Ilsu's Family

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The wedding of Kaz and Ilsu


      Before I talk about the pictures I want to start by talking a little about family. Visiting my new family in Korea has brought many realizations to my mind. My experience with the Korean culture reveals that the family focuses greatly on bonds and generosity within the family. That not to say that Koreans love their families more than Americans do, they just express their love differently. Furthermore I am not going to say that I fully understand all the ramifications of Korean family culture. However, I must mention that Ilsu’s family went to great lengths to make me feel comfortable. Even those who were not terribly excited about our wedding made me feel very welcome. As I mentioned Americans express their love differently as well the expression of their personal boundaries.
      I also am aware that there are many American families that have closer ties to their country of immigration. Ilsu is a perfect example of an American citizen who is a cultural blend of Korean and American. Although I must say she is mostly Korean when it comes to her expression of culture. Furthermore, her expression encourages me to be more culturally Korean. However, I am very far from being Korean furthermore, I have to say it is probable that my heritage from Eastern Europe may have some bearing on how I view things.
    For an example of our cultural differences: One evening when Ilsu and I first met we went out to a store to buy some ice cream to take home to eat. While we were in the store I asked her what kind of ice cream would she like. She said that she wasn’t hungry enough for me to purchase any for her. However, I was excited about pigging out so I bought a pint for myself to enjoy. Now here is the twist; when we got home I had just started to eat my ice cream, when she ran over to stick her spoon into it. With surprise I said, "hey this is my ice cream! I gave you a chance! furthermore; I would have bought you a truck load to eat if you would have just expressed your desire". As an American of eastern European descent I earmarked this pint for me … it was mine. In Korea this is just complete insanity! There is no such thing, between lovers, as my ice cream. To many Americans this makes perfect sense but not to a Korean they see this as total selfishness. Thus I have learned to offer her the first bite of everything I eat.
     As I had mentioned there were some in her extended family who was not exactly thrilled with the idea of our marriage and believe it or not, I can be sympathetic with them. What the problem stems from is that Ilsu’s family tree is documented to thirty-one generations and never in the history of this family has anyone married outside of Korea! Thirty-one generations is amazing feat in itself to me as an American. America is made of renegades from other countries that ran from oppression, famine, prison or maybe they just wanted a little more freedom. Our ancestors generally left it all behind to embark on a new life and a new family cut off from the ‘old country’. I do have some family history documented by one of my mother’s grandfathers, impresive as it is , it is not much compared to the multi-volumed family tree that the Min family has assembled. In addition, the Min family is of noble position in the Korean culture. There is only one Min family in Korea and it has produced four Korean Queens. The last Queen Min was in power at the time of the last Japanese invasion. It turns out that Japan sent thugs over to assassinate her. They broke into the royal palace drug her outside and hacked her to death and torched her body. Here is a memorial in her name and here is an interesting news report sheding light on her murder.  So when it comes to tradition, I do understand the family concerns but then again, I have to say that by bucking the system speaks of the strength and audacity of my wife. Now I have to step aside and make a point before I embarrass myself --- I do want to mention that Ilsu’s immediate family has expressed none of this. In fact they have expressed just the opposite to the point of being angelic.  Furthermore from what I gather, Ilsu’s father if he were alive would be totally behind Ilsu’s decision. Due to me mentioning the Japanese aggression I want to take a moment to talk a little about Ilsu’s mother’s side of the family.  Ilsu’s mother’s father was a wealthy fishing merchant with a fleet of ships used to fish the coasts of Korea.  When the Japanese came into Korea they dismantled his business seized his ships and took all the possessions of the family.  Ilsu’s uncle, the oldest of her grandfather’s sons, joined the resistance to play havoc on the Japanese occupation.  The Japanese in return tortured Ilsu’s grandfather daily for information on the whereabouts of his son. However, they returned her grandfather home at night so that thier torture was visible only to the family.  Ilsu’s uncle disappeared, never to be seen, and eventually her grandfather died from the daily torture.  Ilsu is a very strong woman however, her mother being tempered from those experiences is a flower made of steel, yet I must say that when you meet her you only experience the flower.
     As far as our trip was concerned we flew into the airport at Inchun which is a city west and adjacent to Seoul. Ilsu’s brother Soolgee took us to Ilsu’s mothers house in the city of Chunan or Cheonan. On the second day I was there we traveled from the city of Chunan to the city of Noan San.
     The Min family owns a mountain in Noan San which is the site for the family cemetery occupied only by the Min family. We set out that day to go to the cemetery to pay respect to the ancestors.  This was one of the most foreign and amazing tasks I have ever experienced.
     The picture below is taken from the north side of the mountain and shows the north view. You can see the Noan San farmlands in the valley. Down in that valley I saw a small pavilion that I was told had been had donated by the Min family to the farm workers to provide them with shelter at their convenience. It is actually visible in the picture however; it is so small that it appears as a red dot.
     If Ilsu is correct this cemetery honors the memory of at least fifteen generations of the Min family. That is a very long time! I may add that these are just the males in the family. Once a female has been married she it part of the grooms family and has no right to the family cemetery. In other words my wife Ilsu will be buried in some cow pasture in Oklahoma. Oh how glorious! ;)
     I can not describe the feeling I had while walking around this cemetery. The sensation of culture, the history of generations, and the extreme sense of family were overwhelming. As I walked around the cemetery at Noan San I felt as though all of these men were watching me. As I strolled by the tombs, generations of curious eyes watched me passively. I felt a deep sense of commitment and responsibility to my new family. All of the noble oriental ideals that I hold dear were pressing my senses … duty, honor and loyalty. I know there are those out there that would say here is a man with an imagination lost. Then I must ask, are you sure that it is not an imagination found! The logical veracity of these feelings is debatable but the aggregate feeling functions the same from both perspectives. I feel a tremendous sense of family woven through the tapestry of time and culture. Here is a family with bones! Here is a family with Structure. I feel a tremendous responsibility to match the pride of this family. I have my work cut out for me however, the idea of these men watching me will serve as a metaphor to help me with my task. I will receive strength from these men in a form the vast majority of Americans can never experience. I am grateful.

Min Mountain

The picture above with the adjoining land was my first view of the cemetery.  The picture below is a view of the mountain looking south. Notice the people in the left side of the picture. Those are my brother and sister in-law with their two children. When the picture was taken we had just finished a ritual honoring my deceased father in-law and grandfather in-law.

Min Mountain looking south east

The picture below is me real-time in the ritual honoring my grandfather in-law.

Paying respect to my father inlaw

The picture below is taken above the cemetery from the pavilion.

Looking down from the pavilion

The following picture shows a closer view of the tomb stones as well as a nice example of a Korean tope (pronounced ‘top’) A top, stupa and pagoda are all related.

graves and tope

  As I mentioned before the Min family has a close relationship with the city of Noan San.  The city wished to give something back to the family so they built a monolith and pavilion on the east side of the mountain. The picture below shows them just a bit before a chilly sundown on January 13, 2007.

East Min Mountain

    Here is a picture (below) of Ilsu and I in front of the monolith. You may notice that the monolith (above) is positioned on top of a dragon-turtle.  The dragon is a symbol of vitality, courage and determination and the turtle is a symbol of longevity.  The pavilion is a place for the family to gather.

Ilsu and I at the multilith

    Ilsu’s deceased father would have been the oldest in the family and I am saddened that he was not able to come to our wedding. Since Ilsu’s father was unable to attend the wedding it left the position open to the oldest male in the family.  Ilsu’s uncle presently is the oldest male of the Min family and holds the highest esteem. He is our figurehead for our family and demands the highest respect. I was hoping he would have been able to honor our wedding but unfortunately he was not able to attend and his oldest son Hongi filled his fathers position at the wedding.  I must add that no one in my family was able to attend as well due to my parents are to elderly to make such a long trip. In the picture below are Ilsu, her Uncle and Aunt.


    The picture below is of Ilsu’s parents and nanny. Her mother is on the right and her nanny is on the left.

Parents and Ilsu

     The Koreans have a special party when their children reach the age of one. This following is a picture of Ilsu and her mom in the midst of her first birthday celebration.

Ilsu and Mom

    Here is Ilsu showing off her driving skills with her fearless sister Ogee on the spacious passenger deck.

Ilsu and Okee

    What seems odd to me concerning these old pictures of Ilsu is that she looks the same now as she did then. Or at least I should say that she looks more like her baby pictures than anyone else with whom I have made a baby picture comparison. Here is my lovely wife pondering what she wants to be when she grows up.

My Baby the Countess Ilsu

    The next six pictures below are of my new nephews and nieces the first two are daughters of her sister Okgee and her husband Chongook. The picture below is of my niece So Young. So Young is a very bright young lady.

So Young

    And this sweet little girl is Sue Min

Soo Min

    One interesting note about the names of Korean families is that part of their name identifies the generational position that person occupies within the family.  This is more prevalent among males than females.  For instance; Ilsu’s fathers name was Pyongyur. Pyong is the generational name in which it follows that Ilsu’s uncle also has Pyong in his name. Ilsu’s brothers have the name “gee” or sometimes pronounced “kee” Soolgee and Daegee are the brothers of Ilsu. Her male cousins are Hongee, Dugee, Boongee, Oongee Soukee, Joongee, Changee,  and Jungee. With females sometimes it is used and sometimes it is not.  You may notice Ilsu’s name is not however, her sister Okgee is. The generational name for our children is Kyong.


    This little cool cat above has the moniker of Kyongbien and his darling little sister below is Chaeyoung. These are the children of Ilsu's brother Daegee and his wife Kyongsook



    The happy little fellow above is Kyongyoung. He always has a smile on his face … that is unless he is posing for a picture ;) Below is his big brother Kyongjin. Kyongjin is quite the gentleman and may soon be a soccer star. These are the children of Ilsu’s brother Soolgee and his wife Unhee.


     One last thing of interest concerning family names is that the family members are identified and called by their position in the family as opposed to their name.  Where we have just the words uncle and aunt the Koreans have a name meaning father’s older brother’s wife and a different name for father’s younger brother’s wife or older sister’s husband as well as a different name for younger sister’s husband or older brother’s wife etc.  This is all very complex to us westerners and the flip side is that our system is confusing to the Koreans because they are expecting some delineation among position.
 Example: Ilsu is called Komo and I am called Komoboo by Ilsu’s brother’s children and Ilsu is called Emo and I am called Emoboo by Ilsu’s sister’s children.

    Hey look its Komoboo and the boys! (Notice you now know that none of the children belong to Ilsu's sister just by the name Komoboo)

Me and the boys

     The following three pictures are snapshots from the city of Cheonan where Ilsu was raised.  Ilsu did not want me to include these pictures on the website because there is nothing of interest in these pictures. However, that may be true from a Korean perspective but from an American perspective I find them quite informative.  The top picture is of the Chunan street market. Street markets are rare in the United states and of the ten cities I have lived in I can only think of one in Philadelphia. However, I did see one outside of the states in Dublin Ireland when I was living in England.

Chunan street market

     The following picture is a small detail of the fish market. Korea has huge fresh fish markets where you can get about anything that lives in the ocean.  Many westerners turn their nose at some of these foods exclaiming they are too bizarre.  Well I must mention we in the west have our bizarre foods as well.  Have a go at black pudding in England or haggis in Scotland not to mention snails in France or squab and squirrels here in the states. Furthermore don’t forget the stench of some cheese. Many are one notch away from the smell of stinky feet while others are a notch away from the smell of manure.  I may seem a bit insecure on this issue however spending my formative years in Oklahoma it gives me a certain perspective.

Chunan Fish Market

   Here is a picture shot at night on the streets of Chunan.

Chunan at night



      If you have any questions or comments I would be happy to answer them. You can contact me by the link below.


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