Book Introduction

Returning to My Childhood Home

“It warms my heart whenever I remember the happy days of my childhood. In my fond memories, I often go back home to the place where I was born and raised. Our great-grandfather built our house about 160 years ago. Having but an only son (our grandfather), and again only one grandson (our father), he dreamed that he would have many great-grandsons; they would fill his big house and carry on the family tradition with honor and prosperity.

Like many others in Asia during those years, pugwi tanam (may our family be wealthy, noble, and have many sons) was every Korean’s daily prayer. Our great-grandfather’s dream for his family was half-fulfilled in my father’s time: our family was blessed with six boys, and six girls came along as extras, rounding out our familuy register to a full dozen children.”  (page xiii)

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“Looking back, it’s the merry times around our house that stand out in my memory, the times when it was as if some magical spell had been cast where usually there was a frightfully austere and regimented daily life. A feast day was coming! I could tell. The grown-ups were talking about food preparation. It might be an occasion for someone’s sixty-first birthday, or a very important ancestral ceremony, or better yet, a wedding.

“Several weeks in advance our kitchen would have more traffic–busy with extra help from distant relatives, aunts nearby, our neighbors, and others. Soon the sights, sounds, and smells of good food would be floating everywhere around the house. When the special day was almost upon us, there would be more relatives from faraway places. As is customary, we would provide them rooms to stay for a day or a week, or as long as they wished. Our house would end up resembling a bustling village market. Everyone seemed so happy and content. This was that rare time when grown-ups, with unbelievable generosity, would say, “Eat all you want,” in an incredibly amiable tone of voice. Perhaps it was on these occasions that I began to learn how good food makes everyone feel. Even our dogs seemed to wagging their tails happily with excitement. At the gate, the beggars would be treated better than usual, getting something extra besides plain rice and bean paste soup. They gave extra bows in return.” (Growing Up In A Korean Kitchen, page xv)