Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Helpful" Advice/ Meeting 고모.

Sangju (상주), a rural town in western Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Last week at work:

"I'm going to Min Gi's hometown, Sangju, this weekend."

"Oh wow! That is so exciting. And important. Who will you meet there?" The teacher who sits next to me, Ms. Suh (who is also my boss), is unnaturally excited for my marriage and asks me questions about it every two days. She has even commented how strange it is for her to be so happy for me, but yet, we continue.

"I'm meeting 고모 [father's sister]."

Ms. Suh gets a very serious look. "Oh my, that is a very important meeting. Is she older or younger than your fiance's father?"

"Older, I think." (I have no idea. I found out later that she is younger than his father would be, were he alive today.)

"Hm... and all of his male relatives [Editor's note: they only count father's side as relatives in Korea] from that generation are dead? Oh, then this is the most important meeting. 고모 is not like 이모 [mother's sister]. 고모 is very important. I hope you are not nervous!" She then proceeds to ask me a hundred questions I don't know the answers to, like if 고모 has any children and if we'll be meeting in her house.

No, I'm not nervous at all, now, Ms. Suh. Thanks.


I call Min Gi shortly after this (interrogation) conversation and drill him. He is patient and for all the questions he doesn't know the answer to, he says, "I will call her after I hang up with you and find out." What a darling.

But all the things the teachers at school tell me about Korean weddings and Korean men are starting to get to me.

Mrs. Lim: "Are you going to prepare money and gifts for his family? Most women have to pay a lot of money to their in-laws before getting married, like $3,000. And if you get your in-laws the wrong present, they will 'tease' you about it at every holiday forever. Korean mother-in-laws never let you forget your mistake."

Mrs. Kim: "Oh Korean men are very sweet when they are dating, but after marriage they change. They don't want to do any nice things for you and expect you to do all the cooking and cleaning perfectly for them. Really, you won't know until after you're married."

Mrs. Park: "Your families won't meet until one week before the wedding? Oh, that is very bad luck."

Mrs. Choi: "Korean men all drink too much. My husband is out most nights drinking. He doesn't spend much time with his sons."

AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!!! *head explodes*

So when my dear, sweet, atypical Korean guy walks in the door Sunday morning, ready to take me to meet his 고모, and makes the mistake of commenting on the cat vomit I hadn't yet cleaned (too busy getting ready), I snap and unload all of this manufactured angst onto his unsuspecting head.

Somewhere in the middle of my insane meltdown/freak-out, he sits down on the couch and says, "Hey, come here." After I refuse, he insists.

He puts his arms around me and looks into my eyes, "Why are you listening to those women? They don't know me. They don't know my family. If I tell you that you don't need to give my mom money, then that's it, she doesn't expect it. When I tell you I'm not going to change after we get married, you have to believe me. I believe you. I trust you. You have to listen to me.


I start to laugh, even though I'm still crying. "How did you get to be so smart?"

"Let's go meet my aunt!"


Turns out 고모 is not a frightening matriarch, but rather a kind, worldly woman who, unable to have her own children with her husband, lavishes her motherly love, attention, and wisdom on her nieces and nephews. Over delicious raw fish, we chatted about life, my family, our plans, and she offered us lots of advice about marriage, like not going to bed angry and being forgiving of each other if we make a mistake. She was not intimidated by the fact that I was a foreigner nor was she overly curious about it, merely thoughtful and accepting. I couldn't have imagined a better outcome for our first encounter.

고모 shares the last of the 자두 on her farm.

I think, through her, I can see some of the positive qualities Min Gi has described his father as having, qualities that he also possesses to make others feel at ease and to understand the world and its people in comprehensive and respectful ways. I love her already.

Min Gi and I pose in front of the scenic Nakdong River.

After (a very filling) lunch, she offered to play tour guide for us around Sangju. We went to a temple known for it's ancient wood carvings on the inside of the main temple, Namjeongsa, then to 고모's small farm for fresh Korean plums (자두), and finally to the small walking park near the Nakdong river. One of Min Gi's older cousins drove and the four of us had a lovely time out in the Korean countryside.

The iron Buddha is surrounded by the painted ancient wood carvings at the temple's inner altar.

The weather was perfect and the company was grand. Check out all of the photos in the album:

Sangju--Meeting Min Gi's Relatives


  1. I am so happy I had a great three weeks getting to know Min Gi - he is just as you describe during your meltdown. I love you, dear, and I think you've chosen the perfect guy to marry - even if you had to travel half way around the world to find him. Love to both of you!


  2. I am so glad that my Korean husband is not Korean and my Korean mother-in-law is not Korean.

    I was told to never marry a Korean man because they are lazy and do nothing around the house and listen to their mothers too much.

    And my stock response? "Normal" Korean men would never dare marry white women.

  3. Congratulations Diana! May things go smoothly here on out :) Oh, and keep the positive / interesting stories coming after the wedding too.



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