My Learning Korean FAQ

Why did you start learning Korean?

I took interest in Korea after watching the Korean drama What Happened in Bali in 2006. I watched others after it but was too busy to consider studying another language. Studying Japanese and working full-time were already taking up a lot of my resources.

In spring 2015, I watched Deep Rooted Tree. It’s the story of Sejong the Great and the creation of Korea’s native alphabet, hangul. The series illustrates the problems of using Chinese characters in non Chinese languages. Sejong was developing a simpler writing system for the people. The elites opposed literacy for the masses so he had to develop it in secret. I found myself nodding and saying “Fuck, yeah!” more than once. The history of hangul inspired me.

My love of text and typography pushed me to study for ten minutes a day. I often did more. Through this, I slowly took interest in the language. Also, I was occasionally watching Korean dramas and listening to Korean music because my wife (at the time…) always had them on. We even traveled to Seoul five times for shopping, sightseeing, and food tourism. This gave me a lot of exposure and it snowballed me into a motivated learner. I wanted to become proficient.

Is it hard?

Even though it’s considered a harder language (Category V, see here), I don’t find it so hard. Hangul is intuitive. It took me a few hours to learn. I enjoy writing freehand without the need for a dictionary. I can’t do this in Japanese even after ten years.

Having experience in Japanese made learning Korean easier for me. The sentence order, formalities, and grammar are similar. There are more verb tenses in Korean, but it’s not so bad. I’m still getting used to the verb conjugations through regular exposure.

Pronunciation has been easy for me so far. The intonation is freer than in Japanese.

How do you study?

Busy Atom was my first resource. The YouTube lessons were easy to follow. I used to watch the videos while taking notes in a notebook. At the beginning, taking notes took a long time, but I managed do it on-the-go within a few months.

Arirang’s Let’s Speak Korean had a much bigger production budget than Busy Atom. It was an actual TV show aired in South Korea on Arirang. I watched the first season and filled up two notebooks with notes.

Talk to Me in Korean is the most modern and professional resource available. They’ve got you covered from beginner to advanced. I recommend their website, online resources, textbooks, and YouTube videos. I bought a few of their e-books and subscribe to them on YouTube.

Memrise is great for beginners and intermediates. I’m almost done the Korean 2 course. I try to study using Memrise on my iPhone for at least five minutes a day. I picked up a lot of vocabulary and expressions thanks to this app. The Memrise official Korean course has audio so it’s great for listening practice, too.

Go Billy is a resource I found later on my Korean journey. Billy’s explanations are easy to understand. I stick to his YouTube channel, but his site is well designed with a lot of useful content.

I follow and read a lot of Korean accounts on Instagram. I check at least ten times a day. I don’t understand everything I read, but I feel it’s much easier than before. My motivation to understand keeps me going.


I went to Busan at the end of summer 2017. I hadn’t studied consistently since 2015 but was able to remember basic vocabulary and expressions. I could communicate in restaurants, clothing stores, with bus drivers and people on the street.


My goal now is to increase my reading comprehension of short and simple posts on Instagram. After improving this I’d like to improve my listening comprehension of TV shows. Improving my vocabulary is the first step to accomplishing these.


Lighting & Sleep

Some of my health ideas have made me feel like the guy on the Discovery Channel talking about aliens interacting with ancient humans. I can tell when people are listening to me (to be polite) but think I’m crazy. Now, though, optimizing sleep is a common topic in Paleo forums and podcasts. You may even find an occasional article about it from your usual news source.

Artificial lighting at night concerns me. I live in a studio style apartment with everything in one room. I’ve taken serious measures to blacken my room for sleep. I put electrical tape over the standby lights of my TV, PS3, modem, and wireless router. I got thick curtains that block the lights from outside. I have an intercom and gas/hot water control center in the kitchen. I turn them off at night because they emit a faint light. With everything taped, shut, or off, my room is a perfect dark. You can’t see anything. Friends who spend the night at my place always say something like, “It’s so dark! It’s literally pitch black.”

Why did I go to such an extreme for a dark sleep environment? I started noticing light affecting my sleep quality in my mid twenties. I became more sensitive in my late twenties. Now in my early thirties, I can’t get a good night of sleep unless my room is near black. I have no trouble falling asleep in sub-optimal conditions, but the lights and flickering leave me feeling slow and sore the next day. I don’t feel fully rested.

Why not just use an eyemask? In one study, researchers shined a light behind the subjects knees (so it couldn’t be detected by the subjects’ eyes). There was a correlation with poorer sleep quality and light on the skin. It seems our skin has photoreceptors. This is true for the sun and also artificial lighting, especially LED. When they shine on our skin, it reduces our production of melatonin. This sleep hormone affects our circadian rhythms and thus impacts our sleep quality. Consider how sunlight can affect hormones, mood, and circadian rhythms. I think artificial lighting in excess and at the wrong times is detrimental for similar reasons. Read more here.

“Aliens, man. They’re comin’ for us.”

End of Hiatus

2016 was a hard year for me. This is the main reason I haven’t posted. Work became busy. I faced more responsibility and demands with little compensation in return. I matured (more like aged) from the experience. I started seriously thinking about my future and long term goals, e.g.,

  • more rewarding and lucrative ways of teaching
  • where to live
  • Japanese translation projects
  • starting a small business
  • continuing my education
  • taking Japanese carpentry classes
  • becoming proficient in Korean
  • earning more money for—

That sounds like enough, but the real catastrophe of 2016 was a ten year relationship coming to an end. I’ve heard times like these are the best times to write or make art. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the strength or clarity to do so. Well, I’m back now, and my goal is to post monthly.

Self Treat Allergies

Many years ago, after moving to Japan, I developed sinus troubles. This happened after spending some time in a hospital. During my stay, I was prescribed antibiotics for weeks. Antibiotics work like an atomic bomb. They kill indiscriminately. The antibiotics took away my infection, but they also destroyed my gut. Research shows your gut affects your immune system. It also affects your response to stress, cognition, and reaction to allergens. A healthy gut with a variety of bacteria cultures means a strong immune system.

After discharged from the hospital, I felt sensitive to common allergens. I was reacting to pollen, something that never bothered me before. I couldn’t tolerate alcohol. Moments after drinking, my nasal passages became inflamed, especially after beer.

I became dependent on allergy medication and antihistamines for my sinus congestion. I couldn’t breathe through my nose. This persisted for two years. My mouth was always dry from being a mouth breather. I had trouble concentrating. I looked forward to steamy showers because this was the only time I could breath through my nose.

I began to read obsessively about allergies. Eventually, I found my way to research about the gut. I learned antibiotics negatively affect your gut bacteria and wheat can exacerbate this. Certain proteins in wheat irritate your intestinal tract, cause leaky gut, decrease nutrient absorption, and promote growth of problematic gut bacteria. I was skeptical. Then, reading about autoimmune disease was enough to convert me to the gluten free cult. It won’t hurt to try, right?

My findings all pointed to avoiding wheat for at least three weeks. This was the autoimmune trigger. This removed pasta, bread, pastries, sandwiches, and my beloved pizza from my diet. I usually had one or two wheat servings daily, so I would only have to change a few meals and snacks.

Four days. That’s how long it took my sinus tract to clear up. Those first deep breaths of air through my nose felt amazing. After a week, this turned into a cascade of other improvements. I could now taste and smell. I felt like a wild animal. I knew what was cooking in my neighbors’ kitchen. I could tell what ingredients were in my dish blindfolded. I could concentrate and think clearly throughout the day. My brain fog disappeared. I felt relaxed, never moody. I wasn’t bloated after meals. My appetite stabilized, e.g., no more sudden hunger strikes, nor food cravings. My skin, especially the acne on my back, cleared. The random flushed look on my face blended to an even tone. My abs looked more visible than ever. Even my obliques were showing definition. After a month, even my hair texture changed. It was stronger and healthier.

It felt too good to be true. Too many things were improving based this dietary change. I wanted to test it. After a few months of avoiding wheat, I tried to reintroduce a few wheat dishes. My first time eating wheat again was no problem. The next day, I had another serving of wheat. A few days later, I felt sinus congestion, bloating, brain fog, moodiness, random hunger, and food cravings. There was acne on my back again. Every symptom I described earlier was creeping up again. Was it all just a coincidence? I thought it was. I wasn’t ready to believe my findings yet. I stopped eating wheat again. Within a few days, my symptoms improved. It was too simple.

I experimented going on and off wheat for two years. It was clear. I functioned and felt better without it. I found if all conditions were ideal, e.g., sleeping a lot, exercising regularly, getting a lot of sun on my skin, managing stress levels, eating healthy… I could have up to three small servings a week with little drop in performance and clarity.

How often do I eat wheat now? Usually once a week. Ramen, cheese naan, cheesurgers, and pizza are my occasional treats. I don’t crave or miss having daily wheat though. The hardest part is explaining to people at social outings I don’t eat wheat. Most of the time, it’s easier just to say I’m allergic.

Argument Against Kanji

Let’s compare two average people, one Japanese, one American. The task is to handwrite an essay about any social issue. Introduce and present the issue to your readers. Explain why this issue worries you. Suggest what you think should be done. You have one hour to write. You can’t use a dictionary. Points are deducted for spelling and grammar mistakes. In the case of Japanese, points are deducted for making mistakes on the Ministry of Education’s prescribed jouyou kanji, e.g., using hiragana or katakana to write jouyou kanji words, and/or incorrectly writing jouyou kanji.

What do you think? Who would make more mistakes? Who would struggle more to write the essay? Who would finish last? Who would write less words per minute? I think the kanji user would lose, and the alphabet user would win. Why? The biggest factor is difference in ease of expression. Though both speakers could probably voice their ideas equally well in speech, the kanji user would have more trouble trying to write their thoughts on paper. For an alphabet user, e.g., Roman or Korean, there is no such challenge. Alphabets are easier and quicker shortcuts from spoken word to written word. The journey to literacy is years shorter. It’s like comparing a journey across a road, to a journey across an ocean.

Getting iPhone 6s

My wife and I headed to SoftBank to check the new iPhones. It was the day after they were released in Japan. The Twitterers in Japan said stores all over were out of stock. We were both using Galaxies (Note 3 and S4) on Docomo. Both contracts were about to end.

We were SoftBank iPhone users in the past (3Gs and 4s for me; 4 and 5 for her). We had similar experiences after switching to Android two years ago. We liked Samsung’s hardware but were annoyed with Android OS. Common tasks we did in iOS were a headache on Android.

The good? Our Galaxies were light, had removable batteries and even micro SD cards (never used either of the latter two though). They also had big displays with small bezels.

The bad? Samsung and especially Docomo fattened the phones with bloatware. Docomo never bothered offering updates for Android nor TouchWiz, so our devices were always suboptimal for their hardware.

The ugly? TouchWiz… And on top of ugly it was laggy. We wanted to switch back to iOS for the user experience we once enjoyed as iPhone users.

Moments after walking into SoftBank early on a Sunday morning, the staff welcomed us to sit down. They told us they had the iPhone 6s in stock. We later found out this was only for carrier switchers. We both wanted the 6s 64 GB in space grey, but different monthly plans. The plan I wanted would be 6,800 yen a month for ten months; then 7,300 until the end of the two year contract. It would be 7,300 and 7,800 for my wife. You got us.

Return to iPhone

In October 2013, I bought my first Android device, a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Its thin bezels, 5.7 inch 1080p display, and slim size caught my attention months before its release. Many Androids were touting 5 inch screens and 1080p displays. They were bigger and had better resolutions than the iPhone 5 and 5S of the era. The specs were better, but I knew not to care when comparing different OS devices.

I used Macintosh computers at school when I was a kid. I always felt seamlessly connected to them. My Windows experience was blue screens, restarting, freezing, and frustration. In 2013, my mid 2007 MacBook Pro had worse specs than all the new mid to high end Windows PCs. Yet, it was running smooth, fast, and problem free in comparison to my Windows OS user friends. Even now in fall 2015, it’s still running smooth! Can Windows OS users say this about their experience of an eight year old laptop? I don’t think so. Apple devices are optimized for their hardware. Don’t worry about their specs. Try them. Test them. Love them.

Back to iPhones. I felt the same when I recently took out my four year old iPhone 4s. I was comparing it to my Note 3. I bought my 4s in 2011, two years before my Note 3. It’s ancient by modern smartphone life cycles. However, to my surprise, it still looks and works beautifully. I was more surprised that it often works smoother than my Note 3. Taking pictures in iOS is quick and snappy, even on my old 4s. I never missed shots due to OS lag, unresponsive taps, etc. Also, the Android shutter in Japan is embarrassingly loud and sounds terrible. Another headache is switching input languages in Android. In iOS it’s just one click, with a beautiful and uniform interface. With Android, you have to go into the settings and load a third party keyboard.

The iPhone 6s is scheduled for release at the end of September. My Note 3 contract finishes at the end of October. I’ll be using an iPhone 6s before November.