To my great surprise my parents agreed to come to Korea with my uncle on his second trip to visit us out here. As Andy highlighted in The Importance of Being Oldest, my family were treated like royalty during their stay with us. Interestingly, my parents commented on how they felt immediately comfortable upon arrival. I think they’d expected things to be quite different to what they found here and I suspect, a little dirtier, judging by the amount of hand sanitiser in my mother’s handbag.
My parents and my uncle showed up in Sunchang bearing a care package to rival a top end Harvey Nick’s Christmas hamper. So much chocolate, that to carry it I had to cradle it in my arms like a 6 month old baby. We’ll probably both look like we’ve got one on the way when we’re done eating it. Reason #1 for inviting them out here accomplished!! (Haha, only kidding folks!)
Sunchang is a pretty small, rural town, very stuck in it’s ways and very unused to foreign visitors. My Dad caused cultural controversy in the small fruit shop round the corner by ripping off the three bananas he required from the standard bunch of fifteen on offer, while the lady owner wasn’t looking. She was not impressed – held them up to her husband, screeching as if to say, “Just look at what this idiot’s done!!” My Uncle Vaughan was a constant source of amusement in the local shops, trying it on with the ladies, “What time do you get off? I’ll take you to the pictures?” Always met with polite, unaware nods and promising smiles. He never missed an opportunity to ‘big up’ West Brom to the oblivious Koreans, “Up the Baggies!” were his usual parting words. My Mum had a great time buying up all the Korean pretty stuff she could get her mitts on wherever we went and generally lapping up the novelty of somewhere so new and culturally different.
Now, I love my family dearly, they’re extremely important to me and always have been and I desperately wanted them to come and visit me so they could see where I’ve been living and working for the past two years. Particularly so they could appreciate all the great things that I’ve newly experienced about the Korean culture. But, you spend 24/7 with anybody, be it your bezzie mate or your most favourite colleague, you’re bound to feel at least a teensy bit tetchy. I have to admit, I was a little concerned that 24/7 in one room with the ‘rents would be tough, but we’re very lucky to have not one, but two whole (one room) apartments out here (we’re not married so God forbid we’d ever consider living together, they gave us one each!), which gave us all a breather each night after we were sufficiently dinnered and entertained.
It was wonderful having my family come to visit us here in Korea, mainly because I love them loads and miss them like crazy, but it was also really refreshing to do all the stuff that we don’t bother doing any more, either because the novelty’s worn off for us and we’re busy doing other things, or we’re too tight to spend the money because of our budget. It was like seeing things with fresh eyes again two years on.
While my family were here, we visited:
Jeonju Traditional Hanok Village.
Gyeongju – Korean National Museum, Bulguksa Temple and the Tumuli park.
Damyang – The bamboo park and phallus statues, and Hangari Restaurant (the restaurant has some rather rude and amusing features in the bathrooms, but also has a great ambience and food).
Sunchang Gochujang village – My family received amazing service, had photos taken, and bought copious amounts of the delicious Gochujang Ssamjang paste to take home.
Gangcheonsan – A beautiful mountain valley in Sunchang, particularly stunning at this time of year, affectionately nicknamed ‘Dovedale’ by my uncle.
Jandeok temple and mountain – A mountain in Sunchang where impressive statues have been carved into the rock. My family were fortunate enough to meet the monk who resides in the temple at the base of the mountain. He chatted with them and gave them gifts.
My parents and uncle accompanied me to two of the schools I teach at. My elementary students asked the standard Korean questions, “How old are you?”, “Where are you from?” and of course, “Do you like Kimchi?” But my awesome middle school students had prepared some really thoughtful questions, “What’s the origin of fish and chips?” (I learnt something new there myself courtesy of my well informed father!), “What is an example of a unique English custom?” and “What’s your favourite song?” In response to this last question, my dad and uncle burst into song, delivering an impressive rendition of an Elvis classic, met with rapturous applause from the students!
Andy and I also wanted my family to try all of our favourite Korean dishes, which made for a belly-busting 10 days. My uncle and mum in particular made great progress with the daunting task of using chopsticks, dad put in a good effort but was always grateful to see the lady of the house scurrying over with a selection of knives and forks!
All in all an extremely successful (and busy!) 10 days, the Williamses left Korea with a little bit of Hanguk in them and a much needed ‘Ruth fix’– wouldn’t wanna miss that!