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Dong. There it is again. I keep looking for it and seeing it. Dong here, dong there. Dongs are everywhere. I’m referring to the Korean syllable “dong”…it looks like this.

It’s the first symbol I actually learned to recoginize since I’ve been here in Korea. Though, I feel like I might have a breakthrough and learn a few more in the next day or so. For now, I scan the Hangul characters whenever I see them, and I try to pick out the dongs. It’s become this bizarre Where’s Waldo style search that keeps me entertained during car rides, sitting in restaraunts, and riding the subway.

Finding this one symbol may seem a very minor accomplishment, but I consider it a breakthrough. Prior to this, these characters made absolutely no sense to me. They were just some lines and circles. I couldn’t grasp how one might be different from the next, how many of them there could be, and how one could ever remember all of them. But now I have a relationship with this one symbol, and I understand what makes it “dong”. Finding it requires me to make a judgement on all of the other symbols around it. It’s a very simple judgement: “Not dong. Not dong. Not dong. Nope, not dong. Not dong. Dong!”

Here is another example of it.

I consider this progress. Weeding out what is not important is a necessary part of learning. Spotting dongs out of what once was a bunch of random lines to me is something I’m proud of. I point them out to others and say, “dong”, and wait for their approval. I’ve even done this to a few Koreans. They don’t seem to mind. They simply nod and sometimes grin. This is the same response I get when I point at things that fall into my limited vocabulary and say them in Korean. There is a bike…”jajeongo”. That’s a knife…”naipu”. While I find this kind of human connection warm and friendly, I’m not sure how I am perceived by the locals. Being a white man pointing at a knife, pronouncing it poorly, all the while grinning like a lunatic might come off a little frightening. But no one has run away yet, so I’ll continue to do it in my quest to get better at Korean.

See if you can find any dongs in the following images.