Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An immigrant learns to drive in LA.

An immigrant learns to drive in LA.

Whenever my siblings gather with their families during our parents’ birthdays, we always tell this story of how our Korean mother learnt to drive in America without knowing how to speak much English, needless to say to read the language.

The story begins just after the Korean War, my dad Chin-Hwa had befriended a couple of US Marines when he was working as a medic driver in Seoul. They suggested that he would have a better living in the US of A.

In Korean, my Father’s name Chin-Hwa meant the most wealthy one. “How would I become rich if I continue to drive an ambulance?” lamented Dad. He kept thinking about his American friend’s invitation to go to the US even after they had gone home and the war had finished.

It was in 1961, my mother Hyun Jae finally agreed to follow my father to America. You see, my mother’s name means wise and full of respect. Father and Mother went to pay their respects and farewell to both my paternal grandparents and maternal grand parents.

“It’s not good bye, but we will be back when we have earn our fortune.” My father told his elders.

Mother was tearful, she didn’t know when that day would be.

Father’s marine friend Joe met them at the LA International Airport with his wife Ashley.

Ashley tried her best to make the Chos feel at home, “Annyonghashimnikka.” Intonating each syllable slowly. “ Am I saying hello correctly?”

“Gomapsupnia, thank you for speaking in our language.” Replied Chin-Hwa.

“We live in Anaheim and you can stay with us until you find your own place.” Said Joe.

The Chos found a small corner grocery store with an apartment at the back of it near to Joe’s apartment.

“This is good to start off with. We don’t need too much capital.” Said Chin-Hwa.

Ashley offered to teach the Chos English lessons. “You will need to speak English and some Spanish in this neighbourhood.”

Chin-Hwa took up this offer and two afternoons a week, Chin-Hwa became a student again. We, the babies, started coming, almost like clockwork, one ever year.

Dong came the first year. Chin-Hwa and Hyun Jae named him Dong. The name Dong in Korean mean East. They wanted to reminded Dong that though he was born an American, he was Korean and came from the East.

Then came Dong-sun. The meaning of Dong-sun is Eastern integrity. Chin-Hwa and Hyun Jae wanted their children to grow up with integrity. “We are immigrants, but we are not crooks.”

My two sisters have names of Eun Mi and Yun Hee. These are feminine names. Eun Mi meaning Grace and beautiful. Yun Hee meaning Lotus flower. The girls hated their names. They were American girls, who are not wall paper and are born with equal rights to men. Though at home, they didn’t feel they had equal rights. They had to do all the house work and help out in the store.

I am the youngest and if my sisters hated their names, I dreaded mine. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know why. My name is Duck-young. Duck-young meanings Integrity lasts. From when I knew it, the neighborhood kids and grown ups were forever teasing me, “Quack! Quack!”, “Donald Duck.” The Chinese were worse, the called me “YaYa” which I found out that it meant a male prostitute. So I learnt to protect myself. I was this scrawny Korean boys with Bruises, marks and scraps.

The store wasn’t doing very well as it can’t compete with the big supermarkets. Chin-Hwa decided to get a job as an ambulance driver in the hospital. This means that sometimes Mother would have to drive in case of emergency and we the boys were learning karate in a sport centre too far for us to walk, and out of the way from any bus routes. We were too poor to hail a cab.

***I fictionalised this story. This was how my Mum learnt to drive the car. She was among the earlist woman in Sibu to drive the car. our first car was S899, which meant prosperous for ever. All nine of us rode in the car, we are not prosperous financially, but we are successful academically.***

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