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
|A Love Orchid for a Winter-weary spouse.|