A Korean Mother’s Chi­nese Dream


Special Focus - - Contents - Liu Dongli 刘冬莉

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)

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