Archive for the ‘Korean Culture’ Category


23 Jan

When I see the peppery hot kimchi I think of the slight tingle it has in my mouth from it being pickled and the sweet crunch it makes. I can smell the fish, but beneath that is a stronger smell. It’s something about the hot-sweetness of the peppers that draws me back. Not just the cabbage, but other kinds as well. Nabak Kimchi (Watery Kimchi) and whole radish kimchi, daikon kimchi… even occasionally squid kimchi.

I know some adoptees hate kimchi–even some Korean Americans who came here and never really tasted it. It’s the fishy smell, especially the South Korean Northern version of Kimchi which uses dried shrimp rather than the version of the south which uses fish sauce. But something about the kimchi is addictive. Is it the adrenaline from the sweet-hotness or the fact that I like the tingle it leaves behind something like a milder version of Poprock candy in my mouth?

I use it as a medicine and prevention from colds and the flu. Koreans have a saying when someone has a cold, “Didn’t you eat your kimchi?” My parents never had to worry about vitamin C deficiency with us. Just put kimchi in front of us and we’d eat it. We ate our vegetables without fuss because Koreans eat vegetables. I only got sick maybe once a year when I was younger.

I know that Koreans accustom their children to kimchi. They start young and wash off the pepper, so that the child can get past the fire in their mouths and slowly build them up to normal pepper levels. By the time they are five they see no difference.

At my four o’clock snack of kimchi and rice like clockwork my dad said the smell was overtaking the kitchen and to put the kimchi jar away. Ironically this was usually when I was watching cartoons even though I was long a teenager by then. Japanese cartoons. (Since the Korean industry didn’t start doing animation yet.)

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Posted in Korean Culture


I love my Kimchi

23 Jan

Set to the tune of My Little Sunshine. I’m working on the Korean version, but it’s hard.

I love my kimchi,
my only kimchi
it makes me happy when my skies are gray
you never know, dear, how much I love my kimchi
please don’t take my kimchi away.

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Posted in Korean Culture, Korean Food


My Mom and Korea

23 Jan

My Mom smiles at me with that stiff smile. “I don’t understand why Korean is so difficult.”

I say, “Hangeul is phonetic.”

“But the sounds change. Korean is so hard.”

I shake my head. “Many languages are like this. English is like this too. Wa-ter turns into Wader in Standard American English.”

“Yeah, but Korean is so hard. I will only learn hangeul” I can feel myself getting upset at her. I wonder if I have the right to yell at her for pushing away my heritage with such ease.

“English has ‘through,’ ‘rough,’ and other words that sound different, but are spelled the same. No language is harder than another. They are just different.”

“I don’t have a gift with languages.” I refrain from snapping, “I don’t have a gift either, the difference is that I was forced to try.”

My Dad chimes in, “[My brother] will translate for us.”

I say, “No, he will not. I will get you guys a translator.”

The room grows silent. I try to hide my anger.

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Posted in Korean Culture, Parenting, Parents, Racism


My First Korean Friend

19 Feb

I never had Asian friends in my school days. It wasn’t that I didn’t want one–it was simply the numbers were against me. I didn’t actually get to know any Asians until College, and even then, it was limited. It always felt like an outsider trying to get in.

After college, I needed something to do with my life. I wasn’t sure where I should go. My compass wasn’t set into a particular direction. In the senior year of High School I had written a senior thesis about anime. I had contact with an American CEO of a manga translation company from that senior thesis.

So I decided to internship for them. And once I was interning there, I found that I had finally found my ground. I grew. If the horror of college had taught that I knew exactly who I was, then this company for me was finding the direction I wanted to go with my life. It was as if a million doors were opening.

And there I found my first Korean friend. I learned to accept being Korean in a way I couldn’t learn before. I mean, I found that things about Korea weren’t that different from the United States. Sure there were differences, but there were still things I could be proud of. I learned a lot from her. I learned to br proud of my heritage. I learned more things about Korea and for once I felt like I truly belonged. She helped me. And for once I felt it wasn’t out of duty or paying back a favor. It was because she wanted to.

This freed me immensely and then I began to understand that Korea was just as I had thought. It wasn’t a war-torn country. It was a country with a rich past and present. And that’s when I started to search deeper.

I also began at that time talking to adoptive parents. I began to accept parts of adoption more and more.

If I knew who I was, I needed to also know how to grow. And having these two things helped me on that path.

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Posted in Korean Culture


Asian Dramas

19 Feb

My childhood was filled with wanting to know more about Korea. It was so desperate that I began to look and study Japan and China to try to distinguish what Korea was. People told me that Korea was about a war. But I knew that was wrong.

I was told through Korean culture camps and weekend trips to the local church that Korea was about calligraphy, hanbok, eating rice, getting candy and having traditional fans and foods. I also knew this was wrong.

My parents thought the Korea I craved was the traditional Korea. The one with hanbok, holidays, and Korean food. But this isn’t what I really craved. I wanted to know what it was like to breathe and be like a Korean. I wanted to know if I lived there every day, what would my life be like? How would I think? How would I act?

And perhaps this is where my spark of interest in Cultural Anthropology began.

I found after lots and lots of searching, researching, digging, that academia was poor on this subject. Cultural Anthropology books didn’t cover Korea. The Internet was too new to cover anything about Korea besides the traditional background. Listening to news stories from Korea always had an added American view. Where was the Korean point of view, but more lost and more far away?

I found a singular breakthrough. Since I had moved to California, I had access to Asian shows. I started to watch Asian dramas. This included Japanese, Taiwanese, Mainland China, and if I could see them, Singapore, Filipino, etc.

The first Korean drama I saw was Prince’s First Love. It scarred me for a good 3 years. It was horrible. It was so horrible, that it is legendarily horrible. It did horrible in the Korean ratings, it did horrible with fans, and when it was up on a website for seeding, it was passed over for other dramas three times until there was no other drama to seed because it was that bad. Pretty faces, horrible story. The drama was so bad, that the Production Director managed to screw up shooting a beach scene. It’s not that difficult to get some pretty images of a beach… but he *still* screwed it up.

Needless to say I went into denial about Korean dramas for a long time. That was a worst choice for Korean dramas and it definitely didn’t answer my fundamental questions about Korean daily life and attitudes.

Meantime I filled my plate with watching unsubbed Korean dramas, one was Dae Jang Geum which was dubbed in Chinese, but subbed in English. I knew it was Korean. I was disappointed it wasn’t in the original language.

This meant, that again, my first exposure to Asia was Japan. (This typifies what stereotypes and racism come from.) This meant between my interest in cultural anthropology, the studying I did for my High School Senior thesis on Cultural media exchange of Manga and Anime into the United States, I had a pretty good analysis for being able to separate Korea from japan and eventually from Taiwan and mainland China.

My first decent Korean drama was My Love Patji. (내 사랑 팥쥐) (which was romanized weirdly in the US.) This starred Jang Nara whom I was collecting music from in a desperate push to try to learn Korean as fast as I could. I was relieved to find out that not all Korean dramas were bad. Since I like collecting by artists and author, I followed the two male leads to their other dramas. These series were 16 episodes with a terminal end. They were not soap operas because they had a plotted beginning, middle and end. Even the daily dramas have a beginning, middle and end. This led to me consuming 50+ dramas in a little under 2 months. By the third month I was running out of dramas faster than they were being produced. I amazed Koreans too with the number of dramas I watched in that amount of time. (I also maintained my grades in college too))

During this time, I studied the culture being presented in the dramas, and since I had some official training, I started to compile that information quickly together, and finally came up with “how do Koreans live in Korea” v. “What is idealizations of Korean life like.”

Korean dramas tend to be repetitive. They tend to use the same lines over an over again, the same tropes, so since I had training in stories and creating them, I was able to pick up on these patterns, and compile that into learning the language. Since I had only a few months to learn Korean, I used my everything to try to learn Korean through crash coursing my way through these dramas. I even developed a system by which I could pick up language.

1. First listen to the patterns of the language.

2. Look up the grammar structure of the language.

3. Pick up nouns. (Subject and Object)

4. Verbs.

5. Context and repetitions.

6. Continue to pick up more complex vocabulary.

7. Repeat entire phrases.

– Don’t assume all English words will be used properly. “Fighting” makes no sense in English, but it does in Korean. (It’s actually p’i-t’in-gu. That’s why it’s worth looking it up.)
– You can also learn about manners and customs which is also good. It will help you use language properly.
– Don’t be afraid to rewind when you want to repeat a phrase.
– Don’t be afraid to look things up. Use that dictionary, online or not and the grammar guides. Having a separate tab or window (tab is in Firefox and Safari, not in IE. IE sucks anyhow, upgrade to Firefox). with the dictionary in question.

I’m fond of categorizing things into steps. But that’s how I managed to crash course myself into learning Korean rapidly. It did horrors to my spelling, but for pronunciation people thought I had perfect pronunciation and grew up in Korea.

Through watching Korean dramas I was able to regain what I thought I had lost and was rightfully mine. I think I also felt comfortable being more Korean as I watched them. I’m sure, though, that this wouldn’t work for my brother who wouldn’t like the content of the dramas, or my highly intellectual and culturally defensive mother. However, for me, who was open-minded about cultures, had the training to open my mind and judge last (more like judging phobic) and had lots of curiosity, it worked very well.

Dramas I’d recommend:
Sweet 18 (Great Starter Drama) [낭랑18세 / Nang Rang 18 Seh]
Bad Family [불량가족 / Bulryang Gajok]
Dae Jang Geum [대장금]
3 Dads, 1 Mom. [아빠셋 엄마하나, Appa set, Eomma hana] (Great for a crash course in Korean child rearing.)
Attic Cat [옥탑방 고양이/ Oktapbang Goyangee]
Full House [풀하우스 / Pool Hawooseu]

And though I can’t stand the drama, I think it’s a good idea to watch a few dramas with a bad view of adoption.
I’m Sorry I Love You (Bad view of adoptees and no view of adoptive parents.)

Which Star Did You Come From? (other than this aspect it is decent–bad view of birth parents, which is rare in Korea, but worth looking into.)

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Posted in Korean Culture


Korean Traffic Dummy

19 Feb

The bus stalled near some construction. There was a lot of construction in Korea going on. As the bus slowed, I saw this dummy. I thought it was a real person, but it was wet out and dark and the thing wasn’t moving. As we passed it I laughed at it.

I showed this picture to my Korean friend later and she said, “What is that?” and then blinked and didn’t know they did that, even though she’s lived in Seoul for most of her life.

At this point, a lot of the tension built inside of me dropped and realization was almost coming over me. One of those cliché moments of the dream come true, but you can’t believe it. I realized why it was called a cliché.

It did occur to me, that the dummy had Caucasian features…

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Posted in Korean Culture, Search and Korea Trip


Korean Exasperation

19 Feb

I’ve been tallying the various words of Exasperation, and so far Aigoo is more common with the ajumma… and people outside of Seoul. I’ve heard more Aiyu in Seoul… I figure I may as well have fun, and someone asked me this question… And that’s my answer. Aissi is more for males who are in a tight and frustrating situation. Aigoo is more like, “life is hard right now” or “Oh really, why life” Aigo, etc are various variations of the same, but are less prevalent.

The shoes thing, I noticed that women with children wear sneakers of the Filas brand. Also College students. Men get to wear all the sneakers while the women wear heels. Also the bright colors seem to be confined to the true ajumma… I think it’s fun to observe these things.

Scuffing seems to be a result of wearing slippers half the day… they even scuff on the stairs. I tried it out and I learned that it really builds up your legs, but wears down shoes fast. (It’s definitely easier to keep on slippers if you scuff a little.)

Standing up straight seems like that one should have pride in ones culture, so stand up tall and in that statement I can see how Korea never was truly defeated and run over.

New cultural item: You can’t eat the wing tips of chicken if you are a male, ’cause if you do you will be unfaithful! Good to know for a date…


Culture Shock

19 Feb

My brother speaks Korean a bit too deadpan… flat… completely flat, so they think he’s Japanese. I think this goes to show that one can be a fluent idiot. Even the ajussi here have more inflection than he does and because he doesn’t inflect properly, no one seems to be able to understand him.

I’ve had NO culture shock. Sure, I’ve been surprised at things, but I roll with it and try it out. However, my parent’s culture shock is severe. I think somewhere inside my parents, they truly believe that who you are in connected to what culture you live in, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think who you are is so ingrained that you’d have to go to the cradle of humankind and kill the ancestors there to unmake yourself. Who you are is ingrained in a long line of history, and who you are was ingrained into time before you arrived. It’s made up of a sum of choices that billions of people made, including yourself, to make yourself who you are right now. I think because of adoption I’ve learned this beautiful thing tremendously, and thus I’m able to let go of what makes me, “American” “Korean” or whatever and adapt to the world around me. And I found when you let go, listen, observe, watch that you learn sooo much more about who you really are, versus who you thought you were. Probably sounds a bit philosophical… I hope it sounds wise.

I fumble horribly with speaking Korean. But I lack the confidence with speaking. And I pronounce well, and even have slipped into Korean mannerisms. But my parents aren’t listening and watching so much. They are so tightly balled inside that they aren’t actually seeing the country for everything it has. My Mom is whining about her back problems, but I think complaining makes everything worse, because you internalize that pain from your head, blame your body, your body responds by making you hurt, which is your body saying to you, Hey! it’s not my fault.

I’m trying to get them to say Kamsahamnida… My mom is slowly trying, but my Dad won’t even start with annyounghaseyo. Plus they keep insisting on going to Starbucks for breakfast. Uhhghh!

My objection is that you can be tourists, but if you listen, watch and try to open your mind and learn there are sooo many beautiful things to see. When you do so, you stop othering people and you start to see past the shell of culture and what truly makes this world of people human isn’t how you take a shower, what shoes you wear on a subway, how one dresses, what language you speak, but what makes us all human transcends all of those things.

Because I prepared and opened my mind, pressured myself to learn Korean, be Korean, and learned the culture before I came, I think that all those years of abrupt culture shock in the United States has culminated in me having no culture shock and even being able to blend a little. I’m willing to make mistakes, look like and idiot, but my pride isn’t surrounded by my outsides, it’s by the confidence that the world is as it is right now and this is where and who I am because everything has culminated in this direction. So I belong here, right her, right now. Having that kind of confidence I think really makes it easy for me to blend and adapt to culture…

Anti culture shock then is made up of these things:
1. Confidence in who you are without labels. “Writer” “American” “Korean” That is NOT who you are.
2. An open mind. I’ll try ANYTHING as long as I’m in that country. Silkworms, fine, they smell good. Escargot, fine, I’ll try, I’m in France.. gotta be good for something.
3. The ability and willingness to make mistakes *then* correct them. If you let go then beautiful things happen. You understand why people do what they do, what effect it has on them, and you can see past the surface. I learned about Korean pride by correcting my posture. I learned to go with the flow by not pushing through the crowd like one foreigner. I learned many things and was able to see into the face of what makes us human, just that bit more. Human beyond what our culture tells us is human.
4. Don’t panic. If you panic, then you think you are a victim. Which ends up in an us v. Them which means you’ll never accept the culture. For example, the subway wouldn’t take my ticket, so I was thinking, how to get out… So I called, but since Ajumma here was busy, so I breathed, I centered myself and then watched. Eventually I learned how you get through. You go to the exit labeled “help” raise your right hand.. if the attendant doesn’t see you you call out to them, “Ajussi.”

My mom experienced the same thing… but instead, she completely panicked. Then my Dad panicked. I was trying to explain, but they wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t calm down at *all* wasted 3,000 won, making it hard for me to go home later. Later my Mom basically said, “Why me?” “What did I do wrong?” If she had calmed down not thought, I have to stay American and thought that this is another country, so everyone and everything is out to get me, found herself and watched, she would have been able to get out, listen to me and what I was trying to say.

20 years of constant culture shock in the US, somehow having a different kind is always freeing… but I’m still waiting for it. ’cause I think culture shock can be fun… which ironically gives me none.

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Posted in Korean Culture, Search and Korea Trip


Changdeok Palace

19 Feb

My brother was working at Ulsan at the time and my Mom, being my Mom was insistent that she see my brother. (She measures love by two things, how proximity and money.)

However, since she was getting uptight at this point she was also insistent that I come with them and do what my brother wanted. They’ve been like this before as well. When we went to France and England, I wanted to go to an English maze Garden. My brother chose the Eiffel Tower. They ignored me.

I was determined to do it my way this trip and get in the things I wanted, with or without them, but my Mom was acting phobic of everyone in Korea, so she didn’t want me out on my own (I was 27 at the time. Uhhh and living alone… so you can see where this is going).

To make sure I stayed with them, they put the things I wanted to see last and topped it by not telling me they were doing so.

So we went to the large palace that my brother wanted to go to first. because to my mom, this would guarantee both children near her and a degree of protection….

This is the entrance to said Palace. They use this in a lot of dramas as well.

There are several entrances you have to go through the get to the main audience chamber. The guide said that these entrances are symbolic (I don’t remember of what). And I noticed the architecture changed just so slightly as we got deeper into the inner court.

This entrance goes to the main area where the court would be. You can see this in multiple Historical dramas.

This is the audience hall. This is where the King Meets his ministers, etc.

When I looked in the main chamber because I watched so many dramas for a fleeting moment I could see how it must have been then… like ghosts, I could see the ministers lined up in front of the king, bowing and saying “Jeonha!!” and the maids off to the side with their heads bowed, the royal guard and all of the people. The chamber filled and the place brightly lit with candles flickering against the walls. The overhead lights gone and the inside windows not there. For a moment I thought I could hear the ghosts of the people in the past calling out to the king as they bowed.

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Posted in Korean Culture, Search and Korea Trip


Namsam Tower

22 Feb

This is Namsam tower. This is the highest point in Seoul. Originally, Ajumma wanted to bring us up there but the rules had changed so we had to take a bus which was too inconvenient, considering that she had taken a car.

This is also another point that’s used a lot in K-dramas.

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Posted in Korean Culture, Search and Korea Trip

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