From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."

Not “Gay” Lovers, Just Friends

13 Comments

koreanmen

If you have lived in South Korea for some time and you see two men holding hands while walking down the street, you won’t think that is strange at all, but if you are new to Korean culture and you don’t know a thing about friendship between or among males in South Korea, you will most probably think that those two men “holding hands” are gay lovers. This is exactly what happened to my brother-in-law and his best buddy when they spent a week in Boracay. A couple of times, they were spotted holding hands or with their arms around each other. Some people were staring at them; some were whispering behind their backs. My brother-in-law had lived in the Philippines for five years and he can understand some words and phrases in Filipino. He remembers hearing the “whisperers” say Bakla yan! (They’re gay!) Being gay is NOT a crime in the Philippines. In fact, it has become socially acceptable, but we rarely see “gays” holding hands or doing PDA (public display of affection).

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My brother-in-law and his best friend aren’t gay lovers. They are just very close friends, and in South Korea, it is normal for male friends to hold hands or have their arms around each other while walking. Oh, you should see my husband when he’s with his buddies! When he and his friends are drunk or they are just being silly, they even grab one another’s balls! Not in a sexual way, or course. ^^

Sometimes my husband and his best friend go to the 목욕탕 (mogyogtang: public bath) together to bathe or relax in the sauna, and to scrub each other’s backs. This is a give-and-take act of friendship or sign of closeness, not only between men, but also between women. When I came to Korea for the first time, my female friend and her mom took me to the 목욕탕. It was embarrassing being totally naked in front of other women, but what embarrassed me the most was having my back scrubbed by my friend’s mother. I told her she didn’t have to do that, but she said friends or family members of the same sex in Korea do that a lot in the 목욕탕.

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Hubby is very close to my sister’s husband and he has been trying to convince him to go to the 목욕탕 with him. Yes, we have 목욕탕 in the Philippines, but only Koreans go there. It’s in Korean Town. At first, my brother-in-law wanted to go, but when he found out what 목욕탕 is, he changed his mind. My husband is very persistent. He brings it up every time we go to the Philippines. He knows that Filipinos aren’t familiar with the culture of public bathing, but he wants to build a closer relationship with my brother-in-law by scrubbing his back and having him do the same thing.

The first time my husband tried to hug my Filipino brother-in-law, poor BIL was taken aback. I had to explain Korean culture to BIL, and now that he understands, he’s okay with it and the occasional holding hands.

13 thoughts on “Not “Gay” Lovers, Just Friends

  1. Pingback: Dear kfangurl: What is it about bromances that make a kdrama great? | The Fangirl Verdict

  2. I’m a gay man from the US living in japan and except for a few friends, I’m in the closet. Several months back I met a korean guy. Our common language is japanese…but I’m not fluent and there are some communication problems.
    That being said, I’m not sure if he is interested in me as just a friend or if he is gay and in the closet like myself.
    Our housemates say we act like brothers and we seem to bring each other out of our shells when we are together and are willing to sit together quietly away from the group and despite not being able to communicate so well with each other, he’s very willing to spend hours a day with me going out and about.
    He has things he wants to say to me and he will tell others so I know what he means.
    I often catch him smiling at me for no reason and we play eye tag and make faces at each other without exchanging words. He’s fairly willing to make physical contact with me and even let me touch him on the shoulder or pat him on the stomach. And we wrestle around.
    That being said, if our knees or arms touch accidentally he’ll usually be the first to pull away after some time has passed.
    As far as I’m aware he has only ever had one sexual partner and that was while he clearly stated that it happened while he was serving in the military…so not sure if that was a prostitute or not.

    Basically I’m just not sure if he is interested in me as a friend or if he is a closeted gay man or even unsure if he is gay…and I’d rather not ask him directly unless I’m fairly sure.

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  3. You are very thoughtful. Thank you, Caroline. =)

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  4. I’ve never been to Korea at all! (haha! it’s horrible and I always tell my mother how deprived I feel about it as a result🙂 I find myself gravitate towards it more as I get older but I’m not even sure that that means. Weird right?

    Oh and yes, you’re right about the detail of ‘oppa’, ‘unni’ and ‘noona’. I miss that too…although I waiting to go to college a bit and suddenly i was the old one, I kept calling everyone ‘unnii’ because I was so used to being the youngest all the time (hah!!!)

    I hope to find myself there next year. Meanwhile I’ll be following your posts with enthusiasm – so thank you for filling that place in my heart🙂

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  5. ” I do wonder if there’s any relation to referring to friends as sister or brother has any connection to it.” Are you asking about younger friends calling their older friends BIG BROTHER or BIG SISTER in Korean?

    Well, most younger Korean females refer to their older Korean male friends as “oppa”; to their older female friends as “onni”. Younger Korean males call their older female friends “nuna”; their older male friends “hyung”. Even if your friend is just a year older than you, you are expected to call him/her big brother or big sister. If you are a foreigner, this isn’t necessary. My husband’s friends are older than me, but I call them by their names. Sometimes I add “ssi” after the name to sound polite, like “Sung Dae ssi” or “Ho Jin ssi”. I never call them “oppa”. =)

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  6. Thank you for finding the post/blog endearing. =)

    How many years has it been since you last visited Korea? Koreans say that no matter where a Korean was born or lived most of his life, if it’s not in SK, he will always look forward to going back to his homeland.

    I hope you will find time to visit your country. Korea is full of life and wonder. ^^ (Don’t worry about “being too old”… My husband’s uncle and his wife who have lived abroad for twenty years are going back to Korea to enjoy retirement. They’re in their 60’s.)

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  7. LOL… mabili ko nga ang husband ko ng HELLO KITTY CP case para maiba naman. ^^

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  8. Im so tired. Ng picnic kami and napagod ako kakahabol. Haay oh well, maraming indians dito sa city namin pero never saw anyone na nag ho-holding hands. Haha baka nahihiya na sila pag nasa ibang lugar. Minsan pa nga I saw a guy holding a mobile phone na may hello kitty casing witb matching pin bag. He had a enormous bedroom voice while he talks over the phone so he is not gay. Lol

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  9. I love this post & I also love this blog. I find this very endearing. I’m a Korean-American whose never been to Korea and up until I went to college in New York, had never had any friends that were directly from Korea. I fell in love with their sense of humour (something I really miss) and the closeness between friends that made me everyone feel more like family. I do wonder if there’s any relation to referring to friends as sister or brother has any connection to it. Among my siblings I’m the only one who speaks Korean and have always been fascinated by it, I never got to go because I always had school. Both my older siblings were born there.

    Somehow I feel like I missed out. I’m hoping to volunteer there someday🙂 Hopefully not when I’m too old. I’m already pretty old🙂

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  10. Hi, Geraldine. ^^ If you stay a little longer in SK, you’ll get used to it. ^^

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  11. Hi, Deym. Kamusta ang Children’s day with the kids? Regarding your comment, I’ve read na pati sa India daw ganun din ang mga male friends, nag-ho-holding hands. ^^

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  12. Sk is the only place where you could see some guys holding each others hands, but not gay. Hahaha

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  13. Wow,even knowing the culture in SK, seeing two guys holding hands is disturbing for me lol. I can stand to women kissing thats ok but two guys? Oh well.

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