Tag Archives: culture

You Have to Follow the Rules

You have to follow the rules, even when those rules are unwritten social rules, and even when they inconvenience everyone involved. This is a true story that happened to me one Friday last fall.

I go to four schools over the course of a week, so there are several schools I only taught at once a week. One week, my second Wednesday school principal (who was a sweet, grandmotherly type of woman) invited me to a barbecue the school was having that Friday. My Friday school was far away, but I told her I would try to make it, since it was possible to get there if I rode my scooter.

She told me to get there by 3pm and since my classes at the other school finished at 2:30, that was perfect. I rode my scooter along back roads in the mountains and got to the school just before three.

They were packing everything up.

Here was my first dilemma. I could have just taken off, but I didn’t want the principal to think I hadn’t come. That might make her feel bad. So I went through the crowds and found her to say hello.

I was planning to just say hi and leave but of course, as a good host who had invited me there, she couldn’t let that happen. So she told some of the women to get out a grill and cook up some meat for me (samgyeopsal, for those who know Korean food). I tried to refuse, but like all grandmotherly-type women, she didn’t know the meaning of the word “no”. I could have just left, but that would have been rude.

samgyeopsal

So there I was, sitting at a table while a woman cooked meat for just me, while most other people were sitting around talking or cleaning up. The principal, because she was hospitable, sat next to me to keep me company. She didn’t eat anything, since they had all eaten before. However, she did make up food for other people.

In Korea, when you eat barbecued meat, you take a lettuce leaf, then put a piece of meat on it, with whatever other vegetables or sauces you want, then wrap it up like a little package and eat it in one bite. The principal kept making these up for other people, who had to take them even though they were full, since you can’t say no to the principal.

Like this

Like this

After a while, most everyone else wandered off to deal with other stuff and a few women sat talking, while I kept eating. They had made a ton of meat and while it was delicious, I was getting full and felt uncomfortable sitting by myself. I kept asking others to come eat with me, but they all said they were full. I apologized to the women cooking, since they were only waiting there for me to finish. Of course, they said it was fine, since it was have been rude to say anything else. I hope it really was fine.

They had made a lot of meat and I felt obligated to eat it all or at least make a big dent in it. I didn’t eat it all and finally left, very full.

I don’t regret going, since it really was delicious meat, but thinking back it is amazing to see how the iron rails of social etiquette predestined this scenario. It could not have played out any other way without offending someone or at least breaking unwritten rules. Every culture has its own social etiquette rules, some more strict than others, but they’re there so that everything runs smoothly. Whether you like it or not, you have to follow the rules.

…Or do you? What do you think? Are there some social etiquette rules you break?


Straw Shoes and Fish Heads

Jeonju’s Nambu Market, in the southwest of Korea, is the largest traditional market in the city. Across the main road is Hanok Village, where all the tourists go, but Nambu Market is mostly for the locals.

Nambu market

It is located in the south of the city, in a series of covered streets. They sell a lot of things there. For instance:

Nambu Marketwooden wares and kitchen supplies. These include these things:

straw shoesThese are called jipshin, or literally, straw shoes. They were used by farmers and apparently still are, since you can buy them at the market.

There is also a lot of food at the market. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables from local farms, but also:

Dried fish heads. I'm not sure how you eat them, or if they're just fertilizer, but you can buy them by the bagful. The sign says they come from Russia.

Dried fish heads. I’m not sure how you eat them, or if they’re just fertilizer, but you can buy them by the bagful. The sign says they come from Russia.

Live octopus. You're allowed to cook them before you eat them though.

Live octopus. You’re allowed to cook them before you eat them though.

Blocks of fresh tofu. The brown blocks to the left are acorn jelly and the round things behind are fermented soy bean paste.

Blocks of fresh tofu. The brown blocks to the left are acorn jelly and the round things behind are fermented soy bean paste.

These are bags of dried hot peppers. Koreans love their hot peppers.

These are bags of dried hot peppers. Koreans love their hot peppers.

This shop sells a bunch of everything. The signs advertise dried persimmons, buckwheat, deer antler, green tea, etc.

This shop sells a bunch of everything. The signs advertise dried persimmons, buckwheat, deer antler, green tea, etc.

One of the main reasons I go to the market is to go to a famous restaurant there, called Nammun Pisundae (which means South Gate Blood Sausage). It only serves one thing, which is blood sausage, either in soup or by itself. It’s really good and there is always a huge line out the door around meal times (although it’s open 24 hours). They cook the food by the door, so you can see them making it as you walk in.

nammun pisundae

Not everything in the market is food though. It is also a famous area for hanbok, which is the traditional Korean dress. There are many hanbok shops in the area. All of the dresses are custom-made. You see a lot of women wearing them at special events like weddings or on major holidays.

Nambu Market

I don’t know if you’ll ever come to Jeonju, but if you do, go to Nambu Market. It’s a great place to wander around in and see a lot of new, interesting things.

 

 

 

 


The Midnight Snack Hawker

It is closer to midnight than 11 and the world is slowly settling down into that warm, blankety zone of sleep and relaxation. Then, from the darkness outside my window comes a melancholy, undulating cry that rises and falls over and over in dreary repetition. Clearly it is a crazy person. Someone, call the police, there is a madman wandering the neighborhood, yelling at the top of his lungs at midnight.

I’m too nervous lazy to call the police, but the man keeps wandering around. Ugh, fine, I’ll go talk to him. Putting on my coat, my shoes, picking up an umbrella as an afterthought in case he attacks me. Down four flights of stairs.

Me: It’s almost midnight. What are you doing?

Apparently Crazy Man: I’m selling chapssal ddeok. Do you want to buy some?

chapssal ddeok: made of rice with red beans in the middle.

chapssal ddeok: made of rice with red beans in the middle. AKA: mochi

Me: Why on earth would I want to buy ddeok at midnight?

Apparently Very Enterprising Man: I don’t know…maybe you’re hungry. Maybe you want a midnight snack.

Me: Well, do you sell anything else?

Man: No, just ddeok. Now are you going to buy some or not? I have a lot of people to wake up and annoy.

Me: No, go ahead.

Man (taking a deep breath and walking away): Ddeeeeeoooook!!!

I go back upstairs, the man’s caterwauling farther away now and muffled by the neighboring buildings. I open the fridge. Nothing appetizing. Hmm, I would like something to eat. If only I had some fresh ddeok…

(This fictional story is based on actual events and this is a real thing in Korea. Below is a video I shot last night of the man walking past our apartment after 11pm.)


Being Home for Chuseok

I remember our first year in Korea, long ago in 2002. We came in late August and a few weeks later, we found out that we had a few days off, for a holiday called Chuseok. I remember that a Korean woman at church was arranging a trip to an amusement park for a lot of the foreigners because, she said, “it must be so hard to be away from your family on Chuseok.”

A traditional Chuseok scene

A traditional Chuseok scene. The message says: “Wishing you a Chuseok as bountiful as the full moon.”

Hard to be away from my family on Chuseok? Not particularly, since I had just found out about the holiday a few days before.

But for Koreans, Chuseok is a big deal. It is one of the two biggest holidays of the year, along with the Chinese Lunar New Year. It falls on August 15 (according to the lunar calendar) which means that it always coincides with the full moon.

There are several traditions at Chuseok. The main activity, like Thanksgiving, is to get together with family and eat a lot and hang out. For this reason, men and children love it, and women usually dread it. They see it as a time of pretty much non-stop cooking, which it is for them.

People dress up in hanbok (traditional Korean clothes: see the above picture), sometimes play traditional games, and also give gifts. Gifts are usually given between families, however, or to co-workers, and are usually gift sets of food or other things.

The other traditions are cleaning the graves of ancestors, along with memorial rites. As well, the whole family gets together to make songpyeon, which are steamed rice cakes with sugar and sesame seeds inside. They are steamed with pine needles, which gives them a bit of a different taste (although not much).

Songpyeon made by hand are not this neat usually.

Songpyeon made by hand are not this neat, usually.

For me, as a foreigner, the main thing I notice about Chuseok (besides the days off work) is the traffic. It is getting better these days with better highways, but still Chuseok traffic is usually a nightmare. I took several buses over to the central part of Korea yesterday and got to the bus terminal several hours early to make sure I could get a ticket.

The thing about the traffic is that because of the geography and population distribution, the traffic is usually only horrendous in one direction. At the beginning of the holiday, everyone is trying to leave Seoul and go south, so if you go north, it’s not that bad. At the end, everyone is trying to get back up north to Seoul, so it’s reversed. Luckily, we live in the south, so we can usually avoid the worst of it (I saw on the news that two nights ago in Seoul, there were hundreds of people waiting for buses and the buses were delayed up to 3-4 hours).

In any case, Chuseok for us is just a time off work, to relax, and travel, perhaps. I hope you have a happy Chuseok today as well.

chuseok3


Desk Warming the Day Away

If you’ve ever taught English in Korea, you know of the joys of desk warming. I did a Google search for “desk warming” and the whole first page was about Korea, so it seems to be a largely Korean phenomenon (maybe Japan as well).  Basically, it means going into work when there is no work to do and killing time however you want.  It is what I am doing right now.

Deskwarming

There are two main strains of desk warming. The first is during the school year. Normally, English teachers in a Korean public school teach 22 classes a week, which equals about 15 hours of class time for me. However, we are expected to be in school about 40 hours a week, preparing for classes or whatever.

Now, if you are in one school, that is not unexpected. You probably have a desk or maybe even an office and can sit and do what you want until it’s time to go home. I, however, teach at four schools a week. I have known teachers who have taught at up to 7 schools in a week. When you are at multiple schools, you don’t get a desk. You either go directly to the classroom or sit in the teacher’s room, awkwardly out of place. So, a bizarre situation arises where you are supposed to stay at school all day but the school doesn’t necessarily want you there. You can go to the Education Office to kill time but they don’t necessarily have a place for you either, although they can stick you in a corner somewhere or in an empty meeting room.

Yay! I'm being productive!

Yay! I’m being productive!

The other type of desk warming is during vacations. The average English teacher gets a week or two of vacation each break but the school vacation is always longer than this, which means any day we don’t have a vacation day and there are no classes, we have to go into the Education Office for 8 hours.  Some people read, watch TV shows, play computer games. I knew a teacher that curled up in a blanket and slept on the floor every day. The bosses don’t care what you do, as long as you’re physically present.

Laptop, Kindle, Chinese textbook. I'm in for the long haul.

Laptop, Kindle, Chinese textbook. I’m in for the long haul.

Summers aren’t too bad. The summer vacation is only about 4 weeks long now and after doing some English camps, I ended up only having to desk warm for two days this year. In the winter, though, the school vacation is over 2 months long, which means you generally end up sitting in a cold meeting room for about a month.

I’m the only one here today. I took the picture above this a few minutes ago. Either the other teachers have classes today or they just didn’t come in. I’m not really complaining  since it’s not a bad gig to get paid for doing nothing.

Still, I could do nothing at home.


Getting Naked with Strangers (in Korea)

If you want to see naked strangers in real life, your choices are fairly limited. Or perhaps I should say, there are few places where you have to endure seeing naked strangers. In Korea, it’s the jjimjilbang, or sauna/public bath. Of course, lots of countries have public baths, but here is how things work in the Korean version.

In Korea, going to a jjimjilbang (steam room) can be a whole day experience. For one thing, what is often referred to simply as a jjimjilbang is actually a lot of things rolled into one. Here’s the process:

Step 1:

Pay your entrance fee and get a uniform and key. The uniform is a pair of light cotton shorts and a t-shirt. At the place I usually go, they are color-coded for men and women. The key is on a plastic ring so you can put it around your wrist in the shower.

although hopefully not pink.

although hopefully it’s not pink.

Step 2:

The key has a number on it. First you take off your shoes and lock them in the shoe locker of the corresponding number.

The shoe lockers at my favorite jjimjilbang, Spa LaQua

The shoe lockers at my favorite jjimjilbang, Spa LaQua

Step 3:

At this point, men and women say good-bye to each other and go into separate changing rooms. You put your clothes and uniform into the locker with your number on it. The problem with this is you cannot choose your own locker. Last time, my locker was right next to an open window that overlooked an apartment complex. At night. Someone messed up the design somewhere. Anyway, then you go take a shower.

Step 4:

This is the only naked part and luckily it is separated by gender. You take a shower and have the option of soaking in one of a variety of hot tubs. There are varying temperatures (including a cold pool), often ones with massage jets. The one I go to has an outdoor hot tub, made up to look like a natural hot spring, so it’s nice to sit out there at night and talk.

The baths are the place where you see the most culturally different awkward things. I have no idea what the women’s side is like, but there is a section for lying down on the floor and some men like to sleep there, face up. I have seen two men sleeping next to each other, holding hands. In the context, there was nothing gay about it, since in Korea I could totally imagine two straight men doing that, but it was strange. As well, since Koreans are very big into skin exfoliation, you can pay a guy to rub you down with what is basically a scouring pad and get all your dead skin off. There are some things I will do as a cross-cultural experience, but lying down naked on a table and having a practically naked old man scrub all my dead skin off is not one of them.

Here is typical uniform, including the obligatory Princess Leia-style towel wrapped around the head.

Here is a typical uniform, including the obligatory Princess Leia-style towel wrapped around the head.

Step 5:

When you finally feel like getting out of the baths, you go back up to the changing room, dry off and put on your uniform and then go out to rejoin the women (or men, if you’re a woman). This is the actual jjimjilbang part of it. Here you can go into hot rooms and lie around, sweating a lot. However, there are many other things to do. Such as eat. Most jjimjilbangs have a cafeteria there where you can get drinks and snacks and even full meals. There are massage chairs and pool tables and karaoke booths and places just to sit around and talk or place cards or watch TV. In other words, it’s a spoil-yourself-with-whatever-you-like-best sort of place.

This says, "I went to the jjimjilbang to take a sweat bath eat."

This says, “I went to the jjimjilbang to take a sweat bath eat.”

Personally, I don’t like to sweat that much, so I don’t go into the hot rooms for very long, if at all. My ideal time is to go in the baths for a while, then go up and eat and hang out, and maybe use a massage chair once or twice. Lemonade and boiled eggs are very popular foods in jjimjilbang.

Another good feature about many jjimjilbangs is that the key has a microchip on it, so if you want to buy something, you only have to scan the key and then pay for everything when you leave. This lets you not have to carry money around and so, buy a lot more than you normally would. Win win, right?

Here are the doors to various saunas/hot rooms. They often vary by temperature or by theme.

Here are the doors to various saunas/hot rooms. They vary by temperature or by theme.

Step 6:

Whenever you are tired of having fun, you go down, take another shower to wash off all the sweat, and get changed back into your street clothes. Then you check out and find out with shock just how much money you racked up on food, drink, massage chairs, air hockey, etc.  You leave feeling very, very relaxed. It’s a good time.


Patbingsu: Korea’s Summer Ambrosia

When I grew up, in Canada, there were two main cold treats in the summer: ice cream and those long freezies that cut the sides of your mouth when you ate them. And maybe popsicles.

Like sucking on a cherry flavored dagger

Like sucking on a fruit flavored dagger

It wasn’t until I came to Korea that I discovered something better than all of that. You heard me. Even better than ice cream, and not just because this thing sometimes includes ice cream. It’s called patbingsu (팥빙수) which translates as “red bean ice water”.

Okay, I admit that’s not a very delicious-sounding name. Bear with me.

The main ingredient of any patbingsu is shaved ice, which makes up most of it. This guarantees it’s about the most refreshing you could eat on a hot summer day. After that, there are sweetened red beans. Some people don’t like them, but I really do. Beyond that, it’s whatever you want to put on it. The most common toppings are ice cream, condensed milk, fruit cocktail, fresh fruit, small candies, strawberry syrup, small little rice cakes that look like marshmallows, sprinkles, etc.

This has long been a summer mainstay. Everywhere serves it over here, even fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC. Here is what I think of a traditional patbingsu looks like. This is what I ate today at a hole-in-the-wall food stand near my school.

Yum...

Yum…

Of course, this is how it comes but you can’t eat it like this. First you have to mix it up really good until it doesn’t look as pretty.

patbingsu 2

These days, patbingsu has become a more high-class treat and so has generally become much more expensive and made with higher-quality ingredients (not better though, in my opinion). The above patbingsu cost me about $2.50.

Here is one I had a week or so ago at a coffee shop:

patbingsu 3This one is much fancier and has sliced almonds, pieces of ddeok (rice cake) and things that look like brownies but aren’t (I ate it and I still don’t know what they were). It was good, but almost twice the price as the one above and not quite as good.

These days, there are other kinds of bingsu, for people who don’t want red beans. I have see fruit bingsu (very good), yogurt bingsu, coffee bingsu, green tea bingsu, rice cake bingsu, berry bingsu, etc. Here is the selection at a national bakery chain, Paris Baguette:

Paris Baguette bingsuThese are all quite delicious (except maybe the green tea bingsu) although they are quite expensive. The most expensive bingsu I ever bought was a 2-person strawberry frozen yogurt bingsu for about $12.00.

Whenever I finally go back to North America, this will be one of the hardest things about Korea to leave behind. One solution is to live near a large Korean population. Another idea is for all of you who live in North America to start popularizing this dessert and really make it catch on in a big way (you can start by sharing this post). That way, when I get back, it will be there waiting for me.

It’s win-win, trust me.


Eve In Korea

My Adventures As An ESL Teacher In South Korea

Luna's Writing Journal

A Place for my Fiction

Bikurgurl

I'm just a gurl in the world

Here's To Being Human

Living life as a human

The Moving Quill

Writing & Blogging by Shailaja V

jenacidebybibliophile

Book Reviewer and Blogger

yuxianadventure

kitten loves the world

Strolling South America

10 countries, 675 days, 38,540km

It's All in Finding the Right Words

The Eternal Search to Find One's Self: Flash Fiction and Beyond

Reflections Of Life's Journey

Lessons, Joys, Blessings, Friendships, Heartaches, Hardships , Special Moments

A Writer's Path

Sharing writing tips, information, and advice.

Chris Green

Tales of Mystery and Imagination

Finding Myself Through Writing

Writing Habits of Elle Knowles - Author

Commendable Soap

"...the manufacture of stories... a business safe and commendable as making soap..." Willa Cather, 1920

BEAUTIFUL WORDS

Inspiring mental health through creative arts and friendly interactions. (Award free blog)

Total Time Waste

A Humor Blog!

Claire Fuller

Writing and art

TALES FROM THE MOTHERLAND

Straight up with a twist– Because life is too short to be subtle!

Unmapped Country within Us

Emily Livingstone, Author

The Found Girl's Bookblog

A lost girl found by good books

Silkpurseproductions's Blog

Learning how to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

BJ Writes

My online repository for works in progress

wordsandotherthings.wordpress.com/

she is confidence in shadows.

Musings on Life & Experience

Poetry, Fiction, & Non-Fiction Writings

Outside The Lines

Fun readings about Color, Art and Segmation!

obBLOGato

a Photo Blog, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to dear dirty New York

Björn Rudbergs writings

Poetry and fiction by a physicist from the dark side

SightsnBytes

A.K.A. Ted White

WordDreams...

Jacqui Murray's

Life in Kawagoe

Japanese daily sight

The Day After

Musings, Photography, Writng, and More

Mondays Finish the Story

This is a flash fiction site where you finish the story!

Sketches By Boze

An ongoing exploration of faith, culture, myth, life, art. An advocate for all who are trapped in nightmares.

Tiffys World

A diary type blog following the life of a Forensic Science Student

San Diego Professional Writer's Group

A San Diego based critique group for professional and aspiring writers

Five Years to Mediocrity

chasing kitties, crashing scooters, and learning spanish, one anxiety attack at a time

athingirldotcom

never judge a girl by her weight

The Discerning Christian

Philosophy, Christianity, Social Justice

€merald Wake ©

❤ The art marked by the Pain ❤

Fiction et al

Navigating the modern business of book publishing

Yarnspinnerr

Just Fiction and other things that seem fictitious.

The Chicago Files

A CANADIAN EXPAT'S EXPERIENCES AND OBSERVATIONS LIVING IN THE WINDY CITY!

marina kanavaki

Art Towards a Happy Day [painting - illustration - design]

%d bloggers like this: