Memories of My Ghost Brother
All foreign words are Korean unless otherwise noted.
Military acronym for Army Service COMmand, the in-processing center for all U.S. Army personnel coming into Korean.
Armed Forces Korea Network
Canned food eaten by the U.S. Army. The boxes and metal bands that wrapped them were often used by poor Koreans to construct shacks.
“The father was a pastry cook.”
A quote from Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.
North Vietnamese Army.
A German name meaning “bright courage” or “clear courage” (hell + mut). The German for “helmet” is Helm. It was my father who told me Helmut meant “helmet,” and I believed this for years until I learned some German.
“The Great Game”
A reference to Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. Refers to espionage.
These are large baked-clay storage pots that range widely in size. Some are as small as flowerpots and some large enough for a small man to climb inside.
Japanse. Three-wheeler. A two-wheeled wagon was often called a nikoda.
jja-jja-jang ch’ang ch’ang...
Onomonopoetic phrase. The irony here is that jjajang is black bean paste, which resembles feces, and the man singing it is the Shitwagon Man.
Onomonopoetic: “Bang!” Also ironic here because it is homophonous with the Korean word for “bread.” Koreans associate American with bread the way Americans associate Asians with rice. When Dogshit says “Ppang! Die, you Yankee bastards!” he’s invoking sustenance as the thing that kills them.
Japanese: the name of the neighborhood in Pupyong. It has since been changed as Koreans purged Japanese from their language.
Koreans refer to blond hair as “yellow.”
Military Payment Coupons. This money, often called “scrip” or “funny money” or “Monopoly money” looks very similar to current food coupons; it was used to keep American currency from circulating in the Korea economy. Real “greenbacks” were not used in Korea until the early 70s. Prior to that, in the early 60s, there were even small bills for amounts as low as 10 cents. On the black market, greenback dollars always commanded a higher exchange rate, particularly 100-dollar bills, which were the denomination of choice for those accumulating money to go abroad.
The raised wooden floor, usually between two rooms, that serves as a sort of warm-weather livingroom in Korean houses.
A reference to Yongchorri—a little boy character in a Korean elementary school reading book.
A reference to Padugi—a puppy character in a Korean elementary school reading book. My father couldn’t pronounce padugi (which means “dog”).
Suffix used when calling someone. Similar to "Hey, ___."
The Chinese characters in this place name mean “benevolent stream.”
In Korean this is pronounced sa, which is homophonous with “snake” and “death.” The superstitious avoidance of this number in Korean (and also other parts of Asia) is similar to the avoidance of the number 13 in the west. One can still see buildings missing the fourth floor and locker rooms missing all numerals with fours in them.
“Take (my/the/a) picture.”
This is what Koreans often called GIs in general because they always said “Hello.”
Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army
Korean currency. At the time, the exchange rate was between 700 and 800 won to the dollar.
title page graphic
A Yi Dynasty rank insignia of two tigers/leopards. The swastika in the circle is actually a Buddhist symbol.
Also known, more commonly in America, as hara kiri. The ritual suicide samuri perform by cutting open their bellies.
Japanese for “love child.” The Koreans often used this term in reference to Amerasian children.
Japanese for “a lot” or “many.” Part of the camptown pidgin.
A shaman. Sometimes used in pejorative. Shamans usually refer to themselves as manshin (literally, “10,000 spirits”).
Brother-in-law. Techincally, what a woman calls the husband of her older sister. In the novel, Insu uses this term as if it were his uncle’s name, but it is actually a mistake. He should be calling Hyongbu his emobu, i.e., the husband of his mother’s sister.
Uncle. Technically, the brother of one’s father. This term is also a general polite term used in reference to older men who are strangers.
Aunt. Technically, the sister of one’s father. This term is also a general polite term used in reference to older women who are strangers.
A term used by a male to refer to an older sister.
The first line in the rabbit song. Literally, it means “mountain rabbit, rabbit-ah,” but here, “moutain” suggests wildness.
A prostitute who serves westerners. This is general a term used to refer to GI prostitutes. Yang is a term that designaes western and saekshi, though also a term used to refer to a young wife, is pejoratively used to mean “prostitute.” A stronger derogatory term is kalbo.
Japanese suffix used like “Mister” or “Miss.” The GI pidgin includes terms like “mama-san” and “papa-san,” used indiscriminately in Korea or Vietnam.
Aunt. Technically the older sister of one’s mother.
A sound of mourning. Can also be a sound of surprise or alarm. Aigo, uri Gannan-ah is a way of expressing concern and sorrow for Gannan’s condition.
Post Exchange. A store on a U.S. military base. These range from small 7-11 type general stores to those as large as K-Marts.
Non-Commissioned Officer. A non-commissioned officer; i.e., a sergeant.
Fire. Homophone for “flower.”
Wood. Homophone for “neck” in Korean.
Metal, gold. Pronounced “Kim” when used as a surname.
Sun. Day. Sunday.
“Fucking.” Since the Korean language has no F sound, the closest approximation is “pucking” or “hwucking.” Sometimes the problem works in reverse. When I taught English at Yonsei University, I had sports-minded student who always refered to “hockey fucks.”
tae kwon do
A Korean martial art similar to the Japanese Karate. Tae kwon do makes much more use of kicking moves.
This neighborhood name means “three tombs.”
Mr. Panji Lee
“Panji” in the name means “ring.”
Milk of Magnesia
Koreans suffer chronically from digestive troubles, and the country has a high rate of stomach cancer (which some attribute to the high consumption of red pepper and pickled side dishes like kimchi). Pepto Bismol, Phillips Milk of Magnesia, and later, Maalox, have always been in great demand.
Bikila did actually run a marathon from Inchon to Seoul at this time.
“Dragon mountain. The district of Seoul in which the U.S. Army Headquarters is located.”
In Korean, this means “capital.”
“White horse stable.” Could also be read as “100 horse stable.”
In military circles, this is a reference to a store similar to a civilian supermarket. Not be be confused with a dining room or cafeteria.
The name of the cannon that Kim plays on in the opening scene of Kim, by Rudyard Kipling.
bull on a green field
The image on the banner of the cavalry unit Kim’s father belonged to in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.
“You son of a bitch!”
German. Short pants made of leather.
An honorific “yes.” Similar to a “yes, sir.”
The highest mountain on the Korean peninsula (located in North Korea). P>
A mispronounciation of “sergeant.”
Wir mussen nicht
German: “We mustn’t...”
Rice wine. Rotgut.
The Stars and Stripes
Overseas U.S. military newspaper.
“Auntie.” This is used like ajuma as a polite reference to older women who are strangers.
The Joint Security Area in which Panmunjom is located within the DMZ.
Demilitarized Zone. The no man's land that separates the two Koreas along the 38th Parallel.
Liquor made from sweet potatoes. Said to be more potent than vodka and to produce much more serious hangoves.
jjang, jjang, wajang ch’ang
Similar to “yeah” and “huh?”
“Dad,” or “daddy.”
Hama is Korean for “hippopotamus.”
Chaji is Korean for “penis.” A somewhat redundant joke.
Literally “black-skinned.” Often used as reference to dogs.
This is a mispronounciation of “Daddy.” Koreans could in fact, pronounce “Daddy” as Tae-di, but it does not sound natural in Korean to link the two D sounds together. See also the definition of daeri in Korean.
“Mountain spirit.” Often coterminous with samshin (three spirits), who are the protectors of children and oversee childbirth and pregnancy.
Cylindrical charcoal briquettes about the size and shape of a paint can. These are stacked on top of each other in stoves and were used in most homes, both in the kitchen and in the living areas, in the ‘60s. Yontan are carried with tongs that fit into a series of holes drilled through the cylinders. If you hold one up to the light and look through it, the holes are reminiscent of the barrel of a Gatling gun.
Pronounced “knee.” A Korean li is between a quarter and a third of a mile.
Japanese for “love child” or "mixed child."
Buddhist paradise; the place one goes to after death.
R & R
Rest and Recreation.
The title character of the comic book series which was provided free to the U.S. Army. Complimentary copies of Sad Sack could be found in the Service Clubs, the U.S.O.s or in the barracks day rooms.
Mickey Mouse Village
The village got its name because, as the story goes, a supply truck carrying heavy-duty rubber overshoes (called “Mickey Mouse Boots” because of their similarity to Mickey Mouse’s feet) broke down nearby. The driver had to abandon it temporarily to get help, and when he returned, the truck was empty. Several days later, GIs discovered that everyone in the village was nonchalantly wearing the Mickey Mouse boots.
Thief. Military pidgin of Japanese origin.
orphanage in Sosa
This is a reference to the orphanage and adoption agency operated by the Pearl S. Buck Society.
“Bad luck cigarettes” because soldiers in Vietnam considered the red circle logo too much like a bull’s eye for their comfort.