Pet Cremation in Korea

 

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A few days ago, Chansik and I very suddenly lost our youngest cat, 찬성 (Chansung) to FIP. He was only 10 months old. We miss him so much and life without him has been tough.

I wanted to write a blog about what the process and options are like when you have a pet die in Korea. 20160217_093522.jpg

Since Chansik is a vet we were able to make all the decisions related to Chansung’s health care and, ultimately, the decision to end his suffering by euthanasia. If your animal passes away at the vet clinic (동물병원) the staff can help you in freezing the body there or at home until the time of burial or cremation. After Chansung’s death, we took his body home to clean him up and then keep in the freezer.

We made an appointment with an animal funeral home called AngelStone. The day prior to our appointment we were instructed to remove Chansung’s body from the freezer to thaw. The next day we cleaned him again and Chansik sewed his eyes shut. I had written about Chansung on social media but Chansik wrote a letter for him that we had cremated along with Chansung’s body. We also included one of his toys.

We wrapped up Chansung’s body, placed him in a large gift bag and took him to the clinic (which is a 5-minute walk from our house) where one of the employees from AngelStone met us. They had brought a box to place him in but we preferred to keep with us in the bag. The employee drove us almost 2 hours out to the AngelStone facility. When we arrived, an

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A tree where people have written wishes for their pet

employee with a cart decorated with flowers met us with a deep bow. We put Chansung on the cart and we were taken to a waiting area.

AngelStone has a lot of options for cremation. You can dress your animal in the traditional white clothes before their cremation. After cremation, you can have the ashes turned into beautiful stones which can be displayed different ways or put into jewelry.

After filling out some simple paperwork we had to wait for about 30 minutes during which we took Chansung outside since the weather was nice and the sun was shining. We sang a little song I had made up and had sung to Chansung almost everyday that goes, ‘kitten in the sunlight, kitten in the sun..’. We picked a flower and put it in his paws.

 

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Some cremation options.
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Jewelry displaying stones that are made from the ashes.

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Chansung
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Viewing room

When it was our turn we took Chansung (on the flowery cart) into one of these viewing rooms. We were told to take our time saying goodbye and when we were ready they would take him in for cremation. We lit some incense and gave Chansung’s sleek and black fur some last pets. When we told them we were finished the employee came in to get him and gave a deep bow before they left. 20160511_122619We then could watch as they very respectfully performed the cremation. They lay Chansung’s body on a sort of table which was then rolled into the large, metal chamber. We waited for about 20 minutes while the cremation took place. During that time we looked at photos and videos of Chansung and talked about our favorite memories with him.

20160511_122612When the cremation was finished the remains, which is pretty much just bones, were gathered and placed on a silver and gold tray. The tray was brought up to the window and shown to us and the employee gave deep bows of respect. The bones were carefully put in a machine hat turned them into powder and then even more carefully placed in an urn.

We then returned to the waiting room where an employee tied up the urn in a white cloth and put it in a pretty bag. We didn’t do any of the fancy options so our total bill was 200,000won or about 200 USD. Then we were driven to a bus stop where we could board a bus to return home.

I would definitely recommend AngelStone. The employees were so careful, kind and respectful. The treated every bit of the process as if it was their own pet. If you have any questions about the process please email us. We are happy to help foreigners living in Korea who are navigating any veterinary issues, including those for end-of-life.

Our Story 우리 이야기

I sometimes hesitate in telling the story of how Chansik and I met because, in the abstract, it seems really sketchy and leaves a lot of room for criticism. After watching many other interracial couples be bashed on the internet I am even more hesitant. Therefore, I will not go into detail in all aspects, but still tell our story truthfully. If you have questions about the specifics, feel free to email me.

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Early relationship. Already in the couple clothes!

Chansik and I met in October of 2014. Some weeks before we met I had come across the request of a fellow American who wanted to set up his Korean friend with someone. He said that his friend spoke English and worked as a vet. I was, at the time, a student at Sogang University in the language program (level 1) and without any special visa. I wanted to experience as much of Korean culture as I could before I had to go back to the states, and that included dating culture (which is a big, very different thing here than it is in most Western countries). So, I answered the request put out by the American man but didn’t get my hopes up.

A couple days later I got a text from Chansik. I told him that I had a lot of veterinary experience, having started veterinary technician training in the past and volunteering at my local vet clinic in America, not to mention the years of rat rescue projects. With a common interest in both medicine and animals we had a lot to talk about and we messaged and phoned each other often for about 2 weeks before we met.

For our first date Chansik came from Incheon to Seoul (where I was then living), riding the bus for over an hour. Our first date lasted until the wee hours of the morning, which is easy in Korea because so many things are open 24-hours. We went from restaurant to coffee shop to game room all night, talking about everything. I discovered that he had donated 80% of his liver to his mother when she had needed a transplant and heard about his time in the military. We shared our interest in each other’s cultures and languages. From that date on we took turns riding the bus to visit each other but not always having a lot of time together because of my school and his long work hours.

I had to return to America in late November but was luckily able to return to Korea on a proper visa in February (2015). The three months of long distance was hard, particularly for me because in addition to missing him I was also missing my life in Korea. It sounds so cheesy but neither of us had felt such clarity of love like this before. I had never had any inclination to marry or even really settle down with someone but suddenly I was fantasizing about those things!

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Yup. Meant to be.

We moved in together in a small apartment in Incheon and started adding cats to our family, of course. I continued studying Korean at Sogang University and took the long bus ride to school and back each day with long walks to and from the school and bus stops. I overestimated my health and had a hard time attending my classes regularly or even soaking up much while I was there. I failed level 2 and had to retake it. If I didn’t improve my grades and attendance I would not be eligible to renew my visa and it didn’t look promising.

We researched so many ways but it became obvious that, since we could not rely on my health or my ability to hold a job, the only way to stay together in the same country was to get married. Then came an agonizing period of decision-making. If we didn’t get married I would have to return to the States and we would be forced to end our relationship since we would have no promise of seeing each other ever again. Luckily, after talking with our friends and family, we decided that we had what it took to make a successful marriage and started on the tedious paperwork for a marriage visa (F6). We had been dating 9 months

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Wedding in America

when we got married.

We married very quickly, but as I write this, only weeks away from our 1-year marriage anniversary,  I know we made the right decision and look forward to our future together.
여보 사랑해요~~ ❤

Read more about us here.

About Chansik 찬식

I slightly changed my husband’s bio from our wedding program. Here it is! Scroll down to find links to Chansik’s blog posts. Please contact us if you are seeking a veterinary consultation or have any questions/comments for Chansik.

vetshig“Chansik was born in 1984 in Daegu, South Korea. He was followed by younger brother Youngsik in 1988.
In the fall of 1999, at the age of 15, Chansik went abroad to the Philipines to finish high school and later to go to veterinary school. He graduated 2005 with his degree in veterinary medicine.
In 2007 Chansik started his two years of mandatory Korean military service. In 2008 he volunteered to go to Iraq where he served alongside American troops. His main jobs were to help with health inspections and to care for military dogs. His military service ended in 2009.
In 2010 Chansik donated 80% of his liver to his mother who was suffering from liver cirrhosis. The transplant was successful, though all of the money Chansik had earned in the military had to go towards paying for the surgeries.
Chansik went on to teach English at private schools and to work as a vet in Incheon, South Korea.
In 2014 he met Becca and they now reside in Incheon where Chansik continues his work as a vet. He is now interested in expanding his studies to include human medicine.”

 

International Couples: What Sets Us Apart

These days you can find so many good resources for international couples, marriage, child-rearing, visas, etc. It wasn’t always like this. It used to be if you typed in something like ‘korean husband’ into Google you would come up with a porn sites or racist blogs. These days you are much more likely to encounter blogs and YouTube channels featuring real-life international couples and find out what they have to say on a large variety of subjects. This blog will not be focusing so much on those things just because they are so well-covered elsewhere. (See the Resources page).

That said, I wanted to write about the few areas where me and my husband Chansik (찬식, pronounced ch-ahn-shi-g/k) differ from most of the interracial/international couples you might encounter in an effort to not only broaden people’s perspectives and awareness but also to include some of those who felt that they ‘didn’t fit it’ with other international couples.

This post will focus on Korean with Westerner marriage but some points will no doubt apply to other international couples or even just people living in Korea in general. I also want to to stress that this is one couple’s point of view, not a set of facts or a guideline on how to conduct your own life/marriage. My husband read this blog before I published it and is in full agreement with it, so while these are my words you can consider the opinions expressed here as coming from both of us. 

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Eating 호떡 (hodduk)

One of the major ways in which my husband and I differ from other couples is that I am disabled. Not only am I disabled, but I am invisibly disabled. You would not know I was sick unless I told you. Sometimes this works in my favor and other times it does not. But more on that in another blog post.

Since I am disabled I am unable to maintain a job. I have plenty of good days where I can function semi-normally, but my health is never consistent so I never know when I might be stuck in bed for a day or even a month. This is the main reason I am a housewife and while I have always loved domestic pursuits I still feel that my health prevents me from even doing those as well and as fully as I’d like.

While my disabled status makes my Chansik the sole financial supporter of our little family, my job as housewife means that I can make his home life comfortable and as stress-free as possible. He has a few house chores that he is in charge of but otherwise I do everything from cleaning the toilets to buying the groceries. As my Korean improves I can continue to take on more tasks and do things without as much aid from my husband.

Also, if you’ve read my page on chronic illness you know that Chansik, his mother and I also have the special bond of having all been through liver transplants. You don’t meet a couple like that, everyday!

Another thing that is a bit different about us is that we not only met in Korea but we’ve stayed in Korea. We have never tried to live in the USA (my home country) for many reasons but the main reason is probably another thing that sets us apart: we both prefer living in Korea. While I miss my family and friends, I don’t really miss actually living in America. I want to be clear, though, that I do not dislike America. I’m proud to be American and am so grateful for everything America has and is giving me.  Plus, social media makes it so easy to stay in touch with people back home that I don’t often feel like we’re that far apart, anyway.

Our living in Korea also means that our marriage takes on more of a ‘Korean style’ if you will. I plan to do a blog about just this subject. American culture, food, media, fashion, etc. rarely comes in to play in our marriage. We by no means try to exclude those things. On the contrary we try to bring them in a bit more often. However, our day-to-day lives are mostly like that of a Korean couple. We watch Korean television, listen to Korean music, shop Korean brands, eat Korean food (especially foods like live squid, steamed pupae and blood sausage that most foreigners and even some Koreans don’t like), and enjoy activities such as going to the public bath house (찜질방/목욕탕), singing old Korean songs in a karaoke room called noraebang (노래방), eating fish cakes at street tent or shopping at traditional markets. I preferred to do these things before I even met my husband so there was never a time when our cultures clashed in this respect (though there are other places where they have, such as work schedules and holiday celebrations).

And lastly, Chansik and I are both children of divorce and at around the same age. We both had a younger sibling of the same gender as each of us, respectively, that we helped through the divorces. Now, we each have one parent who has remarried and therefore have stepparents. I believe that some of that background and changing family dynamic that my husband and I share accounts for us having similar outlooks on life and, in particular, marriage.

So, those are some of the things that come to mind as being somewhat unique about us among  other interracial/international couples. All that said, we have so much in common with other couples that we are always interested in their stories and find we get along with most of them very well because of those similarities. I also think it’s important that we have those connections (particularly other couples of the Western girl/Korean guy dynamic) because they can be a big support when marriage gets tough. I’m really glad that my husband has friends he can go to who can truly empathize with him and I’m grateful I have lady friends who can also empathize with me.

Thanks for reading!