Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My New Secret Society

Ok, so it may not be the Skulls, but I am now (unofficially) in Ms. Han's Keh. A keh, from my understanding, is a group of people, generally professionally or socially linked, who can borrow money from eachother, then pay it back. It's a way for people to get help without having to deal with banks. There's also some element of gambling involved where one person "wins" at each meeting, but I'm unclear on this part. I'll have Taeha explain it to me tomorrow. They all started back when Korea was an agrarian society and people relied heavily on eachother in the case of death or whatever problem. They formed these small groups to look after one another, sometimes it's your turn to help, and sometimes you're gettin the help.

Let me back up. On Tuesday Ms. Han, Mr. Pang, and I met for our usual Tuesday meetings. Ms. Han asked if I was free, and I was until 7 (haha love Tuesdays!) so she asked me to come along with her for a while. First we went to her office, then her friend's store to return some things (where I have been before and she has awesome jewelry for wholesale prices. I definitely have to pick something up before I leave!), then took a taxi to Namdaemun where I watched her show samples of stones to one of her customers. All very enlightening about what it is to be in the jewelery business. Afterwords we went out to lunch, for guess what! Daegutang! Twice in two days, asa! She seemed more upbeat and we didn't really have a chance to talk about her husband, but she seemed content with how busy she was at work.

Flashforward to Thursday's meeting. Mr. Pang is in China so it was just the Hanster and I. I helped her with some business problems and emails, and then she started telling me of her friend who was in a similiar situation to her. The woman ran her own store, her husband works at Samsung, but basically takes her money and piddles it away while she's working 12 hours and raising kids. She said her friend asked for a divorce as well, and recieved the same answer her husband gave her, "just wait a while longer." hmm. So things don't seem to be better on that front, but I think she's gaining the confidence to leave him. She's noticably proud of all of the work she's done recently to grow HER business which she started 11 years ago without his help!

Anyway, she has a meeting with one of her two keh's at 12:30. This keh is all friends and they all work in the jewelry industry in Jongno. So I go on my way and get a phone call a few minutes later. She mentioned to them that I didn't have plans so they all invited me to come to their lunch meeting! I walk in and it's Ms. Han and 6 men, all 40s+, sitting on the floor around a large table, beer's in the middle. ha I like this keh already. Not one of them, except Ms H., speaks a lick of English. One man, Ahn Ok Hyeun, I met a few weeks ago with Ms. Han and we all had lunch and tea. This guy is hilarious. He has full on conversations with me, knowing I have not a clue what he's saying, and at the end just laughs and says, "ok?" Then asks how much soju I can handle, which in truth is 0, but I say about two bottles, he laughs and says he can down 5. To be fair he's a big guy. And Korean. Unfair advantage. They all sit around chatting, sometimes noticably about me, and I just observe. There's lot's of gesturing, smiling and nodding, and very little understanding of what the hell is going on around you. :)

Now let's talk about the food. First I sit down and there's salads, fish/lettuce/pickle wraps (so Korean to put a pickle on anything), sushi rolls, shrimp sushi, kimchi, sweet potato salad, japchae and some soup out. Then came the large plate (one of each side of the table) of raw shell fish (penisy fish, fish eggs, octopus, and other unidentifiable things) and a huge plate of spicy squid salad, which is my new favorite thing in the whole world! Then comes the sashimi. Two whole fish served with kaesip (sesame leaves) and lettuce leaves for wraps, samjang (spicy red sauce), jalepenos, wasabi, and garlic. Then in typical Korean fashion, just as you're reaching your max, out comes the next course of pumpkin and shrimp tempura, hot bulgogi (beef) served on a mushroom, and two huges pots of the leftover fish in a spicy soup. Then they put ramyeon in the soup! Somehow I even managed to finagle my way out of eating rice without comment. That's a feat, especially among this group of boistrous men...and Ms. Han! It was amazing. Amazingly healthy, and totally entertaining. They asked if I would joing their keh, I said yes, and the whole table clapped for me! I felt so special! The best part of it all is they're having their official (I guess?) meeting on Saturday in Myeondong at the Sejeong Hotel, and have requested my presence! Food, you say? Booze, you say? Of course I'm coming!! I can't even count the amount of amazing experiences I've had with Ms. Han. She really has served as a social embassador of Korea to me, as well as a great friend/mentor.

Tomorrow is one check off the long list of crap to do before I leave. Dentist time. This will be my first cleaning in about 2 years and the first time back since I got my new teeth. Finger's crossed everything's ok. So that's Friday, study and Keh on Saturday (while everyone else will be at the pool), and Sunday evening Paul and I are going to the opera! I have never been and he's a good sport, so he agreed to come with me to see Tosca. I asked the ticket lady if people dressed up, she kind of laughed at me and said no, but that won't deter me. I'm going full on!

2 beers deep on a Thursday afternoon, must be time to go study. Late.

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