My Korean Husband

Intercultural Life

Category: Culture (page 21 of 22)

Traditional and modern Korean culture.

Ice Mum

Something we can never agree on is how to respect and speak to parents. Because my husband comes from a hierarchical society it is ingrained in him to always be respectful to his parents and not to disagree with them. Whereas I come from a society that is more relaxed about parent/children relationships and I will openly disagree with and contradict my parents. I have a good relationship with my parents but some things I may do or say my husband sees as disrespect. He has trouble understanding this sometimes.

This incident however, was actually one of those times where I was not doing anything that could be seen as disrespectful but he still thought I was! And he thought that for many months!

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Changdeokgung Palace

Warning: don’t ask my husband questions at historical sites as he will just make shit up.

Have you visited Changdeokgung or any of the other palaces in Korea?

 

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Jokduri and yeonji gonji

Why does the bride wear that thing on her head and have red dots on her cheeks in a traditional Korean wedding?

I think I’m smiling through the pain in the above photo! It was not at all comfortable and it was a hot day.

The crown is called a jokduri. It was worn by married women on formal days and for wedding days. At the end of the Joseon Dynasty these were very popular and quite extravagant. They are made with black silk, padded with cotton and decorated with embroidery and other accessories. In modern Korea you are only likely to see them at a traditional wedding ceremony.

Originally they were created by Mongolian women for when they went outside. The Korean version is smaller than the original Mongolian version.

The red dots are called yeonji gonji and they can either be drawn or painted on or be cut out pieces of paper that are stuck on. Mine were literally red stickers! Red is believed to protect against evil so the red dots on a bride’s cheeks are believed to protect her from evil spirits.

I also had fake eyelashes on. The makeup artist told me that fake eyelashes are very important in a Korean wedding ceremony but I don’t think that is tradition!

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Lucky Pig

Since our engagement my husband’s family believes they have had a lot of luck, as things have been going really well for them. They think I’ve brought the luck into their lives so they have called me a ‘Lucky Pig’.

In Korea pigs mean fortune. However, in western culture calling someone a pig is usually an insult! Meaning they are ugly or eat too much etc. So when I first heard his family are calling me that I was like “What?!” But then thankfully it was explained to me. Let’s hope I can keep the luck coming!

My husband, knowing that in English it sounds very different to in Korean, laughed and said in English, “Yeah you are the lucky pig!….. Oink Oink!”

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Obsession with height- Big Bang example

Let’s explore the Korean obsession with height! I think most countries have some interest in height, with women usually preferring taller men, but not many rival Korea’s obsession.

I’m not exactly sure when or why this first started or if it’s just a product of modern culture. I don’t know how much pressure men put on each other but I know Korean women put a lot of pressure on Korean men. The famous example being on the TV talk show where the women said they would rather have a tall husband who was physically abusive than a nice short guy. WTF…

Many times I’ve heard women, and not just Korean women, say they only like tall guys. And not like guys who are the same height or slightly taller, they want men like a foot taller than them!

Because of this Korean men can get big complexes about their height. They are already not very tall compared to many other countries, but does it really matter that much? Unfortunately the message they are receiving is that it does matter. The incident of the women on the TV show hating short guys has been retold to me by many many Korean guys. It was really upsetting for them. Of course not all Korean women place such emphasis on height though, it’s just sometimes the negative views are the loudest.

Now in Korea, it is normal for guys to wear “lifts” inside their shoes to make them appear taller. These are like a foam triangle thing that lifts their heels and gives them more height. I had no idea these things existed until a few years ago when I dated a Korean guy and I was slightly confused to why his height seemed to change day to day. He eventually confessed to me but it was the first I had heard of such things for men and I didn’t ever think his height was a problem.

Now to the reason why I decided to talk about this today: Big Bang. Talking to a Korean friend once, I confessed how much I like Big Bang. Her immediate response was “but they are so small.” Huh? I was so confused. What did that have to do with anything? I was talking about music. How does the artist’s height affect that? The same conversation has been played out many times with Korean people saying to me “but they are small.” I usually respond with “so what?”

Big Bang’s height is in the news again today. There is a summary on Big Bang Updates which makes a lot of international fans go “what??” Such concern about height seems so over the top to us. And the comments about height are often quite nasty. It is used in a way to try to bring them down.

Having a taller height does not give a guy a good personality. There is really no real benefit to the relationship except maybe he can reach the top cupboard easier. I’ve dated extremely tall guys before and their height was not even a positive thing. It made kissing standing up almost impossible and did not magically make those guy’s crappy personalities any better.

So how tall is the guy I ended up marrying? He is only slightly taller than me. If I wear heels I am taller. This does not bother me at all. In fact, I like being able to look directly into his eyes.

So for girls out there obsessed with height: does it really matter that much? You could be missing out on meeting some great guys simply because you aren’t interested in anyone under a certain height. There are better ways to narrow down what qualities you want in a man.

For all the guys out there worried about their height: don’t stress about it. Not all women care about it. If a girl disregards you as a potential date simply because you aren’t tall enough then she is not worth your time.

"Guys! Don't you know that it doesn't matter how talented or popular we are... it doesn't matter because we are too short!" "Aww, okay let's just go home..."

 

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Book Review – Waiting for Mummy

Waiting for Mummy by Tae-Jun Lee

This is a famous children’s book that has only been published in English somewhat recently. It was written in 1938 by author Tae-Jun Lee who wrote many famous stories and was well loved in Korea. In this edition the illustrations are by Dong-Sung Kim and they are painted on traditional Korean paper (han-ji) and use traditional Chinese ink line techniques (muck-sun).

I saw this book in an Australian book store and noticed the Korean names on it. It was only after I bought it and did some research that I realised how special this book is.

It is a simple but heart-wrenching story of a young boy waiting for his mother at a tram stop. The first time I read it I thought there was no conclusion or indication of whether the little boy’s mother returns or not. I actually cried. I realised later that the ending is shown on the very last illustration but you have to look carefully.

Though simply written, the story is incredibly moving – particularly when you know Korea’s history and that this was written during the Japanese occupation – and it really stuck in my mind for days. The illustrations are beautiful. Some are quite simple but they convey so much. And the little boy is so adorable but looks so small and insignificant. What is even more poignant is that the author Tang-Jun Lee was actually an orphan himself. He was a war correspondent during The Korean War but settled in North Korea afterwards and disappeared in 1956…

I have seen some comments online by parent’s that think the book is too sad and they wouldn’t read it to their children but I disagree. It is such a beautiful and moving book that I will be reading it to my future children- in both English and Korean.

 

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Cultural differences: family

As a couple we have lots of time to work through cultural differences and the motivation to do it. What can be harder to deal with is our own families. We are the in-between, the buffer, between the different culture and our families. We have to try and explain things quickly and try to make them understand in a much shorter time than we actually had for learning new things.

So, of course our families have a much shallower understanding of the other culture. My husband does his best to fit into Australian culture while with my family and does an outstanding job of that. However, through us my family is exposed to more Korean culture which mostly ends up being positive experiences but there can be a few tensions or issues. It is difficult being the person stuck in the middle trying to explain things.

For example, it is hard to explain to people from a christian ‘excessive drinking and getting drunk is morally bad’ background that alcohol is actually an important part of Korean culture. That it is rude to refuse drinks etc. Or how do you explain a culture with a hierarchy system to those who have grown up with the ideal of everyone being equal to each other?

While in Korea my husband has to explain why I need privacy sometimes. In western society we understand the concept of just needing to get away from other people for a little bit for some alone time in order to relax and ‘recharge’ but this is not really part of Korean culture. Korean society is a more collectivist, group-oriented society where as I come from an individualist society. Even when trying my best to fit in, the lack of privacy when staying with family in rural Korea after one month can start to cause some stress within me. This was not major but in these situations it’s my husband who is the one stuck between two cultures and the one who has to do the explaining. I know how difficult that can be because other times it’s me who has to do it.

We are lucky though, both our families have been very supportive of our relationship. But my advice to those starting relationships with someone from another culture, just be aware that no matter how easy it may be to work out differences within your own relationship, actually dealing with families may pose challenges you didn’t expect.

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