Saturday, October 17, 2009

Oh, wow! Did you know Korea has four seasons?

Seriously, Brian in Chŏllanam-do has a great pictorial on places in South Chŏlla to go if you want to see the fall foliage.

And no, with my title up there, I'm not poking fun at Brian for having drunk the... drunk the... what would be the equivalent of Kool-Aid™ in South Korea? (What do Korea's cultists drink before mass suicide?) Rather, from time to time self-deprecatingly I cast myself as a clueless but enthusiastic reader of Korean blogs. [Note to self: stop explaining my opaque humor.]

The truth is, I enjoy scenes of leaves changing in Korea and if I were there, I'd sure as hell be making plans to head down to where Brian's pictures were taken. And to be honest (and here's where I offend half of the K-blogosphere), I wouldn't call mentioning "four seasons" or getting excited about fall foliage in Korea drinking the company whatever, since, from where I sit, "four seasons" is something I hear foreigners say that Koreans say far, far, far more than I've ever heard Koreans say it. (Sort of like the "no gays in Korea" comment, which I recently alluded to recently in Korea Beat — with KB's agreement — but which is now lost and unlinkable anyway as Korea Beat migrates to another part of the Interwebs.)

Back in grad school Round 1 (at Yonsei), I did an extensive overview of South Korean English-teaching textbooks' reading passage content from the 1950s to the 1990s to analyze the construction of national narratives and and international perspectives.

In a few typical passages, a Korean boy and/or girl describe the country of Korea (e.g., to a pen pal or to students at the new school in the country to which the Korean boy and/or girl recently immigrated), and it innocuously says, among things like Korea being a peninsula, etc., that "Korea has four seasons." I never saw a passage that says Korea is the only country that has four seasons, no more than it says Korea's the only country that's a peninsula.

I personally have never heard a native Korean speaker say that Korea is the only country with four seasons, so if any really are saying that, it's faulty wiring and they should be taken back to the factory.

And to be fair, having four seasons is not a given. Hawaii sure as hell doesn't have four seasons. If we count vog, then we're maybe up to three. But we do have some lovely flower blooms here. The acacia variety common to Oahu has light orange and pink flowers instead of white. Absolutely stunning, so it's a nice consolation prize for missing all the gingko trees turn a golden color.

By the way, if you are in Seoul, take the walk or drive along Sopa-gil [소파길], the southern half of the road that rings Namsan in central Seoul. It's lined with gingko trees. At night be careful there, though, because sometimes ajumma and ajŏshi (maybe now halmŏni and harabŏji) are often standing on the edge of the street collecting the gingko nuts that fell to the ground when they shook the tree. Urban gingko nut harvesters: Korea's Intangible Treasure #282.


  1. I assume you meant to write: "Korea has four distinct seasons" (insert winky winky emoticon here).
    I have not heard Koreans say their country is the only one that has four seasons, but I have been met with surprise and disbelief when I tell Koreans my hometown has four seasons too.
    I am now preparing to post about the fall colors at my house...

  2. I, too, am often met with some amazement when I answer the often asked question of whether Canada has four seasons with a yes. What is it with the amazement of somewhere having four seasons? Of course I have also been asked (but not by Koreans), in all seriousness, whether we all live in igloos, so I am not overly stunned or aghast at the ignorance (and I use the word in its literal meaning, not in any derogatory way) of the people of any country about the way of life or climate or anything to do with the people of another.

  3. Yeah, it's not so much that Koreans have told me their country is the only one with 4 seasons, it's just that they express disbelief that countries in North America and Europe also have different seasons.

    But, I do have to say Korea has taught me to notice the seasons more. What I mean is, back home I never thought four seasons were something to be proud of. I just thought it was natural. However, now I can say that, yeah, it's great to have four seasons. In fact I think Pittsburgh's seasons are more distinct, and more four than Korea's.

  4. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest the possibility that the "surprise and disbelief" you are inferring from their response may not be actual surprise and disbelief, but something more along the lines of a "Do you know Chusok?" moment of some kind involving ideas and words in Korean that seem to take on a different and unintended meaning when an L1 transfer is made into English.

  5. Maybe with some, I suppose, but I'm sorry, not with all. "Canada has four season?" "Yes, it does." "Spring?" "Yes." "Summer?" "Yes." "But Canada is cold." "Yes, it is certainly cold. In the winter." "Fall, too, with all the different colour leaves?" "Yes, fall, too." "I know you have winter. Canada is very cold." "Yes, you're right. It is cold. Right up until spring." I remember that conversation well. He even confirmed with some Korean, just to make sure that he understood correctly.

    And again, to be fair, it is not only Koreans with whom I have had such conversations. However, I was a tad surprised when a Montanan seemed unable to comprehend that Canada actually had rain and flowers and warm temperatures.


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