Hotteok, homosexuality, and hangukal

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My mind is reeling.

Tonight I had my last Korean class. Some time ago, I told my teacher that one of my favorite Korean foods is hotteok, which is basically a cinnamon and sugar and nut filled pancake (think about it, how could that not be one of my favorite Korean foods?) Anyways, for my last class and for my birthday, my teacher totally surprised me when she brought boxes of hotteok mix, got out her portable gas burner (every Korean owns at least one), and proceeded to teach us how to make some of the best traditional Korean food.

But then, she had a culture question and things got really real, really fast.

Kati, Tasha-si, do you know anybody who is… gay? 

And so, we told her everything we know as slowly and carefully as she explained the process of making hotteok. Actually, we might have explained it even more carefully. Our Korean teacher is Christian, and she knows that Kati and I are both Christian, so we talked about that, too. We talked all about homosexuality, and Christianity, and the church, and Korea and America and how it must feel and the conversation ended right where it needed to; on love.

You see, homosexuality is still very taboo in Korea. People don’t talk about it and in fact, some people insist that it doesn’t exist here which is far, far, far from the truth.

Our teacher literally had to sit down when we told her that our friend, who is also her student and who would have been there tonight had it not been for another appointment, is gay. She had no idea, but of course we had known that all along. She had been thinking for sure that she didn’t know anybody who was gay and I think she expected that a gay person would have purple skin and walk on all fours. We gently reminded our teacher about how kind and sweet and normal our friend is. That being gay is just one aspect of another person’s life and maybe you don’t relate to it but it doesn’t make them totally unrelatable.  I mean, after we told her, our teacher literally kept knocking things over and I had to take over some of the hotteok making. It’s funny how something that has become simple and common and not a big deal in America is still crazy and mind spinning here in Korea.

I don’t know how to end this little vignette in any other way than saying that I love my Korean teacher. I always have. I love her for remembering that I like hotteok even though it was months ago that we talked about it. I love her for slipping in her culture questions every chance she gets. I love her for always making us coffee and tea and feeding us endless snacks and seeming worried when we don’t eat. I love her for asking us about our love lives and giving us stern warnings about Korean men (you were right, teacher…) And I love that she cares enough to ask questions like this.

I don’t regret a single minute I spent studying Korean this last year. I only wish I could have studied more. And to be honest, I wish I could have had more conversations like this. I’ve missed real talk like this.

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