1. Rice was a-plentiful.
Growing up, I didn’t have the milk and cereal nonsense. For breakfast, it was rice with stew (or soup). For dinner, it was a derivative of rice and meat and kimchi. And you know what, this healthy, balanced diet kept me in my seat, instead of up and bouncing off the walls like those impetuous kids I called my classmates. Yeah, suck on that, 1st grade. This is how you get your teachers to love you.
2. Kimchi smell is embedded in your refrigerator.
Nothing screams “KOREAN” more than kimchi. As soon as you open the fridge back home, you’re slapped in the face by that pungent, oh-so-homey scent of fermenting cabbage and mouth-puckering peppery brine. And yes, we have it with every meal. Every. Meal.
Too bad we don’t have Smell-o-vision® here on the internets.
(Some of you might have a second fridge, universally known as the kimchi refrigerator.)
3. You have had a bowl-cut at least once growing up.
I am ashamed to say that yes, I sported this look when I was yea-high and yea-wide. (I was 5 years old.)
4. Family hierarchy was practiced in formal events and especially at the dinner table.
I’m not making this up: you couldn’t start eating until the oldest at the table started eating. You couldn’t talk to an elder unless they asked you a question.
5. Your mom is able to guilt you into doing anything.
Remember that time you accidentally dropped the vase…four years ago? She’ll bring that up and somehow get you to dress and go to the store to get olive oil.
6. Going to someone’s house meant bringing a box of fruits.
My mom would always get a box of Korean pears like this sucker here:
Or anything in a box, really. One time, my cousins brought over a box of Domino’s pizza, which was destroyed by my dad, who is a eating machine.
7. Fan death is real, at least, in your parents’ house.
I get a call every summer from my mom, warning me about sleeping in a room with a fan facing towards me. “At least open a window,” she’d say. Bless her heart. At least someone out there still loves me.
8. All your dad talks about with his friends is the Army (or god-forbid, the Navy or the Air Force).
My dad was in the army, so there. He’d get wasted and talk about all of the things they did (usually punishments they’ve doled out to grunts).
9. You have seen your mom haggle over things you didn’t know you could haggle over.
I’ve seen my mom try to talk down the price of something she had just bought, which she actually succeeded in doing.
10. Your parents swear that pricking your finger with a disinfected needle will cure you of indigestion.
And it actually works.
“You see?” my mom would say.
“Your blood is dark, that means you’re sick, but don’t worry, you’ll be fine in a few minutes.”
Having someone rub your back also helped a lot.
11. You’ve seen your dad walk around in a white tank top.
And he’d always have a faint smell of cigarettes.
12. Going to school was a priority.
Even if you were sick. I had to go to school, regardless of how sick I was. Seriously. I was a little chubby boy going to school with his little Jansport backpack with snot dribbling down his button nose.
13. Korean School.
Also affectionately known as, “I don’t want to go.”
One of the things my parents emphasized was that as a Korean, to be unable to read or speak your own mother tongue is shameful. (And pretty bad for any future children that I might have.) My mother convinced (guilt-tripped) me and my younger brother to go to Korean school. On a Saturday. Which mean I missed new episodes of Pokemon.
14. You were forced to take an instrument at a young age.
It’s the truth. I took piano lessons from the age of four until I started to rebel in my teens (14 or 15-years-old). My younger brother, on the other hand, got to exercise his creativity by going to art school instead and taking violin lessons, which is far more elegant than the piano (in my opinion).
15. Thanksgiving means turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing, mandoo, japchae — and of course, kimchi — you know, just the usual.
If you think your Thanksgiving filled you up, just come to one of my family’s Thanksgiving dinners. In addition to the stomach-filling mashed potatoes, turkey, stuffing and ham, we’ve added japchae, fried mandoo, kimchi on top of that. Add in some dduk and you have a tummy full of gluten, protein, carbs and kimchi.
Share your experiences with your family — Korean or not — in the comments below!