Tag Archives: Chinese characters

Korean Place Names in English

Generally, in North America, we don’t think about what place names mean much. Either they’re in English (e.g. Grand Falls, Red River) or they come from French, Spanish, German, or any number of native American languages, and often very corrupted from the original language.

In Korea, however, all major place names can be written with Chinese characters, which makes it easy to look up the meaning. The notable exception to this is Seoul, which cannot be written in Chinese characters. I have made a map of Korea with the meanings of all major cities on it in English. (In case you’re wondering, the name “Korea” comes from a former kingdom called Goryeo, which means “high beauty”.)

original map from es.rice.edu

I live in Perfect Area. (original map from es.rice.edu)


A Long, Disjointed, Enlightening Chat – Fantastic Travelogue #7

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

I woke up with a jolt and an incoherent exclamation, which is about the least dignified way a person can wake up. I had been dreaming about that horrible woman and her weird stare and creepy smile. In the dream, she had been searching for me everywhere, until I had nowhere to run. Waking up was not much better, since I realized that it was mostly true.

I was still in the small room by the secret gate in the fortress. The young woman was not there and what I could tell, from the light coming in from under the door, it was full daylight outside. I was just wondering what I should do when the door opened and the young woman stepped inside, followed by a man.

A man! It was the first one I had seen in the last two days. Not that I minded being around women all the time, but it was nice to know men existed here. The man seemed pretty surprised to see me too and he and the woman had an intense conversation back and forth. Finally, I got up and with my finger, I wrote “Who are you?” in the dirt, the best I could (誰是你). It was a mixture of Japanese and Chinese characters and I didn’t know the right syntax, but at least it got their attention.

They knew Chinese characters, and began writing some in the dirt as well. What followed took several hours and a lot of miscommunication. They knew characters that I didn’t and I knew ones they didn’t and dirt isn’t the best medium for making lots of tiny strokes. There were a lot of dead-ends and a lot of good-natured frustration, but here is the gist of our conversation. I’m going to present it as if we spoke it all, just to make it easier to read.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am Ain-Mai,” the woman said (she wrote it as 安美). “This is my brother, Sing-ga (石鋼)”. (I only learned later that they were brother and sister. At the time, I had no idea what she wrote and the whole thing was very confusing.)

“I am David. I live in Korea. What is this place called?”

“This is Dwengshink (東山). How did you get here?” Sing-ga asked. He kept staring at me in curiosity, especially my beard.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I was walking in the mountains and I lost my way and came here. Who was that woman?”

When they understood who I meant, it sparked a lot of what seemed like angry cursing from them. “She is like a queen,” Ain-Mai said finally. “She has magic and lives in another world. Whenever she finds a man here that she likes, she takes him back with her and they don’t come back. So when she comes, all the men hide in the mountains.”

I asked them more, but they did not know anything about where she came from or who she really was, at least not that they could express through writing in the dirt. They called her Hengfel, although I didn’t recognize the characters they wrote. As far as they knew, she had always come, since the time of their parents, at least. The golden dome was her residence in Dwengshink and no one else used it.

“She comes every six months or so,” Sing-ga said, “and stays about two days.”

“But why does she come here?” I asked. “Is she the queen of Dwengshink?”

“No, she is not our queen,” they said. “She only comes to this valley. She comes to eat gaan-shi.” That was how they pronounced it. They didn’t know how to write it, but I gathered that it was a kind of fruit.

“I want to go back to Korea,” I said. This sparked a lot of discussion between the two of them, presumably about how.

“Hengfel goes back tonight,” Sing-ga said eventually, “and I think it would be good if you went before then.”

I couldn’t agree more. I never wanted to see that Hengfel woman again and I could only imagine what was happening back at the sanjang where my backpack was. I had been gone almost two whole days and they probably thought I was dead.

Ain-Mai left for an hour or so, while Sing-ga sat there with me in mostly awkward silence. He tried to talk a bit, but gave up when I clearly didn’t understand. Now that Ain-Mai wasn’t there, he did not seem to have any interest in writing in the dirt.

Ain-Mai came back with a basket of food, mostly fruit and flatbread. There were grapes, apples and things that looked like really long persimmons and finally one thickly wrinkled yellow fruit the size of a baseball that Ain-Mai said was a gaan-shi. They let me eat most of it. It was sweet and tart at the same time; really good, although I don’t think I’d travel across worlds to get it.

After we had eaten, Sing-ga said we should be going and they led the way out, on the inside of the fortress. It was mid-afternoon and the sky was blue. Ain-Mai led the way along a small path through the woods, while Sing-ga kept us fifty feet behind her, presumably in case she met anyone.

We gave the clearing with the stone circle a wide berth and kept climbing up the slope. The trees were mostly evergreens and the smell in the warm air was wonderful.

After another ten minutes, Ain-Mai stopped and motioned for us to come closer. I saw that we had reached the main path, which I had taken the day before. The old woman’s cottage, where I had gotten a drink, was right in front of us. We were approaching the house when the woman appeared at her gate. She looked scared and when she saw us, she started making motions with her hands, warding us away.

Old woman's house

I got a sick feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach and turned to to run. Ain-Mai and Sing-ga were doing the same. I saw two female guards appear on the path, up the valley ahead of us. We turned to flee, but more appeared out of the trees below as well. There was nothing to be done. I could tell that Ain-Mai and Sing-ga had both given up; I could see the defeat on their faces. As for myself, my upbringing hadn’t involved fighting multiple spearmen (or women) unarmed, so I didn’t try to be a hero. One of them clipped metal restraints around our wrists and marched us back down the valley. I heard Ain-Mai crying behind me but when I turned, I saw that it was actually Sing-ga who was crying. That freaked me out more than being handcuffed and escorted at spear point. What on earth does this woman do to men?

We went around a bend in the path and came out into the stone circle clearing. There she was, the woman they called Hengfel, standing in the middle of the clearing, with her animal skins and purple veil and her creepy, creepy smile.


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