A Singular View of Korea

My most interesting class has turned out to be South and North Korean Socities.  My Japanese classes are helpful, but almost overwhelming enmasse, and East Asian Geography promises to be dismal.

Korean Societies feels a lot like the classes I took at my home university.  The professor is American, about 70 years old, and he lectures just like I’m used to.  He ought to put me right to sleep, but instead he holds my attention easily.  My professor (Dr. Quinones) is one of the foremost authorities on North Korea.  He literally wrote the book on it: The Complete Idiots Guide to Understanding North Korea. He was recruited by the army to learn Korean 50 years ago, and ever since he has been involved with the two countries.  Just last week, he returned from a week and a half long journey to North Korea–his first in five years because the last time he went he was jailed and then banned from visiting the country.  This month they have welcomed him and encouraged him to return, first with a tour of other professors, and some day with a group of university students.

He has been busy since his return reporting to everyone about the state of North Korea.  He has spoken with American and Japanese officials, filling them in on changes in N.K. and generally ruffling feathers with his attitude and information.  He brought two N. Korean magazine/brochures with him to our last class.  Before passing them around he warned the S. Korean students in our class that by touching those materials they were breaking their country’s security laws.  Though he did add that they couldn’t be persecuted under the circumstances.

Because less is known about N.K. and the professor has just returned from his trip, I feel like the class may be a little lopsided.  I have a feeling we will be learning more about N.K. than S.K. (which I’m a bit lacking in), but he’s so enthusiastic that I don’t care.  I’m not sure I could have a better teacher to learn about N.K. from and I’m excited to see what he pulls out for class.

Interesting Korean Fact:

Korean names are made up of 4 parts.  Three of these parts are visible, and the fourth is kept hidden.  Koreans are very secretive about their clan names: they will tell you their other three names, but not this one.  Clan names are old and connect families, and apparently there aren’t too many of them.  The next name is the family name/surname that is similar to our last name.  As in Japanese culture, this name is said first, before a person’s given name.  Next comes the given name from the parents.  This name usually has two syllables, giving the name three visible parts.  Moreover, the Chinese character (which also invaded Korean written language) for the first part of this given name is usually the same across a family generation.  In other words, a father with pick a character and all his children will have that character as the first part of their given name.  (This works because most Chinese characters have more than one reading.  In Japanese the kanji 日 can be read as “hee” “key” “bee” “knee-chi” “kyo” and many more.)  The last syllable belongs to the child alone, chosen by their parents.

So Korean names have three sounds and look like:

clan name (not shared) Last name CommonCharacter unique name

My conclusion in my notes was that family is very important in Korean tradition.

Japanese word of the day :  kankokujin / かんこくじん  (kahn-ko-ku-jean)  a Korean person


2 responses

  1. Gyopodaehaksaeng

    A correction of Korean names,
    1: The generation character is set, the father doesn’t choose it.
    2: The generation character alternates from 2nd/3rd position. So if the father has his generation character as the 2nd character, his children will have the generation character as their 3rd.

    January 13, 2012 at 4:46 am

    • Thanks for improving what I know.

      January 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm

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