My name is 필립. I was born in a hospital somewhere in Seoul. I’m told some people have quite the mental capacity to recall memories even from their infancy. Sadly, I’m not one of those people. All I have are hazy pictures and recitals from my mother whether that be being hospitalized with a bandage around my head or pretending to be a pirate after gunk pulled out of my eye.
My first vivid memory was as a kindergartner riding a plastic, vibrant tricycle up and down the apartment hallways where a man would come daily around 1pm and drawl, “세~탁~~.” I remember riding this glorious vehicle past the elevator lobby and all the way to a stranger’s unit…until my mother shouted that supper was ready. This was the first time that I recall truly laughing.
My grandfather died. He really liked me for some reason and thought I had a great future ahead of me. He even told my mother that I would achieve more than she ever could and to protect me. It’s a terrible thing to say to your own daughter, but I was still flattered because I respected this man because of his ripe age. On the day of the funeral, my uncle led some ceremony wearing a beige, mesh Korean garb along with the other males. We lit incense/candles, placed fancy food trays on a table, then proceeded to bow at my grandfather’s picture. The adults also took turns pretending to feed my dead grandfather, only to waste it all away in a bowl. I didn’t understand why people would waste good food like that. My cousin and I were starving so we snuck up to the table while the adults weren’t looking and ate some 미역국. Once the rituals were complete, everyone got into a car silently and drove to a distant mountain in the countryside. Once we arrived, the men picked up the casket and started climbing the steep mountain. The rest of us followed, while the women screamed and cried – I guess this was another traditional thing to do. As we made the trek, the adults repetitively tried to explain to me that I would never see my grandfather again and that everyone dies. I understood what death meant; it just didn’t bother me that a man died. I continued to climb the mountain with enthusiasm and insensitive joy, as simply being active was fun for me.