Like Family, Mother’s Hands: 김치볶음밥 and 김치찌게 and 국수

The Korean government might not consider me family since I’m not Korean, but Mother sure does. When Good Man and I finally got home late last night, I told her what happened. I was addressing her with my standard phrase: 시어머니.

Mother said, “Amanda!”


“When you are talking to something else, I am ‘우리 시어머니.’ But when we talk, call me 어머, 어머니, OK?”

I nodded. “Yes, I understand 어머니.”

She nodded toward Father. “And same for 아버지, OK?”

I started off with 시어머님. Then she asked/told me to drop the 님 (honorific ending) in favor of 니 (standard). Now she’s asked me to drop the 시 (meaning “husband’s”) and possibly the 니, bringing us down to a familial, intimate “Mom.”

Cooking Classes With Mother
In Korean, there’s a saying about the hands’ taste making food delicious (손맛). There’s even an English-language Korean brand of snack food called “Mother’s Fingers.”

Well, Mother wants me to get her 손맛, so she’s going to teach me how to make some of her meals. Today we started with kimchi bokkeum bap. I’m translating from the Korean pretty much as she said it, to the best of my understanding and ability. (She checked my spelling on my written notes and is sitting next to me, helping me right now!)



“Amanda! Grapeseed oil. Use grapeseed oil, or olive oil. You know olive oil?”

“Yes. But why don’t you use sesame oil?”

“It burns took quickly and makes the food get burnt. OK, grapeseed oil, kimchi, ham—or tuna, tuna always in olive oil—”

“In America, tuna usually comes in water.”

Mother nodded. “Ooo, that is healthy. A little bit of oyster sauce—little bit, little bit, really little bit—rice, onion.” She mixed it all together (hence the “볶음” part) and continued, “When it’s done, turn the flame off and add a little bit of sesame oil and sesame seeds.”

She plated our food and served it to us for lunch. “맛있어?” Is it delicious?


“괜찮아?” Is it OK?


“‘Mmmm 뭐야?” What is ‘mmmm?’

I laughed, “냠냠이에요!”

Next up was kimchi jjigae, which she made for dinner. Mother and Father were out for the night so Mother prepared us dinner before she left. (Dude. I could sooooo get used to daily homemade breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)

“Amanda! Kimchi, a little water, onion, tuna and oyster sauce. Cook like this,” she showed me a medium flame, “for about 30 minutes.”

I don’t have a photo of it, but Mother’s kimchi jjigae had much less water than the kimchi jjigae I’m used to. I asked Mother why. She said it’s best without much water.

I joked, “But in restaurants there is a lot of water. Maybe they want more money. A little kimchi a lot of water.”

Father laughed, “Ahhh! Amanda is so good!”

잔치 국수
Finally, she showed me gooksoo, which is what she and Father had for lunch.

잔치 국수

“Amanda! You boil noodles, like this, yes, with a little 다시마 [dried seaweed] and anchovies [멸치].” While the noodles were cooking, she put the sauce together. “A little cooking soy sauce.”

“국간장? 뭐예요?” What’s that?

“Ahh, the soy sauce we brought to America is soup soy sauce. Different flavor.”

I yelled at Good Man, “I told you that stuff wasn’t supposed to go on rice!”

Mother shook her head, “No, rice you need 조선간장.”

“Like Chosun Dynasty?”

“Yeah, yeah. Sauce. Soup soy sauce, green onions, a little sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and sesame seeds. Mix, OK?”

Mother spooned the noodles and some broth into a bowl and added a tiny bit of sesame oil. Then she added some red pepper powder in the middle and the sauce around it.


“응, 냠냠이에요!”

Master and Marriage (Again!)

Marriage, Again…
Yesterday, we went to register our marriage at the gov’t office. Good Man wasn’t sure that we had to do it, but I thought we should. In fact, before our legal wedding in America, I argued that I was sure there was something he needed to do at the Korean Embassy and he (and I!) searched the Korean Embassy website, as well as others, but couldn’t find any information.

Well, it’s a good thing we decided to register the marriage because it was supposed to be done within 90 days of marriage! Obviously we’re way past that, so he has to pay a 50,000 won fine. If he pays it before the 14th, he gets a discount and it’s only 40,000 won. Minor problem: we can’t transfer funds because both of us left our bank cards at home. Oh well. His parents will pay it for us.

We filled out the Korean form, using the sample instructions they gave us. The sample instructions were intended for Koreans marrying foreigners in Korea, and in their sample, the groom was automatically the foreigner. An American, in fact. Good Man needed his father’s birth address and he was supposed to be able to write the birth city of his father in Hanja. What? Is that like the Korean version of “Mother’s maiden name?”

It took forever to get the marriage registered because he needed to translate the entire American wedding certificate. By hand. On A4 paper. Poor guy.

When we finally finished, the clerk was concerned that the wedding certificate wasn’t valid because it said “copy.” Yeah, it says copy from the court and has the county clerk’s signature and a raised, embossed seal on it. I made that clear and luckily, the clerk’s boss agreed.

They had a sign up that they do “Traditional Korean Wedding Photograping.” (Yes.) The sign said they only did it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was Wednesday, but I asked if we could do it, since I’d seen two foreigners have it done twenty minutes earlier.

Then we were told that it’s only for marriages where both people are foreigners, because there are too many Korean-Non-Korean marriages.

I patted Good Man’s chest and said, “하지만 제 남편의 마음 속에서 미국 사람이에요.” But in my husband’s heart, he is an American.

She laughed and said since it wasn’t busy, she’d do it. So they took us over to a corner with a traditional Korean screen and put traditional Korean wedding hanbok costumes on us (one size fits all!) and took our picture.

I was thankful. A gov’t official bending on two rules? Taking a photo of a Korean and American on a Wednesday? Thanks, lady!

So now we have legal wedding photos where I’m in a cotton dress and Good Man is in jeans, family wedding photos where we’re wearing hanboks, and Korean registration photos where we’re wearing traditional wedding costumes. All that’s missing is a white dress and tux photo, which you can get done at photo studios in Korea. Maybe for our anniversary. ^^

Good Man asked if I would be put on his family registry. Nope. Because I’m foreign. So I’m not family.



Good Man and I met Master’s family last night. Of course, on all counts, it was great.

On the way to the studio I passed two of my studiomates. They walked by, not immediately recognizing me, and I turned. They turned their heads, too, and sort of slowed down. “Hey! Do you remember me?” I called out in Korean.

They looked surprised and starting hitting each other. I said, “It’s Amanda!” They nodded quickly, bowed deeply and said hello and we chatted for a few minutes. It was cute. They’re in middle school now.

We brought some small gifts for Master and his wife and some for the kids. I decided to put them in three separate gift bags. We gave the kids their gifts (a pajama set and top for each). In Korean culture it’s rude to open gifts in front of the giver so they ran into their bedroom, opened them, and brought them back out.

Master’s Son in His New PJs

Master’s Daughter in Her New PJs

He gave me a gift and asked me to open it. I did and it was another gorgeous box made out of hanji (traditional Korean paper). His mother made it. Inside? Korean socks!

We went out for samgyupsal and had soju (of course). Master hasn’t had soju in ten days because he’s been so busy. He told me that and I said, “I don’t believe it!” (I really didn’t believe it because I misheard him and thought it was ten months!)

Then we went out for patbingsoo (Korean shaved ice) and had coffee at his house.

His son didn’t remember me (of course, I wasn’t expecting him to) but apparently his daughter checks out my Cyworld all the time, so she remembered me (which was a nice suprise). At first they were both sort of shy, but they warmed up really quickly.

In fact, his daughter was hilarious. When we were eating patbingsoo, she wanted the exact same spoon I had. She looked at my spoons, looked at the rest of the spoons, and chose the one with the same handle decoration. Then she took both spoons and compared them very carefully to make sure they matched.

When I ordered a chocolate banana patbingoo, she whispered, “Amanda, we will share, OK?” (Of course…it’s Korean culture!) She wanted to sit next to me (and made me switch seats with her since she’s left handed and I’m right handed), she wanted to hold my hand, she wanted to chat and chat. She learned (sort of) how to use my camera and wanted us to take photos of each other taking photos of each other.

It was wonderful. It was like nothing had changed and I’d never been gone.

Nothing except Son and Daughter are so tall! And Daughter can write in Korean! (She wrote me a little Christmas card telling me she loves me.)

We spoke a ton of Korean (and a little English) and reminisced about different things. I was finally able to tell him how much I hated the octopus (squid?) I ate really early on in Korea after mountain climbing. He laughed and asked why I ate it. I said I didn’t want to be rude. He said he and his brother kept giving me the biggest pieces because they didn’t want to be rude. We all got a good laugh out of it.

He told me that my Korean was really good and he could tell I’d been studying in America. When random Koreans tell me my Korean is good, I know they’re just being polite. But I trust it coming from him. And in traditional form, the more soju we drank, the less Korean I spoke and the more English he spoke! I really enjoy speaking Korean with Master and his family. It’s so easy with them.

We also talked about my studio in America and I told him why I’d been refusing to test. (Too expensive, owner makes up tests to make money, not in any hurry to get another belt, etc.) He said as long as I plan on testing in Korea again one day, I can put it off. I sort of needed to hear that. Despite being at my new studio for a year and a half, still feel, in my heart, that Master is my instructor and Tongil is my home. I don’t want to disappoint him, so getting permission to put off testing was nice.

I found out some bad news. A new studio moved into the neighborhood—right at the end of the block. That’s why he hasn’t been drinking. He’s been spending his time renovating the front of the studio to compete.

We spent about four hours together and it just reaffirmed that I will always be friends with Master and his family, no matter where we all live and how long it is before we meet again.