Valentine's Day in Korea. Better Late Than Never.

Those of you who observe Valentine's Day will be aware that it is now more than a week after Valentine's Day, which means that I really have no business whatever relating this post to Valentine's Day.  In my defense, however, I actually started this entry two days before Valentine's Day and therefore feel entirely justified in posting it anyway.

During Valentine's Day week I was rather busier than usual, owing to an outbreak of flu at the school where I teach.  A number of the teachers - as well as the students - were out sick, and those that were able to make it to school were either coming down with it themselves or convalescing from it.  What is very strange is that I was not among the stricken.  Logic would tell you that I - as the newest member of the staff and only recently arrived in Korea - would be the most susceptible to the unique melange of germs that must surely be floating through the air in a kindergarten - especially when my exposure to small children has been so limited in recent years.  However, for whatever reason, I remained untouched, while my younger, fitter colleagues dropped like flies.  This could be due to the flu shot I got back in October, or perhaps an immunity-stimulating run-in with a powerful Korean virus back in December, or (more likely) sheer dumb luck which will soon run out (shall we take bets when that will be?)  For whatever reason - much to my very great surprise (and everlasting gratitude)-I have not been infected -yet - despite my thrice-weekly plunges into a sea of runny noses, unbridled expectoration, and spontaneous germy hugs.

But my point was, since so many of my colleagues were ill, I spent more time working than anticipated, and - what with dealing with the laundry and cooking and catching up on all those back episodes of Mad Men - I simply let our First Valentine's Day in Korea go by without so much as posting a photo on my blog.  Let it not be said that MsCaroline is a slacker, though, and I am ready to make it up to you now, although - as it turns out - none of us missed much at all.

Unlike the US, it seems that Korea has not yet turned Valentine's Day into a Celebration of RetailFrenzy, Guilt, and Potential Severe Disappointment.  I have seen modest displays of Valentine's Day gifts - primarily chocolate, and mostly in foreigner-heavy areas - here and there in stores, but otherwise, Valentine's Day seems to be fairly understated - sort of like Secretaries' Day in the US:  you see some signs and displays, a few people observe it, and most people know what it is if you mention it, but otherwise, it's not really a very big deal.  I took a photo of this sidewalk display in front of a 7-11 (yes, they have them in Korea, too!) in Hanam-dong, a section of town popular with foreigners.  No idea what the Korean words in the window say, but I assume they're exhorting people to buy something:

Down the street (in the same 'foreigner area', near the Indian embassy), I passed by this sign for a Valentine's Day special:

And, yes, it does say, "Get ur love spiced up."

But really, other than those few examples - and a few modest displays in coffee shops and the subway - Valentine's Day in Seoul was really not much of a big deal from what I could see.

I have it from several authorities (OK, two people I know, plus Wikipedia) that Valentine's Day in Korea - insofar as it is observed at all - only requires action on the part of women, who are supposed to present chocolate to men on this day.  The men, oddly enough, do not have to reciprocate until March 14th, when they present candy to their lady-loves.  But get this:  it's specifically non-chocolate candy (I know:  how can this possibly work? I'm still struggling with this.)  So far, so good:  what really moves the Koreans up an additional notch in my esteem is that they have yet another holiday, on the 14th of April, just for people who did not get or give candy in February and March.  On this day, it seems, unhappy singles drown their sorrows by consuming traditional black noodles (which I have, in my mind, christened, 'the noodles of despair', although they probably have a more humdrum name.) Frankly, if I were going to drown my sorrows, I probably would choose something more powerful than noodles to do it with, but this is probably another one of those cultural differences that makes expatriate life so broadening. And to be fair, noodles are carbohydrates, which means they can be classified as comfort food.

As far as Valentine's Day at our place goes, MrLogical and I, having been married for more than 20 years (and having known one another for more than 30) do not typically make a big deal out of it, partly because we both tend to forget it, but mostly because neither of us is particularly romantic, at least in the traditional sense.  This is perfectly understandable on MrL's part, since he is, of course, a man.  However, I, as a woman, am apparently deficient:  I did not get the gene that causes me to yearn for candlelight, champagne, bouquets of roses, and whatever else belongs in that picture - maybe violin serenades or some moonlight or something.  I am not sure what has led to this flaw in my personality, but I tend to chalk it up to the powerful influence of my German and New England forbears - two groups known somewhat more for their stiff upper lips and practicality rather than for their romantic tendencies.  This has worked out well for MrL, who at least does not have the pressure of having to think up romantic gestures for Valentines' Day or anniversaries or what have you in addition to keeping the car in order, unscrewing the really tight jar lids, and sorting out the income tax.

The lovely thing about MrL is that he really knows me, which means that he knows that I'm much more likely to swoon over a cup of really good coffee and a new book than I am over champagne and flowers anyway.  Even better, he makes these gestures when he senses they are most needed, not just when they are prescribed by society.  Instead of waiting until Valentine's Day to bring me roses or chocolate (and let's face it:  I'm always on a diet in February anyway), he brought me a potted orchid last weekend - no, not as an early Valentines' Day present, but because he had noticed that the grey and the cold of the Seoul winter were wearing on me, and he knew that something green and growing would cheer me up.  But MrL's thoughtfulness is not limited to bringing home plants when I'm going crazy with the horrible grey winters here yearning for Spring.  No, this man regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty.  He has willingly watched all of Season 1 of Downton Abbey with me (despite the lack of even a single significant explosion, collision, or gunfire), feigned interest in helping me pick out just the right picture frames, and patiently indulged my lengthy browsing sessions in bookstores and not saying a word when I buy overpriced books even though he just bought me a new Kindle in November (and yes, there are plenty of bookstores that carry English books in Seoul).  All of this even when it isn't  February 14th!  Roses are a nice gesture, but that potted orchid on the table reminds me that he loves me all the time - and why, after 20 years, I still count myself among the luckiest of women - every day.

A Love Orchid for a Winter-weary spouse.


Karen said…
Given that I waited so long to comment on your last post I feel justified in commenting first on this one. I read portions of this one aloud, particularly the section pertaining to non chocolate candy gifts to women in March. You are so right, that does not work! Candy by definition needs to be chocolate or it isn't worth the trouble...unless maybe it is caramel, but then you need chocolate along with it, anyway. I do like the idea of spreading it over 3 months, takes you right into spring, which may just be the general idea.
Along the parallel lives theme...I love Mad Men and am similarly missing that gene that requires my man to provide candlelight, roses, champagne, violin serenades etc. In fact, I was just commenting on how it seems that I missed many "female" genes...the shopping one, the interest in clothing, shoes, makeup, cooking, baking...all that stuff. Books, bookstores, a good cup of coffee, a stiff drink when the occasion warrants and tulips on Valentine's Day, never chocolate or roses. My man lets me know he loves me by folding laundry, emptying dishwashers, ironing and other chores that are endlessly popping up. A quick backrub here and an occasional unexpected gift there and I'm good to go. New England roots, again?
Glad you escaped the flu. I think your old immunities built up when your kids were small kicked in.
Work day tomorrow, got to make lunches and get ready. Have a good week!
MsCaroline said…
Karen - you should know that comments to bloggers are like applause for musicians - always welcome! I really wonder if it's the New England gene we share, or just another in a series of coincidences that prove we were meant to be friends - cyber or otherwise! I will have to see how the other married women feel about this, but I think most of us who have been married for a while appreciate a real significant gesture (eg, folding laundry, or taking a turn at night with the wakeful toddler)that takes a bit of sacrifice as opposed to a box of chocolate that takes a few $ and a quick stop on the way home from work. Oh, and I couldn't agree more with you about chocolate - and caramel!
Totally agree with you about meaningful gestures rather than Valentine's chocolates and overpriced flowers. (This year the only people who really celebrated Valentine's in this house were the boys - we just find it too commercial.)

I laughed about Downton Abbey. There are a few explosions in Season 2!
MsCaroline said…
NVG- Yes, it's always a big day for kids - I well remember the years of picking out (and the signing of...groan) just the right Valentine's Cards and candy...those days are past for us, though! We still haven't started Season 2 of DA yet - it's not available on Hulu or Netflix and the PBS program stream keeps pausing to buffer here in Seoul...I'm probably going to have to break down and buy the episodes on Amazon Prime if Hulu or Netflix don't get them soon!
Anonymous said…
I love reading your blog since it reminds me off the little things that I loved while living in Seoul! One of those things was jajangmyeon. I was really craving citrus tea the other day too. My husband is off to Seoul for a business trip soon and I'm making a list of things for him to bring back - which is kind of ironic since we are moving to Brazil next week and I'm currently in the US stocking up on American goods - I have my American list and Korean list going at the same time:)
MsCaroline said…
Outbound: Thanks for stopping by! I don't know if I've tried jajangmeon already, but I'm definitely addicted to all types of bean paste - anything in the 'jang' family - and will definitely miss it when we leave! Good luck with your lists and your move to Brazil!!
Wilma said…
Well, I'm not from New England and I don't have that gene either. I don't care about getting stuff for Valentine's, birthday, Christmas or whatever. He spoils me periodically by bringing home certain foods I like but wouldn't buy for myself when he's at the store or things like that. As of last week we've been together for 25 years but I was always like that even before. Quite honestly, I find it embarrassing to have a fuss made over me. He did give me a giant Hershey's bar for Valentine's this year though. I'm still working my way through it. LOL
MsCaroline said…
Wilma - I'm with you. I'm perfectly comfortable speaking in front of rooms full of people but am so miserably unhappy if 8 or 10 people gather to celebrate my birthday. I was desperately uncomfortable during my baby shower (enough to completely squelch the possibility of one being thrown before #2)and try to avoid any kind of celebration focusing on me. In my case, I think it's a combination of feeling entirely unworthy combined with the sense that I don't know the right things to do or say to show my appreciation and will somehow hurt the feelings of all the people who went to so much trouble. I guess as far as VDay goes, it's probably because I have always valued a spontaneous and thoughtful gesture much more than one that was prompted by a date on the calendar, and I imagine you feel the same way. I'm not really sure how to explain the practical part, except maybe you've got more German in you than we realized.;)
BavarianSojourn said…
That orchid is beautiful! I loved the story about the Noodles of despair! As you probably know, it's quite an understated celebration here as well, but this year I put that down to Fasching taking up all the attention instead! Emma :) Ps. if i had to receive a non-chocolate gift, it would have to be in Jelly Bean form...

PPS. Glad you haven't succumbed to any lurgy!
MsCaroline said…
Emma - my challenge will now be to keep it alive! We'll see if I succeed. Fasching fever has definitely taken over the school where I teach - costumes and parties galore, and a lot of very excited kids!
Oh, and I agree with you about Jelly Beans...they would probably be an acceptable substitute... ; )
Frances said…
Re the lovely orchid: I have 6 in flower at the moment and I love them...5 are blooming for the 3rd or 4th time. They seem to thrive on an East facing windowsill here in SE England, and they don't need too much water, definitely must not sit in water. Temperature is probably averaging 18C/21C. If it should die in the next few weeks, it will be because it was maltreated before you received it, but it looks very healthy . It should flower for many months and then rest for maybe 6 months or more before throwing up another flower spike. ( that is exciting!)
Trish said…
Hubby and I don't fuss much with Valentine's Day either. He did bring me a very pretty rose-bush pot plant two weeks ago but I could tell from his guilty face that he hadn't bought it - it was a thank you gift from a grateful patient. As I said in another blog comment recently, I am well-used to this deception: misshapen vegetables and bags of walnuts have been passed my way over recent months!
MsCaroline said…
Frances - thanks so much for the information! I have never had an orchid before and was really worried about keeping it alive. This will help tremendously!
MsCaroline said…
Trish - Well, the main thing is, he brought it home because he knew you'd like it, and we give points (at least partial points) for that around here! I think it's kind of charming that people still give things to doctors where you are. Very unlikely it would happen much in the US any more unless you know your dr. very well - which, in the world of managed healthcare, is no longer too common!
broken biro said…
Aw, bless! I think you're probably making Mr L up - can he be real?

Some of us have to buy our own orchids - and mine died almost immediately so I'm glad Frances made that comment as it means this, at least, wasn't my fault!
MsCaroline said…
BB - Yes indeed,he's quite real! Of course,he might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he is perfect for me. Those women who need the roses and champagne and romance and lots of jewelry on significant holidays would be sadly disappointed, I'm sure! And I agree - thank goodness Frances weighed in on the orchids - I didn't know a thing about them!

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