Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's in Seoul (Day One--Korean Family Love and Snow)

Upon reflection, I feel like Korea has managed to flip my holidays all around backwards. Christmas was my big party with friends time. New Year's was a quiet family celebration. It was rather odd to have them reversed, but I feel exceptionally lucky that I still got both. However, given how much happened in the last few days, I'm needing to split this up into several posts. To see the whole photo set, go here:

New Year's in Seoul, Gunpo, and Anyang

Saturday morning Se Jin and I managed to meet for the 9:30 am bus (no easy feat for us when we were at work until 10:30 the night before and I for one hadn't packed or cleaned) to Suwon, a city just south of Seoul proper. We slept the whole way. The Suwon express terminal is further from the subway than the train station so we had to navigate the Seoul bus system. I was glad Se Jin knew where she was going.

Her eldest sister, Soon Keum, and the rest of my Korean family I hadn't seen since Chuseok greeted us at the Gunpo subway station. We went to a delicious tofu restaurant and feasted (although, as with other restaurant selections this weekend, I felt like I was a bit of an inconvenience being vegetarian, but I tried to tell them that anywhere they want is ok and I'll find something to eat). Then back to the house to relax after our trip. Much silly playing with children ensued, which was exactly what I needed at the time.

Soon Keum's husband, son Seong Jin, and daughter whose name I cannot remember but is the cutest child ever and tried to teach me to read her Korean children's books.

Se Jin's brother-in-law is the most loving, affectionate father I've ever met in person. Which is impressive because all of the males in her family are doting on the children. Actually, the open affection that adult men show to children here kind of shocked me a little because I hadn't realized how much it was missing from American culture. There is a commercial for the KTX here that makes me tear up a bit--a father goes to take a picture of his sleeping daughter and then stops to adjust the bow in her hair a little and smiles in a heartbreakingly beautiful manner... If I weren't too lazy, I'd hunt it down on Youtube. Don't get me wrong, Korean family dynamics can be some of the most obnoxiously dichotomized gender roles I've encountered, to the point that some men don't even live with their families--merely send home a paycheck, but not the Kwons.

See what I mean? Another brother-in-law with niece Hennie at the ski resort (more on that part of the weekend to come)

One highly unexpected thing I've learned about myself in Korea and was reminded of in spending the weekend with my surrogate family is that I figured out that I do want to get married and have kids if I can. It's shocking for me to openly admit something like that (coming from the cynical, overly-intellectual, career-focused achievers that I do), but I think it's one reason why I've gotten so picky about love lately. It's like if he's not someone I could see myself with in that way, why waste my time? Maybe when other women figure this out they get less selective because they are looking for a sperm-donor-as-mate, but I'm looking for something more.

Soon Keum with daughter

In the meantime, I'm enjoying my adventures, projects, and friends. Just if I do find someone worthy when I'm still young enough for it to make sense to do so, I know now that I'd want to have a family with them. Enough digression and terrifying my friends and family with the thought of me one day reproducing...

In the evening, we bundled back in the car and drove to the center of downtown--a street called Cheongyecheon-no which has been converted into a park with lots and lots of lights and an artificial stream. It seems very popular with Koreans. It was strange, and beautiful in a kind of horrible way, and very very cold.

Neon Asphyxiation

I noticed that even though I was still the only foreigner around most of the time, in Seoul I get stared at less than in Daegu. I don't really know why that is, but it seemed funny because I was hanging out with a Korean family and small children were calling me "이모" (imo, meaning mother's sister, or auntie) and blathering on at me in Korean that I only understood some of, but acted like I knew what they were saying.

I'm beginning to appreciate some part of what it might be like for my black sister in our all-white family... in a strange, new way.

On the way home from downtown, it started snowing. It was so beautiful, I texted many people back in Daegu my newly learned phrase: 서울에서 눈이 와요. 많이 예빠요. In Seoul, the snow comes. It's very beautiful. Nothing quite like making friends jealous, eh? Except I think I spelled one of the words wrong and that the word I used for "beautiful" applies mostly to women, not scenery. Oh well. I'm often an idiot in Korean. I'm told it's charming and cute. I suspect people are just being polite.

To be continued...

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