Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tragedy of the kirŏgi appa

Space Nakji got me thinking again about the concept of the kirŏgi father, or "wild goose" parent, who sends their spouse and children off to live in another country, usually for education. It is one of a number of family archeyptes where a married Korean couple ends up living for a long period of time, typically several years, separated by hundreds or usually thousands of miles of land and ocean. (In the past, it was not uncommon for a husband to go off to another country for work or study while the wife and kids stay in Korea.)

I have some definite opinions about these long-common family situations, and this may offend some people. I think there are a lot of married couples willing to be split apart for work-related reasons, arising from back when marriages were set up or between two people who otherwise really didn't know each other WELL before they got married (despite dating in a coffee shop once a week for six whole months!), and afterward they really find that they don't share much in common, including a deep, longing love for the other.

For such couples, living apart is not that hard, and it's even a welcome relief, a respite from the routine grind of being with someone with whom you share little more than a bed, a house, and an occasional romp in the sack.

And so many people end up in these trans-oceanic marriages that Koreans in general end up thinking it's "normal" or "okay" to subject one's marriage to this. The dysfunctional becoming normative.

So even people who DO have that deep, longing love for their spouse end up thinking, "Yeah, maybe I should live in Dallas for three years to help my career," thinking that if others can endure time apart from their spouse, so can I.

But they can't. It only works for people who lack true love in their marriage. People who do have that true love of their spouse find out they have subjected themselves to years of hell! "Why didn't anyone warn me this was going to be so hard?" they scream inside themselves. Because for so many other people doing this, it's not.

Those others have a heart that is frost-bitten—toward their spouse, at least—and they hand you a poker and say, "Look, hit me there!" to show you they don't feel a thing, and you think to yourself, "Hey, am I the same way?" but when you get stabbed with a sharp poker, it hurts like a muther fu¢ker because your heart is not frost-bitten.

Pity those in Korea in love with their spouse, because they are in a world where marriage is a sham—romantically at least—that is just designed to further the aims of the in-laws, surrounded by people who got married out of familial or social obligation.

They live in a world where so many marriages exist just to exist, not to be an expression of love, and their loving relationship is under constant assault by frost-bitten married people who give them bad advice about what is acceptable in marriage, or worse, people who would undermine their marriage with thoughts that cheating is okay, sex outside of your marriage is okay as long as you're not unfaithful with thoughts of love for someone else.

Pity the people who truly love their spouse, but were convinced by others' words and actions that it's okay to subject your marriage to one of the worst traumas imaginable for a happy life together. It is like poisoning with arsenic. It is a blow to the marriage, and it often ends up being one that, if it doesn't kill it, leaves the once-happy marriage permanently maimed when the two kirŏgi are finally reunited.


  1. few weeks ago, I was introduced to president of this mid-sized korean bio-tech company. A very pleasent, smart chap.
    Anyway after the meeting, we went out for dinner and was talking about business and what not..and the subject turned into drinking habit.. bio-tech guy says how he isn't much of a drinker but ever since he sent his wife and kids to canada(why?), he's become very lonely and started drinking wine to pass the time..
    Space and you talking about the subject suddenly reminded me of this
    otherwise cheery chap suddenly making a sad face when talking about his wife and kids living in canada..

    offtopic, but why do they send'em to canada?

  2. He obviously wasn't very keen on them... Only bad people go to Canada ;-)

  3. Nothing wrong with being a romantic fool. Sometimes romance is the only thing keeping your head in the clouds...


Share your thoughts, but please be kind and respectful. My mom reads this blog.