Archive for February, 2010

A Photo Tour of Bulguk Temple

by on Monday, February 22nd, 2010

1-Jahamun, 2-Dabotap, 3-Seokgatap, 4-Daeungjeon, 5-Museoljeon, 6-Birojeon, 7-Gwaneumjeon, 8-stairs, 9-rocks, 10-Geuknakjeon, 11-Anyangmun
1-Jahamun, 2-Dabotap, 3-Seokgatap, 4-Daeungjeon, 5-Museoljeon, 6-Birojeon, 7-Gwaneumjeon, 8-stairs, 9-rocks, 10-Geuknakjeon, 11-Anyangmun
In front of the Jahamun at Bulkuksa

In front of the Jahamun at Bulkuksa

 On January 11, I posted a photo essay of a winter walk up the Namsan, a mountain south of Kyongju. This post will be a tour of Bulguksa (Buddhist Land Temple) southeast of Kyongju, using photos I took during my many visits. We’ll start at the main gate and move slowly toward the back of the temple complex. (Click on any of the pictures for a better view.)

Bulguksa is the country’s number-one historic and cultural site and a masterpiece of Shilla (Silla) Dynasty art and architecture. The current temple was built from 751-774 on the site of a previous temple. This was under the direction of King Gyeongdeok’s Prime Minister Kim Daesong. The wooden parts of the buildings were destroyed during the Japanese invasions in the late sixteenth century and restored under President Park Chunghee, but the stonework is the original Shilla construction. The temple belongs to the Chogye (Jogye) Order. A link to the Wikipedia entry is on your right. Korea/Bulkuksa/sign/CarolDussereKorea/Bulkuksa/temple/first/gate/CarolDussere

We pass through the first gate, pass female gardeners in their white sunbonnets, walk over the pond bridge  and then come to the main gate, a building which houses the huge statues of the Guardians of the Four Directions.  Korea/Bulguksa/pond/CarolDussere  Korea/Bulkuksa/guardian/CarolDussere

  Inside the main complex, we see first the Jahamun (Mauve Mist Gate) and the two flights of stairs leading up to it, called Blue Cloud Bridge and White Cloud Bridge, which together symbolize the thirty-three steps to enlightenment.
Korea/Bulguksa/steps/CarolDussereKorea/Bulguksa/stairs2/CarolDussereWe take the road up the hill and around Jahamun in order to see the two pagodas. This is Dabotap, dedicated to the many treasures mentioned in the Lotus Sutra. Korea/Bulguksa/Dabotap/pagoda/CarolDussereKorea/Bulkuksa/hallway/CarolDussereKorea/Bulguksa/temple/doorway/CarolDussere Korea/Bulguksa/eaves/CarolDussereKorea/Bulguksa/dragon/CarolDussere

Here are some shots of temple roof eaves and a corner dragon.

Moving further back, we find two more sets of stairs and some more temple halls with altars (no photos permitted).

These are Birojen, the relics monument near it it and Gwaneumjeon and the gate in front of it, then through it to rooftopsKorea/Bulguksa/Birojeon/CarolDussere.




 Then steps descending from the back. Korea/Bulguksa/steps/CarolDussereKorea/Bulguksa/stairway/CarolDussere

 Not all of the stonework is the mortalless Shilla Dynasty work that Bulguksa is famous for. At the edge of the complex, we find a well and an area filled with tiny rock piles, a shamanist bid for good fortune.  Korea/Bulguksa/well/CarolDussereKorea/Bulguksa/temple/shamanism/CarolDussere







As we leave, we look out over the lovely countryside. Korea/Bulguksa/environs/CarolDussere

American Wife, Korean Husband, Part 2

by on Saturday, February 13th, 2010

In the following interview we hear from a woman who had a difficult time with her mother in-law, a problem Valerie mentioned. In late 1988 when we did this interview, Shirley was a petite, dark-haired, vivacious woman in her early thirties. She had reached the end of her patience with her husband’s mother. It was difficult for me to avoid the conclusion, with both Shirley and Valerie that what they had found in Korea was a lot of hassles and a lot of heartache. 

I should add that many of my female Korean students have told me they would never consider marrying an oldest son. Since 1988 there have been a lot of changes in habits and social mores, like how a woman sits.

Shirley’s Story

 My husband is very soft-hearted. He’s not your typical hard-driving Korean, but we’ve had some interesting experiences because of the cultural differences. When we were first married, he had never been overseas. I was not a Korean woman–also not so extremely different that I upset people–but I still did things that caused problems. For example, my husband’s family was particularly traditional, so there was very little furniture in their apartment. You sat on the floor. At that time I wore short skirts. I soon learned why Koreans don’t wear short skirts very often. Long skirts are much more comfortable if you’re sitting on the floor, even if you’re sitting with your legs together and curled around. You don’t have to keep tugging on your skirt. I started wearing pants and sitting cross-legged. [Korean women often sit in what the Japanese call the “women’s position,” with the feet tucked under the buttocks. If her skirt is a little too short, a woman sitting in this position will take out a large cloth handkerchief and spread it over her lap, which I’ve seen Saudi women do as well.] My husband would get very angry with me for days at a time because of the way I sat on the floor when his mother came over. He would often get angry at me because I did something wrong.

We started out at my mother-in-law’s apartment before we got married. She let us live together. The summer I met my husband I was living with a very nice Korean family. As Jin-seon and I got to know each other, I would go to his apartment, and he would talk me into spending the night with him. Then he would have to call up the family I rented from and make an excuse—I fell asleep or something. It was always okay with them because I was at his mother’s apartment. [Usually young foreign women staying with Koreans are expected to conform to the Korean standards of coming home early and—often—not receiving any phone calls from men.]

At Christmas time, about the time we decided to get married, I went back to the States. I was only out of the country for two weeks, but when I came back I went to his place and I didn’t go back to my room until March. I decided at that point that this was getting a little ridiculous, and I should move out. My husband suggested I move into his apartment, but he had to ask his mother. Well, she said “fine.”

But you know, Korean apartments are typically one big room, one medium-sized room, and one really small room. She gave us the very small room, which was a maid’s room. My husband had a big, office-size desk which went the length of one of the walls. There was just room for the bedding—we used a yo [a futon on the floor], not a bed—so we slept with our feet under the desk. That’s the way we lived. She had this big, huge room, and she was never there.

I was studying Korean very diligently at the time, but I often couldn’t study because this guy’s sister stayed up until two o’clock in the morning having a party. His mother was always coming into our room because the living room was not heated in the winter. Our room was our bedroom, our kitchen, our living room. It was everything. The floor was heated so we always sat on the floor. With all these people in the room all the time I wasn’t getting any work done. I couldn’t study, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do anything because it was just too crazy. Too many people coming in and out, never any privacy. We were living in a room where we couldn’t even stretch out. And this is where his mother put us.

We decided to move out, but we didn’t have any money. His mother wasn’t going to give us any money because we still weren’t married. She had agreed to let us live together, but she was embarrassed. So we got a room which wasn’t much bigger, in an apartment with a Korean couple, and we lived there for a while. But we felt uncomfortable. So we begged his mother to lend us three million won for the key money [a $4,360 deposit] for an apartment. She agreed to lend us the money provided we got married. So we got married.

The apartment was a big room, a medium-sized room and an unfinished, all-cement kitchen. We wanted to use one room as a study and one room as a bedroom. His mother wouldn’t go for that. Since it was her three million won, we had to rent out the other room. So we were back to one room, although it was bigger.

Still his family was coming into our room. They were coming their apartment over to our house and into our room. We were still crowded with his family. Once I was very sick after being exposed to a lot of tear gas at the university where I was teaching. [This would be from riot police fighting demonstrators.] I couldn’t even get out of bed, and his family was all over my room, sitting there and talking. I remember I couldn’t even sit up, and I kept thinking, “What the hell are all these people doing here?  I’m sick! Get them out of here!”  He couldn’t understand. He was too Korean.

 Then a really strange thing happened. His mother was lying on the floor across the doorway watching TV, and I wanted to go to the bathroom. So I stepped over her and left the room. I didn’t know that in Korea when you step over somebody, it means you want them to die. I had no idea. How was I ever supposed to know this?  My husband wouldn’t talk to me for two weeks. He had no idea I didn’t know. How would he know I didn’t know?  How would I know what I had done was so terrible?  So we sat there, and I begged him, “Would you please tell me what I did wrong?  I have no idea what I did wrong.”  After two weeks he finally told me. That was when we decided we had to go to the States for a while. First, because this misunderstanding proved that he didn’t know a thing about the culture I came from, and second because I was quitting my job at the university because of the tear gas.

Since I’ve been back here, I’ve been dealing with his family without having him here to protect me. When I make mistakes, I find out about them. For example, his mother’s a farmer now. She lives in the countryside. She’s a very rich woman, she has lots of apartments, but she lives like a pauper in the countryside. On Chusǒk, the big Korean holiday, I went down there to help her harvest. It was my only free weekend, the only one I’ve had for months. I had to work like a dog. Well, his mother is incredible. She’s sixty-seven years old. After she had worked in the fields with us all day, she got up to take a fifty-kilo bag of food to market. My two sisters-in-law, my niece and I were all too tired to move. We stayed at the house and ate, and they fell asleep. I stretched out and read a book.

It was the night of the closing ceremony of the Olympics. I was depressed because my apartment had a perfect view of the fireworks, and I wasn’t there, I was exhausted after working my butt off. Well, his mother came home, and I continued reading. That was terrible. I should have gotten up, cooked my mother-in-law dinner and sat with her while she ate. But how was I supposed to know?  In America you don’t have to do that. So that was one mistake.

The next day we were leaving, and my mother-in-law gave us each several bags of food. We were two women and a nine-year-old girl going back to Seoul. We were exhausted. I said, “Mother-in-law, we can’t take these bags.”  Well, that was a big, big mistake. We had no choice but to lug them back with us.

Then as we were leaving, my mother-in-law offered me 10,000 won [$13.50 at the time]. Here I had worked like a dog all weekend. She’s never bought me anything or given me anything. I have no savings because my husband keeps giving her all this money because she’s old and she’s his mother. She has so much money she doesn’t know what to do with it, but he keeps giving her more. So I have worked all weekend and she gave me 10,000 won. I said, “Don’t give me money. Keep it. I don’t want it.”  Being polite. The American way. We don’t want to take your money. We help you out of good will. Well, that was wrong. If your mother-in-law offers you money, you take it, and you bow and say, “Thank you, Mother.”

So that was how I ended my weekend trip to the farmhouse. I called my husband up, I was crying, and I said, “I made so many mistakes and I tried so hard to be nice to your mother. It’s impossible to be nice to your mother.”  If I were Korean, my life would be a hundred percent more miserable. Because I’m American, I get away with a lot. But even now my husband sometimes doesn’t understand. He knows that most Americans would not put up with what I put up with. I do it because I understand, and I try to make him happy. Sometimes people tell me that I’m a hypocrite because, although I work hard running this school and I believe in women’s liberation, I still bow to his family, and I cook for his family, and I am a very traditional Korean wife in front of his family. I don’t feel I’m being hypocritical. I’m trying to make the best of my situation because I love my husband.

I can still do what I want to do. I’m still moving along in my career. The other day, I must admit, I got fed up with the whole situation, and I decided I didn’t want to see his mother anymore. My life was too miserable. He told me I was giving up.

“It’s not that I’m giving up, it’s just that it’s too difficult. This job takes up so much of my time.”  In Korea, if the mother-in-law calls, you drop everything and run. It doesn’t matter what your job is. I can’t do that and hold down the job I have.

He’s very sensitive about his mother. The mother-son tie in this country, I still cannot understand it. I’m afraid that eventually we’re going to have to bring her back to the States with us. He’s the oldest son, and it’s his job to look after her.

American Wife, Korean Husband, Part 1

by on Sunday, February 7th, 2010

In 1960, when I was eighteen and my family was on its way to Germany, a well-meaning soul called me aside and told me that, while he expected I might be dating some Germans during the coming year, I should keep in mind the fact that in general they did not make very good husbands. About ten months later I briefly considered marriage to a German university student who wanted me to marry him, but I sensed that, just as his socialist activism had not prevented him from courting an American with Viennese waltzes and baskets of roses, it would not prevent him from displaying deep-seated patriarchal attitudes which corresponded in the United States more closely to my father’s generation than to mine. In 1972 I learned that my friend had found himself at the pinnacle of the Romantic quest—fighting for democracy in Greece—and in a prison of the military junta, where he had good company, I’m sure.     

Twenty years later on the other side of the world, I interviewed a woman who had been living in Korea for eleven years. “I would say visiting foreigners get the message right off,” she said. “This is a man’s world, they own it and run it, and it’s theirs.”  For a Western woman who is considering marrying a Korean man, this is a potential problem. Women exist to serve the men and the men’s parents. The offspring of mixed marriages encounter such prejudice and such strong feelings about racial purity that they have to attend very expensive private schools for international students.

Shortly after I arrived in Korea I heard about a support group for the very small percentage of Western women married to Korean men and about a group of women going out to dinner at a nice restaurant, complaining about their husbands and drawing angry responses from Korean men in adjoining tables. Eventually I met Valerie, an attractive woman in her forties with striking blond, peaches-and-cream coloring. Her gentle warm-heartedness, even disposition and fair-mindedness impressed me immediately. Valerie seemed to have a deep sense of empathy for Korean women as well as the Western women who qualified for her support group. [Valerie recommended Dugan Romano, Intercultural Marriage: Promises and Pitfalls . Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1988].

I should add that a significant factor in this story is age. I interviewed her in 1992, when Valerie’s husband was well past retirement age, more than twenty years older than his wife, and his behavior was out of date. When Valerie questioned her English students on their behavior with their wives, she found quite a difference between the reactions of men in their forties and men in their thirties. For example, one student over forty said he’d never apologized to his wife for anything, while the younger students had done so. 

Valerie’s story

After I met two other Western women who were married to Koreans, we decided we needed a support group, and we just developed it as we went along. The cultural differences between Korea and the West are so profound that people don’t even realize that’s what they are. If they find out that some of their problems are just cultural, they can deal with them differently. And they can share their solutions with the group.

For example, I like to cook. I would cook things, and my husband might refuse to eat them. Even though he might eat the same thing in a restaurant, if I made it for him, he would just push it away and say, “I don’t want that. I don’t eat that.”  I was enraged that anybody would react that way to my cooking. I always took it quite personally.

Since then I’ve learned a lot from my students, who are Korean men. One told me that when he got married his supervisor at work told him, “The first time she serves you food, you should kick the table away. That indicates your lack of pleasure.”  In other words, he was to keep her on her toes. That’s how I learned that a lot of what I found difficult was cultural, not a personal affront to me.

Shortly after that, I gave my husband some dumplings, some mandu and soup for breakfast, and he pushed it away and said, “We don’t eat that for breakfast.”

I said, “I’ve seen you eat that for breakfast,” and I pushed it right back. Unfortunately, by that time my anger was just too far gone. It was like a spring under pressure, ready to go. I couldn’t deal with it.

Even after years of marriage, situations come up which are just completely baffling. A couple of months ago, I told my husband at the beginning of April that at the end of the month our daughter’s teacher and her family were coming over for dinner. It was Greek Easter, and I wanted to cook a big Greek dinner. I mentioned this to him two or three times during the month. A few days before the dinner I mentioned it again, and he said, “I won’t be here.”

“What do you mean you won’t be here?”

“I’ve got a date to play golf.”

“What do you mean you’ve got a date to play golf?  I’ve been telling you all along we have the teacher coming to dinner.”

“Oh. Well, I thought you told me so I could make other arrangements.”

 From a Western point of view that just doesn’t make any sense. The next day I went to work and mentioned this to one of the students, a young man around thirty-two years old. He said, “If my wife had done that, I would think she was telling me so I could make arrangements not to be home when the teacher came.”  So I guess this is a Korean thing. [It might have to do either with the wife’s being in charge of the children’s education or with women and men socializing separately.]

The group has been a big help. I’ve also learned about problems other people have which I don’t. For example, a marriage might have worked when the couple lived in the States or Canada or England. Maybe the guy was educated there and had adapted to certain customs. But after they came back to Korea he probably reverted to his old behavior. Under family pressure, his loyalties changed and he put his family first–before his wife. The in-law problem is one of the worst. My husband’s relatives are all either dead or not part of his life, so I haven’t had that problem, but I’ve heard about it over and over again–terrible, terrible problems with the in-laws.

One woman married into a wealthy family—they own a company or something—who forced her to live in the old family home out in the village. She had to wash clothes on rocks in a cold stream. They put her through everything they could. They never did acknowledge her as the son’s wife. She was a foreigner, and they were getting even with her for having married the son. Some years later, when she had to go to the in-laws’ house, she would just go and sit in the kitchen. That’s what they wanted her to do. They paid no attention to the child, a girl, who fortunately did not realize why she was being ignored, or wasn’t aware of it.

There have been other cases where the parents refused to acknowledge a marriage to a Westerner or refused to have anything to do with the couple afterwards—or where all the son’s resources went to the family. I know of one case where the husband, the Western wife, and two children were living in a tiny apartment about the size of this [medium-sized] room. Then he bought a new apartment and moved his mother into it. All the money went to his mother and sisters.

 I know a woman who came to this country in 1964. She came with three children, three babies, and her husband’s family met her at the airport. They all went somewhere to eat and then went over to the apartment the husband had rented. The relatives sat around the side of the room talking for a very long time, and then they began looking at her. She got her husband aside and said, “Why are they all looking at me?”

“Well, they’re hungry.”

“Of course they’re hungry. We ate lunch a long time ago. Why don’t they go home?”

“They’re expecting you to feed them.”

The woman had just had a long flight across the Pacific, didn’t speak the language or know anything about the city or how to shop for food here. Meanwhile someone had brought in a big bundle tied up in cloth and put it down on the floor. Inside were some pots and dishes and soup bowls and eating equipment. They had brought this because they knew she wouldn’t have these things, but they did expect her to cook them a meal. Well, somehow they rustled up some vegetables and some beef and rice, and she made a soup. But as they were eating, every once in a while someone would turn around and look at her very strangely. In California you didn’t have to wash the rice, and she hadn’t realized that in Korea you do. They were biting down on the stones and grit. She said they didn’t come back to dinner for a long time. It was the best move she ever made.

When I hear these family problems, my husband says, “Aren’t you glad now?”

“Yeah.”  When I married I had felt bad about the fact that my children wouldn’t have paternal grandparents, but now I consider it a blessing. I know women—Western and Korean—waiting for the mother-in-law to die.

It’s much easier for Western men who marry Korean women. The Asian man is used to being catered to completely, while the Western woman is hoping for more of an egalitarian relationship. Western men are much more independent, much stronger, much more masculine. I think they are. Even somebody like my father, who’s definitely a male chauvinist pig, is capable of taking care of himself. Now, if someone else is around he’ll hope they’ll do the work for him, but he can take care of himself. Most men in the West can cook something if they have to or find some way to eat. They’re not dependent on women to give them two socks that match. Anyway, I once listened to this guy tell me about his problems with his Korean wife. After the marriage when she was rushing around drawing his bath for him and his water for shaving—nobody really knows the temperature you want your bath but you—he kept thinking, “Soon the honeymoon will be over, and things will get back to normal, and in the morning, when I kiss her good-bye in the morning before going off to the army, she’ll still be in bed.”  But she was still rushing around doing these things for him, and he would have preferred to be allowed to do them for himself.

Korean women are much stronger than the men in some ways. I’ve asked them about how to put up with Korean men. “Ignore them,” both educated and uneducated women say that. “Ignore them.”  Because of the culture, Korean women have had to manipulate much more than we do. Once when I was discussing something with a friend of mine, I said, “You know I never told my husband about this matter, but he figured out what I was talking about.”

My friend said, “It’s your fault. A Korean woman would never have let him figure out what she was thinking. It would not have happened.”

When these basically very strong Korean women go to the United States with their American husbands, at first it’s a terrible situation for them because they can’t function as they’re used to, handling the finances, taking care of the bills. All of a sudden checks and bills are coming in from all over, and they don’t know what to do with them. [Korea is a cash-based society. You pay bills by making deposits at the bank. Only the very rich have checking accounts.]  But they’re fast learners. Once they get on their feet, they have much more freedom than they did in Korea. This is the opposite of what happens to a Western woman who comes here, but in both cases the relationship may not be flexible enough to adjust. I’ve heard that the divorce rate in marriages of Korean women and American men is over eighty percent, but I don’t know whether it’s really that high.

The ajumma comes out in Korean women no matter who they marry. It comes out immediately. The word ajumma means “aunt,” “matron,” “ma’am.”  It’s a term of address for someone you don’t know, like a shopkeeper. But in the sense I’m using it to describe this transformation, the sweet little flower of the East, so full of gentleness and love and idealism, is walking down the street. You blink, and you see someone that you really wouldn’t want to do battle with. “Thank you very much, I’ll just stay out of your way.” Often after marriage the hairstyle changes, the whole manner changes. She becomes this tough little woman pulling a great big Westerner along behind her. [Leila Philip, in The Road through Miyama (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), p. 65, gives a wonderful description of the same process in Japan, as the childlike bride becomes first the woman who rules the home with an iron fist and then the tough, independent, outspoken and self-sufficient fifty-year-old woman. The author, a young American potter, single and independent, felt the most affinity with the oldest group.]

Combo kids [Eurasians or Amerasians] tend to identify with the nationality of the more dominant partner, which is usually the father. I knew an American who came here in the Peace Corps, learned Korean, liked Korea so much that when he went back to the States he sought out Korean women, married one and returned with her. Clearly there was no rejection of Korea on his part, but the child rarely touched any Korean food and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a hanbok [traditional costume].

We have a Korean-style marriage. Here the husbands and the wives socialize separately. My husband doesn’t have the kind of business dinners which include kisaeng [geisha], bar hostesses or prostitutes, but we don’t socialize as a couple. I was invited over to the house of one of his business associates once. I think my husband went back many times, but the wives weren’t included. [Even when the wives are included, they may spend the evening in a separate room from the men.]

That’s another function the support group serves. It provides a social outlet. It’s one I don’t have when we’re in the States, and I miss it. There it’s assumed that we would associate with others as a couple, which we don’t do. My single friends plan things which don’t take family responsibilities into consideration—the kids’ or husbands’ dinner or whatever. So it’s very hard. Our group here does that automatically.