I miss Korea.
My stepdad graduated from nursing school a few weeks ago and takes his boards soon. He went to the same nursing school my mom went to, which is the same college I earned my two-year associate degree from when I was in high school (Mom and I graduated on the same day!).
Tonight we had a party. A very big party which was a bit overwhelming and made me fall asleep at ten. Very, very nice though.
So Much Food
In this photo you can see one of my seven grandparents (ah, the math of a blended family). She is slightly crazy and she seems to have “lost her filter” as my aunt said.
“So when are you and [Good Man] going to get married and make half-babies? I want some pretty half-greatgrandbabies. Half-babies are always so cute.”
Images of Grandma rolling over her baby in a brothel and then going before King Solomon flashed in my head.
“The Shoe Bomber wasn’t cute. And not having kids Grandma, you know that.”
“I always get on M and S about that,” she said, referring to my childfree uncle and aunt.
“I know, we email each other about it.”
She looked really surprised. “Really? Well! I guess it’s time to stop bothering them and just get on you.”
I feel for couples who can’t get pregnant, I feel for women who feel they must settle to have kids. I don’t understand their desire for children, but I sympathize with anyone who wants them and struggles to have them. Unfortunately it often seems that I am not afforded the same “I don’t understand, but it’s your life” attitude.
Grandma has…a dozen grandkids. I am the first grandchild. Two through Four (Three being my brother) are married with kids (Three and Four having wives who are pregnant a second time), Five is Engaged, Six we have no contact with due to circumstances beyond our control, Seven is married, Eight (an unmarried high school student) is pregnant. Nine through Twelve are still high school aged or younger.
Despite having a slew of grandchildren who live (generally) like she wants them to, man oh man, she acts like it’s a personal affront that I’m not married, don’t want kids, don’t want to live in Minnesota, travel as much as possible, and don’t want to live in the States for long.
Cousin Two’s Wife, who was there with Well-Behaved Child (and without Cousin Two) patronizingly told me, “You’ll change your mind. Everyone does.” Only a few moments earlier she’d been complaining about the cost of childcare, food, and diapers and how she never sees her husband and she’s practically a widow. “But it’s not about the cost,” she said, “it’s all worth it.”
Well Good Man and I must be on the same page about it not being worth it to us because when I told him the costs she listed, his response (to do some math and figure out how many plane tickets that was) was the same as mine.
I’m not sure why No Filter Grandma is so hell-bent on making someone who doesn’t want to be a parent a mother, but it’s so nice that the decisions women make are up for patronizing discussion and debate.
Now. I should mention that despite No Filter Grandma, the party really was fun. I got to see a lot of family I haven’t seen in a long time, and some of George’s friends were really neat. One man, a police officer, has three kids who have or who do live in Korea. That was neat! There was a woman who lived in Hong Kong for about ten years, who’s going back there tomorrow, and another woman from the Netherlands. It was neat to talk to them.
I got to play with my new lens a bit. D80, LensBaby2 with f/4.
I don’t know who this is.
It’s really too bad I couldn’t get this one sharp. I have sharper ones, but he wasn’t smiling or even looking anywhere in this direction.
She was drawing names to name the lambs.
Done with the Nikon D80, 50mm 1.4 lens with a very scratched +4 macro filter on it.
I think. Anyone know?
While cleaning out the craft room with Nameless Family Member I’m Living with today, I came across my camera bag with my Canon AE-1 SLR camera in it. I am glad I kept filters that fit none of my lenses as they fit my Nikon’s 50 mm lens. I also found my night exposure calculator (published in Popular Photography in 1964). And I found this.
Found in the Photo Bag
This camera’s been packed for two years. “Eww, Amanda, gross” I said to myself.
I held it up to Nameless Family Member who said, “Is that a used condom?!”
“No! It’s a muffin wrapper!”
“Oh,” Nameless Family Member said. “I was wondering why a used condom was in your camera bag.”
While cleaning and finding all of my stuff, we found the bridesmaid dress I wore in my mom and stepdad’s wedding when I was 14. I decided to try it on. Not stylish, but it fit. Sure, it was a bit tighter across the bust, but it fit with plenty of breathing room.
That, combined with my senior photos (found Sunday), was a reality check. I told Good Man that if I’m ever having one of my whiny, bad body image days, he could point out that I can wear a dress I wore 13 years ago. Weird.
Bridesmaid’s Dress, 13 Years Old
The LensBaby is a very odd plastic bellowed (accordion-style) lens. You focus by squeezing the bellows against the camera a certain amount, then move your fingers around the edge of lens, compressing specific spots, to focus on the spot you want. These photos are very poor, I know. Finding the sweet spot was tough, and I can tell the learning curve is going to be steep with this lens!
Today my stepfather cut the grass.
In Korea I never smelled fresh-cut grass.
It smelled so good.
I am slowly pulling things I packed two years ago up from the basement, going through boxes, wondering why I kept some stuff.
Yesterday I pulled out my box of photos. My father gave me my first real camera, an SLR, when I was in third grade. In junior high and high school I had a bit of reputation as “the photographer,” and was even written up on the back page of some school board newsletter that was sent out to city residents.
I took both semesters of photography in high school and signed up for a third semester as independent study. But I’d never weeded through most of my photos.
Yesterday it was time to toss, toss, toss. I sorted through, pulling out so many out of focus, grainy, underexposed, overexposed, poor photos. Sometimes I’d had doubles printed, so I tossed out entire second sets. I found photos of ex-boyfriends, too, and shredded them as I am a relationship-evidence-destroyer.
The only set I didn’t weed out in any way? My very first roll, where not one single photo was in focus. Dad has told me that I was so excited about having taken a photo that after hitting the shutter (hitting, not squeezing), I’d drop my arms very quickly, and yell, “I took a picture!”
I didn’t know that added shake.
It was interesting to see how my photography has changed over the years. Not just the fact that now I can focus the majority of the time, but learning rules of composition and interests. It seems like I’ve always been interested in photographing people. In high school I went through a range of process interests: sponge printing, solarization, pinhole photography, double exposures, scratching the print, cracking the negatives. Now I’m interested in near-infrared photography and Mother bought me a LensBaby (and since JPG is running a special, I also got the macro/wide angle conversion kit at no cost—아싸!).
I was hesitant to switch to digital. In fact, I only got a digital camera because a then-boyfriend bought me one for Christmas. I liked how easy it was to email photos to friends; I hated the point-and-shoot limitations. Buying a DSLR in South Korea reignited my interest in photography.
But then I had to learn a whole new skill set: digital processing. I am not very interested in digital manipulation, for the most part. I use Lightroom and I’m really happy with it, though I’ll use GIMP when necessary. In my single-girl apartment in Atlanta, I had dozens of photos on my wall. I hope to do the same again.
Since I shoot RAW, I had to learn to backup all my files in one place and then ruthlessly delete them from my computer. Yesterday I was saving all of the negatives and ruthlessly tossing.
Either way, I tend to be picky about what I shoot. But once I start shooting, I shoot many frames. It’s the way I was taught, “Film is cheap,” Dad said. (Jennifer’s boyfriend, Sung Hyun/Gym Guy, kept asking to see my photos from Jejudo. I had over 500 to sort through. He looked at a few and said, “But what are these three the same?” Bracketing is useful.)
Further, I try to be picky about what I post here. (And what I send in email. I can’t stand it when people send me 45 photos of their child at the park, all the photos taken within a ten-minute period. Psst! Show me fewer photos and I will look more!)
I am even pickier about what I get printed.
Since I moved to Korea, my parents moved to a farm. I went out today to shoot a windmill, framed by deep blue skies, puffy clouds…and a giant pile of dirt they had delivered this morning.
I also experimented with infrared. I was exposing for 30 seconds, so I ran to the front of the windmill, slowly counted to ten, then ran out of frame.
My parents have 20 sheep that I haven’t officially met yet. About a half dozen of them were very interested in watching me, but as soon as I pointed my lens at them, they ran off. All of them. Like sheep.
I also ended up doing some self portraits. I used my 50 mm lens, and I tried to not center myself. All of these frames were hand held, no tripod or timer used.
Wednesday was a fairly laid-back day. I had to pay off my Samsung card, cancel my handphone, and withdraw as much cash as I could from my bank account (I left 952 won in there). After we’d done that, Good Man and I just spent some time together and Jennifer made a fantastic dinner.
The food was so good and it was nice to spend time with Jennifer and Gym Guy over dinner.
The next morning Good Man and I headed off to the airport. I ended up having to pay an extra $130 for an excess baggage fee (I knew that would happen) but otherwise the flights were uneventful. Getting off in Minneapolis, someone wanted to use their handphone in a restricted area and an airline employee advised, “I wouldn’t do that. Electronic eyes are everywhere.”
“1984,” I mumbled under my breath.
Good Man, at the Airport
Me, at the Airport
Today my mom and I went and looked at cars, as she wants a new one. Reading two Times and one Newsweek at the dealer, I realized that “green” has become a buzzword since I left, even if only in the news magazines. I also realized that I was bowing to the salesman and that cars are huge and colorful here, compared to Korea.
Cars by the Colorful
After looking for cars we went to the bookstore at the mall. It was an odd trip. In the parking lot four mall security guards were by a car, which held three children, the oldest being in first grade. Not a single
parent breeder was around. As we were entering the mall, three adults left. They were the ones who owned the car. Three adults. Three kids. This was not some young mom already struggling with two kids in the mall. I hope they called CPS on those unfit “adults.” I was so angry.
Walking into the mall, I spotted this sign.
At the bookstore I approached the service desk, as did another man. He put his hands on his hips and looked at me. He wasn’t wearing a name tag, but when I worked retail we would sometimes sneak our name tags off so as not to be bothered. He was looking at me as if he expected me to talk. “Do you have Taryn Simon’s An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar?”
“I was just about to ask you the same thing,” he said.
An actual employee had come behind the desk and I said, “Wow, I feel like I just unintentionally flirted with you.”
Later, a different employee was about as useful as a rice cake.
Finally we went to the grocery store.
Oh. My. Kimchi.
It was so overwhelming.
I never bought watermelon in Korea for less than ~$12
Too Many Salad Dressing Choices
More than sweet and gherkin!
spanish rose, jasmine orient, asian pear, kuku coco butter, flawless
The pizza and soda sections really freaked me out. There was Diet Coke, Diet Coke Plus, Cherry Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke Zero, Vanilla Coke Zero, Lime Diet Coke, Lemon Diet Coke, Caffeine-Free Diet Coke… And that’s only the zero-cal Coke…
Mom asked me to choose a pizza and I just kept staring. There had to be at least 40 varieties of pizza. And it wasn’t just the options, it was the fact that at least ten of each option was in stock. I just kept looking to the left and then the right. I couldn’t choose. Mom finally said, “Step away from the pizza.”
The deodorant. How many brands? And then each brand had a number of formulas and then each formula had at least four scents. What? Why?
And on top of that, at least half of the store had to be made up of high fructose corn syrup, sugar, salt, fat, and preservatives. There’s junk food in Korea, too, but this just seemed so…concentrated.
I kept mumbling, “There’s so much food. Why is there so much food?”
Clouds in Black and White
North Center Lake
Tuesday was another whirlwind of activity. I’m so glad that Korea grants a visa extension until your plan leaves (up to 30 days I think) because I needed this time to get my life and my head in order.
Good Man and I met YJ, my language exchange partner (whom I haven’t seen in a Very Long Time) for lunch Tuesday. Although we haven’t met much recently, and I don’t write about her here much, I’m going to miss her. We get a long well, and she’s taught me a lot of Korean.
After lunch, Good Man and I headed off to Kyobo, where I picked up the rest of the Sogang series. I’m currently on 3A (and stagnating, because I just haven’t had time to focus!) but picked up all the books through 5B to study in the States. I also picked up some bilingual poetry books even though Good Man warned that the translations would be weird. I understand enough Korean to see how the structure is different, and I want to read some bilingual books.
We then headed back to the hanbok market, as I needed higher shoes because the hem hits the floor. Our hanbok guy was fantastic, and gave us the shoes as service. He also helped up choose a hairstick. Now I have everything I ever need to wear a hanbok!
Hanbok Hairstick and Shoes
Then we headed back to Jen’s to pack another box to mail home (I have collected so many books here!). We went to the post office and the box was 155 grams over the 20 kg limit, so we had to unpack it. In the meantime, the security guard was getting some free English translation service out of Good Man and I, which I think was worth a 155 grams. Oh well, I know they have to do their jobs. Note to anyone: don’t go over that 20 kg limit in any way, shape, or form. I blame the amount of packing tape we used.
Finally, all of our general errands for the day done, we headed down to Gwangmyeong to meet Master for one last dinner.
As soon as I walked in the door, I started crying. Good Man told me I have “too much jeong.” I laughed. Maybe he’s right.
Master gave me my second dan certificate and card, nicely framed. Because I have to find a new studio, he didn’t have a second degree belt made, which is fine. Master’s Mother or his Wife’s Mother (I suspect the latter) made me a lovely box with traditional Korean paper. It’s so pretty.
Master and Good Man were talking and I was just sitting there, tears streaming down my face. ㅠㅠ Master said that you cry when things end, but we are not ending. Still, I was crying.
Master called the boys down from the studio and made them stand for a photo and bow out to me. I said something like, “Thanks Little Brothers and Sisters,” but they didn’t understand. I didn’t expect them too.
Master’s family, Sabumnim the Man, Sabumnim-in-Training (one of Master’s first students), Good Man and I went out for 닭갈비. We went to the nearby dalk kalbi joint, whose owners are the parent of one of our younger students.
Sabumnim-in-Training and Sabumnim the Man
In the last month he’s grown and lot and his legs and arms are now so lean.
Dinner was great, and I was able to keep most of my tears at bay. Sabumnim the Man asked how Good Man and I met. I told him and started describing our first date (I’m getting very good at doing that in Korean). Sabumnim the Man and Master were laughing and Good Man was just grinning. Then Master said something in Korean about how I had a crush on Good Man when he wrote my name in Hanja.
I’m so glad I was listening to Master, because I piped up, “아니요. 다른 사람이에요.” No, that was someone else.
Master looked shocked and a bit embarrassed and apologized several times while everybody else laughed. I thought it was rather funny, and Good Man was teasing me. “Who’s he?”
“아니요. 다른 사람이에요.”
I also asked how NewSabumnim was doing after her teaching stint in China. Master said something about how we became friends and I started going off about how much I hated her when I met her. Master’s Wife and Sabumnim the Man were laughing and then Master handed me the phone. It was NewSabumnim!
Master’s Daughter was so tired she slept through the entire dinner.
After getting drunk (취하다) on soju, we left just in time to catch the last train. Master tried to bow me out, but I was crying too hard.
It’s not over, but it’s different, and I’m really going to miss them. Master especially, of course.
Master and Amanda
Master made me lean forward while he leaned back, because apparently his head is too big.
I cried leaving Good Man at the airport, cried my way through all the security checkpoints. The guards had seen Good Man, they were kind to me. Thank you.
Waiting to board in Tokyo, I listened to some idiots (seriously, a huge group of eight or nine college-student-like people from Kansas and Detroit) talking about the difference between McDonald’s chicken nuggets in China, Japan, and the States. Shut up, please.
Asian airlines must still have weight and age limits on flight attendants that American airlines don’t. That flight attendant looks like my ninth grade social studies teacher.
I got off the plane, went to the bathroom, looked for the bin for the tissue. There was none. Oh, yeah.
The customs woman asked what I thought of Korea. I said, “Korea is a sadistic mistress that you want to leave, but just can’t.” Shut up, Amanda, don’t say such things to immigration folks! But I said it.
While waiting for my stepdad, I listened to so much noise around me. “Why didn’t you come earlier?” some woman screamed to someone on the phone. “If she’s not here in ten minutes, it’s another five hour wait” a woman dressed like a Mennonite said. “And I was like, ‘whatever, jerk, don’t call'” a girl dressed in Korean-style postage stamp size shorts and a tight, glittery tank top said to her similarly dressed friend. They all speak English.
I was overwhelmed by size. Cars are bigger, roads are wider (have to plow the snow to the edges of the streets), houses are single style, low and squat to the ground, my parents’ small bathroom is bigger than my last bedroom, and there are miles and miles of… Grass! And yards and yards of carpet.
I ate chili for dinner, with turkey meat in it. I haven’t had turkey in years. I want to eat licorice. And Taco Bell. And wild rice. And real bread.
And I already miss Good Man.
“I think Minnesota rocks!” said Good Man.
Yesterday Good Man and I headed back down to my old side of town as part of the last-minute, all-over-town run-around this week. I had to pick up a photo (I got an 8 by 10 of the five of us at the museum printed and framed as a gift to Good Man’s family), transfer cash, and go to the dentist.
Transferring money made my wallet hurt. The dollar and won are both in the toilet right now, so I ended up sending home about 10% less than I did six months ago (which was already less than a year ago!). My wallet weeped a bit. However, I got the same woman I’ve always gotten for bank transfers, which was nice. I don’t know if I lucked out with this woman or what, but she’s never written anything in my passport, I’ve never had to show her proof that I legally earned the money, and she works quickly. Of course, she also seems to speak no English, but that’s alright, because I can hold my own with her in Korean. Since it was my last trip to the bank before leaving, she gave me a gift, a glass photo frame with “Hana Bank” printed on the bottom. The writing is actually fairly small and it’s not as tacky as it sounds.
Since getting my teeth cleaned, my bite has been off. This was one thing I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to explain well in Korean, so I had Good Man translate for me.
It is very humbling to be sitting in a dental chair, mouth wide open, water getting sprayed and sucked, while your boyfriend looks on and discusses your teeth with the dentist and assistant. It makes me feel like a child.
Anyhow, it seems that it’s finally time to get my last two wisdom teeth removed. The dentist kept saying 사랑, 사랑 (love, love) and I said, “Why is he talking about love?”
The word for wisdom tooth in Korean is 사랑니, love tooth.
Good Man said that he had none of his love teeth anymore. I playfully scolded him. “앗! 사랑니 없어! 사랑 없어! 나쁜 남자 친구야…” Oh! You don’t have any love teeth! You have no love! Bad boyfriend…
The dentist, his assistant, and Good Man all laughed. It always feels good when an intended joke is taken as such in Korean. Will that feeling ever change?
Good Man and I ended up having dinner at some new “ethnic” restaurant near Bomgye Station, 2nd. Second? No. Two N D (투엔디). The restaurant was rather unusual. It was Korean style seating but the tables were at different levels, water was flowing in a fountain, sheer curtains made each table a bit more secluded. It felt a bit Arabian Nights.
The food wasn’t bad either. Actual jalepenoes (from a jar, I’m sure) on the chicken quesadillas, a really nice carbonara pizza. We enjoyed it.
A Satisfied Diner
Shortly after we finished dinner it started pouring. Ah, leaving just in time for the rainy season to start!
Rain at Bomgye Station
Sunday I met Good Man’s family (without Father, who’s in a foreign country) again. We were supposed to go for a drive in the country, which apparently meant a brief drive outside of Seoul to a restaurant called 하늘정원, SkyGarden.
While we were eating, Mother again pointed to the kimchi and said, “kimchi.”
Sister giggled, I said, “I know” and Good Man said, “Mom! She knows!” Good Man said, “When you come to America, we’re going to point to food and say ‘hamburger, pizza.'”
(I realized that Good Man has a voice that he uses with his mother. “Mom!” I still sometimes use the same “Mom” voice that I used years ago, so it’s not a shock, but it’s rather odd to hear coming from him.
At dinner he once again lectured his mother about something. I asked why he always talks to her but “doesn’t have a mouth” with me. He said that he doesn’t have to lecture me or disagree with me.
It’s time for him to move out, indeed. I don’t know how Korean kids do it. I don’t know how Korean parents do it. My parents were pretty happy when I moved out at 18. And living with them for six weeks or whatever this summer is going to be odd enough…)
Mother kept worrying that I wasn’t eating enough food. I was eating more than enough food, as there was a ton of it. At one point she said, “새우 맛있어요.” Shrimp is delicious. I don’t like seafood and I had explained why in the car.
(A long time ago I wrote that I’d be very happy with my Korean level if I could explain why I don’t like fish. Well, I can explain it all except for one word.)
I picked up the last shrimp and put it on her plate, as she’d been putting food on my plate. “새우 맛있어요,” I said.
I worry that Mother thinks I’m an idiot because I need Good Man to translate so much. She tends to say something without any context or warning, or puts my name at the end of the sentence so I don’t know she’s talking to me until I’ve missed what she’s said. Good Man has to translate a lot.
Mother, Good Man, Me, Sister
Good Man had something in his eye and couldn’t look at the camera.
Mother, Good Man, Me, Sister
When he finally looked, Mother was squinting. Oh well, at least Sister and I look cute.
After dinner we headed off to EMart to buy some things. “아만다, 굿멘 가족같이 뭐했어?” Amanda, what did you do with Good Man’s family? I started the imaginary conversation in my head.
“이마트에 갔아왔어.” Oh, we went to EMart.
“알아. 지금 가족인것 같아…” I know, I feel like part of the family, now.
(Yes, actually, this in-my-head-conversation was in Korean.)
After Emart (where Mother insisted on buying my space saving bags), we headed to Good Man’s house. I talked to Father, who told me to take care of Good Man in America, “because he doesn’t know very much.”
Sister gave me a darling little photo album with Polaroids in it that she’d taken last weekend. She’d also tucked a note in there, a note I read later. So sweet. I’m going to miss her.
Mother and Sister walked us to the subway station. We hugged and Mother, Sister and I all had tears welling in our eyes. Luckily, we parted before any fell, because had any one of us started crying, I think all of us would have. Well, all of us except for Good Man. I’m starting to be convinced that he physically lacks tear ducts.
Good Man comes from a good family.
Get It Together, Amanda
In order to get Good Man to smile in a photo, I usually whisper something really inappropriate in his ear. I couldn’t do that with his family there and I couldn’t stop giggling.
Good Man and Me