Americans are saying,”Did you mean “confusion”?” No, I said “fusion.” “Fusion” is an English word that Koreans adapted to describe Korean things mixed with things from other countries. When I first saw the word written in English on a sign, I asked what it was, and the Korean with me was surprised because they thought it was an English word. It is, but not the way they use it. Today, I will take you out to eat with my fusion family to a fusion restaurant.
A fusion family is a Korean family mixed with a foreign family. I am not married to a Korean, so guess my surprise when I began being compelled to go to family gatherings. My daughter is married to a Korean. In my way of thinking, she married into a Korean family. She became the wife of a Korean, the daughter in law of a Korean couple, and the sister in law of her husband’s Korean brother. How did I become part of the family? In Korea, the relationships are much different than in other countries.
As I have travelled around the world, I have learned a lot about social structures of other societies, and this is something different in Korea that is not in other countries. When my daughter married a Korean, the society all of a sudden began considering my daughter’s parents in law and I part of the same family. At first, I thought when they invited me to family gatherings that they were just being the nice people they are because I married into a family in American who has a kind, generous, inclusive nature, and they invite everyone to their family gatherings. They just expect people to behave themselves, and you can hang out with the Everson clan. Here in Korea, the social structure, though, actually has me related to Mr. Um and Mrs. Moon.
No, my daughter’s parents in law are not divorced. It is another Korean difference. In Korea, the wife does not take the name of the husband. Only the children get the name of the husband. Legally, it doesn’t help me to be related to Mr. Um and Mrs. Moon with a visa, but socially, it puts me in a group, and everyone is put into groups in Korea because Korea is a very socially oriented culture. If I knew Korean well enough, I would probably even know the word for the relationship they consider that I have with my daughter’s parents in law, but that is also something very different about the Korean social structures: There are just too many relationships in Korea for a foreigner and some Koreans probably to know the name of all of them. If I began describing the relationships they have words for in English, it would sound very convoluted, something like this: “This person is the sister of my cousin’s wive’s brother.” In Korean, there would be just one word for all of that, so after a while, especially foreigners stop studying all the different relationships because it seems endless and fruitless.
Now, that you have an idea of the Korean fusion family, I will take you out to eat with me and teach you about one of their fusion restaurants. As most places in Seoul are, the restaurant where we have been asked to meet the Um family is a long way from our house, an hour and twenty minutes by car. We have to use the GPS because we have no idea where we are going.
As when we went to the North Korean border, we head for Gayang bridge. As we get on the bridge, we see lots of people on foot. It is some kind of marathon. None of us know why they are running. Again, we take the first exit on the other side of the bridge like we did when we went to the North Korean border. However, when the road makes Y, we don’t take the left part that leads to the North Korean border, but the right part of the Y that leads on into the heart of Seoul. The highway is huge! I am not sure how many lanes of traffic there are on that road, but perhaps 6, 7, or even 8 lanes all going the same way. We pass under Samsong degyeo (degyo means bridge), and then just keep driving further into Seoul. The Han River is off to our right, and you can see the tall buildings and more bridges across the river in the picture. We pass under even more bridges, and finally we are at our exit.
I keep hearing my son in law in the back seat saying, “Kou kou! Kou kou!” Then my daughter would laugh and sing, “Kou kou! Kou kou!” I just ignored them thinking there was a private joke I didn’t get.
Our exit is Geongdok exit, like another bridge, but there is no river under it, just more roads and buildings. As we come off the ramp from the exit, we see the streets are decorated with Chinese paper lanterns. My daughter comments that there are little Buddhas on them, so it may be close to Buddha’s birthday, but also says that she doesn’t know when it is and really doesn’t care. I tell her she may care in a couple of weeks because they will give her the day off on Buddha’s birthday. She teaches at a Christian school, and I taught at a Christian university, and it always feels strange when a Christian school closes for a Buddhist holiday, but all the schools are closed on those days, so the Christian schools are too.
We keep driving down the street and following our GPS. Next, we see a street decorated with Japanese fish kites. Something must be happening, but none of us know exactly what it is. As we get closer to our destination, I realize we are in Gwangwamun, the neighborhood where the American embassy, Kyeongbuk Palace, and the Korean Blue House is. Kyeongbuk Palace is the most popular tourist destination in Seoul, and one day, I will do a blog for you about it. The Blue House is the Korean White House, the place their president lives.
My daughter and son in law are still saying “Kou kou! Kou kou!,” and then laughing.
We begin spotting several statues, so I ask my daughter to take a picture of the one I consider the most important for you. The Statue is of King Sejeong. He is the Korean king who invented the Korean alphabet. The Koreans are extremely proud of him and his accomplishments as well they should be.
Next, we see lots of people wearing hanboks, the Korean national dress walking up and down the streets. We also see something happening right in front of the palace and across the street from the American embassy where many people are clustered all wearing the same color of hanboks. My son in law tells me he isn’t sure, but it may be a competition, but he knows that it is all about calligraphy. In Korea and Japan, calligraphy is very important. There are experts you see on the news sometimes and children have calligraphy competitions at school.
We turn right in front of the palace, and we are almost there, but not quite. Finally, we find our Juchajeong (parking lot). In Korea, the parking system is quite different from what I have been acquainted with in other countries. The first time a parking attendant asked me for my keys, I felt very uneasy. I didn’t like giving anyone else access to my car, but it always works out well, so I have learned to live with it. They ask for your keys because they pack the cars in like sardines parking one car in front of another, and if someone wants to go and there is a car in front of them, the parking attendant has to move the cars in front of them.
We walk down the street toward the restaurant. My son in law is still saying, “Kou kou! Kou kou!,” and my daughter is still giggling and saying it back to him. All of a sudden, my son in law says, “Oh! Oh! Take a picture! Take a picture!” I didn’t know why, but I took a picture. The Korean word on the sign says “Aladdin” next to Aladdin’s lamp. My son in law informs me that I really need to see this place and blog about it. My daughter confirms what he says and continues saying we have a few minutes before it is time to arrive, so they should show me what is in Aladdin. They took me inside and showed me around, and my son in law is right. It is a place you want to know about, so my next blog will be about Aladdin.
We leave Aladdin and go on down the street, and the sign is in front of us. I realize one reason they have been saying “Kou kou! Kou kou!” That is the name of the fusion restaurant where we are going, but the Koreans are spelling it “Qoo qoo.” Qoo qoo is one of many businesses in a huge building. The sign is next to some stairs, but my son in law says if we keep walking, there is an elevator we can take at another entrance. We get into the elevator and go up to the third floor, and we have arrived at the Qoo qoo restaurant.
The other family members have already arrived, and we all exchange greetings. Everyone is pleased to see the others. Mrs. Moon tells me how much she likes my hair, and I know it is because I cut it off, and Korean women think older women should wear short hair. As I had been told, Qoo qoo is a fusion restaurant. It is fusion between Japanese and Korean food with a sushi bar. I asked if the Koreans consider sushi to be Korean, and the response was, “No, it is Japanese, but we love it!”
As for me, I am not really into sushi, and my daughter isn’t either, so the Um family told us not to worry because they thought we could find steak, but there was no steak. They were all convinced it was there and continued to look, but none of us saw it. However, they did have shrimp and home style french fries which are good. There were lots of salads which are also good. I put some mashed pumpkin on my plate which is a Korean dish that I like. I also got some chook. Chook is a kind of rice porridge they give to people who are sick in Korea like the American tradition of giving sick people chicken soup. If someone isn’t feeling well, the solution to all Koreans is chook. This restaurant serves a basic kind with bits of seaweed in it, but there are many kinds of chook. I have eaten pumpkin chook and chicken flavored choo, but there are even more flavors. There are whole restaurants devoted to making chook.
As with any other restaurant, there are always soft drinks like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Sprite, etc., but this one has a couple of unique drinks worth mentioning you probably never heard of. One is a traditional rice based beverage called sheekhey. The only people I have seen drink this are the grandmothers, and Korean young people all tell me their grandmothers like it when they see it. When my son in law heard us talking, he said, “but I like it too,” but he chose to drink Pepsi. My daughter told him she was going to stop buying his favorite: Coca Cola Zero, and buy the rice drink instead and see if he actually liked it. Often times, Koreans claim to like something just because it is Korean, not because they actually prefer it, but out of Korean pride. However, as my son in law pointed out, he is not like other Koreans because they all eat kimchee whether they like it or not, but he doesn’t eat kimchee because he doesn’t really like it which is not a very Korean thing to do at all. Many Korean young people like to go their own way when it comes to food, but their parents are always pulling them back telling them hamburgers and pizza are not healthy, so they need to stick to traditional Korean food. The other drink they have here, I have drunk at another Korean fusion restaurant, the most popular one “Ashley’s,” where there is a mixture of American and Korean food. This drink is called wine tea, but there is no alcohol in it. It looks like purplish tinted iced tea. I find it quite tasty.
As we sit at our table, everyone has loaded up on all the kinds of food they like from the buffet. (The Koreans call the buffet the “boofay.”) You can see sushi with fish eggs, the orange stuff. You can see sushi with an octopus leg on another plate. At least the octapus leg isn’t moving. The first year I was in Korea, a coworker took me out to eat to an octopus restaurant. They brought a live octapus and dropped it in boiling water that was in the middle of the table, then began cutting the legs off and putting them on people’s plates. There was an octopus leg on my plate that was still squirming! They wanted me to eat it! I can’t eat live things. Back to the present, on my son in law’s plate, there is sushi with a piece of pork cutlet he says is his favorite. Is that a surprise? He actually likes the thing that is cooked best? My daughter’s brother in law not only has raw fish on his plate, but also raw beef. The first year I came to Korea, a Korean convinced me to eat a bite of raw hamburger at a restaurant telling me how good it was, but I still beg to differ with him, and I haven’t eaten any since. I have seen raw meat put out for them to eat on buffets before, and there are people who like it. The Koreans really like showing off their unusual food tastes.
(Look on the napkin in the photo, and you can see the spelling of the restaurant in English: Qo.o. Q.o.o)
As the meal winds down, first, Mrs. Moon asks about my grand baby, The Um family really want a grand baby because in Korea, that is why they get married. In America, we get married because we love someone, but here in Korea, the motivation of the older Koreans to get married was having a baby and many of the young ones still think that way. (Mr. Um and Mrs. Moon had an arranged marriage which is normal for the older generation, but my son in law and daughter actually got married because they love one another. They hung around with the same group and were best friends for two years before they had the courage to begin dating. Things are changing in Korea.) However, the government still thinks having a baby is a viable reason to get married because my daughter only gets a one year marriage visa at a time because she hasn’t had a baby, but if she had a baby, they would give her a two year visa, and they would let her put me on her visa to help her. I am the only one in the group, though, that has a grandbaby because my other daughter made me a grandmother. My other daughter is married to a Japanese guy. I search through my purse to show them pictures of my grand daughter, and they are delighted.
Next, Mr. Um begins handing out gifts. We didn’t know it was time for gifts, but he is just a nice man. The Um family come from a family of scholars who used to live in the palace to teach the kings under the Jeoson dynasty, the last Korean dynasty before Japan took them over, America threw them out, and the Korean war. The Um family has never forgotten who they are and are very gracious people. Mr. Um is a professor of Chinese characters and a Christian preacher. He first gives my daughter a gift of a humidifier she can even plug into her computer if she wants. After that, he gives her another gift of an agenda with lots of literary quotes throughout the book both in English and Korean. Next, he hands his son an agenda similar to the one he gave my daughter, and then one for me. I really didn’t expect a gift. My agenda has quotes by scholars and philosphers. Mrs. Moon is grinning from ear to ear enjoying seeing him give out gifts.
The meal is finished, and we all head for the door, but the men all hurry up and get to the cash register first so they can pay. IN Korea, the tradition is for the men to pay. We all get in the elevator and go down to the car. My car is blocked in by other cars, so the parking lot attendant has to move a car for me to get my car out. It is Sunday afternoon, so we will be headed to church next.
Mr. Um and my daughter’s brother in law go to the same church we do, but Mrs. Moon attends a Korean speaking church close to her house. It is normal in Korea for preacher’s wives to go to other churches where their husbands don’t preach, and Mrs. Moon does just that. She doesn’t understand English and sees no need to go to the English speaking church where we go, so I tell her I will see her again, and she lets me know for sure she will see me again. Mr. Um and my daughter’s brother in law don’t speak English either, but they believe in helping with the church where ever they can, so they come to English speaking church looking for ways to help. Mr. Um is usually in charge of making sure that the doors are locked and unlocked and he and his sons take care of the communion. Mr. Um serves like a go between between the Korean speaking part of the church and the English speaking part of the church where we attend. When all the Americans who could preach were gone, Mr. Um taught Bible classes and preached for the English speaking church with a translator, my daughter, which made him completely pleased. He is very proud to have her as a daughter in law.
Mr. Um and my daughter’s brother in law climb in my car to go to church with us. The only one in the Um family that drives is Mrs. Moon. Mr. Um says he is afraid of cars, so usually takes the subway or buses, and both of his sons have followed suit. As we travel toward church, again we see women and men both walking around in hanboks, and my son in law says there are many shops close to Gyeongbuk Palace where you can rent hanboks and walk around in them for the day if you want. I tell my daughter and son in law that I finally know why they kept saying “Kou kou! Kou kou!,” and they say there is another reason. I am right about it being he name of a restaurant, but it is also part of a video game they play. In the background of that video game, there is someone singing, “Kou kou! Kou kou!” Our day isn’t finished, but I have introduced you to the concepts of fusion family and fusion food. I promise my next blog will be about “Aladdin.”