
. So highly in fact that they would sit around all day practicing and trying to dream up new 대꾸 to use on each other.
It looks like the Sanchon Hunjang has heard one too many people say that Korean is a 발음 나는대로 적는 언어, so there I went and wrote it just like I would say it, "대꾸." But wouldn't you know it, Korean orthography is trickier than that. I should have written 대구 (對句)
, even though the pronunication key in the 국어사전
tells me it's pronounced the same
. Right down to the longer vowel on the first syllable. Not so 발음 나는대로 적는 거구나...
☞ 對: 대할 대, 句: 글귀 구.
It's probably a smaller surprise to hear that those old Confucian scholarly types sat around working on their 對句 대구, not their 대꾸. Because parallel couplets are a very highly regarded thing in the asthetic of Chinese poetry.
In Chinese poetry, the couplet gets all the attention and nobody gives any to the individual lines. Now as to that parallelism thing, in the first place 詩 시 poetry is, by definition, composed of lines of equal length. So the couplets are automatically matching in length. Other than this unaviodable aspect of line length, in old-style 詩 poetry, the use of parallelism in couplets was encouraged but not required. Parallelism refers to matching up all of the the parts of speech so that they come at corresponding positions in both lines. Thus, in a parallel couplet, the position of verb matches verb and noun matches noun. But as time went by, the tendency toward parallelism became stronger and stronger. During the Tang Dynasty
, they had come up with new-fangled verse that was supposed to be parallel. To go one better they also added the new burden of requiring parallelism in the tones
of the words (I guess everyone knows that Chinese is a tonal language
and what that means), which had the effect of making an even stress pattern in the lines--adding a regular rythm to the verse.
There are different levels of parallelism, and the more levels of parallelism that the poet can incorporate into his couplet, the better the couplet is. But the the wording can't appear forced, because that is the biggest no-no of all.
That is the nitty-gritty. Maybe an example would make it more clear. Here is an example of a parallel couplet by the man 李太白 이태백
(the Chinese usually just say "李白," rather than use the 字 자
that he took from his favorite star...)
☞ 李: 오얏 리, 太: 클 태, 白: 흴 백, 雅: 우아할 아, 號: 부르짖을 호, 字: 글자 자.
擧頭望明月, Raise head, look at bright moon;
低頭思故鄉. Lower head, think of home-town.
☞ 擧: 들 거, 頭: 머리 두, 望: 바랄 망, 明: 밝을 명, 月: 달월
低: 낮을 저, 思: 생각 사, 故: 까닭 고, 鄉: 시골 향.
It's kind of a flaw to use the same character twice in a short poem, because it starts to look repetetive. But if you can do it in a way that doesn't seem overly repetitive, or if you are Li Bo, you can break this guideline. See how each line goes verb-object verb-adjective-object? It's not just
that the verbs line up. Raise/lower are opposing actions, so that scores some points; looking and thinking are both things you do quietly by yourself--more points; and ending each line with a common phrase that is of the form adjective-noun gets even more points. And the phrasing doesn't seem artificial or contrived. Our judges rate this poem a solid 9.5. If only he hadn't repeated "head," it could have been a perfect 10.
That's the parallelism. This aspect of Chinese poetry can sometimes be a help in figuring out tricky lines, because you can use the clues provided in parallel line.
The observant will have noticed that 月 and 鄕 don't rhyme. That's because the rhyming usually happens between
the couplets, not usually inside
the couplet. In this poem, the first couplet ends in the -ang sound that you see rhymed in 鄕.
Like the Sanchon Hunjang said, these 대구 couplet things are very highly regarded in the noble art of poetry, so people sat around trying to think up good 대구. Just bring any two scholars together. If they don't start scheming on how to eliminate the guys in the opposing faction at court, they are likely to start playing around trying to trump the quality of each other's couplets. And we haven't even mentioned all the drinking games built around matching couplets.
This is why the Korean slogan writers so love those two-part slogans. They usually try to get the same number of syllables in each half and strive for parallelism in the phrasing...all because it hearkens back to that lofty pursuit of the old scholar types. Two quick samples from among the gazillions that bombard Korea dwellers every day in real life:
So anyway, 徐 "my-typewriter-key-sticks" 居正 서거정
(1420-1488) was a scholar and statesman during the early ChosOn Dynasty. Unfortunately he hasn't generated enough interest to have his own English Wikipedia page, which means he's not in the same league as the likes of 서태지
, but he was still an amazing anthologer whose inkstone never appears to have dried.
☞ 徐: 천천할 서, 居: 살 거, 正: 바를 정.
Once, he went on a handyman kick and dug himself a lotus pond. Then he planted lotus in it and built a pavilion next to the pond so he could admire the blooms. Now, you can't have a proper pavilion without a clever pavilion name, so he named his pavilion 亭亭亭*)
. The name was so clever that he even took it as his own 雅號 아호
(as those old scholars were sometimes wont to).
☞ 亭: 정자 정.
When 亭亭亭先生 had finished drafting his book of poetry criticism, ≪東人詩話 동인시화≫ , he was passing it around to a few friends to get their opinions before showing it to the world. 金守溫 김수온
(1410-1481) was one of those asked to peruse it and make comments. After carefully reviewing the text, he turned to 서거정 and indicated that he only had one comment as he inquired as to 서거정's inclination to adopt his suggestion. 서거정 asked to hear the comment. 김수온 responded, "if you can write a parallel phrase to go with 亭亭亭, then you can keep it, but otherwise, change it
!" 서거정 wasn't up to the task, perhaps lacking the creativity of some others
, and got off by arguing that there is no such thing as a three character per line poem, so he shouldn't have to come up with a parallel construction.
☞ 先: 먼저 선, 生: 날 생, 東: 동녘 동, 人: 사람 인, 話: 말할 화, 金: 성 김, 守: 지킬 수, 溫: 따뜻할 온.
Last story. Near Floating-in-the-Blue Loftbuilding (浮碧樓)
, there is a mountain, 牧丹山 목단산.
☞ 浮: 뜰 부, 碧: 푸를 벽, 樓: 누각 루, 牧: 칠 목, 丹: 붉을 단, 山: 메 산.
(painting of 부벽루, by NorK painter 홍성광, shamelessly swiped from the internet)
Once, the King of KoryO was on a royal procession to this mountain when he uttered the line:
北斗七星三四點 The seven stars of the Big Dipper are three and four dots
☞ 北: 북녘 북, 斗: 말 두, 七: 일곱 칠, 星: 별 성, 三: 셋 삼, 四: 넉 사, 點: 점 점.
There was a scholar who promptly came up with a matching line:
南山萬壽十千秋 The ten-thousand years the South Mountain [has seen] are ten and a thousand autumns.
☞ 南: 남녘 남, 山: 메 산, 萬: 일만 만, 壽: 목숨 수, 十: 열 십, 千: 일천 천, 秋: 가을 추.
The king was highly impressed with the match of this line to his original and so inspired by the mind that could instantaneously come up with such wonderful parallelism that he awarded the scholar highest marks on the civil service exam. The king was very impressed because, not only had he perfectly paralleled number for number and proper noun for proper noun, as an excellent couplet should, but the really amazing thing was how the scholar had matched the "3 and 4 make 7" effect in the royal line with an equivalent "10 and 1,000 make 10,000."
3 + 4 = 7 and 10 + 1,000 = 10,000? Hmmmmmm. It just goes to show that you don't have to be very good at math to write a poem. Or to become king, for that matter.
*) In spite of what it may appear, this is not the Gertrude Stein approach to naming. In many cases, when a single character is doubled, it makes a 의태어. Of course there are cases like 山山 and 人人, where it doesn't--just one of the many pleasures of learning classical Chinese. 亭亭 is one instance where a doubled character becomes an adjective. When 亭 is douled, it means "우뚝솟다 shooting straight up in the air," so his 아호 is not "A pavilion is a pavilion is a pavilion," but rather "soaring pavilion." To complete the parallel, 서거정 would have had to come up with a noun, preferably that means a kind of building, that also makes some sort of adjective when doubled that could then be used to describe that same building.
What's cookin' in Hong Kong
In case you are ever in Hong Kong and wondering what to eat, the Sanchon Hunjang has a tasty recommendation. Of course the dim sum is good, and many people go for that expensive steamed garupa stuff, which isn't bad either. Especially if you get it with steamed rice and put the sauce on it...mmmmmm
But, I've dicovered this fried shrimp dish with garlic sauce that is even better than those delicious treats.
It's not made out of a normal looking shrimp. They have these shrimp with yellow detailing that apparently come from Malaysia. I talked to several waiters at different restaurants about the name. They all agree that the Chinese name of this critter is 瀬尿蝦 뇌뇨하 "shallow-river urine shrimp" (I hope the "urine" part is just due to its yellow coloring...). Problem is that one guy says the English name is "gray fish," while another other guy gives "sea mantis." Who knows...☞ 瀬: 얕은 강 뢰, 尿: 오줌 뇨, 蝦: 새우 하.
At any rate, here is what they look like on the fin...
...and here is a close up.(Note to self: remember to chop the fingers off all coworkers accompanying me to restaurant, so they don't say "니가 맛 있다고한 게 이 놈, 맞지?" right when I'm taking a photo)
After the cook has his way with them, they come out looking like this delictable treat.
The stuff that looks like breadcrumbs on top is the garlic sauce, which is a wonderful salty snack by itself.
I've tried this same dish at many different restaurants. In fact, if you just point at the yellow shrimp, they all recommend it fried with the garlic sauce. But the place that does the best job is also one of the most reasonable in pricing (very reasonable on all
of their menu items for that matter), which is a good combination. Here is a scan of their business card, which includes a handy map.
Go give it a try. Most highly recommended.
한자 배워야 하나
Happy 한글 Day!
I was in Hong Kong on the train back to the airport not too long ago. The work was done and I was supposed to be thinking about how to write up what we had accomplished. Instead, I found myself just staring listlessly out the window, daydreaming.
When the train pulled into 靑衣 qingyi station, there was an advertisement that caught my eye for a moment:
It momentarily brought back memories of war stories told by Korean folk who happened to meet a real-live Chinese person in some context. They couldn't speak each others' languages, but they could communicate with each other in spite of this fact because the Korean had studied Chinese characters so diligently in middle and high school.
Hmmmmmm. Right. I'll bet it was a really deep conversation, too. Can I just see your transcript of that conversation there for a minute?
Korea has the two camps of education forever bickering about whether the 국민 need to learn Chinese characters or not. If we discount the nonsense (예: "Chinese characters are mini-pictures, so they involve both hemispheres of the brand and thus they lead to more balanced and better brain development"), the pro side seems to have three main arguments:
- It's a vocabulary building aid
The argument goes that if you don't know the word 명랑, but you know 명 means bright and 랑 means bright, you can guess that 명랑 means bright. Alternatively, if you are translating something written in a foreign language by a new philosopher and he coins a new word in his foreign language original, you can invent a new Korean word to translate it based on the meaning of the original word and using the Chinese vocabulary roots in Korean. Then if you just write the Chinese in your translated text, all the readers will instantly understand all of the nuances of this newly-coined word. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
This is hogwash.
Native speakers already have a feel for the fact that there is a syllable out there that is pronounced "명" and seems to mean something like "light" or "enlighten." It makes absolutely no difference whether this speaker knows how to write that syllable in Chinese. When I was in school, we learned the Greek roots that underpin many vocabulary items in English, but we didn't learn how to write them in the Greek alphabet. That would have been so much wasted effort but orders of magnitude less than the Chinese case because at least the Greeks used an alphabet. Want to teach vocabulary building blocks? Do it. Why focus on how they were written in China?
- It's a link to our literary past
It is true that 99.9999% of pre-modern content was written in classical Chinese, and if you want to learn to read it, you will have to memorize a bunch of Chinese words. However it is not true that memorizing a bunch of Chinese characters equates to literacy in classical Chinese. There will always be specialists who learn to read the original documents and everyone else will read Korean translations. There is a lot of stuff written in mixed script from earlier in the modern era, but this trend already seems to have died a hard death, or at least it has contracted a terminal case of "write so the readers can understand," so new editions of older works have the Chinese relegated to parenthetical notes.
- China is growing and it's a communicative link to China
There is quite a bit of debate these days in the press over whether China is the up-and-coming power or whether starry-eyed dreamers are mis-analyzing the facts. Fine. China will become an important economic partner for Korea either way. But having everyone in the country memorize a bunch of Chinese characters is not going to be the most effective way to improve that relationship. In the first place, the mainland Chinese have simplified the writing of many of the characters in use, so they are no longer the same in appearance as the ones used in Korea or Taiwan or Hong Kong, for that matter (예: 億 ☞亿 , 龍 ☞龙, 義 ☞义). Surely this fact alone should give pause to educators thinking of investing precious student time in the memorization of 2,000 of these beasts for the purpose of improving economic cooperation with China. Point two is that Chinese use the words in different ways than Koreans do. Look back to the hotline 熱線 that brought on this tirade in the first place (Other 예: 東西, 中心, 鸡尾, 紹介 vs. 介绍). Also, many high-frequency Chinese characters aren't even used in Korea (예: 你, 呢, 吗, 甭, 甩 (to clarify, that is not the simplified form of 電, which looks like this: 电)). All of this points to the same conclusion as #2 above: there will continue to be specialists who learn Chinese as a language and this will help communication between China and Korea.
Ironically, I've mostly seen the memorization of Chinese characters hurt the many Korean students who are trying to learn Chinese. When starting to learn, the Korean students tend to want to see the characters for each vocabulary item, dialog, or whatever (because many of them are familiar). The teachers usually oblige, to facilitate the understanding of their beginning students. So the students get into funny habits when they come across Chinese characters. First they look at it and think of the Korean pronunciation. They know that the Chinese pronunciation is similar to the Korean with some funny little twist, so they add a funny little twist to the Korean pronunciation as they say it. Problem is, since they didn't bother to learn it right in the first place, the funny little twist that gets added is wrong as often as it is right. This is doubly true of characters that are homophones in Korean but not in Chinese. As a consequence, I've seen many Chinese teachers who refuse to show the characters to their Korean students and focus on education through pinyin instead, which seems to result in better speakers of Chinese.
In spite of having invested a bit of time in the study of Chinese characters myself, for the arguments outlined above, I think it is a colossal waste of time and resources to force everyone to do the same. If some people enjoy the subject and want to study, more power to them. But there is no valid reason to subject the entire populace to it.
Wholly cursive writing, Batman
Most people who care already know that there are five major faces of Chinese calligraphy
, and countless variations within each of those. The five biggies are 篆書 zhuanshu 전서 "seal writing"
, 隸書 lishu 예서 "clerical script"
, 楷書 kaishu 해서 "regular script" or "square script"
, 行書 xingshu 행서 "cursive script" or "running script"
and the even more cursive and abbreviated 草書 caoshu 초서 "grass script"
. Not surprisingly each has its own rules about how to make it asthetically pleasing.☞ 篆: 전자 전, 書: 글 서, 隸: 종 례, 楷: 본 해, 行: 갈 행, 草: 풀 초.
Not long ago the Sanchon Hunjang was going somewhere on the subway and in no particular hurry. There were some elderly gentlemen who had pasted samples of their calligraphy all over the inside of the subway station. They also posted a sign that read "가훈 써드립니다" and were busy practing the art of the brush. Not being in a hurry, I stopped to look over their work. One of the gentlemen noticed the Sanchon Hunjang perusing their works and escorted me to a piece, a short poem in 행서, that was framed especially nicely. He beamed as he explained how his good friend, who was not there at the time, had written this one and had been awarded a prize for it in some competition.
The calligraphy was impressive, and at the same time, it wasn't. It seems that this man had won his award in a pretty small competition. Unfortunately I didn't think to snap a picture of it at the time, but I have
located a graphic on the internet that captures the essence:
Looking at the individual words, each each is executed very well. The artist had enviable control over his brush. The problem is that, with 행서 or 초서, there is supposed to be a rythmic flow. The characters are supposed to flow into each other, or at the very least, those little "tails" on the end of each character are supposed to point to the beginning spot on the following character.
As you can see in the red extensions to those tails, that I've taken the liberty of adding, this artist (and the gentleman whose friend I met) was writing a bunch of characters as opposed to a complete work
that happens to be made up of individual characters. Most of the tails just point into empty space, rather than tying each into the whole. I wasn't there, but it feels as if he wrote one character, took a short break and then moved on to the next. Each one is nicely executed, but there is no sense of an integrated whole
Here is how 행/초서 is supposed to look:
Again, I've taken the liberty of highlighting. Each word leads into the next, so you can see the flow. It is obvious that this artist had a complete work of art in mind from beginning to end.
Real calligraphers have this sense of complete work
in mind when they pick up the brush to write something. This is why the professional calligraphers all got up-in-arms when talk emerged
of replacing the signboard of 광화문, currently in 박정희's hand
, with one made up of the three characters 光, 化 and 門 culled from the actual writing of King ChOngjo. Because, when you pick three characters that were not planned to be next to each other when they were written ("集字 집자"), they don't come together and make a work of art that feels complete. The option that they just elect one famous calligrapher to represent the country and write it was even more unpalatable. And the 한글 lovers all got up in arms
, too, because this all meant stepping away from the beautiful script of Korea, not to mention writing it backwards. I haven't heard whether they really went ahead with the plan to replace the sign on August 15 this year. I'll have to use the excuse of checking to make another trip downtown.☞ 光: 빛 광, 化: 변화 화, 門: 문 문, 集: 모을 집, 字: 글자 자.
The Sanchon Hunjang has to admit to dabbling in a bit of 집자, unfortunately. I wanted a ring with my name in cursive Chinese on it. But, not knowing anyone with the skill or inclination to pull it off, I just picked the 초서 samples of those three characters from my 옥편. I didn't realize it then, but the writing on that ring does lack something.
And, speaking of 집자 and lacking something...
I'm not sure who, if anyone, they got to do the writing for this stone, the name-stone for the 독도박물관 on 울릉도
, but you notice it has the same disease. Each character executed very nicely, but no sense of whole. No linkage between the words. I wonder if they didn't do an 옥편 집자 job on this one.