Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Korean Christmas

Last weekend I celebrated Christmas by Skypeing my family and going to a zany work dinner. It was a poor trade for a real Kalk family Christmas but I still had loads of fun.

The reason I didn't get too depressed was Christmas in Korea is nothing like back home. Its seen as another couples holiday like White Day, Valentines Day and Peppero Day. About half of my Elementary School Students reported getting a gift and none of my middle school students did. One distinctively Korean tradition is the Christmas Cake. These cakes are sold at every store on the peninsula and are more standard then Santa or a Tree. Some of the stores that sold cakes include Baskin Robbins, Paris (Baguette and Croissant), Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and countless others. The cakes look adorable but are generally dry and custardy. The Christmas Cake tradition is a bit of a let down compared to all of the wonderful baking I missed at home this year. Yet the Cakes do have home style Christmas beat on one thing. They all come with hats. Check out the Baskin Robbins penguins. It looks good on the cute salesgirl but I have seen these hats on old men and women on mountain tops. Only in Korea.

My favorite hat this year would have to been the Paris Baguette hat. Its a wolf..wearing sheepskin? And now for your viewing pleasure, the PB Christmas Cake commercial that has haunted my dreams for the last month. I had to give you the long version so you wouldn't miss out on 2PM's rap.

Christmas morning I went to Mass with a friend and her mother. Mass was in Korean but I could understand everything that took place because of the international standards of the Catholic Church. Its wonderful to feel so connected to Catholics around the world! The Choir was incredible. They sang all the Carols in Latin and with operatic style and quality. That being said their was still major differences. The most shocking one was that all of the women covered their head with pre-Vatican two doilies. I was told its wasn't mandatory but my friends and I were the only ones without. Also the sermon was as done as a musical number by the priest. After mass we were asked to stand up and say where we are from. You know that vising Ethiopian family? Yes, its me.

Do you like the traditional Korean manger complete with pumpkin on top?

After mass I went to the work party but it didn't fulfill my Christmas craving. I imagine that I will have a mini-break down in July when my Christmas alarms rings six months over due. I never even had a eggnog latte...

Merry Late Christmas Everyone!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Most Happy Wedding Day

This Sunday I was invited to a mandatory Wedding of So Yeon, the secretary at my work. She always greets me with a smile and a double wrist wave so I was excited to support her on her wedding day. My boss set out a envelope with all of the teachers names on it which were checked off after we gave 30,000 won. It was nice to have the gift covered stress free but I became wary when I realized everyone was forced to pay. Even those not attending the wedding.

On the big day we arrive at the Wedding Center. It is a six story ugly building in the middle of a nondescript neighborhood. I had seen these buildings before. On Sundays they swarm with men in suits and women in dresses. I walked in wondering how all of these people knew So Yeon. This was my first mistake.

The wedding was on the 5th floor. One of three devoted to ceremonies and the other half dedicated to buffet dining halls, more on that mess later. The floor was crammed, I saw a bride in a voluminous white cupcake walk by but she was not So Yeon. We were reunited with the Korean staff who (as always) were disproportionately shocked to she me dressed up. Unlike many Korean women I have a different wardrobe for weddings then I do teaching eight year old's. It seemed we had almost missed the main event. No not the ceremony, but the chance to take pictures with the Bride. Taking pictures seems to be the most important part of a Korean wedding. People show up a hour early to snap pictures. Also all Koreans have professional wedding photos taken before the wedding to display at the actual event.

Next to the photo-op platform was a small “chapel” with the doors open to the rest of the floor. I put chapel in quotes because I have no idea what to call that place. A discothèque mashed up with a fashion show catwalk would be more appropriate. Their were lights on the ceiling and a white piano in the background. I think George Michael of WHAM might have created more subtle décor. The room had about twelve tables each full of talking guests. We squeezed into a corner next to the open doors. Then the Mothers of the Bride and Groom started to walk down the catwalk in traditional Hanboks and I was shocked by what happened next. Nobody stopped talking. In fact people chatted the entire time. The banal chatter was made worse by the fact that the doors to the main floor remained open allowing all the guests of other weddings (or guests who didn't care to watch) noise to leak in.

The Groom walked down the aisle followed by the Bride and her father. Their was no groomsmen or bridesmaids. They bowed to each other and a man, a prominent friend of the grooms fathers (the perfect tool for business kissup) gave the lecture. He spoke for about 15 minutes and although I didn't understand a word, I was never bored. I was horrified by the videographer shoving the camera into the Bride and Grooms face. The ceremony was also projected on a large screen about ten feet from the real thing and had a distracting amount of camera angles. Before I knew it the speaking was finished and the Grooms friend sang a love ballad to the new couple. After that the sound-track strutters to a stop and everyone climbs on stage to take a group photo. I'm lurking in the back like a freakish tall person. The bride tosses the bouquet to a assigned person (also a photo-op) and we all wander out of the room.

I walk out feeling a bit punked. Do Korean's think they can take all the cute symbols but none of the mean of a western wedding and still create meaning out of it. It took less than 30 minutes. What is the point? Well the couple now changes into their traditional Hanboks and moves to another room. It looks like the inside of a traditional Korean house except for the fact that there are three of these rooms next to each other. I wanted to watch this ceremony but was told by my co-workers it was much too long, about 45 minutes. We then went to downstairs to the reason the majority of guests come. The buffet, I imagine this is what my 30,000 won went to. I hope not because the food was nothing special and didn't include booze or cake. My friends and I ate in silence. What was that? How does that rushed flashy show reflect of Korean marriages and most importantly, why did I spend two hours getting dressed up to spend only a hour watching a show and eating bad food?

In the end this hour/day is nothing about me. So Yeon looked gorgeous and her husband couldn't stop smiling. I, on the other hand will get married in Tunisia. Its much more fun.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Halfway Point

Last night when I was watching a horrible (then horribly funny) gore-fest titled Ninja assassin staring Korean boy-band singer RAIN. It dawned on me that it was December 2nd and I had been living in Korea for six months. My contract is half over!
Sometimes I feel like I have been living here forever but more commonly I feel like its only been weeks. I every time I think I have my Korea figured out it surprises me again. Sometimes in a quirky "is that a Cafe where couples pay to spend time with cats?" and other times in a depressing "I can only be called fat and ugly so many times" way. Korea is a place strange place to live. On the surface it looks allot like home, the brands and stores are familiar. Under the surface however Korea is more alienating then Tunisia. The lack of diversity and being the constant other is difficult to adapt to. There is one place in Korean society for people of my age and background which is a ESL teacher. Unfortunately this comes with negative stereotypes that many Koreans will use when interacting with me.
Despite all this I have met wonderful friends in Korea. I feel more at ease socially then in my last two years of college. I have more money saved then I ever had before and I am able to finance my own global adventures. I am having the time of my life in land of (stone stupas?) pickled vegetables. I have to make some important choices in the next few months. Will I resign, teach in another country or move home?

Whatever I chose in the future, I know it wasn't a mistake to come to Korea. It was opened up my world and this is the first time I have fully supported myself. I am motivated to continue live a international lifestyle and to meet the challenges of everyday.