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.

persimmon

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

 

 

 

 

 

Resilience

My mother grew up during the war.  She was 13 when Chinese communists and Korean dis-loyalists colluded a hostile takeover of her homeland.

Korean War People

After war (AP archives)

After having to leave the north where she was born, she never saw her home again.  She never really talked about it, but I don’t think she knew what happened to her parents.  And many of her siblings perished and were lost from her.

mom & me

I remember mama

I didn’t grow up in war directly, but I was privy to the damage that it caused my mother as the pain and anger weeped out of her.

As a Korean child of Korean immigrants, I have conflicted feelings  towards the Chinese and Japanese (along with the despot Kims of the North).  And I have trust issues with white Americans, too.  These conniving powers hell bent on destroying a small nation that just wanted to be left alone.

But what a phoenix Korea turned out to be:  from the ashes born a creature of resilience and determination.   Yes, we are.

War, illness and famine will make you their favorite grandchild.

You’ll be like a blind person watching a silent movie.

You’ll chop onions and pieces of your heart

into the same hot skillet.

Your children will sleep in a suitcase tied with a rope.

Your husband will kiss your breasts every night

as if they were two gravestones.

––excperted from “What the Gypsies Told My Grandmother While She Was Still a Young Girl” by Charles Simic

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Eat?

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

lunch-e1536589782531.jpg

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.

1977Niagra.jpg

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.

fullsizeoutput_1454

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.

fullsizeoutput_1451

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.

fullsizeoutput_1457

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

 

Use Your Noodle

I can barely go a day without having noodles.  Can you?

IMG_3767

Make mine noodle

I am full of noodles as I write this post.  I had somen noodles for breakfast.  I whooped it up with sesame oil, sesame leaf and kombu broth.   And yesterday I had fettucini with artichokes and pine nuts at Quartino, a sweet little spot on Bleecker Street.

IMG_3768

And more noodle

And the evening before we had a spot on spaghetti with meat sauce at home.

IMG_3769

Even more…

But I am an equal opportunity eater of noodles as I will consume instant noodles with just as much verve and pleasure.  Treasure.

IMG_3771

Dried kimchi flakes

I got this instant ramen bowl at a local bodega and was beguiled by the promise of kimchi.  Well, it’s really kimchi “flakes” for what it’s worth.  But I slurped that shit up like there was no tomorrow.

My DNA is noodle.

 

Noodles with Sesame Leaf

1 bunch somen noodles

3 sesame leaves, julienned

2 cups broth (dashi or anchovy)

soy sauce

sesame oil

sesame seeds

  1. Fix noodles as directed,  al dente.
  2. When noodles are done, pour hot broth over the noodles.
  3. Add sesame leaves and add soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds to taste.

 

 

Grandmother Badass

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

Jiwon wgrandma.jpg

Jiwon and Grandma, 1972

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

grandma

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.

departure 4

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