From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."

An Open Letter to Newbie Myeonuris on Seollal

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dishes

(Photo from aigooyobo)

Dear Newbie Myeonuri,

               You must be feeling nervous, uncertain of what tomorrow is going to be like. You’ve probably heard from other myeonuris what a pain in the arse Chuseok and Seollal are for us married women in Korea. I’ve been a myeonuri for eight years now, and let me confirm what you’ve heard from the others… sorry to break it to you, but you’re not going to have a ball tomorrow. You’re going to wish you had the ability to teleport, so you could be somewhere else… not in the kitchen, enslaved by incessant housework a.k.a. myeonuri duties. I’ve been there, and I survived it. I don’t loathe Chuseok and Seollal as much as I used to. You’ll survive it, too. Just think of it as another gloomy day of your life that shall soon pass. You might feel like you’re wasting a decade of your existence every time piles of dishes are being brought to the sink, but there will be an end to it. Your hands might go numb from cooking jeon and preheating food from breakfast until dinnertime, but don’t you worry, the numbness will fade away with some mentholatum lotion that you can purchase from any drugstore. You’d better buy it now, and remind your husband not to get too drunk on Seollal, so he can give you a well-deserved massage when all the work is over. You might sulk over the bogus machismo you’ll witness and question why men get to enjoy the day while women do all the work, but remember… every country has its own culture. You married into this culture when you married your man. You might not like tomorrow’s experience at all, but believe me, you’ll get used to it. As time goes by, your workload will be lessened. Just pray that a new myeonuri will come and that she won’t be your senior. No matter how overworked (and annoyed) you are tomorrow, keep smiling. You’re not alone in this battle. If you can, be nice… be polite to everyone… even to your husband’s most annoying family member.

Don’t throw your wrath at your husband for letting you toil the whole day. Talk to him today, and urge him to help you when work seems too much. When Seollal is over, do something for yourself. Take a rest, go shopping, treat yourself to the spa… make it your day! ^^

Good luck! Myeonuri, fighting!

Lots of hugs,

From a fellow myeonuri

Note from the author:

Before this letter gets negative reactions from myeonuris who claim that they have an awesome life and are not subjected to any distressing housework on Chuseok and Seollal, let me reiterate what I have mentioned in my previous posts (one in particular that was shared in an expat group without my permission and wasn’t received well by other readers: Things You Should Never ever Say or Do When Your Korean Parents-in-law Are Around)… not all myeonuris go through the experiences I have described in this letter. Not all families in Korea follow the antediluvian tradition of enslaving women to housework during family gatherings. Nowadays, more and more families practice equality in their households. Many younger Korean men help around the house. My husband and my brothers-in-law are some of them… but my husband’s older family members and a number of families I know still have a long way to go.

 

 

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Halmoni

3There is a halmoni (old woman/grandmother) I always see on my way to work. She is too frail and too old to fend for herself, but she sits in front of a cellphone shop everyday, selling vegetables to passersby. I bought vegetables from her a few times and left her a little tip. I couldn’t just give her money. I know that she would not accept money from me, because that’s how they are in Korea. Even when the person is in need or too weak and too old to work, he will not beg for money. He will work hard for it.
One day, I invited halmoni to eat with me, but perhaps she couldn’t understand my not-so-fluent Korean or she couldn’t trust a stranger, so she refused. I would usually greet her and she’d smile back at me. If there is one thing that matters to a Korean elder the most, that would be respect from a younger person in the form of a slight bow or a jovial greeting of “Anyeonghaseyo!” 
Last week, when she saw me, she called me out and told me to sit in front of her. She said that she was going to give me some vegetables for free. I said I still have some in the house, the ones that I bought from her, but she insisted and kept asking me to sit down and wait.
As she was getting the vegetables ready, I sat there, looking at her, hoping that she is not really alone in this world, that she has children or grandchildren who care for her or visit her sometimes. I remember my mother-in-law telling me: “Those old people you see in Korea who sell vegetables on the street or collect empty boxes and scraps are not poor. They are probably richer than us. Working is a hobby for them. Don’t feel sorry for them.” How I hope that my mother-in-law is right… that the halmoni I always see on my way to the academy doesn’t have to work that hard to make a living… that to her, sitting there for hours, rain or shine, to sell vegetables is just a pastime… that even if she doesn’t work at that age, she will have food to eat and enough money to get by.
When halmoni gave me the vegetables which she carefully wrapped in a plastic, she held my hands and said thank you before I could thank her first. She put a bracelet on my arm and smiled at me with such warmth and kindness. I said thank you and told her what a beautiful bracelet she gave me. I bid her goodbye and headed home.
As I was walking, halmoni‘s voice kept reverberating in my head: “Are you the one who gave me money?”
“I bought vegetables from you before, Halmoni.”
“No, no… you gave me money. It was you.”
“Come here, come here. Sit, sit here. I will give you vegetables. Do you like vegetables?”
I thought that I was helping halmoni, but no, I wasn’t… she was the one helping me to realize that a nobody like me can be a somebody to someone.