In Korea, there is a unique way of giving a gift. It is called “culture money.” I received some culture money this morning. In the church where we go, I unwittingly began a tradition in the early years when I came here. I bake, and Korean women don’t. When one of my fiends from church had a birthday, I would bring a birthday cake. Koreans have the tradition of giving their friends birthday cakes, but it is not usually a church tradition, and they are usually cakes from bakeries. Koreans also traditionally eat together after church. In this little church, they always take turns cooking. One or two families host everyone on a particular week, and they rotate. I learned when their birthdays were and that none of them could bake, so I began baking birthday cakes and bringing them every time someone had a birthday. When I stopped baking cakes because they went to all Korean during worship instead of bilingual services like we used to have and I went to an English speaking church, they continued making sure everyone had a birthday cake. However, the church was growing, and it was hard for them to bring one that often, so they decided to have a birthday cake once a month for all the people who have birthdays in that month. After that, they began giving each person a gift too. I can speak Korean now, so I can worship with them, so I do, and I seem to always end up going to visit with the people at the English speaking church too. Today, during the Korean church services, after singing and Communion and before the sermon, they called everyone up to the front of the church who had a birthday during June, and I happened to be one of those people. (Yes, I can now worship in Korean with them.)
My friend Joopil and his little boy, Hamin, both have birthdays in June, so they were called too. My friend Hanul was also called to the front because today is her birthday. Unyeong, another good friend, brought a birthday cake down the aisle with lit candles, and a group of little kids followed her. The church sang “happy birthday” to us in Korean, and then the little kids blew the candles out on the cake. Then the preacher began talking with us standing there. He talked about me, and I appreciated what he had to say. He talked about how grateful they were to me because I have helped so many people in Korea. He went into detail, and I knew what he said was true and that many who I had helped were sitting in the audience, and I felt appreciative that they remembered what I had done and that they appreciated it. He then took out the culture money. He gave each one of us an envelope with culture money in it.
I have been given culture money before. When I worked at the university, often the English majors would have a party, and if they wanted to be nice to someone for some reason, they would give the person culture money. I can’t remember all the times I have been given culture money. The unique thing about culture money is that you can’t spend it on just anything you want. If you try to use it when you go grocery shopping, the store won’t take it. You have to use it only on specific things. I was a bit confused when they first gave me culture money because I had never seen anything like it, but it is made to give as a gift, and people are supposed to use it on a gift they want.
The things you can use culture money on are on the outside of the envelope. As I said, the first time they gave me some, I was very confused and didn’t know how to use it, but I have it figured out now. The first small picture above, the shopping cart, has written under it that you can use it for online shopping. However, you have to use it to buy something from a Korean company because they others wouldn’t have any idea what culture money was. The second picture is a movie reel. Under it, it says “movie.” You can either buy a DVD with the money or use it toward a movie ticket at the theater. The third picture is a book, and under it says “to-so.” “To-so-kwan” means library. You can take this culture money to a book store and buy a book with it. The fourth picture is a picture of a cell phone. In Korean, it says, “mo-ba-il,” or “mobile” in English. That means that you can use it toward a cell phone or for something you need for your cell phone. The last picture is a computer mouse. In Korean under it, it says “in-to-net,” or in English, “internet.” You can use culture money at your internet company or toward something you need for your computer.
Culture money is just another unique Korean way of giving a gift. Each one of us was given an envelope this morning with a 10,000 won culture money certificate inside. At times, I have been given several of these certificates when they hand me an envelope. When they first began giving these too me, they were wasted because I didn’t understand them, so consequently, some went unused because I didn’t know how to use them. Now a days, I know what to do with them. We will probably use mine toward movie tickets because my Korean son in law has his eye on a movie for us to see at the mall again next week.