Conscious Choices

Video chatting pro: It’s a lot easier to understand Korean when I can see someone speaking.

Video chatting con: Mother and Father see the reaction on my face when Mother claims that they’re going to stay with us the entire duration of their visit for our wedding.

Choosing Taekwondo
A few weeks before testing for my black belt, I systematically asked myself why I was practicing taekwondo.

According to American instructors, most people (in America) quit post-black belt. According to Master, most people (in Korea) quit post-second dan. One night in class, while working on poomse, I asked myself a series of questions. Am I doing this for a black belt or for life? Am I going to continue taekwondo? Would I stick with taekwondo somewhere other than Korea? What if I lived in an area with no dojang? Would I actually practice on my own? Do I understand that there will be no point where I suddenly know taekwondo? Do I understand that I will always be learning more about taekwondo, about myself, through practice?

It wasn’t that I thought I was doing taekwondo only for the black belt. It’s that I thought I should be very clear and honest with myself about my intentions.

I’m very happy that I made the conscious decision to stick with taekwondo.

Choosing Korean
A few days ago it suddenly hit me—and laugh all you want at my slowness in realizing this—there is not going to be a single a-ha moment where I think, “That’s it, I understand Korean. 끝! The end!”

If I choose to continue studying Korean, I am choosing to be in this for the very long haul. I am choosing to stick with it, even when I think it’s pointless, even when I want to quit, even when it’s hard. Just like taekwondo.

Oddly, since realizing this, I feel like some sort of language-learning stress has been lifted from my shoulders. I’m not quite sure why.

Some people I know have told me I don’t need to continue in Korean. We don’t live in Korea, we’re not having kids, Good Man speaks great English…

But I think it would be disrespectful to Good Man and his family to not learn Korean. A few days ago I asked him, “Would we be together if I didn’t study Korean?”

“Yes.” He nodded, “But we would have many problems.”

I understood exactly what he meant.

Choosing Family
I checked my Cyworld page today to find a note from Sister. An exciting note about passport photos and plane tickets, wedding plans. It was made extra exciting because without looking anything up, I understood all but one sentence. Perfectly.

Tonight we had a video chat with Mother and Father (Sister was at the movies). Mother raved about my sweater. We talked about wedding plans. We talked about making Good Man exercise, while Good Man groaned, and I said, “어머니 2명 있는 것 같아.” It seems like you have two mothers.

A few weeks ago, Mother told us that Father wanted us to wear tuxedos and a Western-style wedding dress in the wedding. I asked father why he wanted us to wear them because we only want to wear hanboks. Father looked at Mother and they started talking. I understand about half of what they said, but I understood what was going on. I started laughing. Good Man looked at me. “Do you understand?”

“I think so. Your father doesn’t really care what we wear, does he? Your mother just blamed it on him?”

“Yeah, he doesn’t really feel strongly either way.”

I laughed. It was such an honest family moment, the mother and father playfully arguing. And while Good Man could have translated, it would not have been the same. Things don’t work as well in translation. Jokes don’t play the same way. Those honest moments—those moments that make a family a family get…lost.

Sure, Make Fun of my Rockin’ Magazine Book Thing and When Is a Suspect a Criminal?

“Wait, wait! 보호 [boho] is ‘protection’ and…” I racked my brain. “보조 [bojo] is ‘support.’ 보장 [bojang] is ‘guarantee.’ Are all of these 보s related?”

Good Man nodded, “Yes.”

I stared at him. “Wait. You don’t know anything about Chinese characters. Are you just going to nod and agree anytime I come up with some seemingly related words?”

Good Man pointed at me, “That’s right, yeah!”

I slapped the table. “보험 [boheom]! That’s related, too!” Insurance. I looked in my Hanja book. “보수적 [bosujeok], too!” Conservative.

This 보/保 means “protect.”

Saturday night, Good Man and I spent way too money on two gimbaps ($15!). At the restaurant they had a freebie tabloid newspaper called 특종! 연예스포츠 (Exclusive News! Entertainment and Sports). This is one of those “newspapers” where 60%+ of it is ads, the first part is made up of news about stars, and the actual news happens only in the last 20% of the pages.

So over dinner I started reading some article about Madonna and her 22 year old “beautiful boy model” boyfriend.

Good Man wouldn’t stop making fun of me. “Why are you reading that shit?”

Because I can. I don’t read this in English, but I can read it in Korean. And I can read most of it without a dictionary. Compare this to the higher-minded articles about typhoons and helicopter crashes and racism against Koreans in the UK that our Meetup teacher has us read. I might have to figure out or look up 20% of a Madonna article (still too much to be considered an appropriate reading level), but I have to look up a good 85% of the stuff in the typhoon articles. When given the choice between junk and frustration, I choose junk.

A few nights ago I cannibalized the paper. I cut out about a dozen articles I was interested in reading. Madonna made the cut, as did my F4 boys from Boys Before Flowers. Articles about the American economy, a violent fight with a police officer, and murder of Japanese babies were included, too.

I glued the articles into a composition notebook, leaving the right page open for vocab and notes.

I read an article about a bank robbery. I learned about twenty words, including 권 (handgun), which is related to a word I am learning in WordChamp, 소 (rifle). I learned a useful time ending (-경, meaning “about”) and some method of describing dates was reinforced.

I put the vocabulary in WordChamp and added the words to my AbsoluteRecall stack. I tested on them today for the first time. Ugh. My brain was really working for those words.

I was reading the article with Good Man. I got to this sentence/paragraph.

경찰에 따르면 범인중 1명은 권총을 들고 있었고 한명은 칼을 들고 있었으며 아프리칸 어메리칸으로 추정괸다고 밝혔다.

I learned a few words (according to, handgun, presumed) and was left with something like, “According to police, one of the 범인 was carrying a handgun while the other had a knife, and they appear to be African-American.”

“So 인 is ‘suspect,’ right? Like…um…죄? Crime?”

“No,” said Good Man, “it is ‘criminal.'”

“OK, but in America we call them suspects, because they haven’t been tried yet.”

Good Man stared at me. He pointed at the pictures. “They are on camera! They are criminals!”

“OK, but American newspapers would call them suspects. Even after Cho Seung-Hui shot up everyone and himself, American newspapers called him ‘the suspect.'”

Good Man looked at me. “That is crazy! It is ‘criminal,’ not ‘suspect!””

“But in America, in this context, I think ‘suspect’ is a better translation.”

Good Man shook his head, “OK, we are in America, but this, you may know, is Korean newspaper. It is ‘criminal.'”

Our conversation was so obviously not about the English language, but about English language as used in American culture.

It got me thinking: is a named person a ‘suspect’ until proven guilty? Is a ‘criminal’ always a criminal? How would other English-speaking countries with a different judicial system describe these men?

I searched for some articles in English about the robbery (yes, I do find it odd that I first read/heard about it in Korean). And sure enough, my conditioned assumption was correct.

Both suspects were dressed in dark clothing and wore baseball hats. In addition, the suspects’ faces were covered.

Respecting the Rice

I set the jeyookbokeum on the table and opened up the fridge. “Do you want 우유?” I asked Good Man. Why I said milk in Korean, I don’t know. Before he could answer, I answered myself. “That’s right, you don’t drink milk with rice.” I started filling his glass with some water.

“You,” Good Man said, pointing at me, “are not respecting the rice when you drink milk with it.”

My fiancé is strange.

Falling Asleep Through Massage

Good Man and I got our massages tonight. I’d signed up for a couple’s massage, but they had us in two different rooms. Good Man said it wouldn’t matter, but I knew he was really nervous about the massage, so I asked if we could be in the same room. They said sure, but that it would take a few minutes to set up.

(Apparently their appointments are taken through a call center and if you want to be in the same room, you have to be very specific.)

While they set up, Good Man said, “I can wear my regular clothes, right?”

“No, honey, strip down to your boxers.” He wrinkled his nose at me. “They’re going to use oil so they can massage you. You can’t do that with clothes. I know you’re a little nervous, but we’ll be in the same room, and you can tell them if you’re uncomfortable.”

Less than thirty minutes later, Good Man was snoring mid-massage. He certainly got comfortable quickly. His therapist had him wake up just long enough to turn over, and ten minutes later, I could hear his sleep breathing. I started giggling a little bit and his therapist said, “I have that effect on people,” with a smile.

When the massage was over, after the therapists left, Good Man woke up. “킅?” It’s done? Yes, and you slept through most of it.

We will be going back. We got there at exactly our appointment time (a no-no, I know, especially since it was our first visit) and they had to set up the joint room, so we didn’t get started until about 15 minutes into our time. Yet they gave us the entire hour. I thanked them for that at the end, because I know that normally if you arrive late, it’s your problem.

Ahhhh, a blissful, hedonistic Tuesday night date!

Dual Culture Shock

His Culture Shock

“Why are those letters backwards?” Good Man points to an ambulance.

“So you can read the words in your rear view mirror if it’s coming up behind you.”

“That! That is so brilliant! America is brilliant!”

I laugh. Shortly after we arrived in America, some ambulance went speeding past. I did what you’re supposed to do, you know, slow down and pull over? Good Man was so confused. “Why is everyone doing that? Oh my God! In America they stop!”


“왜 야드에 사람 나오지 않아?” Why aren’t people in their yards?

“미국이야. ” It’s America.

And Mine

Sometimes I feel like those two years in Korea didn’t actually happen. It’s not that life stopped in America. It didn’t. I don’t even live in the same state that I did when I left. But sometimes I have to stop, step back, and ask myself, “Did it really happen?” And then I look at Good Man and realize that, indeed, it happened.

And then there are the reverse moments. Those moments where I am suddenly struck, and I realize that Korea(n(s)) got under my skin.

A few months ago I reached for a new tub of gochujang (spicy red pepper paste) from our pantry. I started chuckling to myself. If anyone had told me five years ago that I’d be cooking Korean food on a weekly basis, I would’ve rolled my eyes. Yet here I am, with a kitchen stocked up with gochujang, dwenjang, and ganjang.

A few weeks ago, I was walking up the steps in a library. I was nearing the top and someone started to come down the steps. She glared at me and I couldn’t understand why until I’d already completed my ascent. Of course. I was walking up the left side of the stairs. I didn’t think anything of it, I was just doing it. I’ve lived here over 8 months now, and I still do it.

I also realized that I keep handing people things with two hands or my left arm tucked under my right. Nobody else cares or notices, but I do.

Last night Diana and I were chatting online and I said that I have very few friends here. But is that true? Last weekend, over dinner, Mark’s Lover asked me when we were going to have an engagement party. I said, “We’re not. Our wedding is tiny and besides, we have no friends here.”

Mark’s Lover gestured to everyone else sitting at the table and said, “What are we then?”

I didn’t really know what to say. Indeed, Mark and his Lover are friends. But their friends aren’t yet our friends, even though we’ve met them several times.

And last night, chatting with Diana, I realized that before Korea, I’d have called these people friends. Not close friends, but friends. After Korea, not so much.

It seems to me that Koreans don’t have friends. They have adjective friends. “This is my seonbae,” “he’s my hubae,” “this is my military friend,” “this is my sixth grade friend…”

Have I picked up the adjective friend thing? Is that why I don’t yet consider my taekwondo studiomates, or the people who go to Korean Meetups my friends? (Maybe “location friend” is a better descriptor than “adjective friend.”)

It’s almost as if there’s a B.K. (Before Korea) Amanda and an A.K. (After Korea) Amanda. How could two years of conditioning overcome 26 years of my natural environment?

I Am Crazy. But I Did It.

So I never wrote about why knitting on size 3 needles was crazy. It seems like a lot of people thought that just knitting on that size of needle was crazy.

No, the real reason I was crazy is because I was trying to crank out this sweater in time for our engagement photo sessions.

And even though the session was rescheduled…I did it.

Now, cranking out a sweater in two weeks isn’t terrible, if it’s worsted weight or so (4 to 5 stitches per inch). But this was not worsted weight.

Two Saturdays ago I started knitting this pattern. This is not my pattern. I finished it Saturday night. Fifteen days (inclusive) from start to finish on size 3 needles. That was 7 stitches and 10 rows per inch.

The pattern itself was frustrating. I found multiple math errors, and when I asked the designer about them, she didn’t answer me for five days. I had to send her a second message to get any answer, and when I did, she got the math even more wrong. Had I followed her “corrections,” the pattern would have made no sense. I even found errors in sizes I wasn’t knitting.

I think the sleeves, as designed, are too tight and possibly too short, in general. At a size 50″ bust, the sleeve is only 15″ at the underarm. I know that everyone’s body is different, but show me a woman with a 15″ bust and a 15″ arm, please. Since I was going for negative ease, it worked, but…

(I went for negative ease because I am busty enough. I didn’t need the shell/fan pattern and a ton of extra fabric in front.)

On top of that, there were other typos and inconsistencies, too. The directions for an I-cord tie wouldn’t actually make I-cord. The schematic was incomplete, too. The ridges ride up when I move, so I’m hoping that slightly overblocking the yarn will help. I need to be careful though, because if this yarn is overblocked, it won’t go back to its original shape.

The pattern is original and beautiful, but I was reminded of why I tend to do my own thing. I know a lot of knitter love this designer’s work, but if I weren’t an experienced knitter, I would’ve had a lot of problems. This makes me want to go over my own published patterns one more time with a fine-tooth comb.

Good Man helped me find beads at Michael’s, but fitting those big beads through the little hole (2 sts wide) was a fun experience. My sweater gave birth! To a baby bead!

When I put on the sweater to take photos today, Good Man nearly started drooling. OK, I guess he likes it.

F.U.D. and Sharpie Dangers!

So Good Man and I were supposed to have our engagement photo session this weekend. But brilliant, brilliant woman that I am, I managed to strain my neck reaching for Sharpie markers at work today.

I was in deep pain, and was thus unintentionally slightly evil to my students for the rest of the day. Poor students, I hurt my neck before 10 am!

My neck still hurts, so the engagement session has been put off till the weekend of the 14th so that we don’t get 100 pictures of me unable to turn my head, staring straight into the camera.

Engagement session scheduled, check.

Mom finally sent me the jewelry I left at her house (long story, blame my truck) though she was curious about why I have a rosary (long story, blame Mark) and a giant silver cross with a hunk of turquoise in it (long story, blame a gay ex-priest) and she took my Buddha (Mark again) because she claimed it was too heavy to send (hmmm, fishy sounding). Wha hoo! All of my jewelry (most of it gifts from my father) is back, which means I can wear some for the engagement photos.

Jewelry, check.

Good Man and I also ordered our wedding rings tonight. They’ll ship in about three weeks.

Wedding rings, check.

Good Man has never had a massage, and I haven’t had one in years, so in a fit of neck pain and frustration tonight, I scheduled us for an hour-long couple’s massage next week.

Massages, check.


“So my coworker asked what we were doing for Valentine’s Day and I said ‘nothing,’ and she said we need to start our relationship traditions,” I said to Good Man over dinner.

“Our tradition is to not celebrate Valentine’s Day. Or White Day.”

“I told her that, I told her we have our own rituals that don’t depend on a holiday, but apparently the fact that we’re not doing anything spells disaster.”

Before ordering the rings, Good Man and I had discussed how the gold karat that a wedding ring is “supposed” to be has changed over time. In the more expensive direction, of course. He mentioned that and then said, “American companies and holidays are all about F.U.D.,” Good Man replied.


“Fear. Uncertainty. Death. Doubt. If you do not do something on Valentine’s Day, your relationship will die!” Good Man stabbed at his orange chicken, “All of America is like that. But we have not died yet.”

Edit to correct: Good Man says the D is Doubt.

Bistrot du Coin

We Need to Practice If We’re Going to Get an Engagement Session Done…

One of the Men

Another Man

Michael was in town! Of course…I didn’t get a photo of him. Oh well. It’s been about 18 months since we’ve seen each other, so it was a nice treat. (Scott was also there. A lot of people were there. I didn’t get pictures of most of them.)