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Mondays with Mom

Mondays with Mom: The Man of the House

Traditionally in Korea, the men are never in the kitchen. My husband is no exception to that. For as long as we have lived in the US, our attitudes concerning kitchen duties haven't changed that much.

In part because he is required to do more work outside of home including gardening and etc, and I spend more time inside at home, cleaning the house, and cooking. So a typical scene after work is that my husband first heads to the TV set in the family room, and I head toward the kitchen.

How did cooking become a woman's chore? I suppose there's this idea that cooking in Korea was not considered very manly. Men are supposed to work on the things that require more physical strength -- not that the cooking doesn’t require strength and effort, after all standing up while cooking all day can be very tiring. But overall cooking is probably less strenuous than working in the field.

But now I hear that the tradition is changing even in Korea, as the new households consists of just a husband, wife and the kids instead of the old days, where you had grandparents, parents and the kids. In other words, there are no more “in-laws” looking over your shoulder who can criticize what you do and don’t. And with the changing world everywhere, a lot of women in Korea need (or want) to go out to work to split the cost of the living.

I heard that some of the "matbuli bubu" (a working couple where both the husband and wife have jobs), the lifestyle has been changing. Men are trying to help with women’s chores -- including cooking -- since they both have to work. A lot of the salarymen who were mid-managers are involuntarily retiring, or getting phased out in order to make room for the younger generation, so, the women may be able to find more work, and it ends up being the men who stay home.  In those situations, of course the men will need to take care of more household chores, like going into the kitchen and cooking. So, the men’s roles either reversed or expanded into the traditional women’s territory – like taking care of the children, doing dishes, and even doing cooking – somewhat like here in America where stay at home dads are normal. 

These are for the younger generations. But for the older generations, like us, the values we grew up with are the ones we are stuck with. When we immigrated to United States in the 70’s, we brought our culture with us. Of course, the living conditions were very different, too: it was not possible for me to be a stay at home mom, almost all women had to help earn a living. So, first generation immigrant women worked outside of home, running a small business of some sort usually, on top of your traditional womanly chores!

The cooking part was always women’s role to do, with not much help from the men. My husband would at times cook ramyeon (ramen) for himself, his all time favorite food, but over the years, he ventured into cooking other dishes. One dish he makes from time to time is fish casserole. He throws in a bunch of fresh seafood: cod, clams, shrimps, scallops, muscles, and oysters – all the seafood you can put your hands on, he put in. Then he adds some vegetables, like onion, mushrooms, and cabbages – plus hot peppers, garlic and so on. All in all, it tasted good – and I give him the credit for the effort and praise him for the taste too (“Oh, it tastes good – you are quite a chef”), so he will cook it again soon. I will pretty much eat anything if I don’t have to cook!

He keeps saying that when he retires, he will start cooking, even go and take cooking classes. I can’t wait till then.

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