Posts Tagged Korean language

The Korean Wedding

I went to my first Korean wedding over 3 weeks ago.

When Mijin asked me if I wanted to join her for her friend’s wedding my response was an emphatic “obvi”.   During my stay, I have experienced many parts of Korean life and I figured this would be a good opportunity to bolster my cultural traditions resume. Plus, Mijin is good company. And, who doesn’t like a wedding? My favorite wedding moment came when my mom was getting remarried during the time when I had my first signs of armpit hair (an exciting time in my life). My brother Dave, who is one year older, was 16 then.  Dave isn’t a big dancer now, and was much less likely to bust a move during this pubescent stage. I forget what relative was feeding him drinks the whole night but before anyone could even do the chicken dance he was out on the dance floor grinding  with my mom’s boss’s daughter like they were at a club in Cancun. Great moment. She got grounded as a result. The next afternoon, I stood laughing outside of the bedroom door as he delivered an apology over the phone. I think I was bitter I didn’t get a dance.

The wedding was in Busan so we left Daegu on a rainy Sunday (it’s monsoon season) at 10 am. Mijin messages me that her friend will pick me up at a bank near my apartment before picking her up. I stood underneath the roof awning outside of the bank when I hear a beep from a black SUV. I run toward the car and jump in the back seat. Her friend knows very little English so we basically greet each other, exchange some words,  and  ride in silence until Mijin hops aboard. Goeun and I get to know each other as Mijin interprets. The roads are slick. We have several close calls with other cars on the road, resulting in Goeun proclaiming, “I am best driver!” I find solace in the green rice patties and rolling mountains.

We arrive at Paradise Hotel in Busan at 12:30, just in time for the start of the ceremony. Paradise Hotel is large, upscale hotel across the street from the beach. Mijin greets her friend, the bride who is sitting in a secluded room.  She looks very bride-like: white gown, hair did, the works.  The bride, who doesn’t speak English, is talking to her two long-time friends.   I look  on with a smile. The photographer motions for a photograph. I quickly move out-of-the-way when the photographer signals for me to join the picture. I refuse. She insists. I stand behind the three seated friends. Later Mijin shows me the picture that was taken with her IPhone. I look like a random guy photo-bombing the picture. I regret not giving the peace sign.

The wedding ceremony is in a spacious banquet hall. Because we don’t arrive early and the tables are not specifically designated for the guests, we have to stand along the back wall.   I survey the room, estimating about 250 people (Mijin later tells me about 400 people came and went). I am the only westerner. I don’t really feel out-of-place except that I’m wearing brown shoes with black pants. I was always told this is a cardinal sin in fashion, but Mijin assures me that it is in style now. Mijin’s outfit goes together seamlessly.

Apparently, the groom is loaded  (rich not drunk).

Up to this point, this wedding doesn’t look or feel any different from a large, upscale wedding in the States except that everyone is speaking Korean and it was a little earlier in the day. The groom walks down the aisle and the bride and her father make the stroll next.  A  man appearing in his early 30’s  with a microphone says some words that were probably much different from what I was imagining in my head unless he was indeed analyzing the looming NBA lockout. Mijin said he was giving something akin to a best man toast.  After that, an older guy (ajoshi) has some things to say. I’m not sure if he announced them husband and wife. Next, the microphone is given to a young guy seated at a table. He stands up and serenades the new couple with a song. I recognize some Korean words such as “love”, but my mind is on other things.

 I hope filet mignon is being served.

Luckily, some guests leave before lunch is doled out which means we get to sit down. Mijin and Goeun go to the stage to take part in some group photos. I watch with a glass of red wine and a bowl of mushroom soup. I am ecstatic to discover steak on the menu. Haven’t had much steak in Korea. Hard to come by.Later in the meal, the new married couple enter the room each wearing  traditional Korean garb.

They go around the room and greet each table in their flashy hanbeoks. Apparently, the couple had a short, private traditional Korean ceremony moments before. Mijin asked if I wanted to go see it. I asked if it would be more exciting than the steak and we stayed put.

At the end of the meal they served Korean wedding soup. It consisted of noodles and kimchi. Tasty.

I well understood beforehand that the wedding would only be for a couple of hours and that there would not be a long drawn out reception ceremony filled with dancing, drinks, and mingling, but as lunch was winding down  a melancholy feeling hit me. There will be no dancing. 

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Tempus fugit

Time flies.

Anyone with some life experience under their belt knows that time seems to speed up as we add more chapters to our narrative.  Activity can wash away time like a wave swallowing up a footprint in the sand.  Tonight, as I visit my blog, which of late has been more rare than a nun visiting your boss’s favorite porn site, it suddenly hit me,  I have now been  living  in Korea for over 4 months.

Upon arriving to Korea,  I told myself I would regularly blog about my experiences and adventures. I honored this pact  for the first two months. Then I stopped. Why? Is that really any of your business? The important thing in all of this is that I am rededicating myself  to blogging on a more consistent basis. I really mean it this time.

Some things worth mentioning from the past two months:

  • Daegu winters are cold.  Apparently the spring and fall seasons are both very short and the summer is long and soupy hot.
  • The only coat I brought with me to Korea was stolen from a booth at a club when I was building a fan base on the dance floor.
  • I celebrated Thanksgiving with a large group of coworkers and other miscellaneous people. We ordered two birds from a western style restaurant and everyone added some type of side dish, drink, or dessert to the feast. Before dinner, while perusing E Mart (think slightly classier Wal-Mart) to decide what to bring, my friend Chris and I decide that a king crab would be the perfect complement to the meal. We thought it was 7,000 won. It was 70,000 won (roughly $65). Our outrage dissipated once we started cracking and eating. The host of the party was not happy that the smell  of the giant crab masked the aroma of the turkey.
  • Christmas eve landed on a Friday, which meant that we had to work (Christmas is not huge in Korea like it is in the western part of the world).  For most of the day, I actually forgot it was the eve of Christmas until I got a nice card from one of my students. She said she loved me. I told her that she was moving too fast. After classes finished up while we were all in the office inputting homework and attendance into our computers our boss surprised us with a cake. He designated me to cut the cake. I don’t particularly like cutting cake, but I don’t particularly dislike it either. He told me I had to select a woman from the office to cut the cake with. He said to “choose wisely”. I hesitated for a bit and finally settled on a Korean teacher that I am friendly with. My boss said that I couldn’t choose her because she is married. I could sense where this was going – I wanted to defuse the situation but unfortunately the comments  grew more racy,  laced heavily with sexual innuendo: “Who do you want to spend the night with?”  To add fuel to the fire my foreign counterparts began to chime in with “Ohhhh” and “Who’s it gonna’ be!?” According to some, my face transformed into the color of a ripened tomato. I finally settled on a quiet teacher new to the school.  The cake was decent. And, no, we didn’t spend the night together.
  • Leading up to Christmas I was not feeling well. On Christmas day I felt like I had been beaten by two dozen of Santa’s more sinister elves armed with mallets. I slept almost the entire day only waking up at 6pm to head to a nice buffet at a hotel in downtown Daegu called Novatel with some friends.
  • January 1 – New Years Resolution: get in Bruce Lee shape and learn Hangul.
  • For the entire month of January our school, a private English academy, offered its students more classes. They call it  “intensives”, I call it “doubling your class load”. Normally throughout the year we work from 2 pm-10 pm, but for this special month during “intensives” our schedule changed from 8 am – 7:30 pm. Talk about taking your circadian rhythm for a ride.
  • I have been taking very informal Hangul lessons with a Korean friend. She rocks.
  • One positive borne out of “intensives” was that for January  I was back on a more traditional schedule for most working humans. This allowed me to frequent the fitness center after work at 8pm. I am not a morning person, as anybody who has lived with me can attest, so I prefer to workout later in the day. I discovered by way of a coworker that a yoga class is offered for gym members at 8:30pm Monday-Friday. I always wanted to give yoga a go so I found this  the perfect opportunity to dabble. I really took a liking to the class (and the instructor) so I began going everyday.  I am not flexible by any stretch of the imagination, but I made notable improvement. One major challenge was that the instructor conducted the class exclusively in Korean which required me to look at the person next to me for cues of when to change position. I ensured the amicable, toned girl next to me that I was gawking out of necessity. She said, “sure” in a sarcastic tone with a smile. After one week I managed to do a headstand without any wall support. Everyone clapped and cheered in my mind,  in reality it was a rather low-key moment after a Monday class. Now that we are back to our regular work schedule I can no longer attend yoga class. There goes serenity.
  • I am enjoying the teaching aspect of my life here.  In mid December I took on the role of  “senior teacher”, whatever that means.
  • For the Chinese Lunar New Year (February 2) I went to Seoul with my boy Nicuation. Due to the cold weather and a penchant for partying our visit lacked the requisite sightseeing that you might do your first time in a new city. We did manage to squeeze in a trip to the 63 Building. The view at the top provided a panoramic picture of the city and the aquarium on the first floor was worth visiting. We went to a popular traditional market called Insadong which consisted of rows and rows of small shops that featured artwork, souvenirs, Korean garb, among other things. I came very close to buying a hanbok. A hanbok, which literally means “Korean clothing” is the traditional Korean dress worn at  festivals and celebrations. I guess they are not very popular with the younger crowd. At one shop, I was able to bargain in Hangul to get the price down (they can get very expensive, like a suit), but this hanbok was not flashy enough for my taste. I am still searching for the perfect hanbok.

That is the last two months condensed into a small easily consumed package. Obviously there is a lot missing, but sometimes the most important thing is what you omit.

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Pepero Day

Since my last post a lot has happened. The past two weeks have been a heaping plate of interesting with a side of mundane and a hint of nostalgia. Despite what some Daegu inhabitants will tell you  I am becoming much more competent at the business of living in Korea.

Until late, updating this blog was not a chore, I actually looked forward to it. Now that I am more acquainted with the area and my coworkers,  my free time has become filled with studying Hangul, going out/playing soccer, and trying to get an adequate dose of American sports, especially the NBA. Speaking of which after a slow start the Utah Jazz are really starting to come together. Back-to-back come  from behind victories in Miami and Orlando? I’ll take it. Especially when Paul Milsap, a player known for his blue-collar work ethic and rebounding tenacity puts up 46 against the Big Three and their suffocating defense.

Work Schedule

My work hours are by no means traditional: Monday-Friday 2pm- 10pm. I dig the hours, but a few late nights turn into sleeping past noon which translates into not having enough time to really do anything other than eat, read the paper, and shower before teaching a full day. I have done a decent – but not impeccable – job of avoiding this seductive pattern. Strangely, we (teachers) are required to be in to work by 2pm, we have class preparation for  half an hour and then from 2:30 – 3:30 pm  we stuff our faces at lunch; at 3:30 pm we are back in the office for class prep and by 4 pm we are teaching our first class. Curious, I asked my coworkers on my second day why they don’t just have us come in at 3 pm and have class prep for an hour and eliminate the lunch hour altogether. They all said they wondered the same thing. It’s not that I terribly mind this schedule, but it feels off-kilter taking an hour break after only being there for 30 minutes- I liken it to pulling over to eat after driving only  half an hour on a 7 hour car ride.

The Banker

Last week I went to Daegu Bank, a one minute walk from my apartment if I have blisters on my feet from wearing running sneakers to play soccer and a thirty second stroll  if I am at top fitness, to transfer money from my Korean bank account into my U.S. account.  I recognized the gregarious gentleman who opened up my account about a month ago and sat down. During our first meeting he talked at length about his favorite American television dramas, like CSI and Law & Order, and before leaving he printed me out a map of the area and circled a few restaurants that he highly recommended (I went to one of them later that day and enjoyed my first bowl of kal-guk-su, one of my favorite dishes). He said he was happy to see me again and I said likewise. I practiced some Hangul phrases and expressions with him and he became very giddy. He proudly demonstrated that he got alerts of U.S. news stories in English on his I-Phone and then he showed me several framed pictures of his wife and kids that were displayed on his desk.  His English is not great but he can maintain a conversation and is able understand what I say if I slow down my pace.  After I exchanged some won into dollars he told me to wait one moment. When he came back he handed me a box of  Korean brand toothpaste. I asked if he was trying to give me a hint. He smiled without picking up on my insinuation and said he is happy to talk to me and would like to know me better and asked if I drank maekchu. I said only when forced and offered a wry smile. Song Choel  gave me his business card and highlighted his mobile number. I walked out thinking what a genuinely nice guy, why don’t Korean ladies give up their number this easily?

Pick-Up Soccer

Every Thursday after work a group of us rent out this outdoor turf field that is fenced in by massive netting and scrimmage from 11 pm until they tell us our time is up which is usually around 12:30 am. It’s great fun. I was never adroit with the ball but having been removed from the game for so many years the first few times playing was a little rough. “The touch of a rapist” is how an Englishman I work with described it. My conditioning is fine and I am more than able to keep up but beyond making a simple pass and playing solid defense I was not very serviceable. It did not help that I was playing in cross-trainers while everyone else had on cleats or turf boots. Fed up with being one of the last picked every week I made a trip to Homeplus, a Wal-Martesque place and invested in a pair of Diadora indoor soccer boots for 30,000 won, the equivalent of roughly $25. Granted they are not the highest quality, I felt like a new player during my first outing with them on. Who says  shoes don’t matter?

First Date

I had my first official date here in Korea a few weeks back. It went alright but there were no real fireworks. The highlight of the night was probably the makgeolli, which is a cloudy, milky-white wine made from rice; it’s dirt cheap and usually sold by the pot but at this place it was in bottles.

Pepero Day

November 11 is Pepero Day in South Korea. This monumental day celebrates a thin chocolate cookie stick.  11-11  represents a pack of  these tasty chocolate sticks. Get it? 1111! People hand out these treats to people they like. According to my students,  a guy is  supposed to give them to a girl he  is into.  I guess it is a lot like Valentines Day. Apparently they don’t have antitrust laws for this unofficial holiday because Pepero clearly has a  monopoly on the day. I thought this whole thing silly until the  nice-looking girl at the café who I often talk to gave me a pack of  Pepero cookie sticks. Now I am smitten by her.

Within the past week my students have said I look like the following mammals (usually  intended as an insult):

  • Gandhi
  • Obama
  • Kim Jung Un (Kim Jung Il’s fat son)
  • monkey
  • Bill Gates

I am convinced that they utter any non-Korean person that they know. As for the monkey reference, well, what can I say?

Last week I organized the students in some of my classes into teams for a trivia competition. Here are some of the team names that they chose:

  • Daniel’s face is in danger
  • Windows 7
  • Baldy
  • Thank you
  • SK
  • Jazz (my suggestion)
  • Kimchi now!
  • Daniel is under attack
  • Harry Potter in big cast

‘Daniel is under attack’ was stacked with some of the brightest students, winning in a route,  forcing me to give them a stamp in their workbooks.


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Kim Jung Il?

I am trying to get a feel for if it would be in bad taste to be Kim Jung Il for Halloween. When I mention it to my Korean coworkers they laugh and my students love the idea. I scoured the internet for a sweet mask, but I haven’t really found one. The costumes I came across include a wig, glasses, and a green jump suit – I would need to find some elevated black shoes. Here is a guy who claimed to get 11  hole-in-ones his first time golfing. I like having fun, but I don’t want to offend someone too badly and end up triggering an international incident. I need time to reflect …

I could pull this look off.

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