How Ode to My Father Gained my Respect for Koreans

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I’ve been teaching  English to Koreans  for 8 years. So, getting along with them has given me the opportunity to understand their rich culture, custom, and history. I’ve been trying to learn how to speak,  read , and write  basic Hangul. I’ve even loved  their food ,and…allow me to cite the ones I always crave such as ssamkyupsal ( 삼겹살), ttakbeoki (떡볶이), panjeon (파전), jjajangmyeon ( 자장면) , ramen (그리고 라멘), and to name a few. Hmmm… My mouth is now watering. ..And I am even now trying to be a pale imitation of their fashion. Jeez whiz, I still haven’t  let myself be eaten by their system completely.

There is one thing that makes  Koreans  differ from us Filipinos: Their deep history that has molded their consciousness. That’s why it has been hard  for me to understand them in terms of their socio-cultural and economical policies. Koreans place too much value on familial hierarchy. Young people address the elderly with respect, patently obvious in their language- the custom  which is somehow no longer a big deal in the Philippines. Also, almost all Koreans are under pressure to conform to the standards of their educational system. Students go to academy ( 학원: Hag won)  to equip themselves with more skills. They even take part in more extra-curricular activities as another credentials once they look for lucrative jobs because hunting a job  is suicidal. Their  (close) friends can be even their frenemy in all aspects of  life should the need arise that they have to  consider their own interest. So, time is not more than gold, something I was not even used to when I started working for them. The long and the short of it, Koreans have been taught how to hit the ground running by this kind of  dog-eat-dog culture.

Right after watching the movie,  Ode to My Father, I sent a message to my beloved Korean students that I cried over it, and because of this movie, I respect their country, especially their history more. I explained further that this is a blinding revelation to me; I learned from this movie  how Koreans transformed themselves into new blood after the long period of extreme poverty during the Korean war.  It shows how the  war shaped Koreans’ philosophies in life  beyond their powers of endurance and resiliency. For instance, due to extreme poverty, they had to work hard to make their ends meet. They had to sacrifice by living away from their families while working abroad. They had to consider their families’ future no matter how life-threatening the available jobs were. They were  all determined to pull out the load weighing them down –the fighting spirit that has been observably inherent in their characters even up to this day. Perhaps, after this horrible chapter of  their history, it’s now their cultural “meme” that they should never let something like this pass again.

People must learn many moral lessons from the movie. The one that etched on my mind is that we can come up with alternative solutions to our problems. In the movie, Hwang Jung-min, the main character, found ways of how he could help alleviate his family’s miserable  life condition. I believe that  he can as well be the representation of all Koreans who did the same way. 🙂

The movie even made me break into tears as though the hem of my cloth was not enough to dampen my eyes. So, make sure that when you watch it, a hankie is not enough , but a diaper will do. It shows how the first Korean families were separated from one another after the 38th parallel, demarcating North and South Korea.  I could not stop blinking  my tears away some lachrymose scenes such as  when Hwang Jung-min  looked for his younger sister who had been missing for many years, and eventually found her on TV and when he  stayed in his room and  had an apparition talk with his father. They were heart-breaking. T_T

Would that  the movie were novelized, it would be more compelling and deeper, and I would surely wet its pages because of the emotional scenes conveyed in  beautiful sentences.

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)

 

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A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball : by Cho Se-Hui: A Book Review

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” People called father a dwarf. They were right. Father was a dwarf. Unfortunately, people were right only about that. They weren’t right anything else…”

-Cho Se-Hui, A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball-

When it comes to reading books which themes have something to do with physical  deformities such as dwarfism, the condition of abnormal growth as  what we learned from Genetics,  the best examples are  novels  reflecting in social life of India such as A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and  A  Son of the Circus by  American novelist, John Irving  .  I can understand that such body condition can exist in India   where the  scenes of poverty are probably,  in theory, the leading factor. However, in a developed and industrialized country as well as  heralded as  the “Electronics Capital of the World”, South Korea, such idea is  inconceivable. Perhaps, I have never met any  Korean students  with this  genetic  disease yet.  Besides, as far  as I learned, the Korean government provides its citizens with good health services. In other words, all of them can have free access to  life and health services. So, I was just deluded into the fact that all Koreans were “physically” perfect. That is why I was flabbergasted by  the  title  of this book which  has something to do with a dwarf. In the end, the setting of the story was when South Korea was still a poor country.

In an impoverished neighborhood in the outskirts of  Seoul, there was  a dwarf whose name was Kim Bur-ri, living as a head of his family. Ironically, the name of the place was Happiness District, Paradise County. Eventually, the neighborhood would go into redevelopment  as part of South Korea’s industrialization at that time. Kim Bu-ri’s house would  be one of the houses to be demolished. But the heart of the matter was how each member of the family, particularly  the dwarf’s three children would struggle desperately to restore the broken pieces  of their lives brought about by  the political-economic dilemmas.

The style of the story has a little resemblance to Japanese stories.  (Probably , Japanese literature influenced Korean  literature or vice-versa. ) The tone is  dead-flat, direct but quite soft and calm. It is not that strong   as what I feel in other novels. Besides, it is a combination of realism and fantasy which adds literary excitement to a reader like me. In addition, the flow of the story   is meditating and cathartic , typical of a writer who releases his burden feelings  with the practice of yoga or Zen meditation. Thus, it is not that boring as I had expected .  I wonder if the pathos is the same as the original  Korean version.

“Misconduct, corruption, bureaucratic cleanup – there was a time when those words appeared almost daily in the newspaper. Only then did the family in back lower the volume on their TV. They stowed away their refrigerator, washer, piano, tape player, and other such possessions in the basement and brought out their old clothes to wear in public.”

-Cho Se-Hui, A Dwarf Launches a Little Ball-

If I  try to understand the deeper part of the story without much knowledge of the Korean history, the concept  deals with how  social changes  like industrialization affect human life, particularly a family. In the story, figuratively, dwarf Kim Bur-ri  symbolizes poor and socially  marginalized people , lagging behind the political-economic changes. What happens is how the impact of the  industrialization  affects   the family values. In the story, Kim Bu-ri came to the point that he ended up losing his dignity by working as a dwarf acrobat.

As I am falling to reading Eastern literature such as Japanese and  Korean literature , I come to the realization that there is really something unique  about the novels  written by East Asian writers. Sometimes, I conclude that as the History serves, all eastern Asian nations were one place. So, hypothetically, they had the same culture and customs.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it. )

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin: A Book Review

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Reading the novel with my Korean student

What would you DO if your mother went missing? Would you look for her by distributing an avalanche of flyers in public, or making a spate of announcements on TV? What would you FEEL if your mother disappeared? Would you feel indifferent to it? Would you lose interest in doing anything? Would you not be able to concentrate on your work? Probably, you would. Basically, the novel deals with what a perfect mother in general is like as well as deep regrets about how we treat our mothers. Also, it shows the contemporary Korean family traditions.

Park So-nyo is a mother to three children. I would say that she is an epitome of a perfect mother, an indefatigable mother who never gets tired of working around-the-clock for the sakes of her children, a mother who understands what it feels like to be a child, a mother- although illiterate she is – who always thinks of what is good for her children; most importantly, a mother who never robs her children of RESPECT and LOVE. For sure, her home is conducive to a healthy living despite her family lacks the trappings of life.

The novel must illustrate how we bitterly regret when our mothers disappears. Probably, we will miss her badly like an abandoned orphan. We may blame ourselves for all the things we have done. As a matter of fact, the novel manifests three kinds of regrets:

(a) Father/husband’s regrets. Betrothed at an early age to a woman he has never met, So-nyo’s husband becomes indifferent and stoical. Eventually, with great regret about maltreating her, he will come back to his senses that he loves her after all, for he will realize how responsible mother she is. A common scene in movies and TV dramas we have seen.
(b) Children’s regrets. Although nurtured with unconditional love, So-nyo’s children will realize their shortcomings- how they make lights of their mother’s sacrifice and lessons she teaches to them. It happens to us, doesn’t it? Especially, while we are still growing up, or on the cusp of fulfilling our dreams, when we enjoy our lives to the fullest.
(c) Kinfolk’s regrets. In the novel, So-nyo’ husband’s kins seem to detest her a lot. However, when So-nyo goes missing, some will realize how good she has been to her family.

The review on its back is right that “… you will never think of your mother the same way after you read it. “ While I was reading it, it punched my heart, for it reminded me of my late mother. Like So-nyo’s husband and children, I have regretted a lot. I wish I had done it. I wish had not done it. I wish I could do it for her now. But alas, she has gone. So like what So-nyo’s daughter Chi-hon ‘s final message, “ Please, look after your mom.”

I think, therefore, that the novel is all about the contemporary family culture and customs in South Korea. I think park So-nyo could be the archetype of what a particular mother is like in Korea. Besides, the novel limns the importance of having a first son in a family.

The style of the novel is unusual for me. This is my first time to have read a novel with more than three or four narrators, so the writing is said to be sharp, biting, and intensely moving despite the fact that I am familiar with the concept of the story.

What I liked about the novel is its vivid descriptions of the Korean cuisine I have eaten already. Although the foods are translated into English, I could- aside from kimchi , panchan, and persimmon- guess what foods are being mentioned:

(a) Perilla leaves- kaenyip
(b) The noodles- ramen
(c) The beer mixed with sojju- maggoli
(d) The long white rice cake – garae tok
(e) The sea weed soup-miyok guk
(f) The rice wrapped with green sea weed- gimbap
(g) Sautéed anchovies- myeol chi
(h) Red-paste pepper- gochugang
(i) The mashed pumpkin soup- hobakjuk
(j) Braised tofu- tofujorim
(k) Boiled octopus- ojengo

Kudos to its translator , Chi young Kim! The foods made my mouth water. ^_^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars