Archive for the ‘Korean stuff’ Category


May 8, 2012

My mother guilted me into going home this weekend and attending the first birthday party of my sister’s twins.  Yes, it’s very important.  It’s also a bit annoying to discover I am so easily moved by guilt into doing something that is really inconvenient for me.   Then my mother guilted me into buying gifts for the twins, when I had a perfectly good check to give, so I ended up giving both things – all the things.  Then I ran around a bit running errands for her (my mother/my sister – it doesn’t matter in this case as the end result was the same).  No matter how old I get, I am never going to be immune to my mother’s guilt-inducing powers.

It was an okay weekend for other reasons.

I had a couple of conversations with my father about what it was like to live in Korea after the partition but before the war.  He tried to explain about the  mandatory ‘critical sessions.’  Once a week, everybody in the village would go to the meeting hall and there somebody would be selected to be criticized.  “You’re bad!” or “You’ve done bad!”  is what he said lots of people would say, and he demonstrated a lot of pointing.  He still remembers this, having attended these meetings from when he was seven.  He said it didn’t really matter how old you were, you still got yelled at by everybody in the village.  Also, you had to speak quietly in your own house, because you didn’t know if somebody from outside would report you.  People also disappeared from the village.   He said that years after they had crossed into South Korea, his father, my grandfather, caught up with some people from their home village.  It had been rumored that my grandfather’s name was next to be “disappeared.”  (I’m not remembering it exactly, but some people might have shown up a day or two after my grandfather had crossed over, presumably to make him disappear.)

I also learned that this one adult from my childhood wasn’t just a random friend of my father’s.  He was actually a kind of cousin.  (Head, meet desk.)  I am so oblivious, somebody should just whack me on the head periodically, just because.   My brother and sister did a bout of eyerolling because I just am so clueless.   But this explains so much!  Why he felt so free to drape an arm around me and pat my head.  It seems suddenly less  weird (it wasn’t very really creepy, because he wasn’t a creepy guy, but just I had no idea who this guy was which was what made it weird).

Talking to my parents make a lot of my childhood seem less random.  Perhaps I should talk to them more, but because I want to and not because I am guilted into it.

This post is getting long, so I’ll just end it with this:  remind me to tell you the story about my grandmother – it’s like something out of a soap opera.


The Worst Aunt in the World

January 18, 2012

Yup.  That’s me.

We went to my parents’ house this past weekend and made mandu.  (Korean dumplings.)

Usually what happens is that my mother makes a vat of filling and then everybody sits around and makes enough mandu for the next couple of months.   It’s pretty tedious and time-consuming, so you’d want to have as many people around to do this as possible.

This time, she waited around for my SIL to show up to help.  But my SIL needed to go shopping, so it fell to me, my dad, and my mom to make the mandu.   That would have taken forever.  When I say vat of filling, I mean VAT.

But wait!  There were teens and preteens in the house!

So I called them in and told them their job was to make mandu as a replacement for their mother.  There was some protest, and they kept wanting to bail, but I made them stay for the entire process.  Their mandu were terrible looking – lumpy, filling leaking out, lots of little rips and tears.  Ugly. I made them do a lot of do-overs.

Those kids wanted to go, so badly.  But I kept at them, telling them this would be the most useful they would be for the entire weekend.  If it really bothered them, maybe they’d remember the experience and use it for a college application essay  about Korean-American culture and family.  (Probably titled “Mean Auntie, or the Bitter Taste of My Tears in the Dumplings.”)

The other thing that happened was that I woke up sore after the weekend.  Probably because we spent a fair amount of time playing (and I’m not proud of this) “Just Dance 3” on the Wii.  It’s a dance game where you copy movements of people on the screen, but the only movement that counts is the hand with the controller.

It’s silly, but my family is also incredibly competitive about the dumbest things in the world and so I was bound and determined to destroy the hopes and dreams of a bunch of under-1o’s with my dance steps copied from a video game.

Like I said, I’m not proud of this, but it is something I think those kids can also learn from.  What that lesson is, I’m uncertain.  (Mean Auntie can’t dance, maybe?)  Anyway, Henry really likes the dances where he can pretend to be a robot or a Power Ranger.  (Although how he knows anything about Power Rangers is beyond me.   He doesn’t watch the show at home, and we don’t have any of the media.  Maybe school (that disseminator of all things cultural)?


January 11, 2012

(Title of post from my college off-campus experience, where someone was camping and spent much time and effort, comically, trying to find fuel tanks for the trip, which I remember being called something like “bumblos” but I’m not certain.)

New Year’s is a big deal in my family.  One of the things that happen is the young bow in respect for the elders and wishes for luck, and the elders give the young some cash money.  There’s also a lot of eating of traditional foods and thinking of the year past and the year ahead and the dead and all that.  The important thing, though, especially to the young, is the money.

My fail (my first of the year, go me!) was that I forgot that.  We were on our way back from DC, on Saturday, the day before New Year’s, literally on the NJ Turnpike, and I’m suddenly thinking, “oh, crap, I forgot New Year’s money.”  W and I have been elders since we had kids.  Maybe since we got married?  (It seems dumb, but I should remember when I turned into an elder, right?)

Anyway, I worry until we get to my parents’ house.   I ask my mom if it’s okay to not give.  She says it’s okay, but W notes that it’s never okay to be those people who don’t have New Year money.   I ask her how much to give, and she says it’s up to me.  I say, “$2?” and she says that’s cheap and makes a face.  So no money is okay, but $2 is too cheap.  Go figure.

I ask my dad if he’s got any spare small bills.  (He used to have lots because he ran a store.)  No.  My brother’s not around, so he’s no help.  So W and I strategize and we go over to the local strip mall and proceed to break a number of 20 dollar bills to get enough singles and fives to give away the next day.  W called it “shaking down the immigrants and natives.”

We get back to my parents’ house.  I check with my mother about the number of kids showing up.  At least 27.  Damn.  Still not enough money.  (Although we are well fortified with single cans of soda, granola bars, battery packs, single serve chip bags and yogurt cups.  I felt like one of those people passing counterfeit bills.)  Although my mother kindly reminds me that if I don’t have enough fives, I can give tens.  Everybody loves tens.  (Sure they do.  I’m not giving away that much money – mostly because I don’t have it.)  My brother shows up, and he’s got some fives.  (He’s really sympathetic because he’s done the exact same thing, but because it was before my parents retired, they had the money.  Then I make a threat to take the money people give my kids and give that away.  My brother laughs, because he’s done that too.)  Then the next morning, my mother coughs up $20 in singles.

The lucky money thing goes well enough.  Some people didn’t show.  We’ve got some singles left over.  Oh, thank goodness.  Safe.

Then some people show up at my mother’s house after the big event.  There go the rest of the money – and still, my mother’s going on about how I should stop counting and just give it away – which is easy for her to say.  I just didn’t want to give an unequal amount of money when it’s obvious that I’m counting out singles, and I might not have enough anyway.  Which I do.  Barely.

I should just take my brother’s advice and if I’m even thinking about being in the vicinity around New Year’s get a whack of money and just leave it with my parents.  It’ll be so much easier than the night of the bumble-o’s.

I told this story to a friend recently, and she thought it was funny, until we told her how many kids.  That brought it all into perspective for her.   Because 27 is a lot of kids.   Then she told the story of how she went to buy the red envelopes for New Year’s money (she’s a long-time Yankee recently married a Canadian-American-Chinese guy) and was thrilled at how many there were in the pack.  Because she could use the envelopes for year and years until they were all used up.  Until she realized that they all had the year on them.  I laughed, because if she were really ethnic, that wouldn’t matter.

Anyway, that’s my New Year story.  Here’s to hoping your New Year goes a little more smoothly than that evening did for us!

No, please

December 19, 2011

In my reverse-engineering of trying to recapture of the Korean of my toddlerhood, I have really tried to figure out ways of saying things politely.  In English, that is captured by “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re Welcome.”

There is no ‘please’ in Korean.  It was driving me crazy for a while, because I couldn’t figure out if it was my piss-poor Korean or just the language itself.

I had a long conversation with my father about it.  He thinks it’s funny – of course, there is no ‘please’ in Korean.  Duh, daughter.  Going to English and learning to say ‘please’ was a weird thing for him.  The implied ‘please’ is sort of embedded in the way the sentence is phrased.  Also, I have terrible literal translator-head, where one might be asking, very politely, for something might come out as bluntly as “Give it to me.”

The ‘please’ things makes me wonder if that’s a small semantic step in the stairs of what people might consider rudeness in Koreans.  Which I find ridiculous.   Koreans aren’t rude, especially to people they don’t know.  People are always talking about how polite my father/mother are (as opposed to me, I guess) or their Korean friends are (again, as opposed to me).    There are tons of different politeness levels in Korean, and it is one of the most polite-aware countries I’m aware of (or at least, you get called out a lot if you’re rude and parents are deeply ashamed for raising rude children).   Of course, there’s always going to the exceptions.  But I find most people are pretty polite anywhere you go, if you’re not an asshole.

Anyway, there is no ‘please’ in Korean.  There are, however, many ways to say ‘excuse me’ and ‘sorry.’

crazed laughter from internet sources

August 1, 2011

Okay, people.  I know you warned me – that wikipedia knows nothing about Korea or Koreans, really, but I stumbled across this entry and it made me laugh.

(from Korean birthday celebrations, and I have cut and pasted in case it gets edited, because this is just too good:)

Coming-of-age rites

A less well-known birthday celebration is when a boy or girl of the Confucian faith reaches their adult age (20 for the boy and 15 for the girl). When a boy turned into an adult he would tie his hair into a top knot and be given a kat (traditional cylindrical Korean hat made of horsehair). He would be required to lift a heavy rock as a test of his strength. If he can lift and move the rock, he is considered a man. A girl would become an adult by rolling her braided hair into a chignon bun and fixing it with a long ornamental hairpin (pinyo).[10]


And I am trying to figure out a way to ask my dad if he “moved his big rock” without busting a gut.  Because I know my brother didn’t move that rock.  Hooo.  Ha-ha.

Also, don’t ya think that the way a girl becomes a woman is sort of, anti-climatic?  Shouldn’t she do something like, I don’t know – cut down a big-ass tree or dig a well or move a slightly smaller boulder or something?

On a sober note – this isn’t very funny at all – my father was in the army at 20, after a childhood spent in wartime.  Eesh.  (He was probably doing dumber stuff than this for the higher-ups.)

little staring problem

July 15, 2011

Yeah.  That was me at the playground the other day.  The lady with the little staring problem.

That’s because a white dude in a tank top pushing a kid on a swing had MY last name tattooed across his bicep in olde Englishe scripte.

I don’t have one of the top 5 Korean last names (never mind a Korean last name that could be mistaken for a non-Asian last name – Im, Kim, Park, Paik, Pak, Lee, Ee, Choi, Choe, Che, Yun, Yoon, etc.) so it was a disorienting moment to find in the Great White North (where I live) to see my Korean Last Name on some dude’s arm.

A Dude That Is Not Korean.

(His kid didn’t seem Korean or even partly-Korean to me, either, so I don’t know.  Maybe he’s some part ethnic Korean that doesn’t show?  Maybe he’s a fan of some kinds of media or some multinational corporation?  I got nothing.  The best I could come up with is maybe there’s some word in some other language that sounds and spells like my name in English.)

And yes, I am visibly East Asian looking – so that’s my level of comparison.

like white on….

June 20, 2011

So I haven’t had any cooked white rice in the house the past couple of days.  It’s weird.   I don’t feel quite like I have enough in the fridge if I don’t have rice on hand.  I don’t know if it’s an identity thing or what.  Let’s not get into how I might feel should I not have a 40 lb sack in the pantry ready to go – it doesn’t bear thinking about.  (Shudders fearfully.)

I like having rice in the house – you know, in case I have an alien life form crash land in the backyard and immediately demand refined carbs or they will invade.  Sure, we’ve got English muffins – but heavens above – if the alien wants to know what most of the earth eats, I will present rice to it.  No offense, English muffin, but geez.  Your quirky nooks and crannies are nothing to the fluffy whiteness of well-cooked rice.  Side order of kimchee or beansprouts for bonus points.

That’s right.  I said it.  In my head, Korean food will stave off alien invasion and create intergalactic friendship.  Yeah.  You got something else, international cuisine?

google konglish

June 14, 2011

I looked up the Korean word for pocket today in Google Translate.  It came out this:  포켓 – “po-keht.”  Yes, that’s right.  Korean phonetic for pocket.  (Grrr.  I didn’t have to turn on the computer for this.  Pounds head on desk.)

(I did this because I wanted to make certain that I had the correct spelling.  In Korean, as in English, spelling counts.  I am, however, pre-literate in Korean, so I have to basically look up everything.  The way I think it is spelled is based on my childish pronounciation, so it often doesn’t look right to me even if it might actually be the spelling, and then when it seems right to me, it is actually unintelligible.  My poor parents.  They have had to endure a lot of bad baby Korean from postcards when I’m out of the country.)

I looked up “pants pocket” and came up with the right term.  바지 주머니 (bah-jee joo-muh-nee).

Because of the way Korean appropriates English, it makes me wonder what 포켓 – “po-keht” really is.  (For examples of appropriation – here.  I love this blog, even though it’s long since dead.)

Edit – people who are fluent in both languages must think I’m either a terrible troll or I’ve got my head up my ass or something.  Alas, that’s just me.

futbol vs football

May 28, 2011

My dad was watching a soccer game on tv today.  It was Bar v. Shk – and I didn’t know what Shk was.  I looked it up.  It’s Shaktar Donetsk, in the Ukraine.  He had a look like “okay, whatever” when I announced this to him.

So I looked up Ukraine in Google Translate – it’s this: 우크라이나 (pronounced sort of like this: oo-kuh-ra-ee-nah).    And then he was suddenly all “!!Oh!! 우크라이나!”

Is it just me, or is this whole exchange just off somehow?  (Unless he was faking, which I sort of doubt because he would have just faked knowing Ukraine to begin with.)

(And not just because we all learned that the Ukraine had a team in the UEFA champions league.  Me, it’s understandable.  I didn’t even know the UEFA had different leagues.  But my father?  He lives for el futbol.  Yeah, he does pronounce like that.  Too many Spanish language games, I think.  And the funny think is that he will correct himself and say, “soccer” – because, you know, it’s me and I’m sooo American.  It’s okay, dad.  I got it.)

the smell of memory

May 4, 2011

I made something like this last night (I adapted it some, i.e. left out the chilies because I have young children who don’t like spicy food but then added a whack of red pepper paste to my own bowl, I added a bunch of random bits of vegetables, etc.).

It’s weird, because now my house kind of smells like my parents’ house.  At least, as I remember it smelling after my mother cooking.  It is all sorts of richness; sesame oil, garlicky, oniony, long-stewed, heavy sort of smell.  It is homey and simultaneously really disorienting.  My house doesn’t really smell like that – because I don’t cook like that very frequently.

I don’t imagine other people (i.e. regular people) get this way.  W doesn’t seem to be moved by smells.  His sense of smell isn’t great, and his mother wasn’t a great cook, and his sense of identity isn’t really tied into the food of his childhood.

And as I write that, I think I just put my finger on what it was about that dinner smell that affected me, especially as it hung around this morning.  Identity.  My personal identity is tied up with that smell.  And maybe how I thought I smelled to other people – the smell of my clothes as I entered the outside world – and then the smell of my parents’ house as I re-entered it.

(Proust had madeleines, I’ve got kimchee, garlic and sesame oil.  Take that, Maureen Corrigan.)

On a minor note, that smell makes me think I should really get working on some side dishes as well.  You know, get my Korean Housewife on.