I often wonder where my eternal homesickness stems from. I am constantly restless–regardless of how happy I am in my current environment, I never feel entirely at home. As a result, I constantly dream of other settings, in a display of what I shamefully think is disloyalty to my place of residence, or a display of romantic yearning.

I love the San Francisco/Berkeley area, and New York, and London…and then I watched the New York Philharmonic’s performance of “Arirang” in North Korea and it dawned on me that perhaps my homesickness stems from an inability to return home. Arirang is a forlorn song about goodbyes and reunion…if you are Korean you have probably heard this song at least once. When I was young, I imbibed the pathos of the song, and now as an adult, I am moved to tears everytime I hear it.

Watching the New York Philharmonic play it in North Korea? It suckerpunched me. North Korea is where my mother’s side of the family was born, lived, escaped from. And even the Korea my father (who hails from the South) knew is not the Korea that exists today–the Korea that is my mother and father’s home is one without a DMZ. And that, that makes me quite homesick to know that that does not exist.

Yet reading about Michelle Kim and her North Korean family roots makes me feel a bit less lonely.



Filed under Life, The World

12 responses to “Homesick

  1. ChaEsq

    “Homesick” … that’s exactly the right word for it. Right on … The concert DVD is being sold for 24.99 … kind of pricey, but how does one value history? Unclear … perhaps Amazon will have it for less …

  2. I just saw the NYT article on the NY philharmonic in Pyongyang. Very cool.

    I know what you mean about the strange contradiction of feeling at home and homesick at the same time.

    Jade, I’ve followed your blog with interest for a while and just realized you’re a fellow Berkeleyite. Let me know if you’d be interested in exchanging writer-blog links. Thanks.

  3. anonwupfan

    I think that the “homesickness” is the restlessness resulting from the lack of community that is our modern American reality (yes, even in great towns like Berkeley.) We, citizens on the whole, have no ownership in America. I don’t even think any of us would recognize ownership if we saw it at this point. Blogs like yours are calls into the wilderness, trumpteting your belief in your worth as a human being. Millions of people feel the same way you do (hence the wild popularity of blogs and reading/lurking them.) Everyone is dying to contribute, to be of value to others; though we are reminded constantly, soothed into believing that everything can be supplied for us–if we just bring along a little more money, of course. Sadly, the responsible, cooperative America of our parents’ youth does not exist anymore either. The world has turned. We’ve got to be here now. We all have nowhere else to go.

    When Langston Hughes visited Africa in 1923 he thought he would be forever at peace in the land of his fathers and instead the natives treated him like every other khaki-wearing foreigner and called him “the Darker White Guy.”

    After that, he decided to check out Paris for a while 😉

  4. JDo

    When I saw the Arirang encore, I kept thinking of my 4 grandparents who left North Korea right before the Korean war.

  5. JDo, we could swap stories. Most of my maternal side of my family left a year before the war broke out — spirited out under the cover of darkness, something about a boat, hiding the kids in baskets and wearing ratty clothing to avoid attention. (the bastards kept hassling my mother’s family up until the very end and her father was constantly in hiding). My grandmother’s mother chose to stay behind, because how could she leave home? Years following my grandmother would wonder and say, I wonder how my mother is. And yet, they were very, very fortunate in terms of life during a civil war.

    Arirang always makes me cry. Despite my log in name I think I may hear the song once a year if that. But, there is something in the DNA, it’s just seared in, the longing to go home yet unclear of what home actually is.

  6. ChaEsq, Jdo, Arirang: Thank you for sharing your stories (and I’ll share mine)–my mother was an infant when her sizable (she had 10 brothers and sisters to start with) family left North Korea. Half went by land with her father (my grandfather), and the other half went by boat with her mother (my grandmother). They met up in Seoul right before the war started.

    I asked why they left so early and my mother said that there was a period of time when the future was certain, and all the wealthy had a window that was relatively safe to leave. And so they all left.

    I believe my grandmother’s (and grandfather’s) mother and father too, stayed in North Korea, along with a few other relatives. And my grandfather’s brothers, many of them, had gone to Japan for university schooling and chose to stay. So now I’ve got distant relatives somewhere in Japan, but of course I wouldn’t know who they are.

    And yes, my family too, was very very fortunate in terms of life during a civil war. Everyone in the immediate family made it south. One brother died during the war. Everyone else survived.

    I am so inspired by all of your family stories. I’m writing a novel about a character who grows up in that war period and hearing everyone else’s stories helps me understand and inspires me to keep writing.

    Knowing that you come from the same roots in this world (who knows? We could have been neighbors in another life!) makes me feel a little less lonely and a little less homesick.

    Seth Fleisher: blog links exchanged! You’re on my blogroll, I enjoyed visiting your site, and maybe we will run into each other “irl.” Thank you for reading!!!

    anonwupfan: you are right, there is an erosion of community in the U.S., and blogs are filling a societal gap. I have made so many friends here, some of them becoming friends in real life (yes, even on this anonymous blog), that I find this whole “blogging thing” a huge lifeline.

  7. JDo

    All of your stories are amazing…

    My father’s mother left behind her entire family and left with her husband and his family. Her youngest brother was 5 when she left, and she used to tell me the story of how much he cried “noon-a, ga-ji-ma” (sister, don’t leave). She never saw him again.

    My mother’s mother also left behind a brother who was older. We heard he was later persecuted for his political views and have no idea whether he is still alive. My maternal grandmother was pregnant when she left, by train and then on foot. She remembers the mosquitoes attacking her pregnant belly. After escaping for the first time but before the war broke out, she went back to North Korea and escaped again.

    In the end, both sets of grandparents did really well in South Korea, which had its own share of political upheaval during the post-war period. But their successes never erased the heartache they endured.

  8. JDo: an amazing story! I wish we could find out what happened to all our family members that we left behind. In my novel, one of the characters is a family member who was left behind in North Korea…

  9. anonwupfan

    JP: Just think of how many people here go through their entire lives without learning to do or make anything that adds value to anyone’s life.

    This blog is one groovy place where we can try to add a little value. It’s no replacement for a sense of place and history though.

    BTW-I’m not a stealth recruiter for a commune or anything–I’m just really into these questions. After 8 lo-o-o-ong years, I finally have all my bills paid and my goal amount of “F You” money saved (yeah!!!!) Now I want desperately to move somewhere with Mrs. Anonwupfan for the next 50 years and write things that people will (hopefully) enjoy reading, but I’m struggling with those same issues of home and what I’d like that to be. I’ve been looking for answers and they aren’t very encouraging. The more I’ve looked, the more I’ve seen that the whole country feels like this. We’re not alienating people based on their race or culture anymore, alienation has become our culture. We cry not because we love that place we’ve never been, but because we’ve never known a place worth loving.

  10. Jade — exactly. It was that window. My mom mentioned that the border was fairly fluid and not so fixed as one would think. Plus there are other family stories, like my cousin’s husband’s father, who decided to stay behind because he had fallen in love with another woman who was a fellow academic. Can you believe this? As for the schooling in Japan thing…we have to talk. I think our family lives are bizarrely parallel —

  11. anonwupfan: you aren’t giving off “stealth recruiter for a commune” vibe at all–I think we’re all looking for good homey places where we can take our shoes and jackets off and sit down for awhile. I admire your efforts to take on that search with such full force.

    arirang: Dude! Yes, we do live oddly parallel lives (and oddly parallel histories). My grandfather’s brothers, most of them, chose to live in Japan (one was a doctor, another was an academic, and another became a businessman))…and at least one of them decided to stay in Japan because he’d fallen in love with a woman. I was told by my eldest aunt that he came back once, to Korea, to visit long after he’d lived in Japan…and he could barely speak Korean anymore. In a way, I felt myself identifying with him.

    We have to talk.

    And all your stories are sooo inspiring to me!!!!! I wish we all lived closer, we could have lunch and nosh over all this.

  12. and you as well — I have been thinking about putting together a story as well about this timeframe for years. I mean years. so instead I was thinking of a different focus/audience but that’s even harder.

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