The Chang family started in China about 2,000 years ago. One branch of the family fled China and came to Korea in the late 800 AD. My family records are largely intact since that time. It appears that the Chang clan split and my branch of ancestors came to my clan village about 400 hundred years ago. There is a low hill in my clan village where our early ancestors are buried. In one grave an ancestor from about sixteen generations before me is buried without a head. This is how that happened:
My grandfather’s female cousin was known widely for her precociousness. One of the King’s advisors was searching for a wife for his widowed son with two young sons and heard about this young woman from a farming village in Chungnam Province. After being tested along with other candidates whose stations were above hers, she was chosen. She later made it possible for her brother to obtain a minor title, which raised the status of the clan.
When she came to the clan village, often with many bags, the whole clan made a fuss to honor her. Outsiders might have assumed she brought bags of money. One day shortly after such a visit, her brother received a ransom note demanding a large sum of money for the skull of one of our ancestors. Sure enough, a grave was disturbed and a head was missing. It was a bad omen to disrespect dead ancestors, so the money was dropped at the designated time and place. Servants waited in hiding with bats to beat up the extortionist. The extortionist never showed and the head was never recovered.
More about this lady
She managed her husband’s household and wisely raised her two stepsons to adulthood. Her visits to the royal court led to her understanding that a changing tide was coming and the future was in Western education in science and technology rather than Chinese literature and philosophy.
Not having children of her own, after being widowed, she poured her energies into educating the boys of her clan in the best schools in Seoul. Under her supervision, all the core clan sons received a modern education in science, medicine, law, finance, and engineering. One of the boys wanted to study art, and she gave him permission only after he made a promise to become the best artist in the nation. His name and a picture of his painting were in my middle school textbook. His paintings still hang in museums in Korea.
I saw her once when I was a child. She was old then. In my clan, thanks to her, daughters are not slighted.
I came to America after my vocal cords were firmly set to speak Korean. To this day they refuse to yield to a foreign tongue so I talk and sound funny in this country. I haven’t spoken Korean for decades and now I find myself competent neither in Korean nor in English. When I started my middle school, I was determined to do well in English, unlike many other students who excelled in every subject but English. My efforts paid off. In my high school years, my goal was to memorize all the words in the small English dictionary that I carried with me every day. I didn’t succeed.
I still have problems with articles, prepositions, tenses, idioms, and the pronunciation of certain sounds. That’s why it took me over ten years to finish my first novel. When I give a speech or a presentation, I just tell people to ask me to explain if they don’t understand my English.
My earliest memory is of the Korean War, a little talked about war in which so many Americans died fighting. Because I was so young, I don’t have many clear memories about the war. The only thing I vividly remember, from the lens of a young child, is endlessly walking a narrow path between two rice fields. My mom, two sisters, and my brother and me were returning home to our clan village after having been evacuated because of the war. As a teenager, I witnessed the horrors of the bloody revolution in the streets of Seoul. After a coup d’état a year later came a military junta. Until I left Korea, I had lived under dictatorships so I appreciate our freedoms here in America no matter how bad things get. My younger sister who came to America at age 19 (chain migration) and attended college during the height of Nixon’s Watergate, asked with disbelief, “Can people say those words about the president?”
Hi, I’m Wondra. I am an immigrant from Korea, the country which became famous in recent years for K-Pop, K-Drama, and K-Beauty. I came to America when I was 24. I have now lived in the United States longer than I ever lived in Korea, yet I speak with an accent. I married an American man (then divorced that American man 22 years later, but that’s a different story) and had two children, who are now adults and have children of their own. I have 6 grandchildren between my two kids and am happily remarried. I live in San Antonio, near downtown. I prefer living in a large metropolitan city as it reminds me of Seoul. In this blog, I will share with you stories from my life growing up in Korea as well as my journey as an immigrant in the United States.