2007 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior second place

Building bridges between generations
Michael Chung

The Namsan Tower rests on top of a mountain next to a radio tower. The ancient walls on the hillside are turreted so that soldiers could ward off enemies with bows and arrows. I stand there imagining soldiers getting ready for battle. I imagine them aiming at their foe, feeling confident that they will win, but fearing they will lose. A gentle breeze slides dead leaves down the side of the mountain.

One afternoon, we search for my mom’s old houses. I think how great it would be to see them with no harm done. I was born in the United States and have always lived there. However, my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, were all born in Korea. I want to know my heritage better by experiencing what my mom has experienced. I want to find a bridge to my mom’s past. By seeing the room where she played piano, the model trains she and her brother played with, and the living room where she watched Tom and Jerry cartoons on TV.

The first house, located in Hu Am-Dong, where she lived until she was three, has been converted into part of a hospital. As we drive past, I feel disappointed that the house hasn’t been preserved the way it should have been. The “Hospital” sign on top of the building tells me they’ve probably changed the insides. I wish I could go back in time and see the house the way it was when my mom lived there. I feel really sad. “I didn’t know it was changed into a hospital,” my mom says.

The second house that my mom lived in, located in Yeon Hee-Dong, has been demolished and replaced by two condos. She grew up in that house. We get out of the van and follow the street up a hill to find the house. “I know it’s here,” she says. We spend about fifteen minutes looking. We come to a wall with a space in the middle. “This used to be my wall,” she recalls. But what happened to my huge gate?” We walk down back to the van and drive back to the hotel.

In America, I am proud to talk about my culture with my friends. I tell them how well developed Korea is now and about our history. On that trip with my mom, I was trying to find a bridge backward, but now I am trying to build a bridge forward. Even though we have failed to find my mom’s old houses. The past is like those dead leaves sliding down Namsan-I realize that the bridge is not in the piano or anything else. The bridge is in my parents’ stories, the Korean traditions that we keep alive in our home, and my love for Korea. I am proud to be a Korean-American. Every time I walk off a plane in Seoul, I smell a certain smell. I’ve never smelled it anywhere else. It’s indescribable. It makes me feel I’m home.