Tag Archives: childhood

Raconteuring

Jules Cheret

A coworker was talking to me about the challenges and milestones of raising a son. She has a young boy, five years-old, and at some point, he’s going to have to shower by himself. I told her it’s probably best to let him shower by himself next year or so. Then later, the topic drifted into one of the probably most difficult things parents have to go through, coming home to a son who just got into a fight.

A child coming home from school with a bloody nose or a swollen lip is probably one of the most visceral signs to a parent that they cannot shield their child from all of the awfulness of the world. And what’s worse, there’s also the urge to tell your son that in such cases, they might inevitably have to be awful in return. Of course, this situation is not really unique to boys, but in this conversation, we focused mostly on sons.

I don’t have many memories of my parents protecting me from the direct awfulness and violence of the world. To be honest, I never really got into any serious fights. I’ve been sucker punched a couple of times, but I’ve managed to diffuse the situation without getting into too much violence. I’ve come home with a swollen lip before, but I managed to hide that from my parents as well.

One of the most memorable, and perhaps one of my earliest embarrassing moments to me in regards to my parents happened to me when I was around nine to twelve years-old. My neighbor had a cousin who would occasionally visit. She would play with us whenever she’s around. She was a cute young thing, very friendly, and a bit of a tomboy. I had a little crush on her as a kid. Now I don’t know whether it was known or not, but I really didn’t do anything to pursue the matter. What was I going to do? We were kids. But one day, after knowing her for quite a while, for some unknown reason, she wrote on permanent marker on a gate by our house, “Joe is ugly!”

Now, I really didn’t know how to react at the message. I was more bewildered than anything else. And the weird thing is I really didn’t see any point in trying to cover it up or erase it. I remember just moving on, playing with my neighbor, and going about my childish ways.

What happened next was my mother coming home and seeing the message. She didn’t confront anyone about. She didn’t talk to the neighbors, nor did she ask me what happened between me and whoever wrote that message. She just went back out with a permanent marker and covered it herself. I remember being embarrassed about it, showing her a world where people hate her son enough that they would write slurs about him. Not everyone thinks her young son is as wonderful as she thinks he is. But looking back now, that must’ve been quite a day for her: coming home, seeing evidence that someone is trying to pick on her son, and with a quiet dignity, trying to shield her kid from the world’s hurtful slings.

Interestingly enough, that girl was one of my first introductions to the world of sex. No, not directly, but she was the catalyst to so many questions growing up. Her cousin was spreading a rumor that she had relations with an older boy. Apparently, this all happened while that cousin was listening in. I’m going to leave out all of the details, but it was odd that it never really occurred to anyone back then that what happened might very well have been abuse. We never really knew the age of that older boy. And as for her, despite my foggy memories, she couldn’t have been older than twelve at the time. I didn’t really believe the rumor, and I remember compartmentalizing and just putting in a part of my brain that I don’t ever access (a useful trick Catholic school taught me), but damn… the stain of that news around the neighborhood is a thousand times more hurtful than that childish message she wrote on that gate.

Continuing with the drama: the cousin who spread that rumor around; we used to hear him get beat up by his father for being gay. We couldn’t do much about it at the time. We were kids, and I’m not sure if people really did anything for situations like that back then. I don’t really remember much about him. He was a bit older than the rest of the neighborhood kids but he was friendly enough with us. The last thing I heard, he died in a fire in a nightclub. Despite being barely an adult, he was working as a waiter and there was a fire. The club owner was negligent and kept the fire escape locked, trapping many of the people inside. Poor guy.

He was someone’s son. What happened to him was the world’s awfulness coming at full force. That’s the awfulness that mothers fear… the awfulness that permanent markers can do nothing to stop.

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You’re Canadian, You Idiot!

Tim_Hortons

I was recently asked about childhood memories. This was for some future project and here is a gist of what I wrote with some edits.

I don’t know how old I was, but this was back in school. My family and I are immigrants, and we were still adapting to life in Canada at the time. I didn’t have too many friends in my new school, and I was still resenting my new city and the people in it. It was a bad time to be a kid. I was somewhat resenting the whole country, wishing not to be there, probably blaming my troubles as a kid to the whole immigrant move or how different everyone in Canada was. It was not uncommon for me to begin my sentences with “Well, back in my country…” in noting how more sensible, interesting, moral, etc. people back home were compared with Canadians. In my mind, I was enlightening people, or at least demonstrating my pride for the country I just left. I could imagine how insufferable that must have been for some. I mean, who was I? Balki Bartokomous?

Then one day in English class, during some discussion or argument about a topic I’ve long forgotten, I mentioned something about being a “permanent resident” and not Canadian citizen. That was a technical term, and I forgive most kids at that age for not knowing it, but one of my classmate scoffed at my ridiculous sentiment. “What are you talking about? You’re Canadian.” I explained the situation and the difference to her, but she still insisted, “It doesn’t matter. You’ll be Canadian eventually.”

I’m sure it was a very forgettable experience for everyone else in the room. But for me, it was a microcosm of what a welcoming, multi-cultural experiment Canada is, and how wrong I was with my resentment and stubbornly sticking to what made me different at the time. I was being stupid and silly. Why was I being so negative about my new home? It was a wake-up call, and I was grateful to be very wrong.  I’m quite older now, but that was a lasting lesson on multiculturalism, acceptance, and how some people stubbornly stick to their differences for no reason whatsoever.

To this day, even when I no longer live in Canada, I proudly call myself a Canadian and value what the country has given me. And as for that classmate who put me in my place, she has become one of my best friends. Even after eventually going to different schools we’ve kept in touch. To this day, thanks to the magic of the Internet, we still watch hockey together.

Anyway, even now, as I live in South Korea, I try not to be too negative on the country too much because of the lesson from that classroom interaction. For all of its quirks and what some might perceive as shortcomings, it’s still a wonderful country. It’s a still a country most people would be very lucky to live in. I can raise my imaginary flag and proclaim my love for Canada, but not at the expense of my current home. And should I be compelled to explain differences between Canada and South Korea, I try to be as unbiased as I could.

But speaking of differences, here’s the key difference. Back then, I had someone tell me, “You’ll be Canadian eventually.” And she was right. Here, it is not uncommon for me to hear people say “you’re almost Korean!” Heck, I even hear it from people back in Canada. But the thing is I don’t think I ever will be truly Korean even if I wanted to. There is a shared national and historical identity that is very difficult for foreigners to be a part in. As wonderful and as welcoming as the Koreans are, the country in general is still not as welcoming as Canadian society. (I don’t blame them. They have a long history which would explain this, one that I won’t be able to explain in a nutshell.) It’s simply not the same as Canada.

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About Innocently Prodding Someone’s Bum

Saint

When it comes to childhood or child-rearing, some things just don’t translate to North America or just 2017 in general. I remember when I first came to South Korea, I was teaching English to young children. Some of the boys would play around shoving their fingers into each other’s bottoms, occasionally including mine. It was playful and not sexual at all, but in order to avoid any confusion, I discouraged it in class. I have my suspicion that it probably originated in some sort of sexual submission/domination dynamics, but I really don’t think the kids were thinking of that. It was horseplay. It was horseplay that was odd, and is probably less common now than it was even ten years ago.

The thing is this isn’t really a Korean thing, shoving things up bottoms as a form of horseplay. It is an Asian thing as far as I can tell. If I grew up in Japan, I probably would’ve had to deal with kancho. In Taiwan or China, I would probably deal with it under a different name. I remember having to deal with it as a young child. It wasn’t amusing back then. If anything, I always thought it was a throwback to when kids and people in general truly didn’t know any better. I didn’t put much malice in it. I just thought that the other person better wash their hands afterwards.

But it really doesn’t translate to North American countries. Not in Canada. Not at all. Kim’s Convenience tried to explain it to mixed results, and as much as I understand the practice and don’t want to be the straight person in the skit, it really does seem like a throwback. Even when the Korean character equated the practice to a wedgie, it didn’t really help the situation. When was the last time you got a wedgie? Even I am too old to experience the hilarity of giving and/or receiving wedgies when I was young. It was outdated back then, and it would be seen as cruel now. In fact, the only person who was interested in shoving things up my bum as a prank was my father, who I imagine used to play around with his peers that way when he was a child back in the 60s. Different environment, uncomfortable to put up with now, but I move on. It’s the same way I saw my young Korean students when they were keen on putting fingers up bums… different environment. I don’t want to be ethnocentric and tell them that it’s wrong or put malice into it; I just discouraged it like every other horseplay.

But in the same spirit of ethnocentrism, in Canada, we don’t shove fingers up children’s bottoms as a form of horseplay. It’s not that there’s malice in it, but it’s best to avoid doing it to prevent confusion. It’s not really wise trying to shoehorn questionable horseplay or pranks from other countries into North America when it could be interpreted differently, especially in this day and age. If an immigrant parent or grandparent does that to a child, and by some miracle, the child is okay with it, the neighbors, friends, or other relatives might not be. It’s best to avoid that confusion. There other aspects to one’s culture that are much better to pass on to the next generation, things that won’t get one suspected or arrested for abuse.

 

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