Tag Archives: young

Three Bowls of Rice and Korean Parents

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“All we wish for,” my aunt who is the daughter of the oldest sister of my paternal grandmother said, “is for you guys (the children) to have your share of the three bowls of rice.”

This was mentioned as she drove us back from a lunch meeting of many old family members who were all related to me by my paternal grandmother. More than 10 people were there and I think the average age of the people present was at least 65 years of age, as my grandmother and her sisters, along with their sons and daughters (who were approaching retirement age) made up the most of the party. The oldest granny was 93 years of age, which meant that she was born during the time when Japan ruled Korea, went through her twenties when Korea was liberated but destitute, raised her children through the devastating Korean War in which her husband was taken by the North, lived most of her adult life under dictatorships and during the time of a miraculous turnaround of financial fortunes, and spent her days as an elder in the prosperous South Korea of today. She is basically a moving memory of modern Korean history.

Her generation experienced numerous adversities as Korea and Koreans faced fated historical hardships that were bombarded onto them one after the other. My parents’ generation suffered as well, as they were born into the postwar South Korea that had no wealth but was full of destruction. It was a poor Korea that grew rich as they grew into adulthood, a poor Korea that I can neither imagine nor comprehend.

Meanwhile, I grew up in Canada, where all necessities and superfluities of life were given to me and accepted as if it was my birthright. It is a rich country and all but few of its inhabitants live well. The poor in Canada have access to resources that even the rich in poor countries might not have. I think that all Canadians are a little spoiled. We are oceans away from the lands and the stories of people live in terrible circumstances, and we overreact with what are minor displeasures in comparison with the people beyond the ocean. We are able to dream and be idealistic as we are protected by unpleasant realities with the thick solid glass of the TV screen. These visions may enter but they quickly exit, as they are quickly replaced by trivial thoughts. The world beyond the TV screen seems fake, and incomprehensible in the context of our surroundings.

These days I feel pressure from all sides as my extended family fusses about my unforeseeable future. They cannot understand why I do not have a definite career plan and feel an insatiable irritation about my lack of worries about the future. For them, the best professions are the –sa professions, like the uisa (doctor), the guhnchooksa (architect) and the byunhosa (lawyer), or any type of professor. I think that this is because these professions give status and money and most importantly, stability. Meanwhile, my contemporaries and I are concerned with another, more elusive pursuit, happiness. “Why should I do something if it doesn’t make me happy?” “What career will make me the happiest?” “What do I like doing?” Such questions are the foundations for what we base our career choices on.

It’s no wonder why there are conflicts between these two generations. One is thinking about earthsolid stability, while the other looks for flighty happiness. We share a fundamental inability to appreciate each other’s views due to an irreconcilable system of values. It’s as if there is a wide and deep chasm between us, the chasm created by the shifting tectonic movements of time. On one side, there are three bowls of rice between many people. It is a constant struggle to keep one fed. Basic needs may be met but are not forever guaranteed. One the other side, everyone is given a bowl of rice each with extras for those who ask for it. Three meals a day with clean water and warm shelters are accepted as an assumed and unbreakable reality.

Which side is correct? Perhaps the former side is incorrect in thinking that there are only three bowls of rice, while the latter is has expectations that are too optimistic, as they have known no real hardship.

Photo: the lunch

Death

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When we are younger, death is never on the mind. We may catch glimpses of it from time to time, but just as the coming and going of a rainbow after a sunny afternoon storm, it fades into irrelevance both in the physical world and in our minds. In our twenties, why worry about such a thing? We are young and still blessed with bountiful energy. A peek into the mirror will show a healthy looking individual at the peak of his mortal life and the ability to realize a personal ambition onto the world. Time is still on our side and visions of the future are eagerly described with the air of a tingling excitement. When we walk on the streets in the city center, the passing images of a previous generation make an imprint on the mind, but there is almost a fundamental inability to connect these appearances with a prophecy of the future. A quick glance in the mirror deters such notions.

As time passes, so does our perception of reality. Confrontations with death become increasingly frequent and just like a natural erosion of rocky surfaces by rainwater, the idea of death is gradually uncovered with each instance. The reflection which once reassured us of longevity assures us of inevitability, as wrinkles and the accumulations of the microcosms of death stare at us. What once seemed as fleeting as the rainbow now takes on a different form, as the apparition of death fills into a physical form and details of its features are gradually outlined. The past is remembered with the longing sigh of nostalgia and the world appears to us as being grandiose and immovable. Sitting in the subway we start to relate with the faces of the once previous generation. Notions form that Time is not on our side, but has instead withdrawn Its welcomed friendship. It now makes its appearance as an unwanted guest who inconspicuously detracts from the merriment of a party. We may look towards the clock for the leave of Time, but It increasingly makes its subtle presence known and spreads discontentment and anxiety. The culmination of anxiety stemming from Time eventually arrives in the form of the most unwelcome guest, Death, as all our fears towards It are heightened tenfold with the abrupt and piercing shrill of the doorbell.

When It arrives, can you feel Its ubiquitous presence? Can you feel Its existence, which is lonelier than being the last man on Earth, containing a profundity deeper than the deepest tunnels, darker than the darkest shade of black? Can you feel the mystery of Its existence, in which at the moment of its occurrence comes the evaporation of life for the deliverance of the soul past all notions of the physical plane and time?

Aldous Huxley, English writer of the 1900s, wrote two novels about two completely contrasting versions of society. He wrote the Brave New World in 1932 and the Island thirty years later. Despite the different natures of the societies, one which is totalitarian and the other, utopian, there is one point of similarity among these societies. From an early age, children are raised to accept death. There is no mysticism towards the concept of death. It is accepted to be the most organic of happenings and inescapably bound with life. There is the sense that life and death are not contrasting ideas like the poles of a magnet, but instead are the heads and tails on the coin of existence.

In our modern world, we are adept at subjecting the natural world to our command. With further advancements we are able to escape the organic unpredictability of the natural environment for an anticipatable artificial atmosphere. Death is no exception. With certain medical and scientific discoveries we are to delay nature’s last affirmation of existence but are unable to completely eliminate it. Traditional tests put out by nature to test our mettle in her world served as reminders of the connection between life and death, but such reminders have disappeared. Instead of living in a blissful opiatic state, unaware of eventual realities, it is better to wake up from our fantastical slumber to accept Death in a holistic way. With this attitude, Time may continue to serve as a welcome friend and the ringing of the doorbell signaling the long expected arrival of Death can be received with sincere acceptance.