Thursday, October 9, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

My Trip

As my trip is closing, I am filled with many thoughts. I had heard many stories of old, which is very fascinating to me. I hope to keep them in my memory bank which I will access and blog as I have time.

I have never imagined that I would spend this much time writing. If I did not write I could not possibly keep all the things that has passed through my mind, and all the memories from my childhood that has surfaced. I am glad I had this opportunity. I also discovered where lot of my tendencies, drives, and intense needs came from. For Koreans, certain traits must be in their DNA. In the women I encountered, I saw myself, much more so than in American women I have spent most of my life with.

I am so grateful that my mother was able to experience Korea and revisit her past with her siblings. I have never seen her laugh like I have seen her laugh here with her siblings. I have seen her become a young girl taken care of by her older sister. She actually acts like a little sister. My aunt Won Suk used to take care of mother and do all the cooking while they were in DaeGu living away from home to go to school. Mother tells me that she won't be coming back again. All her desire and dream to revisit Korea and siblings have been full filled. She is too old to do this much traveling again. She is so glad that her children pressed her to come but her home is where her children and grandchildren are.

JeJu Island

JeJu Island was land of imagination in my childhood. I had heard that that island was filled with trees that we did not see on the main land. I heard that it was warm all the time. There were ocean maids who dived into deep ocean to bring rare ocean plants and delicacies that can only be found at the bottom of the deep. I heard that the beauty of the island could not be matched.

My cousin Yeon- Choon took us there. From BuSan I expected to get on a small plane for one hour trip. To my surprise, we got on jets with six passengers per row. I did not see any empty seats. Even more amazing was such planes left about every half hour all day everyday.

Once we landed I realized the palm trees filled the island as well as pine trees that grows uniquely to the island. I used to think that they were artificially twisted in form. When I saw whole forest of them, then I realized this was natural in form. Like main land the little island had many mountains.

Yeon-Choon took us to places of breathtaking scenery. It has become vacationers haven of Asia. Although I preferred to be a beautiful hidden island known only by few, I have to say I am glad that so many are enjoying such beauty. I am told Chinese, and Japanese loves to vacation here.

Just yesterday, I actually saw an ocean maid. She would gather a basket-ful of ocean delicacies that foreigners could not imagine eating, then in the afternoon she would sell them in the market. In my imagination such maids were beautiful young girls, like fairies. I was brought back to reality that these were hard working women with weathered face from being in harsh salt water so much. This was their life and living.

Rainy Sunday

On our second day on Jeju island there were dark clouds and soon started to rain. I love rain whether I am at home or on vacation. To me watching heavy rain has cleansing effect for my soul. Everything seems fresh and clean.

We sat around the dining table at our rented condo and so many stories came. Here are two.

Some one mentioned that my cousin Yeon-Choon must really miss his wife. She is in Australia with their daughter, age 12 for life experience in foreign land. He started to speak about his wife and how much he appreciates her. He spoke of Sung-Ho(his son). At early age they discovered that he had autistic tendencies. Korea will uphold the best and brightest students but there were no program for special needs children back then. Sung-Ho had social difficulties so he did not have friends. His wife would gather children and bring them home for Sung-Ho to play. She then took his special education needs in her own hands. She would bring home volumes of books from library for such children and read them from cover to cover then start the therapy. Then she felt to take him to England in a town where excellent school was for such children. Sung-Ho opened up and started to blossom. He began to develop friends and learned English quickly. Today he is freshman in law school. He had no problem socializing. In fact we must have talked for about an hour.

Red Soldiers (North Korean soldiers)

This was during the war. While they were having ancestor's ceremony with table full of prepared foods, red guards marched in. One of the guards pointing his gun and called my grandfather to the court yard. He demanded money and food for his soldiers. My grandfather showed him the grain storage. He also pointed to the cattle & livestock he owned. He said, "Take everything you need. But leave us alone."
This was a time when red soldiers came, rampaged homes for food and goods, and often would take the owners and killed them. The human lives could vanish like a vapor. My grandmother was bringing dinner tray for my grandfather. She was so frightened she dropped the tray. My aunt was a young girl. She knew enough to not show her face. Young girls were kidnapped by red soldiers to be never seen again. She was curious enough that she peeked out of the small opening of the door and witnessed everything. The soldiers said cattle and rice is no good for us. I will give you 2 days to turn it into cash then give it to me. I will be back. South Korean police could punish even to death any one who helped North Korean soldiers. My grandfather could be threatened from both ends. None of the neighbors told the police that North Korean soldiers came into my grandfather's home and took things. The neighbors knew to protect my grandfather. He has always provided for neighbors by his generosity.

Within those 2 days, the whole family moved to another home in DaeGu. When the North Koreans were pushed back, they returned home.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cab Drivers

We had so much fun talking to cabbies. It is here you can hear how people live and work. Also they are the first to experience the change in the trends of age.

Cabbie #1: At one time he was in a corporate world traveling to US frequently. Then came a forced early retirement. At his age (probably late 50s or early 60s) no jobs were available to him. He became a cabbie. As a person who demanded respect and deep bowing from others, suddenly he was at a servant level. Even young person talked to him with no respect. He began to see the world from another angle. He grieves for young of today who has lost the traditional respect for elders. He is so glad that he was able to send his children to school while he had good income. He is planning on writing a book.

Cabbie #2: Regarding economy for cabbies, he said, "We live to die.There is no money to be earned. Whether I work or not, after paying for fuel there is nothing left. Look at Choi, Jin Suk a well known actress. She committed suicide. Whether you have money all not, we all live to die." My mother and aunt were shocked. She was adored by many.

Cabbie #3: He picked up five of us. My uncle Sang-Jeng, his wife, my aunt Won-Suk, my mother and I. He said "If police catches me, I am done for. Fine is $400 US. (There is cab limit of only four passengers.)" My little aunt said, "Tell me when you see police so I could slide down." We laughed so hard. My aunt said."We are showing our sister and her daughter Korea after 42 years." He looked at four elderly and one middle aged(me). He said, "Time is changing. In my company we have one 84 years old cabbie."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ocean and Mega Fish Outlet

Today my uncle (mother's brother) and his wife took us to one of the most spectacular scenery. A beautiful mountain sloping down into the vast ocean. I have always loved mountains and water. Here was a place where both met. The ocean has calming effect on me. The serenity of sparkling water as it stretches beyond the reach of my eyes, is indescribable.

We then went to fish outlet. There were more fish venders than you could count. Fish were sold from the tank, still swimming as well as freshly caught fish, octopus, crabs, shrimp, and so many more that I could not even name. Many little vendors had a few tables in the back. You would choose which fish you wanted to eat. They would cook it right there for you.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Special Young People

Soo-Yeun is my cousin’s (Moon Hi’s) daughter. She is twenty-six years old, the same age is my daughter Henna. We have bonded. The two of us have gone downtown together. I hug her like I would hug my own daughter. She has graduated from the University of Seoul. This is the university that every Korean child aspires to attend. Not every valedictorian throughout Korea who applies will be accepted. Soo-Yeun has won many awards in a school system where there may be three awards out of many thousands of students. Now she has a job that is sought by the most ambitious of men yet impossible to get. Her parents plan their whole future around her. I consider how much I wanted to achieve so much success for my parents, yet here is a person who actually did that.

I appreciate Soo-Yeun not for her many accomplishments but for her sincerity and genuineness. I told her of my daughter Henna, who has traveled and lived in Europe as an au pair and now is pursuing her college education. Soo-Yeun longed for that kind of freedom. She is bound by success and duty for the happiness of her parents, who have given up their lives for her. It is rather odd. At age fifty-three, I can relate more with her inner struggles than with my generation, my cousins, who think more like my parents did and still do.

Sung-Ho is the son of my cousin Yeon-Choon (my aunt’s second son). He has just been accepted by a prestigious school. There has been much excitement and celebration about him by the family, especially the older generation. (Amazingly, I am considered part of the older generation.) As I walk with him through downtown Seoul, he speaks to me of the government and economy of the US, South Korea, North Korea, and other parts of the world. He tells me that South Korea has grown too fast. This creates a lack of depth and of proper development of the culture. As I consider his words, I am struck by the fact that the beautiful architecture I’ve appreciated in major US cities is missing here. He tells me that he supports Barak Obama. Because he does not trust Korean journalism concerning foreign affairs, he reads The Economist, The New York Times, and other publications on the internet. He reminds me so much of my son Seth. When he learned that Seth left school for about a year to reevaluate his goals and to find a job in New York before applying to another university, Sung-Ho envied that kind of freedom which is not possible in Korean culture.

In a culture where parents boast of their children's accomplishments are supreme, my only boast is my love for my children.