My Korean Husband

Intercultural Life

Category: Culture (page 21 of 21)

Traditional and modern Korean culture.

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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But what about cultural differences?

We get asked this question sometimes and it’s only natural that it does come up. Relationships can be hard even with someone from your own country, and who speaks the same first language as yours, so how do you make it work when you are both from different countries and have different native languages?

Well we have some advantages:
–  my husband is from a younger generation that is very exposed to western culture. I think there would be a lot more issues about being with a western woman for someone of his father’s generation.
–  my husband has traveled around a lot, enjoys discovering new cultures and interacting with all types of people
–  before I met him I’d already had a lot of exposure to Korean culture, which meant I wasn’t working through my own prejudices and ideas with him- I’d already been adjusting my views and trying to understand more about Korean culture before I met him.

As with every relationship, communication is very important. How do we communicate with each other when we grew up speaking different languages? His speaking English skills are quite good but my speaking Korean skills are beginner. However, being constantly aware of communication helps us because we immediately try to understand what the other person is trying to say and trying to see their perspective instead of jumping to conclusions or getting upset or defensive.
When we had some premarriage sessions with my hometown pastor he commended us on using our cultural and communication differences to our advantage instead of just letting them hinder us. So that’s advice I would give: take the disadvantages and work hard to make them help your relationship.

One of our sayings is “It’s not wrong, it’s just different” when one of us may not like or understand something in the other’s culture. We make sure we never say “That’s wrong” or “That’s stupid” about a cultural difference.

When you have problems in your relationship with someone from a different culture it is easy to blame the culture when things go wrong. I’ve done that in the past. My husband was not the first Korean man I dated. In a previous relationship with a Korean man- when it all fell apart I came to the conclusion that ‘He is too Korean’ and that’s why it didn’t work.
Actually it was just that we were not compatible and had different goals etc. But it is easy to fall into the trap of blaming culture.
At the same time though, some things will be related to culture and you do have to try understand it. But if both of you are trying to find the middle ground things will go a lot smoother.

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Kimchi

I remember my first experience with kimchi was not actually eating it but watching some Korean friends make it. Well one step of making it. These Koreans were in my home town for a working holiday and where I’m from you can’t just go pick up a tub of kimchi from the supermarket. One time when hanging out with them I watched them salting the cabbage and putting into containers but I did not realise how important this thing called kimchi was!

Flash forward to living in Sydney with Koreans. I did not know what kimchi tasted like but I knew I didn’t like the smell of it! Every time someone opened the fridge the whole living area would fill with the smell of kimchi and I would gag (and probably complain).

I would refuse to eat it if anyone offered it to me. Keep in mind that I was a very picky eater at the best of times. It wasn’t until later when I actually started eating Korean food and a friend would wash the kimchi in some water to get rid of the spice and then give it to me to eat. “Hmm, not bad,” I thought. Gradually I became used to it until I was eating it like a normal person. And now I love it. Oh and now I also make it! But, the trials of kimchi making will be talked about in some other blog posts.

Kimchi is one of those things that if you didn’t grow up eating it… well it can take a while to really enjoy eating it. Or maybe some people will never be able to enjoy it (like non-Australians and vegemite). But if you are going to marry a Korean you better get used to it as it’s pretty much eaten with every meal!

Do you like kimchi?

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Why this blog?

The idea for this blog first came about when I was idly googling things. About to marry a Korean man, I typed in ‘Korean Husband’. I was shocked at how many negative things came up! There didn’t seem to be anything very positive. What frustrated me was the way things were categorized as ‘Korean Culture’ or ‘that’s how Korean men are’. I found these blanket statements to be quite wrong. A bad experience with a Korean man is more likely to do with his personality and not actually the cultural differences. Just because one person has done something does not mean that everyone of the same nationality does the exact same thing.

So how do we know what is a real cultural difference and something that is just personality? You have to look deeper, you have to study more, you have to observe more, you have to put aside your own preconceptions. Unfortunately there are probably many people who have entered marriages without ever trying to understand the person they are marrying and their culture.

I was at some advantage because I already had an interest in Korean culture before I met my husband. There is something about Koreans and Korean culture that is immensely fascinating. It gets under your skin and yet at the same time it can be extremely frustrating. Just when you think you’ve made huge progress in understanding it- something else pops up and throws you off balance.

In the preface of his book ‘The Koreans’ Michael Breen discusses this. He mentions how once you become involved in Korea it starts to feel like it is the centre of the world.

“Korea has that effect on you. Its people are so drastic, so passionate, and the twentieth-century issues they have thrashed around with – colonialism, communism, political violence, war, industrial development, democracy, human rights – seem so important, it is easy to forget that Koreans are not well known.” (Breen 2004)

This was written in 1998 (revised 2004) and since then Korean culture has started to become more known, especially in the Asia region though also in some western countries, due to its music, dramas and food. However, the average person still does not know that much about Korea. This is partly due to its location.

“Koreans feel small, because they live amid giants. Their geopolitical neighbors are China, Japan, Russia and America, who between them have done to Korea just about every nasty thing that can be done to a smaller country. The Koreans learned to roll up into a ball and let themselves be kicked in order to survive.” (Breen 2004)

Is this blog all about politics and history though? Not really, though some things will touch on it. Instead this is about a celebration of Korean culture. South Korea has achieved so much in only half a century. What is it like to be Korean now? How is Korean culture spreading through the world? What is it about these expressive people that draw you in? What is it like to be married to a Korean man? What is it like for a Korean man living in a western country like Australia? What is it like as a native English speaker to learn the Korean language? Music, film, food? This is what this blog is about.

… and about drawing cute pictures.

 

Breen, M 2004, The Koreans, Thomas Dunne Books, New York

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