Friday, August 21, 2009

Left In Korea's Wake

I'd just changed into my pajamas, around 9:30 (yes, I've been early bird special-ing it), when my host father knocks on my door. He's all dressed up and announces that an administrator at our school's father passed away yesterday, and he is going to the funeral home to pay his respects. This, he announces, is a cultural event to which I should accompany him.
"Of course!" say I. "Just let me get dressed!"
My enthusiasm is greeted, unexpectedly, by stunned silence.
"Do you think...I should go?" I stammer, just to clarify that we're on the same page re: this being a cultural event I ought not to miss.
"Yes. It is cultural experience." Ah, good. Affirmed.
"Okay! I will come! Thank you for inviting me!"
Again I look into what what looks to me to be a face shocked beyond belief. But y'know what? This time I chalk it up to my inability to read Korean people and decide to forge ahead.
I jump back on the laptop to google and make sure that black is a universally appropriate clothing choice for such events, and am exceedingly relieved to read that "in modern funerals, traditional hemp hanbok (old skool Korean dress, see here) is no longer as common." Mr. Kim was waiting for me, so I whipped on a charcoal grey skirt and a shirt that matched reasonably well and off we went.
As it turns out, the funeral home is at a hospital on one of the lower levels. We are greeted by the smell of flowers everywhere, huge wreaths all along the hallway leading to where the cafeteria is. Oh yes, the cafeteria. Turns out, Korean mourning rituals involve gathering together pretty much everyone you know (at least 70 people were there in just the half hour ish that we stopped by) for a night of staying up with the body (in a different room, thanks Korea!) and the family. It seemed like some people didn't even say hello to the family, they just sat down at a table and were served food (which led me to a morbid idea for a character who's a homeless guy {or maybe funnier, a middle-class office guy} who roams around funeral homes "paying respect" for the 24 hours of free grub to which it entails him). Mr. Kim paid his respects to the deceased by prostrating himself -- the uber-insa -- in front of the body twice, and then bowing deeply to the firstborn son, who actually was in Hanbok, along with all other family members (looked to me to be about 20 people, so I'm thinkin' extended family gets included. So after entering and Mr. Kim's bows, we (along with my host brother, who also came) were ushered into what looked like a big cafeteria where you all sit on the floor at tables. Servers brought kimchi and vegetables and sangapsal (I think) and rice cakes and soda and fruit. Mr. Kim picked at stuff, but my host brother was going at the bacon like a -- well, like a 10-year-old boy, and since we'd just had dinner I had to guess at what the protocol was. I went with a little rice cake and some grapes. But grapes in Korea seem universally to be concord, consumed by squeezing the flesh from the skin and spitting the seeds into the empty skin. Sorry, I tried to think of a less foul way to say that, but I failed. Anyway, there I was, mid-squeeze/spit when Mr. Kim stands up to greet - the vice principal. Fortunately, I recover, and all goes well.
In the car on the way back, Mr. Kim explains that most people will stay there all night to support the family - hence the food, and that this is day 2 of a 3-day mourning/celebration process leading up to the burial on the third day. See, mom and dad? I'm learning things!
OK, I gotta go. It's time for bed, and my phone is ringing off the hook with Friday night debrief calls now that we're all giddy about having cell phones! Yay for the [inconspiculously unnamed] fellowship community!

In related news, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ADAM!

1 comment:

Might Be Ur Dad said...

And we're learning things, too, thanks to you!