With travel comes tests. With family comes drama. With humor comes ease. I wrote this in the computer room on the 16th floor of a hostel in Myeongdong, a bustling discount shopping district infused with tourists from China, the Philippines, and of course the USA. It wasn’t a computer room as much as two computers on a dirty white table in the hallway between a couple rooms. Kind of like how Step Inn wasn’t an inn as much as a hostel. The power of marketing compels you! I sat there graciously ready to write and physically and emotionally manifest peace in another space, any space, outside of the tiny room my parents and I were staying in.
There was no use having a bad attitude for not anticipating the hostel/inn discrepancy along with my dad’s history of high expectations and low patience. Who am I to interpret cozy as good enough for my parents? Call it the immigrant family trap, model minority rap, of wanting the best for a pair who have roller-coasted around both extremes of the economic ladder in Korea and the US. All so I could write this post.
Before arriving at the Step Hostel, my parents and I stayed at my grandmother’s home for one night where I saw glimpses into my dad’s past. A black and white photo of him with his parents, his twin brother, and older sister was placed on my grandpa’s desk. My dad must have been no more than 14 years old and was in the middle of laughing, his mouth wide open, and I laughed at all the times he scolded me to keep my mouth closed in photos. As I took in my late grandpa’s room with his clothes still hanging on racks and documents lying about his desk, I wondered if he looked more and more at that photo as his time neared. In the hallway, there were three glass cases with military ribbons, medals, and the like. I quickly snapped photos before considering the metaphorical peace and dignity I was stealing by resigning them to tiny squares on a screen.
The day before, we went to the burial ceremony, which involved a 3-hour bus ride both ways, incessant bows, obliging naes, and feeling fed up then resigned about the tense nature of a formal, buttoned-up family who never quite listened or understood one another. At least we were well-rested and, well, alive. Lucky enough to have the time to pay our respects; lucky enough to leave afterward. No more getting told to get married or work somewhere for 10 years. No more expectation of female servitude, at least in close quarters. When you know there’s a limit, anything that may bother you is more tolerable and then at once you may become a saint or, God forbid, the perfect granddaughter – a feat I don’t know if any of conquered while my grandpa was alive.