Korean perspective of the ocean

Dec 17, 2007, 7:00 AM |

Ocean from spaceAliya’s story is continued with more about her Korean grandmother I-Sun.  Yesterday I focused primarily on her Grandfather who was a spy for the Soviets in Japan.  As it turns out, Aliya’s grandmother was about 18 years old when she married her North Korean husband.  She was born in the “Far East” and had about 4 or 5 brothers.  She was the only daughter so she stayed at home and cooked, most of her brothers got an education.  Unfortunately, I-Sun's simple life in a small town along the ocean and eating sea food was quickly disrupted when they had only five minutes to depart for Kazakhstan.  No forewarning in the 1930s, the “Soviet” Koreans were dropped off the steam engine train while it was still moving all along the way from where they were picked up throughout Russia into Kazakhstan and finally ending in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Korean villages even today dot the way all along the railroad tracks from Far East to Uzbekistan.

 Grandmother I-Sun with her infant daughter who had been born in 1937 were dumped off in Karaganda, Kazakhstan without any food or provisions.  They didn’t speak Russian or Kazakh and the climate and steppe surroundings were so different from what they were used to.  No ocean!!!  Aliya remembers when her grandmother watched tv in later years and when she saw the ocean, she would cry.  How much she missed her native land. 

I-Sun also missed her husband during his imprisonment in Japan.  The Soviet government didn’t tell her anything.  It was a hard time since they didn’t have a lot of food to eat and they all had to work very hard.  So, Aliya is not sure if she got a paper that said her husband who was about 15 years her senior was dead or not.  In any case, she eventually re-married.  Unfortunately, this particular Korean man was not a good family man, he would gamble away all the money and leave no food for his four young children they eventually had together.  Since there was no birth control, she had one at age 6, 4, 2 and 6 months old.  Sometimes this ne’er-do-well husband would come home drunk and throw pieces of bread on the floor, he didn’t do much to help his family.  At some point, he either left her to live in Kyrgyzlorda or Aliya’s grandmother left him in order to maintain the family stability.  Meanwhile she still had the oldest daughter from her first marriage who helped with all these younger siblings of hers.  Not an easy life for her as well, all she knew how to do was cook and clean.  She was very quiet and not confident and she also married at a very young age.

Aliya’s grandmother only spoke Korean at home and was considered a legend among her peers because she was a great cook and good hostess.  She knew how to cook many of the national Korean foods.  Aliya considered her to be very wise, patient and always optimistic.  She had a great sense of humor and she would love to dance and was very healthy.  She was, of course, very surprised when her first husband returned after escaping prison in Japan.  Then he was imprisoned by the Soviets but it was after he was released and in 1955 that I-Sun had Aliya’s uncle and Aliya’s mother was born in 1960. 

Both of Aliya’s grandparents were brave in the face of many trials.  God has put it on her heart to find out more information about them to piece together the uncertain threads that she knows about.  She has relatives she can still ask questions of and perhaps the answers will find their way into a book. 

Aliya told me there are three important dates in a Korean’s life.  First, when they are one year old, then when they get married and finally when they turn 60 years old.  The tradition is that when they have the first birthday party they will have many objects on a table such as a book, money, pencil, etc.  Depending on what the child reaches for first, supposedly that will predict what kind of a future they will have.  In Aliya’s case, she picked up a book and she LOVES reading. 

We shall see if Aliya, who has Korean background, will ever get back to her roots in Korea or maybe she will write about her grandparents for her other family members to find out about their great heritage that used to be near the ocean but is now in the steppes of Kazakhstan.