The Circles of Life – My brother,
Antonio, graduated from OPSU last week.
I missed that family gathering just as I’ve missed the birthday parties,
Thanksgiving and Christmas. To keep from
feeling so isolated from them I call all the time. It’s much cheaper than it was 14 years ago
when a call to America was a dollar a minute. Today, chatting and email are free and, with
my phone card, a call home is just four cents a minute.
Tom and I stay busy with our own family and
social gatherings here. Most meetings
are for the same reasons as those in the U.S. but with a few twists. In America usually the bride’s side pays for most of the
wedding. In Mexican culture the groom’s
side pays for most of the wedding. The bride and groom might also ask a
(usually) married couple to be co-parents (sponsors) of a particular
expenditure (band, hall, cake, wine, etc.). In Korea the guests pay for most of the wedding expenses. The
guests give a money gift in an envelope with the giver’s name on it and put it
in the “donation” box. The amount
depends on how close the relationship is.
The money gifts average from thirty to two-hundred dollars. At the end
of the day, the gift box will usually contain about ten thousand dollars. The
same goes for funerals
That reminds me of a joke (Tangent
alert!): The bride broom said to the groom broom, “I’m going to have a baby
“That’s impossible!” said the groom
broom, “We haven’t even swept together yet!”
The most frequent types of social
gatherings are the “circle” get-togethers. Stemming from the philosophy of
are to be forever close and generous with groups that take part in our
lives. Family is first, with the elders
receiving the highest honor. School
friends, club members and co-workers are the next most common “circles”. My 72-year old mother-in-law keeps busy
meeting her circles throughout the year.
They include elementary through college friends (different people in
each group, about ten members per group).
My husband also meets his school friends. There’s even a UTA (Arlington) alumni club here. Last weekend we went to a reunion
of his undergraduate college club (children of decorated heroes of Korean
wars). I’ve only known them for two
years and I’ve already seen them four times.
They treat me like family just like they treat each other. There’s a lot of eating, laughter and sharing
of children’s pictures. Of course
there’s karaoke to end the night (the individual private karaoke rooms are big
enough for dancing, which we do).
I seem to write about the negativity
of Korea, but that may be because I’m pointing out the
differences. There’s got to be something
here that entices many foreigners to extend that visa and renew that
contract. Many who go back home end up
coming back for more of that something that they found missing in their
homeland. That something is the
“circles” social life. Foreigners will find that people are warm and willing to
invite them to join in their circles. If a Korean comes to America to work hardly anybody will bother to go out of their
way to invite him to take him to the beach or skiing with their friends and pay
the way, but if a foreigner comes here we usually get the royal treatment from
co-workers, students, church members etc.
Billy Parker, of Boise
City, came upon my invitation in 1997. I had forever invited my brother, Fidel, but
he was always too busy married to his job (it’s a good marriage), so Billy took
me up on the offer. I felt guilty for
leaving him halfway through his five-month stay (he got a job) but I needn’t
have feared, he was warmly welcomed into circles of
friendships. They took him out to see
the sights and sounds of Korea.
I’m quite the boring foreigner to my
new friends in Korea. They can’t
take me to any new place because I’ve been there, done that, with my old
friends. I’ve seen more beaches, islands, mountains and historic palaces than
my husband has. When I returned to Texas in 1997 I often cried from loneliness at first. My
co-workers didn’t socialize together after work, my students were second
graders instead of engineers, my new church wasn’t as social and my neighbors
were on drugs.
Overall, Americans tend to live
individual isolated lives. This is something we can learn from Koreans, the
ever-meeting circles of friendship.