My life is that of an outsider. Even I can detect such a fact. I have rarely fitted in to any society or group. I opposed the norms of this society, Korea. With its strict age hierarchy that stems from Korean’s unique honorifics of the language, Korea is one of the most highly stratified society in the world. Cut half by world’s superpowers during the Cold War, Korea is forced to employ compulsory military service for every male. And my family is one of the most severe of the sufferers of such system. My grandfather, forced to fight the Korean War when he was only 14, lived a miserable life. He was from the North, near Pyeong-Yang, the North Korean capital. He moved to South and that’s how I ended up being a South Korean.
He, without any known family because he escaped alone to the South during the war, could do only one thing during the war: fight in the war. But he was not the military type guy. Far from it. Shy, modest, and scholarly, he was clearly a to-be professor, shining under the roof of the science. But the time had not allowed him such an honor. He grabbed the gun. Became the bullet-getter for the UN forces, because Koreans were dominated by foreign forces. Carried 3 bullets in his body. When the war ended, he hoped to put an end to the horrible job he had as a soldier. But he could not. The war wrecked everything the poor little country barely had. No infrastructure was left standing. People were wounded, both physically and psychologically.
No family was in contact with him. He knew nobody. Nobody knew him. He was alone, utterly. With every burned land still occupied by corrupted traitors who aided the Japanese during the Japanese occupation of Korea, with no human connection, and without any industry surviving, Korea—or just cut-half South Korea—was a miserable piece of land. Nobody saw any hope. On that land, my grandfather was alone. Isolated. Only choice he had—his destiny—was to become a soldier. Defending against the “Reds,” as the North Koreans were jeeringly called, he served 19 years in military. He hated it. But he had to do it. Even though he knew he could get welfare service when he met 20-year service, he quit when the very first precious opportunity came along.
His body suffered lead poisoning from the bullets, his lungs were petrified by the drug to stop tuberculosis, his mind stabbed by the trauma of the war. If he were just a normal person. Had he been, he would have been a lot happier. But he wasn’t. He was Caesar the farm boy. A wasted talent. His country betrayed him, when it took away his hope of continuing education by waging a war. No, the world betrayed him. Communists forced the war. Americans fought back. Korea was just a play ground for a struggle that was far from its interest. The only one to suffer was Korea, however. Korea just like my grandfather.
Knowing no one, my grandfather loved his family so strongly when he got one. He married a woman from the South, a woman of tenacious determination. She didn’t even attend elementary school. She was the last child of a family with 13 children. Her family was impoverished. Her family dispersed when the war broke out. She was left alone just like my grandfather. When they found each other, they embraced. They married. March 27th, 1959.
My grandmother was determined to rise as the powerful. She did everything she could to enrich her family. She sold Mandu. She worked in newspaper printing press. She worked in banks. She helped in construction site. My grandfather worked just like her. Doing such harsh work at least 17 hours a day, every day of the year for 10 years, my grandparents never slept over 4 hours. Sometimes their body gave out, but they persevered.
Doing all that, they gave births to 3 children, Uncle Pil-Sung, my father, and Aunt Mi-Jung.