Tag Archives: Korean

On Korean Funerals and Being an Outsider

Morton Salt Girl

My wife’s grandmother passed away last Monday. It was a very sad occasion but not unexpected. She hasn’t been living well for two years now. But I guess that’s the hallmark of a good long life, to die and have people remark “Well, we were expecting it. She was old and at least now she’s at peace,” instead of “What!? How did she die?”

The funeral was very traditional, even by Korean standards. My wife and even my co-workers say they just don’t bury people that way anymore. It felt both like a privilege and me intruding (I’ll explain this more later). I knew I was watching something that’s no longer done and probably would no longer be done in the future. And it was also extraordinary that I was pushed to participating into many aspects of it, even carrying the casket and lowering the body. It’s a bit morbid, but I was reluctantly grateful for it.

Several things marred the experience for me though. One was the almost mandatory inclusion of heavy drinking. I understand drinking in a funeral, but at some point it turns less into a funeral and more into just a regular drinking session with Koreans, complete with the ugliness of hierarchies in such occasions. I was particularly annoyed at one of my wife’s relatives “testing” me and my brother-in-laws to see if we were fit to either be part of the family or be married to our wives. We’ve all been married to our wives for years, and the man was basically a stranger to me. He won’t be there when our marriages run into a trouble whatsoever, but yet he gets to lord over everyone in the table. Why? Korean culture. Perhaps it was all coming from a good place, but it felt quite obnoxious at some point. And no it wasn’t happening because I was a foreigner. My brothers-in-law had to tolerate some abuse too. But it does nothing but alienate people or make them feel like they don’t belong in the table. I said so that night myself. Being in that table, while it makes me feel like I’m family for whatever that is worth, it makes me feel small and that I have to constantly prove to others that I belong.

Being a foreigner, I tend to be a target for people who are not quite used to seeing foreigners. This is why I’m sometimes not particularly excited to be in the countryside. One drunk grave digger who probably never saw a foreigner before in his life started yelling incoherently at me and was bragging that he can speak seven languages. And yet he does not understand a word of English. I suppose he’s a genius with languages who just happens to dig graves as a hobby. And I was the idiot who had to tolerate his nonsense and not punch him out. I was warned not the engage him, which was smart, but then again, why was I the target of his abuse in the first place?

Again, I can’t help but feel it’s because I’m the other. I’m a foreigner. As welcoming as many of my Korean relatives can be, it can sometimes only take a few handful of events before I start feeling like the “other,” like I’m the dancing bear. Perhaps I’m being too sensitive, but I don’t really complain about it in real life. I just keep things bottled up inside and write about it here where no one would read it. But it’s that feeling of being an “other” that makes me feel like I’m intruding in the funeral in the first place. Last Wednesday, we buried a wonderful woman who had a great life and whose selflessness has touched the lives of so many people in her family. There must be other people worthier than me, someone who actually feels comfortable to be there and fits in, to be part of the group that lays her body to her final resting place.

On a rather sweet note, I remember one time, back when my wife’s grandmother was healthier, we we’re all spending Korean thanksgiving together. For a brief moment, it was just me, her, and my older brother-in-law in the living. I think at some point, she started feeling bad for me, wondering why I wasn’t spending Korean thanksgiving with my parents. She asked why I don’t take my wife to my family and have her help my mom with thanksgiving preparations (as is the tradition in Korea). I told her that my mom passed away and my family was not in the country.

My brother-in-law was more direct, “He’s a foreigner. He’s not Korean.”

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Korean Evenings

Horseman

Learning Korean has been a struggle for me. First off, it’s very difficult to find time to go to class with my job. On a busy day, I work two jobs which start at 7:00 am and end at 6:00 pm. On a really busy day, my day won’t end until 8:00 pm. Squeeze making art and perhaps more side work between that, and it’s very difficult to find time to do anything at all. A lot of Korean learners find listening to K-pop or watching dramas or TV shows help, but I’m not interested in any of those. Korean television is simply not that interesting. I’m mostly isolated at work, so there’s very little interaction with Koreans during my day, so it’s very difficult to learn Korean via osmosis. So what am I to do to increase my Korean fluency beyond intermediate? Sacrifice my evenings and take Korean classes.

I decided to take classes again to force me to take learning Korean more seriously. I took Korean lessons years ago but had to quit because I got busier with work and there was a huge jump in the difficulty level in the classes. It was very discouraging. After that, I didn’t really try that hard to learn Korean. In fact, I focused my attention to studying law instead.

I figure my problem has been a lot of my attempts to learn the language has been based on my own pace. Thus, it was very easy for me to quit or decide that I have learned enough for the day. I think that’s the problem with the Duolingo and Rosetta Stone solutions. They give you too much freedom. They also don’t force you to be in a situation where you actually have to speak Korean to another person. Even basic sentences can be very intimidating when speaking to another person. That’s one of my biggest hurdles. I simply don’t spend enough time interacting with Koreans in Korean.

The classes would result in less time spent at home, but I guess it will be time well spent. In any case, I need to be out more anyway without drinking or spending too much money. This also means I won’t be working as much during the evenings. But again, if I’m not out spending money, it should theoretically cancel out not making money. Korean classes, plus listening to Korean audio lessons (less time spent on podcasts), and reviewing with apps like Duolingo and Quizlet. Here’s hoping I keep this up.

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On Keeping It Inside

Bee

On Monday, I suddenly fell terribly ill. I got up early in the morning, worked out, then BOOM, my health just suddenly turned and I couldn’t go to work. My stomach turned upside down, my chest started hurting, I felt terribly nauseous, I got a fever, and my head felt like it was going to explode for the better part of the day.

I had an especially terrible weekend. I’ve been quietly dealing with depression and anxiety for weeks now, but it just came to a boil a couple of days ago. During my mother-in-law’s birthday, my wife ended up embarrassing me during dinner. She started complaining about me and my lack of Korean skills, and much to my surprise, my brother-in-law and my mother-in-law rose up to my defense. I really don’t mind people talking about me, especially since my Korean is indeed quite poor. But my wife talked about me as if I wasn’t even in the room. And by the time I wanted to talk, by the time I was about to do the one thing she wanted me to do (speak  Korean), she stopped me and said that the conversation has moved on to another topic. How terribly, terribly condescending. I felt like I was trapped in a Cat Stevens song. And really, is complaining about spouses just another interesting topic to talk about and later dismiss on a whim? What should we talk about next? BTS?

When I was young, my father picked on me a lot. He picked on all of his children a lot. I was particularly annoyed at the injustice of him picking on my intelligence when I couldn’t recall him achieving any great heights in life due to his mental brilliance. One particular instance I couldn’t forget was when I was having trouble memorizing the multiplication tables at a young age. As my sisters and I were sharing a snack, it was a can of shredded potatoes called Pik-Nik, he stopped me from eating and told me to go upstairs and memorize the multiplication tables. I don’t get to snack unless I memorize from 1 to 12. It was unnecessarily cruel. What bothered me most about the incident was how jarring it was. It was late in the afternoon, we were having a snack, then he comes home and suddenly tells me to go upstairs and that I don’t deserve anything until I learned my multiplication tables. It sounds quite minor, but as a child, I felt like the biggest idiot in the world. I started thinking that there might have been something wrong with me. And to this day, even though I have long been on good terms with my father, past incidents like that will always remind me that he was not the best person to grow up with. He might have been a good husband, a good friend, or a good leader, but he was never good with children.

That feeling of being inadequate, that feeling of maybe there is something wrong with me, I felt that during dinner with my mother-in-law. Worse, it was casually brought up by my wife who was supposed to be on my side. It made me love my in-laws more and love her less.  God bless those good people! But like a good Catholic, I kept my thoughts and feelings to myself. Why spoil the whole weekend for everyone when it was just me who was hurt?

We spent the night at my in-laws and I tried to be a good son-in-law. Thank goodness it snowed heavily. As lame as it may sound, the cold snow actually brightens my mood a bit. In any case, I kept everything bottled up inside. Then Monday comes, I get ill and the doctors couldn’t give a cause to my downturn other than stress. Stress. This is the first time keeping my depression bottled up inside has made me physically ill.

Worthington Industries, an American metals manufacturing and distribution company announced two years ago that all of its portable helium tanks will only contain 80% helium. If you’re going to get a helium tank, make sure you get 100% helium.

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Love and Marriage and TV

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Sometimes my weekends are too long. My wife gets on my nerves or I get on hers. I’m afraid my job, which often finds me not talking to another soul for eight hours, has turned me into a bit of a lonely curmudgeon. And I’m starting to get used to it. I get uncomfortable around people, and I start avoiding social settings or just give off an unfriendly vibe. And unfortunately, this preference for seclusion includes my wife after a while.

Or maybe the media and roughly fifty percent of all married couple are right. We’re not built to be with another person co close for so long… that we all end up living like roommates or worse.

Louie has a failed marriage. I just started watching “Master of None” and the first episode is about the plight of being married and having a kid. I remember back in the 90s watching a show built on the worship of one’s spouse, “Mad About You.” I had a crush on Helen Hunt at the time. And (SPOILER) the couple eventually ends up divorcing on the last season.  They stuck together for six seasons; they were “Mad” about each other, only to end up as another failed marriage statistic. One of my favorite TV characters, Frasier, divorced his wife, Lilith. I enjoyed “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and come season six, same thing, Larry David ends up getting a divorce (again SPOILER). George Costanza was in an unhappy relationship until his fiancée died in an unfortunate envelope-licking tragedy (SPOILER!!!).

And it’s not just comedy. Don Draper had a couple of divorces. Walter White was trying to put a façade of a nice family life underneath a crumbling marriage. No one gets married for love on the “Game of Thrones.”

These are just a few shows off the top of my head that I happen to enjoy.

I think if you’re a TV couple and you’re not animated, you have a great chance of ending up divorced.

I don’t know if a study has been done on the subject before. I’m sure there are more shows with divorced or couples with troubled marriages now, but I would like to see how prevalent they are compared to married couples (who continue to be married). I would even count Al Bundy’s unhappy relationship with his family as somewhat “successful” compared to other relationships on television. Granted, Al’s life appears to be a bit of a nightmare, but I believe the lesson is that he sticks with it regardless of his marriage’s many dysfunctions. I wonder because I start thinking “are there more unhappy couples on TV, or are am I somehow more inclined to watch shows with unhappy couples?”

Now, I’m not saying my relationship is on a downward spiral. It’s settled to what I assume is the average experience cohabitating with another person.  I don’t think my relationship is any better than most married couples, nor is it any worse. I guess I’m modest like that. There’s just a bit of mixed emotions whenever I turn on the television sometimes.

“These people know exactly how I feel!”

“Oh shit! I’m gonna end up just like Louie!”

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A Little Less Conversation

Irony

I have come to realize that there are some people I could only speak to in short bursts. Anything more, and they start to annoy me, I annoy them, or we get into a dumb argument. The chances of conversations going sour get even higher during drinks. I’ve learned to be really careful with these people. I don’t speak much and I avoid drinking with them as much as possible, all to preserve our relationship. It’s like an amalgamation of two clichés: cruel to be kind and absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s absence to be kind.

I always thought of myself as a bit of a raconteur. I deal with language, and a part of my job is talking to people and getting them to open up about things. So being impatient with people could only mean two things. Either I don’t have much patience for what the other person has to say, or I really don’t care much about being around that person.

I have fallen in love with This American Life. I find myself listening to old shows. And despite being dated, I still learn a few things on many topics.

I listen to Howard Stern quite a bit. He is a great entertainer and interviewer. I’ve been a fan for years and I’ve mourned the passing of Eric the Midget and miss the colorful commentary of Artie Lange. When Howard retires, I know there will be great big hole in my life. But lately, I’ve been listening more to This American Life. While the Howard Stern Show is great entertainment, I feel like I’m not learning much. Of course, if I really wanted to learn a lot via audio, I could be listening to Korean language tapes in order to learn how to speak Korean. I just feel that This American Life is a good middle-ground between the pure entertainment that is the Stern show and the strictly bitter pill that are the language tapes.

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No English For Me

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I’ve been trying to learn Korean on and off for the past few years. I’ve taken Korean classes, listened to tapes, did the whole Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur thing. My problem is there hasn’t really been many opportunities for me to practice speaking Korean, and my level remains pretty low. My wife and I speak English to each other, and I don’t need to use any Korean at work. I suppose it would be easier if I was interested in any Korean media, but there’s really nothing on television that interests me at all. As for K-pop, no. No, just no.

So what’s the plan now? From now on, the rule will be to use Korean exclusively whenever I’m home. It will be a frustrating experiment but it will hopefully force me to learn more Korean and get used to speaking the language, or at least get me used to speaking key phrases that couples use all the time. People on average use 5000 words out of the 50,000 to 250,000 words in their personal vocabulary. I figure most of those words combine to a handful of routine conversational phrases which I really should be practicing more (I guess that’s a bit of a sad state of affairs regarding conversation between married people).

Well, good luck to me, I guess. Hopefully I don’t get too bored, lose my sense of humor and personality, or just stay quiet the rest of the time I’m home.

I actually think my wife has a crush on one or two of the foreigners on Korean talk shows who speak fluent Korean. I suppose that’s natural, and I really can’t fault a person for that. It just boggles my mind however the extent that the foreigners on television who speak Korean fluently also pander and adopt behavior that for lack of a better word, is so alien to their home country (at least in my opinion) They also entertain topics of conversation that would at the very least get my eye rolling and at most, enrage me. Is this what happens when you learn Korean? Or at least when you learn Korean for Korean television?

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Let’s Make Little League a Tad Racist

I see what you did there, Huffington Post!

Huffington_racist

 An hour or so later…

Huffington_racist_corrected

I wonder who thought the first title was such a hot idea especially with all the race-related things happening in the US right now.

I really should stop giving the Huffington Post any more traffic. I’m sure I could find Kim Kardashian updates, side boobs, and non-news “news” somewhere else.

 

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Messing Up My Fast Internet

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As a continuation of the Website rant last week, my site is now accessible on most PCs. Last week, I had to change DNS settings on my PC at home in order to access my site, but this morning I was pleased to discover that my site is now accessible without changing any settings.

Initially I thought it had something to do with my Web host or South Korea’s Internet censors, but I soon learned that it was my local ISP that was fiddling around with things.

I suspected South Korea’s Internet censors because the country is notorious for allowing Christian groups to look around for offensive Websites, report them to the police, and have the sites banned in the country. It is an extremely backwards policy especially when you consider that the country has one of the fastest Internet connections in the world. What’s even more ironic is that since Christian groups are the ones hunting down offensive sites, usually pornography, it is the hardcore Christians who get to see most pornography on a regular basis before they (cock) block everyone else’s access. Some other sites also banned in South Korea are political in nature, especially concerning North Korea.

This censorship, plus random fiddling of Korean ISPs make some rather benign Websites inaccessible in the country. For a while there, lululemon.com was inaccessible in the country. (Not that I was shopping for yoga pants!) What annoys me the most out of this censorship, including in other countries like China, is that the law makers and the morality zealots are idiotically unaware of VPNs and proxy servers. And even taking those options out of consideration, people will still be able to get their pornography and political subversion fix despite the constant censorship. More sites will replace the ones that are banned. It’s like a global whack-a-mole.

Anyway, that gets my gourd…

That, plus South Koreans use so much security on their sites using Active-X. The whole country is tied to Internet Explorer, which, after a year or so surfing the Internet and installing a bunch of security certification programs, can drag an average PC performance to a snail’s pace. It’s just more stuff to install and more passwords to remember and more e-mail to respond to, etc. A coworker of mine complains that it takes him forever to do Internet banking on Korean banks because of all the security and certificates he has to deal with. It’s probably less of a hassle to just go out to the bank and deal with a teller.

And in another ironic twist, while the intent of marrying Active-X was to bolster security, it would seem that Active-X actually poses a wide security risk for many Websites since many hackers can use it to gain access to computers. Ugh.

South Korea has amazingly fast Internet and I don’t have to pay premium for it. I guess that’s part of the reason why the country is a haven for online gaming. However, I could really do without the censorship and all the security BS.

 

 

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