Love Motel in Seoul
This week, Hillary Clinton made the news for her exchange of words with North Korea. After she likened North Korean leaders to "unruly children" whose antics should be ignored, they responded: “We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady, as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community,” the North Korean statement said. “Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.” (New York Times) That's a harsh statement, especially compared to her visit to Seoul earlier this year.
In late February, she made a speech at Ewha Women's University, where she impressed the audience of a few thousand female students. After the appropriate applause for her equally appropriate speech on women's empowerment, there was a town hall-like Q&A session. She spent the hour answering personal questions about her upbringing, finding love, her family and balancing motherhood and her career, feeling a little "more like an advice columnist than a secretary of state" (New York Times). A couple weeks later, Clinton was voted as the most respected international role model for women by the school's freshman students.
Koreans love love. It's everywhere you look in this country. Before I moved here, I read that it's uncommon to see couples kissing on the street and that visitors should refrain from doing so themselves. I thought I would find a very conservative, private bunch of people who shied away from public displays of affection.
But I was wrong. Sure, I don't see couples kissing on the street very often, but believe me, they aren't shy about their displays of affection.
On the subways and on the streets, couples don't just hold hands, they embrace with their entire bodies. They may not lock lips, but they're attached everywhere else. And for in between those public displays of affection, couples indulge in "couple wear"---matching outfits---so that no passer-by misjudges them as "just friends."
With the desire to celebrate their love at every opportunity, couples have a selection of love-days throughout the year. The 14th of every month is some kind of celebration of love. As mentioned earlier, 14 January is Diary Day, when couples give diaries to each other so they can mark all their anniversaries and important "couple days" in preparation for the year ahead. Then, 14 February and 14 March are the two most popular love-days: Valentine's Day and White Day, respectively.
For those lacking a significant other, today's your day. It's called Black Day---the anti-couple and anti-love holiday. Today, singles all over the country will get together and eat Jjajangmyeon (noodles with black bean sauce) because, as my Korean friend put it, "they are sad." While Valentine's Day is celebrated all over the world and White Day actually originated in Japan, Black Day is proudly all Korean.
Here's the full list of monthly love-days (so get out those calendars!):
14 January: Diary Day
14 February: Valentine's Day
14 March: White Day
14 April: Black Day
14 May: Rose Day, on which lovers exchange roses, and lonely singles give yellow roses to their friends.
14 June: Kiss Day, a day for lovers to, well, kiss each other passionately.
14 July: Silver Day, when couples give silvery things to each other, ideally some silver rings "to make promises for their future" and, to top it off, couples also ask friends and family for money to pay for their date!
14 August: Green Day, for couples to picnic in parks, and singles to get drunk off soju, Korea's favourite green-bottled alcohol.
14 September: Photo Day, so couples can take pictures of their togetherness.
14 October: Wine Day, when lovers share a glass of wine and share their love.
14 November: Movie Day, a special holiday for couples to go out and watch a movie together (probably while wearing coordinating couple wear and holding each other close).
14 December: Hug Day, for couples to warm up for the cold winter months ahead (but those lonely singles are left shivering alone, I guess).
Couples also celebrate each other's birthdays, anniversaries, and hundred-day anniversaries, and there's also the popular Pepero Day (11 November) and, of course, Christmas... Maybe it's less about love and more about consumerism.
But I don't want to be negative. Koreans are caring, affectionate people, so a little celebration of love, whether it be friendship-love or romantic-love, is okay with me.
Happy White Day
Just last month, on 14 February, couples all over the world celebrated Valentine's Day. On Valentine's Day here in Korea, couples don't exchange presents. It's only the women who buy chocolates for their significant other. But in the spirit of equality, White Day was created for the fellas. Today, on White Day, men are expected to reciprocate with gifts for their special lady, of course more expensive gifts than they received. Men usually give candies, jewellery, dolls or stuffed animals, or flowers.
I just learned that there's a special holiday for couples on the 14th of every month. I missed the first one of the year, "Diary Day" on 14 January. On this quiet holiday, couples can exhange diaries marked with their anniversaries and other important dates so they're ready for the year ahead. Then, Valentine's Day and White Day in February and March are the two most important couple holidays of the year.
I'm counting down the days (only 31 to go!) until the next holiday...
I’m not much of a believer in star signs dictating personality—but then again, we Aquarians are known for being contrary. Koreans and other Asians add another surprising element to discovering personality: blood type.
It was my students who first introduced me to this concept. During my first week at work, I allowed the third year middle school students (grade 9 in North America) to ask me any questions about me that they wanted. “Do you have a boyfriend?”, “What is your favourite Korean food?”, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” were some common questions, along with “What is your blood type?”
What is my blood type? I have no idea—which, just so you know, is not an accepted response here. Recently, I asked my first year students to write an interview with a celebrity. I noticed blood types kept creeping into their questions and answers here, too. Finally, I asked the girls how they know about their blood types, and they told me that they’re told by their parents when they’re young.
Psychological Research published an article called “The Study of Temperament Through Blood Type” in 1927. This paper, written by the Japanese scholar Takeji Furukawa, set off this whole trend regarding blood types and personality. Though it was contested due to its unscientific basis, its impression on Asians has stayed. According to studies, Type As are creative, compassionate, fussy, and naive; Type Bs are active, cheerful, selfish, and irresponsible; Type ABs are rational, logical, critical, and indecisive; and Type Os are optimistic, sociable, vain, and opportunistic.
In the Korean dating world, you shouldn’t be surprised if a potential mate asks you for your blood type. He or she just wants to know if you’re compatible, much like asking for your astrological sign. Rumour has it that the poor Type B fellas are not so desirable. There’s even a Korean movie (My Boyfriend is Type-B) in which the guy is a “typical” selfish, womanizing Type B and the girl is a shy, naive Type A.
But, we Aquarians are open-minded and tolerant, so I'll give this blood types and personality thing a chance.
Do you know your blood type? If you don't, this short quiz might help you find out. Let me know what you get in the comments below!