A Different Daughter-in-Law

“Mother, I understand. I brought [Good Man] here. I’m sorry.”

***

Diana and I have been chatting a lot about relationships with Koreans. Not only Korean men, but their mothers.

Korean mother-in-laws get a bad rap. To be fair…I know a lot of women—Korean or otherwise—who who don’t get along with their Korean mother-in-laws. Of course…a lot of women all over the world, in every culture, don’t get along with their mother-in-laws.

Before I met Mother, I didn’t want to like her. I was hellbent on not liking her in fact, because she didn’t want to meet me. Diana (and my mother) told me I needed to give her a chance.

As I’ve written before, a few days before we met, Good Man told me she was nervous we wouldn’t be able to communicate. And my heart…understood.

His mother had an idea of what her daughter-in-law would be like. And I’m sure she never considered whether or not she’d be able to communicate with her (me). Of course she should be able to communicate with her daughter-in-law!

When we met, when Good Man’s parents arrived at that Italian restaurant, I saw nervousness in Mother’s eyes. And I realized, She’s as nervous as I am.

Each time we met, I came to feel that she wanted me to like her as much as I wanted her to like me.

I feel like Mother and I are slowly building a relationship. And the relationship we’ve built so far, has been built because she’s accepted me and because I’ve accepted her. (And Good Man has always stood by me. I think that’s important, too.)

But had she not accepted me when she did, how much more dislike would I have built up in my own mind. How much distance would I have wanted to create? How would things be different?

Last weekend it was Mother’s birthday. We called her—the night before because of the time difference. We chatted. I asked her about the pyebaek, the traditional Korean bowing in ceremony done at a wedding. It’s when the bride is officially a part of the groom’s family. She said we didn’t have to do it.

Good Man explained that we didn’t want to do the thousands of dollars worth of gift exchange between families. But we do want to bow into them. She said, “But you don’t have hanboks.” (She doesn’t know we have them.) Good Man told her we’d get some. She seemed happy.

We know his family expects us to wear Western dress for our wedding. We’re waiting a bit to tell them that we’re only wearing hanboks. We want to surprise them. She won’t get a traditional Western wedding. She won’t get a traditional Korean wedding. She’s getting something in between.

A few days later, Mother called and told Good Man she wanted to buy me a bag. One of those faux Luis Vuitton ajumma bags. She didn’t buy one because the shipping was so expensive. Instead she told Good Man she’d send some money, so could I buy a bag? I ended up buy a rice-sack messenger bag, made from recycled rice sacks by Cambodian women, fair-trade. She wanted me to have an ajumma bag. I bought a fair-trade rice-sack bag. She’s not getting exactly what she wanted, but something similar…

Tonight I was trying to take a nap. I heard Good Man in the office, chattering away in Korean. I started listening and quickly figured out that he must be talking to Mother. His end of the conversation was essentially, “Mother, it’s OK… No, I can’t leave… the visa… I know, I understand… don’t worry… I miss you, too.”

Since Good Man entered on a non-immigrant visa and we became engaged, he can’t leave. If he leaves, he can’t re-enter on his visa. If a family member gets sick, well, too bad. He can’t leave. Because of me.

I listened to him. And I started thinking about what I would say to Mother. After 20 minutes or so, I came into the office. He handed me the phone. Before I spoke to her I said, “Does she miss you?”

“What?”

“Did I understand you? Does your mother wish you could visit?”

He looked confused. He nodded, “Yeah.”

(Side note: the next time I bitch that my Korean sucks, I need to remember this. In July 2006, I didn’t know if “축구” was one word or two. Tonight I figured out both sides of a conversation based on eavesdropping on one side of it.)

I took the phone and started crying. I greeted mother and then started in on a string of Korean. I said something like, “어마니, 미안헤요. [굿 맨]을 보고싶세요. 이해해요. 저는 미국으로 가지조왔어요….” Mother, I’m sorry. You miss [Good Man]. I understand. I brought him to America…

“아만다, 괜찮아요…” Amanda, it’s OK.

“하지만 이해해요. 저도 어마니를 보고싶었어요, 그리고 우리 어마니가 저를 보고싶어했어요…” But I understand. I missed my mother, and she missed me…

I babbled on a bit longer. She kept saying everything was OK, and that I understood.

I don’t know why I was crying. But listening in on Good Man, I felt so much…care for Mother. When I left for Korea, my brother was in Iraq. My mother had her two adult children living abroad. Good Man’s father works abroad, and now he’s gone.

I lived in Atlanta for seven years before moving to Korea. Good Man was in the military for two. But I was only a 4-hour flight from my mother. We were one time zone apart. Good Man was still in the same country at least.

When I moved to Korea, a 4-hour, $250 flight was suddenly 16 hours and $1200. I talked to my mom a lot, but she was (almost) always in yesterday.

And I just felt so much care and understanding for Mother in that moment. I wished that Mother spoke English or Mom spoke Korean, because they could talk. They would understand what it feels like to have a child so far away. But they can’t communicate. Not at all.

Good Man will be the first in his family to marry a foreigner-foreigner. He has one cousin who married a Korean-Japanese person, and another who married a Korean-America, but here he is, marrying a white woman. His mother doesn’t have friends who have been through this. Who can she talk to?

She’s getting me as a daughter-in-law. A white woman who doesn’t understand Korean customs very well, who doesn’t speak Korean very well, and who will never be an expected Korean daughter-in-law. A white woman who will always, intentionally or not, pull her son away from Korea. She’s getting something she didn’t expect.

When I talk to Mother, I actually feel like she cares about me. I don’t feel like she tolerates me. She seems to be 마음이 열린 사람—open-minded, literally an open-heart person.

And I appreciate it so much. And I want to be able to say thank you. Thank you for rearing such a wonderful son, the man I fell in love with. Thank you for understanding.

But I can’t say that. So I just cry and say something that probably sounds nonsensical in Korean. And I hope that I don’t embarrass myself too much. And I hope that she understands.

That Little Piggy Went to Taekwondo

Last Friday Foot Doctor examined me again. He grabbed my toe and wiggled it back and forth. “Does this hurt?”

“Playing ‘This Little Piggy?’ No.”

He laughed, “No, this is actually medical, I’m trying to see if it hurts when I press against the joint.”

“You can call it medical. I call it ‘This Little Piggy.'”

I was told I could go back to taekwondo as long as I took it slowly, didn’t spar, didn’t run, and didn’t kick “things.” Air is OK, targets and people are out. In approximately 4 to 6 weeks, I can slowly add them back in.

So tonight, 79 days after I fractured my big toe joint, I finally made it back to class.

And although my toe hurt a bit, it was good.

Getting Packages From Strangers (Engagement Bands/Travel Wedding Rings)

“Amanda is knocking on some strange man’s door to get a package,” Mom said to George. We were on the phone, George was in the room with her.

“You make me sound like a drug runner,” I said.

***

A few weeks ago a first-year teacher who’s engaged to her college sweetheart and I were on the playground together. Another engaged teacher asked about wedding plans. First-Year said, “I didn’t know you were engaged, Amanda!” and grabbed my left hand, looking for a ring.

“It’s on this one,” I said, showing her (as nicely as possible) my right middle finger.

Why?

I explained that when I was 13, my mother gave me this Claddagh ring because my father’s mother’s side of the family is Irish. Since I didn’t want an engagement ring, we were using this if anyone asked. We’d be getting Claddagh wedding bands and retiring this ring on our wedding date.

I didn’t say that I have major ethical issues with diamonds, the fact that only a woman gets an engagement ring, that engagement rings became popular when laws against a man dumping his fiancée came off the books, and that we’d rather get him a green card.

She patted my hand. “Well maybe one day you’ll get a diamond.”

Missing the point, First-Year.

***

A few weeks ago, I was pricing our chosen wedding band. I found it all over the internet at a wide variety of prices. (Diana can attest to my shock at the wide range of prices, because we were chatting online while I was doing this.) I found the ladies ring for $279, $324, $429, $359, $450 and $268. Same exact ring, same size, same gold.

At one of the not-marked-up-500% sites, I also found our band in sterling silver. I pointed this out to Good Man, not thinking much of it.

“We should buy a cheap, crappy ring,” he said. “I have never worn a ring, I think I need to get used to it. If we buy cheap, crappy ring, I can get used to it.” (I am starting to suspect Good Man likes the word “crappy.”)

“Do you really want to spend the extra money?”

“Yeah, you should get one, too. Then we will have matching engagement rings and we can make sure we both like the style and fit. Yeah.” Good Man jabbed his finger in the air, “And then, when we travel, we can wear our cheap, crappy bands and leave the gold ones at home!”

“You know,” I said, flashing my right hand at him, “this is a ‘cheap, crappy’ sterling silver ring and we’d decided to use it as an engagement band.”

“Oh,” Good Man said, his voice growing soft, “and it’s so precious and beautiful…”

***

So we ordered the rings. And they were delivered last night. I discovered this this morning, when I checked the tracking number. Only…we certainly didn’t get them.

I looked at the order and wouldn’t you know? I had inverted two numbers in our address. (They’re sequential numbers, which made it really easy to do.)

I used the address to reverse number lookup a phone number. I called the number and! Nobody answered. I left a message and! Nobody called back.

I emailed Good Man and! Told him what had happened. I asked him not to be mad. He wrote back, “I’m not angry. It’s gonna be okay. Take it easy.”

During lunch I called Good Man again. “It’s just a mistake, we can buy other rings. Everything happens for a reason. If we had not bought these silver rings, it would’ve been the gold rings that went to the wrong address. Don’t worry.”

After hanging up with Good Man, I called the number again, even though I was figured if he’d gotten my message, he would’ve called and! A man answered!

“Hi, do you live at?—is this?—my name is Amanda and I think I accidentally had a package delivered to your address yesterday.”

“What’s your name?” I repeated it and the man said, “Oh yes, I have it in the house.”

“You do? Can I pick it up around 3:30?”

“Sure. No problem.”

I drove over after school, and I happened to be talking to Mom on the phone. “You’re going to some stranger’s house?”

“Yeah. Good Man knows I’m going. Heck, my boss knows I’m going.”

“Well…don’t go inside.” (Gee, Mom, really? You did raise me well, you know. Although…you wouldn’t know it from the wrong address/fire events of late…)

“I’m only a mile away, how about you stay on the phone with me?”

“Oh, that’s a good idea.”

I knocked on the man’s door, and told him who I was. “You have my package?”

“I don’t have your package,” he replied.

“What?” I could feel the panic rising in my voice. “But on the phone! You said you did!”

“Just kidding,” he said, reaching for what I guess was a mantel, “here it is.”

“Thank you! Oh thank you!”

In Action

Claddaghs

No, Student Loan Company

I have been paying off my student loan faster than the company would like me to, apparently. My next payment due date? August 1st.

August 1st, 2014.

Good Man and I will have been married 5 years by then, and you can bet your kimchi the loan will be paid off completely before my “next” due date.

Say Yes, Obama

“Oh, by the way, we’re inviting the Obamas to our wedding.”

Good Man stared at me. “What?”

“The Obamas? We’re inviting them to our wedding.”

“Are you joking?”

I shook my head, “I’m dead serious.”

“But they won’t come,” said Good Man.

“Right, but we’ll get a signed card from them.”

Good Man stared at me. “Are you kidding?”

“No.”

“America is strange.”

Study Study

I’ve been feeling frustrated with Korean for about a week now.

So a few days ago I went back to EZCorean and reloaded all of the beginner level Korean words to my flashcard study list. I didn’t keep stats on how long it took me to go through the stack the first time I did this (around January or February, I think). But I know I went through this stack very quickly. I guessed on a lot less words, and even the words I guessed on, I was using Korean root knowledge of. OK, so things are improving.

Sunday, Good Man helped me study while I was driving him to school. He was running through my current stack of flashcards.

“중간.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

Good Man said, “‘In the middle of.’ It’s Chinese. 중,” he drew 中 with his finger.

“Ahhh! 간! 간! ‘Interval.’ Like 시간! ‘Time!’ 공간! ‘Space!’ I should write that 中 Hanja on that flashcard.”

Good Man nodded, “Yes. […] 형.”

“‘Big brother,’ um…and ‘form? shape? appearance?'” Good Man nodded and I remembered a flashcard from WordChamp (another flashcard site I go to). “Oh! 인형! ‘Doll,’ right? Person-appearance?”

Good Man stared at me. “Wow! I never thought of that, but you are right!”

I suddenly realized that all of my assumptions about 스포츠 형 머리 were wrong. “Oh! And seupocheu hyeong meori isn’t ‘sports big brother haircut!’ It’s ‘sports form haircut!'”

Good Man laughed, “Yeah? Why’d you think it was the other 형?”

“Master always has that haircut and he always calls Haan Dong Master ‘older brother’ and the guys he meets in the military are ‘older brother.’ And they all do sports and have that haircut, too.”

Good Man said, “You’re silly.” He turned to another card and burst out laughing. He threw his head against the seat and laughed and laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” I glanced over at his lap and saw why he was laughing. “But it helps me remember!”

(엄마하고 딸이)
붕어 빵이네요.

The daughter is
the spitting image of
the mother.

붕어빵 (bungeo bbang) is a fish-shaped red-bean paste pastry. Apparently a slangy way of saying someone looks like their mother (or any other family member) is to say they’re like bungeo bbang. I didn’t know the word, so I drew a picture of it.

It made sense to me.

Haiku

korean music
you go girl so hot tell me
moth flame death come quick

You Go Girl*

So Hot

Tell Me

* Yes, her new CD appears to be named It’s Hyorish. Indeed.