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Relationships : How I Met My Wife in Korea…

August 18, 2010 2 comments

…and what happened between then and now.
I met Uhni at Sunlin College in Pohang, South Korea in September 2007. The circumstances were not amazing, but they were divinely orchestrated. I firmly believe this.
I went to South Korea primarily because I felt like God had called me there. I know that Uhni was part (but not all) of that calling, and she was definitely worth the leap of faith.
We met at first simply for her to learn English, but we soon struck a deal. Because being alone in Korea is lonely (imagine that), we traded English lessons and activities. She would take me to see a movie, or get new glasses, or something, and I’d teach her English. It was a lot nicer than charging money. Another reason I liked this arrangement is that she was a real friend. In Pohang, there is a fair amount of interest in westerners amongst younger people. While there are many westerners in Seoul, there were relativity few in the smaller cities. This created an environment where people would often come and want to talk with me, but have very little real interest in me, personally.
Uhni was different, and honest, and something not completely normal to me, or to Korea. I knew I liked her after the first meeting, but it was about a month before I knew I wanted to date her. We were at the Kyungju world expo. There wasn’t some golden moment or some key event, though the day did mark my first train trip. Instead it was the cumulation of a great day with a girl I really liked.
Some time later I asked her if she would date me. She didn’t answer immediately, by any definition of the word. For about two months I would occasionally ask, and she would decline to answer (neither “yes” nor “no”). Patience is a virtue.
So she said yes, eventually, but I went back to America a few months later. She was going to come to America to study, if she could get the visa for it, which is no simple thing. We waited 7 months before we could see each other again, which is neither a dramatic, nor inconsequential amount of time. Again, patience was a key theme.
While we were apart, we talked over the Internet. When she arrived in January, the time I had waited suddenly dissolved and things felt like a continuation from before. Of course she had a lot of new problems to deal with. She missed her parents, she hated carpet, she had to deal with roommates and English and classes and new food and a bunch of other problems. The first year was hard on her. I’m proud of how she has adapted.
As I wrote in the entry prior, this Christmas I went back to visit her parents. I’d met them before, but this time I had an agenda. I asked her father for permission to marry her. This is apparently not a Korean custom, as, between my bad Korean, their non-English and confusion about expectations, it was a big mess. She was brought into the situation to translate for me. No surprise engagements here. Her parents didn’t answer yes or no. Instead, we waited about 6 months before they gave our wedding their blessing.
Now, as we near three years of knowing each other, we get ready for the biggest step. Tomorrow afternoon we will be married. We have the blessings of her parents and mine. It’s a small wedding, but a big deal. I’ve known for a long time I wanted to marry her, and now that’s about to happen.

Relationships : Return

August 17, 2010 Leave a comment

This Christmas I returned to Korea for a month with my girlfriend. As soon as Finals were finished, we rushed to the airport and hopped from Detroit (missing the terrorist scare that happened two days later) to Narita to Busan.
First, the practical: Busan is a much easier-going airport, and it’s so much closer to Pohang. If you need to fly into Pohang, Busan, etc, it’s worth paying a hundred or so more to go to Busan. The bus from Inchon to Pohang was about $70, last time I checked, and took about 5 hours if traffic is good. The car ride from Busan to South Pohang was about an hour and a half. So much nicer. I don’t think Busan had free wifi, though. I didn’t check carefully, though.
I stayed with her parents for the duration of the trip. I’d met them before, when I was a student at Sunlin University, so things were not too awkward. Their apartment was bigger than the one I’d stayed in with my roommate, but still smaller than what I would expect for a small city in America. That said, the use of space was interesting. The water heater was in the living room. There was a piano, but no couches or chairs; we sat on a rug on the floor. The TV was also the computer (which I prefer, anyway). The living room phased seamlessly to a kitchen/dining room.
There were three bedrooms. The one I stayed in was about 5 paces by 7 paces. Small paces. The bed mattress sat directly on the floor (no frame), and off the side there was a closed in porch. There were similar porches on the other side of the apartment and off the kitchen. These porches were storage and closet space, and worked ok, except that they could get bitterly cold in the winter (and presumably hot in the summer, but neither condition is uncommon).
We ate lots of different foods. I got to try Bundaegi: A boiled silk worm larva, which tastes bad. It would be much better fried, in my opinion. I ate more Boshintang (dog soup) and learned that different colored dogs have different qualities. I ate lots of rice, but not an overwhelming amount. We ate a variety of seafood. We also ate some very good Tofu, amongst the best I’ve had.
I met her grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. They were very nice, accepting people. Her uncle tried acupuncture on me. It didn’t hurt, but it also didn’t seem to have an effect. I played games with her cousins, which I lost terribly. I watched her get something called “dum” which the Internet suggests might be called Moxibustion. Basically, the process involved normal acupuncture, followed by placing a small, cylindrical wick over the needle and letting it burn down. The wick worked a lot like a “punk” used on the forth of July, and burned very slowly. It was a charcoal black color and contained an undefined medicine. It was supposed to be a lot more effective, though it didn’t seem to actually work that much, and analytically, I don’t know what it added besides heat.
We went “skating” on a frozen river. Since they don’t get much rainfall in the winter, the river was quite low. And, because their temperatures were more stable, the ice was thick. Tons of people were out walking on the ice. The skating was actually renting little sleds. Even sled seems like a misnomer, as these were small squares of plywood with thin angle-iron screwed to the bottom. Still, it was a lot of fun, and not too cold.
I met some of her former work friends. They talked for five hours in rushed, difficult Korean, and I followed almost none of it. It was boring, after a while, but I survived. I also got to see a Korean health Clinic. A simple examination, with prescription, was only $4 (including the medicine) with insurance. Gas was much more expensive, however.
Christmas was fun, but less eventful. We ate a cake and went to church in the morning. Still, it was nice to do something, as Christmas isn’t really as big a deal to them as it is to us, even among Christians. It was at least as reverent, though. Speaking of reverence, I went to her family’s church. It was a big church downtown I’d been to a few times. The main service was ok, but not really to my liking. The real impression was made after the normal service, when the pastor spent about 45 minutes detailing his 10 year plan, complete with PowerPoint slides. It was very much a business meeting and seemed incredibly too money-and-growth focused. I was disgusted by it, and so was her family. However the next three Sundays the pastor did the same thing. I would have given up and found a new church, personally, but they still go there (eight months later).
Language was difficult. While my listening had improved, my speaking had devolved. I was a lot less confident and simply less practiced. My girlfriend is studying to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test, so we always spoke in English, and there was little occasion to use more advanced Korean. I did find that I could talk to her brother, easily, if the subject was technical or computer game based. Her dad was also very good at guessing what I meant. Her family was very nice.
Easily the most difficult part was space. There was no time alone. Even in the room, I could hear everything in the living room and the kitchen, and outside and the upstairs neighbors. There was probably not more than 5 hours of alone time in the whole month, and maybe another 5 that I could spend with just my girlfriend. And because she was at home for a month, after being gone a year, she felt obligated to spend every moment with her family.
Still, overall, it was a good trip. I will be posting more, later, about the progress of our relationship, but for now, here are some pictures from that trip: