Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Music Exam in Dong yi Episode 5

In episode 5 DY is working at the Academy of Music helping the musicians get ready for their music exam. It’s an important exam and everyone is nervous. It took me back to taking piano exams and feeling apprehensive especially because I knew I hadn’t really practised enough. From what I remember, after playing the required scales and set pieces I’d practised at home, I’d be given a sight reading test, have to clap out a rhythm the examiner played on the piano, and then sing the notes the examiner played. It was pretty nerve-wracking. One time I froze in the middle of a piece – my mind went blank and it took several goes to finish it. So I felt for the students in their music exam in this episode. This episode was interesting in many ways including how the court music is related to bad omens. But I will write about that next time. For now I want to look at what the court musician students had to do in their music exam.

聽音 청음 (chong-um) listen + sound. Dong Yi, ep. 5

The students gather outside in the courtyard and the first part of the test is revealed on a scroll. The students must listen to a group of musicians playing a piece of music. They have to write down the melody each musician plays.

Music exam listening test part 1, Dong Yi episode 5 MBC

Korean instruments from left

gayageum, (가야금; 伽倻琴) has 12 strings  made of silk and each string rests on a moveable bridge carved in the shape of a crane’s foot.

daegeum (대금; 大琴) a bamboo flute. It has six finger holes spread wide apart and has a range of over 2 octaves.

geumungo (거문고; 玄琴) has 6 strings and is plucked with a bamboo stick.

Here is some more information on Korean musical instruments and Korean traditional music. Continue reading

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How do characters address each other in the Joseon period drama Dong Yi?

The ways the characters address each other depends on their rank, age, and gender. I mentioned some of the following in the entry on social classes in the Joseon period but have added more here. Though only some of these terms are used in contemporary society I think it’s interesting to be able to recognize them when watching Dong yi since the terms will  crop up again and again in other historical dramas.

*These terms are still occasionally used in contemporary Korean society.





Your Majesty




Used by the King’s subjects when they address him. (except the Queen Mother)

Your Majesty




Used mainly by the Queen Mother to address the King.

Your Majesty




Used to address the Queen Mother.  

Your Majesty




Used to address the queen by the subjects. The King and the Queen Mother call her jung-jon.

Your Highness




Used to address ladies in high positions.

My Lord




Used to address very high level yangban officials.





Used to address yangban. Sometimes still used in contemporary society to address judges or prosecutors.




No hanja

Used to address men in higher rank than the speaker




Used to address ladies in higher rank than the speaker. Female equivalent of na-u-ri.




No hanja

Used to address old men (related to age not rank) and is sometimes used today instead of the term haraboji. 할아버지




No hanja

Used to address low class people. As in hey you! = i-nom! Still sometimes used today.


Filed under Dong Yi

Study Korean through drama. Dong Yi episode 2

Dong Yi is taken to meet the upper class (yangban 양반)  lady whose daughter is getting married. The lady is looking for an educated child who can give the special New Year greeting this year at her son in law’s house. She wants a child chosen from the commoners (양인 yangin) class so when she finds out that Dong Yi is from the servant class (천인 chonin) she gets annoyed and wants her to leave. She doesn’t think a servant girl can read the greeting without mistakes as it’s written in Chinese characters and servants are usually not well-educated. Dong Yi really wants the job as she’ll get to wear nice silk hanbok so she pleads to let the lady hear her read. The lady finally agrees. Sure enough Dong Yi makes mistakes reading it and the lady tells her to stop. But Dong Yi explains that she made mistakes because the Chinese characters are incorrect and she explains what the correct characters should be. The lady is surprised and impressed.

I love studying Korean through Kdama and although this is a historical drama and so some of the grammar and vocabulary is archaic I still find it useful study.  Continue reading

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All About Eve, funny bits. Heo-jun cameo.

I hadn’t seen the historical drama Heojun the first time I watched All About Eve so didn’t recognize Joon Kwang-ryul who played the role of the doctor in the popular  drama in 2000. The airing of Heojun and All About Eve overlapped for a while and I love this scene when “Heojun” walks past Sun-mi and her friend Cho-jeh in the broadcasting studios.

Cameo appearance by Heojun in All About Eve, 2000, MBC

He’s dressed in character obviously off to do some filming. Cho-jeh is star-struck and rushes over to him asking for his autograph. Sun-mi is embarrassed and tells her not to go. After all they are supposed to be professionals working in the media so it’s inappropriate to act like fans. Her friend doesn’t care though and rushes over anyway. She doesn’t have any paper so tells him to sign her forehead!

He acts like the doctor would act! Then she mentions that she has stomachache sometimes and asks him what the problem could be!! He takes her pulse as Heo-jun would do and tells her it’s just menstrual cramps. LOL

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Filed under All About Eve, retro kdramas

All About Eve, funny bits.

I’m still enjoying watching All About Eve but this time around I’m noticing things I didn’t see before…

Episode 2

Joo-hee the newsreader is in London filming the news with the broadcasting station MBS. She goes to see Hyung-cheol who is living in London. She’s obviously in love with him and they go for a walk along the Thames. They walk past a couple sitting nearby kissing. The woman is sitting on the man’s knee. Hyung-cheol glances at them as he walks by. (Is he wondering what it would be like to be in love as he never has been? Or is he thinking – Look at those two kissing in public?) There are bottles of beer next to the couple and they drink these later.

Hyung-cheol and Joo-hee, All About Eve 2000 MBC episode 2 Continue reading

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Seoul Apartments and a drama location

It’s no wonder so many Kdramas are about the extremes of being rich or poor. I thought this as we were walking in a small mountain in Seoul looking out at the view of huge apartment complexes towering threateningly over small clusters of low income housing. I’m always amazed at the size of the apartment complexes in Seoul but views from up here say it all.

One of the first Kdramas I watched 발리에서 생긴 일 What Happened in Bali, SBS, 2003 deals with the issue of money and greed with the rich and poor. It’s about a (poor) young woman, Lee Soo-jung (Ha ji won) who is trying to make a living in Bali as a tour guide. While working there she meets Kang In-wook (So Ji-sub) and  Jung Jae-min (Jo In-sung) and his fiance Choi Young-joo (Park Ye-jin). The four of them end up going out together on a tour.

What Happened in Bali (picture source Dramawiki)

But when she comes back to Seoul penniless, she moves in with her friend in a one-room up on a hill with no bathroom or hot water and starts doing whatever she can to earn money including working as a hostess in a karaoke place. Finally, she goes to see Jung Jae-min (Jo In-sung) the rich young son of a CEO she met in Bali to ask him for a job. In-wook is working at the company and a love-triangle ensues… Continue reading


Filed under Life in Seoul

Ten New Korean Words reading Dong Yi

It’s a struggle trying to understand Dong Yi without subtitles so my new strategy is to try reading the novel in Korean as well. Hopefully this should help me pick up some useful vocabulary along the way and help my Korean study in general too. I like to know the hanja (Chinese character) for new words as I find this helps me remember them better. So here are 10  useful new words.







= king




王國 = king + country

regal power



王權 = king + power




王位 = king + rank/position




王妃 = king + queen

mother of the king



大妃 = big + queen

royal concubine



後宮 = behind + palace

This is an interesting one.




奴婢 = person/servant +

I think the hanja on the right means to despise or look down on, be humble.

servant class



賤民 = humble + people




兩班= both + groups (refers to the civil yang-ban and the military yang-ban)

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Dong Yi, social classes in the Joseon period

Dong Yi the novel

In the introduction to the novel Dong Yi, the author, Chong Che-in 정재인writes about the approach to writing the story. The writer had to imagine what life was like for Dong-yi’s character as the history books tell us very little about her since she came from the servant class.

All that’s known is that she was born into the chonmin class – the lowest of all the social classes during the Joseon period – and was taken into the palace as a maid to serve King Sukjong. The King took her as a concubine and she gave him three sons and the second son became King Yongjo.

Chong Che-in writes that, according to the history books, both Yongjo and his mother had a complex about coming from the chonmin class. Chong wondered how she really felt about this. Perhaps she was optimistic that the blood of low and higher classes would mix and create social equality, so Chong considered this point when writing the novel.

Social classes during the Joseon period

Ji Jin-hee as King Sukjong (1661-1720)

Rules about marriage between the classes seem to have changed several times during the Joseon period but apparently, during King Yongjo’s rule it was impossible for a child born with parents from different classes to move up to the higher class. Yongjo changed the law so that if a child was born to a parent from the chonmin class and the other from the higher yangin class then the child could move up into the yangin class.

I did some research, some of it here, to find out more about the strict hierarchy of social status in Joseon times to understand this story better. Continue reading

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Dong Yi

official poster Dong-yi MBC source: hancinema

Good news –  Dong Yi, the latest historical drama by Dae Jang Geum director Lee Byeong-hoon is now airing on MBC (Mon/Tues 21:55) and this time Ji jin-hee is playing the King.

Like Dae Jang Geum, the main character , Dong Yi (Han Hyo-joo) is female and based on a real historical figure.

Every sageuk drama (set in the Joseon period, 1392 – 1910) I’ve watched by PD Lee Byeung-hoon has kept me absolutely hooked till the end (usually around 50 episodes). And I’m expecting the conspiracies of jealous court ladies to have me jumping off the sofa in frustration again. Smashing. Continue reading

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