- onJuly 20, 2017
- Vol.36 Summer 2017
- byJon Kyongnin
- Mom’s House
Tr. Jinah Kim 2007301pp.
“My mom is a very typical Korean woman.”
“Your mom ran out on your family too?”
The eyes of the four college girls all met at once. The other girl was taken aback, the stain of her embarrassment spreading beneath her expression like spilled ink. She was older than me. Oh, I said something stupid again.
“Umm, I mean, maybe I got caught up in a stereotypical concept of the typical Korean woman. What I’m trying to say is——”
The way she blushed, like the twilight sun that was already eight degrees below the horizon . . . The two girls who were my age weren’t smiling, and they had question marks in their eyes as if to ask what had just happened.
What on earth is a typical Korean woman these days?
“Actually, I think it would’ve been better if my family had been hurt badly at least once. My parents live like they think life is the edge of a bottomless cliff. A family sustained by my dad’s timid authority and my mom’s open disappointment is like a sheet of thin ice. If the ice broke just once, they might realize the bottom isn’t that far down. Maybe if that happened, they might even be able to understand me a little better.”
Having just managed to recover from her dismay, she started to speak as if she were doing a self-critique.
“Whenever I think of family, the first word that occurs to me is detainment. They dispute every single thing I do. I sometimes think they’re trying to sabotage me deliberately. Like, you’re not allowed to do anything because I can’t do anything either. It’s a common misunderstanding to think that people who live with their family don’t feel lonely. We might eat our meals together and sit across from each other at the table, but for some reason it feels like our relationship is already past its expiration date.”
She was an English lit major and a member of the feminist coalition and the LGBT society at our school. Her parents didn’t know what activities she was engaged in.
As for a family like thin ice, I knew something about that. But from my experience, when the ice actually breaks it’s not so simple. The whole family gets scattered in different directions, each of them a wreck, their hearts soaked and aching cold. And myself, my own sole family member, just me, Kim Ho-eun . . . That’s how it turns out.
My mom is probably not a typical Korean woman. She is independent. She has a job, pays her taxes diligently, makes a point of reading the newspaper and clipping out articles, is divorced, has a boyfriend, and is very self-aware. Her name is Noh Yun-jin. If you spell it in English it has an N in every syllable. Sometimes I call her Ms. N.
The four of us were on our way back from the zoo after having set aside the time to go together. We had planned it as a bonding trip because we were roommates, but we never would have gone to a place like the zoo if we hadn’t watched a video of a kangaroo online the day before.
The video was shot near an endless emerald sea. A kangaroo stood facing the empty sea at one end of the beach. Its gaze was desolate. Helpless moments, as if the earth were sinking, passed as the kangaroo approached the sea, one hop at a time. It kept moving further out until at last it was swept down into the waves. The emerald sea looked calm as it engulfed the kangaroo, as if nothing had happened. The commenters on the video had different opinions about the kangaroo’s suicide. Apparently the kangaroo’s baby had been swept away by a sudden rough wave right before the video was taken.
I would not be able to forget the sea the lone mother kangaroo had entered on her own feet. It felt like whenever I was at a loss from then on, I would be reminded of that mother kangaroo.
Kangaroos carry their baby in a pouch. What would it be like bouncing above the ground inside a mother’s pouch? It seems like it would be heavy and tiring for the mother kangaroo, but it turns out that it’s easier to hop with the baby in the pouch because the baby provides some sort of elastic energy. When the mother needs to clean out the pouch, she opens it, sticks her face in, and licks it clean with her tongue. Opinions about how high a kangaroo can jump vary from three to thirteen meters.
Unfortunately there were no kangaroos at the zoo. On our way back we felt disheartened to have left without seeing one, but it would have been just as disappointing if we had.
Most of the animals confined in the zoo were in a listless state. They were overweight and looked like they were suffering from depression or hysteria, and some were scratching their bodies as if they had a skin disease. All of them had lost their individual spark, like taxidermy animals with beads for eyes. The animals that were more worthy of attention were the dads.
Every dad in the zoo was pushing a stroller or carrying a baby in his arms. Some were running around after children who were crying or throwing tantrums, and others were pulling desperately on the hands of kids trying to dart off in the other direction. There was a dad holding a kid in either arm, one about three years old and the other seven, and breaking out in a sweat as he searched for his wife on the still cold spring day. He had on a look that said, Honey? Honey, where are you? and his face revealed a mixture of despair and anger.