April 17th, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The last place we lived before our family immigrated to the States was in a town called Noh Nyun Dong. It was a two story house on what was then the outskirts of Seoul. My parents scrimped and saved on their modest teachers’ salaries to purchase it. It sat on an unpaved street with an open sewer running through the middle. One in a row of homes hidden from the street by concrete walls. Each with its own front gate leading to an inner court, and then to the house.
It was the second of two homes in Korea I can recall. When we moved in, I remember being awed by the indoor plumbing – my first ever toilet. Oh, and when we got our first refrigerator. I remember repeatedly sticking my hand in it in disbelief, laughing, “Oohing” and “Aahing”. We heated and cooked with coal, and sat in front of a little black and white TV with programming starting in the early evening. Out front, we played for hours in the dirt, games created by poor kids with rocks and sticks. We ran around on the hill behind our house catching frogs and grasshoppers. And the concrete bridge over the sewer became the neighborhood pitch, an old flat volleyball, the soccer ball.
Boys walked around, arms draped over shoulder, even holding hands. Old men squatted in circles, talking story. And the young rose for their elders.
Are they real – my memories? Did these things really happen? Or are they pieces of my past, polished to a glow beyond reality by that narcotic optimism – the optimism of a child?
Just got back yesterday from a short trip to Korea … back from where I once belonged. The Seoul of my youth – my dirty, poor, living Seoul I discovered was hidden behind a guantlet of cold, glass high-rises; the plain, humble people replaced by walking mannequins. I had to get on foot, look down alleys to see the lingering vestiges of my Seoul. And wondered, “If this is progress, what’s all the rush?”