Book Review: Korean Folk Songs

KoreanFolkSongsI knew it had been awhile since I’d blogged, but I was amazed to see that my last entry was exactly a year ago today. As much as I love doing this blog, life has certainly gotten in the way of blogging.

But today I’m happy to bring you a review of a wonderful book that would make a great resource for Korean adoptive families, or anyone who wants their child to learn the Korean language.

The book is “Korean Folk Songs: Stars in the Sky and Dreams in Our Hearts” by Robert Sang-ung Choi. The book features 14 Korean folk songs and includes everything you need to learn the songs, including a CD with the songs presented in two versions, one that is sung and another that has no words so you can sing along.

For each song, the book contains a short description of the song and its history. Then the music is included with words in hangul, romanized Korean, and English. And since many Korean songs have hand and/or body movements to go with them, a description of the actions that should accompany the song is listed as well.

Some of the songs, like Santokki (Mountain Rabbit) and Gom Semari (Three Bears Song) were familiar to our family. But there are several others that are new to us. As a baby my son would have loved the Jjak Jjak Ggung (Clap, Clap, Clap) song, since that was one of the games he was playing in Korean when he came home. Korea’s most popular folk song–Arirang–is included as well.

All of the songs are steeped in the Korean culture and are likely songs our children adopted from Korea heard during the months or years spent in their birth country. The illustrations by Samee Back are beautiful and represent the folksy, cultural aspect of the book well.

I would highly recommend the book for any family that is learning the Korean language (learning by song is sometimes the easiest way to learn), and especially for adoptive families with Korean-born kiddos. My 9-year-old enjoyed listening to the CD and looking at the illustrations.

Here is a link to the Amazon listing for the book.

(Note: Tuttle Publishing provided me with a review copy of the book.)

Korean Culture Camps

Summer isn’t that far away and people are starting to make vacation plans. So I thought I’d direct adoptive families to KAAN’s page listing several Korean culture camp options. Here’s the link: www.kaanet.com/korean_cultural_programs/camps.php. (No sense in re-inventing the wheel, so to speak.)

I have to be honest and say that our family has yet to do a culture camp, even though there is one within two hours of house. Several of our friends go and rave about the experience. Right now my family needs the most cultural bang for its buck, which for us means taekwondo with a Korean American master four days a week and Korean school on Saturdays. Hopefully someday we’ll be able to add culture camp to our Korean culture agenda because I’m sure we would have a great time. But for now we’ll stick with the daily and weekly experiences that we’ve seen truly enrich our son’s life.

And for parents who are interested, KAAN registration is now open as well. Yours truly (that would be me) and two friends are presenting a panel this year at KAAN on embracing Korean culture. The dates for it are in late July, and I’ll be posting more about this as the dates get closer.

Seolnal School Presentation

So Monday, my exchange student, my son, and I will do a Seolnal (lunar new year) presentation for our student’s class. Since I know lots of families give presentations around this time of year, I thought I’d share what we’re doing. The class is upper elementary, but this presentation idea could be adapted for any age class, I think.

First we’re doing an introduction, which will include a brief history of Korea (how it’s 5,000 years old vs. the US being only 238 years old, and how for most of that time it was one country). During the introduction we’ll hand out maps of Korea that we found in one of the curriculums listed in the bar at right.

Next, we’ll give a brief “class” on the Korean language. We’ll explain how and when the alphabet was developed, show the kids the alphabet (and give them handouts of the alphabet), and teach them to say hello and thank you in Korean

Since our exchange student is only here for a year, she’d like to talk to her classmates about how the schools in Korea are different from schools in the US. She’ll talk about the school year being different, as well as how their school days are different.

Then we’ll give an overview of holidays in Korea, talking about how some are similar (like Memorial Day and Independence Day) and how some are the same (like Christmas, although it isn’t widely celebrated). But we’ll focus on the two main holidays of Chuseok and Seolnal. We’ll explain how these are family holidays and that families travel for several hours to be with their families and honor their ancestors.

We’ll tell them on Seolnal Koreans eat a special rice cake soup, play games, and the children will do a special bow in front of the oldest family member, for which they receive money.

We plan for our student and our son to demonstrate the sebae bow and then have all of the students try it, for which they will receive sebae ton in the form of chocolate coins.

Then we’ll teach the class how to play yut nori. Since you play yut nori in teams so I’ll lead a team and our student will lead a team. Once the game is over, we’ll have the students make their own yut nori set using craft sticks and buttons. We’ll have the rules of yut nori and the game boards printed out already so each student can take their set and play at home.

At the end of the presentation, we’ll have a Korean snack for each student which we’ve decided will be a ChocoPie with a Korean flag tooth pick stuck in it.

I’ve also recommended some books that the kids could read on their own if they want to know more. The titles include: The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park, The Next New Year by Janet Wong, and New Clothes for New Year’s Day by Hyun-Joo Bae.

Honestly there are so many things to include that it was hard to narrow it down. But since the presentation is going to be on Seolnal, I thought it would be best to stick with a general overview and then specifics for the holiday. We’re all looking forward to the presentation, and hopefully the class will enjoy learning a little bit about a different culture.

 

National Foundation Day (개천절)

Oct. 3 is National Foundation Day (romanized as “gaecheonjeol”) in Korea. Legend has it that Gojoseon, the first state of the Korean nation, was formed on the third day of the 10th lunar month in 2333 BC. But today, for convenience sake, the foundation of Korea is celebrated on the third day of the 10th according to the solar calendar.

Gaecheonjeol” means “Heaven-opened Day,” which fits the legend of Dangun coming down from heave to establish the Korean kingdom.

The earliest record of the Dangun legend is found in the Samguk Yusa, or Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms, which is a collection of legends, folktales, and historical accounts. It was compiled at the end of the 13th century. I’ll likely post more on the Samguk Yusa at a later day.

As I mentioned last year, you can find this legend numerous places online or possibly in children’s storybook form. Our son loves the story of the tiger and bear and how one became human. It would be great day to read the account of Dangun and if you have the right cookie cutters, make cookies in the shapes of Korea, tigers, and bears.

Do You Know…Korea’s Unlucky Number?

Every culture has them, I suppose; numbers that are considered unlucky because of superstitions. In the U.S., the number 13 is considered unlucky.

Well, in Korea the unlucky number is 4. (Knowing this won me a kimchi noodle bowl at a Korean presentation at the library. 🙂 )

Four has been deemed unlucky in Korea because it sounds like the Chinese word for “death.” (This refers to four in Sino-Korean numbers, which is 사  and is pronounced “sah.”) Four is also considered unlucky in China and Japan as well.

So why should you know this? Well, it will help you understand why certain buildings in Korea don’t have a “fourth” floor. And it might be best to avoid groupings of things in fours, like when you’re giving gifts. Not to mention it might win you something in trivia someday.

 

Did You Know…How to Receive Items in Korea?

Did you know that the only polite way to give or receive anything in Korea–be it change from a purchase or a gift–is to use both hands?

Our first Korean teacher taught us this, and made us practice with an older Korean gentleman who worked at the school. The most common way is to put out both hands, palms up. But you can also put out one hand, if and only if, you place your other hand either under your elbow or on the fold of your arm. Again this technique is used across the board. If you’re making a purchase, you would hand over your money to the clerk in one of the fashions mentioned above. Or if you are giving a gift to someone, you would hold the gift in the same manner.

In this video, Simon and Martina of EatYourKimchi.com go over a couple of gestures that if done North American style can be rude or insulting to Koreans. Giving and receiving items is one of they go over. Check it out. www.eatyourkimchi.com/how-to-use-korean-hand-gestures/

Did You Know…About Using Red Ink for Names?

So I’ve decided to add a category for cultural tidbits that don’t need much explanation. Today’s Did You Know…? is one I found out about only after I goofed on our son’s first birthday cake.  Here it is.

Did you know that it’s taboo in Korea to write someone’s name in red ink?

Some of you are probably thinking, “But red is the color ink that comes with a name chop so it can’t be taboo.” Well, both are true. Red ink is the color most used with a 도장 (dojang, name chop).

But when writing with ink, one should never write someone’s name in red since the color is associated with death and red ink is used to record a deceased person’s name in the family register.

So I learned this on the day of our son’s first birthday celebration (his “dol”).  My husband brought in the store-bought cake with Mickey Mouse decorations and “Happy Birthday” and our son’s name in red. Our friend, who grew up in Korea and was hosting our son’s dol, gasp and explained that names should never been written in red. In fact, it bothered her so much that she recommended we not send photos of the cake to Korea.

Well, it ended up that our son didn’t like eating his store-bought cake anyway, and much preferred a Korean pear, so there wasn’t a big sentimental attachment to the cake. But it’s something that’s stuck in my mind since then, especially when ordering birthday cakes.