I walked into my Ninas today and Mr. E was running around the classroom chasing Hyunjoo as Mystery punched him in the back and Jully sat at a desk playing with the Galaxy s6 her dad bought her yesterday.
I grabbed Mr. E’s arm and forced him to stop chasing and asked, perhaps a little too loudly, “ERIC WHAT IS THE MATTER”. He stopped, his forehead sweaty from all the chasing, pointed at Hyunjoo and said, “Teacher, he is 8 and we are 9.”
Mr. E: but he says ‘ya’ and doesn’t call me ‘hyung’
In some ways I was flattered–that Mr. E realized I knew enough about Korean culture to know that I understood that.
But in much larger ways I was pissed off.
One of the reasons I wanted to come to Korea to teach versus other countries was because I was (am) so fascinated by the culture. I wanted to know how much real regular people are like the ones in dramas and variety shows.
I am not a Korean person. I have only lived here for two months. My understanding is limited to what can be expressed in English since I don’t know enough Korean to actually have a conversation about this with a Korean person. What I’m trying to say is that everything I know may actually not be correct. BUT, I do attest to what I’ve seen. And what I’ve learned on Wikipedia. Which is this.
Like many Asian cultures, Korea has deep Confucian ideals, some of which still percolate today. One of those ideals is that societal harmony is achieved when people understand and keep strict social relationships.
This is what wikipedia, the fountain of all truth, says.
Particular duties arise from one’s particular situation in relation to others. The individual stands simultaneously in several different relationships with different people: as a junior in relation to parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to younger siblings, students, and others. While juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe their seniors reverence, seniors also have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. The same is true with the husband and wife relationship where the husband needs to show benevolence towards his wife and the wife needs to respect the husband in return. This theme of mutuality still exists in East Asian cultures even to this day.
The Five Bonds are: ruler to ruled, father to son, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, friend to friend. Specific duties were prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships.The only relationship where respect for elders isn’t stressed was the friend to friend relationship, where mutual equal respect is emphasized instead. In all other relationships, high reverence is usually held for elders.
I may or may not have watched a social unacceptably high amount of variety shows involving Korean boy bands (go ahead judge me I don’t care) and have seen this weird (to me) phenomenon. You see, every band has a leader, and 90% of the time the leader is the oldest. If it’s not the oldest, it’s the one with the most experience. And this leader is basically responsible for everyone and everything to a more than just normal degree. AND, as I said before, in Korean there are different language endings reserved for your relationships with other people. I know this exists in other languages, like Spanish for instance, but I think in Korean it is a whole other level. Seven levels actually. Like, if someone doesn’t use the right tone with you, it’s a huge diss. I’m not talking just strangers, I mean people who are best friends who live together and who have been through everything together.
Every band also has a “maknae” or the youngest (always the youngest, almost never the one with the least experience) and that one always has to use an honorific or else the elders get really mad. The maknae is often forced to clean up or do ridiculous things keeping up his “cute” image
When I say age difference I mean just a year younger or older. No difference in actual maturity level or knowledge–purely numbers.
But Mallory, what some people are different ages depending on the month they were born. Some people could be older/younger at certain times of the year depending on their birthdays. So how does that work?
They solved this problem simply–by making everyone turn a year older on the same day! Actual days of birth are celebrated, but on January 1st the entire peninsula turns a year older, and thereby order is maintained.
I used to find this really weird. This is the 21st century–that can’t still be a thing. But now, when watching variety shows, I actually find it legitimately awkward. It’s only awkward if they make it awkward–and they make it really awkward. So awkward that I feel it through the screen and now I cringe.
I’ve also seen on shows where they play this game called “yaja time” where the oldest and the youngest switch places and at first I was like…what is this…but now I actually find it weird.
So, as I mentioned, one of my Big Questions upon coming to Korea is how much of this is show and how much of it is real.
And apparently, at least in my Nina class, it is very real.
Hyunjoo, who was born in Korea but lived in the States for two years, mistakenly used the wrong verb form, even though he is only a year younger, and it pissed Mr. E off. To the point of chasing him around the room and punching him and making him cry actual tears.
I sat them down and explained, if you wanted him to call you hyung (older brother) you’re going to have to act like one. It’s your job to help him and not punch him.
Mr. E: “but he fools around with me even though he is younger” (fools around was a vocabulary word in our last unit).
Me: “Well I’m 12 years older than you and you fool around with me.”
Mr.E: “Yes, but I still call you Teacher”
Mystery: “he has to call me hyung first”
Me: “That’s not how a real hyung would act.”
So anyway, that’s just one example of this phenomenon that I’ve been so curious about. I can’t say it’s a real thing everywhere because it’s just one class and it was with Mystery and Mr. E who are unpredictable enough as it is.
But I think it’s a step in answering this Big Question.