memoirs of my brief life as a barista in Korea

When Han and I first came to Korea together before getting married, I got a job at a 24 hour cafe that was situated between the officetel where we lived, and a restaurant (drinking and nightlife) street. Working at that cafe helped me build confidence at speaking Korean, and also gave me a unique opportunity to indulge in people watching from the counter. We had many fascinating regular and random customers, and I made a lot of sketches and little comics at the time. Today I thought I would share one, just for the sake of doing something different and feeling nostalgic about my younger self.Gangsters

Playgroup to Ballet

Alice pointWM

I started taking Alice to a Korean Community playgroup when she was 7 months old.

The playgroup was a revelation when I first found it. Our local area had one Japanese restaurant, two Chinese restaurants. No Asian or Korean supermarket, no Korean children for Alice to meet. Alice and I were just back from her first trip to Korea and I started wondering how it would be possible for her to learn Korean, given our circumstances. To that point, I had been speaking to her in English, Han worked long hours and finished late. I searched online in English and Korean, and came up with a lot of out dated information. Community lists from 2008 and 2011, dead links. Finally I found reference to one playgroup that was close by, with just an address and phone number.

To our surprise and great fortune, when Han entered the number to his phone to call, it turned out it was already saved in his contacts list- she was a mother who’s family Han had once boarded with. Consequently we were warmly welcomed to the playgroup and I think we may have even bypassed a waiting list to get in.

Because we had few other resources, I’ll admit I had huge hopes for what we could get out of going to playgroup, and some of those were satisfied.

The most significant benefit of playgroup was a captive environment in which to listen to other mothers speak Korean to babies and toddlers in various play situations. This was hugely helpful for me as I transitioned to speaking Korean to Alice over the course of that summer*

What I could not get from playgroup was a lot of input from Korean native speakers to Alice. The other children were either too young to really play and talk, or were old enough that they were already attending daycare or preschool and learning and using English as a preference. The mothers, quite understandably, saw playgroup as a social opportunity to spend time with other Korean mothers, so I couldn’t really ask them to go out of their way to talk to Alice. Also, many of them could not grasp the fact that the child of a white mother would understand Korean at all, and simply spoke English to her.

The playgroup’s management changed and we continued to attend semi-regularly, and I did enjoy the social outlet, and Alice, the access to toys that were different to what we had at home. But since moving, it has proved a little difficult to get to, as I don’t drive.

A few months ago I saw a notice for a Ballet class which is held at a local newspaper office’s 문화센터. I’ve been waiting for Alice to reach the 30 month minimum age for entry, but luckily after Han called, we were allowed to start her just a tad early (a little shy of 29 months)

The class is conducted in Korean language, and despite some of the older girls being quite fluent at English, they all caught on quickly that Alice only speaks Korean, so they all speak Korean to her.

This put me in a position to do something that I have been a little unsure about for a while now, but having made the decision, I am sure it was the right one for us- we stopped going to Korean playgroup.

With limited opportunities for Korean language based programs (especially in the infant to pre-school age) it sometimes feels like if you are not joining everything you can, then you aren’t doing enough. That you might be failing your child.

I know I have felt that way.

The biggest lesson for me is that the best programs for supporting Korean language development may not be the obvious ones. I started my search thinking I needed to find a playgroup or a preschool. These are strangely uncommon here, even in suburbs with large Korean populations. But my local area has art classes, ping pong and other sports, even a robotics class, all conducted in Korean language.

If a program is not delivering the language outcomes you want, and the child is not obviously enjoying it, keep looking and find something else.

Ballet has actually been really interesting for me, since I never danced as a child. The first few sessions, Alice was more interested in the room than the class, and needed a lot of help to participate. Then suddenly on the fifth lesson, she started following along, watching the teacher carefully, noticing the significance of foot position, and chanting along the names of the arm and foot positions as the group performed them. I often take notes from the side lines of vocabulary and expressions that are used in class, and then we use them to practice at home. Her growing love of ballet is incidentally keeping her in a good environment for language aquisition, and consistently attending classes (she asks to go every day of the week, leading up to the class on Thursdays) is helping her build social skills and reinforcing her sense of purpose for Korean. It’s a really nice extention of what we do at home, and in our every day life, to teach her.

If you’re also struggling to find local Community language opportunities and resources, here are some suggestions (you may need to search in Korean to get results):

-Library – look out for multilingual collections, children’s programs or story times

-Saturday language schools, often held at church venues

-Korean language Preschool

-Preschool/School with language immersion programs or LoTE programs

-Korean Family Daycare

-Korean baby sitter/nanny

-Language Exchange (I’ve previously arranged exchanges where the partner will speak Korean with Alice and in exchange I help them with English. A more ideal exchange might be with a Korean parent and their child)

-Korean playgroups

-Sports/Dance/Art classes

-Interractions with hair dresser/mart/cafe in local community

-Community book store


-Korean government initiatives, for example Sydney has the Korean Cultural Office and Korean Education Centre

Once you find something that you think might be appropriate for your child, be sure to check that the program is run in Korean, or what proportion of Korean is used. Some classes may be targetted to the Korean community and advertised in Korean language, but then have a focus on English.

*Australian summer is November – January

에보니의 하루 A Newborn’s Daily Routine

ebonys day WMA young baby doesn’t do very much for herself, so maybe this post would be more accurately titled as ‘A New Mother’s Daily Routine’

Here are two sets of vocabulary for the daily activities of a newborn. Above the pencil line on each caption is the causative version of the verb. You would use this form to describe what you are doing for the baby, or what someone else does for the baby (엄마가.. ) and you can also conjugate these using -아/어주다 (This has already been done in the case of “수건으로 몸을 닦아주다”) and add an ending such as -ㄹ래?, -ㄹ까?, -ㄹ게, to talk to your baby about what you are going to do for them or to offer to do something for them. For example “기저귀 갈아줄까?”

You can see the plain form of the verb (assuming the baby could do it for herself) below each pencil line. Parents often use the plain form of the verb with an ending such as -자 or -할래? or -할까? when speaking directly to the baby about what they are going to do, even if they are doing it for the baby, rather than the baby doing it independently or actively together with the parent. For Example “옷입자!” “목욕할래?”


Notes on some of the vocabulary:

At the top I’ve included “깨우다” (to wake <someone> up) I’m definitely not one to wake up Alice except on very urgent occasions, but 깨우다 can also be useful to warn other people when your baby is asleep, for example “애기를 깨우지 마세요”

“눈을 뜨다” is simply to open one’s eyes.

“낮잠” is a nap

“엎드려놓다” specifically refers to placing someone on their stomach. This selection of verbs is specifically for ‘tummy time’ which is a recommended activity for newborn and small babies to strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles before they start crawling and walking. To talk about this to baby, you might prefer something simple like “터미타임하자!” or “놀자!”

“입히다” is to dress someone, “갈아입히다” is to change someone’s clothes.

“갈다” is to change, “채우다” means to fasten or attach, and is the causative of “차다”



Alice is usually the model for my illustrations on this blog, but since she had already grown too much when I started working on this illustration, I have instead drawn another beautiful Korean-Australian baby, Ebony. I want to say a big thanks to Ebony and her mum, Jez, for their assistance with this post. If you would like to see more of Ebony and Jez’s story, you can follow them on Instagram

If you would like further clarification or example sentences to go with this post, please let me know, I am more than happy to revise and expand it.


Home made resources

homemaderesourcesWMThis year we made the decision to move to one of the suburbs of Sydney which has a well established Korean community. It’s an important element of my bilingual strategy for Alice, and has already proven to be worthwhile, with Alice and I building positive relationships with local shops and cafes that can serve us using Korean language, reinforcing it as a useful and meaningful language to Alice. There are some things we still wish for, like a Korean preschool or primary school (there is such a school for the local Japanese community, but not Korean, as it seems that most Korean people here are more concerned about their children’s English skills) Our new neighbourhood is very different from our last, which was predominantly Caucasian. I am aware that not everyone will have the desire to move, the luxury of access to a Korean community, to inlaws or the ability to travel readily. Still, I’d encourage you to rethink what you have around you to work with, and here I’m going to discuss some simple ways you can create some of your own Korean language resources to use at home.

Board Books:
Toddlers love books, but those bulky first board books are heavy and usually don’t have a huge amount of content per book, so it is not really economical to spend too much money on buying them in Korean language. If your local library stocks books in Korean, borrow what you can. You can buy some board books in your own language and simply write the Korean translations in with a permanent marker, or stick in label stickers. You might even want to put in some post-its with prompts for questions you can ask your child as you read, or appropriate comments or sound effects, to make your reading time that bit more special and personal, even if you aren’t confident ad-libbing. Once your child reaches a certain age however, these labels are likely to be pulled out, so use them as prompts to get you up to speed as soon as possible, then take them out once you are confident.

한글 놀이:
Type out the 한글 characters on your computer, increase the font size, print and use them as templates to cut out felt or cardboard characters in bright colours. You can use these with a felt board, or some adhesive magnets on the fridge or blu-tak to teach a slightly older child early literacy skills. Alice is already starting to recognise the appearance of her name at age 2, so pointing at words as you read, and reading aloud as you write things out is never a waste of your time.

Flash Cards and Posters:
Make some personalised flash cards with photos, simple drawings or pictures from magazines. Start with words and objects that your child is familiar with, as there is much excitement and reward in being able to recognise something and name it easily. You can add in new pictures and words after or ahead of special events or new experiences, or simply as your child’s world expands and they see new things. This also reinforces your own memory, if you are learning new vocabulary with your child.
You could also label or relabel posters or large pictures with things like parts of the body or members of the family and display these in the child’s room or wherever you play together.
Another idea might be to make flash cards of things you regularly buy at the grocery store. You could punch a hole in each card, then, when you go shopping, put the cards that represent your shopping list on a ring together, and your child can help you find all the items on the ‘list’

Share Songs with Family:
Transliterate favourite songs for family members so they can also share things that are dear to your child. My mum made a big poster with a transliteration of the Birthday song to take to our big family lunch in Sydney for Alice’s 2nd birthday. Anyone who follows me on Instagram might remember how obsessed she has been with this song and the idea of birthdays since our trip to Korea earlier this year. When we held up the poster, the whole family was instantly able to sing Happy Birthday to Alice, in her language. Her eyes were sparkling with excitement. Your transliterations do not need to be written using the RR or McCune-Reischauer systems. Use whatever spelling will help the people close to you use as accurate pronounciation as possible. (I’ve found people not familiar with Korean tend to be confused by written sounds like ‘eo’ for ‘어,’ but if you say the word or sing the song aloud and just write it as you hear it, it should be close enough.

Please feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section of this post.

Making sense of life in two languages

telephone unmarked WMAlice and I have been staying in Korea for the last month or so, trying to soak up as much Korean language from Han’s family as we can before Alice turns two.

She is absolutely thirsty for words at the moment, and her ability to express her needs and personality is improving every day. For me there is a great sense of relief that all the effort I have put in to her language development, particularly over the past 12 months, has really paid off. Obviously there are similarly aged children here who are more advanced speakers than her, but there are also children who are speaking less, so I dare say her Korean language development is at least average or better, which is a great achievement for both of us.

A few weeks ago Alice started saying “할로” (or ‘Hello,’ I have typed it in 한글 because that is exactly how it sounds when she says it.) I’m guessing the reason she started saying it in the middle of our Korean trip is that “Hello” must stand out a lot more when she hears it here, which is less often than back home (Although I must say A LOT of Koreans try to speak English to Alice, and she usually responds with a blank look. But if they speak Korean to her, she has learnt some new tricks, like holding up 3 fingers in response to “몇살?” because 3 is her Korean age)

In Australia, Alice hears a mix of Korean and English across the various situations of her daily life. She hears English in shops and playgrounds, from my mum and sister. She hears Korean and English when Han and I are talking to each other, Korean when we speak to her directly, Korean from Han’s parents via skype; at Korean playgroup, from local Korean community, in songs, television and story books.

In Korea, Alice has heard Korean everywhere, with the exception of when we’ve met friends of mine who speak with me in English (Australians,) when we skype with my mum and the aforementioned random English that strangers approach her with.

Alice has been very interested in mobile phones and phone calls for a long time now. We bought a toy mobile phone for her on our last trip to Korea which was May of 2014 and it has always been a favourite. When she doesn’t have a real or toy phone to play with, she also improvises with her hand, pressing ‘buttons’ in her palm, and even holding it in front of her face with her other hand and counting down to take a photo “~!” (she imitates exactly the way we sound when we take photos)

Lately she has been doing something I have found particularly interesting. She’s started roleplaying longer phone conversations, and using them as a means to explore life as a bilingual person, some of the calls being in English, and some in Korean.

Since we haven’t intentionally taught her English at all, her English phone conversations go something like this:

“Hallo? Howyougoing?

Yeah? Yeah? Wee-wee? Yeah? Okay.


I think ‘wee-wee’ is an attempt at ‘really’ and the rest are expressions she hears frequently when I am on the phone, I guess..

Her Korean ‘conversations’ tend to go on a little longer, with a lot of babbly babyspeak sentences mixed in and sometimes expressive hand guestures with her other hand. The main content goes like this:


네 네 네~ ~ ~


끄’ might be an attempt at , or 끊어, I suppose.

She’ll also use the name of a family member she’s pretending to speak to.

Sometimes she will make a number of these ‘calls’ in a row, so I ask her who she’s calling, and she will tell me a family member each time, and the language used in the following call will correspond correctly to the language that person usually speaks to her.

I suppose this type of play indicates that Alice now has a real sense of English and Korean being different and distinct, and each language being a part of the major relationships in her life. She also seems to have a clear understanding of who uses which language. I guess she is now trying on the concept of also becoming an English speaker and imagining what that will be like. It seems that she might be ready and interested in beginning to take on more English language. I guess that means I will need to work just as hard for the next 12 months..



Having a baby causes you to revisit your own childhood. Memories, years buried, suddenly resurface. Somewhere, from deep within comes a longing to relive the experiences, and to share tales of games once played and toys once adored. I’ve recently been particularly nostalgic for the dolls of my girlhood, searching for photos and information about them online and then letting all the memories rush back, smiling.

My mother has always been a reader and I have so many wonderful memories of reading with her, and just enjoying the beauty of the illustrations in my beloved books. Naturally, I’d always assumed I’d one day read these same books to my own children, so from time to time I have brought some old favourites back to my place after visiting mum.

Of course I grew up in a different time, in different circumstances. In a small town with little exposure to other multicultural society. My mother has always been open minded, accepting of all people and all cultures. Yet as I am now a mother to a bicultural baby, I reread my childhood books with the perspective and sensitivity of our family’s circumstances, and from time to time I am jarred by the racism to be found in their pages. Again, I want to be clear, my mum is not racist, and if she reread these books now she would be as shocked as I.

The other day I opened one such book, it was a Little Golden Book from 1972 with particularly charming illustrations by Sharon Kane, I read through quietly to myself and smiled as I came across a page where three babies were pictured in a basket.. and then I read the rhyme underneath it which described them each in racial colour terms and explained how there wasn’t really enough room in the basket for all three of them. I was really disappointed.

The next morning, Alice was playing with Han and decided she wanted to hear a story. Han invited her to go fetch a book and wouldn’t you know, she picked the Little Golden Book. In my head I lamented that she hadn’t picked a Korean language book (We are still only using Korean with Alice and have so far only exposed her to books in Korean)

Without missing a beat, Han opened the cover of the book and started making up a short story for each page, in Korean. When he turned to the three babies who couldn’t fit in the basket, suddenly they were transformed into three babies having a lovely time playing together in that same basket. That’s the lovely thing about being married, particularly to someone of a different mother tongue and big imagination- having someone there to take the evil out of your once treasured books and recreate them into the future fond memories of your children. Maybe one day we’ll type up our own new poem to glue in, under that picture of three babies in a basket.

5 days of Christmas

(a eulogy and a tale of sharing my own traditions with Han)


The lead up to Christmas is always chaos in my house. This year was no exception, I commemorated Alice’s 20th month with her regular monthly photo, painted a Christmas illustration and had it printed onto personalised cards, finished up my last classes for the year and the last session of Korean playgroup. Alice and I decorated our little Christmas tree, we took our annual Santa photo and Han and I went out and bought our Christmas presents. We had a party at my mum’s house, and Han and I prepared for the most important tradition of the Christmas season..

Singing the 12 Days of Christmas.

Han has spent four Christmases with my family now. Our family is not large, but we well make up for it by noise level and enthusiasm for conversation. Our Christmas is fairly low key these days, we often eat Indian food, and go swimming if it is particularly hot, but we have this one ridiculous tradition that started off one year when my cousin and I found an old, well worn Christmas tea towel at my Grandmother’s house. I suppose we might have been helping dry the dishes, I don’t remember clearly, but the result was, we two enthusiastic girls and our good humoured grandmother, decided it was essential to ceremoniously hold up the tea towel and sing the 12 Days of Christmas, which was printed on it. The first year it was probably just the three of us and perhaps a few siblings or an aunt who happened to be close by, we probably sung it in my Grandfather’s old drafting room, but it became a beloved, important annual tradition, sung with great gusto.

If Han really wanted to impress my family, he would have to learn it in advance, so I spent a few days teaching him, and he was a keen student. My family were so pleased to have another male voice (we are a predominantly female family) and very much appreciated his ability to drag out “FIIIVE GO-OLLLD RRRINGSSS!” to an appropriate excess. It paid off and he has been welcomed back each year since.

This year, as many of you may know, a very important voice was missing from the 12 Days- my Grandmother’s. She passed away just after my birthday and though I’ve sung to her as she slept her final sleep, kissed her beautiful face goodbye, and sat in numb disbelief at her funeral, I haven’t been able to let her go. Anyone who follows this blog would have noticed the delay between posts, I have had to pour all my energy into Alice as it has been a struggle to achieve anything.

When I taught Han the 12 Days of Christmas, he translated the first 5 days into Korean to help him learn the lyrics, and for fun. There was a bit of misunderstanding, and Colly birds became curly birds (곱슬새) but I was always quite amused and impressed by his version.

So, for even more fun, I decided to paint Han’s 5 days of Christmas, as I imagine them from his Korean lyrics. Lately, Alice has this funny little habit where she asks to wear one of our wedding rings on each of her index fingers and then she does a kind of dance with her fingers pointing up, rings hanging on them, before giving them back. My Grandmother never got to see the ring dance. This painting is my tribute to her. If she were still here she probably would have laughed at it with me.

And with this, it’s time to finally say Goodbye, ‘Marnie,’ you were an incredible grandmother, an incredible person and as grand and significant as the sky. You were the foundation of all my childhood memories and remain the essence of childhood to me. Though you lived a long life and died surrounded by loving family, leaving your husband of more than 60 years, four daughters, seven grandchildren, one great granddaughter, and one on the way (my niece or nephew) there was never going to come a day when I was ready for you to go, and your passing has always been the one and only thing beyond the capacity of my imagination. I loved you and love you and am immensely glad that you lived to see me marry and to meet our little Alice. I’m extremely grateful for everything you did for me and all the wonderful times we were able to spend together. You are the definition of a self made woman to me, and I try to follow your example and inspiration in all the things I do.

..And we sang the 12 Days of Christmas, as we do each year. My cousin held up the tea towel, and the sound was definitely not the same, some how it seemed as though we should hear Marnie’s voice among us, though her body was not there. Yet we sang it, and it was ridiculous and beautiful, and I realised it is time to let her go. So here goes.



If you want to try singing Han’s 5 days of Christmas, and you can’t read my handwriting on the illustration, it goes like this:

크리스마스 다섯번째 날 내 사랑이 보내준..

금반지 다섯개!!

네마리 곱슬새,

세마리 프랑스 닭,

두마리 비둘기,

그리고 배나무의 파트리지!


I hope you are having a safe and happy holiday season. We’ve just braved the boxing day sales, which are probably the biggest of the year in Sydney, and I am cleaning up the house in anticipation of a fresh new year. I think it’s going to be a good one!

Basic expressions

I’ve previously talked a bit about how I started off using Korean with Alice. One of the most helpful things I had when starting was a small piece of brown cardboard on which Han had written a bunch of basic expressions for me to use. I could already use Korean quite comfortably with adults, but was daunted by the task of using it with Alice, so we brainstormed the list together, and with that as a base, I started introducing expressions. From there, I added more and more ..and then left English behind.

So here, for those who are equally unsure where to start, I have compiled a similar list.

This list very roughly covers the daily activities of a small baby, has some playful expressions, instructions, admonitions and reassurances. My next few posts will be focusing on grammar and speaking style, and I will provide many more detailed expressions in the coming weeks.

I think this list is easy and brief enough that you could start using it straight away. There is obviously more than one way to say many of the things on the list, you can adapt it to your level of confidence. I have typed the way the expressions might be spoken to a child, so the spelling is not necessarily dictionary accurate and there are a few baby words in the mix.




Did you sleep well?

Good job!

I love you


Please give me (that)

Thank you



My, what a pretty baby!

Oh.. Is that so? (a response to use for early conversations with baby when she uses babbling baby talk)

Tickle tickle

Let’s play!



Stand up/get up please

Sit down please

Come here

Time to go

Let’s eat

Yum Yum! (to encourage baby to eat, or when pretending to share baby’s food)

Let’s have a bath

Let’s get dressed

Let’s change your nappy



No (you mustn’t do that)

That’ dirty!

That’s hot! (to touch or taste)

You’re okay/are you okay?