The Hundred Dollar Question

It was lunar new year this month and while that doesn’t mean all that much when I’m in the States, it’s one of the two biggest holidays in Korea, a multi-day celebration. My grandmother on my mom’s side goes to my uncle’s place to observe the ritual of ancestral worship 제사 and I tag along since I am living with her. Leading up to the day of, relatives near and distant to me come visit our grandma to bring her money and gifts.

It was fun back in October for the other big holiday, 추석, a sort of Korean Thanksgiving, since I had just arrived to Seoul and was glad to experience the festivities I had been missing for years in the States. But the holidays also mean prying, annoying questions about marriage prospects (well, I guess that’s kind of all year round) from visitors and occasionally clueless, condescending comments about my career, which are not so fun.

Each holiday I receive cash, given in hundred thousand won—close to a hundred dollars—increments from aunts/uncles and my grandma. I haven’t seen an equivalent of a hundred dollar bill here though; they give them using 2 fifty thousand won bills. The fifty thousand won bill features Shin Saimdang who is, above her seemingly many talents from poetry to painting, noted for being a good wife and a wise mother.

Korean currency

I have a new rule: If you are going to ask me a personal, invasive question about my relationships, you should give me at least two of those be a good wife/mother bills—a hundred dollars. Typically direct relatives give me cash so this rule eliminates very distant relatives or meddling ahjummas/harmonis who have no place in asking such questions, though they seem to think it is their right. The questions are understandable coming from my aunts and my grandma, who I believe genuinely care for me and are not asking to be nosy or for gossip.

As an unmarried “kid” I’m still eligible for these allowances from the grown-ups, as I was telling my sister—like government assistance but family assistance. I think if I hustled and tried to hit up every relative, I could rake in a thousand bucks without too much effort.

But even for a thousand dollars, I would not care to put up with haughty comments or backhanded compliments about me and my family.

The next big holiday in September, I am making plans for a trip outside of the country.

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