경상남도 양산군 석계리
I started off my schooling in 1984 in the first grade of elementary school. Preschool had been initiated in South Korea but not in my town. My grandfather and father had gone to the same elementary school. This was not because it was a great school but because it was the only elementary school in the area.
We lived in the flower region of the village(꽃동네) which was near many factories. The majority of the population in this area were either farmers or factory workers. We were very poor at that time and had no place to live of our own. Hence, we lived in our aunt’s empty house.
My father wasn’t around much, and therefore, my mother had to work in order to take care of me and my sister in this small village. My father’s brother always wanted to be a lawyer, but bad times and bad luck combined deprived him of his dream. However, since he had to earn his bread, he became a salesman selling Britannica book series. My parents bought that book series for me which was a source of inspiration.
One day my father brought a world globe for me which was the first time I saw a world map. I was so fascinated with the globe that I seldom left home and stayed to stare at the globe. I memorized the names of all the capitals of the world. I also found out how my home country looked like and what places were around me.
I have no memory of why but I picked South Africa, Mexico and Brazil and memorized all their cities. I told myself that one day I would travel to these places. I started praying to God for help in my adventure of going to these countries.
I have faint memories of my school life which was extraordinary in nature. A bank used to come to our school to collect money. This money was the “protecting country fund” which the government asked for. The government led us to believe that we were in great danger and all our savings should be invested in defending our country against the North Koreans and the rest of the world. It was a competition. Everyone boasted about the amount of money they saved and gave to the fund. I usually saved money by refraining from buying ice cream for myself.
When I grew up, I came to know that this fund was nothing but a hoax set up by the military dictator "president." It dawned on me that we were brainwashed into giving our money to the government. This is pretty much how I remember growing up in a small town in the mid-1980s.
Two people that had a huge impact in my life
The first was my fries JH with whom I grew up in the village. We went to the same school, and she walked with me to school and back, hand in hand. Most of my childhood was spent with her.
The second person was EM who was our next-door neighbor. She was older than me, and I treated her as my elder sister. She helped me clean our house and do my homework when my mother was not around. I still wish I could somehow find her so I could meet her and thank her for the nice things she did for me back then.
Photo from 1984