Monday, September 04, 2006

Long on Time, Short on Cash

Due to a series of miscommunications and missed opportunities, I found myself at the beginning of a three day weekend in Japan with less than 8000 yen in my wallet -- and this only because I raided my stash of old japanese bills I'd been saving to someday frame. This calls to mind a roughly four month span I experienced as a grad student in London, when the value of the dollar suddenly plummeted, causing my actual expenses to increase by half quite literally overnight. The only difference is that in London, most museums are free, and I could walk to many of them. That is not the case with most attractions in Japan. (And also, in London I knew Mom and Dad would bail me out if I asked them to -- when I found myself in the 'fell-off-the-truck' discount grocers debating whether or not I could afford to spend 34 pence on butter, I realized it was time to do just that.)

So, my grand plans to travel back to my japanese hometown ($60 for the return trip bus ticket), or to stay over the weekend at a japanese countryside inn (prices starting at $100 a night), or even just to go hiking in Kyoto (a less than $20 train trip, but if anything were to happen there's no way I could get back by taxi for under $60) having been thwarted, I set about trying to entertain myself at home. Sara is at a conference in Okinawa this week, Heather's on homeleave, and everyone else has a family and doesn't want to play. So it really was just me, for three days straight. Lucky for me that I'm such wonderful company.

In the end, this turned out to be somewhat of a blessing. I went running for the first time in forever (my adductor muscles where NOT happy about this, shaking their little fists at me in indignant rage). I made brown rice with the giant ricecooker I had bought on a whim at CostCo (a Tiger brand 10 cup monstrosity, the Cadillac of ricecookers -- by eating directly from the cooker, I find I can affect a whole new level of militant singlehood). I ate through part of my stash of ready-made curry (running revealed that this has given my sweat a distinctive - yet not unpleasant - south asian vibe). I went walking along the river in my town and fed the koi and pigeons stale bread I'd been saving for that purpose (clearly I'm not the only one ignoring the signs that say not to do this, because the pigeons had no compunction about perching on my arms and shoulders in varying degrees of dramatic incline to eat the bread out of my hands). I hung out at night in the coffee shop near my house (a $4 cup of coffee being the one thing I could afford), and read both Japanese (a translation of Sherlock Holmes stories) and English (David Foster Wallace essays). Lacking a TV, I used my computer to watch a Japanese language sub of Casablanca on DVD ("We'll always have Paris." = 君と過ごしたパリの思い出がある。). All very pleasant, parenthetically rich activities. Though I think the most satisfying thing I did all weekend was study Korean.

Now why, you might ask, would I be doing something so irrational as begin study of a third language when I am sucking so badly at the language of the country I'm actually living in? Well, frankly, I feel restless and discouraged with my Japanese; I need a smaller scale project to take on where I can see immediate gains. Thus, in anticipation of many more days trapped at home once the Dante-esque hell of japanese winter begins, I bought a korean language text book and signed up for the FS online Korean course. The grammar is supposed to be similar to Japanese, so my hope is that one will reinforce the other. (I can always hope, right?)

At any rate, my first revelation concerning Korean came when I learned the word for 'hat': 모자. Having learned this from a book, I can really only guess at the correct pronounciation, but it's something like 'maw-ja'. At any rate, what was so exciting about this is that I realized the korean sound 'ja' (자) must be equivalent to the japanese sound 'shi' (し), since the japanese word for 'hat' is 帽子 'boshi'*. The kanji character 子 that sounds like 'shi' in the japanese word for 'hat', and presumably 'ja' in the korean word, means 'child'. In Japanese, it can also be pronouced 'ko' (こ), and is a very common ending for japanese female names (Keiko and Mariko and Junko and the like). And so (stay with me here) this must be why so many of the korean female names I see at the window end in 'ja': it's the korean version of Keiko and Mariko and Junko! QED.

Being able to follow this deductive chain from beginning to end marked a high point in this weekend's accomplishments, right up there with finally filing the stack of paper that's been on my floor for over a month, and sewing the fly button back on my black work pants. I haven't been able to feel in any way accomplished in language study in an awfully long time. So thanks, Korea! If I have anything to say about it, Tokushima will someday be definitively yours.

The fact that I can't as yet form the sentence 'This is a hat' in Korean is completely inconsequential...

* The languages of the two countries share a common Chinese root; using that as an axiom, I felt this was a pretty safe assumption.


Anonymous said...

이것이 모자예요.
[ie-geo-ssi moh-ja-ye-yo.]
"this (thing) is a hat!"

wow. you totally nailed it too. you are much smarter at this stuff than i am. you'd probably learn korean in half the time i have(n't).

weirdly, though, the connotation in korean seems to be "boy" rather than "girl":

女 is the character korean uses to mean "girl", pronounced "여" [yeo]. as in, er, well, "嬅/여자/girl".

子 is the character used in korean for "boy" (also person), pronounced "자" [cha]. byt itself, it means boy, but when attached to other hanja it means "__-person".

and 帽子 is the same word in both korean and japanese? i wonder if 子, which was kinda neuter in connotation, developed to infer girl in japanese, but developed to infer boy in korean.

thanks for an opportunity to expend mental energy on something other than SAOs for a bit. back to the grind...

Anonymous said...

not content to commit myself to finishing these SAOs, i have bled Rankyung and Gyejo for information. Gyejo tells me that "cha" means boy by itself, and means, abstractly, "person", when used in a name, and it is often used as a diminuative; though not female by definition, the diminuative is often used most with small chidren, and sticks longer with girls, so it becomes common with girls' names. apparently, Gyejo was called "Gyejo-cha" when he was a little boy, but it falls off his name as he grows up. For a girl, however, it has become part of the name. even though the hanja/kanji (hereafter referred to as hanji) means "boy".

In other words, you were correct! i'm going back to work...


Katie said...

Interesting... In Japanese:

女  おんな(onna), root= じょ(jo)

as in 女性 じょせい(josei) 'girl' (literally 'woman gender')

華  はな(hana), root= げ(ge)/か(ka)

as in 中華 ちゅうか (chuuka), for some reason used to indicate chinese restaurants (literally 'middle flower')

(but this is an older kanji; more modern is 花, same pronunciation)

So the korean hanja for 'girl' would translate as 'woman flower' (Ahhhh...)

diminutive (feminine connotation)=
-ちゃん (-chan)

as in 恵ちゃん けいちゃん(kei-chan) or 'Katie'

diminutive (masculine connotation)=
-くん (-kun)

as in コロくん(koro-kun), the name of my neighbor's dog in Tsuyama

I wonder if 자 and -ちゃん have a shared origin, given the similarity in sound and usage..?

But let's stop this before it becomes its own entity.

Mrs. Wrye said...

as for your comments, tl;dr, but HEY how's about Josh and I come see you for Christmas? Just a thought.

Studying language is so awesome. Good for us! <3

Catherine said...

Had to comment on "militant singlehood"--I am very familiar with the concept but have never put it into words. It's very apt :) I'm trying to think of my own personal best example but I just spent the long weekend at my parents' house where I was instantly re-civilized and I can’t seem to come up with any at the moment .

By the way, how did you like The Blind Assassin (I'm the one who commented about it earlier)? I’m currently reading Prague, which is nothing like The Blind Assassin and is actually set in Budapest. I'm really enjoying it and the author has won some awards for it so I thought I'd pass on the suggestion.

Briaryos said...

Hi there. I'm an intern with the FCS in Shanghai and a space filler near the bottom of the Managerial track register with State. From Hawaii, studied Japanese for two years, then taught English in Korea for two. I really like your blog.

There's a saying in Korea -- eating out of the bap-tong (rice cooker). But that refers to the girl who goes out on a date but doesn't eat anything for fear of looking like a pig, then goes home and is so hungry she "eats out of the bap-tong." True militant singleness there.

Korean and Japanese vocabulary are similar, but only so far as onyomi are concerned. If you know which Japanese words are pronounced with only onyomi, you can often extrapolate what the Korean word is.

Here's another tip. When Japanese has that long u sound (like in "president, daitouryou,") it's replaced by the "ng" sound in Koreas ("daetongryeong").

Good luck with that. By the way, Korean is also one of the languages you can get a bonus for, and the cost of living is way lower than Japan. Try posting for that next, and you won't have to worry about making $80 last a weekend.

Katie said...

In response to everyone's comments:

- Yes, studying language is fun; I'm trying to remember that. And we'll discuss Christmas... (I think Mom and Dad have something in mind.)

- I enjoyed The Blind Assassin very much; in that genre, she's one of my favorite authors. I'll look at the other book.

- Thanks for the Korean tip! The '-ng' / 'ou' equivalent is quite helpful. There's lots of Korean on signs in Japan, so I've been learning words that way, too. Today I think I learned the word for 'bathroom' through this method. (Though it may have said 'tips accepted', which I suppose could also be a helpful phrase...)

I don't know that I'd want to be stationed in Korea, though most people in the Japan mission seemed to have cycled through there at some time early on in their careers; I'll see how my bidlist looks. That's quite some time from now, however.

Anonymous said...

Go Girl, learn all you want. I think it is great. Take it from your old Aunt that now has 35 years in Civil Service and never learned another language. Love ya, Junie