- onJune 19, 2018
- Vol.40 Summer 2018
- byPark Min-Jung
- Munhak dongne no. 92 (Winter 2017)
Tr. Kari Schenk 2017
Juhee made up her mind to get the contact information for the administrator of yeslut and send them an email just as she was set to give Seshiru her fourth writing assignment. As usual, she went to meet Seshiru on Sunday afternoon. She brought printouts of news articles and editorials with her besides the main textbook. Back when Seshiru first hit her up for private lessons, Juhee had told her she wouldn’t be much help with test preparation because her Korean wasn’t that good and she didn’t like reading books or writing. Seshiru countered that test prep was her motivation for studying harder, but she wasn’t really ambitious when it came to grades. Several times she told Juhee that her only goal was to have lots of conversations in Korean. Still, Juhee was taking her money, so she couldn’t just wile away the time chatting. She assigned Seshiru writing homework: My Hometown, My Family, My Childhood, My Hobbies, My Dream. These were the easiest topics she could think of. On her way back after leaving Seshiru, she tried to write, too, using the memo app on her cell. She hadn’t written theme-based compositions in a long time either.
Seshiru and Juhee always spent about an hour studying with the Korean textbook in Seshiru’s goshiwon room. After that, they chatted a bit as they went out for something to eat, and then they checked over the composition at a local coffee shop. Seshiru always paid for food and coffee. When they parted, Seshiru took the bills out of her wallet and nonchalantly counted them out before handing them over. Juhee used the money to cover the cost of transportation fare or coffee somewhere. She thought the pay was worth her time.
I was born in Shibuya, Tokyo in 1995. My mother is Nakasone Morio, born in 1970. My parents divorced when I was young. We were poor. I couldn’t go to university. I wasn’t good at studying anyway. I liked U-Know Yunho and became very interested in Korea through him. I watched K-pop music videos and Korean dramas and read Korean fashion magazines almost every day. That’s how I came to study Korean. It seemed easier than studying English.
Juhee wrote along the same lines as Seshiru.
I was born in Yeongtong, Suwon in 1993 . . . um . . . there’s nothing to say . . . wow, this is harder than I thought . . . my father was strict and my mother was kind . . . God, what a cliché . . . I’m so into cosmetics. I’m obsessed. And since I work at JuJu House in Myeongdong, for someone who likes make-up, I’ve done okay.
Comparing her writing to Seshiru’s, Juhee realized that the ability to write rough sentences without regard for spelling or word spacing was a power she had as a native speaker. J in New Orleans had been like this, too. J was proficient in English even though it wasn’t his mother tongue. Juhee took extra care in speaking lest she make grammatical mistakes and checked the spelling of each word even when writing short memos, but J didn’t. When she gingerly informed him that his spelling—“pork lib”—was wrong on an order form, he just said, “Oh, right” and fixed it. Had it been her, she would have instantly turned red. Looking at Seshiru’s homework, painstakingly written to avoid spelling errors, she wondered if foreigners learning Korean didn’t in fact construct better sentences than the average Korean.
Juhee was thinking this even while writing the email in English. Please erase my video from your site. I’m just an ordinary citizen. I’m not a slut.
From the time I was very little, my maternal grandmother Watanabe Seijen told me many stories about her mother. This woman, who died in 1945, was called Imai Sakurako. My mother was a single mom and we were poor. In elementary school, my classmates were shocked to find out we didn’t have a bathtub. My mother worked at a bakery downtown, and we were so poor that we had difficulty affording a change of uniform and regulation gym clothes for school. Even so, I was proud. Proud to be descended from Imai Sakurako. Even if a bereavement allowance doesn’t extend to me because I’m four generations removed, Grandmother Seijen receives special support from the state for being her daughter. Grandmother Seijen always told me no matter how hard my life was I should never forget I was descended from Grandmother Sakurako. “Your mother’s grandmother, Imai Sakurako, was Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon was created to commemorate your grandmother and her fellow teachers and students.” I will never forget what my grandmother taught me about this.
Grandmother Sakurako passed away in 1945. She was the teacher responsible for the Himeyuri Student Nurse Corps. I first saw the Himeyuri Memorial Tower in third grade on a field trip to Okinawa to study peace. The tower is to commemorate my grandmother. It is to commemorate the troop of students led by Grandmother Sakurako, who committed honorable suicide in 1945 before the American forces attacked in the Battle of Okinawa. Every year important government officials, including the prime minister, visit this place to pay their respects. Grandmother Sakurako is now at the Yasukuni Shrine.
Juhee gave Seshiru a quick glance. She was drinking coffee and staring at her phone. Juhee had assigned her the topic “Me and My Family.” There was a Sailor Moon sticker on Seshiru’s cell phone case. Juhee looked back and forth from the composition to Seshiru, who was giggling at something on her phone. Grandmother Sakurako is now at Yasukuni Shrine. Juhee was still digesting these words. Yasukuni Shrine . . . She thought of the article she’d read a while back on a recall of Kanebo Cosmetics’ products and the comments accusing Kanebo of war crimes. Unconscious of what she was doing, she underlined “Yasukuni Shrine” in red pen. Seshiru looked up at Juhee.
“Oh, Seshiru-san. This is really good writing. Here you could refer to your mother’s grandmother as jeungjo halmeoni, great-grandmother.”
“Really? It’s good? That’s because the subject matter is important to me.”
“The writing’s better than mine,” Juhee said, eyeing the Sailor Moon sticker on Seshiru’s cell phone case. “Sailor Moon was famous in Korea too, but I’ve never seen it.”
“I’ve got the full collection of anime. I could send it to you if you like. It’s surprising, isn’t it? That Sailor Moon is my grandmother.”
Juhee hardly knew anything about the events mentioned in the composition. She changed the subject. Juhee and Seshiru could occupy several hours just talking about new products that had come in at JuJu House and popular make-up tutorials. For them, this was also shoptalk. Whenever Seshiru failed to come up with the right word to convey her intended meaning, she scrunched up her forehead and made a sad frown, and then Juhee patiently explained the Korean. As always, Seshiru handed over the payment and then clasped Juhee’s hands in hers. “I look forward to Sunday all week,” she said, giving each word emphasis. Seshiru waved goodbye and Juhee left.
After she was home, Juhee searched for the terms “Himeyuri Memorial Tower” and “Himeyuri Nurse Corps.” Tons of hits came up.
MORE FROM THE LATEST ISSUE
- A Korean in Belle Époque Paris: The Court Dancer by Shin Kyung-sook by Suzanne Kamata
- Voices from the Very Edge of the Circle: Suburbia, Modernization, and People at the Fringe: People of Wonmi-dong by Yang Gui-Ja by Mariko Nagai
- Real Shock, Real Reading Pleasure: Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan by Alexei Grishanov