The Hanbok Saga

September 2015

“Look, Janine, I have hanbok!”

Su Bin held up a large yellow box, her smile stretching from ear to ear. Inside the box, Su Bin had the entire ensemble for a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress. She told me she was going to wear it to an audition in Seoul and that she would send me a picture.

“I can’t wait to see it,” I answered. “I think hanbok is so beautiful. Maybe I will buy one before I leave Korea.”

Su Bin turned to Host Mom, who was sitting in the kitchen, and said something in Korean. Host Mom smiled widely and said something to me: the only word I understood was “birthday.”

“My mother wants to give you hanbok for your birthday!” Su Bin translated excitedly.

That’s such a big gift! I thought. It would be very generous of her, but I assumed she would forget by the time my birthday came around in December.


December 2015

“I travel soon in January,” I told Ye Bin, giving her my itinerary for my trip to Vietnam and Thailand.

“When you come back?”

“February 4.”

“Okay. When you come back, we buy hanbok.”


February 2015

During the winter break, I met Host Mom at her fitness center so we could go to Busan and buy a hanbok together. Hanbok is usually custom-made, so I had to choose which colors I wanted and have my measurements taken. Host Mom does not drive, so a friend of hers offered to take us. One friend turned into three friends, and the five of us went to a hanbok shop.

Once there, I stepped into the dressing room and changed into the large slip that you wear under the hanbok. I stood on a stool as the shop owner showed me a few different colors.

Paransaek johahae,” Host Mom said. She likes blue.

Choosing a turquoise jacket and a bright pink skirt, the shop owner helped me dress, as Host Mom and her friends cooed, “Yeppeuda!” So pretty.

Despite being a teacher and having students look at me all day, I feel uncomfortable being the center of attention. I liked the colors of this hanbok, and after trying a few more, chose the blue jacket and pink skirt. I was relieved when the shop owner finished measuring me and ushered me off to the dressing room to change back into my jeans. While I was changing, Host Mom chose the accessories to accompany the hanbok (tassels, shoes, a purse). We left the shop, ate noodles together, and went home.


July 2016

As I started packing my suitcase, I realized that we never picked up my hanbok. Ye Bin had mentioned it recently, but Host Mom had been so busy that we had not gone back to Busan to claim it. Last week, it was delivered to our home and Ye Bin said she wanted to take pictures with me. So, here are a few!


This is me with my host nephews.



And this is me with Ye Bin.

I am overwhelmed by their generosity, and I will always treasure this beautiful part of Korean culture and expression of familial love.


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