My Korean Husband

Intercultural Life

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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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Cookies

So it’s not like Koreans don’t have cookies* it’s just they don’t usually have home made ones. With many Korean homes not having ovens they don’t do much baking. They have their own variety of store bought cookies (can’t think of the name but I really like those ones that come in the yellow box) but sometimes homemade cookies can be a bit of a revelation for them when they come to somewhere like Australia.

My husband is addicted. He could eat a whole batch of cookies in one sitting. Eventually his obsession became too much and I had to wean him off them and only allow them as a treat because otherwise he wants to eat about 20 a day.

Seriously, when he’d come home from work he’d be like this:

For me, it’s been ingrained in me from my childhood that we should only each 1 or 2 cookies at a time and I feel guilty (and sick) if I eat too many at once. But he has no such guilt. Perhaps that is part of it too- I’ve had my whole life to get used to and to tire of cookies but for him it’s a new discovery.

He also gets upset if I want to share the cookies I’ve just baked with other people- like friends or neighbours. Such an idea usually causes exclamations like “Why??!! No!!!” But I just laugh at a grown man getting so upset about not being to eat all the cookies.

So while most other recipes on this blog will be for Korean food, I thought I’d share this cookie recipe. It’s quite simple, many other choc chip cookies recipes have many more ingredients, but sometimes simple is the best.

Favourite Choc Chip recipe:

Ingredients (Australian measurements)

250 grams of butter (softened)
1/2 cup caster sugar (or just white sugar)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 egg
half cup of choc chips (or 1 cup if you prefer)
1 and 3/4 cups of self raising flour

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and put baking paper on some oven trays.
2. Put the butter and both sugars into a bowl and mix with electric beaters on a medium speed.
3. Add the egg and vanilla essence to the bowl. Mix with electric beaters until it becomes lighter and and fluffier (about 4 mins).
4. Add the choc chips and half the flour to the bowl. Mix with a wooden smooth and then add the rest of the flour.
5. Make the mixture into balls and put on trays. Bake in oven for 15 mins. Take out trays and let them cool for 5 mins on trays.
6. Hide from your Korean husband.

* the words cookies and biscuits in Australia are somewhat interchangeable. ‘Cookie’ is more American but since Koreans are used to American English I use the word cookie more with my husband.

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YG Building

If you are a Big Bang fan you know what the YG building is. If you don’t know: it is the headquarters of YG Entertainment- the record company Big Bang (and other notable singers/groups) belong to. It is a unique looking building and easy to find in Seoul.

Last year I stayed with a friend in Seoul and her family just happens to live a few streets away from the YG building. In order to get to the train station she has to walk past YG. Although my friend is a fan of Big Bang she feels really embarrassed about walking past all the time and keeps her head down and doesn’t look.

She walks past like this:

 

When I stayed with her and had to walk past I was more like this:

Um… yeah. Okay it was more of a stage whisper I swear. And then I’d keep walking.

There are always fans opposite standing next to the convenience store though. They are hardcore. They are there in all kinds of weather. One time my friend and I had to go somewhere but it was pouring rain (monsoon season) and when we passed YG there were still fans waiting in the torrential rain!

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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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Reading Korean

I’m learning Korean. It’s pretty difficult. My teacher always tells the class to read aloud the dialogues and narratives in our text books at home. So I read to my husband to make sure I’m pronouncing things right. Now if I had to listen to someone read the same dialogue 10 times in English I would start banging my head against the wall. So overall he is very patient while I butcher Korean pronunciation.

However, this does happen.

So I’ll be forcing him to listen to me read.

And some more…

To make sure I understand I go to the back of the chapter to read the translations.

And that’s how I knew he wasn’t listening!

 

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K-pop

I’m ashamed to admit it but once I was a harsh critic of K-pop…

Years ago I had some Korean friends but I hadn’t been exposed to any Korean music yet. That changed when I moved to Sydney. My brother was already living in a big share apartment with mostly Koreans. I moved in as well and soon experienced a lot more Korean culture.

One of the first K-pop songs I heard was Big Bang’s ‘Lies’. And I absolutely hated it! One of our share mates played this song an awful lot. My brother and I made fun of it every time we heard it. And yeah we were pretty obnoxious about it…

I saw some other K-pop as well and all I thought was “what? Why are they dancing? This sounds so manufactured and 90’s”.

As a western person (particularly if you usually prefer rock or other types of music) there is a big wall to get through before you can enjoy K-pop. Once you get through it though it’s like “omg this is the best thing ever!”

My brother unfortunately had not got through that wall yet…

But, I did! It actually took me another year before I did and probably the main reason was because of G-Dragon. Yes, it’s all because of him. Although Big Bang was the first K-pop I really heard (and hated) actually now they are my favourite. (G-Dragon is a genius).

I still prefer bands that write their own music or are more involved in the process which is why I love CNBLUE as well.

I’m selective with what I like so just a few groups are my favourites but I’m aware and enjoy many more. I went to the 2011 Sydney K-pop music fest. Which was amazing! I wasn’t a huge fan of a lot of those groups, I originally went mostly for CNBLUE, but once I was there I really loved everyone. Please come back to Australia!

In conclusion I hope more and more people can enjoy K-Pop… even those who were obnoxiously mean about it.

Who are your favourite K-pop groups?

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Is he from North Korea or South Korea?

It is surprising how many people ask “Is he from North Korea or South Korea?” You’d think with Kim Jong Il dying last year and North Korea being in the news that people would understand the big differences between North Korea and South Korea. Unfortunately many don’t…

I’m also often shocked at how many people don’t realise that South Korea is a modern first world country and North Korea is a horrible communist regime that it is very hard to escape from.

The images we usually get of North Koreans show them as sad, starving and oppressed or being incredibly fake happy but always dressed in those dour grey or green ill fitted clothes. When I say my husband is from Korea is that what they are picturing in their mind?

Probably the answer is that they haven’t thought about it at all. So the conversation usually goes like this:

Me: My husband is from Korea so we (blah blah, whatever the reason for talking about him is).

Other person: Korea eh? I love the TV show MASH*. (Or some other MASH reference).

Me: Um… yeah.

Other person: Is he from North or South Korea?

Me:………..from South Korea

At this point I tend to feel really embarrassed for the person. I don’t know why because they generally have no idea at how ignorant they sound. But still I’ll rush on to hide the awkwardness.

Me: Oh, it is really hard to get out of North Korea because of the regime. Koreans you see here are always South Koreans.

Other person: Yeah, I really liked MASH.

Me: (just smiling and nodding)

I’ve also been asked whether North Koreans are allowed to leave for a holiday. Yes… the average North Korean holidays in Hawaii all the time…

So because people ask is he from North Korea or South Korea they must be thinking there is the possibility he is from the North right?**

What are they thinking? Do they think he is a North Korean spy or something? And if he is, do they think I’m completely oblivious and don’t know that he is?

That I’m all like this?

Do they think our relationship is like this?

I must be pretty clueless to not notice the camouflage clothes and binoculars…

Of course he doesn’t really look like that. He looks more like this:

EXACTLY like that! That drawing is the spitting image of him I swear.

 *Actually I do love MASH too.

**Perhaps to be fair there is a TINY TINY chance that my husband could be from North Korea. Those that do escape get rehabilitated in South Korea and can actually travel to countries like Australia eventually. However it’s a very small number who do and they seem to hide that they are from North Korea because of the stigma attached to it. Or he could really be a North Korean spy. Hmm…

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