The Brother I Always Wanted

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Written by Marissa Lynn, ETA ’13-14

This entry originally appeared on a Fulbright grantee’s personal blog and is published with permission here. The views expressed in these entries are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fulbright Korea or the Infusion staff.

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I’ve always wanted a brother. My sister is tougher than 99.9% of men I know, but still I have this idealized image of what it would be like to have a protective older brother. Plus, I thought there would be the added benefit of having his friends around the house. Now I finally have a brother and it’s certainly not what I expected — a Korean fourth grader named Mingue (민교). Mingue’s an interesting fellow so I’m going to devote this post to our relationship.

Mingue exudes confidence. He has no trouble ordering me around in English, “Teacher, you go to bed now,” or “Teacher, you take shower now!” At first I had trouble taking orders from an 11 year old elementary school student, but I try to think of these demands as more of suggestions. At this point, his English level turns all statements into demands. While he has not mastered polite suggestions, he’s got insults down. It’s not uncommon to hear, “Teacher, you ugly girl” ring across the apartment. And like any young boy there is the fascination with bodily functions. He loves to play the farting game as he calls it. The rules are simple, try to fart on my bed as many times as possible. Fun game, right?

Mingue is also fiercely competitive. This is partly due to the fact that he has a twin sister named Minchee (민지). While Minchee has excellent English skills and does well in school, she does not have the same fierce competitive drive as Mingue. Mingue has the top English language skills at his school, and excels at violin, drums, soccer, and art. All games end when Mingue starts to lose, but it’s rare that he finds himself in such a position. You can tell by the way he furiously studies the night before a test that he will get the top grade. There’s no other way for Mingue. It’s also a rare fourth grade boy that will tell you, “No teacher, I can’t watch YouTube videos with you right now. I have a test tomorrow.”

Mingue’s competitive nature also makes him rather moody. He has thrown more temper tantrums than both my host sisters combined. That’s saying something as Ye-Jin is a teenage girl! I’d estimate that Mingue refuses to eat breakfast at least three times a week. My host mom does a lot of head shaking and uttering, “Mingue, Mingue, Mingue!”

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Lunch packed by Mingue

But while Mingue can drive me absolutely crazy, he has a remarkably gentle side that he likes to keep hidden. On Saturday, my host mom was running late and did not have time to pack me a lunch for my trip to Jeju-si. I told her it would be absolutely fine and I could just buy something on the way there. Mingue then stepped up and packed me a lunch of fried rice wrapped in seaweed with kimchi, green tea, and a tangerine. Tell me how many fourth grade boys you know who would do this?

Mingue is also remarkably good at sharing. There is definitely a strategy to his sharing. He always offers, but somehow he manages to ensure he gets the better portion! On Pepero Day (빼뺴로), the Korean equivalent of Valentine’s day where students give 빼뺴로 to their friends, Mingue carefully divided all his 빼뺴로 to share with the family. He split the thin rods dipped in chocolate and covered in nuts or cookie pieces and placed them in six bowls for each family member.

Like any true family member, there are days when I love Mingue to death and there are days I want to wring his neck. But he has certainly taught me a lot and fulfilled for desire for a brother. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Say things confidently. It does not matter how young or small you are. If you say things with a purpose people are likely to believe you.
  2. Always offer to share but you can still make sure you get the best of everything.
  3. Don’t eat all your dinner because chances are dad will bring home bungeoppang (붕어빵). You don’t want to be too full to scarf down three or four of the fish shaped waffles filled with sweet red beans.
  4. Draw what you see. The world is beautiful and you can capture it in your own unique way.
  5. There is nothing you can’t do with solar panels, motors, and a bit of creativity.
  6. Go ahead. Fart on people’s beds. They won’t mind that much.

For more updates from Marissa, visit her blog at http://bibimbapin.wordpress.com/.