I decided not to go to the post office first thing this morning because I had a phone message from the Korean government yesterday saying there would be a big snow storm. I know from experience the best time to go out when it snows is not first thing in the morning, especially in Seoul. If you go out in the morning in Seoul anytime, you will hit a traffic jam and a 30 minute trip might take you two hours. If you wait until a little later in the day when it snows, the roads are more likely to be clear. I left about noon to go to the post office, in Korean, Uchegook.
I wore my coat, hat, scarf, and gloves because I knew it would be cold. As I walked out of my apartment, I looked down to the street, and I had chosen right waiting. There was snow, but the street were clear. As I got in the elevator, a terrible smell hit my nose! Some Korean woman was cooking! She had used too much chili spice as most of them do, and I could tell from the smell. The smell was so bad it made me kind of queasy, but I got out of the elevator soon and felt better.
When I made it to the parking lot, there was still lots of snow everywhere. My car was covered with snow, and I had to take time to uncover my car before I could go anywhere, Thankfully, nothing was frozen. It was just snow, so it was easy. I got in the car and turned on my Bing Cosby Christmas CD. As I went down the street, he was singing Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. In my car, it was American Christmas, but out of my car, it was Korea.
There is a post office closer to my house than the one I went to, but I am used to the one I went to because I have been going there ever since I came to Korea. It is over by the university where I taught several years. It also has a parking lot which is unusual in Korea. Many places don’t have parking lots, and I appreciate this post office having a parking lot, so I really don’t want to change to one that might not have a parking lot. I actually took a picture of the post office, but I can’t find it now.
I didn’t bring any boxes with me, just the gifts and addresses. I can buy my boxes cheap at the post office, and there is free tape to tape the box up. I got some boxes and began packing them with Christmas gifts. I was getting too hot, so I took my hat, my scarf, and my coat off. I had left my gloves in the car. After everything got into boxes, I knew I had to fill out some forms, so I went to the place where forms are filled out and found the appropriate forms and filled them out.
Next, I had to take a number and wait. When my number came up, I went up to the counter, and the little lady behind the counter chattered on to me in Korean asking me all kinds of questions about what I was sending. Finally, everything was finished, and I was ready to go home.
On the was home, I took some pictures for you of some interesting things I saw on the way thinking this is the kind of thing people from the west would like to see because these thing make Korea unique. My packages are in the mail, and my kids who live outside of Korea will be having a good Christmas from me. If I can’t be with them at Christmas, at least I can send gifts.
When I was in college, I went to Japan to go to school. There was a total of seven American students at our university. They put all the American girls in Japanese homes, and they put the American boys in a boarding house with Japanese boys. In my Japanese home, I had a Japanese sister named Keiko who was great at giving me hints about living in Japan, and if I ever wasn’t sure, I asked Keiko. The American boys thought they could trust the Japanese boys in their boarding house like I could trust Keiko, but they needed to think again because Japanese boys like jokes just like American boys.
One evening in the boarding house, the lady in charge served all the boys fish. In Japan and Korea both, when they cook fish, often, they leave the fish whole, and then put it in the oven. When it makes it to your plate, it is still whole, and you are supposed to use your chop sticks and open it up to pull the cooked fish meat out and eat it. On this particular evening, all the boys in the boarding house sat down to eat fish together. The American boys were getting used to everything thing being strange and everything done differently, and the Japanese boys thought they were funny, so they played a joke on them.
When the American boys saw the whole fish on their plates, they said, “What? Do we eat the whole thing?” The Japanese boys confirmed that, yes, they must eat the whole thing. The American boys were having a really hard time. They could see the fish’s eyes. They could see the gills, they were grossed out, but they were determined to do things the Japanese way. If the Japanese could eat a whole fish, then they could too! They watched the Japanese boys, and the Japanese boys ate the whole fish, so the American boys ate the whole fish too, including the head and the tail.
Later, the American boys were telling me about their experience. They had been completely shocked to be asked to eat the whole thing, but they were proud of themselves because they had had enough guts to eat the whole thing! I listened to their story and hoped no one would ask me to eat a whole fish.
One evening, I sat down to dinner at my Japanese home stay. There was a whole fish on my plate, and I had a feeling of dread. I knew what the American boys said, and I wasn’t wanting to offend anyone. Keiko sat down next to me, and I asked, “Do we eat the whole thing?” She laughed and said, “Of course we don’t! Nobody eats the head or the tail. We just use our chop sticks, open the fish up, and eat the meat of the fish. ” I could trust Keiko, and I was breathing better because I didn’t have to eat the fish head and tail. However, I told her what had happened in the boy’s boarding house. She laughed again. She said, “They actually ate the fish heads?” I confirmed it. “Did the Japanese boys eat the fish heads too?’ I confirmed it again. she laughed again. She told me those Japanese boys were trying hard to mess with the American boys if they went so far as to eat fish heads!
All the work has finally come to an end. I have worked hard and made sure all my kids have something homemade for Christmas, four kids, one grandchild, and two son in laws, and one daughter in law. They tried to talk me out of giving them Christmas presents because they don’t want me to spend any money, but they accepted the idea of all homemade gifts. This afternoon, I finished crocheting a beautiful scarf.
I used red yarn and blue yarn. I began with blue yarn. I did one row red, and the next row blue, the next red, and the next blue. I began by chaining 50. In the first row, I chained 4 at the end, double crocheted in the 6th chain from the hook, then chained one, then chained in the second chain from the hook, then chained one, then double crocheted in the second chain from the hook to the end. In the last double crochet, just before I finished the double crochet, I put red around the hook and pulled it through both stitches on the hook to change colors. I cut the blue yarn and wove the end back into the blue stitches I had already done.
For the next row, I chained 6, then I double crocheted in the first chain one space, then I chained one, then double crocheted in the next chain one space, etc., to the end of the row, all red, then I chained to blue again. I always wove the ends back into the color they matched.
I just kept working row after row with each row being red, blue, red, blue.
I worked until I was satisfied that it was long enough to be a scarf and my yarn was gone, so it was finished, and I love the way it turned out! It will be another gift. I have made so many gifts in my life like this. So many people got nice things that I made, and I always thought I would make something for myself, but I won’t be doing it this Christmas. I wanted to make a sweater or an afghan for someone for Christmas, but there were just too many people, so I made smaller things. I have thought about getting some yarn after Christmas and making a sweater or an afghan, and knowing me, there will be someone who wants it, and I will end up giving it away again. I can thank my mother for teaching me to crochet, and the English school system for teaching me to knit.
I was helping a group of international students who were new in the country. Many of them needed to go shopping and buy things they needed. I got the school van, and they all loaded in, and I took them to Wal-Mart. Many of them got things they needed, but not all of them, and some of them complained about the prices. Okay, so I tried the Dollar Store. It wasn’t as big, but it was cheaper. One of the Japanese boys told me he was looking for a blanket, but all the blankets he had seen were just too expensive, and he didn’t want to pay that much for a blanket. He needed a blanket. I didn’t want to see him get cold at night. I decided I needed to come up with another plan for him to get a blanket.
I decided to take the students to yard sales. I figured that they could find the things they needed cheaply, and surely that Japanese boy could find a second hand blanket. No one was selling second hand blankets that day. I took them to a free give away put on by a church thinking maybe there was a blanket there, but there was no blanket. That kid was going to get cold at night!
I was at home one day helping my daughters in their room. We were cleaning up. My youngest daughter was up on the top bunk bed, and she grabbed her pink Barbie blanket and threw it into the floor saying, “I hate this blanket! I hate pink! I hate Barbies! Why does everyone give me pink and Barbies?” My older daughter picked the blanket up and said, “I think we should we give it to Koh.” Koh was the Japanese boy. I told her that surely he wouldn’t want it because it was a pink Barbie blanket, but she insisted to ask him if he would take it, and I knew he needed a blanket. I thought perhaps we could dye it or cover it or something because he really did need a blanket.
The next time I saw the Japanese student, I mentioned it to him. He liked the idea. I explained that the blanket was a pink Barbie blanket, and perhaps he wanted us to try to dye it another color or cover it with something. He insisted it didn’t matter. He wanted the pink Barbie blanket just like it was. I went along with it, and we gave him the pink Barbie blanket.
It was summer, and the only students at the school then were the oriental students in the Welcome Program. The Americans were still on vacation. Koh, the Japanese student, loved the Barbie blanket! He thought it was a great joke! He was 19 years old and a guy. He thought no one would ever take him having a pink Barbie blanket seriously. He grabbed that Barbie blanket, wrapped it around his shoulders and went running down the hallways of the school. The other oriental students were completely amused by him. Everyone was laughing. They all got his joke. It seemed that the blanket being pink and made for a little girl wasn’t going to be a problem, but we were all wrong.
The American students showed up for school. Koh had the Barbie blanket on his bed. I really don’t know what happened, but Koh walked into my classroom one day with a bag, and he quietly slipped it under my desk. He said, “Maybe you should cover it or dye it. The American boys don’t understand.” I could tell that something crazy had happened from his demeanor, but I never asked him what those boys said or did. I just took the blanket and took a extra piece of cloth I had and sewed it over the blanket. His pink Barbie blanket was not so funny anymore. He got a blanket along with a dose of American culture.
Did you ever look at a Japanese girl and think, “Wow! She is wearing every color of the rainbow! Doesn’t she have anything that matches?” Or maybe you looked at a Korean girl and thought, “Why is she wearing that sweater? It is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside!” Perhaps you have seen a Korean guy wearing a pink shirt and thought, “Doesn’t he understand? Pink is for girls!” The truth is, their cultures are very different from what you are used to, and the reasons you think the Japanese girl should match or the Korean girl needs to take off her sweater just don’t exist where they are from. Every culture has their own ways of thinking about everything, and clothing can be put at the top of the list for uniqueness of thinking. After you think about culture, then you think about each individual’s family’s way of doing things, and then that individual’s personality. Americans and Orientals really do think differently about clothing.
If you are a Japanese girl, you are not thinking like an American girl. An American girl thinks when they buy a new pair of pants that they must also find a blouse to match or they just can’t buy it. As an American southerner, my mother taught me that my shoes and my purse should match, even though they don’t always. She even taught me what color my purse and shoes should be for certain seasons. Clothes are very important to American southerners! It is part of the culture. Everyone remembers the southern belles on the big plantations, and their grandchildren and great grandchildren have many of the same attitudes as their ancestors. When I was in middle school in America, there was a girl in my middle school that had a great system. She had shoe polish that made her shoes pink, blue, purple, yellow, etc. With every dress she wore, she matched her shoes to her dress. I thought it was really pretty! However, my parents would never have let me go to far as to trying to wear a different color of shoes every time I wore a different dress, but my mother taught me to match. If I was wearing a polka dotted blouse, I could never wear a plaid skirt. It just didn’t work that way. If my polka dotted blouse was blue and white, I would probably be wearing a blue skirt. That is how it works in America. In Japan, that is not how it works.
In Japan, the color of one piece of clothing does not influence the color of another piece of clothing. Each individual piece of clothing has its own unique personality and stands out from the other pieces of clothing. Where in America, we think our overall picture is the shirt and pants together or the dress and stocking together, in Japan it just isn’t that way. That pretty blue and white polka dotted blouse has its own personality and should be appreciated for itself, and the skirt or pair of pants you wear is irrelevant. You might choose a pink and purple flowered skirt with no blue or white in it, and it is expected in Japan because each piece is an entity to itself. If you look at the girls in their kimonos, the obi (the belt part) never matches the kimono itself, and they do this on purpose because the obi is a separate part with a separate personality and should be appreciated as such.
As for the Korean girl in the sweater in hot weather, she may have chosen it, or her mother or some other other family member may have put that sweater on her. She probably began with a sun dress because it is hot outside, but she has a problem. In Korea, it is considered immodest to show the top part of your arms. Yes, we have the concept in America, but it is with the top part of our legs, not our arms. In America, we think there is nothing wrong with showing arms, but conservative thinking Koreans will disagree. My daughter’s mother in law makes sure that my daughter understands that nice young women don’t show the top part of their arms. If you go to church here in Korea in the summer, it doesn’t matter, the girls will have their arms covered no matter how hot it is outside. I have bought some lace jackets to wear over my summer gear when I go to church to stop from offending anyone, but even they feel uncomfortable in the hot weather. That girl wearing the sweater may not like the sweater, but she feels compelled to wear it if she wants to be a good girl. Suits are also very popular even in summer in Korea, and they will wear those suit jackets to cover their arms.
Now, you wonder about a guy wearing pink. In America, babies wear baby pink and baby blue. The baby girls wear pink; the baby boys wear blue. As we grow, we understand that pink is for girls. Girls are much more likely to wear blue than boys to wear pink. Americans make jokes about guys wearing pink. Sometimes, a guy will have his picture taken in pink and say, “It takes a real man to wear pink!” This means, “I am not scared! I challenge anyone to stop me from wearing pink! If you bother me, I am tough enough to take it!” Other guys just avoid pink all together because they don’t want people to think they are gay. However, that cultural norm is not in Korea or Japan. Guys wear pink in Korea and Japan. They don’t have the color code for the babies like America has. They don’t have guys trying to prove how macho they are like America has. They don’t have a gay problem like America has. They are not scared of pink because they have no idea there is a problem. When I first got to Korea, I was guilty of seeing guys wearing pink and thinking, “Oh, my! If he only knew what an American guy would do to him or say to him for wearing pink!” It is just part of the American culture.
Japan and Korea grew up thousands and thousands of miles from America. America is a combination of European and American Indian attitudes all mixed together, and there are several European countries represented. Europe didn’t even interact with China until Marco Polo, and he brought back fire crackers, spices, and fantastic tales of China to Europe. Korea was a hermit nation. They didn’t want anyone to even know they existed for many, many years. If someone happened into Korea in those days, they weren’t allowed to leave because Korea didn’t want news of their existence going out into the world. The Japanese also didn’t interact with the west until modern times. The cultures of China, Japan, and Korea shared back and forth with one another, but they grew independently of Europe, and the way of thinking can be so vastly different that people from the west just don’t understand how different sometimes. Between one European country and another or between America and a European country, the way of thinking is much closer than between any of these countries and America. In recent years, Japan and Korea have had lots of foreign influence, and we have learned a lot about them, but their basic core is still very different from ours, and it influences how they think about all kinds of things, and clothing is just one of those things.
I invented this dish for my kids. All kids love macaroni and cheese. I have seen parents complain on Facebook that they want their kids to eat broccoli, but they won’t. However, my kids ate broccoli growing up and eat it even now. This dish was part of getting them to appreciate broccoli. This evening, I didn’t have any broccoli to add to mine, but if you cut the broccoli up in bite sized pieces, and steam them until they are soft, and add them, the kids will eat the broccoli gladly. After that, you can make just broccoli and cheese sauce, and after that, you might even get them to eat raw broccoli with Ranch Style dressing,. Just take it a step at a time to get them to the point of eating broccoli if that is what you want. This dish is a place to begin, and even alone, it gives kids all kinds of things that are good for them.
Kids need the carbs in the macaroni to grow. First, I prepared the macaroni by boiling water. I put a couple of drops of cooking oil in the water so the macaroni wouldn’t stick together. After the water boiled, I added the macaroni and let it boil until it was soft.
While the macaroni was cooking, I browned a package of hamburger. When it was done, I turned it off. I grated about a cup of cheese. Usually, for macaroni and cheese, they use cheddar or jack cheese.
Next, I got a sauce pan. I melted about 4 or 5 tablespoons of cooking butter in the sauce pan. I added enough flour to it to make a paste and let it cook until it was bubbly. After that, I added about 2 cups of milk. I mixed it with a wire whip to keep it from getting lumps. I just kept cooking and stirring until it turned into a white sauce, then I added the grated cheese and stirred it in letting it melt. I salted it to taste, and I turned it off.
When the macaroni noodles were finished, I poured them into a colander in the sink to get the water out of the noodles. I then poured the macaroni noodles back into the pan. Next, I poured the cheese sauce and the browned hamburger into the noodles. If I had steamed broccoli, this is when I would add the steamed broccoli. However, this evening, I didn’t have any broccoli, so I had to think of another vegetable to eat on the side. I mixed everything together
The dish was done. This may not look like the most tasty thing an adult has ever eaten. After all, it isn’t quiche or Spanish rice or anything else that nice, but kids really like it. It is filling and full of vitamins that kids need. It does taste good. It just isn’t some sophisticated dish from another country, but something made to keep kids happy and healthy, and it isn’t very complicated to make which is something every young mother needs. We enjoyed ours this evening even though my kids are big now.
There is a very unusual concept in Japan that those who are not Japanese will have a little bit of trouble grasping, but I am going to try to describe it for you. The name of this concept is the “Wa.” If you are Japanese, you are accepted by the Japanese Wa, but if you are not Japanese, only special people get accepted by the Wa, and they will never be part of the Wa, only accepted. Many people feel like it is strange that if you were not born in Japan of Japanese parents, then you can never get Japanese citizenship, but understanding the Wa may help you understand why the Japanese have a law like that. The Wa is the oneness of the Japanese people.
If you are Japanese, you have been born into a very long line of tradition. You have black hair. You have dark almond shaped eyes that some people call slanted. You have white, almost yellow skin. You look like everyone else in Japan, and that gives the Japanese a kind of secure feeling. They are very comfortable being part of the Japanese people because they understand who the others are and know where they fit, very unlike the American society where everyone wants to be different. In Japan, they like being the same.
Just because you are oriental doesn’t mean that you are accepted into the Wa. The Koreans, the Chinese, the Cambodians, the Vietnamese, etc. all have a different history and traditions than the Japanese people and all think differently than the Japanese, so are not part of the Wa. Only Japanese can be part of the Japanese Wa.
The Wa keeps the Japanese in check. It causes a lower crime rate because no one would go against the way things are supposed to be done in the Wa because it is a shame if they do. However, a usually very normal, peaceful guy in Japan may leave Japan and become someone completely different outside of Japan because the other Japanese are not there to keep in in check. Many Japanese businessmen have a reputation outside of Japan for raising cane, getting drunk, and causing trouble because they are away from Japan. In Japan, they would be embarrassed to ever to do the things they do outside of Japan, but there is no one there to shame them into doing the right thing when they are outside of Japan. Within this Wa in Japan, the Japanese keep one another in check with shame.
If you go to Japan, in order to make friends, you must be accepted by the Wa. You must be accepted by Japanese people. If your looks or your conduct is such that the Japanese would never approve of you, then you are an outsider no matter how hard you try. However, if you have the right personality and the right looks that they are comfortable with, and someone accepts you, then the others will also accept you. When you are in Japan, you need to do everything you can to learn the Japanese customs and try to follow them if you want Japanese friends. However, the Japanese are forgiving of foreigners because they know that their rules are new to the foreigners, but they expect you to try to fit in. If you mess up too badly, though, a Japanese will never talk to you again. It is a normal Japanese way to give people a cold shoulder the rest of their lives who mess up. The Japanese can be very strict, so listen to their rules and try to follow them if you want to be friends with them.
Within the larger Wa in Japan, there are several smaller Wa groups. Within these groups, the people have even more in common. They feel comfortable in this group because they know these people think the way they do. Most Japanese have a real longing to be the same as the others just as the Americans have a real longing to stand out from the crowd. This Wa concept is not something that Americans easily understand because Americans are all so different, but the sameness in Japan gives the Japanese people a feeling of comfort.
The unusual thing in the past several years is the amount of Japanese who have opted to marry foreigners. In Korea, the Korean government has encouraged the relationship with the English speaking countries of the west, and some Koreans are marrying non Koreans, but some of the other Koreans just absolutely can’t accept all the foreigners in Korea. When my daughter and her Korean husband were dating, there were people who gave them a lot of trouble because they didn’t think a Korean should date a foreigner. I actually would have expected that attitude more from Japanese because of their Wa attitude, but it hasn’t worked that way. Many Japanese are marrying foreigners. My Japanese son in law basically said he felt free to marry my daughter even though she wasn’t Japanese because the Japanese people accepted me. I have thought a lot about that, and what it is about me that the Japanese accepted because I know not everyone is as accepted as I was in Japan.
I have studied in Japan. I have worked in Japan. I have Japanese in my family. I love Japan, but I know I am not Japanese, and I am not part of the Wa, but the Wa accepted me, not as part of the Wa, but as a friend of the Wa. I think back to a Cross Cultural Communications class I took in college when I was in a discussion group with a group of Japanese students. They were telling me how glad they were that I was in their group and not one of the other Americans in the class. I was surprised. They told me that the students with blue eyes, red hair, blond hair, etc., the ones who didn’t have dark hair and dark eyes gave them the feeling that they were from outer space, like they were aliens from another planet. Their pink skin bothered the Japanese. However, I was there with dark brown hair, brown eyes, and white almost yellowish looking skin, and they felt comfortable looking at me. I know what I look like has a lot to do with the Japanese attitude toward me, and I was also very shy back then just like many of the young Japanese girls. It made the Japanese comfortable because they were used to personalities like mine.
This doesn’t mean that the Japanese won’t love you if you don’t have the same coloring, but it does mean that even though around the world, people with blond hair and blue eyes always seem to be the ultimate, they aren’t in Japan. The Japanese could accept them if they behave themselves and follow the Japanese rules. However, get ready for it, if you weren’t born a Japanese, you will never be a Japanese even if you look like one. If you aren’t Japanese, you will never be part of the Japanese Wa even if the Wa accepts you as a friend. If you are not Japanese, you will never have Japanese citizenship no matter how much Japanese you study, no matter how long you live in Japan, no matter what you look like or act like. It just doesn’t happen. There is a border between the Japanese people and the rest of the world that none of us will cross, and we will never truly understand the security the Japanese people feel of being part of the Japanese Wa.