Culture

Traditional and modern Korean culture.

Gwon Family Ancestral Memorial Rites 0

We filmed this before we were in Australia for 6 weeks. This is the ancestral memorial rites for the Gwon/Kwon family. Hugh and I were researching online the exact word for this type of one but couldn’t find it, there doesn’t seem to be as much information about it. It is is Jesa, the ancestral rituals, but not exactly the same as the more commonly done ones. This one is done once a year with the head family and it honors 8 or 9 generations back. Because the Gwon family were part of the yangban (the traditional ruling class) they have all the records of how far back their family goes.

In Korea, Catholics, Buddhists and the nonreligious practice ancestral rites, but protestant Christians do not usually. Although I identify as Christian myself, I have a lot of issues with the type of Christianity in Korea and how culture can be erased when Western missionaries push their own beliefs but that’s a discussion for another day. These ceremonies show appreciation and respect to the family’s ancestors as well as strengthening ties with living family.

You can see the different treatment of men and women in Confucianism in traditions like this (and still to this day in modern society). But it is gradually changing. Just recently for Lunar New Year Hugh’s immediate family decided it wasn’t fair for women to have to do 4 bows when men did 2, so it was changed to women doing 2 as well, because as Hugh put it, “Confucius was sexist”. At the Gwon family ancestral memorial I could see the difference in attitudes depending on how old the male family member was. Hugh was actually quite shocked that the women couldn’t eat with the men and had to prepare all the food, and a middle aged family member was helping carry the food across for the women, while the older men didn’t seem to give it a second thought. Confucianism has some good elements, but some benefit from some modern changes. The culture can be kept but updated for a modern Korea. In fact modern Korea could benefit from going back to some Confucian ideals of not having corrupt leaders, but again a discussion for another day.

This was the first time Hugh had done this particular ceremony as usually only his father does it. Being in an international marriage and mixing your culture with another does make you start to appreciate your own culture and where you come from. It’s good to understand your own heritage as you also adopt another. In recent years I’ve discovered more about my own ancestors and my ancestor who arrived as a convict in Australia on the first fleet. My father and I visited her grave and contemplated how she was just a young girl who had stolen some fabric and was sentenced to death, but then transportation, and how hard her life must have been. I was incredibly moved to visit her grave but also felt helpless as there were no words or rituals to be said in respect for her. So because that is lacking in my own culture (unless someone dies in a war) I can appreciate these rituals in Korean culture.

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Being Korean American? 2

We talk with our friends Kirstin and Jerrold about what it’s like to be Korean American. What’s it like coming back to Korea? Also, what cultural aspects they keep in the USA and how different both their experiences are. You can check out their YouTube channel here.

We were hanging out with them while they had some wedding photos taken. We showed you the accommodation in this video:

 

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KOREAN PET NAMES 2

We talk about Korean pet names! We cover the most basic ones (and some new funny ones) but there are more talked about on this blog here.

What are the most common pet names in your country?

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Chuseok Food 6

Chuseok Food

Like in most other countries, the preparation of holiday food is done by women in Korean culture. Even in Australia there tends to be more traditional roles in a lot of families on holidays but it’s more obviously defined in Korea. With my mother-in-law and sister-in-law I helped prepare all the fried food for Chuseok. Koreans don’t mind eating fried food cold so it’s food that is supposed to last for a while. Because so much has to be prepared, it takes hours and hours and my body does not enjoy sitting on the floor for that long. So I had to roll my eyes at Hugh exclaiming his difficulty of not being able to choose what to eat.

Since we have an intercultural relationship I expressed some of my Australianess and told him that if he is not helping with the cooking and is just lazing around, he should clean up outside and make the front of the house look nice for Chuseok, which he did.

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Chuseok in Korea 4

Chuseok is an important holiday in Korea. Everyone is expected to go back to their ancestral home towns (or wherever their family is) which means millions of people have to travel at once. The traffic is horrendous and the public transportation is completely booked out. Luckily for us, we are already where we need to be! One advantage of living in the countryside.

In this video we show a few snapshots over two days. We prepare food for the ancestral memorial service in the morning (that food gets eaten by everyone later) and have many relatives visit.  Since it’s a ‘harvest festival’ holiday we wanted to show the countryside changing around us now that it’s Autumn. Hanbok (traditional clothing) is not necessary anymore, but is nice to wear which is why I put mine on in the evening.

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Traditional Wedding – 전통혼례 가마 5

Traditional korean wedding

I made this comic quite a while ago but it was never posted because it was supposed to go in the book (for the Korean market). Since we are now changing the format of the book a lot (one of the reasons why it’s taking so long) I can post it on here.

Traditional weddings are rarely done these days in Korea unfortunately, but I’m glad we had one. We were carried in ‘gamas’ by our friends, which gave Hugh’s friends the chance to complain about how heavy he is!

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Picnic Set 3

Picnic

If I’d taken a second to look closer I would have recognised what it was, but I wasn’t paying very much attention. Chuseok, which is one of the big holidays in Korea, is coming soon, so places like E-mart have these types of things prominently displayed.

An important part of the Chuseok holiday is going to where ancestor burial mounds are and paying respects and tidying up the graves. There is a ceremony with some food and drink, so this type of set makes it easier and nicer. It’s plastic and portable and easy enough to lug up a hill or mountain. While we have the proper set for the ceremony done in the morning inside the home, I’ve only seen paper cups used up where the burial mounds are. Obviously someone has realised there is a market for a portable set that is easy to carry.

When we post photos online of the food set up in the morning on holidays like this, people are always curious… what happens to all the food?! We eat it! That’s one of the interesting things about this tradition. The food is put out symbolically for the ancestors (about four generations back) but then we eat it all over the holiday. It’s important to remember family members who have passed on. I find it quite moving, especially when we pay respects to Hugh’s grandfather who loved him dearly but died when Hugh was still young.

 

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Hand me that 6

Hand me that

In Korean culture it’s polite to give things to people with 2 hands, or with the other hand supporting your arm. It’s especially important to do that with someone older than you or if they are in a higher position.

Being married, we don’t need to always give things with 2 hands (though some people who have a more formal marriage may still always do it) so it was funny that Hugh did it by reflex when he was concentrating too much on something else but still didn’t actually look at me.

Within a marriage you can also do it on purpose to show respect or care but is not necessary all the time. Also because I’m not Korean and our marriage is a cross cultural marriage, we are changing between 2 different cultures constantly.

 

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Big Chopsticks 14

Big chopsticks

We were at a Japanese restaurant the other day so the chopsticks were bigger and rounder than Korean metal ones. I felt very clumsy using them. Korean ones can be a pain to get used to, because they are flat and small, but once you can use them well it feels more precise and it’s hard to switch back.

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Kdramas: Fact or Fiction? 6

We answer your questions about Korean dramas. There is always lots more to say on all these topics, but never enough time. If you’d like us to elaborate more on a certain answer just leave a comment and we’ll try to reply.

Some extra thoughts:

I really do feel that schools can vary a lot based on where the school is and the type of school. Hugh definitely had a more wild time at school than I did, even though I went to school in Australia. His school was considered more of a technical high school where students weren’t going to go to top universities anyway. He literally drank alcohol on school grounds. In this area we can see that teenagers are probably way more promiscuous too. We’ve been in restaurants where teenagers next to us were talking about sexual things in a very crass way. Compare that to many other schools where people are very shy around the opposite sex. Especially if someone goes to an all boys school, or all girls school. When we did this video with Jongdae he talked about just never even having the opportunity to meet girls. Hugh says lack of students and money means that the highschool in this area was co-ed and there was less pressure on students to study hard, so teenagers end up being…. teenagers. There is some truth in teenagers in dramas being ridiculously awkward, but when people in their 20’s are like that, it’s super unrealistic.

Also, of course not every guy is going to be doing an “event” for his girlfriend, but it’s completely normal if a guy does. Korea also has that push and pull idea with dating which means that guys are expected to be very persistent if they really like the girl.

Were any of these answers in the video surprising to you?

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All Nighter 5

All Nighter

Korean society really caters to people staying out all night. There are many restaurants that are open all night and things to do well into the early hours of the morning, like noraebang (karaoke). Because we live in the countryside we either have to make sure we get the last bus at 11pm from Jinju or stay out all night. There is the option of getting a taxi, but it’s about $20 and that just seems like too much in Korea (though the same trip in Australia would be about $60!).

Hugh is not as young as he once was though, and all nighters can catch up on him, though he does a lot better than I do. I’m amazed when he comes home at 8am and then has to help his parents on the farm right away.

Lots of people have huge nights and go straight to work in the morning in Korea as well, though of course there may be consequences… like Hugh’s friend who is a hairdresser and was still drunk in the morning when she went to work and managed to cut her own fingers. Don’t think I’ll get her to cut my hair.

Due to my health problems and constant battling with fatigue, it is a part of Korea that I find difficult to keep up with. When you go out with friends for dinner, it’s not like in Australia where you have dinner and drinks and then can be home by 10pm! Instead, in Korea, you don’t just go to one restaurant, it’s normal to go to 3 or 4 and to stay out really late. I sometimes have to avoid social situations simply because I know I will be wrecked for days if I spend that much time out.

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Do Korean Guys wear makeup? 1

We wanted to correct any misconceptions that all guys in Korea are walking around wearing Kpop makeup all the time. As we said in the video, a lot of the time people may not even be aware if a guy is wearing some makeup. The times it’s obvious is when it’s badly applied, or it’s the wrong shade. That happens with girls as well, you’ll see girls with these super pale faces that don’t match their neck.

We are both of the opinion that it’s a good thing for guys to be able to wear makeup if they want to. I’m glad to see society changing here and making it more acceptable and that it’s a fast growing market.

While Hugh wears BB cream for filming, he never wears eye makeup but has been accused of wearing eyeliner or mascara several times! He just has long dark eyelashes that makes it look like that sometimes.

We also wanted to show some opinions that are not Seoul centered. I think often when people are talking about “Korean guys” it can be mostly be talking about young guys in Seoul, because they are in Seoul and that’s what they see. Since we live in the countryside we want to show more of Korea and that Seoul does not equal all of Korea, as well as talking about different generations.

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Reverse Culture Shock – Australia 6

Reverse culture shock is such an interesting thing. People who have never had the experience of living in another country and then going back to their own country probably can’t understand the full extent of how shocking it can be. I had no idea how strange it would be. In some ways it can be more shocking than going to another country. You are prepared for cultural differences in another country but in your own country you expect to fit in, and then when you realise how much you’ve changed it brings up conflicted feelings about identity. As the saying (and book title) goes “You can’t go home again” because something has altered your perception and the home that you once knew doesn’t exist anymore.

Things I struggled with in Australia were the greetings and not knowing what to do. I felt anxiety that I had never felt before. I was uncomfortable meeting new people and how to interact with them. The extremes of customer service also bought on another level of anxiety because I just didn’t know what to expect because it could be either extreme or just somewhere in the middle.

In Korea I know foreigners can have trouble with the way people can push and bump in crowded cities and view that as rude, but I’ve realised in Korea it’s not personal, it’s done with blank faces and it’s just people trying to get through their day in a crowded city. In Australia, it’s so personal! You bump into someone and you don’t know what you may get. The person can smile and say, “No worries” or you can be given a look as if you’ve just murdered their whole family because they are so offended that you accidentally bumped into them.

In Korea there is more of an acceptance of mothers and babies in public places. There are many older women that are happy to help out mothers and easily chat with them or even hold your baby while you do something. It’s also normal to bring babies everywhere, especially restaurants, and be out late with them. Because I was with Sophie and Alice while in Sydney and we were out doing things in Sydney, I witnessed the way that she was treated because she is a mother. It was disturbing to me how much she was dismissed and treated as if she was taking up precious space because she had a child with her. Also because we sometimes switched who had Alice or the pram, it would have sometimes appeared that I was the mother and I felt those looks and disapproval directed to me. At one point I had hold of the (pretty small and lightweight pram/stroller) and was trying to get a hold of Alice who starting to run just out of my reach in a shopping centre. A business woman in her 50’s or 60’s had to side step around the pram as I frantically tried to grab a 2 year old, and she did so with the nastiest look on her face and a very audible sigh and eye roll. Oh I’m sorry that you had to go sideways ONE STEP that took ONE SECOND. I was incredibly shocked at how easily people showed their displeasure to strangers. I can see how a more community orientated society has a lot of benefits for mothers in Korea. You also see many of the grandparents looking after the children in Korea too and it’s normal to be out in public with young children. I also see a lot less public tantrums from children in Korea too.

Some great things about Australia, in particular Sydney, was the multiculturalism and the access to lots of different food! Ironically it’s easier to get authentic Asian food (other than Korean) in Australia than it is in Korea. While it’s definitely getting better in Korea, it’s still normal for foreign food to be made by Koreans and be extremely adjusted for Korean tastes. In Sydney, in Thai town, we had $4 boat noodle soup with Han and Sophie because it was a Thai place that catered to Thai people, whereas in Korea it’s less authentic and more expensive. Being more multicultural allows for there to be more authentic cuisine and a huge variation of food. But on the other hand, restaurant prices on a whole in Australia were more expensive than normal Korean food restaurants in Korea.

Another thing I didn’t mention was how much skin people show! Seeing low cut tops and cleavage was quite shocking to me in Australia. In Korea it’s okay to show the legs, but not the chest, back and shoulders. While in Korea it can be annoying to not be able to wear skimpy tops in summer, I really have changed how I think about what are appropriate clothes.

Of course both countries have pros and cons, but sometimes you don’t really realise what they are for your own country until you live in another country.

As always, these are just our opinions and our experiences.

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Why do Koreans use toilet paper like this? 9

This is definitely something that doesn’t bother me while I’m in Korea, but if we were living in Australia in our own place I’d have all the paper in the “right places”. Since my parents usually have Koreans boarding with them my mother has made a rule of no toilet paper in the kitchen. While it’s natural for Koreans to have it with them while cooking, it’s too odd for Australians to be using it as much a multipurpose thing.

We do have kitchen towel in the kitchen at my inlaws house here, but I think I use it more than anyone. I use it when cooking and as a serviette/napkin while everyone else is using the toilet paper. Having meals in Korea is vastly different to what I grew up with as well because the style of eating is so different. I would definitely fold the napkins into nice shapes and place them on the plates for nice dinners or when we had guests in Australia.

What Hugh said about sometimes using newspaper for toilet paper as a child was surprising for me. It is interesting to see how different our childhoods were.

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Jeongwol Daeboreum (First Full Moon) 4

Jeongwol Daeboreum is the first full moon of the lunar new year and there are lots of traditions, customs and celebrations across Korea. In years gone by there would have more celebrations in the countryside like fires (burning the rice fields) but these days those big fire celebrations are only in bigger towns and cities and are big organised events. Nowadays local people in the area come together like this for Jeongwol Daeboreum.

I expected to just be an observer, but of course I stand out in rural Korea so they were excited to drag me into the singing and dancing. It was actually a lot of fun, but although my brother is an amazing drummer, I have no rhythm at all! This group of locals preformed like this again and again around all the small villages in this area.

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