The Hangul Revolution: How The Creation of A Written Language Changed South Korea Forever

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

Poo-doon-mao oh don gee yo was my (phonetic) address when I lived in South Korea, and one of the first things that I learned to say (once it had been written out for me of course) in Korean. I was told that it meant something like, “the brownish-orange buildings with numbers in the 500s on them.” All I knew for sure was that when I got in a cab and said it to the driver, I would end up in the right spot. 

The fact that I didn’t know a single word of Korean had nudged at the back of my mind more than a few times while I was preparing to travel to South Korea. I tried to study as much as I could using a phrasebook on the flight over, but I forgot everything that I thought I knew the minute I was faced with actually having to speak the foreign language. 

Luckily, my desk at work ( I was an English Teacher for just over a year) was located next to Wendy, an extremely kind Korean teacher who, in my first week, wrote some basic greeting and direction words out phonetically for me to use as a cheat sheet. She also gave me her phone number and told me to call her whenever I was in need of a translator. With her help, and the fact that most South Korean’s did not speak English so I was completely immersed, it didn’t take long for me to pick up enough of the language so that I could order food, direct a cab and exchange greetings. If I ever found myself in a situation where I just wasn’t being understood, I would shrug my shoulders, say “No Korean…English”, and hope for the best.

The written form of the language, called hangul, at first glance looked like hieroglyphs to me (and I was without a Rosetta Stone) but I soon learned that it looked a lot more complicated than it really was.

It was created in 1443 by the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, Sejong the Great, to replace the Chinese characters, or hanja, that had been used exclusively up to that point. Hanja characters were fundamentally different from the spoken Korean language, and were not accurately conveying its sounds. At the time, thousands of symbols had to be memorized just to be able to write a simple document. To put it in perspective, today’s modern Chinese writing dictionaries contain over 60,000 symbols and knowledge of at least 3,000 of them would be needed just to read an every-day newspaper. In the 1400s, a time when education for the common classes was not a priority, the use of hanja characters resulted in aristocrats, usually male, being the only people who could read and write fluently, leaving the majority of Koreans illiterate.

Influenced by the teachings of Confucius, and the importance of education present in his philosophy, Sejong the Great designed hangul so that it was simple and easy to learn, giving even a commoner the opportunity to learn to read and write. 

Built more like modern English (or Latin), the modern hangul alphabet is made up of 24 symbols, or 10 vowels and 14 consonants, representing phonetic sounds that in combination create words.


ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ  ㅅ  ㅇ ㅈ  ㅊ 

\ k,g \   \ n \   \ t,d \   \ r,l \   \ m \   \ p,b \   \ s,sh \   \ ng \   \ ch,j \   \ ch’ \   

kiyok   niun   tikut     riul   mium   piup      siot      iung     chiut    ch’iut


ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ 

\ k’ \    \ t’ \    \ p’,f \   \ h \

k’iuk   t’iut     p’iup   hiut


ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ  ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ

 \ a \    \ ya \   \ eo \   \ yeo \    \ o \    \ yo \  \ u \    \ yu \   \ eu \   \ ee \


When first introduced, this more accessible form of writing faced opposition by the literary elite, more specifically aristocratic scholars, who saw it as a threat to their status. Turning a country of illiterate commoners into an educated population would have turned the rules of hierarchy on their head. Not surprisingly, because of this, the use of Chinese symbols was not completely eradicated from the country by the hangul revolution, and hangul itself was not generally used until 1945 (North Koreans have used hangul exclusively since 1948). 

Though no longer widely used, Chinese writing has stayed ingrained in South Korean society. I had students who attended hanja hagwons to learn how to read and write with the complex characters, and I even experienced old superstitions that stemmed from their use. After observing that the fourth floor was omitted from a lot of buildings, but the thirteenth was ever-present, I learned that this was because the Chinese symbol for death looks like the number 4, and so was treated by Koreans like North Americans treat the number 13.

Now the main written language of the South Korean people, hangul gives everyone in the country (no matter what class they come from) a fair start in the constant battle for intellectual supremacy.

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The Hangul Alphabet in South Korea

Why are Chinese Gangs Called Triads?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

If you read the news or watch any sort of crime drama, you are sure to have heard the term 'triad' at some point.

It refers to one of the many branches of the Chinese organized crime organization that stretches all over the world. It's a term akin to 'mob', 'gang' or 'mafia'.

But why the word 'triad'?

According to sources (see below), the word is a relatively modern term to describe this organization.

Allegedly, the British authorities in Hong Kong coined the term in reference to a triangular symbol that was being consistently used by the gangs. This symbol stretches back to The Society of Heaven and Earth or Tiandihui (created in the mid-1700s and considered by many to be the inception of the current crime organization) used on their banners and flags. 


14 Things You Didn't Know About the Triads
Triads and Organized Crime in China

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Macarons! The History of These Beautiful French Treats

by Lindsay Shapka in , , , ,

The first time that I ever saw a macaron was 14 years ago in Paris and I wasn't really sure what I was looking at. 


Well, these tasty treats (which hadn't made it into the cafes and bakeries at home yet) are very brightly colored, often neon green, pink, yellow, and even blue. Colors that looked to me like they were going to make your teeth melt, or were full of artificial ingredients that were sure to give me a tummy ache.

And, they were stacked in elaborate displays in VERY fancy looking bakeries that I was embarrassed to walk into being that I was an extremely grungy backpacker at the time (I also assumed that they would be WAY to expensive for my shoestring budget).

Lastly, they confused me because I thought that a macaron was a macaroon (a common North American mistake), and I wasn't really sure what they were. 

So, what are macarons and how are they made?

Also referred to as Luxemburgerli, these very sweet confections are composed of a crunchy meringue-based outer layer made with eggs, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder, and food coloring.

The decadent filling is made of ganache, buttercream or jam and ranges in flavor from the traditional raspberry and chocolate to (my personal favorites) espresso, lemon, green tea, and rose. 

Though made with fairly simple ingredients, these baked delights are anything but simple to make (trust me, I've tried and failed miserably). I suggest heading to the experts, aka your local French bakery, if you are ready for melt-in-your-mouth goodness. 

Who made the first macaron? 

Believe it or not, the macaron was NOT INVENTED IN FRANCE.

Macarons were actually invented in 1533 in Italy by the head chef of Catherine de Medici at the time of her marriage to the Duc d'Orleans (he would go on to become the King of France as Henry II on 1547).

Fun fact — "macaron" actually has the same origin as that the word "macaroni"! Both mean "fine dough".

The very first macarons were actually just simple cookies, made of almond powder, sugar and egg whites. It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that it became a "double-decker affair", when Pierre Desfontaines, the grandson of Louis Ernest Laduree, had the idea to fill them with a "chocolate panache" and to stick them together.

Since then, French macarons have become the most beautiful and best-selling cookie in bakeries.

If you would like to try one of these sweet treats in Paris, head to the Laduree Bakery,  It is one of the most renowned bakeries in this famous city and the piles of pastries and colorful treats will make you feel like you have stumbled into the decadent world of Marie Antoinette! 

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the history of macarons

6 Things To Know About Nelson Mandela

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

In 2013, the world lost an incredible man who united a nation and created groundbreaking change in his country.

It would take years to write about everything that this man did in his life, but here are six things that are interesting to know — and important to never forget — about Nelson Mandela. 

1. His real name was Rolihlahla Mandela meaning "shaking the branch of the tree", aka troublemaker, and he was born on July 18, 1918 in a small village called Mvezo.

2. He was raised amongst the traditions of the Royal Court of the Thembu tribe and was in fact the great-grandson of a Thembu king.

3. After getting expelled from the University College of Fort Hare for leading a student protest, Mandela moved to Johannesburg and started clerking for a lawyer by day while attending classes at the University of Witwatersrand. He was their only black student.

4.  In 1944, he was one of the founders of the ANC's Youth League. The ANC — or African National Congress — was the opposition party to The National Party and until the 1960s had a principle of non-violence. But as The National Party continued to kill members of the ANC, and other citizens at peaceful protests, they created a armed wing called uMkonto weSizwe or "Spear of the Nation". Mandela was appointed commander-in-chief of this wing. He became public enemy No. 1 because of this role, and was sentenced to life in prison in the worst conditions possible. 

5. Mandela spent 27 years, six months and six days in prison for treason against the apartheid regime. Apartheid was implemented by The National Party for 48 years once they won power in 1948, and under this rule, every facet of life was dictated by race laws. 

6. In 1990, at the age of 71, Mandela was released from prison, and in 1994, he became the country's president rewriting laws and creating an environment of acceptance, cohesiveness and equal rights for all. 

His impact on the people of South Africa, and the world, is one that will continue for years to come. 

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things to know about Nelson Mandela

6 Things To Know About Hanukkah

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


1. This Jewish holiday always runs for eight days starting on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev

2. It began during the rule of Antiochus IV who desecrated a Jewish temple by sacrificing pigs on the altar (check out my post What Does Kosher Mean Anyway? to find out why this was a big deal). The Jewish people banded together and revolted, taking the temple back. At the time of rededication there was almost no oil left that had not been desecrated, and oil was needed for the menorah that was supposed to burn through the night. Though there was only enough for one day, it burned for eight and as a result, an eight-day festival was declared to celebrate the miracle. 

3. The only religious observance related to this holiday is the lighting of candles arranged in the candelabrum (menorah). They are lit from right to left (like how the Hebrew language is read) and can be lit anytime after dark before midnight. The candles can be blown out 1/2 an hour after they are lit or can be left to burn out on their own.

4. Giving small gifts on each day of Hanukkah is not a part of the religious ritual, but is an influence from the Christian tradition of gift-giving at this time of year. Because of its close proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah is often called the Jewish Christmas. 

5. Fried food is eaten during this time of year because of the significance of oil to the holiday.

6. The game played with a dreidel at this time of year is actually a gambling game — it is not just a child's toy! 

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Six things to know about Hanukkah

Have You Read The 10 Most-Read Books In The World?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Based on the number of books printed and sold in the last 50 years, this is the list of the top ten most read (English) books — along with their opening line — on our planet.

How many have you read? (No, watching the movie doesn't count!)

    "In the Beginning God Created the Heavens and the Earth."
    "The force at the core leading our cause forward is the Chinese Communist Party." 
  3. HARRY POTTER by J.K. Rowling
    "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
  4. THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
    "When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magni- ficence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton."
  5. THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho
    "The Alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought." 
  6. THE DA VINCI CODE by Dan Brown
    "Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."
  7. THE TWILIGHT SAGA by Stephanie Meyer
    "I'd never given much thought to how I would die — though I'd had reason enough in the last few months — but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this."
  8. GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
    "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."
  9. THINK AND GROW RICH by Napoleon Hill
    "TRULY, "thoughts are things," and powerful things at that, when they are mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence, and a BURNING DESIRE for their translation into riches, or other material objects" 
  10. THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK by Anne Frank
    “I hope to tell you everything that I could never tell anyone until now.”

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Have you read the 10 most-read books in the world

6 Normal Things That Are Banned in the Bible

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

This list is only a few of the many banned acts that can be found in the book of Leviticus in the Christian Bible.

They are all fairly normal, mundane or common things that occur regularly, but in the Bible, most of the following acts are punishable by death.

1. Mixing fabrics in clothing (19:19)

Damn you cotton-lycra underpants! 

2. Eating fruit from a tree within four years of planting it (19:23)

So... what if you move somewhere new and you don't know how long ago your apple tree was planted? 

3. Trimming your beard (19:27)

All you men with professional jobs are screwed! 

4. Getting tattoos (19:28)

Uh... Oh... 

5. Mistreating foreigners – “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born” (19:33-34) 

I think we have all (sadly) violated this one at one time or another...  

6. Using dishonest weights and scales (19:35-36)

If we are talking about scales that I might use to weigh myself, then I'm in BIG trouble... 

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