“Loving You a Thousand Times” (천만번 사랑해)

By Jae-Ha Kim
jaehakim.com
September 13, 2017

Go Eun-Nim (played by Lee Soo-Kyung)
Baek Kang-Ho (played by Jung Gyu-Woon)

The heroine of this Korean drama is the epitome of a long-suffering doormat, whose life would’ve been so much better if she grew a spine and stood up for herself.

Instead of being guilted into giving up her hard-earned money — that she had ear-marked for returning to college — to her ungrateful older half-sister, who is “studying” overseas in the United States; or giving up her own body, so that she can pay for her father’s surgery; or letting virtually everyone treat her like a servant … Eun-Nim just swallows her pride and accepts it as her life.

No. Just no!

I’ll be honest. It took me about 3 years to finish watching this series. I started watching it with my mother. But after watching Eun-Nim abused by so many people, I literally needed to take loooooonnnnnnnggggg breathers so that I wouldn’t be so angry for her.

Kang-Ho is the illegitimate son of a wealthy man, who is raised by his father and a cold stepmother, who only lavishes attention (and love) on her biological son. He falls in love with Eun-Nim, the middle daughter of a working class family that lives paycheck to paycheck.

After her father collapses and needs an organ transplant, her older sister, Nan-Jung, hides the fact that she is a perfect match, who could save her dad’s life. Instead, she leaves it to Eun-Nim to figure out what to do.

Because her part-time jobs don’t pay enough, Eun-Nim agrees to become a surrogate. The baby broker tells her that the baby will be loved and raised by a rich woman, who can’t carry a baby to full term.

That infertile woman happens to be married to Kang-Ho’s older brother.

For much of the series, Eun-Nim hides her secret, starting with her pregnancy. She fabricates a story about needing to work in China for 9 months. Only her grandmother — who sees her walking around in Korea — learns what she has done to save her father’s life.

After she gives in to Kang-Ho’s persistent wooing, she has no idea that she is the biological mother of his nephew. Since Eun-Nim was impregnated via IVF, she technically is a virgin. But she carries so much shame regarding her past that she doesn’t believe she has a right to date (and then marry) a nice man like Kang-Ho.

Spoiler alert/not really: She marries Kang-Ho.

I am hoping that this drama’s underlying theme — that you are not a real parent unless you share DNA with the child — was meant as a parable, rather than a reflection on what it means to be a real family.

When Kang-Ho’s brother, Sae-Hoon, and his wife, Sun-Young, hit a rough spot in their marriage — you know, his three years of cheating on her, for instance — and she threatens to divorce him, he reminds her that since their child was carried by a surrogate — with the surrogate’s egg and his sperm — the court will deem him to be the real parent. Since Sun-Young shares none of their boy’s DNA, she will lose all rights.

Wow.

That also explains why Kang-Ho’s stepmother is so incredibly cold to him. They don’t share the same blood. And only later — after he learns that he’s not her real son — does he begin to understand why she doesn’t love him.

This drama is a long PSA on why it’s never a good idea to hide a child’s history from him or her. No, you don’t have to disclose to everyone all the details about how your child came into your family. But, you owe it to your child to be transparent with them.

With each episode, Kang-Ho’s grandmother grows more irritating with her nonstop chansori/잔소리and meddling. Though she starts off in the series as a kind, old lady, she quickly becomes one of the nagging forces, forcing her adult grandchildren AND their parents to do as she says, whenever she says.

After they got married, Kang-Ho suggested that he and Eun-Nim get a little apartment of their own. Instead of listening to him — even after knowing that his parents and grandmother view her as less than, due to her lineage — she refuses, saying that they belong with his family.

She essentially becomes an indentured servant, getting up early to help the family mail make breakfast, cleaning and doing everything that her in laws tell her to do.

Idiot.

While the series started with viewers being incredibly sympathetic to her plight, I grew more and more frustrated that she refused to put her foot down. She had options and chose not to take them.

Note: 천만번 actually means 10 million times.

Original airdate:

This 55-episode series aired on Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) from August 29, 2009 to March 7, 2010.

Spoilers / Adoption element:

At the end of Episode 42, Kang-Ho asked Eun-Nim why she resorted to surrogacy. Instead of telling him that they were poor and her father was dying and she had an opportunity to save his life, she remains quiet. Did she really think he would’ve preferred that she remain “pure” and let her father die?

After learning that Eun-Nim is the biological mother of her son, Sun-Young (and their mother in law) abuse her verbally and physically, slapping her at will. I understand that Eun-Nim is a mouse of a woman. But after a while, why not fight back? I kept hoping that she would stand up for herself and say, “Listen, I never once tried to take my child back. But we both know that I am the birth mom. You know that if I take you to court, you will lose. And then the world will know that I am the mother of the heir to this family. So, how do you want to behave now?”

Only after she catches Sun-Young spanking her child (for favoring Eun-Nim) does Eun-Nim take a stance. When Sun-Young goes to strike her, Eun-Nim stops her. But then Eun-Nim later apologizes to her. WTF?

In the end, Eun-Nim is diagnosed with cancer. While her sister in law never apologizes for abusing her, she does bring her son to visit her before her operation.

The finale depicts Eun-Nim and Kang-Ho living peacefully by the sea, which the doctors had recommended for her well being. When Eun-Nim says that she is healthy enough to return to Seoul — presumably to live with Kang-Ho’s dysfunctional family — he says no, because she’s not out of the woods until she has been cancer-free for at least five years.

I was hopeful that even after that time had passed, they would not return to his family home. Because who could remain healthy in such a hateful household?

@2017 Jae-Ha Kim | All Rights Reserved

Comments (2)

  1. Judy Lee says:

    Makes sense that this drama would drill that in considering how Korean culture sees blood line. I HATE how bloodline is treated in them.

  2. Renee Schneidewind says:

    Interesting that this very topic came up elsewhere today. https://dearadoption.com/2017/07/03/dear-adoption-i-climbed/

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