Posted by: C. Cali Martin | November 9, 2009

My New Branch & Funeral Ettiquette

Apparently I’ve been in Korea for three months. Sometimes it feels like it’s been longer, sometimes I feel as if I’ve only just arrived. Either way, I love Korea (although Korea quite obviously doesn’t agree with me). Last night’s episode of Mosquito Hunters, Inc. really put a damper on today’s positive attitude. I think that rain has flushed the buggers out of the woodwork… so what I have I done since I blogged last? Good question… nothing. It’s been a relaxed couple of weeks: shopping downtown on Saturday afternoons, a low-key Halloween spent watching “Zombieland” and drinking soju, working the old 3-11 schedule that’s absolutely killing my motivation to do anything but Facebook stalk. There is something I did recently that was noteworthy… oh yes! I now have a gigantic branch from below my right hip to the bottom of my right boob. Yes, yes, might want to mention that.

I’m not really a tattoo kind of person. Okay, yes, I have one enormous purple hibiscus flower on my left foot to cover up a random Japanese character, so I’m up to two tattoos already. Now I can boast of a third – and final – piece of permanent artwork. I had this idea a little while ago, something I’ve been tossing around for a bit, but of course I could never afford this piece back home. There would also be no reason for me to get this back home: I decided to get an Asian watercolor-style cherry blossom branch to represent my Asian adventures. I certainly will never forget this experience, so why not splurge on a once-in-a-lifetime souvenir for myself? Besides, with my expendable income affording this giant branch was a piece of cake. I went last weekend for the first session. It was quite the experience! It was a Sunday afternoon and the tattoo artists (a girl who was designing and a guy who was doing the actual work) had to convene and discuss with me the exact specifics of the tattoo. Where it will be placed, which way it will face, moon/no moon, etc.  We had all worked up quite the a hunger, so Korean Chinese food was ordered. What a fascinating meal! It was Chinese, but every Korean side dish was present (kimchi, pickled radishes, even mandu and tongsil). The only actual “Chinese” food I could discern was the heaping bowl of pasta in front of me: thick spaghetti noodles in a dark brown sauce I swear was chocolate with vegetables and tofu mixed in. It was delicious, although I couldn’t finish the entire bowl – the pseudo-chocolate sauce was a little too much after a while. Fun fact: the eldest person present pays for the meal, while the youngest cleans up afterward. Finally, we got down to business! The first session took about four hours. I had brought a delightful little book with me (“Les Dames aux Camilies” by Alexandre Dumas fils) and nearly finished it during three hours my branch was being shaded. The last hour, however, was definitely the worst. While he drew in the small branches near the top on my ribs, it was all I could do not to cry out! I felt like he had a chisel and was hammered it into my ribs – I felt an intense pain in my bones all through my arms and chest. Oh, what misery! An hour was all I could have handled of that, though I’m sure the coloring of my cherry blossoms will be equally intense if not worse…. masochism at it’s finest.

My Little Korean Souvenir

My Little Korean Souvenir

A Korean co-worker’s father passed away three weeks ago, so I was given the opportunity to attend a Korean funeral. According to the underlying Confucian culture, our department was obliged to attend this man’s funeral although we had never met him. We boarded a bus which took us two hours away to Yeongju where the funeral was to be. When we arrived at the funeral home, we were greeted by mourners decked out in white paper hats and gowns. We parted with our shoes at the door and scuffled to a corner where pictures of the late gentleman were displayed, along with Buddhist statues, incense, and a box for donations for the mourning family. We had to bow (kneel, face to the floor, and upward motion with your hands, back to the kneeling position, stand, repeat) three times to the pictures and statues to pay our respects, then a quarter turn to the family to offer our condolences. Having never been to a Korean funeral and having never practiced Buddhism in any form, this was all new to me. As a result, I looked like an idiot, but made an attempt to look as graceful as possible. After the bowing, we were seated on the floor at a long table where the family served us all manner of Korean goodies (and by “goodies”, I mean “interesting morsels of ‘food'”). All this time in Korea, I have made a valiant effort to be as open-minded as possible; this funeral proved that I have succeeded in that respect and am ready to revert back to my American ways momentarily. There was fresh octopus (very, very raw as I found out), kimchi (soooo good here), itty bitty sardines dried and covered in some kind of sesame sauce (incredibly disgusting), larger sardines coated in nuts (sweet at first, then raunchy as hell), some kind of rice cake make of leaves and herbs (tasted like cardboard and leaves but sticky and dried out your mouth like you’d just eaten fifteen Saltines), a kind of chicken broth with chicken and fish bits (rather good if you soak some rice in it), chunks of fatty pork (not too bad, but you need to pick the bones out of some pieces), and all sort of pickled vegetables, most of which were quite appetizing in comparison to the rest of the feast. Oh, and then the offer of soju and mekju (beer) at 11AM at a funeral. As you can tell, I tried just about everything under the sun at this event and was not strangely repulsed by a majority of what I ate. The Korean teachers eventually began just pointing to things, “eat this”, “try this”, and being afraid to refuse, I did. I managed to swallow all of what I ate, albeit regretfully. I can say, however, that I made an attempt to eat those items, and can politely decline the next go-round.




  1. I love your tattoo! It’s absolutely gorgeous.

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