Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Our Turbulent Engagement, Supplemental

Are you still with me? And all the women said "Yes! Tell me more!" And all the men grunted in a decidedly male manner, for they got lost and had long ago decided to go off and break stuff or set stuff on fire.

Let's take a hiatus from engagement talk and teach you some more about Korean marriage culture. From what my parents had told me, it seemed like marriage in Korea is still largely arranged. Prospectively betrothed ones can only proceed forth with a relationship if both of the families know each other and both of them approve of the relationship. Family is above all in Korean culture, and if the family (= parents) did not approve, then that was the end of it. Many factors could be involved in the approval/disapproval process: the age of the man, the maturity of the man, socioeconomic status, the '인상' ('een-sahng,' no equivalent in English, "general impression" is pretty close though) of the other family.

From what one of my uncles told me, my dad's family is a very high class family in Korea. Fitting, considering that my paternal grandpa held titles such as State Labor Secretary, University President (of multiple universities), and President and Founder of Lion's Club in Korea. He studied abroad at Peking University and at Columbia University, at a time when Koreans in America were unheard of. He was also heavily involved in the independence movement against the Japanese occupation, and fervently chose NOT to give his kids Japanese names, nor to teach them the Japanese language. He was a great man and I wish I could've met him. So you can gather that my parents were going to be very picky about who their oldest and only son would marry. Not just any of the proletariat would do for their son.

There was obviously a big culture clash here. In Korean culture, marriage is an act that is much more of a family activity, whereas in American culture, it is generally much more lone wolf. To my credit, I was not trying to go about things lone wolf style; I had tried to introduce Harmony to my parents much earlier, to no avail. My mom had said something way earlier along the lines of "Why do I need to meet her? You're just friends anyways." I had tried to involve them more. The problem is that both of us had different mindsets. My parents were thinking this was just some friendly fling and that I would eventually move on in life. They were not even considering that I would be thinking marriage this early, but I was. So you can imagine that they were quite shocked when I started blabbing about marriage at such a "young age."

It seems that in the worldwide contemporary culture these days, one must be firmly established in life before he gets married; most importantly, the man must be firmly established. He must be done with graduate school before even considering marriage. That's the impression that I got from my parents. Apparently no consideration is given to young couples burning with passion for each other. If ya ain't established, fergit it. I maintained that if we were to keep on waiting for things to be "perfect" before we got married, then we would never get married. Life would never be perfect.

I had made an astonishingly correct prediction prior to having the engagement discussion with my parents. I correctly assessed my dad as the more intellectual of the two, and from there concluded that he would be a bit more open-minded. He had been living in America for a lot longer than my mom, and had had exposure to much more American culture through the workplace. I assessed that my mom, being a stay-at-home mom whose social network only included like-minded Korean people, would be much more close-minded to my lunatic whims of marriage to an All-American Girl. Indeed, my dad, while still being opposed, said we should remain in a dating relationship until 25, then decide. My mom, OTOH, said I should have no contact with Harmony until I was 28, and see how I felt about it then. You've GOT to be kidding... Luckily my dad *quickly* dismissed that as being a ridiculous idea. Sometimes I'm glad that my dad is the domineering one of the two ;)

Part I
Part 2
Supplemental II
Part 3

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