cultural confusion holiday love

I am the mad story-stealer! I was given this tale by a coworker who began taking English classes last year. Since then, she has really taken to the English language through much discipline and practice. I was quite amazed to hear her tell this story. I’ll admit to adding some details, but the story structure is completely hers, and she told it completely in English 🙂

Min-hu was a retailer of children’s books back then. He led a quiet, simple life. He loved having conversations about interesting things with the people who came into his shop. He spoke a little English, but not much.

Greta was a teacher of English from Germany who loved to learn languages and explore new cultures. She had spent her life traveling, a life which had brought her here to Min-hu’s bookstore in a quiet little South Korean town in Jeollabukdo.

Greta began to speak with Min-hu this fateful day, partly in Korean and partly in English. Min-hu was happy to speak to this warm, kind foreigner who had a great love for her new home of Korea and children’s books. She was teaching kindergarten in those days and had come to select the right picture book for her students.

She spoke with the gentleman behind the counter. A conversation began to emerge about the season, the cold and snow, and how in Germany it is a custom to invite friends to one’s house to warm up with a hot beverage. Greta told Min-hu that she would love it if he came over to her home, as a friend, and enjoy some tea and snacks. Min-hu was delighted to accept the invitation from the stranger. He looked forward to having some practice speaking English and possibly making a new friend.

Greta went home and prepared the ingredients for tea and snacks. She wondered what Min-hu would think of the Christmas decorations she had put all around her apartment. At the agreed-upon time of 7:30 pm, Min-hu rang Greta’s doorbell. When Greta opened the door, Min-hu was overwhelmed by what he experienced.

In the air, he could smell baking ingredients like cinnamon, clove, and vanilla. The entire apartment was lit in rich amber light, and beautified with red, gold and green decorations. Awestruck, he slowly entered the apartment where there was a small tree on a table wrapped in lights in front of small fragrant pine cones sitting around to decorate the space. On each surface, a red votive sat and burned away. In bowls, there were piles of mandarin oranges, nuts and soft sweet bread. Candies sat in smaller bowls with mint candy sticks, and three large red socks adorned the window. There were lights around the windows, each with a distinct colour: one red, one green and one blue.

Greta served tea. The amazed bookseller wasn’t really sure what to say. This woman he had just met had gone to so much trouble for this evening. She loves me, he thought.

After the pleasant conversation and tea with snacks, Min-hu went home, unable to think properly. Here, this beautiful stranger had worked so hard to tell him she was interested in having a relationship with him, but he didn’t say anything in response. What she must be feeling now– hurt, rejected, unappealing– why, that would be terrible. He quite enjoyed her company, but he never expected foreign women to be so direct!

He had to show her somehow that he reciprocated her feelings. What does a man buy for a woman to show that he feels affection for her? He thought of it. Of course. Lingerie.

The next day he went and purchased some lingerie and wrapped it neatly in a package. He called Greta and told her he would love to meet again. She agreed. He went to her home the following Wednesday evening, and as before, it had been decorated and filled with sweets. He gave her the present and she thought to herself, “Oh, what a nicely wrapped present. He must celebrate Christmas the same way we do in the West.”

There was a little confusion on both sides. Min-hu hadn’t understood why Greta’s apartment looked, smelled and felt so warm and inviting. Greta didn’t think it strange to receive a present so close to the holiday. All this confusion would be unraveled with the pulling of the ribbon from the neatly wrapped, brightly coloured package. Once Greta opened the gift, she drank in the sight of the adult apparel. It was obvious how Min-hu felt, and she instantly realized how Min-hu must have been confused. “No matter,” she thought.

“I think you were confused, Min-hu. During the holiday time, it is common for Westerners to decorate their homes, bake, and put out goodies. But don’t be embarrassed. I want to teach you about another custom you might not know about. Do you see that little bundle of leaves above us?”

Greta pointed up to the beam above them where a little mistletoe was wrapped with yarn, hanging from a small nail. She explained the tradition, and then demonstrated it.

You know, Greta and Min-hu are married these days, and they still love to find out new things about each other’s culture, and other cultures around the world.


the long game

There was once a man of age who loved to play chess. He played every day and would play with anyone who challenged him. Many did not like playing with him, however, because of his unusual style.

by ~AllisonStanley

His style was to defend without attacking for many rounds. This is called the long game, but it only works if your opponent is also playing the long game. If your opponent is on the offensive, you need to strategize an attack lest you lose too many pieces to defend your territory.

The problem was that everyone knew he wouldn’t take the offensive. He would always play the long game, and always lose.

An opponent asked him once, “Why do you always play the long game when you know that you will always lose? You’ve played enough times to know that you need to take the offensive to win.”

He replied, “The reason I’ve been playing all these years is not to win. It is to find someone else who likes to play the long game.”

family stories: the broken janggu

Jason started taking classes to learn to play the janggu drum. He was not very rhythmic, and he didn’t speak Korean, but he was fascinated with the jangu drum. He picked up the sticks and he bopped the drum heads and the teacher told him to stop.

by ~FlutterbyKeir

He was holding the sticks incorrectly, his posture was erect when it should have aloof, and he played too heavily. He didn’t understand. He had memorized the beats. What was wrong?

The teacher tried to say, “Be like the lying tiger. Breathe into your center and stare at your instrument impassively.” But Jason didn’t understand.

The teacher tried to say, “Be like the eagle. Spread your wings and fly by flapping back and forth.” But Jason didn’t understand.

The teacher tried to say, “Be like the mosquito. Perch on skin without being noticed and stick in your beat suddenly, and then buzz away.” But Jason didn’t understand, and by the teacher’s hand movements, he thought she was trying to tell him a mosquito had landed on him. He tried to swat around his face and she stopped him, laughed, and shook her head.

She found the pictures on her smartphone. “Like this,” she said in English. “Watch me,” she continued. She played. Jason watched. He tried to imitate his teacher, and still he failed. He asked her, “Can I borrow a practice drum?” He motioned the taking of a drum.

His teacher shook her head, not because she wouldn’t have, just because the janggu drum is too loud to practice in an apartment. Jason’s apartment was very small.

Jason felt embarrassed for asking and his face drooped. He went to the corner where there was a janggu drum broken on both sides. He brought it to the teacher and showed her some money. “Uhl moayo?”: “How much is it?”

She pushed the drum towards him with his money. “Suh-vissuh”: “You can have it.” She told him that he was the drum. He was broken for now, but if he worked on it, he could become better. Jason didn’t understand.

“Ken-cheniyo”, said the teacher: “It’s okay.”

Jason took the janggu drum and went on his way home. He went to the paint store and found some chestnut-tinted stain. He treated the body of the drum in the park, and when it was dried, he looked at his accomplishment. He breathed into his center and out again, looking impassively at the drum. He was the lying tiger!

He then went to the hardware store, bought some strong rope and returned to the park. He looked at the old knot on the drum. He taught himself how to tie the jangu knot. Once he had replaced the old rope, he took his sticks in his hands and sat before the drum. He was now pretending to drum. He stopped when he noticed that he was drumming in the way a bird slowly flaps its wings in its majestic flight. He was the eagle!

He then went to the music shop and bought two new skins. He took them to the park and put them on each end of the drum. It was now time to play. He played subtly and gracefully. He brought the sticks to the skins delicately and then quickly made his beat. He was the mosquito!

Jason was so proud of himself that he did not return home. He ran to the music school. He showed his teacher the drum and she said, “Is it new?” Jason understood. “Aniyo”: “No.” It was the one she had given him. It was beautiful. He sat down and played for her. The teacher could not believe it. From then on, Jason was a valued member of the music school.


family stories: sixteen chungmangi

There were sixteen food stations. The caterer added a special treat to each bag of fried squid pieces: in each bag was one chungmangi.

A chungmangi is the best of all foods. It is so delicious, heaping with gobs of fresh foliage and crispy with golden flakes on the outside; it is the one treat everyone wants.

After finishing the game of Yunori, the group was ready to eat. Every station had a bag of fried squid, each with a chungmangi, many oranges and grapes, cola and orange juice.

The first person to notice the chungmangi in the bag was Han Mayor, who casually commented: “Oh, what a nice surprise, a chungmangi.”

by ~jemlith

But the mayor knew as much as anyone else that if he ate the chungmangi, he would be thought of as a poor leader, savoring the delights of which his people were deprived. So he did not take it. Everyone else at the food station, fearing they would be exalting themselves above the mayor, also left the chungmangi uneaten.

At another food station, there was Park Principal. He noticed the chungmangi and thought: “Ah, a delicious chungmangi. Surely I deserve it!”

But the principal had taught his students about humility and generosity, and a chungmangi was such a rare and expensive delight that he would not be putting his principle into practice. He left it alone. Everyone else at the food station, fearing they would be exalting themselves above the principal, also left the chungmangi uneaten.

At every food station, until the last one, the food station of Shin Director, the chungmangi was not eaten. The director found the chungmangi and thought to himself: “Oh, surely I will be the one to have the chungmangi.”

But every other station had an uneaten chungmangi, and the director had heard the murmurs of the people. No one felt they deserved the chungmangi, and if the director exalted himself above everyone, he would appear to be a tyrant. He did not touch the chungmangi, nor did anyone else at his station.

At the end of the eating period, the mayor, director, principal and teachers all filed out of the food room. Some of them commented on how generous the caterer had been, including such a rare and expensive treat, the chungmangi, in every bag. Many agreed that this caterer was very kind and he should be called upon next time for the food service, although not a single person there had eaten a chungmangi.

The janitor came to clean up the food room, and to his surprise, all of the food had been eaten but sixteen chungmangi. At first he was confused, but then he was elated.

He brought the chungmangi home to his family. When his wife saw the chungmangi in his bag, she swatted him on the head and said,

“You foolish man! Have you spent our savings on sixteen chungmangi?”

“No,” he replied, “I didn’t pay anything for them!”

She swatted him again and said, “You mean you risked our family’s reputation and stole these chungmangi?”

“No,” he replied, “They were left uneaten during the food period!”

Again she swatted him and said, “You expect me to believe that?”

He explained what happened and why he thought the chungmangi were left uneaten. Soon his wife was happy and the family gathered together and ate chungmangi.

The next day, the children each took a chungmangi with them in their lunches because there were many left over. Can you guess what happened when their friends saw them?

Perhaps I will tell you that story another time. Good bye!