Solongseeyoutomorrow’s Blog

February 25, 2009

I’ve stopped counting!

Filed under: Uncategorized — solongseeyoutomorrow @ 4:29 pm

Racing off to Japan this morning; writing myself a note about what I need to do when I get back. I pretty much treat myself as a would-be amnesiac (i.e., with all my lists).

Copyedited manuscript: done. Inch by inch.

Began blogging and Facebook at the same time. Both to keep up with Carmen. Just found an old friend, John Seel, in FB. So, I’m a fan now.

Andy and I spent about 90 minutes yesterday talking to the school principal, the English teacher (who was wonderful but never spoke English), the girls’ 6th grade homeroom teacher and the 2 candidates for Isaac’s 1st grade teacher. Although he is technically in second grade here, they feel that the more active, less literate culture of first grade will make things easier; also second grade has 4 high needs kids and they are calculating teacher time/energy. Their big dilemma: there is a returnee Korean girl who doesn’t speak much Korean and they are debating whether it is best to put Isaac and her in the same class or to split them. Our hunch (which we were honest about): likely best for Isaac to be together, and better for the girl (who will be here longer) to make her way in Korean company. Their worry: if they are together the other kids will find it intimidating to approach the English speaking duo. The English teacher will take all the kids during their respective classes’ Korean language time. We let her know that we have no need for Isaac to be tutored in Korean, but that if she could take up the (enormously difficult) activity of having him read the little books we brought with (from his first grade teacher) that would be awesome. At home, this is how it tends to go: line 1, Isaac is upright; line 2, Isaac has reclined and begun to yawn (they seem real); line 3, Isaac has reclined; line 4, Isaac has moved to the floor; line 5, I, for one, am wondering, “How effective can this be?” Funny when I went to describe to the teacher how difficult it is I really appreciated the Korean word for hard which is literally “strength goes into it” (i.e., a sort of compound verb) because it captures the nature of things better than the English in this case. They are very sure that there will be a big group of kids lined up to help Isaac learn how to read English; when I heard this I immediately said that I was sure that 4th or 5th grade Korean kids could easily parse his little books; to which, they smiled and said that the earlier grade kids could as well!! The girls’ teacher has that veteran-air and Andy and I both agreed that she can handle 6th graders, easy. They all asked just the right questions — very reassuring for Andy: the kids’ personality (Simone at the dinner table last night wanted the review of exactly how we had answered, to which Carmen chirped in with an imaginary narrative of what we might have said which was pretty much spot on!), health concerns, things they might particularly hate (a query from one of Isaac’s potential teachers) (our answer: being forced to do something; we communicated what a lovely boy Isaac is but that he is not moved by what the crowd does — no surprise that when we told him last night that no kids in his class would be wearing tie sneakers (a problem here because Isaac can’t tie his shoes and shoes come on and off so much) he said, “well, can’t I just be different?” to which Andy answered, “You’re going to be different enough already”). Andy and I were both delighted to learn that the teen set at the school is tomboyish and that the girls need to wear loose informal pants because of gym days twice a week, and Yoga the other days. This was big (nearly shocking) news to our tight jean set. So we’ll go buy some. But who knows? I have a funny feeling that the girls might come home and say that the teachers have no idea about the kids there…They sure do often think that we have no idea! A small school like this one looked so labor intensive to me. Dazzling — and our little meeting was still going at 6:30! Simone was not thrilled to learn that the new student ceremony next Saturday asks that everyone dress up in something that reveals their dreams; Simone has never liked costumes (I’m sort of with her on that one). Carmen and Isaac are ready to come as painters and I might join them. Just asked Andy for his impressions: He was surprised that all the teachers and the principal were there to meet with us at such length. Also, the school has taken even our kids’ transportation into consideration (Haejoang has helped behind the scenes on this one) and they will find an older teen to help take them home on some days when we can’t get there on time (rereading this — Oh my goodness how unhappy the girls are at this prospect: we heard no end of complaints, including from Isaac). Isaac ends some days at 2, others at 3, and he will join a first/second grade after-school program also. Let’s see. The school is cold. But warm otherwise. I feel so excited for the kids; like a first grader myself. Nervous too.

Let’s see (Mom) other kid stuff: one evening Isaac came to me to announce a discovery. I could really tell he had been mulling this one over for a while: (that now that he thinks about it) in Urbana everyone is connected to everyone else. And he went on to explain ‘degrees of separation’ — that even if we don’t know them directly, they would know someone we know. And, he’s right. Again — they aren’t reading this these days but still — the girls would wince to read this but I do think it is wonderful that living in a large metropolis afforded this “discovery” of his! The kids have really been enjoying their time with Eun-Jung, the former student of my former student (!), who knows just how to make them happy: shopping, movies, TV programs (in Korean), cooking plans+++ I am deeply indebted to her. The girls are amazed at her careful planning, detailed schedules for each meeting. I’m amazed that she wears spike heels nearly every time she comes; given the grade and quality of the hill she has to walk up to get here this is simply incredible. Yesterday, she was leaving with Isaac for Hapkido (the girls had run ahead) and she bowed to us as she always does, and Isaac bowed too (it was so instinctive and cute and they were holding hands). Again, we are lucky.

If the museums are right, and if they are peppered with hot chocolate and a good lunch, the kids are pretty tolerant. I think what they like least is anything too modern. They were happiest at the Palace Museum in Kyongbokgun (which these days is dazzling because of the clear skies and gorgeous mountain scenery); I think kids like to hear about royalty and Isaac (Oh oh praising him again) generated a whole theory of democracy, explaining to me that the difference is that Obama is from a “regular family,” and, yes, that “anyone can become president.” But meanwhile the room full of nothing but jars for royal placentas and the gorgeous GM cars that the list king was driven in etc. etc. all excited them. They even liked the exhibit about court music (Anne P. are you reading — and we talked about YOU there). And what really took us to the museum was the exhibit on the Seungnaemun (formerly Namdaemun or the South Gate) which was recently burned down by a disgruntled man displaced from his home by redevelopment — of course for Isaac that the #1 national treasure (I didn’t fully disclose that although it is indeed #1 the numbering system does not mean that it was designated the most important) was destroyed is very dramatic, and its current rebuilding noteworthy. In the elegant café there I ran into Ham Sejung who I had met there the day before (the kids thought that was quite a coincidence. The gift shop there is beautiful and I recommend it to folks over Insadong for quick (and expensive) shopping of the more traditional Korean fare. I bought the most beautiful lacquer tray for Noboru and Rika. Then we went off to a gallery (the same one we visited very soon after our arrival) next to a restaurant that had appealed to the kids last time (but we hadn’t gone). This time the gallery was housing Yu Sok-nam’s hundreds of wooden sculptures of (homeless) dogs on the streets of Seoul. We have a small sculpture of hers of a mother/daughter (in a lantern) in our entry way in Urbana and Haejoang has a small lovely little sculpture of hers here in a windowsill and I was pretty sure that the kids would hence feel “at home” amongst these works. And they did. I am not a dog fan but I love her work. She did one series of dogs and flowers (something to do with 108 Buddhist sins?) and they were (the flowers that is) beautiful. All this was followed by shopping with Eun-Jung (I went on my own way) at the Nambuk Terminal; the girls are becoming veterans who can run the shopping comparison between the Namdaemun Market, and South of the river, Koex and the Nambuk Terminal underground strips. They bought spring jackets (stylish), shirts etc. And Eun-jung found the key to Isaac’s heart: the play mobile store in the Kyobo building in Kangnam. Saved. He built a little card board house floor his new “soldier” (I never quite know what they are). (Later I found out it was a prisoner and jail master and little mice for the cell. Lovely).

[Need to pack for Japan; will write the rest from there].
I’ll save Japan for another entry but here I am in Osaka at the wooden table that pretty much is Noboru’s dining room attached to a small kitchen and it is so much home for me — I think I have spent thousands of hours here, hanging, talking, working…This is the famous table that Mrs. Murakami used to recline under after a long day and a good meal and where once Andy (who was jet-lagged) joined her under the table (Noboru tells the story to show just how relaxed his household is and how friendly his mom was) — we have it on photo! Back from skiing the kids are exhausted. NHK news in the background is reporting that Japanese universities are in trouble because of the market (and the falling population).

I went to two movies in a single week. All smiles. The first with Jin-young — blanking on the title (not wireless here) — a documentary about an elderly farming couple and a cow. The film documents the final 18 months of the cow’s life, the cow that the farmer relied on for his stubborn hand-farming. Frankly, it was dull fare, although the scenery was beautiful and the elderly man/cow cuts were somewhat poetic. The film ends with text about the suffering of “our elders to afford our lives now” — which struck me as particularly sappy and romantic. The film’s saving grace was the wife who is a bit cynical about her husband’s stubborn ways and defiant commitment to the cow and her constant reprieve, “my fate…” The second movie was with Sejung who works for Soo-Jung at Rainbow Youth (more on that in a sec): Daytime Drinking, a travel pic about a guy who finds himself in Kangwon Province and ends up at the very same seaside that we visited after we went skiing. It was interesting for capturing a sort of light-hearted helplessness of young people with few prospects.

I had fascinating morning learning about Sejung Ham’s Rainbow Youth work: she has created numerous programs to teach teachers and kids about what it means to live with North Korean refugees/immigrants. I left with a pile of little books and a DVD for teachers. It was fascinating to hear how she decided to explain to South Koreans the challenges for North Korean kids who find themselves in the South (for example, that not only are they typically put back a year but they find themselves in math classes in which they can’t understand a single problem because North Korean math does not use roman numerals, instead writing all programs in Korean (i.e., no numbers appear). She also showed me a number of books for the North Korean kids which are efforts to de-code the many illegible aspects of Korean society. It was fascinating to learn which aspects require translation: that in the South kids are legally required to attend school, that in the South not every school is necessarily doing the same thing, that most kids go to after schools…Hers is a veritable diagnosis of the cultural divides. She is about to head to the U.S. to study educational philosophy and it was interesting to learn that she felt that it was her ed philosophy background that facilitated her ability to imagine and execute these “cross-cultural” educational programs. She has applied to Urbana too… I hope she finds her way there because I think her experience in creating these first-generation programs and then guiding their enactment is pretty incredible. (I suggested that she write an article before she heads to the U.S.). That same day (my day, and did I ever use it) I ventured to Taek-Lim (who I met in Seoul in 1984 — we read Geertz together; who was I to have been helping anyone with that text at that point, but whatever…)’s Oral History Institute that she founded in the last couple of years. It was great to see her “space” and to learn about her work these years; one of the university’s library/information/archival programs is relying on her program to train their students and they send them to her! That day I also met my oil painting teacher at the South Gate Market where we lined up the equipment — much more than I imagined. Simone will join me so we had to think about what we both needed and what we could share. I have to admit I’m a bit nervous. She was very nice and I think we’ll get along well. That day I went hither/thither all over Seoul and ended up with Sejung again for Daytime Drinking where we ran into the girls who had taken care of Carmen and Simone 2 years ago when I needed to be in a meeting (that was their first trip to a Korean amusement park); the funny thing was that I had asked one of the boyfriends the way to the theatre (it was down a long alley and it seemed an unlikely place to me) and he recognized me and had been tempted to say, “Are you headed to Daytime Drinking.” They left the theatre heading for a bar (! I have to admit I could have never gone drinking after that salubrious (is that the right word?) film) and we headed to a little Chinese (steamed) dumpling shop (so yummy, just like the ones I loved in Shanghai) run by a Chinese couple that started the shop knowing NO Korean; eventually some of the guests put up signs in Korean explaining the fare and now they speak a bit. Although there have been Chinese in Korea throughout the century (and they have been active in the Chinese restaurant sector), this sort of recent immigrant shop struck me as very new (the alley to the theatre and shop is at Ankuk, heading to the library that stands on the former site of the Kyonggi High School that so many famous people and academics attended — it has now moved south the river where much of Seoul’s wealth and high fashion+++ is amassed). I had another afternoon to myself which I spent with Soo-Jung, first heading to a three-generation-show of her classmate-film director of my favorite Korean movies, Memories of Murder and The Host (this spring his new film “Mother [in English]” comes out — I can’t wait (Just read a wonderful book about him, a directors’ series published in 2008). The show (mostly his Dad’s design work) was unremarkable but from there we headed to a little coffee grinding shop in Soo-Jung’s neighborhood (we’ve been living on that coffee since) and to a fancy department store where Soo-Jung was determined to buy Isaac a simpler chocolate cake (her more elegant present of a variety of fancy cakes the other day had caused a raucous because they all vied for the simplest chocolate cake) and we settled on classic chocolate cup cakes with blue frosting (perfection for the kids). It seemed so amazing to be ambling about Seoul in a leisurely way with Soo-Jung who had taken the afternoon off from her weighty work responsibilities as the assistant director of Rainbow Youth (which houses both the North Korean immigrant youth section and a section for other immigrant youth) (their office has as amazing view of the Kyungbok Palace which of course –when I mentioned it — they said they hardly have time to notice it).

We had my old friend Pae-gu (a farmer who I met in 1987) and his family over for dinner. Only they arrived late at 8:30 (we had settled on 7:00) having eaten dinner. Thank goodness for his teen boys who were willing to eat the home-made pizzas just the same. His older boy was great with English and we had lots of fun at dinner because he was teasing his younger brother about his girlfriend who had just given him home-made chocolate for Valentine’s Day (In both Japan and Korea, it is girls who give boys presents on Valentine’s Day — go figure) (evidentially home-made chocolate is all the rage, typically by following instructions on the internet). Pae-gu’s wife joined later and we talked a bit about the U.S. and Korean agriculture (she remains active in farmers’ movements). The boys were a wonderful tonic for Isaac: they pulled Isaac all around the apartment (he was tied to his Hapkido belt) and they did all sorts of stuff on the balconies. He had so much fun but at some point he took a little fit (he had just rammed into a table), went to our room and threw up; poor kid, he ended up having a hard night and a slow Sunday where he ate nothing and looked so waif-like; Andy ventured out with the girls for another Seoul peak where they ran into scores of weekend middle aged hikers (all in perfect gear) and found themselves (even though they had headed pretty far to what we figured would be the outskirts of Seoul) surrounded by a sea of apartment buildings. They reported that I would not have liked some of the ladders so just as well (plus I would have hated seeing Isaac on some of those ladders).

The Korean ethnography group met for the first time: 7 of us doing field work in Korea. And we filmed it with my new camera (Q-ho manned the camera). We did 30 minutes apiece (having sent short documents beforehand) and it was lots of fun. Erica (UC Irvine) on Peruvians in Korea (and the church), Josie (U of I) on college film clubs, John (U of I) on gays and internet, Hae Yeon (U WI) on Filipina migrant laborers, brides and sex workers, Seo Yeong on time/space/labor at Seoul’s 24 hour Tongdaemun Market, and Euy Ryung (UNC) on multicultural discourse/NGOs. In March we will be joined by a 7th member from Rutgers studying Vietnamese in a provincial area. Since I am so used to the weekly advisee meeting, I loved the gathering. And I was delighted to learn later that some of them headed out to dinner together. It is so much fun to be able to learn about all these exciting dissertations in the making. Who knows if we will collectively decide to edit the films into something, but I’ll leave that for much later. I wasn’t too psyched about being filmed myself but we all got used to it. I felt very spoiled to have everyone come to me, but Haejoang’s place is perfect for such a meeting.

Isaac and I also had a nice visit with Chung-Kang and her 2 kids: how she is managing the kids, the final touches of her dissertation, job searching, and kid #3 in May, who knows. But she is always calm and even made us a lovely lunch. Isaac while there enjoyed the littler kids toys and company and after drawing a picture, asked for an envelope, and a while later announced to Chung-Kang that there was a letter at the door. He had her for a minute. It was cute.

Ok, winding down. I wanted to end on one encounter and I will keep the details vague. I had a very sad conversation with a woman in her early 40s. On the brink of a divorce and a government worker, she described her hopelessness: insecure about her job, she fears, she said, for her very existence; who, she mused, will care for her, feed her? What made this even sadder was that earlier in our encounter she explained that she shares nothing private with anyone other than someone connected by blood — those are the only people, she went on, who can truly share her suffering because it flows into their very bloodstream. It is commonsense to describe Koreans’ keen sense of blood-relatedness (resistance to adoption beyond the patrilineage, heightened interest in genetic determinism (prejudice against those from families with genetic proclivities to illness or disability) etc.), but I had never heard anyone voice anything quite like this and it struck me as semi-tragic. Because, nonetheless, at the end of the day she worried for her future and didn’t even mention family. Also, remarkably she had described herself as an unlikely Korean. Haejoang often talks and writes about South Korea’s weak “support system” that leaves people insecure about their futures and goes far to explain South Korea’s familism (the sense that one can only rely on family) and class reproduction anxiety (which fuels South Korea’s aggressive globalization). This woman seemed a text-book case. I was pretty shaken by the whole encounter. She also said that she often goes to sleep hoping she might not wake up in the morning. No sooner had I heard all this then it seemed that everywhere I turned massive job insecurity was making its way into the fabric of family lives. One friend mentioned thinking about liquidating their assets and heading to the countryside for a quiet life of some farming and internet-based activity. Ahh. We are all feeling the economy. Together.

Advertisements

February 10, 2009

1 month+

Filed under: Uncategorized — solongseeyoutomorrow @ 10:44 pm

How do people keep this up? My excuse this week (I missed my own Friday (internal) deadline): the copyedited manuscript of my book, The Intimate University: Korean American College Students and the Problems of Segregation (the press edited my title, removing “family” which they say doesn’t sell). I love being copyedited but it is humbling. The editor removed ALL of my attempts to be tentative: (my parenthetical comments) — all dashes too — and every instance in which I put a “word” in quotes. And s/he ex-ed all of the idioms/informal expressions — hadn’t realized I use so many — from “the likes of” to “whole cloth,” “be all, end all,” “tipped the scale,” etc. This blog, though, will remain unedited, clichéd, and tentative!

Some kid highlights first. Mom will agree that these are the most interesting and by far the most important. Isaac had two play dates, both recruited via Hapkido (the martial art). One boy was 4 years older, the other an age mate. Isaac slows down his English and adds a funny twang to it in the hopes that his friends can understand. They couldn’t. But they played, mostly in parallel which is not too uncommon for this age. Meanwhile, he has announced that he likes the playtime before the Hapkido class, the rolling around with all sorts of big/soft blocks and balls and kids, but not the class itself. When I tried yesterday to make the comparison to school — “there’s fun time but there is also class time” — he was entirely unmoved: “But you have to go to school and you don’t have to go to Hapkido.” What’s a parent to say? The girls meanwhile, led by Carmen’s resolve, announced that they would like to attend Hapkido three times a day (4, 5, and 7). Why? The master, Sabomnim, seemed to let them know that a black belt during their time in Korea is in the offing (I gather it would usually take a year) if they work very hard. We have let them know that 3 times a day might cramp our style, to which Simone said something like, “But you’re the ones who wanted us to do Hapkido.” I keep reminding myself that there is nothing the kids are doing/saying that is unique to their being in Korea; that keeps me sane. The girls followed their Korean teacher to school for a party last Saturday morning. She teaches their grade (6th) and thought they would have fun. They had a blast. They particularly got a kick out of how very easy it was to pick out the “alpha girl” (this was not coined in Korea, but Koreans have taken to this way of describing high achieving, ambitious girls) that they had heard over pizza when we had Yon-mi and Eun-kyung (the 2nd grade teacher who has been helping with Isaac) over. See Carmen’s blog for a description of how that girl introduced herself in English. All this bad press about public school and public school teachers, but here are two who couldn’t be more committed, wise, principled…The kids have broken in another tutor/babysitter (11 year olds do NOT need babysitters. I repeat). She began on a formal pedagogical note and things didn’t go well. Second meeting: they were busily planning a shopping trip and learning how to haggle, “That’s too expensive, please cut the price.” The kids announced that she was fine! I dragged them (alone; Andy is cramming on a grant) yesterday to the National Museum in Seoul Grand Park. How did I manage this? The museum can be reached by a chair lift (I overheard the girls explaining to Isaac later that I was gripping his hand for my sake, not his. True) and from most of the museum’s picture frame windows, Seoul Land, the most younger kid-friendly (but still thrilling enough for 11 year olds) amusement park, was in plain view. I told them that I would convince Andy to take them there on Thursday (his day!) My argument: there is no better week because this week kids are in school (Korea has an interesting schedule: a 6-weekish vacation Dec-Jan, the semester’s final two weeks in early February, a two-week winter vacation in late February, and the start of the new school year in March) (theirs being an alternative school things have been “rationalized” cutting out the two weeks in Feb in school) (rationalized for whom?) It was a grey, drizzly day and the park and museum were hollow, never mind the park’s parking capacity for tens of thousands. The crown jewel of the museum is Nam June Paik’s TV pagoda, 1003 TVs to be precise, standing for 10.03, Korea’s national founding day, which is the centerpiece of the museum around which one winds up the museum’s three floors. The special show was on the works of up-and-coming young artists; the girls stand their ground that classical art is much better. Isaac did like several pieces: the rocket ship that had broken through the museum wall, the 3-D video installation of a trip to Antarctica (it was beautiful) and another video installation of a rocket launching that seemed to include a 3-D panorama that moved (or was it the video?) (see this odd site for the best photos I was able to locate quickly http://londonkoreanlinks.net/2007/01/22/seouls-national-museum-of-contemporary-art/ — the kids loved the sculpture garden too). We never made it to the zoo, but somehow the museum (+chairlift) did the trick. There was a children’s wing with many beautiful paintings: not necessarily children’s art but more easily accessible portraiture. And while we are on the subject of culture: this home comes with cable. And yes the Disney channel has its play. Likely our no-TV (at home) kids will remember THIS about their time in Korea as much as anything else. Don’t ask me what they watch. I do see Mr. Bean on the screen though.

Andy and I ventured to the first new parent meeting at the kids’ school (http://sungmisan.net/). There were many things that reminded me of PTA/new parent meetings at home: nervous, concerned parents, veteran parents guiding the way, the call for volunteers (more important in the case of this private, cooperative school). It was interesting to see how parents introduced themselves: typically standing up as a couple, some nudging as to who would go first, and in most cases the wife leading the way. The most interesting thing was, though, the extent to which parents shared not only their dreams for their children (these parents have opted for an alternative school, and for the substantial fees to become a co-op member) but also their hopes for changes in their own life. They spoke either of having been in the neighborhood, just moved to the neighborhood (with great effort) or being in the throes of moving. The uniformly seemed to embrace the idea of more cooperative living (like family, like a village etc.). I felt moved and a bit choked up at their sincere resolve and desires for something different. And speaking of community, that evening we joined for the opening of a community theatre. The opening was staged by inviting the “spirit” of the mountain (the neighborhood is a hill) to bless the event. There was the humorous “calling” of the spirit followed by her clever MCing of the welcoming remarks and gifts of 6 notables (yours truly was one of them; Haejoang hadn’t exactly made that clear to me but I winged it). My gift was Carmen (Simone bagged out and joined Andy who was not enjoying this Korean language event) who recited one of her Bat mitzvah blessings and also gave lovely remarks about the health and future of the theatre and neighborhood (go Carm!). The other 5 folks said such lovely things. Most memorable for me were Haejoang’s memories of early childhood during the Korean War — in retreat in Pusan — where kids really played and had great fun (out of school); all that to wish the neighborhood this healthy space of play. As we were driving off with Haejoang we ran into the “spirit” (costume off) and Isaac both praised her “acting” and asked her how come she had known everything (she had passed a quiz about the neighborhood, just checking that she was indeed the local spirit, and had known everything!) We went off to dinner with Haejoang at a swank (and low-fat!) Italian place in Ehwa University’s (Korea’s posh and premier women’s university with thin students) new student union, which is a veritable architectural masterpiece. Talk about a statement, and talk about money. (Ok, this took longer to find than it should have: http://www.designboom.com/weblog/cat/9/view/3898/seoul-s-ewha-woman-s-university-by-dominique-perrault-architecture.html) (But it is worth it to take a peak). Isaac, who wants to be an architect when he grows up (just now), loved it. I did too. I have never heard of Dominique Perrault (which means very little!).

Determined to take advantage of “being here,” I ventured off to the all-the-buzz movie of the moment, Speed Scandal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePwUgZ6yngU). So there I was at a 9:30 movie (very late for Korean films) with a handful of couples. The film was so funny, I was crying at points. I won’t go into here, but check it out!

Andy is leading the way to the mastery of Seoul via its peaks. This week Inwangan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inwangsan) (I am determined to learn how to make hyperlinks, but photos first). It was beautiful: and what a view of the Kyongbok Palace and the Blue House (Korea’s White House). The path did test my fear of heights, but as long as I couldn’t see Isaac I was fine. Andy has located contour maps on line and I defer. Wonder which peak next? I diverted the family to a shamanic temple complex at the foot of the hill and a stone relief Buddha on the way out, but it is hard to squeeze “culture” in. The kids, most of all the girls, most of all Carmen, are onto me! Isaac did have a lovely conversation with one woman who had set up her prayer paraphernalia on the dais beneath the Buddha and explained to Isaac that all he had to do was ask the Buddha for what he wanted. Carmen takes offense at things having to do with “gods” in the plural. The girls want to go to Friday temple (Jewish!) services but Chabad seems to be the only gig in town (there is a temple on the military base but it seems complicated to get access) and Andy and I aren’t sure how we feel about that. (Frances, are you reading?)

There is no question that there is some family fatigue re: “Mom’s old friends.” So Andy and Isaac sat out the visit to Cheamri (in Kyunggi Province) where I lived for a couple of months in 1987 (when I couldn’t figure out what I really wanted my dissertation to be about!). I think I can speak for the girls though when I say that we had a great (long) day. Tongsop, now 39, was THE loveliest young person (the funny thing is that both Jin-young and I — Jinyoung had been there with me and she and her son joined for this visit — remember Tongsop having been much younger than he in fact was) I had ever encountered. If I even just think about what he was like I feel almost teary: sincere, endearing, lovingly curious, generous, winning… And there he was, and his parents, his Dad in his 70s, alive and well. It had bothered me for years that I had lost touch. Tongsop was dressed in a black suit; when I asked if these were his work clothes the family chimed in to say that he had dressed for our visit! He has a lovely wife and 2 adorable kids, the youngest a girl Isaac’s age who took a liking to Carmen and was ready to have her move in. The first person they asked about was “asur” and it took me a few minutes to even figure out what this was about. Then I got it, “Arthur,” who had visited when I was there. And out came the photos, tiny photos of Art helping with farm labor; the girls were shocked to see the photos of a younger and much thinner (and very handsome) uncle (my younger brother). Art was a hit in Korea, his burly manner (he did the work of 5 men, said Tongsop’s Dad), and in particular they remembered that at the time Art was a snow-maker. Those photos really took me back; and young Tongsop was there too. Tongsop was every bit as sincere. He has a small forklifiting operation — if only I could have helped him when he was negotiating the import from Sweden, he mused — but with the economic downturn things are tough and he might have to get rid of one of his two men. I could tell he was worried. His father just grinned throughout the whole visit and his mother just kept exclaiming over the kids’ beauty, my being a professor, our reunion, Arthur etc. And talk about change: the highway and apartment complexes in plain view, and the veritable museum commemorating the April 1919 massacre (by the Japanese) that had taken place in this village. Tongsop lives on one of those apartment complexes, and his older brother (in the Philippines in winter running a scuba diving tourist tour) lives in small house behind the parents. And the death of the eldest brother — a tragedy shortly after we lived there — did come up; we were silent together for a few moments. (I hate to admit that these untimely deaths have sometimes made it harder for me to keep in touch with some folks. I don’t understand it myself). We left laden with namul (garlicky vegetables, often stringy green vegetables, most often the greens of an array of plants), and homegrown soy beans and sticky rice. Jin-young too had loved the day and her son Chung-sok had again been a good sport: this was not his first outing down our memory lane. The girls got into the mood — not sure that they would easily admit to this — of the visit. We had taken the train to Suwon on the way there (a breezy 35 minutes) but on the way back things were sold out so we sub-wayed our way back: a nearly 2 hour trip, much of it on very crowded trains, and at first with a number of Vietnamese workers. The face of Korea is changing but you need to leave Seoul to know it. As Andy said, it seems to be note unlike the Paris model with the immigrants in the outskirts around the city. Tongsop told me that his nearby town, Paran, is an immigrant shopping scene on weekends. When I glanced at the map (not my strong suit) I realized how close we were to Py’ongtaek, a big immigrant area and also the future home of the American military which is scheduled to leave Seoul entirely.

OK, this is too long.

Other things.

A leisurely lunch here with Jin-young and her family; Andy and her husband got along famously, talking about cars and looking at maps. Jin-young and I go so far back (she took off time from college to help me when I was doing fieldwork (for the article she wrote about me a few years ago (in Korean) check this out: HERE IS MY INTERVIEW ARTICLE ABOUT YOU)); there is nothing like an old friend; no secrets. We are heading to a documentary film together tonight. I simply can’t believe my fortune to be able to hang with dear old friends here. Speaking of which, So Jin took me to the café of a dear old friend of hers and we had so much fun visiting. Ok, my kids think that I am trying to corner the market on coincidences (and their having met someone in a Swiss mountain village who was born in Carle Hospital in Urbana is pretty amazing), but I can’t resist this one. So Jin’s friend had only recently opened this second café. When I asked where the first one is, she named a neighborhood, and as we zoomed in from there we figured out that that very morning I had poked my head in that café looking for something for Isaac to snack on. Now if that isn’t a karmic connection! But my running into Jesook and Honhee at a smallish contemporary art museum in Shanghai took the cake. I cried at that one (and the fact that they had, to boot, slept in the hotel room next to mine!).

Yesterday, speaking of cafes and coincidences, Andy walked in with “Guess who I ran into today?” I was really curious and tried to imagine who of my network might have been at the Yonhee coffee shop that Yon-mi (the teacher) had sent him to… finally he said, So-yeon’s mother and he really had me there. I was stunned, my dear old friend there, out to meet her brother. I called her late last night, on the way back from shopping, and she too was tickled by the encounter, telling me many times how pankôpda she was, happy to run into Andy there. So, the city is shrinking before our eyes.

Other highlights. Kang Shin P’yo, an anthropologist I have heard of for many years, called Haejoang and gave me a message for her which prompted me to introduce myself, which prompted his next-day visit, which prompted Isaac and I visiting the excellent Seoul Museum of History, which prompted a joint meeting with a publisher about the possibility of translating my old book, The Melodrama of Mobility…Kang was dazzled by the stories and jokes of the director of the publishing house (whose late father-in-law took my mother and I out to dinner decades ago). One of them stays with me. She calls her friend and asks about her only-son’s college entrance exam. The friend, she goes on (she was good at telling a joke), says “Haven’t you heard that’s 5 years in jail?” “What?” says the publisher. “You don’t know that one,” says the friend: “5 years if you ask about the college entrance exams, 10 years if you ask about employment, life sentence if you inquire about marriage, and the death penalty if you age if they’re ‘living well’ (chal sanya).” So, the moral it seemed: tough times and changing mores. It was fascinating too to hear from Professor Kang about his voyages in anthropology that began with a PhD at Hawaii under the granddaughter of John Dewey!

Ok, I had better get back to living. For any/all who braved any of this, you should get back to living too (only kidding!)

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.