November 17, 2006

Thanksgiving part deux

Well, now that I got my angst-filled mental scream out - let me explain.

I do have twelve people total for Thanksgiving. This includes my core group. Of the twelve, my son will be the only child. Why? Because my sister has decided she doesn't want to be part of our family anymore, and thus has decided that her son cannot be part of our lives either.

Which brings me to why I'm hosting Thanksgiving. She usually does the hosting, but having decided she'd rather spend time with drug dealers and the like, well, I'm stuck with the job.

The group includes, this year for the first time, my inlaws. Yay. Also, included are my "aunt" and my cousin who now lives with us.

The kimchi, comes into play because, well, because I'm 1/2 korean. We have kimchi all the time and at this particular time, I have it in abundance.

Ok, now, my "aunt" is not really my aunt at all. When my mom moved to Western Pa with my dad in January 1977, she didn't speak much English and I was not quite 1. Obviously, she didn't know many people aside from our immediate family. Shortly after moving here, she met Un Hwa. Un Hwa and her three children lived nearby. Her husband lived in Korea, cause he couldn't get a job as a preacher here - so he went back.

For the last 29 years, my mom and Un Hwa have been friends. The only two Koreans in my school district. She's been a part of the family. My dad did odd jobs for her - he was fixit man, chauffer and friend as her English is not so good either.

Last year, as you many have read, my mother's Sister came to visit and her visit ended with a trip that I took a trip to Korea. While here in the States, she and Un Hwa began to talk - they are more close in age than my mom and Un Hwa. They discovered they were from the same extended village destroyed 55 years ago during the war.

That cannot be! Only relatives are from the same village. So, more conversations, more memories, more names were discussed, and lo and behold, we are related! Distantly, as someone from Un Hwa's family married someone from my Grandmother's family - so a distant cousin of a cousin . . . Hmpf.

For 30 years my mom and Un Hwa have been friends - like sisters. To think, that all this time they were actually distant relatives was phenomenal.

This Thanksgiving, Un Hwa will be with us as she is most holidays. She and my mom enjoy kimchi with every meal, even turkey. We will have, among the other dishes upon my table, a dish of kimchi, possibly some seaweed and rice as well. It is a pretty dish, and will likely compliment the table. My worry is that my in-laws, may not be so fond of it. Specifically my f-i-l who despises all things Korean (likely including my family) - he was stationed there for 2 years with the Army and likes to remind us that it was a miserable time for him.

Luckily Un Hwa's English is still not that good after all these years. Or, better still, she and my mom can tell each other what an ass he is in Korean.

So, this Thanksgiving I'm starting a new tradition. Thanksgiving will be in my home, and everyone is welcome. The menu doesn't change much through the years, but here it is:

-Brined and herb roasted turkey
-red-skinned smashed potatoes and gravy
-classic sweet potato casserole
- a roasted vegetable (tbd)
-baked ham
-tossed salad
-pumpkin pie

Pretty well-rounded. I may even throw some other things in there too. Who knows.

Show Comments »

Posted by Oddybobo at 11:37 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

May 26, 2006

A Great One Gone

If you were reading me at the time, you may recall that I made a trip to Korea in October of last year. My first. I detailed it here.

After I returned, I posted that I'd met myUncle for the first, and likely last, time.

He had been diagnosed 1 1/2 years ago with a fatal liver disease. The medical doctors gave him 6 months to live. When I saw him he had sworn off the medical doctors and was seeing a buddhist witch doctor of sorts. He was buddhist. He went on a strict buddhist diet which he was told would cure his ailments. No meats were allowed in the diet. He was recovering soundly.

In recent weeks he had been telling my aunt that he was lacking energy and needed protein. She cooked chicken and meats for him everyday. Yesterday, she cooked two whole chickens for him. She said he laughed and told her:

"Woman! Do you expect me to eat all of this?" She said he would have all weekend to eat it. Last night he called her and said "I ate it all." She went to his home in the evening, sensing something wasn't quite right.

He joked that his time had come. That he was glad to have seen his baby sister and to have met me before he died. He said that meeting me - of all people - was one of the highlights of his life. Then he called for an ambulance.

My dear uncle was dead before he reached the hospital. He was 72.

As I sit here typing this simple post I am overcome with tears. I had known my "wey samchun" for only 10 days. In 10 days he taught me some korean, taught me some tradition and showed me, actually took me to the place where my roots began. For that I am ever grateful. I loved that simple Korean man more than I ever thought I could.

It is interesting. I already feel as if my life has a void in it - for the next time I visit Korea, he will not be there to greet me.

He lived a full life. One filled with turmoil, sadness and then triumph. My one consolation? He died at home, with his dear sister and a belly full of chicken. Should we all be so lucky.

So this memorial day - I will remember him.

Show Comments »

Posted by Oddybobo at 08:11 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

October 12, 2005

More On My Trip To Korea

One aspect of my trip that was bitter-sweet was finally meeting my uncle. The one who my mom didn't know until her teen years.

I didn't think I could love and miss this man so much after just 10 days with him. It was as if I had known him my whole life. His English is pretty good so we were able to talk about most anything. His days were devoted to carting me around so I could see what Korea was like.

Now, my uncle is 71 and not in the best of health. I learned just before I left Korea that he had been diagnosed with a fatal liver disorder and would likely not live much longer. Even though he was very ill, he made sure that I learned about my roots. - where I came from!

It really is a tragedy. No one longs for the Unification of Korea more than he. He wants to learn what happened to his father, his brother, his sister - 54 years ago. Are they still alive? What have they been doing all these years, do they remember him?

It is a door that is not closed in his life. Before my mother left, she gave him the funds to go on a "peace" ride to a mountain somewhere in North Korea. See they have trains and buses that are allowed to go into North Korea on a limited basis for the purposes of extending the peace and moving toward unification. He is, hopefully, going to take that trip before he dies. He wants to see the land that is part of his family, as the majority of the Ubong-Kim land lies just north of the DMZ. He wants to try to find his lost siblings, or anyone who may have known them.

Part of the reason he and my aunt put a headstone at their mother's grave was if unification was ever achieved and his siblings returned to the place of their birth, they would know someone cared for their mother's grave and that three of them survived. All their names are on the stone so they can reach out to any of the siblings should it ever come to pass.

It saddens me that he may not live to try to find his long-lost siblings. It saddens me that he may not live to meet my son on my next trip to Korea. I am, however, so happy to have had the opportunity to meet him!

Show Comments »

Posted by Oddybobo at 01:31 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack » Cotillion TracksBack with: Witches Ball

October 03, 2005


So, I have been telling you about my mom and her sister these last two weeks, and I thought I would post some more pictures of my mom for you all to see.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usFirst off, here is a picture of my mom and her sister (mom is the little one) when my mom was 5. Her sister made sure she was always part of her life.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHere is my rather hip mom in 1973.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHere is one of my mom that I have always loved. However, when I scanned it, it blurred her one eye so she looks a bit unnerving . . .

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHere is a picture of my mom, dad, sister and me. I'm the chubby two year old!

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThis is my mom hanging out on a picnic table waiting for me to finish fishing.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usAnd here is my mom and Aunt this year.

I have more about my mom and my trip to share, but thought I'd share some more pictures first.

Show Comments »

Posted by Oddybobo at 10:57 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 28, 2005


Well, I have finally put some pictures up. And if you haven't yet read part one and part two of my trip, feel free to do so.

Two of the pictures need some explanation, the first is at my mom's gravesite.

As I said before, my "harmony" (grandmother in Korean) was murdered outside her home by North Korean soldiers there to take my grandfather and aunts and uncles away. As they had secretly fled in the night, my grandmother paid the price. She was buried in the traditional mound grave standing upright in a wooden coffin on a hilly outcrop overlooking the home in which she lived. Beside her graves are the graves of the neighbor boy's mother and father, executed in much the same fashion.

My aunt made the almost three day trek out of the valley with my mom on her back in 1951 so my mother has never seen my grandmother's grave. About 10-15 years ago, they opened the Cheorwon Valley to those who were born there. My aunt and uncle returned and went to their mother's grave where they cleared the area and put in a gravestone.

Koreans believe that you must care for the graves of your parents and ancestors or bad things will befall your family. So many older Koreans fear that the reason they have suffered is because they were unable to care for the graves of their parents and ancestors. Being able to go "home" as it were, was a life-long dream for my mom, aunt and uncle. Only now, after some 54 years did my mom get to finally return home.

Which brings me to the gravesites which we cleared. In Korea, non-christinas, and some christians too, celebrate Jesa. It is the honoring or worship of one's ancestors. Once a year, men clear away the brush and debris at ancestral gravesites (we visited three which were each over 500 years old). My family is descended from a Late Goreyo King but that King's remains are trapped within the barbed wire of the DMZ and no one can go there, so we cleaned the graves of the later ancestors.
Women did not take part in this cleaning. Nor did they take part in the ancestral Jesa ceremony (they can now). See, in older Korean culture, a family was represented by its men. The women were not important to the family name.

Anyway, at Jesa, the men dress all in white, make offerings and chants and other ceremonial trappings to show their honor of their ancestors in their home, and then they march to the gravesite to chant, offer food and drink and piles of stones in honor. Also at Jesa, entire families visit the gravesites of their parents, they have a picnic and take small offerings of rice cakes to their parents.

Even though I am a woman, because I showed interest in my family history, the Chairman of our family (every traditionally upper-class family had one) invited us to participate so that he could point out the significance of each site.

The one in the picture is on a military base (on which non-military people are not allowed, except at Jesa and on which women are never allowed but they apparently made an exception because they didn't shoot us). We were surrounded by armed boys while we worked, and had to walk over a mine field to get to one section of our familial gravesites. It was an experience I shall not soon forget.

The gravesite itself is in three mounds. The middle one was originally taller than the other two as the man was buried there between his two wives. His grave has since sunk lower than the other two and the tale is that his wives had wrapped their arms around him and were holding him close for all eternity. Neat.

In Korea, families keep a book of names of the men born to the family, and if you are a male child, your children's names will appear in the book as well. It was kept from the King we are decended from. Anyway, my mother's name appears in the book, and my grandfather and great grandfather all the way up to this King. This book had recently been printed (the only time in almost 1000 years) because of a dispute in the family. One extra copy was printed and it was given to me during my visit! While my name isn't in the book, my mother's is, and I can forever tell people my family line is the Ubong-Kim's. (oh and on my grandmother's side, her Kim's were descended from a Shilla King so, I'm technically royalty, I wonder if that rubs out the redneck on my dad's side . . .)

Stay tuned for more pictures and stuff . . .

Show Comments »

Posted by Oddybobo at 09:16 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack » Camp HappyBadFun! TracksBack with: The Good Life
» The Gray Tie TracksBack with: Cotillion Tuesday
» Cotillion TracksBack with: Cotillion Tuesday
» Conservative Thinking TracksBack with:

September 27, 2005

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!

Here are some pictures from my trip to Korea. Click on the links to see bigger versions!

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThis is my mom and aunt eating at a Kalbi house in Korea. Kalbi is marinated pork cooked on a sizzling plate in front of you.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThis is my mom and her sister and brother (She hadn't seen her brother since 1983).

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThese kids are kids in the village where my aunt lives.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHanging with Ronald, where even he has slanted eyes . . . I look terrible!

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThat, my friends is a North Korean city in the distance. Notice that there isn't much vegetation growing on the mountains?

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usA North Korean lookout post. The dirt road is within the DMZ, the picture is taken through a car window because I may have been shot if caught taking pictures.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThe shelled out remains of the North Korean Labor Party Headquarters, the site of many atrocities during the war.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usEarly morning in the Cheorwon Valley.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThis is my Grandmother's grave. It is near the site of the home where my mom was born. My mother had not been here since she was several months old. She had never seen the grave of her mother. Never known where she was born.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usA traditional home. My mom was born in a home like this. My aunt sits in the doorway, my mom is in the foreground walking.

Free Image Hosting at Here is a grave of one of my ancestors. In todays world he would be as important as a vice president. That is my smiling mom in the foreground. We took part in grave cleaning day to prepare for Korean Thanksgiving. This grave site is nearly 600 years old.

That is all for now. Disregard the ugly picture of me. The airport lost my luggage, so I had been in the same clothes for three days!

Show Comments »

Posted by Oddybobo at 05:21 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack » Camp HappyBadFun! TracksBack with: The Good Life

September 21, 2005

Going Home Again Part II

Ok, as everyone knows I went to Korea for the first time in my life just a week and 1/2 ago.

My mom hadn't been back since 1983 and hadn't been to her birthplace since 1951. It was a whirlwind trip wherein I learned a lot about my family, my heritage and the plight of refugees from the war.

There wasn't a family member or family friend that we visited that didn't have a story of intrigue, despair and loss to tell me.

My Korean isn't very good but my mom was there to help me interpret.

I stayed in the area surrounding the DMZ. Normal Koreans and foreigners barely ever visit. if you were born there you can get a pass, and you can accompany someone without a pass. So, there I was. Minutes from North Korea and the ever watchful eyes of the North Korean and South Korean military.

A few places truly were inspiring and I will try to paint the picture for you here.

The first is the DMZ itself. It is quite literally the line drawn in the sand. It is a roughly 2 mile plot of land that spans the width of the country. On the southern border of the DMZ is an 8 foot tall fence with rolling barbed wire at the top and live grenades hanging every 2 to 3 feet. Just inside that border fence is another barbed wire fence. It too contains live ordinance. You cannot get close to the fence, in fact, you cannot stop your vehicle as someone may shoot you. My photos are from the back seat of a car. You aren't to photograph that area either. You can see the barren, abandoned road within the DMZ that stretches up into the mountains and to the North Korean lookout point.

There is one spot you can stop (but no pictures). There is an observatory which you can climb and look out across the DMZ. I went there. It is less than a mile from my aunt's home. At that site is an abandoned rail station whose train used to take Koreans all over the North and South and into Russia and China.

When it stopped running 55 years ago, the train was left right where it ended its last run. There it sits in ruins today. It is a reminder of what the North Korean's used that train for in the early days of the war.

After the forced occupation by Japan ended, the North Koreans entertained thoughts of unifying the country. To that end, they set up the National Labor Party Headquarters - a vast stone building which stands in ruins as a tribute to the lives lost there. It is 1/2 mile from my mother's village and 1/2 mile from the train depot.

The North Koreans would round up peaceful villagers with the threat of putting them on the train to North Korea. In reality they would place these individuals on the train until they were herded to the Headquarters to be executed. When the area was liberated by the American military, what the soldiers found were trenches behind the building filled with executed, peaceful villagers. Why were they executed? To prove a point - to show that the North was mighty and strong, and to force those peaceful villagers to follow their lead. Young Korean's with sympathy for North Korea have completely forgotten the horrors of those days.

Why this spot and the train depot were so important to my trip was because of what they meant to my aunt, my uncle and their friends. My uncle explained that everyday as a teen, before he fell ill, he saw the North Koreans round innocent villagers up. His friends, neighbors, and some family were never seen again. On occassion, the North Korean soldiers would return to their village to tell them that a body could be gathered from the headquarters for burial. That is how they knew what happened to those particular friends and neighbors, the rest are simply lost. They lived with the fear that they were next.

Indeed, my uncle's best friend, who lives nearby, told me that at 15 years old his entire village was rounded up at gun point. They went to the depot, where they were told to go, but he got scared and snuck away in the middle of the night. He never saw another soul from his village again. I heard these tales time and again. These buildings stand so North Korean/Communist atrocities will never be forgotten, yet somehow they have been.

I also visited a folk village and museum and an old palace complex. It was all really fun, because while the Folk Village was early 19th Century, my aunt remembers living that way as a child. They didn't have straw roofs, but all the other particulars were exactly as they had been in the distant past. Korea has only recently, in the last 30 years, modernized.

Ok, so, believe it or not I was actually searching for the little mud buildings with dirt floors that you see on certain episodes of MASH. Let me tell you, that is as completely inaccurate as one could imagine.

In Korea, (at least not since the Bronze Age) there were no mud huts with dirt floors. The Koreans ate, slept and did everything else on their floors. So, dirt was not used. Instead, their floors were made of wood with an elaborate heating system underneath so that the floors were warm. It is really neat. I visited one of the old homes, still being lived in, yet long-since modernized. It was just like the folk village except it had electricity. It was really cool.

And the food! Man, it knocked me out! I had the best food while I was there. All these older Koreans I met were floored cause I'd eat just about anything they placed in front of me. Oh how I miss the food!

That's all for now. I should get around to posting pics. soon. . .

Show Comments »

Posted by Oddybobo at 10:14 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack » Camp HappyBadFun! TracksBack with: The Good Life

September 16, 2005

Going Home Again

It was the spring of 1951 in the village of Hwagal-ri about a mile from what would become known as the DMZ, in the Cherwon valley nestled between the majestic mountains of the Korean peninsula. The rice fields had just been planted and nothing was very green yet. The weather was becoming balmy and the threat of fevers hadn't yet past.

Her oldest brother was in bed with Yellow Fever and would probably die. He was 17.

Two days earlier, her father and another brother and sister had disappeared. It was rumored that the North Koreans were coming for them as they had so many local villages, but she hadn't paid it any mind. Afterall, she was 10 and was needed to take care of the new baby, a girl, just a few weeks old. Besides, the North Koreans were always around and had been "disappearing" people for the last number of years.

That is when it happened, a very distinct knock on the door, not a knock, a pounding that would never be forgotten. She could hear the shouting, questions about where her father was and then the shots. Her mother lay in a pool of blood outside their home. The soldiers had entered to execute her brother but were told in the pleading, pathetic voice of her elderly grandmother that he had Yellow Fever and was contagious. The soldiers nervously backed away, and ran from the house so as not to be sick themselves.

Some villagers attended to the burial of her mother, on a hill overlooking their home, in a traditional mound with no marker. She was gone. Who would care for them? A sick brother, a baby, an elderly grandmother, and her? She hadn't time to worry for she too fell sick with Yellow Fever and was sent to bed.

When she awoke, it was late spring and the land was lush and green. Her brother had not died, and had gone off to join the South Korean ROK Army. She was alone with her elderly grandmother and the baby. She learned that her grandmother kept the baby alive with rice water but she was not well.

She could barely stand upon her legs as the fever had taken its toll upon her body, but they could no longer stay in their home for it was now at what was known as the front line in the "conflict". She set off with her elderly grandmother and the baby with what little they could carry.

While they walked, they often were met with flying bullets and had to maneuver mine fields and mortars. They hid from the North Koreans once and thought they would surely die when a plane flew overhead. At one point, the baby's wrist was grazed by a bullet, but she did not lose her hand.

Several times along the way, she thought of leaving the baby by the road side as she was weak and the baby, now several months old was heavy. When she came to the HanTan River she spied a rock below the bridge and decided to leave the baby there, surely some other refugee would take her. She was torn. This baby was her sister. Her only real connection to her family at this moment. She would not leave her.

She proceeded to cross the HanTan river on an unsteady wooden foot-bridge laden with the child, her last link to her family, with her elderly grandmother in tow. Several times she slipped but they managed to cross the river.

It had been two days and nights, but she managed to emerge from the mountains at a small village crossroads. There, they and other refugees were met by U.S. soldiers. These wonderful men took her elderly grandmother to a medical facility and then on to a refugee camp. She would never be seen again. They gave her food and candy and a kind look and transported her and the baby to an orphanage outside Seoul.

She was able to spend a few months with her sister at the orphanage but they were separated and she was sent to work as a house girl.

She visited her sister often to ensure that they would never part. She cried at the door of the orphanage to make sure her sister was not adopted to the foreign couples lining the entry way. She wept as she saw that her sister hadn't any clothes or food to eat, and knew that she hadn't any to spare. She couldn't believe that her sister, having but one notebook, would erase the beginning of the book and start again when she had reached the end. She scraped change together now and again to buy her little sister a piece of candy or hair adornment any small token was received as a precious gift. Her only comfort was that she hadn't given into temptation and left her sister behind.

As she got older, she met another refugee and they married. She looked after her sister, still in an orphanage, as best she could, but her sister was now an unruly pre-teen. She was still comforted that she had ensured that they would not be separated. Eleven years had past, and one day she was met on the street by a neighbor who inquired the name of her long-lost brother. Coyly, the neighbor said "I know your brother, do you want to meet him?" Unsure how to react, she said yes. Her brother lived in a flat mere blocks away from her and had for years. He was married, had children and was working. She and "the baby" went to meet their brother. After 11 years, they were finally reunited, though bitter-sweet, their hearts were happy. Whether they had other family alive remained to be seen, but for now, the three of them had each other.

Twenty three years had past and "the baby" was now a beautiful woman with long, raven black hair and a penchant for gambling and alcohol abuse.


"The baby" was getting her life on track and had gotten a job at the courthouse in Seoul and had begun college classes to be a pharmacist. She would be just fine. Then one day, "the baby" brought a young man to her sister's home.

This young military man was a handsome American of barely twenty. She knew that he was a good man when he ate everything on his plate and asked for more. "The baby" seemed smitten, and had certainly never brought a man by before. She approved but had reservations. Specifically that if the relationship progressed she would actually be separated from "the baby" after all these years.

The two indeed married and while they lived in Korea for two years, the young American was about to be transferred to America. Her instincts about this young American were correct, he was indeed a good man! They were expecting their first child and there were complications. He used all of his leave staying home to care for his bride and their unborn child. In fact, for a brief time he was AWOL as he insisted on staying with his wife. He didn't get into too much trouble once the situation was explained, and the complications subsided.

The two left Korea when "the baby" was eight months pregnant. She would not get to meet her tiny niece or nephew, not at least for 30 years. . .

Nearly forty-five years after she left her home, the government of Korea granted limited access to the zone surrounding the DMZ to those who could prove their birth in that area - she was going home! Monthly, she meets and eats with friends who had resided in the same orphanage as her. Those some 50-odd years later, they still cry and sob that they could not save their siblings as she had. She is a proud woman who lives in a proud country.

She now resides in a small village a mile from the DMZ, within military checkpoints and surrounded by the famed rice fields of Cherwon-do and the streets lined with multi-colored cosmos and mums. Inside a village which proudly displayed hot, red peppers drying in the sun and bundles of sesame freshly picked she lived in a tiny two room home. It was here, not one week ago that "the baby" who is my mother, and I visited. It was here that for the first time in 54 years "the baby" returned to the place of her birth, visited the grave of her mother, and walked along some of the same path her sister had taken to rescue her 54 years ago.

It was here, that she was greeted by the extended arms of long-lost family members who had also returned to the land of their birth to remember.

The beauty of Cherwon-do has not been lost. Though the villages are long-gone, replaced by military bases, checkpoints, and minefields, the concrete jungle of the cities of Korea have not yet extended to this peaceful valley. It remains a destination for its refugees to return home to and to reunite with the souls of their dead loved ones and living family members. It was where, though 1/2 caucasian, I was embraced as an Ubong-Kimci, a long-lost sister, a loved one, a member of an extended family with many holes to fill. It is there, that my mother's heart lies.

Show Comments »

Posted by Oddybobo at 12:34 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack » TracksBack with: Comparing Apples and Oranges Ideas
» Cotillion TracksBack with: Apples And Oranges Ideas*
» Camp HappyBadFun! TracksBack with: The Good Life
» Camp HappyBadFun! TracksBack with: It's the Great Mom-Off Challenge of Oh-Five!