By Seoyoung (Asha), a South Korean working-holiday visa holder currently staying in Edinburgh. Seoyoung used to work as a care assistant and is now working as a waitress. She plans to go back home before the expiration of her visa, so she can apply for another working-holiday visa for a new adventure in a different country. You can find her on Instagram @pippithegeneral. In fact, Bongde called Seoyoung Pippi the General because as a child Seoyoung was as skinny as a pair of chopsticks and possessed a great deal of stubbornness!
My dear late gran, in her old picture, had dark black hair. During the last few years of her life, her hair was grey, but around her neck, there were still some black hairs growing. I naively thought, or wanted to believe perhaps, this was a sign she would live to attend to my marriage. It has already been two years since her passing in 2016.
Bongde lived 94 years of long life. In South Korea where I am from, calling your gran "gran" is the most affectionate way of addressing her. That word has warmth when you say it out loud. Whenever I had problems, usually when I had a quarrel with my mum, I would go to her and call her by that word from the entrance of her house. She would answer, "is it you, my dear?" Once I'd taken off my shoes and run towards her to give her a long cuddle, she would say, "I missed you, and so I wanted to ring you to come see me, but I didn't because I didn’t want to disturb your studies. I’m so glad you’ve finally come.” She would always let me start my visit with hearing these words.
I used to go trekking alone quite a lot back home both before and after Gran's passing. I used to work as an part-time English teacher for school children while I was studying social work. I would always put on make-up at work, mostly to fit in the society. My trekking days were the exceptions. On those solitary, non-hustle days, I happily did not put on any make-up. There simply wouldn't be anybody who would tirelessly ask why I looked so tired. It was the same on the days when I visited my gran. To me, she felt like mother nature: a cool breeze from up the mountain that would gently blow away my overthinking worries.
My mum didn't like me going to my gran's house so often. She said I was wasting time when I could focus on applying for a nice job or looking for a suitor. It’s not that I did not try, just that the attempts weren’t successful. I do understand that my mum only meant well, but to me, visiting my gran, who seemed to get more fragile day after day, was my foremost priority. So I would visit her without telling my mum. Once I brought my car and took gran and her friends for a drive. We parked the car near the coast and had biscuits and canned coffee while listening to the seagulls. It was one of the most joyful days in my life.
A few months ago I lost my old phone and with it all the records of those memories were gone. I didn’t feel sorry to lose the handset, it had served its purpose for long enough. However, all the video recordings I took with my gran and her friends, all those pictures of us vegging out at the local senior centre with the sun shining over our heads, all those voice recordings of my gran and her best friend speaking about their life-stories… They were my one and only, all-time home-sick cure. Those things never failed to unlock my hardened mind after a long day's work.
These are some of the pictures I did remember to back up somewhere.
1. A letter my gran wrote to her five children: my mum, aunt and three uncles; she never had the chance to go to school she said, but learnt the letters by herself. She had kindly wrote the same words in five different papers so that all her children could feel her love equally. It reads, "My wish: I’m physically so drained. They say living a happy life is the most important thing. If you all have no hurtful feelings, no resentment, no sorrows, I have no regrets. How so happy I have been. Although my body is done now, you all have looked after me with all your heart, and so my mind is full of gratefulness. My precious five children and three daughters in law.”
She wrote from right to left, top to bottom, which is the old Japanese style of writing.
2. Gran would always say, “why would you take a picture of a wrinkled face like mine?” She would also say, “I smell an old person,” whenever I gave her a kiss on her cheek. In South Korea, it isn’t so common to greet with a kiss on each other's cheek but I had learnt the custom while travelling then practiced it with my gran, which made her laugh all the time.
3. This is me, my gran and her bestie in front of the local senior centre. They called each other Gab Jang, which means friends of the same age. My gran said to me on my first acquaintance with her dear friend, "this is my Gab Jang friend,", so I always called her Gab Jang gran; it’s only because in Korean culture calling elders by their name is considered rude. Still, I wish I knew her name.. Their coastal village is called Mojipo. Mochi is the name of a fish that used to be abundant there, the pronunciation of which has become Moji, and po means port or seaside. Now there are a number of buildings with over 30 storeys mass packaging fish caught in the area. The village is deserted and this senior centre was usually occupied by my gran or her bestie as main members with a few other ladies on and off. I loved visiting this deserted but peaceful place, escaping from where my parents’ house was located near the centre of a extremely busy and crowded area of my hometown.
4. They used to play cards - a game called Hwa Too, meaning the battle of flowers. It came across from Japan during the colonial era. On the plate is Korean pear (also called Asian pear here in the UK I think) which is so juicy and crisp. You must try it if you ever visit an Asian country!
In this video we have three ladies playing Hwatoo; my gran begins the speaking with an exclamation of, ‘absolutely mental!’ She says this to the lady in pink because her deck of cards has so many jokers! They burst out laughing altogether, then play seriously on.
5. In he video below, Gabjang Gran is talking about her two dogs; she's telling my Gran how the dogs are so close to each other, that they share food together, sleep next to each other and that they never fight. Then she says she told them that she’s glad they get along so well, at which my Gran bursts into laughter!
In that video, my Gran and Gab Jang Gran are wearing their matching waistcoats. Everyone knew how close they were so the leader of the wives of the village bought a pair of waistcoats for them. I would study my course at the corner of the senior centre while Gran and Gab Jang Gran's gentle voices went up and down as they played cards or simply had a chat. Then, they'd feed me up with all they had in the fridge when I visited! Oh, how I miss them!