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Oido Beach

From: New England Review
Volume 34, Number 3-4, 2014
pp. 68-84 | 10.1353/ner.2014.0047

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:


I excavate clams with grandma, Halmuhnee.

The bus from Seoul takes us to Oido Beach. The water deserts clams, crabs, and jellyfish in the tidal flats. Sometimes, fish flop with copper eyes. Their gills open and close.


A small fishing vessel, halved in a wreck, is dragged onto the tidal flats at Oido Beach. I learn that it is filled with canaries perched in tall gilded cages. The birds are alive and yellow. The owner of the small fishing vessel is never identified. The canaries are female and do not sing. I imagine they flap from one perch to another, discomfited by the sound of waves, the sight of a crab. They are transported in their tall gilded cages to a pet store in Seoul, and sold. The short article in the newspaper I notice seven months later documents the discovery and provides a number in case anyone has information about the small fishing vessel.


The bus is loud with ajjumas wearing colorful visors. They talk to one another while the children squirm in seats as their fathers, appas, talk about the octopus, crabs, and sea bream they will catch. Halmuhnee stares out the window. Our feet are in rubber boots. The bus passes a pond full of veined lotus leaves, their unopened flowers pink spears balanced on tips of stalks. One hour later, when the sea appears, Halmuhnee turns to me and says, Look. She knocks on the window with her ring, a band of gold with a purple stone. It clicks against the glass. Sometimes, she lets me twist the ring around on her thin and spotted finger. I never tire of the purple stone disappearing, reappearing.


Father and I live in a ground floor apartment in a four-story complex in Seoul. The windows are small and square. It is close to the hotel where he works. He carries a glass jar, which once held ten pounds of kimchee, home one evening. Inside, there is a lump of dirt marbled with roots and a small green shoot. He’s grown thin since learning of mother’s death last winter. I don’t remember her. They separated when I was two. His eyes are large with sadness and appear somehow longer, spindled. There is more white space around his black pupils. Sometimes, when I hear a familiar voice from a stranger’s mouth, I know it is because it must share some of the same timbres my mother’s voice once carried.

In the kitchen, my father tells me that the root-ball is that of a hallabong seed. He unscrews the jar’s white lid. He speaks into the jar. I will take good care of you and you will grow and soon I will be able to pick your hallabongs. I imagine the seedless citrus fruit; I imagine running my fingers over the bump protruding from its top. I learned in school that this bump represents the volcano on Jeju Island. Where did it come from? I ask. But father does not hear, or has chosen not to answer me. I scrape the browned and crisped rice from the bottom of the stone pot and soak it in warm buckwheat tea. This is my favorite snack.


The bus driver, in his brown uniform, opens the door. He turns off the bus engine in a small gravel lot before the wharf. My ears fill with the sound of waves instead of chilled air rushing through vents, the engine’s cackle. Halmuhnee carries the jars in her hands, threads an arm through the handles of a canvas bag carrying our lunch, instead of the daikon radishes and cabbages she often hauls to her home from Seoul. The trowels in my hands have wooden handles. We disembark from the bus and greet the brininess in the air, the faint whiff of petroleum beneath the moodier scent of kelp and dampened sand.

We move down the wharf as a group. But no one wants to lead for more than a few paces. Halmuhnee and I are in the front, in the rear, and then embedded somehow, in the center. We...

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