Sunday, December 9, 2007

First email sent from Korea

Busy today, moving from West to East Manhattan, plus it's my birthday, so here's the first of some emails I had planned on posting. I went to Korea to meet my fiancee's family.

Met apaneem (father) and awmaneem (mother). All the difficulty apaneem has been causing seems to be a case of something I hadn't considered - apaneem knows it was never his choice, but he was determined that everyone would pretend it would be. (Kind of typical of more patriarchal cultures, though he seems to think it's
peculiar to Korean culture, but it's not too bad, really.) I figured that out when Soo's sister Jeehee, who lives in New York but has been visiting Korea for a few months, told me that her father had instructed her to make sure I learn about Korean culture.

Soo didn't even know this, but apparently I'm marrying into Korean royalty. [Editor's note: Apparently every Korean family claims to be royalty.] Or, I would be if marrying her meant I'd become part of her family. They think of it much more as she's joining my family and leaving hers.

He took us, including all of Soo's sisters and two brothers-in-law, to lunch at a place where they brought us tons of different stuff. He kept telling me to try different things. (I did taste [though I'm pescatarian] the meat dishes, after discussing it a bit with Soo. The ground beef dish tasted just like a very juicy hamburger.) Most of it was really good, though there were a couple dishes I didn't like at all. The salmon sushi on pumpkin with a pickle slice and a dab of French dressing, though, was really good. And they had these shrimp and mushroom balls that looked like meatballs that were great.

Soo's mother is coming with us to the three-year ceremony at Hwa Gye Temple to comemorate the death of Zen Master Seung Sahn who brought Korean Zen to America. She'll meet Myo Ji Sunim, the abbot of the Manhattan temple I go to, and I'm sure Sunim will exaggerate about how wonderful I am, like she always does.

So things are going well. I'm tired, though. It's 4:20 pm here, but I've been up since about 2:30 local time after sleeping through most of the flight here. 14 hour flight, and 14 hour time difference. If I can just not go to bed too early, I think I might be able to adjust well to Korean time. Going back, though, might be twice as hard as ordinary jet lag.

Everything that I've seen of Korea so far is really ugly. Lots of tall apartment buildings scattered about. There's tons of space, and no apparent need for such tall buildings. And no apparent need to build them so spread out. It's purest urban sprawl, I guess, much like what I'd imagine LA to be. Except that everything has a modern, blatantly functional design. Inchon is an industrial town. We passed
a steel refinery, and I'm told there's an oil refinery somewhere. Part of the trip from the airport smelled a lot like Newark.

Tomorrow we'll go to Seoul to see an exhibit about Seung Sahn Sunim at Chogye Temple, and I'll get to see whether Seoul is the same. At least the temple will probably be very different, but I think you have to go to the south to really get away from that.

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