- Forever Summer
I remember reading long ago in a picture book that pigs are in fact cleaner and more sensitive than any other animal. They are picky about what they eat and where they defecate—they choose a damp, low-lying place—which is to say they are cultured enough to discard their waste. Moreover, they are exceptionally refined. They make no displays of aggression except when provoked. There is nothing wrong with them. Above all, they do not like to be regarded as a species, nor differentiated individually from each other. This sentence, beautiful and heartbreaking, has been lodged in my memory ever since.
When I was twelve I lived in Tokyo. My parents rented a house on the outskirts of the city. It was a nondescript row house with two tatami bedrooms and an adjoining kitchen–living-room. It was laughably smaller than the condominium in Manila we'd just moved from, which depressed my mother, as if she were a noblewoman suddenly made to live among pigs. My mother was no noblewoman. She had simply grown accustomed to receiving a small stipend for her housing and living costs as she followed her husband, an overseas sales manager in a trading company, around the world from one city to another. After he was relocated to the head office in Tokyo for an undetermined period, there was [End Page 149] nothing for her to do with her life but make compromises. One luxury she refused to give up, though, was sending her daughter to an international school. I pondered it from time to time. Exactly what kind of life are parents expecting for their children when they decide to send them to an international school with tuition fees equal to half their annual income? They might have wanted me to be some sort of cosmopolitan, neither entirely Korean nor Japanese. Whatever their intentions, the first phrase I learned at school was buta'me!—"Hey, pig!" in Japanese. No matter what country you're in, international school students always curse in the local language. Buta'me would also become the Japanese phrase I heard with the greatest frequency.
I was the only child in my neighborhood attending the international school. Every morning I had to ride the subway two stops by myself to reach the place where the school bus would pick me up. In the afternoon I had to take the same route back, the school bus and then the two stops on the subway again. My mother told me to walk to the bus stop and back rather than take the subway. She complained constantly that I didn't exercise enough. I'd been born with a frame much bigger than the average baby's. In the infant care unit, people were shocked when they discovered that the enormous baby was only a day old, and that it was a girl. During her pregnancy, my mother's appetite grew so intense no amount of food could sate it, and by her third trimester she had gained 65 pounds. That was more than double the doctor-recommended weight gain. The fetus weighed close to 10 pounds when it was time for delivery. I don't mean to blame her. Still, I always felt a sense of injustice when she obsessed over tallying and limiting my daily caloric intake. She was like the instigator of a long, multi-car collision in a congested tunnel. I was in a car way up at the front of the collision, completely innocent, unable to comprehend why soda, chocolate cake, cookies, or anything containing "fructose" were all suddenly forbidden and nothing but water was permitted after six o'clock. But there was nothing I could [End Page 150] do. Every night I had either to go to bed on an empty stomach or tiptoe into the kitchen after I was sure everyone else was asleep and steal some food from the refrigerator like a street cat.
While we lived there, there was only one time I walked home instead of taking the subway as my mother wanted. I arrived home drenched...