I lived in South Korea for a year right out of college.
Tonight I was nostalgic about old Canadian boyfriends, and realised maybe I should remember they're not so special and I can therefore wax poetic about quite a few nationalities. (I'm like the United Nations Delegate of Relationships - or maybe just sex). And remember I had a good life before he even waltzed onto my stage.
Anyhow, some old notes by me on a Korean boy I dated rather seriously while I was there. Sadly, our love did not outlast the culture shock. Nor the fact that my Scottish friend teased me relentlessly about him having a gold tooth.
The other day my mothers' class and I were discussing signs of affection. Koreans are fairly sterile in greeting--a quick bow is expected, although if you're a woman (or even for the men) and close friends, holding hands and linking arms is quite common. Although couples do not hold hands.....anyways, my point: We were discussing how we say goodbye and one of my mothers said "Every morning my husband wants to kiss me goodbye before he goes to work, but I am too shy to let him." They've been married 5 years and have 2 children. I often wonder how children get procreated between two people who won't kiss each other goodbye in the morning.
But I'm generalising ("you're always generalising," Inju scolds me), still the sexual rigidity between properly married people as opposed to the sordid underbelly of legal prostituation is really bewildering. Men expect their wives to be virgins when they're married and if she isn't there all all sorts of convenient surgeries offered in Korea.
It's strange for me to be a Western woman here dating a Korean man. Inju and I step on each other's toes a lot, regardless of how tolerant we each believe ourselves to be. For instance, he literally won't allow me to smoke when I'm around him. He about had a heart attack at Alison's bon voyage party when he came out on the balcony to discover me and a gang of fellow smoker destroying our lungs together. He then promptly found my bag and confiscated my cigarettes for the evening, which was fine because I had had too much anyway that night.
The funny thing is that the fact that smoking is harmful to my health is second on his mind. He's more worried about the fact that people may find me trashy if I smoke, which is funny because the only times I really smoke heavily is with other foreigners and we're _all_ considered trashy. But I guess you only smoke here as a woman if you're a prostitute. Though I have seen more than my share of Korean women sneaking a quick smoke in the bathroom whle desperately waving perfume and mouthwash around trying to disguise the smell from their husbands.
He also complains when I use profanities and told Jeremy I was like a "fuck factory" the other evening, at which Jeremy about died laughing. I guess Inju didn't realize that while he was trying to poetically expound on the fact that I say "fuck" alot, the translation came out quite differently. To be honest, Inju's English is infinitely better than mine, I think he memorized a thesaurus, but I can still catch him on the idiomatic expressions, the homecourt advantage of any native speaker.
The funniest thing is that he can't stand when I speak "lovingly" (his word) to him in public. "Lovingly" is probably, "pass the pitcher dearest, " which is actually directed at anyone near the beer. But Inju thinks it's somehow equivalent to us having sex on the table in front of everyone. I suggested that while they're thinking that, we might as well do it, at which I got a sigh of impatience. Sarcasm is not appreciated as much in the Korean sense of humor.
At any rate I was thrilled to death when at my birthday part he actually KISSED ME ON THE CHEEK in front of EVERYONE! I knew it was a huge sacrifice for him to lower his standards in front of my fellow way-guks, and it meant a lot. At any rate we scandalize each other, me with my brashness (I'm always daringly sneaking kisses in the riskiest places around town) and him with his damn confucianist Buddhist eastern medicine stoicism. More than one argument has ended with "And no more green tea! Ever! I can't drink anymore Inju!"
Also, Korean men never give women compliments here (which once again has me wondering about the whole race procreates), so I've had to do my fair share of training. My usual greeting of Inju is "¿¡³ç! ÄªÂù Ãß¼¼¿ä!"Along the lines of "Hello! I wan t a compliment." Well, he'd better give them. For my birthday, one of of my male students actually gave me a kiss on the cheek in the teacher's office. All the women there giggled. However, Inju couldn't believe he did it. "How dare he! (when I told him) What affrontery! (Yes, he used that word) Surely, you're joking!" Again expect the unexpected. Whatever you think is a rule never is for very long.
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