In memory of a beautiful Korean bride
Miss Chang was a handsome student in our Uljin high school years in North Gyeongsang province. She had a pair of clear and black eyes with relatively thin lips for a Korean girl and wore school uniform always tight and her hemline revealed her knees when she walked fast. The school rule was never to show the girl’s knees. The breaths of the boys went high when she smiled at them.
My breath couldn’t go high because she was a distant cousin, on my mother’s side, which is called in Korean 6 inches. The distance between the cousins are 4 inches and the relation with uncle and nephew or niece is therefore 3 inches, which makes the brothers/sisters 2 inches but Koreans don’t’ say it 2 inches. Miss Chang’s father and I are 7 inches.
The girl thought I’m harmless as we are within our family members and she talked to me warmly like a sister and I liked it. One should never get attracted to a 6 inch in those days some 65 years ago. The same clan of Mr. Kim and Miss Kim were not allowed to marry then.
Yet, Japanese often fall in love among cousins, 4 inches, and they were allowed to marry. When the Pacific War ended in 1945, so many Japanese wives at home found themselves widowed as their husbands in the military service didn’t come home. Not too often but occasionally, the parents-in-law of the war dead husband suggested the widowed daughter-in-law to remarry her brother-in-law, a younger brother of the deceased. So that the widow doesn’t have to return to her native home as a failed bride. The younger brother was pleased as he had been secretly attracted to his sister-in-law, and she was delighted to have a young bridegroom. Koreans didn’t take that custom.
When in ear4ly 1970s the Bank of America had a Seoul branch office in a slim building in Myong-dong, across the street of the then main office of the Korea Exchange Bank I was asked by the bank to check the problems of fire escape route and its plumbing system in the rented building. While discussing with the General Manager in a bathroom I looked down into a toilet bowl when my fountain pen, a Mont Blanc, fell into the water of the bowl from my chest pocket. It was a $300 pen and I quickly put my hand into the toilet water (it was clean) and picked it up, and washed it in a flowing water from a faucet. Everyone laughed and enjoyed scene.
When I stepped out of the bank building, making sure that my fountain pen was dry in my pocket now, a woman called me behind, “Mr. Nam.” A beautiful young lady about my age was broadly smiling at me. She wore a dark blue business suits and white shirt. I thought I knew her but couldn’t recall where and when. “You don’t remember me, I’m your 6 inches from Uljin, silly brother!” She said. We went into a nearby coffee house and she told me she is being employed at the bank. And she said she is married to an American, a DAC now works at the U.S. Army Garrison at Yongsan. “What is a DAC?” I asked. “It’s a Department of Army Civilian.” “Congratulations, I hope you are happy,” I said. “I’m very happy with one boy and one girl,” she said making a big smile. “I heard you picked a fountain pen from toilet bowl,” she said. “I had to because it would clog the toilet and it was my favorite pen. Don’t worry, it’s dry now,” I told her. She made another laugh. She was beautiful, but I didn’t say so, she calls me a brother.
Koreans had been proudly valued their homogeneity and glorious of maintaining the same blood for thousands of years. Not anymore, the country is rapidly becoming a multi-cultural nation. The total international marriage tallied the period between 1990 ~ 2013 had reached to 500,000 cases including the cross-border marriages among Korean men and women and foreign men and women. (Re: “International marriage of Koreans” by Kim Du Seop, issued in April 2015; ISBN 978-89-303-1677-4). Prof. Andrei Lankov reported on the September 4, 2017 issue of The Korea Times that an accumulative number of U.S. servicemen married Korean women approached 90,000 citing some sources.
Again, according to the Kim’s report above, the citizens of the United States (including the military servicemen) who married Korean women are; 1,084 cases in the year 2000 and keeping average 1,400 per year, it revealed that 1,755 Koran women married Americans in the year 2015 alone. The divorce rates by American men and Korean women showed an average 1,300 cases per year and the divorce among them was recorded at 1,196 cases in the year 2013. That is quite high rate of divorce among the American husbands and Korean wives.
The latest news I’ve got about Mrs. Chang, my 6 inches who must be 84 years old now, was that she along with her old husband are busy chasing after several grandchildren in Hawaii. Someday she would feel a longing for her home in Uljin, Korea and may be able to meet her accidentally just like we’d had at the Bank of America office in Myong-dong, Seoul, in early 1970s.
By Nam Sang-so, a retired architect. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org