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Manoa 14.2 (2002-2003) 77-83
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The Tragic Split
Margaret K. Pai
from The Dreams of Two Yi-min
Returning to Hawaii, we were again passengers in the dark steerage hold of a ship.
My mother was confined to her bunk for most of the fortnight journey; she said
she could not bear the smells of so many people herded together in the three-tiered bunks, sweating, vomiting, and eliminating. Day after day I watched patiently over her. I wished I could go out of the crowded cabin for some fresh air but I dared not leave her.
One day she sat up and remarked, "Your father will be surprised to see how tall you've grown, Chung Sook. You and I have been away over three years."
I tried to visualize my father. I couldn't. Only the faces of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, the servants, and our friends in Korea could I recall.
"Will Aboji be at the pier when we arrive in Honolulu?" I asked.
"Of course your father will be there. He'll be so happy to see us!"
At last our ship entered Honolulu Harbor. "There's your father!" Mother cried, lifting me to the railing of the ship as it docked. She pointed to a man standing at the edge of a cluster of people. His hair was cut very short and he wore a dark suit. He waved; a quiver of nervous anticipation ran through me. I put up my hand to wave back but held it in midair, for the man standing below was a stranger.
We went down to the foot of the gangplank and waited for him. As he strode toward us he looked bigger than I had thought from my place at the ship's railing.
His face abruptly broke into a smile and his eyes lighted upwith gladness. He shook hands with Mother and patted me on the back.
The Korean men and women who had come on the ship with us greeted their spouses and friends with handshakes while the Japanese people bowed low and did not touch each other. All the men on the pier wore grey or black suits, except for a few Japanese men in dark kimonos. All the women were in their native dress—bright ch'ima and chogori or multihued kimonos.
Father announced proudly to Mother, "Yobo, I've rented a house on Iolani Avenue. I think you will like it."
She looked pleased and asked, "How many rooms does it have?"
"Two bedrooms. A parlor, kitchen, and bathroom."
Our house was the second from the top of four identical-looking cottages built in a row on a sloping street. They were separated from each other by about five feet all around.
We had to walk with care around the colorfully wrapped gifts and many jars of food from Korea, which filled the small living room. In each bedroom was a brown chest and a high, white iron bed. When I sat on my bed it squeaked.
When I walked into the bathroom, the white toilet intrigued me, as did the wash [End Page 77] basin that had a pipe with running water. I soon realized we did not need a maid to bring us water to wash our faces or to empty our chamber pots.
Mother stood in the kitchen a long time without saying a word. She looked lost and a little distressed. Finally, shaking her head, she muttered, "Aigu, I'll have to start cooking again."
Father showed her where he kept the pots and pans, and together they prepared supper. He washed the rice and set the pot on the stove, and Mother selected an assortment of panch'an from the jars and boxes on the living room floor. We sat on wooden stools around a small, unpainted table in the kitchen and enjoyed kanjang fish, strips of peppery dried fish, pickled cucumbers, and pungent "overripe" kimch'i.
As I was about to fall asleep the first night I overheard my father say, his voice tinged with...