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Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

This is a little late, but April 23rd was our second wedding anniversary and Dragon’s 3rd month birthday. We celebrated on the day of with an ice cream cake. Three little candles for D and two big candles for us.

On the Friday, we celebrated by going to our anniversary restaurant (Chaegundaam) for lunch as D gets a wee bit cranky at night. You can read more about the restaurant in my blog post from last year. It’s crazy to think that last year at this time, Dragon didn’t even exist, and next year he will be toddling all over the restaurant.

This year didn’t disappoint either. We have a White Day and my birthday Korean-vegetarian restaurants that we go to every year, but this one really is a cut above the rest. I should note that this is not a vegetarian-only restaurant, but they do have a set menu that is vegetarian (2 people have to order it though).

And now without further ado…the food!

The appetizers

The main meal

Dessert

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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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I just read an interesting article in the New York Times about Korean ‘Father School.’

“Traditionally, in the Korean family, the father is very authoritarian,” Joon Cho, a program volunteer, told me a few weeks before this session of Father School began. “They’re not emotionally linked with their children or their wife. They’re either workaholics, or they’re busy enjoying their own hobbies or social activities. Family always comes last.”

In 2000, Father School spread from Korea to the United States, and the program — part 12-step recovery, part Christian ministry — was tailored to meet the needs of Korean immigrant fathers dealing with Americanized kids who wondered why their fathers weren’t more like the touchy-feely dads they watched on TV. Since then, Father School has exploded. It now operates out of 57 American cities and has graduated nearly 200,000 men worldwide.

The article goes on to describe how the program uses group testimonies (of a parenting not religious nature), foot washing, and hugging as ways to break down barriers between men and their wives and children. I’ve never heard of this program here, but as I’m not involved in Protestant churches which seem to be the main groups signing up for such schools, it’s very possible that I’m just not moving in the right circles. I did an English language search and found this more in-depth article from 2009 written by a Korean American.

The men are encouraged to discuss these contrasting representations, but getting stoic Korean men to share their feelings is no easy task. A combination of guest speakers and testimonials by Father School volunteers, who are themselves former students, facilitate this effort. A volunteer at one conference I attended, for example, shared with the audience how, in an overzealous attempt to impart the lesson of poverty and the importance of studying, he once left his son on a street corner in a poor neighborhood and shouted in outrage whether he wanted to end up like the people there. With tears, the guest speaker expressed deep regret recalling the tears that had appeared on his son’s face that day. He realized there is a “better way” to impart lessons to a child.

While sitting at the table of 40-year-old fathers, I heard several men raise a number of issues related to generational conflict with their Americanized children. Many expressed frustration over their children’s disrespect for their authority, with one even revealing that his child called the police to report the dad’s use of physical discipline. As I listened to these men, I, the son of a Korean immigrant, started to recall my own dad’s use of “tools” like a pool stick or the pulling of a cheek to reprimand the two boys in the family. The linkage between Korean fatherhood and physical violence is an unfortunate stereotype, but at the same time, corporal punishment was long considered an acceptable practice in Korean society, whether within the family, school or military.

And yet, as I sat with these older men, I observed an uncommon scene: fathers choked up with tears and regrets about their past behavior. ”For several years, I was against the person my daughter loved and caused her considerable pain,” said Woojin, 57. Other dads confessed it was difficult to imagine their fathering role beyond breadwinning and scolding their children.

In my culture class, we’re in the middle of a module on different parenting practices, and a few weeks ago we looked at the Swedish government’s attempt to not only encourage fathers to take paternity leave, but also penalize families who do not make use of subsidizes for fathers. After discussing the NYT article on the topic, I asked students to discuss various questions pertaining to Korea in small groups such as ‘How often does your family eat together during weekdays?’ or ‘How often do you spend quality time with your father?’ I find that when students talk in small groups, they tend to be more honest than answering my questions directly because they don’t feel like they have to hide Korean social problems in front of the foreign professor. One student told her group that her family hadn’t eaten dinner with her father and mother together in ten years. Even on his days off, her father preferred to sleep, hike, or spend time with his friends rather than eat with his family. Another student said she hung out with her father about once a month despite living in the same house. A third said she rarely saw both parents growing up (she was raised by a family member because her parents both worked), and one of the male class members said that he always felt sad as a child because his father never came to any special events such as graduation. Not a single student agreed with the statement ‘I feel closer to my father than my mother.’ I haven’t talked about this issue directly with students since about 2007 when I taught at an adult hogwan, so initially I was hopeful that this younger generation had had more time with their fathers, but it does not seem to be so.

Back in 2007, I had one of those usual end of the month (end of the session), situations where I was sitting in an empty classroom hoping hoping hoping that I was going to get a 2 hour block no show. Alas, a female university student arrived 5 minutes late out of breath and apologizing for being late…until she looked around the room and realized she was the only one in class. I admit, I was a bit pissed off because I really really really wanted that no show! Not to mention the fact that the student was normally quite quiet and low level, so I really did not relish trying to pry 2 hours of conversation out of her by myself. But then we went to get coffee, started talking about her life…and she let slip that her father was a taxi driver. I say ‘let slip’ because what she was really telling me was that she was lower class, and as the conversation progressed, she admitted that sometimes other people made fun of her because her family didn’t have a lot of money. I told her that my father had been a blue collar worker, and asked her what the benefits were of a taxi driver father. She thought about it for a few minutes and replied that he was home far more than other fathers she knew because he did a lot of driving at night. He and her mother did all their errands together, he was always available to come to school events, they had father-daughter conversations as he drove her to school in the mornings, and he understood her very well because he spent time with his family. I have forgotten a lot of conversations with the thousands of students I have had over the years, but this one line will forever stick out in my mind because it was said with such joy on her face: ‘There is a lot of laughter in my house.’

Having a school for fathers seems a bit silly from a Canadian perspective, but as Koreans have come to rely on ‘academies’ or hogwans for almost everything these days, including how to get a date or how to smile like a flight attendant, and especially since it is hogwans that are actually one of the reasons why families do not have time to spend together, it seems actually pretty reasonable that a hogwan like program could be used as a culturally appropriate way to educate fathers and bring generations together. Confucianism, military culture, and the patriarchy have all contributed to this culture of absent fathers, but the biggest problem is that fathers do not have time, or do not think they need to make time to build a relationship with their children. On one level jung is supposed to be something that holds Koreans together based on their very Koreanness, and in the case of the family based on their blood relationship. However, when it comes to companies, employers recognize that jung does not happen naturally, but rather has to be cultivated through shared meal time, activities, and bonding time. Father School legitimizes time spent between parents, spouses, and children, as well as provides a safe place to share feelings which family members have not been able to share simply because they have not made the time and space to share in their own homes. It would be interesting to know if many non-Christian groups have Father Schools because I think this format also makes more sense from a Protestant sense by using public testimonies, utilizing cell group style structure, and emphasizing confession and forgiveness.  It would be interesting to see how a Buddhist, strictly Confucian, or avowedly secular group approached such issues.

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Today is our 1-year legal wedding anniversary.  Hearts to the husband.  I can’t believe it’s been a year, but it’s been a really great year.  I thought marriage was going to be a lot harder, but after we got through the stress of getting a place of our own, planning 3 wedding ceremonies, and hosting both sets of families in our respective countries, marriage itself has really been a breeze.  I’m going to try and hang onto these memories from now on because life is not always kind, and I hope that whenever we run into inevitable problems – health, financial, family, or otherwise, I’m going to try and remember this first year as a way to show me that whatever life throws at us, we have a strong bond that can overcome everything if we stick together.

We celebrated by going out for dinner and wearing couple clothes.  Seriously. Us. Couple clothes.  Does it make it better if they are goth couple shirts?  I’m including pictures so you can see the sleeves of the shirts and then our overall outfits. I wore my awesome possum coat most of the time, so I guess most other people didn’t realize we were wearing the same shirt.  

 

Mr. Lee searched for quite a while for a new veggie place for us to celebrate at, and in addition to our usual haunts on White Day and my birthday, I think this will be our anniversary restaurant!  It’s called Chaegundaam (채근담), and it is located in Daechi-dong at Samseong Station.  It is a royal cuisine restaurant similar to the other upscale veggie places we frequent, but because its focus is not temple cuisine, there’s more flavour because they can use onions and garlic.  You just have to be careful because there are several branches, and only one location has a vegetarian option.  For instance, after going out Samseong Station exit 3 and walking for 5 minutes, you will see this restaurant.

This is not the restaurant – well, it’s a branch of the restaurant, but it does not have the vegetarian set menus.  The other branches are well known as places for engagement ceremonies.  Instead, keep walking, and when you get just past the wrong restaurant, you’ll see the Jaguar/Range Rover dealership.  Turn right, and you’ll see the real restaurant on the left.

 

I guess the makgeolli (fermented rice alcohol) is very famous because former dictator Park Chung Hee once drank it.

 

Here’s the inside of the restaurant.  It is quite lovely, and I wish I would have taken more photographs of the interior.

 

We chose the 50,000 won/person set, but there was a cheaper vegetarian option for dinner.  The first round of food started with radish kimchi in water (나박김치)

 

Soy and nut porridge (두견죽)

 

Salad (including dried apples!)

 

Cellophane noodles and vegetables (잡재) and a side dish of pickles and pickled lotus root

 

The porridge was really flavourful, and my favourite part of this course.

 Then we moved into the second course.  Mini pancakes – some with edible flowers (전)

 

Mushroom sesame soup

 

A ginseng/cucumber amuse bouche I wasn’t crazy for (I’m not a ginseng fan)

 

The BEST kimchi I’ve ever had in my life.  Seriously.  It was so tasty-pungent without being smelly pungent, and it was filled with dried jujubes (대추), chestnuts, and radish kimchi.  I ate about 2/3 of this dish.  I just could not stop myself.

 

Third round:  Radish slices self-filled with tiny slivers of vegetables (구절판) but our version was vegan, so there were fewer ingredients

 

Grilled mushrooms and ginko nuts

 

And tempura:  squash, ginseng (not great) and and and…..dried jujubes filled with sweet potato. Amazing. We complimented the server, and as part of my dessert, I got three extra ones just for me J

 

Fourth round!  Bean paste soup (된장찌개) – so so so good.

 

Rice

 

Various side dishes (반찬)

 

And scorched rice in hot water (누룽지)

 

Finally…dessert.  Rice cake (떡) and strawberries

 

And cold Korean raspberry tea (복분자차)

 

I strongly recommend this restaurant.  Obviously it is a bit pricier if you are on a strict budget, but if there’s a lot of restaurants in Seoul that purport to serve ‘Western’ or upscale food (sometimes incorrectly conflated) – but many of these places do not have the quality ingredients or service to back up the prices.  On the other hand, the ingredients are incredibly fresh at this restaurant, and the set menus provide so many good quality dishes that you don’t need to eat anything else for the rest of the day.  The only real problem I had with the restaurant is that at least 2 people have to eat a set – meaning that if you are veggie and your partner is not – you have to convince your partner to be a veggie for a meal….not a bad thing in my opinon.

Anyway, a super memorable day with a super fantastic husband of one year!

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On Not Being Pregnant

One of the things I enjoyed most about interactions with Malaysians I met while travelling is the following conversation I had several times:

Random Malaysian: Are you married?

Msleetobe: Yes

Random Malaysian: Do you have any children?

Msleetobe: Not yet

Random Malaysian: Why?

Msleetobe: I’ve only been married 10 months.

Random Malaysian: Oh! Well that makes sense.  You have lots of time to have a baby! Enjoy your life now!

In contrast, I’m trying to reduce my taxi use in Seoul, mostly because I waste too much money on taxis, but also because taxi ajoshi, astounded by my Korean direction giving abilities, think I speak far more Korean than I do and thus try to find out all about my life.  Our conversations usually go like this:

Random Taxi Driver: Are you married?

Msleetobe: Yes.

Random Taxi Driver: American husband?

Msleetobe: No, he’s Korean. I’m Canadian.

Random Taxi Driver: Hun???….And then, do you have any children?

Msleetobe: No.  I’ve only been married 10 months.

Random Taxi Driver: That’s not good.  You should have a baby.  In Korea, it’s good to have children.  It’s important to have a baby. Quickly quickly you MUST have a baby. It’s not good to be childless.

I’ve developed a rather bland ‘yes’ as a quick response, and as the ajosshi repeats variations on his advice giving over and over again, I’ve also developed an ‘I understand’ that sounds rather commitment-less to me but has just the hint of submissiveness that older men live to hear.

It’s so funny that in a country with almost the lowest birth rate in the world, where so few couples want to have a child because it is so expensive, that strangers would be so interested in a foreigner’s fertility.  Then again, maybe that’s the reason taxi drivers, my managers, my Korean family members, and random strangers everywhere are so worried about my childlessness.

At church I was also pulled aside after being married for 6 months by another expat that it was important to have a baby AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  I guess I am also skirting my religious duties. Sinful me.

I was chalking this up to a ‘Korean thing’ until I got this little message in my Facebook inbox today from my 9 years younger sister with the subject line ‘I promise, the last time I will ever mention this again.’

Mummy and I have a huge case of baby rabies. We spend significant portions of our days online shopping for baby clothes, perusing the baby aisles at winners/sears/bay, testing toys, etc. So, can you get knocked up soon??? Because I have $700 worth of clothes bookmarked at Janie&Jack (half boy, half girl) and they are REALLY FUCKIN CUTE so don’t let them get out of style. Mummy also is desperate to babysit, so send your spawn over to their relatives like good Asian parents do. k thanks

Alas, I have nothing witty and cute to say in response except to say, ajoshis, managers, church going folk, and family members…the one thing I assure you I’m NOT going to put off is buying a ticket back to Malaysia 🙂

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On Food Poisoning

My friend P. was up visiting from Ulsan the past couple days, and we met up for some Thai on Thursday night. We haven’t seen each other since the summer, so we had a lovely time laughing, sharing stories, reminiscing about the past. We had a lovely time.

And then I went home and barfed my guts out. Happy food poisoning to me. The highlight of my night was at 2am. I started to lose consciousness while leaning over the toilet, so I sort of fell out of the bathroom into the living room because the bathroom floor is made of concrete and I was coherent enough to know head-hitting-concrete is something to be avoided. While sprawled on the living room floor, I croaked to Mr. Lee to come quickly, and he bounded out of bed by surprise (having been sound asleep when the first round of vomiting hit), and then he brought me a wash bucket in which I proceeded to vomit into while still lying on the floor. It was not my proudest moment.

The culmination of a night of agony, was that right before Mr. Lee left for work, I passed out once again in our en suite bathroom, but this time on the floor, so Mr. Lee did a strange salaryman thing. He decided to miss a day of work to take care of me. I know for a fact that there are Korean husbands out there who are demanding, refuse to do anything around the house, and require their wives to serve them. A few older Korean women have confided in me about this problem. However, with all the search engine hits this blog gets with variations on ‘bad Korean husband’ or ‘problems with Korean husbands,’ I feel the need to share my personal experience with a very caring and sacrificing Korean husband. It’s not easy to take a day off in Korea.

A Korean friend of a friend recently wrote on FB after a few weeks in hospital suffering from Hep B, “_____’s doctor said if she is Korean, he would make her stay on Christmas day b/c Koreans love to be at the hospital and want attention. It’s NOT that. It’s b/c work won’t let me off from work unless I’m in the hospital. Now I’m not in the hospital but at work on Christmas day. Which is worse?” There are times when Mr. Lee has taken off a day because of doing extra work, or because his boss has given him a day off in a moment of drunkenness, but when it comes to sickness, you better be immobile in a hospital, and even then your boss is probably incessantly calling wondering when you’ll be back at your desk. So to take a day off for your wife’s illness…now, that’s a bit of chutzpah. I later asked him if he would get in trouble for his decision, and he said he might get yelled at for a few days, but ‘meh, his wife was sick.’

Part of the reason is that I am of course an expat and thus don’t have my mother or sister etc to look after me. On this particular day, however, the fact that I couldn’t stand without seeing stars, and that I myself was incapable of washing out my bucket of vomit, probably also contributed to his concerns. And he was right. While the final bathroom sprawl was the last of the full floor face plants, I don’t think I would have made it to the hospital, or through the hospital rounds by myself as I couldn’t stand for more than about a minute without almost blacking out. I really did need him, and he was there when I needed him.

And then we got home, and he busied himself washing my stained clothing and all the towels I had gone through. He disinfected and scrubbed down both bathrooms so I could lie on the floor without fear of acquiring more germs if need be, and he happily played nurse, pharmacist, and general sick bed caretaker. It’s not like other husbands (and wives!) don’t take care of each other, but I think with some of the stereotypes of how Korean men, and especially middle age Korean men act, I think it’s important to put this out there and say, there are good Korean husbands who happily take care of their wives and lovingly dispose of and bleach buckets of vomit without complaint.

Of course, then the next day, Mr. Lee got the flu, and it was up to me to bleach the bathrooms, do the laundry, and make him homemade soup. I think it’s something we do well – taking care of each other. And it’s so nice to know that when I need him, my Korean husband, my dear husband, is a dependable person who will care for me.

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