The last time I visited my mother at her home in Virginia, I made an interesting observation. One morning we were sitting in the kitchen and talking. As she was making fresh kimchi and I was drinking coffee, our conversation was interrupted by the sound of beeping, and then by a Korean woman’s voice. I realized that these sounds were coming from my mother’s rice cooker, which was sitting on the counter by the sink. But this wasn’t just any rice cooker, it was digital, and it was telling her that the rice was ready to eat.
You probably think that having a Korean-speaking digital rice cooker is either very funny or very weird, but I was raised with one in my home my entire life, and it’s perfectly normal to me. In fact, I started to think about many things that have always been in my mother’s home that are normal to me, but may seem peculiar to outsiders. They all have something to do with my mother’s Korean heritage, and they are infused into every aspect of her life. Most Korean parents have these things in their home, as they serve as reminders of their culture. Their children carry these things into their own home, as I have, because they are a reflection of their parents.
I decided to take pictures and share a little bit about ten particular things that I found in my single Korean mother’s home. These can also be found in most any Korean parent’s home. I hope that they will educate those who may not know about them, and also bring a smile to the faces of other Koreans/Asians who share a similar story.
1. Rice Cooker
Every Korean mother owns a digital rice cooker because she will make a meal consisting of rice at least once a day. A rice cooker is easier to use than a stove, it makes the perfect sticky rice and it keeps the rice warm throughout the day. I learned at a young age how to prepare the perfect batch of rice: rinse and drain the rice at least three times until the water is clear, and then lay your hand down flat so that just enough water covers the top of it. I have always had my own rice cooker, and even to this day I refuse to eat rice that isn’t cooked in it. I have even trained my American-Canadian husband how to use it!
2. A Drawer Full of Chopsticks and Rice Spoons
Everyone Korean parent who has a rice cooker must also have several rice spoons, which are specifically made to scoop out rice. My mother has both the plastic and wooden variety, which can also be said about her collection of chopsticks. Notice that the chopsticks also come in varying lengths. This was great for me when I was growing up because they adjusted as my hands got bigger and less clumsy.
3. A Korean Calendar
This particular calendar, which is hanging in my mother’s kitchen next to her instant coffee, is from a Korean market. It features pictures of popular Korean dishes. She also has one from a Korean restaurant hanging in her pantry, and one from a Korean realtor sitting on the counter of the dry cleaners that she works at. The good thing is that whenever I visit my mother, I always know what day it is. The bad thing is that when I look at the date, I get hungry.
4. Kimchi Fridge
As you probably already know, Koreans can’t go a day without eating kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage side dish. Despite its tastiness, kimchi is chock full of garlic and other smelly ingredients, so its aroma will overpower everything around it. That’s why most Koreans have a separate fridge for their kimchi, and they keep it outside or in a garage. This is my mother’s fridge, which is located on the back porch next to the grill. Fact: no smell hits you harder than opening a fridge full of kimchi that also has an uncovered pot of kimchi soup in it!
5. An Entrance Full of Slip-On Shoes
In Korea it is customary to take off your shoes before you enter a home, so that is how parents raise their children. The younger generation of Koreans who were raised in America usually leave sneakers, flip flops or boots in front of an entrance. Most of their parents leave slip-on shoes here because they are more convenient and easier to wear. Like my mom, whose shoes are above, they usually have multiple pairs, which end up stockpiled in the doorway and make for a fun game of “find your shoes” when you want to leave.
6. Korean Artwork
All Korean parents have some sort of image reminiscent of Korea hanging in their home. They most likely brought it back from Korea, which makes it even more valuable to them. This is a picture of a woman wearing a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress, which we have had ever since I was a young child. It was brought back during the mid ‘80s when we moved from Korea to Virginia, and my mother has hung it up in every home she has owned since then.
Speaking of hanbok, this is one that my mother keeps in her closet. A hanbok is often worn during special occasions, like a first birthday, wedding, funeral or festival. They come in all colors and sizes, but most consist of a jeogori (upper garment similar to a jacket) and a chima (skirt) for women and baji (pants) for men. You can also wear a po (coat or robe) with it. All Korean parents get one for themselves and their children. Even though my mother has never worn this, she keeps it in her closet in case of a special occasion. I considered wearing it when I got married last year, but I didn’t think it was appropriate for my Hawaiian beach wedding.
8. Korean Furniture
Just like Korean artwork is a must-have in the home, so is Korean furniture. Whether it’s a dresser, table, chair, or cabinet, it’s usually pretty obvious that it wasn’t made in America. You can often tell by the intricacy of the design and the overall craftsmanship. This is a vanity with mother of pearl that my mother has had for over twenty years. She brought it back from Korea, and I haven’t seen anything like it in furniture stores I’ve visited.
9. Korean Videos
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. These are actual VHS tapes that my 68-year-old mother rents from the Korean market and watches in her bedroom. She rents them for twenty-five cents each, for an unlimited number of days, and can’t go a weekend without watching them. My mom may be a bit old school with the VHS tapes, as some parents probably watch CDs, the internet or cable TV, but this is definitely something that all Korean parents do. Why would they watch “American Idol” when they can watch the Korean equivalent in their native tongue and laugh at you and your friends as you try to understand what’s going on?
10. Korean Karaoke
I leave you with this last image because it’s a personal favorite of mine. I don’t know what it is, but Koreans love karaoke, and if they’re not singing it in a restaurant or a bar, most of them are enjoying it in the comfort of their own home. We’ve had a Korean/American machine since I was in middle school, and it was always pulled out during holidays like Thanksgiving as a way to liven up the party. I personally think that some Korean parents use it because they think they’re rock stars, and others use it to embarrass their children. Whatever the purpose, every performance leaves a lasting impression.
These are just a few of things that are found in every Korean parent’s home. Others include: an electric heating pad, a yo (a mattress pad that is used to sleep on), a folding floor table, several oversized bowls for making kimchi and unlimited amounts of rice, soy sauce and ginseng tea. So tell me, are any of these things found in your own home?