Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy 70th, Ex-Host-Grandfather!

After my classes on Friday, I made my way to Goheung, a really small town famous for being the "Kennedy Space Center" of Korea. Saturday was my first homestay's grandfather's (host-dad's dad) 70th birthday. In Korea, birthdays 61 and 70 are the important years. On your 61st birthday, you've lived through an entire zodiac cycle. 70 is special because, honestly, people didn't use to live that long.

It was good to see everyone again. I was meeting most of them for the second time. Friday we had dinner, watched the ball game (Kia Tigers are having a rough spring training) and went to bed. There. was. food. everywhere.

22 people slept in a four-room (5 if you include the bathroom) house. It was the worst sleep of my life. I started next to ex-Mom but somehow got wedged between two linebacker-like ahjummah's (60+ year old women). The one on the left (who wore a zebra-print outfit) snored like a bear and had probably the worst breath I've ever smelled. The one on the right could probably be a kicker on a professional football team. So, I woke up to Zebra's terrible breath and moved closer to Kicker. Right as I was falling asleep, Kicker gave me a good whack back to consciousness, leaving her leg draped over my body. Somewhere, one of the ankle-biters was whimpering about something. I laid there, huddled next to Zebra, just out of reach of Kicker thinking, "It's good to be back." Fun night. I seriously woke up a couple times (usually because of a good, hard kick) and would find myself giggling at the situation. Am I going crazy??

The party was great! It was a little awkward for me during the setup, because I didn't know (a) how to ask to help out and (b) how to actually help out. Grandpa and Grandma were dressed in hanboks (traditional Korean dress). Grandpa's four sons were in suits and their wives were in hanboks as well. The front of the house was decorated with colorful flower arrangements and food. Everyone looked great.

To kick things off, there was a traditional insa ceremony (basically, a lot of bowing and pouring of tea), followed by family pictures (yes, I was in it), followed by lunch! There was a DJ and camera man. It was just like a wedding. Over 400 people came to the party between 11am and 7pm (but for the record, I saw the first opened bottle of alcohol at 9:47). After lunch was noraebang (karaoke) and dancing.

I don't know how it happened, but I soon found myself in the very center of the ahjummah dancing group. Even more of a mystery, I found myself being told to karaoke to "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond. How they found that particular song and thought it appropriate for me to sing is beyond me. After every song, Friz (another Ahjummah I named for after her hair) would drag me away, make me drink a glass of beer and eat a cherry tomato before sending me back with a butt love tap.


Frank (nickname for an unknown old man) insisted I slow dance with him (never mind the fast song). Thank goodness ex-Mom was watching. She called me over and stalled a little (before Friz found me and dragged me away for another beer/cherry tomato/love tap).

One thing I realized during the day was that, no matter what, family is pervasive. Mannerisms, attitudes, demeanors and even looks reminded me of my own family. One quiet, intelligent older man was exactly like Grandpa Benes. Another level-headed diva with her quiet and funny husband were a dead match of Aunt Sue and Uncle George. I could go on and on. If you're reading this, I probably found a Korean match for you. In many ways it made me miss home. But, at the same time, it was comforting. Family is pervasive.

Grandma, Me, Grandpa, Oh-Nee
(What you can't see is Friz behind the camerawoman - Kicker - beckoning me over for another beer/cherry tomato/love tap combo)

Fighting a cold and fatigue (*ahem* Zebra and Kicker) I ducked out a little early for home. Where I sit, writing this for you to read. Lesson learned: everything was different (different food, traditions, idea of 'cake,' [rice cake cake? eugh.] idea of 'dessert,' [cherry tomatos are not dessert], country, etc.) but everything was the same.

Thanks for reading!


  1. What a fun time. Nice that you are so welcomed. Even though so much different, there is so much the same.

  2. 할아버지 looks great - tanned and young! A very nice picture of you even after sleepless night on a battle field. We had a big party for my mom's 70th too. Jaehoon was about 8 months old and threw up all over my shirt after 14 hours of flight from Chicago to Seoul. Yes, family and fun times. Thanks for the post.

  3. hahaha! that's what makes the memories. ^^

    yeah, 할아버지와 할머니 are farmers. I've actually worked their land. picking sweet potatoes if I remember correctly. They live in a 마을, which my phone dictionary defined as "a one-horse town," but it's absolutely beautiful. pure nature.