This is my seventeenth attempt at a blog. So before I press delete forever again, I’m determined to think of this as a practise corner of the internet where I can try out different writing styles. You have to start somewhere right? Even if it’s super awkward. Feel free to read and criticise constructively (or not). We’ll see how it goes!
This post is about growing up as a Korean-New Zealander.
Growing up I got confused with all the different Korean greetings. I’d bow and tell the people who invited me over, “Goodbye, have a good trip” and would bow and tell guests leaving my own home “Hello, stay at your home safely”, pink-faced with embarrassment as they corrected my mistakes. Korean culture was never second nature to me, and at times I just really wanted to friend-zone my cultural heritage. I like you… but not enough to keep you around. Let’s just awkwardly say hello when we bump into each other but not take it any further. Yeah? Sound good to you?
To be honest I largely rejected my Korean heritage as a child and at a ripe age of four, I swapped my kimchi and banchan for crust-less sandwiches and tiny boxes of raisins. I stopped calling my mother “omma” and she became “mum”.
My parents were supportive of me always. Mum spoke to me in Korean, Dad spoke to me in English. Pioneers of their own sort, they traveled extensively and already lived in the United States where my oldest brother was born and where Dad studied and Mum worked. They then moved back to South Korea for a few more years where my other brother was born. Finally, they decided to ride the massive immigration wave of Asians to New Zealand in the 90’s. That’s where I came into the picture.
They had great expectations for all of us kids. Most importantly they wanted me to be Christ-like: honest, kind and faithful.
Buuuut a pretty close second to that was to be smart: highly academic, very involved with extra-curriculars, savvy with money and to put in more effort in my work than other kids. “Rich Kid, Smart Kid” and “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” stared at me over my childhood years on the book shelf and whilst I never read them, the titles were enough for me to get the picture. A bit on the competitive side, my parents challenged me to improve every time I brought home my report. My first teachers would write:
Kelly is a delight to teach and is well-liked by her peers. She contributes well in class and cares for her friends. Kelly often struggles to finish what she has started but has potential to excel if she focuses on her tasks. Kelly also struggles with her hand-eye coordination and running during Physical Education.
“You need to be in the top 3 Kelly,” Dad would say.
“You need to do maths homework 3 pages a day,” Mum would say in Korean, handing me several work books and a skipping rope.
“Also, you should be careful when you are around Sarah”.
Sarah was my best friend. Also a Korean-New Zealander.
It wasn’t Sarah’s fault really. She had confided in me that her sibling took pictures of her naked to make fun of her. We were six. I was alarmed that maybe Sarah’s sibling would take pictures of me and told my parents. They didn’t jump to any conclusions but advised me to play it safe. But it still scared me. Or maybe it just gave me an excuse.
So as quickly as I traded my words I traded my friends. For some reason the Korean girls always stuck together so not hanging out with that particular Korean friend pretty much meant social suicide on the Korean front. I disbanded myself from one of my only connections to the Korean community and ran (haphazardly, almost out of breath) across the playground to play tiggy with my pale-skinned, round eyed, nose bridged friends.