I love you and I'm here
Another fantastic submission. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Folks, this Guest Writer Program is really taking off. I’ve had some fantastic submissions; frankly my main concern now is that the “acceptance rate” is fast-moving toward Chick-fil-A-like levels of selectivity. (More info about the program.)
Today’s post comes from Elliott Pak, a 28-year-old Korean-American writer who grew up in California and who now lives in Seoul. The story of what drove Elliott to move from the U.S. to Korea and what his life is like there is worth reading, but today I want to focus on what he’s written about someone else: his grandfather.
If you like Elliott’s work, you can find more of it here.
Seung-hwan and Seon-bu
by Elliott Pak
My grandfather fled North Korea more than 70 years ago.
His name was Seung-hwan. Run south, his parents told him, and never look back.
He ran. He was captured but escaped from internment camps. He watched some of his friends die.
At one point, he was sentenced to death. The soldiers lined the prisoners up to execute several at the same time with a single bullet.
My grandfather was shot, but not fatally, and he hid under the bodies of his friends.
He survived. And ran, and ran and ran.
Eventually, he reached the southern ocean city of Busan and began what could be called a more “normal” life.
He lived, he worked. Most importantly, he met and fell in love with my grandmother, Seon-bu. He did everything he could to woo her.
As one story goes, Seon-bu lived at the top of a steep hill in a poor neighborhood. Seung-hwan decided to get her some ice cream from a street vendor at the bottom of the hill—really, more like popsicles on a stick.
I imagine my grandpa, roughly the same age as I am now, thanking the vendor and then looking up the hill, wondering how he could possibly run up the hill to reach Seon-bu before they melted.
The things you do for love! But my grandpa, strong, courageous, was not willing to give up.
My grandpa, who had escaped internment camps in Northern Korea.
My grandpa, who had seen his friends die.
Was NOT about to be beaten by a couple of ice cream treats and a little heat.
Up he ran, past inquisitive old women and grumpy old men.
Up he ran, on uneven pavement, in old, thin shoes.
Up he ran, pouring sweat, popsicles melting in each hand, legs aching.
As he finally reached the house, he started shouting: "Seon-bu! Seon-bu! Come out! Seon-bu!"
Seon-bu answered the door to find my poor grandpa, sweating, out of breath, with two bare, wooden sticks and melted ice cream dripping down his hands.
As the story goes, the first word out of my grandmother’s mouth was: “바보.” (Babo)
It means: “Idiot.”
I moved to Korea about five years ago from Los Angeles to teach English and pursue my writing career. Whenever I return to California, I volunteer to bring rescue dogs for adoption.
I made the trip about a month ago. It's an 11-hour flight. I stood there at LAX, waiting for customs, accompanied by two pups named Jax and Jonah.
My mind drifted to the sunny California that awaited me outside, and the people waiting just a hundred feet away for these dogs, and In-N-Out, and how much I missed a country that overuses salt in everything.
I thought about the high quality tequila I knew my mom was saving for me, and the salty breeze of the Orange County beaches. I thought about my soft childhood bed.
The customs man waved me over. I put on my extra tooth-y hospitality smile. As he checked my forms, my phone started buzzing.
Buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz. Long text chain from my family group text—but not the happy, welcoming texts I expected to receive.
Mom and dad had been at my grandparents' nursing home since 3 a.m. My grandma and grandpa were near death.
My sister and her husband would pick me up at the airport to go straight there.
I vaguely remember hearing the customs officer say, "You're good to go." I pushed the carts up the ramp to find my sister.
A group of people stared at me excitedly, smiling. Two of them were taking videos.
Oh right. The dogs.
It was a joyous occasion for them, but I was in a numbed-out daze. I left holding bottles of wine and gift cards and thank you notes without processing what happened.
Next thing I knew, I was in my sister's car.
Next thing, we were walking up to the nursing home.
Next thing, I was looking at my unconscious grandma, seemingly half the size as when I had last seen her. She wasn’t awake, but she was breathing.
I went to my grandpa's bed, knelt down, and took his hand. He turned his head toward me with great effort. He cried. He kept repeating over and over again:
"Ellie, Ellie, Ellie, 한국에서 왔어요? You came from Korea? You came from Korea? Ellie, Ellie, I love you Ellie. You came from Korea?"
I told him, "I'm here. I love you and I'm here."
That was the last time I saw my grandparents. My grandmother, Seon-bu, passed away peacefully in her sleep. Less than 24 hours later, my grandfather, Seong-hwan, followed her out. I had made it just in time.
My grandpa had been fighting lung cancer for two years by the time he died. The doctors hadn't expected him to live as long as he did, but he always said: “I don’t want to leave Seon-bu alone.”
He had held on all this time by sheer will. He held on to the very end, using every last ounce of will to live, to make sure Seon-bu wouldn’t be by herself for a single second.
It's the stuff heroes are made out of.
It seems my grandpa was always running, running, running.
Running away from war, his hometown and his parents.
Running from internment camps and bullets.
Running towards a more peaceful land.
But most importantly, running up steep hills towards Seon-bu.
As she left her body and began the journey to whatever place came next, my grandpa, as always, ran right after her.
“Seon-bu! Seon-bu! Seon-bu! Wait for me! Seon-bu!”
7 other things worth knowing today
Meta, parent of Facebook, lost more than $13.7 billion during 2022 on its Reality Labs division, the part of the company tasked with chasing "Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of a future in the metaverse." (CNBC)
Gawker is shutting down for a second time. After first shutting down following a lawsuit from wrestler Hulk Hogan, the pop culture and satire website was acquired by Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg in the summer of 2018 for $1.35 million. Bustle relaunched the site in July 2021, with editor in chief Leah Finnegan at the helm. Finnegan tweeted that the site is now shuttering again. (Hollywood Reporter)
How to be 18 years old again for only $2 million a year: Middle-aged tech centimillionaire Bryan Johnson and his team of 30 doctors say they have a plan to reboot his body. (Bloomberg)
Intense, long article on what it's like to be a trucker in the 2020s: Then there are the cameras. Ascending the cabin of one semi, I see a black gadget affixed to the windshield like an old-school GPS, its lens trained on the driver’s seat. ... Hundreds of users chime in to say that they’ve quit for this reason. “I’ll only accept a driver-facing camera,” one comments, “if the company owner gives me a 24/7 unrestricted stream into his house.” (Wired)
Pretty neat: A small home in Maine, where it gets very cold in winter, that mostly uses solar to stay a 70 degrees (in other words, no furnace). (Maine Public)
7 poisonous mushrooms and what happens if you eat them. This is a little bit old, but the subject came up recently in my family, and all writing is autobiographical, so ... (Field & Stream)
Tom Brady retired, for good this time. I wrote about the 1-minute video he released for Inc.com. (CBS Sports, Inc.com)
Thanks for reading. The photo is of Busan today (well, in 2019), and it’s by Fumiyama Akira on Unsplash. Thanks again to Elliott Pak. You can find more of his writing here. See you in the comments.
My Lord what a way to start the day...incredibly written...get those onions away from my eyes...
@Elliott Pak - thank you for sharing. That is heart touching.