Phillip Cualing: Zainichi Korean Elderly Activity Center

The title is a mouthful, I know, but here are a few musings.

When I first walked into the center’s office, there was a major problem. Whenever I write, no matter the language, I tend to perfect my language so that I say what I want to say with the necessary eloquence. In English, it works out ok, because I can speak the language, but the problem I had was that the director of the activity center had a preconception that I was more skilled at Japanese than I actually was, which made it slightly awkward when talking about what I would be doing and what the center does. But we managed, somehow, to come to an agreement that I would come once a week on Wednesdays.

My first day, I was scared, to be honest. The staff had put the fear that I wouldn’t be able to understand anything into me, but it actually turned out well. We had talked about Zainichi Koreans in class a little bit, so I understood their background, but it was just nice to listen for a change. In class, it’s stressful for someone like me who is normally taciturn to always be speaking. I generally prefer to listen and to act than to speak, because I never was very good at gathering my thoughts in English even. And I really like going, because it’s nice to hear stories about their lives, especially since they would be much different than the average person in Japan. Sometimes they mix in Korean, and then I’m lost, but it’s a curious situation, because I’d really like to learn at least how to read hangul. I generally help out and clean after they leave for the day, and I’ve enjoyed the experience greatly. I’d like to continue going next semester, even if it isn’t for my CIP.

As a CIP, it’s not very exciting if you look at the logs. When you do the same things over and over, most people wouldn’t like it. But it’s fun to connect to a past generation with whom I share almost nothing besides the fact we breathe.  You learn things you wouldn’t otherwise, because the weight of experiences and memories shape each person differently. In some ways, I’m following down an analogous path; even though I was born in the US, I’ve never quite felt right at home, even if I speak the language well and interact in society. If I opened my mouth half the time to my peers to say what I wanted to say, rather than what should be said, I’d imagine people would be maybe a bit surprised, such are the differences I hold. But I’ve rambled for a bit, so I’ll finish with this: In such a place, home is where the heart is. Times change, places change, people change, so in such a world, those closest to you are the walls which support you.


4 thoughts on “Phillip Cualing: Zainichi Korean Elderly Activity Center

  1. I’m pretty sure that last line is from a Hallmark card, haha! You being a giant sap aside, can you share any interesting stories (if it’s okay!) that you may have heard? I’m always curious to hear what the older generation has to say, and I’d like to know a little bit of what life has been like for them living here, especially since I’m not in the Minorities class. Good, bad?

    • Well, they generally came after the war ended, looking for jobs, but they found that they couldn’t return, whether because of political issues (like a war in your backyard) or personal issues (Korea as it was before the war was united, so there’s a mix of people who would be considered to have come from both sides of the line). They did what they had to do to live, even if it was hard. Inside the center, there’s an mix of Japanese and Korean spoken and the room itself is decorated in both languages, so it sort of symbolizes their lives in a small way. And now, they generally seem happy with their lives, especially since the center provides a focal point around which camaraderie can form. But nothing’s probably as clear cut as I make it seem.

      • I’m glad to hear that they’ve found some measure of success and happiness here, in any form! I think it’s also pretty baller that they have a place to come spend time with a larger community facing the same issues. I can definitely see how returning to Korea would’ve been difficult – by now it might be do-able, but after carving out a life here after so many hardships and for so long, I can’t imagine many of them have considered moving back, really.

  2. Wow! I didn’t know that this was your CIP! So relevant to our minorities class.

    Were there any impressions that you got from listening / interacting with these people that differed or reaffirmed what we read about and discussed in class? Also, am I right to assume that these elderly folks are all first generation Zainichi??