Praise is Chingchan in Korean

On some days at random and mercilessly, my mother feels so far away.

For every good reason I’m living here in Belgium there’s still the wish that momz could scoop Noah up in her arms whenever she wanted. I wish she could smell him. On Skype when Noah does something brilliant, which is often, she talks about wanting to pat his butt in praise. Smacking babies’ butts constantly in praise is what grandmas do, right?

Praise. It’s called chingchan in Korean. The in chan is pronounced like ah.

The ch sound is one of the strongest sounds in the Korean alphabet.



That’s the Korean alphabet, basic and simplified in its characters, similar to the English alphabet in sounds. The characters are strung together just like letters are, to make up a word. You can see that ch is one of the boldest and loudest of the sounds in Korean.

It’s perfect because chingchan has not just one but two ch sounds. Praise should be strong and bold and loud, as it is encompassed. Chingchan is harsh to pronounce by Korean standards. It’s received easily though and greedily, and we could probably all learn to give more of it and readily.

Growing up I remember being called “ching-chong” or “chingy-chong” or some other variation, because that’s how Chinese kids were picked on where I lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Everybody thought I was Chinese even when I proclaimed I was Korean. Every time I heard ching-chong stuff I thought of the Korean word chingchan instead.

I remember when I told this to my parents they thought it was so clever. They told me to continue thinking that way, and that bullies would never know I was laughing at them on the inside. It worked for a while, but then it just grew bothersome. It still annoys me today when I hear grown men and women use grade school racism in the adult world.

When I was in high school I had an English teacher who cracked racists jokes on the first day of class as he took attendance. When he got to the ethnic names he began butchering them for fun and half the class loved it. It was 1991 and they didn’t lol…they just laughed out loud.

When my teacher got towards the end of the list he pronounced my name “Sung, Juhn My.”

I corrected him.

He then came back at me with, “What…your parents didn’t throw spoons and forks in the air to name you Ching Chong Chung?”

My jaw had dropped. I was shocked. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard something like that, but I’d never heard it from a teacher in my face. Everybody in the class had their eyes on me. I’d pursed my lips before replying.

“No, but that’s a good joke. I’ll be sure to tell my parents.”

When I told my parents that evening about the Ching Chong Chung joke, they didn’t give me the old line about chingchan and bullies. I was 16 years old, and not six. Instead, my dad told me to keep track of each time my English teacher targeted me. So I wrote everything down. My parents were methodical.

My dad waited and confronted my teacher at parent-teacher night, instead of calling my school right away. I don’t know exactly what my dad said to that asshole that night at school, but I did see my dad show him my written list of all his assholeness. My teacher had stiffened up, and and listened intently as my dad whispered to him. My mild-mannered father shut my teacher up good and English class was tolerable the next day, and for a string of days.

In the end my teacher was fired just a few months later anyway. It turned he was was abusing alcohol on school premises, and he even kept booze in his desk during English! It explained a lot. Still, I felt no sympathy for the guy.

All these years later I know that not everything can be explained away in one spell-checked blog. There are some things that could never be covered in one shot because life evolves, and to different degrees depending on how far you spread your wings. Before Noah was born I couldn’t possibly know what it would be like to sit with him and Skype with my mother together from thousands of miles away. It’s hard to relay to momz all that’s happened in the last 24-48 hours, while she bonds with Noah.

It’s the cutest thing watching her pretend to bite Noah’s fingers and toes, and how she tells him she’s gonna smack his butt. Noah basks in his halmuhnee’s chingchan and spins and squeals, and dances for her. He offers her food that he’s eating, and he’s just the biggest showoff and charmer. I can’t imagine where he gets that from…

I told my mother last night that Noah eats up all her praise. He loves receiving her chingchan. Even from so many miles away there’s so much strength in praise. It’s what gives me strength on foggy mornings like this morning, when I’m missing my momz.

It’s what makes me realize that there will always be assholes, but they don’t matter all that much in the end unless they’re fodder for a blog…

Always dishing,



  1. kcsmum

    Each time I hear a story like this two things happen – my heart breaks a tiny bit for the little Korean girl and the “it’s hard enough to be a 16 year old” young lady. And then I marvel at the strong, disciplined, polite, funny woman she turned into. Hugs across the water my dear.

  2. Keida

    Jun, I hope u don’t mind but I used this blog in my class today. I teach senior English and we r working on college application essays. I’ve been trying to explain how to get a point across while using anecdotes to “show” the action. Ur blog really helped them see it. I promise I won’t do it again without permission. Thank u.


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