Therese Park

A Nation's Humble Thanks to Its Veterans
Throughout history, men with a sense of obligation did great deeds for mankind. The Honor Flight Network is no exception. Today the national organization has 114 chapters and sub organizations all dedicated to taking veterans--mostly WWII and Korean War veterans--to Washington D.C. to tour the Memorial Park, which is built to honor their armed services. But when it started in Ohio in May, 2005, a few volunteer pilots flew twelve World WWII veterans to Washington D.C. in six small private planes.

Locally, Gary Swanson--a retired IBM employee, who received recognition for interviewing more than 1,000 WWII veterans and recording their battle experiences for the Library of Congress-- launched the first Heartland Honor Flight in Overland Park under "Kansas City Metro Honor Flight" in 2008 and served three years as the president. His successor, a Lee's Summit resident, Jerry Ameling, changed the name to "Heartland", and "advanced" it to another level by involving more volunteers and with vigorous fundraising efforts.
"Our first flight in May 2008 was possible because of a well-respected local community leader named Norman Polsky who donated $20,000 to cover the cost," Swanson said. "He died in 2011, but his family still donates for the cause that Polsky and his wife Elaine strongly believed." He also mentioned a few others who have been giving money or other gifts to make the Honor Flight possible for the past six years, including John Doole, an entrepreneur who, with his wife, owns a company that makes uniforms for various national sport events around the country.
Swanson fondly remembered the day he met John Doole in early 2008. It was some time before the first Honor Flight took off to Washington D.C. with 44 veterans and 12 guardians. "I went to see him because the veterans needed some sort of travel uniforms with our logos on, including baseball caps, so that they could be recognized, and someone gave me his name," Swanson said.
"I was a bit surprised that John Doole was a young man about 40 years old. But I told him anyway--what we needed and when, and asked him to give me an estimate. John smiled and said he'll make them for free! I said, 'John, we have money. Don't feel that you have to donate them to us.'
"John was dead serious! He said that he'll be happy to provide the travel outfits for those who fought for our country! I was speechless. Then, I knew I was meeting our future president! Last year we elected him as our third president."
Swanson introduced me to John Doole a few days ago, at a coffee shop. Doole's "sense of obligation" toward those who served in the U.S. armed forces in their youth was obvious as he talked.

"What we do is all about showing our gratitude to those who fought for our freedom," Doole began with a certain pride. "Most of the veterans never heard anyone thanking them for their sacrifices after the first 'welcome home' ceremony, even those who returned with injuries or severe Post Trauma Syndrome from their battle experiences."

A Korean-American, who witnessed American troop's sacrifices in our country six decades ago and learned what freedom means to people at a young age, I saw a chance to put in a few words here, so I told him that the Korean War veterans had even more difficult time than WWII veterans, because the war ended without a peace treaty, and two Koreas were still worst enemies when they returned.

That's why, Doole said, the Honor Flight is all the more important to the veterans, because "the trip to Washington D.C. gives them a sense of closure to their troubling memories."
He proudly said that Heartland Honor Flight will make its 12th trip to the capital on October 7th with about 90 veterans--50 from WWII and 40 from the Korean War--and they will have everything they need--wheelchairs and wheelchair-lifters, a medical team with a physician, nurses, and Emergency Technicians, and guardians who do everything to make them comfortable during the flight as well as the ground tour in Washington, D.C..
I recalled listening to a Korean War veteran, Dale Kuhn, at Matt Ross Community Center last May when he shared his flight experience to Washington, D.C. with about 100 veterans, both World War II and The Korean War. The program was presented by Gary Swanson.
"I cried so much...." Kuhn said. "It was the most memorable trip I've made…The men who I traveled with could have been my combat buddies during my 11 months and 29 days in Korea, including the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the freezing weather. By the way, I lost two toes to frostbite, among other things… (During the trip) we veterans shared what we went through, both in Korea and after we returned… I must tell you; every non-veteran on the trip with us were superb; they were truly dedicated to making the trip safe and memorable for us."
Who said a nation's conscience can be measured by the way its people treat their old soldiers?

A father's tribute to his father's service
To Overland Park resident Tom Adams, Veterans Day has been all about sharing his memory of his father, Connie Adams (1919-1969), who served in two wars--World War II and the Korean War--with his son Tyler. Like Tom Brokaw, NBC anchorman and author of The Greatest Generation, who closely captured the footsteps of his father and other American servicemen in Europe and in the Pacific during World War II, Adams also covered short and long distances to catch a glimpse of his father, whom he lost at the tender age of sixteen.
In 1998, three years after the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. was built, Adams and his then 18 year-old-son made a big trip together to see it. “Tyler had a great impression about the monument,” Tom remembers. “It was a foggy day, and it seemed as though the sculptures of soldiers in raincoats were walking toward us, giving us an illusion that we were actually seeing them in Korea six decades ago. We then visited Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Seeing rows and rows of white headstones stretching in all directions, each with the name of the man buried under written on, was something to remember! You can’t help but to realize that real men, like my Dad, went to war thousands of miles away and came back--some alive and some dead--and all ended up here, in this sacred ground.”
Tom’s father isn’t among those buried at Arlington National Cemetery; he’s buried at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the world renowned academy that produced countless men of the “greatest generation,” including General Douglas MacArthur.
Connie Adams entered the army at Fort Meyer Military in Arlington, Virginia, and fought with the 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry-Division near the town of Colmar on Vosges Mountain range, not far from the French-German border. In November, 1944, he became the recipient of two medals--Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal--one for the leg injury he received during combat and the other for his valor. When he arrived in Korea six years later in early July, 1950, as the 1st Sergeant in the First Cavalry Division, he was married to Tom’s mom, Jeanne Bartole Elliott, who had been a switchboard operator at the White House but was now employed by the Occupation Army in Tokyo, in the same capacity, under General MacArthur.
About that time 62 years ago, South Korea’s fate was that of a candle-flame in a torrential storm. Days earlier, 95,000 North Korean troops had launched a surprise attack across the 38th Parallel, and refugees carrying boxes, bundles, and small children on their backs were milling into the port city of Pusan, my hometown. All school buildings were confiscated by the government or the military without advance notice, and our motherland’s future seemed hopeless even to me, then a nine-year-old.
The First Cavalry was a “group of fearless, invincible brutes,” Author Colonel Red Reeder describes in his book Medal of Honor Heroes. “Although the 1st Cavalry was stretched thin--7000 riflemen holding a front of nearly 60 miles¬¬--it readied itself to battle the oncoming Communists.”
Sergeant Adams’ First Cavalry Division was among 140,000 UN troops who built a sturdy defense line called Pusan Perimeter along the southeast flank of the Korean Peninsula, bordering the towns of Taegu and Masan, and the Nakdong River. From this defense line, UN troops would plan a surprise amphibian landing known as Inchon Landing, succeed it two months later, on September 15th, turning the tide of the war.
By the time Tom Adams was born in June, 1952, in Aberdeen, Maryland, the war situation had changed. Instead of fighting against the North Koreans, the American troops were now fighting against the Chinese soldiers, who had stepped into the war-theater in late October the previous year. The Russian leader Joseph Stalin had died a year before, and General MacArthur had long been removed from his position as the Supreme Commander of the Far East and was writing his memoir “I Reminisce,” while living in New York with his wife and son.
After the war ended with the armistice in July, 1953, the senior Adams continued to serve his country as the 1st sergeant. In 1961, he retired from the army but worked at the athletic department at West Point a few more years, coaching and training cadets. In June 1969, a massive heart attack claimed his life at age 50.
Even today, the sounds of bugle playing Tabs bring Tom the memories of his father’s final days. “Dad said something I can never forget; that serving one’s nation as a soldier is the noblest profession of all professions. He had much physical discomfort...but he never complained. He was proud of what he and other Americans have done for other countries.”
The senior Adams had been glad that he heard General McArthur’s Farewell Speech at West Point on May 12th 1962, in which the general acknowledged and honored the sacrifices of all American servicemen:
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory.

Northern Wind


Korea holds a bit of Black History
In February each year, we hear about men who changed the old “whites-only America” to the “all-color America” we live in today.
Black History Month began in 1926 when a black historian named Carter G. Woodson designated the second week of February as “Negro History Week.” He chose that week because it marked the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, a former slave who marched on the front line of the abolition of slavery. Half a century later, in the bicentennial year of 1976, the observance was expanded to Black History Month. President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is probably one of the most powerful black leaders who awakened the conscience of America in racial issues, but long before him, growing up in Korea, I became acquainted with Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Might Korea’s long slavery to Imperial Japan from 1905 to 1945 have helped me understand Uncle Tom’s sorrow-filled life? It’s possible.
Shortly afterwards, the North Korean Communists invaded South Korea with Russian tanks, and we actually saw many black soldiers along with white soldiers who came to defend us. Korea had been so isolated from the rest of the world for so long that people treated all foreigners with suspicion and distrust, but their attitude toward black soldiers was worse. When a native woman was raped by a white soldier, the media ignored it because we were on the receiving end of America’s generosity. But when the rapist was a black soldier, it was a big deal; we read and heard about the news. More black infants born to the native women showed up in orphanages than white ones.
In late July 1950, a U.S. battalion combat team, including the 24th Infantry Regiment, which was made up entirely of black soldiers, recaptured the enemy-occupied town of Yechon and made big news both in Korea and in the States. It was one of the most successful offensive operations, and it allowed the U.N. Forces time to build a strong defense line called Pusan Perimeter along Nakdong River. A year later, in October 1951, the 24th Infantry Regiment was disbanded, ending long segregation in the U.S. military. Over the following two years, until the truce of 1953, hundreds of black soldiers held command positions in the infantry as well as in air units. This historic event happened in Korea.
Now, without a physical wall between white and black soldiers, mistrust settled in. White officers spread rumors that blacks would abandon any injured white officer on the battleground in cold blood, therefore shouldn’t be trusted. A black chaplain was accused of dampening black soldiers’ combat spirit by asking why men of color were forced to fight for white America. A black officer of a white unit was reassigned before combat because his subordinates didn’t respect him.
Still, many black officers proved their bravery through their exemplary conduct. Nearly 10 percent of the 54,000 fallen Americans were believed to be African Americans, though casualty records did not differentiate men’s race.
In spite of the fact that African-American soldiers did not receive the public recognition they deserved from their countrymen, we South Koreans are thankful to all Americans who delivered us freedom from the Communists. Since 1975, the South Korean government has been inviting their old heroes — of any race — to revisit the new Korea as guests of honor, paying all expenses, including the costs of lodging, meals, bus tours and entertainment, except half of their airfare. Since 2010, the program got even better. Now veterans’ spouses and companions get a 30 percent discount on their airfare, in addition to free stay.
Those who have participated in The Korean War Veterans Revisit program have expressed their awe at the new Korea and the warm hospitality they received. One veteran said to me, “We were treated like kings. Wherever we went, we were lavished with feasts and were showered with thanks. It was touching.”
I foresee that a few years down the road, we will see a segment of the Korean War on TV during Black History Month.

Diabetes is a dangerous Foe
To win, you must know your enemy!”

Sun-Tzu, Chinese military general (544-496 B.C.)



The month of November is designated as American Diabetes Month. I am one of nearly 30 million people in the United States today who lives with diabetes, not including 86 million who have not been diagnosed with diabetes yet but have high sugar levels in their blood streams. According to the national statistics, in 1998 only 10.4 million were diagnosed with diabetes.

Are we slowly losing war with diabetes?




Having lived with the disease for about 30 years, I’ve been telling people that I know how to stay healthy, often sharing my secret methods, but a recent blood test showed that both my blood sugar and my total cholesterol levels were way too high! After all, I’ve not been in control of the disease. Shame on me!

Meeting Justyna two weeks ago helped me reconfirm my position in the battlefield of our war with diabetes.

She works in the radiology department of a local hospital and had suddenly become a breadwinner and a caretaker of a stroke victim a year ago, in addition to her roles as a wife, mother and career woman.

“Stroke changed everything,” she said, with a tinge of sadness in her voice, “not only for my husband himself but for me and our two teenage children as well.”




Howard, 47, had been a healthy family man who had worked at a lab as a phlebotomist for 20 years before a stroke left him partially paralyzed. It all began a year ago, she said, on July 11, a month after his 46th birthday.

Here are her words about her daily journey as the caretaker for her husband:

“I awoke early that morning and found Howard standing over me and uttering, ‘Something is wrong with me. … I feel very strange.’ In the dim light, I could see his face has drooped on one side and he looked as if he were going to pass out at any moment. In panic, I thought about dialing 911 for an ambulance, but decided to drive him to the hospital myself since it was only 5 minutes away. I helped him to the car as best as I could and headed for the hospital, without even telling our children where we’re going and why.

“In the emergency room, while Howard was going through tests, I was angry, worried and sad at the same time. How many times had I told him to take care of his diabetes? I had even threatened him saying, ‘One of these days you’ll have a stroke or lose one or both of your legs and be sorry for the rest of your life!’ And it was about to happen, all because he hadn’t been taking his pills! Why was he eating so much sweets like a kid? I thought.




“Truthfully, though, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be sitting in an emergency room as the wife of a stroke victim. I always thought stroke attacked older people in their late 50s or 60s! How wrong I was!

“Then, my worst fear became a reality: The doctor came and said that the type of stroke Howard had was caused by two things — high blood pressure and diabetes, which leaves a blood clot deep in his brain. It was known as an ischemic stroke.

“The result was a partial paralysis in the left side of his body, loss of his short-term memory and his ability to speak as he used to. The bottom line was, he will never be able to work as a phlebotomist, according to the doctor, and not even hold a job that would demand long hours of labor, energy and concentration.

“I sometimes wish we could go back to the time when Howard was the breadwinner of our family and the father who had often played with his kids outside, yelling and laughing, and I was a mom whose main focuses had been making meals and doing laundry when I was home. But now, I have too many things to worry about as Howard’s caretaker, driving him to his doctor’s office or to his physical therapist and making phone calls for him as well to report any unexpected symptoms his has developed or to ask questions — on top of all that I had been doing!

“Sometimes, while driving home I find myself crying, worrying about him and feeling sorry for myself and my kids. Something has changed our lives! I’m not a superwoman who can do everything that demands from me.

“Still, we learned a profound lesson: Life is not in our control! Our children Joshua, 14, and Nicole, 13, have matured since their Dad’s stroke, though they often argue with one another the way all kids do. Joshua, a freshman in high school this year, rushes to his father’s side as soon as he comes home to be with him. Nicole, on the other hand, decided to home-school herself this year, so that her father doesn’t have to be alone all day.

“Though there are still hard times, I’m thankful that Howard’s condition has improved and now he can walk and communicate with me and the kids. Together, he and I will be able to see our children graduate, get married, have their own children, and will be watching our grandkids playing outside, yelling and laughing.”

Birth of Choice: My U.S. Citizenship
This month, March, 2012, the Year of the Dragon, holds a magic card for me. My 40th birthday as a U.S. citizen is approaching, the Korean War Veterans Association is hosting its ninth annual pancake breakfast and my third novel, “The Northern Wind: Forced Journey to North Korea” will hit the market.
That solemn day, on March 30, 1972, as I held the Certificate of the U.S. Citizen in my hand, tears came to my eyes. It was not because I had flunked the first oral test by giving a wrong name for the Kansas State senator and had to retake it, but because in six years I had aged and withered. When I came to Kansas City as a newcomer in the cello section of the late Philharmonic in 1966, my sole purpose in life was “practice, practice, and practice,” but now my main focus was changing diapers, doing laundry and providing meals for five people — my three toddlers, including twins, a husband and myself — and two cats. This was the day I understood the immense power time plays in our lives.
Talking about the power of time…
When I was born in Korea seven decades ago, I didn’t know anything: I didn’t know our country was Japan’s colony, didn’t know I was about to be given a Japanese name, Sadako Omura, and didn’t know that nine months later Japan would attack Pearl Harbor and ignite the flame of massive destruction. Three decades later in the Jackson County Courthouse, I knew exactly what was happening. In fact, this time, my birth was my choice.
I had been dreaming of this day since I was nine, during the war known as The Forgotten War. We fourth graders were studying on a mountain slope without a roof over our heads and the American fighter planes with silvery wings in the air lured us to America. Over a decade and two music degrees later, I landed in Kansas City Municipal Airport, from Paris, with my cello and a suitcase.
Then I was a U.S. citizen. What would be the best way to celebrate one’s 40th birthday as a U.S. citizen?
I will join the pancake breakfast table at the VFW in Lenexa, 9550 Pflumm, on the 31st, hosted by the Korean War Veterans Association of Overland Park. (They will be there from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.) Once upon a time, these gray-haired gentlemen played the role of supermen for us Korean kids, but now they and I are in the same School of Aging. Furthermore, their beloved country in whose honor they defended my helpless homeland in the Far East six decades ago has become my own beloved motherland. The power of time!
The association has been hosting a yearly fundraising pancake breakfast since 2004 to raise money for the construction of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which was completed and dedicated in September 2006, much sooner than anyone had anticipated. As the response to the community’s warm and generous support, the group continues to raise money to help veteran-related benevolent organizations.
Last May, after the deadly tornado hit Joplin and other Midwestern towns, the association donated $500 for the renovation of a War Veterans Memorial in the small town of Reading, Kan., near Topeka. In addition to giving a yearly scholarship to a Navy ROTC student at the University of Kansas, members also donate money to a group that helps prepare U.S. troops leaving for Afghanistan, another that assists families of wounded soldiers adjust to new life with “disabilities” and still another, a ladies group, making quilts for patients in veterans hospitals.
On Dec. 4, at their annual Christmas party at the Sheraton Hotel in Overland Park, the association was at the receiving end of appreciation — from the South Korean government. In the presence of more than 100 guests, including local South Koreans, Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Chicago Jin Hyun Lee presented the Ambassador for Peace Medal to each of 43 members and shook their hands. Two days later, representatives of the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee presented the veterans with certificates of appreciation signed by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. They also held a brief wreath-laying ceremony at the Korean War Memorial in Overland Park before the granite wall bearing 415 names of fallen sons of Kansas.
The association has lost more than a dozen members since the dedication of the memorial in 2006, but its team spirit is vibrant than ever.
No one can live forever, according to the rules of Mother Nature. We will all depart someday — those who saved and those who are saved — but the Memorial will remain, with the inscription on the granite wall that reads FREEDOM IS NOT FREE!


Msgr. Charles McGlinn is a father of his parish Cure of Ars Catholic Churhc
When Monsignor Charles McGlinn retired as vicar general for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in 2008, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann called him “a great priest” and thanked him for his 14 years of “great” contribution to the archdiocese, the diocesan newspaper reported. On the same page, an Indian priest whom McGlinn had taken under his wing as a young priest fondly remembered how his host cautioned him not to ruin his laundry with bleach.

To the parishioners at Curé of Ars Catholic Church in Leawood, McGlinn, their pastor, is a healer, confessor, teacher and compassionate friend who rejoices with them at happy times and grieves with them at times of loss and injury.

Sitting on a sofa opposite him recently, I couldn’t believe my fortune at being able to write about this well-respected spiritual leader. A few days earlier, I had stepped into the rectory to drop off a few flyers for a benefit concert I was organizing. Seeing him walk into the building, I boldly confessed that I’d like to write about him. He asked me what I’d write about and I gave him this impromptu speech:

Monsignor Charles McGlinn
Monsignor Charles McGlinn

“As you know, Monsignor, there have been many negative articles about the Catholic Church and the clergy, particularly those who sexually abused minors. No one writes about priests who follow Christ’s footsteps closely! I would like to write about them! So please share your prayer life and how you maintain your spirituality with readers. By doing so, you can help people like me deal better with the current unfriendly climate toward church.”

It worked! And now I was listening and scribbling on my notepad as Monsignor McGlinn spoke. “One’s priesthood is a gift,” Monsignor said in his usual calm voice. “As such, the vocation comes from God’s grace and help. For this reason, I love being with people and I try to help them in any way I can, like Christ did. By giving, I receive. That’s how God works with us, always filling us with his love.

“This morning, we had a funeral for an 89-year-old gentleman who suddenly died, leaving behind his wife of more than 60 years. The widow was inconsolable. I prayed with her and stayed with her as she grieved, and when she felt better, I felt better, too.”

I asked: “You seem always happy, Monsignor. How do you maintain your inner peace? Don’t you feel grumpy sometimes?”

The monsignor laughed. “I’ve been teaching a Bible study class for adults for more than 45 years, both Old Testament and New Testament. I learned more about God’s purpose for us by teaching, and as a result, I hope I have become a better priest. I celebrate the Eucharist daily, pray the Divine Office and pray the rosary, too. Praying is one way I surrender to God’s love.”

“Sometimes I can’t pray, Monsignor, especially when I feel wronged by others. How could you forgive one who hurt you and you remember every word that person spoke to you?”

“It’s not easy, but with God’s help you can forgive. I advise you to pray for that person who wronged you, that God will truly bless him or her. The act of forgiveness is an act of love. With time, your resentment will dissipate.”

“Then, those priests who sexually abused youngsters, did they deliberately turn away from God?”

Monsignor paused briefly, then said, “Think about Judas! He was one of the twelve Apostles who loved and followed Jesus for years. Yet Satan entered him, changed his heart and tempted him to betray his Master. For 30 pieces of silver, he handed Jesus over to his captors who showed up with swords and clubs! And what about Peter, who declared to Jesus at the last supper, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I’ll never deny you?’ But he did, three times. These examples show that Satan can tempt us to turn away from God. That’s why we must pray daily, asking his protection to shield us in his everlasting love.”

My final question was personal: “How would you advise an older person like me who asks you, “How should I prepare for my end?”

“I’d say, ‘Pray as much as you can, receive the Eucharist often, and be kind and loving to the people you meet every day.’” He then walked to his desk and brought me three CDs. “These are some of my Poem Prayers recorded by a parishioner. See if these poems help.”

I thanked him. On my way home, I listened to one of the CDs:

Speak to me within my heart; whisper what you want of me.

Call me in the stillness of the night; point your way that I might see.


Canonization highlights history of Catholic Church in Korea
On April 27, two previous popes — Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II — will be canonized, at the same time, by the two living popes — the retired Pope Benedictine XVI and Pope Francis.
All I know about Pope John XXIII, who died in 1963 while I was still in Korea, is that he was one of the authors of Second Vatican Council who changed the doctrines of the ancient Church to what we know today. It was during his papacy that the solemn Latin Mass was changed to every language spoken by church-goers.
On the other hand, I feel I’m somewhat connected to Pope John Paul II for three reasons: He was the only pope who visited South Korea (in 1984, to canonize 103 of 10,000 Korean martyrs); my brother, Father Jean Sye, who studied in Rome in mid 1960s and earned a Doctor of Divinity degree at Pontifical Gregorian University, accompanied the pope during his 5-day visit; and my great-great-grandfather’s two brothers were among 10,000 martyred.
On May 6, 1984, the Holy Father delivered this message during the canonization ceremony along the Han River, which had witnessed the bloodshed of early Korean Catholics some 150 years ago:
“The truth about Jesus Christ reached Korean soil in 1784. In a most marvelous way, divine grace moved your ancestors first to an intellectual quest for the truth of God’s word and then to a living faith in the risen Christ. The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the martyrs. Even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land.”
Unlike the Church in most other countries, the Korean Catholic Church was founded by a lay person, scholar Sung Huhn Lee, who was a member of a Korean delegation to China and later was baptized by the French priest Alexander Gouvea. Korea was late in receiving Western civilization due to the Confucian system that, among other things, discouraged marriages between natives and foreigners. China, on the other hand, received Christianity two centuries earlier, through the work of Italian Jesuits.
The Korean monarch considered Catholicism to be “Western thoughts” and feared that westerners would eventually disturb the country’s class system.
Lee conducted prayer meetings and worship services suggested in the writings of one of the Jesuits who brought Christianity to China. At first, it was mostly scholars and their family who attended, but as the good news that God created all men and women equal spread among the middle and low classes, the number of attendees multiplied.
The monarch didn’t like the reports that people were gathering to discuss “Western thoughts,” challenging the emperor’s paramount authority. At once, all worship services and meetings were prohibited by law.
Instead of diminishing, the number of Catholics increased. The leaders of the Church sent a secret envoy to China to plead for a priest.
Chinese Father Moon-mo Chu arrived in Korea in 1795, helped by Korean Catholics. By now the Catholics numbered more than 4,000. Before he was martyred during the first persecution in 1801, along with hundreds of Koreans, Father Chu expanded the membership to more than 10,000.
Church leaders again sent secret messengers to China and the Vatican, this time to report the persecution and ask for priests. In 1831, Pope Gregory XVI officially recognized the Korean Church, and commissioned the Paris Foreign Mission Society to tend the Korean flock.
Three French missionary priests who had previously served in China, entered Korea in 1836, hiding their European appearances in loosely fitting Korean mourners’ garbs, but they lasted only three years. During the second persecution in 1839, they, too, were captured along with Koreans and perished. Still, more French missionaries arrived. The last and most virulent persecution hit believers in 1866, killing more than 10,000 Catholics, including seven French priests and three bishops.
In most cases, Catholics were beheaded on a cliff overlooking the Han River and their remains were thrown into the water, but some were starved to death and others were suffocated with water-soaked rice paper pressed on their faces. The surviving Catholics scattered to remote mountains, hiding their identities, and became potters, tobacco growers and servants.
In 1886, a treaty with the French government guaranteed the status of French missionaries, and the persecution over 80 years finally ended.
The Vatican’s recent announcement that Pope Francis will beatify 124 Korean martyrs in Seoul on Aug. 16 causes me to want to go home again.

The joys of being old and loved
My American-born daughter took me to my homeland of Korea as my belated 70th birthday present, and we spent one week there earlier this month.

Once upon a time, she was my infant, perfectly content in my arms (except you-know-when). She was born in the year when Neil Armstrong left the first human footprints on the moon, the reason she is adventurous. Back then, mothering was simple and easy, without emails or phone messages to worry about. I was the only world my daughter knew. But four decades later, among other things she does, she is a working mom balancing her professional career as a violinist in a prestigious American symphony orchestra and as a mother of my 8-year-old grandson, Oliver.

When I met her at the international terminal in Chicago airport, I realized that our roles have changed. She seemed to think that I was one who needed her care, not the other way around. She insisted on carrying my shoulder bag, although she had her own, and when I lagged behind her in the crowded corridor, she waited for me, like I used to for her when she was a child. And when I caught up with her she’d ask, “Are you all right, Mom?”

Before approaching the security area, she took my passport and boarding pass so that I won’t lose them. She assisted me, too, making sure that I took off my shoes and jacket and placed them in the provided plastic tub to be scanned.

The walkway seemed longer than I remembered. When I slowed my pace, she again asked, “Are you all right? We can rest a while if you want to.”

It was kind of her to make sure that her elderly mother wouldn’t follow a wrong crowd and board a plane heading for Africa or Afghanistan. At the same time, I was well aware that she was concerned about my age and declining stamina. Thank God she didn’t ask, “Do you need a wheelchair, Mom?” If she had, I’d have exploded like a firecracker on July 4th. The day I’ll need a wheelchair will surely come, sooner than I want, but I’d rather not worry about it yet.

But when we landed in Seoul after 14 hours, I regained my authority as her mom because she can’t speak Korean. She can understand a few words here and there, but not a long dialogue.

I liked being her mom again. I loved her dependency on me. I translated every sign on the street to English and decided where we’d eat, what to eat and where to visit. Yet, I recognized my Korean inferiority complex against my American daughter. When she seemed to be impressed by the skyscrapers towering over us or the statues of the famous emperor and admiral of the earlier Yi Dynasty along the boulevard, I was proud of my country’s past and present. But when I saw trash in the alley, I steered her away from it. After all, Korea is my homeland and she was a guest.

When we got together with my siblings, she was my proud child I kept bragging about. Was she an angel in her teenage years? Let me put it this way: In my 45 years in the United States, I got only one call from the police at night, and it happened to be the night she had gone to a concert in Bonner Spring without telling me about it. It was long after midnight when an officer called and reported that the junk car her friend was driving had broken down on Interstate 70 near The Paseo, and that she would get home soon.

I still thank God for the Kansas City Police Department for saving my daughter and her friend from all possible danger that night. I’m sure I gave her some pain and anguish of being my daughter, but I can’t remember them now. Memory loss is a blessing sometimes.

Our trip together was a time of healing and renewal. Sadly, though, my childhood hometown of Busan was so developed that I couldn’t find my home with its red brick fence and curvy ancient tile roof, but only endless apartment complexes. Gone, too, is the peaceful beach with golden sand speckled with jewel-like seashells where we turned brown like well-roasted Peking ducks every summer. The modernization of your country isn’t necessarily a positive thing for you.

On the return flight, while watching my daughter sleep in the next seat, I had an urge to lean over and kiss her on the cheek like I used to. But I was afraid I’d wake her up. More than that, she’d surely scold me for it. So, I only whispered, “Thanks for the memorable trip!”


Todays musicians stand on the Philharmonics' shoulders
On Sept. 23, the retired musicians of the Kansas City Symphony were invited to the dress rehearsal of its first subscription concert of 2011, which coincided with the opening concert in the newly built Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Helzberg Hall, the new home of the Symphony, has 1,600 seats but looks smaller, perhaps due to the lofty ceiling, and the stage takes up about one-third of the entire space. The presence of the giant pipe organ looking down at the stage and the audience seems a bit overpowering, but the tiered seats surrounding the stage provide a cozy feeling. In this hall, no one needs binoculars to watch 80 musicians performing and the conductor on the podium dancing with his baton.

The rehearsal began with Maestro Michael Stern’s greetings to everyone — the musicians on the stage and about 60 spectators, some with cameras, in the audience. He acknowledged the presence of retirees and said that without each musician’s long years of dedicated service, the Symphony would not have come this far. He thanked the contributors for making the dream come true.

With the conductor’s cue, a rapid drumroll resounded and then the national anthem exploded in the hall. Everyone stood up, including all the musicians, except the cello section.

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming…

My mind rushed back to late 1966. It was at the Philharmonic’s first concert of that season at the Music Hall — my very first concert with an American orchestra — and we were playing this solemn music under the baton of Maestro Hans Schwieger, a German conductor who led the orchestra for a quarter of a century until 1973. There was an air of festivity and excitement as a few cadets from the military stood rigidly on the edge of the stage, and the hall was full of people in their finest evening dresses — long skirts, jewelry and bow ties.

That year, the season began in early December instead of October. For more than two months, we musicians had been on strike. We attended countless meetings and held picket signs on the streets of downtown that read, “Support the Local Symphony!” We were glad to be on the stage.

Forty-five years later, as a retiree, I stand in the new concert hall with gleaming hardwood floor and an expensive acoustic system and sing the anthem with surging emotions with my old colleagues. How fast those years have gone by! How much faster will my remaining years go? I thought of those who are no longer with us. They’d have been glad to share this moment with their new colleagues in this new, beautiful hall.

The Symphony’s website only mentions the “dissolution of the Kansas City Philharmonic in 1982,” but the old Philharmonic enriched the lives of many in Kansas City for 49 years. It was born in 1933, in the middle of the Great Depression — the same year the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art opened to the public — under the leadership of American-born Maestro Karl Krueger.

Until its demise in 1982, many world-renowned concert artists performed with us: Marian Anderson, Leonard Bernstein, Henryk Szeryng, David Oistrak, Nathan Milstein, Leonard Rose, Aram Khachaturian and Isaac Stern, the father of Maestro Michael Stern. A handful of Philharmonic musicians are still playing with the Symphony today.

Pianist Emanuel Ax, the featured soloist of the Sept. 23 concert, also had performed with the Philharmonic as a young man and has been the Symphony’s guest artist many times since. Today, he, too, looks seasoned with frost on his head but still plays Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with passion, the way the composer himself would have played.

In this new hall, the past, present and future of the Kansas City Symphony come together in the presence of young and old musicians, contributors and music lovers.

I treasure the time the Philharmonic performed at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1976 during Maurice Peress’ leadership, six years before the Philharmonic died and then resurrected with a new name — the Symphony. (The repertoire was the overture of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde, Duke Ellington’s Medley in A, and Shostakovitch’s Symphony No. 4.) We received standing ovations from the finicky New Yorkers.

And I will treasure this moment, too, listening to this rehearsal with my old colleagues, in this new hall.

Long live the Symphony! Long live Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts!

Still called to the Dream

As joyful events bring people close together, grief also draws families, friends and neighbors to one another.

At 3 p.m. Aug. 24, the parish hall at St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church in Kansas City bustled with nearly 200 mourners arriving from Samir Clark’s memorial service at Zion Grove Missionary Baptist Church. A week earlier, the 19-year-old college student’s life was shortened by a bullet as he and his cousin responded to a woman’s cry to help hide her kids from a gunman. Samir’s mother, grandmother, aunt and uncle are members of St. Therese Little Flower, the reason the church hosted the luncheon to comfort the grieving families and friends.

Samir was Kansas City’s 70th homicide this year, one of several on the east side of the town within weeks. Kansas City’s 63rd homicide of 2011 occurred on Aug. 3 across the street from the church. A year earlier, two men exchanged shots in broad daylight a few yards away from the church; one of them died.

The news saddened me because in late 1960s, I was a young mom raising my firstborn near Swope Park. My family album is full of photos of my younger self with my infant daughter, who’s now 42. Also, the Landing at 63rd Street and Troost Avenue had been a convenient neighborhood shopping center with Macy’s Department Store, Woolworth, restaurants and the brightly colored Noah’s Ark fountain in the open court, which attracted children of all ages.

The atmosphere at the luncheon for Samir was memorable, although the heat was oppressive in the hall, which didn’t have central air conditioning, A few white ladies ushered black guests to tables and served them drinks, too. The pastor, a white priest, was busily moving about, greeting guests with handshakes or hugs, making sure fans were working properly and delivering paper fans to the guests when the heat was unbearable. A few black children and white children in their Sunday best were chasing one another, giggling as well. Black guests and white guests were sharing the same tables, talking about the young man they had loved dearly.

Countless hugs were exchanged between black and white mourners. Tears of grief and sorrow were shed from blue, green and brown eyes. Words of condolence were expressed over and over by everyone.

I couldn’t help but think of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who had changed the world with his “I have a dream” speech nearly a half century earlier:

I have a dream; that one day the sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will be together at the table of brotherhood…; I have a dream; that one day little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.… We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites only…”

Kansas City has come a long way since King spoke those powerful words. Nowhere in Kansas City do we see a sign that reads, “Whites only.” Like in this parish hall, white and black people are together at the table of brotherhood at the roadside café or even at McDonald’s. Children of white, black, yellow and copper skin play innocently together at public parks.

But why isn’t the world better? Everyone in that parish hall seemed to be asking that: Why so many senseless killings? How long must we live in fear? Who will be next?

A black lady in her mid-50s who sat next to me blamed parents of teens for the ongoing crimes in the area. She said, “People don’t care about their kids anymore... Kids can do whatever they want... See that lady over there? She was a schoolteacher but she quit because kids don’t respect anyone.”

I see another side of the coin. The parents might not have learned to respect themselves or others when they were kids, perhaps due to bitterness and hatred that had been passed on from earlier generations. Also, once a child reaches puberty, he or she looks for higher authority than that of their parents.

This is when a man like King can step into their lives and lift their spirits with his powerful lines, “We must conduct our struggle on the higher plane of dignity and discipline…We must not abuse the freedom… Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights…Now is the time!”

The Rev. Martin Luther King has not died, not really. He’s still calling Americans — young and old, white and black, rich and poor — from the recently installed Stone of Hope in Washington D.C., to march with him to the Promised Land.


Less brief description goes here


A crawdad bridge between generations

Grandmothering today’s American kids is not a small task, but when the grandma was made in Korea in an earlier century, the task is doubly difficult.
The generation gap is one thing, but when the cultural gap between the grandma and the kids is as wide as the Pacific Ocean, one has to look at both sides with a fair mind.
My grandmothering techniques and insights came from my own grandmother, who lived with our family a few months a year. As a Confucian scholar’s daughter, she ruled us with her quiet certitude, besides being a loyal mediator between our dictator parents and us the “oppressed.”
In her gentle-yet-firm manner, she always pictured our parents as ideal adults with sublime intentions for their offspring, often using the ancient proverb, “Saplings need good hands to be pruned and trimmed.” But when we got out of her hands, she would say, “A stubborn young donkey grows horns on its butt.” None of us wanted to see horns coming out of the wrong ends, so we behaved.
More than six decades later, I find myself clueless sometimes on how to be a grandma to my carefree American-born grandkids — two boys and two girls — whose fathers are American. I sometimes wish I could lecture them on the proper demeanor of the young before elders or use the proverbs I grew up with, but how could I? I only see them when their parents are present.
This is the reason my husband and I take a short vacation with them each year, without their parents, in a cabin in northern Ohio amid thick pines, to reform them under the Confucian codes. But they don’t let me. In fact, they try to reform me into an American grandma, by correcting my accented English and lecturing, too.
“Grandma, you called ‘kayak’ kayaky,” Oliver, 8, said and laughed.
“It’s not ‘forgettable,’ Grandma,” Emma, 10, said. “It’s ‘forgetful!”
Alex, 14, who, as a young boy, used to correct practically everything I said, doesn’t do it anymore; he only gives me a certain look, which tells me, “Come on, Grandma! You can do better than that!”
For this year’s three-day vacation, I showed up with a bicycle helmet, besides boxes of food, goodies and toys. The previous time, a sneaker flew in my direction while I tried to settle an argument between two sisters. Luckily, it didn’t hit me. Who was the thrower of the shoe? I’d rather not say in an attempt to protect her reputation. What’s important here is the fact that I wasn’t going to let anything land on my head. The thrower thought my precaution silly. She said, “You worry too much, Grandma. Seriously!”
Maybe I worry too much. Nothing flew in my direction this time. God bless America!
Whether this grandma can speak proper English or not, one thing my American grandkids mutually agreed among themselves was the solemn fact that their Korean grandma can catch crawdads as well as they or even better. The shallow end of the Grand River in the Hidden Valley Park near our cabin was heavily congregated with crawdads in all sizes. We spent a whole afternoon at the stream with a single goal — to catch. According to Oliver, who knows much about living creatures on this planet, crawdads could move forward or backward, very quickly. With this in mind, I mastered my catching skill in no time, and by the end of the day I claimed one third of more than 40 critters in our bucket as my prisoners.
American kids are humanitarians. Korean kids would have taken their catch home to show off, but my grandkids kindly released them back to the river, saying, “Goodbye, guys. We’ll be back!”
Good times always fly too fast, true? Before we parted, Sarah, 7, said to my husband and me, “You’re the only grandparents I know who can put up with wild kids. None of my friends’ grandparents do any fun things with them, like you do with us.” Knowing Sarah, who loves to argue with me and challenge my Korean Grandmotherly authority, I took her words as a compliment.
No matter what I say to them, they’ll always be Americans, and no matter how many times they correct me, this grandma will never speak perfect English as long as she lives. But I know they will remember how courageously their Korean grandma caught crawdads in that stream on one July afternoon this year.

The Korean Church, Church of Martyrs
The Korean Church, Church of Martyrs

--The Korean church today gives thanks to God for his gifts of faith, love and redemption. It stands among us as a modern wirness to the ancient saying: "The seeds of the Church is the blood of the martyrs" ---Pope John Paul

Pope Johns Paull II's visit to South Korea in May 1984 to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of the Korean Catholic Church focused the world's attention on that country. During his five-day visit the Holy Father canonized 103 Korean martyrs. This was the first canonization held outside of Rome in more than six hundred years. In his homily for the occasion, the Pope made the following observations:
"The truth about Jesus Christ reached Korean soil in 1784. In a most marvelous way, Divine Grace moved your ancestors first to an intellectual quest for the truth of God's word and then to a living faith in the risen Christ.
"The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the martyrs. Even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land.
"The Church on Korean soil desires in a solemn way to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity of the gift of the redemption. To this lofty price, the price of redemption, your Church desires, on the basis of the witness of the Korean martyrs to add an enduring witness of faith, hope and charity."

Unlike the Church in most other countries, the Korean Catholic Church was founded by the laity. In the spring of 1784, a scholar, Sung Huhn Lee, went to Peking as a member of the Korean delegation to China, and there, he was baptized by Fr. Alexander de Gouvea, a member of the Paris Foreign Mission Society, who later became bishop of the Peking Diocese.
Though the Catholic Church entered in the Far East in the late 15th Century, Korea remained in the dark due to its own isolationism because the country was under a strict Confucian system and allowed no foreigners. The Koreans dreaded mixed marriages between themselves and foreigners, fearing that foreign blood would dilute the purity of their proud bloodlines. They also feared that foreign influences would disturb their class system, a system strictly divided into upper, middle and lower classes and slaves and women.
However, the volume entitled "The True Doctrine of God" written by Mateo Ricci, St. Xavier's successor in the Jesuit Society, were brought into the country on several occasions between 1644 and 1770 by Korean Cultural delegation to China. It was through this route, on at least a yearly basis, that contact was made with Western missionaries in China.
The True Doctrine of God, translated into Chinese, attracted many Korean scholars, who called Catholicism "The Western Thoughts." The book provided them freedom from the turmoil of the factional wrangling of politics and the social struggles of poverty and revolts. Their search for faith began with the prayer meetings and worship services suggested in the book.

A Church of martyrs

Lee returned to Korea with many religious books and articles. Enriched with insights and deeper knowledge of the faith, he began to preach the Gospel without a priest. As the Catholic community grew and gathered regularly, the monarch became seriously concerned. In early 1785, worship services were prohibited by law. Thus the persecution began.
Instead of diminishing, however, the number of Catholics increased. As the community grew, the members felt a great need for a priest to guide them. A secret envoy was sent to Peking in 1789 to plead for a priest. Moved by the fervency of Korean Catholics' faith, Bishop Alexander de Gouvea granted their request by sending a Chinese priest, Fr. Moon Mo Chu.
Fr. Chu arrived in Korea in late March of 1795. By then the Catholics numbered more than 4,000. Fr. Chu expanded the membership to more than 10,000 over the next six years, until his maytyrdom in 1801. His greatest accomplishment, however, was the establishment of Myong-Do Confraternity, a vigorous women's laity movement, which is still active today. Two men, You-Il Youn and In-Gill Choi, were killed in May, 1795 accused of helping Fr. Chu enter the country. Fr. Chu was also martyred in 1801, along with 300 hundred members of his flock.
Despite the oppression, the Church sustained its vitality, sending another secret messenger to Peking and many more to the Vatican, reporting the tragic news and asking for shepherds for endangered flock. Pope Gregory XVI officially recognized the Korean Church in 1831, and commissioned the Paris Foreign Mission Society to tend the flock.
Three French pioneers, who had previously served in China, arrived in Korea in 1836. They were Bishop Laurant Imbert, Fr. Pierre Maubant, and Fr. James Chastan.
The missionaries were extremely curious about the Korean Catholics who had founded their Church without a priest.
The missionaries lived in the house of a well respected scholar, Ha-Sang Chung. Their greatest handicap in this hermit kingdom was their European appearance. In order to avoid their European facial features, they only preached at night wearing the loosely fitting mourners' barbs and large brimmed straw hats. These first French missionaries recruited three Korean seminaries and helped them to study in Macao.

More persecutions

The monarch again felt threatened by the ever growing number of Catholics. In 1839, the second persecution swept the country. The French missionaries were captured along with hundreds of church members, ranging in age from 13 to 79.
News of the persecution reached Peking Diocese at no time. Two years later, two French warships approached the Korean sea to inquire about the death of the missionaries. Strangely, one of the ships hit a submerged rock and sank, and the other ship returned to France.
More French missionaries arrived in 1850, and the Church continued to prosper. In 1865, it had twelve French missionary priests and 23,000 members, The last and most virulent persecution in Korean history followed the next year. Nearly 10,000 Catholics and nine of the twelve missionaries were executed. The remaining three missionaries fled to China.
The believers were treated cruelly by the persecutors. As a great number of Catholics were captured, there were a shortage of handlers. Consequently, the persecutioners adopted simple expedient of letting the Catholics to starve to death, but it took time for dying to meet their death, thus they were taken to a cliff of a mountain over looking the  Han River and beheaded them. Ever since, the mountain is called Juldoo (Behead) Mountain.  They also killed them by covering their faces with water-soaked rice paper until they died of suffocation.
The persecution forced the Korean Catholic Church to take a different path. Having lost their social ranks, financial security, and even family ties, the Catholic scattered into deep mountains and remote shores, hiding their identities. Like early Christians, accepting the faith was an invitaion to persecution, starvation, torture and death for Koreans, but rarely anyone abandoned their faith.  
In order to survive, those who had been scholars, teachers, and landowners  became servants, farmers, potters, enduring poverty, hard labors, often separated from their loving families. During their exile, many Catholics devoted themselves to learning new skills to survive. Pottery was a common trademark for Catholic community, and growing tobaco was another. The mountaqin soil wasn't suitable for growing grain, and after years of unsuccessful farming, many turn to tobaco farming, that didn't require much water nor labor. However, as the tobaco crops grew, prices slumped sharply. In 1845, supply so far exceeded the demand that twenty French francs ($5 American dollar) could buy as much tobaco as two sturdy men could carry.
Finally, in 1886, a treaty with the French government guaranteed the status of French missionaries, and the freedom of religion was established. The persecution of over seventy years became the thing of the past. The stream of blood shed by the early Korean as for their ransom for their faith and hope in God was finally staunched.

As a result of the martyrs sacrifices, There are three archidiocese--in Seoul, in Tae-gu, and Kwang-ju, as well as fourteen other diocese and a total of 5.4 million Catholics today, just over 10 percent of the total population.
The number of parishes in 2012 was 1,664, an increase of 17 from the previous year, while the number of mission stations rose by three to a total of 796. 131 priests were ordained that year alone, the total number of clergy in South Korea is 4,788, including 34 bishops. A vigorous laity still forms the nucleus of today's Church, and their ministry begins at home as they hold home and family to be the foundation of the Christian community.
The western missionaries contribution was paramount. Historians acknowledge that Catholicism introduced western civilization to Korea, and also elevated common peoples' intellect. The early Catholics, many of whom were scholars, translated religious books written in Chinese script into Korean, therefore encouraging middle and lower classes to learn. Until then education was forbidden for common or lowly; only for rich and high class. The missionaries not only taught the Gospels but also many aspects of western civilization, including the art of medicine, general hygiene, cooking, and architectural technique.
The Korean Church today thanks to God for His gifts of faith, love, and redemption, and it stands witness of what a second century author Tertullian said about early Christians: "The seed of the Church is the blood of the martyrs."



Stephen Foster, Beautiful Dreamer
While visiting my daughter’s family in Pittsburgh, Pa., in June, I became reacquainted with Stephen Foster and his songs that have enriched people’s lives for more than 150 years.
In 20 of his 37 years on earth, he wrote 286 songs that are still sung today. “My Old Kentucky Home” is the Kentucky state song. Today, parks, schools and streets nationwide bear his name or the title of his songs.
Pittsburgh is proud of her native genius. Stephen Foster Center stands on Main Street downtown, a few blocks from the Foster family home. And the Stephen Foster Memorial is on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. The Lawrenceville Historical Society hosts an annual music festival to honor America’s most revered songwriter at the Allegheny Cemetery, where Foster is buried.
My 7-year-old grandson Oliver and I invited ourselves to the Stephen Foster Center on a warm summer day. It had been a public school once, but today it serves as a day care center and a senior citizen center operated by the Catholic Youth Association of Pittsburgh Diocese.
When we got there, the front lawn was full of kids from 4 to 10 years old enjoying their lunch break — some chasing one another, some going up and down the climbing wall, and a few clumsily playing baseball. Oliver joined them, and soon they played together as if they had been friends all their lives. Sitting on a bench, I wondered if these children knew who Stephen Foster was. What would they tell their own kids about this place when they were older?
Stephen Foster’s melodies are warm and fluid and his lyrics powerful, the reason they were well-loved for such a long time. “Old Black Joe,” for instance, depicts the heartbreaking lives of slaves on a plantation.
Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay,Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away, Gone from the earth to a better land I know, I hear their gentle voices calling “Old Black Joe.”
Why do I weep when my heart should feel no pain?Why do I sigh when my friends come not again? Grieving for them now departed long ago?I hear their gentle voices calling “Old Black Joe.”
The first time I heard this song was in 1957 at Marian Anderson’s first and last solo recital in Seoul, Korea. Then a teenager, I was overwhelmed by her expressive, compassionate voice and musicality, which made “Old Black Joe” come alive as a real plantation worker in Mississippi.
My favorite, however, is “Beautiful Dreamer,” Foster’s last song, which he wrote in 1863, months before his death.
He lived in Pittsburgh most of his life until he moved to New York in 1860 with his wife and daughter. He died four years later, alone, a broken man suffering from alcoholism and loneliness. He had only 35 cents at the time of his death.
“Beautiful Dreamer” speaks to me in a way other songs can’t because I sense his desperate attempt to escape from his devastating sickness and hopelessness between the lines.
Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me, Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee; Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day, Lull’d by the moonlight have all pass’d away! Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song, List while I woo thee with soft melody; Gone are the cares of life’s busy throng, Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, out on the sea Mermaids are chanting the wild lorelie; Over the streamlet vapors are borne, Waiting to fade at the bright coming morn. Beautiful dreamer, beam on my heart, E’en as the morn on the streamlet and sea; Then will all clouds of sorrow depart, Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Stephen Foster’s message is, no matter how cruelly life treats us, we must look forward to a better day and dream beautiful dreams until our last breath.

Blest are average people
After reading “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” in The Wall Street Journal by Amy Chua earlier this year, I asked myself these questions:

Did I know what was best for my three American-born daughters and ignore their desires? Did I think they owed me everything, including their successes and happiness, because I’ve done so much for them? Did I punish them for not obeying me? With “No” to all three questions, I was relieved.

According to the UC Berkeley news magazine “Hard Boiled,” Asian-American women have the highest suicide rate among 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States, and every year nearly 1,100 of the same women’s group nationwide commit suicide due to the pressures from home and academic demands.

I find the article by Chua (who also wrote the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”) embarrassing, not only that she considered Korean mothers to be like herself but also that she spelled out her “recipe” for making stereotypically successful kids. Her two daughters were not allowed to attend slumber parties or get any grade less than “As” or choose their own extracurricular activities or learn to play any instrument but violin or piano. When her demands were not met, her daughters were verbally abused and lost their meals or toys or their future birthday presents.

When I became an American citizen four decades ago, I solemnly swore before an American judge that I will absolutely renounce and abjure all allegiance to any foreign state (including my native country); that I will support the laws of the United States of America; that I will perform work of national importance. My duties included raising my children as American citizens, not Korean citizens. Had I wanted to raise my daughters the way I was raised in Korea, why would I have come to the United States?

My daughters helped me to be a better American citizen. They corrected my accented English, my bad grammar, and let me look over their shoulders while they did their English assignments so that I could improve my second language. They also set their boundary against their Korean mother.

“Mom, we’re tired of eating steamed rice and stinky soybean paste stew almost every day,” they often complained. “Why can’t we have hamburgers and French fries for dinner like normal American kids?”

Granted! I made hamburgers and French fries or hotdogs and Tater Tots for dinner, and they were blissfully happy. But their father grumbled, “Since when did you think I liked American junk food?” It was my turn to say that we were not in Korea and that we should at least try to eat like normal American folks once in a while.

I, too, encouraged each of my daughters to play a musical instrument, but I never forced them the way Chua forced her daughters. Still, my first-born became a professional violinist who’s now a member of a prestigious American symphony orchestra. Did I fail as a mother because only one daughter chose her career in music instead of all three?

My mother, too, demanded that her seven kids get “As” in every subject and lectured us not to “shame” her. The only child who met her demand was my eldest brother. He was extremely bright, as bright as 200-watt light bulb, which made the rest of us look dim.

Next to him, I was only about 40 watts bright. The day I had to deliver my report card, I purposely took a longer way home, hoping someone would snatch my book bag with my report card in it and vanish. But it never happened. In my sixth year in elementary school, my dimness worsened. I had three “Bs” on my report card one day, and I tore it up.

“You’re an average kid,” Mom declared when she found out what I had done with my report card. “You might as well know that the life of an average woman in this society is an endless thicket of thorn bushes. You will have to swallow many tears.”

It was a turning point of my life. Without mom’s tight grip on me, I began to breathe.

Average kids have time to dream big dreams and learn from their own mistakes, while “stereotypical successful kids” are too busy following rules.

Average men made the world we live in today. Ludwig Van Beethoven was an average boy whose abusive, alcoholic father forced him to play piano like Mozart. By resisting his tyrant, he found his creative force within. Albert Einstein, too, was an average child who didn’t begin to speak until he was 3 years old, and as a teenager, he failed entry exams to the Swiss National Polytechnic.

Each child is born with gifts, and parents’ duty is to nurture them with love and tenderness.

The Privilege of Giving
The merciless summer heat that has ruined cornfields and prairie grassland across the Midwest this year has also melted ice on the Arctic Ocean, the news reports.
This worries scientists as well as experts on children. If the earth keeps warming up as it has for the last few decades, how long will it take for the North Pole to melt down and vanish? The story of Santa Claus — the jovial man who lives at the North Pole and brings presents to children everywhere on Christmas Eve — has enriched lives with the message of hope, magic and love for more than a century. Will global warming eventually change Christmas stories? Where will Santa’s home be 20 years from now? For today’s young readers, Santa landing in a spaceship would be very cool. Just a thought.
For some children, however, Santa doesn’t necessarily live at the North Pole, wear a red suit, laugh “Ho, ho, ho!” or arrive on a sled pulled by reindeer. Ask the children who live in the Eastside of Kansas City. They’ll tell you who Santa is.
For three decades, members of St. Therese Little Flower Church at 58th and Euclid — many of them Johnson County residents — have been playing Santa’s role for as many as 300 families who live near the church. The recipients include single women raising children, widowed senior citizens and families of policemen and soldiers with injuries that prevent them from working, to mention only a few examples.
But this year, the number of the families will be reduced, according to the program director, B.J. Atkinson.
At an Aug. 19 meeting in the church rectory about this year’s Christmas Basket program, B.J. thanked a dozen attendees for their on-going support.
“Unfortunately, this year we can only serve about 200 families,” she said.
She informed attendees that one of the most generous benefactors — someone known as “The Turkey man” — had died, and that small business owners who had donated money and gift items for years had closed their doors due to the poor economy. “I don’t know which families I should eliminate from my list.”
Even for 200 families, the group needs to raise funds as they do every year. The group voted to hold a bake sale on Oct. 21 and an arts and craft sale on Oct. 28.
Since 1995, B.J. has served as the director of the emergency assistance program, which includes distributing food and other essentials to those who need help. The program helps with unpaid utility bills as well.
One of the volunteers, Johnson County resident Judy Rieck, who has donated time and gift items for 10 years, described the basket-giving ceremony that takes place a couple of weeks prior to Christmas.
“There’s a festivity in the Parish Hall with brightly lit Christmas trees — one loaded with toys and the other hand-knit wool hats — and shrieks of children,” Rieck said. “Though we call it ‘Christmas baskets’ they are actually grocery carts full of gift items — a turkey, fresh vegetables, fruit, toiletries, canned goods, toys, underwear and more. We volunteers try to look our best in colorful Christmas outfits and do everything to make our clients’ holiday as special as possible, from packing and filling the carts to pushing the carts to their vehicles and unloading them. The joy of giving makes me go back each year.”
Six decades ago, as a 9-year-old in war-devastated Korea, I was on the receiving end of Christmas presents that had come from America. In fact, the Christmas Eve in 1950 was the first time I saw a live Santa.
The previous month, the Chinese army had entered into the war theater and every day we heard the news of retreating U.N. forces in freezing weather. But that evening, I was filled with joy and excitement as I watched a hefty American in a red Santa’s suit standing at the altar, babbling in English. With help of our pastor, who spoke some English, the Santa said that he’d have come in his reindeer-drawn sled but they were afraid of the Communists, leaving him with no choice but drive a military Jeep all the way from the North Pole! Then laughing ho, ho, ho, he motioned all children to the front.
How thrilled we were when he gave each of us a bulging red stocking! Mine was filled with a box of crayons, pencils, candy canes, colorful marbles, gloves and socks. Our country had been so impoverished during the four decades of Japanese control of Korea that ended in 1945, but with war going on at the time, our country was too poor to produce anything decent, including pencils and crayons.
Six decades later, I appreciate what I had received from Americans as a child, but I appreciate more for the fact that I can now give.
Albert Schweitzer said, “You must give some time to your fellow man. Even if it’s a little thing, do something…for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.”


Miracles of Fatima goes beyond borders
Pilgrims are everywhere here on the square of the Basilica of Our Lady: some are walking on their knees on the 820-foot-long marble prayer path, rolling rosary beads in their hands, and some are kneeling at the glass-walled Chapel of Apparition where the Blessed Virgin appeared to three shepherd children in 1917.

Inside the 213-foot-tall basilica, six Masses are celebrated daily, and in the Pope Paul VI Pastoral Center on the opposite side of the square, confessions are heard from 9 to 5, seven days a week, in seven different languages. This is a spiritual sanctuary where troubled hearts and souls seek peace and solace.

Not many Americans had heard of Fatima, a small town in central Portugal, until the Blessed Virgin appeared six times on a pasture known as Cova da Iria, on the 13th day of the month beginning in May 1917.

At the sixth and the final apparition on October 13, about 70,000 people watched what is known as the Miracle of the Sun.

The Lisbon daily, O Dia, reported the unbelievable event: “...the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy purple light was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds...The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands...”

Similar reports were published in every major newspaper around the world, along with the Lady’s prediction and messages to the world, including Russia’s abandonment of the Christian faith and embrace of Communist totalitarianism.

I didn’t come here as a pilgrim, yet I feel deeply connected to this place. Fatima and her mysteries were introduced to Koreans by Americans sometime after World War II ended, and our country, which had been a colony of Japan for 40 years, was placed under U.S. trusteeship.

To those who’ve never experienced the fear of the world falling on top of their heads, the word “miracle” doesn’t mean much. But for the “forsaken” people, like we were in June 1950 before the Red Army’s Russian tanks and ammunition, the thought of miracle is the only escape from the fear of evil.

Our church conducted countless prayer services in which we always recited the rosary, and even when the war situation worsened and our church served as a refugee center, we clung to Our Lady of Fatima. Sunday services were conducted outside the church, under the canopy of tree branches, and the congregation knelt on bare dirt or grass.

During weekdays, our devotion to Our Lady continued at home. After the evening prayer, our mother led a full round of the rosary.

Then a 9-year-old, I thought reciting the rosary was long and boring. I often fell asleep before it ended. Our father was worse. When Mom took out her rosary, he headed for the door, saying, “Good night, everyone. I have something important to do.”

Mother asked, “What’s more important than praying for your country at such a time?”

“That’s for me to decide,” he said, before slipping out the door.

I wished I could do the same. But it was unthinkable at the time, for a girl at that age.

Six decades later, I believe that the Lady of Fatima answered our innocent prayers by sending American troops to expel the Reds. Otherwise, how could that poor, helpless country have survived before the well-equipped and well-trained North Koreans? My belief is confirmed by such names as Samsung or Hyundai, in large print, glaring at me from this Portuguese landscape; that my country’s survival wasn’t a mere coincidence but one of the miracles of Our Lady of Fatima.

Prayer comes easily here, on this sacred ground, where the voices reciting the rosary are as sweet as that of angels. I ask Our Lady to convert the North Koreans and consecrate them to her immaculate heart so that we can achieve global peace someday. I pray, too, that those suffering from incurable diseases shall be healed and lead healthy lives. But for me, I ask for my peaceful ending, whenever it will be.


Happy are Woodcarvers
Fellow senior citizens, if you’re looking for a hobby that’s fun, therapeutic and makes you feel like Michaelangelo for a day or two, come visit Tomahawk Ridge Community Center at 119th and Lowell on Tuesday mornings to meet the Overland Park Woodcarvers.
You’ll see that all the members except one or two are gray-haired gentlemen, that each owns several dozen carving knives in all sizes and shapes, and that they are happily engaged in shaping wood into Santa or an Indian chief or a little animal or a cowboy. Though each member is drawn to the beauty of the wood they are carving, they gather here for different reasons.
“I like it because it makes me proud of myself,” retired salesman Mike Wolfe said. He’s one of the founding members of the group and is the group’s “Coffee Man” who always arrives first and fills the whole place with the rich, roasted aroma. “I strictly sculpt miniature animals, and the greatest moment for me is when I see that a block of wood has turned into a creature with a personality.” His blue dragon is realistic and fearsome,too.
Ken Robbins, another founding member, has a different approach. “I’m not picky as far as choosing the subject. I want to carve. I just enjoy working with wood. I finished carving an Indian chief last week, and now I’m working on this cowboy.” He lifted about a foot-tall, nearly finished cowboy. “If my new project doesn’t cooperate with me, I don’t hesitate to throw away and begin something else but I might keep this one.”
Charles Estevez also loves cowboys. With its thick moustache, his recently carved cowboy looks so much like the carver himself. Altogether he has carved six cowboys, some of them with guns on their belts and some without, some who ride horses and some who don’t. Estevez is not judgmental of his cowboys’ characters or moral standards.
“Woodcarving keeps me out of trouble,” said Jake Schulzinger, and he laughed. Once he had been an industrial engineer but he became a technical writer for a computer company before he retired a few years ago. “Everything I know about woodcarving, I learned from these gentlemen,” he said. “How did I find the group? My wife told me. She belongs to an exercise group here and one day she told me about a bunch of guys in a classroom working with blocks of wood and carving knives. So I came to see what she was talking about. I’m glad that I found a hobby I like and these talented guys. You can learn a lot here!”
Harold Tharp carves a jolly Santa’s face that’s life-size but only about 2 inches thick. Why carve Santa when Christmas passed months ago? “I make them as gifts,” Harold said, adding that the Santa he’s working on is his fifth since last Christmas. “Unless you begin carving early in the year, you can’t make enough to give to all you want to give when the time comes.”
Does carving Santa have anything to do with the carver’s boyhood memories of Christmas morning? A crooked boyish smile spread across his face. “I suppose you can say that!”
To Joe Strobl, a former ironworker, woodcarving has been much more than a hobby; it’s been medicine. In 1998, he had a tragic accident at a construction site in which he was electrocuted and fell 26 feet, and he was in a coma for six weeks. “I don’t remember how it happened; I only remember waking up in an intensive care unit at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, surrounded by nurses and doctors.” After more than six months of lying on a hospital bed, he was released, but it wasn’t the liberation he had hope for. He could never walk again.
In 1999, he joined a 50 Plus woodcarving class at Matt Ross Community Center taught by a well-known artist and teacher named Herbert Cast. Strobl met many experienced woodcarvers with whom he has become friends. “I was only 47 then and was seriously bitter about my disability. But after I began to carve and working with this fine group of men, I was able to distance myself from anger and slowly began to accept the reality that life is given to us as a gift, thus we must enjoy as much we can.”
After Cast’s death in 2008, the group faced a serious challenge: Stay together or disband? The answer was obvious. They didn’t have to search for their new meeting place very long. The group was the remnant of Matt Ross’ 50 Plus program, so Overland Park graciously offered a meeting room at the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center for their weekly gathering.


Evolving from nothing into a tough cookie
Thirty-nine years ago on March 30, I became a U.S. citizen. In the spirit of sharing my good fortune, I wish to say a few words about immigrants in general.

Every immigrant you see in your neighborhood came to America in search of freedom and opportunities. In fact, America has become what she is today by the sweat and blisters of immigrants. Like exotic trees planted in unfriendly foreign soil, every immigrant adapts to the harsh foreign climate and grows and toughens while she clings onto her origins.

Today I can solemnly declare that I am a tough cookie made in Korea. But when I arrived in Kansas City in the fall of 1966 as a young musician, I was a Korean nothing. I was 25 but was a child in a real world. Having lived 23 years under my parents’ protective wings in Korea and then two years in a girl’s dormitory in Paris operated by French nuns, where three daily meals were provided along with rigid Catholic doctrine, I didn’t even know how to cook for myself. Campbell’s soup had no taste, and every time I tried to make crescents with Pillsbury dough, black smoke filled my studio apartment on 11th Street downtown.

It was a time when most Americans didn’t know anything about Korea except what they knew about the Korean War, during which 54,000 Americans were killed. When someone said that her son or brother had died in Korea during the war, all I could say was, “I’m sorry,” and bow. My motherland then was the poorest of poor, a nation whose per capita income was only 60 American dollars.

My poor English was another problem. You can’t feel good about yourself when you can’t communicate with anyone. Even dogs gave me an inferiority complex by barking at me in English, “Arf, arf, arf,” instead of “Mong, mong, mong!” like dumb Korean dogs.

The only comforting fact was that I belonged to an American symphony orchestra, but there was no promise. Upon my arrival, I learned in dismay that my employer had closed its doors due to financial problems and that its 80 musicians were on strike. Though I couldn’t understand what was being discussed, I showed up whenever the musicians rallied on the streets of downtown, handing out fliers and holding a picket sign that read “Support your Local Symphony!”

When the Philharmonic reopened its doors in late fall and we began rehearsing, I stopped bowing to Americans. I didn’t have to anymore. I was somebody now, somebody who made $160 dollars a week. At a time when a chocolate bar cost only 10 cents, my weekly salary was a lot of money. Even after paying $65 weekly rent, I had plenty to spurge on myself.

An unexpected event showed me another face of America. A neighbor, a man who lived directly above me in the same apartment building, was fatally shot in broad daylight. The murderer was a woman, which shocked me even more. For the first time, I wrote home that America isn’t a safe place to live after all.

My second residence was a dingy studio apartment near the Country Club Plaza that was infested with roaches. It turned out, however, the roaches were not as big a problem as my neighbors. Whenever I practiced, they threw pennies at my door, startling me. I kept practicing harder and longer to see if they’d throw more pennies, and they did. I collected them all in a pickle jar, in case we would go on strike again.

One morning, two handsome policemen showed up at my door, each with a pistol on their belt. This was my first encounter with American policemen, so I greeted them politely. “How do you do, gentlemen? What can I do for you?” By the quick way they spoke while pointing toward the ceiling, I gathered that the woman above me had complained about my practicing.

I had met her once. She had come to complain about my practicing, but not understanding her speedy words, I had shut the door in her face. Since that day, she and I had been communicating in a musical way. Whenever I practiced, she’d hit the heating pipe that connected her room to mine, and I had responded by raising the volume of my playing.

But this morning, in the presence of the two American policemen, all I could say was, “Very sorry” and bow.

With time, Americans began to show warmth toward me, particularly when Korean cars, computers and cameras showed up in the market. Today I am delighted whenever someone says that he or she drives a Hyundai or Kia or owns Samsung computer or camera. And I enjoy telling them that South Korea today is America’s seventh-largest trading partner or the sixth-largest exporter in the world. When you live in a foreign country as long as I have, you become a patriot of your own.

Behind a tough cookie, there is the culture that nourished her soul, and in my case there are two — American and Korean.


My Feathered Friends
My three birds teach me about human nature. Or should I call it animal nature?

Like us, they have unique personalities and annoying habits. One thing they can’t stand is boredom. They each have a dozen toys, but they get tired of them quickly and squawk until I replace them with new ones. When they see one taking a bath, they all follow suit. Their eating habits differ from one another: one eats all the time, one only plays with bird seed, and the other is finicky, throwing much on the floor, eating only what he likes.

Our 18-year-old Goffin cockatoo named Woody, a handsome white bird with salmon-colored cheeks, is the size of a pigeon. We don’t know much about him because he came from a homeless shelter two summers earlier. Compared with his noisy neighbors — two Quakers named George and Katie — Woody is a thinker. He can be loud when he wants to be. Mostly he enjoys quiet time alone, sitting on the curtain rod that no longer holds curtains. He looks out the window, probably wondering why he isn’t out there with other birds, gliding in the vast blue.

Sometimes, it seems that he misses his original home in the Indonesian jungle, where he might have been captured and smuggled out of the country. Or is he worried that his kind is rapidly vanishing from the face of the earth at the hands of illegal traffickers? Sometimes, his crest up, he strolls about the roof of his cage, and then, without a warning, he turns into a clown: He plays peek-a-boo with himself, dropping his head to his feet and then suddenly straightening up, making his crest sway, and squawking, too.

The Quakers, all green, are four years old and are the size of a blue jay, with rounder middle sections and shorter tails. They can talk and understand English like a-three-year old child. When they hear my footsteps in the morning in the kitchen, adjacent to their room, they say, “Are you okay? Are you okay?” and I reply, “I’m fine. How about you?” They reply, “Come here! Come here!” So I go in.

While they each report the events of the night, I do my daily routine, changing their bath water and filling their food bowl. At the most unexpected moment, they’ll bite my hand. Before I can scold them, they say, “Don’t bite! Don’t bite!”

I never bite them. Where would I, even if I wanted to? The head? The middle section? The wiry feet? It’s not a good feeling when you’re nipped at by your pets, but it’s not the time to go for “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth.” Rather, you must try hard to look at the situation from their point of view. They see you as their possible predator that might eat them alive.

One thing to remember is that birds can express feelings of gratitude, like humans. Once, Katie escaped the cage. As I attempted to get her back to the cage, yelling and waving, she slipped into the kitchen. She flew to the ceiling and landed on the edge of the skylight, about 15 feet above the floor.

“Peep, peep, peep,” she cried, as if asking me for help. In attempt to bring her down I moved her food bowl onto the counter, so that she could see it. When that didn’t work, I brought the music box and turned it on. Although she didn’t bob her head as she usually does at the sound of the familiar tunes, she sat quietly as if meditating. The power of music therapy!

Two hours passed, and nothing changed. Birds can die of dehydration…. Should I call 911? Call the fire department?

I launched a rescue mission myself. I brought a 6-foot ladder from the basement and climbed on. Katie understood what I was attempting to do and tried to meet me half way, but seeing that she could not reach me, she flew back up, crying. I grabbed a broomstick and lifted it to her. She didn’t land on the broom. Time was ticking away.

What am I doing here in midair, holding a broomstick? Had my grandkids been here, they might have said, “Grandma, Halloween has long passed. Come on down!”

I began to swing the stick, back and forth, and she got the message. She flew down like a rock, landing clumsily on the floor.

Our reunion was heartfelt. While I was holding her, she didn’t bite. Burying her tiny head in my hand, she wailed like a child who had been lost and found, Waaaa, waaa, waaa…

At that moment, I believed that we humans and birds are connected somehow, if not through our primal ancestor, whoever that might be, then some other way. Otherwise, how could Katie show her appreciation by not biting me?

Messages of Hope amid Tragedy

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day on Monday found America grief-stricken by the recent shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people.

King has been America’s social conscience since 1955, when he heard news of police brutality against a black seamstress who was ticketed for not giving up her seat to a white male on a bus. King was only 26. Until his assassination in 1968, King led America toward a sunny path where everyone will be equal regardless of their skin color, sex or age. America will always remember Martin Luther King, the way people of India will remember Mahatma Gandhi.

A week earlier, on Jan. 11, a mammoth statue of Confucius was moved into Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where Mao Zedong’s giant portrait still hangs and his body rests in a mausoleum. From an Asian point of view, the Chinese government bringing the 2,500-year-old sage and his teachings back to life is a powerful gesture of “Let’s forgive and forget, and move on.”

But how does Chairman Mao feel about Confucius invading his space and facing him from the east side of the square? As a peasant’s son, Mao profoundly disliked anything that reminded him of feudal China, which was built upon Confucian ideals of man’s virtues, including his duties to his family, to society, to his elders and to the emperor, who was considered to be the son of Heaven.

During the Cultural Revolution, which began in May 1966 and continued until his death in September 1976, Chairman Mao methodically eliminated intellectuals, religious leaders, wealthy landlords, anyone who didn’t agree with his revolutionary ideas. Books on Confucian teachings and Buddhism were burned, ancient artworks revealing traditional Chinese cultural values were ripped, and professors, religious leaders and landlords were dragged to public squares, condemned and executed by Red Guards who mindlessly followed Mao’s instructions.

How could Confucius tolerate the sight of Mao, who condemned his teachings and was responsible for more than 50 million deaths during his 27 years of ruling China?

While I lived in China last spring for a month, at the International Ceramic Institute in Jingdezhen, known as a Porcelain City, I was surprised to learn that Chinese folks still worshipped Chairman Mao in spite of his inhuman treatment of his people. His portraits were posted on every wall of the institute, with his slogans printed on them.

Every Chinese person I talked to said that Mao was a great leader who made “a few mistakes” during his time, as if they were taught to say it. I wondered whether their attitudes toward their late leader was due to the long period of living in a communist state where individual thoughts and feelings were sacrificed under the logo of a sickle and a hammer — a sickle representing farm workers and a hammer the industrial laborers.

One day I met a young Chinese art student named Zhu who happened to join our table, which was designated for foreigners. Someone asked “Why are portraits of Mao still hanging on every wall after his death 30-some years ago?”

He answered in his halting English: “We Chinese don’t see things black and white like Americans do in the issue of justice. We believe that what was right yesterday could be wrong today, and what’s great today can be foolish tomorrow. Men are basically the same: We all make mistakes one time or another.”

What he was saying was, no matter how many leaders we condemn for their wrongdoings, the cycle of evil deeds will continue as long as humans exist on earth and that the only way we can move onto the future is by forgiving those who wronged us and forgetting the past.

I hope Confucius’ teachings of virtues, harmony and kindness, and King’s message of the promised land will reverberate throughout the world over and over until the injured and violated will be healed and those with evil intentions will see the light of life.


Being Grateful is the key to happiness
The Year of the Tiger is marching away, roaring powerfully.

Tigers have never been kind to humans, and this year was no exception. The beast’s teeth marks were evident throughout the year: the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook Haiti in January, destroying thousands of buildings and 200,000 human lives; suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan killed Americans; the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused monstrous destruction to wildlife and human civilization that still makes the news. And on Nov. 23, North Korea brutally attacked the South.

As odd as it might seem, I am sad to see the Year of the Tiger go. Not that I am particularly fond of the beast or its personality shown on people born in the Tiger Year, but I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see the next Year of the Tiger, which will be 2022. Besides, after this year, I am no longer 60-something. Why should I be excited about turning 70?

Ten years ago, turning 60 was tough. That horrible day in February, I was in solitude, my bedroom curtains closed, the phone unhooked. According to Emperor Huang Ti, who invented the Chinese zodiac 2,500 years ago, a human life span is only five cycles of 12 years, each year represented by one of the 12 assigned animals. This is the reason Asians make a big deal about one’s 60th birthday, celebrating for days. In other words, your 60th birthday is supposed to be your final day on earth, and “Happy 60th birthday!” means, “Happy departure, dear!”

How can I be 70 and look at my reflection in the mirror without crying? I can’t run away from this harsh reality, nor can I forget about it. Something must be done, so I prayed desperately on my knees. But the almighty wasn’t sympathetic. “I’ve given you a good life,” he said. “What’s this nonsense?”

I am a firm believer of “do it yourself.” I drove to a library and looked for a book on how to overcome aging blues, but no one had written such a book. While browsing, the title “Magnificent Mind at Any Age” by Daniel Amen caught my attention, so I checked it out.

The book taught me a lot about the human brain — young and old, normal and abnormal. It detailed how one’s behavior, nutrition and lifestyle shapes and changes the brain cells, beside offering me wisdom on how to cope with everyday aging symptoms such as memory problems, anxiety and depression, and how to prevent certain brain diseases common to old people.

The logic is simple: without a healthy brain, one cannot live a healthy life. Though I disagree with the author’s theory that one’s spiritual experience is not the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit or God himself but a simple function of the brain, the book was worth reading.

The jewel of the book in my opinion is this: one’s sense of gratitude toward a super power or someone or something produces a healthy hormone in the brain.

Don’t we all have something to be grateful for about who we are and what we do? I am no exception. In fact, I should be grateful for my approaching birthday, because some folks, including my parents, haven’t been lucky enough to see their 70th birthdays.

The Year of the Rabbit is about to step into our lives. Rabbits have been kind to humans ever since the dawn of civilization, appearing in many children’s story books as quiet heroes and friends.

May 2011 be as gentle and peaceful as our host for all of us.


Veterans Day 11-11-11
Thomas Jefferson once said, “The tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots.”

As I waited with about 120 people on Friday morning, Veterans’ Day, for the ceremony to begin at the Korean War Veterans Memorial at 119th and Lowell in Overland Park, I couldn’t believe that five years has passed since the dedication of this solemn monument. That day, Sept. 30, 2006, there had been no space on this ground as 1,000 people attended the ceremony, which began with two national anthems: the South Korean anthem sung by the Kansas City Korean Choir and the American anthem performed by the Greater Kansas City American Legion Band. Such dignitaries as former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard B. Meyers, South Korean Consul Wook Kim from Chicago and U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore gave speeches.

The crowd on Friday was much smaller, but gathered for an equally important cause: to remember those who never returned from war to their beloved home state of Kansas. At 10 a.m., Tom Stevens, the sixth president of the 11-year-old Korean War Veterans Association Chapter #181, welcomed everyone bundled in winter coats and shivering against the cold breeze.

The keynote speaker, retired Maj. Gen. Fred D. Robinson Jr., was complimentary toward the veterans’ sacrifices in Korea six decades earlier. “I have admiration for all Korean veterans who fought in what was first known as the Korean ‘conflict’ then changed to a ‘war’ weeks later… Your strength and resilience set the new standards for today’s U.S. military. South Korea is an amazing country today.”

I, Korean, wanted to shout, “I’m their witness, General, during the war as well as last few years, while they “marched” together to bring the Memorial here, in Overland Park, to honor their fallen comrades. I was only 9 years old when the North Koreans stole everything from us — books, playground and classrooms, including our dreams, but the U.S. soldiers gave us reasons to hope for a better day. Besides fighting, they also fed beggars with their military rations and gave us kids the sweet taste of life — Hershey’s bars, Juicy Fruit, and M&Ms.”

It was late June 2004 when I was introduced at a Korean-American Ladies Foundation fund-raising luncheon to the veterans’ goal to build a memorial for 415 fallen Kansans. That day, Jack Krumme, the president at the time, announced that the association had $20,000 in the memorial fund. He said that in the next few years, we would be looking at the beautiful memorial with red granite walls bearing the names of those who fought in the war as well as those who supported the cause. It turned out we didn’t have to wait a few years.

Tom Stevens of the foundation explained in a recent conversation, “The Memorial is the result of the teamwork of the community as a whole. More than a hundred organizations and countless individuals sent contributions after the City Council of Overland Park approved our proposal to construct the memorial in June 2003.”

Stevens played multiple roles in making the veterans’ dream a reality. Besides serving as the first vice-president and the treasurer of the association, he was also the secretary of the 11-member memorial committee.

The ground-breaking ceremony was on Aug. 23, 2003. A few month later, at the Association's monthly meeting at Tomahawk Community Center, they had an unexpected visitor--the representative of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. "He was a pleasant-looking fellow," Stevens remembered. "He said apologetically that the Kauffman Foundation couldn’t grant the $5,000 we asked for because they give priorities to schools, libraries and performing arts communities. He then said, ‘The only thing we can do is to give you $45,000 more than you asked for: the $50,000 Leadership Award!’ We were speechless!”
A year later, in November 2004, another surprise came, this time from Washington. In response to proposals from U.S. Senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts and U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, the Bush administration awarded the association $374,280 toward the construction of the memorial. This giant gift boosted the veterans’ team spirit beyond words.

“The grant was administered by HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development) in Washington,” Stevens said. “I read the necessary documents and talked to many people on the phone to find out how to draw down the funds, and then faxed the required papers to the appropriate people. More phone calls later, I’d learn that the documents I sent were lost in the pile of papers on the other end. It was a very slow, complicated procedure for an inexperienced person like me.”

Byron Loudon, a former Overland Park councilman and attorney, helped obtain 501(c)(3) status without charging a fee, and in May 2006, construction began. Four months later, on a beautiful autumn day, the memorial was dedicated on the solemn ground.

At the Korean War Veterans Memorial across the state line in Kansas City, vandals damaged concrete and a plaque.

“It’s most unfortunate,” Stevens said. “But it is less likely to happen here at our memorial. Shortly after the monument was erected, the Overland Park Police Department moved in next door, and their surveillance cameras are watching it day and night. The people at the city of Overland Park have been loyal to us, putting up signs for visitors, even providing a parking space for them, and meticulously maintaining the site as well. The loving attention we’ve been receiving from all areas of people and organizations is unbelievable.”

The inscription on the granite wall at the Memorial reads “FREEDOM IS NOT FREE!” Don’t we all have to pay a high price for such a precious gift as freedom?

The Front is Never quiet in Diabetes War
The number of Americans living with diabetes is steadily growing in the United States.

The American Diabetes Association’s 2009 report shows that 23.6 million people (or 7.8 percent of the population) have diabetes, and 12 million of them are 60 or older. The association predicts that in 2030, the number of Americans with diagnosed diabetes will reach 30 million.

As an insulin-dependant diabetic for more than a quarter of a century, I take my battle with my silent foe as seriously as a soldier in Afghanistan. Every morning, I swallow a handful of pills and inject myself with two kinds of insulin, one long-acting and the other for immediate response. All through the day, I negotiate with myself what to eat, what not to eat, how much to eat, how much to exercise and so forth.

Mild memory loss is common for diabetics, so I write notes such as “Don’t forget the appointment with Dr. XYZ at 1 p.m.,” “Call so-and-so,” “Defrost chicken at 3 p.m.” and post them on the refrigerator. Still, I forget to inject insulin or take pills or call someone or show up at the doctor’s office.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous line, “In war, there’s no substitute for victory” isn’t only for soldiers but also for all in combat with life-threatening diseases. But like anything else, true victory is not easy for me because my enemies are numerous, clever and alluring. At a restaurant, for instance, strawberry cheesecake would jump out of the menu and make me dizzy with desire.

“Our strawberry cheesecake is a prize winner,” the waitress says, fueling my temptation. “Our chocolate mousse is delicious, too.”

My only defense is my determination to stay healthy. “No thanks!” I say and smile. If I give in, my enemy would conquer me in no time and declare victory at my expense. “I’m not a dessert eater.”

“Good for you,” the waitress says as she walks away.

Negative thoughts are also my enemy. Without any advance notice, they sneak into my brain and whisper, “You’re getting old fast, sweetie, tss, tss, tss. You lived longer than your mother did. How tired you must be. Why don’t you watch TV instead of going for a walk?”

Studies show that a high level of sugar in the blood stream can increase one’s risk of developing blood clots, which reduce or obstruct the oxygen supply to the heart or to the brain. For instance, cardiac arrest occurs when the passages in your arteries and veins narrow due to a long buildup of impurity and fat in the blood vessels, and the delivery of oxygen to the heart is delayed or failed. This can cause heart attack.

Stroke is not any kinder to diabetics than heart problems. Hemorrhage stroke happens when a weakened blood vessel ruptures suddenly and brain cells starve or die. Ischemic stroke takes place when a blood clot blocks the blood flow, causing the brain to suffer lack of oxygen.

Stress and tension are sworn enemies to diabetics, but by learning to relax and to meditate, patients can defeat the enemies and protect themselves from heart failure as well as stroke.

The front is never quiet for those battling diabetes. Unlike a real war, however, the hero or heroine in this war never leaves the battleground until he or she goes to the grave.

No one gives you a medal of courage or a certificate honoring your efforts, either, no matter how defiantly you fight in this never-ending war. But remember, your reward is grand and quite satisfying.


Friendship of Saviors and Saved
On Sunday September 16th at 3:pm, the Leawood United Methodist Church on 95th Street was packed with 300 people, mostly Koreans, who came to hear the 30-member Korean Choir of Greater Kansas City. The honored guests for the occasion were two dozen gray-haired members of the Korean War Veterans Association in Overland Park, Kansas, in their uniforms. The two groups, the Koreans and the veterans, are not strangers to one another. Visit The Korean War Memorial at 119th and Lowell, Overland Park, and you will get a glimpse of their fruitful teamwork in making the Monument a reality--on the granite walls, on the benches, and on the paving stones, combined with a generous help from corporations, individuals, and even from the U.S. government! And this Sunday afternoon, six years after the Memorial was dedicated and 59 years after the armistice was signed, they gathered to reaffirm the ever thickening friendship between the “saviors” and the “saved”.
I particularly appreciated the occasion because, the previous week, while talking to my sister in Korea on the phone, I was labeled as “a pro-American.” This happened when she told me about the weakening trust of the Korean public toward the Americans, who, after the Vietnam War four decades ago, had supposedly buried a large quantity of hazardous chemicals in the Korean soil, including Agent Orange, and I wasn’t too sympathetic. “How can you complain anything about Americans who saved us from the communists?”
She fired at me, nailing each word, “You’re a pro-American, like most Koreans living in the U.S. are. But don’t forget where you originated. If I were you, I’d find some articles about it and study! You’ll think differently about the country you live in now!”
Since then, we have not spoken. A Cold War between two sisters! But I did read some articles about the issue. It all began with ex-servicemen revealing their “sins” of burying unidentified, stinky barrels and cans at Camp Carroll near the city of Daegu, where they had been stationed.
While I was worried that the harmful chemicals could have leaked into reservoirs, endagering human lives, I decided that it was not worse than the Suncheon Tunnel Massacred or Nogunri Incident, in which American troops exterminated hundreds of refugees to block the communists in civilian clothes sneaking into the South. While sharing my thoughts with other Koreans on this issue, I realized that I wasn’t the only Pro-American in Kansas City.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Jung Young-ho, the elder of the Korean Presbyterian Church, who had served as the President of the Korean Society. “But it doesn’t shake my loyalty toward those who bled and died to save us from the communists. What they taught us is Love your neighbors at all cost! To live by their examples, our church community in Kansas City, Kansas, has been helping our American neighbors; for instance, we have been picking up trash along I-35 (between Metcalf Avenue and Lamar) for more than 10 years as the participant of the “Adopt-A-Highway” Program. We also have been giving Christmas presents to families in our church-neighborhood.”
“Americans and South Korean troops fought in Vietnam side by side,” said Sunhi Cohen, a midlle aged lady. “They shared almost everything-- warehouses, weapons, and even military rations... I don't think burying some unused chemicals in Korea seems evil!”
While listening to the well-prepared choir music including “Gloria” by W.A. Mozart and the works by Korean and American composers under the baton of Miss Bo-young Lee, I was revisited by a long forgotten memory.
It was the day the first group of American troops landed in our port city of Busan early July, 1950. The main street was boiling over with anticipation of thousands, including school children, who were patiently waiting to greet them, each with an American flag. Then, we saw them! In the haze of heat and dust, a long line of covered military trucks appeared, and we began to shout “Victory, U.S.A.! Victory U.S.A!” waiving the American flags. As they passed, the soldiers in the back of the trucks waved back, as if saying, “Friends, we’re here for you!” Ten days earlier, on a Sunday, 95,000 North Koreans had attacked across the 38th parallel with Russian tanks, and everyday the radio reported gloomy news. But now we were hopeful.
How could I not be pro-American after witnessing such a powerful moment as a child?
The concert ended with the choir President, Ahn Sung Ho’s short speech thanking the presence of everyone, particularly the veterans, before presenting a $1,000 check to the President of the Korean War Veterans’ Association, Tom Stevens. Stevens expressed his sincere appreciation for the generous contribution and the sharing of the exceptional talents. “We’ll use the money wisely, for academic or humanitarian purposes.”
Coming home, I thanked for my countrymen’s enduring gratitude toward our old heroes. A famous line by Marcus Tullius Cicero came to my mind: Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues but the parent of all others.

Blessings amid the Korean War
Sixty years have passed since North Korea launched a surprise attack on its other half and shook the nation with sheer terror.

During the three-year-long war, more than three million people were killed, including 54,000 Americans. Ten times as many people lost their homes. Many books have been written about the evil of the war and the destruction it caused in a faceless country in the Far East six decades ago.

But looking back, I, a Korean-American, am compelled to realize that the almighty might have had a special plan for some people, including our family.

About this time of year in 1950, Pusan, my hometown off the Pacific coast, had turned into a boiling pot as the South Korean government moved in and promoted the area to the temporary capital of South Korea. All school buildings were confiscated by the government or the military. Our elementary school moved to a mountain slope where no roof protected us from rain or the merciless sun, while the military turned our three-story school building into a makeshift hospital.

So many refugees were pouring into the port city that the government ordered all homeowners to make room for refugees in their homes in the spirit of sharing the national tragedy equally. Our parents accepted two families, three adults and two children, and they moved into our large traditional Korean home surrounded by a brick wall. But some nights, strangers invited themselves into our courtyard rather than sleeping on the street. Fights broke out among them, and our shoes, clothes from the clothesline and any edible things from the kitchen were stolen.

The Pusan Catholic dioceses cried, too, asking churchgoers to please help shelter homeless religious men and women. Our parents, devout Catholics, decided to help the diocese, probably to secure their tickets to heaven later on, rather than tolerating thieves and trouble makers. They might also have thought that their four boys and three girls would be safer with religious folks instead of the war-battered refugees. The refugees were quickly replaced by two priests and six nuns in civilian clothes.

At age 9, I had no clue that a simple home could turn into the temple of Jesus, but that was exactly what was happening.

Workers came in and pounded nails into the walls of the front room, making it into a chapel with a wooden crucifix. Furniture from Father’s office was transported to the storage room, which turned into a rectory after new straw mats were laid onto the floor. The sisters settled into Father’s office that was now empty except for a stack of sleeping mats my mother had provided for them.

Then came what I’d call spiritual shock.

We kids were ordered to attend one of the Masses celebrated by the two priests every morning before going to school. We had thought walking 40 minutes to the mountain school was an ordeal, without mentioning the condition of the school on bare dirt. But now, we had to sit through a Mass celebrated in Latin first. But at the time democracy was not yet introduced to us, all we could was obey our dictators.

Confessing sins every week was worst of all that I endured as a child.

Once the priest lectured me to tell Jesus only what I’ve sinned, instead of telling the sins of my numerous siblings.

How could I have sinned without them? They made my life absolutely miserable.

Sometimes, feeling pressured, I made up sins, but the priest always knew what I was fabricating. He’d chuckle and say, “No, you didn’t steal money from your teacher!” or “You couldn’t have kicked the neighbor’s dog that’s bigger than you!” Our mother, who had an extraordinary ability to hear every little noise in the house, must have heard my confession, because she said that not telling the truth to Jesus was sin itself.

But as the story goes, God must have known what he was doing.

While we girls sang hymns with the sisters at Sunday masses, my three brothers served as altar boys, jabbering in Latin, ringing bells at the right time, pouring the blood of Christ into the chalice, and sometimes finishing the leftover wine from the chalice when the service ended.

Two Christmases and two Easter Sunday Masses were celebrated in our home church, and some neighbors joined us instead of walking to the parish church two miles away.

A decade later, my eldest brother took the vow of priesthood and the three girls, including myself, became professional musicians.

For many years afterwards, our mother took pride in telling people that, in the midst of the devastating war, God blessed us abundantly, turning our home into his temple.

I still wonder about it.


Ready to Greet Eternal Spring
Eternal spring

In his poem The Preludes, Victor Hugo expresses his sense of nostalgia about his youth as an old man as well as his anticipation of approaching death.

Winter is on my head but eternal spring is in my heart
I breathe… the fragrance of lilacs, violets, and roses as twenty years ago
The nearer I approach to the end the plainer I hear
The symphonies of the world that invite me.

For those who have no clue what “winter” means also don’t understand the “eternal spring” the French thinker, essayist, and novelist talks about. Eternal spring has something to do with the fragrance of the flowers in one’s memory, and a time when everything looked green and promising. Eternal spring for Hugo was a time for longing and reflection.
I too think about the spring time of my life.
After my retirement from the Kansas City Symphony in the late 1990’s where I had played cello for 30 years, I thought I was done with music and stumbled into many hobbies, including pottery. Though I’ve enjoyed working with clay and I received a few ribbons from local art show organizers over the years and a talent scholarship from a community college, my heart wasn’t with clay. There was something missing. Was it because my sense of nostalgia for my days as a musician has its grip on me? After all, music was my first love.
Wouldn’t a retired soldier have the same sense of duty to his country as he did as a young soldier? Wouldn’t a sailor hear the ocean waves calling him back even after he had settled on land? An old musician wanting to play music again is the sign that eternal spring is in his/her heart.
The difficult passages you’ve practiced over and over until your fingertips hurt would suddenly wake you in the middle of the night, demanding to know whether you can still play them. When you hear a familiar melody on the radio while driving, you’d see the green Bohemian hills or the sparkling Rhine River or the thick Vienna woods that had inspired the composer to write, through your windshield, instead of the flat Kansas landscape.
I missed playing cello and missed listening to the works of great composers echo through the walls of the concert halls we had performed.
Today, I took my cello from the closet where it had been collecting dust since 1997, changed the strings, and made some adjustment, and we were reunited, the cello and me. After a few hours of playing scales, etudes, arpeggios, I decided that I can still play. My fingers are still limber and responsive to the music’s demand. They might not quite make 70 MPH on the fingerboard the way they used to years ago but 55 MPH is no problem. The fact that I will be playing with a community orchestra, not a professional one this time, wouldn’t bother me because, while playing, I will be able to get a glimpse of the composer’s world at the time he wrote the music, and maybe even hear his message of hope, love, and yearning for peace through the notes and rests.
A few years of playing music will enrich my remaining years here on earth, and as I get older, I am sure I’ll hear the symphonies of the world that is waiting for me. But for now, all I want to dwell on is the fact that my “end” wouldn’t be here soon and that my eternal spring fills me with a sense of wellbeing.


Mystery of the Mind
A few days ago at dinner time my husband and I shared a tense moment when a bottle of Clorox laundry bleach showed up in our refrigerator. How did it get there? It was mind boggling.
“What is this doing in the refrigerator?” he asked.
“How do I know?” I said.
“You mean, you didn’t put it there?”
“Me? Why would I leave bleach in the refrigerator?”
“If you didn’t, then who?” he said, accusingly. “I never touch bleach, as you know. Besides you and I, who else lives here except three birds?”
He presented a valid point here, but it proved nothing because I swore I didn’t put the bleach in the refrigerator. “Don’t look at me like that!”
“Tell me, then,” he said, sounding like a detective. “Have you used bleach today?”
I did, in the kitchen sink, to remove ugly food stains out of my sweatshirt. But if I admitted it, he’d get a wrong idea. I know this much; here in the U.S. one is not guilty until proven so by the court. But lately strange things had shown up in the refrigerator, once a pair of scissors in the fruit compartment and another time a bottle of liquid soap next to Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque Sauce.
“Let’s not argue about something we can’t prove,” I suggested. “Thank God, it was only bleach.”
He stopped interrogating me, but his expression told me he was worried whether or not he might end up eating bleached food some day.
Forgetfulness comes with aging, like one’s hair turning white and skin gathering wrinkles and dark spots. It’s designed by the creator, believe it or not. Otherwise, who wants to be forgetful? Medical scientists call forgetfulness “dementia” or “Alzheimer’s disease” and look at the patients through microscopic lenses.
My longtime friend Norma lives in a nursing home in South Kansas City and has been diagnosed with dementia. She has lost her short term memory, as well as her physical mobility, and is confined to wheelchairs. She cannot remember how many grandchildren she has or how old her youngest granddaughter has turned this year, but she remembers every detail of events that happened 20 or more years ago.
I had known her in the late 1980s while I played cello with the Kansas City Symphony, and more than 20 years later, she introduces me to her neighbors in the nursing home, saying, “This is my friend Therese. She plays (present tense) cello with the Kansas City Symphony.” She then says to me, “Let’s go for lunch, soon. We have much catching up to do.”
Interestingly enough, her favorite topic these days has been preparing a meal for a big gathering, in which I am her partner, not her guest. “Come to my place at six tonight,” she orders me. “No, actually, five will be better, so we can make a list of things we need at the grocery store.”
Her manner is so sincere that I can’t tell her the truth; that she no longer owns her own place or that she is in no condition to make dinner for anyone, not even for herself. So I say, “I am busy tonight, but we can talk about it another time. How about we do something together now? Do you want to go to the gift shop downstairs and look around?”
She agrees. So I wheel her to the elevator and go to the gift shop downstairs. We look around. But coming out of the gift shop, she gets nervous, even worried. “Do you know how to get back to my place?”
“Of course,” I say. “We’re in the same building as earlier, only one floor down.”
“No,” she says, “This is not where I live. We have to go back to my place.”
Should I insist that she is confused and that she has a medical condition called “dementia?” I have no guts to do so. If I did, I would be no better than my husband who accused me of leaving Clorox in the refrigerator, which I had no memory of. So I tell her, “Do you remember taking the elevator when we got here? Let’s do that first and see where we are. When we get out of the elevator you will remember, I promise.”
She takes my suggestions willingly because I am from her long-term memory, during which time she had control over her life as a mother, wife, homemaker and an active member of a church. She is glad when things look familiar and familiar voices surround her.
Over the decades, she has lost so much: her husband, her home of many years, her physical strength, her ability to walk, and worst of all, her sound judgment. How much more can one lose?
An hour or two we spend together each day gives Norma a bit of the freedom she used to have, but what I gain from her are practical lessons of aging and what can be expected when I am in her shoes.



An old dog can learn a new trick
The old saying “An old dog cannot learn a new trick” is such a demeaning statement for older folks like me. Even a child would know that it wasn’t meant for dogs since dogs can’t understand human words. Call me “Senior Citizen” or “Cranky Old Lady” but never underestimate my ability to learn “new tricks.”
I never brag, thanks to my Korean upbringing: however, to prove my point, I might have to do so slightly, so please understand.
I have been taking pottery classes at a local community college for some time, and last May, a distinguished art collector from a well known museum purchased four of my works. Until then, pottery was strictly for fun, sometimes to remedy the boredom that comes with aging, but not any more. Now I am looking forward to my new life as a ceramic artist. (Oops, am I bragging too much here?)
Come spring, I will be in China, learning from the Chinese masters. After the news of my small fortune, I applied for a residency at Sanboa International Ceramic Institute in Jingdezhen City, and they invited me. For this trip, I am learning Chinese now. Ni hao ma? Wo hen hao, xiexie!
So look me in the eyes and say those unkind words and see if I don't growl at you. True, I will never learn to ride a motorcycle and zoom around the town or fly an airplane and go around the globe, but do I care?
Jingdezhen of the Jiaanxi province is a seaport known as the "Porcelain Capital" for 1700 years, because the area is rich with kaolin and feldspar, the essential ingredients for porcelain. For centries European merchants frequented the harbour in search of what they called “white gold,” but the locals never revealed the secret of porcelain making. Then in 1712, the recipe was revealed, not by a scientist or a potter, but by a Jesuit missionary priest.
Pere Francois Xavier d’Entrecolles was a Frenchman teaching the Gospel in the area during emperor Kangxi’s ruling, and with the help of his “converts” working in a porcelain factory, he discovered the secret recipe many Europeans had been searching for. In his letters to his superior of the Company of Jesus, he passed this treasure in great detail, along with the description of the town and his daily life as a missionary. After the close of Kangxi’s reign, the Roman Catholic missionaries were forced to leave China and no more firsthand descriptions of Jingdezhen or porcelain production were recorded. Thus, besides being the first documents about porcelain production, Pere d'Entrecolles' lengthy letters serve as his autobiography as well.
Jingdezhen has not changed much since Pere d'Entrecolles' time, I learned by reading. Next spring, in Jingdezhen, I will be using China's famous "white gold" and learn the ancient techniques of pottery. I will be also visiting some of 3000 kilns spread throughout the city, breathing the same smoke filled air as Pere d’Entrecolles might have 300 years ago. Most importantly though, I will learn the wisdom of getting old with dignity and share with the people of this young country called America upon my return.

American Troops Heading home
During his recent State of the Union Address President Obama declared that all of the U.S. combat troops will be out of Iraq by the end of this
August. "We will support ...and will continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But...this war is ending,
and all of our troops are coming home," he said.

While the audience cheered, I, a Korean-American, wondered whether the late President Truman had made the same promise to the Americans troops
fighting in Korea nearly six decades ago.

The day the U.S. troops left our town of Pusan in early fall of 1953, I watched a long line of American military trucks passing us with a
mixture of feelings. Then a seventh grader, I was sad and scared at the same time; sad because we kids had been demonstrating against all Americans in
our country and now they were leaving; scared because we did not know when North Koreans would launch another "surprise attack" on us.

A large crowd had gathered in the town's square for the occasion, and there was a sense of festivity. A band was playing the American anthem over and over, and American and Korean flags were flapping
from the tall flagpoles, side by side. Several airplanes were cruising overhead, each dragging a long tail of white foam, like on a national
holiday.

Unlike the day American soldiers had entered our town three years earlier, we school kids were not mobilized to salute the departing soldiers. All summer long we had been demonstrating in front of the U.S. army base on the outskirts of the town or on the street, shouting, "Move out Americans! We'll fight until the last man! We want reunification!"
Grownups--religious groups, teachers, labors' unions, and even women's organizations-did, too, marching, carrying placards, and shouting simmilar slogans.

Our 78 year old president, Syngman Rhee, had engineered all anti-American demonstrations nationwide to stop the cease fire negotiations
between the American and Chinese leaders. Life Magazine's June 22, 1953 issue reads, "After about 35 months of bloodshed and 23 months of haggling,
the combatants of Korea at last achieved every essential of a truce, except the agreement of one supremely stubborn old man. South Korea's 78-year-old
President Syngman Rhee cried that truce between the UN and the Communists means death to his country and threatened to fight on alone to expel the
Chinese Reds, and take the entire Korea. "If you have to leave us, we're sorry to see you go," he said. Meanwhile, the United Nations gravely faced
the fact that, if Rhee's threats were carried out, he might very well wreck the truce beyond repair."

Despite our protest, the truce was signed by American and Chinese leaders on July 27th, and now, we were waving at the U.S. troops for the last time. I didn't know what to think or feel. I wished I could shout my apologies for demonstrating.

The soldiers waving to us from the trucks were those who handed us kids a Hershey bar or a pack of Juicy Fruits whenever we bowed to them. Some even took photos of us. They were the ones who built a sturdy metal bridge over the creek, after the log bridge had floated away during the flood. Some of them might have seen us from the airplanes as we studied on
the mountain, on bare dirt, like a herd of mountain goats, after our school had been confiscated by the South Korean army to use it as a makeshift
hospital. Some of them had attended the mass at our parish church on Sundays, their military boots still on, dropping clods of dirt on the wooden
floor. And one or two might have served as Santa Claus on Christmas eve, wearing red suit and laughing Ho, ho, ho.

Looking back now as an American citizen, American troops' contributions to my motherland was unmeasurable. At the time when despair
was inevitable, they gave us kids hope and the sweet taste of life, and most importantly, broadened our view of life. The "kids" in that turbulent era grew up and rebuilt South Korea on a sturdy foundation.

And some decades later, some kids who lived through the war in the mideast will remember the American troops' sacrifices in his or her country as I do now.

Friendship Makes Anyplace Home/ Jingdezhen, China
It’s very quiet here, at Sanbao International Ceramic Institute, at seven in the morning.

In this 300-year-old building situated in the outskirts of Jingdezhen, a town known as the Porcelain City, I hear ancient China breathing through those crumbling brick walls, through the woodwork that had long lost its glow, and through the squeaky floor under my feet that groans every time I walk on it.

Mao Zedong’s solemn portraits hanging on the walls makes me uneasy. Three decades had passed since his death, but his presence is vibrantly alive here, like in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. I wonder whether the folks in this place also participated in the Cultural Revolution in the late 60s, in which anything that reminded Mao of feudal China was smashed — landowners, Buddhist temples and monks, books on Confucius and his teachings, palaces, mansions — and he built a communists state, where everyone was equally common and poor before his nonnegotiable leadership.

I arrived here a few days ago as a resident artist to learn the ancient Chinese methods of pottery-making and to work with other foreign artists, but at the moment, I am the only “foreign artist” here. I was informed that they’d join me later. Two Chinese students from Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute are working with me on a daily basis.

This place could have belonged to a storybook once upon a time. Surrounded by tall, fog-capped mountains, no 21st century civilization had touched yet, except occasional motorcyclists speedaways with a spray of dust and a loud boom. I like it so much that I dread the day I will have to pack and head home.

Through the large picture windows before my work area in the studio stands a majestic green mountain whose peak is sliced off by the straight roof line of the building I am in, and on the back is a terraced patio tiled with broken, mismatching ceramic pieces and a basin collecting crystal clear water from a brook that runs through the property. From this basin, we fetch water to work, and when we’re done working, we wash hands, tools and the muddy apron for the next day. The gurgling water and the scenery remind me of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony.

Two dozen employees, all Chinese, treat me well. In fact, I am a bit of celebrity here. Everyone wants to talk to me, jabbering in Chinese. When I understand what they say they cheer me, saying “Hen Hao!” But when I don’t understand, they write the characters on a piece of paper for me. I had taken a Chinese language class at a local college, but talking comes slower than reading. Still, my ability to utter a few Chinese sentences pays off in a big way. It seems also that the people have warmed to me because I am eager to learn their language. My maiden name, Suh, originated in China, and I told them so in my halting Chinese.

I came here to learn arts and craft of ancient Chinese pottery, but what I’ve gained from these folks is rather profound. Now I realize that wherever you go on this earth, you will always find something familiar and someone who opens his or her arms to you as a gesture of warmth and friendship because, after all, this planet is the home for all humans to find comfort and share with one another.

Eight thousand miles away from my home in Kansas, I am definitely comfortable.

Nation Embraces Old and New/ Jingdezhen, China
China has 5,000 years of written history, yet she is adapting to the 21st century lifestyle, which at quick glance looks much like what I see in America today. Would I be stretching it if I say this ancient country has a young heart?

The old China and young China equally present here in Jingdezhen.

I often see from the window of the ceramic studio here at Sanbao a procession of three men hauling a large porcelain jar, as tall as me, on an old, rickety, two-wheeled wagon — one man pulling at the front and two pushing from the back. The brush maker wakes me up every morning with tapping noises as he pounds bamboo with a hammer until it turns into fine fiber like human hair. At the creek, someone is always doing laundry, beating garments with a wooden bat. In the field, men and water buffalos are partners, tilling and plowing together, ignoring the fact that machines are doing most of the farm work in other places.

But when you cross the city limit of Jingdezhen five miles away, you’re in young China. The streets are noisy with persistently honking car horns, roadside vendors shouting their specials, and Chinese pop songs blaring from speakers. Every gift store you walk in is a mini Wal-Mart that sells jeans with holes, T-shirts with images of American entertainers or pop singers, stuffed bear Winnie the Poohs and a collection of kids’ accessories printed with Dora’s face printed on. You can’t find anything that gives you the flavor of old China except ceramic items.

As a Korean-American senior citizen living here for a limited time, I notice something else — the large placards with the names of Korean companies such as Hyundai or Samsung or Kia hung in the air, welcoming you, flapping in the wind. You’d never guess what it feels like seeing the names of your homeland companies from this side of the globe until you actually see them.

For centuries, China has been known as Great China and resided over other Asian countries with shown power and supremacy over the rest of Asia. During the Ching Dynasty, Seoul had four gates to receive foreign guests, and one of them, East Gate, served strictly for cultural exchange purpose between China and Korea. Through this gate, Chinese delegates entered to visit and council the Korean monarchy, and the Korean envoy left for China to pay respect to the Emperor, often bringing the gift of ginseng, slaves and gold with them.

Today, the Koreans are supplying new blood in China’s economy, as 25,000 Korean companies are manufacturing anything from giant size ships to zippers. With this in mind, the general impression I get from the locals toward me is warmth and even admiration. One taxi driver said to me when he heard that I was a Korean, “We like Koreans!”

A young country living in her ancient body is my impression of today’s China, and I know she will still grow and change with time. But a human life is deadly limited. Each day we live is an irreversible journey to the end without another chance. How unfair it is that we humans aren’t given the same privilege as a country.

As my last day here is fast approaching, many thoughts linger in my head. What will China be like 10 years from now? When I return, will I still see those brush makers tapping away all day, separating the grains of bamboo tips, and buffalos and men working together in the fields? Wait, 10 years? Where will I be 10 years from now?

I’ll give some serious thought to this when I get home.


A Korean War Chaplain Father Kapaun Still Makes Ripples
Throughout history, men of extraordinary character were noticed by others, and their stories have been told and retold. How much would we know about Jesus today, had his disciples kept silent about their heaven-sent teacher’s life on earth and how he died on the cross?
No one had heard of Father Emil Kapaun, an American Catholic priest from the farming village of Pilsen, Kan., who died in a lice-infested, icy-cold North Korean prison, Camp No. 5, along the Yalu River on May 23, 1951, until September 1953, when his prison inmates were repatriated to the South after the war ended.
They told the reporters about their chaplain who cared for his American brothers more than himself by washing foul smelling, blood- and pus-soaked bandages, by picking lice from the sick and helpless and by encouraging everyone to hang on and to have faith in God when dying was an easy alternative.
One of the POWs, Col. Gerald Fink, a Jew, had never met Kapaun but heard so much about him from his inmates that he carved a 4-foot-tall wooden crucifix and carried it with him to his freedom, delivering it to Kapaun’s parents, Enos and Bess Kapaun in Pilsen.
Kapaun was honored in 1957 when Kapaun Memorial High School was constructed by the Wichita Diocese, which merged into Kapaun-Mount Carmel High School in 1973. In front of St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen, where Kapaun served four years — three years as associate pastor and one year as pastor — stands the statue of Kapaun aiding an injured soldier, and many visitors come there to pray and pay homage to the selfless servant of God.
In April 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration granted to a member of the armed forces for gallantry and bravery in combat.
Locally, during the Veterans Day 2013 ceremony at the Korean War Veterans Memorial at Lowell and 119th Street in Overland Park more than 800 attendees — veterans, their supporters and guest speakers — witnessed the unveiling and dedication of Kapaun’s new panel. Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Seminary College, where Kapaun studied for four years, blessed the crowd and the panel.
And on Aug. 1, Kapaun will be honored again, this time, by the representatives of Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, including a local neurosurgeon at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Paul Camarata.
Camarata had read about Kapaun extensively, watched on TV the ceremony in the East Room of the White House when Obama awarded the chaplain with the Medal of Honor, and he even visited the priest’s boyhood home and “was particularly intrigued about the Vatican investigation into a recent miracle in Wichita after a family prayed for Fr. Kapaun’s intercession.”
While in Korea, from July 10 and before his capture on Nov. 2, 1950, Kapaun often celebrated Mass on the hood of his own military Jeep in the battlefields while bullets whizzed by and bombs exploded near him. His acts of courage and faith in God so inspired his admirers that more than six decades later, on May 9, 2013, a Korean-American priest, Fr. Paul Lee, the pastor at St. Jude in Rockville, Md., celebrated a Jeep Mass at St. Jude parochial high school for the first time in the U.S.
Here in Kansas, at Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg, Kan., on Aug. 1, former Army chaplain and Iraq War veteran the Rev. Peter Jaramillo, who now serves as the pastor at Holy Family Church in Kansas City, Kan., will say Mass on the hood of a Jeep, and the Rev. Jerry Spencer of Curé of Ars and the Rev. Anthony Ouellette of All Saints Church will also celebrate. And this event will be held in conjunction with a youth summer camp for both middle and high school students, their families and religious leaders, and everyone is invited. Expected guests include local Korean War veterans, Korean-Americans, and representatives of Kapaun’s cause for sainthood.
The bishop of the Wichita Catholic diocese, the Most Rev. Carl A. Kemme, declared “A Year of Father Kapaun.” June 9 marked the 75th anniversary of Kapaun’s ordination to priesthood; April 20, 2016, is his 100th birthday, and May 23, 2016, is the 65th anniversary of his death in North Korea. And the Jeep Mass will give attendees a chance to reflect on the Korean conflict 60 some years ago that took 3 million lives, including 54,000 Americans.
Although Kapaun is on the path to sainthood today, I can’t envision him in a majestic saintly robe. Rather, I see him in a worn Army fatigues and boots and foraging heavenly food for ill-nourished, troubled souls who might fall through the gate of hell.
I have no doubt that Kapaun himself will be present at the Jeep Mass at Prairie Star Ranch on Aug. 1 and make himself known to those who will gather there.



Questions linger after teen's slaying of mother
Are the prosecutors treating the American born defendant and her slain Chinese mother fairly and justly? What if some of accusations against the slain victims are false? Who can speak for one in eternal rest when the laws are made strictly for the living?

On March 6, Blue Valley North High School student Esmie Tseng pleaded guilty to killing her 55-year-old mother, Shu Yi Zhang, seven months earlier with a kitchen knife.

Prosecutors had sought to try Esmie as an adult with charges of first-degree murder. Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison said then: “This defendant knew what she was doing. She had her wits about her at the time she committed this crime.”

But seven months later, the table was turned. Morrison now thought the slain mother was “unfair and cruel” to the defendant, implying that Esmie was a victim of abuse. Taking her “home life” into account, he dropped the charge to voluntary manslaughter in adult court.

“Attorneys for both sides recommended that Esmie serve eight years and four months in prison,” The Star reported. Sentencing is May 3.

Unfortunately, neither investigators nor the general public will ever know what had been going on at Tseng’s household before Shu Yi Zhang’s brutal death on Aug. 19. The defendant’s father has kept a stony silence about the mother-daughter relationship that led to the matricide.

I, an Asian, have nagging questions: Are the prosecutors treating the American-born defendant and her slain Chinese mother fairly and justly? What if some of the accusations against the victim are false? Who can speak for one in eternal rest when the laws are made strictly for the living?

I can’t help but wonder whether the prosecutor’s generosity in allowing Esmie to plead guilty and reducing her prison time has to do with the fact that she was an American-born honor-roll student and had an army of American supporters — teachers, parents and legal experts.

According to The New York Times, 9,700 prisoners are serving life sentences today for crimes they committed before turning 18, and the number of teenage felons is steadily increasing nationwide. Mother-killing is a grave crime in any culture, no matter who committed it. Should a girl who stabbed her mother to death walk out of the prison after serving only eight years and four months?

Zhang might have shared a common quality with many other Asian mothers by attempting to protect her daughter from the social ills that American youngsters are exposed to today — sex, drugs and alcohol, crime, fantasy for glamour and lust. I, too, set strict rules for my girls, often eavesdropping on their phone conversations and demanding to know who they were talking to and why. Am I lucky to be alive?

While reading the “Kansas City Chinese,” the community online journal, I glimpsed the shock and pain that community members had suffered over Zhang’s sudden death. One member considered the tragedy a wake-up call.

“If this could happen (to Zhang), anything can,” she said.

Zhang’s friends remember her as a “very well-educated lady who could talk about anything ... (a) responsible and conscientious worker.”

Esmie posted her journal on her two online blogs, expressing her frustrations toward her Chinese parents. One of the messages reads: “We were always on the (expletive) road in the stupid van with that damn tourist group my mom chose. All Orientals, speaking AT me because they know I only understand the minimal jist [sic]. ... I’m not who I’m ‘supposed’ to be, and I’m happy about that, but they’re going to (expletive) it up.”

Her words are blatantly disrespectful to her parents, their friends and their Chinese “roots.” If this were her everyday language, it would have been a nightmare for her Chinese mother, who came from a culture where youngsters respected adults, to deal with her.

Why didn’t Esmie’s teachers and counselors help her understand that, by honoring her cultural heritage, she would gain knowledge of herself and her parents, and further appreciate her life here in the United States? Understanding of our parents and their legacies reflects not only on our lives but our children’s lives, and the cycle of give-and-take continues, linking one generation to another.

The wake-up call isn’t only for Chinese parents but all parents of American teenagers.



Ludwig Van Beethoven, the Immortal Composer
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a prolific composer who wrote 34 piano sonatas, nine symphonies and countless vocal, piano, and chamber ensemble works, only to mention a few. His greatest accomplishment, however, was liberating music from a cloistered form set by earlier composers such as Hayden, Handel, and Mozart, and expanding it to give dimension, color, and depth. He also integrated the grand literary work of Goethe, Dante, and Schiller with his composition, and enlarged the size of the orchestra by doubling certain instruments, and moved the theme melodies from violins, flutes, oboes to lower voices--violas, cellos, and bassons. In short, Beethoven lifted music from the pleasure of “hearing” to the expression of hearts and souls.
Most of Beethoven’s music begins with a simple theme, which branches out in the middle, and then reaches a powerful climax before ending with the basic theme, like a giant pine that expands in the middle but tapers toward a single stem at the top. His Fifth Symphony is such an example. It begins with four simple notes, which symbolize one’s fate knocking on the door, but develops into vibrant, colorful phrases and rhythms that intertwine and weave a large-scale tapestry of sound.
To understand Beethoven’s grand work of art, one must understand the young Ludwig’s graceless childhood, which contributed to his intense will to rise above himself and others. Growing up in a poor area of Bonn in Germany, one of his mottos was, “Help thyself.” Although he played with marbles and practiced archery like any boy his age would have at the time, his early days were marked with pain, distrust of the world, and craving for something better, something sweeter than what his family could offer him.
Ludwig’s first music teacher was his alcoholic father, Johann van Beethoven, a tenor, who forced the boy to practice piano and violin for hours every day. While the small boy pounded on the keyboard or sawed on the strings, his father would stand behind him, pouring a stench of alcohol about him.
“What’s all this nonsense,” the father would yell, stomping his foot, startling the boy. “Play according to the notes, or I’ll smack your ear!”
Such unpleasant lessons encouraged Ludwig to hide in the attic, away from his father and away from the piano and violin. There, in the attic, he saw the purplish Segovian hills and villages perched on the horizon far beyond the Rhine River and daydreamed of the place he had not seen before. He imagined the Spanish castles and kings he had read about, too, which always accompanied the lively tunes that sprang effortlessly in his ear. He couldn’t understand why he had to obey the written music that lacked imagination and weren’t as sweet as the melodies he heard in his own ears. He couldn’t understand why his father wouldn’t allow him to make his own music and to have fun with it, too. Still, Ludwig advanced quickly in both piano and violin playing.
At eleven, he took a job as a cembalo (a keyboard instrument) player in the town orchestra to earn a few coins. Here, he learned so much about symphonic music, which he would explore later, but also witnessed the musicians who couldn’t play their parts. The more he saw weak personalities, the more he told himself, “Help thyself!”
At the age thirteen, Ludwig became a distinguished court organist earning as much as his father was. By now, his mother was ill with tuberculosis and the family couldn’t survive on his father’s income alone.
Three years later, he went to Vienna to play for Master Wolfgang Mozart, then 32. Mozart was impressed with Ludwig’s brilliant piano playing as well as his improvisational skills. Afterwards, Mozart told other musicians, “Watch out for that chap! Someday he will make the world talk about him.” Mozart accepted Ludwig as his pupil.
Vienna fascinated the boy from Bonn. The ancient city had everything for him--the calm Danube River, the opera house with grand marble staircase, many concert halls, the cathedral with a tall steeple, and the city walls built to resist the Turkish invaders of earlier centuries...
But Ludwig couldn’t stay in Vienna very long, for his mother, Maria Magdalena, was dying. He barely made it in time to see her for the last time. His grief of losing his beloved mother who had shown him much affection as a small boy was so deep that it took a long time for him to compose again.
In 1798, back in Vienna, at age 28, Ludwig Beethoven was reaching his height as a passionate pianist and composer, who had produced three piano trios, three violin sonatas, and one of most brilliant sonatas of all, the Pathetic Sonata Opus 13.
Another tragedy awaited him that year. One spring morning he discovered that he couldn’t hear anything. Years later, he told his pianist-friend Charles Neate what happened that day. He was at his desk, as usual, writing his Oratorio when he heard a loud door-knock. Irritated that the visitor might be the tenor who had been asking him to change his part, he sprang up from the table under such ”rage” that he fell on the floor. When he rose he found himself deaf.
Beethoven’s letter to his long-time friend Carl Amenda reveals his anguish at losing his hearing:
“How I wish you were with me, my friend. Your Beethoven lives very unhappily, in constant conflict with... his creator. Often, I have cursed Him for making his creature suffer the most terrible chances... What a sorrowful life I must now live, avoiding all that is dear and precious to me. Oh, how happy would I be, if my hearing were completely restored!”
Among many theories regarding his deafness, Dr. Franz Wegler, Beethoven’s long time friend and physician, contends that Beethoven had a severe attack of typhus, the infectious disease transmitted by body insects such as lice, which he may have had at adolescence. Unlike common belief that such loss would deteriorate one’s spirit and debilitate him from all creative work, music scholars believe that Beethoven’s work benefited, rather than suffered from his hearing loss. It forced him to stop playing piano, which devastated the brilliant pianist, and robbed him of the pleasure of listening to his performances and all sounds around him, but it never limited the composer from creating and dictating music ringing freely in his inner ear. Here, in the depth of his agony, Beethoven made peace with God to free him and all mankind from suffering.
Beethoven spent many hours walking in the woods of Vienna intoxicated by the beauty of nature, which the great Artist Himself created. Beethoven wrote:
Every tree seems to speak of Thee.
Almighty, I’m happy.
Blessed in the woods...
Every tree has a voice through Thee.
On the height is peace--
Peace to serve Thee.

In his Pastoral Symphony, Beethoven paints the beauty of nature with descriptive melodies and lively rhythms. As you listen to it, you could almost see the short, broad-shouldered Beethoven with dark, curly hair walking in the woods of Vienna in the warm sunlight, humming or singing loudly, his hands beating time; he would occasionally look up to watch birds chattering from the acacia branches and the sky beyond, and then very quickly, he would produce a notebook from his pocket and scribble.
He died on March 26, 1827, in his apartment in Schwarzspanierhouse in Vienna. He had returned from his brother’s home in Gneixendorf in freezing weather and contracted pneumonia. The cause of death was cirrhosis of liver. His last moments suggest that he triumphed over all his physical limitations and delivered himself to the divine world. Robert Haven Schhauffler, the author of “Beethoven,” describes:
Late on the afternoon of March 26, 1827, there was a flash of lightening and a sharp peal of thunder. The unconscious Master raised himself...as if answering the thunder. He clenched and lifted his right hand, remained in that posture for several seconds, and fell back.

Duty, Honor, Memorial
Duty, Honor, and Memorial


The Korean War isn’t “forgotten” after all, the members of the Korean War Veterans Association-Kansas Chapter say. The construction of the KWV Memorial will begin in September or October 2005, not in 2006 or 2007 as they had originally planned, association Commander John Gay said.
Thirteen months ago, in June 2004, the KWVA-Kansas Chapter only had $20,000 in the bank. “We have a lot of work to do,” Veteran Jack Krumme, then the commander, had said to nearly 150 veterans and their families and supporters at a fundraising luncheon hosted by a South Korean women’s organization.
In December the same year the Bush administration awarded them with $371,250 for the memorial, which was proposed by Congressman Dennis Moore and Senator Sam Brownback.
“We were very surprised,” Veteran Clyde Koch, one of the members of the Memorial Committee, remembers. “When we began the campaign two years ago, we didn’t know where to begin. We haven’t done anything like this before. This grant is like a wild dream coming true.” Koch was with the “Charlie Battery” (1st Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division) during Inchon Landing in September 1950.
The age of the KWVA-Kansas Chapter is only five-years old. The National KWVA in Washington, D.C. officially recognized them as one of its branches in June 2000, and the KWVA-Kansas Chapter 1-181 held their first meeting at American Legion Hall, 75th & Lowell, Overland Park in March that year. The idea of constructing a memorial in Overland Park was initiated by two veterans--Jack Krumme and John Williams (passed away since) but it was common desire of all. After brainstorming and investigating, they sought legal help.
“We were helped considerably by Mr. Byron Louden, a lawyer and former Overland Park City Councilman,” Veteran Tom Stevens (Vice President of KWVA), says.. “He donated all his services.” On June 9th, 2000, the City Council of Overland Park unanimously approved the construction of the Korean War.
The site dedication ceremony took place two months later, on August 23, at the corner of 119th and Lowell, with Senator Brownback’s keynote address. Congressman Dennis Moore, County Commission Chairperson, Annabeth Surbaugh, Mayor Ed Eilert, and many other local dignitaries were among the guests. The National KWVA Chairman, Harley Coon, gave a heartfelt talk about his experience as a Korean War POW, a compelling testimony of the Communists brutality against humanity.
After the ceremony, General Robert Shirkey, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, gave a check for $500 to Veteran Stevens as “seed money.”
The fund raising campaign followed. The Memorial Committee developed strategies, made brochures and flyers, and letterheads. Sixty-plus KWVA members contacted numerous organizations and individuals, distributing the campaign materials. Sleeves rolled up, they made pancakes and fried eggs and served them, too. They held garage sales and hosted golf tournaments as well. Their dedication and enthusiasm toward the memorial moved strangers, their golf buddies, and people of all color and all areas of life.
Donations poured in.
The local South Koreans didn’t “forget” who liberated them from the Communists. Nor did they forget how poor and helpless their homeland had been when the Russian tanks mowed down on a Sunday morning in June 1950. The Korean-American Ladies Foundation of Overland Park raised more than $10,000 for the veterans and the Korean-American Society of Greater Kansas City $20,000. Nancy Accord, the leader of the Korean-American Ladies Foundation, addressed at one of the luncheons honoring the veterans: “We can never thank you enough. We’re honored to do whatever we can...for your memorial”
More than a hundred organizations and countless individuals sent contributions. Last May, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation awarded the KWVA with a “Leadership Gift” of $50,000 in commemoration of Memorial Day 2005. The Overland Park Art’s Commission chaired by Wendall Anschuts, the former anchorman of KCMO (now KCTV5), pledged $50,000 for the memorial.
Anschutz says, “...somehow history overlooked the Korean War Veterans' sacrifices.... The memorial will be a magnificent addition to many beautification projects we are working on, as well as a lasting reminder of those who gave...everything while we went about our privileged daily lives. No one makes a greater contribution to our society than those who put their lives on the front line.”
Veteran George Moods, who served in South Korea between 1952-1954, is proud of what he did a half century ago. “We worked very hard,” he says with confidence. “Our 79th Army Engineering Battalion built water-purifying plants, army headquarters, and highways and bridges.... South Korea has changed so much since. I feel good knowing that we helped them.”
The ages of the Korean War veterans range between 71-78. Most of them were only seventeen or eighteen when they arrived in Korea to control a “police action.” Before they could figure out what the “police action” was all about, thousands died or were injured or captured.
The North Korean Communists under Kim Il-sung had been secretively preparing war against their “other half” since the beginning of 1949, transporting modern Russian tanks and training the troops along the 38th Parallel, while the South Koreans’ hands were tied under the stern American military advisers. Whenever the CIC (Korean CIA) reported them the North Korean’s suspicious activities along the 38th Parallel, they ignored it. The North Korea’s “surprise attack” across the 38th Parallel the following year was a sheer terror for everyone.
After three years of bloody battle, the 38th parallel didn’t shift and the map of Asia remained the same. As the world leaders tried to end the war, anti-American demonstration erupted throughout South Korea. School children, labor unions, church organizations, women’s group--all poured out to the streets, shouting, “We’ll fight on. Move out Americans! We want reunification!”
Life Magazine printed on June 22, 1953 under the caption "One Old Man Against the Truce." It reads: “South Korea's 78-year-old President Syngman Rhee cried that truce between the UN and the Communists 'means death' to his country and threatened to fight on alone to expel the Chinese Reds and take the entire Korea. ‘If you have to leave us, we're sorry to see you go!’ he said.’”
American soldiers came home without banners of glory and honor. With another war erupting in Vietnam a few years later, the Korean War and those who fought in that war faded from people’s memory.
But it’s history now. Finally, the Korean War veterans’ sacrifices in South Korea will be engraved in granites and bricks. Their photos, diaries, letters will be displayed, too. The area residents, including children, can learn why the Korean War happened, who fought in it, and what the world learned from it.
Today, many American sons and daughters are fighting in Iraq. What message could be more comforting for those young Americans (and their families) than the fact that their country will “remember” their sacrifices?
The KWVA-Kansas Chapter 1-181’s Mission Statement reads: We pay tribute to those who gave their lives, were wounded, and were prisoners of war or missing in action. This (memorial) is for them....



Marian Anderson: The Goodwill Ambassador
At a post office one day, I saw stamps with Marian Anderson’s portrait printed on them and told the clerk I wanted ten of them. As she handed them to me, I told her that I had heard Anderson sing in Korea when I was in high school.
“I didn’t know she went there,” said the clerk.
I told her it was a part of Anderson’s ten-week concert tour of the South Pacific and Asia in 1957, and that two years earlier, the State Department in Washington had awarded her with the position “Good Will Ambassador,” a prestigious honor any American could dream of. “I am one of the lucky ones who heard her live performance,” I bragged.
“Wait a minute,” the clerk said. “I thought Marian Anderson was an actress, not a singer.”
I couldn’t believe how ignorant she was. I almost said, “Do you consider yourself an American, not knowing who Marian Anderson was?” But fortunately my gentler side (if applicable) took over the situation. “Maybe we are not talking about the same Marian Anderson,” I said, and quickly left the post office.
If the clerk had listened, I would have told her more about Anderson, especially the way her fellow Americans treated her due to her non-white skin, and what powerful message she delivered to her fellow African-Americans of today, with her magnificent voice and elegant stage manners.

That summer evening in 1957, our family sat on the balcony of Ehwa University’s auditorium/gymnasium in Seoul, anxiously waiting for Anderson’s recital to begin. After the Korean War had ended with the Truce in July 1953, our country’s door was wide open, and world-level engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and experts in all areas of life poured into our war-wrecked country--some to help rebuild it and some to seek fortune.
Musicians, artists and entertainers came too. As horrifying as it was, the Korean War introduced us to the rest of the world, and now we were indulging in a healthy diet of cultural nourishment from all over the world.
As a sophomore in high school, I had just started playing cello, and my anticipation of hearing Anderson’s recital was beyond words. This was the singer the grand conductor Arturo Toscanini complimented by saying, “The world can hear such a voice only once in a hundred years.” How could one not be excited?
Ehwa University auditorium wasn’t built for music performances. The hardwood floor squeaked whenever someone walked on it, and the stage was poorly lit. The black velvet curtains on both sides of the stage weren’t the best things in music halls, but we didn’t know it back then. This auditorium was the only building in Seoul spacious enough to accommodate a thousand music lovers, and we proudly called it “The Korean Carnegie Hall.”
The hall lights suddenly dimmed, and tall black lady in a long, snow-white dress appeared on the stage. The applause shook the hall. She reminded me of a black swan with gleaming white feathers.
The program began in a hushed silence. As Anderson’s rich velvety voice echoed through the auditorium, I was led into her music world. While she sang Schubert’s Ave Maria, I wanted to rush to our church and kneel and pray; while she sang the Negro Spirituals, I was one of the cotton-pickers in southern America. At some point of the evening, I felt as though it was I who was singing my heart’s content, telling of my sorrow, my faith in God, and my longing for peace and freedom. It was something I had never felt before.
When the recital ended with three curtain calls, I wanted to be a musician. What would be more rewarding than being able to express my deeper feelings through cello, like Anderson could with her voice?
Ten years later, I joined the Kansas City Philharmonic (now the Symphony), after two degrees from two music schools--one from Seoul, Korea, and another from Paris, France.
One day, during an out of town concert, I overheard the conversation that Marian Anderson had been the featured soloist with the Philharmonic a year before. It wasn’t a happy story at all. While the local newspapers raved about Anderson’s luscious voice and outstanding accomplishments, all hotel owners in downtown Kansas City refused to give the black singer a room. Anderson had no choice but get a room in all black area, miles from the Music Hall!
It was the first lesson that taught me about racial discrimination the white Americans inflicted on their black neighbors. I revisited the summer night in 1957 many times, while practicing cello or walking or riding a metro. How wonderful it would have been, had I joined the Philharmonic a year earlier and met her in person? I would have mustered some courage to go up to her on the back stage and introduced myself, saying I had heard her in Seoul. I am sure Anderson would have been glad to learn that her music so inspired a teenage girl on the other side of the globe that she eventually found her way to the United States.

End

Alaska, the land of Surprises
Returning from a 10-day voyage in Alaska with my husband recently, I named that state “the land of surprises.”
We got there after three nights on a cruise ship, and landing at Skagway, Alaska, we toured the vast land that boasts 500 million acres of land; 3 million streams full of fish and otters, and tall snow-capped mountains providing shelter for all sorts of animals — bears, moose, mountain sheep and much more. And Alaska is rich with history.
Our passageway — the Alaska Highway (or Alaska-Canadian Highway) — was built during WWII by Canada and the U.S. to kick out the Japanese force that had occupied two islands, Attu and Kiska. We stayed overnight at several different towns, including Skagway, White Horse, Dawson City, Fairbanks and Denali, and each town had a tale.
How bewildered Americans would have been when the U.S. government bought this land of beauty and wealth for only $7.2 million dollars in 1867! Surprisingly, the general American public at the time wasn’t happy about a land that was too far from their homes, too cold and too dark in winter, and had a spring and summer that was too short — only five months, May to September. They even criticized William Seward, then secretary of state, for wasting the taxpayers’ money.
At the time, in the mid-19th century, the Russian government wanted to get rid of the land, after owning it more than a century, because it was at the verge of bankruptcy. It had been land that fur traders took over by force from the native people to dominate the fur-trading market in the world. But after a century the furry animals — beavers, otters, mink and fox — had been over hunted, and Russia declared the land useless.
In less than three decades after the purchase, an explorer named George Carmack discovered gold near Dawson City in a mountain area named Klondike bordering Alaska from northwestern Canada. About 30,000 fortune-seekers landed there —out of 100,000 who requested entry to Alaska but were denied.
Imagine 30,000 gold-seekers congregating on a remote mountain town that had no hotels or inns or private homes to accommodate 30,000 dreamers. Almost instantly, vendors selling food, liquor, bedding, transportation, clothing and anything we humans need rushed to the spot.
Of 30,000 gold-seekers, about 4,000 people found gold and became rich, some famous as well.
But for the rest of them, life was a curse in the freezing weather, in wilderness where daylight lasted only four to five hours during winter. The tent city that had been established during the gold rush serves today as a mirror of the past, with museums and gift shops selling memorabilia.
It’s common knowledge that where a lot of money changes hands hourly, demons in humans lurk. Fighting among the gold-seekers was frequent, as well as murder, violence and theft. Some folks sold telegram services when Alaska had no power lines anywhere, not even paved roads.
Mother Nature revolted against humans stampeding on her sacred land with their digging, drilling and dynamiting. On April 3, 1898, more than a 100 gold-seekers were buried in an avalanche, and the rescue teams were brought in. But more avalanches came. They dragged out 63 bodies from layers of snow.
Those who survived the avalanche quickly abandoned their dreams to get rich and ran for their lives. But the snow slides had blocked the only road they had come through, leaving them with no options but to go through rivers to return home. Many died in the rapid streams that had been swollen by the new snow, as their boats overturned or hit rocks.
When the gold played out in a few years, those valleys and mountains emptied, but some men who made fortunes remained and invested their money in Alaska.
George Carmack was such a man. In April 1896, Carmack and two friends discovered a gold nugget as large as his thumb. He had come to Alaska earlier by the reports of major gold strikes in the Juneau area, but he wasn’t lucky enough to find any gold. He and his friends further explored Yukon Territory, and finally hit their fortune.
Carmack got rich, reportedly taking a million dollars worth of gold out of Klondike, and he settled in Vancouver, B.C. Until he died in 1922 at age 61, he invested all of his fortune in Alaska, including a coalmine he owned and operated. Today his name appears on the highway, Carmack Gas Station, Carmack Coal Mine, Carmack Rest Area and more.
Coming home, I find myself staring at our backyard creek bottom. What if I saw a yellow nugget glittering at me? What would I do with it if I found a bucketful of yellow metal?
It’s a scary thought.

His Majesty, the Bird
Once I had compassion for all caged birds. I even considered their owners a heartless bunch. But since I became a bird owner myself last fall, I see things differently. Now I am more compassionate toward bird owners than those noisy, obnoxious critters who have nothing but bundles of feathers.
My eight-month-old parrot’s name is Sparky but I call him His Majesty, because he considers me his subject rather than his owner. His wings are clipped, but he has freedom. His cage is open 24 hours a day, and there’s no curfew. He can stride in and out of his “castle” whenever he feels like it. He squeals powerfully, too. “Pirrrrit, pirrrrit, pirrrrit” until my ears hurt, ordering me to bring his food and water, change his cage, and demanding treats, which he feels he deserves. Unlike ordinary birds, His Majesty isn’t satisfied with the store-bought feed but likes Cheeriors, crackers, grapes, and mango, anything that people eat as though he had been a human in his previous life.
He has some annoying habits: He doesn’t like to use his own feet when he wants to walk around the house but prefers riding on my shoulder. I didn’t mind it at first, but after his claws dug into my skin and stained my new blouse with you-know-what, I don’t let him anymore. He likes to chew on things, too, my fingers or watchband or necklace, anything he could lay his beak on.
One thing His Majesty can’t stand is boredom. He likes to play with things that are thought-provoking and entertaining. Two or three times a week, I buy him a new toy. He particularly loved a palm-size electronic keyboard I had bought for him at Wal-Mart, but he broke it. He played it over and over, making interesting melodies--biting all eight keys and poking the gaps between them. No musical instrument can stand such abuse, and sure enough, in less than a week, the keyboard gave out its last sound.
His Majesty screeched so much afterwards that I made another trip to Wal-Mart and bought him a toy cellular-phone that rings and chirps like a real one. His Majesty was enthralled with it, turning it on and off, on and off, for hours, but I could tell that he didn’t like it as much as he did the keyboard, for its mechanism was too simple to operate. He tossed into his water bowl on the same day I brought it home.
From his caretaker’s point of view, Majesty is a messy eater. You’d be amazed how fast he can shuck a sunflower seed without even using your claws. Shelling a peanut is no problem, either. Holding it with one foot (or hand), he bites the shell off piece by piece until the floor is covered with bits of peanut shell.
By contrast, he is a neat housekeeper. He has a playhouse on top of his cage, in which he plays hide-and-seek alone. Anything I put into it, toy or food, he throws out. Keep it neat and clean, is his order.
When he has nothing else to do, he watches TV. One day I found him watching a circus, hanging upside down from his wire-cage door and swinging back and forth, imitating the performers on the screen. He likes nature shows, too, especially the ones about birds. Chattering and babbling, he tries to communicate with his kind on the screen.
Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t squeal so much and make less mess, but he challenges me to think and see the world from a bird point of view. I think I’ll keep His Majesty.



Bird Nest Soup, Anyone?
Longevity and good health is a common desire for all, especially among the older generation. But what do you do to stay young and healthy? Are you spending money on exercise machines, health club memberships, and workout-videos? Have you thought about drinking a potion made of deer and elk antlers and bird-nest soup, like many Asians do?
Though unknown to most Americans, traditional Chinese medical doctors have been using bird-nests for centuries to treat respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis, to rejuvenate skin, and to boost energy for both young and old. Bird nests have been a most “wanted” gift for centuries among older the generation in Asia.
The birds known as chimney swifts here in North America have famous cousins known as swiftlets in the southeastern Asian countries. They live in deep caves or under the roofs of coves along the seashores of Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, and the Philippines and their nests have been well-loved by Chinese for 1,500 years. They measure about the size of common sparrows, except they have shorter bills, a slender body, and longer tails. They could fly about 80-100 mph, much faster than most average birds, and have a wide wingspan close to that of pigeons. They build nests with their glue-like saliva and cement them on cave walls or inside a tunnel, far away from their predators.
Bird nests are a multi-million dollar industry in Asia. Indonesia alone ships 80-100 tons of nests to Hong Kong, while Malaysia exports only ten tons of what they consider the “finest” on the market. Interestingly enough, the bird's nest industry is never threatened by a global economic crisis. In fact, during the past 30 years, the price of bird nest has sky rocketed. In 1975 a kilogram was sold for $10.00 in Hong Kong, but in 1995, it was $400.00, and then in 2002, it was $1,600. This is a huge profit for southeastern countries that depend on foreign exchange.
The Hong-Kong Chinese eat more than 100 tons of bird-nests each year, nearly 60% of the world’s supply. The Chinese communities in North America consume 30 plus tons, but the Mainland Chinese buy only 10 tons, 10% of what Hong Kong Chinese consume. [During Mao Ze-Dong’s regime between 1949-1976, bird-nest soup was considered a “luxury” and law prohibited buying and selling of nests. It was the dark era when living in an elegant home was considered “bourgeois mentality” and government allowed looters to burn and destroy countless homes.]
Today, a bowl of bird-nest soup in a Hong Kong restaurant sells for $60.00 or more. Most of the common nest soup is made with chicken bullion, but with a bit more money, one can get a fancier kind of soup known as “Phoenix Swallowing the Swallow,” clear consommé extracted from a chicken impregnated with bird nests and served in a porcelain pot.
There are three kinds of bird nests— white, orange-yellow, and black. “White Nests” are more expensive, purer in quality, and have higher nutritional value than the other two kinds, which contain color pigments from the iron oxide of cave-walls and are believed to give an impure taste.
According to Yun-Cheung Kong, professor of biochemistry in the Chinese University in Hong-Kong, the trade of swiftlets’ nests began in China during the T'ang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) Some time during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), an admiral named Cheng He introduced foreign nests to the Imperial court of China. He traveled throughout Southeast Asia one year and brought back samples of many different kinds of nests and presented them to the Imperial Court. Dr. Kong believes that the supply in China had been exhausted before foreign nests were imported. In the late 17th century, four million nests (125,000 pounds) passed through the port of Batavia, now Jakarta.
Nest-harvesting isn’t an easy job for anyone. It takes skills and experience. During the peak season between February and May each year, they clamber up trellises of bamboo and vines at sunrise, only descending at sundown. To keep their hands firmly on the trellises or bamboo scaffoldings, some times as high as 200-300 feet from the cave floor, they balance torchlight between their teeth to look for what they call “White Gold.” Their only tool is the three-pronged instrument called rada, which they believe that gods of the cave approved of and anointed. No harvesters would attempt to touch nests without rada.
One harvester can collect as many as 50 or 60 nests a day. Sometimes, like mountain climbers, the harvesters hammer metal poles into rocks and boulders to attach themselves to the cave walls. Many have died when a rotted bamboo pole or a boulder gave in under their weight, but such accidents never discouraged the surviving harvesters.
There are taboos among the nest-gatherers: One must not make noises when he is on the job, for noises disturb the cave-spirits and they would punish him; he should never sit on the knot of lianas where the scaffolding is secured, for it is a sacred spot held together by the gods; uttering such words as “blood” or “falling” or “death” or “fear” is the same as cursing the cave-spirits.
Swiftlets lose their homes three times a season. When their first nests are stolen, they rebuild them quickly on the same spots, only to lose them again even before they can produce their eggs. But when the third nests are built, most harvesters wait until the young birds are raised and gone, but some ruthless ones destroy them anyway, spilling eggs and sending the fledglings to the floor.
Many scientists, including Dr. Kong, are worried about rapidly disappearing swiftlets. The walls in some caves are completely abandoned; only the rotted bamboo scaffoldings remind nest-harvesters of what they have destroyed. But such reminder doesn’t stop the harvesters from following the birds to their new homes, for “White Gold” is too precious for them.
As Zoologist Kang Nee of the National University of Singapore believes, the harvest cycles of swiftlets’ nests must coordinate with the birds breeding patterns before they become extinct. Until this is done, the number of swiftlets will rapidly shrink while the price of nests will keep soaring.
For the sake of swiftlets, I hope the general American public wouldn’t discover Bird-nest Soup at any time soon.


Inchon Landing Remembered
Historians acknowledge that the United Nations Forces’ landing at Inchon Harbor on September 15, 1950, was one of the most successful operations in modern military history. Twenty-five thousand tons of supplies, 6600 vehicles, 260 vessels, and 74,000 men were mobilized to capture the enemy-occupied harbor.
Then a nine-year-old growing up in a war-torn country, I thought General MacArthur was God’s angel who turned a losing battle into a winning one overnight, with a simple stroke of a magic baton. But recently I met an Overland Park (Kansas) resident, and my perception of the Inchon Landing and the most admired general or all American generals changed. Although it was MacArthur who engineered and executed the massive plan with precision, men like Corporal Clyde Koch stepped into enemy territory, sweated, bled, and even died in order to retake the harbor.
Veteran Koch claims that he was only a small cog in a big war-machine. But for “a small cog,” he showed much pride as he began to talk about that September day fifty-four years ago.
Then 20, Koch watched a barrage of fire on the distant shore from a landing-ship-tank (LST). “This is for real,” he said to himself. He was nervous, but not that much, he says. He had been a Marine for three years. After six months training on Guam Island he served in the US garrison troops in Tsing-Tao, a large beer-producing port city in the northern province of Shantung, China. [After World War II ended the US troops were in China, mainly to support the Chinese government and to disarm the Japanese troops who had occupied China since 1937. During the following years, while Chian Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang and Mao Ze-Dong’s Communists fought bloody murder, the US troops remained in China, this time, to discourage communism from spreading. With Mao’s Communists taking over throughout Mainland China in 1949, all US troops returned to the United States.]
Koch’s unit, Charlie Battery, (1st Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division) had been aboard a landing-ship-tank (LST) since they had left Pusan on September 7th, and everyone was anxious for landing. The sea had been so choppy that motion sickness was a common ailment among the Marines. As morning wore on, enemy resistance seemed weakening, and finally, in mid-afternoon, orders came to abandon the LST and board a smaller landing craft loaded with 105mm howitzers.
As the boat carried them to the shore during the high tide, Koch was surprised to discover that the communists were nowhere to be found.
"The Navy pilots have done a wonderful job of clearing the shore with their bombardment,” Koch says. “It was an easy landing for us.”
The beach was littered with dead bodies, driftwood, and abandoned military equipment. In one area, behind a blood smeared chain-link fence, about 60 young North Korean prisoners, barely 16 or 17 years of age, sat in a group, stark naked, except loin cloths, hands bound behind them. It bothered Koch that one’s victory meant another’s defeat. But he had no time to be sentimental about it: his artillery unit was ready to move again.
While air-fighters dropped bombs and napalm onto the town of Inchon, and the Infantry marched toward the capital, Charlie Battery crossed the Han River on pontoon boats to secure the area for the advancing troops. They blasted enemy equipment and its defenders along the shoreline. By the evening of the third day, they were at the edge of Kimpo airfield on the outskirts of Seoul, and within hours, the 6,000-foot runway was captured. The UN suffered fewer than 300 casualties, but the enemy lost ten times more.
On September 25th, Seoul was officially liberated from the enemy, although it took another three days for the UN troops to drive the fanatical North Koreans out of the area. On September 28th, General MacArthur escorted South Korea’s 74-year-old president, Syng-man Rhee, back to his presidential seat at the partially damaged National Assembly Hall.
Surrounded by smartly dressed U.S. soldiers imported from the Occupation Force in Japan for the occasion, General MacArthur solemnly declared the city liberated in God’s name, before leading the teary audience into the Lord’s prayer.
The old Korean president couldn't hide his overwhelming emotion as he expressed his “undying gratitude” to MacArthur and the American military for restoring the capital’s lost dignity. Afterwards, from the front lawn of the presidential mansion, the general and the president watched South Korea’s military band parading triumphantly through the ruined streets.
Koch wasn’t at the ceremony but he heard about it. He was with his fellow marines on Inchon Beach, waiting for orders to embark on a new sea-journey to Wonsan, one of the major harbors in North Korea. A month later, he and his unit would march to the Chosin Reservoir, where the Chinese Volunteer Corp ambushed them mercilessly. On December 2nd that year, Koch was wounded severely when an enemy bullet entered into his abdomen and lodged in his hip, which he would carry with him for years afterwards. After a lengthy treatment and recuperation, first in Yakasuka Japan and then in Hawaii, he was discharged from the Marine Corps on August 18th 1951.
Today, Inchon is a vibrant harbor boasting a giant bronze statue of General MacArthur overlooking the beaches and its modern international airport where tourists pour in every year from all over the world to get a glimpse of a historical harbor. Four years ago, Veteran Koch was one of them.
“It was great going back,” he says with a smile.
Although the Korean War was known as the Forgotten War and the American soldiers didn’t return with glory and shining images as victors at the war’s end, to Inchon and to those who lived through a long period of fear and destruction, it was unforgettable.

A Lost Friend
Wilbert (Shorty) Estabrook, now 73, lived 37 months in a prison along the scenic Yalu River during the Korean War. Over all, the most devastating facts about his captivity, including the 110-mile long “Death March” in 30 degree below freezing temperature on a snow-covered mountain road, was losing his buddy, Jack Samms. To Shorty, every soldier left beside the road during the march is Jack. His poem says it all.
I lost my friend along the way
To this place I recall now
I didn’t want to lose him
But I did and don’t know how.

I remember the way he looked at me
As I laid him down to rest
He said to me, “I can’t go on Old Pal,
You’ve seen my very best.

So leave me now and go your way
And when your journey ends
Remember me beside this road
Your buddy, your friend.”

Shorty met Jack at the prisoners’ camp in Pyongyang. They both had been captured in mid-July, 1950, near Taejon--a town 70 miles south of Seoul--a few days apart from one another. They had been beaten at the time of capture, too, and lost their army boots, watches, rings, and wallets to the enemy soldiers. Jack was a “country boy” from Ashland Kentucky, and Shorty was from a potato farm near Oakland, Maine. They both had been in Japan for nearly two years in the U.S. Occupation Army, doing easy duties, before they arrived in Korea, and knew nothing about killing people with real rifles.
Life took a quick turn for them, and now they were prisoners in a school building on the outskirts of Pyongyang, where 735 soldiers and 79 civilians consisting of Catholic religious leaders, diplomats, engineers, businessmen, and families with children all lived in the same building. The communists fed them thin cabbage soup and millet, maize, and a very small amount of rice mixed together. Everyone was hungry even right after a meal, but Jack craved sweets. He’d say, "If I were back in Japan now I would go to the snack bar and get me 2 chocolate Eclaires with the cream on the top and some ice cream to boot.” In Shorty’s account, you could almost taste the Eclaire melting in your mouth just by listening to him. Jack also talked about his home in Kentucky with longing, including his mother’s cooking, until everyone was “crazy with homesickness.”
The injured prisoners suffered the most. Without medical doctors or supplies, their wounds became infected in the sweltering heat and attracted maggots and flies. The un-wounded soldiers helped them walk, but the severely wounded ones had to be carried on makeshift stretchers.
On the train to Pyongyang, the guards wearing red stars on their uniforms had been brutal. Like many other prisoners, Shorty had received a heavy blow on the back of his head, which fractured his skull and knocked him unconscious. Even after a half century, Shorty says, it still gives him a severe migraine headache from time to time. For this wound, he received a Purple Heart Medal at the war’s end.
Through the windows of the school building in Pyongyang, Shorty and Jack watched the U.S. planes dropping bombs nearby. They hoped that their American colleagues would soon find and liberate them from the enemy, but at the same time, they knew what those bombs could do to them.
On September 5th, they boarded a train again, not knowing their destination. They traveled at night to avoid the American bombers, and during the day, the prisoners were forced to leave the train and hide in wooded areas on a hillside until dark, while the severely wounded soldiers remained in the cars.
A week later they arrived in the frontier town Manpo-jin along the Yalu River. An old Japanese army barracks became their home for the following six weeks, where they cooked their own food with the grain, vegetables, and occasional meat provided for them. While here, the guards weren’t as brutal as before. Compared to what they had been accustomed to, their stay in Manpo was most endurable.
But in early October, they were on the move again. By now the UN troops had a successful amphibious landing on Inchon, a port city near the 38th parallel on the west coast, trapping the enemy between two UN Forces-—one group pushing up from the Nakdong river area and the other pressing down from the newly captured Inchon and other cities. The South Korean army and the UN troops had already crossed the 38th parallel weeks earlier and were advancing farther north, and the communists were frantic about hiding the prisoners. After moving twice more, each time farther away from the approaching UN troops, on the last day of October, a new People’s army major took over.
The Lieutenant was tall for a Korean, and with a Genghis-Kahn frown, he displayed much cruelty. “The Tiger” became his nickname. During a nine-day “Death March” along a 110-mile snow-covered mountain terrain, the Tiger destroyed 98 lives, including two elderly women--a Catholic nun and the wife of a Russian diplomat--for not walking fast enough for him. The prisoners who couldn’t walk any more would drop on the side of the road, and with The Tiger’s instructions, the guards would shoot them and shove the lifeless bodies over the hill.
Shorty and Jack both survived the Death March, but another surprise awaited, which separated them permanently. One bitterly cold evening in mid-November, the prisoners were on foot again. Shivering and skidding on the snow-covered path, they reached a cluster of low buildings huddling together near the road. The guards packed them in, but the buildings were too small for all 700 soldiers. Shorty was shoved into one of the rooms with a hundred or more, squeezed like bean sprouts in a pan, but the guards kept pushing more men into the room. Seeing Jack still standing outside, Shorty and others tried to pull him in, but Jack couldn’t fit in the already packed room.
Swearing something in Korean, one of the guards began hitting Jack with his rifle-butt, and when Jack screamed, he pulled him outside, knocked him onto the ground, and pounded his head repeatedly. As Jack lay motionless, the guard walked away as if he had destroyed a fly. Three other prisoners died that night by the blows of the rifles.
“There was nothing we could do, except cry,” Shorty says. “We all knew what could happen to us if we tried to help our friends.”
Shorty lived in captivity another 33 months, during which time he witnessed 485 soldiers and 45 civilians deteriorating and dying, including elderly Catholic bishops, priests, and nuns. Most of them perished from complications of exhaustion, pneumonia, and dysentery, due to the Death March. In an effort to save the remaining sick and wounded, Shorty helped establish a “Hospital” where he and others cleaned the patients, killed lice for them, kept the place warm, and cooked and fed them, too, whatever was necessary to make them comfortable. Of all Shorty cared for, only one survived and is still living.
Shorty was recognized for his selfless service toward his “Brothers” and received a Bronze Star Medal at the war’s end. When asked how he made it through such a long and horrid ordeal that claimed so many lives, Shorty ponders a moment and replies, “That question will haunt me until I lay in my grave.”

[Wilbert “Shorty” Estabrook is the founder and the leader of the Tiger Survivors. www.tigersurvivors.org]

The Art of Growing Old

A 17-century Korean scholar Wu Tahk wrote a shijo (ancient Korean poetry) about old age.
A stick in one hand, a branch in another
I guarded my youth with all my might
Alas, white hair ambushed me overnight.

In this day and age who's worried about one's white hair, one might say. True, with a few drops of hair coloring solution, white vanishes and you can be blond or brunette or platinum silver or ink black in a matter of minutes. Still, Mr. Wu's words comfort me: like him, I dislike getting old.

While my birthday was approaching a few weeks earlier, I was in a worst mood I had ever been in my life. I didn't want to be a year older. I finally was comfortable with my 60+ years, and without an advance notice, it was time to add another number to it. I toyed with the idea of slipping out of my nest and vanishing (temporarily), but where could I go? Even if I could find a place to hide away from the world, I would still get older. There was no escape: it was foolish to even imagine that I could hide from aging, like a child might from his or her dictator parent.

Still, on the morning of my birthday, I was determined not to surrender to my new age. But I knew better than looking for a stick or a branch to beat away my invisible foe, so I turned my phone off, removed the calendar, my family picture, and the mirror, and anything that would hint my new age from the walls. Sitting on my bed surrounded by bare walls, I was finally safe.

While pondering on the good days and bad days of my past, I remembered that I never enjoyed my age even when I was in the first grade. Growing up in a large family in Korea, surrounded by four brothers and three sisters, I was always too young for the fun things that my older siblings enjoyed and too old for the goodies and toys my two younger brothers were occasionally showered with. I often complained to God, "Why didn't you at least make me the youngest child in the family, if you couldn't make me a boy?" God never responded to me. How could he, when he himself was a man?

How did Mother felt about getting old? All the years I was under her care, she often used the word woonmyong, fate, in her every day vocabulary. To her, it was my fate that I was born a girl surrounded by my brothers and sisters. It was my fate, too, that I was a middle child and couldn't be the center of attention. Even when I broke my leg in my third year in elementary school, she thought it was my woonmyong that caused it. I remember arguing with her that an older boy yanked me down from the gym set, only to scare me a little, that it was all his fault that I broke my leg.

Mother wouldn't hear of it. "What's the difference?" she said. "Would you feel better if it was a girl who did it? Your pain doesn't care who caused it. You just have to deal with it.”
In my second year of middle school I had another incident with Mother. That morning, our PE teacher, who was also in charge of the students' manners and conduct, clipped one end of my hair with a pair of scissors, because that side slightly touched the collar of my school uniform. Many girls had been the victims of his brutal act, but it was first time for me and I was crying when I tried to tell her what had happened.

She listened without a word. Then, searching her skirt pocket, she handed me a bill. “It's time for a haircut,” she said. “If I were you, I won't say anything to anyone about what happened. You should have noticed how long your hair was when you combed it this morning.”

Here again, I defended myself. “Mine wasn't long at all, Mother. My collar stood up more than others' because you used too much starch on it. It was so unfair, the way he came over, pulled me out of the line, and clipped it, for everyone to see.”
“You don't need to say another word about it,” she said. “Go and get a haircut.”
It took me more that fifty years to realize that her word woonmyong implied "make peace with yourself" or “go with the flow.” I haven't changed much over the years: I still tend to argue whenever I can.

I remembered Victor Hugo's poem titled “The Preludes,” which I had read long ago, without knowing I would some day be old. I found it and read it.

Winter is on my head, but eternal spring's in my heart.
I breathe… the fragrance of the lilacs, violets, and roses, as at twenty years ago.
The nearer I approach to the end, the plainer I hear
The immortal symphonies of the world that invite me.
Each word grasped me with new meaning. Afterwards, I didn't feel bad about my new age at all. Actually, this was close to what my mother always believed. She could easily have said, “Go with the flow of life and feel the eternal spring in your heart. Or, “Make peace with yourself, before you try to smell roses, lilacs, violets.”
We could feel sorry for all the problems we are dealing with today--drugs, terrorism, anthrax, war in Iraq, the upcoming election. Or we could accept the solemn fact that we are alive today and go with the rhythm of time, reminding ourselves that life on earth had never been perfect for any living beings.

That night I had a dialogue with the unknown:

When you knock my door, Death
I'll be awake.
When you extend your hand toward me,
I'll shake it warmly.
When you whisper, "Shall we go?"
I'll say, "I've been waiting."





The U.S. and South Korea's lingering friendship built upon trust and loyalty
Month of September is an important month in modern American History as well as the history of many Asian countries, in cluding my motherland South Korea. On September 2nd, Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Far East, read his speech to all on board USS Missouri, accepting Japan's earlier unconditional surrender to the allied forces and concluding with, "Let us pray that peace now be restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always." Behind him stood representatives of the Allied Powers--The United Kingdom, Soviet Union, Australia, China, Canada, and more, including U.S. admiral Chester Nimitz. This was two weeks after Emperor Hirohito's famous "surrender" speech had been aired, on August 15th.
"Despite the gallant fighting of our military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of our servants of the State and the devoted service of our 100,000,000 people--the war situation has developed (against) Japan's advantage, as the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb… taking the toll of many innocent lives…. This is the reason why we have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the joint declaration of the powers…"
On September 8th, six days after the Tokyo Bay Surrender Ceremony, the first American troops landed on the Korean soil to prevent the Russians from taking the entire peninsula. Russia had declared war against Japan and its troops entered the North Korea to "disarm" Japanese occupation forces on August 8th, with request of Kim Ilsung, Kim Jong-un' grandfather, while Nagasaki was still smoldering from atomic bombs dropped only hours earlier and cries of the dying and of the mourners could be heard all over the burning town.
Gen MacArthur, with President Truman's urging, established Temporary U.S Army military government in Korea in Seoul, which lasted three years, before leaving the government under Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea who was a Princeton University graduate.
Overland Park resident John Hanse, 91, didn't serve in the Temporary US military government; he was one of the Navy officers on USS LST 1039 heading for Saipan to rescue thousands of Korean conscripts, forced laborers, and military sex-slaves abandoned by their Japanese masters, like war-debris, and waiting for miracles. Of the perhaps hundreds of thousands, Hanse group brought back about 650 of the Koreans and some Japanese soldiers hiding in their deep caves, still worshiping their Emperor, shouting Banzai (10,000 Years!), not knowing the war had ended---and delivered them to their beloved homeland.
The U.S. military government in Korea ended in 1949 and the American troops evacuated from Korea, and Russians to returned to their country according to Postdam Conference in July 1945. In the South Syngman Rhee, a Princeton University graduate, was elected to lead the newly-born Republic of Korea by the public vote, the first public voting system ever exercised in Korea's history, and in the North, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un's grandfather, became the Great Leader of the DPRK Democratic People's Republic of Korea, with the approval of Joseph Stalin.
The next year, on June 25th, 95,000 North Korean troops launched a surprise attack on the South with Russian tanks and Russian made weapons at four AM, alarming the world. With President Truman's declaration of the U.S. support of Korea, American troops from Occupied Japan rushed to Korea on July 5th.
John Hanse wasn't called back to Korea until December 1952, to a seaport town that served as the base for the U.S. Navy and Air Forces. By then the peace talk between the U.S. and Chinese delegates was in progress, Hanse and his military colleagues, including a medical doctor, spent much time at an orphanage founded and operated by a French missionary priest, Father Louis Deslandes, showering the children with human warmth and gifts of food, clothes, and medical attentions.
The war ended with the armistice on September 30th, 1953, after 3 billion American dollars had been spent and 54,000 American lives were lost. On Sept. 30, 1953, two months after the armistice was signed by the American and Chinese leaders, the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Republic of Korea was established. This was initiated by General Paik Sun-yup, the first general of the Republic of Korea, it was a profound expression of South Korean leaders undying loyalty toward the American government and military, promising them the Korean troops would fight along side American troops in future wars as long as their service would promote global peace, and six decades later the U.S. and South Korea still conduct military drills together, in Korea, every two years, causing the North Korea leader Kim Jong-un's agitation.
The difference between South Korea and North Korea today is as clear as light and darkness. With American's continuous help, South Koreans made speedy progress during the past decades, with their sense of gratitude, but North Koreans slaved under one Kim after another with rigid "One leader, one nation, and one people," policy.
South Korea today gives thanks to all who fought to preserve peace in their country at the cost of their lives.
END

The Kansas City Star

The Kansas City Star
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The racial discrimination the white American inflicted upon their black neighbors.
Magazine Article
Traditional Chinese medical doctors have been using bird-nests for centuries to treat respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis, to rejuvenate skin, and to boost energy for both young and old.
It takes courage to deal with the human condition called "aging."
Feature article
Inchon Landing was one of the most successful operations in modern military history.
Magazine Articles
Korean War Prisoner-of War Story