story of a girl.

a friend told me about this story and sent me the lecture link. (thank you KS)

i found it really interesting to listen to a foreigner's impressions of korea in the 1970s - a very different korea, i'm sure, to the one in which i currently live. that said, semblances of the old korea do remain.

generally, and from my own experiences, it does seem to be some members of older generations who have a problem with multiculturalism in their country. and i would be the last to support narrowmindedness - but in the voice of understanding, i have to ask: can you blame them? really? if we look at the last 50-odd years of korea's history, it's possible to understand why older koreans who lived through their country being torn apart by others, ruled by others, "saved" by others, and pieced back together by others, might not be so pleased to watch a steady stream of foreigners settle in their country.

this struck me as a beautiful story - if only because of the photography, and seemingly, the intentions of the people involved. i'll be completely honest - it made my eyes well up a bit. and without really thinking about why, one might assume it was simply the story as a whole that got to me. this perfect rags to riches story - a child, tormented and ridiculed, saved by the rugged american photographer/do-gooder. and then i thought,

wait a minute.

i think i'm feeling this way because of what i learned about eun suk's life before mr. smolan showed up. and not because she was teased, or suffered hardships - but because her life with her grandmother seemed absolutely beautiful and, really, that kind of relationship is extremely hard to come by, especially in the western world, no matter what year it is.

i think mr. smolan really addresses the part of this story that i have a problem with around 17:42, when he is describing the great feelings that hit him when he finds himself essentially holding lives in his hands:

"...and the other is unbelievable guilt. here i've been playing god with my

friends' lives, my friend's son, with natascha's life...and

this is what you get when you try playing god, is you hurt people."

i don't hate america.
but i don't like that it's viewed as the best place to be. the only place to succeed. the only place to be happy. as if beauty pageants and cheerleading are the penultimate achievements for any and all teenage girls.

a sense of community, feeling part of a 'whole', definitely helps to fulfill a human being's life. but to quote the ever-cheerful joseph conrad, "we live as we dream - alone."

did eun suk have a better life in korea? or as natascha in america? that's for her to decided. no matter where you live, or what your name, you'll always find someone to taunt you, and reject you - just as you'll always find someone, at least some one, who will accept you.

at 8:34, mr. smolan describes his experiences upon going to retrieve eun suk from her uncle's home in Seoul.

"...and I'm trying to think, what would the hero do in a movie, if i was

writing this as a movie script...as we started talking, i saw him yell

something, and eun suk came and brought us some food. and i had this

whole mental picture of sort of like Cinderella...this incredibly

wonderful, bright, happy little child who now appeared to be very

withdrawn, being enslaved by this family. and i was really appalled, and

i couldn't figure out what to do..."

with this quote arises one dichotomy which must be addressed:

if smolan is the hero, who is the villain?

as i watch again, and look at smolan's beautiful photographs of this young girl - with her grandmother, playing with her friends, or writing on the blackboard - i can't help but think: leave it alone.

let it be. children are cruel. children are made fun of. everywhere. for every and any reason. clearly this child was special. what if it was her job, her journey, to fight - to be a leader, as she clearly was, and make life for other amerasians a little bit less "intolerable"? what if she was where she was meant to be?

...and this is all quite long-winded and pointless. eun suk - natascha - is an adult now, and it's her life - her story to comment on. i guess my sole point in writing this, is to propose the idea that, sometimes, the martyr, hero, saviour role is not the most admirable role to take.


/mc said...

great post.

kls said...

i was impressed by that feeling too, that he wanted to bring her to a kind of promised land.
there was something he said about having the opportunity to make a better life for herself in the usa, but i wasn't so sure that she couldn't do the same thing in korea. i agree that there's lots to unpack about this story.