Don’t do this with chopsticks! Chopsticks in Korea.
One of the first things you may learn when travelling to Korea, Japan or China is that it’s inappropriate and offensive to stick chopsticks into your rice like that. Although it varies from country to country, it is always something symbolic in regards to rituals for the dead.
In Korea you see it in the Jesa ceremonies. There are different types of Jesa ceremonies for deceased family members and they can vary from region to region. The only time I’ve ever seen someone do this gesture respectfully is for Jesa ceremonies at Hugh’s parents’ house when his father leads a ceremony.
An action you will probably only ever see at a jesa sees the leader insert of a pair of chopsticks into the center of a bowl of rice. It is considered taboo to stick one’s chopsticks vertically into food in Korea unless at a jesa, as this gesture is reserved for food offered to the spirits of the dead.
From: Life after death – The beguiling world of the Korean jesa ceremony.
Unfortunately Hugh is sometimes not the most respectful person! He doesn’t do it on purpose but has the bad habit of being lazy with utensils (I’ve seen him eat meat with just tongs before!) and sometimes he just doesn’t think about it. Sometimes the person who is newer to a culture and has more recently learned these manners is the one paying more attention.
I’ve realised when editing videos later he has done it on camera as well much to the horror of some. Telling him that is grandfather is upset and watching him made he laugh but also to think about why there are traditions in Korea.
One a side note:
When Catholic missionaries first came to Korea they realised the importance of these ceremonies and didn’t make converts change which is why Catholicism grew more rapidly in Korea at first. Catholicism has many ceremonies and rituals and Korean culture was able to merge with these new beliefs. Unfortunately Protestants came in with cultural insensitivity and forced many to give up these important traditions. These days some Christians have adapted traditional ceremonies to meet half way between protestant beliefs and traditions but many still shun the days when these ceremonies are done, often leaving the country altogether. Catholicism in Korea is known to be more accepting of different faiths and work with other religions and religious leaders, while Korean protestants are some of the most aggressive Christians in the world and have been known to even vandalise Buddhist temples. Even the recent holiday of Buddha’s birthday there were protestant Christians picketing temples. It’s sad the damage that western beliefs can do.
Coming from a country that doesn’t have many traditions or ceremonies I appreciate seeing the traditions in Korea and being part of them. I hope the younger generation can realise the important and continue them on. Hugh will have to take over the Jesa ceremonies from his father eventually and will need to learn how to do them.
Then he will be allowed to stick the chopsticks in the rice!
More on how to hold a Jesa ceremony here.
Exploring Korean markets and delicious street food!
We have shown Mangwon markets before in videos but we haven’t really been able to do it justice. This time we had Yoojin filming and Joel also got some good shots for us. I always find Korean open markets to be really fascinating and it’s a great way to see local culture. The street food places at the markets usually have somewhere to sit down inside which is more comfortable than standing and eating at the cart street food like in other places. I really like the tteokbokki there!
Local markets are a great place to do grocery shopping as the prices are a lot cheaper than the bigger stores. We generally buy our fruit and vegetables at the markets and only buy foreign items like cheese and butter at HomePlus or Emart. If you go to the markets in the evening the prices often drop even more.
Another reason to go to the markets is of course the food. There is great street food at the markets but also other small restaurants with great food and cheap prices. Since they are operating out of a small area and people can just take and eat as they walk, they can keep the prices down. Korean people eat out A LOT and these types of places allow people to do it regularly and cheaply.
If you are visiting Korea make sure you check out some markets as there are many around. Korean tourism often tries to push people to Gangnam or other modernized areas of Seoul but if you want a more authentic experience go to where the local people are shopping and socializing.
Mangwon markets also merges into the World Cup markets so it’s technically two markets in one. The Mangwon area is also an up and coming area with many small, quirky business and great food moving in. Once you are finished at the markets you can check out some of the great cafes in the area. Also the Han river is not too far away which is another important aspect of people’s lives in Seoul.
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Is Hugh really respecting my culture or just enjoying getting revenge? We talk about the pinch and a punch comic in this video. In this comic I do the Australian culture thing of “a pinch and a punch for the first of the month” but Hugh knew the second part of it and made sure he did it to me. Now I need to be careful if I want to pinch and punch on first days of the month.
As we talk about in the video, Koreans seem to LOVE punishment! Their games tend to always have punishments and even when playing more western games in Australia with Koreans, they had to add and change the games to make sure people had punishments. For example, when we played ‘Marco Polo’ in the pool they added the punishment of brutally dunking and splashing the person who was in if they didn’t catch anyone. I remember protesting a lot saying that not every game needs punishment!
If you’ve played games with Koreans you have probably experienced or at least seen the intense flicking to the forehead or hands that happens as punishment. Watch out! Especially watch out for people like Hugh who have no mercy.
Do you have something like “a pinch and a punch” in your country? I have a feeling this comes from British culture? Also what types of punishments do people like to give when playing games in your country? Or maybe you don’t need punishments? Perhaps there are punishments that don’t actually involve physically hurting someone!
You can see the original comic here.
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I really did think this for a while because I’ve never been to one! I’ve never worked in a Korean company. Luckily it isn’t compulsorily to eat hwe at hweshiks because it seems to be a food that divides people. I’m not really a fan of Korean raw fish. A lot of Korean seafood can be quite chewy and some people do love it being chewy. We don’t though! I’m also glad that we work from home and don’t need to go to hweshiks because a lot of people seem frustrated when they have to attend and they go for such a long time. In Korea it’s very hard to bail and leave early. It’s actually one of the big problems facing Korean families and I’m sure the Korean government could raise the declining birth rate (which they are so desperate to do) if they just had a better work life environment for working parents. It’s hard to have children when work expects so much of your time outside of work hours, especially when it requires heavy drinking.
Why do Koreans love mukbangs?
We talk about the popularity of mukbangs in Korea and how that plays out in real life. Often western journalists want to reduce the idea of mukbangs to a simple sentence when they write articles about them but in reality there are many cultural reasons why Koreans love them.
Western journalists also have this idea that all mukbangs are about eating SO much food. While some people do that, it’s not what mukbangs have to be. It’s literally just someone eating while being broadcast, usually through livestreaming. Someone can even just be drinking as the Korean word it derives from means both to eat or drink. Often articles will say that mukbangs are popular because more and more Koreans live alone and are eating alone so if they are watching someone eat they feel less alone.
It can be part of it for some people, but that type of explanation ignores the fact that Koreans just love to watch others eat. It’s not surprising when you look at South Korea’s history of rapidly becoming a developed country. Even within Hugh’s lifetime he remembers not that much food when he was young and there not being much meat. His parents only had meat a few times a year when they were young because it was so expensive back then. Food is something still very special and in living memory there were times where there was not that much food. If a mother is able to cook well for her children she wants to see them enjoy it and gets enjoyment herself from watching them eat.
Hugh has a story from his grandparents that when people had a dried fish, they wouldn’t eat it right away, but would hang it from the ceiling and look at it while just eating rice and imagine they were tasting fish instead of rice. These days there are copious amounts of food in Korea, and it’s very cheap. There are many TV shows that show close ups of people eating food and food sounds are accentuated for the camera. Often in western cooking shows the eating part is just a small section at the end of the show, but Korean shows will show a much longer time of people eating and enjoying the food. For me as a nonKorean I really don’t like the sounds of someone eating or seeing a closeup of their mouth as they eat, but it’s very common on TV here. Korea’s relationship with food now has been shaped by their hard times in the past.
So now with food so easily accessible people tend to be more worried about gaining weight. People on diets like to watch mukbangs because they get satisfaction watching someone else eat. This plays out in real life too. Many times I’ve been with a Korean friend and at a restaurant and cafe and they will buy me food and when I ask them what they are eating they will say, “Oh nothing, I’m on a diet. I just want to watch you eat.” That would be very strange in Australia! When Hugh is sick he wants me to do a personal mukbang for him. So because he can’t eat he will watch me eating closely and even tell me what food to eat so he can feel satisfaction from what I’m eating.
People who do mukbangs, and are very popular, don’t necessarily speak a lot while doing them. They will answer some questions but often people are just telling them “eat this thing now” or “eat these together”. It’s not necessarily about the social aspect as much but the enjoyment of watching someone else eat.
What about in your country? Do you like to watch people eat?
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YTN was filming us for a segment about YouTubers in Korea. Sara and Yoojin joined us as we explored the Mangwon markets. Since we had to film for YTN’s filming we made a vlog of the day.
Visitors to Korea may notice Christmas decorations up when it’s nowhere near Christmas. I’ve definitely seen them up all year round. When I ask Hugh about it he says it’s just because people think they look nice. Christmas is a couple holiday in Korea but there are still a lot of Christmas decorations around, so they have adopted that element of Christmas culture, but not the culture of actually taking them down after Christmas! I think for western countries, besides from the belief some might have of them being bad luck if kept up, we take them down because they lose their importance and meaning if kept up all the time. I think in most countries Christmas trees are taken down in January, unless it’s a lazy university student’s share house. We appreciate decorations when we don’t constantly see them and that’s what makes Christmas a special time. Seeing a dusty Christmas tree in a cafe in July is just depressing (seen that many times in Korea).
I understand that Hugh really likes how pretty our tree looks, but I’m still going to take it down.
When do you usually take your Christmas tree down? Or throw out if you have a real one?