On Cultural Encounters and Tangents

By Maggie Choi

Love..global style


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways that I've seen “love” expressed.

Sacrifice: Dr. Kwag lives in Korea and works at Samsung. This year his oldest daughter was going to start “Korean high school hell”. He sent his wife and 2 kids back to Arlington , Texas to have a better quality of life and get away from the dog-eat-dog competition in education here while he stays behind to work and send money.. Many well-to-do Korean men do this. They are called golden-goose fathers. I asked him if he feels like a money-machine. He said, “No, they sacrificed for me while I was studying for my Masters and Ph.D. Now it's my turn to sacrifice. I don't mind.” The poor guy lives like a bachelor now. The kids' fish are dead in their tank, the plants are dried up and the Christmas tree and decorations that his family put up during their two-week vacation here were still up as of last week. His situation is opposite, yet with similar results as many Mexican men who leave their families in Mexico to go work in America . They keep little money for themselves but sacrifice to send money back to Mexico to give their families a better quality of life while living like bachelors (not always a fun thing).

Commitment - Dr. Das, my husband's university advisor, and his wife had never met before their wedding day. Their Indian parents arranged their wedding. I asked her, “Do you love him? She answered meekly, “I don't know what “dating” love feels like but I like him and I care about him.” Then I asked, “Do you think he loves you?” She answers, “He treats me very well. He doesn't treat me lesser than him and, as busy as he is, he takes time out for me and the children.” I said, “He's very handsome, don't you think?” She just giggled.

Learning to love again - In last week's news (Netscape) there was a story of how some retirement-age Japanese men are taking “lessons in romance” classes either to win back their estranged wives or to keep them from leaving them. Many men work 75ish-hour weeks and only come home to sleep. They don't realize that they are neglecting their families of time and attention. They are doing their duty of “providing” for them. Being of the old-school, this is their way of showing love. The more sacrifice (money) they provide, the better a husband or father they will be. Lately the government changed the law so that at retirement the pension money isn't all in the man's name, half of it is in the woman's name. Many women are taking this money and filing for divorce. The divorce rate is highest among the retirees than any other age group in Japan . The poor men don't know what hit them. They sacrificed their life for a job that they probably didn't even like while looking forward to their dream of retiring with a thankful family and a comfortable life.

A Match made in heaven? : A relatively large number of Koreans are introduced by matchmakers. The old-fashioned version is where a guy or girl (many times it's the mother) goes to a matchmaker (usually a shaman at a park entrance or on a mountain) and provides name, birthdate and family background (no mention of “I like to walk barefoot in the park and cry at sad movies). The Shaman looks at his astrological charts and might read some tea leaves and such then find a person in his notebook with similar signs to hook them up with. Nowadays most young people will register themselves at online matchmaker sites (for a fee). I've met some well-educated people that married their “match”. Most did it because they felt pushed by their parents to “hurry up and marry” and being that most Koreans have such a homogenous culture, settling for a match-made spouse is not such a shock. They probably would have gotten the same spousal qualities if they had looked for themselves. They just don't get the good-looking ones with a matchmaker

With the advent of sonograms a few decades ago many pregnant parents aborted their female fetuses. Now it's illegal for doctors to tell the parents if their child is a boy or a girl (but some will say, “you can buy blue clothes”). Too little too late, there aren't enough twenty-something girls to marry the guys nowadays. The girls marry the richer guys, (which tend to live in the cities). In some farming communities up to 40% of marriages are with mail-order-brides from Vietnam , China or the Philippines , with women of economic need. As far as records show, these marriages are stable. Both partners realize their dependence on each other. The women usually assimilate quickly.

Meeting each other's needs is one way of showing love but that love must be “felt”. We must “know” that we are being loved. In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, love is listed as a human need after our physical and security needs. We've heard that during WWII the Nazis did experiments on newborn Jewish babies. They gave them all of the physical needs (milk, diaper change, kept them warm) but they kept love away from them. No holding, rocking, touching or talking to them. The babies died. As adults we still need to feel this love. I, for one, haven't had the financial needs that keep some marriages together, thank God, so my need was for romantic love. Thus it became very difficult to find a reason to stay with my husband when the honeymoon period was over and he reverted to the Japanese/Korean style male of taking me for granted and treating me like a servant. I kicked him out of “my” house more than once because of his emotional neglect. He's a reasonable man. He realized that love is like a bank account. When times are good you save for a rainy day. His love account was way overdrawn but mine was still full. He'd think it over and come back (same day) and make some changes. It's a work in progress but I can say that now he's more romantic than any other Korean man I know. He holds my hand and hugs me in public (gasp) and in front of his family (bigger gasp). He says “thank you” to me and “that was delicious” (aww) and calls during the day just to hear my voice. We go out on weekend dates. Especially now that I'm pregnant and feeling unattractive and emotionally fragile he's doing his part by being extra sensitive to me. Who says men can't change? You just have to train them. I can't wait to see what his card will say this Valentine's Day. He's very poetic. And what extra will he put with it this year? Another vase of flowers, stuffed animal, candy jar or box of chocolates? I'm still writing in his card, there are many things to list of the things I appreciate about him.

Text of the day: Rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Proverbs 5:18