Smathermather's Weblog

Remote Sensing, GIS, Ecology, and Oddball Techniques

Posts Tagged ‘Korea’

Korean Drumming at FOSS4G Seoul

Posted by smathermather on October 3, 2015

Korean Drumming at FOSS4G Seoul:

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Pictures from my last few weeks.

Posted by smathermather on October 3, 2015

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Mini-series on Korean words, part 4: Apologies

Posted by smathermather on October 3, 2015

In order to function at a most basic level in a given society (which I do not yet in the South Korean context), it is good to know the basic words of courtesy — the equivalents of “Excuse me”, “Pardon me”, “Nice to meet you”, “Hello”, “Goodbye”, etc..

Today we’ll talk about how to say “I’m sorry.” Between talking across cultural / language / expectation differences, and just spending time with individuals you might not know well, being able to apologize is a very important tool in the toolkit.

Hangul for "I'm sorry".

Hangul for “I’m sorry”.

Mian (mee ahn) is the root of one way of apologizing in Korean. Often you’ll be saying this formally, so Mianheyo (미안해요) would be what you would say to apologize. If you don’t need the formal, usually you’ll say “Mianhe” 미안해.

For a more comprehensive coverage of apologies (plus pronunciation!), see Sweet and Tasty TV’s coverage of this:

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Mini-series on Korean words, part 3: Agglutinative language

Posted by smathermather on August 31, 2015

Short linguistics aside

For me, understanding a language, beyond a memorization of terms, is predicated on the idea that I understand something of the underlying logic to the language. So today, instead of a Korean word, we’ll talk about the term agglutinative. (bless you)

In short, what it means is that a language uses a lot of prefixes, stem words, and suffixes, and that these components of larger words don’t change their sound in order to be put together.

Let’s take some English words as a counter example. When we look at English numbering, we have this weird thing that happens in the teens. The first thing we notice, is that for numbers between 10 and 20, we call them teens not tens. English is not agglutinative, it is fusional. When prefixes and suffixes come into play, often (but not always) the sounds change. Think of thirteen (not three-ten or three-teen) vs. Fourteen.  Fifteen is another departure — we might expect five-teen.

And don’t even get me started on twenty (two tens), or thirty (three tens)… .

Korean Numerals

By contrast, Sino-Korean numerals are agglutinative.

FYI, in the Korean Language, there are two numbering systems: the native Korean system, and the Sino-Korean system. More on that another time.

So, if I say the number three (sam), the number ten (sheep), and the number three again (still sam), I get 33, or sam sheep sam: 삼십삼. If I want to say 13, that’s just sheep sam, or 십삼. You prefer the number 88? Well that’s 팔십팔, or pal sheep pal.

FYI, the proper romanization of the word 10 (십) is “sip”, but as the s sound in front of the long e sound is pronounced sh, we’ll just consider the whole process an homage to counting sheep. Somehow apropos given the nation is 13 time zones away from me… .


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Mini-series on Korean words, part 2: Land of Mountains and Sea

Posted by smathermather on August 30, 2015

A good logo is hard to come by. I love the logo of Korean National Park Service. It’s simple, beautiful, has elements of complexity to it, and makes a simple statement: land of mountains and sea. The mountains and the sea are sources of life in Korea, from the resources and farming found on the edge of the mountains, the peace found hiking and visiting temples in the mountains, to the resources and seafood found in the sea. More to the point with KNPS, many of the national parks lands are reserves of mountains or protected ocean.

Today we will look at the second word in our mini-series on Korean words (see the first here): the Korean word for mountain: san.

The Korean character 'san'

Look to the individual characters that make up the syllable, and we see ㅅ(s),ㅏ(ah),ㄴ(n). This is a simple enough word.

As Seoul is surrounded by mountains, you will encounter san as a syllable in many contexts. Take for example a mountain to the north of Seoul, Bukhan Mountain, or Bukhansan: 북한. This name mirrors one of the names of North Korea: Bukhan. Buk means north, Han is the river that flows through Seoul. So the full name is “Mountain north of the Han”.

Buhkansan 북한산 is also the name of the national park that contains the mountain it is named for.

If you visit Seoul for FOSS4G, I highly recommend a hike in the mountains. It’s a rare megacity and capital that contains a 30 square mile national park inside its boundary. If you do visit, I recommend doing so during the week — weekend visits are very busy.

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Google Maps won’t help you much in Seoul…

Posted by smathermather on August 29, 2015

That could be my whole blog post. Just a PSA. Google Maps in Seoul is like Apple Maps was when they launched — dangerously inaccurate. *I don’t know what is helpful on iOS. I traveled last year with Android only, and my searches so far on iOS are coming up short.*

So what should you use? Anything OSM-based isn’t too bad. I really like OSMAnd. I haven’t done any deep analyses in this space, but OSMAnd has served me well. Also, you can record tracks, so if you see something wrong or out of date, OSMAnd will help you fix it in OpenStreetMap.

Icon for OSMAnd

I adore Seoul’s subway system. It’s considered one of the largest in the world,  ranks among the best, cleanest, etc.. Many stations are like 5 story malls that happen to have trains at the bottom; it’s really surreal. Oh, and for an English speaker it is not hard at all to navigate. Almost everything is in romanized characters / English + Korean, and the trains play nice sounding music as they approach.

It doesn’t hurt to have a good app, however. Subway Korea, though a little strange in interface is absolutely amazing once you use it. I say the interface is weird — it’s just transit graphic at a single static scale (it doesn’t change appearance as you zoom). But that graphic allows you to route between locations calculating train changes as necessary, let’s you optimize for time vs. number of train changes, and allows you to do routes by way of particular stops you may want to take on the way. It is great in large part because it’s designed with a deep understanding of how transit works and the kinds of questions people who don’t know the system need answers to. That’s a tall task. I can recall my first time navigating public transit in Boston, Cleveland, New York, DC, San Francisco, Portland, and Denver. Each of the above (even Portland!) was a little more difficult than Subway Korea and Seoul’s amazing wayfinding.

Icon for Subway Korea

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And I will fly ten thousand miles…

Posted by smathermather on July 22, 2015

Contemplating FOSS4G 2015, Seoul, South Korea | SEPTEMBER 14TH – 19TH, 2015, but don’t speak Korean? That’s ok. You will be treated oh so well even without Korean.

But…  if you want to show your hosts and hostesses a little care in return, maybe learn a little basic Korean. I highly recommend the sweetandtasty channel on YouTube, starting with the word “Love” or “sarang”. You’ll love the place, the people, and the food.


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Korean Phonetics and Hangul

Posted by smathermather on February 16, 2015


I learn topics better if I talk and write about them. If you have been following this blog for long, you’ll know that I am always willing to post half-learned knowledge here. Today, it will be the Korean alphabet, Hangul.

What I like about learning Korean (people, food, culture, letters, language) is that, like culture in general, it is a complicated, many faceted and subtle thing. It is a real challenge to get good at, and as I get better at it, I slowly get to know fellow thinkers in a FOSS, half a world away. It satisfies my love of people (in general and in particular) and my love of learning.

In addition, the better I learn Hangul and the Korean language, the easier it will be to navigate Seoul this September when I return for Free and Open Source for GeoSpatial.


In a previous post, I mentioned the value of learning a little bit of Hangeul (or Hangul) the Korean alphabet in advance of going to FOSS4G in Seoul this year. I will confess that, as much as there is English text on most signs in Seoul, flying into a nation that uses a completely different system of writing is an exercise in immediate illiteracy. At one point I spent 30 minutes comparing signs in the well labeled and signed Seoul Metropolitan Subway in order to get on the train going the right direction. I got it all figured out, looking carefully at the Hangul (which I couldn’t read), and after all my effort, still got on the train going the opposite direction of my intent. Fortunately, that particular line is a loop… .

But, you don’t have to be as ignorant on arrival as I was. A small amount of study will make you a pro. I’m currently working through Living Language: Korean Essentials, which does a fine job. Wikipedia is also not a bad place to start, and where I got all of my history which follows.

A little History:

Hangul is the official and native alphabet of the two Koreas. It’s called Hangul in South Korea meaning either “great script” or “Korean script”, and called Chosŏn’gŭl in North Korea, which (if my understanding is correct) means “Korean script” but also could be interpreted as “North Korean script”, as Choson is North Korea, but also a historical name for Korea.

Hangul was created during the Joseon Dynasty in the 15th century. It has mostly replaced the use of Chinese characters to write Korean, a borrowed writing system called Hanja.

Why Hangul:

The cool thing about Hangul, coming from a Roman alphabet, is that it is not much different. Unlike a Roman alphabet, syllables are blocks, much like Chinese and other writing systems, but the blocks are phonetic, so themselves can be decomposed into their requisite sounds.

There are a few rules for syllables.

  1. must always start with a consonant
  2. must always contain a vowel
  3. must be either consonant then vowel, or consonant then vowel then consonant (diphthongs and iotized vowels included here as vowels)

Let’s take my name, for example. My full first name is “Stephen” which is pronounced like “Steven”, or more specifically “Steevun” or “Steevin”. In Hangul, that converts approximately to:


Let’s break it down into it’s parts:

ㅅ is the character “siot”, which is the equivalent of the letter “s”. (So far so good). Note our third rule: we can’t have two consonants in a row in Hangul. The way around this is to use the character “eu” which is a simple line ㅡ (pronounced like i is in “bid” but further back in the mouth). In this case, the “eu” is unpronounced, it is just playing its role as the required vowel.

ㅌ is our next character. This is “tieut” and is pronounced like the “t” in “tip”. It is followed by ㅣwhich is pronounced like “ee” in “beep”. Putting these two character blocks together, we have “Stee”.

So far so good. Like with all languages, there is no one-to-one correspondence for all sounds. Korean doesn’t have a “v” sound, so the closest letter is used: ㅂ, which is called “bieup”, and sounds like the “b” in “boy”. What follows is another ㅡ or “eu”. In this case, I think it’s not acting in a silent capacity but as that short “i” like sound. Now we have “Steebi” with a short “i” sound.

Finally our “N” sound is fulfilled by “nieun” or ㄴ. On this syllable, I need to phone a friend — I’m not sure if the pronunciation of this get’s it’s own separate audible syllable or not. So, I’m not sure of the final sound is “Steebinin” or “Steebin”. For our sticklers for proper translation the proper way to Romanize this would be more like Stibeuneun (I think), or just translate it back to what it was in the first place “Stephen”.

Whew! Try this with your own name. Try going to or and see if you can get a Korean version of your own name translated. Common English names (anyway) do have common translations, and you can double check by translating it back, though I don’t know about other languages. Or better yet, contact a friend, if you have one that speaks Korean. If not, make sure to come to FOSS4G in Korea this year. You’ll find many.



I was informed by Sanghee Shin that the final 는 is the suffix that flags a word as the subject in the sentence.

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Korean and Hangul

Posted by smathermather on December 10, 2014

As I am contemplating FOSS4G 2015 (save the date! Seoul, South Korea | SEPTEMBER 14TH – 19TH, 2015) I contemplate what it means to be functionally illiterate for the first time in 30 years.

You see, when, if you are an American born, English and Spanish (kinda) speaking guy and you get dropped into East Asia, there is no alphabet for you to rely on for even the slightest clue about street signs and restaurant names, and everything else.

Now, to be fair, my experience in Seoul this year was not too bad — many signs are written both in English and Korean. But, as I encourage the FOSS4G world to descend upon Korea (especially prompting the Europeans and Americans to go out of their comfort zone a little), I highly encourage a little study of Hangul, the phonetic alphabet of Korea.

Hangul is pretty easy to learn, it’s phonetic (unlike if you try to read Japanese or Chinese), and it will serve you well to study it even a little bit, so you can recognize patterns.


So, learn some hangul, save the date, and I hope to see you there.

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And I will fly ten thousand miles…

Posted by smathermather on December 7, 2014

Contemplating FOSS4G 2015, Seoul, South Korea | SEPTEMBER 14TH – 19TH, 2015. It’s only 18 cents a mile to get there from Cleveland, but only 0.11 dollars a kilometer, because the metric system is more economical.

If you need inspiration for your own travels to Korea, Mr. Sanghee Shin has that for you. He starts with technology, food, arts, culture, economic potential, but also solicits your love of booze as incentives to go. I think he might know his audience.

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