by Maggie Velasquez-Choi
I find myself to be the odd woman out, yet again, in Korea. Most international marriages consist of a foreign man (American soldier or English teacher) married to a Korean woman. American women tend to dislike the macho-ism of Korean men and the Korean men don’t like the “selfishness” of the American women. I believe it’s my Mexican side that allows me to withstand my husband’s bossy behavior and subtly be the neck that turns the head. All the foreigners I know are on a work visa. I’m here as a dependent of my husband. I did get a job offer from Suwon University upon arriving two years ago but I was so sick with Lyme disease that I declined (I’m finally getting treatment).
The next year, after feeling better from the illness we went for the in-vitro-fertility treatments and got pregnant. I figured I could work a few months during my pregnancy and was about to accept a job when “morning” sickness hit. They really need to find a better name for that illness. It ranges from “can’t-feel-a-thing” to “24-hour debilitating nausea, headaches, vomiting and dizziness” which I had. I declined the job offer. I had decided before Andrew’s birth that I would be a stay-at-home mother. I want the opportunity to train him in the way he should go so he will not depart from it in the future (or at least he won’t forget). Other foreigners run around with backpacks on their backs catching trains, buses and taxis to get to their different English teaching jobs. They usually tutor after or in between their academy job. I know the drill, I did it for three years after my two years in the mission field. I run around with a baby in a blue stroller and a black pug on a red leash. We go to the grocery store, to the park, to the vet or just out to walk the dog. I have a child’s car seat in my car and a Korean driver’s license. Just the fact that I drive at all is what astounds most foreigners. Driving in the Dallas metroplex is a breeze compared to this place. My day consists of the typical American household duties but with some twists. Whenever I plug in the vacuum cleaner or any of our American machines I have to plug it into a transformer. The Korean electricity gives 220 volts and the American machines use 110 volts. If I plug the vacuum cleaner into the wall it would burn it. We have about ten transformers throughout the house. The bigger the machine, the bigger the transformer needs to be to convert enough electricity. The refrigerator and dryer’s transformers are the biggest. If I run the dryer I have to turn off the fridge and air conditioner and desktop computer or the breaker will snap. We’re the only household that we know of that has a dryer. I only run the A/C when the heat is unbearable, in late July and August and just for a few hours, but this year the monsoon is late in arriving because of the La Niña weather phenomenon (after-effect sister of “El Niño). Usually it starts raining in the middle of June and doesn’t stop for six weeks. The utility bill will be around 600 dollars as it usually is in the summertime and wintertime. No, other Koreans do not spend as much as we do on electricity. The housewives take good care of their husband’s money and live very frugally. I’m just a spoiled American. Since I want to run the A/C and use the dryer and not hear my husband’s complaints I pitch in $200 for the electric bill. Before my pregnancy I had a part-time job teaching English to Samsung engineers one hour a day, Monday – Friday. That was good for 800 dollars a month. Now, to help me prepare to understand and educate Andrew I teach at Samsung’s pre-K daycare center (the Samsung workers’ children). I teach 4 hours a week and get a thousand dollars a month on average (60 dollars an hour). The average going rate is 40 dollars an hour but that’s for an American, Canadian, British, Australian, New Zealander or South African with any college degree. The pay is higher if you actually have a college teaching degree with a state or national license. I’ve befriended some other Korean adjumas (what señoras are to Mexico) and socialize with them. Five of us joined a doll-making-class and made the cutest dolls during the winter (pics on myspace.com/maggiechoi). We have teatime at each other’s spotless apartments while their children are in school. My live-in in-laws are helpful in taking care of Andrew while I go out to work or have lunch with a friend. And of course, there’s shopping. Mostly we just like to look (“eye-shopping” Koreans call it). Most of the Korean women that I know have a college degree but choose to be work-at-home mothers after marriage. They don’t buy many items because they tend to be saving for the future (a bigger apartment, academies for the kids, a new car etc.). I don’t have much of a desire for buying big-ticket items or even knick-knacks when living in Korea. When I first came as a missionary in 1992 I had two suitcases. When I left five years later I had the same two suitcases plus I shipped five smallish cardboard boxes home. My mentality at the time was, Korea is not my home. I’m just passing through. Then in America I filled a house with “stuff” in eight years. We then brought it here in a ship container and 2 trucks. It is such a burden to be packing and dragging “stuff” all over the world. I’m not looking forward to doing it again for our return trip. “No more shopping” was our motto during the long weeks of packing and unpacking. I no longer want to be burdened down with meaningless material possessions that I can’t drag to heaven. But I want to take with me the people who have invited me into their circle of friends, who call me up to say “hey”, those whom I can call when I’m bored, sad or lonely. This world is not my home. I’m just a passing through. Speaking of possessions, did you hear about the rich guy who was on his deathbed and he had a vision of Peter standing at the Pearly Gates. He begged Peter, “Please, please, just let me bring some of my prized possessions”. Peter said, “Okay, tomorrow you will die. As your spirit comes up to heaven you can bring whatever you can pick up in your attic on your way up. I would advise you to put something that you value greatly there.” “Great!” said the rich man, and he went home and piled his attic with gold bars. The next day the rich man met Peter at the Pearly gates with something in his hand. Peter exclaimed, “What! You brought pavement!”