I Am Four

I am a teacher of four year olds.  It has been my favorite age to teach ever since I started on the early childhood path, as far back to 1987 when I started as an intern at the Columbia Greenhouse Nursery School.

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Happy Birthday Jiwon

Our body holds memories of what happened to us when we were young, albeit some are murky and forget about chronological order.  But they are evidence of what we were going through at the time.   Living with my aunt and uncle, I felt powerless and lonely for my parents,  and though my cousins tried to comfort me, it was not enough.

Even as a little kid you know you’ve got little power to change your circumstances and that’s what really sticks in your craw, and what you remember most about being a child.

 

My life suffocates
Planting seeds of hate
I’ve loved, turned to hate
Trapped far beyond my fate

–Excerpted from “Harvester of Sorrow” by Metallica

 

 

 

 

 

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Do Chinee Wear Shworts’r?

Not to take a too hard line on it, but what’s up with the Dutch?

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A Shworts’r and Chinee walk into a bar…

It would appear that even their “Dutch” girl is not stereotype-proof, but why the urge to typecast others?

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Old recipes?

As it turns out, the Dutch or Deutsch are Germans who emigrated en masse to America’s high plains in the 1700’s.  These German “plains people”  then came to Pennsylvania to flee persecution and subesquently became the Pennsylvania Dutch.  Read David Laskin’s Children’s Blizzard for an indepth view of  how these emigres fared in the New World and how they lived through the harrowing 1888 blizzard.

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The International

Blizzards aside, I can’t find any good explanation for including weird off-color images of people in these old time cookbooks.  Is it because the Dutch lost their way when they landed here?  Did they forget what it was like to be on the receiving end of prejudice and persecution?  Many were indentured servants or sold off as slaves by “soul drivers” * who would march them through Pennsylvania towns to sell at auction.

According to independent food historian, William Woys Weaver, even their cuisine got lost: groundhog, yes; shoofly pie, no.

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Consider the groundhog

 

 

 

*explorepahistory.com

 

 

Did You Eat?

One of the Korean things I learned was to ask my boyfriend if he’d eaten lunch.

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Bon apetit ca 1972

When I lived in Seoul during the early 2000’s, I dated some and learned the endearing custom of asking your significant one if they’d eaten lunch.  It’s a kissing cousin to the American “Did you eat yet?”

My boyfriend is good at making lunch so when I’m home I know I will eat lunch.  At work?  Not so much.   It’s a comfort and joy to have someone concerned about your eating habits.  There are so many people who aren’t as lucky.

“Did you eat yet?”

 

Thirst is angry at water.  Hunger, bitter

with bread.  The cave wants nothing to do

with the sun.  This is dumb, the self-

defeating way we’ve been.

––excerpted from “The Self We Share” by Rumi

 

 

 

Where Did We Go?

I don’t remember a lot of trips taken as a kid.  But I know we went to Niagara Falls.

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Niagara Falls, 1977

We drove up in a car and when we got there I puked in a paper bag.  I remember that it was from eating a whole lot of cheese doodles.

I had a feeling when I was young that we didn’t do things that other families did.  My friends who were white seemed to be always going on “vacation”.  It seemed like only white people could go on vacation.   They had the time and the money.

And when I got older, I made it a point to be going somewhere, it was a case of ABV––Always Be Vacationing.   But sometimes you end up in places that make no sense.

 

SUBTERFUGE & DNA

by Jiwon Choi

The whitest girl I ever knew

came from Concord, New Hampshire

she played violin, kept her hair boy short

and wore ear plugs to bed

––the one time my boyfriend came to visit

she really needed them

I went home with her one weekend

and met her family

over baked chicken and green beans I fielded questions

about my parents—what kind of work were they in?

I didn’t answer that their profession was dysfunction

I told my stories instead:

(as my parents’ only child I am good at subterfuge)

they’re in “sales” (not hyper-depressed immigrants moaning

in a dark room)

we vacation in Niagara Falls (one time when I was seven

and I threw up a whole bag of Cheese Doodles when we got there)

and our dishes aren’t all busted up (the Laura Ashley bowls were

the first to go––smashed against the wall)

Before bed while brushing my teeth, I find the diaphragm

on the bathroom sink and the ear plugs make sense.

 

 

 

 

Old Ladies

My Old Ladies have become my inheritance.

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On Classon Avenue

As a youngster I didn’t think about how I was on the road to old ladyhood the minute I came out of my mother’s uterus.

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Still on Classon

The “good night” that Dylan Thomas was writing about is some serious shit.  I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because I am afraid of dying.  I know I am dying.

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Three Hats on the go

What the fuck.

Another summer gone, the hills burned to burdock and
thistle, I hold you a moment in the cup of my voice,
you flutter in the frail cave of the finch, you lean to speak
in my ear and the first rains blow you away.
–Philip Levine

 

Grandmother Badass

How badass my grandmother had to be to live her life.

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Jiwon and Grandma, 1972

There were so many goodbyes in her lifetime: Loss of children,  husband, and home.

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My father’s mother

She had grit galore.   The notion of “grit” has become trendy in these recent years, but really it’s what we’ve had to have in order to live through shit.  Like a war.  Sorry, you don’t get to claim you have grit until you’ve had to overcome bad shit.

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What grit looks like

If you are claiming you have grit because you got over breaking up with your lover, losing your favorite shirt or not getting invited to brunch, let’s find another word for you:  Oh I know, how’s about “pettifogging”?

 

and please not another sob story

about your dog, pony or wife…

it’s time you learned to grin

and bear it

-––excerpted from “Koreans in Proverbs: Expect a Petulant God” by Jiwon Choi

The Animal of Truth

Louise Glück wrote that the “woman’s body is a grave.”

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The Animal of Truth

You’ll get no arguments from me.

I’ve been watching my aunt sink ever more into it.

 

 

In this light

I can see the animal of truth

become you

unleashing equal parts delirium

and deliverance.

What can Time take

that you have not already

let go?  Sight, sound, taste

returned to the next in line.

How expert you have become

in looking into the space

behind your eyes.

— “Animal of Truth” by Jiwon Choi