Valentine's Day

I've recently come across some rather disturbing information.    Brace yourselves.    OK - one of my favourite books is The Travels Of Marco Polo , and in a low-level background way, I'd say that Marco Polo, Italian adventurer and visitor to the court of Kubla Kahn is one of my little boyhood heroes.    So... *drumroll*... it turns out that it's probably a fake.    It's now considered that Mr. Polo's story has some holes in it.    Did he even go to Asia?    Was there ever such a guy?    Is it just the exaggeratted tales of various other people who had travelled to pits and places of the Mongol Empire?    Personally I'm shocked and offended.    Marco Polo was in our history books back in high school for crying out loud!    Fake!   

But then I got to thinking... if I was writing a book about my travels, would I really limit it to the strictest truth?    If I wanted to make money from such a book, wouldn't I polish up my stories just a little?    Wouldn't I make it just a little more exciting than it really was?    Even if Marco Polo existed, and actually made a voyage across Asia, what are the chances tht he hasn't exaggerated just a little, to make it seem more glamourous than it really was?

Well, I'll set my record straight now.    When you're an english teacher in Korea, your life just isn't that glamarous.    That's the naked truth of it I'm afraid.    It's a pretty humdrum job, for which most people doing it just aren't suited.    So you learn to take your small petty little pleasures where you can.    One of the little things I've mentioned previously is the joy of naming a new Korean kid .    So far my kids have been named after my friends and family back home, or after characters from my favourite books.    There are far more imaginative options though.    One teacher here has kids named exclusively after black jazz musicians, and another American has named her kids after civil rights workers.    Say hello to Mason, Malcolm, Martin and Luther.

One of the other little joys here is that the Korean kids tend to give you gifts just before their national holidays.    The first example of this for me was just as I got here before Chusock .    Basically it meant I was being handed gift-packs of socks by my students.    I got the same again at New Year's.    More socks than I could possibly wear, plus a gift back of Presentation Tuna.    O.K., a little off the wall, I admit, but better than more socks. :-)

Now, no more socks.    No.    Today is a glorious day.    Today the power of the Christian Church and the Greeting Card industry is put forth.    Today is Valentine's Day.    Valentine's Day.    Just like back home.    Well, almost like back home.

Valentine's Day is a little different here.    Here, on the fourteenth of February the girls give chocolate to the boys.    But not vice versa!    Nice.    Very nice.    Now, unfortunately, I don't have a secret admirer to give me chocolates.    On the other hand, my kids came up trumps.    Every girl I teach had something for me.    It wasn't always much, but sometimes it was.    Boxes of chocolates, Belgian chocolates, big chocolates.    At the start of the day I thought I could eat each "round" of chocolates in the five minute break after each class.    Boy was I ever wrong.    By the end of the day I had a bag full of goodies, lots of reserve stuffed into my desk drawer, a trash can full of wrapping papers, and a fairly bloated belly.    I don't think I've eaten this much chocolate in one day since maybe my birthday party when I was six years old. :-)    So this is Valentine's Day in Korea.    Girls give boys chocolate and the boys just sit back and take it.

But of course, it's not as simple as that.    One month later they have something called "White Day".    Yes, for your pleasure you must pay.    On White Day Korean guys give candy to Korean girls.    Still, I reckon that's a pretty sweet deal from the guy's point of view.    You get to see a month in advance, on Valentine's Day, if a girl has gone to the bother of getting you something, and if so, it's a simple matter to return the favour with a month's advance warning on White Day.    On the other hand, even if a girl hasn't gotten you anything, but you still like her, there's still nothing to stop you giving a little gift on White Day.    Certainly, from a guy's point of view, it's a lot easier to deal with than Valentine's Day back home.

Then it takes yet another twist.    February 14th is Valentine's Day, and March 14th is White Day, but on April 14th they celebrate something called Black Day.    Here all the guys who didn't get chocolates, and the girls who didn't get candy, get together to drown their sorrows in a Chinese restaurant, where the traditional meal is jachangmyeong - black noodles.    Hence Black Day - a singles bar organised on a nationwide basis. ;-)    Personally I think it sounds like a neat idea - a bit of fun for the people who were all left out of the more romantic occassions.

But you ain't seen nothin' yet.    Not content with one, two, or even three celebrations on the fourteenth of the months, the Koreans have organised yet more fun days.    As far as I can tell, the whole gauntlet of "romantic" days goes something like this:

  1. January 14th is Diary Day - a mutual exchange of New Year's diaries.
  2. February 14th Valentine's Day - girls give boys chocolates.
  3. March 14th White Day - boys give girls candies.
  4. April 14th Black Day - time for the unloved to eat black noodles.
  5. May 14th Rose Day - a mutual exchange.
  6. June 14th Yellow Day - the kids were pretty vauge on this (frankly) 'made up' day.    They didn't seem to know why it was called Yellow Day, but it had something to do with the exchange of teddy bears.
  7. July 14th Kiss Day - the kids weren't vague about this at all. :-)

So I asked my kids what constitutes a good romance in Korea.    Interesting answers.    One girl told me that she wanted:

"A big building.    Many pretty boys.    Lock the door."
Pretty aggressive for a tender Korean girl, aged 14 I thought. Another suggestion, this time from a cut-throat, ruthless but oddly charming girl aged 17, in a class where I'd been trying to teach them a lesson about palmistry...
"Teacher.    An old man.    Lots of money.    No children.    He has very bad heart.    He has short Life Line.   
Nice girl, really.    Like I say, as an English teacher, you take your pleasure where you can, and listening to some of the things my kids come out with is what puts a smile on my face most days.    If you can just get them talking, they can make "work" very enjoyable. ( IF you can get them talking...)

As for adult Koreans, they have some neat little romantic trappings I've found.    My favourite bit of Korean-English (ie. Konglish) that I've come across so far is the phrase "CC" - meaning "Campus Couple".    A guy and gal who get together in University and soon get married.    I know any number of people that might describe back home, but we don't really have a phrase for it.    Another one that's just the wrong side of cloyingly sweet for me is the idea of "Couple Clothes".    One of the teachers in school got a nice new sweater.    I said it looked very well, and was told that her partner had bought the same one.    Apparently couples who are "going steady" will sometimes buy the same clothes, and wear them together.    Now maybe it's just because I'm single, and dateless on Valentine's Night, but does anyone else think that this is just a little too cutsie? :-)

Still, there was something really homely about seeing that the spectacle of Valentine's Day had made it's way over to the Far East too.    After Christmas / New Year's, it's probably my favourite "festival" back home, and seeing the Korean twist on it has just put me in an upbeat, smiling-on-the-world sorta mood.    Then again, maybe it's the fact that I've just overdosed on all the chocolates. :-)


Back      Forward