Thursday, April 2, 2009

intimacy in Korea

Something that has really caught me off guard in Korea is intimacy not being a way of life. My first week in Haenam, Matias the other volunteer that was here told that that if 2 of the kids started dating, they coould not tell anyone in the community, could not hold hands anywhere, could definitely not kiss, and in order to do any of those things would have to go to Mokpo or even better Seoul where it is more accepted. 

This caught me off guard at first, and then I started looking around at everyone to see if I could see any signs of intimacy and the answer kind of shocked me. I am now a month into my stay in Korea (crazy!! time is really flying) and even though the community I am in is really close, I still cannot tell who is married to who besides for my hosts, and I also cannot tell for the most part who are siblings, who is who's child, etc. The kids not being able to be intimate with each other in public also extends to married couples. 

Last weekend I was in Seoul and met Yi Sul (my roommate)'s parents. As we were leaving, I noticed that her mom was cooking and her dad was sitting in a chair across the room as we said goodbye. She did not hug either one of them. I asked her about it afterwards, and she said that she never hugs her parents. I then asked if she said "I love you" to them to which she said "of course." My response was "well if you asked me if I hugged my parents when I left, I would have said of course" so nothing is an of course between the two cultures. In America, hugging is a big part of the culture. I hug my parents, sister, relatives, and friends all the time, especially if I have not seen them in a while or will not be seeing them. Yi Sul will not be seeing her parents for at least 2 months, and yet there was no hugging in her goodbye or a kiss or anything. Parents in Korea do not show their affection in that way. 

Kids here are also far more independent than at home. It could be the fact that I live in a community where the kids can hang out together and run around outside and inside, but the parents don't seem to care where their kids are at, who they are with, where they are going, etc. When the kids are outside playing, there is never an adult watching over them. This includes the little 5 year old that I have grown to be really fond of. 

I think of everyone, I feel the worst for him. His name is Chan, and he has an adorable little sister that is around 3 years old. Everyone always pays lots of attention to his little sister. Also, I forgot to mention that their mother died around 2-3 years ago. The three of them live together in a small place that is attached to the building that I live and teach in. Everyone is always playing with his sister, talking to his sister, playing with his sister, and nobody pays him attention at all. He is vibrant and full of life and love, and always smiling. I sometimes see him playing with another boy that is probably 6-7, but that is it. Usually he is just sitting alone playing by himself. 

It's truly amazing just how different the two cultures are, especially living in the far south of Korea like I do. It's like a whole different world where all the rules have changed. 


^ The washing machine! It's in a bathroom downstairs and only has cold water available. 
^ The classroom that I teach in. To the right off screen is a whiteboard on wheels that i use to teach. 
^ Three of my low level elementary school kids! On the right is Chan the boy whose mother died. In the middle is San-been the youngest child of my hosts. To the left is Kim Chi-In. They all bought some snacks and combined them together last night to have as a late night snack. 
^ One of my elementary school kids last night when I taught my smaller class baseball. At first I taught them some stuff using the whiteboard, and then I decided to play a makeshift game of baseball. We used a scrunched up paper cup as the baseball, and a tv remote as the bat. We used chairs as the bases and it was a ton of fun!!!
^ She for some reason loves to do an aloha dance pretending like shes from Hawaii. None of the volunteers that i know of have been from Hawaii.... but whatever!

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