My parents will be here on Wednesday, two days from now [tomorrow actually, as I have taken a long time to put this post together]. Are we ready? Well, we've reserved a hotel room for them so they don't have to sleep on the street, so I guess the answer is yes, we're ready.
This weekend was a bit crazy. Actually, Saturday was OK. We took Maxine for a walk to buy groceries for Sunday. Sunday was the first day of the Lunar (also known as the Chinese) New Year (in Korean, Solnar). You've probably seen the shots on TV with the dragon costume worn by 10 people, dancing around festively, and all the fireworks, and the streets crowded with thousands of people dancing around like some kind of fully-clothed Mardi Gras. Well, that's China. Here it's just an opportunity to hang out with family you only see once a year and bow to the ones who are older.
(Actually, this is not a picture taken during the Solnal holiday, but it captures the feeling nicely.)
The whole thing is pretty cool if you're a kid, because when you bow to your elders they give you sage advice (e.g. "be healthy", "study hard", "your baby sure is cute" (I know that's not advice, but I'm pretty sure I heard it.)) and MONEY!!! For the younger kids, around $10 per relative. And when you're in the bottom bracket, you can really rake it in. Apparently it continues right up until you get married, which is when I joined the game, of course. My in-laws were kind enough to actually give me money when I bowed the first few years, but this year they stopped. Completely understandable, given the situation.
Horyon and I still have to give money to the younger relatives, though. About $100 worth this year, between four cousins and her brother. (Sorry, Chaeryon, but having you stay in America saves me about $30 every Solnal! It's the ONLY time I don't miss you!)
(We were given Maxine's bowing money, for safe keeping. And doesn't she look nice in her best outfit?)
On the other hand, there's food. Good food. Mandu (like Chinese dumplings) soup is a favorite, and for the past few years, my Sookmo has been making the soup and letting us help make the mandu.
(Again, not the Solnal food. These pics are actually from a memorial service a couple of weeks previously, but many of the dishes are the same during Solnal. Just different food.)
Oh, Sookmo. Yeah. "Sookmo" is a Korean relative word. You see, English doesn't really have that many words for different relatives. "Aunt", for example, can mean your father's sister, or his brother's wife, or your mother's sister or her brother's wife. In Korean, there are different words for all of those, along with some distinctions based on age. So "sookmo" means my wife's father's younger brother's wife.
It may mean other things, too, but that's what they came up with when I asked what to call her. And I needed something to call her, because she's a wonderful woman, who has been unfailingly kind to me, despite knowing less English than I know Korean.
So my Sookmo brings the dough and filling for the dumplings, and we (usually myself, Sookmo, her husband and her kids) spend an hour or so folding spoonfuls of stuff into little circles of dough. It's very satisfying, and not just because later we eat them. It makes us a more substantial part of the festivities. And I believe it will instill in her son, Tae-ho, some inkling of a sense that the men should also produce, rather than just consume, at these little get-togethers.
Whew. Sorry about getting all soap-boxy there.
So we made mandu, and then I took the kids, Tae-ho and his sister Jung-won, outside. They had brought kites, and so we walked to the beach and flew kites for an hour or so, just like at the end of Mary Poppins. Except that the wind was a bit gusty, and we spent a lot of time yelling "NO NO NO DON'T FALL YOU STUPID KITE!!!"
Then I bought ice cream for the kids. When we got home, Sookmo said (in Korean) "Why are you eating ice cream! It's cold outside!" I, striving to fill the role of the cool older cousin, apologized, deflecting all wrath and making Sookmo laugh with my Korean and excuse that were both quite lame. Me (in Korean): "I said eat ice cream, they said it looks delicious!"
There's no way for me to judge, but Horyon says that I am very cute when I speak Korean. But not as cute as this!
(Maxine enjoys sitting on my belly. It's soft, and gives her a good vantage point to talk to me.)
It was Sunday yesterday, so we also went to church. And we were packing Maxine with us the whole time. I think that for her it was a very tiring day. By the time we got home she cried a lot before going to sleep, and today she took some extra long naps. But she is such an agreeable baby. It doesn't seem to bother her to be passed around like some kind of live, 3D photo album of herself. She takes a firm grip on any finger offered to her. She doesn't smile much for strangers, but she doesn't cry much either. She took a real liking to Tae-ho. His level of humor seemed to work very well for her--some peekaboo with a wide variety of silly noises.
This year I did something for Solnar that I should have done a long time ago: I made food for everyone. I made spaghetti and meat sauce with garlic bread, and it went over quite well. I was almost disappointed when Sookmo took home the leftovers, but it's such a compliment that I couldn't feel bad. I've decided that I should make food for any of these occasions on which it would be appropriate. After all, my conversational skills simply don't work in Korean, so I have very little else to offer. I felt much more like a part of the family this way.
I would like to close with a cute Maxine shot. She likes to be held up with her feet touching the ground, the bed, my lap, whatever. She has no interest at all in being on her own belly, though she likes mine well enough. When I hold her up, she often seems to dance, which is fun for both of us.
Happy New Year!