My Grandmother Was One Amazing Lady – Rest In Peace, 할머니

Please say a prayer for my beloved grandmother and that she may be resting peacefully, as her spirit ascends to Heaven. She passed away today, 4:15 p.m. PT, surrounded by many of her 8 children, 21 grandchildren and other loved ones.

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Born January 9, 1928, she lived SUCH a full life. I remember her telling me stories about how as a young girl, she and her family lived through the Japanese occupation of Korea. She had to change her given Korean name, Kye Sun Lee, to a Japanese one, “Hiroko Doshiko.” And, everyone in her village had to adopt Japanese culture, practices, including speaking and schooling in Japanese.

She was the most wonderful grandma and took care of me and my brother while my parents worked ’round the clock. I have so many happy memories of her singing Korean nursery songs to me, walking me to/from school, cooking the most amazing food, trying to make me nap all the time in a heated ‘nice warm bed’ (even though it was 80 degrees out but I would still fall for it), giving me countless piggyback rides (“ubba” 😊), drawing pictures of tigers and lions for me and my brother – oh, how I wish I still had a copy …

She and my grandfather had 8 children – 7 daughters, and their last, #8, my uncle. My mom is the oldest – and, I am the 3rd oldest of 21 grandkids. In the mid 70s, my Halmoni immigrated to the U.S., to join my parents in Washington, D.C., in pursuit of the “American Dream” and better opportunities. Post-war Korea left a torn apart countryside and my grandfather’s successful business had suffered. All the siblings would have to lay down in a row, in a single room together to sleep at night. My Mom was the captain of the ship, ordering them around in her Stella-way and would throw one big blanket over everyone after they’d laid down. I would often think of my Mom and her family on my many Habitat for Humanity adventures, building homes for families in such similar situations.

My Gma had to face a hard decision to leave my then ill grandfather and 7 of her children behind in Korea, with hopes that she could earn enough to send money back home to support her family. With my parents, they built businesses and eventually were able to bring her other children to America. My uncle (born 1966-ish) was only in about 6th grade when he came to America. I never met my grandfather who passed away before my grandma or mom would see him again. I hope him and Halmoni are reuniting as I type …

These last few weeks have been the single most impactful experience of my entire life – and, one I’ve been dreading for much of my adulthood. But I am so grateful I had these last moments with her … and, could be there for her in her final days on Earth. Monday morning, before I left for my flight back to NYC, I got to see her one last time. Laying in her hospital bed, hooked up to so many machines, she was awake and pretty lucid – more than she’d been since arriving at the ICU. She couldn’t speak but our eyes were locked and she gazed at me with her loving Gma warmth and I held her hand. She started to squeeze it over and over again and it reminded me of how she would pat my back over and over when I was a kid to comfort me or make me fall asleep … I felt like this was her comforting me, saying goodbye for one last time and I bowed my head and wept silently, hoping she wouldn’t see.

My Halmoni and I always had a very close bond and I will miss her deeply forever. I find comfort in knowing that she leaves such a beautiful legacy of family, love and strength. She was always a very strong woman, to the very end (as the hospital staff learned quickly). I always liked to think that I inherited her powerful spirit, courage and strength – and, will honor her memory by continuing to live the rest of my life with her same fortitude and tenacity.

May you rest in peace … I will miss, cherish & love you forever, 할머니

KYE SUN LEE
January 9, 1928 – May 13, 2017

Lost In Translation: On English FAILs Across Asia

When I was a kid, my Dad used to travel to Korea often on business and he’d always come home with gifts for me and my brother.  Now when I was very little, this was always exciting because he’d bring fun, transforming toys or Hello Kitty knick-knacks I’d never seen in the U.S. But by my pre-teen years, I began to dread these homecomings because he’d started to bring … CLOTHES.

GAH!

As a pre-teen girl, I was pretty sensitive and particular about fashion. I wasn’t very conventional to begin with but I didn’t like to stand out. Although, I wasn’t aware that I already stood out at my preppy, D.C. area, private school in hand-me-downs from my six aunties.  While all the kids at my all-girl, predominantly white, Episcopalian school were head-to-toe in L.L. Bean, J. Crew and Laura Ashley, I wore oversized, neon, second-hand, ‘80s gear and carefully ironed my bangs into a little sausage roll across my forehead every morning.

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I have no shame. I’ll share this photo. (c. 1989)

As I got older, my Dad started to bring home all sorts of strange, exotic clothing from the Mama-land – all, oversized, odd-colored and branded with random English words that would form non-sensical phrases. I was SO embarrassed.

One of the last outfits I remember that really horrified pre-teen Betty was a skirt/vest ensemble.  The skirt was literally like a large trash bag – it was made of a slick fabric with a sort of sheen and ballooned out like a ballgown. It cinched at the waist with a visible drawstring cord and the material gathered heavily around the midsection, just like a trash bag – as part of the “look,” I suppose. This monstrosity was colored a pukey, army green with neon orange trim. And of course, it had a few nonsense phrases vertically written in large, white, cursive script, from the waist to the bottom of the skirt.  Now if you can imagine this horrible idea turned into a vest, that was the matching piece up top. Hood included. The entire outfit looked maybe like a take on ‘Paratrooper, Military, Trash Bag Barbie.’

I was MORTIFIED at the thought of wearing this THING. But, I did my best to act enthusiastic to my parents.

Initially, there were a few occasions where I would be forced to wear these Korean ensembles by Mom and Dad. But, overtime as I got older, I managed to hide much of the clothing or “lose” them.

But now as an adult, I find myself WISHING I had saved these vintage pieces. In retrospect, they were amazing!

Traveling Asia as an adult, you’ll see all sorts of English FAILs on clothing and beyond.  It’s now one of my favorite things about traveling the mother continent.  It’s so fascinating and bizarre, there are many blogs and kitschy books inspired by nonsense English spotted around Asia.

Often, the awkward phrasing on signage results from poor translations – which you can only really grasp and comprehend if you know a second language, an Asian one especially. Your typical subject-verb-object composition of a sentence in Romance languages is entirely null and void in Asian languages – as well as entire words and meanings. And in some Asian languages, like Korean, the letters for “l” and “r” are the same; as well as “v” and “b” – which is why you have jokes in poor taste about “robster craws” and such. Ugh. :/

But, I digress – study some linguistics or learn a second language and you’ll get my point. Continue reading “Lost In Translation: On English FAILs Across Asia”

I Thought I Was Being Kidnapped in Thailand Last Night So I Wrote This Blog Post #ViajoSola

Last night, for the first time on my 2+ month travels through Asia, I felt like I might be getting kidnapped and was a little scared for my life.

But maybe my brain was being hypersensitive because I just recently read about two young women who were murdered while backpacking through Ecuador.  The Internet of course was quick to jump to blame the victims for “traveling alone,” which is pretty ridiculous on many levels, but, especially since they were not alone – they were together. TWO of them. But they are blamed for their own deaths because they were “alone,” without the company of a man. Oh Internet. You sexist assholes.

The hashtag #ViajoSola has since been going viral on Twitter in support of women who choose to travel alone, and manless … Like ME!

 

Last night, I found myself stuck one town over from where I am staying in the Krabi province of Thailand – about a 30-minute drive away. It was past 8 p.m. and the last public “bus” (a pick-up truck with benches in the flatbed) which shuttles people between towns had left. My only option was to find a private taxi which would be about 10 times the price. But, we’re talking the difference between $1.42 for the shared ride or $14 for a taxi – which is a pretty cheap cab fare by Manhattan standards. I wasn’t that distressed.

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Me, earlier in the day, awkwardly scuba diving in the Andaman Sea – I don’t “know how to swim”!!

After talking to friendly locals on my options, I hailed down a taxi – also, a pick-up truck where you ride in the flatbed on benches. The car is professionally logo’d and looks as legit as any – so I didn’t even think twice. Instead of 500 baht which seemed to be the norm after talking to the locals, he quoted me 100. I was pleasantly surprised and hopped right in. Continue reading “I Thought I Was Being Kidnapped in Thailand Last Night So I Wrote This Blog Post #ViajoSola”