Archive for teachers

4 weddings and a funeral

World Cup fever!!! Korea just won the game against Greece, and I yelled with the best of them (much to the chagrin of my Korean friend) at the Hongdae Jazz bar where we found ourselves.
It was there that I told my friend, Hyung, about what on did on Friday.

On Friday, all of the teachers at my school on an email message that a mother-in-law of one of the teachers had passed away, and anyone who wanted to could some to the funeral service.

I’ve been to 4 weddings in Korea, all of varying size and religion, but a funeral? That’s a very different experience. With some help from Seolah, (the art teacher) it was arranged that I would go with my ‘district’ head (Mr. Kim, who is in charge of the area where I sit in the office) and Jess, one of my fellow English co-teachers — after I went home to change. My outfit of the day (think watermelon: a neon pink shirt, black dress slacks, and neon green sneakers) would only just barely fly as appropriate, even on a foreigner.

Just like one of the weddings were the same, I don’t think one funeral is representative of Korean funerals as a whole. ‘Funeral’ is maybe not even the right word- in all intents and purpose, it was quite similar to the Jewish Shiva ceremony.

Mr. Kim, Jess and I filled into a small room and removed our shoes. The closest family members to the deceased stood at attention, receiving guests. At one end of the room there was a framed picture and some flowers. Jess nudged me, and told me to take a flower from the big vase and lay it in front of the picture. Then the guys bowed in respect.

Okay — I feel like I’m writing this out too detailed. This ain’t no anthro study – I’m just another waygookin (foreigner) in Seoul. Point is, we showed our respects.

Then comes the Shiva part: we headed into a different room and had a meal of stew, cookies, sweet drinks and beer, rice and other light snacks. The family members mingled with guests, laughing and talking about their memories. It wasn’t sad, and it wasn’t exuberant; a celebration of a life more than anything else.

And that’s it. We ate a bit and headed out our separate ways.

I guess in some ways I feel lucky to have been allowed in that space as an outsider. Most of the time, I feel very welcome in Korea (despite that pubic opinion of America may be) but I can’t ignore that I am not family/community/etc. And that’s cool.

As I drank makkgoli tonight and cheered Korea on to victory, shooting fast texts to my coworkers about the game highlights, people joked that I’ve become Korean. Maybe a better of of saying that is that between weddings and a funeral, Korea has let me fit myself in.