"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cross Cultural Dining, Banana Cheetos, Gratitude, and Friendly Faces

Every time I walk into the local Korean market, the gentleman who runs the store asks "Where's your baby?"  Nevermind that my baby is now five years old.  Nevermind that I may clearly be dropping in just to pick something up while I'm on that side of town for some church event.  Nevermind that the other two children are notably absent, too.  It's my little guy he asks about. 

We're not regular visitors over there; the store is across town.  But I guess we're memorable.  I've only once seen another caucasian person in that store.  The first day we dropped in it was like a visit to a foreign country; I was able to find what I needed, but only slowly and with painful attempts to sound out the Korean letters to make sure what I thought I was buying was really what I was buying.  

The owner greets all the customers in cheerful Korean.  Except the first day we walked in, we heard him greeting the Asian people right in front of us, but as we came in right behind he gave us a baffled smile and a little wave like he didn't know how to respond to these strange visitors.  Kind of a friendly version of "y'all ain't from 'round here, are ya?"   A couple of visits later we decided to try out our pathetic four words of badly pronounced Korean and greet him.  I've never seen anyone look so stunned.  So yeah, we are memorable.

One one visit his wife spent several minutes talking to "the baby" in Korean.  Being about a year old, he was strapped Korean style (very comfy) to my back and not going anywhere.   I have no idea what she said to him but she was very enthusiastic about it.

On another visit we took a friend, a missionary who speaks Korean, with us... I was hoping she'd help me broaden my Korean shopping expertise, or at least tell me what a few curious looking products were.   Our friend had a great conversation with the shopkeeper, in enthusiastic Korean.  This time it was my turn to stand wide-eyed.  Occasionaly our friend would tell me what was going on: "she asked how I know Korean" but I was clueless when the shopkeeper ran over to a display, took down something else I couldn't read, and gave them to my wide-eyed kids.  My friend translates "She wants to give you these because she likes you."  I somehow managed to convince my boys to bow and the middle child to say his "kamsahamnida" (Thank you)... convincing the youngest to use his Korean words is like pulling teeth. 

What she gave my children happened to be these bizarre snacks that taste like banana candy but have the shape and texture of cheese puffs.  I have to admit, they're weirdly delicious.   Youngest boy loves them now and apparently had to have them on his last stop at Seoul Mart.  

The folks over there have obviously integrated well enough into American society.  They seem happy.  They speak English at a functional level, at least.  Their son was hanging out around the counter with a few school chums (of various races but all boy!) last time I was there.  Clearly a nice family.  But they're obviously grateful when we make an attempt at their language.   Sometimes just a Korean "thank you" is greeted with exhuberence beyond what would be expected. 

And I'm grateful too, that my youngest can hear his first language and be so welcomed by his first culture.   So many internationally adopted kids become cultural orphans.  We don't speak Korean with him.  I'm a very limited Korean cook.  We haven't yet taken him back for a visit.  They say its hard to go back as a young adult because everyone expects that they know the culture and language, when they don't.  They're Americans in Korean skin. 

But at least my little guy has the chance to hear the language, if not to always understand.  Like every Korean boy, he hates his hanbok, loves mandu.   He counts in Korean, with a different sort of accent, neither truly Korean nor truly not.  

But at least Korea won't seem totally weird when he goes.  At least he knows other people who stand along the wide bridge that goes between American culture and Korean.  And he's learning to explore, not just where he comes from or even where he's going but that there's a wide wide world out there full of fascinating people and places.

And maybe once in a while, banana cheetos aren't such a bad plan.

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