Throwback Thursday

Jae-Ha-Kim_Throwback-Thursday-200x300By Jae-Ha Kim
jaehakim.com
April 10, 2014

When I was little — maybe 6 or 7 years old — we had to bring photos to school for a project. I don’t recall exactly what we were doing. Probably something about a family tree.

My parents picked this photo for me to bring in. Although my father bought a nice camera after we immigrated to the United States, we didn’t have one back in Korea. Cameras were a luxury for the rich and we weren’t wealthy. So that means that my parents took me to a photographer’s studio in Seoul to get this shot.

I must’ve been about 3 or 4. I had on a nice dress. My hair was neatly combed and my bangs were pinned back. And I had on tights and western-style shoes, rather than the Korean rubber shoes (고무신), which my mother said I refused to wear.

Today, those ugly Crocs and hideous flip flops are considered trendy. I think 고무신 would fit right in in terms of comfort. But that’s another story all together.

Don’t let the sour look on my face fool you. Back when I was a young child, we weren’t supposed to smile in pictures. I can assure you that I was a happy little kid.

Bringing this photo to school, I remember thinking that I looked cute and couldn’t wait to show it off to my friends.

I can’t remember which little girl said it, but I can still remember her words.

“Where was this taken?” she asked. And before I could answer, she wanted to know, “Why is the room so dirty?”

I had no idea. But even at that young age, I felt shame.

Before, I had never noticed that the floors were spotted and the walls weren’t pristine. I never noticed that my tights had a stain on them or that my shoe was scuffed.

But after, those imperfections were all that I could see. Yes, why was it so dirty? Why wasn’t my photo taken in a studio with a cheesy, but clean, backdrop like all the other kids?

So, I sat there and listened as my friends discussed what a dirty country Korea must be. It didn’t occur to me to point out that they wore their filthy shoes in their homes, which we would never do.

Of course, those little children didn’t know any better and were just curious (and a little cruel). They had never even heard of Korea. How could they have possibly imagined that my homeland had been at war and then divided in two? How could they have known that my family had money and land at one time, but that much of it was taken away during the war? How could they have wrapped their heads around being so desperate for food that young wives, like my mother, would ask the local fishmonger for scraps to feed a nonexistant cat?

How could they have known any of this when I hadn’t known it, either?

I found this photo when I was looking for something to put up for Throwback Thursday. I love this picture. I see a little girl who loved getting dressed up and having her picture taken. And I know that in order for that to happen, my parents had to spend what little money they had for my new dress and the photographer’s time.

That’s what I remember. That even during a time of turmoil, a photographer’s spotty floor was the worst part of my childhood.

 

© JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved  

Comments (10)

  1. Mike Kessler says:

    You knew what I was thinking! “Don’t let the sour look on my face fool you. Back when I was a young child, we weren’t supposed to smile in pictures. I can assure you that I was a happy little kid.”

  2. Denise Adams says:

    LOL when my mom visited me in Korea, she could not understand why Koreans don’t smile in public transportation situations (like a short smile at the random stranger you are sitting with on a public bus when you sit down). She thought Koreans were a bunch of unhappy people because of what she experienced when riding city buses. I had to assure her many of my good friends in Korea laughed and smiled alot -just not to the random stranger sitting next to them on the bus. Once i explained the cultural difference, she didn’t quite understand the reasoning behind not smiling but went along with it. My mom loved watching the tv station Arirang in Korea since the Kdramas covered Korean family life along with having English subtitles 🙂

  3. Jenny Lee says:

    You look adorable! “That even during a time of turmoil, a photographer’s spotty floor was the worst part of my childhood. 🙂

  4. Beautiful picture and beautiful story. I am sorry kids were cruel. It’s a sweet photo and I love hearing the story behind it.

  5. Jane Yoo says:

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