I am writing this autobiography because I want to leave this here in case I die.
I was born May 29, 1989 in Seoul, Korea. My mother died of stomach cancer (I am unaware of her name) a year after giving birth but I never knew about it until I was 15. That's a story I'll get into later.
Anyway, my father is something like a doctor/chemist/pharmacist crap. I can't pinpoint what it is. But he graduated from the best university in Korea-Seoul University. That's the Korean equivalent of Harvard.
So obviously he didn't have time to parent. He would leave me with uncles, aunts, grandparents...all until I was three. That's when my dad got married again to Shin, Misook. (Notice a pattern? Korean names are usually 3 syllables, with the last name being one syllable and the first name being two, but this is just Korea, and of course last name comes first like in all of Asia). Mind you, I never knew she wasn't my real mother. The family, apparently, agreed to tell me only after I turned 18...and so I grew up thinking my stepmother was my real mother.
"Soojin, you know who your father is." my 'mother' would say. "You know why he is so well respected, right? Others always address him with honor. He is a professor-a doctor who graduated from one of the best universities. He worked hard and beat his competition and earned this. That's why you can have stuff other kids can't. That's where you're gonna go to college. You work hard just like your father did, and carry on his honor. You wanna be respected and well off just like he is, if not even better."
My small 5-year-old self went into my room filled with Barbie dolls, books and toys and slipped into another new set of pajamas my aunt had bought me. It was eight P.M. I solved math problems out of my workbook until ten P.M. I practiced writing in cursive (yes, the Koreans have their own cursive for the Korean language) until eleven P.M. and practiced my violin until midnight. I wrote my required journal entry, read some of my books, and then gathered my work in my arms.
I nervously knocked on my "mother's" door, hoping my work was good enough. Some days, I left relieved. Other days...when I got too many problems wrong, or my handwriting was messy, or something else was off, I'd roll up my pants legs. My "mother" took out the rod we kept for times I got in trouble and I counted out each smack to my legs.
"One! Two! Three!"
Usually, by then I'd start crying...but I still stood there and "toughened" it out. I never got any less than a 95% on my school assignments. (In Korea, their reaction to anything less than 95% would be "OMG! We must commit suicide to save our honor.)
The above scenario is completely and totally normal for an Asian child. That was how much I studied in first grade; imagine how hard the high schoolers, or hell, college kids study in Asia. I was only a child so my studying was only around three hours. But as you get older, you start to study more like nine or ten hours a day. You don't come home until midnight in middle school cause you have to go to so many cram schools.
Who would have guessed back then...that in ten years, I'd be failing all my classes?
Let me make a note here for people who don't understand Korean culture. In East Asian cultures, corporal punishment is the norm. Everyone beats their children in Korea and it's usually done with a stick. As a matter of fact, in Korea, if you DON'T beat your kids, then that's considered to be abnormal. So obviously I received corporal punishment too. Before I go any further, it' a cultural thing and every kid I knew was treated the same. So please do not pity me. I did not pity myself. Hell yeah, I was scared, but I never thought of myself as 'abused'. I don't support it but...that's the way it was.
As far as child abuse goes, there's no such thing as child abuse in Korea. In Korea you can beat your kids black and blue and no one's gonna bat an an eyelash.
To my understanding, Japan has banned beatings at school, though beatings at home are still normal. Well, in other countries aside from Japan in Asia, kids also get beaten at school by their teachers. It's either with some sort of stick, a ruler to the hand, or you have to stand out in the hall with water buckets and it hurts like fuck.
My father worked a lot. I usually never saw him during the day for he was pulling all-nighters at work. Either that, or he didn't come home until about midnight. That's how it is in most Eastern cultures. We don't work nine to five, we work 24/7, often without eating or sleeping.
By Korean standards, we were very well off. My aunt (from my dad's side) would spoil me. She'd always buy me dresses, toys, and books. And every summer, I would spend my vacation time at my grandparents' grape farm. Damn straight! A grape farm-cows and everything. Apparently, when my dad was young, one of his chores was to round up the cows. I snuck grapes from there like crazy. I loved it there.
My half-brother was born when I was five. We shared the same father. We had different mothers. You get what I'm saying. Most only children get jealous when a baby is born because they're used to having all the attention. Not me. He was adorable-and I'd been wanting a sibling for a while. I fawned over him just as much as everyone else did, if not more.
When we had family reunions my uncles and my dad would go tend to crops. Apparently when he was young, he was often excused from chores his brothers had to do because he studied harder than they did-and was most likely busy studying. But at a family reunion he had no choice.
The ride over to my grandparents' was a long one. The traffic in Korea is the same as it is in New York. I learned to get used to long car rides at an early age. I never regretted taking those long trips. At grandma and grandpa's, I didn't have to study half as hard as I did with my parents. There was no rod to use on me. I could play within nature during the day, and before I went to bed at night my grandparents would tell me old Korean folk tales.
When my dad came back to pick me up...there was this one time I literally broke down and started sobbing. My grandma handed me 1000 won (a dollar in US currency) trying to make me feel better, but I really felt like my heart was breaking.
They were my grandparents on my father's side. On my "mother's" side it was a different story. They lived in the city...not Seoul, but somewhere else I can't remember. This "grandma" had an attitude and temper worse than my "mom's". I'd get in trouble for not eating something. "Grandpa" usually wasn't around. All I know is that he had several large scars on him from surgery. They weren't my real grandparents, but I didn't know that back then.
On top of that, my "aunt" from my "mother's" side was completely different from my aunt on my father's. My real aunt on my father's side was the one who'd always buy me stuff and take me places. She was very religious and she took me to church although my parents held no interest in religion at the time.
The one from my "mother's" side was, in all honesty, a bitch. I recall one time when my seven year old cousin got hurt and she threw a book at her, saying that it was her fault for not being more careful. My other cousin, her son, even stood up for her, saying that it was justified because "women place importance on their looks".
Yeah... a seven year old girl gets hit by a basketball and gets hurt, and she is blamed for "not being more careful". What was she supposed to do? Seven year olds usually don't dodge all that well.
My dad's side of the family always preferred me over my brother, while my "mom's" side always preferred my brother. At the time I didn't understand and didn't really care as long as I got to stay away from my "mother's" side of the family and visit my grandparents...but now that I look back, I see it now. I was the biological grandaughter/niece/whatever to my father's family, and my half brother was the biological grandson to my "mother's" side. He was their real son, and I was a stranger and my dad's side felt the same way about me.
Being my father's daughter, I had expectations to live up to. My father with his PhD's and all that...of course his daughter has to follow in his footsteps.
We had money, so I was enrolled in everything you could imagine in order to 'get ahead' of the other kids. Ballet (though I sucked), tutoring, piano, violin, everything. My grades had to be top-notch.
Korea is extremely competitive when it comes to education. It's unbelievable; nothing like it is in America. It's normal for middle schoolers to stay in school studying until midnight. Education is everything. There's a lot of emphasis on discipline, hard work and dedication. I hear people here complain about a few hours of studying, but it's common in Korea for middle school students to study for like fifteen hours a day and not go home until 2 in the morning. Most of the East Asian cultures are like this, in fact. And when it comes to grades, you'd better make sure you never bring home anything less than straight As, because Korean parents kill their children for anything less than straight As. And they all routinely go for three days straight without eating or sleeping doing nothing but studying.
That pressure was tough on me. Everytime I'd study or whatever, I'd shake because my stepmom would watch me. And if she didn't like something-uh oh, the broom again. Same with all of my activities...I was really paranoid about pleasing my parents. I hated brooms.
We moved around very often because of my dad constantly getting better jobs. The longest I'd ever lived in one place was two years. When I turned seven, my dad found another good job he wanted-this time, in America.
And so, we took a plane to California.
Ring. Ring. Dammit, I don't wanna answer that phone! I'm almost at the final level! Still, I pick it up.
"Hey, Soojin." It was my "mother". "We're gonna be there to pick you up in a few, so get your bags and get ready, okay?"
"But mom!" I whined. "Not now! I'm playing this game, and I'm almost done!"
Silence on the other line. "We've been preparing for this the whole year! And you wanna delay us because of a video game?"
"Listen, do you want to go to America or not?"
"Not until after I'm done playing this game..."
"Listen, when I get there, I'm gonna make sure you know how to set your priorities straight, you hear me?"
That's what happened right before I went to board the plane.
Obviously, I couldn't sit here and describe all the differences between Western and Eastern cultures. That'd take a lifetime.
I could sit here and list the petty differences like schools in Asia starting in January, having to wear school uniforms after elementary school, blood types being horoscopes in Asia, kids are considered adults later in Asia for our driving age is 18 and our age of adulthood is 20 unlike the US where it's 16 and 18 (our age of consents are lower, but regional law usually overrides national law and bumps it up to 16) Koreans (Korea is alone in this, other Asian countries don't do this) counting the time you spent in your mother's womb as part of your lifespan and therefore in Korea you're a year old as soon as you're born, so if you're 15 in the US you're 16 in Korea, Asian eyelid surgery and the fact that plastic surgery is rather acceptable in Asia (schoolgirls talk about what kind of plastic surgery they wanna get when they grow older), some of the rising anti-Americanism, etc. etc.
In Korea they all take baths together and sleep in the same bed together and it's totally normal.
What other petty differences? In Korea, you don't turn a year old on your birthday, you turn a year old on the lunar new year in January. In Korea, it's no big deal to leave a kid at home by themselves, I was left home all the time when I was 7. And most people already know about the filial piety thing, right? Respect for your parents and elders is giant.
I could go on and on but I won't, I'll only list the significant differences.
American ramen is gross. You guys have chicken and beef flavor here, with no egg, and call it "oodles of noodles". If you've never tried Korean ramen, try it, you can get the bowl kind at 7-11, and you can get the package kind at the Asian section at Giant's. We only have the spicy flavor and we crack a raw egg in it. And it's actually pronounced more like "lamyun". In Korea we sometimes put kimchi in ramen to make it less greasy cause Asians fucking hate greasy stuff.) And we all eat with metal chopsticks.
And we hopped on a plane and went to the United States.