Sunday, January 15, 2006

Dead Man's Party
Guest blog courtesy of my son, who incidentally, turned 21 on the 13th. Feliz cumpleanos, dudechacho!
My Korean grandfather died nine years ago yesterday. He was a good, kind man who loved his family. He had a crazy life from being forced to fight for the Japanese in WWII (his platoon ultimately killed the Jap C.O. and were later rescued by Americans) to living through the Korean War to coming to America. He was as near perfect as I have every seen anyone. He will be forever missed.
That said every January 11th since then I sit through a Korean ritual that has all but lost its meaning.What happens is there’s a table set up in front of a picture of Grandfather (in this case the picture’s above the big screen TV), and there’s a bunch of food set out on it. There’s seaweed, kimchi, the other kind of kimchi, rice, the green things I think are weeds but Mom and Grandmother eat, and a whole fried fish (whole in every sense of the word, like if you caught a fish and just threw it on a cooking pan).
Mom’s never really told me why, I think it has something to do with the dead coming back and eating…but I’m not really sure…oh and the door has to be open.
Around midnight or 11, it changes year to year, everyone stands in front of the picture/table and bow. That’s normally where the ceremony would end…well my step-dad and I would be forced to eat some of the food, but then the ceremony would end. It was short and I would never do anything to disrespect my Grandfather’s memory. So, it wasn’t something that I looked forward to but it wasn’t like unbearable. That is until last night.
My mother, at times, seems to be a born again Christian; she scolds me for not praying at dinner, but then she doesn’t do it herself. Her religion is not based on any faith. In her mind it’s like a system of favors. “Ask and ye shall receive” is all really Christianity is about. Praying not about getting closer to God, it’s about ask him to do things for you. Like for example, more money.
At around 10:30 last night Mom finally finishes cooking and goes into the living room where the makeshift shrine is. “JULIAN!” my mom screams. I flinch, my mind racing as to what I could have done. Nothing comes to mind.“What?” I ask quietly. “Come, we practice for tonight,” she says.
“What? No, look Mom I’ve done this for the last nine years, I know what to do. Let me read,” I wait to hear her objection but none comes.Instead came a sound that thinking about still causes the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. It was my mom screeching out “Amazing Grace”. It’s not that she was off key (which she was), or that Korean TV was also going at the same time. Its’ that if it wasn’t for the tune I wouldn’t have know it was “Amazing Grace”.
It got so bad I had to go into the basement just so I could focus on the book I was reading. She sang for a good twenty minutes by herself, “Amazing Grace” a good four or five times. When she finally stops it’s time to honor the dead.
So, at first it’s like every other year, Mom opens with a part that only she can understand. While Pat stares off into space and I start thinking about Spider-Man and Kitty Pryde. She finishes up and we do the bowing thing. This year we only had to bow three times, I could have sworn that it was five last year, and ten a few years back. As I finish up Mom thrust a Bible into my hands.
“Choose good one,” she says “Something, you know, good thing to read.”
Like a deer in headlights I stare a the book, I’ve read the Bible, but none of it really sunk in. I certainly wouldn’t know about what passages would be appropriate for something like this. So, I choose the “Lord’s Prayer”, it seemed like the best and it was right there in the front.
Then Mom read a passage. I have no idea what it was about, I think it was from Romans, but I’m not sure. All I know is that she didn’t read about half of it, or at least I couldn’t understand half of it. I figured this was the end so I got up to leave when Mom grabs me and tells me that we have to sing.
I am then forced to listen and sing the worst version of “Amazing Grace” with one woman singing loudly and off key in Korean and two men quietly signing off key in English. By the time we finished I had resolved to always leave before the 11th from now on.
Grats on the birthsday Julian!
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