somehow we're only 124th
To begin with, this is long, 5,400+ words long. It's also really as fun. Perhaps this is the day I jump the shark while trying to do something more serious. That said I wanted to write this simply because it shows a glimpse into the life of a Michigan grad student trying to perform research in an authoritarian state versus the life of someone who goes back to work for that state. I've opted not to break this up into multiple diary posts because I personally feel it's best read in one sitting, but to each their own of course. With that, I present C-Rex does China:
“That the front desk, the police are here and they’re coming up.” My wife and I were in rural China and our friend had come flying over to our hotel room. The friend, who shall be called Chai which of course is not her real name, is a Chinese national and a grad student at the University of Michigan. She was in China to study sex workers returning to rural areas, my wife and I were there to enjoy China’s unspoiled natural beauty, of which this there still plenty of, assuming you go to some near third world backwater province the CCP has yet to industrialize and blanket in smog. See it while it lasts folks.
We were in Guizhou province, one of the poorest provinces in China, since Chai was here to study migrant workers that returned home to their farming villages. Before I go on, I’ll just take a moment to explain household registration or hukou as they call it. Basically you can legally only live where ever your parents were born. Say your parents were both from Shanghai and you get a job in Beijing. You need to apply for a household registration in Beijing, which is similar to say being American and trying to become a resident of Canada. The catch is if you’re a white collar worker, it’s not a big deal normally and the company takes care of it, but if you’re a blue collar worker, it is next to impossible. This creates a class of migrant workers who are illegal immigrants in their own country. If you’re from a rural area and go to Beijing for a factory job or even just to collect garbage, it means you can’t own a home (and have to rent an apartment on the greymarket) or access many social services without paying a bribe first.
As a mostly poor rural province, Guizhou supplies a lot of migrant workers. Chai is working in Guizhou studying prostitutes who return to the province. Many village girls go to the city and end up as sex workers to support their family. During the harvest season they’ll return to the farms to help with the harvest and give their family money, which they claim they earned working in a factory or some other job. Some will eventually return to the village, settle down, and start a family. My friend is studying the public health risks involved in this, where the woman will transmit to a STD to her spouse or children due to poor public health education and lack of medical infrastructure. This has contributed to a rural AIDS problem (the Chinese government also knowingly distributed blood tainted with HIV in the late 1990s which also led to an outbreak).
We’d been to five villages, my wife and I seeing the sights, while Chai conducted her interviews with former sex workers. Things were tense though. In Hunan a farmer protesting government seizure of his land to build a road, had been killed when the Vice Mayor ran the farmer over with a steamroller. The authorities were thus sensitive to anything remotely resembling agitation in rural areas and asking questions about China’s terrible public health system is seen as agitation. Security had finally caught up with us it seemed.
“That’s okay, I’ll come over.” I just have my friend a smile and stepped across the hall to her room, flipping my prepaid flip phone open to text a friend in Shanghai “The fuzz is here.” A few minutes later a heavy hand knocking against the door and a voice said something in Mandarin, which I assume was something along the lines of “Police, open up.” I did just that, swinging the door open, a giant smile on my face. “Hi guys! What’s up?” The cops stared at me, I stared at them. They’d been expecting a female Chinese national they could haul off, but instead, boom, surprise white guy out of nowhere! “You fellows looking for Chai? She's taking a piss, what can I do you for?” I pronounced her well enough that the cops were able to catch that, but none of them spoke English, plus using non traditional English and slang helps further screw with their heads. As long as a kept that smile on my face they’d have no clue I what I was saying. As long as I smiled I could suggest they go insert their balls into a snowblower. Chai was actually in the bathroom purging her hard drive of interview notes (but not work worry, thanks to the miracle of the VPN there were copies safely back on her AFS space in Ann Arbor). One of the cops tried to push around me. I just gave him a push back out in the hall. “Hold it boys, don’t you need a warrant for this?” I kept the smile on my face to appear non threatening.
I should likely take a moment to explain the concept of police in China. I’ll talk about police a lot, but they’re not like American police. They’re closer to Ann Arbor’s Community Standards Officers or mall cops. Your average policeman is a poorly trained guy with a reflective vest, a walkie talkie, and a whistle. No gun, normally no baton, no pepper spray. They’re fairly harmless. In one incident a cop tried to stop a woman and she decided to run him over. He spent 5 km clinging to the hood of her Mercedes SLK before some cops and taxi drivers managed to box her in. In America of course the woman would have two bullets in her skull before the car made it into 3rd gear. It’s the People’s Armed Police and higher up Security Bureau guys that you need to worry about.
Basically dealing with foreigners was above the pay grade of these guys. The Chinese government happens to think that President Obama and Hillary Clinton sit around all day and wait for China to do something they could turn into an international incident. Wherever this is true or not is debatable, but basically it meant that to such low level cops had been told hands off the white folk and don’t go causing international incidents, or so my friend in Shanghai had sworn. This left us with a stand off. They wanted to get around me, all they could do is talk loudly in China, gesture and occasionally shove me. I’d just shove them right back and put one of them on his ass. I amused myself by switching over to Korea and appeared shocked when none of the cops could speak Korean.
Eventually the cops beat a bit of a retreat. Two remaining in the hall to monitor the situation, two other scurrying off to call in someone who spoke English and had the firepower to deal with a white guy. I bolted the door and got on the phone with my friend. “Just four local guys” I reported to him. “Yeah, well I made a call. The Security Bureau guys are already on their way from Guiyang on the train and at least one of them speaks some English. He’s not American educated though.”
What the comment about American education met their English wouldn’t be that good. Originally in China if you worked for the Security Bureau, military, or a couple other key departments you had to be educated in China and couldn’t go overseas (officially at least, there is always someone you can bribe in China). This was to prevent the CIA from recruiting students in America and to stop people from defecting. This led to most security officials being able to speak English in the sense they could pass a standardized test but nothing else. Many activists figured this out early on and started doing everything in English, as did many business people who were engaged in less than honest dealings. My friend in Shanghai was one of the new security officials who had been recruited after attending an American school and spending years talking with native English speakers.
He’d met us at the baggage carousels in Shanghai-Pudong airport, despite the fact the baggage carousels were still on the ‘secure’ side of the airport he was wandering around like he owned the place. Two of those mall security level cops were standing there with baggage carts. When our bags came out, he said something in Chinese and the cops grabbed our bags, loaded the carts, and pushed the carts for us. We breezed through immigration with our police escort. Rather than make our way through the queue, X-Ray scanner, and all that, we walked right through the center of the booths, an official appearing to stamp our passports without even checking the entry visas. When we stepped out of the terminal there was an Audi SUV parked right in front of the door, pulled up on the curb, a pair of cops standing there watching it. As our porter-officers loaded the vehicle, our friend started passing around the 100 RMB notes as tips (about 16 USD). Tipping our porters and the cops who watched his Audi.
Back behind the Audi were two sedans, a Mercedes and an Audi, also illegel parked, plus another Mercedes parked in the bus lane. What I learned was the plate you had on your car determines your social status. Similar to how we have municipal plates, every government agency (and the military) issues a plate whose leading characters and numbers mark the vehicle as owned by that agency. Everyone plates their personal vehicles with their work plates. The fact my friend’s plate mark him as belong to the Shanghai branch of the Security Bureau means he can hop off the car in the middle of a freeway and order the nearest police to watch his car until he gets back. If you can score a good plate it means rockstar parking and near immunity from traffic laws.
The damndest thing is everyone is open about this. For example as were sitting in traffic my friend pointed out a hot pink PT Cruiser with a giant Hello Kitty rear window decal whose plates marked it as belonging to China’s Strategic Missile Command (we’d call it Strategic Air Command in America). He said the driver was likely the mistress to some officer since PT Cruisers and Minis are popular mistress cars and no senior officer who had enough pull to get those plates would let his wife or kids be seen in anything less than an Audi A7.
Of course the highest level of car was the all black Mercedes (every window tinted) GLK that shot by us on the highway doing at least twice the legal limit. It had no plates. That’s when you’ve truly arrived in terms of political power, when license plates laws don’t even apply to you and you can drive like you’re playing Grand Theft Auto at home. Well at that point you likely have a personal driver, so you don’t drive, but you can yell at him to display greater flagrant disregard for traffic laws and public safety before you go back to managing your mistresses and taking bribes.
For Shanghai, and likely all of China, if you’re in the company of the politically connected, the entire experience is like people watched Martin Scorsese’s Casino and now they’re hell bent to recreate that in real life. After a day to allow for me to get over jetlag, my friend and his wife took us out for a night on the town. Only it wasn’t just them, other people from the security Bureau showed up. My host’s wife worked for a government agency and folks from her agency arrived as well. Soon enough we rolling in a massive convoy of black sedans and SUVs (Henry Ford would have loved the Chinese market since as long as you can get the car in black, it’s cool) out for an insane dinner. Snails on dry ice, entire fish, the list just goes on and on. After you get the snails out of their shells or cut the choice pieces of skin off the fish though the waitresses take the course away so you end up going through a 27 course meal without any problems because of the small serving from each. The liquor was supposedly going for 250 dollars a bottle and we killed a dozen bottles easily. As my wife said “We’re not eating, we’re consuming edible face.” After that the convoy made its way to an exclusive where the services of the club were steeply discounted to certain officials in exchange for the officials never quite getting around to checking the papers of the Russian prostitutes (in case you want an exotic white woman) working there. At 4 am I staggered up onto the karaoke stage with some of officers the People’s Security Bureau, vanguards of communism and belted out “Welcome to Detroit City”. At the end of all this one of the guys was so far gone he couldn’t find his car. No problem, another security officer called up the police and asked them to find the car and take it to his home, while the first guy and three girls from the club piled into a cab.
For us we were whisked off to the Astor House Hotel (which I do not recommend) which my friend had booked for me as a surprising wedding present, since we were in China on our honeymoon. The Astor House was apparently a favorite of Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of Communist China. He stayed there multiple times according to the plaque on the wall and according to a Chinese historian I know he was such a big fan he also personally supervised its looting when the PLA took Shanghai, to ensure that his favorite features ended up at his estate in Beijing. While efforts have been made to restore the hotel, it still has a long way to go.
We lived it up in Shanghai and my wife reduced to near poverty with her shopping (“But it is so much cheaper than in America, we’d be stupid not to buy it.”) and every time I went out with just the guys I was offered a hooker or in some cases multiple hookers (“You should try a Chinese girl, they’re much better than Koreans” and “It’s China, it’s okay to sleep with hookers here.”) However soon enough we headed out to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province to meet with Chai.
Guizhou is a whole different kind of China. Horrible sanitation, flies everywhere, when we handed my friend the giant 12 pack of Clorox wipes she’d asked us to bring, she clutched like it was a box of gold. Kids would stop to take pictures of me or with me if they knew enough English/were brave enough to ask. One little girl yelled “Hello, hello, hello!” across the street and then eagerly ran across to show off her basic grasp of English. She told me how her parents told it was important she learned English so she could go to America. She asked me a few basic questions about America, like what kind of car I had, and a few other common ones. The thing that blew her mind though was that you could drink the water in America. In Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, we were told to boil the water before drinking it due to issues with the water system. Most houses we visited had a giant thermos of hot water sitting around to make tea with, one of the morning chores was just to boil the water for the day. This was in a city of 4.2 million, not some back country town. I handed the girl one of my Michigan hats, a business card with my address, and a paperback I had in my backpack so she’d have another book to practice with. Odds are she won’t make it to America. Her parents are migrant workers, while Guiyang is poor at least it has better social services than the country. that girl lived in a greymarket apartment made from merging two basement storage cubicles together. No windows, running water, walls made from sheets hung from the ceiling. China may have hundreds of millionaires, but they have hundreds of millions who still live on under five dollars a day.
I’ve been asked to keep details of the rural people talked to rather vague since my friend doesn’t want to get her research subjects in trouble, which is always why I waited some time to write this. So I can’t post photos, name names, or list villages. It’s also why throughout this I say my friend or give people fake names and avoid other details. In fact we might we not have been in Guizhou. Other provinces are comparable to the poverty (in certain areas at least) you’d find in Guizhou. So if you’re part of the Chinese Internet Police and reading this to get clues on who is making you lose face in front of Westerners, help yourself to a nice big Maize and Blue go fuck yourself (and go stick your balls in a snowblower, treat yourself though, get something nice by Toro).
In country the interviews were done at whatever passed for the local hospital. The best way to to describe this hospital is imagine your favorite piece of Cold War era anti-Soviet propaganda. You know, the one that showed life in the Soviet Union and made it look so bad the CIA must have staged it as part of a public relations war. Now mentally photoshop that picture to be about 20% worse. That’s what it was like. In one interview we were sitting there while a woman got an IV from what looked like a clear beer growler. No fancy sterile and sealed plastic bag from direct from the medical supply company, the staff just cleaned it out with boiling water and reused it. Near the end of the interview the woman, who had open sores on her legs from the untreated state of her AIDS, she had to yell at a nurse to get gauze put on, looked at me and gave a monologue in Chinese. My friend translated with sad smile on her face and said “The woman wants to know if Michigan is a good school, she thinks it must not be, because if I was smart enough to get into a good school I’d be smart enough never to come back to China, especially places like this.” I thought the woman was at least 60 during the interview, later I found out she was 37. Chai told me she had to make it a rule to only interview people at the hospital, because if she interviews at home they’ll cook her food, despite their open sores, and it would be terribly rude for her to refuse.
At another village we arrived to find the 14 year old son of the interviewee had died the night before. The doctors hadn’t educated the woman about the chances her son would get AIDS at birth, what to do if her child had AIDS, and things of that nature. Rather the doctors had told her the kid would be fine and sent her home. She left the funeral early for the interview though, what was important to her was that her story get told. She didn’t want money or anything, she just wanted the doctors and government to admit they’d screwed her family over. They government told her it was her fault, because if she’d been richer she could have afforded better medical care and none of this would have happened. It’s the kind of thing that makes you walk out of the interview thinking that a B-2 flushing its bomb bay over whatever passes for the Chinese version of the White House would be a damn fine use of your tax dollars.
Chai had been detained before, normally the deal was the cops would stick you under house arrest at your hotel for a few days and then let you go in exchange for promising never to return to the province. Chai had been booted out of Guizhou three times before and promised never to return each time. A lot of Chinese security is about making you think the government is watching you (hence why you see you low level cops everywhere) as opposed to actually being effective.
My friend in Shanghai had some good news and bad news. The good news was that since Michigan is not a name brand school in China, the guy who runs our Confucius Institute is harmless. The Chinese government funds these institutes at American schools to promote Chinese history but in reality they’re around to monitor the overseas Chinese and their director or some other official is normally a full time employee of the security bureau. If the Dalai Lama comes to town this guy will organize the protest and he may make it clear that if you don’t show up to protest, your parents will be hassled by security in China or you’ll have visa problems next time you visit, or something else to encourage your attendance. They also monitor the scholarly work of people and jump on anything critical of China. Our director is a harmless old guy who has a degree in music, is from peasant stock, and can’t even work his computer. He spends most of his time focusing on getting Chinese artists to perform at Hill as opposed to monitoring the Chinese studies. Still though you ever donate large amounts of cash to the University, it would be awesome if you’d express concern over this place to ensure that the University administration continues to only accepts incompetent old dudes from China as CI’s director.
This all means that security knew nothing about Chai’s English language publications that were critical of China, since our guy doesn’t do much in that area. However the bad news that unrest over public health was considered one of the greatest threats to internal stability in China and the police knew Chai had been interviewing activists. The two security guys coming into town where actually assigned to suppressing religion and been assigned to Chai since they were the only ones considered able to handle such a sensitive thing like public health.
Now we were in an interesting little dance. My wife and I could just walk away from this. All I had to do is dial the American Embassy. The American Embassy would call Chinese Security and ask what was going on, Chinese security would call up the local guys and likely tell local cops to kiss our ass, make our beds, and swear it was all a misunderstanding. Of course since Chai isn’t American, they’d still detain her. Rather my wife and I needed to stick around and look increasingly pissed off, as if we were strongly considering calling up the New York Times and arranging it so that “Two Americans Detained For Helping AIDS Victims in China” was tomorrow’s headline. Of course if we did make that call, then the Chinese government would have lost face and would likely detain the lot of us for a while to repay us for that loss of face. Meanwhile my friend would be making some calls to see what he could do. Suddenly I was wishing I’d watched “Spy Games” on the flight from Chicago to Shanghai-Pudong as opposed to all three Lord of the Rings movies (it’s a long flight, you can watch all three and have hours to spare).
We consolidated into one room, I fired up some rap music on my laptop and played the waiting game. When the security officials arrived they were polite enough to shoo the cops, whose numbers had swelled, off to the far end of the hall before knocking on the door. Rather than being hauled down the police station, like Chai had in the past, we were taken out for dinner on the Chinese government’s dime, to a rather nice place at that. White privilege has its advantages. Although no one was allowed to sit within four tables of us.
My wife was the real show stopper though. White people meeting with activists in China is not that uncommon and there was a clearly a standard operating to procedure to deal with me. My wife’s Korean passport though was cause for concern. The local cops had assumed that since my wife was Asian she must be Chinese, so her nationality came a shock to the cops when they asked to see our papers. Then security officers assumed that because my wife is Asian she must speak Mandarin and when she said she didn’t, they were convinced she was just saying that to gain some kind of strategic advantage. The Chinese government was currently trying to convince South Korea not to expand its military alliance with America. The security officers were smart enough to realize that if they somehow mistreated my wife and it led to Koreans protesting her treatment, the Foreign Ministry would not be happy with them to say the least. As we sat there at dinner, one of them was always watching my wife, flinching if she scowled and signalling the server anytime my wife ran low on food or drink.
Since our conversation had to be conducted in mostly English it was slow to say the least. The security officials explained their concerns over how Chai talking to a couple “troublemakers” might make others more inclined list to them. “But everyone is so happy here!” I gave the security officers a big fake smile as I cut them off “Surely your people are well educated and know how good they have it. Why would they ever listen to such troublemakers?”. That earned me two glares and furrowing brows. After all the security guys couldn’t admit the locals were basically mistreated serfs, not to a foreigner at least.
They switched over to how people are sometimes impressionable and might not know their best interests. My wife cut in about how “Well surely its not our fault that people are like that, we’re just here to enjoy China’s hospitality.” These foreigners were clearly a problem for security. With a Chinese researcher they’d just riffle through her notes and then decided if they just wanted to boot her or detain her, with us they couldn’t even admit they had problems with social unrest.
We played the verbal sparring game until after 10 pm local time, when the cell phone of one of the security guys rang. He stepped away and when he was returned. He pointed right at me. “Bush gave you a medal?”. I blinked at him for a moment. I most definitely had not gotten a medal from either President Bush. The security official switched over to Mandarin and caught his partner up. “You know President Bush?” the security guy was staring at me. “Well I met him a couple times.” Growing up near DC my parents would always pack me off to youth leadership camps at Georgetown over the summer, the kind of conferences that get sitting Presidents as their keynote speakers. I’ve been on so many tours of the White House I may know the floor plan well enough to be a threat to national security. What had happened was my friend in Shanghai had got on my Facebook account, found some photos of me accepting one of those American flag lapel pins (everyone there got one and they were made in China naturally) and emailed them over over to the local office along with a report that made it sound like I hit the town every Friday with W. W is a pretty sociable guy, he normally stuck around for awhile after his speech, so it was easy to get a lot of photos with him.
Now the narrative of the security guys switched. Suddenly the rural folk were uneducated and security was worried they might attack the white guy because of anger over Obama’s policies being anti-China (since I was a good friend of Bush clearly I’d understand how Obama devoured Chinese babies on a daily basis). So all three of us needed to leave the province right now for our own safety. Any talk about interviewing activists or whatever had been some giant misunderstanding due to the poor English skills of the security officers which they apologized profusely for.
The next morning we were sitting there in the first class berth of a train headed for Guiyang. The security guys were in the compartment next to us. After the train ride to Guiyang we had a flight to Shanghai, first class as well, compliments of the Chinese government. My wife’s haggling instinct had kicked in and she was sitting there counting out the crisp new RMB notes that the agents had given us. My wife had kicked up a giant fuss about all the nonrefundable, paid in advance plans we’d made and the security officers had coughed up a few thousand dollars without any protest along with handling top shelf travel arrangements.
It was a good deal really, we were getting kicked out of the province no matter what. Chai was studying former sex workers in multiple provinces for just reason, when one place got too hot you went somewhere else for awhile. Within the day we’re back in Shanghai, Chai was heading for Henan, and I was sitting at KTV with some security officials and having a good laugh at how dumb provincial security officers are. “That would never work here!” my friend’s boss was slapping his thigh as he told him how I was W’s best friend, “Shanghainese are much too sophisticated.” The fact we had lied to a different security bureau and gotten away with it was hilarious to this security official, as opposed to being something he’d arrest us for.
On my second last to night in Shanghai I woke up at 3 am and couldn’t fall asleep for some reason. I walked out on the Bund in Shanghai. If you’ve seen the movie Skyfall, the Bund is directly across from that skyscraper Bond was fighting in. Party boats, covered in lights cruise up and down the river, they were still going at 3 am, all the skyscrapers were still lit up to the point you need a really good camera with a great light sensor to take a picture or the photo ends up looking like crap. Yet there also a steady stream of fishing scows or river barges cruising by. These ships showed no lights, visible only by the light their shapes blocked out. As they passed into pools of light from the party boats or the skyscrapers you could see rusty hulls and unpainted woodwork on boats that looked like a half decent storm would sink them. An odd little world. In a couple weeks I’d be back in America, my friend with security might on one of those party boats with a hooker under each arm, and Chai would be standing by the dock waiting for that river barge to pull in so she could interview them. If Chai was detained again she’d be on her own, my host in Shanghai had only done this because we’re close friends and there are rivalries between various security bureaus, he’d lectured Chai on needing to find a less volatile research topic. Next time Chai is grabbed she’ll have to rely on any contacts at her Chinese alma mater and whatever pull Michigan’s Center for Chinese Studies has to spring her and even then it likely means at least 24 hours at a police station while the cops go through whatever notes she has and then toss her on a train out of the province.
Two days later I was sitting there at the waiting area in Shanghai-Pudong airport, waiting for my flight when ten cops walked in. My heart skipped a beat. Had someone gotten wind of what we’d done and decided it wasn’t so funny? The cops all fanned out and started walking across the waiting one, one of the female ones looking at me. I was expecting her to point and gesture at me, saying “There he is! That’s guy!” but instead she passed without a word. All ten cops reconvening right at the entrance to the jetway, setting up a small table. It was just a surprise bag check. Before you could get onto the plane they just wanted to give you a quick pat down and rifle through your bag. No real reason, just to give the impression Chinese security was watching, even if it is really bad at what it does sometimes. Still even as bad as it is, it’s enough to keep your heart rate up until your plane clears the runway.
So here I am, married in the eyes of the American government, married in Korea, and awaiting my wedding ceremony in America. The one in America was the difficult one, my mother was raised Catholic and my father was raised Mennonite so religion has always been tricky. I compound the problem by not being Christian and my wife is kind of sorta of Bhuddist. By which if her mom nags her enough she'll go to a temple and stick some incense on the altar.
A quick side story on Buddhism. In China there is this General, Guan Yu, who made it into their pantheon of divine beings. He was a rather famous general in Chinese history and you ask him for help with military success. There are other gods you can approach for things like health and grades, Guan Yu just handles conflict mostly. Or so my host said. In modern China members of organized crime will pray to him since he helps those who have a code of brotherhood. I was in China and was dragged to a Buddhst temple. I'm outside killing time when I notice a massive paint of this guy on a cloud, wielding a sword and calling the lightning down on some army. So my Chinese friend explains his backstory to me. I had some incense and some RMB, so I start to head his way:Wife: What are you doing, you're not Buddhist. Me: Silence woman, you'll anger gangster Buddha. Wife: That's not the proper way to refer to him.
I was given incense when I entered the temple and figured I should lay it somewhere and toss in a little cash to cover the upkeep of the place. So I go over to Guan YU, bow down three times, lay my incense on the alert and then tell him who I am and what I want There is also a little slot that I can stick cash in. So I'm there doing the ritual when these two massive Chinese guys, one of them covered in tattoos come up and kneel down on either side of me. They start doing the ritual and then pull out these massive stacks of 100 RMB notes (~15 dollars each) and stuffing them in the slot. It takes while since the stacks are at least as thick as the slot and they're forcing them instead of breaking them up. When they're done I pull out the 50 RMB I was going to donate to temple upkeep and stick it in. The guy covered in tattoos looks at me and in broken English tells me that isn't enough, reaches into his pocket and pulls out another stack of notes, hands them to me, and tells me to put them in. I do, thank them, the guys nod, and then head off to do the seven laps around the main Buddha you have to do.
As we leave my wife looks at me and goes "What did you ask for?". "To beat Ohio State and something bad happen to the Sweatervest like how Woody went nuts on that Clemson player". Since Guan Yu does things related to the field of battle and all that I figured football counted. Later that year the free tattoo scandal hits.
My wife often complains about how much time and money her mom wastes on Buddhism. To which I now smugly reply that I've had great success working through gangster Buddha. My wife gets all offended over how that's not the proper way to address him (I'm not sure why she cares so much, since he isn't even a figure in Korean Buddhism). I just point out the Vest is gone and I haven't been struck by lightning yet so apparently gangster Buddha and I are cool. When I visit China is fall I'm taking plenty of cash for the temple and buying one of the Guan Yu statutes from the temple to bring back and build a shrine around him. I just need to find a tasteful statue of Bo to toss in there with him.Wife: I can't believe you want to erect a shrine to a Chinese god. Me: No, I'm erecting a shrine to the deity who got rid of the Vest. Consider yourself lucky local zoning laws and the state of my savings account prevents me from erecting the Guan Yu version of Touchdown Jesus. Wife: You realize it's complete coincidence that happened right. Me: This is much too important to take chances with.
Even before my success with Guan Yu (which actually occurred post marriage) I'd been aiming for a Buddhist wedding in America. That would offend all my relatives equally and thus peace would be maintained since I hadn't played favorites. Of course then I discovered that Buddhism considers marriage a civil affair and doesn't have a ceremony. Out the door went that idea.
We return to America with no clear plans, but at least we have the dress. I also return with Little Sister, the white elephant of my wedding gifts. My in-laws were heading off to Norway for six weeks and since I was now family, I could be tapped for baby sitting.My father in law: I'm sure you'll be busy with wedding plans, she can help out around the house. Me: By which you mean drink all my liquor. Father in Law: *glances to make sure his wife out of hearing range* Pretty much. Look we can't leave her home alone here and we need the vacation.
The really reason I got Little Sister is her parents were looking to break up her dating operation. She had three boyfriends, all of whom bought her nice things like Prada and Gucci handbags in exchange for not much. Two of them discovered each other and Lil Sister played it off as if the other one had led her astray. It ended with a fight between the guys outside of school and Lil Sister being shipped stateside. She admitted to me she actually had five boyfriends at one point but was scaling it back until the heat was off her operation. I've taken to referring to my wife as Gizmo and Lil Sister as Stripe. Since neither of them ever were exposed to 1980s American pop culture I can get away with it.
The fun starts with Little Sister walking up to the customs agent at SFO and handing him her passport. Sitting on the shelf there is her bag of duty free purchases, which include three bottles of liquor. The agent calmly stamps her visa, glances at the duty free bag, and waves her through. Little Sister of course is 18, as clearly stated on her passport. I'm next, hand the agent my American passport and get chewed out for having crappy handwriting on the customs entry form. I'd been sitting there smugly expecting to get grabbed by Homeland Security and have her liquor taken away. Instead I'm told to go write a new entry form and the liquor continues on its journey.
I strand Lil Sister at home. She can't drive stick yet, so neither of our cars are usable by her and I refrain mentioning we're a three block walk from AATA Route 2. I figure her wandering around campus while my wife and I are at work is just begging for a minor (or major disaster). She's fairly happy with that state of affairs since I give her password to my computer and I have a massive collection of games on Steam for her to play around with. I also reup my Word of Warcraft account and give her access to my Level 85 raid geared Ret/Prot paladin. I come home watch to find her cackling maniacally as she slaughters low level characters. Her main compliant is the game won't let you taunt them via the in game chat console (if you haven't played, you can only talk to people on your team). She solves that problem by logging on my wife's account via a laptop, and logging into a Level 1 Horde character to taunt those she kills.
That keeps her busy for a week but then the novelty of being able to play games for 8 hours a day without mom and dad yelling at you starts to wear off. We have some ongoing drama in my neighborhood in that a possibly rabid groundhog bit my neighbor's dog. The vet wants the groundhog so he can check it over for diseases. The owner of the dog had some animal control company come out and set up traps but the groundhog hasn't taken the bait yet. It's been spotted a few times and seems to be acting weird. My neighbors are starting to worry because some of them have dogs or toddlers as well. I mention I have a a lovely little .177 air rifle and if no one has an issue with a pellet or two being fired I can provide a groundhog corpse in short order.
A few of the wives aren't so sure about killing it, but the husbands all support the death penalty for the rodent. So I take the air rifle and set it by the door (without pumping it up) and tell my wife and Little Sister to let me know if they see it. My neighbors have my cellphone number to text me if it turns up in their yard.
Monday morning comes with Little Sister sitting on my couch, bored and channel surfing while I'm at work. She's apparently finds Rambo on AMC or something and starts watching that. Midway through she decides she likes what she sees and decides to go stalk the groundhog. She raids my stash of deer hunting gear and ends up wearing a bandana as a headband (in honor of Rambo), my camp jacket (even though it is roughly six million sizes too big for her), and her urban camo short shorts that she brought with her for some reason. She also spots my big deer skinning knife and puts that on her belt. After that she finds some how to operate an air rifle videos on Youtube and manages to arm the rifle. She sets some cans outside and practices on them.
At about 2 pm I get a text from her "Which house did the dog who was bit live at?". Knowing Little Sister my danger sense starts tingling. Her cover story is that she wants to take some dog treats over the dog. I figure that's nice enough and give her the address. I later discover she showed up in the getup I described above, knife on her belt, air rifle slung over her back, and wearing my leather work gloves (since it occurred to her the groundhog might have disease). The dead groundhog is double bagged in a pair of Busch's paper bags since she couldn't find the garbage bags in the garage. The stay at home mom who lives there opens the door, turns white, and screams. Turns out Little Sister didn't get a clean kill on her first shot and had to walk up and finish it off execution style, which is messy when you use an air rifle that shoots .177 hollow points at point blank. Her quote justifying this entire exercise was "It drew first blood". I blame her love of 2NE1. She was rather proud of her kill and even posted photos of the dead critter on her Cyworld.
After that we start taking her to campus, since as my wife says "Better on campus than at home trying to pick the lock of the gun safe".
On the wedding planning front I hit the one snag I didn't want to hit, my great uncle got involved. He's rather rich and my mother is favorite niece. Both of his sons died young and he always liked my mother since she was the oldest of her siblings, just like he was. The issue is he didn't like my grandfather (he is the brother of my maternal grandmother) and whenever he can he likes to mess with that side of the family. My grandfather is now deceased and personally I never had a problem with him. He also was an officer on a submarine in World War II which lets me mess with my wife.Wife: *complaint against American Imperialism and our massive military, despite the fact she works for the military-industrial complex* Me: Do you speak Japanese? Wife: No. Me: You're welcome. Wife: *glare of death* (can't say anything since my grandfather actively fought the Japanese and I can claim credit based off that)
Of course she's gotten smarter and replies we used up all good karma for the liberation when we had the CIA install Syngman Rhee as President of the ROK.
Anyway my great uncle is well into his 90s and not entirely lucid all the time. So being the relative who lives the closest to him I tend to drop in once a week for a visit. His brain does tend to work on monetary matters though, so when the wedding comes up he has all kinds of solutions.
To give you an idea of what I'm dealing with, over dinner my wife, Little Sister, and I are regaled with a tale of their wedding. The wedding was at the Grand Hotel at Mackinac. With the bride and groom arriving via yacht. Of course this was a traditional one where the groom can't see the bride ahead of time. So two yachts are needed. Luckily some good friends had just bought a new yacht and of course my great uncle owned one, so that gave them their two. They would then land at the dock and be conveyed via carriage to the hotel. However disaster struck when my great aunt got on the bridal yacht and discovered the deck wasn't real teak. She absolutely refused to be conveyed to her ceremony on a deck made of pine. So my great uncle's yacht, which had a teak deck, was recalled. He and the groomsmen hid in the boathouse while my great aunt got on the other yacht. This entire switch put them about an hour behind schedule. My great uncle then points out he owns a yacht and he'd be happy to place it at my disposal (and yes the deck is teak). At that point he gets up from the table to get the number of someone he knows at the Grand Hotel because he's sure he can get booked even if it is kind of last minute.
My great aunt meanwhile goes on a rambling lecture about how it's so nice society has become progressive and white men can marry ethnic women although she can't understand why a white woman would marry an ethnic man. I eventually managed to switch the conversation over to Michigan football.
My wedding actually would have been much easier had I waited. It would have been a simple call:
"Hello Michigan Athletics? I'd like to rent the Big House for a wedding. Also how much more to have Coach Hoke officiate? No, I don't want a priest, I want Hoke. What do you mean he doesn't do weddings? Well what about Mattison or Borges?"
Sadly this was during the RichRod years and RichRod running the wedding would have mandated a weapons check at the door. "Yes Uncle Tom I know he lost to Toledo, I was there. Just give me the deer rifle. Also the Colt duct taped to your leg. I know you have it down there."
Instead my Great Uncle is now hellbent on handling my wedding for me (and picking up the tab). In part because he likes me and in part so he can spend a large sum of money on it as a middle finger to those relatives he doesn't like. I manage to him talk out of the Grand Hotel, only to have him point out he bought the Catholic Church a new slate roof a couple years ago and they owe him one. Luckily my wife kills that idea by refusing to married in a Catholic Church because "To hell with Notre Dame". My great uncle being a huge fan of Bo quickly agrees the Catholic Church is out.
Thus begins the hijacking of my wedding though. My plans of a tasteful ceremony on the banks of the Huron River, followed by a nice relaxed reception (BBQ, volleyball, dancing, etc) is brushed off as "You deserve something nicer [read: more expensive] than that". My only really grandiose desire was to use my wife's USAF connections and get a flyby. I was aiming for "You may kiss the bride" followed by a pair of jets screaming over the tree tops at 80% the speed of sound. The guests would not have been made aware of said flyby ahead of time. Some people make their wedding memorable via destination vacations, I tried to do it via surprise jet fighters. Sadly the USAF does not do weddings, nor does the Michigan Air Guard.
Little Sister further compounds the problem by selling me out. Someplace in East Asia, I think China, came up with the idea of matching cars for the wedding. So the family will go out and rent 20 or 30 identical luxury cars to convey everyone around (or if you're really rich, buy them). She saw one of those processions once and liked it. My great uncle instantly likes that idea. She's in the middle of explaining that idea when she lets out a yelp due to my wife kicking her under the table.
Word gets around since my great aunt is a major hub of gossip and soon my family is taking an active role in this. Don't ever think "Yeah we'll just get Memphis Blues to come cater some BBQ, my old roommate's band to play, and rent space in a park or something" is an acceptable wedding plan for your older relatives. Instead it starts devolving into a full on power struggle between various factions. Also one of my mother's good friends, who asked her to be the godmother to his children, used to deacon at Saint Mary's Church and my mother wants the ceremony there to keep the peace with him.
Even better Little Sister is reporting back to mom and dad about the progress and they're moving to match my great uncle dollar for dollar. Even though they did a lot to cover the Korean wedding, they feel they need to match my great uncle's insane budget ideas to keep face. I also lose the card I was playing. I was telling people "We want to do a full renovation on the kitchen and master suite, so we're keeping wedding costs down". With my great uncle trying to cover the tab, I can't use that one. Rich relatives can be a pain sometimes.
In short order my wife and I are pushed off to the side as the entire planning thing devolves into a power struggle between my great uncle and a rather rich aunt (well she isn't rich, but her husband is a corporate attorney and has money) on the other side of the family. It moves from my wedding to a continuation of the wars fought at the family reunions. In fact the only consensus that both sides reach is we'll skip the family reunion this summer and instead make my wedding the giant family social event of the summer. Since I'm the last of my generation to get married and it will be a while before my cousins kids reach marriageable age, I'm the last wedding for at least 6 years (assuming someone gets married at 18) and thus center of attention. Hooray.
To make it worse some of my family thinks the desire stems from an evil plot by my wife to not be "fully" married to me. To them despite the fact we're already legally married, it isn't real until you do it in a church. So anything that deviates from tradition is a plot. For example tradtionally Koreans don't wear wedding rings. My aunt takes me aside and suggests this is a plot by my wife to cheat on me (since she doesn't have ring, she carries no sign of being married). I point out that A) She could just take the ring off to cheat, B) I'm not wearing one either, and C) It really is a Korean tradition. My aunt just frowns at me and lectures me on how she's trying to protect me.
I also get the entire thing about being married properly in the eyes of god. I'm just thankful it never occurs to those people that actually my wife was never baptized nor confirmed so she isn't even eligible for the traditional Catholic ceremony. Plus we started living together before we were married, so I've been living in sin and not in good standing anyway. They definitely don't consider a formal dinner with the family and then a party at a bar to be a legit wedding ceremony.
By the way, the whole no ring thing is excellent. My engagement and wedding ring budget was instead converted into a pair of commercial grade dishwashers in the kitchen. You fill one up, run it, and then remove items as you need them. Stick the dirty items in the other dishwasher. Run in when it is full. It lets my lazy ass go months without having to ever empty a dishwasher (since you can just transfer it) and is really useful when you have big parties since you can load them both up and run them.
This this getting long, so I'll just wrap this installment up on a lighter note. One of our other tasks was to teach Little Sister to drive in America. Considering the two cars we own both make at least 400 pound feet of torque this seemed like a bad idea to me. She was at least incapable (for now) of working the heavy clutch on the GTO which means she got destroy the clutch in my G8 (which is still under warranty at least). Apparently she stalled out on Dixboro and and some guy in a manufacture plated Hyundai flips them off and yells something as he goes around them. My wife jumps in the drivers seat and takes off after him. She follows him to the tech center, with apparently the genius in the Sonata attempting to elude the much faster American car. She gets stopped at the gate but makes a big fuss in Korean which prompts a Korean manager to come out. I come home and find three giant bags of free Hyundai swag in the living room.
My experience teaching Little Sister to drive was taking her down to the track and teaching her to launch. She was stalling out on launches and posting 17+ second passes with the car and getting laughed at, which got her competitive ire up. She finally gets a good launch but immediately panics when she feels that much power and slams the brakes on. That just gets her laughed at more. So she comes around for another pass and this times gets it clean and slams it down to wide open throttle and holds it here. Posts a 12.7 second time which is respectable for a rookie driver. The run though ends with me in the passenger seat screaming at her to hit the brakes, because she screams by the end of the quarter mile with the gas pedal still on the floor. We overshot the turnoff and end up coming to a stop ten feet from the sand pit. At least that justified the money I spent on nicer brakes. I fully expected to be kicked off the track off that debacle, but the track boss thought it was hilarious that we came to the pits with her grinning over her time and me an entirely new shade of white. The next morning I get up early and my wife kind of sleepily rolls over and goes "Why are you getting up so early?" "I want to put new brake pads on the G8 before work." "Oh that's a good idea."
Oh and if you live in Ann Arbor and were ever cut off by a blue G8 GXP with a block M on the plate and two Asian girls in the front seats, mea culpa.
The honeymoon phase, post Korean wedding, was if I came home to nothing worse than some missing beer, burned out pads on the car, and dead rodents, I figured it was a good day.
Since people are reporting the old links don't work, I've posted the older stories here. Be sure to thank M-wolverine for saving all these.
Part 1, Awkwardly Met My Future In Laws:
Warning: It's long. If your attention span is short, move along.
So I met my girlfriend's family last night. This was fairly awkward for a number reasons:1. They neglected to alert her to the fact they thought it would be great to drop by. 2A. They didn't know she had a boyfriend 2B. Especially a white one. 3. They also didn't know we live together.
So a little background here. My girlfriend is Korean and over here for some upper level education. Her parents assume, or well assumed, she was getting a degree from a top American school and then returning to South Korea to teach at some top school, as that is typically what you do. To become a faculty member at any of the good Korean schools you basically need to spend some time at a top Western school.
However in Korea women make about 30% less then men and are typically expected to exit the workforce and raise children. It's a fairly big problem over there, a lot of 30 something women are refusing to have kids because they don't want to become stay at home moms and the Korean government is somewhat worried about where the next generation is going to come from.
Anyway the differences in culture led my girlfriend to decide that immigration is the way to go. Over here she'll only make 15% less than me, progress enh? Family dynamics are tricky over there, you don't buck your parents authority, so she's kept them in the dark on a few things, namely me. It worked well for awhile, she flew home once a year to visit and otherwise we figured with the world's largest ocean and most of continental United States between us and them we thought the odds of a surprise visit were low. After she graduates we'll be getting engaged, so we figured we'd just wait to then to introduce me to the parents and going through the inevitable fallout of "You're marrying who and living where…?" could occur.
So last night I'm at home, drinking and doing laundry because thats how I roll when I hear a knock on the door. I open the door and standing there are 3 generations of Koreans. As I look at them I'm having this little warning bell going off in my head *I've seen these people before somewhere…*. They're also rather confused, as they flew 18 hours and had a 12 hour time zone shift . They just punched their daughter's mailing address into a GPS and showed up to surprise their daughter. They got some guy who is holding a beer and looking confused. Welcome to America!
At first they thought they had the wrong address and asked me where [MY ADDRESS] was. So we go through a little routine where I'm explaining to them they're at the right address and they're convinced they're at the wrong address, because they're looking for their daughter, not a white dude boozing it up. As they're going through this I finally connect the faces of the parents and her younger sister to the family photos my girlfriend has on the shelves in the living room.
My brain kind of locked up for a moment. I'm suddenly aware of the fact our place is not very neat right now, we have a number of empties on the counter in the kitchen and most importantly: these people have no idea I'm sleeping with their daughter and her dad is some kind of officer in the Korean Army. *He's had years of training on how to kill people, this is so awesome.*
So I very reluctantly ask them "Are you [her name]'s family?" This gets me some confused looks, but yes indeed they are. All I can really do is just say "Well she lives here too." I invite them in and get the gf on the cellphone. They're looking all over the place, really confused. Her sister spots some photos of the gf and me and points them out to her family. The gf is off at library and of course thinks I'm messing with her. I hand the cellphone off to her father, who says "Hi" and "What the hell is this white boy doing in your apartment?'. I take the opportunity to lock the dogs in basement and also do my best to covertly move some things out of sight as well. For example, even if you figure you're safe from parental/older relative visits, never leave out the photos of you and your gf doing a beer bong together.
The gf rushes home and does her best to explain to mom, dad and three of her grandparents how she'd neglected to mention her boyfriend of over two years and her living arrangement and the surprise bonus of not only is she dating someone but she's dating one of those creepy, white ginger kids. Given the expressions of everyone involved it didn't go very well. We took them all on a quick tour of Ann Arbor / Campus and then they back to their hotel to turn in early because of jet lag.
I am needless to say not popular with her family right now. I don't know much of it is personal and how much of it is "We just had a 18 hour flight just to discover you're living with a guy." Her dad rather unsubtly asked me about my family's economic background and my level of education and he at least seemed to like the answers. I'm not dead yet, so I have that going for me.
Also the night wasn't a total write-off for this little gem:Girl Friend's 16 Y/O Sister [In Korean]: Is it true what they say about white guys having bigger 'equipment'? GF: I've spent the past two years teaching him Korean, I bet he understood that. *Sister Turns Bright Red, Looks Over at me* GF: And yes.
The other one is horribly stereotypical, but amusing comment:Me: This is the University hospital, where I work. Mother: *face brightens* Oh are you a doctor? Me: No. Mother: *fall falls* Oh.
So they'll be staying for two weeks. Umh, hooray?
Part 2: Adventures in Korean Facebook (Cyworld) Stalking:
So I'm still alive. I've had limited interaction with the family, last night and this morning. I'm talking a half day from work on Friday and that will be the big day, followed by parent on parent action this weekend. I'll update you guys with that on Monday or whenever I can type up something good.
In mean the time, my gf and I have been Facebook stalking her little sister.. It's not actual Facebook, its the Korean version of it, but she doesn't have privacy settings up and we've been reading her status feed as a way of seeing how the parents are taking it.
Quick Bio on Lil Sister: Sixteen years old. She was the 'unplanned' child. Her parents had three kids, all within ten years of each other and then though they were done. Well 11 years later, Lil Sis shows up. Her parents are old enough they could potentially be her grandparents and rather boring by this point, even more so by teenage standards. Lil Sis is kept on a short leash following some trouble last year for public intoxication in Hong Kong (she was 15 at the time). So mom and dad watch her like a hawk and brought her along. She is armed with a LG smartphone that has a keyboard and an internet connection, so her gossip is fed directly back to Korea. I think she's supposedly to be in school, yet she's over here right now. Not sure how that works.
So without further ado, Lil Sis's status feed:
Wednesday Evening:"He's WHITE and they live together!"
[numerous replies along the lines of "wf are you talking about?"]"We're in America to visit my sister! She has a white boyfriend and they live together. She never told my parents!"
[Various commentary on this. One little shithead calls my gf for a slut for sleeping with a white guy. Is instantly gang banged by numerous Korean girls going "We sleep with white guys because they don't treat us like shit like Korean guys do." After giving him a good old fashion internet beat down the girls move on to important topics. ]"Yes he tall, but he's pale. Really pale. It's okay though, he's not fat"
[She posts a bunch of photos of me, my dogs, my car, our apartment, all covertly taken with her camera phone. This prompts discussion on how tall I am, if I'm cute or not. I might have been biased when counting votes, but I'd say 65%+ of the votes ranked me as attractive. One girl asks if I have a younger brother.]
…longer break, this next batch of posts comes from after we dropped them off at their hotel..."I just heard my mom swear for the first time ever! I don't get why they're mad. He's cute, went to college and my sister says he is good in bed. His car is really big too, he must be rich!"
"Grandpa [maternal side] is really mad. He wanted her to marry a grandson of his friend. My sister is in so much trouble!"
[This arranged marriage provokes negative comments. It appears some of the people consider this guy to be a loser. I liked the comment "I don't know him, but he if needs a grandparent to get a date he must be worse than Lee Jin-gyu]
"They have a heated pool here! I didn't bring a bathing suit but I'm going swimming when my parents fall asleep! So many cute guys! =)"
[If Lil Sis does come to America for college, its going to be one hell of a rebellion.]
Part 3: AA and Hockey
Sorry for not posting any updates, I’ve been a bit busy. The worst/weirdest thing over the past few days must have been the “exotic food” talk my girlfriend got on Thursday, at least for her. She’d gone out to walk the dogs, mostly an excuse to get outside and escape everyone. I was off at work and her grandparents were checking out our apartment. Her maternal grandfather had asked her point blank “Why is there only one bed in here? You’re not married.” Anyway her mom decided to come along on the walk. As they’re walking her mom launches into this really tortured metaphor, which I’ll paraphrase:
“You know honey, it’s normal to be attracted to exotic things. Sometimes when I want something exotic I’ll get some Japanese food or some Mexican food because it is different and exotic, but at the end of the day I find eating a nice Korean meal is more pleasant and easier on the stomach.”
The moral to the story is, date within your own race, it’s easier on the stomach.
Over the past few days we’ve hit up Saigon Garden, Blue Karaoke (since everything there is in Korean) and the Taste of Taiwan Night Market over in the East Hall on Friday. If you didn’t go on Friday, you missed a great event. Five dollars for dinner, three snack tables, a dessert table and skill games. I stole the show in the chopsticks challenge. You had to move metal marbles with your chopsticks and I pretty much destroyed all comers, including the gf’s father. He got 4 marbles, I got 11. Finished the night off at Momo Tea playing Go Stop, a traditional Korean card game. Her grandmother dominated all comers in that.
Things went well, on Thursday it was dinner and karaoke with some Korean friends, including a married couple that teaches here. They kept the conversation focused on all the various Korean cultural things that go down around here. Ranging from the grocery stores to the film and lecture series that Center for Korean Studies runs. Sadly the Korean Students Association event for this month is bowling (I assume traditional Korean bowling in Ypsi, complete with rednecks one lane over drinking Bud Light and watching NASCAR, just like in Seoul), but the Taste of Taiwan thing made a pretty good substitute. To be fair, she’s not active in KSA (we neglected to tell her parents that), so I have no idea what their events are like.
The biggest drama point on Thursday / Friday was the grandfathers. They were amusing themselves by testing my knowledge of the Korean language. One of them would ask me a question, using weird syntax and big words and then as I was figuring out what he said, the other one would ask me something. Then they’d stare at me like I was an idiot while I trigged to figure what just got said. I normally had the second speaker to repeat what he said. After this did this a few times my gf got up in their faces and called them out for doing it. She went on a little rant about how their poor manners reflected poorly on her. She even managed to sneak in a little comment about how my family never tested her knowledge of English and it embarrasses her that her family has worse manners than mine. I thought things were about to go nuclear at that point, but her grandparents backed down. They didn’t apologize, but they toned it down and most importantly they backed down and didn’t argue with her. In private her father later apologized to me and said he’d speak to them about it as well.
After doing some Asian culture on Thursday and Friday, we moved over to embrace some American culture, namely hockey. Saturday during the day was introducing them to my parents, everyone walking on eggshells a bit type of thing. Then we sat her family down and called up the DVRed Wings vs Wild game and started to cover the basic concepts of hockey. We both play and her parents had seen our six million sticks (give or take a few million) littering the apartment. They were impressed by the speed of the game and shocked by the hits. Right after a rather vicious one her mother looks over at my gf and goes “You play that sport?!!?” We tried to explain there is a major difference between our caliber of play and the caliber of the Red Wings, but everyone seemed shocked my gf played and hadn’t been snapped in half. My mother also didn’t help:My mom: “I know, really. Everyime I see my son play I’m worried he’s going to get hurt. You know he’s hurt his knee four times in seven years.” Me: *glares at my mom, clears throat* My mom: “He had to wear a brace one time and….” Me: I’m going to the kitchen for a drink, anyone need a refill? *glares at mom, my dad elbows her while everyone is looking at me*
Things started to get interesting during the Bemidji State game. Started off pretty tame, everyone in the living room, with some extra chairs dragged in, a bunch of snacks ranging from Gimbap to Doritos. Gimbap is basically Korean sushi, although the contents of it are normally cooked (Gim = dried seaweed, Bap = steamed white rice, just add some pickled radish, seasoned beef, crab, etc and you’re in business). Her family was impressed when I actually made some all by myself.
The bad was the tequila came out. I’m a tequila whore, I have an entire cupboard of tequilas (I love blue agave tequila the most, but they’re all good). I actually used to have one cupboard for tequila and one cupboard for non-tequila liquor. More recently the overflow from the tequila cupboard has been invading the other liquor cupboard. I should build a little Alamo and put the vodka and whiskey in it. So we mixed up some margaritas and figured it might do well enough for everyone to have a mixed drink, just one mind you, enough to be a bit of a social lubricant.
Well my girlfriend is kind of stressed out right now. I worked a full day on Thursday and a half day on Friday, so she was alone in the shark tank with the parents for those time periods and getting badgered. She’s running short on sleep and just generally a little ball of nerves right now. On her way into the kitchen to grab some more food, a soda, whatever I guess she was also taking pulls off the fifth of tequila to calm down. By pulls I mean she killed about a half a fifth of tequila in one and a half periods of hockey, plus two margaritas.
Midway through the second period she comes back out from the kitchen, now seating it tight, she was kind of squished in her mom and sister on one of the couches before she got up. I had a crappy little Ikea chair all to myself for most of the game. She walks over and plops down in my lap, puts her arms around my neck and buries her face in my chest, since she tends to get rather cuddly when drunk.
Now there is just silence in the room for a moment. Everyone is looking at us, my parents quickly look away and over at the TV, although you can see my dad’s expression going “Oh shit.” Lil Sis is raising up her camera phone, but her mother swats it down. I’m looking at her like “Are you trying to get me killed?”. She’s my girlfriend, so I can’t exactly shove her out of my lap and be like “Go sit with your mom”, but her entire family is just staring at us. Aside from hugging each other when we met after work, this is the most PDA they’ve seen between us.
Now my girlfriend kind of lifts her head up, gives me a peck on the cheek and goes “You’re kind of stiff, do you want a back massage later?” She then grabs my left arm and pulls it around her shoulders, closes her eyes and starts to drift off. She’s pretty out of it by this point. I figure “Well it’s not like they can unsee this, full speed ahead.” So I spend the rest of the Bemidji game with her using me as a pillow. She’s like a little angel when she sleeps, a little angel that started drooling on my shirt with 8 minutes to go in the third. She slept through a lot of it, something she’d normally never do during a Michigan sporting event, but like I said she hasn’t been getting much sleep recently. On Wednesday night we were up to 4 am. I think she actually faked falling asleep because she felt guilty since I wouldn’t go sleep as long she was up and I had work the next day. Once I dropped off I think she got up and went out for a run with the dogs at like 5 am. Then came home, crashed and was up to see me out the door at 7 am and then to hang out with her family.
So after the Bemidji game, her family said their goodnights and got out of their rather quickly. I think they just had no idea how to act to their daughter behaving that way, drunk in their presence and rather direct in contact with me. It’s changed and PDA is more common in urban Korea now, but with the parent’s and grandparent’s generations, you didn’t even hold the hand of your wife in public.
*The Dong Punch of Dong Punches*
Since the weather on Sunday was so terrible. We were restricted to indoor activities, we had a nice long conversation about my dad’s car. Her family was impressed by it and seemed to take it as a positive sign of my family’s economic standing. So my dad and her dad talked cars and got to know each other. We also prepped for the Miami of Ohio game in style. My dad brought over a big party tray of wings, which were a hit with everyone. I made up nachos, got a fire going and figured we’d do this in style. My girlfriend spent the entire game hanging out with me (or on me). At one point she was sitting my lap and feeding me a wing, while giving her parents a look basically daring them to say something. When I needed a beer she’d get up and grab it for me (since she was on my lap she had to move anyway). I’m thinking “You know, you guys are really welcome to visit whenever you want. Hell, you guys should come out for all the football games next year.”
Then came the Great Dong Punch of 2010, the one where Angry Michigan Hating God awoke from his torpor and violated me in ways I did not know I could still be violated. First overtime, 17:23. We should have been on the phone buying tickets at that point, but instead Angry Michigan Hating God bent over the largest alumni base in the world and had his way with us. “Oh I missed a spot after The Horror? You mean after making you stand through 3-9 and 5-7 in the student section I can still inflict further trauma upon you? Here, let me take care of that.”
There was some good from this, my gf was worked up by now, we both were amped up. There was that early fluke in the 3rd, where the Miami shot bounced off the post and we’d been pumped ever since then. She was in my lap, we threw our arms around each other, I stood up, we’re both cheering, we kiss and as I’m looking past her at the TV…
I SEE THE FUCKING REF WAVING IT OFF!!!!!!!!!! *RAAAAAAGEEEEE*
She’s out of my arms now, unloading her multilingual swearing capacity at the TV, I’m working through my mastery of English obscenities. Her family is staring at us as if we’ve both gone insane, my mother is also yelling at the TV. Okay the play is under review, we calm down, they show the replays. Puck in the net, great, here we come……what the hell, whistle? What kind of shit is this?
Her dad is getting into this. He’s gotten the basics of hockey, puck in the net equals a goal. Look you dumbass refs, even the guy who just learned the rules last night get this. Put the point up and send us to Detroit. But as we all know, Michigan Hating God wins in the end.
There is a silver lining though. I caught just the tail end of the conversation about us, it was between her father and his father. They’d gone outside to smoke and were discussing how passionate her daughter is about all this, how she never acted like this in Korea. They might not be thrilled by it, but it sounded like they also understood in some ways she was too Americanized to just happily throw it all away, move back to Seoul and go the traditional route. Given the fact she stood up to her grandparents and some of the things like that, her dad seems to feel this is an actual relationship, not just her doing a white guy for the hell of it.
I also found out her paternal grandfather thinks I’m not a real man, because I let her boss me around and a real man wouldn’t take that kind of shit. You never hear good stuff about yourself when you eavesdrop. Her dad though did stand up for me a bit and say he didn’t think I had a weak spine, just that I “spoiled” her. All I can say to that is, she freaking sat in my laptop and fed me wings for the entire hockey game, she even deboned them for me first..
Who exactly is spoiling who here?
The other good news is my parents have offered to stay in town for awhile, so while I’m at work they’ll hang out with the gf and her family and give her a bit of break from any more of those “easier on the stomach” lectures. Her mother definitely does not approve of me so far.
We’re still setting up stuff for this week, so I don’t know when I’ll have time to post next, but it’s likely going to be hitting up some of the Asian things in this area and showing that their daughter isn’t rejecting her parents’ culture, so much as becoming multicultural and she’ll have plenty of exposure to Korean culture even if she lives over here. I think she is planning to crash some Korean Studies classes this week, so if you’re in one and a family of Koreans walks in, feel free to flirt up the little sister. When she posts photos of you on Cyworld I’ll let you know how the voting goes.
In some ways we’ve made some progress, her standing up to her parents, me showing I’m at least somewhat up on Korean culture and things like that. The downside is her parents are used to her doing what they say. When she goes back to Seoul they impose a curfew on her (she is in her late 20s), tell her which friends she can hang out with and things like that. That’s always been how things worked in Seoul, she lived with her parents and did what they said. Over here, she’s starting to dig into her heels. It’s kind of like she had dual personalities, a standard college student one when in Ann Arbor and more of a child one where she obeyed her parents when in Seoul. Her parents are just meeting this other her for the first time in. After Bemidji when I mentioned that PDA might have been a bit of a shock to her parents, she went off on how she’ll do whatever she wants with her boyfriend in our apartment, which likely prompted the sitting in my lap on Sunday. So it’s a good sign for me, but we’ll see how it plays out when she tells her parents get lost when they try to her what to do.
This is getting long, like pushing 4 pages in Word, so I'm going to end it here. I have some background drama about what prompted the parents visit and some erroneous assumptions they made and I'll get that in Part 4.
Part 4: The Drama Part
So sadly my gf’s dad is gone. Depending on how much you read the international news, you may or may not know that a South Korean warship sank recently. It and another ship were up patrolling near North Korea and the ship either hit a mine or had an internal explosion and sank. North Korea is also threatening to nuke South Korea, but that’s just business as usual when Kimmy Jong Il forgets to take his meds. Between the two events though the South Korean military is on a high enough alert the father has to fly back and report to his unit.
So I gave him a ride out to Metro, just him, the gf and me in my car. As we’re going along he’s talking about how South Korean cars are catching up with American cars and he has one of the fast new sport coups with the 2.8 Liter Engine. I don’t say anything about that, but as we’re merging from US-23 onto I-94, I put my foot down and give my V8 full throttle and come blazing down the merge ramp like a bat out of hell. I glanced over and had the satisfaction of watching the father grab the door handle in a death grip, white knuckles and all. Long story short, no more comments on how much power a 2.8 Liter I4 produces.
The lack of the father has been a major setback to Ginger-Korean relations. The father appeared to like me, I’m invited over to Korea this summer to spend time with the family since he had to cut his visit short. So either he likes me, or he figures it’s easier to dump my body when he has home field advantage. With the father gone, the mother has revealed her inner bitch and her dislike of me. Well always knew she didn’t like me, but with the father gone she no longer appears to have a moderating influence.On Thursday we’re walking around campus and she goes: Her: “Does the sun hurt your eyes?” Me: “No, I’m fine. Why?” Her: “Well you have such big eyes, it must be very bright.” Me [thinking, not saying]: *Was that supposed to be an insult or are you just that clueless?* Her: “Look at all these Chinese girls around here. There are so many of them. I bet no one minds when the Americans date the extra ones.”
She always points any Asian couples she sees and how happy they look.
We hit the boiling point on Thursday. I have Thursday and Friday off work to hang with everyone, so we’re walking from a coffee shop on State over to the Diag. Right in that area between NatSci and Angell. Her mother accosts a pair of Asian guys walking along as well:Her: “Excuse me, are you Korean?” One Guy: “I am, my friend is from Taiwan, do you need help with something?” [Likely thinking she needed help translating something.] Her: “Oh no, I just wanted to show her she could find a cute Korean boy here if she took the time to look.”
My gf slams her coffee down on the sidewalk and glares at her mother: “Yes mother, I must be insane to live in America and date a white boy, instead of living in Seoul with you.”
The guys are getting the hell out of the conversation at this point. Without missing a beat the mother turns and slaps my gf across the face. Full on snap her face to one side, giant red mark. I put myself between the mother and my gf. The mother has her hand up like she was going to hit her daughter again, I just step in, crossing my arms over my chest.
Silence as we just stare at each other for a moment, her face is livid, but I’m 5’ 11” and she’s 5’ 3”. So she can’t exactly shove me out of the way and go after her daughter again. I finally speak (in Korean, using the phrasing that suggests I’m talking a child/inferior, as opposed to the politer ones I should be using):“We might never get along. I’m fine with that. What you don’t want though is for me to be mad at you, and if I ever see you hit [name] or hear that you hit [name], we are going to have a major problem and I am going to get mad. Do we have an understanding?”
After a few moments she lowers her hand and steps back. My gf just turns bright red and gets out of there. All this went down in front of my parents and some people that happened to be up early. I catch up with her by the Fishbowl and she’s crying because my parents saw this all and will think she has a dysfunctional family, because now her mom will always hate me (as long as she also fears me I can work with it) and all that. Fun little emotional rollercoaster, she goes from crying, to giving me a slap for being so stupid, to kissing me for standing up for her. Estrogen is a hell of a drug..
I text my parents that I’m bailing out, so they go off suit shopping. Her family also breaks off and I drag my girlfriend off to the Arb to enjoy the weather. Nice day away from everyone and we hook back up with the folks (both sides) in the later afternoon.
We worked Lil Sister over for intelligence later on. Interestingly enough the maternal grandmother laid the smack down on her daughter (the mother) for acting like that in public. Part of what Lil Sister repeated went like this:“I am embarrassed any child of mine would be such a poor parent she would need to hit her adult daughter in public.”
Also:Mother: “How dare he do that, challenge me when I was disciplining my child…*rant rant rant*” Maternal Grandmother: “Well if someone hit me, you would defend me, wouldn’t you? [Looks at her husband]” Maternal Grandfather: … Maternal Grandmother: “Oh I see, you would let the person beat me. At least my granddaughter knows her man will protect her.”
It appears grandma at least approves of the intervention. I also caught up with the father on the phone, his take on it was: “I’ve told my wife before she hits the children much too frequently.” I guess since I didn’t actually touch his wife, we have no beef. No apologies from the mother, or from me and she’s tending to avoid me at dinner and things like that, walks on the other side of the group.
So at this point I’m not sure if I’m going to try to patch things up with the mother, if that’s even possible, or just roll with the “You hate me, you fear me, but you know I will end you up if you hit my gf again” kind of deal.
On a lighter note, Lil Sister vs Dogs:
So Lil Sis was raiding my ‘fridge for food and pulled out the smoked salmon, the crack of the canine world, at least for my dogs. She instantly has a pair of man’s best friends in the kitchen and they want her to share. She takes a piece of salmon and holds it above their heads going “Awww you want the fish, puppies want the fish?” Corin starts to rise up to get it and she lifts it up out of reach, or so she thinks.
Corin is 112 pounds last we checked and can put his paws on my shoulders. Lil Sis is like 5’ and 100 lbs tops. Corin drops back down, looks at her for a moment and then jumps up again. He puts one paw on each shoulder and pushes her down onto her rear. She sits down with a little thump and her eyes get real big, Corin grabs the fish from her hand and trots off. In America, dog eat you.
Theodora, proving she is the smartest of the bunch yet again, waited until everyone was engrossed in Lil Sis vs Corin, grabbed the package of salmon off the counter and headed for the basement. Oddly enough, Lil Sis has yet to update her Cyworld and mention she got taken out by a pair of malamutes.
So you guys have a great weekend. I have tomorrow off, in theory to enjoy the weather and my guests, but I’m sure y’all will have a better day thanme. Right now the GF is “working her thesis” in the office, which judging from the sound of it is actually venting to her older sister on the phone. Once she gets done with that I think we’ll be drinking.
Part 5: Detroit and Oakland County
So yeah I kind of fell off the radar hunh? Sorry about that. Well after everything went down we kind of decided to get out of town on a last minute idea. Packed the camping gear, the dogs and a lot of booze into the car and headed for New Mexico where I have some family. Left the car at their place and hiked around up in the Guadalupe Mountains for awhile and enjoyed being totally off the radar and the grid. Just the two of us and the dogs, nice and relaxing. SO I was totally gone and out of touch from all things electronic for awhile. My apologies.
Highlights of the trip:
Pulled over for doing 25 over the speed limit (really New Mexico, why do you even bother with speed limits?). Girlfriend is driving, she begins sobbing, adopts a really heavy accent and actually drops the line Dishonor my famiry. New Mexican sheriff deputy is not emotionally equipped to deal with a sobbing Asian girl. He apologizes (!!!) for pulling her over, makes me take the wheel and has me promise not let her drive again. He apologizes to her a second time, tries to cheer her up and returns to his cruiser. She spends the next hour bitching about having to fix her makeup and yelling at me for hitting bumps while she's curling her eye lashes or some shit.
Texas cops had no problem dropping a ticket for 15 over on my ass though. Although maybe if I'd turned on the waterworks I could have gotten an apology.
We're up in the mountains, there's still snow up there, pine trees and everything. My gf gets the great idea of Lets sleep under the stars, like in the movies, it will be romantic. No tent or anything, just a ground sheet and the sleeping bag. Zipped together of course, so she can steal my body heat. So at some ungodly hour of the night I feel this pressure on my chest. I figure it was a dog just trying to use me as a pillow, so I start to get a hand free to push the dog away when I realize I have a skunk sitting on my chest, staring right at me. I lie there frozen, it seemed like an hour, but it was really like 10 minutes. Finally the skunk hops off me and wanders off. Took me like four hours to calm my heart rate down and go back to sleep. Fuck espresso man, wake up with a skunk on your chest and you won't need that kind of shit.
Also good was the pair of fat Texans telling my gf to go back to Mexico. Swing and a miss fellows. This naturally went down in a WalMart.
So Now Detroit:
First off, if you haven't been to Seoul, it's a really nice city. Population of ~10 million, incredibly clean and a subway system that puts all others to shame. Also a very safe city, you can safely wander around out there without any worries.
Compare that to Detroit, where Kroger left because they couldn't find enough qualified workers to stock shelves.
So after the entire slapping incident relations where pretty chilled. The mother is angry at her daughter for defying her, me for getting up in her face and also at herself for losing control of the situation like that. A lot of traditional Asian families though like to pretend everything is 100% fine on the surface and they're all one big happy family. So the mother basically does a 100% and becomes terminally friendly and acting like she has the best family ever, while hundreds of emotional hang ups lurk under the surface. Like we were talking around the campus and see two big fat Michigan squirrels. So she starts yelling and gesturing excitedly while pointing at the squirrels. Whips out the camera and takes photos, then has her daughters stand by the squirrels, takes photos of them and everything. What she was trying to project was: See? No issues in the family, its one big happy family that is taking photos with cute animals and we?re all laughing and having fun, everything is great.
So the trip down to Detroit was kind of easy (but annoying) because her mom was on all the cute subjects. Like ?Ooooooh look the airport where we came in!!! Ooooooh look a blue bridge over the highway, that?s one of your school's colors isn't it dear? Ooooooooh look a tire beside the highway!!!!!! *six million photos*?
The perkiness though was kind of strained as we got into the city. I mean what do you get excited about in Detroit? Ooooh look a burned out house! Ooooh look another burned out house! Look dear a gang shooting in progress! *duck and cover*?
We hit up the RenCen and had some friends give us a little tour of the GM World Headquarters, enjoyed a good ?American? lunch at the Hard Rock Café and drove around Belle Isle. We rode the People Mover in a full loop around the city and I drove them through some of the shadier parts of Mexican Town. I opted not to go into the really bad parts of town, but some of the empty lots right down by the Joe and that area got the point across. Got them to double check the door locks a few times.
When we were walking about Belle Isle, every time a black person approached the family would shift to so I was between them and the stranger. They also totally blown away by the fact black people could be cops. One of the grandfathers summed up Detroit's problems as Oh so the brothers of those who commit crimes are the police? No wonder nothing gets fixed. You should get some good American cops. When he says America, what he neans is white.
*For those of you unfamiliar with North Asian cultures, typically everyone in the country belongs to one to ethnic group. So to them one ethnic group = one country and a lot of them don't get the idea of a country with multiple ethnic groups living in one country. So to them American's ethnic unit is white people and they don't get why all these black people are running around. I one had a Japanese person point to some black people and go: I thought they lived on preserves?.'. (He meant reservations.)
It's also one of the reasons many traditional families fear their children settling in America. In a lot of cases, immigrants will forever rank one step below the locals. As in Korea is run for the benefit of Koreans, others might settle and work there, but the needs of the minorities aren't something the government spends a lot of time worrying about. At least compared to America and Canada.
After Detroit we cruising up to Grosse Point to show her family what a difference a few blocks on Jefferson can make. We ended up coming back through Oakland County and stopping in Rochester to visit some family.
Now the best part about visiting my cousin in Rochester Hills is, get this, he's married to a Korean American girl! Ginger mojo, it gets you the Korean every time. His wife was born in Korea, but adopted by white Americans at age 2 and raised in Holland, Michigan. So while yes she does appear Korean, all her mannerisms and speech patterns are those of a native Michigander. I always give him shit for marrying a "Knock Off" while I have the genuine article. His reply: 'The model I got doesn't consider dog edible, yours does. I win. (His wife went to State, so I?m pretty sure I win in the end.)
So we pull into his driveway, he comes out to greet us and a few minutes later his wife comes out. The expressions on the faces of her family were amazing. It was a total ?What the hell? They're stealing our women!? So we introduced her around and gave them her background. She speaks no Korean, but Lil Sis kept forgetting and trying to talk to her in Korean. They showed off their new baby and everyone fussed over him. My gf's mom made a big fuss of his Asian facial features. (The kid is 3 months old and the only thing I think he resembles is a pink raisin that shits itself.) My gf's mom really seemed to get into the kid, since I guess she really wants grandkids. So I guess the day she accepts me is the day she starts urging me to procreate with her daughter.
We finished off the trip by introducing to I-275, Michigan's six lane parking lot and sitting in traffic for awhile. I was expecting the mom to make little remarks about how I could go date an adoptee and keep my hands off their native resources, but she was still in the ultra friendly and everything is happy mode. So it was just small talk and excited pointing at a Hummer H2s and things like that.
Lil Sis also said once she gets a car, she wants us to send her spinners, really big ones. We were stopped next to a 1990s Buick blasting rap and she opened the window and leaned out to get a better video of the spinners in action. The two homies in the car were punching each other on the shoulder, laughing, pointing and all that. She waved back, gave them the peace sign and then took their photo. The one guy collapsed against the steering wheel laughing at that point.
Part 6: They're Gone
First off I need to shout out to Shredder for the MS Paint. Amazing man, amazing. For the record, my hair is rapidly turning the color Shredder shows in the paint. Given it appears to be full on Spring or Summer in that paint, its accurate (aside from the fact my skin isn't bright red and peeling, freaking Irish ancestry). Also to Brian for mentioning me on Unverified Voracity, wow. MS Paint, Unverified Voracity and Haikus. Wow, you people must really be bored.
Also a shout out Chait at TNR for linking to the first one, although I feel compelled to point out I used to write for the Review. What's with you Dailypeople always mooching our stuff? [/sarcasm].
Bzzt, Bzzt. My cellphone vibrated on the coffee table, alarm going off, reminding me i need to at work in an hour. I reach out, fumbling for the cellphone, trying not to disturb my girlfriend. How did she steal the covers again?
She's sleeping on top of me, we fell asleep on the couch last night, some time around 3 am or so. She's wrapped in our maize and blue afghan (which I knit, thank you very much), she's gotten it wrapped around her body multiple times like a sleeping bag, leaving me with nothing to cover my feet. She's snoring softly, she claims I lie about her snoring of course, face pressed against my chest.
I grab the cellphone, kill the alarm and flip open my email. I dash off a little email about having a cold or allergy problems, not sleeping well and say I'm going to take some decongestants, grab some sleep and then come in to work late. It's not a total lie, my allergies are acting up right now.
Overcast, the sound of the wind whistling by our sliding glass door. Corin is sitting by the door, a fifth of tequila between his paws. He looks at the bottle, about two inches of amber liquid remain at the bottom of it, then presses his nose against the top. Then shifts, trying to shove his tongue down the neck of the bottle, failing. After a moment he gives up, eyeing the bottle, nudging it with his nose. Then that tongue outs again. Corin's a canine alcoholic. The remains of our drinks are gone, he and Dora likely finished them off once we passed out.
Talk about a hell of a hangover. There's half a bottle of water on the coffee table, but its out of arms reach. I try to grab it a few times before finally grabbing the leg of the table, dragging it closer, an inch at a time, trying not to wake up my girlfriend as she snores on top of me. Both dogs are watching me now, heads tilting as they try to figure out what the hell I'm doing. I get the water and manage to only spill about half it on myself as I drink.
So Wednesday afternoon we convoyed to the airport. The father was the only with an international drivers permit and he's gone. So my gf drove out the van loaded down with the family, my parents next and me last. We all pulled in at McNamara, helped her family move their bags into the terminal. She hugged them farewell, shook hands and gave hugs as well.
Dropped the van off at Hertz, wished my parents farewell and walked over to my car. The gf fiddles around with the radio, putting on BoA's American album, selecting the track Control and cranking the volume up. With the chorus of:
You don't know me, I'm not who you think I am
You don't own me, your wish is not my command
Oh oh oh oh
You think you're in control
You think you're in control
Control, control, control
You think you're in control
It's not exactly a subtle song for what she's going for here. Since we're out anyways we take the long way home, swing through Clawson to grab some sushi at Noble Fish. We get there before the restaurant section opens, so we load up on various foods, then get some sushi and bail.
So I have some stories, ranging from taking the family to Detroit, to Easter, to meeting some Japanese neighbors (Are you a white guy hanging with a traditional Korean family? Get some Japanese people in on this, you'll suddenly be the second most hated race in the room.) I'll type them up soon, really. Right now I'm just cranking this out over my late lunch break, so I'm on the clock here.
So in the end, how did I do and does the family hate my guts or not? I made some major progress on Easter when it came out I'm not religious, which her family approved up. I guess there was some fear I'd convert their daughter to a Western religion, which was odd to find out given how many Christians there are in Korea. The grandmother seems to like me, she actually gave a legit hug at the airport and echoed the father's invitation to come to Korea. The paternal grandfather seems to at least tolerate me, I guess he considers me a bit more of a man after the slap incident, even if I don't boss my girlfriend around.
The mother and the grandparents on that side are still tricky. Part of my acceptance I think rests on how my gf's relationship with her mother plays out. She bucked parental authority over here, and did it in front a lot of her people and her mother is not happy about that. So relations are tense between my gf and her mother. Their farewell was really strained and the hug was one of those ice cold quick 1 second long things. Her family had to change planes in Chicago and during that time her mother called the go's cellphone. My gf responded by sending the call to voicemail turning off the phone. Things are tense there. Since the dad flew back early, they had a spare ticket for this flight and the mother was pushing hard for my gf to use it and come back to Korea so they could continue to talk about this. My gf dug her heels and is still here.
On a lighter note, on Sunday we visited my uncle up in Livingston County. He's a good Michigan redneck, complete with a gun case and stuffed animal heads in his living room. The one grandfather was admiring some of the weapons and we pulled a few out to shoot. Lil Sis wanted in on this, so we gave her the folding stock G36K. Posted on her Cyworld is a photo of her firing the gun. She had to fire prone because the one time she tried to fire from the shoulder while standing the recoil kicked her ass, so she'd put on a pair of jeans and a camo shirt for the lying in the dirt part. These were both about 5 sizes too big. The caption under the photo: "I'M AMERICAN NOW!!!!!!!!" There are a bunch of comments on the photo and a conversation about Americans and guns, and one of Lil Sis's was basically "All you boys better treat me right, or I'll have my sister send over her big white boyfriend and his guns to get you." Crex, Gingerwater Inc, international ginger enforcer. She's actually pretty good with it, after a few lessons on how the sites work she had good grouping and she outshot both her grandfathers, who served in the Korean military. He dad loved the picture and had it posted in his office on base I'm told. She's taken her paper targets and some empty casings back to Korea. About fifteen minutes after we dropped them at the airport it hit me "Shit, those things are in her carry-on bag. What if TSA flips out over them?" Luckily she made it through security and customs with no problems.
The above is the orginial arch that was voted into the board's Hall of Fame. At one point they were removed because my gf (now wife) was still teaching her and some of her students connected the dots. With that all history now, they have returned. Due to populat demand I'll occasionally do updates in the off season or if I have something truly worthwhile talking about. You can use the 'korean inlaws' tag to find them. At the time of doing this, the future updates are:
For those of you bored, I'll do another installment of CRex and Korean In Laws. Wedding edition, Part I. It's a special one since I got married three times.
If you have no idea what the hell this is, see here. Scroll down to the Humor section and look for the Korean Saga. Also if you forgot who Little Sister is, you might want to scan those and brush up on it. Also posbang M-Wolverine when you get a chance, since he kept copies of those for me to restore.
As a general note I'm pleased to report we're back to more or less funny things. Parts 4 and 5 got kind of dark. When you get right down to it my wife's parents had been in an alien culture for a long period by that point and also were dealing with jet lag and a surprise boyfriend. People got grumpy and we went through the drama period. Those days are long gone, now when I visit I go drinking with the father and all is well. Her mother actually really likes my mother which has also smoothed some things over.
To begin with the first marriage was solely to avoid the whole HS1B and OPT issue. So the deal is if you're a foreign student and graduate, you get a year (OPT) to find a job. If you don't, INS tells you to get your ass out of the country. If you're an American dating someone on OPT time, it's kind of lose-lose. I've seen girls stressing out because they're 8 months into their year and their boyfriend still hasn't proposed. They're walking around going "Doesn't he love me? Doesn't he want to help me stay here?". Then if they do propose, they walk around all offended, "Oh he doesn't respect me. He doesn't think I can get a job and a green card on my own. He thinks the only way I can become an American is to marry one." I know who a guy who got yelled at for taking so long to propose and then yelled at for proposing based on the above. All in the span of 5 minutes, at the time he was on his knee in the Grand Hotel on Mackinac. She did take the ring and they're happily married, but he described OPT as the worst time in their relationship.
So I decided to run an end around on all this and suggested we go down and do the paperwork for tax reasons and so we could just get it out of the way before my girlfriend graduated and started the job search. I'm just romantic like that when it comes to getting married. "Look honey, I bought you a ring, now fill this form in so you can be my little tax write-off."
This leads to the citizenship interview. The one where you get split up and questioned about each other. It's the government way of attempting to make sure some foreigner isn't paying you to green card them in. It's also rather difficult to know exactly what it entails. You show up with bunch of proof of your relationship (photos, flight ticket stubs from trips we took together, etc) and then it all depends on which agents you get and how grumpy or biased against interracial marriage they are. I know couples that got the paperwork in one visit. Others got four or five rounds of fun and eventually had to call in lawyers.
I got one of the guys who apparently was going to be a pain. Despite all our photos and proof of a multiyear relationship, he wasn't buying it. He noted she was about to go on OPT and seemed convinced this was a paid marriage and forged all the photos in photoshop or something. We finally reached the question of "What she do?".Me: "Well she's a PhD student at Michigan. About to graduate." Agent: "Yes, but what is her research." Me: "She's working on some projects with Aerospace and remote controls." Agent: "You can't be close if you don't know what she researches." Me: "Something military, she and her adviser drive to Dayton frequently and all I know is drone warfare. They don't tell me much else." Agent: "She's not even a citizen, she can't work on that." Me: "Actually since South Korea is a closely allied power, their citizens can work on certain level of projects." Agent: "I don't believe you." Me: "The officers she works with figured this would happen. One of them gave us his card and said you should call him with the questions."
So the agent gets on the phone and calls up the USAF. The officer asks to speak to us, so it ends up with the agent, myself, and my wife sitting in the room on speakerphone.Officer: "So how's it going?" Wife: "I was called some rude things to my face today. Not great." (Her agent was worse than mine as it turned out.) Officer: "Oh one of those…" (there are some other foreigners working on this project, so I guess the military has had this happen before). Agent: "We have some very valid concerns…" Officer: "We'd be happy to provide 'supplemental' material to address your bullshit concerns. What are your GPS coordinates? I'm about to send up a drone for testing and I'd be happy to have it drop 'something' off." Agent: "…" Officer: "Look, you can do the paperwork or I can call my boss at the Pentagon and tell them a billion dollar project is going to be delayed because immigration is jerking one of our researchers around."
We left with all the paperwork.
The next part was getting married in Korea. The Korean tradition was you were married at the house of the bride. These days a lot of people do it in hotels or other venues were you can rent a wedding room, but due to the idea of the bride's parents kind of running the wedding it was agreed we'd do the first ceremony over there.
As a side note with international travel, I can't stress how awesome ANA is. I'm not associated them in anyway (aside from having all kinds of frequent flier miles with them). Basically imagine an American 777. Now replace the grumpy 40 year old stewardesses who give you a dirty look when you ask for the entire can of Coke instead of some tiny cup of it with a bunch of 20 something year old Japanese girls who somehow keep a perky smile on their face for an entire 13 hour flight. You also get a show when it comes to take off.
The stewardess start closing up the overhead bins. Our plane had the kind where you have to push the entire bin up to secure it. So this featured a tiny little girl valiantly trying to close a bin that Americans filled with a good 100 pounds worth of carry on luggage. Eventually a guy in that row notices the stewardess is struggling, unbuckles, and closes the bin for her. If the guy fails to notice you'll hear a progressively louder series of cute little squeaks as she indirectly tries to get the guy's attention. She moves to the next row and it repeats. For the entire length of the 777. It's stupid, but also damn funny. Sadly some of the ANA flights actually have tall stewardesses, so it isn't every flight.
So I eventually herd my family onto the plane (my father has never left the country before so it takes some prodding to get him to go the ROK) and head off to my doom, errr wedding. My wife's family has decided I'm likable enough. I'm still not entirely in until I aid in the production of a grandson, but they like me well enough. I think they accepted their daughter isn't in a terrible hurry to return to Korea, which is fairly patriarchal and she's too rebellious to be happy with it, and as far as round eyed devils go, I'm not that bad.
There are a variety of pre wedding traditions in Korean, centered around gift and money exchange. Since I'm not Korean and the whole thing isn't exactly traditional the only one we opt to follow is Sansu. The exchange of wine and food between families, which comes close to leading to disaster.
My family had brought a number of American things. For example: Michigan dried cherries, beef jerky, Grand Traverse Cherry Vodka, and Irish Whiskey due to our Irish roots. The problem begins when Little Sister manages to confuse the Cherry Vodka with flavored soju. Since soju normally runs around 20% abv she's used to putting down a bottle of soju and not feeling much pain (soju also comes in smaller bottles). In Korea they do all kinds of flavored sojus. Yogurt, strawberry, lychee, etc. You get a carafe of it and drink it (Tomokun also does this in Ann Arbor). I realize Little Sister has put down 2/3s of a bottle of vodka about the time she stands up on the bar, proposes a toast to our happiness and promptly face plants off the bar and onto the tile floor. Luckily without any visible injuries since a stool breaks her fall (to a degree).
My wife and I are tasked with take her out for some noodles and sober her up. We're in the cab when Little Sister loses it and pukes all over the place. The driver calmly opens the glove box and hands us a pack of cleaning wipes and an airplane style barf bag. We then get informed there is a standard fee for vomit cleaning. We also get a lecture on how we should have told him she was drunk and he could just have given the bag and avoided the see.
As it turns puking in cabs isn't all that uncommon in the party districts of Seoul. The driver isn't mad about the puke, it's a standard job hazard I guess, just mad we didn't ask for a bag. I'm not saying Korea has a drinking problem, but when they have standard fees for drunk vomiting, they probably do.
We pour a combination of Pocari Sweat (a Korean energy drink) and ramen into Little Sister to get her functioning again, perhaps too functional. Since we're out she demands we do some clubbing and karaoke. She calls in my wife's older sister and the four of us hit the town.
The real fun starts at karaoke club. A couple friends of my older sister in law met us at the club and we have a pretty good group going. I'm a big fan of the older sister because she works as a model/back-up dancer. So she has lots of friend who run on the tall side for Korean girls. They always want to dance with me since they have a hard time finding guys significantly taller than them. So of course I have to dance with them, you know to be polite.
Little Sister excuses herself out to the bathroom and returns twenty minutes later with four other girls. Rather scantily clad karaoke helpers. She proudly announces this can be my Korean bachelor's party and then points the helpers my way, with my wife standing right beside me. As to what a karaoke helper is, the way it works is you pay for some girls to help you come in and sing the songs. This is cover for you to get a look at the girls and negotiate some extra services after karaoke (prostitution). You don't have to get anything extra and there isn't any assurance the girls will accept your offer anyway. It's just a time when you scope each other out.Me: "Fuck you cherry vodka, fuck you very much." My wife: "Well she already paid for them, so it's just wasted money if we kick them out." Me: "So you yell at me when I'm polite and dance with your sister's friends, but you want me to keep the hookers?" Wife: "I don't like wasting money." Me: "By that logic if I get a mistress, buy her an expensive handbag, you're okay with me sleeping with her? Because otherwise I'd have just wasted money on the handbag? Wife: "It's only wasting money when I say it is."
So that was my Korean bachelor party. My wife's sister younger sister hiring hookers for me, in the presence of my wife and her older sister. My friends back in America didn't even get me a stripper, a trip to a strip club, or anything of that nature (We did the ever classic drinking and camping thing, my friend got drunk, fell asleep in a kayak and woke up on the Au Sable River five miles downstream from the campground). Nope, my hookers came from a 18 year old girl. Hooray. Even better her dad may have slipped her the money to cover it. I guess he thought it would be funny.
The girls were actually cool. They were happy enough to party with us and work as waitresses. They'd duck out and grab more beer, noodles, or snacks when we ran dry. One of them also appeared to work out a business deal with one of the single male friends since the two of them left early. I ended up doing Empire of State Mind and Live your Life with one of the girls who spoke solid English. As a group we all did Lollipop.
As we're walking out of karaoke we happen to walk past a pair of white folk, likely Americans teaching English based on their look. I'm surrounded by a pack of girls, the two guys are on their own. One of the guys is wearing a tOSU ball cap.Me: "O-H!" *guy turn around with a big smile on his face: "I-O!" Me: *gestures at the girls* "Hail to the Victors!" A moment of silence as the Bucknut stares at me and then I lead the girls (well the ones who can speak English) in "It's great to be…a Michigan Wolverine!". He just turns around and walks away. Ah rivalries, how you define us.
The night ends though with Little Sister passing out, likely due to the fact she started drinking again at karaoke. By night I mean about 5 am, Koreans go hard. At Michigan of course we think a party night is hitting the Jug at 11 and leaving three hours later when it closes. Then if you're really on a roll you go have a couple drinks at someone's house. In Korea you hit the night market around 8 or 9, then you hit the clubs, then a break for food, and then back out. One of my in-laws explains to me he keeps a spare suit in his office so he can go directly from the clubs to work. He staggers in, changes, and sleeps it off. He doesn't get in trouble since his boss and his boss's boss are doing the same.
I'm sitting there on a bench with her head in my leg and her snoring away while my wife and the older sister go check the subway map and get some water to pour into Little Sister. I'm about half a beer away from either vomiting up my internal organs or passing out myself. I'm just peacefully floating around in that drunken haze when two shadows fall across me. I glance up and see a pair of Korean cops staring at me.Me: "So officers, what can I do for you?" Officers: *glares of death at me with the teenage girl passed out on me* Me: "I know this looks like date rape, but I swear it isn't."
I'm separated from her and over against the patrol car by the time my wife returns to straighten everything out.
The actual wedding is smooth (thankfully). We do the initial ceremony with me in a tuxedo and my wife in an American wedding dress (they caught on in Korea). The ceremony itself is quick since a long ceremony would just delay the guests access to the feast and the booze. She then changes into a traditional outfit for the feast. The food is a lot better than most American weddings, its a real banquet with entire fish and the like. The only hitch is that the Christian branch of her family is confused as to the lack of a Christian ceremony. They get that my wife isn't Korea, but they couldn't get their head around the fact I'm American and not Christian. All Americans are supposed to own guns and be Christian it seems. To keep the peace we let one of her cousins, who is a Minister, do a simple little ceremony on the tail end.
After the ceremony and feast, the younger section of the wedding party hits a bar. My father in law rented out the entire bar for us, so we had the place to ourself for 4 hours and had a good time. it was murder on my liver because I had to drink with everyone at the feast (individual toasts with all the males present) and then another round of toasts at the bar with everyone. At the feast first I went around the tables and toasted everyone. Then everyone came up to the table and toasted me. All one on one, with about 40 guys there. I reached the point where I was faking taking sips of soju to survive. Luckily Little Sister was not fully recovered from her introduction to vodka and passed out early on rather than engaging on another spree of hooker hiring.
And thus I was married on one of the two continents where I had to have a ceremony.
So we'll just go right in from the last diary.
First Off, Ear Wax
So yes I talked about the metal or wooden spike thing. As others in the thread comment there are all kinds of tools. My wife actually has little leather cases with arrays of tools in them. However allow me to present the Cadillac of Ear Cleaners from Japan.
We own one of those. We also own one that you can plug into your TV. That one only has a 720p camera on it though, so I'm told at some point we'll be upgrade to the 1080p model which hit the shelves recently. I have come home and found my wife and other Asian girls sitting in front of the TV talking excitedly in Korean about ear cleaning. I think they might record the video and break it down with some kind of UFR ("Here the ear hairs prevent this wax from moving deeper into the ear canal. Red shirt freshman ear hair almost loses contain but in the end forces it to cut back where the larger senior ear hairs are waiting. +1").
Now I want to cover some basic use and safety for the device:
First off, if you ever get drunk and go "Hey, I always wondered my sinus cavity looked like in 720p on a widescreen TV", let me stress: THIS IS A BAD IDEA. BAD! The tip irrates your sinuses and causes you sneeze with a giant metal spike in your head. Sometimes I'm amazed I lived long enough to make it to adulthood.
Second, while you may think it is a wonderful idea to stick the device in your wife's mouth so she can see the result of her wisdom teeth removal, she will not agree. You will get in trouble. Some people just don't appreciate scientific pursuits like they should.
Finally. While these devices do have many potiental uses (like checking to see if your keys ended up behind the stove), when your wife comes home and finds you dangling the thing she uses to clean her ears behind your fridge, you get in trouble. You also get supervised for 45 minutes while you sterilize it. The moral to this story (at least the lesson I learned) is wait until your wife is away at her 90 minute seminar class, then check behind the stove. Turned out I had some Legos back there.
As a side note, I showed this to my cousin who is a police officer. The police have little snake cameras they can slip through vents and stuff to monitor hostage situations, but the ones they have aren't even 720p yet. The Asian ear cleaning industry is higher tech than the American paramilitary industry. Go figure.
However when we're doing each other's ears will use the traditional cleaning methods (the cameras are so she can check my work or something). So one day I'm lying there on my couch with a spike in my ear and hear the words "Honey, why don't we go visit my family?". Now I'm confused. I like visiting Korea. My now wife's older sister is some kind of burgeoning model and has a bunch of model friends. They all like how I'm taller than the average Korean and they can wear heels and dance with me. So I end up going out to the club and dancing with a bunch of Korean girls. Just to be polite of course.
I have alarm bells going off in my head, since normally she only asks for things that might be objectionable when cleaning my ears. For the record she isn't trying to threaten me with a spike in my ear canal. Ear cleaning time is supposed to be relaxing, so she's just trying to get me in a good mood and then ask.
As it turns out, Korean workers in Mongolia are fairly come. The RoK and Mongolia get along fairly well, have a lot of shared hertigage (they're both Altaic people and lack the Austronesan genes that Han Chinese have). Plus the Korean monarchy had a lot of intermarriage with Mongolia (everyone just ignores the fact that Mongolia invaded Korean 6 times, killed off most of the Korean nobles and then intermarried with the survivors).
So after Mongolia got rid of its pesky Soviet and Chinese Communist influences they've been to hire in skilled Korean engineers to help with them national development projects, which is currently where a cousin my wife is really close to (as a side note, you never marry an Asian. You marry their family, and not just their nuclear family.)
So I'm going through the airport in Mongolia and standing there at customs as two customs officers are going over my paperwork. One of them speaks English and looks at me:
So you're American?
Yes sir, I'm from Michigan.
I have heard many Americans says they're Canadian because people don't like Americans. Here in Mongolia though we love Americans! Tell everyone you are American! Maybe some day together we'll fight the Chinese!
At this point I notice the guy is actually staring past me and I look over my shoulder. Turns out there are some Chinese businessmen right behind me in the line and judging by their facial expressions they speak enough English to catch what he said. (China currently controls Outer Mongolia, which many Mongolians are unhappy about.
I ended up in Ulaangom, a province capital on far western Mongolia that is a mere 75 miles from Russia. It's a scenic kind of place. A city nestled at the bottom of a mountain with a river on the other side. It also 22,000 people and its airport runways that do not appear to be regularly plowed.
Actually that isn't fair, they do plow it. The issue is that at our time of landing (2 pm, one of the warmer parts of the day), the temperature was -15 F. The low for that night was -35 F. So the runway is cleared, but at such low temperatures things to melt snow don't work. So the wind blows fresh snow across the runway. At the end of the day the pilots just learned to take off an land with snow on the runway.
On our trip to Ulaangom, the Mongolian businessman in front of me explained how during his last flight they skidded past the runway, but luckily for them there was a snowbank. See Ulaangom is also in a desert, so normally there is only enough snow to make the runway fatal to land on, not enough to plow into a snow bank. However they'd just recently had some snow, so they were saved from continuing on and slamming into a parked Russian cargo plane thanks to the snow bank.
This was also the time I discovered that Aero Mongolia does not server hard liquor (at least on this flight).
He also told me about the pre 2009 days when the runway wasn't paved. Those days were apparently when the real fun happened. After s 2009 rebuild though the airport now has indoor toliets and a paved runway.
My wife's response to all this was a dissimive wave of her hand "What? The Chinese have safety standards like this and there are 1.6 billion of them. Clearly not that many are killed. We'll be fine...".
We did land and walk away from the landing. Although there was some fishtailing and we had to turn around because we overshot our parking space. Ulaangom of course does not have a fancy airway thing that connects from the plane to the airport. They roll up some stairs to the plane, open the door, and smite you with the fist of a frozen god as -15 degree air comes into the passenger cabin.
There is something to be said for this approach. Unlike in America were everyone dicks around and takes 45 minutes to get off the plane, our Fokker empted fast. It's grab your stuff and haul ass out of there before you freeze to death.
The Bar Scene in Ulaangom
In Ulaangom in the winter there appear to be two major activities. Getting drunk and trying to get warm. The first one is possible, the second one is impossible, so most people on the first one. Bars are popular because heating costs are expensive, so people tend to congregate in public areas for as long as possible and go home to sleep.
What passes for booze in Mongolia is airag, which is fermented mare or cows milk. It's like what they'd made in jail if they trying to make bootleg Bailey's Irish Creme. It's nasty and has a sour "spoiled milk" aftertaste. When it is -28 though (and the mercury is falling), you drink it and are thankful for it.
I was an instant celebrity because I was white (or a snow demon as one little girl dubbed me. Best nickname I've gotten so far). So at the bar I'd often end up with a crowd of people around me. I educated them about America. Some key facts I taught them were:
"Your entire city would fill up about a fifth of my school's football stadium." I actually took my laptop to the bar and showed them all pictures of Michigan Stadium and the campus. One night we all crowded around the laptop and watched a copy of the Gator Bowl against Florida since they didn't have any soccer matches to show.
The worst part of America is Ohio. You should never go there, or if you ever get another Genghis Khan you should go there and raze it. We won't mind, really.
I own guns, however not every American own guns. I personally am okay with this, since the people who do not own guns will be lootable in the event society collapses.
I also met an officer in the Mongolian Army. Mongolia is a partner in the War on Terror and has troops to Aghanistan. The officer I spoke had a few interesting stories.
First off, you know all those talking heads on TV that talk about how the British and Soviets both failed to conquer Afghanistan. Well way back the Mongolians showed up the Afghans did their traditional retreat into the mountains thing.
The Mongolians, being from places like Ulaangom, were rather unphased by this (perhaps even excited. "Hey we can to climb mountains in temperatures that aren't subzero, hooray!"). They burned three cities and destroyed most of Afghanistan's crop land. Massive numbers of people died in the resulting famine. Tribes viewed as playing a key role in the resistance were exterminated. Afghanistan would remain under Mongol rule until the Timurids rose and took control of the region. So next time a talking head says you can't win in Afghanistan, you can. You just have to commit a bunch of war crimes.
According to this office, the Afghans still remember what happened last time they got the Mongolians angry and go out of their way to avoid picking fights with the Mongolian contigent. The officer remarked how much nicer the base in Aghanistan was than one he'd trained at in the Gobi Desert.
The more amusing story was how the Mongolians train Americans on using old Soviet equipment. The Mongolian military has a lot of 1970/80s era Soviet hardware, which is what Taliban also rolls with. All of which is low tech and sometimes hard for Americans to understand. For example he had this conversation with an American Marine:
Mongolian: So this is a RPG. You look through this eye piece and shoot it.
American: How do you aim it? Does it have a laser scope?
M: No. You just look at it, adjust the sight here and shoot it.
A: What if I miss?
M: You take 50 dollars to the local market place and buy a new crate of rockets.
He also had an American tell him that the RPG had to have a laser range finder on it because all the ones in the video game he played did. I now worry about our troops abit. Overall though he had good things to say about military, but it seems like some people just can't grasp lowtech.
It seems American troops who recently arrived in country are famous though for deciding to go out on mountain combat patrols with massive amounts of gear and you can "track them by following the trail of discarded gear as they hike up the mountain".
Life A Mongolian Nomad
The most interesting and surreal part of the this entire experience was my wife had somehow arranged for us to spend a weeked at a nomad camp. A fair percentage of the population is still nomadic. In the winter most of the nomads now move in to town, but some cling to the old ways and still settle in gers for the winter. (Yurt is a term of Turkic origin and was used by the Russians, so it is unpopular in Mongolia). They supplement their income by letting Western tourists hang out with him.
This means I spent three days in a ger with 10 Mongolians (three generations of a family) and my wife. The kids were great and know some basic American phrases to which I added "Hail To the Victors". I also left all my Michigan gear behind we left, so some where in Mongolia a little girl named Oyunbileg is running around in a Michigan hoodie and "Michigan Alumni" cap that are way too big for her.
In the winter livestock are let out briefly to graze and then herded back in to barns before it gets too cold. As part of my stay I got to help herd the goats, yaks, and camels. For this job I was given a horse and a rope pole (uurga) to capture the livestock.
At first I'm useless in this task. I can't get the rope loop around anything and mostly manage to piss my horse off by bumping him in the head with it. Much to the amusement of the Mongolians of course.
Finally after an hour or so of swearing and futilely chasing various livestock, I manage to get the rope pole around the neck of a yak. The yak prompty hits the gas and yanks me out of my saddle. Thankfully I let go of the pole and manage to land on my hands and knees without face planting into any large rocks. At this point my horse decides he's had enough of getting hit in the head with a pole and bails out on the process as well. This leaves me in the middle of a pasture as various animals stampede (luckily way from me). In the end the pros managed to catch my yak and my horse. I was demoted to riding around as a passenger on a horse though while our host's wife handled it. She'd go galloping around the herd and leave me hanging on for dear life. The entire time its subzero of course (a high of -11 that day).
The other fun fact is cameras don't work in subzero temps. In the trek from Ulaangom to the nomad camp all my batteries froze. So I dragged a DSLR and telephoto across Mongolia only to slap in a battery and have the camera fail to turn on. A camera pro later explained to me you keep the batteries in an insulated bag and tossed in hand warmers to keep them from freezing.
I also got to take part in traditional Mongolian wrestling and managed to redeem myself there. That's mainly because I have 5 inches and a good 40 pounds on most Mongolians so I was able to wrestle down in weight class. The yaks kicked my ass though.
One other thing to note is no these camps do not have running water. That means two things. You're living in a smokey ger with 11 other people who don't shower. There also are not heated bathrooms. It's an unheated shelter with a hole. If you wake at 2 am (temp -33) and have to go, you figure out a way to hold it until the sun comes up. Three days of this is about enough for anyone. If you're going to go, go in the summer, not over the winter.
From Mongolia we'd fly over to the Yanbian region of China to see some other family and annoy the North Korean border guards, which is a story for another time.
At the end of all this, I do have to recommend Mongolia as a tourist destination. It will cost you an arm and both legs to fly there and you'll definitely be roughing it, but the scenery is amazing, the people are awesome, and you can annoy yaks by poking them with poles.
History: This was restored in June 2012. They were pulled down for awhile because some of my girlfriend (now wife's) students were reading these and figured out who she was. Now that she is no longer teaches here, they return. If you're reading this post 2012 be sure to go posbang M-Wolverine for having a copy of these for me to restore.
So you might be asking yourself, why the hell is this guy posting this big
long wall of text? If you are, I advise you read Part
1<http://mgoblog.com/mgoboard/ot-awkwardly-met-future-laws>and if you
make it through that, Part
2 <http://mgoblog.com/mgoboard/ot-korean-facebook-stalking>, then read the
below. They're long, you've been warned.
If you're just here to see Part 3, it's below. Enjoy my pain.
Sorry for not posting any updates, I’ve been a bit busy. The worst/weirdest
thing over the past few days must have been the “exotic food” talk my
girlfriend got on Thursday, at least for her. She’d gone out to walk the
dogs, mostly an excuse to get outside and escape everyone. I was off at work
and her grandparents were checking out our apartment. Her maternal
grandfather had asked her point blank “Why is there only one bed in here?
You’re not married.” Anyway her mom decided to come along on the walk. As
they’re walking her mom launches into this really tortured metaphor, which
“You know honey, it’s normal to be attracted to exotic things. Sometimes
when I want something exotic I’ll get some Japanese food or some Mexican
food because it is different and exotic, but at the end of the day I find
eating a nice Korean meal is more pleasant and easier on the stomach.”
The moral to the story is, date within your own race, it’s easier on the
Over the past few days we’ve hit up Saigon Garden, Blue Karaoke (since
everything there is in Korean) and the Taste of Taiwan Night Market over in
the East Hall on Friday. If you didn’t go on Friday, you missed a great
event. Five dollars for dinner, three snack tables, a dessert table and
skill games. I stole the show in the chopsticks challenge. You had to move
metal marbles with your chopsticks and I pretty much destroyed all comers,
including the gf’s father. He got 4 marbles, I got 11. Finished the night
off at Momo Tea playing Go Stop, a traditional Korean card game. Her
grandmother dominated all comers in that.
Things went well, on Thursday it was dinner and karaoke with some Korean
friends, including a married couple that teaches here. They kept the
conversation focused on all the various Korean cultural things that go down
around here. Ranging from the grocery stores to the film and lecture series
that Center for Korean Studies runs. Sadly the Korean Students Association
event for this month is bowling (I assume traditional Korean bowling in
Ypsi, complete with rednecks one lane over drinking Bud Light and watching
NASCAR, just like in Seoul), but the Taste of Taiwan thing made a pretty
good substitute. To be fair, she’s not active in KSA (we neglected to tell
her parents that), so I have no idea what their events are like.
The biggest drama point on Thursday / Friday was the grandfathers. They were
amusing themselves by testing my knowledge of the Korean language. One of
them would ask me a question, using weird syntax and big words and then as I
was figuring out what he said, the other one would ask me something. Then
they’d stare at me like I was an idiot while I trigged to figure what just
got said. I normally had the second speaker to repeat what he said. After
this did this a few times my gf got up in their faces and called them out
for doing it. She went on a little rant about how their poor manners
reflected poorly on her. She even managed to sneak in a little comment about
how my family never tested her knowledge of English and it embarrasses her
that her family has worse manners than mine. I thought things were about to
go nuclear at that point, but her grandparents backed down. They didn’t
apologize, but they toned it down and most importantly they backed down and
didn’t argue with her. In private her father later apologized to me and said
he’d speak to them about it as well.
After doing some Asian culture on Thursday and Friday, we moved over to
embrace some American culture, namely hockey. Saturday during the day was
introducing them to my parents, everyone walking on eggshells a bit type of
thing. Then we sat her family down and called up the DVRed Wings vs Wild
game and started to cover the basic concepts of hockey. We both play and her
parents had seen our six million sticks (give or take a few million)
littering the apartment. They were impressed by the speed of the game and
shocked by the hits. Right after a rather vicious one her mother looks over
at my gf and goes “You play that sport?!!?” We tried to explain there is a
major difference between our caliber of play and the caliber of the Red
Wings, but everyone seemed shocked my gf played and hadn’t been snapped in
half. My mother also didn’t help:
My mom: “I know, really. Everyime I see my son play I’m worried he’s going
to get hurt. You know he’s hurt his knee four times in seven years.”
Me: *glares at my mom, clears throat*
My mom: “He had to wear a brace one time and….”
Me: I’m going to the kitchen for a drink, anyone need a refill? *glares at
mom, my dad elbows her while everyone is looking at me*
Things started to get interesting during the Bemidji State game. Started off
pretty tame, everyone in the living room, with some extra chairs dragged in,
a bunch of snacks ranging from Gimbap to Doritos. Gimbap is basically Korean
sushi, although the contents of it are normally cooked (Gim = dried seaweed,
Bap = steamed white rice, just add some pickled radish, seasoned beef, crab,
etc and you’re in business). Her family was impressed when I actually made
some all by myself.
The bad was the tequila came out. I’m a tequila whore, I have an entire
cupboard of tequilas (I love blue agave tequila the most, but they’re all
good). I actually used to have one cupboard for tequila and one cupboard for
non-tequila liquor. More recently the overflow from the tequila cupboard has
been invading the other liquor cupboard. I should build a little Alamo and
put the vodka and whiskey in it. So we mixed up some margaritas and figured
it might do well enough for everyone to have a mixed drink, just one mind
you, enough to be a bit of a social lubricant.
Well my girlfriend is kind of stressed out right now. I worked a full day on
Thursday and a half day on Friday, so she was alone in the shark tank with
the parents for those time periods and getting badgered. She’s running short
on sleep and just generally a little ball of nerves right now. On her way
into the kitchen to grab some more food, a soda, whatever I guess she was
also taking pulls off the fifth of tequila to calm down. By pulls I mean she
killed about a half a fifth of tequila in one and a half periods of hockey,
plus two margaritas.
Midway through the second period she comes back out from the kitchen, now
seating it tight, she was kind of squished in her mom and sister on one of
the couches before she got up. I had a crappy little Ikea chair all to
myself for most of the game. She walks over and plops down in my lap, puts
her arms around my neck and buries her face in my chest, since she tends to
get rather cuddly when drunk.
Now there is just silence in the room for a moment. Everyone is looking at
us, my parents quickly look away and over at the TV, although you can see my
dad’s expression going “Oh shit.” Lil Sis is raising up her camera phone,
but her mother swats it down. I’m looking at her like “Are you trying to get
me killed?”. She’s my girlfriend, so I can’t exactly shove her out of my lap
and be like “Go sit with your mom”, but her entire family is just staring at
us. Aside from hugging each other when we met after work, this is the most
PDA they’ve seen between us.
Now my girlfriend kind of lifts her head up, gives me a peck on the cheek
and goes “You’re kind of stiff, do you want a back massage later?” She then
grabs my left arm and pulls it around her shoulders, closes her eyes and
starts to drift off. She’s pretty out of it by this point. I figure “Well
it’s not like they can unsee this, full speed ahead.” So I spend the rest of
the Bemidji game with her using me as a pillow. She’s like a little angel
when she sleeps, a little angel that started drooling on my shirt with 8
minutes to go in the third. She slept through a lot of it, something she’d
normally never do during a Michigan sporting event, but like I said she
hasn’t been getting much sleep recently. On Wednesday night we were up to 4
am. I think she actually faked falling asleep because she felt guilty since
I wouldn’t go sleep as long she was up and I had work the next day. Once I
dropped off I think she got up and went out for a run with the dogs at like
5 am. Then came home, crashed and was up to see me out the door at 7 am and
then to hang out with her family.
So after the Bemidji game, her family said their goodnights and got out of
their rather quickly. I think they just had no idea how to act to their
daughter behaving that way, drunk in their presence and rather direct in
contact with me. It’s changed and PDA is more common in urban Korea now, but
with the parent’s and grandparent’s generations, you didn’t even hold the
hand of your wife in public.
*The Dong Punch of Dong Punches*
Since the weather on Sunday was so terrible. We were restricted to indoor
activities, we had a nice long conversation about my dad’s car. Her family
was impressed by it and seemed to take it as a positive sign of my family’s
economic standing. So my dad and her dad talked cars and got to know each
other. We also prepped for the Miami of Ohio game in style. My dad brought
over a big party tray of wings, which were a hit with everyone. I made up
nachos, got a fire going and figured we’d do this in style. My girlfriend
spent the entire game hanging out with me (or on me). At one point she was
sitting my lap and feeding me a wing, while giving her parents a look
basically daring them to say something. When I needed a beer she’d get up
and grab it for me (since she was on my lap she had to move anyway). I’m
thinking “You know, you guys are really welcome to visit whenever you want.
Hell, you guys should come out for all the football games next year.”
Then came the Great Dong Punch of 2010, the one where Angry Michigan Hating
God awoke from his torpor and violated me in ways I did not know I could
still be violated. First overtime, 17:23. We should have been on the phone
buying tickets at that point, but instead Angry Michigan Hating God bent
over the largest alumni base in the world and had his way with us. “Oh I
missed a spot after The Horror? You mean after making you stand through 3-9
and 5-7 in the student section I can still inflict further trauma upon you?
Here, let me take care of that.”
There was some good from this, my gf was worked up by now, we both were
amped up. There was that early fluke in the 3rd, where the Miami shot
bounced off the post and we’d been pumped ever since then. She was in my
lap, we threw our arms around each other, I stood up, we’re both cheering,
we kiss and as I’m looking past her at the TV…
I SEE THE FUCKING REF WAVING IT OFF!!!!!!!!!! *RAAAAAAGEEEEE*
She’s out of my arms now, unloading her multilingual swearing capacity at
the TV, I’m working through my mastery of English obscenities. Her family is
staring at us as if we’ve both gone insane, my mother is also yelling at the
TV. Okay the play is under review, we calm down, they show the replays. Puck
in the net, great, here we come……what the hell, whistle? What kind of shit
Her dad is getting into this. He’s gotten the basics of hockey, puck in the
net equals a goal. Look you dumbass refs, even the guy who just learned the
rules last night get this. Put the point up and send us to Detroit. But as
we all know, Michigan Hating God wins in the end.
There is a silver lining though. I caught just the tail end of the
conversation about us, it was between her father and his father. They’d gone
outside to smoke and were discussing how passionate her daughter is about
all this, how she never acted like this in Korea. They might not be thrilled
by it, but it sounded like they also understood in some ways she was too
Americanized to just happily throw it all away, move back to Seoul and go
the traditional route. Given the fact she stood up to her grandparents and
some of the things like that, her dad seems to feel this is an actual
relationship, not just her doing a white guy for the hell of it.
I also found out her paternal grandfather thinks I’m not a real man, because
I let her boss me around and a real man wouldn’t take that kind of shit. You
never hear good stuff about yourself when you eavesdrop. Her dad though did
stand up for me a bit and say he didn’t think I had a weak spine, just that
I “spoiled” her. All I can say to that is, she freaking sat in my laptop and
fed me wings for the entire hockey game, she even deboned them for me first..
Who exactly is spoiling who here?
The other good news is my parents have offered to stay in town for awhile,
so while I’m at work they’ll hang out with the gf and her family and give
her a bit of break from any more of those “easier on the stomach” lectures.
Her mother definitely does not approve of me so far.
We’re still setting up stuff for this week, so I don’t know when I’ll have
time to post next, but it’s likely going to be hitting up some of the Asian
things in this area and showing that their daughter isn’t rejecting her
parents’ culture, so much as becoming multicultural and she’ll have plenty
of exposure to Korean culture even if she lives over here. I think she is
planning to crash some Korean Studies classes this week, so if you’re in one
and a family of Koreans walks in, feel free to flirt up the little sister.
When she posts photos of you on Cyworld I’ll let you know how the voting
In some ways we’ve made some progress, her standing up to her parents, me
showing I’m at least somewhat up on Korean culture and things like that. The
downside is her parents are used to her doing what they say. When she goes
back to Seoul they impose a curfew on her (she is in her late 20s), tell her
which friends she can hang out with and things like that. That’s always been
how things worked in Seoul, she lived with her parents and did what they
said. Over here, she’s starting to dig into her heels. It’s kind of like she
had dual personalities, a standard college student one when in Ann Arbor and
more of a child one where she obeyed her parents when in Seoul. Her parents
are just meeting this other her for the first time in. After Bemidji when I
mentioned that PDA might have been a bit of a shock to her parents, she went
off on how she’ll do whatever she wants with her boyfriend in our apartment,
which likely prompted the sitting in my lap on Sunday. So it’s a good sign
for me, but we’ll see how it plays out when she tells her parents get lost
when they try to her what to do.
This is getting long, like pushing 4 pages in Word, so I'm going to end it
here. I have some background drama about what prompted the parents visit and
some erroneous assumptions they made and I'll get that in Part 4.