Numbers in Korea

Before we get going, if your reading this because you are our friends and family and you’re thinking, “Geez, Akasha is a big geek.”  Well, you should know that already.  If not, welcome to my mind.  This is a blog entry I’ve been mulling over for a while.

Numbers in Korean are very different in many ways.  This has fascinated me and been a struggle for me as we have lived here.  Thinking in numbers and organizing things is such a cultural thing that it is very challenging to learn to group things differently.

Making Tally Marks:

Clustering in the United States groups 4 tally marks with a diagonal slash to represent five units. talley marksClustering in Korea comes from the Chinese tradition and the individual builds a character.  The five strokes build on each other and when completed represent five units. Korean hash My Korean peers scratch their heads when I tally things and it took me forever to figure out their system.  I can read it, but I can’t write it without copying. To me, it is jarring to start going across at the top and to mark the 4th unit as a disconnected stroke.  This system is used to keep score of classroom games and when ordering food at our favorite kind of Korean fast-food restaurants, Kimbap Naras.

Counting to a Million:

Counting changes with language.  I remember studying French and laughing because the French word for 70 is sixty-ten, 71 is sixty-ten-one.  Yup.  True story.  So, we move to Korea and discover that numbers are grouped differently here. how so?  Let’s start with counting to a million. We group numbers into ones, tens, and hundreds, then repeat.

1,10, 100,

1,000, 10,000, 100,000,

1,000,000, 10,000,000, 100,000,000

Not Korean. They group into ones, tens, hundreds,  thousands, ten thousands, then start again.

1, 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000.  Okay easy.

Wait, I forgot to tell you that counting 1-100 is different too :

1 one                                  11 ten one                     20 two tens one

2 two                                 12  ten two                    22 two tens two

3 three                              13 ten three                 23 two tens three

4 four                                14 ten four                    24 two tens four

5 five                                15 ten five                      25 two tens five

and so on

Okay, so you’re counting to a thousand:

1 one     10 ten     11  ten one          21 two tens one    100 hundred

okay, clunky, but I’ve got it. Let’s count to 10,000

100 hundred        150 hundred five tens        550 five hundred five tens

555 five hundred five tens five                        1000 thousand

1,500 one thousand five hundreds

5,555  five thousands five hundreds five tens five

Now we are going to group in  ten thousands, which have their own word

10,000  ten thousand

100,000 ten ten thousands

1,000,000 one hundred ten thousands

till we get to 1,000,000,000 which gets its own word.

Okay.  So, imagine you are buying a cheap car.  After taxes and licensing fees it cost $1,200 or in Korean won 1,402,198 you would say  one hundred, four ten thousands two thousands, hundred nine tens eight. (or: bek-sa-ship-man i-chun-bek gu-ship pal.)  Or, that is what the person at the DMV would say in Korea. Yup.  Sometimes buying stuff makes my head spin.

Two number systems 

Korea and China have a long history together and there has been a lot of cultural sharing and borrowing that I am not knowledgeable enough to begin to explain.  BUT, Korea has 2 number systems.

The Korean numbers             and the     Sino (Chinese numbers)

1         hana                                                     1 il

2         dul                                                        2 i

3        set                                                         3 sam

4         net                                                       4 sa

5         daseot                                                   5 o

6       yeoseot                                                  6 yuk

7         ilgop                                                      7 chil  and it keeps on going.

Okay, so now the fun really starts.  Cause you need to know when to use each set of numbers.  Oh, and sometimes they blend them. Telling time uses Korean numbers for the hour and Sino numbers for the minutes   Ex: 5:30 is daseot si sam ship or five hours three ten.

I find this stuff amazing.  It has been like yoga for my brain, teaching me to find new ways to classify and arrange things.  I think that overall, understanding the Korean counting system has made me a much better teacher. When I was in my first Second Language Acquisition class we learned Chomsky’s theory that we are born with the capability to learn all languages, to make and distinguish all sounds.  Over time we identify the sounds and patterns of the languages spoken in our community and disregard the rest.  The same must be true for numbers.  There must be infinite ways to classify and organize things, but overtime we focus on the ones used in our community. Seems to me that the more ways you can express concepts the more ways you have to solve problems and understand others points of view.

Just to dork it up some more, I’m reading and loving Number: the Langauge Of Science by Tobias Danzig. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

This is blog post is based on our casual observations of the function of numbers in Korea.  We may have made errors, I verified the information with a Korean bilingual friend, but I did not do academic verification.  Do not cite our observations.

spring in Shinan

Non-numbers stuff- We’ll be home in less than a month.  We still have blog posts on some of our favorite things in Mokpo and Korea before we take of on the next adventure.  Can’t wait to see y’all soon.

Winter vacation: Island hopping in London and Dublin

Well, it is March, so we might as well share what we did in January.  Such is the schedule of blogging and living – always so much to do and much less time to record it in.

Korean public schools break for a few weeks every winter, and everyone gets a vacation. We get 24 days of winter break, which is a pretty good deal, more than the private school teachers get, which is next to nothing. And, since our time in Korea is drawing short, we did what American teachers who don’t have jobs lined up do – went to a job fair!

The nearest one was in London, and while England isn’t your typical winter vacation destination, we booked tickets, threw in a few nights in Dublin, and viola! An island-hopping winter vacation is born! True, the islands are Ireland and Britain, and the season is all wrong, but you get the idea.

Here’s a quick photo tour of the highlights:

Korean Restaurant

A Korean restaurant in Dublin – You can take the foreigners out of Korea, but you can’t take Korea out of the rest of the world. We did not eat here, since we can get Korean food in Korea, and because we wanted to sample all the other wonderful food the isles had to offer.


We were out of Korea, and jumping for joy at our beer options. This is on the Guinness Storehouse tour. Also in Dublin is the Jameson distillery, home of the smoothest whiskey in the world! Ireland, you may gather, takes its libations quite seriously, and we, being gracious guests, did our best to appreciate the local flavors.

Then we went to the Dublin zoo, a nice little zoo in the middle of Pheonix park. While it’s not as large as many zoos, the animals were in fairly large enclosures and seemed happy, except for the big gorillas, but then again gorillas seem pretty grumpy even in the wild. Here’s Harry, elder statesman of the gorilla paddock, having a chat with Akasha:

HarryA woman we met there said that this is one of Harry’s favorite things to do – squat next to the glass and socialize with the people on the other side. Not a bad retirement plan, when you think about it.

Irish history is long on oppression and invasion, none more important that the British occupation that ended in 1920’s. There were many frequent uprisings during that time, so it’s no surprise that Irish prisons played a great role in the planning of the new country that emerged. The most famous and well maintained of these old prisons is Kilmainham Gaol, a large building with expansions marking many steps in the evolution of prisons.

Kilmainham GaolIt’s also been used to film many movies, so if it looks familiar, that may be why.

Dublin is also famous for all the writers it produced, none more important the James Joyce:


Here’s that picture of Mike telling James Joyce he’s a pretty okay writer.

Then it was on to London.

London Tower Snow

This is what London looked like most of the time – cold and menacing. This is the kind of weather we saw most of our stay – snowy and cold. In fact it shut down the airport just after we arrived. We did our best to stay warm, but there was a lot of shivering going on.

London is of course famous for it’s musical theater, so we had to get some tickets for something. Luckily, this show was in town:

Palace Theater

Yeah, Singing’ in the Snow would have been a more accurate title. We found a half-price ticket booth and scooped up a pair of discount tickets, and, come showtime:

InsidePalaceThese were our seats. They sold oxygen at the concession stand. You can see the stage down there in the corner, somewhere.

The show was fantastic! It rained on the stage and the dancers took glee in splashing the front rows! (We weren’t in any danger of getting wet.)

Buckingham PalaceHere we are at Buckingham Palace, far from the massive crowd that had gathered to await the changing of the guard. As you can see, the Queen was not available to receive our visit, so we had to get our own coffee.

Akasha got a good chuckle that the Royal band was playing Dancing Queen during the changing of the guard ceremony.

Overall it was a wonderful stay, and then got we down to the business of the job fair. For three days Akasha, trooper and thrill-seeker, braved the crowds and elbows of six hundred other candidates to look for our next adventure. Long story short, we are going to be moving come next August, to Bilkent Laboratory and International School, just outside Ankara, Turkey. Hooray! I’m pretty sure that probably deserves a post of its own.

Sorry Mike, you missed one of the most important parts of our trip – the food! We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Korea has great Korean food.  If you want non- Korean food you’d better lower your expectations.

We ate well on this trip.  Our Dublin guest house, The Celtic Guest House, was fantastic.  They provided a full English breakfast and we ate like kings!  Their bacon was thick cut and delicious. Even better was the bistro next door, Le Bon Crubeen.  We like to try a variety of restaurants when we travel, but the food here was so good and affordable that we kept coming back.  Their head bartender had a warm personality that made us feel like we were back at Sen Yai Sen Lek chilling with Nicole.

One of our first meals in London was Ethiopian at Addis Restaraunt near King’s Cross.  Their Selata Aswad and Misser Wot were perfect and their Injira was moist and fluffy.

Our last week in London was my most stressful.  The Search Associates International Job Fair was worth the time, but it was a 3 day long 8 hour a day interview based job fair and I was on edge all day.  It was great to return to our motel neighborhood each night for r & r.

Two of our favorite places in Fulham were Chaam Thai and the Cock Tavern.  Chaam Thai was cozy, and relaxing and after a long day of interviewing it was so nice to enjoy a big bowl of Tom Yam and a spicy plate of Naam Prik Noom.  The staff at the Cock Tavern were super friendly, they had a great sampler menu and amazing beers.  Our last night in London we celebrated my job offer with a pub quiz.  The host was hilarious and teased us for not getting any of the answers.  We came in 2nd to last place, but had a great time.

Well, here’s hoping our next post is a little quicker coming than this one. We have about 50 days left in Korea, so we hope to pack in a few more baseball games and weekend outings. Then it’s back to the States for a few months before our new adventure begins. See you soon, America! See you soon, Turkey!