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.
DAYS/ Kim MIna Column
days of being called mom
Socializing the Korean Way
This winter, friends and relatives who had lived in the U.S. for several years returned fully to Korea. A friend accompanied her partner to graduate school and spent a year and a half in California. A relative's dream of "I want to live in the United States someday" came true, and I lived in Texas for three years. Both of them are Korean and have two elementary school-aged children.
My friend put the children's living - educational environment first and moved into a condominium where many Koreans live. There are cafes, gyms, and supermarkets on the premises, and there is a school right in front of the building. While the environment was convenient and no different from what she had experienced in Korea, she also told us about her experience of being immersed in the Korean community and being exhausted by the frequent tea parties, golf outings, gossip, and other social activities.
Relatives who were Christian had already established a good foundation for their lives by finding employment and housing through local churches before they emigrated. After immigrating, they continued to interact with their fellow churchgoers, and lived together on business and in their personal lives.
From what they told me, it seems that the presence of fellow Koreans is very important for Koreans living abroad. Of course, Japanese living abroad also help each other, but Koreans seem to have a stronger sense of "we" (from the same country), and seem to have a much closer and deeper relationship with others.
I remember a Korean woman who temporarily returned to Japan from Europe for the first time in three years in the summer, and she told me something like this: "On my days off, I spend all day from morning to night at the park with my son, and all the Korean mothers in the neighborhood know this, so they come and play with us on different days. So I never get bored even if I'm at the park all day. There is always someone beside me."
On the other hand, she also told us that since she started a restaurant with a fellow Korean woman, she became dissatisfied with the way the other woman worked and decided to close the restaurant. Since they will continue to live there and see each other in the small Korean community, she was terribly worried about how to close the restaurant peacefully without any quarrels.
Since I was born and raised in Japan, I thought it was just fine to keep a moderate distance and not get too involved. However, after living in Korea for five years and experiencing many small and large difficulties, I have come to appreciate the compassionate Korean way of dealing with people when they get to know them.
My friend back from California was one who made me feel exactly that way. I met her just before I gave birth, and she offered me a stroller and baby carrier before I could even ask her for them. She even came to my house to visit me when I had difficulty going out with my children. If I had been in the opposite position, she supported me so much that I wonder if I would have been able to treat someone I had just met so well.
Now that such a friend returned to Korea, I recall the words of a Korean lady who happened to be standing next to me a few months ago and casually gave me some advice.
She said, "I know you are busy raising your children and spending time with your family, but if you are going to live here for a long time, you should go out and make friends, whether it is for hobbies or anything else. If you have three Korean friends, that will be reassuring. They will always be there to help you when you are in trouble."
Now, one more thing. Korean women who returned from the U.S. had one thing in common. They had to spend more time with their children than they did when they lived in Korea. They were not working full-time jobs, nor were they raising a handful of infants and toddlers. So why is that?
A relative who lived in Texas for three years said. "The land is so big that parents have to drive their children to and from school and lessons, and that goes on until they graduate from high school. A korean woman who had been a daily driver for her children for 20 years told me that "After my children all went to college, I was stunned because suddenly I had nothing to do. It doesn't matter if we have a college degree or a career before marriage, it doesn't matter here. The only job that could be entrusted to someone who had lived as the family driver for so many years was working the cash register at the supermarket.'"
In Korea, it is basically not compulsory to take children to and from school, and if they have after-school lessons at school or around their homes, they can ask English tutoring or swimming lessons to pick them up from school, English tutoring, swimming lessons, and then home.
The problem, however, is that it costs money. For example, a child, after school ends at 1:00 p.m., rides in the car of a taekwondo dojo that picks him up and takes him to learn taekwondo for one hour. After that, he takes piano lessons for one hour at a music school in the same building as the dojo, and the music school takes him home in their car. Just by attending these two lessons every day, he spends nearly 30,000 yen a month.
If they also started attending an English cram school, the monthly cost would exceed 50,000 yen. If there are multiple siblings, the cost of the lessons alone will easily exceed 100,000 yen. Parents can enjoy the ease of not having to take their children to and from school or cram school, but they still have to worry about how to pay for it.
If there were no after-school lessons, the family budget would be easier, but working parents would have to worry about where to leave their children, and the children would have a hard time finding places to play and people to play with. But the children will have a hard time finding a place to play and playmates, because many children are learning their lessons and the parks are empty! (Note: This is a story as far as I have actually seen and heard in the suburbs of Seoul, where I live.)
There was no end to topics such as the high cost of living and medical care in the U.S., the abundance of nature, the state of education, the existence of huge Korean towns, and the stories of K-pop artists such as BTS and TWICE who had all come to perform there, but what impressed me the most was their somewhat relieved expressions when they returned to their home countries.
I was about to say, "It is the most comfortable to live in your own country, isn't it? I thought that if I said that, I might be denying my own life in Korea. Besides, I already know that living anywhere has its advantages and disadvantages.
What is important is not where you live, but how you interact with people and be yourself wherever you are.
Whether or not I am a person who can clearly say, "I can hear you just fine, so please don't speak loudly," to a government official who treats you as if you were talking to a child, in a loud and useless voice because you are a foreigner. And am I a person who can clearly say, "This pork cutlet is too hard to eat" at a restaurant?
After I told them so, the staff changed their attitude and responded more politely. The cafeteria suggested that they remake it or refund the money and said, "Thank you for your honesty. I will contact the head office to remedy the situation."
If I had just put up with it without saying anything, I would have been left with only bad memories of "Why is it like this in Korea?" However, in this country, people are more responsive and quick to respond if you clearly express your opinion. And even though my Korean is not very good, it suits my nature to make an effort to communicate without giving up. I don't know what my Korean partner thinks about my wife inwardly.
Next month, our four-year-old son will graduate from nursery school and enter kindergarten. (As we are both self-employed and have no place to leave our children, the issues of lessons and money have quickly become a problem for our family!)
This is the beginning of a new chapter in our six years in Korea. Since I will be living here for a long time, I would like to enjoy every day while learning the good points from the Korean way of socializing and cherishing my own personality.
DAYS/ Kim MIna Column
days of being called mom
When I pickled kimchi, my arms cried.
When winter vegetables such as Chinese cabbage and radishes are ready for harvest, the word "kimjang" is heard everywhere in Korea. It is a major event in Korea to pickle kimchi for the year. In November, the sales floors are crowded with people who buy large quantities of kimjang in anticipation of the holiday, and this atmosphere makes us loose our purse strings as well.
Originally, kimjang begins with pickling Chinese cabbage in salt, which requires a lot of space and labor. So, many households nowadays buy salted Chinese cabbage and make only yangnyeom (seasoning). I recently learned for the first time that finished yangnyeom is also available for sale. Those who purchase salted Chinese cabbage and yangnyeom can make homemade kimchi simply by coating the cabbage with the yangnyeom.
However, my family's kimjang is not so easy. My partner's family is a farmer in a rural area more than two hours' drive from Seoul. All the ingredients needed to make kimchi are home-grown and pesticide-free, including Chinese cabbage, radishes, carrots, mustard greens, garlic, ginger, and even plum extract. In other words, our kimjang begins with harvesting vegetables from the fields.
Late November. I was ready to go again this year and headed to my partner's parents' house late Friday night. When I woke up around 7:30 the next morning, my in-laws were already gone. I rushed to the farm and to my surprise, kimjang had already started...! In a large tarai, fresh Chinese cabbage, split in two, was lined up in a tight row, with a generous sprinkling of coarse salt on top. Exhaling white breath, my mother-in-law said. "If we start working after you arrive, it will take a long time to complete the dish. I've already peeled the garlic and ginger with dad".
Whoa! Mother-in-law...! Last year, I started from harvesting Chinese cabbage, struggled with the amount of salt, spent 4 to 5 hours peeling garlic and ginger, my hands tingled like burns, and cried... I slept for 3 hours, made yangnyeom at midnight, and spread it on Chinese cabbage at dawn, complaining! I was surprised that my mother-in-law and father-in-law were able to complete the first half of the process, which was quite painful. My foreign wife, who was making kimjang for the fourth time, was secretly smiling. "This year's kimjang was a piece of cake, a piece of cake! I almost let out a joyful voice.
But the gimjang gods were not so kind. That night, for the first time in my life, I suffered from severe muscle pains, and I had to cry in the middle of the night and take "Tylenol," a painkiller.
While the pickled Chinese cabbage was being finished, Tongso (my brother-in-law's wife) and I worked on the radishes, and my father-in-law, son, and niece and nephew worked on harvesting the carrots. Under the cold weather, we scrubbed the harvested vegetables with a scrubbing brush, and soaked the spring onions and mustard greens in water several times to remove the soil. After washing, we moved to the living room, where Tongso and I sat facing each other in front of a large tarai and sliced the daikon radishes into long, thin strips with a slicer. We also chopped up the wegi-gi and mustard greens.
After a lunch break, it was time to start making yangnyeom. My mother-in-law appeared, added a generous dollop of chili powder, sugar, salted mysid fish sauce, anchovy fish sauce, seasoning (called miwon, a fermented sugar cane), and plum extract on top of shredded radish, and then walked away.
Wearing pink rubber gloves, Tongso and I sunk our hands deep into the large tarai and stirred the heavy yangnyom from bottom to top, over and over again, until the ingredients were nicely mixed. After tasting and adding any missing flavors, the mustard greens and spring onions are added. Obviously, the size of the tarai and the amount of yangnyom did not seem to match, but we had no choice but to keep on going.
After mixing for a while, water came out of the vegetables and the yangnyeom, which was about to overflow outside, managed to fit inside the tarai. At this point, I believe it was 16:00. Outside, my mother-in-law, partner, and brother-in-law had been washing and draining the salted Chinese cabbage for about an hour.
Now, it was time to start the final chapter. They carefully spread yangnyeom on each piece of drained Chinese cabbage. The amount of yangnyeom should not be too little or too much. Too little and the kimchi will be watery and will not last long. Too much and you will run out of yangnyom and have to make more. In our family, we always ran out of yangnyom every year, so we would make more of it later.
This year we made 45 pieces of salted Chinese cabbage, and when we had finished coating two pieces with yangnyeom, my mother-in-law came into the house and said, "I forgot!" She held something out in front of us. It was a large amount of garlic and ginger that she had chopped and frozen...! I had no idea that I had inadvertently forgotten to put in the essentials for making kimchi. Tongso and I faced each other again across the tarai and continued to stir the garlic and ginger into the yangnyeom.
Although we were already tired, at this point we still had room to joke around. However, when the amount of yangnyeom was less than half of the total, we had to look into the tarry to apply it, which made our legs and backs very sore. In addition, this year, too, there was not enough yangnyom to go around.
After adding chili powder and glue-like rice powder to the half-full tub of salted Chinese cabbage to make the yangnyeom bulkier, I continued to apply the yangnyeom to the cabbage. I wish I could say to myself a few hours ago. "Don't underestimate kimjang!" But strangely enough, just like giving birth, the pain of kimjang is forgotten after a year.
Despite everything, I managed to finish the Chinese cabbage kimchi. I also made kotchori (instant kimchi) by putting the cut Chinese cabbage into the leftover yangnyeom. In addition, diced radishes, chili powder, and other ingredients were added to the empty bowl, and kakgeki (radish kimchi) was also completed. At around 7:00 p.m., the 2022 Kimjang event came to a close.
After the kimchi is finished, the fun part is tasting the freshly made kimchi with boiled pork. But this year, due to my mother-in-law's insistence that she did not want to eat meat at night, boiled pork was served at lunch time, and dinner consisted of only rice, soup, and kotchori. I was looking forward to freshly made kimchi and boiled pork, so I was quite disappointed, but I was exhausted and had no appetite, so I ate just white rice and went to bed early. However!
I woke up in the middle of the night with a severe pain in my arm. My back, knees, and thighs were also screaming. After enduring the pain for a while, I woke up my partner and asked him to bring me some Tylenol and water. About 30 minutes after I drank it, the pain finally subsided and I went into a dream.
I had participated in four kimjangs before, but this was the first time that my body ached so much, and I realized how little exercise I was getting and how my physical strength was declining every day. The next day, my father-in-law asked me, "Isn't kimjang hard?" The next day, my father-in-law asked me, "Isn't kimjang difficult? I said "Yes, I was in a lot of pain yesterday and couldn't sleep. I'll have to do muscle training every day when Kimjang gets closer!"
A week later. I was still disappointed that I couldn't have freshly made kimchi and boiled pork, so I decided to go home and boil some chunks of pork belly and enjoy them with some kimchi that was fermenting in the kimchi fridge. Pork on top of raw bok choy, rolled up with kimchi, thinly sliced garlic, and samjang (miso paste)...oh my! With this feast awaiting me, I could do my best even if it was hard work. That is my experience of Korean kimjang.
Some people proudly declare, "I don't go to kimjang," and simply receive kimchi that their parents have pickled. There are also many people who just buy commercially available kimchi. However, in my family, unless I am hospitalized, Gimjang is a major family event that we cannot avoid.
If we are going to do it, I would like to find a way to make it easier than this year and keep suggesting ways to improve it (because I don't want to have that kind of muscle pain again). I don't think I'll be able to keep up the muscle training, but next year I'll be a little stronger than I am now, and I'll bring Tylenol. And next time, no matter what my mother-in-law says, we will eat freshly made kimchi and boiled pork together.
This December will be my sixth year in Korea. I have been through a lot, but I think I have done really well, and at least at the end of the year, I should give myself a pat on the back. I would also like to express my gratitude to my family and friends who have always supported me, and to everyone I have met through writing. Thank you so much!
DAYS/ Kim MIna Column
days of being called mom
When small changes are needed
Just the other day, I received this message from an organic farmer who took care of me when I was in Korea five years ago covering agricultural experiences.
He said, I happened to go to a natto specialty store today and it was delicious.. A Japanese person makes and sells his own natto and serves meals, and the atmosphere was nice and the staff was friendly. I thought to myself, "What if Mina does a job like this someday?" Or maybe you could write a book. Something about Korean life, food, and rural stories".
This farmer and his wife have been organic farmers for 16 years after working as company employees in Seoul. When I had the opportunity to experience farming, they were living deep in the mountains of Jeollabuk-do, located in the southwestern part of Korea, but three years ago they started a new farm in the mountains near Gyeongju in Gyeongsangbuk-do, in the southeastern part of Korea. When I heard that they were giving up the beautiful farm they had worked so hard to build, I was disappointed, but they told me, "We'll make a beautiful farm again."
Many volunteers from overseas come to help them every year. Although the number of visitors from overseas temporarily decreased due to the COVID-19 program that started in 2020, a few foreigners studying in Korea continued to come to help out during that time.
This spring, when I went to see the farmer for the first time in three years, I found a woman in her early 20s from Belgium staying at the farm. She told me that she had been familiar with Korean music through YouTube since she was a teenager and that she wanted to attend a language school in Seoul after her stay at the farm. According to the farmer, most of the foreign volunteers who have visited the farm since Corona are young women, and the overwhelming majority of them are not "interested in agriculture" but rather "love Korean culture and really wanted to come to Korea.
Back to the story. When I received the opening message from the farmer, I was grateful to the farmer who thought of me and sent me the news with an image of my future. At the same time, looking back at my current self, I was a little depressed.
For the past five years since moving to Korea, my activities as a half-farmer and half-writer have been closed. I have been losing strength year by year while I have been engaged in taking care of my family, and I have become too lazy even to cook meals every day, let alone farm. In particular, this year, perhaps due to the effects of two corona infections, I have been suffering from fatigue and other physical ailments, and until recently, I have just been able to do the bare minimum every day.
I have always been unable to confide in my friends and acquaintances about my painful feelings unless something very serious happened to me, but this time I decided to write and tell the farmers how I honestly feel now. When they decided to let go of their previous farm, they repeatedly told me that they needed a change, and perhaps I am now at that very point in my life.
Once I let go of what I cannot do no matter how hard I try now, I will make small changes in my daily life. By doing so, I wanted to feel a pure crush that I had long forgotten. I wanted to remember the feelings of "fun, joy, and happiness of being alive.
So, for starters, I went to IKEA alone and bought an apron, a Christmas tablecloth, a teapot, and indirect lighting. I moved the four-year-old's toys that had been occupying the living room to a place that had been turned into a storage room, and finally created a children's room. A colorful carpet was laid in the living room, and indirect lighting was added. When I cooks, which used to be a chore, I puts on a new apron. This alone made a big difference to my mood, and I felt a little more energetic.
I then contacted a friend in Japan whom I had not seen in years and tried an online lunch for the first time. "In the morning, she does housework. After lunch, I pick them up from kindergarten, take them to their lessons or to the park, and then it's already nighttime. I feel like I don't produce anything every day," she says with a smile, her eyes as kind as ever.
Why do we feel like we are "not creating anything" when we are living so hard every day? We did not talk to each other about such unanswerable questions. We just talked about whatever came to mind. We lived close to each other, went back and forth from house to house, and let our children play together. Even though we could not have such a relationship, I still have friends whom I can talk to as casually as in the past and who cheer me up just by seeing my face. My heart warmed up when I thought of that.
Since I came to Korea, especially after I gave birth to my child, I have had a hard time moving around, and with the Corona added to that, it has been difficult to see my old friends and acquaintances, and the people I had become friends with after moving here have moved abroad one after another, so I have felt lonely a lot. It's still going on, but it's a good era where you can connect with people online if you throw away the feeling of ``Is it busy?'' and call out.
I have started to contact my old friends and acquaintances little by little through her communication with me. "It's been a while. How are you?" I think it is important to connect with new people, but for me now, it is necessary to communicate with people with whom I have shared important moments in my life, to feel their growth, my growth, and the things that have not changed. To move forward again, little by little.
Maybe one day I will be able to start a natto shop in Korea or publish a book, but I have decided to put that kind of future that I envisioned five years ago in the back of my mind for the time being. For now, I want to enjoy and love being alive more by creating small changes in my daily life.
DAYS/ Kim MIna Column
days of being called mom
Before you give up and say, "I have no talent."
I can't say it out loud yet, but I'm now facing my dream again, which I put off thinking, "I'm not talented after all," more than a decade ago. About two years ago, I met a book that reminded me of that dream, and I met a Korean friend who could talk about it. She said to me, "You are different from what you were in your 20s, and I think you can definitely do it, so I want you to try it."
Immediately after that, I took action. However, two years went by without success because I lacked the physical time, strength and energy to face my dream. In the meantime, there were days when I was left wondering, "Maybe I really should give up now," and I wanted to erase all the past experiences I had accumulated for my dream.
It is the little devil in me who appears whenever my heart is weak.He said to me, "If you had the gift of it, you would have had a chance sooner."
However, I was not weak enough to be defeated by such a whisper, having held the dream I had when I was twenty years old in my heart for more than twenty years. "If I'm such a human that discourage by such a thing, I could not live untill 40 years old." I retorted. In short, I became bold. Getting old isn't all bad. After a few retries, I felt motivated again.
It's a little dark, but the continuing days of consciousness of death also gave me a chance to push my back. Over the past few years, while my husband has been seriously ill and I myself have been in poor physical condition for a long time, I have increasingly wondered, "Maybe our lives aren't that long."
When I realize my ending day, I start to wonder, "When are you going to do it instead of doing it now?" It would be too bad to end without even trying. I don't know if it's going to be a job or not, but I'm going to live as if it were my life's work.
However, my weak will is likely to put off my dream again, so for the first time, I decided to ask for help from others. I found a mentor who I thought was the right person, applied for a challenge with a deadline, and once a month I would leave the challenge as a formality. I decided to continue this for six months.
It's only been a few times, but when I tried it for the first time in a while, I realized the fun I didn't feel when I was in my 20s, and the fact that I was able to grow up was a big harvest. Above all, I really enjoyed the time I was working on it.
Realistically speaking, what I have to do now is probably not to pursue my dream. I would be better off that I takes the Korean Language Proficiency Test once every two years while raising children and helping with the family business, gets a job-related qualification, gets vocational training, and gets permanent residency. Also, isn't it important to acquire sufficient language and economic skills so that even one person can raise a child in this country? Sometimes I think so.
But now the little angel in me blasts, "If I don't do it now, when will I do it?" and if I don't face my dream again, I can't die. Even if someone says, "You're a dreamy and fool."
Once upon a time, a friend and acquaintance who lived a steady life without knowing my true dream told me several times that I had no feet on the ground, but I probably haven't changed anything since then. Except that I have become brazen.
But because I am a person who can only live clumsily like this, there must be something I can express. Believing in myself, I intend to spend some time challenging myself.
DAYS/ Kim MIna Column
days of being called mom
Summer of Japan-Korea-France Step Family
August 22, 2022. After getting up at 5:30 a.m. and driving for an hour, I arrived at Incheon International Airport Terminal 2 at 7:00 a.m. Cars and people were coming and going, and the place seemed to have regained the bustle it had before the Corona epidemic.
On the way from the parking lot to the departure lobby, I was met with many comments such as "I don't want to walk. Carry me", "Over there! That way! I want to buy something at the convenience store! ", My husband's daughter, 16-year-old Y was pushing the trunk, crying and shivering behind the 3-year-old boy who was still fussy.
It was the day Y, who had come to Korea for the first time in four years just after start the summer vacation of her high school in France, finally returned to her home country after a two-month stay.
The night before we sent Y off, I told my son that "Y is going back to France tomorrow," and with a sad expression on his face he said, "I'm sad that Y is leaving," and "I like Y".
I couldn't help but let out a distracted "What?" because for the past two months since Y arrived, my son has not only been fond of her, but has disliked her, and has annoyed me greatly.
Whenever we went out in the car, he said, "I don't want to sit next to Y". Whenever we sat around the dinner table as a family, he said, "I don't want to eat with Y's face in my eyes," and whenever I picked him up from daycare, he asked, "Is Y at home today? I wish she wasn't."
Moreover, until three days before returning to France, he kept asking, "When is Y going back to France? I hope she goes to her home soon." And then, when it was time to say goodbye to her, he suddenly said that he liked Y. What a surprise! What the heck! It's "a 3-year-old man's heart and the autumn sky"...
I told him "Then when we say goodbye tomorrow, you say her 'Y, I'll see you again. Saranghaeyo (meaning "I love you" in Korean),'". My son nodded his head in an enthusiastic voice, "Yes! I'm going to say ’I love you!!’".
Finally, it was time to say goodbye. We could only see her off up to the entrance of the security checkpoint. Y, who is not a talker, only collapsed into tears when we arrived at the security checkpoint and did not say goodbye, thank you, or "take care" until the very end.
The 3-year-old hugged Y tightly while being held by her father, but when he saw the tears overflowing from her eyes, he turned his head away. My son then clung to his father's leg as his father was saying goodbye to Y. He called out to her kneecap "I love you!" repeatedly. He laughed and playfully giggled with Yihi.
I giggle at such a three-year-old, hug Y's shoulder, and say in Korean, "Take care, and study hard”. I couldn't say, "Come back next year, I'll be waiting for you". I knew from the beginning that I was not a good enough stepmother to say that with a smile.
Life with Y, who was born to a Korean husband and his French ex-wife, has been much easier than when I lived with her for two months when she was pregnant four years ago. Before, I had a hard time communicating with her who only speaks French, but this time Y took private Korean lessons for a month, and gradually we are able to communicate in simple Korean. After all, there is a big difference between having a common language and not having a common language.
In addition, Y, who is 12 years old, was prohibited by her mother from using a smart phone or computer, and she did not even bring her French books with her, so I always worried that she was having a boring day. But 16-year-old Y had learned how to find things she wanted to do and enjoy herself on her own. She watched dramas and movies on her phone and kept watching reel videos on Instagram. She read philosophy books for homework or studied Korean. She listened to music, went to music class to practice the double bass, and so on.
But this time, I had a headache about "food" and "money. First, the "food" problem. I was prepared for this, as I had done so before, but Y, who comes from a culture that often eats bread and pasta, started saying that she wanted to eat something other than rice after a month of staying in Korea.
Until then, Y had been eating bread or cereal for breakfast, mostly eating out for lunch (Korean food, Japanese food, hamburgers, etc.), and my home-cooked meals for dinner for the first two weeks, but after that Y and my husband ate my home-made lunch boxes at work. However, when I went to work the day after I gave her her bento, I found rice, grilled fish, and side dishes that were not to her liking thrown away in a garbage bag.
When days like that continued over and over again, I was heartbroken because after all, I am only human. I felt like, "At least dump it so no one can see it," and that feeling turned into anger at my husband for his lack of consideration. Oh, God, I can't take it anymore. Let me make a declaration. "I will not make lunch or dinner. Please find something that suits your palate and eat it." Since that day, my husband and daughter have been eating out for lunch and dinner.
However, the situation was different. Eating out is expensive. Prices in Korea have been rising slowly over the past few years, and eating out now often costs in excess of 10,000 W (about 1,000 yen) per person. I wonder if the old-fashioned dining hall where you can eat several kinds of side dishes (free refills) and soup dishes for about 6,000W (about 600 yen) will disappear in a few more years. So, when my husband and daughter ate out for lunch and dinner, 30,000 to 40,000 W (about 3 to 4,000 yen) flew away in one day.
That was not the only expense. Starting with round-trip airfare of 1.6 million W, 300,000 W for Korean language lessons, and 130,000 W for music lessons, she said, "I can't see well even with glasses. It will take half a year to get new glasses made in France," so we took her to an optician and had the lenses replaced in a few hours for 130,000W.
I had told her to bring her own swimsuit, but she said, "The one I brought is too small to wear," so I ran around in search of the bikini she wanted in Korea, where rash guards are the norm, and finally found one at a department store for 160,000 W. She brought only worn underwear that didn't fit and said she needed new ones, so I took her to an underwear store, and payed for 80,000W.
She said, "It is expensive to buy clothes in France," so we bought her some T-shirts, shorts, etc for 200,000W. I also paid for hair removal cream, transportation, and many other things. I cried inside, "So much money to raise a 16 year old child...” I cut my own expenses, and then sighed a little as I thought of the days of frugality I would be forced to live after she left.
Despite these headaches, if it was just my husband, Y and I, we would have gotten along much better than before. The big difference from four years ago, however, was that we had a three-year-old who was like a barking puppy in our house.
One day he suddenly appeared in front of him and became hostile and jealous of Y, who was touching his toys and eating his snacks. On top of that, he could not communicate in Japanese or Korean, so he was angry and pouty, "Why do you speak in French, Y!" I had heard that when a dog-owning couple has a baby, the dog sometimes gets jealous of the baby, but my son's attitude was just like that.
When the three of us were together, it was a negative spiral of "son barks, I calm him down, son barks, I get angry, Y looks tired. (Just before returning to Japan, Y told me in Korean that life with such a 3-year-old was "interesting"...)
I felt sorry for both of them, but at the same time, I felt like running away from this life, saying "Oh...when will it end?" To be honest, there were nights when I counted down the days until Y would return to France. So when we parted, I could not say to Y with a smile, "Come back next year.
Y had done nothing wrong. She was just visiting her father and relatives in Korea who live far away. However, ever since Y came to our house, there has been a change in my three-year-old that I had never imagined, and it has made me very confused. It was hard for me to scold my son every day and to take out my anger, which had nowhere to go, on my husband. I even let Y see me like that on several occasions.
A week before returning home for France, Y took the train alone for the first time to visit her in-laws for four days and three nights. 4 years ago, she had so little to do that she called on the third day to say she wanted to go home, but this time she enjoyed her time with her grandparents to a certain extent. After Y returned home safely, I was taking a break when husband's father called me.
He said, "Y said she doesn't want to go back to France, that she is enjoying life in Korea, and that mina is taking good care of her. It must have been a lot of hard work to take care of her. Thank you so much."
It was an unexpected comment. Y, who had always shown a minimal amount of joy, anger, sorrow, and ennui, was surprised to hear that she thought life in Korea was "fun". I was relieved to hear that. Soon after that, I received a phone call from husband's mother.
She said, "After living with Y for a few days, I realized that even though she is like an adult, she is still a child. She doesn't help me, she doesn't get up in the morning. I can't blame her because she's my grandchild, but she's not your child, is she? I can't imagine how much trouble I went through living with her.... You've done a great job. Thank you."
Oh, my God. I never thought I would receive words of consolation from my parents-in-law. When someone says something like this to me, "Father-in-law, mother-in-law, for the past two months, my wallet has been in a state of 'If you feel sorry for me, give me money! Wahaha!" I can't say.
This summer, we played at the closest amusement park to North Korea, swam in the pool and the ocean, stayed at a relative's house, and went camping. Yes, it was only during that camping trip that my son and Y somehow became friends. I will always remember the two days when they played hide-and-seek together, took walks together, and became the closest of friends.
The night we saw Y off, my husband told me this.
" When I told Y yesterday, 'the reason you had a good time in Korea was because mina took care of you to make you feel comfortable for two months', she said in Korean, 'I know, Dad. When I met mina for the first time in France, I had a very good impression. She was very kind to me when I came to Korea before.' "
Oh, my 40-year-old self with loose teary eyes. Can I cry a little? My three-year-old is now saying, "I miss Y," and "I'll give this toy to Y next time" (too late!).
Y is learning Korean, my husband is (finally) starting to learn Japanese, and the 3-year-old learned one French greeting. (I wonder when I will resume my French studies, which I gave up early...)
After returning to France, Y sent my husband a picture of enjoying the rest of her vacation at the beach. She was posing with a friend in a bikini she had bought after running around with me. I sent a reminder to her in the photo. "Y, please bring a swimsuit that fits your size next time. I've had enough of looking for bikinis!" Until we meet again, Y, Annyong!
DAYS/ Kim MIna Column
days of being called mom
Back to Japan with you, 3 years old.
At the end of May, I temporarily returned to Japan for the first time in three years. The decision was sudden. When I arrived in Japan, I was filled with various thoughts and feelings, and I was sure I would cry. That is what I thought until I flew out of Incheon International Airport.
But, the trip home with a naughty 3-year-old boy was more strenuous and strenuous than I had imagined. After taking an express bus and train from Kansai International Airport, I was exhausted by the time I arrived at my parents' house. I was almost in tears, not from relief at finally being able to return to Japan, but in a different way.
At Kansai International Airport, many staff members, including foreigners, assisted us through the PCR inspection and entry into Japan, but it was extremely difficult to get the 3-year-old to spit the amount of spit required for the inspection. When my son made only a "spit" sound, I told him, "Look, you ate a lemon the other day, didn't you? Just think of it as if you were eating your favorite lemon right now, just like that time! said the forty-year-old woman struggling to make him spit....
I finally received a "Spit amount, OK!" and by the time I heard that, there was no one left except the staff. Now I was being guided to go this way and that way. Then, my son opened his arms and asked me to hold him. I could understand how he felt. But I didn't have the confidence to carry him, who weighed more than 17 kilograms, while carrying nearly 10 kilograms of luggage on my back. When I denied his request, the three-year-old took the next step. He asked for candy.
Each time I gave him a small piece of candy at the waiting area until the test results came back, he smiled his best smile. However, as soon as the sweets ran out, he would start begging for more. His face is like a devil. Where did that smile go!
The struggle between the 3-year-old who would not give up until he won and the 40-year-old woman who did not want to give him lots of sweets before lunch unfolded in the quiet waiting area.... By the time I found out that I tested negative, I was already beginning to regret returning home with my son.
During our three-week stay, my son's mischievous behavior grew worse by the day, and the number of times I was struck by lightning increased in proportion. Looking back, I was angry all the time we were in Japan.
He must have been in a high state of excitement in his new environment.
He had been speaking 80% Korean for most of his life, but now he was suddenly living only in Japanese, and he must have been exhausted. I knew this in my head, but I did not have the time to accept the change in my son.
I was unable to relax, because even though I was finally able to return to Japan, his presence was holding me back from doing everything I wanted to do. I looked for places we could enjoy together and took him to the zoo, aquarium, and baking experience, but I could not do what I had dreamed of for the past three years: going to hot springs, my favorite restaurants and izakaya (Japanese style pubs), and spending a whole day alone. I will leave the things I have been dreaming of for the past three years --- for next time.
"I had not been back in Japan for three years." "There were so many things I wanted to do in Japan..." The reality was that I could not do even half of what I wanted to do when my son was with me. Although I was aware of this, I felt sadness because I had high expectations for my return to Japan.
Nevertheless, with the help of my parents, I was able to go shopping, to the hair salon, and to see friends for a few hours on some days during the three weeks.
"It had been more than a decade since I had met up with an old friend from high school at a cafe. She had left her hometown to raise her children and work full time. She said to me, who was a little disappointed and exhausted when I returned home with my son.
"When I take your child home with you, my husband and people around me think, 'Well, you could have spent some time at home, couldn't you?' But in reality, it was my husband who stayed home alone. If I had my children with me, I wouldn't be able to rest at all even if I went home to my parents.
After I left her, I thought back to the events I had experienced during the four and a half years since moving to Korea. Pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare; my husband's surgery and illness; the business downturn and economic uncertainty caused by Corona; my son's hospitalization and repeated illnesses; helping with the family business and my own work....
As a result, I could not take a day off even if I wanted to. The Covid-19 compounded the situation, and no matter where I went or what I did, I could not feel "liberated. I had been living like this since the birth of my child, and I had hoped that when I returned to Japan, I would have even just one day to regain myself, but a whole day was impossible. Half a day was the limit for both my son and my parents.
"I gave birth to a child because I loved it, so now I have no choice," it would have been easier. I thought, "I want to have free time to be myself again, not a mother. These thoughts ran through my head, and every night I would murmur, "I'm sorry," as I watched my son sleep. Days like that continued.
The day after our three-week stay in Japan, my son went to nursery school and I began my daily routine of going to work with my husband. The next week, my husband's daughter will come from France. There was so much to do every day, such as cleaning up the house, organizing the refrigerator, and doing the laundry that had piled up, that I could not rest my body at all and the time just flew by.
But then, there was a Korean movie that I really wanted to see in the theater. It was "Baby Broker," a Korean production by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda.
The story is about a mother who leaves her child in a "baby post" in Japan, and two brokers who are trying to sell the child to someone else, and they decide to travel together to look for the adoptive parents...
Pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare should not be a women-only issue, yet women are the first to be blamed if they abort before birth or give up their children after birth. Even when women work as hard as men, many people still torment mothers with the stereotype that it is the mother's responsibility to take care of the child and educate the family.
When I see and hear the story of a couple who are about 10 years younger in both Japan and South Korea, I can see that the situation has changed considerably, with women spending weekends alone and men taking charge of housework and childcare, but there is no doubt that the myth of motherhood still persists in both countries.
However, just because a woman gives birth to a child does not mean that something suddenly changes, nor does it mean that everyone can become a picture-perfect mother. At least for me, even after more than three years have passed since I gave birth, I still live with the difficulty and confusion of living with a child every day.
I have never wanted to give up my son, but there have been times when I have thought, "I want to quit being a mother," or "I want to be away from my child even for a day," even if only for a moment. But that is not my son's fault. It was because I was in so much pain and suffering at that time.
On the night of the movie, I was able to finish work a little earlier than usual, so I was able to pick up my son from daycare 30 minutes earlier than usual.
This gave me more time to spare between dinner and bedtime, and I was able to treat my son more kindly.
As soon as I got home from daycare, my son suddenly looked up at me and said in Japanese, "I'm so happy to see you.
"I love you, Mom."
I patted his sweaty head and said, "I love you, too."
I suddenly recalled the image of him pushing his small trunk at Kansai International Airport with all his might.
If I said, "Ouch," he would rush right over to me with a worried look on his face, and breathe even blow a gentle huff and puff. on me.
If I said, "Speak to me in your mother's language," he would even try to speak to me in as much Japanese as he knew.
Before going to bed at night, when I say, "The ghost will be here soon," he will sometimes say, "I'll protect you.
There are so many cute and adorable moments like that, but why do I sometimes feel a strong longing to be away from my child, to be alone?
My mother said, "Because you are tired. I know you have been through a lot in the past four and a half years, haven't you? That's why. Next time, let's go to the hot springs together. My father said, "I know it must have been hard for you to come with us, but thank you for bringing me when I was at my sweetest.
When we got back to Korea, I was so surprised that my son's mischievous behavior suddenly calmed down. At the same time, I, too, who had been stressed to the max for three weeks, regained my peace of mind thanks to the day-care center.
Although it was difficult to move around this time because of the COVID-19 in addition to my son, I have many unforgettable memories thanks to my parents, younger brother and his family, and friends and seniors who went out of their way to see me. While I felt that "hometown is great," I often realized that "my home is already in Korea," which made me a little sad.
From now on, I will gradually lose my place in my home country. It will be sad, but I chose to live in Korea. I have no choice but to make my own way here and enjoy my life. I will laugh, cry, get angry, and make up with my family.
"Mother, after you get lots and lots of sleep, let's go to the dinosaur museum in Fukui Prefecture!"
The profile of the three-year-old, who had suddenly become fluent in Japanese after three weeks in Japan, looked very encouraging today.
I wanted to hold him in my arms forever.
Son. Mother, sometimes you may get tired and say "I want to be alone" again, but... From now on, let's play together more. And one day, let's go to the dinosaur museum.
I am glad that I could come back to Japan with you, 3 years old. Thank you for being with me since before you were born.
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.