A Korean Mother’s Chinese Dream
How would a fifty- yearold housewife who spent a quarter of a century doing housework make use of the rest of her life? Dancing in the park with her peers? Taking walks with her grandchildren? Or perhaps windowshopping at the mall?
A Korean mother named Kang Sun Hee made a shocking decision— to leave Korea and chase her Chinese dream in China.
Kang was born in Gumi City, Gyeongsangbuk-do Province, the hometown of the former president Park Chung Hee. Her father was a huge fan of Chinese culture and language, and was obsessed with Chinese characters. Influenced by her father, Kang Sun Hee started learning how to write Chinese characters when she was in junior high school. In 1985, she was admitted to Chungbuk University, where she majored in Chinese.
After graduation, Kang Sun Hee got married and had children, living a normal life like the other Korean women she knew. She devoted all her life to her family. Unconsciously, 25 years came and went.
Despite time passing by, in the thousands of days and nights she spent as a mother, she never gave up her Chinese dream. She attended private Chinese classes given by the local professors whenever she had time. She learned a lot about classic Chinese literature. Classics like the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Analects of Confucius, Mencius, and Gems from Chinese Culture were treasures to Kang. Time seemed to be fleeting when she immersed herself in these masterpieces.
When her kids all went to college, Kang suddenly was left with just herself to look after. She started to think for herself— why couldn’t she change her role from a mother and wife to an independent individual? After consideration, she made a bold decision: she was going to head to China and learn Chinese.
“What? You will go to college in China?” Kang’s husband and kids were stunned when they learned about the decision.
“Go to college? At your age?” her husband disagreed.
“You should enjoy your life now. Why do you have to make yourself so busy?” the elder son could not understand her.
“You can learn Chinese in Korea. Why do you have to leave home and go to China?” the younger one was unwilling to let his mother go.
However, Kang Sun Hee had made up her mind: she had to pursue her dream.
In September of 2014, recommended by Professor Seong Yoon Suk of the department of Chinese language and culture in Uiduk University, Kang Sun Hee left home and headed for China Three Gorges University in Hubei Province. Seeking a master’s degree in Chinese, she started her study in China.
It was the first time that she had ever come to China and she felt uneasy. In the cold and wet winter in Yichang, she missed her heating at home in Korea. She had to make kimchi by herself because she wasn’t accustomed to the Chinese food. The library was also different from that at home, which made research difficult.
Besides all these troubles, there was another big challenge: communication. Although Kang Sun Hee had learned Chinese, it was still very hard to communicate in a Chinesespeaking country. During conversation, she had to request her partners to slow down so that she could catch up with them. Writing course papers required extensive reading. However it took her about a month to finish reading one Chinese book. What’s worse, the obscure writings in classical Chinese took her even more time and efforts to read and understand.
The uneasiness in life, challenges in study, and isolation from her family brought her great psychological stress. She didn’t even have a friend in China when she arrived. Helplessness and loneliness often hit her at the beginning of her journey in China. However, these did not hamper her from pursuing her dream.
To deal with the cold and wet winter, she put dehumidifiers in every corner of her room and aired out her quilt as often as possible. She even bought many down jackets. When she had trouble using the library resources, she resorted to her Chinese classmates and the librarians. Gradually, she became a regular of the library and befriended several teachers. They helped her to cope with her loneliness and provided plenty of practice speaking Chinese.
Since she was the same age as the mothers of her classmates and also as gentle and nice as their mothers, the students all called her “Mother Kang.”
“I played and ate with them. Some of them even invited me to their homes and I would make Korean cuisine while they made Chinese food. I loved hanging out and communicating with them.” In her interview, “Mother Kang” told the correspondent that she had fallen in love with Chinese food, among which her favorites
were steamed stuffed buns and dumplings.
She often talked with her family using WeChat. Noticing her improvement in mood, her husband and sons started to understand her and become more supportive. One of her sons, who was majoring in English in college, also started to be interested in Chinese.
Kang Sun Hee loves traveling and adores her second hometown Yichang. “In Yichang City, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery of The Three Gorges. Many Chinese poets left epic poems of this place and I want my families to learn about that. I want to visit Qu Yuan Temple because I read “Li Sao” and “Tian Wen,” written by the patriotic poet Qu Yuan. I’d also like to visit the historical relics of the Three Kingdoms Culture.”
After graduation, Kang Sun Hee left China for Korea, where she found a job as a Chinese teacher. She’s also applying for a doctoral program on the Chinese language. Despite all the difficulties she’d had, she never gave up her Chinese dream and now she is spreading the seed of it to more and more people in Korea.
(Translation: Yu Lan)