Doenjang-jjigae and Oppa.

I'm pretty pleased with myself at the moment.

I hiked to the store today after school, even though I was very tempted to just go home. And in the store, I found every last ingredient I needed to make my first feeble attempt at cooking Korean food. I'm starting with the stews because, from what little I know about Western cooking, stews are pretty hard to fuck up. Plus, it's December. It's cold. It's stew season. And even though even I know the cafeteria food is dire, it still thrills my soul to find a thick spicy stew in the pot at the end of the line, instead of fish soup of some kind. So.

It was weird. I've been all up and through that grocery store once or twice a week since I got here, but I really don't feel like I saw a fraction of what was right in front of my face until I was really looking. It's actually quite simple, now that I have a vague idea of what to do with all of the ingredients.

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the odd habit of people peering into the foreigner's grocery basket at the store. I don't know what that's about, other than pure unadulterated curiosity. Anyway, this was the first time I didn't feel ashamed when it happened, given that there was actual food in there.

I also got a new coffee mug. I can't remember if I posted a picture of my "It's fine day." mug or not, but the new one says, "COFFEE LATTE" and underneath, "they who keep my free time rich". I have a feeling this is going to become an addiction akin to the playing cards. For a long stretch of time, I couldn't stop myself from buying a deck of playing cards whenever I saw them. Now it's these stupid mugs.

Anyway, now I'm just hanging around drinking coffee and smoking and waiting, because for some reason completely beyond me, the mushrooms have to soak in water for an hour. I was shocked at how easily I made it through the grocery store, given that anytime I would try to cook anything specific at home, I would get frustrated looking for all the little ingredients and give up quite easily. But I really don't hold out much hope for how this will turn out. I'll keep you posted.

Today I got dong-saenged by Mr. Kwan. I had a feeling that was coming. I don't know how I feel about it.

A little sketchy background for those who don't know -- I'm only just learning about the concept myself. It's not done to call an elder by their first name here. Some of my Korean acquaintances have made it clear that they aren't fussed about it, but introducing themselves with their first names and telling me repeatedly to call them by them, my main coteacher included. All the same, I feel a little iffy about that even at home.

As I was explaining to Mike over dinner on Saturday, I was raised in a very strict "no ma'am" "yes sir" environment, so it's not an entirely foreign concept to me. To give an example, I still avoid calling Stephanie's parents by their first names, because it feels a little strange to me. Now, friends are a different ballgame. If someone is strictly my friend, first names it is -- no matter how much older they are. All the same, since I know there is an issue about this here, but am not quite sure how much of one yet, Mrs. Kim is still Mrs. Kim and not Mi-kyeong. And anyone more than a few years older but only a coworker or an acquaintance, I won't call by their first name. Mr. Kwan's friend S is an exception, since she introduced herself to me using only one part of her Korean name as an English name, and even corrected Mr. Kwan when he called her by her full name to me. She clearly has a strong preference for me to call her by that particular name.

Anyway, when two people of different ages are close friends here, they will call each other "brother" or "sister". There are several different words for this. For younger brother or sister, it's the same: dong-saeng. For an older sister, as called by a younger brother, it's noona. For an older sister, as called by a younger sister, it's unni. For an older brother, as called by a younger brother, it's hyung. And for an older brother, as called by a younger sister, it's oppa.

Anyway, Mr. Kwan assumed I didn't know anything about this and simply explained it as "brother" and "sister". He didn't say "oppa" and I, in turn, didn't mention the word in response, because of how I mentioned a bit too much attention being paid to us during lunch time by others. I didn't want it to be overheard by anyone.

Here's the thing. I'm a Westerner and I'm coming at this from a Western point of view. Unni, noona, and hyung I have no issues with. Oppa. Oppa I don't know. I don't know how to explain this. As a Westerner, to me it has a certain connotation -- one I'm not entirely comfortable with. The idea of the brother/sister relationship is that the elder will care for the younger. As Mr. Kwan explained to me previously, he will always pick up the tab when we go out because he is the elder.

Anyway, I don't really feel comfortable talking about this until I'm more knowledgeable. Let's just say that what I know of "oppa" and the ways it seems to be commonly used today makes me a bit uncomfortable. I very much like the traditional idea of it. But I think the meaning of that particular term is changing a bit. If there were a way for me to use "hyung" and not seem ridiculous, I would. But then, that's me. I'm always more comfortable when I can somehow manage to step out of the male/female roles.

At any rate, I'm not entirely convinced we're at a dong-saeng/oppa level yet. I know there are some Korean women who will "oppa" every older man they meet, unless it's "ajusshi" (term for a much older man). Oppa's not something I feel comfortable just throwing around. Especially given that "annyeonghaseyo" still sticks in the throat a bit. I've often times referred to Gary as an older brother, for example, but we know each other extremely well, have known each other for several years, and he really does feel like an older brother to me, petty bickering and all. Mr. Kwan is the closest thing I have to an oppa here, so far, but that doesn't mean....

Ah. Whatever. I'm going to try this stew now.

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