Friday, November 03, 2006

33 The sad ending of Doogie the Dog

The last time I mentioned the neighbours' dog, I was reporting his tragic demise while his owners were away on holiday. We had left him at the vets, and the animal doctor was making the necessary arrangements to dispose of him. In Korea, by law, you must cremate your pet when they go.

The kids were altogther pretty confused about Doogie. While he was staying with us, they liked to sing his name: "Doogie Doogie Doogie, Doogie the Dog," to the tune of my husband's ring tone. Since he has died, they are now singing, "Doogie Doogie Doogie, Doogie is dead", completely matter of fact. I dont think that they quite get it.

Due to time pressures, I ended up taking the youngest daughter with me when I went to pick him up after the cremation. We walked into the animal hospital to a waiting room full of live pets, and said to the girl on the desk, "I've come to pick up Doogie," giving her what I hoped was a knowing, secretive and furtive look and hoping she would cotton on quickly and make it as non-obvious as possible that I was here to collect a pet that hadn't got better.

She looked at me blankly, so I had to glance around to make sure noone could hear "You know, Doogie, the dog who died," I hissed at her.
"Oh yes, oh I am so sorry," she said, reaching under the front desk and presenting me with a neat, square little cardboard box.
"Here he is."

"Thanks, how much is that?" I asked.
"That will be 200,000 won," she said (US$200 to do a small dog - bloody hell, I thought, Korea really is expensive!). I counted over the notes, and we started to leave, whereupon the daughter piped up, "Where's Doogie?" she asked.

We stepped outside and I had to explain that Doogie had been made into powder now because he was dead, and he didn't need his body any more and he had gone to live with the angels in the sky and could probably see again now that he was in heaven and play with all the other dead dogs spirits, just like in the Disney film Brother Bear. But that he wasnt coming back. Again. Ever (although his owners were coming back in three days and I wasn't looking forward to that at all).

We took the box home and waited the three days for the neighbours to come back. They have been so good about it all, and it makes us feel even more awful than we already did. Added to which, the darn children keep asking our neighbour where the bloody dog is, nearly every time we see her. She remains so cheery, but I suspect that she has shed tears about this loss and sorely misses her strange little blind companion.

We are never looking after anyone's pet ever again. No class pets, no friends' pets, no relatives' pets. And we are not getting a pet of our own for a very long time.

32 Introducing Hangeul Mal

So my last update was October 10th and it is now November 3rd. My comfortable easy life ended abruptly on October 16 when I started a course at the Ewha Women's University to try to learn this damn lingo, Hangeul Mal or Korean. For four hours a day, five days a week I am sitting in room 218 of the lnaguage centre trying to make head or tail of a language that certainly has me baffled so far. The Korean alphabet was invented in the 15th century by some scholars who were commissioned by the reigning King in order to make things simple and enable people to easily communicate. Apparently until then, they had all been struggling with various systems mainly based on Chinese characters and this had been too hard for them or something. So in true far east style (Why do cell phones from around the world not function in Korea or Japan? Because they have their own independent non-cooperable systems), they made up their own.

The alphabet, I will admit, is amazingly systematic and easy to learn. If you can ignore the fact that depending on their position in a "letter", the individual characters an have totally different sounds: an "s" positioned at the front of a word sounds like an "s", but at the end of a word sounds like a gorilla grunt, a truncated Ugh sound without the "gh" bit, but with your mouth in position to say it.

Once you have remembered that, you need to start getting to grips with word order. As far as I know so far, time seems to go first, then the subject or the object(it doesnt matter which because you have to remember which mini-marker word to put with each part of the sentence to identify it)and the verb goes at the end (and has various different endings depending on whether you are talking past, present or future and also if you are being polite or casual). If you are using a time expression you must remember to say "Ae" after it, and if you are denoting a place you must also say "Ae" after it - Koreans would do well in Liverpool!

Oh yes, and they have two systems of numbers: a sino-Korean and a pure-Korean set. But when they tell the time, they like to use the pure-Korean for the hours, but the Sino-Korean for the minutes and seconds.

So you can see that it is a positive doddle.

Add to all of this the totally weird sound of the language which makes remembering even a simple syllable quite hard to master, and you are looking at an interesting challenge! Korean numbers 1 - 10 sound like this:

Se(t) (you dont fully pronounce the t)
Ne(t) (same as above)
Ta Ssot
Yor Ssot
Ill Gop
A Hop

In fact, I am totally loving learning it, and in the three weeks I have been going we have really learnt a lot.