Meeting the Parents, the Second and Sneaky Smiles

Yesterday I met Good Man’s family again. I’ve never been to the National Museum of Korea, so I suggested we go there. Good Man and I met around 1:40 his parents and younger sister joined us around 2:30. Since it was pouring all day, the museum ended up being a good activity.

With Good Man’s Family
Good Man and his father stand the same way.

At the museum we didn’t talk much, all just sort of wandered around, connecting to answer (my) questions or to decide where to go next. We only looked at about half the museum as it really is rather large. We didn’t get the tickets to the special exhibit on Persia. I thought the most interesting floor was the first floor, with lots of information about Korea’s history. Family records, royal 도장s (name stamps), slave sale records, a whole display on maps…

When I was in junior high and high school, the walls of my room were covered with maps, most of them from National Geographic. Star maps, world maps, sea floor maps, pre-WWII maps I managed to find in Nat Geos at a used bookstore, maps of the USSR. I really liked the map section of the exhibit.


In the exhibit, there was a lot of information about a Korean cartographer, Kim Jeong-ho, 김정호, pen name Gosanja. This man actually walked up and down, all over the country to make a complete map of Korea. He marked the map every 4/10ths of a kilometer (I think) and did something to the scale so that the mountains and valleys were not measured the same way. It made it so that you could more accurately visually guess the walking time between distances. He made this huge map, 대동여지도, daedongyeo jido, which was more than 8 by 64 meters, made of hundreds of sheets of paper that could be folded into volumes so you only had to carry part of the map around. That was really cool to learn about. Though he made this in the mid-1800s, it’s rather accurate, too.

This meeting with Good Man’s family was much more comfortable and relaxed than last time. We didn’t chat a lot in the museum, which took some pressure off, I’m sure, but it was more than that. We all seemed less nervous, which was nice.

Mother and Father
Mother was trying to get Father to pay attention, he just wanted to joke around.

Good Man’s mother kept trying to buy me things. At the first museum gift shop she kept asking about this, then that, then the other. The things in the gift shop were lovely, but I’m not big on getting things I don’t need. I do, just not often. Good Man whispered, “Pick something. She is going to get you something.”

I chose a silver bookmark with a 도깨비 기와 on it. Monster motifs are used on roof tiles a lot, and they’re thought to protect people against bad spirits and disasters. Mother said that I needed another bookmark, because one would be lonely. Good Man told her it was fine and only told me later what she’d said. If I’d heard Mother, I would’ve said the bookmark and the book go together, so the bookmark wouldn’t be lonely. Alas, I’ll have to keep that in the back of my mind for another time.

Later, at the second gift shop, she wanted to buy earrings, a little taekwondo statuette, a dojang case, and so on. Good Man said, “She really likes to shop.”

Good Man’s mother also touched my hands a few times, had me sit next to her for a little rest, and exchanged smiles with me a few times. Since she was the family member most worried about me being a foreigner, it felt nice.


After the museum, we headed to Itaewon to have some food. I rarely go to Itaewon. (I think this was my fourth time there.) After retracing our steps three times (seriously), we ended up eating Greek food. Ordering the food was an amusing little diversion. Good Man’s family really likes getting a salad, soup, etc with their meal. I’m more used to ordering a main dish and splitting an appetizer.

So Good Man’s family was trying to decide what to eat and being very indecisive. (This explains so much about Good Man.) At one point the server came over (we hadn’t even yelled “여기요!”). She was standing behind me and I put my hand over my mouth to whisper something to her. Before I could say anything Sister started giggling and then I did, too. The waitress grinned and said, “OK, a few minutes.”


Good Man took this photo. He says I have a “sneaky smile.” If I have a sneaky smile, then surely his sister does, too.

Sister and Me

So Father pulled out a pen and started making a list on his napkin. Seven main dishes, a salad, a soup, an appetizer. He was so organized with this list, dividing it into portions, writing the item’s name and number on his list… All of us were laughing about it. I suspect it’s nothing new to them, this napkin list.

Father Takes Notes

During dinner we chatted a bit about my childhood (a Christmas tree-less, Christmas wall-wreath year). At one point I managed to act out—with Good Man’s help—the little spiel my brother and I had when we sold candy bars to get to YMCA camp. (Good Man, bless him, is not an actor.) Sister said that it would be hard when Good Man and I have to be apart for six-seven weeks this summer. She’s a smart girl.

Sister, Caught
Good Man took this photo, too. There’s something I find really beautiful about his sister. I can’t put my finger on it. I wish I could just take her out for a day and shoot a couple hundred frames of her.

After dinner (about five hours together total), Good Man’s family headed back home on the subway. I really like how Good Man has met me before these meetings, and spent a little time with me after these meetings. It gives us time to relax together, to chat. And if I had met them, one-on-four, it’d be more overwhelming. It’s not quite an Us vs. Them thing, but it does feel like we are an us when we greet them together and take leave of them together.

I thought Good Man would want to go home soon, but he said last weekend his mother wondered why he got home so early, so we headed out for coffee and a tiny bit of hanja studying.

A very, very nice day with his family.

Next up…a meeting next weekend. At his house. Dun-dun.


Good Man


Jeonju Friends

This afternoon Good Man and I met up with Jeonju Friends, A and CH. We had some dinner, bought some books at COEX, just chatted and hung out.

When we had to part ways, Good Man went in one direction. CH, A, their daughter and I went the other direction. I was the first to get off the subway. I gave A and CH hugs, squeezed their daugher’s hand, stepped off the subway. I thought it would be a bit easier, as I had to transfer, had to depart the subway.

A few steps away, I turned around. Their daughter, seated, was craning her neck to look out the door. A and CH were standing, waving and I knew I was going to start crying. Of course, A and I start tearing up at the same time. I was thinking, Doors, close. Close. This isn’t easy.

These are the people who put me up when I was homeless, who helped me with the Labor Board over my former employer, who gave great advice when Good Man and I were going through hell (not between us, but about us) last year, who’ve helped me study Korean (CH) and who I can call and talk about anything with (A).

And this is the last time I’ll see them in how long?

Nineteen days to my departure and the goodbyes are starting.

My mom says it’s not different than when I had to say goodbye to come here, but she’s absolutely wrong. I knew I’d eventually come back to the States. I don’t know when I’ll be coming back here.

Being Friends, Late

Last night I went out with two of my coworkers, Music Teacher (left) and the Science Teacher with a Secret (right). We had some Korean food, just chatted about work and men. Nothing out of the ordinary for three women after work.

Except I was speaking Korean the whole time, with about a half dozen trips between the three of us to my electronic dictionary, and re-explaining in simple English what I meant three times.

Yesterday, after the students left school, we had some sort of Teachers’ Sports Day at another school. While we sat down and snacked, I ended up chatting—in Korean—with teachers I don’t know very well.

It’s a bit frustrating that just weeks before I’m leaving, I start forming new friendships. It’s frustrating that weeks before I leave, I can suddenly hold a conversation in Korean for 20 mins with new people, an hour over dinner with new friends, two hours with 75% Korean rate with Good Man’s family.

When I started studying Korean, I did so purely to a) buy food, get places, understand times and general commands and b) understand what was going on in taekwondo. After a while, my reasons evolved. I wanted to be able to write letters to Master, to thank him for his kindness. Then, I wanted to be able to read children’s books. But for a while now—probably unwisely—my goal has just been “to improve.”

I’ve been getting fruatrated lately because the grammar forms and vocab I’m learning aren’t used daily like they were at level 1A/B, and to a large extent level 2A/B, of Sogang. But the past week has felt so good.

When I started learning Korean, I never thought I’d chat with some coworkers over lunch or find out a co-worker’s secret. I never thought I’d make girl talk over drinks after work, read a newspaper blurb about myself, or blog in Korean.

And I sure as hell never thought I’d meet a Korean man’s parents!

I wonder—if I keep studying Korean, just keep chipping away at it—what I’ll be doing with it in another year. Or two.

Visa and Family and Podcast Matters

“Amanda, why are you leaving Korea? What about Good Man?” A few people have asked in comments, a few people have asked via email. I gave my reason on the Seoul Podcast, and now I can do it here.

(Seoul Podcast, huh? I was invited to do an episode of Zen Kimchi and Jennifer Teacher‘s Seoul Podcast. Go listen to it! By the way, there are some sound qualities for a bit, but we re-Skyped and fixed it, so it does get much better.)


Ready To Go

Yep, that’s Good Man’s brand spanking new student visa! (Good Man applied for grad schools before we even met; it had nothing to do with me.)

Since we’re both leaving soon, I met his family yesterday. I don’t really know what to say about it. We arranged to meet at Il Vino Rosso, a beautiful Italian restaurant set near Namsan Park. It was his younger sister’s birthday, and a coworker said it was a good sign that his family wanted to meet on a special day.

Good Man and I met near Seoul Station at 5 pm, and we wrapped the gifts I’d brought. For his sister, a graphic designer, a book about typography. For his parents, a photo book about America and three leftover Minnesota magnets that my parents brought me so I could give them as gifts to people.

We took a taxi to the restaurant and Good Man told me that his father and sister had asked him what sorts of questions they should ask me. Now, Good Man and I have been practicing possible questions and answers in Korean for weeks now and he didn’t tell them those questions. Oh, Good Man.

We were a few minutes late, but his family was even later, so it was OK. As soon as they got there and we did this “half-bowing, half-not-bowing, oh God, do we act really Korean, somewhat Korean, or Western?” routine, I realized that his family was as nervous as I was.

We made a tiny bit of small talk and his mother asked him to tell me their names. Good Man—who’s never told his parents about a girlfriend before me—knew I knew his sister’s name, so he said, “Why? She isn’t going to call you by your names.”

He’s right, of course. I would call his sister by her name, and his parents “[Good Man]’s Mom/Dad,” but twenty-nine hours later and I’m still laughing about his response.

Good Man’s father speaks English fluently, but his mother and sister don’t. Mother was concerned about communicating with me, so I tried to speak as much Korean as possible. It was typical Korean small talk—my family, why I came to Korea, where I’ve been in Korea, if I like kimchi—with a bit more meat—can I get a job in America, will I come back to Korea?

I tried to make some jokes a few times to lighten the mood and it seemed to work. Sister asked when we met and about our first date. I asked Good Man if I could tell her, and he said yes. “입이 없었어요!” He didn’t have a mouth! It means “he was very quiet.” Mother and Sister laughed and both said, “Father is like that, too!” And Father, who indeed, was very quiet, nodded. I told her that he seemed so bored on our first date that I didn’t think he was interested, but that on the second date he talked more. Mother asked if he speaks more in English and he does, but he’s still fairly quiet.

Mother said that she’s worried about him moving out of the house because he’s never done it. She asked about my problems in Korea (she knew about the eviction) and asked if I miss my mother. I said that I moved out at 20, and I always miss my mother. She said that sometimes living alone must be hard. I agreed and said Good Man would have an even harder time. “왜냐하면 요리할 줄 몰라요.” Because he doesn’t know how to cook! His mom and sister laughed. Mother said Father can’t cook either, and he shrugged. Sister said to Good Man, “You can’t cook?”

“He can cook ramyeon.”

Mother lightly scolded him, “You can’t eat ramyeon all the time!”

His sister asked about my job and I said I liked teaching fifth and sixth graders the most because…I didn’t know exactly what to say, so I acted out how the boys and girls flirt with each other. I hit Good Man and made him spill some of his coffee. Oooops…

His father told me (in English) about learning English from the Peace Corps volunteers in the 60s. There was a lot of dictation and writing. He laughed and said, “Maybe, today, that’s not such a good method.”

Good Man surprised me a few times during dinner, sort of lecturing his mother over some matter about living in the States. I understood most of what he said but asked to clarify. He kept his clarifications short, so I didn’t press it.

I brought some family photos, and Sister asked me if I had any of Good Man and me. Good Man said he had some at home and I found out he shared them today. His mother demanded he give me a family photo they had done a year ago. I know the photo she means, as he keeps it in his wallet.

Near the end of dinner, Mother and Sister decided that we should meet again, hopefully twice before Father returns to his work in the middle east. I suppose that’s a good sign.

After a little over two hours, we parted ways. Good Man’s family went home in their car, we went to a subway station together. I’m really glad we were able to come together and leave together, because I needed the alone time with him. I had spoken Korean a solid 75% of the time. I often asked Good Man if I’d heard correctly in English mostly because his mother and sister were speaking fairly quietly, but I had understood. Speaking that much Korean while trying to be charming and sweet was exhausting. It’s much easier to be charming in English or with Good Man translating.

On the subway, I received a very kind text message from his sister. And this morning she made me a friend on her Cyworld page with a message that she wants to get to know me better. I know she likes me, at least. And she seems lovely.

So the end result is that

a) his family was very happy with how much Korean I spoke and we’re meeting again next weekend. I told Good Man that we can not just do dinner, we have to do something else, such as go to a museum so we can have something else to talk about
b) I want to learn more about his sister because I think we could be friends, I think Good Man gets his quietness from his father, and he surely gets his smile from his mother.

Today, just before Good Man left my house, his mother called and said, “We’re eating chicken soup right now. Let’s eat chicken soup for our next meeting.” That was all she said. Not “oh and when are you leaving,” not “come home,” just “let’s eat chicken soup.”


“Yeah, it is a good summer dish,” Good Man said.

The Hanboks Are Here and I Can’t Bow

Today Good Man and I got to pick up our hanboks. Although we bought them at the market, for some reason we had to pick them up at a small boutique near Banpo. Good Man thinks that the boutique women may have been the ones who made them, though we bought them from the market. I’m not sure, but we were told not to mention the price we paid.

When we got there, an engaged couple was in front of us. They looked so unhappy. I mentioned it to Good Man after they left, and he said, “Well, marriage is a duty here.”

The woman who helped us was really nice and friendly, very kind. Also, I understood all of her Korean and we were able to have a conversation. I’m not sure when that will ever stop feeling good.

She took me in the back room and taught my how to put the hanbok on. Wow, it really did compress my chest. And I got to use the word 젖꼭지 to indicate where the tassel hangs from. The hanbok consists of: white pantaloons, white underskirt, pink skirt, blue jacket, thick white socks, red shoes, and a pink purse. Instead of wearing the pantaloons, she just had me keep the silk skirt I’d worn on. She also taught me how to tie the bow, though I think I’ll need to practice that quite a bit.

When I came out and looked in the mirror I said, “임신한 버섯인 것 같아요.” I look like a pregnant mushroom. The woman nodded and said all women look like that.


Good Man put his entire hanbok on over the clothing he was wearing. His hanbok consists of loose pants that are folded and then tied across the front, a cream shirt, the peach vest, and the peach jacket. Apparently there’s some sort of neck sash, but it’s rarely worn and he didn’t wear it.

After Good Man put on his hanbok, the woman—in typical ajumma fashion—hit him on the stomach and told him he needed to lose weight. Oh, and I need to lose weight, too, she said. I knew she was just being an ajumma so I played along. “회식 많이 있어요.” He has a lot of wayshiks.

She nodded, “회식 문자예요.” Wayshiks are a problem.

Good Man

At one point some woman walked by, saw me in the hanbok and just stopped and stared. Her mouth was wide open. She started to say something and I expected it to be, “Why is the foreigner in a hanbok?” but instead it was, “How much are hanboks?” The woman said that women’s hanboks are 500,000 and men’s are 560,000. We paid…well, let’s just say that our discount was substantial!

Notice Our Hands and Which One is On Top

After we were both in our hanboks, she taught me how to bow. She taught me essentially what Master did, but said that I cross right foot over left. So right hand over left hand (left over right if I were male), hands at eye level, then cross right leg over left (reverse if I were male), slowly sink to ground, sit cross-legged (and that feels weird because I naturally sit down in a left over right cross-legged position!), slowly bend forward to lower palms against the floor, forehead nearly touching hands. In order to get back up, I’m supposed to plant my right foot flat against the ground, rock forward, and stand up. This is a big bow, 큰절.


That’s an interesting idea.

“OK, I Got Down.”

“Now I’m Supposed to Get Back Up?”

Oops, Used My Hand…

I tried the whole thing a second time, but the woman was so funny I couldn’t stop laughing.


Covering My Mouth While Laughing;
I Am Turning Korean

Would the third time be the charm?



“What’s Next, Now?”

Still Impossible

So! I didn’t make it back up. Guess I need to work on that. Since I’m not Korean and don’t know when I’ll ever have to do a big bow, I’m not too concerned.


Patch Detail

Sugar Water

Wednesday night I had dinner with Wedding Man. Wedding Man is a very interesting man that my mother met when she was here. He’s fluent in English (having worked at the Korean Consulate in Chicago), has had extremely interesting jobs that I won’t detail, and is a ninth degree black belt in taekwondo. He is 71 years old but looks like he’s in his mid-50s and has the body of a man even younger, a man who is serious about health.

We’ve had dinner twice before, as I helped him work out some wording for a bilingual wedding ceremony he was performing. He wanted to meet again before I leave Korea. We had a nice dinner, and I learned something new from his—like always—and something new about him, too.

At the very end of our meal, I asked what a packet of something was. I didn’t recognize the word and he said it was a very old-fashioned, unusual word for “sugar.”

Wedding Man then ripping open a sugar packet, tipped his head back, and poured the sugar in his mouth, eyes closed.

He is a very distinguished man. And eating sugar straight from the packet is not something I would’ve expected from him.

Wedding Man said, “When I was a boy, we were so excited when Americans dropped the rations. We would run and get the tinned meat and the sugar. We mixed the sugar with water.” He paused. “We were so hungry, then.”

Lantern Parade

Lantern Parade Slide Show

Sunday, Good Man and I went to the Lantern Parade for Buddha’s Birthday.

I culled down 700+ photos to 120 for a gallery. Unlike my usual galleries, which are all clickity-click, this one is a slide show. I decided that captions were probably not necessary.

In short: a parade to celebrate Buddha’s birthday, it ends at Jogyesa, where thousands of lanterns are strung up. Wishes are written on the slips of paper hanging from the lanterns, and the papers (and lanterns, it seems) are burned to make the wishes come true.

Last year, my mom and stepdad arrived the night of the parade and managed to see most of it. This year I saw it with Good Man.

Things are coming full circle.

“I’m Nervous.”

“관장님, 토요일 한복….잡을거예요?” Master, Saturday I… I thought, chose “grab,” knowing that he’d understand. I grab my hanbok. Master nodded and said that was exciting. “일요일 [Good Man]의 부모님를 만날거예요. 그리고 여동생의 생일리에요.” Sunday I’m meeting [Good Man]’s parents. And it’s his sister’s birthday.

Master grinned.

I wrinkled my nose. “긴장해요. [Good Man]도 조금 걱장해요.” I’m nervous. And Good Man is a little worried, too.

“아만다! 화이팅!” Amanda! Fighting!

“괜찮아요. 똑똑해요. 우아해요. 예뻐요. 그리고…ego? Ego 아세요?” Master looked it up in his handphone’s dictionary and I knew, again, that he would understand my circumlocution. “Ego 넓어요!”

Master burst out laughing.

It will be OK. I’m smart. I’m elegant. I’m beautiful. And I have a wide ego!

It’s always nice when humor translates the way you want it to.

(Someone who is “open-minded” has a “wide heart,” 마음이 넓다. Someone who has “wide feet,” 발이 넓다, has many social connections. I figured “wide ego” would work.)

An Unintentionally Sexy Quote

Isn’t everyone sometimes obscene when they are with their lovers?

Kim Yong-ho, photographer

I don’t think Good Man and I are obscene, but we’re certainly a “chicken skin couple.”

(As a side note, I’ve had this quote sitting in a draft file since 23 November.)

Last night we went to the Lotus Lantern Parade for Buddha’s Birthday. So lovely, even though the weather wasn’t great. And as my time in Korea rapidly—too rapidly—draws to a close, things are coming full circle.


(As another side note, I took more than 700 photos—RAW files—last night and slowly killed my computer uploading them today.)