My mom moved in with us 11 days ago after dad passed away. My parents immigrated from Korea in the 60s. You can take mom out of Korea, but you can’t take Korea out of mom. She has no filter and even though she always has the best intentions and is the most loving person you could ever meet, her comments can sound strange, random and even hurtful. But she’s just doing her, you know?
This morning, I was driving her to church when she shared this gem:
“You know, when I look at my children, I realize I am very old. Because they look so old.”
This is not sushi. It’s kimbap.
I pack my daughters’ lunches on school days. Yes, they’re teenagers and could do it themselves and no, I’m not spoiling them. I do it because it really is a pleasure for me.
Monday, I packed chicken quesadillas. I used Costco shredded cheese. Literally, it says “Mexican Blend Cheese“:
Ava comes home and says, “The Mexican boys at my table saw my lunch and asked me why you use yellow cheese. I told them that I have a Korean mom.”
Tuesday, I packed garlicky pasta. Because I’m so nice and thoughtful, I taped a piece of gum on the thermos:
No comment from the
peanut gallery teens.
Wednesday, I packed Korean sticky rice and threw in some dried seaweed. Ava says she wants to be more vegetarian, so I thought this was perfect.
She came home and said, “I got so much teasing over my Asian lunch.”
Thursday, I packed more Korean sticky rice and baked tilapia. But when I looked for small tupperware, I had none. I’ve decided to stop using plastic bags (you know, the ocean and all) and so I had to use the zipper pouches I wrote about before:
Yes, I put fish in a bag.
That afternoon, Ava comes home and sighs.
“Could you please pack lunches that won’t get me beat up*?”
*Obviously, she’s not really getting beat nor bullied.
I’m going to Seattle – flying out of Phoenix – alone.
I’ll walk to Bruce Lee’s burial site and I will utter his famous words:
“The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.”
I’ll walk a mile to the Korean Bamboo and slurp kimchi tofu soup which is the fare of my clan.
I’ll venture into the Seattle Art Museum, study Iskra Johnson’s Color Bath and art from Jodhpur, India.
I’ll go to the Space Needle and, standing on the rotating glass floor, look at the bustling world below me.
At night, I will write and paint and bask in the hushed moonlight.
In my sojourn, the silence will allow me to hear myself.
Grandma is visiting us
she got a really bad perm
and her hearing has worsened since her last visit
They love her, but The Teens don’t like kimchi
Obvious and unsaid:
You, my daughters, are the land
ravaged by a series of battles from all sides,
the cry of hungry orphans
and thousands of years of cultural pride
You are the Hermit Kingdom and King Sejong’s children –
the offspring of a man who reinvented an alphabet
so the common man as well as royalty
could read –
You are women warriors
You might have to fight
for what others are given
but you will never back down
Hello all, I published this two years ago. I thought I’d publish it again for those of you who may have missed it:
“If you really want to do something, you’re going to have to go for it.”
Marie Myung-Ok Lee
I first learned about Marie when I was researching Korean-American history for a San Francisco State University’s ethnic studies class I was going to teach for Dr. Grace Yoo (during her sabbatical). Her book, Somebody’s Daughter, expertly covers both the adopted child/adult’s perspective as well as that of the adoptee within two cultures. Marie Myung-Ok Lee is a Korean-American author and essayist, writing often for The New York Times, The Atlantic and Newsweek. She’s been published in Witness, The Kenyon Review, TriQuarterly and Slate. She teaches creative writing at Brown University and Columbia University.
If you’re interested in being a writer, Marie is sure to inspire you. She is not only an accomplished writer, but a loving mother to an autistic teenage boy. Her essay for The Atlantic Monthly “What My Son’s Disabilities Taught Me About ‘Having It All’” is one of the most moving, enlightening articles I have ever read.
Despite her extremely busy schedule (she’s working on her next novel), she graciously and generously spoke with me on the phone. She is a modest, hard-working, intelligent and creative person. When I informed her of my objective with my blog (to help others achieve goals by reading of people who have already accomplished them), she got right to the point:
“I constantly write. Every single day from 4:30am to 6pm. I never take a day off.” She lives in NYC in a small apartment with her husband (a professor), and their son. Previous to writing, she was an investment banker for five years. Although writing does not even come close to the money she made before, Marie couldn’t be happier with her work, “I love it.”
Another tip: “I get 10 rejections to each offer. You have to be committed to writing. If you really want to do something, you’re going to have to go for it.”
Marie is down-to-earth, honest and practical. When I congratulated her on all of her great work, she was quick to point out that it took her eight years to write her novel, and that she couldn’t live on her salary alone. The family is on her husband’s insurance and she constantly juggles motherhood and her work. When she left banking, she was a ghost writer, a freelancer, an editor. She obtained fellowships and worked hard at her novel.
Wanting it, working hard, sacrificing hours each and every day, utilizing your strengths (and challenges)…going for your passions: these are the secrets to her success.
Marie’s most recent article can be found here, on Salon.com. She provides a careful analysis of the McKinney, TX pool party incident, tying in a personal example of mistreatment by an adult when she was a teenager.
You can follow Marie Myung-Ok Lee on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarieLeeWriter
Her Twitter handle is @MarieMyungOkLee
Dear Mom and Dad,
Thank you for all the piano and cello lessons. Music has been a lifelong passion of mine and speaks to me in all facets of my life. I’ve developed a deep appreciation for it and (hope) I’ve passed that on to my daughters. You sacrificed money and time for us and now I’m doing the same.
Thank you for the Tae Kwon Do lessons. It was hard and it must have been difficult for you to watch Jojo, John and me kicking and punching and getting beat up by grown ups in class. When we broke boards, we felt a new found satisfaction in our focus and power.
Thank you for not allowing us to quit, even when we cried.
Thank you for encouraging and allowing us to work in the cornfields of DeKalb, IL. We got cut by the sharp leaves of the stalks. We sweat and walked 12-14 hours a day during “peak.” But we learned the value of hard work and the true value of money.
Thank you for allowing us to ride our bikes all over town and for speaking in Korean in the house and pushing Korean food on us, when we just wanted McDonald’s. We came to appreciate different spices and vegetables and it’s a lot healthier, too.
Thank you for not going easy on us.We learned to handle disappointments, heartache, and pain. I was able to handle difficult bosses, financial stress and cancer because you allowed us to become strong and tough. Thank you.
Hello dear reader,
I decided to make Saturday posts about Korean food. Even if you don’t particularly like Korean food, maybe you could still find it interesting.
Problem: I’m not a food expert. My mother cooks the Korean food I eat. Or I go to Hodori. What can I offer my valued readers? Well, I have memories I can share with you and a recipe from a food expert (complete with citation).
It was a very horrible, no-good, very bad day. I was going to a new school. My mother had just cut my hair. I was wearing Winnie-the-Pooh overalls. I entered the class where my teacher introduced it. I was confused because right before she said my name, all the boys cheered and the girls remained silent. “Please help our new student Caroline feel welcome.” Everyone looked at each other. That’s a girl?!
Everyone pretty much ignored me that day. I ate lunch alone. There were whispers and I heard the word “Chinese” over and over again. I’m not Chinese! I wanted to yell. I hated school.
When I came home, I was met with the warm, rich smells of mom’s cooking. She hugged me in the kitchen and put a plate of beef chun in front of me. She made some with jalapenos (for dad) and some with out (for the kids).
Did I tell her about my day? No. I didn’t tell her about it. We didn’t do that in my family. I just ate the beef chun.
This is a high protein, delicious plate.
I love, love, love this website for Korean food. It’s published and run by a very cool Korean chick named Maangchi. She was born in Korea and knows her food. Here is her recipe for “beef pancakes” or beef chun. YUM! I will be posting recipes and stories related to vegetarian dishes, too, never fear.
My heart is singing for joy this morning! A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil’s mind, and behold, all things are changed!
Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller’s Teacher)
Until I was in third grade, I was invisible. I was only one of two Korean-American kids in our school (my sister was the other one), so I should have “stuck out.” But I was quiet, shy and bookish. My parents dismissed me early on as an underachiever to my more outgoing, dynamic younger sister. As most introverts do, I quietly accepted this reality.
It changed one day.
During a parent/teacher conference, my mother asked haltingly in her strong accent, “Is she OK?” I braced myself for comments about the need for improvement…in focus or math…but Ms. Meretta looked me straight in the eye and said, “Oh yes, better than OK! Caroline is my hardest worker.”
I felt an electric charge throughout my body that caused my eyes to well.
My identity underwent a dramatic transformation: I wasn’t lazy or dumb (as I had overheard). I was a hard worker. I held promise.
I’m a teacher now, and looking back, I realize Ms. Meretta would not be considered a very good teacher today. She sat at her desk the entire day, giving papers to helpers to pass out for her. She was morbidly obese and rarely moved. She allowed me to get up and read books – a LOT. I rushed through math worksheets in order to read about Ramona or even Archie. She would most likely not embrace technology or move about the room to watch progress. Most likely, she would not attend ISTE and come back with cutting edge techniques to use in the classroom.
Still, she saw me. I consider her to be my most important teacher ever. She knew my personality, my friends, my parents, my interests. She invited my mother to come in and teach my peers about Korean customs, dress and food. My mother, a housewife, was positively giddy for weeks after her presentation. She had knowledge to impart! I realized that my culture was something to be proud of, not an aspect of myself to hide.
I’m not saying that using effective teaching strategies in the classroom lack importance, but in our fast-paced, technology-driven world, we need to stop multi-tasking. We need to slow down, ask real questions (How was your gymnastics meet?) and behold the people in front of us.