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Manoa 13.2 (2001) 169-175
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Specimens of Families
According to a friend of mine, a freelance writer, about five thousand Korean residents of Japan get naturalized every year.
Sang Chung was a long-distance truck driver. When I was small, I used to enjoy getting into his oversized truck. With his strong shoulders, he would hoist me into the cab, and my heart would thump as if I were going on a ride in an amusement park. He eventually married the daughter of the president of the transport company and was naturalized as a Japanese citizen. Later, he came to hate his Korean name.
Once during a summer vacation, my mother and I visited Sang Chung's home in Hachioji and stayed overnight. There was a pond in the large yard. Standing on a bridge, Sang Chung would clap his hands, and colored carp worth several thousand dollars each would rise to the surface of the pond. My mother would heave sighs of envy, saying, "How wonderful!"
At dinnertime, seeing the cutlass fish being served, I said, "Oh, it's kalchi." Sang Chung put his forefinger to his lips, saying, "Hush."
"You should say tachiuo. You never can tell when someone might overhear you speaking Korean," he said, knitting his brows and spreading spicy Korean miso over his kalchi.
The day after we left, Sang Chung called, and Mother picked up the phone. "Did you speak Korean in public somewhere?" he asked. "People in our neighborhood have been passing me with a funny look in their eyes since you were here."
"We never did," Mother said.
"Ask your kid about it."
"My kids can't speak Korean--you know that," Mother retorted sharply.
Then Sang Chung said accusingly, "It's because you came to our place dressed like a barmaid."
I haven't visited Sang Chung's home since then.
No sooner had Japan's "bubble" economy collapsed than Sang Chung's company went bankrupt. He sold his home and moved into a one-room apartment smaller than nine feet square. In order to pay back his debts of nearly eleven million yen, he and his wife opened a ramen stall.
Another story about a family that was naturalized: [End Page 169]
I was attending a missionary school for girls from well-to-do families, and one of my classmates was the daughter of a friend of my mother's. All of her family members had become naturalized in Japan, so she was calling herself by a Japanese name. Her home was a love hotel near Yamashita Park in Yokohama. She was always dozing in class. When I asked my mother why, she explained that the girl and her younger brother worked at the hotel, changing linens, so her family could save money by not employing maids. She also had to take her turn sitting at the check-in desk, so she was not able to sleep regularly.
When I was kicked out of school and was getting my things together at my locker, this girl, who had never even spoken to me, suddenly began to cry. After I got home, a bunch of flowers arrived from her. A piece of memo paper fell on the carpet. On it I saw a couple of lines from a popular song, with a line about me added:
A poppy blooms in red.
A lily blooms in white.
May Miri bloom in Miri color.
Aunt Back from Paris
When I got out of the coffee shop and started to walk away from the station, I found that it was raining. I stopped and stood there for a while. The reason I hadn't noticed that my hair and shoulders were wet might have been because the rain was light, but it was probably more that I was tired from the succession of troubles I had been having lately.
Raising my hand, I hailed a taxi. Just as the taxi door was closing after me, I heard a female voice calling, "Miri! Hey, Miri!"
The woman, who had plastic bags labeled...