Life in the End Times

Shin's gift to Annie on their One Year Anniversary

doo dee doo

Filed under: Just Writing — Annie at 2:08 pm on Thursday, December 28, 2006

In 6 days we’re leaving for Paraguay.

I haven’t been able to keep up for the last few months. I’ve spent all my energy adapting to living with my in-law family. Plus all the bloopers *cut shots of different instances of Annie shattering dishware and home decor items.

Well, I’m sitting in my unruly room, kneeling on the carpet for lack of making any bed space and not having any desk space to begin with. Today I will attempt to pack, but first I need to cut the nails on my right hand (I’ve kept my left nails trimmed to play violin this holiday). I have a few laundry piles left to do to complete my clothes. Then I have to go through all of Shin’s sweaters, I suppose.

For Christmas, one of our cousins gave us a copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I just read the introduction and I’m kinda intrigued. She also gave us a dvd of Pride & Prejudice. I have that on my laptop and have seen it at least 30 times. Yesterday, I finally watched it on a larger screen. I love movies that take you through a heart journey. Not like a Lord of the Rings type of journey.

Anyhow, *yawn* we’ve been showing the condo to different people but we have our hopes set on a specific tenants that we met… Its hard to be objective when your evaluative skills are based on your personal preferences.

I’m not sure the best way to pack, but I think I’m going to set all the suitcases side by side and start throwing things in… *tetris music*

I feel so slooooow! My brain can’t put together paragraphs. Just these non-sequiters of thought. Probably the only thing I have a lot to write about is living with my-inlaws. But… it will ultimately become a private entry number 2.

So. Goodbye for now. When I reopen it may be a scalding temperature in South America.

Daughter-In-Law

Filed under: In-Laws & Outlaws — Annie at 3:11 am on Monday, December 11, 2006

I haven’t written anything since Shin and I moved into my parents-in-laws home about a month ago. I don’t think I was stabilized enough to write what I was feeling. I was emotionally settling in and dealing with change, meeting expectations, being sensitive, doing chores, presuming a lot, coping with Korean culture, coping with male female inequalities in the Korean culture, respecting boundaries, setting boundaries, analyzing words and actions, adjusting to our upcoming change, mourning our cozy past, and through it all, learning how to relate to Shin again in this new setting.

First off, it is generous of my in-laws to let us move into their home. We are intruding on their second honeymoon after they finally emptied the nest of Shin’s younger sister. Anyone who says we are the unfortunate ones discounts the discomfort and tension we are causing with our mess, with our appetite, our different methodologies, and our presence, among other things.

The first night I set the table with chopsticks and spoons. The chopsticks were the bamboo kind with different colored handles. I mismatched some of the chopstick colors on accident and set the spoons randomly. I was corrected by being shown which spoon belonged to my F.I.L, my M.I.L., and which two were designated for Shin and I. Then, we each chose a colored set of chopsticks to use each meal.

Right off the bat, that was very bizarre for me. In my family, we match or mismatch chopsticks without concern. And no one has a special silver spoon. I was particularly sensitive that night with all the “errors” I was making. So when everyone ended up with the nice hues in navy blue, forest green, and teal and I got stuck with the ugly, bright red ones- I felt like the odd one out. The solution was as a simple swap. But at the time that’s how I felt.

Then, I brought the rice in the rice bowls, careful to serve the oldest male first, then the second oldest male, then the oldest women, down the line till it was my turn. I filled the bowls, but not excessively. It was a good portion, I thought. But when my M.I.L. saw it, she exclaimed that I was going to starve my father in law! For Asian culture, that probably ranks high in offense.

After dinner was nice. My M.I.L. cut fruits, and we had a nice time drinking tea and talking. I enjoyed listening to them and Shin very much, although my Korean sucks.

Then it was my job to do the dishes and dry them afterwards. That was the beginning of my official function. When Shin and I lived alone, Shin would do the dishes and I would do all the laundry because Shin hates doing laundry. But in this new environment, I had to cope with the involuntary Korean wife system. It is so standardized that both Shin and I felt it was taboo for him to help out, much less, stand around the kitchen. Also, I learned that there is a different dish washing protocol for the evening versus the morning.

The following morning we heard pots and pans at a very early hour and at about 7am we received a breakfast call. We got ready and came downstairs and my M.I.L. was wide awake with perfect hair and makeup. She served a superb, traditional noodle soup with mushrooms, dumplings, and other goodies. Over breakfast she commented about the untidiness of Shin’s attire. Even when we were engaged she would tell me to make sure his hair gets cut on time, etc.

I was not aware that in Korean culture the wife has to dress her husband. I see the necessity of helping your husband with his outward appearance, but I think a man is old enough to select his own clothes, or to know how to dress appropriately for the right occasion. After all, single men have to clothe themselves for job interviews, dates, or the like. But, since Shin doesn’t have a concern in that area, and my M.I.L has a particular concern in this area, I inducted myself as Shin’s stylist.

The great thing is that it’s a creative chore. It’s fun designing a great outfit and admiring your work over breakfast. Layering all the textures and colors. I wish Shin wore dress shirts and ties so I could coordinate those too. I’m still working on giving him some better looking shoes, instead of his black, athletic sneakers with everything.

The breakfast protocol I mentioned goes like this: after breakfast, I help Shin prepare to leave for work, and I can’t clear the table or do any dishes until after he leaves. Even if he’s upstairs taking a shower, or working on something. I think it’s supposed to make him feel like a guest or give me more time to spend with him. That is hard to follow because I want to get the dishes over as soon as possible. Then, I walk him to the door or to the car.

There is also the matter of my going in and coming out. I shouldn’t leave earlier than him in the morning or come home later than him in the evening. I should always be home to greet him and eat with him. During the first week of living here I had already made plans to have dinner with the church girls. As soon as we were all there I had to apologize in advance that I could only stay an hour if I wanted to drop two of the girls off and get home by 9pm. I drove home in a frenzy trying to get from Venice Beach to Lomita after ordering and eating in one hour at a busy sit down restaurant!

I’m really trying to adapt. I’m soaking in every visual and verbal cue to respect the rules but often times I realize I am too sensitive and pessimistic. For example, the day after we moved in, I forgot I didn’t have a key. So I called my MIL’s cell and told her I was locked out. She said she would rush to get here. I was going to wait but realized I could get a car wash in the meanwhile. So I called back, saying not to hurry because I would go out and come back. She told me to stay put. That evening Shin asked, “You should have let her explore the area!” And she said, “What if someone picked up our Annie?” So I made an assumption, based on those two gestures that she felt uncomfortable with me going out alone.

On top of that, instead of a key to the front door, she gave me a garage door opener! What was I to think except that she thought I would be sneaking around and needed to announce when I leave and come in? Or that I was not family and didn’t deserve a key? I had a real problem with whatever the message was behind that gesture. So Shin and I told her we were getting a key made for me and she told us where to go. Then I found out that my FIL doesn’t use a house key because he always comes in through the garage door, or else my MIL is home to greet him. So maybe my assumptions were off. Or maybe my intuition is correct. I got up the nerve to clarify if she preferred that I stay at home during the day and she said, “No. If you have things to take care of you should. But try to always be home before Shin gets home.”

Even then I get mixed messages. They try to treat us as two adults and tell us we can follow our own schedule in the morning, but they interject and we end up following their schedule. There is a loss of mobility and independence being under such a strong matriarch. I feel as though even our weight gain is not in our control. We’ve both gained a significant number of pounds since we came here, due to eating a large meal everyday, three times a day. Shin and I often feel like we are siblings instead of husband-wife. One of my greatest fears is what happens when we have children. Will I become the child’s older sister? Will I be discredited as a mom for learning as I go?

At the same time, I am considered the lowest member of the family. Even the language reflects this position. I was out shopping with my grandmother-in-law and M.I.L. and suddenly the G.I.L. said in Korean, “Please don’t take this the wrong way or have any contempt for what I’m about to say. When you refer to Shin, call him, ‘Shin Young Shi’ (which is a formal title you use when addressing acquaintances, like ‘Mr.’ or ‘sir’) because when you just call him, ‘Shin Young’ I can’t tell if he’s your younger brother or the same age.”

That was acceptable and I appreciated it. She not only wanted me to be educated on etiquette but for me to reflect well on my biological parents and their upbringing of me. I’ve never been taught this much of my own culture and it’s new, interesting, revealing, etc. But knowing it and being subjected to it is very different.

Eager not to make another mistake, I asked her if I address my sister-in-law as “SooJin Shi” too. She is actually younger than me. But the correct address for my S.I.L. is “Agashi” (a formal title that means, “young lady”). Then she expounded on the differences between the real family and the in-law family and how the daughter in law must honor and raise her in-law family. She kept stressing the differences between your real family and your in-law’s family. I felt like I was in some feudalistic Chinese folktale.

Especially because “Agashi” has nothing to do with what my SIL wants to be called. She hates Korean culture. Culturally, she’s Black-American with a trace of Korean. It has everything to do with reminding me of my place. Likewise, doing the dishes is not about splitting the housework. Its a role of subservience.

I tell Shin it’s hard to adopt someone else’s mentality. There are optimistic days when I feel that the habits I’m gaining are invaluable. I’m learning the disciplines of keeping a beautiful house that my MIL has gained over 25+ years. It is increasing my stamina for housework while decreasing my tolerance for uncleanliness. And these are qualities I’ve wanted to have even before we moved in. I also wanted to improve my skills in the language and cuisine.

My expectations of them are great as well. I expect her to be consistent in her example and not to abuse her position of power. One of the things that destroys my trust is the constant, low-intensity ridicule. Just this morning, for example, my in-laws were talking when my F.I.L. said, “She (Annie) doesn’t understand what you said anyways.” I whimpered in protest with my mouth full of egg sandwich, “I understand!” Playing dumb is very tempting.

Every day after meals while I do the dishes I repeat this mantra to myself: When they are providing everything and more, are dishes too much to ask? No. I can do dishes out of thankfulness. What about my roles as a wife? What about my firstborn?