Korean (Hangul) Primer

Following on the tail of the previous entry (Classical Chinese [Hanmun] Primer), I wanted to share more from my adventures at the Joint Library of Humanities and Social Sciences (人文社會科學聯合圖書館) at Academia Sinica.

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These two images are from the Korean-language primer used in the colonial schools under the Japanese. What’s interesting here is the usage of Chinese (漢文, 한문, Hanmun) within the textbooks to guide the student,  noting differences between the form of the Hangul and the pronunciation.

This makes me really curious: how was Korean taught at the time? How was the writing system standardized? How and why was Chinese (漢文, 한문, Hanmun) used in the classroom and textbooks? Although I always end up with more questions then answers, that’s all part of the fun!

Classical Chinese (Hanmun) Primer

I recently took a day and traveled out to the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, heading to the Joint Library of Humanities and Social Sciences (人文社會科學聯合圖書館) in search for some primary sources related to my research area. While I was there, I happened across some Classical Chinese Primers (漢文讀本, 한문독본) that were compiled and edited by the Japanese to be used in the colonial schools in Korea. I thought I would share some snippets I took from these primers.

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I’m really curious how these texts were taught, especially seeing the way Hangul is mixed throughout the text, similar to the way Classical Chinese primers were compiled in Japan at the same time.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a proper class schedule for the schools to know when and how often these books may have been used, or under what circumstances.

Still, it’s a very interesting part of the overall history of Classical Chinese education in Korea.

Whistle While You Work

I’m someone that needs to listen to music while working, especially when writing. I can’t work in dead silence, which is probably why I never study in libraries. Music helps keep me motivated and also gives me the energy to keep going. I prefer instrumental tracks, like classical music (and dare I say) video game and movie soundtracks. However, recently, my friend introduced to Jazz music by sharing “It’s A Raggy Waltz” by Dave Brubeck, and since then I’ve been collecting more Jazz music to put on while I study. Below I’d like to share some of the collections I’ve found on YouTube. The best part? Some wonderful Japanese people have put these collections together–often lasting over an hour–which makes for great, distraction free listening as you study. Here’s a list with some comments about the content of each video! Hope you enjoy them.

JAZZ  雨降りの午後 【作業用BGM】
I particularly like the story this tells–going into a cafe on a rainy day, getting some work done/listening to soft Jazz, and leaving as the sun comes out.

【作業用BGM】 -ラウンジbarの片隅で- JAZZ
【作業用BGM】~受験に向けて頑張るあなたへ贈ります~ピアノ曲集 1時間
【作業用BGM】piano jazz~大人な時間を貴方に~【JAZZ】
These three all soft sets that aren’t distracting and keep me writing or working.

As I mentioned above, most of these sets tend to run around an hour, so you don’t have to worry about switching tracks or finding the next song you’d like to listen to.

To me, music is a very important role in setting the mood. Often, if I’m feeling particularly unmotivated to begin studying or writing, I like to start with a very uplifting track. I’ve found that video game music–especially from RPGs in particular–are very good at building this sense of momentum; a sense of setting out on adventure. This track from Star Ocean, for example, is particularly empowering. Here are two video game themed sets worth checking out:


If you happen to find this music helpful in your studies let me know. Also, if you have any music you particularly enjoy listening to while working, put it in the comments below!


1. These are often referred to as 【作業用BGM】(作業用 = さぎょうよう by the way), so give that a search on YouTube and you’ll find a large variety of music collections. Very much worth your time to check out!

Changes in Motivation

Confused Laowai recently wrote up an interesting blog post that goes a bit into motivation–and how that changes–especially after being abroad, in the country of the target language you want to learn. It’s a very interesting topic, and very much worth the read (it’ll make the following post more relevant as well). I think this is a topic that, while everyone experiences it, seems to be rarely discussed.

Let’s start with a quite from Confused Laowai to get the ball rolling!

…moving to Taipei has changed my motivation to learn Chinese. Before I came here, moving to Taipei was my goal. I wanted to improve my Chinese as much as possible so that I can function in the society. When I arrived, I realized I could function pretty well and the intense focus on the language was downgraded.

He goes on further to say:

Habits and motivation will change. This is a challenge. How do you change with it, that’s the question here? I’ve just been slow in trying to figure this out. But I promise I will!

Love the positiveness here!

My own experiences

I’ve gone through my own journey of motivations for learning Chinese. First, as a challenge in university. I had been studying Japanese and was rather annoyed at the lack of emphasis on Kanji.[1][2] My roomate at the time was learning Chinese, it looked fun, and I love Chinese characters so I took the course and enjoyed every minute of it. I was motivated by the pure passion to deciper the language and the characters, everything was a mystery and I wanted to solve it.

Later I would come to study abroad for a summer in Taiwan, deciding then I wanted to return and pursue an MA. Motivation to study Chinese, then, became to prepare myself for life in Taiwan and for pursuing a degree here as well. After arriving in 2008 that was my core focus, although life (such as jobs) did get in the way and broke my focus.

After getting into my program my motivation became to read the material I was handed and the write papers. This actually had a negative affect on me where–my reading and writing are fairly passable, but my speaking lags very far behind where it should be. And, as Confused Laowai (yes he has a real name but I love this moniker too much to stop using it) so poignantly noticed: I too realized I could function pretty well and the intense focus on the language was downgraded (that’s called plaigarizing kids, please don’t try this at home).

And getting that motivation back is difficult sometimes. However, in my case, impending pressure (doom?) for two major oral exams–literature review and thesis defense–as well as a presentation on a chapter from my paper, have slowly begun to push me to get my act together and really focus on getting my speaking where it needs to be.

That said, it is very difficult to build that motivation when you’re at a point that you feel like you can just ‘get by’.

How about you?

If you’ve abroad–what is your motivation? How has it changed? If you studied the language prior to moving abroad, has your motivates changed with reality? If you only started learning abroad, what were your motivations? How have you kept yourself motivated to keep going, and to break past any walls you’ve hit along the way? Let me know in the comments below!


1. There were students that were literally boycotting and campaigning against the teacher who, bless her poor heart, was trying her best to really pushing learning Kanji on us. It got so bad that the students wrote a petition and gave it to the dean.
2. This is also why I think Japanese is taught so poorly in schools. In order to keep students and not intimidate them, Kanjji are usually kept until the very last and introduced gradually almost a year into the course. This causes people to be even more intimidated and say, “why can’t I just use hiragana/katakana instead? It’s sooooooooo much easier!”. Yes, Nakama, I am looking at you, you awful awful book.

In Odd Praise of the Demise of Google Reader

I know it seems odd–I’m an avid RSS user and I loved that Google Reader had all of that information conveniently placed in one central area. Sure, I use The Old Reader and Feedly (fantastic alternatives by the way) but I still do miss the old Google Reader.

Or so I thought.

Once it was gone, it completely broke down my daily schedule: login to Gmail, pop open reader, see what’s no (repeat 5x every hour). It became inconvenient to check The Old Reader or Feedly–another website to go to, load, parse through the entries, etc. Eventually it dropped out of my routine entirely. Now I only check if I remember to, or if I am so insanely bored that I just have to do something.

So that got me thinking. How many parts of our lives are just in ruts that, with a slight change, we could get out of it (“shake things up” if you will) and discover how much more time and potential we have? How much can we free up to devote to something else?

In a similar vein, another thing I like to do is to take a new path to work every so often. New backstreet, random alleyway, completely opposite side of the road, etc. It really helps freshen things up, and you’ll never know what cool new things you’ll find (like Dr. Pepper and Salt and Vinegar chips in a random grocery store). It’s nice to break out of that rut–that routine–and discover all the hidden gems around you.

(I’ve also forced Facebook to be completely inaccessible on my home computer and deleted the app from my phone, which ha scut down on my Facebook usage immensely.. and I don’t miss it. Now it’s “only when I need it”)

Studying–is there no end?

There’s a Chinese proverb that goes:

學到老 活到老 還有三分學不到

It says, “Learn till old, live till old, and there is still one-third not learned.”

It means that no matter how old you are, there is still more learning or studying left to do.


That sounds harsh! But does it have to be?

No, rather, we can think of it more positively. There will always be stuff that we can study. Conversely, plenty that we can’t study either.

Instead, we should enjoy the journey. Understand there’s “1/3” not learned, and just enjoy learning what you want to learn.

Only in that way will we truly succeed, especially when it comes to languages.

Busy times

Just a quick update to apologize for the lack of posts, replies to comments, etc over the past few months! Had a busy semester (four classes) as well as Chinese New Year and all that fun stuff. I ave some new entries planned as well as a few thins to discuss related to doing graduate school in a second language which I think may be of interest to some folks.

Anyway, Happy Chinese New Year folks!

Hardline Education Rhetoric Verus Fun (Part 2)

Part 2—Electric Boogaloo

Part 1 starts here, and while I’m lazy to do a recap of the previous entry, here’s the lead-in point:

I prepared to take classes and get ready to enter life as a graduate student in Taiwan, about to start on my Master’s…

And now the thrilling conclusion!

Sudden Realizations

Excited about the new step in my life—and finally doing something in Taiwan I was happy to be doing—I went to the online course selection system and prepared to get my class schedule in order.[1] Flipping through the pages of the offered classes, I began to get a feel for what classes I wanted to take, and which ones I could plan to take in future semesters if they were offered.

I didn’t find anything.

That’s right. As soon as I had checked out the classes I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t see a single class on there that truly caught my interest. It was just a series of literature classes that, quite frankly, I found to be incredibly boring or tedious sounding. Forced to make some kind of a selection, I went with a required class and a class on Tao Yuanming (see footnote) since I liked his work. It was with this mindset and a sense of making a very poor decision in selecting the department I was in, that I went in to my first semester.

A Moment of Weakness and Confusion

A few weeks later, I found more and more than I had little to no interest in what I was studying. Well, that isn’t entirely true. I enjoyed reading about it, and I liked knowing a bit more background, but I did not like analyzing them. Worse still, I had gotten in when, perhaps, my Chinese level was not where it should have been. I felt very intimidated in class, and always under constant pressure everyday “I have to study study study study!!!!!”. I never felt like I could catch up, I was always worried about improving my Mandarin, in addition to having to work on Classical Chinese (the language of the poets/authors of the time), and getting enough background in the area to even make comparisons—the kind that are necessary for literature studying. I just really wasn’t having any fun at all, it was nothing but massive stress.

Eventually I got so tired of it that I stopped going to class, instead going to a local coffee shop to try and figure out just what I was doing—and what the next step would be. Unfortunately the way I handled it was poor; I just stopped going without notifying anyone at the school. While I don’t regret the decision to leave the department, I regret the way that I handled it.

I was left in a very tight spot: my education in Taiwan was in question, and what would I do for finances? My coffers were extraordinarily low, so returning home to find work was not an option. I could find a job in Taiwan, which would mean teaching English or, if I was luckily, back to the ol’ 9-7 at a Taiwanese company. After redoing my resume, putting out some applications, and thinking if I wanted to be in school or not, I finally came to a decision: find a way to stay in school in Taiwan. If that failed, I would go back to the U.S.

Getting myself together, I put together a plan to get back into school. I would attempt to transfer departments—the Chinese literature department held nothing for me, and staying there would only put me back into the situation I was before—and my aim was in the history department. I had already gotten a good feeling when I had met people that worked in that office, as well as knowing a few students in the department. The classes, which I also looked at in the beginning of the semester, were much preferred over the Chinese literature department ones. I wrote some nice letters to explain my situation, and awaited for their decision.

Amazingly, the school was more than willing to understand and worked with me to put me into the history department. I still had to go through the approval of the Chinese literature department to do it, but I could begin taking classes again and start working on finishing the credits for my degree. Excited, I ran home to check online which classes I could take, signed up for them, and was now taking classes again, enjoying them much more immensely than I did before.

Back on Track

So here I am, about two and a half months in, and still enjoying it very much. My current focus for my studies is the Japanese occupation period in Taiwan. It was something that had always interested me, and now it is a great opportunity for me to study Japanese (which I have always had a deep passion and desire to learn, I still love being able to pick it apart). Unfortunately, because I am taking a class that requires looking at documents written by Japanese academics, it proves to be really challenging. Reading a 30 page document in Japanese, then having to write a report on it, with only my Japanese lessons from 2002-2006 to back me up.. it was an issue. But, fun to try and get through.[2]

I’ve also gotten the opportunity to help translate a book for a professor into English from Chinese, which will be published sometime next year. I’ll get to have my name in print! I’m pretty excited about it, and it’s a fun challenge to do. While it is unpaid, it is still a worthwhile experience.

Things are basically on the up and up now! I’m really happy with where I am, and I’m certainly enjoying the ride.


As I mentioned in the previous post, the main goal of these entries is to also point out the importance of education versus fun.

As I hope my example shows, just naturally following academic paths set up for you by the system is not an ideal way to go. It is very easy to get lost in the system, especially for someone like me who went into it without any clear goals or motivations. To me, I was doing it because I ought to do it, it seemed like the right step to take, and it “might be fun”.

It was only when I discovered, during those coffee shop sessions and much personal reflection, what it was that would be ‘fun’ for me to do. I was able to trace the thread of history through my life: influence from my parents, enjoyment at looking at various historical landmarks in the U.S., and even in Taiwan looking at old Qing and Japanese occupation buildings and documents. I just had never thought of it before. It was just a hobby. Now I’ve turned it into my academic goal.

Of course there’s the joke that historians never really make any money, and it’s probably true, but who cares? At least I’m doing something I want that I enjoy! I mean, come on, I’m learning Japanese and Chinese—two languages I love—and can read a variety of really interesting documents related to a country that I really love, too.

And, who knows, with the focus of my studies, maybe I can get some grants to go to Japan! Or my silly goal since high school—Tokyo University!

[1] I should probably note what is meant by “Chinese Literature”. I’m sure it is a no brainer, but in case someone is interested in what it entails, I’ll devote some time to explaining it. Most of what constitutes Chinese Literature is not necessarily novels or plays as we may think of when we think of English Literature—in fact it is mostly poetry. I find it to be exceptionally beautiful and really enjoy reading it. There are, of course, novels too, but not in the Western sense. Chinese novels tend to be long, drawn out, and with a large cast of characters (think War and Peace). Some interesting poets to look up are Li Bai[李白], Dufu[杜甫], Tao Yuanming[陶淵明](who has written one of my favorite pieces titled “Drinking Wine Number 5”[飲酒之五]), and others. As I think this ceased to be a ‘footnote’ long ago, I’ll shut up here.
[2] In case you’re wondering how I did it, I basically only focused on the kanji and ignored all of the verb endings. I didn’t have the time nor the proper resources to figure it out. I just focused on the ones I knew (basic negations) and whatever I could glean from my DS dictionary. In fact the picture on that entry was during this work. I wouldn’t suggest doing it again, but it was an interesting challenge, and I picked up a few words from it. If anything, though, it encouraged me to work harder!

Hardline Educational Rhetoric Versus Fun (Part 1)

This was originally a post I had been working on for a long time called “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Ride”, but it had sat for so long unfinished I decided to breathe some life into it through this post. What I had originally typed was this:

This post is dedicated to my dear Kendo, who wished to hear this story.

In addition, this post is quite long. It explores such areas as linear education (and the downsides thereof), taking risks and chances, seizing any opportunity that comes across your path, living/surviving/finding work in a foreign country (specifically Taiwan), and language study along the way.

I also came across a quote from Danchan that puts this into words better than I could:

A language is not a subject of academic study, and people who treat it that way (like friends I know, real, real hard working friends) just don’t make it. They burn up and drop out.

This will still likely be a long post, in face, a long series of posts. But, for now, there’s a few points I wanted to touch on right away—that is education versus fun. First some background (and a break).

Linear Paths

Like everyone else in the American education system I did my stint through college. High school, while a mere blip on the radar now, did offer me the opportunity to study Japanese for the first time under my most influential Japanese teacher to date, Mr. Garneau. His Japanese impeccable, worked for the Bank of Tokyo while he lived in Japan and even taught us a modified version of RTK in class. I learned a lot of Japanese here and he wasn’t afraid to teach us Kanji. Unfortunately this did not carry over into my university classes; students complained when we had Kanji tests, said it was too difficult, and actively fought with the department to get the teacher to teach us less Kanji. A group of budding scholars, indeed! Slightly disenfranchised by this, I decided to give Chinese a whirl.

Did so and loved it, but it was the characters that got me hooked—I just loved looking at, taking apart, and constructing characters. Eventually I went on a study abroad trip to Taiwan in 2006 (originally was planning on Japan, but this is how life goes.. didn’t make it to Japan until 2010!). What I loved was the Chinese and Japanese influences in Taiwan, and decided to come back after I graduated.

And I did. In 2008 I finally returned to Taiwan. My next goal: Graduate School.

Getting Lost

That’s kind of when things fell apart. I haphazardly applied to a Teaching Chinese as a Second Language program, as at the time my goal of getting into the Chinese Literature department was a far off dream. My Chinese, simply put, was terrible and I knew it. I didn’t get in—but I wasn’t even sure I wanted to anyway. Afterward, I tried applying to East Asian Studies Programs in the U.S. (four universities in total). Each returned a rejection letter. After a later inquiry the response was simple: they just couldn’t see what I really wanted to do. And, it’s true, I really had no idea.

During this time I went from teaching English (which I found I really despise, the kids are cute but I don’t like teaching in cram schools), working in marketing for a Taiwanese B2B company (which was mostly doing English grunt work), and finally ending up at one final attempt getting into graduate school.

This time would be it, I told myself. My Chinese was good enough, I had had enough of being in a cubicle, I didn’t want to go back to teaching, nor did I want to go back to the states. I had invested so much time, money, and effort into Taiwan and I was going to come back with something. I got into gear and set out to begin applications to schools in Taiwan. I applied for the Chinese literature department, and the International Sinology Studies department.

Why Chinese literature? The second most influential professor I’ve had was that in my Chinese classes. He was the first foreigner to obtain a PhD in Chinese literature from National Taiwan Normal University and was strongly influential in my coming to Taiwan (after hearing such great stories and with the passion he spoke of his time here) and in learning Chinese. Classes were attempts at having fun, teaching cultural experiences, etc. While he had to use textbooks, it was clear he did not like the books much and tried to find other ways (such as movies and music) to get students engaged. College students being what they are, this was frowned upon, considered “easy”, and that were weren’t “learning anything useful”. So the dictations, written tests, and oral tests came back.[1] At any rate, it was because of this that I felt the need to go into the Chinese litertature department.

The applications were set, all the documents put together, and finally sent to the schools to go through the process, with no choice but to wait until I heard back.

A New Path Opens

Suffice it to say, and with as much modesty as II really hope transfers through text, I got accepted into ALL the programs and universities I applied for. It was a whirlwind of excitement. Faced with a tough decision—going to the alma mater of my influential professor or the top school (National Taiwan University) in Taiwan? After much internal strife and a discussion with said professor, the decision was made to go to the best school, which would be in my best interests after all.

Ready and set to go on my new semester, I prepared to take classes and get ready to enter life as a graduate student in Taiwan, about to start on my Master’s…

To be continued.

[1] Then they went and complained it was too hard but I digress…

Special Post: A Note on Chinese Medicine(中醫)

I’ve had my fair share of experience when it comes to Chinese Medicine, since my first time to Taiwan in 2006, as part of the series of culture classes we took on our study abroad trip (pictures can be seen here), getting a cold in 2008 and trying their acupuncture and powder remedies, and finally just three days ago for a regular health check.

I’m not sure how many foreigners will actually go and try Chinese medicine, I assume there’s a decent amount, but I definitely recommend it if you’re willing to give it a shot[1].

Chinese medicine is different from Western medicine: they tend to look at the body on a whole, while western doctors will focus on the afflicted area. Chinese doctors will also use a combination of medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, and moxibustion to treat you (or a steaming jug of medicine). For example, this time I went and have all of that performed on me just for a regular exam (a combination of acupuncture, moxibustion, and, I guess, electrotherapy?) After all that, I got my medicine and went home.

My medicine consist of, a drink (湯)and a powder(藥粉). The pills are my girlfriend’s, but I thought they looked neat so I wanted to show those as well.




The above three are the liquid medicine. Each has its own use.


The powdered medicine comes in little pouches like this.


The powder inside. I love how you can make out the little bits and different colors.


I like how you can see the actual powder inside!

So. How does it taste? Well, the liquid isn’t so bad, I actually kind of like drinking it. However, it is bitter. It has the same bitter taste the powder has…

And the powder is intensely bitter. Not like “I-like-my-coffee-black-and-bitter-like-my-soul” kind of bitter, but like “feeling of lacking proper healthcare in the US” kind of bitter. It definitely takes some getting used to, especially taking it in powder form.

As for the results? Well, I can definitely say after the acupuncture, you do feel a different. For me, I felt more awake and clear headed for the day. The moxibustion is fun, since you can feel the heat transferring from the needles down into you body. It’s odd at first, but it’s kind of relaxing.

The powder itself I have to wait on. Chinese medicine isn’t “results fast!”, it takes a few months or a year of using it to really get some results from it. That is why, in 2008, when I had a cold, my Chinese medicine did not work well and I had to just rely on Western medicine. It just works slower on those that have not been used to using it for most of their lives.

I definitely say, if you have the chance, give it a shot. It’s a fun and interesting experience!

[1]That being said, I would like to make a point of warning: While you can likely trust them, you will want to be careful of the materials they use. It is constantly in the news about poor products being used, so make sure you go to a reputable one. This is especially important since it is natural, and if you have any allergies you’ll probably want to let them know. Also, getting acupuncture done by a professional is very important.