Typhoon Haiyan, Human Suffering and Responsibility

If you’ve caught up with the news in the last 72 hours or so, you know about the typhoon that destroyed the Philippines this weekend. As the hours pass, they continue to tally up numbers: homes lost, people that need fed, dead bodies to bury. The storm was the strongest recorded typhoon in history and the official fatality count keeps rising, like the waters as the storm came in, higher and higher.

When tragedy strikes and someone dies, we feel empathy for the family. We can imagine the same happening to us, one of our own lost, and the sadness it causes. When five people die, we can imagine five families suffering through those feelings. Then as the numbers climb, fifty, five hundred, five thousand, we lose touch. The sadness is unimaginable, the tragedy harder and harder to fathom. It’s one thing to know that six million people died under Hitler’s direction, it’s another to walk into the Hall of Names. There’s a reason we break down in tears. Faced with the individuality of each of those millions of people is overwhelming, and suddenly we can feel that pain. That same sorrow that eludes us when we see a number, millions. Millions.

So we watch the newscaster talk about homes destroyed, humanitarian workers trying to reach the people that need it the most. We hear two thousand, ten thousand, a city of two hundred thousand residents laid bare, in ruins, destroyed. It’s so hard to picture, but it’s not impossible. It takes some effort. It takes a Google search to find a comparably-populated US city. Bigger than Vancouver, Washington, smaller than Madison, Wisconsin. About 2/3 of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Similar to Richmond, Virginia.

Once you’ve taken that time, you can imagine the destruction and you can understand the huge need in a place far across the ocean. Suddenly the unfathomable is something you can fathom. But why should you? Why feel pain and suffering for people you’ve never met, maybe will never meet and don’t influence your life? Why does it matter what happens across the ocean to a government obviously corrupt and hasn’t prepared for typhoons, which are regular occurrences? Why should you even be able to pick out the Philippines on a map?

Because the human experience would be worthless without emotions, empathy and social constructions. It’s what makes us human, it’s what drives civilization. It’s why your brain is hardwired to seek out friends and love. It’s why we form social groups and run businesses and opt for the small coffee shop, where the barista knows us. What kind of life would it be if you cut off the emotions and feelings that weren’t convenient to you? Doesn’t that destroy half the picture, when you refuse to use certain colors?

But why should you do anything? Why should you spend $20 out of your hard-earned paycheck for someone who probably lived in a box and begged on the street to begin with? You aren’t responsible for the typhoon, and you aren’t responsible for helping anyone destroyed by the typhoon. Why should you help someone so displaced from you and your life?

Because we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the world anymore. Because your little life inside Alabama is intertwined with the rest of the world, and you don’t get to choose. Because you’re no longer a citizen only of your city or state or just country, you’re a citizen of this planet. You don’t get to brush that mantle of responsibility off, because you don’t want it. It’s on your shoulders, literally. Made in Taiwan. Carry it.

Why you? The government has more money and is responsible. The government has your tax dollars, they should use them. The United Nations and NATO are big organizations with big budgets, why aren’t they helping? It’s not your job, you aren’t in charge of saving the world. This isn’t your task.

Who cares? Who cares if it isn’t your job? Who cares if you’re not supposed to be the one helping? Who cares if the government should take care of it and the Red Cross should take care of it and you aren’t on the list of people who should do something about it? I don’t give a damn about should, would, could, my pockets are dry from the leechy government, not my problem.

If you have money to spare, if you have a heart for human suffering, if you are safe and warm and dry and alive and can see your next paycheck, you can help someone, with little negative effect on yourself. And I have to argue that if you have those rare comforts, it’s immoral to not help in the face of human suffering. It’s immoral to eat your bowl of ice cream instead, switch on Scrubs and try to forget the whole mess. It’s uncomfortable and sad and difficult to fathom, but this is real life and this is a life that you are a part of, whether you’d like to acknowledge it or not.

There are thousands of people suffering, and you can help. Do so.

CNN: How to help Typhoon Haiyan survivors
CNN: “Worse than hell” in typhoon-ravaged Philippines
Wikipedia: International Response to Hurricane Katrina
Calgary Herald: Cambodian orphans donate to help Alberta flood victims

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Tips and Resources for Learning Korean

Before I arrived in Korea, I spent about a month studying Hangul (the Korean letter system) and was thrilled with my ability to read words out loud. Shortly after I arrived, I realized that I’ll probably also need to understand the words, not just read them. It was going to be a long, tough road to conversational in Korean. After going down that road for some time, I realized it was actually going to be more of a mountain climb than long walk, and perhaps I needed some better equipment.

That’s what this list is. This is your mountain climbing equipment for learning Korean. If you’re in Korea, you’ve already got a nice jacket of language immersion to help you out. If you’re not, that’s okay: you’ll need to bring more effort to the game, however. If you want to learn Korean, be able to converse and understand people in a variety of contexts, you need to work really hard. So hard. This shit ain’t easy, but if you can communicate to someone that you really love rice cakes in Korean, you’re infinitely more likely to get a surprise bag full of freshly made rice cakes the next day. What I’m trying to say is that it’s worth it.

Before I get carried away, let’s just get to the point. Here’s what you can use to get to the top of that giant mountain and eat your rice cakes, too.

Internet Resources

Talk To Me in Korean

Hands down one of the best resources I’ve ever encountered. If the audio lessons aren’t your thing, you can head straight to the PDF for explanations and example sentences. One of my favorite features is just the website search bar; if I encounter a word I don’t know how to use, I just search for the lesson on that topic and enlighten myself. Bam. They also have lots of cool video lessons to mix it up when you’re feeling bored with that same old grind.

Sogang Korean Program

Heads up, this resource is best in Internet Explorer. A bunch of people swear by this website, and I’ve looked through a few times and learned a thing or two. I personally prefer the TTMIK (above) but definitely check this out before deciding where to study. Or study all of the Internet resources. Whatever you want. This site combines audio, reading comprehension and all that good stuff you’ll need to become a Korean conversation master.

UC Berkeley Online Intermediate College Korean

Like the title says, this is available in the intermediate level only. It’s a lot of Korean words in your face which can be scary (more like terrifying), but the explanations are clear and there are listening and other exercises to help you practice. There’s also lots and lot of vocabulary for you to remember!

Naver Dictionary

Naver is the biggest Korean search engine and it’s no surprise that their English to Korean dictionary is fabulous. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can look at their endless example sentences (most are not low level by any means). The dictionary gives several definitions so you can get a better feel for the meaning.

Helpful Korean vocabulary for navigating the website: 사전 = dictionary, 영어 = English, 단어/숙어 = word translation, 예문 = example sentences, 더보기 = see more.

iTalki

This is a great site for a couple reasons. First, you can video chat with a native speaker who will help you with pronunciation and conversational errors. Fo’ free! Second, you can also set up scheduled language tutoring sessions or more intense, actual lessons with a teacher via Skype. This is great for those without a convenient classroom setting to jump in on. And at the bare minimum, you can also write notebook entries/practice sentences and receive corrections from other users.

TOPIK Guide

This website is designed to prep people for the TOPIK test, a Korean as a foreign language test that certifies you at different levels of ability. However, even if you’re not planning to take the test, there is a treasure trove of vocabulary and grammar for you to study, with definitions. You can also download old versions of the test and try out the practice questions, or actually simulate a test as intended. Your call!

Quizlet

Now, flashcard fiends, welcome to your new best friend. Stop killing so many trees, install the app on your phone and practice using virtual flash cards. The games are pretty basic, but they help more than you’d think and you’re also able to generate quizzes and tests for yourself. The phone app is nice for a passive commute or whenever you’re just too lazy to turn on your laptop.

The Paper Products

Talk To Me in Korean Textbook/Workbook

I haven’t personally used either of these, but judging from their audio lessons and other resources, these books are probably the shit. I’m waiting for a workbook to come out that’s at my level, but for those starting out, there’s wonderful news. The level 1 textbook and workbook have already been completed and are available for purchase!

Korean Made Easy For Beginners

This textbook is clear, straightforward and even comes with an audio CD! (As any language learning book worth it’s salt should. For real.) I have it, I used it and I would recommend it! Also, it’s bright pink… can’t go wrong there.

Korean 1 by the Language Education Institute of Seoul National University

For beginners, this book is kind of a rough ride, because it’s so Korean intensive and prefers to explain through numerous examples and as few English words as possible. It also concentrates on learning the formal tenses of Korean, which drives me nuts, since that’s not as useful. I’d recommend switching between this textbook and one of the online resources, because dang does it get boring. But the content is useful, rigorous and helpful if you can get past the eye-stabbingly-bland design and give it some brain work. It’s also a nice place to dig up new vocabulary words, if you’re into that flashcard kind of thing.

Children’s Books

Wait, really? Yes. Revert to childhood, crack open a story for two-year-olds and bask in the simple, decipherable sentences that you actually have a chance of understanding. This is wonderful for noticing typical sentence patterns and learning words like, “once upon a time”, “magic”, and “dedication”. Don’t worry, no one is forcing you to take those books out in public, it’s okay to keep that at home.

In-Person

A Native-Speaking Language Exchange Partner

This is one of the aspects of learning Korean that I’m lacking and I’m constantly wishing I knew someone in this tiny, 40-year-old-man infested country town! But really: work your hardest to find a native Korean who’s willing to meet you somewhat regularly for conversation practice. (Or meet them virtually, using iTalki, above!) I met someone for the first couple months of my studies and it really helped me start off with correct Korean pronunciation. I once paid my Korean tutor in alcohol to make sure I could read the alphabet correctly, before I arrived in Korea. Whatever you have to do, do it. It doesn’t matter what stage of learning you’re at, you can figure out something for them to help you with on a weekly basis, even if that’s just listening to you repeat the same 25 nouns for half an hour.

A Traditional Korean Class

If you live anywhere near a University that offers Korean language classes, you should probably get in on that. If the pace is too slow for you, you can always supplement your curiosity with the above Internet resources. I know that some classes are expensive, and sometimes people in your class are so stupid you want to bash them over the head. (Pro tip: don’t do that.) But if you have the money or can even bribe the professor with brownies into letting you audit, it’ll be worth it to have the regular motivation and not have to search out material to study. You can’t take a month “brain absorption period”, aka slack for a month when you’re enrolled in a class!

Tip: If you’re in Seoul, I’ve heard awesome things about the Seoul National University courses, and Visit Korea’s website has an entire list of the Universities that offer classes for foreigners in all of Korea. I’ve also heard of people taking classes at their city’s YMCA and occasionally some education offices will arrange free classes for English Teachers in the area.

Even More Resources

These are some massive lists of way too many resources, all in one place. I don’t have time to go through all two million of these and evaluate them, so I’ll leave that up to you. If nothing above helps, then you’ll definitely find something here, though you have a thorough search ahead of you!

So You Wanna Learn Korean?

Matthew’s Korean Study and Reference Guide

Reddit: The Ultimate Beginners Resource Thread

My best tip is this: don’t just use one of these resources, use as many of them as you can handle regularly. Schedule a day for vocabulary building with Quizlet, an hour with a conversation partner and some lessons every day with Talk to Me in Korean. The next week see what that Sogang website it all about and do a virtual lesson on iTalki. Spreading yourself out on all of these isn’t what I’m suggesting, because you will need to commit to some kind of schedule to keep yourself going. But don’t block in 3 hours a day with TTMIK, 5 days a week and nothing else. Variety is the spice of life… Korean food is spicy, and your study routine should be too.

Anyways, it’s time for me to get going. I’ve got a Korean mountain to continue climbing, but I won’t be needing my hiking boots today.

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