Thursday, October 19, 2006

My Korean Family

Asian culture is much different from Western culture--that goes without saying. However, I think I'm beginning to understand a bit more. One big difference is the collective sense of self. I think I now understand the domino theory fears that western policy makers had about communism in Asia during the Cold War. The idea of communal life is so ingrained into the culture. For example, you do not say, "my wife," but rather, "our wife." You NEVER say, "my house." Instead, you always say, "our house." While Koreans know where possession lies, the idea of community is built into the language and thought.

Apart from my coworkers, I have had two different families informally adopt me. The first was the Young family who had me stay at their house, fed me, and showed me around Geoje my first few days on the island. The second, is an "ajuma" or grandma who has adopted me at the bus stop. The young family are the one's pictured from my first post on the island. Mrs. Jeong (wives never take the husbands name in Korean culture), works in the Geoje education office, speaks pretty good English, and makes the best Kimchi I ever tasted. Tonight, she had the other American English teacher and I over for dinner at her home. It was the first time being back after moving out almost a month and a half ago.

It was nice to be in their home again and show-off to her son that I could read Hangul (he was floored). Last time I visited, he showed off his amazing brain by writing a list of all the US Presidents, in order, and the dates they served! Then, we ate a wonderful meal and I realize how amazing Mrs. Jeong's kimchi is. When I first came to the island, all Kimchi tasted the same. Now, I've become somewhat of a Kimchi critic. Much of the kimchi that I have at the schools is "new kimchi" and hasn't fully aged. The pepper sauce is very spicy and hasn't absorbed into the leaves. The aged kimchi (it can be aged up to three years in special pots and refrigerators) is much more mild and is amazing. So, again I felt a little bit a part of their family.

My other adoptive person is an old woman I met my first day at the bus stop. While at first, I was always carted too and from school by school staff, I eventually insisted on learning the buses and getting myself there. The first day taking the bus, I went a half hour early. I did not read Korean yet, but my coteacher wrote the symbols that would be on the bus sign. So, I looked at the first bus and tried to match up the symbols with no luck. Then, an older women came up to me and started speaking to me in Korean. She looked at my paper, and through grand gestures and the word "no" I realized that the bus had been mine and that I missed it. She then wrote 8:40 on my paper--the time of the next bus.

I thanked her and thought that was that. However, she kept trying to talk to me with no success. She spoke no English, save "no," and I knew only three or four words in Hangul (Korean). I was a little annoyed. Then, when the next bus came, she grabbed me gently by the arm and moved me onto the bus. She then showed me that I had the give the driver W900. Too bad she wasn't on the bus with me to tell me when to get off. I might have avoided my run-in with the police.

A month passes, and I kind of forgot about this women. Then, one afternoon, I get antsy and decide to take the city bus to Okpo. Its about a twenty minute drive from my town of Gohyeon and is one of the towns that caters to the Daewoo shipyards. I walked around the town and then decided to head home. On the way to the bus stop, I found a store the carried some American foods. I bought some Country Time lemonade, and left. I was a little zoned out at the bus stop, but snapped out of it when an old woman touched my arm. It was the same woman! She again tried to speak Korean to me. This time, I knew a little and told her that I was an American. She proceeded to open my bag to see what I bought. Then, she got bored trying to talk to me and started talking to one of her lady friends. More friends joined her--probably ten in all. When each one would come she would comment on what they were wearing (I'm guessing) and would look in their bags if they had brought a shopping bag.

What happened next completely surprised me. I was looking off and suddenly felt something at my feet. I looked down and found that women tying my shoe laces! I was embarrassed. I don't think I have had someone tie my shoes since I was maybe three or four! I tried to do the second one, but she insisted. Then, as if I had just arrived on the island, she proceeded to tell me each bus that was not ours, and then finally, which bus to get on.

I feel I have made it here, I have an ajuma to call mine--oops forgot the collective possessive. We have an ajuma to call ours.

I'll try to get the film reviews from Pusan up tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Your or our korean 'grandma' sounds a lot like the maid at the house I lived while I was in language school. Her and my house mom adopted and were babying me at time, even tying my shoes.


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