He with the most pain wins

While at a service stop (Korea has the most amazing highway rest areas with cafeterias, restaurants, convenience stores, really nice bathrooms, games, and souvenir and recreational stalls) we grabbed some Korean food and afterwards went outside for some coffee and cigarettes. There were six of us all together on the trip to Andong, all of us in our 40’s.  Me (Mulan – or- resistant girl), Y (baby), three zero, nine stones, stupid steps,  and build widely.

I think Y brought up the topic of being an orphan, and she explained that build widely had been thrown away TWICE.  When he was little, his mother abandoned him and his sister.   They had seven children, and so she figured five was enough.  Fortunately, his father wasn’t too pleased and he found and retrieved them before the police discovered them.  When he was 14, he got thrown away again and he had to find a job in a factory and live by himself in a rented room.  Because he worked all day, he couldn’t go to school, and therefore had to study on his own at night, and this is what he did until he was in his twenties and he was able to pass a university entrance exam.  I started clapping, and so did everyone else.

Build widely says to me that he always wished his father hadn’t come back for him and he had been sent to be adopted in America.  I told him I had always wished I had been in an orphanage in Korea.

Stupid steps chimed in, “Hey!  I was also thrown away!”  His mom didn’t want to take care of him, so she left him with his grandmother.  Well, actually he lived with his father’s first wife for awhile.  His father had two wives.  This was legal back then, if a man could afford it.  But then his father and his mother got a divorce and his father’s first wife didn’t have to take care of him anymore, so he got sent to live with his grandmother.  Because he was so far down the line of family hierarchy, he too had to work odd jobs, but I think he was able to go to school.

I think that’s about the time the three of us throw-aways started comparing our worst jobs ever.  Stupid steps laughed and said, “He with the most pain wins!”  We were all crying, we were laughing so hard.  Y told me build widely said we can heal each other.  Y told me she likes people best who have had hard lives, because they grow a wise mind.

On the trip back, I reflect on Y’s question, “who do you think had a harder life, you or build widely?”  She thought build widely won.  I told her then – yes, build widely wins.  Then I told her maybe equal but different.  The five other teachers are speaking to each other in Korean, laughing, their faces animated, as I look out the window for something, anything to look at because their banter is meaningless to me.

I think to myself that, actually, I won.

2 thoughts on “He with the most pain wins

  1. The abandonment epidemic is pretty interesting. There are more anecdotal stories about it (in south China) in The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston’s book from the 1970’s. Because upper-middle-class Americans for the most part have not experienced poverty and desperation, child abandonment hasn’t been part of our world view. But it sounds like it was prevalent in postwar Korea.

  2. Oooh! I’ve seen that book and it’s on my list. (sigh) Many adoptees mention the Joy Luck Club as well.

    I found out during the SBS documentary filming that actually, it was illegal at the time. So that, too, is a another reason discouraging reunion. It sounds as if there was a lot of passing children off to other relatives. And many grandmas taking care of children while their parents tried to find work.

    Actually, many orphanages served in this capacity as temporary grandmas. Unfortunately, some of these children’s parents were coerced into international adoption by Harry Holt, being told they were being selfish and that the children would have a better life if sent abroad.

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