Sunday, June 24, 2007

My Life: Chapter I

My mom and me in front of our old house.
I was born May 25th, 1980 in Seoul, South Korea. My family was made up of a mom, a dad, and this person who might have been either a grandma or aunt. We also had a dog. They named me Jung Su Kim.

I lived in a two room house. One room was the kitchen, the other the main room. The main room was a empty, except a TV, wardrobes, and a fold-up table.

The kitchen was made of concrete. Concrete floor, concrete walls, and concrete ceilings. There was nothing like a electric mixer or microwave, the tools we used were all simple. We had a big concrete block for a stove. It had about five holes big enough for big coal cylinders to fit in. There was another room across the main house. On one side of the house there was a high brick wall, on the other there was cliff. We used the entrance to our yard as a garage for our motorcycle.

Source: My Life. An Autobiography by John Murphy.

My Korean mom doesn't know any English, so I translated my autobiography out loud for her. My words summoned memories from long ago, from a past life. I could see it in her eyes. She only had a few clarifications to add to chapter one.


The biggest error is the fact I was not born in Seoul, but Jin Young. At the time I wrote this biography, I did not have any clear information about my birthplace. Jin Young is a very small town near Busan. It is in the southeast corner of the peninsula opposite Seoul, Korea's capital and most populated city. Quite a big difference. "This person" who lived with us was my paternal grandmother. She resided in a separate room across the yard from the main room. Also my dad's sister often visited our house.

The kitchen did not have many modern conveniences. I recall my mother grinding something with a mortar and pestle. The stove used large blocks of coal called yeontan for fuel. My mother insisted there were  twenty-two holes in the stove, while I recall only five holes arranged like pips on a die. Looking at an image of a yeontan block, I think I figured it out: she was referring to the number of holes in a single block of yeontan, while I was referring to the number of slots in the stove that accepted yeontan blocks. Anyways, the stove also doubled as a method of heating the main room of the house. 

The concrete stove had twenty-two (not five) holes. Stacks of large The stove doubled as a method for heating the floor of the main room, so more holes would make sense.  On the other hand, I recall drinking something whitish from a blender, so there was electricity. There was also a crockpot or rice cooker, but these electric appliances had to be used in the main room because the kitchen did not have any electrical outlets. There wasn't any running water in the kitchen, either. To get water, one had to pump it from across the yard. One side of kitchen was open to the outside, and Korean winters get just as cold as Minnesotan winters.


Despite these foggy recollections, my mother was quite impressed by the accuracy of my childhood memories. Chapter one concluded with a detailed overhead diagram of my home in Jin Young. She thought I had drawn it after we had visited the house together a few years earlier. In reality, I had illustrated it in fourth grade, about six years after I moved to the United States. I could still recall the layout of my home when we visited around 2002. However, everything was much smaller than I recalled--I was only about four years old when I moved away from the house. I was shocked to see that my childhood home wasn't even as large as my bedroom in Minnesota.
In 2002 I visited my old house in Korea.
The diagram labeled everything from the sliding paper doors to the location of the dog house. The floor of the main room was linoleum with a large checkered design. Everyone slept on the floor on thick blankets/mattresses that were folded up during the day. From the main room one stepped through the sliding paper doors to a small porch. The porch overlooked the small dirt yard in the middle of the house. Stepping off the porch to the left, one passed the entrance to the kitchen. There was also a doorway connecting the kitchen to the main room. Continuing past the kitchen, one could see the dog house in the far corner of the house. There was also a very scary outhouse on this side of the house. Beyond the outhouse, a chainlink fence held back growths of thick, tall bamboo. I always wondered what was on the other side. The diagram labeled it as a cliff, which was confirmed by my mother. Continuing the tour around the dirt yard, we passed the separate room where my grandmother stayed. At this point we were directly opposite the porch of the main room. The main room was to our right; the fence behind us; and the separate room is on our left. Straight ahead of us was the bathing area where we could pump water. A brick wall completed the last side of the house. A simple roof joining the separate room and brick wall created a garage for the blue motorcycle.

The front gate leading to our house.

Walking through the garage, the wooden gates lead to the street beyond. These days, the gate is locked up. The house is currently abandoned, over-run with weeds and mosquitos.

Update: I added the location of this house to this post. Look for the link at the very end of this post.

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