Thursday, October 28, 2010

THAT'S a wedding gift!

One of my favorite things about studying (besides learning another language and being able to talk to my birth family, yada yada yada) is the opportunity to learn first-hand about other cultures from my classmates.

This semester it's cool because our increased ability to speak with our classmates allows us to have really amazing conversations. More and more, our teachers will introduce how things are done in Korea and then ask us to share how things are done in our respective countries.

For example, today we were talking about wedding gifts. In Korea, people normally give money. To an acquaintance you are expected to give the equivalent of $30. And for a good friend, about $50. And for a best friend or family member, you can give more if you wish.

In Japan, money is also the most commonly given gift. But here's where it gets crazy... an acquaintance should get about $300.... and a good friend? How about $1,000+!?!?! Talk about breaking into a cold sweat when a wedding invitation arrives in your mailbox!!! Gak!

Monday, October 25, 2010

I promise...

I promise the China wedding post is coming soon. Just totally overloaded right now with school. Seriously, did I mention there are only TWO WEEKS left of semester 2? Which means the midterm is just around the corner. 진짜 무서워요 [really scared]!!! Mark and I are actually investigating the possibility of some private tutoring at the hagwon we went to when we first arrived in Korea for our 2.5 week break between levels 2 and 3. Our listening and speaking levels just don't seem to be where we need them to be, so maybe some 2 on 1 practice will help move us in the right direction.

Plus, I have been limping through level 2 and was informed that level 3 is 10x worse. As in, level 1 to 2 is a step up in difficulty. Then level 2 to 3 is a LEAP up. Yeah, some extra help/practice is absolutely necessary.

Anyway, I promise a post is forthcoming... once I can get the pictures uploaded to flickr and Mark can edit some of our videos.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back in ROK!

We're back in Korea and do we have some stories to tell. But first we have to work and prepare for classes tomorrow.

So I'll just leave you with this little teaser... our trip to China included the shadiest zoo imaginable, a marching band, Star Wars, some angels, and huge pigs. More to come soon....

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

SangKwun and ChunPing's Korean Wedding

I thought before we leave that I should get the Korean wedding post out. So here it is... I'm not including as many pictures, since most of them were on the slide show Mark put together here. But I want to tell SangKwun and ChunPing's Korean wedding story and follow up with a China one when we return.

ChunPing and SangKwun left at noon to get wedding makeup and hair done. They weren't due to arrive at the hotel until 4pm, so you counted correctly. That was 4 hours of makeup and hair.

Meanwhile, at our apartment, Mark and I got to spend some time with Birth Father and my aunt, uncle and cousin. We ate a snack and Birth Father took everyone's blood pressure. Probably not a bad idea prior to a big event like a wedding. Only better would've been if we could've taken the bride and groom's blood pressure! I wish I had gotten a picture of that, but my camera battery was charging.

Then my aunt and cousin braided my hair and helped me put on my hanbok. It's actually pretty complicated with a bunch of layers and special bows/knots.

One thing I've definitely gotten used to in Korea is the lack of modesty around people of the same sex. I've been to the saunas here and people strut their stuff in the women's area of the locker room without a second thought. (Mark tells me it's the same on the men's side.) One of the girls I worked with last year was a Korean American and married a Korean man. Upon first meeting her future mother-in-law, they went to a sauna and her future mother-in-law insisted on scrubbing each other's backs as it would make them closer.

So when my aunt and cousin took me into a bedroom and told me to strip, I just went with it.


After I was dressed, we went to the hotel. The wedding didn't start until 6:30, but ChunPing was already sitting on a little chaise for pictures. She sat on this chaise for nearly 2 hours while the rest of us posed for pictures around her.

Most of the shots were pretty formal and serious, but I got one fun one with the bride.


At the wedding, I also had the opportunity to meet a few more family members. This is Birth Father's oldest brother and his wife. When they met me, they both said that I look exactly my grandmother. Interesting.


Also, I sort of introduced him before, but my half-brother also came to the wedding. Since I posted the picture of him here, I've gotten more information. I originally thought he was my step-brother but have since found out he is actually my half-brother. His mom was my birth father's second wife. He is 22 and currently serving his required time in the Korean military.

This isn't really the best picture of him, but here's a shot of the two of us chatting.


Then the wedding finally started and it was basically the same as an American wedding with a lot more bowing. The bride and groom bow to each other and then to each set of parents.

After the ceremony, the guests eat and the bride and groom go from table to table bowing and thanking their guests for coming, then to a separate room for a Korean ceremony.

Guests don't RSVP to Korean weddings, so you never know how many people will show up. This wedding had a case of about 20 extra people coming and not enough seats in the banquet room. In this case, the extra guests are given meal vouchers to eat at the hotel's other restaurants. So Mark and I went with a few of our friends that were invited to the hotel's Japanese restaurant.

It's ended up being... sushi. Again. It was okay for me, though the sushi lovers thought it was great. I liked the fried tempura and fruit that came with it. Oh, and the beer!


Here are Mark and I rocking our hanboks at dinner.


Afterwards, we went to the Korean ceremony where there are all sorts of traditions like the bride and groom pouring various family members drinks and receiving money from said family members.

This is a cool tradition where the parents throw jujubees into the cape and the number that the bride and groom catch signify the number of children they'll have. I think they caught 4 or 5.


Mark and I had a part of this as well. As the younger sister, we sat with the couple. Emily fed me some food, SangKwun and Mark had a drink together, and we wished them luck in their marriage.


After that, the wedding was officially over. Not so much fun for the bride and groom -- they didn't even get to eat dinner!

But afterwards, all the friends and siblings went out to a bar for the after party. And apparently, that is also when the real party begins. :)

Apparently, it's part of Korean culture to for the friends to make the bride and groom do all sorts of things at the wedding after-party.

It started out with making them sing... loudly... in the middle of a bar and escalated from there.

Next was the passing of the raw egg yolk. They put an egg yolk into the bottom of the glass, then filled the glass with beer. SangKwun had to chug the beer, then put the egg yolk in his mouth and pass it from his mouth to ChunPing's mouth. Then ChunPing had to pass it back to his mouth without breaking it. Anyone who knows how I feel about cooked eggs can probably guess how I felt about this game... good thing it wasn't me getting married. :/


Then, came the worst part of all. Everyone at the table could put money into a cup, and then could put whatever they could find at the table into a bowl. So this bowl had soju, beer, pickle juice, kimchi jiggae, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and who knows what else... Actually SangKwun's friends were pretty nice and only put food in there. I've seen other groups where people added cigarette ashes, hair, and even spit in the bowl. Gag...


They, they strained the mixture through ChunPing's tights.


And SangKwun had to chug a glass of it. Which he started to do... then promptly ran into the girls bathroom to throw it up. Haha.


Aren't all of you glad that you got married in America now!?!? No solo songs, raw eggs, or mystery drinks. :)

Anyway, it was a fun night and I'm so glad I was here to experience it. Congratulations SangKwun and ChunPing! Here's to many, many years of happiness (and to never having to drink a mystery drink again)!!!!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Visas... check!

Thanks to everyone for the great advice. We will be going to China in two(!) short days. I talked to my teachers and got all the worksheets, etc. so I think we'll be okay. Plus we'll be hanging out with some Korean language experts, so if we have any grammar questions, we can ask them. :)

We received our visas to China today. (Side note: getting a tourist visa to China is expensive for Americans. For us, it costs $150 for a single visit visa. For everyone else around the world... $30. What gives?!??!)

Anyway, all we have left to do are our speaking interviews tomorrow, pack, then we're off to China bright and early Thursday morning for 6 whole days of fun!!! We're not bringing our computers with us, so we won't blog until we're back in Korea. But I have no doubt we'll take tons of pictures and videos so there'll be plenty to blog about when we get back. 안녕 and BYE!

Safety first!

This was literally right next to our apartment building. One day there was a pork restaurant and the next day... demolition. But over the weekend, when they were closing up shop, they left the machinery parked like this for the weekend. (Please notice the loose rocks it is resting atop tilted toward the street.) Let's just hope the parking break was on. Oh Korea...


Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Hangul Day!

Did you see Google's homepage yet? Today is hangul day.... the day the Korean alphabet was invented 564 short years ago. To celebrate, I'm going to be studying these characters aaaallllllll day.

Chatting with the cuz

Today Mark and I met for the first time with my cousin, Su Bin. She is a college student, and it seems that her father and Birth Father are close since I see her the most often at family events.

To jog your memory, here we are in the car going to SangKwun and ChunPing's wedding.


We've decided to start meeting regularly so she can practice English and we can practice Korean. Plus, this way I can try to get to know her better. We've had other language partners, but this is so much cooler because this is someone I'm actually blood related to and by learning the language am able to communicate better with. Seriously, this is something most people probably take for granted, but being here and getting to know people that I have the same genes and blood as is so amazing. I can't even put it into words.

We had so much fun chatting for a couple hours yesterday and though Mark and I can get a little frustrated with our level and where we think we should be, days like this remind us that we really can communicate fairly well and we just need to keep practicing.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oh yeah... China does censor

Living over here and seeing my family go back and forth between China and Korea so easily, it's easy to forget that China is still (at least technically) a communist country. But then Mark sent SangKwun and ChunPing the link to the wedding slideshow he made for them and posted on YouTube and they couldn't access it. YouTube is blocked in China! Weird...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


We had our listening, reading, and speaking midterms today. Speaking wasn't bad. But listening... ugh. They had a CD of some people speaking super-super fast, the sound quality sucked, and our teachers played and replayed it really fast, not giving us much time to read the questions in between. We also have our writing midterm tomorrow, then our speaking interview next week. Blechety blech blech.

I'm actually a bit worried since Birth Father bought us our tickets to attend the Chinese wedding and we're going to have to miss more class than we originally thought. Our initial plan was to leave on Thursday the 14th and return Sunday the 17th. But there were no flights returning to Seoul on the 17th... the earliest flight returns on TUESDAY the 19th. So as things are, we're going to miss 4 days of class, which is huge at the speed these classes move.

I'm really flip-flopping on this one. The reason I'm here is to spend time with my birth family, and this wedding will be really special. But missing 4 days of class (especially in light of the most recent listening midterm from hell) completely stresses me out and could hurt my goal of learning the language to get to know my family more in the long term.

So, whoever's out there reading... please weigh in. Should I go to China? Stay in Korea and study?!?!?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Korean Wedding Slideshow

I promise, a longer wedding post with descriptions will follow when I have time... this happens to be midterm week, so we're in the midst of cramming for our 2 exams on Wednesday and 1 exam on Thursday. Blargh.

However, SangKwun and Emily's wedding was perfect in every way and I am SO glad we had the opportunity to share in their special day.

For now, here's a slideshow Mark put together for them. He also took a majority of these pictures and I think he did an amazing job with both. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Seoul Design Fair

One of the cool things about living in such a big city are the many things to do and see. Last weekend we went with a couple friends to The Seoul Design Fair. Basically, it was a huge event with exhibitions showcasing all sorts of cool designs. From cell phones to offices to bikes, there was a lot to see.

There was an international area with different innovations from around the world.


Here's a future office (or school) idea....


And if your office looks like this maybe you'll experience...


But who are we kidding. No one experiences "joy in work." :)

This is super-Korean. It kind of shows how a lot of things are packaged and wrapped here. If you buy a big, expensive box of food in a department store, a lot of times they'll wrap it in material like this. But it's never quite this pretty.


Here's furniture that's about right for Mark...


A very Asian home idea...


And the whole stadium was filled with exhibits in the seats too. These were some of my favorites:




Overall, it was a cool thing to see, but really was just a lot of walking around and looking. There are more festivals coming up in the next month or so, a fireworks festival on the Han River, a lantern festival, and more. Looking forward to going to all of them!