Tag Archives: tradition

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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Flowers Phone Alcohol… baba booey baba booey

flowers_tentacles_pitchers

I kinda missed out on the whole beer home-brewing thing. I feel like living in a small apartment, I’m not really equipped for it. Also, I’ll probably end up drinking a whole lot of bad beer. There’s already enough bad beer I could buy locally. I don’t need to make them myself. The same goes with wine. I don’t drink enough wine to start making my own. And though I know enough to know what bad wine tastes like, I don’t know about making my own bad wine.

I make an exception with Korean makkeoli however. Makkeoli is a traditional Korean alcoholic drink made from rice. It’s often referred to as rice wine, but it’s not really wine. It has its own unique taste and is quite easy to drink. The downside is that some brands of makkeoli leave drinkers quite gassy. Now, I don’t drink makkeoli often, but it is something that I enjoy with my father-in-law (a better alternative to soju).

I’m planning to try making makkeoli this month with my mother-in-law. She still knows how to make makkeoli, although the last time she made a batch was decades ago. Her daughters are taught how to make kimchee, and I often help out in their annual kimchee making tradition. But I noticed that none of her daughters were taught how to make makkeoli. My wife’s not interested, and I doubt if her niece or nephew would even bother learning about it. It’s just not very high on their traditions compared to kimchee. Alas, their family recipe (I assume there is one) is about to die off.

So I’m going to learn how to make makkeoli. My in-laws have a lot of space so it’s perfect for brewing. Also, this gives me another activity whenever we visit. Hopefully, I’ll end up with something worth drinking.

My phone is dying on me. I’ve had my phone for four years now. I’m not really too keen on upgrading since I only use my phone for calls, podcasts, Howard Stern, texting, Twitter, and the occasional net surfing. I don’t really need something too high end, and honestly, nothing out there has really been that exciting, in my opinion. I’ve had an iPhone all of these years, and I’m really considering switching to Android just for the sake of divorcing myself from iTunes. I like the phone, but I’m really not a big fan of the software.

That’s an understatement. I hate iTunes. I hate how it limits what the customer can do with their products.

The new iPhone is a tad too big. I’ve heard too many horror stories regarding Samsung phones. Also, their latest designs are kinda lame and gimmicky, in my opinion. The Sony phones are kinds intriguing, especially since I own quite a few Sony products that I can integrate into a whole ecosystem. But I’m just not sure yet. Anyway, we’ll see until my phone finally dies.

 

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