Love is in the air…apparently it should be anyway…
It’s Valentine’s Day of course, and if you’re reading this outside of Korea don’t be surprised that Korea has taken to the day of love – Korean’s generally love love, especially when they can sing a song about it.
Yes, on the international day of love Korea gets its hands dirty. For those of you in Korea, and especially those who teach in the millions of schools around the country, you know how those hands get dirty – chocolate!
Where ‘in the west’ (a term I keep hearing but I’m still confused which part of the west considering this is the far east) people, or should I say men, take the women out for a meal in a fancy restaurant, give them chocolates or flowers, possibly something sparkly or more all for about three times the usual price in a place twice to three times as busy as usual – love is tender, love is sweet, love doesn’t come cheap, but at least there’s a chance of a ride at the end of the night.
In Korea, Valentine’s Day is done differently.
“How can this be so” I hear you chirp with ears perked.
Well, on February 14th, it is not the man’s responsibility to prove his love for his woman. It is the woman’s opportunity to declare her intentions to the man she hopes will sweep her off her feet, which she does by giving chocolate to him.
In my single days in Korea no one ever gave me chocolate. If they had I would have eaten first and asked questions later. When I was unmarried and unengaged but happily with herself she surprised me with homemade chocolates and a watch, and since then I’ve gotten nothing. It doesn’t bother me; I like to stick to the way it’s done ‘in the west’ where I get to spoil her ridiculously and make her all embarrassed resulting in a ride at the end of the night.
After the woman declares her amorous intentions towards her fancied one she must wait. Wait for what? All that chocolate and all that advertising can hardly be just for one day? If you’ve been in Korea long enough you’ll know special days aren’t done in singles, but they are three-day events – a bit like the horses at the Olympics but with more chocolate and less oats.
Day 2 ‘White Day’ – Every question deserves an answer and a chance to sell more chocolate to elementary school kids and desperate teenagers. Exactly one month later, March 14th, the man must reply. Well, must is a bit strong, but if he is interested he should return the compliment with chocolate, thus sealing the deal and declaring ever-lasting love that results in marriage, a mortgage, a company job, two kids, hagwon bills, three mid-week drinking sessions a week, skiing in the winter, Gangwon-do beaches in the summer, all until they are too old to provide for each other anymore and their burden is lumped on the kids after they have filled their place in the circle of life instigated by the simple sharing of chocolate.
I remember the first time I heard about this chocolate sharing declaration of affection. I was in Korea about a year, in fact eleven months (I arrived on March 16th, 2005 and my first Valentine’s Day in Korea was February 14th, 2006), and I was teaching a class of middle-school kids. All day long I had seen kids sharing and begging for chocolate and thought nothing of it, it being a Koreanism of a tradition popular ‘in the west’. I wasn’t surprised to see one of the students with a few chocolate bars on her desk, so I asked her if she was going to share her love with the rest of the class. She went all red and kind of whimpered out that her intended recipient of the chocolate was in another class. Needless to say the rest of the class found this very entertaining, as did the class that the boy was in. He bravely kept a steady head and laughed it off. A month later I asked her if she had a result. She stayed very quiet.
Now, while neither of them was extremely handsome I’ll never know if they were right or wrong for each other. I reckon there was a clear clash of principles; the girl was only fourteen and quite excited by this her first chocolate giving and possibly her first school crush. The boy, about the same age, was in a class of practically all boys, loud and proud, who constantly competed with each other as is the rule with adolescent males of all species. I reckon there is a chance he buckled under the pressure – either give the girl a chance and go for a baskin robbins together, maybe a movie and possibly a grope in the dark while putting up with the five minute taunting and ridicule from the lads, or forget the ridicule, ice cream and grope and just play it cool with your head held high. Which would you have chosen?
I can only speak from the boy’s perspective because I know what it’s like. Maybe there was something else that I didn’t know. Only they know. Such is the way that people go.
Back to the three-day event. So we’ve had Valentine’s Day for the ladies to enquire and White Day for the lads to respond. If you’re feeling left out because nobody picked you, don’t worry there’s a day for you too – Black Day.
Black, the colour of mourning and despair, and it is name given to April 14th. The poor, gloomy, unloved and unwanted singles are not forgotten. On Black Day it is the custom – although I’ve never participated or really made an effort to find out if it’s true or not – for all the unwanted singles to go and eat jajangmyeong (짜장명) – Noodles with black bean sauce.
If you ask me though, for all those who are single and looking it’s a great way to go mate spotting: anyone with a rim of black around their lips, or skulking and looking all lonely and depressed outside a Chinese restaurant is bound to be single and gagging for a ride!