Song ParkGeneration: First Generation
Location: San Francisco, CA
Interviewer: Ramsay Liem
U.S. Military Government (1945-1948)
After independence, and there was, temporary government. And then there were two parties running, left to the communism and right to, you know, democracy. So, the two sides of people killing each other. It was political turmoil. And then they kill each other. They, you know, blame each other and they kill. It’s power struggle. So, in many villages, killings went on, and many people were accused. Many innocent people were accused. If you are friend, you did something, just get together for no reason, and then they doubt you, you plotted something. So my father happened to be a very intelligent man and had a lot of friends. So he was naturally accused of something. But he’s just an innocent citizen. But, one of his friends, we were in same village and he was, well I don’t know, I still don’t know what he was, but he was beat to death in front of family…. So, my father was very scared because he was very close friend, so he had to, you know, run. Just in case.
Korean War Memories
And then one day, I will never forget that moment, one day, you know the plane just flies very low. At that time, I guess the peasant was working rice field. I knew later, all Korean peasants wear white, so, they’re not supposed to bomb, you know people who dressed white. But I knew that later, not at that time. So they were just working in the field, near where I was staying and all of sudden, plane was just drop bombing, and I, I thought, I was going to get it. It was a single plane, and the plane just came through, and very low. They could even see the peasants even. But they did anyway. I just, stay, right under, there’s a tent, tents were made of all the rocks. I just put down my hands and then stay right there. I was so scared. I’ve never been scared so much. Yeah, that was some, that was some experience, which I will never forget.
After we come back to Seoul and there was, there’s a UN camp…. There’s all the United Nations, all the flags all over. And then, we knew that some prisoners were kept inside. We had an opportunity to see many, many different soldiers, you know, from different countries. And we had mixed feelings. I had mixed feelings that they bombed us…. They bombed. I had a doubt in my mind, you know. I was young. I don’t have any political judgment or anything, but I had questioned, “Why? Why?” Maybe it’s the feelings from the later years. Yeah, thinking back and then, you know, they, they shouldn’t have done anything like that. They should be more cautious. But we had questions: “Why are they bombing the innocent people?” And, well, maybe I was too young, and I couldn’t understand why Americans, or UN should have to bomb whole city. You know, they’re killing more people than they kill enemies. Yeah, yeah. Bombing the city—it raised a lot of questions in my mind at that time.
The way I see is, well, politics, especially, international politics: yes, they can help people; however, they also harm people too. They are there to accomplish their job, but they don’t care. They really don’t care about who is “north” or “south.” They’re just simply doing their job. In doing so, they may just simply do it, regardless of the outcome. Yes, to them, “north” [or] “south” doesn’t matter as long as—maybe they cut this one bridge; they destroy one bridge. That is their job to do it so they do it.
My mother’s family were farmers—nothing but farming. So, I worked [at] home. I just do—take care of brothers and then you know, helping raising my younger sister. I took responsibilities and…I wanted to help my mom. We lost father, and then I felt I was the elder there, the oldest child. And you know, cooking—there’s no modern-cooking facilities so you have to have bushes, leaves to burn and to make cook. I had no strength to cut the tree or whatever. I was still small, and I couldn’t do that. So we did little branches, you know. So I took my two brothers with me. Sometimes I have to whip them because they were young. They were young and they can’t do much but all the village kids do the same. That’s their job. After school, they go out, you know, [to] the mountain and gather all the leaves and branches. So, bring home for cooking and warm the house.
I had to have a certain amount for that so I whipped them up. I worked them so hard and my, especially, my younger brother is seven, and then cries so many times and I gave him a hard time. Anyway, that was my main job. Make sure all the supplies are there.
And sometimes you exchange your labor with some wealthy family. I used to remember that. I was young and nobody would trade my labor and I was so upset. [So I said to them,] “I show you how much I can do and then you talk to me.” You are farming rice fields, and you have to plant. So how many, how fast you can plant, and how fast you can do everything? You have to have you know, labor. So, by then, I was twelve and then they test me. Test me and then they accepted my labor. Yeah, yeah. I was good enough to exchange my labor so I took my mom’s place. Yes, I was determined to help my mom in any way I could.
But you know, thinking about it now, that was most precious moment in my life. You know, I always told my daughter—she’s a sculpture [sic]. When we were poor, we had nothing, but we never lost hope. It was always hope and when I woke up early in the morning, walking through rice fields—you know, I was practically wet—and looking over the other rice fields, that endless hope come to my mind and peace. And I still thank God [for] the opportunity [that] was given to me. Well, maybe that’s from my mom. I didn’t analyze anything at that time. We had only little, but then, the nature alone was just beautiful to me, and it provided me with such enlightenment. I can do everything if I want. Even all that happened, everything, put it all together…. I could do almost everything. That’s exactly what I felt.
Well, my mother had so many different hardships, you know. You know, my mother was amazing, really, until ninety years. Before she was forty, the life was just so much pain. Her husband always going in and out and, you know, she stays home and take care of parents and children. She did it all. I don’t know how much stamina—amazing power to sustain everything, despite of all the troubles. I know a lot of people did the same thing without complaining. That is my mom—really never complain anything; it’s just whatever comes tomorrow. I complain, you know. I mean I had to do it to let out my anger. But every time the hardship comes, she gets stronger and stronger and determined to go on from there. Determination was just amazing.
I never forget the moment when I come back Seoul, and then I was walking, we walked a lot. So we were walking, from Seoul National University all the way to [unclear] It was beautiful walking. And you know, skies are so beautiful, buildings a little bit recovered, some of them recovered, some of them still destroyed, and I felt war was all over, and then I pray to God, “Never again. Never, never again. No war anymore.” Yeah, now it’s not completely behind in my life, but once in a while, it just comes back and haunting. But we were too busy, you know, doing all the other things.
Life in the United States
From time to time, I talk with my daughter. About four years ago my daughter and I set up a camping trip from Oregon, Idaho River, all the way Columbia River, all they way Montana, and then Wyoming, and then come back. So it took about ten days. So I had ample time to talk about my past. And she was fascinated. I talked about these things and she said, “Mom, you should write a book—book about your life.” [Her response:] “Who will read my book?”
Yeah, but, there’s something inspiring me, and then, the war and my experience—it’s not just nothing. I mean, the next generation can’t read it, can’t understand it. But it’s not wasted; it’s there. I mean I had a certain time, certain experience. That time, it doesn’t go away. It doesn’t wipe out. And then [if] you express that time or bring that experience to some people in other [new] generation, they may, someday, they might get something from that. So it’s not totally wasted or nobody really cares.
I am writing something to next millennium.