Before reading this story you might like to read
Introduction to Jorea.
It happened 3 days into the trip. I always thought Jin’s family was very liberal. I mean I didn’t have to wear the traditional women’s hanbok, I didn’t have to bow every time I see a male of the house, and perhaps most importantly I didn’t have to wear the rigid mutemask when I leave the house.
However I was wrong. They weren’t liberal; the Kim family just didn’t expect a foreign girlfriend like me to follow the rules of Jorean society.
It all started one night when I woke up and discovered that Jin wasn’t in bed. I was surprised as he was usually a sound sleeper. I thought he may have gone to the toilet, so I decided to wait for him. I must have laid there for over 10mins but he still wasn’t back.
Curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to go find him. I don’t know if you know anything about Jorean households but Jin’s family lived in a typical Jorean house. The house is spilt into 3 distinct areas; the courtyard, the living quarters, and the sleeping quarters.
The sleeping quarters was where I was at. It’s the area where all the family members sleep with individual rooms for each nuclear family. Jin’s father and mother have one room, Jin’s old brother and his 2 wives (actually his wife and concubine) have another, Jin’s younger sister have one, Jin’s 2 nephews shared one, and the last belonged to Jin and I.
I crept towards the toilet, though it wasn’t really necessary. The walls around the sleeping quarters were pretty thick to give a little privacy to the family members. There were 2 toilets for the family and they were on 2 different ends of the sleeping quarters. As with most things in Jorea, the toilets were segregated by gender. The female toilet was at the back of the house, while the male toilet was closer to the living quarters.
As I moved closer to the male toilet, I heard sounds coming from the living quarters. As it was in the dead of the night, I was curious to what the sounds were. I entered the living quarters via the kitchen.
The living quarters was spilt into various different rooms. There was the dining room which dominated the living quarters; on the right side of the dining room were the kitchen and the laundry room; while on the left side of the dining room laid the study room and an exercise room.
Jin told me 5 rooms for the living quarters was typical for a middle-class household. Poorer households had about 2-3 rooms for the living quarters while richer households could have up to 8-10 rooms in the living quarters.
Once I was in the kitchen, I discovered that the sound I was hearing was coming from beyond the living quarters. I exited the kitchen to the laundry room via an access door and peeped out into the courtyard.
The courtyard was usually the first thing you see when you enter a Jorean house. There is an open space in the middle with pots of plants placed strategically on the both sides of the courtyard to give it a natural feel. And right now the whole household was in the courtyard.
I quickly understood what the sound I heard was. One of the women of the household was kneeling in the middle of the courtyard with her head bowed to the ground. There were 5 stools placed in a semi-circle in front of the kneeling woman and 4 of them were taken.
Jin was sitting on one of them along with his father and his 2 nephews. The 2 young boys’ father, Jin’s older brother, was standing behind the kneeling women with a thick bamboo cane in his hand.
I saw the cane being raised over the head and then it came straight down. I covered my mouth instinctively with my hands as the cane strike the kneeling woman. The sound it made as the cane hit the woman was deafening. Jin’s brother was holding nothing back.
As the caning continued, the males of the house continued sitting impassively on the stools. I was shocked that Jin allowed this to take place and just as I was going out to stop this travesty, it stopped.
Jin’s brother stepped aside as the woman slowly got up onto her feet. As she was getting up, I found my attention focused on her for the first time. The woman was wearing the traditional women’s hanbok; a jeogori which covers the arms and upper part of the wearer’s body to just below her breast, and a wrap-around skirt called a chima which reached to her feet. Her hair was styled into a bun on top of her head and the stifling, rigid mutemask was wrapped around her head. The mutemask made it impossible for the woman to speak or even turn her head; that was when it hit me.
The woman was in formal attire. This was the clothing women wore when they went outside their house. While women were in the safety of their house, they do not wear the mutemask and the women’s hair were rolled into a ball shaped form, set just above the nape of the neck.
As the woman finally got onto her feet, she turned to Jin’s brother, clasped her hands together and bowed deeply towards him. As she bowed, she spread her hands and raised her hands above her head. Jin’s brother placed the cane in her hands and walked back to her stool.
The woman held the cane in reverence above her head and turned to her right. All the women of the Kim family were standing there in a straight row and one of them stepped out, bow to the woman (or maybe the cane), and took over the cane with 2 hands. The woman who had just been beaten stepped back in line with the rest of the women.
The woman who took over the cane moved to the middle of the courtyard and kneeled in front of the 5 males of the Kim family. Jin’s father then opened a book he was carrying and began reading from it.
My Jorean is a little rusty but I got most of what he was saying. He was reading out all the infractions and mistakes made by the woman over the week which had all been recorded in the family’s “punishment book”.
Some of the mistakes were unbelievable; like walking across the path of a male, failing to wash the dishes clean enough, to incredibly failing to show proper respect to the males of the house. It was Jin’s younger sister and though it had been only 3 days, I have never seen a more respectful 17 year old. That was to me, a woman, so you can just imagine how she was to Jin.
The punishment was 37 strokes of the cane and the punishment would be carried out by Jin. I couldn’t believe it but Jin stood up and moved towards his sister without a word. The moment he took the cane, his sister bowed her head to the ground.
Jin stepped behind her and the caning began. The cane struck her across her back as well as her buttocks. There was no rhythm or any specific location to the strikes, it was just a thrashing. Yet throughout the beating, the sister just kneeled there without moving.
Just as suddenly, Jin stopped. He moved towards his father and handed the cane to him. As he moved towards his stool, his sister got up and moved towards the woman’s line.
As the sister stepped in line with the rest of the woman, Jin’s father stood up and walked along the line. He said he was proud that the woman’s of the family had accepted their punishments without sounds of complain and no words can describe the pride he felt in being the head of them all. He stopped, faced them and gave a small bow to the women. In response, the women all went to their knees and bowed their head to the ground. The women moved as one and I was struck by how ritualistic the whole thing was. I realized then that I was witnessing a very private family ritual and wondered if every family in Jorea had one of these punishment rituals.
Jin, his brother and 2 nephews stood up and all of them gave a small bow the woman. Jin’s father then stood up and walked towards the dining room followed by the rest of the male members. The women of the house remained on the ground.
I was then suddenly struck by fear of discovery. I was an uninvited witness to a private family ritual and had no idea how Jin and his family would take to my snooping. As the men were talking in the dining room, I rushed back to my room and lay in bed.
I need not have bothered because Jin did not come back to the room immediately. I wondered what other rituals the family was doing then but was too fearful to leave my room again.
I slowly drifted off to sleep as I waited for Jin, but I had no rest that night. I dreamed of the painful but strangely wonderful ritual I had seen and wondered what’s it like to be one of the woman in that line.
Maybe I should make more of an effort to live like a Jorean woman. Don’t you think that’s a good idea?
Thanks girl for the quick reply but I fear you are a little late. Since that night, I had been living more as a Jorean. As I am tying this email now, I’m wearing a traditional women’s hanbok and my hair is rolled into a ball set just above the nape of my neck. So I’m not leaving Jorea, or Jin, just yet.
Since that night I saw the punishment ritual, I hadn’t been able to get the caning out of my head. It’s just such an amazing thing I saw; at times I still can’t believe I saw it. It had been an emotional rollercoaster trying to make sense of the scene, so I thought I’ll have better luck understanding it if I live more like a Jorean while I’m here. Jin was a little surprise but I could tell he was happy about it. The women were great. They lend me a few hanboks which used to belong to one of Jin’s sister who had since married.
The hanbok was surprisingly easy to wear but I had some problems with the hair. The women said that my hair wasn’t quite long enough but we managed to get it into a ball. However, they don’t think it’s long enough to style it into a bun on top of my head so no haircut while I’m here I guess.
In case you are wondering why I want to style it into a bun on top of my head, it’s because that’s the style I need for the mutemask. Do you know the mutemasks of Jorea were all custom-made? Jin bought me to a mask-making shop that his family has been using for generations and despite the reputation of Jorea being a poor country, the shop was a high-tech marvel.
I was ordered to sit on a high stool and then lasers started to scan the contours of my face. It was really quick and I was surprised when Jin told me we were done. However I managed to keep my questions to myself, my mouth shut, gave a wholesome smile with a slight bow and then followed Jin out of the shop. Point for me!
Now before you freak, the mutemask and hanbok were all my decision, not Jin’s. Anyway I’m looking forward to wearing a mutemask for the first time; it should be quite the experience.
In the meantime I had been sightseeing the city and catching up on Jorean customs. Jorea is a mountainous country so it’s no surprise that Bujan City is located on a mountain. In fact according to the tourism guide I have, all the major cities of Jorea are on mountains.
And believe me when I tell you it is cold up here. Strong cold winds breeze through the city and Jin told me it will be worse in winter. The cold is one of the reasons women wear the mutemask as it would protect and preserve the skin of the face. I believed him because I sure wouldn’t mind some protection against the wind.
Despite the wind, Bujan City is beautiful and unique in a strange exotic way. When I look up, I felt that I could almost touch the clouds because they were so near to me. Although Bujan is a modern city, there are a lot of old-fashion houses like the house I am currently living in. The Jorean are a traditional people and you won’t see any modern skyscrapers in Bujan.
I said that I was catching up on local Jorean customs. Well one of the first custom I was taught by the women of the Kim household is “female movement”. These are customs which dictate how and when a woman can move. Yes, they have rules and rituals for everything.
One of the most important customs on female movement is “the right of way”. It’s a custom that basically state that men always have the right of way. When the path of a man and a woman crossed, the woman must always give way to the man. Even if the woman is slightly in front of the man, she must wait for the man to past before she can move on. Basically, women must never cross the path of men. I had a hard time understanding this and an even harder time seeing how this custom could work. However it does work.
It’s one of those things you don’t notice but Jorean women often stop dead in their tracks waiting for the man to cross. Even if the man is 5-10 meters away, I could see a woman stopping, waiting for the man to cross her path before continuing on her way. It’s just an extension of the rule women must always walk behind men.
I never noticed it before but now I do and seeing it in practice made it easy to understand how the system works. Another Jorean custom is called “the wall walk”. The wall walk basically means that when a woman walk, she must be within an arms length of a wall. Women must not be intrusive of space and when you walk in public, you must walk near a wall, giving the centre of the path to the men.
You are going to be surprise but this actually makes sense to me. When we entered the house, men of the household would cut across the courtyard but the women of Kim’s household would just turned right, followed the wall and into the laundry room. Now that I noticed, I could see that the pots of plants in the courtyard are placed in a way to partially block the view of the women from onlookers.
So if I wanted to get from the kitchen to the study, I had to enter the dining room and followed the wall to the back of the dining room before I can go across to the study. The only time I was allowed to be beyond an arms length of a wall was when I had work that had to be done. If I had to clean the table in the middle of the room, then I could ignore the wall walk custom. Otherwise the rule was always in place, in public or in private.
I also had to change the way I walk because it was considered too “vulgar”. Jin’s mother, who had sort of taken me under her wing, told me that a woman must always take small steps with her arms by her side or slightly in front of her body. No more running or swinging of the arms for me. If you had to run, you can only take quick small steps. Jin’s mother was very clear on this; Shuffling is okay but no running.
And Jin’s mother is someone I do not want to cross. There is a strict hierarchy among the women in the Kim’s household and Jin’s mother is the queen. She may bow to her grandsons because they are males but she rules all the women with an iron fist. Jin told me this is very common as the mother-in-law has supreme authority among the women.
You know the punishment book I saw Jin’s father holding? Jin’s mother is the only woman in the household who is allowed to write into the book. Since she spends more time among the women than the men, most of the infractions in the book were written by her. And Jin’s mother is tough.
Jin said that her mother often gave herself as many infractions as the other women and it is a rare occurrence when she has the least infractions for the week. Jin told me about the weekly punishment the women have (he still didn’t know I saw them that night) and how at times his mother would scold him and his brother for not hitting the women hard enough.
Even in Jorea, a mother still has the right to scold her sons I guess.
You’re right, I’m happy. I feel closer to Jin than I ever had and I have to credit Jorea for it. Despite the countless rules and rituals here, I felt a sense of peace and tranquility here that I never felt at home. Maybe it’s the mountain air or the slower pace of life, but I am enjoying myself.
The biggest thing that happened the past few days is the arrival of my mutemask. It may look like a torture device but after wearing it, I found that it was surprising comfortable.
The mutemask is padded on the inside. This was done to keep the wearer warm as well as allowing the mask to be worn over a long period. It’s made of some kind of lightweight fiberglass, so it’s quite tough. I can’t move my jaw at all but if you don’t speak, there’s no problem. The mask-maker knows his job because it fit perfectly. It’s almost like wearing a hard second skin.
Another thing I found is that the mutemask suited the Jorean female lifestyle perfectly. When I wear the mutemask, I find that I almost have to take small steps when I walk. The mask prevents me from turning my head and I found that I had to take small steps when I walk in public to prevent bumming into things.
However it’s not all fun and games because the mask is a pain to maintain. It’s my mutemask so I’m in charge of maintaining it. The mask itself is quite sturdy but it is white and it’s my job to make sure it stays white.
White represents purity in Jorea and once a year women would repaint their mutemask on “Purity and Chastity Day” (yes, there’s such a holiday in Jorea), and it’s the woman’s job to make sure she stays pure and true. To show her “determination”, the mutemask must be spotless at all times as it is supposed to symbolism our purity. So whenever they have no duties, you can find women cleaning their masks in their free time.
You must also show “respect” to the mutemask. As it represents your purity, you must be careful with it. Jin’s mother has already warn me any dirt on the mutemask means 10 strokes of the cane; if you drop the mask, it’s 30; any crack on the mask means 40; any parts of the mask get broken off, it’s 50; you lose it (which I think is impossible, how the hell can you lose your mutemask?), it’s 100. Needless to say, all the women including me treat our mutemask like treasures.
In case you are wondering; yes, I will be undergoing my first punishment rites tonight. Hope I don’t embarrass myself and start whimpering.
Don’t worry, I’m still alive. Read your advice on running for the hills but remember I’m in Bujan City, so your advice should be running down the mountain.
Sorry but I had already finished my first punishment rites, so there’s no running for me. Really girl, 7 emails in 3 days is a little much. Hope you haven’t reported this to the press back home and made this an international incident!
I’m a little sore but fine otherwise. On the night itself, we went to bed as usual. Don’t think I had mentioned it before but there’s not much of a nightlife here in Jorea. Usually we go to bed at around 9.30pm and it’s the same that night. The rites were always at midnight and I was told to have a good rest till then. Jin told me this was a tradition as it allowed the women time to mentally prepare themselves and midnight was to represent a new day.
I think they just wanted to mentally torture us! I found rest impossible as I was a nervous wreck. Then Jin told me to “blank” myself. You know how Jin has been talking to me about Qizen? One of the techniques for women is to “blank” your mind of all thoughts.
This technique teaches you to make yourself a blank canvas and accept whatever your man do to you like a canvas accepting whatever a painter paint on it. It required you to free yourself of all thoughts and for the first time, I understood why Qizen is so popular.
Whatever will happen, will happen; whatever would be done to me, would be done to me; there’s nothing a woman like myself can do to change anything. Just accept anything and everything that will happen.
Once I did that, my anxiety disappeared. Yes, I know you think Qizen is just a way to further the subjection of women here but it was a great help for me. You have no worries if you have no thoughts and Qizen cleared my worries as I no longer think about what was going to happen. In fact, I didn’t think at all! I was even able to get some rest like I was supposed to!
When it was time, Jin told me to get ready. I put on my hanbok, lock on the mutemask, and walked out of the room with Jin. Everyone came out at the same time (the men must have some sort of system in place) and the men and women spilt up. The women walked to the courtyard via the kitchen and laundry room.
We lined up in a row and I took my position between Mi-Roo (concubine of Jin’s brother) and Shiho (Jin’s sister). I had been briefed on what will happen and what was expected of me by the rest of the women, so I stood there with the rest of them while the men discussed the punishments in the dining room. Jin told me about the process they had; his father would read from the book the amount of strokes a woman had and her man could raise objections if he feel it was too high (or too low).
In case you are wondering, for me, Jin would be my man.
We stood there for over half an hour before the men finally came out. Each of them placed their stool in a semi-circle and Jin’s father came forward while the rest of the men sat down.
Jin’s father gave a speech to the women of the family. I won’t bore you with everything he said but it was basically about how discipline must be maintained in the family and since ancient times, pain has proven to be the best way to teach women their place in the family.
The speech finished, Jin’s father walked back and sat on his stool. Someone called out the name of Jin’s mother and she step forward to the middle of the courtyard. Jin’s father opened the punishment book and began reading from it.
He then stood up, took the cane from Jin’s youngest nephew (who had the ‘honor’ of bringing it to the punishment rites) and stepped behind his wife. Jin’s mother kneeled and bowed her head to the ground the moment her husband took the cane.
The beating then began.
The ritual remains the same as the first night I saw it and I’m happy to say that I was calm as I took the cane from Mi-Roo. I wish I had paid more attention but I was too nervous to really pay attention to all the mistakes I was being beaten for. (With my Jorean, I probably wouldn’t have gotten most of what Jin’s father was saying but it would have been nice to know).
Anyway, I heard the most important bits (24 strokes) and managed to bow my head to the ground in time when I felt Jin taking the cane from my hands. As the beating started, I was totally focused on not moving (moving around during punishment is considered a great shame here in Jorea). Again I have to thank Qizen.
This ‘blank’ the religion has is great. I just told myself that this is something I deserved and focus on keeping my mind blank. It worked as I accepted every stroke without complain.
Now Irene you have written that you considered this a barbaric practice but you’re not here. This is a ritual handed down from ancient times and to the Joreans, this ritual is very important. Everything is highly choreographed and you can even say that the punishment ritual is a way for the family to bond together.
As I stood there with the rest of the women in the Kim household, I did feel a certain connection to them. This was something we all went through together and it was something to connect us together.
As the men went back to the dining room, we just kneeled there quietly with our heads to the ground. A little while later, Jin’s youngest nephew came out and told us to go back to our rooms. As with all things that night, there was a ritual involved.
We stood up, turned towards the dining room, and with Jin’s mother leading the way, we walked single file towards the dining room. As we past Jin’s youngest nephew, each of us put our hands together in front of us and bowed deeply to him. The men were standing in a row but slightly apart from each other, and we bowed deeply to each of them as we walked past.
Jin’s mother led the line of women to the kitchen and we entered the sleeping quarters from there. We went our separate ways to our rooms and after I entered, I turned towards the door and kneeled down. When Jin entered our room, I bowed my head to the ground.
He helped me take off my mutemask and we slipped into bed. It was the most amazing sex we ever had.
It was the most amazing sex I ever had.
Even though my back was on fire, I felt a need for him I never had before. He was gentle, careful about the welts on my back, and that made it even better for me. At the end I was crying, and it wasn’t because of the pain.
The next day, Jin and I took a walk at the Bujan Citizen Park when he told me his family was impressed with me and they have no objections if we were to marry. It was a good thing I was wearing the mutemask because my jaws would have dropped on the ground then. Jin looked at me with a smile and I understood that to Jin, this wasn’t just a vacation. This trip back home was to introduce his wife to the family and he was proud I had not disappointed him.
He told me to think about it “carefully” and continued with the walk. It was sweet of him to give me time to think about the answer, and that was another plus for me. When we got home (yes, I now think of it as home), I kneeled and bowed my head to Jin’s feet, promising to be with him as a good servant and wife for the rest of my life.
Jin was kind of surprised I knew the Jorean way of accepting a marriage proposal but I could see that he was proud of me. And I meant every word. I hadn’t been so serious in my life and I was willing to prove it. I told him to get me a chastity belt.
In Jorea, all women wore a chastity belt the moment they had their first period and I knew it was important to show that I was willing to accept all the rules in becoming a Jorean wife.
Jin got me a chastity belt with an electronic lock. The combination is only known by him and I could never take it off without him. It also had a diaper function and could absorb any water should I have an “accident”. I must admit that the chastity belt wasn’t very comfortable but comfortable isn’t an issue here. It’s here to prove my commitment to Jin.
Summer holiday is almost over and we will be going back to school in a few days. Since Jin and I both have 1 more year to go, we’ll finish our studies and then come back here for the traditional wedding. The economic situation here in Jorea is pretty bad so Jin is undecided if he intend to stay on in Jorea for good. He needs to speak to his family about it.
Either way is fine for me and I told him so. He laughed but said that as a woman, my views would never be considered anyway. I had a good laugh about that. Seems I have a lot more to learn about my new home.
Your Happy Friend
Catherine Robinson Kim