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Reader Rei Rei asked a question which I thought deserved a post-length response.

Hi Mrs. Lee! Quick question, I know that Mr. Lee is older than you (was it 6? 5 years?) and I’ve been reading and coming along to try to understand the importance of age and the Confucian hierarchy of Korea. I have read a comment from a woman regarding her friendship with a man, saying that he said if they were in Korea it would be difficult for them to be friends due to their age difference. What I’m curious about is, is it true that it’s harder to become friends (or more) with a person who’s is older than you? How would you go about pursing a romantic relationship in Korea with someone who is older than you?

Let’s tackle the question of the Korean definition of friendship first. In one of my first months in Korea, I came into a low level class on the first day of class and saw two university aged students interacting with each other in a rather familiar and boisterous way. I said to them, ‘Oh, you two already know each other? Are you friends?’ The one student quickly replied in horror, ‘Oh no! We’re not FRIENDS!’ I was rather confused and taken aback. Not only did the students appear to be interacting like friends, I was surprised to hear someone proclaim so readily in front of another that they were NOT friends. It seemed rather rude in English as ‘friend’ is sort of a catch-all phrase. Sure we sometimes use acquaintance, or co-worker, or classmate to describe our relationship with another person, but if someone were to ask us directly in front of another person if we were friends, we would probably reply in the affirmative because that word is broad enough to encompass a wide range of relationships in its general form.

Of course, later as I was learning Korean, I realized that ‘chingu,’ or the Korean word for friend has a very specific meaning in Korean – namely that two people are the same age and at the same level. All other relationships require different relationship titles – older brother, grandmother, aunt, father’s eldest brother (eldest paternal uncle) etc. And each combination of titles requires a specific relationship although for the most part, these relationships boil down to age and sometimes gender. In the ideal, the older person in the relationship is ‘responsible’ for the younger person. This might mean the older person helps the younger with their career in the workplace, or pays for their meal, or makes the decisions of where to hang out, or gives advice etc. In return, the younger person ‘defers to’ or ‘respects’ the older person (I put these in quotation marks because I think the concept of defer or respect is might be changing.)

I saw the ideal of this relationship close up once with another class which included a middle age homemaker and several younger university students and workers. The younger classmates looked to the homemaker for direction, but even in her position she showed a great deal of care and concern for the individual personalities and needs of the younger members, and they in turn looked up to her and seemed to thrive under her direction. If I had to characterize the group dynamics, I would say that they were a harmonious class. It was a great example of how even when there is a hierarchical relationship, there can be a balanced and mutually beneficial relationship for everyone.

Of course, the hierarchy can also produce very dysfunctional relationships if the eldest person is corrupt, means-spirited, power hungry, inappropriate etc. In such cases, the Confucian relationship can lead to abuse, bribery, and all other manner of social ills. Likewise, nowadays there also seems to be a gap between what younger people agree to or pretend to follow in the presence of the older person and what they do in reality. Therefore, like all kinds of relationship, the Confucian ‘friendship’ does not always work. On the other hand, there are times when people have such chemistry as friends that the age gap does not really matter for all intents and purposes. My closest Korean friend is younger than me, and while she sometimes jokes, ‘Ok, we’ll do X because you want to, and you are my older sister,’ we really have a very equal relationship based on give and take. We speak very freely with each other and age is never an issue in making decisions. My husband also has a few female friends from his movie club days in university who are more English ‘friends’ than Korean juniors in that they are very English friendly in terms of how they interact with him. So like all aspects of culture, there are some unique situations where personality, chemistry, or shared experiences alter the expected norms of society.

What this means in terms of how to be friends with Koreans is that Koreans are friends in the general English meaning of the word, but they are much less likely to be chingu. This means that Korean relationships are a little more complex than Canadian ones because you need to know your relation to the person you are interacting with, and each relationship will be different based on your age and status (something Koreans try to avoid for instance in companies, is promoting a younger person to a higher position as this can cause some resentment and confusion). A non Korean coming to Korea for the first time might have some difficulty at first understanding the different dynamics of what it means to be friendly with Koreans because of the hierarchy. However, close relationships are not difficult to develop in Korea once you understand how to situate yourself with others, and being an outsider, it sometimes makes things a little easier because you don’t exist in the hierarchy in the first place and thus have a bit more freedom and flexibility.

Now, how does this relate to romantic relationships? Well of course that Koreans have romantic relationships within the hierarchy or maybe despite the hierarchy, or maybe because of the hierarchy. The question for me though would be how to have an equal partnership in dating or marriage in light of the hierarchy. First, there’s still somewhat the ideal of an older male-younger female relationship just as in the mindset of more ‘traditional’ Westerners. This relationship plays well along age and gender lines. The older male is more established and takes care of the younger female who looks up to and takes direction from him. It’s really the ideal relationship in many cultures that happens to also fit beautifully within the Confucian hierarchy in Korea. In Korea, a woman dating an older man MIGHT mean that she waits for him to make the moves,  she follows his direction, and she accepts his unilateral decisions. It sounds unequal, and it may be unequal in some circumstances (anecdotally, it seems to be so for the older generation). However, it can also be balanced out by other factors like wanting to please or impress your partner: for instance, while the older male might be planning and deciding the dates, he has to also think about what his partner really wants and how to impress her. In other words, just like my ‘harmonious’ class, if both partners are considerate of each other, a relationship following the ideal Confucian hierarchy could be quite balanced.

It also seems that every so often there is an article about how women are looking for younger partners, and in an online group I’m in, we had a discussion about the age, and it seemed that a number of women had married men who were the same age or younger than themselves. Therefore, I think in some cases marrying a younger man is a way to balance out the hierarchy and the patriarchy because the man has power based on his gender, but the woman has power based on her age. The other interesting thing is that several women were their husband’s teacher before they started dating. This was my case. My husband is seven years older than me (eight really because of our birthdays), but we met when he was my student. For months while we were obviously dating but saying that we were just hanging out together, he introduced me as his ‘English teacher,’ and I was his ‘English teacher friend’ (English word ‘friend’) to his parents before he told them about our relationship. Now, my husband doesn’t get too excited about age, status, and such outside of his work life, so mostly the dynamics of our relationship are based on his willingness to share decision making and power as well as my assertions that we have a balanced relationship. However, I’ve often wondered if those many months of at least identifying me to others as ‘his teacher’ didn’t also lay a foundation for power dynamics in our relationship. Because of course, Confucianism isn’t just about age and gender but also status, and the teacher is above the student and commands respect.

What this all boils down to is this. Koreans are ‘friends’ with each other and non Koreans, but often ‘friendship’ is a bit more complex and requires individuals to know their place and expectations in relation to others. And romantic relationships are just as easy or hard (depending on your feelings about love!) as in other countries. And most importantly, while the hierarchy exists and has very real implications for interactions with others, the hierarchy is complicated and nuanced and can even be subverted in a way to balance out the power dynamics between individuals. Specifically with regard to Western women married to Korean men, it seems that the happiest couples have subverted the ideal hierarchy in some way which both makes the men, who have been raised with the hierarchy in mind, more open to a little bit different kind of relationship.

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He came home in his suit and changed into his shirt with baby vomit on it – but only a little. I said, ‘Great! Now we are wearing our baby vomit couple shirts.’ He said, ‘Yeah.’
He got himself settled with the baby and feeding pillow in the middle of the bed while I warmed up the baby’s bottle. Then I settled myself on the side of the bed and started pumping. I said, ‘Are you jealous of how much time my boob spends with the pump?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’
He started burping the baby. I found my body starting to slump and my eyes starting to close. The baby threw up. The touch of spit became a long trail down the front of the shirt. He got up and changed his shirt. I said, ‘You probably look sexy, but I can’t find the strength to open my eyes.’ He said, ‘Yeah.’
I woke up. He was changing the diaper. I said, ‘I think I was drooling.’ He said, ‘Yeah.’
We settled back in bed. We talked at great length in English about the baby’s input and output. Then he sang his own songs about expelling gas and excrement to the baby in Korean. I said, ‘I’m so happy this baby is growing up bilingual.’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’
The three of us cuddled – two with drooping eyes and limp bodies – one with arms flailing and jubilant songs pouring forth from his lips. The baby punched me in the nose and kicked him in the stomach. We didn’t realise this for some time. He said, ‘This baby doesn’t want a brother or sister anytime soon.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’
The clock struck midnight. We tried to kiss goodnight. The baby screamed. We sighed, opened our eyes, and with resignation said, ‘Yeah.’
We put the baby in the wrap carrier. I walked and rocked and swayed and bopped around on the exercise ball. The baby’s eyes shone bright in the darkened room. I said, ‘If this is what is means to spend time with you these days, then let’s at least hold hands.’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’

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On White Day 2012

Today is White Day, the day when men in Korea give candy to the women who gave them chocolate for Valentine’s Day. But I like chocolate. And ice cream. And I always get an ice cream cake and chocolates from Mr. Lee. We also always revisit our second date restaurant, but we did that on the weekend.

But sadly, this White Day I’m trying to avoid dairy because Dragon has infant reflux, and we are trying to find out if certain kinds of food affect his reflux. So dairy is mostly out for me these days.

Mr. Lee was on his way home yesterday, and he stopped in at the local Home Plus centre to pick up an ice cream cake from the Baskin Robbins store there…only to remember that I can’t have it right now.

So he brought me home a week’s worth of groceries instead so that I wouldn’t have to go out with the baby.

A man in a suit with his arms full of fruit, vegetables, and soy milk. That’s what true love and a good marriage means to me post baby! I love this man.

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Have you ever had a great love? I have, and its name is Montreal. I only lived in the city for two years, but I was infatuated. And when you are deeply in love – when you are over your head and completely submersed in love’s sweet addictive nectar – nothing is rational. It didn’t matter that the snow was at times higher than the parked cars on the one way narrow streets. It didn’t matter that -30 was an unremarkable winter temperature. It didn’t matter that there were moments where I instinctively knew not to open my mouth and betray my anglo-ness. And it certainly didn’t matter that I was in a place where many people hated the fact that the country on their passport started with a ‘C’ instead of a ‘Q.’ I was in love – head-over-heels-forever- honeymoon-phase-love. The city’s cafes were where we dated – and the terraces sipping sangria on a hot summer day – and the park near my house which had free ballet/theatre/music/poetry readings/art exhibitions every night for months during the spring and summer. I lounged on my lavender staircase on the Plateau and felt like no other city in the world could understand me better. The city was my lover and because I was single during my time there – Montreal was the entity I poured my soul out to.

But as in most great love affairs, it was not to be forever. But we didn’t break up because of a torrid affair – or a referendum ballot – or a bitter feud. We parted amicably on account of me finishing my education, not having a job, and needing someone else to house me while I got on my post-grad school feet. But because we parted for such practical reasons, Montreal will always be that ‘but what if things had been just a little different’ relationship. No place will ever really be as sweet as that fine city simply because our relationship ended with an unfinished parting…and nostalgia is a bitch.

One of the first textbooks I used in Korea asked the question ‘do you think marriage should be based on love or jeong?’ Jeong is a very complicated and multifaceted word, but in this question but in many conversations I’ve been a part of over my years here, there seems to be a suggestion that ‘love’ and ‘jeong’ are diametrically opposed. ‘Love’ seems to represent passion, lust, intoxication, and lovers blind to all else while ‘jeong’ seems to represent filial piety, devotion even under duress, unconditional loyalty, and commitment. I personally think that ‘love’ is a far more complex word than this bifurcated understanding recognizes. And I think that my personal experience with love for my husband contains a great deal of the things the above definition of jeong includes completely separate from our Korean context. And above all, I honestly think that healthy (balanced) relationships require both ‘love’ and ‘jeong’.

But for a moment, I want to use this perceived split between ‘love’ and ‘jeong’ to examine my feelings for Seoul. And when I think about Seoul and ‘love’…there’s no love here. I believe that my problem with loving Seoul is that I have been ruined by my one great love (Montreal). After you’ve had that deep connection with a place, it’s hard to love like that again. Part of the problem is the space itself. Seoul is not a pretty city. It’s concrete. It’s chaotic. It’s crowded. It’s polluted. It’s hussel and bussle all the time. The new buildings and areas are soulless, and the older parts are intriguing but frustrating. Seoul is not endearing. It’s missing the je ne sais quoi that I immediately felt so drawn to in Montreal. And above all, it is not romantic – at least not to me.

But Seoul gave me my husband. It gave me a job – nay a career. This city helped me to understand that I really am a teacher no matter how much I tried to deny it and run away from the fact that all my experiences, education, and talents had always shown me that I was supposed to be a teacher. The streets of Seoul have given me my two lovely felines. The challenges of living here have changed my perspective and helped me grow as a person. And there is an energy – a dynamic pulse here that both drives me crazy and propels me forward in a way that forces me to push myself and become something more than the limited vision I have for myself. And so, I think what I feel for Seoul is jeong.

At the very foundation, I have jeong because by virtue of just being here I feel that I must have some loyalty to the place where I reside. But jeong is something that has grown – or perhaps more accurately something that has been cultivated in me through my ever deepening experiences with this place. The more it gives me, the more indebted I am. Jeong is also a tethering – a leather strap that binds people to each other through relationship or relation to each other/each thing. And so with every experience and every gift, I am further bound to this city. Jeong can be a great burden – the duties and demands one party makes on another can cause frustration and resentment – but burden can sometimes be a joyful thing if you know that jeong relationships are long term rather than momentary connections. The burden may be difficult now, but the long term relationship is reciprocal and even the deepness of the connection is meaningful over time. I often find myself defining jeong as ‘obligatory love’ without the necessary negative connotations of ‘obligation’. Jeong is the obligations I must fulfill, but in fulfilling the obligations, a meaningful connection is made.

I find myself travelling this city these days feeling a deep sense of affection for Seoul. I am constantly reminded of the things this city – this country have given me – and in remembering what I have gained, I feel an increasing loyalty and respect for the place where I am. Seoul is not a beautiful city, but we’ve been through battles together and that means that I acknowledge my obligations to Seoul. I must say that I do not feel that our jeong means that I can’t meaningfully and faithfully criticize Seoul or that this place can’t do the same thing to me. It is because I am loyal – it is because I feel such deep affection that I will point to the failings in this city’s relationships with its residents

Seoul is no Montreal, but then again, maybe that’s a good thing…and maybe I would never really have understood the fullness of love had I only lived in one place. Perhaps both relationships have helped me to understand my obligations to place, and the way in which place informs who I am.

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While dining at my favourite Indian restaurant a few nights ago, the waiter came over and asked us if we were ‘that couple’ from tv. Having never been on Korean tv, we both denied the fact. The Indian waiter then went to consult with some Korean staff members and came back insisting that we were ‘that Korean guy-Canadian girl couple who got married and went on tv.’ It’s hilarious that in this uber tiny pool of Korean male-Canadian female couples in this country, we have a couple doppelganger.

My fiancé loved this idea about going on tv after we are married. I’m not sure if he has visions of Misuda greatness (the show where expat women demonstrate their Korean skills and their cuteness level), but I quickly quashed his momentary glimpse at fame.

You see, I don’t want to be a poster couple for international marriage in Korea.

International marriages are growing at exponential rates here. Fewer and fewer Korean women want to marry poor farmers, so they move to the city. The selective abortions of the past are now starting to haunt Korea with far fewer eligible women of marrying age than men. In addition, the fertility rates are now the second lowest in the world, meaning that mate selection is going to be even more interesting in the next generation. Combine this with Korea’s reasonable geographical proximity to relatively poor countries, and you have the international marriage broker system where farmers go on package tours to find even more economically disadvantaged women who are willing to be wives, mothers, and field workers. Because Korean dramas are so very popular in places like the Philippines where many of these women come from, brides-to-be sometimes imagine that their new husband will be like the sensitive romantic men of the shows, only to find that your typical 50 year old living in a remote farm village on his second marriage is not quite the Korean Romeo.

This is not to say that these marriages can’t be real or good – or that they shouldn’t happen. However, these marriages have high rates of divorce, high rates of abuse, and are the ones that papers like to use when dissecting the woes of marrying outside Korean culture. I don’t want my considerably more privileged status and place I Korean society to speak for these women who speak different languages, work in different industries, and live in different circumstances. I wish that the average Southeast Asian, Russian, or Chinese bride had a larger role in actually speaking about her experiences to the Korean media and people instead of having government officials spout out facts for her.

There are also those Misuda women (at least the married ones) or the ever popular Ida Daussy (more on her in a minute). These are the women who are held up as the ideal for Korean-expat marriages – beautiful cute women who speak fluent Korean and love their man! Ida Daussy is the epitome of this. Originally from France, she married a Korean and became a Korean citizen 16 years ago. She became a foreign-face feature on Korean tv as the ideal wife, mother, and foreigner with Korean citizenship (to this day, most print publications refer to her as a ‘French woman’ despite her Korean passport). But upholding this perfection is hard work, especially when you are supposed to carry with you all of the international marriages in this country. Daussy and her husband split this year, and now we are left without a long-term poster couple of how it ‘is possible’ for some 1 in 8 marriages to succeed.

Have you noticed that I haven’t mentioned expat men marrying Korean women? Well, if you read the papers alone, you might be surprised to hear that such couples exist despite the obvious numbers of such couples holding hands on the street. There simply can’t be poster FM-KW couples unless you count the men who have been here for 30 years who have established enough careers that their service to Korea and language skills are positioned far before their personal details (with a Korean wife usually a footnote in a newspaper piece). No, we don’t want more Korean women to get the idea through the media that it’s okay to marry a foreign man…because then we’ll have to import even more brides!

So no, I don’t want to be a poster couple. I don’t want to speak for the vast amount of different lifestyles and situations we ‘international couples’ live in. I don’t want to compare the discrimination I feel I have faced with the prejudice for men and women with darker skin, or perceived less fortunate educational or economic backgrounds (even though that is not always the case). I don’t want to speak for what it is like to be a Korean woman married to a ‘foreign’ man. I get applause for marrying a Korean man while many Korean women face patriarchal hang-ups about ‘other men’ taking ‘our women.’

And I CERTAINLY do not want the scrutiny of the media and the lack of anonymity that fame, even local tv fame brings. Marriages aren’t perfect: people aren’t perfect. People and especially relationships need space to be bad, be forgiven, work toward change, and negotiate issues. If we get divorced, I want it to be because we had a problem, couldn’t work it out, and ultimately ended the marriage, not we had a problem, the media suggested that we would divorce, and then the scrutiny forced that reality upon us. I like the anonymity that my moniker (Msleetobe) brings me, and it’s not like anyone reads this blog anyway! So I have fear of ever being famous.

A friend of mine has this great expression: ‘couple crush.’ It refers to when you see a couple who is adorable together and has the appearance of being in the ideal relationship that you have always wanted to be in. In the past she has used it to refer to 2 couples I know but am not close with who seem to have achieved an incredibly well balanced, egalitarian, and mutually supportive relationship. Upon hearing this term and the couples who were being ‘crushed on,’ my roommate, who was having some problems with her now husband said, ‘what about us? Don’t you have a couple crush on us???!’

The truth is, couple crushes can only be had when you know the couple ‘just enough.’ If you know their problems, their habitual fights, and their oddities too well, it’s impossible to crush on them.

That’s why couples like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins are such great examples of what it means to be a poster couple. You see them dressed up on the red carpet together in their very best, you see their work together on Dead Man Walking, and you hear their names together for two decades as one of those rare Hollywood couples that stay together. And then they break up…and Sarandon starts dating a man half her age, and you realize you only admired them because you didn’t really know them at all.

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On Time Well Wasted

Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.

“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”

And the roses were very much embarrassed.

“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you– the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.

…“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose…”

“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
-Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I have a book filled with poetic fiction, inane comments made by FOX journalists, parodies of said inane comments, friend’s Freudian slips, and deeply dark song lyrics. It’s a book that chronicles the last 6 years of my personal, cultural, and political leanings, and it’s a book I would save over everything but my cats and my loved ones in case of a fire.

About 5 years ago I fell in love with the line ‘It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important,” but it simply sat in my little dollar store black book until this Sunday when I sat down to write the first draft of our wedding ceremony.

I have never believed in love at first sight or the concept of soul mates. To me, the belief in soul mates equals laziness. If two people are destined to be together…if their fates were preordained from before birth…they have no need to work at their relationship. They have always, and will ever be bound together in a way they themselves had no part in making, so there is no need for personal responsibility in maintaining that relationship.

My fiancé and I are not soul mates. We are not two separated halves searching desperately from birth to be reunited and fulfilled. My very being has not yearned for him my entire life.

When we met in a classroom at a not-so-unknown adult hogwan, there was no instant connection although there was an early indication for both of us that the other had an interesting character. Rather, the ties that now bind us have been forged overtime through sickness and health, through triumph and trial, through innumerable mundane moments and cutsie banter. It is the time I have wasted on Mr. Lee, the time spent texting, the going out of my way to pick up his favourite beer, the moments before sleep, the jumping through Korean immigration hoops to stay here, the silly things I will do and say to provoke a smile, in short, the accumulated seconds, minutes, hours, months, days, and years I have spent thinking of him, doing things for him, and planning a future with him that make him so important to me.

Mr. Lee could have been a Mr. Jones, a Mr. Cruz, a Mr. Khan, a Mr. Dubois, but it is Mr. Lee whom I have created this life with and with whom I have begun to envision a future.

Marriage is about love in so far as you define that word as the tingly feeling you have when you are with another person, but it is also about loving the true person you have seen over time, the person you have seen develop over time, and the person with whom you would love to build a family and life.

So I hold on to this quote: I hold onto it deeply in my heart, put it at the front of my mind, and oft repeat it on my tongue just as the Prince does as a daily reminder that we both are responsible for the success and health of our marriage.

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If I were in Canada, I think I might be conscious of being in a biracial relationship. Let me explain this by going back a week…

Last weekend Mr. Lee and I went out for dinner and drinks with Mr. Lee’s younger friend and her British husband. The British husband was commenting that he hates it when Canadians say they are ‘Scottish’ or ‘British’ because their distant ancestors hailed from somewhere in the UK.

I think this is a specifically Canadian issue. When there it is the absence of a race or ethnic background or religion or region of origin or language or even history that unites you and gives you identity, you just assume that a person who is in Canada is Canadian.

When I get lost in Seoul, I pull out a map, put a confused look on my face, and within seconds an elderly man will toddle over to me and direct me to my destination. If Mr. Lee did the same thing in Toronto, people would think he was just an out-of-towner. I have tried to answer the question ‘Where are you from?’ several times in Canada with ‘I’m Canadian,’ but this always gets me an annoyed look and a repetition ‘No WHERE are you from? Where are your grandparents from?’ For the record, the last of my mother’s family arrived in time for the 1832 Upper Canada Rebellions, but I know that the answer to this question supposed to be ‘Scottish-German.’ The assumption is…well of course you are Canadian…just where do you fit in the cultural mosaic of Canada?

That’s why I think I would be more conscious of our racial differences if we were in Canada. If two people grow up in the same milieu, speaking the same language, attending the same schools, walking on the same streets, they are not linguistically different, they are not educated in a different way, and in many ways they aren’t even really culturally different. It’s always interesting when my South Asian and Middle Eastern friends’ parents want their born and raised kids in Canada to marry from their original village. The idea is ‘you are from the same culture.’ But really – while my friends have their own home culture life, and have sometimes lived in a community where one cultural or ethnic group is in the majority – they have lived the bulk of their lives in the same way as their friends from totally different ethnic origins. Therefore, with the lack of other differences, and since Mr. Lee and I are from the same general religious tradition, race becomes the distinguishing factor.

But in Korea, it’s the linguistic differences which make us differences. It’s also the fact that I was born into a stable developed nation while Mr. Lee grew up in a culture hell bent on joining the ranks of the developed in record time. We grew up with radically different education systems and I never had the threat of imminent war positioned just 45 minutes from my home. Race…the external differences in our skin tone, cheekbones, eye structure and build are the very least of the differences and challenges we face.

And so we get to the real impetus of this post, the decision by a Louisiana Court Justice to deny a biracial couple a marriage license on the basis of his concern for the welfare of possible future biracial children. It is deeply troubling that in this day and age, there are still places on my continent of origin where we could still be refused the ability to legally wed on the basis of some external hue. Less than a year after a biracial president was elected to America’s highest office, at a time when globalization is opening up incredible paths of interaction and openness, that a government official could make such a proclamation is astonishing in the saddest of ways.

I am greatly saddened that there are still people in this world who seek to limit happiness and opportunities to people based on the colour of their skin and not the content of their character. I don’t feel any anger for Bardwell….and this couple will certainly find another official who will happily grant them a license. But I do feel great pity for him that he is still enslaved by the limitations of racism and prejudice – that he places so little faith in the abilities of individuals, and that he cannot see the beauty in a spectrum of colours…not just ‘white, black, yellow, red, and brown’ but butterscotch, caramel, ivory, butter cream, ebony, olive, copper……. The truth is that if you go back far enough in our pasts…and if you just scratch the surface for some of us…that you will find we are all ‘mixed race.’ We may be on different sides of the spectrum, but the purity of race is an astonishingly strong myth.

So while I hope that there will be serious repercussions for Bardwell and any other officials who seek to make the same judgements, I also hope that this might be an opportunity for him to reflect on the origins of his beliefs, and to challenge himself to move past the limitations he has placed on himself and the lives of others.

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