Ja-sin-gam in Kimchi soup

October 23, 2007
By
Raindrops falling from the eaves catch the yellow beams of the street light. As they drip onto the window frame, drops of gold scatter and sprinkle into the darkness. Drip-drop, drip-drop, drip-drop. I cautiously stretched my arm outside the window, touching the fresh and cool drops of rain. It was silent except for the rhythmic drip-drop of falling rain on my hand. But the solitude was broken, as my mother knocked on my door.
“Min-Kyung, it’s time to go. Don’t forget to bring your umbrella.” It is the season when rain endlessly pours on the earth. It is also the season when my grandmother told me stories on the bamboo floor, sitting with her legs tucked beneath her and with my head in her lap. And, today is exactly eight years after I overcame from mental break after my grand mother’s death.

“Min-Kyung, this year, you take care of your grandmother’s portrait until we arrive at your grandmother’s grave,” my father said. I held the bottom edge of a picture frame. Her portrait photograph was white-and-black, yellowish at the edge, smelling like her cheap potpourri. My grandmother was a typical Korean grandmother, who cooked a great Kim chi soup for her family’s morning meal, who sewed up the holes in her children’s clothes by hand, who loved to tell stories to her granddaughter, who always stand next for me. No one would imagine she was one of the very few Korean women who graduated from a college during the Japanese occupation. No one would imagine she was the old pharmacist offering free medicines to orphanages when everybody in my country suffered for lack of medical supplies in the 1960s.
When I was seven years old, I had a fist fight with my kindergarten classmate; he mocked me because I could not do even simple addition in math. Three feet, nine inches tall, bleeding on my leg, I was filled with anger and asked my grandmother to punish my classmate for me. But my grandmother sat down gently, adjusting her eye level to my eye level. She patted my disheveled black hair and said, “Min-Kyung, try to win over yourself, not win over other people. It is important to have ja-sin-gam, a strong confidence in yourself. Do not let other people discourage you.” I could not understand her; I felt betrayed.
I placed my grandmother’s portrait in front of her grave. In the wind and rain, I could smell the familiar odors of wet trees mixed with old potpourri. I cannot listen to my grandmother’s stories with my head lying in her lap on rainy days anymore. But I can still hear the rhythm of raindrops dripping on the bamboo floor. I can still smell the odor of soaked bamboo after rain. And now, at last, I can understand what she told me eleven years ago.
Ja-sin-gam compels me forward.





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