Cherry Blossoms and Potatoes
September 23, 2011 § 2 Comments
The year is 1951. After leading a successful surprise attack on the North Koreans at Incheon in September, 1950, General McArthur managed to push through with great momentum past the 38th parallel and, by May, 1951, the whole Korean peninsula was once again united under US military victory. General McArthur is praised endlessly back in the states for his prudence and sharp military instinct which lead the US into one of the first triumphs of the Cold War.
The end of the Korean War was the greatest event in the lifetime of Shin Bong-Su. It meant that Shin could resume his studies as a grad student at Seoul University’s School of Engineering, that he could get a stable job upon graduation, but most of all, that he will be able to share the fruits of his success with his family back in the small village in northern Korea. The last time he saw his family was before the war broke out, when he first left home to go to college in Seoul two years ago. He could still remember his mother’s face vividly and how proud of him she was when she’d tell the whole village that her son was going down south to the big city to study. He would break all engagements, all appointments, to rush over to his family, make sure they are all safe. He decides to cancel the summer job he took down in the southern province to tutor the rich landowner’s kids, because all he can think about is his family in the north.
When he arrives at his village, he is astonished that the region was virtually unscathed compared to Seoul. Flowers are in full bloom, the river is as clear and blue as ever. His family, along with most of the village, were unaffected by the war thanks to McArthur’s swift move upward. The agitators had no choice but to wave the white flag.
As the summer rolls along, Shin ponders about that tutoring job he declined. They had offered him a handsome amount of money. He wonders what kinds of students he would have had, and how beautiful the cherry blossoms would have been. That province was known for potatoes, cherry blossoms, and the one family that owned it all. He never got to meet any member of that family, let alone their youngest daughter, my grandmother.