Speaking of my father’s love for word play, my brother, Nelson Hard, adds this story of an embarrassing encounter in which a basic communication went awry unintentionally:
"A friend and I went on a camping trip with my father to the far northern provinces of South Korea. After hiking and camping we decided to spend a night in an inn before driving home for 8 hours.
When we arrived at the inn, we parked in the courtyard and proceeded to unload the car and talk with the innkeeper, telling her where we were from and that we were a missionary family on our way to the southern coast.
After settling in, my father decided to call my mother at home to apprise her of our plans. He asked the innkeeper for the use of a telephone (chunwha). The innkeeper was shocked and horrified and mumbled that she didn't have one. My father pointed to the phone on her desk and said "You have one right there. I'd like to use the chunwha to call my wife." At first the innkeeper was befuddled and then began to laugh. "I thought you wanted the use of a chunyuh (young maiden)".
Dad's southern Korean accent had been badly misunderstood!
There were virtually no road signs on the country gravel roads. When we drove to some church out in the boonies, we often times got lost, or at least came to forks in the road where we had to make a decision as to which fork to take. It was purely guess work unless there was someone along the road we could ask. My father asked a farmer, "Is this the direction to the town of Chung Ne?" The farmer smiled and bowed politely, shaking his head up and down and said, "Yes."
Well, a half hour down the road and no Chung Ne to be found, we asked someone along the road how to get to that town. He politely told us that we had to turn around and drive back to the fork in the road and go the other way. My dad was furious as we ended up late to church on more than one occasion and for the same reason.
We found out later that the farmer was just being polite. He did not want to offend us by saying "No." After making the same mistake several times, we realized that we had to ask, "Which way is it to the town of Chung Ne?" Then you would get the correct directions.
Gregory and Nelson Hard sightseeing with Korean friends.
Sterling and Rodney with crew member on ship to America in 1959.
Ted and Grace Hard with Gwen, Nelson, and Gregory visiting cherry blossoms in Chinhae, South Korea.
Small typical Korean inn with rice paper doors and straw thatched roof.
Reverend Theodore Hard preaching in a Korean church.
By: Dr. Rodney T. Hard
Having arrived in Korea in 1954, at age 4, and starting right off playing with the neighborhood Korean kids, I didn't have any problems picking up the Korean language very fast. In fact, I think there was a point in my early childhood where I spoke Korean better than English.
I often dreamed in Korean, and on the ship back to the United States in 1959, I was sleeping down in one of the crew member’s quarters and was told the next morning that I was talking in my sleep in the Korean language.
There was more than one occasion in which my father was preaching in a Korean church and got stuck for a particular word. After an awkward pause, my brother Sterling or I would yell out the right word. There would be a subdued laughter in the church and my dad would carry on with his sermon. One time my father used the right word but pronounced it in a way that it meant something else. My brother Sterling corrected my father so that the Koreans would understand what he really meant.
The Koreans had two numbering systems. Just to tell the time on your watch you would use two systems. You would use one number for the hour and another for the minute. "Yul she Ship bun" meant Ten after Ten.
The use of honorifics was important, especially if you were a young person talking to an adult. When you talked to an older person or a person in a higher social status than yourself, you used honorific endings to your sentences. If you were not sure of someone's age or social status, erring on the side of showing respect was the safer way to go.
In church, praying to God had an even higher honorific vocabulary which you would only use when talking to a king. This would make the sentences longer and more cumbersome.
The Korean language is structured in syllables that are less complex than English, so Koreans had a challenge trying to pronounce English words that had two or three consonants together. For instance, my name, Rodney, has the letters d and n together. Koreans would separate the consonants into separate syllables. They would say Ro-du-ney. They also do not have the ‘r’ sound like ours so they pronounced English words with the letter ‘r’ with a rolling ‘rrr’ sound or an ‘l’ sound.
As part of the mission ministry, my father sold Bibles, theology books, and other classic works to Christian college and seminary students at cost. Otherwise, they would be prohibitively expensive or most likely unavailable in the post-war Korean market.
One day, when my father was not at home, my mother answered a knock on our gate and let in a young seminary student who, she assumed, wanted to buy a book.
He asked my mother, "Have you sex appeal?"
My mother got flustered and her face turned beet red.
He asked her again, "Have you sex appeal?"
Now she was getting worried as she did not know this young man's intentions. After he had asked the same question several more times my mother finally figured out that he was saying, "Have you Shakespeare?"
One time I was in the marketplace and asked a vendor for the cost of an item I wanted to buy. She just stared at me with a blank stare. I asked again in perfect Korean, "How much does that cost?" She still did not understand me. I finally said in Korean, "I am speaking to you in Korean, not in English. Please tell me how much that costs." She finally came out of her trance and answered me.
That happened several different times while I was in Korea and I don't quite understand the phenomenon. My brother Nelson told me that the exact same thing happened to him.
The Korean government put signs all over the walls in Korea that said "SAW BYUN KUM GEE." This meant, "DON'T URINATE HERE." There were very few public bathrooms, if any, so men would just walk over to a wall and urinate on it. Women would just squat down and spread their long dresses out so that they could just urinate, or defecate, on the ground.
Well, at age eight, I noticed one day that the Korean sign, read backwards, said, "GEE KUM BYUN SAW." This meant literally, "GO TO THE BATHROOM NOW."
I pointed that out to my father who got a big kick out of the word play. He told his seminary students during one of his lectures, and they were amused that an American kid noticed that. Well, one of those students, Sung Soo Kim, eventually got his Doctorate in Theology and went on to become President of the prestigious Kosin University in Pusan, Korea.
Ironically, over fifty years later in 2009, when my father died, Dr. Kim was in the U.S. on other business, heard of the impending service, and modified his travel plans to include attendance at the memorial. After the service, we were talking, and Dr. Kim recalled to me that he still remembered how amused and impressed he was when my father told him the word play I had noticed as a child.
When I got out of the Army and lived in Lubbock, Texas, my father came to visit me. We went to a Chinese restaurant and enjoyed a good meal. The Chinese owner and all the servers were dressed in traditional Chinese clothes. Paying the bill at the counter, Dad asked the proprietor, "Isn't that brass character on the wall that means 'Good Luck' upside down?"
The man in full Chinese garb answered in a thick Texan accent, "Beats me, Mac!"
The Koreans did not understand puns or other types of word play very well. My father loved word play, but his attempts at it in Korean failed miserably. The pun may have been good but the Koreans didn't get it. I have since seen several good examples of puns and word play in Korea by Koreans, so I don't know what the problem was back then.
Dr. Rodney T. Hard
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