Thursday, March 31, 2011
Really, I am. And I think the homesickness I am experiencing is of a different breed than the other ones I've experienced in my life. I think the core of my homesickness ironically stems from being in a country where I was born. It's funny because I speak the language, I can read the signs and everyone around me looks like me. But I don't feel like I quite belong here--I feel like a foreigner. Korean people who know me like my co-workers don't regard me as a "real" Korean even though we are good friends. And I don't completely understand the way they think or even if I do, I don't necessarily agree with those thoughts that are deeply entrenched in Confucian philosophy. I feel more like a minority here than when I was in the States. Even though I was a racial minority, I understood the culture and the American way of thinking. In Korea, I am part of the racial hegemony, but I feel like a small Korean island with a half-mast American flag pathetically mounted by my side.
Trying to belong in Korea has been like trying to match a square piece of wood into the indent of a triangle. Being ethnically Korean, I feel like I should feel at home here but since I don't, I feel a bit betrayed by the reality. I have learned a lot about the Korean culture, history and people and I am very grateful and delighted to have the opportunity to learn but I didn't expect to feel this way. Maybe I should just stop running my square piece into the triangle hole hoping it would fit someday. I think I just need to be okay with me being me and accept my reality. Just wish it could that easy.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
After texting back and forth a few times and a couple of short phone calls, I decided that this boy and I were not going anywhere. The signs he sent were wishy-washy, and unimpressive. When we went over 2 weeks without talking, I definitely thought everything was water under the bridge.
Then, the wise woman stepped in.
My former primary teacher (who introduced us) was frustrated that nothing was happening between the two of us so she asked us to have dinner with her. She asked me this past Sunday when I was available and I told her Monday night or Friday night. I didn't hear anything back from her so I thought maybe the three of us would get together on Friday night. I was on my way home from work on Monday when I got a text message from him asking me if I wanted to go see the movie "Rapunzel" that night. (The whole process took about 45 minutes.) I was suspicious that his move might have been manipulated by my primary teacher so I asked her if she had anything to do with it. She said she just asked him if he had a terminal illness or if he was an alien. He got the point and asked me out. Anyway, I thought "Rapunzel" was an interesting choice but I agreed and we went to see the movie.
The movie was cute, I admit. And it was in 3D. The last time I saw an animated movie in the theater was "Aladdin" and things have definitely changed since then. We had dinner after and chatted about various things like what we are currently reading (we both like to read) and about more in-depth, personal things. Like before, we had a great conversation. When he dropped me off, I said "Call me if you ever get bored. I'll come and play with you." I think he appreciated that. ;)
Having said all that, I don't really know where this is all going. He is a very good person. I feel warmth in his presence. Not very many people exude that kind of warmth. Even so, I don't know if there will even be a third date. Well, we are still supposed to have dinner with my former primary teacher but that wouldn't be a date. I don't know what the future holds but I can still look forward to uncertainty unfolding into certainty and enjoy the journey.
Meanwhile, I will just sit back and whistle at the next hot boy that walks by (internally and reverently just in case).
Saturday, March 19, 2011
"What do you really want to do with your life?" was the question I would often get when I expressed my confusion and frustration in graduate school studying classical voice. But I always hesitated to give them a full account of what I had in mind in fear of getting a response like, "Who do you think you are?" or "That would be such a waste of time. Give it up and start doing something more practical." But since about a year ago, I started to make more tangible connections between my dream and ways to accomplish it. And even though I still get raised-eyebrows of disapproval or skepticism from my relatives, I stand immovable in believing that I will achieve my dream. You may even call it destiny.
I have always known that I would lead an artistic life. But it took long, and tortuous detours for my amorphous wishes to finally crystallize into something definite and tangible. There were lots of disappointment, discouragement, tears, resentment, and doubt that accompanied this process and I am pretty sure they will come back to haunt me in the future. Regardless, I feel a sense of surety that this is my destiny, my offering to the alter of that Being whom I call God.
And this is my dream.
I will create, produce and perform works that give breath and life to forgotten history, especially the unrecognized and silenced voice of Korean women. To do that, I am going back to school to study ethnomusicology. I feel indebted to the Korean women of the past, especially my grandmothers, and I want to pay homage to those who paid the price for the privileges and freedom I enjoy today. I want to tell the stories of their quiet resilience and courage of their human spirit. In so doing, I want all of us to dig deep into the roots of our humanity to discover our common vulnerability and understand that with courage and love we can overcome our personal and national tragedies. I want people to feel that we are all the same, that we belong to the same human family however brief the thought may last.
I know this sounds lofty and idealistic but somewhere deep inside my core, I know I will do this. I just know I will.
My dad’s house was burglarized a earlier this year—the entire house was ransacked. When I came home to California in the summer, I checked my room to see what had been taken. I first checked my jewelry box. I didn’t have much in there and the only thing that was of any worth was the diamond ring that my grandma had given me before she passed away in 2004. And it was gone. Disheartened, I consoled myself that it was just a ring.
A few days ago, I was looking through my jewelry box in my room in Salt Lake City (a different one than the one at home). Among the tangled necklaces and earrings, I saw a thick ring with seven studded diamonds in the shape of a flower. I had found my grandma’s ring! I must have brought it to Salt Lake with me sometime last year. I put it on my right ring finger and stared at it for awhile as my thoughts spiraled to what she might have been like not as a grandma but as a woman.
My grandma or halmuni as her grandchildren used to call her, was born in 1910 as the last bits of monarchial rule of Korea was being swallowed up by Imperial Japan. She grew up in a milieu of national oppression and gender bigotry in an extremely patriarchal society. She received a formal education up to maybe the third grade. She barely knew how to read and write. At age fifteen, she was married off to a man she had never seen before her wedding day. Since that day, she was responsible for drawing and carrying water from a well a mile away every morning at five, making fire to cook rice for her husband, parents-in-law and the field workers. It was her job to deliver lunch on a large pan that she carried on her head to the workers in the rice field. Sometimes she faltered and spilled at which point she ran back to the house to prepare the meal again. She washed, mended and made clothes for the members of her household until the wee hours before she finally went to bed. She labored diligently all of her life as a wife and mother of six children even as she faced pain and humiliation of her husband’s infidelity and domestic violence.
When I was younger, I just assumed this was the stuff of life for Korean women in her days. Only recently, as I looked at her diamond ring she had purchased herself, I realized that she must have had a desire to be seen, heard and be beautiful. Her wedding day was the only day that she wore makeup. Her teenage years were spent working and serving. But she must have had a desire to be educated, to discover and develop her talents, to fall in love, and be loved, to have nice clothes, to be praised for her intelligence and beauty. I wonder what she would have done with her life if she were given the same opportunities as her grand-daughters--what kind of career path she would have taken and what kind of man she would have married. I wish I could get to know her again as a woman to woman.
When she was alive, I remember her sometimes fanning herself furiously saying there was a fire in her chest. I imagine that that was perhaps the fire of anger she was never allowed to voice or channel for the injustices she suffered. She didn’t do anything great in the eyes of the world—she was never allowed to. She may have dismissed her life as a failure especially during her last years as she became increasingly invisible. And yet, she is my hero. She practically raised me and my siblings when my parents divorced. She was the source of warmth and comfort when life got cold and sad. She loved with great love.
I marvel at her story and how she didn’t let a trace of bitterness cloud her love for her children and grandchildren. Her circle of influence may have been small, but she touched everyone she met with kindness and compassion. When I don’t feel loved, I could always think of my halmuni and find an ember of warmth in my heart that she left me while she was alive. Even though she may not know, in my eye, she lived her life humbly, yet magnificently.
As I ponder on my own life, I become acutely aware of the rich blessings of this generation. I have freedom, rights, and opportunities because of the sacrifice of my halmuni and the countless women of yesteryear. They walked the road history allotted them so that I could start much more ahead. As I stand on the threshold of uncertainty, I am infused with a sense of responsibility to live a life much bigger than what I allowed myself to believe in. After all, my life doesn’t stand on its own but as a culmination of history of great, heroic women whose stories will never be told.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
I come bearing not-so-pleasant news. I got my first rejection letter from Harvard. Not a good thing and I was bummed out for like 30 seconds and bounced back to my usual happy, chipper self. So, no biggie.
And as I am sure some of you are wondering about my frog-turned-prince of a plastic surgeon, I will relay my latest news. We texted back and forth for the last week and a half and spoke on the phone twice (5 minutes the first time and 10 minutes the second, both of which he initiated). I can tell he is super naive and shy (the shy part I knew because he told me) about women and dating (which of course explains his bachelorhood at the age of 38). According to my old primary teacher, the man likes me and is interested in me. But because I am moving back to the States later this year, I think both of us are a bit hesitant about developing this relationship. Well, I guess I can't speak for him but that's my guess. Or as some of you may say, "He's just not that into you!" In which case, I may just resort to grooming my blog and have her date other blogs and find fulfillment in the happiness of my cyber creation. Ah man, that sounds so depressing.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
If you are a faithful follower of my blog, you would know that I was supposed to go on a 0.25 date last night. But to my complete and utter surprise, it turned out to be a full-fledged 1.0 date. I know you are all dying to hear about the date so let me gab on a little more before I get to the meat of the story.
My dear friend Maureen and I had our last supper before I went on my date. She left Korea this morning and we wanted to share our last meal together before we parted. I had always wanted to take her to a fortune teller before she left Korea (to vicariously fulfill a need since I decided to quit my addiction to fortune telling). We found an old man sitting in his little metal booth taking a nap. We knocked on his door and entered. He told various helpful and not-so helpful little things about Maureen's life while occasionally stealing a surreptitious glance my way. He told me not to concern myself too much with a man's looks or height. "Just go and date," he said "and come back to get your compatibility read and I will give you 50% off!" And he handed me his business card with "50% off" written on the back. He asked for a hug (which is very rare in Korea) and spanked my ass for good luck (I think). So, with an advice from a wise man and a spanked butt, I said goodbye to Maureen and headed out to meet my party.
My old primary teacher and I met up and went to the restaurant where our guy was waiting. To help me mentally prepare, she had told me that he wasn't much of a looker but that he was a very nice person. So, I didn't expect any fireworks flying at first sight. And it didn't. But, he was much better looking than I had imagined and he had a very kind face. (I think that was her strategy--to make me think he was super ugly so that when I actually saw him, I would actually be impressed.) Anyway, we sat and talked and ate. And suddenly, she said she had an appointment with the missionaries and that she had to go. I panicked a little bit because I thought she was going to stay for the whole thing.
But she was a wise woman.
After she left, we got talking about religion, faith, truth, our past and life in general. Pretty heavy stuff for a first date. When I am curious about a person, I ask very deep and personal questions point-blank: "When was the most difficult time of your life?" "Why are you not married?" "Tell me about the woman you loved the most."(If any of you are thinking about gleaning dating advice from my blog, you must know that you cannot ask these questions without having acquired a certain amount of charm and flair. Otherwise, you will be branded as a psycho and you can just forget about your prospective dates with the man.)
I think he was amused by me. He answered all the questions, which begot more questions and more answers. I was deeply impressed by his character and commitment to and love for his family. We left the restaurant and went to a traditional Korean tea house (very cool). We sat and chatted a little about literature and culture. And then the owner kicked us out because it was already 10 pm.
He drove me home but when we got to my door, he asked if we could talk some more. So, we drove around my neighborhood for two more hours and gabbed away happily. We laughed a lot. By the time midnight rolled around and when he finally dropped me off at my door, we both had smiles on our faces.
Will there be a happily-ever-after? Tune in next week and see what happens!