What’s in a Name?

We’re visiting the TV set of Mister Sunshine, the first Korean drama I ever watched,
back in 2019, after my first trip to this “Land of the Morning Calm,” a name
given them by a Japanese artist, which means many Koreans
don’t care very much for the name at all and so refuse to use it ever.

I tell our guide this is quite a coincidence, that of all the sets to tour,
we should come to the place where they filmed my favorite K-Drama.
I tell him that Lee Byung-hun, the star of the show, is my favorite male Korean actor,
that I’ve admired his work ever since I saw the movie, A Bittersweet Life
way back in 2007 or so, a friend gifting me a pirated DVD from Japan.

He gives me an odd look, says, “Oh, you mean Lee Byung-hun,”
but he pronounces it in a way I don’t understand at the moment.

I ask him what it was he just said, to which he replies that I mean Lee Byung-hun,
again pronounced in a way I can’t comprehend right then.

“What are you saying?” I ask.

He explains that he is giving me the Korea pronunciation of Lee’s name.

I tell him that my last name is Lee, pronouncing it the way I do.

He smiles, tells me that is the American way.
Here in Korea my last name is pronounced not “Lee,”
but “E,” sounding just like that letter of the English alphabet.

I’ve never known this, for all the years of my life, and tell him so.
He smiles, nods, says if I lived in Korea, I would have known it much sooner.

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