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Kim Mina Column

days of being called mom

Kim Mina
Half Farmer, Half Writer

Born in Kyushu in 1982 and raised in Kansai. In 2006, in her first year as an editorial reporter for a local newspaper, she made her first overseas trip to Busan, South Korea, where she studied Korean from 2010 to 2012. After returning to Japan, she worked as an editorial reporter again before going freelance in the fall of 2015. Started working as a "half-farmer, half-writer" who portrays people through food, agriculture, art, and Korea.

In 2017, she got married internationally and moved to South Korea, taking the opportunity of covering agricultural experiences in South Korea. Currently, while searching for a life as a half-farmer, half-writer, she works hard at raising her children, running the family business, and teaching Japanese conversation, and her life's work is to express her thoughts in essays and poems that can only be written now.

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DAYS /  Kim MIna Column

days of being called mom

My daughter in France.


I have one daughter who lives in France.
However, I did not give birth to her.
She is the child of my Korean husband, whom I married five years ago, and his ex-wife, who is French.


Her name is Y.
She will be a sophomore in high school in the fall (in Japan and Korea, she is a freshman in high school).
Y's mother started a family with a new partner when Y was an infant, so Y has a new father and a younger brother.


My husband met Y's mother while studying in England and moved from Korea to France when he married her.
After living there for a little over six years, he returned to Korea and lived alone ever since.
He and Y have continued to communicate with each other, coming and going once every year or two.


When he first met me, he very naturally told me about his past marriages and his own daughter.
Y takes her father's own Korean surname.
That when she was 7 years old, she took a plane by herself to Korea to visit him.
That he loved pranks when he was little.
That he doesn't really like thick Korean pizza.
That he seems to have recently started puberty.


Then he told me that she was now playing contrabass in the city's junior orchestra, and showed me a video of her playing.
At that moment, I was truly grateful for this strange connection.


'I was also playing a contrabass.  For six years, from junior high through high school."


I was surprised to learn that these two of different nationalities, languages, cultures, and backgrounds had one thing in common. There was something in common that the contrabass could be played.
It is not a major instrument like the violin or the flute, but rather a very small and humble instrument in spite of its size.
But that is a key element of orchestras and brass bands.


I am glad I played the double bass.
Good thing I kept my old pestle! Music doesn't need words.
Even if I couldn't speak French, as long as we had the double bass in common, I felt I could get along with her somehow.


In December 2017, 8 months after meeting my husband.
We had a small wedding in Japan, inviting only the parents and siblings of both families. After that I moved to South Korea.
A week later, my husband and I flew from Incheon International Airport in Seoul to Marseille in the south of France via England.
It was about an hour drive from the airport.
The moment came when we finally met Y at the home of Mr. and Mrs. A, a friend of my husband's who would be taking care of us.

The first time I met Y, I had the impression that she was a quiet girl with a slight shadow over her, rather than a bright and cheerful girl.
Perhaps she was a little nervous, as I was.
But over the course of several days of eating together at Mr. and Mrs. A's house, I gradually began to see her more innocent side.

On the day I made curry rice and nori-maki (seaweed rolls), she started taking pictures with a twinkle in her eye and smiling " C'est bon(delicious)" after taking a bite.
Apparently, Japanese flavors suit her palate.
After the meal, we took our first picture together.
That moment when I heard her say "C'est bon" was the first time for me to see my new family ---- and I was so happy to see her.
For me, that was the beginning of a new family--a "step family of Japan, Korea, and France.


Half a year later, in the summer of 2018.
Y came to Korea alone.
It was her strong wish to spend two months of her summer vacation in Korea.

Although I welcomed Y's visit, I was seven months pregnant at the time.

I wondered if I difficult to live with Y, who has a different language and food culture, for two months, as I was about to give birth for the first time in Korea and did not know what would happen to my body.
With a hint of anxiety, I began my life living with Y.


Looking back on those days, words like "rain and blueberries," "church and tears," and "from a girl to a woman" come to mind.

At the end of June, at the beginning of the rainy season, Y arrived in Korea and came home with her husband on a rainy night carrying three packs of blueberries.
Sitting on the floor of the air-conditioned living room, the three of us were so excitedly enjoying the blueberries that it somehow brings back the fondest memories.

In early August, Y burst into tears for the first time in front of her aunt, who took care of her for two weeks.
She had attended a church summer camp with her cousins and had a great time.
She cried all the way through the day she said goodbye to the church people.


When I met her in the winter, she was still oozing childishness, but in just six months she had grown so much taller and was changing from a girl to a woman that at times she seemed more like an older sister than a daughter.
She used a translator to said me what she couldn't ask her father to do for her, and she made tomato pasta for me who is pregnant.


On several occasions, I even had the opportunity to teach her the double bass.
When I borrowed an instrument from an acquaintance who runs a music school, I found that the shape of the bow was different from that in France, so I had to teach her how to hold and play the instrument.
Since we did not have a common language, all we exchanged was eye contact and gestures.
Even so, we managed to communicate with each other.
It seems that music doesn't need words after all.

She called me "Mina.

I guess it is normal in the country where she was born and raised, but it made me very happy to hear her call me by my first name instead of "stepmother" or "aunt'.

At the end of August, when I saw her off at Incheon International Airport, Y gently patted my big belly instead of saying "good-bye.
At the time I thought I would see her again within a year or two, but  the world have changed.
My son in my belly turned 3 years old without ever seeing his sister in France, and Y graduated from junior high school and became a high school student.


This year, Y is coming to Korea for the first time in four years.
She wants to spend the entire two months of her summer vacation in Korea.
We have already booked the plane tickets and I am gradually starting to clean up her room.

Y, who could only speak French four years ago, now sends messages to her father in English, and I, who am not very good at English, have just started compiling a notebook of words that she often uses in her daily life.
I have also started to nibble a bit on French, which I have been putting off until now, even though I have been thinking about doing it.
Y also wants to learn Korean, so this summer will be a time for us to communicate with each other while learning the language our family uses.

What I am most looking forward to, and a little concerned about, is the reaction of my three-year-old son.
Even though he and Y have been communicating with each other via videophone since he was a baby, I wonder how he will perceive the presence of his sister from France.
It may be difficult to accept the concept of "international marriage + stepfamily" when one is born and raised in Korea or Japan, but my mother would be happy if my son could one day find it interesting that he was born into such a family.

I hope that they will be reassured by the fact that they have a brother or sister in a faraway country, and that they will continue to communicate with each other even after their parents are gone.
With these hopes in mind, I hope to create many happy memories for my children this summer.



DAYS /  Kim MIna Column

days of being called mom

Just live as you are.


This is his fifth year living in a town near Seoul, near the military border with North Korea.

I want to write about the way people live while making the things they need to live on their own.
With this in mind, I began her career as a "half farmer, half writer" seven years ago, but moved to Korea upon her international marriage, and soon became pregnant and gave birth.
In the blink of an eye, the environment and life around me changed drastically.

Then, all of a sudden, the COVID-19 disaster struck.
My family is self-employed and I work with a lot of children, so if one of our family members contracted COVID-19, work would stop for a while.
That means no income at all for the time I was absent.
Even if we returned to work, if we lost the trust of our guardians or suffered from rumors, it could be difficult to make a living at our current jobs.

So, for the past two years, he has been trying to "avoid contracting COVID-19," and has avoided going out as much as possible except to daycare centers, workplaces, parks and other outdoor facilities, hospitals, and shopping once or twice a month, has not used public transportation, and has stayed away from home. We even refrained from meeting with our family and gave up the idea of returning to Japan.

However, one day in late February, a mass outbreak at the nursery school where my 3-year-old son attends quickly infected the entire family with COVID-19.

My son, who had a fever of 39 degrees Celsius, became completely fine overnight, and my Korean partner had only a slight sore throat.
However, I had a slight sore throat. I, on the other hand, had a full course of several days of high fever (nearly 40 degrees Celsius), severe throat pain, muscle aches, headaches, and coughing.
Even now, more than a month after the onset of the disease, my sense of taste, smell, and hearing are still a little inferior.

In addition to lacking the ability to concentrate and think, I also feel forgetful, and various sensations in my body feel inferior.
But can I call all these things "Long Covid"? 
Is it simply the phenomenon of aging?
At any rate, I feel that something has changed in my body and mind from my pre-infection self.

Just before I became infected with COVID-19, the fatigue and stress that had accumulated after moving to Korea reached an extreme level, and there were several moments when I was driven to the point of wanting to disappear.
However, as I lay in a swoon with a fever of nearly 40 degrees Celsius after contracting COVID-19, I thought to myself, "I don't want to die here yet," and "I want to live more.

During the quarantine, war broke out between Ukraine and Russia.
I remembered my grandmother's face, who was born in the early Showa era. She said me always that "When we were young, we were all war.It was terrible". 
When I closed my eyes, my grandfather seemed to sigh deeply.He was ending the war with a tank waiting off the coast of Kagoshima in preparation for an attack by U.S. forces.

Children the same age as my son fled to underground shelters for days.
They are separated from their fathers and trying to cross the border with their mothers.
They continue to be displaced in a country they are not familiar with....
When my body was in pain, I could not face this reality, but when I saw people trying to survive under difficult circumstances, I could not help but think, "I have to live, too.

However, perhaps it is because my physical functions have deteriorated in various ways that I have not been able to focus on the things that I used to be interested in.
In fact, the hurdle for me to sit in front of the computer and write has risen dramatically.
I have a few sentences to write and a few tasks to finish, but I have been neglecting them.

But now I feel that I have no choice, and that's okay.
When I see people working towards their goals and steadily doing things, I thought, "It's wonderful. I have to do my best, too," but now that I'm back from COVID-19 infection, I'm suddenly sick of the thinking circuits I've had so far. And "people who can and want to do it can do it. If you can't do it or don't want to do it, it's okay just to live."

Since my body and mind don't work the way I want them to, I just live every day for now.
What I can't do, I ask their family or someone else to help them, and I focus on what is right in front of me, without pushing themselves too hard.
That's all right.

Even while raising a child, I have wanted to work in the fields, make miso by hand, cook carefully, meet people, talk with them, and write down their stories in words.
But the life I dreamed of seems like a "hard life" to me now.
So I do my daily chores to the extent I can, work with my partner, raise my son, and go to sleep thankful for the day.
That is just enough for now.

The day after the whole family finished the two-week quarantine, I accepted an invitation from my partner's friend, an English guitarist, and went to a concert hall for the first time in about two years.
Before the infection, I was afraid of places where people gather and never thought of going to hear a live concert, but I wondered if the people here were not afraid. 
Looking around, the audience was intoxicated by the rock band's voice in a space where everyone wore masks, did not speak, and sat at intervals.

During the live performance, a vocalist said, "In addition to COVID-19, the war has started.In recent years, I feel that people have been attacking and criticizing people even more in my daily life." When he started to say this, I listened and leaned forward.

"I wonder what the role of music is in a world where so many terrible things happen, but I believe that music has that power that can change someone's life with a single song.I've experienced that many times while singing.So I hope you enjoy music to your heart's content, away from your daily life."

On a night when I was often relieved of the immense pressure I had been under for two years to avoid contracting COVID-19, the words of the vocalist sunk deeply into my heart.
Since that day, I have been trying to remember one of my old favorite songs, listen to it for the first time in a long time, hum along to it, and take some time away from all the worries of daily life.

This morning, I received another call from some parents saying, " I got infected with COVID-19. I will take a week off."
It's been like this every day lately.
It seems as if everyone is just waiting for the day to come, wondering when they will catch the disease.

In Korea, where the daily number of new infections was more than 300,000 as of March (up to 620,000), it is now said that one in five people was infected.Maybe that's because the number of infected people has exploded since the beginning of the new year.When our family tested positive, instead of criticizing us, our parents said, "Every day, anyone can get infected anywhere.Please take good care of yourself."

Now, on the contrary, we are telling them this."I pray that the symptoms will go away." I wonder how long these days will last.No one knows that yet.

There is a possibility that I may be infected again, so I must continue to take precautions against infection, but this year I would like to concentrate on what I have to do in front of me while humming my favorite music, and enjoy one by one what I have endured or could not do for the past four years to the extent that I can.

I will follow my heart and be myself as I am.