New Year Family Reunion….Ooops.


You might already know about the big Asian family reunion, and how the whole family thing takes more priority than western hemisphere.  Being a member of typical Korean family, I’m part of it, too.  Here’s the drill.

Usually in new year, lunar new year, end of the year and/or Chusok, the entire family gathers, including your uncles, cousins, their spouses, their kids, grandparents and sometime someone who you’ve never seen before.  There will be ancestor veneration ceremony.  Huge amount of special foods are needed.  Usually, this is done by the ancestor’s direct sons’ wives.  Let’s apply this to my case.

The hero of ancestor veneration ceremony is my grandfather, who passed away when I was mere 4.  My Uncle, K, is his first son, and my dad is his second son.  So the food preparation duty is assigned to my mom and K’s wife.  People pitch in, but my mom and K’s wife have the main responsibility.  My dad’s family is rather old school, so men don’t really help out (and this is a prevalent problem in modern South Korean society – back in the old days, it was alright because women’s job was to tend the home.  Now, Korean women have to work to earn wages AND tend their home.  No wonder why the rate of divorce and argument skyrocket after those ceremonies).

Since my grandmother has been hospitalized, we haven’t had this kind of reunion for a while.  Though this sounds sad, but my family were somewhat pleased to skip the ceremony.  My grandmother is still in hospital, so we expected a quiet family time.  I don’t know why, yet all of sudden, uncle K decided to have the reunion this year.  Meaning, my mom has to go through the food prep track again.  Individually, I bet uncle K is a nice person.  But he’s not the most organized person.  Well, most Korean men are same…my mom isn’t happy for sure.

As of me, the Korean family reunion is half-day awkwardness, starting very early in the morning.  My dad is a sort of red herring in his family (in a good way).  In a same way, I’m a mutation.  I’m the only person in the entire family to spend my life living in foreign countries.  I’m the only person in the entire family to attend foreign school.  My dad is super-liberal when compared to uncle K.  There’s nothing to be shared between my cousins and me.  Nothing.  At the same time, I should be social, and try my best to not to be looked as “snob.”  It is hard, especially in culture where not saying much can be seen as “snob” and pointing out someone’s misunderstanding can be seen as “impolite.”

Examples 1.

My aunt (father’s side) saw my high school graduation pics.  My high school made all girls from graduating class to wear white gown.  My aunt asked why I’m wearing white gown, when Korean students wear blacks.  I just said (with a smile) that’s what my school just did.  Then, with a big nod and a look of enlightenment, she said, “oh, now I have to remember – that in America, the graduation gown is white!”

Examples 2.

After graduating from college, I got a job in Korea.  All of my cousins pestered me, asking “why didn’t you get a job in America?  I was surprised to hear that you came back.”  Yeah, I wish it is that easy.  I explained what happened.  I don’t think they understood though.  Until now.

Examples 3.

My cousin took me out for a play, which I think is an incredibly nice gesture.  I thought the play was too typical – mom and kids not getting along,  then mom is sick/dead/hospitalized, kids thinking differently, learning more about all her sacrifices (how she didn’t buy a single piece of nice clothes and such) and regrets, or return to a good mom-kid relationship.  On the top of that, my mom is nothing like her.  I love my mom, but unlike typical Korean moms, she’s not the kind of lady who would give up her fashion statement for her child (and that’s what I like about her).  After the play, I almost said it.  But I found my cousin was crying, saying how it was touching.  I just zipped my mouth and lied.

So naturally, after getting things done that has to be done, I just want to leave as soon as possible.  Yet my parents, uncles and aunts have to catch up (or at least pretend to, because many will take early leaving as sign of disrespect). Not for once I think I am “better than them” or look down on them.  It’s just awkwardness I can’t take, and not knowing what to expect.

I don’t know – maybe I’ll take the thickest book written in English this time and just read it in the corner of room.

2 responses »

  1. Again, so much in common going on over on the other side of the world!! The nice thing is at least your family takes an interest in you and makes a point to include you. That was a nice gesture of your cousin. I live around my in-laws, so they’re not directly blood related…but still, they are considered family. When we get together, it is always about my mother-in-law’s blood relatives. If you’re not blood, you may as well not exist! I’m too different for them that they’ve just stopped talking to me. It becomes quite lonely. But in all seriousness, I do get this. It’s like either mold yourself to who they want you to be or not fit in at all. Maybe I should try molding a little better, haha.

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