I’m getting a good lesson in dealing with kibun, the Korean concept of saving face. I have upset Eun Jeong three times this weekend, and I’m finding out slowly that it’s because I’m breaking the rules of good kibun. She is learning to deal with the way I do things, but there are certain hardwired cultural genes that she has that I’ll just have to learn to adjust to.
Now, this is a little intimate, and I’m sorry, Mom. Close your eyes while reading this. She was being playful Saturday evening. I was starting to recover from my head cold and was doing stuff on the computer. She had on Korean TV. She put her arms around me and bit me on the back.
Only my mother would fully understand from an incident I had in daycare at two years-old that I don’t like to be bitten on the back — painfully anyways. Eun Jeong didn’t mean to, but she bit me too hard.
I said, “Don’t laugh. I’m serious. That hurt. Don’t ever do that again.”
She got dark and withdrawn and didn’t speak to me for three hours. That was what got me to make the kimchi jjim and deokbokki that night, to make her feel better. I personally felt it was ridiculous that I should be the one making up for being wrong.
I WAS THE ONE WHO WAS BITTEN!!
Eventually, she got out of that state, and we started talking. She told me that she couldn’t explain what she felt in English. The best thing she could say was that I made her “embarrassed.”
After a while, things started clicking with me. I remembered things I had read in Lonely Planet Korea and books on Korean culture.
This was an incident of losing face.
Her laughing after biting me was her cultural way of saying she was sorry, of being submissive. By being serious and angry at her after she did that, I had shown that I did not accept her apology. I hurt her honor.
It’s funny how a trait such as honor shows how strong a person is, yet in the Western mind it can be perceived as being overly sensitive.
So there were a few more times during the weekend and week that I was being more irritable than usual and upset her kibun. I’m getting better at avoiding this, though. Looking back, we didn’t get along too well because she would frequently get into these dark moods after I did something that I would consider to be insignificant.
But I have been learning to handle this cultural dance better, and she has too. The things I did that used to piss her off don’t upset her as much anymore. And I’ve learned to pay attention to the little things like calling her every day and asking her what she had to eat each time I see or talk to her (a very important point of etiquette in Korea).
As an aside, it’s very funny that I have learned after some grief to ask her what she had to eat. She made a big deal of it. So every day, I ask her, “Mwo moggoso? (What did you eat?) or Bap moggoso? (Did you eat rice?)”
“Oh, I ate simply. Rice, kimchi, some side dish.”
Lars and I ate at what is becoming our favorite cheap samgyeopsal place. We were met by a woman speaking English. Turned out she has lived in Toronto for eight years and was visiting her mother, the restaurant’s owner, for three months. I know it was forward of me to talk about personal things with a stranger, but it’s rare to talk to a Korean woman who lives overseas and is just visiting. It’s a unique West-East perspective. So I told her about Eun Jeong and I and kibun. I didn’t mention anything about the back-biting. She agreed that kibun is very important and that I need to be more aware of it. She also said that Korean women are strong like Western men, so we match well, and we have the hardest time matching well.
I had one of those golden teaching moments today. I had assigned the class to learn about the human body for science this month. You know, Halloween — skeletons. So I made some printouts of different bodily systems like someone would have from medical school and handed them out to the class. I quickly skimmed over what each sheet was about: the skeletal system, the digestive system, the respiratory system.
Then I thought we’d have some fun talking about the digestive system. They had already had some exposure to this from a favorite “Magic School Bus” episode they watch where Miss Frizzle takes her students through a student’s digestive tract, and they even run away from a rolling ball of poop.
We have a great device at the school to teach this. It’s a vest that I put on one of the students. I chose Jack for this one. With this vest, we attach plush organs to Jack with Velcro.
So I went through the whole spiel of what happens to the food when Jack eats it. He chews it. It goes down his esophagus and swirls in his stomach until it becomes a liquid. Then it goes into the small intestine, where the nutrients get absorbed. Then it goes to the large intestine, where the body sucks water out of the waste until it goes to the rectum. When it gets there, that’s when you have to go to the bathroom, and your food becomes poop.
The kids eyes were glued to me like I was revealing the largest mystery of the universe.
Jack asked me to clarify what that thing was at the bottom of the Velcroed large intestine.
“It’s your butthole. What you eat today becomes your poop tomorrow.”
It was then time for lunch. As I served lunch, I noticed that some of the students had brought their printouts with them. I asked them why they brought them. They told me they wanted to follow where their food went as they made poop. They then ate while feeling their necks with their hands to sense the food going down.
Can a cubicle drone ever feel this sense of accomplishment? That was a successful lesson.
On Dave’s ESL Cafe message board, there was a small discussion on whether Ultra Man was anyone’s first exposure to Asia. For me, it was a campy late 1960s show called “The Space Giants.” It was a dubbed Japanese show played on WTBS. The plot was basically three humanoid robots, Goldar, his wife Silvar, and their son Gam. I don’t get why it was called “Space Giants,” since Goldar was the only one who was, well, a giant. Each of these robots could turn into rockets, and they were at the beck and call of an Earth boy named Miko, who would blow a special whistle to summon each one. Their main enemy was a Gene Simmons curly-haired aluminum foil being named Rodak.
Anyway, I found info on them online, and I’m planning to buy the DVD.
We had our first teachers’ meeting in a long time this evening. I was worried, but it turned out okay. Leia pulled a few stunts, but they were minor. The most major thing she tried to do was do a monthly workshop on Saturdays. We agreed to push it to Thursdays. She’s also reverting back to the old systems that didn’t work, which were the impetus for me creating LIZ. I decided not to fight it and wait until the old write it on paper then lose the paper system implodes again before pushing it. LIZ is sitting there waiting to be put online. I have patience.