Korea report from Barb Waldern: May Day and Korean Western weddings

My friend Barbara Waldern is in Korea, teaching English.  Each month she sends a letter back to friends – which I publish on www.gunghaggisfatchoy.com

Dear friends,

May Day greetings. May 1st is a bigger event here
than in Canada. Fireworks were displayed at the city stadium. Public
and other workers had actions.

May 1st is close to a national
holiday called Children’s Day when children receive gifts and get a
week of sports and other activities instead of classes in public
school. That’s May 5th, otherwise known as Cinco de Mayo.

Well, another month has passed, the 10th. I feel more at home and I’m getting to be as busy as I usually was in Canada.

May 1 ushered in summery weather. Yesterday, the air temperature was 24 to 30 degrees Celsius in different regions. Nah, nah.

I
feel more integrated, especially because I have regular friends and
activities and can communicate better. March-April is a period when
many foreign teachers come and go because March is the start of the
school year and, therefore, some foreign teachers I was hanging out
with have left. But others remain. I can manage primitive conversations
in Hangul (Korean)–with plenty of one to three-word utterances. But
then, you can drop the subject most of the time, there are no
prepositions, and there are very few pronouns. I’m creating a binder
full of short dialogues. I really need to work on vocabulary. So I’ve
been making flashcards using cut-out pictures from flyers. I’ve just
labelled many household items.

I
went to a Korean wedding. They called it a Western wedding, but not.
Sure they wore Western apparel, mostly, except for the gloves, which
few weddings in our part of the world boast and using the best banquet tablecloths in preparation for this event.  The  parents participate
in the ceremony, for one thing. The mothers walk up the aisle and light
candles then sit facing each other before the bride and groom make an
entrance. There is no best man or bride’s maid. The official is a
layman, in this case a school teacher. Clergyman or state officials do
not have to be present. The bride and groom hold hands but they don’t
kiss. Actually, it’s hard to determine when exactly marriage occurs
during the ceremony, even if you know Korean. The official just talks
about each person of the pair, expresses honour for the parents,
discusses the sanctity of marriage and family, wishes the couple well
and announces them married. Then there is a song. But no festivity.
There is a meal but no music and dancing. Lots of photography, and all
members of both families pose together for pictures before the couple
poses with friends. After the photo session, the couple meet in private
with the parents wearing traditional costumes. At that point,
expressions of honour are made and sometimes the parents present money
to the couple. So, I think this kind of wedding is very different from
a “Western” wedding.

April
does bring in festivities, all the same. The cherry blossom festivals
initiate a series of festivals that continue until November. There are
different festivals going on around the country this weekend, for
example (bamboo, paper, film…). I never made it to the Cherry Blossom
Festival here, which is famous nationally. The main display of trees is
at a naval academy, the Kor-US base being in the town where the
festival occurs, and I haven’t been keen on going to the military base.
But I toured other places full of cherry trees.

April
brings showers. On April 9, a majority conservative government was
elected, backing up a very right wing, pro US president. The government
is madly wrecking relations with North Korea and deregulating and
privatizing everything it can. After being elected on a platform of
rectifying the economy, particular in view of climbing unemployment and
temporary work, the government just announced it will sack 10,000
public workers.

However,
the Free Trade Agreement with the US is not confirmed by the US
Congress and may not be. There are issues about trade in beef, tariffs
and other things. The negotiations for a Canada-Korea FTA are very
shaky and it will take a lot of luck to keep them going forward.

So
we’ll see how teaching in Korea will develop. The gov. also wants to
overhaul English language education nationally. But it’s the Korean
teachers of English who might lose job security. They’re already
getting worried, and so are the private institutes. My  institute took
some measures to  increase the practice of English and it only
strengthens my  employment, as long as the kids continue to like me. A
Korean co-worker, however, is taking time off to go away and get more
English language “immersion” (in the Philippines). Some Korean teachers
I know are trying to get more certification and seeking more time with
foreigners for practice of English.

I have a lunch date so I will sign off for now. I’m very hungry.

Take care all,

Barbara

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